Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Whatever the EU vote, the same power elites and institutions need to be resisted

I'm oddly thankful that this EU referendum is coming to a close - even if the aftermath is likely to be much uglier. Unlike the vibrant people engagement and progressive optimism around Scottish independence, this contest has been underwritten by a virulent, dismal and racist politics.   

As previously outlined, my own inclinations have been towards Lexit, not Brexit. The distinction is important. It's about contextualising the issues in left, progressive ways, unlike the overwhelming EU 'debate' which has been framed, discussed, reported and analysed almost exclusively on the establishment's terms.

Cameron and Gove got prominent turns on Question Time specials. Osborne's warning of economic calamity was pitched against Farage's dark rhetoric over immigration, the essential message here being that only their versions, their narratives, are up for 'serious debate'. Where have we seen the same attention given to any left case, for in or out? Such is the 'choice' of perspectives allowed by our 'all-informing' media.

Battered by this mass propaganda, it's been difficult keeping focused on the central issues. Like many on the left, I have pondered and wavered. Yet core objections to the EU won't go away. Whatever its origins, the EU stands as a rapacious neoliberal institution, controlled by a self-serving banking class, and managed by a conservative political vanguard. Under the secretly-negotiated TTIP, driven evangelically by the EU and US, corporate sovereignty will be total, allowing big business unmatched legal rights to sue anyone obstructing their interests, from national governments to local councils. And even besides TTIP, a whole range of corporate-serving EU legislation already exists, requiring privatisation and deregulation of public services like railways and healthcare. Consider how this would seriously constrain any incoming left-aspiring Corbyn government. As one leftist observer notes in Lexit the Movie, a useful antidote to the mainstream framing, the EU is not some social democratic project, it's an aggressive trading bloc underpinned by corporate demands.   

Beyond all the hype about 'reclaiming power', this is the real issue of sovereignty. The Remain case has been supported and funded by City sovereigns like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. It's been commended by other champions of capitalist sovereignty like the IMF, WTO, OECD, World Bank and George Soros. Even the speculated outcome of the referendum has been boom time for City casino capitalism. As one City bond trader gloated: "You look forward to days like this...There's money to be made and lost". And in whose interests do mass warmongers Blair and Mandelson, Nato and Obama speak as 'principled' Remainers?  

Nor is there convincing evidence that the 'workers' rights', supposedly originating from the EU, represent anything more than token crumbs from the same boss class. What serious social democracy, never mind actual socialism, can we expect from an institution run by elite commissioners and bankers? The UK may not be part of the Eurozone, but the momentous crushing of Greece tells us all we need to know about its ruthless neoliberal essence. We should be equally disturbed by the EU's expansionist agenda and bonded ties to Nato, as witnessed most alarmingly in their dual promotion of a fascist coup in Ukraine.   

And yet, like much of the left, I've still had conflicted feelings on how to vote, particularly on a question pitched and fought over by two sides of the establishment.

Alongside Boris Johnson's vile rants, we've seen the wicked discourse on immigration from Farage, including a racist 'Breaking Point' poster that will live in infamy. Amid this febrile atmosphere, a decent-minded MP has been murdered in an act of political terrorism (two words barely uttered by a media that would have leapt on them had the attacker been a Muslim) underwritten by that same essential 'we ourselves' mindset and hatred towards the 'intruding other'. And yet, consider also the pernicious language and inferences Cameron, Osborne and other Remain Tories have directed towards 'swarming' migrants, 'benefit-grasping' Romanians and 'still undeserving' Turks. Isn't it depressing how we've been urged to think and calculate so selfishly around 'what's good for me' rather than how do we best challenge destructive power institutions and elites in compassionate consideration of wider humanity and planet? 

In this faux binary contest we've seen the great Battle of the Thames, with Farage and Sir Bob Geldof, a farce that hasn't the slightest life relevance to immigrants, refugees or poor people relying on foodbanks. While observing the mass media attention given to this 'conflict on the water', a much more significant maritime-related event happened, all but ignored by the media. The key aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) took the momentous decision not to accept any more money from the EU, given its shameless treatment of refugees and its concocting of the Greece/Turkey deal to ship them back. The sham of a 'civilized EU' decisively sunk. Whatever the lamentable treatment of poor migrants and desperate refugees struggling to reach British shores, there's little or nothing to commend the racist record of fortress Europe.

Unlike the 'looming crisis' of immigration, there's been no such discussion over the real emergency threat of climate change. Some Remainers make the valid argument that environmental progress like the recent Paris Agreement could only have been reached through large EU bloc-type negotiations. Yet any serious advancement of environmental action still comes down to the meaningful policies and pledges of nation states. And all of that involves decisive exposure of the key corporate forces behind climate destruction, forces that neither Brussels or Westminster has the remotest intention of crossing.  

For those of us in Scotland, the other more pragmatic case for voting to remain is the pursuit of Scottish independence. If Scotland votes to remain and the rest of the UK to leave, this would most likely trigger popular demand for a second independence referendum. For any Yes leftist, with little regard for the EU or Westminster, that's a strategic option well worth considering. Neoliberal Brussels with a growing right-wing politics is not a protective shield from Westminster. And a neoliberal, Tory and undemocratic Westminster system provides little assurance from that same EU.   

Ultimately, in or out of Europe, in or out of the UK, the same much more crucial challenges for progressives remain: resisting neoliberalism; the breaking of loaded political systems; the realisation of true socialist movements, parties, policies and governments.

On that note, and as jaded and confused voters make late evaluations on such matters, I'd like to commend this fine, elegiac lament from the writer Steve Topple on the state of the UK in 2016.

Friday, 6 May 2016

New green shoots - promising outcome of Holyrood 2016

SNP 63, Greens 6.

It's a good, encouraging outcome. No SNP majority, just two seats short. But, arguably, a better overall result, with greater potential for progressive politics and wider promotion of the Yes case.

Six Green MSPs now hold the effective balance of power, and, in principle, could be well placed to push the SNP leftwards on climate change, fracking, land reform, progressive taxation, welfare powers, poverty, inequality and other vital issues.

This new Green presence should be seen by left-minded SNP members as constructive support for a more radical SNP agenda, a conditional backing for Nicola Sturgeon and the party respectfully articulated by Elaine C. Smith:
I’m also a friend, ally and supporter of Nicola Sturgeon and have been happy to vote SNP for the last 20 years or more. I still did this time – but my second vote went to the Greens. The #BothVotesSNP strategy left me and many others – on the left in particular – a bit uncomfortable. It felt greedy, with a whiff of entitlement – and that sat uneasily with us. I’m sure that the intention was a purely political and strategic one – but it played into the hands of a currently resonant narrative about unchallenged power, both on the right and the left. The release of The Sun endorsement last weekend didn’t help either.
The Green arrival gives potential impetus to a new Yes alignment politics, rather than the case for Indy2 resting too closely with the SNP, vital as it still is in leading that process. Patrick Harvie and his colleagues also sit closely with the SNP in repeating that it's the Scottish people, not any party, who will determine the case for a second referendum, and that they would back any such significant display of public feeling.  

The new Green intake can also help concentrate SNP minds on taking real progressive positions. Andy Wightman, the leading voice of radical land reform in Scotland, is a welcome addition in this regard, as is John Finnie, who left the SNP over its pro-Nato decision.

The aftermath for Labour in Scotland is all too obvious. They could now take this historical low as the defining moment to initiate a truly radical reformulation, notably serious acceptance of the case for independence. Otherwise, it will drift entirely into oblivion. The return of people like Anas Sarwar suggests little chance of any such realisation. It's do or die, and probably too late to do.   

The media have, predictably, focused on the 'great Tory revival'. It is, of course dispiriting to see their increased vote, explicable, in large part, as consolidation of the Unionist 2014 No vote, a right-hardening of class politics over the constitution. Yet, in practice, Davidson will have no effective power in the parliament. They also owe most of their seats to the vagaries of the regional list.

Hopefully, this coming parliament will legislate for a fairer, less speculative system than AMS. One only need look at the SNP's clean-sweep of constituencies in Glasgow, while its massive 111,101 list votes in that regional list gained the party not a single additional seat - and saw the Greens just miss out on a second. Acrimonious debate will, no doubt, continue amongst parts of the SNP and wider Yes community over how the SNP 'minority' government could have been averted. It was always the case that voters couldn't 'game' this AMS system, given the unknowns of constituency seats likely to be won, the unreliability of opinion polls and other human variables. But, while, as proven in Glasgow, Rise and Solidarity always looked unlikely to reach the bar, there was the credible chance of a Green advance. (I voted SNP and Green on that basis, to see Harvie returned on the list, and in moral support of a wider Yes/radical politics.)

Beyond all the 'casino' politics, the case for Indy2 and any more progressive politics will have to encompass much more than the SNP. And the new Greens, just like the SNP, will be judged on just how assertively they strive to make all that a reality. We should take heart from the vibrancy of political engagement still evident post-2014. This election outcome has revealed key new questions for the SNP, and challenges for the Yes left, but there shouldn't be any need for despondency. And, as the election dust settles, it's still good to remember that a majority of Holyrood MSPs still stand for independence.   

Monday, 2 May 2016

Dark motivations behind 'Labour's anti-Semitism problem'

As the political cries and media echoes of 'Labour's anti-Semitism crisis' continue, what rational 'measurement' of those allegations and responses to them might we make?

The real determining factor here, one can argue, is motivational intent. That, of course, is a matter of varying interpretation in itself, all such evaluation being subjective. Yet, it's still an intuitively valuable way to comprehend human actions.

Caveat made, let's consider the likely motivations of the main figures accused here of anti-Semitism, of those making the accusations, and the positioning of varying leftists over such charges.

Firstly, what serious indication is there that Naz Shah or Ken Livingstone are in any way driven by a sense of hatred or animosity towards Jews? The fundamental question here is not just the use of language but the emotional feeling behind it. What really matters is whether a person's words and expressions are motivated by actual hatred or animosity towards another person or people due to their religious, racial or other beliefs.

What evidence of such is there against Livingstone and Shah? Precisely none. What they are clearly compelled by is a sense of grievance and opposition to the unjust treatment of Palestinians. Nothing of what either of them said can, on close scrutiny, be regarded as speech or expression specifically hateful of, or antagonistic towards, Jews as people, or disrespectful of Jewish identity. In short, neither are anti-Semitic, and none of their comments seem remotely intended as such.

Nor is there any real evidence to suggest particular hatred or animosity towards Jewish people from within Labour or the broad left. Indeed, beyond generalised forms of racist and religious prejudice, and contrary to the claims of 'vanguard' groups like the CST, there's nothing to indicate any deep, specific hatred or substantive public enmity in Britain towards Jewish people at large. So, too, can most people distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticising Israel.

In the course of much street engagement, I've heard people make occasional clumsy remarks or crass formulations - such as 'Jews run the world' - often buoyed by a sense of anger at what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people. Such comments are obviously facile and counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. But they are relatively scarce and dwarfed by the casual utterances and media-spread impressions we hear of the 'Muslim threat', or that 'Muslims are all terrorists'.

Questionable memes and images float around online, inviting easy repetition by the unwary. Well before her election, Naz Shah appears to have indulged in such. Of course, it's worth noting the origin of Shah's actual tweets in 2014 and how one was grossly misrepresented.

Behind the 'move Israel to the US' graphic lies an actual, crucial point about the shameful collaborations between America and Israel. There was always a better way of stating that message - one, we can be sure, Shah now belatedly recognises. But that doesn't make Shah's conduct, in itself, anti-Semitic. Again, we have to see it in the context of motivation: a moral response, a conscientious feeling, most probably as reactive anger over Israel murderous attack that year on Gaza.

But why, many have asked, in supporting Shah, did Livingstone 'invoke Hitler' in this discussion? Livingstone himself has expressed regrets about raising the point, given the 'disruption' it caused. But what about the essence of his point? Again, let's apply the motivation test.

If Livingstone was using an historical reference to castigate Jewish people, or call into question their suffering, that would most certainly be a slanderous and anti-Semitic act. What, in fact, he was referencing was an actual historical event, the Haavara Agreement, denoting the engagement between Nazi officials and Zionist figures. Nor, for the record, did Livingstone state, as has been consistently misreported by much of the media, that 'Hitler was a Zionist'. His central point was that after Hitler was elected in 1932, the Nazis saw the expedient possibility of removing Jews from Europe to Palestine, and that Zionist forces saw mutual advantage in this. That's a recorded fact, not mendacious conjecture. What motivated Livingstone's critics to present it in any other way?

It's also important to recall that Livingstone was being questioned about the ugly term "transportation" of people. Is it really credible to suggest that he raised this point in order to offend Jewish people? Or was he relating factual background about the history of Jewish people being moved? Again, some argue it was 'politically unwise' to do so over such a sensitive issue. But if we are to talk honestly about Israel-Palestine, all such historical context is important, so long as it's discussed with diligent respect for its victims. Why should such discussion be deemed 'off-limits'? Is it valid subject matter for historians and researchers, but not politicians? What does it say about the paucity of our intellectual life that such comments are only to be scrutinised and judged by tabloid notions of whether they are 'fit' for 'real politics'? What motivates such denigration of qualitative, respectable expression?

Israel defender John Mann's verbal assault on Livingstone saw him claim that there's no place for such comment in relation to Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. And there wouldn't be if Livingstone was guilty of ugly revisionism or any questioning of that suffering. He's plainly not. Amid such condemnations of Livingstone sat the inconvenient fact that he had told an unvarnished truth. Unable to dispute the authenticity of what he had referred to, his critics could only resort to the illogical charge that by merely mentioning this historical event, Livingstone was somehow guilty of anti-Semitism by calculated inference. All of which amplified message serves to divert from the real issues such forces want hidden. 

So what might we say about the motivations of those critics? Most of it is lamentably obvious. After right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes had drilled down looking for dirt on Naz Shah, the Israel lobby, alongside an opportunist Blairite faction still seething over Corbyn's ascent, seized the moment to advance their common causes. Key Israel-supporting figures like Stephen Pollard weighed-in, issuing increased fears about the "left's hatred of Jews".

Here we see the coalescing interests and motivations of those alleging anti-Semitism, notably the rearguard attempts to defend and whitewash Israel, to break Jeremy Corbyn, and to counter the rise of BDS.

What many of those converging critics really fear is any historical reference to, or public discussion of, the mass expelling and transportation of 800,000 Palestinians in the course of the Nakba. They don't want any discussion of the Palestinian Right of Return, of the illegal Occupation, of Israel's apartheid state, of the murderous bombing, imprisonment and siege of Gaza, of the children killed and locked up in Israeli jails.

With perverse timing, the despotic Mark Regev, Israel's new ambassador to the UK, has stepped into the fray, using the same malevolent spin propagated over the mass killing of Palestinians to now ratchet-up the 'leftist threat to Jews'.     

So, what, in turn, might we say about the responses and motivations of Labour leftists to such spurious charges, particularly those professing Palestine solidarity? Predictably, the default line for so many was that Livingstone is a 'liability' and had to go.

Key Corbyn allies like Dianne Abbott and Len McCluskey correctly rejected the claim of serious anti-Semitism within Labour, pointing to the internal Blairite plotting. But few were prepared to defend Livingstone or Shah. 

And this is where notable left voices like Owen Jones have more seriously erred, as Ali Abunimah so convincingly reminded him in an illuminating twitter exchange: "To watch @OwenJones84 throw Ken Livingstone under the bus to appease a bunch of hard-right racists is a truly pitiful sight." Jones counters that he has been a consistent advocate of Palestinian rights, and that his supporting of Livingstone's suspension is intended to help 'stamp out anti-Semitism' within Labour. Yet, hasn't Jones's overstated claims, and righteous repetition, of 'pervasive' anti-Semitism within the party only added to the hysteria? What, one wonders, motivates such a positioning? 

Contrary to Jones's mitigations, any earnest defence of the Palestinian cause would more usefully involve resisting the false narrative and pernicious assault being waged by Israel and the Blairite lobby. That's the primary task here. The most destructive inner element of the Labour party is not a handful of misguided 'leftists'. It's Labour Friends of Israel. 

There's no use trying to placate those forces - which, as Abunimah reminds us, will never be satisfied - through party purges and synthetic appeasements. They will always drive for more. Indeed, even while Corbyn and McDonnell, understandably, resort to 'damage limitation' and party management, it's still incumbent upon leftists to resist the narratives forcing such reactions. In short, the priority task of left public figures is not to join the chorus. It's about exposing the motivations of the Israel lobby, those seeking to oust Corbyn, and the establishment media's role in peddling such discourse.

On that note, here's a complaint letter I sent to the BBC (in the hours prior to Livingstone's involvement) regarding Newsnight's coverage of 'anti-Semitism within Labour':
28 April 2016

Re 27 April 2016 edition of Newsnight.

Please can you explain the gross imbalance in this discussion of alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party?

In particular, can you account for the absence of any countervailing voices to the two principal guests, Lord Levy and Baroness Neuberger, as well as the supporting opinions of Richard Angell (Director of the Blairite Progress group), Danny Cohen (BBC Director of Television, 2013 - 2015), David Winnick (Labour MP) and other comments repeated by reporter Hannah Barnes?

Presenter Evan Davis introduced his guests as reflecting a "debate within the Jewish community" about growing anti-Semitism. Why was no alternative opinion sought from any other figure within the Jewish community?

Also, why did Davis passively accept the generic claims made by Julia Neuberger regarding "the conflation of Zionist to mean Jew" and "this praise of Hitler"? Why didn't he ask for specific evidence of where such views exist within the Labour Party, and the nature of their alleged extent? Instead, Davis merely responded: "That's clearly over the line."

Davis also failed to question Lord Levy over his equating of 'Zionism' with 'anti-Semitism', or his political background, notably his close links with Tony Blair and how that financial backing informed New Labour's friendly positioning on Israel.

In all these regards, the BBC has clearly violated its basic remit to provide impartial coverage and balanced opinion.
I await a response.

One might note here that while it was seemingly acceptable for Julia Neuberger to raise claims of leftists 'conflating Jews with Hitler', without any solid evidence, Livingstone was to be hounded over a much less incendiary comment the next day. Which all proves the kind of stark double standards deployed by the establishment media.

We might also consider here the supporting motivations of the Guardian in this affair, such as liberal notables Jonathan Freedland, Gaby Hinsliff and Marina Hyde.

Not for the first time, Freedland's response to such an issue has been to ask why Israel and Jewish people at large are being 'subjected' to such 'special scrutiny'. Ali Abunimah calls this piece: "Surely the most disingenuous article ever by @Freedland in defense of a brutal apartheid settler colony". Here, we might ask, what motivated Freedland to pen such a "wretched article", rather than ask people to imagine for a moment just what it must be like to suffer for so many decades under the brutal fist of the Israeli state?

Hinsliff, likewise, trotted-out the same 'why Israel?' line, and tortured angst over 'Labour's calamity', piling on even more lurid accusations of the left's anti-Semitic motivations:
But calling for its people to be swept into the sea, or forcibly transplanted somewhere else, or in any other way denying Israel’s right to exist, is crossing a line because that simply doesn’t happen to other countries no matter how oppressive their regime. No other nation state on the planet is constantly asked to prove itself morally worthy merely of being allowed to exist.
Hyde also resorted to the usual Guardian snide-speak, conflating Livingstone with Boris Johnson, while offering an 'embarrassed apology' "for the conduct of my nation." Imagine Hyde having the dutiful conscience to ask what this same British state has ever done for suffering Palestinians, or whether a nation that has invaded so many others and taken the lives of so many souls even has the moral claim to such standing.

The Murdoch press may rightly be seen as beyond the pale in this country, but is there a more sanctimonious, deceitful and vitally power-serving outlet in the land than the Guardian?

As befits its relentless efforts to undermine Corbyn, there's no shortage of space, either, at this despicable paper for Labour favourites like Jess Phillips, who, from her Guardian platform said: "There are very strong feelings in the party about recognising the state of Palestine, as well as strong feelings about the protection of the state of Israel. Most people fall sensibly in both camps." Here, complementing Freedland et al, we see the same, safe liberal obfuscation of a core issue, pronounced as some kind of two-sided conflict in which we must remain respectfully vigilant about protecting the oppressor.

Rather than appease the Israel lobby or play to this liberal media narrative, those truly set on defending Palestinian rights, and justice at large, have been motivated to expose it all. Excellent examples include:

Jamie Stern-Weiner: Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an ‘antisemitism problem’. His opponents do.

Jamie Stern-Weiner: Fact-checking Newsnight on Labour’s ‘antisemitism problem’

Jewish Socialists' Group: Statement on “Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism”

Ben White: Shifty anti-Semitism wars

John Wight: Antisemitism and the new McCarthyism in our midst

Asa Winstanley: How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis

Please read and share widely. Hopefully, these kind of motivated responses will help motivate others to resist the power-serving distortions being peddled by people like Freedland and the loaded narratives being legitimised by figures like Jones.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Brussels attacks: no live media outside Nato's terror base

Once again, as with the divergently-covered attacks on Paris and Beirut, we've seen starkly contrasting media reaction to the terror events in Brussels and Ankara. Despite comparable levels of death and injury, the killings in European capitals, it seems, are deemed much more deserving of our attention and sympathy.

And as the live feeds from the Place de la Bourse in Brussels continue, the same media narrative plays out: adoption of the Belgian flag, icons of Belgian defiance and other je suis-styled sentiment.

Amid the tributes and reflection, 'security correspondents' like the BBC's Frank Gardner lament the failure of Belgian forces to monitor and purge the terrorist cells. How, they ask, could so much intelligence and street policing lead to the bombing of an airport and metro system?

The term 'security' here has become a byword for state control and 'protection against the other', rather than a universal life value. All part of the primary media meme: 'how do we comprehend and deal with the terrorism now being visited on our cities'.

The relative importance of 'our' cities is also defined by their buildings and institutions. Brussels: nominal capital of Europe, home of the European Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers, centre of EU commerce and international embassies. Again, we're reminded how close and vulnerable all these key places are to terrorist attack.      

Yet, the presence and role of one crucial Brussels edifice seems to carry no such media interest: Nato HQ. The location of Nato in the middle of a city just bombed by a terror cell might be an obvious media cue for asking more probing, connecting questions about the attacks and how we really understand the issue of terrorism. It might even prompt consideration of Nato's presence there as a terror base, plotting and sending out orders of destruction from this esteemed city.

But the mass murder and mayhem unleashed by Nato on Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, as well as its expansionist presence in Ukraine and other Baltic states, seems to hold little significance in the great 'how do we stop terrorism' question.

Here, also, is the perfect opportunity to question the whole Nato presence in Turkey, how Erdoğan has used the cover of that US-led club to prosecute regime change in Syria, to facilitate ISIS, and to purge the Kurds, leading, in response, to the terror killings in Ankara and Istanbul.    

And, as part of that same US-Nato war complex, what better time than a presidential race to shine full media light on Hillary Clinton's dark part in the Libyan and Syrian calamities, and responsibility for the terror responses we're now witnessing?

Nothing happens in isolation. Islamic State and its devotees may never see any other aim than jihadist supremacy. But Nato militarism, with its vastly more dangerous claims to global control, only feeds that zeal.        

And so it goes on, round and round, the West and Nato wielding major terrorist violence, the inevitable responses, the shallow media coverage, the facile security analyses, the token visits to Muslim suburbs wondering how young men get radicalised. Just as the cycle of Western-led war and 'blowback' continues, so does the same political and media message revolve in an ever-repeating loop. How do we move on from such omission, denial and spin?    

As the Brussels-based political writer Frank Barat puts it:
To stop this drift towards self-destruction we, as a human race, need to ask the tough questions, and speak truth to power. We, collectively, need to ask ourselves why some young men and women, born and raised in Brussels, with family and friends here, many with jobs and even businesses in the city, turned into terrorists and suicide bombers, very often in a matter of a couple of years. Despite the rage that we are feeling today, we must try to think rationally and try to understand, which is very different from condoning, what led them to commit such terrible and heinous crimes.
This should be priority enquiry for any media serious about informing the public. Yet, for Barat:
If you look at what happened in France and Belgium, if you study all the footage and read all the media reports and analyses, you will realise most of them focus on “security”, “militarisation” “hitting back” and “war”. Only a few are concentrating on what the terrorists said or wrote. Why did they do it? What did they say while doing it? If you read these – not something you’ll find easily with a Google search – you will realise that all the attackers are talking the same language. They were politically educated out of the destruction of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the drones bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, the torture of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the colonisation and occupation of Palestine. 
It's not that these factors are never aired. How could they be completely ignored? But it's a rudimentary acknowledgement, usually contextualised as 'Western mistakes', 'problems of migration and integration', or the 'failings of the Muslim community to contain jihadism'. 

Take, as a useful example, the live presentation, reports and analyses by Matt Frei, Jonathan Rugman and Paraic O'Brien for Channel 4 News the day after the Brussels attacks. There's multiple questions and discussion about the Belgian intelligence failures, the possible need for greater surveillance, the rise of radical terrorism, interviews with locals outside the killers' apartment in the city's Shaerbeek area where the terror plots were allegedly hatched, the brooding mood in nearby Molenbeek district, the 'migrant crisis', the spectre of fascistic parties across Europe, implications for the EU referendum and other apparently linked issues. All these things are up for earnest assessment by Frei et al. But there's no talk of Nato, or its Brussels location, nothing - beyond token mention of Syria and its fallout - about Nato war policy, or that the actual formation of ISIS came from the catastrophe of Iraq and other Western-led chaos in the Middle East.

Rather than just coverage from the Place de la Bourse, or the grubby flat in Shaerbeek, imagine the impact of live comment and critical interviews outside the home of the Nato war machine, asking rational, penetrating questions about that organisation's part in promoting global terror, and how its violence has come back, full circle, to Brussels.

Unthinkable. Which tells us all we really need to know about the vital presentational role of the media in framing terror attacks and the 'war on terrorism'. How easy, having seen images of the devastation, to condemn a wicked terror cell in Brussels. How much harder, with far less media scrutiny of its murderous, earth-scorching operations, to comprehend and decry what's being planned and directed from inside Nato's Brussels building.

Reporting from locations festooned with flowers and candles keeps us attuned to safe forms of human observance, 'solidarity', and determination to 'resist the terrorists'. But a far greater media service and public empathy could be realised by locating and exposing the state-militarist agencies most deeply responsible for creating the conditions under which such attacks inevitably occur. How many more mass deaths, around the world and in 'our' cities, have to happen before a complicit media start relaying the big, connecting picture?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A note on BBC's Orwellian use of 'migrants'

The BBC routinely claims to be an impartial broadcaster, forever reminding us of the need for neutral language in its reports. Yet, consider the routine use and deeply-loaded impact of the word 'migrant', the associated 'migrant crisis', and derivative terms like 'irregular migrants' within BBC new stories.

From the BBC News website:
A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.
A note on the Orwellian use of such terminology

The BBC's selective use of the term 'migrant', rather than 'refugee', helps convey a generic process of invasive immigration. In fact, "this group" consists mainly of refugees, most notably, as the BBC's own graph shows, those fleeing the three most war-ravaged states, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, all of them subject to calamitous invasion, mass-bombing, civil destruction, human dislocation and political destabilisation by the West and its proxies. By labelling refugees 'migrants' seeking jobs and better lives, the BBC helps perpetuate a specious narrative of foreigner opportunism, rather than Western interventionism with all its dire human, economic and geopolitical consequences.

The term 'migrant crisis' extends the false inversion, reinforcing notions of an unsustainable demand on UK/EU resources rather than a humanitarian crisis for refugees, caused largely by the West's invasions, coveting and theft of other peoples' resources.

And when, as dutifully amplified by the BBC, Britain sends naval ships to assist the "Nato mission tackling people smugglers", we see the fullest expression of the blame agenda, in lauding Western action against the new scapegoats 'feeding' the 'migrant crisis', rather than citing all those UK and Nato 'missions' that really underlie it. As, Media Lens parody the presentation: 
Kind, benign @Nato 'wading into help' with the 'migrant' crisis, says @BBCNews.
In similar vein, BBC reporting of the EU deal with Turkey to push back "irregular migrants" contains no critical comment on the joint EU-Nato initiative and political bribery behind it. Only the approving thoughts of European Council President Donald Tusk - "the days of irregular migration to Europe are over" - other EU leaders and Turkish heads are aired. No mention is made, either, of Turkey's key militarist part in creating the 'migrant crisis', or the dark paradox of it now being used to harbour and process these 'irregular migrants' on Nato's and a war-complicit EU's behalf.

This and much other power-serving language studiously adopted by the BBC provides vital cover for multiple Western crimes and the consequent humanitarian crisis we're now seeing. The true scale of such criminality and culpability is matched only by the Orwellian terminology and apologetics helping to hide it.

Friday, 4 March 2016

EU: in or out for the left? The real issues of identity and sovereignty

What's the most progressive position to take on the EU referendum?

As a febrile media pump out more trite 'context' - 'control of migrants', the 'drain' on welfare benefits, and faux questions about 'sovereignty' - many left-minded people seem deeply conflicted about where to stand: stay with the 'safety' of nominally-won EU social rights and legal protections, or abandon a rapaciously neoliberal institution; remain and embrace a new leftist Euro movement politics, or leave and show that radical progress is better realised through more devolved forms of action.

Tainted associations

The dilemma seems even more acute as leftists on both sides glance queasily at who they'll be seen 'standing alongside': Cameron, Osborne, May, Blair and most big City corporations; or Johnson, Farage, Gove, Duncan Smith, the bulk of small Toryism and the Henry Jackson Society.

Of course, valid leftist positions can be taken without adopting any such forces or individuals. They should rest on their own merits. George Galloway choosing to share a Grassroots Out platform with Nigel Farage doesn't endear him to UKIP. Yet, if Galloway is really concerned with promoting a genuine left for leaving argument, why engage such Tory/UKIP-based campaigns at all? (As Yes leftists will recall, Galloway also co-platformed Blairite and Iraq war-supporting Brian Wilson during his 'Just Say Naw' to Scottish independence tour.)

Galloway may have had due reason to berate the BBC's Jo Coburn for hijacking him on such associations, rather than dealing with the EU issue. But courting Farage and his GO friends with Churchillian language - "left-right, left-right, forward march to victory" - only obfuscates the real issues of power and identity in this already loaded 'debate'.

In arguing that it's all about 'pitching together' for direct democracy, and not ceding to Brussels, Galloway can, of course, cite Tony Benn's 1975 case for leaving Europe. And, yes, Benn's case for ditching the old Common Market was honourably made back in the day, just as if he were here now making the same case for exiting.

Yet, what kind of real 'sovereignty' do either of these rigged institutions offer? Benn was correct in rejecting the EU and its unelected Commissioners. But, in seeking to 'reclaim parliamentary sovereignty', he also spent a political lifetime challenging an undemocratic Westminster system. Recall, too, that despite being on the 'same side' as Enoch Powell in 1975, Benn refused to share a platform with him.

Benn's son has no comparable standing in such matters. Apparently, Hilary Benn won't share a platform with Cameron on the EU issue. Yet he had no moral objection to collaborating with him when it came to bombing Syria. Here we see the real hypocrisy of platform politics.

Brooding Brexiters and the elite crisis

Platform trumpeting of 'national identity' is allowing the big stage players to call the EU tune. We hear a loud, simplified sound on how 'lost identity' is synonymous with 'lost sovereignty', all orchestrated, as standard, by the Daily Mail chorus.

More studious observers like John Harris are keen to understand, rather than dismiss, the brooding discontent of Brexiters in locales like Peterborough and Great Yarmouth, where resentment festers over immigrant workers. Harris sees the EU issue mainly as: 
an English political event: an attempt to resolve English tensions within an essentially English party, which will see the leave side speaking to a group of people who increasingly self-identify as English, and who feel that an antipathy to authority is now part of their national identity.
All useful sociology. But if, as Harris says, national identity is being shaped by fear of 'invading migrants' and economic anger, it's still telling us little about the higher interests and circumstances driving that identity issue.

At its heart, it's an elite identity issue, indeed, identity crisis, as the main establishment forces fight-off a kind of internal class insurgency.

The elite pro-EU cabal is all-too familiar, the same essential line up that undertook the emergency halting of Scottish independence: Cameron and his circle, big capital and the main City players, supported by the agencies of continuity - the civil service, the monarchy, the military, and, beyond its standard claims of 'neutrality', the higher echelons of the BBC. As with the Scottish indyref, the modus operandi is Project Fear.

Against this, the Brexit insurgents, standing, basically, for the same free market things, but driven by a more doctrinaire libertarianism, smaller business sector grievances, and the base prejudices of shire-minded Toryism. The ideological engine of the Brexit network comprises groups such as The Freedom Association, backer of Better Off Out, providing platforms for right-wing business figures and academics such as Tim Congdon, Ruth Lea, Ian Milne, and Patrick Minford, alongside more zealot neo-cons like Douglas Murray. All broadly argue that the 'EU’s regulatory burden' is placing UK business at a severe disadvantage.

But while the view from inside the City is not entirely Euro-friendly, actual support for remaining with the EU is remarkably solid. Why? Basically, because the City and its political protectorate see the present framework as largely doing what's required of it: maintaining a business regime conducive to capital movement and corporate freedom within and beyond the EU bloc. Crucially, it also values the restraining role of the Euro financial elite and European Central Bank in keeping 'radical-minded' states in check. Greece is the obvious example. But, as we witnessed over the 'threat' of Scottish independence, big capital generally disfavours any kind of break with political unions long-moulded to serve its interests.

Lloyds of London's chief risk officer actually rejects the claim that Brexit would create a "regulatory nirvana" for the City, echoing the view of many other big finance houses. He might well say that, of course - whether in or out, the parasitic benefits enjoyed by this elite are well assured. But such comments confirm that the City is already thriving as a pampered enclave, dutifully protected both by the UK and EU. Why would that City elite be remotely willing to jeopardise such coveted freedoms and privileges?

This was the much less-highlighted part of Cameron's excursion to Brussels: to reaffirm City sovereignty. Almost nothing of this central issue is being amplified by the media. Instead, we're assailed by the 'migrant crisis', in truth a humanitarian calamity for refugees in hellish places like the 'Jungle'. Of course, no such dark labelling is ever applied to the wild jungle of City capitalism.  

Similar fascination prevails over the Bullingdon boys' face-off. Despite showing no prior desire for Brexit, Johnson, or 'Boris' to his swooning media flock, has made the base calculation that since grassroots Toryism appears to be overwhelmingly in favour of leaving, his main chance of succeeding Cameron, whatever the outcome, is best-served by placating that mood constituency. Craven opportunism, in short. That much is obvious, even to most media scribes. Yet, the Johnson-Cameron show is somehow assumed as a defining 'choice' in the EU debate, one almost as narrow and unquestioned as that between Trump's giant con and Clinton's crazed warmongering. Such is the way in which the parameters of political debate and 'credible options' are routinely presented.

Left identity

In the same sense, much liberal positioning on the EU has been conditioned by a narrowly-defined 'borders-identity-rights' context, rather than radical evaluation of how that establishment narrative is being foisted upon us. For almost the entire centre-left, the question of whether to stay or go is predicated on securing some 'good as it gets' rights and dispensations, rather than a will to resist the EU's dominant neoliberal character.

Most trade unions have adopted this cautious line in defence of EU working directives. But just how secure and EU-based are such rights? Remember that John Major secured an opt-out from the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Agreement, Blair set aside the 48 hour week directive, and what's often hailed as 'EU protection' is really little more than rights already established or sporadically applied.

Jeremy Corbyn, by inclination, is not ideologically disposed to the EU, but has come to a similar default, rather than conviction, position. This sits uncomfortably with many Corbyn supporters. Labour In claims to be championing a 'social Europe' very distinct from the Cameron/Farage mindset. But, led by centre-right Alan Johnson, Labour's stay campaign offers no serious agenda for challenging EU neoliberal orthodoxy. Predictably, the Guardian is urging-on Johnson and his 'leadership', while uttering vacuities like "making best use of Europe’s collective strength in the world."

Contrary to the Guardian view, the one ironic consolation for Labour is that Corbyn's muted case for remaining is likely to damage him and his party much less than the coming train wreck for Cameron and the Tories.

Left calculations in Scotland

The in or out question has a crucially additional dimension in Scotland, given the still live issue of independence. Yet, while many will correctly approach it in such tactical terms, it's not completely clear to some around the Yes movement that the EU referendum can, or should, be viewed solely through the prism of a potential second independence referendum.

A popular call for indyref2 will likely come in the event of a split vote between Scotland and rUK. And it would be most welcome. It may well even be enough to re-tilt the 55-45 indyref vote. But for much of the Yes left, the EU stands as a political question in its own right. It's also, for those same Yes proponents, central to the kind of progressive state they want an independent Scotland to be: not one still directed by an EU banking class, tempered by nominal social rights, but one in which they are able, this time around, to assert real choices on currency and macro-economic policy.

Now, it's true that, being outside the Eurozone, the UK's and Scotland's place in Europe makes it a much less troubling concern than that faced by Greece, Spain and other Troika-punished states. And this may be sufficient assurance for some leftists pondering a stay vote.

Yet, the treatment of these states should be a stark warning to the kind of abusive relationship we're already party to. As Gerry Hassan asserts, while Scotland still sees itself as a European nation, "what the EU stands for is no longer an unproblematic good, with austerity, neo-liberalism, and a virtual European coup against Greece’s government; where does that place Scotland and what do we do about it?"

Nor do the SNP leadership simply regard Yes to EU as an opportunity for indyref2. At heart, they uphold the essence of Europe's 'liberal social market', while approving, more quietly, prevailing EU 'neoliberal realities', including some version of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

A predatory EU

Herein lies the kind of unresolved problem of left identity with an EU that, while granting token benefits, has become a predatory power. The EU is not just a supra-economic bloc entrenching neoliberal doctrine and corporate interests. It is also in voluntary arm-lock with militarist-extending Nato. Beyond the standard media cries of 'Putin the aggressor', consider how an expansionist EU acted in concert with the US and Nato in promoting a fascist coup in Ukraine, and raising the new cold war ante.

While the US rewards Israel with even greater aid for its deepening oppression of the Palestinians, a complicit EU has stood idly by, continuing special trade deals and maintaining military supplies, issuing lame pleas for 'peace talks' rather than giving serious political support to a brutalised people. For Omar Barghouti:
Seeing how swiftly the EU adopted sanctions against Russia for alleged violations of international law in Ukraine that pale in comparison to Israel’s crimes in its decades-old occupation of Palestinian territory, one cannot but accuse Europe of hypocrisy for failing to adopt the evidently more justified sanctions against Israel.
Here, as with the EU's gross failure to prevent mass deaths of desperate humans in the Mediterranean, we see the true priorities of both a US-serving alliance and a Fortress Europe. Little wonder that Obama, the G20 and other global elites are all calling for a stay vote. Whatever its 'founding' post-war ideals, notions of the EU as an insurance policy for peace and stability look increasingly hollow.  

Lesser evil or radical break?

Many on the liberal left acknowledge the EU's democratic and social deficits, but see the 'greater good' of what it delivers. SNP MP Stewart Macdonald, for example, claims that, while imperfect, the EU has fostered a new 'free-movement-styled Euro identity', a kind of 'Easy Jet generation', which he closely identifies with. It's a lofty view couched in social democratic language about "opportunities for cooperation and mutual prosperity", alongside meaningful concern for refugees. But it flies all too safely above the real issues of neoliberal power and Western geopolitics.

Also lamenting the EU's stark democratic failures and neoliberal priorities, the Scottish Socialist Party's Colin Fox offers a more persuasive case for staying as an act of Euro class unity:
We weighed up both referendum options before concluding the choice was not for or against the anti-democratic bosses club in Brussels, but rather how best to advance the interests of working people across Europe.
Fox argues for "the lesser of two evils", believing that: 
‘abandonment’ would not improve the situation. A ‘leave vote’ would be a victory for UKIP and the Tory right not working people. It is they after all who have pressed for this referendum. The choice is not between a corporate EU and an anti-capitalist or progressive UK. It is between ‘EU PLC’ and ‘UK PLC’. And working people should have no faith in either of them. But a ‘Leave’ victory would unleash a ‘carnival of reaction’. It would be a victory for the bigots and isolationist ‘Little Englanders’.  
Fox insists that UKIP and the Tories would then tear up all EU legal, employment and equality rights. Brexit is also opposed by Sinn Fein as playing to the same rightist Tory agenda.

John Wight offers a similar leftist defence for staying, insisting that:
despite the attempt by a section of the left to assert that Brexit would make the prospect of implementing progressive and socialist ideas easier - specifically when it comes to taking key industries and services into public ownership - the reality is that the beneficiaries of Brexit would be the right and far right.
And, he warns, "for anyone on the left to oppose Corbyn over the EU now is tantamount to sectarianism of the worst kind."

This is a regrettable claim. Valid as his argument is for staying, such language takes the same narrow 'socialist duty' line peddled by Wight and other left Unionists in 2014.

The 'radical' alternative to leaving has been more ambitiously advanced by Yanis Varoufakis in launching the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25):
The manifesto is a pledge for a new Europe. Not a European cartel of trade and banking, but a European union of people, united by the bold idea of true democracy as the foundation of prosperity. According to Varoufakis, the EU is coming apart at the seams. Rising unemployment, crippling austerity, far-right neofascist movements, and an unaccountable body of technocrats at the top, are all part of the same broken European machine. But rather than give in to a new wave of inward-looking nationalism, Europeans must come together and build a truly democratic movement.
It's a view now adopted by Owen Jones, and loosely embraced in Scotland by much of Rise.

Yet, there's been damning left criticism of Varoufakis and his Euro reform package:
Varoufakis’s talk of democracy will disgust millions of embittered workers in Greece and throughout Europe. Rarely was the working class betrayed so shamelessly by such an overblown political scoundrel. Varoufakis knows very well that the EU is an instrument through which the European and international financial aristocracy exercises its power and dictatorship. It can no more be democratized than the boards of Deutsche Bank or the European Central Bank. In Greece, the core of his policy was the subordination of the country to the EU, and it remains so today. His pretentious chatter about democracy and civil rights serves to cover up his defence of the EU and his hostility to the working class.
If less toxic in tone, the Communist Party and Morning Star take much the same line. While the CP lamentably erred in opposing Scottish independence, they are on firmer ground here in denouncing the EU as a fundamentally neoliberal and distant institution. Still, why, we may ask, their refusal to countenance 'staying together in solidarity' this time around?

In a fine 7-point leftist riposte to the 'stay and fight' line, Chris Bambery also argues for an outright rejection of the EU:
The simple fact is that internal change is an impossibility within the EU. The task of creating genuine unity in Europe based on solidarity and respect is one which requires starting all over again. Britain and other member states quitting can help develop the debate about what sort of Europe we need, one which is democratic unlike the current EU where democracy is virtually absent.
Bambery further emphasises the naivety of believing there can be any serious mass left party alignment across 28 EU nations.

Other voices around the Scottish left are rejecting both the 'lesser evil' or 'reform from within' lines. Most notably, Jim Sillars makes the case for a decisive break from the EU's economic stranglehold in pursuit of a serious left Scottish independence, reminding us that an establishment-complicit Commission showed no sympathy for an independent Scotland during the 2014 referendum.

Waverers should also take time to read an outstanding Leave analysis by Neil Davidson, spelling out the core issues for leftists.

Taking apart the 'lesser evil' and 'social Europe' arguments, Davidson details the stark absence of democracy at the apex of the EU, and sole powers of inter-state Commissioners. He charts the particular vindictiveness of the Commission and European Central Bank in its ruthless purging of Greece, and the rigid neoliberal convergence rules that apply to all EU members, serving to deter and lock-in 'deviant' states - including any proto-independent Scottish state applying, post-Brexit.

He further criticises the "EU’s embrace [of TTIP as] far more enthusiastic than Washington’s", the ways in which the EU is "designed to maintain the structure of existing inequalities between European nation-states", how it is set up to purge, rather than assist, refugees, how the EU is "structurally racist" in its exclusion of foreign others, and deeply bonded with Nato.

He also highlights the vital role of the Guardian commentariat, and "the fantasy of 'European values' beloved by the likes of Polly Toynbee, Will Hutton and Martin Kettle (whose support for the EU is matched only by their opposition to Scottish independence)" in making common cause with the main establishment forces. While the Brexit right need to be resisted, he argues, it's this set of Remain class forces that represent, by far, the greatest enemy of progressive change.   

Davidson warns that, rather than accepting the EU's 'lesser evil', succumbing to blackmail for short term 'gain', and pretending that workers' unity and movement politics can only be forged within these constraining conditions, leftists will be better served in the long run carving out their own radical positions and internal struggles. Otherwise, the left will be seen by the very people it claims to serve as having "no positive position of its own or that its position is simply incoherent - as illustrated by the spectacle of usually credible left commentators like Owen Jones and George Monbiot explaining just how completely undemocratic and neoliberal the EU is…only to then call for a vote to Remain."  

All of which information and argument may make it even harder for many on the principled left to come to a decision on how to vote. But, if this EU 'debate' is being led by establishment propaganda, serious left discussion, one hopes, is helping to generate more critical light on the real power relationships and class forces underlying it.

This referendum is not about citizen democracy, or reclaiming national identity. It's about the sovereignty of big capital and the contending interests of political elites. Neither Brussels or Westminster offer anything worth identifying with. Both serve the same basic agenda: the protection of corporate capitalism, and the projection of wider Western power. As an elite turf war rages, we're encouraged to see the whole set of arguments through narrow, media-framed identities and binary labels: Europhile or Europhobe, Eurosceptic or Euro-safe. It's a giant diversion from what's really being fought for: greater class power and deeper social control. However leftists decide to vote, whatever the outcome, all these forces and issues remain to be confronted.