Monthly Archives: August 2011

The ban is not a defeat for the EDL

by Edd Mustill

Those who have called for the state to ban the EDL’s march through Tower Hamlets on 3rd September must take a serious look at their anti-fascist strategy.

It seems likely that the Home Secretary will ban all marches in five London boroughs for a month. This sort of blanket ban is what governments have issued in the past, targeting EDL or National Front marches but also any counter-mobilisations, for the sake of maintaining public order. To believe we can petition a bourgeois Home Secretary – a Tory Home Secretary! – saying “Please ban them but not us” is ludicrously naïve.

Public order, public order, public order. The same reason given for the kettling of every student protest in the last twelve months. The same reason given for the pre-emptive arrests around the Royal Wedding. The same reason given for the mass arrests after the riots, including the wrongful arrests and their ramifications.

Saying that the EDL march shouldn’t be banned is not a question of a gliberal defence of “free speech.” It is a political question because we can’t afford to give in to public order politics. Should the police be allowed to set the parameters of what constitutes “acceptable” political behaviour? We have already seen them do this, pontificating on what is a necessary protest and how people should go through existing structures.

Independent mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has said: “You have helped us achieve our aim and we no longer need a mass show of support.” Go home, ladies and gents. Job’s done. The East End is demobilised. And if the EDL come back? Ban them again. And again. And again…

Perversely, one of the events affected by the blanket ban could be the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, which took place in what is now Tower Hamlets. Historically, the Communist Party and people following its tradition have managed to place Cable Street among the Party’s finest hours. But initially the CP argued for people to attend a rally for Spain in Trafalgar Square on the day, miles away from where the fascists were marching:

Although the CP did give its backing to a demonstration by the Ex-Servicemen’s Committee Against Fascism, which was to assemble in Stepney on the Sunday morning, the party’s main emphasis was to rally support for the JPC [Jewish People’s Council] petition calling on the state to defend workers against fascism. As one study of CP history observes: “It was not that the Party’s leaders were lacking in either courage or anti-fascist feeling, but the Popular Front line predisposed them to respectable protest rather than direct militant action, which could only antagonise those they were so anxious to influence among the Tories, Liberals and ‘Progressives’.”

Many CP and Labour leaders were busy telling people to stay at home then, as Rahman and co. are now. There would have been no political defeat for the Blackshirts if East-Enders had followed their advice.

Likewise, getting the march banned does not represent a political defeat for the EDL. This is an important point; don’t we want to defeat them politically? They will posture about how much effect they’ve had just by threatening a march, how they’ve got the Marxist Establishment running scared and so on. And if they hold a static demonstration and it’s tiny, they can blame poor attendance on the ban. They can’t lose.

Anti-fascist politics is in a rut if we are reduced to calling on the state to sort everything out. Apart from anything, this helps the EDL peddle their favourite propaganda piece; that UAF is a front for the liberal political establishment (well, isn’t it?). Socialists in UAF must be slightly embarrassed that their organisation’s joint secretary was among those signing the pro-ban letter to the Home Secretary. But then, in a Popular Front we must acknowledge and respect political differences, as the 1930s Communist Party would have well understood.

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A brief note about statistics

by Anne Archist

I just wanted to point out something readers might find interesting – a disparity in the government’s statistics. All of the discussion around Frank Field’s claim that 90% of new jobs have gone to immigrants under the coalition made me curious… How many of these ‘new jobs’ have been created by immigrants? After all, most people reading this will probably be aware that many immigrants to the UK are rich Russian, European or North American entrepreneurs and investors. Even at the lower levels of the economy, consider the kebab shop – it may be staffed by immigrants, but isn’t it also owned by one in most cases? Naturally, being curious about this, I submitted some freedom of information requests to relevant government bodies asking them about it. The reply was the same from every department – “we don’t hold that information”. Government immigration policy is being made without any clue as to how many immigrants are easing unemployment in the UK. While I’m not shocked by this, I am a little surprised that they have literally no relevant information whatsoever – I was expecting that they might have some kind of rough or headline figure, even if they couldn’t break that down into accurate categories and tell me how many of these were UK citizens born abroad, how many were EU citizens, etc. So I thought I would let you know, dear readers, because I suspect it is of interest to many of you…

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It’s not crazy

It’s difficult to know how to add to the discussion about the riots in a constructive way, but here’s a few thoughts.

First, let’s stop saying “it’s mad,” “it’s crazy,” and “they’re mental” because what that actually means is “I know there are obviously reasons behind this but they’re too complicated for me to bother trying to come to terms with.” This goes for people on the left as well as the right.

Most of the discussion has involved people saying, “This isn’t X, it’s Y.” It’s not political, it’s just looting. It’s not criminality, it’s an oppressed group rising up. It’s not about Mark Duggan, it’s about people wanting new trainers. It’s not about consumerism, it’s about poverty. And so on.

Everyone could be right to an extent. The ideas in everyone’s head are complicated at the best of times. Any explanation will be a simplification, but we can broadly say that last night saw a shift away from more “political” anti-police action to fairly indiscriminate looting.

Now the IPCC are reporting that there is no evidence that Mark Duggan fired on police officers before they shot and killed him last week (This was finally just mentioned – fourteen minutes into the Six O’clock news). Will this turn the focus back on the repressive role of the police in the capital’s working class areas? How much of the political content of the rioting will remain once the looting subsides? Will they lead, in the short or long term, to greater political self-organisation in these areas? We can’t possibly tell.

Lot’s of people talk about rioting being self-defeating because it is a community destroying itself. Again, this is true to an extent, but these kids don’t own any businesses. See this video. Is there less of a sense of a whole community fighting the police or state than there was in, say, Brixton in 1981? Has a sense of community solidarity disintegrated in parallel to the disintegration of the labour movement? Or is asking this just romanticising the past?

It’s a huge weakness of the left that we don’t know the answers to these questions; it shows how little implantation or influence we have in these communities.

Worryingly, BBC News 24 seems more and more to be a mouthpiece for reactionary opinion. Some of our viewers are saying we should be deploying the army, minister, what do you have to say to that? Some of you are saying the police are being too soft. Some of our viewers say things would be better if we brought back slavery, why not tell us what you think?

Here’s Darcus Howe trying to give an alternative opinion:

Notice how the reporter interrupts him and talks over him. He must unequivocally condemn the riots before he is even allowed into the conversation. “You say you’re not shocked. Does this mean you condone what happened?” What an idiotic question.

Just before this interview, militaristic high Tory Patrick Mercer was interviewed. He said police might need to look at using water cannon and maybe plastic bullets. He said police officers should start to think more like infantry officers. The reporter didn’t interrupt him by saying “Hang on, about a thousand people have taken to the streets and suddenly you’re talking about militarising the police. Isn’t that a bit stupid?”

I sense a shift to the right. But there have also been videos of people accosting Nick Clegg and confronting him about the government’s cuts programme. Complicated and contradictory ideas in people’s heads again?

As I wrote this it turned into what just seems to be a string of questions. Anyone got any more ideas?

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Dorries tells porkies: Don’t believe everything that you read in Hansard

by Anne Archist

Nadine Dorries has been in the headlines once again over at one of the two places that doesn’t agree with her. The interview is quite a good one, calling her out on various claims and implications she makes beyond the more obvious such as the ‘banana condom’ moment. The problem with Dorries is that her lying seems to be compulsive; one can offer no political explanation of this, it is a trait seemingly unique to Dorries among the current slew of tories that she tells obvious lies on a daily basis. She has even admitted that she fabricates the majority of her blog although she later climbed down a few rungs and suggested that only a third was “fiction”. In either case she is hardly a beacon of transparency and trustworthiness.

I am less concerned by her attempts to mislead the public about where she spends her weekends and more by the complete rubbish that she spews in trying to gain support for legislative measures. You can read a lot of this in the interview, where it generally amounts to vague assertions without any evidence and vast exaggeration or fabrication of scientific research to support arbitrary abstractions (in the face of real scientific research). The particular issue that I want to take on here is one that I haven’t seen covered in the mainstream press – Dorries has misled Parliament, whether consciously or accidentally as a result of grossly inadequate research.

Hansard records Dorries as saying that: “In July 2009, a Sheffield NHS trust released into secondary schools—to children from the age of 11—a pamphlet which told them that sex every day keeps the doctor away,” and repeating “This is a pamphlet going out to 11-year-olds at secondary modern schools in Sheffield.” I have received e-mails from the producers of the pamphlet confirming that it was not distributed to schoolchildren, but was instead sold to professionals such as doctors, social workers, teachers, etc (at a price of £15 for 25, for those who are curious). The pamphlet was written for adults and consistently states that education should be ‘age-appropriate’.

Incidentally, even if it were distributed to schoolchildren, it says “an orgasm a day” (not “sex every day”) and goes on to explicitly suggest sex or masturbation. Dorries’ moral panic seems to have blinded her to the actual context and content of the pamphlet; ironically it also seems to have passed her by that the same NHS trust produces a pamphlet entitled “Nobody’s Choice But Mine” covering exactly the discussions of abstinence and peer pressure that Dorries claims are unavailable to young women. One wonders whether this wouldn’t be the ideal text to use in the abstinence-education she is trying to legally mandate schools to provide…

I can’t know whether Dorries is lying through her teeth or so monumentally incompetent that she is incapable of understanding/remembering simple things like the age of pupils putting condoms on bananas (it’s been suggested that she may have confused ‘seven-year-olds’ with ‘year 7 students’), or who a pamphlet was written for and distributed to, for instance. What we can learn from this is that we should rigorously interrogate the claims made by the government that their policy is evidence-based, or that they have seen certain things with their own eyes. I can’t help but think of the incident where David Cameron claimed to have met a 40-year-old who’d spent 30 years in the Royal Navy… And this is by no means the only example.

Dorries has been asked to withdraw her remarks and apologise for misleading Parliament and the public, but she has yet to reply. Another MP has allegedly instructed staff not to reply to certain constituents after they similarly caught him out – I won’t name anybody as I can’t guarantee the claim, but I can say it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Can we trust anything MPs say when they routinely misreport facts, fabricate statistics, etc? This isn’t just a question of cynicism and hostility to people who throw numbers around loosely – it’s a fundamental problem for our concept of democracy. Any effective democracy – one which actually reaches the right policies as a result of democratic participation – relies on an educated and informed public; much of the media and many politicians/think-tanks/lobby-groups seem intent on achieving just the opposite.

 

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Marx doesn’t have all the answers

by Anne Archist

There is a tendency on the left towards reductive theories and models; this is most pronounced in Marxism, versions of which often place massive emphasis on the development of technology, or imbue one form of oppression with strategic and ontological primacy, etc. Other ideas that can be strictly or broadly said to be on the ‘left’ are guilty of this on occasion too, to varying ideas – some anarchists are highly materialist, some feminists think that the lot of women in life can be understood from the standpoint of one particular factor such as the belief that women are made vulnerable by their potential for pregnancy, or whatever it may be. In this post I’ll talk specifically about Marxism, although much of it is applicable to other movements and theories to some extent.

This kind of analysis leaves much to be desired, however, as it lacks the subtle nuances and detailed models that have been developed often within liberal discourse. Materialist analysis should not be based on totally superseding the pre-existing explanations we have available, but on correcting, refining and supplementing them as appropriate. Obviously large sections of liberal theory are ‘ideological’ in the Marxist sense – they are flawed ways of understanding the world perpetuated because they serve certain interests and perhaps contain some ‘partial truth’ or ‘mirror’ something real.

But this approach of throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a totally unjustifiable approach that it itself ideological – it begins with the true proposition that liberal theory is flawed, and promotes the myth that Marxism is holistic and ‘scientific’ and so can explain everything. It is important to note that this approach is not that taken by Marx himself or people like Althusser, Cohen or Gramsci. For these theorists, the method was to adjust and expand prior ideas about the world; Marx began with classical economics and produced his own take on it while later writers aimed to expand the scope of Marx’s methods, refine his claims to render them consistent, etc.

There are often things to be learnt from non-materialist analysis and disciplines other than history or economics. It is interesting to note, for instance, how few Marxists seem to take social psychology seriously, despite the fact that it has provided a great deal of insight into the (re)production of racism in society, military discipline and other forms of proletarian obedience, etc. Another example is the distaste of some Marxists towards philosophy (and particularly logic) as if philosophers expected to be able to explain the whole world from the comfort of their armchair; I have heard people seriously express the notion that logic is bourgeois and is the philosophical antithesis of materialism, an idea which is totally wrong-headed to say the least.

If we want to understand the world in order to change it, we will need to keep our minds open about different disciplines, theories, models and propositions. The world cannot be changed by someone who understands only economics and has no concept of history outside of this. The world cannot be changed by someone who understands only history and has no notion of the complexities involved in ‘democracy’ as a concept and a goal. Any revolutionary or even reformist ‘progressive’ movement must be polymathic if it is to achieve its goals; we have to be able, for instance, to look at the social-psychological, philosophical, historical, economic, political and practical aspects of a question like how to achieve industrial democracy.

If we’re blind to the dangers and flaws of our strategies then we will screw up all over again, just as many movements have in the past. The failure of the USSR or Cuba cannot be put down solely to grand historical factors like the Cold War, however vital these are to understanding the context in which they existed and the pressures that shaped them. They took the shapes they did partly also as a result of decisions that were made by individuals and groups – decisions that may have been influenced by individuals personalities, incorrect theories or predictions, one-off historical events, logical fallacies, and conformity or fear.

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