Starting to clear the backlog


It's ages since I've had time to blog, so have built up a bit of a backlog of links. Here are some of the things I've bookmarked. I usually have a "post of the week" in these sorts of round-ups, but it's been about three weeks since the last, so I've got three "posts of the month", from Rosie, Raven and AJ. There's also an unexpected SE London thread through the post, although topics include Iran, Israel, Occupy, fascism and more.

First, Eltham resident Raven has a fantastic post about Stephen Lawrence and life in Eltham, finely balancing the realities of mundane racism and everyday conviviality in that corner of South London. Among the local reflections she links to are one by pastor Owen Hylton.

Second, Rosie had a brilliant satire of the twisted worldview of the Iranian dictatorship's propaganda outlet Press TV and its British leftist acolytes. (On the same topic, see also James B. [MORE])

Third, AJ Adler had a long and very thought-provoking post on the Christopher Hitchens haters. He analyses the meme of "compulsory hagiography" promoted by Glenn Greenwald, Corey Robins and other Hitchens-haters. I was reminded of similar rhetorical tropes, such as the common right-wing British "why is no-one allowed to talk about immigration?" and the common anti-Zionist trope of "people are scared to criticise Israel for fear of being called antisemitic".

The indispensable Roland Dodds has an essential round-up of posts on Israel Firstism, Ron Paul, realism. I started linking to some of the same things, but was more or less linking to everything, so just go via Roland. On the Israel First issue, I also recommend AJA again, in this excellent anatomy of a smear, and David Schraub, and following him Matt of Ignoblus. On Ron Paul, see also this Celebrity Deathmatch (via Soupster).

On to other topics now.

Free expression

The image at the top of this post comes from a Marjane Satrapi interview at The 99%. I love Satrapi's graphic style, and she is a great voice for personal freedom against religious dictatorship. The latter has become, once again, a major topic lately, with the madness of the Jaipur Literary Festival. For what it's worth, I think The Satanic Verses is one of the finest novels I've ever read, and would think so even if the Koranic satire storyline wasn't in it (and, to be honest, it's not actually a major storyline). Among the heroes of Jaipur were Amitava KumarHari KunzruJeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi who read from Rushdie's work, and were asked to leave the town for the sake of their safety. (SE London connection: Hari Kunzru was a participant in the Lewisham 77 anti-fascist history event in New Cross.) It is not to belittle Kunzru (who wrote an excellent article in the Guardian about it) to say that the three Indian writers were particularly heroic, as they will live with their act of courage now for the rest of their lives.

The descent of Indian democracy, driven by the authoritarian communalism of both Muslim and Hindu mobocrats and by the pandering to the Muslim vote by the secular Congress movement, is a depressing spectacle, far more so perhaps than the far more discussed (in the West that is) descent of democracy and free expression in that other great democracy, Israel.

Kenan Malik (SE London connection: I think he is my near neighbour in Blythe Hill) had a brilliant series of posts relating to free expression in this context. "Beyond the Sacred" is about blasphemy. (Mick Hartley picks up on that in a fine post on Sikh "community outrage".) And "To Name the Unnameable" was more specifically about the Jaipur events. Peter R responds to the concept of "outrage" in that in a very good post here.


Ross Wolfe has two long interviews, which have some sections well worth reading. There's an interview of Ross conducted by C. Derick Varn of The Loyal Opposition to Modernity. The most interesting section is on #Occupy, and if you only read a small part (and I wouldn't blame you, as it's long) it'd be that part.
As with nearly any spontaneous political phenomenon, #Occupy is a mixed bag. Given the widespread depoliticization that has taken place over the course of the last generation, this is only to be expected. Many of the same old symptomatic tendencies from the protest culture of the last few decades played themselves out even as some of the more innovative forms were taking shape alongside them. Though it’s to a certain extent unavoidable, these dead forms from the past slip back into the present unconsciously, in pantomime. As with the leftover sectarian Marxoid groupings that have resurfaced of late — which are little more than living fossils — the mindless repetition of these old practices points to the longstanding ossification of Left protest politics. Moreover, the recent fetishization of “resistance” as the primary means of combating the “hegemony” of certain cultural forms is telling. It attests to the feeling of helplessness that so pervades our present moment.

To begin with the problematic side of #Occupy, I would first of all point to this uncritical reenactment of the old, largely outmoded forms of protest from the past fifty years. For all my criticisms of the New Left of the 1960s, at least its members had the courage to critique their predecessors in the Old Left. Perhaps it was the intergenerational animus that existed at that time, but one of things that has disappointed me about this latest movement is that it hasn’t had that Oedipal moment, when they finally kill the New Left. Only David Graeber seems to gesture in this direction, with his admonition against the “obnoxious, self-aggrandizing macho leadership styles of the ’60s New Left.”

In leveling this criticism, I have in mind the more “carnivalesque” elements of the movement — the puppets, the “Zombie march,” the harlequinism, and the emphasis on spectacle. While I admit that these have some utility and even some precedent within the practice of revolutionary politics (going back several centuries), these tactics have limited effect. The quasi-Situationist method adopted by some of the protestors strikes me as being quite prone to narcissism and exhibitionism... The theatrical routines I witnessed down at Liberty Plaza prior to the November 15th eviction often seemed to me politically empty.

Though these remained more or less constant features of the protests through October and into November, I tried to look past some of these more superficial elements to see what good the movement seemed to offer. For indeed, despite all the disorganization and well-documented inefficiencies, the sheer endurance of the encampment at Liberty Plaza was remarkable. It unexpectedly captured the political imagination of the day, and led to similar protests in over 800 cities across the globe. Now granted, some of these occupations have fewer than 10 people. But still, the sudden surge in political pathos provoked by #Occupy has been undeniable.
And then there's another long interview (also in the new issue of Platypus), by Ross, with the afore-mentioned Dave Graeber, the anarchist economic anthropologist who has become the theorist of #OWS (the SE London connection here is that he works at Goldsmiths in New Cross). To my mind, a lot of what Graeber says is baloney, but he is very interesting and insightful about Occupy. Here he is on the words "right" and "left" and the #Occupy movement's dark twin, the tea party movement.
There is an unfortunate tendency to identify “the Left” not as a set of ideals or ideas but of institutional structures. A lot of individualists, anarchists, insurrectionists, and primitivists see the Left as the various leftist political parties, labor unions, what we would generally call “the verticals,” and I can see why one would feel rather chary about wanting to identify himself with these. But at the same time, we’ve been hearing at least since the end of World War II that the difference between right and left is no longer relevant. It’s something that’s said about every five years in making some great pronouncement. And the fact that they have to keep doing it so regularly shows that it isn’t true....

The Tea Party was also claiming that they weren’t a right-wing group and that they were a broad populist rejection of the structure of the existing political order, in the same way that people want to see #Occupy Wall Street. But one is a very right-wing populist rejection, while the #Occupy movement is inspired by left-wing principles. And a lot of it has to do not even with one’s attitude towards market economics but corporate capitalism. It has this utopian ideal about what capitalism should be, which is actually far more utopian than any conception of what socialism, or whatever else would exist for the Left, would be. So the ultimate utopias of the Tea Party and #Occupy are profoundly different, which indicates a difference in their basic orientations. And #Occupy Wall Street is, in the end, anti-hierarchical. And I think that’s the key. The Right is not, in the end, anti-hierarchical. They want to limit certain types of hierarchy, and promote other types, but they are not ultimately an egalitarian movement. So I think that ignoring that broad left legacy is kind of silly. It strikes me as patently dishonest. I understand that it is sometimes tactically useful to throw as broad a net as possible, because there actually is a lot of common ground. Many right-wing populists have certain sincere objections to, for example, the monopolization of culture, or the fact that there is objectively a cultural elite. A certain social class monopolizes those jobs whereby you get to engage or pursue forms of value that aren’t all about money. The working classes have an overwhelming hatred of the cultural elite and a celebration of the army, to support our troops. It comes down to the fact that if you come from a working-class background, you have a very slim chance of becoming a successful capitalist, but there’s really no possibility that you could become a drama critic for The New York Times. I think it would be wonderful if we could find a way to appeal to such people in a way that wouldn’t be patronizing. But still, rejecting this split between the Right and the Left entirely, strikes me as going in completely the wrong direction.

What we have is this terrible synthesis of the market and bureaucracy which has taken over every aspect of our lives. Yet only the Right has a critique of bureaucracy. It’s a really simple-minded critique, but the Left really doesn’t have one at all.
And here he is on the "We are the 99%" slogan, which he might have coined.
I don’t think of it as an analysis so much as an illustration. It’s a way of opening a window on inequality. Of course, a slogan doesn’t ever answer the real structural question of how social classes get reproduced. What a slogan does is point you to how you can start thinking about a problem that you might not have even known existed. It’s been remarkably effective at that, for two reasons: one, because it points out just how small the group of people who have been the beneficiaries of the economic growth, of our productivity has been. They basically grabbed everything. Also, the slogan has successfully made #Occupy inclusive in a way that other social movements have had trouble with before. So I think that’s what was effective about it. Obviously there are infinite shades of difference between us, and class is a much more complicated thing than just the fact there is a certain group of people that is super rich or has a lot of political power. But nonetheless, it provides people with a way to start talking to each other about what they have in common, thus providing the form in which the other things can come to be addressed. You have to start with what you have in common. And that’s one thing we’ve had a really hard time doing up till now.
For a pithier, and less optimistic, take on #OWS, turn instead to David Schraub.


The English Defence League had a bit of a wash-out march in Leicester at the weekend, with their more explicitly racist splitters the Infidels hitting Rochdale. Summary coverage can be read at Malatesta's place and Hope not Hate.

Hope not Hate are re-launching imminently as a magazine, separate from Searchlight. I am not clear if there is any political difference, or merely personal. HnH have led Searchlight's turn to community-based work, which I would see as positive, and have also recently finally identified far right Islamic politics as part of the problem, which is also probably good. They seem more tied than Searchlight to the Labour electoral machine, which might be less positive, and perhaps are not seen as tainted by "Zionism" in the way Searchlight is, which may or may not be good. Any better insights, comments, etc very welcome.

Meanwhile, the very useful Lancaster Unity blog is closing shop, and its blogger, Ketlan Ossowski, has thrown in his lot with Searchlight's blog. His posts there are quite interesting. Searchlight have also (perhaps spurred by competition from HnH) stepped up their own blogging. I see from the Soupy One that Anti-Fascists Online is stepping into Lancaster Unity's shoes to some extent. Among the recent posting there is this one (originally in Kent News), with a SE London connection (as well as a Harry Potter one), on the ex-BNP racist outfit Britain First, which is based on the London/Kent borderland, and has put out highly dishonest leaflets about race attacks, capitalising on various events in the Lewisham, Sidcup and Sittingbourne areas.

On other ant-fascist topics, History at Night has a post on the far right WKR-Ball in Vienna, and resistance to it. Meanwhile, I finally got to the end recently of the official Anti-Fascist Action history, Beating the Fascists. The book's blog now features a promo video. (I also only just noticed the review by academic Nigel Copsey, who comes in for some criticism in the book.)


Thanks again to the Soupy One for re-introducing me to Anthony Cooper's blog, Just Thinking, which has been digging away at the continued presence of antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, for example highlighting an on-going connection with our old friend Gilad Atzmon. Meanwhile, Keith Kahn-Harris has reviewed Atzmon's book for the Jewish Quarterly and the Soupy One dishes the dirt on the Palestine Telegraph.

Alan Johnson, formerly editor of Democratiya, has a really interesting interview with decent left philosopher Michael Walzer, on Israel's right to exist, Israeli democracy, and the rise of the ultra-orthodox.

The Arab Spring and its Islamist winter

I have not been following the events in Syria as closely as I would have liked to. Among the things that have caught my eye, however, was Carl's piece on Russia's economic interests in Syria, its seventh largest import partner. I thought this dramatised a dimension of global capitalism that the vulgar anti-imperialists in the "anti-war" camp often missed: the importance of Russian and Chinese neo-imperialism as drivers of geopolitics, which tends to get ignored in the focus on US-based capital.

More theoretical, Shift publishes a piece by the Wine and Cheese Appreciation Society of Greater London on Islamism, which argues that the latter is consequence, heir of and revival to Arab nationalism, concluding:
Just like every other religious fundamentalism seeking national renewal, the transition from Islamism to Fascism is fluent. This has nothing to do with the Koran, but it has everything to do with the disappointed idealism of Arab and Non-Arab Nationalists.
I started this post, more or less, with some comments on the rise of communalism in India, and it seems important to note that the forms of censorious populist nationalism, religious and otherwise, which are on the rise globally (the Putin democratatorship, ultra-Zionist right in Israel, the Euronationalism to which the EDL is connected, the terrifying Viktor Orbán in Hungary, as well as the "moderate" Islamists of the AKP and Ennahda), share the interesting and novel feature of combining their extreme moral authoritarianism with extreme economic liberalism, and this is one of the reasons why the old anti-fascist and anti-imperialist dogmas to which the left cling are increasingly anachronistic. Grappling with a politics which moves beyond those dogmas, and recreates some kind of authentic internationalism, we have Terry Glavin, whose Come from the Shadows is reviewed brilliantly by Peter R here, dealing with some topics I intend to return to soon.

And South London itself

I only just noticed this piece in the LA Review of Books on Lewisham during the summer 2011 riots: well worth reading. And that's enough for now.


Waterloo Sunset said…
Can we expect a review of BtF? (I know this is hypocritical of me, because I haven't done one yet either).

The Searchligh/HnH split is still pretty murky. There's not been any kind of statement from either party but that's only to be expected I think. Neither have ever been keen on airing internal differences externally. Nor do they have the kind of democratic structures that would cause problems for them in this situation.

The AWL take- Mostly useful because of pointing out who seems to have gone with which side, I think.

Rumour has it that this comes down to money. Specifically that Nick Lowles/HnH objected to the fact that HnH funds were being used to subsidise Searchlight. The fall in Searchlight's production values since the split could be said to provide circumstantial evidence for this being a strong possibility.

Your point about Labourism is interesting though. I suspect more details will emerge over time, but it does seem that HnH have hoovered up most of the Labourites (and ex trots like Knowles)whereas Searchlight has very much kept the tankies. The latter may have got uneasy about the fact that the "anti-extremism" turn could have come back to haunt them. (Seasoned Searchlight watchers don't need explaining why this is somewhat ironic).

This is backed up by the fact that the NCP are still very much with Searchlight (which will mean people like Daphne Liddle are). I thought this was interesting from the New Worker 20th January 2012:

"The New Communist Party line on anti-racism and anti-fascism is to support all anti-racist and anti-fascist groups that are doing a good, effective job in their locality, to work for unity in action and to support the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. This is based on experience on the streets that although the leaderships of different anti-racist and anti-fascist groups may be divided or act in a sectarian way, once the fascists appear on the scene all trivial divisions disappear and the anti-fascists/anti-racists stand strongly together. This includes members of Unite Against Fascism, Carf, Hope not Hate, REFT and so on. All left activists will know their local group that is working effectively and should support them actively."

As well as the obvious support for Searchlight, what's telling there is that they are now putting HnH in the same category as Carf and UAF. And there's a subtle implication by omission that they're including HnH in their belief that some group's leadership are sectarian and divided. That wouldn't have happened before the split.

Ketlan/Lancaster Unity shifting overtly over to HnH is unsurprising. Ketlan has been a HnH man for some time now and openly so. This just makes that relationship formal.
bob said…
WS- thanks for comments. Yes, do expect a review of BtF but not too swiftly! One clarification: Ketlan has gone Searchlight not HnH.
Waterloo Sunset said…
That is more surprising then. From his writing (which tends to fit snugly into the "anti extremist" paradigm) I'd have expected him to move to HnH. Bit of a coup for Searchlight.
Sarah AB said…
I quite like the new HnH site with the blog and news - including international news on far right parties in Europe etc. I'm not quite sure what the magazine would add - and I particularly wasn't sure why they had a poll inviting readers to vote on its name. (The best name was - Hope not Hate. It won.)
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the link, Bob. I enjoyed the Adler piece. That "why isn't anyone allowed talk about xyz" trope is very annoying, and anyone who uses it should be forced to google xyz and read the first 1000 linked articles.
Waterloo Sunset said…
Yeah, the "not allowed to talk about" meme isn't really true regarding Hitchens.

What happened instead is more along the lines of when you say something rude about Insane Clown Posse.

The fact that a proportion of their fandom get all outraged and shrill about having it suggested their idols might be a bit silly. But it doesn't mean we can't talk about ICP. Because most people with an ounce of sense just laugh at the patheticness of the sad little worshippers and use it as an opportunity to take the piss.

Interestingly, that ends up not really being about ICP at all. It ends up being about the nature of vicarious identification and the vacuity of modern celebrity culture.

Same basically applies here. The reactions we saw, including here, weren't about a examination of Hitch's work, critical or otherwise. They were about people not liking their favourite journalistic celebrity treated as something other than an icon. And in those circumstances, any criticism is, by its very nature, illegitimate and unfair.

I'm amused by it. You can probably tell.

In the interests of honesty, I will mention I used to be exactly the same about Crass. But then I stopped being seventeen. I guess some of us just develop later on this issue than others.
TNC said…
(Longer comment sent via email)

I think you might be reading too many left blogs re: the crisis of Israeli democracy. I’ve read similar stuff in Tablet and TNR. But what all these intelligent people are missing is it’s the left that is in crisis and they are responding in the typical manner, pointing fingers and decrying how far politics has moved to the right.

We are not witnessing a “descent of democracy” but the descent of the establishment (and anti-establishment) left. I wouldn’t be so distressed. The Labor Zionists had a good run. It was by no means a single-party state. Nevertheless the Left dominated most of the institutions of power for quite some time. The Likud are upstarts by comparison.
bob said…
TNC, I'll have to read the long version, so might be rushing rashly, but think that it is a lot more than the erosion of Labour hegemony. It's about the culture in the Knesset, press freedom, loyalty oaths, discrimination against Arab citizens, the proposed NGO funding stuff. Those issues are pretty big. If that sort of thing was happening in a European country, it would be seen as an outrage. It's not a unique Israel issue - similar patterns can be seen e.g in Hungary - but it is well developed in israel.
TNC said…

This might brighten your mood a bit:
bob said…
I'm really not an expert on Israeli politics, so don't have any authority in making these statements, but the Nadav Eyal article is quite convincing, but gives limited cause for optimism.

Here is his conclusion:
In the right wing, the outcome is parliamentary running amok.

Pure political emotion, without an orderly and realistic and persuasive ideology, is a dangerous thing. Such a right wing can easily change from conservatism to nationalism. Its patriotism can turn into racism. In Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, the right wing lost the kingdom as the supreme symbol of the right wing and conservatism. In its distress, it went to graze in the poisoned pastures of populism and sometimes fascism.

Is all that is left to the right wing, insofar as the action it proposes for Israeli society, the surreal bill of Faina Kirshenbaum, or a law that limits freedom of speech sponsored by Zeev Elkin?

Those who say that Israeli democracy is in danger, are right, but those who think that this is a result of the right wing’s victory are wrong. Our democracy is in danger, because the emotions of the right wing are so strong, but the right wing itself is very weak. The retreat of its ideas, juxtaposed with the great support it has, has visited on us terrible ideas and bad laws and a difficult spirit of division. The right wing can say powerfully: no to a partition, at any price. Or it can develop other various and interesting ideas for itself, let’s say ideas that battle-as the real right wing does-the rule of the various monopolies and the cartels. It needs a platform. Israel needs a strong right wing. But the strength of political sentiment is not enough, what it needs is an idea.

That's a pretty harsh diagnosis, and cause for pessimism. Especially when the right-wing he describes as weak is actually well represented in the Knesset. Parties to the right of Likud have something like 35 of the 120 seats, and that's not counting Shas or the significant number of extremists within Likud.
bob said…
Have added link to Graeber's interview as the Platypus version flashes up some kind of malware warning in my browser
Entdinglichung said…
the 25th January was the 200th birthday of Moses Hess, radical philosopher and life-long communist, he was the person who brought socialist/communist ideas into the Young Hegelian movement and "converted" Engels and probably also Marx to Communism, a webpage dedicated to his birthday here (in German)