Archive for the ‘Labour Party’ Category
Critical Notes on ‘New Left Oppositions’. Susan Watkins. Editorial. New Left Review. Second Series No 98. March/April 2016.
“Respectful of NATO, anti-austerity, pro-public investment and (more guardedly) ownership, sceptical of ‘free trade’: as a first approximation, we might them new, small, weak social democracies.”
The Editorial of New Left Review (NLR – accessible here), devoted to “left oppositions”, and “new lefts” offers a sketch of the common background of some very diverse political phenomena. With a mixture of gloom and wishful thinking Watkins outlines the legacy of the late 90’s “late-90s alter-globo movements” “wrong-footed by the harsher international climate of the war on terror”. But, she then turns to how European anger at the handling of the economic crisis, the collapse of the centre-left, Third Way, parties, and a “blowback” against Western intervention, street protests, such as Spain’s Indignados have, she observes, been followed by the arrival of new forces on the electoral stage.
It is with little surprise that we learn that the NLR list of the contemporary ‘left oppositions’ includes Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership win in the Labour Party, the Spanish Podemos, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche (PdG). The US is also affected, as Bernie Sanders’s strong challenge inside the Democratic Party indicates. More surprising is the inclusion of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle, which Watkins admits, not everybody considers on the ‘left’. Events and elections, she continues, have not only brought these forces to prominence, in the ballot box, Parliaments and amongst citizens, they have given rise to new “national political projects”.
A common trait, the Editorial observes, of these political green shoots, is the rise of ‘charismatic’ leaders, from Pablo Iglesias, Corbyn, Mélenchon, to Grillo. Exactly what the ‘authority’ given by this ‘gift of grace’ is, and how these personalities carry it out, is not explored. Grillo is notoriously the entrepreneur of his own ‘post-modern’ far from immaterial party-business. Iglesias heads up, to his numerous critics, a vertical pyramid party-structure He indulges himself in ‘populist’ efforts to lead the people ‘beyond’ left and right.
Mélenchon: électron libre.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 11.10% in the 2012 first round of the French Presidential election. He leads a ‘party’, the Parti de gauche (PdG) founded in 2009 with other former members of the Parti Socialiste. It remains stuck in the mould of a Parti Socialiste ‘club’, a tendency (at its height well below 10,000 members) centred on a ‘chief’. Its inability to develop has been caused less by the absence of popular protests, the electoral system or “laïciste horror of the headscarf” thwarting its appeal to the ‘banlieue’, than his abrasive personality, which has created a crop of internal divisions to boot. Mélenchon, his many ill-wishers allege, has a vision of himself as a Man of Destiny, with populist and nationalist ambitions far beyond a “sovereign, alter-globalist, multi-polar defence force”.
Inside the Front de gauche (FdG), which allies the PdG with a number of left groups in an electoral bloc, it is not only the Communists of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF,138,000 members) but leftists from Ensemble (2,500), who have found it impossible to work with this électron libre (1). Sensing little support the leader of the PdG spurned the idea of presenting himself before the Front’s supporters and the wider left in ‘primaries’ to select a Presidential candidate. Mélenchon has effectively ditched the PdG for a supporters’ network. He is running for President in 2017 with an on-line based team, with some success in the opinion polls. Nevertheless this venture into political cyberspace has had considerably less of an echo in the Nuit Debout ‘mouvance’ (too heterogeneous to call a movement), which is showing signs of both intellectual renewal in a multiplicity of directions and splintering. The CGT led workers’ spearhead of the wider national campaign against the “El Khomri” labour laws and the wider weekly strikes and marches have largely passed Mélenchon by.
Labour’s leader is, by contrast, a Parliamentary chief with a tiny group of MP supporters, and a mass party with a democratic membership structure and large trade union input. If he won the leadership ballot by a landslide, in a campaign of public meetings which created a “dynamic of their own”, Momentum, Watkins solemnly informs us, is a “somewhat diluted version of the 1980s Labour left”, an “organised adversary” of the ‘Blairite faction, Progress. Few perhaps will recall a mass membership 1980s Labour Left, or of any comparable “parallel structure” to dilute from. Fewer still will remember the Labour Party since George Lansbury (Labour leader from 1932 – 35) headed by anybody who had anything resembling Corbyn’s background in the 1980s/1990s London Labour Left.
Corbyn, like Sanders, is, we learn, “squarely within the social-democratic tradition” – which fortunately covers everything from Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Jean Jaurès, to Harold Wilson. In short, the Editorial dispenses with the customary term, democratic socialism, by which a majority of Corbyn supporters, and Mélenchon’s, would identify in opposition to the compromised ideas that contributed to the policies of the Blair and Brown governments. Are there signs that instead after the ‘retreat from social democracy’ there may be a renewal in a very different directions taking place. Watkins calls the combination of anti-austerity programmes, and scepticism about free trade – not mentioning the defence of social and workers’ rights, the fights for a publicly owned public administration and services – and a failure to confront head-on NATO (on what, Syria?) “weak”.
We might then ask: what exactly is the ‘non-social democratic left’? If Grillo, instead of new forms of democratic socialism, is part of the answer, then what kind politics is that?
Readers will no doubt remain on tenterhooks waiting for the latest radical left model to emerge. In the interim the constraints, self-created or inherited, within which these lefts operate are ignored. Are the furiously hostile forces deployed against them, visible every moment in the British media to be ignored? Watkins casts cautious compromise to the winds. She smiles at Grillo’s no-nonsense Vaffanculo(s), scowls at the French Communists’ local electoral deals to retain control of their remaining municipal bastions (what is the threat of the Marine Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy to her?), soundly admonishes Corbyn for his “embrace of the discredited Blair-Brown Labour right” and offers Iglesias advice on a tactical abstention, allowing a possible future PSOE-Ciudadanos government coalition “a chance to demonstrate that it cannot work”.
As we have indicated Watkins offers the skimpiest, and often misleading, outline of the party structures and personalities which support the new left “projects” she attempts to grapple with. Oppositions equally fails to investigate the underlying problem thrown up by the more radical movements that appear to remain her benchmark. That is, their inability to develop more than general declarations within the ‘anti’ globalisation protest, that would make them more than a protest against the subsequent Western interventions and security clamp-downs. If Podemos may be able to show that the PSOE cannot work, what indicates that their alternative can? While we are waiting, the proliferation of an identity politics and culture of the ‘populist’ or sovereigntist right, which this Sunday came within a hair’s breath of winning the Austrian presidency, indicates the need for ideas and strategies capable of understanding and confronting nationalism and xenophobia now. (2)
Shocks and Turncoats.
It is on this issue that Oppositions is most wanting. The thought that calls a position on the EU referendum vote a “tactical” decision allows only a Leave or abstention as “left” options. The hope that a Leave vote would be a “salutary shock “ to the “trans-Atlantic oligopoly” and a Conservative Party in “disarray” is gratuitous irresponsibility. The nationalist and xenophobic Carnival of Reaction of the debates on the EU is paraded every-day. A Brexit win would bring not just Tory division but the politics of the most reactionary people in the country to power.
The Editorial is deeply insulting to the majority of the left, the democratic socialist left, who support staying in the EU not just out of self-protection against our most forthright and dangerous class and political enemies, but as an arena where common cause can be made with our comrades across the continent. That is, a place of hope and co-operation not of austerity and repression. To top it all, Oppositions attacks all of us through its words against the much-liked Owen Jones. The author of Chavs “turned his coat” for changing his mind, very publicly and very honestly explaining why, and backing Remain with the campaign Another Europe is Possible. The Editorial’s language in this instance is, not to mince words, despicable.
(1) Mélenchon candidat à la présidentielle : il tourne le dos à l’histoire de la gauche. Philippe Marlière. February 2016
(2) These two weaknesses were signalled by the critic of their French expressions, Phlippe Raynaud in L’extrême gauche plurielle. Tempus. 2006. Whatever one’s views on his generally hostile analysis, these points are if anything more relevant today than a decade ago.
Palme D’or Triumph for the Daniel Blakes of the Whole World.
Some good news, at last.
Ken Loach has won the Palme d’or at Cannes for I, Daniel Blake.
“Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old joiner in the North-East of England who falls ill and requires state assistance for disability from the Employment and Support Allowance. While he endeavours to overcome the red tape involved in getting this assistance, he meets single mother Katie who, in order to escape a homeless persons’ hostel, must take up residence in a flat 300 miles (480 km) away.”
France 24 reports,
The 79-year-old Briton attacked the “dangerous project of austerity” as he accepted the festival’s top prize from actor Mel Gibson and Mad Max creator George Miller, who headed this year’s jury. “The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe,” Loach said, adding: “We must give a message of hope, we must say another world is possible.”
And, he continued, “Necessary”.
Le Monde’s review noted that ‘welfare reform’ forms the heart of the film. That in the UK there is a veritable ‘crusade’ against the disabled, to root out those feigning illness (“la chasse aux tire-au-flanc a pris les allures d’une croisade) in a “néo-victorienne” Britain.
Moi, Daniel Blake n’est pas une satire d’un système absurde. Ken Loach n’est pas un humoriste, c’est un homme en colère, et le parcours de l’ouvrier privé de travail et de ressources est filmé avec une rage d’autant plus impatiente qu’elle est impuissante.
I, Daniel Blake, is not a satire about an absurd system. Ken Loach is not a humourist, he’s full of anger, and the progress a worker without a job, and without assets, is filmed with an indignation that is as exasperated as it is impotent.
This Blog is not an uncritical admirer of Ken Loach. He is against austerity and for social rights, the cause of the left. But his more specific politics, which include a lengthy membership of Respect and support for the cultural Boycott of Israel, as well as no known activity against Islamist genociders, or support for the Kurdish people in their fight for dear life against ISIS, are not always the same as ours.
Nor are all of Loach’s films, for all of their skill and intensity, always as deep as they set out to be.
Of the most recent The Angels’ Share (2012) is amusing but slight tale of Scottish scamps. It is not free, for all its would-be irony, of whatever the Caledonian equivalent of Oirishness is,. The Spirit of ’45 (2013) may seem a strangely uncritical account of the post-war Labour government. Jimmy’s Hall is a fine story set in the Irish Free state. But it is straining things for this emssage to pass, ” The behaviour of the state’s police is shown and explained to be occurring at a time when Stalin was in full control of the Soviet Union and it is obvious that the state and church are fearful of forces that threaten to destroy them. It is this tension between the ideals of Christianity and the fear of the church and its natural tendency to be reactionary that is the central issue that the film explores.”
It can still be argued that the trio have strong narrative coherence, and, in the case of Jimmy’s Hall, insights into the history of republicans, and the left, in the Irish Free State, and the characters swept up in the struggle for independence, the civil war, and their fate in in the aftermath, as well as cinematique beauty.
Loach will, nevertheless, be remembered for Poor Cow, Kes, Land and Freedom, and smaller, less technically polished, but robust films such as Raining Stones, Riff Raff and the Navigators, which demonstrate that ‘social realism’ is not always worthy but unwatchable didacticism, and Bread and Roses, which shows politically engaged drama at its best.
That said by tackling head-on the effects of the ‘reform’ of the British Welfare state I, Daniel Blake, hits at a sensitive nerve, and, frankly, righteous indignation is an emotion that’s widely shared about this. Its tale of people pushed from pillar to post, has been compared to Loach’s exposee of homelessness in the 1966 television play Cathy Come Home ,
The Minister in charge of the system of oppression bearing down on Daniel Blake, Iain Duncan Smith, is now a leading Brexit campaigner.
Appropriately Loach stands on the other side of the European Referendum debate, the solution is ultimately voting to stay. “we need to “make alliances with other European left movements”.
Sivadhasan is a Tamil Tiger soldier during the last days of the Sri Lankan Civil War. After the armed conflict resolves, his side loses and he is forced to move to a refugee camp. There he decides to move to France to take a fresh chance at life. However, in order to secure political asylum, he requires a convincing cover story. He is given the passport of a dead man, Dheepan, and pairs with people he barely knows posing as his family. Along with his supposed wife, Yalini and his supposed 9-year-old daughter, Illayaal, they get on a ship bound for Paris. Upon arrival, he lands a job as a resident caretaker and starts building a new life in a housing project in Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, a northeastern suburb of Paris, which turns out to be another conflict zone for him.
I saw Dheepan only a few weeks ago.
One hopes that Loach’s picture will not take so long to get to our screens.
Momentum members back Remain, Now on to Another Europe is Possible.
EU referendum poll of Momentum members:
Campaign to remain: 66.5%
Campaign to leave: 14.8%
Campaign for neither: 19.6%
This result confirms reports coming in from across the country.
Wherever there have been left debates on the Referendum and the audience’s opinion has been taken, there have been majorities between 3/5 and 4/5 votes in favour of Remain.
As comrade Mark Steel says today (Independent),
This is why we should be grateful to people like Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, because every time they say something about Europe, they make it clearer which way to vote in the referendum.
The Momentum decision shows how out of touch the would-be ‘tactical advisers’, ready with the ‘low down’ on international capitalism’ to the left of New Left Review (NLR) have become.
As in one Susan Watkins and Corbyn’s ‘best mate’ Tariq Ali.
Watkins has just written this piffle for the increasingly out of touch NLR, Left Oppostions.
British exit from the eu is a tactical, not a strategic question; the left takes different stances on it, and some might want a campaign for contemptuous abstention or vote-spoiling. But at one level the politics of the Brexit referendum are clear: a vote to remain, whatever its motivation, will function in this context as a vote for a British establishment that has long channelled Washington’s demands into the Brussels negotiating chambers, scotching hopes for a ‘social Europe’ since the Single European Act of 1986.
A Leave vote would be a salutary shock to this trans-Atlantic oligopoly……
This senescent ‘leftist’ disorder is predicated on the belief that ‘after Brexit’ there will be a golden age for those able to take advantage of this shock. No doubt they will include those whose working conditions are worsened, my union branch members who will lose their cross EU Worker Council, which enables them to bargain from a position of strength in their transeuropean company, those whose status as EU migrants is removed, and all who will have to face life under a Boris, Gove, Whittingdale and Iain Duncan Smith regime.
That is, life in a right-wing rat hole.
Meanwhile the left is now preparing its campaign:
The below will be discussed at the Momentum National Committee in Manchester tomorrow.
EU REFERENDUM – FOR A LEFT “IN” VOTE
Britain leaving the EU would be a victory for the nationalist right and their campaign against migrants, almost certainly reshaping the British political and social landscape for the worse.
The EU promotes neoliberal policies in the interests of capitalism – but so does the UK. The British ruling class and government will press ahead with attacks in or out – and outside the EU, the barriers to their assault will be lower, while barriers between us and our brothers and sisters in other countries will be higher.
We support an “in” vote.
We oppose David Cameron’s reforms, which attack the rights of workers and migrants. We endorse Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a “Europe that puts people, not multinationals, at its heart”, through “public ownership […] democratisation, stronger workers’ rights, sustainable growth and jobs”, won through “alliances across Europe to end austerity”.
We call for:
• Cross-European working-class and social movement struggles against austerity and for levelling up wages, conditions, services and rights, funded by taxing the rich and public ownership of finance;
• Radical democratisation, including empowering the European Parliament;
• An end to “Fortress Europe” – freedom of movement and equal rights for all.
Using the slogans “Another Europe is possible”, “For a workers’ Europe” and “For a socialist Europe”, Momentum nationally will campaign for an “in” on this basis, making defence of migrants, antiausterity and international solidarity central. This will include an urgent press release, a leaflet and a rally in London at least.
We will work with Labour, with “in” unions, and with the Another Europe is Possible network.
We call on the whole of Momentum to campaign on this basis.
Meanwhile on the fringes of the Labour Movement, Socialist Worker says,
by Alistair Farrow
Speakers from the international left put the case for a left exit from the European Union at a rally in London yesterday, Wednesday.
Some 150 people came to hear arguments rejecting the austerity of the Troika and the racism of the European Union (EU) and the bosses’ Brexit and Remain campaigns. The meeting was organised by the Lexit campaign.
Unkind people have suggested that following Socialist Worker’s normal reporting practice they would have added that a Poll taken at the meeting indicated that 3,150 backed ‘Lexit’ and 1 abstained.
Rhea Wolfson Speaks of Racist Abuse: “Pretentious, self serving, martyrdom promoting, precious nonsense.” Says Leading ‘anti-Zionist’.
Rhea Wolfson is a breath of fresh air.
Like many activists I was very pleased to see a fresh face standing for the Centre left Grassroots Alliance slate for Labour’s NEC along with the other strong candidates, Ann Black, Claudia Webbe, Darren Williams, Christine Shawcroft, and Pete Willsman.
Reflecting the diversity of the democratic socialist, labour spectrum reflected on this list, which includes those from all parts of this tradition, Rhea is an activist with her own views. She immediately attracted criticism, from the Progress Right-wing of the party, from the Eustonites, and, as can be seen from her own account, from others who have nothing to do with the labour movement or any form of left.
Harry’s Place – the ‘Eustonites’ – singled her out.
Saul Freeman wrote,
Rhea Wolfson, a young socialist who has stated that “winning 2020 should not be the priority of the Labour Party” and asserts that “to focus only on elections loses sight of other ways of making effective changes in society”.
If Ken & Rhea didn’t exist, some of us would be tempted to invent them as clumsily drawn characters to use in our blog posts where we write about the moral and political collapse of the Left.
He appeared to suggest that her opinions fitted in a box that included the Stop the War Coalition, amongst people who, “who sneer at the dull incrementalism of parliamentary social democracy”.
Now I appreciate that Rhea isn’t too concerned about this aspect, but how could I vote for Labour in 2020 anyway? It wouldn’t be the safe or responsible thing to do. I mean – and I know this is stretching the argument – what if Labour actually achieved power? Is anyone seriously suggesting that we vote to empower those that hold the STWC world view, in whole or in part? How might history judge us?
Harry’s Place was not the only critic.
Rhea has written her own account – which should be read.
On Tuesday afternoon, I announced that I was standing for election to represent Labour Party members on its National Executive Committee. My first 24 hours as a candidate were a crash course in why so many are reluctant to put themselves forward. In less than a day I have faced racist and sexist abuse through social media, directed to both my family and me, been smeared by Tory blogs, and had senior figures in my own party attack me unfairly.
My day got worse from here. The right wing blog Guido Fawkes then picked up the story. This led to more attention and more hatred on social media. And I presume it was thanks to this coverage that I won the attention of the far-right.
A neo-Nazi blog covered my candidacy. There, I am described as a ‘dirty Zionist Jewess’. The writer has publicised my twitter account and instructed its readers to send Nazi images to me. The comments on the page include photoshopped images of me in a gas chamber. More harrowing still, they have shared my sister’s Twitter handle and suggested that she be targeted too.
This is such pretentious, self serving, martyrdom promoting, precious nonsense. Those of us who have actually been active in the anti-fascist movement, you know actually facing up to fash and driving them off the streets, would find this pathetic. I’ve been targeted for close on a decade by Redwatch – Southern Coast, a neo-Nazi site dedicated to physically targeting anti-fascists for attacks in the street or home or both. People on it have been attacked but we don’t moan. I’ve been attacked but you just put it down to experience.
Those who wish can try to finish this particular line of thought on the original site.
Greenstein added, in response to the suggestion that Rhea should be entitled to a Safe Space that,
Tony Greenstein is currently believed to be appealing against his suspension from the Labour Party.
By contrast how is the labour movement reacting?
Left Futures reports.
GMB condemns antisemitic abuse of centre-left candidate for Labour executive
GMB Scotland today utterly condemned the vile antisemitic abuse suffered by their Glasgow Branch Secretary, Rhea Wolfson, who is standing for a position on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
A spate of deliberate attacks on social media by Nazi propagandists occurred following confirmation of Rhea’s candidacy and GMB Scotland have said they will bring these hate crimes to the attention of the police, while using every tool at their disposal to flush out the online racists.
Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary, said:
There is no place for anti-Semitism or racism of any kind in our politics or society and Rhea has the total solidarity of her trade union in the face of this vile abuse.
Rhea is a hugely talented and principled activist; a popular and respected member of our union in Scotland and beyond with an established track record of campaigning for social justice and human rights.
We can’t let this hate go unchallenged. What sort of message would that send out to young people of all backgrounds who may want to get involved in making our communities and workplaces more fair, peaceful and prosperous?
GMB Scotland looks after our members and we call on all representatives from across civic society and politics to condemn these hate crimes.”
Like many others who were involved in forming and supporting the Grassroots Alliance when it was set up in 1998 I can say that all this brings back recollections of the response of those hostile to it at the time. *
This piece, which enjoyed cult status in some quarters (though not, for reasons which become immediately clear, amongst those individually singled out), brought us back down memory lane.
WHEN I was first at college, the most romantic and sexy left group on campus was Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group. They smoked dope, they dropped acid, they bonked, they argued, they partied. When they got militant the blokes all put on denim jackets, tartan scarves and black gloves, and occupied things. And the IMG women were cool, too, divided between free-loving Alexandra Kollontais and Earth Mothers.
The International Socialists (forerunners of the Socialist Workers Party, and political home to Paul Foot) and sections of my own Communist Party were hostile to the IMG. “IMG, IMG, idle sons of the bourgeoisie”, was one little chant that we all enjoyed in those far-off days. Hour after hour we would sit up debating with IMG members the virtues and vices of Ernest Mandel’s critique of the Neither Washington Nor Moscow problematics.
Echoes of this past were ringing in my ears when I read the accounts this week of the attempts by Liz Davies, the ousted Labour candidate for Leeds, to get elected to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party this autumn. She is part of a slate – the “centre-left” slate, no less – which is canvassing for the votes of ordinary Labour Party members, even as I write. She’s had a very good press for, after all, what is she doing, other than trying to debate, in a party that now stifles debate? Poor Liz.
As always. Nice to see you again, comrades. But “centre-left”? Please.
I should point out that Liz had nothing to do with the IMG whatsoever.
That was before the Web, Twitter, Trolling, and when the likes of Saul and Greenstein could only grind their teeth in their basements amid the smell of damp socks.
At least Aaronovitch could do funnies.
*The Alliance’s founding groups were originally Labour Reform, a centrist democratic group within the Party, and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the left wing democratic grouping, who subsequently brought in other more left-wing groupings from within the Labour Party. Private talks with trades union representatives to build a broader base had failed on union demands and this initiated the inclusion of a much broader Left group from the grassroots, including Labour Left Briefing and the Editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon. Successful efforts were also made to include the Scottish Left. Wikipedia.
Rhea Wolfson: the Fresh Face of the Open Democratic Left.
Left Futures has just reported,
Rhea Wolfson replaces Ken Livingstone on left slate for Labour’s executive.
Momentum, the grassroots network that arose out of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, has decided to support Rhea Wolfson’s bid for Labour’s national executive committee (NEC). Wolfson, Co-Chair of the Co-op Party Youth, joins Ann Black, Claudia Webbe, Darren Williams, Christine Shawcroft, and Pete Willsman on the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) slate, which supports Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Wolfson, who actively supported Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Leader last summer, replaces former London Mayor Ken Livingstone on the slate. Due to Livingstone’s current suspension from the party, he is ineligible to stand. Welcoming Wolfson’s NEC bid, Jon Lansman, chair of Momentum’s steering committee, said:
Rhea Wolfson is a very impressive young woman, committed to fighting for a more democratic party and a credible democratic socialist agenda. As a young, Jewish Scot, she will provide important perspectives that will improve the running of the Labour Party.”
Wolfson is a GMB activist in Glasgow, a human rights activist focused on Israel and the Occupied Territories and a former member of the Jewish Leadership Council. Last year, she Announcing her application for the NEC, Wolfson said:
Britain needs a Labour Party that can deliver a confident and credible democratic socialist agenda; an alternative to the inequality of conservatism and the inertia of nationalism – with fairness and equality at its heart.”
As a Scottish Labour activist, Wolfson is committed to restoring Labour’s fortunes in Scotland:
Labour must be the party that stands against austerity to improve the lives of working people across borders.”
Wolfson is committed to a united, member-led party:
Our party needs to be strong and united, with all levels of the party working in a transparent and tolerant manner. I will work to empower members, local parties, and activists; to fight for a more democratic party that can deliver change – and ultimately, deliver victory.”
Nominations close on Friday 24 June. Please do your best to ensure that you constituency party nominates all left candidates for Labour’s NEC by that date.
A cloud has lifted.
Let us hope we hear more from people like Rhea Wolfson and a lot, a real lot, less from Ken Livingstone.
This is worth noting (Myinforms)
A former president of Oxford University’s Jewish and Israel societies, and an ex-chair of the Zionist Youth Council, Ms Wolfson supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign last summer.
This is how she reacted to students shouting “Slay the Jews” at the Israeli Foreign Minister visiting Oxford in 2010 (Cherwell),
An Oxford student yelled “Slay the Jews” at Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, when he spoke at the Oxford Union on Monday night.
According to eyewitness reports, the student was removed by security after he shouted the Arabic phrase, “IdhbaH al-Yahud”, which Cherwell understands to mean “Slay the Jews”.
A separate protest outside the Union, organised by the University Palestinian Society, began at 6.15pm. Demonstrators chanted slogans in support of Palestine, which could be heard in the Union chamber throughout Mr Ayalon’s speech.
Rhea Wolfson, President of the Oxford Israeli Cultural Society, explained that she believes “it was the wrong way to go about the issue. Protesters had a fantastic opportunity for dialogue last night and wasted it by shouting at the speaker, reciting prepared monologues and one member even launched a personal attack on his political career.”
She added that this “did not allow Danny Ayalon to discuss the remedies or the future, only the past; this kind of ranting and anger will get us nowhere.”
On the shouting of “Slay the Jews,” she remarked that “This is a disgusting thing to have happened. This student was obviously not representing the majority of the protesters … [and] crossed lines that should not have been crossed.”
Like many left activists I know some people on this slate already, Ann and Christina.
They are hard-working democratic socialists who deserve wide support.
Some more information: Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.
Interviewed on Channel Four News last night Bernard-Henri Lévy, French ‘public intellectual’ is the latest in a long list of figures to have their say on the Labour Party ‘anti-Semitism’ controversy.
He solemnly declared, “something is rotten in the state of the Labour Party”.
The former New Philosopher expressed horror that there was backing for Hamas and Hezbollah – not something, he opined, we see much of in France.
Yes but….Er… (2014)
While awaiting further ex-Cathedra pronouncements, and the pie-throwing actions of Noël Godin here are some things worth recalling about Lévy relevant to the debate about anti-Semitism and the left. For those who wish an overview of the man and his works this, Wikipedia, is a good place to start, although the French version is much, much, better.
Casual attitude Towards Facts.
Lévy’s the Testament de Dieu (1979) is a lengthy, one might without condescension call it a rambling, disjointed diatribe (I have read it believe me) , which argues for the centrality of the Law of Moses at the foundation of human rights.
It was amongst the first of his books to be riddled with errors.
Pierre Vidal-Naquet pointed out (the list is too long to reproduce) that Lévy put the birth of ‘original sin’ on the 7th Day of after the world was created. That is on the day of rest (Monsieur Bernard-Henri Lévy place au « 7e jour » (p. 238) de la création le péché originel. Il faut croire qu’Adam et Ève ont profité du repos du Seigneur ; mais cette précision surprendra les lecteurs de la Genèse ).
More recently, Lévy was publicly embarrassed when his essay De la guerre en philosophie (2010) cited the writings of French “philosopher” Jean-Baptiste Botul.Botul’s writings are actually well-known spoofs, and Botul himself is the purely fictional creation of a living French journalist and philosopher, Frédéric Pagès.
Polemics as History.
L’Idéologie française (1981) is a ‘reading’ of French political history that discovers the origins of its specific form of Fascism in a wide, to say the least, sources. For the author these included most of the founders of French socialism, from Revolutionary Republicans, Marxists, Mutualists to anarchists, the pre-Great War anti-Parliamentary left, blasted for the tiny group known as the le Cercle Proudhon, uniting radicla Monarchists and syndicalists, the 1930s neo-socialist, modernising social democrats, the ‘personalist’ Christian review Esprit (better known today for its ‘anti-totalitarianism’), intellectuals, Bergson was an impulse to racism, and, above all French Communism, as well as better known sources, notably those which were actually fascists, such as Action française, Charles Maurras and company. All of France, to the author, was riddled with anti-antisemitism.
In other words French fascism, and Pétain’s ‘national revolution’ were the product of just about everybody who wrote or was politically active in the inter-war years.
Informed readers will immediately recognise that the book draws on the, also controversial, histories of the origin of the French far-right national revolutionary current by Zeev Sternhell. Sternhell has read the original literature, although amongst many critiques cast doubt on his arguments and sources : Un fascisme imaginaire Jean Sévillia).
It is far from clear that Lévy had more than glanced at the writings he cites. A leaf through the book last night revealed him citing Georges Sorel’s La révolution dreyfusienne (1908). He describes it as a virulent anti-Dreyfusarde tract, hinting at anti-Semitism. In fact the short pamphlet was about the end of the conservative ‘republican aristocracy’ whose unity was shattered by the Affair. This had led to the the political triumph of a ‘social’ republican wing that, Sorel believed, was the occasion for the working class to secure its own autonomous interests.
That aside Lévy may have skimmed one section. Sorel has some harsh words for literary figures (he included Zola in this list) who value more the effect of their literary positions (parti pris) than the positions themselves. These stray lines, we may conjecture, might have seriously rankled Lévy.
The book was roundly criticised, when not laughed at. Amongst those writing hostile reviews figured left-wing firebrands Raymond Aron, Pierre Nora, Immanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and others too numerous to list.
This might be some time back, but we expect this talent for anti-Semitic spotting will be put to use in his interventions about the Labour Party.
Backing for Islamists.
During the 1980s and 90s Bernard-Henri Lévy was more than a literary supporter of the Afghan Islamists’ fight against the Communists and their Soviet backers. His most celebrated, by himself and no doubt others (including President Chirac) was his involvement with ‘Commander’ Massoud’s faction of the Mujaheddin (the depth and reality of that acquaintance remains contested).
Massoud became an enemy of the Taliban, but was far from a liberal: his call to arms began against the Communist PDPA, well before the Soviet intervention. No doubt a case could be made that he was a “good Islamist’, but he was part of that mouvance, as the name of his original group, Jamiat-i Islam, indicates. (see Quand les djihadistes étaient nos amis. BHL en Afghanistan ou « Tintin au Congo » ?). He was, for those who backed the Mujahideen, above all anti-Soviet. It would be interesting, nevertheless, to know if Lévy asked his friend about the group’s attitude towards Israel….
A comparison might be made with those ‘anti-imperialists’ who suddenly found a great deal of virtue in the Islamic ‘resistance’ to the American occupation of Afghanistan.
Bernard-Henri Lévy and Human Rights
This question is often asked: Why Does Everyone Hate Bernard-Henri Lévy? ( )
Whole books have been dedicated to criticising the man, his works and his actions (Le B.A. BA du BHL, Enquête sur le plus grand intellectuel français, de la journaliste Jade Lindgaard. Une imposture française, ouvrage des journalistes Nicolas Beau et Olivier Toscer 2006. Un nouveau théologien de Daniel Bensaïd, 2008.)
Bernard-Henri Lévy is in short, often a figure of fun. Many of those who enjoy French language polemical literature are keenly aware of the pitfalls of taking his language too seriously. Sometimes the ‘public intellectual’s’ views are more widely shared – he is opposed to the nationalist enthusiasm for ‘sovereigntism’; he can – sometimes – make stirring speeches against racialism. Sometimes they are not: the claim that religious dogma is the bedrock of human rights cannot be sustained.
People are entitled to be wary of somebody whose chief object is more often to impress than to convince. His occasional ability to rise above phrase-mongering does not translate well – a quick look at Sartre: The Philosopher of the 20th Century by Bernard–Henri Levy (Le siècle de Sartre, 2000) may put people off the French political and intellectual pamphleteering for life. The contorted syntax faithfully reproduces the original – which just about lumbers along in French. The florid expressions could serve as a template for a factory of purple patches.
The contrast between his clumsy, hammering, style and the lucid writings of other modern French political essayists – I cite a few I’ve read recently, all from different political sides, Alain Finkielkraut, Emmanuel Todd, Jean Birnbaum – is startling.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is also politically – a rhetorician who aspires to the court of power. Sarkozy indulged him; Hollande appears to keep him at a distance. To the wider public he is often out to make a case effectively, to convince us with a skilful show, and less positively, a person who trades in bombast.
That his words may, to evoke Sartre’s images, serve as a sword, as pistols, is, post-Libya, possibly true. That these are used in the service of justice is less than clear.
A principled politics of human rights does not involve backing for groups like the Mujahidin, or, more recently, unbridled enthusiasm for Western interventions everywhere, from Syria to Libya. It means supporting people, not states and certainly not posing as a political player in armed efforts to impose rights.
It is our hope that we are not about to endure another bout of Lévy’s histrionics, at the expense of the British Labour Party.