Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in first lines

I've done this every year for the last few years, recalling a habit of the late, great Norman Geras, to recall the year through the first line of every month's blogging.

January: 2014 will mostly be shit, more or less everywhere.

February: They said he was like Castro, they said he was like Mao, but he stuck up for the workin' man, don't even ask me how.

March: Yesterday was Budget Day, and our Tory government gave us a penny of a pint of beer and reduced tax on Bingo, claiming this was "to help hardworking people [note how "hardworking" has become a single word under the Tories, their austerity policy even extending to dashes and spaces] do more of the things they enjoy", the keyword being "they". Meanwhile, in London, Mayor Boris Johnson approved the use of watercannon against disorder in the capital, presumably for when us hardworkingpeople are no longer sufficiently distracted by beer and bingo.

April: Displaying our own liberal cleverness is always a worse strategy than sharing human stories; the left-liberal intelligentsia's masturbatory performances of smartness are bad politics in a human world, and such performances won't win people over even when the facts are on our side, as with welfare reform and migration.
May: The main reason not to vote for Duwayne Brooks is that he is a candidate of the Liberal Democrats.

June: There is a war of words going on in the West over Ukraine. A shocking number of people have been taken in by the narratives and outright lies circulating from the Kremlin and its propaganda outlets. The Kremlin's totally unreliable Russia Today (, which regularly gives airtime to antisemites, UKIP, Holocaust deniers, 9/11 truth cultists and Bilderberg conspiracy nutcases, is somehow seen as the fount of "truth" about Ukraine.

July: Auschwitz wasn’t any kind of positive learning experience, and the overwhelmingly majority of the Jews who had anything to do with the Holocaust learned nothing from it because they were killed by it.

August: Ray Woolford of Lewisham People Before Profit is a colourful character and prolific tweeter.

September: As a resident of England, on one level this is none of my business: Scotland has the right to self-determination without interference from South London.

October: Still seething at @martjacques' vacuous apologia for Chinese state capitalism & scorning of #OccupyCentral movement.

November: The enormity and complexity of what's going in Syria, in Iraq, in Israel/Palestine and in the wider region makes it hard for me to begin to take sides or recommend courses of action. Rather, I will say something about how all this is refracted here in the West: in the leftish scene I move among, in the South London neighbourhood I live in, in the newspapers I read.

December: Quite a few Western leftists still think Assad is some kind of anti-imperialist hero and that we need to "stop the war" against him. As it happens, fascist ex-leader Nick Griffin (who this week endorsed both UKIP and Putin's is in Syria doing some PR for Assad, along with Polish far right MEP Korwin-Mikke (whose party is allied to UKIP in the European parliament).

Confession: I've been a little liberal in interpreting "first lines" in a few of the less interesting months. I didn't actually blog once in August so I've stolen the first line of the last post of July for that slot. I didn't blog in October either, so I used my first tweet of that month instead.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 at Bob From Brockley: the most popular posts

Here are the posts you've been reading in 2014.

1. Gaza/Warsaw Ghetto
This is one of my most-read posts ever, thanks mainly, I think, to a link from an excellent HuffPo open letter to pro-Palestine protesters by Dave Rich, on antisemitism in the protests about Gaza. In that letter, Dave gave some pieces of advice on how to protest Israel without being racist. He said:
While you are at the demonstration, do not compare Israel to Nazi Germany. Gaza is not the Warsaw Ghetto. If you can't tell the difference, this post explains it. It's a totally false comparison that plays on Jewish sensibilities in order to provoke a reaction. Another word for that is Jew-baiting. Don't do it.
If you liked that post, you'll like this one.

2. The Killing of Bob Crow by the Coward Boris Johnson
This mock murder ballad by Rob Palk became unexpectedly topical when Bob Crow actually sadly died.

If you liked that post, you'll like this one.

3. Our Politics and Theirs
I'm pleased this placed so highly. It starts with a post by David Hirsh on Engage, "Opposing the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global academic community", but uses that to spell out some of the features of a rebooted radical politics. Riffing on some of David's points, I argued that we need to recover the tradition of the great cosmopolitan Third Camp left such as Orwell and Hal Draper, but re-purpose it in an age of retreat, of defeat, of resistance, of waiting. Marxists and ex-Marxists would recognise that the title is taken from a brilliant but highly problematic 1938 essay by Trotsky, "Our Morals and Theirs", dedicated to his son Leon Sedoff, who had recently been murdered by Stalin's agents. Here are some lines from that essay:
DURING AN EPOCH OF triumphant reaction, Messrs. democrats, social-democrats, anarchists, and other representatives of the “left” camp begin to exude double their usual amount of moral effluvia, similar to persons who perspire doubly in fear. Paraphrasing the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount, these moralists address themselves not so much to triumphant reaction as to those revolutionists suffering under its persecution, who with their “excesses” and “amoral” principles “provoke” reaction and give it moral justification. Moreover they prescribe a simple but certain means of avoiding reaction: it is necessary only to strive and morally to regenerate oneself. Free samples of moral perfection for those desirous are furnished by all the interested editorial offices. 
The class basis of this false and pompous sermon is the intellectual petty bourgeoisie. The political basis – their impotence and confusion in the face of approaching reaction. Psychological basis – their effort at overcoming the feeling of their own inferiority through masquerading in the beard of a prophet.
If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

4.  Alison Weir: If Americans Knew
This was a guest post by my comrade Spencer Sunshine, taken from a recently published Political Research Associates report Constructing Campus Conflict. It is an anatomy of a right-wing antisemite, Alison Weir (not to be confused with the popular historian of that name) much circulated by allegedly "left-wing" self-defined "anti-Zionists".

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

5. People Before Profit and the Jewish Lobby
This post was provoked by my friend Chimpman, who noticed that a colourful Lewisham political activist had (during the Gaza war) developed an obsession with Jewish power. Again, the activist in question is supposedly left-wing, although he has stood for election for the Conservative Party and is quite chummy with UKIP. His antisemitism, unlike Alison Weir's, is of the casual everyday kind, rather than ideological. More disturbing to me was the denial of any shades of racism from his party, People Before Profit, who also have some track record of dabbling in "anti-Zionist" antisemitism.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

6. Brandeis University and Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Moving from Israel to the other hot button I-word, Islam, this is a guest post from my friend Sarah AB, thoughtfully and carefully thinking through what issues around acceptable and unacceptable speech on campus.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

7. The House of Assad and the House of Rumour
This is a post of which I'm quite proud, about esoteric politics: the contemporary obsession with hidden "Truth", an obsession which manages to hide the more obvious truths, such as the dictator Assad's mass slaughter of Syrian civilians.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

8/9. #Lewisham2014: The mayorals and The council elections
I wrote these posts in April/May, in the lead-up to the UK elections then, focusing on two sets of local elections in Lewisham.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

10. Ukraine: The truth war
This is not the most finely crafted piece of written, but I'm glad it gets a little air play. It discusses some of the groups on the British "left" (from centre-left Scottish nationalists to nutty Stalinsts and Trots) who uncritically circulate propaganda for the far right authoritarian government in Kremlin, and its neo-Nazi puppet "People's Republics" in eastern Ukraine, pointing out that these leftists are on the same page as many British and European fascists on this topic. The post finishes with a few links to actual anti-fascists in Ukraine.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Masha leans into a Dictaphone, talking softly about prisons

This, by Rob Palk, is a wonderful piece of political reportage. I'll paste the opening paragraphs here, but you should go read the whole thing.
Punks in Parliament: Pussy Riot in Portcullis House 
Here are some things that the Henry Jackson Society are interested in: A strong military, the “promotion” of liberal democracy if necessary by the use of said military, “two cheers” for capitalism. And here are some things they aren't: radical feminism, punk rock, grass-roots anarchism, Judith Butler, conceptual art. But the world of politics can sometimes resemble an especially tipsy game of spin-the-bottle and tonight the HJS pay host to Pussy Riot. 
To enter Portcullis House you have to put your belt and wallet in a tray and walk through a metal detecting doorway. The airport mood continues once you’re in. With its pot plants, beige walls and the air of bored expectancy that comes with being an adjunct to the action, it is a little like a duty free lounge with the ads for wristwatches replaced by portraits of Margaret Beckett. Up the stairs and inside one of the meeting rooms, the HJS event on Russia is about to begin. By now it is standing room only –it may be that this is always the way with the Society’s events but it might just be celebrity exerting its gravitational drag. Three chairs at the front have “reserved for Pussy Riot” notices placed on them. The audience do not, at first glance, look very punk rock. The floor is unspeckled with gob, faces are unpierced and no one seems to be taking amphetamine sulphate. Tweets from the event mention a coalition of leftists, dissidents, capitalists and MPs but if you had to guess you’d put the latter two in the majority. There are an awful lot of men in suits here, sleekly barbered, comfortable with proximity to power. Women wear unshowily expensive looking dresses. Scarily fresh faced HJS members welcome us with leaflets and smiles. They look like adolescent cult members except with realistic hopes of one day running cults of their very own. It is hard to imagine joining such a group at 22, but then some people save their infantile leftism for their actual infancy and hit ambitious maturity at sixteen. One day they will write op-eds calling for transformative violence –they may even order the violence themselves- but for now they smile winningly, usher and take photographs. Several people look like how you imagine a spad to look. You see someone you think you recognise but then realise you’re recalling a character from The Thick of It

Friday, December 05, 2014

Half decents, internet warriors, black holes, media missionaries

First, a reminder of tomorrow's Half Decents gig. If you can't go, give some money anyway.

Also on Syria, this is important from Air Force Amazons: Over 23,000 civilians killed since the UK Parliament’s Syria vote. You should also spend time with the heart-breaking Syria's Forgotten Cities, documenting that "Syria is a country with many Kobanes".

Quite a few Western leftists still think Assad is some kind of anti-imperialist hero and that we need to "stop the war" against him. As it happens, fascist ex-leader Nick Griffin (who this week endorsed both UKIP and Putin's is in Syria doing some PR for Assad, along with Polish far right MEP Korwin-Mikke (whose party is allied to UKIP in the European parliament). 

Soldiers of the internet: this by Max Dunbar is a brilliant review of Jeremy Duns' book on Edward Snowden and the new politics of (mis)information. 

Black holes and media missionaries: this excellent long read by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad also takes on the new politics of (mis)information specifically in relation to the Middle East, exposing the untruths and skewed narratives of Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and others.

Also exposing untruths and social media propoganda, Sci-Lo Green has a long post on tweeter Mo Ansar, trying to get at what he actually believes on the basis of his tweets.

We don't need another hero: Darren Redstar has a post on celebrity radicalism, primarily on Russell Brand. I might ask him if I can cross-post it here and so I can put in some paragraph breaks, because it's quite hard to read in its current state, but worth the effort.The three other best reads on Russell Brand are by Peter Risdon (actually about Brand and the wider hard and soft left), Nick Cohen and Padraig Reidy.

The hierophants of an alternate capitalism: this is a long but very good post by Tom Owolade on Glenn Greenwald and other examples of Western-centric faux-anti-imperialism.

The only Sunday papers you need: If you're not getting enough of these link round-ups from me, tune in to my Paper every Friday evening for more. And the Lefty Tosser's Weekly ("radical but reasonable) has an algorithm that means the stuff I tweet is in the headlines.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bob's timely election coverage 4: the "Jewish vote" and the "Jewish lobby"

This is the fourth and final post in my mini-series on British (and especially London) electoral politics. The first looked at UKIP, the second at a bunch of other parties, and the third at some left alternatives. The first half of this post, like the previous three, was written in May, in the wake of the European and local elections, but I didn't get around to posting it. The second half, however, was written today. We left off the story with George Galloway's "Respect" and Lutfur Rahman's "Tower Hamlets First" parties, which have both been alleged to have deployed ethnic machine politics (specifically those of British Muslim communities) in their electoral strategy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bob's timely election coverage 3: the left

This is the third in a series of four posts I wrote in May after the European and local elections then, which I'm posting now as they seem to be still relevant after our spate of by-elections. The first looked at UKIP, the second at the rest of London's electoral landscape from the Lib Dems to the Greens. This post focuses on the left. I probably should have included the Greens in this post rather than the last one, as they are to the left of Labour on most issues even if not part of the historical tradition of the left; this was just the order in which I wrote the sections. Paragraphs in italics at the end of each section were written today, in November 2014. 

The results of the more explicitly left of Labour alternatives have been frankly embarrassing. Despite a couple of impressive exceptions (Southampton, Coventry), the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and the Eurosceptic dinosaurs of No2EU barely left the starting blocks, beaten even by a dead-on-its-feet BNP. The endlessly triumphalist reality-blind idiots of the Leninist sects behind these electoral parties might claim otherwise, but the sad fact is that explicitly socialist politics has almost zero electoral appeal.

The slight exceptions are instructive. In Lewisham, for example, People Before Profit performed respectably in Telegraph Hill and New Cross and the TUSC candidate (Chris Flood) who had previously served as a councillor performed respectably in Telegraph Hill. As I noted in comments, these were candidates with a local track record standing in local elections on very bread-and-butter local issues. Similarly, Keith Morrell in Southampton and Dave Nellist in Coventry had track records as councillors.

My inference from this is that, in the short to medium term at least, the left-of-Labour left is far better off investing its energy in campaigns on very specific bread-and-butter issues – especially around cuts to public services, such as hospital closures – than in electoral activity. This might mean sacrificing ideological purity for coalitions and alliances, in particular with Labour Party supporters. (This might mean that the People’s Assembly approach to re-building left politics (joining up existing struggles against austerity) is a far better bet than the Left Unity approach (the creation of a new party).

Since I wrote the above, People Before Profit got 69 votes in the Rochester and Strood by election - behind the Monster Raving Loony Party but thankfully ahead of any of the fascist parties. My patience with them had diminished in the summer when one of their figureheads tweeted stuff about a Jewish lobby controlling the media and more recently when they had a friendly social media exchange with a Hitler fan on the Bilderberg conspiracy. The fact that the group had no local roots in the constituency was presumably a bigger factor in their low vote than their dabbling with antisemitic memes. 

As for Left Unity, they have made uneven progress. They had their conference a week or so back. I like the strong commitment to transparency and democracy that characterises Left Unity, but it also opens them up to the various Trotskyite and Stalinist sects using it as a playroom, which is pretty off-putting for anyone else who might potentially be engaged by the left. Among endless motions using the arcane jargon of the Third International, one stood out: praising the murderous scum of ISIS as "having progressive potential" from an allegedly "anti-imperialist" perspective. Mercifully, only four people seem to have voted for the motion (and it's not clear that all of them realised which motion they were voting for), but the fact it could even be discussed shows how badly the left needs saving from itself

The one exception to the English far left’s electoral failure in the last decade or so has been Respect. But Respect is an exception in too many ways to make a difference to the argument I’ve just made. For a start, Respect’s apparent political radicalism is barely skin-deep and its electoral advances have been built partly on the now-dwindling personal celebrity of the Nigel Farage of the left George Galloway.

But the much more important factor has been mobilising (often mosque-based) machine politics in relatively ethnically homogeneous South Asian communities. As there are very few local authorities or constituencies in the UK were this kind of vote can make a difference numerically, the Respect strategy is not one that can be scaled up.

It is also a fragile strategy, because it promotes a Boardwalk Empire style political culture that is so cannibalistic that it consumes its activist base faster than it can regenerate, and this cycle has already played itself out in Bradford, where Respect’s councillors had all deserted by election time and a swing back to Labour has seen its remaining candidates' fortunes collapse.

However, it is depressing to see that the Respect model has clung on in Tower Hamlets, the UK’s equivalent of Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall, where the Muslim Brotherhood/Jamaat-e-Islam network around the East London Mosque and Islamic Forum Europe (not afraid to use polling station intimidation and other corrupt practices) was able to out-mobilise rival secular Awami League-linked  Bangladeshi networks loyal to Labour and keep Lutfur Rahman in power.

Since I wrote this, the mounting allegations against the ruling junta in Tower Hamlets led to the central government imposing commissioners to oversee the running of the council while a full investigation into various apparent malpractices unfold. The story is too complex for me to describe here,  and is best followed on Ted Jeory's excellent blog, starting here.

Depressingly, with the usual honourable exceptions, a lot of the left have been offering misplaced "solidarity" with Lutfur Rahman's rotten administration, claiming he is a victim of right-wing and possibly Islamophobic witch-hunting. Most notably, George Galloway, Ken Livingstone and Left Unity have been vocal in Lutfur's defence. When this sort of thing is the norm, I begin to think it's too late to save the left from itself. 

Or maybe it's time for a different approach....

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bob's timely election coverage 2: all politics is local

This is the second in a series of blogposts I wrote back in May in the wake of the local and European elections, and failed to publish then. I posted the first last night, about UKIP. This looks at some of the other political parties: the Lib Dems, Greens, Labour and BNP. Tomorrow, finally, I will publish a post on the far left parties.

There is a part of me which takes some comfort from this outcome of the election: the Liberal Democrats have been more or less evacuated from the European parliament and lost control of several councils across the country. Their destruction in Lewisham is not surprising, but it is interesting to see that they were nearly wiped out in neighbouring Southwark, one of their London heartlands since Simon Hughes’ first (racist and homophobic) campaignagainst Peter Tatchell back in the 1980s.

Looking at who came second across London (see first map here, from the Newsshoper) in the council elections yields some interesting insights. Among other things, it shows that there is a swathe of what we could call “the outer inner city” where the Greens did fairly well. In the proportionately distributed Euro elections, the Green Party picked up one in ten votes. To use Lewisham as an example, the Greens received 16% of the vote in the local elections. This is despite almost no national or local media time (in contrast to the ubiquitous presence of UKIP).

This builds on fairly strong performances by Green politicians such as Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones in council chambers such as Lewisham, but more importantly the GLA and European Parliament. Interestingly, they have been less prominent on traditionally “green” issues than on social issues such as housing and immigration. This points to – in London at least – an important and welcome counterweight to UKIP, and one which confirms that Labour cannot be too complacent about some of its traditional voting fodder in thinking through its response to the Farage phenomenon

The surge to Labour in London’s “inner cross” (the capital’sless affluent areas stretching up to Enfield and down to Croydon as well aseast along the river and west towards Heathrow - see second map here, from All That's Left) has had a few dramatic effects.

Lewisham, where I live, now has just one single non-Labour councillor – a Green in Brockley ward. Lewisham also has a directly elected borough mayor from the same party, with very extensive executive powers. Unlike Labour's Michael Harris, I don’t think this is healthy for local democracy; it closes down opportunities for scrutiny and accountability and opens up opportunities for corruption and nepotism.

The most welcome news is the abysmal performance of the fascist British National Party. Its vote has been steadily plummeting since the mid-noughties: in 2006, it received a shocking 18% of the vote in the wards it contested; in 2007, its total vote peaked at 293,000 – but by 2013 it was already down to 5% of the vote share and 15,000 votes nationally.

However, anti-fascists should take little comfort from this. Typically, fascist electoral politics fades during right-wing Tory governments (while violent street movements, such as the English Defence League, tend to grow), and the BNP has been fairly hilariously tearing itself apart in the last couple of years.

But the real reason for its decimation is obviously the existence of UKIP, which matched the BNP vote for vote when it launched in 2007 and has been growing rapidly as the BNP declined since 2009. While it is ridiculous to call UKIP or its voters fascist, we have to accept that a very significant section of the English population feel the appeal of deeply xenophobic and anti-Muslim authoritarian populist politics if not tainted by the BNP’s toxic association with violence and Nazism.

[2014 has also been the year of the proliferation of oddball far right parties, such as Britain First, National Action, the South East Alliance and the Patriotic Socialists. These are unlikely to have the electoral impact the BNP achieved in its heyday, for the reasons already set out. But they do have the potential to intensify violence and division on our streets, and we need to keep up the fight against them.]

Next: the left

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bob's timely election coverage 1: On UKIP

In May, I wrote a series of blogposts in the aftermath of the European and local elections. I never actually posted them, because they needed some work and some added links. However, I noticed a lot of the issues circulating now in the wake of the Rochester and Strood by-election seem to resonate with the issues then, so I thought I'd just post them. First one today, then one a day for a couple of days. This one is the most "timely" in that it deals with UKIP, although events since May might show that I wasn't on the right lines on everything, though I think I was on many things. It makes three points, one about the significance of the UKIP results in May (about which I may have been overly optimistic), one about London, and one about the so-called "left behind". The third section is, I think, the most important and still most relevant, so if you don't have time for the whole post, skip to that bit.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Half Decents and the Dead Bloggers

Some causes transcend political barriers. The plight of those trapped between the murderers of the Islamic State and the slaughter at the hands of Assad's forces is one of those issues.

On Saturday, 6 December, a band composed of bloggers, journalists and political activists from across the political spectrum will be playing a gig to support Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) and their vital work in the region.
Dubbed "The Half Decents", our ad-hoc band will perform a familiar blend of rock classics and blues standards, with a sprinkling of indie pop. The evening will be hosted at Theatre Delicatessen by 89Up, the public affairs agency (, and will include guest speakers and a support act.

We're asking anybody who wants to attend to donate at least £10 to Medecins Sans Frontiers, via this special JustGiving Fundraising Page. 
The Half Decents is made up of Davis Lewin (Henry Jackson Society), Paul Evans (Slugger O'Toole), David Osler (ex Tribune), David Toube (Harry's Place), Brett Lock (ex OutRage!) and Adam Barnett (East London Advertiser).
Meanwhile, the Dead Bloggers Society (of which Paul Evans is co-chair) lurches on. Here are some selections:
The key factors driving these changes have been economic and political. But many have come to see their marginalization primarily as a cultural loss. The same social and economic changes that have led to the marginalization of sections of the electorate have also made it far more difficult to view that marginalization in political terms. As the politics of ideology has given way to the politics of identity, as people have become disenchanted with politics, so culture has become more important as a lens through which to make sense of society and social relations.
Finally, a great game for the family, as invented by Jake Goretzki:

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Middle East and some stupidity and sanity on the UK left

This post started in September, or possibly even August, as one of those round-ups of stuff I've read. It got kind of big before I posted it, so I split it up with this post focusing on the Middle East, but after a while I realised it wasn't actually about the Middle East at all.

The enormity and complexity of what's going in Syria, in Iraq, in Israel/Palestine and in the wider region makes it hard for me to begin to take sides or recommend courses of action. Rather, I will say something about how all this is refracted here in the West: in the leftish scene I move among, in the South London neighbourhood I live in, in the newspapers I read. Peter Ryley put this well in a brilliant post on the Gaza conflict, which I urge you to read in full:
Israelis hiding in bomb shelters and Gazans under fire will each have a different perspective, but they aren't the people I am writing about. Their fear and heartbreak is beyond my understanding or ability to verbalise. Nor can I write with any authority about policies or the wisdom, justice or otherwise of what is happening now. No, it is those campaigners and commentators, those demonstrators on the streets of European cities that concern me. They are people who are only too keen to fight a cause rather than attempt to solve a problem.
I'll start with an article from 2009, by Howard Jacobson, about how the war in Gaza brought the toxin of hate to quiet Britain (an article brought back to my attention by Peter). Among other things, Jacobson takes on the Gaza/Warsaw Ghetto analogy I recently discussed:
Given the number of besieged and battered cities there have been in however many thousands of years of pitiless warfare there is only one explanation for this invocation of Warsaw before any of those – it is to wound Jews in their recent and most anguished history and to punish them with their own grief. Its aim is a sort of retrospective retribution, cancelling out all debts of guilt and sorrow. It is as though, by a reversal of the usual laws of cause and effect, Jewish actions of today prove that Jews had it coming to them yesterday...

And so it happens. Without one’s being aware of it, it happens. A gradual habituation to the language of loathing. Passed from the culpable to the unwary and back again. And soon, before you know it...
And so it happens. It's happening in the Green Party, as Jessica Goldfinch starts to show in her post on Green Party support for Hamas and then in a more thorough Greens Engage post documenting some of the recent madness among the Greens. And its happening across our social movements, as Flesh describes in a post on why we need to more than flinch when anti-Zionism deforms our struggles, such as the fight to save the NHS. (Related: Jessica Goldfinch at Greens Engage)

Veteran labour rights activist Eric Lee attacks "the anti-antisemitism of fools", singling out Owen Jones who, Lee says, sees antisemitism everywhere except in front of his nose. I think Lee's criticisms of Jones are right, but his using the phrase "...of fools" is excessive, given the baggage of those words. Lee also contrasts Jones to the recently launched Campaign Against Antisemitism, which made the utterly stupid decision to invite anti-Muslim racist Douglas Murray to speak at its first rally.

Talking of Owen Jones, he had a great article on how the UK's cozyness with Arab regimes which actively support terrorism, including Saudi Arabia. The Stop the War [sic] coalition republished his article, out of a kind of whataboutery: why fight ISIS when we don't fight Saudi Arabia. Coatesy has a very good response to that, suggesting Stop the War might want to rethink their boycott policy in light of it.

Coatesy also has a piece on the SWP's stupid policy on ISIS. The SWP published an article which praises the Lewisham mosque, whose statement in response to the beheading of James Foley was described in the SWP paper as "refusing to bow to the frenzy, a spark of resistance in a very dark week.” You can read the Lewisham Islamic Centre statement here, and decide for yourself if it expresses a spark of resistance or something rather different.


However, as the world's attention shifted from Israel/Palestine to the ISIS assault on the Yazadis on Mount Sinjar and then to the their assault on the Kurdish city of Kobanê, there was something of a shift in the narrative. Rhodri Evans rather optimistically suggested that the left might returning to sanity after decades of blindfolding itself behind the dogma of "anti-imperialism". I was doubtful about this, but there have been some signs lately of something of a shift: the trade unions Unite and FBU have both made strong statements of solidarity with the Kurds, and a powerful open letter to the labour movement, entitled We Say Never Again, has been signed by a number of Labour and trade union activists. (Gary Kent, who I presume wrote it, has written an excellent article, "Taking on the vilest fascism of our age", in Progress calling for support for the open letter.) Even the jaded Nick Cohen, conceding that in these dark days the faintest glimmer of light can pass for a dawn, has concluded that "left-wing politics is becoming a little less seedy". Indeed, even some Stop the War activists have been heard calling for the Kurds to be armed.

While the trad left has been slow in expressing this solidarity, anarchists and anti-fascists have actually been more forthcoming. Celebrity anarchist professor David Graeber (credited with coining the slogan "We are the 99%") asked, in a powerful op ed in early October, Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria? Although a few ultra-ist  anti-American anarchos have laughably condemned Graeber as some kind of neocon, his position is widespread on the anti-authoritarian left. A particularly bracing example comes from veteran anti-fascist (and former Class War activist) Martin Lux, in his videocast on ISIS "the gap year blood cult".

Part of this is because of long-term concrete links between the Kurdish movement (including in its diaspora) and anarchists and anti-fascists in Europe, and part of it is because of the inspiring social revolution in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan),  which is partly inspired by the libertarian socialist thought of the late Murray Bookchin (taken up by left-nationalist PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan during his time in Turkish prisons). An excellent list of resources about this has been collected by Andrew Flood here.

(Personally, I do find the on-going traces of Öcalan's earlier Third Worldist authoritarian nationalism, as well as the cult of personality around him among PKK supporters, cause for some caution. I also feel that the attention given to the Kurdish spring seems to deplete the space for attention from anarchists and the trad left for the Syrian revolution, which continues to cling to its resistance to Assad's brutal Damascus regime, after three years of bombardment by his forces. On this, see for example Not George Sabra, Liberated Kafranbel, and some of these tweeters.)

However, sadly, considerably seediness remains on the left. One of the worst examples comes from the student movement. Scottish Kurdish activist Roza Salih (pictured right) wrote a motion in solidarity with the Kurds, passed by the Scottish National Union of Students (NUS), then brought to the UK NUS national executive by Daniel Cooper of the AWL.

Insanely, the motion was rejected by the Executive after Black Students Officer (BSO), Malia Bouattia, claimed that the motion was Islamophobic because of the way it spoke about ISIS - see this tweet by Socialist Action's Aaron Kiely:

 (For details, see report by Cooper, or the relevant bit extracted by Shiraz Socialist, as well as later summary by Beth Redmond.)

Finally, returning to where this post began, here's another disturbing incident in my local university, Goldsmiths, where a Student Union assembly appears to have voted down a motion to commemorate the Holocaust because to do so would be "Eurocentric" and possibly also because it is incompatible with the Union's "anti-Zionism". Unfortunately, the only report we have so far comes from the unreliable scurrilous right-wing rag The Tab, (I plan to write a fuller post about this at some point, so if you have anything to add please get in touch with me.)

So, if anarchists and part of the trad left shows signs of getting priorities in order, this is not true in the student left still gripped by idiot "anti-imperialism" and identity politics. There, pop-postcolonialism tells the hacks that condemning any bad stuff done by any Muslims is "Islamophobic", while the same body of thought suggests that condemning any bad stuff done to any "white" people is "Eurocentric", And so it happens.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Better late than never? #Indyref round-up

As a resident of England, on one level this is none of my business: Scotland has the right to self-determination without interference from South London. But this the most important issue facing the whole of the UK in a very long. The thought that Scottish people might become foreigners, that the UK I live in might not include Scotland, is an appalling one for me. I like the fact that the UK - Britishness - has become (however unevenly) an expansive, inclusive civic identity, that includes more than one nation. The one-nation-one-state logic that has driven the reshaping of the world since 1918 has been nothing short of catastrophic; that, after a century of nationalist wars, we should be erecting new borders is shocking to me.

Here are some things I've read that resonate with how I feel on this topic.

Rosie Bell has a great post on the Neverendum atmosphere:
I'm not one of the energised embracing a new discovery of politics - I'm disgruntled that my life has been taken over by nationalistic politics. Because that's what it is. There hasn't been much in the way of outright anti-Englishness but scrape one of those heralding the new iScotland with its guaranteed-in-the-constitution social democracy about well, what if it goes wrong and the answer is, if it's a mess it's OUR mess. Our being this part of the British archipelago.
David Grant, in a similar heartfelt vein, writes on why he's voting No. Ian Jack's lament for Britishness is also moving. One of the most eloquent cases for No comes from Carol Craig in the Scottish Review. Alex Massie discusses his multiple identities here, in another good piece. Always wise, Kenan Malik asks independent from what and for what?

On the left, JT White at Third Estate has a good critical piece, arguing that there is a case for "red patriotism" but for the Union rather than for independent Scotland. How Upsetting has a powerful critique of the left's fall down the rabbit hole of nationalism. Sam Wetherell has a very sophisticated take on the imperial amnesia and petro-politics at the heart of the Scottish nationalist fantasy. Sunny Hundal also picks up on the petro-politics issue, in his criticism of the fossil fuel hypocrisy of Green No advocates.

From an English perspective, Nick Cohen attacks nationalist posturing. It's behind a paywall, but David Aaronovitch has a brilliant piece on what links Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Russell Brand. Chris Deerin also argues that Salmond and Farage are Better Together. Jamie Reed punctures the myth of Tory England. John McTernan opposes the politics of grievance. You can find more of this sort of stuff at my Paper here.

Of all the left groups, the AWL is closest to my views. Their slogan is reduce borders don't raise them. Their Dale Street demolishes the "Marxist" arguments for independence in Critique (great final sentence: "Perhaps Critique would benefit from having more Crimean Tartars and less Scottish nationalists on its editorial board?") as well as George Monbiot's cod psychology Yesism ("English writer living in Wales writes article for London paper calling for a yes vote on 18 September. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper denounces Westminster arrogance towards Scots. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper dismisses millions of Scots as psychologically damaged. You couldn’t make it up."). Which us, which them? is good too.

Dale Street's pieces are also published by Socialism First, which (although it has a few tankie contributors) makes a strong case for a socialist No. Red Paper is another example of socialist anti-independence analysis. UK Work Together presents the trade unionist case for No. These are among the websites collected in libertarian socialist sci-fi legend Ken McLeod's round-up from May. Ken's own take is here.

Finally, taking a neither Yes nor No position, here are two anarchist perspectives: one from Edinburgh and one from Glasgow. From the former:
Hope lies not in trying to create new labour aristocracies or the international solidarity of left nationalists, but in uniting workers struggling from below.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

People Before Profit and the Jewish Lobby

Ray Woolford of Lewisham People Before Profit is a colourful character and prolific tweeter. A few days ago, he tweeted a striking image of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews demonstrating, claiming that New York was at a standstill due to religious Jews protesting about Gaza. I don’t know if this counts as “viral”, but the tweet was retweeted thousands (although not millions) of times.

As it happened, though (and as several people pointed out to Ray on Twitter), the image (a photograph by Craig Ruttle of AP) was actually of an earlier demonstration in March,when New York haredim protested against a change in the law in Israel removing the special exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from military service. 

This kind of reckless retweeting was addressed by Padraig Reidy in an excellent piece here.  It seems innocent enough – although it contributes to the excess of fog around this conflict, obscuring the facts which we need to rationally debate. And we might also wonder what rhetorical role the image of very Jewish-looking people protesting against Israel plays in an anti-Zionist narrative.

However, a couple of days later, Ray tweeted something a bit different. When asked why the mass demonstration of Jews wasn't being reported in New York, Ray suggested it was because a "Jewish lobby" controls the media:


Then, as noticed by local tweeter Peter T, more: 
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Later, Ray added that we needn't worry, because things would soon change:

Peter wrote to Lewisham People Before Profit, noting that the myth of Jewish control has been used for centuries to justify persecution, and asking what action the party might take given its claim to stand up for those overlooked by the powerful. 

He got this back from leader John Hamilton:
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So, Hamilton thinks the claim that an all-powerful Jewish lobby controls the media and people's minds and makes all politicians scared is "not in itself anti-semitic". 

When Hamilton says "it is not surprising that Jews in general get blamed for supporting Israel", I wonder if he would say something similar about EDL attacks on Muslims. To me it seems simple: it is racism and not Israel that makes antisemites blame all Jews for the actions of Israel, just as it is racism that makes Islamophobes blame all Muslims for what jihadis do. There was plenty of antisemitism around before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and I don't think the Jews were any more to blame then. 

It is also interesting that Hamilton finds it difficult to accept that Jews are an ethnic rather than simply a religious group. He thinks it is open to speculation whether the "religious beliefs" of media proprietors generate "the media bias" - ignoring the fact that none of the main media proprietors in the UK (Rupert Murdoch, the Rothermeres, Richard Desmond or Alexander Lebedev) have Jewish religious beliefs. 

We'll see what the outcome is to their chat. But I won't hold my breath. 

And if People Before Profit want a right of reply here, I'm happy for give it to them, as I did to Hamilton last time he dabbled with antisemites

I had missed this from the early hours of 27 July, Ray retweeting about the Rothschilds:


From Lewisham teen to ISIS bride

Last week, it emerged that a local Lewisham young woman who converted to Islam and prayed at Lewisham Islamic Centre has gone to Syria to join the jihadi army Islamic State (usually known as ISIS or ISIL, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), who, after being supported by Assad’s Ba’athist regime in Syria, have now conquered a large swathe of Iraq (in alliance with Sunni and Ba’athist sectarian militias) and are on the offensive against their former sponsor in Syria.

The young woman’s Twitter profile chillingly has a photo of her toddler son with an AK-47. 

The Evening Standard has published a report on the young woman by Joshi Herrmann, based on extensive research on social media and interviews with people connected to the mosque. It is very interesting reading. It suggests that the woman may have been joined by a second Lewisham teen, probably the sixth British woman to join ISIS's foreign fighters.

Local resident and Londonist editor Rachel Holdsworth, felt that the article insinuates that the mosque is extreme while saying that the imams are not in fact radical. Al-Jazeera’s Simon Hooper describes it as sensationalised and recycling tenuous connections. However, I felt that, although the framing is unavoidably sensational, the article does a good job of exploring the complexity, including the extent and the limits of jihadi ideology in the mosque.

Herrmann shows how the attendees and the roster of preachers at mosques such as Lewisham are fluid in a way that would not be typical of Christian congregations, but that the Lewisham mosque is viewed as “hot” compared to others. However, once the young and angry convert was drawn into jihadi ideology, she found the mosque and its imams too tepid and “soft”.
the local source suggests that radicals operate independently of the centre because they regard the imam and senior figures there as “soft”. “I think a lot of them [radicals in the community] don’t even go to the mosque. As soon as they see people at the mosque like the imam going soft and asking people to vote and doing stuff in the community they branch off,” she says. It is notable that a representative for the mosque has attended Holocaust Memorial Day, at the suggestion of the council.
This was apparently also the case with Michael Adebolajo, who felt the imams were too co-operative with the police. She then left in order to find the real thing, which she has tragically found in Syria.

Gender politics seems also to have played a part in her development, with some of Herrmann’s interviewees talking about how a prevailing patriarchal culture in the mosque was one of the things that turned her away from its brand of Islam and towards a more radical version.

There is a danger that circulating these stories will fuel the potential for attacks from far right racists capitalising on these sorts of incidents. The Dad’s Army fascists of Britain First and the EDL splinter group South East Alliance have been targeting mosques and other Islamic sites in Kent and London. We need to be vigilant against such attacks, and act in solidarity with Muslims in our community under siege. But it is also right that we are vigilant and critical about the ideas circulating in our community and that we work to make them marginal.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gaza/Warsaw Ghetto

Auschwitz wasn’t any kind of positive learning experience, and the overwhelmingly majority of the Jews who had anything to do with the Holocaust learned nothing from it because they were killed by it. It wasn’t a learning experience and it wasn’t an experience which made people better, or more left-wing, or more anti-racist. There was no silver lining to the Holocaust. --David Hirsh
I am not going to say anything here for now about the current, awful round of Israel/Palestine conflict. I haven't worked out my thoughts and feel too much anguish to be able to articulate a response. The denseness of the fog of this war - and the manifold untruths, fake pics, claims, counterclaims and viral lies circulating in the media and especially on social media - makes it hard to call what's actually going on.

But something that I do want to comment on is the inappropriate comparisons people make in discussing the situation.

For instance, I've seen pro-Israelis claim Israel is experiencing a 9/11 24/7, because of Hamas rockets, and I've seen anti-Israelis claim that Palestine is experiencing the same thing. Of course, the notion is ridiculous: 3000 people died in a single day in the September 2001 attack (not counting the rescue workers who died later as a result). 3000 is greater the death toll of the entire Second Intifada. Even Assad's Ghouta chemical attack killed only half that number; even Syria is not experiencing a 9/11 every day.

But for me the most pernicious comparison is of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. Pernicious because the two events are utterly incomparable, and additionally offensive because it uses Jewish suffering against Jews.

Melvin Goodman, one of those ex-CIA paleocon wingnuts beloved of Counterpunchwrote a stupid piece there comparing the two, for example noting that unemployment was a problem in the Ghetto, just like Gaza. Marginally smarter, Glenn Greenwald didn't invoke Warsaw, but did compare Netanyahu to Goebbels, then disingenuously added that to compare two things isn't to say they're the same. A retired academic writing for MondoWeiss uses the Warsaw Ghetto because an Auschwitz comparison is not quite right; what's going on in Gaza, thankfully, is "not exactly the same" as the actual death camps, but is comparable to the Ghetto.

Here's some more examples:

What do these comparisons actually mean?

The Twitter account RealTimeWWII, a project of history graduate Alwyn Collinson, has been tweeting the history of the Second World War as it unfolded on this day 72 years ago. It is now up to 1942: the Warsaw Ghetto. It makes for difficult reading.

In the Warsaw Ghetto, 400,000 Jews were forced into an area of 3.4 square km (1.3 square miles). Gaza is 139 square miles with a population of 1.8 million. The population density of Gaza is high: 13,069.1/sq mi, twice that of Tokyo (but much less than, say Manila's 111,000, Chennai's 67,000, Macau's 55,000, or Paris' 54,000). The population density of the Warsaw Ghetto was 307,692.

In the Ghetto, nearly a quarter died of starvation and disease (that's comparable to 450,000* Gazans). Of those that remained, most were taken to Treblinka and killed, along with 2000 Romani people and some million other Jews. 7000 Jews were taken from the Ghetto to the camp every day in the summer of 1942. Around 20,000 survived after less than three years.

That is what genocide looks like. I don't think that is what Gaza, however bad it gets, looks like. I understand your anguish about Gaza, but please don't make this kind of comparison.

For pointing out that these comparisons are not on, here is the kind of response one gets: