Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 at Bob From Brockley

2011 has been a strange year at BfB. Lots of guest posts, some of them inciting considerable controversy, and sometimes acrimony. The controversy made me think I was doing something right, but the acrimony made me think I was doing something very wrong, and there was a period in the middle of the year when I came close to shutting up shop. However, my most persistent irritants moved on after leaving a few stinkbombs, and things have returned to normal, with some of the more interesting regulars from the bobmunity returning quietly.

I also feel I have become even more obsessive in posting about a few topics again and again - the English Defence League, Gilad Atzmon, the "Arab Spring", the Occupy movement, left antisemitism - and neglecting all sorts of other topics - from books, films and music, to the Coalition government. I have also retreated from blogging about Brockley or Lewisham, partly because of the proliferation of very good local blogs, of which the very comprehensive Brockley Central and the excellent Transpontine are leaders. In 2012, I plan to spend more time on UK politics and also on non-political topics, especially music.

Greatest hits
So, these are my most read posts in 2011. Some of them were written before 2011, and I guess I should be pleased at their enduring appeal.

1. So, the time has come not to renew membership of the Green Party.
23 Feb 2011, 205 comments, 3,165 Pageviews
This is one of the guest posts, by Toby Green, on antisemitism in the Green Party, which circulated quite widely.

2. Triangulating Bobism 1: Harryism and indecency
24 Aug 2010, 96 comments, 2,064 Pageviews
I am pleased this older post has a high spot in the greatest hits, as it is one in which I set out something of the core agenda of the blog.


3. Uzbekistan porn
6 Oct 2005, 1,253 Pageviews
On the other hand, it is really irritating this has such a prominent position, as it is basically completely content-free, and its enduring popularity speaks of everything wrong with the worldwide web.

4. Jewish Hero or Israeli Criminal?
19 Apr 2011, 56 comments, 1,028 Pageviews
Another guest post, by HP regular Michael Ezra, on a fascinating post-Shoah story.

5. STOP RAISE YOUR BANNERS FROM HOSTING THE RACIST GILAD ATZMON
22 Nov 2011, 28 comments, 998 Pageviews
The most recent hit, on the antisemitic jazz maestro Gilad Atzmon at a festival in Bradford, with a Lewisham angle.

6. Influential left-wingers
18 Sep 2010, 25 comments, 948 Pageviews
Another semi-oldie I'm pleased to see here, with five good influences on the left, five bad influences, and five who ought to be more influential.

7. Triangulating Bobism 2: The Furedi cult
29 Sep 2010, 38 comments, 885 Pageviews
This is my long analysis of the former RCP/Living Marxism cult, now mainly known as Spiked.

8. Guest post: Islam and the left – against secular fundamentalism
11 Oct 2011, 15 comments, 832 Pageviews
A strange unsolicited guest post by one Ali H calling for Islamic communism.

9. "Influential left-wing ideas"
21 Dec 2010, 45 comments, 732 Pageviews
Similar idea to the influential leftists above, but ideas not people. This post circulated fairly widely by my modest standards, provoking interesting debates in various Zionist and anti-Zionist circles, for example.

10. Political influences 4: John Lennon19 Sep 2011, 3 comments, 696 Pageviews
Not one of my finest posts, but OK. About listening to "Imagine" in view of the Occupied Territories.

Bob's picks

Here are the posts that I'd have liked to you to have read.

Top Referrers 
The other top ones are odd aggregation sites I'd rather not link to. Thanks, though, to all of you guys.

Search terms
The top search engine terms (linked to where they take you).
1. Bob from Brockley - a bit obvious I guess. Variations on this fill a few of the other top ten slots, so I've removed them.
2. Occupy Wall Street - actually, bizarrely, my re-posting of a Jewish Labor Committee statement on OWS gets more google juice than any of my own posts, but still.
3. Fuck Washington - hmmm. What on earth were they looking for?
4. uzbekistan porn - see above
5. leonardo dicaprio hairline - another demonstration of why the internet should be banned
6. conspiracy theories - actually links to a proper post
7. sarf london - am glad to be the go-to place for that.
Other reviews of the year: Keith Kahn-Harris.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last miscellaneous round-up post of 2011, probably

Post of the week: Johnny Guitar: Defending the indefensible with the absurd.

Kellie rounds up some of the commentary on the passing of Vaclav Havel. And here’s a superb Hitchens post I would’ve included in the last one if I had read it sooner. Oh, and another from Rosie.

Two blogs to add to the blogroll: Sean Lynch's Coal not Dole and Will Bradshaw's eponymous blog.

Congratulations to our friend Carl Packman on his very interesting looking book plans.

Via Engage, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s “top ten anti-Israel/anti-Semitic slurs” [pdf]. I find  some items on the list a little problematic. The no.1 “slur” is Mahmoud Abbas talking about Palestine as a Holy Land without mentioning Jews – a sleight, perhaps, but hardly a major league slur. Similarly, this at no.10 from (Obama’s mentor) Reverend Jeremiah Wright: “The state of Israel is an illegal, genocidal place… to equate Judaism with the state of Israel is to equate Christianity with [rapper] Flavor Flav.” That’s excessive rhetoric, but it’s not antisemitic. It seems to me that the inclusion of these two examples at the bookends is pure politics and also dangerous self-defeating politics. On a related topic: Bill Weinberg on the apparently paradoxical normalization of anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism. A very interesting review by Daniel Johnson in the Weekly Standard of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s new history of British philosemitism, which looks to make an interesting companion to Anthony Julius’ book.

I visited Occupy LSX at the weekend. They had done a poll amongst occupiers about what their politics were. “Anti-capitalist” came to something like 20%, with the largest number being “anti-central bank”, and “anti-corruption” second. Which I think gives weight my earlier diagnosis of Occupy as populist rather than anti-capitalist. There was also quite a strong presence of the bizarre Twelve Tribes Christian cult (also known as the Stentwood Farm/Stoneybrook Farm/Morning Star Ranch/Yellow Deli. While I was there, I picked up the latest Occupied Times which had some worthwhile content, in particular a welcome attack on fake-leftist conspiracy theory re-printed from New Internationalist and an interesting text on the global anti-capitalist elite. From America, I haven’t yet read this on the Platypus view of the Occupy movement but will. Related reading, I liked Russell Arben Fox on why “the protestor” was the person of the year in 2011 (via New Appeal to Reason). And here’s Hakim Bey’s pronouncements on Occupy Wall Street.

Which leads nicely to this: a fantastic dismissal of anarchism from the late Murray Bookchin via the excellent Radical Archives blog, extracted from “The Communalist Project”. Here’s an even smaller extract:
anarchism – which, I believe, represents in its authentic form a highly individualistic outlook that fosters a radically unfettered lifestyle, often as a substitute for mass action – is far better suited to articulate a Proudhonian single-family peasant and craft world than a modern urban and industrial environment... the history of this “ideology” is peppered with idiosyncratic acts of defiance that verge on the eccentric, which not surprisingly have attracted many young people and aesthetes. In fact anarchism represents the most extreme formulation of liberalism’s ideology of unfettered autonomy, culminating in a celebration of heroic acts of defiance of the state.”
I have a long post half-drafted about the EDL and the British Freedom Party, but it’s not getting finished, so I’ll post a link to this useful article on the EDL at the IRR site.

History is made at Night on two massacres.

An interesting blog: that of rabbi Howard Cooper.

Finally, I’ve been meaning to link to this, for ages, from A Jay Adler: Myanmar, Not Forgotten in the Darkness.

Right to reply: John Hamilton

Bob: John Hamilton, of Lewisham People Before Profit and the Strawberry Thieves Choir, has been mentioned in a few posts on this blog. I should probably have contacted him to inform him, but didn't get around to it (this is, after all, a personal blog written in my spare time, and not a form of public service broadcasting). He has posted a comment in reply to one of them, and I am publishing it here. The relevant posts are: Holocaust memorial day in Lewisham (a guest post by Councillor Michael Harris), STOP RAISE YOUR BANNERS FROM HOSTING THE RACIST GILAD ATZMON, and The virulent Zionist conspiracy versus the Strawberry Thieves, and other sad footnotes to the Gilad Atzmon Show. For those interested, you can find coverage of some of the local activities John has been involved in at various places on the site, such as on the Carnival Against Cuts or Save Ladywell Pool.


Dear Bob,

I didn't know you had referred to me in your blog until a fellow member of Strawberry Thieves Choir said she had found a reference to me and Karl Dallas while searching for Karl's address.

I don't know if we have ever met, but I am surprised that you can write so much about someone without asking them if it is true. You know that you can contact me either through the Strawberry Thieves website or the Lewisham People Before Profit website.

So, you say I am an acolyte of Gilad Atzmon. I went to his concert in Bradford because I had read a review of him and preferred an evening of Jazz to the alternative concert on offer. I did not know anything of his background or his political views. I learned that evening that there had been attempts made by Jewish groups to have him out-vited.

Some of your commentators seem to be unable to read: the line in War Crimes [pdf] says quite clearly on your blog:

Is it a war crime, to kill 6 million Jews? Yes!
Not much doubt that I think it was a war crime, then!

Funny that you don't print the whole of verse 4, which is about Palestine, only selecting a few lines.

Verse 4:

War Crime! Sixty year War Crime! Is it a
War Crime to murder, bomb and maim?
Yes! They've seized the land of Palestine,
Behave like gangsters all the time.
Abducting civilians, bulldozing homes,
Shooting children for throwing stones.
Diverting water, ruining crops,
Will these war crimes ever stop?

Yes! But not while Israel exists as a state made for the chosen few
Where lives of Palestinian folk are worth much less than lives of Jews.
Peaceful co-existence is not possible with a country governed by war criminals.
Encouraged and financed by the United States, we need to pin the blame on all who perpetrate

War Crimes there will be war crimes
Unless we take a stand and put these criminals on trial.

Do you agree with these words, Bob?

Do you agree that those who divert water, bulldoze homes in occupied territories, shoot children and impose collective punishment are war criminals? The Geneva conventions does define these acts as war crimes.

Do you agree that there can be no peaceful co-existence between Israel and Palestine while such criminals are protected and are even in leading positions in the state apparatus?

Do you use the label "anti-semite" for everyone who criticises the state of Israel, such as Richard Goldstone who investigated war crimes in Gaza for the UN?

You say elsewhere in your blog that I have been a member of various maoist groups and name one. You are wrong.

You say that you support the political activities I have been involved in over the past 10 years in Lewisham, such as the New School Campaign, the Save Ladywell Pool Campaign and the campaigns to prevent privatisation of Lewisham's libraries. What kind of support have you given? Have you been down at the town hall at 8am? Have you performed street theatre in Lewisham town centre? Have you leafletted street after street to inform people of what is happening to their facilities? Or have you sat at your cosy computer allowing people to call me an arsehole, a cunt, a tankie, someone who should be "taken out" without exercising your option to moderate comment on your site.

Your source Mike (I support democratic cuts) Harris misled you when he claimed I shouted "Gaza" at a rabbi, demanding that he apologise. I did say (not shout) "..and Gaza" because I think it is important that Jews should not ignore the massacres being carried out by Israel. The rabbi agreed with me and repeated my words. Let us not forget that Cllr Mike Harris is a political opponent of much that you and I stand for.

I am not going to get involved in a debate via your website but I would appreciate you checking your facts in future before referring to me. I look forward to your answer by email via the choir website.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On reading obituaries of Christopher Hitchens

Even in death he stands tall and apart from the parochial, bien-peasant, trilling, beard-stroking mediocrities – face-timers and time-servers of the writing life, men and women who have never written a good line of prose or provided a single insight into our universe or touched a human heart. Fuck them. – Max Dunbar
I’ve barely started going through the flood of obituaries and memories of Christopher Hitchens. I started writing my own, but it seems a little surplus to requirement. Kellie provides the definitive list of links (as well as Hitchens commenting on totalitarianism, in light of the departure of the North Korean dictator), and a good first point of call is Vanity Fair. Rosie sums up the rest: “The tributes are pouring in, the reminiscences, the summings ups, the paying off of old scores. The famous, the obscure, the mandarin and the meanest of spirits are all having their say. I've read a few of their pieces and liked David Frum's best of all for its warmth and this final paragraph from Jacob Weisberg.” Terry Glavin’s, of course, is especially lovely, as is George Szirtes’. And, although it feels strange to say it, given how little regard I’ve had for Peter Hitchens up to now, his lovely brotherly obituary in the Mail is probably the single thing most worth reading.

Francis Sedgemore comments on the throwaway nature of many of the obits, and in a highly recommended short post shows how journalism has changed for the worst since Hitchens entered the trade. Francis is right, and most of the ones I’ve read have irritated me more than anything else.



Some of the Hitchens posts are worth checking simply because they are illustrated with some wonderful photos of the man I’d not seen before, such as this one by Tigerloaf, which also has a great quotation. I especially like the photo that illustrate Max Dunbar’s fine post, with curl of cigarette smoke. More harrowing, of course, are some of the final pictures of him raging against the dying of the light, such as that by Michael Stravato which illustrates Hitchens’ last (and especially wonderful) Vanity Fair piece, which is about death. Some are illustrated with the wonderful Jamie James Medina portrait, with poppy and rumpled hat, that I particularly love. But only a few have anything interesting to say.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

He was a friend of mine

I drafted this late last week. However, I read through lots of obituaries since then and before tidying it up. It now seems a little pointless to post, when so much has been written by much better writers with much more to say than me, but having written it it seems silly to leave it un-published.


I was thinking of Christopher Hitchens on Thursday morning as I passed through Oxford train station. Coachloads of soldiers in desert colours were being deposited at the station, having arrived back in the damp wintery greyness of Bryce Norton for Christmas, on leave from service in Afghanistan. Big men made bigger by the bulk of the kit they were carrying, they were quiet and looked tired and disoriented, but at the same time walked with a certain upright bearing that further amplified their incongruous presence among the students, tourists and Christmas shoppers. It made me think about courage and morality and manliness, and the ethics of this particular conflict our soldiers have been caught in for nearly a decade, now no longer so often in the news. And, that, of course, made me think of Hitchens. He is thought of by his detractors as a cheerleader for war, but that’s a grossly unfair reputation; still, the question of war, and of soldiers, has been one he has returned to again and again in his writing, a question he has worried away at from several angles, in a serious and often profound manner, most importantly in his moving essay on Mark Daily, a young American soldier killed in Mosul, but also in one of his final pieces of writing, an extraordinary essay on Armistice Day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Egypt

Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears.
The brutal suppression by the forces of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the un-elected junta that rules Egypt, of the pro-democracy forces in Tahrir Square has taken a severe turn for the worse this weekend, to the relative lack of interest from the so-called international community and the mainstream media of liberal democracies. Michael Collins Dunn of the Middle East Institute has been reporting on it. The video he posted on Saturday is almost unwatchable for the vicousness of the military police beating civilian protestors. Those of you who pray, pray for Egypt now.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mixing pop and politics 1

This is the first in a short series on the music played by political blogs. I think there'll be three instalments with three blogs in each. In this one, I'll focus on three of the grand old fellas of the genre.

Inveresk Street Ingrate
People, people just, people want to dream
Just look at their graves and you’ll see what I mean
Let’s leave them to dream
Darren's blog is seven and a half years old (that's geriatric in blogging terms); it recently past its 3000th post. Darren kind of defined mixing pop and politics as a blogging approach, although in recent years books have taken up more and more space, and of course football and films. In his case, it's impossibilist socialism and post-punk jangle specifically, and I guess that reduces the overlap between our tastes a little. (Actually, it took me a little while to dig out, but Darren once cruelly satirised my musical taste, but I'm not bitter:
Going by Bob's selection I'm guessing that he is a bit of a muso. Has been known to subscribe to Record Collector magazine, and has index carded his record collection. Back in the day he was more of a Charlie Gillett groupie than a John Peel groupie. Been known to not only buy CDs that have been reviewed in the New Internationalist, but he's also been known to listen said CDs voluntarily.
So, delving into the small area of overlap, here's a song that I'm posting because I couldn't find a youTube of "Kingdom".

Ultramarine: Instant Kitten (by Robert Wyatt)


I note I'm filed under the "People Just Want to Dream" section of the blogroll, named for a Microdisney song (listen here). Microdisney were a New Cross band, I think (yes, they are, just checked), and I'm in not bad company, along with Socialist Unity and Shiraz Socialist, but I think he's making a dig at non-SPGB socialists. Here's what he said, back in 2008:
Being the lazy type, I've fallen back on Andy Newman's Top 101 Left Blogs post from last September, to reintroduce the blogroll. Those were the halcyon days of British Left blogging when the Shiraz Socialist bods were still on speaking terms with Socialist Unity blog, and the SWP's rank and file had yet to truly fall out of love with Gorgeous George. Who'd have thought back then that those times qualified as the good old days?
Socialist Unity Blog - Andy Newman and friends. Yeah, I know, you're supposed to be dismissive about the blog. Andy Newman is a supposed megalomaniac . . . the blog did a flip on Gorgeous George . . . it's soft (or hard?) on China's imperial adventure in Tibet . . . yada yada yada. What can I say, it's a readable blog that is regularly updated and for every four posts that aren't my cup of tea there's one that's of interest. And you have to have a sneaking admiration for anyone who's able to put a rocket under the collective arses of the SWP's Central Committee. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of political chancers.
Andy Newman's Grand Ol' Opry 
Dear Uncle Sam I know you're a busy man, And tonight I write to you through tears with a trembling hand. My darling answered when he got that call from you; You said you really need him but you don't need him like I do.
Don't misunderstand I know he's fighting for our land. I really love my country but I also love my man. He proudly wears the colors of the old red white and blue, While I wear a heartache since he left me for you
Dear Uncle Sam I just got your telegram. And I can't believe that this is me shaking like I am
For it said 'I'm sorry to inform you'
So, here we are. Although I have increasing doubts about the politics of the Socialist Unity blog (obsessed with Gorgeous George, soft on Chinese imperialism, yada yada yada) but its main blogger, Andy Newman, has great taste in music. He posts fantastic country and western, with the emphasis on twanging honkytonk Nashville mainstream of country, sometimes straying into high camp rhinestone territory, and other times edging towards grittier Americana. He recently noted that "Even when it’s bad, country music is brilliant, especially when redneck bad" (exemplified by Gretchen Wilson, singing "I'm a redneck woman, ain't no high-class fraud"). I love the fact that he rubs this in the face of the viciously anti-American middle class British left, but he also does make a strong case for a radical tradition in country. Here's some of his tracks:

Johnny Cash: Singing in Vietnam Talking Blues


George Jones and Hank Williams Jr with Audrey Williams: I Saw The Light


Also check out Sunny Sweeney, who I'd never heard before. The lyrics above, by the way, are Loretta Lynn's "Dear Uncle Sam", a Newman favourite.

Unfortunately, Andy's colleague Jon Wight has less good taste in music, as exemplified by Lowkey's well-meaning but appallingly rhymed Palestine solidarity rap.


The Poor Mouth
Speaking King's English in quotation / As railhead towns feel the steel mills rust water froze / In the generation / Clear as winter ice / This is your paradise
The lovely Jams O'Donnell mixes more photography than either pop or politics into the mix these days. And his musical taste has large areas of non-overlap with mine, but it was him (I think) that introduced me to the extraordinary Sephardic music of Mor Karbasi. So, here's her, then our mutually favourite Clash song, then some beautiful Iranian rebel music.

The Clash: Straight to Hell

I realise that (although I'm not as old as Jams), it's about a quarter of a century since I first heard this song, and it has been intriguing me ever since. What is it about? I thought it's about imperialism, and the Vietnam war, and Graham Greene, and migration, and racism. So, inspired by writing this, I found that crowd-sourcing, via wikipedia and yahoo answered my queries perfectly, and the mystery is over. (Incidentally, if you don't know the song but there's something familiar, it is brilliantly sampled by MIA in "Paper Planes", which is also about migration, and which is in turn used to great effect in Slumdog Millionaire, mixed by the awesome AR Rahman.)

Mor Karbasi: El Pastor


Marzieh: Sange Khara


If you are interested,
An Bйal Bocht (The Poor Mouth, 1941) was the only book which Brian O'Nolan, alias Flann O'Brien, alias Myles na gCopaleen, wrote in his native language. Why only one, and this in particular? The answer may lie in the identity of the persona to whom the narrative was entrusted, Myles na gCopaleen... On his first day at school, Bonaparte O'Coonassa is asked to repeat his name for the roll-call. The litany which follows is a long-winded tribute to ten generations of noble aspiration, which have resulted in a total erosion of Gaelic identity:
Bonapairt Michaelangelo Pheadair Eoghain Shorcha Thomбis Mhбire Sheбn Shйamais Dhiarmada.. (Bonaparte, son of Michelangelo, son of Peter, son of Owen, son of Thomas's Sarah, grand-daughter of John's Mary, grand-daughter of James, son of Dermot...). [7]
At this point, the hopeful litany is cruelly interrupted by a blow from the English-speaking master and the terse announcement in a foreign language that "Yer name is Jams O'Donnell", a sentence which is uttered to every single child in Corcha Dorcha on arrival at school. 
Bonus track: Fairport Convention: Jams O'Donnell's Jig


Mixing pop with politics
In case you didn't already know (although I'm sure you did), the title of this post comes, via Darren, from Billy Bragg, and the song "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward".

I think the lyrics sum up my own blog pretty well:
In the Cheese Pavilion and the only noise I hear
Is the sound of people stacking chairs
And mopping up spilt beer
And someone asking questions and basking in the light
Of the fifteen fame filled minutes of the fanzine writer
Mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I'm looking for the Great Leap Forwards
Jumble sales are organized and pamphlets have been posted
Even after closing time there's still parties to be hosted
You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the sleepers
While you're waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

Friday, December 09, 2011

This weekend's mix

First, Andrew C's books, blogs and journals of the year, which includes a good book selection, but also this:
Dave’s Part pursues a vigorous public debate, and very readable posts, on key political issues for the Left. Socialist Unity , while going adrift on Iran – part of its tenderness for the pious Islamist bourgeoisie, and publicising pantomime dame, George Galloway – produces useful contributions to trade union and anti-cuts politics. Harry’s Place bores the arse off everyone with its obsession about Israel, and reheated indignation about leftist totalitarians. But it publishes worthwhile criticism of muddle-headed thinking on Islamism and the far-right and shows concern for social issues. 
Rosie Bell shows continued fineness of spirit. Delicateness is not always a feature of Shiraz Socialist but it produces informed insights into the movement, particularly the inner workings of UNITE union, and much on international issues that others ignore. Organised Rage equally brings news to our attention that we’d miss otherwise, particularly obituaries of left figures. Harpy Marx is a significant Blog that underlines the importance of welfare issues and poverty. The Spanish Prisoner has become a must-read for its film reviews – up there with Philip French and Mark Kermode, to exaggerate only slightly. Obliged to Offend is a heartening read, as is Representing the Mambo.[...] 
Entdinglichung is one of the most valuable, multilingual, left resources around. Poumista also covers many countries, bringing to our attention the often forgotten heroes and heroines of the independent left. 
Bob From Brockley is the clear front-runner in the UK. Bob writes acute commentary, principally on British politics, and offers a stunning range of material and Blogging links.
Now for the rest:
Matthew Lyons on the Occupy movement: Anti-capitalism versus populism (quotes me). Peter R on literature, history and conflict. Lucy Lips on Gilad Atzmon leading the pleasant white middle aged middle class church-going fascists of Bradford in anti-Jewish chanting. HiM@N on N30 in London. Kenan Malik on the marketplace for outrage. Sarah AB on "honour" killings in the UK. Martin Bright on antisemitism in Scotland. Dave Douglass on Keith Pattison and David Peace on the 1984-85 miners strike. Chris Strafford on "21st century Marxism" the Morning Star-sponsored meeting of nationalists, anti-Semites, and homophobes. Coatesy on Leftists, Secularists and Workers confronting Islamists in Tunisia.

Music: Shahryar Ghanbari’s "Forbidden", via Maryam Namazie

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Vices and insensibilities

When the liberal intellectual thinks of himself, he thinks chiefly of his own good will and prefers not to know that the good will generates its own problems, that the love of humanity has its vices and the love of truth its own insensibilities.- Lionel Trilling
Bloggery
Let’s start with this week’s blog recommendation. The Soupy One started blogging in October, and also tweets (twits?) as InTheSoupAgain. UK-based with a firmly left-of-centre perspective, the ground covered is strikingly similar to the ground I cover, or that covered by the much-missed ModernityBlog: racism, fascism, antisemitism, Gilad Atzmon, the Middle East, Julian Assange. For example, there is a link to a fine article about why the University and College Union (UCU) is increasingly irrelevant, the revelation that  Gilad Atzmon is a Honorary Raelian Priest, and much more besides. And a repeat recommendation for The Big Picture, e.g. this recent post on “progressive” infoolectualism about gay Republicans.

Posts of the week

The Hitch
Checking in at Letters from a Young Contrarian, I was reminded of the grandeur of Christopher Hitchens, and spent a bit of time with his recent writing. This is a very profound article on remembrance day, and this is a good piece on American exceptionalism. And here is an account of  the recent tribute event in London.

AtzmonWatch
I wasn’t going to post anything about the tedious unhinged self-publicist Gilad Atzmon,, but I'll just note that there are lots of updates at Harry's Place, mainly focusing on the position of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Chronologically, we have: More Opposition to AtzmonThe Dean of Bradford should apologise to Hope Not HateA statement from the Dean of BradfordLauren Booth: Attacks the PSC, Defends Atzmon A Crux Moment for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and The Parable of the Boy who Didn’t Cry Wolf. Here is the Dean of Bradford's clarification. There is also interesting material from Tony Greenstein: Atzmon & Friends Declare War on the Palestine Solidarity Movement and Andrew Coates issued a ringing denunciation of Atzmon’s supporter Lauren Booth.

And over at the anti-Zionist JsF blog, Gabriel spends an inordinate number of words de-bunking one tiny passage from Atzmon’s book. It’s hard to justify the energy on demonstrating the incoherence of a thinker as obviously incoherent as Atzmon, but Gabriel deserves some thanks, and if you have an interest in Jacques Lacan or the Coen Brothers (I have no interest in lacan, but am a fan of the Coens) you’ll get something out of it. I liked this bit:
In what way does Israel function as a ghetto? It does function as such as a simile. There is one aspect of Israel that is like the Jewish ghetto/shtetl of yesteryear. Both are geographically bounded areas in which Jews live among Jews (in Israel, to the extent that Palestinians are segregated). Thus, the simile “Israel is like a ghetto” can be useful if one makes an illuminating argument on the basis of that aspect, but the simile does not exhaust its terms. In other key aspects Israel is not like a ghetto. It is a sovereign state possessing an army and nuclear arms, something the Jewish ghetto usually lacked. It is much larger, much more internally differentiated by class and race, much wealthier in the aggregate, etc. Why is the similar aspect determinant while the differences are not? Ultimately, Israel is like a ghetto in the same way that a gun is like a penis. The simile may illuminate why some men worship guns. But you cannot deduce from knowing that one needs a license to own a gun that owning a penis requires a license as well. What gives Atzmon’s false inference the appearance of solidity is, again, the sliding through the signifier ‘Jewish.’
Occupy
On Occupy, I’ve been posting both positive assessments, negative assessments, and especially ambivalent ones. TNC’s guest post at Roland’s place falls squarely in the negative category. He makes some interesting points about scourge of “consensus decision-making” and the fact that the anarchist movement up to the Spanish Civil War coped perfectly well with democracy rather than consensus. I tend to agree on this.

He also makes the commonly made point that Occupy lacks a positive vision or programme, rather than just a complaint. He points out that classical anarchists always had a clear vision of what they were for as well as what they were against. I disagree with this criticism: I think we need a platform for making a complaint about the world we live in, and like the fact that agnosticism about a programme enables very different sorts of people to come together in the big tent.

He also contrasts the positive coverage of the movement in the mainstream media to the latter’s denigration of the tea party movement. He is correct to point out the imbalance (although leftists won’t recognise that it’s there). However, I think he is overly generous to the tea party movement, which was linked to plenty of acts of violence (such as the attempted murder of a congresswoman), and whose non-kooky mainstream conservative figureheads, such as Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, have a very loose grip on reality.

While I’m on Occupy, I want to link again to some of the other things I’ve linked to, in case you missed them: Roland’s own travelogue amongst the tents, eM’s account of the fizzle in the drizzle that is Seattle Occupy, and David Schraub’s posts.

George Galloway and British fascism
James B has a post on what British fascism would look like. It’s completely implausible in some respects, but in others actually describes the present rather than an imaginary future (which I guess is part of the point). This bit I liked especially:
“Initial nationalisations see elements of the far-Left align themselves with the new Government in the manner of previous alliances with ‘anti-imperialist’ movements abroad. A former member of the Respect party is perhaps the most prominent Left-spokesperson for the new regime, playing up the Government’s anti-American credentials while ignoring Government suppression of minority rights.”
Global trade union solidarity and anti-Zionism
An interesting article in Solidarity by the great Eric Lee of LabourStart. It shows how corrosive anti-Zionism has been in the labour movement, but also that Middle Eastern trade unionists are smarter than Western ones, and that solidarity can sometimes trump the divisive shibboleths of the Western left.

The autumn of the Arab spring?
I'm not sure if I've already linked to Marko's great peice on Libya, but you should read it anyway. Among other things, he says "Those of us who backed intervention in Libya did not do so in the belief that, if the revolution there were to succeed, Libya would turn overnight into Denmark or Holland." This phrase jumped back into my mind when I read Anshell Pfeffer's interesting piece on the democratic ideal on the Arab street, where he says:
If it seems strange at first that Arab demonstrators are using the hated Zionist entity as their democratic ideal, rather than say Sweden or Holland, it is only because they have no experience of living in a society where freedom of expression is guaranteed and members of the government are accountable to parliament and the law courts. Israel is constantly on the news agenda of Al Jazeera and the other Arab news channels, and while most of what they broadcast is soldiers shooting at Palestinians, over the last few years they have also seen the Katsav and Olmert trials, generals and ministers being hauled in front of civilian commissions of inquiry following military failures, and the wave of social protest on Rothschild Boulevard last summer.         
Issandr El Amrani reports from Tahrir Square:
In Egypt you get the feeling that the upper class has completely ignored the social roots of the January uprising, and at the same time backed a return to similar kinds of politics of patronage, where parties and movements try to buy the poor with handouts and cheap meat at Eid. People don't want to be given charity, they want to be given social rights. This too is political — it's not about economic mismanagement. It's not about an uprising of the poor. It's about the political vision for a social economy. 
Whether it's about police brutality, social change or politics, my feeling is that Egyptians want to feel like they've actually had a revolution. Whoever gives them that feeling might win the people in Tahrir over.
And here's some powerful photos from Egypt's unfinished revolution, in the Atlantic.

Antisemitism
"The Suicidal Passion": a very well-written and thought-provoking article by Ruth Wisse on antisemitism and especially what it does to the Arab world. More on antisemitism from Gotz Aly.

Kenan Malik
Although a former member (possibly still is) of the RCP cult, Kenan Malik is one of my favourite current writers and thinkers. I've been reading his very interesting material on "the myths of a Christian Europe" and "myths of assimilationism and multiculturalism". Malik fishes in his archives here, in preparation for his submission to the Orwell prize, and you could do well to sup on some of his catch. But weirdly, he has a local connection to me, as these photos are taken in one of my favourite Lewisham parks, Blythe Hill. (Here's his photoblog.)

And also
Mopping up some other recommendations: Carl Packman on patriotism in Britain today; Anton Grinevsky and Alesia Grinevskaya on The invisible crisis in Belarus; Rowenna Davis on the unionisation of Brick Lane curry houses. Finally, here's a fuller round-up by Roland.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

November 30, and after

Four thoughts on the central London N30 march.

1. No damp squib. Unsurprising but incredibly irritating how devious David Cameron and his henchmen are. On Monday the news headlines were that the government said that agreement was near in negotiations and so the unions were being irresponsible in disrupting the process by striking, but then it emerged (but not in the headlines) that the government has not sat at a negotiating table for weeks. And on the day of the strike, they span the story that the strike was a damp squib, even though the numbers out seem to have been exactly as the unions anticipated: some two or three million off work, including half a million health workers, half of London ambulance workers, and just 16% of England’s state schools open. There were literally hundreds of actions and events across the UK, involving tens of thousands of people. The UCU reported thousands of new members on the day, and other unions have reported record numbers joining. So: no damp squib.

And the mood at the main central London demonstration had a quality I’ve not felt for some time, I can’t quite put into words. People were angry. There was almost an exultant feel. I had a sense, from a few conversation I had or overheard, that lots of people were striking for the first time or marching for the first time.

Not surprising that people are motivated to get active. Daily reality for public sector workers in Britain in 2011 is grim. It’s your department manager being told to find 20% cuts in the next budget; it’s weighing up whether voluntary redundancy now might be the better option than compulsory next year; it’s a significant proportion of your friends being made redundant; it’s wondering if your own job will be there in a year. It’s being that bit more tired when you do your ward rounds because everyone has to work harder; it’s knowing that there are not enough text books this year to go around the whole class; it’s having to tell woman who survived a cancer scare that she has to wait six weeks to find out if her mammogram results are good news or bad news.

But the feeling on the march yesterday was not bitter at all. It was almost exultant, as marchers experienced their own workplace tribulations as something bigger. Knowing that there are two million of you taking action, refusing a day’s work, is a powerful feeling, an empowering feeling. There’s a simple joy in pushing back a bit, and having the collective strength to do so.

2. We are the 99%. Spending too much time on the internet, as I do, you come across a lots of kooks and cranks on the left. If you are used to the images of demonstrations on ZombieTime and PJMedia and even Harry’s Place, you come to expect a lot of moonbattery on marches. These folks have had a field day with Occupy, particularly its New York and California incarnations, which have attracted flocks of damaged souls and cultic weirdos. So it was something of a comfort to be marching yesterday surrounded by the most ordinary of people, people who seemed like a statistical cross-section of a standard High Street crowd. There were off course the parasites touting Trotskyist papers around the edges, and a smattering of V for Vendetta masks, but the dominant feel was, well, very ordinary. (Look at Louise's photos from Bristol, for example.)