Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953 ended the tensions between the countries and halted the campaign against Soviet Jews. Diplomatic relations were restored in July, but there was no return to the golden age of 1947-49, and the war of June 1967, in which Russia supported Egypt and its Arab allies, led to a second break in diplomatic relations. They were only restored in 1991, just a few months before the demise of the USSR.
Archive for the ‘Communism’ Category
“It has been a mistake on the part of socialists to see Islamist movements either as automatically reactionary and “fascist” or as automatically “anti imperialist” and “progressive”. Radical Islamism, with its project of reconstituting society on the model established by Mohammed in 7th century Arabia, is, in fact, a “utopia” emanating from an impoverished section of the new middle class. As with any “petty bourgeois utopia”, its supporters are, in practice, faced with a choice between heroic but futile attempts to impose it in opposition to those who run existing society, or compromising with them, providing an ideological veneer to continuing oppression and exploitation.
It is this which leads inevitably to splits between a radical, terrorist wing of Islamism on the one hand, and a reformist wing on the others. It is also this which leads some of the radicals to switch from using arms to try to bring about a society without “oppressors” to using them to impose “Islamic” forms of behaviour on individuals.”
“On some issues we will find ourselves on the same side as the Islamists against imperialism and the state. This was true, for instance, in many countries during the second Gulf War. It should be true in countries like France or Britain when it comes to combating racism. Where the Islamists are in opposition, our rule should be, “with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never”.
Chris Harman (SWP) The Prophet and the Proletariat. 1994. As John Rees (former SWP) from Counterfire and the Stop the War Coalition spoke in support for arming the Kurds at a demonstration for Kobane on Saturday a Kurd stood on his left hand side.
The Kurdish comrade was carrying a placard that read, “Kurds are heroes of fight against Islamist Fascism“.
Nick Cohen is spot on when he commented in his Observer column this Sunday that “Without knowing or caring, Kurds protesting against the world’s willingness to let Kobani fall to Islamic State have inflamed two acute causes of western discomfort. They had no hesitation in describing radical Islam as “fascism” and seeing Kobani as our generation’s Guernica.”
I personally am reminded of the first time I came face to face with Islamist reaction, in 1983, at the annual May Day Demonstration in Paris.
Iranians are all too aware that their Islamic regime has May the First as a holiday as well, one of those “progressive” gestures that seduced, for a time, their own and Europe’s left.
On this occasion a group of die-hard Khomeini supporters, knotted in a tight bunch and carrying posters of the Guide of the Revolution, tried to join the trade union march.
Almost instantly a mixed bunch of Iranian exiles, French leftists, Turkish and Kurdish left-wingers, stood in front of them.
As I joined we shouted “le fascisme ne passera pas!” Fascism will not pass!
The Khomeinists were pelted with bottles, stones and (in my case) a beer can. The followers of the Imman’s Line backed off, and then returned throwing tear gas directly in our faces. As the police began to intervene they disappeared. A report in Libération the following day asserted that the Islamists had been caught by the police assembling some heavier weaponry. The blood-stained tyranny that Khomeini and his followers built was vastly more important in turning many European leftists against Islamism ,
Amongst many other events (above all the Algerian civil war of 1990s) this profoundly marked my own attitude towards Islamism. In Algeria the Islamists began – well before the cancellation of elections in 1991 which the Front Islamique du Salut was predicted to win and which let loose the decade’s fighting between a vicious military and murderous armed Islamists – to target leftists, feminists, intellectuals and democrats. They murdered and tortured throughout that war. They have not stopped trying since.
Since then most leftists, certainly in continental Europe, have has a visceral hostility to Islamism, certainly those who’ve had contact with the tens of thousands of exiles from countries where it’s had an impact – Chris Harman, the SWP, their splinters, and the British Respect Party excepted.
The idea of standing on the “same side” has been ridiculous for a long-long time, well before Al Qu’eada – not to mention the rise of Isis/Islamic state and its international supporters (in Algeria) of Soldats du califat (Jound al-Khilafa).
With this in mind, like many of my fellow leftists I have followed the tragedy in Kobane closely. Not just because it’s a tragedy – that counts enormously – but because we are politically implicated.
Cohen writes, “Flow in waves to Kobani,” demonstrators chanted as they mounted vain protests against Turkish inaction that amounts to collaboration. “Stop Isis fascism.”
This deeply echoes in our hearts. With even John Rees on board he is right to mention that, “there are heartening stirrings of camaraderie on the European left. Cohen observes that the plight of the Kurds and others attacked by Isis/Islamic State, raises broader issues,
To me, it seems obvious that militant religion is a radical reactionary force. In whatever form it comes, it grinds down on women’s rights and denies the basic freedoms of liberal society. It is equally clear that its Islamist variant relies to an extraordinary degree on fascist Europe’s Jewish conspiracy theories. If you doubt me, look at the declaration in Hamas’s founding covenants that Jews “were behind the French Revolution [and] the communist revolution”. It might have come from Hitler. (Although even Adolf would have hesitated to repeat Hamas’s claim that Jews also created “the Rotary Clubs [and] the Lions” to achieve “Zionist interests”.)
Radical Islam, like fascism before it, wallows in the cult of death: “Death to intelligence! Long live death!” cried Franco’s general José Millán Astray in 1936. “We love death more than you love life,” cry today’s Islamists fighters. There is the same support from the financiers and businessmen, from what we old leftists used to call the capitalist bourgeoisie, and the same shared belief that women can never aspire to be anything other than dutiful wives.
In one respect, radical Islam trumps the fascists and, indeed, the communists. The old totalitarianisms could promise their followers that death would lead only to the greater glory of the Fatherland or the inevitable triumph of the working class. An Islamist can tell his willing executioners that death will not only further Islam’s global triumph but take the martyr to paradise too.
Why do people in Europe, at least on the left, not describe these groups as ‘fascist’? Cohen suggests two reasons.
Firstly, “Many liberals fear that condemning radical Islam in clear leftwing language will allow the white far right to paint all Muslims as extremists.”
Secondly, that Islamism had no state so it can hardly be a ‘real’ fascist movement. He notes, that this no longer holds: The ‘Caliphate’ has been declared, “the Islamic State, with its own supreme caliph, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and all the modern weaponry the Iraqi army left behind when it fled.”
The first argument is really an argument at all, but a description of the way some liberal-minded people find it hard to be ‘judgemental’ about anything, above all about different ‘cultures’.
It’s the second point that’s the principal one.
It may well be that to analyse Islamism in terms of classical fascism is not always helpful.
As political concepts ‘fascism’ or ‘Nazism’ (terms the European left has had no problem in using loosely for the domestic far-right, as the name Anti-Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism indicate) are only ‘ideal types’. That is, lists of very broad features. Features such as a dictatorship based on ultra-nationalism, ‘total’ control, repression of dissent, and the imposition of ‘class harmony’, and genocidal racism, are just that ‘features’ not structures that get stamped into history that pop up in the same form whenever there is a social crisis. All of these elements shift and change.
Some theorists have suggested that the way the radical right can take up ‘left’ radical themes, the “popular”, even “democratic” side of the ideology, is key (Laclau, Ernesto. 1977. Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism). One can see this in the way radical right-wing ‘anti-system’ parties attack ‘rotten’ and ‘elite’ Parliamentary institutions today, in the name of the People. Populist ‘Anti-imperialism’ also had its 1930s parallel in the far-right’s hatred of the ‘plutocratic’ nations (the US and the UK), controlled by the Jews.
Such a ‘democratic’ element – in the sense of ‘popular’, appealing to the “people”, even if it’s only to follow the Leader, is not always present. The NSPD’s ‘race’ doctrine, many be grounded on the Volk, but other far-right groups, notably the ‘first’ fascist movement, Action Française, agitated before the First World War against the ‘Jacobin’ idea of the People and advocated a restored French Monarchy freed from the ‘anti-France of Jews, Freemasons, socialists and Protestants.
So fascist ideas are fluid – we might consider how people tried to gauge them when they first appeared, before Mussolini and Hitler, not to mention other authoritarian regimes in 1930s Europe. Perhaps only hostility to Marxism, or rather ‘class struggle’ (which divides the ‘nation’), the left-wing labour movement are constant (European) themes. A deeper link to the ‘anti-Enlightenment’ and hatred of the doctrine of human rights is possibly another.
Comparisons with Islamism tend to halt at the point where Harman begins: the Quranic ‘utopian ideal“. Comparisons only go so far: if the Islamists loath the Enlightenment it’s because it brings the secular world forward, and gives humans, not god (and the ‘Book’ he apparently dictated), rights – a more diffuse reaction than the European far-right’s fight against the Left.
A, book, and speech bound, ideology, a religion, can be infused with a vast variety of visions. Time, class, culture, and individuals inflect it, or rather them - Islamisms. The political result however is fairly clear: a striving for a state, a regime, a power to bring it about. This, for all its various forms, tends towards “monocratic, authoritarian” and “enforced” rule (as Michael Mann has described Islamism). This is only a tendency, as Turkey’s Islamists only drift towards this, and retain a strong democratic, if populist and Turkish nationalist, and increasingly corrupt, authoritarian element.
Yet, as Mann indicated, when it comes to the radicals, Islamists are not nationalists. They do not adopt extreme blood and soil nationalism (although there are racist strains in their belief in the superiority of Arabic and the ‘original’ Muslims, underlined by the belief in the importance of descent from the Prophet and his companions).The state exists for them for a purpose, to impose and regulate the Sharia which is for ‘everybody’. Ideally Islam would embrace the world, not just a country. (Fascists. Michael Mann 2004)
There are other important differences.
Today’s radical Islamism is clearly not the product of a political crisis in which the bourgeoisie tries to head of a militant labour movement (one classical way of looking at fascism). Some claim that it is the ‘product’ of the failure of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. This fails to explain its growth in countries like Nigeria or Indonesia, or indeed Pakistan. What then is it? Nobody has a definitive answer and this is certainly not one.
Harman was suggestive when he talked of Islamism as a ““utopia” emanating from an impoverished section of the new middle class” – except that,as Cohen notes, many of the backers of Isis/Islamic State are extremely wealthy.
From this pious bourgeoisie to an Islamic state we have to go through some important stages. ‘Islamic Behaviour’ – Harman’s words – is not so much a slogan as the key to an Islamist “transitional programme“. Radical Islamism (a continuum with other forms of political Islam) has the following features – worked through with the class and political aspects already mentioned.
- The importance of the Sharia as the basis for ‘micro-powers’ (the equivalent of leftist ‘liberated territory’) Islamists have begun (Algeria is the paradigm, repeated in many countries, such as Egypt, recently efforts were made to create this in Tunisia) by imposing their ‘law’ on areas where they establish their initial control. Sharia ‘patrols’ treated as relatively harmless in London, are set up to impose Islamic norms on public life (no alcohol. women forced to war ‘modest’ dress, ‘unclean’ behaviour repressed). From small groups of the ‘pure’ (Salafists) to radicalised Mosques as centres of this ‘power’, we then turn towards creating a ‘mini-state’.
- The Sharia state: some Islamist movements (as in Somalia, Al-Shabaab – Islamic Courts Union) centre their strategy on this ‘law’.
- All forms of Sharia law are discriminatory and barely merit the term ‘law’ in the modern sense: there is no equality before the Sharia, no equal rights for women or for non-Muslims.
- This legal-political apparatus can be best be looked at in terms of the coercive categories Michael Foucault described in Discipline and Punish and Nietzsche’s history of the violent ‘training’ of people to accept legal norms in The Genealogy of Morals.
- Radical Islamist ‘morality’ has exceptional importance in that it is potentially more intimately imposed than even the most brutal of previous totalitarianisms; it is intended to regulate not just the heart by every single human gesture (for a comparison amongst orthopraxic religions, the list of taboos followed by ultra-orthodox Jews, that are purely intended for believers, is about the nearest example).
- Radical Islamism, whether Shia or Sunnite, has shown itself to be radically sectarian: always splitting internally, and only uniting against other Muslims tendencies (Shia and Sunnite).
- It is only ‘anti-imperialist’ in the sense that it is ‘anti’ any movement but its own.
- It becomes genocidal when these norms are imposed on those who refuse to accept them, for religious, anti-religious, or national reasons.
One conclusion is clear: these movements are not and can never be the allies of the left against anybody. Cohen rightly sounds, nevertheless, a note of caution,
If you live in Iraqi Kurdistan, the fine distinctions between fascist state-based totalitarianism and religious totalitarianism have vanished. All you know is that for decades, mass murderers have marched towards your homeland wanting to slaughter you because you are from the wrong race or worship your god in the wrong way.
Yet….even Comrade Bob sometimes has a Wee Greet.
In a spirit of comradely solidarity we post this important and fruitful article from the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA)
Watching Fruitvale Station With Bob Avakian. (Unsigned. August 2014)
“Not too long ago, I watched Fruitvale Station with Bob Avakian (BA), chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Towards the very end of the film, agonizing, heartbreaking and infuriating scenes are shown: The cop shooting Oscar in the back; Oscar’s girlfriend frantically rushing to the scene, trying to find out what happened; Oscar’s loved ones gathering together and waiting desperately to find out if he would make it, only to find out he was gone forever.
As these scenes unfolded, I looked over at BA. He was sobbing. Not just misty-eyed. Sobbing. And he continued to cry tears of heartbreak and rage for several minutes, as the closing credits rolled.”
This made a very big impression on me. BA did not know Oscar Grant personally. But he felt the sting of his murder in an extremely raw and visceral way. And I think his reaction speaks volumes about who Bob Avakian is, what he represents, and what he is all about.
BA has literally been fighting against this system for 50 years. He has been a revolutionary communist for about 45 years. He has been shouldering the responsibility of leading the Revolutionary Communist Party for almost 40 years. And over the course of the last several decades, he has forged the theory and deepened the science for the revolution humanity needs to get free, while also providing practical leadership to the party and movement working for that revolution.
And all of this has involved not only tremendous work, but also tremendous risk and sacrifice on BA’s part as anyone with a sense of U.S. history, and/or BA’s personal history—specifically, what this reveals about the way the U.S. government viciously goes after revolutionary leaders—should well understand.
And over all these decades, and through everything described above, BA has never lost an ounce of his love and feeling for the masses of people, his sense of outrage and hatred for all the ways in which the masses suffer needlessly, and his fire for revolution to emancipate the masses all over the world. Not one bone in his body has become numb.
Amor Vincit Omnia.
The Humble Servant of the People is indeed an example.
I’ll say it again: We had better fully recognize and appreciate what we have in BA, and act accordingly.
Say it again, say it twice, say it thrice,
And when I say “we had better,” that “we” is addressed to many different people and audiences. Yes, I am most definitely speaking to revolutionaries and communists and to all those who are already deeply familiar with and supportive of BA. But in saying “we,” I am also speaking to those who are just now—or just recently—learning about and getting introduced to this revolutionary leader—including, to quote BA, “Those this system has cast off, those it has treated as less than human” who “can be the backbone and driving force of a fight not only to end their own oppression, but to finally end all oppression, and emancipate all of humanity.”
” BA is not only the leader of the revolution, he is also a best friend to the masses of people.” As is said, “Every Communist working in the mass movements should be a friend of the masses and not a boss over them, an indefatigable teacher and not a bureaucratic politician.” (Mao Tse Tung) My new best friend – BA as we chums call him – has more qualities,
“He is a leader who has done decades of work in the realm of theory to bring forward the scientific method, strategy and vision needed to make revolution and bring into being a radically new world where all the horrors that humanity suffers unnecessarily would be no more. He is continuing to develop the advanced scientific method that he has forged, and apply that method to all of the big questions and obstacles confronting the revolution.”
We all love advanced scientific methods.
“Investigation may be likened to the long months of pregnancy, and solving a problem to the day of birth. To investigate a problem is, indeed, to solve it.” (Mao Tse Tung)
The world awaits.
“We must study, and learn all we can from his incredible body of work on the biggest questions of revolution and human emancipation, as well as the lessons of who he is and what he stands for as a revolutionary leader. “
We shall indeed BA.
“To behave like “a blindfolded man catching sparrows”, or “a blind man groping for fish”, to be crude and careless, to indulge in verbiage, to rest content with a smattering of knowledge – such is the extremely bad style of work that still exists among many comrades in our Party, a style utterly opposed to the fundamental spirit of Marxism-Leninism. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin have taught us that it is necessary to study conditions conscientiously and to proceed from objective reality and not from subjective wishes; however, many of our comrades act in direct violation of this truth.” (Mao Tse Tung)
But what is this we hear? Hark! The Bob (BA) is in danger!
This means taking very seriously the need to do everything we can to protect and defend BA. This means denouncing and not giving a millimeter of space to those who slander and personally attack BA, because these attacks and slanders are part of creating the poisonous atmosphere and conditions that would make it easier for the powers-that-be, or those doing their bidding, to take BA from the people of the world.
Plunged into the slough of despond at this what can we do?
Protecting and defending BA, and building a wall around him, also means boldly and sharply challenging those who may not be part of the camp of the enemy, but who are wallowing in, or at least being influenced by, arrogance, cynicism and snark, and who seek to dismiss without seriously engaging what BA has brought forward; this arrogance, snark, cynicism, and dismissal, regardless of the intent of those who fall into it, stands in the way of BA and all that he has brought forward having the reach and societal influence that this urgently needs to have.
Too true, too very true.
But the good news is: It is not too late. We, and the masses of the planet, have BA right now. We had better realize, and let everyone know, what that means.
Heed the call and build the wall!
Maybe one day we might even get around to seeing Fruitvale Station.
Most people interested in the subject know that the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognise Israel.
Indeed it was something my mother told me about.
But one suspects that few know much about the details.
Michel Réal in the latest Le Monde Diplomatique offers an account worth reading which appears in the English language edition, The forgotten alliance.
“The establishment of Israel owes much to the Soviet Union and the wide range of support — diplomatic, demographic and military — it offered the young state.”
“The Communist movement was historically opposed to the Zionist project, but Ben Gurion made it clear that the new state would not hinder Soviet interests. Moscow still withheld its support until 1946.
The turning point was in May 1947 when Britain, which had held the League of Nations mandate over Palestine since 1922, decided to transfer the case to the recently established United Nations in order to resolve the territory’s future (2). Andrei Gromyko, the young Soviet deputy foreign minister, said that the USSR was willing to support the division of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, if the one-state solution proved unworkable.”
From then until 1949, Israel enjoyed the political, military and demographic support of Stalin’s Russia, even though Stalin was at that time repressing Russian Jews, mostly because of a struggle for power at the top of the party-state. The USSR was central to the adoption of the UN plan to partition Palestine on 29 November 1947. Besides its own vote, it also delivered those of its satellites, with the (still unexplained) exception of Yugoslavia. It also provided Israel with the resources it needed most — people and arms.
In this first phase, from 1941 to 1951, Israel received support from the USSR that went beyond its expectations — without having to sacrifice the backing of western nations, especially the US.
subsequent episodes caused discord and led to Russo-Israeli diplomatic relations being severed in February 1953. First there was the USSR’s complete ban on Jewish immigration from eastern Europe, where anti-Semitic activity was widespread. Then there was the Prague trial in November 1952: after the rupture between Stalin and Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1948, the leaderships of the “people’s democracies” of eastern Europe were purged. In Czechoslovakia, the general secretary of the Communist Party, Rudolf Slánský, was arrested in 1951 and accused of an “imperialist-Zionist” plot. At the show trial, 11 of the 14 accused were explicitly designated as Jews.
Then there was the “doctors’ plot” of 1953…..
Those looking at the comments here may have noticed a virulent set of exchanges (which would already fill a small book) between Tony Greenstein, Paul Bogdanor and Michael Ezra and on the relationship between Zionism and the Nazis.
One of the main issues is claims about ‘collaboration’ between Zionists and the National Socialist regime and its allies.
Paul and Michael are unrelenting in their hostility to “Marxism-Leninism”. For reasons of their own, having little to do with reality, they claim Tony Greenstein is a supporter of this ideology.
Perhaps they might care to read and comment on Michel Réal’s article about how the real ‘Marxist-Leninists” backed Israel.
The Missing Picture.
Cambodia court begins genocide trial of Khmer Rouge leaders
The complex case of the regime’s two most senior surviving leaders has been split into a series of smaller trials, initially focusing on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and related crimes against humanity.
The first trial against the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, 88, known as Brother Number Two, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, was completed late last year, with the verdict – and possible sentences – due to be delivered on 7 August.
At the opening hearing of the second trial on Wednesday, judge Nil Nonn read out the charges against both suspects as more than 300 people watched the proceedings from the court’s public gallery.
A few days ago Le Monde published an account of how the paper reported on the Khmer Rouge victory, ” Le jour où… « Le Monde » salue l’arrivée des Khmers rouges“
“17 avril 1975 : l’envoyé spécial du « Monde » décrit l’« enthousiasme populaire » qui accompagne l’entrée des Khmers rouges à Phnom Penh. Au fil des mois, face aux révélations des exécutions de masse, tiers-mondistes et anticommunistes de la rédaction s’affrontent par éditoriaux interposés.”
17th April 1975, the special reporter of Le Monde described the “popular enthusiasm” that greeted the entry of the Khmers rouges into Phnom Penh. During the months that followed, faced with revelations about mass execution, ‘third-worldists’ and anti-communists fought each other, through rival Editorial comments.
This dispute was echoed across the world, with particular effects on the left which had previously backed the Khmer Rouge as a national liberation movement – without much first-hand knowledge.
Crucial witness accounts emerged that revealed the genocide underway.
François Ponchaud’s book, Cambodia: Year Zero ( Cambodge année zéro) was particularly inlfuential. Ponchaud, a French priest, had lived in Cambodia and spoke Khmer. He also painted a picture of mass deaths caused by the Khmer Rouge. French scholar, Jean Lacouture, formerly a sympathizer of the Khmer Rouge, reviewed Ponchaud’s book favorably in the New York Times Review of Books on March 31, 1977.
The revelations by François Bizot were also of great significance (Wikipedia),
In October 1971, Bizot and his two Cambodian colleagues were captured by the Khmer Rouge. During his captivity on charges of being a CIA agent at the Khmer Rouge Camp M.13 at Anlong Veng, he developed a strangely close relationship with his captor, Comrade Duch, who later became the Director of the infamous Tuol Sleng concentration camp in Phnom Penh. During his three-month imprisonment he came to understand the true genocidal nature of the Khmer Rouge long before other outsiders. He was finally released in December 1971 after Comrade Duch wrote a detailed report that convinced the Khmer Rouge leadership of Bizot’s innocence. Bizot’s Cambodian colleagues were executed soon after Bizot’s release.
When the Khmer Rouge poured into Phnom Penh in April 1975, Bizot, like most other foreigners in the country, wound up in the French Embassy in Phnom Penh. Because of his fluency in Khmer, he soon became the primary point of contact and unofficial translator between the embassy officials and the Khmer Rouge. He left Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge expelled all foreigners and sealed off Cambodia’s borders. He returned to Cambodia in 2003 and met his former captor Duch, who was waiting for his trial for crimes against humanity, for about one hour and a half (a few minutes of the encounter were put on film). These moments can be seen in the documentary “Derrière Le Portail” (“Behind The Gate”). Comrade Duch was on trial at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and received a 35 year sentence, later increased to life from an appeal. Bizot was the first witness to testify at the trial.
Noam Chomsky was perhaps one of the best known genocide deniers at the time.
He called these, and other revelations (Cambodia Genocide deniars),
“third-rate propaganda” and part of a “vast and unprecedented propaganda campaign” against the Khmer Rouge. He said Ponchaud’s book Year Zero was “serious and worth reading” but “the serious reader will find much to make him somewhat wary.” Chomsky said that refugee stories of Khmer Rouge atrocities should be treated with great “care and caution” as no independent verification was available.
In case anybody thinks that Cambodia genocide denial has gone away, the US ‘leftist’ Counterpunch has provided a comfortable refugee for at least one of them, Israel Shamir.
In 2012 he wrote on the fiercely ‘anti-Zionist’ site,
New Cambodia (or Kampuchea, as it was called) under Pol Pot and his comrades was a nightmare for the privileged, for the wealthy and for their retainers; but poor people had enough food and were taught to read and write. As for the mass killings, these are just horror stories, averred my Cambodian interlocutors. Surely the victorious peasants shot marauders and spies, but many more died of American-planted mines and during the subsequent Vietnamese takeover, they said… Noam Chomsky assessed that the death toll in Cambodia may have been inflated “by a factor of a thousand”… To me, this recalls other CIA-sponsored stories of Red atrocities, be it Stalin’s Terror or the Ukrainian Holodomor… [The Vietnamese] supported the black legend of genocide to justify their own bloody intervention.
Pol Pot Revisited. September 2012.
Alex Callinicos begins and ends his latest assessment of the “present situation” by resigning himself to the weaknesses of the “radical left”(1). A paradox, given, apparently, the SWP leader asserts, that capital is also weak.A feeble economic recovery after the Bank crisis of 2008 is not met by any renewed left. Indeed there is a “weakness of credible anti-capitalist alternatives.” Not only in the larger continental European organised parties, he modestly cites his own small group the SWP’s ‘troubles’, a subject which his article addresses.
The King’s College academic stops short of advocating the “communist pessimism” of Pierre de Naville or Walter Benjamin,. But he finishes by citing Daniel Bensaïd need for “a slow impatience”—in other words, “an active waiting, an urgent patience, an endurance and a perseverance that are the opposite of a passive waiting for a miracle”. This implies, an ” effort to intervene in and shape the present …”
Callinicos claims that there was a time when all seemed sailing towards a renewed radical left. This was, “the era of good feelings (1998-2005) the impulse of a growing movement was to play down or finesse political differences in the name of unity.” Not everybody will recall the creation of communalist groups like Respect, and the part played in its formation, and self-destruction, by the megaphone Ego of George Galloway, in the same way. The “Split” in this lash-up, in 2007, was apparently of great importance, though only the SWP (the splitters) took it as the milestone it apparently was – for the SWP. The subsequent misadventures of this ‘party’ are passed over, as if they had been written out of history.
Nor is the judgement that, “The radical left began to have an impact on the bourgeois political scene” quite as secure as it might appear. The May 2005 French referendum on the European draft constitution, lost by the neo-liberals backing it, was certainly significant. But the effect this had on the French left, notably the scission of what is now the Parti de Gauche from the French Parti Socialiste, and the formation of the Front de Gauche, are apparently (for Callinicos) of less significance than the fact that the LCR/Nouveau parti anticapitaliste, lost three tendencies (he does not bother to name them or describe their politics) to the FdG, one at its formation in 2009 (Gauche Unitaire) the other two in May 2005.
Callinicos manages to avoid discussing the mass basis and actions of the Front de Gauche (which has plenty of its own problems, starting with Jean-Luc Mélenchon) not to mention its election results (11,11 % for Mélenchon in the 2012 Presidential election’s first round, 10 MPs, and 4 MEPs this year) . He does however devote space to criticising the much more successful electorally Greek left bloc/party Syriza (26.5% of the vote in the 2012 European elections), apparently on the slippery slope to neo-liberalism after backing Juncker as European Commissioner.
Let us state clearly. This analysis of left retreat is lop-sided. The results of the May European elections indicate that the ‘radical left’ did not do badly at all. Indeed in Spain they reached historically high levels of support, adding to the weight of the Greek Syriza. In France (FdG) and Germany (Die Linke) left groups remained at stable levels of support. But the Front de Gauche (for all its internal problems) remains a player in the political and social game. These observations would be extended across the continent. Only if we take the ‘revolutionary left as a measure of left influence can we reach Callinicos’s conclusions about weakness and marginalisation.
Callinicos observes that for some parties may be in crisis, but the movements are fine. On the basis of some well-publicised protests (beginning with Callinicos ‘ high moment’ Seattle protests of 1999, though this remains firmly stuck in the – good – period of “good feelings” ) there has been a ” panorama of decentralised horizontal struggles that simultaneously subvert capital and outflank the ‘old left'”. These (initially referring to Paul Mason’s wildly over- enthusiastic, Why its All Kicking off Everywhere 2012 – really? ), “started with the Arab revolutions (rebellions as much against the polarising and impoverishing effects of neoliberalism as against autocracy) and the echoes it gained in the North with the 15 May movement in the Spanish state and Occupy Wall Street and its numerous imitators.Other protests—somewhat earlier (British students, 2010) or later (Brazil and Turkey, 2013)….”
Callinicos does not discuss the view widely circulated by commentators, that these are protests of the liberal middle class, or their inability to effect any substantial change in any government’s policies- a serious balance-sheet. They have all, in other, words, been kicked into the long grass, if not brutally suppressed. The sole exception, Tunisia, looks increasingly, a ‘normal’ democracy, a welcome result compared to the alternatives. As with the mass ‘centrist’ parties (see definition of the ‘radical left below) this is carried our without any serious examination of these movements, in all their diversity. Above all there is no serious attempt to grapple with politics of the ‘movement’ that has become the focus of British activists, trade unionists, and the grass-roots left: the People’s Assembly. Instead it is largely dismissed on the basis of the strategy of the union, UNITE, to “reclaim Labour”.
Instead, the SWP theorist reminds us of the timeless truth, “The trouble is that the state, the broader political process of which it is the focus, and the parties that struggle over it remain fundamental determinants of the social, whatever autonomists and neoliberals fondly claim. ” Furthermore, “The wager of Leninism is that a revolutionary party can intervene in the political field in order to help bring about the overthrow of capital. From this follows, as Bensaïd also stressed, the centrality of strategy—of the determined, persistent, organised effort to relate specific tactics to the overarching aim of socialist revolution. ” There views are bolstered, by appeals to Gramsci. One might say that citing Leninist aims does nothing to answer those who see Leninist practice, or rather the SWP and other groups, in the multiple crises Callinicos only begins to sketch.
Callinicos finally gets to some genuine meat, ‘anti-politics’. “The structural divorce of the political class from the citizens it is supposed to represent and its integration into the moneyed world encourages popular rejection of all parties, summed up in “¡Que se vayan todos!”—All of them must go!—the slogan of the Argentinian revolt in 2001-2. This rejection—which can be called “anti-politics. He continues, “on the whole the right-populist currents that have been most successful in exploiting this mood are not themselves “anti-politics”.” This is not new. Known in France as “anti-system” parties, these are have been a long-standing feature of European politics, going (in the case of the Hexagone) back to General George Boulanger’s at the end of the 19th century.
If this is fast becoming a commonplace – a much better starting point for looking at the May European elections, and the rise of groups like M5S (Italy) and UKIP, as well as the Front National, there are some systematic difficulties with Callincos’s analysis. One certainly does not have to accept a neo-Foucaulean analysis of the articulation of a neoliberal subjectivity to see that these materialised policies have sapped the basis of left politics. Thomas Picketty is a better guide to the ideology of justly reward success – underpinning the growth of the share taken by owners of capital, and high earners – offers an indication of how the “losers” despair at overcoming their inequality by collective action.This is a structural feature of Capital in the 21st century, a deeper causal mechanism behind economic restructuring, and the inability of the workers’ movement to oppose neo-liberalism. The transformation of the state into a gigantic renting operating – by which most of the population pay rent to private owners of public services – is a greater challenge than the venality of the political class.
Significantly Callinicos does not discuss the one leftist bloc, the Spanish Podemos, which has attempted to combine ‘anti-politics’, new methods of organising, with electoral participation and the building of a ‘broad party’.
Attacking the claim that the Leninist ‘model’ has had its day is a necessary task for a leader of the SWP. Awareness of the largely forgotten writings of Alain Badiou on the new “political organisation” that will replace Leninism, or John Holloway’s writings, at least indicates an awareness that Lenin is not an unchallenged authority. It would take longer than this brief notice to discuss Lars Lih’s reconstruction of Lenin’s political ideas. The same applies to Callinicos’ observations of feminism – which others will not doubt discuss in detail.
But one point stands out in Thunder on the Left: what is wrong with broad parties of the left? Why, given the present ideological and political diversity of the left, are they not the ideal vehicle (wide enough…) to work out differences? What is wrong with broad democracy – on the network model? Those who have elft the SWP, engaged in such groups inside Left Unity, are unlikely to be convinced by a few warm words about feminism, and criticism of the tortuous liberalism of “intersectionality”.
Why does a Leninist ‘Combat Party’ – to all the evidence in terminal decline, riddled with problems, from democracy onwards – still fascinate people like Callinicos? Some of us, who recognise strengths in Lenin’s analysis of political conjunctures, have never adopted the model of the Leninist ‘party’ in the first place. Even the Acts of the Apostles were never much of a guide to historical Christian practice. Hankering after a party’s glory years, whose first acts on taking power were to suppress opposition groups – an ever-widening number – raises more problems than it solves. All the evidence is, that we will have to hang around for a long time for a new revolutionary Party that fulfils the role of a Messiah that can do better than these imperfect, “centrist” (as the Leninists call them) broad left parties.
But then the leader of the SWP shows every sign of waiting, impatiently, a very long time in Perry Anderson’s Watchtower.
This is worth reading,
Alex Callinicos: take a look in the mirror Louis Proyect.
It ends with, “Displaying a shamelessness on the order of a Washington bourgeois politician, Callinicos spends a thousands words or so defending his party’s understanding of the “woman question” against Sharon Smith of the ISO who views Tony Cliff’s analysis as lacking to say the least. If Callinicos can’t make the connection between a certain theoretical deficiency in the SWP and the commission of inquiry that asked the female rape victim about her drinking habits, then he is beyond help.
In his conclusion, Callinicos writes:
The present crisis is much more diffuse, but in some ways more threatening, because the revolutionary left is much weaker than it was in 1979. This makes the attempts to split and even to destroy organisations such as the NPA and the SWP so irresponsible.
Now I have no idea what is going on in the French NPA since the comrades are not particularly engaged with the English-speaking left (who can blame them?) but I doubt it has anything to do with a rape investigation that had more in common with those conducted in the American military than what we would expect from a Marxist party. In terms of attempts to destroy an organization, my suggestion to Alex Callinicos is that he takes a look in the mirror at his earliest convenience. There he will find the miscreant most responsible.”
As can be seen above, we do know what happened in the NPA and Callinicos is talking bollocks.
People left it because they saw the Front de gauche (which the NPA denounced – as they memorably described their politics, “between us and the Parti Socialiste, there is nothing“) as the best way forward for broad – mass – left politics.
(1) Callinicos, “By “radical left” I mean those currents that reject neoliberalism, whether on an explicitly revolutionary basis or in a manner that avoids the choice between reform and revolution or even embraces some version of left social democracy. This is the spectrum from the NPA and the SWP to the Front de Gauche and Die Linke, with Syriza somewhere in between. In this article I concentrate mainly (though not exclusively) on Europe.” On this definition alone his claim that the left has precipitously declined is false. Taking the crisis of the remaining ‘Leninist’ groups for the left is, of course, just one of his solipsistic errors.
Podemos Tries to Build New Organisational Model.
Podemos, the Spanish radical left alliance, has created a lot of interest in Europe and further afield.
In the May European elections they got 7.97% of the vote and 5 seats.
The Izquierda Plural,(Plural Left) IP, an older left alliance, got 10.03% of the vote and 6 seats.
Podemos however presented itself in the ballot box for the first time this year, while the Izquierda Plural, notably its main component, the Izquierda Unida, has been around in various forms since the mid-1980s.
It appears that Podemos, like Syriza, is itself being taken as a possible political model for leftist groups in the rest of Europe.
Adria Porta Caballe writes on RS21 (one of the groups that left the British SWP), shortly after the above results, offering an explanation for their success
Podemos has achieved this with a different method that rejects the traditional conception of party militancy and an unconditional commitment to popular self-organisation. In particular, the last 5 months offer three examples of Podemos’ participatory nature. First, when Pablo Iglesias made the first step, he also made clear from the very beginning that he would not go further unless he was backed by at least 50,000 people. He easily achieved that number in a day, establishing a precedent of direct democracy from start.
The second and most important example of how Podemos achieved popular empowerment was the creation of so-called “Circles”, local spaces of debate and action where everybody can attend no matter his or her political affiliations. Today there are around 400 Circles spread over the Spanish State and anywhere else where its citizens have had to exile since the crisis started for economic reasons (London, Berlin, Brussels, etc). The motto “all power to the circles” represents a dose of democracy to the regime and an unprecedented tool of popular empowerment.
Finally it is also worth mentioning that Podemos is the only party in the country which used open primary elections to choose its candidates. A quick glance to the more than 50 candidates who run in the open primaries is enough evidence of what distinguishes Podemos from the rest: workers, unemployed, precarious, students, teachers… but no professional politician. No wonder that with this different method, Podemos could not reach an agreement with the traditional euro-communist party Izquierda Unida to run together in the elections. Apparently the latter was only worried about exchanging some seats in a common candidature, while Podemos was obviously demanding a much more fundamental change in the way the left approaches internal democracy.
This model has not been settled.
Nor is at all clear that they have “achieved popular empowerment”.
The French site Ensemble noted that following the elections there was a “lively” internal debate inside Podemos, opposing
some of the party’s base, who advocate greater power for the ‘circles’ in the process of decision making, and the self-styled Podemos “promoter group”, which defends a model with less power for circles and which is all open to all citizens and voters. The fundamental question, ultimately, is to define the organisational form to be taken by Podemos and the role of the circles, and that of those not enrolled in them, in the decision-making party people.
(El País – reporting this) has so far identified in this debate two sides supposedly in confrontation. On the one hand, there is the Izquierda Anticapitalista (IA, anti-capitalist Left), a political party built around the initiative since its inception and, secondly, the promoter Podemos group, headed by Iñigo Errejón, and Juan Pablo Iglesias and Carlos Monedero.
In the El País article on the 9th of June supporters of the “promoter group” are cited accusing the “base” (Iquierda Anticapitalista, IA) of wanting Podemos to be the “izquierda de Izquierda Unida” – the left of Izquierda Unida”. Pablo Iglesias’s right-hand man, Juan Carlos Monedero went so far as the accuse the IA of attempting a “coup d’état” ( “golpe de Estado”) inside the organisation – as a party within a party.
One of its supporters, Teresa Rodríguez, is said to be the “Number 2″ of Podemos.
Not surprisingly the Fourth International has published an article by that refers to this dispute suggesting that the El País report may not be entirely trustworthy (given the daily’s own political allegiance, which was, in the past, with the Spanish Socialist Party, the PSOE).
Dick Nicols in Links on the 1st of July (Spanish state: Eruption of Podemos sparks turmoil left and right) does not downplay the dispute as revealed by El País and has its own analysis of the problems facing Podemos,
According to a report in the June 9 El País, close Iglesias collaborator, fellow university lecturer and La Tuerka co-presenter Juan Carlos Monedero at one point explained the need for a closed list in these words: “The idea of the [closed] lists doesn’t seem very sensible to us, but there are people conspiring to lay hold of Podemos and we don’t feel like copping that. People with responsibilities in other parties have sent emails to sympathisers giving instructions as to what to do on June 14 [date of a national meeting of Podemos sympathisers].”
This was a reference to the Anti-capitalist Left (IA), co-founder of Podemos along with Iglesias and his supporters. In response to Monedero’s comments, which included the observation that some Podemos sympathisers wanted to convert the organisation into “the left of IU”, a June 9 statement of IA said: “Whoever sees conspiracies and coups where there is only democracy has very little faith in the intelligence of Podemos people…Only those who are afraid of democracy fear debates.”
Earlier Monedero had said: “Maybe this has to break up, maybe there are two incompatible models inside Podemos, some want to turn it into a party of delegates and into an old party…If we carry on with this line of talk, what happened with 15M could happen again—we were radically democratic and radically ineffective.”
One concern was the role in Podemos given to the maverick politician and political consultant Jorge Verstrynge, ex-leader of the post-francoist Popular Alliance and variously PSOE member, adviser to the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and the Venezuelan military, and exponent of a massive program of deportation of migrants from Spain.
Another was the decision, taken by election campaign team to incorporate a portrait sketch of Pablo Iglesias into the official Podemos ballot paper logo, on the grounds that Iglesias had much greater visibility than the name Podemos.
A third was the removal from the final Podemos election program of any specific support for the November 9 consultation in Catalonia, even though Iglesias continued to speak out for the Catalan right to decide.
The incessantly churning Spanish social networks have not been slow to comment on such choices, with Iglesias being tagged as “the little Napoleon”, and much worse. More soberly, many have pointed out that internet-driven decision-making in “new” party-movements can cohabit with “all power to the charismatic leader”, as in Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. There the leadership (basically Grillo?) decides what the options for voting by internet are, after which “the membership decides democratically”. For the recent decision as to which European parliamentary group the Five Star movement’s MEPs should join, Grillo offered his members the “choice” of Europe of Freedom and Democracy (chairman Nigel Farange of the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party), the European Conservatives and Reformists group(dominated by the British Tories) or No Grouping.
Many, on the basis of what we so far can tell, will agree with Dick Nichols’ conclusion,
Podemos will face critical questions that can’t be solved from a “people v. politicians” formula. Critical will be the concrete basis for unity with IU and left-nationalist, left-regionalist and green forces. This is particularly pressing in the Spanish state because of the disproportionality in the rigged national Spanish electoral system, which only starts to disappear after a party wins 20% of the vote. (That score wins 18% of seats, while 15% wins 10.3% of seats and 10% of the vote just 5.1% of seats.)
The consolidation of Podemos as a revolutionary-democratic movement against austerity with rigorously democratic functioning and the convergence of its advance with that of a reformed IU will surely determine the fate of the anti-capitalist struggle in the Spanish state.
But it is by no means certain that the complicated ‘on-line’ democracy and the ‘circles’ at the base of Podemos, – the one drawing to leadership power, the other away from it, will help in this.
Tony Greenstein in a temperate mood.
Comrade Tony Greenstein’s resignation from Left Unity sent shock waves last month throughout the world progressive, labour, and socialist movement.
The news was published in the august pages of the Weekly Worker on the 5th of June.
Now on his Blog he explains his standpoint.
I resigned from Left Unity nearly a month ago. Set up in a blaze of publicity, it has fallen victim to identity politics and navel gazing. It reports that it has 2,000 members. If so they make next to no impact. There is no internal life in the organisation, no paper or journal, and criticism of policies such as ‘safe spaces’ for women are frowned upon or, as is the case in Manchester subject to censorship and suspension
Using dialectical tools honed in years of struggle Brighton’s Best continues.
It would be a pleasure to reproduce the text in full but for reasons of space and attention-span we confine ourselves to extracts.
Cde Greenstein has no doubt where some of the blame for the rise of UKIP lies,
….most mailings from the Centre have concerned elections for the multiplicity of posts in LU. Barely a word has been issued concerning prioritising campaigns such as the destruction of the NHS or the welfare state. Bogus issues of interest to just a handful of careerists, such as intersectionality, have been deemed of more importance instead.
It is little wonder that LU didn’t see fit to stand candidates in the European elections when it has such pressing internal issues to deal with. The result is that UKIP and its anti-immigration policies have been given a free ride and LU has abandoned what could have been an effective platform for introspective navel gazing.
This post continues in this vein and reaches this conclusion,
LU’s leadership could do worse than to look at the success of Syriza in Greece and try and learn some lessons. However I fear that they are too fixed in their views and politics to learn lessons from anyone. They insist on following the same strategies that embraced Respect and destroyed the Socialist Alliance. Politically LU has demonstrated complete impotence on questions like Ireland. My conclusion is that the time for success has now passed and what is left is a terrible missed politically opportunity.
I have therefore decided that no purpose is served by my continuing to remain a member and I have decided to resign from Left Unity.
In case anybody has sympathy with some of these views – which include criticisms of ‘intersectionality’ (poor old Richard Seymour’s latest hobby horse) and ‘safe spaces’, not to mention Greenstein’s comments on the LU failure to campaign on welfare – this has been brought to the Tendance’s attention (ME),
TO THOSE on the left who derive sado-masochistic entertainment from the more bilious of its internal debates, Tony Greenstein will need no introduction. But for anyone who doesn’t think that spending endless hours on email discussion lists and internet message boards is an appropriate and productive use of their time, it is necessary to provide a little background.
Tony Greenstein is a socialist based in Brighton who engages in a form of political masturbation that consists basically of attacking the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the most poisonous terms known to him at every possible opportunity. Tony attacks the AWL for its small size, but he is not on very firm ground arguing numbers with a group more than 100 times the size of his own: the Tony Greenstein sect of one.
Tony’s ferocious hatred of the AWL overrides all rational political thought; so, for example, when Tony stood as a candidate for the Socialist Green Unity Coalition (in which the AWL also participated) in the 2005 General Election, Tony felt it appropriate to write a letter to the CPGB newspaper Weekly Worker attacking the AWL in characteristic terms, even though he knew this would harm the coalition of which he himself was part. This sort of behaviour is illustrative of Tony’s general approach – not rational, worked-out criticism but frenzied slander. His diatribe in What Next? [‘The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – Britain’s Revolutionary Imperialists’] is no different. It is embarrassing in its lack of rigour, in the way it substitutes anecdotal slander for political critique, and in its use of blatant lies, distortions and half-truths.
More on What next? site.
In a long political career on the outside of the outside left Cde Greenstein has accumulated a broader range of enemies than the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) – they extend, let us say, from senior figures in the trade union movement to just about every party and groupuscule on the left (his latest bug-bear is Socialist Resistance).
He has even got the goat of somebody genuinely loathed by all progressives, Gilad Atzmon.