Friday, June 14, 2019

Behind The Lines

"Behind the Lines", a huge piece of writing about Syria by Shane Bauer that I have only just begun to dive into. For a flavour, here he is in the NE of Syria, in territory taken by Kurds from ISIS:
We pull up to Omar, Syria’s largest oil field. It’s an industrial ghost town, a heap of mangled pipes and charred oil tanks. The coalition has claimed part of it as a base. I ask the Kurdish guards if I can talk to the Americans. They say no. 
Here the US special forces are just one player in a region full of international fighters. In addition to other coalition troops, there are the Russians and ISIS, many of whom are foreigners, as well as the Afghan Fatemiyoun mercenaries, Shiite refugees recruited by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. And there are the soldiers of fortune of the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian Blackwaterlike private army that is said to have 2,500 fighters in Syria.
Here he is talking to Robert Ford about Obama's failed policy:
Ambassador Ford told me he wishes, in retrospect, that he had advised Obama against calling for Assad to step down. Even though the president had said the United States would not impose regime change on Syria, the “nuance in what Obama said…was totally lost.” It wasn’t just opposition activists like Ahmed who were banking on US intervention. Many in the budding armed opposition were certain they would soon receive support from the Americans. Ford insisted to them this would never happen, but “they just wouldn’t believe it,” he recalled. Obama’s statement “in the long run didn’t help anything. It probably made it worse.” 
Obama had no plan to push Assad out. At that moment, his administration was busy juggling the NATO no-fly zone in Libya and unrest in Bahrain, where the United States has a major naval base. According to Philip Gordon, a former White House coordinator for the Middle East, Obama’s team believed Assad would be chased out by protests like other dictators were, so they “might as well align the United States on the right side of the conflict.”
Here he is with leftist volunteers in Kurdish Rojava:
The international fighters bristle when I point out that the supposedly anti-authoritarian PYD [the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party] seems to control everything in Rojava. Its constitution guarantees freedom of the press and the freedom to organize, but Berzan Liyanî, a Kurdish journalist I’d met, was imprisoned for six months in 2017 on charges of practicing journalism without a license and being part of an unapproved TV channel. He was held in solitary confinement for 45 days in a five-by-seven-foot cell in a “counterterrorism” prison. Later, he was put in a cell with ISIS fighters. His interrogators accused his network of inciting opposition to the local security forces and the self-administration.
And taking up the theme of American involvement in Part II:
Initially, the Obama administration had hoped the war would lead to what Alexander Bick, the director for Syria at the National Security Council, called a “wholesale renova­tion of the government,” in which Syrians friendly to the United States would come together to shape a new government in Damascus. But as the war expanded and more Islamist groups joined the opposition, that idea became “extremely worrying,” according to Bick. “We did not want a military victory by the opposition,” he recalls. Former officials say the White House hoped to press the Syrian government and the rebels into a stalemate, forcing them into UN-led negotiations in which the United States and Russiawould have a high degree of influence. Until then, the United States would provide aid to the rebels, but it would also try to “fine-tune and calibrate the level of assistance to reach that magic temperature of just enough pressure but not so much that it actually spills over into victory,” according to a former senior State Department official with direct knowledge of the issue. 
Many inside the government worried that aiding secular rebels would inadvertently benefit the Islamist factions springing up in Syria. In late 2013, what Bick called a “holy shit meeting” was held at the State Department to evaluate the growing relationship between the FSA and Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. “Alarm bells were beginning to go off,” Bick recalls. The two groups seemed to be setting aside their ideological differences to team up against Assad, which complicated the American plan to arm the rebels. “If you’re going to give support to the opposition, you want to be confident that support is going to people that you trust,” Bick says. “You don’t want it filtering into terrorist groups”—or indirectly making them stronger.
Gradually, the Obama administration walked back its goal of speeding the end of the Assad regime, former officials at the State Department, the National Security Council, and the White House tell me. “The terms kept lowering from immediate departure of the entire regime…to a departure of just Assad and his cronies,” says Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East from 2013 to 2015. By the end of Obama’s second term, Bick says, “If Assad and a handful of his advisers had left and been replaced by an Alawite general chosen by Russia, the United States would have been willing to call that a political transition.”
Read the whole thing.

I recently re-read two older pieces on the war in Syria and the left. From a hard left perspective, Jamie Allinson in Salvage, in a piece called "Disaster Islamism" from 2017 brilliantly dissected the left's myth of US regime change that Bauer's piece also reflects on. (I haven't listened to it yet, but there's a 2018 podcast by Allinson on the same topic.) From a more right-wing perspective from 2016 Jamie Palmer channels the spirit of Christopher Hitchens in this long read on how Syria exposed the "anti-imperialist" left's betrayal of the Palestinian people and democracy in the Arab world.

Antidote has published a 2016 interview with the recently killed Syrian revolutionary Abdel Basset al-Sarout, entitled "The hope and the tragedy". And, zooming out a bit further, Sam Hamad's latest argues that Libya and Sudan show that the "Arab spring" is still alive.

Syria and the truth war
This is my perennial topic. A short piece: How Trolls and Conspiracy Theorists Spun the Syrian War, by Dan Spinelli in Mother Jones. And a fine longer piece: Bellingcat and How Open Source Reinvented Investigative Journalism, by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in the NYRB. Here's an extract:
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, for example, has been dismissive of open-source investigations. It was the August 21, 2013, chemical attack on Ghouta, Syria, that first put them at odds. Eliot Higgins, then running an obscure blog named Brown Moses, had quickly gathered data from YouTube videos, satellite imagery, and UN reports to verify the dimensions of the munitions used in the attack and confirm their make and likely trajectory. The rockets matched a model in the regime’s arsenal and the trajectory could be traced back to regime-held territory.

Months later, Hersh published a long story in the London Review of Books claiming that the Obama administration had manipulated evidence and colluded in a false-flag operation to implicate the Syrian regime of President Assad. In making this incendiary claim, Hersh relied on the testimony of an unnamed “former senior intelligence official.” Although central claims in Hersh’s story were soon challenged, he simply redoubled his efforts and published an even longer version, also published by the London Review of Books. That trusty warhorse the “former intelligence official” told Hersh: “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish President Recep] Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line.” 
Hersh was demanding the reader’s trust while relying on a single anonymous source whose credibility he could not establish, citing documents he hadn’t seen, making allegations he could not substantiate. He also failed to acknowledge extant evidence that contradicted his story. Higgins, on the other hand, had relied on verifiable data and a robust method to prove beyond doubt that the rockets were of a manufacture used by the Syrian regime and that their trajectory placed their provenance in government-controlled territory. For Hersh’s story to be true, not only did everyone else have to be wrong, they also had to be colluding (since they had all independently reached the same conclusion about the attack); Higgins’s analysis, on the other hand, was based on accessible information and supported by physical evidence, witnesses on the ground, as well as numerous international observers and institutions, including the UN, human rights groups, and the US, British, German, and French governments.

The cycle repeated in April 2017, after the Syrian regime launched another chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun (sometimes also spelled Sheikhoun). Hersh presented an alternative narrative that relied on an unnamed “senior adviser to the US intelligence community,” but he got the time of the attack wrong, could not identify the location, and seemed oblivious of the fact that the impact site bore no resemblance to the scene he described. A comprehensive investigation by the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism would corroborate the details of Bellingcat’s open-source analysis, leaving Hersh and his German publishers humiliated. (On this occasion, after the LRB declined to publish his story, Hersh had turned to the German conservative daily Die Welt.) Although Russia had restricted the OPCW’s remit to prevent it from identifying the perpetrator, the UN researchers later confirmed to Reuters that the sarin gas used in August 2013 came from the same regime stock used in Khan Shaykhun.
Read the whole thing.

Anarchist Jews
Flawed but interesting three-part series in The Tablet by Paul Berman entitled "Tales of the Jewish Working Class". Part 1: The Ancient Dream of the Jewish Left; 2: Crackup and Transformation of the Jewish Left; 3: Anarchism and the Multicultural Joys of New York.

The fascist international
A really great piece: The Balkans in Rightwing Mythology, by Adnan Delalić and Patricia Zhubi, in Antidote.

In the NYT: "The Making of a YouTube radical", on one man's online journey into the darkest reaches of the far right. In the New Statesman, Sarah Ditum blogs about this, and how YouTube's algorithms radicalise. (Above is an image from the story, with the guy's watching habits, in this case an InfoWars video of the far right Australian blogger Maram Susli, connected to a story above because she worked with Ted Postol in his chemical weapons conspiracy theories, as defended by Seymour Hersh.)

Boris Johnson
My friend Otto English has a brilliant two-part piece on our next prime minister in Byline Times: 1. A Role on which the Curtain Never Falls, and 2. Keeping the Show on the Road. I was going to quote an extract, but it's

The hostile environment
Gracie Bradley: From Grenfell to Windrush, state racism kills – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Bethany Morris: Britain’s BAME community will fall through the cracks due to Brexit.

Against left nationalism: Red-brown alliances in Brexit Britain
As ever, Coatesy continues to chart the rise of left nationalism and right-wing national populism. Here he looks at Boris Johnson and the Trumpification of British politics (an issue addressed by Will  Davies here). Here he summarises good and (more often) bad left takes on the Peterborough by-election. Here he charts Spiked's unseemly defence of the homophobic Brexit right. Elsewhere, the AWL's guru Sean Matgamna argues that Cotbyn's Brexit position is reactionary, Jim Denham takes apart the lie that Brexit is a working class cause, Seema Syeda on why Len McCluskey's vision of a monolithically white and monolithically reactionary working class is wrong, and the great Eric Lee on why, in the fight for workers’ rights, there are no borders.

Londonism and the metropolitan elite
Dave Hill: Will the left media please stop portraying London as a threat to the rest of the UK? He's aiming at Huffington Post, but this discourse crosses the left and not just the left.

Keith Kahn-Harris has a new book out on antisemitism. He's written a bunch of articles related to it: “All the world is a very narrow bridge” — A correction, an apology, a reflection on irony (Repeater), If you are the ‘right kind of Jew’, you’re empowering racists (Jewish Chronicle), How a radical new form of anti-racism can save Labour (The Guardian), Removing certain kinds of Jews from anti-racist protection is wrong (Fathom Journal), and Don’t Fall For Selective Anti-Semites Just Because You’re Their ‘Good’ Jew (The Forward).

Peter Hain and Daniel Levy make a really important intervention in the Labour debate. And David Feldman is illuminating on Hobson, Corbyn, “Imperialism”, and Labour’s Antisemitism Problem.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Max Blumenthal, Stop The War and Jenny Tonge

Max Blumenthal with Tucker Carlson on Fox TV; Stop The War vice president George Galloway; Baroness Jenny Tonge

A couple of minor brouhahas have erupted in the small UK left social media galaxy this week, about topics I've been blogging about here over the years. This post is a quick set of links to stuff in my archive.

Max Blumenthal

New Statesman economics writer, Novara media regular and Oxbridge Lexiteer Grace Blakeley this week endorsed - and then to her enormous credit swiftly withdrew the endorsement when his awfulnesss was pointed out - a new book by Max Blumenthal.

Critics pointed to Blumenthal smearing civilian first responders in Syria, the White Helmets:
Blakeley said she hadn't read this bit before recommending it. The bits of his book smearing the White Helmets are on pp.207-218 of a 400 page book. The footnoted sources include Leith Fadel (mainly known for participating in a far right smear campaign against a Syrian refugee in Hungary, and for employing an Australian Nazi activist) and a bizarre sectarian pro-Assad crank on Twitter called @EHSANI22.

Other critcisms could be made too:

Friday, June 07, 2019

Friday round-up

Truth wars
Excellent piece by Uğur Ümit Üngör in the consistently good al-Jumhuriya on the coming narrative war. Keith Kahn-Harris on the dangers of denialism.

Pplswar on a new racist video about Venezuelan refugees. Concludes:
Means TV’s racist video (endorsed by Sam Seder) about Venezuelans makes this scabbing by Codepink, PSL, and DSA easier to do, just as peddling Islamophobic tropes about Syrians enables the regime of Bashar al-Assad to engage in mass murder and the proliferation of anti-Semitism leads to synagogues being shot up.
The red-brown alliance
Rosalind Robson in Workers Liberty on Bannon and Galloway. Coatesy on Galloway's charity collapse.

Critique and theory

Dan Davison on the legacy of the great Marxist thinker Robert Fine. The Enemy’s Enemy is Not Your Friend - an interview with Rohini Hensman in Democratic Left.

Resisting global authoritarianism
Gabriel Levy on the torture of anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia. A call for solidarity with detained LGBT activists and anarchists in Cuba. From the archive: Sinclair Lewis – Profile of an American Demagogue.

Banned bombs fall on Idlib, by Ty Joplin:
“The Syrian-Russian military alliance is using a cocktail of internationally banned and indiscriminate weapons on a trapped civilian population,” Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said. These weapons include incendiary munitions, which are wreaking havoc on Idlib’s farmlands, bunker-buster missiles used against hospitals built deep underground, indiscriminate cluster munitions and payloads of barrel bombs dropped on civilian targets. 
Though horrific, the tactics being deployed now in Idlib and northern Hama closely follow a key strategy the regime has used since it began losing territory early in the civil war: terrorize civilians in rebel-held territory so thoroughly that they are pressed into making an impossible choice, try to brave the bombing campaign or relent and move to the relative safety of regime-controlled areas.
These "conventional" weapons, and the massive slaughter caused by them, are the central story of Syria's war. Obama spoke about chemical weapons as a "red line" for the "international community", but then failed to enforce it after Ghouta. See Regime preservation: How US policy facilitated Assad’s victory, by Michael Karadjis.

Only twice has the West stirred from its hand-wringing apathy: after the 2017 chemical strike on Khan Sheykoun and the 2018 chlorine bombing of Douma. Because these are iconic moments,  they have been seized on by conspiracy theorists who want to deny Assad's slaughter, deflecting from the big picture of the on-going "conventional" genocide.

In that effort, the most recent episode has been a "leaked" document relating to Douma. Here are some of the key reads on that: Bill Weinberg: New spasm of Syria chemwar denial - don't buy it; Clay Claibourne: Lies, damned lies, and engineering sub-team reports; Where in the world is Ian Henderson?; More on the silent Ian Henderson and his "leaked" OPCW paper; Dr. Ted Postol rides again - right into the OPCW "leak" controversy; OPCW Word Games - Exposing the Politics of the Henderson "leak"; Brian Whitaker: Leaked OPCW document: where’s the conspiracy?OPCW replies to Russian and Syrian critiques of its Douma report; and Louis Proyect: Was the Douma chlorine gas attack a “false flag”?

Meanwhile, on the history of the revolution, via Joey Ayoub: Enab Baladi: Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising (Free PDF). And via Dick Gregory: Extracts from Samar Yazbek's A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution. Also read: Alex Rowell: The blood of the people of Idlib speaks.

Shalom Lappin in Fathom on the re-emergence of the Jewish question and the moral panic about globalism. A Stir in the Suburbs - Rosie Bell on Pete Grigson and Labour antisemitism in Edinburgh.

Against Stalinism
Stanning for the saffron fascists
Todd Hamer in Workers Liberty on Labour's Barry Gardiner and his long-term association with Hindu pogromists in India. (In the US, of course, the leading advocate of Modi's Hindutva movement is fake-leftist Tulsi Gabbard.)

Brexit and the working class
Jim Denham on whether Brexit is a workers' cause. Important, nuanced new research on Remain and Vote supporters. Here's a key bit of information about the class nature of the Leave support:
Resourcing anti-fascism
My comrade Spencer Sunshine has a new Patreon and newsletter to sustain his vital work on the the American far right. Please consider supporting him.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Priorities for Thursday's European elections

This week's European elections are some of the most important elections Europe and the UK have faced in my memory. In Europe, left of centre voters and right of centre voters each constitute almost exactly half of the electorate. In the UK, left of centre parties are polling at around 53% while the right is polling at 47%. And yet, because of the fragmentation of the left of centre parties and the surge in the right-wing authoritarian populist vote, the results of the elections are looking bad.

In this post, I set out what I think are the four things we vitally need to do on Thursday. The problem is, not all of the tasks are compatible with each other...

Image result for nigel farage
Image credit: Telegraph.

Nigel Farage's Brexit Party (despite having no policiesdodgy funding, despite its misogynisticracistfascist and antisemitic smell, its totally astro-turfed party structure, and having an IRA-supporting candidate in the constituency where the Warrington bombing took place, etc) is currently on track to get the biggest vote in the Euro elections with upwards of 30% - and up to 37% - in opinion polls.

If the Brexit Party realises that 30-37% in the actual election, this will be disastrous. It will be interpreted as a mandate for hard Brexit (including by Conservative and Labour party politicians, pulling both parties to tack to the nationalist right). It will give the BBC and other mainstream platforms a reason to keep on inviting Farage onto our airwaves as some kind of legitimate voice. It will add weight to the coalition of authoritarian populist, pro-Putin hard right forces in the European Parliament. And it will mean that some dreadful people (including homophobic and reactionary ex-Tory Anne Widdecombe, Claire Fox and other ex-RCP activistsalt-right activist, Bullingdon Club boy and hedge fund heir George Farmer, and vulture capitalist Richard Tice) will be paid by the taxpayer to represent us in that Parliament.

However, Farage's strategy relies on the low turnout in European elections. As Alex Andreou points out, "He has never prevailed in any electoral contest with a turnout of over 40 per cent. He has a ceiling."

In other words, more than anything else, we need to get out the vote. The more people vote for Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid, Greens, Change UK or even the Tories reduces Farage's share of the vote and reduces his MEP numbers. Because of the more proportionate nature of European elections, every vote counts. Make sure everyone you know knows that, however unimpressive they find the options, not voting is not an option

Our second priority has to be to make sure the biggest vote share goes to anti-Brexit parties. Pundits, but also crucially May and Corbyn, the leaders of the two main parliamentary parties, will be interpreting the results as No Deal Brexit v Deal Brexit v No Brexit. As Jonathan Freedland notes, the main parties interpreted the pro-Remain results of the local elections by hailing them as a heartfelt plea from the voters to get on with Brexit. This he, continues, "is a warning to remain-minded voters ahead of Thursday’s European elections. If you want to send a message about Brexit, you’ll need to send it as clearly and as unambiguously as possible. Up against a spin machine capable of hearing a repudiation as an endorsement, voters will need to be louder and clearer this time, closing down the scope for wilful misinterpretation."

Currently, those three options are in a tight race, with No Deal Brexit (BP + UKIP) just ahead of the pack and No Brexit just behind, although the latest YouGov poll shows the No Brexit vote pulling ahead of Deal Brexit and catching up with No Deal Brexit.

The mantra of "respect the Referendum", "get on with Brexit", "Brexit sort it", and "replace free movement with a great deal of movement", as well as the prevarication over the Withdrawal Bill, has signaled clearly that, from the perspective of the Westminster bubble and Corbyn HQ, a vote for Labour is a vote for Brexit. Given that our relationship with the EU is the most important issue in this election, a vote for Labour is therefore not a tenable option. And this is why on Thursday I am joining the 60% of 2017 Labour voters who will not be voting for Corbyn's party.

The Remain parties have been frustratingly fragmented in the elections. Change UK have been flawed and profoundly un-impressive. I personally couldn't stomach voting for the austerity-enabling Lib Dems. So for me a Remain vote, in England at least, means a Green vote.

However, balance of forces in regional constituencies should be a strong consideration here. You should check out the Democratic Audit website, and look at your area. For example, in London Change UK are polling just 7% and so a vote for them is probably a wasted vote, while a strong Green vote could lead to two Green MEPs instead of one. Similarly, in the Sothwest  and the West Midlands, the Greens are polling third and have a good chance of a seat in each. In Wales, in contrast, the Greens are too far behind to have much chance of winning one of the four seats, and I'd probably vote Plaid.
Democratic Audit chart of possible winners in London


One tragic thing about the Labour leadership's disastrous Leave strategy is that Labour MEPs are mostly very good. Richard Corbett, Julie Ward, Jude Kirton-Darling and Seb Dance, for example, have been strong proponents of the serious Remain and Reform stance that Labour should be taking in Westminster, and I would really love to see Laura Parker and Eloise Todd joining them in the European Parliament. Based on the quality of the candidates alone, a vote for Labour would be a no-brainer. Sadly, though, Priority no.2 trumps this for me.

Most UK voters don't realise that these elections have the consequence of determining the President of the European Commission (in the way that Westminster elections for MPs determine the Prime Minister too). The President (currently Juncker) has an important role, both in shaping how the EU relates to the UK in withdrawal negotiations, but also in whether Europe stands up to the threats posed by Putin and Trump, how firm a line it takes with authoritarian member states like Orban's Hungary, its capacity to reform, and the policies it takes on vital issues such as migration and the environment.

The front runner (on a reduced majority) is the EPP's Manfred Weber, and a vote for Change UK is a vote for Weber. Weber represents the status quo, relatively harsh on immigrants, soft on Orban, and promoting privatisation. The main rival is the far more preferable Frans Timmermans of the Socialists & Democrats, and vote for Labour ir a vote for Timmermans. A vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for ALDE's Guy Verhofstadt, one of the few candidates with any recognition in the UK. The Tories sit with the hard right ECR, along with assorted populists and conservatives, who are luckily set to crash from third to fifth. The bad news is that Matteo Salvini's new hard right EAPN is likely to overtake them to become the fourth party.

The Greens (who sit in the same block as the SNP and Plaid Cymru) have no hope of their candidate,  Bas Eickhout, being the President, but a strong Green presence in parliament is key, in a time when the centre-left is collapsing, to an alliance in parliament behind decent policies.

The results of these elections, at both a European level and a UK level are likely to be grim - but by maximising the vote we can reduce the grimness slightly.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Claire Fox, The Brexit Party, Full Brexit, the RCP, and Northern Ireland

A recent Twitter thread by me on the Revolutionary Communist Party, aka Spiked, now the main force in the Full Brexit pressure group and standing candidates for Nigel Farage's far right Brexit Party in the Euro elections in May. Scroll to the end for a correction about "the Workers' Bomb". After the thread, a couple more links.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Left nationalism and Brexit Bolshevism

I haven't managed to keep up with the flood of sewage coming out of the nationalist left this past month. The cast of characters: a weird amalgam of Arron Banks-funded trade unionists (Paul Embery), Blue Labour's Third Way centrists (Lord Maurice Glasman), old Etonian man of the people David Goodhart, the formerly Trotskyist libertarian contrarians of Spiked (Frank Furedi, Clare Fox, etc), media professors like Matt Goodwin, and old school tankie Stalinists at the Morning Star, young Stalinists shit-posting on social media, SWP splinter sects like Counterfire, and hipster leftists at Novara and in the machinery of Young Labour, and even a few ex-anarchists. None of these currents would be particularly significant alone,although some of them are increasingly called upon pundits on daytime TV sofas and Question Time debates. But the alignment of these different formations has become an increasingly toxic force on the left. This toxic force pulls the Labour Party away from internationalist, anti-racist and pro-migrant positions (e.g. promoting pro-Brexit positions and sacrificing our right to freedom of movement). And it is toxic in terms of the culture of our movements too, driving better people away from the left.

Here, just five brief comments from me, then lower down links to some other reading.

1. Anti-fascism: However stalwart you might be in scrapping with the far right on the street or turning up to anti-fascist demos, if you  can't recognise the range of forms that racism and fascism take today (including the versions of antisemitism that circulate in the anti-Zionist movement, and the forms of war on terror Islamophobia that have been promoted by Assadists and their fellow travellers in relation to Syria), then your "anti-fascism" is insufficient.

2. The working class: If you think only what you call "the traditional working class" is the proper constituency of the left, and "the working class" is defined by a cockney or northern English accent, a Fred Perry shirt or a flat cap, or that "the working class" is something forever separate from "ethnic minorities", then you're no kind of Marxist and no kind of radical. The working class has always been mobile, global, multi-racial, diverse. 

3. The left and the working class: It is true that the left has evacuated many of the communities of the "traditional" and less traditional working class, and that the vacuum created has often been filled by the far right right. But the answer to that is not to amplify far right ideas in the hope that people buy our fake version of the far right product; it is to return to those communities with a positive, radical agenda based on solidarity.

4. Ultra-left reaction: If you say that the fact that EU free movement objectively discriminates against free movement from beyond Europe, and therefore we should abolish it, either you're living in a fantasy world (because abolishing borders, however, desirable, is not on the political table in the near future, and will be even more off the table if we Brexit, with xenophobes ascendant and emboldened) or you're dishonest. We need to defend the rights we already have, even as we demand new rights too. To advocate reactionary positions (strong UK borders) because existing democratic politics (free movement in the EU) fails to meet utopian standards is to be objectively reactionary, especially in a political conjuncture dominated by post-imperial nostalgia and far right bigotry.

5. Stalinism: Stalinism's legacy includes economic nationalism and an (anti-Marxist and anachronistic) idea of the working class as white, male, national and industrial. Stalinism should have died off decades ago, but it exerts a persistent influence, including via the Morning Star and some of Corbyn's key advisors, who play a major role in distorting Labour's Brexit position. And it has had a resurgence in social media meme culture, in a way that has spilled into Labour Party internal politics, to deadly effect


The rest of this post is basically just a reading list of some of the critiques and commentaries that have come out about this.

Coatesy: Morning Star Tries Failed Left Populist Rhetoric against the “Political Caste” to Back Brexit (21 March, on the Morning Star, SWP and other Brexit Bolsheviks)

View image on Twitter

Jim Denham: After the giant march: where now for the anti-Brexit left? (25 March)

Sabrina Huck: Beware, Lexiteers, you could be paving the way for Blue Corbynism (26 March, on the British jobs for British workers ideas David Goodhart and friends promote in the Lexit scene)

Coatesy: Pro-Brexit Left Goes the Full Blue Labour (26 March, on Spiked, Blue Labour's Glasman and Red London's Eddie Dempsey coming together to promote national socialism)

Alex Fernandez: Why we joined the anti-Brexit march (27 March, a reply to Young Labour's Lara McNeill and her attack on the People's Vote march, reposted at Shiraz Socialist)

Paul Mason: To defeat an insurgent far-right, Labour must resist Brexit with all its force (27 March, sharp response to Lexit idiocy, with stats)

Coatesy: As Farage and Far-Right Moblise for Hard Brexit ‘Left Wing’ Full Brexiters Go for Collaboration with “Brexit Right” (29 March, on Tim Pendry, Paul Embery and other left/right crossover activists)

Coatesy: Pro-Brexit Rallies, Political Confusionism, from Tory Right, National Populist Left, to Anti-Semites (30 March, on Kate Hoey, Clare Fox and Paul Embery marching alongside fascists and antisemites for Brexit)

Cartoon by John Rogan
Cartoon by Brockley's own Martin Rowson

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Four weeks of antisemitism

Anti-Nazis United has been hosting a new series of weekly round-ups of antisemitism, by Adrian Booth, Morgan Lopez and Arthur Pablo, published every Sunday. Here are a few extracts, but read the whole lot if you  have the stomach.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Why horseshoe theory is nonsense

Given that I have been writing about left-right convergence for years now, you might think I am an advocate of what is often called "horseshoe theory", the notion that if you go far enough to the left you meet the far right and if you go far enough to the right you meet the far left. What's wrong with this idea?

1. Horseshoe theory is not a theory. Theories ought to explain things. Horseshoe "theory" explains nothing. At best it is a description, or rather an observation: there are superficial similarities between some people or organisations on the far left and some people or organisations on the far right. But there are also lots of counter-observations: there are plenty of people or organisations on the far left who have really nothing in common with people or organisations on the far right.

2. Horseshoe theory reduces politics to a left-right line. Although it adds a second dimension by curving the line, horseshoe theory essentially sees politics as linear, stretched between left and right. This was simplistic in the mid-twentieth century, when left v right was the main cleavage in politics, but it is even more inadequate in the complex reality of today. Contemporary politics is full of political movements or currents which are socially conservative while economically liberal (Thatcherism and Reaganism), or socially liberal while economically "right-wing" (David Cameron), or socially "right-wing" while economically "left-wing" (Blue Labour, the revived SDP, Steve Bannon, Neil Clarke).

3. Horseshoe theory sees politics from the perspective of the centre. The idea of a sensible mainstream versus fringe/extreme positions at the far left and far right is an inherently centrist idea. The horseshoe image perpetuates the status quo and devalues radical criticisms as versions of "extremism". This is obviously problematic when viewed from a non-centrist position, but also covers up how it centrist and "third way" forms of politics (including some of the mixed, or "syncretic", positions mentioned in the previous bullet point, such as Blue Labour) actually have far more in common with fascism than more radical forms of socialism do - see point 6 below.

4. Horseshoe theory erases libertarian leftism. Horseshoe theory works best as an observation when you place the twin totalitarian systems of Stalinism and Nazism at the furthest, touching ends of the left-right line. But in what sense is Stalinism (which was nationalist and deeply conservative socially) more "left-wing" than anarchism or libertarian communism? If you add a libertarian-authoritarian axis to your view of politics, which most people now do, it's obvious that left-right convergences tend to be in the authoritarian zone rather than features of the extreme left-right edges. Of course, there have been attempts to co-opt anarchism for the far right (see e.g. "national anarchism" and "autonomous nationalism"), but this is the exception not the rule.

5. Horseshoe theory erases the anti-fascism of the left and the anti-communism of the right. If we look historically at resistance to totalitarianism, you would find far more of it among political radicals than among centrists. While there have been centrist, liberal and even conservative anti-fascists, the great weight of the anti-fascist movement has been from the radical left: anarchists and communists (the latter albeit with blips - see point no.7 below). Successfully fighting fascism often requires unconventional - "extreme" - strategies, which centrists are reluctant to deploy. Painting the far left as akin to the far right erases this history. Similarly, centrists and liberals have been anti-Stalinist, but it is among democratic socialists, anarchists and left communists that the sharpest critiques of Stalinism have been found. Anti-communism, as opposed to anti-Stalinism, has been found among liberals and social democrats, but is more typically a right-wing position, and - just as Stalinists used anti-fascism to recruit and bind supporters - anti-communism has been used to recruit and bind fascist support.

6. The centre has been susceptible to the fascist creep too. Placing the political centre at a sanitary distance from extremisms like fascism is a flattering narrative for the political middle (see point 3 above). In fact, the political middle has been a breeding ground for fascism too. Oswald Mosley, the leader of British fascism, is a good example. He started off as a Tory MP before crossing the floor to Labour, where he became a Fabian and allied himself with Ramsay MacDonald (in whose government he served), then founding the New Party as an explicitly centrist party before he fell under fascist influence. Similarly, the "neither capitalism nor socialism" ideal of "third way" politics (e.g. Tony Blair) resonates with the "third position" stance taken by many fascists. (In fact, some fascists, such as the British micro-party Third Way or the French Troisième voie actually took the same name as Blair's idea.) Today, we can see examples of a fascist drift from the political centre when we see how many antisemites there are in the Lib Dems, from Baroness Jenny Tonge and former MP David Ward on down.
7. Other theories are available. The susceptibility of the centre to fascism has given us the "fish hook theory" (picture above) as a counter to the horseshoe theory, but this has many of the same problems as the horseshoe one, starting with not being a theory, as well as missing the fact that sometimes people on the left do enter into proximity with the far left. Slightly more helpful is what Noah Berlatsky calls "tendril theory" (picture below), which captures how fascism gets itself entangled with positions across the political spectrum. Berlatsky writes:
Fascism's ubiquitous appeal is best demonstrated post-Trump by the media's seemingly unappeasable fascination with and adoration of idealized Trump voters. From right-wing journalist Salena Zito to center-left politicians like Dick Durbin to left-wing Jacobin editor Connor Kilpatrick, writers and analysts are obsessed with the white working class as a special location of power, strength, and virtue. The racist, nationalist image of an iconically white American volk is by its very nature fascist. But it also fascinates (mostly white) politicians and pundits of almost every ideological stripe.
He's writing in a US context, but the point applies in the UK, where centrist rhetoric about purported white working class anti-migrant "legitimate concerns" is indistinguishable from similar tropes used by the Corbyn leadership, Labour lexiteers or Class War - see these posts.

Tendril Theory vs Horseshoe Theory

More useful ideas include:
  • Confusionism: This term originates in France and is used in the UK by Andrew Coates and can be defined as the phenomenon that leads on certain subjects groups and individuals belonging to a priori opposite spectra of the political field to ally for opportunistic reasons but also because they arrive at these specific subjects to find and develop common ideological bases.
  • Querfront, German for "transversal front") has been described as "a recurrent motif in far-right thought over the past century. Craving the legitimacy that an alliance with progressive forces can provide, reactionaries seize on ostensibly shared positions, chief amongst them opposition to corrupt élites, to create the impression that progressives could benefit from making common cause with them." (See here for more.)
  • Red-brown alliance: Like Querfront, this term originates in interwar Germany when Communists (going through their ultra-left Third Period, when they denounced Social Democrats as "social fascists" allied with the Nazis - leading to the war-time Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia) although there are earlier examples. This important blogpost exhaustively details the history, including Strasserism (the purportedly working class socialist Nazi current purged during the Night of the Long Knives) and National Bolshevism. 
  • Unorthodox fascism: This is the term used by Spencer Sunshine for left/right crossover movements such as new forms of Third Positionism, Julius Evola's influence, popular mobilizations against finance capital, conspiracy theories, Sovereign Citizen pseudo-legal theories and fascist neofolk music - see his forthcoming book of the same title.
  • Fascist creep: This is the term used by Alex Reid Ross that can be described as the creep between fascism and leftism, "the disturbing attraction many 20th-century leftists felt for reactionary ideology", often based on "nostalgia for [a] precapitalist 'lost paradise'" - see his book of the same title.
  • The big neo-Nazi crib: Finally, Croatian antifa activists have documented what they call "the big neo-Nazi crib", where fascists have rebranded by copying antifa iconography and re-purposing it. I've pasted a few of their examples at the end of this post.
8. Left-right convergence is better understood as strategy, not as inevitable. The horseshoe "theory" assumes there is some inevitable drift together of the "far left" and "far right". The alternative theories I listed in point no.7 instead enable us to see that the convergence comes about when the far right works at making it happen. It has been a deliberate strategy of the far right to recruit from the far left or to rebrand itself by taking imagery or terminology from the far left, in order to appeal to new constituencies such as left behind working class people or young activists in emergent social movements.

9. In a multipolar world, left-right convergence has been weaponised geopolitically. The left-right convergence is more of a threat than ever today because it is being actively resourced as part of the soft power influence operations of nation-states including Iran and, most importantly, Russia, in their geopolitical tussle against the US and Europe. Just as the US tried to harness liberal and democratic socialist anti-Stalinism in its old Cold War operations against the USSR, in the new cold war Putin's government has poured resources into influencing electoral and extra-parliamentary politics globally, and has actively promoted conspiracy theories which bind left and right and actively promoted red-brown political currents. (Matthew Lyons and Alex Reid Ross have documented several examples of this.)

10. We need to inoculate our movements against the fascist drift. Conspiracy theories and antisemitism (Rothschild bankers, globalism, the New Word Order, the Illuminati, Zios...) as well as appeals to nationalism often serve to bind otherwise politically disparate forces. Making sure our movements understand and resist these ways of thinking is essential for making them effective radical forces. Until we learn to draw clear lines against fascism in our movements, we will always be fighting with one hand tied behind our back.


Friday, February 08, 2019

Kicking off


Image result for venezuela protests barrio





Monday, February 04, 2019

Against left nationalism, continued

No borders

In one of my last posts, I spent a bit of time on critiques of the nationalist turn that has hit the British left in recent years, (I suggested this might part of what Alex Reid Ross calls "the fascist creep" - how fascist ideas "migrate from left to right and right to left and how they surreptitiously slip into the heart of the body politic", as Tamir Bar-On puts it.) In this post: some heavy theoretical stuff, and then at the bottom some links to more contemporary focused pieces on resisting the Lexist drift of the Labour-led left.

I included an extract from a long read in Salvage on the left's failure to reckon with nationalism Malcolm James and Sivamohan Valluvan. I hadn't seen then this 2017 blogpost by Valluvan on the new nationalism, which includes this:
some try to equate nationalist populisms with certain new left, anti-capitalist agitations – reading the nationalist rise as a misrecognised critique of contemporary neoliberalism, a critique that otherwise sits more naturally within the supposedly equally prominent left wing agitations. If only. This wilfully optimistic reading of the political spectrum bundles the newly emboldened, often youth driven leftist movements’ desire for change with the actual change and brokerage of power already exercised by nationalist factions. Only one brand of politics and mobilisation has successfully claimed the mantle of power – democratic, media, and otherwise. That brand is nationalism. Brexit belongs to the real. Occupy and Momentum to the hopeful. The Front National belongs to the general, the Nuit debout protests and Mélenchon to the particular. The People’s party and the Progress party, both long-term Nordic stalwarts of xenophobic alarmism, are in government, not merely aspirants.
...nationalism cannot be opportunistically gamed for other political ends. Nationalism is itself the contemporary populist play – all else is merely marshalled in its service. Of course, as Maya Goodfellow comments, to realise a popular politics without appealing to the totems of anti-immigrant, xeno-racism might seem a Sisyphean task. But it is the challenge that must be reckoned with, as otherwise, one merely gives further succour to the nationalist call. A call that might absorb other ideological positions but is ultimately promiscuous, only committed to its own ethno-racial exclusion and nativism.
He also has a brand new longer article entitled "The uses and abuses of class: Left nationalism and the denial of working class multiculture", which I recommend if you have access.

And here's an extract from an interview with the great black British intellectual Paul Gilroy in a recent edition of Cultural Studies, via interviewer Sindre Bangstad (Some hyperlinks added by me.)
PAUL: I’ve mentioned the left and that takes me to the other thing I want to say about this book [There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, published thirty years ago]. Many people on the left thirty years ago, just as manypeople on the left now in the wake of the vote against the EU membership,they look to places like Norway and they say 'Oh, but the left has always been nationalist’, ‘it is perfectly possible to be a leftist and a nationalist’ and so on. There were many people in my intellectual and political environment who regardless of the connection with racism were saying that we had to find a wholesome patriotism, find a ‘clean’ nationalism which will mean that we can challenge the hegemony of those who rule, exploit and expropriate by articulating national feeling to the Right. I was never convinced by that argument, because it was an argument that could only be made if you did not take racism into account. Often the people making that argument were people who I respected, people who I looked up to. Raymond Williams, an extraordinary thinker. Edward Thomson, an extraordinary historian and a brave activist. But these were all, actually in this case, there are men only, who had been fighting in World War II (like Fanon). They had acquired a different kind of patriotism in that struggle.
SINDRE: A kind of ‘little Englander’ nationalism, right?
PAUL: That was the danger. There was always the danger that there would be a kind of overlap between the left nationalism and patriotism and the things that were being said on the right. Today we have many – they call it ‘Lexit’ – the people on the left who support leaving the EU. This division is in someways a replay of some of these older problems. Nowadays the anti-racist part of it – people like the Socialist Workers Party and these groupings – they are forgetful. Their memories have been very badly affected in the intervening time, because they don’t remember that the racists we were fighting in the street in the 1970s and early 80s, these were people who had a political programme where the first aim was ‘get the blacks out, get the browns out’ and the second thing on the list was ‘Leave the EU’. So now, those people want to talk about Trump and what’s happening in America, but they won’t talk about the actual issues involved in dealing with the political contradiction into which they have led people.
Further reading:

The website of the recently formed Labour for a Socialist Europe. An interview with Alena Ivanova about it. Alex Green: "The pro-Brexit left: too much Marx, or not enough?" Daniel Randall: "Changing the subject from Brexit isn't good enough". Edd Mustill: Labour and the Immigration Bill: notes on a cock-up. Rachel Shabi: Labour’s immigration U-turn is a wake-up call for Corbyn supporters. Michael Chessum: The Immigration Bill fiasco shows that Labour’s left-wing principles are on the slide. Sabrina Huck: Labour’s immigration bill chaos exposed the left’s weaknesses on Brexit. Kimberley McIntosh on what Brexit means for BAME people.