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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top posts of 2015

Inspired by my mate Bob From Brockley, here are my top posts from this year (or rather half year, as I only restarted blogging at the end of June).

Most of my writing or reblogging concerns Ukraine and Russia, such as my last reblog of Ukrainian leftie opinion on the, now banned, Ukrainian Communist Party, and only gets a few hundred views. This doesn't bother me as, for me, the point is to get stories from Russia and Ukraine more widely known, and I can see from retweets and other sources that those less well covered stories, such as about the left in those countries, do get an wider circulation via this blog. So is all good!

To answer a question I've been asked several times - why Ukraine? Well, I got inspired by the 'Revolution of Dignity', as it is now known, when it started in late 2013. Thanks to the internet it could be watched practically live. The participants I followed were not the 'fascists' that Russian war propaganda and its Western idiots have since tried to paint them as. Most of them were like the journalist Maxim Eristavi, who I covered last month: ordinary people horrified by the state's violent response to the protest of real grievances, in particular the theft of state resources on an almost unparalleled scale. Simply put, I found them inspirational and still do.
  1. Corbyn and Ukraine: it's not pretty
    By August it had become clear that the issue of a war in Europe was not on the agenda of the Labour Party leadership campaign. Since no one was doing it I thought I must step up and explain what the leading candidates views actually were. This hit a nerve. Abuse followed but still no one has actually responded to the points in the piece. And now Corbyn's views are much more widely understood. (Also, most of the information in it was rehashed by other, well known but shall be nameless, writers.)

  2. New Muslim LGBT heroes
    This was the first post from when I restarted blogging - and it went viral. It concerns the Turkish MPs who put their bodies on the line to protect Istanbul's Gay Pride march from attack by police, a story which wasn't getting any coverage. Also ran on PinkNews.

  3. Deselect Stop The War Coalition
    Prompted by the defence of Stop The War by the actual Labour Party earlier this month, this uses socialist arguments to say that they're beyond the pale and should be dropped by the left.
  4. The fascists in Russia's hybrid army
    Another 'untold story', that of the bonafide fascists in positions of power in Ukraine's eastern 'People's Republics'. Was reblogged by EuroMaidan Press and ... translated into German!

  5. Have Stop The War Coalition finally jumped the shark?
    The exclusion of Syrians by STWC - detailed. This post led to some uncomfortable questions directed at Diane Abbott on TV.

  6. Corbyn is wrong says Ukrainian human rights legend
    A reblog of Halya Coynash's assault on Corbyn's pretense of a 'human rights' stance, focused on Crimea. Got picked up by The Times.
  7. Brown's right, Corbyn will 'ally' with Putin
    Gordon Brown was widely criticised for saying this, but it's true, as I explain in this post illustrated with fluffy ducklings for a reason.

  8. The left's Russia naivete
    How and why Russia influences Western public opinion, based around a reblog of the American counter-intelligence expert John Schindler.

  9. Corbyn's election means Ukraine's stuffed
    Written just before he was elected, a pan of the conduct of the leadership campaign, especially by the media. With a prediction that turned out worse than predicted.

  10. Donbas can starve say 'rebel' leaders 
    How these 'anti-fascists' put ideology before the lives they control. More to come on this subject.

  11. World awaits Greenwald/STWCUk apology: 'We woz wrong', for example 
    Worst. Headline. Ever. Prompted by the ignored peace deal in Mali, a country all the usual suspects said should not be supported when they were invaded by Islamists. Even if the people there were pleading for support, cos 'West = always bad'.

  12. The night Stalin tried to destroy the Belarussian nation
    Reblog of Paul Goble's piece on the anniversary of this episode from history, a good example of how one retweet can lead to something reaching a new and much wider audience. 

  13. 40% young Russia: We’ll beat America in nuclear war
    This crosspost from Little Green Footballs, the US website where I also post, digs out the buried lede from a BBC Monitoring story by the great Stephen Ellis.

  14. Frankie Boyle and the Aborigines
    In which I take some casually offensive comments from Boyle's election show and run and run with it.

  15. Back brave LGBT comrades in Ukraine
    My argument that "LGBT must not be sacrificed in the name of solidarity with Ukraine or in the name of national solidarity." Includes demonstration report from Ukrainian LGBT group Insight. 
Thanks for permissions to reuse content this year from Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Ukraine Solidarity CampaignLeftEast, John Schindler, People and Nature (Gabriel Levy), Window On Eurasia and openDemocracy.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

On Ukraine's UKIP-like Communist Party

KPU behind a Russian far-right banner of Tsarist ‘heroes’ on an anti-Maidan protest in Odessa in 2014

Reblogged with permission from Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. Introduction by
Christopher Ford.


On 16th December 2015, the District Administrative Court of Kyiv agreed to the request of the Minister of Justice to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) from being able to officially operate or participate in elections. The move has been condemned by Amnesty International and the ‘Law on the Condemnation of the Communist and Nazi Regimes and Prohibition of Propaganda of their Symbols’, which preceded the judgement has itself been condemned by European constitutional law experts from the Council of Europe, who say that it does not meet European standards. The much respected Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has also questioned the actions against KPU.

Ukraine Solidarity Campaign asked a number of Ukrainian socialists and trade unionists their views on the ban.  As can be seen below there are strongly divided opinions as regards the judgement and its consequences.  One reason for this is not only the bitter legacy of Stalinism but the cynical role of the KPU in the corrupt politics of Ukraine dominated by rival oligarchs. 

The politics of KPU are largely unknown in the West and easily considered as similar to the Communist Party of Britain or France.  However the nearest equivalent would be if the CPB were allied to the Tories and had views similar to UKIP.  The KPU leader Petro Symonenko was notorious for living in a mansion in Kyiv on land worth $1.5 million, whilst multi-millionaire Oksana Kaletnik was a member of the KPU group in the Parliament. 

A good example of the KPU's conservative and chauvinist opinions is an article published in Party journal Kommunist comparing the Maidan rebellion to Black ghettos in the USA entitled  “white on the outside, black on the inside”:

Huge piles of garbage, all kinds of infections and diseases previously unknown to medicine, is a feature of life on these reservations. Their inhabitants do not work anywhere and only receive money because they wander aimlessly in the streets. They motivate their refusal to work by the fact that they are no longer slaves. Over there, in America, there are graffiti of Martin Luther King. Here at home, the portraits of Tymoshenko and Bandera. Here and there, they are dressed in what kindly souls have given them. Here, as on the other side of the ocean, this mess has the charming name of ‘democracy.’ But in this case we no longer have democracy. At least in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco the police sometimes make raids on such places and simply kill a few rabid Negroes. (…) Even the dark-skinned vendors in Kyiv second hand shops seem a bit more civilized than our ‘light-skinned brothers’ from the western regions of the country, who have gathered on the Maidan. ‘White’ on the outside, but ‘black’ on the inside.  (M. Kuzmienko, ‘Bielye’ snaruzhi, ‘chornye’ vnutri’, Kommunist, 17 January, 2014).

It is difficult to imagine such an article appearing in the Morning Star for example, though it would certainly help our movement understand the complexities of Ukraine if it did publish what the KPU have actually been saying and doing.  Nevertheless whilst standing up for democratic rights in Ukraine we have a duty to understand the complexities of politics in a country scarred by the bloody years of Stalinism.

The comrades below were all asked about the recent court judgement and what this means for democratic rights in Ukraine? Is it a danger for working class organisation? What is the nature of the politics of the KPU? What does this mean for Ukrainian left organisations?

Vitaliy Dudin is part of the Organising Committee of the new left party ‘Social Movement’; he is also a leading trade union lawyer.

I think it is a shame for Ukraine. Our state does not have any reason to ban any ideological party. They should protect society against extremists. KPU are not extremists’, but the armed nationalists are (Right Sector, Svoboda, c14).  Our state shows that it cannot guarantee the key democratic right – the protection of the minority.

We do not have any strong political left organisations’, that is why this precedent cannot be of any harm for them.  I don’t know any real trade union or left organisation which collaborated with KPU so I do not see any danger for anyone else.  But we should understand that this can provoke a new wave of conflict inside Ukraine.  The struggle around history it is a good background for neo-liberal reforms.

KPU line is no more radical then the Oppositional bloc. Plus they are homophobes like Svoboda [A far-right Party]. But even in this case they can be called an opposition.

The neo-liberal establishment has defeated all of its enemies – both real and virtual. Now we should show that it cannot save Ukraine from crisis.  We will continue to build a real revolutionary party despite any reactionary steps of the authorities.

I hope that KPU will continue to work in the conservative format of the ‘New State’ name  – that is the rebranding of the KPU which the Party used for the last local elections in Ukraine.   It seems very clear then that that their propaganda was rather conservative (homophobic) but not leftist.  It is not a reformist left party – it is closer to a mix of social populism and pro-Russian conservatism.

Artem Klymenko is a socialist activist in Poltava, part of the Marxist initiative ‘Flame’.

At first, the Communist Party was the left wing (brace) of the oligarchic pro-Russian Yanukovych regime. That is a bourgeois populist party that stands for the ideology of Stalinism, and “Soviet patriotism” (speculating on the return to the stability of the USSR, declaring that the socialist system existed then).

Symonenko's mansion (TV report)
Petro Symonenko [First Secretary of the Central Committee of the KPU] and his closest associates are corrupt bourgeois politicians. They opposed European integration, supported the alliance with Putin’s Russia, sharply condemned the Maidan events, calling them a putsch of the far right (nationalist uprising that was sponsored by the USA). KPU also expressed its support to President Nazarbayev, [of Kazakhstan] who ordered the shooting of the insurgent workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.  KPU are only called communists, which has caused a large part of Ukrainians to view the word communism with disgust.

In my opinion, among ordinary party members there were honest decent people, but most of them have lost any hope in the possibility of positive change in the political course of the Communist Party.

The ban of the party, I think, has not any significant (negative) consequences for us. It gives a real chance to rehabilitate the name Communists (Communist Party) for the Ukrainian working class (Ukrainian workers), though it will not be that easy.

De-communisation has many negative consequences, because it is a part of the anti-democratic policies. As for the ban of the Communist Party, it is not the worst thing.

Denis Gorbach, an anarchist from Kyiv, who previously helped co-found the Autonomous Workers’ Union.

First of all, it should be clear what sort of party KPU is – or was. Far from the idealised image it has among some Western Europeans, it is a conservative nationalist party which uses cultural fetishes (including Stalinist imagery and social conservatism) and economic populism as its tools in electoral politics.

Political capital obtained in this way was routinely transformed into very real material gains: KPU was able to sell their votes in the parliament, and under Yanukovych they even had some governmental posts which yielded enormous illegal income to their holders. For example, Igor Kaletnyk, son of a former regional governor and pro-governmental MP, was a member of KPU; in 2010-2012 he was the head of the Customs Office, later he became the first deputy speaker of the parliament.

Opponents of KPU often cite their Stalinist ideology, but in fact they cannot even be called Stalinists – unlike real committed Stalinist parties like the Greek KKE, the KPU was a regular bourgeois right populist party, a local analogue of UKIP or French Front National.  Not only was it a nationalist party allied with the Orthodox church and drawing heavily on a conservative agenda, but it has also supported the massacre of the striking Kazakh workers in Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011: the party newspaper published an article in which it condemned “the revolt of the well-fed” which had been undermining precious political stability in Kazakhstan.  In 2014, it also did not hesitate to support the changes to the Ukrainian Criminal Code which would criminalise the “inciting of social discord” – along with a number of other laws limiting the freedom of assembly and speech and introducing online censorship.

Genuine leftist organizations of Ukraine, despite all their differences on other subjects, have been always united in their attitude towards KPU, the very existence of which served to constantly discredit socialist ideas. Some of them actually hope that the ban of KPU will now clear the path for truly socialist political forces. But there is a lot to be done before these hopes will become realistic.

Today, anti-communist mood is prevalent in Ukrainian society, and the situation has been made far worse by the conflict with Russia. Too often “communist” is understood as “pro-Russian” – just as in Croatia after the war, to be socialist meant to be pro-Serb. Thus, there is no easy future for the Ukrainian left: they have to combat the nationalist stereotypes which KPU helped to create.

Volodymyr Sotnyk is a leading activist of the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine (VPZU) in Kyiv.

To my mind, the fact of banning KPU does not have a negative impact on democratic rights in Ukraine.  KPU is a fragment of the KPSS (Communist Party of Soviet Union).  KPSS controlled all aspects of life (information policy, manufacture, military activity, culture, agriculture etc.).  It’s totalitarian political system was aimed at enslaving people.  For the sake of keeping power, KPSS party leaders enforced mass repressions of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ among whom were intelligentsia, peasants and workers.  (The number of KPSS victims in the USSR reached twenty million people.

KPU was a populist left-wing party; it never really struggled for the rights of workers. Its electorate was predominantly descendants of KPSS party leaders, descendants of those who lived through good connections until 1990 and people with limited access to information who idolise Stalin, Lenin and want a return to the USSR.

KPU did nothing significant for the Ukrainian people.  In the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament] of Ukraine its members supported all anti-democratic and anti-European draft laws for stopping Ukraine’s development and the increasing of corruption.

I have nothing against left-wing parties, but KPU was just a populist party that propagandised Soviet Union ideals and has nothing in common with left-wing parties.

De-facto the working class has never been protected by KPU. Now the place for a real left party is vacant.

See also:

Monday, 14 December 2015

When Stop The War directs kids to war, and other true tales

Book by STWC leader Andrew Murray. Cover picture shows the burning trade union building in Odessa "where 40 people died after supporters of the Kiev putsch government, Right Sektor activists and Chernomorets football ultras attacked."

The past two weeks has seen a unprecedented amount of attention on the Stop The War Coalition (STWC), because of their association with the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Endless press stories and media appearances for a leadership under siege.

The STWC response to the spotlight has been to label every criticism a 'smear' or a 'lie', however it has also been to engage in some tragic PR tactics. When the focus has shifted onto what they publish on their website the STWC response has been to start cleansing the website - and firing the poor Web Editor.

At the instigation of 'Soupy' a blog has been set up to cover what STWC are trying to hide or may be about to try to hide.

The Real Stop The War launched at the weekend and here is the content on Ukraine which I contributed.

When Stop The War directs kids to war

The STWC website has a number of posts about Ukraine,. The most egregious by far are by John Pilger.

Pilger methodically repeats a series of Kremlin war propaganda* memes: That the 2014 Revolution of Dignity was a fascist coup (see the response to this pap by Ukrainian socialists and anarchists I link to in my post on Corbyn's Ukraine fantasies); That there were pogroms against Russian speakers - a line lifted from Putin himself and a vicious fantasy.

The idea of NATO 'expanding Eastwards' and 'threatening Russia' - central to Pilger but also STWC more widely- not only ignores the agency of Eastern Europeans but also indulges one of the central myths used by Russia's imperial rulers to maintain their rule.

It's his post on the so-called 'Odessa massacre' that is the most dangerous. The violent events of May 2, 2014 were immediately seized on by Russia to paint Ukraine as fascist, Russia even toured exhibitions around Europe. Citizen investigations have shown that what happened was nothing like Russia says (and Pilger loyally repeats).

Among the mountain of falsehoods, Pilger includes the supposed eyewitness testimony of a doctor. This lie was very quickly debunked as Kremlin disinformation. There's a weasel note on the post, copied from The Guardian, which fails to say that this information has been proven false.

The May 2 events have been widely used as propaganda and have led to a number of left-wingers (including Brits) traveling to Ukraine to 'fight the fascists'. In reality they have arrived in 'Republics' where actual fascists wield power, anti-Semiticism is endemic, homosexuality is illegal as are free trade unions and humanitarian agencies are banned because they might 'foment counter-revolution'.

Those thug 'Republics' are backed by STWC leaders Lindsey German and Andrew Murray. They, along with Pilger, back war on 'fascist' Ukraine and could care less for the fate of any mugs encouraged by their website to participate.

*See this fantastic Lithuanian documentary for more on Russia's war propaganda machine (in English).

See Also:

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Deselect Stop The War Coalition

Last weekend something remarkable happened, well two things.

First, Stop The War Coalition [STWC] actually walked something back. They had published, as is their want, a repugnant piece by Matt Carr which compared the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War to ISIS. Cue outrage on social media, including from a number of Labour MPs. Less than a day later Carr's work had been taken down but not before its author had 'explained' himself by digging himself a deeper hole.

Secondly, an anonymous spokesperson for the Labour Party was quoted in several media articles saying that the piece "had been taken down because it did not reflect the organisation’s [STWC] views." That person then went on to defend STWC and claim that during the group's existence they had "repeatedly called it right."

Paul Waugh quoted a source, not named as such but presumably the same Labour one, saying about the Carr post: "This is the second time this has happened, it won't be happening again." (The 'first' time was their also taken down response to the Paris attacks that the French were “reaping the whirlwind of western support for extremist violence.”)

How the heck would that Labour source know that? STWC is not an affiliate of the party, by what possible method could the party enforce its will and hence make that promise?

If the party is now saying it has this intimate connection to STWC then everyone needs to know what exactly it is tying itself to. Waugh also reports a source telling him that STWC will "get a grip" on its website so clearly a spring clean is being attempted in the hope that the world will buy it and move on. The world should not move on. The world needs to drop STWC like a stinky hot brick, and that includes 'anti-war' activists.

Forget 'Blairite smears'

Writing in the New Statesman the socialist Michael Chessum, co-founder of The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, lamented that the movement against intervention in Syria had been relatively small. Why?
At the core of the British anti-war movement there has been a failure of internationalism. In running a campaign against British intervention in Syria, Stop the War has seemingly run a campaign with as little reference to Syrians as possible, and it stands accused of outright apologism for Russia and Assad, giving platforms to regime loyalists. As a result, the relatively simple anti-war narrative – opposition to British bombing, condemnation of Turkey and Assad, and practical solidarity with secular and progressive forces in Syria – has lost its clarity and persuasiveness in the public eye.
In order to effectively oppose future wars and escalations, the anti-war movement will need to regroup and renew itself. The simplified, reactive politics of recent years needs to be replaced with a genuinely internationalist movement: one that builds solidarity with labour movements and progressive forces on the ground, and opposes dictatorships and imperialist ventures regardless of who is behind them.
He is hardly the first socialist to bemoan the behaviour of STWC. Way back in 2003 the activist and comedian Mark Thomas was warning that it was a front for a hard left interested most of all in recruiting new members. Twelve years ago, in a spooky echo of Chessum, Thomas wrote:
The peace movement could do a lot worse than start to organise a coalition free from SWP [ Socialist Workers Party] domination, one that regards peace as the goal and co-operation as the means of getting there.
Comrade Andrew Coates has made similar points to Chessum's. Responding to the traditional 'blowback' response from STWC's Lindsey German following the Woolwich killing Coates wrote:
We can agree that Western intervention is wholly wrong. It has stoked the fires of conflict in all the countries she cites.
But is removing it a solution to the rise of violent anti-democratic Islamism?

Perhaps we should be, as the left, giving some energy to supporting the democratic left in these lands who offer a real political alternative to Islamism, authoritarian, intolerant, or indeed jihadist.

That involves a genuine politics of human rights.

This is the way to start thinking of how a solution can come about.

The failure of much of the British left to back the Arab democratic left is part of the problem.
Another socialist, the writer, poet and broadcaster Anna Chen, is a former STWC publicity officer and one of those most responsible for getting the numbers to the anti-Iraq war march. Her insider account of the behaviour of those controlling STWC is eye popping. After putting up with a lot she finally left - with another message which should resonate down the years:
Who needs this crap?

We were warned

Chessum doesn't note this but other commentators have - there has been a dramatic withdrawal of support from Muslims for STWC over the past couple of years. Why might that be?

Could it be, as he cites, the sickening treatment of Syrians by STWC, something I have covered at length?

As Chen notes and as Jews, Ukrainians, Iranians and Iraqis, among others, have experienced before, this is nothing new from STWC. What is new is the spotlight. Here's an anecdote from this week's edition of The Economist, of all places:
“There’s a big Syrian group,” murmurs one. “But they’re not anti,” continues another, disgusted: “They were lobbying for Britain to bomb Assad.” Those present sigh as one. On to the logistics of the event. It is decided that stewards should guard the mic, poised to fend off any “pro-war Syrians or imperialists”. After all, notes the chairman: “We know what we’re talking about here.” Would that BBC Manchester possessed such discernment. The station is interviewing pro-war Kurds tomorrow, to the group’s disdain: “They dig ’em up.” “Amazing how they find them!”
Less well known but, to my mind, just as appalling is STWC leaders Andrew Murray and Lindsey German's backing for the (misnamed) group Solidarity with the Anti-fascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU).

This group supports the so-called 'People's Republics' in Eastern Ukraine where open fascists operate unmolested, homosexuality is illegal, child soldiers are deployed and the people left to starve and die from lack of medicine as aid agencies are banned for ideological reasons.

This so-called anti-fascist group is behind the smears against the National Union of Mineworkers - of all people - as being 'pro-fascist' because of their solidarity work with their comrades in Ukraine.

STWC has promoted SARU on their website. Also on their website they have hosted vile, defamatory diatribes by John Pilger against Ukraine, posts by the well-known anti-Semite Alison Weir, poetry that quotes neo-Nazis, a piece headlined 'Time to go to war with Israel', a post saying that concern for women kidnapped by Boko Harem is "hysteria"and another that FIFA corruption is a Jewish conspiracy.

If they're going to be starting the scrubbing there's a lot of work to do.

Matt Carr may have had his latest piece scrubbed but he was the one wheeled out by STWC only last month to defame complaining Syrians fed up with being excluded by a group now commanding statements defending it from the Labour Party High Command. Carr, incidentally, is a 'truther' when it comes to chemical weapons in Syria. He thinks Assad didn't do it and the Syrians gassed themselves to make Assad look bad. The sort of person STWC is happy to offer a platform to, in other words.

This is not to mention all those other delightful people STWC have given a platform to over the years. Have you got all night? Or what they haven't put on their website. Such issues as the plight of the Kurds in Kobane or the imperial adventures of Russia.

Talk of sharks jumped


As noted, those burned in close contact with STWC have been sending out warning klaxons for twelve years. Just today I discovered that a number of Labour MPs, including the now well-known Mike Gapes, put down an Early Day Motion in 2004 decrying that STWC had distributed a message saying they backed "the legitimacy of the struggle of the Iraqi people, by whatever means they find necessary" to end occupation (meaning they backed Islamists such as those who beheaded the British civilian Ken Bigley). It asked STWC to "reassure the public that they have not lost their moral bearings." Jeremy Corbyn put down an amendment to delete all of that, blaming all the violence in Iraq on the Coalition (UK, USA etc). Of course he did.*

Yet only now, after years and years of this, are some of those who have given STWC succor pausing. Only now do they smell the stink from the giant pile of manure they are sitting on top of.

STWC's Galloway, Rees, + German.
Better late than never I suppose.

Today Caroline Lucas MP resigned as a Patron but Dave Wetzel still sits on the Steering Committee with 'Green Party' next to his name. Whether or not he is a representative I don't know (have asked and will update when I get a reply) as the STWC website is opaque on who sponsors them and where they gets their funding from.

One can only assume if Lucas is resigning because of, as she said, some of STWC's "positions" then Wetzel will too. But what of all the others? What of those who appear to be representing the NUJ, NUT, UNITE and others?

Are the members of these unions and other groups or those unnamed who may be funding STWC still happy with the association? If you're a member or supporter of those unions and other groups are you happy? Maybe you should start asking questions.

*Edited to add: Gary Kent has detailed the appalling behaviour of STWC at that time, particularly towards Iraqi trade unionists.