Thursday, July 16, 2015

Syria questions and answers

What does the Iran deal mean for Syria?
Many liberal and mainstream voices are talking up the "historic" Vienna deal allowing Iran to continue its nuclear proliferation as some kind of "triumph of diplomacy", simply because the two sides actually reached an agreement.

The deal has been welcomed by Bashar al-Assad and greeted with dismay by the Syrian opposition and rebels. The economic benefit to Iran, and relaxation of control on its arms trade, will boost Russia and China's weapons (and fuel) sales to Iran and its proxies. This can only benefit Tehran's Damascus partner, who will reap that benefit in increased firepower and increased finance - which will be felt by the Syrian civilians on whom Assad's bombs fall day by day. Aron Lund spells it out here, and Hassan Hassan here.

This is quite a post by the Syrian in exile blogger "Maysaloon", on the "progressive"/Pan-Arabist betrayal of humanity in supporting the Iran deal. Here is the final paragraph:
I'm sorry that Syrians are inconvenient, that we're not being killed by the right type of enemy for you people. I'm sorry we haven't received your stamp of approval. Pan-Arabists are cheering a deal with Iran, because, as they keep reminding us, Israel is the real enemy; Palestine the real goal. Never mind the untold misery, guts and excrement that we are being forced to crawl through in the name of this mythical liberation that hovers on our horizon like a promised paradise for the wretched of the world. Syria is "complicated". Syrians are only to be felt "sorry for", like the victims of some flood or an earthquake. From your glass towers in Dubai you intellectual pan-Arabists can toast a deal with Iran, and celebrate the fact that nothing has been allowed to deviate your attention from the lofty goal of "liberating Palestine".
Are Kurds ethnically cleansing non-Kurds in Rojava?
Relating to my recent post on Patrick Cockburn's lies, here a Kurdish writer refutes the concerted media smear (originating from Turkish and Gulf spin doctors) that Kurdish forces in Syria are "ethnically cleansing" Sunni Arabs. I have seen several vague allegations (similar to Cockburn's) about the Kurdish YPJ/YPG militias under the political control of the PYD party mistreating non-Kurds - but I have seen not one single credible article detailing actual instances of these. And there are credible accounts of non-Kurds afraid of the Kurds - but no stories showing that this fear is grounded in experience rather than in rumours spread via partisan media sources.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights, the best source of casualty statistics, recorded a total of 67 civilians killed by the PYD's forces in the first half of 2015 - 67 too many, but less than killed in Coalition air strikes, a twentieth of the number killed by IS and al-Nusra, a tenth of the number killed by Syrian rebel groups. There is no record that any of these 67 were acts of deliberate ethnic cleansing rather than collateral deaths in war zones. (To get a sense of the scale of the war zone: PYD forces are engaged on a frontline of about 300 miles; the Maginot Line in WWII was 200 miles long.) In short, it is probably a myth that Syrian Kurds are committing ethnic cleansing.

Does ISIS really control a half of Syria?
From October, lots of Western media sources started claiming ISIS control a third of Syria's land. In May, when Palmyra fell, the Guardian, Fox and others said it controlled more than 50% of the country, based on claims from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But is this true?

Patrick Cockburn, whose account always leans towards the Damascus government's slant, notes that "these proportions are a little deceptive because the government still holds most of Damascus, the main cities and the roads linking them". The further caveat, though, is that the areas allegedly controlled by ISIS to make up that 50% include very sparsely populated areas,  where there is actually no ISIS presence at all.

As was clear from maps of its advance in 2014, ISIS's m.o. is that of what Deleuze and Guattari called the "nomadic war machine": moving in flows along routes such as roads and oil pipelines without attempting to occupy the empty spaces in between,
moving away from the center, creating a new center, departing and returning, ebbing and flowing in relation to no one central point... consuming flesh, and committing violence [along the way].
The Caliphate is a "state" which ignores conventional state borders. It operates up-close and not at a distance.

Thus more accurate maps of the Syria battleground - such as those produced by the Institute for the Study of War - do not shade in the un-occupied zones behind the IS lines. This ISW map shows recent changes in the Syrian theatre:

A simpler version of this map was used by Liz Sly of the Washington Post here. What the map shows is Assad controls a lot of urban territory and the Caliphate controls key strategic sites, but in terms of territory IS controls far less than a third and nothing like 50% of Syria.

What's going on in Yarmouk?
Back in May I posted a long piece on Yarmouk, the site which exemplifies the suffering brought about by Assad and his frenemies ISIS - and which exemplifies the indifference of the Western left to this suffering. The sad fact is that nothing has improved since then, and in fact things have worsened.

Most media sources still recite the figure of 18.000 left in the camp (less than a tenth of the original population), but the PLO is saying there are only 7,000 left, with deaths to starvation and untreated illness and with more residents fleeing (some to other Palestinian communities and camps around Damascus, many of which are on the frontline of fighting and little safer). This heart-breaking piece in the Guardian chronicles life in Yarmouk.

Why have the US trained so few rebels?
There has been a lot of crowing about desultory US attempt to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. For many, this has been taken as evidence there are no good guys left: no "moderate" rebels. Kyle Orton explains why this is wrong:
Why it was expected that the rebels would abandon their fight against Assad—whom they are after all rebelling against in defence of their families—to become the U.S.’s Arab JSOC force is not clear.
Hassan Hassan adds: "even those who have joined the programme will be treated as mercenaries by fellow rebels as long as the focus is ISIL not the regime." As Kyle argues, "the failure of this program is a feature not a bug". It is an indicator of Obama's wrong strategy, not his failed strategy.

What about the refugees?
The lack of concern about what goes on in Syria from the Western left is contrasted to its noble concern about the refugees in the Mediterranean. Syrians now account for a third of Mediterranean migrants and up to 60% of refugees arriving in austerity-crippled Greece, for instance. Tory politicians have tried to downplay the Syrian dimension by highlighting Africans or claiming these are "economic migrants". Leftists, human rights advocates and liberals have rightly challenged this.

However, the next step from this should be obvious: addressing the refugee crisis means addressing the Syria crisis. It is shameful that pro-refugee voices are not also speaking out on what causes the refugee crisis. It is the Assad regime, and especially his airstrikes, which is doing this. This Syria UK post makes the argument and sets out what we can do to stop it. And we do need to stop it, before it's too late.

***

Also read: Kellie Strom "Never again, and again, and again"; Hassan Hassan "Between bombs and butchery".

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Assad v ISIS? Patrick Cockburn's economy with the truth

assad cartoon iranwire mana neyestani
IranWire/Mana Neyestani via Vox

Assad over Daesh?

There is a growing consensus that the fight in Syria is between ISIS and Assad. Given a choice between these two evils, a growing number of voices say that Assad is the lesser evil and that the West should back him to defeat Daesh.

For instance, Alison Pearson in the Mirror, spoke two years ago in a Jordanian refugee camp to escapees from Assad's chemical attacks. Now, she thinks that we should cuddle up to the perpetrator of these war crimes:
Two years on I still believe Assad to be a vile, nasty bully. But now, rather than bomb him I think it’s time to bond with him. With him and every tin pot dictator like him, if they can bring back some stability to a region so insecure and chaotic it has become the perfect breeding ground for Islamic State.
Politicians too talk this talk. Conservative Julian Lewis said in parliament that
In 2013, the Government wanted to remove Assad without helping al-Qaeda or similar groups that later became Daesh. Now we apparently want to remove Daesh but without helping Assad. Those two things are incompatible. It is a choice of two evils.
Labour's Peter Hain similarly thinks we should "liaise" with Assad's military to stop ISIL:
As Syria Solidarity UK argue here, Lewis' "choice of two evils" is a false choice.

Assad has killed and continues to kill far more people than Daesh ever has or probably ever will. The overall death toll in Syria is now around a quarter of a million: over a hundred a day every day. Civilians killed by the regime are around half of this; the Violations Documentation Centre, for example, has named over 80,000 civilians killed by the state, mainly in airstrikes, since the start of the conflict. Since the start of 2015 alone, government forces have killed 8509 people, two-thirds of them civilians, compared to ISIS, which has killed 1490 in Syria, two-thirds of them civilians. Why liaise or "bond" with killers on this scale? 

Support for Assad is support for Daesh

ISISattacks
From Archicivilians, via Not George
Assad has done more than anyone else, not to defeat Daesh but to build them up. Kings College expert Peter Neumann a year ago in the LRB laid out the detailed story of how and why Assad did this. In December, NBC's careful analysis of regime strikes catalogued in the IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center's (JTIC) database showed that the government has been largely ignoring ISIS in order to defeat other rebel groups:
JTIC's data shows that [Assad's] counterterrorism operations — more than two-thirds of which were airstrikes — skew heavily towards groups whose names aren't ISIS. Of 982 counterterrorism operations for the year up through Nov. 21, just 6 percent directly targeted ISIS.
The same NBC report also quoted other rebel groups claiming to have experienced co-ordination between ISIS and the regime against specific rebel outfits - which has been reported again and again by other sources. Last month, for instance, the Guardian reported instances of this kind of co-operation, alleged both by the US and by major rebel groups.

In short, there is no "choice of two evils": they are working together. And, crucially, there is a third choice, the right choice: a free, democratic, secular Syria. Although under-supported and out-gunned, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has started to gain ground in southern Syria in recent weeks, and in the North is advancing side by side with the YPJ/YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia, which tenaciously defends the large liberated zone of Rojava.

Patrick Cockburn's dishonesty

Who's Lying About Syria's Christian Massacre?
From The Daily Beast
One of the voices influencing this growing complacent consensus on the alleged "choice of two evils" is Patrick Cockburn. I have long been a respectful reader of Cockburn, who has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades now.

However, his reportage relating to Syria has been marred over the last two years by systematic distortion in favour of the Assad regime narrative. In March this year, Robin Yassin-Kassab, in a book review written for the Guardian but only published after its main points were removed, documented several incidents where Cockburn has been economical with the truth in relation to Syria. You should read it in full here.

Yassin-Kassab's colleague Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in May provided extremely detailed further documentation of Cockburn's outight dishonesty. (I have taken the illustration above from there.)

I won't repeat their careful allegations here, but instead turn to two recent Cockburn articles. The first is in the highly esteemed London Review of Books of 2 July and has been repeatedly recommended to me on social media. 

Cockburn in the LRB: slandering the Kurds

The article is not without its merits, including a compelling description of how the ISIS war machine works and how it recruits ordinary Sunni Muslim men. However, it distorts the truth in a number of ways. 

First, Cockburn repeatedly refers to Kurdish sectarian violence. The article opens with the spectacle of Arab and Turkmen refugees fleeing the advance of the Kurdish YPJ/YPG. In fact, numerous observers have testified to Kurdish Rojava hosting large numbers of Sunni, Turkmen, Christian and other refugees who have fled Assad, ISIS or both. Cockburn does not mention a specific instance of ethnic cleansing or eviction, but simply alludes to it happening. Cockburn's only concrete example actually refutes his claim:
as we drove away from the front, we saw a family of Arabs carrying their belongings back to their house in an otherwise deserted village. They waved with exaggerated enthusiasm at our vehicle, as if uncertain about how they would be treated by the victorious Kurds.
An enthusiastic wave is interpreted as fear; returning Arabs to Kurdish-liberated land are somehow meant to tell us Arabs are oppressed by Kurds.

(Cockburn also mentions torture of a Kurdish Sunni Islamist militant at the hands of the Kurdish Regional Government, i.e. the autonomous government of Kurdish Iraq; he doesn't inform his readers that the KRG has absolutely nothing to do with the Syrian Kurds.)

The main thrust of the article is to claim that ISIS is enormously powerful, perhaps invincible, and will be almost impossible to eradicate.

Cockburn: advocate for Assad?

The LRB article barely mentions Assad, apart from this, on a Sunni recruit to ISIS:
He is somebody with a deep hatred of the Assad regime who joined the organisation that was most able to fight against it.
This claim is of course untrue, not only because it ignores the regime's complicity in the rise of ISIS (see above) but the fact that ISIS in turn does not attack the regime. The NBC analysis cited above makes this clear:
Around 64 percent of verifiable ISIS attacks in Syria this year targeted other non-state groups, an analysis of the [JITC] database showed. Just 13 percent of the militants' attacks during the same period — the year through Nov. 21 — targeted Syrian security forces. That's a stark contrast to the Sunni extremist group's operations in Iraq, where more than half of ISIS attacks (54 percent) were aimed at security forces.
Cockburn wrote a follow-up piece in the Saturday Independent. This takes up the story precisely here, with the idea that Assad is the key alternative to ISIS. Cockburn approvingly quotes the Tory Julian Lewis' "choice of evils" nonsense. He presents a superficially "realist" argument for conditional co-operation with Assad to destroy ISIS.

Cockburn does not mention the extent to which Assad's fighting force is depleted and completely dependent on foreign fighters - including regular and irregular Iranian forces and Lebanese Shia forces (including Hezbollah), Afghan fighters from Fatimiyun Brigade and so on; as well as Syrian units now commanded by Iranian officers (mainly from the IRGC). Support for Assad against IS is de facto support for Iran and its proxies. And Iran has been a source of instability and sectarianism in the region for some time, as well as being a regime not much less murderous than IS.

Cockburn's argument is also predicated on the insistence that all Syrian rebels are essentially sectarian Salafi jihadists little better than ISIS and that Sunni sectarianism is their key driver and therefore all non-Sunnis rally to Assad. The imposition of a matrix of sectarianism ("ancient tribal rivalries") is a staple of Western orientalist simplification of the politics of the Middle East.

Cockburn's narrative systematically erases the tenacious persistence of non-jihadist rebel groups, who are gaining ground on some fronts. His narrative systematically erases the support of sizable numbers of Allawites and other minorities for rebel groups and for the Kurds (see note below). His narrative systematically erases the existence of resilient Kurdish resistance to both Assad and jihadism, as well strengthening co-operation between the Kurds and Sunni groups. His narrative is essentially dishonest.

***

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

7/7 Ten Years On


As a London resident, I took the 7/7 attacks personally. 

I had moved to London in 1991, during a period of intense IRA bomb attacks on London. Later in the 1990s, as the Irish Troubles moved towards their uneasy Good Friday resolution and the bombing slowed, I watched London relax, loosen its tension. 

On 7 July 2005, four bombs heading to the four compass points from the transport nexus of Kings Cross, which so many Londoners pass through each day, destroyed that. The attacks were attacks on Britain as a liberal democracy, but also on London as a messy, mongrel, cosmopolitan city. 

The responses to the bombing, and especially extraordinary acts of quiet heroism from ordinary people, showed us the best of London. 

The mayor, Ken Livingstone, by video link from Singapore, where he was fronting our 2012 Olympic bid, gave a speech which captured so well what most Londoners felt. Early in the speech, he said this:
This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever... 
And he concluded:
Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.
I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail. 
In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. 
They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
7/7 helped change my attitude to the security arm of the state. As a libertarian, I had been antagonistic to all forms of policing and surveillance. I remain suspicious, but knowing how little stands between me (and my family) and terrorist attacks has led me to feel that civil liberties might not always be as important as I thought.

In the days after the attacks, we saw the incompetence and casual racism that led to the killing by police of Jean Charles de Menezes, one of those people who came to London to be themselves. And we saw a liberal community that seemed to care more about his single death than the 52 killed by the terrorists.

We saw even the Sun newspaper acknowledging the multicultural, multi-faith reality of the victims, with the face of Shahara Islam being one of the iconic symbols of the awful attack. And we saw bigots calling for and carrying out revenge attacks on ordinary Muslims, or on people they thought might be Muslims.

I had only recently started blogging, and the politics of these contradiction helped define the project of this blog. The religiously rooted fascist, anti-human, anti-democratic, anti-urban and anti-multicultural ideology behind the 7/7 attacks needs to be fought literally, but it also needs to be fought politically.

And sometimes the hardest and most important political struggle is not with the jihadi fascists themselves, but with the varieties of leftist, liberal and "realist" thought which explain away, apologise for, negotatiate with or accommodate to terrorist ideology.

We need a politics that defends what the terrorists sought to destroy, that celebrates our profane freedoms. A politics that brings communities together around our common stake in the future and our children's future. A politics that neither rushes to blame the other, nor attempts to explain away evil through moral relativism or vulgar materialism. A politics that sees the moral outrage in terrorism, but also understands the need to analyse the context in which terror thrives. A politics that takes seriously the open question of how much freedom can we let go of in order to defend freedom. In short, a difficult politics.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Far right violence from Charleston to Mold Tesco

Last week saw the horrific attack by Dylann Roof on a black church in Charleston. There has been lots of debate about whether his actions should be named "hate crimes" or "terrorism" or not, which I won't comment on, except to say that the far right, in its various guises, has killed quite a lot of people in America in the past decade. Depending how you count it, there have been well over a hundred incidents of multiple homicide or attempted multiple homicide - see, from different political perspectives, reports by the ADL, SPLC and PRA.

One of the reasons these incidents tend to get classed as "hate crime" rather than "terrorism" is that they are typically carried out by "lone wolves", often "self-radicalised" rather than networked. But typically they have made connections - sometimes online, but often face-to-face - with far right groups. It is far right ideology, not (just) visceral racist hate, that inspires them to mass murder.*

Worth noting is that conspiracy theory, and almost always antisemitic conspiracy theory, rather than racial prejudice, that is usually at the heart of their ideology (as John-Paul Pagano shows here, exposing the antisemitic conspiracism central to Dylann Roof's worldview, in which blacks are the manipulated pawns of Jews, the real enemy).**

Although Fox News and its ilk like to portray the left as full of hate, there have only been a small number of comparable left-wing attacks in the last decade or so: Joseph Andrew Stack and Lee Malvo, and earlier Ted Kaczynski, the eco-primitivist Unabomber.*** It's striking, though, that their worldviews were conspiracist too, and that they shared more memes with survivalists and fringe right groups such as the militia movement and sovereign citizens than with the socialist far left.

British liberals like to chuckle and sneer at American political wackiness, but this is a British problem too. This week we have seen the trial of Zack Davies, Britain's would-be Dylann Roof, who carried out a machete attack in a Tesco's supermarket in Mold, on a Sikh man he thought was Muslim, attempting to behead him as Lee Rigby was beheaded. Thankfully, a former soldier bravely intervened and saved Dr Bhambra's life.

Davies is not the first. Since David Copeland's nail-bombings at the end of the last century, we've had Robert Cottage, Martyn Gilleard, Nathan Worrell, Neil Lewington, Pavlo Lapshyn, Ryan McGee. In 2013, the Home Secretary
disclosed that one in ten cases referred to a Home Office scheme to stop youngsters being caught up in terrorism related to the Far Right. Seventeen right-wing extremists are serving prison sentences linked to terrorism, including a man who built up the biggest arms cache uncovered recently in Britain, two men convicted of preparing to use home-made poison in an attack and another jailed for circulating terrorist literature.
For some reason, these attacks are not newsworthy in Britain in the way Islamist terrorist attacks are, which is why many of the names I've listed might not ring a bell.

Again, most of these British attackers are "lone wolves" - but most have connected to far right organisations. McGee, for example, had a mum who was active in the EDL.

Zack Davies was connected with a particularly unsavoury far right group, National Action.**** Matthew Collins writes about him and his NA connection here. While Davies thought his victim was Muslim, the heart of National Action ideology (paralleling Dylann Roof) is conspiracist antisemitism.

Davies also admired ISIS in a twisted way, and at his trial clearly emphathised with Lee Rigby's killers even as he claimed he wanted to avenge Rigby's death. This is not so surprising: Davies' fascism mirrors jihadi Islamism in many ways. It is disappointing that many anti- and "counter"-jihadis fail to take the far right seriously, just as many anti-fascists fail to take Islamism seriously.

***


Saturday, June 06, 2015

On Jewish privilege

The term "Jewish privilege" has been circulating around the identity politics scene, and specifically among Jewish leftists, for some time now - at least since 2010 when deployed particularly ickily by the Canadian Jewish-born Jennifer Peto and by Leah Berkenwald who said Jews need to "own" their Jewish privilege, whatever that means.

The concept draws on the concept of "white privilege" (which ultimately comes from WEB DuBois' insight into the "public and psychological wage" that white workers got by virtue of their whiteness in the Reconstruction period), but subverts it by saying that Jews, not being "people of color", are privileged in the system of white supremacy. This dear, sweet self-flagellating member of the 1%, for example, thinks that being Jewish is part of his privilege that he needs to check.

Maybe I'll write more one day about this, but now I'm not going to go into why I think it's a completely ridiculous line of argument, as that's been done brilliantly by my comrade Disillusioned Marxist already, as has Adam Levick from the opposite end of the political spectrum. (Of course, many Jews are positioned as white in this racist world and therefore do experience many of the "wages" of whiteness -- but not as Jews.)

What I want to note here instead is how the idea has travelled.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Morris Beckman z''l

I was very sad to read today of the passing of Morris Beckman, a great anti-fascist, mentsh and citizen historian.

Photo credit to Janette Beckman - http://www.janettebeckman.com/
Dan Carrier's obituary of him is nicely titled "Morris Beckman fought fascism, home and away". Here's some of it:
WHEN Morris Beckman returned to London at the end of the Second World War, having risked his life as a radio operator on ships crossing oceans filled with U-Boats, he was disgusted to see British fascists peddling their views on the streets of Camden. Morris, who passed away this week aged 94, would not stand idly by as the far right made speeches and sold pamphlets that denied the Holocaust. Instead, he and other Jewish ex-servicemen set up the 43 Group – an organisation that fought fascists on post-war London’s streets.

Morris was born in Hackney in 1921. He had tried to join the RAF in 1939 but was turned down – instead he learned Morse code and became a radio operator on ships making the dangerous Atlantic crossings. During the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, two of his ships were torpedoed.  
Morris went into the clothing trade after the war, running a menswear business until the 1970s. In the 1980s, he turned his hand to writing, documenting his life in the Merchant Navy and the 43 Group. Books included The Hackney Crucible, The Jewish Brigade: An Army With Two Masters, Flying The Red Duster and Atlantic Roulette. In his 1992 book The 43 Group, he wrote of the shock servicemen felt when they saw the doctrine they had defeated in Europe still alive in Britain.

He recalled how he was moved to act after he and his cousin Harry Rose watched a fascist rant on the corner of Star Street in Kilburn. Harry had fought with General Wingate behind Japanese lines in Burma.

“He said to me: ‘I’m going to shut that bastard up’,” recalled Morris.
“I calmed him down but we asked ourselves – what is anyone going to do about this?”
They tried lobbying MPs and using lawful means but with no success. Instead, they set about disrupting inflammatory demonstrations by fascists. 
[...] 
He saw his bravery as merely a twist of fate that put him in extraordinary times and he believed he acted as anyone else would do.
This is from a Guardian piece, with Beckman describing why they set up the 43 Group:
"I had been in the merchant navy, survived two torpedo attacks on the Atlantic convoys, and I came back home to Amhurst Road, Hackney to hugs and kisses. My mother went out to make some tea and my dad said, ' The bastards are back – Mosley and his Blackshirts'."
"The Talmud Torah (religious school) in Dalston had its windows smashed. Jewish shops were daubed 'PJ' (Perish Judah). You heard, 'We have got to get rid of the Yids' and 'They didn't burn enough of them in Belsen'." 
With the Labour home secretary James Chuter Ede refusing to take action and the Jewish establishment urging peaceful protest, the demobbed Jews had had enough.
Famously, Vidal Sassoon was a member. Sandy Rashtry's JC obit explains why it was called the 43 Group:
43 people (38 men and five women) who formed the group at the Maccabi House sports club in Hampstead in 1946. ...[By] 1947 [it] had more than 1,000 members in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle....
“We were one of the very few groups of diaspora Jews who took a stand against Jew-baiting by fighting it instead of passively accepting the situation.” 
He said: “Make no mistake. Mosley was very well connected with the upper echelons of British society. If Hitler had succeeded in invading Britain, there were powerful people in double-breasted suits who would have pinned swastikas on their velvet lapels and supported the deportation of British Jews.”
Paul Stott writes:

Graeme Kennedy and Andrew French's Unfinished War:



Watch his 2010 talk in Bristol on the secret war against the fascists. Listen to an interview at Last Hours.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kurdish resource page

This page is a list of links to commentaries, mainly from left and anarchist perspectives, on the situation in Kurdish lands. I have tried to follow some of the complex arguments circulating, many of which I have not made up my mind about, and I have also noticed considerable confusion. Along with the understandable ignorance, we are of course dealing with disinformation and willful ignorance (e.g. last week I noticed a lot of social media chatter about "PKK-Peshmerga" being terrorists equivalent to ISIS...) So, while arranging my own thoughts, I thought I would publish this list of resources to help you arrange yours.

In case it is helpful, here are the key players. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party, led by Abdullah Öcalan) has on and off been in a state of insurgency in the Southeast of Anatolia or Turkish (Northern) Kurdistan. The KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) is an autonomous sub-state making up most of Northern Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan, with its capital in Erbil, ruled by a coalition of president Barzani's centre-right KDP and Jalal Talabani's more left-wing PUK. The armed forces of the KRG are known as the Peshmerga. The PYD (Democratic Union Party) is an affiliate of the PKK which (in coalition with the KNC, Kurdish National Council, an alliance of other Kurdish groups sponsored by Barzani's KRG) governs Northern Syria or Syrian (Western) Kurdistan, known as Rojava. Rojava has been effectively autonomous since 2012, in revolution against Assad's Ba'athist regime in Damascus. Its armed forces are the YPG/YPJ (People's Protection Units - male and female respectively). There is also Iranian Kurdistan, but that's not really relevant to our story. All of these proper nouns are rendered differently in different translations of Kurdish and other languages; I have used the most common. It is worth noting that the Kurds are far from homogeneous, speaking a number of related Indo-Iranian languages and dialects (mostly but not all written in Roman script), and practising a range of religions (most are Sunni Muslims but there are also Shia Muslims, Yazidis, the Yarsan, Alevis,Christians and Jews).

The best single resource on the region, and especially on Rojava, that I have seen is that of the Irish-based anarchist Andrew Flood here. His introduction is worth reading first. In that he summarises what is at stake and the issues that have become contentious in the wake of the Da'esh assault on the Kurdish town of Kobane.

For me, as an internationalist, my bottom line is solidarity with the Kurdish people, who have been oppressed in all the nation-states amongst whom their land is cleft, and who bear the brunt of the genocidal advance of Da'esh (Islamic State or ISIS). This means solidarity with their heroic fighting forces, the YPG/YPJ, who are analogous to the French Résistance or the Republican militias of the Spanish civil war. My strong instinct is that our governments in the West should be helping them out too. The political and also social revolution in Rojava, unfolding alongside and partly within the Syrian revolution, is also incredibly inspiring, and many of the links below describe why, including (apparently) forms of direct democracy and a revolution in gender relations.

The role of the PYD in that revolution stands further analysis though. On the one hand, the heritage of the PKK is the most authoritarian tradition of the nationalist left (a purist form of Marxism-Leninism influenced by Mao) and marked by an unpleasant Stalinist-style cult of personality around Öcalan. On the other hand, Öcalan and his party appear to have gone through a significant political evolution in the last decade, adopting a form of libertarian socialism heavily influenced by the late Murray Bookchin, theorist of libertarian municipalism. This libertarian turn has encouraged parts of the global anarchist movement to embrace the cause of Rojava, while a more sternly purist anti-nationalist left communism continues to be suspicious. That is one of the key faultlines; the other is the question of Western intervention.

In the links below, I rely heavily on Andrew Flood's link list, and where it says AF I am directly quoting him, but with some minor typographical edits and some added hyperlinking. There are also several resources here, collected in January 2015 for Libcom. Texts by Kurdish anarchists are here. Other resources can be found at Tahrir-ICN. It is also worth noting that although anarchist-like Kurdish movements have received a great deal of attention in the anarchist scene, Syrian anarchists seem to have been less noticed, although they played a central role in the 2011 revolution; read about them here.

The Rojava revolution

A mountain river has many bends: an introduction to the Rojava revolution


This zine is an excerpt from the book A Small Key Can Open A Large Door, published in March 2015 by Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness. The full book collects this introduction together with numerous interviews, public statements, firsthand accounts, and other articles that help give context to the struggle in Rojava. The book is available from Combustion Books (www.combustionbooks.org), its distributor AK Press (www.akpress.org), and major book retailers.

Stefan Bertram-Lee: Dear Mr. Anarchist, You Aren’t Listening (April 2015)


A reply to "Dear Cheerleaders, we need to have a chat about imperialism" about libertarian communist dialogue and criticism in regards to the Rojava revolution and anti-imperialism.
"The Rojava revolution does not need the permission of Western Anarchists to be able to succeed, it does not need us one way or the other... The only people this argument is important for is ourselves. In the west we have failed, while in Chiapas and Rojava a social revolution has occurred. We need to examine our tactics and our methods, and compare them to the PYD and EZLN, and see where we have gone wrong and where they have gone right. We cannot win by fighting as if the territory we are fighting on is the United States prior to WWI, or Spain prior to WWII, the same old tired Anarcho-Syndicalism will not win in the 21st Century. Subcomdanate Marcos says that when he first went to Chiapas all he could do was talk, and not listen, and so he failed. The peasants did not listen to those who could only talk. It is only when he learnt to listen that he was able to move forward, and this lesson is one that must be learnt by all Western Anarchists. We are not winning, and we need to listen to those who are."
The Rojava resistance: rebirth of the anticapitalist struggle - Salvador Zana (April 2015)
An article by Salvador Zana, a volunteer with YPG in Rojava.

Zaher Baher: Anarchist Eyewitness to self-management in Kurdish Syria / West Kurdistan (July 2014)
"Written a few months before the ISIS assault attracted attention this report from a Kurdish anarchist is a great introduction to the region, what is happening and a critical if very sympathetic examination of the reasons why." -AF


"
The embedded audio above is a recording of Zaher Baher of the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum speaking at the 2014 London Anarchist Bookfair about the two weeks he spent in Syrian Kurdistan in May 2014, looking at the experiences of self-management in the region, experiments that have become more widely discussed as the result of the defense of Kobane against ISIS. Zaher is also a member of Haringey Solidarity Group." - AF

Joseph Daher: On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue (April 2014)
"An interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist and journalist Shiar Nayo who while very critical of the PKK/PYD still sees the experiement as worthwhile. It's also very useful at providing some context of the relationship with Syria, the Assad regime and the other rebel movements." - AF [Arabic original]

Rojava Our World: Syria's secret revolution (video, November 2014)
"BBC documentary that makes for a very useful introduction - Out of the chaos of Syria’s civil war, mainly Kurdish leftists have forged an egalitarian, multi-ethnic mini-state run on communal lines. But with ISIS Jihadists attacking them at every opportunity — especially around the beleaguered city of Kobane, how long can this idealistic social experiment last?" - AF

Zafer Onat: Rojava: Fantasies & Realities
"Brief piece that does a good job of quickly outlining both the limited goals of the Rojava revolution and the limitations of the reality of rebellion in the specific economic and social conditions. That it is written as a vehicle to argue for a anarchist international is a little jarring, not least because there is more than one of them already."  - AF

Nedcla Acik: Kobane: the struggle of Kurdish women against Islamic State (22 October 2014)
"Introduction to a 40 page PDF report from a recent delegation to the region that provides a useful summary if one from a position obviously sympathetic to the PKK influence." - AF

Rojava: Syria's Unknown war
"Vice documentary from September of 2013 when the YPG/J had launched a counteroffensive against ISIS. Includes footage of a 4km section of border where the Turkish army removed barbed wire to facilitate ISIS recruits crossing the border. Some interesting footage & interviews with militias on the front line who are described as consisting of local farmers."-AF

The constitution of the Rojava Cantons
"As can be seen this important document is radical republican with a built in social democratic leaning but not anarchist or anti-capitalist." - AF

Adam Curtis: Anarchy in Kurdistan
"Curtis blogs the meeting of Ocalan & Bookchin and the influeces around them. Quite a useful quick history of the PKK." - AF

Rafael Taylor: The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan (August 17 2014)
"Useful explanation of the adoption of Bookchin's ideas by the PKK under Öcalan's direction and a brief sketch of their implementation in Northern Kurdistan (but that may be drawn from the 'Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan' interviews rather than confirming them?)"-AF

Dilar Dirik on "Stateless Democracy" at the New World Summit
"I like her stressing of the importance of the social transformation of society by the women's movement over time--something that I think gets diminished a bit when so much emphasis by the left gets placed on to what degree communal property has been instituted in Rojava and to what extent the PKK is suppressing, tolerating or dealing with the KDP. (video 2, video 3) (via Flint)" - AF

Interview with the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum (KAF) about the situation in Iraq/Kurdistan
"This includes some discussion of anarchist influences in the PKK and how seriously they should be taken."

An Anarchist Communist Reply to ‘Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective
This text is a response to the article Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective by K. B., recently published on the Ideas and Action website of the North America-based Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA). In the article, there is an attack on the Rojava revolution in the Middle East, an event in which the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has played a key role.

Sardar Saadi: Rojava revolution: building autonomy in the Middle East (July 25, 2014)
"Kurdish rebels are establishing self-rule in war-torn Syria, resembling the Zapatista experience and providing a democratic alternative for the region."

Ocalan

Ocalan on Democratic Confederalism
PDF pamphlet were Ocalan lays down his concepts, drawing on Bookchin.

A nation state is not the solution but rather the problem - Abdullah Öcalan

Article by imprisoned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, arguing against nationalism but instead for "democratic confederalism". However we want to point out the gulf which exists between his words and the still essentially nationalist practice of the PKK in reality, discussed here, not to mention the abuse of female members in the Party, including by Ocalan himself, so we reproduce this article for reference only.

Bookchinite commentary

Janet Biehl'Poor in means but rich in spirit'

David Graeber'No. This is a Genuine Revolution'

Critiques of the PKK/PYD

Libcom has several critical pieces, collected here. Here are some.

Dear Cheerleaders, we need to have a chat about imperialism (April 2015) 


"On the process of change in Northern Syria often called the Rojava revolution, the PYD as proponent of the process, and its alliance with Western imperialist powers."

Juraj KatalenacPKK, Democratic Confederalism, and Nonsense


A critical text about PKK and the “Democratic Confederalism” from militants who mainly express themselves in Croatian and gave to their structure the name Svjetska Revolucija (“World Revolution”). 

‘I have seen the future and it works.’ – Critical questions for supporters of the Rojava revolution


"Almost a 100 years ago, the US journalist, Lincoln Steffens visited the Soviet Union and proclaimed: ‘I have seen the future and it works.’[1] Ever since then, leftists have continued to delude themselves, not only about the Soviet Union, but about China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere. After a century of such delusions it is crucial that we don’t hesitate to ask critical questions of every revolution – even if that revolution is being threatened by a brutal counter-revolution."

Alex De JongStalinist caterpillar into libertarian butterfly? The evolving ideology of the PKK


1. Roots of the PKK
2. People’s War
3. Creating the ’new man’
4. Serok Apo
5. A revolution of women
6. Democratic Civilization
7. Whatever happened to socialism?
8. Potent vagueness

On David Graeber: 'Victory in Kobane. What next in the Rojava revolution?’


Anarchist Federation statement on Rojava: December 2014
The Anarchist Federation looks at the "revolution" in Syrian Kurdistan, and the role of the PKK and compares the reality with the rhetoric.

The battle of Kobane

The defence of Kobane - anarchist reportage from WSM
"When the Turkish anarchist group DAF announced some of its members were heading to Kobane I started to pay much more attention to what what happening. This included writing quick reports for the WSM Facebook page during the first weeks of the siege that presented a political analysis of the events that were emerging from the resistance. The link will bring you to a Facebook album that collects those reports as each was intially posted as the caption of an image, now collected into this album."-AF

WSM: Tell Us Lies About Kobanê -unpicking the demand for Turkish & western intervention (9 October 2014)
"The notion that the fall of Kobanê could be prevented by the intervention of the Turkish army is a smokescreen that covers the truth that they are already intervening - on the side of ISIS. The Turkish state's selective blockade of the border, which allows arms and volunteers to cross for ISIS, but strangles them for the YPG defenders of Kobanê is the decisive intervention that is giving ISIS the upper hand."-AF

Anarchists join fight against IS to defend Kurdish autonomous areas (October 2014)

Taken from a report by the French Anarchist weekly paper Alternative Revolutionaire, this short article gives a taste of developments on the ground in the fight against Islamic State.

Kobane’s Second Phase: Resistance (March 2015)
Text from the Kurdish anarchists of KAF. (Also here.)

Leila Al Shami: The struggle for Kobane: an example of selective solidarity (October 2014)

"The heroic resistance of the people of Kobane in fighting the onslaught of the Daesh (ISIS) fascists since mid-September, has led to a surge of international solidarity. A multitude of articles and statements have been written and protests have been held in cities across the world. Kurds have flooded across the Turkish border to help their compatriots in the fight despite being brutally pushed back by Turkish forces, and others including Turkish comrades from DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) have gone to the border to support in keeping it open to help the flood of refugees escaping to Turkey. There have been calls to arm Kurdish forces and calls to support DAF and send aid for refugees. Yet this solidarity with Syria’s Kurds has not been extended to non-Kurdish groups in the country that have been fighting, and dying, to rid themselves of fascism and violent repression and for freedom and self-determination. It’s often said incorrectly, that sectarianism lies at the heart of the Syrian conflict. It’s necessary to understand to what extent sectarianism plays a role in our response too."
Ali Bektaş: Rojava: a struggle against borders and for autonomy (July 24, 2014)

As ISIS lays siege on the autonomous Kurdish enclave of Kobanê, thousands of Kurds try to break down the Turkish-Syrian border to join their comrades.

On ISIS

ISIS Jihadism and Imperialism in the post Arab Spring period- an anarchist analysis (Audio & Video)
Following on from the rapid spread of Isis in Iraq & Syria Paul Bowman presented an update intended to inform on the contemporary politics of Jihadism and its entanglement with regional and global imperialist power plays.

WSM: Origins of the hostility and the split between Al Qa’ida and ISIS (17 September 2014)
An anarchist perspective: "Geo-strategically the Al Qa’ida leadership (Azzam, bin Laden, Zawahiri) are products of the Cold War, specifically the Afghan Mujahidin war against the USSR. Rather like their American neo-con previous employers, Al Qa’ida view the end of the Cold War as a victory over the USSR by their own side. The Al Qa’ida perspective is that, having “defeated” one superpower, the global jihad now needs to turn its offensive against the remaining superpower. Al Qa’ida worry that the Zarqawists of ISIS may be restricting the struggle to a parochial Mesopotamian sectarian struggle that could fail to engage Muslim jihadists around the world, outside the MENA region, say in West Africa or Indonesia and the Philippines where the US is a more credible #1 enemy than Iran.

North Kurdistan (Turkey)



Kurdish Communalism
2011 piece by Janet Biehly interviewing Kurdish activist Ercan Ayboga about who the Kurds are, the background of the PKK and the Democratic Autonomy process.

Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan By TATORT Kurdistan, trans Janet Biehl
Book length examiniation of 'Democratic Autonomy' in a couple of parts of 'Turkish' Kurdistan based around interview by members of a solidarity group who briefly vistited the area in 2011. Clearly from a PKK sympatheic perspective but alsol a useful source in terms of understanding the idealised structures and methods of 'Democratic Autonomy' and the real world problems of implementation.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Resuming normal service

Here are a bunch of things that I think you should read, which have built up in my list since January but which I haven't managed to find time to post about.

Left ad absurdum
A long article in Logos Journal, "The Treason of Intellectual Radicalism and the Collapse of Leftist Politics" by Gregory Smulewicz-Zucker and Michael J. Thompson,  is a bracing account of how a left that has blossomed in the academy is dying on the streets:
This new radicalism has made itself so irrelevant with respect to real politics that it ends up serving as a kind of cathartic space for the justifiable anxieties wrought by late capitalism... These trends are the products as well as unwitting allies of that which they oppose.
To illustrate this, Coatesy recently hosted some prizes for the most insanely ridiculous writing on the far left. You couldn't make it up...

Confessions of a non-Zionist Jew
This article by Todd Gitlin (via Rokhl) expresses perfectly a lots of the things I feel. Highly recommended.

Drawing clear lines
This deserves a post of its own, but my comrade Spencer Sunshine has written some important texts. “Drawing Lines Against Racism and Fascism” documented how cryptofascists and pro-White separatists are attempting to make inroads into left political and counter-cultural circles and also sets outs some principles for addressing the problem. Walter Reeves’s Daily Kos post, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing; Racism, Anti-Semitism and Fascism: Infiltrating the Left” introduced some of its key points, generating some enlightening and depressing arguments. "The continuing appeal of racism and fascism" develops these themes further.

One disturbing example of this continuing appeal comes from the UK far left scene, where a former Marxist, Ian Donvan, has, via the influence of Gilad Atzmon and George Galloway, entered a political space we might associate with David Duke.

Like old times, but different 1: Counter-Englightenment
I'd like to find time to give this fine post the attention that it deserves, but you should read Martin Robb's semi-return to blogging here, on his political trajectory and search for an alternative to the Enlightenment rationalism. 

Like old times, but different 2: from the end of the world
Roland Dodds is also on a complex political journey. He has put together a book of essays from the last 10 years of blogging at But I Am A Liberal, and started up a new blog at In Hope and Darkness. His first post there was "A Radical in Every Institution", on "social justice warriors". He's also writing at Ordinary Times, where he has written nicely about fatherhood and conservatism and also on the trade-off between multiculturalism and social democracy. (I profoundly disagree with his conclusions in the latter, oddly a topic I've been arguing about on Twitter this week. In my view, welfare states in Europe were born at a time when there was not a sense of a common culture; European societies were sharply divided by denominational sectarianism, by class anatagonisms, by regional cultures. Britain in the early twentieth century had many indigenous non-English-speaking communities, and there was an enormous cultural difference between, say, the Northumbrian shore and the Home Counties. And that picture was repeated across the European states where social democracy was tried out. A sense of commonality was born from the common institutions of the welfare state, not the other way around.) 

Like old times, but different 3: wordspiv, layabout, culchie.
Thirdly, Terry Glavin has also deserted blogspot for wordpress. His new site includes blog posts (lately mostly on China), his columns and his "essays and inquiries", as well as a special section on Syria and Kurdistan

Like old times, but different 4: with nylons and coathanger
Finally, a belated welcome to the blogosphere for Trabi Mechanic.

Counter-histories
This article in Ha'aretz (reproduced here if you're stuck on the wrong side of the paywall) is very interesting for thinking about the relationship between Zionism, anti-Zionism, imperialism and anti-imperialism. It shows that parts of the British imperial state were actively siding with various Arab forces in 1948 in the attempt to forge a Greater Syria and to subvert (or even militarily defeat) the possibility of a Jewish state.

Ukraine, fascism and anti-fascism
I intend to write a proper post on this one day, but I have been disturbed over the past year to see how many "anti-fascists" have been taken in by the supporters of Russian irredentism in Ukraine, an essentially far right movement. Here is Dale Street refuting one instance of this. Here is a collection of texts from the Ukrainian left on the fake ant-fascists of Borotba. And here is an interview with some Ukrainian anarchists.

Truth wars
I'm not sure if I've linked to Kyle Orton's January post "From Kessab to Cannibals: Syria’s Media War". If not, I should have. It looks at IS's media strategy briefly, but then in more depth at media use by the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran. This is important, because a lot of that media is consumed by leftists and others in the West who somehow think it is more reliable than the so-called "mainstream media". (See these previous posts of mine and their comment threads: The Ukraine truth war; The House of Assad and the House of Rumour; Mother Agnes and the fog of war.)

France after Charlie Hebdo
AWL has published a collection of articles on racism against Jews and Muslims in France by Yves Coleman. Also from AWL: After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket: thinking through the new and rethinking the old - veteran French Trotskyist Pierre Rousset discusses the political aftermath of the January 2015 Islamist attacks in Paris. And Barry Finger explores the connections to the politics of anti-imperialism and what he calls "Third World fascism".

Islam etc
Understanding ISIS: some useful pieces of analysis by Kenan Malik, by Disillusioned Marxistby Army of RedressersUnderstanding the Muslim far-right in Algeria, and beyond: an interview with Marieme Helie Lucas.

A polite hatred
An important series in the Tablet on British antisemitism by Josh Glancy and Ben Judah.

Not so radical
Back in January, James Bloodworth wrote that Syriza's government may not be the radical left-wing triumph we were hoping for. And here is Max Dunbar on Russell Brand, which I completely missed way back in October.

Pseudo-left rape apologists
Steve Hedley not “cleared of domestic violence” with a case still to answer, says the RMT rep representing his former partner in her complaint of physical, emotional and verbal abuse.

Meta-blogging
Phil BC has a nice series of Saturday interviews. Comrade Coatesy was featured some time back.

Monday, May 11, 2015

F*ck aspiration, we don't need another Tory party


I have been a bit nauseated in the past days hearing the commentariat conclude from Labour's general election defeat that what Britain needs is more middle class oriented centrist politics: a more "aspirational" politics. I think this rushed judgement is based on a fundamental misreading of what happened last week, as I shall try to show in this post.

First of all, where did Labour gain ground and where did it lose ground? Most dramatically, of course, Labour lost Scotland. Crucially, there it lost to a party which positioned itself to Labour's left.

What about in England? These two maps in the Guardian, which take a moment to work out how to read (the map is redrawn to be proportionate to votes) are very important:

The Guardian have also made what look like weather maps but are actually very clever

And this map shows where Labour lost support.
The maps show that Labour gained votes almost everywhere in England and lost a lot of votes in Scotland and Wales. Most important for my purposes is where Labour lost votes in England. I don't have the time or knowledge to look closely at each of these, so what I conclude is provisional but the following is what strikes me.

It is true, as the "apirationalists" ("New New Labour" in Ben Judah's witty typology) would emphasise, that there are some places in the Southeast, Southwest and West Midlands (what we could call Middle England) where Labour lost ground - but these are outnumbered by the seats in those regions where Labour gained votes. The most significant English losses are actually up and down the East coast, often in the areas where UKIP gained ground.*

My strong feeling is that in such areas (as well as in the Labour core areas where voter turn out was low), Labour's problem was not that it didn't connect to "aspirations" or that it wasn't middle class enough. Instead, I think Labour's problem was that it was seen as a party of the metropolitan elite - that it was too middle class.

With the figure of Ed Miliband - constantly associated with "Hampstead" and "North London", seen as a "geek" or "nerd" unable to eat a bacon sandwich - it is hard to disentangle this anti-metropolitan sentiment from low-level antisemitism and the simple fact that he comes across awkwardly to camera. But even leaving that aside, Labour was seen as the party that sneered at white van man for putting up England flags.

For many of these people, "aspiration" is probably less relevant than the sense that even you when you work really hard you're still fucked because the decks seem stacked against you.

And surely the most "aspirational" voters - in diverse and migrant-rich London - are now actually Labour's core voters; many of them probably see Labour as a metropolitan party, and see that as a positive.

Beyond the capital, anti-metropolitanism ties in with the belief that the Westminster parties are basically all the same, that all mainstream politicians are un-trustworthy - this is a sentiment that UKIP voters share with SNP voters, who sound almost identical on this issue. (And the UKIP and SNP voters are at least partly right about this, surely.)

A lot of this is about identity politics. While Labour and its metropolitan voters identify with a civic Britishness, the Tories and UKIP played an English card which resonates for many people in England at least as much as Scottishness resonates North of the border.** Local and regional identities matter too, and are one ingredient in the anti-metropolitanism (see Waterloo Sunset's points here).

Labour was (rightly) concerned about making sure that its candidates were gender-representative and ethnically diverse (and indeed, as Paul pointed out, one silver lining in the gloom is the number of new MPs who aren't White British) - but, for all its alleged leftism, it didn't put any thought in how class identities still matter. (Thus it is striking that this more diverse parliament is no less privileged than the last one: 28% went to Oxbridge; 32% went to private schools, of whom one in ten went to Eton - barely changed from 2010.***)

I am not in the business of telling Labour what implication they should take from all this, but I think there are implications for a wider "left" - by which I mean those of us who are scared what five more years of austerity will do for us and who are scared of the consequences of rising nationalism and xenophobia.

The implications as I see them are these: First, we (that wider left) need to re-connect with communities feeling left behind by the globalised world the metropolitan elite seems at ease in - and not sneer at them in a condescending way. We need to start taking seriously and talking about Englishness, as well as Scottishness and regional identities. We should sharpen not soften our attacks on the sorts of class privilege that mean we remain ruled by a narrow elite who went to the same schools and universities.

I don't know if Labour have a chance of addressing these kinds of issues or not (the Murdoch-friend;y talk about "aspirations" and the middle class suggest it doesn'), but in the meantime in communities across the UK we will need to work hard to defend ourselves, our jobs and our public services from the Tories' ideologically-driven slash-and-burn policies, and we can't do that without white van England.

***