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Charlie Hebdo: Religious Authority and Political Power. Chahla Chafiq.

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Nassreddin: The Laughter of the Good will bring Low the Power of Divine Authority. 

Religious Authority and Political Power. Chahla Chafiq (1) 

Charlie Hebdo. 25th February 2015 (Translated and adapted).

“One of the tales of Nasreddin Hodja, the hero and 13th century author of many works - extremely popular in the Persian, Turkish, Armenian and Arab worlds – touches on the relationship between earthly power and religious authorities.

“Nasreddin, whilst still young, had just been dignified with the title of Mullah. He was thus able to be a teacher at the Madrassa. One morning he wanted to take down a volume, high up in the bookcase. He climbed on a pile of Qur’ans. One of his colleagues was outraged. “By Allah, Nasreddin! You are impudent! Aren’t you frightened of dirtying the Sacred Scriptures?” “I used to be afraid of that.” Nasreddin replied, “But now I’m a Mollah, the Qur’an should be afraid of me.”

The message of  Nasreddin is that, in the name of the divine, humanity can take such a degree of authority that it would scare even all-powerful God.

Behind the ironical smile in the story a great fear is hidden. We have directly experienced this dread, during the murders of the 7th of January, the result of a plan to exterminate the staff of Charlie Hebdo. Half a century before, on the 14th of February 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced his Fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The ruling unleashed a Holy War against disobedient writers. The actions of this religious leader, a head of state, and the Jihadist enterprise of the Kouachis and Coulibaly, have both the same basis: the Islamist will to institute the Sacred Order on Earth.

In this project terror is an indispensable tool. The Inquisition, the persecution of heretics, the Wars of Religion, have taught us that no religion is immune from such a turn. It happens the moment religion become the source of law that dictates the rules of life, of governance, and political authority.

Today’s Islamists have not ceased making plain to the world the dire results of the fusion between religion and politics. Their transformation of the concepts of the Umma (the Community of all Believers), of Harem, Halal and Jihad into ideological codes, have allowed to them to treat any refusal to bow to their Diktat as hatred of God, and to consider this a Satanic deed to be fought.

From Fatwa to Massacre.

A few months after the Fatwa against Rushdie several thousand political prisoners in Iran were “liquidated” following the same kind of ruling. These crimes, which remain unregistered internationally, were justified inside Iran as a means to cleanse the body of the Umma of impure elements. The same logic is used to maintain the Islamist order: assigning women and homosexuals to inferiority, anti-Semitism, privileging one religion or doctrine over another, and forbidding freedoms. This world-view gives the agents of Islamism an unlimited and unconstrained power. Injustice and immortality have become “duties” in the name of “divine justice” and the “moral order”.

In this fashion Islamism has joined the same outlook of “identity” movements of Christianity, Judaism and those from other religions. All of them recycle old conservative ideas – bringing them close to the far right. The domination of the market, which erodes the sense of belonging, an economic crisis that has created a social, cultural and political vacuum, at a time when humanist ideas are in retreat, have created a context within which these movements offer an appealing sense of “meaning”. Rivals, these competing identity movements have nevertheless been allies in order to stem advances in human rights. This has happened in France, over gay marriage and equality education in schools. It can be seen internationally every time there are moves to promote gender equality, sexual rights, and freedom of belief, of expression and creation.

The present development of these identity movements is a political phenomenon that cannot be grasped without taking account the context and the actors involved. Looking into the processes that have led to the rise and expansion of Islamism one can see straight away the impact of dictatorships that call themselves Muslim, including those who accept modernisation, but refuse democratic values in the name of protecting their cultural and confessional (culturel – see note 2) identity.

In the same picture we can see that these dictatorships have received the backing, past and present, of the most powerful states in the world, acting out of their own interests. Only yesterday the Western powers helped the growth of Islamism with their strategy of encircling the Soviet Union with a “green” cordon. Today, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the manipulation of religious figures, Islamist and Jewish fundamentalist, has benefited pro-War supporters on every side.

Yet, we cannot reduce society to these elements. Where are the other people on the scene? What role do those who do not share these ideologies and interests play? What, in their own fields, are they doing with their resources to reflect, to act and to create?

Democracy and Secularism.

We have to admit that faced with the offensive of political-religious identity movements, many of these actors are paralysed by a series of confusions: between the cultural and the confessional (culturel), between Islamism and Islam, between democracy and imperialism. These confusions, whatever the intentions of those they originate with, have strengthened the vision of the Neoconservative supporters of a “war of civilisations”.

To escape from this there is only one-way out: to demolish the fantasy of a “Muslim World” and the “West” and to return to the reality of social, cultural and political struggles. From there we can raise the problem of “religion and politics” in relation to democratic ideals.

Founded on the recognition of the autonomy of individuals, free and equal, creators and subjects of laws, democracy, far from being just an affair of the ballot box, is a political project whose deepening means freedom from all intangible sacred power. Now, more than ever, secularism (laïcité) is a vital stake in advancing human rights and liberty.”

(1) Chahla Chafiq-Beski is an Iranian left-wing exile, writer and novelist who lives in France. Her latest book is Islam, politique, sexe et genre. PUF.  2011. “L’écriture est devenue mon lieu d’existence, hors frontières, pour vivre la liberté.” Writing has become my home, beyond frontiers, to be able to  live in freedom.”

Portrait de Chahla Chafiq

(2) Culturel – from Cult, same word as English, but primarily retaining the original sense of religious practice, confession.

As Unite Against Fascism Meets UN Makes War Crime Charges against Syrian Regime and *all* Islamist forces.

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CCTV of the three girls

London Girls Go to Join War Criminals.

“Three east London schoolgirls have flown to Turkey and there are fears they may cross the Syrian border and join the Islamic State terrorist group.”

BBC.

“In a report published on Friday, the Commission stressed that both the Syrian regime and the main Islamist militant groups active in Syria – Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front – had committed atrocities, as well as other smaller factions.

The report warned that despite the Commission’s “long-standing position” not to name suspects, maintaining that policy would “reinforce the impunity” of alleged war criminals.

Speaking on Friday, investigators said that they had increasingly been sharing information with countries to enable them to prosecute their own citizens for crimes committed in Syria.

They revealed that four of the lists of names of alleged war criminals had been passed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a fifth would be handed over in March.

The five lists, compiled since the Commission began investigating in 2011, are understood to contain approximately 30 to 40 names each.”

BBC

The Guardian reports today,

A study released last month by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that women on the receiving end of that social media onslaught were captivated by the violence they saw. Examining the social media accounts of six European women who ultimately travelled to Syria and Iraq, they discovered that one described the brutal murder of the American aid worker Peter Kassig and 18 Syrian hostages as “gut-wrenchingly awesome”.

Another woman, who watched a different beheading video, wrote: “I was happy to see the beheading of that kaffir [non-believer], I just rewinded to the cutting part,” and called for “more beheadings please!”, according to the study.

“Umm Hussain”, alternately named in reports as mother-of-two Sally Jones from Kent, tweeted: “Know that we have armies in Iraq and an army in Sham [Syria] of angry lions whose drink is blood and play is carnage.”

The study concluded: “There is no doubt … that the women who migrate to the territory controlled by Isis revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation. They appear desensitised to the horrific nature of the violent acts being committed.”

Charlie Winter, of the Quilliam Foundation, said that although Isis propaganda sometimes suggested that women would have an active, and even armed role, the reality was that they were heavily controlled once they arrived.

Winter recently helped translate a long Isis communique that set out in great detail the designated role of women under the group’s version of sharia law. Circulated late last month and titled Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study, the document railed against westernised notions of female liberation, damning fashion shops and beauty salons as the work of the devil.

“It is always preferable for a woman to remain hidden and veiled, to maintain society from behind this veil,” it said. It added that girls could marry at the age of nine, and “pure girls” should ideally settle with a husband by 17 and should not be “corrupted” by careers. It was also clear that women would not take up arms unless the survival of Isis depended on it.

Meanwhile ‘Unite Against Fascism’  is holding its conference.

You can follow it at  Live Blog: Unite against racism and fascism – UAF national conference 2015

It will be interesting to see if anybody there cares to comment on the BBC and Guardian reports.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm

New Atheism Behind ‘War on Muslims’ – Morning Star

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Hate-Filled Philosophy Inspired Killer Craig Hicks.

The Morning Star today (Hat-tip Jim D).

The War on Muslims Reaches US Soil.

Somebody called Ramzay Baroud writes,

The murder of three US Muslims at a University of North Carolina condominium last week was no ordinary murder, nor is the criminal who killed them an ordinary thug.

The Daily explains,

Hicks, the terrorist who killed the three young Muslims, subscribes to a school of thought known as New Atheism — what (sic)  religious scholar Reza Aslan refers to as the school of “anti-theism.”

It is, in part, another hate-filled platform, and despite its supposed disdain for all religions, its malicious energy mostly targets Muslims.

New Atheists are of course different from the majority of atheists, who don’t use that designation to foment hate against a specific religious group.

The anti-theist idols include the likes of Richard Dawkins and US author Sam Harris, who, according to Aslan, respond “to religion with the same venomous ire with which religious fundamentalists respond to atheism.”

So,

Hicks too hated the three Muslim kids based on that same foolish, murderous logic.

But hating Muslims is not your everyday racism and prejudice, which has been “as American as apple pie and napalm” (a funny, sad line from the US comedy, M*A*S*H).

(Note: very funny, ha, ha.)

It is a readily available fodder for the ongoing war and future war in Muslim countries. It is the required amount of dehumanisation needed to wage war.

The ‘author’ then splurges in another direction,

Hicks is of the Fox News demographic, a gun-toting, unreasonably and immeasurably angry white US citizen. Self-proclaimed atheist or otherwise, it matters little (sic).

So Hicks, we are told, killed the students “execution-style” because of a dispute over parking spaces.

The same way that Chris Kyle — “the American Sniper” — made 164 confirmed “kills” in Iraq, targeting “savages” because that’s what national heroes do.

(Note ‘in the same way’….)

He concludes, spluttering,

It is time for Muslims to demand that Obama issue more than a statement but call the US government and hate-filled media to account. These outrageous double standards must end, before more innocent lives are taken.

And why not call the ‘New Atheists’ to account?

Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins beware: be afraid, be very afraid..

******

Further notes on Baroud’s politics (from here, January 8th 2015)

He thinks this: “Islam has set in motion a system to abolish slavery over 1,200 years before the slave trade reached its peak in the western world. ” (no Arab slave trade…..), “gender equality in Islam has been enshrined in the language of the Koran and the legacy of the Prophet Mohammed.”

I can’t be bothered with most of this history-as-fairy-story but I notice this in the same article

Baroud rails at the “the pornographic satire of Charlie Hebdo and its targeting of Prophet Mohammed…” and then remarks of those condemning the attack:

Did any of these “intellectuals” pause to think that maybe, just maybe, the violent responses to demeaning Islamic symbols reflect a real political sentiment, say for example, a collective feeling of humiliation, hurt, pain and racism that extend to every corner of the globe? 

Charlie had it coming to them…

As no doubt did the Jewish customers at the Porte de Vincennes Hyper Cacher.

Bob Lambert, Police Spy, Resurfaces to Offer to Advise Government on Islamists.

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Bob Lambert Receives  Islamic Human Rights Award (2007).

In the news, for what reason?

Ministers have been urged to enlist the help of several controversial Muslim groups to stem the flow of British jihadists to Iraq and Syria.

Calls are growing for Whitehall to restore ties in particular with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), one of the country’s largest Islamic organisations. The group, which once enjoyed a close relationship with the government, has been ostracised since 2009 when one of its officials signed a declaration supporting Hamas and calling on Muslims to destroy “foreign warships” preventing arms smuggling into Gaza.

Robert Lambert, a former head of the Metropolitan police Muslim contact unit who is now a lecturer in terrorism studies at the University of St Andrews, said that the MCB and other Muslim groups could be valuable partners in the struggle against home-grown jihad….”

Originally in the Times (yesterday) – Hat-tip DT.

The rest of the story goes,

“In many instances the government considers these groups to be unsuitable partners because, in the government’s view, they are extremist and do not subscribe to British values,” he said.

Dr Lambert described the MCB aa notable example of a national umbrella body that has potential to help tackle violent extremist radicalisation and recruitment” and praised one of its affiliates, the Muslim Association of Britain [MAB], for its work with young Muslims around the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London.

In a 2011 speech at a security conference in Munich David Cameron said that “the ideology of extremism [was] the problem”, pledging to confront non-violent Islamism as well as jihadists.

The MAB said it was fully prepared to work with the government, while the MCB said that it would co-operate but would not seek taxpayer funding.

“We are more than happy to work productively with the government on this issue, but we will be mindful of getting involved in initiatives that will further alienate young people,” it said.

Lambert has been exposed as a secret policeman (Infiltration of animal rights, anti-racist and environmental groups), agent provocateur (he has been accused of arson by Caroline Lucas, M.P) , and is the father of an (abandoned) child by one of the activists he was spying on.

For more on this story of abuse and attacks on democracy, see Wikipedia). (1)

His defenders included Bob Pitt, of Islamophobia Watch and .

Pitt notably lauded Lambert’s “achievements” and has attacked the “demonisation” of his activities as a “young copper.” (see this link for full list of Pitt’s posts defending the secret policeman).

Abdullah wrote this in 2011.

The “exposure” of the former special branch officer Bob Lambert comes at a convenient time: it can serve as a distraction from the scandals that have engulfed the neocon tendency in the government. Lambert has been a staunch critic of the government’s Islamophobic rhetoric and exclusivist policies. This, to a large extent, explains the excitement that has greeted disclosure of information about Lambert’s past career among certain people.

These people seek to achieve two things: to assassinate Lambert’s character and discredit his academic work. Both will fail.

Those of us who worked with him during the difficult decade after 11 September 2001 always knew he came from a police background, and specifically the special branch unit. It was no secret. If at any point he was involved in the infiltration of legitimate protest and political groups while being a special branch officer, then that was wrong. That being said, the political authors of such a policy should bear the full responsibility for it and not any single officer.

What has stood out about Lambert has been his commitment to peace, justice and social harmony. He was never as preoccupied with words as he was with deeds. Hence he entered into partnerships with almost everyone who was committed to these ideals.

It appears that this callous secret policeman is a lecturer at the ‘university’ of Saint Andrews.

A fine gauge of the quality of the education that they have to offer.

It is unlikely that anybody else is likely to take Lambert’s kind offer of advice seriously.

(1) Guardian June 2013. “A woman who had a child with an undercover police officer who was spying on her says she feels she was “raped by the state” and has been deeply traumatised after discovering his real identity.

She met the undercover officer – Bob Lambert – in 1984. At the time, Lambert was posing as “Bob Robinson”, an animal rights activist, on behalf of the then secret police unit known as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).”

Standing up to UKIP? A Critical Appraisal.

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Will this Defeat UKIP?

Some on the left remain in mourning for the failure of the Scottish referendum to “bring their country into the world of free and sovereign nations”. Some console themselves that Alba is already a “transformed, empowered country.” (Neil Ascherson. Observer. 21.8.14.)

Westminster Centralism appears on the wane. A large constituency demands a “grant of real responsibility to local communities.” This means, they say, a change in the structure of the British constitution, perhaps an English parliament, certainly greater control for regions and cities inside and outwith Scotland’s borders.

Constitutional issues are not the preserve of Scottish nationalists or the new regionalists. UKIP has made its transition from pressure group to serious political contender by demanding that Britain be ‘free’ from the legislative power of the European Union. The issue of sovereignty is the central concern of Nigel Farage’s party. UKIP is, first and foremost, anti-EU. It wants ‘independence’ for the British people from ‘Brussels’. It is not ‘Eurosceptic’; it is Europhobic.

The Scottish separatists want to see the back of ‘Westminster’, for the good of their own people. Some, notably in the SNP, claim to see the European Union as a positive force that would help them towards that aim. With their common concern with national power we can call both parties, despite this major difference on the EU, “sovereigntists.” The party once led by Alex Salmond believes in a limited degree of pooled sovereignty in order to ‘save the nation state’ (as Milward called it), UKIP is simply wants to shore up the nation state. (1)

Stand up to UKIP.

Left-wing activists, called to support the campaign Stand up to UKIP, which plans a major demonstration outside the Party’s conference next weekend, can be forgiven for forgetting the word “independence” in the title. The launch of this campaign, after all, declares,

“It has built up its electoral base by both presenting itself as a party opposed to the European Union, but more importantly by spreading poisonous lies and hatred towards migrants and MuslimsWe believe UKIP is a racist party. This may be something Farage and the party’s leadership is quick to deny. But in the run up to the European elections UKIP’s mask slipped. UKIP presents the anti-racist movement with a major problem – dragging British politics to the right.”

Let us leave aside the claim that UKIP specialises in ‘anti-Muslim’ campaigning. This will come as news to the Bangladeshi organisers of the Ipswich ‘Multi-cultural festival’ at the end of August this year, who included a full page UKIP advertisement, along with Labour and Tory endorsements, in the day’s programme. It will also be a surprise to anybody reading official UKIP material, which does not single out the topic of Islam, but instead includes it within a blanket condemnation on multi-culturalism – the real reason to be astonished at the Ipswich anomaly.

Andy Jones argues, “UKIP is the main organised expression of the new anti-immigrant racism.” (International Socialism. June 2014. No 114) Nobody can deny that it has gained support for its hostility towards migration – their leaflets warning of a mass Bulgarian and Rumanian invasion are still fresh in people’s minds. Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin point to their ability to “recognise and often moblise public resentments of immigration and ethnic minorities among the white majority” (Page 159 Revolt on the Right. 2014). 

Is this part and parcel of a “party of bigots, sexists, Islamophobes and homophobes”? Perhaps. But does this imply that they have won votes as this kind of party? Stand up to UKIP clearly seems to think that “exposing” them as such will eat away at their support. Others consider that this is part of their appeal.

Ford and Godwin state that UKIP’s “electoral base is old, male, working class, white and less educated, much like the BNP’s (Ibid). Their analysis of the attitudes within the group they identify would tend to support the view that many of UKIP’s less attractive and prejudices attitudes have an echo within their constituency. Others note that the Stand up to UKIP list of bigoted opinions, slightly more politely expressed, is shared with middle class and upper class voters, the readership of the Daily Mail, Telegraph, and the Times. That UKIP voters are by no means largely working class. (2) 

In the publicity for the 27th demonstration at UKIP’s conference it’s stated, “UKIP likes to say it is the “people’s army” in opposition to the political elite in the mainstream parties. But it is a racist party that blames migrant workers for the problems in society it is acting as a shield for the bankers who are really responsible for the economic crisis.”

Is shouting “racist party” outside the UKIP meeting going to change anybody’s opinions?  I say shouting, but screaming ‘racist’ is the likely prospect. The involvement of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) signals the direction the protest is taking. This Sealed-Knot re-enactment of the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) demonstrations of yesteryear is a dead-end. The chorus, conducted by the Socialist Workers Party (Stand up’s main initiator) is not going to win over anybody outside their ranks. 

Revealing the role of UKIP as “shield for the bankers” is as unlikely undermine their support as “unmasking” them as an unsavoury load of old racists. The competition created in the labour market by migration is  – on at least some evidence deliberately encouraged by employers – is the material basis on which people ‘blame’ foreigners for low wages.

A trade union approach is to set a standard, the Living Wage, and high social benefits and work protection for all. Only unions are capable of grappling with these problems directly, bringing the actual and potential UKIP voters together with migrants on the basis of common interests. The left needs to focus on campaigns by the TUC and its affiliates, to prevent the bosses from setting one group against another. It is the European Union which should create the conditions for continent-wide higher wages and social benefits, a strategy of upgrading standards. Any form of sovereigntist politics, from UKIP, the SNP (which advocates lower corporation tax in Scotland) to the Conservative Party’s own Eurosceptic policies (the most direct threat), is an attack on this internationalist approach.

Defeating UKIP.

After Douglas Carswell’s resignation from the Tory party and decision to stand for UKIP in Clacton on the 9th of October the party is rarely out of the headline. Polls gives Carswell a wide lead. The group now has 39,143 members. The left has to think, deeply and seriously, without yelling, about how to deal with UKIP’s appeal. 

UKIP’s biggest weakness is not that it is a party with an exceptionally high membership of obsessives, xenophobes and oddballs. Having set out on a ‘populist’ path, that is, with the call for the British to rise up against the Brussels elite, its focus anti-European policies cut if off from the large numbers of people who (correctly) identify the ‘elite’ with a domestic Establishment. Many in these circles, including those who are virulently opposed to ‘Brussels’, are attracted, with a degree of ‘cultural cringe’ to the United States. They are prepared to cooperate with Washington and Wall Street in enterprises like TIIP, which open the way to an even greater extension of free-market power.

Farage’s organisation does not combine their prejudices with a degree of ‘social’ demands (protecting ‘the British worker’ ‘our NHS’). It opts for hard-line free-market policies. Continental populists, by contrast, are often opposed to ‘globalisation’ and ‘neo-liberalism’. Some European ‘populist’ parties, like the French Front National, have even tried to influence trade unions (3). This may reflect their middle class base, although the French FN equally benefits from electoral backing in middle class and wealthy areas (the traditional fiefs of the right and extreme-right in cities like Paris). 

Yet UKIP’s electoral success (27.5% of the vote in the European elections) has had exactly the same effect: a constant drag towards the right, hauling political players towards its brand of patriotism.

That they are braggarts, demagogues, that their xenophobic policies (directed against other Europeans) have racial overtones (against any ‘foreigners’ – that is, including British citizens, ethnic minorities), is important. This should be brought out and attacked.

But the only way Farage’s party will be sent back to the margins is by facing up to the issue of Sovereignty. To Stand up to UKIP is to stand up for the European Union, to engage in the transformation of its structures and to build a European Social Republic.

****

Note: for a real anti-racist campaigning group see Hope not Hate which has covered everyday racism, UKIP, the BNP and other UK far-right groups, including Islamists.

(1) The European Rescue of the Nation State (1999) by the late Alan Milward.

(2) “The data on which Ford and Goodwin base their analysis of Ukip voters consists, as they acknowledge, of people who intend to vote Ukip, rather than those who have. On the occasions when Ukip’s vote increases dramatically (such as in European elections) their new or temporary voters are more likely to be middle-class, financially secure and from Conservative backgrounds. And, while Ukip did indeed attract more former Labour voters during the later New Labour years, they have won a substantially higher proportion of Tory voters since the coalition came to power.

So there might be another explanation for the high Ukip vote in Labour areas. As the BBC’s political research editor, David Cowling, points out, in Labour’s safest seat in the country at the 2010 election, 28% of voters still supported other parties. This is not because Liverpool Walton is peppered with enclaves of bankers and stockbrokers; it’s because a substantial section of the working class has always voted for parties other than Labour and now that vote is going to Ukip. Ford and Goodwin argue that Ukip’s success has reduced the swing to Labour among old, poor and male voters. But that’s different from saying that Ukip is eating into the existing Labour vote, as it clearly is into the Conservatives’.” David Edgar.

(2) See the collection of articles in Nouveau Visages des Extrêmes Droites. Manière de Voir. Le Monde Diplomatique. 134. Avril Mai 2014.

Update: SWP Party Notes,

Stand Up to Ukip: Doncaster 27 September
Ukip look odds on to win their first MP in the Clacton by-election on 9 October following the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip from the Tories.
Nigel Farage hopes to exploit the tensions inside the Tory party together with rising Islamaphobia to increase Ukip’s influence. This will drag politics further to the right, further boosting racist scapegoating.

The demonstration outside Ukip’s conference in Doncaster on Saturday 27 September is a key step in developing campaign against Ukip.

Every branch needs to think about transport to Doncaster. Approach trade unions for sponsorship and to publicise the demo and we should produce tickets to sell. (a template is attached). We should leaflet FE colleges and universities as they return. Using the Stand up to Ukip statement, which has an impressive list of ‘big’ names on it around work and with people we know locally is a good way to talk to people about the importance of coming to Doncaster and showing that there is organised opposition to Ukip.

More transport has been put on over the last week – including from Huddesfield, Chesterfield, Nottingham, West Midlands, Newcastle, Derby. For the full list go to standuptoukip.org

There are SUTU public meetings tonight in Manchester and Cambridge.

To order colour 2-sided A5 leaflets advertising the demo in Doncaster, emailinfo@standuptoukip.org – 1,000 cost £15.

Imperialism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A Reply to Andrew Murray.

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Communist Party of Australia’s View of Imperialism.

Imperialism, anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A reply to Andrew Murray.

Imperialism, the Marxist historian Victor Kiernan claimed, shows itself, “in coercion exerted abroad, by one means or another, to extort profits above what simple commercial exchange can procure.” Andrew Murray begins Imperialism has Evolved since 1914, but it still Rules to World (Morning Star. 2.8.14. reproduced on 21st century Manifesto), by citing this assertion to observe that the “wars of 1914 and 1939 are the outstanding examples of what happens when that international system of extortion breaks down.” “Break-down and crisis” are as much a feature of “imperialism” as growth and slump are of capitalism. We might explain this, as a critic of Kiernan once noted, as the result of an inherent “atavistic” tendency to revert to type. (1)

Murray paints a picture of contemporary ‘imperialism’ in which there are “instruments of inter-imperialist mediation and control” such as Nato and the IMF, which bear some marks of “ultra” or “super” imperialism. That is, as Lenin put it in 1915, the view that there was underway an “international unification of national (or more correctly state-bound) imperialisms which “would be able to eliminate the most unpleasant, the most disturbing and distasteful conflicts, such as wars, political convulsions which the petty bourgeois is so much afraid of.”(2) At its most developed the idea of ‘ultra-imperialism’ would foresee a “single world trust” that would swallow up all states and enterprises. This, Lenin argued, simply would not happen.

Does the past show us the future? We can clearly set aside any idea of a single Capital dominating capitalism. Politically the existence of inter-state institutions, including international justice systems, does not eliminate rivalry between countries. There is no effective “global governance”. Conflicts have a recurrent source. “The shaper contradiction is between that world order managed and maintained by US power and those big powers which stand to a significant extent outside of it. There are two – Russia and China.”

Dominant, naturally, is the “US-led bloc”; the imperialism “constitutes the dominant system in the world today”. This is bound, hand and foot, to a policy of aggression, “the main driver of war lies in the policy of the US and the imperialist world order it has created to further its leading business interests, and those of its capitalist allies, Britain pre-eminent among them.” That is, despite signs of US “retreat” and “difficulties in the Middle East, it is “commanding” with world-wide military bases, and control of the (above) “inter-imperialist” bodies, like the IMF and Nato.

Anti-Imperialism.

Threaded into this analysis Murray states, “anti-imperialism now is at the heart of any serious progressive politics”. Sometimes it may lead progressive to “deal with contradictory cross currents”. One, is that “Russia’s role as a challenger to global US hegemony and the legitimacy of many national demands arising from the break up of the Soviet Union, may often mandate contingent support for the positions of the Putin government”. That is with the “contradictory” recognition that Russia has “corrupt oligarchic and repressive” practices, in “restored Russian capitalism.”

It is odd that anybody would consider that backing any aspect of Russian foreign policy is ‘anti-imperialist‘. It may be done with reasons, but if the government of Putin is the head of a capitalist state, meshed into the imperialist system, then how exactly it is a consistent part of anti-imperialism? It is hard to see many people rushing to the defence of one group of oligarchs fighting another.

One wonder how many other ‘challengers’ to US hegemony also “mandate” contingent support? To be supported (or in real terms, given kind words and some public show of endorsement) how far can a foreign policy trump a domestic one? A debate has begun on the US-left, with echoes in Europe, on Hamas. The American International Socialist Organization reject any backing for the violent, reactionary ISIS and Islamic State Islamists in Syria and Iraq. But they offer “unconditional but critical” support for the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which has right-wing anti-socialist and anti-liberal policies. (3) The importance of their anti-imperialist battle with Israel over-rides their anti-democratic and corrupt practices.

Others might argue that it would be better simply to oppose Israel’s actions in attacking the Palestinians and depriving them of their rights than in to offer any succour to a group with a proven record of hostility to any form of left-wing and progressive politics. No amount of bluster about solidarity can disguise this side of Hamas. Israel’s actions need to be fought by a coherent movement, one not entangled in this dead-end. Such a push requires co-operation with Israeli citizens opposed to their state’s policies, and not a call to drive them into the sea. This is not to “blame” Hamas, it is simply not to take their political side.

Romantic third-worldism appears to have survived the collapse of any specific “non-capitalist” development after the fall of Official Communism and the rise of neo-liberal economics and politics. Perhaps we are seeing signs of a part others about to plunge into a second-youth, digging out dusty copies of Frantz Fanon to find inspiration for their “anti-imperialism”. (4) It continued to exist in the half-life of university “post-colonial” theory and some marginal groupuscules, like the French Les Indigènes de la République. These self-appointed representatives of the “natives” battle against neo-colonialist secularism and Marxism. They really are unconditional backers of Hamas, and treat the racist anti-Semite, ‘anti-Zionist’, and Holocaust denier, Dieudonné with great tenderness.

It is perhaps unfair to draw such conclusions from what are, at present, straws in the wind. But it is disingenuous to claim that you give “unconditional” support to a movement or party when you reserve the right to be “critical”. Heroes do not generally appreciate unfavourable comments, even if made very discreetly, from their fans. No doubt politics is full of tales of unrequited love. The left groups that popularised this and similar formulae in the 1960s and 1970s, notably the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International, knew many such disappointments, from African national liberation movements, to the IRA, to cite but a few.

People often comment on a distinct strand of visceral anti-Americanism in what is left of post-war leftism and Communism. It could be said  that sometimes it plays a role not dissimilar to Marx’s eminently forgettable phobia against Tsarist Russia (Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century, mid 1850s)  That led Marx to make some claims which can only be described in terms of conspiracies, the “secret collaboration between the Cabinets of London and St. Petersburg” back to Peter the Great(!). Today it is frequent to see people throw responsibility for wars and exploitation on the US in terms of intrigues, spying, most recently, through the etheral spheres of the Net.

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) is, one hopes, made of sterner stuff. While there is a continuing regret at the demise of ‘actually existing socialism’ only a few have found a new home in the national conservatism of Putin’s Kremlin – though many more indulge its media, such as Russia Today. Andrew Murray notes that the Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine have been circumscribed by the need to maintain “economic links with important Ukrainian enterprises”. The Communist Party of Britain, and some left groups, contains people who do not consider Russia imperialist. Murray suggests “otherwise” – on the basis of its international economic interests. This is indeed an illustration of how the left cannot “conditionally” align with any existing capitalist power. But mroe deeply is he seriously suggesting that it might be a good thing if Russia stood by the separatists? Why exactly? What socialist objective does that meet? It is bad enough having a right-wing pro-EU pro-US government with far-right involvement. But does a break-away solve the problems of the Ukraine? What criteria are being used to determine this?

Imperialism Otherwise.

It is the case that the “territorial” and “economic” mechanisms that states are caught up are shaped by the hegemony of one great power, the United States. ‘It’, or rather the fractions and networks that dominate the country’s economic and politics, has played a key (though, as is obvious, by no means exclusive) role in spreading the neo-liberal economic agenda. It has tried to exert, with no great success, territorial rights in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and across the globe. These actions have been a major cause of great, and continuing, bloodshed. (5)

But Murray’s “otherwise” has to be extended. There are plenty of ‘other’ factors to consider behind conflicts in the world today.Nor are things reducible to the US-leadership. However, adding the European Union to this list of powers still leaves us short of determining the overwhelming influence of a new ‘concert of imperialist nations’. To give one example,  the failure of the ‘Arab Spring’ can hardly be reduced to the machinations of the Pentagon, the EU, or the galaxy of US-inspired think tanks and ‘advisers’ on democracy. Domestic politics, state structures, and the rise of the “micro-powers” of Islamic coercion, and the pressures of economic flows, could be put into the very long list of causal factors at work behind the (still unsettled) outcome of these revolts. 

If there are forces for the left to support they can probably be best found in those determined to put democracy and social justice above religious and national concerns. Göran Therborn recently argued that the “new middle classes” in the developing world could divide into those who take sides, “either with the oligarchs against the poor, or with the people against the oligarchs. (6) This expresses a theme popular amongst journalists, that democracy is the central issue of our time and the basis for new cross-class alliances led, in the South, by a “modern” Westernised professionals and the intelligentsia.

The recent record (from the Arab World to Turkey) of such movements is not one of success. Syria has apparently melted down to a confessional war, stained by state mass murder and the rise of the totalitarian genocidal ISIS, which has spread into the Iraqi Islamic State. In Baghdad a confessional Shiite regime clings to power. Egypt has returned to a repressive military oligarchy. States founded on religious authority, repression, and sexual apartheid, from Iran to Saudi Arabia, remain in place.

Many Marxists have always argued that democracy is tied to the struggles of the labour movement, a more permanent, and more radical and better-founded basis for change. Therborn may be right that economic change means that its class bases have weakened. Yet it’s worth noting that Tunisia, a case apart in the Arab Spring, in which some hopes may still be placed, is marked by opposition to the domination by Islamists of a, sometimes stormy, partnership between intellectuals and the powerful trade union federation the UGTT (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail).

Western governments may create, or exacerbate wars. Their prime concern remains the economy. Neo-liberal economics do not rely on heavy-handed domestic repression. In Europe and elsewhere, it is the privatisation of the public sphere, and exploitation by a new class of rentiers, that is the most pressing threat. 

How does this affect  internationalism – something  basic behind genuine open-minded  ‘anti-imperialism’? Globalisation and mass migration have created a sense that the “distance” between lands is far less than it was 100 years ago.This is a fight that could unite people across the world against the ‘empire’ of those enlarging their grossly unequal territories, not divide them.  On this democratic and socialist basis we could be said to be “anti-imperialist”. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that corresponds today to the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, “anti-imperialist united front”, nor, given the diversity of  world politics and states, does one look likely to reappear.  There is no division of the world into clear-cut “camps” to choose. We have to make our own choices. (7)

References.

(1) Page 58. Imperialism. Pioneer of Capitalism. Bill Warren. NLB 1980.

(2) Page 12. V.I. Lenin. Introduction to Imperialism and the World Economy. N.Bukharin. (1915). Merlin Press. 1972.

(3) What do socialists say about Hamas? July 31, 2014

“We differentiate between utterly reactionary Islamist movements such as ISIS, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The latter two movements came into existence to resist imperialism and entered into many confrontations and struggles with Zionism and imperialism in defence of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the Lebanese people.

We consider Hamas, which originated in the midst of the first Palestinian Intifada at the end of the 1980s, and won wide popularity among Palestinians because of its rejection of the concessions and surrender which Fatah offered to the Zionist enemy and the United States, and through its military resistance to the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, to be a resistance movement against Zionism and imperialism.

From this perspective we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel, because it weakens the Zionist state and terrifies the Arab regimes and the United States, and therefore strengthens the potential for class struggle in the Arab states against this imperialist system.

Our unconditional support for Hamas is not uncritical, however, because we believe that the movement’s strategies in the struggle to liberate Palestine – like the strategies adopted by Fatah and the Palestinian left before it – have failed and will fail in the future.”

(4) See: Capitalism, Class and universalism: escaping the cul-de-sac of postcolonial theory. Vivek Chibber. Socialist Register. 2014.

(5) “In the course of four decades of unremitting struggle, a military and political order was constructed that transformed what had once been a merely hemispheric hegemony into a global empire, remoulding the form of the US state itself” Page 110. Imperium. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. No 82 (New Series) 2013. See also, Imperium. Perry Anderson. Critical Thoughts. Andrew Coates. “The Bush administration’s shift towards unilateralist, towards coercion rather than consent, towards a much more overtly imperial vision, and towards reliance upon its unchallengeable military power, indicates a high-risk approach to sustaining US domination, almost certainly through military command over global oil resources. Since this is occurring in the midst of several signs of loss of dominance in the realms of production and now (though as yet less clearly) finance, the temptation to for exploitative domination is strong.”(P 75) The New Imperialism. David Harvey. Oxford University Press. 2005.

(6) New Masses? Göran Therborn. New Left Review. 2nd series. No 85. 2014.

(7) The anti-imperialist united front. Alliance for Workers Liberty. 2013.

Paris Pro-Gaz Demo and the ‘Informal Collective’ behind it.

with 4 comments

Thousands of people took part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on Saturday despite a police ban on the rally. Scuffles broke out between a hardcore element throwing projectiles and police, who said they made around 50 arrests.

The demonstration got under way at around 3pm at Place de la République amid a tense and uncertain atmosphere after rioting erupted at a similar protest last week.

Despite a calm start to the demonstration, which had attracted upwards of 4,000 people, by 6pm police were using tear gas to disperse 200 to 300 hooded youths throwing projectiles at police. France 24

It is hard not to endorse the view of the Parti Communiste Français that the march should not have been banned.

But there remain concerns about the groups behind the demonstration.

The ‘informal collective’ is composed of (according to Le Monde) members of the  l’Union générale des étudiants de Palestine (GUPS), the Mouvement des jeunes Palestiniens (PYM France), de Génération Palestine, from the Union juive française pour la paix (UJFP), du Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) and the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR).

To this collective the struggle in Israel is ” la lutte contre colonialisme”, indeed the last fight against colonialism.

The NPA, according to the same article, is sometimes concerned by the religious slogans of some of the groups that associate with these protests, notably the pro-Hamas, Collectif du cheikh Yassine

But for the leading figure of the Collectif, , Omar Al-Soumi, ( Mouvement des jeunes Palestiniens) the essential is that,

« Cela ne nous dérange pas dans la mesure où nous soutenons toutes les résistances et la lutte armée. La diplomatie et la négociation n’ont jamais abouti. »

That does not upset us, in so far as we back all resistance and the armed struggle. Diplomacy and negotiation have never led to anything. 

There were a few incidents on the day (41 People arrested).

Libération reported,

 Un groupe de supporteurs du PSG de la tribune Auteuil scande des slogans de soutien à Gaza et reprend une parodie du Chant des partisans popularisée par Dieudonné («la sens-tu, qui se glisse dans ton cul»).

A group of PSG (football) supporters from the Auteil stand, shouted slogans backing Gaza, and sang  Dieudonné’s parody of the Chant des partisans (do you feel ‘it’ (the cock) slipping up your arse-hole).

 Le Monde reports, « On va rue des Rosiers pour casser du feuj », entend-on.

We’re off to the rue des Rosiers (Jewish quarter in central Paris) to beat up the Jews (in ‘verlan’), one heard.

We would not wish to exaggerate these – troubling –  incidents. Little happened apart from stone-throwing and a heavy-handed police response. One could add that there are also definite problems caused by the interventions of the far-right ‘Ligue de défense juive’ (Jewish Defence League). But the fact that the incidents represent something about the people behind the march is undeniable.

Le Parti des indigènes de la République (cited as one of the organising groups) this April  received favourable publicity from ‘anti-racist’ Richard Seymour (here)

Houria Bouteldja, a leading member of Le Parti des indigènes de la République is published saying, in explaining her attitude to Dieudonné, 

 Now, the trouble is that we are not integrationists. And integration through anti-semitism horrifies us just as much as integration though White universalism and national-chauvinism. We abhor anything that seeks to integrate us into whiteness; anti-semitism being a pure product of Europe and the West. As a decolonial movement, it is self-evident that we cannot support Dieudonné. Yet we could not condemn him in the manner of the white Left, because there is a certain dimension that has escaped the Left, but one that is clear to any indigène with a modicum of dignity.

At the same time, I feel ambivalent. I would start by saying that I love Dieudonné; that I love him as the indigènes love him; that I understand why the indigènes love him. I love him because he has done an important action in terms of dignity, of indigène pride, of Black pride: he refused to be a domestic negro. Even if he doesn’t have the right political program in his head, his attitude is one of resistance.” I now add that in the eyes of the indigènes, this is what they see in him first and foremost, rather than seeing the nature of his allies. A man standing upright. Too often were we forced to say “yes bouana, yes bouana.” When Diedonné stands up, he heals an identitarian wound. The wound that racism left, and which harms the indigènes’ personnality. Those who understand “Black is beautiful” cannot miss this dimension, and I emphasize, this particular dimension in Dieudonné.

Jacobonism replied,

As I’ve argued before, Left-wing apologetics for the far-Right frequently rest on an appreciation of complexities, ambiguities and nuance the rest of us apparently lack. Either Seymour has not understood what he has posted and endorsed or he has accepted the sophistry of Bouteldja’s meaningless distinction between malevolent and virtuous anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is what it is: a hatred of Jews, and whether it appears in the pages of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of ZionMein Kampf, the Hamas Charter, or on Richard Seymour’s Leninology blog, it is always justified in the name of the same thing: the struggle against domination, oppression and conspiratorial power.

If Seymour believes that Bouteldja’s narrow disavowal of an anti-Semitism “that seeks to integrate us into whiteness” inoculates her against charges of racism, he has missed something even more sinister and obvious: that while she demonstrates a bottomless capacity for self-pity, her solipsistic contempt for the Holocaust and its victims demonstrates a complete absence of ‘out-group’ compassion. It is in the pitilessness of this kind of chauvinism that we find the germ of fascism.

The following reply holds for those who cooperate with the Indigènes de la République

Undeterred, Seymour has accepted the challenge presented in Bouteldja’s opening four-point preamble. He has opened up his Eurocentric mind and deferred to her experience “as a colonial subject”; he has prostrated himself before the scorn she has heaped on the hypocrisies of the white, radical Western Left, of which he is a privileged representative; and he has looked her prejudices in the eye and he has not flinched. She has dared the white Left to join her on the far-Right and Richard Seymour – persuaded by her rhetoric that to do so would be an act of radical political courage – has obliged.

 I’m not entirely sure what he expects to get in return. If it’s the respect of people like Houria Bouteldja, he can think again. She holds the politics of self-abasement to be beneath contempt. On this she could hardly be more clear. It is the virility of unapologetic fascists like Dieudonné M’bala M’bala that she values.

In the present context, it is undeniable (as Seymour’s Blog cited on the 18th of July) that, “certain pro-Palestinian groups, some of which supporters(sic)  of Dieudonné and Alain Soral” – Holocaust deniers –  exist.

How far the involvement of the indigènes contributes to isolating them may be judged from the – small – incidents cited above.

But more significantly the ideological climate is moving away from the ideas of self-important, and self-appointed, defenders of the “indigènes” ‘(‘Natives’). 

Since this exchange Le Monde Diplomatique has published the important article by Vivek Chibber criticising “post-colonial studies”, L’universalisme, une arme pour la gauche. (May 2014)

It was originally published in the Socialist Register 2014, Capitalism, class and universalism: Escaping the cul-de-sac of postcolonial theory (full text here).

Chibber criticises ‘post-colonial’ critiques of the left’s ‘universalism’ and its rejection of Marxism. He points out that capitalism has become  globalised , so a universal interest in social rights, “for liberty, for dignity, for basic well being” has developed. Anti “Eurocentrism” has resurrected particularism, essentialism, and the denial of any universal politics. Against this Chibber argues for “affirming two universalisms – our common humanity and the threat it to it posed by a viously universalising capitalism.” ( see also, Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber 2013)

The Le Parti des indigènes de la République could be said to be a politicised version of “post-colonial studies.”

 It seems odd that a Marxist group from the Trotskyist tradition like the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste should be so closely associated with them.

What does this imply for their engagement in the protests over Gaza?

They back the reactionary Hamas movement and other “resistance forces”  uncritically and  to the hilt.

No doubt informed by that special “appreciation of complexities, ambiguities and nuance the rest of us apparently lack.”