Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Strikes and South London

A quick post in solidarity with tomorrow's public sector strike. The explicit issue is public sector pensions, but of course the strikes also represent the anger and bitterness of stupid and pointless spending cuts which put public service workers into unemployment or precarious employment and extra work, as well as drastically affect services to the most vulnerable members of our communities.

It seems the strike is popular with the public, despite efforts from the government and mainstream media to create panic and blame. As I wrote the other day:
Private sector workers have no solidarity with public sector workers, who they see as tax-eating parasites with cushy pensions. Working people have no solidarity with the benefit claimants who are falling into deeper and deeper poverty because of austerity measures, because they resent them not working. The low-paid have no solidarity for the “squeezed middle”, who they see as privileged whiners. The settled have no solidarity with immigrants, who are among the most vulnerable in the crisis, because they see them as jumping the queue and taking what others are entitled to.... This challenge, the reconstruction of solidarity, is the most important task we face today.*
Locally, Transpontine provides some news from the frontline in New Cross and Lewisham and screens a strike video made locally, and ELL covers the higher education sector.

While I'm here, a story from South London that caught my eye: the South London Solidarity Federation intervened in a pay dispute at a Bermondsey pub, and got a result. Big society from below. See also Josh Hall's report. He concludes:
November 30 will be an important day in recent labour history – but it will be but the faintest taster of what is coming in 2012. As the crisis deepens, as job losses increase, as youth unemployment continues to spiral, and as employment rights are decimated, we should be prepared to organise – inside the union infrastructure when it is convenient, and outside it when it is insufficient.
ADDED: List of activities across London via Jim J. Also activities at Goldsmiths here and an interactive map from False Economy. On Twitter, follow #N30, #nov30, #righttostrike, and PhilTranspontine, and Jim.

*Self-quote lightly edited.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lines in the sand

I actually wrote this post a week ago, but it was not published due to a technical glitch. (That’s a self-serving way of saying due to my incompetence.) So, I’ve added a couple of links to make it less out of date, and hope it is still of use, in drawing the lines in the sand between good ideas and bad ideas, between good politics and crap politics. I think the overall point is that fixed positions and big labels (left-wing, right-wing, Zionist, anti-Zionist, anti-capitalist, populist) are not a useful way of thinking about politics, but that the key divisions, the ones that matter, cut across these lines.

1. Occupy, again, and good and bad anti-capitalism
I posted a long one on Occupy last week. One thing I missed from the links was this excellent post by David Schraub on some of the issues I touched on, including how the Israel/Palestine issue intersects with the politics of Occupy: go read the whole post, as I tried to extract some of it here and ended up quoting the whole thing.

The antisemitism angle was the topic that Daniel Siedareski commented on in the thread, noting some factual inaccuracies in my post. Among other things, I made comments on “Occupy Wall Street”/”OWS” that were not specific to the New York OWS action but referred to the Occupy movement as a whole or even to other occupations, such as the particularly militant Occupy Oakland, whose Jewish contingent is also not connected to Occupy Judaism. That’s the thing, I guess, about these virally networked leaderless movements: hard to keep a track of!

Negative Potential made a different point in the comment thread. While agreeing that capitalism is systemic and structural, he argues that it is not magically self-reproducing and is based on the acts of capitalists. He is of course correct in this. However, I don’t see any notable current within the anti-capitalist movement arguing that capitalism is magically self-producing. If a structural understanding of capitalism became the norm within Occupy, and a moralistic condemnation of bankers’ greed became the exception, then we’d need to speak up, but that’s just not the politics of the situation. Boris Johnson and Warren Buffett can make the argument about bankers’ greed well enough without us.

2. Zionism/anti-Zionism
Following from the above and quoted in his comment, I like Dan’s characterisation of his position on Zionism, which (in a week when I have been called a “notorious Jewish supremacist” by none other than Gilad Atzmon) resonated with my own convoluted insistence on refusing the Manichean politics of Zionism/ant-Zionism:
On any given day of the week, I vacillate between a variety of positions on Israel and Zionism. I often say that I am a religious anti-Zionist, an ideological post-Zionist, a pragmatic progressive Zionist, and (mostly kidding) a Kahanist under fire. To be clear: I believe in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. I believe the Jewish people have an immutable connection to the land of Israel... In other words: I am a reluctant Zionist, a critical Zionist, some days a borderline anti-Zionist, but a Zionist nonetheless — much to the chagrin of both the anti-Zionist Left and the Zionist ultra-Right.

3. Right-wing populism and left-right convergence
Paul C has an interesting “spiky” review of the two recent Demos reports on right-wing populism (one on findings from 11 European countries, another on the English Defence League specifically). Paul questions the notion that significant numbers of people are concerned about the cultural erosion caused by immigration (and therefore the left needs to “engage with” them), a claim Demos make, and also the notion that the new populism is in some sense left-wing. Marleymorris, author of a LibCon post on the report, defends it in the comment thread, which is worth reading.

This last point of debate relates to a criticisism Negative Potential makes in the comment thread at this ANT post. Dislike of finance capital, NP notes, is shared by some people on the far right and some people on the far left, just as Mulder notes “the Left in the UK may be opposed to free trade, but not for the same reasons that the far right are opposed to free trade.” This is, of course, correct, and it is dangerous to overplay the “right woos left” card: large numbers of leftists are not about to join fascist parties because some oddball right-wingers come along to an Occupy event or because the Front National talk about multinationals.

But that is not where the danger lies. The danger lies in the grassroots, in the unconvinced majority. Most members of the “99%” don't see themselves as left or right, and aren’t signed up to grand ideological narratives. Looking at what data there is, there is a considerable overlap in the US between the support for the tea party movement and the Occupy movement. Most people feel ripped off, fucked over, exploited; many of us are feeling squeezed, watching our debt increase, feeling a growing gap between our expectations and what we can afford. Articulating this concern is traditionally the role of the left, but the left has failed at this quite spectacularly the last few decades, and this opens a space for the right if it can articulate these complaints more effectively.

I would also argue, and I know I’m entering slippier terrain with this, that the same points hold true for the Enlightenment-derived political values that were once the foundation of the left: individual liberty and freedom of expression. The left has not only failed to articulate these concerns in the last few decades; a large part of the left has rejected these values. And so, again, when right-wing populists “lay claim to the mantle of the Enlightenment”, as Demos puts it, it doesn't matter how sincere they are; it matters that they are convincing.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The weekend miscellany

Villains of the week

Obviously, I have been a bit obsessed with Gilad Atzmon this week and his local acolyte, John Hamilton's Telegraph Hill ant-Zionist choir, the Strawberry Thieves. Atzmon, incidentally, is endorsed by right-wing foreign policy wonk John Mearsheimer, who was a disciple of Henry Kissinger, who, it has just been revealed, called the Jews self-serving bastards in 1972.


My other villains of the week are the Israeli right, both the theocratic right and the ultra-nationalist right. Every week, I find the news from Israel more disheartening. As Mira says, not everything in Israel is complicated: the shutting down of a pro-peace radio station, eroding press freedomthe dispossession of the Bedouin, a proposed ethnically exclusive Israeli identity law, the removal of images of women from the streets of Jerusalem, the spread of gender segregation in public space, as well as the ridiculous proposed NGO law. A few years ago, I would never have thought I'd see Tzipi Livni as one of the good guys. Here she is"We have always prided ourselves on being the only democracy in the Middle East. We were a democracy, and the others were dictatorships," she said. "While Egypt is trying to become a democracy like us, we're passing laws that will turn Israel into a dictatorship."

Heroes of the week

I only just read about this appalling incident in St Louis, in which an Iraqi poet, Alaa Alsaegh, who converted to Christianity was dragged for his car and had a Star of David carved into his back in revenge for an Arabic poem, "Tears inside the Holocaust" posted on Nonie Darwish's Arabs for Israel website. It should not be an act of great bravery to write a poem in America, but sadly it is.

Another hero this week is Aliya’a Magda el-Mahdi, the Egyptian blogger who posted pictures of herself naked as an act of resistance to the growing power of Islamism in Egypt. The revolution continues in Egypt, where Islamism on the one hand, and the military junta on the other, stamp down on freedom. So, the people of Eygpt are the other big hero for the week. Here's some links from Entdinglichung:
And one more from Abu Faris, introducing another hero, Alaa Abd El Fattah.

Ambivalences of the week

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The RCP's Brendan O'Neil keeps up his barrage of interesting contrarian negativity about the Occupy movement. Here he gets curmudgeonly about the hubris of the movement in comparing itself to the civil rights movement. Some of his points I agree with, others not. Barry Rubin is, of course, even more negative, and this piece channelling Karl Marx on Wall Street is worth a read. Terry Glavin is negative too and a great read. eM is more ambivalent, with a wonderful piece on Occupy Seattle. Roland is also ambivalent. Read his report from the West Coast.

The virulent Zionist conspiracy versus the Strawberry Thieves, and other sad footnotes to the Gilad Atzmon Show

[update: John Hamilton has replied here.]

There have been a few updates to the Gilad Atzmon in Bradford story I posted about at the start of the week, with Atzmon's gig almost certainly going ahead tonight. Most notably, the Dean of Bradford came out against Atzmon being hosted, and then apparently changed his mind. A key figure in the whole kerfuffle seems to be Karl Dallas, a Bradford Christian folk singer. I have created a bitly bundle here for some of the key links. They include: Hope not Hate, the CST, Joseph W, Engage, the Soupy One.

I have gained a little bit of an insight into the Atzmonite worldview from the blogging and Twitter activities of Atzmon's followers, including Dallas who describes the complaints of the Jewish Socialist Group, Hope Not Hate and others as "Extraordinary Zionist virulence". Not to mention one "Someoh" ("TruthSeeker, Being in time, synchronicity awareness #collective mind focus 4 #Global Evolution, #Liberty #Enlightenment #Peace"), who describes me as an apologist for Israel's war crimes. Not to mention Atzmon himself, who drops the pretence of "anti-Zionism" when he tweats "In spite of all the Jewish pressure, we are at RYB tonight. small victory ha."

Meanwhile, as I reported, SE London has provided a few walk-on players in the drama, mainly Telegraph Hill's John Hamilton and his Strawberry Thieves socialist choir, and Brockley chanteuse Sarah Gillespie. They featured in a Harry's Place post by Joseph W. Joseph notes the Strawberry Thieves' connections to the former Camden Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists involved in Holocaust denial, reminds us of Mike Harris's post on John Hamilton's disruption of Lewisham's Holocaust Memorial Day this year ("John Hamilton the leader of Lewisham People Before Profit shouted at the Rabbi “Gaza”, as if the Rabbi ought to apologise himself for the events in Palestine. The Rabbi added, “Gaza”, and lit the candle"), and links to some of the choir's lyrics:
War Crime! War Crime! Is it a war crime to kill 6 million Jews? YES!
But carpet bomb a German town or raze Hiroshima to the ground.
War crime? That’s not a war crime, for history and justice are made by those in power.
Will these war crimes ever stop?
Yes! But not while Israel exists as a state for the chosen few
where lives of Palestinian folk are worth much less than lives of Jews.
HP wisely deletes all comments after a certain time period, to save themselves the bother of policing the nutters who hang out there, so I'll take the liberty of preserving some of the more thoughtful ones for posterity below.

For the record, although I don't share Hamilton's Stalinist politics, I have no personal animosity towards him and indeed  greatly appreciate the work Hamilton (and the choir) have done within a number of local campaigns, including fighting to save our libraries, pools and schools from various cuts, and attempting to hold Lewisham's mayor and other elected officials to account. I don't think he is "an antisemite". But I do think that the content of this song at least borders on it, and that he is a good example of the corrosive influence of anti-Zionism (especially its extreme Atzmonite variety) on the thought patterns of the British far left.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

STOP RAISE YOUR BANNERS FROM HOSTING THE RACIST GILAD ATZMON

[update: John Hamilton has replied here.]


RAISE YOUR BANNERS is a festival of political song in Bradford, partly funded by a public body, the Arts Council. It has been going for sixteen years.

GILAD ATZMON is an Israeli-born jazz musician increasingly prominent (in the UK at least) in the last few years for his bizarre politics, and in particular his vitriolic hatred for Jews and his “iconoclastic” insistence on questioning everything we know about the Holocaust. A group of radical writers including the SWP’s Richard Seymour recently argued that “The thrust of Atzmon’s work is to normalise and legitimise anti-Semitism”. Trade unionist and Socialist Unity blogger Andy Newman accused him in the Guardian of “a wild conspiracy argument, dripping with contempt for Jews”. Cristina Odone has said his recent book “splutters with anti-Jewish sentiment”. The Community SecurityTrust, the organisation dedicated to combating antisemitism, says that “he has been condemned as antisemitic by Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionists as well as mainstream Jewish organisations. This is not simply a case of harsh disagreements over Israeli policy. If somebody else made similar comments about Muslim identity, or black British identity, they would be generally condemned as Islamophobic or racist. We see no reason why Gilad Atzmon should be treated any differently... Anybody considering giving Gilad Atzmon a platform to spread these views, needs to ask themselves whether they want to help facilitate the spread of anti-Jewish hostility in this country.”

Gilad Atzmon is a man who finds throwing Jews into the sea amusing. He is a man who thinks that eventually some “brave people will say that Hitler was right after all”, that it might actually be the case that medieval Jews murdered gentile children for their blood, that Jews in America are “the enemy within”. He is a man who uses BNP websites as a source for information. He is a man who thinks the Nazi death marches were “actually humane”.

Hot from speaking at Exeter University (where, apparently, he said “Hitler was right” and “anti-Semitism doesn’t exist”*), Atzmon is due to appear at Raise Your Banners on Friday. Raise Your Banners has received complaints from supporters of the event going since April 2011, including the Jewish Socialist Group, Bradford Trades Council and Hope Not Hate. Bradford TC said: “"There is no way that Atzmon should play. The evidence against him is overwhelming. We are appalled at this decision and believe that this is a serious point of principle. Bradford TUC has long been at the fore of the anti-fascist movement in the area and it is in this tradition that we demand the withdrawal of Atzmon’s invitation."

In response, the festival’s secretary made this oblique comment: “we have discussed the matter with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and are satisfied that PSC have no boycott of Gilad Atzmon or events that he is involved in.” That reflects badly on the PSC, but is about as relevant as the price of fish. The director, Ludi Simpson, has said: “We do not believe the claims of anti-semitism. If we did believe them then we would not have invited him. All our artists have signed up to our equal-opportunities policy. Our audience would not tolerate racist behaviour.” Presumably, if Nick Griffin signed an equal opps statement, you could invite him. Or you could actually read Atzmon’s words and realise that the “claims” of antisemitism are quite easy to believe. They also concede that "Gilad Atzmon’s philosophical and political writings stir up... a strong reaction from their main target the Israeli government." In fact, the Israeli government is probably not that interested in this small fry, and this claim only works by ignoring the persistent criticisms of Atzmon by Zionism's harshest UK critics, such as Jews Against Zionism.

The Arts Council has stood by the festival, arguing that Atzmon was participating in the event “as a musician and not in his capacity as a political writer”. As Waterloo Sunset notes, this is a disingenuous response: “As is clear from their own description, RYB does not separate music and politics in the way the Arts Council suggests.  Atzmon is there as a political figure- the remit of the festival means he couldn’t be anything else.” The Arts Council also says it doesn’t want to "restrict an artist from expressing their views" and it believes in funding events and artists that show "a diverse view of world society". Presumably we can look forward to their funding of Skrewdriver concerts next, or hosting lectures by author Anders Breivik, because why restrict their diverse views?

SARAH GILLESPIE is a Brockley-based singer-songwriter with a gorgeous voice, also playing at the festival alongside Atzmon. I wrote this about her last year, giving some examples of her own straying into dodgy territory. She has also been (along with Atzmon and Ernst Zundel) thanked by Paul Eisen in his text “My life as a Holocaust denier” for standing by him.

More recently, she has written a “defence” of Atzmon, circulating widely on the internet on Holocaust denial and 9/11 Truther sites, far right and white supremacist sites, as well as fringe leftist sites. Her defence claims that Atzmon is “on an intellectual quest for truth”, a familiar trope among Holocaust deniers.

She has in the past accused the BBC of being biased towards Israel because its Director General had a Jewish wife (“the man is far from ‘impartial’. His Jewish wife, the scholar Jane Blumfeild, hails from an American family that attends Yeshivas.”). Despite this, she was invited on to the BBC, appearing on Andrew Marr’s “Start the Week” on Radio 4 yesterday, along with Paul Kominsky of The Promise, to discuss art and politics.

THE STRAWBERRY THIEVES are another Southeast London group booked at the festival, a socialist choir led by John Hamilton, based in Telegraph Hill (that’s the posh northwestern corner of Greater Brockley). Hamilton has been long-term involved in Maoist sects (I get them all mixed up: I think it’s the one called the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist!) but more recently has been a tireless activist in Lewisham, in the New School for New Cross and Save Ladywell Pool Campaigns (both campaigns I supported) and fronting the People Before Profit group in local elections.** Local Labour councillor Mike Harris had a guest post here when Hamilton used the opportunity of a solemn Holocaust Memorial Day service to shout “What about Gaza?” to a local rabbi who was talking about genocides.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

For deserts covered with olive trees

First, some bloggery. I want to recommend a new addition to the blogosphere: The Big Picture. Strapline: “Omnivorous commentary on politics, policy, media, the Arts, pop culture, science, philosophy, and the multiverse at large.” So far my impression is of intelligent, contrarian liberalism and quality writing. One to watch.

I also want to recommend Facing the War, which first appeared back in 2009 but only really kicked off in the last few months. It comes from, I guess you’d call it, an anti-Stalinist, libertarian Marxist position. Most posts are snippets from the archive, but there are some pieces of original commentary, such as this wise one on the fruits of the Arab spring. I have recommended Ross Wolfe’s the charnel-house (focusing on anti-capitalist theory and the history of the Soviet avant-garde) a few times before, and it has really fascinating stuff and a very nice look, but suffers from the killer combination of tiny grey-on-black font and incredibly wordy posts.

The CST publish a nice obituary of Cyril Paskin, a veteran of the 62 Group and unsung hero of UK militant anti-fascism. (Minor quibble: Balham is not in South East London!)

I re-read this week Kenan Malik’s 2009 review of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections On The Revolution In Europe. I think it popped into my Twitter feed because Malik’s reference to Lothrop Stoddard resonates with the current storm in a teacup between Pankaj Mishra and Caldwell’s fellow civilizationist Niall Ferguson, in which Mishra compares Ferguson to Stoddard, but I strongly recommend reading Malik.

I haven’t done an EDL round-up for a little while. Malatesta gives a précis of their Remembrance Day antics. Interesting that EDL activists have been attacking and threatening further attacks on Occupy camps in Newcastle and London, as well as attacking trade union buildings in Manchester. SWP front Unite Against Fascism claim this “proves” the fascist nature of the EDL. In their undergraduate ortho-Leninist analysis, anti-communism is “the” defining feature of fascism, the essence of its anti-working class nature. However, it seems to me the EDL’s thuggery against Occupy and leftists could equally well be explained as the politics of ressentiment, the kind of purported anti-elitist kicking at the cultured classes that also drives Class War, Richard Littlejohn and Spiked, or equally well again as part of the larger conservative kulturkampf that you get from highbrow American thinkers like Christopher Caldwell – see above.

Here’s Dan Hodge on the anti-establishment case for voting Boris not Ken for Mayor of London, and an ambivalent response from Carl Packman.

Read Noga's "A Conversation in D Minor", and follow the links. One of them I was already going to link to: via Norman Geras, an interesting article on “Camus the Jew” by Robert Zalesky in Tablet. I was especially interested in the part about Israel and Algeria:
Indeed, it is the theme of absurdity that most powerfully underscores Camus’ understanding of Jews, Judaism, and Israel. At the political and existential level, Camus felt a visceral connection with the absurd predicament of the young Jewish state. It was a political bond insofar as many on the French left, from whom Camus was estranged, had grown deeply anti-Zionist in the wake of the Suez War. In 1957, he publicly affirmed his sympathy and support for Israel. His reasons still echo today: Not only must Europe accept Israel’s existence as the only possible response to the continent’s complicity in the Final Solution, but Israel must also exist as a counter-example to the oppressive rule of Arab leaders. The Arab people, he declared, wished for deserts covered with olive trees, not canons. Let Israel show the way. 
A naïve hope, certainly, but one that suggests that Camus’ attachment to Israel was existential: His plea for cooperation and collaboration between Jews and Arabs in Israel echoed his pleas to his fellow pied-noirs and Arabs in Algeria. In fact, Camus had flown to Algiers in 1956 to urge a civilian truce between Arabs and French Algerians. His desperate claim that Arabs and European settlers were “condemned to live together” proved wrong, of course. They instead concluded they were condemned to kill one another—a conclusion, were he alive today, he would urge both Israelis and Arabs to avoid while there is still time.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More notes on #Occupy

Cross-posted at the Third Estate

One of the most depressing things about the period after 9/11 was the rapid disintegration and recuperation by the trad left of the energy of the 1990s “anti-capitalist” movement. The 1990s movement had several flaws – its narrow concentration on institutions like the IMF and World Bank as shadowy cabals directing the economy, the culturally conservative critique of globalism, the creation of a self-contained protest ghetto divorced from ordinary people and with its own exclusive dress and behaviour codes, the mindless insurrectionism of the movement’s “spiky” wing and empty-headed pacifism of its “fluffy” wing, and the routine repetition of spectacular but pointless counter-summits as a dominant activity – but it was also very inspiring. Its utopian promise of the possibility of another world, its clean break from the drab industrial statism of the workerist left, its sense of fun and pleasure, its affirmation of the transformative power of participatory democracy, and the sophisticated way it connected different local everyday struggles into a planetary worldview. (In fact, the concept of the planetary, put on the agenda by the Zapatistas, was a tremendous step forwards from the internationalism of the trad left, which was always an inter-nationalism rather than a genuinely global view.)

After 9/11, and especially after the start of the 2003 Gulf War, radical energy turned increasingly towards inter-nationalist geopolitics, and the orthodox left’s pseudo-anti-imperialist politics subordinated local struggles in both the global South and the global North to an overwhelming imperative to break American (and Israeli) “imperialist” power. In the pursuit of this imperative, radicals increasingly entered into alliance with reactionary nationalist powers and clerical-reactionary movements because of a common enemy. Radicals embraced the conservative idea of a clash of civilisations, taking sides with jihadists and authoritarian demagogues. Democratic, participatory, networked modes of organisation were repressed in favour of centralist party-building.

While the 1990s movement had been inspired by events in Chiapas, Porto Alegre, the Sertao, the townships of South Africa and the slums of urban India, the radicalism of the 9/11 decade became single-mindedly obsessed with the Middle East, as the lens through which everything was viewed and judged.

The #Occupy movement clings to some of the noughties themes – in particular, it seems obsessed with Israel/Palestine, and anti-Americanism seems a feature of its European incarnations. But it returns to many of the themes of the 1990s movements, and this is encouraging to me. However, it suffers from some of the flaws of the 1990s movement too. For example, just as many 1990s activists focused their fire on institutions like the IMF rather than the system as a whole, the new movement is obsessed with bankers and financiers who have been the folk devils of mainstream political discourse since 2008 but are in fact just a tiny part of the problem. “We’re not against capitalism; we’re against corporate greed”, say some of the protestors. And often this is related to a nationalist discourse, with protestors in Germany objecting to the propping up of Greece, and protestors in America arguing that (to quote Bill Weinberg) if Wall Street brokers acted with greater patriotism, capitalism could "work."

Second, the movement is narcissistically concerned with the form it has taken – the occupation of the squares – rather than the content of the politics, as it is the form which enables the survival of a big tent of contradictory impulses – reformers and revolutionaries, futurists and primitivists, ordinary folk and harder counterculturists. I like this populist, big tent aspect of the movement and like the fact that it expresses criticisms rather than demands. But the danger is, as with the summit-hopping of the late 1990s, the form is more and more fetishised and becomes an end in itself rather than a means, which will make it increasingly boring and irrelevant.

Another weakness of the 1990s movement was that it never understood class conflict as central to its struggle, partly because it emerged in the space opened up by the fall of Communism and the discrediting of old workerism. It understood the struggle as a simply war between humanity and neo-liberalism (as the Zapatistas put it). The 2000s resurgence of the trad left did nothing to address this, as the more successful Leninist parties grew through opportunistically playing to an abstract resistance to imperialism. The new movement again speaks for an abstract humanity (the 99%) and so far class politics has not had much traction in the rhetoric. The absence of class politics, and of the materialist analysis that used to come with that, leaves the movement open to all sorts of bad idea, including conspiracy theories, new age dreaming, and technocratic fixes.

The remainder of this post collects a few recent observations on the #Occupy movement, before returning to the ideas I started with here to come to some kind of provisional conclusion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

British universities as platforms for racists

Recent weeks have seen several more incidents adding to the already over-long litany of British trade unions, student unions and universities giving a platform to unhinged racists. Spaces that were once oases of anti-racist sanity in racist Britain seem to be becoming the last bastions of racism in an increasingly tolerant Britain.

If proof was needed that having parents who will spend thousands of pounds sending you to one of Britain’s most upper class universities is no guarantee of intelligence, Exeter University’s “Friends of Palestine” Society* invited poisonous Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon to speak. Apparently, Atzmon told listeners that "Hitler was right" and that AIPAC were the "Jewish lobby in America" and 'Antisemitism doesn't exist.'

Meanwhile, Nottingham University Debating Society has invited the British National Party’s Nick Griffin to talk on 24 November. I have always hated the concept of the debating society, both for masturbatory displays of class privilege and for the reduction of important and complex ideas reduced to an intellectual game. It is a common habit of debating societies to “daringly” invite fascist scum to speak (Exeter University springs to mind as having invited Griffin before) and the idiotic “free speech” cultists always applaud them for it.

Turning to the University of London, as a trade unionist I have been vaguely following the minor furore sparked by off-the-cuff racist remarks by RMT London regional organiser Steve Hedley at a RMT-sponsored anti-Israel rally at SOAS, snidely saying “you’re one of the chosen people” to Richard Millett.
For those who won’t see why this is racist, read these remarks overhead by Orwell:
Middle-aged office employee: “I generally come to work by bus. It takes longer, but I don’t care about using the Underground from Golders Green nowadays. There’s too many of the Chosen Race travelling on that line.”
Tobacconist (woman): “No, I’ve got no matches for you. I should try the lady down the street. She’s always got matches. One of the Chosen Race, you see.”
Young intellectual, Communist or near-Communist: “No, I do not like Jews. I’ve never made any secret of that. I can’t stick them. Mind you, I’m not antisemitic, of course.” (Quotes via Daniel Marks).
The issue was taken up by David Greenstein in the trade union blog Workrep, with some slight inaccuracies that provoked an even more inaccurate and indeed defamatory response from Hedley.

Interestingly, one of Hedley’s allegations is that Richard Millett “openly consorts with the neo-fascist EDL”. Millett himself has in fact consistently and unambiguously denounced the EDL, but I continue to have concerns about the large amount of space taken up in his comment thread by Roberta Moore and other internet identities who promote the EDL. One of the EDLers, for example, thinks that Searchlight are “utter bigots and enablers of clerical thugs have no interest in combating antisemitism”, because they oppose Islamophobia as well as other forms of racism. I also feel there is a disturbing causal mucking along conviviality between Richard’s regulars and the EDLers.

Reading the comment threads at Richard’s place is a depressing experience. The kind of paranoia and hysteria that makes commenters read about Hedley and think “There is a strong feel of 1938 in Britain these days” or “Compare Berlin 1936 and London 2012 both Olympic years” is very worrying.  This kind of paranoia is grounded in the very real pervasiveness of anti-Zionist antisemitism in British liberal culture, rather in pure fantasy, but it is enormously out of proportion with the actual facts.

One regular there is Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation, indefatigable campaigner against anti-Zionist excesses but not always the best advocate for his cause. I was interested to see a debate between Dan Sheldon, the president of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and Hoffman. I have no stake in advocating for Israel, their topic, but only in combating antisemitism (a distinction that both the UJS and Zionist Federation like to blur), but I find myself agreeing with most of Sheldon’s sharp criticisms of Hoffman. Here is Jonathan’s response.

On the other hand, I think it is Hoffmanesquely counterproductive for the UJS to treat Norman Finkelstein as analogous to Gilad Atzmon and Nick Griffin, and to picket Finkelstein at Leeds University, as the UJS have done. Finkelstein has said some unpleasant things and has some unsavoury views, but there is quite a lot of clear blue water between him and the Atzmons and Griffins we should be no platforming. Telling the world we can’t tell the difference is to seriously undermine our case.

UPDATE: Contententious Centrist responds to this post here. (Also relevant, read this "conversation in D minor".) UPDATE 2: CST report on Atzmon. JC report on these and other recent campus hate fixtures.

*On the Exeter event, Sarah informs me that some publicity for this event bills it as a Palestine Solidarity Campaign event. I haven't researched this fully.

Other posts on Gilad Atzmon: at BfB and at CiFWatch.
Previous: Paranoia and hysteria at CiFWatch? and CiFWatch's response.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My plain coat, a lamppost, on a bridge An autumn night, on my cold lips the rain



First, via N., a great piece of writing on whether OWS will make a difference. It's on Facebook, so I am quoting more than I normally would for all of you who (like me - I am looking over my wife's digital shoulder) don't do Facebook:
The road to political change is twofold: incremental change through politics, or outright popular revolution that forces the issue. The former is the rule, the latter the exception. I used “paradigm” advisedly earlier. What OWS is proposing is a sea change in the way business is done. No nipping around the edges, no legislative fix, no candidate, no standard bearer, no (big) funding, no party, no co-option/invasion. It has exempted itself from the political narrative by proposing ideas that are just Too Big, no matter how resonant they are. It is creatively attractive anarchy (and I mean that in a good way) that is pragmatically untenable.

More revolutions are crushed than are successful. Those few successes are often co-opted and redirected. Ask me, I was a Trotskyite long ago. Utopia, and Justice, and Fairness, these are ideals to strive towards. These are part of our common aspirational humanity, and striving is in our nature. Without pragmatic methodology, OWS is an inert expression of cumulative and common angst. We do, as humans, dare to dream. But we also have to act in a waking world.
Sticking with Occupy, my comrade Spencer has a piece on The Occupy Movement, Populist Anti-Elitism, and the Conspiracy Theorists published on-line at Shift.

My friend Daniel has a long and moving article in OpenDemocracy on the possibility and impossibility of living together, starting with his late father's hometown in Poland but also taking in urban inner London and Israel/Palestine.

Finally, at The Point, via my friend Christine, a great piece by Michael Berube on Libya and the left.

Oh, and the title of this post is from a poem by Alexander Penn, whose daughter Ilana Rovina features in the video above, singing his "Vidui". Penn is the subject of a fascinating post by Noga, whose translation I have lifted.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Links: Anti-capitalism, fascism, anti-fascism

Left antisemitism
Rob has an interesting follow-up to his New Statesman article on the PSC and left antisemitism, reflecting on the comments thread.

OWS (and left antisemitism)
Adam Holland has a post on the hateful Patricia McAllister, the recently fired Los Angeles public school teacher who gained attention by carrying signs at the L.A. Occupy Wall Street demonstrations blaming "Zionist Jews" for the world financial crisis. She has now appeared on a show hosted by the KKK's David Duke. Adam's post explores what this means for the OWS "big tent". Highly recommended.

There is an interesting debate in the comment thread at Contested Terrain on "structural antisemitism" and OWS.

And, nothing to do with antisemitism, here are A Jay Adler's pessimistic thoughts about the OWS movement and American liberalism in general; here is Ross on some definitions of "corporations", "greed", "capitalism", "finance" and so on; here are Facing the War's thoughts, as well as some observations (and reflections on the position of an observer) of Occupy Chicago; and here is an interview in Shift with Occupy London from the beginning of October.

English Defence League
Demos has a new report out on the EDL. See coverage at the Staggers. EDL supporters are young, male and more concerned about immigration than Islamism. A third of them vote BNP, despite claims to have nothing to do with it. The report rejects the description of the EDL as fascist, and rejects a ban:

The EDL is not one-dimensional, and members' views are varied. The group is probably best described as a populist movement that contains some extreme right-wing and sometimes Islamophobic elements. Although there are some illiberal and intolerant sentiments voiced by some supporters in this survey (and at demonstrations), many members are in an important sense democrats. Allowing them to protest and demonstrate is an important way to ensure the group does not become more extreme... There is little doubt that the EDL contains some racist and openly anti-Islamic elements - but this is by no means true of all supporters. The task ahead is to engage with those who are sincere democrats, and isolate those who are not.
Meanwhile, Malesta is increasingly optimistic about the forthcoming demise of the EDL, after its series of increasingly damp squib demonstrations. The Infidels, the more explicitly fascist breakaway from the EDL, may gain ground if the EDL continue to underperform. Close to the EDL, but making more of an effort at respectability, are the English Democrats. Hope not Hate investigate their BNP links, and argue for the superficiality of their conversion from fascism.

And just to link this item with the one before, EDL activists apparently want to burn out the Occupy LSX camp and attacked the Occupy Newcastle one. The other connection is the KKK, with left antisemite Patricia McAllister's newfound alliance with David Duke, and increasing evidence of EDL links to the Klan.

Anti-fascism
This might seem a bit petty, but why is HnH headline their article on EDL and Infidel thugs "Redneck Roundup"? This plays into the liberal condescension towards the EDL that abandons anti-fascism for class conceit.

At the other end of the anti-fascist scale, a few militant anti-fascist groups have launched a new Anti-Fascist Network, apparently so far as an information-sharing thing rather than a new national organisation: "to support local actions, ensuring that anti-fascists are never outnumbered, join together to counter regional and national EDL events, share resources and provide legal support." Groups involved so far are Brighton Anti-Fascists, Portsmouth Anarchists, Plymouth Antifa,Welsh Antifa and Worthing Anarchists. For those interested in militant anti-fascism, some other local groups with web presence include Three Counties Antifa in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire (read their founding statement here), Scottish Anti-Fascist Alliance, Liverpool Antifascists, Manchester Anti-Fascist Alliance. Meanwhile, the Stop Racism and Fascism Network seems to have gone completely quiet.

Other topics
Flesh is Grass on hospital closures.