Out September 15th: “Syriza – Inside the Labyrinth”

syriza_ovendenBy Pluto Press (200 pages | 5 x 7 3/4 | © 2015).

With a Foreword by Paul Mason.

In January 2015, Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, became the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, winning 149 out of 300 seats and badly defeating the then-ruling conservative New Democracy party. In Syriza, Kevin Ovenden presents an in-depth analysis of the political events leading up to this seemingly sudden reversal of political power in Greece, exploring the origins of the turbulent Greek political climate, from the beginnings of the Communist Party of Greece and the Greek workers’ movement following the First World War, to the brutal civil war that shook the country in the aftermath of the Second World War; the rise and fall of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement and the growth of radical politics in the 1970s; and finally the crushing austerity demands following the debt crisis of the 2010s.

Ovenden also examines the far-right movements in Greece as well, focusing in particular on the negative impact that the xenophobic and nationalistic Golden Dawn party has had and continues to have to this day.

Syriza’s victory in Greece is a central event of the twenty-first century, whose ramifications are sure to be felt for decades.

Go to Pluto Press to order your copy.

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What I did this Christmas – Volunteering in Calais

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Originally posted on Just a Thought :
This Christmas holiday I decided to volunteer for 10 days with Care4Calais to help refugees. For those of you who don’t know, yes, there are still hundreds of refugees living in and around Calais.…

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Irish border crisis: a democratic deficit across Europe

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Sleeping rough in Dublin – the homelessness crisis is on both sides of the Irish Sea

There was something obscene about the intervention in the London media by the chief whip of the right wing bosses government in Dublin this week.

Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh summoned up the spectre of a resurgence of armed Loyalist and dissident Republican groups in the north of Ireland as a result of the Brexit vote in Britain.

He came across as threatening people in both countries with someone else’s guns. He did so on the very day that his own minority government nearly came crashing down as a huge scandal around police and ministerial corruption continues to fell senior figures. The latest is the deputy prime minister.

McHugh claimed that any divergence of customs arrangements arising from Brexit would create a hard border between the Irish Republic and the north, and the mechanism – smuggling – through which such armed groups would finance themselves.

Well, if you genuinely believe that, then the answer is to refuse to implement such a border – universally unpopular across Ireland. And that is what both Sinn Fein and Irish radical left parties have said.

But such popular refusal of a hardened border, with civil disobedience of the kind that peacefully beat the imposition of water charges in the Irish Republic, would open up two questions which the right wing parties on both islands – Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, the British Tories and the DUP – are desperate to keep closed.

It would call into question the austerity policies and tax haven status for the corporate elite in Ireland and in the UK. And it would challenge the sectarian unionist logic of the partition of Ireland, which provides a bedrock of reaction in both states.

The parties of the status quo want none of that. Instead, they are all engaged in reckless rhetoric aimed at using the Irish Question in a squalid political game to pursue big business and their own interests in the Brexit process.

The egregious Denis MacShane, who was jailed for fiddling his parliamentary expenses, told the Financial Times this week that Labour too should join this dangerous brinkmanship.

He wants Labour to ignore the referendum result and “stop Brexit” – with a cowardly and dangerous manoeuvre. It is for the Labour frontbench to say, in effect, that it would have liked to carry through the democratic will, but it cannot because of a combination of the objections of the Irish government and a commitment to keep Northern Ireland firmly part of the UK.

The only way to avoid a “hard border”, goes this argument, is for Northern Ireland to stay in the European customs union and Single Market (equivalent to staying in the EU) and therefore Britain to do the same.

It is difficult to imagine a more disastrous line for the Labour Party to adopt. In making the union sacrosanct it would strengthen the reactionary DUP, which is propping up the Tory government.

Worse, it would tell 17.4 million Leave voters that their democratic choice was not being honoured because of “the Irish”. What could be more guaranteed to recharge anti-Irish prejudice that has thankfully been draining for 20 years?

Britain does not have a far right of the scale of France or Germany. This would be one way to create one. But that has not stopped the EU from pushing this line, and the Irish government acting as a cat’s paw of Brussels, in an effort to gain leverage in the Brexit talks.

Now that Theresa May has bowed to the eye-watering divorce bill, it is to the Irish issue and the rights of EU and British nationals that EU negotiators and pro-EU politicians are turning to generate further crises.

Both issues could be settled by a British government easily: refuse to implement a hard border and guarantee the rights of EU nationals in Britain. But Theresa May’s government cannot do that because it wants a Tory-Unionist Brexit and one compatible with the interests of big business.

The EU and component governments are just as cynical. It was not only May who last year refused to settle the rights of EU nationals at the outset. So did Germany’s Angela Merkel, who insisted that they be thrown in as bargaining chips in the Brexit talks.

That is not the only thing they have in common. Weakness and division are as characteristic of many European governments and the EU as they are of the British.

The collapse of Merkel’s attempt to form a three-party coalition has plunged Germany into its deepest governmental crisis since the second world war. Like May, she also lost authority and seats in a general election this year that saw a decisive rejection of the outgoing grand coalition between her CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD.

Now the SPD has done a U-turn and said it will go into talks, due to take place in January, over renewing a grand coalition or propping up a minority Merkel government.

There is no guarantee that talks will succeed or that any arrangement will be agreed in a vote by SPD members. The party has fallen in the polls since the U-turn announcement. A major point of division is over the proposals by French president Emmanuel Macron for modest reform of the EU – still as corporate capitalist entity but with a stronger role for France at some cost to German hegemony and national capitalist priorities.

That is an indication that contrary to so much pro-EU boosterism, the bloc is far from unified and stable. More glaring still is the contempt for democracy in the desperate efforts by the German establishment to cobble together a coalition and avoid at all costs another election.

Almost half of the population say they prefer a fresh election to either a grand coalition or a minority government.

But that is the last thing the elites in Berlin and Brussels want, though if talks fail it could still happen next spring.

Meanwhile, the German agriculture minister has just used his casting vote at an EU meeting to renew the use of glycophosphate weed killers widely held responsible for the collapse of bee populations and other environmental damage.

It has caused uproar in Germany. Some 1.3 million people had signed a petition to ban the chemical, and constitutionally the interim government in place is not meant to take controversial measures.

Beneath the theatre of the Brexit negotiations there is a deepening democratic deficit in all parts of Europe.

The British, Irish, and interim German governments are all minority administrations fearing judgement at new elections.

The EU is recklessly playing with destabilisation in Ireland in order to undermine the result of the British referendum. There is lots of talk in Brussels suddenly about the “sovereignty” of the Irish Republic.

There was none when Ireland and Greece were forced into the austerity memorandums to save the banks at the expense of the people and of “fiscal sovereignty”.

And where is this commitment to popular sovereignty over Catalonia? The EU says the Spanish state’s repression is “proportionate”, condones the jailing of elected ministers, and threatens the hardest possible of borders around any putative Catalan state.

Each government in the EU and the Brussels bureaucracy are looking to corral people behind them in their antagonisms with other states and in reinforcing the elites.

Whether it is in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Catalonia or elsewhere working people have a common interest in fighting to defend and extend both democracy and genuine popular sovereignty. And with a common purpose, which was tragically underscored these last two weeks.

On Monday night a homeless man in his fifties was found frozen to death in his tent in Dublin. Two weeks ago, 38-year-old mother of four Elaine Morrall was found dead, wrapped in a coat and scarf in her freezing home on Merseyside.

She couldn’t afford to put the heating on during the day to keep herself warm while the kids were at school.

There are housing and hospitals crises of similar dimensions on both sides of the Irish Sea. Two weeks ago 23 mainly elderly working class people in Greece were killed by flash flooding in a poor industrial area just a few kilometres away from the capital of a European state.

The next budget continues to squeeze Greek society to provide a budget surplus to hand to the bankers. There will be a 24-hour general strike in two weeks time in protest.

Working class people in Britain and Ireland have every interest in opposing their right wing governments and the neoliberal austerity hardwired into the EU.

Democracy, truly popular sovereignty and a rupture with austerity capitalism – that is what the labour movement should put at the heart of Brexit and the political crisis in Europe, not dangerous games playing around with working people’s lives in order to preserve a failing system.

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When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate

There #Isadebate. And this is a powerful contribution.

It also suggests what many friends have said – the tide is turning. And that is because this is becoming a real social issue.

Not The News in Briefs

When there is conflict between trans rights and women’s rights (such as whether toilets and changing rooms should be segregated by ‘sex’ or ‘gender’) an open debate should be encouraged to ascertain how best to accommodate the rights of both parties. This hasn’t happened, and it hasn’t happened in a big way, so it’s worth looking at how and why the debate has been stifled.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gave trans people a right to be legally recognised as the opposite sex. The Equality Act 2010 gave the characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ a protected category status. At that time ‘gender reassignment’ essentially meant ‘sex change’ – the language used in the Act refers to transsexuals, and people understood ‘trans’ to mean a transition of some sort, usually (at that time) from male to female. The Act was for a person who was ‘…proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has…

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Saudi faction fight – break Britain’s links

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and another crook

The Speaker of the British House of Commons granted an “urgent question” from Labour on the Saudi blockade of Yemen this afternoon, Tuesday 7 November.

We could already foreshadow the line that the British government, and perhaps some opposition MPs, were likely to take over the dramatic developments in the last 72 hours in Saudi Arabia.

Those have seen the arrest of scores of billionaires, prominent figures and members of the bloated royal family, and the summoning to Riyadh of the Saudi-sponsored prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri. There he resigned his position via pre-recorded statement, broadcast on the Kingdom’s Al Arabiya channel.

His statement denounced “Iranian interference” in Lebanon and the Levant. Donald Trump yesterday warmly embraced the consolidation of power in the hands of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the purge he is undertaking. Today the Saudi regime has claimed that a missile fired from Yemen, where it has been losing a war of intervention, was “an act of war” by Iran.

The Saudi war and blockade of Yemen have contributed to at least 10,000 dead. It has produced the world’s worst cholera epidemic. The World Health Organisation estimates over 815,000 cases – and the outbreak continues to rage.

The British government is up to its neck in the atrocities, both via continuing massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia and in direct assistance through specialist British military personnel.

But already we are seeing the outline in various news media of how the US, British and other western governments are likely to spin the power struggle in Riyadh as a reason to renew and extend relations with Saudi Arabia, and to rebuff what has been growing concern over the Yemen war from international NGOs, peace and human rights campaigners.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being variously described as “a young man in a hurry”, a “reformer”, and even as a “revolutionary“.

His arrest of rivals is proclaimed in several leading western papers as “an anti-corruption drive”. And over the last few months there have been some gushing portraits describing him as a “social reformer”, particularly in the field of women’s rights – which have been all but non-existent in Saudi Arabia for decades.

The reality is that the changes from above that the Crown Prince (MBS) is trying to push through are in no sense driven by a commitment to social progress or liberal-democratic reform. He is the third richest Royal in Saudi Arabia with a personal wealth of over $3 billion.

His political gambit is an extremely risky attempt to reorganise Saudi capitalism, the state and their relations with the big imperialist powers – aimed at intensifying a struggle for regional domination.

There has been a developing crisis of the Saudi system for many years. Unlike almost all the other Gulf States it is actually a “real country”, with a population of 32 million people.
It has large numbers of foreign workers – westerners in high end occupations; many more Arab, Pakistani and Asians at the lower end.

But unlike other Gulf States it has an actual and large working class of citizens (or rather subjects), and a big but disenfranchised middle class.

The immense concentration of wealth in the hands of the royal family and a gilded elite of billionaires has meant that despite the fabulous oil revenues there has been growing unemployment, underemployment and a squeeze on the majority of the population for two decades.

Additionally, the corruption and inertia of the elite and state have meant a continued reliance on oil even though sections of the Saudi capitalist class have looked to diversify the economy and produce a modern-industrial revolution in the country and through investments in the region.

The Saudi state itself for many decades has been a clientelist arrangement with competing centres of power – headed by rival Royals – colonising different parts of the state machine and forming concentrations of power with networks of billionaires and functionaries.

That’s why any serious Arab political commentator or figure would answer your question of “what is the Saudi policy” by saying, “That’s the wrong question. You mean what is the policy of each faction, and who has dominance at this moment.”

It is this and the malaise of the Kingdom that MBS has set out to transform.

That means centralising and rationalising the state. It also means the “modernisation” of the economy, with the offer to US and European capital that economic liberalisation will provide opportunities for inward investment.

Thus, central to the “reforms” is what could be called privatisation, though it has a particular meaning.

Vast areas of the economy were not “nationalised” but more precisely “statitified”, with competing centres of power monopolising those economic milch cows.

So breaking those up is simultaneously about market-driven reform and, because economic power is so closely enmeshed with clientelist political clout, a political reorganisation of the state and its relationship to the elites.

There has been rising discontent at flagrant corruption, so “an anti-corruption drive” is the perfect banner under which to carry through this reorganisation from above.

It also means breaking the system which Saudi Arabia shares with the other oil states of the Gulf of compensating for a lack of social and labour rights, and of a redistributive welfare state, with a social compact in which a small portion of the oil super-profits was used to buy off discontent.

The modernising capitalist reforms also bring the breakup of that compact, in the belief that the spread of more modern market relations will unleash a new generation of young entrepreneurs and a more dynamic economy.

There can be many losers in this process. Those vested interests above who have failed to produce capital return in the areas of the economy they have run as fiefdoms are one. The events of the last 72 hours resemble Al Pacino in The Godfather II “taking care of family business”. But also in this transition the working and middle classes face upheaval.

That is the rationale for the modest civic reforms that have been proposed, the reining in of the religious police and the slenderest of loosening of the barbarically social conservative public mores.

The hope is to consolidate a popular base for the core capitalist reforms which necessitate bitter clashes at the top – hence the scores of arrests – and turmoil for the whole society in moving towards a more neoliberal model.

The drive to wider war

It is a highly risky operation to try to pull off. It means re-balancing the state’s authoritarianism, not moving to any genuine democracy.

That’s why the “liberalisation” has been accompanied by a clampdown on Saudi dissidents and on the Shia Muslim minority in the Qatif province.

And it is all taking place in the context of the overarching MBS policy: more coherent and bellicose projection of Saudi power in the region. He is not a novelty in that. The Saudi regime, under the excuse of countering Iranian influence, has sought for a decade to place itself at the centre of the shifting regional balance of power.

Indeed before then Saudi Arabia made a turn to, and then exported, a more extreme version of its state Wahhabist ideology in an effort to counter the attractive power of the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Running through political Islamism as a whole is a tension. It is between mining the religious tradition for ideological resources to support actual social and economic change, even revolution, or falling back on the idea that the imposition of personal relations held to be those of an earlier golden age, be it of the time of the prophet and his companions or after, provides a path to renewal.

One has radical political implications, of diverse kinds. The other is what the Saudi-sponsored publishing houses pumped out in opposition to revolutionary developments in Iran.

It was an effort to steer Islamist opinion of many strands back along a course which was compatible with western imperial hegemony – displacing economic and social discontent onto some purification of relations between men and women, or different classes in society who might live harmoniously, if only they followed the deen as properly understood. The petri dish for this experiment was the Saudi component of the western intervention into the war in Afghanistan.

The only successful revolution that brought Islamist political forces to power took place in Iran, toppling a critical US ally. The Saudi state and ideologues promoted as a counterweight an Islamist gloss on US anti-communism in Afghanistan. That produced Osama bin Laden.

Similarly, Saudi plutocrats seized upon the uprising in Syria six years ago to try to bend the outcome to their advantage, and to the US’s, through sponsoring sectarian Sunni Islamist groups. That failed. And one conclusion that MBS and those around him drew was that it failed because of the diffuse and amateurish nature of the intervention.

It rested, as did the Afghan adventure, upon sponsorship by differing elements of the Saudi state and billionaire class. Each of them promised that their favoured sons in Syria would be the ones to deliver the desired result – not the fulfillment of the hopes of those who protested in 2011, but a reorientation of the Syrian state to be more compatible with Saudi interests.

It was no match for the intervention of more robust and rational states – be they Russia, Iran or Turkey. So coherent state intervention was what MBS championed in Yemen. A direct military intervention, not through billions of dollars gifted to flakey forces hundreds of miles away in territories with which you do not share a border.

The failure of the Yemen intervention is leading the now dominant faction in Riyadh to double down. The moment is the fall of nearly all the ISIS strongholds in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, and also the collapse of the move by the Barazani regime in the Kurdish Regional Government area of Iraq to declare independence on an expanded territory.

Three years ago Saudi Arabia was a gauche player in the Syrian conflict, hosting meetings of oppositionists or holding a significant seat at the table of endless conferences sponsored by the great powers. Not now. For the last 18 months both the Kingdom and the US have been wholly eclipsed by developments. Neither likes it. Nor does Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel.

He used his visit to Britain last week to proclaim that israel was working with the Arab “good guys” (the axis headed by Saudi Arabia) to confront Iran. If ever there were a fitting coda to what Britain’s Balfour declaration has led to it is that a century on the prime minister of Israel came to London to threaten yet more military action in the Middle East.

Trump has continued in office with the anti-Iranian rhetoric of his campaign trail. In part it is that he sees himself as the “anti-Obama”. It was the previous US president’s policy to manage the decline of US power in the Middle East through concerting some balance between the four or five big regional powers, including Iran.

Trump has abandoned that with a dependence on just two limbs – Israel and Saudi Arabia. Perforce, given how the course of events has escaped US draftsmanship.

It’s not only a Trump fixation. This has deeper resonance among US Republicans, and some Democrats. It is not only to do with the over-vaunted Israel lobby, and the closely associated pro-Saudi faction with its roots in US foreign policy going back to 1926.

The neo-con/liberal-imperialist axis around the George Bush White House believed that the Iraq War of 2003 would provide a “demonstration effect”. They did not mean merely that it was to show the “shock and awe” of American military might. It was further to provide a political demonstration, a nudge to history, so that that singular deployment of power would not be required again… and again and again.

The theory was that the “liberation” of Iraq would lead to pro-western transitions in Syria and Iran – parts of the axis of evil. And, to speed the process, there was a moment when Bush’s White House tried to exert pressure on Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt and the House of Saud – all pro-Western despots – to carry through something like the modernisation which MBS is attempting today.

The fanatical ideologues among the neo-cons and liberal imperialists believed in some grand historical design in launching war for that end. The more pragmatic merely pointed out that the sink of reaction that is Saudi Arabia was hardly helpful in trying to claim that the US-led military push was going to bring democracy to somewhere like Iran. Whatever its many faults, it is on every index a better place than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner may well have been putting in the air miles between Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh. But these are not developments that can be boxed off as an extension of his grisly family’s business interests.

There is no point looking for a grand US or western strategy in the Middle East these days, because there isn’t one. There is only trying to manage the cumulative catastrophe of the last century. And it is onto that stage that steps MBS with his inflated reputation as a “moderniser”.

There is something deeply archaic about this so-called modernisation. It is pivoted upon militarism and imperial redivision, as much as all the previous promises to “bring the Middle East into the modern era”.

None who desires peace or who is of the progressive left in the west should be fooled by this. Do you think that Donald Trump is deepening ties with the emergent centre of power in Saudi Arabia because either or both of them care about the rights of women or liberal freedoms? Or is that why Netanyahu’s Israel talks of the “good guys”?

The weak link in this chain of hypocrisy is Britain, thanks to the sustained anti-war and pro-Palestinian movements. And it is there that a big blow can be struck.

It is time to renew the pressure which has been building on and off for two years upon the Tory government and its coalition predecessor to sunder the corrupt relationship with the House of Saud.

If the labour movement in Britain can mount that pressure effectively, it will be the most enormous contribution to peace in the Middle East and, by weakening the gendarme of reaction that is the House of Saud, will open up pathways to truly radical, indeed revolutionary, change.

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Catalunya: now popular democracy v. EU and its states

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She went to vote in Barcelona, a city in a European Union state 

Do Rajoy, the Spanish state and their EU backers imagine there will be no consequence to the violent state repression in Catalunya?

It is a particularly brutal extension of elite contempt for democracy – referendums especially – across the continent.

That will not be lost among embittered layers at the base of European societies.

It signals something else. For decades the Spanish elites have sought to get beyond the politics of the Transicion 40 years ago and to have all the political questions contained within the less than democratic, and monarchist, constitution of 1978.

In much the same way Greek politicians have complained about being stuck in the Metapolitefsi, the residue of the great clashes of the mid-1970s following the fall of the Junta.

The repressive forces on the streets of Barcelona today resemble those of a Junta.

Forty years of first social democratic and then neoliberal integration into the EU and cooptation of the labour movement have not succeeded in turning a page on this history. Just as in France the reference point of 1968 has not been buried, despite the declaration by Nicolas Sarkozy a few years ago to do just that.

The period is long over in which modest rising prosperity for most could lead to seeing the capitalist integration of the European Union as a vouchsafe also for democracy in those southern European countries that had emerged from dictatorship.

Indeed, it is now the opposite. Fascists – some MPs of the now defunct LAOS – entered the government of Greece in 2012. It was thanks to the EU working with the Greek elites and right to bring down the elected government of George Papandreou and replace it with a “technocratic” administration headed by a banker, who brought LAOS into the coalition.

For two years we have had rhetorical complaints from Brussels about the anti-democratic outrages of the governments of Poland and Hungary. But the implication was that these were expressions of a distinctly eastern European cultural problem – the answer to which was more integration into the capitalist European institutions.

Instead of pathologising the peoples living east of the Oder-Neisse or Danube, we need to look much further west – to what is happening in Catalunya today – to recognise the extent of the anti-democratic and authoritarian threat.

You don’t need to go far back to conjure up very similar images to the baton-charging Spanish paramilitary police today. They look almost identical to the police mobilised from across Germany to suppress the G20 summit protests in Hamburg in July.

There’s been a huge reaction against austerity and neoliberalism in the last five years. But for most of that time most people thought that they could bring the change they desired just through the limited mechanisms on offer from parliamentary democracy.

But we have seen an elected, left wing Greek government crushed by undemocratic concentrations of power. Then a huge referendum result overturned in just 24 hours.

There is discussion among serious commentators in Germany of the next government following the polarised and shock election last week not being formed until January. In the meantime, the interim government might perhaps unconstitutionally authorise troop deployments to Syria and Afghanistan, without a parliamentary vote. That this can even be discussed openly is telling.

France is under a state of emergency and legislation by presidential decree has become normalised.

Every state is increasing spending on security forces. All justified by “the Muslim terror threat”. Nato demands a rise in arms spending.

It is now not only economic well-being and survival of working people and the poor which are at stake. So too are democratic freedoms, something which we were assured capitalist Europe would safeguard, even if there were some economic “problems” as overheads.

The far right and fascists want to go further. But they are not having to batter their way to political advance against the state. It is the state that is beating a path for them by battering popular and democratic opposition.

Nests of fascists in Spain are openly trying to organise. Who opened the space for them these last two weeks? Not they themselves, but the sons of Franco in the governing Spanish right and the repressive apparatus of the Spanish state.

There is a political consequence for the anti-capitalist left in all of this. It is that the territory of our fight is not only economic and social, against austerity and neoliberalism. It is now firmly on the political terrain also. The broad political terrain, not just the electoral.

We have to offer an answer to the authoritarianism centred upon a more radical conception of democracy, from below and based upon a different way of running society.

That poses a challenge also to all the left reformist forces in Britain and in Europe.

The pressure of governmentalism – with the fig leaf of party-sisterhood with the Spanish social democrats of PSOE – is to say nothing, to say that these are purely internal matters for the territory of Spain, and to hide behind the Madrid constitutional rhetoric which is being deployed to cover a violent and anti-democratic assault in Barcelona.

Conversely, to speak out now and rally to the rights of the people of Catalunya is to declare an insurgent and anti-capitalist orientation. It is one which forewarns all that more militant and more profoundly democratic methods than a simple election or referendum will be required – even to hold a contested referendum or to have the outcome of an election respected.

That dilemma is pronounced in Britain today. It is the only country in Europe where a left-led reformist party has grown substantially and looks capable of becoming the next government.

But it is precisely because of that, and the questions of the state, authoritarianism and democracy, that people must take sides.

A run on the pound, should Labour take office? Yes – quite probably.

The right and its friends in the state acting like Rajoy? Perfectly possible.

This is about the defence of the national rights of the people of Cataluya.

But from Ireland to Greece it is about much more than that also.

Democracy and radical change – or authoritarianism and reaction.

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Getting the AfD wrong

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Naming the enemy on an anti-AfD protest

This Foreign Policy piece seriously overestimates the role of Alice Weidel and underestimates the fascistic character of the rising wing of the AfD.

The party is referred to with all sorts of euphemisms and cognates of populist. When it comes to mentioning the actual neonazi and fascist elements in and around it there is the most absurd understatement:

“The Saxony Anhalt branch of the party sees itself as part of a mass movement of radical rightists, which includes unsavory characters who wear swastikas on their arms.”

Unsavoury?

All this, plus not grasping that anti-Muslim racism is not just a scapegoating propaganda tool but an organising ideological principle – a Weltanschauung, means it presents as weird paradoxes things which are perfectly rationalisable for AfD cadres.

So, the piece asks how it is that a lesbian banker with a common-law marriage to a Sinhalese woman and living with their two adopted children in Switzerland can be a joint-lead candidate for the AfD.

It’s not so difficult. The homosexuality is presented as a private affair and in this instance a modest variation on the essential nuclear family. The AfD says Germans should have kids – those are the “new Germans”, not immigrants, that the country needs.

And touched on here, Weidel and the AfD – despite its pro-family and anti-gay traditionalists – have a simple answer. Germany will tolerate homosexuality – shorn of any politicised threat to the right and church reaction. The real issue over homosexuality is “hordes of anti-gay Muslims”. That’s what we need to focus on.

It’s true that “populists” can rail against bankers. But parties like the AfD are not anti-capitalist. Rather their pseudo-anti-capitalism masks a firm commitment to capital and a desire to become its major political instrument. The Nazi party craved support from big business, including bankers entwined with the big German corporations. It was “Jewish bankers” it directed its venom against.

What is more upstanding for the AfD base than a proper, ordoliberal German banker, whose propriety is vouchsafed by residency in Switzerland?

As for having a brown-skinned partner. That’s easily dealt with also. She’s Sinhalese. Therefore Indo-Aryan in “race” terms. Probably Buddhist (or possibly Christian) by religious faith or background. Certainly not Muslim. On the contrary AfD members can tell themselves she is anti-Muslim and that they are “not racist” because “look at the non-white people who are anti-Muslim”. Myanmar – for example.

And so the lines of argument can go on.

They are highly contradictory and elaborately contrived. But that’s the point. That is how fascistic ideology works.

It is not just bigotry or even “hate speech”. It is certainly not just saying offensive things.

The bundle of contradictory elements – associated with the bundle of alienated layers of different classes it tries to hold together – is tied by organising elements of its ideology.

It is not some general “anti-immigration” sentiment, as referred to here. The Islamophobia – anti-Muslim racism – has a constitutive role. It is a form of racism which allows for an alternative worldview of western, white (or Indo-Aryan and those given whiteness by permission) civilisation being under threat from an enemy without (the Muslim Middle East and North Africa) with its extension via a fifth column within.

The “Marxists” are implicated in the cultural and security assault through their “Multikulti” and undermining of the nation, and its past. The difficulties of presenting the party in a society which has high acceptance of homosexuality are dissolved and refashioned via the Islamophobia. It does heavy lifting ideologically. It is not just a piece of nasty propaganda.

And at the core of the fascisising wing of the AfD festers anti-semitism too. For it is the classic such portmanteau ideological tool into which modern economic discontents can be put in one compartment, with medieval-originated ideas of Jewish usury in the other – the whole package then serving to absolve actual capital and its economic and state system.

Neither this piece nor a Comment is Free column by professor Cas Mudde in the Guardian following the German election shock grasp this.

A major reason why is the refusal to go beyond the term “populist”, which is now so widely applied to a range of very different phenomena that it has lost its specific historical referents and means very little at all.

A second reason is not to capture the evolving nature of these kinds of parties across Europe. It is not unilinear. But in the AfD’s case it has been very rapid in its four year history and with an overall sharp radicalisation towards the racist, insurgent right.

A third is a refusal, on whatever grounds, to use the term fascist for those elements (or whole parties) which not only have characteristics of fascism, but contain people who have fascist histories and are articulating fascist strategies.

But perhaps the biggest reason is that anti-Muslim racism is pervasive across Europe and exists in a number of registers. One of them still is among liberals and centrists – and state officials – for whom Islamophobia is only some skinhead thug pulling the headscarf off a woman on the bus.

Meanwhile, they would regard banning the woman from working in a school as not at all racist, but a contribution to social integration.

I think this is the biggest weakness. It leads to the blindspot of not seeing that Islamophobia (with anti-semitism in its wake) is a critical adhesive for gluing together the fissile politics necessary for fascism, and those forces approximating it, to self-organise.

And it is in that process that racism against Muslims, and other forms, are themselves radicalised and take on a violent eliminationist character.

To see the fascist dynamic on the far right, you need to see the critical elements that allow for and organise the fascisising process, whose logic is the development of a mass physical force in the service of reaction.

Anti-Muslim racism is one of those critical elements.

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Islamophobia – more than hate crime, state ideology

 

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Local police officer and worshippers following the Islamophobic terror attack in Finsbury Park

Islamophobia – anti-Muslim racism – is being described on much of the broadcast media as a form of “extremism” or of “hate crime”.

But there is something distinct about Islamophobia. Not distinct in that it is in some way worse to be the victim of anti-Muslim violence compared with, say, anti-gay violence.

It is distinct in that Islamophobia has been central to the policy and legitimising ideology of the again expanding “war on terror” and of every major state and government in Europe and the US.

It operates in two ways. The first is open and direct, as when right wing politicians claim that Muslims as a whole somehow create an “extremism” or “tolerate extremism” or are incompatible with the “liberal values” which we are told underpin our societies.

The second is not so direct.

In 2005, the British government of Tony Blair did not actually set out to fan anti-Muslim racism, in the way that last year the Tory party of David Cameron and Theresa May did in the London mayor campaign.

But when it was confronted by the very consequences of the war on terror that many people from MI5 to the anti-war movement had warned of – that it would increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Britain – it faced a choice.

It could accept that those consequences had indeed been predicted. But that would mean having to change the war policy, which was a product of the special relationship between Britain and the US, and of the big power interests of both states in the Middle East and the world following 9/11.

And it would have to accept that opponents of the disastrous “war on terror” had been right.

To do that would have spelled the immediate end of Tony Blair. And it would have probably meant that the kind of political surge we have now around Jeremy Corbyn would have happened then – over a decade ago – on an even bigger scale than it did.

It would also have called into question the underlying militarism of the British state, and deepened the social feeling for a radically new course.

So it could not do that. Nor have successive governments been able to. Because they hold those militarist and corporate power interests central.

So it had to come up with something else. It had to locate the 7/7 attacks in Britain as being in some way the fault of Muslim communities.

It did not set out to create a climate where Muslims would be attacked on the street.

But because it could not admit to the true explanation, it had to come up with a false one – and that is why it went further down the road of Islamophobic racism.

Instead of rationally trying to understand and break out of the cycle of war and terror, it maintained that cycle and tried to explain away terrorism as the product of irrational Muslims who in some way or another incubated terrorism.

And so there is a uniqueness to Islamophobia in Britain.

It is that British governments committed to imperialist interventions alongside the US must generate Islamophobia.

And once generated it becomes a political tool in its own right. It becomes more crafted – through policies and large state mechanisms such as the Prevent strategy.

It becomes used more directly – whether by the far right or by Tory politicians trying to win elections. And then there is an auction between the two.

It moves from the default, fake, racist justification of the failed war on terror to permeate the state and the political interventions of the right and – in much of Europe – large parts of the centre left as well.

It becomes cruder too. Tony Blair’s career sums that up. Gone are his artful formulations of 2005 after the London bombing. Now he is as explicit as one of the far right Trump ideologues – there is a war of civilisation against an evil problem which he says is specific to Muslims and their culture.

And, as many of us warned 16 years ago, Islamophobia becomes the cutting edge for the growth of other forms of racism, also serving fundamentally as false ideologies to mask real problems – low pay = blame migrants.

We all want hate crimes investigated and perpetrators caught.

But Islamophobic racism is not just a hate crime – as when some thug attacks a woman wearing a hijab.

It is centrally driven by the state, defending corporate capitalist interests through militarism, war abroad and authoritarianism at home.

And in it we see why despite decades of anti-racism, racist ideology is continually refreshed in new forms and reinvigorated old ones by the capitalist system and state we live under.

That is why in uniting against Islamophobia and racist division we need movements and politics which oppose imperialism, war and capitalism – one of whose central ideological props is now anti-Muslim racism.

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