Friday, September 30, 2016

In praise of John Penney

I just read this great comment by John Penney on an excellent Left Futures post by Andy Newman about Labour's current antisemitism controversy. Newman is not always someone I agree with, especially on geopolitical issues, but on issues of anti-racism and anti-fascism he often calls it right. Anyway, here's John's comment:
Jackie Walker’s bizarre repeated insistence on playing some sort of sick competitive “top trumps” comparison between the WW2 anti Jewish Holocaust and the centuries long mass enslavement and holocaust of Africans, should be utterly unacceptable to socialists. Particularly when she repeats that utter historical lie, propagated mainly by the previously deeply, and openly, anti-Semitic Nation of Islam movement in the USA, that: 
many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean.”
“Chief Financiers” of the slave trade? This is an utter lie, with no historical basis whatsoever. It is an anti Semitic trope, playing into a long established seam of anti-Semitism within the US, but also, UK Black communities. 
Add this to her more recent, extraordinary comments, which show a staggeringly cavalier disregard for the facts about Holocaust Memorial Day, and the conclusion must be clear – Jackie Walker’s membership of both the Labour Party and Momentum is utterly unacceptable. 
As a lifelong anti fascist and internationalist socialist, and a Momentum organiser in North Shropshire, I feel personally offended to be in the same organisations as this person – and deeply concerned that the Momentum Leadership ever allowed Ms Walker to remain in Momentum after her first extraordinary outburst. 
If Jackie Walker isn’t expelled from Momentum after her latest offensive intervention (which appears to me to be simply an example of some strange deliberately controversial attention seeking behaviour) I’m sure many of us will have to reconsider our membership of Momentum.
It's always a pleasure to come across John's comments online. I've never met him, but he is one of the unsung heroes of post-war British militant anti-fascism and (via Anti-Fascist Action and Red Action) had a major indirect influence on my own political development half a generation later. If the left had more comrades like him, I'd feel a lot more at home here.

So, here are a few of his comments which I've bookmarked over the years. I've taken the liberty of adding a couple of hyperlinks and tidying up some of the punctuation.


On the SWP's betrayal of militant anti-fascism [2013]
In his ISN article the author, Richard Atkinson, freely admits that he knows nothing about the actual history of "The Squads" ! Which doesn't really give him much of a basis for a knowledge -based "riposte" to the SWP [Socialist Workers Party]'s current abuse of anyone engaging in more militant anti fascist activity than them, as "Squaddists". Maybe he should have done a wee bit of background research? Read "Beating the Fascists" perhaps? Of course in the quite specific SWP context the "Squaddism" (or "Squadism") issue was really only a late 70's issue - (they'd expelled all of us militant direct action anti fascists by late 1981/early 1982 in the usual "show trial" purge process), not a 1980's issue at all as his article incorrectly claims. So Atkinson hasn't really even got his relevant decade right ! By the early 1980's the ex SWP "Squadists" were all operating outside of the SWP, (many in Red Action), and many of these went on to form Anti Fascist Action. The SWP simply wasn't a player at all in militant anti fascism for most of the 1980's. 
Nevertheless, massive ignorance on Atkinson's part of the actual history of "Squadism" aside, it is interesting that the SWP today feels the need to drag up its ancient sneering misrepresentation of what "Squadism" was and is as its "respectability straightjacket" leaves it increasingly impotent and sidelined by new emerging direct action against violent street action by the likes of the drunken EDL yobs. Atkinson though, also certainly sees "squadism" very much through the distorted lens provided by the SWP's traditional fairy story of what it was about, spoon-fed to SWP members for decades now, and hasn't tried to "move beyond his programming" on that issue since leaving the SWP! Atkinson obviously thinks that "Squadism" is encompassed by his heroic one-off escapade assaulting a couple of shop assistants in a record shop! Rather than the endless 24/7 decades long broad activity spread of militant anti fascist activity, stretching from endless broad Left meeting and march stewarding, intelligence gathering, organising and stewarding popular music events on an anti racist theme, football fanzine producing, and yes, occasional violent street battles with fascist gangs, and sundry special violent, away from the public gaze, "targetted actions", that most old "Squadists" will recognise as the real substance of their anti fascist experience. 
Malatesta's forthcoming new book on 100 years of anti fascism will contain a long account by myself of the originating background in the early 1970's of the emergence of the phenomenon of "Squadism" in the UK, particularly the North West, as a necessary survival response to a then very real sustained physical threat to the entire Left, reformist and revolutionary, from organised fascist violence on a large scale. Hopefully the spate of recent books, "No Retreat", "Beating The Fascists", "Physical Resistance", and next Malatesta's tome, will slowly start to erase the totally inaccurate and self serving canard that the SWP has served up to misrepresent militant direct action anti fascism (as a component part of the essential wider anti fascist popular movement) over the years since their unprincipled late 1981 "Squadist Purge".
On the smugness of the anti-war left [2014]
[The] majority position of the (Far) Left of a blanket “No War/No Western Intervention under any circumstances” simply reveals itself as smug, sloganized rhetoric. 
If the fighting forces (including major female fighting units) of the Kurds and FSA are demanding, for tactical reasons, the supply of heavy weapons from ANYONE who will supply this – then our duty as socialist internationalists is to support their demands even though this obviously means that the close air support in particular will mainly be provided by the USA, and Britain, France, etc. 
As with the struggles of most of the guerrilla liberation movements against the fascist Axis powers in WWII, tactical necessity often required tactical short term alliances with the Western Allies – simply to get hold of the weaponry the liberation movements needed. The underlying liberal pacifism, political opportunism and grossly over-simplistic “anti imperialist” rhetoric of the “Stop the War” movement is shown up for the uncaring ivory tower pseudo radicalism it really is when holding to this rigid unconditional posture stops the Left supporting the desperate demands of genuinely oppressed peoples like the Kurds, currently locked in combat with rampant fascist aggression, for arms and air support.
On the anti-imperialism of fools [2015]
[This piece by Phil BC is an] important article, and one which the Left generally, and Jeremy in particular, need to get their heads around – which clearly explains the faulty Stalino/Trot politics behind the StWC’s very selective concentration on only the US-led intervention in Syria – whilst choosing to ignore the murderous Assad regime’s atrocities – which so far dwarf the barbaric atrocities of the clerico-fascists of Daesh by a considerable degree. 
One aspect of the really quite extraordinary political compromises the leadership of StWC [Stop The War]/SWP made with blatantly Islamic fundamentalist groups in the UK and elsewhere that also needs highlighting is the very crude financial factor driving the pretty financially bankrupt SWP by the 1980’s. The large full time "career cadre” of the SWP could no longer be financed by an ever shrinking membership, so I have no doubt that a lot of the collection buckets filled by the vast Stop the war demos ended up helping out the coffers of the SWP. 
Still, at least the SWP doesn’t seem to have behaved as badly as the now defunct WRP – who eventually ended up being financed by Gaddafi and Assad – and actually grassing up regime dissidents to their paymasters!
And in the same thread, in response to a pro-StWC comment:
Your arguments for simply ignoring StWC’s blatant soviet era sourced dishonest partiality about the huge anti working class crimes of vicious dictatorships (eg, Iran, Syria’s Assad, Gaddafi’s Libya – and Putin’s façade democracy Russian oligarchy) because, ludicrously, they are supposed to be part of some entirely fictional “axis of resistance” against US Imperialism, is all too familiar. This was always the bogus arguments put up by the Communist Party apologists for socialists to ignore the tyranny of the world’s various Stalinist tyrannies. 
Sadly the ever dwindling forces of Trotskyism have nowadays fully taken on board this “substitutionist” nonsense – whereby socialists are enjoined to ignore the huge crimes against fellow socialists and their working classes by the Iranian theocracy, and the Assad regimes – so we can all “focus on the only real worldwide enemy, ie Western Imperialism”. What compromising political piffle! 
The bourgeois press and Jeremy’s political enemies in the PLP are giving StWC a very hard time. Unfortunately it is the StWC leadership’s utterly compromised politics which makes them so vulnerable to these attacks. When StWC starts seriously campaigning against the Assad regime’s huge atrocities/barrel bombing/ gas attacks/its militia murder gangs – and the use of white phosphorous against civilian areas by the Russian airforce, and starts supporting the right of progressive secular Kurdish forces to secure close air support from whosoever THEY judge appropriate – then, and only then, all socialists will be able to support this currently highly dodgy organisation against the capitalist press. Not before. 
Just because right wing writers like Robert Conquest produced a lot of books detailing the huge crimes of Stalinism doesn’t mean that the Purges didn’t happen, James – or that they could be ignored and go unopposed by genuine socialists.
And:
As I described previously, the “trick” of the StWC in disseminating its highly partial view of the Middle East conflict is generally (leaving out the odd bonkers post on its website likening recruits to Daesh to the International Brigade, etc ), is to simply ignore the barrel bombing, mass murder and torture of the Assad regime, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by the Russians. StWC simply ignores the plight of the secular Kurdish forces facing the well armed, women-enslaving, mass murdering clerico-fascist army of Daesh. StWC hides behind an entirely cod “pacifism” – which of course actually means opposition ONLY to US led intervention. Which means that StWC actually refuses to support the right of the Kurdish fighters, the only mass force in the entire conflict adhering to secular, women's rights supporting, non sectarianism, and in many cases SOCIALIST in ideology, to draw down vital close air support from the US – even though this close air support definitely helped recapture Kobane and many other towns under Daesh’s barbaric rule only recently. 
The valiant Kurds are simply a political embarrassment to the StWC types – lost forever in their highly selective understanding of “imperialism”. i.e. it’s only a Western US-led phenomena – whereas the struggles for local and regional hegemony by the likes of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc, are “something else”. (Maybe a “progressive battle against the Great Satan” – which is in some incomprehensible way driving forward the world socialist agenda? Gawd help us from such “substitutionis” political blindness to the reality of sundry local and regional tyrannies – who would all shoot the, comfortably safe in their bourgeois democratic havens, StWC Lefties on sight!)
And lastly, StWC apologists, spare us the bogus definition of “imperialism” as always being intimately and essentially and solely tied up with the export of capital, a la Lenin’s book on the subject. Imperialism has of course many drivers, and the regional and local battles between powers like Russia and Iran and Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, etc, are of course also captured by the broader term of “imperialism” too. Trying to define “imperialism" so as to “prove” that the aggressive expansionism of Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Turkey, or Russia, isn’t a form of Imperialism – so we can just campaign against “US Imperialism" - is the worst sort of amoral sophistry. A dishonest debating technique very familiar to those of us old enough to have debated with slippery Eurocommunists in the 1970’s on the issue of whether a gross dictatorship like the USSR could still be considered “Socialist”...
And to Stephen Bell, of Socialist Action and treasurer of Stop the War:
And I’ve just noticed your "StW does not take sides in the war”. FFS, Stephen, You really justify not taking sides as between a secular, non sectarian, women’s rights supporting, genuine national liberation movement, the Kurds, and a clerico-fascist barbaric death cult, acting as a proxy for Turkish and Saudi regional ambitions – Daesh ? What sort of amoral armchair theorist “socialist” are you again?
On Stop The War [2015]
The StWC’s “political offer/analysis” leading up to the last Iraq War was steeped in over simplistic generalisations, and a crude pacifism – to enable the campaign to appeal to a huge range of potential supporters from the middle class liberal pacifist to Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islamic Fundamentalist Far rightists – with every variant of Left winger and anti interventionist Muslim in between. As such, it was hugely successful in mobilising hundreds of thousands around a simplistic but essentially accurate “It’s all about oil” and associated anti US Imperialism mantra. 
Unfortunately, underlying the simplistic but at the time of the Iraq War, tactically adequate, mobilising slogans, was all the usual gross soviet era sourced misrepresentations of what “imperialism” actually is today. Most of the activist Left, not just the Trot groups and the old Stalinists of the CPB, and their allies in the Labour Party, really did, and do seem to think that “US/Western Imperialism ” is the only major barrier to world peace and socialism. This has led them to imbue the most ghastly fascistic, totalitarian regimes with membership of the fantasy “axis of resistance” – not coincidentally usually made up of old allies of the USSR, eg, Gaddafi’s Libya, Assad’s Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, Serbia. The cost for the left in bestowing this ridiculously “substitutionist” “historically progressive” anti imperialist role on these universally ghastly regimes has been to turn a cynical blind eye to their systematic murderous oppression of their own working classes, socialists, and minority communities. Just as too many on the Left for generations made apologies for the huge crimes of the totalitarian Stalinist regimes masquerading as “socialist states”. 
In today’s Iraq/Syria/Middle East crisis, the simplistic cod pacifism of the StWC in the last Iraq war simply doesn’t cut it as a mobilising mantra any more. Of course the... conflict between Shia and Sunni, and their associated local and regional powers driving the current multi factional bloodbath, rather undercuts the daft simplification of StW that the whole thing is solely the outcome of the Iraq War, and British/French and US Imperialism (undoubtedly hugely implicated as these actors are, both historically and now). 
Sticking rigidly to the “it's all solely Western imperialism’s fault” requires StW to ignore the huge role of the lesser imperialisms of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia – and of course Russia. It also involves a systematic ignoring by those on the Left adhering to this simplistic nonsense, of the murderous role in creating the various fundamentalist Islamic groups of the actions of sectarian Assad Alawite/Baathist dictatorship – when over two years it systematically butchered all those attempting to campaign for democratic change in Syria through peaceful demonstrations. 
The StW Lefties have also found their simplistic “everything’s the fault of the West” mantra, and its cod pacifist “No to Western intervention under any circumstances” chant, has required it to totally ignore the needs of the only major secular, non sectarian, women’s rights supporting, often SOCIALIST, genuine national liberation movement in the region, namely the various factions of the oppressed Kurdish national movement. So when the secular, progressive Kurds ask for close air support from whoever will supply it to defend, for instance, Kobane – against the murderous women enslavers and pogromists of the clerico-fascist Daesh, the StWC Left simply ignores their plight. Better for the Kurds to be victims of Daesh and Turkish genocide than the Left has to grasp that sometimes the tactical needs of real people facing immanent destruction trumps the fanciful ideological constructs of UK Lefties – secure in our bourgeois democratic haven! 
Stop the War is today a politically totally compromised organisation, with long roots in accommodating to Islamic Fundamentalist groups, and now, by ignoring its dire role, also giving cover to the continued crimes of the Assad regime and its cynical Russian imperialist backers. The Left needs to rethink its analysis, and form a more principled, tactically flexible, campaigning vehicle to challenge the UK government’s cynical role in the Middle East – including its absolute refusal to challenge the huge role of Turkey and the Gulf states in supporting the Sunni fundamentalists in the conflict – including the clerico-fascists of Daesh. 
Any movement of the UK Left which cannot support the right of the Kurds for national self determination and their right for arms and assistance to fight off the murderous Daesh fascists, and Turkey, is simply not fit for purpose...
Jeremy was asked twice in the Parliamentary debate on the Syrian bombing by other MP’s about the need to directly support the Kurds. In both cases he refused a clear answer – whilst restating his “30 year support for Kurdish self determination ” ! Of course the reality is that in Kobane and across the entire extended Kurd versus Daesh Iraqi/Syrian battlefront it is only the provision of close air support by the (undoubtedly imperialist) USA and others that has enabled the various, mainly poorly armed, Kurdish forces to hold off the extremely well armed (by the their Turkish and Saudi sponsors) Daesh fascists. 
So in this situation the selective cod pacifism of the StWC is not “innocent” of involvement in innocent murder and enslavement, anymore than the continual ignoring of the monstrous crimes of the Assad regime crimes – refusing to campaign for an end to the regime’s indiscriminate barrel bombing of rebel areas, and now the indiscriminate bombing by their Russian (imperialist) allies, leaves StWC with clean hands. 
Refusing to recognise a crime is being committed and then standing self righteously aside – rather than at least offering solidarity to the innocent victims though active campaigning, is the worst form of political cowardice. StWc in its cynical selective sole focus on the (undoubted) crimes of Western imperialism is actually, by default, providing ideological cover to the Assad regime and its Iranian and Russian imperialist allies...

[Meanwhile] Bomber Benn’s and Eagle’s opportunist mirroring of the cynical narrative of the Tories, had nothing to offer the Syrian or Kurdish peoples. Benn, as with the Tories was completely unwilling to nail responsibility for the massive ongoing arms and financial support for Daesh and other extreme fundamentalist Islamic groups on Turkey and the Gulf states – as part of the proxy war being fought between themselves as Sunni powers against their Shia (and Alawite) powers of Assad’s regime, Iran, and Iraq’s sectarian Shia government (plus the cynical imperialist power, Russia – desperate to retain its Mediterranean warm water military port/base. 
Without tackling the underlying regional proxy war within which Daesh thrives, and the need to get rid of the murderous sectarian Assad Baathist tyranny, there can be no peace process in the area. In fact the unravelling of the post 1918 current state boundaries may have gone so far now that no solution on current boundaries is possible. 
So, no, not being trapped in your rigid stalinoid ideological framework, with its narrow soviet-era definition of “imperialism” – and with no illusions that the murderous Assad dictatorship is, or was ever, either a socialist state, or an “anti imperialist” power, I don’t find it necessary to either support the current Tory/Benn barren “do a meaningless bit of bombing as an act of pure theatre” “strategy”, or in contrast, refuse to support the tactical needs of the progressive Kurdish forces to draw down air support and arms from whosoever THEY choose. 
The issue is what is tactically appropriate for the real people fighting fascist tyranny NOW in the area – not fitting everything that occurs into a rigid, pre-set ideological narrative – based on entirely bogus soviet era “Stalino-Marxism”.
On what the left should say about the Middle East [2014]
Maybe our Left political demands need to be more “case by case” humanitarian demands at present given our larger political irrelevancy – e.g. “end the blockade of Gaza – humanitarian aid for Gaza – end the seizures of Palestinian Arab land ” – rather than the sterile unrealisable ultimatism of slogans like “Israel must cease to exist”(in its various less openly stated forms). Or "protect the ethnic minorities currently under attack and facing extermination in Northern Iraq” – even though this inevitably does imply intervention by the capitalist imperialist powers – who for the entire 20th century and more recently have been a major cause of the overall problem in the region. 
Despite this – with millions of people facing death and starvation  – the bulk of the British public, even our Left-leaning working class target group, will rightly expect a Left party with a moral humanitarian core philosophy to make demands which aim to help to save the masses of humanity in danger NOW – rather than aiming only to score cheap political points against “US Imperialism”.

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