Corbyn and his Sturmabteilung: is this serious political debate?
As many readers of this Blog, often the majority, are not from the UK, this is a stark reminder to them of how far things have go with us.
Left Socialist Blog
Diversionists Protesting at Russian Embassy: 1968.
From Sputnik 1968.
“…the focus on the comradely Warsaw Pact intervention to restore stability on Czechoslovakia was diverting attention from US-led coalition atrocities elsewhere.”
“.. unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism demand an implacable struggle against bourgeois ideology and all antisocialist forces. ” “The petty-bourgeois forces outside the London, so-called International Socialists’ are wrecking elements foreign to the working class, must be condemned.”
Speaking on the Schwarze Kanal George Gallowski said,
“Already tourists are massing on the Czechoslovakian borders to take advantage of the good butter and beer that have come with this new era of normalisation.”
Lindsey Germain’s comments remain unknown but it believed that she considers that nature of the Czechoslovakian government is an issue for the people of the country alone to decide.
Spain in Our Hearts. Americans in the Spanish Civil War. 1936 – 1939. Adam Hochschild. Macmillan. 2016.
Arthur Koestler wrote in 1937 of Spain’s civil war, “Other wars consist of a succession of battles; this one is a succession of tragedies.” (Spanish Tragedy) As a Soviet agent, a correspondent with the Republican Army who had been captured and then freed from Franco’s gaols, the author of Darkness at Noon (1940) embodied the sadness of twentieth century history. In that record the Spanish conflict was exceptional. Spain in Our Heart opens by noting that the Caudillo launched the “fiercest conflict in Europe since the First World War marked by a vindictive savagery not seen even then.” (P xiv).
Hochschild is the author the landmark Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2005). It put centre stage the activism of Thomas Clarkson, the radical Quaker and admirer of the French Revolution in the British campaign against slavery. The present work explores the lives of American (and three Englishmen) involved in Spain, International Brigade volunteers and reporters, Hochschild manages the difficult task of honouring those who fought for the Spanish Republic without losing sight of the broader catastrophe in which they had become involved.
2,800 Americans fought in Spain’s battles, with an estimated 750 dying during these crucial years in the country’s history. About three quarters of the US volunteers were members of the Communist Party, or its youth league. With the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the Great Depression sweeping the world, the Soviet Union “became a place into which millions of people projected their hopes.” (Page 11)
Some had not stay at a distance building dreams of the Soviet Union. In 1935 the Merriman couple moved from Berkley to Moscow, as Robert, Bob studied the newly collectivised farming joined by his wife, Marion. But fired up in 1936 by the defence of the elected Popular Front government against far-right military rebellion the couple, despite her misgivings, left for the Iberian Peninsula. As they arrived in 1937 the drama of the desperate combats, socialist, anarchist and republican democrats facing the anti-Semite, feudal and arch-Catholic Franco-led military rebellion with its reactionary social support, was already unfolding.
As a an officer in the US Army reserve, with ROTC training (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) fresh from Moscow (with an exaggerated ‘year’ at a Communist Academy’), Merriman was appointed by that harshest of task-masters André Marty, the American Lincoln Brigade’s second-in-command. He joined the Spanish Communist Party. The volunteers, few of whom “had ever been under military discipline”, were flung into the battle to defend the Madrid-Valencia road. It did not help that their arms, from the only country willing to supply them the Soviet Union, initially were as antiquated and obsolete as to be “barely usable”. The Spaniards called one set of artillery pieces “the battery of Catherine the Great” (Page 118)
Wounded under fire, his wife Marion accompanied Bob, and joined up to work in International Brigades Headquarters in Albacete. He was a committed supporter of the Soviet Union. Above all, “Physically fearless, he inspired such loyalty that at least two Lincoln veterans would name children after him.” (Page 289) Spain in our Hearts does not lose sight of this brave couple, right to the final confirmation, in 1987, of how Bob Merriman died under Nationalist fire in Gadensa.
Hochschild traces the stories of many others engaged in the fight to defend the Republic, including those who perished in the increasingly difficult journey to Spain. There is the Briton Pat Gurney, Oliver Law, the black CP organiser appointed Captain, the machine-gunner David McKelvy White, and Toby Neugass of the mobile American medical team. There was also Vincent Usera, who resurfaced in the US Navel Academy in 1939 lecturing on the war. With a full US military career during the Second World War, he ended in military intelligence. One of his last posts was “as a military adviser in Vietnam” (Page 233).
The US ‘Moral Embargo’.
Could America have been brought to support the Republic? A propaganda and information war was fought out in the American press. In the New York Times there was an “indirect duel” between the reporter on the republican side, Herbert Matthews, and the very pro-Franco William P. Carney.
A film, directed by Communist fellow-traveller Joris Ivens, The Spanish Earth, which involved Hemingway, which many expected would powerfully influence American opinion in favour of the elected government, failed to change Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to back a “Moral embargo” on weapon sales – while Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy showered military support on Franco The official arms ban was accompanied by turning a blind eye to Texaco boss, and dictator admirer, Torkild Rieber’s gift to Franco of an “unstinting stream” of oil, on credit. (Page 248) When, in 1938, there was an apparent move toward lifting of the embargo, it never materialised.
Spain in our Hearts both brings to life individual lives, through memoirs, books, letters, through events, grief and passion, and to make cautious points about the battles going on inside the Republican camp. It lends support to the view that winning the war had to be a priority over social revolution. He asks if the moral economy of the collectivised enterprises in Catalonia and elsewhere would have long survived in their initial, pure, non-capitalist co-operative form. In the event the Spanish Communists and Socialists were determined in an attempt to win middle class support and international respectability, to restore market norms and crush the anarchists and independent Marxists of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista. Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista) along with this spontaneous socialisation. Was it also possible to run an army democratically? Some would agree that it was equally right to end this experiment. Ernest Hemingway said, “I like Communists when they’re soldiers. When they’re priests I hate them” (Page 290)
Could the Communist military commissars escape the paranoia and distorted morality of the Stalin priesthood? Not everybody was a hero of the stamp of Bob Merriman. Louis Fisher, who appears in the present volume as the quartermaster of the International Brigade, wrote that “André Marty, French Communist leader and the chief commissar of the Brigade “loved power and abused it, in the GPU way, through nocturnal arrest sand similar outrages.” (In The God That Failed. 1950)
Perhaps this is the final judgement of this deeply researched, insightful, and moving work. Portraying the devastation wrought to secure Franco’s victory and its aftermath, Hochschild states, “If the Republic had won, Spaniards would not have had to endure 36 years of Franco’s ruthless dictatorship.”(P 353)
Corbyn and his Sturmabteilung: is this serious political debate?
As many readers of this Blog, often the majority, are not from the UK, this is a stark reminder to them of how far things have go with us.
Michael Foster, who has given party £400,000, says he did not use word ‘Nazi’ in piece referring to leader’s Sturmabteilung.
The Labour party has suspended a prominent donor for likening Jeremy Corbyn’s team to Nazi storm troopers.
Michael Foster, a former celebrity agent who has donated more than £400,000 to the party, said the Labour leader and his team had “no respect for others and worse, no respect for the rule of law”.
His comments were published in article published in the Mail on Sunday, titled: “Why I despise Jeremy Corbyn and his Nazi stormtroopers’, by Jewish Labour donor Michael Foster.”
The piece appeared on 14 August after the high court ruled against Foster’s bid to stop Corbyn from being automatically allowed to stand for re-election as leader.
The former Labour parliamentary candidate in Camborne and Redruth said: “To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy.
“The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers).”
Foster has said that he did not use the word “Nazi” in his article, but it was included in the headline by the Mail on Sunday.
This is what the relevant section of the article says,
To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy. Once political parties believe they are above the law it ends with all opposition silenced, whether it is my grandparents in Dachau, or the Left in Erdogan’s Turkey rounded up and held uncharged in prison.
The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers), but on Friday afternoon the Appeal Court handed down a big decision for British democracy.
It disallowed the attempt by arriviste followers of Corbyn to flood the Labour electoral college. This caused the mask of reasonableness of the Corbynista leadership to slip even further.
Suddenly the most holy of holies, the NEC, was labelled a shoddy organisation capable of using a ‘grubby little device’. Cross this lot and you are straight into the firing line.
Corbyn no longer has a clear path in his bid to destroy the Labour Party as we have known it in Government and in Opposition for the past 70 years.
The Mirror adds,
Mr Foster insists his remarks referred to Mr Corbyn’s “leadership cadre”, and could just as easily have compared them to the “Pretorian Guard or Revolutionary Guard or Red Guard – a group there to secure the leader and his political plans.”
There are already voices from the left calling, ironically or not, for support for Foster against the decision to suspend him…
This is not the only example of complete political hysteria and confusion in the Labour Party.
A few days ago there was this, from Owen Smith, candidate to lead the Labour Party, during the debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time.
Mr Smith said: “Under Jeremy’s leadership, we’ve seen people coming into the Labour party from the hard-left of politics people who are bringing into our party anti-Semitic attitudes and that cannot be acceptable,
“There are people on the far left of the Labour party who are flooding in to our party and that’s their word, not mine.The Alliance of Workers Liberty only a couple of weeks ago said ‘let’s flood into the Labour party’.
“Just the other day I saw a tweet purporting to be from Jeremy’s team to members of a hard-left group saying ‘you’re welcome to come to Jeremy’s rallies, just leave the flags and banners at home’. And the reason for that is we’ve seen some of those flags and banners at some of Jeremy’s rallies and unfortunately some of those people are bringing in attitudes to our party from the hard-left that I don’t think is welcome.”
“There are people who have come from the AWL and the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some of the other left-wing groups which have either not been part of the Labour party or have been proscribed by the Labour party and some of those people are advocating joining the Labour party in order to support Jeremy and in order to control the Labour party. Some of the people around Jeremy are absolutely encouraging it, of that there is no doubt.”
The AWL replied (in our view, in measured terms),
On BBC Question Time (Labour leadership debate, 8 September) Owen Smith, in the stream-of-consciousness style that has come to typify Smith’s approach to political debate, links the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (as part of the “hard left in our Party” “flooding into the Party”) to those on the left who “associate anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism”, “anti-Israel” perspectives (sic). That is, he implicitly called us anti-semitic.
This incoherent tirade against the “hard left” was a disgraceful intervention into an important issue that deserves serious, well-informed debate.
Smith’s comments referred back to an earlier exchange with Jeremy Corbyn in the programme in which he accused Corbyn of not doing enough to make the Party a safe place for Jewish members; and the hard left (which would, he implied include the AWL, were causing this problem). There were other accusations streamed into Smith’s tirade, but let’s focus on the accusation of anti-semitism.
You don’t have to know very much about what the AWL stands for, agree with the AWL’s two-state position on Israel-Palestine, or even be very left-wing to be aware that any accusation of “left anti-semitism” against us, however half-stated, is ludicrous. We have spent many years exposing, analysing and fighting this phenomena and it has not won us many friends on the organised hard left!
Trotskyist Groups in the UK (to be Updated…)
Trotsky, Trotskyism and Trotskyites was on Radio Four last night.
The central committee of Tendance Coatesy gives the programme:
The claim that Trotskyist groups are peripheral to Corbyn’s success, tiny in number, and peripheral to politics, may well be true.
It might nevertheless still be a slur on comrade Gerry Downing, The Posadists, Red Flag (of the League for the Fifth International), the News Line, and indeed the Brent Soviet, that their august opinions were not solicited on this, and many other, vital points.
But more important issues, on which they have little informed comment to make, are at stake.
The Central Committee wishes to let it be known that the programme, ostensibly about Trotskyist entrists in the Labour Party, had one big gap, and that gap has a name, Socialist Action.
Socialist Action is a small Trotskyist group in the United Kingdom. The group was founded in 1982 when the International Marxist Group entered the Labour Party and changed its name to the Socialist League. It became generally known by the name of its publication, Socialist Action, which first appeared on 16 March 1983…………
From the mid-1980s Socialist Action became an entryist organisation, attempting to take over other organisations, with members using code names and not revealing their affiliation. It maintains a website but no publicly-visible formal organisation.
The organisation was linked with the 2000–2008 Greater London mayoral administrations of Ken Livingstone, although Livingstone was never a member.[Four of Livingstone’s key advisers were Socialist Action members; all made the “top 25” in the Evening Standard‘s 2007 list of the most influential people in London.
Fast forward to the present,
Following Jeremy Corbyn‘s election as Labour Party leader and Leader of the Opposition in 2015, it was claimed (by former member Atma Singh) that Socialist Action were building “a real power base” around Corbyn. Simon Fletcher – who according to Singh had been on the SA central committee – was appointed Corbyn’s Chief of Staff while John Ross has been linked to Corbyn’s inner circle. Former SA member Kate Hudson also works closely with Corbyn as president of CND, with Corbyn now vice president.
Now we happen to know that this account is not entirely accurate.
But was this elite entrist group mentioned?
No it was not.
We were mortified to learn that the only person John Callagham and the rest of the people on the programme could recall from our halcyon days in the IMG was poor old Liberal Democrat voting Tariq Ali.
Or so it was claimed.
Was Callaghan a member of IMG Tendency B? Were any others involved in the broadcast members, ‘sympathisers’ or ‘moles’?
We think we should be told.
Nuit Debout: A Spark that did not Light a Prairie Fire.
Nuit debout was a French movement that began on 31 March 2016, arising out of protests against proposed labour reforms known as the El Khomri law or Loi travail. The movement was organised around a broad aim of “overthrowing the El Khomri bill and the world it represents”. It was compared to the Occupy movement in the United States and to Spain’s anti-austerity 15-M or Indignados movement. Occupy, and its much smaller imitation in the UK, Like the former, and unlike the latter, it failed to make any lasting connection with wider political forces.
Nuit Debout was best known for its months long 2016 occupation of the Place de la République in Paris.
Organisers refused to set out a specific list of political demands in advance, although they did denounce the government’s proposed reforms as regressive, and they called for the construction of a new political project that would be “ambitious, progressive, and emancipatory”.
Lordon played an instrumental role in the rise of the Nuit debout movement. He wrote a piece in the February 2016 issue of Le Monde diplomatique on François Ruffin‘s film, Merci patron!, describing the film as a clarion call for a potential mass uprising. This prompted Ruffin to organise a public meeting which led to the organisation of the public occupation of Paris’s Place de la République on 31 March 2016. Lordon delivered a speech at the 31 March protest, highlighting the goal of uniting disparate protest movements. He subsequently refused to talk to national media about his role in the movement, explaining that he did not wish to be seen as the leader of a leaderless movement. More Frédéric Lordon, Nuit Debout ‘Leader’: Diamond Geezer, or….Not?.
Lordon has also been criticised for his ‘soverigentist’ tendencies: that is a belief that French democracy must first be transformed, however grass-roots led – on a national scale. This means he is against the pooling of sovereignty in the European Union, attacking its ne-libeal and amrket inflection but offers no concept of how internationalist democracy may be built. (1)
A more radical critique is offered of this type of politics in the latest Red Pepper,
Occupations, assemblies and direct action – a critique of ‘body politics’ Joseph A Todd .
Todd argues that the demand for “presence” at such assemblies (Occupy Wall Street, London, the small camp at St Paul’s, the Place de la République), is questionable.
Inclusion in the polis was premised on physical presence – both in that decision making was conducted in general assemblies for extended periods of time, but also in that non-participation in the general assembly constituted a symbolic exclusion from the performative spectacle that became the symbol of the movement. And while the lack of demands was partly rooted in a distrust of existing institutions, we can also trace it back to body politics, the belief that bodies together is enough to create change, that bodies in space could prefigure the revolution.
Others have criticised the “consensus” ideal of these movements, which excludes serious debate, and represses minorities, while allowing for a fictitious agreement to be manipulated by an unacknowledged and unaccountable leadership – the “tyranny of structurelessness”. Or, more simply, the offputting rules that govern these assemblies, including strange signs to signify intervention in discussions, agreement, or disagreement. Nuit Debout did not enforce consensus – voting was by majority – but adopted many of these alienating procedures.
Nuit Debout existed for some months, brought important issues about the effects of markets, and the failings of democracy in French society and Europe to the fore, had some interesting debates about democratic structures and the remoteness of official French politics, and inspired some to continue to seek an alternative to liberal pro-market politics.
It never touched the core of the labour movement or the banlieue.
Now we learn that Lordon, still one of the leading voices in the movement, acknowledges it has failed to take hold.
The Bondy Blog interview is in a typical, highly abstract and philosophical vein, complete with references to Spinoza (one hears echoes of Toni Negri here, as the term multitude suggests already), and La Boétie.
It is heavy going, even for those used to Lordonese.
Fortunately Les Inrocks summarises the key points in which Lordon assesses the successes and the – very evident – petering out of the movement:
Tous les mouvements insurrectionnels commencent à très petite échelle. Le problème pour le pouvoir c’est quand ‘ça gagne’, quand la plaine entière vient à s’embraser. On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas (ou pas encore) pris. Je crois cependant que beaucoup de gens qui étaient loin de l’événement l’ont regardé avec intérêt, et qu’il s’est peut être passé quelque chose dans les têtes dont nous ne pouvons pas encore mesurer tous les effets.”
All insurrectional movements begin small scale. The problem for those in power is when this “takes off”, when the social terrain is swept up in their heat. I am not going to hide the fact that in this case the spark has not (or has not yet) caught fire. I consider nevertheless that many people who were distant from the event watched it keenly, and what took place inside our heads has had effects which we have not really come to grips with yet.
Lordon talks of the “violence des “gardiens de l’ordre” which radicalised the participants in Nuit Debout. But he denied that there was any link between the movement and the ‘casseurs’ (hooligans) who led attacks on the Police and property to demonstrations in France earlier this year, and who provoked a strong counter-reaction.
The Inrocks also cites Nuit debout, l’instant d’après. Pour un bilan qui n’en soit pas un by .
This is a more intelligible and serious balance-sheet (bilan) of the movement.
Marzel celebrates Nuit Debout’s existence in an “oligarchic regime” and presence in the ” imaginaire politique alternatif”, its democratic experiments, and – apparently – resistance to “narcissism” as victories in themselves. It did not, however, help stop the new Labour law. And, “Nuit debout s’est rapidement élargie à une contestation de toute la politique du gouvernement et à un rejet global du capitalisme mondialisé.” – it quickly expanded to challenge all the government’s policies, and a complete rejection of globalised capitalism.”
Manzel does not hide that there problems with sexism, intoxication, internal disputes, inside Nuit Debout. Yet he considers that core message of of the protests was part of the “Miracle” of politics in the sense celebrated by Hannah Arendt. That is, we might comments, creative action and reflection by equal citizens that breaks governmental routine and helps create free public realm.
While some may hope that a new wave of protests may arise in France this autumn Nuit Debout has reached some kind of terminus.
(1) “Frédéric Lordon offers a radical critique of the construction of Europe. We can only agree when he interprets ‘the oddity of building Europe as a gigantic operation of the political elimination … of popular sovereignty itself’. The Enchanted World of Common Currency – On the Article by Frédéric Lordon).