Friday, November 24, 2006

Congratulations Derek

The Green arty have elected Derek Wall as the new male principal speaker. He stood as a socialist, and marxist, so this is a significant vote.

His main opponent Keith taylor is a much more conventional and conservative figure, but with a high profile as he is a councillor in Brighton.

The Green Party does not have a "leader", and instead has two principal speakers, one male and one female. Only the male position was coontested, and Sian Berry was elected unoppsed to the female poistion.

The final ballot results were:
Keith Taylor 705
Derek Wall 767

Derek also won the first round voting with 657 first preference votes.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A prison of measured time

The increasing financial scandal revolving around London’s Olympic bid should come as no surprise. Indeed opponents of the Olympics predicted exactly this before the deal was even signed. For example, Kevin Blowe wrote (PDF) " According to the Auditor-General of New South Wales, Sydney 2000 ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures. In Athens, total costs will be at least four times as high as the bid committee's initial budget. It is worth remembering that twelve months before the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the government needed to provide an emergency cash injection of £105m."

According to Kevin: "In Sydney, underused venues are costing taxpayers A$46m (£18m) a year to keep afloat and will lose money for at least another decade. The Super Dome, where the closing ceremony was held, recently went into receivership. After the Athens Games, the Greeks face a £6.25bn debt and £60m a year for the upkeep of its unused facilities."

It is a measure of the weakness of the left in England - both ideologically and organisationally - that there is no credible campaign against the 2012 Olympics.

Two yeas ago I wrote an article, pointing out the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that £340 million will be channelled from the existing sports lottery distributors. So the Olympics will actually take money away from participative sport provision for ordinary people, and channel it towards elite professional athletes.

Already for the Beijing Olympics planned for 2008 UK Sport, the body that distributes funding under the World Class performance Programme is spending £57.5 million supporting just 320 elite competitors, plus a further £16 million to their sporting bodies. This Includes £600000 to support one professional weightlifter; £5.3 million for the equestrian team, £2 million for high diving, and over £1 million for the archery team.

The sporting ideal represented by the Olympics was described the French Marxist, Jean-Marie Brohm, as "physical torture put on as entertainment … held up as politically neutral and culturally legitimate". This is absolutely correct, and there is far too little critical examination of the negative effect of competitive sport pushing the human body to the limits of its physical capacity. For example the British marathon runner Paula Radcliife has explained that her distinctive head rolling while running is a mechanism for dealing with the debilitating pain she experiences. A French army instructor recently expressed the philosophy brilliantly on TV, saying "pain is weakness leaving the body"

It is instructive that the sports which exemplify the Olympics are those based upon direct comparative measurement: for example, athletics, swimming, weightlifting, cycling, skiing and boxing. The competition is between those who can best sublimate their human individuality and transform their body into a machine for producing the most efficient performance: the transformation of human beings into abstract physical labour that can be measured and compared. It is no coincidence that the origin of these alienated sports where the element of play is entirely absent coincided with the emergence of wage labour as the dominant relationship of production; a process which removed play and enjoyment from the daily experience of productive labour.

Of course, the increased popularity of weightlifting and aerobic exercise in gyms and fitness clubs is due not only to an increasing cultural recognition of the benefits of exercise, but also because the endorphin rush experienced when the body is pushed to the limits of its physical strength or endurance is genuinely pleasurable. This is a legitimate and (in moderation) a healthy and beneficial leisure activity

However, to compete at an international level subverts the pleasure and benefit of moderate physical exercise and turns it into a masochistic regime where human beings are subordinated to maximising the outputs of their own bodies, even at the cost of their long term health or mental well being. The Olympics - and even more so the Tour de France – are dominated by performance enhancing drugs, and the effective collusion by the sports’ governing bodies.

What is more, the training infrastructure and the development of sports science is much more advanced in the developed economies of the imperialist powers. So every four years the Olympics gives an opportunity for the great powers to ideologically demonstrate that their world dominance is underpinned by an implicit biological and racial superiority. This is one of the impetuses behind the prestige of holding the games – an orgy of conspicuous consumption that validates the host nation as a major power.

I have written other articles on the Olympics that may be of interest:

On Munich

And on sport in the DDR. (I didn’t know until recently that the Australian state explicitly copied the sport infrastructure of the DDR!)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Art by Palestinian prisoners

The following works were made by Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli camps.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

RAF Brize Norton demo 2nd December

Well I suppose I should plug this, as the whole thing was my idea in the first place:
Troops Out Now
End the Occupations Iraq and Afghanistan
Saturday 2nd December
Assemble 12pm to start at 1pm

Here is one we made earlier: >

Brize Norton is Britain's largest military base, and the transport hub for all British troops going in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.RAF Brize Norton is the base from which all British troops are flown to Iraq and Afghanistan, and where they return to (alive and dead). This national demonstration to the gates of the base is to demand immediate withdrawal of British troops.

RAF Brize Norton was also used to refuel American military flights transporting munitions from Kelly air force base in the USA to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, taking bombs to be used by the Israeli Defense Force in the war on Lebanon.

We want to see the largest possible demonstration on 2nd December. Our message is simple. Bring the British troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop using British bases to support the occupations of those countries.

Kate Hudson, CND
Jeremy Corbyn, rebel Labour MP
Caroline Lucas, Green MEP
Felicity Arbuthnot, journalist and researcher
Rosie Kane MSP or Colin Fox MSP, Scottish Socialist Party
Plus two other speakers from national Stop the War to be confirmed.

Master of Ceremonies:
Andy Newman, Secretary of Swindon Stop the War Coalition

Called by: Oxford CND, Oxford StWC, Oxford Trades Union Council, Faringdon Peace Group, Swindon StWC and CND, Bristol StWC. Supported nationally by Stop the War Coalition, Voices in the Wilderness, CND, Green party, Scottish Socialist Party. I am sure it is also supported by other organisations, but these are the ones who have actually told us!

This is currently the top billed item on the national Stop the War website

Dowload the leaflet here:

Getting there by Public Transport: geta coach or train to Oxford and then there is a coach from Oxford train station, organised by Oxford CND

Leaves at 11;15 am.

phone Nuala on 01865 749459 to book

(£5.50 / £3.50 concessions)

Getting there by car - there will be car parking arranged on the dsay and a shuttle bus to the start - check the national Stop the war website for details nearer the time.

Or please contact you local Stop the War or other Paece group and check if they are putting on transport.

So I hope you come on the day, Apart from anyting else there is occassional sceptisim by some peace activists about how democratic the Stop the war Coalition is. Well we moved the idea for this demo at conference, the motion was passed, and now the demo is taking place - so pretty democratic I think.

The Apartheid Road Systems

The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is not one of political rhetoric. It is an accurate use of the definition of apartheid, which is parallel social systems in the same land for different ethnic groups.

Let us look at roads in the occupied territories; here we see the construction of an entirely separate infrastructure of road building to connect the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank with Israel and the illegally annexed city of East Jerusalem.

These roads are modern, and protected by walls or fencing to prevent Palestinians approaching them. In some parts of the West bank, the “wall” is a fence. Ththe following picture illustrates that it is not just a fence. There are motion detectors and CCTV cameras. The section of fence below protects the settler only road to the illegal colonists’ encampment at Har Homa. The picture shows two Palestinian persons on foot who had walked a few hundred metres from their homes in a Greek orthodox housing settlement just left of the picture (The Zionists are planning to demolish this Christian settlement in Bethlehem during the next few months – as they say it is too near the wall). As soon as these pedestrians came close to the wall, three vehicles appeared from Har Homa – presumably security personnel– and pulled up to intimidate them. Although it is hard to see in the picture, the Jews are armed with machine pistols – and they were not passers by, they came down from Har Homa just because a Palestinian was seen near “their” road. A road built on Palestinian land.

In addition, the wall is being used to systematically disrupt the transport infrastructure of the Palestinian economy. The following picture of the wall, built in Jerusalem, (considerable to the east of the “Green Line” – the 1967 borders) directly blocks the main Jerusalem to Jericho road. This road has existed for thousands of years, and is now completely blocked.

All Palestinian towns are being restricted to only one access road, which is controlled usually by 18 year old Israeli conscripts, who may capriciously grant or deny access at whim. The following photograph shows how the Zionists have blocked one of the roads into Hebron.

I met two women who had been stopped on their way to maternity hospitals. Jewish settlers of course would be whizzed to hospital unimpeded on their separate road system.

The Israeli army also uses the Palestinian roads, rather than the settler roads to move their Panzers. The heavy, tracked vehicles do enormous damage.

When the wall is built around the industrial town of Beit Fajjar, the Zionists are going to permanently block the current (already inadequate) tarmaced road, and the only route in and out will be via the following track, that is bare rock. (It looks white because it is covered in marble dust from quarrying)

The disruption and destruction of the Palestinian road system means that the cost of car ownership is higher for Palestinians than for the colonialist settlers. What is more, economic development for the Palestinians – we must keep reminding ourselves that this is all within the occupied territories of the West Bank – is being undermined. Whereas the illegal settlements are being bound into the Israeli economy by their developing road system. This is two different economic systems for two peoples on the same land. This is apartheid.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Burn, baby, Burn!

Last night, as part of our regular series of socialist films in Swindon, we showed “Burn” directed by Gillo Pontecovo. The Portuguese language version “Quemada” is unavailable, and in any event the original cinema release in Britain was dubbed, and in the curious way that spaghetti westerns work, the dubbing somehow adds to the exoticism and authenticity.

This is an amazing film, and Marlon Brando plays Sir William Walker, the same actually existing historical character who was subject of Alex Cox’s piss-poor 1987 film, “Walker”. (It was an tremendous conceit of Cox that he sought to surpass the Pontecovo and Brando film!) Rather improving upon history, Pontecovo makes Walker an Englishman, an agent provocateur who stirs up slave revolt and a movement for national liberation from Portugal, in the interests of the British crown and sugar companies.

Nothing is simple, as Brando creates his own Toussaint Louverture, by manipulating a slave rebellion, under the leadership of amazingly charismatic actor, Evaristo Marquez. Simultaneously, he coaches the slave owners towards recognising the advantages of wage labour and independence, and the necessity of heading off the slave revolt into constitutional paths. In arguments of acute contemporary relevence when the film was made, the victorious slave army find that their cultural poverty undermines the potential of their victory over colonialism - they simply need the expertise of the former slave owners.

Brando pulls off an amazing role, because he is both historically convincing as a charming agent of perfidious Albion, while at the same time his part allows him to express in words, for the benefit of the audience, the developing realisation of their class interests by the capitalists and rebellious slaves. Had the role been played by a lesser actor (Ed Harris in "Walker", for example!), this would have been creaky, but the animal presence of Brando leaves no room for scepticism.

Ten years later, Brando returns as the agent of the sugar companies, and provokes a coup, the introduction of British troops, and a classic Vietnam style counter-insurgency war (The film was made in 1969!) to destroy the guerrillas, who have taken to arms again once they realise that wage labour is just another form of slavery. The final victory goes to Evaristo Marquez, who choses to hang, rather than be given freedom at the whim of his conquerors, thus he keeps the spirt of rebellion alive. As his fictional character, General Jose Dolores, explains: freedom is not worth having if it is given, it has to be taken.

It is inexplicable that this film is so little known.

We'll miss you Jack

Sometimes people die, who you have never met, and quite unexpectedly you realise that they represented something important to you, and their passing means that a little of yourself has also gone. The world is a little less innocent, as a part of the security of your own past is buried with them.

So I was surprisingly moved to hear that Jack Palance had died. Partly of course I am mourning the character of Jack Wilson. Never has murder seemed so glamorous. In Shane, perhaps the greatest example of Hollywood film making, Palance plays a dandy gunslinger, a hired gun for the cattle barons. But you know that Alan Ladd’s Shane character has been no better than him in the past, and Wilson is an externalisation of the dangerous edge in Shane that Jean Arthur’s character is drawn to in preference to the dull farmer Van Heflin. Perhaps the most subtle and poignant portrayal in film of a shared love that can never be.

In one of the most gripping moments in the film Palance mercilessly guns down small farmer, Frank Torrey, played by Elisha Cook Jnr. It is a cathartic moment, as Torrey is an archetype of the 1950s western, the decent, nostalgic former confederate soldier (so often cropping up in John Ford westerns). Palance mocks “Robert E Lee and his rebel trash” and then shoots Torrey down like a dog. I cheer every time! This machine kills fascists!

Palance also starred in Attack in 1953. The full impact of this movie is hard to appreciate in these more cynical days, but it was political dynamite when it was made, while the corpses of WW2 were still warm in the memory. The first ever film to show political and financial corruption, and class conflict in the US military. A curiously European type of war movie, that ends not in patriotic catharsis and validation like so many American war films, but in betrayal, futility and anonymous carnage in a pointless and god-forsaken backwater of France. This was one of Palance’s most electric performances, and it is a must see film.

Palance also played Castro in the film, Che, but I have never seen it Perhaps it is best that way!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Palestinian Unity government?

The possibility of a national unity government in the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a very significant development, and the offer by Hamas prime Minister Ismail Haniya to step down is a welcome one.. Following last year’s election Hamas formed a government in March this year. Funding from the European Union and the USA was stopped, and millions of Sheckels collected as tariffs on behalf of the PA by Israel have been withheld, in defiance of Israel’s obligations under the Oslo agreement.

As a result the PA has simply failed to function. There has been no money for salaries, and the workers of the PA have been on strike for 7 months. There is no postal service, the schools are closed, hospitals and clinics are working with a skeleton staff and most non-emergency work has ceased. The closure of the PA has also meant that export licences and other documentation cannot be issued – so almost all of Palestine’s international trade has stopped. The largest industrial export sector – quarried stone – has almost completely stopped work, laying thousands of stone cutters into desperate poverty, and several factories have gone bankrupt. Agricultural exports have also stopped. What is more,, there is almost no tourism, due to the war in Lebanon. In some Palestinian towns, Bethlehem and the illegally annexed East Jerusalem, tourism has been the most significant industry. In short the international siege has driven the Palestinian people to the brink of disaster.

The USA, withdrawing funding from a project for children >

The vindictiveness of the sanctions can be seen by a simple example of the project for a childrens’ playground at the village of Beir Fajjar, a village by the way that elected Fattah and not Hamas. Following the election result USAID cancelled a grant of $30000, and the playground is not to be completed.

The hypocrisy of the sanctions can be seen by the fact that Israel is continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, in clear defiance of international law that land cannot be gained by conquest, and in defiance of their own commitments in the Oslo accords. Yet US aid to Israel continues unabated.

So could the stalemate have been avoided. Some responsibility lies with Hamas. They achieved 44% of the vote, which was only 38% of those entitled to vote. Yet they insisted in treating their victory as a mandate for a complete change in direction, with all cabinet posts held by Hamas members, and their withdrawing government recognition of Israel. The election result really gave them no popular mandate for this. It has largely been Hamas who have procrastinated and delayed forming a national unity government that could undermine the excuses for the siege.

Some of the responsibility lies with Fattah. They lost the election because they promised victory and delivered defeat, they promised peace and delivered only continued occupation and escalating Jewish settlement. The low level corruption and graft could have been tolerated had the Palestinian Authority that resulted from Oslo brought some improvement for the Palestinian people as a whole, but it only truly benefited the political elite of Fattah.

Arguably as the Israelis have no intention of holding to their side of Oslo, and the PA can offer no servcies, the Palestinains would be better abandoning the pretensions of the PA, and thereby putting responsibility for the welfare of the civilian population back to the Israelis as the occupying power

Huge responsibility lies with the Israelis. The Oslo accords have been systematically broken, abused and cynically set aside. The Zionist have never wanted peace, the only peace they want is the peace of the Palestinians herded into reservations, starved, disease ridden and broken. Their continued settlements and annexation of East Jerusalem offer no viable future for twin states. The elections were fairly conducted by the Palestinians, but undermined by the Israelis, who even refused to allow campaigning by West Bank politicians in Gaza, and vice versa. They created the conditions of Hamas’s victory, and couldn’t believe their luck as the international community denounced Hamas as terrorists and withdrew funding.

So what of this boycott? It is hard to justify or explain at any level, except as a deliberate intervention by the EU, and European powers, orchestrated from Washington, to support Israel’s policy of annexing the West Bank, slice by slice, and hemming the indigenous population into walled reservations. Comparisons are often made with Apartheid, in truth it is a political project more in common with the driving off their land in the nineteenth century of the Native Americans, or aboriginal Australians.

Hamas does not recognise the state of Israel. Well actually neither does Saudi Arabia, but the Western powers don’t seem to mind that. Hamas's militia has been on cease fire for two years, but they reserve the right to conduct military operations against Israel. Well actually that is a legal rights for occupied peoples, and there is no dispute in International Law that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied. But a bigger inconsistency is that the sanctions are because of Hamas’s political programme, and the fact they have an armed militia. But surely it is illogical and inconsistent to apply sanctions against the Palestinian Authority over the programme and activities of one political party? By all means the EU and USA would be entitled to not finance Hamas itself, but why withdraw agreed subsidies from the PA State, who are a separate entity from Hamas, and provide public services like schools and hospitals?

If they are worried about the growth of anti-Western feeling in the Arab world, then apply sanctions to Israel!

Friday, November 10, 2006

A day out in Hebron

The brutality of Israel as a settler society is most starkly seen in Hebron. This is a town of around 220 000 people. It is not only surrounded by Zionist settlements (There are nearly half a million Zionists illegally settled in the West bank), but there are also around 300 ultra orthodox Jews settled in the old city itself, protected by an entire brigade (4000 troops) of the Israeli army (IDF)

It is worth saying a few things about the settlers. They fall into two categories, the economic settlers – where Israeli state policy subsidises migration into the West Bank, with low rents, tax rebates, etc. There are also the ideological settlers, like in the centre of Hebron. These ideological settlers do not work, they receive generous salaries from the state just to live in Arab areas, ,and their presence justifies huge repressive presence from the IDF and disrupts economic life and civil society for the Palestinians.

The economic settlements are linked by the road structure (special roads just for settlers) to Jeruslelem in an East-West axis, and the wall built allegedly to protect them hems in the Palestinian towns, like Bethlehem, and prevents economic expansion. The development of any independent Palestinian economy would need to grow north south, along the axis of Ramallah, East Jeruselem (currently entirely illegally annexed by the Zionists into “Israel” although it represents a full 40% on the Palestinian GDP), Bethlehem and Hebron. The pattern of settlements (and the road/wall infrastructure that supports it) makes economic independence impossible because it cuts at right angles across the natural geography of the West Bank.

For anyone used to the bustling life of an Arab souk, the old city of Hebron is a shock. The settlers have placed concrete blocks in the road to stop vehicular access to the shops, and the settlers also live cheek by jowl with Palestinian neighbours – this means to protect them there are soldiers stationed on all the roofs. The settlers – nearly all American born, but some French) live like pigs and throw their rubbish and detritus down into the street below, which has required the Palestinians to erect mesh roofs over the streets. As a result the souk is almost completely empty.

Note in the following picture, the house on the left is occupied by Palestians, the house on the right by ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers. Note that the settlers' house is poorly maintained and slovenly, and they have the army on the roof to protect them!

Settlers throw rubbish and waste out of their windows into the Arab streets below - their objective is to make life so intolerable for the Arabs that the leave.

Would you want to go shopping with an occupying army literally looking over you!

We met one man who has had two children killed by the settler family next door, trying to get him to move. Of course the settlers have de facto complete legal immunity. They have also offered him $1 million to move but he will not, especially after them murdering his children. But there is also the practical issue that he stands in the front line, and if he moves, his cousin next door will be next in turn for harassment. Literally 3 metres away from this man’s roof terrace is an IDF post on the settler’s roof, so close you can talk to the young soldier there. (you can see him on the left of the photo sticking his head out a gap in the mesh)

The Zionists have also stolen the souls of street children, these ultra poor urchins (as young as 9 or 10) are sometimes paid to act as spies by the IDF, and after a while payment stops, and they are then blackmailed instead, that the IDF will tell the Palestinians. Some of these children have gone on to commit assassinations for the Zionists.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

HI I'm back


Well, I have been away for a while in Palestine. Although I had read a lot about the situation, the reality is more disturbing, and the experience was more personal than I was expecting.

I will write more about it by and by. But I start with one thought. Often in the West we read well meaning discussions separating out the Islamists, the suicide bombers, secular traditions and the workers movement as if they are discrete and separate.

In reality they are all jumbled up. This picture was hanging – with pride of place - in a trade union office. It is a picture of one of their members, a manual worker in a stone cutting factory, who martyred himself in a suicide bombing attack against the Zionists. He was a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs, itself a further level of confusion as Al Aqsa is linked to Fatah, which is effectively the pro-business party in Palestine, and is a nominally secular organisation, but names itself after the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and note the image of the dome of the rock mosque on the poster.

The brave young Palestinians who have engaged in martyrdom operations against Israel are not separate from mainstream Palestinian society. Look at this young man, fashionably dressed, not a fanatic or someone intrinsicly different from us, but someone responding to intolerable oppression, and apartheid discrimination. A brave young worker, and trade unionist, prepared to take up arms againt the military occupation and attempted anexation of his country.