Category: Web exclusive

After just one primary, Bernie Sanders is the most successful socialist politician in the US in 80 years


As someone who enjoys political history and playing around with numbers, here are the vote totals for democratic socialist candidates for US president since 1900, when Eugene Debs first ran. In 1924, the Socialists did not run an independent campaign, and stopped running all together after 1956. Splinter parties, including the Communists, Socialist Labor, Socialist Workers, and the revived Socialist Party after 1980, are not counted and the numbers were always exceptionally low.

In just one primary (New Hampshire) Bernie Sanders has done better than any Socialist candidate since Norman Thomas in 1936.

Counting votes cast in Iowa and Nevada caucuses (not currently available), he’s almost certainly beaten that record.

1900 Debs 87,945
1904 Debs 402,810
1908 Debs 420,852
1912 Debs 901,551 (the best socialist vote ever as a percentage – 6%)
1916 Benson 590,524
1920 Debs 913,693 (the highest ever – running as a federal prisoner)
1928 Thomas 267,478
1932 Thomas 884,885 (a brief Depression-era revival)
1936 Thomas 187,910
1940 Thomas 116,599
1944 Thomas 79,017
1948 Thomas 139,569
1952 Hoopes 20,203
1956 Hoopes 2,044 (after this, the party by 1968 gives up on electoral politics)
2016 Sanders 151,584 (New Hampshire primary only)

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Dr Arieh Yaari, 1918-2005

ariehToday marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Dr Arieh Yaari — socialist, Zionist and fighter for peace.

I first met Arieh in January 1981 when I arrived at Kibbutz Ein Dor as a new immigrant from America.  Arieh and his wife Regina “adopted” me and my family and over the course of the next 17 years, our friendship grew closer and my respect for the man and his work grew deeper. Continue reading

Shock victory for the Left as Tories ousted

Tomorrow is election day here in Britain, and that headline is unlikely to grace the front page of any of our newspapers on the morning after.

But it’s a real headline and it describes what happened yesterday in the Canadian province of Alberta.

The New Democratic Party (NDP), which is a sister party to the British Labour Party and a member party of the Socialist International, just won a historic victory.  The word “historic” is tossed around quite a bit lately, but let me explain by anecdote.

The first and only time I ever visited Alberta was in early 1977.  I arrived in Edmonton planning to spend a couple of days there.  As one does, I went to visit the local NDP, which was a small, sleepy office with one or two people hanging around.

The Provincial Secretary, Ray Martin, had time on his hands and though my visit was unannounced, he was happy to talk me through Alberta politics.  He explained that as the party would be holding its provincial convention in a couple of weeks, I should stick around.  And while in Edmonton, I should check the opening of the provincial parliament, known as the Legislative Assembly.  So I did.

I attended the colourful opening of parliament, and heard the speeches by the conservative government, which were followed by a speech by the lone dissenter, the only NDP member of Alberta’s parliament, Grant Notley.   I met Notley later at the provincial NDP convention, where I delivered greetings from our little group south of the border, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee.  And then I left.

Notley tragically died in a plane crash seven years later.  The party he left behind was stronger, and picked up 16 seats (up from just two) in the election that year.  The leader was Ray Martin, who I’d chatted with just a few years earlier.  It was to be the NDP’s high point, never matched again in what has long been considered Canada’s most right-wing province.

Now fast forward to May 2015.

Yesterday, Notley’s daughter Rachel, who would have been 13 when I visited Edmonton, led the NDP to a landslide victory in the provincial elections.  The party won 55 seats, and the ruling Tories, just 11, in the 87 seat legislature.  

In Canada’s most right-wing province, the democratic socialists are now in power.

So, yes, pigs fly, miracles happen — and one should never, ever give up.

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Kobane is this generation’s Stalingrad

Stalingrad, 1943.

By the summer of 1942, the outcome of the second world war was easy to predict.  The German U-boat operations in the North Atlantic were proving increasingly successful in sinking Allied ships.  In North Africa, Rommel’s forces had taken Tobruk.  And one year into Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht had wrested control of most of the western part of the country.  The forward march of Nazism seemed unstoppable.

For the last several months, news reports about the onward march of the fascists of “Islamic state” have echoed that same sense of inevitability.  Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, fell in June.   Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, fell the next day.  In August, the Yazidi stronghold Sinjar fell.  Every day brought new reports of victories for the Islamists.  ISIS seemed unstoppable.

Until Kobane.

Like Stalingrad, Kobane has become something of a ghost town, battered by shelling and bombing, most of its civilian population having fled.  What remains behind are the determined fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — many of them women.  And those fighters have now fought the fascists to a standstill.

Before Stalingrad, the victory of Hitler seemed highly likely, if not inevitable.  After Stalingrad, the defeat of the Nazis became certain.  From the time the Wehrmacht’s 6th army finally surrendered in February 1943 until the final collapse of the Third Reich in May 1945, the German army never again won a decisive victory.   From then on, the war consisted of a long and bloody retreat back to Berlin.

It is too early to say if this will be the case with Kobane.

Under enormous international pressure, the Erdogan regime in Turkey has finally agreed to allow Peshmerga fighters from the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq to join their fellow Kurds in defending Kobane.  As I write these words, they are on their way.

At the same time, units of the pro-Western Free Syrian Army (FSA) have arrived in Kobane to join the YPG fighters.

And these forces — the YPG, the FSA and the Peshmerga — are being backed by the immense air power of the United States and its allies.  The US is dropping not only bombs, but supplies that have been stiffening resistance in Kobane.

According to one report, “News reached the world on Monday morning that an airdrop by Coalition forces of 27 bundles of arms, ammunition and medical aid had been delivered successfully to the YPG in Kobane. Finally, the long awaited, much-needed arms had been delivered to the YPG guerrillas, much to the dismay of Turkey. All morning, people in the village received the news with satisfaction, proclaiming ‘Long live Obama.’

In doing so, these airdrops repeat the support given by the US to the Soviets during the Second World War.  At that time, there were no US “boots on the ground” in Russia, but there were plenty of supplies coming through.  In fact, it has been argued that part of the reason why Hitler needed to take Stalingrad was to cut off the flow of US supplies and weapons going up the Volga.

A defeat for the Islamists in Kobane doesn’t necessarily deal the fascists a death blow.  It’s more likely that the struggle will see ups and downs, with some victories for the Kurds and their allies, and some for “Islamic state”.

But for the first time in a long time, the fascists are feeling the sting of a strong and motivated resistance.  In Kobane today, the spirit of Stalingrad lives.


38 Degrees: This is NOT democracy

I have just received an email message from 38 Degrees, an online campaigning organization in the UK that claims to have three million members of which, apparently, I am one.  The subject line is “Islamic State” and the message asks me to “vote” on what I think 38 Degrees should do.  I was given this link:

This is not democracy — it is just an online poll.  Where do I, or anyone else, have the chance to engage with other members and try to persuade them of my view?  Where I can I hear their views?   Continue reading

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Hamas has been defeated – now Israel must seize the opportunity

That headline will seem premature to post people, but any strictly military analysis of what’s happened in the last month confirms Hamas’ defeat.

This was supposed to be a war that would see Tel Aviv go up in flames, and Israeli cities were to be flattened by thousands of Hamas rockets. That didn’t happen. Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system worked exceptionally well.

And though Hamas started the war with its missile attacks, it soon lost the initiative to Israel, which attacked Gaza in force. The result was the destruction of hundreds of missiles, the capture of large numbers of Hamas fighters, and the killing of hundreds more.

Hamas’ “secret weapon” — the vast network of attack tunnels to allow its fighters to enter Israel — has been exposed and largely destroyed.

If this had been any other war, at any other time, the results would be clear to all. Israel’s military has won; Hamas has lost.

But this is war in the age of Twitter — and politics has become the extension of war by other means.

While Israeli forces have routed their Hamas opponents on the ground, in the battlefield of global public opinion, Hamas has the upper hand.

This has happened largely because of Israel’s failure to minimize the number of civilians killed on the Palestinian side.

Israel has made huge efforts to do this, including dropping leaflets from the sky, sending text messages to Palestinian families, and even the practice of hitting buildings that are about to the struck with dud warheads, as a warning. No doubt this has reduced the number of civilian deaths. But it has not been good enough, and that’s not me saying that, it’s President Obama.  And he is right.

There can be no more civilian deaths on either side; this has to stop now.

I believe that a ceasefire will happen, sooner or later, even if all the ceasefires so far have been failures. When that ceasefire does come, its terms will confirm what I have already said.

The latest ceasefire (already broken) saw Hamas back down from all its preconditions, agreeing to quiet in exchange for quiet. It accepted that Israeli forces could remain in place, inside Gaza, during the ceasefire.  It agreed that they could continue to destroy tunnels, if those tunnels were behind Israeli lines.

That was a massive capitulation by Hamas, and evidence of its military weakness.

The question now is, what next? What happens after a ceasefire?

This is where the Israeli leadership needs to show courage, and to take some risks. Because in the immediate aftermath of the eventual ceasefire we’re going to get, we have an historic opportunity to break the deadlock.

Netanyahu and the Israeli right are not going to like this, but this will be the perfect moment for Israel to make some big changes to its policies.

  • Instead of refusing to talk to the Hamas-PLO unity government, Israel should join the USA in welcoming its formation, and welcoming it to peace talks.  Israel should apply an updated version of the old Shemtov-Yariv formula which allowed negotiations with any Palestinians who recognized Israel and repudiated terror.
  • Israel should encourage the Palestinian Authority (PA), possibly with Egyptian help, to immediately take control of security in Gaza and to bring a permanent halt to missile attacks on the Jewish state.
  • Israel and Egypt should end the blockade of Gaza, and together with the PA ensure that the flow of weapons from Iran and elsewhere to Gaza ceases immediately. The same measures that are in place today in the West Bank (where no one speaks of a blockade) should be in place in Gaza as well.
  • Israel should welcome the PA’s application to become full members of the United Nations, and should offer to be the first state in the world to welcome a full Palestinian ambassador to present his credentials to the Israeli President in Jerusalem.
  • Israel should announce that it embraces the principles of the Geneva Accord and welcomes the Arab Peace Initiative, is prepared to give up land for peace, and to close down the settlements.

I admit that it’s hard to imagine Netanyahu and his right-wing allies embracing any of these points. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Netanyahu’s party represents a small fraction of Israeli voters (only 20 of the 120 seats in the Knesset are held by the Likud). Alternative ruling coalitions are possible, with or without new elections.

It is not guaranteed that Netanyahu will continue to benefit from high levels of public support. Just as there are signs in Gaza of ordinary people growing tired of Hamas, most Israelis want peace and quiet too.

Whoever leads Israel needs to show the same courage that its soldiers have always shown, and to take risks for peace. Because the alternative — endless war — cannot be allowed to happen.