Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kurdish resource page

[UPDATED 9 September, new links added]

This page is a list of links to commentaries, mainly from left and anarchist perspectives, on the situation in Kurdish lands. I have tried to follow some of the complex arguments circulating, many of which I have not made up my mind about, and I have also noticed considerable confusion. Along with the understandable ignorance, we are of course dealing with disinformation and willful ignorance (e.g. last week I noticed a lot of social media chatter about "PKK-Peshmerga" being terrorists equivalent to ISIS...) So, while arranging my own thoughts, I thought I would publish this list of resources to help you arrange yours.

In case it is helpful, here are the key players. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party, led by Abdullah Öcalan) has on and off been in a state of insurgency in the Southeast of Anatolia or Turkish (Northern) Kurdistan. The KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) is an autonomous sub-state making up most of Northern Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan, with its capital in Erbil, ruled by a coalition of president Barzani's centre-right KDP and Jalal Talabani's more left-wing PUK. The armed forces of the KRG are known as the Peshmerga. The PYD (Democratic Union Party) is an affiliate of the PKK which (in coalition with the KNC, Kurdish National Council, an alliance of other Kurdish groups sponsored by Barzani's KRG) governs Northern Syria or Syrian (Western) Kurdistan, known as Rojava. Rojava has been effectively autonomous since 2012, in revolution against Assad's Ba'athist regime in Damascus. Its armed forces are the YPG/YPJ (People's Protection Units - male and female respectively). There is also Iranian Kurdistan, but that's not really relevant to our story. All of these proper nouns are rendered differently in different translations of Kurdish and other languages; I have used the most common. It is worth noting that the Kurds are far from homogeneous, speaking a number of related Indo-Iranian languages and dialects (mostly but not all written in Roman script), and practising a range of religions (most are Sunni Muslims but there are also Shia Muslims, Yazidis, the Yarsan, Alevis,Christians and Jews).

The best single resource on the region, and especially on Rojava, that I have seen is that of the Irish-based anarchist Andrew Flood here. His introduction is worth reading first. In that he summarises what is at stake and the issues that have become contentious in the wake of the Da'esh assault on the Kurdish town of Kobane.

For me, as an internationalist, my bottom line is solidarity with the Kurdish people, who have been oppressed in all the nation-states amongst whom their land is cleft, and who bear the brunt of the genocidal advance of Da'esh (Islamic State or ISIS). This means solidarity with their heroic fighting forces, the YPG/YPJ, who are analogous to the French Résistance or the Republican militias of the Spanish civil war. My strong instinct is that our governments in the West should be helping them out too. The political and also social revolution in Rojava, unfolding alongside and partly within the Syrian revolution, is also incredibly inspiring, and many of the links below describe why, including (apparently) forms of direct democracy and a revolution in gender relations.

The role of the PYD in that revolution stands further analysis though. On the one hand, the heritage of the PKK is the most authoritarian tradition of the nationalist left (a purist form of Marxism-Leninism influenced by Mao) and marked by an unpleasant Stalinist-style cult of personality around Öcalan. On the other hand, Öcalan and his party appear to have gone through a significant political evolution in the last decade, adopting a form of libertarian socialism heavily influenced by the late Murray Bookchin, theorist of libertarian municipalism. This libertarian turn has encouraged parts of the global anarchist movement to embrace the cause of Rojava, while a more sternly purist anti-nationalist left communism continues to be suspicious. That is one of the key faultlines; the other is the question of Western intervention.

In the links below, I rely heavily on Andrew Flood's link list, and where it says AF I am directly quoting him, but with some minor typographical edits and some added hyperlinking. There are also several resources here, collected in January 2015 for Libcom. Texts by Kurdish anarchists are here. Other resources can be found at Tahrir-ICN. It is also worth noting that although anarchist-like Kurdish movements have received a great deal of attention in the anarchist scene, Syrian anarchists seem to have been less noticed, although they played a central role in the 2011 revolution; read about them here.

The Rojava revolution

A mountain river has many bends: an introduction to the Rojava revolution

This zine is an excerpt from the book A Small Key Can Open A Large Door, published in March 2015 by Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness. The full book collects this introduction together with numerous interviews, public statements, firsthand accounts, and other articles that help give context to the struggle in Rojava. The book is available from Combustion Books (, its distributor AK Press (, and major book retailers.

Stefan Bertram-Lee: Dear Mr. Anarchist, You Aren’t Listening (April 2015)

A reply to "Dear Cheerleaders, we need to have a chat about imperialism" about libertarian communist dialogue and criticism in regards to the Rojava revolution and anti-imperialism.
"The Rojava revolution does not need the permission of Western Anarchists to be able to succeed, it does not need us one way or the other... The only people this argument is important for is ourselves. In the west we have failed, while in Chiapas and Rojava a social revolution has occurred. We need to examine our tactics and our methods, and compare them to the PYD and EZLN, and see where we have gone wrong and where they have gone right. We cannot win by fighting as if the territory we are fighting on is the United States prior to WWI, or Spain prior to WWII, the same old tired Anarcho-Syndicalism will not win in the 21st Century. Subcomdanate Marcos says that when he first went to Chiapas all he could do was talk, and not listen, and so he failed. The peasants did not listen to those who could only talk. It is only when he learnt to listen that he was able to move forward, and this lesson is one that must be learnt by all Western Anarchists. We are not winning, and we need to listen to those who are."
The Rojava resistance: rebirth of the anticapitalist struggle - Salvador Zana (April 2015)

An article by Salvador Zana, a volunteer with YPG in Rojava.

Zaher Baher: Anarchist Eyewitness to self-management in Kurdish Syria / West Kurdistan (July 2014)
"Written a few months before the ISIS assault attracted attention this report from a Kurdish anarchist is a great introduction to the region, what is happening and a critical if very sympathetic examination of the reasons why." -AF

The embedded audio above is a recording of Zaher Baher of the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum speaking at the 2014 London Anarchist Bookfair about the two weeks he spent in Syrian Kurdistan in May 2014, looking at the experiences of self-management in the region, experiments that have become more widely discussed as the result of the defense of Kobane against ISIS. Zaher is also a member of Haringey Solidarity Group." - AF

Joseph Daher: On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue (April 2014)
"An interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist and journalist Shiar Nayo who while very critical of the PKK/PYD still sees the experiement as worthwhile. It's also very useful at providing some context of the relationship with Syria, the Assad regime and the other rebel movements." - AF [Arabic original]

Rojava Our World: Syria's secret revolution (video, November 2014)
"BBC documentary that makes for a very useful introduction - Out of the chaos of Syria’s civil war, mainly Kurdish leftists have forged an egalitarian, multi-ethnic mini-state run on communal lines. But with ISIS Jihadists attacking them at every opportunity — especially around the beleaguered city of Kobane, how long can this idealistic social experiment last?" - AF

Zafer Onat: Rojava: Fantasies & Realities
"Brief piece that does a good job of quickly outlining both the limited goals of the Rojava revolution and the limitations of the reality of rebellion in the specific economic and social conditions. That it is written as a vehicle to argue for a anarchist international is a little jarring, not least because there is more than one of them already."  - AF

Nedcla Acik: Kobane: the struggle of Kurdish women against Islamic State (22 October 2014)
"Introduction to a 40 page PDF report from a recent delegation to the region that provides a useful summary if one from a position obviously sympathetic to the PKK influence." - AF

Rojava: Syria's Unknown war
"Vice documentary from September of 2013 when the YPG/J had launched a counteroffensive against ISIS. Includes footage of a 4km section of border where the Turkish army removed barbed wire to facilitate ISIS recruits crossing the border. Some interesting footage & interviews with militias on the front line who are described as consisting of local farmers."-AF

The constitution of the Rojava Cantons
"As can be seen this important document is radical republican with a built in social democratic leaning but not anarchist or anti-capitalist." - AF

Adam Curtis: Anarchy in Kurdistan
"Curtis blogs the meeting of Ocalan & Bookchin and the influeces around them. Quite a useful quick history of the PKK." - AF

Rafael Taylor: The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan (August 17 2014)
"Useful explanation of the adoption of Bookchin's ideas by the PKK under Öcalan's direction and a brief sketch of their implementation in Northern Kurdistan (but that may be drawn from the 'Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan' interviews rather than confirming them?)"-AF

Dilar Dirik on "Stateless Democracy" at the New World Summit
"I like her stressing of the importance of the social transformation of society by the women's movement over time--something that I think gets diminished a bit when so much emphasis by the left gets placed on to what degree communal property has been instituted in Rojava and to what extent the PKK is suppressing, tolerating or dealing with the KDP. (video 2, video 3) (via Flint)" - AF

Interview with the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum (KAF) about the situation in Iraq/Kurdistan
"This includes some discussion of anarchist influences in the PKK and how seriously they should be taken."

An Anarchist Communist Reply to ‘Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective
This text is a response to the article Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective by K. B., recently published on the Ideas and Action website of the North America-based Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA). In the article, there is an attack on the Rojava revolution in the Middle East, an event in which the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has played a key role.

Sardar Saadi: Rojava revolution: building autonomy in the Middle East (July 25, 2014)
"Kurdish rebels are establishing self-rule in war-torn Syria, resembling the Zapatista experience and providing a democratic alternative for the region."

ADDED: Roland Dodds: Review of A Small Key Can Open a Large Door (June 2015)
Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness, an anarchist-publishing house, has compiled essays and interviews on the anarchist revolution that is taking place among millions of people in Rojava, entitled A Small Key Can Open a Large Door. Roland reviews it at In Hope And Darkness

ADDED: Oso Sabio: RojavaAn Alternative to Imperialism, Nationalism,and Islamism in the Middle East (pdf, 2015)
A long and detailed anti-capitalist analysis of the situation, arguing the PKK is the best alternative to war and dictatorship.

ADDED: Shawn Hattingh (ZACF): In the Rubble of US Imperialism: the PKK, YPG and the Islamic State (August 2015)
South African anarchist argues that the PKK/YPG is the best answer to "US imperialism", which is the main cause of the problem. [Personally, I disagree with the first half, which seems to displace blame away from Assad and other regional oppressive forces.]


Ocalan on Democratic Confederalism
PDF pamphlet were Ocalan lays down his concepts, drawing on Bookchin.

A nation state is not the solution but rather the problem - Abdullah Öcalan

Article by imprisoned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, arguing against nationalism but instead for "democratic confederalism". However we want to point out the gulf which exists between his words and the still essentially nationalist practice of the PKK in reality, discussed here, not to mention the abuse of female members in the Party, including by Ocalan himself, so we reproduce this article for reference only.

Bookchinite commentary

Janet Biehl'Poor in means but rich in spirit'

David Graeber'No. This is a Genuine Revolution'

Critiques of the PKK/PYD

Libcom has several critical pieces, collected here. Here are some.

Dear Cheerleaders, we need to have a chat about imperialism (April 2015) 

"On the process of change in Northern Syria often called the Rojava revolution, the PYD as proponent of the process, and its alliance with Western imperialist powers."

Juraj KatalenacPKK, Democratic Confederalism, and Nonsense

A critical text about PKK and the “Democratic Confederalism” from militants who mainly express themselves in Croatian and gave to their structure the name Svjetska Revolucija (“World Revolution”). 

‘I have seen the future and it works.’ – Critical questions for supporters of the Rojava revolution

"Almost a 100 years ago, the US journalist, Lincoln Steffens visited the Soviet Union and proclaimed: ‘I have seen the future and it works.’[1] Ever since then, leftists have continued to delude themselves, not only about the Soviet Union, but about China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere. After a century of such delusions it is crucial that we don’t hesitate to ask critical questions of every revolution – even if that revolution is being threatened by a brutal counter-revolution."

Alex De JongStalinist caterpillar into libertarian butterfly? The evolving ideology of the PKK

1. Roots of the PKK
2. People’s War
3. Creating the ’new man’
4. Serok Apo
5. A revolution of women
6. Democratic Civilization
7. Whatever happened to socialism?
8. Potent vagueness

On David Graeber: 'Victory in Kobane. What next in the Rojava revolution?’

Anarchist Federation statement on Rojava (December 2014)
The Anarchist Federation looks at the "revolution" in Syrian Kurdistan, and the role of the PKK and compares the reality with the rhetoric.

ADDED: Zaher Baher: Why are anarchists divided over Rojava? (July 2015)
Response to the politics circulating in the left libertarian scene over Rojava.

Banner from July 2015 demonstration in front of the Turkish consulate in Chicago.
ADDED: Black Rose Collective: Our perspectives and tasks on the revolution in Rojava (August 2015)
A sympathetic critique. [Also at Libcom.]

ADDED: The grim reality of the Rojava Revolution - from an anarchist eyewitness (August 2015)
A bitter denunciation of the PKK and its anarchist advocates, including Graeber, based on one foreign anarchist's letter home. Depressing, pessimistic, anarcho-purist polemic.

The battle of Kobane

The defence of Kobane - anarchist reportage from WSM
"When the Turkish anarchist group DAF announced some of its members were heading to Kobane I started to pay much more attention to what what happening. This included writing quick reports for the WSM Facebook page during the first weeks of the siege that presented a political analysis of the events that were emerging from the resistance. The link will bring you to a Facebook album that collects those reports as each was intially posted as the caption of an image, now collected into this album."-AF

WSM: Tell Us Lies About Kobanê -unpicking the demand for Turkish & western intervention (9 October 2014)
"The notion that the fall of Kobanê could be prevented by the intervention of the Turkish army is a smokescreen that covers the truth that they are already intervening - on the side of ISIS. The Turkish state's selective blockade of the border, which allows arms and volunteers to cross for ISIS, but strangles them for the YPG defenders of Kobanê is the decisive intervention that is giving ISIS the upper hand."-AF

Anarchists join fight against IS to defend Kurdish autonomous areas (October 2014)

Taken from a report by the French Anarchist weekly paper Alternative Revolutionaire, this short article gives a taste of developments on the ground in the fight against Islamic State.

Kobane’s Second Phase: Resistance (March 2015)
Text from the Kurdish anarchists of KAF. (Also here.)

Leila Al Shami: The struggle for Kobane: an example of selective solidarity (October 2014)

"The heroic resistance of the people of Kobane in fighting the onslaught of the Daesh (ISIS) fascists since mid-September, has led to a surge of international solidarity. A multitude of articles and statements have been written and protests have been held in cities across the world. Kurds have flooded across the Turkish border to help their compatriots in the fight despite being brutally pushed back by Turkish forces, and others including Turkish comrades from DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) have gone to the border to support in keeping it open to help the flood of refugees escaping to Turkey. There have been calls to arm Kurdish forces and calls to support DAF and send aid for refugees. Yet this solidarity with Syria’s Kurds has not been extended to non-Kurdish groups in the country that have been fighting, and dying, to rid themselves of fascism and violent repression and for freedom and self-determination. It’s often said incorrectly, that sectarianism lies at the heart of the Syrian conflict. It’s necessary to understand to what extent sectarianism plays a role in our response too."
Ali Bektaş: Rojava: a struggle against borders and for autonomy (July 24, 2014)

As ISIS lays siege on the autonomous Kurdish enclave of Kobanê, thousands of Kurds try to break down the Turkish-Syrian border to join their comrades.
Includes interesting analysis of the contrast between decentralisation in Rojava and in Bakur (Turkish-ruled Northern Kurdistan).


ISIS Jihadism and Imperialism in the post Arab Spring period- an anarchist analysis (Audio & Video)
Following on from the rapid spread of Isis in Iraq & Syria Paul Bowman presented an update intended to inform on the contemporary politics of Jihadism and its entanglement with regional and global imperialist power plays.

WSM: Origins of the hostility and the split between Al Qa’ida and ISIS (17 September 2014)
An anarchist perspective: "Geo-strategically the Al Qa’ida leadership (Azzam, bin Laden, Zawahiri) are products of the Cold War, specifically the Afghan Mujahidin war against the USSR. Rather like their American neo-con previous employers, Al Qa’ida view the end of the Cold War as a victory over the USSR by their own side. The Al Qa’ida perspective is that, having “defeated” one superpower, the global jihad now needs to turn its offensive against the remaining superpower. Al Qa’ida worry that the Zarqawists of ISIS may be restricting the struggle to a parochial Mesopotamian sectarian struggle that could fail to engage Muslim jihadists around the world, outside the MENA region, say in West Africa or Indonesia and the Philippines where the US is a more credible #1 enemy than Iran.

North Kurdistan (Turkey)

Kurdish Communalism
2011 piece by Janet Biehly interviewing Kurdish activist Ercan Ayboga about who the Kurds are, the background of the PKK and the Democratic Autonomy process.

Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan By TATORT Kurdistan, trans Janet Biehl
Book length examiniation of 'Democratic Autonomy' in a couple of parts of 'Turkish' Kurdistan based around interview by members of a solidarity group who briefly vistited the area in 2011. Clearly from a PKK sympatheic perspective but alsol a useful source in terms of understanding the idealised structures and methods of 'Democratic Autonomy' and the real world problems of implementation.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Resuming normal service

Here are a bunch of things that I think you should read, which have built up in my list since January but which I haven't managed to find time to post about.

Left ad absurdum
A long article in Logos Journal, "The Treason of Intellectual Radicalism and the Collapse of Leftist Politics" by Gregory Smulewicz-Zucker and Michael J. Thompson,  is a bracing account of how a left that has blossomed in the academy is dying on the streets:
This new radicalism has made itself so irrelevant with respect to real politics that it ends up serving as a kind of cathartic space for the justifiable anxieties wrought by late capitalism... These trends are the products as well as unwitting allies of that which they oppose.
To illustrate this, Coatesy recently hosted some prizes for the most insanely ridiculous writing on the far left. You couldn't make it up...

Confessions of a non-Zionist Jew
This article by Todd Gitlin (via Rokhl) expresses perfectly a lots of the things I feel. Highly recommended.

Drawing clear lines
This deserves a post of its own, but my comrade Spencer Sunshine has written some important texts. “Drawing Lines Against Racism and Fascism” documented how cryptofascists and pro-White separatists are attempting to make inroads into left political and counter-cultural circles and also sets outs some principles for addressing the problem. Walter Reeves’s Daily Kos post, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing; Racism, Anti-Semitism and Fascism: Infiltrating the Left” introduced some of its key points, generating some enlightening and depressing arguments. "The continuing appeal of racism and fascism" develops these themes further.

One disturbing example of this continuing appeal comes from the UK far left scene, where a former Marxist, Ian Donvan, has, via the influence of Gilad Atzmon and George Galloway, entered a political space we might associate with David Duke.

Like old times, but different 1: Counter-Englightenment
I'd like to find time to give this fine post the attention that it deserves, but you should read Martin Robb's semi-return to blogging here, on his political trajectory and search for an alternative to the Enlightenment rationalism. 

Like old times, but different 2: from the end of the world
Roland Dodds is also on a complex political journey. He has put together a book of essays from the last 10 years of blogging at But I Am A Liberal, and started up a new blog at In Hope and Darkness. His first post there was "A Radical in Every Institution", on "social justice warriors". He's also writing at Ordinary Times, where he has written nicely about fatherhood and conservatism and also on the trade-off between multiculturalism and social democracy. (I profoundly disagree with his conclusions in the latter, oddly a topic I've been arguing about on Twitter this week. In my view, welfare states in Europe were born at a time when there was not a sense of a common culture; European societies were sharply divided by denominational sectarianism, by class anatagonisms, by regional cultures. Britain in the early twentieth century had many indigenous non-English-speaking communities, and there was an enormous cultural difference between, say, the Northumbrian shore and the Home Counties. And that picture was repeated across the European states where social democracy was tried out. A sense of commonality was born from the common institutions of the welfare state, not the other way around.) 

Like old times, but different 3: wordspiv, layabout, culchie.
Thirdly, Terry Glavin has also deserted blogspot for wordpress. His new site includes blog posts (lately mostly on China), his columns and his "essays and inquiries", as well as a special section on Syria and Kurdistan

Like old times, but different 4: with nylons and coathanger
Finally, a belated welcome to the blogosphere for Trabi Mechanic.

This article in Ha'aretz (reproduced here if you're stuck on the wrong side of the paywall) is very interesting for thinking about the relationship between Zionism, anti-Zionism, imperialism and anti-imperialism. It shows that parts of the British imperial state were actively siding with various Arab forces in 1948 in the attempt to forge a Greater Syria and to subvert (or even militarily defeat) the possibility of a Jewish state.

Ukraine, fascism and anti-fascism
I intend to write a proper post on this one day, but I have been disturbed over the past year to see how many "anti-fascists" have been taken in by the supporters of Russian irredentism in Ukraine, an essentially far right movement. Here is Dale Street refuting one instance of this. Here is a collection of texts from the Ukrainian left on the fake ant-fascists of Borotba. And here is an interview with some Ukrainian anarchists.

Truth wars
I'm not sure if I've linked to Kyle Orton's January post "From Kessab to Cannibals: Syria’s Media War". If not, I should have. It looks at IS's media strategy briefly, but then in more depth at media use by the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran. This is important, because a lot of that media is consumed by leftists and others in the West who somehow think it is more reliable than the so-called "mainstream media". (See these previous posts of mine and their comment threads: The Ukraine truth war; The House of Assad and the House of Rumour; Mother Agnes and the fog of war.)

France after Charlie Hebdo
AWL has published a collection of articles on racism against Jews and Muslims in France by Yves Coleman. Also from AWL: After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket: thinking through the new and rethinking the old - veteran French Trotskyist Pierre Rousset discusses the political aftermath of the January 2015 Islamist attacks in Paris. And Barry Finger explores the connections to the politics of anti-imperialism and what he calls "Third World fascism".

Islam etc
Understanding ISIS: some useful pieces of analysis by Kenan Malik, by Disillusioned Marxistby Army of RedressersUnderstanding the Muslim far-right in Algeria, and beyond: an interview with Marieme Helie Lucas.

A polite hatred
An important series in the Tablet on British antisemitism by Josh Glancy and Ben Judah.

Not so radical
Back in January, James Bloodworth wrote that Syriza's government may not be the radical left-wing triumph we were hoping for. And here is Max Dunbar on Russell Brand, which I completely missed way back in October.

Pseudo-left rape apologists
Steve Hedley not “cleared of domestic violence” with a case still to answer, says the RMT rep representing his former partner in her complaint of physical, emotional and verbal abuse.

Phil BC has a nice series of Saturday interviews. Comrade Coatesy was featured some time back.

Monday, May 11, 2015

F*ck aspiration, we don't need another Tory party

I have been a bit nauseated in the past days hearing the commentariat conclude from Labour's general election defeat that what Britain needs is more middle class oriented centrist politics: a more "aspirational" politics. I think this rushed judgement is based on a fundamental misreading of what happened last week, as I shall try to show in this post.

First of all, where did Labour gain ground and where did it lose ground? Most dramatically, of course, Labour lost Scotland. Crucially, there it lost to a party which positioned itself to Labour's left.

What about in England? These two maps in the Guardian, which take a moment to work out how to read (the map is redrawn to be proportionate to votes) are very important:

The Guardian have also made what look like weather maps but are actually very clever

And this map shows where Labour lost support.
The maps show that Labour gained votes almost everywhere in England and lost a lot of votes in Scotland and Wales. Most important for my purposes is where Labour lost votes in England. I don't have the time or knowledge to look closely at each of these, so what I conclude is provisional but the following is what strikes me.

It is true, as the "apirationalists" ("New New Labour" in Ben Judah's witty typology) would emphasise, that there are some places in the Southeast, Southwest and West Midlands (what we could call Middle England) where Labour lost ground - but these are outnumbered by the seats in those regions where Labour gained votes. The most significant English losses are actually up and down the East coast, often in the areas where UKIP gained ground.*

My strong feeling is that in such areas (as well as in the Labour core areas where voter turn out was low), Labour's problem was not that it didn't connect to "aspirations" or that it wasn't middle class enough. Instead, I think Labour's problem was that it was seen as a party of the metropolitan elite - that it was too middle class.

With the figure of Ed Miliband - constantly associated with "Hampstead" and "North London", seen as a "geek" or "nerd" unable to eat a bacon sandwich - it is hard to disentangle this anti-metropolitan sentiment from low-level antisemitism and the simple fact that he comes across awkwardly to camera. But even leaving that aside, Labour was seen as the party that sneered at white van man for putting up England flags.

For many of these people, "aspiration" is probably less relevant than the sense that even you when you work really hard you're still fucked because the decks seem stacked against you.

And surely the most "aspirational" voters - in diverse and migrant-rich London - are now actually Labour's core voters; many of them probably see Labour as a metropolitan party, and see that as a positive.

Beyond the capital, anti-metropolitanism ties in with the belief that the Westminster parties are basically all the same, that all mainstream politicians are un-trustworthy - this is a sentiment that UKIP voters share with SNP voters, who sound almost identical on this issue. (And the UKIP and SNP voters are at least partly right about this, surely.)

A lot of this is about identity politics. While Labour and its metropolitan voters identify with a civic Britishness, the Tories and UKIP played an English card which resonates for many people in England at least as much as Scottishness resonates North of the border.** Local and regional identities matter too, and are one ingredient in the anti-metropolitanism (see Waterloo Sunset's points here).

Labour was (rightly) concerned about making sure that its candidates were gender-representative and ethnically diverse (and indeed, as Paul pointed out, one silver lining in the gloom is the number of new MPs who aren't White British) - but, for all its alleged leftism, it didn't put any thought in how class identities still matter. (Thus it is striking that this more diverse parliament is no less privileged than the last one: 28% went to Oxbridge; 32% went to private schools, of whom one in ten went to Eton - barely changed from 2010.***)

I am not in the business of telling Labour what implication they should take from all this, but I think there are implications for a wider "left" - by which I mean those of us who are scared what five more years of austerity will do for us and who are scared of the consequences of rising nationalism and xenophobia.

The implications as I see them are these: First, we (that wider left) need to re-connect with communities feeling left behind by the globalised world the metropolitan elite seems at ease in - and not sneer at them in a condescending way. We need to start taking seriously and talking about Englishness, as well as Scottishness and regional identities. We should sharpen not soften our attacks on the sorts of class privilege that mean we remain ruled by a narrow elite who went to the same schools and universities.

I don't know if Labour have a chance of addressing these kinds of issues or not (the Murdoch-friend;y talk about "aspirations" and the middle class suggest it doesn'), but in the meantime in communities across the UK we will need to work hard to defend ourselves, our jobs and our public services from the Tories' ideologically-driven slash-and-burn policies, and we can't do that without white van England.


Friday, May 08, 2015

The morning after

Quite a depressing morning politically, though a few silver linings. Here's a quick run through of how my election priorities fared. [NB: Post slightly edited 17:36.]

Priority no,1: Tories out. Verdict: epic fail

Obviously my biggest desire for this election was my biggest disappointment. As I write this, it's looking like  the Conservatives will have just enough seats to form a majority government, without even the almost negligible restraining power of their Lib Dem partners. That's a disaster, for the NHS, for the economy, for schools and for the continuation of the United Kingdom.

Labour needed to make considerable advances to win, and it failed to do so. But while the media narrative is of Tory electoral triumph, it is important to note that Labour increased its popular vote share from 2010 and that the Conservatives lost theirs, and that in England Labour has increased its vote share everywhere (most dramatically in London) apart from the Northeast (where its majority was already enormous) and the East. The Tory victory in the first past the post system was partly a result of the extraordinary SNP surge in Scotland which has effectively wiped out Labour in one of its heartlands, a topic that I plan to write about when the dust settles (Labour took more far seats than it lost in England and Wales) and partly due to Lib Dem losses to Tories.

Priority no.2: Contain the rise of UKIP. Verdict: mixed

We can take some comfort in Nigel Farage not taking the seat he stood in and the Conservatives decisively regaining Rochester and Strood from their former MP Mark Reckless (one of the few times in my life I've taken joy from a Conservative gain). Carswell keeping Clacton is hardly a UKIP victory, as Carswell was surely the least UKIPy and most Tory of UKIP candidates. Farage's promised resignation will be pleasurable, although the next leader may be scarier.

On the other hand, the surge in UKIP votes, to 13% (making it the third most popular party) is depressing. Most depressing is how well it did in working class areas in the East, Northeast and Yorkshire, places like Hartlepool, Boston, Rotherham, Although UKIP's vote was stronger in more affluent parts of the Southeast and commuterbelt, the results in the rustbelt show that the left urgently needs to think hard about the strategy it has used against UKIP up to now. Some will call for more UKIP-friendly Labour policies - tougher on immigration - but I think UKIP voters won't be persuaded by the pale imitation, plus it will feed the narrative on which UKIP thrives. But what is certain is that sneering at UKIP voters as ignorant bigots is not a successful strategy.

Locally in Lewisham, UKIP got too high a vote (8-9%) for comfort in Lewisham East, where their candidate was the toxic Anne Marie Waters (3rd place), and in Lewisham West (4th place). My assumption is that these votes are from the whiter Bromley borderlands.

Priority no.3: Kick George Galloway out of Bradford - and out of British politics. Verdict: resounding success

It is fantastic to see Naz Shah get almost twice Galloway's vote. Congratulations to all those in Bradford West who fought so hard for that. I will relish Galloway's sad face under the silly hat at the count for years to come. His bizarre concession speech gives a good indication into his disturbing mindset, mixing hubris with paranoia:
there will be others who are already celebrating: the venal, and the vile, the racists and the zionists will all be celebrating. The hyena can bounce on the lion's grave but it can never be a lion, and in any case, I'm not in my grave. As a matter of fact I'm going off now to plan the next campaign.
Priority no.4: Leave some space for the left. Verdict: not much space

The Greens did OK, increasing their vote share nationally by a couple of percentage points and holding on to their single parliamentary seat. Green supporters will see this as a reason we need more proportional representation, but it's worth bearing in mind that the same vote share under PR would give the Lib Dems and especially UKIP far more seats in parliament than the Greens. The Greens performed well in Lewisham, increasing their vote share even in least promising Lewisham East, moving into third position in Lewisham West and nearly beating the Tories to second place in Deptford.

I haven't looked closely at the TUSC and Left Unity results yet. As far as I can see, there's not many places where they kept their deposits. Dave Nellist, who has profile as a councillor and former MP in Coventry did well, and less pleasingly an SWP candidate, Jenny Sutton, kept her deposit in Tottenham. Elsewhere, it looks quite bleak. I think there are two lessons from this. First, the far left only performs at all electorally under a Labour government; fear of Tories pushes socialists back to Labour. Second, the right path for building the left is not contesting elections but grassroots single issue campaigns in local  communities. 

Priority no.5: Destroy the far right. Verdict: promising

I haven't looked too closely at the far right results yet either, but a first glance seems to show they did dismally. I think their strongest result is in Rotherham, where the BNP got a couple of hundred votes (less than most TUSC candidates). In Lewisham West, the vile George Whale got just 44 votes. However, anti-fascists shouldn't take too much comfort from this, as the potential far right vote went to UKIP, and we need to keep a close eye on UKIP-fascist links.

Priority no.6: Get rid of David Ward. Verdict: success

Labour recaptured Bradford East from the vile David Ward, 47% to 30%. But we shouldn't take too much comfort from this, considering how unpleasant the Labour candidate Imran Hussein is - the man whose nepotistic clan-based machine politics pushed Bradford West into Galloway's arms. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Bob's election priorities no.1: Tories out!

So, we've reached the predictable if rather late in the day culmination of my pre-election series...

For a lot of the time, in this blog I have focused on faultlines between Islamism and secularism or between internationalism and isolationism. I've spent a lot of time criticising the left for its evacuation of working class communities, for its capitulation to postmodern moral relativism and so on - because it is on those issues which I've felt I have something to say. Because of my position on those things, I often find myself in agreement with people on the centre-right. However, those are not the issues which really fundamentally matter to me and my family in our day to day lives, or which I vote on in elections. In this post, I want to focus on the issues which really do matter in a much more concrete way. 

The last five years of Conservative-led Coalition government have, I believe, been disastrous for the country, in many ways.

Instead of evidence-based policy on topics such as migration or education, we have had ideological follies and back-of-a-fag-packet gimmicks. David Cameron's contempt for Scotland looks likely to contribute to the break-up of the United Kingdom, despite the fact that a clear majority of the Scottish people voted against independence. A half-baked philosophy of "Big Society" has done nothing to empower citizens. A faux-libertarian rejection of the nanny state and red tape has masked a series of authoritarian laws which put schools and local authorities under tighter than ever central government control. Inequality between ethnic groups has grown, while the government has pandered to "faith communities". A promise of a new greener Conservatism has failed to materialise as its becomes ever clearer that Cameron thinks of environmental protection as "green crap". Public assets such as the Royal Mail have been sold off at a huge loss, benefiting big business while delivering worse value for money for consumers. Our housing situation is in absolute crisis, with growing numbers in abject shelter poverty and an unsustainable property bubble locking even middle income people out of home ownership.

But there are three areas where there has been particularly brutal damage, and where another term of Conservative rule promises the threat of even worse, irrevocable damage. (Note, most of the links below are to charts evidencing the claims I am making.)

David Cameron was talking last night about "the 2008 Labour recession", an idea that seems to have become almost common sense for the mainstream media, even to the point that Labour barely challenges it. The fact is, of course, as any Greek could tell you, the 2008 recession was global, with lots of complex causes (many to do do with the finance industry and the property bubble), Gordon Brown's spending not being one of them.

Similarly, Cameron claims that the Conservatives have steered us out of recession through prudence. In fact, the recovery has been global too (in fact, growth began again in the last three quarters of Brown's government and retreated for the first two years of Cameron's). And while it is true that that the UK's recovery in terms of growth and jobs has been more impressive than many other countries (but not the US), it is telling to look at who has benefited from that growth and what sort of jobs they've been.

While there's been growth, productivity has declined. Growth has been driven by the housing market (benefiting existing home-owners, hurting renters and those who want to buy but can't; in London an average house price is nine times an average salary) and above all by the service sector, the only sector back to its pre-crisis state. The benefits, therefore, have been to home owners (especially in London), the finance sector, and the rich. Manufacturing and production have shrunk.

This means that the types of jobs created have been low-paid service jobs. The rise in zero hours contracts (from 50,000 in 2005 to 200,000 in 2013 to 700,000 now) has been the great scandal of the Coalition period. We've had a growing number of self-employed people, but a huge leap (from 20% to 35%) in the number of self-employed people with very low incomes (below £10,000). Because we now have such a low-wage service economy and a not particularly progressive taxation system, government tax receipts have not kept up with growth, so the public sector debt and deficit (which we've had since Thatcher) has grown not shrunk in the Cameron age of austerity.

Combined with "reforms" to welfare which have mainly hit working people (most welfare recipients are in work not out of work), working poverty has risen, and a cost of living crisis has affected everyone from the very poor to the squeezed middle. Food banks is the other great scandal of this government, with well over a million using the Trussell Trust food banks alone.

Zero hours contracts is one dimension of precarity that makes people insecure; the axing of public services, which has thrown many public sector workers into unemployment as well as destroyed the safety nets the poor rely on, has been another. Those facing benefits sanctions are probably among the most harshly affected.

It is no wonder then, especially as mental health services are cut back, that suicide has risen sharply under the Tories. Their economic policies are literally killing us.

The NHS, created by a Labour government after World War II, is one of the great achievements of which Britain should be proud. From 1979-1997, the NHS experienced systematic disinvestment until it reached close to breaking point. Anyone who spent time in the Third World standard London hospitals of the John Major years and then in the Gordon Brown years will know that massive investment in the NHS by New Labour made a real, palpable difference to the quality of care. Disinvestment impacts quicker than investment, and the period since 2010, as demand for healthcare grows due to our ageing demography, has seen another palpable decline.

But probably more damaging is the attempts this government has made to close hospitals and wards (including wards at my local hospital in Lewisham, where one of my kids was born). These closures have been hard fought by local communities, and the government has changed the law to make it easier to do so under their next term in office.

More serious still is the Conservative strategy to privatise and dismantle the NHS as we know it. Although they are not upfront about this, is it clear from what they have done already. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act removed the responsibility of the Secretary of State to secure comprehensive and universal healthcare provision; it requires contracting out of services to private companies; and it removes accountability in the NHS. £7 billion of new NHS contracts have been given to private companies - many tax avoiders and/or cronies of Conservative MPs.

By lifting the cap on private patient income from Foundation Trusts, the Act allows hospitals to prioritise profit-making activities at the expense of universal patient care. And, in Clinical Commissioning Groups, it has created an incredibly expensive and less accountable new bureaucracy, diverting funds from patient care.

More and more NHS care is being redefined as "non-core" and therefore potentially chargeable; the cumbersome bureaucracy created to charge migrants for their health care creates the machinery for that. Vote out the Tories to save the NHS.

My son applied to secondary school this year, and was offered a place in his fifth choice school, so this section is pretty personal to me. British state schools have been victims of damaging purely ideological reforms by both Conservative and Labour governments since 1979; the dramatic difference between the Labour years and the Tory years is that the former saw massive investment in school budgets while the latter has seen systematic disinvestment.

Investment in teachers, in teacher training, in existing and new school infrastructure have all collapsed under the Coalition government. Instead, money has been squandered on Free Schools, the gimmicky pet project of Michael Gove, whose only qualification for being education minister was that he once played a vicar in a comedy farce about a British private school. Free Schools have cost us an enormous amount, and there has been no evidence whatsoever of their success. Crucially, because they have been located wherever their sponsors want them to be located, they have completely failed to meet the demand for school places. Free Schools have therefore hindered a strategic response to the school place shortage crisis that this government should have seen coming. Vote out the Tories to save our schools.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Bob's election priorities no.2: Contain the rise of UKIP

I'm running out of time for this series, and I've left the most important posts for last...

UKIP's support has clearly receded after reaching its high tide mark; I think that my prediction in May still holds that when push comes to shove and the electorate actually votes on a government people will step back from the UKIP brink. However, we can't be complacent. Even if UKIP gets a single figure number of MPs (not the dozen or more it was  expecting a few weeks ago or the sizeable number its European election performance suggested), its presence in parliament is a very bad sign. The possibility of UKIP shoring up a minority Conservative government is even scarier (and surely far, far worse than the SNP shoring up a minority Labour government).

I guess in this post I only have four points I want to make.

1. UKIP is not the party of working people
It makes me infuriated that so many chattering class pundits trot out the line that UKIP is somehow speaking the voice of "the ordinary man" or the working class. This narrative has been boosted by Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford's concept of "the left behind", which found that the constituencies UKIP has polled well in are a little whiter, a little more working class and a lot older than the UK average, a fact that has been translated by the commentariat into the claim that UKIP appeals to working class people. In fact, Lord Ashcroft's polls are consistent in showing that UKIP's support is among C2 but not DE voters, and that it is unpopular among working class women and young working class people. Recent British Election Survey data finds it is a part of small businesses:

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Bob's election priorities no.3: Kick George Galloway out of British politics

This series is going slower than I meant, so I'll have to rush out the final three quick as polling day rushes nearer... We started with David Ward in Bradford East, and now turn to Bradford West...

George Galloway has been MP for Bradford West since 2012. This week, he faces a challenge from Naz Shah, a radical, credible candidate with an extraordinary and inspiring story. I wish her success in this election. Why?

1. Galloway does not serve the people of Bradford. From the moment of his victory in what he called the "Bradford Spring", when he tweeted about his "Blackburn triumph", it was clear he couldn't give a monkeys about his new constituency (later attempting to make out he was hacked by tweeting "Nice try. Password now changed").
George Galloway tweet naming Bradford victory as Blackburn
As far as I can tell from his Hansard record, he has mentioned Bradford once in parliament over the last year, while regularly mentioning Iraq and Palestine. His third? fifth? fourth wife, 31 years his junior, may or may not still live in the Netherlands, possibly eating in to his time in Yorkshire - although to be fair there are frequent KLM flights there from Leeds Bradford.

2. Galloway is basically a part-time MP. Although his links to his constituency are tenuous outside of election season, maybe he claws back a bit of time for Bradford by rarely turning up in Westminster. This year he's spoken in just four debates and attended  just a tenth of votes. On the other hand, he spends a lot of time in Beirut, where he is a TV star. He is, in fact, the third highest-earning MP in parliament. (The last prime minister is the highest earning, but gives it all to his charitable foundation. The other high earners are all Tory businessmen. Unsurprisingly,  MPs who earn the most from second jobs statistically "speak in fewer parliamentary debates, submit fewer written questions and miss more votes than other MPs".)

3. Galloway is a shill for dictators. So, what is he doing when he should be in Bradford or Westminster? Mainly, he is appearing on TV stations owned by authoritarian regimes: Iran's Press TV; the Kremlin-run RT (formerly Russia Today - on which see Nick Cohen, Oliver Bullough, James Bloodworth); and the Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen, which is politically supportive of Assad's murderous regime in Syria and is linked to Hezbollah (in fact, some claim it is owned by a cousin of Assad). These stations are not just based in authoritarian countries; they are PR mouthpieces for authoritarian regimes. Not only do they systematically distort the truth in the geopolitical interests of these extreme right-wing regimes, but they also regularly host Holocaust revisionists, 9/11 deniers, British fascists and other cranks. Galloway's politics fit in well with this; in a period when Assad's government, backed by Iran and armed by Russia. has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, Galloway has remained silent and actually used his scarce time in parliament to table a motion about a brief Israeli incursion into Syria claiming "dozens" of lives.

4. Whether or not Galloway is personally antisemitic, he contributes to an atmosphere in which antisemitic ideas move in to the mainstream. You'll know that a couple of months ago Galloway launched a libel claim against a Jewish journalist who suggested he might be antisemitic. I wouldn't suggest Galloway is personally antisemitic, but he seems to have a lot of time for people who are, and he seems very happy to cultivate an atmosphere around himself in which antisemitism can flourish. Galloway has championed antisemitic Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon (he reads Atzmon's book to his wife in bed, apparently.)  Respect has had to apologise for antisemites again and againSome point to Galloway's "Israel-free zone" claims and refusal to debate Israelis. This is bad for Bradford. Not long ago, Bradford Muslims saved its synagogue. Now, in an atmosphere nurtured by Galloway (and his Lib Dem twin in Bradford East) Bradford is a less comfortable place for Jews than it should be. [UPDATE: Read "A Jew in Bradford" by Ben Judah.] Most recently, Galloway has tweeted about Netanyahu celebrating his Muslim opponent's coming victory and retweets his followers' aggressive tweets about the synagogue. In fact, many of his most active supporters - people he regularly retweets - come across as antisemites, Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists - and antisemites have been at the heart of his coterie for some time

5. Galloway is a bully. Whether or not Galloway was being libelled when he was called an antisemitic, his response to the charge - immediately sending threatening legal letters - is a good example of his pattern of bullying. We can see this bullying in his interactions with Israeli students, his interactions with Syrian oppositionists. We can see it in his response to "ThingGate", the light-hearted tweet by a local small business which he threatened as if he the feudal boss of Bradford. In fact, we can see it throughout his pompous and testosterone-soaked social media style, including even his tweets to me
Most recently, we've seen his bullying in his interactions with his parliamentary opponent. Naz Shah was forced by her parents into marriage as a teenager, and her account of this has gone viral. At a very heated hustings event in Bradford, Galloway revealed that his agents in Pakistan had tracked down her marriage certificate, calling her a liar. 

6. Galloway's sexual politics are deeply reactionary. His claim that Naz Shah's marriage was not forced because her parents consented (even though she didn't) was, as Huma Munshi puts it, "playing politics with Shah’s history as a forced marriage survivor." It indicates how reactionary Galloway's sexual politics are. Not surprisingly for someone with multiple overlapping marriages to increasingly young women (some civil, some Islamic), who works for Putin and the mullahs of Iran as his day job, and who is deeply soaked in socially conservative Catholic morals, this would not be the first time that Galloway's reactionary sexual politics have come out. The most striking incident was when he claimed that even if allegations against his fellow Russia Today employee Julian Assange these would not constitute rape but rather just "bad sexual etiquette". Galloway just does not get that marriage without consent is rape, that sex with some not conscious and therefore not able to say no is rape. In short, he is effectively an apologist for rape.