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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.

[​IMG]

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.

Capitalism’s fake war on drugs.

19 Jul

I apologise for what you might think is a trivial topic written by somebody who enjoys being stoned once in a while. The truth is that at the moment I don’t know what to write about – thank God, I don’t have to have access to the benefits system at the moment and the precarity of agency work etc is something that is so scary that I prefer not to think about it. So I decided to write about an issue within capitalism that is frequently overlooked.

I have been reading a fair bit of ICC literature recently and one of the concepts they talk about, which I think I have mentioned here before, is the decomposition of capitalism in its “decadent phase” as it gets closer and closer to its collapse (hopefully, or this may be wishful thinking!) – which is characterised by among other things, the increasing intrusion of illegal activity and criminal/mafia type groups into the state and the loss of differentiation between the “official” bourgeoisie who make their living through “legal” methods, and those who make a living by “illegal” methods. They would say a clear example of the sort of things they are talking about would be found in Mexico where the state is pretty much “just another gang” but also elsewhere in South America, parts of the US and the black ghettos where the CIA have been involved in drug smuggling, and of course the former Soviet Union.

Their argument is that while recreational drugs like weed, which has been in use longer than the bible, opium and even alcohol have been in use for a very long time, and the “official” capitalist structures have always been involved to some extent in the manufacture and sale of drugs – whether they are legal or illegal – since the end of the 1970s and the collapse of the Berlin Wall this phenomenon has massively increased – whereas before the bourgeoisie who took part in this sort of thing were able to control it, to contain it to certain “peripheral” areas – and in those areas were able to maintain strict control and a virtual monopoly, today they are no longer able to do so. To the extent that the drug trade and criminal activity now threatens their very authority. It is estimated that Mexican drug traffickers employ 25% more people than McDonalds does worldwide. In Mexico in 2007, the drug trade was the fifth largest employer in the country. The value of the illegal drugs trade in Guinea-Bissau is almost twice the country’s legal GDP and in Puerto Rico, which is essentially a colony of the US, the drugs trade makes up 20% of GDP.

Choosing the drugs trade as a career means that, for a worker or small time seller, it can offer you the chance of higher wages because of the risks involved. Further, your income will – obviously – not be taxed and it can mean that you appear to have increased freedom under this system. Black market trade is real free market trade it offers you a very real chance, if you are lucky, of getting rich very quickly. For many Mexicans who enter the drugs trade, a lack of start-up capital prevents them from starting a business legally. One article on this subject praises the “business talent” in high security prisons and laments the fact that it is used in this industry and not for more acceptable entrepreneurial ends. And like any capitalist enterprise the exploitation of workers is the order of the day, with workers – many of them children – in illegal employment on cannabis farms with no rights and no access – for obvious reasons – to unions or the legal system.

If you think this could not happen here you need to think again. With the decline in social provisions in developed countries including this one a growing number of people are supplanting their income whether that is in work or on benefits within the drugs trade. In many areas the police turn a blind eye to dealing. Where my boyfriend lives in Corby there is high unemployment and large numbers of people are involved in selling drugs, mostly weed but harder stuff as well. It has become completely normalised and it frequently seems that nobody gives a shit about it.

To some extent the official institutions of capitalism has always been involved in activities they deem illegal or to be “social ills” – look for example at the booze industry in the 19th century in London or the people in law enforcement who were involved in prohibition in the states. The name “heroin” was originally a brand name for diamorphine by a German company and opium mixed with treacle was marketed as a children’s medicine and sold to working class parents – which probably contributed to high levels of child mortality – under the name “Godfrey’s Cordial”. There are numerous prescription medicines today which are all perfectly legal but easy to develop an addiction to or to take unnecessarily.

The argument seems to be that these days they are less and less able to control it, that it intrudes further and further into the structure of the state at the highest level. Thus you get US soldiers guarding pallets of opium while their officers try desperately to justify the policy, you get large quantities of opium flown out of Afghanistan on military aircraft, and so on. Flights and “torture taxis” used to extraordinarily rendite people also being used to transport huge quantities of drugs.

And when a drugs bust takes place in this country – even when people are charged for possession of cannabis – the amount they are charged with possessing is frequently much less than the amount which was actually seized, as the police take it for themselves and either sell it back or use it for “personal use”.

It’s a shockingly clear indictment of how the actual harms created by drugs are not necessarily to do with the drugs themselves. But more to do with the way they are prohibited, thus ensuring a buoyant black market which is worth trillions of dollars worldwide every single year. A truly massive industry dwarfing the likes of Microsoft and Google in terms of net annual worth. But unlike these two technology giants, the drug industry isn’t run using computers. It’s run by people who use guns and knives.”

As the drugs trade makes up, at a conservative estimate at least, 1% of world GDP while higher estimates place it at between 5 and 6%, it makes little sense for the bourgeoisie to try and stamp it out completely. There is too much money involved and it is far too much of a social weapon which can be and is used to destroy solidarity and community – the CIA used it to break or to prevent the growth of the Black Panthers and other working class movements in largely black areas and the US state especially have used it to discipline and to criminalise vast swathes of the population. Drugs were also used as a weapon in Northern Ireland both by the British state and paramilitaries – today the lines between paramilitaries, especially loyalist ones, in Northern Ireland and drug gangs are very blurred.

Locking up people and using them for cheap labour well below market rates, with no labour rights coz if they resist they’ll be put in isolation – 2 million people are locked up in the US, 25% of the world’s prison population – also helps deliver profits for that section of the bourgeoisie involved in the prison industry, both state and private. It also – along with alcohol – saps people’s motivation and ability to resist and to organise collectively. In Vietnam, a version of heroin was given to the troops in order to “placate demoralisation“.

Drugs have played a terrible and sordid role in warfare in the last couple of centuries, whether it is waging war in order to literally guard these crops or give soldiers drugs in order to make them perform better. The CIA’s notorious MK-Ultra mind control experiments were an attempt to try and control people’s behaviour by giving them LSD among other “research chemicals”. At Porton Down, servicemen were given LSD and other substances without their consent in an attempt to test “combat drugs”. Treating them as equipment and mere lab rats rather than as men. Today the facility is involved in testing strains of cannabis for medical use and much of its work remains a secret, while the criminalisation of ordinary drug users continues. While three of the servicemen involved in these experiments won compensation in 2006, no criminal charges have ever been pursued.

For a lot of people drugs, both legal and “illegal” are a temporary escape from the brutality of capitalism. In a society where we are so alienated from each other it is inevitable that the drug trade will grow because of the companionship it can sometimes provide for drug users and the enjoyment that they are able to get back. However they are frequently not even that, they are a trap for their users who end up being used both as a source of profit for drug dealers and by the state. This article by What Next Journal (while it’s a bit “trotty” in parts) describes some of the pitfalls in developing an approach to this problem, such as Militant’s attempt at an anti-drug front group in the 1980s, and some of the measures that were taken by working class movements in the past, including the Irish socialist Jim Larkin and his involvement in the temperance movement.

Larkin is well known today for his political activities, but rather less known is the tireless campaigns he made during his life against drunkenness, the scourge of ports in Britain and Ireland. It was the practice of Larkin when he was a foreman never to pay the workers under him in the local pubs, as was the custom at the time, and where it gave the men ample opportunity to drink away their wages before they thought about their wives and children. Larkin undoubtedly made an error when he lined up organisationally with the various religious bigots in the temperance movement, but his basic attitude was progressive for the contemporary situation he faced.

[…]

We should place no trust in the police, or forces of “law and order” to stop drug dealing or drug misuse: these bodies, the police and courts, are, as part of the capitalist state and as representatives of the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, part of the problem, and never part of the solution.

In the 19th Century, Marx quoted Montgomery Martin in reference to the “Opium Wars” in China at that time, and noted:

“Why, the ‘slave trade’ was merciful compared to the ‘opium trade’. We did not destroy the bodies of the Africans, for it was in our immediate interest to keep them alive; we did not debase their natures, corrupt their minds, nor destroy their souls (Well, just a little, B). But the opium seller slays the body after he has corrupted, degraded and annihilated the moral being of unhappy sinners, while, every hour is bringing new victims to a Moloch which knows no satiety, and where the English murderer and Chinese suicide vie with each other in offerings at his shrine”.

Huge sectors of the legal economy depend to a huge extent on the continued existence of this shadow economy, including law enforcement and the prison industry – and of course the healthcare industry and the companies which produce drugs used to treat addicts. A UN advisor even said that money from drugs and crime had prevented banks from failing during the onset of the crisis!

Keeping drugs illegal helps to keep prices inflated, thus helping the bulk of the profits to stay in the hands of drug dealers – or the state and its allies. Plainly a huge part of the state apparatus depends on the continued existence of the “drugs problem” – the same problem which is used to justify state terror and repression – and war. If a state is becoming a hub for drug-smuggling it is a “failed state” or at risk of becoming one – which may mean that some sort of “intervention” is justified. The well-documented drug-running activities of the KLA in the Kosovo war, overlooked by NATO, were used to justify war and racism by the Serbian state and still serve as a useful propaganda weapon for defenders of that campaign today – as they do for NATO countries in Afghanistan.

The arms trade is the cousin of the drugs trade. Drug smuggling helps to fund the activities of terrorist groups as well as states, despite the religious or for that matter “revolutionary” rhetoric of many of them. While part of the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan was to “smash” the heroin trade – despite the fact that production has risen by 61% – some Islamists justified the drug trade as a weapon against the West. Islamist propaganda identifies secularism and gay rights – and by implication non-religious working class movements in Muslim countries and elsewhere with Western imperialism, “limitless freedoms”, a loss of “moral values”, drug-taking and alcohol abuse  – and promotes “tough laws to protect morality and health” in much the same way that campaigns against drugs in the US and UK frequently have reactionary overtones and support the very law enforcement industry that fuels and depends upon this trade, presenting the problem as a moral failing of individuals rather than a capitalist or economic one.

As long as capitalism continues people will be driven into drug addiction because of the misery the system produces and the desire to find an escape, as well as the erosion of community social support structures, however imperfect, and the complete lack in many areas of any sort of social provision. Drug addiction may be associated with those people who have “fallen through the cracks” for whatever reason but it is often just a way to cope with the extreme stress of working life, which means that middle-class moralising campaigns like the ones that try to get people to eat healthier when healthy food is unavailable or unaffordable are both patronising and do not work – and are frequently used to deny people benefits and healthcare “for their own good” and despite the rhetoric are only really beneficial to “the market”, the state and the pharmaceutical and other companies like A4E and ATOS who will make money out of them – and ultimately the drug barons themselves as they feed off people’s misery.

It is sickening to consider the hypocrisy of those in charge of the British state who claim to react with horror at the drug and alcohol habits of the victims of their system and their policies while snorting bloodstained coke and knocking back 40 pound wines from the cellar underneath the House of Commons which contains booze worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, while trying to introduce measures such as minimum pricing for alcohol, which will create business opportunities for for aspiring entrepreneurs to provide cheaper alternatives. Can’t have all that “talent” going to waste when so much use could be made of it.

Even if drugs were legalised, dealers would still continue to make huge profits – if the government legalised and taxed, for example, a version of weed, people could simply go elsewhere as many currently do with booze and fags on the black market. It is not inconceivable that this could happen at some point in the near future, especially with weed. Legalisation on a capitalist basis – or even a state-capitalist basis, as some trot groups have called for with absurd demands for the illegal drugs trade to have “price committees” and be taken under the control of “workers and peasants” – could not provide any answers. It would simply mean that rather than dealers taking all of the profits, the state and private companies would take a far larger share than they do currently. I would not trust the state or a large company to sell me weed any more than I would trust a drug dealer in the street. In fact, maybe I would trust the drug dealer more, because in many cases they have grown it themselves.

Are companies such as “Carnage” who deliberately encourage people to do themselves serious damage at their drinking events, and whose organisers have used violence in the face of threats to their livelihood, really any “better” than people who sell illegal drugs? What about the universities, nightclubs, students unions and other companies who encourage people into dangerous levels of binge drinking and glorify the worst effects of alcohol abuse?

What about the huge pharmaceutical companies who make money out of selling people drugs which are addictive and which they frequently don’t really need? Are “legal highs” and “research chemicals” really better than half of the stuff you can buy on the street? Would you want companies like Pfizer or British American Tobacco selling you smack? While well-intentioned drug legalisation campaigners often fall into the trap of thinking that “legal” would necessarily mean “safer” and “more regulated” when the behaviour of the vast industry devoted to both covertly selling illegal drugs and maintaining capitalism’s fake “war” against them, and companies selling alcohol or even prescription drugs demonstrates otherwise. Campaigning for the legalisation of drugs is by no means inherently reactionary, despite the stances taken by some rather socially conservative far-left groups, but it is not inherently progressive either, as can be seen by US Republicans and libertarians calling for the legalisation of weed to become a “conservative issue” based on individual rights.

Absurd situations like the council who were forced to apologise after claiming cannabis was worse than heroin are an example of the hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance of those parts of the state tasked with “tackling” and managing the drugs problem. Meanwhile the misery caused by drugs, both legal and illegal, and the military-industrial complex which declares “war” on them or talks about “harm reduction” or “zero tolerance” never ends – and that’s the way that capital wants it, whether this or that drug is made legal or illegal.

But like any business even the trade in a relatively harmless crop such as weed is not free from iniquity, whether it is trafficking in people to work in their factories, the adulteration of cannabis resin or the contamination of weed with sand and other foul shit to increase the weight, and the complete disregard for human life shown by this part of the bourgeoisie as shown by stories of contaminated heroin and contaminated pills. When writing about the war on drugs honestly, there is always a risk of being seen as or unwittingly becoming an apologist for the trade. I hope I have not done that here.

Thanks capitalists.

23 Feb

For making fleeing domestic violence a financial impossibility for many people once again. At the same time as trumpeting progress by talking about things like the number of women in the boardroom.

Doesn’t it make you sick. Revolution can’t come soon enough.

The world is their playground.

20 Feb

The world is their playground.

I am going to write about something that I have been meaning to look into in more depth for a while. As you may be aware the Cambridge Union recently asked Marine Le Pen to speak.

Oxbridge student unions are no stranger to right wing freaks.

In the past Julian Assange, international fugitive from rape charges and hero of conspiracy loons and “anti-imperialists” everywhere has been invited to speak to the Oxford Union via video link, and they invited Nick Griffin to speak a few years before that.

On a thread on urban75 my attention was drawn to another incident where the “liberal” president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, who has been in favour of affirmative action and refused to allow an army-based program onto its campus because of its discrimination against gay people, invited Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to speak on its campus. A head of state whose hands are dripping with the blood of political opponents and trade unionists, who openly tortures people, who uses anti-semitic propaganda to bolster support for his regime.

When you think that YOUR intellectual curiosity exists in a vacuum devoid of any social responsibility, that you can ignore the motives of people coming to speak to you and treat the place simply as a “forum for robust debate” you are in effect treating the world and everyone in it simply as a playground, as one poster there put it, for your intellectual curiosity. A world where nothing else matters except YOU and whether YOU “develop” personally – and what kind of development? A world where the “debate” of “ideas” (in fact nothing so high minded, just networking opportunities and opportunities for people like Le Pen to persuade the up and coming bourgeoisie of other countries that they are “moderate” and “reasonable”) occurs independently of anything else and where nothing else matters except the members of that debating society themselves. A world where these ideas and the situations that produced them exist independently of any real world consequences and any struggle.

I am writing this article because I want to respond to a truly terrible piece in the Independent in which it is argued that

There’s a difference between Nick Griffin showboating for votes on national television and Le Pen exposing her views to the ridicule of a few curious students

The problems begin with the article immediately. While it is true that there is a difference (I’ll come to that later) Le Pen is said to be “exposing her views to the ridicule of a few curious students” rather than being on *shock! Horror!* television, “showboating for votes”. As if Le Pen is simply exposing herself to “ridicule” rather than trying to get votes and influence, as all politicians do. Secondly there is no guarantee that her views would have been ridiculed at all!

Nick Griffin himself went to Cambridge, where he studied history, then law – or was this lost on the writer of the Independent piece?

Finally, it hardly needs saying that the Cambridge Union are hardly a just a “group of curious students” – notable alumni include Ken Clarke, Michael Howard and Vince Cable, and the Cambridge Union have hosted several other guests from Ronald Reagan to Gaddafi, still described on their website in glowing terms.

The Cambridge Union is deemed to be better than Question Time – er, why? Because Question Time is targeted at a mass audience? I think it’s somewhat more than that. The entire piece is based on a mistrust of the working class who should not be trusted with hearing fascist ideas whereas the Cambridge Union are, despite the fact that the backgrounds many of them will have grown up in, the sense of entitlement, of belonging to an elite, cleverer, more powerful, perhaps superior to the rest of the population, and the resulting lack of contact with working class people and ethnic minorities could well contribute to a sympathy with the politics of the extreme right. Such an event would hardly be without precedence.

The beginning of the article opens with the claim that “the critics say that giving the MEP – who was re-elected for the second time in 2009 – a platform to speak at the Cambridge Union gives her ideas legitimacy and free publicity. Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ Officer, has even demanded “the invitation to fascist Marine Le Pen [be] withdrawn immediately.”” Oh the audacity of him to demand that the representative of a party with a history of far-right views in a country which has hardly been noted for its fantastic record on racial relations is pulled out of such a debate.

The article goes on to say that Marine Le Pen doesn’t need free publicity, that she appeared supporting David Cameron’s stance on Europe a few days ago, and is now part of the mainstream. Later on it goes on to say that the Cambridge Union address will be a chance to show her how wrong she – and the FN’s British counterparts – are when they attempt to make far-right views part of mainstream society. It is confused, incoherent nonsense and all of it is wrong.

The article itself says that she is mainstream. She even supports David Cameron’s stance on Europe – well, so that’s OK then! Although we have a far-right government in power which has introduced workfare schemes and other draconian changes to the benefit system and is driving down working and living conditions, and although successive labour and tory governments have tried to head off far-right opposition by adopting, in name at least, much of their rhetoric and demands such as “british jobs for british workers”, it is not so far fetched that many of the students at Cambridge will not only be supporters of the Tory party but may be sympathetic to views that are further right than the official line of that party. If their views really are so similar then why would the idea of Le Pen convincing some of the people hearing her talk be so far fetched?

The article talks dismissively of a “prolonged debate about whether we should deny the far right a platform”. In the case of the Cambridge Union this is rather like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Suffice to say the principle of stopping fascists from speaking, breaking up their meetings, etc, in periods where the extreme right have been on the rise, is not simply a matter of interfering with “free speech” and spoiling these people’s fun. In the past it has been a matter of survival.

We have to look at the “very specific context” here, we are told, because rather than being on Question Time where all those chavvy proles are in the audience or watching on television, Le Pen will be speaking to a small audience predominantly made up of students. This makes a fundamental difference apparently – students at one of the country’s elite universities are inoculated against far-right views, even though they are “mainstream” and close to David Cameron’s. I think it may well make a difference but not in the way the author of this article thinks.

One of the arguments for allowing her to speak is because students who may be studying the rise of the far right will have an opportunity to see her squirm, “Paxman-like”. If they are Cambridge students they will surely have access to other material about the far right, and in any case she will have been on her best behaviour. She is speaking to people, many of whom will in all likelihood become a future political elite and she needs to persuade them that she is not an extremist, that she is “moderate”. That she is somebody they can do business with. Secondly a massive assumption is being made here, that watching Question Time (with Newsnight hardly the most proletarian show on earth, vanishingly few people watch it and those who do are probably already somewhat familiar with what fascism is) or another television programme where a fascist politician is interviewed cannot offer a similar insight. The unwashed masses who watch Question Time (!) are not to be trusted, Cambridge University denizens are.

After all, it’s an academic environment! Well, that’s me told!

“Those in the auditorium will at the very least have a brief background of Le Pen and will know to be sceptical of the dangerous words being uttered.”

The dangerous words like supporting the European policies of the British Tory Party, of which many of them will be enthusiastic supporters of? Didn’t think so! Why is it assumed that going to an elite university means you are clever, that you are able to distinguish in the rarefied atmosphere of a debating society that Le Pen’s words are “dangerous” yet many of the people watching television programmes, who have to face issues such as racism, discrimination, and so on and are at the sharp end of it, are somehow too stupid with their “vague notions of what a politician might stand for” to be trusted to hear the words of the extreme right – who are not so extreme now after all! She will downplay all of the FN’s troublesome racist past and pass for reasonable. But it’s all right people – “those in the audience will be well aware of this”. That’s OK then.

The whole article is symptomatic of the elitist bollocks that passes for journalism in the realms of the Independent and the Guardian. Rather than being dumb proles with their “vague notions of what a politician might stand for” (as if there are no students, especially not in Oxford or Cambridge, without a clue about politics) the Cambridge students “will force an answer on subjects that she has tried to avoid”. Not just might. Will. They will force an answer! Rather than allowing politicians to dodge questions as usual or to stop her political opponents from speaking because of arcane “points of order”, no! They will! They will force an answer!

There’s an assumption that because she’s not looking for votes this is somehow harmless. Are votes the only form of political influence – are they even the main form of political influence that matters these days?

The article gives the conclusion that “it will be up to the audience to show her just how wrong she is, and why nationalist parties such as her British counterpart the BNP do not have a place in British society.” Will it really be up to them – and will they even want to, or will they, like Nick Griffin and many other bourgeois and upper class fash here and in France, end up playing a key role in the development of such parties? Such massive assumptions and such fawning over the elite vanguard saving us all from the far right.

The world really is their playground. No responsibilities and certainly no consequences.

“trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” What is wrong with them??

5 Jan

I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. I have probably done so for most of my life. I don’t wish to talk about it here (not for now anyway) but it has had an extremely destructive effect on my life, on my personal relationships, and many other things. It has made me a very difficult person to be around at times and as a result I have behaved in ways that I am really not proud of. I have suspected people of things and been completely unable to shake the doubt that there may be some truth in my bizarre convictions even though I knew what bullshit they were.

If you have OCD there are two parts to the disease, there are obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are the anxiety provoking thoughts that you can’t stop thinking about. They can be about anything, from thinking that you have left the stove on and that the house is going to burn down, to thinking you are a paedophile and have to avoid walking through parks and avoid all children. While most people experience unpleasant and intrusive thoughts of this kind, no meaning is ascribed to them. Most people simply think “ugh” and forget that they thought about it. And if they have left the stove on or whatever, then they realise it, and turn it off, and then forget about it, they don’t beat themselves up for the rest of the day about how they are a cunt and an idiot who could have killed everyone in the house and should just kill themselves.

Compulsions are the things that you do to stop the anxiety caused by the obsession. They can be mental or physical, like washing your hands, or trying to “reason” with yourself to convince yourself that you are not a paedophile or that you don’t have aids. They can also be behaviours such as seeking reassurance from other people – “i did lock the door/feed the cat/whatever, didn’t i? I did, didn’t I? Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure, can we go back and check” or by simply avoiding the thing that you are worried about. So if you have obsessive thoughts about possibly being a paedophile you will avoid going into places where you might have contact with children or might see a child, you will avoid looking at pictures of other people’s children, and you will go out of your way not to have any contact with them (it will not occur to you that this paranoid behaviour is the exact opposite of a paedo’s behaviour). It can get so bad that you can avoid going outside for fear of harming somebody, or for fear of “contamination”.

As part of the treatment for anxiety, it is recommended that avoidance is tackled first, and part of the way that this is done is something called exposure and response prevention. So if somebody is scared of catching a disease they will have to go for longer and longer periods without washing their hands, and they will have to put their hands on something that they consider dirty for example. Exposure and response prevention is considered the most effective method of treating OCD, and it is also used for other anxiety disorders such as phobias. The aim is to make you comfortable with the thoughts you are worried about or with the objects you are worried about, so that you won’t panic every time you encounter them.

With all this in mind there is a development in the world of left wing politics which I find quite troubling. The idea of a trigger in the context of anxiety disorders, especially PTSD, was, I think, originally a specifically medical warning which aimed to warn when people were going to read something very traumatic which could re-traumatise them, such as something about rape or sexual abuse. I think that this can be useful, because you do not want to tackle something that causes you the most anxiety and distress first, or before you are ready.

However, it is now being used by some of the people in the “privilege politics” circles to refer to anything from long posts about gender identity to anything to do with sex in general. It is being used as a fashion accessory. I find this very objectionable. You don’t want to have a disorder which could destroy your life. You want to recover from it, and not let it rule your life. It is not something to parade around. You don’t want to be in a position where you even have to think about things like trigger warnings, let alone to do it to show how right on you are.

Secondly, attaching a “warning” to anything that people could be worried or distressed by, as well as being offensive does not actually help people suffering from these conditions. If somebody has a phobia of spiders you do not help them by putting say a trigger warning on a post about spiders on the internet, because that will help them to avoid it and avoid eventually becoming comfortable with the object of their fear, and stop it ruling their life to such an extent. If you accommodate a person’s OCD it will simply get worse and take more and more and more and more. I do not want to have people trying to “help” me by actually making the OCD worse and in so doing impeding my ability to have a normal life, I want to get rid of it completely.

I do not think anything can be solved with avoidance, which does not help in a medical setting or a political setting. I wish I could do better but if you want to help me please don’t do it by helping me to avoid stuff, because when I’m eventually confronted with it it will be even worse.

Which brings me to my next point, that of “safe spaces”. There should not need to be a “space” where people are “safe” from sexual assault, bigotry or whatever, it is running away from the problem, and does not address why the rest of it is unsafe. You do not deal with racism, anti-semitism, sexism etc by setting up a “safe space” where these things are supposed not to happen. You deal with it by challenging it. The very fact that this became such an issue in the occupy movement shows that there is a problem in the wider political culture which cannot be solved by setting aside a small area.

I saw a great quote today on urban75, “In a society which is unsafe there can be no safe spaces”. This sums up my feelings on the matter entirely.