Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Spiked and the right: some updates


My last post on Spiked and its connections to the Brexit right got a lot of airplay. I was pleased to be asked to repost at Bella Caledonia, and to be the source for a very good post by Louis Proyect. Some extracts:
Today, I will be returning to the Spiked Online beat since an article by blogger Bob from Brockley on this tilt to the far-right has raised eyebrows, including my own. I have no idea who Bob is except that he follows me on Twitter and often retweets anything I write about Syria. My impression is that he is closer to Alliance for Workers Liberty, Marko Attila Hoare and other groups and individuals more open to NATO intervention than me. When I urged a vote for Jill Stein in 2016, FB friends who shared their orientation became so upset with me for supporting what they saw as an Assadist that multiple unfriendings took place, either initiated by them or by me. 
Bob from Brockley’s 4,200 word article is titled “The RCP’s long march from anti-imperialist outsiders to the doors of Downing Street” is an eye-opening account of how the people behind Spiked have built links to the British far right. He mentions a couple of key examples. Boris Johnson has appointed his former deputy mayor Munira Mirza to head up his policy unit at 10 Downing Street. Mirza, of Pakistani origins, was a long-time member of the LM/Spiked network who while sharing her boss’s Islamophobia will help him pretend to be for diversity in the same way that George W. Bush exploited the hiring of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
Besides Mirza, there is Claire Fox, a prominent figure in the LM/Spiked network, who was elected to the European Parliament last year. Fox was director of the Institute of Ideas, a project that helped these people develop ties to powerful corporate figures, including Hill and Knowlton, the PR firm that promoted the accusation that Saddam Hussein’s military had plucked babies from their cribs in a Kuwaiti nursery and left them to die on the cold floor. 
Bob from Brockley cites an article in Desmog, a website devoted to “clearing PR pollution”, that really has the goods on the corporate ties that Fox developed. I have to admit that I had not been paying attention to how deep these ties had become and am glad that others have continued to put them under a microscope...
To understand LM/Spiked’s evolution, it is necessary to look at the Communist Manifesto’s first chapter that is practically a paean to the bourgeoisie: 
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. 
Some of Leon Trotsky’s writing contains the same kind of giddy tribute to technology, industrialization and all the rest, especially in a work like “If America Goes Communist”. To a large degree, Marx’s writings on India have the same sort of breathless references to how the telegraph, railways and steamships will prepare the way for socialism. For Furedi’s followers, capitalism serves as the same kind of totem especially with nuclear power and GMO. Toward the end of their flirtation with Marxism, they became fixated on the concerns that the bourgeoisie had about unsustainable development. If unregulated capitalism undermined the basis for its own profitability, then the government had to step in. For LM that was mutating into libertarianism, this represented a “failure of nerve” of the sort that Ayn Rand fictionalized in “Atlas Shrugged”. In essence, Furedi and company called for the capitalist class to become more “revolutionary”, which meant allowing it to swat away government regulations. That is why the Koch brothers recognized them as kindred spirits and deserving of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they lavished on Spiked Online projects. 
While it would be an exercise in futility to resolve some of the deep contradictions in LM/Spiked’s support for Brexit, you have to chuckle at the tightrope they walk over immigrant rights. As everybody understands, Brexit is largely motivated by nativism. Since the EU granted citizens living within its ambit to move freely from country to country, nativists like Nigel Farage sought to close the borders after the fashion of Donald Trump especially the legal immigration sanctioned by the European Union...
Capitalism has always been riven by a basic contradiction. It is both a system that binds the bourgeoisie and the working class in a single country under commodity production but that drives a wedge between rival bourgeoisies globally. After WWII, there was a temporary respite from trade wars and outright warfare under American hegemony but like anything else it had a shelf life under a system that is forced to operate under the tyranny of the marketplace. 
In the next few years, the temperature will be rising globally because of greenhouse gases and capitalist competition between states like the USA and China. It will take considerable strength of character politically to resist the powerful forces driving us toward Armageddon. The flailing about of LM/Spiked is just one indication of how easy it is to be drawn into abyss. The urgency for a worldwide revolutionary movement is greater than it has been in my lifetime. I hope we can rise to the occasion.
I added a few footnotes to my post in this thread, unrolled here:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The RCP's long march from anti-imperialist outsiders to the doors of Downing Street

This week it was announced that Munira Mirza would be joining new prime minister Boris Johnson's team as head of Number 10’s policy unit. Mirza, mis-identifed by the Independent as "an academic at King’s College London" (her actual job there is running their "cultural strategy"), was Johnson's Deputy Mayor for Culture and Education during his City Hall tenure. Last month, the new crop of Brexit Party MEPs taking up their well-paid if "stupid" jobs in Brussels included Claire Fox, professional BBC talking head with a reputation as a contrarian libertarian.


Regular readers will know what Mirza and Fox have in common: they are both long-term members of the network that emerged out of the Revolutionary Communist Party and its magazine Living Marxism (LM). I've written before about the LM/RCP network, best known today for its web magazine Spiked, and this post draws together some of that material given the party's importance in our current, Brexit political moment.

Radical "anti-imperialism"

The RCP was founded by Frank Furedi, an academic, once a member of Tony Cliff’s unorthodox Trotskyist party, the International Socialists (IS, fore-runners of today’s Socialist Workers Party). Furedi left the IS “in 1975 on issues that remain obscure to all concerned”, along with fellow academic David Yaffe (the leader of the tiny "Revolutionary Opposition" in the IS), as the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), which became the ne plus ultra of mad anti-imperialism. Furedi was expelled in late 1976 and formed the Revolutionary Communist Tendency RCT), renamed Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in 1981.

Claire Fox joined in the early 1980s while a student at Warwick University. In 1988, its magazine Living Marxism was formed, with Mick Hume as the founding editor.

Fox (as Foster), 1986
Five features marked the RCP out as distinct in the crowded market of Trot micro-parties in the 1980s. First, it was particularly hostile to Labour, attacking other left parties who saw Labour as having any relationship with the working class and denouncing slogans like the SWP's "vote Labour without illusions" as right-wing. 

It stood candidates in its own name at various elections between 1983 and 1992 and,. for a while in the 1980s, it launched the Red Front electoral vehicle to stand candidates against Labour. One of its candidates was a young Claire Fox, under the name Claire Foster.
Second, like the RCG, the RCP pursued a particularly hardcore form of "anti-imperialist" politics. The "anti-imperialism" they promoted was a vulgar version, descending from the analysis Lenin drew from the racist social liberal thinker J.A. Hobson, but refracted through a Cold War "second campist" mentality that prioritised geopolitical struggle against the Western imperialist camp and de-prioritised working class liberation in the colonial and postcolonial world. Other Trotskyists, including the IMG and Gerry Healey's WRP, had charted this direction, but the RCG and RCP took it as far as possible. This meant supporting every authoritarian and totalitarian Third World movement that claimed to stand in the camp opposing the imperialist West, from Robert Mugabe to Gaddafi.

As John Rogan documents, “We back Gadaffi” was on the front page of the RCP's magazine next step in April 1986.
On page 12 of the same issue it states 'The Revolutionary Communist Party unreservedly condemns the US/British assault on Libya and gives its full support to Libyan resistance whatever form it takes'... Thirteen days before this issue came out, on 5 April 1986, Libyan intelligence planted a bomb in a disco in West Germany. As this report in the New York Times (14 Nov 2001) on the conviction of those responsible states — 'The explosion killed Sgt. Kenneth T. Ford, 21; Sgt. James E. Goins, 25; and Nermin Hannay, 29. Of the 229 wounded, many lost limbs'.
...Under her pen-name of “Claire Foster”, 26 year old Claire Fox featured in the “We back Gadaffi” issue of the next step (18 April 1986) as she was an RCP candidate in local council elections that year.
Third, following this hardcore "anti-imperialism", the RCP (and its front organisation the Irish Freedom Movement, IFM) positioned itself as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the most militant actions of the Provisional IRA, the Provos (the only left group to outclass them in this was Red Action, which was not Trotskyist). In 1980, the RCP said they would refuse to “criticise or condemn the Birmingham bombings”. After the Brighton bombing of 1984, the RCP declared: “We support unconditionally the right of the Irish people to carry out their struggle for national liberation in whatever way they choose”, while an RCP pamphlet by Mick Hume, now a Times columnist, scorned the ruling class panic about the IRA's "war on imperialism" and suggested that the UK state "the real terrorist".

John Rogan writes:
The journal of the RCP’s Irish Freedom Movement (Summer 1993) carried a similar response of defending “whatever measures necessary”. Not only that, but the RCP/IFM decided to heckle and disrupt a peace commemoration in Hyde Park held the month after two young boys were killed [in the Warrington bombings]. Further on (page 18), Claire Fox (under her pen name “Claire Foster”) wrote that the peace movement spawned by the Warrington attacks was all built up by the media. 
Brendan O'Neill, now a writer for the Spectator and Telegraph, was a frequent spokesperson for the IFM. In the 1990s, as the Provos turned away from armed struggle in the steps that led to the Good Friday Agreement, O'Neill and the IFM became entangled with the dissident Republicans who opposed peace. In 1994, they wrote that “Anti-imperialists in Britain have the duty of exposing the peace process as a dangerous sham. The peace process is designed to stabilise imperialist interests in Ireland by pressurising Irish people to give up entirely on the pursuit of freedom.”

Fourth, the RCP took an anti-anti-fascist position. Historian Evan Smith, as part of a broader project on the history of the "No Platform" tactic on the UK left has recently traced this history. To compete with the Anti-Nazi League and other Trot fronts, the RCP launched Workers Against Racism (WAR), which initially argued that state racism was the real problem and anti-fascism less important, but increasingly came to see anti-fascism itself as a middle class distraction. 
For the WAR, anti-fascism against the NF was ‘a convenient diversion’ from the anti-racist struggle. As the militancy of the RCP dwindled from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, WAR’s street-based anti-racism faded and underestimation of the threat of the far right remained. But while it had previously argued that ‘[t]he fight against racism cannot be restricted to a campaign against racist ideas’ and that ‘[r]acism cannot be fought with “facts”’, the RCP in the pages of Living Marxism now privileged debate over other forms of anti-racist activism. This fed into the party’s approach to ‘no platform’, which had evolved over the 1980s towards free speech absolutism and a rejection of the anti-fascist consensus that had been built over the last two decades.
In 1981, they were building the foundations of a free speech fundamentalist position, declaring that, "Whether or not they are justified as measures aimed against fascists, all state restrictions of the freedom of speech, assembly and press are ultimately directed against the working class." Quite early on, you can see the seeds of a contempt for anti-fascism that found Spiked making common cause with the far right in recent years. In 1984, they described fascist Patrick Harrington as "‘a soft target for the liberal left casting around for an issue on which to prove its anti-racist credentials’ and instead ‘[a]nti-racist student should have been campaigning against state attacks on overseas students’." The said the no Platform strategy was "an impulsive outburst of liberal moralism which seeks to sweep away distasteful views, rather than confront them politically", and dismissed fascists as "idiots...with virtually no influence."

And the fifth feature? Leather jackets and hair gel. As John Sullivan put it in As Soon As This Pub Closes, his classic late 1980s tour through left sectariana:
"The answer is style. The group is part of the harder aggressive, post-punk move away from peace and love, and the average RCPer looks very different from the grotty SWPers. They have been described as ‘the SWP with hair gel’, and many a parent, pleased at the improvement in their child’s appearance, have welcomed the move from one to another. Alas! The mind remains just as untidy."
I first encountered the RCP at the end of the 1980s, when they were a colourful presence in the student movement and, clipboards in hand, selling their magazine around Covent Garden, on a prime pitch now occupied by the Big Issue. The RCP were then known for the graphic pzazz of their magazine Living Marxism, by the uber-trendy hairstyles of the cadre, and by their ultra-contrarian political positions. Among the latter: AIDS is a state conspiracy to regulate the sexuality of the working class, a position I took particular offence at, while people were dying of the disease. By this time, the ultra-leftist positions of the early 1980s seemed to be morphing into provocation for its own sake. In 1996, the logic of this turn (they called it the "turn to the suburbs") was pursued with the RCP formally closed as a party (though continuing as a tightly knit and highly disciplined network) and Living Marxism rebranded as LM, with Fox as co-publisher.

Genocide denial and libel
The hardcore "anti-imperialism" of their early days and the anti-liberal contrarianism that they had turned to in the 1990s came together in the publication that should have ended the LM network. George Monbiot tells the story:
In 1997, LM published an article claiming that the broadcasting company ITN had fabricated its dramatic discovery in 1992 of prisoners held by the Bosnian Serbs. “The picture that fooled the world” argued that ITN’s footage, in which emaciated Bosnian Muslim men clung to barbed wire, showed not a detention centre, as ITN maintained, but a safe haven for refugees. The Bosnian Serb soldiers at the camp were not detaining the Muslims but defending them...
[LM] recruited the fearless investigative journalist Thomas Deichmann to tell the real story behind the Bosnian enclosures. Only it wasn’t quite like that. Deichmann was an engineer by training, not a journalist. His writing was largely confined to an obscure German magazine called Novo, which he used repeatedly to defend the Bosnian Serb leadership against charges of murder, torture, rape and ethnic cleansing. He presented himself as a witness for the defence at the trial of the Serbian war criminal Dusko Tadic.
One of the journalists who broke the story of Trnopolje, the Serbian camp, was Ed Vulliamy, who was with the ITN team. ITN sued LM for libel, and won. Several celebrities, including Toby Young (who has kept up his association with them ever since), celebrated LM as the plucky free speech underdogs resisting the mainstream establishment. Vulliamy puts the more accurate view
"free speech" has nothing to do with what is going on. Living Marxism's attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathised with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and - in the final hour, the only - issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.
It is one of the grim ironies of the RCP's slow march through the institutions that now Claire Fox is a Brexit Party MEP she has been appointed to the EU Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee.

Corporate contrarianism
Image result for "institute of ideas"
As the ITN trial verdict was delivered, the LM network plotted its rise from the ashes. Claire Fox planned the events that would launch the Institute of Ideas - she is a director, company secretary and shareholder of the company which runs the Institute, the Academy of Ideas, and is the director of the Institute. LM's Hume launched Spiked the next year, editing it until 2007 when he passed the torch to Brendan O'Neill. 

A new generation of activists was recruited, including Munira Mirza and James Panton. Mirza was associated with the network from 1999, the year she graduated from  Mansfield College, Oxford, and wrote for Claire Fox's Culture Wars, for which she became a regular in 2001. Her first Spiked article was in 2002.

In the new century, with words like "Marxism" and "communism" deleted from the lexicon, the LM network became increasingly close to - and received considerable funding from - various corporate interests, including lobbyists for industries such as tobacco, GM food, big pharma and fossil fuels. It collaborated closely with thintanks of the free market right, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and its offshoot Civitas.

Fox has been central to this corporate embrace. Her Battle of Ideas events have been sponsored by "groups as diverse as the security company G4S, the Ayn Rand Institute and Genomics England [and had] pharmaceutical giant Bayer (now merged with Monsanto) and PR agency Pagefield as their primary “Battle Champions”." As DeSmog's Mike Small notes
Fox has frequently tweeted about her rejection of mainstream and accepted climate science, calling the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “advocacy research” and says treating the body as “high priests of The Science and final word on climate” would be a “betrayal of scientific inquiry.” Fox has also tweeted supportively of hereditary peer Matt Ridley’s climate science denial and recommended people look to the discredited arguments of economist Bjorn Lomborg. In a debate with environmental journalist George Monbiot, reported by the climate science denial blogger Ben Pile, she was asked whether she wanted people to be “free to pollute,” answering: “I want freedom.”
Perhaps the apex of LM's corporate work is their funding by the US right-wing libertarian billionaires Koch Brothers, as revealed by a DeSmog/Guardian investigation, which found that Spiked has received $300,000 from the Koch’s over the past three years, including $150,000 in 2016 — the year of Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory and the UK’s Brexit referendum.
Source: DeSmog UK


The road to Downing Street runs through City Hall
Image result for boris johnson munira mirza
Boris Johnson and advisers in 2008 - Munira Mirza, Sir Simon Milton, Kit Malthouse, Richard Barnes and Ian Clement. Evening Standard
Alongside their work for the corporate sector, the RCP slowly went about building up relationships with the Conservative Party. The thinktank Policy Exchange appears to be the nexus between the ex-RCP and the Tories. Policy Exchange was set up in 2002 by Michael Gove and others, and played a major part in pulling the Tory party out of its post-Thatcher slow death. As Wikipedia puts it, it “describes itself as seeking localist, volunteer and free market solutions to public policy problem” and thus contributed to the shift in Conservative thinking towards the Big Society big idea, and the whole re-branding under Cameron of the Tories as “progressive” party.

As I wrote in 2010, the Cameron project (like the New Labour project) was politically incoherent, combining elements of messy-haired libertarianism that felt appealing in the 2000s after years of hectoring, nanny-ish Blair and Brown with the harder communitarianism of Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, the vaguely liberal platitudes of Philip Blonde’s red Toryism, and the steely neoconservatism of Douglas Murray’s Centre for Social Cohesion. It is, arguably, this incoherence that made Cameroonian Conservativism an appealing project: there was something for everyone.

The libertarian edge was represented by Boris Johnson, journalist and TV personality turned Mayor of London in 2008. Johnson has surrounded himself with bright young and youngish things from Policy Exchange. During his mayoral electoral campaign, Boris was aided by Dan Ritterband, former director of Policy Exchange. On election, the mayor appointed Nick Boles, the founder of Policy Exchange, as Chief of Staff. Boles was, the Observer reported, "asked to help the new mayor find the right staff’. Among the subsequent appointments were Anthony Browne as Policy Director and Munira Mirza as his cultural adviser. Mirza, a long term critic of both multiculturalism and of state support for the arts, was able to give Boris arguments for making reactionary decisions while giving apparently progressive justifications.

By late 2010, I wrote that the RCP had probably been more influential than any other bit of the British far left in the last decade. They gave a veneer of intellectual respectability to denialism about climate change, have acted as PR agents for the agribusiness, airline and pharmaceutical industries, aided and abetted AIDS denialism and its enormous death toll in Africa, given succour to Serb nationalism at its most aggressive, helped Boris Johnson capture London, provided ideological cover for cuts in the funding for arts, reduced the number of decent free festivals in the parks of London, and, arguably, were the architects of David Cameron's election victory.

Mirza drew closer to the Conservative Party in this period. She married Dougie Smith, Cameron speechwriter and co-ordinator of Tory thinktank Conservatives for Change (Cchange), on whose board sat Nick Boles, along with politicians such as Francis Maude and Theresa May - as well as once running Fever Parties, a London-based organisation that apparently hosted "five-star" orgies for swingers. (Cchange was originally closely linked to Policy Exchange, originally called Xchange, and their personnel overlaps.) Johnson promoted Mirza from advisor to deputy mayor. By 2018, the New Statesman's Stephen Bush was tipping her as a possible Tory mayoral candidate.

Going full Brexit: from Red Front to red-brown front

Boris Johnson's mayoral win in 2008 was a dress rehearsal for the Cameron parliamentary win in 2010 and key to its splintering of the New Labour electoral coalition by presenting a "progressive" Toryism. But Cameron's premiership also contained the seeds of its own destruction as its shifted the Overton window rightwards in the age of austerity, emboldening the party's europhobic hard right and Farage's national populist movement beyond the party. As Boris repositioned himself as the hero of this reactionary wing during the Leave campaign in 2016 (exposing how superficial his progressive sheen had been in his City Hall years), so too would the RCP network keep moving to the right, as well as giving pseudo-intellectual and even left-sounding cover to Britain's most right-wing political forces.

Drawing on its anti-anti-fascist tradition, Spiked portrayed racists like Stephen Yaxley-Smith (aka "Tommy Robinson") and the EDL, and later Steve Bannon and Katie Hopkins, as salt of the earth contrarians maligned by elitist liberals out of conformity and class prejudice. Furedi backed Orbรกn's increasingly authoritarian government in Hungary, speaking alongside Breitbart's alt-lite provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at a 2018 conference hosted by Orbรกn. From 2016, the arguments developed in these polemics were turned against Remainers.

One LM initiative in the post-Referendum period was "The Full Brexit", an avowedly left-wing pressure group launched in the summer of 2018 to reframe the Brexit narrative as one about "democracy" rather than just bashing immigrants. Alongside a smattering of Blue Labour social conservatives and Lexit Marxists, a good half of its 20 founding signatories are RCP network members. Academic Chris Bickerton has been a Spiked contributor since 2005, when he was a PhD student at St John’s College, Oxford. Philip Cunliffe, Furedi’s colleague at the University of Kent, is another long term Spiked activist. Pauline Hadaway, another academic, is a veteran of the Living Marxism days. James Heartfield was a paid RCP organiser. Lee Jones seems to have been recruited at Oxford around the same time as Bickerton. Tara McCormack is an RCP veteran, as is Suke Wolton. Bruno Waterfield write for Living Marxism. Other signatories aren't part of the network but have been promoted by Spiked: Paul Embery and Thomas Fazi for example (Fazi is also connected to the 5 Star Movement and recently retweeted an antisemitic tweet from someone with "Nazbol" in his user name). Many are also involved in Briefings for Brexit, which has several RCP veterans on its advisory committee, and some are involved with Civitas. This is a peculiar form of left-right crossover politics.

Image result for "claire fox" brexitThe RCP then played a key role in the creation of the Brexit Party, again providing "left" cover for a deeply right-wing project. Otto English in Byline Times documents how, in February 2019, a film-maker, Kevin Laitak, a disciple of Furedi, began turning up at local Leavers of Britain groups, telling campaigners that he was making a short film about rank-and-file Brexiters. He then recruited activists who might consider standing for the new BXP, who were then called by a woman called Lesley Katon. Katon told would-be recruits that she was the co-founder of a group called ‘Invoke Democracy Now’, whose activists, English notes, included Claire Fox, as well as Luke Gittos, the legal editor of Spiked, Brendan O’Neill, its editor, Living Marxism alumni Tessa Mayes and Munira Mirza, and Mick Hume, former editor of Living Marxism (for more on Invoke Democracy Now, see Colin Lawson). Katon herself has several LM connections, and among the candidates emerging from this process were In addition to her client Claire Fox; Katon’s colleague David Bull who spoke at a Spiked event in 2003; James Heartfield, a long-time RCP cadre; Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, a former RCP activist and Spiked contributor; and in Scotland long time Spiked writer Stuart Waiton. Of these, only Fox was placed high up enough a regional list to get sent to Brussels.

Otto English notes that the RCP's Alka Sehgal Cuthbert and John Heartfield, were in the cavalcade of hopeful Brexit Party candidates paraded by Nigel Farage earlier this month as he launched his bid for the next General Election.

It gets weirder, because, Otto English reveals, Lesley Katon is an associate partner at a PR company called Pagefield, founded in 2010 by Mark Gallagher, a close associate of David Davis and John Redwood. In 2018, Pagefield recruited almost the entire staff of Bell Pottinger public relations firm which, as English puts it, was expelled from the PR trade body and went into administration in the wake of a secret campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa.

Back with Boris

The mad thing is that so far I have only scraped the surface of the LM network's dodginess. A whole other chapter could be written about their involvement in various awful educational experiments, in which they've worked with Toby Young and Michael Gove, their "Free Speech University Rankings", their promotion of Mein Kampf and  Milo Yiannopoulos. Another on their support for (and denial of the crimes of) Assad in Syria through their association with the pseudo-academic Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media and through RCP front organisation Academics for Academic Freedom. And another on Munira Mirza's extensive work laundering the dodgy race politics of her Tory friends. But I feel I've held your patience long enough, so we'll cut to the current chapter, July 2019, a new prime minister, with a long-term activist in the Living Marxism network activist as head of his policy unit. What joys await us as they roll out their agenda?

Brendan O'Neill, writing at Spiked, is certainly happy:
We often overlook how perverse it was that a nation which voted Leave was so dominated by a Remainer elite. Johnson’s new Cabinet redresses this undemocratic disparity between political-class sentiment and public sentiment and gives rise to a UK that is now run by Leavers. About bloody time... 
On top of these ministers we have Boris’s new senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, the strategic whizz behind Vote Leave, and his director of policy, Munira Mirza, friend of spiked and a committed Leaver. Downing Street is now a Leave bastion. This is progress... 
Now let’s leave. Properly, fully, with no turning back. Out, out, out.

***

Further reading:

Friday, July 12, 2019

Rain in July

This week's round-up is particularly depressing...

After Panorama: Labour antisemitism
There's so much written about Labour antisemitism I could fill a half a dozen posts. I'll just restrict myself to a few things that might not be in your radar.

The Panorama documentary on Labour antisemitism stopped short of making the claim that Corbyn is personally antisemitic, but despite that many defenders of Corbyn respond to it by insisting that that he isn't. "He hasn't a racist bone in his body", "His mother was at Cable Street" or "I’m the Jewish son of a Holocaust survivor who lost 39 family members and I can state unequivocally that Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite!" are some of the most common formulations of this point. “Jeremy is not an antisemite” by Twll Dun is a blog post which shows why this response is pointless: institutional racism is not about individual racists. What's more important to look at is: could Labour's antisemitism problem have grown under any other leader.

Second, Budgie on his blog takes on the other standard response to calling out left antisemitism: “Oh, you just don’t want any criticism of Israel!”, or “You’re making up false allegations of antisemitism to prevent any criticism of Israel; you always do that!” The post mainly deals with cephlapods.

Max Dunbar has a very strong rejoinder to Dawn Foster's attack on Tom Watson, essentially a request to rally around Corbyn in this tough time:
I know that there are potential Labour voters who have ‘priced in’ the darkness of the leadership. But I think that there are fewer of them with each passing year. I am not sure that Labour’s current brand of toxic racism and half-arsed welfare policies are the electoral draw that Dawn Foster believes.
Dan Katz at Shiraz Socialist has a good analysis of the baby boomer trad leftists who are the main vector for Labour's antisemitism problem (and its Lexit problem). He focuses on Labour "Rejoiners" who travelled back to Labour under Corbyn from political isolation on the extra-mural left*:
These reinvigorated leftists joined, or rejoined, or stepped up activity after years of only being paper members of the Labour Party, with their own political baggage. Often the depressing effect of the labour movement’s retreat had eroded their concepts of class struggle and socialist revolution, but they retained quirks and sect-badges from their pasts as symbols of what they thought to be leftism. Certainly they remembered their opposition to European unity. 
And they remembered the hatred of Israel and “Zionists” which they learned as members of the SWP, Stop The War and/or Stalinist groups, or less-directly from working in a movement whose ideas on “Zionism” were dominated by the “common sense” view of the objectively antisemitic left on the question. The mid-1980s were the era when many students thought it “left-wing” to ban campus Jewish Societies...
Corbyn’s mistakes on the questions of Europe and antisemitism are not isolated. They are connected. These ideas come from a coherent world view, consistently held and propagated by some of Corbyn’s closest advisers, the hard-line Stalinists [Seumas] Milne and Andrew Murray. 
Central to their beliefs is the idea that any damage to the West and Western capitalism is positive for us, the left. The European bloc should be broken up. The opponents of the US and its allies should be supported no matter who they are or what the issue is in conflict between them and the US. The Stalinist world-view incorporates the attitudes to Israel generated from Soviet foreign policy and decades of official antisemitic campaigning in the USSR and Eastern Europe.
It is a perverse fact that Corbyn’s victory has also led to the revival of a strain of Stalinism which is now influencing and misleading some of the newer, younger disciples of Corbyn.
[*Extracted here with added hyperlinks and with apologies to baby boomers who aren't of this category.]

One thing that should be emphasised more is that left antisemitism is not simply related to Israel and Zionism. It has deeper roots. Peter Ryley, in a characteristically good post, explains:

This is why Corbyn had problems with Hobson's Imperialism (I have taught about it without mentioning Hobson's anti-Semitism as well, so I am not innocent either). Read this fine piece from History Workshop for some perspective and the argument. It makes it clear that both Corbyn and I were wrong not to mention it, and that the defensive reaction from Corbynistas shows a lack of understanding of the historic role of anti-Semitism in the left. And it's still there. It's there in the union movement. It's there in its classic conspiratorial form... This isn't just a problem for Labour. This is a Europe-wide crisis. There will be a TV programme on it this week, and already people who haven't seen it are piling on with their rebuttals. Let's take it seriously instead. Let's admit the reality. Let's analyse it. There are good tools for doing so.

Russia, politics and geopolitics

Paul Canning is now an author at Byline Times. His debut there is on how the shooting down of a Malaysian jet reveals Corbyn’s Putin problem. It includes some juicy revelations about Andrew Murray's role in Russia's info war.

More often, Russia backs the hard right rather than the hard left in its efforts to destabilise liberal democracy among its geopolitical rivals. Although Italian media had been probing this before, BuzzFeed has had a major scoop, obtaining a recording of three Russian agents and three officials of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's hard right Lega party, discussing how to covertly channel tens of millions of dollars of Russian oil money to the Lega for the May European elections. They mention the pan-European web of pro-Kremlin right-wing parties, who won a tenth of the seats in those elections. They do not mention the UK, but it is not that much of a stretch to put this next to the shady funding Arron Banks channeled into the Brexit referendum or the dark money behind Farage's Brexit Party start-up. The fascists and national populists may not like globalism, but they certainly know how to operate globally and are backed by global oligarchs to do so.

Another good investigation of Russia's hybrid war came from Yahoo this week, with their ConspiracyLand documentary, showing how Kremlin agents planted and then - working with alt-right and other crank media - amplified the Seth Rich conspiracy theory in order to deflect from the role of Russia in passing Wikileaks the Clinton emails that helped Trump win the 2016 election.

The right
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon's fans took to the streets of Westminster yesterday to mark their diminutive hero's sentencing for nearly jeopardising a sexual abuse trial. They attacked a Remain stall and then violently laid into a BBC crew. To me, this is a really serious issue for Britain: a small army of seriously emboldened and enraged men behind what I think is best-described as a proto-fascist cause.

Meanwhile, just a couple of inches more respectable than Robinson is Farage's Brexit Party (currently polling anywhere between 14% and 22%), which paraded - but failed to name - its roster of prospective parliamentary candidates. Otto English takes a look through the faces here, and finds some surprises.

Colin Talbot has a blogpost about the paranoid style in contemporary populist politics, responding to a very wrong use of Richard Hofstadter's insights by Professor Matthew Goodwin, rising star of the populist movement's academic outriders.

The red-brown alliance

Comrade Coatesy continues to chart the growing red-brown alliance. In "The Groans and Wails of the Lexit Left Overs", he looks at the alliance's response to Labour's turn away from Brexit, taking in the Stalinist Morning Star, various ex-leftists from the RCP/Spiked/BXP network such as Tara McCormack, alt-Stalinist Eddie Dempsey, social nationalist Paul Embery, and Labour Leave. The convergence of these apparently ideologically disparate lot around Brexit - and in particular around the RCP-led pressure group "Full Brexit" - is a bizarre sight. The RCP, by the way, feature in Otto's post I already linked to, as some of their activists are now Brexit Party candidates, having travelled the short road from vulgar anti-imperialism to national socialism.

As Colin Foster writes at Shiraz Socialist, what links the Full Brexit cadres to Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Matteo Salvini and Vladimir Putin is anti-liberalism, reprising the Bonapartism which Marx fought against. He compares the Dempseys and Emberys to the "True Socialists" of Marx's day, quoting the Communist Manifesto: "To the absolute governments, with their following of parsons, professors, country squires, and officials, [the ‘True’ Socialist criticism] served as a welcome scarecrow” against liberal reform.The left can no longer leave it up to liberals to defend liberal freedoms; we need to sharpen our weapons in this fight.

Syria
Two important reports from Syria in the UK media this week: Mohammad Kanfash and Ali al-Jasem write in the Guardian about how starvation has been used as a weapon of war, particularly in the recent phenomenon of burning crops in northern Syria, mainly, but not only, perpetrated by the regime. And Channel 4, as part of its excellent #InsideIdlib series, has investigated the regime and Russia's "double tap" air assaults on liberated communities, whereby attacks on civilian targets are followed up by attacks on the civil defence first responders (the White Helmets) who go to the target sites to save lives.

The OPCW

"Syria, Russia and the politics of chemical weapons" is a long, important read from the great journalist Brian Whitaker that is relevant both to Syria and to the geopolitical power games further up this post. It is a detailed history of the attempts at investigating and creating accountability for chemical weapon use in Syria. It gets more and more interesting as you go through it, and the final part looks closely at Russian attempts to disrupt the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and also how Russia friendly activists and pliant media platforms as part of this. (Paul Canning's post linked above concludes that "From my investigations, the reaction to MH17 is just one more example of Labour’s now leadership taking Russia’s side. Where does that end up? It ends in discrediting institutions such as those investigating MH17, a line of attack which the Russian Government and media has now switched to." The same actors disrupted that investigation as are disrupting the investigation of chemical weapon use in Salisbury and Syria, and we can see support for the accompanying information war from the same corners of Labour, notably Chris Williamson and his defenders.)

Building the alternative

An article on why the mantra from part of the left that Labour needs to be a Brexit party to retain its working class support base: Phil Hearse in Socialist Resistance shows that working class Brexitism is a myth.

I realise that most of this post is unrelentingly negative. I'll head to the finish by welcoming Labour's turn towards a more explicitly anti-Brexit position. As Alena Ivanova and Ana Oppenheim write,
Labour’s Brexit shift is a victory for the grassroots left, not centrists in suits. This grassroots left, an internationalist, pro-migrant, anti-racist left, is, I think, the hope for the way out of the mess that the rest of this post speaks to. Or, as Hearse puts it,
The new working class is younger, more female and more ethnically diverse. Most of them voted Remain not because they love the institutions of the EU, but because they are pro-multiculturalism, pro-feminist, internationalist-minded and because they hate Nigel Farage and everything he stands for. They are also the base of the growing movement for climate justice. It is by fighting for these values that the base of Labour and the Left can be extended outwards.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Spencer Sunshine finds some parallel optimism in an emerging young Jewish left.

...and finally

From History.com, Why Hate Groups Went After Johnny Cash in the 1960s.

Country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash holds a guitar as his wife Vivian Liberto and daughters, Rosanne and Kathy, look on, 1957. (Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)