Saturday, January 26, 2013

Orwell/Serge/SWP/antisemitism/Syria

I marched today against the proposed closure of my local hospital, and plan to blog on that in next couple of days. Instead, while my family watch a dreadful Harry Potter movie, I've been trying to catch up on some of my reading. Here's some of it.

There's loads of stuff around about George Orwell right now, it being "Orwell day" last week. Most of it is shit, but among the good stuff is this by the Fat Man. Victor Serge is one of the people closest to Orwell; Shiraz Socialist publishes Richard Greeman on what would have become of Serge.

International Socialist was once a party in the Serge tradition, sadly devolving over the years into the horrifically authoritarian, sectarian, opportunistic and unprincipled SWP, one of the largest and most destructive forces on the UK left. I have to say that despite the human suffering at its heart (serial sexual abuse), I have been getting some pleasure from watching its break-up. Here's Max Dunbar's take on it.

From the SWP, inevitably, to antisemitism. Recent days have seen some outbreaks of liberal antisemitism, from Bradford Liberal Democrat MP David Ward and in the comment thread at Liberal Conspiracy, among others, as discussed by the Soupy One. Flesh is Grass also discusses Ward here, and passes on a sharp critique of antisemitism in the SWP breakaway International Socialist Group.

Kellie at Airforce Amazons has two posts on what's going on in Syria, where the death toll continues to mount, and the West continues to watch. This one, and this more substantive one, which you should definately read.

Friday, January 18, 2013

AFA sectariana

I've left this post below the fold, as it is probably only of arcane interest to those of us who were involved in Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). It's three items, one about a racist RMT union rep, one about AFA's 2000 wind-up, and one about the Anti-Fascist Archive.

UPDATE Feb 2013: I retract my doubts about Hedley's record in militant anti-fascism expressed in this post, while I stand by my criticism of his antisemitic comments. I also want to make it clear that the opinions quoted in the second part of this post are not mine but those of an anonymous Wikipedia editor, in case it isn't clear enough.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Bob is upset

I realise that my last two substantive posts - the last one of 2012 and the first one of 2013 - are pretty bitter in tone. The second prompted this comment from Contentious Centrist: "Bob is upset." So, I just wanted to reassure you that all is well at FromBrockley towers.

One of the reasons for my negative outlook lately is that I now spend an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter, where I follow many people in different parts of the world that are underreported in the mainstream UK and US media. Consequently, my daily news diet is filled with stories of violence, repression, misogyny and suffering, leaving my almost permanently enraged.

Here, for example, are some of the items that touched a nerve with me this morning as I walked home from taking the kids to school.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Ignant and shit



Stick it up your junta
I was pretty young during the Falklands war, but it was my first uncomfortable experience of being out of step with prevailing opinions. My school friends were swept up in the tub-thumping, bloodthirsty jingoism of the time. It was the golden age of working class Toryism, boys will be boys, and Kelvin MacKenzie's Argie-bashing set the tone of the debate among my peers, whereas I had a pacifist gut reaction to the horrors of war. Over time, meeting relatives of left-wing activists disappeared by the junta, re-evaluating my conception of "anti-imperialism", and reading Hitchens, I have come to suspect that my friends were more right than I realised and my righteous might have been misplaced. Anyway, this letter to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner by James Hallwood makes the point well.

Let's bomb Texas
Closely allied to the type of "anti-imperialism" that, at its most benign, puts Argentine territorial claims over the self-determination of the Falklands islanders, even in a period of semi-fascist dictatorship in Argentina, simply because the Argentines are not us, is pathology of anti-Americanism. Rob Marchant and Peter Ryley both wrote sharp accounts of how anti-Americanism has deformed the UK left's moral compass, in looking at the responses of Stop the War and George Monbiot respectively to the Sandy Hook massacre.

Ignorant white folks
Peter's post lists some of the atrocities against Pakistanis committed by the Pakistani Taliban, which Monbiot seems to have less time for than atrocities against Pakistanis committed by Americans. The white western left, of which Monbiot is exemplary in this regard, too often refuses to judge crimes against humanity (in particular crimes inflicted on the bodies of women) when those crimes are committed by non-Westerners, a kind of racism and ethnocentrism disguised as radicalism. We saw this more recently in some of the responses to the Delhi rape case, which tried to point the finger away from the brutality of everyday sexism in India and towards the West. Sunny Hundal labelled this sort of commentary "ignorant and factually misleading" in a post passing on some of the rather more illuminating commentary from Indian women, and also attacked the condescension of Western writers who try and airbrush the cultural specificity of Indian misogyny, a move he calls patronising and borderline racist. This is not to say that there is not also endemic and often violent sexism in the West, of course, but simply that we cannot ignore the cultural dimension. (Although we also need to be careful about imagining "Indian culture" as some homogeneous whole, any more than "Western culture" is.)

Fail
TNC sent me, with very critical comments, a piece by Eva Illouz in Haaretz (£) on the "left" and the "right" in Israeli politics. TNC mentions, for example, that the text is riddled with historical inaccuracies and displays a misunderstanding of basic political concepts like liberalism. Norm also picks up on the article's poorly thought out response to "the issue of war and peace". Reading it, I had exactly the same sensation as I do when I read cultural conservative rants about "the Frankfurt School" and "cultural Marxism", which dress up partisan polemics and  basic ignorance of other political traditions with sheen of semantic sophistication. For example, the notion that Marx gave birth to working class agitation and socialist movements (when he obviously learnt about socialism from working class movements that existed before he started his thinking), that Marx was somehow the parent of the ILO (part of the UN bureaucratic machinery) or that the right to work is a Marxist principle. The central argument of the piece is that "the left" should be prouder of the principles - human rights, labour rights, pacifism, secularism - that its has given modernity. But all of these principles have had a healthy life beyond the left (except perhaps labour rights) on one hand, and have been violated by significant political formations on the left (most obviously the Soviet regime) on the other.

Ignant and shit
The video at the top is Screamin Jay Hawkins, with a song from his brilliant record Black Music for White People, which seems appropriate for all the forms of stupidity that have been irritating me lately.

2012 in first lines

After my "confused and confusing" round up of 2012, and before I start 2013's proper blogging tonight or tomorrow, here is (via a meme Norm took from Harriet) 2012 condensed via first lines of each month of blogging. I've taken a couple of slight editorial liberties by not using the sentences like "So, this is a post where I give you loads of random links you may or may not read".

January: So, the jury has decided and the judge has sentenced and David Norris and Gary Dobson, two of Stephen Lawrence's five or six killers, will be serving time.

FebruaryEltham resident Raven has a fantastic post about Stephen Lawrence and life in Eltham, finely balancing the realities of mundane racism and everyday conviviality in that corner of South London.

March: In several posts on this blog, I have criticised the main national anti-fascist organisations in the UK, such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Hope not Hate (HnH), which I see as populist organisations, preaching an ineffective liberal anti-fascism, and often operating as un-democratic front organisations for sectarian Trotskyist vanguard parties.


May: I'm trying to write a few substantive pieces (on Eric Hobsbawm, Spiked, Occupy, militant anti-fascism, anti-anti-Zionism and various other subjects) but they've all stalled. In the meantime, check out my new side project, Bob's Beats. My plan is to open its pages to other folks as well, and Waterloo Sunset has kicked off in fine style with Stetsons and Whiskey, featuring some of my favourite country singers.

June: Writing this listening to intense rain and wind outside in dark South London.

July: Three updates on the German circumcision ban.

August: Sadly Brockley's own Olympian, Conrad Williams, who was apparently once a paperboy for Budgen's in Crofton Park, didn't make the 400m heats but almost got a bronze in the 4x400 hurdles, missing out by a whisker.

September: Jogo recommended to me a well-written article by Michael Ledeen on why the left is dead. I agree that the left is intellectually dead. He is correct that the left has embraced a politics of personal destruction, that it has no claim to moral superiority any more. 

October: I was struck by the under-reporting of some of the most extreme acts of violence by the Assad regime in Syria in what are hopefully its final weeks. Among the most brutal of its acts have been assaults on Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.


December: South East Londoners, as I write now, you have six days exactly to respond to the "consultation" and tell the TSA what you think about the closure of Lewisham's accident & emergency and maternity services.