Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Anjem Choudary, “enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic State (IS) and an apologist for its brutal crimes”, convicted.

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Choudary: Finally Behind Bars. 

The BBC reports:

One of the UK’s most notorious radical clerics has been convicted of inviting others to support the so-called Islamic State, it can now be reported.

Police said Anjem Choudary, 49, had stayed “just within the law” for years, but was arrested in 2014 after pledging allegiance to the militant group.

Many people tried for serious terror offences were influenced by his lectures and speeches, police said.

Choudary was convicted alongside confidant Mohammed Mizanur Rahman.

Counter-terrorism chiefs have spent almost 20 years trying to bring Choudary, a father of five, to trial, blaming him, and the proscribed organisations which he helped to run, for radicalising young men and women.

Both men were charged with one offence of inviting support for IS – which is contrary to section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 – between 29 June 2014 and 6 March 2015.

The verdict on the two defendants was delivered on 28 July, but can only be reported now, following the conclusion of a separate trial at the Old Bailey of another group of men for a similar offence.

Hope Not Hate, an anti-racist group which fights both the European Far-right and Islamist hate-mongers, states,

It has been a long time coming but finally Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most prominent extremist cleric, is behind bars having been found guilty of supporting a terrorist organisation. A four week trial at the Old Bailey heard how he was a vocal and enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic State (IS) and an apologist for its brutal crimes.

HOPE not hate has created a special report on Choudary and his links to terror

www.hopenothate.org.uk/features/anjem-choudary/

Our report reveals:

  • how Choudary became the Islamic State’s Ambassador-at-large during the second half of 2014
  • how Choudary’s international network was the single largest recruiter of Western jihadists
  • how Choudary and his al-Muhajiroun network has been linked to at least 110 Britons who have been convicted of terrorism or terror-related charges or have carried out terrorist acts over the last 20 years.

Read our report here:

www.hopenothate.org.uk/features/anjem-choudary/

Read our report here:

www.hopenothate.org.uk/features/anjem-choudary/

Justice has been a long time coming. For far too long, Anjem Choudary has played a key role as a cheerleader for ISIS, and been allowed to demonise the Muslim community. His actions have been a recruiting sergeant for groups like the EDL.

Although he was treated as a somewhat clown-like, go-to figure for the press as a rent-a-quote extremist, he clearly promoted the disgusting and divisive ideals of the Islamic State, while dozens of his supporters have been connected to terrorist plots, violence or heading overseas to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Finally Choudary can now pay for his actions. Please read our report.

On Shiraz Socialist this post speaks for progressive humanity:

Comrade Dave writes:

I was reading this Hope not Hate post about Anjem Choudary who has been sent down for recruiting for Daesh.
http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/features/anjem-choudary/

What leapt out at me was some of the quotes sound familiar. They are pretty close, in fact share the language, to bits of the left when talking about the middle east or ‘anti imperialist’ regimes.

‘Blame the west’, tell barefaced lies about how tolerant a regime is, then justify its oppressiveness anyway article:

“What the policy of the West has always been is to divide and rule. What they want to say is that these people are extreme, so support the others so as to cause factions to fight with each other. But, in fact, if you look at the history of the Caliphate, even if you look now in the area controlled by the Islamic State, the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians are living side by side in security. It is not true that people are being slaughtered. Those people who are allied with the previous regime or those who are fighting against the Muslims, certainly they will be fought against.”

The blowback article.

“If you look at the death of James Foley,” he said, “you only have to listen to the person who is executing him to know that the blame is the Americans’ because of their own foreign policy. The fact is that decades of torture, cruelty and mass murder will have repercussions.”

The intimation that someone killed in appalling circumstances  is an American agent without actually saying it:

“Now,” he added, “I don’t know anything about these journalists, why they were there, whether they were spying or in fact part of the military. Often it turns out that people have other roles as well.”

This was for the ‘kuffar’ press. His stuff for Islamist audiences differed. But he had learnt all the stock anti imperialist and cultural relativist arguments from the kitsch left and recycled them.

Meanwhile running a global propaganda and recruitment network for Daesh.

This is the real ideology of Daesh (from their magazine Dabiq):.

Remember these words are arms :

The clear difference between Muslims and the corrupt and deviant Jews and Christians is that Muslims are not ashamed of abiding by the rules sent down from their Lord regarding war and enforcement of divine law. So if it were the Muslims, instead of the Crusaders, who had fought the Japanese and Vietnamese or invaded the lands of the Native Americans, there would have been no regrets in killing and enslaving those therein.

And since those mujahidin would have done so bound by the Law, they would have been thorough and without some “politically correct” need to apologize years later. The Japanese, for example, would have been forcefully converted to Islam from their pagan ways. Had they stubbornly declined, perhaps another nuke would change their mind. The Vietnamese would likewise be offered Islam or beds of napalm. As for the Native Americans: after the slaughter of their men, those who would favor smallpox to surrendering to the Lord would have their surviving women and children taken as slaves, with the children raised as model Muslims and their women impregnated to produce a new generation of mujahidin.

As for the treacherous Jews of Europe and elsewhere — those who would betray their covenant — then their post-pubescent males would face a slaughter that would make the Holocaust sound like a bedtime story, as their women would be made to serve their husbands’ and fathers’ killers.

Furthermore, the lucrative African slave trade would have continued, supporting a strong economy. The Islamic leadership would not have bypassed Allah’s permission to sell captured pagan humans, to teach them, and to convert them, as they worked hard for their masters in building a beautiful country. Notably, of course, those of them who converted, practiced their religion well, and were freed would be treated no differently than any other free Muslim. This is unlike when the Christian slaves were emancipated in America, as they were not afforded supposedly government-recognized equal “rights” for more than a century — and their descendants still live in a nation divided over those days.

All of this would be done, not for racism, nationalism, or political lies, but to make the word of Allah supreme. Jihad is the ultimate show of one’s love for his Creator, facing the clashing of swords and buzzing of bullets on the battlefield, seeking to slaughter His enemies — whom he hates for Allah’s hatred of them.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 17, 2016 at 11:07 am

Death of Georges Séguy, Resistant, Leader of the CGT, and Communist.

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Georges Séguy: From  the Resistance, Manthausen Camp, to May 68.

Georges Séguy who led the CGT, the largest French trade union federation, close to the French Communist Party,  from 1967 to 1982, died on Saturday at the age of 89 years at the hospital Montargis (Loiret).

 He passed away early yesterday afternoon,” said Elyane Bressol, President the Institute of social history (IHS) of the CGT, which Georges Seguy was honorary president. He was hospitalised for several days to Montargis Hospital, in Loiret.

Hommage à Georges Séguy (CGT)

Communiqué de la CGT.

C’est avec beaucoup de tristesse et d’émotion que nous avons appris le samedi 13 août 2016, le décès de Georges Séguy, à 89 ans, ancien Secrétaire Général de la CGT de 1967 à 1982.

More dignified tributes in the pages of l’Humanité.

As an apprentice printer, a member of the young Communists,  and part of the resistance group Francs-tireurs et partisans français (FTPF) Séguy was arrested at the age of 17 by the Gestapo  and deported to  Mauthausen.

France 24 outlines Séguy’s trade union career. His health affected by the deportation he became an electrician and worked for the French national rail service, the SNCF. He was both active in the French Communist Party  (Parti communiste français, PCF) and the CGT (Confédération générale du travail).

Georges Séguy devient en 1961 secrétaire général de la fédération des cheminots, l’une des plus importantes avec celles de la métallurgie et de l’EGF (électricité et gaz). Entré en 1965 au bureau confédéral de la CGT, il succède en 1967 à Benoît Frachon au poste de secrétaire général. Il vient de fêter son quarantième anniversaire.

Georges Séguy became General Secretary of the train-drivers and rail-workers’ federation, one of the most important wings of the CGT union federation, along with the engineers (roughly in the sense used by the  Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union AEEU), and the Gaz and Electricity  producers. AFter becoming part of the national committee of the CGT in 1967 he took over from Benoît Frachon the post of General Secretary. He had only  just celebrated his 40th birthday.

Un an plus tard, ce sont les événements de mai 68, les barricades, neuf millions d’ouvriers en grève, la révolte étudiante, De Gaulle ébranlé. Lors des difficiles négociations de Grenelle, Georges Séguy, au nom de la CGT, affronte Georges Pompidou, Premier ministre.

One year later and the May 68 ‘events’ took place, barricades, 9 million workers on strike, the student revolt, leaving President De Gaulle completely shaken. During the difficult negotiations with the gvoernment that took place at Rue Grenelle, Georges Séguy confronted the Prime Minister Georges Pompidou.

Sous les présidences de Georges Pompidou et de Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, la CGT, alors au faîte de sa puissance, mènera sous sa houlette une lutte permanente contre la politique contractuelle lancée au début des années 1970 par Jacques Delors, alors conseiller social du Premier ministre Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

Under the Presidencies of Georges Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing the CGT, at the height of its power, waged a permanent war against labour reforms (part of the ‘nouvelle société’ project which drew Delors, from a left Christian democratic tradition into the right-wing government’s orbit) launched by Jacques Delors, at the time a top adviser on social affairs to the Prime Minister  Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

In 1968 Georges Séguy was central to the Grenelle Agreements which negotiated an end to official union backing for the strikes in return for substantial government concessions of workers pay and rights.

The Grenelle Agreements (French: Accords de Grenelle) or Grenelle Reports were negotiated 25 and 26 May, during the crisis of May 1968 in France by the representative of the Pompidou government, the trade unions, and the Organisation patronale. Among the negotiators were Jacques Chirac, then the young Secretary of State of Local Affairs, and Georges Séguy, representative of the Confédération générale du travail.

The Grenelle Agreements, concluded 27 May 1968—but not signed—led to a 35% increase in the minimum wage (salaire minimum interprofessionnel garanti) and 10% increase in average real wages.[1] It also provided for the establishment of the trade union section of business (Section syndicale d’entreprise), through the act of 27 December 1968.

Georges Séguy and the CGT’s role in May 68 remains a matter of great controversy on the French left, if not internationally. There are those who would dismiss the Grenelle accords, others would personally attack  Séguy.

There are serious critical points to be made, above all by French leftists and trade unionists.

By contrast, it is to be expected that a section of the British left, notably the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales, will savage comrade Séguy. Some will note the irony of those who have recently been cheer-leaders for the reactionary nationalist Brexit campaign  attacking a leader of a mass trade union who obtained  substantial concessions from the French government in 1968  for ‘reformism’.

In Séguy’s own account of the events of May 68 he states,  that, while freely admitting that his union and party had been overtaken by events, and that a  gulf between the students and the CGT had opened up (noting in passing that their anti-Stalinism was, for him, identical to anti-Marxism and anti-Communism) , the CGT and the unions had still achieved a major step forward in terms of social reform within the world of work.

Some obituaries have noted that Séguy tried to democratise the CGT during the late 1970s, and to return it to independent spirit of the Charte d’Amien (1906)  a struggle which led to his eventual resignation as General Secretary (1982).

Quel bilan faites-vous des avancées sociales issues des négociations de Grenelle?

Elles ont été supérieures à celles de 1936! Avec 8 ou 9 millions de grévistes, la pression sur le gouvernement et le patronat était telle que le pouvoir a dû faire des concessions importantes. Ainsi, nous réclamions un salaire minimum à 600 francs par mois, soit une augmentation de 37%: cette revendication, qui avait toujours été repoussée, a été résolue dans les dix premières minutes des négociations de Grenelle! En dehors des augmentations de salaire, nous avons principalement obtenu la liberté des activités syndicales dans les entreprises et la réduction du temps de travail, avec le retour de la semaine de travail de 40 heurs.

The social advances were greater than those of 1936. With 8 to 9 million strikes the pressure on the government and the employer was such that they had to make important concessions. The minimum wage of 600 francs a month, a rise of 37%, a demand which had always been turned down, was accepted within the first ten minutes of the negotiations! Apart from wage rises we gained the freedom to organise unions in all enterprises, and a reduction in working time, back to 40 hours a week.

These are other interesting observations.

Georges Séguy: “Sarkozy wants to kill off the spirit of rebellion”

Translated Sunday 13 May 2007, by Emma Paulay

The ex-General Secretary of the CGT retorts to the right-wing candidate’s speech about May 1968 (1).

As he watched Nicolas Sarkozy demonise May 1968 on television, Georges Séguy saw red. The ex general secretary of the CGT, the leading trade union, and leader of the workers strike at the time, knows what he’s talking about…

Huma: What was your spur-of-the-moment reaction?

Georges Séguy: It gave me a start. I understand that the events of May 1968 left the reactionaries and especially the employers, with painful memories. But it’s the first time I’ve heard a politician like Nicolas Sarkozy condemn a memorable moment in our national social history in such retrograde terms. The main historical importance of May 1968, is neither the police violence in the Latin quarter, nor the legitimate controversies of different philosophical currents of the time, it is the general strike of ten million workers who took over their companies.

Huma: Not everyone remembers the outcome. Can you remind us what it was?

Georges Séguy: The workers were infuriated by years of governmental and employers’ opposition to any social progress. The general strike had one aim: to overcome this blockage, to obtain the opening of negotiation procedures. A huge majority of factories which had been occupied by their workers, many for the first time, signed the commitment of 25th May 1968 at the Ministry of Employment, boulevard Grenelle. It didn’t take long. Within a few hours, many demands, which it would take too long to list, were taken into account. The most extraordinary of which was a 30% raise of the minimum wage. When you see all the commotion about the minimum wage at 1500 euros, gross or net, it is worth remembering that this raise in the minimum wage and low salaries in the provinces, in Brittany for example, boosted domestic consumption to such a point that economic growth was increased more than at any other time during the period known as the “Trente Glorieuses”.

Huma: But you are talking about the workers, and of their strikes, and it is precisely this aspect that Nicolas Sarkozy did not talk about. Is there some misunderstanding?

Georges Séguy: No. Sarkozy knew exactly what he was doing. He censored the workers strike in his speech because it contradicts his attack on May 1968. He cannot proclaim his love for the workers and at the same time revile them when they accomplish a leap forward in their conditions and in society. The worker he respects is the one who gets up early and works flat out for his boss, even if the same boss might sack him one day. It’s not the one who stays up late preparing action that will help others defend their interests and have better lives. His slogan “work more to earn more” is misleading. To earn more, you have to fight more. I challenge anyone to look back at history and prove the contrary.

Huma: What was the point of this diatribe?

Georges Séguy: This malevolent condemnation, comparing militants, trade unionists and dissatisfied workers to hooligans, aims to discredit a movement where the famous work value that Sarkozy brandishes won a spectacular victory over those whose only thought is of over exploiting it to their advantage. The scale of this movement remains and will remain, at a much higher level than a politician’s ambitions, one of the most significant examples of French workers’ attachment to the social model resulting from the National Council of the Résistance.

Huma: Nicolas Sarkozy has no qualms about referring to the Résistance himself, from Général de Gaulle to Jean Moulin, to Guy Môquet. What is your reaction to that, as a résistant who was deported at a very young age?

Georges Séguy: He certainly had the gall to quote such glorious names. But it’s precisely the great social conquests imposed by the Résistance that he wants to destroy: a social security system based on solidarity between generations, a right to retirement, freedom of action for trade unions, nationalisations, large public services etc. His programme is the opposite to that of the National Council of the Résistance. In subjecting the historical social progress of May 1968, to public obloquy, and at the same time drumming out his love for workers, Sarkozy shows that, if he is elected, the French social model will not outlive his all-consuming fervour for work.

Huma: It’s a well-know fact that workers and students in 1968 did not have exactly the same point of view. Maybe Sarkozy thinks that he can speculate on that difference. However, the slogan for the march on 13th May 1968 was “student-worker solidarity”. What finally reunited everyone was a sort of uprising against a social order to which people were subjected in different ways…

Georges Séguy: As I see it, in what the UMP leader is saying, his overall attitude towards May 1968 is of great importance. Apart from the leftist diversions of a few groups, May 1968 was also a wonderful young people’s revolt against the advocates of the doctrinaire approach and totalitarian-minded political powers which had a tendency to stiffen the democracy. This brought about a huge juvenile movement towards a society freed of old fashioned mentalities, of unfairness and of the shackles of all sorts of bans and taboos. We were spectators to a strong push for social, political, and cultural emancipation. For women, that meant rejection of inequality and discrimination, the new force of feminism was women’s rights. In short, May 1968 was a great social movement and an extraordinary request for morals, habits, and society to be modernised. I am a witness to the fact that the workers movement did not necessarily realise that at the time. By proclaiming his loathing for this call for emancipation, Nicolas Sarkozy shows us whose side he is on: on the side of the big bosses, of an out-of-date monarchial system.


Translator’s note:

(1) Nicolas Sarkozy, at the largest rally of his campaign (at the Bercy arena in Paris), declared: “In this election, it is a question of whether the heritage of May ’68 should be perpetuated or if it should be liquidated once and for all.” May ‘68 “weakened the idea of citizenship by denigrating the law, the state and the nation … See how the belief in short-term profit and speculation, how the values of financial capitalism grew out of May ’68, because there are no more rules, no more norms, no morality, no more respect, no authority … ”

Written by Andrew Coates

August 15, 2016 at 4:24 pm

The Labour Party: Holed up and Isolated on Collis Aventinus.

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Labour’s Forerunners The Secession of the People.

In early, half-legendary, Roman history at around 495 BCE the conflict between the Patrician Senate and the Plebeians reached such a point that the common people seceded. After time three miles away on Mons Sacer, they sat, the story goes, on Collis Esquilinus and Collis Aventinus, within the City walls. There they remained, it is proverbially (in a simplified version of the story) in splendid isolation, until their demands for debt relief were met.

The tale came to symbolise how political minorities can defiantly proclaim their independence. We might say that the Labour Party is in danger not only of tearing itself apart, but of ending up, however large its membership may swell , separate from the rest of the country. Opinion polls indicate that it remains very far from commanding the votes needed for an electoral majority. It risks far greater isolation than the Roman plebs.

In La social-démocratie européenne dans l’impasseLe Monde yesterday covered the crises affecting the European left. Of those politicians heading potential governing parties, it noted that Jeremy Corbyn, Robert Fico (Slovakia), and Pedro Sanchez (head of the Spanish socialists, the PSOE) confronted the same dilemma: how to win power and to keep their parties going.

The article cites the startling case of the Slovakians: Fico formed a ‘red-brown’ coalition with nationalist-far-right parties between 2006 and 2010. Again allied with the extreme-right his populism extends to virulent anti-migrant rhetoric. At the bottom of the page is another striking case. France’s ruling Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS) has declined to between 60,000 and 80,000 members (some put the figure still lower). The PS, and other left candidates, less or more radical, look unlikely to make it to the second round of next year’s Presidential election.

Spain’s PSOE – still, at 22,06 % of the vote, the largest electoral force on the Spanish left – looks about to accept another right-wing government; the ‘populist’ Podemos’s vote declined in the June elections, creating its own internal difficulties. The German SPD is withering on the vine, its leader, Sigmar Gabriel, barely registering internationally. Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Rizni, nominally on the centre-left, faces a challenge in a referendum about reforming the country’s’ Senate. Only in Portugal, with a coalition led by Socialist Antonio Costa and supported by the Communists and the radical Bloco de Esquerda remains clearly on the left.

Are the fortunes of the rest of the European left important for the British Labour Party? With no participation in the Euro, and now Brexit it would appear that .the country is free from the prospect of a Continental federation ruled by free-market bureaucrats. The ‘democratic deficit’ ended, the House of Commons can return to making its own laws. What happens elsewhere, happens elsewhere.

Sovereigntism.

The ideology that animated the pro-Brexit left is sovereigntism. This is the idea that popular sovereignty is the goal of the “people” against the elites, Brussels, globalisation, finance capital. The ‘general will’ can be expressed in extra-Parliamentary forms, from the Spanish Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street movement, to the more recent Nuit Debout protests in France. The view is growing that the Labour Party can, as a ‘social movement’ take on a similar role: a direct link between the will of the grass roots and politics. With the end of ties to the EU what is to stop this force, a battering ram, from conquering power and exercising the sovereignty of the people? Or, as the British left tends to dub it, will the ‘the working class’ be able to “take power”?

Yanis Varoufakis observes, by contrast, that the sovereignty that British political forces want to preserve, of ”their cherished House of Commons”, “is put under pressure by its most powerful social groups: trader, manufacturers, and of course the City of London, for whom Brexit is fraught with dangers”. The “tug of war between sovereignty and financialised capital” has not evaporated after Brexit. (Page 123. And The Weak Suffer What They Must? Yanis Varoufakis 2016) Popular sovereignty, a General Will whose supporters regularly (as in the radical protest movements cited above) contrast with the compromises, not to say corruption, of Parliamentary democracy, is an intangible force faced with the class realities of power. The social movement talked about in recent months, whether largely apparent only in public meetings, or with deeper roots, is unlikely to stand much of a chance faced with these structural constraints.

The Conservative government is negotiating trading and other agreements, including new versions of TIPP. Continued access to the single market will come at a price. The TUC’s has little power behind its efforts to secure “jobs and right at work.” (Working people must not pay the price for the vote to Leave. TUC June 2016) The results will not vanish if a Labour government comes to power. Prime Minister Teresa May is on record as hostile to trade unions and the rights embodied in EU law. International trade agreements will doubtless favour the rights of what Varoufakis calls “financialised capital”.

Conquering Power.

How can this be changed? Labour governments have been charged with merely exercising power, rather than conquering it, that is, winning a serious battle in the state and society as a whole and not just in the ballot box. Governing may involve making many important choices, but the intense life of Cabinets tends to downplay the wider social basis of change that socialists wish to introduce.

Many people are impressed by illustrations from very recent history. The Blair-Brown years could be seen as winning elections, with a careful strategy to assemble different constituencies (middle class, aspirational working class, left labour voters with ‘nowhere else to go’). Until the banking-financial crisis of 2007 -8 this was a period of expanded social spending. But these Labour governments operated within institutions of the privatising state created by Margaret Thatcher. Following John Major they extended this to privatising public services, including, for example, back-to-work schemes for several million of the unemployed. As the well-paid private appointments of many former New Labour Ministers and their supporters indicate, the state was not just unconquered; the privatisers conquered New Labour.

With this perspective in view, the acceleration of Conservative free-market ‘reforms’ to the economy, the development of the private company hold on the state, we should not be inward looking. We should embrace both democratic socialist calls for public ownership, and the social democratic impulse for equality. In place of rhetoric about ‘sovereignty’ the powerful Labour tradition of practical reforms should be our concern. A revival of the Fabian tradition of public service and detailed social policy, melded with Marxist scepticism about the class nature of the state and the critique of capitalism, might – I am being, to say the least, optimistic – bring us together. Matched with concern for universal human rights, this could be part of what one of the greatest leaders of European socialism Jean Jaurès (1859 – 1914) called the “synthesis” between left-wing traditions.

In early Rome the Avernis episode ended, it is said, in compromise. The Plebeians won on the issue of debt and, eventually, some political representation. But they did not overturn Patrician rule. Whatever the causes, which we can discuss for days, the last thing Labour needs is infighting, standing alone, laughed at by the Governing Right, cheered on by sectarian forces who wish to split the Party, and standing alone, on a modern political Collis Avernis. If this continues we look unlikely to  get even the measure of satisfaction our commoner forerunners obtained. We are not separate from the crisis of European social democracy described in Le Monde: we are part of it.

Socialist Party (Peter Taaffe) from Nationalise the 400 Top Monopolies to Nationalise 150.

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What Would Trotsky Have Done?

Concern is growing in the international workers’ movement after night’s appearance by Peter Taaffe on Channel Four News.

The dapper gent, reminding us of how his organisation, the Socialist Party, brought down Thatcher, and was now looking to re-affiliate the Socialist Party to Labour, talked of the programme we all – how pressingly ! – meed.

But something sounded wrong.

In 1964 Militant, forerunner of Taaffe’s party paper,  The Socialist, demanded” “Nationalise the 400 Monopolies” (Wikipedia).

In 1972 a “supporter” of the paper, Pat Wall called “for Labour to win the workers to a programme of taking power by taking over the 350 monopolies which controlled 85 per cent of the economy.”

“By the late 1970s, the Militant newspaper was a 16 page weekly, outlining its organisations policies, activities and campaigns. By the end of the 1970s, the Militant tendency was calling for the nationalisation of the top 250 monopolies, later 200…”

Yesterday Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales and member of the International Executive Committee of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), which claims sections in over 45 countries around the world demanded, according to reliable reports, “public ownership of the top 150 monopolies.”

This new line is confirmed in the party paper, ” We would nationalise not just steel in Britain but the top 150 monopolies that control the wealth and resources in society.” (20th of April 2016)

In “A world of crisis, ripe for revolution” (Socialist Party national congress 2016) is this the moment to abandon the hope of nationalising the other 250 monopolies?

Is is not the time, with history breathing down the SP’s neck, to stand firm, when even the Stalinists of the so-called British Communist Party (CPB)  have rushed to the aid of the Labour right?

The leader of Britain’s Communist Party has condemned alleged Trotskyist ‘entryism’ into Labour.

Robert Griffiths, the party’s general secretary, denounced the tactic as dishonest and predicted it would backfire.

His comments came after the leader of the Socialist Party, the successor to Militant, Peter Taaffe said he expected to become a Labour member if Jeremy Corbyn keeps his job.

Mr Taaffe was expelled from the party in 1983 as part of then leader Neil Kinnock’s battle against hard-left elements.

….

The Communist party released a press release saying it condemned ‘dishonest tactics by sectarian entryist groups’.

Mr Griffith said: “Only Labour’s right-wing benefit from this manufactured media storm about entryism into the Labour Party.

“With hundreds of thousands of progressive voters flooding to support the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn neither the media nor Tom Watson’s fertile imagination cannot conjure a real threat from a handful of obscure sectarians.

“Deciding Labour’s leadership and policy is the exclusive privilege of its members, registered supporters and trade union supporters. Membership of the Communist Party is incompatible with membership of the Labour Party by decision of both party leaderships

More in the Morning Star:  Communists: Labour Entryism A Myth.

COMMUNIST Party leader Robert Griffiths has slammed the “fertile imagination” of rightwingers who say far-left infiltrators are taking over the Labour Party.

Mr Griffiths emphasised that the Communist Party had always opposed entryism and said the “sectarian” organisations that practised it were too small to make a difference.

He made the statement after deputy Labour leader Tom Watson claimed old Trotskyist entryists were attempting to use the “Labour Party as a vehicle for revolutionary socialism.”

Mr Griffiths said: “Only Labour’s right wing benefit from this manufactured media storm about entryism into the Labour Party.

“With hundreds of thousands of progressive voters flooding to support the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn neither the media nor Tom Watson’s fertile imagination can conjure a real threat from a handful of obscure sectarians.

“Deciding Labour’s leadership and policy is the exclusive privilege of its members, registered supporters and trade union supporters.

“Membership of the Communist Party is incompatible with membership of the Labour Party by decision of both party leaderships.”

Judges will today rule on whether 130,000 people who joined the Labour Party in the last six months can vote in the forthcoming leadership election.

On Monday, a High Court judge ruled in favour of five new members who argued that refusing them the right to vote would amount to a breach of contract.

But the case was heard by the Court of Appeal, where lawyers representing Labour general secretary Iain McNicol argued only the national executive committee could rule on the constitution.

The decision will be announced at 3pm today.

A senior Labour source said: “If Labour loses the appeal, the position of Iain McNicol becomes untenable.

“Having spent nearly a quarter [of a] million pounds on this legal case and staking his professional reputation on the outcome, if he loses today then he simply can’t stay in post.”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 12, 2016 at 11:09 am

Socialist Party (ex-Militant) Argues for a Split in the Labour Party.

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Socialist Party Lecturing Corbyn Supporters. 

The Socialist Party, ex-Militant (strictly speaking the Socialist Party in England and Wales, SPEW, an acronym that, oddly, has not caught on)  has long argued that that the Labour Party under Blair and Brown has become a “bourgeois” party.

They have in recent years stood candidates for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in competition with the Labour Party.

This has been a failure, “Following the 2016 elections, TUSC have no remaining official councillors, Kevin Bennett having lost his seat in Warrington”.

The Socialist Party were also involved in the No2EU campaign in the 2014 European elections.

This slate scored 0,2% of the vote, 31,757 ballot papers.

An  amusing paper on the supporters’ justification for their feeble performance can be found here: “We won the argument even if we have not won the election”: British far left party responses to poor electoral performance. John Kelly. 2014.

More recently the same party campaigned vigorously for a Leave vote in the Referendum on the European Union.

Its principal front organisation, Trade Unionists Against the EU, claimed to be for a “People’s Brexit”.

Pleased with the result but worried that the country may not quit the EU immediately, their spokesperson Brian Denny now warns,

Defend democracy!

The ruling class and the EU will attempt to reverse Brexit vote if they are allowed to get away with it..

He continues,

So what happens next? Well clearly Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – which kick starts the two-year process of EU withdrawal of a member state – must be implemented as Spiked and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for.

Yet it is very unlikely that the political class will allow this to happen without a fight.

It is notable that Denny expresses not the slightest remorse at the Carnival of Reaction, the wave of racist attacks, that followed the Vote.

We await clarification on what measures Denny advocates to defeat the ‘political class’.

Entrism. 

Meanwhile there is  a row around ‘entryism’ in the Labour Party.

Labour Deputy leader Tom Watson said,

“There are some old hands twisting young arms in this process, and I’m under no illusions about what’s going on. They are caucusing and factionalising and putting pressure where they can, and that’s how Trotsky entryists operate. Sooner or later, that always ends up in disaster. It always ends up destroying the institutions that are vulnerable, unless you deal with it.”

He added that some “Trots”, who have returned to Labour after being driven out decades ago, “certainly don’t have the best interests of the Labour party at heart. They see the Labour party as a vehicle for revolutionary socialism, and they’re not remotely interested in winning elections, and that’s a problem.”

In reply, ” Corbyn’s campaign team accused Watson of “peddling baseless conspiracy theories,” They said he should be trying to “unite” the party, rather than “patronising” members.(Guardian)

There is a little doubt that few of the tens of thousands people who have joined Labour in the last year are Trotskyists and are perfectly capable of making up their own minds, apart from it being unlikely that they have ever experienced any such “arm-twisting”.

This has not stopped at least some people who claim to be Trotskyists from rather relishing the attacks.

One group which claims Trotskyist origins (while rejecting Trotsky’s own support for a Socialist United States of Europe) has joined the fray: the same Socialist Party.

The Guardian has published this article today:

Leader of expelled leftwing group Militant expects readmission to Labour

Peter Taaffe, whose group was thrown out of party by Neil Kinnock, praises Jeremy Corbyn and rejects entryist claims.

There is a great deal of self-justification in Taaffe’s response as laid out in the article.

Some of his account of Militant’s past is true.

No doubt the SP did play an important role in the anti-Poll Tax movement,  but the dismal  recent record of the party he has led (unchallenged, for several decades) can be seen above. That is their complete failure to construct what Andrew Murray once called, “a shadow labour movement around itself, with its own electoral front, its own shop stewards’ network etc.”.

Indications are that ‘sympathisers’ from the party have indeed joined in the campaign to re-elect Corbyn, if not Labour itself. Which no doubt is not ‘entrism’.

If it has a very limited influence, (its membership figures are not public, showing how how democratic the group is, but are estimated at a couple of thousand) this has not stopped the Party from offering advice, even instructions, to the Labour Party, and to Corbyn’s supporters.

In today’s The Socialist, the group takes a swipe at Momentum (which underlines the fact that Momentum is not connected with the SP) recommendation for the Labour NEC (in fact, the Grassroots Alliance – but the SP has little grasp on how Labour operates these days). They are, we are informed, not all with a “consistent left record”.

To remedy this the paper’s Editorial advocates this,

The national structures of the Labour Party would also need to be opened out and democratised. To mobilise the maximum possible support, there should be a return to the founding structures of the Labour Party which involved separate socialist political parties coalescing with the trade unions and social movements like women’s suffrage campaigners and the co-operative movement. That federal approach applied to today would mean allowing political parties that were prepared to sign up to a clear anti-austerity programme to affiliate to Labour as the Co-op Party still does.

No prizes for guessing which political party is foremost in their minds here!

The Editorial recommends mandatory re-selection, and looks favourably on a split in the Labour Party,

Many Labour supporters will fear that a split would weaken the Labour Party. In fact the opposite would be the case. True a Blairite split away would – at least initially – dramatically decrease the number of Labour MPs in Westminster. But a group of 40, or even 20 or 30, MPs who consistently campaigned against austerity and defended workers in struggle, would do far more to strengthen the fightback against the Tories than 232 ‘Labour’ MPs, a majority who vote for austerity, privatisation and war.

This would be a win-win situation,

A re-founded anti-austerity Labour Party could quickly make electoral gains. One YouGov opinion poll estimated that a Corbyn-led Labour Party following a right split would receive 21% of the vote, while if the right successfully kept the Labour name, Corbyn’s party would receive 14% of the vote. Either scenario would give a solid electoral base which could rapidly be built on. Let’s remember that Greek party Syriza, initially on an anti-austerity platform, went from under 5% to winning a general election in just a few years, while Podemos in Spain has gone from not existing to vying for power in an even shorter time.

Syriza naturally has been extremely successful in implementing an anti-austerity policy…

Aand Podemos,…

Unidos Podemos was the big loser of Spain’s general election, shedding more than 1m votes since the last ballot in December. Worse still, the alliance failed to achieve its overarching strategic objective — to replace the centre-left Socialists as the dominant political force on the Spanish left.

Financial Times. June 28th.

The prospects for a “new radical workers’ party, able to attract all those workers and youth wanting to fight back against capitalism” are not brightened by these examples. Or by the sterile political record of the Socialist Party in recent years.

 

 

 

 

American Green Party Vice-Presidential Candidate Ajamu Baraka, Called Charlie Hebdo Solidarity, “White Power” March.

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This Blog does not normally comment on American politics.

But this has been in the news and friends have brought it  to our attention.

“Earlier this week, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein announced that Ajamu Baraka would be her new running mate:

I am honored and excited to announce that my running mate in the 2016 presidential election will be Ajamu Baraka, activist, writer, intellectual and organizer with a powerful voice, vision, and lifelong commitment to building true political revolution.

The announcement promoted a number of responses.

This is one.

However, what Stein does not want you to know is that in January 2015, Baraka’s “powerful voice” described a vigil for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting as a “white power march” and labeled the slogan “Je suis Charlie” as an “arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy.”  (More on Progressive Secular Humanist.)

This is what this true political “revolutionary” wrote:

 15th of January 2015.

The Charlie Hebdo white power rally in ParisA celebration of Western hypocrisy

“Je Suis Charlie” has become a sound bite to justify the erasure of non-Europeans, and for ignoring the sentiments, values and views of the racialized “other.” In short, Je Suis Charlie has become an arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy that was echoed at the white power march on Sunday in Paris and in the popularity of the new issue of Charlie Hebdo.

The millions who turned out on Sunday claimed to be marching in solidarity with the victims at Charlie Hebdo and against terrorism. They were joined by political leaders from across Europe, Israel and other parts of the world – on the same weekend reports were emerging that 2,000 Nigerians may have lost their lives at the hands of Boko Haram, another Muslim extremist group.

We note that arrogant Ajama Barka failed to even register the deaths at the Porte de Vincennes  Hypercacher of 4 Jewish hostages at the same time as the  Dammartin-en-Goële hostage crisis in which the two Charlie Hebdo gunmen were cornered.

We would be interested to hear of what exactly Barka has done to support the victims of Boko Haram.

We do however note that he has been freely expressing the opinion  that this group of Islamist genociders are as part of a US plan to destabilise Africa in general and Nigeria in particular.

And I am outraged knowing that U.S. policy-makers don’t give a damn about the school girls in Nigeria because their real objective is to use the threat of Boko Haram in the Northern part of the country to justify the real goal of occupying the oil fields in the South and to block the Chinese in Nigeria.

Exposing the whole sordid story of the destruction of Libya and the role of Al-Qaeda as the “boots on the ground” for U.S. geo-strategic objectives in North Africa and the Middle East represents the only strategy that an independent and principled left could pursue in wake of the fact that the hearings are going to occur. Anything other than that is capitulation, something that the left has routinely done over the last six years, and some of us still struggle against in the hope that one day the “responsible” left will eschew the privileges that stem from its objective collaboration with the interests and world-view of neo-liberal white power and re-ground itself in authentic radical principles and the world-wide struggle against Western domination.

From Benghazi to Boko Haram: Why I support the Benghazi Inquiry

But to return to Charlie Hebdo….

The people of France mobilized themselves to defend what they saw as an attack against Western civilization. However, the events in Paris did not have to be framed as an existential attack on the imagined values of the liberal white West. Providing some context and making some political links may have been beneficial for attempting to understand what happened in the country and a political way forward beyond the appeal to racial jingoism….

It is the arrogant lack of respect for the ideas and culture of non-European peoples that drove the French ban on the wearing of the niqab and other traditional veiling clothing for Muslim women, just one example of the generalized discriminatory treatment of Arabs and Muslims in France. In this lager context, Charlie Hebdo’s blatant disregard and disrespect for another religion, shielded by an absolute commitment to freedom of speech that gives them blanket immunity, is now compounded by the “Je Suis Charlie campaign,” orchestrated in the name of upholding the values of liberal, Western civilization.

What it means for many of us in the Black community is that Je Suis Charlie has become a sound bite to justify the erasure of non-Europeans, and for ignoring the sentiments, values and views of the racialized “other.”

In short, Je Suis Charlie has become an arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy that was echoed at the white power march on Sunday in Paris and in the popularity of the new issue of Charlie Hebdo.

As the picture above indicates the Charlie March was attended by people of all religions, and none, of all ethnic backgrounds, and those who wish there were no ethnic divisions, by the entire French left, and above all those united for freedom.

The millions across France, who attended the Unity Marches after the attack on Charlie and the Hypercacher, and the millions across the world who stood with them, were above all motivated by sheer love and solidarity with the victims of the Islamist murderers.

Barka’s language, a torrent of half-baked clichés about the ‘Other’, and reference to ‘White Power’ reads like the written trace of verbal incontinence. He also appears something of a confusionist, attributing to the US a role in promoting Boko Haram for their own ends.

His message is hatred of freedom, hatred of the values of liberty, equality and fraternity. If you do not stick up these principles in France, what hope have you of backing them in Africa and elsewhere?

In short Ajamu Baraka is an enemy of all progressive humanity and unfit to stand as a candidate for any left-wing party.

People in Place de Republique gather round tributes to those that were killed

The Love Shown Will Never be Forgotten.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 9, 2016 at 10:19 am

Decoding Chomsky. Science and Revolutionary Politics. Chris Knight. A Review.

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Review: Decoding Chomsky. Science and Revolutionary Politics. Chris Knight. Yale University Press. 2016.

“..we are nowhere near being able to understand what is ‘said’ in the brain. We have no idea how any specific concept, label, grammatical rule, colour impression, orientations strategy, or gender association is actually coded.”

Guy Deutscher. 2010. (1)

Chris Knight (Wikipedia) prefaces Decoding Chomsky with a literary alienation effect. “When I first came across Chomsky’s scientific work, my initial reactions resembled those of an anthropologist attempting to fathom the beliefs of a previously unknown tribe.” This will immediately echo with many who have endured seminars on Transformational Grammar, complete with charts. More persistent than the average person Knight is resolved to grapple with the mysteries at work. “The doctrines encountered may seem absurd, but there are always compelling reasons why those particular doctrines are the ones people adhere to.” (Page ix)

Knight’s intentions in this study, he announces, are to “serve justice on Chomsky without doing an injustice to Chomsky the conscience of America.” (Page xii) Before plunging into this forensic critique of the career and concepts of one of the world’s most celebrated critics of US foreign policy, it should be made clear that author is a long-standing activist on the radical left. Chris is a founder of the leftwing socialist monthly Labour Briefing, the Radical Anthropology Group, and a contributor to the Weekly Worker, recently on humanity’s ‘communist’ pre-history (palaeoanthropology). His academic career has included studies of this aspect of ant, and has won him recognition far beyond these circles.

Decoding Chomsky challenges some of the fundamental assumptions of Chomsky’s ‘Linguistic Revolution’, the belief that linguistics is a “natural science” concerned with the underlying basis of all the world’s tongues. From a background in the sixties’ inspired radical movements that challenged academic authority, Knight remains sensitive to the inflated “scientism” of social ‘science’. Chomsky and his supporters’ claim that their linguistic “cognitive paradigm” has reached the status of a “natural science”, would appear, in this respect, to have gone beyond a claim to university power, to a degree of scientific Majesty that places it above studies of society.

This, not unexpectedly, has failed to impress Knight. As one of the very few people still promoting sixties radicalism against the Academy, his Decoding Chomsky challenges these claims. The voice of Authority, of the kind that the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “authorised language”, “ the kind you need when performing speech acts, such as declaring war, consecrating a church, naming a ship and so forth. “ (Page 164). Chomsky’s authority is a central target of the book’s critique. Knight traces it to a kind of evocation of ancestral power. In this respect one Bourdieu is an excellent frame of reference, from his analysis of symbolic power in the “discours d’importance”, “le discours magistral” founded on the “l’autorité universitaire et l’autorité politique” (2)

Questioning the ‘neutrality’ of  ‘science’ remains an important radical objective. Recognising that he has no training in theoretical linguistics Knight considers that he is perfectly capable of studying “the Pentagon-funded war science community clustered around Chomsky in the formative period of his career” (Page ix) We might equally say that as language users, we are all qualified to offer some comment about one of the most fundamental aspects of our nature and existence.

A Political Critique from the Left.

The book brings together a numbers of these threads, in which Chomsky’s linguistic theories, and their critics play a significant part. But it would not be unfair to say that it is principally a political critique. Knight offers a sustained argument against the view that Chomsky’s work as a linguistic scientist can be separated (compartmentalised) from the military and state ties of the institution in which he worked the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was not only competition for academic authority but also the political objectives of the latter that moulded, Knight argues, the way that Chomsky’s ‘linguistic revolution’ took on its most egregious ‘scientific’ aura.

Chomsky claims to separate rigorously his ‘scientific’ work from any political engagement. Knight puts this in the starkest terms. The campaigner against Imperial abuse built “a firewall between his science and his politics, keeping each compartment of his life autonomous with respect to the other. Being free to say what he liked meant ridding his linguistics of any evident social content or meaning, and by the same token purging his politics of any obvious connection with his science.” (Page 73)

Decoding Chomsky is not a critique of ‘scientific’ ‘Western’ rationality’ or science’s ‘grand narrative’ of the type we have become accustomed to since the days when postmodernism was popular. Knight, still echoing the earlier ‘radical’ critique of scientific neutrality popular in the English speaking world in the sixties and early seventies, is not concerned with the undermining the universalist pretensions of the episteme at work here, or uncovering how ‘power’ shaped the formal  ‘rationality’ of Transformational Grammar.

Decoding Chomsky is about the institutional environment that Chomsky worked within.  ”. It is impossible for one to say, “Science in one compartment, politics and life in another” when, we are informed bluntly, that, “Chomsky was working in a weapons research laboratory.” (Page 11)

Knight suggests that Chomsky the scientist, who cracked the basis of how languages work, were deeply implicated in the life of that experimental workroom, and conformed to the objectives the arms developers, the American war machine, set themselves. Generative Grammar (rules that predict, ‘generate’, an infinite number of sentences in a language and specify their structure) owed a debt to American information theorist and “scientific bureaucrat” Warren Weaver and his 1950s project, the construction of a Universal Language Machine.

This is a hard proposition to prove. Despite the fact that the linguist had no direct interest in the idea of ‘machine translation’ in which Weaver was involved in, Knight announces,

Chomsky’s Universal Grammar was a sophisticated refinement of the central idea behind Warren Weaver’s ‘New Tower of Babel’ project, which was designed to secure US state supremacy over ‘communism’ in the post-war world. (Page 104)

Tatlin’s Tower.

Decoding Chomsky offers a memorable parallel to this dream in the early Soviet visions of universal humanity, symbolised in the projected monument to the Third International, the Tatlin Tower. This, never built, construction, was to symbolise the unity of humankind. In an ambitious claim Knight links this to another, utopian, dream of linguistic unity, “restoring that pre-Babel language was a project not only permitted, but explicitly blessed by God. This idea exercised a profound influence on Russian shamanistic and mystical poetry – one that remained very much alive when, beginning with Russian and other Slavic tongues, the mystic Khlebnikov made it his mission to restore to all humanity its pre-Babel lost alphabet of sounds, unleashing enough mutual understanding to launch a revolution and establish heaven on Earth.”(Page 106)

There was a direct connection,

The suggestion that Khlebnikov was behind the startlingly beautiful Tatlin’s Tower seems likely on various grounds. Khlebnikov imagined himself ‘besieging’ immense ‘towers’, central among them the ‘tower of time’ Apart from the fact that Khlebnikov’s Moon–Earth–Sun motif was explicitly built into the ambitious project, we know that he himself was an intimate friend of the monument’s designer, the former sailor, Vladimir Tatlin. (Ibid)

For Knight, we takes an optimistic, not to say, romanticised view of the early years of the Russian Revolution, “Tatlin’s Tower, then, pointed to a future in which all had at last come together, science now inseparable from art, poetry from mathematics, music from engineering..” (Page 109)

Christ Knight remains enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution, a “seismic events”. But one might say that the awe such a vision inspires, a feeling of wonder at unlimited vistas, the “immensity” of the concept was never separate from the terror that went with this version of the revolutionary sublime.

Decoding Chomsky discovers ‘echoes’ from the Bolshevik Revolution, ‘sparks’ that lit the research programme that became Transformational Grammar.   One linguist, who had direct connection to this period, and the ‘Formalists’ who studied the structures of “literariness”, and – thus (?), Futurist projects like the Tatlin Tower, was Roman Jakobson. Jakobson soon left the USSR, and eventually made his way to the United States just before the Second World War during which he was engaged in the fight against the Nazis. Jakobson, Knight observes, inspired Chomsky with his view that language was indeed a universal human property, but also logical and mathematical. But the artistic side of this heritage was submerged in more rigorously  ‘scientific’ assumptions. Language was part of the human ‘digital machine’ – that is an object – or rather a rule generating apparatus – that could be studied with the methods of pure science. The Revolution was betrayed. The Chomyskan  “Cartesian Paradigm” reflected a quite different agenda. Sponsored by the US military, it was one more top-down project to combat egalitarianism and communism, wrenching the mind from the body, divorcing heaven from Earth, and preventing that tower of Tatlin’s from ever reaching the sky. “(Page 209)

Knight even speculates that Chomsky was consciously promoted in the Cold War. Chomsky’s writings, from Syntactic Structures (1957) onwards, were part of a wider ideological campaign as the Cold War replaced the struggle against fascism. The military “supported” Chomsky’s campaign (Page 18). Chomsky was moblised against Marxism, against its unity of theory and practice,

“To destroy Marxism, therefore, it was necessary to strike at this point, shattering the all-important junction between theory and practice. Chomsky’s intellectual status, perceived moral integrity and impeccable left-wing credentials made him the perfect candidate for this job. “(Page 193) Science and life are distinct. ‘The search for theoretical understanding pursues its own paths, leading to a completely different picture of the world, which neither vindicates nor eliminates our ordinary ways of talking and thinking.” (Page 194)

Science and Language.

The picture in Decoding Chomsky of the Cold War genesis of Chomskyan linguistics, not to mention its role in efforts to destroy Marxism, is bound to be a controversial. Does Chomsky behave as he does, stridently defending the autonomy of ‘science’, because of his own past, and reluctance to confront the ties his professional work brought him? The claim will certainly be challenged. Less disputable is that Chomsky has separated ‘science’ from his directly political pronouncements.

Yet as vociferous as his claim to scientific rigour has been there is little sign of widespread acceptance of the principles he has developed. Chomsky’s ‘innate hypothesis’ of a mutation in human pre-history which gave us the “language organ”, equipped to generate meaningful speech is often seen as a leap of faith. We might doubt that even within its restricted field (ignoring that the implications of the theory strays into philosophy not to say, the ground of social theory), that a stable paradigm has ever been established. Knight early announces that Chomsky’s continuous revisions of Transformational Grammar, up to the Revised Extended standard theory, indicate deep-seated difficulties.

These ‘auxiliary hypothesis”, as the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos called them, do not, critics allege, contain more empirical content, or predict novel facts. They make up an ever-expanding protective belt around an original set of assumptions. Above all Knight observes, “Chomsky’s interventions have immersed linguistics in tunnels of theoretical complexity, impenetrability and corresponding exasperation and interpersonal rancour without parallel in any other scientific field.” (Page 11) The new versions of the theory “have produced no sign of consensus or agreement, but instead unending controversy, uproar and incredulity at the implausibility of it all.”(Page 180) This, he argues, is hardly the sign of real “science”.

Those with an interest in recent literature for the wider public might think at this point might recall Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass. (2010) As cited in the epigraph to this review, the language machine, which Chomsky and his followers describe, remains a “Black Box”. As far as grasping how the brain works with language we can scan the mind, but the evidence is like seeing a big corporation from the windows of its headquarters.

“The sole evidence you had to go on would be in which rooms the lights went on at different times of the day.” We can see increased blood flow, and infer that neural activity is taking place. “But we are nowhere near being able to understand” what is happening. (3)

 Language as a social relation.

At the heart of Decoding Chomsky are some alternative ideas. Knight uses his resources as an anthropologist to attack Chomsky’s view that language stems from a “limited repertoire of mental atoms (lexical concepts) in an infinite variety of possible ways.” In this respect it is a defence of the view that experience, social conditions, co-operation between people, is generative of meaning.) Language is bound up with social relations; it is a social product, with its own causal weight as a link between people.

An important aspect is that “Grammatical structures arise out of metaphor, grammatical markers being in fact metaphorical expressions which have been conventionalized and abbreviated through historical processes which are now well understood.” (Page 225) In other words grammar has a history. Those familiar with, say the story of Indo-European languages, know that change in declensions and conjugations, and other grammatical items (not to mention the emergence and extinction of whole grammatical forms) is aware that alterations cannot be explained as the result of universal principles: but, at present, can only be described. Nobody has offered a transformational grammar that explains and predicts the development over time of such basic phonetic and semantic units.

Knight offers his own special belief, that palaeoanthropology can inform the debate about how (pre-human) signals evolve from nature into language. In a talk reproduced in the Weekly Worker, he suggested that the basics might lie in the way these evolved into singing,

Turning now to human evolution, the articulatory apparatus for speech hardly needs to be explained. For millions of years, the basics were already in place among our ancestors, for the simple reason that possession of a flexible tongue, lips and so forth had long been essential for eating. Much more difficult was to establish something new – full volitional breath control and control over the larynx. The challenge was to develop the uniquely human ability to take a deep breath and make continuous vocal sounds, while breathing out and articulating at the same time. An intriguing theory now being widely debated is that our ancestors refined and developed these capacities by regularly resorting to choral singing. (4)

More broadly in the present work he notes, “the transition from a highly competitive, often despotic ape social system to a cooperative and egalitarian human one might have occurred. The establishment of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism was more than an evolutionary step – it was a revolutionary one that established a genuine kind of communism.”(Page 212) In other words the underlying idea is that symbolic culture emerged during a ‘major transition’ or ‘revolution’ (often termed the human revolution). We may leave it to the reader to judge the plausibility of these claims.

Three points may be added. Firstly, that it may be, on the evidence of skeletal remains and those of symbolic activity, that the non-human Neanderthals were capable of speech. So the issue of the ‘language mutation’s single origin remains open. (5) Next, the structures of language as a social product are also formal. The trace of speech in writing has a life of its own. This is sometimes very visible, as grammatical forms in a number of languages only really exist on the page, as in the French passé subjonctif, not to mention the special ‘literary’ forms in written traditions. Finally, one of the possible side-effects of a too Universalist conception of language leads one adrift faced with demands for language rights. This is a key political issue in many countries today, and underlies concerns about the death of speech communities, particularly in ‘tribal’ societies. (6) If we take an extreme Chomskyan view, this hardly matters: all languages are basically the ‘same’.

Human Creativity.

Chomsky’s protests against the Vietnam War, to opposition to powerful states and secret bureaucracies, and his laborious efforts to unravel the “manufacture of consent” to imperial and domestic pro-business policies, have one ‘scientific’ mooring. (7) Chris Knight suggests that a belief in a feature of human nature, a “creative urge” underpins his politics. But it remains bound within the “modular” programming of the innate linguistic facility that shunts to one side the role of social interaction.

If he believes that “force and fraud” constrain the free development of the inherent liberty of the human spirit, he puts his faith in this bedrock trait this as a natural limit on “authoritarian control” (Pages 114 – 115) His libertarian ‘anarchism’ notoriously extended to his ill-considered defence of the Vieille Taupe a publisher/bookshop originally on the French ultra-left that became a promoter of Holocaust deniers, such as Paul Rassinier. (8) Chomsky also defended the internationally better-known Robert Faurisson. But if Chris Knight is to be believed, in this thought-provoking and lucidly written critique, alongside an “instinct for freedom” there is a gaping hole where the social and individual conditions for meaningful co-operation should lie.

*****

(1) Page 238. Through the Language Glass. Guy Deutscher. William Heinemann. 2010.

(2)  Ce que parler veut dire. L’économie des échanges linguistics. Pierre Bourdieu 1982

(3) Guy Deutscher. Ibid.

(4) Origin of language lies in Song. Chris Knight. Weekly Worker 28.01.2016.

(5) Neanderthals could speak like modern humans, study suggests. BBC 2013.

(6)  Endangered Languages Project.

(7) See Knowledge, Morality and Hope: The Social Thought of Noam Chomsky. Joshua Cohen Joel Rogers. New Left Review. First Series. No 187. 1991.

(8) Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers. Werner Cohen. The response: The Faurisson Affair. Noam Chomsky writes to Lawrence K. Kolodney.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 8, 2016 at 12:44 pm