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Trump, Virtual Reality (Baudrillard) and Brexit.

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A Prophet Whose Time Has Come.

Andy Warhol once said that in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.

The Tendance has a view that now everybody’s theory is true for 15 months.

The cultural critic Jean Baudrillard had the view that under the present stage of capitalism “the simulacrum precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes. “Simulacres et Simulation 1981).

Apart from Baullroard’s claim that “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place ” which asserted,

Saddam liquidates the communists, Moscow flirts even more with him; he gases the Kurds, it is not held against him; he eliminates the religious cadres, the whole of Islam makes peace with him … Even … the 100,000 dead will only have been the final decoy that Saddam will have sacrificed, the blood money paid in forfeit according to a calculated equivalence, in order to preserve his power. What is worse is that these dead still serve as an alibi for those who do not want to have been excited for nothing: at least these dead will prove this war was indeed a war and not a shameful and pointless hoax …

That is about all most of us can recall about his ideas (and I have a pile of his books from the 1980s).

This week has had ample proof of the Baudrillardian thesis  that simulacra have taken over from reality.

First we had large numbers of people, particularly in America, claim that far-right Tommy Robinson is some kind of martyr slung into the gaols of the British state by the regime.

It was not very amusing to see them put out pictures of the well-liked and respected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan with a hangman’s noose over ‘Tommy’.

Then we had the lighter spectacle of President Trump holding a top summit with Kim Kardashian, whose claim to fame is that she has a large bum,  on reforming the American penal system.

 

Now we have  ‘neoliberal’ Trump’s trade war with Europe and the rest of the world.

Europe, Canada and Mexico are planning retaliatory moves after President Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports to the US.

The European Union issued a 10-page list of tariffs on US goods ranging from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to food products.

It also plans to challenge the move at the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Trump claimed the tariffs would protect US steelmakers, which were vital to national security.

BBC

Or as this  cartoonist (Belgium) put it today (bringing the two events together)

Mr Brexit, as Trump styled himself, has let down his friends on the UK right who thought they were going to negotiate a special deal.

In return for letting Chlorinated chicken, Cornish pasties made in Houndstown Texas, and GM crops, into Britain they would be able freely  to export to America.

The left for a long time has claimed that US capitalism is the engine of neo-liberal globalisation, that it works to demolish barriers between national capitals, production and exchange.

Apparently not so!

This leaves the backers of a ‘People’s Brexit’ in a bit of a quandry.

Will they back a UK government that follows Trump’s lead and imposes tariffs to protect national industry?

FIghting the free flow of capital……

Which reminds me of the other event that did not take place in the last few days: Roseanne Barr went from claiming to be a socialist to Trump supporter. to backing Tommy Robinson…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Red London: Political Confusionism.

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Red London and associated images

The Kind of Thing that Beggars Belief. 

Red London is a Stalinist meme Facebook page and Twitter account which spreads fake news about Trotskyists and others on the left whom they don’t like.

Founded some time in 2015 Red London is a clique of individuals in Labour and Momentum, including some involved in the hostile takeover of Lewisham Momentum last month. The people who organise around Red London have a constellation of social media outlets for their bile, platforms which selectively and strategically share content, including Red London, London Young Left (formerly the voice of London Momentum Youth and Students before the group was shut down by Jon Lansman for its bullying behaviour), and the blog Check Their Minutes, dedicated to spreading lies about Workers’ Liberty and bullying people who work with us.

AWL

There are a few loony bins in Suffolk on the same wavelength.

One type, around 19. He was going about his Grindr’ :} Account, how he liked Stalin, the IRA, whilst sipping his G & T.

They are no friends of the Labour Party.

They are forces deeply hostile to democratic socialism.

They have no place in our movement.

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 20, 2018 at 12:40 pm

Rethinking Democracy, Edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. Socialist Register. 2018. Review.

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Review “Populism and Socialist Democracy” 

Rethinking Democracy, Edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. Socialist Register. 2018. Merlin Press. 

(This appears in the latest issue of Chartist May/June 2018 no 292).

For Leo Panitch and Greg Albo “the social revolution of building capacities for self government” is more important than gaining state power. “Actually existing liberal democracy” is entangled with anti-democratic institutions. The 2018 edition of the Socialist Register explores the potential of “socialist democracy” against reactionary “populist appeals in the name of defending ‘our’ democracy’”. In doing so some contributors see merit in forms of ‘left-populism’. 

The electoral appeal of democratic socialist ideas – they cite Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders – inner-party democracy and social struggles have come to the fore. Ramon Ribera Fumaz and Greig Charnock offer a valuable account of the ‘citizens’ revolution’ attempted by Barcelona en comú (BeC). But, away from its ideology and programme, what of the political history of BeC’s ally, Spain’s national Podemos, from personalities to strategic difficulties? The electoral bloc that has enabled the Portuguese left to win power and govern successful, involves not just ‘new’ forces but some old ones, including the Socialists and the very old Portuguese Communist Party (PCP)

Do neoliberal elites ‘fear’ democracy? A number of contributors work with Jacques Rancière’s ‘anti-institutional’ picture of radical democracy. The French theorist claimed that Western elites, are believers in technocratic competence, and have a veritable hatred of the demos. James Foley and Pete Ramand detect this in a fear of referendums. Rancière claimed that the No vote in the 2005 French Referendum on a European Constitution was a major set back to those who wished their “science” to be acclaimed by the masses (La Haine de la démocratie. 2005).

That popular consultation witnessed a division on the French left, inside both radical and reformist camps. It was between those supporting national sovereignty and those who favoured European unity, however imperfect. (1) The rejection of the European Constitution only happened with the help of the votes of the far-right Front National, and conservative ‘Sovereigntists’. The result, many say, strengthened not democracy but appeals to France, the Nation, not just by the right but also by left-wing French politicians. After eventual French endorsement, the EU went ahead with its plans anyway.

Denis Pilon’s ‘Struggle over Actually Existing Democracy’ offers critique of ‘proceduralist’ democracy. Alex Demiorović considers Radical democracy, from Miguel Abensour (1939 – 2017) who was indebted to  council communism, Rancière, to the familiar figures of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Adepts of abstract theory will find much to mull over.

Do these theorists offer “innovative democratic strategies”? Should we consider one of the few concrete ideas offered by Rancière, who looked to Periclean Athens and found public office open to selection by lot? The French La France insoumise (LFI) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon,  uses this procedure widely, including for selecting a majority of delegates to its Conferences. It means that there are no formal currents, organised differences of opinion, inside his movement. This is even less attractive than the “consensual” decision-making imposed in the Occupy! movement.

The ‘fear’ of populists of the left and the right fails to look into why socialists may oppose populism. It is not disdain of the great unwashed, but differences over the claim that there is left-wing potential in the present ways the “people” can be mobilised against the ‘elite’.

Donald Trump once declared, “The only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything.” Can the People become Sovereign on conditions that they are hurled against the ‘not-People’?

Foley and Ramand take on board Perry Anderson’s critique of the ‘vagueness’ of the term elite, and the idea that this is the Enemy. Three contributions on the media also register another side of his doubts, the way it neglects the way hegemonic ideas gain acceptance. They offer useful insights into the role of the media in constructing ruling class hegemony. The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate that grand ideas, from Laclau and Mouffe, about the Enemy, and the need for democratic dissensus, may be less attractive in the face of manipulated hatred. The benefits for the equally elusive People in this form of politics are less than evident.

This fear of Others perhaps sums up right-wing populism, and mass conservative ideas, too neatly. If liberals, or the very different European left, turn to Othering the rightwing Populists – and why not? – it is because their policies place them as Corporate ventriloquists. Martijn Konings brings us back to the importance of economic rationality. He indicates how a “commitment to the speculative logic of risk” continues to be attractive to some voters. It can, paradoxically, be worked into appeal to the People. While many during the Brexit Referendum claimed to defend our Home against the outside, the neo-liberal wing of the Brexit campaign offered to make Britain a free entrepreneur on the world stage. Trump embodies both at the same time: he is a free-marketer and determined opponent of open markets.

Rethinking Democracy is thought provoking rather than answer-offering. The accelerating crisis of most of European social democracy is now provoking reflection and soul-searching. Recent elections have left Italian socialists of all stripes voiceless, the Dutch Labour Party has been overtaken by the Greens, and, after the long-signalled melt down of the Parliamentary left, the anti-populist President Macron and his La République en marche (LRM) holding all the reins of power. There is much to think about.

******

See (1) Pages 135 – 4. 68 et Après. Les heritages égarés. Benjamin Stora, Stock,. 2018.

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Paris May Day: Trade Unions Prevented from Marching by Black Bloc Violence.

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Black Bloc Halts Trade Union May Day in Paris.

In Paris on Tuesday, the traditional trade union parade was deflected and then dispersed even before arriving in the Place d’Italie because of violent incidents.

A Paris mardi, le traditionnel défilé syndical a été dévié puis s’est dispersé avant même d’arriver place d’Italie à cause de violents débordements.

(Libération)

The march was slowed to a halt by a large group of demonstrators clad in black, with many wearing balaclavas and some with gas masks, who broke into a chant of “Everyone detests the police” on the Austerlitz bridge across the Seine. The Paris police prefecture estimated the size of the group at 1,200 so-called “black bloc” protesters.

Some 276 protesters were arrested, 109 of whom remained in custody as of Tuesday night, police said, adding that 31 businesses had suffered damage, two of which had been set ablaze.

France 24.

The traditional autonomist  tactic of trying to take over the head of the march this year led to a  burst of exceptional violence.

Antifas, black blocs, anars : ce « cortège de tête » qui a fait dérailler le 1er-Mai syndical  (le Monde)

The French media refers to them as “masked casseurs”, (casseurs encagoulés). That is those who riot and smash things up, from casser, to smash, to shatter, to break.

Initially one of the best known figures of the French left,   Jean-Luc Mélenchon  (la France insoumise) claimed that they were ” issus de “bandes d’extrême droite”. (bands from the far right).

He has since recognised his error, directing his opprobrium for the  “fils à papa” (daddys’ boys, spoiled brats) who smashed up the MacDonald’s (Les Black blocs cassent le 1er mai: Jean-Luc Mélenchon admet s’être trompé en désignant les “fachos“)

The anarchist movement properly speaking, FA, la CNT, CGA and AL , had its own peaceful march in the afternoon. (le Monde libertaire).

About 2,000 people attended.

Background (2016),  Tonino Serafini.

«Pour les autonomes, l’objectif est de rendre visible une guerre invisible»

The Ministry of the Interior calls them “ultra-leftist” or “anarcho-autonomous ” activists ,but they generally reject any form of categorization. They meet and often act on affinity (some sociologists speak of “amilitants”). These are often students who take part in actions in support of undocumented migrants or against police repression. They try to integrate their libertarian political ideal in all spheres of their life, making sure to be perfectly autonomous, that is to say, to depend neither on the State, nor on an owner, nor of an employer to subsist. There are many who live in community squats where they grow, for example, their food to spend money as much as possible.

Most of them are outside the classical political spectrum and see themselves as neither left nor right. From their point of view, far-left organisations are part of the “system”, the “Empire” to use their terminology. They themselves categorically refuse to participate directly or indirectly in this society, and thus despise political parties such as trade unions. Between them, they are called “totos”, in reference to the autonomous movement.

What are the historical origins of this movement?

The autonomous movement appeared in Italy in the 60s and developed in France on the ashes of May 68 to take various forms, the most famous will lead to Direct Action. Today, these groups are of course no longer at such a level of violence, even if injured police officers and broken windows are now challenging public opinion.

More than a movement, the autonomists form a movement, an informal network crossed by many divergences, and whose members do not share any fixed ideological corpus, apart from their libertarian aspirations. They do not have a clear political line. The debates between them are quite lively: some refer to Marx, while others are part of an anarchist doctrine.

What relationship does the autonomous movement have with violence? Is it a key element of their political strategy?

Autonomous women generally see violence as the only possible answer to the violence of the “Empire”. The main objective of this violence is to make visible to everyone the invisible war that is going on according to them in our societies. That’s why they incorporate protests, usually covered in dark, masked outfits – the so-called Black Blocks – to generate maximum disorder by confronting the police, whom they see as the “guardians of the peace of the rich “. They are difficult to approach: they are as suspicious of journalists as they are academics who they say are part of the system.

This is a very broad-brush introduction.

For the views of those involved, cretinous as they are, see:

Suite aux menaces proférés par Delpuech Michel, préfet de police de Paris, à l’encontre de la manifestation du 1er mai, le service de la communication du « cortège de tête » diffuse ce communiqué.

1ER MAI – COMMUNIQUÉ DE PRESSE DU CORTÈGE DE TÊTE

Essentially it says they would react to the “provocation délibérée” by Paris Police Chief, Delpuech Michel. The Head of the March (oh how we giggled…) said they wished to rise beyond the levels of May 68 attacks on property, and the traditional attacks on estate agents, car dealers, banks and insurance companies (no mention of the all important globalising bus shelters!) They ended with a call for an invasion of the Latin quarter when the May Day demo ended.

Very funny.

You can ‘ave a further laugh by following this lot: La coordination contre la répression et les violences policières .

Meanwhile the NPA ( Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste) has some sympathy with destroying McDos, perhaps reviving the thwarted dreams of the days of the early ’70s Front communiste révolutionnaire (urban guerrillas?)

Si nous ne partageons pas la politique des groupes autonomes, nous comprenons la colère grandissante d’une partie de la jeunesse, qui fait face à la violence sociale et policière dans sa vie quotidienne. C’est du gouvernement que vient la responsabilité de la confrontation actuelle.

If we don’t share the strategy of the autonomists, we understand the growing anger amongst young people, who live confronted with  police violence in their daily lives. It’s the government that bears the responsibility for the present violence…..

Malgré les violences policières, la mobilisation se poursuit

And they wonder why people do not trust the NPA…..

Between 143.500 people took part in May Day marches  210.000 in France.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 2, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Macron, Un Président Philosophe. Brice Couturier. The Anti-Populist Progressive? Review.

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Macron, Un Président Philosophe. Aucun des ses mots n’est le fruit de hasard. Brice Couturier. Editions l’Observatoire. 

An interview which broke with the deferential traditions of the 5th Republic made the French headlines all week. On Sunday the 15th of April the journalists Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel questioned the head of state for two hours on the balance-sheet of his administration. Elected with a sweeping majority for the party La République en marche, he defended a policy of immediate reforms, from the rail service, to higher education. Macron “listened” to the anger of opponents – the railway workers, students, aeroplane pilots, functionaries, and the squatters occupying the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. But republican norms had to be respected. Universities were victims of “professionnels du désordre” (le Monde 17.4.18).

As the exchange got underway Plenal, the anti-Macron founder of the independent Mediapart, and a former member of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, interrupted. “You are not our Teacher, and we are not your pupils”. An Editorial in Le Monde the previous day talked of Macron as a pedagogue ready to lecture, regardless of the wishes of his audience, until he had completed his lesson. (Macron au cours préparatoire. 14.4.18) Excluding the possibility that the President was unaware of his interlocutor’s troublemaking potential one assumes that a snappy put down far from a chance part of the course.

The Anti-Populist Progressive? 

But what syllabus is France’s President instructing us from? This is far from an issue limited to the Hexagone. There are policies on the European Union. Macron’s “camp progressiste” has stimulated interest amongst homeless supporters of the Third Way, Die Neue Mitte, and the liberal centre. For many of these people Macron represents a successful ‘anti-populist’ unifying force.  Much of the French left, which saw many transfers from the right of the Parti Socialiste (PS) and allied figures, to the new President’s camp, by contrast, announced immediately after his victory that this was a Presidency for the wealthy, for the ‘elite’. For former Socialist Minister Anicet Le Pors, he is “mandated” by international finance, the ruling circles of the EU, the bosses, the administrative technocracy, show business, and nearly all the media. (April 2018. Le Monde Diplomatique)

With the present unrest attracting attention the English-speaking left has been quick to label Macron a neo-liberal, a spin of Tony Blair and Thatcher, out to attack the labour movement and impose markets on the public sphere. The ‘bromance’ with Donald Trump over Syria adds force to the comparison with the former British Prime Minister.

Perry Anderson, in a peremptory post-election account, went deeper. Adorned in best periodic style, he suggested that the “neoliberal reformation of France”, attempted for over three decades, had been impeded on different sides by the constituencies of right and left. Macron, in effect, cut through the various knots tiring up the centre left and right, and formed a real “bloc bourgeois” ready to carry out a liberalisation of the economy, and free up entrepreneurial energy. (1)

But some clarity is needed about the beast in power. There are already plenty of books about the President, and the electoral campaign that swept him to the Élysée. But what is his ideology, beyond carrying out his neoliberal “mandate”? ‘Macronism’ appears a less promising candidate than Thatcherism or even the rebarbative Blairism. A suggestion by Régis Debray that – the reader will have guessed this – that the Head of State represents Americanisation, with a ‘Protestant’ twist (see below), this does not take us far. It might be better said that his ideology is something picked up and stuck together as the result of an academic, administrative, business and political career.

In Macron, un président philosophe, Courtier who has a solid academic, and media background, and a less firm commitment to a form of left wing liberalism, offers us a series of insights into this broad picture. As he indicates, the former assistant to the philosopher Paul Ricœur, graduate of French elite Political and Administrative colleges, Finance Inspector, Rothschild Banker, and Minister under François Hollande, offers rich intellectual pickings. Blair, the erudite few may recall, had the lecturer Peter Thompson at Oxford, and the lessons of reciprocity from John Macmurray, behind his Christian socialism. Macron has somebody, Ricœur, a thinker with a Protestant backdrop, whom people have often heard of, if not read.

The President, we learn, has many many more figures in his hinterland. French books have a vexing lack of indexes. It would be hard work to list every sage cited in un Président philosophe, they range from Hegel, Marx, Carl Schmitt, Nietzsche, Peter Sloterdijk, Joseph Schumpeter, Michael Young (meritocracy), to Jürgen Habermas. This only follows the reference-laden writings and speeches of the book’s subject.

From Ricoeur to Saint Simon. 

It would be useful to boil this down to the essential. To begin with here is the debt to Paul Ricœur. For Courtier he offered the germs of an “identitié narrative” from the individual to the nation, to history. The use for a President of certain ideas about France, recently indicated in recognition to the importance of the legacy of Catholicism, is obvious. Macron has, in other words, considers cultural legacies, the presence of memory, to hold the country together – a view whose originality or interest is not immediately apparent.

Next Macron can be compared to Saint-Simon, the prophet of a society run by “industrials” and “intellectuals”. In this vein he is said to consider globalisation as a system of fluxes to be organised and regulated (Page 253). Finance, the mark of neo-liberalism, is to be channelled to the long-term greater good.

If Macron is a believer in capitalism he acknowledges it is not a system that works smoothly, if with great effort, like some building a planetary network of Saint-Simonian canals. There are moments of creative destruction (Schumpeter), clearing out the old inefficient enterprises, bureaucratic burdens and the “corporatism” of organised labour. ‘Progressive’ states, and the transnational European project, are needed to both facilitate and harness this process. .

Finally, there is building European Sovereignty, and the problems that globalisation creates. Courtier refers to David Goodhart in outlining the problems France faces. (3). Can Macron bring together the France of the “zones péripheriques”, the old working class far from the elite, and the metropolitan “gagnants de la mondialisation” (winners of globalisation), regarded as Macron’s core backing, if not electorate, together? (Pages 291 -2)

The difficulty of reconciling the “somewhere’ salt-of-the-earth folk and the – scorned – “nowhere” cosmopolitans would appear hard for somebody identified with the (however misleadingly) with the latter “bobos”. The task of bringing integration against the ‘identitarians’ of the far-right and those who assert the absolute right to multicultural difference, by the “modèle republican français” appears equally arduous. The often reverential, if not hagiographical tone of Un président philosophe, does not help resolve the difficulties. The use of Goodhart to bolster his opinions indicates a rightward slant with no countervailing force. 

The philosophical commentator Alain famously declared that when somebody says that they are neither right nor left, he is sure of one thing – that they are not of the left. Macron is always careful to declare that he is of the right and the left. But there is a little indication of the latter. Pierre-André Taguieff has represented him as the herald of “successful globalisation”, a Europe in which France would be a “nation-start up” and the “État-enterprise”. To decipher the business-talk Anglicisms that pepper Macron’s speech is to confirm this view.

Managerialism, Saint-Simon, Schumpeter, both far from any conception of “bottom up” democracy, political or economic, and a homeopathic communitarian philosophy suggested by Courtier’s reading of Goodhart, do not make an attractive picture of France’s President. If this is what “progressivism” has become in Europe, than it is doubtful if it will attract many enthusiasts beyond France, and certainly not from left-wingers (3)

The European Project and the left.

In the article cited above Anderson pins the ultimate root of this strategy on the European Project. In the trickle down from his approach, others seize on every obstacle to the EU – Brexit included – as an advance against neo-liberalism. Today’s French strikes and protests – regardless of their specific causes or aims – are considered part of this movement.

But the real issue for the French left, in the aftermath of their defeat, may be said to have been whether Macron could be opposed by the “left populist” strategy of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI), to ‘federate the people” against the “elite” or by a new “left bloc” based on alliances between the parties (now stretching from the remains of the PS, Benoît Hamon’s group, the PCF, LFI and its allies, what is left of Les Verts, Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste, NPA) with the social forces presently fighting the wave of Macron reforms. This, as Stefano Palombarini suggested last June, would require an internationalist strategy towards changing the EU that breaks from the populist drift to ‘sovereigntism’. (4)

It is said that with his steam-roller reforms Macron has now been abandoned by whatever support he had from the ‘reformist’ liberal left. That after a year’s presidency he has veered towards authoritarianism  to “jacobinisme vertical”. Whether this is true or not the left is not united. There is no indication that the largest group in the French National Assembly, LFI, at the moment engaged in a “war of movement” to capture hegemony over the left, intends to explore this possibility. It might still be said, that to wrestle the European issue out of the hands of the Macrons and the existing EU system of governance, while fighting the sovereigntists, remains the key issue for our continent’s left, in all its diversity, strengths and weaknesses.

****

(1) The Centre Can Hold. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. No 105. May/June 2017. See: L’Illusion du Bloc Bourgeois. Bruno Amable. Stefano Palombarini. Raisons d’agir. 2017. Speculation that François Hollande and his immediate circle played a part in Macron’s Presidential ascension has waned with the publication of memories reproaching his one-time protégé for his actions.

(2) The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. David Goodhart. Hurst & Company. 2017.

(3) Page 283. Macron: miracle ou mirage? Pierre-André Taguieff. Editions l’Observatoire. August 2017

(4) Face à Macron, la gauche ou le populisme? Stefano Palombarini

The Anti-Imperialism of Idiots.

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The ‘anti-imperialism’ of idiots

This morning I was struck, listening to Europe 1 to hear people in Syria, including Kurds, saying that they welcomed bombs on Assad’s military resources, though they doubted that the present air strikes would have any real effect.

Amongst other thoughts were the need to respond to this criticism in the Guardian,

Labour calls for the attack on Douma to be “fully investigated”. That sounds unarguable. But then what? Jeremy Corbyn issued the same call after the chemical attack that killed at least 74 at Khan Sheikhoun a year ago: demanding there be a “UN investigation and those responsible be held to account”. The UN duly investigated and in October concluded unambiguously that the Assad regime had used sarin gas. But Corbyn greeted that verdict with silence. So unless there’s a plan for action once guilt is established, demanding an investigation sounds a lot like an excuse to do nothing in the hope that soon we’ll all be talking about something else.

And then, the nature of the Syrian civil war and the anti-war movement comes up….

Not to mention the complexities of the far from admirable leadership of  East Ghoutta:

La Ghouta orientale, tombeau de la révolution syrienne  (Le Monde yesterday).

Les exactions des insurgés et le siège cruel imposé par le régime de Bachar Al-Assad ont provoqué la chute de cette ancienne oasis agricole, située aux portes de la capitale Damas.

The abuses by the insurgents and the Assad regimes cruel siege have brought down the old agricultural oasis located at the doors of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

This has to be read in full.  The Anti-Imperialism of Idiots.

A British Syrian whose been  involved in human rights and social justice struggles in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since 2000.

I was a founding member of Tahrir-ICN a network connecting anti-authoritarian struggles across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

Co-author (with Robin Yassin-Kassab) of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (Jan 2016)

Contributor to Alford, Wilson (eds): Khiyana-Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution(April 2016)

These paragraphs are particularly important.

Once more the western ‘anti-war’ movement has awoken to mobilise around Syria. This is the third time since 2011. The first was when Obama contemplated striking the Syrian regime’s military capability (but didn’t) following chemical attacks on the Ghouta in 2013, considered a ‘red line’. The second time was when Donald Trump ordered a strike which hit an empty regime military base in response to chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. And today, as the US, UK and France take limited military action (targeted strikes on regime military assets and chemical weapons facilities) following a chemical weapons attack in Douma which killed at least 34 people, including many children who were sheltering in basements from bombing.

The first thing to note from the three major mobilisations of the western ‘anti-war’ left is that they have little to do with ending the war. More than half a million Syrians have been killed since 2011. The vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons and 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance. There is no outrage or concern feigned for this war, which followed the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators. There’s no outrage when barrel bombs, chemical weapons and napalm are dropped on democratically self-organized communities or target hospitals and rescue workers. Civilians are expendable; the military capabilities of a genocidal, fascist regime are not. In fact the slogan ‘Hands off Syria’ really means ‘Hands off Assad’ and support is often given for Russia’s military intervention. This was evident yesterday at a demonstration organized by Stop the War UK where a number of regime and Russian flags were shamefully on display.

I no longer have an answer. I’ve consistently opposed all foreign military intervention in Syria, supported Syrian led process to rid their country of a tyrant and international processes grounded in efforts to protect civilians and human rights and ensure accountability for all actors responsible for war-crimes. A negotiated settlement is the only way to end this war – and still seems as distant as ever. Assad (and his backers) are determined to thwart any process, pursue a total military victory and crush any remaining democratic alternative. Hundreds of Syrians are being killed every week in the most barbaric ways imaginable. Extremist groups and ideologies are thriving in the chaos wrought by the state. Civilians continue to flee in their thousands as legal processes – such as Law No.10 – are implemented to ensure they will never return to their homes. The international system itself is collapsing under the weight of its own impotence. The words ‘Never Again’ ring hollow. There’s no major people’s movement which stands in solidarity with the victims. They are instead slandered, their suffering is mocked or denied, and their voices either absent from discussions or questioned by people far away, who know nothing of Syria, revolution or war, and who arrogantly believe they know what is best. It is this desperate situation which causes many Syrians to welcome the US, UK and France’s action and who now see foreign intervention as their only hope, despite the risks they know it entails.

One thing is for sure – I won’t lose any sleep over targeted strikes aimed at regime military bases and chemical weapons plants which may provide Syrians with a short respite from the daily killing. And I will never see people who place grand narratives over lived realities, who support brutal regimes in far off countries, or who peddle racism, conspiracy theories and atrocity denial, as allies.

Here is one outstanding idiot:

The far-right in Europe is against the air strikes:

From the French left (notably Jean-Luc Mélenchon) to parts of the right and the far-right (including Philpott’s split from Marine Le Pen’s party) there is opposition to the air-strikes.

Le chef de file de la France Insoumise, comme une partie de la droite et de l’extrême-droite a vivement critiqué samedi les frappes menées contre le régime syrien Libération.

The leader of the mainstream right party, les Républicains,  Laurent Wauquiez, has expressed doubts about the use and the objectives of the airstrikes (Syrie : Laurent Wauquiez ne comprend “ni l’utilité ni le sens des frappes punitives“)

Response?

Don’t bomb Syria – No support for Assad

Socialist Resistance.

they will not force Assad out of power. Indeed it is not clear that the imperialist powers want to see an end to this barbarous regime and certainly they are opposed to self-determination for the people of Syria.

The entire Labour Party must back Corbyn in his opposition to more bombing and war and we should make sure that party banners are highly visible at demonstrations opposing military intervention. We need to be demanding an end to the war and all foreign interventions, including those on behalf of Assad from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. We must continue to offer political and material support to the secular and democratic opponents of the dictatorship and Labour must call on European governments to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 15, 2018 at 10:44 am

Not Forgetting Stalin. Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler. Margarete Buber-Neumann.

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Not Forgetting Stalin.

“There were twenty-eight men and Betty and I in our group. Betty and I, an old professor and a prisoner with a wounded leg, were taken on in a lorry. The men had to walk. We got out on the Russian side of the Brest Litovsk bridge and waited for them to come up, looking across the bridge into occupied Poland. The men and arrived and then a group of GPU men crossed the bridge. We saw them retiring after a while, and the group was larger. There were SS officers with them. The SS commandant and the GP chief saluted each other. The Russian was a good head taller than the German.

The GPU officials still stood there in a group watching us go. Behind them was Soviet Russia. Bitterly I recalled the Communist litany: Fatherland of the Toilers, Bulwark of Socialism, Haven of the Persecuted.”

Margarete Buber-Neumann. 1949

Buber-Neumann was one of around 350 Soviet prisoners handed over to the German authorities between November 1939 and May 1941. This, on Russian initiative, selected, often arbitrarily, Germans held in Gulag and sent them over to the Nazis. Some, on arrival, were interrogated and, if cooperative, were set free. She was not. From time in the Soviet Karaganda forced labour complex, Buber-Neumann was put in

Translated into English in 1949 Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler remains a unique account of Stalinism from a victim of the Gulag, and of Ravensbrück.

The wife of a former leading figure in the German Communist Party, the KPD, Heinz Neumann, the author had sought refuge in Moscow from Hitler’s rule. This was never a safe haven. The focus of internal party attacks, as a “troublemaker” and target for their failure to resist the Nazi advance, he was marked. The Great Terror began. In 1937 the NKVD murdered Heinz for “fractional activity”, after a ritual confession. His death came amongst hundreds of other German, and other exiled, Communists.  The spouse’s arrest came in 1937. She was found guilty of “counter-revolutionary agitation and organisation against the Soviet State.”

In Karaganda they “slept on the bare ground with our head top the walls all in a line, and about five or is yards in front of us a soldier sat on a stool with his rifle over his knees to see that no one made an attempt to escape” (Page 91) In the Gulag she came across the orphans “produced by the forced collectivisation and the famine.” (Page 116). There was back-breaking work, in freezing conditions during the winter, for a daily pound and a half of bread.

Initially the transferred prisoner found the German camp, though grim, was run “with typical Prussian thoroughness” and a higher level of provisions. Nevertheless conditions were harsh. She became a “slave of the Assembly line” in the Industrial Complex, beset with suspicion by Communist prisoners who considered her a ‘Trotskyite’ and “more or less the scum of the earth”. Buber-Neumann was deeply affected when the health of her friend, Jesenka Milena (the recipient of Kafka’s Briefe an Milena) and she  died of kidney failure.

As the war reached its end Buber-Neumann met Auschwitz prisoners who told her of the mass exterminations. It was not long before the Ravensbrück authorities began to murder the old and unfit in two crematoria. She survived and wandered a devastated Germany. Her memoir ends in a moment of joy as the prisoner of two dictators was reunited with her mother and sister in Thierstein.

Kravchenko Trial.

Buber-Neumann was a key defence witness in the 1949 Victor Andreevich Kravchenk  libel case. The author of I Chose Freedom had described the Soviet Union in these terms, “The magnitude of the horror has never been grasped by the outside world. Perhaps it is too vast ever to be grasped. Russia was a battlefield strewn with corpses, blotched with gigantic enclosures where millions of wretched ‘war prisoners’ toiled, suffered and died.”  (2) This, and his other works, were attacked by the French Communist Lettres françaises. They criticised it as “fake news”. of”being a traitor, a draft dodger and an mebezzler. His ex-wife appeared as well, accusing him of being physically abusive and sexually impotent.  They described Kravchenko as vain, a drunkard, and a “traitor” to the USSR. “He had fabricated the book’s material with the help of US disinformation services, and was himself a creation of the American secret services.

Whatever Kravehenco’s promotion by the US and right-wing long-standing anti-Communists  his key facts, Buber-Neumann’s evidence underlined, were correct. A recent history of the period notes that her testimony played a significant role in establishing Kravcehneko’s credibility. Les Temps Modernes registered that after her book “one cannot dispute the existence of concentration camps in Russia.” (3)

The independent minded left-winger David Rousset began a parallel prosecution for libel. The same Lettres françaises had claimed that in his writings had “invented” the Russian Gulag, “forging the texts of the Soviet laws, and spreading misinformation.”

The growing evidence – Rousset was able to cite the Russian penal codes own punishments – told. The Communist journal lost both the cases and was condemned for defamation. The result was a public controversy that swept the left. It undermined the influence of the Parti Communiste français (PCF), above all amongst the reading public.

The Gulag and the Left.

The debate about the existence of Soviet camps was far reaching. Were these just crimes of Stalin? It raised again the Soviet-German Pact, the backdrop of the decision to send Margerte Buber-Neumann from one universe of camps to another. What means could be justified (as already discussed and decided largely in Communism’s favour by Merleau-Ponty in Humanisme et Terreur. 1947) in terms of the eventual “goal” of equality and freedom? Was the Gulag, far from disappearing with victory in the Second World War, an essential pillar of a system?

The French left – in common with other lefts – has since that time been shaped by the fall-out from different stands on these issues.

After an initial discussion about whether the Soviet system, which left at least some people alive, was better than the Shoah, a debate, which has yet to conclude, on the nature of the USSR began. The place of forced labour and mass murder at the heart of Stalin’s USSR – was perhaps the most decisive. Claude Lefort, who considered that Moscow’s ‘totalitarian” regime rested on forced labour and repression of dissidence, fell out with others in the leading intellectual left journal of the time, Les Temps Modernes. He, and Cornelius Castoriadis, in Socialisme ou Barbarie, argued that the French Communists, did not just defend the Soviet Union against all comers, but would try to inflict these practices at home. They were a junior part of the same bureaucratic exploiting class.

Other did not and do not consider tyranny and murder to have been the motor of the USSR, but as part of a historically contingent wrong course. Some, even Sartre for a time, thought that the world Communist movement was the only hope for the future whatever regimes and parties may have been at the present. Many of the independent French left while wary of the Communists, pointed to their strength amongst organised labour. They refused to reject their policies en bloc. Orthodox Trotskyists continued to consider that the fundamentals of the USSR, state ownership, were, for all the bureaucratic pile up, privileges and repression, sound.  One can find the same positions across the world’s left.

Coming to terms with the Fall of Official Communism remains a central difficulty for the left. Today, in Britain, all that remains of an already small Communist Party of Great Britain (with some influence in the trade unions and intellectual life) is a minuscule Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and ultra-Stalinist fragments. But there is a more diffuse legacy from those who supported Soviet Union, that continues within the labour movement. Some on the left have not come to terms with the basic facts about Stalinist crimes. Key figures around the Labour leader promote a Boy’s Own view of Stalin, as, if nothing else, a dashing and successful War Leader. Margarete Buber-Neumann reminds us that Stalin’s darkest side was there at that very moment.

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(1) Page 143. Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler. Margerte Buber-Neumann.1949 Pimlico. 2008.

(2) Page  303. I Chose Freedom. Victor A. Kravchenko. The Personal and Political Life of a Soviet Official. Transaction Publications. 2002.

(3) Pages 351 – 360. La Révolution rêvée. Michel Surya. 2004.