Monday, December 31, 2018

My top posts of 2018

As usual, I am posting here my most-read posts of the year.

1. Jeremy Corbyn and Red Action: Sorting truth from smears (September)

This post examined a claim made by Andrew Gilligan in the Sunday Times about Jeremy Corbyn's involvement with 1980s/90s radical group Red Action, finding most of them to be basically false. 
Having looked at this fairly thoroughly now, whatever grains of truth in Gilligan's account are heavily diluted by half-truths and falsehoods. I am not making this point to defend Corbyn, but to defend truth. If Corbyn is to be indicted, let it be for things he actually did.

2. The return of Stalinism on the British left? (May)

After the proliferation of Stalinist banners on the annual TUC Mayday parade, and the election of a Stalinist as education officer of my local Momentum branch, this post looked at how Stalinism has returned to the British left. 
Every May Day, I feel a little more depressed. As a long-time Marxist and trade unionist, May Day should be my holiday. But watching the parade of Stalinist icons parade through London every year makes me feel shame rather than joy. Shame - but also fear about the direction the British labour movement is marching in.

3. Fact-checking the SPLC on Max Blumenthal, Part 1 (March)

In March, the Southern Poverty Law Centre published a report by Alex Reid Ross (the author of the book Against the Fascist Creep)  on left-right convergence. The SPLC took it down after legal bullying by Max Blumenthal, so I went through what the report said about Blumenthal and found it to be accurate. Here's part 2

4. In the time of the multipolar spin (April)

Not a particularly special post, but a round-up of recent writing on the fascist international, left-right convergence, disinformation and conspiracy. The title is taken from Reid Ross's SPLC report. 

5. Against the fascist creep, against left nationalism (December)

This post looked first at the convergence between the extreme far right and the conservative mainstream, embodied by the relationship between Tommy Robinson and Gerard Batten, then goes on to look at anti-fascist responses to this moment, including the dreadful response of the SWP's front organisations (Stand Up To Racism/Unite Against Fascism) as well as some (Novara-linked) parts of the Momentum left. Finally, it looks at how that dreadful response is shaped by a rising form of left nationalism, as diagnosed by Malcolm James and Sivamohan Valluvan.

6. Chris Williamson, Angela Nagle, Stand Up To Racism (November)

A slightly miscellaneous post on some things that were making me angry that month.

7. How a suicide attack on a civilian convoy was spun into a sectarian conspiracy (February)

This was a guest post by Anton Mukhamedov that I was privileged to publish, a very well-researched investigation of an explosion in the al-Rashideen neighbourhood of Western Aleppo on April 15, 2017, when buses evacuating civilians from the towns of Fu’ah and Kafriya besieged by rebels in Idlib province were targeted. It looks at how sectarianisation and then disinformation spun the story into a conspiracy theory.

8. Chris Williamson/Gilad Atzmon (December)

A late entry, looking at the odious antisemite Gilad Atzmon, and how shameful it is for a Labour MP to be defending him. 

9. Miscellaneous reads (January)

Nothing special about this post, but it was the first of a series of almost weekly round-up of key reads, plus included my top five posts of 2017.

10. Islamophobia turns left: Ben Norton and the Grayzone Project (March)

This post looked at how a section of the "anti-war" left has increasingly taken up Islamophobic, war on terror themes, using Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal's Grayzone Project as a case study.

Honourable mention: London is anti-fascist -- a few thoughts on #stopDFLA (October)

This post didn't make the top ten in terms of clicks, but it is one of the things I've written this year I'd most like you to read. It is about the far right DFLA and the mobilisations against it, and the two souls of anti-fascism (in Dave Renton's phrase) demonstrated in those mobilisations.


And here's my top tweets of the year:

Friday, December 21, 2018

The authoritarian war on journalism and dissent - and the fake left web personalities who front it

A great piece by Sulome Anderson on the damage done by the trust fund alt-left personalities Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, which reminded me to finish off my fact check of the Southern Poverty Law Centre report which Blumenthal threatened legal action over.
I refuse to watch as their targeted campaigns threaten the lives of rescue workers and doctors in Syria, the safety of freelance journalists in Nicaragua and the careers of reporters and academics who dare to investigate their own unsavory associations and ties to Russia.
I don't think I ever blogged about the second issue she mentions in that paragraph, the detention and deportation in October from Daniel Ortega's increasingly authoritarian Nicaragua of young anthropologist and journalist Carl David Goette-Luciak after a co-ordinated smear campaign against him in which Max Blumenthal played a part. Here is the Guardian, for which Goette-Luciak wrote:
Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) denounced what it called a targeted online campaign of smears and threats against Goette-Luciak. He was accused of being a CIA agent and of trying to undermine the government, and had his home address published online. 
The US blogger Max Blumenthal later published [on conspiracy site MintPress] a lengthy, insinuation-infused attack on the journalist that admitted “there is no evidence that Goette-Luciak is an asset of the CIA or any other US agency”. 
In his article, Blumenthal, who conducted an unquestioning interview with Ortega this year and has been criticised for his reporting on the Nicaraguan crisis, painted Goette-Luciak as a “novice reporter” acting as a “publicist” for a Nicaraguan opposition that was set on regime change. 
After publication of this article a lawyer for Blumenthal contacted the Guardian to emphasise there was nothing to suggest his reporting contributed to the deportation of Goette-Luciak.
Blumenthal's hit piece on Goette-Luciak was republished in the UK's hyper-partisan conspiracist clickbait blog TheCanary, which gained some controversy in the UK. My thread on this is below.

Charles Davis, a former Telesur journalist, has written about the case too, including how Norton and Blumenthal's Grayzone Project participated in an orchestrated attack on Goette-Luciak and on Nicaraguan dissidents. One part of this disinformation campaign was the creation of a fake journalist, "Charles Redvers", who somehow managed to get a piece published on openDemocracy.

The online ecoystem that includes Grayzone, MintPress, Russian state outlets such as RT, and Corbynista alt-media like TheCanary (and promoted by an actual Labour MP, Chris Williamson) is not just dangerous for promoting fake news and dodgy geopolitics. It is also actively colluding in smears against investigative journalists, in a dark time for the profession. As Anderson starts her piece with which this post began:
A revenue crisis driven by the Internet, President Trump’s attacks on a free press, widespread mistrust of traditional media — all these factors make a career in this field today extremely challenging. The consequences of this changing environment are strikingly reflected in a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which found that the number of journalists killed worldwide nearly doubled this year. 
...Reporting as close to the truth as possible and correcting inaccuracies when they occur are hallmarks of real journalism. Knowingly publishing lies to serve a political purpose is not journalism. It’s propaganda, and people who deal in that kind of information are not journalists. When their lies put others in danger, there should be consequences.
Labour activists need to stop promoting TheCanary and RT. The left as a whole need to shun the "alternative" media platforms that promote authoritarian regimes.


Chris Williamson/Gilad Atzmon

I recently posted on Chris Williamson, the odious Labour MP who really needs to have the party whip removed from him. I didn't think Williamson could stoop any lower than he has already, but today he signed a petition defending Gilad Atzmon, tweeted the petition, then deleted the tweet, and later wrote a half-arsed non-apology. (Atzmon had been banned by Islington council from playing there in the Blockheads. Not sure I approve of this ban, as when he is playing saxophone in someone else's band he hasn't got a platform for his politics. But given how toxic he is, I'm not going to complain about him being considered a pariah.)

If you don't know who Atzmon is, here's over 13 years' worth of my blogposts about him. The short version is he is an Israeli-born jazz musician who long ago renounced his Jewishness, became a Holocaust revisionist and antisemite. He is not only denounced by anti-fascists like Hope not Hate but also by anti-Zionists such as As’ad AbuKhalil, Michael Rosen and Tony Greenstein.

Williamson's apology to me reveals he is either more stupid or more dishonest than we already realised but either way confirming he doesn't care at all about racism against Jews. Because either he saw a petition complaining about someone being accused of antisemitism and just assumed the accusation was false without bothering to research it (in which case he is remarkably stupid and irresponsible, as well as automatically assumes accusations of antisemitism are always false) or he's lying.

And Williamson has a track record:
I haven't really looked to see if anyone is siding with Williamson, but there are some:

So far, Skwawkbox has retweeted Williamson's apology, but none of the other hyperpartisan Corbynite accounts have, and many influential figures on the party left (e.g. Mike Segalov, Dawn Foster) have sensibly criticised him, so maybe this spells the beginning of the end for Williamson. But somehow I doubt it.

I should also say that I find it irritating that he was never forced to apologise for his accolade for Vanessa Beeley, a cheer-leader for Assad's reign of terror in Syria (as well as another Atzmon fan), or that Williamson's support for Maduro's increasingly authoritarian regime in Venezuela doesn't attract more criticism. (For more on Williamson's terrible politics on Latin America, see Paul Canning's tweets, e.g. this thread. For more on how Williamson has promoted Kremlin-backed fake news on Syrian chemical attacks, see Victoria Freeman on Twitter.) Antisemitism has a corrosive influence on part of the Corbyn left, but the "anti-imperialist" blindness to suffering in Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere has a corrosive influence too and should make people just as angry.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Fact-checking the SPLC on Max Blumenthal, part 2

This - which has been languishing in my drafts folder for far too long - is part 2 of my attempt to fact-check Alex Reid Ross's spiked article for the SPLC on red-brown alliances, focusing on the claims about Max Blumenthal. Part 1 is here. (For Reid Ross' report: a Google cache is here, a PDF is here, and an archived version is here. It's been reblogged by CrashFast, Louis Proyect, MarxBordiga, Cautiously Pessimistic and (stripped of most links) AntidoteZine, or (with links) Glykosymoritis and Hummus for Thought.) My digging it out was inspired by this.

Claim #5: Blumenthal attended a pro-Kremlin shindig and became increasingly pro-Kremlin
Jill Stein in Moscow with Putin and Flynn, December 2015
Blumenthal at the event next to Charles Bausman
The report says:
Blumenthal was not as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics before he appeared at the same RT gala as disgraced former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in December 2015. During that occasion, he joined a panel called “Infowar: Will there be a winner” alongside Alt Right anti-Semite Charles Bausman of Russia Insider. A month later, Blumenthal’s pro-Kremlin position crystalized with the founding of the Grayzone Project.
It is easy to show that Blumenthal was not "as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics" before the gala: this post documents his earlier anti-Assad positions.

That Blumenthal attended the gala is a pretty widely reported fact:
Blumenthal has said he didn't "need" to get paid to do this gig, as he likes RT so much!
(This post discusses whether or not Blumenthal was paid to attend.)

What happened next?

These claims are made in some detail by Oz Katerji and Sam Charles Hamad in August 2017. They write:
Last March [2017], a live performance in support of Syrian first responders by a flashmob orchestra at New York’s Grand Central Station was physically disrupted by a group of six protesters. Within hours, the video of the disruption was uploaded to social media and promoted by an RT employee. Max Blumenthal, a blogger at Alternet, soon released documents that suggested the performance was organized by a pro-Syrian campaign group. 
Three participants in the protest have so far been identified: all have links to RT, the Russian state-funded propaganda network now under investigation by the U.S. government for its alleged interference in the last presidential election. ... Blumenthal, who amplified the story, is also a regular on RT... It is Blumenthal who with Alternet has created an effective beachhead in the US for Kremlin propaganda.

Things were not always thus. In 2012, Blumenthal had publicly resigned as a columnist from the pro-Assad Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, citing as his reason the paper’s publishing of cheerleaders who blamed Assad’s victims and maligned critical journalists. He likened their behavior to that of Israel’s apologists. Blumenthal has now dramatically resurrected himself as an apologist for Assad, a scourge of critical journalists, and a mirror image—by his own logic—of Israel’s apologists.
In December 2015, Blumenthal visited Moscow to attend the 10th anniversary of Kremlin propaganda network RT. He returned a changed man. A month later he founded the “Grayzone Project”, billed as an initiative for “confronting Islamophobia”, but in reality a home for Assad and Kremlin-friendly outcasts from leftwing blogosphere (Grayzone’s few Muslim writers quickly departed after they realised its true character).
The emergence of this axis presents a case study in the ideological realignments that are being instrumentalized by the Kremlin with fellow travellers on both the left and the far right. Its mercenary character is betrayed by its sloppy methods.
The claim is also backed up by Janine di Giovanni in the New York Review of Books:
Another prominent pro-Assad figure is Max Blumenthal. In 2012, he resigned from his position as a reporter for the English-language website for the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper in Beirut, for which he had written frequently about the plight of Palestinian refugees. In an open letter, he opposed to the paper’s pro-Assad views and its featuring of content by Sharmine Narwani and a writer named Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, whose work he called “malevolent propaganda.” In September 2013, Blumenthal went to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan on assignment for The Nation. He strongly opposed US intervention against Assad, but he wrote on Twitter that “100% of dozens I spoke to in Zaatari today want US intervention in Syria.” 
But then, in December 2015, as Russia was relentlessly bombing Syria, and doctors and civilians were being killed in Aleppo by barrel bombs, Blumenthal went to Moscow on a junket to celebrate RT’s tenth anniversary. We don’t know what happened during that visit, but afterward, Blumenthal’s views completely flipped. He has attacked not only the White Helmets but also Bana al-Abed, a nine-year-old girl who lived in rebel-held Aleppo and ran a Twitter account with her mother. The man who once wrote an essay called “The Right to Resist is Universal,” and attacked Narwani as an “Assad apologist,” now accuses anti-Assad Syrians of belonging to al-Qaeda and has claimed that the White Helmets were affiliated with the Islamist group.

Claim #6: Blumenthal attacked the White Helmets, which gained him an accusation of plagiarism by another Assadist blogger

The report says:

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Against the fascist creep, against left nationalism

The fascist creep: Tommy Robinson and the Brexiteers

Image result for "great brexit betrayal" robinson
One of the defining features of our current political moment is what Alex Reid Ross calls "the fascist creep" - how fascist ideas "migrate from left to right and right to left and how they surreptitiously slip into the heart of the body politic", as Tamir Bar-On puts it. This has two main dynamics. The first is what Dave Renton calls "the convergence", as far right ideas become increasingly acceptable in mainstream politics. (See also Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter on the mainstreaming of the far right).

This week has seen a grim example of this convergence, as UKIP's leader Gerard Batten announced he had hired "Tommy Robinson" - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - as an "advisor" on so-called "rape gangs" and prison reform. Yaxley-Lennon is formally ineligible to join the party, as he is a former member of both the fascist British National Party and his own English Defence League. And should be considered toxic for his constant incitement to hatred and violence. He is particularly ill-suited to advising on child sexual exploitation and criminal justice, given his own record of violent criminality, contempt of legal due process, lack of respect for women, and online sexual harassment of teenage girls.

Over the next few days, he was busy spreading fake news about the shocking Syrian refugee schoolboy bullying incident Huddersfield - fake news that will have had the effect of amplifying xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, and probably contribute to future attacks. This was all the more grim because it was his ideas that appear to have influenced the bully.
On Saturday 9 December, Yaxley-Lennon has announced he will lead a pro-Brexit march on parliament, under the strapline of “The Great Brexit Betrayal”. The elite's "stab in the back" is a right-wing trope of some vintage, most notoriously a theme of the Nazis

An illustration from a 1919 Austrian postcard showing a caricatured Jew stabbing the German Army in the back with a dagger. The capitulation was blamed upon the unpatriotic populace, the Socialists, Bolsheviks, the Weimar Republic, and especially the Jews. Source: Wikipedia
Like the discourses of "enemies of the people", "citizens of nowhere" and the "lying press", the "Great Betrayal" meme illustrates the way that Brexit has allowed fascist ideas to travel into the heart of our public discourse, creating a toxic, divisive, aggressive political culture that is genuinely dangerous.

No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain

A coalition of left groups, including the recently formed Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF) and Another Europe is Possible, and supported by Momentum, have called a mobilisation against Yaxley-Lennon's march, meeting at Portland Place at noon. (See this article by LARAF's Urte Macikene for more.)

Meanwhile, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), via its fronts Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Racism, has called a rival counter-demo. The SWP, among its many other faults, has always supported Brexit, which it sees as a great working class rebellion.

Bizarrely, as Coatesy documents here, not only the SWP but also the young radicals at Novara Media are attacking the counter-demonstration. Novara have published a piece by Callum Cant and Benjamin Walters which argues that making the anti-fascist march explicitly pro-Brexit allows Robinson to claim leadership of the 52% who voted Brexit rather than just the 10% who are potential fascists. They argue that anti-fascism requires narrow politics in order to achieve a broad base. David Rosenberg, who was part of last week's SWP-led "Unity demo", makes a similar argument in the Stalinist pro-Brexit Morning Star.

That would be a valid argument (although, as I'll argue in a second, wrong). But what seems less legit is Cant and Walters' and Rosenberg's sectarian attack on Another Europe is Possible (AEIP), which Cant and Walters call "an ultra-remain campaign group". They continue: "Whereas the Momentum-backed counter-protest is using the slogan ‘No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain’ without taking a line on Brexit, AEIP are linking together an ultra-remain position with an anti-fascist position." Rosenberg similarly claims that AEIP "has called a separate protest".* In fact, of course, the ‘No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain’ slogan is exactly the slogan Another Europe is marching under, co-sponsoring the whole event with Momentum, so this is rather confusing. Unless I'm missing something, AEIP are not proposing a separate protest, but simply organising an anti-Brexit bloc on the demo, just as there was a feminist bloc and a Brazilian bloc on the recent anti-DFLA demo.

Anti-fascism has always had to steer a difficult course. On one hand, an ultra-left purism exemplified by the Communist Party in its "Third Period", when it called the social democrats "social fascists" and saw the soft left as a more dangerous enemy than actual Nazis. (Kevin Ovenden accuses AEIP of "Third Period liberalism, but there is a bit of a ring of the Third Period from the Novara scene when they constantly blame "centrists" for the rise of fascism, and even argue that centrists like Macron are as bad as or even worse than fascists like Le Pen - much as many of their American comrades saw Trump as better than Hilary Clinton. Not surprisingly, the SWP blame Labour centrists for the rise of racism at exactly the same time as they argue for pro-Brexit "anti-fascism".) On the other hand, the lowest common denominator of the "Popular Front", which dilutes its anti-fascism as much as possible to unite everyone against the fascists - without any analysis of what makes fascism tick. (This has always been the approach of the SWP, who signed David Cameron up to Unite Against Fascism.) Cant and Walters say they want a "united front", but what they seem to be proposing is a popular front, an appeal to Brexit supporters, however reactionary. 

Despite its sectarianism and inaccuracy, the Novara piece was tweeted by Momentum and Owen Jones. Jones has also written a slightly softer plea for a non-anti-Brexit challenge to Robinson. The substantive argument is taken up by Michael Chessum:
It is quite true to say that Robinson is using the Brexit moment to recruit followers and bolster his credibility in the political mainstream. But that is only a fraction of the story. The narrative of national betrayal and imperial nostalgia is at the heart of Brexit, and always has been. The aim of the Brexit project was always to take the nastiest narratives on immigration, race and nationalism and, with the use of a popular vote, put these ideas on the winning side of history. At the moment, swathes of the left seem content to leave them there. 
For two years now, the British left has been trapped in a logic of triangulation on Brexit. The overwhelming majority of the left backed remain in 2016, and the overwhelming majority of Labour members now back a fresh referendum. But as Robinson and Ukip march, many on the left, hamstrung by loyalty to the Labour leadership’s fudge on the subject, will attempt to argue the impossible: that the left should oppose the far right, but accept its greatest achievement.
I think Chessum is correct. Brexit - taking control, stronger borders, stopping migration, turning back the clock, making Britain great again - has always been a fundamentally racist project. 

Against left nationalism
The fact that a significant part of the left has been won over to the essentially nationalist and implicitly racist Brexit project illustrates the second major dynamic of the fascist creep: the seepage of ideas between left and right to form novel "red-brown" political formations

Owen Jones and the Novara left are able to see how "centrists" such as Hilary Clinton or UnHerd play a role in sanitising far right ideas by bringing anti-immigration arguments into the mainstream. But they are blind to the same mechanism when it comes from the left.
Last week, I looked at Angela Nagle's "left" case for borders as one example of the new left nationalism. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian in The Nation argues, correctly in my view, that there is no left case for nationalism: "The willingness of the left to play by the far right’s rules and according to their narrative is part of what got us into this mess."

And yet large swathes of the left are playing by these far right rules. The support for Brexit by the SWP, Counterfire, the Socialist Party, George Galloway and especially the Morning Star would be one example - with many of the Novara-style new leftists sounding more and more like them, with the ridiculous idea of a "People's Brexit". Die Linke's Sahra Wagenknecht in Germany and La France Insoumise's Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France (the latter spoke at this year's Momentum fringe event, The World Transformed) increasingly articulate nationalist themes: France is no longer an "independent country", says Mélenchon; “Open borders in Europe means more competition for badly paid jobs,” says Wagenknecht.

Corbyn's obsession with nationalisation, protectionism and buying British speaks to a kind of economic nationalism, as Marxists Matt Bolton and FH Pitts, as well as centrists Denis MacShane, Oliver Kamm, Ben Chu and Sean O'Grady argue. This is a dangerous path for the left.

Malcolm James and Sivamohan Valluvan have a very long piece in Salvage on the left's failure to reckon with nationalism. I hope they don't mind if I quote a couple of long extracts from it, as their arguments against left nationalism are somewhat buried in their complex analysis of the current conjuncture.
As the dust settles on the [2017] election, nationalism has begun to return to left politics, parliamentary and otherwise – because it never left. In parliamentary Labour, we see Corbyn’s initial quietism on migrants’ rights accumulating a more recognisable anti-migrant language; we see it in the recent pronouncements of MPs Gloria De Piero and Graham Jones on the ‘white working class’; we see it in the formation of John Denham’s English Labour Network; but, perhaps more importantly, we also see it in the continued attempt by influential opinion-makers to lend anti-immigration sensibilities a more pronounced left-wing rationale...

Friday, November 23, 2018

Friday notes: Chris Williamson, Angela Nagle, Stand Up To Racism and more

In this post, why I hate Chris Williamson, why the "left" case against migration is dangerous, and why the left needs to stop promoting SWP fronts, plus a brief round-up of other reading...

Chris Williamson

This week Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North, is in the news as a group of London Labour student societies have refused to work with Westminster CLP after it invited Williamson, citing his antisemitism. I don't know if Williamson is "an antisemite" - I tend to reserve that term for people with a deep-seated ideological commitment to an explicitly antisemitic worldview - but I do know that he has time and again denied, minimised, apologised for or defended antisemitism in the Labour Party and is odious for lots of other reasons too.

The letter from Tessa Milligan in the Twitter thread starting here (unrolled here) gives a fairly comprehensive list of the times Williamson  defended racists and Holocaust deniers or shared a platform with expelled Labour Party members. Here is a petition calling for the party to withdraw the whip from him because of this. Here are all of The Red Roar's posts on him, including about his basically Tory policies as council leader in Derby. Here is Anti-Nazis United documenting how often he retweets antisemites.

For me, one of the most unforgivable things Williamson has done is promote Vanessa Beeley, a war crimes denier and fake news merchant. Here is an extract from Oz Katerji in the New Statesman on this incident:
Williamson, who was attending the Beautiful Days festival, tweeted of his “privilege” in meeting Vanessa Beeley, a blogger who described meeting the Syrian regime’s war criminal president Bashar al Assad as her “proudest moment” and has waged a relentless campaign of lies and distortion to promote the Assad regime abroad.
This is not Williamson’s first dalliance with pro-Assad trutherism, having voiced doubts over allegations that Assad was responsible for the gas attack on Douma while addressing a protest outside parliament in April 2018. Williamson has been no stranger to causing offence to Jewish Labour members in recent months, so his endorsement this week of Beeley, who has also been accused of anti-Semitism, marks another new low for the Labour party. 
Responding in kind to Williamson’s endorsement, Beeley said in a Facebook post “Hats off to Chris Williamson, Labour MP - a genuine human being.”... 
Williamson’s tweet provoked immediate condemnation, drawing a strong response from James O’Brien, who called Williamson a “disgrace” and referred to Beeley as “Assad’s very own Alex Jones.” 
The Washington Post’s Middle East correspondent, Louisa Loveluck, responded to Williamson’s endorsement of Beeley’s “reporting” with: “Beeley has justified the use of incendiary weapons against civilians, recycled and championed debunked conspiracy theories, and described a meeting with Assad as her proudest moment. This is cheerleading, not reporting.”
Noting that Beeley has viciously slandered the late Jo Cox (Beeley "has shamelessly accused her of being a “warmongering Blairite” and “al-Qaeda advocate” endorsing a policy of “wholesale devastation” on Syria.) Oz argues that the Labour Party has a choice between being the party of Jo Cox or the party of Chris Williamson.

Williamson's support for Assadism is of a piece with his wider geopolitical commitments: a vulgar form of Cold War second camp "anti-imperialism", in which any force, however authoritarian, that is opposed to "the West", is seen as heroic. Hence his backing for Maduro's increasingly repressive government in Venezuela.

And this vulgar anti-imperialist worldview is dangerous today, as it is easily weaponised by Russia, one of the most malignant global powers - hence Williamson's regular appearances on RT and other Russian government platforms (including on the show hosted by George Galloway), and in particular why his attempts to claim Russia wasn't to blame for the Salisbury chemical attack is so ominous.

Angela Nagle and the "left" case against no borders

US alt-left writer Angela Nagle has attracted some controversy for arguing - in an ultra-conservative outlet - that the left needs to take a strong pro-border position. 

Thankfully, Nagle's piece has received quite a bit of pushback. Here's a critique by Mike Isaacson and another by sherbu-kteer at libcom and a Twitter thread by Tipping the Elements. For background, here is a long article on Marx and migration which Nagle misquoted, and a related post on MRZine against left nativism. here is a sharp review of Nagle's Kill All Normies by Jules Joanne Gleeson in the New Socialist, Mike Harmon on Nagle's plagiarism of right-wing sources, and Libcom on what's wrong with Kill All Normies.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton said the way to combat populism is to push for stronger borders. Not surprisingly, the luxury automated left (Owen Jones, Aaron Bastani etc) leapt to criticise Clinton, repeating their familiar mantra that centrism somehow always leads to fascism. But their failure to criticise leftists such as John McDonnell or Angela Nagle who say the same thing speaks volumes.

Stand Up To Racism

I have continued to be enraged that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is not universally treated as a pariah on the British left, given its history of rape cover up, promotion of Holocaust deniers, and generally destructive and parasitical role in relation to any positive social movement it touches. The SWP's "anti-fascist" fronts - "Stand Up To Racism", "Unite Against Fascism" (UAF) and "Love Music Hate Racism" - are key vehicles through which the SWP launders its reputation, reaches out to the broader left/liberal world, and attracts vulnerable young recruits.

This month saw the #N17unity march, which was ostensibly organised by all three of these organisations (a joke given the three organisations are staffed by the exactly same people). The significance of the event is two-fold. It is the first major outing for the "Unite Against Fascism" brand, which was mostly shelved in favour of the "Stand Up To Racism" brand after the Martin Smith/Comrade Delta scandal became too high profile - and as such marks a rehabilitation of the brand. Second, in the wake of the disturbing rise of fascism (and John McDonnell's comment that we need another Anti-Nazi League), the demonstration appears to have attracted widespread support from the mainstream Labour left, which is coup for the SWP. 

Here is an extract from a Red Roar piece which asks the right questions:
After the rape scandal caused huge damage to its reputation on the left, the SWP set up several front groups to draw in new support, as well as funds, from people who might be repelled by the controversial party’s brand. Weyman Bennett, a member of the SWP’s central committee, became the co-convenor of Stand Up To Racism, Joint-Secretary of UAF, and Director of Love Music Hate Racism. Not only are the same SWP figures behind these organisations, their social media accounts regularly tweet identical messages
Labour frontbenchers, trade union leaders, and other public figures co-signed a letter earlier this month promoting the demonstration in The Guardian, which made no mention of its organisers. This was almost certainly a conscious decision to avoid the criticism Jeremy Corbyn and others faced for addressing a 2016 demo organised the SWP. Indeed, Weyman Bennett’s name was left off the signatories entirely. 
In 2016, journalists Owen Jones, Dawn Foster, Abi Wilkinson, and Laurie Penny, as well as figures from alt-left sites Evolve Politics and Novara Media, protested Corbyn’s appearance at the Stand Up To Racism event with letters, social media posts, and articles in national newspapers. This time around, that criticism was nowhere to be seen. Most of the well-known signatories of a letter calling on Corbyn to “not let the SWP rebuild itself through Stand Up To Racism” two years ago stayed silent during the weekend’s march, while Owen Jones and Aaron Bastani retweeted several posts carrying its hashtags. 
So why have previously outspoken critics of the SWP given in to this “cult which covered up rape”? And why do organisations with membership numbers and resources far outweighing the SWP continue to support its front organisations?


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Friday, November 02, 2018

The American right: armed and dangerous

I was struck by how much the apparent recent white nationalist terror attackers in the US, alleged pipe bomber Cesar Sayoc and alleged Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers, shared memes that were grimly familiar to me from encountering (mainly left-wing) Assad supporters on social media:

In the rest of this post, some important reads in light of last weeks racist attacks,

Deborah Lipstadt: Three lessons on antisemitism in the wake of Pittsburgh. Read the whole thing, but here are the three lessons:
  1. Do not look for haters only on the other side of the political transom. Those on the political left who only see antisemitism on the right have blinded themselves to what is happening in their own midst. Those on the political right, who are only concerned about the “lefties” on the campus and beyond, are blind to what is happening next to them.
  2. We may never change the minds of people who send pipe bombs or enter a sanctuary with guns blazing. But we can stop them from influencing others. This year, at Thanksgiving dinner, when your curmudgeon uncle or successful cousin (not all haters are old and ornery) begins to rant about Jews, Blacks, Muslims, and LGBTQs who are ruining this country, do not sit idly by. Challenge them. Do so, not to change their minds, but to reach others – especially young people – who are listening and watching and learning. Silence is an imprimatur for hate and prejudice.
  3. Do not think that this attack is only about Jews. It may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. And conversely, it may start with others – Muslims, African Americans, LGBTQ identifying folks – but it will ultimately reach Jews. Lost in the legitimate media attention to the pipe bomber and the Pittsburgh murderer was the fact a few days earlier in Kentucky two African Americans were murdered outside a supermarket by a white nationalist. He had tried to gain access to a predominantly African American church but found the doors locked. Instead, he went to the nearby mall to find some Blacks to kill. And he did.

And it continues...

And this is a really fascinating long read, with my summary of it in the thread below the fold:

Why JVL were wrong to re-write anti-fascist history in the wake of Pittsburgh

A brief thread on Jewish Voice for Labour's deleted tweet about anti-fascism.

Friday, October 26, 2018

London is anti-fascist: a few thoughts on #stopDFLA

This post is about events in central London on Saturday 13th October, based on my own experience and on reports on social media. First, a brief report of what happened (a fuller account can be taken from my Twitter Moment linked here and embedded at the end of the post), then a few thoughts.

Who are the DFLA (and are they fascist)?

The Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) is a splinter from the original Football Lads Alliance (FLA), itself basically modeled on the likes of the English Defence League (EDL) and its German spin-off Hogesa: its main purpose is to mobilise men on the streets to symbolically take a stand against the purported Islamisation of England. The DFLA claims to be against all extremism, but its focus, as with the EDL and Pegida, has been Muslims, who it primarily frame as terrorist members of grooming gangs trying to impose Sharia law on the UK.

 DFLA marchers 13 October
Image: Wheatley/WENN, via Daily Mirror
Personally, while I don't swallow its "anti-extremist" posturing, I don't think the DFLA is "fascist" as such. To be sure, lots of the individuals who came out for them on Saturday are fascist, veterans of previous waves of NF/BNP organisation, and groups like National Action have a well-documented toe-hold in the movement. But its leadership and many of the football casuals it brings out aren't fascist. Instead, I think it's better to think of the DFLA as "proto-fascist", as a far right street army with the potential to radicalise further, and the very present danger of intimidating Muslim and other minority Londoners that cross its path, as with the Muslim woman bus-driver harassed by participants in the July Free Tommy march. The fact that their presence on the streets, with hardcore Nazis among them, leads to such intimidation is why it is important anti-fascists physically resist that presence, even if they are not strictly speaking a fascist organisation.

On Saturday 13 October, the DFLA held a march in central London, promising thousands of participants. Media reports said the organisers were marching against "returning jihadists", "thousands of Awol migrants", "rape gangs and groomers", and "veterans treated like traitors". The march was meant to be a "silent" protest to commemorate the victims of grooming gangs, but from the get-go was pretty un-silent. At most a thousand marchers - predominantly older men, many of them drunk - turned up.

We go where want: the anti-fascist response

There were two counter-demonstrations. A Unity demo, using the hashtag #stopDLFA, was called by several groups including the Anti-Fascist Network, Women's Strike and Plan C, assembled at Portland Place and, led by women, marched south with the intention of blocking the path of the DFLA. Estimates of numbers for this march are between 700 and 1500, almost certainly over 1000 at peak. Chants included "London is anti-fascist", "Whose streets? Our streets", "Alerta! Alerta! Antifascista!" Home-made placards mixed with black and red flags. There were Kurdish groups, a couple of trade unions, and a group of Brazilian women building for a forthcoming anti-Bolsonaro demonstration.

In addition, members of the Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism (FLAF), co-ordinating with the Unity demo, moved around the area, including local pubs.

A second demo was organised on Whitehall by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) front, Stand Up To Racism (SUTR - also known as Unite Against Fascism, UAF), jointly with Owen Jones and Momentum; this was static and probably peaked at over 1000, ebbing away to a couple of hundred after a series of the usual speeches by SWP leaders, trade unionists, etc.

Around Pall Mall, the Unity demo blocked the path of the DFLA march, and police decided to cut the latter short. Only a handful of DFLA activists made it though to their rally. Others turned violently against the police, a few unsuccessfully tried to charge at the #stopDFLA contingent, and some stood across police lines from the demo and jeered and threw Nazi salutes, while others retired to various pubs.

Militant anti-fascism need not be macho posturing

The #stopDLFA Unity demo was one of the largest autonomous anti-fascist mobilisations in the UK for some time, and was carefully stewarded for maximum safety. While some media reports emphasised "black-clad" and masked up antifa, the contingent itself was colourful as well as diverse. Childcare was organised; the Queercare collective handed out vegan and non-vegan supplies; and a mobile sound system played a mix grime and feminist punk and disco anthems.

The feminist politics and majority female composition of the march were an important departure from the macho posturing that sometimes accompanies militant anti-fascism. Participants of every size, shape and ability, and quite a range of ages, felt confident, safe and empowered.

With street-focused proto-fascist groups like the DFLA, EDL and Pegida UK (as opposed to more "political" groups such as the BNP during its electoral period), muscular physical presence in public space is both the modus operandi and objective. The Proud Boys in the US similarly speak to a desperate attempt to bolster male pride. The DFLA, rooted in Loyalist parade politics and football casual subculture, only thrives (like the EDL before it)when it can give its members the pleasure of mass presence on the street - hence far right groups' use of the football casual slogan "We go where we want". When this is stymied, when they can't go where they want, they lose the glamour that sustains them. When it is literally a bunch of girls that stops them going where they want, the insult to their fragile masculinity is even more humiliating.

This kind of far right mobilisation is a gender issue in another way too. Protecting white girls from male Muslim predators - grooming gangs - is the core rallying cry for the DFLA. If the DFLA was genuinely concerned about the women and girls who are victims of male violence, they would be organising against all its forms, whoever its perpetrators, not just when sexual exploitation is carried out by brown-skinned Muslims. Their fake feminism needs to be exposed.

The two souls of anti-fascism

Dave Renton - anti-fascist historian and former SWP member - wrote a really nice post about the march called "The two souls of anti-fascism". Here's an extract:
There were 1500 people on the march, and the name “unity” is richly deserved... The result of these many small mobilisations was a large and exuberant protest, with songs (“I will survive”), purple smoke from flares, chants. The protest was led by Women’s Strike Assembly and placed women at the front... The unity march was youthful, and vibrant...
The SUtR, protest was very different from the unity march. Small numbers of older men were standing far back from police lines. They were kettled, and making no effort to break out from the lines behind which they were constricted. There were in effect two stages – a DFLA stage on the North side of Whitehall, and a UAF stage on the South side, with two sets of speakers pointing away from each other. A single police helicopter made a desultory pretence of flying over the two. The UAF march did not confront the DFLA nor did the organisers have any intention of doing so. 
The history of the left gives many examples of a campaign which was at once stage hegemonic on the left giving way to a younger, more political and more combative rival... While SUtR was content behind its kettle, and the young were marching elsewhere, they were still chanting slogans first heard on SUtR protests. 
Even SUtR derives its heritage, if increasingly distantly, from the Anti-Nazi League and the SWP of the 1970s, part of whose adoption of anti-fascism was part of a longer-term plan of replacing the ageing Communist Party of Great Britain as the largest organization force outside Labour on the left. From the perspective of generational and political renewal, it is very easy to see which forces are going to be the mainstays of anti-fascism in the decades to come.
I don't think Renton is exactly right though. The two anti-fascisms on the streets of London on the 13th were not just two generations, but two fundamentally different forms of mobilisation. Even when the SWP's Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was generationally ascendant, the form its leadership molded it into was top-down, vertically organised, and non-confrontational. 

Resultado de imagen de cable street fliers
Communist leaflet mobilising members for
the Hyde Park fund-raiser,
with last minute alteration
calling people to Cable Street
The history of anti-fascism is the history of these two warring souls. 
  • In the 1920s, thousands of Italian war veterans, trade unionists, anarchists and socialists formed Arditi del Popolo, people's squads, to fight Mussolini's Blackshirts - autonomous, self-organised groups in working class neighbourhoods across Italy - but the Socialist Party (which signed a "pacification pact" with Mussolini) and the Communist Party both proscribed the squads, and defused the resistance to fascism. 
  • In the 1930s, working class Jews in the East End - the targets of fascist violence - organised militant grassroots groups to combat Mosley's growing movement, as described by Joe Jacobs in Out of the Ghetto. Without pressure from this movement, the Communist Party leadership would not have been at Cable Street in October 1936, as they had a big fund-raiser planned at Hyde Park - and before long the grassroots anti-fascist groups were closed down by the CP. 
  • After the Nazi defeat in 1944, anti-fascist ("Antifa") committees were spontaneously formed across Germany to confront Nazi criminals and Nazi underground partisans. They involved social democrats, Communists and members of the independent Marxist KPO. They were banned by the occupying powers in the West - but also closed down in the East unless they obeyed the commands of Communist Party, for whom a Stalinist version of "anti-fascism" was an official ideology.
  • Again in the 1970s, with the National Front on the rise, autonomous, democratic anti-fascist anti-racist committees were formed across the UK, some black-led, some with close links to local trades councils. The SWP's launch of the totally un-democratic ANL closed down the space for these autonomous groups, sometimes setting up branches in direct competition with them, sometimes absorbing them and setting policy from above. The ANL in turn would be shut down by the SWP leadership when it had served its primary purpose of recruiting youngsters into the party. Those youngsters who actually wanted to carry on fighting fascists were denounced as "squadists" and expelled (an episode whitewashed in Renton's ANL history, When we touched the Sky, written when he was still an SWP member - hopefully addressed better in his forthcoming Never Again).
  • The expelled "squadists" played a key role in setting up Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which combined street-fighting militancy with thoroughly democratic structures. With the BNP on the rise in the 1990s, and increasing numbers of people participating in AFA mobilisations, the SWP sniffed a new market and cynically relaunched the ANL, once again replacing autonomous, horizontally organised anti-fascism with a heavily branded, top-down, non-confrontational version based around mass rallies, mass-produced lollipop placards and tedious speeches by trade union bureaucrats, rather than actual confrontation with fascism. 
In all of these historic periods, in the struggle between the two souls of anti-fascism the autonomous,  militant soul has generally lost out: usually more effective at fighting fascists, it has lacked the ruthlessness and the weight of numbers packed by official structures led by Stalinists, the SWP and/or trade union bureaucrats. I fear that will happen again to the new generation of anti-fascists represented by the unity demo, especially while Momentum and several Labour MPs continue to promote the SWP's SUTR front.

The mainstream media cannot report militant anti-fascism

One of the ways in which top-down anti-fascism out-organises autonomous militant anti-fascism is that it is able to cultivate contacts in the mainstream media in order to generate publicity. And another is that, spending money donated by unions on branded placards means they are able to dominate the visual narrative.

The mainstream media coverage of the DFLA counter-protest, exemplified by this dreadful article by Damien Gayle in the Guardian, managed to get more or less everything wrong, giving the false impression that SUTR stopped the DFLA from marching, reproducing a hackneyed version of the unity demo as "black-clad anti-fascist protestors", and writing out the role of women in leading the resistance.
The summer of 2017 - the events of Charlottesville and the eruption of "Antifa" into the mainstream consciousness - showed clearly how the media don't know how to report autonomous, militant anti-fascism. With rare exceptions (Jason Wilson and... well, probably that's it), journalists from normie publications had no idea what to make of it. Their misreporting - making it seem like a single organisation with members and leaders, for example - helped fuel right-wing conspiracy theories.

This failure of the mainstream media is particularly dangerous when various forms of "alt" media offer plausible and appealing hyper-partisan (and often fake) counter-narratives.

What next?

The Free Tommy march in June saw over 20,000 participants - ten or twenty times Saturday 13th's piss-poor offering. It is not unlikely that, with Yaxley-Lennon's endorsement, one of the right-wing street movements can mobilise that (and more) again. As the country becomes more polarised around Brexit, the far right has huge growth potential. We had the numbers to defeat them on Saturday, but we will have to work hard - and reach out beyond the activist scene - to outnumber a crowd of 20,000 or more. As David Renton has written this week:
While the left were right to see the protests against the DFLA as a step forwards, we need to grasp that the biggest threat is not a clapped out bunch of football hooligans organising in the style of party. Rather it’s the online right, the people who are surfing the moment around us by talking about culture, about Muslims, the people with their alternative facts who have a passive aggressive streak a mile wide and who shift from street to electoral politics without settling down in either. The ones who deny that they are political and organise as a social movement. 
The greater the influence of their ideas, the less we are heard. And the other side are far ahead of us…
Another danger is in the recent attempt by UKIP leader Gerard Batten to court the DFLA. UKIP's bid for electoral respectability and the hooligan fascist image of the EDL have in the past meant that the street army side of the new far right and the suit and tie version have not managed to coalesce before. After the Brexit referendum meant UKIP needed re-purposing, and with the street army lacking the baggage of the EDL brand, a convergence is now more likely, offering the potential for something more like Germany's AfD, no doubt cheer-led by the pseudo-intellectual idiots at Spiked/UnHerd. Antifa-style street politics cannot counter that kind of threat.

And the rage and resentment DFLA feed off continue to be stoked by the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that mainstream politicians, mainly but not only on the right, continue to peddle. Again, the challenge of building an everyday anti-racist culture that can resist that is far bigger than the one-off challenge of getting activists on the street, and will require us to win over allies from far more mainstream milieus than we reached on Saturday.

We can celebrate our victory now, but I fear for the future.