Tag Archives: English Defence League

New Year, New Labour

by Anne Archist

Labour are trying once again to re-invent themselves; 2012 has already seen a new attitude that amounts to exhuming the short-lived corpse of Blue Labour.

The media identified prior ‘re-launches’ under Miliband’s stewardship in June of last year and November of the year before, not to mention that his election as leader was itself supposed to de-toxify the Labour brand after the Blair-Brown years. Each previous attempt also utilised Maurice ‘The Baron’ Glasman’s “if you can’t beat them, imitate them” logic; this time, though, the leadership’s ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’ ideology has been dressed up in Beveridge’s old clothes, saved for just such an occasion.

The Baron was disappointed to learn that Jon Crudas had skipped Sunday service.

Blue Labour is enough to make a Marxist miss Brown Labour. At least Gordon ‘Golden’ Brown realised it was “the economy, stupid” and had some tentative ideas what could be done about it – The Baron would rather have us believe that modern society’s inexorable autosarcophagy can be stemmed by getting more bums on pews at St Saviour in the Marshes. Liam Byrne is the whipping-boy tasked with the triumphant fanfair, and is at least an improvement on Glasman. The Baron wrote and said the sorts of things that would make you choke on your bourbon biscuit in shock as you casually perused the Guardian website over a cuppa. Byrne is the kind of character who might make you emit involuntary Marge Simpson impressions, but not cough up crumbs and hot tea over your keyboard.

The big news is that Labour are “reclaiming [Beveridge’s] vision, learning from his political courage, understanding what has gone wrong in recent years as well as what has worked”; they must “become the radical reformers again”. Like a student who forgets to attach their essay to the e-mail, Byrne seems to have all-too-conveniently left out the details. There are hints at what the new approach to welfare policy might be, and some of them aren’t pretty.

Encouragingly, Byrne savages the current system’s treatment of the ill and disabled, and ends on a high note: “Beveridge’s first principles are the right place to begin”. But the warning signs are all there, and we have come to expect no better from ‘triangulated’ Labour: “Beveridge would have wanted determined action from government to get communities working once again, not least to bring down that benefits bill to help pay down the national debt”, “He never saw unearned support as desirable”, so “let’s restore the idea of ‘something for something’”.

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Now, as it happens, although Liam Byrne was neither born nor elected in my local area, he was educated here in his adolescence. I would like to think, then, that having experienced a world where around 30% have no qualifications, unemployment has frequently hit 10% or higher (with youth unemployment particularly high and a relatively high number of people never having worked), there is a high measure of overcrowding and 30% live in council housing, Byrne might have some understanding of the problems facing – and generally the lives of – those who rely on the welfare state in some form.

On the other hand, Byrne also sat on the committee that drafted legislation penalising phone usage by drivers, and then got a fine and points on his license for… yep, you guessed it, using a phone while driving. Perhaps, then, it would be too much to expect of him. While paying lip service to the content of Beveridge’s skilful and considered (though still imperfect) report, one gets the impression that Labour are more keen to vicariously cash in on its kudos than to implement its ideas as policy. This impression is all the more forgivable in light of New Labour’s record, and especially given the continued influence that Glasman’s ideas exercise over the party leadership (despite the formal dissolution of the Blue Labour project after the aforementioned ugly comments made by The Baron himself).

It would be a massive coup if Labour could produce something like the Beveridge report these days. Of late, state-commissioned research has been getting more slapdash and significantly shorter, with all of the loss of detail, balance and elucidation that implies; consider the 2010 Browne report into Higher Education, a total wash-out weighing in at only a nominal 60 pages (which is misleadingly high considering that ~5 pages of that are taken up by appendices and references, and the report itself contains more blank space and pictures than your average colouring book). The 1963 Robbins Report into Higher Education, to put that into perspective, had 335 pages. Obviously I’d rather give the number of words since this is a better standard of comparison, but this is difficult for technical reasons and you get the picture at any rate.

Beveridge struggles to find anything of any intellectual merit in the Browne Report.

It’s not just a question of the length of the report and the level of detail and the development of the logic that was possible as a result. It’s also a question of the mind and principles behind the recommendations; the principles were laid out honestly, the best practical application was explained meticulously and with sharp insight. As Liam Byrne points out in his article, the general public responded so positively that there were queues to buy the report. Beveridge strips his subject matter bare and builds his thought process up in a clear and honest way that can be followed by anyone inclined to do so, rather than filling the text with jargon or tacitly presupposing a narrow ideology. If every report were like the Beveridge report, bureaucracy would not be such a bad thing.

Labour have two choices. They could attach a dynamo to Beveridge’s coffin and prove themselves partially useful by forcing him to spin – with a bit of luck they might be able to power a constituency office with the electricity generated. Alternatively, they can take the challenge seriously and commission talented intellects to conduct a wholesale enquiry into the modern benefits system and its intersections with other areas of state and market activity. Taking this route would mean considering not only issues like the incentives provided by child benefits, but also the relationship between wages and benefits in their various forms, the future of social housing stock, the feasibility of full employment (which Beveridge assumed in his report), etc.

While it may not be immediately apparent, these questions are vital to understanding why the benefits system works as it does, and how it might work differently. The level of benefits or the conditions associated with them do supply incentives to act in one way or another, but they do not do so in a vacuum. The consequence of a particular policy (setting a threshold just so, or banning this type of person from receiving that payment) depends hugely upon other social variables that exist alongside the benefits system but are not themselves part of it. Even Byrne’s colleague Diane Abbott made this point effectively when she noted that the housing benefit bill “reflects a conscious political decision by successive governments to subsidise (mostly) private landlords rather than invest in affordable council housing”.

While we’re looking at benefits from different angles, let’s also remember that there are more things in heaven and earth, neoliberal, than are dreamt of in your economics. It shouldn’t be a surprise if someone values 15 hrs of their time more highly than the £15 difference it would make to their income. We should re-evaluate which factors are taken into consideration in determining payments and how – should 2 friends living together get any more or less than 2 partners living together? We should be clear about what sort of behaviours we are incentivising or penalising and why – do we want less children (say, for environmentalist reasons) or more (to counteract the aging population and pay for their parents’ pensions and healthcare, perhaps)?

If a re-examination of the welfare state dodges problems like this then it will have ensured its irrelevance and its inferiority to the original. In fact, it’s tempting to suggest that Miliband might as well just re-publish and re-read the original Beveridge report in its entirety and apply the principles and arguments laid out in it to the contemporary situation, since it’s difficult to imagine the modern Labour party producing or commissioning anything of great positive significance.

Byrne hits the nail on the head when he says that what is needed is radicalism, though I doubt he has the stomach to put this concept into action – healing the malaise of the welfare state may mean rebuilding the entire taxation system from the ground up, ensuring structural full employment, introducing a universal minimum income (like that proposed by the Green Party), or other wholesale changes to basic components of our economy and society. Byrne is all bluster, but calling his bluff could yield real fruit.

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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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In defence of Trots

This is a guest post by Tami Peterson. Tami is studying a Masters of Research in Social and Political Theory at Birkbeck, and is Anti-Rasicm and Anti-Fascism Officer at Birkbeck SU and on the NUS LGBT Committe, writing in a personal capacity.

In the recent discussion around the protests and demonstrations that have happened across England an old spectre has come back to haunt the student movement. This is a spectre of plots by Trots to “overthrow” the NUS leadership, to incite violence and to generally cause mayhem. These Trots along with anarchists and self-described kids from the “slums of London” are the “bad protesters” to be shunned, disregarded as insane or irrelevant. The fact that the majority that make up this group are largely working class, poor and Black and Asian has, of course, nothing to do with the labels thrown at them by the media and rightwing groups like the EDL who are now targetting them.

Contrary to this are posed the “good protesters”, the apparently “peaceful students” who are overwhelmingly white, middle class, in Higher Education (as opposed to the rabble from FE colleges and Sixth Forms) and generally respectable. They work with the police, think all forms of vandalism are unacceptable (unless of course it is the state that is vandalising public services) and oppose violence (unless of course it happens to be a war or other state-sponsored aggression).

In reality, there is a fake narrative being created here. The first lie is that the new student movement is led by Trotskyists and Anarchists. Quite simply this isn’t the case. The scale and breadth of the movement which has happened in the wake of the 10th of November is being led by young people, most of them ages 16-18 or younger. Many of them are too young to vote or be members of the NUS. While the organised left has indeed been responsible for setting up organisations like the Education Activist Network, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the London Student Assembly the reality is that others are the ones who have sparked this movement.

This false narrative obscures the real divide which is posited in the age-old question: Reform or Revolution? The “bad protesters”, or anyone questioning the very organisation of capitalist society, a system which is increasingly brazen in its pure marketisation and privatisation of every aspect of social life, is to be disregarded or belittled. Trotskyists, leftists, anarchists and anti-capitalists openly call for revolution, for the elimination of this illogical, inhumane system and the creation of new forms of creative action and collective human life.

Those on the side of reform don’t want to cause too much of a fuss because at base, they still believe that this system is one which is worth fighting for. They believe that they can force a kinder capitalism, a softer system. But the vitriol and scorn poured on open revolutionaries by the reformists is really due to the fact that in the early 21st century we are seeing the decline of social democracy. As leading Tory Quintin Hogg put it when the welfare state was being born: “If you don’t give them reform, they will give you social revolution.” As we witness the destruction of the welfare state, the inherent contradictions and inequality become more stark and the Emperor not only fails to wear clothing, but we are all now aware of that fact.

The sad reality for the reformists is that they are fighting for a dead ideal. They are fighting for a piece of the pie which is non-existent and the spectre of the “bad protesters” scares them into thinking, “Could they be right? Is there no future for me?”

I have had the great joy of being able to be a part of the British Qualitative Election Study which reviewed opinions of the electorate both before and directly after the most recent general election. Time and again it was evident that people viewed organised political parties with disdain or a sad acceptance that one must choose between the lesser of evils. Mostly gone from party politics is any kind of romantic notion that a party fights for one’s interests, much less that a party is a valid forum for practicing politics. Many expressed their support for the Liberal Democrats and indeed a coalition government in the hopes that issues would be addressed that had previously been ignored. Yet this hope for working within the system has once again been scuppered by blatant Liberal Democrat betrayal.

The “bad protesters” have displayed the gut instinct of the youth of modern Britain. These youth had the choice of apathy and resignation to the wholesale destruction of any progressive measures the state once supported or it could show the will to fight back, and not simply fight for what was being taken away, but for a whole different way of doing politics and for a whole different way of living. The deliberative democracy and creativeness to come spontaneously out of the occupations is just one small example of what “bad protesters” can do.

So in the end, I stand shoulder to shoulder with Trotskyists, anarchists, anti-capitalists, revolutionaries and those from the slums of London in rejecting strongly the destruction of the welfare state. I stand with them in our desperate fight to create a better world in the face of the full violence of the state which is helped and supported by the silence or excuses of the “good protesters” who make apologies for it. So the next time someone labels you a “Trot” because you have decided to put your hands onto the wheel of history don’t try to distance yourself from it, take it as a compliment.

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English Defence League rally in Hyde Park

by Edd Mustill

Yesterday the English Defence League held a pro-Israel demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in London. Afterwards, a few dozen EDL supporters rallied at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. Here they overturned one of the tables containing Islamic literature. Photos can be seen here, here, and here.

Although there was apparently a small counter-demo at the earlier rally, they was no organised opposition in Hyde Park. Eventually the police kettled the EDL and marched them away to Hyde Park corner. It was a small mobilisation, but supporters were present from Brighton and the East Midlands.

In public, the EDL is trying to appropriate slogans that historically belong to progressive movements. Their chants included “Whose streets? Our streets!” They carried a pink union jack with the slogan “No to homophobia.” The idea is to paint themselves as defenders of civilisation and its values in a battle against “militant Islam.” But general Islamophobia is not very far from the surface. Slogans against the building of (any) mosques are common, and at their recent Bradford demonstration they chanted “We love the floods,” referring to the catastrophe in Pakistan.

A speaker at the rally on Sunday said: “We’re dealing with Islamics (sic), we’re dealing with people who want to bomb us, who want to kill us from within.”

American Rabbi Nachum Shifren was present. Rabbi Shifren is currently running for the 26th District of the California State Senate and, according to his website, is endorsed by two US Congressmen, both Republicans. His campaign website is heavily saturated with anti-immigration rhetoric and complaints of African American “racism,” presumably referring to affirmative action.

This may be a move towards forging greater connections between the EDL and elements of the Tea Party movement in America, something which the Guardian has reported on recently.

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What happened in Bradford? Why the Left needs to start telling the truth

Written by Patrick

Last weekend, the English Defense League (EDL), a fascist street gang, demonstrated in Bradford. The EDL have started race riots before, most notably in Luton, where they beat up Asians, and smashed shops. In Bradford they were kettled by the police, and stuck to chanting ‘allah is a paedo’ (I know – what the hell? That doesn’t even make any sense) and ‘we love the floods’ (a reference to the recent floods in Pakistan).

So, anti-fascist groups were out in Bradford to oppose the EDL. The reasoning goes like this – fascists take control of the streets through intimidation and violence before they try and take control of the state. If you let them control the streets, they will be effective at turning street power into state power. They threaten the lives and safety of minorities, left-wingers, trade unionists, and many people who don’t fit their political-racial type. So they must be stopped.

This narrative may sound unbelievable to many ordinary people, and indeed, it is counterintuitive. Surely fascism was defeated in World War 2? Surely it’s an outdated, 20th century concept, with no place in our post-modern, end-of-history world view? Surely the police will deal with troublemakers, and racially motivated attacks are punished harshly – why do we need to oppose the fascists by demonstrating, blocking their marches, breaking up their meetings and running them off the streets?

It is clear that, when we’re talking about fascism to ordinary people, we need to be rigorous in telling the truth, and we must be seen to tell the truth. If we are to convince anyone of the threat of fascism, there must be no holes in our arguments, no mistakes in our facts, no gaps in our reasoning.

So why has it been so difficult for the left to tell the truth in even the most basic aspects of the anti-fascist movement? Take the Bradford protest, for example. I wasn’t there, but a quick search of the internet provides you with all the facts you need to piece together what happened on the day. These videos give documentary evidence of the three demonstrations that took place that day, and a minimal amount of research reveals that Unite Against Fascism organised a ‘multicultural celebration’ at Exchange Square, the EDL protested at some ‘urban gardens’ about six minutes’ walk away and the Stop Racism and Fascism (SRF) Network protested across the road from the EDL.

However, it seems impossible for much of the left to get a grasp on these basic facts – facts which it took me barely half an hour of internet searching to find out.

Richard Seymour thought that the counter-demo organised by the SRF Network was ‘hundreds of Asian kids, almost a thousand of them, who appeared as if from nowhere and stopped the EDL in their tracks’. He laments: ‘The tragedy is that those kids had to do it by themselves’ and that ‘people’s energies were not harnessed to building up local capacity for resisting the EDL’. He totally fails to mention the SRF Network, who had been leafleting and door-knocking (Paragraph 7) in Bradford for weeks leading up to the demo.

Unite Against Fascism go one step further, claiming that ‘A mixed group of people including white, black and Asian people, young and old, families, shoppers and passers-by, spontaneously turned up on pavements overlooking the EDL event, to show their opposition.’ This ‘spontaneous’ group can be clearly seen in these videos chasing the EDL around Bradford in a semi-organised, clearly coordinated way.

Do people ‘spontaneously’ realise that racists must be challenged on the streets? Do ‘shoppers’ and ‘passers-by’ ‘spontaneously’ chase said racists around town? No – people do this because they have a solid understanding of the implications of the EDL – they know, from experience and from political organisation, what happens if fascists go unchallenged. Anyone who takes THE TRUTH seriously would immediately question any account that claims action is ‘spontaneous’, and they would attempt to find out who these counter protesters actually were, how they were organised, how they communicated. UAF and Richard Seymour don’t appear to take the truth seriously – their writing is poorly constructed propaganda.

The SRF Network also leave themselves open to criticism – they claim that protesters ‘prevented EDLers breaking out their cordon and rampaging through Asian areas of the town.’– clearly untrue if you watch the videos – many EDL did break out of the cordon, and were chased and challenged by the SRF protestors and many others. The AWL claim that ‘Attempts to attack a local mosque were also beaten back’, but no corroborating evidence is given, and the vague phrase ‘beaten back’ is used.

Some accounts make more effort to tell the truth than others, but none are serious about working out what actually happened on the day. If this is the incoherent bilge that passes for a decent argument, we will never defeat the fascists, on the streets or at the ballot box.

This is especially apparent when we look at Socialist Worker’s account. They congratulate the youth who fought the EDL, but they don’t question their own strategy of joining ‘We are Bradford’, a multicultural celebration six minutes’ walk away from where the EDL actually were. Their lazy style of writing, their propagandistic, yet unconvincing style of argument has allowed them to ignore the biggest tactical discussion around countering fascism – namely: what kind of street actions reduce the power of the fascists? This kind of writing prevents people from knowing the whole truth, and therefore prevents us from learning from our mistakes, and prevents us from getting things right next time.

So, I suggest a code of practice for writing on the left –

1. References: when you write something, back it up with evidence. It’s not difficult, and it is big, and it is clever.

2. Links: turn your references into links with an easy bit of code – it makes it much easier to follow references to their sources.

3. References: seriously, don’t say shit if you don’t back it up.

4. Tell the whole truth as you know it – that includes facts that go against the grain of your argument. At least consider the possibility that you might be wrong, or that you might need to change your mind.

5. Quoting Trotsky or Lenin does not prove the validity of an argument.

6. If you don’t want to abide by these rules, lie back and let people lose their trust in the left.

Sorry about the rant – well done everyone who was in Bradford! And especially well done to this guy!

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