Saturday, December 09, 2017

Eight reasons not to let George Galloway back in the Labour Party

Back in 2015 I wrote a post with seven reasons to stop Galloway getting elected in Bradford West. As Andrew Murray, recent Communist Party of Britain member and close Jeremy Corbyn associate, has floated the idea that Galloway should be allowed back in the Labour Party, I've re-written that post, removing the two Bradford-specific reasons, but adding three more.

1. Galloway is a shill for dictators. Last time Galloway was an MP, he was , the third highest-earning MP in parliament. Why? Mainly, he is appearing on TV stations owned by authoritarian regimes: Iran's Press TV; the Kremlin-run RT (formerly Russia Today - on which see Nick CohenOliver BulloughJames Bloodworth); and the Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen, which is supports Assad's murderous regime in Syria and is linked to Hezbollah (in fact, some claim it is owned by a cousin of Assad, Rami Makhlouf). These stations are not just based in authoritarian countries; they are PR mouthpieces for authoritarian regimes. Not only do they systematically distort the truth in the geopolitical interests of these extreme right-wing regimes, but they also regularly host Holocaust revisionists, 9/11 deniers, British fascists and other cranks. Galloway's politics fit in well with this. Back in the 1990s, he praised the "indefatigable" Saddam Hussein. In 2006, he famosly "glorified" Hezbollah and the Shia insurrection in Iraq. In 2005, Galloway visited Syria praised Assad as a "reformer" and "the last Arab ruler". In 2013, when Assad used chemical weapons on Ghouta, Galloway denied it was possible, saying Assad wasn't "mad enough" - a phrase he apparently repeated this year when the regime used chemical weapons on Khan Shaykhun - and speculated that Israel was behind it. And more recently, he has fully endorsed the Russian airstrikes that have killed thousands more Syrians.

2. Whether or not Galloway is personally antisemitic, he contributes to an atmosphere in which antisemitic ideas move in to the mainstream. You'll know that a couple of months ago Galloway launched a libel claim against a Jewish journalist who suggested he might be antisemitic. I wouldn't suggest Galloway is personally antisemitic, but he seems to have a lot of time for people who are, and he seems very happy to cultivate an atmosphere around himself in which antisemitism can flourish. Galloway has championed antisemitic Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon (he reads Atzmon's book to his wife in bed, apparently.)  Respect has had to apologise for antisemites again and again. In Bethnal Green in 2005, his opponent Oona King said "I have been told by several people that members of Respect have told them not to vote for me because I am Jewish". His supporters pelted her with eggs as she joined mourners at a memorial to the Jewish war dead in the East End. In Bradford in 2010-15, he declared an "Israel-free zone" and refused to debate Israelis. Before Galloway, Bradford Muslims saved its synagogue. By 2015, in an atmosphere nurtured by Galloway (and his Lib Dem twin in Bradford East) Bradford became a less comfortable place for Jews than it should be, as Ben Judah's amazing investigation showed. Galloway tweeted about Netanyahu celebrating his Muslim opponent's coming victory and retweeted his followers' aggressive tweets about the synagogueIn fact, many of his most active supporters - people he regularly retweets - come across as antisemites, Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists - and antisemites have been at the heart of his coterie for some time. Nasreen Khan, the ex-Respect activist who got onto a council candidate shortlist in Bradford before being revealed as an antisemite, was steeped in the culture Galloway created.

3. Galloway is a bully. Whether or not Galloway was being libelled when he was called an antisemitic, his response to the charge - immediately sending threatening legal letters - is a good example of his pattern of bullying. We can see this bullying in his interactions with Israeli students and his interactions with Syrian oppositionists. We can see it in his response to "ThingGate", the light-hearted tweet by a local small business which he threatened as if he the feudal boss of Bradford. In fact, we can see it throughout his pompous and testosterone-soaked social media style, including even his tweets to me

Most recently, we've seen his bullying in his interactions with his parliamentary opponent. Naz Shah was forced by her parents into marriage as a teenager, and her account of this has gone viral. At a very heated hustings event in Bradford, Galloway revealed that his agents in Pakistan had tracked down her marriage certificate, calling her a liar. 

4. Galloway is a rape apologist. His claim that Naz Shah's marriage was not forced because her parents consented (even though she didn't) was, as Huma Munshi puts it, "playing politics with Shah’s history as a forced marriage survivor." It indicates how reactionary Galloway's sexual politics are. Not surprisingly for someone with multiple overlapping marriages to increasingly young women (some civil, some Islamic), who works for Putin and the mullahs of Iran as his day job, and who is deeply soaked in socially conservative Catholic morals. The most striking incident was when he claimed that even if allegations against his fellow Russia Today employee Julian Assange were true, these would not constitute rape but rather just "bad sexual etiquette". Galloway just does not get that marriage without consent is rape, that sex with some not conscious and therefore not able to say no is rape. In short, he is effectively an apologist for rape.

5. Galloway is anti-Labour. While being anti-Labour isn't anywhere near of the same order of odiousness as misogyny, antisemitism or support for fascist dictators, it is a good reason not to let someone into the party. Galloway, recall, was expelled in 2003, not for opposing the Iraq war (several other party members, and indeed MPs, opposed the war without expulsion), but for inciting Iraqis to fight British troops, inciting British troops to defy orders, inciting Plymouth voters to reject Labour MPs, and threatening to stand against Labour. After his expulsion, he didn't try to fight his for Glasgow seat as an independent, but instead set about working with the fundamentally anti-democratic Socialist Workers Party to create a new party, Respect. Respect, building on the organisational reach of Islamist activists linked to Islamic Forum Europe (supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, the South Asian fascist party which collaborated with the Pakistani army to conduct a genocide in Bangladesh in 1971, as Adam Barnett sums it up), created a rival party in Tower Hamlets and Bradford, based on social conservatism, corrupt patronage and anti-war and anti-Zionist rhetoric. Tower Hamlets is still recovering from the damage this caused at municipal level. He has stood against Labour multiple times since, typically against minority ethnic Labour candidates a black woman in Bethnal Green in 2005, an Asian man in Bradford in 2010, an Asian woman in Bradford in 2015, the first Muslim mayor of London in 2016, and an Asian man in Manchester Gorton in 2017. In the recent elections, he claimed to be have been the "real" Corbyn candidate, but it is striking that he announced his candidacies before Labour selected its candidates.  

6. Galloway's politics are divisive, communalistic and sectarian. Galloway has portrayed himself as a Muslim in Bradford and Bethnal Green, for instance in 2005 accusing Labour of pursuing a "war on Muslims" or in Bradford putting out a leaflet addressing: "Voters of the Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage in Bradford West", in which he said:
"God KNOWS who is Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for... I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully."
Although he reprised those themes in 2017, highlighting Kashmir and Palestine in his Gorton by-election campaign, since the Arab Spring, he has increasingly adopted Putin and Assad's Islamophobic and particularly anti-Sunni rhetoric, for instance denouncing the Syrian uprising as "the head-chopping, heart-eating maniacs of ISIS and al-Qaeda [who have] taken up arms against [the] regime." So even as he was talking about Kashmir to Muslim voters, he was dog-whistling to white voters that  "an all-Asian shortlist hand-picked by Keith Vaz is just not good enough for the people of Gorton", i.e. that the right man for the job is a white man.

7. Galloway belongs on the far right, not the left. This increasing anti-Sunni rhetoric, along with his hostility towards Jewish causes, admiration for Ba'athism, and intense social conservatism mean he has a lot in common with the hard right. So it was no surprise to see him getting along famously with Nigel Farage as they campaigned together for Brexit. It was no surprise to see him welcoming Donald Trump's inauguration in January.
It was no surprise that Farage associate Arron Banks' Westmonster magazine would bankroll his Gorton election bid in June.

8. The hat.


Also read:
I almost didn't do this post, as Phil did one along similar lines earlier in the week. His is better of course.


Friday, November 03, 2017

On Moshe Machover's Labour Party membership

Veteran Israeli-born Marxist and former member of the  Moshe Machover authored a leaflet on antisemitism, Zionism and Nazism circulated at Labour Party conference in Brighton in September 2017. The leaflet: alleged an Israeli-organised conspiracy to silence criticisms of Israel by using false allegations of antisemitism; selectively quoted unrepresentative German Zionists in the 1930s (when German Jews were in abject fear but did not yet know where Nazi antisemitism would lead) to portray Zionism in general as pro-Nazi; and selectively quoted a senior Nazi to portray the Nazis as pro-Zionist.

Machover was investigated for antisemitism, but in the course of the investigation it was noticed the leaflet was published by a group ("Labour Party Marxists" (LPM) - a brand used by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee), better known for their newspaper the Weekly Worker) deemed incompatible with Labour Party membership.

After four weeks, the party concluded that he did not support these organisations in a way that would lead to automatic suspension:
The Party remains of the view that any reasonable person looking at the evidence available in public (which includes at least one video of you speaking at an event sponsored by CPGB and LPM, 44 articles published with your permission by CPGB’s own publication and primary form of campaigning, the Weekly Worker and 17 videos of you speaking published on CPGB’s website as of 6 October 2017) would conclude that you have given support to at least one, if not both, of these organisations over a period of ten years including while you were a member of the Labour Party. Such support is incompatible with Labour Party membership, so thank you for clarifying that this was not your intention to provide such support.
And the Labour leader's office issued a statement saying they are "glad" that Machover's "auto-suspension" has been rescinded.

Below here I have embedded a Storify including my comments at the time of the suspension and links around the reinstatement. First, just briefly, a few thoughts on the case.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

This is the face of the alt-left

I just did a quick Tumblr post on the alt-left, as revealed by responses to Morgan Freeman's call for Russia's manipulation of US politics to be properly investigated. All the usual suspects, including George Galloway, Len Pen supporter Sarah Abdallah, etc.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What is anti-fascism?

The word "antifa" - not so long ago an arcane term in English, used mainly by anarchists to refer to a very specific form of militant anti-fascism that comes out of the German autonomist tradition - has, in the age of Trump, become a widely used, but also widely misunderstood and misused term. The right has done most to popularise the term. For them, "antifa" (often illustrated by fake pictures) are the "real fascists", because they cover their faces and advocate violence.

Liberals, centrists and smart anti-Trump neocons have jumped on the same bandwagon, arguing that antifa are at least just as bad as the alt-right. Meanwhile, over on the brosocialist dirtbag/Salon/Baffler/Intercept edge of the (alt-?)left, anti-fascists are condemned for attacking Trump and the alt-right when, as we all should know, the real problem is Hillary Clinton and centrism (some examples documented by Comrade Motopu here). Most recently, ageing celebrity anarchist professor Noam Chomsky has weighed in, condemning antifa as a gift to the right and bizarrely equating it to the New Left terrorist cell the Weather Underground (see this excellent critique from libcom here).

The sudden interest in anti-fascism in general and antifa in particular has driven a spike in clicks on - and frenzy of edits to - the Wikipedia pages about these topics. I started contributing to the editing there, but it's a bit too confusing, so I thought I'd write this instead.


First, anti-fascism is something more specific than opposition to fascism.

The term "fascism", in our broad culture, has become almost meaningless. When everyone calls whoever they like least a "fascist", opposition to fascism is the mainstream ideological norm, but tells you nothing. Anti-fascists, in contrast, are obsessive about precision in defining and understanding fascism, in limiting its meaning. (Six months ago, I gave some pointers to that effort here.)

Anti-fascism, although not homogeneous, is a movement with a commitment to a particular body of ideas; it has a specific body of traditions, a specific literature, a distinct genealogy.


Second, anti-fascism cannot be reduced to antifa.

Antifa, in my view, should be seen as a specific current within militant anti-fascism. Militant anti-fascism has many sources and has had many manifestations over the years. In the UK, which I'm most familiar with, that runs from the Battle of Cable Street to the 43 Group to the 62 Group to the  Battle of Lewisham to Anti-Fascist Action and beyond. (This recent AK book is about their story, and also about the parallels in other countries.) The "antifa" current - although its history is longer than is often realised - is just a chapter in this larger narrative.

Militant anti-fascism is defined primarily by its willingness to physically resist fascism - but it is not a form of thrill-seeking adventurism. It takes violence seriously and does not resort to it lightly. And militant anti-fascists always engage in ideological struggle against fascism as well as physical force. If you're criticising individual thugs who beat up random strangers for next to no reason, you're not criticising anti-fascists, you're criticising individual thugs who think it gives them licence for their thuggery.

And militant anti-fascism is itself only one of the main forms anti-fascism has taken, alongside liberal anti-fascism. (Liberal anti-fascism is exemplified by figures such as Benedetto Croce, Primo Levi and Norberto Bobbio.) There are also examples of conservative anti-fascists, such as the group of anti-appeasement Tories, some associated with the Spectator magazine, who chose in 1938 to work with Communists and anti-Munich Labour politicians such as A.D. Lindsay rather than their own party leadership. And there has also been Christian anti-fascism and feminist anti-fascism.


How, then, can we describe this diverse but distinct thing, anti-fascism? Thanks to Doug Weller for the following quotes from Christopher Vials' 2014 Haunted by Hitler: Liberals, the Left, and the Fight against Fascism in the United States on what he calls "American antifascism", which capture it well:
Though the variants of American antifascism are many, it generally posits fascism as a force slumbering in the very bones of all modern nations, a menace that arises as reactionary social movements create vast public spaces for those who overidentify with the dominant hierarchies. Though originating in the 1930s, it has changed shape over time to meet new historical conditions and has resisted full incorporation into the celebratory narratives of the Greatest Generation and the American way."
Vials also mentions briefly the attempt (which I would think of as analogous to the regressive left's equation of conservatives such as George Bush with Hitler) by groups such as the Tea Party to label the left as fascist or George Bush conflating Saddam with Hitler: "The fundamental novelty of recent rightist meldings of Hitler and Obama is their place in the cultural field: they are heard more loudly because left-wing antifascism has diminished in volume as the social movements that produced and sustained it recede from memory." Recovering that memory is therefore urgent.

Weller says Vials discusses the American anti-fascism (as opposed to Communist antifascism) of Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, which drew on  the antiifascist tradition "as a frame to interpret populist, right-wing nationalism". Vials writes that:
Antifascism in the sense I use the term does not refer to just any aversion to Nazis, Blackshirts, and their perceived American equivalents. The antifascism I trace is a more specific modality, more familiar to Europeans than to North Americans, marked off from other rejections of fascism by its intensity and historicity. By intensity I mean it is not a reflex aversion, nor does it use fascist as a casual slur. 
For antifascists, fascism is not one problem among many but a force so menacing and so present that it requires concentrated effort to check. It is an urgency that inspires the creation of serious, detailed cultural work aimed at revealing its social bases and possible sites of emergence in civil society. And what I call antifascism possesses historicity in the sense that it comes within range of accurately identifying its target."
The historian Dan Stone makes a related argument in his account of anti-Stalinist German and Italian exiles in Britain in the 1930s, such as Aurel Kolnai, Franz Borkenau and Sebastian Haffner, whose sharp, experience-honed understanding of continental fascism helped, via platforms like the Left Book Club, to shape British militant and liberal anti-fascism.


Anti-fascism has been at times co-opted by Stalinism (although at various points in its history Stalinism actively collaborated with the Nazis - see this thread on Twitter and the pplswar thread it links to). This enables conservatives, liberals and centrists to equate anti-fascism with totalitarianism and fascism itself.

Heterodox Marxist historian Enzo Traverso rejects this equation carefully, as quoted here by Alan Wald:
“It is certainly possible to criticize the intellectuals who maintained the myth of the USSR for having lied to themselves and contributed to deceiving the antifascist movement, making themselves propagandists for a totalitarian regime instead of the antifascist movement’s critical conscience.”... Acutely conscious that an amnesiac socialist tradition is a fragile one, Traverso makes no bones about affirming that, even in the mid-1930s, “it was possible to be both antifascist and anti-Stalinist, and that the fascination exercised by Stalinism at this time over the antifascist intelligentsia was not irresistible.” (267)
Retrieving the anti-fascist tradition requires a reckoning with this complex enmeshing - neither shrugging it off (as too many on the left do), nor using it to dismiss the anti-fascist legacy.


Finally, a caveat: as my friend Jim Wald pointed out, the potential danger in drawing too close a line between today's anti-fascists and those of some earlier periods is that it can glamourise the contemporary far right, who are far less significant than the fascists of yesteryear. Despite the undeniable rise and increasing boldness of the far right in recent years, I really don't think we are in some kind of 1938 scenario. However, it is wrong to think of the old fascists as somehow "real" and the new ones as somehow "not real". Today's fascists are not on the verge of power - but they are a real and present danger.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Is Stand Up To Racism and SWP front?

Tired of being asked to "prove" that SUTR is a front organisation for the Socialist Workers Party, I made this quick Storify:

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Ken's sources disagree with him

UPDATE: As you'll have seen by now, Ken was found guilty of bringing the party into disrepute, but given an extra year suspension. I've added a conclusion in bold at the bottom of this post. 

As I write this Ken Livingstone is awaiting a judgement on his expulsion from the Labour Party for bringing it into disrepute by his obsessive invocation of Hitler. Note, the charge is not antisemitism (I don't think Ken is "an antisemite", although he seems to have something of an obsession with Jews these days). Nor is the charge getting historical facts wrong, so in a sense this post, which is about facts and their interpretation, has no bearing on the separate question of whether he should be expelled or not.

Ken has seized on some facts about Nazi-Zionist co-operation, and interpreted them in a very particular way. I have already pointed out that his interpretation is at odds with his first source - the highly controversial and fascist-promoted pseudo-historian Lenni Brenner.

This week Ken has been citing, instead of Brenner, a 1970s article by Francis Nicosia. The trouble is, while Nicosia does detail a lot of co-operation between individual Zionists and parts of the Nazi machine, his interpretation of the facts is sharply at odds with Ken's.

Remember, Ken's claim is that Hitler "was supporting Zionism - this is before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews." So, to be clear, that's Hitler, not the Nazi Economics Ministry, and supporting Zionism, i.e. the aspiration for a Jewish national state in Palestine, and not (some) Zionist organisations. However, here's Nicosia, who has earlier in the article described how the Haavara Agreement was developed by Nazi officials without Hitler's involvement, with Hitler finally endorsing the project in 1937:
Hitler's initiatives in 1937 and early in 1938 in the emigration question and Palestine can best be understood in terms of Uwe Dietrich Adam's phrase Hitlers Verknupfung von Kriegsnlanung und Rassenpolitik. There is little likelihood that Hitler troubled himself to any extent with the theories and arguments of those involved in the debate over Palestine in 1937; nor is there any evidence that he expected an independent Jewish state to emerge as a result of the Peel Commission recommendations, or that he believed that German emigration policy affected the course of events in Palestine one way or the other. There can be little doubt, however, that Hitler's initiatives in all aspects of Jewish policy, especially after 1937, were prompted by the ideological requirements of a National Socialist Weltanschauung which made racial doctrine the ultimate basis of German foreign policy. That foreign policy was geared toward an eventual war for the achievement of a new racial order in Europe; its prerequisite was a new racial order in Germany. However, by early 1938, this had not yet been accomplished. The decision to continue pushing Jews to Palestine was part of an effort in 1938 and 1939 to complete the new racial order in Germany before embarking on a war for a new racial order in Europe. It was to be accomplished through the final elimination of Jewish participation in the economy, and through the forced mass-emigration schemes of the SS.  
On several occasions after 1933, Hitler expressed his intention to wage war to achieve his aims in Europe. In his speech before the Reichswehr generals on 3 February 1933, his address to an assembly of Gauleiter and Party officials in Munich in September 1935, his memorandum announcing the Four-Year Plan in August 1936, and his famous Reichskanzlei meeting of 5 November 1937, Hitler indicated that he would go to war in the near future. He also believed that a domestic consolidation was a prerequisite to waging war successfully. As early as 1924, Hitler had asserted that only nach dem innern Sieg would Germany be in a position to break die eiserne Fessel seines Susseren Feindes. In his Zweites Buch, Hitler described the racial foundations of National Socialist foreign policy objectives, and the domestic pre-conditions for the success of that policy. In January, 1937, Hitler again referred to the necessary domestic ends in the Jewish question for the successful attainment of Germany's future political and military objectives. Finally, in a speech in Munich on 24 February 1938, Hitler alluded to imagined gains reaped by world Jewry in past wars, and indicated that the Jews of Germany would no longer be in a position to aid the conspiracy from within.  
By early 1938, the Jews of Germany had already been removed from the political, social and cultural life of the nation as a result of legislation between 1933 and 1935. Yet, with some restrictions, Jewish participation in the economy continued to be tolerated through 1937. Moreover, there were still some 350,000 Jews in Germany by the end of 1937, although upwards of 130,000 had emigrated by the early weeks of 1938. The so-called Jewish question had not yet been solved in Germany after five years of Nazi rule; this fact was evident to the Nazi leadership as it prepared for a war which would dramatically transform the scope of that question.
What this means is clear. Hitler belatedly came to support the agreement (possibly decisively, when other Nazis were questioning it) and Jewish emigration to Palestine at a very particular point. This point was not "before he went mad", but rather after it looked like the policy did not run the danger of creating a Jewish national state (something which Hitler and other Nazi thinkers strongly opposed), and before the Nazi state had the ability to move on to Hitler's ideal solution to the Jewish question. That preferred solution was of course elimination, the solution that was already outlined in Mein Kampf before Hitler had even come to power, on which the Nazis embarked once war started in 1939.


Ken has also embellished Nicosia's claims. Ken says “The SS set up training camps so that German Jews who were going to go there could be trained to cope with a very different sort of country when they got there [Palestine].” Nicosia only says the SS approved of the Zionist policy of setting up training camps.

And now Ken says the "Gestapo worked with Israeli agents in Mossad”, which Nicosia obviously doesn't say, as Mossad was not formed until 1949. (Nicosia refers intead to Mossad LeAliyah Bet, a completely separate agency, focused on illegal immigration into Palestine, disbanded I think in 1952.)


Ken's original claim - Hitler "was supporting Zionism - this is before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews" - was historically illiterate, misleading, inaccurate and offensive. Historically illiterate, misleading and inaccurate because the narrative it sketches simply does not accord with the weight of the complex evidence we have. Offensive because of the flippant way it deals with the genocide of the Jews, not to mention mental health issues. And offensive because it effectively uses the Holocaust against its victims, the Jews. 

Ken could easily at this point have simply clarified, apologised, said that he misspoke, that he was speaking off the cuff on the radio and then stated a more careful position, e.g. that there was some evidence of co-operation between Zionist officials and Nazi officials. Instead, he doubled down. He compounded the offensiveness. This is what brought the party into disrepute. He became an embarrassment, clutching at straws to put Hitler and "Zionism" together. He kept talking about "collaboration", a pretty loaded term, as a description for efforts made to save the lives of German Jews.  

First he reached for a discredited pseudo-historian favoured by the far right, Lenni Brenner. When it became clear Brenner was, as Ken admitted, "not authoritative", he turned to the internet and to Nicosia's obscure but authoritative 1970s article - but he cherry-picked them for facts that fit his narrative. Now, in defending himself, he is not even getting these facts straight, throwing in references like "SS camps", "Gestapo" and "Mossad" which hit buttons with those with a conspiracist worldview.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Back to the 1980s with Straight Left

Image result for "back to the future" stalin
Back in October, in my friendly advice to Jeremy Corbyn, I suggested that the no.1 priority for the party was to get a communications strategy. I suggested that putting Seumas Milne in charge of strategy and communication was at best a disaster, at worst a sign that fighting factional battles (not winning elections) was all Team Corbyn wanted to do. But I optimistically added that rumours that Milne's days are numbered were an encouraging sign we might have gotten past that. Sadly, the rumours turned out not to be true, and instead of losing Milne we have lost Simon Fletcher, his ideologically questionable (Socialist Action linked) but quite competent deputy.

Fletcher's replacement is Steve Howell, brought in from a PR firm in South Wales. Howell has not been politically active for a while, as far as I can see, but does have history: like Milne and Andrew Murray he was active in the Stalinist faction Straight Left. Howell, then based in Sheffield, led its Yorkshire group. Their faction was called "the artists" - most of its key figures were Oxbridge types, in contrast to the salt of the earth workerists who led the main rival tankie faction, the Communist Campaign Group.

At that point in the 1980s, hardcore Stalinists (known as "tankies" for their support for the tanks sent in by the Soviets to crush dissent in its various satellites) were fighting to keep the Communist Party of Great Britain loyal to the memory of Uncle Joe Stalin, who was seen as something of an embarrassment by its Eurocommunist leadership. Straight Left sought to re-orient the party towards operating in the Labour Party and trade union movement. 

Some of the denunciations of its tactics by rival Stalinists from the time are amusing, but also a bit sinister now it finally has achieved getting some of its activists into key positions in the Labour Party. 

This is from the ultra-tankie Leninist newspaper (forerunner of the Weekly Worker) in 1983:

And this is about Straight Left's strategy of covertly using the Labour Party rather than Communist Party as the vehicle for promoting Stalinism, a strategy the Leninist denounced as "liquidationism":
I have no idea if Howell has, like Murray, remained true to his Stalinist roots. (His schoolmate and old comrade in Hendon Young Communists, Peter Mandelson, clearly hasn't.)

What is worrying, though, is that, like Murray, Howell seems to be rather soft on Syria's dictator Assad. 
Most recently, he's tweeted support of Tulsi Gabbard, the Trump-aligned and David Duke-endorsed US politician and her plan to stop the US funding Syria's rebels and civil society. When called out on this by Twitter, he responded with this tweet:

That's a link to a HuffPo blogpost by a completely oddball blogger who in 2014 was endorsing the far right Rand Paul for American president. The lack of judgement involved in thinking this was a decent link to back up your views is a bit of concern in Labour's new campaign chief.


Image credit: International Stalinist Society

Friday, February 24, 2017

The ethics of punching fascists, continued

File:Partizanke na Dinari (1943).jpg
Some women who punched fascists, Yugoslavia, 1943
I wrote four very short throwaway posts on punching fascists these last few weeks, since that viral video of alt-right pin-up Richard Spencer getting punched. I posted them on my Tumblr site rather than here, as I scratched them out on the bus on my phone, and they have a kind of tentative, provisional nature, so I wasn't sure I wanted to post them here. But I'll link to them now:

1. On punching fascists
2. A bit more on punching fascists
3. Defining fascism
4. Why I think we are already under attack

I got a lot of stick for this on Twitter, mainly from liberal friends. Almost all of it was a variation on the trite and logically flawed responses that "it's a slippery slope: what's to stop you punching other people you don't like?" or "punching fascists is a bit fascist itself isn't it?"

However, Tom Owolade, one of the smartest people on the internet, has written a far stronger response to views like mine, and I am going to try to take a bit more care in responding to him. It's a great post, and the final paragraph is an especially fine piece of writing.

Tom starts by noting the amorphousness of the category "alt-right", which I think he is correct to say. "Alt-right" and "fascist", as well as "far right" and "Nazi", in my view, are overlapping but not identical categories. (This is a really good piece I read this morning by Matthew N Lyons on the "alt-right" and where it sits in the constellation of right-wing movements.) In what follows, I will defend some forms of violence against fascists specifically and not against the right in general or the "alt-right" in particular. I am not defending attacks on Milo or his supporters, nor the specific attack on Spencer that started this whole thing off (although I think Spencer probably does qualify as a fascist).

Then Tom does a brilliant job of elegantly setting out some of the defences of punching fascists, some of which are ones I'd subscribe to:
"The genocidal legacy of fascism is too potent to brush away as a historical memory. Fascism doesn’t respect the norms and values that underpin a liberal society: it celebrates violence and aggression; it rejects tolerance and peace; it is assertively anti-rational. Invoking liberal tolerance when talking about an intolerant belief-system is scandalously myopic, so the argument goes. If someone doesn’t recognise the basis by which you can articulate your liberal vision, denies the basis of black and Jewish and brown people’s claim to moral legitimacy, threatens the safety of minority groups through eliminationist rhetoric, this doesn’t constitute a mere disagreement — this is irreducibly dangerous rhetoric. It is thus justifiable to punch and to prevent, by any means necessary, people like Richard Spencer from speaking publicly."
He then holds this argument up to some scrutiny, based on actual evidence, and finds it wanting on many counts, and it is this part of the post I will respond to.

There are,  in my view, a number of flaws in Tom's case. Here are some of them.

1. Punching fascists is not a form of "protest"

Tom frames his argument mainly in terms of whether violent protest is effective. He martials some evidence that it isn't. However, I don't think this is at all relevant to the matter at hand. "Protest" is designed to persuade authorities not to do something, or perhaps to persuade publics in order to indirectly persuade authorities. I would agree with Tom that violence is generally counter-productive as a form of protest.

However, punching fascists is not protest. It is not sending a message to the government; it is delivering a message to the fascists themselves. Or, rather, it is not communicating a message so much as performing an action: to practically stop fascists from organising in our communities.

2. Support for violent "protest" does not preclude support for non-violent "protest" too

Tom compounds this mistake by adding this: "A corollary of [the belief in violent resistance] is that non-violent resistance is a less effective way of dealing with far-right politics." He frames a choice: violent or non-violent. In fact, in reality, few who advocate violent resistance to fascism advocate only violent resistance. Here's one example, Britain's Anti-Fascist Action from the late 1980s to 2000, as related by academic Nigel Copsey:
"[AFA] applied a ‘twintrack’ strategy: physical confrontation combined with ideological struggle. AFA not only wanted to restrict, contain, and ultimately eradicate fascist activity through a physical war of attrition with fascists on the streets, it also counteracted fascist propaganda, typically through public-speaking, organising concerts and other events, and leafleting working-class housing estates."
My view is that fascism can not be defeated without violence, but it can not be defeated only by violence.

3. Arresting the electoral rise of fascism is not the only thing that needs to happen to stop fascism

Tom's first case study for showing the ineffectiveness of violent protest is the defeat of the National Front in 1979, which he attributes (using Chris Husbands in Marxism Today) to Thatcher stealing their thunder and winning right-wing voters. This is undoubtedly true (although the early work of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism also buoyed up an anti-racist popular culture that blocked the growth of the NF among the young - see this post by Dave Renton on this debate). We are seeing the same thing now with the collapse of UKIP (not fascist, but hard right) as Theresa May's Tories revive an authoritarian populist form of Conservatism. Tom notes that the BNP also fell as society became less racist and as its voters switched to the more electable UKIP.

The problem with this analysis is it sees stopping fascism only in terms of stopping fascism rising to power electorally. If that was our only aim, supporting authoritarian populists in mainstream parties would be the best strategy. But actually, fascism is not only dangerous in power; it is dangerous as a movement within liberal democracies. It is dangerous as a movement because it works by inflicting intimidation, terror and violence on the groups it despises (e.g. the Jews of Whitefish, Montana).

If we look at British history, we see two different types of far right strength. Generally, when we have had Labour governments, the far right has attempted to work electorally: the NF in the late 1970s, the BNP in the 2000s. Under Conservative governments, we have seen violent street movements: Combat 18 and the BNP in the 1990s, the (proto-fascist rather than fascist) EDL in the 2010s. These are two different sorts of threats, which need different tactics and strategies.

4. The psychological motivation for taking a moral position (e.g. on punching fascists) is irrelevant to whether the moral position is right or not

Tom argues that the desire to punch fascists responds to a psychological urge on the left, linked to the self-righteous desire to be on the right side of history. Tom is undoubtedly right about this. But it does not mean in itself that the "deontological" case for punching fascists is wrong. This is like "virtue signalling", with which the Eustonite left and Spectator right are obsessed. Tweeting about punching fascists may fulfill a psychological urge to be regarded as noble by fellow leftists. But the fact people are showing off how right they are does not mean that they are wrong.

5. Punching fascists and resisting Trump is not a zero sum choice

Finally, Tom makes this powerful point:
"Trump is the dream for the writer who has transitioned from writing dark comedy to writing tragedy; his hostility to the New York Times and the free press would be funny if he wasn’t the elected executive of the most powerful liberal democracy in the world; his humiliation of the social conservatives who have excused his wandering phallus and serial dishonesty would be funny if the victims of his predation and lies were not vulnerable women and ethnic minorities; his exposure of the liberal tendency to cry wolf at previous president’s alleged racism would be funny if he wasn’t the wolf stalking the forest. Some of the responses to him would be funny if he wasn’t manifestly a threat to the norms and institutions of liberal democracy. The seriousness of the threat he poses needs robust opposition, not one ready to celebrate vigilantism and the costs, both consequential and moral, that come with it."
That is true, but it misses the point. Most people who argue that we should punch fascists are not arguing that Trump is a fascist. The relationship between Trump and fascism is complicated. To put it crudely, Trump's rhetoric emboldens fascists, and thus fascism as a movement becomes dangerous, not because it will rise to power but because it spreads terror. So, we have to seriously respond (non-violently) to the serious large-scale threat Trump poses - but we also have to seriously respond (perhaps violently) to the serious if small-scale threat that resurgent violent fascism poses in our communities. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

January blues

I wrote most of this post on the eve of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, anticipating a bleak dawn for America and humanity tomorrow. I didn't have time to tidy it up, so am doing that on the day Theresa May is in Washington to fawn before him. It's also Holocaust Memorial Day, and at no time in my memory does it feel like remembered the Holocaust has seemed so necessary. 

I started blogging around this time of year, over a decade ago, and used to always write a lot at in January. This bleak winter, I'm not finding time to write much, so I thought I'd share with you some snippets from my January archives.


One of my first ever posts quotes the American conservative writer Victor Davis Hanson praising George W Bush's international engagements. It seems such a long way now from that heroic age of neoconservatism, as we transition from Obama's global ineffectualism to Trump's realignment of America with Putin's authoritarianism, and as the movements for democracy that were sparking in 2005 in the Middle East and elsewhere barely flicker now.
This is the first time that an American president has committed the United States to side with democratic reformers worldwide. The end of the cold war has allowed us such parameters, but the American people also should be aware of the hard and necessary decisions entailed in such idealism that go way beyond the easy rhetoric of calling for change in Cuba, Syria, or Iran: distancing ourselves from the Saudi Royal Family, pressuring the Mubarak dynasty to hold real elections, hoping that Pakistan can liberalize without becoming a theocracy, and navigating with Putin in matters of the former Soviet republics; all the while pressuring nuclear China, swaggering with cash and confidence, to allow its citizens real liberty.
The day before, I quoted another expression of the neoconservative credo, from Condoleeza Rice:
"The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the 'town square test': if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a 'fear society' has finally won their freedom."
That day seems much further off in 2017 than it did in 2005.


January 2009 of course saw the inauguration of Barack Obama, and a key moment in the shift away from the historical period which shaped my blogging, a period which had been defined George W Bush, the neocons, the decent left and the war on terror, on one hand and the anti-war movement, "anti-imperialist" scene and Islamism on the other. My first post about the new president shows a bit of wariness about his hope/change show.
Barack Obama was absolutely correct to take steps to close down the Camps at Guantanamo as one of the first moves of his presidency. The Camps are a stain on America, a stain on humanity.

But it will be interesting to see the extent to which those European liberals who have clamoured so vocally for its closing are equally vocal in welcoming the released inmates to their shores.

And, as inmates are released but cannot be returned to their home states because they will be tortured or executed there - such as the ethnic Uyghurs, who cannot be returned to China because of the routine detentions and extra-judicial executions of those Uyghurs who call for the self-determination of their 8 million-strong people, or the Algerians, whose government imprisons its lawyers simply for calling attention to the impunity of its judiciary - it will also be interesting to see the extent to which the liberals' loathing of George W Bush for his war crimes is transferred to these other regimes, whose carceral systems make Camp X-Ray look like Sunday School.
Of course, Obama did not manage to close down the camps nice and quick, but the hope/change show did spread to some of these autocracies (most notably Egypt, Tunisia and Syria), and sadly, when it mattered most, neither Obama nor the anti-war left proved as supportive of that hope/change movement as they might have been.

Image result for jasmine revolution
2011 was the year that started to play out. One big link round-up themed around optimism and pessimism concluded with this:
Terry Glavin, Canadian social democrat, is blogging about Iran, from the perspective of working class solidarity, in a post entitled “Will you be a lousy scab or will you be a man?” While my location in inner South London gives me cause for pessimism, Terry's more global perspective gives him cause for optimism. He sees a coming convulsion led by the youththings getting better, and an "anti-totalitarian surge". Kellie Strom also highlights the same anti-totalitarian wave in the Mediterranean.

A choice phrase from Phil: "Saudia Arabia, long the Costa Brava of forcibly retired tyrants". The (over-optimistic?) conclusion: "With sustained struggle and determined action, the dictatorial obscenities of the Middle East could be entering their final days. Let despots everywhere tremble as the revolutionary gale howls about their ears."
The gale did howl. Some despots fell. Others have been clinging on, and we in the West have mostly just let them.

I also began 2011 with an attack on nationalism. This is an argument I have obviously been losing consistently since 2011, and in 2017 it seems to me more necessary than ever. If 2011 opened up a period of hope and resistance, it was perhaps nationalism that has killed that off; the new configuration which 2016 ushered in will be one dominated by nationalism and hopelessness.
I believe that nationalism is one of the greatest evils in the world. I distinguish nationalism from what Orwell calls patriotism or Rudolf Rocker calls “national feeling”. Patriotism or national feeling is a potentially benign affect, whereas nationalism is an ideology. Love of one’s homeland or one’s compatriots is common, healthy, perfectly compatible with sentiments of international solidarity, cosmopolitan justice, ethnic pride or class consciousness. It can be mobilised for good aims, such as resistance to tyranny or social solidarity within the nation.  
Orwell writes that: “Both words [nationalism and patriotism] are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.” 
The nation is a fairly recent invention, and the organisation of sovereignty on the basis of nations is so far but a fairly brief phase in human history. Organising sovereignty on the basis of nations is, in my view, inherently problematic, because it always excludes those who, while living within the state’s territory, are not “of” the nation – it excludes them from the right to participate fully in the affairs of the state. Historically, we know where this leads: to ethnic cleansing, to genocide. 
In the late twentieth century, there were signs that the deadly allure of the nation-state-territory trinity was weakening. The cosmopolitan project of the United Nations and the building of institutions of international law, the supra-national project of the European Union, the dissemination of the American model of “civic patriotism”, the number of countries who shifted from the principle of blood (jus sanguinis) to that of birth (jus soli) in their citizenship policies – these gave some grounds for optimism. 
Now, after the massacres in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Yugoslavia, after the renewal of communalism in the Indian subcontinent and its re-emergence in Iraq, after the flowering of infra-national conflicts in the former Soviet empire, after the Second Intifada, there is little space for hope. More than ever, I believe, we require the political imagination to relegate the deadly age of the nation-state to the past.
The cosmopolitan projects I invoked here are now lying in tatters. The principles of responsibility to protect and global justice were tarnished by the war on terror under Bush and Blair which used them as an alibi for self-interested but incompetent deadly military adventures, then made a joke by Obama who spoke fine words while abstaining from any action. The Brexit vote and Trump election, and similar trends globally, show that the nostalgic desire for national sovereignty ("control", "greatness", isolation,) carries far more weight than cross-border solidarity; even civic nationalism is suspect in a time when "citizen of the world" is an insult; more people want walls than bridges.