Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I'm voting Labour on Thursday, no.1

The short answer: because I will not be able to live with myself if I wake up on Friday morning and played any role in David Cameron becoming prime minister.

Over to Johann Hari:
Revealing Policy One: Today, 1,600 British people are killed every year just doing their job, putting us behind many poorer countries for workplace safety. They are people like Michael Adamson, a 26-year-old electrician who went to his job one day and was given a massive electric shock because his employer hadn't bought a £12 piece of safety equipment.

Yet David Cameron is promising to dismantle the very weak protections currently in place, and replace them with a system where corporations will be able to "organise their own inspections", carried out by a team of their choice. Cameron's people justify this by pointing to made-up stories in the right-wing press claiming health and safety inspectors spend their time stopping children playing conkers. UCATT, the astonished construction workers' union, has been protesting outside Tory HQ, with members dressed as the Grim Reaper. Michael Adamson's sister, Louise, who is a lawyer, says: "Cameron's proposals are outrageously dangerous. They will end with a lot more people dying. It takes the very light touch regulation that gave us Lehman Brothers and Enron, and applies it to workplace safety. This time it's not money you lose, it's lives. This isn't about conkers, it's about people like my brother, who could have been saved for £12." This policy suggests Cameron instinctively puts corporate profits ahead of the the safety of ordinary people – a dangerous habit to act out in Downing Street.
[...]
Revealing Policy Four: Cameron says he is demanding spending cuts not because he has a theological belief in a small state, but because they are necessary to pay off the deficit – but this claim is undermined by the fact that he wants to strip funding from state programmes that actually save us money. Look for example at SureStart, the network of 3,000 children's centres across Britain built under the current government. They are based on a fascinating series of discoveries. It has been proven that most poor children fall behind in language skills and stimulation long before they ever walk through the school gates – and they never catch up. The first few years of life are crucial for the formation of a child's mental abilities. Get them early and give them intensive encouragement, with expert advice for their parents, and you can change their life.

This isn't speculation. In 1964, they launched the first SureStart-style project in Michigan – and Dr Lawrence Schweinhart and a team of academics has been monitoring the kids ever since. Did it work? Well, they were 50 per cent less likely to become teenage mothers than their siblings who weren't put in the programme, and by the time they were 40, they were 46 per cent less likely to have been to prison and 26 per cent less likely to be on welfare. Their incomes were 42 per cent higher. So for every £1 you spend on it, you save the state £7 further down the line. Yet Cameron, on becoming Tory leader, dismissed SureStart as "a microcosm of government failure". Now he says he will keep it in some form, but already he says huge chunks of its budget will go to other things, and few expect it to survive long. If he can't keep the single best policy for reducing inequality – one that costs less than nothing in the medium term – what shreds of progress can survive his rule?

You don't have to scrape off much of the glitter and gloss to get to Cameron's less-than-fluffy Bush. Who really wants this cocktail of market fundamentalism, Europhobia, and haranguing of the vulnerable for the next five years?

The long answer over the next few days, if I can find the time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I haven't had so much time on-line this week. Here are the three posts I got most out of:

Martin in the Margins: Britain: brilliant, not broken
Flesh is Grass: Election: the BNP, their supporters and their opposition
The New Centrist: Things I’ve Been Reading and Thinking About

Please read them. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Crime, anti-social behaviour, class politics and the reconfiguration of the left

http://images.scholastic.co.uk/assets/a/f1/8c/bill-prv-4-256000.jpgA post by Reuben at the Third Estate kicked off a long discussion (still continuing) on one of my posts, mainly between The New Centrist, standing to my right, and Schalom Libertad, standing to my left. I have one or two more things to add to the debate, but it prompted me to go back to some things I was reading in early 2009, which I'm linking to again, mainly from the sadly now boarded up Left Luggage and from the IWCA.

The IWCA do not see themselves as part of the left. In fact, the issue of crime and anti-social behaviour are precisely one of the topics on which they see the left as irrelevant and best abandoned.

These issues are at the top of my mind for reasons noted here: the surge of violent street crime in my area in 2010. Another reason they are in my mind is the hollowness of the nonsense most politicians are coming out with about this in the election campaign, especially the Tories' with their "Broken Britain" broken record (when surely if it's broken it was the Tories what broke it) and, in my local area, the Lib Dems, whose Lewisham mayoral candidate, Chris Maines, includes in his "six to fix" the fact that violent crime in Lewisham has risen, but has absolutely no serious strategy to deal with it.

Anyway, here are the links: Stressing the social in anti-social behaviour; Taking crime seriously; Thatcher’s children; The radicalism of action, not wordsDealing with the renegades;‘Society is indeed broken’—and we all know who broke it; The soul of man under neo-liberalism; Battle lines have been drawn.

I plan to return to this topic in the next few days, but I've written a little about it at these posts: Policing the G20 protests and Policing the miners' strike.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I want to sleep with common people II



I could only bear to watch about 10 minutes of the leaders' "debate" on ITV on Thursday night. I caught the bit where they were talking about education, where David Cameron said - twice - talking as a parent with children in state schools. I found this nauseating. Especially as I read this earlier in the day, from one of his maringally less posh than him neighbours:
His local school, Oxford Gardens Primary School, which all three of my children attend, is Kensington and Chelsea's largest state primary, with fantastic staff and great children who represent London's huge multicultural mix. Motivated, giving parents — just the sort the Tory leader talked about Tuesday — are a huge help to its head teacher, Sarah Cooper, who relies on them to keep improving the school.
Though the Camerons are in the perfect position to contribute to their community school, they felt that their child would be “a bit lost” there. So she attends St Mary Abbots, an exclusive CofE school two miles away in a significantly richer community. Nor, to my knowledge, do they attend their local CofE church, St Helen's, two streets from their home. The Camerons judiciously began attending St Mary Abbots church three years before their daughter started at its adjoining school.
This is their prerogative and, hey, if parents want to jump through such hoops in order to secure a more exclusive education for their child, who I am to judge? But Dave, don't then start lecturing me about community values. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a stance that has contributed mightily to our disdain for politicians.
Writing as someone whose child does go to the local state school, I am also irritated by his party's notion that parents should be "empowered" to take over schools, a continuation of the sick Thatcherite "choice" agenda that has been ruining our education system since 1979. Parents don't want "choice" or "empowerment"; they want their most local school to be decent.

And, of course, this is especially grating when Tory slash-and-burn economic policies mean spending some £1.7bn less on education than Labour in the current financial year, meaning a loss of some 38,000 frontline education jobs.

Image credit: Political Cream, via Paul Waugh via Shiraz Socialist.
Previous: Andrew Adonis on Jim Callaghan and education; Blair's Thatcherism; Neo-liberalism's assault on civic culture.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

La Zona

[This post is a last minute plug for La Zona at the Brockley Jack Film Club tomorrow (Sunday) evening.]

La Zona
The ward I live in is apparently statistically one of the safest in the the borough of Lewisham, which I think is still the statistically safest borough in inner London. However, it  doesn't feel like that sometimes. As part of an epidemic of gun and knife crime sweeping young London, we have had a shooting at Brockley Cross this week, a stabbing there the week before, a stabbing at Catford a few weeks ago, one on Brockley Rise and one on Brockley Road days before that. And a horrific knife attack at a party in Bellingham down the road a couple of days ago.

Given this, I sometimes feel a desire to retreat into gated safety. The Mexican film, La Zona, showing tomorrow at the Brockley Jack Film Club, set in a dystopian near-future, is about what happens when people withdraw behind security walls.

Watch the trailer. Read a 4* review from the Guardian here.

Note: the Film Club has sold out the last few screenings, but I'm told this one has plenty of tickets left, so get booking,.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Catching up

Having been too busy to blog in most of April, I have a lot to catch up on.

Post of the month (so far)
Airforce Amazons: Liberté ou la Mort.

Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International
Gita Sahgal's resignation statement from AI. More from Flesh is Grass, Kellie, Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm, Raincoat Optimist.

Our shared history (31 March 1990)

HiM@N with Trafalgar Square memories and Jim with his poll tax shame.

Bertrand Russell and Hannah Arendt
Bertrand Russell Postage StampThe Thomas Sowell text I posted on here (criticising Bertrand Russell's naivety) was also at Poumista, where there was an interesting short comment thread, while the Contentious Centrist posted a late BBC interview with Russell, which is beautiful, inspiring and still relevant. Michael Ezra at Poumista and Migreli at CC both made points echoing Sowell's, on how Russell's pacifism in the face of fascism was morally appalling. They are correct. But in my view this does not mean that we should jettison everything about Russell's heritage. See also: "Why patriotism is morally indefensible" by Phil Dickens, an anarchist perspective. Specifically, scroll down to the section headed "In war and genocide", which looks at Gandhi's "objective pro-fascism" and Orwell's critique, while the following section mentions Anti-Fascist Action.

Hannah Arendt Stamp

The Russell issue made me think of Arendt and her relationship with the Nazi philosopher Heidegger, and her notion that philosophy suffers from a lack of worldliness which makes it complicit with evil. Here is an interesting article on Raul Hilberg versus Arendt, and here (via Migreli) is Shlomo Avineri on Arendt.

Jews, Whiteness, The Shoah And Public Sympathy
A good post at Contested Terrain, and a good comment by Negative Potential below it.

Far right watch (contemporary and historical)


UK politricks
I'm still making up my mind how to vote, but my instincts so far are pretty much along these lines.

Meta-blogging
I have failed to complete most of the tasks set myself here. Plus I have new things to add to the blogroll, in particular Arguing the world, which I found via Martin who describes it as Democratiya's afterlife (see also Ignoblus). Other miscellanies: Modernity, Poumista, Andy.

Bob's beats/East London
David Rosenberg interviews Billy Bragg on West Ham, Barking and the BNP (h/t Jim).


Bob's beats/Sarf London
South East of the Thames Border Infection Mix.You can download this fantastic mix from History is Made at Night, and I have started to play it on my new radio station at Blip.fm. Let's see if this works:
TT Ross – Imagine | play
Sir Collins & His Mind Sweepers – New Cross Fire | play
Roy Rankin & Raymond Naptali – New Cross Fire - KG Imperial | play
Benjamin Zephaniah – Dis policeman keeps on kicking me to death (Lord Scarman Dub) | play
Mad Professor & Jah Shaka – Gautrey Road Style | play
Brown Sugar – I'm in love with a dreadlocks | play
Brinsley Forde in Babylon 1980 – Cant Tek No More | play
Dizzee Rascal – Can't Tek No More (Produced By Shy FX) | play

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The mutating forms of post-fascism, and immigration politics

Anti-fascism: defeating the EDL and the BNP
Via AWL, I read about the formation of a new network of anti-fascists, to provide an alternative to the pointless liberal posturing of the mainstream anti-BNP campaigns. The network was called by Notts Stop the BNP and South Yorkshire Stop the BNP. To be honest, I know nothing about either organisation, and even less about who else might be involved apart from the AWL. Anyone who can tell us more in the comments would be appreciated. My fear would be that it has all the signs of something that would attract sterile Trot sects like flies to the proverbial. However, the resolution on the English Defence League (pdf, via here) is pretty good. Here is part of it:
1. The EDL (and its far weaker Scottish and Welsh satellites, the SDL and WDL) are racist populist organisations whose political staple diet is organising racist street provocations.
2. From the EDL's inception there have been organised fascists prominent in its organisation. The EDL's initial organisational base has been from nationalist gangs of football hooligans but it has been successful over the last year in pulling behind it a layer of working class youth. It has energetically attempted to claim that it is not racist and attempted to pull in black (Afro-Caribbean) youth and they have had people from the Black and non-Muslim Asian community speaking at rallies. Some of those in its periphery, particularly on the web, appear to be taken in by this.
3. The EDL however still has only a skeletal organisational structure and few policies other than crude anti-Muslim slogans and implicit anti-immigrant policies. As such at present it cannot be regarded as a fascist organisation. Whilst some in the EDL are members of the BNP, it is not a BNP front. Any unsubstantiated claims that it is a BNP front, only weakens our argument.
4. Like organised fascist organisations the EDL feeds off the disillusionment in working class communities with politics, particularly the Labour Party and the lack of a fight by many trade unions. Even a limited growth in trade union activity and militancy would marginalise the racists of the EDL and their pretence that they to genuinely represent working class dissent. But until and even when a revival in real working class politics happens, there is still a need to stop the racist activities of organisations like the EDL.
5. Whilst the EDL's demonstrations continue, they might provide the resources and personnel for a major growth of fascism in this country either by:
a) continuing to be a recruiting milieu for organised fascists of the BNP and NF; or
b) becoming a significant factor in a future fascist regrouping
6. The EDL contains many who have experience in street fighting and confrontations with the police. Legal bans, which we do not support, and attempts by the police to restrain them are even less likely to be effective than such action taken against the BNP or NF.
7. The EDL also pose an indirect threat, in that their slogans feed into the Islamophobia which has been pushed into the public consciousness by government institutions and the media when attacking the rights of asylum seekers, immigrants or justifying wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. This normalises the association of the Muslim community with extremism, fundamentalism, cultural dominance and terrorism and without the offer of an alternative perspective provides justification for supporting the BNP.
As communities/individuals already targeted by racism seek to distance themselves from those scapegoated by the EDL ( e.g . Asian speaker at EDL rally) it creates confusion by lending credence to EDL's claim to be non-racist. Such divide and rule tactics undermine attempts to organise against racism and fascism.
This strikes me as very clear-headed analysis, and a massive improvement on Unite Against Fascism's pointless shout-Nazi policy. Further discussion of these issues can be found here, Sacha Ismail's summary of his debate with Weyman Bennett of the Socialist Workers' Party and Unite Against Fascism, on the Islam Channel. The other participants were Labour GLA member Murad Qureshi and Birmingham Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob, and the host recently expelled SWPer John Rees. The debate covers state bans, anti-fascist unity and Islamophobia, and Ismail is basically right on all of those, especially the first and third.

(I think that a similar effort is required to understand complex and contradictory nature of the Tea Party movement in the US, and not simply dismiss it as a form of fascism. A good starting point is this piece by Andrew Epstein, which Contested Terrain considers here.)

Detoxifying the immigration debate
In my view, the two key elements in defeating the EDL, BNP and their ilk are the re-emergence of grassroots politics in working class communities, and the detoxification of the immigration debate. On the latter, a recent intervention by the IPPR, "The limit to limits", is promising. This has been picked up by George Eaton at the Staggers. The IPPR's Sarah Mully has good blog posts on the excellent Left Foot Forward, and on the IPPR blog (where she also takes on the Lib Dems). A related article, from back in November, that is somewhat softer on the Tories but frames the issues well, is by Ayesha Saran at Open Democracy.

In a recent post, Chris Dillow puts forward some other pro-immigration arguments, although this should be balanced against this piece by the IWCA. See also Francis Sedgemore.

On a different immigration topic, Paul Canning at LFF is good on LGB asylum issues: Never mind Latvian gay rights, what about Iraq’s record?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dunkin’ bagel—splash! In the coffee. Matzo ball, matzo ball-o-roonie! Gefilte fish, gefilte fish-a-fruitie!

For Alex...


Slim Gaillard: Dunkin' Bagel (1946) via History is Made at Night

Live at Billy Berg's, Hollywood

Lyrics:
"Dunkin' Bagel
Dunkin' Bagel
Dunkin' Bagel
SPLASH in the coffee
Dunkin' Bagel
Dunkin' Bagel
Dunkin' Bagel
SPLASH in the coffee"
Bam Brown: "Matsoh Balls" Slim: "Matsoboutsiereenie"
Bam: "Gefilte fish" Slim: "Gefilte fish avoutie"
Bam: "Pickled Herrings" Slim: "Pickled Herrivoonie"
Bam: "Macarootie"  Slim: "Macaroonie"
piano solo (perhaps by Slim, but probably by [Dodo] Marmarosa)
guitar solo (very much in the vein of Charlie Christian)
Slim singing: "Dunkin' Bagel" etc
and then as a coda the spoken words:
Bam: "How about a bowl of gefilte fish?"
Slim: "Cold? Hot?"

Paul Shapiro's cover of this, (More info. Review.)

Slim Gaillard: Matzo Balls (on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio)

from 'Matzoh Balls' 78rpm, 1939 / Columbia

Tom Waits: The most famous Yiddish curses (on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

From Bob's archive: the Gay Destroyer

I am incredibly busy right now, too busy for blogging. To keep the site alive until I am back, here is one from my archive, from September 2005, when I posted it as "The strange, unexplored overlap between homosexuality and fascism". I've updated the dead links, although some of them mystify me (what does the gay destroyer look like?) and done a tiny bit of tidying. Food for thought, I hope, so feel free to chat about it in the comments thread while I'm away.

Johann Hari has recently been declared The Gay Destroyer by the Nazis of Stormfront (see here for what a Gay Destroyer might look like). So it's worth reading this article he published a year ago: The strange, unexplored overlap between homosexuality and fascism.

Jogo writes:
I have never cared for the word "gay," meaning homosexual or queer. It sounds like a Victorian euphemism, which I believe it is. I don't know when this word started popping up everywhere. I don't remember it having much currency back in the fifties and early sixties. Or certainly, it wasn't THE word, as it is now.

Maybe it became the word when the Gay Liberation Front formed (immediately post-Stonewall, 1969), and defined, and sort of began, the militant struggle for homosexual rights and acceptance.

"Gay" -- especially if you're hearing the Victorian note -- sounds extremely weird when you read it 53 times in Johan Hari's article about the homosexual/fascism connection.

****

This quote jumped out at me from Johann Hari's article: "Since I am an immature and wicked man, war and unrest appeal to me more than the good bourgeois order." -- Ernst Rohm

Did Rohm come up with a real insight here, or was he just being ironically, self-deprecatingly, clever?

To prefer unrest to "good bourgeois order" (to prefer it as a permanent state of being, that is) has been a dream not only of the political revolutionary mind for the past 157 years, but is also characteristic -- even a defining characteristic -- of the modern artistic mind, beginning with ... what? .... Dadaism, or the Armory Show, or Surrealism ...

Rimbaud was all about unrest set permanently against bourgeois order. Appolinaire -- and all the poets and writers of his ilk -- were deeply, emotional, psychically configured to despise bourgois order, and worked to undermine it, to replace it with chronic "unrest" and a kind of "war." An unbroken line connects them to Ginsberg and Corso, utlimately to Gangster Rap and the Poetry Slam.

The idea of Unrest as a Primal Solution lies at the heart of the ideologies and theories of all the movements of my adult lifetime -- from The Living Theater and UAW/MF to Rage Against the Machine. Unrest is deeply desired, longed for, by the likes of Barthes and Foucault, and by Lynne Stewart, who says things like "I've been fighting all my life." As if there was never a moment, for her, in which peace seemed preferable to war.

So what should we make of Ernst Rohm's statement?
[Bob:] This is a really important issue, and Hari is on to something here. As Daniel notes, this issue has been explored in the important book Male Fantasies, by (gay) historian of fascism George Mosse and, in different contexts, by Paul Gilroy in his essay "Hitler Wore Khakis" and Ian Buruma in his book Occidentalism.

The key point, I think, is that at its heart, fascism's appeal and core is aesthetic as much as ideological.

****
Jogo again:
Is Johann Hari very smart, or just averagely smart? He calls Pym Fortun a "fascist," using as evidence Pym's opinion that Islam is "the biggest threat to Western Civilization today." O Horrors! Whether that view is right or wrong -- or partly right -- can't one believe it without being thought a fascist?

Later, Hari writes: Fascism is often defined as "a political ideology advocating hierarchical government that systematically denies equality to certain groups." Well, he doesn't say who defines it that way. I certainly don't. I don't think that's a very good definition of fascism at all.
[Bob:] I think that the definitions of fascism that are used today have lost all clarity. People have made the term stretch so far as to make it almost meaningless. The Wikipedia definition, I think, gets it more or less right, but misses out the importance of race. The idea of fascism simply as authoritarianism or inequality - and, worse, the idea of America today as fascist - reflects the hollowing out of political debate today.

This, along with Hari's political correctness in his over-use of the anodyne, meaningless phrases "gay" - and "gay people" (where there many lesbian Nazis?) - suggests a refusal to think about certain things, which sits uneasily with his insight elsewhere in his writing.
I agree that it is incorrect to call Pim a "fascist". Wikipedia again:
"Fortuyn was a focus of controversy for his views on Islam and his anti-immigration positions. He called islam a backward culture and once said "if it were legally possible, I'd say no more muslim should ever enter this country". He was labelled a far-right populist by his opponents and the media, but he fiercely rejected this label and distanced himself clearly from far-right politicians like in Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Blok, Jörg Haider of Austria or Jean-Marie Le Pen of France. Fortuyn could be considered a nationalist, but on cultural, rather than racial grounds."
I think Fortuyn was wrong on most things, but the idea that he was a fascist is another one of those liberal orthodoxies that Guardianistas just take for granted without thinking about it. Again, I expect better of Hari!

***

One further thing: I think that Hari is also wrong about gay skinheads. Hari assumes that skinheads are automatically fascist. Anyone interested in the fascinating history of queer skinheads should read Murray Healey's Gay Skins. In the 1980s anti-fascist movement (as opposed to the liberal "anti-Nazi" movement), we always used the term "boneheads" for Nazi skins.

Pim Gortune, Pym Fortine, Pim Fortuyn, Pym Fortoyn
Johan Harri, Johan Hari, Johann Harri, Johann Hari

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Gnome Chomsky 5: and his dog predicate

Continuing my monthly series. Not sure if I've posted this before. From Postmodernhaircut.com.


chomsky21


Via. Check back on Mayday for another.
---
Bob Black on Noam Chomsky:
El Presidente Hugo Chavez (a statist leftist with authoritarian tendencies) may have learned something about US imperialism from Chomsky, as he related to the UN General Assembly, but a lot more people have gotten the same lowdown from Harper's or The New Yorker, or from many alternative and small press publications and internet sites. But now we have Chomsky on Anarchism! After 40 years, he has outed himself as an anarchist. Who would have ever suspected it? Certainly nobody who read all the Stalinist and nationalist manifestos he signed in full page ads in the New York Review of Books (By People Who Write for the New York Review of Books).
I mean really, why reprint, from 1970, At War with Asia: Essays on Indochina? Is there currently no unpublished anarchist book more worthy of publication by an anarchist publisher? ... Chomsky was, and is, like AK Press, an anti-imperialist fellow traveler, a sucker for any Third World authoritarian nationalist gang that seizes state power, or tries to, or wants to. 
[Via James Horrox, see here.] 
Neo-neocon on stupid intellectuals:
The stupidity of supposedly smart men (and women!) can be simply stunning. And that stupidity is not random; it tends to almost always go in the same direction, that of failing to understand the workings of the totalitarian and tyrannical mindset.