Written by: JT White
- November 2, 2014
It is no coincidence that the decline of the Left as an organising force has been followed by various forms of depoliticisation. It has come in the form of moralism as well as in the culturalisation of politics. Not only class, but race, gender, and sexuality, have been reduced to ethical and cultural questions. It’s a kind of ‘lifestyle’ politics, not even identity politics. As if all we have to do is change our personal conduct and private attitudes then the system will be rendered humane. It’s all a matter of self-regulation, chiefly in language.
If we take privilege-checking, it’s about who has the legitimacy to talk first and foremost. The demand to ‘check your privilege’ will be thrown at anyone for a multitude of reasons. If you fall into an intersection of privileged groups then you can find yourself on the receiving end of this demand. Of course, there is a serious point worth considering. People ought to reflect upon the advantaged position in which they were born and act responsibly. But that’s not what we’re talking about.
No-platforming is not so far away from ‘calling out’ someone on their privilege. Not only is privilege-checking sanctimonious and censorious, it is essentially reformist in its ad hominem attacks. If we take it seriously then its aim is to delegitimize the voices of the privileged and empower those who are underprivileged. So it’s about shifting the discourse, but not very far from what we have already. It’s perfectly conceivable that there are figures who can speak without the baggage of ‘privilege’. It doesn’t make them automatic allies of the Left.
It’s not really about resolving social problems. It’s about reshaping the discourse at best. It smacks of the kind of regulatory measures preferred by liberals. If we can vet the speakers on the basis of privilege then we’ll have a better discourse. It loses sight of the possibility that there is a structural problem with the kind of society in which we live. It’s not enough to challenge privilege and demand that it limits its reach. It won’t go away overnight. It’s the modesty of these aims which the Left should criticise.
If we are radicals then we don’t want to keep privilege in check because we don’t think such privileges should exist. Therefore we are for the abolition of privilege and not the maintenance of such privilege in any way. This calls for more than ‘shouting down’ illegitimate voices. It takes collective action, which requires coordination. The question of organisational form still hangs over the Left long after the Soviet Union collapsed. Perhaps it is the face of this question that the Left would rather turn towards moralism.
Written by: JT White
- August 23, 2014
In a matter of a few weeks Scotland will decide on its future. The Left seems to have lined up behind the Yes-side of the referendum on Scottish independence. We should be asking ourselves, what is the case for unionism here? Surely, there has to be a progressive case here. After all, the Union stood firm against the rising tide of Fascism in the early decades of the twentieth century.
First of all, it has to be affirmed that there is a fundamental principle – the right to self-determination – which is without question. If the Scottish people demand an independent sovereign Scotland then they are entitled to it. The English don’t have a right to impose a form of government not accepted by Scots over Scotland. This goes to the heart of democratic concerns.
What we might call ‘red patriotism’, or traditional revolutionary patriotism, as Hobsbawm called it, has its time and place. English nationalism was tapped into by both Winston Churchill and JB Priestley. The war against fascism coincided with forces vying for the future of the social order. The people who had seen the worst of the 1930s did not want to return to those days and wanted a better life. This is why in 1945 the national government under Churchill’s leadership helped to win the war, but the Labour Party won the election. It marked the beginning of three decades of social democracy.
It was in the Union that the Welsh and Scottish people found a voice in British political life, not through nationalist organisation, but through the opposition – the Liberals and Labour. It was only with the decline of the post-war establishment and rise of Thatcherism, coupled with the death of Empire, that the Labour Party pursued devolution. Then Scottish nationalism became a contender. This should not surprise us. So a vital part of the picture is the rise of neoliberalism.
The neoliberal context
The question of Scotland’s viability is not so uncertain. The country has a GDP per capita of over £24,000. No doubt Scotland would undergo economic reform in order to reorder the institutions which underlie its standing. The real issue is what exactly an independent Scotland will look like.
It seems plausible that an independent Scotland would be opened up to international forces and exposed to the full brunt of neoliberal reforms. This might even be the case if Scotland heads for greater integration into the European system. The power of monetary policy may still be held by Whitehall and this could constrain any government in its policies. Likewise it would be possible for corporations, and even small-scale businesses, to hold the state to ransom – threatening to disinvest the fledgling economy – to shift policy in their own favour. The English government could easily initiate a race to the bottom on fiscal policy with Scotland forcing down its rate of tax and expenditure.
The possibility of a flat-tax haven north of England shouldn’t be dismissed as we have seen the same thing happen in Ireland (where there always was a much stronger nationalist/republican case). Michael Portillo has described this as the Tory case for Scottish independence. He argues it would thrust Scotland into the cold winds of global competition and, by the looks of Brussels these days, we can see how independence may lead to greater neoliberal reform and not less.
This is a point that can’t be dismissed easily as the national takes shape within the international. Contrary to the claims of nationalists globalisation does not oppose nation-states, or even nationalism. Sovereignty of national bodies has long been embedded in a global economic context. Just as the freedom and sovereignty of the individual is not absolute, neither is that of the body national. Capital can easily exploit the proliferation of borders in a world already too bifurcated. This is the reason Scotland will remain within the EU and its currency will remain sterling after independence.
The prospects for distribution
We shouldn’t kid ourselves about the Barnett formula. It’s not the case that there is a ‘trickle-down’ of wealth from the financial colossus in the City of London; but there is a case for widespread redistribution within the Union. It may be said that the United Kingdom has a greater pool of tax revenues together and from the 1940s to the 70s there was a modicum of distributional change. This led to the workers’ share of GDP rising to a peak in the late 60s and early 70s. The battle to restore profitability to the system, firstly, by the Labour government of the late 70s and then by the Thatcher administration ultimately succeeded. Since then the workers’ share of GDP has stagnated while the bosses’ share has skyrocketed.
However, once independent, Scotland would not necessarily have access to capital if a programme of redistribution were secured. The Glasgow Media Group calculated that the top layer of income-earners in the UK – around 10% of the population – were sitting on around £4 trillion in wealth in 2010. The vast amounts of capital amassed over the generations and concentrated in southern English hands would largely remain in London. The potential for redistribution would be left stunted and Scotland would be on the receiving end of a self-imposed scarcity. Under such conditions it seems likely that the Scottish government would take the side of one class over another.
It can certainly be argued that the Union has done much to preserve inequality in Scotland, where the richest 10% now have 273 times as much wealth than the poorest 10%. The richest 100 men and women increased their wealth from £18 billion to £21 billion in 2012. Just in terms of land ownership there is immense inequality in Scotland. Out of the rural landscape, which makes up 94% of Scottish land, a little over 83% of it is privately owned. Out of a population of over 5.2 million people less than a 1,000 people control 60% of the country. It seems plausible that the social inequalities preserved in Scotland by the Union would remain and could potentially be deepened by independence. So the strongest case for Scottish independence has to be a socialist case and not a nationalist one.
Except the world situation seems to make a socialist Scotland unlikely. In the distributional struggle inside the EU the biggest sparks of resistance have been in Spain and Greece. The disenchantment elsewhere in Europe, including in the UK, has not translated into electoral change. This matters because Scottish independence could well open up a new distributional struggle in the country. In the absence of a mass movement capable of waging a fight for workers’ rights the conservative tendencies of the SNP may win in the end.
Written by: Reuben - July 5, 2014
In recent days there has bee mounting excitement about a dossier compiled in the 1980s that was handed over to then home secretary Leon Britten before allegedly disappearing. The dossier is said to have contained allegations about a multitude of high ranking peadophiles in and around Westminster. The fact that the dossier can no longer be found has lead to rumours that a cover-up took place, allegedly to protect people in high places.
It must be said that the whole affair begins to look rather different once you learn a bit about the origins this dossier. It’s author, Geoffrey Dickens MP, has been described in all media reports, as a campaigner against a child abuse. This he was. He was also, however, a campaigner against witchcraft, and satanism, and against the decision by a previous government to repeal the 1735 Witchcraft Act – which he believed had made it a little too easy for evil to flourish. Of course these things were not unrelated, since like many people in the 1980s, Dickens was hooked on the idea that up and down the country children were being subjected to Satanic Ritual Abuse - a phenomenon now universally regarded as a moral panic with little-to-no basis in fact
In 1988 he told She Magazine that “up and down the country” hundreds of Children were being “sacrificed” to the devil. Interestingly, he said he was building up a dossier which he hoped would provide concrete proof of the evils of satanism, which he would be handing on to the police. As the religion blogger Bartholemew notes he pressed for the introduction of new laws against witchcraft, stating that ““If we are to protect children from their sordid, sexual and diabolical grasp, we must bring in new laws to wipe witches off the face of the earth”.
In 1983 Dickens called on Brittan to investigate pedophilia at the royal court, buckhingham palace and in the diplomatic and civil services. It is impossible, right now, to know what was in that dossier – was it packed full of credible evidence, or was it dross about witches and satanists. Yet it is worth noting, that Dickens retained his own copy of the dossier, and remained alive for another decade, and was hardly shy about getting in touch with the media, if he felt (often wrongly) that had something credible to offer them.
What is worth considering, as we look back at the 1980s and beyond, is the extent to which the widespread panic about Satanic Ritual Abuse has been written out of the story. The current narrative is a simple one. In the bad old days child abuse was ignored, and we enlightened moderns are now going to shine a light on it. Undoubtedly there is a large element of truth in this. Social and sexual hierarchies did prevent victims speaking out and being believed (and still do). But the picture is also more complicated than that. At the same time that real victims were being disbelieved, a panic about non-existent Satanic Ritual Abuse became so widespread that even the NSPCC lent credibility to it, and parents who were falsely believed to be engaged in abusive satanic practices lost custody over their children. This had some connection to the rise of the moral majority and political Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic – Dickens began his anti-witchcraft speech by calling on Christians to “unite in prayer, word and deed to condemn Satanism”. Undoubtedly a great number of uncredible theories and allegations were generated in this period. If we are to shine a light upon the horrors of the past, we should do so with care.
To contact Reuben email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Reuben - April 28, 2014
Doing the same thing and expecting different results is not, in truth, a sign of madness. Indeed it is a near-universal human trait, and one that can become more pronounced when we are faced with the apparent inevitability of adverse events – such as an impending Ukip victory in the upcoming Euro elections.
For a good three years, opponents of Farage have focused their energy on “exposing UKIP for what it really is”. That meant giving maximum publicity to any racist, sexist or homophobic sentiment uttered by any Ukip councillor. This shouldn’t surprise us: sitting on twitter and waiting for somebody to say the wrong thing has become a much-loved form of political activism amongst the contemporary left.
Yet, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have noticed that this strategy hasn’t really succeeded. Despite multiple exposés, the party’s polling has gone from strength to strength. And thus it is rather curious that the dominant response to UKIP potentially triumphing in the elections is more of the same – more expressions outrage over what was tweeted by some parish councillor that nobody’s heard of, backed up by attempts to rehash Hope not Hate’s succesful campaign against the BNP in 2010.
Well, it’s not going to work. Partly, it’s not going to work because, whisper it, UKIP isn’t BNP-lite. I don’t doubt that they’ve got a fair few of councillors who share many sentiments with Nick Griffin. But Nick Griffin, if I remember correctly, didn’t have a record of expelling, suspending and deselecting candidates who were exposed as racists. And Farage is cleverer than Griffin – he played his hand well when he condemned the “go home” vvans, and called on Britain to accept Syrian immigants. Rather than attempting to frame Farage as Nick Griffin lite, we ought be exposing him as an advocate of Thatcherism on Steroids – a type of politics that also has the capacity to repel large numbers of right minded folk.
A case in point is the recent poster campaign suggesting that migration was throwing Brits into unemployment. This campaign wasn’t racist, except from a perspective that sees any opposition to immigration as inherently racist. Now that perspective might have some validity. But it also implies that 95% of the political spectrum – that is to say, anybody who believes in some form immigration control – is racist. In other words, it is hardly a basis for asserting that Ukip are beyond the pale.
A better approach would be to point out the rank hypocrisy of Farage shedding tears over the plight of the unemployed working man. His party wants to make it easier for you to be fired at will. The party, in the words of its spokesman, “would legislate to ensure the scope of claims which can be heard by tribunals will be greatly reduced”. In the economy as a whole, they support unfettered free market policies which would inevitably lead to recurring bouts of mass joblessness. And far from wanting to protect the British worker from cheap competition, they want Britain to leave the EU precisely so that it can conclude more free trade deals with the worlds low wage economies.
This is potentially the Achilles Heel of Farage’s populist appeal. Whereas Marine Le Pen backs up her populism with a comprehensive alternative to free market globalisation – based on protectionism and state intervention – Farage remains a down the line Thatcherite, to an extent that makes even David Cameron look soft. This is a politics that we can oppose. But it will take more than sneering and moral outrage.
To contact Reuben email email@example.com
Written by: Salman Shaheen
- March 27, 2014
Thousands lined the streets to pay tribute to the late, great Bob Crow on Monday. With even his opponents gushing praise for a trade union leader who fought hard for his members, was resolute in his principles and above all brilliant at his job, it’s hard to imagine that scarcely more than a month ago much of the mainstream media’s reaction to the Tube strikes had us believe London was in the midst of the Blitz. That there was an intractable foe to fight through humble perseverance. Millions of stoic, stalwart Londoners defying the tyrannical Bob Crow by going about their daily business in true wartime spirit.
But that rhetoric, which will surely rise again as Crow is laid to rest, belies the fact that more than 65% of London Underground users, despite being inconvenienced, believed the strike was justified.
Not that any of the main political parties are listening. David Cameron condemned the campaign to save 1,000 jobs as “shameful”, as if it were nothing more than a riotous night out for the Bullingdon Club. Ed Miliband, as with so many other Tory assaults on public services, was been conspicuously silent.
Reaction to the tube strikes show just how out of touch Britain’s leaders are with the concerns of ordinary people. Their policies are overwhelmingly geared towards the interests of the super-rich 1%, while they are at best ignorant to the demands of the 99%, and at worst antagonistic to them.
Nowhere can this democratic deficit be seen more starkly than over the issue of public ownership. Sick of ever rocketing rail fares in an industry that could only ever be run as regional monopolies, 90% of people want to see the railways renationalised. And yet, prioritising the interests of business over ordinary voters, none of the three main parties are offering such a clearly popular and necessary policy.
Hot on the heels of egregious price hikes from the Big Six, 68% of people now want to see the energy companies brought back into public ownership. But where are the Big Three parties? Cameron’s answer is to slash vital green and social measures, Miliband’s is a paltry 20 month price freeze, while Britain’s poorest people are freezing in their homes.
Left Unity was founded with the backing of Ken Loach in November last year in answer to the serious crisis of representation in British democracy. Established as a socialist, environmentalist and feminist party by and for the 99%, it has already attracted more than 1,400 members. With 200 people joining in the last month alone, Left Unity is among the UK’s fastest growing political parties.
Left Unity will seek to challenge the right-wing of Labour to fight hard for the votes of the working class people it has abandoned. But it is far more than just an electoral project. It is already engaged in campaigns against the bedroom tax, fracking and hospital closures. In Waltham Forest it is defending a soup kitchen, in Exeter and Birmingham Left Unity students have been helping to organise the occupations in protest over the privatisation of student loans. Left Unity students in Glasgow were centrally involved in the campaign for Edward Snowden to become university rector.
Of course it is easy for political parties in opposition to say what they are against. Far more difficult to spell out exactly what they are for. But this Saturday, March 29th, Left Unity will be holding its first annual National Conference in Manchester where we will begin to set out our policies and manifesto for 2015.
Pulling together a united left opposition to austerity in a democratic party build by volunteer activists from the bottom up is not an easy task. But we’ve come a long way in the last year. We hope you will join us as we take the next step in that journey.
Like Compass, Left Unity is seeking to create a more equal, more sustainable and more democratic society. As such, I hope we can work with Compass members, with the People’s Assembly, with the left in Labour, with the Greens, with the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition that Bob Crow supported and with all those opposed to austerity to achieve our common objectives. Competition is for the business world, cooperation must be the basis of a more equal society.
It’s not the spirit of the Blitz we need to recapture if we’re to forge that better, more equal society, but the spirit of ’45.
This article was originally written for the Compass blog
Written by: JT White
- March 7, 2014
Western journalists claim Putin wants to ‘rebuild the Soviet Union’.
What’s wrong with this picture?
If we want to understand Putin’s Russia we have to look at the way the Russian Federation emerged from the tumultuous collapse of the USSR. Not simply a mindless KGB thug Putin was a supporter of Gorbachev and opposed the Communist attempt to overthrow Mikhail Sergeyevich and turn back the tide in 1991. The possibility of a new order was realistic in those days. Gorbachev had initiated a modicum of reform. The bloody war in Afghanistan was over. It looked as if the US might actually want a settlement on missiles. Bush had promised Gorbachev that he wouldn’t expand NATO any further eastwards. No wonder then that the majority of Russians, along with Putin, were on the side of glasnost and perestroika.
The Russian President Boris Yeltsin used this to his advantage. He was the right man for the time and the wrong man for Russia. Around this time the Bush administration was busy backing nationalists in Yugoslavia and had adjusted its aid policy to back secession to break up Tito’s dream of a state for all Southern Slavs. In the same way George HW Bush took the side of Russian nationalism to break up the Soviet Union. The great reformer Gorbachev had become a hindrance to be thrown on the wayside. The US sought to align itself with Boris Yeltsin. The Russian people flocked to Yeltsin after he became a political centre of gravity for democrats in the midst of the botched coup. It wouldn’t last. The real agenda had nothing to do with ideals of democracy.
The preference was for a selection of tiny fractured states which could easily be picked off one by one and subjected to economic underdevelopment. This matched Yeltsin’s personal aims for power and grandeur. In a series of manoeuvres Yeltsin cut deals with the leaders of Soviet republics, including Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, and saw the Soviet Union dissolved. This is one of the ironies of the present crisis in Ukraine. The coalition of neoliberals and ultra-nationalists who seized power form Yanukovich have done so to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and closer to the EU and NATO powers. Yet it was nationalism followed by neoliberal prescriptions which have led to this conjunction of rebellion and incursion. It’s very likely that the people of Ukraine will not be served by these events as we can see from recent Russian history.
Within a week of Gorbachev’s resignation the new path was embarked upon. The Russian Parliament gave the President free reign to implement an economic programme of deregulation and privatisation. Yeltsin had the advice of the economist Jeffrey Sachs and such creatures of the market as Larry Summers. The plan was to establish the conditions for a market society as fast as possible. First the price controls were eliminated. The resulting hyperinflation quickly ate through the savings of most Russians. This was soon followed with a rapid privatisation of over 200,000 state-run companies. The Russian people suffered for this and the devaluation of the rouble, millions fell into unemployment and even those working were not guaranteed a wage. Every Russian was given vouchers to buy shares in the newly private companies. Desperate for cash most people sold their vouchers cheaply to ruthless businessmen. But it was just the beginning.
After a year of ruling by decree Yeltsin faced the first signs of opposition from the Parliament. With the approval of Washington the Russian President dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution. When the parliamentarians occupied the building in protest Washington backed his decision to besiege the building with tanks and shell them into submission. The economic reforms were taken further. Even more controls on prices were removed (going as far as to remove controls on basic food goods like bread), state expenditure on social services was slashed to the bone, and the pace of privatisation was raised. Yeltsin found his real constituents in the emergent bourgeoisie – later to be dubbed ‘the oligarchs’ – who, with his help, were stripping $2 billion out of the country every month. He undersold enormous industrial assets and resources to these people at sometimes less than 2% of their real value.
What was the end result of all this? By the end of the decade 74 million people were plunged into poverty, with 37 million living in poverty ranked as ‘desperate’. Meanwhile Moscow became the home city to the most billionaires of any other city in the world. In 1999 Boris Yeltsin was a barely functioning figurehead with a coterie of close advisors and cronies around him known to the press as ‘the family’. It included oligarchs like Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky. It would be this same coterie which selected Putin to succeed Yeltsin. It was appealing as the Kremlin was wracked with corruption scandals and Putin was the head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB. The oligarchs thought they could control him and use him as a battering-ram against their enemies who were looking to crack down on corruption. Putin was soon made Prime Minister. Terror attacks in Russia gave Putin the opportunity to wage war on Chechnya and boost his popularity.
The oligarchs expected Putin to be compliant and follow the Yeltsin plan of handing over Russia’s vast wealth of resources to them and their friends. Putin became President in 2000 after Yeltsin’s resignation was secured by the oligarchs. Putin had been underestimated by his allies. He soon consolidated his position and turned on them. Boris Berezovsky fled to London to escape arrest. He was soon joined by other oligarchs. Putin smashed his old allies and set out to strengthen his position as a Hobbesian force of order and stability after the disarray of the 1990s. He has aligned himself to oligarchs running the energy industry. The role of the state would now be reasserted and buttressed with tough populist appeals to chauvinism. Putin stands as the man who can flush out all the “problems” facing Russian society, whether it’s Chechen terrorists, corrupt oligarchs, or more recently homosexuals. He’ll even keep the factories running on schedule.
Now with Putin in the Kremlin the West is much more nostalgic for the days when Boris Yeltsin ran a money laundering operation out of that very building. There was never much scorn in Western governments for Russia for its savagery towards the Chechens and their bid for independence. Instead the Russian state is to be demonised for its incursions into Georgia in 2008 and, of course, Ukraine in 2014. Yet the killing of tens of thousands of people in Chechnya, since 1994, on and off, hardly gets substantive coverage in the Western media. The real problem Putin’s Russia poses for the EU and NATO is that Moscow is much less willing to accept the expansion of NATO outposts to border-states. The Russian Federation has a brutal government, but it is not feared or loathed because for its brutality, it is despised because it stands as an abandonment of Yeltsin’s market reforms and an opponent to US influence in its old backyard.
Written by: JT White
- February 11, 2014
The predominance of so-called ‘self-service’ machines in supermarkets should worry those concerned by the depredations of the market. The ‘self-service’ machines turn us into unpaid employees for a Tesco, or a Morrison’s, or a Sainsbury’s, and even a wholesome Waitrose. The fact of the matter is that it is a service to Tesco, not ourselves, for the most part, to man the till in the place of a paid worker. It is another way in which the rinsing of people, as workers and consumers, to amass huge profits – and it means worse and worse working conditions and job prospects for vast numbers of people. With all that said, it is unavoidable given the pace at which we have to live, that we are going to avoid queuing for longer (unless we have a tobacco habit), and we can’t find an exit point in waiting longer. Notice that the fetish of ‘free-choice’ actually offers little in the way of quality, and even less in the way of consultation.
Before we go any further I ought to do some throat-clearing: the kind of jobs available to people in supermarkets should be romanticised, they are not examples of fulfilling work by and large. Nevertheless, it has to be said that once such an area of job opportunities is closed off it will leave behind a section of people who had little other immediate option to working in a supermarket. The innovation of ‘self-service’ machines really allow businesses to discard labour in the endless attempt to pull in enough labour to squeeze dry, but not too much as it encumber the maximalisation of profits. Important aside: profits are by definition what is leftover after the cost of labour is taken into account, before that point its just revenue. The contradiction faced by businesses is in the need to scrap labour to save money, while at the same time drag in even more of it to keep up productivity. The workers are a burden, but at the same time they are invaluable to the economy, they are a cost to be cut, and the source of mountainous revenue.
It is not the case that the prices of food have fallen since this innovation of the marketplace. Yet the liberal accounts of technological progress would have us believe that the betterment of life overall will come out of the liberating capacities of technology. Its a convenient viewpoint, for a liberal or even a Fabian, there is no need for radical change as the evolution of technology will gradually perfect us and perfect our society. If the ‘self-service’ machines are to be installed then the goods should be cheaper, and if not, then the employees of the supermarket should have a higher wage. Neither is the case. Not only do they take our money for over-priced products they make extra money by not hiring the staff to man the tills. It’s yet another instance of the rationality of the market really amounting to irrationality. The business can depend on human beings to act against their own interests, to work for free, to buy over-priced garbage, and ultimately to contribute to the further enrichment of those layabouts convinced of their own brilliance – the crust of wealth hoarders.
Only under particular conditions would self-service actually be conducive to social betterment. The companies could probably be cooperatised, we could each be hired and have a slice of the profits if we are to be engaged in any meaningful kind of self-service. The right to work has to be enforced if there is to be full employment and equitable standards of living enabling each person to lead fulfilling lives instead of living to fulfill the lives of a tiny few. Under conditions of universality and mutuality these machines would be of better social use. It might actually free people from a mind dulling role standing by counters, leaving them to more authentic pursuits, and not just tossing them on the wayside to rot. Otherwise the machine is a bloody con, for consumers, and for workers. In the meantime one can hope that the managers will be replaced by machine innovation sooner rather than later. Now that would be progress of a kind.
Written by: JT White
- January 16, 2014
Few satirists could have conceived of such a scene. It was too perfect in its surreal edge. With Ariel Sharon lying entombed, Tony Blair took his position at the nearby podium and gave one of his usual performances. Sporting a yarmulke, most unnaturally, Tony oozed counterfeit solemnity “The same iron determination he took to the field of war he took to the chamber of diplomacy. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.”
I wander what kind of ‘iron determination’ it takes to slaughter 69 unarmed and defenceless villagers of Qibya. Sharon later claimed that his men had no idea there were still people living in the homes that they were bombarding with gunfire and grenades. It was this sort of conduct that led David Ben-Gurion to dub the young man “a pathological liar”. No doubt the twenty to fifty unarmed and defenceless refugees killed at al-Bureig were witnesses to similar displays of iron. Both took place in 1953 at the hands of Unit 101 led by the departed commander on ‘reprisal’ attacks. We’re talking retaliation for the deaths of two or three people probably. Today the Israeli military still lacks a sense of proportionality, let alone any comprehension of the immorality of revenge. It was just the beginning for young Arik. He would soon be storming across the Sinai alongside Anglo-French forces determined to snatch back the Suez Canal.
Wherever the man went there seemed to be Arabs falling to the ground dead. At the battle of Mitla 260 Egyptians were left dead. The battle became a subject of controversy (a euphemism in common usage) as some claimed Sharon deliberately engaged in unauthorised aggression. General Sharon would later return to the Sinai with Israel’s most powerful forces in 1967 at the battle of Abu-Ageila. Then in the Yom Kippur War, Sharon disobeyed the orders of his superiors and instead set out to engage the Egyptian army across the Suez Canal. In doing so the General initiated a turning point in the war and was set in time as a hero of military might from then on. The fact that the General had graduated by then to terrorizing the inhabitants of Gaza and north-eastern Sinai isn’t so heroic. It went as far as expelling 10,000 farmers, bulldozing their homes, and destroying their farmland to make way for settlement. This is how Sharon earned the title of Bulldozer.
Around this time the Bulldozer had become enamoured with an array of right-wing forces taking shape into what would become the Likud Party. Ever mercurial, Sharon jumped at the chance to advise a Labour Zionist government before attempting to stand as the Likud candidate for 1977 only to find he wasn’t the favourite. He had been refused any support by mainstream parties, so he founded a small party to win himself a seat, and managed to barter his way into Begin’s Likud government. Sharon was the Minister of Agriculture for 4 years before being promoted to Minister of Defence. That was his proper place after all. Notably, as right-wing as Menachem Begin was he did believe in the rule of law to some extent and torture almost stopped for 4 years. The hiatus came to a close when the Bulldozer became Defence Minister.
The new Defence Minister had his priorities in order. Time interviewed Sharon and he showed no time for throat-clearing and spoke bluntly “I believe that the starting point for a solution is to establish a Palestinian state in that part of Palestine that was separated from what was to become Israel in 1922 and which is now Jordan.” He had known from early on that the Palestinians had to be restricted to cantons in order for settlements to be expanded further and further. The end was an Israel with its territory stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. But he knew he could not do this alone.
When it came to regional power Lebanon became the battleground for Israel and Syria and the various forces aligned to either side and those caught in between. The General took the side of the Maronite Christian militias and especially the Phalange Party founded by Pierre Gemayel out of admiration for Hitler. The aim of a client state in Lebanon was what spurred Sharon to action. Then came the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. It just so happened that the camp of Palestinian refugees was under Sharon’s watchful gaze when the Phalange came to flush out the “terrorists”. The Israeli troops stood by and watched for nearly 3 days as the rampage snuffed the life out of 1,700 human beings. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.
This is a rather light overview of the atrocities Sharon committed. Why then would he be heralded as a ‘peacemaker’ exactly? Anyone with this record would expect to never hold such a prominent position ever again. He lost his job after much protest, but he bided his time. After the failures of the Labour governments of the 1990s and amidst the Second Intifada the old man took advantage of the rightward lurch overtaking the country. He pledged no negotiations with the Palestinians until the Intifada ended. The so-called “peace plan” that Sharon proposed, and partially initiated, amounted to relinquishing 42% of the West Bank and establishing a ‘security barrier’ (longer than the Berlin Wall) to annex around 50% of the occupied territories. To this end Sharon reinvented himself as a man of peace and transferred around 9,000 Gaza settlers to the Negev and the West Bank. It’s clear what the real prize was in his mind.
Written by: Reuben - December 26, 2013
As we made plans for the post-Christmas sales, a friend asked me if I remembered the young man who was “killed for a pair of trainers” on boxing day two years ago. I did indeed remember the killing of Seydou Diarrassouba in footlocker on Oxford Street. I remembered how the image of two young black men fighting over a pair of trainers was etched into the popular imagination. And I remembered, having followed the subsequent murder trial, that this killing had nothing to do trainers, or indeed any other consumer commodity.
Perhaps the most revolting response to the death of Seydou Diarrassouba came from the Independent. Regular columnist Mary Dejevsky explained that the killings highlighted a deeper problem: namely that it was now all too easy for youths from London’s poorer, rougher districts to get into the West End. Oxford Street, she wrote, “has its rougher end”:
And the improved transport of recent years has a less acknowledged downside: the Tube will whisk you to Oxford Street in minutes from a variety of less salubrious locales, as will a veritable fleet of buses. When a new tram was introduced in Strasbourg, connecting neglected estates east and west, one consequence was a rise in city-centre crime.
Yet the major talking point, in the aftermath of the killing, was the trainers. Virtually every newspaper claimed, erroneously, that the pair were fighting over a pair of trainers. The Sun, of course, went one step further and claimed that the fight was said to have erupted over “which pair of trainers to steal”. And thus society proceeded to wring it’s hands over the pointless acquisitiveness of young (black) men for designer gear, and it’s tragic consequences.
Only when the case came to court did it become apparent that this death had nothing to do with trainers. Jermaine Joseph, a young black man from Tottenham, was found not guilty on grounds of self-defence. He had been embroiled in a long-running feud with Seydou Diarrassouba, and was in footlocker because he had been chased into the shop.
This was not simply a case of bad jouralism combined confusing events. Nor can the prominence of the “trainer” angle be attributed simply to the fact that the stabbing took place in footlocker. After all, when white people bottle each other in pubs, we don’t tend to presume that they were having a fight over the last drop of whiskey.
No, the way in which this death was represented, reflects the way in which our society pathologises black people who desire good clothes and nice things. Mainstream British culture is dominated by a middle class that is selectively puritannical. We readily congratulate some people for achieving a high standard of living, whilst others are condemned as vulgar, tasteless and materialistic. That is why you hear pampered, waspy private school girls complain about the “Asian Princesses” or “Jewish princesses” with whom they share their schools.
Yet by far the greatest contempt is reserved for the young black man who has the temerity to dress above his station. The term “bling” emerged from within hip-hop culture – and came to describe, a knowing, self-conscious, sometimes deliberately OTT fashion for (literally) flashy jewellery. It emerged in a culture in which black self-love, and pride in one’s appearance, constituted something racially radical, in a society dominated by white beauty standards.
Yet in the mouths of too many white people, the term “bling” connotes a contempt for the other: for what is perceived as the dumb acquisitiveness of young black men, and for poor sartorial taste of those who cover themselves in shiny objects – because, of course, only white hipsters have the capacity to do something in a knowing, self-concious or deliberately OTT fashion.
The killing of Seydou Diarrassouba was, of course, not the only moment in 2011 when newspapers were filled with the discussion of young black men and trainers. In August that year, many commentators had explained the London Riots as though they were a collective attempt to loot trainers. Even Liberal-left commentators told us that the riots were a manifestation of our consumerist society, or of greed trickling down to the urban poor. In short, our tendency to imagine black consumer culture as peculiarly pathological stood in place of all of the big questions raised by this massive social upsurge.
The senseless death of Seydou Diarrassouba ought to make us distraught and angry. But so too should the trivialization of his death. And so too should a society that continues to humiliate black men for wanting to look good and have nice things.
To contact Reuben email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Owen
- December 13, 2013
In case you missed it, Channel 4 News on Wednesday featured a head-to-head debate about that day’s Cops Off Campus protest (and the violent confrontations between students and police which prompted it) between University of London Union Officer Maham Hashmi and a Tory politician called Richard Tracey. This discussion was notable chiefly for a section at the beginning where, talking about this video of a policeman punching a student to the ground, Tracey apparently suggests that it’s fine for police officers to assault people, provided it wasn’t them who struck the first blow, and this goes essentially unchallenged by presenter Cathy Newman (transcript below is from 0:17 to 1:31):
CN: Richard Tracey, when you look at the footage of police punching a protester, I assume you’d be concerned about that?
RT: Yes, I mean, when you look at it, erm, as a clip, in a report from yourselves, or from some other stations, absolutely. But of course, it then needs, really to, you need to see what caused that and if of course that policeman had already been punched by somebody then he was going to retaliate. [Emphasis added.] It is very difficult being a policeman, particularly in a protest situation, where the protest is not peaceful. I mean, it is peaceful protest that we are all very happy about and we don’t complain about that.
CN: But is it good enough for the Met Police to say, well, no officer has been disciplined, would you like them to look at it in a little bit more detail?
RT: Well, I assume there is some more investigation going on internally, knowing the Metropolitan Police as I do, I’m sure that is happening, because they are really pretty stringent on that sort of thing, but it is perhaps quite a surprise that they haven’t said that they are taking some specific investigation of it all.
I had to replay that clip a few times to check I hadn’t misheard, but no – he really, genuinely does say that if someone punches a police officer, it’s perfectly understandable for that officer to punch someone themselves in retaliation. Note that he doesn’t even require the officer to be punching the person that hit them – apparently anyone standing nearby who you don’t like the look of will do.
How the left should view the police is of course a controversial question, but it’s not necessary for you to have an inherently negative view of the police for the absurdity of this view to be obvious. Even if you take the uncritical view that the police’s job is and should be keeping the peace and enforcing law and order, it’s pretty hard to see where punching people in the face fits in with that. Let’s imagine that someone did punch that police officer immediately before the recording started, as Richard Tracey suggests. Let’s even be generous, and imagine that the person who punched the police officer is the same person shown on video being punched to the ground themselves, rather than just someone standing nearby. (Just to reiterate, there is as yet literally zero evidence for any of this, but let’s imagine it for the sake of argument.) Would that then make it legitimate for the police officer to punch them back? Of course not. If someone punches a police officer, then the appropriate response for the police (again, assuming a totally uncritical view of the police’s role in society) is to arrest that person – or, if they’re still a threat, to incapacitate them with the minimum force necessary. Punches to the face very definitely aren’t minimum force.
In addition, of course, Tracey only calls for indulgence and understanding when it comes to the police officer’s actions, not those of the students, whose feelings might be running a teensy bit high too, what with them being in the middle of a violent eviction and everything. And this despite the obvious point that police officers are supposed to be carefully trained not to lose control in violent situations – that is, after all, kind of important if your supposed role is to keep the peace – so suggesting that retaliation in this situation (in our hypothetical world where the police officer actually was retaliating) is understandable doesn’t really cut it.
And to think people claim Channel 4 news has a leftwing bias…