25 August 2008


Excellent day out in Clapham yesterday: the Hives were great, I'd never seen Soulwax before ... and the Ig was, like, totally awesome man!

19 August 2008


The crisis in Georgia becomes ever more depressing, with Russian troops stationed in Georgia and credible reports of thugs allowed into South Ossetia by the Russians engaging in pogroms.
David Miliband's piece in the Times today makes all the right points, but I'm currently more concerned by the unanswered questions about the events of the past fortnight. The most important surround what exactly happened immediately before the Russians moved in. Russia claims genocide by Georgia against its citizens in South Ossetia; Human Rights Watch numbers casualties as below 100. The Russians claim the Georgians shelled Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian county town; but was the attack on military targets or indiscriminate? Peter Wilby argued in the Guardian yesterday that Georgia has won the PR war with the Russians, but the extent to which Russia's invasion was planned has still not been properly investigated by the British press.

The trad British left has for the most part played a shameful role in all this, backing Russia because Georgia is in the western camp and has a leader who, though democratically elected, is a hothead. An utterly shameful collapse in the face of naked Russian imperialist aggression – but not for the first time.

13 August 2008


I've been busy, so no time to post. But check out this piece from the New York Times, which makes it rather clear what sort of self-determination South Ossetian UDI is all about.


So the war seems to be over. Russia and Georgia have accepted a peace plan largely brokered by France – for which credit seems primarily be due to Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister. Good, but what happens next, we'll see. This is a peace, if it holds, that will reward the bully. The Kremlin is crowing over its victory and still issuing threats to Georgia; and any hope Tblisi had of establishing authority over South Ossetia and Abkhazia has now vanished for the foreseeable future.

I'll explain in a future post why I think Abkhaz and South Ossetian claims for national self-determination do not deserve international backing while Georgia's territorial integrity does. For now, I think we need to set up a Georgia Solidarity Campaign. You know: small country in the near-abroad of a superpower under serious threat of annihilation because it dares to adopt policies the superpower dislikes – and, hey!, the small country is not even a one-party dictatorship but a democracy, so it really is a matter of self-determination rather than a sham! Surely a no-brainer for every anti-imperialist in town?

10 August 2008


The Georgia crisis grows increasingly depressing. What was in Mikhail Saakashvili's mind when he decided to use force to take control of South Ossetia? OK, Georgia was provoked – but the provocation was designed by the crooks in the Kremlin to provide an excuse to humiliate Georgia much more forcefully, which is exactly what has happened. The speed and violence of the Russian response these past two days are evidence enough that events have gone exactly as Moscow wanted. Saakashvili fell into a trap, but why on earth did he do it? Stupidity, arrogance or what?
Now Georgia's position is desperate. It cannot resist Russia's military might; and the west is not going to come running to help Tblisi militarily. Everyone can call for a ceasefire and hope for the best, but that won't make any difference: Russia is in full imperialist flight right now and can get away with just about anything anything it wants. Most of the governments of Europe will keep quiet because they don't want any more trouble over the price of gas; and the western cretino-left will argue that it's just payback for the west backing independence for Kosova. Sick, sick, sick – but I want to find something more constructive to do than express impotent rage. Ideas please?

Good post here from Marko Atilla Hoare.

8 August 2008


On the face of it, there are few places in the world less worth fighting over than South Ossetia. It is a barren and desperately poor mountainous area in the north Caucasus, about the same area as Suffolk, with a population of around 70,000 – the same as Lowestoft – of whom two-thirds are (or were in the 1990s) ethnic Ossetians and Russians and one-third ethnic Georgians.
During the brief period of Georgian independence after the overthrow of Tsarism in 1917, South Ossetia was part of Georgia, where the revolutionary government was Menshevik (helped by first German and then British military protection, the latter shamefully withdrawn by David Lloyd George). And it remained in Georgia under successive Soviet constitutions after the country was invaded and subjugated by the Bolsheviks in 1921, albeit as an "autonomous" region.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Georgia won its independence again, and the old communist apparatus in South Ossetia (with backing from the Kremlin) declared UDI. Ever since, South Ossetia has been a rogue Russian satrap regime, a mini-mini-me for the ex-KGB crew who control the Russian state – and (of course) a safe haven for former-Soviet mafiosi.

It has been refused recognition by the rest of the world – as has Abhkazia, the north-western bit of Georgia that was the beach-holiday destination of the Soviet elite. (Abhkazia is a bigger problem: about the size of Lincolnshire, with a population equal to that of Milton Keynes, but also run by the Kremlin and its tame crooks.)

I have no idea how the military operations of the past couple of days – started it seems by a Georgian move (under serious provocation) to clear out Vladimir Putin's bent South Ossetian puppets, but escalated by Russia – will develop. But right now it's looking horribly like a naked attempt by Moscow to reassert its dominance of its "near abroad" just as it did in Germany 1953, Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and Afghanistan 1979. All because Georgia wants to join Nato and rather too many European governments are worrying about the price of gas rather than democratic principle.

There's a good post here on the Guardian website. This is good too, from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (which despite its origins has been reliable as a source for a long time). It's looking like it's going to be solidarity-with-Georgia time – and this is a lot closer to home than most people think.

7 August 2008


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 8 August 2008

What an extraordinary fortnight in politics. Labour, in the doldrums in the polls and recently humiliated in local elections in England and Wales, loses what was a safe Westminster seat in a by-election in urban Scotland, and there is an outbreak of apocalyptic doom-mongering among columnists and backbench MPs. Then the prime minister goes on holiday – and the foreign secretary writes a comment piece for the Guardian in which he says that Labour has rather a lot to be proud of but should admit it has made mistakes…

At which point everyone goes completely bonkers. For ten days the papers are filled with denunciations of Gordon Brown, profiles of the young pretender David Miliband – has he got what it takes? – and rumours of plots to unseat the PM, one of which is apparently aimed at getting him out by the end of the month.

All right, I’m out of the loop, and it’s entirely possible that, as I write, Miliband and his supporters are furiously phoning, emailing and texting colleagues in an attempt to get them to ditch the hopeless Brown before Labour conference – but somehow I doubt it.

Miliband’s article and subsequent media appearances undoubtedly constitute a conscious attempt to position himself as the front-runner for the Labour leadership should a vacancy arise – but the qualification is important. I don’t think they presage an attempt to challenge Brown directly, even though it’s quite apparent that Miliband (just like every other Brit with an interest in politics) recognises that Brown is completely incapable of winning the next general election.

The reason Miliband’s actions don’t seem to me the prelude to a straight leadership challenge is simple: Labour Party rules. When Labour last changed its arrangements for electing its leader, way back in 1993, it made it ludicrously difficult to depose a Labour prime minister. I once asked Larry Whitty, the party’s general secretary at the time of the rule change, how it could be done – and his response was that, as a former Stalinist, he’d made sure it was impossible.

He was joking – but only a bit. By the rules, the only way an incumbent Labour leader, however useless, can be ditched is by a de facto vote of no confidence at party conference. To organise that except in the most extreme circumstances would be as near to impossible as you can get. Maybe I’ve missed something, but I don’t think Gordon is going to be given the boot by the massed delegates in Manchester next month.

There is another way formally to force a leader out. No parliamentary Labour leader could continue without the support of Labour MPs. Again, I might have missed something, but I don’t think the PLP is in the mood to organise a vote of no confidence against Brown, however poorly it rates him, and even if it was I’d doubt its ability to do it.

Which leaves the proverbial men in grey suits – a delegation of senior cabinet and party figures that goes to see Brown and tells him his time is up. It’s not impossible; it might just happen. But to have any chance of success the delegation would need to include several hardcore Brown allies: I’d say Alistair Darling, John Denham and Harriet Harman, all of whom have professed undying loyalty this week. No go, there, it seems, at least for now.

So – it looks like it’s a matter of persuading Gordon to go gently, drip by drip. It doesn’t need a plot: everyone who meets him simply needs to tell him straightforwardly and politely that he hasn’t a hope of winning the next election and that he ought to resign (at the right time) for the sake of the party. If he ignores the advice, so be it – but then Labour can guarantee disaster 1931-style at the next general election, with or without Derek Draper.

Miliband is the blindingly obvious alternative to Brown. He is not perfect, but he is a good man. He is a centrist in the current Labour Party (not a Blairite). He is young and attractive. He has done a decent job as foreign secretary. And he has some sensible ideas about how Labour can renew itself that are not the usual bollocks. He is also remarkably uncontaminated by the vicious infighting at the top of the Labour Party over the past 20 years.

My fear is that Brown holds tight then loses disastrously. Then it would be 2019 or 2020 at least before we see another Labour government again – by which time I’ll be drawing my pension. Gordon, please agree to go. Please. It’s been nice having you, but your time is up. We can’t force you out but you know what you need to do. Sword. Fall on. Early next year. The party will be grateful.

5 August 2008


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the novels of the Stalinist camps and, above all, The Gulag Archipelago were - are - crucial documents of the 20th century. More than anyone else, Solzhenitsyn was the witness, the truth-teller about how Soviet communism was a relentless, vicious, criminal, murderous regime - and he did it fearlessly. So what if he was a reactionary. RIP.


John Lee Hooker: