SWP backs down, and then indulges in disgusting anti-democratic display

Jon Pike, Chair of Engage and elected UCU National Executive Member blogs from UCU Congress at Bournmouth

The UCU Congress starts today at Bournemouth. The boycott debate takes place this afternoon.  As usual, a lot of the shenanigans go on behind the scenes, and this year is no exception. On the plus side, the SWP/UCULeft have staged a partial climb down from their pro-boycott resolution.  They’ve watered down the motion so that instead of endorsing the ‘Palestinian call for a boycott’, the boycott should simply be discussed in the branches. Again.  There’s a recognition that an academic boycott is illegal.

This is of course the familiar annual strategic climb down by the SWP.

But at the same time, the SWP can’t resist its anti-democratic instincts.  Through UCULeft, they have a majority on the Conference Business Committee – the committee that determines what gets on to the order paper.  And at yesterday’s meeting CBC ruled out an amendment from the Open University.  It is, apparently, a ‘wrecking amendment’.

What did this dodgy amendment say?  How was it improper? Was it late, or discriminatory, or illegal, or in conflict with the UCU’s constitution?  No, motions like that sail through on to the agenda.

No.  It called for a ballot of the members before any boycott is introduced.

Direct democracy is anathema to the SWP.  Even discussing a ballot is so dangerous, that it needs to be ruled out by bureaucratic means.

Individual UCULeft supporters should be ashamed of themselves.  Some are.  What price now their claims to favour a ‘democratic, member-led’ union?

There is a chance that conference will overturn the report of CBC this morning.  It will certainly be challenged by the president of the Open University branch.  But it’s unlikely, since the SWP more or less control Congress.

This leaves them free to indulge in – let’s be blunt – a disgusting display of their contempt for the views of the membership of the union.

The SWP/UCULeft is a profoundly anti-democratic force in the labour movement. Large numbers of UCU members have contempt for them.  Which is, somehow, kind of appropriate.

Jon Pike, elected member UCU NEC

The Militant: boycott and divestment a cover for antisemitism

The Militant is a socialist periodical connected to the US SWP and based in New York. This week you can read a piece by Paul Pederson reflecting on the boycott campaigning around Israel Apartheid Week, and the sacking of Starbucks in London. Dreaming of Israel subsumed into a “democratic, secular Palestine in which both Palestinians and Jews can live without state-supported religious restrictions”, he rejects boycott and divestment outright because they empower Palestinian groups whose values are antithetical to those of socialism, and because they are welcomed by workers’ class enemies as a diversion:

“Starbucks, whose owner is Jewish, has become a target of this campaign internationally. On January 10 some 200 protesters looted a Starbucks coffee shop near the Israeli embassy in London and attacked a number of businesses in the area. One proud participant posted a video of the looting on YouTube under the header “How to really boycott Israeli products.”

Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism, a centuries old form of racism, has been used by ruling classes throughout history when their system faced a crisis. Modern anti-Semitism often comes draped in an anticapitalist and even socialist cloak. The real exploiters—the billionaire ruling families, whose great majority is non-Jewish—are replaced by a racist conspiracy that paints the Jews as the source of society’s problems.”


“Support for the anti-Israel boycott effort among radicals – like the members of the Workers World Party and the ISO – often goes along with increasingly open support for Hamas. As ISO leader D’Amelio said of Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political bureau leader in Damascus, “There is little in what he says that I disagree with.”

The Hamas covenant, written in 1988, outlines the aims of that organization.

Speaking of the Jewish people, the document states, “With their money, they took control of the world media… . [T]hey stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution… . With their money they formed secret societies… . They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources.”

Fatah likewise has renounced its former revolutionary democratic demand for a democratic, secular Palestine. Its leadership reflects the wealthy layer of Palestinians increasingly seeking an accommodation with imperialism and with Tel Aviv.

In the absence of any revolutionary perspective, campaigns such as the anti-Israel boycott can appear to be a radical substitute. But, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, the “anti-Israel” character of these campaigns is simply a modern form of Jew-hatred. All who genuinely support the battle for Palestinian national rights must oppose it.”

Pederson sets out solidly socialist reasons not to boycott Israel.

But for ISO leader Lichi D’Amelio, the piece is an affront. She responds in the Socialist Worker, casting aspersion on Pederson’s socialist credentials and asking “whose side is he on”. She refers to her movement in revealingly self-centred terms as “perhaps the most exciting and positive development pro-Palestine activists have seen in a long time”. She also correctly refers to support for the boycott as a “no-brainer”, justifying it only with reference to other boycott examples, spurious authority figures and their decades-old writing. She is tolerant of Hamas’ antisemitic Charter, as charged by Pederson. There is no political vision in her self-defence – or rather it is a vision for, as an end in itself, bonding the workers of the world with Israel as the pretext:

“a movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel can play such an important role. It can help to build international working class solidarity–which we caught a glimpse of, thanks to the brave dockworkers in Durban.

How’s that for “charting a revolutionary course forward”?”

In other words, uniting against a scapegoat. Pederson was right.

For most others, it’s clear that that BDS is part of a movement to force the dismantlement of the state of Israel through total isolation and exclusion and that (unless you favour simply swapping an occupation for an all-out conflict) this is a moribund strategy. It’s significant that the pro-SWP organ has given Pederson a voice – it suggests that the antisemitism of the Palestine solidarity campaign has reached levels impossible for the SWP to ignore, and that it continues to finds antisemitism unhelpful to its movement.

Why we must reclaim antiracism from the far left – David T

David T

David T

This piece, by David T, is on Comment is Free.

Unite Against Fascism is the UK’s leading campaign against the far right, yet its record on opposing antisemitism is dismal

On January 27, Rowan Laxton, a senior British diplomat who is the deputy head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s South Asia group, was watching the news from Gaza, while exercising in his gym. In
the words of the Daily Mail, the diplomat is reported to have “launched a foul-mouthed antisemitic tirade” during the course of which he cursed the “fucking Jews”. Laxton is reported to have refused to quieten down when approached by fellow gym users. He was ultimately arrested by the police for a public order offence.

The day that Rowan Laxton was arrested was Holocaust Memorial Day. This country’s largest anti-racist organisation, Unite Against Fascism commemorated that event by encouraging people to light candles. It had nothing to say, in the following weeks, about the “fucking Jews” allegation against Laxton. Neither was the story reported in the Guardian, on the BBC website, or the Independent; although the centre-right Telegraph and Times had it.

I have to admit, I was initially slightly surprised to see how little concern on the antiracist left the spectacle of a senior British diplomat, arrested for a “fucking Jews” rant, had engendered. While it is important to note that Laxton denies making any antisemitic remark, it isn’t as if antiracist organisations normally shy away from responding to complaints about public servants. For example, on the day following the publication of the story, Unite Against Fascism managed to organise a rally against a teacher who was a British National party member. But then, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The last couple of months has seen the worst year on record for antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom. Yet Unite Against Fascism has had nothing to say about that, either.

The problem, I think, is this. Although opposition to racism is now an article of faith for all mainstream political parties, the left has been the driving force in those organisations that set the antiracist agenda. There is a part of the left that is very comfortable condemning historical racism against Jews, at the hands of Nazis, back in the 1940s. It is, however, ambivalent when it comes to contemporary antisemitism: particularly when it can be “contextualised” within the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Frankly, the part of the left that runs Unite Against Fascism is not up to fighting contemporary antisemitism. Its joint secretaryship is shared by a member of the central committee of the Socialist Workers party, and by a member of the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR), which is strongly supported by Socialist Action. Both these political groups have a history of overlooking antisemitism.

For years, the Socialist Workers party promoted and toured the self-described “ex-JewGilad Atzmon. When SWP supporter and Childrens’ Laureate Michael Rosen criticised the party for giving a platform to a performer who, he argued, voiced racist and antisemitic ideas, he was slapped down by central committee member Lindsey German and others. Socialist Action activists led the charge, with Ken Livingstone, to defend the Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, after the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell had outed him as an inciter of terrorism, antisemitism and homophobia.

In January 2009, Qaradawi gave a sermon televised by Al-Jazeera in which, as the Times reported, he expressed the hope that the “believers” would one day inflict upon the Jews a “divine punishment“, akin to Hitler’s Holocaust. According to the Muslim Council of Britain, Qaradawi is a “renowned Islamic scholar” who “enjoys unparalleled respect and influence throughout the Muslim world”. Although the chairman of a House of Commons select committee has protested about Qaradawi’s remarks, I am not aware of any UK antiracist organisation having condemned them. Indeed, I have found no occasion on which Unite Against Fascism has spoken out against the genocidal antisemitism that is prevalent in Islamist political rhetoric. Apparently, they just don’t see it as a problem.

The bottom line is this. Neither Socialist Action nor the Socialist Workers party will oppose racism against Jews, and other forms of bigotry, if they find it politically inconvenient to do so. Indeed, in 2006 and 2008, the Unite Against Fascism national conference featured Dr Daud Abdullah, the assistant secretary general Muslim Council of Britain. Yet Abdullah was the prime mover behind the MCB’s disgraceful boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day. You might remember that the MCB’s original justification for the boycott was that Holocaust Memorial Day “includes the controversial question of alleged Armenian genocide as well as the so-called gay genocide”. This year, the MCB was back to boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day. Nevertheless, this did not disqualify its secretary general, Muhammad Abdul Bari, from being invited as a guest of honour to Unite Against Fascism’s national conference in 2009.

Unite Against Fascism’s weakness on antisemitism is both shocking and shameful. This is not, unfortunately, a story about goings-on in two marginal far left cults. Unite Against Fascism is the leading campaign against racism in the United Kingdom. It is supported by parliamentarians from all the major political parties, and by every significant trade union. It is Unite Against Fascism that sets the tone of the debate when it comes to opposing racism. They call the demonstrations and organise the conferences. It is to Unite Against Fascism that the national press turns, when racism rears its head.

Yet, the best that Unite Against Fascism can do, in these dark times, is to mumble about how awful the Holocaust was. What this means is that there is no broad-based campaign in this country to defend Jews from contemporary antisemitism.

This state of affairs is, quite frankly, terrifying. As others are warning here, there is every reason to believe that the defining themes of the present economic downturn will be xenophobic, anti-immigrant and racist politics. As conspiracy theories depicting Jews as controllers of the financial markets proliferate, antisemitism will undoubtedly also be part of that mix. Support for fascist parties tends to grow during crises, and we need a strong defence against that politics, with solidarity between and support from all parts of British society. However, with its sectarianism, silence on antisemitism and blindness to Islamist Jew-hatred, Unite Against Fascism just isn’t up to the job.

We badly need a new campaign against racism and fascism, run properly by those at the political centre. The first step towards remedying this situation, is for the political mainstream to reclaim antiracist politics from the extreme left.

But does anyone have stomach for the fight?

This piece, by David T, is on Comment is Free.

Open letter to the editor of the Guardian from Workers’ Liberty

workers libertyDear Alan Rusbridger,

The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.

On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).

Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue….

Read the rest here, on the Workers’ Liberty website.

Socialist Worker Party

swp1On themselves, if only for a moment: “…SWP members are simply inadequate to the task of building a revolutionary party: we are a collection of eccentrics, dilettantes, malcontents and middle-class do-gooders, incapable of relating to workers and the oppressed, and consequently without roots in the class or local communities.” Here.

On the Holocaust: “…thousands of LGBT people, trade unionists and disabled people were slaughtered…” Any Jews, at all? Here.

On antiracist Jews and antisemites: “…an illiterate, conservative, superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).” Here.

Jon Pike on the SWP in the UCU: “Take away the substance – and what you’ve got is a typical fake-left union bureaucrat, making demagogic speeches to the zealots at the seaside, then quietly burying an unworkable policy in the autumn. Only this time the fake left bureaucrat is Tom Hickey, a leading member of the SWP.” Here.

SWP pulled the plug on the boycotters last year too: “And, as if by magic, a couple of days after Callinicos had announced the Central Committee’s change of line in Socialist Worker, the boycott campaign finally and spectacularly collapsed, following the UCU lawyers reporting that the campaign would violate equal opportunities law. The union’s Strategy and Finance Committee voted unanimously to end the union’s flirtation with the boycott, and Tom Hickey, a member of that committee, was mysteriously absent and so did not vote.” Here.

SWP whitewash Gilad Atzmon: “As the organisers of the Cultures of Resistance event we were disappointed to see Michael Rosen claiming that Gilad Atzmon is an antisemite and should therefore not have been invited to perform…” Here.

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