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.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Skipped a month

bobism - the highest stage of marxism?
So I didn't manage to post in January, so here we are with the first miscellany of 2019. I thought I'd use it to re-emphasise some of this blog's key agenda items, followed by some recent reading - some of which is pretty old, as I've had a lot of tabs open that it's taken me a while to get to.


I see the current moment as one of a failure of internationalism and international solidarity, despite unprecedented opportunities for contact and understanding across borders. This failure is well illustrated by the selective solidarity exhibited by the left for emancipatory struggles that don't fit into the tired geopolitical matrix of "anti-imperialism" - as well as by the mirroring selective solidarity of liberals and neoconservatives for pro-democracy movements that don't fit into the geopolitical matrix of the Washington consensus.

Recent reading: An exception to the rule of selective solidarity on the left is Bill Weinberg; his "Forgotten voices in Venezuela crisis", published by New Politics, is one of the better things on the topic published there. Another is antidote zine - see e.g. this on Russian prisoners. And another is Libcom - e.g. this on the uprising in Sudan. Also check out Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ) and Black Rose/Rosa Negra.

I've probably got a post's worth of Syria reading, so just two things for now: my comrade Omar Sabbour on how Assad has backed ISIS, and Can Paz in Chartist on how Corbyn's Labour needs to get real on Syria.

One of the rising stars of the worst kind of "anti-imperialism" is fake leftist Tulsi Gabbard, who recently announced she'd be standing for nomination for the Dems in 2020. Here Ramah Kudaimi shows Tulsi Gabbard Is No ‘Progressive’ When It Comes to Foreign Policy.

Recovering anti-racism

Racism, and divisions based on the idea of "race", play a massive role in contemporary politics. But, although there is now a mainstream norm against being seen as racist, the anti-racist movement has withered, and understandings of racism have become attenuated, as well as outpaced by the ways racism has mutated in the last decades. We need a renewal of the anti-racist tradition.

Recent reading: Ralph Leonard has a smart essay in Conatus News on anti-Muslim racism; from back in November, Matthew Lyons on demystifying far right antisemitism.


The postmodern crisis of truth has had a terribly corrosive effect on our body politics, seeing the rise of charlatan populisms and conspiracy theories, and paralysing effective collective action. We need to fight to recreate a culture of truth and informed deliberation.

Recent reading: "Hoaxes, hate speech find home on Instagram" by Ali Breland - having never spent time on Instagram, I had no idea about this. At Libcom: a "10 Step Guide to Detecting Conspiracy Theories & Bullshit". Essential on left-right convergence and conspiracy theory: Javier Sethness on Radical media and the blurred lines of ‘red’ fascism.

Rebooting anti-fascism

Anti-fascism, and its more narrow militant "antifa" incarnation, have had something of a revival since 2017, prompted by the far more intense revival of fascism and other forms of far right politics in the Trump/Brexit period. However, we are still not close to having the movement we need to tackle the challenge.

Recent reading: From way back in December 2016, although maybe updated since, this is a good starter reading list for anti-fascists from the Twin Cities General Defense Committee (GDC) of the IWW, a key group in the emerging US militant ant-fascist movement. Also from a while back, but I'm not sure if I've linked to it, an interview in In These Times with anti-fascist historian Mark Bray on the hundred year history of the movement. I don't agree with all of it, but this is a really interesting piece, called "Anti-anti-antifa", by AM Gittlitz in Commune. In Britain, one step forward, two steps back, with the welcome formation of Labour Against Racism and Fascism followed by its takeover by left bureaucrats and soft Stalinists. And this is really important: London Anarchist Fed's "Building coalitions outside SUTR/SWP".

Understanding fascism (and fascism's infiltration of the left)

Key to rebooting anti-fascism, and radical politics more generally, is understanding the far right, including both fascism and right-wing populism - as well as seeing how right-wing politics have been mutating and getting purchase in oppositional scenes.

Recent reading: My friend Spencer Sunshine produced this encyclopedic catalogue of what the far right and alt-right got up to in America in 2018. Christopher Matthias on The Proud Boys, The GOP And 'The Fascist Creep'. On red-brown convergence: Gabriel Levy on fascist "anti-fascism" in Russia. Alex Reid Ross's Brief But Very Informative History of How Fascists Infiltrated Punk and Metal and his From eXile to Dirtbag: Edgelord geopolitics and the rise of “National Bolshevism”.

An anti-Stalinist left

As I've written before, Stalinism, which should have collapsed with the Berlin Wall (well, actually long before then) has had something of a rebirth in the left.

Recent reading: The go-to sites for the British anti-Stalinist left, I think, are the blogs Shiraz Socialist and Tendance Coatesy. As a sample, here's Jim Denham on the Morning Star and Arron Banks, Toby Abse on the Brexit Stalinists, and Andrew Coates on Max Shachtman.

The great model for both anti-Stalinism and anti-fascism is of course George Orwell, although he is often co-opted by the liberals and Tories alike. Here's a nice post from Libcom on the Orwell quotes the right don't want you to recall.

Uprooting left antisemitism

Antisemitism on the left is not a new problem of the Corybn period; I've been blogging about it for well over a decade now.

Recent reading: I've been quite impressed by the evolution of Labour left activist Steve Cooke in taking left antisemitism seriously. For a sample of his activism, read this from November. The AWL is the left group that's least crap on this issue, including on its link to Israel/Palestine - read Martin Thomas' "How to be pro-Palestinian without being 'anti-Zionist'" (though here's a more jaundiced view from Anti-Nazis United). ANU forensically documents left and right antisemitism - here's one example, an apparent Norfolk Labour Party member, another, on Skwawkbox, and another on Chris Williamson.


A lot of the above falls under the category of what the French call "confusionism". Recent reading: This sharp left communist blogpost about the yellow jackets, People's Brexiteers and anarcho-Corbynism covers quite a lot of ground in this department.

Remembering our struggles

Knowing the history of our movement is essential in rebooting it in the 21st century. Recent reading: Ron Ramdin's Asian workers' associations in Britain, 1956-1980s. Black Flag on community politics and the IWCA.

Yiddish culture/Bob's beats

Finally, I'd like to have a little bit of less political stuff on this blog in 2019, including on Jewish stuff and on music. For starters, here's my friend Rokhl Kafrissen on A Very English Scandal as A Very un-Yiddish Scandal, on how the history of the Holocaust was preserved, and talking back to Molly Crabapple in My Great-Grandfather Wasn’t a Bundist