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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

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)

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

Strike Paralyses Brussels.

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Fight for Public Services in Belgium.

Before next Monday’s general strike Brussels has been brought to a halt by strikes (part of a series of ‘ grèves tournantes’ rotating strikes) today.

Belgian workers striking against government austerity plans have badly snarled rail and air service to and from the capital city of Brussels.

As of Monday morning, 44 percent of flights at Brussels main airport were reported canceled.

Labour union leaders announced they have also shut down Eurostar and Thalys train service to and from London, Paris and other international destinations.

Metro, bus and tram service in Brussels itself has ground to a halt.

The one-day strike, which also affects the French-speaking Brabant region south of Brussels, is the latest in a series of union actions intended to force the government of Prime Minister Charles Michel to backtrack on a programme to reform pensions, cut health and social security budgets and raise the retirement age.

Huffington Post

Le Soir reports on mass picketing and the barricades preventing traffic entry to the Belgium Capital (a map of these is published in the paper). The police have been called to a picket at the Saint-Gilles Prison.

This morning listening to the public radio station, La Première, I was impressed by the sheer number of pickets (over 500 in Brussels alone).

La Libre Belgique also publishes extensive reports.

More information on the site Solidarité Ouvrière.

Trade Union news on the General Strike (of all the 3 major union federations, ACV-CSC (Christian), la ABVV-FGTB (Socialist) et la ACLVB-CGSLB(Liberal)  of the 15th of December: 15/12 grève nationale.

Largest Far left Party: Partij van de Arbeid van België, PVDA Parti du Travail de Belgique, PTB

Video of Socialist Party (social democratic) participation in 6th of November mass demonstration against austerity, here.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2014 at 11:32 am

Labour Representation Committee Backs Kurdish Struggle.

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Kurdish Fighters: Our Kith and Kin. 

Yesterday the Labour Representation Committee AGM voted to back the Kurdish struggle.

Cagdas Canbolat from the Daymer Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre made a moving speech describing the current situation of the Kurds in Northern Syria. He talked of the importance of the heroic struggle of the people of Kobane against Isis (Da’esh). Warning against the manoeuvres of the Turkish state and the support of Qatar and Saudi Arabia (all (implicated in allowing the jihadists to flourish),for he stressed the need to be wary of the actions of the Western powers. But, with the common socialist objectives of his organisation and the British left, our priority must be support the Kurdish people’s fight.

In the afternoon the LRC’s views on international affairs were debated.

There was no full resolution on the Kurdish issue, although comrade John McDonnel (MP) has held a welcome meeting in the House of Commons on the topic.

There as however a general declaration in support of the Kurds’ fight, and for their right to self-determination.

During the discussion the Tendance regretted that the LRC had not had time to adopt the very recent Fire Brigades’ Union resolution ,

The FBU Executive Council is appalled by the ongoing siege of the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria by ISIS forces.

The Executive Council notes:

  • The ISIS attack on Kobane and resistance of Kurdish and other local forces.
  • The role of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE (all UK/US allies) in building, assisting and encouraging the growth of ISIS.
  • The particular role of the Turkish government in allowing money, arms and fighters across the border to build support for ISIS.
  • The role of Turkey at various times in obstructing the flight of Kurdish and other refugees and in blocking any support for predominantly Kurdish defenders of Kobane, thereby increasing the power and influence of ISIS and likelihood of collapse of opposition to it.

As the union of firefighting humanitarian professionals, we believe it is right to warn of the prospects of a massacre and to demand that governments (including the UK government) act to prevent atrocities. As professionals who have to deal with international humanitarian disasters as well as the effects of terrorism on our own doorstep, we cannot passively fold our arms and do nothing in the face of a likely massacre.

We send our message of solidarity to the workers’ organisations in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, including the Kurdish workers’ organisations. We believe these are the progressive forces that can oppose oppressive governments and reactionary and sectarian forces of all types, and can best guarantee workers’ rights and ensure democratic relations between the peoples of the region.

We support the right of Kurdish people across the Middle East to self-determination, including their right to defend themselves against attack from ISIS.

We oppose the horrific brutality of ISIS and its sectarian and murderous behaviour towards peoples of the region.

We condemn the Turkish government’s comments equating Kurdish fighters (including the defenders of Kobane) with ISIS.

We have no confidence in a US/UK/French bombing campaign against ISIS, based on the bitter experience of such efforts in the last decade and on the appalling role played by the Turkish government and other key western allies in the region.

We demand that:

  • The Turkish government lifts border obstructions to refugees.
  • The Turkish government allows relief efforts, including by opening a relief corridor to the Kurds and other forces defending Kobane.

We call for the TUC to raise these matters urgently, including with the Turkish embassy, the UK government and with trade unions in Europe and elsewhere. We call for international trade union solidarity and support for the defenders of Kobane.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

Matt Wrack
General Secretary

FBU

Afterwards I interviewed comrade Cagdas Canbolat.

He reiterated the importance of Kobane, the Kurdish defence of diversity in a region where this is threatened, and the role of women in leading their struggle against the genocidal Islamists.

Back in Ipswich that evening – at nearly ten o’clock – I went into a Kurdish run Newsagents/Off Licence on my way home.

Having already in the recent past already discussed the Kurdish fight with the people there I mentioned the debates at the LRC Conference.

Immediately the proprietor grasped his mobile and showed me pictures of him and his wife at last Saturday’s London day of Solidarity with Kobane.

He began talking about the bravery of the women fighters of the YPG – People’s Protection Units.

I asked if he had seen the video of the Kurdish comrades with the Italian Partisan Song, Bella Ciao.

He sang the first words!

I said that what I liked about the Kurds was that they are “normal people”.

By this I meant – and was understood to mean – that they are simply ordinary decent people.

He liked that expression and repeated it.

A phrase I used in the LRC debate was that these are our “kith and kin“.

That is, people who know, people we feel at ease with, not a special ‘heroic’ ‘victim’ group.

They are friends, neighbours – in my case a number of allotment holders, those who come to the Ipswich Trades Council May Day events, and those I have taught English to.

Nothing special – just plain decent people.

We in the labour movement and left do know the Kurdish organisations – they have supported us, they are part of us.

Ordinary or not the Kurds of Northern Syria are called on to do extraordinary acts.

As our flesh and blood they must be supported to the hilt.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 9, 2014 at 11:40 am

Isis: ‘Manufactured” by US, says Counterpunch.

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From US ‘Tool Box’ Says Counterpunch. 

Counterpunch published over the weekend these latest wise-guy revelations…

ISIS: the Useful Enemy

by ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH

The dark force of ISIS is apparently an invincible and unstoppable war juggernaut that is mercilessly killing and conquering in pursuit of establishing an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In reality, however, it is not as out of control as it appears. It is, indeed, carefully controlled and managed by its creators and supporters, that is, by the United States and its allies in the regions—those who now pretend to have established a coalition to fight it! 

Plumbing the depths Hossein-Zadeh tries to make political capital out of Kobane and the brave Kurds fighting there,

While the Kurdish city of Kobani in Northern Syria is being attacked by the disproportionately better armed forces of ISIS, and thousands of its besieged residents face certain mass killings if it falls, the forces of the “coalition to fight ISIS” are watching—in effect, playing a game of hide-and-seek, or perhaps trick-or-treat, with ISIS—as the outgunned and outmanned Kurdish forces are valiantly fighting to death against the attackers. Only occasionally the coalition forces carry out bombing missions that seem to be essentially theatrical, or just for the record.

Further,

The inaction or half-hearted action of the United States in the face of the preventable slaughter of the Syrian Kurds, which makes it complicit in the carnage, can be explained by its political horse-trading with Turkey in exchange for the Turks’ collaboration with the pursuit of its imperialistic interests in the region.

It is self-evidently true that the Islamist government of Turkey is viscerally hostile to the PKK and those in Syria allied to it. But Hossein-Zadeh does not propose any measures to alleviate their plight, or indeed express any solidarity with the people of Kobane.

How one could help them – leaving aside the inconvenient truth that the Peshmerga are actually there – are not his concern. He simply wallows in it.

The ‘argument behind all of this?

That, the US and its tentacles are at work. If  you thought Seamus Milne’s Theory of why the USA is against the ‘multi-polar world’ is half-baked read this:

The U.S. approach to ISIS would be better understood when it is viewed in the context of its overall objectives in the region—and beyond. That overriding objective, shared and reinforced by its client states, is to undermine or eliminate “the axis of resistance,” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and, to a lesser extent, Shia forces in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Achievement of this goal would also be achievement of another, even broader, goal: undermining Russia’s influence and alliances in the region and, by extension, in other parts of the world—for example, its critically important role within both the Shanghai Cooperation Council (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) and the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

And one doubts if many would go as far as this

To intervene in order to achieve these goals, the U.S. and its allies need pretexts and/or enemies—even if it means inventing or manufacturing such enemies. Without ISIS, resumption of U.S. military operations in Iraq and extension of those operations into Syria would have been difficult to justify to the American people. A year or so ago, the Obama administration’s drive to attack Syria was thwarted by the opposition from the American people and, therefore, the U.S. congress. The rise of ISIS quickly turned that opposition to support.

Viewed in this light, ISIS can be seen as essentially another (newly manufactured) instrument in the tool-box of U.S. foreign policy, which includes “global terrorism,” the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s nuclear technology, Al-Qaeda, and many other radical Islamic groupings—all by-products of, or blowbacks to, imperialistic U.S. foreign policies.

Let us, generously, assume that this article is not the famous Hope-Tipping (Hat-tip Rosie) famous for saying the opposite of what everybody else believes (accusing”D H Lawrence of showing  a neglect of “the consciousness of sexual relationship, the male and female element in life).

So it is not to strike a pose the author claims, “Just because everybody thinks that Isis is virulently anti-US means….that the US created it……”

No we will not claim this. Counterpunch has published extremely well-informed material on the origins of Isis in the Iraqi and Syrian Matrices.

Well, okay,l one that I can find quickly:  The Rise of ISIS and the Origins of the New Middle East War Tariq Ali talking to Patrick Cockburn.

…..they come most immediately from al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was at the height of its influence in 2006 [and] 2007 when it was an element–but not the only element–in the Sunni resistance to a Shia government and the American occupation. Ideologically, it comes out of the Jihadi movement and actually its religious beliefs are not that much different from Saudi Wahhabism, the variant of the Islam which is effectively the state religion of Saudi Arabia with its denigration of Shia as heretics, [along with] Christians and Jews.

It’s just carrying these beliefs to a higher and more violent level but it’s very much in the context of the Jihadi movement. …. ISIS has a number of different kinds of support. It has support of the alienated Sunni community in Iraq and also in Syria.

That at least their victors, after all these people have been defeated – they were defeated in ’91 by the Americans, they were defeated again in 2003, they were marginalised, persecuted – so victory is important to them. I think also they appeal to jobless young men, I mean sometimes referred to as the underclass, but actually just the poor, poor young men.

One could develop further from this that the group has an internal totalitarian dynamic,  a machine of “disciplining and punishing” grounded in Islamism, that represents,as Cockburn suggests,  not a radical break with other forms of Islamism, but an extreme exaggeration of their repressive efforts to shape human beings according to Divine Law. Or, failing that to cage them within it.

We can discuss for a long time the geopolitics, the Invasion of Iraq, and at present, the Syrian civil war, the stand of Turkey’s government, that have favoured these developments.

The contradictions within the Iraqi Kurdish power  and the various Kurdish  movements (including their own Islamists) and the complex issue of the Kurdish movements, the PKK’s inspiring programme of egalitarian social measures, decentralised power, secular freedom and sexual equality would fill pages.

But the point now is to mobilise support for the Kurdish fighters against Isis/Islamic State.

All this is blown to the winds by Hossein’s ramblings. – more than typical of the contributions on the site.

Is this deliberate?

That the real wish is to pile all the misery of the beloved peoples of the Middle East on the ‘West’s’ back?

Who can be certain?

Counterpunch – just when you thought unpleasant conspiracy theorists had had enough.