Sunday, October 30, 2011

A quick raid

Here are some things that caught my eye while stealing time to browse.

At Shiraz Socialist, Comrade Clive denounces the lies and distortions about Libya of the Grauniad's posh Stalinists Seamus Milne and Jonathan Steele, while Andrew Coates decries the Guardian's courting of a "progressive" (that word again) Islamism in Tunisia.

Rob Marchant writes in the New Statesman on antisemitism as the new black - on the pernicious (and ultimately anti-Palestinian) influence of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

From a strangely interesting nook of the Occupy Wall Street movement comes the dispute between "the Drummers" and "the Demands working group", in a post by Ross that I had to read twice before deciding if it was satire. And, if you haven't already, read History at Night's account of the London camp, which more or less exactly matches my feelings when I went there last weekend.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Some updates

I am off;-line at the moment, so have scheduled this post, as a kind of post-it note of follow-ups to things I've been talking about recently.

CiFWatch v Socialist Unity v Gilad Atzmon
CiFWatch have published a response by Hadar Sela to my two posts (this one and this one) on opposing left-wing antisemitism. Because I've been away, I've only managed to dip my toe in the discussion. [Update: link fixed]

Gilad Atzmon, Holocaust-denying antisemitic nutjob
Original posts listed here.
Updates: Joseph W on JfJfP promoting Atzmon's antisemitic supporter Jonathan Blakeley.

Original post here.
I've already rounded up some of the statements and reports on antisemitism in the Occupy camp at Contested Terrain. Here are some other posts: Anti-Semitism & Occupy Wall Street: Our Commitment; Carl P on Brendan O'Neil's denunciations; History at Night's Second Thoughts; James B on revolution as play.

When is anti-Zionism not antisemitism
Original post here.
Update: From the summer, the very sane Kenneth Stern offers dissent within the AJC. (h/t Sina)

Bob Lambert, police spy and philo-Islamist
Original post here.
Update: An old friend speaks out.

Two for one
Waterloo Sunset does both Lambert and Atzmon here.

EDL, right-wing numpties
Below the line, some comments from the thread at HP which linked to my post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Some resources on left antisemitism

There is a huge list of resources on left antisemitism at Contested Terrain. There is a shorter list at this website. And Engage has several more, and Workers Liberty have more again. Here, I list a few more recent resources that have come to my notice. It should go without saying that inclusion does not necessarily imply endorsement. Can I particularly draw your attention to Radical Archives on Kalle Larson, as this is a reference point  in recent debates on Occupy Wall Street.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Films, libraries, pizzas, Jew-haters - you know the sort of thing to expect here by now

Bloggery: I don’t know how I missed the fact that my friend Tom Henri has a blog, “Unsettling Social Work”, aimed at “developing a critical sociology of social work”. The latest entry, from September, is the full text of his Guardian article on the summer riots in Lewisham, my corner of London. Moving to a totally different topic, have I recommended Critical Kabbalist before? The tin says "Reflections on studying Kabbalah and its relation to questions of spirituality, art, music and politics." But that doesn't really capture the interesting intersection of negative theology and communist theory.

A local blog for local people:  I've been meaning to write about the campaign against Domino's Pizza in Honor Oak Park. I hope to do so soon, but in the meantime, go sign the petition (and read a little there about the issue). Also, local readers, go and watch A Screaming Man, which is supposed to be awesome, at the Brockley Jack Film Club on Monday night (the image above is from the film). Also of interest to both my local and non-local readers, here's Principia Dialectica on a Marxist showdown in the Brockley Barge: Urban rides: Potholing in south London. Meanwhile, rigorous academic research says Brockley Central is good for you.

Libraries:Talking of Crofton Park, it is incredibly depressing these days to go into our "social enterprise"-run "community library", slowing dying away in the shell of our wonderful old municipal neighbourhood library. I was incredibly irritated to read this Torygraph article by Peckham resident New Labor ex-librarian John McTernan, whose columns I normally like. The sub-editors, presumably, are responsible for the header and strapline: "Liberal whingers are wrong – we should shut our libraries: Middle-class liberals are fighting to keep libraries open out of condescension for the less fortunate and guilt that they, like everyone else, no longer use them." But McTernan is responsible for the nonsense that follows: "When did you last go to a public library? No, really, when? It’s probably a good few years – and if so, you’re not alone. From one year to the next, nearly 60 per cent of us don’t go to libraries at all. In fact, fewer than one in five adults in England go more than once a month." For a start, this misses out the children who go to libraries, in much higher numbers than adults, and surely the real core users. Even so, and accepting that these numbers are accurate (he doesn't say where they come from), aren't the 40% of the adult population who are library users, and the 20% who are regular users, important? And the additional few percent who'd also be users if the libraries weren't being emptied out and closed down? He claims that we don't need a gateway to international literature when you can buy from Abebooks, which is like saying we don't need the BBC because you can buy DVDs on-line. He claims that "every kid has a desk at home", which is not the case in Crofton Park and surely not the case in Peckham either. Lewisham and Southwark libraries are heavily used by teenagers (mainly black, as it happens) using the desks and computers to do schoolwork, and closing the libraries is a real insult to them. North London and Oxford libraries that get celebrity endorsements might be the concern of liberal whingers, but down here where fewer authors come we really need our libraries.

Anti-capitalism/RCPWatch: My last post on the Occupy movement mainly included positive commentary, but I have enjoyed reading Spiked's more jaundiced view. (Tim Black: V for Vacuous; Brendan O’Neill: Occupy London: a ragbag of political conformists; Nathalie Rothschild: The rage of hip consumers; Nathalie Rothschild: Is this Monty Python’s Occupy Wall Street?) They obsessively point out (e.g. here) that the movement can't really be radical because it is endorsed by Ben and Jerry, the president of the US, and Anglican priests. A very fair comment indeed. However, makes me wonder about Spiked's own empty claim to radicalism, given its writers are so widely disseminated by the super-establishment Daily Telegraph and the BBC, given sinecures by the Tory mayor of London and so on. They also reveal something of their esoteric Leninism in this article, where they attack the movement for its leaderlessness.
Real political leadership represents the embodiment of an ideal, a goal, which people subscribe to and are willing to fight for. In eschewing leadership, or rather in celebrating the objective reality of a lack of decent leaders, the occupiers are actually turning their noses up at idealism and political purpose, at the very basic idea of having a goal and a strategy for achieving it.[...] Here, we can glimpse what the celebration of leaderlessness really represents: an accommodation to the dearth of visionary thinking on the modern left.
True, visionary thinking is sorely lacking on the modern left, but this is not an argument for throwing our hats in with a Leninist cult run by the "visionary" Frank Furedi, which is Spiked's underlying if rarely spoken agenda.

Zionism/anti-Zionism... and the British labour movement: Nick Cohen on the foul smell of Britain's anti-Israel trade unions. Alan Johnson on Labour Friends of Israel.

Zionism/anti-Zionism... and Gilad Atzmon: Joseph W on Atzmonism as this century's Protocols. Lucy Lips on the nadir of the anti-Zionist Jews. Ben Cohen on John Mearsheimer And The Scandal That Wasn’t.

Fascism and anti-fascism: Alan Johnson on Matthew Collins' Hate.

Non-progressive socialism: Interesting post on Jon Cruddas, Blue Labour and BNP economics from Paul up North.

Conspirationism: At the weekend I was disappointed to see the latest Ziocentric conspiracy theory emerging from a source I expected better of: the claim that Liam Fox was a useful idiot for Mossad, pushed by Ian Bone of all people.

I've had a busy week: I might have blogged a little too much this week. If you missed them, go back back and read my posts on when anti-Zionism isn't antisemitism, Occupying Wall Street and London, the English Defence League and its Jewish Division, and Gilad Atzmon. Contested Terrain also took up the anti-Zionism/anti-imperialism/antisemitism issue, and I cross-posted part of my Occupy post there too.

Music: Finally, here's the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing "Mast Nazron Se".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CiFWatching, Andy Newmanism, Gilad Atzmon and the socialism of fools

I've been writing this post, on and off, for a couple of weeks now, and it's not that coherent and trails off with no conclusion, but I thought I better just press publish, as it gets out of date faster than I can write it.

Hadar Sela on the socialism of fools
OK, as you'll know by now, Socialist Unity editor Andy Newman wrote a piece for the Guardian on left antisemitism, using Gilad Atzmon as one example. Hadar Sela had an article published at CiFWatch entitled "Andy Newman’s socialism of fools: The remarkable staying power of leftist antisemitism". She starts by noting that the "the sane centre-ish Left", including Harry's Place and me welcomed his comments, but were perhaps myopic in doing so. She correctly notes that "Gilad Atzmon is clearly a very extreme case; one would have to be either terminally intellectually challenged or willfully blind in order to not recognize his anti-Semitism." She suggests that, by concentrating on the extreme case, he (and his ilk) are trying to throw a smokescreen over the intimacy between "normal" anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

I agree that opposition to the most extreme antisemitism can serve to protect milder forms from criticism, creating a kind of cordon sanitaire around normal anti-Zionist antisemitism. But I don't think we have any evidence that throwing a smokescreen was Newman's intention, or that his criticism of Atzmon is anything other than in good faith.

Sela seems to think that the Guardian commissioned Newman to write this, and deliberately chose him because of his socialist credentials, whereas I don't see that we have any evidence that Newman did anything other than act off his own back because of anger at left antisemitism.

Sela makes a lot of Newman's involvement with the local Swindon branch of Stop the War, and from that condemns him because of national StW's links with Islamists. I agree (and have regularly argued here) that StW is tainted by its association with far right Islamists. "On October 8th it will be holding a rally in central London at which known supporters of the anti-Semitic (and proscribed) terrorist organization Hamas such as Anas Altikriti and Mohammed Sawalha are billed to appear." Actually, I'm not sure they spoke; I think they just pledged to attend, along with Peter Tatchell. But even so, I'm not convinced it is fair to blame this on the Swindon branch. At any rate, and even if it was fair to indict him for links with Islamism, it seems like a pretty big jump from there to "In other words, inviting Andy Newman to rubber-stamp [?] Gilad Atzmon’s anti-Semitism is a bit like asking Nick Griffin to write an article denouncing Combat 18." That kind of excessive rhetoric devalues accusations of antisemitism. 

A smaller quibble is that Sela focuses on Newman's attack on Atzmon, when of course Atzmon was simply an example of a trend; he also cited Alison Weir and the Zeitgeist movie. He left it up for debate where to draw the line. Sela also makes a lot of the words "far right" (she puts it in bold font) in this sentence: "“It is incumbent upon the left and the Palestinian solidarity movement to both be aware of the conscious effort of far-right antisemites to infiltrate the movement…”Newman has stated that the Guardian editors inserted this, which would confirm a lot of CiFWatch analysis, but she has not amended this. It seems to me, though, that there is nothing particularly left-wing about Atzmon or about Weir or Zeitgeist.

More interestingly, another point Sela makes is that left antisemitism is not new or rising. It is of course correct that it is not new, although it feels like it is rising to me, which is why we need resources like CiFWatch now. She gives Lenin as an example of the age-old antisemitism of the left. 
From its very beginnings Socialism advocated the assimilation of Jews as an ‘answer’ to anti-Semitism rather than dealing with the problem itself. The only scenario under which a Jew could liberate himself from racist persecution was, according to Lenin, “when the non-native sections cease to be alien and blend with the general mass of the population”. In other words, Jews could only avoid anti-Semitism if they stopped being Jews.
This simplifies left antisemitism, by ignoring the "socialism of the fools" variety of antisemitic opposition to finance capital, a more significant form of left antisemitism than ortho-Marxist "red assimilationism". (Arguably, even as it rightly battled red assimilationism, Zionism historically absorbed some of the stereotypes of the socialism of fools, with its critique of the diaspora luftmensch and desire for muscular, productive, blood-and-soil Jews.)

And it simplifies Lenin's position, which was richer and more complex, and included unambiguous opposition to antisemitism. He believed (wrongly) that antisemitism would die with the birth of socialism, but (unlike some of his Jewish Bolshevik comrades) did not think that meant socialists could afford not to fight it in the meantime.

I think we need a more subtle understanding of left antisemitism. Lenin is relevant to understanding the SWP's position, but not to understanding the forms of antisemitism being normalised (via people like Atzmon) in the anti-Zionist movement. Atzmon (and for that matter Hamas) bring right-wing, Nazi antisemitism, not left-wing antisemitism, into the anti-Zionist movement.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mentally deficient right wing numpties: EDL news and reflections for October

At the weekend, two dozen English Defence League activists stormed a Muslim book stall and Qur’an exhibition in Cradley Heath in the Black Country. So much for the claim to be a non-violent protest movement. Even worse, perhaps, is that the bookstall was run by an Ahmadiyya Muslim group. The Ahmadiyya are one of the least fundamentalist or jihadist groups with Islam. They explicitly reject armed jihad, are not seen as part of the Ummah by many orthodox Muslims and indeed are regarded as kafirs (infidels) by fundamentalists. They have, therefore, been subjected to violent persecution by Islamists in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere. In other words, they are exactly who those who claim to be fighting Islamism should be in solidarity with, not attacking. This demonstrates the EDL's ignorance about its pet obsession, Islam, and also the hollowness of its claim to be against Islamism rather than ordinary Muslims. It exposes the essential racism and paranoia of the movement. 

Last week, the EDL's tinpot leader, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson, a name he took in honour of a Luton Town hooligan), had his appeal dismissed against his conviction for football violence in teh summer at a Newport-Luton match. "He claimed it had all been about England and Wales and that, while he may have made "sheep" insults, he had never mentioned EDL." I've got nothing against football hooliganism as a leisure pursuit amongst consenting adults, but again it gives the lie to the EDL claim to be non-violent. Yaxley-Lennon will go on trial again next month for his assault on an EDL member in Blackburn, to add to his previous form for wife-battering.

Malatesta, in usual tabloid fashion, reports on the latest damp squibs of an Infidels national demo on Leeds and an EDL Angels event in London, as well as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s criminal career. Malatesta portrays things as not going so well for the EDL and its split-offs, which makes for comforting reading, but I don’t feel so comfortable - more on that at the end of the post. Here's EDLNews coverage of the Angels event.

Meanwhile, what of the English Defence League’s so-called “Jewish Division”? Here is an interview with its new “leader” (which I think we can take to mean its only real member), “James Cohen”. As the previous "leaders", Brazilian Roberta Moore and Dutch non-Jew Robert Bartholomeus, have had rocky relationships with the EDL leadership (e.g. consorting with terrorist group the Jewish Task Force, praising mass murderer Anders Breivik, saying the EDL had been taken over by Nazis, joining rival and more explicitly fascist grouplet the English National Alliance), there has clearly been a search for some new blood. "Cohen" resides in that part of England quaintly named Canada and located across the Atlantic. The guy is either dishonest or idiotic on a whole number of counts: he thinks that there were hate speech laws in place in pre-war Germany that failed to stop the rise of Hitler; he thinks hate speech laws are “never, never” applied to Muslims, despite many high profile examples such as Sheikh Raed Salah, Zakir Naik or Islam4UK); he thinks sharia law is “in place” in certain parts of Britain; he thinks the EDL is a non-violent organisation (“as far as I can tell”) despite the convictions for violence of several of its leading members; he thinks Tommy Robinson, a businessman, is “a regular working class guy”, and therefore excused for hitting his wife. More interestingly, I was struck by the way he thinks the condemnation of the EDL by every single Jewish organisation in the UK shows the latter are merely “professional Jews” who are not representative or reflective of “real” Jewish opinion. He has no evidence of this, given no British Jews are involved in the “Jewish Division”. But I was struck by how this view mirrors that of Leninist vanguard parties, who think they uniquely know and represent the “real” interests of the working class, despite all evidence to the contrary. This kind of vanguardism, alongside of course the whole obsession with “leaders”, is indicative, I think, of a totalitarian mindset.

Meanwhile, in another publicity fiasco, Yaxley-Lennon got himself photographed next to QPR striker Joey Barton, and then claimed Barton had joined the EDL. Barton, not one to mince words, exposed the stunt, and added "I categorically refuse to publicly release a statement, because I refuse to raise awareness in a group of mentally deficient right wing numpties." If I remember rightly, Yaxley tried this with Jordan Price (aka glamour model Jordan) last year, but I don't remember her response as vividly!

Talking of the EDL AngelsEDL News has published screenshots of Facebook comments by a Bristol EDL member. She posted them in response to Tariq Jahan deservedly getting the Daily Mirror's Pride of Britain award, in recognition of his moving appeal for peace after the death of his son during the summer riots in Birmingham. Andrews said: "pride of BRITAIN not pride of fukin MUZZIE LAND fuking cunts... dont even fukin tell me that coz this fukizies son got killed n he gave some piss ass speach he gettin a fukin pride of britain award". Another EDL member chimed in with "shame they didnt stab that cunt or he wldnt ave been there". How’s that for a non-racist, non-violent organisation, Mr Cohen?

Another EDL Angel, teenager Charlotte Christina Davies, has been convicted, along with an older EDL man,  for spray-painting the letters "EDL" and "NEI" (North East Infidels) along with the Ulster Loyalist slogan, "no surrender" and images of poppies and the St. George flag on a mosque in Hartlepool, and for persuading her 24-year-old boyfriend to smash up and graffiti Asian businesses with no Islamist connections whatsoever. The EDL, like the BNP in the early 1990s, creates the conditions which encourage race attacks to flourish.

Despite the talk of its salt-of-the-earth “regular working class guy” status from its patronising middle class defenders (like Mr Cohen), it has not more roots in any working class community than your average Leninist vanguard party. (It is, rather, a highly mobile and mainly virtual network: note Ms Davies’ geographical distance in Aylesbury from her boyfriend up North, and her incitement to violence via mobile phone; note the use of Facebook.)

But remember that the BNP had no roots in any community in 1990, but within a couple of years was getting a quarter of the white vote in some council wards and was winning councillors and MEPs a decade later. And its rise was accompanied by a wave of race attacks in the areas where it was recruiting, including the murderous attacks on Rolan Adams, Rohit Duggal and Stephen Lawrence. Now, as the BNP continues to implode, if the EDL had just a little more smarts than they seem to they could be a force to be reckoned with. The left under-estimated the BNP until it was much too late, seeing its members as brainless boneheads. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with the EDL.

Hat tipping: Some of the above links via LutherFlesh and others on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Police spies

I saw at Indymedia, via History is Made at Night's Twitter, that Bob Lambert was a police undercover agent in the green and anti-capitalist movement.
Former Detective Inspector Bob Lambert MBE had just spoken at a “One Society, Many Cultures” anti-racist conference attended by 300 delegates at the Trades Union Congress HQ in Central London. He was then challenged by 5 members of London Greenpeace who called on him to apologise for the undercover police infiltration of London Greenpeace, Reclaim The Streets and other campaign groups – an operation he took part in or supervised over two decades...

Bob Robinson (as Bob Lambert called himself at the time) was a spy in London Greenpeace from 1984 to 1988, and he went on to supervise others agents who continued with infiltration of groups such as London Greenpeace and Reclaim the Streets, along with anti fascist protests, and actions against genetically modified crops. These agents used pseudonyms, and engaged in fraudulent and deceitful long-term intimate relationships with people in the groups before disappearing without trace – a stasi-like tactic involving a gross abuse of trust which has caused great emotional damage to a number of people involved.
The leaflet given out at the event said:
Bob also went on to supervise others agents who continued with infiltration of groups such as London Greenpeace and Reclaim the Streets, along with anti fascist protests and actions against genetically modified crops.  It is clear that these were not ‘anti terrorist’ operations, but were in fact state intervention aimed at disrupting and weakening the growing opposition to the domination of our society by the interests of multinational corporations and their pursuit of profits.
This is just the latest in a whole series of revelations about police infiltration of radical groups in this period, including Jim Sutton/Boyling, who married an activist he met while undercover and then went on to have children with her; Mark Kennedy, who infiltrated various eco-warrior groups and also had sex with lots of protestors along the way; as well as Officer A, who infiltrated ant-fascist groups and provoked riots.

What makes it more interesting is that Lambert now poses as some kind of lefty, as shown by his attendance at the “One Society, Many Cultures” shindig organised by the coalition of Trot and Stalinist groups that Ken Livingstone cultivates, and his close association with various UK Islamist groups with close links to Jamaat, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. In fact, the Guardian article was rather laughably headlined "Progressive academic Bob Lambert is former police spy".

Lucy Lips asks if Lambert "went native" or if he continuing to act as a nark on the Islamist groups he promotes.

The MCB's Daud Abdullah, a supporter of Hamas, responds at CiF with an alternative conspiracy theory:

The “exposure” of the former special branch officer Bob Lambertcomes at a convenient time: it can serve as a distraction from the scandals that have engulfed the neocon tendency in the government. Lambert has been a staunch critic of the government’s Islamophobic rhetoric and exclusivist policies. This, to a large extent, explains the excitement that has greeted disclosure of information about Lambert’s past career among certain people.
Lucy Lips replies:
Nice try mate. A small anarchist group is part of the World Wide Neocon Conspiracy? Of course it is.
ADDED: Martyn Lowe on deep cover and police lies (h/t HiM@N)

Soundtrack: A Different Bob by the Colorblind James Experience, ca.1987

Previously: Policing the G20 protests; Police spies in the anti-fascist movement; Policing the Miners' Strike; G8 and the Black Bloc.


Occupy London
This is an age when political events are calibrated to Twitter, activists’ thoughts are punctuated with hashtags and the circulation of politics proceeds memetically. I have mainly been bemused by the wave of occupations emanating from Wall Street and franchised “globally” (i.e. to the other wealthy countries of the global North) on 15 October. I find aspects of the movement encouraging, echoing the mid-1990s “anti-capitalist” moment I was very much involved in, such as the origination of the movement outside the dead space of the conventional left and consequent populist appeal to a constituency outside the usual one; the anti-authoritarian, participatory democratic, horizontal mode of organisation; the carnivalesque emphasis on play and fun, disrupting the tedium of conventional politics (including conventional protest politics); the internationalist invocation of democratic uprising in elsewheres like Cairo combined with an act-local focus on social ills here at home.

But I also see some very discouraging elements, including: the limited and contradictory critiques of “capitalism” involved (specifically, they are mainly critiques of big business and of finance capital, which is not the same thing); the empty idealist and liberal invocation of a meaningless “99%”; the spectacular, media-oriented, fashion-driven form of the protests, with an emphasis on kettling as an indicator of success and pornographic delight in images of “police brutality”, however unconvincing; a sense of out-of-touchnes with the concerns of a lot of ordinary people in the squeezed bottom and middle; the adulation expressed towards the half-arsed superstars of the movement, from buffoon Michael Moore to, more worryingly, Julian Assange; and the predictable heavy presence of the ortho-left, eager to appropriate the energy of the movement and channel it into the dead end of building the party (it was amusing to see the Socialist Workers Party, which likes to pretend it is Marxist, with “We are the 99%” banners and demands for jobs – two very un-Marxist slogans).

///Some very interesting critical reflections on #OccupyLSX by Jacob at Third Estate, with a thoughtful and unusually content-rich comment thread. (Third Estate is worth keeping an eye on, as reports come in from Max, Gilly and others.) More pithy, and also very interesting, are Chris Dillow’s thoughts here, on how the failure of the left gave us the situation we have now. Paul Mason, the BBC’s most intelligent journalists (not that that’s much of a compliment) has quite a good analysis based on his visit to St Pauls. For more cynical takes, try the veteran Class Warrior Ian Bone.

///From across the water on Wall Street, some of the more useful reflections from a few different sorts of positions are those of Doug Henwood and A Jay Adler. The latter is especially good on the difference between OWS and the tea party movement, and the follow-up here.

///I hadn’t realised there is a whole #OccupyJudaism thing going on at the margins of #OWS and other US occupations (here’s Occupy Judaism’s official blog, Facebook page and Twitter account). See, e.g. this broadcast on the very interesting radio613 of from the Yom Kippur Services that took place at #OccupyWallStreet and #OccupyPhilly, or this useful article in The Forward, or this round-up of items from Kung Fu Jew at Jewschool. (Comical tangent: Jewish occupiers put up a “Sukkah”; the NYPD appeared to have better halachic knowledge, noting that you couldn’t see the stars through it therefore not a proper Sukkah – although more halachically trained folks say the NYDPD got it wrong.)

///In contrast, the right (at times hysterically) has put a lot of attention into hunting down examples (or at least “hints”) of antisemitism in the Occupy movement. (For one of the more articulate litanies against the antisemitism, read David Brooks on milquetoast radicals; for a good round-up of the evidence see PJ Tatler; for another video see BreitbartTV.) It is undeniable that there is antisemitism in the movement, and it has manifested itself in several of the events. (I haven’t seen examples from the UK yet, but won’t be surprised when I do.) It is incumbent on the movement, and on anti-capitalists in general, not to ritually denounce it, but to be honest and aware about it, and to understand where it comes from. Where it comes from, in my view, is: a limited anti-capitalism that focuses on finance capital rather than on capital in general which segues easily into a “socialism of the fools” antisemitism. This, I think, is not an indictment of some inherent antisemitism in the left, but rather a consequence of the failure of the left, a failure to coherently argue for, and win people over to, a thorough anti-capitalist politics. This failure has left a vacuum, which is filled with conspiracy theory, vulgar materialism of the blood-for-oil/blame-the-Fed variety, a populist discourse of patriotic defence of the national economy being looted by the banks, and other extra-left forms of politics.

It is also the case that the scattered instances of antisemitism in the protest are no more prevalent than the scattered instances of racism and antisemitism in the tea party movement, which the right (correctly) argued were epiphenomenal and not central to tea partyism.  And these scattered instances, involving handfuls of oddballs at the margins of the occupations, must be balanced against the thousands of people in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and elsewhere turning up to Kol Nidre prayers and sukkot. Highlighting a few incidents of antisemitism in a large, disparate, weeks-long movement and claiming that renders the whole thing is to play the antisemitism card. I particularly recommend A Jay Adler on The Putrid Cynicism of the Emergency Committee for Israel for a good rebuttal of one example of this, promoted at CIFWatch.

///Matt at Ignoblus has a nice, short post written after his attendance at a Kol Nidre service at Occupy Wall Street. His concern is not with the antisemitism as such, but the way the lens of Zionism/anti-Zionism distorts the movement’s understanding of the world. The Tent City protests in Israel were a major episode in the so-called “movement of the squares”, the wave emanating out of the Jasmine Revolution via Tahrir Square which the Occupy protests want to surf. But they air-brush it out of the account because it was not against the other occupation, the Israeli one of Palestine. Ignore the fact that pro-Hamas Islamists and pro-Israeli Coptic Christians, for example, were part of the Tahrir moment: Arabs can be as politically correct as they like but Israelis had better denounce their state if they want to enter our big tent.

///Finally, for a more global take, Terry Glavin passes on a message from Occupy Kabul, who say "My tent is my AK47".

///ADDED: I have just noticed more posts on the occupations, which I'll add un-notated and may return to: History At Night's first thoughts; in London Mind Trumpet "Occupy in the Sky"; Flesh on London's anti-austerity protests.

///Photo credit: The Guardian

Saturday, October 15, 2011

When is anti-Zionism not antisemitic?

David Bernstein amplifying and qualifying some points I made. (I'll extract below the fold, to put the comment thread into context.)

(Also featured in Soccor Dad's mideast media round-up from that week, which has some other interesting links.)

ADDED: Echo responds at Contested Terrain, which I'll return to later.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


The real radical activism: The wonderful Peter Tatchell was at the “anti-war” rally in London last weekend. As Terry Glavin puts it, Tatchell’s “tireless international solidarity work and campaigns for gender equality and gay rights have set the gold standard for principled and militant left-wing activism in Britain, struck a boldly dissenting note at today's stoppist jamboree in London.” Read Terry and Peter’s e-mail exchange on Afghanistan.

Anti-capitalism (and antisemitism): Read this long and thought-provoking analysis of Occupy Wall Street by Ross Wolfe. Marxist-Humanist Seth Weiss at New Jewish Resistance on the protests being “marred by anti-Semitism”, and Daniel Sieradski (ie. “Orthodox Anarchist”) on Antisemitism at Occupy Wall Street: Image vs. Reality, both via Contested Terrain. [Added: OWS and the Fed by Bill Weinberg.] A superb Isaac Deutscher quote on Marxism as a labour-saving device at Facing the War, a blog which seems to be finally getting its feet and is one to watch.

Israel, Palestine, Anti-Zionism and antisemitism: A fascinating article by Kasim Hafeez, a British Muslim, on his journey from anti-Zionist antisemitism to Zionism. I wouldn’t have thought Alan Dershowitz could win over anyone not already converted, but maybe I’m wrong. I don’t get Hafeez’s criticism of the UJS’s pro-Palestinian/pro-Israel Liberation campaign, but well worth reading. Hafeez runs Another fascinating article by Iranian journalist Amir Taheri on Palestine as a cause not a nation. And a mildly amusing story on the keffiyeh industry.

No Blacks, no dogs, no Irish: In the 1990s, it was a staple of militant anti-fascism that British fascism was intimately connected to the Loyalist movement, and that British fascism could not be understood without reference to Loyalism. Since AFA was wound up, the dominant forms of anti-fascism have been a mixture of liberal populism, Stalinist nostalgia, and mechanistic ortho-Trotskyism, and the importance of Loyalism and of anti-Catholic racism is rarely recognised. In that light, I was interested in this post at Hope Not Hate on the BNP in Ireland.

Hat tipping: Some of the above links via Elder of Ziyon; some others via various folks on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guest post: Islam and the left – against secular fundamentalism and philo-Islamism, for Islamic communism!

This is a guest post by Ali H

"I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it." - Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

“O you who have attained to faith! Do not deprive your charitable deeds of all worth by stressing your own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy], as does he who spends his wealth only to be seen and praised by men, and believes not in God and the Last Day: for his parable is that of a smooth rock with [a little] earth upon it – and then a rainstorm smites it and leaves it hard and bare.” – Al-Qur'an 2:264

“To live like a tree in solitude and free
and like a forest in solidarity,
this yearning is ours.”
-          Nazim Hekmet

The left and Islam

In general, the left takes one of two positions towards Islam. For me, as a Muslim and as a communist, both are completely inadequate.

Since 9/11, the dominant position on the left has been one I call “philo-Islamism”. This is an uncritical orientation towards the conservative ideologies that currently shout the loudest (although are far from representative) in Muslim communities. There are at least three motivations for this, and only one of them begins to take the content of Islam at all seriously. The first motivation is the most honourable. Many leftists see Muslims as a locus of resistance against the capitalist governments which took us to war in the Middle East, against racism and state racism, and against Western imperialism. Especially since the “war on terror”, if Muslims are attacked as Muslims, it is right to defend them as Muslims. Therefore, quite understandably, leftists orientate towards what they imagine Muslims to be. As Hakim Bey has written, “in the context of the new One World it now constitutes by definition one of the very few existing mass movements which cannot be englobed into the unity of any would-be Consensus. Unfortunately the spearhead of resistance – ‘fundamentalism‘ -- tends to reduce the complexity of Islam into an artificially coherent ideology -- ‘Islamism‘ -- which clearly fails to speak to the normal human desire for difference & complexity.”

Less honourably, this can take the cynical, opportunistic form of seeing Muslims as recruitment-fodder, as naive receptacles for party ideology - so long as the party ideology comes packaged in a form our sensitive Muslims stomachs can digest. In a tiny handful of cases, as with George Galloway or Lauren Booth, or some of Galloway’s former allies now involved in Counterfire, they are actually attracted to Islam and seek to engage with it. But this engagement is hampered by the romantic, Orientalist ideas they have of Islam, and by their reduction of Islam to its most conservative elements. (Hakim Bey again: “But Islamism will never provide the dialectic negation of [capitalist] Empire because Islamism itself is nothing but an empire of negation, of resentment and reaction. Islamism has nothing to offer the struggle against Globalism except desiccated theofascist spasms of violence.”) Whatever their motivation, none of these leftists take seriously the real, radical, emancipatory content of Islam as a faith.

The second position the left takes towards Islam was dominant up until 9/11. It is what I call “secular fundamentalism”. Secular fundamentalists see all religion as oppressive, out-dated, patriarchal and otherwise generally politically incorrect – but for some reason it is Islam they hate the most. Secular fundamentalists come from the centre left (“muscular liberals” and “decent leftists”), where it veers close to neocon positions. But they also come from the ranks of orthodox Marxists and orthodox anarchists. All these stripes are over-represented in this blog’s links. This approach is strategically limited, because it can never win over the Muslim masses who make up an ever-growing part of the Western working class. But it is intellectually inadequate, because it refuses to see that Islamic thought might be a source of original, progressive, left-wing ideas. Why is it that Islam is viewed as the most barbaric of religions by those who profess to hate all religions?

Engaging with religious communism

There are plenty of leftists who take other spiritual traditions seriously. Michel Lowy, a French Trotskyist, wrote a book called Redemption and Utopia Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe, which looks at some of the Jewish thinkers who have fused Judaism with anarchist and socialist thought – such as Gustav Landauer, Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem. Other examples include Henri Polak, leader of the Dutch diamond workers union; Jacob Israel De Haan, the gay rights advocate who was the first Jewish victim of Zionist terrorism; and British Orthodox Rabbi Yankev-Meyer Zalkind, a Talmudic scholar involved in East End radicalism. Wikipedia gives more examples, like Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, kabbalist and follower of what he called altruist communismIsaac Nachman Steinberg, a Russian revolutionary and Orthodox Jew; and Rabbi Abraham Yehudah Khein, a Hasidic anarchist.

In the Christian tradition, too, we have similar examples. Cornel West’s books Black Theology and Marxist Thought (1979), Prophesy deliverance!: an Afro-American revolutionary Christianity (1982), and Prophetic Fragments (1988) set out the basis for a Christian Marxism. Liberation theology is respected across the West, and has influenced mainstream socialist thinkers like Paolo Freire.

But, as far as I know, the only significant Western Marxist or anarchist who has really expressed interest in the radical content of Islamic thought is the rather marginal Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), although a handful of bloggers, such as Eugene Plawiuk and the convert Yakoub Islam, have done so.

With the exception of Ali Shariati, most who preach “Islamic socialism” have been far from communists. With Gaddafi  as the most baleful example, what they mean by “socialism” is the same as what Stalinists mean: dictatorial state control.

However, from the days of the Prophet Muammad, founder of Islam and considered by Muslims as a messenger of God, emancipatory ideas – of social justice, of freedom and of direct democracy – have been at the heart of Islam.

Islam as a religion of social justice

Friday, October 07, 2011

From Cable Street to Wall Street

Another miscellany, taking up many of the same themes as the last one.

Post of the week: Eamonn McDonagh "Anti-Manc Prejudice And Premier League Abolitionism". A gem. (You'll guess I occupy the "Tom" position.) Runner-up: Alan A on waving other people's flags.

More on Cable Street: Dave Rich on the 75th anniversary, arguing that the Jewish communal leadership played a greater role in militant anti-fascism than is often acknowledged, that the battle was not a decisive defeat for Mosley but was decisive in shaping a British (Jewish and non-Jewish) anti-fascism that eventually did marginalise the far right. Dave recommends the Hope Not Hate/Searchlight material on Cable Street, which is very readable but seems to me to be extremely skewed in exaggerating the Communist role, downplaying that of other socialists (notably the Independent Labour Party), and whitewashing the generally pathetic CP leadership's attempts not to let the battle happen - as befits Searchlight's Stalinist/tankie roots.

Anti-capitalism: Some interesting analysis and reportage of #Occupy Wall Street from Never Got Used To It and Doug Henwood. A critical view from Spiked's Torygrapher Brendan O'Neill and from Alex Klein in TNR.

The English Defence League: I am not a regular reader of Bob Pitt's IslamophobiaWatch, a website that in my view tends to devalue the concept of Islamophobia by using it in the most tenuous of situations. (I was, however, a regular reader of its editor, Bob Pitt's, previous ventures, the excellent independent Marxist magazines What Next and New Interventions.) However, I have come more and more to the view of the EDL that Bob Pitt sets out very well here, from a position which was very close to Nigel Copsey's. Pitt also reports on other EDL developments, such as its alignment with various European and American Counterjihad groups, and its claim to be poised to launch a new political party.

Lifestyle politics and ethical living: Flesh is Grass on why she won't shop at Lush. Shift says give up lifestylism.

Left sectariana: Michael Ezra on Trotksy's war policy.

JLC statement on Occupy Wall Street

In support of the Occupy Wall Street protestors
(Wednesday, October 5, 2011) New York -- The Jewish Labor Committee today issued the following statement in support of the Occupy Wall Street protestors:
The Jewish Labor Committee supports the activists in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and their message – that it is time for our elected officials to represent the 99% of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy. This message is being heard not only on Wall Street, but on Main Streets across America. Through the recent actions on and near Wall Street, and the actions of labor, religious and community organizations such as the Jewish Labor Committee, in solidarity with those who are "occupying" Wall Street, this message will increasingly be heard and felt in the halls of Congress and in state and municipal governments around the country.
Continue reading "In support of the Occupy Wall Street protestors" »

Thursday, October 06, 2011

What does progressive mean?

This post is partly another addendum to my series of posts on the Gilad Atzmon affair (main post, first follow up, postscripts). 

I already mentioned Jon Wight's attack on Harry's Place, in which he lists some of the "progressive voices" who’ve come in for attack by Harry’s Place over recent months and years. Wight includes Baroness Jenny Tonge, a member of the centre-right party that props up the Tory government and who speaks in Parliament only on the Israel/Palestine and Female Genital Mutilation; Mehdi Hasan, an apologist for the Ahmadinejad regime; Seamas Milne, an unrepentant public school Stalinist; and the far right Muslim Association of Britain. I blogged a while ago about the complete meaningless of the word "progressive" in the mouths of these sorts of people, but this confirmed it.

I think this way of thinking - "progressive" meaning fellow travellers for Stalinism - is a good indicator of Socialist Unity's Stalinist drift. For more on this, see Shiraz SocialistLouis Proyect (1, 2), Poumista, Coatesy (1, 2). More evidence: John Wight's applause of China and Russa's blocking of action against the Assad regime's brutal suppression of dissent; Andy Newman's notion that Islamist Salma Yaqoob and Stalinists Andrew Murray and Kate Hudson are "great"; publication of the Morning Star's applause for China's progress; etc etc.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Gilad Atzmonism

This post adds some links and comments to my previous posts on Gilad Atzmon (main post, addenda, chronology). or those who've not been keeping up with it, here's a quick summary. Gilad Atzmon"a modestly-talented jazz saxophonist once lionized by the SWP", has a new book about the Jews published by a tiny British independent radical publisher called Zero Books (or Zer0, as they generally type it), owned, I think, by the young writer, organic herb farmer, former model and consummate 'well dressed man about town' Tariq Goddard. Zer0 have somehow managed to secure an endorsement from right-wing "Israel Lobby" obsessive Stephen Mearsheimer. Two leading British socialist bloggers, the SWP's Richard Seymour (Lenin's Tomb) and the ex-SWP now Labour left Andy Newman (Socialist Unity), have led the criticism of Atzmon.

It should go without saying that my links to the various commentators I link to here implies no kind of endorsement of their general politics. I've got another post coming up (this time tomorrow I expect) on Andy Newman and Gilad Atzmon, partly in reply to this.

Here Mark Gardner of the CST reviews Atzmon's book The Wondering Who. He very carefully analyses the antisemitic content of the book, and its relationship to anti-Zionist politics. More from CIFWatch's Adam Levick. And if you still want more evidence, here's Atzmon's views on Mein Kampf.

Additional comments on John Mearsheimer's endorsement of the book: Ralph Seliger, Hussein Ibish (via Rebecca.. Ibish, incidentally, was one of the first people to point the finger at the vile antisemitism of Israel Shamir, a close associate of Atzmon's), Gabriel Ash, Tony Greenstein.

The Mearsheimer kerfuffle has obscured the other high profile figures how have blurbed the book. Rebecca lists them here. Sad but unsurprising is Robert Wyatt, a musical genius. One of the few things I've ever won, in a phone-in competition on BBC London (hosted by the late, great Charlie Gillett), is Wyatt's extraordinary eccentric album Cuckooland, on which Atzmon features.Wyatt was a hardcore Stalinist in the 1980s.

Also unsurprising is James Petras, who (as Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University and someone who has supported the Cuban regime's repression of dissidents by saying "Cuba is justified in giving its attackers a kick in the balls and sending them to cut sugar cane to earn an honest living") more than qualifies for the title commieprof. Rebecca:
[Petras] is the inventor of the phrase "Zionist Power Configuration" as the new term for the international Jewish conspiracy - we've got to move on from the Protocols, after all. He is a frequent contributor to Counterpunch.
I've written about him a few times here. For more see Mark GardnerAlan Johnson, Judeosphere, Louis Proyect, Allen Ruff.

And equally unsurprising is Alan Hart. Hart is a 9/11 Truth Cult demagogue, and someone who thinks Mossad is responsible for anything vaguely bad. He is also a Counterpunch contributor.

I have already reported Richard Seymour and others disassociating themselves from Atzmon's book and its publication by Zero Books. I applauded them for this, and noted that Seymour saw through Atzmon as far back as 2004.

Of course, Seymour's party, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) promoted Atzmon energetically from 2004 to at least late last year. When Gabriel at JsF said "As the authors of Zero books have noted in their protest letter about Atzmon, it is easy to be fooled by Atzmon's convoluted and pretentious claptrap", I speculated that Seymour "can't be honest about how obvious it is because the SWP as a whole were in denial about it for years". (JsF's Levi responded that "Seymour cannot possibly have been trying to pass off over 5 years of SWP fraternisation with Atzmon as being down to Atzmon's ability to muddy the waters." Well, no, but maybe it helps justify it in his head.)

Tony Greenstein, a hardcore anti-Zionist who has taken a lead in exposing the SWP's fraternisation with Atzmon. is even more unforgiving:

Gilad Atzmon and the SWP: a brief chronology

Image result for atzmon Image result for swp 

I was looking for these dates which I found in a comment thread and am posting them here for future reference. If I ever have time, I will evidence all this with links.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Atzmon and left antisemitism: some addenda

I published a longish post the other day about left antisemitism and its critics. I messed up the scheduling of posts over the last few days – mainly because I am not very good at counting – so it got hidden below one of my random bits and bobs posts on Friday evening. This post adds a few links and a few thoughts to my previous post, but if you didn’t catch it read the other one instead of this one. Also, since I wrote this post, I noticed more material, from CIFWatch and others, which I will have to leave for a later post.

Left antisemitism – or right antisemitism?
In the previous post, I questioned the extent to which Alison Weir or John Mearsheimer might be examples of “left antisemitism”, given that they are both right-wing. Subsequently reading Gilad Atzmon’s defence of his position via Andrew Coates and Rosie Bell, it occurs to me that this is true of Atzmon as well. Atzmon says, among other things: “One may wonder how come [Richard] Seymour, an alleged revolutionary radical Marxist, Andy Newman, a mediocre socialist and Neocon pro war [David] Aaronovitch are caught together naked holding ideological hands." "How is it possible that a hard core Zionist and ultra radical leftists are not only employing the same ideological argument but also performing the exact same tactics?... Zionism clearly maintains and sustains its `radical left opposition' and the logos behind such a tactic is simple- `revolutionary' left is totally irrelevant to both the conflict and its resolution.” In Atzmon’s worldview, “the conflict and its resolution”, and specifically the Jewish question, is the central, defining issue next to which everything else is irrelevant. He doesn’t care about revolutionary Marxism, or socialism mediocre or otherwise; he only cares about “the conflict and its resolution”. This totally refutes John Mearsheimer’s ridiculous claim that Atzmon is a “universalist” who “is the kind of person who intensely dislikes nationalism of any sort.” Whereas Richard Seymour’s or Andy Newman’s anti-Zionism proceeds (correctly or otherwise) from left-wing universalist values, Atzmon’s universalist pose proceeds from a particularist obsession with Jews.  So, Atzmon might have vaguely left-wing views on other things, but on his core issue, the Jews, his position is thoroughly right-wing, and the left-right dichotomy on other questions is just an insignificant diversion in his worldview.

Further evidence that he is not a left-wing antisemite comes from his book The Wondering Who, which Mearsheimer claimer to read. Gabriel A at Jews sans Frontieres shows where the book gets its wacko conspiracy theories from: a “writer who advocates something called "ethno-nationalism," published in the holocaust denial publication, The Barnes Review, the brainchild of Willis Carto, an American white-supremacist and a former affiliate of David Duke”. Atzmon, who has been much feted by Duke, belongs to this neo-Nazi swamp much more than he belongs to any anti-Zionist left.

So, to repeat what I said in my last post, Atzmon, like Weir and Mearsheimer, is in no sense an exemplar of left antisemitism. However, this makes the enthusiastic take-up of Atzmon, Weir and Mearsheimer by sections of the left (by the majority of Socialist Unity commenters, by activists in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, by CounterPunch and its acolytes, etc) even more disturbing. What is wrong with leftists that they take these right-wingers seriously when it comes to Israel and the Jews?

Jews san Frontieres
Gabriel’s post at JSF is worth reading, and yet more ammunition against Atzmon (and Mearsheimer). Ash and JSF, as hardcore anti-Zionists, are perfectly entitled to point out that Mearsheimer’s implosion “does not mean that AIPAC is any less nefarious an organization than it was last week”. Indeed, Mearsheimer’s (and Walt’s) endorsement of Atzmon does not by itself invalidate their “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory.