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)


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