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Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. An Atheist and Secular Critique.

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Review Article. Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2014.

Xll

And who or what shall fill his place?

Wither will wanderers turn distracted eyes

For some fixed star to simulate their pace

Towards the goal of their enterprise?…

Xlll

Some in the background then I saw

Sweet women, men, youths, all incredulous

Who chimed, ‘This is a counterfeit of straw

This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!

XlV

I could not buoy their faith: and yet

Many I had known: with all I sympathised;

And though struck speechless I did not forget

That what was mourned for, I, too, long had prized.

God’s Funeral. Thomas Hardy. (1)

Terry Eagleton introduces Culture and the Death of God by announcing, “This book is less about God than about the crisis occasioned by his apparent disappearance.” He continues, “I start by showing how God survived the rationalism of the eighteenth century, and conclude with his dramatic reappearance in our own supposedly faithless age.” (Page iix) Determined, it appears, to wrong foot one of his most cutting critics, Gregor McLennan, that his ‘theological turn’ simply sets one “static slogan, (God is back) against another (God is dead)” Eagleton turns to cultural and intellectual history (2). That is, a would-be dynamic account, “The history of the modern age is among other things the search for a viceroy for God, reason, nature, Geist, culture, art, the sublime, the nation, the state, science, humanity, Being, Society, the Other, desire, the life force and personal relations: all of these have acted form time to time as forms of displaced divinity.”(Page 44)

Culture and the Death of God is not, then an account of the wider social and individual fortunes of atheism or secularism. The “lived experience” explored by Charles Taylor, the web of changing attitudes in the “move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed unproblematic, to one in which it is understood as one option among others…” is dismissed (like – initially – Taylor himself) to a footnote. (3) Yet Eagleton is not shy of referring to the loss of “fundamental value” “moral rationales” (some of the deepest parts of feeling) – once offered by religion – in “underlying political power”.

Eagleton’s latest work is not a “sociological” history of faith and secularism at all. It is the story of the, long in coming, installation of “authentic atheism”, resting on the faithless ‘marketplace’ where the Economy is “rank atheist.” Eagleton tries to associate the ‘New Atheism’ with the ‘War on Terror’. The “alarmed liberal intelligentsia” clutching at “Reason, truth, science, progress and objectivity…” in the shape of Sam Harris, might suggest a very literal End of Faith to halt religious violence. That is by a pre-emptive nuclear strike against terrorism. (Page 202)

The Enlightenment.

Culture and the Death of God offers a rapid overview of the Enlightenment. It is informed by a number of secondary works, such as Peter Gay’s classic account of the battles for “freedom”, and its synthesis of the Christian and Pagan heritage, and by Jonathan I. Israel’s more recent studies. The latter distinguished a ‘Radical Enlightenment,” of figures like Spinoza, Bayle. Diderot, based on “toleration, personal freedom, democracy, equality racial and sexual, freedom of expression, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge and a ‘Moderate’ version – Locke, Newton, Hume, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Turgot and Kant, to throw in a few names. Israel commented, “the difference between reason alone and reason combined with faith and tradition..”

Israel traced modern ideas of “personal liberty, comprehensive toleration, equality, sexual and racial and a secular morality of equity” back to this radical strain (5). Eagleton is more interested in its stand on religion. Many, the majority, classed as Auflkärer (the German word he frequently employs) were deists, who had no beef with God, only with Revealed and, institutional religion. “It was religion in this institutional sense that most of the philosphes took as their target.”(Page 7) Indeed, even the most radical sceptics and atheists were frightened of a godless, and ‘thus’ potentially immoral, populace. “The Enlightenment’s assault on religion, then, at root a political rather than theological affair.”(Page 12)

In fact Enlightenment thinkers were not really capable of killing off God even if they had wanted to. The claims of Reason – even, one assumes, Hume’s extreme scepticism ‘Pyrrhonism’ – were curbed, and their overweening ambitions, bootless. “When human reasoning becomes autonomous, it approaches divine status; but a rationalised world is also one in which its presence gradually dwindles, so that he grows remote from rationality and becomes accessible only through faith and feeling. In this sense the other face of rationalism is fideism.”(Page 34)

The French Revolution’s brief radical Dechristianisation, never struck a popular chord. The idea that “patriotism should be the new faith, the Declaration of the Rights of Man its Apostles” did not last long. The Culte de l’Être suprême that followed struck no roots, although the Constitutional Church had some support.  Eagleton does appear close to one of Robespierre thoughts that, “Atheism is aristocratic. The conception of a great being who watches over oppressed innocence and punishes successful crime, is democratic through and through.” Nevertheless, he observes, the  ‘bloodless Supreme Being” could not, nevertheless take the place of the real, and bloodied, thing. (6)

Culture and the Death of God then takes us through a whole series of thinkers – remote from popular culture. The German Idealists tried to repair any split between reason and nature, the romantics went further and reinvented God as nature of culture, incarnate in Nationalism, and by the 20th century (modernist) Culture itself (post-Matthew Arnold) had risen to the empty throne, as the new vice-regent of God. As (falsely) in Eagleton’s eyes, as a source of social cohesion, the “corporate sense of culture” of ultimate value, and transcendence, all have stumbled along, ‘surrogates’ for the divine.

It is hard to take seriously Eagleton’s claim that “None of (these) divine deputies are “graven images of the godhead.” They are “phenomena in their own right, not simply a locum tenas or camouflaged version of something else.” But nearly every page of Culture and the Death of God traces religion in “textual styles of thought, which then unwittingly help to keep divinity alive in a more clandestine way.”(Page 45) So if many ideas do not simply stand in for God, if we look beneath the disguise – from the appearance to the ‘essence’ – we will find some divine contraband.

To cite just two cases. Nietzsche’s views on the ‘death of Man’, to pair with the ‘death of God’ are the condition for the birth of New Humanity. For Eagleton this is “orthodox Christian doctrine” – regardless of his notorious loathing on Christianity. (Page 159) Eagleton also asserts that Marx was “deeply informed by Judeo-Christian thought. It is not here, then, that an authentic atheism is to be found.”(Page 161) And “humanity for Marx is not a self-determining absolute, and so cannot scramble on to the empty throne of its Creator. If Marx is more religious than Nietzsche in some ways, he is less so in others.” (Ibid). In this – shabby – way at least one of the two most notorious atheists in history comes close to a posthumous conversion.

A Theology?

A commonplace – irritating – of some of the faithful is that people cannot really disbelieve in god. To try to do so is to end up with ersatz religion. Culture and the Death of God is not short in finding proof that we cannot do without ‘something’ to fill what Ferdinand Mount has called “an enormous empty space in people’s lives” created by the “the eclipse of a single God-centred explanation.” (7) Perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of these “substitutes” is of George Elliot’s devotion to Duty. A.N. Wilson has cited F.W.H. Myers’ that most beautiful and humane of Ethical novelists, “I seemed to be gazing, like Titus at Jerusalem, on vacant seats and empty halls – on a sanctuary with no presence to hallow it, and heaven left lonely of a God.” (8)

In these, and countless ways, Eagleton tries to demonstrate that  ‘God’ never really died in Western culture – his shadow loomed too large.

Before looking at what Eagleton considers authentic atheism – which does not mourn these sanctuaries – what exactly is his God centred explanation? In a sense only one part of the Godhead plays a role: Christ. Christian faith, he wrote in Reason, Faith and Revolution (2009) is not primarily about whether “there exists a Supreme Being” but “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.” (9)

This is what is presented to us, “The crucifixion proclaims that the truth of human history is a tortured political criminal. It is a message profoundly unacceptable to those sunk in dewy-eyed delusion (idealists, progressives, liberals, reformers, Yea-Sayers, modernisers, socialist humanists though one which as perfectly understood by a Jew like Walter Benjamin. Only if you can gaze on this frightful image without being turned to stone, accepting it was absolutely the last word is there a slim chance that it might not be. This chance is known to the Christian faith as resurrection. To acknowledge this thing of darkness as one’s own discerning in this monstrous image a reflection of oneself and one’s historical condition, is the revolutionary act which the Gospels know as metanoia, of conversion.”(10) Repentance, acceptance of this Revealed Truth, is a commitment to the future, not a submission to the past.

This, then, is the root of a “tragic sense” of religion, “Those who hold suffering and hope most finely in balance – the true tragic protagonists, so to speak – are those who rise up because they have little enough to lose, yet for that reason have the power to transform their condition.” One might call this Faith, a leap into the world itself, through divine grace. (11)

In Culture and the Death of God we learn of the social message contained within. The New Testament “shows no enthusiasm for social consensus. Since it holds that such values are imminently to pass away, it is not greatly taken with standards of civic excellence or codes of good conduct. What it adds to common-or-garden morality is not some supernatural support, but the grossly inconvenient news that out forms of life must undergo radical dissolution if they are to be reborn as just and compassionate communities. The sign of that dissolution is solidarity with the poor and powerless. It is here that a new configuration of faith, culture and politics might be born.” (Page 208)

These images of suffering, of the crucifixion, the Passion of the Christ, or the Mel Gibson portrait of the Stations of the Cross, faced with the imminence of the passing of the world, are unlikely to appeal to many a Doubting Thomas. Creating something from what we do not see, on the basis of one writer’s Christology, beyond the range of possible experience (and with little sign of the gentle warmth and kindness of the Redeemer), and putting this at the heart of faith itself, is the purest and most virulent irrationalism. How this will end in “compassionate communities “is a mystery too deep to grasp. One suspects that not many theologians, who have their own rooted human rationality, would follow Eagleton, for all of those twentieth century writers who have made the “scandal” of the crucifixion at the centre of their thought.

Capitalism, Secularism and Fundamentalism.

“Whenever the Almighty seems safely dispatched, he is always liable to stage a reappearance in one disguise or another.”(Page 119)

The economy, for Eagleton, we have noted, is “atheist”. Culture and the Death of God explains, “The faithlessness of advanced capitalism is built into its routine practices. It is not primarily a question of the piety of scepticism of its citizens. The marketplace would continue to behave atheistically even if every one of its actors was a born-again Evangelical.”(Page 196) The coming of Postmodernism – a self no longer coherent enough to need to project itself as God onto the world, has bolstered its faithless character. There is “no Big Other, no grand totality or transcendental signifier.”(Page 190)  It is only now that the whole of Western society is undergoing the real harrowing of atheism.

Yet, “No sooner has a thoroughly atheistic culture arrived on the scene, one which was no longer anxiously in pursuit of that place-holder for God, than the deity himself was suddenly back on the agenda with a vengeance.”(Page 197) A vast list of causes, from the West’s international interventions, globalised capitalism, to social anxiety, anomie and powerlessness, has created a new surge in religion. “Western capitalism, in short, has managed to help spawn not only secularism, but also fundamentalism”. The latter, in its multiple forms, has appeared “as a refuge an a strength for those who feel crushed by its own predatory politics.”(Page 198) “The Almighty, it appears, was not safely nailed down in its coffin after all, He had simply changed address, migrating to the US Bible Belt, the Evangelical churches of Latin America and the slums of the Arab world. And his fan club is steadily increasing.”(Page 199) As a result we have a new ‘grand narrative, “the so-called war on terror.”

Is ‘secularism’ the “spawn” of capitalism? In Inventing the Individual. The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014) Larry Siedentop has argued that its liberal roots, the ‘privatisation’ of individual judgement, lie in Christianity and the importance it places on the individual, not the group, the family, the tribe or the nation. From the grace of faith, to freedom of choice to believe or not, the journey Charles Taylor describes, was not smooth. Secular states – that is not dominated by religious authorities with freedom of belief for all – are the result of a long European ‘civil war’, to establish these freedoms. The left, in the broadest sense of the term, has shouldered much of this struggle. Many believers, particularly from religious minorities, have joined. The fight was not borne forward by those uniquely dedicated to Truth of the Event of the Crucifixion but by those with more modest horizons, the love of their fellows, those dedicated to tolerance and liberty.

That there are those opposed to this ideal, ‘fundamentalists’ is all too clear. The problems they cause, above all from political Islam, are with us now. Eagleton wrote in On Evil “Had the West acted differently in its treatment of certain Muslim nations, it might have escaped at least some of the aggression that is now seeing visited upon it.”(12) But is less than obvious that extremist Islamism would have been killed in the egg, if ‘justice’ to their calls – that is, their demands for a theocracy – a Caliphate – had ever been met. The killers in Pakistan are those whose “radical innovation consist of bringing chaos into being, thus putting creation into reverse. By blowing a black hole in what God has fashioned, he tries to catapult himself into equal terms with him.” (13) What possible ‘justice’ could slake their murderous “death drive”?

Culture and the Death of God is stitched together from a patchwork of intellectual texts. It folds up when it’s placed over the real, the mundane real not the Lacanian Real. It is Eurocentric. The ‘war on terror’ is a thin enough doctrine, but it covers something much deeper. As Fred Halliday pointed out (in 2002), there is an “enormous, long and very violent clash within the Muslim world between those who want to reform and secularise and those who power is threatened or who want to take power in the name of fundamentalism.” (14) Comments about the decentred self of Western capitalism and a “new form of Western cultural supremacism” are, frankly, trivial in comparison with the depth of these clashes. (Page 202)

A Marxist stand, a democratic socialist position, would be to side with the secular intelligentsia, defending religious pluralism, and the working class against the pious Islamist bourgeoisie and the genociders of the Caliphate and Al-Qaeda. But I leave that, vast, issue, hanging.

Eagleton never bothers to distinguish between agnosticism – hard (it is impossible to know that god exists or not), or soft (there is no reason to believe or not to believe in god) – and atheism – god does not exist. Many people who hold to these views simply do not feel the need for religion, have no “religious experience” and have no more divine gaps in their lives than they have a Third Eye. Believers are right to smart at ‘New Atheist’ charges that they are “are thick and/or uneducated “(Ferdinand Mount). There is a great deal of kindness carried out by religious people and we should glory in these acts. To be told that our ideas are either ‘really’ religious and/or Western examples of Western ‘supremicism’ is equally condescending. And we observe that Eagleton’s particular New Left Church stands, on the evidence, with few followers and empty of newly converted sceptics

References.

(1) Cited in God’s Funeral. A.N. Wilson. John Murray. 1999. This is a much more humane and intelligible account of the loss of faith, and the ‘bereavement ’ felt by Victorians at this, than Eagleton’s lofty pamphlet.

(2) Mr Love and Justice. Gregor McLennan. New Left Review Second Series. 64. 2010.

(3) Page 3. A Secular Age. Charles Taylor. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2007.

(4). The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Vol. 1. The Rise of Modern Paganism. Vol. 2. The Science of Freedom. Peter Gay. W.W.Norton. 1977 (1966). Page 4 Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670 – 1752. Jonathan I. Israel. Oxford University Press. 2006

(5) Page 869. Jonathan I. Israel op cit.

(6) Page 266. Fatal Purity. Robespierre and the French Revolution. Ruth Scurr.Chatto and Windus. 2006. See also Religion and Revolution in France. 1780 – 1804. Nigel Aston. Macmillan. 2000. For Aston Robespierre and the Jacobins’ Supreme Being did have supporters but for the majority, worshiping this deity was “like taking an ice-maiden for bedfellow…”(Page 274)

(7) Page 215. Full Circle. How the Classical World Came Back to us. Ferdinand Mount. Simon & Shuster. 2010.

(8) Pages 151 to 152. A.N. Wilson. Op cit.

(9) Page 37. Reason, Faith and Revolution. Reflections on the God Debate. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2009.

(10) Pages xxvii – xxviii. Terry Eagleton Presents Jesus Christ. The Gospels. Verso 2007.

(11) Page 272. The Trouble with Strangers. Terry Eagleton. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.

(12) Pages 157 – 8 On Evil. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2010.

(13) Page 97 Holy Terror. Terry Eagleton. Oxford 2005.

(14). Page 46. Two Hours that Shook the World. Fred Halliday, Saqi Books. 2002

See also: Eagleton, Terry (19 October 2006). “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching. London Review of Books.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Pegida: a German Right-Wing Anti-Foreigner Populism Emerges

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Deutschland PEGIDA Demonstration in Dresden

10,000 – 15,000 people  marched on Monday the 15th of December  through the eastern German city of Dresden in an anti-Islamisation demonstration.

The march was the largest yet for the far-right populist PEGIDA movement.

This demonstration and its background were given great prominence in le Monde yesterday (En Allemagne, le discours raciste se banalise). Le Monde emphasised how the numbers attending weekly marches have grown and grown.

The media had not brought up the eternal ‘German neo-Nazism’ hook but the result of the emergence of a growing anti-immigrant/migrant movement in the Germany, a country that has hitherto been immune to the appeal of UKIP/Front National politics. In other words xenophobia knows no European political borders.

The first signs of these developments was in the rise of  Alternative für Deutschland.

“Alternative for Germany received 4.7% of the vote in the September 2013 federal election, narrowly failing the 5% threshold for representation.The party won 7 of Germany’s 96 seats for the European Parliament in the 2014 European election, and joined the European Conservatives and Reformists group in June 2014. The party exceeded forecasts in gaining its first representation in state parliament elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia during 2014.”

The party is anti-Euro and against any transfer of sovereignty to the European Union. Its anti-immigration policies, and its ‘socially conservative’ (that is, reactionary) social stand, marks it even more firmly on the hard right.

Commentators (including Le Monde) observe an “overlap” between the AfD and PEGIDA,

 Der Speigel is one of many media outlets to cover the story  including those in the UK (Guardian)

15,000 march in anti-Islamisation PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) demonstrations in Dresden.

A record number of demonstrators turned out on Monday to march in support of the far-right populist PEGIDA group. The name loosely translates to “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West.”

“The people are with us!,” the group’s founder Lutz Bachmann shouted at the crowd. Monday’s turnout was 50 percent greater than that of a week ago. The rallies started in October in response to clashes between Kurds and Sunni Muslims over the West’s intervention in Syria.

But the nationalist group has largely been protesting over the immigration system in Germany, which has become Europe’s number one destination for asylum seekers – whose lands of origin include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as several African and Balkan nations.

The emergence of the movement has stunned politicians, one of whom – Ralf Jäger, the Social Democratic (SPD) interior minister for North Rhine Westphalia state – described PEGIDA’s members as “neo-Nazis in pinstripes.” While some neo-Nazis have been seen among the crowds, those gathered have mostly been disenchanted citizens.

More than 1,200 police kept a close watch on the non-violent crowds. Nearby, about 6,000 counter-protesters – made up of civic, political and church groups – marched under the banners “Dresden Nazi-free” and “Dresden for All.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the wave of PEGIDA marches and cautioned Germans against falling prey to xenophobic “rabble rousing.”

An associated right-wing BOGIDA protest took place in the western city of Bonn on Monday. While approximately 300 of the group’s supporters turned up, they were met by 2,000 counter demonstrators who called for peace and tolerance.

Der Spiegel.

Taz carries more details about Pegida’s opponents whose counter-demo moblised 5.500.

Reaktionäre Verrohung Europas!

The report by Michael Bartsch says that in response one marcher said that the threat was not the Islamisation of the West, but that of a reactionary and barbaric continent ( „Es droht nicht eine Islamisierung des Abendlandes, sondern eine reaktionäre Verrohung Europas!“) He notes however that this alliance against Pegida is “fragile” – it is composed of many very diverse groups, from the ‘anti-dogmatic’ far left, migrant and asylum groups, human rights organisations, religious bodies, to the established parties. The first group, prominent over years of anti-fascist activism, cannot easily co-operate with the later, particularly the governing CDU one of whose representatives, Martin Gillo, turned up at the end of their march.

British Conservatives.

This (from Wikipedia) relating to  the way the Tories have reacted to the rise of AfD is interesting:

During David Cameron‘s prime ministerial visit to Germany in April 2013, the British Conservative Party is reported to have contacted both Alternative for Germany and the Free Voters to discuss the possibility of cooperation, which was supported by the European Conservatives and Reformists group of the European Parliament.

In June 2013, Bernd Lucke gave a well attended question and answer session organised by the Conservative allied Bruges Group think tank in Portcullis House, London.

ConservativeHome, a British political website, viewed the AfD’s policies as, “wholly unremarkable,” in response to the AfD’s more cautious reception among the German public. The website also voiced the opinion that the party shouldn’t be compared to the UK Independence Party which calls for a British exit from the EU. According to the conservative grassroots site the AfD’s policies are much closer to those of the British Conservatives, who also reject the euro and wish to implement reform of the EU.

The Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was speculated to have been advocating for the British Conservatives and AfD to link following the 2014 EU elections via the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists with possible membership in the EU parliament grouping European Conservatives and Reformists, which was formed after the Conservatives withdrew from the European Democrats sub group of the European People’s Party, to which Angela Merkel’s CDU belong.

Some British Conservatives such as Timothy Kirkhope were more reluctant to be seen as too openly courting the AfD, should it damage relations with Angela Merkel’s CDU, which they speculated could hinder attempts by the Conservative Party to renegotiate treaties before a proposed referendum on British EU membership in 2017. Hans-Olaf Henkel stated that the AfD had heard rumours that Angela Merkel had told David Cameron to keep his distance from the party during the run-up to the 2014 European Election.

Response from the political journalist Andrew Gimson writing at ConservativeHome was broadly positive about the possibility of the Conservatives working with AfD. Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome has also been welcoming towards cooperation with AfD, playing down the risks that cooperation would affect the relationship between David Cameron and Angela Merkel.

Before the European Election Bernd Lucke had been in talks with the Czech and Polish parties of ECR, but acknowledged the concerns the British Conservatives had about the admission of the AfD into the group.

Young Men Who Fought in Syria with Kurds Against ISIS Return.

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Our Kurdish Sisters and Brothers. 

Exclusive: Death Pact Of IS-Fighting Britons

From Sky News.

Two Britons who went to Syria to fight IS have told of their battles on the front line – and how they vowed to kill each other rather than get captured.

Jamie Read and James Hughes told how they dodged bullets during chaotic patrols with Kurdish forces after recording a “goodbye” video for their families in case they died.

They described spending hours lying in the “pitch black” in no-man’s land, in conditions they said were reminiscent of World War One.

On one occasion, it was so cold that a young Kurdish comrade collapsed with hypothermia – “body-popping” on the ground next to them.

In an exclusive Sky News interview after their return to the UK, the pair also revealed how panic alarms have been installed in their homes, amid fears they could be targets for IS supporters.

They strongly denied being mercenaries, telling how they had sold possessions to fund their flights and had returned to the UK to “mounting debts and bills”.

They had not been paid “a penny” for their exploits, though they had been “treated like royalty” by some of the Kurdish troops, the men said.

Provided by Sky News And the former soldiers gave a detailed account of their time in Iraq and Syria, explaining that they had travelled to fight IS militants because they had “zero tolerance for terrorism”.

Describing what had prompted them to travel, Mr Read said the beheading of British aid convoy volunteer Alan Henning had been the final straw.

“Alan Henning – aid worker, British – put him on his hands and knees and cut his head off, you know what I mean,” Mr Read said.

“Can you really find justification in sitting back here and doing nothing?”

Mr Read, 24, and Mr Hughes, 26, revealed that organising the trip had been quite simple with a “phone call here or there” and some communication over Skype.

They were screened by simply having their Facebook posts checked and ensuring that social media friends were not IS supporters, Mr Read said.

The pair said that after arriving in Irbil, northern Iraq, they were transported via the Kurdish HQ to the front line in Syria.

During the journey the Britons said they had no idea whether they had landed in a trap.

“I’m not going to lie, this was one of the most frightening processes you can go through, you know, the paranoia: through the roof,” Mr Read said.

“You get picked up by a guy who doesn’t speak English, so straight away there’s a language barrier.

“When we got to the safe house… it’s sort of dodgy-looking, so you think ‘I don’t really like this’. At one point, you think ‘is this the point I’m going to get handed over?'”

After getting a uniform and weapons, Mr Hughes said they eventually “rocked up” on the frontline to an old schoolhouse covered in mud.

They arrived to cheers from their Kurdish comrades, were plied with chai (tea) and cigarettes, and met three other Westerners who had joined the fight.

During their three weeks on the front line, their duties included terrifying night patrols where it was the “blackest black… like being in a cave with no lights”.

“You are left staring into the pitch black, hoping no one sees you first,” Mr Read said.

The Britons said they had hatched a plan to shoot each dead rather than being caught and paraded on television as hostages.

“We wouldn’t get captured, bottom line, we couldn’t get captured, we’re not getting our heads paraded on YouTube, we made that vow before we went out.

“Everybody out there is carrying a round for themselves. Nobody wants to be captured by IS. Nobody wants to end up on YouTube getting their head cut off.

“So for us, as harsh as it sounds, it’s probably the better way to go. It’s the old saying, ‘you keep a round for each other’.”

Describing their final day, Mr Read told how the pair had been out on patrol towards a nearby village where IS militants had been holed up.

“All of a sudden we just got opened up on. Quite a lot of small arms (…) quite a lot of AKs and they were quite close.

“There were rounds coming in and they were really close – they were pinging and they were bouncing, whizzing over your head – obviously it’s a very distinctive noise.

“There was a lot of shouting, a lot of screaming, a lot of F-words being dropped.”

The pair said they were forced to flee through a village which was “littered with IEDs (improvised explosive devices)” before returning to base.

“We eventually made it out but this was a real eye-opener – this is how these people were going to act – there’s something more that needs to be done there.”

They returned to Britain last week and were questioned by anti-terrorism officers for six hours at Heathrow airport before being released.

Asked whether they would return to Syria, Mr Read said: “I’d like to think we would have the opportunity to go back.”

But he added: “I’m unsure on the political stance – I’m not sure whether our Government would appreciate us going back.”

The Independent reports,

After their three-week stint on the front line, they were held for questioning at Heathrow Airport for six hours and they claim to have faced mountains of debt on their return. Neither was arrested or charged for terrorism, unlike every other British national who left the country to fight in the Syrian civil war.

Read and Hughes also said they had “zero tolerance for terrorism” and cited that and the murder of British aid volunteer Alan Henning as their justification for choosing to fight against the militant group.

Their homes have been fitted with panic alarms in fear of Isis supporters who could be planning to seek retribution and the pair have also been monitored in a counter-terrorism watch.

Hughes, 26, from Worcestershire and served three tours of Afghanistan with the British Army, added during the interview with Sky News that patrols would be put out just in case their homes are attacked.

The Lions of Rojava page on Facebook, for the YPG which is also known as the People’s Defence Unit, has claimed that soldiers from countries such as the US, Germany, Netherlands and Estonia have also joined the Kurdish force.

Around 200 soldiers will be deployed by the British Army in the New Year to train Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers for six months, in plans announced last week.

We await complaints from the usual sources that that these brave young men were not charged with terrorism, that this shows UK ‘double standards’,  – that is from the same people who not too long ago were comparing  those fighting for the Daesh genociders with the volunteers defending the Spanish Republic in the 1930s.

Meanwhile comrade Janet Biehl has visited the Kurdish stronghold of Rojava

My Impressions of Rojava.

From December 1 to 9, I had the privilege of visiting Rojava as part of a delegation of academics from Austria, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the U.K., and the U.S. We assembled in Erbil, Iraq, on November 29 and spent the next day learning about the petrostate known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with its oil politics, patronage politics, feuding parties (KDP and PUK), and apparent aspirations to emulate Dubai. We soon had enough and on Monday morning were relieved to drive to the Tigris, where crossed the border into Syria and entered Rojava, the majority-Kurdish autonomous region of northern Syria.

……………..

Anyone with a bit of faith in humanity should wish the Rojavans well with their revolution and do what they can to help it succeed. They should demand that their governments stop allowing Turkey to define a rejectionist international policy toward the Kurds and toward Democratic Autonomy. They should demand an end to the embargo against Rojava.

The members of the delegation in which I participated (even though I am not an academic) did their work well. Sympathetic to the revolution, they nonetheless asked challenging questions, about Rojava’s economic outlook, about the handling ethnicity and nationalism, and more.  The Rojavans we met, accustomed to grappling with hard questions, responded thoughtfully and even welcomed critique.

Full article via above link.

Belgian General Strike Brings Country to a Halt.

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Socialist Party Leader Elio Di Rupo Backs Strikers.

Today the police in Belgium are observing a work-to-rule (grève du zèle).

The successful General Strike on Monday saw the country’s transport system grind to a halt, almost all public services closed, and workers in the private sector joined the protests.The unions also mobilised road Hauliers to bloc access to major cities.

There were a small number of clashes between strikers and scabs.

The left has described the strike as “historic”.

The International Monetary Fund has, however, just stated that the “reforms” launched the Belgian right-centred Coalition go in the “right direction” (La Libre Belgique).

Hard-right Bart de Weever, of the N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie)which advocates the Scottish nationalist style  break-up of the state, and who is seen by many as the éminence grise of the government, denounced the strike as “political”.

There were tense moments when Trade Unionists protested outside the Brussels  headquarters of the N-VA shouting, “« N-VA, casse-toi, la Belgique n’est pas à toi », N-VA, Piss off! You don’t own Belgium!”

Further action is planned for mid-January.

At present negotiations are underway. Centre-right  Coalition Minister, Willy Borsus (MR – Mouvement réformateur ) has already dismissed the day of action saying that the turn-out was “modest” ( “La mobilisation fut modeste” ) Le Soir 

The Morning Star carries a good report.

BELGIAN trade unions capped a month of action against government austerity policies with a general strike today that paralysed air and rail traffic and halted businesses across the country.

The strike targeted measures by the nation’s right-of-centre government to cut into employees’ income, extend working hours and restrict social services.

The huge action had an immediate international impact since Brussels airport, a busy hub with connections throughout Europe and beyond, had no traffic whatsoever.

Airport spokeswoman Florence Muls said some 600 flights have been cancelled, affecting more than 50,000 passengers.

Flights to and from Belgium were grounded from late on Sunday as air traffic controllers joined the strike for the second Monday this month.

The series of trade union actions, which have been the toughest in years, started last month with a demonstration in the capital that drew more than 150,000 protesters.

The government led by new Prime Minister Charles Michel, who was sworn in two months ago, plans to cut expenditure by €11bn (£8.7bn) during the next five years.

The unions are opposing a government decision to scrap a cost-of-living wage rise next year. Belgian law currently mandates that wages rise at the same pace as inflation.

The unions are also protesting against public-sector cutbacks and plans to increase the retirement age.

The 24-hour strike was the largest to have taken place in Belgium for many years.

As well as the transport closures, it forced government offices and schools to close and the country’s ports were blockaded.

The Belgian government has claimed that it must operate its cuts strategy in order to stay within EU debt limits.

But the European Transport Workers’ Federation disagreed and welcomed the strike, warning that “the Belgian government is using EU austerity targets to penalise families, both employed and unemployed, students and the poorest people in society.

“It is not targeting the big capital that remains almost untouched by the government’s austerity measures.”

There is talk of extending trade union action into the new year, but concrete measures have yet to be put forward.

See also:« Messieurs De Wever et Michel, la Belgique en grève veut prendre un tout autre chemin que le vôtre »   Parti du travail de Belgique – Partij van de Arbeid van België (PTB – PVDA). Bruxelles. Et après le 15? On continue, bien sûr! Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) et Socialistische arbeiderspartij (SAP)

Ian Birchall Publishes On Why the SWP Deteriorated So Quickly.

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Let Party Skullduggery Run Rampant.

Ian Birchall’s resignation from the SWP was announced in December last year.

The news was quickly broadcast on this Blog (not to say all over the left).

We posted under the heading “A greatly respected comrade”.

“Ian Birchall’s resignation is …. something of great significance  for the left. It is perhaps a sign of the respect in which Ian is held that his critics, like myself, feel that we have to make our appreciation of him clear.”

Today we learn (from Louis Proyect) of, “SO SAD (TO WATCH A GOOD PARTY GO BAD). Ian Birchall.

On 15 December 2013 I resigned from the Socialist Workers Party, after some fifty years membership. I was no longer prepared to trust the party leadership with my money, nor to accept its discipline. I said at the time that I would make no further public criticism of the SWP and I have tried to stand by this. There are many more useful and interesting things to do than engage in arguments between small far left groups. Polemics about splits in small revolutionary organisations tend to be very tedious; I have no desire to add to that literary genre.”

Now we have Ian’s further thoughts on the “the problem as to why it happened. Why did an organisation which, though I knew its imperfections, seemed to me to be by far the best thing going on the British left, and of which I was proud to be a member, deteriorate so quickly?”

People will have to read the full – heartfelt – article but these are some extracts and observation.

So Sad centres, without dissimulation, on the core of the recent SWP crisis:.

Edward Platt in the New Statesman earlier this year summarised the initial spark for the party’s deterioration (on the left we would talk of its ‘degeneration’),

The first complaint against Comrade Delta was made in 2010. A woman who was referred to as “Comrade W” accused him of sexually harassing her, and he stepped down as national secretary while remaining part of the party’s leadership: its central committee, or CC. The party was told about the allegations at its conference in 2011.

This is Ian’s account of how he reacted,

On the basis of information available to me I don’t know if Delta was guilty of rape (though the evidence is that few women make false accusations of rape). What is clear on the basis of accounts accepted on all sides is that he behaved inappropriately and irresponsibly, and abused the privileges of the party office he held. (Here I should mention the suggestions made, not by the CC but by some CC supporters, that one or both of the women complainants could have been state agents. I think this is clearly megalomania: there is no evidence that the current SWP poses the sort of threat that would lead the state to use such measures. But if there were any possibility that such means might be used, then Delta, as a senior party official, was grossly culpable in not being much more careful about the relationships he entered into.)

I do not question the sincerity of the members of the Disputes Committee. But it is clear that they failed in their task. It was essential that justice was not only done, but was seen to be done, both by the membership and by the world outside, which undoubtedly would be watching what was happening. Both in the selection of personnel and in the procedures adopted, the Disputes Committee signally failed to convince that justice had been done.  The CC must share responsibility for this situation.

This seems to me to be a better response than those who scatter round accusations of “rape apologists” or “rape deniers” (a remark which I know will not make me popular either).

Ian sums up what it the nature of the SWP’s offence, “What some comrades clearly were guilty of is what might be called “rape trivialisation”.”

This is Platt’s observation which was exactly what most of the left thought at the time.

The party’s decision to investigate the allegation internally, through its disputes committee, rather than referring it to the police, is the most remarkable aspect of the affair: it has astonished people outside the SWP, and some within it, too. “What right does the party have to organise its very own ‘kangaroo court’ investigation and judgment over such serious allegations against a leading member?” wrote the former Socialist Worker journalist Tom Walker in his resignation letter. “None whatsoever.”

There is a great deal of detail of how the internal party crisis unfolded, which I find less than interesting.

But this rings completely true.

 I won’t go into detail about the pre-conference period. Some supporters of the CC acted extremely badly – for example making fraudulent phone calls to cancel room bookings for perfectly legitimate opposition meetings. Maybe the CC did not positively encourage such actions, but it made no attempt to rein in its more enthusiastic supporters. However, it seems to be a fact of history that in faction fights everybody behaves badly, and doubtless some opposition members conducted themselves in less than an ideal fashion.

The CC won the conference, with many supporters of the majority doing their best to encourage the opposition to leave, with moronic foot-stamping – something I do not remember from party events in earlier years. Not surprisingly some hundreds of members decided to depart.

Anybody with Ian’s life-long commitment would have already  left the party.

But, he stayed for a while.

Then,

For me the final straw came in September, when the CC announced that every single member of the CC that had screwed up so badly would be standing for re-election on the CC slate. After that I went through the motions of the pre-conference period, but I was clear that there was no future for me in the party.

Throughout 2013 the style of leadership offered by the CC seemed to be summed up by a song by the late Pete Seeger, “The Big Muddy”  (originally written as a comment on the Vietnam war). A platoon of soldiers on manoeuvres are ordered to ford a river by their captain, and though it becomes clear that the river is too deep, the captain obstinately refuses to change his instructions: “We were waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool said to push on”.

We note with concern that far from crawling away to a hole to lick his wounds – never to come out again - Martin Smith (Comrade Delta) – is at present running a Blog with the cooperation of at least some in the SWP orbit (based in France). 

Many of the details of how the SWP organisation has been run (or come to be run) are of wider interest,

In more recent years, when the number of a district’s conference delegates has been based on vastly inflated and totally unrealistic membership figures, districts have often been unable to find a full complement of delegates. At the North London report-back meeting in January 2013 Weyman Bennett very frankly admitted that most years he went to sleep during CC elections; obviously he found them boring and irrelevant. And yet his position in the organisation and his right to make decisions derived from such elections. That a CC member should have such contempt for the democratic process is obviously a matter of some concern. But the real problem is the fact that the membership – myself included – paid so little attention to the democratic processes within the party.

This claim could perhaps be contested,

Indeed the SWP in general has been a very tolerant organisation, much more so than most far left organisations I know of. I’ve spoken at most Marxisms and at hundreds of branch meetings,  and never been given more than the vaguest indications of what the CC wanted me to say. I’ve written repeatedly for the party press. Occasionally articles were changed or even blocked, but very rarely.  Of course I exercised a degree of self-censorship. But I generally felt trusted and able to try and exercise a degree of influence. I should add that when I submitted the first draft of my biography of Cliff, I confidently expected to be asked to withdraw a few passages which I thought would be seen as excessively critical. It is greatly to the credit of the CC and of Alex Callinicos in particular that my draft was published virtually unchanged.

Outsiders have not noticed this tolerance when they got closer to the actual party apparatus.

My own experience is that a vocal minority of the SWP are the grip of the hallucination that they are steel-hardened Bolsheviks

The following anecdote is only one of many I could cite.

Nonetheless over the years there have been worrying indications of an unhealthy style of debate. Let me give just one example which has stuck in my mind. When the decision to join Respect was made, there was an aggregate meeting in London to endorse the decision. It was an enthusiastic, optimistic meeting – we felt that the party was on the brink of a significant step forward. Almost all the contributions from the floor favoured the strategy; I certainly shared the meeting’s enthusiasm.

Then one woman who spoke raised the question of Galloway’s flattery of Saddam Hussein (“Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability”). Several people began to heckle her and one particularly thuggish young man in front of me attempted to shout her down. She was unable to finish her speech. This was of course entirely pointless; there was no danger that the massive majority in favour of Respect would be affected. It also occurred to me forcibly that this was precisely the sort of question that might be asked in the course of an election campaign, which is what we were about to enter. I suspect the hecklers would have run a mile if asked to campaign on the doorstep; heckling when the majority is on your side is an easy option. Neither the chair nor the CC member delivering the main report reprimanded the hecklers. I have always regretted that I did not speak to criticise the hecklers; so I bear as much responsibility as anyone else for what was a symptom of a declining standard of debate.

Not that the left, or indeed any political party, is immune from similar behaviour.

Comrades from the Labour Representation Committee will find these comments about “heckling” resonating all too clearly.

As I said Ian Birchall is greatly respected.

His article in New Left Review No 80 (2013) Third World and After, takes up (amongst other things) the contribution to the left by the anarchist-Marxist-libertarian Daniel  Guérin (a figure mentioned previously in Andrew Coates reviews: Revolutionary History Vol 16, No4: Ian Birchall (guest editor) European revolutionaries and Algerian independence 1954-1962).

I would like to think that Guérin‘s ‘centrist’ democratic socialist principles have something to contribute to the list Ian ends So Sad on,

The International Socialist stream will take certain ideas and attitudes into the river, in particular:

a)      The rejection of not only Stalinist state capitalism but of the very idea that state ownership is any part of the definition of socialism;

b)      The insistence that our starting-point must always be the actual struggle of workers at the point of production/exploitation rather than any abstraction such as “workers’ parties” or “workers’ states”;

c)      The stress on beginning with actual struggles, not preconceived strategies or programmes: in Rosa Luxemburg’s words “Mistakes committed by a genuine revolutionary labour movement are much more fruitful and worthwhile historically than the infallibility of the very best Central Committee.”

Here at least Ian has the last word.

For many years the SWP defended those ideas within the socialist movement, and I remain proud of what we achieved. The débâcle of 2013 was profoundly sad, but the fifty years before that were not in vain. Like Edith Piaf, I regret nothing.

 

General Strike in Belgium on Monday.

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Back our Belgian Sisters and Brothers!

BRUSSELS, Oct 16 (Reuters)

Belgium’s unions have called for a series of regional strikes culminating in a general strike on December 15 to voice their discontent over government plans to implement austerity measures and hike the pension age.

Belgium’s new federal government, which took office on Saturday, said it would raise the state pension age to 67 from 65, scrap a planned inflation-linked wage rise due next year and find savings in the public sector, including the health and social security budget.

“The government is deaf to the workers and recipients of social benefits but generous to the employers and the rich,” a common statement by the country’s three largest unions said.

The unions plan regional strikes every Monday starting November 24, culminating in a national strike on December 15.

The government said the austerity measures are needed to balance Belgium’s budget by 2018 and tackle the country’s national debt of about 100 percent of economic output, one of the highest in the euro zone. (Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Dominic Evans)

The general strike has been called by the FGTB (socialist), CSC (Christian) et CGSLB (liberal).

The scale of the action promises to be enormous.

Transport will be paralysed, public services will grind to a halt, the Union belge du transport (UBT) has urged lorry drivers to join the movement, and many in the private sector will support the mass protests (more here).

And…

Des piquets de grève temporaires « volants », des cellules qui bloqueront donc différents points capitaux au cours de la journée, seront mis en place ce lundi et des équipes de militants de la FGTB se tiendront prêtes à venir porter renfort aux piquets manquant d’effectifs.

‘Flying pickets’ , that is ‘cells’ of moving strikers, will block different sectors of the Capital during the day. They will be set up by activists from the FGTB (socialist/social democrat union federation) who will help any pickets that need reinforcements.

The day will be marked by demonstrations in the streets.

More details in Le Soir.

Bart de Wever, the leader of the Flemish nationalist party (N-VA) and part of the ruling ‘Michel Coaltion’ (hard right to centre right),has criticised the strikes.

He said yesterday that the unions had come out with “une véritable désinformation et parfois de vrais mensonges” misinformation and sometimes outright lies. De Wever accsued the trade unions of being the “”bras armé du PS”, the armed wing, of the Socialist Party.

The leader of the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, and former Prime Minister, Di Rupo has backed the strikes – though underlines that the union federations have taken this action independently and on their own initiative.

La  Libre Belgique.

Films and Books of the Year.

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Film of the Year.

Films.

Leviathan.

A “2014 Russian drama film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, co-written by Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, and starring Aleksei Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, and Vladimir Vdovichenkov. A modern reworking of the Book of Job, the film is set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man who struggles against a corrupt mayor who wants his piece of land.”

It is profound, shot with enormous clarity, disturbing, deeply moral and political. Vladmir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church must loathe it from the bottom of their hearts.

Deux Jours, une nuit.

A social drama by the Dardenne brothers – with great fineness: Ken Loach without the didactic miserablism. 

“In Seraing, an industrial town of Liège in Belgium, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is a young wife and mother, who works in a small solar-panel factory. She suffers a nervous breakdown and is forced to take time off from her job. During her absence, her colleagues realize they are able to cover her shifts by working slightly longer hours and the management proposes a €1,000 bonus to all staff if they agree to make Sandra redundant. Sandra later returns to work and discovers that her fate rests in the hands of her 16 co-workers, and she must visit each of them over the course of a weekend to persuade them to reject the monetary bonus. However, most of the co-workers need the proposed bonus for their own families and Sandra faces an uphill battle to keep her job before the crucial vote on Monday morning.”

Grand Budapest Hotel.

The film is ” written and directed by Wes Anderson and inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig.

“Located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka,[ a European alpine state[ravaged by war and poverty, the Young Writer (Jude Law) discovers that the remote mountainside hotel has fallen on hard times. Many of its lustrous facilities are now in a poor state of repair, and its guests are few. The Writer encounters the hotel’s elderly owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), one afternoon, and they agree to meet later that evening. Over dinner in the hotel’s enormous dining room, Mr. Moustafa tells him the tale of how he took ownership of the hotel and why he is unwilling to close it down.”

The colours and decor alone are worth the viewing.

Ida.

“Polish-Danish drama film directed by Polish-British Paweł Pawlikowsk.”

“In 1960s Poland,Anna, a young novice nun, is told by her prioress that before her vows can be taken, she must visit her family. Anna travels to her aunt Wanda, a heavy-drinking judge and former prosecutor associated with the Stalinist regime, who dispassionately reveals that Anna’s actual name is Ida Lebenstein, and that her parents were Jewish and were murdered during the war. Ida decides she wants to find their resting place. She and Wanda embark on a journey that both sheds light on their past and decides their futures.”

Agata Trzebuchowska as the Nun, Ida, is luminous.

Pride.

“Based on a true story, the film depicts a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984, at the outset of what would become the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign.The National Union of Mineworkers was reluctant to accept the group’s support due to the union’s public relations’ worries about being openly associated with a gay group, so the activists instead decided to take their donations directly to Onllwyn, a small mining village in Wales — resulting in an alliance between the two communities. The alliance was unlike any seen before but was successful.

Succeeds in showing everything that is good about this country and our labour movement. Memorable.

Books.

Out of Time. The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing. Lynne Segal. Verso.

“Perhaps one of the most affecting portrayals of love ever filmed is that of an elderly couple in the film L’amour (2012). The scenario of the aftermath of a beloved’s stroke unfolds with unbearable tenderness. Lynne Segal also sings of the wonder and warmth of friendship, touching, of sexual intimacy, and of sadness. Out of Time pleads for communication between generations. Its pages transmit a wealth of feeling, knowledge and reflection…”

(From, Tendance Coatesy.)

Fatherland. Nina Bunjevrc. Jonathan Cape.

A ‘graphic novel’, though since I first came across the form in France I will always think of them as ‘bandes desinées.” It is a tale of a Croatian nationalist father, the former Yugoslavia, Canada, family strife, and terrorism. It is personal, thought-provoking and sharply illustrated.

Jean Jaurès, Gilles Candar & Vincent Duclert. Fayard.

On the 100th anniversary of assassination of the founder of modern French socialism, Jean Jaurès, this is a welcome biography. Candar and Duclert have due reverence for the ‘legend of Jaurès’ – he showed great courage and political inspiration, the research that clarifies the historical and intellectual background (French republicanism and the splintered socialist left) of his life and political career, as a journalist, an activist, a leading member of the Second (Socialist) International and a Parliamentarian.

The authors are not afraid to look into Jaurès’ hesitations at the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair, his highly traditional cultural approach (including towards his wife and family), his “patriotic internationalism”, and his belief (bizarre for a democratic socialist, in modern eyes), that in the French Revolutionary Assembly he would have say “au côté” of Robespierre.

There is a chronology and bibliographical list and guide.

The founder of the (still published) daily l’Humanité and the first united French Socialist Party (1906 – section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO) cannot, naturally, be resumed in one single study. I am still working through literature by and related to Jaurès.

The Establishment. And how they get away with it. Owen Jones. Allen Lane

“As its mostly favourable reviewers have described it, The Establishment is a thoughtful and through exploration of the world of “powerful”, who “manage democracy”. This “oligarchy”, a self-selecting elite, as Ferdinand Mount has described it, it is one profoundly changed since the 1980s (The New Few or a Very British Oligarchy. 2012) To Jones it’s “politicians who make laws, media barons who set the terms of debate; business and financers who run the economy; police forces that enforce a law which is rigged in favour of the powerful.” What ties them together is a belief in their own rightness that they are “worth” their positions.”

(From,Tendance Coatesy.)

Boyhood Island. Karl Ove Knausgaard. Harvill and Seeker.

The third instalment of Knausgaard’s autobiographical panorama it marks a change of scene. Growing up on an Island off the coast of Norway, it is, as readers of the previous novels would expect, not an always joyful romp. It is very far from the experience of Holden Caulfied (or at least what I hear about Catcher in the Rye – I’ve not read it), and certainly François Sorel (le Grand Meaulnes – which I did read as a teen). If the novel is to be believed Norwegian young people seem to have an awkward adolescence close to the British one (and no doubt many of us in modern Europe).

A bonus is that Boyhood Island is translated into colloquial British English – which is appropriate given the previous sentence.

Worst book of the Year:

Revolution. Russell Brand. Century.

Everyone that matters has already torn this to shreds. I would add that not only does he refer to the Situationist Guy Debord as a “clever clogs”, to the wisdom of Swamis and God’s fairy chains in the stars, but that Brand employs (once, but it’s enough) the abomination of abominations – the verb got in the present perfect with the American participle “gotten”.

You can read more about Tendance Coatesy, Coates and all of his works on this,

Saturday Interview: Andrew Coates