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A lucky boy from a golden age of economics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/06/2018 - 12:24pm in

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When the financial crisis struck, it was back to the economics Max Corden learned in the 40s and 50s — a golden age of economics in which conceptual simplicity was a feature not a bug and the central criterion of good work was its generality and usefulness — rather than the conspicuous cleverness that defined later economics.

(Cross posted from The Mandarin) This has been adapted from Nicholas Gruen’s address at the launch of Max Corden’s memoirs Lucky boy in the lucky country at Queens College, University of Melbourne on May 29.

The German philosopher Hegel said “the Owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk”. It’s an oracular way of putting an arresting and, if the truth be told, deeply melancholy thought.

In our fallen world, so much of life is revealed to us in retrospect. Reflection and wisdom come too late to be useful. In some ways, Max’s penchant for economic theory is an assertion of optimism against that melancholy. For by the fragile and imperfect construction of theory we try to build bridges between the events of the past and those of the future. We want to be ready next time. But therein lies a challenge. We want our theory to be useful, a point to which I’ll return.

The owl has been visiting Max lately. In an earlier discussion with Ross Garnaut to try to coordinate what we’d each speak about, I mentioned to him that my father was less conscious of his Jewish roots and less reflective of his past than Max. “Exactly like Max” said Ross. My father died twenty years ago and Ross says that Max’s deeper interest in his past has grown considerably since then.

Still that owl has a habit of creeping up on one. It was only towards the end of my father’s life that I gained any real interest in his history. It was much later again when I realised that all those things that migrants’ kids said – for instance about the strange food they ate at home – were also true for me, at least in small ways. A couple of decades ago I wouldn’t have noticed Max’s Europeanness. I barely noticed my father’s. But I do now.

I was invited to speak at this launch because of my father’s friendship with Max and the similarity between Dad’s and Max’s stories. I don’t know if Max knows some of the eerie similarities. I’ll tell you one. As Max tells us, in May 1938 he started two terms at the Streete Court School in Westgate-on-Sea in Kent.

He would meet Dad in Australia twenty years later at Monash University and write a paper together. They’d become closer friends another twenty years after that as respective heads of their centres at the ANU. Indeed Max writes in his memoirs “I don’t think I have met anybody in my life whom I have admired so much for his personality and balanced judgement”. But all those years back at Streete Court School, Max was just six miles or so up the road from Herne Bay College where my father had been boarding since 1936.

As Ross was speaking of the clarity of Max’s work, the simplicity that came from thinking things through before one opened one’s mouth or put pen to paper, it put me in mind of Steve Jobs who spoke of the simplicity on the other side of complexity – the simplicity that comes from all that work trying to find the most compelling way into and through some difficult problem.

It’s a clue to Max’s success as an economist – a discipline which, as Keynes remarked, is intellectually “a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science?” Keynes’ sting in the tail was that “good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds.”

You see economics itself is built on very simple foundations. In fact, I was once at a lunch following the launch of Nugget Coombs’ last book at which a ditzy blonde acolyte was on my left and Nugget was on my right. She trilled that economics was far too complex for her to understand. I responded that economics might look complex, “but it’s really all built on a single idea”. Nugget, who like surprisingly many economists towards the end of their days despair of their profession, leant across to her and said: “Yes and it’s wrong!”

Max and my father made their careers during a golden age of economics in which conceptual simplicity was a feature not a bug and the central criterion of good work was its generality and usefulness. Gradually academia somehow came to reward conspicuous cleverness as its apex value and quite quickly its usefulness of economics receded – a Tower of Babel rising in its stead. It’s telling that, when the financial crisis struck, it was back to the economics Max learned in the 40s and 50s. Paul Krugman, of whom I’m a huge fan is the impresario of this new age, a strident but pathologically clear headed critic of the way in which the macroeconomics of the business cycle actually retrogressed after the 1980s. Ironically, as I’ll argue shortly, he was an architect of a similar retrogression in trade theory from about the same time.

I recall one of the first conversations I had with Dad at around the age of thirty when I’d finally relinquished one of my life-long goals to not become an economist. He read me a marvellous passage from the great British economist and friend of Max, John Hicks. In Value and Capital published in 1939 Hicks spoke of how little progress could be made in economic theory if one incorporated scale economies which are logically incompatible with perfect competition. Here’s the money quote from Hicks:

“It is, I believe, only possible to salvage anything from this wreck – and it must be remembered that the threatened wreckage is that of the greater part of economic theory – if we can assume that the markets confronting most . . . firms . . . do not differ very greatly from perfectly competitive markets. . . . At least this get-away seems well worth trying. We must be aware, however, that we are taking a dangerous step, and probably limiting to a serious extent the problems with which our subsequent analysis will be fitted to deal. Personally, however, I doubt if most of the problems we shall have to exclude for this reason are capable of much useful analysis by the methods of economic theory.”

Note that last sentence. Hicks didn’t say “I doubt you can get a paper published assuming imperfect competition”. Indeed, people had done it throughout the 1930s though with disappointing results. His claim was that, in the light of his carefully considered and formulated arguments, formally modelling scale economies would not be useful.

Of course, he never advocated ignoring scale economies. Indeed he wrote about scale economies often. He understood that in a formal model the realism of one’s assumptions came at the price of the tractability of the model and the generality of its results. Therefore perfect competition would generally be assumed in his formal modelling, particularly in general equilibrium, and scale economies would be taken into account formally in simplified partial equilibrium models and diagrams and/or in discussion of limitations to the generality of one’s formal modelling or how some theoretical conclusion might be applied in a specific context.

For Hicks, as for Keynes and for Max and my father, economics was commonsense, worked over, clarified and applied.

However, at about the time Max moved on from the microeconomics of trade, these sensibilities changed. Paul Krugman and a cadre of others set about ignoring Hick’s warning. Here’s a challenge I’ve put for a couple of decades now without anyone rising to it. Show me any paper from the ‘new trade theory’ that mentioned Hicks’ warning or one like it (Milton Friedman had the same advice) and carefully considered why this time it was different. I think of Krugman as about the most brilliant and useful economist we have. But his most brilliant work wasn’t useful, and his most useful work isn’t brilliant.

And what’s that they say about people forgetting the lessons of history being condemned to repeat it? Krugman later lamented that such a “fundamental rethinking” of trade theory “can have such modest implications for policy”:

“The models [we] used were, in a way, typical of economics: clearly untrue assumptions (symmetric constant elasticity of substitution preferences; symmetric costs across products!), and involved a fair bit of work to arrive at what sounds in retrospect like a fairly obvious point: even similar countries will end up specializing in different products …. But this point was only obvious in retrospect. People in trade were not saying anything like this until the New Trade Theory models came along and clarified our thinking and language. Trust me, I was there ….”

I was there too. So let me decode Krugman’s statement that “people in trade” weren’t saying that “even similar countries will end up specializing in different products”. He’s saying first that economists can’t see what isn’t in their models – whereas Hicks and pretty much every economist until the late twentieth century would have understood the need for careful and ongoing reconciliation of formal modelling and other sources of knowledge. More shockingly he’s saying that those who smell a rat at the dysfunctionality of all this should just get over themselves. To quote Krugman:

“You may not like this tendency; certainly economists tend to be too quick to dismiss what has not been formalized (although I believe that the focus on models is basically right).”

It’s ironic given how compellingly Krugman has documented the regression of macroeconomics in the same period that saw his own rise via new trade theory. I think both retrogressions were driven by formalisation at all costs, though, in the case of new classical macro, this mindset gave additional licence to the motivated reasoning of the libertarian right. In each case, economics regresses into scholastic abstractions, and obviously important parts of the story slide pristine invisibility to the elect.

For the record when Krugman says “people in trade” weren’t thinking of scale economies driving trade patterns he really means academics at the commanding heights of formal neoclassical trade theory. The rest of us were shouting ourselves hoarse. Take Linder’s early 60s model of mass marketing at home and luxury marketing abroad, Raymond Vernon’s ‘product cycle’ model of trade a decade later,  or Peter Gray’s late 1980s heuristic model of trade and imperfect competition. Two distinguished antipodean economists Peter Drysdale and Peter Elkan (from New Zealand) not to mention another Kiwi by birth Peter Lloyd who is with us tonight elaborated the significance of scale economies for trade. They proposed ad hoc partial equilibrium toy models and diagrams to illustrate various ideas and proposed policies based around them. Then there was the empirical work of people like Bela Belassa, Anne Krueger, Jagdish Bhagwati and others who, from the early seventies on, explored the implications of scale economies, regional trade agreements and intra-industry trade. This is not to mention Max himself, who has a whole chapter on scale economies in Trade and Welfare.

Before I wind up. One more coincidence – this time in the form of a riddle. What do I and Max’s student, Sir Nicholas Stern have in common? I don’t know if Max knows this but we’re both second generation Dunera Boys. My father came out on the Dunera and stayed. His father came out and went back, surviving the journey unlike a few unlucky souls who set sail to return during the war but perished at sea.

And finally to kindness. Max concludes his book Lucky boy in the lucky country with a typically straightforward accounting of all the lucky breaks he had in his life. His humble gratitude for the kindness of others is palpable. As it was with my father who often made a point of thanking those who had gone out of their way to help him and to protect him. Like a woman who’d looked after him in Austria, Frau Heller and Miss Margaret Holmes of the Student Christian Movement in Australia who helped the Dunera Boys get access to books and other things necessary for their education in their new homeland.

I thought I would end with a quote from one of the Dunera Boys about one of the people who was kind to Dad and other Dunera Boys. For me it has the quality of a kind of incantation. I read it every now and again and also read it to other people. Let me read it to you now. It’s a description of Captain Edward Broughton who was the Sergeant of the 8th Employment Company in which my father and many Dunera Boys worked towards the end of the war. The first Australian to write a book on the Dunera, Cyril Pearl describes him thus:

“He was a half-caste tattooed Maori. At the age of 16, by falsifying his age, he . . . served in the South African war. Fourteen years later he fought with the Maori Battalion on Gallipoli, was mentioned in dispatches, and commissioned. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, he served in France, and with a Russian regiment. Having overstated his age for the Boer War, he understated it by 16 years to fight in World War Two.”

This is what one Dunera boy said about him on his death in 1955:

“Keenly intelligent, well-read, endowed with a superb sense of humour, completely untainted by any racial prejudice… deeply interested in human beings, he did not only gain immediate respect and obedience, but also the love and affection of the unit. He enjoyed hugely being at its head, learned and meticulously respected Jewish customs, and was immensely proud of the unit because of the splendid work it did, humbly unaware of the fact that it was only he who could have turned these people into willing manual labourers. … He engaged in incessant publicity war on our behalf and fought hard to have our status changed, only to be booted out by the Army eventually. After being shoved around as flotsam and jetsam for many years he managed… to make us feel like human beings again. He restored our faith in man, as something more than 92 percent water and a few chemicals. He was a scholar and a gentleman.”

As Broughton said to one of his refugee charges from across the world “You and me, we’re the same”.

Both were lucky. And luckier still adding to each others’ luck.

Those who’ve been paying attention to the multi-dimensional scandal of academic publishing may not be surprised to learn that Max’s publisher Palgrave have done Max the great disservice of gouging those who might want to read his book. Their price is $125 for Max’s slim, elegant volume. At the launch Max was subsidising this for readers and is pitching in his own money on top of the publishers discount to him to bring the price down to $50. In any event, if people wish to borrow my copy they should email or tweet me – and I’ll be happy to arrange to lend it to them.

Dimbleby Resigns as BBC Propagandist on Question Time

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece commenting on the resignation of former Bullingdon boy David Dimbleby as the host of Question Time. The man Private Eye dubbed ‘Dimblebore’ has been presenting the show for 25 years, and now considers it the right moment to leave. Dimbleby is another BBC presenter, who is very biased towards the Conservatives. Mike’s photograph of him accompanying his piece shows him raising two fingers, with the comment that it’s probably to a Socialist. Mike also cautions against feeling too good about Dimblebore’s resignation, as we don’t know what monster’s going to replace. He wonders whether the secret of human cloning has been found, and whether the next biased presenter of the programme will be Josef Goebbels.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/17/if-david-dimbleby-is-leaving-the-bbcs-question-time-what-horror-will-replace-him/

Last week Dimblebore was off in Russia, presenting a documentary about the country under Putin ahead of the footie there. He wasn’t the only, or even the first person to go. The comedian Frankie Boyle got there over a week earlier, presenting a two-part show about the country, it’s people and football on Sunday evening. Dimblebore was rather more serious in tone, presenting Russia as a country in the grip of a repressive autocrat, and mired in corruption which was strangling the economy.

Dimbleby first explained that Putin was most popular with young people, the generation that everywhere else is rebelling against autocrats, dictators and tyrants. He puts this down to Russians’ experience of economic collapse under Yeltsin. Yeltsin ended communism and dismembered the economy of the Soviet Union, privatising whatever he could. The result was chaos, and massive employment. At one point it got so bad that some factories were paying their workers in the goods they produced. Putin has restored order and economic stability to the country, and so has the support of the younger generation.

He spoke to a great of young professionals, an advertising branding team who were supporters of Putin, working to promote him through images and slogans. He stated that most of the media was controlled by the Russian president, with a few exceptions. He then went to speak to someone from RT’s Moscow branch. Dimbleby explained that some of the staff were British, and asked one of the Brits there whether he was presenting propaganda. The man denied it, said that there was no one watching over him, telling him what to do, and that his conscience was clear. Dimblebore then gave a knowing smirk into the camera.

He then talked to a female presenter on one of the few dissident broadcasters Putin had allowed to remain open. She said that she had not received any threats, but she knew that she could be killed for what she did. But she was still determined to carry on.

He then talked about how those, who criticised the government were arrested and jailed, interviewing a human rights lawyer, who defended them. When asked what people could be arrested and jailed for, the lawyer explained that it could be criticism of the government, or a non-traditional understanding of the Second World War. The other year Putin passed a law criminalising the view that Stalin was partly responsible for the Nazi invasion of eastern Europe and Russia through the Nazi-Soviet pact. From what I remember, I think you can also be arrested for promoting gay rights.

He then spoke to a woman, who was protesting her treatment by the state. She had already been jailed for criticising Putin, but was determined to do so again. She had not been able to get a permit to organise a protest, and so held her own, one-woman demonstration outside the court. This is permitted under Russian law. If you can’t get a permit for a demonstration, you can still protest, so long as there is only one person involved. As she stood with her placard, she was joined by an increasing number of counter-protesters determined to disrupt her protest, and possibly send her to jail. They moved closer to her, and she moved away, telling them to keep their distance. They kept coming, and their numbers kept increasing. Then the cops turned up, and started filming things as they’d been told foreigners were involved. And someone else from one of the TV companies materialised to film the protest as well. Eventually it all ended, and the police and counter-protesters disappeared.

Dimbleby then did a piece about the police’s brutal suppression of dissent, complete with footage of the cops beating what looked like a feminist protester from Pussy Riot.

He also touched on gender roles. He talked to a hairdresser, while having his haircut, who told him that Russia still had very traditional gender roles, in which women wanted a strong man to provide for them.

Putin has also succeeded in reversing the declining Russian birthrate. Instead of falling, it is now rising, with medals and benefits given to couples who have large families. He showed one woman and her husband, who were being presented a medal by Putin for having ten children.

He also went off to talk to a youth organisation, that was set up to get children, including boys of junior school age, interested in the army. The group’s name translates as ‘Net’, and is run by army officers. The children there wear combat uniforms and learn to shoot using air rifles, which they are also taught how to strip down. They were shown blazing away at targets, and competing with each other over who could reassemble a gun while blindfolded the quickest, with Dimblebore cheering the winner. And it wasn’t all boys. One of the youngster there looked like a girl. Dimblebore asked them if they wanted to join the army, to which they gave a very enthusiastic ‘Yes’.

He then went off to speak to a prelate from the Russian Orthodox Church about its support for Putin, where he described Putin as an autocrat attacking human rights and threatening peace in Europe. The prelate responded by saying that there were those, who did not agree with his view. And that was that.

He then went off to discuss the massive corruption in Russia, and how this was undermining the economy as more and more investors and companies left the country because of it. Russia has 144 million people, but it’s economy is 2/3s that of Britain, or about the size of Italy’s, and is declining.

Now all of this is factually true. John Kampfner, in his book Freedom For Sale discusses Russia as another state, where the population has made a deal with its leader. They have absolute power, in return for which they give their people prosperity. Except that, according to Dimbleby, living standards and wages are declining. Putin has passed laws against the promotion of homosexuality, there are massive human rights violations, including the jailing of the type of people, who would have been called dissidents under Communism. Journalists, who haven’t toed the Archiplut’s line have been beaten and killed.

Other aspects of the Russian state, as revealed by this programme, would have been immediately recognisable to the generation raised by Communism. Like the corruption. It was rife under Communism. The Bulgarian journalist, Arkady Vaksberg, wrote a book about it, The Soviet Mafia. And Gogol took a shot at official corruption under the Tsars back in the 19th century in his play, The Government Inspector. So no change there.

As for the Russian Orthodox Church supporting Putin, it was always the state church under the tsars, to which it gave absolute support. The watchword of the tsarist regime was ‘Autocracy, Orthodoxy and the People’. And its support of autocratic leadership didn’t begin under Putin. After the restrictions on religion were lifted in the 1990s, the BBC journalists interviewed some of its clergy on their shows. And the clergy had the same preference for absolute state power and total obedience from the people. Putin made the relationship between the Church and his government closer by granting them a sizable share of Russia’s oil.

The youth groups designed to get children interested in joining the army are also little different from what already went on under the Soviet system. Secondary schoolchildren did ‘military-patriotic training’ to prepare them for national service as part of the school curriculum. It was led by retired army officers, who were often the butt of schoolboy jokes. They were taught to handle weapons, complete with competitions for throwing grenades the furthest.

And let’s face it, it also isn’t much different from what used to go on over here. I’ve known young people, who were in the army and naval cadets. And the public schools used to have the CCF – the Combined Cadet Force – which the Tories would dearly love to bring back. And boys, and some girls, do like playing at ‘War’, so I’ve no doubt that if something like the Russian group was set up in this country, there would be many lads and girls wanting to join it.

Russia has also too been a very masculine society with very traditional ideas about gender and masculinity, despite the fact that most engineers were women, who also worked as construction workers and many other, traditionally masculine areas. One of the complaints of Russian women was that the men didn’t do their fair share of standing in queues waiting to get whatever groceries were in store.

And the medals and rewards to the women, who gave birth to the largest number of children is just another form of the Heroic Mother Awards under the Soviet Union. Putin’s Russia continues many of the same aspects of the country’s society from the age of the tsars and Communism, although Dimblebore said the country was going backward.

I’ve no doubt it is, but the programme annoyed me.

What irritated me was Dimblebore’s knowing smirk to camera when the guy from RT denied that he broadcast propaganda. Now I’m sure that RT does. There’s videos I’ve seen on YouTube from RTUK, which could fairly be described as pro-Russian propaganda.

But what annoyed me was Dimblebore’s hypocrisy about it.

The Beeb and Dimbleby himself has also broadcast it share of propaganda supporting western foreign policy interests, including imperialism. Newsnight has finally got round, after several years, to covering the Fascists running around the Ukraine under the present government. But the Beeb has emphatically not informed the British public how the pro-western regime which was put in power with the Orange Revolution, was created by the US State Department under Obama, and run by Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. Far from being a grassroots movement, the revolution was orchestrated by the National Endowment for Democracy, which has been handling the US state’s foreign coups since they were taken away from the CIA, and one of George Soros’ pro-democracy outfits.

Putin is also presented as the villainous aggressor in the current war in the Ukraine, and some have compared his annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine to the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland. But Crimea had been a part of Russia before 1951, when Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, gave it to that state. And Putin is not looking to take over the country either. The population of Russia is 144 million. Ukraine’s is a little over a third of that, at 52 million. If Putin really had wanted to annex it, he would have done so by now. And under international law, as I understand it, nations are allowed to intervene in foreign countries militarily to defend members of their ethnic group that are being persecuted. That was the pretext for the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland, and it’s also the reason why Putin’s invaded eastern Ukraine. But it’s legal under international law. And I don’t doubt for a single minute that Russians, and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, were being persecuted by the new, pro-Western government.

In his documentary, Dimbleby met a very angry, patriotic Russian, who told him that the British had tried to invade Russia three times in the past three centuries. Once in the 19th century during the Crimean War; then in 1922 during the Russian Civil War. And now we were preparing to do the same. He angrily told us to ‘get out!’. Dimbleby looked shocked, and said to him that he couldn’t really believe we were ready to invade.

This was another continuation of the Soviet paranoia and hostility towards the West dating from the Communist period and before. Russia has always felt itself encircled by its enemies since the tsars. But the man has a point. We did invade Russia in 1922 in an effort to overthrow the Communist regime. Pat Mills has talked about this in his presentation on comics he gave to the SWP a few years ago. He tried to get a story about it in Charlie’s War, the anti-war strip he wrote for Battle. This is another piece of history that we aren’t told about.

And when Gorbachev made the treaty with Clinton pledging the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism, Clinton in turn agreed that these state would not become members of NATO. He broke his promise. They now all are, and NATO’s borders now extend to Russia. At the same time, western generals and NATO leaders have been predicting a war between Russia and NATO. One even wrote a book about it, 2017: War with Russia. Thankfully, 2017 has been and gone and there has, so far, been no war. But with this in view, I can’t say I blame any Russian, who is afraid that the West might invade at any moment, because it does look to me like a possibility.

And there are other matters that the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream news aren’t telling us about. They’re still repeating the lie that the invasion of Iraq was done for humanitarian reasons, whereas the reality was that western corporations and the neocons wanted to get their hands on Iraqi state industries and privatise the economy. And the American and Saudi oil industry wanted to get their mitts on the country’s oil reserves.

The civil war in Syria is also presented in simplistic terms: Assad as evil tyrant, who must be overthrown, and Putin as his bloodthirsty foreign ally. Assad is a tyrant, and one of the causes of the civil war was his oppression of the Sunni majority. But we are constantly being told that the rebels are ‘moderates’, while the fact is that they still have links to Islamists like the al-Nusra Front, the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Nor have I seen the Beeb tell anyone how the Syrian rebels have also staged false flag chemical weapons attacks against civilians in order to draw the west into the war.

And objective reporting on Israel is hindered by the pro-Israel lobby. Any news item or documentary, which shows Israel’s horrific crimes against Palestinian civilians is immediately greeted with accusations of anti-Semitism from the Israeli state and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. I’ll be fair to the Beeb. Some of their presenters have tried to give an objective reporting of events, like Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin. But they’ve been accused of anti-Semitism, as was Dimblebore himself when he tried to defend them. In this instance, the bias isn’t just the fault of the Beeb. But it is there, and newsroom staff have said that they were under pressure from senior management to present a pro-Israel slant.

Domestically, the Beeb is very biased. I’ve discussed before how Nick Robinson in his report on a speech by Alex Salmond about Scots devolution carefully edited the SNP’s answer, so it falsely appeared that he had been evasive. In fact, Salmond had given a full, straight answer. Salmond’s reply was whittled down further as the day went on, until finally Robinson claimed on the evening news that he hadn’t answered the question.

And numerous left-wing bloggers and commenters, including myself, have complained about the horrendous bias against the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in the Beeb’s reporting. Dimblebore himself has shown he has a very right-wing bias on Question Time, allowing right-wing guests and audience members to speak, while silencing those on the left. Not that he’s alone here. Andrew Marr has done exactly the same on his programme on Sundays.

Dimblebore is, quite simply, another right-wing propagandist, with the Beeb backing current western imperialism. His smirk at the RT journalist’s denials of doing the same is just gross hypocrisy.

Noam Chomsky Refutes the Statement that Anti-Zionism Is Anti-Semitism

I found this very useful little video on Chomsky’s Philosophy channel on YouTube yesterday. It’s about two and a half minutes long, and seems to come from a conference in 2014 about supporting the Palestinians. One of the women present asks the great philosopher and linguistic scholar how he would respond to the charge that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

Chomsky replies by explaining the origins of this belief. He states that it began 45 years ago in an article by Albert Evan, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Congress, a magazine aimed at the liberal wing of American Jewry. Evan declared that Jews had to spread the idea that anti-Zionism, in the case of gentiles, was anti-Semitism. In the case of Jews, it was neurotic self-hatred. And he gave two examples. One was I.F. Stone, and the other was Chomsky himself. Chomsky states he doesn’t blame the Zionists for making this argument. They’re just doing what they can to defend their country from criticism. But anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism. It is criticism of Israel’s criminal actions against the Palestinians.

I realise that Chomsky is very much a controversial figure. I know people on the left as well as the right, who don’t like him because he denied the genocidal actions of Pol Pot, or some of the other Communist maniacs in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. But his criticisms of western imperialism, and the military-industrial complex are accurate. And he’s also absolutely correct about the way the media works to suppress domestic dissent.

Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism. Zionism is a movement, an ideology, not a race. The largest Zionist organisation in America is a fundamentalist Christian organisation. Criticism of Israel might be anti-Semitic, if the only reason for it was because Israel is a Jewish state. And it’s true that historically some of the critics of Israel were Nazis or Nazi sympathisers. However, left-wing anti-Zionists and critics of Israel don’t object to the country because of its Jewish origins. They object to it because it is western colonial apartheid state, which has been engaged in a 70-year long campaign of massacre and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (vii)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/06/2018 - 7:11am in

Tags 

history, Marxism

“There are few writers or thinkers in history whose every word and grunt has been examined by hostile critics so minutely as Marx’s has”. Hal Draper.

The usual reference Marxists give those asking about “historical materialism” (aka the “materialist conception of history”) is Marx’s 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (example 1, example 2). If readers downloaded and printed it from the Marxists Internet Archive, depending on their printer settings, they’d get something like this:

Right-click to open a larger version in a different tab.
At least two things explain the Preface’s popularity.

For one, it’s a concise document: 1,977 words including title, source, footnote and hyperlinks. Remove that and other “accessories”, and what’s left (highlighted above) contains the exposition proper: 411 words. To put that in perspective: so far the Marx and Engels Collected Works (note well: collected, not complete) spans 50 thick volumes, at least 600 pages each.

For another, because, for all of Marx’s fame as a hard-to-read writer, it’s fairly straightforward: skeptic readers are invited to judge that by themselves.

There is another reason, however, to bring that document to the readers’ attention, after twice doing that last time. In Chapter 1 of Preconditions and Evolutionary (§ a and b) Eduard Bernstein discusses it. He understands its central role for Marxism and he is determined to inflict the maximum damage: “In principle, Marxism stands or falls with this theory” (p. 12). It’s a high-value target, one would say these days.

The trouble, from his perspective, is that, being such a well-known document, the Preface is also very hard to mess with, unlike the Circular Letter of 1879.

But Bernstein is ambitious, if nothing else.

As discussed in the previous post, in § a, after calling it “preliminary work” Bernstein uses the Preface to promote Marxism to pure science: Naturwissenschaft-like, Marxism is subject to the same precision requirements of a natural science, in accordance to Bernstein’s positivism.

In § b, which we’ll comment on here, Bernstein includes four quotes from it. Beginning in page 13 of Preconditions he discussed the 210 words that appear highlighted below:

Right-click to open a larger version in a different tab.
Compare that with the first illustration. Readers may be wondering about the green bit. We’ll see that soon.

Bernstein remarks on the “apodictic” (which Harvey inaccurately rendered as “dogmatic” in Evolutionary) wording of those 4 fragments in yellow. One may say, following Tudor (p. xxiv), that by that Bernstein meant those passages looked deterministic: because of them, Bernstein claims, Marxism produces precise outcomes much like Newtonian mechanics which, given initial velocities, accelerations, masses and directions, predicts, determines precisely how two billiard balls will move once one hits the other, for example.

One, of course, needs to guess what Bernstein had in his eccentric mind, but if that’s how he interpreted Marxism then he chose the wrong document to quote from. The way he found to mould the document’s content to match his “understanding” of it was to ignore the green passage. He just omitted it. In its place, ellipsis. As in the case of the Circular Letter of 1879, whatever is written there, Bernstein is not interested.

But I am. So, I reproduce it here:

“In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.”

That explicitly contradicts Bernstein’s naturalistic interpretation of Marxism: “ideological forms”, in short, cannot “be determined with the precision of natural science”.

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Considered in isolation, readers could oppose, that omission might be a gross oversight, but by itself is no conclusive proof of dishonesty: maybe Bernstein missed it. He could just have been careless.

But one doesn’t need to consider it in isolation. For one, because that’s not the first strategic omission Bernstein perpetrates (it isn’t the last either). For another because, in a stunningly boneheaded move, Bernstein admitted he did that intentionally.

Being such a well-known document, that “omission” would not have gone unnoticed (as the omission of the Circular Letter did). For once Bernstein was capable of anticipating an obvious objection; to pre-empt it he writes that that passage was “omitted here as immaterial” (rendered in Evolutionary as “omitted here as of secondary consideration”). His answer, however, makes things worse: he left it out intentionally; his excuse is that it was “immaterial” (Was Tudor showing a subtle sense of humour?)

Let’s be clear: He chose those 411 words, nobody forced him. He further reduced that to 210 words. A passage from the Preface he alternatively disqualified (“preliminary”) and praised contradicts his critique of historical materialism and that’s immaterial!? One must give Bernstein something: few could make that shit up.

He acknowledges the green passage is there and intentionally leaves it out? That passage, Bernstein alleges, was material only during “social revolutions”. Why? Beats me. For the second time I invite readers to re-read it. One is left to speculate that Bernstein is trying to shove down one’s throat his own deliberately deformed interpretation of historical materialism: ideological forms, Bernstein wants his readers to believe, fall out of the blue entire (or at least only become relevant) during social revolutions. Before that, in his rendition, there were no ideological forms: no laws, no political institutions, religions, art or philosophy.

But that’s not what’s written in that Preface.

Now, readers sympathetic to Bernstein may automatically discount my opinion, for I’m a Marxist. Pushed to justify that, they may claim I’m not giving him the goodwill, intelligence and cooperation he is entitled to. In other words, I’d be wrong to deny him what he was right to deny Marx, yes?

Well, rest easy, dear readers, because I can quote Schumpeter, a man who had little love for socialism and whose book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy featured in a previous post:

“It [Bernstein’s critique] would have been unbearable even if Bernstein had been incontestably right on every point, for creeds embodied in an organization cannot be reformed by means of holocausts. But he was not. He was an excellent man but he was not Marx’s intellectual peer. We have seen in Part I that he went too far in the matter of the economic interpretation of history which he can hardly have fully understood.” (p. 347)

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But there’s more. That’s not the only place in § b (in fact, in the same page 13 of Preconditions), where Bernstein shuts his eyes, covers his ears with his hands, and recites frantically “happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts” when something contradicts his straw man account of historical materialism.

I deliberately kept another example from the second “printout” above, to leave it as an exercise to the readers (Hint: Look for the two instances of the string “more slowly or more quickly”; “sooner or later” in Preconditions. Think now about what it means for Bernstein’s claim that Marxism makes precise predictions and how he deals with it).

There was a reason I said the man was no garden-variety liar, he was an inept liar. If the Preface didn’t suit his critique, he should have avoided it like the plague.

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Retaking the metaphor of Preconditions as criminal trial: with the rope firmly placed around his neck, Tom Robinson hasn’t yet been told what’s the crime his been accused of. As evidence of some kind of unspecified crime, Bernstein, the prosecutor, brings the Preface as written confession.

Marxism, Bernstein contends, promises precise predictions, much like those of physics.

The problem is, the Preface does not say that. The places where the Preface explicitly contradicts Bernstein’s intentional misinterpretation of historical materialism, he wants readers to ignore as immaterial!

In Bernstein’s scheme only one thing remains: to prove beyond reasonable doubt Marxism failed to deliver its promise. That’s what his empirical argument is meant to do. That much even ill-faith critics like Sidney Hook would be ready to accept.

Private Eye Attacks Facebook Group for People Suspended from Labour

Private Eye has published much excellent material, and over the past few days I’ve blogged about some of the material revealed in this fortnight’s issue. But the magazine does have a very pronounced anti-Corbyn bias, and does seem to have swallowed, and regurgitated all the bilge smearing Corbyn and his supporters in the other parts of the lamestream media. It does seem to take as fact that the smears that Momentum is full of abusive misogynists and anti-Semites, and that the Labour leader and his supporters are ‘hard Left’ and Trotskyites. They aren’t. Corbyn and Momentum really are just traditional Labour, standing for the old Social Democratic policy of a mixed economy, and strong and healthy NHS and welfare state. All of which is anathema to the Thatcherite right – the Blairites – who have tried to position themselves as moderates when in fact the truth is, they’re the extremists. They’re extreme right. And outside the Labour party this is also unwelcome to the Tories and the mainstream media and its bosses pushing for more privatisation and further policies to destroy the welfare state and push the working class further into poverty. Because they see it as good for business having a cowed workforce on poverty wages.

In this fortnight’s Eye, for 15th-28th June 2018 on page 10, the pseudonymous ‘Ratbiter’ has published an article attacking a Facebook group for those suspended from the Labour party, and the attempts of its members to make contact with officials close to Corbyn to obtain justice or redress. It accepts absolutely uncritically the charges against them. And the end of the article once again repeats the claim that those suspended for anti-Semitism are automatically guilty, with an example of an anti-Semitic post from one of those in the group.

But many of those suspended from the Labour party for anti-Semitism and other offences are anything but, as shown in the cases of people like Mike, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and very many others. As I’ve blogged about ad nauseam, ad infinitum. The article therefore needs to be carefully critiqued. It runs

Suspended Animation
Facebook has a secret and carefully vetted political group called Labour Party Compliance: Suspensions, Expulsions, Rejections Co-op. As the ungainly title suggests, it is a online hangout where Corbyn supporters facing disciplinary action for abuse, anti-Semitism and other loveable quirks can nurse their grievances in private. Or so they think.

Screenshots of the site obtained by the Eye show that the outcasts are not so far out in the cold they don’t have access to the highest levels of Corbyn’s Labour.

Take 17-year-old Zac Arnold, who has been suspended from the Forest of Dean Labour Party. He revealed he had “been given the email of someone called Thomas Gardiner by James Schneider at JC’s office, who said he would be a useful contact over my suspension”. He asked his fellow pariahs “what your thoughts are and if you know him”.

They certainly knew Schneider. “I have chatted with James,” said Caroline Tipler, the founder of the “Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us to Victory” Facebook group. “I def think it would be useful to make contact”. The best way to get back into the party would be to start by “making a tentative enquiry and gauge from the response whether to progress it from there”.

The “someone called Thomas Gardiner” to whom young Zac referred is a Labour councillor from Camden. When Corbyn assumed total control of the Labour machine in March by installing Jennie Formby, Len McCluskey’s former mistress, as Labour’s general secretary, Formby’s first act was to call in Gardiner.She sent John Stoliday, the head of Labour’s compliance unit, on gardening leave and put Gardiner in charge of overseeing complaints against members. So he is certainly a “useful” man to know for as any Corbyn supporter facing troublesome allegations – as indeed is Schneider, who works in the leader’s office alongside fellow Old Wykehamist Seumas Milne as Corbyn’s director of strategic communications.

Suspended members appear to think that, so long as they discuss their prejudices in private, they will be fine. Their Facebook group is splattered with posts painting Labour activists as victims of a Jewish conspiracy. “They will try to silence you,” reads one. “They will try to discredit you. Because you are not allowed to criticise Jewish politics.” But their own group suggests
that you are, as long as you aren’t caught and have friends in high places.

So what’s going on here? Well, first of all, the fact that Ratbiter claims to have had screenshots passed to him of the Facebook page shows that it’s not based on his research. It’s from an outside organisation. From the way this is about smearing Corbyn supporters as anti-Semites, it looks like it’s the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism or the Jewish Labour Movement up to their vile tricks again. The CAA’s modus operandi is simply to go back over people’s internet conversations in search of something vaguely anti-Semitic they can use, and then grossly distort it so that they can smear them. They did it to Mike, taking his comments out of context and grossly misreporting what he actually said. They did it to Jackie Walker and her conversation with two others on Facebook about the Jewish participation in the slave trade. Again, a serious issue, which reputable historians are discussing. Walker never said that Jews were responsible for the slave trade, or that they were exclusively in charge of it. She said that the ultimate responsibility lay with the Christian monarchs and states which employed them. There are, however, real anti-Semites, who claim that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade, and so the CAA smeared her, a practicing Jew with a Jewish partner, as an anti-Semite. Just like they’ve smeared Ken Livingstone, because he dared to talk about an embarrassing truth: that the Nazis did reach an agreement with the Zionists to send Jews to Israel, before they decided on the Final Solution. And then there was that entirely artificial controversy a month or so ago, where they smeared Corbyn himself as an anti-Semite, because of a post he made admiring a piece of street art showing bankers around a table resting on the bodies of black men. Only two of the bankers were Jewish, but nevertheless, the CAA and the Board of Deputies of British Jews frothed that it was ‘anti-Semitic’, trying to link it to all the vile theories about the Jewish banking conspiracy.

Unable to unseat Corbyn at the leadership elections, the Blairites and the Israel lobby have been trying to oust him gradually by suspending and smearing his supporters. As happened to Mike. The CAA’s vile article smearing him was passed on to the Labour party, who suspended him just as he was about to fight a council election as the Labour candidate in his part of mid-Wales. As Mike has blogged, he has appealed against his suspension, but was tried once again by another kangaroo court, very much like the one that decided that the veteran anti-racist campaigner, Marc Wadsworth, was an anti-Semite. The Labour party’s compliance unit is so determined to refuse justice to expelled or suspended members on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism, that there is now an organisation set up to fight them on this issue: Labour Against the Witch Hunt, one of whose organisers is the redoubtable Tony Greenstein. I think another is Walker herself. As for Wadsworth, he has gone on a triumphant tour defending himself up and down the country. His campaign was launched in London with Alexei Sayle. Sayle’s parents are Romanian Jews, who were card-carrying Communists, and Sayle himself was one of the leaders of the new, politically correct Alternative Comedy in the 1980s. He was very anti-racist, anti-sexist and pro-gay rights, as were the others that emerged at the same time. So he is very definitely not anti-Semitic.

Clearly, the movement to discredit the smear campaign against decent people unfairly libelled as anti-Semites is gaining ground, otherwise Ratbiter wouldn’t bother writing the article, and attacking and revealing the officials close to Corbyn, who may be prepared to give assistance to them.

Now let’s deal with their quotation that ‘you are not allowed to criticise Jewish politics’. Is this anti-Semitic? Or is simply a clumsy way of expressing a truth: that any criticism of Israel, or support for the Palestinians, will result in you being smeared and suspended. I strongly believe it’s the latter. And the issue of Israel has been deliberately confused with Jews by Israel and its satellite, Zionist organisations themselves. Netanyahu a few years ago declared that all Jews, everywhere, were citizens of Israel. Of course, it’s a risible statement. Many Jews don’t want to be citizens of Israel, a land with which they have no connection, and certainly not at the expense of the country’s real, indigenous inhabitants. Netanyahu and the other maniacs in his coalition don’t want all Jews to be citizens of their country either. Liberal or genuinely left-wing Jews, or Jews, who simply ask too many questions about the Palestinians and dare to think for themselves, rather than swallow Likudnik propaganda, aren’t let in. or if they’re there already, they get thrown out. As have dissident Israelis, like one historian now at Exeter University, Ilon Pappe, who was driven out of his homeland because he dared to describe and protest his nation’s long history of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians.

The organisations behind the smear campaign are Jewish organisations, or claim to be pro-Jewish, like the CAA and the Jewish Labour Movement, which was formerly Paole Zion, ‘Workers of Zion’. Now these organisations clearly don’t represent all Jews. They only represent those, who are fanatically and intolerantly pro-Israel. They also have gentile members, so it’s highly questionable just how ‘Jewish’ these Jewish organisations are. Those smeared by them include self-respecting and Torah-observant Jews, and they have subjected them to the kind of abuse, which would automatically be considered anti-Semitic if it came from a non-Jew. Indeed, many of the Jews smeared by them feel that there is a particular hatred of Jewish critics of Israel. Just like the founders of Zionism were absolutely dismissive of diaspora Jews.

Given this, it should be no surprise if a non-Jew, who has been smeared, becomes confused and says that you can’t criticise ‘Jewish politics’, meaning Israel. Because these Jewish organisations, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, insist that you can’t. And deliberately so, in order to make it easier to claim that all critics of Israel are anti-Semites.

This is a nasty, mischievous and deceitful article. It is designed to further isolate Corbyn by smearing his supporters and attacking the official close to him, who may be able help them. And it repeats the lie that all of those smeared are anti-Semites. It’s publication is a disgrace to Private Eye.

Mail Spikes Story about German Anti-Nazi Tennis Champ to Save Embarrassing Its Chiefs’ Grandfathers

This is another piece from Private Eye, which shows you once again how grotty the Daily Mail and its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday are, and their historic links with Fascism and anti-Semitism.

Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, resigned last week to start a new job elsewhere in the company. He was succeeded by Geordie Grieg, who was previously the editor of the Mail on Sunday. This fortnight’s Private Eye for 15th-28th June 2018 therefore carried a special, two-page article paying suitable tribute to him and his editorship of the rag, on pages 8 and 9. On page 9, in the section ‘Good Sports Finally Agree’, the Eye describes how both Dacre and Grieg spiked a story about a 1930s German tennis player, Baron Gottfried von Cramm. Von Cramm was an opponent of the Nazis, and was imprisoned by them for having a gay affair. The Mail was considering running a story about this courageous and principled man, up to the point when one of its staff noticed a few lines in the article describing how he had been banned from participating in the 1939 Wimbledon tournament by the All England Club. One of those pushing for the ban was Harold, the first Viscount Rothermere. And so to avoid embarrassing the current Viscount Rothermre, the piece was spiked.

The story was then picked up the Mail on Sunday, which was also considering publishing it, until a hack dug up another connection between events then and the MoS’ editor. It turns out that the president of the All-England Club at the time von Cramm was banned was one Louis Grieg, Geordie Grieg’s grandfather. Who was also a member of Oswald Mosley’s January Club. And so the story was spiked again. This sorry tale was revealed, according to the Eye, in the ‘Mandrake’ column of the New European.

The Mail is infamous for the backing it gave Oswald Mosley’s legions with the headline ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’. One of the great left-wing bloggers, I think it was Tom Pride at Pride’s Purge, a few years ago posted up the various headlines and articles the paper had run in the 1930s raving about Adolf Hitler, the Nazis, Mosley and fulminating against Jewish immigration. This was after the Mail did a hatchet piece on Ed Miliband, the then head of the Labour party, which attacked him through his father. The article was headlined ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’, and sought to portray Ralph Miliband, a Jewish Belgian immigrant and an important Marxist thinker, as someone who despised his adopted country. Well, he certainly despised its class institutions, like the public schools and monarchy, but as Tom Pride’s piece revealed, Miliband senior did his patriotic duty like millions of other people, and served in the army fighting the Nazis.

This was in sharp contrast to Dacre’s father or grandfather, I can’t remember which, who spent the war as a showbiz or society correspondent. So, more hypocrisy from the Mail. This won’t surprise anyone, as the Mail’s always been hypocritical in its nasty attitudes.

With all these murky little family secrets about their predecessors’ extreme right-wing views, the editors of the Mail and Mail on Sunday have got no business libelling anyone on the Left as anti-Semites or Holocaust Deniers.

Ursula Le Guin Referenced in Radio 3 Programme about Forests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/06/2018 - 5:17pm in

Next week, Saturday 16th June 2018 to Friday 22nd June, Radio 3 is broadcasting a series of programmes about forests, in folklore, history, anthropology, witchcraft, music and art. And next Tuesday’s edition of Free Thinking, 19th June 2018 at 10.00 pm discusses forests and the natural world in the work of the Fantasy and SF author Ursula K Le Guin. It takes as its title that of one of her SF novels, The Word for World Is Forest. The blurb for it on page 126 of the Radio Times reads

Humanity’s impact on the natural world is a theme running through the work of American novelist Ursula K. Le Guin. Matthew Sweet discusses Le Guin on forests with British academic and Green Party politician Rupert Read.

Hope Not Hate on Anti-Semitism, Homophobia and the Islamophobes Speaking in Support of Tommy Robinson

On Saturday the islamophobic far right held a march to protest against the arrest and jailing of Tommy Robinson, the founder of the EDL, and former member of the BNP and Pegida UK, for contempt of court. Robinson had been livestreaming his coverage of the trial of a group of Pakistani Muslim men accused of child abuse. There are very strict laws governing press coverage of trials, which Robinson broke, just as he had broken them a year or so before in Canterbury. This had earned him a suspended sentence, which automatically kicked in when he repeated the offence last week in Leeds. Robinson was arrested, convicted and jailed.

The laws Robinson broke are there to make sure that everyone gets a fair trial, and apply to all cases, not just those of Muslims accused of paedophilia. But Robinson’s supporters decided that he had been the victim of state censorship and imprisoned for his political beliefs by an establishment determined to protect paedophile Muslims and persecute Whites, hence the march. This was addressed by some of the most notorious islamophobes in Britain and the Netherlands.

Hope Not Hate have an article at their site identifying the speakers, and giving a brief description of their political careers and their very racist views on Islam and Muslims. They included the notorious anti-Islamic Dutch politician Gert Wilders; Anne-Marie Waters, who was formerly a Labour party member before joining Pegida with Tommy Robinson. In October last year, 2017, she launched another far right party, the For Britain Movement; Raheem Kassam, a former advisor to Nigel Farage and editor of Breitbart’s London branch. He’s also the direct of Student Rights, which claimed to be a campus monitoring group dedicated to combating extremism. In fact, it has no student members or links to student unions, though it is linked to the extreme rightwing American group, the Henry Jackson Society. It has also been criticised by several London student unions for targeting Muslim students, and the Institute of Race Relations also noted that its work was used by far right groups to target a Nuslim student event. He’s also the editor of another, Neoconservative news site, The Commentator.

And then there’s the extremely islamophobic UKIP MEP, Gerard Batten, who in 2011 addressed the Traditional Britain Group, the far right outfit that invited Jacob Rees-Mogg to their dinner. Mogg attended, but now claims he only did so because he didn’t really known what they were like. Which sounds very unlikely to me.

As well as vile views on Muslims, the article also describes the vicious hatred towards other groups of some of those associated with the speakers. Like Mandy Baldwin, a member of Waters’ For Britain Movement, who posted homophobic material from a Nazi website on a social media site. For Britain also includes several former members of the BNP and other Fascists, such as Sam Melia, who was a former member of the banned terrorist group, National Action. Another member, Stuart Nicholson, posted extremely anti-Semitic material on his Twitter account before it was withdrawn. In one of these, he retweeted a post that read “National Socialism is the alternative to degeneracy we currently face. It is a pathway to freedom and prosperity. It is an escape from Jewish Tyranny. It is the Future of our people.”

https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/2018/06/08/march-tommy-robinson-extreme-anti-muslim-activists-line-speak/

It’s probably no surprise that some of those, who joined the anti-Islam movement also have a bitter hatred of gays and Jews, and openly support Nazism. All the stuff Nazis write about ‘Jewish tyranny’ is a vile lie, responsible for justifying the Holocaust under the Nazis. And Nazism never brought freedom and prosperity. For the German working class, is meant low wages and complete subordination of the workforce to the bosses as part of Hitler’s Fuhrerprinzip, or Leader Principle. Just as it meant the absolute political, social and economic dominance of the Nazi party and the proscription of all competing parties and organisations, whose members were rounded up and sent to the concentration camps.

I don’t doubt that not all members of the anti-Islam movement have views as extreme as these. But it does seem to show that if these people have their way and ban Islam and persecute or expel Muslims, sooner or later they will move on to attack other groups. Like gays and Jews.

Far Right Watch Explain Why Tommy Robinson Is Not a Martyr for Free Speech

Last month, Tommy Robinson, or to give him his real name, Steven Yaxley Lennon, was arrested and jailed for contempt of court. Robinson is the former leader of the Islamophobic EDL, and has also been a member of PEGIDA UK, as well as the BNP. He’d been covering the trial of a group of Pakistani Muslims in Leeds on the internet outside the court. Robinson already had a suspended sentence for doing the same thing about a year ago in Canterbury. The rozzers swooped, Robinson pleaded guilty, and is now enjoying a holiday at her majesty’s pleasure.

His supporters have gone berserk, claiming that he’s been persecuted for his beliefs and that this is a serious breach of free speech by the multicultural establishment to protect Muslims. They’ve also been on the internet claiming that this is all part of the establishment’s campaign to make Whites extinct through immigration and racial mixing. The Islamophobic Dutch politician, Gert Wilders, who is himself no stranger to prosecution for racism, has condemned Robinson’s arrest and imprisonment. As has Pauline Hanson, the head of the minuscule Australian anti-immigration party, the One Nation Party. Hanson runs a fish and chip shop in Western Australia, and she’s made herself president for life of her outfit, so there are definitely no overtones of Fascist dictatorship there.

Last Sunday, 4th June 2018, Robinson’s supporters held a rally in London demanding his release. This has alarmed anti-racist activists and organisations. Hope Not Hate have released a video telling the truth about Robinson and what he really stands for and why he was jailed. As have Kevin Logan, the male feminist and anti-Fascist, and Far Right Watch. RT also covered the demonstration, and their short clip shows some of Robinson’s supporters trying fighting or attempting to fight the police.

Far Right Watch are an unpaid, volunteer group of nine people dedicated to exposing Fascism and the Far Right on the internet. In this video, which is about 28 minutes long, they answer five questions about Robinson and bust seven myths about him.

They start out by making the point that Robinson is a racist, and has been a member of a series of racist organisations, including the BNP. He’s also a criminal, having been convicted 12 times of various offences, including fraud. They go into great detail, including citing the official court document explaining to Robinson why he is being jailed, showing that his arrest is certainly not political censorship but was done as part of the ordinary legislation designed to give defendants a fair trial.

They point out that under English law since the 13th century, a person is innocent until proven guilty. This is unique to English law and the legal systems that are derived from it, and it’s a cornerstone of British justice. Robinson broke that in his coverage of the case, because his commentary on the trial assumed that the men being tried were guilty.

This is serious because it threatened to prejudice their trial, meaning that if the judge considered that the accused couldn’t get a fair trial because of Robinson, the trial would be abandoned or the accused acquitted. And if the accused were guilty of the heinous crimes with which they were charged, it would be a serious miscarriage of justice. Hence the mass of legislation surrounding the reporting of criminal cases which bind real journalists.

Robinson also violated accepted journalistic procedures by broadcasting live. When the professional broadcasters cover cases from outside a courthouse, it’s always recorded, and the report is then examined by legal experts to make sure that it complies with the law. Robinson did not none of that. He had no control over what was occurring, and was simply filming events as they happened. Furthermore, there were other people also coming to court for their trials, and his cavalier contempt for the law could have placed their cases in jeopardy.

His followers have also claimed that Robinson was all right to present his commentary on the case, as it was over. This video reveals that it wasn’t. The case Robinson was covering was only one of a number of trial, which were ongoing. They have also claimed that the ruling of contempt of court doesn’t apply to him, because he was outside the courtroom. That isn’t the case. The documents state that Robinson was still subject to the laws about contempt of court because he was still in the precincts of the court. Mike, who is a professional journalist, and who knows the law, told me that the precincts of the court are wherever the judge decides they are. So that excuse for him doesn’t hold up.

As for Robinson’s swift arrest, it’s so fast because he was given a 13 month suspended sentence for doing the same thing in Canterbury last year, which he didn’t contest. This sentence would immediately have started the moment Robinson broke the law again, regardless of any additional sentence he would be given for this offence. And while the speed of his arrest is unusual, it’s not unknown. Plus the fact that Robinson actually pleaded guilty to contempt when he was tried for it, so there’s absolutely no reason for the whole process to be prolonged with a lengthy trial and prosecution.

The video also makes the point that Robinson’s own interest in the trial was cynically racist. He wasn’t interested so much in the welfare of the children these people are accused of violating and exploiting. He was only interested in it as a way of generating further hatred against Muslims. He hadn’t covered a string of similar trials up and down England and Wales, for the simple reason that the paedophile gangs being tried in these cases were all White. Just like he also wasn’t interested in talking about Jimmy Savile or the allegations against the former Tory leader, Edward Heath.

As for Wilders and Pauline ‘President for Life’ Hanson fulminating against his arrest and sentencing as a travesty of British justice, or words to that effect, the same laws against contempt of court are in force everywhere, including the Netherlands and Australia. So if Robinson had broken the law in those countries, as he has here, he’d still have been jailed.

In short, Robinson is in no way a martyr for free speech, as the document outlining the reasons why he has been jailed states very clearly. This wasn’t about politics. It was about justice, giving the accused a fair trial, under laws which go all the way back to the Middle Ages. It was definitely not about protecting Muslim paedophiles, or the elites advancing the cause of ‘White genocide’ or any of the stupid and vile conspiracy theories that the Far Right may choose to believe or make up about it. And Robinson himself is hardly a high-minded, principled political activist. He’s a convicted criminal and a racist, who knowingly violated the law in order to generate more anti-Muslim hatred.

Israel Based Journo Shows How Censorship of Steve Bell Cartoon Plays into Hands of Real Anti-Semites

Last week the editor of the Groaniad, Kath Viner, spiked a cartoon by the paper’s Steve Bell for supposed anti-Semitism. The cartoon commented on the complete indifference to the murder of 21 year old Palestinian medic, Razan al-Najjar by the IDF shown by Netanyahu and Tweezer. Bell depicted the two having a cosy chat by the fire, in which al-Najjar was burning. This was too much for Viner, who immediately did what the Israel lobby always does whenever the country is criticised for its brutal treatment of the Palestinians: she immediately accused the critic of anti-Semitism. The cartoon was anti-Semitic, apparently, because al-Najjar’s place in the fire was supposedly a reference to the Holocaust and the murder of the Jews in the Nazi gas ovens. Despite the fact that Bell denied that there was any such intention in his work, or indeed, any overt references to the Holocaust at all.

Bell was naturally outraged, and issued a strong denial. I’ve blogged about this issue, as has Mike, and Bell’s denial was also covered by that notorious pro-Putin propaganda channel, RT. And an Israel-based journalist, Jonathan Cook, has also come down solidly on Bell’s side and against censorship.

Mike posted a piece reporting and commenting on Mr Cook’s view and analysis of the case on Saturday. Cook is a former Guardian journalist, who now lives in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority. Cook praised Bell’s cartoon because of the way it held power to account, and indicted the powerful and their calculations at the expense of the powerless. He stated

In other words, it represents all that is best about political cartoons, or what might be termed graphic journalism. It holds power – and us – to account.

He then went on to describe how, by siding with Israel over the cartoon, the Guardian was siding with the powerful against the powerless; with a nuclear-armed state against its stateless minority. He then goes on to make the point that when criticism of Israel is silenced, the country benefits from a kind of reverse anti-Semitism, or philo-Semitism, which turns Israel into a special case. He writes

When a standard caricature of Netanyahu – far less crude than the caricatures of British and American leaders like Blair and Trump – is denounced as anti-Semitic, we are likely to infer that Israeli leaders expect and receive preferential treatment. When showing Netanyahu steeped in blood – as so many other world leaders have been – is savaged as a blood libel, we are likely to conclude that Israeli war crimes are uniquely sanctioned. When Netanyahu cannot be shown holding a missile, we may assume that Israel has dispensation to bombard Gaza, whatever the toll on civilians.

And when we see the furore created over a cartoon like Bell’s, we can only surmise that other, less established cartoonists will draw the appropriate conclusion: keep away from criticising Israel because it will harm your personal and professional reputation.

He then makes the point that doing so plays into the hands of real anti-Semites, and generates more:

When we fail to hold Israel to account; when we concede to Israel, a nuclear-armed garrison state, the sensitivities of a Holocaust victim; when we so mistake moral priorities that we elevate the rights of a state over the rights of the Palestinians it victimises, we not only fuel the prejudices of the anti-Semite but we make his arguments appealing to others. We do not help to stamp out anti-Semitism, we encourage it to spread. That is why Viner and the Guardian have transgressed not just against Bell, and against the art of political cartoons, and against justice for the Palestinians, but also against Jews and their long-term safety.

Mike goes on to make the point that we need to be more critical about the raving paranoiacs, who see anti-Semitism in Steve Bell’s cartoon, and also in Gerald Scarfe’s depiction of Netanyahu building his anti-Palestinian wall using the blood and bodies of the Palestinians themselves. This was attacked by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, as ‘anti-Semitic’, who claimed that it was a reference to the Blood Libel. It wasn’t, but the I apologised anyway. Mike goes on to say that there is no such thing as an unintentional anti-Semite, but authorial intentions are routinely ignored in these cases.

He then goes to state very clearly that as the authorial intentions of these cartoons weren’t anti-Semitic, Viner was wrong about Bell’s cartoon. Just as the Sunset Times, as Private Eye dubbed the rag, was wrong about Scarfe and Mike himself, as was the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. And so are the people, who’ve accused Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and so many others of anti-Semitism. And in the meantime, Netanyahu gets away with mass murder.

Mike concludes

But Mr Cook is right – these attitudes only fuel real anti-Semitism among those who draw the only logical conclusion about what’s going on in the media, which is that the Establishment is protecting the Israeli government against censure for its crimes.

It suggests to me that all those involved in this charade have been creating problems that will come back to harm all of us in the future.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/09/israel-based-journo-shows-how-guardian-editor-helped-anti-semites-by-censoring-steve-bell/

Now part of the problem here could be certain developments in anti-racism and postmodernist literary theory. For example, some anti-racist activists have argued that there is such a thing as unconscious racism, and have used it to accuse people and material they have seen as spreading or legitimising racism, but without any conscious intent to do so.

In postmodernist literary theory, the author’s intent is irrelevant. In the words of one French postmodernist literary theorist, ‘all that exists is the text’. And one person’s interpretation of the text is as good as another’s.

Hence, those arguing that the above cartoons are anti-Semitic, could do so citing these ideas above.

Now there clearly is something to unconscious racism. If you look back at some of the discussions and depictions of racial issues in 1970s popular culture, they are often horrendously racist by today’s standards. But they weren’t seen as such then, and I dare say many of those responsible for some of them genuinely didn’t believe they were being racist, nor intended to do so. And unconscious racism is irrelevant in this case too. The accusers have not argued that these cartoons are unconsciously racist. They’ve simply declared that they are, without any kind of qualification. Which implies that their authors must be deliberately anti-Semitic, which is a gross slur.

As for postmodernist literary theory, the accusers haven’t cited that either. And if they did, it could also easily be turned against them. If there are no privileged readings of a particular text, then the view of someone, who thought Bell’s cartoon was anti-Semitic, is no more valid than the person, who didn’t. Which cuts the ground out from such accusations. That argument doesn’t stand up either, though here again, the people making the accusations of anti-Semitism haven’t used it.

Nevertheless, their arguments about the anti-Semitic content of these cartoons and the strained parallels they find with the Holocaust, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, are very reminiscent of the postmodernist texts the American mathematician Sokal, and the Belgian philosopher Bricmont, used to demolish the intellectual pretensions of postmodernism in their 1990s book, Intellectual Impostures. One of the texts they cited was by a French feminist arguing that women were being prevented from taking up careers in science. It’s a fair point, albeit still controversial amongst some people on the right. However, part of her evidence for this didn’t come from studies showing that girls start off with a strong interest in science like boys, only to have it crushed out of them later in their schooling. No! This strange individual based part of her argument on the medieval coat of arms for Brussels, which shows frogs in a marsh. Which somehow represents the feminine. Or at least, it did to her. For most of us, the depiction of frogs in a marsh in the coat of arms for Brussels is a depiction of precisely that: frogs in a marsh. Because, I have no doubt, the land Brussels was founded on was marshy.

But Cook and Mike are right about these accusations, and the favouritism shown to Israel, playing into the hands of anti-Semites.

The storm troopers of the right are very fond of a quote from Voltaire: ‘If you want to know who rules over you, ask who it is you can’t criticise’. Or words to that effect. Depending on whether the person using the quote is an anti-Semite or an Islamophobe, the answer they’ll give will be ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Muslims’.

Of course, their choice of the French Enlightenment philosopher is more than somewhat hypocritical. Voltaire hated intolerance, and in the early stages before it became aggressively anti-religious, the French Revolution stood for religious toleration. A set of playing cards made to celebrate it showed on one card the Bible with the Talmud, the Jewish holy book containing extra-Biblical lore and guidance, and the Qu’ran.

But by ruling that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, the Israel lobby very much appears to show – entirely falsely – that the anti-Semites are right, and that the Jews really are in control of the rest of us. It gives an utterly false, specious confirmation of the very conspiracy theories they claim to have found in the works of the people they denounce. The same conspiracy theories they claim to oppose, and which have been responsible for the horrific suffering of millions of innocent Jews.

It’s high time this was stopped, and accusations of anti-Semitism treated with the same impartial judgement as other claims of bias or racism. And false accusations should be firmly rejected as a slur, and apologies and restitution demanded from the libellers.

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