Friday, November 30, 2007

YouTube suspends Egyptian blog activist's account posted by bat020

"Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas has been using YouTube to expose torture in his country, but now his account has been suspended. Bloggers accuse YouTube of double standards."

via Angry Arab

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Only giving the people what they want. posted by Richard Seymour

"In our country,to get that result we have a dictatorship, we imprison people, we tear out their fingernails. Here you have none of that. So what's your secret? How do you do it?" The implication of the market metaphysic (in which the news is dictated by carefully monitored popular desire) is implicitly 'totalitarian'. The people want stultifying conformity, lies, distraction, orthodoxy, trivialisation, hypocrisy, tedium etc, according to this outlook. But it ain't necessarily so.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Venezuela: hammer, anvil and pliers. posted by Richard Seymour

Entirely predictable and unshocking revelations about the CIA's anti-Chavez campaign have emerged, as I'm sure you've all seen. Chavez is to be assailed on all fronts through violent subversion, electoral chicanery, and the CIA is even looking for a left-flank in Trotskyist opposition to some of Chavez's policies. Bad news for the CIA: the polls (not those from the guys who want Chavez killed), suggest that socialism is supported by most Venezuelans; Chavez is still very popular; and he will probably overwhelmingly win the vote on his constitutional changes. Not all of Chavez's changes are to the good - it is a complex mix, with some measures to consolidate the ten percent of the economy that is common property and bolster grassroots democracy, and other centralising measures that militate against this. Yet, only in the CIA's condescending analysis could it be the case that left-wing criticism of government policy will turn the masses into a despondent, apathetic bloc. Far more worrying is the call for coordinated action with military attaches. This is unlikely to lead to a successful coup on the model of 1973, since Chavez has much of the military on his side. Yet, it can destabilise the society enough, along with contrived economic chaos, to derail the society and force Chavez into a bunkered, bureaucratic corner. As ever, only the combined power of the Venezuelan working class can save the situation: Mike Gonzales has a sharp analysis of the broader political issues here.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The ABC of anti-imperialism posted by Keith Shilson

Reports of the death of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) are very much premature. In my local town we organsed a very successful 'die-in' and there were similar events throughout the country on Saturday and last Thursday on university campuses.

An older Iranian man came up to me as we were setting up and asked why we don't say more about how terrible Ahmedinajad is. This is the same line that was put by the CPGB, the AWL and Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) at the StWC Conference a few weeks ago. I explained to him that it was the primary aim of the StWC to prevent any attack on Iran. At a time when the warmongers in America, Britain, France and elsewhere are creating false claims about Iran trying to build nuclear weapons (contrary to the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)) and unfounded and ultra-hypocritical claims about intervention in Iraq, it is the job of anti-war campaigners to highlight the disastrous consequences any attack would have for the people of Iran as well as for the democracy, students' and women's movements there. To get sucked into discussing the rights and wrongs of the Iranian regime would only give ammunition to the warmongers. That is not to be an apologist for the regime. It is the ABC of anti-imperialism.

When an imperialist country is threatening to attack a less powerful country, anti-imperialists everywhere must focus all their energies on preventing the imperialist country from starting a war by aiming all their political firepower on the imperialist country. This is to recognise the difference in their respective capacities to exploit and oppress people around the world. This is particularly true if you happen to be living in either an imperialist country or a nation that supports an imperialist power. To criticise both the imperialist country and the country they are threatening equally is to re-enforce the inbuilt inequality in the situation and thus to favour the imperialist power. It is always in the interests of anti-imperialists to see the imperialist power defeated. Any defeat for any imperialist power is a blow against imperialism in general.

Thus the defeat of the Israeli Army (IDF) by Hezbollah last year should be seen as a victory for anti-imperialism regardless of any criticisms you may have of Hezbollah. Many of us gave Hezbollah unconditional, but not uncritical, support.

Criticism of the Iranian regime is fine, but things do not occur in isolation or in the abstract. Any criticism must be considered in the light of how it will fit in to the current debate on how to resolve the 'Iranian' question.


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Collaborators posted by Richard Seymour

Or, harbingers of permanent civil war.

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"Your history, bourgeoisie, is written on this wall. It is not a difficult text to decipher." posted by Richard Seymour

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Peace and its discontents: the Israeli takeover. posted by Richard Seymour

Israel and Palestinians commit to peace trumpets The Guardian, with a sick-making portrait of Bush, Olmert and Abbas holding hands. How's that commitment working so far? Well, let's not forget that having launched a 'civil war' against Hamas and used Dahlan's goons to foment war in Gaza on behalf of Israel, Mahmoud Abbas supports Israel's war on the Gaza strip. There is no 'peace' coming here. Abbas is turning Fatah into the armed wing of capitulation.

Previous peace efforts by Fatah, however limited and corrupted, were at least seriously attempting to get something out of Israel, a stretch of continuous land with Olive Trees on it and water running, the dismantling of settlements, demilitarization of the West Bank, something. Now, with settlements more in abundance than ever, with Israel's occupation expanding instead of contracting, with daily aggression against the Palestinian population, Abbas offers himself as Israel's agent. The talks now taking place are about talks that may take place in the future, that may at some point result in an idea, then a concept, then a series of hastily drawn diagrams, then a hint about a possible settlement. There is no prospect of even a remotely legitimate settlement emerging from this charade. Olmert is hasty with vague intimations about bold moves, but Israel's colonisation of the West Bank continues apace. The only promise from today that is genuine is the one from Abbas that he will take apart "terrorist" organisations, meaning rival political groups. So today, as part of Abbas' own 'war on terror', Palestinians in the West Bank who were demonstrating that they were not partial to this Annapolis hoax, were attacked with one killed, and a reporter trying to cover the demo was roughed up by Abbas' men.

This isn't exactly new, which is one of the reasons why Fatah lost the elections in early 2006. The absence of democratic credentials from these talks, led by an America president who prates ceaselessly of democracy, is striking. In fact, none of the three men meeting today has a popularity rating higher than 30%. No deal they negotiate, even if one were forthcoming, could carry the remotest popular mandate. However, that's hardly the point. The talks, aside from involving a temporary tilt toward Syria to isolate Iran, are continuing the coup process launched after Hamas' electoral victory. This is a takeover, not a makeover.

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Someone wants him to shut up. posted by Richard Seymour

Third attack on Oli Rahman.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

All Sweetness and Light posted by Richard Seymour

You'd think that after killing over 1.2 million people, driving 4 million of them out of their country, and destroying said country in every respect, it would take a little bit more before they started bragging again. Yet, here we are. The worst year of a disastrous occupation, every sordid criminal aspect of a sordid epic crime peaking in the first half of the year - and they're bragging. 20,000 refugees are said (by the puppet government) to have retured, doubtless a staggering success. (Actually, it turns out even these figures are massively exaggerated). US deaths have decreased in the latter half of the year (in part due to a horrendous increase in the use of aerial attacks - who knows with what effect on the civilian population), and so we are once again in happyland, with happy shining Iraqis holding hands and bold US troops smoking out the remaining lurkers and riff-raff. Watching some of the news reports is like being exposed to the Laughing Policeman for half an hour. The laughing gas is pumped into every sitting room in the land, not to reverse the polls (can't do that), nor to get the GOP in again (have to rig the elections for that), nor even to get the flags waving again (who's got the energy after a day of overwork?). No, it's to soften the blow when the airstrikes hit Iran - well, we pulled Iraq back together, despite the ingratitude and intransigence of its population, why not Iran? In this light, it's worth considering the laboratory of repression that is Iraq: collective punishment, mass imprisonment, sniper terrorism, the usual. To which, Iraqis respond with increasing opposition to the occupation. All sweetness and light, a joy soon to be seen in Tehran and then - ooh, Damascus, Beirut, Pyongyang, wherever the liberation train takes a stop.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Atrocity Reporting posted by Richard Seymour

The cruelty of Western states is reported with breath-taking equanimity. Take this, for example. Marie Colvin of The Times describes Hamas ruling Gaza "through fear" with "impressive" armouries, including the sorts of measly weaponry used by insurgents against the Megadeath Occupation of Mesopotamia. The article describes the growing "isolation" of the Hamas government there:

Gaza is growing more and more isolated. Israel controls the borders, land and sea, and has closed the crossings since June. Food prices have rocketed, unemployment is at 70% because no materials can be imported and nothing can be exported. Israel cut fuel supplies last month and has said it will cut electricity supplies from Sunday.

In the latest sign of its total international isolation, Hamas, although democratically elected in 2006, has been excluded from the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, on Tuesday.

What the reporter is describing here are unconscionable war crimes. The starving of the Palestinian population as punishment for having elected the wrong people, the economic blockade, the cutting off of fuel supplies and electricity - all of which we have seen many times - are criminal acts designed to torture the Palestinian population into submission. The vicious doctrine of collective punishment, perpetrated by colonial and imperialist states far more effectively and bloodily than by anti-colonial combatants, is neutrally described and tacitly applauded. In fact, the logic of this approach is genocidal - it starves Palestinians to death for being Palestinians, with absolute foreknowledge. The policy is applied, that is, with intent to destroy (and Britain bears special responsibility for it). There is a raft of other examples of vindictive targeting of the civilian population, and practically every human rights organisation active there reports consistent targeting of civilians and the use of them as human shields. Only something truly evil could legitimise this aggression, and The Times does its best to produce the desired turpitude with some lurid reportage of the growing repressiveness of Hamas' rule - mainly attributable to the state of seige - and this in particular:

The organisation’s isolation comes from its refusal to recognise the existence of Israel, renounce violence or abide by any agreements signed between Palestinians and Israel.

The quoted sentence is composed entirely of lies. It is false from start to full-stop. Hamas has: recognised the existence of Israel in signed documents; engaged in unilateral ceasefires while Israel continued to attack Palestine, build settlements, harrass civilians, and murder people; recognised agreements made between Israel and the PLO despite a provocative ongoing Quad-orchestrated embargo. It was Hamas' leaders who called for a long-term ceasefire to negotiate a settlement, and the US and Israel who contemptuously dismissed it. Hamas must recogise Israel, while no one must recogise Palestine, and no one does; Hamas must renounce violence, while Israel must have the right to violence at the drop of a hat; Hamas must respect agreements, while Israel drops them from one day to the next and then casually lies about it. Israel's claimed 'rights' are unique and extravagant, while even the most minimal rights of Palestinians - even of Hamas - are completely igored. Even to this day, Hamas is exhibiting remarkable restraint as Israeli troops enter Gaza and murder people in cold blood. Of course, the Reuters report makes no mention of the fact that Israeli troops have no business being in Gaza, while Gazan "militants" have every business patrolling the street). The fact that the exclusion of one of the main political forces in Palestine makes a complete mockery of any claim that the current discussions constitute a peace process is also gently glossed over.

The US-sponsored 'peace process' in Annapolis is of course nothing to do with peace, and the exclusion of Hamas reflects both its refusal to accept the conquerors' terms in negotiations and the growing US reliance on its local attack dog. The US has conquered Iraq, but its power in the region is diminishing in the long-term. In the aftermath of the demise of Arab nationalism and the USSR, the US had every reason to be confident. In the absence of an alternative model, much of the Arab left collapsed into support for neoliberalism, and even imperialism. Even the most apparently militant Islamists could eventually be coopted and integrated into an American-led global system. The aggressive strike for Iraq, desired throughout the 1990s by both Democrats and Republicans, was supposed to finish that process, taking out a remaining bastion of Arab nationalism and turning the place into another Saudi Arabia. Iran, suitably chastened, would rush to be even more accomodating. America's puppet president in Egypt, the second largest local recipient of aid, is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. The pressure on Syria hasn't produced much effect. The capitulation of the Libyan regime was probably a delayed response to the end of the Cold War, and could have been had much earlier were it not for the spurious and unravelling attempt to pin Lockerbie on Qadafi. Lebanon's current crisis may produce a bloody civil war, but it is unlikely to diminish the standing of Hezbollah or produce a hegemonic pro-US regime. If we fail to end the occupation soon, Iraq could well still end up with a broadly pliable regime along with military bases, but even then it is not going to be the chump-state of Ahmed Chalabi's promises. In this context, the US needs Israel more than ever (and vice versa). Any thought that the US might pressure its Levantine mini-me into making some concessions has had to be abandoned. Even the ridiculous 'Road Map', issued when the US thought it was winning in Iraq, is well past its sell-by date. The plan now appears to be to secure complete capitulation from a Fatah-led rump, which will be no difficult matter, who will then be used to intensify the stranglehold on Gaza before eventually finishing Hamas off. Fatah is now in a unique position - it could never control Gaza on its own, and its control over the West Bank is questionable. It relies on Pax Americana more than ever before. That ensures its long-term acceptance of and complicity in crimes against the population it is supposed to represent - for which we will be invited to blame Hamas.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aussie Election Shock posted by Richard Seymour

Great news: not only have Howard's Liberals lost the election, but the now former PM has even lost his seat according to exit polls and the latest count. That is only the second time it has happened in Australia's entire period of independence - the last time it happened was in 1929 when the Nationalist Stanley Bruce lost to Labour, and the Nationalists were wiped out as a party. In addition, the Liberal minister responsible for invading the Northern Territories, Mal Brough, has lost his seat. The long-awaited electoral backlash against the 'war on terror' and neoliberalism has finally happened, big time. Labour looks to have taken 53% of the vote.

Unfortunately, the new Prime Minister is one of these cretinous Third Way politicians who supports neoliberal policies and defended "Israel's right to defend itself" during its attack on Lebanon in 2006. Though opposed to the war on Iraq, he favours keeping Australian troops in Iraq for non-combat purposes, supports the war on Afghanistan and is an advocate of the alliance with the US. He wants to keep much of the present government's regressive industrial relations legislation, and business sees him as an ally against union militancy. He favours 'quarantining' welfare payments for aboriginals and extending it to drug addicts.

As to the issues behind the vote, the attack on union rights was the biggest stimulus for the Labour vote according to this research: though Rudd only pledged to roll back some of the provisions, he was presumably seen by many as a realistic block to an all-out aggressive employers' offensive. These polls from Newspoll suggest that the single biggest issue for all voters is healthcare, which Labour had a key advantage on. Labour also took most supporters on industrial relations and welfare. The Green Party, which took the most principled stances on workers' rights, the 'war on terror', indigenous rights and the environemnt appears to have had an increase in its share of the vote, but may have had some of its thunder on the environment stolen a little by Rudd's noisy support for the piddling measures in Kyoto and other initiatives. The environmental degeneration is already causing such huge problems for Australia, such as drought, that even some in the business community are calling for sustained action so long as it doesn't seriously interfere with profitability. Another problem for the Greens is that their vote is distributed broadly and isn't concentrated - despite this, they are polling strongly and likely to pick up three new Senate seats according to most reports. Some of the unions backed the Greens in the Senate for their brilliant stance on union rights, but seem to have limited this to obtaining a 'balance of power' position for them in the upper house, reluctant as they are to decisively break with the Labour Party.

At any rate, despite the huge problems with Rudd - and he will become an enemy of the Australian labour movement very quickly, I suspect - this is a very pleasurable thrashing for the reactionary Liberals and a stupendous and long overdue repudiation of their legacy.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Chutzpah, and Beyond Chutzpah posted by Richard Seymour


Many Israeli advocates argue that Muslim Palestinians violently harass the Christian minority, causing the Christian exodus. Justus Reid Weiner, a lawyer who is a member of the hawkish Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank, equates Palestinian Christians with battered women who decline to recognize the problem.

“It’s classical denial,” he said in a phone interview from Jerusalem. “It is so obvious who is telling the truth and who is being squeezed.”

Beyond Chutzpah:

About 150 right-wing activists, including academics and Israel Defense Forces reserves officers, have signed a manifesto to be published Friday calling on security forces to refuse evacuating West Bank settlers on the grounds that it is a "crime against humanity."

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The state of the unions. posted by Richard Seymour

Two recent firings of witch-hunted trade unionists, Karen Reissmann and Michael Gavan, bring to light the pressure from the state to break the resistance of public sector unions to pay cuts, diminished working conditions, and privatisation. It also reflects the politicised way in which the Labour government is approaching the problem - both were arguably targeted for being associated with Respect, a systematic challenge to Labour's hold on the left vote. The government can't afford to back down unless it is forced to back down, because a victory for the unions will both strengthen the left and damage the government's strategy of keeping Britain's economy running as a haven for international finance. For the last year, the government has kept public sector pay substantially below inflation, something that hasn't been achieved in the UK since the 'social contract' and the winter of discontent. The run-down of the postal service and other public services is leading to a growing rebellion by workers across the country. So, what are the prospects?

According to recent figures published by Labour Research, the TUC has since 2003 gently reversed its long-term decline in members. The main growth has been experienced in the teaching unions, particularly the NUT which grew by 6%, but also the construction union UCATT, which grew by a similar level. (The figures don't appear to include the RMT, for some reason). The new super-union Unite actually lost members on both sides, and the PCS lost a small percentage probably due to recent cuts - but it has to be said that the loss of 13,000 is very short of the 104,000 Gordon Brown wanted to cut in 2004, so while the fightback has a long way to go, it is holding back the government's attack. The same goes, I suspect, for the slight fall experienced by the CWU, whose members have braved successive attacks from the government brilliantly, despite an often indecisive leadership. The main growth over the last decade is supposedly in "associated professionals and managerial workers" - but this actually includes teachers, nurses, train drivers and media workers, whose conditions are increasingly under attack. It reflects the growing importance of the public sector in the labour movement, where employment has been on the up, while manufacturing has been allowed to crumble. As these jobs are particularly susceptible to government cut-backs, union struggles are increasingly politicised. The problem, regularly now, is a Labour goverment, which is why trade unionists have to keep asking themselves why they are funding the bullies. Unfortunately, the growth isn't keeping up with the growth in the jobs, so unless there is a massive drive to recruit new members, union density is still likely to fall after having picked up slightly.

It looks like there are two models of trade unionism which are competing here. The RMT's militant model is notoriously successful, leading to extraordinary increases in membership and density. It doesn't matter how much the Evening Standard pillories tube workers, you simply can't beat success. The more conciliatory model that seek sweet-heart deals and subordinates the interests of members to those of the Labour Party is not as successful. The old batch of right-wing leaders like the repellent Sir Ken Jackson, exemplified this model until deposed by the emerging "awkward squad". Increasingly, the question is raised among TUC-affiliated unions as to what can be done to take the government on politically. Yet, it is clear - as Mark Serwotka pointed out at the Respect conference - that even many of the more left-leaning union leaders are more concerned about keeping Labour in government than fighting for their members' interests. Only two union leaders explicitly advocate a socialist alternative to Labour - Mark Serwotka and Bob Crow. And there are worries that the Unite union, run by two moderately left-wing leaders both of whom are loyal to the Labour Party, will have an overwhelmingly decisive bloc in the TUC with the largest portion of its members. Unite's leaders are fully aware that Brown's strategy is destroying the manufacturing base they represent, but their answer seems to be propaganda rather than action, and adaptation rather than militancy.

The frontline today is the CWU. The heroic example of the postal workers should inspire others, and if they now oppose the proposed deal and fight on, I believe it will. The ballot closes on Tuesday, and until then the campaign continues up and down the country to send it back and prepare for further action. As Charlie Kimber writes, the sheer audacity of the postal workers in consistently upping their game every time the government and the bosses attacked is remarkable. They haven't had the leadership that they should have had, but still took unofficial action when they felt they had to. And, despite the fact that the government has introduced private competitors, the fact that they all rely on the more efficient Royal Mail to deliver the actual letters has meant that they can't perform when the posties are out on the picket lines. So, the postal workers still have the power to beat the government and its attacks. Yet, the dispute also illustrates why it isn't enough to have left-wing trade union leaders. Even the best of them, like Mark Serwotka, are still captive to their bureaucracy to some extent. No union has engaged in coordinated action with the posties, despite the clear importance of the dispute for all public sector workers. There are encouraging moves to engage in coordinated action in the future, but the basis of this will have to be strong rank and file organisation which enables a measure of independence from a leadership that is always under massive pressure to make concessions to the employers. This point is rammed home by the attempts of the CWU leadership to deflect attention from the Labour government's responsibility for the crisis - they accept Royal Mail's claims that it is in financial peril with pensions, but make no mention of the fact that Royal Mail management created the crisis and the government has a responsibility to protect the pension scheme. Even Billy Hayes has pointed out, somewhat reluctantly, that if this was Northern Rock the government would be pouring in billions. And it follows that the question of political independence can't be resolved soon enough - the unions need a political fund, but the ball-and-chain relationship to the Labour government is proceeding from absurd to masochistic.

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Work Kills posted by Richard Seymour

Research confirms that one in five of the UK workforce are vulnerable to premature death due to heart-straining over-work, exposure to carcinogens and other chronic health risks. Prevalent short-term absence constitutes a healthy coping strategy, rather than the terrible problem that ministers frequently make out. The increasing pressure to work while sick may not even be rational for firms who lose out on productivity, but workplace culture continues to place a premium on working through illness. And, predictably, government ministers do not know what they're talking about. More here.


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Colombians devastated at Chávez’s "dismissal" posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by elpresidente:

President Chávez with Íngrid Betancourt’s relatives in París this week.

‘Listen, I want to ask you - how many police and soldiers are held hostage by the Farc?’ Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s simple question to Colombian General Mario Montoya has now been used as an excuse by Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe to end the first positive attempt in many years to reach a humanitarian agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) guerrillas.

On Wednesday, Chávez was in his office in Caracas’s Miraflores Presidential Palace with Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba, who had been personally chosen by Uribe to conduct negotiations together with Chávez, in the hope of reaching an agreement to exchange guerrilla prisoners in jail for politicians and soldiers held by the Farc.

Córdoba was making a round of telephone calls to inform Colombian politicians and the families of kidnap victims of the latest progress in the negotiations. When she called General Montoya, Córdoba passed the phone to Chávez, who then asked the question he must have asked everyone since being invited by Uribe to help with the humanitarian agreement.

That Uribe has now used this 30 second telephone call to claim Chávez is interfering in Colombia’s internal politics, and that it warrants an abrupt end, not just to the Venezuelan President’s efforts, but also Senator Córdoba’s work towards an agreement to free those kidnapped, has been met with confusion, disbelief and dismay by Colombians hopeful that an agreement, and even, eventually, an end to the war, had become a real possibility.

Chávez’s question is a relevant and pertinent one - particularly as no-one seems to know exactly how many hostages are held by the Farc. Humanitarian organisations that assist the families of kidnap victims in Colombia, such as País Libre, estimate the guerrillas are holding 2,000, including police, soldiers, local politicians and also high profile hostages such as 2002 presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt, but a definitive figure is not known.

The reaction from the hostages’ families to Uribe’s unilateral decision to end the negotiations has been heartbreaking. ‘Mr President, please reconsider,’ implored Marleny Orjuela, a mother of one kidnap victim, ‘put yourself in our shoes for one minute - just a single minute - to understand how we feel.’

‘Please don’t take away our hope,’ read a hurriedly written placard at an impromptu demonstration in Bogotá’s central plaza, but a statement issued by the presidential palace declared Uribe’s decision to be ‘irreversible.’

While the French government stated that ‘President Chávez’s involvement is the best option to liberate the hostages’, Chávez himself went on Venezuelan television to say that although he ‘respected President Uribe’s decision, I feel sorry for all those prisoners in the hands of the Farc, the guerrillas in jail, their families and loved ones, and also for Colombia.’

Families of hostages and jailed prisoners demonstrate in Bogotá’s central Plaza de Bolívar, Thursday, 22 November

Chávez continued, saying that he believed peace would ‘return to Colombia’, and that he would talk with Uribe to try to convince him to reconsider his decision. Declaring his ‘love for our sister country’, Chávez said he was ready to do everything he could to ‘alleviate the suffering of the Colombian people.’

For Carlos Lozano, Voz newspaper editor in Bogotá, Uribe’s ‘dismissal’ of Chávez as a negotiator shows that the Colombian government is ‘not interested in peace.’ Citing Uribe’s recent declaration that he had ordered the military to kill any Farc commanders who emerged from the jungle to participate in negotiations, Lozano said, ‘he wants the war to continue - this is clear.’

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving posted by Richard Seymour


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Witches and Russian Dolls: The Crisis in Respect posted by Richard Seymour

My piece for MRZine about Respect's troubles...

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The Language of Empire posted by Richard Seymour

It isn't enough to cultivate a general imperialist culture. People, however superior they may feel themselves to be to the rest of humanity, are often wary of war and its consequences. And there will still be those who don't buy the imperialist culture, or accept it with some scepticism. So you have to get the language right. This calls for a good PR operation. Everyone, say hello to Freedom's Watch. They're on a $15m campaign to sell the case for war. A neocon slush fund involving senior figures in American right-wing politics like Ari Fleischer, the group is particularly focused on galvanising hatred of 'radical Islam' for war on Iran. Well, they privatised much of the military effort, so why not the propaganda as well?

Although there was a brief moment when American public support for strikes on Iran registered 52% in polls, the latest indicate that they are opposed by 63% of the American public. So, the guys thought they'd put together a focus group or two and start devising ways to make the war appealing. Would you support it if Bush did it? What about Hilary? What about Israel? (What do you mean no? - antisemite!) How about if we use catch-phrases like "victory" and "failure is not an option"? Does that stimulate your patriotism glans? Does it get your desire for triumphalism flowing? Remember the parades? Flags on the streets, America's the greatest country in the world dooooood, remember all that? God, dontcha miss the elation? Let's get some more of that.

Meanwhile, it seems that the Iranian opposition is disintegrating under US pressure. The figureheads of the so-called Modern Right are driving a confrontation with the Iranian president, but not over the issues that appeal to most Iranians. Their concern is over nuclear power and the economic sanctions being driven by the US. They would like to get someone in who will take a more conciliatory line with the empire, although evidence is thin on the ground that it will make the slightest bit of difference in the long run. The conciliatory line that led Iran to help with the occupation of Afghanistan didn't get them off the Axis of Evil roll call, after all.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gordon Brown's Identity Crisis posted by Richard Seymour

25 million is a lot of people to piss off. Imagine this had come out in the middle of a General Election campaign. The unanimous verdict from the various anonymous informers to the BBC appears to be - they have slashed jobs and destroyed staff morale, so a huge problem like this was an inevitability. The PCS civil servants union says that the government has cut 13000 staff since May 2005 and is preparing to cut another 12,500. Aside from this, offices are closing up and down the country. This has already caused enormous problems with the delivery of services, and anyone who needs a job centre or any service frequently has to travel much further today then before. There are fewer people trying to do more work in a recently re-organised department. No wonder Mark Serwotka argues that: "The government’s so-called efficiency programme of cut backs, office closures and outsourcing is an accident waiting to happen. It is vital that the review announced today considers the effect of these cuts and halts them while the review is ongoing." It is one of the cruel paradoxes of a state that tries to cut services while increasing its control over people's lives that it ends up wasting money, and protecting no one. Relatedly, the NO2ID guys are calling in their pledges. Anyone who signed their pledge now needs to send £10 to them.

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Afghanistan: 54% Taliban coverage, and the Nato+ solution posted by Richard Seymour

The pro-occupation think-tank, the Senlis Council, has another report [pdf] out about Afghanistan. It reports that the Taliban has a presence covering at least 54% of the land mass in Afghanistan, and is closing in on Kabul. Missed by polls and media coverage, the report suggests that the Taliban are rapidly winning political credibility among those who hated them six years ago. The international combatants of 'Al Qaeda' are said to be bolstering the insurgency, but ordinary people are increasingly being won over. Part of the problem, the report says, is that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding despite massive cashflows into the country, with conditions worse than in the worst parts of sub-Saharan Africa. This is a map describing Taliban presence in parts of Afghanistan:

However, what's most intriguing is the Council's support for a very hawkish policy of the kind being pushed by the bipartisan imperialists in the US Houses of Congress. The proposal is simple: given that there is no intention of withdrawing, a huge boost in troop commitment has to be demanded of all NATO members, and the war has to be expanded into Pakistan. The Taliban is known to operate across borders, and the Pakistani army is reluctant to engage in battle with them for a variety of reasons. Clearly, part of the US pressure on Musharraf is aimed at his inability to be a reliable puppet, while Benazir Bhutto's rhetoric about 'extremists' is clearly intended to capture that vital Washington constituency. There have already been cross-border attacks, but would Bhutto or any future Pakistani government permit the US to operate extensively in Pakistan? Would such actions hinder or boost the popular movement resisting Musharraf's dictatorship? The report doesn't ponder on such questions, or the obvious answers.

Perhaps most importantly, the report states that 'foreign fighters' from across what Brzezinski calls the "global Balkans" including Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Xinjiang, are acting as force-multipliers for the Taliban insurgency. How much of this is real information and how much is 'intelligence' obtained through torture, or straightforward propaganda? Unlike other parts of the report, which comprises some independent research, much of this appears to be distilled from pro-imperialist think-tanks and Western newspapers. At any rate, though the report strikes a technocratic note, the context makes clear that the "Nato+" solution would constitute an aggressive strike to bring south Asia under US hegemony. When both Obama and Clinton make noises about potential aggression in Pakistan, we have to take it as a warning sign. This war may send the whole region up in flames.

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What Happened Next. posted by Richard Seymour

If you think this is disgusting...

You should know that after Blair left the Kalandia refugee camp, the IDF stormed the place for over an hour. The Israeli PR department has apparently worked out the correct procedure: photo-shoot, then shoot 'em up.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Empire-Builder Dies posted by Richard Seymour

Ian Smith has snuffed his lid, about 88 years too late. I suspect that many of the obituaries will seek to obscure his malevolent influence or smother it with platitudes and inane descriptions like "controversial", "unpopular with many", "respected by colleagues" and so on. You can't talk about someone like Ian Smith without talking about the epoch and political circumstances that made him. His father had been a butcher, and arrived in the colony eighteen years after Cecil Rhodes and gang had first set foot there with mining rights. In other words, the family's fortunes were made by the growing British control of the Cape colonial system. By the time the British were in the ascendancy, the frontiers in southern Africa had been closed as colonial authorities sought to exert their authority over all territories and regulate the labour system - a network of nebulous borders marked by combat over resources and more or less free movement was untenable for an emerging capitalist regime. Partially for that reason, the territory that became Southern Rhodesia and then Rhodesia was politically separate from, but locked in an intricate economic nexus with, the three southern African republics and the German colony to the south-west in what is now known as Namibia. As in much of southern Africa, poor Europeans moved there to become rich agriculturalists, often with comparatively little government oversight. For them, as for so many other colonists, the demand of self-determination and liberty was usually co-extensive with the insistence on racial supremacy. So it was with the Smith family.

Ian Smith first entered politics during the 1948 election, at the same time that apartheid was being formalised in South Africa with the victory of the Nationalists. Smith was a supporter of the Liberal Party, who were a right-wing racist organisation opposed to trade unions and state intervention in the economy because they saw these as the basis for the organisation and advancemet of majority African interests, potentially leading to self-rule. The Liberals lost the election to the ruling United Party, and Smith moved through a succession of organisations committed to white minority rule before being elected as a Rhodesian Front candidate in the 1962 elections. The front was a successor to the Dominion Party, another organisation formed by whites to defend white minority rule, and formed a slight majority in government. It was desperate to force the British government to grant independence on the basis of white supremacy, and as the leadership of Winston Field failed to secure this, Ian Smith was made the new Prime Minister in 1964. Smith was ideal for their purposes because he viscerally hated the idea of majority rule, and insisted that it wouldn't be seen in his or his children's lifetime - a point on which Robert Mugabe in a better phase of his life helped prove him wrong.

It is obviously not coincidental that this era saw the emergence of a sustained anti-colonial struggle in the country. The anti-colonial movement in Britain had pressured Harold Wilson into adopting the position that independence should come with African rule and universal suffrage - Newsinger has argued that Wilson was unusually dependent on the Left for support, in part because of the low esteem in which he was held among the party's higher echelons. The two main African liberation groups (ZANU and ZAPU) were Marxist, and so like most white supremacists, Smith pretended that he was actually only opposed to communism - a fiction he continued to maintain in his Autobiography. This anti-communist discourse was used most promiscuously in the southern United States and in South Africa during the same period. The neoconservatives who opposed self-rule in Zimbabwe said they did so because of the communist peril. The ease with which racism was commuted through Cold War ideology is striking, but it does speak to the way in which anti-communist doctrine decouples insurgency from the social conditions which produce it - it is, instead, a manifestation of the totalitarian allure. At any rate, given the anticolonial insurgency, which was winning in most of the colonies, the white elite acted decisively to conserve its authority, declaring its independence from London on 11 November 1965. Ian Smith was the Prime Minister of this state and led the elite in a vicious civil war against the population.

Here comes an intriguing shift, then: an apparently 'postcolonial' regime is set up in order precisely to conserve the colonial nature of the regime. In some senses this is structurally analogous to those who confuse violent international political transformation with radicalism today, forgetting that such change is often motivated by acute conservatism. The Smith regime was not only an immediate problem for London. As historian Gerald Horne has shown, it was the beginning of a lengthy engagement from Washington. The Johnson administration was terrified of the growing impression of a global racial conflict, particularly given the insurgency in inner cities and in the US south. There were substantial interests in America that were corresponding with Ian Smith to shift the country to an overtly sympathetic relationship with what had become a pariah state on account of it being one of the few racist dictatorships the West didn't consistently support. Barry Goldwater had openly praised Smith in 1967. And perhaps Smith expected a bit of racial solidarity from the American elite, despite the fact that it was in the process of making strategic concessions to African Americans. The general policy toward the Rhodesian regime from the US was one of tolerance. When the British government organised UN sanctions along with the OAU, the US participated in them but didn't enforce them very rigorously. Wilson may have considered military action to reassert British command of Rhodesia, but was restrained in part because the army, along with many ruling sectors of British society, would sympathise with the 'settlers' as many Tories were already doing. The Rhodesian elite was for its own part like many Loyalists one could mention, in that it was loyal to the crown and not to the parliament - at least until 1970 when it simply declared itself a republic. Both the Wilson government and the subsequent Heath one tried to negotiate with Smith, and offer terms for eventual African rule as a distant prospect - so eager were they to appear to resolve the problem on behalf of their worried America counterparts.

Yet, the only effective compulsion for Smith was the Portugese Revolution of 1974. A classic workers revolt against a right-wing dictatorship rapidly released two countries from colonial rule - Mozambique and Angola - which became bases for insurgency into Rhodesia. Despite hundreds, possibly thousands, of US mercenaries fighting for Smith's regime, the battle was destabilising the local system of white domination. The South Africa ruling class was particularly concerned about the implications for their own system, and pressed Smith into making some sort of compromise. Through a lengthy period of negotiations, he eventually accepted an 'Internal Settlement' in 1978, which saw the inclusion of one wing of the African nationalist movement in government and gave the impression of broad popular support. In fact, the goverment was still fighting on all sides against a well organised guerilla army - the Zanu PF led by Mugabe, who had spent a decaded in Rhodesia's prisons. It became clear that the goose was cooked - the rulers of the country were facing a comprehensive military defeat which would have ended their power, their privilege, and in some cases their lives. Smith accepted a deal negotiated with the Zanu PF at Lancaster House in the UK, which resulted in elections and a massive victory for Mugabe. The corrupting element of the deal was, of course, the commitment to defend the fundamental existing property relations, particularly the rights of white owners.

Smith tried to operate in parliament with a tiny minority for a few years before retiring to his farm and his privilege. His party, the much reduced Rhodesian Front, continued to advocate on behalf of white landowners and eventually formed a small component of the Movement for Democratic Change. Smith wrote a couple of self-glorifying books about his regime, explaining that the difficulties facing Zimbabwe and other African states prove that he was right in trying to prevent black people from trying to rule themselves. In truth, the same limits of the revolt which left Smith with his privilege, wealth and media access were those that contributed to the present dilemma for Zimbabwe. (Three words for you: Deflected permanent revolution.) The pernicious colonial legacy that Smith defended will only finally be dealt with by precisely the transformation in property relations that the British opposed. And when that happens, there will be no end of fucking whining on behalf of white farmers.

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Illegal Attacks posted by Richard Seymour

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Darfur? What could be worse than Darfur? posted by Richard Seymour

Apart from Iraq? Somalia, apparently. You remember. It's the place where they imposed a gang of warlords they referred to as the Somali government, with the help of the Ethiopian army and airstrikes directed by the Pentagon.

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French strikes intensify posted by Richard Seymour

France is amazing. I don't want to eulogize, but you really have to marvel at the capacity of French workers to resist not only neoliberal ideology but also its practical application. Only months after the triumph of the right in the elections, with the disgusting Sarkozy given a sizeable mandate, the French working class is doing the government a massive political discourtesy. The transport strike continues, and now the civil servants have come out - affecting everything from schools to postal services. Happily, it is now also reported that the students are back out. The government insists that this is not a "Thatcher moment", because they know what French workers will do to avoid that fate. However, this apparent moderation owes more to negotiation tactics than to the programme itself, which is indeed a Thatcherite attempt to liquidate not only May 1968, but also the Popular Front.

Not that this was always self-evident to everyone. As Emilie Bickerton reports, Sarkozy's election was greeted by centre-left newspapers like Le Monde as well as right-wing ones like Le Figaro as a stunning and brilliant repudiation of the decrepit old welfarist model of society. It was widely suggested that Sarkozy was no neoliberal - rather, he was supposedly a unique and vitalising figure who could embrace figures on the left, despite his clear record of bigotry, authoritarianism, corruption and polarising attacks on the country's poorest and most oppressed. Those who had any doubts that he was merely another aggressive neoliberal with stars-n-stripes infatuation had only to wait for his recent speech to Medef (the French equivalent of the CBI), in which he announced his intention to attack the pensions system, and cut health funding. Pensions are the key prize for all neoliberal reformers, making up not only the most vital lifeline for the poorest but also the largest part of any social security budget or worker protection. The first attack was launched against the transport workers, and they have hit back hard. The healthcare system that made the proud pinnacle of Moore's "Sicko" will soon be inundated by private insurance schemes. Taken together with the attack on the 35-hour week, these proposals amount to a serious front in the war on socialism. Meanwhile, the media can be expected to continue to back Sarkozy to the hilt because two thirds of all magazines and newspapers in France are owned by the country's biggest arms manufacturers - their primary customer being the government.

All of this makes the LCR's initiative of crucial importance. Plainly neither the PCF nor the Socialist Party are of any use at all in this combat. The anticapitalist left has been in some crisis for several years, because of divisions within it. The creation of a new anticapitalist party will not necessarily solve that problem, but at least it can unite the best elements of the movement. Certainly, it can help overcome the problem that saw the left slate fall apart in the run-up to the last presidential elections, and as such we have to wish them the best success. I hope they keep the same slogan: cent pour cent a gauche!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

The Meltdown posted by Richard Seymour

I am not referring to the global finance crunch. I've had a look at the latest IPCC report, and I'm afraid we're in for worse than we thought. Forget about being boiled and cramped like cattle on the tube, and thousands dying during heatwaves. 20-30% of animal and plant species may end up extinct if global average temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees above the levels of the late twentieth century; if they exceed 3.5 degrees above, then between 40% and 70% will be lost. It is beyond my powers of imagination to describe to you what that would look like, but we are talking about a total breakdown of the food-chain. We already knew that food shortages would be a tremendous problem, and that the likely temperature increases in some parts of the world would de-fertilise crops. What would a world short of 70% of its plant and animal species look like? The report refers to "frequent coral bleaching events" with "widespread mortality". There is likely to be more frequent incidence of extreme weather events. The worst sufferers will be the poor and the elderly, particularly those in less developed parts of the globe. Many "semi-arid" areas such as southern Africa and the western United States will go dry. This comes after previous reports that by 2100 one third of the planet or half of the land surface area will be desert. Other reports suggest that a sudden transformation in global temperatures is possible, and would result in the drowning of most of the world's population centres This is a global holocaust in preparation, and the newspapers are preparing for it by urging us to fly off to the tourist hot-spots before they are underwater or unliveable.

Well, there's no point in investing hopes in the Bali negotiations, since these are merely talks about what might be talked about in future. One of the real evils of parliamentarist politics has been the inculcating of political passivity, which amounts to the exclusion of the masses from politics. We are thus in the position where almost everyone knows that there is a huge crisis brewing and that it will probably affect them in their lifetime, and yet few people know how to act. Politicians promise solutions that are not solutions at all - or as with Bush's biofuels answer, will add to the problem. And of course, there is a global industry devoted to befuddling people, which makes it fortunate that the IPCC devoted a whole section to the history and structure of advances in climate change science [pdf]. It seems to me that the IPCC's reports could do with being distilled into a brief, digestible layman's account, and distributed widely. Free, if possible. That is how urgent the information campaign is, and that is one thing a socialist government do. Secondly, we need to build environmental politics into every left-wing organisation, and every trade union. The solution cannot and will not emerge from the existing economic system, which makes its radical transformation more urgent than ever. Now is the time more than ever to be deeply suspicious of 'market-led' solutions to climate change, since these tend to punish the poor without changing the fundamentals that are producing the problem. And quite apart from anything else, it is a question of social justice: we are all trapped in this problem, especially those who have done least to cause it, and therefore we must socialise the solution. The world belongs to everyone.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Northern Jelly posted by Richard Seymour

I hate to associate myself with one half of a proposal by the repellent Vincent Cable MP, but it seems very simple to me. If we have to pay for it, we should own it. Instead, the government seems set to indefinitely extend a £25bn loan to the company on the grounds that not to do so will leave thousands of jobs at risk. My suggestion, echoing that at the Respect conference yesterday, is to divide that money among all of Northern Rock's employees, barring the directors and managers responsible for the problems. That would leave them with about a cool £400,000 each. If you don't want to do that, nationalise the company - either buy it while its stock is exceptionally cheap or take it over and tell the shareholders to fuck off.

The credit crisis, if it is resolved in a capitalist fashion, will see large amounts of public wealth transferred to the private sector. Every previous crisis has resulted in the taxpayers bailing out massive corporations - whether it is Reagan bailing out Chrysler, Clinton bailing out the hedge funds, or Bush bailing out the airlines in 2001. The alternative of public ownership is obviously forbiden by neoliberal ideology, but there isn't a single good reason why nationalisation cannot or should not be carried out extensively. And the situation will plainly call for it as the crisis intensifies. The system has thrived for years on cheap credit, which will no longer be available. So, when companies stop investing because neither profits nor cheap credit permit, the vicious circle now consuming financial capital will extent to industrial capital. As long as the sole basis of production is what is profitable, then it will make more sense to cut staff and close offices - that contains obvious disadvantages for those of us who rely on the sale of our labour for subsistence. So, instead of subordinating our livelihoods and well-being to the profit motive, I suggest we take control of the systems of production and exchange that we depend upon and democratise them.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Respect: Very Live. posted by Richard Seymour

"I was as happy as anyone when George Galloway won in Bethnal Green & Bow, and when the Respect councillors were elected ... I have declined to speak to the Renewal conference, and I'll tell you why. I have always believed in unity. Who is the happiest when some people split from Respect? Gordon Brown. He sees this as an opportunity. My appeal is for unity, but there can never be unity in a left-wing organisation when people attack and witch hunt other socialists." Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union.

The scoop is that Respect isn't going away. I can tell you this with a level of confidence and optimism today that I couldn't have yesterday. There were two events billed as Respect events today. One was the national conference, with 350 elected delegates and observers, resolutions and motions to be voted on. It would have contained more people, but 90 people had to be turned away since Westminster University was unable to provide an overflow room. I was there as a press person to observe and report, and did not participate in the votes. I will provide a run-down of the votes for you, but all passed resolutions will soon be available on the Respect website. The other was a rally held at Bishopsgate, without elected delegates, to which invitations were widely sent. I am told the latter had a decent turnout, 200-300 people mainly from Tower Hamlets, which is one of George Galloway's few strongholds. Two of our speakers, Andrew Murray and Sami Ramadani - both from the antiwar movement - spoke at both conferences, urging the necessity of unity above all when it came to antiwar activity. If anyone in either conference doubts that, they are surely in the decided minority.

This is how the National Secretary John Rees summed up the political framework that shapes the present problem (this is a summary of the key points rather than a transcription - as a rule, the comments reported in this account are far more likely to be strictly word-perfect, and I also expect Adrian Cousins to have full video clips posted on Youtube soon). "There are many issues, but the central thing, the irreducible core of the debate, is how to respond to electoral pressures, especially in areas like Tower Hamlets, and Birmingham, and Preston, and Newham, and wherever we have been successful. It is a debate produced by success. Four years ago, we had no record, we had to hunt for candidates to stand for us, and we had to persuade hundreds of people to fight for a left-of-Labour candidatge simply on the basis of the political arguments - probably not even expecting to win, but believing in the principle of it. That is not now the situation in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Preston or Birmingham. It is now the case, especially in those areas, that the minute we open nominations, tens of people put themselves forward, and sometimes hundreds of people register as members to influence the selection. It is no longer the case that people are only coming to Respect because of principle - now, people are coming because the best way to be elected is in Respect. We want to select and elect people who are as committed to the original vision of Respect as an anticapitalist, antiwar coalition. There has been some cost to us in this - in Tower Hamlets, of 12 councillors elected in May 2006, we have lost two. One of them crossed the floor to become part of New Labour, and the other resigned, causing a bye-election which we won by a small margin. There has been enormous pressure from the Labour machine - several people have been approached to leave Respect and join Labour, not only to be councillors for them, but they have been told that the sitting could be deselected and they could become parliamentary candidates. Michael Lavalette was told that if he would go for Labour, they would work to de-select Mark Hendrick. Now, sometimes George Galloway has resisted those pressures, but at other times, in important and damaging ways, he hasn't. We do have to have a robust attitude toward Respect's democratic procedures - it is not good enough to just select the person supposedly most likely to be elected if six or nine months later, they undermine the project and make us look like any other party. Because the most damaging thing that New Labour has done is to take the politics out of politics - you know what they say, it is no longer about ideology, but about delivery. If you take the ideology away, what's left? Careerism, avarice and opportunism. If we do that, we cease to be a real and radical alternative.

"We know from Labour Party history that you can pass great resolutions and be committed to the best policies, but if you don't elect the people who can fight for them, the resolutions don't make a difference. Part of the problem has come from our strategy - in a first past the post system, we sought to maximise our advantage in the strongest areas, in the hope that other places could follow. But this does create problems. It's been noted that the only people elected were Muslim comrades - and I make no apologies for that. They did what they should have done, what we wanted them to do - but they also realise, as we do, that we needed to be broader. At the 2006 conference, we therefore committed to support the Organising for Fighting Unions (OFFU) conference and get involved directly in the labour movement, and I think OFFU has been one of our success stories. It's been a lie, but a constant theme of our critics, that Respect doesn't stand for gay rights. So, we put this specific emphasis on the Gay Pride parade. This is one of the things that George Galloway has been critical of, but - whatever the technical issues - it was the right thing to do. I think the other side of this debate is pessimistic about where we can go, and want to concentrate on a few areas. I think if an NUM mining official like Ray Holmes can be elected as a Respect councillor in Bolsover, there are no no-go areas for Respect. Additionally, we cannot have forty or fifty members being signed up on one night for a meeting, by one person, with £450 of his own money - that is not the way to proceed. We didn't want this fight, and we don't accept many of its terms, but we always had to face these problems. The truth is that the core of any organisation is not its leadership, whatever the contribution they have made, but the membersip."

Members then spoke from the floor. Jackie Turner from Tower Hamlets Respect spoke on some of the issues faced by the local organisation. She spoke of the opportunism that had poisoned Respect's successes. The former Labour councillor Mortuza had signed up with Respect in a bid to be the leader of the group, and left when it didn't work out to stand for Labour (he lost to a Respect candidate). Others tried the same, and left for the Liberals when they didn't get their way. There was a lot of pressure to stand only certain candidates for certain areas - older Bengali men. Lindsey German pointed out that this involved a certain condescending attitude to Muslims, as if they would accept undemocratic practises or couldn't vote for young women - if that attitude had been accepted, Salma Yaqoob couldn't have stood for us. Paddy O'Keefe said: "I've heard us described as the SWP faction - now, look, some of my best friends are in the SWP. But I'm not. However, I value the dignity and restraint of some of the people who have been under attack personally in the blogs and in the media, and sometimes in the face of extreme physical provocation." Rania Khan revealed some of the problems she and her fellow councillors had faced locally, including the often horrible treatment of women and the difficulties working under the local council leadership. She said: "It's been claimed that John Rees was behind us resigning the whip, but I am telling you now that this is not true. He told us to stay in it, to save Respect - I'm sorry John, we tried our best, but the struggles became too hard, and we couldn't continue. The real principles of Respect were being forgotten because the committee meetings were lost to infighting." There was a general feeling in favour of wanting to preserve unity in some way: some grassroots members feeling they didn't pick this fight, and not accepting its terms. One pointed out that she had been ready to bash Rees and Galloway's heads together - until she spoke to some people in the East End and found out what had been happening. Nahella from Manchester added - "no one has asked us, and that's been really frustrating".

"I know where I am. I know I'm at home, in the real Respect." Jane Loftus, president of the CWU.

Kumar Murshid, the former Labour councillor and adviser to Ken Livingstone, provided some background. "This issue of pocket membership is important - you can't have a democratic party when one person buys a number of members. I've seen this before in the Labour Party, and it has a corroding and corrupting impact, and it strips ordinary members of their ability or desire to be active in and have an effect on the party. As far as the mainstream parties in Tower Hamlets are concerned, they have always been cynical. The Labour Party rewarded corruption and incompetence, and used divisions. And we remember the Liberals during their eight years of misrule in the Eighties and Nineties - they ruled in a racially divisive manner, with the effect that the BNP won their first ever councillor there. Respect can and should be a different story. I'm afraid what the other lot are doing is engaging in an elaborate personality cult movement. Many of the people in the other rally are people we have tried to work with, but who don't believe in open democracy. And I have seen this in Tower Hamlets, and we had to take a stand against that."

"I love Respect!" Councillor Lutfa Begum

One of the best speeches of the day was from guest speaker Karen Reissmann: I have some video of it later. I think it's important to be angry about what's happening to the NHS, and some of the details are truly shocking. The hounding of Karen and union activists like her is being conducted against the background of a wasteful PFI initiative, which has quadrupled the cost of beds. Yet, for the duration of the strike, they have sent patients to locked hospitals who shouldn't be locked up, sent them away to hospitals a hundred miles away, and paid for twenty extra beds in the private sector. As soon as the strike is over, they will no longer pay for the beds. The local campaign against cuts and privatisation has been extremely effective, nevertheless, raising £120,000 so far. The local media is sympathetic, the Green Party and the Liberals demand Reissmann's reinstatement, and the only people opposed are - well, who do you think? John Molyneux made what I thought was an extremely important intervention, urging an strong focus on climate change. The latest IPCC report shows that the rate of climate change is even worse than some of the so-called 'doomsayers' have predicted, and this is already beginning to impact on people's lives. We absolutely have to make a strong presence for Respect at the 8th December protest. I'm convinced that there is no answer to this enormous problem that doesn't begin to challenge the distribution of property and political power throughout the whole planet.

This is Michael Lavalette's speech:

Councillor Ray Holmes, displaying his rosette, introduced himself with a breezy "Hi folks!" I like this guy. "I want to say how proud I am of Rees and the others, and I think we are standing by our principles," he said. He explained how brilliant it was to be a Respect councillor and stand against policies imposed by the government, and urged us all to give it a try if we could. "The reason I took part in Respect was because I wanted the people by my side who share the same principles as me - and the attacks on the working class are coming thick and fast, and need the maximum unity to oppose them." Jane Loftus, president of the CWU, was extremely warmly received. The crucial debate taking place in the unions now cannot be overlooked: there are those who still argue that the unions should support Labour, despite all, but that is becoming a much more embattled position - "Even during a strike with 98% solidarity, we got nothing from Labour". And therefore, Respect should be at the heart of that debate, putting itself where hundreds of thousands of people are struggling. Francois Duval of the LCR didn't want to intervene in a dispute in the British left, but he did tell us a great deal about the fight now taking place against Sarkozy's reforms, a mere six months after the victory of the right-wing parties in elections. "Sarkozy is not even living up to his rhetoric," Duval said, "his campaign slogan was 'work more to earn more'. People are working more, but they are not earning more!" Comparing the current critical situation to the miners' strike, he argued that only a full general strike could win the situation. And because the parliamentary left are attacking the protest movement, because they share the prognosis and diagnosis of the right, a political re-alignment is necessary - to that end, the LCR is attempting to form a new broader anticapitalist party, which may come about in 2008 or 2009.

"I want to pay special tribute to one particular person. It's not Lindsey German this time. One person who has been especially important to the antiwar movement, and who has been a real pleasure to work with as a comrade is John Rees. And I must say I don't recognise the man in some of the things that are now being said about him." Andrew Murray, national chair of the Stop the War Coalition

Sami Ramadani spoke mostly about the war: "I waited with some anticipation when Gordon Brown made his first speech in conference, since it was suggested there would be a policy change on Iraq. He only devoted 19 words to the Iraqi carnage in an hour-long speech. Over a million killed since the invasion, 4 million refugees, the health service collapsing, Iraqi children can't go to school any more - only 19 words. They are now dividing Baghdad into thirty military zones, in tactics they learned in Vietnam. They know if they can isolate an area and surround it, they can crush all the resistance within it. 30 military zones - 19 words. They have convinced the media that a withdrawal from Iraq will result in bloody war: this is a lie. The presence of troops is the main reason for the violence. And the American idea of a withdrawal strategy is to leave a puppet regime, a network of military bases and a subdued population - that isn't the withdrawal that Iraqis want." Further, "the same multi-national corporations who are after Iraq's oil are profiting from a system that kills 2 million children ever year from hunger. So, this movement really matters, and I would appeal to you all, when it comes to the antiwar movement, to work together and keep the unity going."

Ady Cousins has posted Karen Reissmann's whole speech:

There was something about the unscheduled nature of Mark Serwotka's arrival and his comportment at the mic which suggested that his speech was going to be a dramatic one. I make no apologies for saying that it was by far the best speech of the day I think he set a context and an analysis that was necessarily broader than the problems of Respect, but as the quote at the top of this post makes clear, he isn't sitting on any fences. I will try and summarise as best as I can: "First of all, can I say I'm delighted to come to conference today. The context of my appearance is the need in this country for a united left alternative to Labour. And after having spoken here today, I am going to speak to the Labour Representation Committee to support John McDonnell, and also especially to urge them to look out more to the non-Labour left. We need industrial unity to resist the attacks of New Labour, but we also need political unity to give people hope. We've got to look at the opportunities today - every time I have met government ministers, and even trade union leaders, and I raise the problems faced by my members, and other workers, the uniform answer is always that no matter how bad it is, the offer from the Tories will be worse. The Labour Party think they can take working class support for granted, and this gives them a tremendous in-built arrogance: it invites them to be more right-wing and stick the boot in more. So, we have to make some important decisions now, because we don't want to be in the same situation in ten years time.

"Three weeks ago in Stirling, the churches were giving out food vouchers to people who couldn't get their benefits. The reason why they couldn't get their benefits is that there weren't enough staff to support them - they are cutting 40,000 civil servants. When it came to those who needed emergency loans, the most desperate people, what should have been available in 24 hours took five weeks to be delivered. It's not an isolated incident - among the cuts, New Labour is delegating welfare to the charities and private companies, increasingly. And I think, this is not Bush's America. It's a Labour government that is doing this to us. People are dying in hospitals because of underinvestment. They're handing hundreds of thousands of pounds to private consultants. And look at EDS - they have a clause in their contract that says if they are ever removed from a contract for poor performance or anything else, they have to be offered another contract. These are clearly corrupt contracts. And when billions are being paid in city bonuses each year, we are being told that public sector workers are the cause of inflation.

"If this was as good as politics could get, then we may as well pack up right now. But it isn't. How do we get from where we are now to something better? I think the first thing is that if you are in a union, I will say this publicly today, you must redouble your efforts to hold your union leaders accountable, especially if they are looking the other way while workers are being attacked. These are not idle thoughts. I have spent months working with comrades to defend our services, some of whom I can see in this hall, and I've seen union leaders turn their back. The PCS, from not striking for years, has now had four strike ballots in three years, and the last one we had three weeks ago had the highest level of support of the lot. And look at the members of the CWU, who showed they were not cowed. They were prepared to fight against their employers and the government, and not only in official strike action either. They took illegal action to defend their conditions. So, we have got to bring the unions together in action to produce the maximum effort. And I say this to Karen Reissmann today, it's almost certain that at our next NEC meeting, there will be a unanimously passed resolution on giving a substantial financial donation to her campaign.

"And the Prison Officers Association. I know they're not the most popular trade union, but they took illegal action. I got phoned at 6.30am when I was on holiday in Wales to be told that they were going to take an illegal strike action. And I take my hat off to them: they faced punitive fines, and possibly the destruction of their union. If the POA are fined, then my union and every other union should put their hands in their pockets and pay the fine, and show the government that we won't let our fellow trade unionists be bullied. We have repeatedly called for coordinated strike action, and a lot of other unions have said they hoped they would have unity - but you must have unity in your sector before you can unite with others. When Gordon Brown has announced that he will be imposing pay restraint until 2011, we need all public sector workers on the picket line, on the same day. if they can do it in France, we can do it here. Now, that may win victories, and we may make progress, but it won't stop the bosses coming back. We need a political alternative. I have seen the SSP prove that with a fair election system and a basic unity, you can overturn the lie that people won't vote for left-wing parties. I was as happy as anyone when George Galloway won in Bethnal Green & Bow, and when the Respect councillors were elected. I call for unity, and it is a sad irony that I am visiting three socialist meetings in London today - the Socialist Party, the LRC and this one. I have declined to speak to the Renewal conference, and I'll tell you why. I have always believed in unity. Who is the happiest when some people split from Respect? Gordon Brown. He sees this as an opportunity. My appeal is for unity, but there can never be unity in a left-wing organisation when people attack and witch hunt other socialists. And I won't hide it, I disagree with Martin Smith and John Rees on a number of things, but we have to find where we agree. We have to tolerate difference, welcome debate, but we need unity.

"We should not see today as a desperate position. We should see it as an opportunity to clear some things up, and move on stronger. And I would urge you - to avoid splits like this consuming your organisation, you need to root it in the organised labour movement. Let me tell yu about the TUC general council in July. Eighteen of us went to see Gordon Brown. I arrived about half an hour early and had to wait in the cabinet room - my son called and thought I was running the country. Brendan Barber and the others arrived, and Brendan asked all of us for a list of ourse concerns. We raised conditions, pay cuts, services and so on. And someone whose name I won't mention - well, he happens to be the general secretary of Britain's biggest trade union, so that'll narrow it down - said, 'I have to stop you all here, this is crazy: we are all forgetting that our priority is to get our government re-elected'. We have always had people in our movement who put Labour before the interests of the movement. But more people are questioning that. We see Bob Wareing standing against Labour, where he has been disgracefully de-selected so that Stephen Twigg - someone who I would argue does not know much about Liverpool - can stand as the Blairite candidate. We see Respect standing elsewhere. And today could perhaps be the day that we recognise what unites us is so much more than what divides us. We need to go out there and build an alternative that gives Gordon Brown sleepless nights, and our children hope for a better future."

You don't even have to take my word for it any more. Happily, Ady Cousins has uploaded the whole speech:

Andrew Murray, who is admired throughout the antiwar movement, and by both sides of this dispute, echoed Sami's plea that we opt for the maximum unity in the antiwar movement - splits happen, sometimes its unavoidable, but the tremendous work that had been done together by all sides including many in the Renewal rally shouldn't be rewritten. "The truth is, we have a responsibility to the British people, and to the people around the world - however big the difference between Westminster and Bishopsgate looks here, it is invisible in Beirut and Baghdad. We have to recall that we are a small margin between life and death for thousands of people" It was because in the Stop the War Coalition we learned to stop shouting at one another that we pulled millions of people beyond the left into activity and struggle in a common cause. He also paid tribute to both John Rees and to the SWP without whom, he said, the remarkable movement the Stop the War Coalition has built could not have happened. "We have real enemies - we have Tony Blair, still. The Middle East Peace Envoy whose first distinction in his role is to call for another war. In the Middle East. I understand he's going to be grilled on the BBC by David Aaronovitch - that'll be a challenging interview: 'is that your halo, my lord, or is it a trick of the light?' And there's Gordon Brown - he should be grateful to us, because we put him where he is today. He spent years wanting to be leader, not knowing quite how to catch onto successive waves of public anger, always passing up the opportunity. And it was only Tony Blair's craven support for Israel's destruction of Lebanon last year that made even the most spineless MPs realise that if they didn't get rid of Blair, they'd be gotten rid of."

Democratising and reaching out.
The procedural and electoral element of today's conference involved a number of planks - most matters to do with specific policies have been remitted to a future council, because today's conference was about setting up a workable constitutional arrangement with a fully elected National Council. I can say that despite some arguments here and there, the main bulk of the resolutions passed with a few divisive resolutions and amendments spurned overwhelmingly. The passed resolutions approved a new National Council, a chair, a national organiser and a national secretary; an amended constitution with single-transferrable vote elections rather than slates; new provisions clarifying the basis of membership to avoid people being signed up in bulk on the night of a particular meeting, and so on. So I can put this to you. We are not closing up shop and abandoning the coalition. It is clear that, despite the defection of some names, those of us supporting a democratic coalition have won over most of the membership. We are not going to turn inward: instead we have to reach out to the workers now under attack by New Labour. We aren't going to rest on our laurels or be content to work with old faces, as welcome as most of them are. We know there is a debate in the trade unions and in the Labour left about where to go now, and we intend to involve ourselves in that. We know that young people are being targeted for restraining orders and ASBOs while their services are cut and schools handed over to the Carphone Warehouse. We know that stop and search policies are targeting black people, anyone who might look like a Muslim, and also increasingly white working class kids. Pensioners are being hit hardest by the closure of post offices across the country, and still have to live with frightening, death-dealing levels of poverty. Muslims are still being targeted for racism, harrassment, curbs on civil liberties - and you better believe that whether the detention limit is 28 days or 56 days or 90 days, it won't stop with Muslims. As long as all those things remain a permanent feature of our landscape, so will we.

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