Category: Solidarity

Proud to be a Zionist

Mapam campaign poster 1944
Mapam campaign poster 1944

Jeremy Corbyn’s brother recently made headlines by tweeting that “#Zionists cant cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. That the tweet took place in the context of a heated discussion about how the Labour Party is coping with increasing allegations of anti-Semitism is not the point. The point is that the word “Zionist” has become toxic on the British Left, and I have a problem with this.

On one of the Sunday morning radio shows, Jonathan Freedland was asked about this. He quoted the Israeli author Amos Oz who said that “Zionist” was like a family name. There always needs to be a first name, such as “Religious Zionist” or “Socialist Zionist”. But Freedland himself, when asked, said he’d rather not use the label “Zionist” to describe his own views as it would just cause confusion.

There are really two approaches to dealing with political labels that become toxic. One is to accept reality and abandon them. The other is to be defiant and embrace them. Continue reading

Trumbo: Stalinists as Victims

Browder.
Earl Browder, American Communist Party leader.

“Trumbo” is a the latest in a series of Hollywood films that looks back nostalgically at the McCarthy era, a time when the good guys were blacklisted writers accused of membership in the Communist Party, and the bad guys were the US government, studio bosses, and right-wing media.

The first of those films was probably “The Way We Were” (1973) starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Made only a few years after blacklisting had ended, when the Cold War was still raging, it became a template for future films on the subject. The film takes place over several decades, as Streisand and Redford fall in and out of love. In the opening scenes, Streisand plays the very young Katie, a committed activist, and is initially shown as campus leader of the Young Communist League (YCL). Continue reading

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The patriotic traitor

petainThe title of Jonathan Lynn’s new play “The Patriotic Traitor” could refer to either of the play’s two protagonists. One, Marshall Philippe Pétain, betrayed France to the Germans in 1940, while believing all the time that was doing so in order to save the country. The other, his disciple and close friend Charles de Gaulle, was branded a traitor by the Vichy regime and sentenced to death when he fled the country for exile, to take on leadership of the Free French forces.

The play, which just opened at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, is a tour de force. The venerable Tom Conti is so good as Pétain that he completely dominates the stage whenever he appears. One wonders if Pétain himself had that same charisma and intelligence. As for de Gaulle, played by Laurence Fox, he comes off as a thoroughly unlikeable character, even if history were to prove him right. Continue reading

The Sanders Revolution

Bernie_Sanders_Madison

This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity.


Sixty years ago, the Socialist Party ran its last presidential campaign in the United States.

In its heyday, the party could capture upwards of a million votes, achieving this result in 1912, 1920 and again in 1932. The best result was the first one, when Eugene V. Debs led the party to six percent of the national vote. But less than a quarter century after Norman Thomas won nearly 900,000 votes at the height of the Great Depression, the total number of votes the Socialist could muster nationwide was a mere 2,044. Its final Presidential candidate, the successor to the legendary Debs and Thomas, was the little-known Darlington Hoopes. Continue reading

What’s wrong with Star Wars?

This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.


starwarsSocialists begin our understanding of culture with Marx’s oft-quoted comments about the ruling ideas of an age being the ideas of the ruling class.

Living under capitalism, we understand that just as we are critical of the structure of the society we live in, and the behaviour of its ruling class, so we are also critical of its cultural and intellectual production. Continue reading

The mass psychology of Islamo-fascism

This article appears in today’s issue of Solidarity.  Please feel free to post comments there.


Wilhelm Reich.
Wilhelm Reich.

There can be little doubt that the murderous ideology of Islamic State is a form of fascism. In discussing how the Left should react to it, it is therefore necessary to return to our sources, to learn how earlier generations of socialists understood – and fought – fascism.

In that fight, Trotsky was of course an inspiring and authoritative figure. As opposed to the Stalinists, who saw no difference between the Nazis and the Social Democrats (and indeed sometimes preferred the Nazis), Trotsky understood fascism to be a mortal danger to the working class. Continue reading

The problem with Bernie Sanders

The Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is probably the most exciting development in US politics since the 1930s. And it’s not a coincidence that both the resurgent left of that decade and the Sanders phenomenon have followed the spectacular economic crashes of 1929 and 2008.

sandersrally

The Sanders campaign is a phenomenon. He’s not only rising rapidly in the polls, posing a clear threat to Hillary Clinton, but he’s raising millions of dollars in small donations and filling arenas with supporters – including in some surprising places, like Phoenix, Arizona. Continue reading

Solidarity with the Kurds – or NATO-bashing?

This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity.


At the November 1st demonstration in Trafalgar Square in support of besieged Kobane, it struck me that the speakers — and more broadly, the Left — were not singing from the same page.

On the one side there were those who were demanding that Britain and NATO do more to help the Kurds fighting against the Islamic fascists of IS. For example, Peter Tatchell led the crowd in chants demanding that David Cameron authorise the dropping of more aid to the Kurds, including weapons. There were calls for Turkey to be suspended from NATO because it, unlike other NATO countries, was not prepared to help the Kurds. And more generally most of the speakers especially the Kurdish ones, had not a critical word to say about the USA, the West, NATO or imperialism. Everyone was focussed on the evil that is “Islamic State”.

On the other side, some of the far-Left speakers went overboard in denouncing NATO, the USA and the West, going so far as claiming that IS was a creation of NATO and Washington.

This was particularly the case with a spokesman for the “Stop the War Coalition” — an organization whose presence at the event surprised many of the participants.

The Coalition’s website has almost nothing at all about the war taking place today in Syria and Iraq and indeed the only reference to it is video of George Galloway denouncing the support NATO is giving to the Kurds. Galloway also voted against this support in the Commons.

It seems to me that elements of the British far Left find themselves in a bit of a bind.

On the one hand, there’s this extraordinary, inspiring resistance movement in Kobane, which has captured the imagination of many who would normally be the natural constituency for the Left. The people on the ground, fighting IS, belong to a movement which was seen, until recently, as part of the broad international Left.

Obviously they deserve our support — and yet that seems to mean supporting the US and British air strikes, supporting NATO.

To get around this, the far Leftists have decided on the “ISIS is NATO” line, which is an extraordinary position — one is almost at a loss for words to describe it.

For those not understanding how IS could be both under NATO attack and simultaneously a creation of NATO, some of the speakers went so far as to say that IS was using American weapons.

The implication was that America gave them weapons.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. The American weapons that have fallen into the hands of IS were taken from the retreating Iraqi army. Taken — not handed over as a gift by the Americans.

One of the anti-NATO, anti-American tirades came from an organisation I’d not previously heard of called the “Revolutionary Communist Group”. (I’m sure that specialists will know the entire history of this micro-sect, but for me it was new.) And groups like this, which get invited to speak at mass rallies, give only a very small piece of their line because they’d be booed off the stage if people knew what they really believed.

The RCG’s speaker shouted the usual stuff about solidarity with the Kurds, but a quick glance at their website shows that they are in fact enthusiastic supporters of the bloody Assad dictatorship and its army. The same Syrian army that abandoned Kobane — an army that no Kurd wants to have back. But there was no mention of that to the largely Kurdish crowd in Trafalgar Square.

So what are people like this, who support Assad and Saddam, who demonize NATO and the USA, doing at these rallies?

They’re there because they can’t afford not to be there. To have nothing to say when the battle of Kobane rages would be unacceptable; they must somehow show solidarity with the embattled Kurds.

But they oppose the very thing — NATO air support — that has made that battle possible. The tide may be turning in Kobane because of US bombing and air drops.

On the ground, some Kurds have been heard chanting “Long live Obama!” How embarrassing for the anti-Americans on the far Left.

These people with their crazy views, denouncing the essential support given by the West to the Kurds, praising Assad and Saddam, have no place at Kurdish solidarity rallies. They are there purely to cover their tracks, to provide themselves with some kind of moral cover as IS continues with its murderous rampage across Syria and Iraq.

We should give them no platform.