Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My pro-cop shame

The district where I work was crawling with cops as I arrived this morning. Streets were sealed off with that 'scene of crime' tape you see on the telly. I had no idea what was going on, but it all seemed very exciting.

I later discovered - from workmates - that this was all part of a "swoop" by police, who had reason to believe that a major terror plot was nearing fruition. The plan, apparently, was to kidnap either a random member of the public or a British Muslim soldier, and to behead him/her, film the 'execution', and post it on the internet.

The alleged plot, is said (by the cops) to have "been in the later stages of development", and would have mirrored the kidnappings and 'executions' of people like Margaret Hassan, Ken Bigley and lots of trade unionists, by "insurgents" in Iraq.

Now, bearing in mind the cock-up at Forest Gate , no-one in their right mind would give the cops carte blanche in "anti-terrorism" operations. But I've got an admission to make: when I heard about the alleged "plot" on my doorstep, I was quite shocked and I was also glad that the cops were in attendance.

But the real admission is this: I didn't immediately parade up and down the Stratford Road with a placard proclaiming "Cops Out Of Sparkhill Now". Why not? After all, most of the cops were from outside Sparkhill. And everybody knows that the cops are the enforcers of capitalism and imperialism. So my failure to demand "Cops Out Now" is clear evidence of my support for capitalism, imperialism and general repression. I admit it: you've got me bang to rights, guv.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Total bastards and scumbags...and they nearly got away with it

From today's (UK) Times:

"7/7 victim wins cash over unfair dismissal

"A traumatised victim of the 7/7 bombings who was dismissed after taking two days' sick leave has been given a substantial out-of-court settlement by her former bosses.

"Nattashar Gittens, 30, of Hackney, East London, was dismissed by James Harvard, a company of recruitment consultants, after she went home in distress last April over the death of a friend's mother.

"Ms Gittens was also in great pain from a back injury and suffering nightmares and flashbacks after being blown off her feetby the Tavistock Square bus bomb in July 2005.

"She was dismissed from her £19,000-a-year job as a receptionist a week before she would have had one year's service and legal protection against unfair dismissal. Her employers sought to have the case thrown out on the ground that she had started as a 'temp' and so had not been employed for a year.

"But the panel at the Central London Employment Tribunal ruled that including the three weeks she was a 'temp' and the week's notice she was denied, her employment amounted to one year and a day and so her claim could proceed".

But note that Ms Gittens was only allowed to proceed with her case because the Tribunal decided that her first three weeks, as a 'temp', plus the week's notice she wasn't given, but should have been, should be included in her length of service. Had it not been for these technicalities (which might not apply in other, similar, cases), she would not have been allowed to pursue her Unfair Dismissal claim, because she would not have had twelve months service. That is clearly what her employers thought when they sacked her a week before her twelve months were up.

Prior to the 1997 general election, Blair and New Labour had promised to abolish the service requirement (then 24 months) for Unfair Dismissal and other employment rights, arguing , quite logically, that an Unfair Dismissal is unfair, regardless of service. Under pressure from the CBI, they backed down and merely reduced it from 24 months to twelve.

Employment Tribunals will never be a substitute for effective union organisation, but we must re-affirm the demand for full legal protection at work from day one, regardless of service.

Too reactionary, even for the SWP

Ex-'Respect' member Andy Newman brings news that the SWP have expelled Ger Francis, once their Birmingham organiser. Mr Francis is, I can safely state, the most backward and obnoxious asshole I have ever met on the 'left'. The fact that, at one time, this loathsome character was considered fit to be the SWP's Birmingham organiser speaks volumes about the calibre of that degenerate organisation. Still, credit where it's due: having sacked him as their Birmingham organiser a couple of years ago (though he hung around to undermine his successors), they have now expelled him altogether from the Party. According to Newman, the reason was his support for an all-male, all-Muslim slate of 'Respect' candidates for the May local elections in Birmingham.

Back in December, I wrote a piece on this blog suggesting that some very dodgy deals seemed to have been going on over the selection of 'Respect' candidates in Birmingham, and that it was strange that a well-known and quite successful female candidate, Salma Iqbal, had been dropped in the Springfield ward. I may have got some of the details wrong, but it seems I was on the right track. I like to think that I may have contributed to the downfall of Mr Francis.

Meanwhile, those with an unhealthy interest in the strange, reactionary phenomenon that is 'Respect', are recommended to visit Dave Osler's blog (see the sidebar on the right), where SWP'er 'Snowball' vainly attempts to defend this fast-collapsing organisation. The 'comments' are particularly good, as Andy Newman and other ex-'Respect' members take poor 'Snowball' apart over lack of internal democracy, lack of class orientation and the antics of 'Respect''s Member of Parliament.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

US Antiwar Movement Grows

The tide has turned in the US antiwar movement. Having been a participant in this movement since the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001 when it was very small indeed, the protests yesterday which drew tens of thousands of people to Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco were a very positive development.

It hasn't been a steady line of ascent since that time and I distinctly remember standing at a vigil of ten people in Washington Square Park in New York when Falluja was getting bombed to shreds with the occasional cabbie honking in support. I too remember being pressured to wear a red, white and blue ribbon in my office, ostensibly to support the war, and refusing but wearing my peace sign instead. Given that a number of us in the office, including myself, had lived through the horror of 9-11 only five blocks away, this wasn't an easy thing to do.

However, the difference now is that the opposition has been growing steadily and is reaching new heights. While the AP and other news organisations often make comparisons with the anti-Vietnam war movement and claim that the numbers are small, in reality they are not comparing like with like. What they neglect to mention is that this many years into the conflict in Vietnam, the anti-war movement was nowhere near as large as it is in the current stage of this war.

Further, the opposition to the war began in the places which were directly affected by 9-11 and grew weary rather quickly of having their pain and memories dragged through the mud and abused by the US government to justify its every action - but it has now extended to large swathes of the rest of the country. I noted with interest upon visiting my home state of Utah the plethora of yellow ribbons, bumper stickers on cars saying "Never forget" with images of the twin towers - all of which were largely absent in New York a few years after 9-11 - though of course the occasional mural of a local firefighter remained on the sides of bodegas in working class areas of Brooklyn and the Bronx.

But the yellow ribbons in the rest of the country are coming off because it is largely the sons and daughters of those folks who are being sent off to die in an un-winnable war. This is precisely why the Democratic Party, who have a miserable record on the war, are scrambling to be the new "doves" even though their desire for blood and their hawkish jingoism has been clear to anyone who has been paying attention. They've started to join in the protests and even Hillary "Hawk" Clinton has come out saying that she takes "responsibility" for allowing the war to happen.

Along with Democrats joining the protests, one thing that became clear on looking at the photos is the increase in veterans and active duty soldiers participating. When the antiwar movement started, and before 9-11, the anti-capitalist movement was rolling along. In my view, 9-11 resulted in the death of the anti-capitalist movement which has never recovered. The reason I mention this is that the early antiwar movement was largely made up of those of us who had been on these demos - who tended to be concentrated in large cities and largely white, in a lot of cases middle class with a heavy anarchist influence.

The addition to this original core of Iraq war veterans and people from across the country is a massive shot in the arm and will help the movement to grow. This doesn't necessarily mean that everyone protesting is against the war for "left" reasons - a number of those joining see the war as "un-winnable" in a nationalist sense instead of morally wrong - hardly an indication of leftism. However, the make-up of many of these veterans and active servicemen and women is very working class and largely Black and Latino. There have been large groups of Latinos protesting over the last few years for citizenship rights for immigrants and many of these demos were awash with the Stars and Stripes. The nationalist righteous indignation felt by them and many others who are sending their sons and daughters to die will have a massive effect on the current movement but the increase in participation shouldn't necessarily be viewed as an increase in the US left, which remains very small indeed.

MPAC and Holocaust Memorial Day

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI was flicking through the MPAC UK website today - something I do every now and then, largely as a hangover from when as an undergraduate I used to regularly object to the National Union of Students ban on that organisation. I'd always found MPAC a fairly weird bunch, and sometimes what they said wasn't the nicest to hear, but being weird and unpleasant just didn't strike me as grounds for banning someone from a national organisation like NUS.

Anyway, for those of you who don't know (and there can't be that many of you), MPAC stands for "Muslim Public Affairs Committee", although rather like many self-appointed community representative organisations, the grandiose title doesn't quite match the organisation itself. It's in the habit of issuing ranting proclamations on various subjects, which apparently UK Muslims are then supposed to take as guides to action. Some of the on-the-button bulletins in the past year, have included a roar of righteous indignation at Blairite minister Phil Woolas for using the word "crap" to describe the anonymous author's views expressed at a meeting. I'd hazard a guess that the author in question is MPAC front man Asghar Bukhari. He's the guy who gave money to David Irving once upon a time, albeit that he claims not to have known that Irving was a Holocaust denier. More recently, we have a mixture of news/opinion articles with a heavy slant on how if you stand up for the human rights of Palestininans, "The Zionists" will call you anti-semitic. And of course an article telling people that they need to prepare for the "student jihad" by getting elected to this year's NUS conference, by which "jihad" MPAC presumably means voting to end the ban on MPAC. So, nothing remotely wacky about this organisation, as you can see. Which neatly brings me on to my main point.

On the same site is an audiocast about Holocaust Memorial Day. I was in two minds about whether to bother listening to it, but eventually decided to do so, if only to find out whether MPAC would repeat the tired old MCB line about how they weren't attending because genocides happen to many peoples, this shouldn't be exclusive to one event, etc. Or indeed, given MPAC's predeliction for hysterical theatrics as outlined above, possibly worse. In fact, this is what I was expecting to hear. But for 75% of the audiocast, I was pleasantly surprised.

The recording takes the form of an interview by a young man, of a young Muslim woman (and presumably MPAC supporter), who has recently been to Auschwitz. She recounts the horrors that she saw, and gives a good idea of the sheer scale of that particular camp's part in the genocide. She does this by summing up her own journey around the camp, and also by adding facts that give an idea of the magnitiude of what happened there; her description of the thousands of kilos of human hair found at the camp when it was finally taken by Allied troops at the end of World War Two is particularly horrifying and poignant. She also makes clear that she regards the Holocaust as both true in historical fact and staggering in its magnitude, and the the interviewer does not dissent from this.

By this point I was pretty impressed. But then came the downer.

Asked to describe MPAC's position on Holocaust Memorial Day in light of her journey, the woman reverts to that same tired formula that I was expecting in the first place. MPAC will not be attending the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony, because it's exclusive, many peoples have been subject to genocides, the Palestinians in particular have suffered... all the usual lines that whilst true and and of themselves, don't actually add up to a reason for boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day. In other words, she just doesn't get that attending Holocaust Memorial Day in no way precludes other memorials being set up for other genocides. She and MPAC also don't get that the Armenian community in the UK, who also represent a people who have suffered genocide, have never opposed having a day specifically to commemorate the Holocaust. She also doesn't get just how obnoxious (and for that matter counter-productive) it is therefore, for organisations such as MPAC to make nasty little gestures like this boycott of the commemoration of those who died in one of the most tragic genocides in human history.

To sum it up, MPAC just doesn't get it. Disappointing, but not surprising.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Will Rubbish gets something right!

Many of you will be aware that Will Rubbish and I disagree about a lot of stuff. In particular we disagree over his support for the Iraq war, which I understand was a decision he took for honourable reasons, even if he is still completely wrong.

But fucking hell, he just might have a point about Grayham from Harry's Place, who appears to believe that not only was the Iraq War the right thing to do, but that it has been won, and that the war going on in Iraq now is different from the one that began in September 2003. I quote Grayham himself, from the comments on this post:

"1) The war we supported has ended and the commander in chief of the opposition has been executed.

2) Several progressive leftist organisations supported itand

3) Despite support from both the BNP and paleo-conservatives such as :not to mention initial support from many ordinary people, the supposedly 'progressive left' organisations who opposed the war failed to either stop it or even to keep a tiny fraction of the supporters they had to begin with. Their stand was (in anyones book) an enormous failure and has led to massive dissapointment and the embracing of right-wing ideas.

So, I'm quite happy with where support for this war has brought me personally, as I have not been forced to sell my beliefs cheaply.

What about you? Still think you are 'on the left?'

Despite the evidence?"

Now Will, at least tell me that you don't share that position?

Further, when challenged about this by my good self, Grayham's response was even better:

"Unfortunately it is the same one as eight weeks ago. It is not however, the same one as three years ago.

Only a lunatic could try and sell the idea that an entity is fighting the same war against a different enemy - and it just goes to show how deluded some anti-war people have become in the face of the massive failure which was their 'mass movement.'

Face it. You NEED it to be the same war don't you?"

Err ok, Mr Ham. It's me who's the nutter, obviously...

I'm not sure whether I'd fully agree with Will's conclusions about linking to Harry's Place; he thinks that any leftist who still links to them should "have their fucking head examined". I can certainly see where he's coming from though. And as for Grayham, if he really believes all that crap about there having been two Iraq wars since 2003, then maybe he's the one who needs the head examination.

"Jelly Baby": patronising swine

We've all been a bit serious lately. I just thought I'd attempt to lighten the tone a tad, by reproducing the text of a poster that has appeared in my local boozer; I realise that given my near-slapping at the hand of Stroppy Bird recently, I may not be considered best placed to pronounce upon sexism, or to accuse anyone of being a "patronising swine". But here it is, anyway (I don't understand all of it, by the way):

"Top professional pool entertainer David "JELLY BABY" Holt -as seen on TV- presents an evening of entertainment...(here)..."Jelly Baby" is so confident he is offering a four shot start (carry on rule) from the break for £10 per game upwards

"50 shot start for the ladies !

"Including trick shot exhibition.

"'I've seen the rest, but Jelly's the best' - Jimmy White".

Holocaust Memorial Day, 'Perdition', and the shame of the Scottish PSC

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. The Scottish Palestininan Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) are marking the occasion by staging readings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, of the late Jim Allen's play 'Perdition'.

The SPSC have advertised their readings thus: "Jim Allen's acclaimed play Perdition: a devastating work which reveals the extent of of the collaboration between the victims and the perpetrators of the Holocaust in Hungary towards the end of the 'Final Solution' has been hounded and suppressed for for over 20 years".

Well, the SPSC are simply wrong about the play having been "hounded and suppressed for over 20 years": although it was cancelled at the (London) Royal Court Theatre before its first scheduled performance in 1987, it was performed in Edinburgh later that year; in 1999 a "significantly rewritten version" (Allen participated in the re-writing) was performed by the Gate Theatre, London; In 2004, it was again performed in Edinburgh.

So this play has not been "hounded and suppressed for over 20 years". So why are the SPSC so keen to promote the idea that it has been?

Maybe because the play is an avowedly "anti Zionist" work, and -as we all know - the international Zionist conspiracy not only controls the foreign policies of the USA and the UK , but it also controls the media and the arts, and will suppress any anti-Zionist journalism, academic research or art as when it pleases. Actually, the fact that the Zionist illuminati have allowed the showing of Allen's "devastating" work is merely proof of their fiendish cunning: they realised that outright suppression of the play would be counter-productive, and expose the extent of their power and influence; so better to allow it to be performed occassionally, whilst continuing to denounce and vilify it (OK: I got carried away in that paragraph: to the best of my knowledge, no-one from the SPSC has put forward such an argument; but such is their "anti Zionist" hysteria and hatred that you can well imagine them coming out with that sort of argument. And, anyway, it's as good an argument as any to explain the failure of the all-powerful "Zionist Lobby" to suppress Allen's play).

What, then, does this "devastating" play depict? It is based upon a real-life libel case that took place in Israel in the 1950's, in which Rudolph Kastner, a Zionist leader in Hungary during WW2, had been accused by another Zionist, Malchiel Grunwald, of collaboration with the Nazis. Note that Grunwald, the accusor, was himself a Zionist - a point conveniently omitted from Allen's play, presumably because to acknowledge that fact would be to fatally undermine the central thesis of the play.

Allen himself said the play was "the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches at the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist".

This ignorant, ahistoric theme derives from Stalinist anti-semitism of the 1960's, and can also be found in the writings of Lenni Brenner and Norman Finkelstein. At one level, it is not surprising that Allen, a leftist who gained his political education in the 1960's, was infected by Stalinist anti-semitism (even though his own political allegiance was to Gerry Healy's nominally "Trotskyist" SLL); but even so, was it really necessary for him to pepper the play with such blatant anti-semitic imagary as "all-poweful American Jewery", "Jews in fur-lined bunkers hurling money" and references to Golgotha and the crucifixion?

When the play was first due to appear at the Royal Court (and the script published), the historian Martin Gilbert (not known for Zionist sympathies) identified 60 factual inaccuracies. And the fact that in 1999 Allen himself agreed to have the play "significantly rewritten", suggests that the original version was far from the incisive critique of Zionism that Allen and his supporters had claimed it to be. Apparently, the re-written version has excised some of the worst overt anti-semitic language. But the anti-semitic theme remains. The fact that the SPSC are performing readings from this disreputable, misguided little play, is a scandal and a disgrace.

It's also, as a matter of fact, a sad memorial to Jim Allen, who at his best (eg: "Days of Hope") was a magnificent socialist playwright and (especially), screen-writer. I prefer to forget about his miserable anti-semitic error. But the SPSC clearly want to glory in it, to bait Jews and sneer at Holocaust Memorial Day.

NB: Much of the material, and all the quotes, for the above, come from Stan Crooke's article 'Not the way to mark Holocaust Memorial Day' in the present issue of the AWL's 'Solidarity' paper, and the slightly longer piece by Crooke here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hrant Dink's funeral - where was Erdogan?

Once again slightly belatedly, I was planning to write a post about the pathetic display from senior members of the Turkish government, who "did a Gordon" by conveniently disappearing from view on the day of assassinated Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's funeral. But unsurprisingly it seems that Mehmet Ali Birand's beaten me to it, with this article published on Wednesday by the Turkish Daily News. I'd strongly recommend the article, which lacerates the leaders of the ruling, nominally Islamist Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party), and the leaders of the other mainstream parties, for their failure to stand up to the ultra-nationalist sentiment that is creeping over Turkey and benefitting the far right. That far right is represented by the Milliyetci Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party), who are the heirs of the fascist Grey Wolf movement, and who are likely to form the next government in Turkey. Over to you, Mr Birand:

"It was a great opportunity. Remember those slogans they keep repeating about our unity and brotherhood? Those about being against armed groups and the importance of democracy and freedom of expression. Do you remember those politicians who constantly criticized the groups that raid exhibitions, courtrooms and attack people in the name of 'patriotism?' These people are the ones who failed the test. Our leaders just failed."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A plea for tolerance

The Weekly Worker (not a publication I generally recommend), carries two excellent letters in its current edition (No 656) - both on the sex industry. One, from T&G member John Perry argues for a class approach to sex workers and for unionisation and protective legislation for all "vulnerable workers", regardless of their legality.

The other letter might, at first glance, seem slightly less serious, but is actually very much to the point (and quite amusing, I think, into the bargain):

"According to the Weekly Worker, George Galloway objects to having strip clubs and lap dancing establishments close to places of worship ('SWP puritanism', January 11).

"In a way I can understand why some customers of these entertainments may not like having worship going on nearby. Worship is a deliberate degradation of the human spirit, by people who imagine there are tyrannical intelligences with power over human beings that people have to grovel to and appease.

"Although it is right that we should campaign to prevent children from being exposed to this "iniquity", in reality worship only damages the people who engage in it, and does not affect others in adjacent buildings. Therefore, customers of lap dancing and strip clubs should be more tolerant of religion going on nearby, however perverted it may seem to them.

"Angela Keene


Social Attitudes Survey

Yesterday's report on the results of the social attitudes survey which were printed in the Guardian were very interesting indeed. Most intriguing for me was the figure citing that 57% of the population consider themselves "working class" versus 37% who consider themselves "middle class". While the latter figure has increased, the fact that 57% consider themselves working class in today's climate is to me rather astonishing.

One of the primary reasons I find this surprising is that union density is only 26%. The other is that the postmodernist and Thatcherite legacy of the "classless society" which continues to be propped up by the media and the upper classes has failed to change the percptions of the people on the ground. Further, there is a real disconnect here between the large percentage of the population of those who cosider themselves working class and the lack of support for New Labour. Worryingly, the decline in New Labour and indentification of it as a working class party has led some of the self identified working class to support the far right BNP. In Billy Bragg's new book "Progressive Patriot" he takes up this issue head on and should be compulsory reading for those on the left seeking to offer an alternative to the disillusioned members of our class.

Two additional positive statistics show that despite the fear mongering in the press and the popularity of Gloria Hunniford's Heaven and Earth show (sarcasm), there was a marked "decline in religious identity" according to the Guardian, "with more than two-thirds of people (69%) saying that they do not belong to a religion or have never attended a religious ceremony". This figure was only 24% in the swinging 60's.

Finally, there is a decline in "Britishness" and an increase in "Englishness" with 44% down from 52% considering themselves British and 40% considering themselves English up from 31% under ten years ago. Reading Bragg's book, it becomes clear that the increase in the self-identification as "English", while it may not intrinsically seem so to those on the far left, could actually be a very positive development, not least because it may indicate a distancing of identification with the empire. Bragg's point is that Englishness can be claimed to be progressive and in fact has a progressive history in a way that "Britishness" doesn't. Whether or not one agrees with him - it is worth thinking about.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sanctimonious twit and hypocrite

I used to regard Rowan Williams as a particularly irritating, whinnying, sactimonious twit whose half-baked opinions on matters he had no particular authority to pronounce upon, were given far too much coverage by the media. He was, however (I used to think) essentially harmless and perhaps even benign.

In the light of his intervention over the 'gay adoption' row I have revised that opinion. He is, indeed, a whinnying, sanctimonious twit. But he's also exposed himself as a hypocrite of the first water. Together with his C of E sidekick John Sentamu (Archbish of York), he has backed the Catholic campaign to deny gay couples equal rights with heterosexuals when it comes to adoption. Sentamu and Williams have written to Tony Blair:

"In legislating to protect and promote the rights of particular groups, the government is faced with the delicate but important challenge of not thereby creating the conditions within which others feel their rights have been ignored or sacrificed, or in which the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk.

"The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning".

Has Williams - supposedly an erudite and thoughtful man - thought through the implications of that argument? If we are to allow exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation on grounds of "personal conscience", then the very basis and rationale of such legislation is fundamentally undermined. And who's "personal conscience" should be afforded such privilege? Just Christians? What about people who sincerely believe that the Race Relations Act is a threat to their belief in racial purity? Or others (myself included) who have a principled, philosophical objection to the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations? Do we all get exemption from the requirements of the law, if our consciences are sufficiently disturbed?

Unfortunately, Opus Dei supporter Ruth Kelly and her god-bothering boss Mr Blair, seem to be only too willing to appease the Catholic bigots and their C of E fellow-travellers, and are desperately trying to broker a compromise. That Kelly was ever let anywhere near gay rights legislation is a scandal and a disgrace.

Anyway, back to that craven hypocrite Williams: it turns out (according to today's Guardian), that he has a "longstanding friendship with a Welsh gay Anglican priest, the Rev Martin Reynolds, who with his partner has raised a boy with severe learning difficulties".

So where exactly does this preposterous man Williams stand on the issue, beyond claiming (quietly) that some of his best friends are gay adoptive parents?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Social Libertarianism Rules

Follwing from a variety of complaints, moderation is off. You asked for it, kids.

Brother Hrant is dead, and yet not one of you said a thing

Hrant Dink was shot this week. And not one of you (yes I mean you Dave, Stroppy, Lenny Lenin, Harry, all of you bloggers) said a word. Wow, did the dead Christian Armenian who didn't fit your "sound line on anti imperialism" also not fit your political model? I mean, all he was, was the last great conciliator from the victim community of the largest genocide in the 20th Century before or since the Holocaust, who was actually willing to make his peace with the host community that perpetrated it?

Call yourselves the "left"?

Get yourselves together. And begin to understand what being on the left is all about.

Monday, January 22, 2007

'Morning Star' forgets its own history

On this day (January 22) in 1941 the 'Daily Worker' - forerunner of the present 'Morning Star', was banned by the British government. You'd think, wouldn't you. that the 'Star' would wish to commemorate this heroic episode in its history, but - for some reason - there's not a mention of it in today's edition.

Fortunately, the 'Guardian' has a better memory, and even republishes its leader comment of the day. Maybe it explains why the 'Star' is now so coy about the whole episode:

"No one likes the idea of the suppression of a newspaper even during a war, and least of all the suppression of a newspaper that is the sole organ of a legal political party (the British Communist Party - JD).

"Yet no one who has read the 'Daily Worker' and 'The Week' during the war can doubt the extreme provocation they have given and can harshly censure Mr Morrison (Herbert Morrison, a Labour minister in Churchill's National Government-JD) for his action. The 'Daily Worker' began the war as a supporter of resistance to Hitler; it changed its tune when it found that Stalin wanted to be friends with Hitler.

"Day after day since it has vilified the British Government and its leaders to the exclusion of any condemnation of Hitler. Nothing that has happened in this country has been decent and right. Even when the United States increases its aid this is denounced not as something to be welcomed but as a malevolent exercise of Yankee capitalism.

"More recently the paper has largely devoted its columns to derogatory accounts of Service conditions on the one hand and to the encoragement of agitation among munitions workers on the other. This might be excusable if the motive were honest, if it were really desired to help the country in its struggle to keep democracy alive in Europe. But the 'Daily Worker' did not believe either in the war or in democracy; its only aim was to confuse and weaken. We can well spare it".

Democracy: An End or a Means to An End?

First, I'd like to thank the Shiraz crew for having me on board and I will try to contribute when time allows. I suspect we'll have lots of debates and interesting discussions as well as raucous arguments - but then that's the point of a blog (I think).

Here's my first stab at a contribution:

Democracy: An End or a Means to An End?

One of the courses I am taking this year is political philosophy and I've actually quite enjoyed the philosophy bit of my "politics, philosophy and history" degree. It should be particularly interesting later in the year when my lecturer, who hates Lenin and makes constant references to how great the czar was, covers the topic of "socialism as ideology".

In any case, last week's lecture was on "Democracy" and concerned different types and whether or not people thought it was a truly relevant concept any longer. Of course taking this from the realm of the metaphysical and putting it into concrete day-to-day reality is not what lecturers normally do, so I was left to accomplish this task alone.

Being immersed in the British far-left from varying viewpoints, it became clear to me that whether folks on the left realise it or not, a huge portion of the discussions to be had in politics today pivot on this central issue.

As far as I can discern, there are three types of democracy that people on the far left discuss regularly. These are:

1. Structural or organisational democracy
2. State or governmental democracy
3. Participatory local democracy (as in a socialist society)

The central question concerning these forms of democracy that we discuss is whether each type is an end in itself or a means to an end for a greater "good" - and since I hate terms like "good" and "bad" when speaking of politics, I will substitute the word "progress".

In other words do we support these forms simply because democracy in individual cases leads to human progress in and of itself in that one situation, or do we support it as a means to furthering human progress in the future and as a whole?

Let's look at the types of democracy listed above and examples on the left that are relevant to
them. The first type is characterised in the ongoing debate inside the organisation that I support, Socialist Resistance, about character of Respect. While there are numerous problems with it as an organisation, the primary reason that I oppose Respect (besides Galloway acting like a cat) was that the organisation has a severe lack of internal democracy and no room for debate. I have argued on numerous occassions that there is a tradition on the left of democratic debate, but this would not seem to be the strongest argument in favour of this position. I could alternately argue that democratic functioning in left groups is in and of itself progressive, but this does not seem to have as strong of a weight behind it for enforcing democracy as it could.

So what is the real reason that democratic structures and "organisational democracy" is important? It is because without it, the third type of democracy, "participatory local democracy" or socialism is not realised. Whether or not one believes that this would be in the form of "soviets" and workers' councils or local neighbourhood organisations, our concept for a better world requires a respect of and an adherence to "structural and organisational democracy".

Now let us turn to the second type of democracy, that is "state or governmental democracy". The obvious example here is simply Iraq and the current Iraq war. More specifically, I want to look at reasons why the ruling classes of the US and Britain support the war and contrast that with Nick Cohen's support of the war.

In a sense, the US neo-cons (a number of whom came out of the US Trotskyist movement as odd as that may seem) use the pretence of supporting the same means to an end that those on the far left do - ie that democracy as such is the means to a more progressive future, a better world and so forth. Of course some of them may believe it, but if you visit the Project For a New American Century website, you will find this belief buried under a pile of documents supporting a much more important "end" - that is US dominance, economically and otherwise.

In this sense it would seem that while leftists argue for "structural and organisational democracy" as a means to an end for "participatory local democracy", the neo-cons and US ruling class are using "state or governmental democracy" enforced from above as a means to an end for US dominance, and not "participatory local democracy".

So what does any of this have to do with Nick Cohen's book excerpt in the latest issue of the Observer?

It would seem that Nick Cohen is arguing for "state or governmental democracy", not as a means to any end, but as an end in and of itself. In this sense he differs from the neo-cons and those on the far left. But is he correct? Is the situation in Iraq one in which democracy should be established as an end with no plan for how one could get to "participatory local democracy" even if we believe Cohen when he claims to be opposed US dominance?

Looking at it from the point of view of ends, we can clearly see that if Cohen's concept of democracy for Iraq were implemented, the end desired by the neo-cons - US dominance - could also be achieved. However, it becomes equally clear that the end desired by those on the left - "participatory local democracy" - is an impossibility if US dominance occurs, which is a direct contradiction this type of democracy.

In the end Cohen's views are very simply, liberal. He claims to want a better life for the Iraqi people but he blocks the possiblity of a socialist future for Iraq by supporting the end desired by the neo-cons and having no vision beyond democracy as an end in itself.

Regardless of what one thinks of the views posted here, the subject of democracy remains a vital topic of discussion for socialists.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

And now for a bit of sectarian gossip

Right now I'm listening to the James Whale show - on TalkSport after Radio Galloway, and his guest is one Faria Alam (she of the "I shagged Sven" fame). I'd heard the rumour before, that she is the cousin of AWL student organiser Sacha Ismail. This was something that I was always reasonably prepared to believe, not because Sacha particularly reminds me of Faria, but because I had no reason to disbelieve it.

However, some spod (sounding like a geeky undergrad) has just phoned the show and asked Faria straight out whether she is Sacha's cousin. He also said that the AWL "hate George Galloway more than anything else" or words to that effect, an assertion that may surprise Matgamna and the crew. Apparently there was some tangent about how if Galloway married Faria, he'd then have to see Sacha at the wedding or some such. Ah, the old common room rib-ticklers. I remember them well.

Anyways, not only did Faria deny that Sacha is her cousin, she also appeared to deny knowing him at all. She sounded genuinely perplexed, saying things like "What cousin? I don't have many cousins". She couldn't really have been much more emphatic.

So Sacha, what's the story? Does anyone else know anything? I think we should be told.

Public service broadcasting

Various self-righteous posturing ninnies, of the Ken Livingstone variety, have been calling for Channel Four to take "Celebrity Big Brother" off the air, in the aftermath of the Jade Goody business. Sunny has been the most sensible commentator so far.

On the contrary, I think "Celebrity Big Brother" should be made compulsory viewing, particularly for the young and impressionable. As my partner says, "they (the participants) always think they'll beat the 'Big Brother' machine, and come out smelling of roses: but they never do". Somehow, this crap show manages to expose the truth about its participants: George Galloway was shown up for the ultra-right-wing bully and poltroon he is; Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara have been exposed as the racist chavs they are. This is all to the good, and should be applauded by all decent people. I want John Rees and Lindsey German on there next. And, maybe, Ken Livingstone.

'Socialism of fools' alive and well

Nick Cohen, a journalist who saw through Blair and all his works well before most, has an insightful article, ("The world turned upside down"), plugging a forthcoming book, in today's 'Observer'. Cohen, of course supported the Iraq war, though he now seems to accept that it was, maybe, not such a good idea. Lots of decent people also supported the war, for the best of reasons. Just as lots of fascists, anti-semites, escaped Quakers and little-Englanders opposed it. Cohen quotes the South American playwright Ariel Dorfman's 2003 letter to an 'unknown Iraqi', which sums up my own feelings at the time , much more eloquently than I could:

"What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country if it could, indeed, result in the ousting of Saddam Hussein?"...

Cohen comments: "His (Dorfman's) reply summed up the fears of tens of millions of people. War would destabilise the Middle East and recruit more fanatics to terrorist groups. It would lead to more despots 'pre-emptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and , perhaps, to Armageddon'. Dorfman also worried about the casualties - which - I guess, were far higher than he imagined - and convinced himself that the right course was to demand that Bush and Blair pull back. Nevertheless, he retained the breadth of mind and generosity of spirit to sign off with 'heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children'".

There's much more good stuff in Cohen's article, but the most revealing material of all is the readers' comments, where anti-semites assume that Cohen is Jewish (he isn't - as it happens): the socialism of fools is, indeed, alive and well. And it thinks it's "left-wing".

Wankered with some, errr... ahem...

Yesterday as regular readers will be aware, was the inaugural Socialist Bloggers' Meetup in London. A small and select crowd assembled in the Doric Arch pub (resisting the urge to sign any crappy manifestos that might have been passed around). 'Twas a pleasure to meet for the first time with Dave, Andrew, John A, Jon R, Marsha and TWP, as well as, not for the first time, with Stroppy, Kit, Janine and of course me old mucker Mike, as well as my adopted child for the night, Jim "where's my fucking bag" Denham.

So, what actually happened? I'd arrived a few hours early, so having trundled off to Housman's bookshop to buy some sectariana, I settled in the pub round the corner from the Doric, and nursed a pint whilst reading the CPGB's report on their obsessive-compulsive topic of conversation, the conference of the Socialist Youth Network. This might seem a surreal topic for a double-page spread in a paper, but there again Conrad's gaggle of goons have been up to that sort of thing for years. Anyway, I was soon joined by Mike, and after loitering for a bit we headed for the Doric.

Already quaffing liberally were Kit, John A and in particular Denham, who seemed remarkably loquacious for a man who (according to Kit) was "on his first pint". Was he bollocks, in my humble opinion, but there again I'm more cynical than Kit is. All very amiable - myself, John and the three AWL bloggers merrily chatted and waited for others to arrive.

Stroppy turned up shortly afterwards, although in spite of three of us yelling her name and me gesticulating wildly, it took some time for her to notice us - an impressive feat in a grimy little pub that's about the size of a broom cupboard. Should we take offence? Anyhow, Jim (who was at this stage still manageable) raced off the the bar to get her some booze, and all was well with the world. She appeared to have a thing about dress sense around the table - indeed she's blogged about it in her own report of the event. Some people might think that a woman who dresses like Courtney Love might want to be a little circumspect about handing out sartorial advice, but obviously I wouldn't pass any such comment.

Then we were joined in quick succession (my memory is hazy) by Dave, TWP, and Janine. John A immediately made a bee-line for Dave, and appeared enraptured by Mr Osler's anecdotes about the good old days on the left. Touching, really.

Now, at this point some kind of weird demonic posession seemed to overtake Jim, who began to alternate between thumping his fists on the table and shouting at TWP about Palestine, and doing the same to John A, who he appeared to think was a supporter of mass murder. That's when he wasn't rooting around under the table muttering "where's my fucking bag" or (most amusingly) patting Stroppy on the head and calling her "doll", Sinatra fashion. I did intervene at one point when he appeared to be about to launch himself across the table at John, but thankfully my concerns were unwarranted. Indeed TWP was so struck with him, and he with her, that she's kindly agreed to become one of the team here at Shiraz. The invite is in the post, mate - you were very articulate and intelligent company, and anyone who can go ten rounds with Denham is more than worthy of posting here. Even if you are in that funny group that the SWP like to hang about with.

After several failed attempts to get a photo or video of Jim in table-thumping action, whilst also talking to Janine about whether Kit taking the piss out of Katy Clark MP's trainers is a sexist comment (we decided it isn't) and after an amusing if rather gloomy chat with Osler about how shit the British left is at, well, everything, we were joined by Marsha, Andrew and a (ahem) "tired and emotional" Jon R, who appeared to be trying to rival Jim in the sobriety stakes. He appeared very concerned about the collapse of the Soviet Union, which I had always thought was a fait accomplis, but anyway I was more concerned with the sight of a rather high-spirited Mike kissing the back of Jim's head, presumably in an attempt to distract him and thus preserve the table from further assault. However, Mike was still intact by the end of the night, so all was well. Besides, Jim was preoccupied with buying what appeared to be the world's biggest ever round, one drink at a time, and further frustrating the barman by repeatedly losing his switch card and forgetting his pin number.

I did have some sympathy with the member of bar staff who threatened to throw us out of the pub if we didn't desist from group hugging and singing the Internationale. Quite right sir. The song's as dull as dishwater, and besides I never knew the words when I was a Trot, let alone now.

As things drew to a close, there was talk of going on for a curry but Denham and I resisted, deciding to go home. I was actually quite tempted by the sparky Marsha's alternative suggestion of "more alcohol", but on balance I thought that I might die if I drank any more. And besides, I wasn't too sure if Denham would make it back unassisted. So we said our goodbyes and headed for the train.

The train was an adventure in itself; this being UK railways, there were of course engineering works and enormous delays, further compounded by the fact that we had no idea what was going on, largely because the Virgin Trains staff seemed to be averse to talking to the two paralytic blokes muttering garbage to each other in one of the carriages. Eventually we went our separate ways, and I left Jim on the train, sleeping peacefully whilst face-down on a table. I presume he must have got home eventually, but he'll have to tell you exactly how. If he can remember.

Anyway, it was pleasure folks, and I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Just one more thing, Ma'am...

Following on from that last post, I must just point you towards the two newest additions to the Shiraz blogroll. Firstly, A Very Public Sociologist is the blog of a nice lad who is doing his PhD on two particular parties on the Trotskyist left. Which suggests there must be something wrong with the poor chap. But anyway, he's a scholar and a gent so he is, and he links to us.

Secondly, after some delay, Cunt of the Week also joins the permanent blogroll. Yes, I know some of you don't like the word. So don't use it yourselves. See if I care. His (I am only guessing he's a "he") blog sparkles with wit amongst the gratuitous abuse, and he's quite willing to debate out the merits and demerits of his unique style with all comers.

Right, now I really am off to that piss up. Laters!

Referee Me

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThose among you who are slightly more versed in Bloggish will alredy understand about referring links, but for those who don't here's a brief explanation. Your blog has become a referring link if someone clicks through from it to another site, in particular another blog. One of the reasons bloggers tend to have lists of links or "blogrolls" on their front pages, is precisely to ensure that there's click through traffic to other sites, which they hope will be reciprocated by the recipients linking back. This has all sorts of beneficial effects on things like search engine rankings, and is for instance one of the reasons why if you type "Shiraz Socialist" into Google, we emerge as the top-ranked link.

Right, that's enough of the technical shite.

I've been interested of late to see how good a referring link we are. And it seems we're not too bad. Kit has us as his second biggest referring link, ranking behind the Stroppies but, astoundingly, ahead of Dave Osler. Which says something about the intellectual standards of the readerships of our respective sites. On the positive side, it could be that they're so glued to Dave's articulate and interesting writing that they can't be arsed to click onwards to another site... or else they just come away spoiling for more after reading my and Denham's incohate rantings. Either way thanks Kit, that's interesting to know.

Yet even this pales into insignificance compared to our other recent ranking. We're also apparently the second-biggest referring link to Luke Akehurst's Blog (although he says he doesn't know who we are - arsehole). In a beautifully surreal loss of my grip on reality, I found out that among Luke's referring links, we rank just behind a site which appears to be moaning about the Clissold Leisure Centre in Stoke Newington. I kid you not, look for yourself: I've never been there but the place must be a right shithole if it's pissed someone off that much...

In an even more wonderful onset of delirium, Luke has us ranking just ahead of swinging site Touch My Cheeky Bum, whose owner appears to take great offence at being associated with Hackney's answer to Chris Evans:

"I want to make clear that we only surfed your blog by accident because our computer automatically finds ginger people as they are generally what used to be called 'swingers'. Once we realised that the only place you were likely to swing was a gibbet we stopped looking at your site"

And who said the internet was a playground for maladjusted people who just don't fit into the pattern of real life?

I'm off now for the left-wing bloggers' piss up. Will let y'all know if there's anything interesting to report, from shagging to fights to arrests. TTFN.

Friday, January 19, 2007


... an SWP'er resigns from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Make of it what you will:

"15 January 2007

Dear SPSC Coordinating Committee,

This letter is my resignation from the positions that I hold in the Campaign, namely secretary of the Dundee branch and membership of the coordinating committee.
I do this with regret but with no rancor against the Campaign, and with every sincere hope that the Campaign's essential work in raising awarenes of the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom continues.

I resign for two reasons. The first is that, after considerable confusion on my part, discussion with friends and comrades has convinced me that the argument posed by Barry Levine and Henry Maitles in their 6 January letter to Socialist Worker - that the focus during Holocaust Memorial Week should be the fight against fascism, particularly in the light of the Islamophobia- fueled growth of the BNP. I cannot in good conscience continue to serve as secretary for the Dundee SPSC branch or on the Coordinating Committee without fully supporting the campaigns and strategies of the organisation. You deserve a fully committed office holder who can promote your effords with confidence.

My qualms about the staging of Perdition during HMW are tactical. The Zionists have certainly controlled the discourse about Holocaust remembrance for many years, and have aggressively quashed the truth about Zionist collaboration with Nazis. It's unrealistic, though, to think that we can re-open this discourse using events like the Perdition/Brenner tour without building a broad coalition to support them. When area trades union councils, progressive Jewish organisations, mosques and Islamic Societies, political parties and antiwar groups co-sponsor such an event, it will be able to effectively link the lies told by Zionists and the need to fight fascism. Until then, Zionists will be able to marginalise and isolate alternative narratives during HMW and will use such efforts to strengthen their control of the Holocaust discourse.
And this leads to my second reason for resigning: I believe that the occupation is intimately connected to the entire campaign of US-British imperialism in the Middle East that has gone on for many decades, and it is unlikely that the Palestinians will win a true end to the occupation, with a viable economy and nation and the right of return, without a victory of anti-imperialism in Iraq , Lebanon , Syria , Iran , and Afghanistan . I believe that by the vibrant united front built by groups like Stop the War, which features alliances between Muslims, the left, trade unionists, the old anti-war movement, and a growing number of ordinary Britons, are the best way for people in Britain to further anti-imperialists around the world. News of the Time to Go demonstration in Manchester this past September was receieved joyfully in Lebanon, Palestine , Iraq and all over the Middle East , and Stop the War activists who travelled in a Glasgow delegation to Lebanon were presented with medals by Hezbollah in thanks for their support of the resistance.

While I will continue to support the work of the SPSC, I would like to focus my time and resources on building Stop the War, the campaign against Islamophobia, and the broad campaign against imperialism. I pledge to emphasise Palestinian issues within this work, particularly as regards the boycott of Israeli goods and the academic boycott.

Finally, I freely acknowledge that I came to this decision after discussion with fellow activists in the US and the UK , particularly my comrades in the Socialist Workers Party. There is no shame in a decision taken with the advice and support of my comrades, who have freely shared their time and experience with me as I have learned about the movement in Scotland, and I know that many fellow activists will disagree with my decision in good conscience.

There was no pressure for me to resign, official or otherwise, from Party members or from anybody else, and I take full, and solo, responsibility for this decision. No personal rancor against any individual played any part in my decision, and I want to thank all of the activists in the Campaign who have worked with me with humour, patience and profound dedication to justice for Palestine and the world.

I am happy to pass the reservations I have recorded for Dundee 's Perdition on to Alan, Mick or anybody else along with 25 pounds in cash and cheques for tickets that I have received.
I wish the best to everyone and am happy to discuss my decision further with anyone by email.

In solidarity,

Esther Sassaman, Dundee"

(Hat-tip: Harry's Place)

Big Brother: a vindication of the British working class

I'm writing this at about ten-to-nine on Friday 19 February 2007. My partner (gawd bless' er) is downstairs, glued to the screen, poised to phone or text the Celebrity Big Brother eviction -line, to get rid of the Bigot. She (my partner, not the Bigot) lost interest in "Big Brother" - "Celebrity" or otherwise, some time ago, but has now been mobilised by the Bigot and her Unbelievably Inarticulate and Stupid Chav Friends, to start watching again (which is, no doubt, some comfort to Channel Four and Endomol).

The fact that the Bigot will be evicted for her bullying and racism is to be welcomed; the fact that she will be voted out by an overwhelmingly working class audience should give pause for thought to those "anti-racists" who seem to think that the white, British working class are simply irredeemably racist: they're not, and they react strongly when a racist, bullying bigot brings them into disrepute. Happily, tonight's result will make that clear. And, happily, it will also mark the end of the Bigot's career - and the careers of her equally nasty and talentless friends.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The the foulest 'sport'

Muhammad Ali is 65 today and suffering from Parkinson's disease - a cruel fate for a man once renowned for his physical and mental speed and agility. Perhaps surprisingly, the most fulsome tribute to Ali I've seen today is from the Daily Telegraph, which devotes five pages of its sports section to a splendidly illustrated tribute, plus part of the main paper's leader column:

"...Who can rival him as a sporting hero? His achievement in a sport of which some disapprove was not just to knock men out. He was an artist, not a pschopath; knocked down by Henry Cooper in 1963, 40 years later he telephoned him to reminisce. Psychic presence and witty self-promotion brought him double success in the ring and as a civil rights champion.

"Ali showed moral as well as physical courage. He refused to serve in Vietnam out of religious principle, he explained, but added 'No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger'. His career seemed at an end, yet he made an amazing comeback in 1974 in the 'Rumble in the Jungle'. More recently, when asked why he thought he would have beaten Mike Tyson, Ali simply tapped his temple: he was always the cleverer fighter.

"We need heroes, and Ali really is the greatest".

Once over the shock of the voice of the retired colonels of Tory middle England praising a black, Muslim, civil rights activist and opponent of the Vietnam war, I have to say that I don't dissent from any of that. Ali most certainly was (and is) a brave, generous and thoroughly admirable human being.

But the "sport" at which he excelled (and that may also be responsible for his Parkinson's) is a foul business. I don't think it should be called a "sport" at all: the object of boxing, unlike any other sport (including dangerous sports), is to render the opponent unconscious by repeated blows to the head and body. Since 1945 there have been 361 deaths in the ring, and the number of boxers reduced to shambling, punch-drunk wrecks by brain damage is uncounted. That's not to mention permanent eye damage (up to and including blindness), ruptured eardrums, broken noses and jaws, smashed teeth, the famous 'cauliflower ear' and renal damage.

It has long amazed me that so few liberals and lefties seem at all concerned about boxing, and some even support it. The main reason for this is, I suspect, because boxing is traditionally a proletarian "sport" and a way for poor young men (often black or from other ethnic minorities) to achieve something in life. But that's exactly the reason that socialists should oppose boxing: we want a society where that sort of barbarism simply isn't required as a way to escape poverty, prejudice and lack of opportunity.

One of the few socialists to write extensively opposing boxing was the American Trotskyist James P. Cannon. Commenting on the death of 20-year-old Georgie Flores in the ring at Madison Square Garden, he wrote:

"It is a commentary on the times and the social environment out of which the boxing business rises like a poisonous flower from the dunghill, that nobody came forward with the simple demand to outlaw prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most states of this country up till the turn of the century. Cock-fighting is illegal; it is considered inhumane to put a couple of roosters in a pit and incite them to spur each other until one of them keels over. It is also against the law to put bulldogs into the pit to fight for a side bet. But our civilisation - which is on the march to be sure - has not yet advanced to the point where law and public opinion forbid men, who have nothing against each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators. Such spectacles are part of our highly touted way of life".

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jim Denham: Live and Unleashed!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingYes folks it's true! After long and detailed negotiations with his agent in the bowels of Birmingham's finest real ale emporium, Mr James Denham Esq has finally confirmed his attendance at this coming Saturday's Socialist Bloggers' Meetup. This is obviously a tremendous step forward for the organisers, who are now rumoured to be hiring stewards in anticipation of a mammoth surge in attendees at the event. Further, fears of fainting fits among the inevitable crowds of screaming teenage groupies have caused an alert among local health services, with three local authorities and military back-up services placing teams of ambulancemen armed with smelling salts at the ready should they be needed.

Denham will be holding court on a number of subjects, limited only by the number of real ales he's able to consume before becoming unmanageable. Which is quite a few, if my own recollection of the negotiations leading to his signing on the dotted line for the event are anything to go by...

Seriously though, if any of our readers happens to be in London on Saturday (20 Jan), you'd be more than welcome to come along for a pint or three. Even the SWP'ers and Blairites. Details are on Kit's site.

Heck, if you're extra nice, I might even buy you a beer.

See y'all there!

Lynne Jones: "I now feel it is for others to take up the fight".

My MP, Dr. Lynne Jones, has sent me (and all other Labour Party members in Birmingham Selly Oak), a letter, "in advance of going public". Now that it has appeared elsewhere on the blogosphere, I feel free to reproduce the highlights:

"Since 1997, there have been great achievements of the Labour Government that make me proud. In many ways, this has been a genuinely re-distributive Government - highlights have included additional funding for public services and equal rights for minority groups. However, these advances have been insufficient to dispel my disappointment in a leadership that has been so timid in applying our socialist principles to the practicalities of government, yet so reckless in taking us to war in Iraq and in laying the foundations for the break-up of the NHS. I feel that I have performed a useful role in opposing the worst excesses of "new" Labour and can point to some considerable successes on the way. But I am weary of the constant battles and I now feel that it is for others to take up the fight. I hope that a new generation of idealists will be encouraged to take stand for public office and drive our Party forward for, whilst it is no secret that I have been unhappy about many of the Government's policies, I have always encouraged those who shared my concerns to stay fighting within the Party for a return to the values that made us join, in my case 33 years ago..."

The first thing I want to say is how sorry I am to be losing an excellent MP: I haven't always agreed with Lynne (and still don't, on certain matters), but I have always respected her integrity, honesty and sheer guts in standing up for her principles within a Parliamentary Labour Party that was (until recently, at least), largely made up of supine, Blairite careerists and craven ex-leftist turncoats. Lynne, who from her days as a Birmingham City councillor, has never claimed to be anything except a left-reformist, at least stuck to her guns, and in doing so probably sacrificed a potential ministerial career.

And who can blame Lynne for feeling "weary" with the labour of Sisyphus that is the battle for elementary reformist principles within the PLP?

But note that Lynne urges everyone to "stay fighting within the Party" (which surely gives the lie to those who have tried to suggest that she would prefer to see a non-Labour female candidate win the seat, than the probable Labour candidate for the constituency, Steve McCabe - a right-winger who has managed to get considerable union backing, mainly because leftist trade unionists haven't been active in the Party ).

The fact that a decent, left-reformist MP like Lynne Jones now feels so isolated and demoralised, is a rebuke to the British "left" that has largely turned its back upon the Labour Party, the labour movement, and the working class.

The SWP's bizarre love for Mr Atzmon

This blog recently seems to have attracted some commenters from the SWP (preeminient amongst whom is Mr JohnG) and others of a similar political ilk. And most welcome they all are too - Jim and I would get very bored, very quickly, if all we ever did was argue with each other. Anyway, this post is directed to readers from that political millieu.

You may already have read Jim's material on the SWP and Gilad Atzmon, some of which was recently reproduced without accrediting this blog in the AWL's latest paper (naughty AWL, I'll remember that). If you haven't, then you should. Jim and I may differ on a number of issues, but on Atzmon we're in lock-step. Jim has also covered the reaction to the SWP's courting of Atzmon from people who until recently were basically just acting as that group's outriders, and this material is also well worth a look.

I'd also particularly like to direct you to a recent post, delivered in the venom-tipped-rapier style of Hak Mao, on the Drink Soaked Trots website. I really do urge you to read it, because it throws into stark relief the defences of Atzmon in the most recent issue of Socialist Worker, as offered in two letters, one written by Lindsey German, and the other by Hannah Dee and Viv Smith:

"Instead of banning him shouldn’t socialists be celebrating his undeniable musical talent, and at the same time challenging those ideas that he holds that we disagree with?"

Hak reminds us exactly what those "ideas we disagree with" are, and it's not exactly the same as socialists platforming George Monbiot, let me tell ya:

"we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously ... American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy..."

That's all you're getting here: I'll refer you to Hak's post to read the rest. Now, I meant it when I said in the course of debate with JohnG that I don't think you lot are "bad people" or acting in a deliberately malign way, however much I might disagree with you. So what the bloody hell do you think you're playing at by defending this stinking anti-semite whose connections to far-rightists like Israel Shamir are commonly known?

"Jazz, Racism and Resistance" eh? Well, we know who's providing the Jazz and the Racism, but why aren't you guys providing the Resistance?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Freeway bloggery!

Have a look at this: total genius, apparently of a leftish/libertarian bent, from the USA. I'm a particular fan of the fact that it gives advice as to how to get on to shitty right-wing talk radio shows, presumably for the purpose of giving the host an earful. I wonder if it works with radio shows belonging to other gobshites too? Answers on a postcard...

The author also has a daily blog here, which is well worth a look as well.

(Hat-tip... *sigh*... Cunt of the Week)

The end of a beautiful friendship?

Further to my previous comments on SWP-apologist Michael Rosen finally getting it together to criticise (very politely) the comrades' indulgence of anti-semite sax-player Gilad Atzmon: letters in the present issue of Socialist Worker (from SWP hacks, notably the appalling Lindsey German) make it clear that they aren't going to tolerate any criticism of their racist-saxist hero.

I presume while there will be plenty more SWP-sponsored gigs for Atzmon, there will be no more meetings for Rosen (at Marxism, or anywhere else), who will now be be air-brushed out of history by those Stalinists de le jour, the SWP.

But will Rosen learn any lessons, or draw any conclusions? Let's hope so.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Law intolerant of "religious conscience" is passed.

Good. I like it when right-wing conservatives whinge - it suggests that for once in its miserable existence, the Blair government may have got something right. The new Sexual Orientation Regulations will go some way towards combating institutional homophobia in this country, and any such steps are to be welcomed.

What really annoys me though, is that the new discourse on the part of the bigots who oppose such anti-discriminatory measures is one of "but you're being intolerant to our religious conscience". Of course, when asked to return that tolerance, religious conservatives don't tend to go for it, because theirs is the received truth of God. As discussed here before, this demand for one way tolerance actually gets currency these days on the left and amongst liberals. No one on the left (as far as I am aware) has publicly supported the maniacs who were demonstrating outside the commons as Lord Morrow's motion to wreck the new legislation went down in flames. However logically they really ought to have, especially those who believe that believing in a particular religion is the same thing as coming from an oppressed minority community. The two can coalesce, but they are nevertheless not the same thing.

In terms of the dear old left, I guess it's only a matter of time before the likes of Christian Voice say something that accords with the current project of one or another Trotskyist political party, at which point they'll be welcomed into the fold. And discussion of their views on other things will become taboo - lest those raising the issue be accused of "intolerance".

Now, I wonder if they're offering odds at William Hill?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Another reason not to vote Cruddas

Below is a quote from the pamphlet "Fit For Purpose: a Programme for Labour Party Renewal", by Jon Cruddas and John Harris, available for your delectation from his website. The quote is from page 4 of the pamphlet, and is also in the summary on Cruddas' site.

"As far as Labour's national organisation is concerned, our proposals include: The settlement of the party's federal structure along lines that have been taking shape for the last two decades. Labour's decision-making bodies - the National Executive Committee (NEC), the National Policy Forum (NPF), the annual conference - should be founded on a model in which a third is given over to the membership, a third to the unions, and a third to a new force made up of MPs, MEPs, Labour representatives in local government, and socialist societies."

So there you are. Vote for Cruddas, the big born-again left winger, if you want to reduce organised labour's voice in the Labour Party. All you "I'm voting for Brown but guess what, I'm voting for Cruddas rather than Harman, gosh aren't I radical" types must be so proud of yourselves.

Interestingly, Cruddas' introductory campaign leaflet (also available on his website) carries a picture of him sitting next to TGWU General Secretary Tony Woodley. Hands up anyone who's actually heard Woodley pledge his union's support to Cruddas' campaign? Or even heard him publicly declare who he personally will be backing in the deputy leader's race? Nobody? What a surprise...

(Hat-tip: Jim for sending me a leaflet, of whose authorship I am unaware, but whose authors I shall credit as soon as I know their names)

Ruth Kelly: everything that's wrong with New Labour

I'm simply amazed at the easy ride that cabinet minister Ruth Kelly has been given over her decision to pull her son out of a local state school and put him into a £15,000 per year private boarding school. It seems that a lot of people (including Tory-boy David Cameron) sympathise with her because the son has "substantial learning difficulties" (in fact, dyslexia). Another mother of a child with "learning difficulties" comments here.

If Kelly had simply said something like "I know it goes against all my principles as a Labour Party member to buy a private education for my son, but my concern for his well-being and the fact that the state sector cannot cater adequately for his needs, overrides matters of ideology", people like me would at least have had some human sympathy for her. But she didn't: instead she put out a weaseling, disingenuous (OK: I mean DISHONEST) statement suggesting that it is quite common for pupils with learning difficulties to be placed into private education by their local education authorities. This is bollocks! As Fiona Miller (Alistair Campbell's partner, incidentally!) comments in the Guardian of January 9, 2007): "Actually, it's pretty unusual for primary school-aged children with special needs/dyslexia to have a couple of years in a large country house in the home counties enjoying one-on-one tuition and the use of a swimming pool, tennis courts and music rooms".

Of course, we don't begrudge Ruth Kelly's son that sort of treatment: we just say (unlike Kelly) that all children with learning difficulties should have access to such treatment - provided by the state.

Kelly's hypocrisy, combined with her dishonesty and her evident contempt for the local authority where she lives (Tower Hamlets), who insist that they provide "high quality education for all learners, including those with special needs" (Morning Star January 9, 2007), can only leave ordinary people with the impression that Government ministers like Kelly (and, of course, Blair - who sent his son to a highly-selective Catholic grammer school, albeit within the state sector), are special, privileged people who demand higher standards for themselves and their families, than they do for the working class. And that's true, isn't it? And it's also why working class people are fed up with New Labour, and politics as a whole. Thanks Blair and Kelly: you two sum up everything that's wrong with New Labour

Quid pro quo: a proposal to religious bigots

I have no authority to make this offer and I don't know whether gay rights campaigners would agree with me, but I'd like to make the following proposal to the religious bigots who yesterday lobbied the House of Lords against the Equality Act 2006 that will prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on grounds of sexual orientation:

You can have your wrecking amendment ("Nothing in these regulations shall force an individual to act against their conscience or strongly held religious beliefs") to the Sexual Orientation Regulations of the Equality Act...just so long as you agree to a similar amendment to the self-same Act that currently gives you, as religious people, protection: something like "Nothing in these Regulations shall prevent an individual with strongly held anti-religious views from discriminating against religious believers".

Does that sound OK to you god-botherers? Have we got a deal?

I suspect that the bigots (mainly Christian in this case, but joined in their homophobic campaign by Jews and Muslims), would not go for it: after all they campaigned for years to have religious belief given the same protection under the law as race and gender, finally succeeding with the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and then the Religious Belief Regulations of the Equality Act 2006. Personally, I always considered both those pieces of legislation to be ill-conceived nonsense, giving people's ideological beliefs (but only religious ideological beliefs, mind you) special protection: it's all the more ridiculous when you bear in mind that we're giving temporal privilege to people who believe that they have the Deity on their side, and will be finally vindicated in the after-life... Yet these self-righteous hypocrites now seek to deny gays similar protection!

Polly Toynbee (not a writer I often recommend) was in superb form on this topic a couple of days ago in the Guardian, making the excellent point that, " None of this might matter if it were just about the strange practices in private of religious bigots. But faith groups already run and are bidding to take over many more social services. If they win this debate, free to discriminate as they please, they will prove themselves utterly unfit to provide state services or receive state funding". A lot of of us knew that anyway, but apparently New Labour didn't. No doubt it's too much to hope that this latest outrage by religious bigots will wake up this disgracefully pro-religion administration.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The religious right in the UK

Having promised to write something about Radio Galloway, I can't be bothered. It's not worth it - it was largely uninteresting stuff, partly consisting of Groundhog Day-style repetitive phone calls about Israel and Iran, and partly about other issues.

But James Whale, now...

I sometimes forget just how many ultra-religious nutters there really still are in this country. And then I listen to a late night radio talk show, and I'm reminded once more. There's a guy on the radio as I speak, blathering on about how homosexuality (or "sodomy") as he calls it, is a "sin", and of course what terrible fates await gay people, the wrath of God etc. It takes some going for someone to make Whale - who is no liberal by most standards - sound like the voice of centre-left reason, but some of his callers tonight are managing to cast him in precisely that light. Impressive, in a rather depressing sort of way.

The religious right continues to struggle to establish itself in the UK, via loveable organisations like Christian Voice, who recently demonstrated their in-touchness with the issues by issuing a press release slamming the Archers for having a show that featured a gay wedding. Oooh, the scandal.

So yes, all very stupid. And yet, at the same time, the liberal press is running articles slamming "secular fundamentalism", as though Richard Dawkins were trying to get religion outlawed and burning pictures of Jesus or Muhammad in the streets. And if Christian Voice and similar organisations were to come out with a "sound anti-imperialist" line on various global conflicts, it doesn't take John McCririck to work out the odds on where the outraged defences of them would start coming from on the left... not too sure if "Christianophobia" is a concept that would fly, but it'd be interesting to see. A few years ago, the very idea would have been so laughable as to be easily dismissed, but now it really does seem that sections of the left will line up behind more or less whoever ticks the relevant boxes for the current cause-du-jour, so perhaps we should never say never.

The rise of political-religious organisations in this country is set to grow, and grow further and faster at that. These organisations (regardless of religion) are not politics-neutral, and are certainly not by and large part of the left. It really comes to something when people who self-define as being on the left have become so deluded by their own introspective and ultimately defeated perspective on the world, so desperate to grasp any any straw, that they will convince themselves that theocrats are really progressives in religious clothing. Pull yourselves together folks, or you'll be in for a rude awakening.

A worm turns

For several years now, the children's author, broadcaster and poet Michael Rosen has acted as an apologist for the British Socialist Workers' Party (SWP). He appears at their ill-named "Marxism" events and speaks on their platforms on a variety of subjects, including Zionism and the Middle East. He defends them against the charge that their "line" on Israel/Palestine is objectively anti-semitic. He is particularly useful to the SWP ( and their semi-Islamist front organisation "Respect") , because he is Jewish. George Galloway recently had Rosen as a special guest on his radio show.

But even the craven apologist Rosen has his limits: some time ago he began to express unease about the SWP's emrace of the crazed anti-semitic saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, and started posting his objections, under the name "Isakofsky" on various internet discussions, like this.

However, Rosen/ Isakofsky's promises of publicly denouncing Atzmon (including a promise to denounce at Marxism), have come to nothing: it seemed that Rosen/ Isakofsky would rather keep in with his friends in the SWP than risk antagonising them by attacking their favourite anti-semite sax-player...until now:

Rosen, it would seem, has been on a bear-hunt and found a spine:

This letter appears in the first Socialist Worker (paper of the SWP) of 2007:

"Great news about the Cultures of Resistance musical programme, but I have to say that I'm mightily dismayed that you have saxophonist Gilad Atzmon on board.

"He is someone who has frequently expressed racist ideas and surely we have always said you can't fight racism with racism? I fear that the racism he expresses is seen by some in the liberation movements as a racism that doesn't matter very much.

"That's to say, it's said by some that racism towards peoples from countries oppressed and exploited by the West is the main racism we're fighting, but a racism directed toward peoples seen as heavily implicated in the West's oppression matters less.

"Thus anti-semistism in the 21st Century is seen perhaps as "mistaken" within the liberation movement , much as we might say that going on about Rupert Murdoch being Australian is 'mistaken'.

" This is a disastrous route to go down. Anti-semitism imagines the removal or elemination of a group of people from the world system.

"All we have to ask ourselves is: 1) would eliminating that group change the system for the better? 2) What ghastly processes would a state create in order to do the removing and eliminating?

"I think Cultures of Resistance is making a great mistake taking Atzmon on board with them and this will undermine and weaken what we are all trying to do.

"Michael Rosen

"East London".

It may be too much to hope, but perhaps Rosen's belated discovery of a spine will awaken some SWP members (and others on the "left", influenced by them) to the reality of their organisation's institutional anti-semitism.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that the cravenly pro-admirer Rosen, will reason his way through to any more general critique from this single 'mistake', to the understanding that the SWP is an anti-semitic organisation.

Watch this space

More blogging coming soon, I promise. I can't be arsed right now, and I'm going out for some Turkish food. But have a look later and I'll write you a post about Galloway or summat. Or maybe I'll have a go at the SWP; John G and I are getting fed up of agreeing with each other's comments anyway.

Monday, January 01, 2007

No mourning, but no false sense of justice

Today I read, and then re-read, Jim's post about Saddam Hussein, trying to work out what I thought of it. In the first instance I couldn't make head nor tail of it, but then it occurred to me that this was perhaps because he hadn't realised what he was really saying either. And it's because of the road that I think his post was going down, that I decided to write this reply.

Where I do agree with Jim, is that I have absolutely no sense of upset at the death of a man who, at the end of the day, was a fascist and a tyrant. I also share his sense of distaste at much of the left's slippage (the example Jim cites being merely one of the most obnoxious) into old-style Stalinist "anti-imperialist" rhetoric, feigning anger and trying to foster a sense of injustice at the execution, whilst bridling when people point out that this line taken to its logical conclusion would seem to suggest some sense of solidarity with the man. By the same logic, people could call for an "anti-imperialist" defence of any tyrant, anywhere, no matter how vile or foul, just as long as that person ticked the single qualifying box of being involved in a military conflict with the USA. That sort of kindergarten politics may satisfy some people, but most of us outgrew it after the first year of higher education.

He then offers five reasons why the conduct of the trial and execution were a bad thing - all of which are true. So yes, insofar as that goes, I agree with him. But he then goes farther than that.
The sticky point comes here:

"Finally, there's the old 'victor's justice' argument. It's true that Saddam's trial and execution are 'victor's justice'. As were the Nuremburg trials... perhaps 'victor's justice' is better than no justice at all."

It seems to me that the entire argument, from that phrase onwards, effectively refutes everything that went before it. Effectively having a line of "the trial was bollocks and the execution makes things worse, but then on the other hand it was better than it could have been", equates to de facto critical support for the process, it seems to me. The comparison with Nuremberg (and therefore of Hussein's position to that of Goering and the other Nazi high-ups who stood trial), merely goes to reinforce that impression. It seems to me that we need to unpack things here.

Firstly, yes Hussein was a fascist. Here I agree with Jim and disagree with other left-wingers such as Louisefeminista from Stroppyblog who (she's free to disagree with me and undoubtedly will!) it seems to me is using a rather overly rigid definition of the term in order to hold the line that it's not appropriate to apply it to Saddam.

Secondly, that particular semantic debate aside (fascist or not, he was a tyrant responsible for the deaths of thousands of his own people), I genuinely don't give a toss that he's dead.

However, that doesn't detract from the truth that the execution and the show-trial that led to it were no kind of "justice" (victor's or otherwise) that anyone tackling the concept seriously, would recognise. A trial where the judges get repeatedly fired, lawyers assasinated and where the whole thing relies on the muscle of an occupying foreign power, is no sort of fair trial at all. Saddam should have been tried - in the Hague, at the International War Crimes Tribunal, or at least under the auspices of some body or other that inspires more confidence than a government dominated by SCIRI and Sadrist religious sectarians, backed up (albeit fractiously) by US military muscle. The revelations in the press today about the "executioners" chanting Sadrist slogans and mocking as the man died, just makes the whole thing look more sordid than it already did.

As to comparisons with Nuremberg, the whole set of circumstances leading to the trials after World War Two, were about as different as they could be from those leading to the arrest of Saddam Hussein. The Nuremberg trials were set up in the aftermath of a world war, by powers that had won after losing quite literally millions of their own citizens in what would become (regardless of the circumstances of the war's start) a desperate war against a global fascist military alliance which threatened the continued existence of nations the world over. Furthermore, those trials came in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, a crime historically unique in both its scope and in the scale of the horrors which it brought into being.

There is also the obvious implication that a comparison with Nuremberg (a process which no-one outside of the far right fringe would make a point of criticising) somehow legtimates the process by which Saddam Hussein was tried; indeed, that is one of the points where Jim contradicts himself - "It was illegitimate, but it was just like Nuremberg so that's OK". What, Nuremberg was illegitimate? Or illegitimate trials are OK? The point eludes me.

Jim goes on to quote one Professor Fouad Ajami, whom he neglects to mention is both a former advisor to Condoleeza Rice, and a friend and former colleague of Paul Wolfowitz, as though his statements offer some kind of added authority. He is careful to mention, correctly, that Ajami "probably supported the war", whereas Jim didn't. Ajami's increasingly right-wing political tangent has in fact come in for serious criticism from some quarters. Nevertheless, Jim thinks that the sentiments contained in the quote are valid. Highlights from it run thus:

"If it took a foriegn war to bring about this justice, and to introduce into Arab politics the principle of politcal accountability, so be it... Nuremburg, too, was victor's justice. The Iraqis who endured the tyranny while the world averted its gaze from their suffering are owed their moment of satisfaction"

Quite how one could come to the conclusion that endorsing such a statement is compatible with Jim's claims to have "serious misgivings" (as I do) about the trial process, leaves me simply mystified.

Jim, if your stance is essentially to support the execution then I really think you should spell that out, rather than tip-toeing around the issue. Furthermore, I think you need to call into question just how far your endorsement of statements like the one above from Ajami, is actually compatible with an anti-war stance at all.

The floor is yours.