5 May 2003

ORWELL AND THE STALINISTS - 1

There's a fascinating piece by Rob Evans in today's Guardian (click here) reporting that a new book by Gordon Bowker reveals the identity of a young British communist, one David Crook, who spied on George Orwell and other members of the Independent Labour Party contingent in Spain during the civil war. There's also an excellent piece on Orwell by Thomas Pynchon in Saturday's Guardian, for which click here.
More to come on this

29 April 2003

JULIUS JACOBSON 1921-2003

I've just heard that Julius Jacobson, longstanding advocate of "third camp" socialism and co-founder (with his wife Phyllis in 1961) and editor of New Politics magazine in the US, died last month just short of his 82nd birthday. He will be missed. Here is the notice form the New Politics website.

BEWARE DICTATORS BEARING GIFTS

Paul Anderson, Tribune column, May 2 2003

The fuss seems to have died down a little over the discovery in Baghdad by a Daily Telegraph journalist of documents that appear to show that George Galloway, the maverick Labour MP, received large sums of money from Saddam Hussein. And it’s not surprising that the story has gone quiet. Mr Galloway is promising to sue for libel, and that has made not only the Telegraph but every other newspaper very wary. Recent changes in Britain’s libel law might make it possible for newspapers to mount a succesful defence that falls short of proving that the documents are genuine and that Mr Galloway took the cash, but this is by no means guaranteed. Once the writs start flying, any sensible editor takes cover.

In time, perhaps, we will get to know the truth about this murky business. Mr Galloway says he did not receive funding from Iraq, and it is indeed possible that he is an unwitting victim of some vile scam. Some of the more lurid scenarios that have been advanced by his supporters are, however, rather implausible.

In particular, the idea that the Telegraph forged the documents or published them in the knowledge that they are forgeries almost beggars belief. The Telegraph is certainly politically hostile to Mr Galloway and everything he stands for. But its reporters and editors are not crazy. They know that their reputations would be destroyed if they were discovered to have been complicit in faking evidence of this kind. They simply wouldn’t risk it.

It is slightly more believable that the documents were forged and planted for the Telegraph to discover by some spook or other. As several Galloway supporters have remarked, including the editor of Tribune, there is a history of this sort of thing.

The most notorious example, of course, was the Zinoviev Letter of 1924. Purportedly a missive from the head of the Communist International demanding that British communists prepare to subvert Britain’s armed forces, it was published by the Daily Mail in the run-up to the 1924 general election as a means of discrediting Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Government, which had negotiated trade treaties with Soviet Russia. In fact, it was almost certainly forged, probably by White Russian emigres with the connivance of British intelligence agents hostile to Labour.

There are also more recent cases of intelligence service dirty tricks to undermine Labour, most notoriously in the 1970s, when various spooks spent an inordinate amount of time and energy attempting to smear Harold Wilson as a Soviet stooge. And who can forget the Sunday Times’s preposterous claims in the early 1990s that Michael Foot was the KGB’s “Agent Boot”?

But is Mr Galloway the victim of this sort of sting? Maybe, but I doubt it. He just isn’t an important enough player to warrant the effort that would be involved in setting it up.

If he didn’t receive the money from Iraq, the most plausible scenario is that the payments were authorised somewhere in the upper echelons of Saddam’s regime — and then siphoned off by someone feathering his or her own nest.

This would fit not only with what we know about the enthusiasm of the Iraqi Ba’ath leadership for self-enrichment but also with its record of paying its supporters and propagandists abroad.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, its chosen vehicle in Britain was the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, the paranoid Trotskyist sect led by the late and unlamented Gerry Healy, which, in return for money to subsidise its daily newspaper News Line and the weekly Labour Herald, informed on Iraqi exiles in London and printed encomiums to Saddam — “a man of firm action in home affairs, insisting on the highest standards of dedication and integrity of Government officials”, as News Line had it in 1980.

Some time after the WRP imploded in the mid-1980s, the Iraqis appear to have decided that the Labour left and the peace movement was a better pond to fish in than the revolutionary Left. I remember as a journalist on Tribune in the late 1980s and early 1990s being offered by an intermediary free trips to Iraq at the regime’s expense, which I turned down. Plenty of others did not.

This is not to impugn their motives: often the only way to visit a totalitarian regime and meet its people is on an official trip. Nor is it to claim that every benefiary of Saddam’s hospitality turned into a propagandist for his vicious rule. But that was what he wanted — and from some people at least, all of whom should have known better, that was what he got.

27 April 2003

EUROPE IS NOW THE KEY FOR BLAIR

Paul Anderson, Chartist column, May-June 2003

If there is one thing that is clear about Britain’s Europe policy today, it is that it is in a right mess.

Most spectacularly, the Blair government’s policy on Iraq – first loudly backing the Bush administration as it prepared for a military strike, then attempting and failing to secure United Nations backing for an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, then playing a major supporting role in the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam – did serious damage to Britain’s relationship with the two most important countries of the European Union, France and Germany, both of which opposed the war.

How lasting that damage will be is another matter, however. The French and German governments were opposed to military action against Iraq for different reasons – the French out of Gaullist hostility to American unilateralism, the Germans out of social democratic respect for international law and a tendency towards pacifism – and neither has any long-term interest in stoking up antipathy to Britain.

Unless George Bush decides to extend the treatment given to Iraq to, say, Syria or North Korea, and unless Tony Blair backs him again, Britain’s relationship with the big hitters in the EU will return to normal. Already, it’s back to business as usual in the Convention on the Future of Europe, where Britain and France are pushing hard (and together) for an intergovernmentalist settlement, against the federalism of Germany and the smaller EU countries.

The unlesses of the UK-US relationship are important, but at present the signs are that the US military will be tied up in Iraq for some time to come (as Martin Woollacott argued in an excellent piece in the Guardian - click here) and that the British government is not keen on more military adventures for a while.

Jack Straw’s denials that any other invasions are planned are of course worth taking with a pinch of salt. But the recent revelations that he and Blair would have resigned if the backbench Labour revolt on Iraq in the Commons in March had been only a little bigger suggests that they might have learned a little in the past few weeks about the extent of opposition to their uncritically pro-American policy. I have a sneaking suspicion that their doubts about joining a madcap neo-con crusade will from now on prove decisive.

But we shall see. The end of the war in Iraq – which was a remarkable military success, whatever its political ramifications – turns the spotlight on other aspects of Britain’s European policy, in particular the euro.

And here the picture is anything but optimistic. Disagreements at the highest level on the euro, most notably between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, appear to have come close to paralysing the government – and as yet there is little sign of any resolution.

In early April, nearly all the broadsheet newspapers carried reports, inspired by briefings from sources close to Brown, that the chancellor would soon declare that his famous five tests for British entry into the single European currency had not been met, thereby effectively (though not explicitly) ruling out a referendum on the euro for the rest of this parliament (see for example the Guardian report here).

At the end of April, however, a seemingly authoritative piece by Will Hutton in the Observer (click here) claimed that Blair had decided to shift Brown from the Treasury to the Foreign Office in order to clear the way for a euro referendum next year.

That would be a massive gamble for Blair. Brown is a big figure in the government, the architect of its overall strategy and for many years the favourite to succeed Blair as Labour leader (and prime minister) if Blair decided to go. It is not implausible to suggest that Brown could send the government into terminal crisis if he decided to resist Blair over-ruling or moving him.

Then again, it is difficult to see how Blair can regain credibility in Europe unless he overcomes Brown’s opposition to joining the euro – and, given the apparent strength of Brown’s opposition, it is hard to see how Brown could remain as chancellor after being forced to eat humble pie.

So Hutton’s interpretation has a certain credibility to it. Nevertheless, there is a simple way out for Brown that has been given scant consideration by the commentators – which is that some time in the next month or so he announces that the five tests have been passed.

Such a scenario is also just about feasible. Although Brown has been quite happy for his political allies to tell journalists that his line on the euro is “not yet”, he has not committed himself publicly to this position. He still has the option of endorsing British membership now. The anti-euro lobby would feel horribly let down – but the political impact would be extraordinary.

Once again, we shall see. But if there is a euro referendum soon, under any circumstances, it will be a tough battle for the government to win.

The pro-euro camp has spent the past few years waiting for the go-ahead from Blair, and is not in good shape: if the referendum isn’t announced soon, Britain in Europe, the umbrella group that will be the basis of any “yes” campaign, will collapse.

To make matters worse, there has been a serious decline in support for the euro among trade unions, which will be one of the crucial elements in any “yes” campaign. Anti-European leftists have won key positions in several major unions in the past couple of years, and John Monks, the most articulate of the pro-euro trade union leaders, is leaving the TUC. Labour movement support for Britain joining the single currency will be in rather shorter supply than five years ago.

Yet joining the euro remains the best bet for a social democratic future for Britain. It is true, as Gordon Brown argues, that the EU’s system of economic management needs to be reformed, particularly when it comes down to the idiotic growth and stability pact, which effectively rules out counter-cyclical state spending. But here we are pushing at an open door: the rest of Europe, social democratic, Christian democratic and neo-liberal alike, realises that the regime of enforced austerity imposed by the Bundesbank and subsequently endorsed by the governments of Europe as the price of monetary union was a big mistake. Faced with low growth and rising unemployment, the governments of Europe recognise that John Maynard Keynes had some bright ideas after all.

If Blair does not go for a euro referendum this parliament, he will have missed the best opportunity any British government has ever had to define Britain’s place as a European social capitalist country. The next few weeks will be absolutely critical.

SADDAM'S ADMIRERS ON THE BRITISH LEFT - 1

The story of George Galloway and his relationship with Saddam Hussein looks likely to be with us for some time. If Galloway is serious about suing the Telegraph (click here) and the Christian Science Monitor (click here) over their stories that he was the beneficiary of significant Iraqi funds, the case will not be heard for some months.

Whether or not "Gorgeous George" took Saddam's shilling, it's worth bearing in mind that the Iraqi regime had a policy of buying support in the UK

Back in the 1980s, when Galloway was denouncing Saddam as a tool of US imperialism, Saddam’s chosen vehicle was the Workers Revolutionary Party. The Trotskyist WRP, led by the psychopathic Gerry Healy and supported by Vanessa Redgrave and a bunch of third-rate actors, was desperate for cash to subsidise its daily newspaper, News Line, and various other projects - including Labour Herald, a weekly set up in order to eclipse Tribune as the voice of the Labour left (it failed).

The key figures in the Herald were Ted Knight, an old associate of Healy who was at that point leader of Lambeth council in London, and Ken Livingstone, then leader of the Greater London Council and now mayor of London, who was an old associate of Knight. (Livingstone has long had a strange, some would say exploitative relationship with Trotskyists, although his chosen partner has long since ceased to be the WRP: it’s now Socialist Action, the pro-Cuba bit of the old International Marxist Group, on which see below and this rather ancient piece from the Guardian.)

Libya was a bigger source of WRP funds than Iraq - but the WRP did some vile stuff for Saddam, including informing on Iraqi dissidents in London.

At some point in the late 1980s, after the WRP imploded, the regime in Baghdad appears to have realised that bankrolling a crazy revolutionary sect made no sense. Certainly after 1991 it targeted respectable Labourite leftists as its best hope. I had several offers of freebie trips to Iraq (none mediated by Galloway) in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was a journalist on Tribune. I did not take up the offers: others did.

For Galloway's side of the story, see the Sunday Herald's interview here.

More to come on this

25 April 2003

CUBA SOLIDARITY - 3

The comrades from the Campaign for Peace and Democracy would like you to sign the following, which seems a good idea. To sign online, click here.

ANTI-WAR, SOCIAL JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES OPPOSE REPRESSION IN CUBA

We, the undersigned, strongly protest the current wave of repression in Cuba. We condemn the arrests of scores of opponents of the Cuban government for their nonviolent political activities, and the shockingly long prison sentences some as high as 28 years -- imposed after unfair trials. According to Amnesty International, the arrestees include journalists, owners of private libraries and members of illegal opposition parties. We condemn as well the trial and execution of three alleged hijackers in a week's time, both for the lack of due process and because we oppose capital punishment on principle.

As anti-war, social justice and human rights advocates, we condemned the brutal Saddam Hussein regime, and we oppose the United States occupation of Iraq. We support civil liberties and democratic rights everywhere, regardless of the country’s economic, political or social system. We believe it is imperative to be consistent in opposing repression wherever it takes place, whether in Iraq or Saudi Arabia, Israel or Cuba, Turkey or the United States.

Democratic change in Cuba needs to be achieved by the Cuban people themselves. The Cuban government’s violations of democratic rights do not justify sanctions or any other form of intervention by the United States in Cuba. The government of the United States -- which employs the rhetoric of human rights when doing so promotes its imperial goals, but maintains a discreet silence or makes only token protests when U.S. allies are involved, and which fully supports the barbaric practice of capital punishment, routinely inflicted in the U.S. -- is hardly in a position to preach democracy and human rights.

And we recall too the long, criminal record of U.S. interventions in Latin America. This record has included six decades of exploitation and imperial control of Cuba, followed by an attempted invasion and a campaign of international terrorism and economic warfare, that is by now well-documented. Only a government that repudiated this record, renounced any intention of restoring its economic or political domination over Cuba, either directly or through rightwing Cuban-American proxies, and promised to respect the democratic will of the Cuban people themselves would have the moral legitimacy to call for democratic change in Cuba.

As the Bush administration, further emboldened by its military victory in Iraq, threatens to wage “preemptive” wars around the globe we reaffirm our support for the right of self-determination in Cuba and our strong opposition to the U.S. policy of economic sanctions that has brought such suffering to the Cuban people.

At the same time, we support democracy in Cuba. The imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable. We call on the Castro government to release all political prisoners and let the Cuban people speak, write and organize freely.

15 April 2003

NEO-CONS AND THE LEFT – 1

State Department socialist writes:

There’s a lot of garbage doing the rounds on this. Michael Lind, in a peculiarly daft piece in the New Statesman (click here), got it going in the UK, claiming that the neo-cons of today are, er, their dads.

"They are products of the largely Jewish-American Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and 1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or political history."

This is very poor intellectual history. It's true that some of the key neo-con intellectuals of the 1970s and 1980s - notably Sidney Hook and Irving Kristol - were Trots in the 1930s or 1940s: see any history of the New York Intellectuals for that. (For what it's worth, my recommended reading list is Russell Jacoby's The Last Intellectuals, Alan Wald's The New York Intellectuals and Hugh Wilford's The New York Intellectuals.) It's true that some of the neo-cons of that period - notably Kristol - are still alive. It's even true that Wiliam Kristol is the son of Irving - a "product" maybe.

But the idea that most of the neo-cons of the 1970s and 1980s were former Trotskyists is bunkum, and the idea that the current Dubya adviser mob was schooled in Trotskyism in the 1950s is bollocks. A couple of them might have been youthful adherents of Max Shatchtman at some point late in his career - and very early in theirs. So what. Rather more of the current neo-con intellectual crew used to be Stalinists of the old school, third worldist New Leftists, cold war liberals or never associated with any current that could be considered remotely on the left.
More to come on this

9 April 2003

UBA SOLIDARITY - 2

This comes from AP: again more to come on this:

Anita Snow, Associated Press writer
HAVANA - Human rights groups and the U.S. government condemned Cuba for sentencing critics of the regime to long prison terms in a crackdown that showed communist leaders were more worried about internal control than international contempt.

Fidel Castro's government on Monday sentenced activists, journalists and an economist to up to 27 years in prison for allegedly collaborating with U.S. diplomats to undermine the socialist state.

"We are witnessing the harshest political trials of the past decade," said veteran human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, one of the few leading opponents of the regime not arrested last month.
U.S. officials also criticized the sentences.

"The Castro government is persecuting journalists for acting like journalists," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said. "They're persecuting economists for acting like economists, and peaceful activists for seeking a solution to Cuba's growing political and economic crisis."

Sanchez's non-governmental Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said prosecutors originally sought life sentences for a dozen of the dissidents, among 80 facing closed trials that began Thursday.

It was unclear how many dissidents have been sentenced so far, but Sanchez said he and other activists have been unable to confirm any life sentences. The shortest was 15 years.

The longest sentence confirmed as of late Monday was 27 years for independent journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes. With his camera hanging from a strap around his neck, Rodriguez Saludes arrived on his bicycle to cover former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's meeting with dissidents during his visit to Cuba last May.

Opposition political party leader Hector Palacios, among those originally recommended for a life sentence, received 25 years, said his wife, Gisela Delgado.

Palacios is a leading organizer of the Varela Project, which gathered more than 11,000 signatures supporting a referendum on new laws to guarantee civil liberties such as freedom of speech and private business ownership. The island's parliament shelved the request.

Palacios was among dissidents who met with Carter, who used a live speech to the Cuban people to bluntly describe the country as undemocratic and to publicize the Varela project.

"This is an injustice," Delgado said after learning her husband's sentence Monday morning. "We are as Cuban as members of the Communist Party."

The communist government accuses the dissidents of being on Washington's payroll and collaborating with U.S. diplomats to harm Cuba and its economy. Jose Miguel Vivanco, of Human Rights Watch, urged the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva to condemn Cuba the sentences.

In Stockholm, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh warned that the crackdown could Cuba's prospects for increased cooperation with members of the European Union.

"I view the developments in Cuba with great concern," Lindh said. "The mass arrests of dissidents that have taken place lately are one more example of the human rights violations being committed in Cuba."

The crackdown, which ended several years of relative tolerance, began when Cuban officials criticized the head of the American mission in Havana, James Cason, for actively supporting the island's opposition.

"This is an attempt for them to squash down and put the policemen back in the person's head that many of the Cubans were getting out of their head," Cason said Monday in a speech at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

Cason said journalists were being punished for having such books as "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson, and others written by Groucho Marx and Stephen King.

Cason denied accusations that the U.S. mission had local dissidents on its payroll, saying the mission operates no differently than embassies in other countries.

"Change will come to Cuba. In fact, it is already under way," Cason said. "Cubans will decide how the Cuba of tomorrow takes shape, and more importantly, the role that each and every Cuban will have in it."

The last trials reportedly wrapped up Monday, with all sentences expected by week's end.

Among those tried Monday was Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a physician jailed since he was arrested during a December protest. Prosecutors reportedly sought a 25-year sentence.

Biscet in October completed three years in prison for displaying national flags upside down in an act of civil disobedience.

Also sentenced Monday was independent journalist Raul Rivero, who received the full 20 years prosecutors sought, said his wife, Blanca Reyes. "This is a crime for a man who has only written the truth," Reyes said.

Dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque and independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe each received 20-year sentences, their relatives said.

8 April 2003

CUBA SOLIDARITY - 1

While the world is looking elsewhere, Comrade Fidel's idyllic socialist utopia has gaoled the core of its critical democratic intelligentsia. Here's Reuters' report today: there's more to come on this.

Cuba sentences dissidents to 15 to 25 years
By Anthony Boadle


HAVANA, April 7 (Reuters) - Communist Cuba sentenced seven dissidents charged with opposing President Fidel Castro to 15 to 25 years in prison in the toughest political crackdown in decades.

In a clear message to the Bush administration that Cuba will not tolerate its efforts to build up a dissident movement on the island, a court convicted seven people of "working with a foreign power to undermined the government" and gave them prison sentences that ranged from 15 to 25 years.

Seventy-one other people are also charged but their trials are not yet complete.

Despite the tough sentences, the Havana Province Tribunal rejected prosecutors' requests for life sentences for leading dissident Hector Palacios and Ricardo Gonzalez, editor of Cuba's only dissident magazine, their wives said. Palacios was sentenced to 25 years and Gonzalez to 20 years.

Cuba's best known opposition writer, poet and journalist, 57-year-old Raul Rivero, was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

"This is so arbitrary for a man whose only crime is to write what he thinks," his wife Blanca Reyes told reporters after the sentence was given behind closed doors. "What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade."

In other sentences on Monday, economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe got 20 years,Hector Maseda 20 years, Osvaldo Alfonso 18 years and Marcelo Lopez 15 years.

The crackdown began on March 18 with arrests and house searches. That was followed last week by one-day trials in court rooms filled with Communist Party members and security agents while only three close relatives of the prisoners could attend, the wives said.

Government informants who had infiltrated dissident groups testified against the prisoners.

"The trial was unfair. He met his lawyer five minutes before it started and had no time to study the charges," said Claudia Marquez, wife of Osvaldo Alfonso. She said the court reduced Alfonso's sentence from a life term sought by prosecutors because he accepted the charges and said in court that he had been manipulated by U.S. diplomats.

The wives have three days to appeal, but said they were not hopeful the sentences could be shortened.

"These terms were dictated by President Castro. In Cuba there is only one voice," said Reyes.

WORLD CRITICISM OF TRIALS

Western diplomats and foreign journalists were barred from the trials, which were criticized in Europe. The U.S. State Department said the dissidents were being tried in "kangaroo courts."

International human rights organizations accused Castro of trying to knock out his political opponents while world attention was focused on Baghdad.

Half of the 78 dissidents on trial had organized a signature drive to petition for reforms to Cuba's one-party socialist state. The effort was known as the Varela Project, which united Cuba's small, divided dissident movement into the first major internal challenge to Castro's rule in four decades.

The Bush administration stepped up active support for the dissidents, who would meet in the residence of the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason.

Castro, in power since a 1959 revolution, denounced Cason last month for turning the American mission into an "incubator of counterrevolution" and threatened to close the U.S. Interests Section. Havana and Washington do not have formal diplomatic relations.

U.S. diplomats were surprised to learn that Manuel David Orrio, who had led a meeting of opposition journalists at Cason's house last month, testified against Rivero and said in court testimony that he was a state security agent.

Prosecutors have asked for life sentences for dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque; opposition labor activist Pedro Pablo Alvarez; and civil disobedience advocate Oscar Elias Biscet. Those sentences are expected on Tuesday.

The trials went virtually unnoticed in Cuba. There was no mention in Cuba's state-run media and few Cubans were aware of the dissident round-up.

"The social and economic decay in Cuba is so great and the government knows there is widespread discontent," said Miriam Leiva, a former diplomat who lost her job and was expelled from the Communist Party in 1992 for not divorcing her dissident husband Espinosa Chepe.

"That is why the sentences are so harsh, to repress people calling for change and intimidate others," she said.