Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in first lines

I've done this every year for the last few years, recalling a habit of the late, great Norman Geras, to recall the year through the first line of every month's blogging.

January: 2014 will mostly be shit, more or less everywhere.

February: They said he was like Castro, they said he was like Mao, but he stuck up for the workin' man, don't even ask me how.

March: Yesterday was Budget Day, and our Tory government gave us a penny of a pint of beer and reduced tax on Bingo, claiming this was "to help hardworking people [note how "hardworking" has become a single word under the Tories, their austerity policy even extending to dashes and spaces] do more of the things they enjoy", the keyword being "they". Meanwhile, in London, Mayor Boris Johnson approved the use of watercannon against disorder in the capital, presumably for when us hardworkingpeople are no longer sufficiently distracted by beer and bingo.

April: Displaying our own liberal cleverness is always a worse strategy than sharing human stories; the left-liberal intelligentsia's masturbatory performances of smartness are bad politics in a human world, and such performances won't win people over even when the facts are on our side, as with welfare reform and migration.
May: The main reason not to vote for Duwayne Brooks is that he is a candidate of the Liberal Democrats.

June: There is a war of words going on in the West over Ukraine. A shocking number of people have been taken in by the narratives and outright lies circulating from the Kremlin and its propaganda outlets. The Kremlin's totally unreliable Russia Today (, which regularly gives airtime to antisemites, UKIP, Holocaust deniers, 9/11 truth cultists and Bilderberg conspiracy nutcases, is somehow seen as the fount of "truth" about Ukraine.

July: Auschwitz wasn’t any kind of positive learning experience, and the overwhelmingly majority of the Jews who had anything to do with the Holocaust learned nothing from it because they were killed by it.

August: Ray Woolford of Lewisham People Before Profit is a colourful character and prolific tweeter.

September: As a resident of England, on one level this is none of my business: Scotland has the right to self-determination without interference from South London.

October: Still seething at @martjacques' vacuous apologia for Chinese state capitalism & scorning of #OccupyCentral movement.

November: The enormity and complexity of what's going in Syria, in Iraq, in Israel/Palestine and in the wider region makes it hard for me to begin to take sides or recommend courses of action. Rather, I will say something about how all this is refracted here in the West: in the leftish scene I move among, in the South London neighbourhood I live in, in the newspapers I read.

December: Quite a few Western leftists still think Assad is some kind of anti-imperialist hero and that we need to "stop the war" against him. As it happens, fascist ex-leader Nick Griffin (who this week endorsed both UKIP and Putin's is in Syria doing some PR for Assad, along with Polish far right MEP Korwin-Mikke (whose party is allied to UKIP in the European parliament).

Confession: I've been a little liberal in interpreting "first lines" in a few of the less interesting months. I didn't actually blog once in August so I've stolen the first line of the last post of July for that slot. I didn't blog in October either, so I used my first tweet of that month instead.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 at Bob From Brockley: the most popular posts

Here are the posts you've been reading in 2014.

1. Gaza/Warsaw Ghetto
This is one of my most-read posts ever, thanks mainly, I think, to a link from an excellent HuffPo open letter to pro-Palestine protesters by Dave Rich, on antisemitism in the protests about Gaza. In that letter, Dave gave some pieces of advice on how to protest Israel without being racist. He said:
While you are at the demonstration, do not compare Israel to Nazi Germany. Gaza is not the Warsaw Ghetto. If you can't tell the difference, this post explains it. It's a totally false comparison that plays on Jewish sensibilities in order to provoke a reaction. Another word for that is Jew-baiting. Don't do it.
If you liked that post, you'll like this one.

2. The Killing of Bob Crow by the Coward Boris Johnson
This mock murder ballad by Rob Palk became unexpectedly topical when Bob Crow actually sadly died.

If you liked that post, you'll like this one.

3. Our Politics and Theirs
I'm pleased this placed so highly. It starts with a post by David Hirsh on Engage, "Opposing the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global academic community", but uses that to spell out some of the features of a rebooted radical politics. Riffing on some of David's points, I argued that we need to recover the tradition of the great cosmopolitan Third Camp left such as Orwell and Hal Draper, but re-purpose it in an age of retreat, of defeat, of resistance, of waiting. Marxists and ex-Marxists would recognise that the title is taken from a brilliant but highly problematic 1938 essay by Trotsky, "Our Morals and Theirs", dedicated to his son Leon Sedoff, who had recently been murdered by Stalin's agents. Here are some lines from that essay:
DURING AN EPOCH OF triumphant reaction, Messrs. democrats, social-democrats, anarchists, and other representatives of the “left” camp begin to exude double their usual amount of moral effluvia, similar to persons who perspire doubly in fear. Paraphrasing the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount, these moralists address themselves not so much to triumphant reaction as to those revolutionists suffering under its persecution, who with their “excesses” and “amoral” principles “provoke” reaction and give it moral justification. Moreover they prescribe a simple but certain means of avoiding reaction: it is necessary only to strive and morally to regenerate oneself. Free samples of moral perfection for those desirous are furnished by all the interested editorial offices. 
The class basis of this false and pompous sermon is the intellectual petty bourgeoisie. The political basis – their impotence and confusion in the face of approaching reaction. Psychological basis – their effort at overcoming the feeling of their own inferiority through masquerading in the beard of a prophet.
If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

4.  Alison Weir: If Americans Knew
This was a guest post by my comrade Spencer Sunshine, taken from a recently published Political Research Associates report Constructing Campus Conflict. It is an anatomy of a right-wing antisemite, Alison Weir (not to be confused with the popular historian of that name) much circulated by allegedly "left-wing" self-defined "anti-Zionists".

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

5. People Before Profit and the Jewish Lobby
This post was provoked by my friend Chimpman, who noticed that a colourful Lewisham political activist had (during the Gaza war) developed an obsession with Jewish power. Again, the activist in question is supposedly left-wing, although he has stood for election for the Conservative Party and is quite chummy with UKIP. His antisemitism, unlike Alison Weir's, is of the casual everyday kind, rather than ideological. More disturbing to me was the denial of any shades of racism from his party, People Before Profit, who also have some track record of dabbling in "anti-Zionist" antisemitism.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

6. Brandeis University and Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Moving from Israel to the other hot button I-word, Islam, this is a guest post from my friend Sarah AB, thoughtfully and carefully thinking through what issues around acceptable and unacceptable speech on campus.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

7. The House of Assad and the House of Rumour
This is a post of which I'm quite proud, about esoteric politics: the contemporary obsession with hidden "Truth", an obsession which manages to hide the more obvious truths, such as the dictator Assad's mass slaughter of Syrian civilians.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

8/9. #Lewisham2014: The mayorals and The council elections
I wrote these posts in April/May, in the lead-up to the UK elections then, focusing on two sets of local elections in Lewisham.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

10. Ukraine: The truth war
This is not the most finely crafted piece of written, but I'm glad it gets a little air play. It discusses some of the groups on the British "left" (from centre-left Scottish nationalists to nutty Stalinsts and Trots) who uncritically circulate propaganda for the far right authoritarian government in Kremlin, and its neo-Nazi puppet "People's Republics" in eastern Ukraine, pointing out that these leftists are on the same page as many British and European fascists on this topic. The post finishes with a few links to actual anti-fascists in Ukraine.

If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Masha leans into a Dictaphone, talking softly about prisons

This, by Rob Palk, is a wonderful piece of political reportage. I'll paste the opening paragraphs here, but you should go read the whole thing.
Punks in Parliament: Pussy Riot in Portcullis House 
Here are some things that the Henry Jackson Society are interested in: A strong military, the “promotion” of liberal democracy if necessary by the use of said military, “two cheers” for capitalism. And here are some things they aren't: radical feminism, punk rock, grass-roots anarchism, Judith Butler, conceptual art. But the world of politics can sometimes resemble an especially tipsy game of spin-the-bottle and tonight the HJS pay host to Pussy Riot. 
To enter Portcullis House you have to put your belt and wallet in a tray and walk through a metal detecting doorway. The airport mood continues once you’re in. With its pot plants, beige walls and the air of bored expectancy that comes with being an adjunct to the action, it is a little like a duty free lounge with the ads for wristwatches replaced by portraits of Margaret Beckett. Up the stairs and inside one of the meeting rooms, the HJS event on Russia is about to begin. By now it is standing room only –it may be that this is always the way with the Society’s events but it might just be celebrity exerting its gravitational drag. Three chairs at the front have “reserved for Pussy Riot” notices placed on them. The audience do not, at first glance, look very punk rock. The floor is unspeckled with gob, faces are unpierced and no one seems to be taking amphetamine sulphate. Tweets from the event mention a coalition of leftists, dissidents, capitalists and MPs but if you had to guess you’d put the latter two in the majority. There are an awful lot of men in suits here, sleekly barbered, comfortable with proximity to power. Women wear unshowily expensive looking dresses. Scarily fresh faced HJS members welcome us with leaflets and smiles. They look like adolescent cult members except with realistic hopes of one day running cults of their very own. It is hard to imagine joining such a group at 22, but then some people save their infantile leftism for their actual infancy and hit ambitious maturity at sixteen. One day they will write op-eds calling for transformative violence –they may even order the violence themselves- but for now they smile winningly, usher and take photographs. Several people look like how you imagine a spad to look. You see someone you think you recognise but then realise you’re recalling a character from The Thick of It

Friday, December 05, 2014

Half decents, internet warriors, black holes, media missionaries

First, a reminder of tomorrow's Half Decents gig. If you can't go, give some money anyway.

Also on Syria, this is important from Air Force Amazons: Over 23,000 civilians killed since the UK Parliament’s Syria vote. You should also spend time with the heart-breaking Syria's Forgotten Cities, documenting that "Syria is a country with many Kobanes".

Quite a few Western leftists still think Assad is some kind of anti-imperialist hero and that we need to "stop the war" against him. As it happens, fascist ex-leader Nick Griffin (who this week endorsed both UKIP and Putin's is in Syria doing some PR for Assad, along with Polish far right MEP Korwin-Mikke (whose party is allied to UKIP in the European parliament). 

Soldiers of the internet: this by Max Dunbar is a brilliant review of Jeremy Duns' book on Edward Snowden and the new politics of (mis)information. 

Black holes and media missionaries: this excellent long read by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad also takes on the new politics of (mis)information specifically in relation to the Middle East, exposing the untruths and skewed narratives of Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and others.

Also exposing untruths and social media propoganda, Sci-Lo Green has a long post on tweeter Mo Ansar, trying to get at what he actually believes on the basis of his tweets.

We don't need another hero: Darren Redstar has a post on celebrity radicalism, primarily on Russell Brand. I might ask him if I can cross-post it here and so I can put in some paragraph breaks, because it's quite hard to read in its current state, but worth the effort.The three other best reads on Russell Brand are by Peter Risdon (actually about Brand and the wider hard and soft left), Nick Cohen and Padraig Reidy.

The hierophants of an alternate capitalism: this is a long but very good post by Tom Owolade on Glenn Greenwald and other examples of Western-centric faux-anti-imperialism.

The only Sunday papers you need: If you're not getting enough of these link round-ups from me, tune in to my Paper every Friday evening for more. And the Lefty Tosser's Weekly ("radical but reasonable) has an algorithm that means the stuff I tweet is in the headlines.