Dead Men Left

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Limey assholes go home (except we're here already)

Paul Kingsnorth has donned his tweed suit and re-filled his briar pipe to put pen to paper for England, Harry and St George:

It was Gap that made me snap. I was passing my local outlet, when my eye was caught by a poster in the window. It said, in giant script: "FALL SALE. 50% OFF!"

It took a while to sink in. Fall sale. What? This isn't America, it's England! We don't have "a fall", we have an autumn!

I found myself frothing in despair at this corporate colonisation of my language, my culture, my public space. I looked around. Nobody else seemed to mind - except for Lynne Truss and now John Humphrys, both of whom have turned their despair over the misuse of English into highly readable books.

"Nobody else seemed to mind." Why should they? There are all sorts of complaints to be had about Gap, not least the use of sweated labour in stitching together their boring over-priced garments, but to complain on the grounds that they are an American corporation is just odd. Worse than odd: this is faux-radical outrage; the concern is not with the material conditions of Gap's existence, and its brutalised workforce, but with its appearance. It is leavened with an well-developed strain of English chauvanism, which Kingsnorth, warming to his old buffer theme, develops in the next paragraphs:

Perhaps I was the only one who cared that the English today have no idea who they are. Their culture in retreat, much of their history forgotten, great swathes of their landscape being transformed into soulless non-places at breathtaking speed, they - we - are a lost people. We dress like Americans, sing like Americans, shop like Americans. We turn our pubs into chain bars, grub up our orchards and shutter our farms, transform our villages into commuter suburbs, crucify our towns with ring-road Wal-Marts.

If England ever was, in George Orwell's words, "a family with the wrong members in control", it now seems more like a broken home. The English are becoming a deculturised people. Sneered at by the left, hitched to dubious causes by the right, English culture has been treated for years as an embarrassment; some monster locked in the attic, which escapes occasionally in big boots and with shaven head to terrify the neighbours.

And so on and so forth: a tedious refrain, repeated ad nauseum by socialists bearing rightwards; or by the miserable and confused who feel that the Right are having a wild old flag-waving time, and that they want in on the fun. It is a sham, of course; England has little in the way of a "national culture" that was not either invented for mass consumption by the later Victorians, or simply appropriated from abroad. Only a moment's reflection, meanwhile, will reveal what a sorry, pitiful island this would be without the immense impact of identifiably American cultural imports, most markedly over the last 50 years.

There is little, or no, long-standing popular tradition in England: the English peasantry, that great repository of folk ritual and collective customs, was torn off the land decades - if not whole centuries - before its counterparts throughout Europe. An unusually successful and aggressive class of agrarian capitalists broke apart both the institutions of the "moral economy", and the cultural practices it sustained.

By the close of this process, some two hundred years or more after it began in the sixteenth century, such folk-rituals as had survived were wretched shadows of their former selves. Some were maintained around collective institutions like the local pub, or the local church; some - those more unsettling to the established order of things - were driven underground, reappearing in the mummeries and rituals of the early trade unions and friendly societies. Most withered and died, victims of an increasingly privatised culture of consumption.

The reconstruction of an "English" culture only began to take place in the later nineteenth century. David Cannadine noted how the monarchy was brought from a reviled and penny-pinching insitution in the 1810s, to the heights of imperial grandeur under Queen Victoria. The process was contested; Royden Harrison, in Before the Socialists, gives some indication of widely-held republican views in the 1870s, and the popularity of the republican movement under its charismatic leader, Charles Bradlaugh. The identifiably proletarian cultural institutions began to coalesce in the same period: with rising real wages and a decades-long slide in food prices, the space in which a cheap, accesible popular culture could flourish was reopened. The traditional proletarian cultural environment, dissected most astutely by Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy grew not as the autochthonous expression of long-repressed radical urges, but as the slender entertainments sprouting from recently-planted seeds. Summarised in Hobsbawm's depiction of the ubiquitous cloth-cap - uniformly visible in photographs of working-class crowds from the early 1900s to some way beyond the Second World War - this new culture combined a vehement contempt for bourgeois norms, with a pronounced deference. Perry Anderson's brilliant 1965 essay, "The Origins of the Present Crisis", developed this peculiar, contradictory combination into an historical theory to account for the dominance of Labourism: a relatively settled bourgeoisie produced a "supine, subordinate proletariat", myopically unable to see beyond its own parochial concerns: whether the inveterate economism of the British trade union movement, or the pronounced resistance to new cultural forms, Anderson holds that the British working class was perhaps uniquely, obstinately attached to a Victorian condition of life.

His thesis contains some truth, but goes too far: glossing over the pronounced moments of radical rupture in British history, not least of which - the drawn-out crisis years of 1918-1926 - formed the Labour Party as a mass political organisation, enjoying a unique and largely unchallenged hegemony over the British working class. The Labour Party grew from the defeats of mass, radical political movements. It did not grow, as it were, immanently from longstanding cultural practices. Kingsnorth makes the same error as Anderson, with incomparably less finesse: seeing the cultural expression of the thing as thing itself; seeing the imposition of US cultural capital as displacing honest British ways of life; removing us from the contested spheres of economics and politics, to the vaguer, slower-moving world of culture.

The simple truth is that the British working class is amongst the most identifiably modern in the developed world. The positive elements of its culture have emerged to a near-unique degree from the interaction between global capital, and global labour migrations; its practices of longer-standing remain, but have shown themselves to be flexible in response to the global economy: the pub now serves Thai curries for consumption during European soccer matches, watched on a Japanese TV and washed down with continental lager. Where, in all this, is "England"? Why fight for a shadow?

Following Christopher Hitchens over a cliff: the descent to neo-conservatism (part I)

Harry's Place commented favourably on a spectacularly bad piece of opinionated journalism from Thomas Friedman, in which Friedman concluded that he would continue to support the occupation of Iraq until

a majority of those grunts [US troops] tell us that they are no longer willing to risk their lives to go out and fix the sewers in Sadr City or teach democracy at a local school... But so far, we ain't there yet. The troops are still pretty positive.

This neatly summarises the colonial mentality: logically, the people best placed to decide whether the occupying "grunts" are doing a good job are the Iraqis themselves. Precisely the worst people are the occupying soldiers; or rather, if we assume Iraqis are competent to conduct their own affairs, that is the logical way of proceeding. If we assume - in classic colonial fashion - that they are little better than children, to be scolded when necessary, it makes perfect sense to ask the soldiers. Friedman unwittingly exposes the lie that the occupation is bringing Iraq's freedom, and the mythology of the "concerned, liberal" West. The continuing presence of British and American forces in Iraq is a radical denial of freedom for Iraqis, and as soon as this is seen the ferocity of the resistance can be understood: not arising from the tantrums of poor, backward Arabs, but from the struggle for liberty and basic human dignity.

Needless to say, not all the soldiers' ideas of a "good job" match up with concerned liberal expectations. "He's dead now!" is notorious; but here's another example:

L/Cpl Nicholas Federici, 19, of 1/8 Marines, said: "We didn't get the job done. Now we're going back in to finish it. It's the same with the whole of Iraq. Either we do it, or our friends and younger brothers will come after us to do it.

"Now, we're going in full force. The main thing is to hold our ground and kill as many faggots and bastards as we can. Then we'll rebuild the city, keep our military forces in and hand things over to the Iraqi government."

I posted this in the comments boxes that followed Harry's piece on Friedman. I invite readers to go back and look at the procession of apologetics offered for blatant homophobia that followed it. Harry's Place has made a great show about its commitment to gay rights; fair enough, you might think, for a supposedly "left-wing" website. In practice, this has largely reduced itself to dragging out some of the more offensive musing from a very select handful of Muslim scholars. When confronted, however, with an overtly homophobic remark from an occupying soldier, not just Harry but the assorted of his fellow-travellers bluster and blunder their way through to the suggestion that:

If British troops said they were going to take out "the wankers" would you think they were talking about repressing people who masturbate?

...a quip of such thoroughgoing indifference to oppression that it is almost painful. It is quite clear that the Harry's Place forthright condemnations of homophobia extend only as far as Muslims. Otherwise, it is presumably acceptable.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Someone else is nearly as proud of Britain as I am.

(Single-sentence blogging to compensate for the monograph posted previously.)

Alex Callinicos on the ESF

Yep, the European Social Forum, again. In Alex's view, a generally successful event that rather starkly revealed some of the weaknesses of the mobilising process involved. In particular, as the altermondialiste movement draws itself closer to the political mainstream, some of what have passed for its (largely unexamined) operating assumptions become increasingly unworkable. One of the major indications was the way in which, for a few years now, the core of the UK movement has often consisted of a dedicated group of full-time activists. The ESF process itself reinforces this tendency movement with its high demands for constant, consensual decision-making and continual meeting. By attempting to broaden participation in organising the event, and by stressing the necessity of process, a situation has been created which itself almost parodies the caricature of "Leninist" organisation: rule by the committee-men and professional agitators, with the less committed reduced to useful drones. The more lifestyle-orientated elements of the movement further reinforce this accidental elitism: I remember it being seriously suggested, in one of the larger UK organising meetings, that the problems of accommodation could be solved by simply asking participants to squat in empty properties across London. Fine for 25-year old, unattached anarchists; less good for 40-year old trade unionists with families; out of the question for asylum seekers and other migrants.

Of course, at the event itself, this closet elitism was drowned by the sheer size and chaotic energy of proceedings. Clearly we need to move away from this within the ESF if the movement is to develop; the traditional procedures of working-class democracy (formal votes, most particularly) for all their faults, have much to reccommend them in widening effective participation. Here are Alex's thoughts.


1. The third European Social Forum in London (14-17 October 2004) provided further evidence - if more were needed - of the vitality of the altermondialiste movement. It also confirmed - after Porto Alegre and Paris, Mumbai and Florence - that the social forum remains an astonishingly dynamic and successful political form. The success of the London ESF can demonstrated in various dimensions:

* First of all, the figures: approximately 25,000 took part in 500 plenaries, seminars, workshops, and cultural events, which were addressed by over 2,500 speakers: the figures for pre-registered delegates show that the participants came from right across the continent and beyond the boundaries of even the expanded European Union:

Belgium 593
France 1,003
Germany 834
Greece 363
Italy 1,362
Poland 499
Russia 190
Spain 1,271
Sweden 170

* The concentration of the bulk of the ESF at Alexandra Palace recaptured something of the atmosphere of the Fortezza at Florence, producing an intensification of energies by bringing together a large number of different actors and debates in a confined space for two and a half days;
* London also displayed the same interplay of mobilization and debate that has been the driving force of all the great social forums: the ESF culminated in a demonstration in central London of around 100,000, before which the Assembly of the Social Movements launched a call for international protests against neo-liberalism and war on the weekend of 19-20 March 2005.

These are all measures common to the London ESF and its predecessors. But in certain respects, the ESF marked a significant step forward.

* The mainstream of the trade union movement in Britain was actively involved in both the preparatory process and the Forum itself: feedback from various unions has been overwhelmingly positive, with reports of highly successful seminars involving important networks of activists;
* There was also a marked increased in participation by black, Asian, Muslim, and refugee networks: this is an important achievement given the Europe-wide offensive against civil liberties and the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers;
* There was a very rich and ambitious cultural programme;
* The number of plenaries was sharply reduced, giving more space to self-organized events. Moreover, the efforts to reduce the number of plenary speakers, establish a gender balance among them, and allow more time for discussion from the floor were quite successful;
* My impression - and that of others to whom I have spoken - was of a significant increase in the intellectual quality of the debate: in the seminars that I attended I was very struck by the extent to which both platform speakers and contributors from the floor avoided the ritual denunciations of neo-liberalism and imperialism for serious analysis and discussion.

All these improvements did not occur randomly. They were among the aims of those centrally involved in organizing the ESF. We are therefore entitled to claim a fair measure of success.

The ESF in London was smaller than its predecessors in Florence and Paris, which each attracted around 50,000 people. This is hardly surprising: the altermondialiste movement first began to take shape in Europe with the formation of ATTAC in France in 1998; since Genoa the movement has been strongest in Italy. In Britain there has been a very strong anti-war movement, but only a widespread, but diffuse anti-globalization consciousness.

The London Forum, which involved the plentiful participation of young people and a broad coverage of all the issues of concern to the movement in the plenaries and seminars, should, together with the mobilization for the G8 summit in Gleneagles next July, help to transform this consciousness into much stronger organized networks in Britain. The corporate media in Britain are notoriously reluctant to provide serious coverage of the altermondialiste movement, but the Guardian (18 October 2004) acknowledged the significance of the Forum, warning that

'mainstream politicians are out of touch with both the spirit, content and the style of the inclusive non-party politics now emerging under the ESF umbrella. Any professional politician observing the audiences of 1,000 or more people raptly listening to debates on globalisation, the power of corporations, racism, food or the environment would do well to reflect on the narrowness of their own political agenda and the genuine transnationalism now clearly informing European youth ... Out of the connections being made between radically different groups, it is possible to see in years to come the emergence of a genuine new politics of the European left.'

Of course, there were weaknesses. No one comes to London for the food, but the food at Alexandra Palace was terrible, and terribly expensive. The experience of the preparatory work on the programme confirms Bernard Cassen's criticism of the first two ESFs that an enormous amount of time and energy is devoted to deciding the subjects of the plenaries and selecting the speakers. It will be interesting to see the experiment at the next World Social Forum at Porto Alegre of dispensing entirely with plenaries and having only self-organized events.

Other problems were more subjective. Some people didn't like the way in which the division of the rooms at Alexandra Palace meant that noise from one seminar or plenary spilled over into others. Personally, I thought the noise was manageable and that it did have the virtue of making audible the diversity of voices that is such a powerful feature of our movement.

2. The London ESF was accompanied by plenty of political noise. To a significant degree this reflected the fact that our very diversity means that there are plenty of political disagreements. For example, many comrades, especially from France, didn't like the fact that the war in Iraq was very prominent in London, as it was in Florence.

In part this disagreement reflects differences in national context. In Britain the war dominates politics and is far and away the biggest mobilizing issue. Without the prominence of the war and the leading involvement in the ESF of the British peace movement, the Forum would have been a far less dynamic affair, and the final demonstration would have been little larger than the participation in the Forum itself.

But there is more involved here. The war in Iraq is also the dominant issue in world politics. This is not simply because of the divisions that it has provoked among the major powers. The Bush administration's unilateral assertion of military power, the brutality of the occupation, its accompaniment by the imposition of the full neo-liberal economic programme on Iraq - all of this for many activists sums up what is wrong with corporate globalization.

Others - and they are particularly influential in France - disagree. They believe there is no necessary connection between the Bush war drive and neo-liberal globalization. I think they are mistaken, and that every day that passes underlines the importance of understanding the links between economic and military power that are at the heart of modern imperialism. This is a substantive political disagreement with which we are going to have to learn to live while working together in the same movement.

Often it is more difficult to acknowledge the significance of these disagreements because they are presented as procedural problems. Thus a number of French networks have complained about the fact that the platform at one seminar were all agreed in defending the right of young Muslim women to wear the hejab, even though this does not seem to have prevented a very vigorous debate taking place from the floor. This seems to me like an evasion of the real issue.

The truth is very many activists in the rest of Europe find the support that much of the French left and union movement gave the law banning the hejab in French state schools quite incomprehensible. ATTAC France's recent assessment of the ESF complains about the role of 'confessional organizations' in London. But a secularism that excludes the most oppressed sections of French society is as communalist as any of the Islamist organizations it denounces.

The issue of the hejab is really a symptom of the real problem, which is how to expand our movement to embrace those at the bottom of European society who suffer both economic exploitation and racial oppression and many of whom, for that very reason, strongly attach themselves to their Muslim faith. Once again, this isn't a question on which we will reach rapid or easy agreement. But at least we should recognize the importance of the debate, rather than take refuge in arguments about how one seminar was organized.

3. These disagreements spilled over into several attempts at disruption. Overall these incidents had very little impact on the ESF. The vast bulk of events went on completely unaffected by them, and most participants in the Forum and the final demonstration and concert didn't see them. But both because they received some attention in the media and on the net, and because this is the first time that an ESF has been successfully disrupted (an attempt to attack a Socialist Party representative in Paris was foiled by security guards), these attacks are worth discussing.

Their apologists have offered various excuses. One is the alleged lack of democracy in the organizing process in Britain. One difficulty in this process has certainly been that participants have very different conceptions of democracy and often showed little tolerance of definitions different from their own. But the real problem with the British process lay elsewhere.

At different stages this process embraced a very wide range of forces - stretching from the Trade Union Congress and mainstream NGOs to autonomist groups with a history of intermittent violence such as the Wombles. Holding this coalition together would have been difficult in any circumstances. Of course, the Italian and French comrades also have developed very broad coalitions, but it was probably an advantage that these had been constructed well in advance of actually organizing the ESF, so that people had an experience of working together.

In Britain, by contrast, the altermondialiste networks that had participated in the earlier Forums were relatively weak. A coalition had to be created from scratch to organize the London ESF. This involved bringing together very diverse organizations with no history of working together and huge differences in political culture. Working together would have been hard in any circumstances.

Nevertheless, a very heavy responsibility for the difficulties that developed must rest with the autonomist circles. Their attitude towards the ESF varied between outright opposition (theorized by the Wombles in a critique of the Social Forums as inherently reformist) and variable but usually not very constructive participation in the process (often through the agency of various fellow travellers).

Every effort was made to accommodate them: for example, the London ESF provided an Autonomous Space along the lines of those organized in Florence and Paris. As agreed at the European Preparatory Assembly, all meetings of the UK Organizing and Coordinating Committees were open. But many of those associated with the autonomists expressed hostility to the experience of the Social Forums as mass events and therefore to the participation of the unions and the NGOs. To have given way here would have led to an ESF in London dramatically smaller than any of its predecessors and confined to a self-selecting circle of the already converted.

The case of the Iraq plenary illustrates the problem. I think it was a mistake to have invited a representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, which supports the Anglo-American occupation, to have spoken at the ESF. The fact that one did was as a result of very strong support for the IFTU from many British trade unions (the IFTU now has an office in the headquarters of the largest union, UNISON).

The unwelcome presence of the IFTU at the ESF was thus a consequence of building a Forum that reached deep into the mainstream of the labour movement. The foolish decision by a handful of protestors (in this case mainly members of British and Middle Eastern far left sects) to shout down a platform mainly composed of the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and Iraqis opposed to the occupation was thus a refusal to engage with this mainstream. It represented exactly the kind of sterile sectarian politics from which the rest of us are trying to escape.

4. The attacks made on the anti-fascist plenary and the stage in Trafalgar Square were the work largely of autonomists many of whom are in principle opposed to the Social Forums. In addition to claims of lack of democracy, two other excuses were given for these actions. First of all, the 'corporate ESF' and the support given by Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, were denounced.

It is hard to take this seriously. Anyone who has attended the WSF in Porto Alegre will remember the corporate adverts welcoming delegates and the VIP suite at the PUC. The importance of support from local government (and indeed from political parties) is indicated by the proposal that was made to move the forthcoming WSF from Porto Alegre after the PT lost control of the city in November.

The pattern has been the same with the ESF. Florence received support from the regional government. In addition to help from the municipalities of Paris, St Denis, Bobigny and Ivry, the Paris ESF received 1 million euros from the office of the right-wing Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. No one criticized the French comrades for this, presumably because we all understood that a mass Social Forum needs money and money means compromises. In the case of London this money was provided by a mayor who, despite his mistaken decision to rejoin the Labour Party, has consistently supported the anti-war movement. Why are different standards applied to London than to the other Social Forums?

The other excuse given for the disruptions was the role of the police. It has even been claimed that ESF organizers were responsible for the arrests at the demonstration and in Trafalgar Square. These assertions are entirely false and indeed libellous; but they are also ridiculous - how could a veteran revolutionary socialist like me have any influence over the Metropolitan Police? The comrades who have made such claims should withdraw them at once.

It is, moreover, is puzzling that some arrests rather than others have attracted attention. For example, during the registrations at Conway Hall on Thursday 14 October a very aggressive police squad cleared Red Lion Square of the queues and arrested a Socialist Workers Party organizer. Two Globalise Resistance activists were stopped leaving the final demonstration under the Terrorism Act 2000. One of them was arrested and fined £80. An individual who appears to have been part of the group that tried to storm the stage in Trafalgar Square was also arrested and fined the same amount. But only his case attracted sympathy and attention, for example from some leading French activists. Once again, a double standard seems to be at work.

But even if the criticisms that have been made of the British organizers were largely correct, this would not justify the introduction of violence inside the Forum. Violence and debate are antitheses: those who believe that diversity and discussion are among the greatest strengths of our movement cannot tolerate attempts to settle arguments by force. Moreover, those who bring violence into the movement bring the state in with them: the attacks in Trafalgar Square gave the police the pretext to intervene and arrest people. Those European comrades who have refused to condemn, or condoned, or even colluded in the disruption of the London ESF should reflect on the very dangerous precedent they are creating for the future.

5. It is, in any case, the future about which we need to be thinking. The next ESF will be in Athens in the spring of 2006. What political lessons does the experience of London offer? The most important is that, as the Italian comrades pointed out after Florence, the great strengths of the movement are radicality and diversity. We have managed the near-miracle of developing a movement that embraces an extraordinarily wide social and political range but that has mounted a challenge to capitalist imperialism as a system. This was very evident in London: as at Florence, many of the largest and most dynamic meetings were dominated by the politics of the radical left.

But London also showed that combining radicality and diversity becomes harder, not easier, over time. Important divergences have crystallized over a variety of issues – the war, the European Constitution, the hejab, the role of the radical left. There are also differences over how to build the movement: some networks are much more ambivalent about involving the trade-union mainstream than others. This last difference cuts across others: for example, I suspect I am closer to some French comrades about bringing in the unions than I am to some Italian comrades with whom, however, I agree much more about the war. This makes holding together and expanding the coalitions we are trying to build much more complicated.

We must also confront the fact that the process itself is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. ATTAC France rightly points to the fact that attendance at the European Preparatory Assembly has stagnated since Florence and argues that 'the functioning of the EPA must be improved in a logic of democratization, of representativity and of enlargement'. This is easier said than done, particularly given the stress laid in our procedures on meetings being open to all and deciding by consensus, which can give great power to disruptive but unrepresentative minorities.

Hence the strains that became visible in London. We need to understand this when we prepare for Athens. The divisions in the British process tended to polarize between a coalition of significant social movements and a disruptive but socially weak autonomist fringe. But there are some four powerful forces that will need to be brought into the ESF - the Greek Social Forum, the Genoa 2001 Campaign, the Greek Communist Party, and the trade unions, whose leadership tend to be linked to PASOK. Only the first two have been involved in the ESF process, and all four have a history of mutual conflict. Bringing them together will be a big challenge for us all.

So things are unlikely to get any easier for us - and not primarily because of our own petty squabbles. After all, George W. Bush has been re-elected with what he regards as a mandate to carry on waging global war and polluting the planet. This is a reminder of the distance we have still to travel before we can imagine having achieved any of the concrete goals adopted in all our seminars and plenaries. But our successes - most recently at the London ESF - leave me confident of our ability to build a movement that can start to win real victories.

Alex Callinicos 26 November 2004

Friday, November 26, 2004

He he! Taking over the internet and stuffing up Google for the purposes of mildly irritating New Labour, the scamps

Proud of Britain? Why, yes, Mr Blunkett, sir. Snigger snigger

(NB: this has now actually annoyed New Labour to the extent of writing snotty legal letters. Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me! Yeah! God this is great.)

Ukraine ukraine ukraine (Iraq)

This newspaper has a report from an international observer for the Ukranian elections, Dave Crouch, who reports that

The two main candidates each took 40 percent of the vote at the first round of elections for president on Sunday 24 October. A second round of voting is due on 21 November.

Tension on election day was extreme. The government brought armoured cars and water cannon into Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.


Both candidates have promised to take Ukrainian troops out of Iraq.

The deployment of Ukranian troops to Iraq has been at the centre of a political tussle inside the country:

Privately, President Leonid Kuchma does not support the U.S. led coalition; during his second term in office he has permitted and encouraged a growth in anti-Americanism. Kuchma believes that the United States (i.e., the CIA) was behind the Kuchmagate scandal that arose from the publicity given to tape recordings illicitly made in his office in 1999-2000. The recordings were made by Mykola Melnychenko, an officer serving in a Ukrainian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service. Melnychenko obtained asylum in the United States in April 2001.

Kuchma tilted the country substantially towards Russia, backing up Vladimir Putin in opposing the initial invasion of Iraq. What the Jamestown Foundation report does not mention is the content of those transcriptions. According to the BBC

...Washington accused Kiev of supplying the sophisticated Kolchuga aircraft detection system to Baghdad in breach of international sanctions.

Ukranian deployment was token, to say the least, as are virtually all the deployments of the "coalition of the willing"; it may have "gone a long way towards repairing relations with the US", but these were at such a low ebb that it is scarcely surprising Washington does not care too much for Kuchma's preferred candidate, current Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovich.

However, the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, hardly rises above the corruption that the Ukraine's new elite wallow in:

The main opposition candidate is Viktor Yushchenko. A former prime minister himself, he is backed by Yulia Timoshenko, a multi-millionaire businesswoman who reaped massive profits from the resale of gas...

Nor do his business as usual policies represent much improvement for ordinary Ukranians over the previous decade of privatisation and deregulation. But given a space to organise, and the chance to defend hard-won demorcatic freedoms, Dave Crouch is quite correct to say:

The squabble in the elite has created space for trade unions to organise. Whoever wins the election, the government will be weak, which creates opportunities for struggle from below. Trade unions must mobilise against any attempt at a military crackdown.

A grass-roots campaign, Pora, has grown up, built on the hope that Yushchenko will act to sweep out the old Kuchma-era rubbish, however faint that may be. It bears some resemblance to Otpor!, the Serbian youth movement that played a critical role in deposing Slobodan Milosevic in late 2000. Then, as now, whatever the failings of the official opposition, the role of socialists is clear: to support the uprising, and to stand against whatever military repression may be unleashed. Milosevic, after attempting to fiddle an election, was deposed by a mass movement, based upon colossal strikes - most importantly in the coal mines - and mobilising hundreds of thousands. There is a clear model here for building democracy, and it has little to do with diplomatic machinations, or - worse yet - the US Marine Corps.

Update: I've removed the embarrassing factual error above.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Flippancy over, get back in line and look pissed off

Actually, not quite, for those splendid people at No2ID have sneakily bought up some webspace that is almost - but not quite - the same address as the government's awful "Proud of Britain" website.

("Proud of Britain"? Why? How?)

Anyone who remembers New Labour's campaign in the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election will know exactly what to expect for the forthcoming general election. It's not quite Church and Queen/Paulsgrove-style lynch mobs - "over there! a paeditrician! kill kill!" - but you get the drift.

Guildford: by any means necessary

Sorry about sudden quietness. Lenin nearly choked to death; Ed knocked himself out; I had to go to Guildford. Cackling Third Witch Eric's dire prediction (or is it a threat?) is coming to pass, it seems.

A while back, I seem to remember a well-meaning journalist trying to give his British audience a sense of where Fallujah was in relation to Baghdad. "It's roughly the same size and distance from London as Guildford," he said. On reflection, this was less a laudable attempt to present the news in a clear and comprehensible fashion, as a sinister ploy to win support for the occupation. They're razing Iraq's Guildford to the ground? It's enough to turn anyone Christopher Hitchens.

(It may, come to think of it, have been Reading. It may have been Woking. Details, details: these places are all much of a muchness and should the US Army want any of them, they can have them.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Queen's Speech more than usually abysmal

Anybody slightly horrified by the Queen's speech, during which the government revealed its obsessive concern with so-called "security", may want to have a think about getting themselves to this public meeting:


Tuesday 30th November 2004

- Karen Couhan, 1990 Trust
- Weyman Bennet, Unite Against Fascism
- Nadine Finch, Statewatch
- Simon Davies, No2ID

The Brix, St Matthew's Church, Brixton SW2

Of all the many stupid ideas New Labour have confected over the past few years, ID cards do come close to taking the biscuit. With police stop and searches for British Asians up by 302% between 2002-2003, ID cards will be little more than an excuse for our wonderful police forces to harrass every single black or Asian person in the entire country, whenever they feel like it and on whatever unpleasant whim takes their fancy. They are already making the most of the opportunities the "anti-terror" legislation has provided, and will exploit ID cards for all they're worth. Security? Compulsory ID cards would have stopped 9/11? Ridiculous bloody nonsense.

It's pretty clear what New Labour think they can win - or at least flollop through - the next general election with. That, to me, looks like a gauntlet being thrown down for the real Left: let BLunkett bleat on about ASBOs, let Blair threaten to twist the legislative screws a few more times. We can defeat them on the particulars, with ID cards top on the list, and I'm quietly confident we can undermine them on the general.


"A year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush."

- Richard Perle, speech to the American Enterprise Institute, September 22, 2003

Conspiracy theories: almost (but not quite) agreeing with David Aaronovitch, again

I'll start by drawing your attention to the exchange that took place here. Following on from Eric's typical, casual dismissal of the UK's principal Muslim organisation for daring to hint that international legality be maintained in respect of the occupation of Iraq, my blogging comrade Mark Elf pointed out that Eric had earlier been less forthright about the kidnapping of Ken Bigley. Eric had, in fact, rather implied that Bigley was in some way colluding with those who later beheaded him, quoting without comment the same suggestion made in the Daily Telegraph. When challenged by Mark on this point, Eric reacted furiously, hurling insults; when two respondents to Eric's earlier post on Bigley more baldly stated that the British hostage was working with his kidnappers, Eric passed no judgement, even when one of these two called some hostages "moral cretins" and likened them to Nazi sympathisers.

Now there's as fine a conspiracy theory as you could hope for. That it should be decisively and appallingly wrong does not remove from its grandeur: hostages aren't really hostages, they're simply trying to turn public opinion against the war. Just look at Paul Bigley's reaction to the Blair government's mishandling of his brother's case: clearly, the man has a Hidden Agenda, for who of honest intent could possibly take issue with our noble PM?

When Aaronovitch chose, this Sunday, to attack the Left for its conspiracy theorising, citing an Observer poll showing a majority of Britons believe that the Bush administration knew about 9/11 prior to it taking place, he had almost hit upon a point. Almost, but not quite: conspiracy theories are, it is true, generally quite daft. That many people give them some credence shows a healthy cynicism about the world, but it says little else. The Left doesn't need a theory of conspiracies to explain Iraq, it needs a theory of imperialism; as Tim of HUH? remarked, following Jameson, the fact capitalism has a tendency to look like a conspiracy does not mean that it is one. "After all, when you actually do control the world, you don't need shady conspiracies." We need analytical tools that can deal with structure and agency in capitalism, that can cope with ideology, and that can allow political conclusions to be drawn. Theories of all-powerful cabals manipulating the world do not merely miss the point - they are debilitating.

Yet who out there believes in the biggest, most ludicrous conspiracies? Aaronovitch fell down when he failed to mention the absurd beliefs that first, Iraq had been secretly stockpiling WMDs prior to its invasion; second, that Saddam Hussein was collaborating with his sworn enemy, Osama Bin Laden, to launch attacks on the US; and third, that George Bush was dedicated to defeating "fascism" in the Middle East, and introducing democracy. Aaronovitch failed to mention these because he has spent a great deal of time promoting all these beliefs, in one form or another; but they must rank amongst the wildest, craziest conspiracy theories ever assembled. It is no wonder, then, that having started by believing this nonsense, minor commentators like Eric suddenly find themselves with a host of lesser conspiracies, including the strange idea that an innocent man would collude with his murderers.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Should've mentioned this some time ago, but Jonas is back from his real-world absence and has restarted A New Morning. The same mix of revolutionary socialism, headache-inducing German and occasional English bits as before, including this report on German special forces and Iraq.

Have a look, whilst you're at it, at the Military Families Against the War website, cunningly designed to send puffed-up reactionaries into spluttering fits of spite. Troops out now.

Fathers 4 Injustice

Some time ago, an argument erupted in the comments boxes over at Lenin's Tomb concerning Fathers4Justice. F4J have created a great media furore over the last year or so with a series of high-profile stunts featuring estranged fathers dressed up as comic book heroes to demand "fathers' rights" in access for their children. Though widely viewed as misguided prats, there is a certain sympathy for fathers chewed up by the Byzantine adminstrative machine that is the UK's child support system. The recent resignation of the Child Support Agency's Chief Executive, Doug Smith, following mismanagement at the CSA that led to over half of maintenance payments to lone parents being delayed, indicates some of the problems, and not just in access rights that F4J concern themselves with.

When it was suggested at the Tomb, however, that underneath F4J's basically harmless prattery and vaguely meaningful concerns were the politics of an anti-women backlash, not a few threw up their hands horror. Political correctness had gone mad: these poor wronged fathers were merely out for their kids, and it was a typical knee-jerk response of the Left to claim otherwise.

The F4J website makes their politics pretty clear: they claim, as their main campaigning objective, the effective implementation of the 1989 Childrens' Act:

CHILD'S BEST INTEREST PRINCIPLE - ENFORCE THE WILL OF PARLIAMENT NOW! Parliament intended that the child's best interest was best served by children maintaining a loving, meaningful relationship with both parents.

They are, in other words, pressurising the government to implement a shoddy piece of Thatcherite legislation. F4J blame the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) for failing to apply the law as they say it was intended; frankly, in many cases this is entirely sensible: a child's "best interests" are not always best served by maintaining contact with both parents, and it is a little absurd to claim otherwise. Notice here that it is this Labour government's attempted implementation of bad Tory law that is attacked, not the bad Tory law itself.

The most telling statement Fathers4Justice make, though, is when discussing the alleged ill-effects of the current child support system. It is worth quoting in full:

What sort of legacy is left behind as a result of the policies of the LCD?
The legacy of the family breakdown and the fragmentation of parent/child relationships is all around us. Teenage crime, drug taking, truancy and general delinquency. The government recently said that it would hold parents responsible for their children's actions if they are involved in repeat offending, even to the extent of introducing a system of fining parents. Yet how do you hold a father responsible for a child he has been denied access to for 10 years by the policies of the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Family Courts?

The UK has the second highest rate of young offending in Western Europe. Is it coincidence that the explosion in young offending has happened under a government that is systematically denying thousands of children 'contact' with their fathers?

Children are growing up with multiple step fathers yet being denied access to their own dads. The tragic reality of this policy is that many fathers can see anyone else's kids except their own. All fathers are asking for is the rights as mum's new partner.

Does the LCD know what the outcomes for children have been since the introduction of the 1989 Children Act? Sadly, the answer is no. In fact up until very recently the LCD kept no records on either the short term or long term outcomes for children. We have no way of knowing how children who have been 'processed' through the family law system have faired.

This is a direct attack on single mothers, and a firm restatement of the conservative adage that only proper, two-parent families can be trusted to raise children; or, failing that, kids without fathers become badly-adjusted monsters. Like so much rhetoric on the Right, it plays on a perceived epidemic of crime and delinquency. Again, see how directly the Labour government - rather than the Tory law it works from - is criticised for provoking an "explosion" in young offending; to answer their rhetorical question, of course it is a coincidence. There is no reliably demonstrated link between single-parent families and crime, as the F4J rather amusingly admits in the last paragraph: "We have no way of knowing how children who have been 'processed' through the family courts have fared." F4J rely, instead, on blind prejudice.

With this background, it was not a great surprise to read yesterday that Fathers4Justice have reacted furiously to a BBC documentary about themselves. The film, which has still to be aired, alleges that numerous F4J activists have been denied access to their children because of their histories of abusive and violent behaviour, and features anonymous interviews with the former partners of F4J protestors. F4J, as would be expected, have complained loudly, It is their grounds for doing so that cause concern. Rather than deny any of the allegations, Matthew O'Connor, "founder of Fathers4Justice" and frequent spokesman for the group, has claimed Fiona Bruce, presenter of the documentary, is "biased":

Fathers4Justice has threatened to lodge a formal complaint against the BBC as soon as the programme is broadcast, arguing that Bruce's endorsement for campaigns run by the domestic violence charity Women's Aid mean the programme will be biased.

'My gut feeling is Fiona made it a programme about her views to do with domestic violence. I can't see how they can say she's impartial,' said Matthew O'Connor, founder of Fathers4Justice.

Bruce's "views on domestic violence" are presumably the same as the rest of us, and of her producer, who robustly defended the programme:

'Fiona Bruce has no position on this personally or any official position with any charity or campaigning body working in this area - other, of course, than the position that domestic violence is a bad thing, which the BBC does not think is controversial,'

Or so you would hope. Yet in the strange world of Fathers 4 Justice, to endorse a charity working with victims of domestic violence is to reveal - what? - your "anti-father" bias? Your role in the great PC conspiracy? More than just the spectacle of middle-aged men in tights, this is genuinely disturbing stuff.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Sudden outbreak of agreeing with Charles Clarke

Just what is going on? First Aaronovitch on Islam, and now the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke on education: I find myself suddenly on the same side as two larger-than-life public characters I'm more used to chasing off the stage (in one case) or heckling loudly (in the other). But there you go - the bearded ex-Communist bruiser turned sharp-suited jug-eared Cabinet minister for selling off schools speaks out against residual feudalism, and wins friends in all manner of places. (Very temporary friends, I expect, as what Clarke plans for education more generally isn't funny.) But hey - at least we can all agree that Prince Charles, when suggesting that schools encourage pupils to get ideas above their station, is "old-fashioned and out of time". Anyone with even the remotest pretence to sit on the Left, at least.

Which would exclude - oh, you're ahead of me - this happy band of wannabe iconoclasts. Railing against the "kneejerk consensusmongers" who dominate politics to such an extent that, um, they've been completely unable to roll back the dreadful league table and testing regime this government pushes in schools, Marcus of Harry's Place approvingly quotes another rallying to the Prince's tattered flag:

The PC conspiracy to abolish school league tables, from football scores to exam results, is all about pretending there are no winners or losers; that anyone can win just by asking. And that falsehood - which Charles Windsor was pointing out in his own inimitable, wonky style - is the cruel fantasy the modern PC elite are using to hoodwink our young folk.

Ah, the all-powerful PC conspiracy. What next? The "cosmopolitan elite", perhaps? "Guardianistas" is this man's favourite tag for this insidious fifth column of tofu-munching muesli-knitters - perhaps Marcus could adopt it.

(By the by, the only other "Marcus" I can think of with such gloriously Georgian views is the pseudonymous author of an early nineteenth century pamphlet advocating infanticide as a means of population control. Sure, it's controversial, but, after all, "Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear".)

The commodity-form revisited: speculations on the Spectacular society

Wouldn't normally do this, but received an email from a college friend who said, in passing, of an Old School anarchist we both know:

Talking of which I saw Ed recently... the punk legend. He was keenly enthusing about some Mushrooms he bought from Igigis. "Good old capitalism," I wryly commented... as he supped at his early morning can of stella. Anarchism and good quality, imported, continental lager. "Yes," he replied, "I've had so much capitalism this morning I can hardly stand up."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Abandoning even the pretence of neutrality: the rule of law in colonial Iraq

With the rubble of Fallujah still warm, US troops move in on a second Iraqi city, Mosul, and in the same report we learn this:

In Baghdad, US forces arrested a senior member of an influential Sunni political party in a pre-dawn raid on his home. Naseer Ayaef, a high-ranking member of the Iraqi Islamic party, was taken into custody in apparent retaliation for the party's opposition to the assault on Falluja.

Mr Ayaef, a member of the interim Iraqi National Council, was also part of the Falluja delegation that had tried and failed to negotiate peace talks with the central government.

What the Guardian doesn't mention is that, as deputy speaker of the Council, Naseer Ayaef enjoys immunity under the provisional legal code that supposedly independent Iraq is ruled under. The Iraqi Islamic Party pulled out of the Allawi government in protest at the assualt on Fallujah. Its leading member in Iraq's supposedly sovereign legislature was arrested just over a week later.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Ruling class discomfort

I like to see them squirm. I like to see them wriggle around and look uncomfortable. I particularly relish seeing those who would send others to fight and kill and perhaps die for causes they malignly justified start to sweat a little. And what a response we have, from those who would troop young men and women off to Iraq to maintain colonial authority. Redolent of the finest traditions of the Raj, and the blustering ruling-class response to mutinies everywhere, we have Oliver Kamm's latest dollop of reactionary tripe, here dropping his own leaden prose for that of a fellow colonialist:

Today the tearful families of soldiers killed in the assault on Arnhem laid the blame where they say it belongs - at 10 Downing Street. They placed a wreath of poppies on Winston Churchill's doorstep during a symbolic minute's silence. The relatives, who have formed a campaign group, Military Families Against Soldiers Being Killed in Action, delivered an emotional letter to the Prime Minister charging him with "morally unacceptable conduct" and of entering a "contrived war". Afterwards they launched a savage attack on the Government and demanded that British troops be brought home.

No, of course they didn't. My point is not to compare Tony Blair to Churchill, which would be a provocation too far, or to compare the Second World War to what is going on Iraq, but just to illustrate why the sight of those families laying their wreath at Number 10 on Thursday made me want to throw up. In the past, military families have been like a seam of granite running through the country, immovable, inspiring, meeting adversity with a steady eye. Perhaps they always felt this way, even in 1944, but the media did them the kindness of not exposing their vulnerability to the cameras.

Back in line, proles, back in line. Delightful, isn't it? Those whose sons and daughters were despatched - with the connivance of those, like Farndale and Kamm, who issued the apologetics for it - to be killed in Iraq are making Farndale "want to throw up". They are, as they used to say, Lacking Moral Fibre: unlike those armchair generals, who with keep their upper lips always stiffened and their eyes always "steady", these beastly creatures are allowing their base emotions and their "vulnerability" to get the better of them.

This makes me want to throw up. Comfortable newspaper columnists breezily dictating political morality to the casualties of wars they supported: that is sickening. But to add to the squalor of all this, Kamm must have his say:

In short, the families of British servicemen killed in Iraq are conducting their protests under the auspices of an organisation that supports those who are doing the killing. It is for that reason that I doubt the Coalition is being open in its position with those families.

These military families are not only LMF; they are ignorant dupes, too stupid to be trusted to make their own decisions. Delightful stuff.

Sudden outbreak of agreeing with David Aaronovitch

Back in the day, before Tony Blair, when the Tories were in charge and all this were fields, I used to read David Aaronovitch in the Independent. Regularly. I used to agree with pretty much everything he said, too, especially when he was lambasting the hapless - if corrupt and sickening - Tory government. And then Blair got elected, and David Aaronovitch stopped being a witty critic of corrupt and sickening government, and decided to start justifying it in increasingly strident terms, especially when it was righteously dropping more bombs than the Tories ever dared to.

So David and I parted company. It was peculiar, then, to read an Aaronovitch column after all these years that I actually agreed with, from start to finish. He's cottoned on to the fact that a dark tide is rising over the Western world and is threatening to wash away all those liberal values we hold so dear. Yes, David has discovered Europe's Muslims, though - and here's the surprise - not in the approved post-9/11 fashion:

[T]here is today - even among intelligent and thoughtful people - a story of Muslims as there was, when my father was young, a story of Jews. The story of Jews was about the clannishness and closeness of a self-designated "chosen people", and how they used their undoubted talents to manipulate the media, the world of finance and (latterly) the US political process. And if one was caught in a fraud, then (as I once overheard a Daily Mail columnist say to Norman Tebbit), wasn't that "their" way?

The story of Muslims is of a backward, super-sensitive religion which mistreats women and suppresses dissent. It is as true and as useful as the story of Jews, and, if we keep on telling it, leads to a similar place.

Tony Blair does not actually give a rat's arse about human rights and democracy

I couldn't put it any more succinctly, sorry. Blair delivered a stomach-churning speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet a few days ago, in which he declared the sacred role of the West in delivering democracy to the savage areas of the world. Here is the White Man's Burden resting heavy on his shoulders:

But I am saying that, patiently and plainly, Europe and America should be working together to bring the democratic human and political rights we take for granted to the world denied them.

Over the cloying scents of five exquisitely-prepared courses, the banqueting nobility and the great and the good might just, if they strained, have caught the whiff of DU and burnt flesh behind Blair's words. But ignore, for a minute, Iraq; just a day later, Blair's utter hypocrisy was exposed once more.

Four Egyptian asylum seekers were ruled in July to have been unlawfully detained in the UK under the anti-terrorism laws. The High Court judges ruled that there was a sufficient danger of them being tortured or killed if deported to Egypt that they should be granted leave to remain in Britain without detention. The civil liberties organisaion, Statewatch, has revelead that their unlawful detention was the result of the Prime Minister's own intervention in the case. Blair personally wished to remove these men to Egypt, despite knowing the very high risk of serious human rights breaches if they were. The Guardian reports that

When Mr Blair was warned by the home secretary in a private letter that there was "ample evidence from a range of sources of serious human rights abuses in Egypt", and that there was "little scope for pushing deportations any further", he replied: "This is crazy. Why can't we press on?"

Consider this in the light of Blair's speech: would the process of bringing "democratic human and political rights" to Egypt be assisted, or weakened, by the Prime Minister's willingness to overlook the Mubarak regime's use of torture and execution? Blair was, is, and will doubtless remain a disgusting hypocrite; but our war criminal Prime Minister has revealed further depths.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Lancet study

D-squared and Chris Lightfoot provide summaries and rebuttals of the assorted criticisms that have been made of the Lancet's mortality study of post-invasion Iraq. This suggested that around 100,000 excess deaths had resulted from the invasion, a staggeringly - really shockingly - high figure, and far worse than even the pessimistic estimate of Iraq Body Count.

The Lancet piece has been subjected to a barrage of attacks, ranging from the amateur statisticians of blogland, to the unfortunately equally amateur statisticians in the Prime Minister's office:

Firstly, the survey appeared to be based on an extrapolation technique rather than a detailed body count. Our worries centred on the fact that the technique in question appeared to treat Iraq as if every area was one and the same. In terms of the level of conflict, that was definitely not the case. Secondly, the survey appeared to assume that bombing had taken place throughout Iraq. Again, that was not true. It had been focussed primarily on areas such as Fallujah. Consequently, we did not believe that extrapolation was an appropriate technique to use.

Actually, the problem here isn't the general incomprehension of confidence intervals that seems to prevail amongst the pro-war fraternity. (He says knowingly: but come on, it's not that bloody difficult.) It's more that they just haven't read the damn paper: it was not based on the assumption that bombing had taken place throughout Iraq, and it explicitly excluded Fallujah. It's not as if No.10 haven't read academic papers before, either, having plagiarised one for their laughable "dossier" justifying the war.

(It was whilst grabbing these links off Shot by Both Sides that I noticed a truly spectacular example of what I suppose is the unarmed kamikaze approach to debate carrying on in the comments boxes. Not so much being savaged by a dead sheep, as seeing someone punch themselves repeatedly in the face. It is painful to watch.)

Latter-day Crusade is not merry prank

Frivolity is worse than immorality. Be told.

(The Bush win has gone to his head, I fear.)

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Single, democratic, secular trousers

The frolicsome Harry Hutton offering the thoughts of Palestinian taxi drivers:

Lotsa talk about the Palestinian / Israeli problem, now that Arafat has croaked. People always make out that it is complicated, when in fact a child could grasp it. The best explanation I ever heard came from a Palestinian taxi driver: "How is two countries in one land? Is like two men in one trousers- how can it be, this?"

With "hungbunny" (I know, I know) suggesting the refinement

"Like two men in one trousers belonging to the first man until the second man threatened to kill his wife and family unless he let him squeeze into the trousers too, and then killed them anyway and stole his olive groves for good measure"

Hungbunny's equally whimsical website can be found here, though I admit it is whimsy with an unmistakable undercurrent of deranged violence.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Removing obstacles to democracy, starting with the hospitals

The policy of targetting "propaganda centres" is paying off:

Residents say scores of civilians have been killed or wounded in 24 hours of fighting since US-led forces pushed deep into the rebel-held city on Monday.

Doctors saw at least 15 dead civilians at the main clinic in Falluja on Monday. By yesterday, there were no clinics open and no way to count casualties.

Friday, November 12, 2004

He said what...?

The quote reproduced on the front page of this newspaper is, if anything, worse when placed in its context:

L/Cpl Nicholas Federici, 19, of 1/8 Marines, said: "We didn't get the job done. Now we're going back in to finish it. It's the same with the whole of Iraq. Either we do it, or our friends and younger brothers will come after us to do it.

"Now, we're going in full force. The main thing is to hold our ground and kill as many faggots and bastards as we can. Then we'll rebuild the city, keep our military forces in and hand things over to the Iraqi government."

"Either we do it, or our friends and younger brothers will come after us" to kill "faggots and bastards". No illusions about it all being over by Christmas, then. It's the long, slow haul to a "faggot and bastard" free Iraq.

Meanwhile, in a Trevor Philips moment,

The gyms on base are full of marines pumping iron. On a board in one there is a quotation from Malcolm X: "You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom."

The irony, and the sheer chutzpah of this leave me nearly speechless.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Once more: "Liberty, if it means anything..." the right to bomb civilians? destroy hospitals? impose martial law?

I am pleased to report - it may help if you can imagine a fanfare, such as a particularly tin-pot dictator of a particularly shoddy and unpopular regime might summon up before imposing a curfew - that Harry's Place have NOTICED FALLUJAH.

And what have they noticed?

Presumably that cluster bombs are democratic, hospitals breed propaganda - and that the citizens are rejoicing. Verily, liberty doth announce its triumph!

As Ned Ludd says, HP's hurried and highly selective scrapings from the BBC messageboard are "an insult even to their own intelligence." I'd say the same about Hitchen's risible support for George Bush, also lovingly quoted on Harry's site.

Onwards to victory, "comrades". Truly these are the End Times.

(On a vaguely related point: I'm so glad I avoided making proper use of the the portentous/pretentious quote space Blogger alows you to fill. It's asking for trouble. My favourite is still "Politics, economics and culture": like the News of the World, "All human life is here!" Apologies to my dedicated reader, by the way, for the hurried blogging of late. The real world has reared its ugly head once more.)

Update: this display of unfettered jingoistic credulity glories beneath a banner reading "Somewhere between the ideal and the reality, lies the possible worth striving for..." Notice the use of the ellipsis to grant deep inner significance to a line of sixth-form vacuity. Tasty.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

"Liberty, if it means anything..."

Fallujah? Fingers in ears, it's not happening, IT'S NOT HAPPENING, la la la la...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Troops out of Iraq: emergency protest

Emergency Protest & Rally

Wednesday 10th November 2004, 5.30pm
In Parliament Square WC1. Nearest tube: Westminster.
At 4pm military families will hand in a wreath at Downing Street.
Protest supported by British military families against the war including families of Black Watch Regiment.

Another 2004 electoral map, this time with county areas weighted by population. Rather pretty (and gets rid of all those vast depressing red areas.)

Don't moan, organise

I invite everyone to compare this map with this one. It is, of course, bitterly depressing that Bush should still occupy the White House. The thought of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz rubbing their hands with glee and unrolling maps of Iran is chilling. But it's not so bad that you'll have to move to Canada.

Elections only ever provide a snapshot of political changes. The first picture above shows US electoral colleges in 1972. The Republicans, under Richard Nixon, won a famous landslide with 60% of the popular vote. The Republican campaign had appealed to the "silent majority" to stand up for their values, and the majority responded.

Within two years of this resounding victory, Nixon was out of office and the US out of Vietnam. Neither event could have been predicted from the thumping vote the Republicans received in the election; to see either coming, we would have to look deeper: to the long-brewing resentment against the Vietnam war, and the resistance of the Vietnamese; to the slowing of the Golden Age boom; and to the festering discontent and corruption within the Republican Party itself.

George Bush's predictable victory was far tighter, won under similar circumstances; still less can we predict, from this election victory, a Republican ascendancy. The sources of the Republican vote are clear:Twenty-five percent of voters prioritised "moral values" - no to gay marriages, no to stem cell research - above all else in this election. The mobilisation of the evangelical Christian vote was prepared months in advance. Catholics, the largest single religious minority in the US, switched their historic support for the Democrats to the Republicans.

That this occurred when a Catholic Democratic candidate was on offer - another JFK, no less - is a tribute to the shocking ineptitude of the Democrat's campaign; perhaps its sole achievement is the defeat of Ralph Nader, for which Michael Moore and the Anybody But Bush crew should be acknowledged. Kerry was crippled, as a credible opposition, from the moment he voted for the Iraq war; he then proceeded to hobble a few feet beind Bush, declaring feebly that he would "manage it better". Presented with a choice between Bush and Bush in drag, voters chose the real thing. In a polarised election, the worst possible strategy is to attempt to ape your opponent. This is precisely what Kerry did, and he came a cropper because of it.

But as Lenin has indicated, the coalition Bush assembled rests on surprisingly shaky foundations. On major policy issues, he is opposed by a majority of the US population. There is a credible opposition to Bushism waiting to be built, and Bush's support can be weakened. Away from the dedicated evangelical Right, those conservative inclined voters who voted Republican this time round are in place for as long as the economy holds out. The US' economic security, thanks to the triple deficits of public spending, private borrowing, and the balance of trade, has been placed in the hands of the Pacific capital markets. With the illusory "New Economy" now a fading memory, this is a precarious balance. Added to the debilitating occupation of Iraq, support for which slips further with every body-bag, and the Republican triumph looks - if not yet wobbly - at least susceptible to a good shove.

After an election in which assorted luminaries of the anti-war movement demanded votes for a pro-war candidate, the grave risk is that the main force at present capable of giving Bush a good shove has weakened itself. Thanks to the strength of the resistance in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq, and the sheer bloody enveloping horror of the occupation, that movement appears again to be finding its feet. Back to the streets, with those who supported Kerry, and those who did not.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Lying bastard so-called "hospital" exposed

Further to the previous posting, readers may be concerned that for the Coalition of the Willing to target and destroy hospitals is perhaps to fall a little short of the high standards they have previously set in the occupation of Iraq.

They will be relieve to know that a full explanation has been provided by US forces. Those hospitals aren't really hospitals at all:

In April, American troops were closing in on [Fallujah] city center when popular uprisings broke out in cities across Iraq. The outrage, fed by mostly unconfirmed reports of large civilian casualties, forced the Americans to withdraw.

American commanders regarded the reports as inflated, but it was impossible to determine independently how many civilians had been killed. The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties.

"It's a center of propaganda," a senior American officer said Sunday

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Fallujah: foreign terrorists at work

A hospital has been razed to the ground in one of the heaviest US air raids in the Iraqi city of Falluja.

Witnesses said only the facade remained of the small Nazzal Emergency Hospital in the centre of the city. There are no reports on casualties.

A nearby medical supplies storeroom and dozens of houses were damaged as US forces continued preparing the ground for an expected major assault.

(From the BBC.)

Fallujah demonstration details

Two front-page headlines, from this Friday's papers:




Not Socialist Worker, but the earlier and later editions of the London Evening Standard, reporting on the deaths of three UK soldiers from the Black Watch. Blair is staring down the barrel of a political crisis; and an emboldened George Bush has his finger on the trigger. The occupation in Iraq is reaching a critical stage, and the following should chill the hearts of our latter-day colonialists:

Sheikh Mohammed Bashar al-Faidhi, of the Association of Muslim Clerics, one of the most prominent Sunni Arab organisations to have emerged since the war, said: "If the US invades the city of Falluja or any other city in Iraq, all the [Sunni Arab] clerics in Iraq will call for a boycott of the election."

What this report overlooks is how close the Iraqi resistance is to assembling a coherent all-Iraq representation. Perhaps Bush and Blair, upholding a sacred imperialist tradition, believe ethnic divisions can be used to reinforce their occupation. They have little else that can be worked in their favour.

The Stop the War Coalition are organising protests over the coming assualt on Fallujah:

If the assualt is launched

On day of onslaught (next day depending on timing), 5-7pm
London: 5-7pm, outside 10 Downing Street, Whitehall, Westminster.
Birmingham: 5pm, Victoria Square.
Cardiff: 5.30pm- at Nye Bevan Statue, Queen Street.
Crewkerne, S Somerset: 12pm, front of Victoria Hall.
Edinburgh: 5pm, Parliament Square (off the Royal Mile).
Exeter: 5.30pm, Exe Bridges.
Leeds: 5-6pm, Dortmond Square, Headrow, Leeds town centre.
Manchester: 5pm-, Picadilly Gardens, City centre, Manchester.
Portsmouth: 5pm, Unicorn Gate, Portsmouth Dockyard.
Salisbury: 5pm-, Cheesemarket Library Steps.
Southampton: 6pm, Outside the Civic Centre, opposite the Marlands.
Sheffield: 4.30pm, Outside Sheffield Town Hall.
Swindon: 6pm, Cenotaph, Regent Circus.
Yeovil: 11am following Saturday, Millenium Clock Tower, High St.

In addition, the Coalition has called a protest this Wednesday outside Downing Street to demand British troops be pulled out of Iraq.

Emergency Protest & Rally

Wednesday 10th November 2004, 5.30pm
In Parliament Square WC1. Nearest tube: Westminster.
At 4pm military families will hand in a wreath at Downing Street.
Protest supported by British military families against the war including families of Black Watch Regiment.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Iraqi National Foundation Congress statement on elections.

I received this preliminary (and slightly condensed) translation of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress' (INFC) statement on the proposed January elections. INFC is rapidly emerging as a unifed political opposition to the occupation of Iraq, representing an extremely broad range of anti-occupation opinion. There is a brief description of the group, also translated, attached below.

Iraqi National Foundation Congress statement on elections- Nov 04

Here is a condensed translation of the statement entitled “Free and fair elections with impartial supervision by international, Arab and Islamic reputable bodies is what the people demand.” It is dated 27 October2004, and published as pictures of a hand-signed leaflet on on 3d November 04.

Political developments have validated the INFC stance of refusing to take part in the Iraqi Governing Council, the current Interim Government and the National Assembly. All these proved to be mere instruments of foreign occupation.
We have always demanded free and fair elections with impartial international supervision so that an elected government can be formed by the popular will, rather than by the occupiers. This stance was consistent with those of many other patriotic forces and religious authorities.

And now that the occupation and its Interim government are claiming they are preparing for elections in January next year, the question arises as to the requirements for it to be free and fair. Our consultations within the Congress and sister groups lead us to formulate these requirements as follows:

That the elections are supervised by a commission of figures with known credentials of impartiality and integrity, internationally and in the Arab and Islamic world.

That this commission supervises all the local committees in all phases of the elections.

That essential changes are made to the still anonymous ‘Permanent Election Commissariat’ appointed by the American ex-governor contrary to any criteria of transparency and integrity. As a minimum:

a. to include a representative from each competing list
b. to include a number of Iraqi active and veteran judges with known integrity
c. to remove the right to arbitrarily bar any candidate in the election except through legal process of incrimination.

That measures are taken to ensure safe and fair conduct of elections in all cities and country towns as follows:

a. an immediate halt to all military operations against towns and neighbourhood.
b. withdrawal of all occupation forces from all towns and neighbourhoods at least one month before election date.
c. release of all political prisoners regardless o their political affiliation especially those not specifically charged.

These are clearly reasonable demands to ensure the integrity of elections as a basis for a legal constituent assembly. It is only this assembly that can enshrine a permanent constitution with a just solution for the Kurdish problem, to the satisfaction of the Kurds as equal partners with Arabs within a united country. This must also guarantee the religious and ethnic rights of the Turkmen, Arab and non-Arab Christians, and all other groups, as well as guaranteeing citizenship, political plurality, human rights, and the right of assembly and of civil society organisations. It is this assembly that paves the way to a speedy schedule for withdrawal of all occupation troops and dismantling of any military presence, all of which are precondition for real sovereignty.

Rejection of these requirements for a fair election would show that there is no serious desire for legality, but rather mere attempts at sowing discord amongst our people, and to legalise the rule of compliant groups that implement occupiers will. The responsibility for the consequences of such a course is entirely on the occupation forces.

Iraqi National Foundation Congress: background

This umbrella grouping was announced in May this year at a meeting in Baghdad attended by several hundred people. It has emerged in the last six months as a widely-supported platform for political opposition to occupation.
The group is composed of academics, professionals, community leaders, religious scholars and veteran moderate Arab-nationalist politicians. It straddles sectarian and ethnic divides, and attempts to formulate the widest platform possible. For that purpose it had kept its 25-member secretariat only partly filled and membership provisional. This allows for the inclusion of other anti-occupation political groups, including, for example, the Muqtada al-Sadr movement which had publicly supported the INFC aims and activity, but is still considering its own forms of religious and political actions and organisation.

The INFC offers the credibility of members who are from well-known backgrounds and high community standing, largely due to a record of independence or opposition to Saddam Hussain’s policies on the one hand, and to the history of criminal sanctions, invasion and occupation. Such community and political credibility is all important in a society that only holds itself together through traditional communal organisations and norms, with an increasing rejection of all the imported and local allies of the US occupation, some of whom of suspect affiliation and background.
The group’s provisional secretary is Sheikh Jawad Al-Khalisi, a non-sectarian religious scholar and ex-exile, and official spokesman Dr. Wamidh Nadhmi, a senior political scientist at Baghdad University. Both they and their colleagues in the secretariat have adopted a cautious course of less publicity and more engagement with communities and local groups. One less publicized aspect of their work is the diffusion of ethnic and sectarian tensions in Kirkuk, and several neighbourhoods in Musul, Baghdad and elsewhere, as well as generally the promotion and setting up of community mediation groups. They have also worked to defend the rights of employment, healthcare and other welfare services of all citizens, calling for maintenance of the technocratic side of the Iraqi state and its legal and thoughtful reforms.

At the same time the group has been in continuous negotiation to formulate a unifying all-Iraqi position on the way out of the current predicament of Iraq, striving for a consensus on a principled political engagement with the occupation. To this end they have consistently upheld the right of armed resistance to occupation, condemned the targeting of Iraqis and the taking of hostages. This all-Iraqi position may still take some time, given the historical mistrust inhered by Saddam’s policies and the huge resources thrown at fragmenting this resource-rich and strategic country. But a group with a non-sectarian, or effectively secular position, and with enlightened balanced approach to the rights of the Kurdish people and Arab-Islamic identity of Iraq, and with open hand to all similar group may be Iraq’s best chance.

The statement on election on the previous sheet is dated 27th November 2004, and hand-signed by Dr. Wamidh Nadhmi, Official Spokesmen, and Shaikh Jawad Khalisi, General Secretary of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress. It was printed as a two-sided leaflet and distributed in Baghdad and other cities. This form of announcement may be a reflection of Iraqi weariness of the prevalence of bogus statements and website in Iraq. The public relies more on hand-delivered messages at community or prayer gatherings than on the new technologies regarded as potentially fraudulent or malicious. The statement appeared as a picture of the leaflet on the website on the 3d November 2004.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Blaming the voters

In lieu of writing anything more substantial on the US elections, I'm noting in passing the anguished denunciations of the American public from Kerry supporters who cannot believe that their incoherent campaign for a risible candidate failed to mobilise the voters. Or rather, it failed to mobilise their voters; you know, the one's who are supposed to vote Democrat: even African-Americans are "unreliable" now, it seems. (Or see some of the comments here for other examples.) There are numerous reasons why blaming the voters is usually a bad approach for election post mortems; in this case, the major one is that by claiming overwhelming chunks of the US public are now recidivist bigots, beyond the appeal of reason, it wildly overstates the stability of the Republican's electoral coalition. Like Nixon after his 1972 landslide, there are any number of reasons to suppose the honeymoon for the Republican's happily married tribes will be brief. They start at Fallujah, and end at Wall Street.

Update: Michael Albert at Z-Net has the statistics. In a terrifically exciting development, Socialist Worker have used their first ever web-update thingy for a post-election analysis.

"Hey, Kerry, why the long face?"

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Faint glimmers of 1914

The Basel Declaration, signed in 1912 by the Second International of socialist and labour parties, was that in the event of a war in Europe, the parties of labour would declare a general strike. Workers would not fight their fellow workers for imperialist spoils. From the British Labour Party, to the German SPD and beyond to Russia, these organisations represented the aspirations of millions. When war came, with very rare exceptions those same parties smartly saluted their national flags, and urged their supporters to war: to defeat "German militarism" or to combat "Russian despotism", the Second International dissolved itself as hundreds of thousands rallied to their respective national flags.

The support offered for the First World War remains the single greatest betrayal of the socialist movement by its leaders in its history. Subsequent reneged promises and forgotten ideals bear something of it about them, however distantly; but sometimes certain events descend closer to that ur-betrayal than is usual. The hysterics that have greeted Ralph Nader from the anti-war left are plumbing unusually great depths. There is a level of plain irrationality, of wilful political blindness behind calls for anti-war voters to rally to a pro-war candidate and a pro-war party that seems exceptional. On the most decisive issue in world politics at present, the US left - with a few precious exceptions - fails the test in spectacular fashion. All the while the Anybody But Bush gang justify themselves in terms that seem further and further removed from reality, as they dig up fresh dollops of good old-fashioned moralistic claptrap. This example is quoted on Doug Ireland's generally excellent blog:

The efforts by Socialists or Greens to insist there are no differences between the two parties, or that it doesn't make any difference whether Kerry or Bush wins the election, defies common sense. (Which is one reason the left has so little impact in the country as a whole - people perceive their own immediate interests better than we do. One reason many on the left are irritated by Michael Moore is because he has spoken the truth on this, reminding us that we don't really speak for or understanding working class Americans).

"If you earn more than $50,000 a year, are white, and are a male, then it doesn't really make any difference to you who wins. It is a matter of esthetics.

The Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, drew a very sharp distinction between "common sense" and "good sense". "Common sense" is what arrives, as it were, naturally: the background hum of conventional politics, the TV, the newspapers: voting matters, protesting doesn't, there's nothing you can do. "Good sense" is what those defying such conventions do: going on strike, organising demonstrations; it is a far truer understanding of the nature of this society than mere "common sense" provides.

This displays all the worst faults of "common sense", and then provides a few fresh layers of complete fantasy. Myself, Lenin, and many others have already dealt with the peculiar fallacy that Kerry offers such a qualitative distinction above Bush that selling one's political independence to the Democrats is necessary. For the clearest - indeed, a devastating - dismissal of the "common sense" view, Alexander Cockburn in the New Left Review is required reading:

On the calendar of standard-issue American politics, the quadrennial nominations and presidential contests have offered, across the past forty years, a relentlessly shrinking menu. Back in 1964, the Democratic convention that nominated Lyndon Johnson saw the party platform scorn the legitimate claim of Fannie Lou Hamer and her fellow crusaders in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to be the lawful Mississippi delegation. The black insurgents went down to defeat in a battle that remained etched in the political consciousness of those who partook in or even observed the fray. There was political division, the bugle blare and sabre slash of genuine struggle. At the Chicago convention of 1968 there was still a run against lbj, albeit more polite in form, with Eugene McCarthy’s challenge. McCarthy’s call for schism was an eminently respectable one, from a man who had risen through the us Senate as an orthodox Democratic Cold War liberal. [2]

Four years later, when George McGovern again kindled the anti-war torch, the party’s established powers, the labour chieftains and the money men, did their best to douse his modest smoulder, deliberately surrendering the field to Richard Nixon, for whom many of them voted. And yet, by today’s standards, that strange man Nixon, under whose aegis the Environmental Protection Agency was founded, the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed, Earth Day first celebrated, diplomatic relations established with Mao’s China and Keynesianism accepted as a fact of life, would have been regarded as impossibly radical. Of course, it was the historical pressures of the time that moulded Nixon’s actions—the Cold War context, the rising tide of Third World struggles (Vietnam foremost among them), labour victories, inner-city insurgencies, the counter-culture. The same goes for judicial appointments, often the last frantic argument of a liberal urging all back under the Big Democratic Tent. The Blacks, Douglases, Marshalls and Brennans were conjured to greatness by decade-long movements for political and cultural change, and only later by the good fortune of confirmed nomination. The decay of liberalism is clearly reflected in the quality of judges now installed in the Federal district courts. At the level of the us Supreme Court, history is captious. The best two of the current bunch, Stevens and Souter, were nominated by Republican presidents, Ford and G. H. W. Bush.

With Jimmy Carter came the omens of neoliberalism, whose hectic growth was a prime feature of the Clinton years under the guiding hand of the Democratic Leadership Council. But in the mid-to-late 1970s Carter had to guard his left flank, whence he sustained eloquent attacks from Barry Commoner and his Citizens’ Party in 1976, and then in 1979–80 from Senator Edward Kennedy, who challenged Carter for the nomination under the battle standard of old-line New Deal liberalism. The fiercest political fighting of the 1980s saw Democratic party leaders and pundits ranged shoulder to shoulder against the last coherent left-populist campaign to be mounted within the framework of the Democratic Party: that of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. As JoAnn Wypijewski pithily resumes Clinton’s payback to the Rainbow forces:

By a brisk accounting of 1993 to 2000, the black stripe of the Rainbow got the Crime Bill, women got ‘welfare reform’, labour got nafta, gays and lesbians got the Defence of Marriage Act. Even with a Democratic Congress in the early years, the peace crowd got no cuts in the military; unions got no help on the right to organize; advocates of dc statehood got nothing (though statehood would virtually guarantee two more Democratic Senate seats and more representation in the House); the single-payer crowd got worse than nothing. Between Clinton’s inaugural and the day he left office, 700,000 more persons were incarcerated, mostly minorities; today one in eight black men is barred from voting because of prison, probation or parole. [3]

The ABB position is the collapse of all political vision, and the writing off of future progress to some never-never time when a "safe" Republican candidate emerges so the Left can "indulge" itself in building credible political organisation. But why should this ever occur? Moreover, as even Cockburn's potted political history makes clear: it is not elections that have granted progressive forces their opportunities in the US; it is movements. Why shackle the anti-capitalist and the anti-war movements to the Democrat's neoliberal truck? It might indeed be more aesthetically pleasing than a Republican Humvee, but it is driving in exactly the same direction.

Of course Bush ought to lose, for no other reason than the lift it will grant to the anti-war movement globally: but it is the Democrat's job to mobilise their voters, not the Left's job to frighten itself through Bush into submission on Kerry's behalf. Of course Bush ought to lose: but not at this price; and it remains a false, stupid bargain that has been struck. The singularly desperate line that Nader "takes votes" from the Democrats has repeatedly exposed itself; it was the collapse of the Democrat vote in states like Florida that cost Gore the election, not Nader taking votes that "ought" to go to the Democrats.

To move our historical parallel along a little: a senior Tory once suggested that Thatcher's greatest legacy was the creation of New Labour: the reduction of the Labour Party to a bastardised Toryism. Perhaps George Bush's Presidency will be viewed in a similar light: the collapse of the US Left into a fawning prop for a bastardised Republicanism. That this should occur when civil liberties are restricted by official consensus; when the system of official politics is visibly degenerating; when unemployment is rising, and economic welfare in steep decline; and when many thousands of US troops are committed to an illegal and increasingly unpopular occupation almost beggars belief. If Kerry wins, what credibility will the US Left retain? You asked us to vote for this. If Bush wins, what opposition will it muster? We gave up everything to prevent this happening.

The British Left still suffers after Thatcher, and Blair has proved more disruptive than might be hoped. I am not sure how long the US Left will take to recover from this utter debacle. To have moved from Seattle, through the growing anti-war, anti-occupation protests, to this pathetic shambles conducted for a singularly pathetic scion of the US elite is at best deeply embarrassing. And what blustering pretension this "quiet surrender" (Cockburn again) is presented with: as if Kerry cares for his progressive support; like the socialists of 1914, dutifully marching into the trenches, Michael Moore's merry band have reduced themselves to the status of cannon fodder - perhaps literally, if they care to serve in Kerry's glorious "New Army of Patriots" programme. It is to be hoped - such a "hope" as it is - that the diabolical occupation of Iraq compels "good sense" to prevail.