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Nazis in Ukraine

25 Feb

I have been watching the events of the last two weeks or so in absolute horror. The sight of open Nazis in Ukraine with Nazi insignias on their clothes, waving far right flags used in the war by Nazi collaborators and getting, until recently, uncritical coverage in the BBC and other media outlets, fills me with rage and despair, as an antifascist, as a Jew and as a human being 😦

There is however a real risk of any social anger against Yanukovich and his backers in the Kremlin being written off as being driven by the extreme right, a tactic that Russia has made use of before despite an increasingly intolerant and far-right political climate towards gay people, Muslims and other minorities with the Putin regime’s tacit approval. While they have come to be dominated by the extreme right, such as the extreme right wing, antisemitic Svoboda party, one of whose activists established a ‘Joseph Goebbels research centre’ and the the even further right Pravy Sector, initially at least the makeup of the protests was a lot more mixed and included left-wingers and even anarchists. The character of the protests changed when neo-Nazi activists were able to overpower other groups protesting, by for example smashing up a stall by Ukrainian trade unions in the square. The fact that they were physically more well prepared and well armed put the fascists at the forefront of most of the fighting against the police and government. They were able to set up barricades deciding who came in and out of the protest camps and most of these were dominated by far-right groups. However even now the protests are not fully dominated by Nazis – many homeless people came to the protest camps for example attracted by the free food.

It may seem unusual in the UK but protests with this sort of mixed character are not unusual in Eastern Europe. In 2009 for example, there were protests in Moldova against the Communist Party who at the time controlled the country. These protests eventually forced the removal of the governing party and resulted in a victory for a coalition of ‘pro-European’ parties, some of whom, but not all, included the extreme right. Russia was quick to allege fascist involvement in the protests, a charge that didn’t really stick given the wide range of people involved in them. But there was a grain of truth involved in these claims. The protests split the country with many Russian speakers, rural people and older people being against them and shocked by the disorder. On the other hand fascist groups were involved in the protests as well as ordinary people, leftists and ‘liberal‘ pro EU nationalists such as the ‘Hyde Park‘ group (portrayed in western media as a liberal, pro-European integration group, but when I took their leaflet on a demonstration I walked past while I was living there, I discovered it was racist).

Although I do have some time for some of the activists in this group and others of a similar political nature, the insipid pro-EU liberalism of these organisations as a whole, and uncritical attitude towards anything which opposes Russia, leaves much to be desired – their politics don’t tend to go further beyond the idea that “we should join the EU and all be nicer to each other”, and with the implied idea being that EU integration, likely to be opposed by Russians, is itself a good idea in itself, that it will automatically make the country more prosperous etc – and that the only “problem” is Russia. Thus in these social movements and organisations you get liberals, pro-EU “economic liberals” and free-market types alongside social democrats and leftists who think that joining the EU will lead to a more “european style” democracy and standard of living – and fascists, who will have very different motivations for wanting closer ties to the West from the above, but the vagueness and apolitical liberal nature of the above means it’s easy for them to support it or to be supportive. When there I came across a few people who supported government austerity plans and supported the EU because they imagined that they would largely impact old Russian people who were “communists” – these plans were popularised on this basis, too.

Groups like Hyde Park are often in favour of human rights and campaign for very reasonable things, but they also campaign against things like “the russification of the national curriculum”. Being pro-western and pro-EU usually implicitly means the increased use of the national language – and the marginalisation of the Russian language. It is doubtful whether many of these groups would organise protests against for example, Romanian and Ukrainian nationalists in the same way.

In addition, irredentist nationalist slogans such as ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc‘ (Bessarabia is Romanian land) were common during these protests, some people (not all of them far-right) thinking that closer integration to the EU would be a way to reunite with Romania, something which is by no means only supported by the extreme right but is promoted by them as the answer to the country’s problems – an answer that by implication excludes Russians. A closer look at the groups promoting this ideology reveals racism against Russians and Jews as well as extreme homophobia. I once looked out of the window on the way to work and saw protesters with Romanian flags, ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc’ and the Celtic cross on a black background leaving you in no doubt as to where they were politically.

Here’s a video of Moldovan fascists marching to be part of Romania.

When I was there the new Moldovan government introduced an austerity programme which included, for example, ending free bus travel for pensioners. Surprisingly this received a bit of public support from some people I met who initially at least saw these policies as targeted at old Russians and Communist Party supporters. One of these people also told me that “our language is very dirty, with a lot of Russian words”. On my way to work I used to walk past a headquarters of a religious group with an icon of Jesus and Mary facing the traffic – facing inward was a billboard alleging a conspiracy between Jews and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church complete with “photo evidence”, a surprising theory given that this church has been caught selling copies of the Protocols and other extreme-right literature in Russia.

That said most people I met there who had been involved in the protests or were at least supportive of them were definitely not fascist, but were very dissatisfied by the inequality presided over by the Communist Party and also, frequently, actual and perceived discrimination in favour of the Russian minority. They were in the majority of cases motivated by real and justified anger at the government, and in the moldovan case fash were in a definite minority. The protesters occupied government buildings and struck at the power of the state. You have to remember that the left in these places is practically non existent and where it does exist the organized left isn’t worthy of the name, being bag carriers for the Kremlin and presiding over neoliberal policies and corruption, promoting Russian nationalism and trading on Soviet nostalgia, but with something far nastier frequently lurking underneath – the former communist president of Moldova describing a black opposition activist as ‘a negro who came down from a tree’ . The lack of a left that is not nostalgic for the soviet union and with it, Russian rule over the ‘backward’ eastern european countries, itself a key idea in Russian imperialist nationalism has been one of the contributory factors that has opened the gateway for the extreme right.

The fact that Russian far-righters have been involved on the opposite side to the Maidan protesters, and, ludicrously, that the police have reputedly been told that the protesters are led by Jews despite clear evidence of fascist involvement, demonstrates that the idea that Yanukovich’s regime and the Kremlin are motivated by antifascism is hard to swallow, as is Putin’s claim that he is against corruption and imperialism when the regime is perfectly happy to tolerate their own oligarchs and use Russian military bases in former soviet countries as a way to control them.

With that in mind however, it is clear that the far right have played a huge part in the Ukrainian protests, bigger than their part in Moldova or even for that matter in the Orange Revolution in 2007, where groups such as UNA-UNSO, a paramilitary organization which was one of the forerunners of Svoboda, played a role in the demonstrations, and several figures in Viktor Yushchenko’s party had links to them. By unbreaking the link above BTW you can see an odd article combining a call for Ukraine to join the EU with antisemitic statements about ‘Jewish lords’. It is estimated that around 30% of protesters are involved in far-right groups such as Svoboda and Pravy Sector and many more will sympathise with them, especially because these neo-Nazis have been doing the bulk of the fighting with the government. Even more concerning is the fact it looks likely that Svoboda may enter a coalition in the new government. This used to be their old logo by the way:

Svoboda's original logo. nice huh?

If Russia’s conduct has been grotesque as they try to portray themselves as a bulwark against fascism it has been equally sickening to see the UK government portray these events as entirely peaceful protesters while Nazi symbols have been on display and protesters have been photographed with weapons, wearing helmets and shields with far-right leaders screaming about how they want to kill their enemies. The images of lynch mobs and ‘government supporters’ forced to pray at shrines for dead protesters (when they say government supporters what does that mean, officials or just some poor random Russian?) And the reports that Nazi propaganda has now been legalized are extremely disturbing – whether or not we should have such a law it’s a strange priority for a new government. The images of these “friendly protesters” daubing Celtic crosses and SS symbols on areas they occupied should worry anyone.

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The more disturbing part of this is the entirely uncritical attitude of the EU and the American government, describing the protesters as being ‘peaceful’ even when they are photographed with fascist insignia and weapons. It is, to pit it mildly, very unlikely that Ukraine will become a Nazi dictatorship to say the least. One of the candidates for the new president, Klitschko, looks like an apolitical figurehead brought in on the basis of his popularity elsewhere, and he is far from being universally popular with the protesters at Maidan, especially not the organized far right. Like most of the high profile politicians there such as Yulia Timoshenko, the corrupt ‘gas princess’ feted by the west and seemingly transformed into some sort of Aung Sung Suu Kyi figure, Klitschko has had his own rumours of corruption such as a doping scandal.

It may even be that Yanukovich’s old party get back in at the next elections. We don’t know, all sorts of scenarios could play themselves out. However the deeply concerning thing for now is the possibility of further ethnic violence in both Ukrainian and Russian areas – already there are reports of Crimeans in Sevastopol holding ‘antifascist’ rallies to ‘defend Russia’. In the early 1990s the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist breakaway state of Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) used pro-Romanian and anti-Russian sentiments by Moldovan nationalist leaders such as the slogan “Suitcase – train station – Russia”, to justify breaking away from Moldova. The fears people had of the possible consequences of Moldovan independence were very real given that during the 1940s the Nazis had turned the area into a giant death camp.

And in addition the very real likelihood of attacks on, for example, Jews – in the last few months several antisemitic attacks have taken place and there are reports of Jews being threatened and told to get out of the country – as well as Crimean Tartars who often traditionally identify with Ukraine in an area that is majority Russian and who are discriminated against and tend to have a far higher poverty and unemployment rate than the rest of the population as it is, having been deported by Stalin and only allowed to start returning at the end of the 1970s.

The wider implications of the protests and what they mean for the far-right will be felt for a long time to come. While it is very unlikely that the far right will emerge completely victorious and the leaders of a new Ukrainian Reich, as some of the more hysterical commentary from pro Russian sources has seemed to imply, this is a huge victory for the far right and they are extremely strengthened by it, they have grown in confidence and gained a fair amount of experience and some public support, despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainians have not participated in the protests and nowhere near the numbers of, for example, Egyptians who did. The repercussions of this will be felt for a long time to come. At the level below the top echelons of the state institutions like MAUP, the Ukrainian university which had ex KKK leader David Duke to speak and routinely gives ‘lectures’ attacking Jews, will feel more confident in propagating their views now they know they can do so with impunity.

Some further thoughts.

It is difficult for leftists to argue in these countries that there was anything good about for example Lenin and Trotsky when many Eastern Europeans experienced even Lenin’s rule as a brutal occupation and following his death the cult of Lenin became inextricably linked with the Soviet state and Russian rule. The whole concept and vocabulary surrounding ‘communism’ has for a lot of people become linked to ethnicity (although austerity measures, rising inequality and attacks on already shit pay and conditions affect everyone regardless of ethnicity) therefore especially here, taking all your views from these ‘dead Russians’ is unlikely to be helpful, one reason perhaps why Trotskyism never took off there).

There is a worrying tendency in many eastern European countries for some people within the state to take advantage of the bitterness that people feel about the Soviet occupation and communist rule and use this to argue that the Nazi occupation was as bad, or less bad than what happened under communism. Ironically these trends started to develop in some countries under communism itself with Ceausescu arguing before his death that Antonescu, the fascist leader during the war, had in fact been a national hero. Likewise in Ukraine, the Holodomor (the famine in the 1930s which killed millions of people) has become a cornerstone of the far-right, who have used popular anger about the suppression of information about this issue and the lack of recognition about it, especially in Russia, as a way to promote nationalist conspiracy theories and far-right ideology.

In Hungary, much of the Jewish community have boycotted the official commemorations of the holocaust because they whitewash Hungary’s involvement in the war and refuse to admit that the government did anything wrong. A similar trend has emerged in Lithuania, where the EU has actively assisted in propagating this agenda, and where leading politicians have described Nazi sympathizers during the war as heroes and partisans and anti-Nazi fighters as criminals. And the EU are somehow absolutely fine with this state of affairs just as they are with the ‘peaceful protesters’ in Ukraine.

'peaceful' protesters

Watching this from over here makes me feel so powerless. Not really much else I can say. And yeah I know I don’t have links to back up everything I’ve said here but it’s late, work in the morning and I’ll put them in tomorrow or over the next few days. Comments, criticisms etc always welcome.

Billy Bragg vs the South Bank Skateboarders

31 Jul

The South Bank skateboarders shouldn’t veto our community dreams

REALLY BILLY REALLY?

Yeah, fuck off skateboarders, stop getting in the way of people with money! Leave them to create their pop-up cultural arts space or whatever it is, rather than a public space for the whole community!

Trees, shrubs and plants occupy many of the spaces; these pop-up gardens are tended by homeless people, providing them with work experience as part of an ongoing eco-therapy initiative.

And in the undercroft itself, there are no plans for a Starbucks, despite what some have claimed. There will be two new restaurants, but the real focus will be series of pop-up ventures, similar to Luke’s Café, giving young entrepreneurs the opportunity to start up their own businesses.

He says while living in a mansion in Dorset and encouraging “pop-ups” which offer nothing to the community, only an even more precarious future and reduced employment rights.

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“Jewsplaining”

31 Jul

has there ever been a political movement so divorced from reality, and so completely up its own arse as “intersectionality”?

Now it seems, “Jewsplaining” is actually a thing. people are arguing that being Jewish is a “privilege” in the same way that being white or being a man supposedly always is with no regard to economic circumstances, no regard to anything else.

It seems that now we have to fight “Jewish privilege”.

really? really?

Let me be very clear here, when I say intersectionality is up its arse. I am NOT saying that opposing racism and sexism are not important or that from time to time people shouldn’t look at themselves and examine what “privileges” lead them to think the things they do. But Marxism opposes intersectionality. Marxism does not just say that “classism” is just another “oppression” based on what your accent is or how your dress or what your parents did. It is not just about rich people treating working class people badly, not being “allies“, needing to go to back of the “progressive stack” and needing to “check their privilege”. There are two main classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Capitalism is based upon the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, rather than try and make capitalism “nicer” (which is what intersectionality basically is) we should have the “revolutionary watchword – abolition of the wages system!” Today, it sounds a bit like what you might read in the pages of “Workers’ Girder” but it’s true. Capitalism cannot be made “nicer” or “more representative”. Is it any better to have for example a gay boss who treats you like shit than a straight one? The economic system depends on the position of the w/c as an exploited class. But that position also gives it its potential to be a revolutionary class, not just passive victims.

I am NOT saying that this means that working class people are all the same or have exactly the same conditions (it’s this that has given certain wealthy Guardianistas the license to compare their economic position, which while they might be selling their labour value, essentially got there because of the social capital which comes from being in a wealthy family, with those of working class people far lower down the socio-economic scale – witness Laurie Penny’s attempts to claim that she is a “precariously employed young person” and so on. I am also not saying, as some in the “vanguard parties” have done, that their supposed emphasis on the primacy of class means that “women’s issues” are just that, some sort of “bourgeois deviation” not relevant to the rest of the class, and that women and to some extent ethnic minorities exist outside of it whatsoever and are simply not important compared to the burning issues of how many monopolies to nationalise, whether their latest union lash-up has “socialism” in the title, how to deal with “dogmatists” and “autonomism” and how many hours in the general strike to call for without being “ultra-left”. These conditions are what enabled Comrade Delta and many others to get away with what they did for so long. Sexism is a class issue. Racism is a class issue. Homophobia is a class issue. They all affect members of the working class both with people’s attitudes and with institutional discrimination and “divide and rule”.

I quite frequently write on this blog about anti-semitism and sexism. Why? Because I have experienced these prejudices (not least from leftists) and they affect my life. I am not however under any illusions that either can be overcome without the abolition of capitalism or that we can just struggle alone. Sexism to take one example is always going to affect working class women more, because of patriarchal attitudes and low-paid work and usually having to still be the caregiver for the children, not being able to afford childcare, being less able economically to escape their situation, fewer job prospects and having to simply put up with it, whereas wealthier women can frequently just buy their way out of it. Many women stay with abusive partners because they simply cannot afford to leave them, a situation which is getting worse with attacks on wages and benefits, and women are frequently paid less for doing the same jobs, as well as often having to come home and do huge amounts of unpaid housework. It is laughable to pretend that the experiences of some of my mates with sexism and the experiences of someone like Theresa May are the same simply because they are women, even if they have “white privilege”.

I just read this bizarre article where the author is pillorying herself for “gentrifying the neighbourhood” because she is white and saying that by being white, she is “triggering other people’s pain”. I find such stuff deeply concerning to be honest. By having a go at herself like this how is she helping? Is she helping to prevent racism? Quite plainly not. Mindless self-flagellation does not help you recognise and understand the position of those less fortunate than yourself. It is not just patronising, it is verging on “noble savage” territory that elevates their position in society beyond any individual characteristics. These people are laughed at behind their backs. For God’s sake stop embarrassing yourself, stop thinking about yourself and everyone in racial terms. Go out and meet some normal people ffs.

But anyway …  now we get this. Proof that with this stuff, without a proper class struggle perspective, without any sort of analysis beyond “look at me, I’m trying so hard to examine my own privilege” while making the non-privileged bit parts in your own drama while you “deconstruct” your identity, or “look at us and how oppressed we are” your politics can rapidly go into the sewer. You can say goodbye to any form of common struggle if you haven’t got the right “intersections”. And the sad thing they probably think this kind of saying “fuck you” regardless of circumstances to white people is progressive and that it’s going to help in some way.

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“Jews were not considered white at the time of the Holocaust. Now with their status as white, they’re oppression is something we are supposed to “never forget,” while slavery and the continued genocide against people of color all over the world is something we’re supposed to “get over” and we’re supposed to “stop using the race card.” For reparations of the Holocaust, the Jews got an entire country. Brown people, meanwhile, can barely even get equal opportunity standards at jobs and colleges without people rushing to call it reverse racist, meanwhile our country pays for the bombing of Palestinian children in order to protect Israel for the Jews. Why? Because they consider the Jews white and they consider the Palestinians POC.

Antisemitism is definitely a thing, but there’s a reason why it’s called antisemitism and not racism, and that’s because Jews are considered white and, for the most part, benefit from white privilege.

Edit: Also, you ever notice how white Jews only bring up the Holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression? Woooow, it’s almost like the Holocaust doesn’t even affect them in their daily lives and they’re only using the murder of 11 million people (brown people included) to try and silence POC.

Wow.

So wait a minute – “white Jews only bring up the holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression”? The other week I was at a holocaust memorial service. I didn’t see much silencing going on there or people trying to shut up anyone else, just people remembering their dead relatives or being there for religious reasons. In fact, in my experience it’s often mentioned at these types of events that just as the Jews were the victims of prejudice, we should not turn a blind eye to or be racist or otherwise prejudiced ourselves. And nobody ever tells Jews to “get over” the holocaust, or that anti-semitism doesn’t exist any more, do they? No capitalists ever promote anti-semitism, use the “chic” of Nazism or use anti-semitic imagery in order to sell their shit products.

And of course attacking all white people is a great way to stop racism isn’t it, just as saying “kill all men” is a great way to stop sexism.

The laughably simplistic analysis of the Middle East in the name of “opposing racism” which both ends up repeating anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews and power and – well, talking absolute shit – completely ignores the role of US capital and the fact that the US’s support of Israel is neither to do with “guilt” over the holocaust, wanting to “protect Israel for the Jews” or considering Jews white.  The US government is quite happy to turn a blind eye to antisemitism when it is politically and economically worth doing. Leaving beside the fact that these views simply don’t make sense outside of the context of the US (actually, they don’t make sense at all) in countries where the dominant social prejudices are simply not against “people of colour” (leaving aside parts of Europe where prejudices against Muslims, Roma or Jews all with the same skin colour are the dominant social prejudice, what about Northern Ireland? Or Kosovo – would a black American soldier or NGO worker living there really be any more “privileged” than Serbs in an Albanian area or Albanians in a Serbian area? And aren’t divide and rule arguments encouraged by nationalist politicians about who’s the most “privileged” rather than uniting on a class basis against bosses and landlords partially responsible for what’s happening there anyway?)

I have been working as a temp administrator in a private school which mostly caters to rich international students, many of whom want to go and study at Oxford or Cambridge University afterwards. So about two months ago, the guy who teaches Arabic came into the office. This guy is originally from Palestine. He started talking about how many “rich Arabs” there are in Israel and the Middle East who would like to come and study in the UK, he then started talking about how he is running a business not a charity and he doesn’t want any students “whose parents are teachers or clerks in the bank”. I asked him where he was from, he said Israel, I asked whether that was Israel or Palestine. My manager who is from Ukraine then said “oh that’s a complicated subject”, she then starts talking about how “the Jews” own most Ukrainian businesses and how 70% of the politicians in Ukraine are Jewish.

Who is the most privileged here? I have a feeling it could be me, because I am white and Jewish and English is my native language, even though I am an agency worker, have few rights, and earning far less than they are. While I’ve been working there, I have heard other anti-working class and racist remarks from the managers, including about “lazy” English people and how the genes of people in the West have “degenerated” because of their lazy lifestyles. Oddly enough, these “privileges” haven’t meant that I was able to get rid of my managers or that I am in a better economic position than they are!

On the flipside of course, there is the perception of Jews on some sections of the liberal left as being some magical, special “breed”, noble savage shit along the lines of Julie Burchill, which is not anti-semitic but is deeply patronising and irritating, especially when it is tied to a political agenda (either opposing it, or supporting it) about Israel.

Some of the reactions by Jews to the “Jewsplaining” stuff are also fairly disturbing and the language used about “gentiles” (really??) disturbingly reminiscent of campaigns to stop people from “marrying out” and prevent “assimilation” (ie stop the “calamity” of Jews marrying non-Jews, as if marrying a non-Jew means you automatically stop being culturally Jewish or even following the religion. Without this “calamity” I wouldn’t be here). We get diatribes against “tumblr goyim” and people saying that “gentile is a privilege”. Would the idea that “gentile is a privilege” apply to working-class Palestinians in Gaza? Because that’s where this idiocy leads straight back to. Implicit support for the president of the US based on the fact he is black. Implicit support for the Israeli state based on it being a “Jewish state” or implicit support for other Middle Eastern states based on their leaders being Muslim and not white. Implicit support for Thatcher based on the fact she was a woman.

Or even to a situation like my family – some of my non-Jewish family members have still experienced anti-semitism based on our surname and the fact there are Jewish people in the family. It is telling that so much of this stuff doesn’t actually challenge capitalism but sees their priorities solely in terms of how diverse a “project” is or how many ethnic minorities or women are in “leading positions”. Capitalism lives on but this time on lines which merely seem more open and diverse. Is the “pink pound” for example really any less desirable than the ordinary pound to business? Do openly gay people not serve as members of the Tory party, despite their tradition of disgusting homophobia which continues with policies on housing benefit for example making it more difficult for working-class gay people with unsupportive families to leave home? Just because this stuff disadvantages someone it does not make everyone else better off as a result – racism, homophobia, sexism etc impede our ability as a class to struggle effectively whether we are directly affected by it or not.

While often well-intentioned privilege theory only helps reinforce these divisions. If you care about actually fighting this stuff rather than establishing a “hierarchy of oppression” become a communist.