Monday, June 30, 2008

Voices of the displaced

History doesn't have to be told by the victor. Sometime the best accounts come from the mouths of ordinary people who've been at the sharp end of extraordinary events.
Article on Dave Eggers' fascinating oral history project.

Keyword: Katrina

Good housekeeping


I've added a new section to my blogroll, provisionally entitled "Illiberal", to provide a home for the broadly right of centre blogs that I've been meaning to link to, but couldn't fit them into any of my existing sections. So far, this includes:
I have also (at the risk of incurring Will's wrath) added Liberal Conspiracy to the UK Politricks section - something I've been meaning to do for ages, not just since the recent "brown people" punch-up.

And, in case these additions appear to indicate a right-ward drift, I have finally got around to adding A Very Public Sociologist (under Lefties, Commies and Trots) and Never Get Used to It (under libertarian left). I'm also adding Principia Dialectica to the Adventures in Marxism section.

I'd like to find a place to add the wonderful Thunder and Lightening to the blogroll, but still can't work out which section!

And here's another recent discovery: Solar Plexus.


Here are some recommendations for today:

First black president

Great post at Moistworks, first half on black music and black presidents, starting off like this:
The difference between Blowfly and Barack Obama is like the difference between Public Enemy & Eminem: Back when Flavor Flav couldn't give a fuck about the Grammys, it was because he couldn't have imagined winning one. When Eminem recycled the reference, a decade down the line, he'd already scored two of them.

So one thing that'll happen if Obama goes the distance is, a long tradition of African-American songs - rooted in the notion that no black man will ever occupy the office - will grind to a halt. (An old joke, along the same lines: "I firmly believe that, one day, a man in a kippa and prayer shawl will sit in the Oval Office.... Unless, of course, he's Jewish.")
The second half is about the Leiber and Stoller song "Only in America", which is a footnote in the endless history of black/Jewish relations in America.

By complete coincidence, Diddy Wah has a post about the other great black president, Fela Kuti.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From Bob's archive: Frum teens

I am away this week, so I am posting one or two items from my archive. Today, the first ever Jogo guest post, from back in January 2005.

A propos of - Torah for Teenagers, Jogo writes:

From the posts at I get the impression we seeing a fairly small portion of the frum-teen world -- that part which is online with ease and familiarity, and has a certain hipness. There are only 7082 registered users of this BB. But does it mirror the nature of the larger frum world? I think it does.

A very strange thing about frumteens is there is no statement of ownership or responsibility. Who is the moderator, and what is his authority? If I were frum I would want to know who my children were getting their religious advice from.

From the questions that are asked you can tell these are very frum children, and learned in Jewish ideas and texts. There is a kind of sweetness in contemplating them, envisioning them as they navigate between their hermetic ways and the larger world. I enjoy the mix of girl-slang, email slang, Talmud hebrew, English ... and of course, poor spelling.

But they are also very insular Jewish children whose relationship with the world -- even as it is curious -- is mistrustful and hostile. The posts in the thread "on the goyim" are fascinating. It is almost unblievable that people raise their children to have such ideas.

One poster asks, innocently, if it's OK to celebrate Thanksgiving. The moderator goes into a long academic rant about the history of the holiday, with no understanding of its social-bonding role among neighbors and fellow citizens in today's United States. He displays no affection for society in general -- i.e, the society that is everyone-but-Jews. He sees nothing of value there. So he has no reason to encourage children to participate. Moderator is more interested in determining whether Thanksgiving is "religious," because it if is, then it is assur (forbidden) for Jews to partake in.

Frum Moslem children are undoubtedly getting similar advice from their clerics. In fact, I did see one time an online Islamic discussion of Thanksgiving, and whether it is Islamic to participate.

As charming as this stuff is, there is a layer in it that is not in harmony with the general contours of the democratic tolerant society. The frum people (including the Moslems) benefit from the tolerant society and are quick to invoke its protections, but actually have no wish to participate in it. In fact, they think it's a bad thing.

I think Jewish multi-culturalist ideologues and fanatical believers in not "evaluating" cultures should read some of the discussions in -- even linger there a while -- because it might be easier for them to understand the value of evaluation if it is their own people being viewed, and they are freed from fear of being anti-somebody (apparently in some circles this is so great a fear as to be almost irrational).

The moderator of frumteens is completely comfortable teaching that Christians will "burn" because they are doing avodah zarah (evil work). You can just imagine what Moselm children are being taught, right under your noses. So this is a bad scene. Multiculturalists need to wake up.

This is why I say there are quasi-religious, faith-based aspects to a number of important, foundational liberal/postmodern positions. You can fairly call some of them "beliefs." They need to be interrogated, not swallowed whole and regurgitated in University classrooms as though they were fact.

Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dawn raid 2

Continuing my dawn raid, here's some quick links:
OK, maybe not so quick after all.

You fucking what Jacqui?

I know that I said I was away, and I am: this is just a dawn raid in an internet cafe. But this item irked me so much, I couldn't remain silent.

Gay and lesbian asylum-seekers can be safely deported to Iran as long as they live their lives “discreetly”, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has claimed.

In a letter to a Liberal Democrat peer, seen by The Independent, Ms Smith said there was no “real risk” of gay men and lesbians being discovered by the Iranian authorities or “adverse action” being taken against those who were “discreet” about their behaviour.

As Unity says, "You fucking what, Jacqui?"

Read the rest.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bob's archive: The real axis of evil

I am away this week, so am posting one or two things from my archive. This is the first longish thing I ever posted, back in January 2005. I wonder how much it stands the test of time...

No doubt the liberal left will be outraged at the identification of a new rollcall of rogue states by Bush's new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice:
"To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with oppressed people on every continent, ... in Cuba, and Burma (Myanmar), and North Korea, and Iran, and Belarus, and Zimbabwe," .
But let's take a look at this list.

First, I want to leave aside Cuba, as it is a complex question. Cubans ar undoubtedly oppressed, but it is also true that the US blockade makes things considerably worse there. (Anyone interested in Cuba should check out Sam Dolgoff's historical account of the Castro regime.)

Second, though, we come to Burma. Rice is absolutely correct in identifying Burma's rulers as one of the world's evil regimes. This is Human Rights Watch talking to an EU committee in August:
"The human rights situation in Burma remains appalling. Burma is the textbook example of a police state. Government informants and spies are omnipresent. Average Burmese people are afraid to speak to foreigners except in most superficial of manners for fear of being hauled in later for questioning or worse. There is no freedom of speech, assembly or association. State TV and radio are merely a crude propaganda tool of the regime, merely recounting what the top Generals did on any given day. To read the the English language “New Light of Myanmar” is to understand what George Orwelll feared when he wrote “1984.”... Torture continues to be routine in Burma. Disgustingly, rape has been documented as a political weapon in Shan state, with thousands of reported cases."
The mention of Orwell is apposite, as Burma is a totalitarian country in the strict sense of the term, as used by Hannah Arendt, who defined totalitarianism as rule by terror, which aims to expunge freedom as such by systematically destroying the boundaries between public and private, destroying the space for individuality and action. So, we must support Rice in her determination to stand by the oppressed people of Burma.

Third, North Korea. In North Korea,
"Radios and televisions come with government-approved frequencies locked in. Possession of a radio capable of picking up South Korean, Japanese or other foreign stations is a capital offense as is ownership of a cellular telephone."
Some Stalinists actually think North Korea is a beacon of freedom and hope in the world. Leading US anti-war group, ANSWER, is closely connected to the regime. ANSWER was set up by the International Action Committee (an outfit dominated by Ramsay Clarke, one of Saddam Hussein's defence lawyers). Deirdre Griswold, an IAC executive, declared that North Korea was a socialist success story because there was no poverty, famine, or homelessness in North Korea. The IAC in turn is a front of the Workers World Party, which supports the North Korean regime. Brian Becker is a Director of ANSWER and the IAC and a member of the Secretariat of the WWP of the United States. He denounced the U.S. during a press interview held in Pyongyang in 2002. The UK's Stop the War Coaltion (StWC) works closely with ANSWER. John Rees, of StWC, sits with Elias Rashmawi of ANSWER on the international committee of the Cairo Conference, sharing the vice-presidency of the International Campaign Against US Aggression which emerged at this conference. The London demonstration on March 19 this year is designed to co-ordinate with ANSWER's day of action in the US.

Fourth, Iran. About the best thing you can say about the Iranian regime is that they pardoned a woman sentenced to death for defending herself against a rapist after she agreed to pay $62,500 compensation to the man's family. However, they will still hang a mentally disabled woman for prostitution. The victim started working as a prostitute when she was 14, and has two children now being cared for at a state orphanage. Amnesty had said the woman's mother forced her into prostitution when she was eight. It said the girl was raped repeatedly and gave birth to a baby when she was nine.

Belarus has been less in the press than the rest of this real axis of evil. It seems benign compared to Iran, Burma and North Korea. But it is under an oppessive regime. According to Human Rights Watch:
"The government of Belarus failed to ensure free and fair election in 2004, in large part by attacking the independent media and undermining freedom of association. The situation worsened in the months leading up to October 2004 parliamentary elections and a simultaneous referendum to remove presidential term limits. Several independent newspapers were closed, and journalists jailed on libel charges. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent trade unions were given warnings or closed. Many opposition politicians were prevented from registering as election candidates. Some were arrested on trumped-up charges."

Finally, Zimbabwe. According to the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust in December:
"During the 2002 election the government enacted laws sharply curbing freedoms of the press and public assembly, citing national security. Now, with new national elections looming in March, new laws and other measures promise to silence the remaining independent press and activist groups that have been vehicles for dissent. In November alone, Zimbabwe's Parliament enacted legislation mandating a two-year prison term for practicing journalism without a license. A second law made it illegal to conduct voter education without government approval, requiring most election workers to register and clear electioneering materials with the state. A third law, passed in early December, effectively places nongovernmental groups, churches and charities under state control, empowering the government to investigate their finances, to restrict their activities and, in many cases, to disband them at will. A fourth proposal would impose prison sentences of up to 20 years for 'materially false' statements or writings that impugn the state. Earlier this year, the government installed equipment on Zimbabwe's Internet service providers to monitor and censor e-mail messages. In July, it tried to bar the one cellphone company outside state control from routing calls outside the country, saying unsupervised foreign telephone calls were a national security threat."
(Some interesting articles on Zimbabwe: Land Invasions and lessons for the working class, Reading by Paraffin: Cracks in the Zimbabwean Mirror, Africa, neo-liberalism and anarchism)

I'd suggest that these are viable candidates for inclusion in the real axis of evil. Other countries should probably join them. Indonesia, for example, would have pride of place, a being rammed home now as the tsunami crisis dramatises its repressive practices. More on this in a future post!


Friday, June 20, 2008

Refugee week: Africans fleeing genocide

I have fallen behind on my Refugee Week series...

Most people in the global North think refugees (and migrants in general) come from "there" to "here". In fact, most of them go from one place "there" to another: places like Cairo, Nairobi, Mexico City and Lahore are home to the majority of the world's displaced people.

People fleeing intolerable lives in Africa understandably head North (or South, to relatively prosperous South Africa, where they have of course recently been greated with treatment the BNP can only dream of emulating).

For many, that means heading to Eygpt, as a route to Europe or to Israel, which is understood to be an outpost of the global North.

Israel, because of its history entwined with the need for sanctuary from genocide, is placed in a difficult position. However, despite the racism of Israeli society, large numbers (perhaps a majority) of Israeli citizens clearly want their land to be more hospitable to African refugees, as these stories show:
Bob says: Israel, take them in!

Also read:

Brown people etc (a UK-centric post)

Will in comments to a post here alerted me to the shocker best summed up by Baggage Reclaim:
A few changes on the links list to reflect changing times - it's goodbye to "Pickled Politics", it's one thing opposing government policy, but proclaiming "it's time for "brown" people to vote Conservative" gets you off my endorsed list.
Sunny (of Pickled Politics) rephrased himself a little the next day.

For those "brown people" thinking of turning Tory, this story should add a note of caution. (Updated: more here. Worth adding, for those of you who don't know: Munira Mirza is a veteran of the RCP.)

However, the idea that brown people should be most against more draconian anti-terror legislation, or even more for anti-racist initiatives, is wrong. There is evidence to suggest that there have been Asian BNP voters in Coventry (not to mention the Asian Tories who represent Foleshill in the council there) and Birmingham. And there is no reason why Asian people should not be as frightened of Islamist terror attacks as white people are.

Various other bits and bobs:
  • Jim on Jeremy Corbyn's "formally correct" whitewashing of the Taliban
  • Another Jim on Turkey being too funky for its laws (to be read alongside this by the Jura Watchmaker)
  • Stroppy on Cuba's renunciation of equality
  • Yourfriend on the weirdest of all Stalinoid sects

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

For refugee week: Visions of Freedom

Part of my Refugee Week series.

I have blogged about Behnam Askari before. His art is currently being exhibited in


Behnam Askari is a highly gifted visual artist and is a BA Hons Fine Arts student at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Behnam and his family came to London in 2002. Behnam cannot return to his native Iran. He and his mother have been sentenced in absentia on political charges and face prison and torture. They are still waiting to be given the right to remain in the UK. Quick Search:behnam


Wednesday miscellany (law and disorder)

South London Gypsy history:

Not only is it Refugee Week, but June 2008 is apparently the first Gypsy, Traveller and Roma History Month. Transpontine celebrates with some local Gypsy history. (Topical locally, as the Travellers of Lewisham are being turfed off their site and the council desperately tries to find a place to move them too that doesn't offend too many sedentary folk, currently probably a site in Ladywell considered by councillor Andrew Milton to be unsafe for the Travellers.)

Magna Carta day/Jazz cats:

Although I celebrated Bloomsday on Monday in New Cross with Transpontine and others, I failed to miss Magna Carta day, unlike Jim, and unlike the great Peter Linebaugh, whose long article at CounterPunch I recommend. Despite what I said the other day about CounterPunch; I was trying to decide if I'd been unfair or not. While there, read Ishmael Reed on Sonny Rollins. Opening sentence: "Bebop was my generation’s hip-hop." Nicely echoed in Jim on Jelly Roll Morton: "He was, in fact, the very first rapper."

One Bernard Goetz, many Bernard Goetzs:

In my long rant against Alexander Cockburn, I mentioned his flirtation with the Militia Movement, but not his support for gun rights, as asserted in his article "Bring Back the Posse", which suggests that arming the people would have prevented the Virginia Tech massacre.
The left complain about SWAT teams, but doesn't see that the progressives bear a lot of responsibility for their rise. If you confer the task of social invigilation and protection to professional janissaries--cops -- and deny the right of self and social protection to ordinary citizens, you end up with crews of over-armed thugs running amok under official license, terrorizing the disarmed citizens. In the end you have the whole place run by the Army or the federalized National Guard, as is increasingly evident now with the overturning of the Posse Comitatus laws forbidding any role for the military in domestic law enforcement.
I happen to more or less agree with him on this. As Green Anarchist used to say, "Only guns give us rights." (Actually, that relates nicely back to the Magna Carta item doesn't it?)

Anyway, what I wanted to link to was The New Centrist's post that starts off with the disgraceful freeing of Naveed Haq, the man who attacked the Jewish Federation of Seattle, killing one woman and wounding six more, including a pregnant Dayna Klein, took a bullet in her arm as she protected her fetus. While shooting, he railed against Jews. To 911 operators, he said "These are Jews and I'm tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East." A slightly less sophisticated (but only slightly) version of what Alexander Cockburn says in his latest screed in CounterPunch (sorry to go on).

TNC uses the Haq case as a launchpad for talking about the divisive Bernard Goetz case. Among other things, he says:
The murder rate in NYC has decreased 50 percent from the 1980s. But in low-income communities, shootings and other violent incidents are not treated with the same severity as in middle-class communities. Crimes that simply would not be accepted by the police or community are getting more frequent. It is in this context that a black Bernhard Goetz may potentially emerge.
I have to confess, I sometimes feel like that in inner city South London too.

The agony of Darfur:

While the liberal left dislike both the SWAT teams and the thought of a black Bernard Goetz in the inner cities of the global North, many of them take a similar line in the global South. Here, the "international community" (all too often embodied by America and its allies) is the global SWAT team. In Sudan, the black posse comitatus is the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), organised to defend the Sudanese black African population from the Janjaweed.

One of SLA leaders writes in WSJ:
we refuse to abandon our ideals of justice, freedom and equal rights for all. Some Western "realists" believe rather cynically that the "stability" Khartoum could bring about by force is preferable to our continued fight for freedom. What these people are really saying is that democracy is a Western prerogative and that we Sudanese should feel grateful for merely being allowed to live. We beg to differ.
Now, I am not exactly uncritical of the SLA, but this is surely right.

(Hat tip: the Geek)

The agony of Iran:

Nonetheless, I am ambivalent about Western intervention in such places. I am profoundly ambivalent about intervention in Iran. Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) represent - despite their Stalinist roots and political culture - a positive step. The key word in their name is "People". They do not claim that an attack on the Iranian regime is an attack on the Iranian people, the claim implicit in the standard Stop the War/left liberal/UPJ/Ron Paul/CounterPunch/ortho-Trot/ line. Hence HOPI's exclusion from Stop the War.

Anyway, JimJay reports on a HOPI weekend school, concluding with rare sensibleness (rare in the world, not rare for him:
A state is not necessarily either a client state of the US or purely anti-Imperialist - it's clear that Iran shares some interests with the US and they are at logger heads over other things. Surely not a difficult position to grasp and this idea that the US is at the root of all evil is, it seems to me, slightly disrespectful to the rest of the world who should be credited with being social actors in their own right too.
Completely unrelated:

An utterly unbeatable list from Richard. Well, can any of you beat it?

And even less related:

Feel the power 2 (political promiscuity)

And two more recent links, or links I've only noticed recently: Backseat blogger v2.0 (conservative, gay, Canadian) and A Very Public Sociologist (Midlands, socialist, currently reading Jeffrey Weeks).

The former has me in a section entitled (the scare quote are his) "Left wing" blogs while the latter has me in a section entitled "The Establishment".

Meanwhile Richard of Never Got Used to It notes with concern that "some of the people in the discussion on your blog seem much more rightist than leftist to me". With places on the blogroll of anarchists, conservatives, Marxists, Greens, a UKIPer, and Christians, I must be doing something right. Or something wrong.

The glorious Belfast proletariat shall be victorious in its correct struggle to defeat imperialism and its lackeys

Great post from yourfriendinthenorth:
Eamonn McCann? Check. Students? Check. 60-something men and women wearing Che Guevara t-shirts? Check. Unimaginative placards lampooning President Bush’s intelligence? Check. Some local Muslim bloke to make everyone feel all diverse and right on? Check. Yup, all the ingredients were there for yet another thinly attended anti-war demo in Belfast featuring all of the usual suspects from our city’s lunatic fringe. Not even nice weather and the US President himself coming to town could bring out the crowds. Things must be bad in no-blood-for-oil land. [READ THE REST]
See also this post, on the anti-Americanism of the Stop the War crew, and their love of feeling good about themselves by imagining Bush is dumb.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Left Bank to West Bank

Recommended: Colin Shindler in Progress on the left and Zionism over the years.

For refugee week: Britain shamed as Iraqi interpreters are resettled in squalid tower blocks - Times Online

Part of my Refugee Week series.

Britain shamed as Iraqi interpreters are resettled in squalid tower blocks

Whether you support the intervention in Iraq or not, these people deserve your unqualified support: the Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the British and other forces, who fled because they were targeted by the "resistance" as collaborators. These people risked their lives for our cause, then the British government refused to grant them asylum here because of the "precedent" set. Thankfully, the government gave in to public pressure.

Part of the issue is that this government - like all governments - wants to reduce the definition of a legitimate "refugee" to its narrowest possibly classical liberal conception: individual people whose "conscience" makes them a victim of a repressive regime. That is, people who are simply fleeing an utterly intolerable life - as with these people - are denied the status of legitimate "refugee".

Some honourable people have fought to defend these asylum seekers from deportation, such as the residents of the Kingsway Estate in Glasgow, as this Guardian report and video describes. Jess McCabe comments that this "disrupts the convenient narrative of racist, anti-immigrant working class white people." And, as Madam Miaow says, "A rare example of a media report that doesn't present the working class and immigrants as beasts but shows humanity at its best."

Also read:
A life spent waiting (Deborah Haynes in the Times)
The hell of being an asylum seeker (Mark Haddon in the Guardian)
Iraqi refugee crisis grows as West turns its back (Kim Sengupta in the Independent)

Committee to Stop Deportations to Iraq
Refugee Archives Current Awareness Blog

Arguments for Marxism, no.85

Whatever Michael Gove might say, Marx is both readable and right. A point made perfectly by Chris Dillow here.

Previous: Arguments for Marxism, no.84

Monday, June 16, 2008

Feel the power!

Andrew writes:

Definitely A List

Big shout out to our two local blogging superstars.

Both Bob and Transpontine make the top three hundred most influencial UK blogs this month.

I'm not sure if he's saying that one can't deny that Wikio have come up with a list, which is true, or that I'm an A-List blogger, which might be stretching it...

Here's my comment:

Gosh, that’s exciting! I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed that out. No.233, a big step above my previous high of 99th best left-wing blogger.

I notice I am down 21 places since May, which doesn’t suprise me, as I’ve felt palpably less influential this month. Still, I’m a good 60 points ahead of Transpontine, although he might be creeping up as he has gone up 4 points since last month.

I also got some good press from Darren:
Going by Bob's selection I'm guessing that he is a bit of a muso. Has been known to subscribe to Record Collector magazine, and has index carded his record collection. Back in the day he was more of a Charlie Gillett groupie than a John Peel groupie. Been known to not only buy CDs that have been reviewed in the New Internationalist, but he's also been known to listen said CDs voluntarily.

While I'm here, a shout out to blogs which have recently linked to me for the first time, including Miss Welby, who is owed a post of her own, Sultan Knish, and Never Get Used to It.

Notes from the class struggle: Vietnamese migrant workers in Jordan

Fascinating piece on a DSA blog about migrant workers deported from Jordan to Vietnam.

The twentieth century

As you can probably tell, I've recently been a little absorbed in the history of the Communist parties of the world and on the mid-twentieth century confrontation between various totalitarianisms, and how the left did or didn't measure up to it (see Stop The (Second World) War!,The men who saved democracy, Alexander Cockburn and CounterPunch (on Claud Cockburn and the Spanish Civil War) and The European Resistance Archive).

On this topic, read Werner Cohn's very good review of Robert Service's Comrades: A History of International Communism at New Appeal to Reason or (for the whole review) at Amazon.

And Snoopy has a very good post on the Nicholson Baker' Human Smoke, as discussed by Martin in the post linked to here.

Some Blind Spots and Hypocrisies of European Obamamania

Recommended: Andrei Markovits and Jeff Weintraub at The Huffington Post

Keywords: Barack Obama

Refugee Week

It's Refugee Week. Over the course of the week, I'll be posting one post per day dedicated to that issue.

Dr Nicholas Kollerstrom: Holocaust denial, 9/11 denial, 7/7 denial, and the evil BBC

Unity, writing at Liberal Conspiracy on the first, second and third waves of the Dr Nicholas Kollerstrom controversy.

The post notes that the first time, it was exclusively Jewish and left-wing sources which ran the story (see my posts from that period 1 and 2); the right remained silent, despite the political capital they could have gained from his claimed CND/Green Party/Respect affiliations. The second time, after he was hosted on the Iranian regime mouthpiece PressTV however, the right remained silent. Now a new wave has arisen, as it turns out the BBC are paying him some minor expenses to appear in a documentary ("Conspiracy Files") on 9/11 and 7/7 conspiracy theories. Unity writes: "All of a sudden, the right can’t get enough of Kollerstrom, now that there’s a much bigger and more attractive target in the frame: the BBC."

Incidentally, I wonder how much the BBC pay Melanie Phillips for her constant presence on that bastion of the liberal elite conspiracy...

Keywords: Press TV, Nick Kollerstrom, Holocaust denial, Holoucast revisionism

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The men who saved democracy

On the anniversary of D-Day:
Due to a last-minute alteration in the arrangements, I didn’t arrive on the beachhead until the morning after D-day, after our first wave of assault troops had hit the shore...

Thank: Jogo

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Alexander Cockburn and CounterPunch

CounterPunch editor Alexander Cockburn’s Keble degree and family connections probably got him a job at the Times Literary Supplement straight from university and a staff post at the New Statesman before he turned 23.

Alexander was brought up in a very particular Communist Party milieu. His father, Claud Cockburn, was from a diplomatic family and went to Berkhamstead College School, an ancient British elite private school, which also produced Winston Churchill’s wife, various cabinet ministers, the fascist AK Chesterton and Graham Greene. Auberon Waugh is a cousin.

Claud Cockburn in Spain: Lying for Stalin

Claud Cockburn joined the Communist Party and covered the Spanish Civil War (as “Frank Pitcairn”) for the Daily Worker, joining the International Brigade. The Communist Party played a terrible role in Spain, of course, murdering independent socialists and anarchists. Cockburn worked closely with the Soviet agents who orchestrated both acts of violence against the anti-Stalinist left and the propaganda which whitewashed those acts – such as his friend Mikhail Koltsov (Cockburn: “I spent a great deal of my time in the company of Mikhail Koltzov, who then was foreign editor of Pravda and, more importantly still, was at that period… the confidant and mouthpiece and direct agent of Stalin himself.”). He was also friendly with British agents like Guy Burgess. (His first wife, Hope Hale Davis, went on to marry another spy, Hermann Brunck.)

George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is the best account of this. Orwell is sharply critical of the lies Cockburn told about Spain. Here is an example of one of Cockburn’s lies:
Catalonia is full of German and Italian agents working desperately to reorganize the rebellion against the People’s Front government...German and Italian agents, who poured into Barcelona ostensibly in order to ‘prepare’ the notorious ‘Congress of the Fourth International’ had one big task. It was this: they were - in cooperation with the local Trotskyists - to prepare a situation of disorder and bloodshed... a situation in which the Italian and German governments could land troops or marines on the Catalan coasts...The instrument for all this lay ready to hand for the Germans and Italians in the shape of the Trotskyist organization known as the POUM.”*
Of course, the POUM, an independent Marxist party, was not Trotskyist (Trotsky criticised it for being too anti-Soviet). Far from being pro-fascist, it was consistently active in militant anti-fascism. 

Here’s another example: 

“In the past, the leaders of the POUM have frequently sought to deny their complicity as agents of a fascist cause against the People’s Front. This time they are convicted out of their own mouths as clearly as their allies, operating in the Soviet Union, who confessed to the crimes of espionage, sabotage and attempted murder against the government of the Soviet Union.”
As Kevin Keating writes:
"His reference to confessions in the Soviet Union is Claud Cockburn’s approving nod to the results of the Moscow Trials, a high point of Stalinist totalitarian delirium, where Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other leading Bolshevik bureaucrats confessed to absurd charges that they had long been agents of Hitler, the Japanese Emperor and other malefactors, and were subsequently shot.
David Walsh at WSWS puts it even more starkly:
"Claud Cockburn's slanders helped prepare the atmosphere in which [POUM leader Andres] Nin and others were murdered. Moreover, his articles were published in the midst of the infamous Moscow Trials. His lies played an objective role in assisting in Stalin's mass extermination of the Soviet socialist intellectuals and workers."
Here is how Cockburn later described his job as intellectual hatchet man for Stalin: I “was what, if one were inclined to pomposity, might be called a section leader of the counterespionage department of the Spanish Republican Government dealing with Anglo-Saxon personalities.”

Alexander has seen fit to recycle his dad’s lies. On the 70th anniversary of the Spanish war (I call it the Spanish revolution; the Stalinists never use this term, as they helped crush the revolution), CounterPunch reprinted some of Claud’s writings. In “Scenes from the Spanish Civil War”. Claud Cockburn describes his meeting with the anarchist Buenaventura Durruti (misspelled Durutti by Cockburn). Cockburn writes:
"[Durruti] spoke to me in French and I realized that he was furiously angry. I banded him my credentials, supposing that this evidence of my having the capacity of correspondent of a "Red" newspaper would immediately appease him. He glanced at, them and threw them on the table and then in a low voice, vibrant with hatred, denounced the Communists and all their works. So far as he, undisputed Anarchist boss of Catalonia, was concerned, I might almost as well have been a Fascist.

The armed bodyguard standing by could not understand what he was saying but his tone told them this was an enemy. It was a time when enemies were shot quickly. I could feel the atmosphere in that kitchen becoming horribly cold. I had a clear conviction that Durutti was in the judgment seat and pronouncing sentence of death. For at that place and time, to be a member of a rival organization on the Republican side -- to be ideologically at variance with the Anarchists -- was, to the pure Anarchist, not very much different from being on the other side altogether."
The bitter irony here, of course, is that it was Communists who were murdering anarchists, not the other way around… And then:
"I saw him only once again, on a snowy day in Madrid, soon after he bad brought, against bitter opposition in Barcelona, the pick of his Anarchist fighters from Catalonia to assist the defense of the Castilian capital. The day after I saw him he was shot dead in the street -- on the ground that he was about to sign a comprehensive agreement with the Communists-by members of an organization called the "Friends of Durutti.""
This is a most outrageous lie. Durruti was killed in combat against fascists, not by anarchists. The Friends of Durruti were formed in March 1937, months after Durruti’s death in November 1936, to fight for the libertarian revolution Durruti fought for, against the alliance of the anarchist leadership with the Communists in the Popular Front. In Abel Paz’s splendid biography of Durruti, The People Armed (badly translated from French by the great Nancy MacDonald, one of my heroes), Paz, a comrade of Durutti’s, presents accounts that suggest the incompetence and political manoeuvring of the (Communist-dominated) International Brigades for placing Durruti in the situation that got him killed.

(It is worth noting that the same issue of CounterPunch publishes a piece by George Galloway, eulogising another Stalinist, John Cornford. Galloway, with his typical lack of modesty and bombastic prose, writes:
"But for a bullet in the brain on the Ebro, Rupert John Cornford might have loomed as large as George Orwell in the British left-wing lexicon. Orwell would probably have informed on him to his bosses in British Intelligence. For Cornford was a Communist. Not just a Communist, but a potential leading figure of the party, then rising towards the zenith of its power as the potential nemesis of Fascism, as well as a war poet as brilliant as he is now obscure. Not bad for a man who was killed doing his internationalist duty on his 21st birthday.
John Cornford was the grandson of Charles Darwin, son of the Victorian poet Frances Cornford, and part of the golden generation of the British left who went to fight fascism in Spain. That their memory has been sullied by Orwell's slanders, unfortunately reinforced by Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom, and now lies largely forgotten on the Iberian peninsula by the progressives of the 21st century is the main reason why I am working on an historical novel, Heart of the heartless World at the centre of which is the tall handsome figure of John Cornford."
More Stalinist lies.)

Claud eventually left the CP (in 1947 – that is, weathering the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that made many of his generation, such as his earlier wife Hope Hale Davis, leave). Alexander, though, has on many occasions acted as a defender of its moribund faith.

Alexander Cockburn: Neo-Stalinist

A leftist critic of Cockburn, Louis Proyect, has described some examples of this:
"He supported the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan on the basis that it was a lesser evil to the misogynist fundamentalism of the village chieftains. He probably was influenced on this score by the CP politics of his father, another famous journalist, Claude Cockburn. But Alex was not a plain vanilla Stalinist. He also extolled the newspaper of the Trotskyist Spartacist League. This I found much more disturbing than his old-line Red Army apologetics. The Sparts, who also supported Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, were--to put it bluntly--nuts. During the Vietnam war, they raised the slogan "Drive the GI's into the sea!" As somebody who had leafleted draftees and knew how important tactful formulations were, I would found have found this slogan an invitation to a broken nose."
In 1998, the William Keach of Socialist Workers Party described him fairly accurately thus:
"Cockburn's personal history links him to the politics of the Communist Party, and there are still moments in his writing - debating the number of people estimated to have perished in Stalin's gulags, claiming that 'the Brezhnev years were a Golden Age for the Soviet working class',** when aspects of his father's convictions can be glimpsed."
David Walsh provides other examples, from The Golden Age is in Us: “He suggests at one point, for instance, that Stalin had no choice but to sign the Nazi-Soviet pact. He places principal blame for totalitarianism in eastern Europe on the emergence of the Cold War. He cites figures to prove that the US incursions in El Salvador and Guatemala resulted in far more casualties than the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia.” In 1989, when Christopher Hitchens was still at The Nation and on the left, Cockburn defended Fidel Castro from Hitchens’ attacks.

Keach’s analysis is that “The trouble is that Cockburn understands Lenin's maxim through a historical perspective distorted by Stalinist myth.” He quotes more Cockburn:
“The Soviet Union defeated Hitler and fascism. Without it, the Cuban Revolution would never have survived, nor the Vietnamese. In the post-war years it was the counterweight to US imperialism and the terminal savageries of the old European colonial powers. It gave support to any country trying to follow an independent line. Without it, just such a relatively independent country as India could instead have taken a far more rightward course. Despite Stalin's suggestion to Mao that he and his comrades settle for only half a country, the Chinese Revolution probably would not have survived either.”***
Keach writes:
"Every sentence of this paragraph belies Cockburn's political intelligence and represents a barrier to his asking the most important political questions. In what sense had either the Cuban or the Vietnamese revolutions survived by 1991? Was the Soviet Union a 'counterweight to US imperialism' or a rival imperialist power in its own right, imposing its own regimes of repression? Did the Soviet Union encourage or block the development of genuine socialist politics in India? Caught up in the terminal crisis of Stalinist Russia, and obviously appalled by a world increasingly dominated by US style market capitalism, Cockburn retreats to a backward looking defence of mythical Russian accomplishments.
Cockburn clearly felt in August of 1991 that the world had entered the era of 'post-communism'. Just where this left him politically is indicated by his quoting a from Vietnamese intellectual Nguyen Khac Vien: 'If a world front of capital is being founded, its counterweight, the democratic popular front on a world scale, is also in formation'.**** This is where Cockburn was left by the collapse of the Soviet Union, with a nebulous global popular frontism."

Long after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, Cockburn continued to take similar lines. In the summer of 2002, aboard a cruise organised by The Nation, Cockburn asserted that Soviet nuclear proliferation made the world a safer place:
"I remarked that there was one bit of proliferation that seemed to me indisputably okay, which was when the Soviet Union acquired the know-how to make A and H bombs, thus ending the US monopoly on Armageddon, and in my view making the world a safer place. (My position, very shocking to Jonathan Schell, is that every country should have at least one thermonuclear device, if necessary donated by the World Bank along with the "national" flag.)"
In 2005, he relatavised away the totalitarian Soviet Union’s vast spy machinery by comparing it to Israel’s:
"I'd reckon that when it comes to agents of influence the USSR back then [in the Alger Hiss period] couldn't hold a candle to Israel today (or then, for that matter, though in that distant time Zionist and Communist were often hats on the same head)."
This, to me, is like describing what Israel is doing today as a Holocaust: a comparison that at once trivialises the crimes of Hitler and Stalin, while demonising Israel in an offensive way. (The claim also echoes his father’s “Spies and Two Deaths in Spain”, published by CounterPunch, which suggests that spies were not all they were cranked up to be in the Cold War imagination.) This continues the denialism that defined his earlier period (Cockburn’s “Purging Stalin” in 1989, for example, sought to defend the Soviet experiment from those – like Roy Medvedev – who sought to reveal the extent of its murderousness, condemning them as spouters of State Department propaganda).

CounterPunch: Cockburn's turn to the right

Following his well-paid assaults on Clinton for right-wing outlets like New York Post and Wall Street Journal, Cockburn was an enthusiastic supporter of Ralph Nader in 2000; his vicious attacks on Al Gore (e.g. Al Gore: A User's Manual) played a part in rallying the left to Nader. The Nader vote, of course, was what gave America, and the world, a George W Bush presidency.

(Faux-ecologist Cockburn has also supported a cause Bush has flirted with: global warning denial. Although this is driven by Cockburn’s hatred of Gore, the apostle of global warning, as much as anything else (although it fits in with his pro-nuclear stance, mentioned above), it has placed him in the same dodgy political space as the remnants of Britain’s Revolutionary Communist Party and Lyndon LaRouche, as Louis Proyect has shown.)

Since 2000, anti-Bushism has become the central plank of the neo-Stalinist liberal milieu in which he moves. Anti-Bushism, of course, makes for strange bedfellows. Cockburn has a regular column for, the far right paleo-libertarian website run by Justin Raimondo, which appears to be leftist but is, on closer examination, largely fascist. This convergence was anticipated by Cockburn’s famous 1990s defence of the far right Militia movement, for which he was criticised by Janet Biehl, Katha Pollitt and David Walsh among others.

In the war on terror, Cockburn has opened up the pages of CounterPunch to various antisemites and fellow travellers with Islamist totalitarianism, writers like Alan Cabal and Daniel A. McGowan who elsewhere have defended the free speech of Holocaust deniers such as Ernest Zundel. It has published Israel Lobby conspiracy theorists Walt and Mearsheimer. It has been attacked in 2005 and 2006 by Jews Against Zionism for its peddling of the hate speech of Gilad Atzmon and his acolyte Mary Rizzo.

From New Left to alt-left

Walsh asks:
"Why is the history of the Cockburn family franchise--now operated by the son--of political importance? Primarily because of the light it sheds on the New Left, a movement with which the younger Cockburn is closely identified.
It is not accidental that the middle class radicalism of the 1960s passed on such a meager intellectual legacy and produced so few revolutionists. At the heart of the New Left's political weakness lay an avoidance of the basic historical questions posed by Stalinism and the fate of the Soviet Union. In certain cases, such as Cockburn's, these issues cut too close to the bone. For others, who justified their ideological indifference on "practical" grounds, the problems were simply too complicated.

An eclectic catch-all of political conceptions, with a dash of Maoism [in the 1960s, Cockburn spoke of "the astonishing works of Mao Tse Tung--philosopher and general, poet and statesman"], Castroism, "libertarianism" and other assorted ideological spices, the New Left could not provide a coherent perspective upon which to base a political struggle."
I would argue that it is worth paying attention to the Cockburn family franchise today because it sheds light on the new New Left, the convergence of Islamist theocrats and Third Worldist authoritarian nationalists with their liberal and “libertarian” useful idiots, fuelled by conspiracy theory, degenerated “anti-imperialism” and paranoid hatred of Israel and America, a formation whose house magazine is CounterPunch.

POSTSCRIPT: After writing this, I read this post, which takes a similar line: Terry Glavin: Counterpunch, Official Organ of the Reactionary Left, on Afghanistan (Linked to by stubble jumping redneck) Commenting on Terry's piece, David T asks "Does anybody here still seriously want to argue that Counterpunch is not a magazine of the far Right?" And on Alexander's brother, Patrick, see this post from Cedar Lounge, as well as the comments thread to this post.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Jewish Self-Determination

Harry’s Place » Jewish Self-Determination
David Rosenberg of Jewish Socialist turns up in an unlikely place - Harry's Place - with a very well-argued critique of Zionism. You can also read him on the Anti-Nazi League in 1978 here.

Five more items

Update: Originally, this post had five items in it, then I deleted one, but I failed to change the title. How useless is that?

A review of an interesting-looking novel:“The German Bride” is a western and a story of Jewish pioneers. But “Blazing Saddles” it is not...*

Building Arab trust in Israel: I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Michael Howard.**

The cultism of the left: an anarchist perspective

Hindu nationalim: an annotated bibliography and web link list

*Hat tip: Jogo.
**Hat tip: Arieh.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Foxes of New Cross

Play it as it lays says:

One of the biggest (guilty?) pleasures in the music blogging world is to be the first ones to pick up on some hot new band, to be able to say I was there first. Here’s someone I’m confident will be absolutely huge in about six months or so, and I’ll get to be smug at the annual music blog dinner dance.

Ed Tracy... used to play under the moniker Chopper Harris, and has been tooling around the toilet venues of London for a while. He also occasionally played live saxophone, naked, for now-defunct white 2-step/dub outfit Crack Village alongside Akira The Don and one of Ray Winstone’s female sprogs. Via a chain of command involving former members of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Prefab Sprout his demo got him signed to Parlophone...

His stuff is classic British guitar pop with a creamy layer of white soul, and vocals that chew their way happily around juicy non-sequiters and vaguely slapstick imagery... ["Foxes of New Cross"] is one of his earlier efforts with some very nice guitar-hero soloing, and a catchiness that ruled my summer about three years back. Check out his myspace for some of his excellent new songs (including “Too Much Money” which WILL be #1), and his blog featuring tales of Keith Flint eating apple crumble amongst other topics. [Read the rest, and listen to the mp3]

Lobster Quadrille Magazine says:
The splendidly vibrant Foxes of New Cross is reminiscent of Blur's best stuff circa Modern Life Is Rubbish. A joyful blend of stretched-out vocals, sharp Coxon-esque guitar, pipey organ and saxophone embellishments. It also has an amazing fuzzbox solo. (I hope that doesn't sound like a euphemism for something.) In any case, why can't all bands make music this good?
Listen at Last.FM

Previous: Desperate Bicycles "New Cross, New Cross".
Image from via

Jew-ish music

Two from the fantastic SoundRoots blog:

1. Memorial Day:
the debut album by Yaron Pe'er, an Israeli multi- instrumentalist, which also features musicians from Sudan, Egypt, and India.

The text is from Psalm 17: 8, one translation of which reads: "Keep your eye on me; hide me under your cool wing feathers."

[mp3] Yaron Pe'er: Keep Me
from the album Orian

The album is also beautifully packaged, by the way, and comes with 10 postcards with inspirational messages and artwork drawn by Pe'er in Hindu and Persian styles. The entire project, Pe'er says, "is bestowed with the hope of reawakening the higher spirit within. To perform the mitzvah or good deed, 'love thy neighbor like thyself'; that a man shall not be built from the destruction of his fellow man."

Artist website:
Label website:
2. Spring Cleaning:

Israel, remixed: SoundRoots doesn't have the power to remix the politics of the Middle East, but we can point out some Y-Love remixes, including a rap infused version of this Idan Raichel tune

Read more about Idan Raichel at Muruv. Artist website here. Buy the CD or Mp3s.


Israeli indie/singer-songwriter music: Noa Babayof: "Indian Queen" [mp3] from From A Window To A Wall. Von Chaim at Heeb writes:

In recent months I have found myself being drawn more and more into the new wave of indie music coming out of Israel. But nothing has captured my attention quite like Israeli singer/songwriter Noa Babayof. On June 17, her debut album, From a Window to a Wall, will be released on Drag City imprint Language of Stone Records. Babayof’s haunting voice brings to mind Joni Mitchell, Nico and even Marissa Nadler. She is writing some of the saddest songs this side of Leonard Cohen.
Listen to the tracks "Marching Band" and "Mary" at Israeli indie blog, עונג שבת.


play it as it lays: praise him with the blast of the horn

"Coming out next month is one of the strangest and most beautiful records I’ve heard in a long while. Entitled “Hear, O Israel”, it’s a recording of a Friday night Jewish prayer ceremony in 1968, set to jazz. So you have the likes of Herbie Hancock on piano and Thad Jones on trumpet, and they’re playing some flowing modern jazz, and then a rabbi starts intoning prayers over the top. And some female singers start warbling in Hebrew. It’s even more amazing than that sounds." [read the rest and listen to tracks]

Trunk Records



Previous: What do you mean you don't like Hasidic hip hop?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Two legends pass

The great Bo Diddley has died. Bo Diddley was always one of my favourite rock 'n' rollers. His music was so much more raw and deep and hard than that of his contemporaries like Chuck Berry or Little Richard. I think I first came across him when reading David Toop's amazing history of hip hop, Rap Attack, which rightly claims Diddley as one of the fathers of rap. I then took one of his albums out of my local library and it blew me away. As a teenager, I also loved the Jesus and Mary Chain covers of his stuff, and treasured a Quicksilver Messenger Service album I bought in a charity shop that had one or two of his songs on it. (Whatever happened to that record?) Listening to his stuff today, it sounds so fresh and funky. What a man.

Read (and listen to mp3): Passion of the Weiss, Post-rockist, Fufu Stew, Moistworks, Diddy Wah, Boogie-Woogie Flu, Spread the Good Word.

Less well-known, but also a legend, was Utah Phillips, who died on May 21st. He was a union organiser, Wobbly, folk singer, songwriter, hobo, Korean war veteran and angry soul.

Read (and listen to mp3s): The Utah Phillips website, Molly's Blog, Cover Lay Down, Old Blue Bus, Anyone's Guess, Songs Illinois, Late Greats.

One of the most intelligent things I've read about Barack Obama

From Good Times and Bad Times in Lost America:
Barack in my opinion is one of the whitest black politicians that have been out there, making it hard to see a fiery black nationalist in his statements. In fact, he voluntarily, not with prompting from the media but voluntarily, has distanced himself from radical black ideas that before he was elected to Congress, as a Senator, he may have supported. He's a uniter, not a divider.

But you know, he's running for the President of the United States not the President of black America. If he wants to be a real President he'll have to appeal to all Americans, not just black supporters who will vote for anyone black who's to the left of Alan Keyes and rich white Yuppies who listen to NPR and are liberal to the point of idiocy.

*on edit: it looks like there are two contradictory things going on here: Obama being a really white Black politician and him not connecting with white people although he's been straining to broaden his appeal there. The solution is that the white folks that Obama has been reaching out to aren't regular people but the upper middle class yuppie set that reads the Daily Kos. While he's done a lot to prove that he can order complex espresso drinks with the best of them he hasn't done anything to prove that, yes, he would possibly have a beer with a shot of whiskey or something.
All Barack Obama posts

Seven songs: two more

Two more contributions to the Seven Songs meme are in:

Jams nominates great tracks by Ofra Haza, Dead Can Dance and others. Unfortunately, the Darya Davar YouTube clip is now down, but there's plenty more from this wonderful singer. He also nominates "The Forest" by the Cure. I don't like the Cure that much, but that's one of their songs I like the most.

Roland nominates a gorgeous version of "La Llorana" by Susana Harp and great number in a kind of rembetika/tango vein by Melina Aslanidou, among other things.