Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Triangulating Bobism 2: The Furedi cult

This post is dedicated to the other Will, Sarah and Jogo.

I recently wrote something like this: Frank Furedi and his cult have probably been more influential than any other bit of the British far left in the last decade. Although some of this influence has undoubtedly been for the good, some of it has been very malignant. They give a veneer of intellectual respectability to denialism about climate change, have acted as PR agents for the agribusiness, airline and pharmaceutical industries, aided and abetted AIDS denialism and its enormous death toll in Africa, given succour to Serb nationalism at its most aggressive, helped Boris Johnson capture London, provided ideological cover for cuts in the funding for arts, reduced the number of decent free festivals in the parks of London*, and, arguably, are the architects of David Cameron's election victory. Or am I paranoid?

Some time after I wrote it, but before I published it, I sent Jogo, Bob’s American correspondent, an article Furedi wrote about the left/liberal hysteria surrounding the Pope’s visit to the UK. Furedi’s article was brilliantly written, and accurately skewered an unsavoury tendency that elsewhere A Very Public Sociologist has aptly named atheism as the “identity politics of the liberal intelligentsia”. Jogo, understandably, was much taken by Furedi.

This post, following on from this one, is written as part of the on-going attempt, if this is not too pompous a way of putting it, to triangulate Bobism against some of the political positions abutting it. Here, I attempt to think through the way Furedi and his followers can be so correct about some things, and so harmfully wrong about others, and how this makes me think about my own politics.

For those who don't know what I’m talking about, Frank Furedi is an academic, once a member of Tony Cliff’s unorthodox Trotskyist party, the International Socialists (fore-runners of today’s Socialist Workers Party). Furedi left the IS “in 1975 on issues that remain obscure to all concerned”. His grouplet split, with his co-sectarian and fellow academic David Yaffe leading a rival groupuscule into the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), which became the ne plus ultra of mad anti-imperialism, while Furedi eventually took the hardly original title Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). We need not be concerned here with the zigs and zags of the RCP as it sought to identify its unique selling point in the small and crowded market of the British far left.

I’ll take up the story where I first encountered the RCP: at the end of the 1980s, when they were a colourful presence in the student movement and, clipboards in hand, selling their magazine around Covent Garden, on a prime pitch now occupied by the Big Issue. The RCP were then known for the graphic pzazz of their magazine Living Marxism, by the uber-trendy hairstyles of the cadre, and by their ultra-contrarian political positions. Among the latter: AIDS is a state conspiracy to regulate the sexuality of the working class, a position I took particular offence at, as I then moved in a pretty metrosexual milieu in which people were dying of the disease. This was just before Furedi announced the party’s “turn to the suburbs”.

Feelings, Conspiracies and the Public Debate

Read this post by Roland at The Propagandist.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I have nearly finished about three long posts that I want you to read, but have been really busy. In the meantime, here's some other things, borrowed from my friends. Nothing about any Miliband.

Airforce Amazons: Radio in a Bottle. Kind of a miscellaneous post, but with a thread running through it. An extract:
Debunking the Islamisation Myth is a substantial attempt by Edmund Standing to distinguish between rational concern about radical Islamist movements, and irrational fears of Britain or other European countries being somehow conquered by political Islam, either via immigration or via conversion. Edmund Standing’s writings are mainly about the extremists of Britain’s racist far right, but he has also written on the extremism of political Islamism, and the interactions between political Islamism and and the kitsch element on the left.

In the past I’ve disagreed with Standing’s views on immigration. I don’t know if his view on that has now changed, but this current effort is a good attempt to tackle the problem of the racist right using concern over the extremist Islamist right to gain support for their divisive politics.

Edmund Standing is a frequent contributor to Harry’s Place, a blog which has itself often been criticised for failing to adequately distance itself from racism and religious bigotry in its ongoing effort to cover extremist Islamism in the UK, this criticism being mainly in relation to the commenters it attracts. More on that topic by Flesh is GrassMarko Attila Hoare, and Poumista.
Max Dunbar has a good piece on "breaking broken Britain", which covers very similar ground to Kellie.

Modernity has had yet another re-design. He's got a great blog round-up, including these items:
Richard Millet has a persuasive post on Those “disloyal Jews” and the racist thinking that under pins it. CiF Watch covers Hamas Huggers. Entdinglichung highlights how appallingly Syrian Kurds are treated in Denmark. Some golden oldies from Engage. I particularly like Dave Rich’s If I say “Zionist” not “Jew” then I can’t be antisemitic, can I? Contested Terrain has many informative posts, including a pointer to The Myth Of Jewish Communism and AK Press To Fox News’ Glenn Beck: We Have A Lot In Common. For a background to Glenn Beck’s weird views see Adam Holland’s coverage. Judeosphere And The Crazy Just Keeps On Coming… Greens Engage on Passing over antisemitism and EU Commissioner Karel de Gucht. Eric Reeves and The death of ‘Ahmed’ of Kassab camp.

Meanwhile, Ignoblus carries an interview on Roma rights in France, Italy, and elsewhere. Andrew Coates has a helpful clarification on the Roma in France. Greens Engage has a good round-up on the Israeli settlement freeze. Via Entdinglichung: the contemporary situation for Syrian Kurds. Via Volvbilis: the Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia. At The Commune, Eduardo Semtei on Cuba today. Via Engage: a new blog on antisemitism. Finally, Bella asks you to pay attention next time you hear the words "peace" and "justice".

More miscellania at But I Am A Liberal (possibly already linked to!)

Here's Saban Bajramovic remixed by Cubismo, h/t Jogo. For background on this great man and great song, go here or here.

Image credit: Terry.

Friday, September 24, 2010

East London Sukkah

Chag Sameach חג שמח dear readers. And those of you in London, check out the fantastic stuff going on all Sukkot week in the East End as part of the East London Sukkah, organised by OpenVisor, Jewdas and the East London Mosque, featuring some superb artists and music by the wonderful Klezmer Klub.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Total nonsense

I noticed that I am at 182 in the Total Politic top UK blogs of the year. (Down from 138 last year: what have I done wrong?) Almost no blogs I read in the top 50 - Left Foot Forward at no.3 and Liberal Conspiracy at no.13. I occasionally glance at Hopi Sen, Next LeftThe Staggers and John Rentoul. The next 50 down, however, is full of blogs I read (see below). What does that mean?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Influential left-wingers

I've been thinking further about the Left Foot Forward challenge to come up with the most influential left-wingers. (See here.) I decided to present my own lists, one of good influences, one of people who have been too influential, and one of people I wish the left were more influenced by. I have confined myself to living people, and the idea of the left I had in mind is probably very anglocentric.  Being negative, I start with bad influences, to get them out of the way.

Bad influences
  • Noam Chomsky - gives a veneer of apparent wisdom and academic rigour to simple-minded explanations and a manichean view of the world, thus giving teenagers of all ages over the world permission to think they are being clever and radical when they're not.
  • John Pilger - has squandered the immense credibility he has accumulated from his investigative journalism to promote a darkly moralistic view of the world, but a moralism that is curiously silent about dictators and falsely attributes all evil to the US/UK/Israel axis.
  • Slavoj Zizek - admittedly funny and clever, this posturing windbag and his ne plus ultra radicalism (oh so daring celebrations of violence and of totalitarian dictators) is so completely divorced from the real world that anyone caught in his headlights is lost to the effort of making it a better place. 
  • Hugo Chavez - hugely influential for attempting to de-link Venezuela from the neo-liberal hegemony, Chavez has managed to persuade otherwise sensible people outside his country that socialism can be achieved via thuggish repression of journalists, trade unionists and dissidents.
  • Frank Furedi - Furedi and his cult have probably been more influential than any other bit of the British far left in the last decade. Although some of this influence has undoubtedly for the good, some of it has been very malignant. They give a veneer of intellectual respectability to denialism about climate change, have acted as PR agents for the agribusiness, airline and pharmaceutical industries, aided and abetted AIDS denialism and its enormous death toll in Africa, given succour to Serb nationalism at its most aggressive, helped Boris Johnson capture London, provided ideological cover for cuts in the funding for arts, reduced the number of decent free festivals in the parks of London, and, arguably, are the architects of David Cameron's election victory. Or am I paranoid?
Good influences
  • Norman Geras - a pioneer of political blogging (and therefore influential in opening up on-line audiences to left-wing cranks and crackpots like me), but also a profound thinker of Marxism and its limits, and an inspiration to those of us who like to think that left-wing values of justice and freedom are compatible with moral sense.
  • Evo Morales - his election five years ago, with his humble ways and stripy sweaters, was a great inspiration, and his landslide re-election last year was too. In contrast to his companero Chavez, he showed that it is possible to de-link from the neo-liberal world without going down an authoritarian route.
  • Maryam Namazie - although she comes very much from the trad left, she exemplifies what was best about it: an uncompromising internationalism and secular humanism.
  • Antonio Negri - I have a lot of criticisms of Negri, and find his celebrity cult status unnerving, but he has introduced a generation to some of the most important ideas of the left, and helps provide a ground for the possible renewal of radical thought.
  • Peter Tatchell - although sometimes I think he is a little nutty, and some of his obsessions (e.g. the Pope) are quite alien to mine, Tatchell is an inspiration because of his extraordinary courage, consistency and commitment – despite his health problems caused by taking beatings from  Mugabe's thugs in 2001 and Russian bigots in 2007.
Not influential enough
  • Gita Sahgal - stands for a recognition that human rights are for everyone, not just for brown-skinned men with beards, and that some apparent forms of radicalism are also forms of repression.
  • Eric Lee - stands for a commitment to the class struggle and social justice, globally, rather than all the fads and obsessions that the left has been seduced by.
  • Terry Glavin - stands for genuine internationalism, and a great writer.
  • A Sivanandan - Sivanandan has always been an untimely figure, and has therefore always been marginalised by the left - his savage critiques of the dogmas of ethnic identity politics, fashionable New Times postmodernism and bureaucratic multiculturalism in the 1980s were not heeded by enough in the movement, and more recently he saw before almost anyone else the way in which racism against immigrants (including "white" ones) was eclipsing older colour- and even culturally-coded forms of racism in British society.
  • Peter LinebaughI think the left would be a better place if it was Linebaugh and not Zizek or Negri who was the global superstar. He is a much deeper and richer thinker than them by a country mile.
Would this work as a meme? As (following LFF), I've listed bunches of five, I'll tag five people. Let's see if it has legs. Here's my five: Harpy, Phil, Dave, James, Jim.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Down, down, down

Iain Dale has released his "top 100 left-wing blogs" from this year's Total Politics poll. I've fallen from a respectable no.47 to disreputable no.67.

A lot of comrades seem to have dropped down, e.g. Stroppy (no.90, down from 53) and Norm (no.71, down from 57), presumably due to the arrival of, er, younger more dynamic bloggers bursting on to the scene like Weggis (no.82). Here's how some of my other extended family members fared: Dave Hill (69), Adam Bienkov (55), Madame Miaow (52), Pickled Politics (50), Harpy (47), Splintered Sunrise (41), Barkingside 21 (a very impressive 35 - but not sure how left-wing), the ever-improving Though Cowards Flinch (33), last year's stars the Third Estate (28, down from no.14), Dave Osler (24), Chris Dillow (21, inexplicably down from 9), Jim J (18), AVPS (17), and the almost certainly deserving but not left wing enough for me Left Foot Forward at no.1.

Now voting is closed, I will reveal my own votes. I decided not to vote for really big hitters that would get lots of votes anyway (Harry's Place) or the blogs I really like which I sensed were too small to reach the top 100 even with my support, and concentrated on the middle of the field. And I put myself first, of course, because I'm simply the best.

1. Bob From Brockley
2. Shiraz Socialist
3. Dave Osler
4. Though Cowards Flinch
5. A Very Public Sociologist
6. ModernityBlog
7. 853
8. Dave Hill's London Blog
9. The Third Estate
10. The Daily (Maybe)

Looking at that list, I'm surprised at some of my omissions (most notably Flesh, who makes the green top 14).

Jim reminds me that Left Foot Forward is polling for "most influential" lefties. I don't quite get the question. Is this good influences? Bad influences? Influential on the rest of the left? Influential on the wider world? The British left or the global left? Looking at the Iain Dale list, clearly Shiraz Socialist are not influential enough, while Jim J, Andy Newman and Mehdi Hasan are too bloody influential!

See also: Flesh is Grass: how to be a top political blogger; Hopi Sen: a spectre is haunting blogging (via Left Outside [no.95], from whom I've stolen the picture above); TCF - boycott Total Politics.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A tourist on the left

I could have done it yesterday if I hadn't a cold,
But since I've put this pint away I've never felt so bold.
So as soon as this pub closes, as soon as this pub closes,
As soon as this pub closes, the revolution starts. - Alex Glasgow
You cannot - to transpose this theme to the motley crew of misfits gathering with their slogans in Lower Manhattan - be Pamela Geller and George Galloway.
Or can you? Here is where Debord comes in. The spectacle may, on one level, appear divided. On another, it is united, more so than the average angry protestor may realize. – Ben Cohen

A feeble logic, whose finger beckons us to the dark spectacle of the Stalinist Soviet Union, affirms the bankruptcy of Bolshevism, followed by that of Marxism, followed by that of Socialism... Have you forgotten the other bankruptcies? What was Christianity doing in the various catastrophes of society? What became of Liberalism? What has Conservatism produced in either its enlightened or its reactionary forms? Did it not spawn Mussolini, Hitler, Salazar, and Franco? If we are indeed honestly to weigh out the bankruptcies of ideology, we shall have a long task ahead of us... The paradox that he has developed, doubtless out of a love for provocative theory, is as false as is dangerous. – Victor Serge
This post started out as comments here and here, but got so long I decided to amalgamate it into a post in its own right, although I’m still conscious of a number of loose threads still dangling. It is a series of questions, rather than an answer.

The background: Terry Glavin is asking us to re-think the paradigm of anti-fascism. In fighting clerical fascism, people like him sometimes find themselves aligned with people on the “right” of the old political divide. This alignment is exemplified by new blog The Propagandist, which lists me among its allies, alongside others who link to the far right. Waterloo Sunset, a regular commenter on this blog, has started a blog of his own, Everybody Hates a Tourist, which kicks off with an attack on The Propagandist, and on the idea of trying to bridge the old left/right divide. This attempt, he notes, has a long and largely history, most recently exemplified by the so-called “autonomous nationalists” or “national anarchists”. Since I started writing this, Terry has replied to some of the main points, and James Bloodworth has covered some similar ground.

1. The Kevin Bacon theory of political networking in the age of social media

WS suggests that being a click or two away from the English Defence League makes it hard to claim any kind of decency or status as an “anti-fascist”. This is an issue that we talked about here (in relation to the anti-German Bahamas and the EDL), and one I still don’t know what I think of. Take my blog as an example. I am on the blogroll of, on the one hand, Socialist Unity, Splintered Sunrise and Andrew Coates and, on the other hand, The Propagandist, Sultan Knish and the Closet Republican – and I reciprocate all those links. In one direction, therefore, I am a click or two away from Serbian nationalism, apologies for Mao’s genocidal regime in China and for capitalism with Chinese characteristics, Hamas, and Iranian theocracy. In the other direction, I am a click or two away from Kahanist ultra-Zionism, Geert Wilders, the Gates of Vienna and the English Defence League. (And, actually, as Everybody Hate a Tourist includes me on the blogroll, as do a fair few others on his blogroll, like Slack Andy and the Fat Man, they’re also just a couple of clicks away from this lot too.)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The cutting edge

Essential reading:

Terry Glavin: Antifaschismus: Shifting the Paradigm, In for The Long Haul. (Also followed up here: A tribute to "activists with impeccable credentials on the European left.")

Decency, propaganda and the left: 

Martin has a post on that subject, referencing mine, and also recommending The Propagandist. I've been meaning to recommend the latter for a while too, partly because my blog is listed among "allied propagandists". It describes itself as a blog of the anti-fascist left and thinking conservatives. It has some good contributors, including some people I respect, such as Terry Glavin, Eamonn McDonagh, and Ben Cohen. I applaud the ambition to bring together commentators from across the increasingly irrelevant left-right divide. But, like Martin and Terry, it is a little uncomfortable to be in the company of some of the "thinking conservatives", and I feel odd being aligned with such as the Infidel Bloggers Alliance, Diana West, and No Dhimmitude.

As Martin and Terry note, these bloggers see the key battle as between "Western values" and its enemies, whereas we (in Martin's words) prefer to talk about "defending democracy, pluralism and freedom of thought and expression - which I believe are universal rather than specifically 'Western' values." The West may have given birth to some of these values, but it has upheld them very poorly, from the slave trade to the destruction of many of the Native cultures of the Americas to the violence of colonialism to the violence against Jews in the heart of the West. And, as Terry puts it,
I know no one in "the west" fighting for democracy, free thought and equality the way our Afghan and Iranian friends fight. Among my comrades, none are more fervent in their devotion to the cause of toleration and human rights than those of them who happen to be Muslim.
Read Terry's blog for some examples of this heroic devotion.

Comment trail:
Flesh is Grass: Unlucky roads – Roma in Europe (on Roma rights and the left crying racism); Tendance Coates: Michael Ezra and the falsification of history (on Roma rights in Serbia, Harry's Place, the white working class and swearing).

The English Defence League and its enemies:
As usual, a round-up of links, rather than any specific endorsements of analysis. The AWL on the EDL in BradfordSchnews: out of their league; the EDL's Muslim mascot; Anti-fascist strategies tested at Bradford; and lots more from the Stop Racism and Fascism Network.

One interesting thing about the EDL moment is proliferation of "defence leagues". I guess the Jewish Defence League (JDL) was first, and I've read Islamists claiming that they were going to demonstrate against Al-Quds day, although I'm not sure if they did, alongside the EDL. Then came the EDL, then its fake "Welsh" and "Scottish" offshoots. And then Aki Nawaz, ex of Fun-Da-Mental, starts a Muslim Defence League. And now Trot sect Workers Power are proposing an Anti-Fascist Defence League.

Oh, and the latest, a European Defence League. This last is important, and links to the stuff above, because this is the link-up between the EDL and the US/European counter-jihad movement, which includes the likes of Robert Spencer, Pam Geller, and Gert Wilders. To quote Marko:
A great struggle is brewing all over Europe and beyond. On the one side stands the liberal order and its defenders, representing the values of secularism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, pluralism and respect for human rights. On the other stands the forces of reaction, which itself is composed of two rival but essentially similar wings. Extremist Muslims (an unrepresentative minority among the Muslim communities of the democratic West) and certain fellow travellers on the extreme Left represent one wing of the anti-liberal reaction, and assault the liberal order under the banner of anti-Semitism (or ‘anti-Zionism’), anti-Westernism, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism.

But it is the other wing that is the Western liberal order’s more dangerous enemy – if only because non-Muslims vastly outnumber Muslims, so there is a much larger constituency for this current of reaction to draw from. This current represents the white nativist reaction against the liberal order: anti-cosmopolitan, anti-EU, often anti-secular, but above all extremely nationalist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. It is on the basis of hostility to Islam and to immigration that the new far-right is mounting its assault on liberal values and the Western liberal world.

Other links:
Cutting edge DeptfordThe non-crazy left; Noga reads Hitchens; Andre Glucksmann on the Jerusalem syndrome; The Independent's 21st century racism; The forgetfulness of Monsieur Minc; and lots more links.

And here, for Terry, and for all the wonderful people I spent time with in Belfast last week, the Fureys singing "Mountains of Mourne".

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Political influences no.1: John Pilger – speaking truth to power

This is the first post in a series. For the introduction to the series, see the post below this one.

Skulls (pic: DM)

It was the discussion of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia in the comment thread on this post of Andrew Coates’ that reminded me that I’ve had it in mind to write this post for some time. For a complicated reason it is not worth explaining, this genocide was the first issue on which I became passionately engaged, and on which my views were not formed by my parents.

To summarise, the Khmer Rouge were a bizarre and extreme Maoist sect who were sponsored by China, allied to the Communist North Vietnamese against the Americans in the Vietnam war and incubated by the Viet Cong when the latter were based in Cambodia in the late 1960s. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, they came to power in 1975, and launched probably the most brutal totalitarian regime of the modern era. The death toll of the regime is disputed, but the most authoritative accounts put the figure at around 1.7 million, 20% of the population. The slaughter came to an end in 1978, when Vietnam invaded and liberated the country. Vietnam installed a puppet government (the People's Republic of Kampuchea – PRK) and started the task of re-building and healing the shattered nation, although the Khmer Rouge continued their insurgency until 1998 from bases on the Thai border. By 1978, the Cold War had shifted on its axis, the US was building up relations with the Khmer Rouge’s main sponsor, China. The United Nations, under pressure from America and China, refused to recognise the new administration, instead giving a seat to a government in exile, the CGDK, which included the Khmer Rouge. Only the Soviet Union and its allies recognised the PRK.

I am not sure if John Pilger took up the cause of Cambodia in the period when Pol Pot was America’s enemy (that is, during the worst years of the genocide), but after he took up the cause he did more than anyone to expose the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Jams listed Pilger as one of his political influences, writing: “Although I don't care for a lot of what Pilger has to say, Cambodia: Year Zero had a profound effect on me.” Many others of mine and Jams’ generation would say something similar.

Political influences: Introduction

A long time ago, I was tagged for a “political influences” meme, which got me thinking about the political writers and activists who formed me, a topic that came back to mind when I read this nice post by BenSix, which inspired me (I move slowly) to start a new series on my political influences.

I know this is a self-indulgent thing to do, but, in the words of comrade Coates, this is my gaff and I make the rules. To minimise the self-indulgence, I decided to exclude from the series friends, teachers, close comrades and family members, even though some of my most important political influences have come from these categories.

I have ordered it more or less chronologically in terms of my life as a political animal, which probably creates more of a sense of a narrative coherence to my political development than has been the case. At all times, now more than ever, I have held contradictory views, been unable to decide between positions and changed my mind about things.

No.5: Leon Trotsky – a united front against fascism
No.6: Bill Hicks, Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller – it’s a mad, mad world

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Gnome Chomsky 10: The T-Shirt

Buy the T-shirt from CafePress:
"Gnome Chomsky" Light T-Shirt
In other news:
Professor of linguistics and political campaigner Noam Chomsky has been confirmed as the new judge on TV talent show The X Factor. ‘Cheryl Cole was still recovering from malaria and we needed someone who could fill the intellectual void,’ said programme creator Simon Cowell, ‘Professor Chomsky is perfect and the audience just loves him.’

In his first outing as judge, Chomsky quickly made his mark. ‘Your act is part of a propaganda state promoting a culture-ideology of comforting illusion’, he told one hopeful young girl, before adding, ‘I’m saying yes.’