Saturday, November 17, 2018

Friday, November 02, 2018

The American right: armed and dangerous

I was struck by how much the apparent recent white nationalist terror attackers in the US, alleged pipe bomber Cesar Sayoc and alleged Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers, shared memes that were grimly familiar to me from encountering (mainly left-wing) Assad supporters on social media:

In the rest of this post, some important reads in light of last weeks racist attacks,

Deborah Lipstadt: Three lessons on antisemitism in the wake of Pittsburgh. Read the whole thing, but here are the three lessons:
  1. Do not look for haters only on the other side of the political transom. Those on the political left who only see antisemitism on the right have blinded themselves to what is happening in their own midst. Those on the political right, who are only concerned about the “lefties” on the campus and beyond, are blind to what is happening next to them.
  2. We may never change the minds of people who send pipe bombs or enter a sanctuary with guns blazing. But we can stop them from influencing others. This year, at Thanksgiving dinner, when your curmudgeon uncle or successful cousin (not all haters are old and ornery) begins to rant about Jews, Blacks, Muslims, and LGBTQs who are ruining this country, do not sit idly by. Challenge them. Do so, not to change their minds, but to reach others – especially young people – who are listening and watching and learning. Silence is an imprimatur for hate and prejudice.
  3. Do not think that this attack is only about Jews. It may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. And conversely, it may start with others – Muslims, African Americans, LGBTQ identifying folks – but it will ultimately reach Jews. Lost in the legitimate media attention to the pipe bomber and the Pittsburgh murderer was the fact a few days earlier in Kentucky two African Americans were murdered outside a supermarket by a white nationalist. He had tried to gain access to a predominantly African American church but found the doors locked. Instead, he went to the nearby mall to find some Blacks to kill. And he did.

And it continues...

And this is a really fascinating long read, with my summary of it in the thread below the fold:

Why JVL were wrong to re-write anti-fascist history in the wake of Pittsburgh

A brief thread on Jewish Voice for Labour's deleted tweet about anti-fascism.

Friday, October 26, 2018

London is anti-fascist: a few thoughts on #stopDFLA

This post is about events in central London on Saturday 13th October, based on my own experience and on reports on social media. First, a brief report of what happened (a fuller account can be taken from my Twitter Moment linked here and embedded at the end of the post), then a few thoughts.

Who are the DFLA (and are they fascist)?

The Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) is a splinter from the original Football Lads Alliance (FLA), itself basically modeled on the likes of the English Defence League (EDL) and its German spin-off Hogesa: its main purpose is to mobilise men on the streets to symbolically take a stand against the purported Islamisation of England. The DFLA claims to be against all extremism, but its focus, as with the EDL and Pegida, has been Muslims, who it primarily frame as terrorist members of grooming gangs trying to impose Sharia law on the UK.

 DFLA marchers 13 October
Image: Wheatley/WENN, via Daily Mirror
Personally, while I don't swallow its "anti-extremist" posturing, I don't think the DFLA is "fascist" as such. To be sure, lots of the individuals who came out for them on Saturday are fascist, veterans of previous waves of NF/BNP organisation, and groups like National Action have a well-documented toe-hold in the movement. But its leadership and many of the football casuals it brings out aren't fascist. Instead, I think it's better to think of the DFLA as "proto-fascist", as a far right street army with the potential to radicalise further, and the very present danger of intimidating Muslim and other minority Londoners that cross its path, as with the Muslim woman bus-driver harassed by participants in the July Free Tommy march. The fact that their presence on the streets, with hardcore Nazis among them, leads to such intimidation is why it is important anti-fascists physically resist that presence, even if they are not strictly speaking a fascist organisation.

On Saturday 13 October, the DFLA held a march in central London, promising thousands of participants. Media reports said the organisers were marching against "returning jihadists", "thousands of Awol migrants", "rape gangs and groomers", and "veterans treated like traitors". The march was meant to be a "silent" protest to commemorate the victims of grooming gangs, but from the get-go was pretty un-silent. At most a thousand marchers - predominantly older men, many of them drunk - turned up.

We go where want: the anti-fascist response

There were two counter-demonstrations. A Unity demo, using the hashtag #stopDLFA, was called by several groups including the Anti-Fascist Network, Women's Strike and Plan C, assembled at Portland Place and, led by women, marched south with the intention of blocking the path of the DFLA. Estimates of numbers for this march are between 700 and 1500, almost certainly over 1000 at peak. Chants included "London is anti-fascist", "Whose streets? Our streets", "Alerta! Alerta! Antifascista!" Home-made placards mixed with black and red flags. There were Kurdish groups, a couple of trade unions, and a group of Brazilian women building for a forthcoming anti-Bolsonaro demonstration.

In addition, members of the Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism (FLAF), co-ordinating with the Unity demo, moved around the area, including local pubs.

A second demo was organised on Whitehall by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) front, Stand Up To Racism (SUTR - also known as Unite Against Fascism, UAF), jointly with Owen Jones and Momentum; this was static and probably peaked at over 1000, ebbing away to a couple of hundred after a series of the usual speeches by SWP leaders, trade unionists, etc.

Around Pall Mall, the Unity demo blocked the path of the DFLA march, and police decided to cut the latter short. Only a handful of DFLA activists made it though to their rally. Others turned violently against the police, a few unsuccessfully tried to charge at the #stopDFLA contingent, and some stood across police lines from the demo and jeered and threw Nazi salutes, while others retired to various pubs.

Militant anti-fascism need not be macho posturing

The #stopDLFA Unity demo was one of the largest autonomous anti-fascist mobilisations in the UK for some time, and was carefully stewarded for maximum safety. While some media reports emphasised "black-clad" and masked up antifa, the contingent itself was colourful as well as diverse. Childcare was organised; the Queercare collective handed out vegan and non-vegan supplies; and a mobile sound system played a mix grime and feminist punk and disco anthems.

The feminist politics and majority female composition of the march were an important departure from the macho posturing that sometimes accompanies militant anti-fascism. Participants of every size, shape and ability, and quite a range of ages, felt confident, safe and empowered.

With street-focused proto-fascist groups like the DFLA, EDL and Pegida UK (as opposed to more "political" groups such as the BNP during its electoral period), muscular physical presence in public space is both the modus operandi and objective. The Proud Boys in the US similarly speak to a desperate attempt to bolster male pride. The DFLA, rooted in Loyalist parade politics and football casual subculture, only thrives (like the EDL before it)when it can give its members the pleasure of mass presence on the street - hence far right groups' use of the football casual slogan "We go where we want". When this is stymied, when they can't go where they want, they lose the glamour that sustains them. When it is literally a bunch of girls that stops them going where they want, the insult to their fragile masculinity is even more humiliating.

This kind of far right mobilisation is a gender issue in another way too. Protecting white girls from male Muslim predators - grooming gangs - is the core rallying cry for the DFLA. If the DFLA was genuinely concerned about the women and girls who are victims of male violence, they would be organising against all its forms, whoever its perpetrators, not just when sexual exploitation is carried out by brown-skinned Muslims. Their fake feminism needs to be exposed.

The two souls of anti-fascism

Dave Renton - anti-fascist historian and former SWP member - wrote a really nice post about the march called "The two souls of anti-fascism". Here's an extract:
There were 1500 people on the march, and the name “unity” is richly deserved... The result of these many small mobilisations was a large and exuberant protest, with songs (“I will survive”), purple smoke from flares, chants. The protest was led by Women’s Strike Assembly and placed women at the front... The unity march was youthful, and vibrant...
The SUtR, protest was very different from the unity march. Small numbers of older men were standing far back from police lines. They were kettled, and making no effort to break out from the lines behind which they were constricted. There were in effect two stages – a DFLA stage on the North side of Whitehall, and a UAF stage on the South side, with two sets of speakers pointing away from each other. A single police helicopter made a desultory pretence of flying over the two. The UAF march did not confront the DFLA nor did the organisers have any intention of doing so. 
The history of the left gives many examples of a campaign which was at once stage hegemonic on the left giving way to a younger, more political and more combative rival... While SUtR was content behind its kettle, and the young were marching elsewhere, they were still chanting slogans first heard on SUtR protests. 
Even SUtR derives its heritage, if increasingly distantly, from the Anti-Nazi League and the SWP of the 1970s, part of whose adoption of anti-fascism was part of a longer-term plan of replacing the ageing Communist Party of Great Britain as the largest organization force outside Labour on the left. From the perspective of generational and political renewal, it is very easy to see which forces are going to be the mainstays of anti-fascism in the decades to come.
I don't think Renton is exactly right though. The two anti-fascisms on the streets of London on the 13th were not just two generations, but two fundamentally different forms of mobilisation. Even when the SWP's Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was generationally ascendant, the form its leadership molded it into was top-down, vertically organised, and non-confrontational. 

Resultado de imagen de cable street fliers
Communist leaflet mobilising members for
the Hyde Park fund-raiser,
with last minute alteration
calling people to Cable Street
The history of anti-fascism is the history of these two warring souls. 
  • In the 1920s, thousands of Italian war veterans, trade unionists, anarchists and socialists formed Arditi del Popolo, people's squads, to fight Mussolini's Blackshirts - autonomous, self-organised groups in working class neighbourhoods across Italy - but the Socialist Party (which signed a "pacification pact" with Mussolini) and the Communist Party both proscribed the squads, and defused the resistance to fascism. 
  • In the 1930s, working class Jews in the East End - the targets of fascist violence - organised militant grassroots groups to combat Mosley's growing movement, as described by Joe Jacobs in Out of the Ghetto. Without pressure from this movement, the Communist Party leadership would not have been at Cable Street in October 1936, as they had a big fund-raiser planned at Hyde Park - and before long the grassroots anti-fascist groups were closed down by the CP. 
  • After the Nazi defeat in 1944, anti-fascist ("Antifa") committees were spontaneously formed across Germany to confront Nazi criminals and Nazi underground partisans. They involved social democrats, Communists and members of the independent Marxist KPO. They were banned by the occupying powers in the West - but also closed down in the East unless they obeyed the commands of Communist Party, for whom a Stalinist version of "anti-fascism" was an official ideology.
  • Again in the 1970s, with the National Front on the rise, autonomous, democratic anti-fascist anti-racist committees were formed across the UK, some black-led, some with close links to local trades councils. The SWP's launch of the totally un-democratic ANL closed down the space for these autonomous groups, sometimes setting up branches in direct competition with them, sometimes absorbing them and setting policy from above. The ANL in turn would be shut down by the SWP leadership when it had served its primary purpose of recruiting youngsters into the party. Those youngsters who actually wanted to carry on fighting fascists were denounced as "squadists" and expelled (an episode whitewashed in Renton's ANL history, When we touched the Sky, written when he was still an SWP member - hopefully addressed better in his forthcoming Never Again).
  • The expelled "squadists" played a key role in setting up Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which combined street-fighting militancy with thoroughly democratic structures. With the BNP on the rise in the 1990s, and increasing numbers of people participating in AFA mobilisations, the SWP sniffed a new market and cynically relaunched the ANL, once again replacing autonomous, horizontally organised anti-fascism with a heavily branded, top-down, non-confrontational version based around mass rallies, mass-produced lollipop placards and tedious speeches by trade union bureaucrats, rather than actual confrontation with fascism. 
In all of these historic periods, in the struggle between the two souls of anti-fascism the autonomous,  militant soul has generally lost out: usually more effective at fighting fascists, it has lacked the ruthlessness and the weight of numbers packed by official structures led by Stalinists, the SWP and/or trade union bureaucrats. I fear that will happen again to the new generation of anti-fascists represented by the unity demo, especially while Momentum and several Labour MPs continue to promote the SWP's SUTR front.

The mainstream media cannot report militant anti-fascism

One of the ways in which top-down anti-fascism out-organises autonomous militant anti-fascism is that it is able to cultivate contacts in the mainstream media in order to generate publicity. And another is that, spending money donated by unions on branded placards means they are able to dominate the visual narrative.

The mainstream media coverage of the DFLA counter-protest, exemplified by this dreadful article by Damien Gayle in the Guardian, managed to get more or less everything wrong, giving the false impression that SUTR stopped the DFLA from marching, reproducing a hackneyed version of the unity demo as "black-clad anti-fascist protestors", and writing out the role of women in leading the resistance.
The summer of 2017 - the events of Charlottesville and the eruption of "Antifa" into the mainstream consciousness - showed clearly how the media don't know how to report autonomous, militant anti-fascism. With rare exceptions (Jason Wilson and... well, probably that's it), journalists from normie publications had no idea what to make of it. Their misreporting - making it seem like a single organisation with members and leaders, for example - helped fuel right-wing conspiracy theories.

This failure of the mainstream media is particularly dangerous when various forms of "alt" media offer plausible and appealing hyper-partisan (and often fake) counter-narratives.

What next?

The Free Tommy march in June saw over 20,000 participants - ten or twenty times Saturday 13th's piss-poor offering. It is not unlikely that, with Yaxley-Lennon's endorsement, one of the right-wing street movements can mobilise that (and more) again. As the country becomes more polarised around Brexit, the far right has huge growth potential. We had the numbers to defeat them on Saturday, but we will have to work hard - and reach out beyond the activist scene - to outnumber a crowd of 20,000 or more. As David Renton has written this week:
While the left were right to see the protests against the DFLA as a step forwards, we need to grasp that the biggest threat is not a clapped out bunch of football hooligans organising in the style of party. Rather it’s the online right, the people who are surfing the moment around us by talking about culture, about Muslims, the people with their alternative facts who have a passive aggressive streak a mile wide and who shift from street to electoral politics without settling down in either. The ones who deny that they are political and organise as a social movement. 
The greater the influence of their ideas, the less we are heard. And the other side are far ahead of us…
Another danger is in the recent attempt by UKIP leader Gerard Batten to court the DFLA. UKIP's bid for electoral respectability and the hooligan fascist image of the EDL have in the past meant that the street army side of the new far right and the suit and tie version have not managed to coalesce before. After the Brexit referendum meant UKIP needed re-purposing, and with the street army lacking the baggage of the EDL brand, a convergence is now more likely, offering the potential for something more like Germany's AfD, no doubt cheer-led by the pseudo-intellectual idiots at Spiked/UnHerd. Antifa-style street politics cannot counter that kind of threat.

And the rage and resentment DFLA feed off continue to be stoked by the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that mainstream politicians, mainly but not only on the right, continue to peddle. Again, the challenge of building an everyday anti-racist culture that can resist that is far bigger than the one-off challenge of getting activists on the street, and will require us to win over allies from far more mainstream milieus than we reached on Saturday.

We can celebrate our victory now, but I fear for the future.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Something for the weekend

Even more miscellaneous than usual, my not-quite-weekly round-up of stuff I've read on the internet and think you should too...

Image result for clr james
Bob's beats
A wonderful playlist from Paul Gilroy of black British music since Windrush. Listen to this while you read the rest of this post.

Intellectual politics
Two by Ralph Leonard: on CLR James versus the posturing of identity politics, and on Edward Said the out of step intellectual.

Truth wars
The DFR Lab analyse Twitter's Russian and Iranian troll factoriesJanine di Giovanni in the NYRB on Why Assad and Russia target Syria's White Helmets.

The British left
Peter Tatchell makes some sharp points for Clarion on Corbyn, internationalism and the future of the left.

Brexit/Lexit delusions
Peter Ryley on why we must disrespect the mantra about why we should "respect" the Referendum. Shiraz Socialist continue to document the madness of "left-wing" Brexiteering, this time on the Stalinist Morning Star's post-imperial delusions about Ireland. Marx, Engels and Connolly would be turning in their graves.

From classical liberalism to neo-fascism
Elliot Gulliver-Needham on why libertarians turn to the alt-right.

The global war on journalists
In Hummus for Thought, Saudi feminist Sarah Al-Otaibi on How Jamal Khasshogi’s murder has set new precedents.

Andrew Coates summarises the latest revelations about the shocking, decades-long British state surveillance and sexual exploitation of dissenters.

PplsWar on myths around Leninism and democracy, showing that the Bolsheviks were repressive from the very start. Includes one bit which draws on Eric Lee's brilliant recent book on Georgia's forgotten democratic socialist revolution:
in Georgia... the Mensheviks established a democratic republic without either Red or White terror, without waging war on the peasantry, without wrecking the economy, without shooting striking workers, and without creating famines that killed millions of people. The Bolshevik regime could not tolerate the threat of a good example and invaded Georgia to end this promising experiment in democratic socialism in 1921.
History wars
Historian Richard Evans demolishes Peter Hitchens' silly Europsceptic revisionist take on WWII.

Feeling itchy with faith
A great longish read for Lilith by Rokhl K on being caught Between skepticism and yearning on the Jewish Holidays.

Robert Fine
Eduardo Tovar on the late Robert Fine's legacy for Marxism, illustrated by this wonderful picture from the Battle of Lewisham I've never seen before.
Robert Fine at Lewisham 1977
Above:  Robert Fine with Jean Lane (in the clearing in the middle of the photo, slightly right of centre, holding Workers’ Action newspapers) at the anti-fascist march in Lewisham, 13 August 1977.

Finally, I've made a few Twitter "moments" recently: on the march against the DFLA on Saturday (hopefully I'll blog about this soon), and on the Friday demonstrations in free Syria

Friday, October 05, 2018

Brief notes: the alt-left and Labour

Just a couple of items on British politics: a new book on Corbynism, the alt-media on the Skripal case, and Jacobin's buy-out of Tribune.

Corbynism: A critical approach

Matt Bolton and Harry Pitts have a new book out on Corbynism. It looks great. There's a sample chapter online. It comes from a Marxist perspective and looks at the two-campist tradition of geopolitics and how left populism can shade into conspiracy theory.

i newspaper has an interview with Matt. Here's an extract:
Bolton and Pitts links Corbyn to Tony Benn’s Alternative Economic Strategy... the other side of Bennism is the idea that the British economy and industry were “under attack” from finance – and that Britain needed to build a “siege economy” to throw off the shackles of the bankers, Bolton says. “We think that’s a form of economic nationalism – protecting British jobs and British industry from foreign intruders,” he says. “That’s dangerous"... 
Bennism’s sense of attack from the financiers leads Corbyn to describe the economy as “rigged” – something that might be intuitive to a lot of left-wingers. But left-wingers aren’t the only people who use it, Bolton points out – Donald Trump, Bannon and even Michael Gove have adopted it too. “The political ambivalence of the ‘rigged economy’ term alongside the economic nationalism is quite dangerous,” he says. It’s this sort of thinking that leads Corbyn into his anti-Semitism rows. “If you see capitalism as something that’s imposed on workers rather than something more general, it’s not inevitable that you end up with anti-semitism, but the potential is there. “The combination of that and the good vs bad world view, you can end up repeating or stumbling into anti-semitic tropes.”
I should particularly draw your attention to footnote 26, which says "We have learnt a lot in particular from lynchpins of the principled left blogosphere Bob from Brockley and Tendance Coatesy (see and"

The Skripal case and non-mainstream media

An extraordinary investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider – Russia into the two Salisbury poisoning suspects has managed to identify one, "Ruslan Boshirov”, as Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, highly decorated Russian intelligence officer bestowed with the country's highest state award. The report is quite a read, both for what it found out and for an account of the value of using open source data alongside more traditional modes of investigative journalism. The best in non-mainstream media.

Should be salutary reading for anyone who indulged the likes of Craig Murray in their attempts to obfuscate about the case, including any Labour activists who continue to share or defend fake news websites which have promoted this nonsense, such as SkwawkboxThe Canary and Evolve Politics. Not to mention those leftists who decided right-wing commentators like Peter Oborne, Peter Hitchens and Rachel Johnson were worth promoting because they gave cover to Corbyn's initially "cautious" approach to the case. And it should be required reading for Emily Thornberry, who derided open source investigations in a Commons speech.


The venerable democratic socialist magazine Tribune has been bought by the youthful American alt-left entrepreneur Bhaskar Sunkara (of Jacobin). They launched the new version (beautiful front cover) at Momentum's World Transformed conference in Liverpool. The strapline contains a lie: "Tribune is Britain’s oldest democratic socialist publication." Actually, that'd be the Socialist Standard, founded in 1904. And its anti-Stalinist writers of yesteryear, like George Orwell, would be a bit disappointed to see its new team complimenting the tankie paper Morning Star. And it is surprising in 2018 to see the first issue's male contributors outnumber female ones by more than 2-1.

The relaunch has come with a little bit of controversy. American labour magazine Payday Report has reported an accusation of the new owners reneging on an agreement to pay the existing staff. PplsWar has published the former staffers' letters to Sunkara about this, and their factcheck of Sunkara's responses.


Is Vanessa Beeley a reliable source?

This post is part of a series I am calling the Reliable Source Project. It contains no original material, but only extracts from already published materials. Where text is in bold the emphasis is mine. 

Updated 2 November 2018 with material from Janine di Giovanni.

Who is Vanessa Beeley?

From Olivia Solon's Guardian article on the White Helmets smear campaign:
[One] of the most vocal sceptics of the UN’s investigation [into the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack of 2017] include the blogger Vanessa Beeley, the daughter of a former British diplomat who visited Syria for the first time in July 2016...

Is Eva Bartlett a reliable source?

This post is part of a series I am calling the Reliable Source Project. It contains no original material, but only extracts from already published materials. Where text is in bold the emphasis is mine. 

Who is Eva Bartlett?

From Channel 4's FactCheck (2016):
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian citizen who describes herself as an “independent writer and rights activist”. She writes a blog for the state-funded Russian media outlet Russia Today and is candid about her support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting Syrian rebels with Russian and Iranian help.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Mass protests in Idlib 21 September

Weekly protests continue against Assad regime, under the slogan "No constitution, no reconstruction, until Assad leaves power "...

Friday, September 21, 2018

Reasons to be angry, and the war on truth

This week's miscellany...


Right-wing watch
The UKIP conference has started. Hope not Hate have produced a primer on some of the far right nuttery we can expect.

A step further to the right, they also reveal that Anne-Marie Waters' For Britain proto-fascist party has lurched even further to the extreme, inviting a Holocaust revisionist (as well as the odious Katie Hopkins) to address their conference.

Britain is fucked

A brilliant rant by Peter Ryley on Brexit and the dreadful state of Labour.


I wrote a thread on Twitter about the so-called "de-militarisation" zone agreed in Idlib:

Please especially check out the last link, to the Marxist writer Sam Hamad on how Russia is using acts of peace to prepare for war.



The rest of this post is about the truth wars - the wars fought by authoritarian governments (from Trump to Orban to Sisi to Putin) and their outriders (from Frank Furedi to Susan Sarandon to Andrew Murray to Boris Johnson) to stifle, not just open, just and democratic societies, but also to stifle the free press which makes such societies possible.


A great piece by Oz Katerji on how the Corbyn left, and especially its alt-media and its Stalinist apparatchiks, has ended up doing the work of the Kremlin propaganda machine.

Bellingcat does more of what it does so impressively, in this case using open source materials to comprehensively demolish the claims made on Russian TV by the suspects in the Skripal poisoning.


An article on Susan Sarandon's Viper Club - a movie based on the story of James Foley's mother, but without her permission, and ironically produced by YouTube, which also screened and failed to remove Foley's actual beheading. The great Middle Eastern correspondent Emma Beals has been taking issue with this film on Twitter, and Sarandon's response, which includes some tinfoil hat stuff about how "corporate media" (i.e. the companies that employ people like James Foley and Marie Colvin) are lying to us about Syria to suit some war-mongery agenda, reminds us what a dreadful person she is politically.

Chemical attacks

Brian Whitaker forensically shows how right-wing contrarian Peter Hitchens' blogging on Syrian chemical weapons attacks is completely divorced from any understanding of what's involved. (Although in an earlier post, Brian also carefully brings out some of the unanswered questions on Douma in light of recent UN reports.)

Scott Lucas explores the Russian continuation of "false flag" conspiracy theories about chemical attacks on Idlib.


I hate to link to the Spectator, but this by Anne Applebaum is great on how Orban duped the Brexiteers. Coatesy has also been writing on this topic, focusing on the Brexiteers of the ex-left.

Fake news

Finally, Egypt's Sisi taking a leaf out of Trump's book by designating journalism as "fake news" to clamp down on dissent.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Mass demonstrations in Idlib, Syria

Thousands protest peacefully against Assad’s war, Friday 14 September...

Latest dispatch from a messed up world

Syria, anti-imperialism and solidarity


Labour's national socialist turn



Anti-fascist prisoners in Russia

Anti-Stalinist history
[Image at top is from Leila's article in Freedom, of an anti-Assad protest in Idlib last week.]

Friday, September 07, 2018

Summer's end

Another one of my usual round-ups. Not so long this time.

Call to action
SyriaUK on what Britain can do in light of the Assad/Russia assault on Idlib.

Street politics
History is Made at Night on Trump as monster tyrant, and our opposition to him.

The left
Tom Harris in Clarion on three dreadful Labour MPs. Louis Proyect on the Jacobin/Spiked convergence (Jacobin being the outlet that is taking over the UK's  81-year old Tribune magazine, former home of George Orwell and Michael Foot - see also this long pplswar Twitter thread on Jacobin).

The right
Two from Spencer Sunshine: Why the Alt Right May Gain Momentum in 2018 and Anti-Immigrant Rampage in Germany Shows Expansion of Right-Wing Violence. Comrade Motopu on whether fascism is a form of socialism.

Left-right convergence
Louis Proyect on Normal Finkelstein, Patrick Cockburn and the other leftists who publish with the neo-Nazi Unz.

John McCain
Oz Katerji on McCain's complex legacy. Bill Weinberg on persistent myths about McCain meeting Syrian kidnappers (and a 2013 piece by Josh Rogin that should have put this particular story to bed then).

Patrick Cockburn
Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel on left-wing orientalism.

Mary Ellsberg on massacres, coups and misinformation.

Leila al-Shami asks What next for Idlib? Delphine Minoui on Daraya's secret library.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Three footnotes on Red Action and Jeremy Corbyn

I've added these three footnotes to my weekend post on Jeremy Corbyn and Red Action: one on the usage of the term "IRA", one on the possibly connection between RA and the Warrington bombs (whose 25th anniversary is the occasion of the BBC drama Mother's Day tonight), and one on Republicanism in the London left. I am pasting them into the longer post, but also here in case you've already read that post.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn and Red Action: Sorting truth from smears

[POST SLIGHTLY EXPANDED 3 SEPTEMBER. I have added in three footnotes, corrected some typos and added a couple of links. The footnotes are also here if you already read the whole piece. If you have any additional details or I got anything wrong, please do leave a comment or contact me directly.]

The Sunday Times of 19 August published an article by Andrew Gilligan entitled "Police examined Jeremy Corbyn links to pro-IRA group Red Action". (A screenshot of the article can be found here; an article in the Belfast Telegraph based on it can be read here.)

Andrew Gilligan is former Press TV employee, Boris Johnson acolyte, best known for his role in the events leading up to David Kelly's suicide.

Red Action were a smallish group who emerged at the end of the 1970s/start of the 1980s from activists - mainly young, mainly male, overwhelmingly working class, often of Irish background - who had gotten involved in the Socialist Workers Party via the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism out of anti-fascist conviction. Many were involved in "squads" which protected left-wing paper sales from violent right-wing attacks. The SWP wound up the ANL in 1981, but as early as 1978 had been trying to dial down militant confrontation with fascists in order to keep ANL's appeal to the mainstream (as this recollection by Jim Kelly makes clear, as do Steve Tilzey's and Red Action's own accounts) and eventually the militant activists were derided as "squadists" and expelled (much as the Italian Communist Party in the 1920s expelled those who formed squads to combat Mussolini's rising power). The SWP had only recently (in 1977) constituted itself as a Leninist-style party, veering away from the more libertarian, Rosa Luxemburg-inspired Marxism of its forerunner, the International Socialists. By 1978, the SWP guru Tony Cliff saw a "downturn" in working class militancy, and the expulsion of the working class "squadists" more or less coincided with the purging of the party's industrial "rank and file" organisations formed in the early 1970s, as both of these offered models of potentially autonomous working class militancy that didn't prioritise party-building.

Subsequently, Red Action developed a unique political perspective that had three distinguishing elements: uncompromising support for physical alongside ideological resistance to fascism, a sophisticated critique of the middle class left and in particular the Leninist tradition exemplified by the SWP from which they emerged, and strong commitment to Irish Republicanism.

Some context for my interest: I was involved on and off in Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) between about 1988 and 2000, not in any kind of leadership role but just as a rank and file footsoldier. Red Action played a central role in AFA and so I got to know quite a few members, and read their newspaper. I liked a lot of things about them (their militant anti-fascism and critique of the left), but also had some strong criticisms (specifically of their version of Republicanism), as will be clear from the rest of this blogpost.

Andrew Gilligan on Red Action and Corbyn

In the first sentence, Gilligan claims "Jeremy Corbyn came to the attention of police after becoming involved with Red Action, an ultra-left group that expressed its “unconditional and uncritical support” for IRA atrocities and included members of an IRA bombing team." There's a lot going on in that first sentence, including a lot of misdirection.

First, the "after". It's not clear if he is suggesting Corbyn came to police attention because of a Red Action link, or simply chronologically later. Later, he sort of specifiies that a "senior police officer from the period" said Corbyn came to their attention "for" these links "and" for hosting IRA (he means Provisional IRA - see footnote 2) and Sinn Fein speakers at parliament. It also makes clear the police found insufficient evidence to pursue anything. Former Special Branch officer Peter Francis ("Officer A" in this story) adds that Corbyn was investigated "over his IRA links", without any mention of Red Action. Given that we already know that MI5 and Special Branch had files on Corbyn for his IRA (i.e. Provo) links in this period, and that those links were extensive, it seems unlikely any connection with the marginal Red Action would have been the reason for any police attention.

The sentence ending, that Red Action "included members of an IRA bombing team" is also a little disingenuous. We now know that the 1993 Harrods bomb (no victims) and a bomb planted on the train to Ramsgate a few weeks later (no victims) was carried out by two Englishmen, one of whom, Patrick Hayes, was a Red Action member, on behalf of the Provisional IRA. Although Hayes' collaborator, ex-soldier Jan Taylor, has been described in the Irish Times and other papers as a Red Action member, more detailed sources don't mention it, and other sources dispute it. Moreover, as the bombings hadn't happened yet, Corbyn couldn't have known them in the 1980s or 1992. In fact, Hayes' involvement was a complete surprise to everyone that worked with Hayes in Red Action and AFA too.

More problematic is precisely what "becoming involved" meant. The links that Gilligan spells out are all fairly flimsy. The sum total of Corbyn's "involvement" seems to be:
  1. "Corbyn spoke at at least three Red Action meetings between 1985 and 1992"
  2. The group "sometimes met at his then constituency office"
  3. RA "provided security for Corbyn and others" at pro-Republican events
  4. RA were central to AFA, and Corbyn was connected to AFA
Let's look at those one by one.

Did Corbyn speak at Red Action meetings?

Gilligan claims Corbyn was a keynote speaker at RA's national meeting on 23 February 1985 and then "In mid-1992 Red Action co-ordinated a speaking tour with Corbyn and others to protest against the treatment of republican prisoners."

Red Action's paper mentions the national meeting of 1985, but doesn't mention Corbyn speaking there. A history of AFA narrated by Red Action activists mentions his presence in the building, describing how the meeting was violently attacked by fascists with hammers. But the wording suggests Corbyn was at the venue (Caxton House, St Johns Way - a community centre in Corbyn's constituency, which hosted all sorts of community and political events) for a different meeting:
"So I’m standing there when Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn opens the door of the centre and peeps out. ‘Have they gone?’ he says. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Were they here for you or me?’ he says. ‘It was us,’ I reply. You could see the relief visible on his face. ‘Oh, good!’ he remarked cheerfully. Then, with a quick look in both directions, he skipped off down the road. I remember laughing at the time. How ironic, I thought. Here we have a Member of Parliament, no less, having to skulk around his own constituency for fear of rampaging fascists everyone else seems determined to deny exist.” (p.104)
Gilligan's claim is too specific to be totally made up, but I'd like to see what his source was, as it seems really unlikely that a Labour MP would speak at the annual national meeting of a group that was completely opposed to any support for the Labour Party.

The 1992 claim,  in contrast, is very vague, and I suspect that RA were just one group on a list organised in some kind of prisoner support meetings, i.e. that these weren't "Red Action meetings" in any way that anyone normal would use that phrase. Again, there is nothing in the 1992 issues of the RA paper to confirm Gilligan's claim.

Verdict: may be half true.

Did Red Action meet at Corbyn's office?

Gilligan details this allegation later in his article, stating that meetings were held at 129 Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Park, including one in 1990 at which Corbyn wasn't present.

Anyone familiar with the London left will know that this was the Red Rose Club, which was used by a huge range of groups. Here's an oral history of the building. It was rented from a dairy by the local Labour Party, and Corbyn sub-let a tiny caretaker's flat above it to use for his constituency surgeries for a while. Corbyn moved out around 1990. Centrist NEC candidate Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand and Mark Lamarr were among the acts who performed at comedy nights there. I myself went to Spanish classes there, which presumably means Corbyn is also responsible for all the times I broke the law.

Verdict: almost certainly false.

Did Red Action provide security for Corbyn?

Here's the claim in full: "Red Action's journal, seen by The Sunday Times, says it provided security for Mr Corbyn and others in their work with the Troops Out Movement and Labour Committee on Ireland, which sympathised with republicanism." We already knew that Corbyn (along with Livingstone, Abbott, McDonnell, and actually quite a wide range of people on the left - see footnote 4 below) were involved with TOM and LCI, so the new "revelation" here is that RA provided security for some of its events.

As anyone who was involved in Irish causes at the time would tell you, RA stewarded lots of events in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Republican events were frequently the targets of far right violence (the English far right had close connections to Loyalist paramilitaries (see this story, this story, this story).

But Gilligan appears to be being a bit dishonest here: unless he has evidence otherwise, there's no reason to think that Corbyn would have been the person who arranged security for these meetings he spoke at. 

Verdict: probably a half truth at best.

Did Corbyn work with Red Action in AFA?

Gilligan claims Corbyn was either the national secretary or honorary president of Anti-Fascist Action when it launched in 1985, that he was "involved with it" until the mid-1990s, and that RA "made up the activist core" of AFA.

It is indeed true that Corbyn held such an office in AFA when it was formed, as can be verified in Nigel Copsey's excellent academic history of anti-fascism in Britain, as well as another article by him, and a 2012 MA dissertation for which Corbyn was interviewed.

However, what Gilligan doesn't mention is that this incarnation of AFA came to an end within a couple of years, as described here by Copsey:
However, this original AFA unravelled due to internal tensions between militant anti-fascists and more moderate anti-racists. ‘The basic contradiction, from which everything else flowed’, we have been told, ‘was between the opposing concepts of AFA as a militant action group and AFA as just another law abiding anti-racist protest group independent from political affiliations’. By 1988, fractured by in-house sectarianism, AFA had all but collapsed. The following year, however, AFA was resurrected as a militant, physical force antifascist group.
The dissertation similarly says that the question of physical violence divided AFA, with Corbyn falling on the side of non-violence:
This strategy would spit AFA in 1989, Jeremy Corbyn whilst stating he believed there was no ‘absolute right to free speech’ believed that only purely defensive physical confrontation should take place, thus, no pre-emptive violence.
I can't find a source for when Corbyn ceased to hold office in AFA, but am confident it was before the 1989 relaunch. The student dissertation says he was "involved until 1989". What's crucial to note is that the 1985 incarnation was a broad-based organisation, involving liberals and Labour members (and Red Action was briefly suspended from membership by the liberal leadership in 1987) - whereas it was the 1989 incarnation in which Red Action made up a good part of the activist core. I was involved in this later period, and I am 99.5% certain that Corbyn wasn't. That is, I am pretty sure that Gilligan is wrong when he says Corbyn was involved until the mid-1990s.

Corybn is mentioned twice in the "official" history of AFA, Beating the Fascists [pdf/buy], which reflects the Red Action version of the story. The first is the 1985 incident noted above. The second (p.121) is to note that he spoke an AFA event on Remembrance Sunday in 1986, a peaceful event designed to reclaim the day from the fascists who had been marching through London annually. There were violent incidents involving AFA in the 1985-89 period, but Corbyn was not involved in them; nor did he endorse the use of violence by AFA members.

Verdict: barely half-true.

Did Jeremy Corbyn have anything to do with the Warrington bombings?

There is one small further twist in this story, which is a bizarre claim made in 2013 that Red Action was somehow connected to the 1993 Warrington bombs claimed by the Provisional IRA. The claim seems to be based solely on some circumstantial similarities between the Harrods bomb, whose co-perpetrator, Patrick Hayes, had been a Red Action member; it is pure speculation, with absolutely no evidence. Because this speculation was mentioned in a Wikipedia article, David Aaronovitch raised it in a tweet in the wake of the Gilligan story (see footnote 1 on the role of Wikipedia in this story, see footnote 2 for whether the Warrington speculation has an plausibility).

Unlike Harrods and Ramsgate, there were victims in Warrington, so if they were involved this would add weight to the case against Red Action. However, in relation to Corbyn, this story simply adds another degree of separation and speculation. Corbyn may have had links to the Provisional IRA, but not via Red Action.


Having looked at this fairly thoroughly now, whatever grains of truth in Gilligan's account are heavily diluted by half-truths and falsehoods. I am not making this point to defend Corbyn, but to defend truth. If Corbyn is to be indicted, let it be for things he actually did.

Red Action's legacy is a mixed one. Its support for the physical force form of Irish Republicanism is highly problematic, and the fact that some of its members were passionate enough about this to get drawn into the P.IRA's terrorism accentuates this. On the other hand, Red Action did more than any other group to defeat the violent fascists who were a significant presence in England up until the mid-1990s, and should be celebrated for this. It is important to remember that far right activists murdered or inspired the murders of several black people in Britain in that period, regularly physically attacked left-wing paper sales, and sold openly Nazi material in public; Red Action and AFA curtailed this.

Red Action's politics were contemptuous of the form of leftism Corbyn represented. Like Orwell, they derided "sandal-wearing", pacifist, do-gooding leftists. They accused the Labour Party of having abandoned working class communities. I don't agree these days with Paul Stott (a former AFA activist who has written about Red Action academically), but this thread captures the relationship between RA and JC well:

1. A footnote on Wikipedia

The pro-Corbyn alt-media has of course also been keen to debunk any relationship between Red Action and Jezza, including alt-left conspiracy-mongers The Canary, blogger Tim Fenton of Zelo Street and George Galloway. They have drawn attention to the role of Wikipedia in this, suggesting some kind of co-ordinated smear against Corbyn involving the Murdoch press and Wikipedia editors.

It is true that after Gilligan wrote about Red Action, someone edited the Red Action page to mention the article, and that this occurred before Aaronovitch tweeted. But this is easily explained by the fact that people who edit Wikipedia might be looking at pages relating to stuff in the news. More Corbyn defenders than Corbyn attackers have been editing the relevant pages since this event, presumably not as part of a co-ordinated action but because they care about what Wikipedia says. This paranoid narrative about co-ordinated smears seems to have attached itself to Wikipedia in the last four months, with George Galloway and his followers promoting various bizarre and elaborate fantasies about GCHQ or Murdoch newspapers directing Wikipedia edits (Galloway offered a £1000 reward for the identity of one Wikipedia editor). This kind of conspiricism is a feature of too much of the pro-Corbyn internet, and makes it harder, not easier, to disentangle truths from smears in the media frenzy around JC.

2. A footnote on the "IRA"

Gilligan, and many of those who talk about Corbyn's IRA connections, use the word "IRA" rather sloppily. The term is used for a number of different organisations. In particular, the organisation known as the IRA from 1922 onwards split in 1969 between 
The Official IRA (OIRA), the remainder of the IRA after the 1969 split with the Provisionals; was primarily Marxist in its political orientation. It is now inactive in the military sense, while its political wing, Official Sinn Féin, became the Workers' Party of Ireland.
The Provisional IRA (PIRA) broke from the OIRA in 1969 over abstentionism and how to deal with the increasing violence in Northern Ireland. Although opposed to the OIRA's Marxism, it came to develop a left-wing orientation and increasing political activity. (Wikipedia)
The Official IRA was initially the larger of the two IRAs, although the P.IRA soon outgrew it, and was often called "the Stickies", due to the stick-on lillies they sold on Easter Sunday; the P.IRA is more often known as "the Provos". The Stickies were less engaged in armed struggle (and mainly directed violence at the British military, rather than civilian targets), particularly after declaring a ceasefire in 1972.

The INLA was a breakaway from the O.IRA that opposed the ceasefire, and one former Red Action member, Liam Heffernan, was involved in planning a foiled INLA terror campaign (convicted on the evidence of a paid informant turned MI5 agent), and Red Action probably had closer links with the political wing of the INLA than with either of the IRA wings. Heffernan is mentioned in the Gilligan piece as another indictment of Red Action, although it is unlikely other RA members knew of Heffernan's INLA connections, and inconceivable that Corbyn might have.

The point to take away is that when Gilligan and his ilk throw the term "IRA" around without qualifying who they are referring to, they show their ignorance of the complexity of the Troubles, and their lack of credibility in reporting on this.

3. A footnote on the Warrington bombs

I think there are lots of reasons to be doubtful about the speculation about Warrington.  Hayes himself couldn't have carried out the Warrington bombs - the perpetrators of the first Warrington bomb, in February, were caught, and Hayes was already in prison when the second one occurred in March. So the speculation is that he was somehow "connected" to it, e.g. was part of the supply chain for the explosives, or that it was someone "like Hayes", i.e. another Red Action member. In fact, it is unclear if Hayes was actually a "member" of the P.IRA, if the campaign Harrods was part of was "sub-contracted" to him (a very unusual practice in P.IRA history - they were extremely paranoid about infiltration) or if he was working in their name and under their influence without being a formal operative (much as many terror actions are carried out by "self-radicalised" individuals in the name of ISIS who are not actually ISIS "members"). Hayes had a large quantity of weaponry in his flat when arrested, which has very rarely happened with actual P.IRA operatives, who would not take that risk. He was already known to police because of his work with AFA, so it would be risky to use his active service too widely. All his other actions were in the London area. He confessed at his trial to incidents in the London area he was not charged with, yet never mentioned Warrington. All in all, the association between Hayes or Red Action and Warrington is completely tenuous.

4. A footnote on Republicanism in the London left 

Image from History is Made at Night
As noted above, support for one or another form of Republican militancy was not unusual in the London left in this period, especially in parts of London where there was a large Irish community, such as Corbyn's Islington (then only at the beginning of the gentrification that has remade it as a middle class area). Even Peckham's Harriet Harman, for example, can be seen here engaging with the Communist-dominated Connolly Association, which maintained links with both P.IRA and O.IRA, and the Association and the Labour Committee on Ireland successfully lobbied for Labour Party support for Irish unification. Rubber bullets, a covered up shoot to kill, miscarriages of justice, the daily persecution of Catholics in Belfast and Irish migrants in London all contributed to a sense of solidarity from many on the left for the cause, if less so for the tactics - and the escalation of terrorism against mainland security targets in the early 1990s did a lot to erode that support.

The Troops Out Movement was one of the more broad-based pro-Republican groups, which didn't explicitly support armed struggle. I remember attending their London march in around 1991, probably one of the annual Bloody Sunday commemorations, which were supported by a range of other Irish groups and well attended. By the later 1990s, I had turned against all forms of nationalism, but did, as part of AFA, help steward a couple of these kinds of events, as they were regularly subject to fascist violence. For example, over 300 fascists were arrested attacking the 1993 march. The obverse, intimacy between the English far right and armed Ulster Loyalism in this period, is also now little remembered. This context is vital for understanding Corbyn and McDonnell's politics. 

Further reading: