Category Archives: Socialism/Politics/UK/EU/Democratic accountability/Left

Islam and the left in Turkey.



Below is a first rate analyses written by Ron Marqulies of where the Turkish left stands as far as Islam is concerned and the rise of the AK Party. It highlights the similarities between the AKP and New Labour. Unlike NL, which has been the parliamentary vehicle for some of the most reactionary legislation to become law in the UK since the 19th century, the AKP whilst implementing a neo liberal economic program, has also passed a platform of progressive legislation through the Grand Assembly and in 2003 [finally] resisted G W Bush’s demands that Turkey be used as a bridgehead to invade Iraq.

Margulies clearly believes that a section of the Turkish left has come down on the wrong side of the argument over the AKP; and in doing so has ended up in the camp of the military and Turkish deep state. With the constitutional court due to give its judgment over whether to ban the AKP, and 71 of its leading members from active politics. Which will undoubtedly shake Turkish democracy, such as it is, the article gives the readers a fair idea of how we are where we are. *

MH

The General Elections, Islam and the left in Turkey.
By Ron Margulies

Are Islamist movements ‘radical’ or ‘ultra-conservative’? A so-called “Islamic” party has just been elected with nearly 50% of the vote in Turkey. It is in no way “ultra-conservative”. It is, of course, conservative on such issues as the economy, the family, social mores, etc., but no more so than Blair and less so than Bush. Because it comes from a non-Kemalist, non-nationalist, Islamist tradition and because a part of the Kemalist state machine (with the social democrats as its political voice and the westernised, urban middle class as its social base) uses the language of anti-imperialist nationalism to attack this party, the party has positioned itself as neither anti-imperialist nor nationalist. Moreover, because it is able to mobilise mass electoral support from the rural and urban lower classes (including the working class) on the basis of its relaxed and tolerant attitude to Islam (but no more than that), it is able to stare the Kemalist state down (while taking care not to provoke a military coup) and take steps which are perhaps not “radical” but certainly “progressive” in reforming the state: reducing the role of the military, resolving the Kurdish and Cyprus issues, allowing the issue of the Armenian genocide to be discussed, introducing less restrictive legislation in a range of areas (in part to meet the requirements of EU accession, but not just for that reason).

Further to complicate matters, the implementation of these reforms is the demand not of any mass movement from below, but of the bulk of the ruling class. Thus, we have an “Islamist” party implementing the neo-liberal package to the letter, while, as part of the same package, carrying out quite far-reaching reforms, and doing both with the support of big business. And it is, all the time, attacked by the military, the social democrats and much of the left as “reactionary”, “secretly fundamentalist” and “ultra-conservative”; not because of its neo-liberalism, but because of its imaginary Islamism.

This has had two crucially important effects over the past five years, since the AKP government was first elected in 2002.

Firstly, the government’s neo-liberal policies (privatisation, “reform” of the health and social security systems, etc.) have remained unopposed in parliament, where the only other party, the social democrats, have appointed themselves the guardians of “the secular republic” and brought this issue (laicism) to the fore at the expense of all others. Given that the government did nothing which could be construed as even vaguely Islamic, the social democrats’ shrill screams about the grave dangers posed by an “Islamic” government carried no weight at all with the population at large. If anything, in a country where a majority of the people consider themselves to be (not “Islamists”, but) Muslims, it created a perception of the government as being unjustly attacked and made people look upon it with more sympathy than they might have done. Add to this the fact that the economy has grown every single month for the past five years and that the industrial struggle has been practically non-existent (with trade union membership halved over the past 20 years), and there has effectively been no fightback against neo-liberalism either in parliament or in the workplace/street.

Secondly, the very fact that there is an “Islamic” government in power, the fact that this government has shown a willingness to resolve the Kurdish, Cyprus and Armenian issues, the fact that the EU is pushing for the political role of the military to be curtailed (among other things) and for minority (Greek, Armenian, Jewish, as well as Kurdish) rights to be recognised have all combined to act as a red rag to the bull of the Kemalist establishment. As a result, there has been a backlash, a concerted effort from the top to whip up nationalism and to portray all efforts to reform the state as “betraying Kemal’s legacy”, “destroying the indivisibility of the state and the country”, “selling the country out to the US and the EU”, “giving in to the US project for a new Middle East and/or going along with the US project of promoting moderate Islam”.

There have been a number of well-organised peaks to this backlash: the court cases against famous authors and journalists (most notably Orhan Pamuk) for “insulting Turkishness” (in Pamuk’s case this consisted of saying that 30.000 Kurds and one million Armenians had died in Turkey); the bombing of a bookshop in a Kurdish town, with two low-ranking army officers later charged; the assassination of Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink in broad daylight, with pictures later published of his assassin in the police headquarters where he was held, posing in front of a Turkish flag and a poster of Kemal Atatürk, next to two policemen, with a cigarette in his hand; the murder of a Catholic priest in the Black Sea town of Trabzon and three Turkish Protestants in a southern town (with an accompanying furore about “missionary activities” – a furore whipped up by nationalists, not Islamists!); several attacks on Kurds in Turkish towns; hugely hyped-up funerals for Turkish troops who die in the war with the PKK; endless pronouncements on political issues by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, including one where he said “Anyone who refuses to say ‘How happy is he who is a Turk’ (a saying by Kemal) is an enemy of the state and will remain so”; and finally the huge meetings to “Defend the Republic”, each of them a sea of Turkish flags, with barely disguised calls from the platform for a military takeover.

All of these things have been organised officially, semi-officially or official-but-clandestinely by what is widely called “the deep state” in Turkey. In fact, there is nothing “deep” about it. At one end it consists of murky organisations with links to both the secret services and the youth organisations of the two fascist parties, but at the other end it goes all the way to the very un-deep Chief of Staff.

What has been happening for the past five or more years, in a nutshell, is that the Kemalist state (with the military and the bureaucracy to the fore) and its appendages (the media, the academic establishment, etc.) have been defending themselves vigorously against what they rightly perceive (but exaggerate) as an attack on all the sacred cows of Kemalism and on their power.

They are fighting a losing battle, unless the military take power directly, which seems to be unlikely in the near future (it is unlikely – though it cannot be ruled out completely – because legitimising a coup against a government which has just got 47% of the vote would be well nigh impossible). Indeed, they are fighting a losing battle even if the military do take power directly, because the ruling class wants to join the EU (and is prepared to do the necessary to that end), and wants to see the Kurdish, Cyprus and Armenian issues resolved (the festering issues bring them no gain, their resolution would bring profits). The relationship between the ruling class and the military (and the state generally) is always mediated, and in Turkey it is more mediated than most, with the military sometimes acting as if its interests were completely separate from those of the ruling class. Never the less, the ruling class will, in the end, get its way.

However, in fighting this losing battle, and fighting it viciously, they have ensured that the fault line in Turkish politics is not neo-liberalism, and not the war in Iraq, but nationalism, racism, the role of the military, Islam and democracy. That is what exercises, excites and mobilises everyone; that is what the general election was fought over; that is what a military coup, if it happens, will happen over. The single most striking mass mobilisation ever in this country took place in January this year when 250,000 people marched behind Hrant Dink’s funeral hearse, carrying small placards which read “We are all Armenians”. No one even imagined that the march would be even one-tenth as big, and no greater blow could be dealt to the official ideology of the Turkish state.

The run-up to the general election

The elections were normally due in November. An early election was sparked off, however, when the government was prevented from getting its preferred candidate elected state president in April. Prime Minister Erdoğan had long said that he would be the next president. As the president is elected by parliament and Erdoğan enjoyed a comfortable parliamentary majority, he would have no trouble getting elected. This had been a simmering problem ever since Erdoğan announced his presidential intention. For two reasons: the presidential palace was seen by the Kemalists as their last bulwark unsullied by Islam (the president is not a simple figurehead, but enjoys considerable powers of veto and appointment of state officials), and Erdoğan’s wife wears a headscarf (“We will not have a woman wearing a headscarf in the presidential palace!” they screamed!).

When push came to shove, Erdoğan took a step back (as he has carefully done for five years) and put forward not himself but the Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. This was obviously a miscalculation or crossed wires in Erdoğan’s talks with the military. He thought Gül would be acceptable; he was wrong. Parliament voted for Gül’s presidency, the social democrats took the matter to the Constitutional Court (claiming that there was no quorum of two-thirds in the house during the vote), the military issued their e-memorandum warning about the dangers of Islam and threatening to act, and the Constitutional Court ruled Gül’s election invalid (although no previous president had had the two-thirds quorum!)

It is important to point out that both the memorandum and the Constitutional Court’s ruling were widely seen by the population (and even by much of the usually slavish media) as undemocratic, and unfair on Gül. As for the “threat” of headscarves in the presidential palace, this is a complete non-issue for the overwhelming majority of the population who either wear headscarves or cannot give a damn about who does and who doesn’t.

The failure to elect the president triggered off an early general election.

The general election of 22 July

The electoral system, a very democratic version of proportional representation, is rendered utterly undemocratic by a 10% national threshold designed to keep the Kurds out. In the last elections in 2002, the threshold kept out not only the Kurds, but all parties except for two, the AKP and the social democratic CHP. The fact that AKP had a huge parliamentary majority with only 34% of the national vote was a stick frequently used to beat it, although, of course, they were not the ones to introduce the threshold (it was brought in after the military coup of 1980).

The election campaign period was short and sharp, with the battle lines very clearly drawn. Three parties were expected to break through the threshold, and they did: AKP, CHP and the fascist MHP.

AKP, assured of its victory, ran a relatively low-key campaign based on its record. By contrast, CHP continued what it had been doing for the previous five years, running a rabidly nationalist, anti-Islam, alarmist, scare-mongering campaign. One of their full-page newspaper ads was typical: it showed Erdoğan with his hands up (he was saluting a crowd, but it also looked like the gesture for surrendering) and under his picture were the words “The government’s approach to the PKK”. Many leading CHP supporters, in the media and elsewhere, argued that people who did not want to vote for the “left” (meaning the CHP!) should vote for the fascists, so that the two parties could form a coalition to keep AKP out and “defend the republic, the nation and the state”.

None of this had any effect on a population which has repeatedly indicated that it does not see Islam as a threat of any kind at all, is sick and tired of the fighting in the Kurdish provinces, and does not approve of the military interfering in politics. This is not left-wing wishful thinking. It was proved once again when the combined vote of the four rabidly nationalistic parties (CHP, MHP and two smaller parties) went down slightly, while AKP’s went up from 34% to 47%. It should be noted that in the face of the nationalist assault on it, AKP largely resisted what must have been a strong temptation to play the nationalistic card itself and thus pull the rug from under its opponents’ feet.

The Kurds and the left

In the 2002 elections, the Kurdish Party (DTP) polled 6% of the vote nationally and, because of the 10% threshold, got no members of parliament in spite of the fact that it had a clear majority in many Kurdish areas. There was no doubt that they would get about the same vote this time, or even lose some votes to AKP. This is indeed what happened.

The parties of the left are ÖDP (the Freedom and Solidarity Party, a radical, centrist, non-marxist organisation with, of course, many marxists in it), EMEP (the Labour Party, ex-pro-Albanian, stalinist and somewhat Kemalist), the Workers Party (ex-pro-Peking, stalinist and rabidly Kemalist, frequently calling for a military coup to defend the “Republic” against Islam and Kurdish separatism), and TKP (the Communist Party, stalinist and rabidly Kemalist; their newspaper Communist was re-named Patriot a few months before the elections), and SDP (the Party of Socialist Democracy, which seems to have no politics other than to support the Kurds). In 2002, ÖDP, the Workers Party and TKP all got less than one half of 1%. EMEP and SDP joined an electoral pact with the Kurdish party and contributed next to nothing to the Kurdish vote. The rest of the left includes a large variety of stalinist groups arguing for armed struggle (rural or urban) but no longer able to put their theory into practice.

For many months before the election, the idea became widely discussed that the only way the 10% threshold could be circumvented was to put up independent candidates (the threshold only applies to parties). So, for example, the Kurdish party could put up its candidates not as party candidates but as “independents”, everyone would know who these were, DTP would publish a list saying “these are the candidates we support”, they would win in several Kurdish areas and go to parliament. If, on the other hand, they stood as party candidates, they would be ruled out even where they got the majority of the vote, because the party had not got 10% nationally. The same would apply to left candidates who stood not in the name of their party but as “independents”.

In the end, this is what happened:

The Kurdish party put up “independent” candidates, both in the Kurdish areas and in a number of big cities where there is a sizeable Kurdish migrant population. They needed to get 20 MPs elected in order to get a parliamentary ‘group’ (having such a ‘group’ gives you more frequent speaking rights, etc.). In spite of various shenanigans by the state, they succeeded in getting 22 Kurdish members of parliament elected. The 10% threshold is dead in the water.

The Kurdish party also put on the list of “the candidates we support” the chairmen of EMEP and ÖDP, and the honorary chairman of SDP. The EMEP leader was put up in Izmir (a Kemalist stronghold) and lost miserably, getting a smaller vote than the Kurds had in 2002. The SDP honorary chairman (in fact a semi-detached member of the party and former head of the Human Rights Association) was put up in Diyarbakir (where the Kurds could put up a tree trunk and win) and won. He is now part of the DTP ‘group’ in parliament.

The ÖDP chairman, Ufuk Uras, is a rather different story. He is also somewhat semi-detached, a member of the anti-war and social forum movements in spite of his party, strongly anti-nationalist in spite of his party, and deeply unpopular among a certain section of his party. Thus, while he was on the DTP list, he was widely and rightly perceived as being different from all the other DTP-list candidates, his campaign mobilised very many new, young and unaligned people. He won, with nearly 80,000 votes, on the Asian side of Istanbul. And he has not joined the DTP group in parliament.

There was one other truly independent candidate, Baskin Oran, a prominent, left-wing professor with a high profile and a broad appeal, who stood on the European side of Istanbul. He was put up by a group of people on the left, but mostly not members of any organisation, including trade unionists, lecturers, journalists, etc. These people shared the view that the candidate should have an appeal beyond the narrow socialist left, that support should be sought from the DTP but that the candidate should not be part of the DTP “list”, that an eye should be kept on the possibility of turning the election campaign (particularly if successful) into something more permanent.

The campaign for Baskin Oran galvanised and rejuvenated everyone on the left and beyond. Countless numbers of people new to active politics who wouldn’t touch the existing organisations with a barge pole took part in the campaign. Everyone was talking about what to do/create/build after the election.

After promising support for Oran, DTP broke their promise (for their own reasons) and stood their own “independent” candidate against him. As a result, neither Oran nor the DTP candidate won, but Oran got a very respectable 31,000 votes.

The Uras and Oran campaigns, one on each side of the Bosporus, were necessarily separate, but worked quite closely together, with the two men often appearing on each other’s platforms. The two candidates/campaigns were widely perceived as a “package” and seen not only in Istanbul but across the country as something new, different, exciting and promising. (The Baskin Oran website, for example, received as many messages of support from outside Istanbul as it did from his own electoral area). Nobody confused this package with any of the large variety of other “independent left” candidates put up by countless small organisations (all of whom got laughable votes).

With Uras now in parliament and the Oran campaign deciding to keep its election office and website open, the very real possibility has been created of a new political formation emerging from the two campaigns, perhaps very roughly along the lines of Respect in Britain or the Left Party in Germany. Both the people at the centre of the campaigns and the people on the ground are constantly discussing this possibility. It will not be immediate and it will not be easy, but it is now a realistic hope.

In the meantime, the government, strengthened by its thumping election victory, will proceed with its neo-liberal programme, making it even more necessary for a new left to emerge which can fight the government on the real issues rather than the imaginary threat of Islamic fundamentalism.

*This article first appeared on International Socialism web site—- http://www.isj.org.uk/?id=390

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Filed under Socialism/Politics/UK/EU/Democratic accountability/Left, Turkey/Democratic Rights and responsibilities/elections

Is Cuba’s Revolution still relevant to the left?


On its web site, the radical magazine Red Pepper has a thread entitled ‘Is Cuba’s Revolution still relevant to the
left.’ * When I first read it I could feel the hackles rising on the back of my neck, for not only is the Cuban revolution relevant to the political left, not least as it is still a work in progress. But we socialists have a sacred duty to support it in what ever way we can. Myself I would go further and say there is no such thing as a socialist who does not stand four square with the Cuban revolution against the crude and obscene power that is the government of the USA, as it is impossible to be a socialist, whether reformist or revolutionary if you do not stand with the Cuban people and there revolution.

Yet judging from some of the replies to the thread and the link’s posted, not only do people who claim to be socialists believe that the Cuban revolution has no relevancy for today’s left, they go further and if one ignores the neat and pretty bow they adorn their opposition to the Cuban government within, in reality their position is little different from countless US administrations, in that they judge Cuba to be a bankrupt dictatorship unworthy of support.

Fiona Osler the Web sites administrator accused those of us who support Cuba of being starry eyed, something I will return to more fully. Whilst she openly admits that since 1959 when the revolution brought Castro and his comrades to power, the Cuban working classes and peasantry have made enormous gains in the provision of health care and education. She also acknowledges that through their government the Cuban people have given unselfish and practical support to progressive struggle across the world. Yet for the likes of dear Fiona, all this means nothing as it is balanced out due to what she calls “human rights abuses,   a lack of civil rights, lack of independent trade unions and the lack of political and social space.”

It is hardly surprising that her attitude, which is a very US centric viewpoint, is not shared by the majority of the people who live in South Africa, whose suffering under the tyranny of apartheid would have been far longer without the blood sacrificed by Cuban solders who held the line on the Angolan plains when the SADF attempted to destroy Umkhonto We Sizwe training camps and the MPLA led government that had given the ANC fighters sanctuary.

Fortunately unlike some English liberal leftists, Nelson Mandela is neither “starry eyed” nor a fair weather friend; and proved his continuos support for the Cuban revolution when on being released from jail, the first visits he made overseas were to those nations who had supported the ANC through thick and thin, with Cuba at the top of his itinerary.

Thus it is not those of us who support the Cuban revolution who have stars in our eyes, but those middle class European socialists who have a starry eyed illusion about what real socialism is about in practice, and when it fails to live up to their image they turn away from it and in the process, often unintentionally, place themselves in the same camp as the exploiters. Never questioning the limitations that our comrades within Cuba faced when attempting to build a new type of society on Uncle Sam’s doorstep and within a bankrupt and economically backward nation to boot.

Yes, the lack of independent trade unions in Cuba has been a set back for the revolution as it displays a lack of trust in the masses; and there have been and in all probability still are a limited number of human rights abuses, show me a criminal justice and penal system in which barbarous acts do not occur? I also have no doubt that democratic accountability is not what we European lefties would wish.

Although perhaps we would do well to remember that here in the UK and the north-east of Ireland we have a unelected monarch as head of State and an unelected second legislative chamber which is made up of Capital’s place-men and women, pray tell how many urban and rural workers sit in that British House of Thieves. After two hundred years of political struggle we in the UK have still not perfected a viable democratic state and society. We still live in a nation where wealth and accidents of birth more often that not define a persons life chances.

As to human rights abuses? Are we in such a position to declare that our own excreta does not stink, the United Kingdom has the higher percentage of its people in jail than any comparable European State. Was it really such a long time ago that the Cuban revolutions left critics have forgotten when the British armed forces operated a shoot to kill policy in the occupied north east of Ireland. Have we forgotten that in 2003 our Prime Minister and his entire cabinet, bar one man, went against the wishes of the majority within the land, when they hitched the British armed forces wagon to an immoral and criminal US president, who had decided to invade and occupy the independent nation of Iraq. Need I mention Guantanamo Bay?

To understand the achievements of the Cuban revolution one only needs to look at the occupied west Bank and Gaza Strip. When the Oslo accords were first signed there were leading Palestinians who thought, wrongly in my view, that the Accords would give the PLO a chance to build up a civil society within these territories. They hoped to emulate Cuba and work along side the Palestinian people and provide decent health care, education and other essential elements of a successful state’s infrastructure. The Israeli embargo and IDF military incursions soon brought such hopes crashing down, and the people within the occupied territories now live in a chaotic society not that dissimilar to that which the USA once had in mind for Cuba.

When judging the Cuban revolution it is worth considering what Britain would be like today if the USA had not entered WW2 and the Nazi’s had blockaded the UK since 1945 and since that date had continuously enforced an economic and social embargo. Since its inception in 1959, the Republic of Cuba has suffered at the hands of all US administrations economic and social embargoes, periodic invasion, and a continuos stream of dire threats.

Rather than spiraling into chaos as was the US governments intention, for the first time in its history Cuba has had a government that has been able to rally and harness the abilities of its people, what ever their profession; and has in the process not only successfully resisted foreign aggression, including the bay of pigs invasion and built a society equal to most within the region. Cuba has an educated population, a system of health care better than that which millions of US citizens have access to. Law and order and a criminal system prevails in which imprisonment is not a first option for judges and magistrates, unlike its northern neighbor the USA which has the largest prison population in the world, 3.2 percent of the adult population, which is nearly as large as the population of New York City.

Socialism is different where ever it is practiced, whether it is implemented after a revolution or after an electoral victory, in an advanced industrial society or one dominated by a rural peasantry. I had hoped we were moving beyond the days when socialists believed a one size fits all version of socialism. For decades the blight of Leninism hanged over the left like the sword of Damocles, the belief that socialism could only flow from a rerun of the October Revolution or Labour’s victory in 1945 became deeply entrenched within sections of the left.

I’m sure there will be middle class socialists who will say I’m one of those starry eyed lefties and remind me that the Cuban revolution happened years ago and people should make their judgments on the hear and now. In reply I would say exactly, I would ask does Jamaica, Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean nations provide their people with the quality of health care, education, welfare and overall well being that the Cuban Republic provides for its toiling masses? The US embargo of Cuba is not something from the pages of history, but is happening in the here and now; and for working class socialist like myself unity really is strength, not some abstract slogan we shout out on marches and at demos.

We all have our own thoughts about the direction the Cuban revolution should or should not have taken down the years, but that is nether here nor there. For as political activists we have only one option when push comes to shove, that is to place ourselves in the same trench as the dispossessed and the wretched of the earth. In the class war there are only two trenches, one facing the other, one is occupied by Capital and in this age that means uncle Sam, the great Satan, the other by those of us Capital wishes to destroy, control and manipulate, the working classes, whether of town or countryside. Thus where-ever existing socialism may be found, whatever its weaknesses we must defend it, for how can we make new gains when we are refusing to defend the past gains of the working classes.

As to the Cuban revolutions relevancy, if it only teaches us that for a socialist state to succeed, international solidarity is of vital importance, it will be a lesson well worth re-learning. However the real relevancy of the Cuban revolution is that another world is possible, if only we leftists are prepared to unify and reach out for it.

Victory to the Cuban revolution!

* http://forums.redpepper.org.uk/index.php/topic,446.0.html

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German Capital demands the head of Gregor Gysi: A founding member of Die Linkspartei.[Left Party]


The growth in working class support for Germany’s Die Linkspartei, [The Left Party] as expressed in recent regional election results and national opinion polls has clearly rattled Capital and its gofers in the Bundestag and media. This time in an attempt to halt the party’s rising popularity, reactionary forces have been rifling through the dustbin of history and dug up an old story about Gregor Gysi, one of the Left Party most charismatic leaders, who at one time was a member of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party. [SED]

Unsurprisingly, as all of these parties have suffered at the ballot box due to the rise of the Left Party, politicians from the Christian Union parties, the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the FDP have called for for the head of Gregor Gysi by demanding that he should submit his resignation from national political leadership.

As anyone will know who has witnessed Gysi’s regular appearances on German TV, he is a very able fellow who had managed to turn the progressive wing of the Stalinist SED into the PDS, a left reformist party. Which eventually merged with Left social democrats led by the former Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine, and the more radical WASG, to form the Left Party.

It is vital that Left Party members hold their nerve over these attacks; and understand they are politically motivated designed to drive down support for the LP. On no account must any party member join the chorus that is demanding Gregor Gysi’s head.

Mick Hall

Below is the DW-world-DE web sites take on this story.

German Left-Wing Leader Accused of Working for Stasi

Politicians from across the political spectrum have called on a top Left party parliamentarian to resign amid new allegations that he was an informer for the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany.

Parliamentarians from Germany’s biggest political parties attacked Left party parliamentary chief Gregor Gysi on Wednesday, May 28, saying he should bear the consequences of having provided information to East Germany’s Stasi secret police.
 
He should own up to his responsibility, politicians from the Christian Union parties the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the FDP said, with calls for an explanation, apology or even resignation.
 
“The departure is overdue,” said Christian Democrat Thomas Strobl. “Take the necessary consequences.”
 
Social Democrat Stephan Hisberg, one of the founders of the East German SPD, accused Gysi and his Left party of “lying and betraying.”

Recurring allegations

Gysi, a lawyer, has been battling allegations he colluded with the East German secret police for years. He responded to the attacks on the floor of the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, with an impassioned speech. He rejected the allegations, saying that politicians from other parties had for years used every means to try to damage him personally in order to harm his party.
 
At issue this time is a 1979 meeting between Gysi and two East German dissidents, one of which was his client Robert Havemann. The head of the Stasi archive, Marianne Birthler, had provoked the new debate with comments she made on ARD television on Wednesday, in which she alleged that documents in the archive’s possession concerning the meeting stemmed from an informer who could only be Gysi.
 
Gysi took legal action against ZDF television after it broadcast similar comments Birthler made last week.
 
At a Left party convention last week, Gysi rejected the accusations, saying he had never consciously or willingly cooperated with the Stasi.

Threat from the Left?
Left party leader Oskar Lafontaine had called for Birthler’s dismissal.
 
“The boss of the Stasi [archive] is not in the position to exercise her duties objectively and impartially,” he said.
 
The Left party was established by trade unionists and former Social Democrats a year ago. It is Germany’s third-largest political party.

 
DW staff (ncy)

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Film Review: There Will Be Blood; Hollywood Comes to Blows with Upton Sinclair.



The 2008 Oscar for best actor went to Daniel Day Lewis for his role in the movie ‘There Will Be Blood’, after watching the film, which I half enjoyed, I was bemused by the accolades poured upon it. Yes Lewis is a fine actor and he gives a professional performance and his presence on the screen captures the viewer, but in many ways this is due to a gaping hole in the script and the lack of a soul within the movie. The film is based on an Upton Sinclair novel, a book that has it all, yet none of the panoramic views Sinclair gives of the US class struggle at the beginning of the last century appear in the movie. Instead the main character played by Lewis is portrayed in the manner of an average patent medicine flim flam man of the type who at the time used to tour mid and western US towns selling their phony remedies. Basically he cons his way to riches whereas in the book he brutally ceases the nations and working classes wealth.

I could not understand why almost all critics applauded the film, and I became desperate for an alternative and progressive view of both the film and the period it is set in. I finally found one in David Bacons take on ‘There will be Blood, which first appeared on the excellent Z Magazine. Read it it and judge for your selves. (http://www.zcommunications.org/zmag%5D

MH

Hollywood Comes to Blows with Upton Sinclair By David Bacon

I was disappointed that Daniel Day- Lewis won an Oscar for There Will Be Blood, not because he’s not a great actor (he is), but because the movie was such a betrayal of the book on which it was based. Movies don’t have to follow books. Many don’t. But in this case, what we missed were the things that made Upton Sinclair’s Oil! a politically courageous book for its time. For our time, it unearths a crucial part of the hidden history of our own working class movement.

Oil! could have been made like Gangs of New York that explored the racial and ethnic conflicts at New York City’s birth, which so frightened its moneyed class that the rich shelled their own city to prevent the upending of their social order. Actually, a good movie made from Oil! would have been more like Reds, exploring not just social conflicts, but the way they gave birth to unions and left movements in much the same period. Reds was painted on a large canvas, moving from Oregon to the East Coast, and finally the Smolny Institute and the storming of the Winter Palace. Oil! covers the same period and many of the same political arguments, but they play out in a concentrated look at just one city, Los Angeles.

Upton Sinclair was not just an author who lived in Southern California and wrote about it, he was a political activist who tried to change it. He founded the Los Angeles chapter of the ACLU. He went to jail with longshore workers in Long Beach for speaking in defense of their strike. He ran for governor seven years after the novel was published. Incredibly, as a socialist he not only won the Democratic Party nomination in the depth of the Depression, but hundreds of thousands voted for his platform to “end poverty in California.” He gave the state’s corporate elite the biggest political scare they’ve had in any election before or since.

Oil! gives us a history of the city’s economic rise, even as LA was becoming the economic epicenter. But it does more than tell the story of the birth of the industry that has come to dominate this country’s politics, as Sinclair’s The Jungle did for meatpacking. Oil! is more politically sophisticated and recounts the growth of the social movements that challenged the harsh domination of the oil titans. That’s what is missing from There Will Be Blood. The movie history is false where Sinclair’s was true.

Oil! unfolds as the story of the political education of Bunny Ross and of his love for his father J. Arnold Ross, an oil wildcatter turned tycoon. Bunny’s nickname signals his character as a Southern California innocent motivated by the best of intentions. His father, Sinclair tells us, is kind and good. He loves Bunny and spends his life trying to make him happy and keep him from harm.

The two characters are the keys to Sinclair’s political analysis. Personal kindness, he says, cannot change poverty, exploitation, war, or corruption. J. Arnold Ross helps poor families as he takes their land for wells. He admires and respects his workers, but must stick with the other oil operators when they bring in strikebreakers to bust their union and evict the strikers from their homes. In a not-very-fictionalized account of the “Teapot Dome Scandal,” Ross tells Bunny that bribing politicians, even a president of the United States, is what is required in order to do business.

It doesn’t matter whether a capitalist is a good person or a bad one, Sinclair says. It’s the system that grinds one class into poverty and allows another to reap the benefit. J. Arnold Ross, a loving father and paternalistic employer, commits criminal acts because his social class not only makes it possible, but necessary. His pained justification to Bunny for hiring thugs is that if he doesn’t, the other oil operators will combine against him and drive him out of business.

There Will Be Blood turns Oil! on its head. Bunny basically disappears as a character, making only a few appearances to dramatize his father’s cruelty and corruption. J. Arnold, now a villain and renamed Daniel Plainview, expropriates Bunny as a child from his dead father and then banishes him when he goes deaf after a well explosion. Plainview’s personal degeneration culminates in beating an evangelist preacher to death in the bowling lane of his palatial home. His violence is treated as a defect in his character, a symbol of his evil nature. His crime is personal, not social.

As a result, the movie is devoid of the social conflict that is the book’s main narrative. There are no unions and no strikes. Class conflict is out. The corruption of politicians becomes the product of a corrupt personality, not a corrupt system. Since there is no class conflict, there is no room for the novel’s main achievement. Oil! takes Bunny through a process in which he learns not only about how the world works, but about how people organize to change it. Both the movie and book show the Ross expropriation of the farm of the poor Watkins family. But Oil! follows the political radicalization of Paul Watkins—drafted as a doughboy in World War I and then sent with the interventionist armies to put down the Russian revolution. He returns and becomes an oil union leader and then a member of the left wing of the Socialist Party. When that party splits in 1919, Watkins becomes an organizer in the new Communist Party.

Sinclair, whose sympathies were much more with the right wing of the Socialist Party than the left, still draws an admiring portrait of the worldly Paul, showing his courage in facing imprisonment and his eventual fatal beating by right-wing assassins. Sinclair draws out the political differences of the day in his debates with Bunny, whose eyes he opens. Bunny eventually has to choose whose side he’s on. The more he learns about the world, the more he rejects his father’s class, while still loving him as a person. And that class turns against him in the end.

In There Will Be Blood Paul disappears. In his place his evangelist brother Eli becomes the main antagonist to Plainview, a religious hypocrite pitted against a violent and powerful oilman. It is a conflict without social relevance, one the movie hardly bothers to explain. At its lowest point, a grown Bunny gratuitously returns to announce to his father that he’s going to become an investor in Mexican oil wells. Sinclair would have torn his hair out over that one.

Oil! recounts just a small piece of what is now a hidden history of the labor movement before and after World War I. In 1903 the city’s socialist labor council helped Mexican and Japanese farm workers win one of the state’s first agricultural strikes in Oxnard. The LA unions were then shocked when Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, refused to give the workers a union charter unless they rid themselves of their Asian members. Oil! shows the fear the oil operators had for the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World) and their (mostly rhetorical) commitment to sabotage in the workplace. In the city’s real history, two prewar labor leaders, the McNamara brothers, spent their lives in prison after a bomb they planted blew up at the LA Times building.

This was the most turbulent era for the labor and radical movements of Los Angeles. Sinclair describes how the oilmen defeated the workers and socialists and created the “citadel of the open shop.” Bunny resists and makes his father put up money to bail out strikers. But he can’t stop the class war.

Sinclair recreates the era’s radical spirit, weaving political debate, action, and romance into a complex tapestry. He describes Bunny’s sexual awakening as frankly as he could get away with, in an era when books were banned for open descriptions of sex. His women are mostly foils for men and they seem a little wooden in comparison with the intimacy and realism achieved by writers since. Yet Sinclair gets real drama from Bunny’s conflict between his youthful lust for his studio star lover and his growing desire to make a full commitment to political organizing. In the end, he falls for a Jewish socialist who clearly is his equal in debate and greater in her commitment.

Hollywood today has less of the radical spirit that made Reds. It’s not hard for a studio now to reinvent the war in Afghanistan as a crusade (Charlie Wilson’s War), confident that no one will ask why Ronald Reagan bankrolled Osama bin Laden and other extremists, calling them freedom fighters so long as they were willing to fight the Soviets. I can’t wait to see what they do with Central America.

But Los Angeles? Hollywood’s own city? Working class social and political movements get written out of the textbooks all the time. Writing us out of a movie made from Oil! expropriated one of the most important works of our history. I hope the producers don’t have exclusive rights to the book. Perhaps a more courageous group will make the movie as Upton Sinclair wrote it.

Z

David Bacon is a California writer and photographer. His new book Illegal People: How Globalization Causes Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants will be published by Beacon Press this fall.

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Arrogance, smugness and the Brits: A fine wine of an article


Every now and them you come across an article that says it all, a fine wine of an article. For me the piece written by Eamonn McCann that I republish below falls into this category.

MH

Arrogance, smugness and the Brits, by Eamonn McCann

Nobody knows for certain how much misery and bother has been caused through the ages by the insufferable smugness of the British ruling class.

Historically, the main target of the toffs’ arrogance has been the British working class. But the lesser breeds, including, of course, the Irish, have also come in for insult and jeer from the faunterloy hoodlums and twerps.

One of the most arrogantly offensive of these oily oiks to have come among us in recent years has been Jonathan Powell. As Tony Blair’s “chief of staff”, Powell played a key role in drawing up the compendium of lies, aka the “dodgy dossier,” which provided “justification” for the invasion of Iraq which has so far cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, as well as a number of American and British, lives.

Does Powell show any sign of contrition? Regret? Embarrassment?
Not at all. Low-lifes in high places never do.

Instead, a few weeks back, he came to Belfast swanking, preening himself like a egomaniacal peacock, claiming plaudits for the part he claims to have played in the “peace process.”

I commented at the time of his unwelcome (to me, anyway) visit, remarking that he had given his memoirs the stupidest title in the history of publishing, “Great Hatred, Little Room.” (In fairness, the title is the best thing in the book.)

I didn’t, however, watch the programme, “The Undercover Diplomat,” broadcast by the BBC as a sort of unpaid advertisement for the book.
But, browsing the web (is that the phrase?) last week, I came across a clip from the programme.

It contained Powell’s comment on a visit by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to Downing St. on 5th July 2005—three weeks before the Provisional IRA statement announcing an end to its armed campaign and revealing that it had instructed its members to dump all weapons and not to engage in “any other activities whatsoever” apart from assisting in “the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”.

Powell’s comment in his diary on the Sinn Fein leaders as they left Downing Street was: “It’s funny. They do seem more like politicians now, than capos (a capo is a mafia chieftain]…I think I felt a sense of pride. Not proud in myself, I think, but proud of what they had achieved. It was a bit like watching your children graduate from college. You thought ‘fantastic'”.

Has any representative of the British ruling class ever made such a pointedly patronisingly remark about Irish leaders?

The tiny number of irreconcilable Unionists who refuse to believe that Sinn Fein is now totally committed to peaceful means should consider this: that if there was even a half-hint of a vague willingness to use violence in SF, Powell, after that remark, wouldn’t have made it back to Britland in one piece.

I have never been much of a one for political violence. But if Powell had said that about me, he’d have got a slap in the bake.

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Today we celebrate International Workers’ Day, it is a celebration of international solidarity and the social and economic achievements of the world-wide labour movement. May Day commonly sees organized street demonstrations by millions of working people and their trade unions and political party’s throughout Europe and most of the rest of the world.

Comradely greetings to all readers of Organized Rage.

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Todays mainstream media reeks of the Al Murray syndrome.


When writing about middle class people who are in the news, a UK journalist would never consider prefixing that they lived on a Barratt’s, or a Wimpey Estate, yet when it comes to the working class they have returned to putting the prefix ‘council estate,’ when describing where some working class people live. The implication being that it is a bad thing to grow up or live on a Council estate, this is not me being over sensitive, there really is no other conclusion one can draw from the use of these words. That this has once again become common practice having died out in the 1960s-70s; and such prejudicial copy manages to get by the papers sub-editors, can only be because they are either all ignorant of what it is like to live on an average council estate. [little different from on an owner occupier estate] Or the writer is displaying subjective middle class prejudices against working class people that are so prevalent throughout the newsroom, that no one in it sees how insulting the use of this prefix is. As none of them understand what life is like living on a Council estate, instead they have a media created cartoon image in their minds as to how many working class people live.

We should not be that surprised at this, as a recent article by one of the UKs leading journalists Peter Wilby pointed out that the UKs daily newspapers have become a bastion of middle class privilege, and journalism has become more socially exclusive than at any time since World War Two. With only three percent of journalists coming from what can loosely be termed the unskilled working classes. In a 2003 survey 96% of journalist were middle class and White, which as Wilby points out is a damming statistic as most daily papers are published in London, a metropolis which is one of the most multi ethnic cities on earth.

The educational charity The Sutton Trust looked at the country’s leading 100 journalists and found that over half attended Public Schools and 45% went to Oxford or Cambridge University. The end result of these exclusive, class based employment practices within the media is having an extremely detrimental effect, for the exclusion of people from a working class background is prevalent throughout the industry, whether it be newspaper, TV or radio.

Thus working class regional accents are excluded from the airwaves, true there are the odd exceptions but they are mainly people within the upper age bracket who came into the profession in the 1960s and 70s. Once these people retire they are not being replaced by people from a similar background, there slots are filled by the middle classes offspring. From gardening programs to cookery, drama, soaps, comedy and news, the front of camera is middle class home counties to the core, as are the accents. About the only place you can be guaranteed to find people from working class backgrounds is sports coverage, especially football, where the pundits having played the game still come from the working classes.

As I said in a previous article, British Television has gone back to the days of “gor blimy gov, thank you very kindly.” When working class people are portrayed on our screens, they are increasingly being played by middle class actors as either stupid chavs, layabouts, criminals, incompetent half wits or victims of their own class, in much the same way as black people used to be portrayed. There are a number of programs that epitomize the wretchedness and class prejudice that is so prevalent in the media today. Al Murray’s Happy Hour stands out as the worst of many, yet actors musicians and journalists line up to appear on this infantile program, oblivious that by doing so they are party to insulting a large section of the community they live amongst.

The ‘Landlord’ in the ‘Happy Hour’ is portrayed as a crude working class bigot and is played by middle class actor and ‘comedian’ Alastair “Al” Murray, the son of Lt.-Col. Ingram Bernard Hay Murray and his wife Juliet Anne Thackeray Ritchie, through whom he is a great-great-great-great-grandson of William Makepeace Thackeray, his grandfather was UK diplomat Sir Ralph Murray. Al Murray attended Bedford Public School and is a graduate of Oxford University. Yet on screen he masquerades as a half witted sexist lout who speaks with an estuary English accent, the likes of which has never been heard any where between Dagenham and Southend. What makes me puke is comics and actors like Murray when out of character portray themselves as ‘right on’ people who show respect to all, yet in their work they seem to believe they have a right to insult ordinary decent people for no better reason than these people are working classes.

The type of middle class comedy actors that Murray represents, look down their noses at Jim Davidson and his ilk for their racist and sexist jokes, but they fail to see that they are following in his tradition by attacking individuals who have little means to hit back. I look forward to the day when instead of laughing along and shuffling their feet young workers will put the pub landlord firmly on his arse.

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