Archive for the ‘Web exclusive’ Category

Ken Livingstone in Tel Aviv

Monday, April 10th, 2017

In November 1986, Ken Livingstone visited Israel as the guest of Mapam (the United Workers’ Party). He toured the country, appeared on national television, met Knesset members, visited a kibbutz and spoke with Mapam activists in the party headquarters in Tel Aviv. I was there, and had a chance to conduct a half-hour interview with Livingstone afterwards.

Livingstone was impressed by his visit to a kibbutz. He described the kibbutzim as being “economically very effective” and admired the community’s child care system which was liberating for women. But we mostly didn’t speak about Israel — I was more interested in drawing out Livingstone on broader issues regarding the Soviet Union, democratic socialism, and more.

Sometimes his answers surprised me. During the meeting with Mapam activists, I asked him about a proposal then made by a right-wing Israeli politician suggesting that leftists should be excluded from the security services. I wondered if similar issues were coming up in Britain, especially considering its history of Soviet spies successfully infiltrating their security services. You have to understand the atmosphere of the the 1930s, he told us. There was the struggle against fascism, and the image of the Soviet Union as a bulwark against the Nazis. Perhaps under those circumstances, he said, “I could have been Kim Philby.”

To be fair, he said some very positive things during our conversation. “I’m a socialist,” he told me, “and I’m a democrat, and I’m a radical, and they’re all important. I can’t conceive of socialism without democracy, and I can’t conceive of socialism which isn’t radical.”

I agreed with every word — but then he went on to express his admiration for Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

There was a lot he didn’t talk about, including the Holocaust and Zionism. People who know Livingstone much better than I do, who know his past, will know that by the time he came to visit Israel, he was already in the orbit of the violently anti-Israel Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

Maybe those were subjects which didn’t interest him very much at the time, or maybe he was being polite to his Israeli hosts. Who knows?

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

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

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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)

Will Bernie Sanders be America’s first socialist president?

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Debs_Canton_1918

Bernie Sanders is not the first socialist to run for President of the United States. He is not even the first socialist to do so with mass support.

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Dr Arieh Yaari, 1918-2005

Monday, August 10th, 2015

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. (more…)

Organizing the unorganized

Friday, June 19th, 2015

No one has any time.  We all have too much to do.

This is true for businessmen; it’s true for students; it’s true for activists like myself.

Is your email inbox overflowing?  Do you have more things to do than hours in the day to do them?

If so, read on. (more…)

Shock victory for the Left as Tories ousted

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

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.

Kobane is this generation’s Stalingrad

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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.

 

The most equal society in the world

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Today is Blog Action Day and the subject this year is inequality.  Which has led me to think about its opposite, equality.  And having lived for many years in what was one of the most equal societies the world has ever known, I thought I’d share something of the experience. (more…)

38 Degrees: This is NOT democracy

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

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:

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/air-strikes-poll-2#petition

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?   (more…)

If you care about your privacy and use Gmail, read this

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

gmailI recently read Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle, which describes a world in which a Facebook-Google-like company takes over people’s lives and brings about a complete end to privacy. Some would describe the book as being visionary, or a warning. I think it actually didn’t go far enough.

Increasingly, we live in a world without privacy. (more…)