Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iran, drawing clear lines

Two clarifications. WARNING: this post is a bit obscure. If you are not interested in left sectariana, please go straight to my previous, more concise post on Iran and the left.

1. In my last post, I wrote:
I continue to be sickened by the reactions of some sections of the left to the on-going uprising in Iran. Many on the left demonstrate some version of a Third Worldist or second campist ideology, which says that the Iranian theocracy is somehow heroic because it is defying the Western "imperialist" camp. A prime example of Third Worldist second campism is the American Monthly Review and its blog, MRZine.
I want to clarify this slightly. Monthly Review and its editors have not, as far as I am aware, taken a pro-Ahmadinejad line, and there seems to me a disparity between the MR position and the MRZine position. MR has for decades been a useful independent trad left/Marxist journal, mainly quite scholarly. It has always veered towards a Third Worldist/Second Campist politics, for instance cheerleading for Fidel Castro. In contrast, MRZine seems to play towards what I call the ZLeft. The ZLeft takes an outwardly libertarian anti-establishment form, but lacks any political analysis apart from hatred of America and the West, and is therefore easily seduced by any authoritarian thugs who "defy" America.

In this way, the ZLeft has become the useful idiot of both old style Stalinism (hence this defence of the WWP's pro-Ahmadinejad insanity heavily cites MRZine material) and new style Islamist theocracy. As well as second campism, the cultural code of anti-Zionism plays a major role in the ZLeft political formation. As Principia Dialectica (perhaps hyperbolically!) express it:
The Leninists [of Lenin's Tomb*] and their friends at the ‘Monthly Review’ foundation see Israel as the enemy, hence defence of Iran at all costs, as the most able strategic player in the fight against what they regard as the region’s lapdog for the eternal ‘Great Satan.’ MR zine’s coverage on the Iran affair is about playing the neutral card. In reality, this ‘position’ can only end in the ‘logical’ support for a clampdown against an Iranian democratic movement that seeks a thawing of relations with the US and Israel. The Leninists act as if Iran going nuclear would be some kind of parallel to good old Uncle Joe Stalin procaiming the existence of ‘the workers’ bomb’ in 1948! By supporting the status quo, by giving credit to the Amadinijad regime as the most resolute expression of ‘anti-Zionism’, the Leninist politbureau and MR zine fail to realise that conservative forces in Israel and Iran strengthen each other - in fact each rely upon a terrible dichotomy that must be broken.
It is, therefore, worth noting that not everyone at MR follows the pro-Ahmadinejad line. For example, Michael McIntyre, who has been published by MRZine, writes:
"Oddly enough, even though I suggested the obscure "catonism" as a better term than "fascism," my Iranian comrade in a recent email had no hesitation in referring to "the inexplicable defense of fascism by segments of the US left" (referencing, in particular, the garbage Yoshie has been posting at MRZine)."
Similarly, Michael Yates, a Monthly Review person, has an excellent piece on his blog about Iran. (See this discussion at Louis P's place.)

And it is worth noting that other strongholds of the ZLeft have published some sensible commentary, such as the CounterPunch and Dissident Voice pieces I mentioned yesterday, and this by Reese Erlich at Common Dreams.

I would also recommend this long piece by Louis Proyect. Proyect notes moonbat ex-Marxist James Petras claiming that the revolutionaries in Iran are just US stooges, and also notes that CounterPunch has generally taken a bad line: "Although Counterpunch started off printing articles that took the side of the protestors, it is now pretty much in the Manichean camp led by Paul Craig Roberts, their expert commentator on economics and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan."

Like me, Proyect places Petras and co in the tradition of the second camp: "Of course, this methodology of dividing the world between two opposing camps is nothing new. The CP’s perfected it in the 1930s, labeling Trotsky’s criticisms of the Soviet Government as giving aid and comfort to the Nazis."

2. Last week, I linked to Zizek's piece on Iran. My friend N passed on some stuff from an e-mail discussion list, headed "Zizek still crap shock". I'm not sure of the author, but here's an extract:
Zizek's article is, indeed, terrible, in my opinion, though at least he clearly sees who and what Ahmadinejad represents, as well as the mistake of seeing the present events through the distorted lens of liberal secularism. Yet, thirty years on Zizek longs for the "Khomeini revolution," before it was "corrupted" -- by whom? Khomeini and the social and political forces he represented, that's for sure. Ahmadinejad is an "Islamo-Fascist" (certainly the political emodiment of capitalist reaction, in my view), but what about Khomeini and his political project? Khomeini was no romantic anti-capitalist, but rather the political embodiment of the clerical caste and the wealth and power it feared losing to the Shah's "white revolution." Khomeini's closest ideological ally was perhaps Ali Shariati (who died before the uprising against the Shah), who propounded a potent ideologial brew of Islamism, and the identity politics and "anti-imperialism" (sic.) of Fanon. It then became the ideology of Iranian nationalism, and its project of imperialist dominance in the Middle-East -- in opposition, of course to the American hegemon. Those currents of Twelver Shi'ism, and Sufism in particular, which were a powerful factor in the uprising against the Shah's regime and its Anglo-American backers, were ruthlessly suppressed by the Khomeini regime. Could such cultural elements of Iranian society be progressive in the present epoch, and foment a revolutionary assault on the power of capital? In the same way that the cultural remnants of the "Norman yoke" could propel revolutionary movements in England, or the memory of Thomas Munzer and the peasant wars could propel German revolutionaries hundreds of years later. But Sufism, and the work of thinkers like Henry Corbin in elucidating its own anti-capitalist potential, is diametrically opposed to the ideology of Shariati and Khomeini. Would anyone expect the stirrings of revolution in Iran to simply adopt the slogans of 1789 or 1917? Don't we have to look for indigenous cultural traditions wherever the signs of revolution appear? My point, however, is that while such traditions were present in 1979, and also today, they are not the ideological tradition of Shariati and Khomeini, which did and will do exactly what it promises: crush any revolutionary movement.

* To be fair to Lenin's Tomb, something which I'm not naturally inclined to do (the Tomb's Richard Seymour once called for my ankles to be severed), Seymour has developed a fairly good analysis, as in this piece from yesterday, which overlaps a bit with my own.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Iran and the left, continued

I continue to be sickened by the reactions of some sections of the left to the on-going uprising in Iran. Many on the left demonstrate some version of a Third Worldist or second campist ideology, which says that the Iranian theocracy is somehow heroic because it is defying the Western "imperialist" camp. A prime example of Third Worldist second campism is the American Monthly Review and its blog, MRZine. For instance, Rostam Pourzal asserts that the dissidents are actually simply neo-liberal fiscal conservatives opposing Ahmadinejad's social conservatism; Azmi Bishara admits that Iran is totalitarian, but bizarrely claims it is different from other totalitarian regimes because it is a functioning democracy and its government is popular - and that in fact the Ahmadinejad is pro-poor and its opponents are just snobby bourgeois urban kids. MRZine also publishes Ali Khameni's address, passes on Press TV propaganda, interviews supporters of the regime, and so on.

In Britain, one of the most important hard left blogs, Richard Seymour's Lenin's Tomb, has generally put forward a fairly good line, as in this post. However, the Tomb has also inexplicably published pro-Ahmadinejad stuff by Yoshie, while MRZine publishes material by Seymour attacking the opposition. Another of the main British hard left blogs, Socialist Unity, also passes on MRZine's disgusting rubbish, posted without comment by John Wight.

The conclusion drawn by the second campist left is that the West just needs to leave Iran to its own devices. It's their affair and we shouldn't meddle. This is, of course, exactly the line taken by many on the hard right, paleoconservatives and Kissingerite "realists" like these Republicans, like ex-CIA Cold Warrior Flynt Leverett, like paleocon Jeremy Hammond. In another example of this convergence, the Reaganite Paul Craig Robert's is published by CounterPunch describing the dissidents as basically stooges of America.

Thankfully, there is plenty of criticism of these sorts of positions from within the left. At CounterPunch (a magazine of which I am generally critical), there is a good piece by Reza Fiyouzat - whose Revolutionary Flowerpot blog I'd recommend - criticising the facile equation of Ahmadinejad with progressive positions because he is supported by (some) poor people:
One left-seeming analysis being presented about the election results in Iran is the 'class analysis', epitomized by a few articles that have appeared in recent days (no names necessary, since that makes things personal, and I'm trying to keep it political here). I even heard the 'class analysis' (sic.) used on BBC! BBC's approach was actually not too different from those presented by some on the U.S. left.

Real class analysis looks for and explains historical and materialist trends in a society ('materialist' meaning here, containing real-social substance); all else is superficial journalism.
Similarly, at Dissident Voice (another site of which I am often critical), Billy Wharton shows that Ahmadinejad's government have been far from a social conservative or leftist bulwark against neo-liberalism, but in fact has pushed forward neo-liberal free market re-structurings in Iran.

Other links

Other links, resources and round-ups

Friday, June 26, 2009


Iran. I'll get this out of the way first, as it was the subject of my last post and I wanted to keep it out of this one: Max Dunbar on certain leftist attitudes to Iran, with John Wight as the specimen. Other Iran posts I've missed before now include Dave Osler and BHL at HuffPost (via Mod), plus (nearly a week old I'm afraid) Stroppy's carnival of socialism focusing on Iran. Here's lots of lefty intellectuals (including Zizek) doing the right thing and expressing solidarity.

I've been meaning to say something about the Lindsey oil refinery strike, which has been very much on my mind this week. However, I've not managed to write it, so instead read Left Luggage (1,2) or The Commune.

I've also wanted to say something about the anti-Roma pogroms carried out by Loyalists in South Belfast. So, here's Bock.

And I have also wanted to say something about the SOAS cleaners deportation, but, again, not enough time, so here's their statement, their blog, Alberto Toscano, and an anonymous occupier.

Scott McLemee on Cathy Wilkerson on Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground: not exactly current, but very good. (H/t Jogo)

Jonathan Steele, one of the Guardian's house infoolectuals, apparently an "expert" on more or less anything "foreign", is one of my hate figures. Norm finds new evidence of his pernicious foolishness.

It was as plain to me as the light of day that Thatcher's Falklands war was wrong, wrong, wrong. Now I am not so sure any more.

The Tablet celebrates Yiddish radio.

Schalom Libertad plays some Kutiman.

Jonathan Sacks on "mutated" antisemitism. I don't like the "virus" analogy, but this is worth a read.

Light relief: Twitter creator regrets use by Iranian people. (H/t Jogo)

Image above from Farhad's photo gallery, of an Iranian gypsy woman.

Today is the day!

Friday 26th June. International Day of action in solidarity with the people of Iran.

Friday 26 June, 12.30 -1.30pm, Iranian embassy,
16 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1PT

Against the background of post-election turmoil in Iran, the TUC is joining Amnesty International and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to organise a protest at the Iranian Embassy this Friday. Please come wearing black if possible.

As part of the Global Solidarity Action Day: Justice for Iranian Workers, we will protest from 12:30-1:30pm opposite the Iranian Embassy, 16 Prince's Gate, London SW7 1PT in Knightsbridge.

TUC International spokesperson Sally Hunt (UCU General Secretary); Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen; and ITF General Secretary Dave Cockcroft will attempt to deliver over 1`6,000 postcards calling on Iran to release jailed Iranian prisoners.

And protesters dressed in black will hold up placards bearing the names of those arrested at trade union demonstrations on May Day last month in Tehran and still not released.

Take action today

Even if you can't join us on Friday (there is a separate action in Newcastle), the TUC is urging British trade unionists to join Amnesty International's Urgent Action for these trade unionists. You can register your protest online.

More details: info@barnettuc.org.uk

Around the world: Lots more


See previous posts for more Iran links.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran, and more

Thursday links added at the bottom. Last updated 12:39 Brockley time.


Iran tangentially, and the failure of the left
Not about Iran, but some of my favourite recent blog posts.
Thursday links
  • Slavoj Zizek has distributed a guest post on Iran, which you can read at DST4W among other places. It's good, and I'm pasting two extracts here:
"Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority – this is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a West-financed coup against the legitimate president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral participation – up from the usual 55% to 85% - can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians, Ahmadinejad is good enough - they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left.[...]
Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country)."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iran links [updated]

A few more links to add. Note: updates added, marked with a star. Last updated 17:19 Brockley time.

Molly Mew: An insurgent Twitter suggestion.*

For a democratic, secular Iran. Top post: The myth of Ahmadinejad working class supporters.*

Michael Totten: Ahmadinejad and the rural poor.*

Roland Dodds: Neda Agha Soltan - Voice ofIran.*

Infinite Thought:
The Field:
Flesh is Grass:*
LabourStart: Iran updates

Shiraz Socialist:
Dissent: From Ramin Jahanbegloo, Michael Walzer and others.*

Révolution en Iran*
[In French. Via
Ent. Analysis in English on video here.]

Tendance Coates:
Fighting the home front.

Molly Mew: An anarchist view.*

Other link updates:
Kellie*, TNC*.

Old links, to sites being updated: Revolutionary Road, Michael Totten, Jeff W, Salma's blog and her Tweets, Entdinglichung, Maryam Namazie, The Poor Mouth: Iran, The Poor Mouth: Iran protests, Modernity.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why the left gets it wrong

TC's short post on Iran created quite an interesting debate on the left and internationalism. Modernity weighed in with an analysis of why the left gets it wrong, which I am extracting here, with added formatting (plus one added hyperlink for the un-inititiated):
1. Decline of trade union activism. Being a lay official or activist in the trade union forces you to interact with a varied membership, whose political views could vary from entrenched Tories to the apathetic and the nonpolitical, plus of course a few like-minded souls. But because you are working for and on behalf of a diverse membership you have to use many skills and types of arguments. That is not the case when interacting with other lefties, most of the arguments are shortcuts and basic. Questions such as why trade unions are important or why nationalization might be a good idea often goes unanswered.
A prime example, is the Martin Smith Newsnight interview, he wasn’t prepared to think about other people’s arguments, how they saw it and respond cogently. But those of some of the skills that you need to be a competent trade unionist.
That’s been lost in the past 20 years as far as I can see it.
2. The bubble, much of the British Left seems to exist within a nice confined bubble, without too many external distractions and that breeds lazy thinking. It means that sometimes Lefties and politicos have a problem talking to ordinary people in ordinary language, too much jargon is used. My favourite is “neoliberal”,when you know what it means it’s obvious, but to the uninitiated it might sound like a quasi member of the Liberal party :)
3. The decline of antifascism which tends to go hand in hand with various groups political priorities, but it means overall that the Left doesn’t reach out, or go to those awkward places, unless an election is on or something similar. Equally it means that one whole aspect of previous Left thinking is lost, opposition to fascism whatever shape or form it comes in, opposition to authoritarianism whatever shape or form it comes in, etc Skills are lost.
4. Crass Leninism. Whilst I could see a case for a Leninist party in Iran or Syria, Burma, etc all of those repressive regimes, it doesn’t really work too well in the West. Or at least all of the implementations since the 1930s seem to have failed one way or the other.
I think that Leninism is inherently hierarchical, it concentrates far too much power in a few individuals and not unsurprisingly those individuals sometimes become power crazed and act as if they can do no wrong, when the reality is they are probably more fallible than most of us.
On top of that it breeds a mentality, the leaders and the led, someone who gives the instructions and someone who takes it, which I think profoundly limits debate.
Finally, there is a problem with the “line”, where Leninists will often spin you some argument that they don’t really believe in, but have been told to push out, and it often comes over as very insincere or silly. People switch off as a result, so when these Leninists actually have something interesting and intelligent to say, no one is listening, or very few people are.
5. Which brings me to the final problem as I see it, argumentation skills or lack of.
The British Left are notorious for believing the worst of their political opponents and wish the most charitable interpretation to be placed on all of their endeavours, no matter how ridiculous or obviously faulty.
This links into the preceding points, so much of what passes for discussion on the British Left is done in bad faith and the motives of others always open to question.
The net result is that people switch off.
If someone is going to cynically produce fallacious arguments, ignore evidence, wish for charitable interpretations but put the worst on everyone else’s view, then in the end no one really wants to discuss issues in that cynical way.
It doesn’t happen absolutely all the time, but surprisingly, in my experience, much of the time and in turn it breeds a very bad atmosphere, it is not conducive to winning people over. It makes the British Left look like a pile of argumentative cranks, quick nitpickers but slow to the do anything meaningful.
That’s not a comprehensive list but I suspect portions of it are true on different occasions with different people.
I think the culture of the British Left has to change or be consumed by a resurgence neo-fascism, which is just waiting to flex its muscles.
That’s a few of my ideas, I have probably miss some.
For a spectacular example of the left getting it wrong, we turn to our old friend George Galloway, defending the Ahmadinejad theocracy. (H/t Ent/JohnnyG.) A slightly softer version comes from John Wight at Socialist Unity, wondering (in an article which, I have to say, is pretty good in places) if what we are seeing is a "counter-revolution" because it is middle class people doing the protesting. (Odd that when Palestine Solidarity action, university occupations and throwing eggs at BNP leaders is done by middle class people in the UK that doesn't make it counter-revolutionary.) He also uses the uprising as an opportunity for facile anti-Americanism, comparing the political energy of the Arab street to "the apathy of the American people which met the constitutional coup d’etat which ushered in the Bush administration back in 2000". (Hmm. Maybe because the Bush "coup" didn't involve shooting at Ralph Nader supporters or beheading Al Gore supporters.) Endemic anti-Americanism: ought to be no.6 on Modernity's list.

As an antidote (and I'm not sure how I missed this: it's from April), Christopher Hitchens on how Karl Marx speaks to the current economic crisis.


Iran links: I'm re-posting the Iran links from my post earlier this week, where the sites have continued to be updated or where I added the link more recently and suspect you might have missed it: Revolutionary Road,Michael Totten, Jeff W, Entdinglichung, Maryam N, Bataille Socialiste (mostly in French, but lots of photos and videos), AWL, The Hitch, Jams. Links and more links from Mod.


Euro-fascism and left unity: I've been adding more links to this post too.


Ages and ages ago, I promised, for Noga, a review of Oi Va Voi's eponymous* second album (or third, depending whether you count their brilliant self-released debut Digital Folklore). In short, the second album was a disappointment. Without Sophie Solomon's brilliant, heart-wrenching violin interjections, without some of the best guest vocalists (most obviously K.T. Tunstall, who they helped launch to fame, but also Sevara Nazarkhan and Earl Zinger) - it just didn't do it for me. A few tracks were a bit stronger ("Spirit of Bulgaria" being my favourite); some were particularly week (the dodgy rock of "Further Deeper" and "Look Down").

A month or so ago, they have released their third album. I have heard some of it, and I am quite impressed. You can listen to "Waiting" and "Magic Carpet" (a cinematic oriental/klezmer fantasy that evokes the first album) here, "S'Brent" here, "Every Time" here and "Photograph" here. "Photograph" features Dick Rivers, France's Johnny Cash, which is pretty cool. The radio edit of "Every Time" (this seems to be their bid for pop success, but is probably the worst of all the songs I've heard), "I Know What You Are" and "Photograph" are also on their MySpace. Charlie Gillett made it album of the month in May, and reviews it here.

"S'Brent" (a stand out track amongst those I've heard) is, I think, the only song in Yiddish. It's by Mordechai Gebirtig, who died in 1942 in the Kracow Ghetto. "S'Brent" tells the story of the burning of a shtetl, Przytyk, in 1936; rather than being simply a cry of agony, it is a call to action ("Di hilf iz nor in aykh aleyn gevendt" - help is in your hands alone) , and it was adopted as the anthem of the Kracow underground resistance during Nazi occupation. (Gebertig, incidentally, was a socialist, a member of Henryk Grossman's Jewish Social Democratic Party, which became part of the Bund.) You can listen to several other versions here (my recommendation is probably the one by Argentinian/Mexican cantor Leibele Jinich). Oi Va Voi's version features the gorgeous voice of Agi Szaloki, a young Hungarian folk and jazz singer who specialises in Gypsy traditions. You can listen to some clips of her music at her website.

Many of the songs feature Ghanaian/Bristolian Bridgette Amofah, who comes close to filling Tunstall's shoes. Her own music doesn't appeal to me, studenty indie soul, but she has a very nice voice. Charlie Gillett's frontpage (reached via Edie's relocated blog), features a YouTube of their "Yesterday's Mistakes" which he says she is singing on. I haven't got my Laughter Through Tears with me, but it sounds to me very like KT Tunstall's version there, so not sure about that, but it's great.

Oi Va Voi are one of the best live bands I've seen. There's a lot of live Oi Va Voi on YouTube, with their changing cast of females vocalists. Unfortunately, in most cases the sound quality is not great, but you can sort of glimpse why they are so good live in some of them. I've embedded here a version of my favourite Oi Va Voi song, "Refugee", from Amsterdam in 2007. They're playing all over Europe in the next couple of months - see here - so you could get yourself a chance to see them.

*"Eponymous" - a word I always used to read in pretentious music critic articles when I was a teenager. First time I've had occasion to write it. Can't imagine saying it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A whole raft of things

I am updating my last post, on the seismic shifts in UK politics since the Euro elections (the collapse of New Labour, rise of the BNP and possibility of new alignments on the far left). Here are some links about other things. 18 June: I have added a couple of links to this post too today.

For democracy in Iran
I have nothing really to add to what has been said about Iran, but it has been enormously inspiring to see people taking to the streets against such odds, and enormously depressing to see the vicious clamp downs by the brutal theocracy. More from Jeff W, Entdinglichung, Maryam N, Mod, Bataille Socialiste (mostly in French, but lots of photos and videos), Jams. More links from Roland. Added: Revolutionary Road, AWL, Michael Totten, The Hitch. Links and more links from Mod.

For the SOAS cleaners
I was up at SOAS last night to hear Moishe Postone, and enjoyed the drumming of those occupying in solidarity with the sacked and, in some cases, deported SOAS cleaners. It is good to see students getting active around the suffering of those close to them as well as those distant: that they express solidarity for the usually invisible people that literally clean up after them. Lots from the occupiers' blog and Jim J. Music from History is Made at Night (Guthrie's "Deportees" - see also here.)

Left antisemitism
My perennial topic. Long piece at Social Republic. Short piece at Contested Terrain.

The Root: Is jewish the new black? (h/t Jogo). Klezmer: tales of the wild East.

More on the neo-Nazi shooter James von Brunn
Adam Holland on the Ron Paul link (via Mod). Roland asks if he is of the right or the left.
UPDATE: After Roland's comment below, I spent time at Adam Holland's site. I want to recommend here all his James von Brunn posts and all his Ron Paul posts.

Other round-ups
TNC. Poumista.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Euro-fascism, the rise of BNP, left unity and the renewal of politics

16th June: Some added links at the bottom
18th June: one more, and perhaps more later

I have lots more to say on this, but am running out of steam. I've left some comments at various other blogs. The first few links below, with stars by them, have comments by me, the others are worth reading. I don't think I 100% endorse any of them though. What do you think?

Max Dunbar: Northern Uproar*

Though Cowards Flinch: Our loyalty must be to our class...*

Tendence Coatesy: Defend the SWP!*

Grimmer Up North: Which way forward? [left a comment, but not moderator approved]

YouGov: Who voted BNP and why?

IWCA: Labour got what it deserved, and so did the BNP [h/t Waterloo Sunset]. See also commentary from Left Luggage*.

Vengeance & Fashion: We Don't Hire Any English People Here

AVPS: How can 900,000 vote BNP?

Paul Kingsnorth: The left needs to confront the root causes of BNP support [h/t Rayyan Mirza, who I see lives in my manor]

Left Luggage: The lessons of the elections

There's lots of psephological analysis at Jim J's place, including showing how weak the BNP are in London outside its three strongholds, and going into some detail about whose fault the vote in the North West was.

The next few are relevant, but moving a little off topic.

Winston Pickett: James von Brunn's shattered myths [relevance comes out in last paragraph. Note, not only is von Brunn linked to the BNP, he is linked to the English Democrats too.]

Rabbit's Eye View: As Sure as eggs is eggs* [on the Nick Griffin pelting incident]

Finally, this deals with a different subject altogether - Modernity: John Wight, racist thug, attacks blog*

Added links 16th June

Left Luggage: Amateur psephology and the rise of the far-right

Social Republic: The Mirage of Unity

Added links 19th June [last updated 18.07 Brockley time]

Vengeance and Fashion: Before You All Jump off a Bridge*

AWL: on No2Eu or a new Socialist Alliance.

The Commune: Responding to the SWP Open Letter.

David Osler: SWP and No2Eu.

Your Friend: Fascism and how not to fight it.

New Direction: Why Labour played the BNP's game.

Cous-cous in Brockley

The Brockley Jack Film Club is screening Couscous on Monday night.
Monday 15 June 2009 at 7.30PM

COUSCOUS (La graine et le mulet)
Abdel Kechiche / France 2008 / 147 min / French with English subtitles / cert: 15

Set in the North African community of Sète on the Mediterranean Sea, Couscous follows the trials and tribulations of Slimane, a sixty-something dock worker who decides to pursue his lifelong ambition of opening a couscous restaurant when he is laid off by his shipyard employer.

However, in order to make his dream a reality, Slimane will have to call in favours from an eclectic extended family, which include his children, an ex-wife, a mistress and her daughter. With tempers simmering, the warring family must unite to overcome adversity and ultimately risk everything in order to make the Slimane's project a success.

“Remarkable and thought-provoking” Time Out

Internet Movie Database link

Booking Information
Ticket prices £6 non-members, £3 members
Box office: 020 8699 6685
(French title: La graine et le mulet, US title: The Secret of the Grain.)

Bonus links: Claudia Roden, one of my personal goddesses, with some tips on Middle Eastern cooking; Ha'aretz peice on Morroccan Jewish cooking in Israel; a highly inauthentic but tasty-looking couscous and red mullet recipe.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kaddish for the city

Ken's excellent comment at my last post made the point, which I think Duncan has also made, that the growth in the representation of all the dreadful parties was not tied to a significant growth in their actual votes, while a massive increase in the Green vote (300,000 I think) failed to lead to extra MEPs. I don't know if this is something to take heart from or not.

So anyway I started surfing around Ken's writings elsewhere. Here he analyses the results. Here he describes London in a tube strike, concluding

This is what London was like every day before the Congestion Charge. Thank God for Ken Livingstone.

And expect worse. As we move towards a government that is likely to be even more unreasonable on worker’s rights than “New Labour” has been, the chances are we will see a lot more of this.

If you find yourself fiddling at your desk or stuck at home in the strike, play this game.

And here Ken B dreams a song. Due to the joys of google and the unique way that the BBC is funded, I was soon listening to Maurice Ravel's "Chanson Hebraiques" as Ken heard it, at about 1:15 on Rob Cowan's Radio 3 breakfast show on Monday. If that dissappears or isn't available in your country, you can listen to an mp3 snippet from the record company Hyperion. A bit of information here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Elsewhere elsewhere 2: the resistable rise of Euro-fascism

This post continues the theme of yesterday's and of the discussion thread there.

I want to completely endorse two excellent round-ups of links related to the European elections and other things: Kellie's here and Modernity's here. I am cutting and pasting some of it, with added editorial. The analysis put forward by liberal anti-racists and the mainstream liberal press is very poor (although there are some exceptions, e.g. Sunny [although over-optimistic], Jon Cruddas and Nick Lowles [although a bit self-congratulatory about Hope Not Hate] and Denis MacShane [although a little superficial]). Liberalism, as Jogo put it in a recent e-mail to me, needs a little humility about this defeat: it was our failure that allowed the BNP (and the right in general) to do so well. I also strongly recommend Duncan's post, which puts some sanity into the debate.

So, from Kellie:
Comment from Oliver Kamm: The price of failure. From Marko Attila Hoare: We must defend our Britain and our immigrants from the fascist menace. ModernityBlog: Fascists, ferrets, and how to stop the far right. Bob from Brockley: Post-election depression. Fat man on a Keyboard: Doomed I tell ye. Your Friend in the North tells how he cast his vote.
I really liked Marko's piece, although I think he is far, far too soft on New Labour, who have, in my view, not "pursued a liberal immigration regime", but rather have been at least as draconian as any other party, and certainly tried to present themselves as such. (The only time this has slipped, in my view, was Mandelson's pathetic attempts to counter the British jobs for British workers line with a half-baked neo-liberalism).

Kellie's post also has good news from the Lebanese election, a link to Martin's excellent peice on Tom Paine, and something from the great Joe Sacco.

And, from Modernity:
[...] Opponents of the BNP should endeavour to build up trade unions and focus on a grass-roots anti-BNP campaign, not one run by the officials or the damaged goods with a long history of high-jacking organisations, instead it needs to be genuine and representative of a positive anti-fascist sentiment. That’s the way to beat them.[...]
The Guardian has an article up which rightly complains that the BBC gave the BNP too much airtime and the platform for their views.
A very sensible argument, however it would have been much stronger of the Guardian themselves had not provided the platform for racists within its own Comment Is Free section. On any particular day it is fairly easy to find a number of anti-Jewish comments within the threads of Comment is Free, and despite sloppy moderation by Guardian staff it is a hotbed of anti-Jewish racism.[...]
Duncan suggests Filling the Vacuum, November 2001 which refers back to an AFA decremented published in 1995. I can’t find an on-line copy, but this is a useful page. [...]*
The slackbastard’s coverage is very good.[...]
*Added link: Here is Filling the Vacuum. Darren also reproduces it, with a short timely intro.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Post-election depression

Writing this very depressed at the terrible election results, with the Conservatives, UKIP and BNP as the big winners in the UK, and the far right resurgent across Europe. Even the Telegraph describes the winners in Europe as "extremists": the Euronationalist populists who use anti-Gypsy, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim racism as their main crowd-pleasers, with good old anti-Jewish racism lurking just behind the surface.

Meanwhile, the Labour party is falling apart: the so-called rebels playing for their own personal survival, all factional intrigue, backroom squabbling, and absolutely no differences of policy from Gordon Brown and no democratic debate about how Labour can re-connect to its grassroots. The spectacle is disgusting, and only confirms voters' disdain at the sleaze that permeates politics.

The lack of headway by the BNP in London is heartening. But its growth in Labour heartlands like the Northwest and Yorkshire is striking, confirming the view of those of us who have long argued that the rise of the BNP is predicated on the vacuum left behind by the collapse of the Labour movement in working class areas, and its turn to a mythical Middle England. Here, by the way, is the BNP's second MEP: Andrew Brons.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Weekending again

(Acknowledgments, as usual, to Jim J. I'll devise my own formula soon, but this one seems so convenient at the end of a long week. Sorry, also, that this post has ended up so bloated.)

As I've finished on Mr Denham, this week's video is Lady Day and Pres with "Fine and Mellow", a Billie Holiday composition. The lovely, understated trombone solo is Vic Dickenson, the pencil mustaches and hats are very cool, but the real pleasure of this video is Billie Holiday's face. Her and Lester Young, who had not played together for some time before this, were both less than two years from their untimely deaths.

As a bonus, here is an mp3 of Nina Simone singing "Fine and Mellow" two years later. It's cool and bluesy, but lacks the depth of Holiday's version. It's from a wonderful playlist at Motel de Moka.

In a plural society it is inevitable and important to cause offence

Back here I posted about the need for ruthless criticism of the liberal taboo on "causing offence". I haven't looked at Index on Censorship's excellent website for a while, but it is full of relevant material:
The orthodoxy of offence
In an extract from the series Manifestos for the 21st Century, New Humanist editor Caspar Melville explores the impact of identity politics on free speech

Kamila Shamsie: Islam and offence
In an extract from her new book in the Manifestos for the 21st Century series, author Kamila Shamsie explores the reasons why Islam has become synonymous with offence.

When does cultural sensitivity become a form of censorship? by Julia Farrington
On the state of artistic freedom in the UK, from Behzti to Jewel of Mdina.

“You Can’t Say That”
On Kenan Malik and Queer Up North.
Title of this post is a quote from Kenan Malik.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Time to vote

Last updated Thursday 18:00 Brockley time.

Tomorrow, Thursday 4th June, as you probably already know, is the European Parliament elections in the UK. I will be casting a vote, for three reasons, all, unfortunately, negative reasons.

First, and most importantly, I will be voting to stop the BNP winning seats. The BNP, whose constitution limits membership to "indigenous" "Caucasians" (seems like a contradiction to me), whose politics are driven by hatred and resentment, are likely to do exceptionally well in this election, due to the anti-political populist climate and the economic crisis.

The video above* is produced by Peter Cranie's Green campaign in the Northwest, where the odious Nick Griffin is likely to gain a seat. It claims that every single vote counts, but that's not strictly true, as you can see from the film. The UK (apart from Northern Ireland) uses the incredibly complicated and confusing D'Hondt method of Proportional Representation, which the video (and these charts) do a great job of explaining. This means that votes for the smallest parties, those who have no chance of gaining any seats in the regions, are indeed wasted. Unfortunately, this means that a vote for the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a wasted vote against the BNP. Clearly, though, a vote for the Greens does count against the BNP.

Secondly, I will be voting to stop the non-fascist right-wing populist parties from gaining seats, parties like the English Democrats, UKIP and Libertas, who between them constitute a sizeable force for reaction in Britain, again feeding of the resentment and racism the BNP feeds off. Although UKIP has been falling apart, these grouplets could get good votes, especially if turn-out is low, which is likely, especially in those areas where there are not also council elections, given widespread disengagement from the electoral process. YouGov today put UKIP as the third party nationally with 16% and "others", including the English Democrats, at 6%. Again, it seems to me that a vote for the Green Party will count against these parties.

Thirdly, I will be voting to reduce the Tory share of the vote. As Andrew puts it, "the Tories are going to get in under cover of darkness", even though the expenses issue shows them as far more corrupt and sleazey than Labour, while their policies on the economic crisis are at best pathetic and at worst outright dangerous: make ordinary people pay for the faults of the banks by cutting social services and... Well, and not much more.

Part of me wants to vote Labour, as I feel that they have been the victims of several things out of their control: the global financial crisis, the swine flu epidemic, and an orchestrated campaign against them from the chattering classes. The death of Labour as a political force, as in 1979, can only make things worse. To paraphrase Andrew again, they may not be anything more than the lesser of two evils, but the other evil is far, far worse. My reading of the YouGov polling data (and I'm not great at maths) suggests that in Yorkshire and Humber in particular a vote for Labour is the best vote against the BNP.

In London, the picture is so messy it is harder to call. On balance, therefore, I am voting Green, to ensure that our Green MEP, Jean Lambert, returns to Strasbourg and minimise the chances of a third Tory or second or even third UKIP seat.


Who are the BNP? Don't Panic went undercover with the BNP in Essex. Their video reveals the BNP as unreconstructed racists trying hard to present themselves as slick. In one important sequence, about 4 minutes in, they talk about their links with fascist parties they are aligned with in the European Parliament, and how getting an MEP means "we'll become, , in every sense of the word, mainstream, and, more than that, we'll have funds". Because of course, being anti-Europe will not stop them taking the large dollops of tax-payer-funded gravy the EU dishes out to the parties in the European Parliament. And, don't forget, the BNP still hate Jews, even if they talk about Muslims more these days. (More videos via Jim & HP, and pics via HP.)

Vote Labour in the Southwest: Glyn Ford is the current Labour MEP for the Southwest, in fact the only one. He is, in my opinion, one of the best British MEPs. He is in real danger of losing his seat, so if you are reading this from the South west, vote Labour.

More recent poll figures show that UKIP nationally might be second rather than third. The positive side of this the BNP vote seems to be slipping (although interviewer bias gives the BNP lower results in opinion polls than the ballot booth), but it strengthens the reasons to go and vote for the Greens or Labour.

The Tories: Another reason to vote against the Conservatives is the way that Cameron, despite his soft centrist rhetoric in Britain, has more closely aligned his party with harder right-wing parties in Europe, in fact with a number of parties who are no better than Libertas.

Populism: Talking of that unsavoury re-alignment, I just read Tony Lerman on the new populism. He quotes Bulgaria's Ivan Krastev and says: "The British mood increasingly resembles the populism taking hold across Europe. The party leaders here think they can surf the wave, but most populist politics are, in Krastev's words, "dangerous mutations". Flirting with them may well backfire."

Still confused? I am, but I'm not alone. Here's Peter The Plump.

Finally: And if you still haven't voted, read Alex Goldberg on the Second Battle of Cable Street.

*Hat tip: Jim/Greens Engage.