Friday, June 30, 2006

The "Third Camp" explained

There is a bit of an argument going on over at "Lenin's Tomb" (see link on the right), about the "Third Camp". For those of you who have no idea what the "Third Camp" is, a rough definition would be:

"We are socialists who will never support our own ruling class, in war or in any other matter: However, we also do not give automatic support to its enemies, because the enemies of our ruling class are sometimes *more* reactionary than they are: we do *not* subscribe to the doctine of "My enemy's enemy is my friend. We take an independent, pro-working-class stance".

The term "Third Camp" was first coined by Leon Trotsky in 1938, to make the point that the proletariat should not be required to choose between rival sections of the capitalist class (even when one of those sections was fascist), but should retain its independence.

Today's SWP - apologists for the anti-working class Iranian regime and Islamic fundamentalism in all its forms - now deny that they were *ever* "third camp": when it is pointed out to them that the 'Socialist Review' group in the 1950's adopted te slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism", today's SWP'ers claim - bizarrely- that that slogan wasn't "third camp", but meant something else in the context of the cold war.

So, finally, I offer this - published in "The Origins of the International Socialists" (pub: Pluto Press, 1971), texts prepared by Richard Kuper, and introduction by Duncan Hallas (both, then, leading members of the International Socialists: the group that in 1975 became the British SWP). It's about the issue that got Cliff and his supporters chucked out of the official Trotskyist "Fourth International": their (the Cliffites') neautrality on the Korean war:

"The War in Korea"

"The writer is one of the leaders of the Trotskyists in Ceylon. First printed in the 8 July 1950 isse of *Janata*, organ of the Socialist Party of India, this article was quoted in *Labour Action* on 11 September)

"V Karalasingham:

(Excerpt):..."If we are to support the decisions of the UN, then it is tantamount to an abandonment of the position we have hitherto taken on neutrality as between the two power blocs - a position that distinguishes us from all other currents in the left movement. Our Third Force position - 'Neither Western Capitalism nor Stalinist Totalitarianism' - demands that we lend no support to either camp in Korea. Instead our solidarity is with the Koreans in their struggle against both war camps and for national independence and democratic socialism".

"Published in *Socialist Review* 1/2 January 1951"

As a matter of fact, think Cliff and his suppoters were wrong about the Korean war: but don't anyone try to tell me that they weren't "third camp".

Ever had one of those emails...

... from someone claiming to be a Nigerian businessman (or Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, or more or less anyone else), offering you untold riches if you'll only send him a couple of grand to help get his ill-gotten gains out of the country?

Then you'll love this, from the brilliant scambaiters at It's long but worth it. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tinfoil Hat of the Week

It has to be Melanie Phillips, for her bizarre appearance on BBC Question Time last night. Many of you will know Mel as the author of many a hysterical right-wing rant against the evils of human rights legislation, Muslims and other horrendous nightmarish bogeymen. Her latest effort, "Londonistan" (which at some point I intend to dissect properly), is the culmination of her paranoid ravings over recent years. Last night she was no longer Mel the right-wing writer. No, then she was Mel the weird woman dressed in all black with the harsh looking specs, who managed to make Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride look like a progressive. She did this by the simple method of spouting possibly the largest amount of reactionary crap that I've ever seen crammed into an hour of TV.

There is no comment that I could add which fully illustrates the car-crash that was Mel's performance. If you missed it, you can watch it online here; just click the link to "video of latest programme".

Melanie, you have taken the Tinfoil Hat from a man who believes he is specially empowered by God to police the internet: be proud.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A mixed blessing

When a Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli soldiers last year, his parents donated his organs — saving the lives of three Jews. Hailed by some as a triumph of humanity amid the horrors of the conflict, it has also caused controversy.

a Mixed Blessing

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In pictures: Palestinian refugee children

On Saturdays I sometimes do leafleting for the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign - this last Saturday was a bit different, because some of us were invited to meet a group of young Palestinian students. They were between the ages of 12 - 16 - a charitable cause had sponsored this group to come and visit England for 12 days.

Anyhow, we met them just in time, before they had to head back. They were still at the beach.. I could see that some of the students really wanted to stay, even when they were walking away - I could see of them leaning over the seafront barrier - looking back and having to be encouraged to rejoin the group to go to the train station.. this was not because they actually liked Brighton - but simply to stare at the sea for as long as possible - they had never actually ever seen the sea. This quite an experience for me to see - to say the least it really humbled me. I am just glad they were able to come when the British weather was at its best!

The UN have marked World Refugee Day, by exhibiting some images of Palestinian children. After 58 years - Palestinians make the worlds largest group of refugees.

Palestinian Refugee Children

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Uighur of Xinjiang

I thought I might break for a moment from my usual political muckraking, to write a post about a subject that's rarely mentioned in the UK. It concerns the Uighur people of south-western China, in Xinjiang province. A Turkic people, via whose lands today's Uzbek, Kazakh, Azeri, Turkish and all other Turkic peoples of west Asia may well have migrated, the Uighur are subjected to daily repression by the Chinese authorities. They are routinely oppressed by the Chinese military, with innocent herdsmen being accused of being a part of separatist movements. The Uighur are Muslims, and the Chinese government has jumped on the "war on terror" bandwagon in order to intensify its repression of this predominantly peaceful (there are separatist movements, but the overwhelming majority eschew violence) people. Mosques are summarily closed by the authorities and the Uighur language is banned from use in universities. Uighur people are regularly forced to work, unpaid, building gas lines and similar projects.

Incidentally, lest any of you are harbouring illusions that "there's no smoke without fire" or "they wouldn't do it without a reason", I would ask you to remember that this is the regime which arrests people for believing that moving around slowly in a park is good for the soul. And executes them, and harvests their organs. Are you gonna believe them, or the Uighur?

There are Uighurs in Guantanamo Bay, again thanks to their being swept up in the so-called "War on Terror". They have serious trouble getting lawyers nominated to represent them, as is required in the USA, because elderly relatives on a hill in Xinjiang are not likely to be contacted by anyone in the USA, and even if they were, their familiarity with US law is likely to be somewhat sketchy. Such are the rights of prisoners in Freedom Central. There are organisations working to help the Uighur, but they face a regime in Beijing determined to treat their people with unimaginable brutality, and a western "human rights" movement that largely neither knows nor cares about their people's plight.

So I would especially say to those of you who believe in an "anti-imperialism" which treats any regime that "counterbalances" the USA in a "multi-polar" world as a good thing, just you remember the Uighur. Just you remember that blithering on from London about how "we mustn't criticise" such regimes until after imperialism is beaten, is so much easier than doing so whilst standing in front of a weeping bereaved mother in Xinjiang, whose son has just been executed for "political crimes".

And to those of you (of all political and religious stripes) who claim to be speaking up for Muslim people worldwide, I have a question. Why are these people so much less deserving of your voice than the Palestinians, the Chechens or the Iraqis?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

To the Euston Station

The Priest and I met up a few days ago, in a real ale pub recommended to us by a member of the Socialist Party (the Group Formerly Known As The Militant Tendency). We had a bloody good row over some bloody good beer, about whether the SWP are politically and morally worse than the Euston Manifesto lot. I won't go into details of that for now (or who was arguing what) ; but how interesting to see that John O' Mahoney's article, published in the present issue of "Solidarity" and also on the Workers Liberty website, on the Eustonites, has attracted an unprecedented 2,500 (or so) "hits". And not one single reply.

Come on, you Eustonites: reply to ol' Sean. I'm sure it's not that you can't. Or that you don't want to hurt him with your ripostes. As for me: I got off at Watford Junction.

PS: I'd provide a link to the Workers Liberty Website and O' Mahoney's article, if I knew how. But I don't. So you'll just have to Google it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Well, I never...

OK, I know this post is way below my usual deep level of political insight (oi, stop heckling at the back). But seeing as it's Friday, and just to prove that the internet really is the premier source for fascinating trivia, I give you the Literary Chicks on the world of nautical wonders of nature:

"A barnacle's penis is about 10 times its body height. Ten times. That's the largest penis-to-body size ratio in the animal kingdom. Now you know why barnacles don't get around much."

So there you are: scientific fact. That's why barnacles always look tired. Don't even ask how it came to my attention, it's a very long story. And faintly disturbing...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Our Maddie of the Sorrows has left the Guardian

It will no doubt do my blood pressure good not to have to read any more of Madelaine Bunting's vacuous, self-righteous, self-contradictory religiosity and cultural relativism in this Monday's (UK) Guardian. But will I miss her? Time will tell: I get a certain kick out of working myself up into a paroxysm of rage over complete and utter bollocks especially if it's pretentious bollocks into the bargain. Bunting 's valedictory column last Monday (June 19th) was a typically shoddy, dishonest (or else, maybe, just stupid) piece of rambling nonsense, including the extraordinary claim that:

"Many areas of science are legitimising religious thought in ways regarded as inconceivable for much of the past centuary and half. Quantum physicists question our understanding of reality and Hindus respond: 'So what's new?'; neuroscientists formulate understandings of consciousness and Buddhists retort as polititely as possible: 'we told you so.'"

Now I ask you: what the hell are we supposed to make of that? What is she actually saying? That quantum physics and neuroscience validate religion? Or just that reality and consciousness are complicated and difficult and that religion sort-of recognises that...and so does science? So science and religion are sort-of the same? Actually, Bunting's drivel was nicely demolished by one Josephine Grahl in a letter published in the next day's Guardian:

"Religious beliefs are based upon a blind certainty without material proof; scientific theory is built on empirical evidence which must suggest a testable theory. Madeleine Bunting's equation of developments in neuroscience and quantum physicswith the beliefs of Buddhists and Hindus is sloppy romaticism and shows a surprising level of scientific illiteracy..."

"Hear, hear, Ms. Grahl" says I , except for the word "surprising": there can surely be nothing "surprisng" about scientific illiteracy eminating from Our Maddie.

Previous Bunting outrages against reason, logic and sanity have included: her attack on the Enlightenment (it "never happened", but was, nevertheless, a "retrospective creation in the nineteenth century designed to make the eithteenth century look silly") ; her claim that Richard Dawkins' militant atheism helps creationists; that western liberalism is an "intolerant...arrogant assumption dangerous as any other form of fundamentalism" and that "liberalism is right to assert that there are universal moral principles (such as the rights of women, free speech and the right to life), but wrong to insist there is only one interpretation of those principles...Rights come into conflict and every culture negotiates trade-offs between them".

If you're as baffled by that last quote as I was, Maddy's true meaning is revealed by her finest hour: her notorious 'interview' Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi published in the Guardian on October 29 2005. You can just picture our Maddie, simpering before the great man like a latter-day Diana Mitford, while he explains how suicide bombings are justified in Israel (but nowhere else, so he's a 'moderate') and expounds his views, unchallenged by Maddie, on homosexuality ("humans should not succumb to their lusts" - he doesn't mention that he favours stoning gays) and domestic violence ("Islam doesn't call for beating but it is necessitated by certain circumstances for a certain type of woman and within limits" - and there is no record of Maddie the great feminist even challenging this; maybe those words "within limits" makes it OK?).

Maddie first came to my attention on December 3, 2001, with a Guardian article ("The new anti-semitism" - strangely now absent from the Guardian's internet archive of Buntingology) calling for "a comprehensive religious descrimination law comparable to that which covers racial discrimination. Only that would trigger the reshaping of the welfare state (education, health, housing, social services) to meet the specific needs of Britain's biggest minority -the near 3m Muslims".

This divisive, dangerous nonsense recieved a crushing reply on the paper's letters page a few days later from a Dr Sara Gwenllian Jones of Cardiff University. It should have shut Our Maddie up once and for all; but - of course - it didn't:

"Madelaine Bunting argues that 'the welfare state (education, health, housing, social services)' should be reshaped to meet the religious needs of British Muslims. Is this special treatment to be extended to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Mormons and pagans? Will atheists, agnostics and casual believers in a Higher Something be catered to? What will be the qualifying criteria for special treatment? Population numbers, vociferousness, formal structures of worship that conform to establishment notions of what constitues a bona fide religion?

"How about people who whose political beliefs are held as intensely as any religious belief? And when this increasingly atomised multi-theocratic British society erupts into the inevitable violent antagonisms, which group does Madeleine Bunting imagine will suffer most from the fallout?

"Religions are acquired belief systems of sentient human beings. Faith is not and never will be comparable to inborn identities such as race, gender and sexuality. In a multicultural liberal democracy, the rights of everyone to follow their own religious or non-religious path are protected not by state-funded religious isolationism but rather by a secular state wherein religion is a matter of private practice.

"The state needs to become more, not less, secular. Of course Muslims, like everyone else, must be protected from harassment, abuse and assault. But we already have plenty of laws designed to protect us from these things - on the basis of our common humanity".

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More Palestinians killed in Israeli missile attacks

I don't care what group you're in, or what particular progressive view you hold. If stories like this don't make you feel a righeous sense of injustice on behalf of the Palestinians, then there's something wrong with you.

Do something about it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ridley Didley Doo, Number Two

Now Yvonne Ridley is found to have recently joined a deputation to Malaysian PM Matahir Mohamad with antisemite and conspiracy theorist Michael Collins Piper, of right-wing US "journal" The American Free Press. Amongst other things, Piper thinks people "shouldn't discount" the idea that Ariel Sharon ordered 9/11. He has also claimed that Zyklon-B was used in World War Two concentration camps only to de-louse clothing. Well, there's certainly a louse around here somewhere. Or maybe two, eh Yvonne?

Any readers from Respect care to explain?

[Hat Tips: Harry's Place and Judeosphere]

The genius of Marina Hyde

This needs no comment:

"And so to the USA's soccer World Cup showdown with Italy on Saturday night, where random annoyances included piles of discarded hamburger wrappers, a rash of FDNY T-shirts, the knowledge that the US keeper Kasey Keller's mobile phone ringtone is the Tarzan roar, and the clinically obese gentleman at Kaiserslautern station loudly informing fellow supporters which bar the US hardcore fans were basing themselves in 'so the terrorists had better stay away'.

Because if al-Qaida fears anything, it's a frat-boy with a keg."

Marina, we love you.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

You know, I don't believe there's a "liberal elite"...

... but some things really do give you pause.

I give you a story from today's Observer. The first thing you will notice is that it's absolutely enormous: it spreads across 3 pages in the main paper. The second thing is that it's about a journalist called Urmee Khan, orgininally from Reigate, who went to live in Beeston, Leeds (home of two of the 7/7 bombers) for a month. She's Muslim, and so are most of the inhabitants of Beeston.

So... was she going to interview locals about the bombers, to get an idea of what they were like? No. Perhaps she was going to perform some secret undercover mission to see if she could find a terrorist network? No.

No, what the whole article is about, is how Beeston is full of normal people. She tells us, at the end of her month:

"In Beeston I found kind, decent people: young mums, bored kids, community cohesion, an interfaith set-up which was the pride of northern England. I came looking for mullahs bent on destruction. All I found was mothers."

What, really Urmee? A working class district of Leeds actually has people in it who are just as nice as mummy and daddy's neighbours in Surrey? Wow, Pulitzer for you, I'll sign the nomination papers myself.

Next week in your leaves-no-stone-unturned Observer, we send another person to another suburb, where they find some more nice people. Hey, I could really get the hang of this investigative journalism lark.

Seriously though, what I want to know, is who on earth that story is news to? All over the country, people of all colours, in all states of affluence and poverty, try to get on with their lives as best they can. And if the Observer thinks it's going to come as any surprise to its readers that this is the case, then maybe there's something in this "liberal elite" gubbins after all.

But let's hope not, eh?

Totally bloody ridiculous ideas of our time: #145 - "The Islamisation of Europe"

You know how right-wing pundits of a certain ilk are fond of going on about the "Islamisation" of Europe? Has it ever struck you how such views such a similar ring to the ignorant paranoia shared by many conspiracy theories throughout the ages? I was pondering this the other day, and decided to write something about it.

Before we get into it, if you don't know what I'm on about, and you need a refresher, there are several (particularly absurd) examples in the comments on this thread from Harry's Place. I say particularly absurd because the comments concerned refer to said "Islamisation" coming from the secular Muslim democracy of Turkey's prospective entrance into the EU. I should add that I don't think said comments necessarily represent the view of HP's owners.

So where does the theory come from? Well, it grew out of ideas about the decline of western civilisation at the hands of waves of immigration and declining "moral values", such as those expressed by uber-reactionary Pat Buchanan in his 2001 book "The Death of the West". This paints an apocalyptic scenario whereby a combination of declining non-immigrant birth rates, evil liberal do-gooders and waves of immigration diluting "The West's" values until finally Freedom Central is brought to its knees.

Sounds like paranoid bollocks, right? Yup, you got it in one.

Pat also thinks we in Europe have had our chips, at one point putting it thus, in a section (page 109 if you really want to look it up) that specifically refers to Muslims:

"The day of Europe is over. The coming mass migrations from the Islamic world will so change the ethnic composition of the Old Continent that Europeans will be too paralysed by a threat of terrorism to intervene in North Africa, the Middle East or the Persian Gulf. Europeans already ignore US sanctions on Iran, Iraq, and Libya. As their populations become more Arabic and Islamic, paralysis will set in."

Now, not does this ignore simple facts, like for instance the fact that Arabs actually don't compose any more than a small minority of Muslims in the UK and several other EU countries, it also assumes that all Muslims are theocrats, which is manifestly not true. More to the point, it also ignores the possibility that EU governments might have subverted US sanctions in the countries mentioned for reasons other than that they were "Paralysed by Muslims". These might have been because of commercial interests, or even (whisper it) because some in the various EU political establishments just thought the sanctions were plain wrong. Not to mention that 2 years after Buchanan wrote his book, several EU countries supported the US invasion of Iraq, which hardly fits his theory. Although I'm glad to say that some of those invasion supporters later came to their senses and altered their stance, but that's another story.

The various "creeping Islamisation" theses that have been churned out by right-wing pundits since 9/11 fit the same theme, to one degree or another. Creeping sinister fundamentalist conspiracies across Europe to "Islamise" it, or terrorists lurking behind every suburban curtain, you know the form. Oddly, a lot of these people refer constantly to Muslim anti-semitism whilst alluding to the treatment of Jews before World War Two, but actually it seems to me that the comparison is more appropriate between the treatment of Jews then and the treatment of Muslims now. The idea of sinister terrorist cells all over the country, the idea of government cowering before a "fundamentalist threat", the second guessing about motives, the idea that Muslims almost have to reiterate all the time that they are not terrorists/theocrats/intending to blow up your house, all of that marginalisation and demonisation sounds to me like the paranoia that used to be directed at Jews in pre-WW2 Europe.

The reality of the situation is that all of this "Islamisation" theorising is predicated on a basic notion that it isn't possible to be both Muslim and European. That notion is plainly utter rubbish - Muslim people have been living in Europe for centuries, and in any case "Christian" and "European" are not different words for the same thing, regardless of what some ignorant rightist politicians who want to exclude Turkey from the EU may wish to think. The majority of Muslim people, like every other group of people in Europe, want to live peaceful lives in a democratic state where they can work, succeed and experience life's joys and failures like any other citizen. The logic of "creeping Islamisation" theories is both to deny that self-evident truth, and further to deny that Muslim citizens have the same inclusive rights as anyone else.

The political left obviously has a special job to do here, in unambigously refuting such arguments and setting the debate straight. The paranoia and marginalisation that such ideas foster, is what set the context for things like the debate over the Danish cartoons; the unbelievable inability to see that context, was one of the reasons why I was so angry at the Alliance for Workers Liberty for republishing them on its website. The AWL are good people, and good anti-racists, regardless of what anyone else says about them. But to fail to see what they were doing by republishing those cartoons, to fail to see the wider social and political context in which they took that action, was just the worst decision that I think they've taken in ten years of my knowing them.

In conclusion; what citizenship of an EU nation should be about, is precisely being free, feeling included, and being onself liberal and inclusive. This basic stance (which is by no means exclusively "left-wing") appears to be lost on some parts of the political right, amid a morass of all-consuming paranoia that serves to further marginalise some of the most vulnerable people in contemporary Europe. It's the duty of progressive, decent people everywhere to see that these latter-day conspiracy paranoids don't get away with it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reporting Hate Crime

Is it only me or do others feel uncomfortable when such cases are reported on TV? ... my beef is when a reporter will say "____ died/was killed simply because they were Black/Gay/Catholic/Muslim/Jewish..."

Murdered victims of hate crimes have died because their killers had a prejudice against their victims race/sexuality/religion etc - it does the murdered victim and their loved ones an injustice to almost blame their racial/cultural/sexual differences for their deaths? I am getting fed up with such unintelligent and shoddy reporting, because I think that such events should be handled properly and with more sensitivity.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Another right wing blowhard

Some of you will hopefully have read my post about Ann Coulter's vile abuse of a group of 9/11 widows. I'd now like to introduce you to her colleague Michelle Malkin. Michelle's a bit like Ann, except my Michelle story is about a lie she told recently.

UK readers may need a bit of backfiller on this. In the US Right's demonology, progressives of all stripes hate America. They hate it because they're bad people who want to burn the flag, march through every major city centre attacking war veterans, and to legalise sex with animals. I.e. to the right, progressives stand against everything that "decent folk" in the right's eyes, believe in.

The one flaw in this narrative, of course, is that it isn't true. There are obviously some nutters who claim to be on the left, who probably want to do the things that I mentioned above, but then there are nutters on the right too. Neither actually represents mainstream left, or right, wing opinion. Therefore justifying such demonisations can be difficult at times.

Michelle got it sorted though - she just said that a group of progressives at a meeting booed the speaker, Hiliary Clinton, for praising America and US troops. Which wasn't true.

But hey, a little white lie for the cause never hurt anyone, right Michelle?

But Beautiful:remembering Ella

I thank Simon B for reminding me that it's ten years since the death of Ella Fitzgerald. Ten years in which some fine new jazz singers have come along (Claire Martin and Stacey Kent spring to mind), but no-one will ever equal Ella for sheer beauty of sound.

And yet Ella has had something of a bum deal in terms of reputation - particularly from jazz purists, who almost to a man (and I chose that expression carefully), will compare unfavourable to hr near-contemporary Billie Holiday. Billie (goes the jazz Party Line) may have had a limited voice, but she exuded passion, sincerity, true jaz feeling and a natural affinity with the blues. Ella, on the other hand, (this is still the Party Line, you understand) was all vocal technique, but had little or no feeling, no blues sensibility and - if you want the bald truth - was scarcely a jazz singer at all!

All of which is not just unfair to Ella: it's complete rubbish that owes more to ignorant mythology than it does to any serious musical appreciation. The idea that Billie was an authentic "jazz singer", whose every note was suffused with passion, sincerity and suffering, is a nonsense that owes more to her ghosted (and highly unreliable) 'autobiography' Lady Sings the Blues (and the awful Diana Ross film based upon it) . In reality, Billie -given the opportunity- demanded lush strings and 'commercial' arrangements on her later recording sessions (on which her voice was often dire). And Ellas could sing with sincerity and passion (try "Ill Wind" from her Harold Arlen album, or 'Do Nothing till You Hear from Me' from her Ellington album - both on 'Verve'), in addition to simply swinging like the clappers.

Jazz has always been very male. It was one of the first art forms to insist upon racial equality: how could it not, when all (excepting a few whites like Beiderbecke, Gooodman and Teagarden) its leading practitioners were black Americans? But the fact remains that, for all its racial equality, jazz was always seriously sexist.

Women were allowed in jazz as vocalists, provided they were pretty. Mary Lou Williams was the exception and even she had the advantage of being "the Pretty Gal Who Swings the Band"; she played the piano better than most men, and also arranged for Andy Kirk's band. Ella Fitzgerald, who could never have been called a "Pretty Gal" started singing in the 1930's, copying the white New Orleansian Connie Boswell: Ella , nervous as she alwys would be, won a talent competition at the Apollo Ballroom , and*wasn't* pretty but had the most fabulous voice. Benny Carter heard her there and recommended her to bandleader Chick Webb. From then on her career took off, first with Chick Webb's band (which she took over for two years when he died in 1939), and then as a soloist.

She adapted to bebop with ease; almost every record she made from the late 1940's through to the mid 1950's is a lesson in bop phrasing. She could also scat-sing with a facility and wit unmatched by anyone except Louis Armstrong or Leo Watson. Then, Norman Granz (of 'Verve' records) came up with the "Song Book" idea: give Ella the task of recording all the significant songs of - say- Gershwin, Porter, or Mercer, and give her the lush backing of Nelson Riddle, or the brassy drive of Billy May, and you have a series of classics. No serious music lover (even if you're not particularly into jazz) should be without them.

But Ella, despite her success, was never really happy. She wasn't obviously unhappy the way Billie Holiday was (although Billie's reputation as a tragic victim is at least in part the result of her own "successful exploitation of her (own) personal life" in the words of one commentator). Ella's unhappiness was, apparently, that she simply felt unloved and felt unattractive to men. Sarah Vaughan - another wonderful vocalist - felt the same way. Ella was married to the bass player Ray Brown for a while in the 1950's, but that didn't work out (nor did a second marriage), possibly because of her inferiority complex. Her friend, Marian Logan, at the time of a 1950 European tour with Norman Granz's 'Jazz at the Philharmonic' described her thus;

"She was shy and she was very insecure about her looks. She used to tell me, 'You're so beautiful'. It was hard on Ella. Everyone around her was so young and slim and she was young and fat, and she thought of herself, I guess, as kind of ordinary. Nobody ever made her realise that she had a beauty that was a lot different and a lot more lasting than the beauty of those 'look pretty and the next day look like a raggedy-bose-of yacka-may'. nobody ever made her feel valuable even for her talents. Nobody made much over her. She was always a very lonely person".

The jazz world is-rightly- proud of its longstanding anti-racism. it has little to be proud of in its treatment of women. The reason for Ella's underappreciation in jazz circles has, I suspect, a lot to do with her looks. She was- to put it bluntly- "matronly"("homely" is another frequently used description) in a world where female singers were judged as much by their looks as by their voice. Billie Holiday was not exactly a conventional beauty, but even in her declining years she remained a striking, handsome woman. Ella just had the voice.

She ended up as the elder stateswoman of jazz: nominally acknowledged by all, but lonely. Her performances never moved me in quite the the way Billie Holiday's do. But she kept the "Great American Songbook" alive the way no-one else could. For that - if nothing else- she deserves to be remembered.

Yes, Ella had real beauty, and not just in her voice (although that was-quite simply- the most gorgeous vocal sound ever produced in jazz or anywhere else): she was a lovely, loving, modest and strangely child-like talent who never quite believed in her own ability. In fact, she seems to have seriously doubted herself throughout her career. Her life strikes me as more tragic than that of Billie Holiday, who may have made bad choices in men and in many other matters, but did so voluntarily (it has even been suggested that she-Billie- was a masochist). Ella was lonely, insecure and never realised how important she was. The sexism and superficiality of the jazz/showbiz world, and the wider society it existed within, was, in large part, to blame. But that voice...

(NB: Fortunately, Ella's geatest recordings are widely and easily available: I recommend 'The Best of the Song Books', Verve 519 804-2 and 'The Best of the Song Books: The Ballads', Verve 521 867-2)

To people who think it's "left wing" not to support England in the footie

Eng-er-lund! Eng-er-lund! Eng-er-lund!

I'm off to watch the England v Trinidad & Tobago match, and as you'll have gathered I will be cheering on England, in a suitably articulate manner of course. Here's hoping it'll be a good game.

Errmmm... and vote wotserface off Big Brother if you get a sec.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Visit Palestine

Visit Palestine is a devastating account of a Irish womans' experience of working as a international observer in Jenin. This film covers 3 years of her life. Caiomhe Butterly lived with the people of Jenin and helped protect whoever she could, from the daily effects fo the Israeli occupation - there was a time when she had received some news airtime when she was shot by the Israelis. Luckily she survived with no disability, Through this, Caiomhe was awarded the Time Magazine European Hero Award.

Caiomhi's film shows what it is like for the people to be under enforced curfews... to be bombarded by soldiers in tanks and guns - the bombing of peoples homes - the killing of men, women and children. The grief of the loved ones, such as orphans and partners who have to deal with life managing with children, loneliness and financial difficulties without their husband or wife. Including the mother of one of the few female suicide bombers. Who is now without 2 of her beloved children. 1 having died due to being shot by the Israelis - in front of his sister, who went on to avenge her brothers death, by blowing herself up and killing Israelis.
The film shows how politicised the children are from living in an unnatural and psychologically crippling environment - where they have to often run to school, ducking and diving under gun fire. when they have to deal with classmates being shot in their own classrooms and being taught how to survive under those dangerous conditions.
There were many children, men and particularly women who talked about their experiences of losing loved ones and homes. Not one of those people blamed or showed any hatred for the Jewish/Israeli people. But they had made clear where they did focus their frustration of where the daily bombardment had come from, which was Ariel Sharon, the Israeli premier.

It is so easy to disassociate oneself from such circumstances when clips are shown on the news - but this film was gritty and brought home to me, the emotional, physical and social factors of the people of Palestine.
As for the activists that go to places of conflict, like those who go to Palestine and Iraq. I have often heard people saying that such people are mad and careless - but watching this film shows that these people know they are not going to have an easy time or some sort of holiday - This film confirms that they're only purpose is utter determined humanitarianism.

I recommend this film to anyone who has an interest in Middle Eastern politics. Go on the website - and see about getting it shown at your nearest independent cinema - or buy the DVD.

I went to a local showing and we had the opportunity to ask Katie Barlow, the directer of the film questions about her work. She is doing her best to get major TV channels to show her film - which has already been shown in some places in the Middle East and free speech TV.

Shirley Phelps

A very interesting character :)

some niceeee music on there...

Well done, our kid

I promise to stop being nice to Respect members after this, but I had to mention Salma Yaqoob standing up to a Tory councillor who told her to consider moving to Oldham or Burnley, in the wake of comments that she had made about the ethnic balance of senior council positions.

Salma, I've long thought you were the best of the bunch in Respect, keep this up and your good reputation will continue to spread.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Well, this story from the Birmingham Sunday Mercury needs not much comment. I suppose it's possible to be of mixed race and be a BNP supporter (although one wonders if she mentioned it to them before paying her subs), but speaking against mixed marriages when you yourself are the product of one?

It doesn't even evoke my usual loathing for racism so much as just the word... "eh?"

Turkey - something we all should care about

No, this is not where I come out of the closet as an animal rights protestor. For those of you who don't know, I'm a long-term Turkophile; it's a country that I love to visit, holiday and work in, and I find its culture and politics fascinating to the point where I'm something of a geek about it.

There's a great article in today's Guardian detailing Turkey's current political travails for the uninitiated, but for those who want the potted version, it goes like this. In 2002 Turkey elected the conservative/Islamist AK Party to power, replacing the previous coalition of secular "old men" (many of whom had largely dominated Turkish politics since the 1960s), with a huge majority of seats, although only just under 35% of the votes. This sent ructions through the region - not least because every time Turkey had previously elected Islamist governments (as with AK's predecessor Refah in 1994) they had tended to be swiftly ejected, revolving-door fashion, by the country's Kemalist military. There's usually very little protest about this from the populace, a majority of whom have never voted even for "moderate" theocrats. So not many people held out much hope for Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party this time round. On the other side, the election of an (even moderately) Islamist government on the Greek borders, sent shivers down the spines of politicians in several EU capitals, who were already nervously contemplating the prospect of a Muslim EU member.

And yet... Erdogan (after finally managing to take his post as PM, following various legal shenanigans that are not relevant here) surprised them all. Not only did he retain power, he used it, along with his enormous parliamentary majority, to force through possibly the most radical programme of social reforms that the country had seen in decades. In particular, AK massively reduced legal restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, and poured public investment into the country's desperately poor and war-ravaged south-eastern region, where the majority of Kurdish people reside, and where the guerillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party were mostly active during the devastating period of the 1980s/1990s. What's more, AK pursued the country's EU candidacy with a far greater (and possibly more sincere) enthusiasm than the previous secular coalition had. Of all things, this conservative, Islamist government were behaving like social liberals. I wouldn't want to be painted into the corner of defending all of their programme, especially the free market economics of it, but in many ways it was a darn sight better than what had gone before.

All of this, you would think, would lead to massive EU enthusiasm to integrate a Muslim democracy like Turkey. But no, the bureaucrats dragged their feet, and mutterings were held in various capitals about diluting the "Christian" nature of the EU. Erdogan has since been forced on to the back foot at home, as the population has become increasingly becoming disillusioned with the EU's foot dragging, and the barely-disguised Islamophobia from some political figures in Europe has accentuated this process. Furthermore, the war in Iraq has produced a sense of bad feeling towards the West and the USA in particular, which really has no precedent in the history of the Turkish republic. And there were forces waiting in the wings ready to take advantage of this - the nationalist far right.

Any neocons or Eustonites reading this who think that ultra-secularism is always better than government by Islamist parties, should really take a look at the Milliyet Hareket Partisi. If you look at their website now, it is covered in pictures of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, and of the MHP's leader, Devlet Bahceli. Having had very little support in the recent past, due to popular loathing of the far right "Grey Wolf" militias who helped precipitate a full military coup in 1980, the party suddenly burst onto the national scene in the 1999 elections, coming second, only to be swept away by the AK tide in 2002. The MHP is secularist, and proclaims itself to be democratic, but the following quote from its founder Alparslan Turkes illustrates all too starkly the roots of its ideology:

"Turks do not have any friend or ally other than other Turks. Turks! Turn to your roots. Our words are to those that have Turkish ancestry and are Turks.... Those that have torn down this nation (referring to the Ottoman Empire) are Greek, Armenian and Jew traitors, and Kurdish, Bosnian and Albanians... How can you, as a Turk, tolerate these dirty minorities. Remove from within the Armenians and Kurds and all Turkish enemies." [1]

What's more, they're on the up - surfing a rising tide of nationalism exemplified by the arrest of the writer Orhan Pamuk for his comments about the Turkish state's record of gross human rights abuses to it minorities, in particular his stating publicly that Turkey had killed 1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds.

The MHP are, in fact, so on the up, that frantic Turkish progressives of my personal acquaintance are considering lending their votes at the next general election to shore up AK's crumbling support, in a desperate attempt to prevent an neo-fascist government from taking power in Ankara. AK themselves, meanwhile, are left scrambling back towards their historical religious populism in order to shore up their electoral base. Such is what we've come to.

What's really sad about all this, is that Turks tend to have the most marvellous attitude to religion and politics. When faced with the kind of question about Muslim versus secular identity that seems to tie up parts of the UK left in knots, the Turks I know will give you a quizzical look and say "err... well both really". There is no contradiction between being religious and not wanting to live in a theocracy, and this is commonly understood in Turkey. So this political situation need never have happened - it's a classic case of geopolitical events feeding malevolent political influences in a country, and it is desperately, desperately sad. A tolerant, multi-ethnic democracy that had been becoming more and more tolerant and democratic, now teeters on the brink of going into reverse gear.

So y'all still think that war in Iraq was a good idea?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Credit where credit's due

I never thought I would say this, but a big well done to George Galloway (no, there's not going to be a funny twist at the end), for publicly disowning Yvonne Ridley's call on East London Muslims to cease co-operating with the police. On BBC Question time last week, George laid it on the line in name of his Respect Unity Coalition, stating flatly that withdrawal of co-operation was "not our policy". And when asked to outline his stance again, he reiterated that:

"Our policy is not that we should withdraw co-operation from the police"

He went on from there to make entirely apposite comments about how, neverthless, there is a real feeling of no confidence in the police on the part of young Muslim people in London.

George, I find myself oddly light-headed and delirious when saying this, but on this occasion you got it exactly right. This is one former-Trotskyist popinjay who salutes your courage, your strength and your indefatigability.

Gawd, I think I need my pills...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The footie Third Camp

After the Priest's verbal drum-roll announcing my participation here, why does that old Fred Astaire number "I'm Building Up To An Awful Let-Down" keep playing in my head?

Anyway, as I understand this here blog is supposed to be vaguely topical, I've decided to write something about the sporting tournament that seems to be taking place at the moment. Now, I know little and care less about sport and generally subscribe to Orwell's view that it's "bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of the rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence".

My long-standing indifference to sport in general and soccer in particular intensified into outright hostility as a direct result of New Labour's nauseating and cynical attempts to identify themselves with the so-called "beautiful game" - you know, middle-class Blairite MPs suddenly announcing a life-long interest in footie and fanatical allegience to their local team, Alistair Campbell invoking Wayne Roonie's metatarsal in order to deflect criticism of the recent cabinet re-shuffle, Blair himself claiming to have watched a Newcastle player (one Jackie Milburn, I believe) who, it turns out, last played when Blair was aged four...all this sort of bollocks (now emulated by Cameron and his shower), has ensured that my loathing of football and the laddish, populist posturing that accompanies it has remained at setting 'eleven' since the mid-1990's.

But now, something strange and disturbing is starting to happen. No, I've not developed any interest in the World Cup or any enthusiasm for Sven's boys, or the slightest concern about who actually wins. I have, however, noticed an anti-football backlash developing, and it's one I have no wish to be associated with. It is well illustrated by a preposterous letter from the veteran third-worldist Felicity Arbuthnot in today's 'Guardian':
"Much of the Muslim population feel pretty marginalised and hurt since the invasion of Iraq. When British troops went to Basra, they flew the St. George cross - the Crusaders' flag. Thus it seems pretty crass for Tessa Jowell and a colleague to sport it on ministerial cars".

Faced with a comment like that, it's difficult to know where to start in analysing its utter stupidity and the implied insult it contains to Muslims and football supporters alike (and, by the way, there are plenty of people who fall into both catagories). There are many reasons to have opposed the invasion of Iraq, but the fact that some squaddies displayed St. George flags strikes me as pretty low down the list - and I'm not aware of any Muslims raising that particular matter as a major concern.

As it happens I work in a predominantly Muslim / Pakistani area, and I can assure you that there are plenty of St. George flags round there, in and on people's cars, homes and businesses.

The real thinking behind this kind of objection to people visibly supporting England is more wittily (well, I hope it's meant to be witty) summed up by "Bobbellinhell", a contributor to the Grauniad's 'Comment is Free':
"I love the world cup. As a fanatical racist I welcome the opportunity to get drunk and yell xenophobic abuse without fear of censure. I wish it could happen every day".

The suggestion that all (or even most) England supporters are drunken racists is slanderous nonsense - and also an implied but very obvious slur on the working class. So I'm taking a third camp position on the World Cup: sod the football industry and the posturing politicians and the non-stop TV coverage that makes pubs uninhabitable for serious drinkers like myself. And sod the middle-class, worker-hating 'anti's' with thie ridiculous and insulting accusations of 'racism' as well.

Oh, and wake me up when it's all over, will you?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Introducing my new columnists!

Allow me to take a moment to introduce my two new co-bloggers, Lalamimi and Jim Denham.

Lalamimi is a young UK Moroccan woman, with wide ranging political interests and something of an interesting line in cats. She does a lot of work on behalf of campaigns for marginalised groups in the world such as the Palestinians, as well as for various social activist causes in the UK. She also runs her own blog, which is well worth a look. And she likes Ann Coulter about as much as I do, which is always a bonus. She's here to enlighten and entertain you, and I'm sure she will not disappoint you.

Jim Denham needs no introduction. A true icon of argumentative lefties on the net (and everywhere else), Jim's views on Jazz, Politics, and life have been mulled, debated and misrepresented on websites across the world, more often than I care to mention. A long-time member of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Jim has a strong view on... well, more or less anything (other than football), and he's guaranteed to provoke debate!

Welcome both, welcome all, now go ahead and post!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

You know you're devoid of any human feeling when...

The un-lovely Ann Coulter on a group of 9/11 widows who have persistently criticised the Bush administration's handling of the affair:

"The 9/11 widows are witches and harpies"

Although of course it's worth remembering that Ann's post-9/11 prescription was to invade all Muslim countries and forcibly convert the inhabitants to Christianity. She's just charming, isn't she?

Watch this space; next week, Ann goes after a small boy who once stuck his tongue out at the President... stomps over his toys and throws his sweets in the lake.

Thankfully for the slowly-returning sanity of US politics, Coulter's comments have attracted a storm of criticism, including from Hillary Clinton, as breaking US news stories are reporting.

People like Ann Coulter are among the things that remind me why I should be glad to be British. If she'd written that about 7/7 victims here, she'd have been torn to shreds by the press. In the USA, they give her syndicated news space. Different horses, different courses, I guess.

Ridley Didley Doo

Respect's Yvonne "Don't Panic, I'm Islamic" Ridley on the recent police shooting of a young Muslim man in East London:

"I don't think the Muslim community should communicate with the police any more until they start showing some respectto the community."

Oh yeah, like that's gonna help. Nice one Yvonne...

What I'm wondering though, is what Yvonne wants non-Muslim South Asians, Arabs, Turks etcera, to do? And about the (religiously Islamic, culturally secular) Turks, are they Islamic enough for her? And whilst we're at it, what would she like white Respect'ers to do?

It's notable that Galloway doesn't appear to be commenting on Ridley's statement. Presumably he's got more sense.

Yvonne, if you're reading this, I'd refer you to my post below about the Left becoming a gaggle of competing sectional interests. Now, you wouldn't want that to happen, would you?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The difficulties of talking to normal people

I was reading an article in this week's New Yorker today, about the Democratic Party's difficulty in speaking to ordinary Americans in the so-called "Red" states, many of whom are part of the historic Democratic tradition, but who abandoned the party in the 1970s and 80s. What caught me about it was the feeling it gives that the issue is not so much one of policy, as of what policies are prioritised, and of the language used in expressing them. People don't like Democrats, not because they're liberal per se (most red-state voters themselves have a humanitarian side, and are certainly "liberals" in the sense that they believe the state has a role in alleviating poverty and providing education), but because of the way that some Democrats tend to talk down to people in those states. The Democrats know better. They want to improve these people's lives, and crucially, to educate them. Except the problem is, red state people, like people everywhere, don't like being patronised, especially by "liberals" who fetishise issues like abortion and gun control, just as much as the "conservatives" that they vilify do. There is a view among some liberals and left wingers that people who differ from liberal orthodoxy on these "dog whistle" issues are fit for nothing more than persona non grata status. Mark Warner, former Democratic Governor of Virginia and prospective Democrat contender for the 2008 Presidential election, put it thus:

"Sometimes the Democrats advocate tolerance, except for those that don't agree with them"

It seems to me that lessons could be learned from this in the UK as well. The UK is a far more uniformly socially liberal country than the USA, yet the Labour Party still finds itself stitching together progressively more wealthy electoral coalitions of socially liberal and economically Thatcherite voters, whilst the parties to its left flounder when trying to speak to the working class that they supposedly represent. The Greens pick up some votes in rural areas, and some in liberal bastions like Brighton and Oxford, with a message that seems to differ wildly wherever one is living at the time.

The SWP, via its "Respect Coalition" project has stitched together a coalition even weirder than Labour's, apparently consisting mainly of a nominally Trotskyite political party (the SWP), half of a Stalinist one (the minority wing of the Communist Party of Britain), and various Mosques, as well as having tepid, on-off support from the Muslim Association of Britain. And fronting up this operation, the one and only George "I invented that dance before Peter Crouch did" Galloway. Nuff said. They have had limited electoral success in areas with heavily concentrated Muslim populations, thanks largely to Galloway's long coat tails following his election as a "fighter for Muslims" during the bruising election campaign of 2005 in Bethnal Green and Bow. But they cannot seem to break out of their East London (and to an extent Birmingham) fortresses, and in any case the organised-left part of the coalition seems to have seen precious little gain for its efforts.

Finally, the most class-based of the parties, the Scottish Socialist Party, appears to be tearing itself to pieces amid recrimination between its leaders. Its English former sister organisation, the Socialist Party, holds on to scattered councillors in urban redoubts, thanks to superhuman efforts at elections on the part of its members.

And of course, members of all of the above groups waste no time having a pop at each other, on a regular basis. Now, all of this is fascinating sectariana, for sure. But haven't we forgotten something basic? I.e. that the Left has just stopped being able to speak a language that can be universally understood by ordinary people from any community in the UK? It may come as a shock to some readers, but the average UK voter, regardless of "community", will neither know nor care whether his/her prospective councillor is in favour of one or two states in Palestine, or whether that councillor supports the demand of "Troops out now" as against "End the occupation" in Iraq. He's voting either because he wants his bins cleared on time, to give the government a kicking, or because he likes you. And it's on the last point, that the left appears to have a problem. Because we preach at people. We (like all good liberal elitists) want to make people understand why they should think like us, care about the things that we do. We don't care if a person agrees with every point of our economic platform, if he has conservative views on abortion (or Zionist views on Palestine, or was pro-war on Iraq, or whatever our current hobby horse is), then he's either evil and to be sent to the depths of Hades, or else he's to be spoken to in slow and patronising tones about how wrong he is, and how much better of a person he'd be if he'd only understand. And if he doesn't like trade unions or he thinks tube drivers are really quite well paid, well then God help him if he mentions it to us on the doorstep.

It allows us to go away feeling good, and it helps to stitch together those single-issue coalitions so beloved of all today's politicians. But ultimately it's the strategy of losers who've forgotten why they got into politics.

What's the left for? What's the point of it, if it can't bring a universal message to that 70%+ of people who might not have views that are perfectly "anti-imperialist" (SWP) "pro-secularist" (AWL), but who we as the left are supposed to believe that we represent?
Why do we no longer believe that people of socially conservative but economically left wing views, have a place on the left? Why do we excoriate everyone who disagrees with us on our "dog whistle" issues as racists, pro-war crusaders, anti-abortion Savonarolas, or whatever other exclusionary put-down comes to our minds in our sense of all consuming righteousness?

By way of a slight aside, I offer an example. I've actually seen agonised discussions on left wing e-lists about whether or not it would be "right" to support England in the world cup... articles have appeared in left-wing newspapers calling for support for "anyone but England"... I mean, for Christ's sake. If you don't support the England team then fine, support someone else. But don't be so pathetically elitist as to make out that there's some kind of political point being made by you doing it. The idea that it's a bigoted act to support one's national team in a football tournament is so absurd as to defy belief. My local will not be full of students in mail order keffiyehs pulling for Iran during the world cup. But it won't be full of BNP members either. The real world doesn't work like that.

Why do we so seldom even manage to come across as people who could have a civil, down to earth chat about issues with a member of the public in a pub or cafe?

We are supposed to be about emancipation, and that means emancipation for all. We're supposed to be able to come up with a programme that can be supported by the working class, and that means concentrating on the basics. A real economic programme, simply set out, that people can understand and can see why it represents them. A commitment to decency and an end to discrimination of all kinds in the UK, so that no one community is left feeling bitter and excluded. Education and healthcare that are free and open to all. Involvement in local politics that goes beyond using council elections as a bully pulpit from which to bellow our opinions on national issues. We need the left to be a part of (it almost sounds nostalgic these days) the working class, to live and act among that class, and to take working class people as they are, not as how we would like them to be.

None of that means caving in on our real principles, but it does mean remembering what our principles are. I don't know when the left stopped being a national movement of people to care for their fellow humans, and started being about competing sectional interests and shrill demands on patchworks of issues. But what I do know is that if we don't reverse the process and learn once more to sound like the sort of people who ordinary working people can talk to and disagree with, without being patronised or vilified, then we've signed our own death warrant.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's official. I've joined the ranks of the damned.

Some of you will be aware that as well as posting my scribblings on this site, I'm also a member of some of the "" forums run by Virtual Countries International. They're quite big and have a very diverse membership, many of whom are lovely, and some of whom you wouldn't want to run into on a dark night. But by and large, they're a mildly diverting way to amuse oneself when one's in front of a PC with some time to kill.

Now, many of you will also be familiar with a particular species that inhabits the internet - the Frothy-Mouthed Lunatic Who's Looking For an Audience. I have encountered one such, and, for the first time, had someone apparently demand that God sends me to hell, on a web board. His name is "DrJames" and he is a legend of the old school.

Observe the thread
(which is worth reading in itself). For those of you who can't be bothered, here's the killer quote:

"Now Voltaire gives me the opinion that he is an enemy of the gospel of Christ. Now upon the power that invest in me by the church and by Christ, I drive Voltaire off these web sites. In the Name of the Father in the name of the son, in the name of the Holy Spirit. Be gone, and be never heard off again. I put a curse upon you that the angel of Gd keep driving you and never stop."

Yes, upon the power that invest in him by the church and by Christ, he drive me off these web sites. And he puts a curse on me by the angel of Gd.

Respect to you, DrJames. The internet is a perfect home for people like you, and you make it the colourful place that it is. What is more, you're running close to knocking Steve Freedom off his pedestal as official holder of the Shiraz Socialist Tinfoil Hat.

Keep Trucking, Doctor.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Manifesto of the Third Camp against US Militarism and Islamic Terrorism

Not the sexiest title in the world, but if you've got a political history like mine, then you just can't resist looking at any document that has the words "third camp" and "manifesto" in the title. This document, which can be viewed in full here, was penned by Maryam Namazie and her comrades from the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. It purports to be a document that confronts "both poles of terrorism", and to present a political basis for a "third camp" to represent the interests of people in Iran (and presumably elsewhere) against both US imperialism and Islamist theocracy. The bullet points from the document are as follows:

1 - No to war, No to economic sanctions

2 - No to US militarism, No to political Islam

3 - Nuclear disarmament of all states

4 - Attacks on civil liberties in the West in the name of ‘war on terror’ must stop

5 - We actively support the struggle of the people of Iran against a military attack and against the Islamic Republic of Iran

6 - The Islamic Republic must be expelled from the international community

Who could possibly possibly object to such a list of demands? Well, I could for one.

Before I say what I'm about to say, I want to make clear that leftists in and from Iran have my unqualified admiration for their bravery and their will to stand up to a regime more horrific than any I have ever experienced, and the horrors of which I hope I will never have to experience in the future. Those on the UK left who sneer at these people and dismiss them in favour of "anti-imperialist" solidarity with the Tehran regime are jokers at best, and in most cases worse than that.

But that doesn't change the fact that this manifesto is political tripe.

Before we even get to deeper questions of class politics, there are glaring issues of terminology and even basic logic, that simply don't add up. I'd like to know how demands like number 6, "The Islamic Republic to be expelled from the international community" are "third camp" in any way at all? That sounds like something that a US Republican would sign up to, not to mention that if this manifesto were implemented then it's unrealisable in any case. Demand 1 rules out sanctions and war as measures of enforcement. What's left after those two cards go back in the deck? Withdrawal of ambassadors? Like anyone in Tehran is gonna care. Sponsorship of opposition groups? Maybe, but unless Maryam's comrades have a lot more people in the ground than I think they do, we're not gonna be looking at them forming the new government. Opposition groups with far more serious forces on the ground are people like the Kurdish, Azeri and other ethnic nationalist groups (who have their own interests to pursue), or else the Rajavists of Mojahedin-E-Khalq, whose rule I remain to be convinced would be any more benevolent in terms of human rights, than that of the current regime. So it just doesn't work, even before we've discussed the actual merits of "expelling" a nation from the international community, and what exactly that would mean for people living in Iran.

Now, on to a more basic question. This document was written by "communists", albeit that they're followers of a particular and rather idiosyncratic communist tradition. So where's the class content? If anyone can point out even one of the above demands that Kenneth Clarke Conservatives, half of the US Democratic Party (and a not inconsiderable minority of Republicans), or indeed any number of bourgeois liberal figures could not sign up to, then I'd like to know about it.

The whole point of a "third camp", is that it represents the interests of the working class independently of other poles of poltical power. Maryam and her comrades do not appear to know this. It is to be hoped that self-proclaimed third campists like the Alliance for Workers' Liberty overcome their tendency to defer to the Worker-Communist Parties on issues about Islamic politics, and offer strong criticism of this document. Because at the end of the day, friends should be honest with each other.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

HP Sauce Demonstration

Well, I was there today, and so were around 600 others on the demonstration called by the Transport and General Workers' Union, seeking to defend to defend the jobs and livelihoods of workers at the HP sauce factory in Aston, Birmingham.

For those of you who don't know, not only are there workers' jobs at stake in this dispute, the factory (as pointed out by the irrepressible Carl Chinn in the course of his speech today) is a part of working-class history, part of a tradition of manufacturing famous products in Birmingham, of union organisation and solidarity that goes back for centuries.

So yes, I was there. TGWU deputy general secretary Jack Dromey was there too. Hell, even Blairite MPs Khalid Mahmood and Sion Simon were there. So where the hell were you, gentle reader? There were 600 people there. They'd been hoping for over 3000. Where were you?

This is one of the things that really piss me off about some people, who seem to think that political activism can be done more or less exclusively across the internet. It's not restricted to any one viewpoint, and only encompasses some among the many who do blog or post political material on the net. Nevertheless, among these full-time keyboard warriors, the "Decents" will navel gaze and natter about the importance of defending abstract positions on the importance of bourgeois democracy, whilst ranting in defence of a never-correct and increasingly-risible neoconservative position on the Iraq War. "Stoppers" will drivel on about "anti-imperialist" struggles halfway across the world by groups of which they have neither knowledge nor understanding, and rant about how "Bushitler" is more evil than than the twisted offspring of Beelzebub and Asmodeus. Both groups spend a great deal of time bashing each other, all from the comfort of their computer chairs of course.

Meanwhile, 600 people took a stand in the real world, to protect jobs and a history that encompasses working class people across the West Midlands' ethnic and religious spectrum. While you stayed at home and ranted about each other.

You keyboard warriors must be so proud.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Tinfoil Hat of the Week

Tinfoil Hat of the week goes to "Steve Freedom", whom the excellent Ministry of Truth site claims is in fact Simon Smith, the recently elected BNP councillor for Great Bridge in Sandwell, in this wonderful article.

"Steve's" views on Jews are obviously nauseating, (and he appears to spend an great deal of time thinking about such issues) but they do include such unintentionally hilarious gems as this:

"I think because they are so intelligent when it comes to language, inherent understanding of hierarchies and haggling/politics etc they are capable of exploiting the 'Homer Simpsons' of our societies. They understand weaknesses in White folks and can manipulate them…. If Homer is stupid enough to let Mr Burns in to watch the boxing match then Homer is the one that needs to be told he is a fool. Can we blame Mr Burns?"

That's right "Steve". You can't blame Mr Burns.

We love you, "Steve Freedom". It's thanks to men like you that the BNP promises to remain a marginal force in British politics, not just for this decade but for many years to come.

"Decents", "Stoppers" and all that

As a complete newcomer to the world of blogging, it's struck me that there's a real difference in terms of political alignments compared to the real world, and an even bigger difference in terminology.

It will no doubt come as some surprise to Euston Manifesto types who read this blog - and also probably internet-literate members of the SWP/Respect, but I initially found it really hard to understand this thing about a pro-war and anti-war left, one of which seems to include people who are anti-war even though it's called the "pro-war" left, and the other of which seems to include people who are in favour of wars all over the shop (as long as they're fought against the USA), in spite of calling themselves "anti-war".

Then I realised, we're back in the 1970s. It's the old neocon and new left thing again, only now they're called "Decents" and "Stoppers".

The heritage of what we today call "neocons" is actually a liberal one, and comes from the tradition of a strand in the US Democratic Party (visible in Truman and Kennedy, and especially embodied by Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, in whose office several prominent neocons worked) which believed in the export of liberal values and western democracy, if necessary by force of arms. Which is remarkably similar to the views of the broad majority in the Euston Manifesto millieu, whether they be ex-trots or long-time social democrats.

The neocons slowly became disillusioned by the Democrats, who they believed had been overly influenced by the new left that grew up around the movement against the Vietnam war. This left was chaotic, and included a wide variety of views ranging from mainstream liberals , via social democrats, through Trots, Stalinists and Anarchists, to Maoists who would say the sky was pink, if the USA said it was blue. Which patchwork movement closely resembles today's "Stoppers", not least the SWP in their current "USA says cat, we say dog" incarnation.

So there it is, history repeating itself. Except this time it's all on the net. Whether that makes this the tragedy or the farce, well I guess that remains to be seen.

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