Wednesday, January 31, 2007



Unfortunately, I couldn't make the TU4John meeting last night but don't despair as there's a good report by Marsha Jane over at Union Futures about the meeting and there's information about the new TU4John blog.

EU embargo punishes Palestinian children

Palestine's empty schools:

Yesterday’s report by the British committee of MPs, the Commons Select Committee on International Development, argued that the financial embargo of EU aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) is having a disastrous effect.

This is certainly true, for example most schools in Palestine have been shut since March 2006, as the staff have not been paid and are therefore on strike. The photographs here show a school in the village of Beir Fajjar, where normally 80% of the girls go on the higher education. Their families know that success in education is an escape route for their children.

Britain and the EU is also silent while Israel withholds tax and customs revenues collected by them on behalf of the PA in occupied East Jeruslaelm, and Israel. This is Palestine's money, and the tax collectioon is a key term of the Oslo agreement, that Israel in now in breach of.

The violent context that Palestinian children are raised under, with an occupation army on their streets, is reflected by signs banning weapons in the schools.

The strike is causing extreme distress, and children are not being educated. The class for the oldest girls coming up the their university entrance exams is being taught just 2 or 3 hours per week on an unpaid voluntary basis by the head teacher.

Note that the financial embargo is intended to punish Hamas, but this town did not vote for Hamas, and the children have no vote at all. The graffiti by the school door is for the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Sentinel and "censorship"

Readers may have noticed a number of postings from Sentinel complaining of censorship in some threads.

The background to this is that Sentinel has sought to post a number of comments that want to frame the debate about crime around the context of immigration. He has also posted comments that we feel inappropriate about Jews.

These comments have been deleted, as we do not want to provide a platform for these debates, and readers interested are referred to Sentinel’s own blog. Sentinel keeps re-posting them, and we keep deleting them.

We regard the accusation of censorship is inaccurate. We are not preventing Sentinel’s views being published elsewhere, but we do wish to exercise editorial control, to ensure that the SU blog remains a discussion forum for the left, and is not a space that colludes with the promotion in racist attitudes.

Sentinel may not personally be a racist, I don’t know, but to debate race and crime in the terms that he wishes to debate would provide a space for racists to join the discussion. There are plenty of other forums where that can take placed, and we do not wish to join them.

Currently, Sentinel is repeatedly posting nuisance comments to this blog, with the stated intention of forcing us to introduce comment moderation. We have no intention of introducing moderation, which would stifle debate, and instead we will delete inappropriate comments from Sentinel.

United Left winds up

Last weekend the United Left met in Glasgow to dissolve their organisation. The United Left was the platform within the SSP supportive of the current leadership.

It seems that now that the platforms hostile to the broad party concept, the SWP and CWI, have left the SSP, the United Left do not consider it necessary or desirable to continue as a separate organisation.

I am not sure of the wisdom of this move, because one of the problems over the last few years was the lack of any forum for those in the SSP committed to the broad party model to discuss strategy and tactics - as the former ISM platform was non-functional.

Without a transparent mechanism as a party platform then such discussions take place behind the scenes between individuals in the charmed inner circle. Which was to a large part the problem with how the Sheridan affair was handled.

And if the party is a broad one, then any mechanisms within the party as a whole to develop cadre must also be pluralistic. The strength of their being a transparent platform is that it can openly develop a Marxist cadre, while still allowing the party as a whole to be pluralist.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gilad Atzmon threatens libel

Thanks to Tony Greenstein who posted this on UKLN e-list:

"Many people will be aware of who Gilad Atzmon is. An ex-Israeli jazz player and anti-Semite who has become a Christian fundamentalist.

"Sue Blackwell is the Birmingham University lecturer who successfully moved a motion at the Association of University Teachers 2005 Conference supporting a boycott of Israel. She has a 'Nazi Alert' webpage which features Atzmon and it is this he has taken exception to.

"Although Sue has not called Atzmon a neo-nazi or a Holocaust Denier, there is no doubt that when not consorting with the SWP he enjoys the convivial company of a variety of anti-Semitic fruitcakes such as Israel Shamir and Paul Eisen. His own website is replete with Jewish conspiracy articles. Atzmon has hired lawyers who have sent a letter threatening Sue with defamation proceedings. "

In a gesture of solidarity the Socialist Unity Blog reproduce here the contents of Sue's Web-page.

Sue Blackwell's site says:

Some notorious far-right individuals and organisations are jumping onto the Palestinian bandwagon in an attempt to hijack the cause of the Palestinian people for their own anti-semitic ends. Other people, who should know better, are supporting them. Recent examples are:

Gilad Atzmon - Jewish (ex-Israeli) Jazz musician who unfortunately supports Shamir and has distributed Eisen's articles. He has spoken and played music at the SWP's annual Marxism event. In 2005 he was recently invited to promote his recent book, "My one and only love", at Bookmarks, the SWP's London bookshop. This event was picketed by Jews Against Zionism. Here are some links:
SWP statement about the Bookmarks picket - entirely predictable and doesn't answer the crucial questions.
How did the far Left manage to slip into bed with the Jew-hating Right? David Aaronovitch in the Times, 28th June 2005.
Bizarre article by Mary Rizzo in Counterpunch - defending Atzmon while attacking Jewish socialist Tony Greenstein.
Why Palestinian Solidarity Activists Must Reject Anti-Semitism: A Reply to Mary Rizzo's "Who's Afraid of Gilad Atzmon" - Tony Greenstein's reply (published here since Counterpunch refused him a right of reply!)
Open Letter to Counterpunch: Who's Afraid of Gilad Atzmon and the Holocaust Deniers?
On Gilad Atzmon Report by Greg Dropkin on Labournet, 28th July 2005. This was circulated as part of an impromptu and free-running debate with Gilad Atzmon during his talk before the performance at the Manchester Jazz Festival.
The Socialist Workers Party - Apologists for Racism? Statement from Jews against Zionism, on the Socialist Unity website.

I am Legend

I am intrigued to see that a third film version of Richard Matheson’s deeply disturbing vampire novel, “I am Legend” is currently in production. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, the last man alive, as the rest of the human race have succumbed to a disease that turns them into vampires.

Sometimes popular fiction transcends its own limitations and strikes a deep cultural resonance. The 1954 novel is remarkably contemporary, both in exploring the themes of solitude and memory so characteristic of the post-modern American novelist, Paul Auster, but also in the brutality of its post-apocalyptic vision, as dealt with recently by Cormac McCarthy in “the Road”.

It would be wrong to say that “I am Legend” provides a simple metaphor for anything, but certainly the paranoia and hopelessness it so starkly lays bare is informed by the cold war, and the 1950s concerns about nuclear Armageddon and the enemy within of Communist subversion. These themes run again in a world preoccupied with the fear of Islamist terrorism, and the Clash of Civilisations.

Matheson took the very interesting approach of providing a medical rationalisation for vampirism. This gives an added frisson to the story in a world coping with an AIDS pandemic. Indeed some of the details of the novel, such as the fact that some vampires carry the virus but have not developed the full disease might seem a crass parody of HIV/AIDS had they not been written 30 years before the disease appeared.

The casting of Will Smith will prove either disastrous or inspired, depending on whether or not he is allowed to develop into the disturbed and obsessed monster that Neville becomes in the book. If he can play against his own natural character and subvert the sympathy that the audience normally has for him, then he may be uniquely qualified to carry off the dark and philosophical twist that the book ends with. We need to continue to identify with Neville’s character beyond the boundaries of our own civilised morality, and share his experiences as he descends into animal barbarity that we don’t want to know we are capable of.

The two previous film versions of the book (“The last man on earth”, 1964, and “The Omega man” 1971) have shied away from the philosophical and very subversive ending. Normality has been subverted: the Vampires are the new human society, and Neville is the monster. If the new movie accepts this subversion then it could be a great picture.

The presence of Will Smith means that “I am Legend” will not be a routine slasher movie: he is too “A-list” for that. But the very mainstream nature of the film may prevent it sharing the subversive ending of the book. The omens are not good, as it is produced by Akiva Goldsman, who was behind the appalling “Beautiful Mind”, and is directed by Francis Lawrence, who relied far too much on special effects for “Constantine” (2005).

But whether or not the movie lives up to its promise, I would certainly recommend reading the book.

Monday, January 29, 2007

SWP expels leading member

I have waited a couple of weeks before breaking this news, because I wanted to hear it from independent sources, so as not to compromise those SWP members who told me earlier in confidence.

Respect National Council member, Ger Francis, has been expelled by the SWP, over Ger’s role in swinging a selection of candidates in Birmingham contrary to the SWP’s wishes.

This isn’t just gossip, because the relationship between the SWP and broader left projects such as Respect, is a vital part of the left landscape in these islands. Indeed, the recent decision of ISG members, Alan Thornett and John Lister to withdraw from Respect’s national officers’ group leaves Respect without a fig leaf.

Ger’s expulsion raises some important issues.

Firstly, the constant argument used by Respect’s supporters, usually SWP members, is that it has achieved electoral success.

This is true, but there is need for some perspective, and I carried out the following analysis of the 2005 general election. (See also my psephological round up in 2004, and this analysis of the European elections.) “Respect's good votes predominantly came in about 10 constituencies, where there was no prospect of a Tory victory, and where there were large Moslem populations.”

The 2006 local elections reinforced this trend, and it was remarkable that most Respect councillors elected were Muslims. Jim Jepps analysed the 2006 election results , and demonstrated that there was nothing unique about the preference of Respect’s voters supporting Muslim candidates in wards with a large Asian population. Instead: “there is a strong tendency for the voters of all the parties to favour (sometimes only slightly) candidates with Asian names over those with non-Asian names”

However, Respect’s over-identification with the Muslim community did raise an obstacle towards Respect growing beyond that small proportion of voters for whom the Iraq war was the overriding issue. The SWP in Birmingham wanted the candidate for the 2007 local council elections to have a gender and political balance that better reflected the diversity of Birmingham’s population. However Ger Francis both argued against and voted against the SWP in favour of a slate of candidates with a preponderance of Muslim men. For this he was expelled.

This is a serious blow for Respect, as if the elections result in their base of elected councillors being even more predominately Muslim, then they have lost perhaps they last chance to break out of the bridgehead they have established. Ger seems to have pandered to a backwards and incorrect position that electoral success requires Asian candidates.

As I have argued before the electoral success of respect has simultaneously strengthened the existence of a space to the left of labour, while creating an obstacle to the left actually filling that space.

Of course the other problem for Respect is that is not only seen as an SWP front, it is an SWP front. As Liam Mac Uaid reports: “The problem was distilled to its essence by one comrade who put the question "How can I ask someone to join Respect? It's got a MP who does what he wants, no internal political life and is dominated by a semi-Stalinist organisation?"”

The rise and fall of Ger Francis exemplifies the unacknowledged “star system” that the SWP employs.

This was described by the now defunct International Socialism Group as follows: “Once a new perspective is declared, a new cadre is selected from the top down. The CC select the organisers, who select the district and branch committees - any elections that take place are carried out on the basis of `slates' so that it is virtually impossible for members to vote against the slate proposed by the leadership. Any members who have doubts or disagreements are written off as `burnt out' and, depending on their reaction to this, may be marginalised within the party and even expelled. These methods have been disastrous for the SWP in a number of ways: Each new perspective requires a new cadre (below the level of the CC), so the existing cadre are actively marginalised in the party. In this way, the SWP has failed to build a stable and experienced cadre capable of acting independently of the leadership.” (This ISG has no relation to the current USFI section, also called ISG)

Sadly, Ger was and is a political thug. He has played a disastrous role in both Birmingham Stop the war Coalition, and the Socialist Alliance, as has been fully documented by Sue Blackwell and Rumy Hassan. Ger polarised the left in Birmingham, using bureaucratic manoeuvres and allegedly even physical intimidation, to exclude those, like Steve Godward, who were regarded as “unhelpful” to the implementation of every wheeze that came from London. Instead of developing an empowering environment for independent minded activists, Birmingham SWP have sought to reduce the anti war movement to an army of automatons who will do what they are told. Ger was a star comrade because he got “results”. As recently as last September he was re-elected as an SWP member back onto Respect’s national Council. Even after being sacked as a full timer in 2002 he remained the SWP’s main figure in Birmingham Stop the War Coalition.

Because the SWP does not have any internal democratic mechanisms for the cadre to independently debate and resolve these sort of differences, the political gap between Ger and the London leadership has been conducted by the granting and then withdrawal of patronage. This political culture has allowed the SWP itself to operate for a number of years, relatively insulated from the harsh political climate, but it is a serious obstacle when it comes to working with other activists more used to the traditional democratic norms of the British labour movement.

BNP trade union slithers to the surface

The British National Party is set to formally launch its scab union, Solidarity, on the 24 February at an undisclosed venue in central London. It is the latest attempt by the BNP to attract working class voters away from Labour. ‘Solidarity, The British Workers Union’ was registered with the certification in December 2005 but it has yet to hold a formal public event. This will change this month when it holds its first Annual Meeting.

Solidarity claims that it will be a normal trade union defending the interests of any British worker, but in reality it will be simply a front for the BNP. Given the BNP’s views on trade unionism and industrial relations, Solidarity will be little more than a scab union.
According to documents lodged with the Certification Office, which regulates matters concerning trade unions, Solidarity aims to “improve the relations between employers and employees throughout all industries served by the union”.

The BNP has been at pains to pretend that Solidarity is an “independent” union, not linked to any political party. It even installed former National Front leader, Patrick Harrington, who now runs Third Way, as its President. It even wrote a letter to the Communication Workers Union denouncing an article in its union journal claiming that Solidarity was a scab fascist union.
“We are not as a 'front' group for anyone,” the scab union wrote in it letter. “Solidarity calls for the unity of all workers on a progressive platform.”

The BNP has attempted to hide its involvement in Solidarity. The documents submitted to the certification office made no mention of the BNP, however it did state its intention to set up a Political Fund and “print, publish, issue and circulate” literature that “may seem conducive to the … objects of Solidarity”.

But let there be no mistake about it, this is a BNP front. The President of Solidarity is Patrick Harrington but the project is coordinated by Clive Potter, a long-time BNP activist from Leicester, who was expelled from Unison for improper conduct. The Solidarity address traces back to Potter’s home. Other BNP activists involved in the project include Jay Lee, who was recently booted out of Aslef, and John Walker, the BNP’s national treasurer, who has had his own troubles with the T&G.

The establishment of Solidarity appears to be a natural continuation of the party’s turn to working-class politics which began in 2000 and quickened over the past two years. The second edition of the Solidarity bulletin focuses extensively on the issue of migrant workers.
Solidarity is unlikely to ever take off. To operate formally as a union it needs to agreements with employers and a proven record of activity, neither of which it is likely to achieve.

Searchlight will posting any more details of the Solidarity AGM on

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shame, Truth & "Source Protection Theory"

Peter Preston is in fine form in today’s unobservant Observer. He devotes his column to the question of brave investigate journalism and the state-sanctioned assassinations in Northern Ireland. To set the stage, though, Preston showers deserved praise on the journalists Seymour Hersh and Pedro J Ramirez for uncovering and reporting the state-sanctioned assassinations by the CIA and Spanish agents. Hersh and Ramirez, Preston writes, should "take a bow – brave, determined journalists doing their jobs…" Indeed.

He contrasts their courage with the gutlessness of Blighty’s reporting community: "…hang your British heads in shame," he fulminates. The champion of investigative journalism thunders on: "Did any battling Hersh or Ramirez figure expose that at the time? No. And nor was it much exposed last week, when the province’s Police Ombudsman published her chilling report." Quite so.

Preston is aghast at the pitiful commentary emanating from the moribund British press regarding state-sanctioned assassination: "Just five or six paragraphs buried inside the Sun [that paragon of investigative journalism] and the Mirror." Our shining but infuriated knight is distressed by the rest of the press concentrating on lesser issues: "recycling problems in the Indy, inheritance taxes in the Mail, courts short of cash in the Times and judges getting stroppy over rape trial reforms in the Guardian." The condemnation, the fury finally peaks, and St Peter tells it like it is: "It’s a bizarre, shaming blindness. Not uncovering the truth is bad enough. Not blazoning it when somebody else has it worse." Never a truer word written.

It was, Preston reminds us, not long after that "A hundred thousand Turks walked in silence at the funeral of murdered Armenian [sic. He was a Turk of Armenian extraction] editor last week. They showed us how important good journalism can be. But nobody walked the walk, or even talked the talk, on the streets of Belfast – or Whitehall". The shame of it all.

Brave reporters are one thing, but having an editor with a backbone is an entirely different thing. All the Hershes and Ramirezes in the world is not much use if your editor is a jellyfish. Boasting a "D.Phil in source protection theory", Preston knows how many beans make five. He also knows that the cardinal rule of journalism is you never compromise a source. Preston, however, was not in the mood for a bit of "source protection" (alright in "theory", not in practice) or "uncovering the truth" when the PC Plods of "Special" Branch came knocking at the Guardian. Editor at the time, Preston was in possession of documents leaked by Sarah Tisdall, a young Foreign Office clerk. Rather than doing the Hersh and Ramirez stuff, Preston, rather than showing the Hersh spirit or stalling for time or even eating the damned papers, presented the info sharpish. And Tisdall went to the slammer.

This is no mere case of a dog returning to its own vomit, but a canine passing off the spew as the choicest cut of beef. Has Preston gone mad? Possibly he’s senile and can’t quite remember the name Sarah Tisdall. Maybe this is Preston’s attempt at some sort of rehabilitation. If so, this unseemly foray as ambassador of investigative journalism compounds the disgrace that will justifiably haunt him to the end.

Law and disorder

"My kind of justice is swift, effective and matches the crime". John Reid, Home Secretary.

It has been a bad week for John Reid. You can just imagine him, can’t you, choking on his own bile while “pleading” with magistrates not to lock up criminals who have committed minor offences. The reason being is that the prison population of England and Wales is hovering around its capacity of about 80,000 places. Reid’s woes have increased as he has been condemned from different quarters of the establishment.

Since New Labour case to power the prison population has risen by more than 24%. A first time burglar is twice as likely to get banged up now than under the Tories. The female prison population has risen to over 146% in 10 years. Around 7, 700 inmates attempted to injure themselves in 2003. The number of adults serving sentences under 12 months is up 160% since 1999. Around 1 in 5 people held on remand are acquitted of any crime.

Welcome to Western Europe’s jail capital. It is estimated by the Home Office that the prison population will be 190,600 by 2010! It is getting higher and higher but in words of David Blunkett, when challenged a couple of years ago over the increase of the female prison population, “build more prisons”!

The prison system incarcerates petty criminals, innocent people, vulnerable mentally distressed men and women and teenagers (the imprisoning of 15-17 year olds has increased over the past 10 years and 13 under-21 year olds committed suicide while in prison including on remand in 2005). But don’t let that stop New Labour in their continued crusade for votes ‘cos crime pays.

Since New Labour came to power in 1997, apparently 600 new criminal offences have been created. ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) which have shown not to work and now Reid is pushing for “behaviour orders" for people considered to be at risk of committing a violent crime. This Philip K Dick scenario has all the hallmarks of the proposals to the changes to the Mental Health Bill which states that someone who has been labelled with a severe personality disorder who might commit a crime could potentially be locked up (incidentally the Lords have rejected these proposals but one way or another New Labour is desperate to railroad these measures into law).

New Labour’s frightening political trajectory is authoritarian. Meaningless hollow rhetoric: “Tough on crime and the causes of crime”, a plethora of attacks on civil liberties, populist punitiveness, a promise to build another 8,000 prison places by 2011, prison ships, the abolition of an independent and critical Prison Inspectorate, more privatised jails, a crackdown on early release, attacks on trial by jury, and “victim” impact evidence to be included in trials. And the wider picture includes attacks on legal aid which means the poor won’t get a fair trial but rough justice.

A fundamentally better understanding of crime is to examine the inequalities and power relationships which exist in a patriarchal capitalist society. These inequalities are reflected within the prison population. It is not just a simply a case of pouring money into probation and rehabilitation but in wider economic and social changes which includes an equitable education system, better housing, public services and a better way of understanding each other.

This current society is riddled with alienation and atomisation. The ethos is of individualism and a dog-eat-dog mentality. The collective is left out of the equation. One area which would reduce the prison population and criminalisation is legalising the drugs industry as prohibition doesn’t work. But New Labour isn’t interested in creating a more inclusive and cohesive society instead quick fixes and vote winners are the name of the game and the continuation of neo-liberal policies.

Rosa Luxemburg argued: “Barbarism or Socialism”. I would argue that we are not at the crossroads anymore but half way down the barbarism route. It may sound depressing of me but a society that bases itself on a system that reduces people to a commodity in order to be exploited underpinned by an ideology that simply believes in “understanding a little less condemning a little more” exposes the way human beings are only worth what they can be used for.

Capitalism is the anti-social society.

NB: John “not fit for purpose” Reid has come up with a spectacular though cunning plan to ease the prison overload. He’s proposing to create 2,500 prison spaces by the end of the year by building cells on existing prison sites and reopening disused jail buildings.

Well, this is the man who compares tackling Home Office problems to home renovation. Nice one John, a very imaginative solution but maybe just stick to painting and decorating, eh.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Pensions Salesman In The Woodpile

A leading candidate to head the Committee for Racial Equality was forced to apologise after making the derogatory remark “that’s the pension salesman in the woodpile”. Aware of the controversy brewing, the man posted an apology on the CRE’s website after a female member of staff, whose partner is a pensions salesman, made a complaint.

“Pensions salesmen are human too,” the woman said. “If they are cut, do they not bleed?” she added. Mr Phillip Trevors, a spokesman for the CRE, read from a hurriedly prepared statement: “The CRE exists to combat bigotry and we shall be launching an inquiry into this disturbing occurrence. Nevertheless, a national debate on multi-pensionism is needed. Pensions salesmen are not like the rest of us, if you know what I mean. The host community, almost all of whom are not pensions salesmen, feel uncomfortable with their alien ways. They bring down the house prices, steal our jobs and rape our women. Some of my best friends are pensions salesmen.”

Mr Matthews works for Standard Life.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Good reasons for renewing Trident

Defence Minister, Des Browne, gave two brilliant reasons for renewing Trident in a speech on Thursady to health profesionals at Kings College, London.

(By coincidence, while he was speaking some 30 other doctors, nurses and health professionals were protesting outside Faslane against the nuclear insanity. )

Des's arguments are pretty good:

Argument one: What if Hitler had possessed nuclear weopons during WW2??

Argument two (and thus is the really good one): Britains' possession of nuclear weapons is necessary because "war has to be ruled out of the list of options for settling disputes"

I don't know about a modern day Hitler, but imagine the Britain had a vain-glorious Prime Minister who was prepared to deceive parliament and organise a war of aggression against a sovereign nation? I would rather such a leader didn't have access to nuclear weapons. Why are we assuming that the modern day Hilter would necessarily be a foreigner, shouldn't we ensure that Britain doesn't have nuclear weopons in case we ever have a government prepared to use them?

Fortunately, following Des Browne's logic we have nothing to worry about. Britain has had nuclear weapons for 50 years, and therefore war must already have been ruled out of the list of options that his government would consider.

New left unity party founded in Indonesia

Despite a high level of threat and intimidation, a new left party has just held its founding conference in Indonesia. They have sent out the following report: >

Amidst threats of right-wing militia disruption to the founding congress of KP Papernas (the Preparatory Committee of the National Liberation Party of Unity ), about 400 participants persevered in conducting the congress while strengthening the security of thevenue.

On January 19, 2007 at about 3pm, a group which called themselves the Anti-Communist Group of Indonesia (FAKI) staged a protest near the venue. Some local journalists said that the FAKI had swords and other sharp weapons in their cars. The police offered to organize a negotiation between KP Papernas representatives, FAKI and the village head. The negotiations commenced with the police standing watch. But as we already expected, the talks did not produce any results.

The FAKI condemned Papernas’ Three Banners of The National Unity as the revitalization of the banned Communist Party of Indonesia PKI). We have informed them of the content of the Three Banners(repudiation of foreign debt, nationalization of the mining industry, and the national industrialization for prosperity of the people) but they insisted that this was only a cover. They said: “ If you resist we are going to eliminate you!” and made throat-slitting gestures with their hands. They give a deadline to end the congress by 9 pm that night, and said they would return. But we considered that there was no reason to stop the congress.

The local village head just stated that he did not want FAKI to attack and hoped there was not going to be any riot in the village. That night was the opening celebration of Islamic New Year, so there was to be a village parade and gathering. He did not want any violence to ruin the celebrations.

The congress continued in the very tense situation. All of the participants prepared to face an attack with whatever was available in the venue – bamboo stick, rocks etc. We also were pleased todiscover that a group of 200 West Nusa Tenggara, West Papuan and South Maluku students from Yogjakarta, came up to support us to face the FAKI threat. That night, around 50 FAKI members on motorbikes stayed in the area, but as many more people came out to celebrate the New Year’s eve, they did not dare attack the congress venue.

The congress continued on January 20 and adopted Popular Democracy as party’s principle, the form of our organization and structure, agreed to keep using Papernas (The National Liberation Party of Unity) as the name of the party and to promote the Three Banners of National Unity as a program. The congress also elected Agus Jabo Priyono as Chairperson and Haris Sitorus as a general secretary. While Chairperson Agus Jabo and Dita Sari were delivering speeches, the head of the police district came try to stop the congress. However, the congress continued until 12 noon when it adjourned early as a sign of appreciation to the local community’s wish to have a peaceful and safe New Year’s celebration.

Police repressed anti-repression protest!

Responding to the threats of violent dispersal of the KP Papernas founding congress, most of KP Papernas branches staged protests to condemn this repression. In Medan, North Sumatera, the police arrested protestors, revealing once again the repressive character of the State and its apparatus. 50 people of KP Papernas branch had marched to the regional police station to delivered a speech in support of the Papernas congress. In front of the police station, when Sindang Pardosi, the coordinatorof the action was about to begin the speech, the police tried to grab the microphone.

The protestors tried to keep the microphone and the police charged into the line, provoking a violent struggle. Thepolice not only dispersed the action but also detained six protestors for 24 hours. Following are the arrested protestors
1. John Merdeka (Leader of KP Papernas- North Sumatera Branch)
2. Sintong Pardosi ( Leader of National Peasant Union/STN – North Sumatera Branch)
3. Anwar Nasihin (Member of Student National League for Democracy/LMND)
4. Deny Sirait (Leader of KP Papernas – Siantar Marihat District)
5. Hendra Pratama (member of Urban Poor Union/SRMK)
6. Surung Hutagaol (Secretary of KP Papernas – Sima)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Savage War Of Ideology

The reissue of Alistair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace had the following commentary from the New York Review of Books: “The Algerian War lasted from 1954 to 1962. It caused the fall of six French governments, led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic, brought De Gaulle back to power, and came close to provoking a civil war on French soil. More than a million Muslim Algerians died in the conflict and as many European settlers were driven into exile. Above all, the war was marked by an unholy marriage of revolutionary terror and state torture.

“The conflict made headlines around the world, and at the time it seemed like a French affair. From the perspective of half a century, however, this brutal and intractable conflict looks less like the last colonial war than the first postmodern one—a full-dress rehearsal for the sort of amorphous struggle that convulsed the Balkans in the 1990s and that now ravages the Middle East, from Beirut to Baghdad, struggles in which religion, nationalism, imperialism, and terrorism assume previously unimagined degrees of intensity.”

The liberal critique, so preponderant now, has the slaughter of a million Algerians (“Muslim Algerians” importantly for the NYRB) as a “full-dress rehearsal for the sort of amorphous struggle” that is to be found everywhere the Western powers have an eye on. Liberalism: a Nazi-like slaughter in a country that wants nothing but its independence is an “amorphous struggle”. No right and wrong. No oppressed and oppressor. No distinguishing the violence of the colonised with that of the coloniser. “Imperialism” is lumped into the same category as “nationalism”. The war of liberation is “terrorism”.

Algeria is not alone: the violence inflicted on Malaya and Aden, amongst many others, is at best blandly referred to as “counter-insurgency” or more usually “counter-terrorism”, not imperialism. The ideological demands are now so great that this is not surprising. That the rewriting of history is being conducted so openly, so blatantly, is a little more unexpected. Is Horne’s book the imperialist tome the NYRB suggests? Nevertheless, Horne’s book is said to be “On the reading list of President Bush [surely some mistake?] and the US military”. In the same way that US military personnel are reported to be viewing the film the Battle of Algiers, no doubt Bush and Co. will read into Algeria’s fight for national liberation what they wish to.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

No Pasaran - remember our war heroes

Philosophy Football have organised a celebration to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Jarama, the first major engagement of the British section of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.

FRIDAY 16 FEBRUARY 'No Pasaran: A Night of Protest Song, Verse and Film'

The night begins with a specially commissioned film mixing rarely seen archive film footage with interviews of surviving international brigaders. The film has been put together by Simon Green of

Attending the event will be Jack Jones, political commisar of the British Battalion's Number One 'Major Attlee' Company and Sam Lesser who was one of the first British volunteers to join the International Brigade, serving in the October 1936 defence of Madrid, and involved in propaganda work in Barcelona after being wounded at Lopera in 1937.The brigaders will be introduced by Jim Jump, trustee of the International Brigade Memorial Trust.

Poets Mike Rosen, Andy Croft and Lemn Sissay will be reading both from their own work and the poetry of International Brigders compiled in the superb collection recently published by Lawrence & Wishart, 'Poems from Spain'.

And closing this most special night folk legend Leon Rosselson, with Robb Johnson and Tracey Curtis play a set of protest songs old, and new. With soundsystem provided by our in-house DJ MelstarsUK: Music

With a late licence and food available another great Friday night out! Presented by Philosophy Football in association with the International Brigade Memorial Trust and supprted by the GMB's 'BNP-Free Zone' campaign. Starts 7pm at Offside Bar, 271 City Road, London EC1.

Its FREE, continuing Philosphy Football’s commitment to renewing a political culture of dissenting ideas and dangerous entertainment that refuse to be commodified!

BUT advance registration is ESSENTIAL. REGISTER by emailing them at with name(s).

Do PLEASE spread the word but advise friends and contacts to register early!

The poster shown is by John Heartfield (a lesser known example of his photomontages) produced in 1937 to mark the first anniversery of the start of the war, for the German socialist publication, Die Volks-Illustrierte (the caption reads "for one year Spain has fought for Peace and Freedom")

Please also note the interesting post by Charlie Pottins of the forthcoming 100th birthday of International Brigader Howard Andrews from Taunton

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Speak Up for Public Services rally

I'm not usually a doom and gloom merchant but while I was sitting in a meeting this morning it kind of crept up on me. Listening to various speakers talk about the dismantling and fragmentation of advice in the Not for Profit sector due to government proposals.
Unsuprisingly, New Labour are getting their ideas from the private sector. Advice will have that supermarket feel about it instead of understanding the complex and specialist nature advice is people will be subjected to the “one size fits all” philosophy ‘cos it is all about “value for money” and “market forces” now.

And talking of cuts in public services, there was a select committee meeting today to discuss how much money will be squandered on the Olympics.

Well, at the end of that meeting I crossed the road and attended the Speak Up for Public Services rally at Methodist Central Hall. I was pleased to see lots of T&G activists (my union) leafleting around Westminster.

The meeting was absolutely packed and I had to wait around for some time before the stewards allowed anyone in (there were lots of stalls). It was refreshing to see so many activists that it raised my spirits and the atmosphere was very good.

I heard Dave Prentis (general secretary, Unison) doing his impersonation of a “left-wing” speech which included a round-up of striking Unison activists, condemning privatisation and bigging up the fight for public services (“We will be uncompromising in the action we take”!) and threatening strike action. Prentis mentioned that the PCS ballot result will be in today (they have voted to strike) which rightly merited rousing applause and that solidarity with other unions was key to the fight. I was tempted to holler, “Yeah, but what you gonna do about the Local Government Pensions Scheme, Dave”?

I wanted to hear Mark Serwotka (who was running late) but I got Dave Prentis instead. Oh well....
Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around as I had to get back to work.

Anyway, I will big it up for the Trade Unionists 4 John meeting next Tuesday (30th Jan) 7-9 @ Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London.

Why are “police procedurals” dominating the TV schedules?

It is hard to turn on the TV without finding a cop show, especially those involving forensic science. Now at one level this can be explained just by the TV networks following successful formulas, but why are they so popular?

Popular entertainment does need to reflect the Zeitgeist, and one of the advantages of the Cop show is that it inevitably deals with social issues. They thus reflect changing social attitudes to crime, and to authority.

By far the best police procedural is “the Shield”, (series one rerunning currently on Hallmark channel). Technically it is far superior to its rivals, filmed using the American traditions of “Direct Cinema”, giving it an edgy and authentic feel. It has also attracted top stars, with both Glenn Close and Forest Whittaker playing central characters.

But the most interesting aspect of the Shield is that it inhabits the morally ambiguous post 9/11 world of American society. Detective Vic Mackey leads a group of corrupt detectives who take bribes, sell drugs, and even murder people. However, they are also effective police officers, and their corruption (and the efforts of the Police Department to control them) runs as a long story arc through the series, in front of which plays the day to day routine police work. In season 4, when Glenn Close was the captain, she tried to impose zero tolerance policing as part of a war on organised crime, and the series suggested that routine police work actually requires the lubrication of cooperation with organised crime.

Series 5 saw Forest Whittaker playing an Internal Affairs Captain trying to root out the corruption, but he was undermined by the lack of will of the political establishment. His character was also morally compromised, as he blackmailed, manipulated and bullied police officers and their families.

The most successful Police procedural franchise is CSI, both in its superior Las Vegas from, and the more formulaic and inferior NY and Miami versions. Where the Shield is uncomfortable and challenging, CSI provides reassurance. It is a scary world out there, but justice can be delivered without ambiguity. Just follow the evidence.

However, CSI (only in its Las Vegas incarnation) does exemplify another reason why police procedurals are popular, that they are work based soap operas. As most of us have more relationship with our work colleagues than our neighbours, workplaces do provide a genuine community within which to explore developing relationships. However, because the police procedural is dominated by the foreground story of the crime and its solution, the background story arcs of character development can be more slow and realistic than in conventional soap operas, with their implausible crises, and rediscovered twins separated at birth!

The extraordinary performance of Williams Peterson as Gil Grissom in CSI is worth commenting on. In a genre dominated by the cliché of the maverick investigator, Grissom simply seeks to do a good job, but is challenged by his inability to play office politics. Cleverly underplayed, we only catch sideways glimpses of Grissom’s past and personality: his developing deafness, his attraction towards being sexually submissive, etc. Again, one of the strengths of the police shows is that work colleagues don’t know that much about each other, which is much more true to life than much other TV drama.

On anti-Americanism and British benevolence

A significant part of anti-war ssentiment in this country has always been anti-american feeling. In some ways this is understandable: The American Regime was the chief architect of the way in Iraq and is the key player in materially sustaining the operation.

Yet much anti-american rhetoric goes further than this. Blair, it is asserted, is in Bush's pocket and Britain is the 51st state of America. And here the problems start. Britain's economy is the 5th biggest in the world. We are a nation which has massive control over the global arms trade. America may be the stronger partner in the british american relationship, but to describe britain as America's 51st state is to seriously underestimatee the independent power and room for manouver enjoyed by the british establishment. The image of britian simply doing America's bidding distracts attention from the British ruling class, the decisions they take and the motives they might have for taking them (it might be noted that massive oil company BP account for 7 per cent of British GDP).Similarly, anti-americanism allows people to oppose the iraq war while maintianing the idea that Britain;s global role is essentially benevolent. It is not uncommon for the alleged finesse of British soldiers to be contrasted against the apparently more gung ho attitude of the Americans. (the silly but oft repeated notion that British troops are administering Basra well because of their experience of benevolent occupation in ireland might take a battering from the recent report of on collusion). The point here is that anti-americanism can undermine our ability to build genuine anti-imperialist sentiment on the back of the Iraq war.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Truth and justice: the Blairite way

At the moment it never just rains for New Labour it kinda storms coupled with 80mph winds. As a Labour Party member I can only describe what amounts to schadenfreude when reading about the latest one of Blair’s finest being hauled into the police station early one morning the other day.

Ruth Turner arrested for perverting the course of justice over the cash for honours scandal and now rumour has it that Jonathan Powell (Blair’s chief of staff) will be questioned under caution over the scandal. Lord Levy is also expected to questioned for a third time but hey, even a little problem of being out on bail didn’t stop him from negotiating the £2million donation from New Labour’s favourite asset stripper and exploiter of workers’ rights, Lakshmil Mittal, to drag New Labour out of the financial mire. And methinks sometime soon a knighthood beckons….

Blair has now said he will quit (fingers crossed btw!) if any of his inner sanctum get charged with any offences. But while we are reading about various Blairite “fall guys” being arrested and questioned another scandal is being ignored and that’s Blair halting the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office's inquiry into the corruption allegations that the arms company BAE supposedly paid bribes to the Saudi royals.

Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) have challenged the decision to drop the inquiry.

CAAT spokesperson: "The public expect BAE Systems to be subject to the same laws as the rest of us. But this decision shows that they are not. We are confident that this outrageous and unlawful decision will be overturned by the courts”.

This exposes the corruption endemic within the British establishment and the fact that Blair with a nod and wink can stop an investigation in its track.

Our children are disappearing

I have just been sent to following letter from Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem:

"Last week during interrogation at Maskobia Sation in Al Quds (Jerusalem), Israeli interrogators extracted a statement including a list of around 30 names of children from Aida Camp. The ‘confession’ was taken from three youths arrested in early January. The three were arrested during a night-time raid on the camp after being found in possession of flags which it is thought were to be used in demonstrations against Saddam Hussein’s execution. Their supposed ‘confession’ claims that all those mentioned had taken part and/or where planning to take part in demonstrations. As I explained recently everybody in Aida Camp knew what would come next, and as usual our worst fears are becoming reality. ‘The List’ is being ticked-off, the round-up has begun…

"In the early hours of January 18th Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) forces invaded Aida Camp for the second time in a week. A few nights earlier a mother and her daughter were taken from the camp by the Occupiers after one of her sons, who had been arrested a few days earlier, had supposedly confessed that they were planning some kind of act of resistance. The man in question, who is 19 years old, has a history of mental problems and receives treatment at a Bethlehem psychiatric unit. But when the IOF invaded Aida Camp very early yesterday morning it was to begin ticking names off ‘The List’. Our children are disappearing.

"A father watched helplessly as two more of his sons disappeared into the night, dragged away by the hunters. They were 16 and 17 years old. Another son had already gone, he was taken around one year ago and is still in prison. The third youth arrested that night was also 17 years old. He comes to Lajee Center ( a community centre in the refugee camp). A few years ago it transpired that this boy’s father had been pressurising him to stop coming to Lajee and hanging around in the camp’s streets at all. When asked about the reasons for this he replied: “I am not against Lajee, I like you all, but I have five girls and one son, I really want him beside me...I can not bear seeing him get shot or arrested...big responsibility is waiting for him..”

"The father did not believe that Lajee would get his son into trouble, he just didn’t want him going out, he wanted him by his side. Being the only son a large responsibility will fall his way after the passing of his parents. The father just wanted to protect his son, to keep him close and save him from the fate of so many teenage youth from Aida who disappear into the Occupation’s prison system.

"A friend in the camp spoke to Jamal, the father of the two brothers who were arrested yesterday: “They (the IOF) have done me a favour by arresting all of my sons…”

"When asked what he meant he continued: “They knew I was unemployed and had no money to pay for their schools, so now they will raise them instead of me…”

"Apparently Jamal couldn’t make eye contact during the brief conversation and was clearly, and understandably ‘very, very stressed’ as though he may break down at any moment. Imagine the pain of a father who has watched as all three of his sons were stolen from him in a long, dark year or so.

"All three youths who were arrested on January 18th were named on ‘The List’. The others now just sit there and wait, knowing it will happen soon. Everybody knew this would happen but is forced to just sit helplessly and wait, unable to project their children. No doubt the hunting will continue until all names have been ticked off ‘The List’. Hunted like escaped convicts and taken to interrogation centres, detentions centres and prisons.

"Places where 185 Palestinians have died since 1967 mainly as a result of execution, torture or denial of medical treatment. Israeli institutions such as the ‘Negev Prison’ where on Tuesday January 16th, just a few days ago, a 37 year old Palestinian from Hebron, Jamal Sarahin, was murdered, dying from internal bleeding. These are the kinds of places that children end up in.

"It seems like Palestine’s children, deserted by the world, are just waiting for the inevitable. Watching as friends, brothers and sisters are rounded-up, and simply waiting until there time comes. Until they become part of another ‘disappeared generation’…"

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nick Cohen And The Muddle East

The latest zany column from Nick Cohen ends with the Zidane-look-alike (Cohen, like Zidane, lost his grace and vision, as well as his head, when stuck out on the rightwing) writing that the anti-war Left has manoeuvred itself into a corner that “would have to maintain that the war was not an attempt to break the power of tyranny in a benighted region, but the bloody result of a ‘financially driven mania to control Middle Eastern oil…”

In April 2002 Nick Cohen wrote something slightly different, to put it mildly. He wrote that the US “won’t pull out [from the Middle East] because Washington wants to ‘discourage’ the ‘advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership’, while maintaining a military dominance capable of ‘deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role’.

“The quotes don’t come from a babbling conspiracy theorist but from the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance, which set out American strategy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A draft was leaked to the New York Times in 1992. Pentagon bureaucrats were appalled because, in their marvellous jargon, it hadn’t been ‘scrubbed’. What they mean was candid language for private consumption hadn’t been swabbed away and replaced with a coating of euphemisms, carefully constituted to avoid any phrase which might stick in the reader’s mind. The leak explained the thinking of a part of the Washington establishment with brutal clarity. If America didn’t ‘stabilise’ - to use a verb which seems particularly inapt at the moment - the Middle East, Europe, Japan and China, which have a far greater dependence on Gulf oil, would move in and protect their interests. Although their interventions wouldn’t necessarily bother America, in the long term they would grow into powers which would challenge its authority.

“America’s friends are potential enemies. They must be in a state of dependence and seek solutions to their problems in Washington.

“Defense Planning Guidance was disowned after the New York Times printed its embarrassingly frank conclusions. Yet interest in it survives, not least because the prospectus for the American empire had impressive supporters. It was written by Paul Wolfowitz for Bush’s father. Wolfowitz is now one of the leaders of the Pentagon hawks. Dick Cheney fought for it to be adopted as official policy in the early 1990s, and he is now Bush junior’s vice-president. Their work from a decade ago keeps coming up when American foreign-policy intellectuals try to explain why US military bases circle the globe.

“Wolfowitz’s supporters believed that solutions to conflicts weren’t necessarily in America’s interests, they wrote. If North Korea, which somehow has been dragged into the fight against al-Qaeda, and South Korea reunited, US troops would pull out of the peninsula and Japan might feel the need to become militarily self-sufficient.

“The greatest worry a friend of America should have is how its insistence that it can leave no part of the world alone has created anti-Americanism not only in Muslim countries but in regions such as Latin America where bin Laden’s theology means nothing. If you dream that everyone might be your enemy, one day they may become just that.”

Quite so, Nick. Quite so. What ever happened to that Nick Cohen, eh, Nick?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Guardian Puff For Brockes Guff

According to her Guardian colleagues, Emma Brockes has legs to die for. Judge for yourselves, dear readers. The cover of the utterly useless Guardian magazine has Emma Brockes, who famously concocted an interview with Noam Chomsky, in Cabaret-like fashion. We learn from yet another wasted article in the mag that "Emma Brockes first saw Mary Poppins at eight and watched it twice a week for three years. She outgrew it in 1985, but she still loves Cabaret and Fiddler On The Roof". Fascinating stuff, I'm sure we'll all agree. Next week we can all look forward to how she takes her coffee and whether she puts cream or jam first on her scones. Oh, and if we're lucky how she got to keep her job after making up an interview.

At the end of all of this guff from the Guardian mag, however, we learn that this is all a puff for Brockes's book, "What Would Barbra Do: How Musicals Change Your Life." Did Emma bother to ask Barbra the question? Or did she make the answer up and pretend that's what Babs said? (Possible Q & A follows. Q: "Barbra, how have musicals changed your life?" A: "I don't know what you're talikng about. I thought we were here to discuss my recent election as Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan".) Who knows. Who cares! Let's just delight in those apparently wonderful legs.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Repression against new left party in Indonesia

This news comes from the Central Preparatory Committee of The National Liberation Party of Unity (KP-PAPERNAS) Indonesia. The national founding members of the KP-PAPERNAS are the
People’s Democratic Party, the Automotive Workers Union, the Indonesian National Front for Workers Struggle, Unity of Workers Struggle, the National Student League for Democracy, Unity of Buddhist Student, the National Peasant Union, the Urban Poor Union and the Indonesian Transportation Workers Union.
Joining at a local level are: Belawan Transportation Workers Union, (Medan-North Sumatra), Movement of the Poor, Labuhan Batu (North Sumatra), Lampung Street Vendor Union (Lampung Province), Jogjakarta Student Community, Solidarity of Indonesian Students, Amasutra, Lespek Boul, Central Sulawesi Union of the Poor, Forum of Lembata Youth (South East Nusa, NTT), Peasant Community of Rotanolet, Peasant Community of Liavua, Forum of Latena Community and People’s Alliance for Decent Housing.

The Chronology of I KP PAPERNAS Congress
Kaliurang, Yogyakarta, 18 – 21 Januari 2006

Two weeks before the conference, The Preparatory Committee of The National Liberation Party of Unity (KP-PAPERNAS) submitted a proposal to the appropriate police authorities about our plan to hold the founding congress of PAPERNAS. According to existing law, we are not required to obtain a permit for holding the conference or for inviting foreign delegates. There was no complaint from either the national or local police in response to the proposal nor was the proposal rejected.
But shortly before the congress is about to open formally they try to make a problem and stop the congress from proceeding. We believe that the reason for the police’s action is political. On January 17, 2007 the National police suddenly demand that there must be a permit for this conference and they do not want to issue the permit although the local police has sent the recommendation letter to give a permit to hold the congress.
On the same day, at around 4 pm 100 people who called themselves the Indonesia Forum of Anti-Communist Group (FAKI) staged a protest in front of the venue and threatened that they would forcibly disperse the congress if we insist on running the congress as planned.
On January 18 the Police stated that they will not issue any permit due to the following reasons :
They raised an objection to our slogan " Three banners of National Unity – repudiation of foreign debt, nationalization of the mining industry and a National industrialization program. So, we conclude that the police are saying that because we are trying to present solutions to our country’s problems in the form a of a program this is crime.
Restricting international participants from attending the congress. In fact, we can not find any law that restricts international guests from participating in the congress. In fact the ruling party of Golkar regularly invites international delegates in their congress.
Local police continue to say that if we run the congress, they will not responsible for any attack on us by FAKI or any other hostile forces.
Since January 18 we continue to negotiate with the police and at the same time we keep running the congress as we defend our political right as citizen of this country. As we prepare the self defense unit both from committee and the participants the congress was delayed for housr.
On 19 january in the morning polices state that they will not give any permition due to the pressure of Anti-communist forum. And they add the information that 500 people will come to attack the meeting.
This chronology was made in the situation when the group is on the way to the venue and will reach the congress area with in an hour.
And now while this mail send to you, 300 men of FAKI have reach the congress area.
We need your solidarity. Please fax your letter to Indonesian embassy in your country
Email: kp_papernas_pusat
National police + 62-21 7938181, Regional police + 62 274 885530

Thursday, January 18, 2007

We must not compromise in the fight against anti-semitism

Earlier this week I posted something on the subject of anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic prejudice. I want to return to the subject, because I have no doubt that prejudice against Jews is on the increase, and that, as Michael Rosen says, this is a form of bigotry which: “is seen by some in the liberation movements as a racism that doesn’t matter as much.”

In August 2006, Mark Bulman (pictured) attempted to burn down the Broad Street mosque in Swindon using a petrol bomb and has just been sentenced to five years in prison. Mark was the registered fund holder for Wiltshire BNP, and actively campaigned for the party in last year’s local council elections. Strangely Mark used to write to me while he was on remand, and even rang me a few times. He had left the BNP to form what he called the “1290 sect”, named after the year the Jews were expelled from England, and he wrote to me: “I only attacked the mosque because there is no synagogue in Swindon, and it was close enough for public consumption”. The fuse used for the fire bomb was a rolled up BNP leaflet.
Mark had previously been arrested for a racially aggravated public order offence at Swindon’ New College, along with Daniel Lake, who is now a student at Bath University, and I believe is the new leader of the YBNP.

Mark’s letters to me, which I have passed on to Searchlight, were filled with a virulent hatred of Jews, mixing up three themes. I) racialised anti-semitism; ii) Christian traditions; and iii) opposition to Israel’s War in the Lebanon, and the occupation of Palestine.

In September 2006, a parliamentary enquiry heard of a sharp increase of attacks on Jews since the war in Lebanon had started. The Times reported Mark Gardener of the Community Security Trust saying: “In July, when the conflict in Lebanon began, we received reports of 92 incidents, which was the third-worst month since records began in 1984.” In 2000 the monthly average was between 10 and 30 incidents. … The July incidents “were more dispersed than usual … It is usually a small number responsible for a large number of attacks, but these were very widespread across the country and included graffiti attacks on synagogues in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The attackers, when visible, are from across society, he said. “When it’s verbal abuse, it’s just ordinary people in the street, from middle-class women to working-class men. All colours and backgrounds. We hardly ever see incidents involving the classic neo-Nazi skinhead. Muslims are over-represented.” In hate-mail to senior Jewish figures, ordinary Jewish people were being blamed for the deaths of Lebanese civilians. “There are also references to the Holocaust, saying that Hitler should have wiped out the Jews.”

Over the last few years, as an activist campaigning against the Iraq and Afghan wars, I have several times been offered the explanation that the wars have been orchestrated by Jews, along with “revelations” that various members of the British government are Jewish. To fail to challenge this anti-Judaic prejudice, on the basis that islamophobia is a greater evil, is the anti-imperialism of fools.

If we are to challenge anti-Semitism and anti-Judaic feeling we need to understand the multi-stranded nature of the bigotry. We also need to understand that the ideology of Zionism contributes to anti-Semitism, and the actions of the Israeli state make the world a more dangerous place for Jews.

We should not ignore the deep well of anti-Judaic ideology within Christian culture The huge success of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of Christ” reveals the large audience for the traditional Christian interpretation of the Gospels, that the Jews killed Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate “took water, and washed his hands before the [Jewish] multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” This may be a deeply unfashionable interpretation for trendy Anglicans, but it is believed by millions of Christians around the world. Indeed Mel Gibson was condemned simply for bringing the literal words of the Bible to a film-going audience.

In pre-Capitalist European culture, Christians were prohibited from usury – lending money for interest. Mediaeval Jewry therefore played a social role as bankers and financiers. The enduring stereotype of Jews as greedy therefore derives from Mediaeval opposition to finance capital. As Martin Luther wrote in 1543: “They let us work in the sweat of our brow to earn money and property while they sit behind the stove, idle away the time, fart, and roast pears. They stuff themselves, guzzle, and live in luxury and ease from our hard-earned goods. With their accursed usury they hold us and our property captive. Moreover, they mock and deride us because we work and let them play the role of lazy squires at our expense and in our land. Thus they are our masters and we are their servants, with our property, our sweat, and our labour.”

Martin Luther may have little direct influence on modern anti-Semitism, but the identification of Jews trying to control the world through finance capital still has widespread currency, and informs, for example the idea of a “Jewish lobby” that dictates American support for Israel.
It should be noted that neither the identification of Jews as Christ killers, nor the belief that there is a “Jewish lobby” can be identified as the new form of racism that speaks of cultural rather than racial differences. These are forms of anti-Judaic bigotry that pre-date racism, and are deeply embedded in European culture. To effectively challenge them requires that we recognise their origin, and specifically refute them in theoir own terms rather than confuse them as being identical with modern anti-semitism.

The 19th century saw anti-Judaic feeling given a gloss of pseudo-science, with the birth of this modern anti-semitism. This made an important difference because it created a racial category for the Jews. Previously Christian theology had disputed the claim of Jews to be a separate people. The Jews themselves regarded themselves as a nation without a home, but the Christians saw them as people who had rejected Christ. This was important for Christians as a refutation of the claim by Jews to be a favoured people by God. As Luther wrote: “If birth counts before God, I can claim to be just as noble as any Jew, … For I will not give it up and neither Abraham, David, prophets, apostles nor even an angel in heaven, shall deny me the right to boast that Noah, so far as physical birth or flesh and blood is concerned, is my true, natural ancestor, and that his wife (whoever she may have been) is my true, natural ancestress; for we are all descended, since the Deluge, from that one Noah.”

Mediaeval anti-Judaism regarded Jewishness as a question of faith, and a Jew who accepted Christ stopped being a Jew.( Indeed this was necessarily so, because the apostles were Jews who followed Christ.) Indeed the distinctive traditions of Hassidic Jews may have been adopted by the sect as a defence against their faith being lost by assimilation, in a similar way to Christian sects like the Amish. The concept of a secular Jew would have been a nonsense in Mediaeval Europe, whereas the Nazis slaughtered atheists and Christians who they regarded as being of Jewish race.

Through virtue of their alleged descent from a non-European linguistic stock the Jews became regarded as a race. The Zionists accepted this racialised identity. It is in this context that extreme modern anti-Semitism produced the idea of a Jewish conspiracy. It was also this context which saw the Zionists form a Jewish state, although Israel still has a problem deciding who is and who isn’t a Jew.

This brings us to the third source of anti-Judaic sentiment today, which is opposition to the actions of the Israeli state. Particularly in the Middle East there is deep anti-Judaic sentiment, and they have imported modern anti-Semitism from Europe. The notorious forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which “proves” the international conspiracy, is widely sold in the Arab world. The Iranian President Ahmadinejad hosted a recent conference in Tehran that denied the holocaust, and brought together assorted fruitcakes and Nazis, like David Duke.

Zionism started life as a strategy to escape anti-Semitism. Separatism has often been adopted by the oppressed, for example Marcus Garvey and the Black Train Home movement, or the Rastafarians. But through the existence of a Jewish state that systematically oppresses the Arab peoples, and through the acceptance by the Zionists of the need for racial separation, and the systematic identification of Israel with Jewishness, the Zionists are a major contributing factor to anti-Judaic feeling today.

But our opposition to Israel must not blind us to the rising tide of anti-Semitism, and the resurgence of older forms of anti-Judaic prejudice. Nor does it absolve the left of its responsibility to defend the Jews, we must never compromise our determined opposition to all forms of bigotry, even when challenging such bigotry is inconvenient.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Muslims - don't believe the stereotypes

Given the negative stereotypes about Muslims, it is refreshing to look at the record of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US congress.

He is in favour of LGBT rights, and has actively campaigned against a ban on gay weddings. "When the religious conservatives come knocking (and they will), inviting the Black church to join in the ecumenical multi-racial opposition to gay marriage, then I hope our ministers ask: "How does picking on gays help us to fight for justice, to set the captives free, to rebuild the wasted cities or to feed the hungry? Would a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage help us to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, heal the sick, or visit those in prison?"

He is strongly pro-choice: “I believe … firmly that the moral, religious, cultural, and medical decision of whether or not to complete a pregnancy must be left to the woman, and the people who she wishes to consult.”

Ellison acted as an attorney in ethics proceeding in the House of Representatives against former representative Arlon Lindner, who contended that gays were not victims of Nazi oppression in the Holocaust. Ellison’s vocal opposition to holocaust revisionism has brought him the endorsement of the influential newspaper: American Jewish World.

He swims against the tide of racism by campaigning for Immigrants rights: “I honor and support immigrants and intend to be one of their champions in the United States Congress. I support comprehensive immigration reform and will work hard as a member of the United States Congress to move that agenda forward. Current immigration laws are outdated, unenforceable and do not offer a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million people currently living and working in the U.S. Denying a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who work and pay taxes makes it easier for unscrupulous employers to exploit these workers and drive down standards for all working people.”

His strong oppostion to neo-liberal economic policies has brought him the backing of labor unions: "Our nation needs an entirely different approach to our engagement with the global economy, a sort of global New Deal that protects jobs and democracy here, and contains specific mechanisms to raise wages and living standards in out trading partner nations. "

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Are all Jew-haters anti-Semites?

The row about the SWP providing a platform for the Jew hating, Gilad Atzmon runs and runs. In last week’s Socialist Worker, Lindsay German, makes an important contribution to the debate. (letters, 13th January). Lindsay argues that: “We also have to recognise that in Europe today the main form of racism, taken up and propagated by governments and media, is against Muslims. This scapegoating has direct parallels with the situation of the Jews in the 1930s.”
This is in response to Michael Rosen, writing the week before: “I’m mightily dismayed that you have saxophonist Gilad Atzmon on board [for the Cultures of Resistance musical programme] . He is someone who has frequently expressed racist ideas and surely we have always said that you can’t fight racism with racism? I fear that the racism he expresses is seen by some in the liberation movements as a racism that doesn’t matter as much.”

The conflicting claims of different oppressed groups have always created a potential problem for the left: in the 1970s, for example, there was a lot of controversy over Rastafarian acts appearing on Rock Against Racism (RAR) platforms. At that time the key task was to create a cultural consensus against the fascism of the NF, and bring black and white young people together (which was not usually the case back then). Those socialist feminists opposing the participation of, for example, Aswad, were making a mistake. Although the sexism and homophobia of various reggae acts was oppressive, it was a reflection of the views of the audience (particularly the young black youth) we were seeking to build bridges with. What is more, the overall context of RAR gigs always included political challenges to homophobia and sexism.

So Lindsay’s argument about concentrating on the main from of racism is not necessarily wrong. But we must judge it in the concrete circumstances. It is her thesis that anti-Moslem feeling is the main form of popular racism. (Actually this may not be entirely true, and a more generalised racism against asylum seekers and migrant workers (often white) is also widely prevalent.) therefore, according to her narrative, Atzmon, as a Jewish opponent of Zionism is a progressive, who challenges the dominant racism.

There are a number of problems with this. Not least of which is that hatred of Jews is still with us in the West, the huge success of Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ shows that the dark beast of pre-enlightenment Jew-hating still has a resonance among Christians (a hatred that pre-dates anti-semitism). But there is a greater problem, which is the very widespread hatred of Jews in the Middle East. The Zionist state has wrapped itself around the Jewish identity, and the opposition to Zionism within the Middle East often spills in ghastly symmetry into anti-Jewish hatred. What is more, European anti-Semitism has been widely accepted in Arab society - whereas historically the Islamic world provided a haven for Jews fleeing anti-Jewish pogroms on Europe.

To understand both th roots of Islamophobia, and anti-semitism, we need to understand the ideology of anti-semitism. The term "Semite" was invented by European linguists in the 18th century to distinguish languages from one another by grouping them into "families" descended from one "mother" tongue to which they are all related. In this context, languages came to be organised into "Aryan" and "Semitic", etc. The philologists claimed that Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, etc., were "Semitic" languages, even though philologists could never find a parent Semitic language from which they all derived.

In the 19th century and with the rise of European biological racism, those who hated Jews could no longer rely on religious difference to mark out post- Enlightenment Jews as objects of their hatred. A new basis for the hatred of Jews had to be found. Post- Enlightenment haters of Jews began to identify Jews as "Semites" on account of their alleged ancestors having spoken Hebrew
Modern anti-semitism therefore derives its caricature of the Jew, only partly from the Mediaeval money lenders of Europe, (whose faith allowed them to escape Christian proscription of unsury), or Mel Gibson’s Christ killers, but mainly from the alleged orientalism of the Jews. The caricature conflates historical religious prejudices with modern and ancient images of the Middle East. The hatred of Jews as orientals, glides easily into hatred of Arabs and Muslims. Edward Said pointed out that after the oil crisis of 1973, Arabs came to be represented in the West as having "clearly 'Semitic' features: sharply hooked noses, and evil moustachioed leers on their faces. Nowaays, they even have an international conspiracy all of their own!

The whole category of Jews as a “semitic” category, was therefore the invention of the European Christian surpremacists seeking a scientific rationale for hating the adherents of another religion. In a further horrific symmetry the Zionists accepted this racist definition and argued a flawed strategy of separatism as an escape from anti-Semitism. Zionists accepted and popularised the European Jew-hating identification of them as a separate race.
Modern Islamophobia, builds strongly upon 19th and 20th century traditions of anti-semitism. Not only using the same issues of complaining about failure to assimilate, etc. But even using the same images, and fear of orientalist culture.

Lindsay German may be correct that in Britain today, the most significant form of racism is Islalmophobia. But Jew hating (not always in the form of anti-semitism) is still a growing force. What is more in the wider context of the world today, and particularly in the Middle East, anti-Semitism has strong currency. Any progressive outcome to the Palestinian crisis must robustly oppose anti-Semitism, as a secular Palestine must also provide a safe home for the Jews.

On a technical, legalistic basis perhaps Gilad Aztmon may not be an anti-semite, as his Jew-Hating opposes the idea of the Jews having any specific identity, whether defined by language or otherwise. His defence against racism is simply to deny that Jews are a race. Obvioulsy the following views are deeply offensive, and I quote them from his web-site only to demonstrate the depths of Atzmon’s Jew-hating: “The ‘J’ people aren’t a race. Not only are they not a race, they aren’t a class, they aren’t a nation, they aren’t a tribe, they aren’t an ethnic group, they aren’t victims, they aren’t even the oppressors. They are none of these but they can easily become any of them whenever it is convenient. The J’s are the ultimate chameleons, they can be whatever they like as long as it serves as some expedient."”

It is a scandal that any left wing organisation gives a platform to Jew-baiters.

Monday, January 15, 2007

From Blackish Shirts to Black Shorts

I don't know why the unobservant Observer continues to irritate me. Perhaps it's because I have a sense of right and wrong. As much as we Lefties regret Nick Cohen's lurch to the right. None of us would welcome Cohen's column being cut in favour of the ridiculous Jasper Gerard. Gerard's peculiar fascination with all things anal was on display yesterday when he "interviewed" the neoconservative nutter Michael Gove.

Gove remarked "My views are closer to some on the left than to, say, Henry Kissinger". Gerard mused: "Such are the curious bedfellows of the war on terror". This absurdity is pervasive: Kissinger is against the so-called "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq. On December 17 the Sunday Times magazine had a long review of Henry Kissinger's relationship with Dubya. Kissinger, the magazine reported, "has met Cheney every month and the president every other month since he took office." Bob Woodward remarks that this is "more time with the president than almost any outsider ever" and that Kissinger's advice is "very soothing. That's why they talked to him. It's all part of the refusal to face reality".

Presumably George Junior and Cheney invite a notorious war criminal round so as to tell him how wrong he is about everything. Kissinger enjoys this kind of humiliation - and Dubya and Dick have nothing better to do than play practical jokes on Henry K. The very idea that Kissinger supported the invasion of Iraq and played a leading role in pushing for the invasion is anathema. And so a public display of dissent within the blackish shirt movement results, with Gove claiming to be closer to the Left than Kissinger's blackish shirts. Privately, however, Gove probably has a temple devoted to worshipping the neocon's neocon. This ruse has worked on the extraordinarily dimwitted Gerard.

And with the taste of bile still in my mouth I turn to the Observer's book review section. Peter Conrad writes that "PG Wodehouse contentedly reconciled himself to Britain's defeat by the Nazis; he broadcast from Berlin during the war, and adopted American citizenship in 1955 to ensure that he could not be arrested for treason if he returned to Britain (he never did)." Does Conrad know anything about Wodehouse? (Incidentally, not many Lefties are taken by PG; indeed, those Lefties who have an opinion on the great man are generally of Conrad's opinion: Wodehouse the Nazi, Wodehouse the toff who lives in a Wooster-style world of his own, etc, bloody etc.)

Conrad should brood on the case of Lord Haw-Haw if he believes that American citizenship counts for anything. Yet Conrad would have us believe that ten years after the war’s end (for pity’s sake!) the UK was still after Wodehouse. PG was an ass, as he himself admitted. He was amazingly naïve and a somewhat of a simpleton. But a Nazi? What tosh. What piffle. What codswallop. Let us never forget that Wodehouse brought us the hilarious fascistic figure of Roderick Spode and his organisation the Black Shorts in 1938, a time when it was not shall we say fashionable to speak out against fascism's fight against the Left. It is my considered opinion that every Leftie should read and revere Wodehouse - they'd also develop an excellent sense of humour, even if I do say so myself. And all of Conrad's nonsense got past Observer literary editor Robert McCrum, Wodehouse's latest biographer.

Could it have been different?


Cast your mind back to the huge anti-war demonstration of 15th February 2003. Estimates of numbers are debatable, but 2 million is a credible estimate of attendance.

In the lead up to the march there was a discussion between some leading members of the Socialist Alliance (SA) and the SWP, represented by John Rees, about the SA presenting a united face for the demo. As it was the SWP decided to concentrate on boosting the profile of its own organisation, and all the other left groups followed their lead: leaving the Socialist Alliance with a very small profile. According to some comrades who were at the meeting there was a moment when it looked like Rees was going to agree, and then backed off.

Even though it would have been for the overall benefit of the left, it would have required a challenge to those parts of the SWP (for example the National Secretary of the time, Chris Bambury) who opposed participation in the SA.

On the day, there was of course a problem in relating the revolutionary politics of the SWP direct to the consciousness of those protesting against the war, the transitional form of the Socialist Alliance might have bridged that gap. What would have happened if the overwhelming majority of the English left had promoted a single organisation, the Socialist Alliance, with a single voice on the demo, and then stood in the May elections under that same banner?

That is what happened in Scotland. Here is an observation from leading SWP member Mike Gonzalez about the demonstration in Scotland, where the Scottish Socialist Party were very clearly identified with the organising of the protest:

“It was a historic moment—and it was a victory, in our view, that arose directly out of the public perception of the [SSP]’s leading role in the anti-war movement: 100,000 marched through Glasgow on 15 February that year. It is no coincidence that that figure so closely reflected the numbers in the election.”

Interestingly there were two million on the march in London, and the Lib Dems managed to present themselves as THE anti-war party in England, and their vote in May 2003 went up 2 million.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Male Genital Mutilation on the NHS

In an article released earlier this week Edinburgh University's Professor Aziz Sheikh called, amongst other things, for male circumsision to be provided free on the NHS. Quite disturbingly he noted that a number of trusts ALREADY provide such a service.

This is something that i find atrocious on a number of levels. Most obviously as a secularist i think the NHS should be there to provide healthcare - to look after people's physical and mental well being - not to carry out religious ceremonies. Perhaps more significantly i think that the NHS trusts that are carrying out circumsisions are implicated in a gross violation of childrens rights. Although there may be some potential medical benefits from circumsision,(I believe similar arguments have been put forward about female genital mutilation),it is not, for most people, a medical operation. That is to say that for most people the potential medical risks of remaining uncircumsized do not justify the pain, the risk, and the loss of tissue/function involved in circumsision.

This is significant. If a child is at risk of physical harm then it might be reasonable for doctors to interfere with their body regardless of their lack of/inability to consent. This does not apply to Jewish/Muslim circumsision.There is no justification for deciding on behalf a child that he should experience pain and risk, and - for the duration of his life - sacrifice potential for sexual pleasure - simply because his parents believe that god said he should. An interesting comparison might be made here with Tattoos. Nobody is allowed to get a tattoo until they are 18 - regardless of parental consent. Tattoos may look silly and may be hard to remove but they do not involve removing a piece of the human body.They do not alter fundamental physical experiences. If people must wait until they're 18 to get inked then surely circumsision should be a matter for consenting adults.

Right now circumsisions are being carried out, with public money, on people who are not consenting adults . Unless we actively take a stand, we are all implicated in this gross violation of children's rights.


Friday, January 12, 2007

No Incentive To Stay Alive

The arguments against capitalism are well-known and have been made numerous times. Similarly with the description of capitalism as a mad economic system. On Newsnight, a couple of nights ago, a spokesman for BP complained that there was "no long-term incentivization" to combat climate change. I'm not sure that it's ever been put better. I'd certainly like to hear from anyone who has a quote as good as that. For BP, and other multinational oil companies, there is "no long-term incentivization" to stop the extinction of the human race. Thank you, Mr BP, for saying it so clearly.

The big Olympics rip-off

I read a lot of corporate gloss for my job but the front page of the magazine Third Sector made me sit up as it had a piece on how damaging it will be if the Big Lottery Fund is forced to divert money to rescue the Olympics and the overspend. And working in the voluntary sector I am sure the news has blown a few gaskets!

The Big Lottery Fund is the life blood for many voluntary organisations and charities. It has a budget of around of £630million to give to “good causes”. And obviously the Olympics are a “good cause”. The money the Big Lottery Fund distributes comes from the National Lottery. You know, that indirect taxing of working class people who dream that it “could be them” winning the ultimate prize when they buy lottery tickets.

It is estimated the voluntary sector will lose about £315 million if the Big Lottery Fund is “raided” to bail out the Olympics. This means, in practical terms, that the BLF won’t be able to fund any new programmes until 2013 and it would also have to make reductions of around £350million.

Sir Clive Booth, chair of the Big Lottery Fund argues that funding the shortfall, “would have a chronic and damaging effect” on the fund’s mission to help charities and voluntary organisations.
He further argues: I don’t really see why all the wonderful good cause projects should have to subsidise the Olympics beyond what we have already done”.

Tessa Jowell (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) has not “ruled out” top slicing the lottery fund but she says that any loss of money to voluntary and community groups should be offset by the benefits of the Olympics.”

This is repeated again by another civil servant who talks about the benefits” but goes further by stating that the positive rewards of the Games will “outstrip any effect created by such a diversion of funds”.

Well, try telling that to some voluntary organisation who loses their grant.

But come again? A definition of “benefits” would be useful. I mean, are we talking financial or a front row seat to watch the 100m sprint?

I think charities and voluntary organisations would like to see the dosh to fund them as opposed to some mealy-mouth rubbish spouted by a government minister who can’t control spiralling costs. This will have a serious impact on the voluntary sector as it will hit the most vulnerable and powerless in this society and ironically grassroots sports.

The government bangs on about fitness and health yet it is only too happy take money that is for ordinary sports clubs. The long term damage this could have on grassroots sport is obviously of no importance to the government. Or the fact that the money is being diverted to help spotlight elitism and individualism.

Tim Lamb (The Central Council of Physical Recreation) says:

“We don’t want to be in a situation in five years’ time where those local clubs are threatened by a showpiece event which only a small proportion of the population will visit”.

As Oscar Reyes argues:

The Olympic Games, whose five-ring symbol is recognised by around 90% of the world’s population, is the mega-event of choice in the bidding race for consumer-oriented development. But the costs of such a strategy are stark, since it can lead to greater urbanization and the deepening of the divide between core and periphery”.

The outlook for London looks pretty stormy, gloomy and debt ridden (just look at Athens who are still paying the cost of the 2004 Olympics).

These potential cuts will have a devastating, long term impact on the voluntary sector for years to come. Grassroots organisations and initiatives will be starved of funds all for an event where only a minority will be able to participate in.