Monday, January 31, 2011

Freedom's flame: Ash-sha'ab yureed isqaat an-nizam


The revolution live

Marko Hoare: Victory to the revolution! Yasmine El Rashidi: 'Hosni Mubarak, the plane is waiting’/ ‘Tomorrow, to Tahrir Again’. Adam Schatz: Mubarak's last breath. Tom Streithorst: Hobbes vs Kropotkin on the streets of Cairo. Modernity: Last days of a dictatorship. Zunguzungu: I have no words but all I have is words.

Emancipatory forces
Centre for Trade Union & Workers Services: The labour movement is in the heart and soul of the Egyptian revolution. Mohammed Ezzeldin on the roots of the revolutionary movement. Atef Said on Egypt's long labour history. Juan Cole: Egypt's class conflict Stroppy: women of Egypt 1 & 2.

Lots more from LabourStart, KellieEntdinglichung and Shiraz Socialist

Reactionary forces: The Muslim Brotherhood
A short exchange with a Trotskyist at James B's place. A sophisticated analysis of the British far left and its dalliance with the Muslim Brotherhood from Carl P. David O on the class nature of the Brotherhood.

The American role
It seems to me that the equivocal comments from the Obama administration show that having a friend in the region is more important to them than having democracy, and that "stability" and "order" are more important than freedom. This is important, as it shows the limits of the pro-democracy rhetoric of liberal and conservative American commentators. Although the neoconservative pro-democracy commentary has hit the right note on Iran's Green Revolution, the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, or the secessionist movement in Southern Sudan, when it comes to Egypt it faces a harder test.

However, it seems to me wrong to focus on this as the defining issue of the Egyptian uprising, or to attempt to frame the pan-Middle Eastern conflagration as first and foremost "anti-Western", as for example the commentary at Empire Burlesque does. That seems to me like just another variant of the solipsist America First isolationism of the right. And it also seems to me important to highlight the positive role that America has also played - i.e. that the American role is ambivalent rather than wholly reactionary.

Solidarity US: Tunisia breaks free - includes the statement of the 14th of January Front, which includes some depressing anti-Zionist content. Andrew C: The struggle continues against the new administration. And why was Ben Ali's party in the Socialist International?

Andrew Coates: Street protests in Sudan.

I heard Sami Zubeida talking last week about his new (and timely!) book Beyond Islam, a celebration of the dirty, vernacular, cosmopolitan citizenship of the Middle East. The cover illustration is of the great singer Umm Kulthum (often rendered Oum Kalthoum), and she came to mind while watching the wonderful videos of Fifi Abdou posted by Richard S, so I'll play out with her, and the Stones via Terry.

[H/t BLCKGRD for some of the links.]

Keywords: Egypt, Tunisia

Holocaust memorial day in Lewisham

A guest post by Councillor Michael Harris

At last Monday’s Council meeting, Councillors in the London Borough of Lewisham marked Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January) by inviting Rabbi Dr Amit of the Catford and Bromley Synagogue to address the Council. He lit a candle to commemorate all those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and other genocides. Following this the Council observed a minute’s silence. Rabbi Amit took time to ensure that he mentioned other faiths and emphasized that Holocaust Memorial Day marked the commemoration of the Holocaust and other contemporary genocides. He listed a series of genocides including the killings in Rwanda and the massacre of Muslims in Darfur. As he listed various genocides, John Hamilton the leader of Lewisham People Before Profit shouted at the Rabbi “Gaza”, as if the Rabbi ought to apologise himself for the events in Palestine. The Rabbi added, “Gaza”, and lit the candle. Hamilton obviously thought it appropriate to ask a Jew to apologise for the events in Israel – regardless of the fact that the Rabbi lives in the UK.

It also stuck in my craw, that during a commemoration to the 6 million Jews that were murdered at the hands of supposed civilised Europeans, Hamilton found it necessary to heckle a Rabbi. Regardless of your views of the state of Israel and its actions – to ask a Rabbi to apologise, as a Jew, for the actions of a State that he does not live in, seems rather sinister. It’s the equation of Semitism with Zionism; and that all Jews are responsible for Israel.

Mike is Labour Councillor for Lewisham Central, free speech lobbyist and activist for Index on Censorship (and the Libel Reform Campaign), and campaigns consultant. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spreading the link love

I've been checking out some of my in-bound links, and noting a few blogs that I don't link to very often. Here are some.
  • Bertram on-lineStrapline: news from absolutely nowhere. The nowhere is actually Denmark, and this is a visually appealing blog, with a small but perfectly formed blogroll. Henning Bertram has excellent taste in music (Gil Scott Heron, Sister Rosetta Sharpe, Chico Buarque) and thoroughly decent politics.
  • It's Complicated: On the parallel universe of the Middle East. Read, for example, "Britain's Israel problem" on the legacy of  Britain’s Secret War against France in Syria and Lebanon, 1942-45.
  • BLKGRD: An extremely prolific and slightly bizarre and visually unappealing blog, from an unconventional left-wing perspective. The blogger, Knez of Egoslavia, does personal reflections (this is a good example), big lists of links, and youtubes of eclectic music. He also likes one of my favourite poets, Charles Simic.
  • Backseat Blogger: Somewhat to my right, and purveying a fine line in photos of muscular hunks in swimsuits, unzipped overalls and suchlike. (Strapline: "This blog contains material of an adult nature. Some readers such as, but not limited to, leftoids, prigs, prudes, Liberals, "progressives", homophobes, anti-Semites, religious freaks, the braindead, and other wackos may find this offensive.") Here are some snippets from recent posts: After all, Gaza is such a concentration camp and all that.” “Photos help illustrate the role Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara who served as Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania during World War II. He helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan.” “The more things change, the more they stay the same: Zionist Aspirations in Palestine. Note the date.” “A very interesting read: The Jews’ Right To Statehood: A Defense... Shocker: Allah Is a Zionist (The Quranic argument for Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel)”. Also read this, on the "invention" of antisemitism in Canada.
  • The Spanish Prisoner: Somewhat to my left, and mainly blogging about films. From a recent post on Amiri Baraka: "During the question-and-answer session, Baraka made clear that he takes a conspiracist view of history. He believes the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were all conspiracies. I’m not keen on conspiracy theories, because I believe they lead to cynicism rather then activism. Baraka also claimed that the 9/11 attacks were a conspiracy by the U.S. government. He apparently doesn’t realize that if this conspiracy were real, Obama would have to be in on it."
  • UNICEF: I assume this is an unofficial blog about UNICEF. It highlights some of the bad shit going down in the world, and UNICEF's efforts to alleviate that. For instance: "One year after the devastating January 12 earthquake shook their fragile lives, Haiti’s 4 million children continue to suffer from inequitable access to basic water, sanitation, healthcare, and education services and protection from disease, exploitation, and unsanitary conditions... Today, more than 1 million people – approximately 380,000 of whom are children – still live in crowded camps." Or: "They look like toys, but they are lethal. Landmines and unexploded ordnances are a plague for children in Yemen. This year at least 12 children have died in accidents caused by landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXO)s, and almost 20 have suffered serious injuries."
  • Labour 2: This is, as it says on the tin, all the Labour blogosphere in one place. 
  • Poor Bastard Marvin: Hates Islamism, and hates the way the liberal media report it.
  • 21st century fix: Says: "I'm a Labour Party member, love the Internet, have worked as a volunteer on, am a trained editor, speak Spanish fluently and wish I could speak Croatian."
  • Mind Trumpet doesn't link to me. He used to be Citizen Sane, who did. This post on Chavez is enjoyable.
  • Political Anxiety Closet: A far left blogger with the irritating habit of not using clickable hyperlinks in the posts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why is Counterpunch vile?

I just noticed Bill Weinberg's answer to the above question, and thought it worth extracting here.
Excuse me, running "journalism" by the Holocaust-denier (and apparent collaborationist with the Lukashenko dictatorship) Israel Shamir is not vile? Making a cause celebre of fellow Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel is not vile? Providing a soapbox for Bosnia genocide denial is not vile? Cheering on Ahmadinejad's electoral fraud is not vile? Cheering on the mass-murdering jihadis in Iraq is not vile? Engaging in vulgar Jew-baiting of public officials is not vile? Xenophobic talk about how Washington is "occupied" by Israel is not vile? Running fraudulent interviews without bothering to check them out first is not vile? How about denying climate change? Is that vile enough for you?
That's a lot more concise than the post I once wrote about Alexander Cockburn and Counterpunch!

Previous: Conspiracy theories.
Keywords: Counterpunch, Israel Shamir, Wikileaks.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Arrested materialism

There is a very interesting article by Robert Sibley about Islamism in the Ottawa Citizen, arguing that "spiritual diseases" and an age-old conflict between reason and revelation are behind Islamist violence.

I'm not going to engage here with the argument, but I am interested by his use of the word "materialism" in the article. These are the opening two paragraphs:
During the last decade of Islamist terrorism, numerous commentators, particularly those on the left, have adopted a materialist approach to explain why some Muslims want to slaughter guests at hotels in Mumbai or detonate bombs at Christmas festivals in Sweden.
Terrorism, they argue, is rooted in poverty, frustration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and memories of western imperialism. In other words, so the argument goes, the West itself is to blame for terrorism. If only the West would apologize, make reparations, abandon Israel, leave the Middle East and Afghanistan, all would be well. Or at least that's where the root-cause crowd's assumptions logically lead.
It is of course true that many, overwhelmingly on the left, argue that poverty, frustration and imperialism are the "root causes" of terrorism. They are, furthermore, utterly wrong.

If they bothered to look at the facts, they would notice that Islamism is not primarily a movement of the poor, but rather of elites in Islamic countries. Its practitioners tend to be educated, transnationally mobile, and at ease in western contexts. There have been far more scientists, doctors and engineers among recent terrorists than there have been proletarians or peasants.

In other words, the leftist "root causes" argument is not wrong for being materialist, but for being insufficiently materialist. Real materialism would take the trouble to examine the Islamist terrorists who really exist in the world, and ask what the material base for their actions might be, and what the "circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past” (to quote Marx) feed their vision of the world.

The leftist "root causes" view is not materialism but arrested materialism. It makes a materialist gesture (pointing to "root causes" in the economy) but it is superficial and based on wishful thinking rather than on actually examining the material world.


Tunisia etc
(H/t Bella for some of these links)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just give me one thing that I can hold on to... To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

Continuing our conversations: Martin has an excellent post on nationalism, and Augustinian left and Reinhold Niebuhr (and via him a special issue of Politics and Culture on Michael Berube and the possibility of a post-Manichean left). Simply Jews has a post (with a very good title) about the one state kerfuffle that I meant to link to but didn't. Between the Hammer and the Anvil has taken up, via Carl, my "influential left-wing ideas" meme. 

Islamism watch: The left has failed to learn the lesson of Iran, the AWL suggest, noting that the Labour Representation Committee invited, as its speaker on Tunisia, "Mohammed Ali Harrath, former leader of the Tunisian Islamic Front and now CEO of Islam Channel, a TV station charged by some (including Yvonne Ridley, whom it sacked) with anti-Shia bigotry." And the British police haven't learnt much either, as Paul Stott suggests here, in his comments on the police infiltration of the Clown Army: "7/7 bomb plotter Mohammed Sidique Khan was considered to be a peripheral player in a group of Britons discussing terrorist attacks, so surveillance on him was brought to a close in 2004... In the same period the Clown Army, a group of middle class idiots who dress as clowns on political demonstrations, were considered so important that undercover police office 'Lyn Watson' was paid to inflitrate them."

Police spies: Talking of which, like Transpontine (although I was not as active as him), I recognise Jim Sutton aka Jim Boyling from my time around the edges of Reclaim the Streets in South London in the 1990s. Transpontine quotes the ever quotable Victor Serge, writing in 1926: "Be on your guard against conspiracy mania, against posing, adopting airs of mystery, dramatising simple events, or “conspiratorial” attitudes. The greatest virtue in a revolutionary is simplicity, and scorn for all poses ... including “revolutionary” and especially conspiratorial poses." (And if you haven't already, read my old post about another police spy, Officer A.)

Ken watch: Adam BDave Hill and James B are all good on Ken Livingstone taking the mullahs' shilling to go on Iranian propaganda station Press TV, along with his Boris-ite enemy Andrew Gilligan. 

The Twitter revolution? Oddly, I read a pre-Xmas LRB on the train home the other night, then found a copy of a pre-weekend Guardian on the next train, and so read two articles on the same topic with very different perspectives. Timothy Garton Ash suggests Wikileaks and Twitter didn't give us the jasmine revolution, but they helped, while James Harkin, writing on Iran's green revolution, is more skeptical. Ethan Zuckerman takes a middle view. I like Bill Weinberg's take, responding to the idea that George Soros or Julian Assange must be behind it, concluding "Of course there has to be a white guy behind the Tunisian revolution, right? Well, no. The notion that the Tunisians needed WikiLeaks to know they were oppressed, or needed George Soros to be able to organize a revolution, is deeply condescending." I like his two questions too: "1. Does Obama's comment on Tunisia represent a tilt to the neocons and their hubristic agenda to destabilize every Arab regime—despite that fact that a.) he was backing Ben Ali up to the moment that he fled, and b.) the neocons' supposed agent in the White House, Rahm Emanuel, recently stepped down from the administration to run for mayor of Chicago2. If the White House continues to offer such lip service (at least) to Arab protesters, how long before the Western "left" starts denouncing the protesters as pawns of the US State Department, and cheering on their repression—as it has recently done in the case of Belarus?" (See also my previous Tunisia post, my last Wikileaks post, and my post on the George Soros-Wikileaks axis.)

The soundtrack is a song I've been listening to lots of versions of recently, John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery". This is Susan Tedeschi, a singer I love. The original features in the Sean Penn film Into the Wild, screening at the Brockley Jack Film Club tomorrow night.

Keywords: Tunisia, Islamism, Ken Livingstone, Andrew Gilligan, Press TV, Victor SergeJulian Assange, Wikileaks, Susan Tedeschi, John Prine.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Carnival of Socialism no.51

"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." --- Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms
“Very often, optimism is nothing more than a defence of one’s laziness, one’s irresponsibility, the will to do nothing. It is also a form of fatalism and mechanicism. One relies on factors extraneous to one’s will and activity, exalts them, and appears to burn with sacred enthusiasm... It is necessary to direct one’s attention relentlessly towards the present as it is, if one wishes to transform it.” --- Antonio Gramsci The Prison Notebooks 
My themes for this edition are optimism and pessimism. You all know Gramsci's adage, "optimism of the intellect, pessimism of the will" (actually, he took it from Romain Rolland). Gramsci was condemning the anarchists for their intellectual optimism about human nature and about the masses' capacity for self-emancipation, which for him was a key justification of the need for a Leninist-style vanguard party to tell the masses what to do.

Other bloggers and columnists thinking about optimism and pessimism include Emma, at Scarlet Standard, Ken McLeod, and Mick Hume at Spiked. Myself, these days, I oscillate between hope and despair, and in this edition I sum up some of the reasons, based on some of the top socialist blogging of 2011 so far.


As one recent victim of the government’s slash and burn approach to the public and voluntary sectors writes, 2011 is going to be a very bad year. Not a week goes by when I don't hear from a friend or acquaintance that they've got their redundancy notice or, if they're lucky, just a cautionary redundancy notice. And these people, in Hemingway's phrase, are the "very good, the very gentle and the very brave" - while the un-good, un-gentle and un-brave in the world of finance are rolling in it once more. Or, as Norbert puts it, "Britain today is akin to living three hundred thousand fathoms under a sea of wealth, that’s if you consider that we have the highest levels of income inequality for over half a century. Household and personal wealth of the top 10% of the population is 100 times greater than that of the poorest 10% and 30% of children live in poverty." In this context, the struggle against the austerity regime is surely the highest priority for blogging and non-blogging socialists in the UK, and in the other countries where the social sector is similarly being eviscerated. 

Paul in Lancashire has written a number of useful posts on focusing the fight against cuts. This long one is a good example. Boffy's blogposts are so long and involved I generally print them out and read them on long train journeys, but they repay the effort. Not having had any long train journeys lately I didn't know which of his latest posts to read, but the recent batch all look worth reading.

Clouded Outlook is excellent on the economics of the current age of austerity - although Jams has the simpler version for people like me. Left Foot Forward is consistently good on the issue of public services. Here's Lawrence Shaw on Cameron and employment lawJon at Third Estate on inequality and Don Paskini on evidence-based policy. Sue Marsh at 10% enumerates some of the cuts that will affect us.

On the Tories' partners in crime, the Lib Dems, check out this great graphic at friend in the North's place, Andy Newman on them steering even further to the right, and this video at Stroppy's.

Council cuts are local issues as well as national issues, and the way that blogs can be simultaneously locally focused and globally hyperlinked makes them good vehicles for promoting local actions to local readerships while also connecting up the struggles. River's Edge, for example, based in Preston, Lancashire, has good coverage of the campaigns in that part of the world. Infantile and Disorderly reports from loveable Manchester, Transpontine from Lewisham and Southwark, 853 from Greenwich, Adam Bienkov from LondonPaul Cotteril from Bickerstaffe Lancashire, and Red Iron from Scunthorpe's steel industry.


So, now we all know what we're up against, but how do we go about it? Is Labour a lesser evil that we should support? Can we put our hope in the resurgence of third parties like the Greens? Should we build the theoretically pure revolutionary socialist party? Who should be building alliances with?

Tessa Jowell, South London New Labour MP, has been the focus of a lot of left-wing blogging and twittering ire. The Fat Man at his keyboard weighs in on what she eats for breakfast. Other New Labourites irritating bloggers include Jack Straw, irritating Chris Dillow and Harry Barnes, and Ed Miliband, irritating Harpy.

There have been some interesting posts about Labour recently. Here's Peter Ryley, and, from slightly before our timeframe, here's Martin in the Margins on “blue Labour”, Maurice Glasman’s term for conservative socialism, and on its relationship to “red Toryism”. Carl Packman, the Raincoat Optimist, has some interesting posts on sectarianism, actionism and Labourism, in the context of the renewed militancy of the fight against cuts: A fight without sectarianism, is not a fight without arguments (what’s that comma in the middle all about?) and Internal bickering versus “whistling in the dark”. More: The Independent Labour Party and the scourge of left wing politics; Jim Jepps repliesCarl back at JimHarpy also sets out why she is in the Labour Party.

From more or less the opposite side of the argument from Carl, Waterloo Sunset, a libertarian communist rather than a socialist, lists five things that irritate him about the liberal left, provoked by Sunny Hrundal. Meanwhile Latte Labour reminds us of Sunny's foolish communalist call for a Tory vote. Raven asks if left unity is possible or even desirable.

I recommend the SPGB blog, Socialism or Your Money Back. Here's an enjoyable demolition of George Galloway. Meanwhile, Andrew Coates writes on the strengths and weaknesses of the SPGB. Unlike Gramsci, the SPGB believe "that working class people are quite capable of making up their own minds about their struggles and actions, and making their own decisions". The SPGB are often known as "impossibilists", and Andrew notes that, "Unfortunately one has to ask, what exactly has the SPGB done politically to advance the cause of socialism?" I think that, unfortunately, one has to ask how the cause of socialism has been advanced much by any socialists in the last few decades, but there you are. My own view is more or less that put forward by the sadly extinct Socialism in an Age of Waiting back in the Jurassic age of blogging:
Like the SPGB, and as indicated in the very name of this blog, we're waiting for the majority of workers to come to the conclusion that socialism is worth building and worth fighting for (and only then actually get on with the task). However, unlike the SPGB, we don't think that there is nothing worthwhile that anyone can do in the meantime to shorten the age of waiting. The obvious fact that the world is - on the whole, and even taking into account all its enduring horrors and injustices and inequalities - a better place, for many more people, than it was in 1904 seems to us to show that some progress is possible even within (some forms of) capitalism. We'd even argue that such progress - albeit it is limited, distorted, corrupt and, often, made for the wrong reasons by the wrong people - itself contributes to the eventual building of socialism, by educating and galvanising those who will build it... To be even briefer: we accept the doctrine of the lesser evil, and the definition of politics as the art of the possible; the SPGB don't. Then again, they're the genuine article, a Marxist party that has not changed its stance or diluted its principles over the years - and that has to make the[m] a whole lot better than all the pseudo-left sects put together."

The German-based but multilingual blog Entdinglichung is essential reading for socialists and is the go-to place for internationalism. Among the issues covered there in January are CPI(M) cadres firing on civilians in West Bengal and a call for freedom for Iranian intellectual Fariborz Raisdana. Another great internationalist in the blogosphere is Modernity, who looks at Lebanon here and racism in Canada here. Shiraz Socialist looks at magnanimity and hope in Israel/Palestine. A Johnstone looks at inequality and private security in China. Charlie Pottins remembers Hrant Drink. And there's lots more from around the world here.

Terry Glavin, Canadian social democrat, is also blogging about Iran, from the perspective of working class solidarity, in a post entitled “Will you be a lousy scab or will you be a man?” While my location in inner South London gives me cause for pessimism, Terry's more global perspective gives him cause for optimism. He sees a coming convulsion led by the youth, things getting better, and an "anti-totalitarian surge". Kellie Strom also highlights the same anti-totalitarian wave in the Mediterranean

Other bloggers with good posts on Tunisia's "jasmine revolution" include River's Edge (on the socialist role), Latte Labour (on the UK media coverage), James Bloodworth (on the American connection), Terry again (on the Islamists), Mick Hall (pessimistically hoping it won't be more of the same), The Commune and Phil. A choice phrase from Phil: "Saudia Arabia, long the Costa Brava of forcibly retired tyrants". The (over-optimistic?) conclusion: "With sustained struggle and determined action, the dictatorial obscenities of the Middle East could be entering their final days. Let despots everywhere tremble as the revolutionary gale howls about their ears." Probably the best blog for resources on Tunisia is Airforce Amazons, although Entdinglichung is also good of course. And from Phil I see Tunisia Scenario. Oh, and Egypt is the next one to watch.


Here are my nominations for the worst socialist blogposts of the carnival period: David Seymour comparing Cameron to Pol Pot and wondering if self-immolation is the way forward, at Labour Uncut. All the posts at Socialist Unity giving a platform to Tommy and Gail Sheridan and George Galloway.


Finally, I want to highlight some socialist blogs that I don’t think feature that much on the radar of the British leftie blogosphere (if they actually do, I apologise). Anti-Illiberal is a very un-prolific blogger, whose first post in months is on Neil Clark's leotard momentNew Appeal to Reason is the blog of a democratic socialist trade union activist in Kansas, with great taste in books and music. Arguing the World is the trans-Atlantic blog hosted by Dissent magazine, with great contributions from Mark Engler for example. Steve Hanson is a northerner displaced in Wales who posts found objects and whimsical reflections on various scholarly and popular issues. Little Richardjohn hasn't blogged yet in 2011, but his blog is hardcore and dripping with attitude.

The last carnival was hosted by Luna17. The next will be at the excellent Great Unrest. Keep following the carnival at its home here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lots of things I have been looking at over the past month but didn't have time to link to earlier

The Orwell prize: Having a vastly inflated sense of my personal worth, I cannot help myself from nominating myself for the Orwell Prize for blogging. Even though I can think of several people more deserving, like Rosie, Phil, David, the Beached Brigadista, Martin, Sarah D, Will, Paul. Here is the longlist of my top posts in 2010, with those I submitted emboldened.

Also in 2010: Here are round ups of the year at Contested Terrain, Antigerman Translation and Poumista.The comment thread at the CT post is mainly about the Three-Way Fight position developed by Mike S among others, and is illuminating if you are interested in that.

Continuing our conversations: Peter picks his 2010 books and Martin picks his; Stuart gives us his book list here. Norm responds to Schalom Libertad. Roland on some of the issues that came up in the comments here (with an interesting comment thread). BenSix takes up the influential ideas baton and the 2010 books baton from Carl.Weggis takes up the influential ideas baton from Flesh, reflecting, from a nicely askew angle, on what "the left" is (and follows up with the most influential left-winger of 2010).

Carl's Normblog profile. What good taste in blogs he has.

My current favourite blog: Mystical Politics.

Miscellany:  Carl Packman: On Zizek and Multiculturalism. // Terry Glavin: Amnesty International And Its 'Cage Prisoners' Poster Boy Get What They Wanted. // Forced Migration photo gallery: Sahwari refugees in Camp 27 February in Algeria. // Christopher Hitchens: Mr. Kissinger, Have You No Shame? // Peter R: In praise of multiculturalism. // Matt Ignoblus: Allies, what allies? // Karl Pfeifer: Censorship in Hungary. // Libby T: The imperial vanity of humanity. // Mick Hartley: African migrants to Israel. // Transpontine: South London Dissenters in Bunhill. // Caroline D: Indian nationalists in Deptford. // Jim Jepps: The murder of Saleem Taseer. // Charlie Pottins: Farewell to Jayaben Desai, heroine of Grunwick. // Sarah Correia: Christmas in Sarajevo. // Graeme: Two definitions of Islamophobia. // Snoopy: Against the hate-mongering schmucks. // Orhan Pamuk: The fading dream of Europe. // BHL: The antisemitism to come (via Engage). // Francis Sedgemore: Enlightened authoritarianism and the stench of liberal racism. // Marko Attilla Hoare: First Check Their Sources: 1. On David N. Gibbs and ‘shoddy scholarship’; 2.The myth that ‘most of Bosnia was owned by the Serbs before the war’. // Ziad J. Asali and Hussein Ibish: Honesty and Hypocrisy in Facing Terrorism. // Chris Dillow: Sex crimes, trivial truths, Pakistani youth, Jack Straw, statistics and bias. / More evidence on migration and wages. // Jackson Diehl: Obama's dangerous silence on human rights. // Oshrat Nagar Levit: (Bedouin) boy meets (Jewish) girl. // Airforce Amazons: Frontline Tunisia. // Modernity: Denial in the West. // David Rosenberg: The Battle of Cable Street. // Kevin Yuill: The myth of American gun culture. // BJFC: Lewisham's old cinemas if they still existed today. // Daniele Archibugi: The cosmopolitanism of the left – An answer to globalisation. // Finally... Roland is obviously on the same wavelength as me, because there is a lot of overlap between that list and his fine recent round-up of highly readable bloggery, and the same goes for Modernity's slow round-up.

Jogo recommends: How Mirka got her sword: Yet another 11-year-old Orthodox girl comic. // Rabbi Nachman, Franz Kafka and Rodger Kamenetz. // Obama Dissappointment Syndrome merchandise. // Ron Radosh on the decline of the New York intellectuals. // Yasmin Alibhai Brown on Jack Straw. // Frank Furedi on Tariq Ramadan. // Zeitgeist and the Tucson shootings: more dangerous than Michael Savage. // The Koran burner is even creepier than you think.

Bob's beats:The Volga Vouty (Russian Dance)” by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra [1960] // Jewish soul. // "Milka's Dream": Hasidism and indie-ism team up in Ori Alboher's music. // An interview with Orphaned Land, Israel's leading extreme metal band. // Black Sabbath: the secret history of black-Jewish musical relations. // Albino Red.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Conspiracy theories

So far, we are encountering a form of analysis [from the liberal mainstream] that privileges political beliefs over others as the basis for human agency, as we did recently in regard to Julian Assange. Assange has publicized confidential records that embarass the US, so, ergo, the Swedish attempt to extradite him to Sweden on possible sex crime charges must be a pretext for delivering him into the custody of the US. The possibility that Assange may be a publicly heroic figure and a privately despiccable one capable of sexually abusing women is dismissed. In this instance, we see the process taken a step further: the insistence upon imprinting a political explanation for Loughner's violent actions in the absence of any evidence in support of it. The more compelling explanation, that Loughner is a confused, mentally disordered person who didn't receive the care that he needed, is subordinated to this quest. - American Leftist
1. Jared Loughner and the Tucson shootings
The liberal orthodoxy on the assassination attempt and murder in Arizona has been to point the finger at Sarah Palin and the American conservative right. In the US, this forms part of the generally unpleasantly polarised kulturkampf that distorts political discourse, with vitriol and "bilious filth" liberally slung about by the left as much as the right. In the UK and Europe, the same orthodoxy forms part of a wider anti-Americanism in the discourse, a snobbish sense of superiority about the gun-toting bumpkins across the Atlantic, a discourse fed by the upper middle class metropolitan East Coasters that feed us our images of America.

However, it is also worth noting that the conspirationist fantasies that seem to have fuelled Jared Loughner's madness don't come from the tea party movement exactly, but from that tangled trans-Atlantic political space of parapolitical weirdness that transcends left and right.

One commenter at Louis Proyect writes: “Loughner’s beliefs are from fringe rightwing groups: the grammar obsession seems to come from David Wynn Miller, the dreaming reality and new currency from David Icke. The currency thing is also an obsession of Alex Jones and Lyndon Larouche and Glenn Beck. Loughner’s antiabortion concern is shared with Beck”. David Icke's background is of course in the Green movement, while Lyndon LaRouche has a Trotskyist background and is arguably extremely influential on the left. Other key influences on Loughner include the films Zeitgeist and Loose Change, which come from the strange area of left-right convergence in the 9/11 Truth Cult.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists themselves are of course holding forth on the shootings, using them as a platform to promote their cultic beliefs. Here's Adam Holland, indispensable as ever on this topic, on LaRouche's reaction, and on Michael Rivero and Gordon Duff. Expect more.

Update: More from Slack Andy.
**UPDATE 2: Also read River's Edge.**

2. Julian Assange, Wikileaks, Israel Shamir, Anna Ardin

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Big state little state

Having followed up on the one state/two state issue, this post picks up another thread from my “Influential left-wing ideas” meme: the big state/little state issue. Sorry to be self-indulgently self-referential. I think this will be the last post on this stuff, and then I’ll probably not be posting or commenting much for a week or so. Continue beneath the fold...

Thursday, January 06, 2011

On nations and states

“To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it.” – Rabindrinath Tagore, quoted by Martha Nussbaum.
“Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastical, high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a complement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, necessary for the public rights of mankind in general and thus for the realization of perpetual peace.” – Immanuel Kant.
In my post about good and bad influences on the left, I noted “national sovereignty” among the bad influences and the “one state solution” among the good influences. Norman Geras, in his response to the meme, gently criticised both suggestions, which he rightly saw as linked together. Meanwhile, Eamonn McDonaghTerry Glavin and Kellie Strom, three exiled sons of Erin, possibly galvanised by an apparent equivalence I drew between Israel/Palestine and the Troubles, made eloquent responses in the comment thread, and Eamonn also wrote a longer critique at the Z-Word blog, which provoked quite a lot of argumentation, not least from my friend Noga (who later added this moving post), as well as from other people I admire (including Judy K and Karl Pfeifer). Yesterday, I published a guest post from Schalom Libertad responding to Norm. Today, I will add to his comments with some thoughts of my own. The two elements – nationalism and sovereignty in general, and the Palestinian/Israeli nations and states in particular – are connected, but I will reflect on them in two parts. Apologies for the excessive length - I have put the second half below the break so it takes up less room on the front page. Tomorrow, or shortly after, I intend to follow up another issue arising from the meme, the big state versus the small state.

Nationalism and national sovereignty

I believe that nationalism is one of the greatest evils in the world. I distinguish nationalism from what Orwell calls patriotism or Rudolf Rocker calls “national feeling”. Patriotism or national feeling is a potentially benign affect, whereas nationalism is an ideology. Love of one’s homeland or one’s compatriots is common, healthy, perfectly compatible with sentiments of international solidarity, cosmopolitan justice, ethnic pride or class consciousness. It can be mobilised for good aims, such as resistance to tyranny or social solidarity within the nation. (I have discussed this extensively with Dave Semple here.)

Orwell writes that: “Both words [nationalism and patriotism] are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

The nation is a fairly recent invention, and the organisation of sovereignty on the basis of nations is so far but a fairly brief phase in human history. Organising sovereignty on the basis of nations is, in my view, inherently problematic, because it always excludes those who, while living within the state’s territory, are not “of” the nation – it excludes them from the right to participate fully in the affairs of the state. In the age when the nation-state was being born, this issue was named “the Jewish question” because, as Hannah Arendt put it, the Jews were a “non-national element in a world of growing or existing nations.” Zygmunt Bauman comments: “By the very fact of their territorial dispersion and ubiquity, the Jews were an inter-national nation... The boundaries of the nation were too narrow to define them; the horizons of national tradition were too short to see through their identity... The world tightly packed with nations and nation-states abhorred the non-national void.”

It could probably equally well have been named the Roma question; in Anatolia it became the Armenian question, the Greek question, the Kurdish question; in India it would be the Muslim question, in Pakistan the Hindu question. Aamir Mufti, in his brilliant book Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture, describes how this “Jewish question” was repeated everywhere as the nation became the ground for sovereignty. The nation-state, unable to form a homogeneous people out of the inherently various material of humanity, inevitably produces minorities.

And, Mufti notes, once a population is identified as a minority, it becomes moveable, in order to make the space of the nation pure. Hence the great catastrophes of the twentieth century as nation-states emerged: the Armenian massacre, for example, or the massive transfers of population between Greece and Turkey, or the millions of ethnic Germans transported by the Russian empire during WWI from the European front to Central Asia, or their “repatriation” to Germany afterwards. The most extreme moment in this dialectic, of course, was the Nazi “final solution” to the Jewish question. But the catastrophe of the nation-state keeps on unfolding: from Partition in India, the Palestinian nakba, the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, the genocide in Rwanda, the wars in Yugoslavia that gave us the term “ethnic cleansing”, on down to the current events in Cote D’Ivoire. Genocide is the logic of the nation-state, or, more precisely of the linking together of nation, state and territorial sovereignty.

This is one solution to the nation-state’s “Jewish question”, the “anthropoemic” one to use Claude Levi-Strauss’ term: vomiting out the minority. The other solution is the “anthropophic” one: “annihilating the strangers by devouring them and then metabolically transforming them into a tissue indistinguishable from one’s own” to quote Bauman again. This was how France, for example, sought to deal with its Jewish question – in other words, assimilation. Assimilation requires the complete disappearance of any collective identity outside that of the nation – as in the famous comment in the French National Assembly in which French Jews were granted equal rights: "To the Jews as individuals, everything. To the Jews as a nation, nothing." Assimilation is of course less barbarous than expulsion or elimination, but it too is genocidal in its logic, and there are in any case plenty of instances of the apparently successfully assimilated then being designated for annihilation anyway.

In the late twentieth century, there were signs that the deadly allure of the nation-state-territory trinity was weakening. The cosmopolitan project of the United Nations and the building of institutions of international law, the supra-national project of the European Union, the dissemination of the American model of “civic patriotism”, the number of countries who shifted from the principle of blood (jus sanguinis) to that of birth (jus soli) in their citizenship policies – these gave some grounds for optimism.

Now, after the massacres in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Yugoslavia, after the renewal of communalism in the Indian subcontinent and its re-emergence in Iraq, after the flowering of infra-national conflicts in the former Soviet empire, after the Second Intifada, there is little space for hope. More than ever, I believe, we require the political imagination to relegate the deadly age of the nation-state to the past.

One state, two states, no states
The preceding section will hopefully put into context my views on the conflict in Israel-Palestine, and why I cannot endorse the two-state solution.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On the Need for an Anti-National Politic. A Short Reply to Norman Geras' Defense of National Sovereignty

A guest post by Schalom Libertad (

In response to BobfromBrockley's post on "left ideas," where he identified national sovereignty as one of the "bad influences" on the left, Norman Geras comes to the defense of the nation-state writing:
Pending the discovery of some better way for groups of people to band together for mutual protection, the sharing of other social aims, resources and facilities, and the voluntary pursuit of common cultural ways, states based on national (or sometimes multi-national) collectivities are the best way we have.
What's amazing about this statement is its completely abstract character. As I wrote in a comment on Bob's post:
It would have been more honest to start with an observation of how national sovereignty fails to achieve any of those listed objectives. The incredible gulf between rich and poor of "the same nation" is only the most obvious example to look at to see [this] failure, but many more [examples] come to mind, say the incredible disproportion of poor, blacks, latinos and immigrants whose only opportunity for social advance is to put their lives at risk in service of the military.
The raw fact of inequality amongst those who "belong to the national collectivity" is completely overlooked, not to mention the affect on those who don't belong.

Why does Geras resort to a Rousseauian fable about the consensually "banding together" of people, who emerge out of the state of nature, to protect their collective interests? Not only do we know that the emergence of nation-states is one of conquest and domination, their contemporary existence, which we experience daily, continues to show its power. This is no secret, and certainly not to a university professor in the social sciences. So, it is a mystery why Geras chose to defend the nation-state on the grounds of abstract arguments divorced from the reality we all experience.

Objecting to Bob's criticism of the nation, Geras writes, "All that sovereignty requires is some reality to the idea of a community of individuals sharing a common territory." Apparently, the delimited aspect that necessarily determines this "community" and the power it determines over a geographic area in regards to the flow of people across nation-state borders (during the most mobile period in human history) is not of concern.

But besides from these points, it should be most striking that "the nation" is not only problematic in terms of its delimiting quality in relation to "the outsider", but also in its political trajectory. In the current global recession, when political leaders across all countries are slashing the remnants of the welfare state, and justifying these policies on the grounds of producing a state that is internationally competitive, we see that the propping up of "the national" today follows a terribly repressive course, in which the many are told to tighten their belts, because "we" are all in it together. The recent social protests against austerity measures in multiple European countries, measures that are done in the name of making a more competitive national state, shows that the national stands in the way of emancipation. What is needed is something that breaks with the nation-state, not something that reinforces it.

UPDATE: Norm replies here.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The ideas meme: Sackcloth and Ashes

A guest post by Sackcloth and Ashes

[Bob: This is taken, with permission, from the comment thread at Sarah's responses to my "influential ideas" meme. I've taken the liberty to add a couple of hyperlinks. Posts on the one state solution, mutualism and some other issues thrown up by this meme to follow. Non-bloggers, feel free to e-mail me your lists and I'll consider publishing them if I have time.]

Bad influences

(1) Kneejerk occidentalism (namely, the automatic assumption that any act of US and British policy is automatically evil, and also the concurrent belief that any opponent of the West – no matter how malevolent or barbaric – should be supported on the grounds that they are ‘anti-imperialism’. This disease could well be described as Pilgeritis.
(2) Anti-Semitism, thinly disguised as ‘anti-Zionism’. Then as now, the socialism of fools.
(3) Moral relativism – namely the idea that gender equality, anti-racism, gay rights, human rights etc cease to matter in non-Western countries, unless their violation can somehow be blamed on those closer to home (see point 1). This sentiment can be called Gopalism, in ‘honour’ of the Cambridge professor of ‘post-colonial’ studies who could condemn ‘Time’ magazine for putting a mutilated Afghan girl on the front cover, while not saying a word against the thugs who maimed her.
(4) Pandering to theocracy – a trend which (in the form of apologias for Iran and for radical Islamist movements) is partly due to (1), but also a reaction by the far left to the failure of Marxism-Leninism since the late 1980s (see Shameless Milne, Maddy of the Sorrows et al). The far-left’s apologias for religious extremism is motivated by a desperate search for any ‘ideology’ – no matter how reactionary and twisted – that can provide an ‘alternative’ to liberal democracy.
(5) Whataboutery – the stock reaction of certain far-leftists when exposed as charlatans, hypocrites, and outright scumbags.
Not influential enough ideas
(1) Internationalism – The idea that you stand behind anyone fighting for the same rights as you in any part of the world. Honourable exceptions include HOPI – which has incurred the wrath of the STWC by being both opposed to any US attack on Iran AND the theocratic regime in Tehran – and also Mick Rix – who broke ranks with the STWC when they excused the murder of Iraqi trade unionists as the killing of ‘quislings’.
(2) Anti-Communism – this should have the same honourable pedigree as anti-Fascism/anti-Nazism, but for some reason the idea that ‘left can speak to left’ exists like some undead ghoul. Repeated examples from the Bolshevik revolution to the Khmer Rouge demonstrate that once in power the far-left have shown the same characteristics associated with the far-right (genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, militaristic aggression), but the myth exists that Marxist-Leninists can be misguided but essentially honourable people (e.g. the deification of Trotsky). Once this notion is abandoned, the real left can break ranks with the totalitarian left, leaving the latter to wither and die away. The continuation of the discredited notion that leftist movements of all stripes are part of the same family also provides ammunition for those on the right who argue that ’socialism’ involves an automatic journey to the gulag and to ‘Year Zero’ (e.g. Jonah Goldberg on ‘liberal fascism’, enemies of Obamacare etc).