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The Aftermath of Friday: for a Left Politics against Islamism.

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The Aftermath of Friday: for a Left Politics against Islamism.

“Croire que la religion dans laquelle on a été élevé est fort bonne et pratiquer tous les vices qu’elle défend sont des choses extrêmement compatibles, aussi bien dans le grand monde que par le peuple.”

To believe that the religion in which one has been brought up in is kind and practice every evil that it forbids are two very compatible things, amongst the highest ranks as much as within the masses.

Pierre Bayle.  Pensées sur la comète, 1682

To watch, to listen, as the slaughters in Paris unfolded, to read and to think, as they sank in, was to be overcome by sadness and fellow-feeling. As witnesses told their stories, still shaking, the dignity of the survivors stood out. Fluctuat nec mergitur! Paris is shaken but has not sunk.

These are moments of high emotions. Love, solidarity, loathing and compassion. For yesterday reason was, rightly, the slave of the passions. Today and tomorrow we have to cast a colder light on what has happened and what should happen.

That ISIS, the Islamic State, Daesh, was prepared to murder is not news. Their killings in Iraq, in Syria, in Africa, and now in Beirut – scene of a tragedy shortly before Friday, and Paris, are present in the minds of millions. ISIS joins, as Hannah Arendt described totalitarian parties, these “secret societies established in broad daylight’.” (1) Modern media have made that daylight darker.

 The Middle East is now, it is observed, the site of  “phantom states” in large parts of Syria and Iraq. Not only ISIS but also al-Nusra are trying to build Islamic disciplinary regimes grounded on the Sharia. For the Islamic State religious governance is combined with, Weiss and Hassan claim, a “remarkably successful war economy”, with oil revenue supplemented by other contraband. They regulate and control prices. But it is the operation of their Sharia commissions that are at the heart of the machinery. The murder or enslavement of all who refuse to convert or bow to their form of Islam is only one side of their operation. Detailed rules for administrative and daily life are issued. The population is placed in a “Panoptican” of religious Gaolers. (2)

State capitalism to neo-liberalism? 

The left has tended to look at ISIS in terms of the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Patrick Cockburn, with field knowledge, has described the “takeover of Iraq by a Shia government, an event which began a process at the heart of the present conflicts, between those supporting this branch of Islam and the Sunnites. A quasi-official article by Anne Alexander in the Socialist Workers Party’s journal, International Socialism, follows this.  She talks of the transition from Arab nationalist (‘Baathist’) “state capitalism to neoliberalism”. Daesh appeared in the post-occupation chaos made worse by economic plundering, and above all because of the Iraqi Maliki – Shiite dominated – government (‘sectarian state’) tolerated/or encouraged death squads against Sunnis and opponents. The crushing of Islamic ‘reformism’ by authoritarian government during the Arab Spring, above all in Syria itself, destroyed an alternative. In these conditions ISIS, an elitist guerrilla force, began its march towards the Caliphate, outflanking even Al-Qaeda. (3)

The SWP speaks of the “counter-revolution”. In fact one ‘Islamic reformist’ movement, once hailed as a counterpart to European Christian Democracy, predating and largely unaffected by the Arab movements, has consolidated its power: Erdogan’s AKP. With Turkey in mind it is to be wondered just how any self-declared “non-sectarian” form of Islamism, however apparently ‘democratic’, is when put to the test of political power. In Tunisia concern that Ennahda would follow the same path helped remove the Islamists from power – in a country where democratic freedoms remains relatively unrestricted The Syrian anti-Assad movement in 2011 indeed had non-sectarian and democratic parts. They not longer feature with any weight on the battlefield.

Alexander makes much of the view that Marxists do not consider that ideas have a “life of their own”. But the most important “social content” of all the groups she considers is their ‘sectarianism’, the growing violent division between Shiites and the Sunnites.  It would be hard-going to find any uniform class explanation that could cover the vast regions this affects, from Pakistan to Lebanon, from Iran to the Gulf to Yemen. To discover the effects of imperialist interventions in the murderous acts of Islamists in Bangladesh and Nigeria, or the tyranny portrayed in the film Timbuktu would be equally ambitious. How Boko Haram is a product of the failure of ‘state capitalism’, that is ‘socialist’ nationalism, or Third Worldism,  is also of interest.

A Utopian Disciplinary Machine.

If we consider that ideology is a “lived relationship” we might begin by considering at least some of the views of Tom Holland. He traces one of the sources of Daesh to do-it-yourself interpretations of the Qur’an. Abandoning the fruitless effort to assert that they are not “real Muslims” Holland suggests that the Jihadists offer, in their terms, citations always to hand, their readings of scripture. We could say that the administrative apparatus of the Islamic State, from its bureaucratic eyes of god, to those eager to inflict the Hudud punishments, is a utopian disciplinary machine. Whether its version of Islam ever had any element of kindness is beyond the point. That it competes with others, including Al-Nusra’s own blood-strained contraption, and the Assad regime’s bringers of death, indicates that it is far from established. (4)

One of the main problems is not to frame the Islamic state within class oppression and exploitation. ISIS is clearly a bourgeois state, based on an exploitative war economy, and social oppression. The difficulty is that its appearance represents more than a “phantom” at the margins of already dislocated countries, or in the heart of the Syrian civil war, poised not only against Assad but against one of the few rays of hope in the region, the battling Kurdish forces and their allies. The Islamic state has attracted support in Europe, and elsewhere, from the Maghreb to further afield, as Paris so sadly indicates. And it appears to cut right across the view that the world had seen the last of totalitarian attempts to create sweeping tyrannies that crushed the life out of millions.

The idea that religion had become a private matter between believers and their god had won wide acceptance over the years. This did not mean that faith had evaporated. It related to the principle that the Divine no longer ruled the public domain. In Britain multi-culturalism was based on the idea that one of the pillars of multiculturalism was that religious groups ‘communities’ would be protected as part of civil society, with political clout, but not a decisive say in politics. In frame the secular assimilationist state, laïcité, distanced politics from religion. Yet as Kenan Malik notes, neither country has been successful in removing all support for the Jihadists. (Observer. 15.11.15)

Marcel Gauchet has set out the influential view that in the latest turn of secularism, this  “pluraliste-identaire-minoritaire” model, behind the apaprent divergence between the two types outlined above,  is becoming universal. Serious efforts to impose religion had retreated to the margins, becoming an attempt to escape society, not dominate it. (5)

Yet now the religious flame that burned right through counties seems to have returned. In the face of Islamic both militant secularism and the fuzziest multiculturalism met something which is truly ‘Other’. Daesh is not a classical ‘totalitarian’ movement. There is no ‘Egocrat’ representing the People as One. But the concept of an embracing Ummah, functions as if it were the European far-right’s Volk, or Race. No difference from the Word and no division, religious, social or political,  within the ‘Community’ is permitted. The ideology is far from free-floating: it has a material shape in a state machine “capturing” territory and suffocating populations, pulverising and condensing class conflicts. There is no room for pluralism, different identities, or minorities. The impure have to be subdued, converted, enslaved, or exterminated. Postmodernist leftists were accustomed to claim that Orientalism, including the ‘rationalist’ Marxist and Enlightenment left  made Islam into the Other. Now we have something hard and really Other, in the….Orient. (6)

This is, as they say, a limit point. Daesh fights more against Islamic heresy than against anything else. But it is plain as a pikestaff that no form of state where the Shariah, which by its principles denies equal rights to all, starting with women, and non-believers, rules, is compatible with human rights and the ‘divisive’ labour movement.

Absolute Opposition to Islamism.

The mood remains sombre. For Malik we should be “celebrating diversity while treating everyone as citizens, rather than as belonging to particular communities.” This are good principles. Nobody should exaggerate. We should not lose our nerve. The Islamic far-right, no more than the much more influential European xenophobic and racist parties, is not in a position to put millions to the sword.  But Islamism, taken state form, is not just a problem for the Middle East. It is, as Daesh, is the object of armed intervention, from Russia, from the US, from France from – still in debate – the UK. How can these conflicts be settled by bombing? Will there be more atrocities in Europe? What will happen if those who have joined the Daesh Einsatzgruppen return? It is a political issue for us all. If only some of the previous sentences are true, the first principle the left should work with is: absolute opposition to the political-religion of Islamism and support for the left and liberal forces opposing them on the ground.

  1. Page 376 The Origins of Totalitarianism. Hannah Arendt. André Deutsch. 1986 (1951) She developed the point, “Secret societies also form hierarchies according to degrees of ‘initiation’ regulate the life of their members according to a secret and fictitious assumption which makes everything look as though it were something else, adopt a strategy of consistent lying to deceive the no initiated external masses, demand unquestioning obedience from their members who are held together by allegiance to a frequently unknown and always mysterious leader, who himself is surrounded by the half-initiated who form a ‘buffer area’ against the hostile profane world.”(Page 376) They are “based on absolute hostility to the surrounding world, is very different from the ordinary parties; tendency to divide people into those who belong and those who don’t.”(Page 377).
  2. ISIS Inside the Army of Terror. Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. Regan Arts. 2015. Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents. 
  3. The Rise of Islamic State. ISIS and the new Sunni Revolution. Patrick Cockbrun. 2015. ISIS and counter-revolution: towards a Marxist analysis Anne Alexander. International Socialism.. 2015. No 125.
  4. Tom Holland: We must not deny the religious roots of Islamic State. New Statesman 15.3.15.
  5. La Religion dans la démocratie. Marcel Gauchet. Folio. 1998.
  6. On totalitarianism: Un homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Goulag. Claude Lefort. Belin edition. 2015. (Original 1974). This picture of the state is a very brief synthesis of the ideas of Mille plateaux.Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari. 1980. Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison. Michel Foucault. 1975 and L’État, le pouvoir, le socialisme.Nicos Polunatzas. 1978.
  7. The answer is a global human resistance to Islamism.

Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought: Aravindan Balakrishnan “Abused and Raped Followers” Court is Told.

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Cult leader Comrade Bala ‘abused followers in brutal campaign of degradation’

Thanks Sarah Jones. 

More reports,

BBC: Communist cult leader ‘imprisoned daughter’.

Guardian:  Brixton commune leader locked up daughter and raped acolytes, jury told. Court hears Aravindan Balakrishman, 75, mounted campaign of ‘debilitating mental and physical violence’ against the women in his collective

The Independent.

Aravindan Balakrishnan: Court hears Maoist cult leader ‘raped female followers and imprisoned daughter for 30 years’

The 75-year-old ruled over a band of women supporters in his south London communist collective  Paul Peachey.

A charismatic Maoist revolutionary raped female followers and imprisoned his own daughter for 30 years after brainwashing them into believing he was an all-powerful and all-seeing leader, a court heard today.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, ruled over a dwindling band of women supporters in his south London communist collective using threats and violence as he pursued his goal of overthrowing the “fascist state”, jurors were told.

His daughter – whose mother was another member of the collective – was beaten, bullied and rarely left the house with Mr Balakrishnan using her fear of the outside world to terrify her into submission, Southwark Crown Court heard.

She never went to school, played with a friend or saw a doctor during her childhood and the power that he held over her meant that she could not leave for the first three decades of her life, said Rosina Cottage QC, counsel for the prosecution. By the time that she left, she was ill with diabetes.

“She was hidden from the outside world, and it kept from her, except as a tool with which to terrify her into subjugation,” said Ms Cottage, opening the case for the prosecution.

“Her freedom of movement was restrained to the extent that even though she could have left physically, the power that the defendant exercised over her meant that she could never leave.”

Mr Balakrishnan, a charismatic and energetic speaker, was the organiser of a communist group in the 1970s based in Brixton, known as the Workers Institute, the court heard.

He is accused of raping and indecently assaulting two women members of the group, including one who was allegedly attacked seven times over a period of about 12 years from 1980.

“This case concerns the brutal and calculated manipulation by one man to subjugate women under his control,” said Ms Cottage. He bent them to his will using mental and physical dominance, violence and sexual degradation, she said.

The two victims of rape stayed in the collective too frightened to leave and hating to stay, said Ms Cottage. “They were forced into sexual acts over which they had no choice and were deliberately degrading and humiliating. He seemed to exult in his power over them.”

Background: Lambeth slavery case.

Workers’ Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought.

London slavery: Maoist group moved from activism to paranoia-driven cult mentality, say British leftists.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: PETALING JAYA: As more is revealed about the activities of the cult-like group in Lambeth now being investigated for holding three women in slavery, other far-left groups in the UK remain bemused about what happened.

In the 1960s and 1970s, parties to the left of the Labour Party of UK Prime Minister Harold Wildon became increasingly disenchanted with his soft socialist approach.

They became heavily radicalised and also underwent many internal splits.

Larger groups of the time included the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain and a number of Trotskyist movements like Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Ted Grant’s group that eventually became the Militant tendency within the Labour Party).

However the tiny group led by Aravindan Balakrishnan (better known as Comrade Bala) was itself a radical splinter party of the Communist Party of England Marxist Leninist [CPB-ML) that was an oddity even within far left circles. Indeed his Workers Institute offshoot was described as “the most lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe” by the London Times in the late 1970s.

Dr Paul Flewers first came across the Workers Institute group in the late 1970s. Now an independent Marxist he was then a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, later the Revolutionary Communist Party, which is now defunct. He recalls competing for customers as they distributed rival paper newspapers and leaflets in Brixton.

“The WI was very hostile to other left groups. It had been banned from attending other groups’ meetings because of its disruptive activities (disobeying the chairman, shouting out and interrupting speakers, etc).” said Flewers in an email interview.

“We didn’t talk about brainwashing or abuse, we just wondered how people could genuinely believe its policies, which, when compared to even the most bizarre statements from left-wingers over the decades, were about the weirdest anyone had ever seen!”

“People do follow charismatic leaders, a person who can express with ease and confidence the overall view of the group to which one is attracted to. Even intelligent people can end up accepting illogical things if they are part of a broad package that they generally accept.”

“There often comes a time when something makes a person think that this or that aspect of the group’s policies or behaviour isn’t quite right; then the leader’s charisma looks less convincing, he now seems less omniscient. Group loyalists start to look as if they have stopped thinking creatively and merely accept by rote what the party leader and leadership declare.”

Like most others, Flewers recalls some major flaws in WI’s ideology, calling it “totally unreal, with no relationship with reality. Britain was a ‘fascist’ state in its eyes. China was going to liberate the UK from this by means of the People’s Liberation Army, China had indeed secretly established the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain — so the workers really ruled (if in secret) in a fascist state! Completely mad!

As more and more people deserted the group, particularly after a police raid on party premises in 1978, it eventually descended into more of a cult controlled by Comrade Bala and his wife.

“The WI’s offices were raided by the police. This sort of thing is a very rare occurrence in Britain, and I suspect that Comrade Bala, paranoid to start with, saw this as the start of a general clampdown so he and his depleted ranks went underground. The British police state actually existed in Comrade Bala’s mind.”

“They suddenly disappeared. After the early 1980s, there was not the slightest sign of them. I think that the two older women in this current case went voluntarily with Mr and Mrs Comrade Bala into clandestinity.”

“Eventually, despite being kept indoors with only limited contact with the outside world, these two women would begin to doubt Comrade Bala’s ideas about Britain as a fascist police state and along with a general feel that they’d like to get out, they finally decided to break with him. The younger woman, born, raised and educated in clandestinity, could see that there was a better life outside which she was being denied.

While familiar with the group by sight then Flewers did not know their names and can only affirm that most of Comrade Bala’s followers were women of Asian descent.

It has to be said that both the SWP and the WRP have also had their own scandals relating to allegations of abuse. Earlier this year, members of the SWP accused the party of covering up rapes and sexual assault by referring them to the party’s own committee which allegedly let offenders offer lightly.

Flewers adds “The Healy group — Socialist Labour League, becoming the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974 — was also very paranoid about state interference and surveillance; it was very intolerable of internal dissent; Healy was exposed as an abuser of his membership, physically assaulting members at times, sexually abusing female members as well!”

Meanwhile Socialist historian Keith Flett in a blog post commented on the broader effect that the slavery case might have on the small British Maoist community. “British Maoism is getting bad press, which considering how few adherents it had even at its peak is quite an achievement. Of course part of that is the media trying to conflate Maoism with anyone much to the left of Blair.”

“British Maoists like Reg Birch, an engineering union official who founded the first UK Maoist organisation the Communist Party of Britain Marxist Leninist, were largely good activists in trade unions and the wider move.” said Flett, characterising British Maoists as mostly good comrades and mostly harmless.

A poster Grim and Dim recalls Comrade Bala’s group somewhat amusingly. “I well remember the Workers Institute from the 70s. Their main slogan was “Did tunnels deep, store grain and never seek hegemony”. It didn’t seem terrible relevant in 1970s London (though it was rumoured one of their members worked on the tube. I am mystified by claims that they had 20+ members – we always reckoned there were three of them!”

This is more horrific than we thought.

All our concern and love to those seeking justice.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2015 at 1:55 pm

A State Jew? Léon Blum – David A. Bell on Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum.

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Blum: a Generous Humanist Socialist, not a “State Jew”.

A State Jew. David A. Bell. Review of Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

London Review of Books.

Thanks Jim D.

Bell begins  his review with this, which should give some pause for reflection,

The newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’Université and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper. Glimpsing Blum through the car windows, the militants began shouting: ‘Kill Blum!’, ‘Shoot Blum!’ They forced his car to stop and began rocking it back and forth. Blum’s friend Germaine Monnet, sitting with him in the back, tried to shield him with her body. Her husband, Georges, who had been driving, ran to look for police. But one of the militants managed to tear a fender off the car, used it to smash the rear window, and then beat Blum repeatedly over the head. Only the arrival of two policemen saved his life. They dragged him to a nearby building, where the concierge gave him first aid. The next day pictures of Blum, his head heavily bandaged, appeared in newspapers around the world.

We halt there.

To internationalist socialists Blum is above all known not for his Jewish identity – despite the book – but for his socialist humanist republicanism.

Blum defended French democratic republicanism, from the Dreyfus affair onwards. He was profoundly affected by the “synthesis” of socialism, including the Marxist view of class struggle, with democratic republicanism, that marked the life and work of one of our greatest martyrs, Jean Jaurès, assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the far-right,  for his opposition to the outbreak of the Great War. Blum did not, however, play a part in the anti-War left.

That is the context in which we would take the shouts of “kill Blum”.  Political, not ethnic.

Blum was a leading figure amongst the minority of the French Socialists, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière), who opposed what became in the 1920s the French Communist Party, the PCF. He was one of those who opposed affiliating the party to the Third International at the Congrès de Tours (SFIO).

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920 (best known under its French title, background Pour La Veille Maison, Text).

This is the crucial objection from the ‘reformist’ (but at this point, still Marxist) democratic socialists to the Third International – the Leninist one.

You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make.

To show how radical Blum was at this point, this is how he defended the dictatorship of the proletariat,

Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. … Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. … But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement.

Bear this in mind: these words are memorised almost by heart by many on the left.

The minority, for which Blum spoke, opposed to the Third International, retained the name, French Section of the Workers’ International. This was significant: it referred to a claim to continue the traditions of the Second International, of Marxist, if moderate and reformist,  inspiration.

Blum offered social reform on this foundation. He led, during the Front Populaire (1936 -38)  a government (as President du conseil) of socialists and radical-socialists, backed by communists from the ‘outside’ and a vast movement of factory occupations and protests,  to implement some of them, on paid holidays, bargaining rights limiting the working week. He had great limitations – one that cannot be ignored is that his government did not give women the right to vote – and his role in not effectively helping the Spanish Republic remains a matter of controversy to this day. Indeed the absence of feminism – as well as a rigorous anti-colonialism (the FP “dissolved” the North African, l’Étoile nord-africaine of Messali Hadj –  in the Front Populaire, is something which should cause a great deal of critical investigation.

The review in the LLB is about a book, and this is what he has to say specifically about it:

Birnbaum, a well-known historian and sociologist of French Jewry, has written a short biography that focuses on Blum’s identity as a Jew, as the series requires. It cannot substitute for the more substantial studies by Joel Colton, Ilan Greilsammer and Serge Berstein, but it’s lively, witty and draws effectively on Blum’s massive and eloquent correspondence. Arthur Goldhammer has, as usual, produced a lucid, engaging English text. Birnbaum seems to have written the book in some haste: he repeats facts and quotations, and makes a few historical slips – France was not a ‘largely peasant nation’ in 1936; Hitler did not annex the Sudetenland in the summer of 1938, before the Munich Agreement. The chapters proceed thematically, highlighting Blum the writer, Blum the socialist, Blum the lawyer, Blum the Zionist and so forth, which produces occasional confusion as Birnbaum leaps backwards and forwards in time. But overall, the book offers a knowledgeable and attractive portrait. If there is a serious criticism to be levelled at it, it doesn’t concern the portrait itself, so much as the way Birnbaum draws on it to make a broader argument about French Jewish identity.

But there are issues of much wider importance in that broader argument which do not depend on discussing that text and its content.

Bell makes two points about his legacy as described in Birnbaum’s book,

As Birnbaum himself repeatedly notes, despite his ‘quintessential’ Frenchness, Blum always expressed pride in his Jewish heritage, often in the highly racialised language of the day. ‘My Semite blood,’ he wrote as a young man, ‘has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race.’ While he could speak disparagingly of Jewish ritual, he recognised and respected a Jewish ethical tradition. In 1899, in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, he insisted that ‘the Jew’s religion is justice. His Messiah is nothing other than a symbol of Eternal Justice.’ He went on to identify ‘the spirit of socialism’ with ‘the ancient spirit of the race’ and to comment: ‘It was not a lapse on the part of Providence that Marx and Lassalle were Jews.’ Blum, in short, thought the Jews could change the French Republic for the better by drawing on their own traditions to push it towards socialism.

This attempt to bring up Blum’s references to his Jewish background, even in terms more democratic than Disraeli’s novels, voiced above all by the character Sidonia, owes more to pre-1930s racial romanticism to racialism.

Does this prove Bell’s point that, “The republican model allows strikingly little space for what immigrant communities can contribute to a nation. Visitors to France can see at a glance just how much immigrants have brought to its music, literature, sport and even cuisine. But the republican model treats difference primarily as a threat to be exorcised in the name of an unbending, anachronistic ideal of civic equality. Even in the heyday of the Third Republic, many committed republicans recognised that different ethnic and religious groups could strengthen the republic.”

Yes it does: secularism is freedom for difference, not the imposition of homogeneity.

Blum could be rightly proud of his cultural heritage,as indeed in a ‘globalised’ world of migration many other people from different backgrounds should be, and are, within the democratic framework of secular equality.

There is little doubt that the spirit of nit-picking secularism can be as unable to deal with these backgrounds, as say, state multiculturalism, which treats ‘diversity’ as if this were a value in itself. If the first tends to be hyper-sensitive to, say, reactionary  Islamic dress codes, the second abandons the issue entirely.

But there are far deeper problems than superficial insistence on  Laïcité

The first is ‘Sovereigntist’ efforts to claim secularist universalism for French particularism. This is the rule amongst the supporters of the far-right Front National, historians and writers like Éric Zemmour bemoaning France’s ‘decline’ , though we should underline, not the novelist Houellebecq, who expresses disdain for things, not hate). There are those who call for all Muslims to be expelled from Europe, those  to those milder nationalists of right and left who commemorate “le pays et les morts” (and not anybody else – a return to the culturalist (not to say, racial)  themes of Action française to Maurice Barrès and to Charles Maurras. This is indeed “communalism”.

It is the major threat to French republicanism.

There is also the issue of anti-Semitism in France, woven into another kind of ‘communitarianism’. Alain Soral, his close friend the comedian Dieudonné, popular amongst young people from the banlieue and the more refined inheritors of the Marrausian tradition, the partisans of the  Indigènes de la République, (including those associated in the English speaking world) rant at thephilosémitisme d’Etat” in France.

It takes all the effort of refined ‘discursive analysis’ from academics to ignore that at its heart this is a current  which indulges in Jew baiting. The mind-set of these people was classically described by Sartre, “« Si le juif n’existait pas, l’antisémite l’inventerait.» (Réflexions sur la question juive 1946). They indeed spent an enormous amount of time ‘inventing’ the presence of Jews in politics, and giving them influence ‘behind the scenes’.

In words which might have been designed to pander to the world-view of the  Indigènes, Bell cites Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist,

Blum ‘the first of a new type of state Jew interested in giving greater weight to democratic sentiment within the framework of a socialist project.’ One wonders, though, what Birnbaum might say about a French Muslim politician today justifying an ideological position by reference to Muslim tradition and ethics (or sharia law). Would he have quite so favourable an  opinion? Or might he see the move as a ‘communitarian’ threat to ‘the unifying logic of the nation’ and to ‘French exceptionalism’? It is well past time to recognise that a nation can have many different unifying logics, and that a political model forged under the Third Republic fits the France of the Fifth Republic very badly.

Blum celebrated his Jewish heritage. It is hardly a secret. Nor is his post-war Zionism, or support for Israel, a stand shared in the immediate aftermath of the conflict by the USSR.

But did he become a  man of the  ‘state’ because he was a ‘Jew’, and does this aspect of his person matter politically – that is in terms of the state?

For us Léon Blum is only one of the sources of a generous humanist secularism, but a significant one. That he did not tackle issues like feminism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues, goes without saying. But it would be a great shame if his legacy was reduced to being a “State Jew”.

And it could equally be said that republican secularism has many strands, that it is being transformed by the views of secularists from North Africa, the threat of the Islamist genociders of Deash, the mounting oppression in Erdogan’s Turkey, backed by his Islamist AKP, and – no doubt – Israel’s evident failings. Every one of these cases shows that religious law is not any part of a “tradition” that socialists – believers in equality – would recognise.

The logic at work here binds us to our French sisters and brothers, binds internationalists across the globe, in the way that the Je Suis Charlie moment briefly melded our hearts and minds together.

That is perhaps the real ‘end’ of all exceptionalisms.

Socialist Workers Party Denounces Feminism in London Debate on Fundamentalism for “Islamophobic Stereotypes.”

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Not for Feminists says SWP.

Last weekend this was a panel held during the Feminism in London Conference.

Unlikely Allies: Religious Fundamentalism and the British State.

This session will overturn many long held perceptions about the British state. In its fight against extremism too many institutions have got into bed with fundamentalists and actively promote their narratives. A growing coalition of  secular, left and minority women’s organisations has successfully challenged them Two cases to be discussed are successful campaigns against Universities UK policies permitting gender segregation and the Law Society’s attempt to promote ‘sharia -compliant wills’. These campaigns are part of a global solidarity movement to defend free speech against fundamentalists of all stripes and are seldom reported in the left and liberal press. This session is your chance to hear the left, feminist case for a solidarity movement against fundamentalism and for secularism.  Organised by One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters and the Centre for Secular Space.

With Maryam Namazie, Pragna Patel, Gita Sahgal and Houzan Mahmoud, chaired by Yasmin Rehman.

This is what Socialist Worker had to say on the event – Judith Orr.

Unfortunately the panel and discussion in a session on “fundamentalism” was dominated by Islamophobic stereotypes of Muslims with only a minority of dissenting voices.

There is no mystery why the SWP would dislike a panel featuring comrade Maryam Namazie, whose right to speak at Warwick University as an Iranian humanist and Marxist on a left-wing and secularist critique of Islam and Islamism, was not conspicuously defended by the group.

Nor that comrades Pragna Patel, Gita Saghal, some of the most widely admired grass-roots feminists in the land, who have spent several decades (since 1979) defending women’s rights in Southall Black Sisters, and, (founded 1989), have been part of the inspiring Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF), would raise their hackles.

Here is WAF’s statement,

Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) was formed in 1989 to challenge the rise of fundamentalism in all religions. Our members include women from many backgrounds and from across the world.

In Britain in recent years fundamentalism has increased its influence in all religions. This has been encouraged by government moves to define complex and diverse communities solely according to ‘faith’, with public funds increasingly being handed out to religious bodies to provide services to ‘their’ communities on behalf of local and central government. WAF believes that this increases the power of religious leaders to discriminate against women and other groups and to exclude or silence dissidents within their own communities.

We believe that public funds should be administered by accountable, democratically elected representatives and not by religious leaders. Only secular institutions with no religious agenda can begin to bring about equality for people of all religions or none.

Houzan Mahmoud would have not found favour either. She is a Kurdish women rights and anti-war activist born in Iraq. She was  the Co-founder of Iraqi Women’s Rights Coalition. She has led an international campaign against Sharia Law and oppression of women in Iraq

 Yasmin Rehman is a secularist Muslim, associated with the Muslim Institute.

For me the Muslim Institute is a beacon of light in what can only be described as a rather depressing landscape for many of us. It is that increasingly rare space for its members to debate, be critical, explore and learn in an open, respectful and most importantly safe space to discuss issues relating to Islam, Muslims and the world at large. It is also a testament to the Institute that it shares its work openly with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I am deeply grateful to all at the Institute for allowing me to be a part of this work and to share in their work.

It must have been deeply galling for the SWP to have to listen to Iranian women, Kurdish women, women with a heritage from the Sub-continent, and critical – free-thinking –  Muslim women.

True secularism is an alliance of these disparate voices – including believers –  for a free public domain.

The contributions of these admirable women to introducing to British public life  – often parochial and inclined to deference to religious figures of all kinds, particularly the part of the left the SWP, and groups originating in their tradition, such as Counterfire,  represents –  are to be welcomed.

Do we need to be reminded that all societies in which the Sharia ‘law’ and Islamism have an influence, let alone are principles of the state, and  political power, are riddled with oppression? That women are amongst the chief victims?

Women’s rights in Iran: Exiled activist reveals how her fight for equality is attracting male support

Heretic, whore, CIA operative – Masih Alinejad has been called all these things, and worse, by the Iranian authorities. What is her crime? Campaigning for equal rights for women in her home country.

Now Ms Alinejad, 39, who was born in the small village of Ghomikola in the north of Iran but was forced into exile and lives in New York, has launched a campaign to get Iranian men to take up the fight in solidarity with their wives.

Growing up, Ms Alinejad would quietly question why she didn’t enjoy the same rights as her brother; but when she began to speak out and criticise her country’s MPs, she was thrown into prison, aged 19 and pregnant.

Upon her release she continued to aggravate the authorities through her work as an investigative journalist before moving to the UK in 2009, and then to the US where she lives with her son, 18, and husband. There, she presents a weekly programme, Tablet, on Voice of America’s Persian language channel which examines issues affecting young Iranians.

Affectionately referred to by her supporters as “Ghomikola Eagle” – a nickname supplied by her husband – the activist has inspired thousands of women to remove their hijabs, thanks to her “My Stealthy Freedom” campaign which she launched last year. The project encourages women to take “stealthy” photographs of themselves without their head covering and send them to Ms Alinejad to post on her Facebook page, which has almost a million followers.

No doubt Masih Alinejad is also full of “Islamophobic stereotypes.”

Written by Andrew Coates

October 31, 2015 at 11:45 am

Germain Greer, Free Speech, Female Genital Mutilation, Islam and the Benefits of the Veil.

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But not the Full Shilling.

More reasons to loathe and despise Germain Greer as the past comes back, “She said that women should have the right to undergo genital mutilation as a form of “self-decoration” and posed the question: “If an Ohio punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?” (Thanks: R.Mc)

MPs attack Greer on female circumcision BBC 1999.

This argument is part of a wider claim, which is related to a dense passage in her book The Whole Woman (1999) which deals with,amongst other subjects, episiotomy.

The statement on female genital mutilation has to be put further into this context,

Greer opposed the practice and said that feminists fighting to eliminate FGM in their own countries “must be supported,”[37] but she explored the complexities of the issue, and the double standards of the West, and warned against using the issue to “reinforce our notions of cultural superiority.”[34] She wrote that the term female genital mutilation was itself simplistic, arguing that it was used to describe practices that, she said, varied from “nicking the prepuce of the clitoris to provoke ritual bleeding,” to the extreme mutilation of infibulation. She questioned the view that FGM is imposed by men on women, rather than by women on women, or even freely chosen, adducing some anecdotal evidence to the contrary,[38] and discussed the issue in relation to genital and other bodily mutilations carried out in the West on men and women. She wrote that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends surgery on baby girls with clitorises regarded as too long, and that five such procedures were carried out every day in the United States, without being included in FGM statistics.In particular, she compared FGM to male circumcision.

Any suggestion that male genital mutilation should be outlawed would be understood to be a frontal attack on the cultural identity of Jews and Muslims. The same issues are raised by female genital mutilation. As a practical note for activists: As UN workers in East Uganda found, women would not abandon female circumcision until some similarly significant procedure could take its place.



Margaret Talbot summarsied Greer’s cluster of opinionated assertions in which these claims further embedded,

She professed to see more hope in the rigid gender segregation of certain Middle Eastern cultures than in anything in Western society. She took the feminist critique of the medical establishment to absurd extremes, denouncing pap smears, fertility doctors, pre-natal screenings, and C-sections with equal vehemence, while perversely defending female genital mutilation as a cultural practice that Westerners had no right to speak of.

Greer was also (and who knows, is, though her views spin with the speed of a weather vane) a fellow-traveller of all those apologists for Islamism and the ‘Caliphate’ who assert that the ‘West’ has no right to lecture Moslems for  Sharia law punishments as “cultural practices”.

It comes as no surprise to learn that the old fool has expressed this judgement,

…when you bring up freedom for women under Sharia law, she’s quite honest about the fact that she doesn’t have the answers. “You have to ask women who take the veil. There are English women converting to Islam. It’s interesting that they say they feel free behind the veil because they are not being looked at, “she said. “Nowadays in England, little girls can’t grow up to be women because they can’t put on enough flesh to become a woman. They’re terrified because they must have no body and a huge pair of breasts. If that commoditisation of women revolts you, you might think the strict rigour of Islam has to be better. It allows women some dignity providing they keep their modesty. You know, women are modest and diffident by nature unless societal pressures force them to be otherwise. “

Germaine Greer on why English Women are Converting to Islam. Shalini Umachandran. 2011.

Greer is clearly a reactionary cultural relativist.

Her unpleasant views on on transsexuals stand apart, and barely need further discussion after the last days’ controversy.

None of this means that Greer should be ‘no-platformed’.

Though it would be preferable that she is left alone, to moulder in the last circle of Hell: Great Chesterford, Essex.


Written by Andrew Coates

October 30, 2015 at 11:49 am

Should Germaine Greer Be Banned at Cardiff? No: Sign the Counter-Petition.

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Germaine Greer’s Libertarian Zest at its Best.

The furore about banning Germain Greer from speaking at Cardiff University shows no signs of dying down.

Germaine Greer: Transgender women are ‘not women’

This is the gist of what Greer said yesterday on Newsnight.

Australian-born academic and writer Germaine Greer has said that in her opinion, transgender women are “not women”.

She also claims that “a great many women” who are not transgender think transgender women – who she refers to as “male to female transgender people” – do not “look like, sound like or behave like women”.

Greer did say that she would be prepared to use female pronouns when referring to someone, if that was their preference, “as a courtesy”.

Germaine Greer may be barred from giving a lecture on women’s rights at a leading British university after hundreds of its students signed a petition accusing her of holding “misogynistic views” about transgender people.

The petition calls on Cardiff University to cancel the event featuring the 76-year-old feminist author and academic, who has been invited to give a lecture entitled “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century” next month.

By late on 23 October almost 300 people had signed the petition, which was started by Cardiff Student’s Union Women’s Officer Rachael Melhuish. It claims hosting Greer would be “dangerous” due to her previously stated views on transgender people.

In a column written in 2009, the author of The Female Eunuch said the idea of being trans was a “delusion” and described trans women as “ghastly parodies”. Asked about the idea of transphobia at an event at Cambridge University earlier this year, she said she “didn’t know there was such a thing”, adding: “Arachnaphobia, yes. Transphobia, no.”

The petition reads: “Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether.

“Trans-exclusionary views should have no place in feminism or society. Such attitudes contribute to the high levels of stigma, hatred and violence towards trans people – particularly trans women – both in the UK and across the world.”

The Independent.

Many young women during the 1970s  were strongly influenced by Germain Greer’s book, the Female Eunuch (1970).

This summarises its message:

The main thesis of the book is that the “traditional” suburban, consumerist, nuclear family, represses women sexually, and that this devitalises them, rendering them eunuchs.

The Female Eunuch was a cry for freedom, and, whatever else you may think about it, helped instil a libertarian, joyful,  strain into feminism.

Some of my close comrades,  socialist feminist students at Westminster Further Education College in the mid-1970s spoke of how the book had given them the confidence to find their own voices.

Greer also wrote about the way men monopolise attention, their (our) desire for reassurance, right down to perceptive comments about how men who did the pleasanter domestic tasks, like preparing meals, always expected praise for their efforts.

I had a relationship with a woman who had been a member of Greer’s young women’s group in Leamington Spa.

I can vouch that I was reminded of the truth of these observations.

On Newsnight Greer stated that she felt that some transgender women seemed to also want to be centre of attention, even to “speak for” woman. She is known to have said that without a uterus you are not a “woman”.

But whatever anybody thinks about her views – and there’s a lot to dislike on her political ones she has, like her old mucker Tariq Ali, been a Liberal Democrat supporter to start with – the idea of banning her for being a contrarian feminist is absurd.

If not downright evil.

When the chips are down Greer is on the right side – as the evidence I have given indicates.

Counterpetitioning Cardiff University’s Hosting of Germaine Greer

 There is a petition to Cardiff to cancel Germaine Greer’s talk. I find it abhorrent that I must make a counterpetition so a second wave feminist isn’t silenced by those who could just as easily not go to the lecture yet instead have decided to try and no platform her, to silence her. They’ve given no evidence in the petition either, just slurs.

This reactionary tactic of calling a woman a ‘transphobe’ is no different than calling someone a ‘commie’ in 1960’s America during the cold war. It’s a slur that contains no analysis, just an emotional response that is primarily used against women who talk about women’s biological realities, not gender identities.

Greer centers females/women in her work. I fail to see how anyone who centers women is encouraging violence against anyone.

Her position on gender doesn’t make anyone unsafe. The very marginalized group that Greer talks to and about is women. We are a protected class. Silencing her is silencing us.

Enough is enough.  Stop  no platforming women who only want to talk about women’s rights and women’s lives.

Sign here.


Written by Andrew Coates

October 24, 2015 at 10:40 am

Seumas Milne: Enemy of the North African Left and Secularists.

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Opponent of North African Left and Secularists. 

Seumas Milne  has a new job.

Guardian columnist Seumas Milne has been appointed as Labour Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. The appointment is considered controversial in Labour circles.

The appointment of Milne is the surest sign yet that Jeremy Corbyn will fill senior positions with hard left allies in an attempt to assert his dominance. Milne is considered one of the most left wing commentators in the media. He has worked as comment editor and labour editor for The Guardian, as well as writing for The Economist, and has spent 10 years as an executive member of the National Union of Journalists. He has also written several books, including one about the miners’ strike of the 1980s.

Milne will join the Labour leader’s office on the 26th October, next Monday, on leave from his position at The Guardian.

Labour List.

Much will be made of Milne’s various political stands, including, no doubt the time when he stood as a ‘Marxist-Leninist’ candidate in mock elections at his exclusive public school, Winchester College (information from an Old Wykehamist).

These are just two which make him unfit to represent Labour to an important section of the world left, his opposition to the North African left and support for their Islamist allies, and, as he showed with his reactionary anti-Charlie Hebdo rants, his hostility to secularists and lovers of freedom of expression everywhere.

The first issue is Tunisia:

, Guardian Comments Editor, has described the Ennahda party (right-wing Islamists)  as “progressive” and gave space to pro-Islamist views during his time as Comment Editor (for six years, 2001-7).

In October 2011 he said this (Guardian)

The once savagely repressed progressive Islamist party An-Nahda (Ennahdha)  won the Tunisian elections this week on a platform of pluralist democracy, social justice and national independence.

In January 2011 the Guardian published this – reflecting Milne’s enthusiasm.

We are building a Tunisia for all  

Oddly this had happened in February that year, (BBC)

Police have cleared crowds of Tunisians who marched through the capital Tunis on Friday demanding the resignation of interim PM Mohammed Ghannouchi, a long-time ally of the ousted leader.

It was the biggest rally since Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last month after 23 years in power, after being toppled by weeks of unrest.

Mr Ghannouchi’s interim government has promised elections by mid-July.

But crowds marched down Tunis’ main avenue chanting: “Ghannouchi leave.”

Later police fired tear gas and warning shots as they cleared the demonstrators from in front of the interior ministry .

Witnesses said one protester was injured when police fired warning shots at the crowd which some estimates said was 100,000-strong.

By the beginning of 2013 this was happening:

Tunisia: Islamists Kill Secularist Left Leader, General Strike Today.

Milnes did not support the left-wing Tunisian Front Populaire. Or (presently ruling, left-of-centre secular party) at the head of a coalition with the Islamists and nationalist parties,  Nidaa Tounès, of PM Habib Essid. 

Instead he backed full-square the Muslim Brotherhood franchise, the pro-business, pro-liberal economics, Islamists of Ennahda.

The second issue is Charlie Hebdo.

Charlie: Pornographic Humiliation of Muslims.

Paris is a warning: there is no insulation from our wars writes, in the Guardian.

The attacks in France are a blowback from intervention in the Arab and Muslim world. What happens there happens here too
Nothing remotely justifies the murderous assault on Charlie Hebdo’s journalists, still less on the Jewish victims singled out only for their religious and ethnic identity.


What has become brutally obvious in the past week, however, is the gulf that separates the official view of French state policy at home and abroad and how it is seen by many of the country’s Muslim citizens. That’s true in Britain too, of course. But what is hailed by white France as a colour-blind secularism that ensures equality for all is experienced by many Muslims as discrimination and denial of basic liberties.

What of Charlie?

Charlie Hebdo claims to be an “equal opportunities offender”, abusing all religions alike. The reality, as one of its former journalists put it, has been an “Islamophobic neurosis” that focused its racialised baiting on the most marginalised section of the population.

This wasn’t just “depictions” of the prophet, but repeated pornographic humiliation.

I will not dignify this with longer extracts but note this conclusion, and note it well,

Europeans are fortunate that terrorist outrages have been relatively rare. But a price has been paid in loss of freedoms, growing anti-semitism and rampant Islamophobia. So long as we allow this war to continue indefinitely, the threats will grow. In a globalised world, there’s no insulation. What happens there ends up happening here too.

In brief, the slaughter was terrible, but Charlie Hebdo was so awful that there was bound to be a “blowback”.

For in plain English: they (and one assumes the victimes at the Hyper-Cacher) had “it coming to them”.

The failure to back the left, and instead support the right, during the important events in Tunisia, and his misinterpretation of Charlie Hebdo’s satire,  are enough to make Milne unsuitable to represent the Labour Party for important constituencies.

That is, on Tunisia he stands against the majority of the North African and European left, and to the overwhelming majority of the Francophone left which mourned the Paris slaughter in January this year. 

He has already mightily annoyed Kate Godfrey (“Mr Corbyn, I have spent my life in conflict zones. Prior to becoming a Labour PPC I worked in Somalia, in Sudan, in Libya, in Algeria, in Lebanon when the Israelis were shelling the passes, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Georgia, in Azerbaijan and in the DRC”), who criticises a much wider field of misjudgment on international issues.  ”

“So Mr Corbyn, what made you appoint fascism-apologist Seumas Milne?”

Bob’s view:  Three reasons why Milne’s appointment was wrong, wrong, wrong.