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.