Starting to understand the Syrian tragedy

August 14, 2018

Review of The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy by Yassin al-Haj Saleh (London: Hurst and co., 2017)

We all need an understanding of the fate of the Syrian revolution: what it was up against, how and why was it drowned in blood, what its future holds. To this end, the publication of Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s book in English is very welcome.

The Syrian tragedy is a turning-point for movements of social liberation internationally. A mass popular uprising of exceptional scope and scale was defeated with an exceptional torrent of violence. In the rich, horrific history of repressive governments, few have waged such savage, relentless war on their citizens, or so cynically chosen to destroy the fabric of society by civil war rather than lose control of it.

Not only did the world’s governments allow the regime a free hand to torture and murder Syrians, but much of the so-called “left” stayed silent, or even supported the torturers and murderers. Reckoning with this disaster, and the reasons for it, is a precondition for any meaningful radical politics in future.

Syrian fascism

Saleh’s book comprises a series of articles written between the 2011 uprising and 2015, in which he returns again and again to analyse the Syrian regime, the “new bourgeoisie” with which it is most closely associated, and the social forces that support it.

In “The Roots of Syrian Fascism”, written in April 2012 – when the uprising was just over a year old – Saleh calls for a discussion of the roots of the fascist violence by Bashar al- Read the rest of this entry »

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Support Ukrainian political prisoners

July 24, 2018

Ukrainians and Londoners demonstrated at the UK parliament yesterday, calling for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. On the hottest day of the year, they chanted “free political prisoners”, “free the hostages of the Kremlin” and “stop the war in Ukraine” to passers-by.

They highlighted the case of film director Oleg Sentov, who was yesterday on the 71st day of a hunger strike, and is seriously ill. Sentsov is demanding the release of the 70 Ukrainian prisoners. The

The demonstration in Parliament Square, London, yesterday

prisoners include opponents of Russian military action in eastern Ukraine, some Crimean Tatar community activists. Many of them, including Sentsov himself, have been framed up on fictitious “terrorism” charges that have been condemned internationally as bogus.

For information on the prisoners’ cases, see these links.

“Sentsov considers his solo release would be a ‘total failure’”: article, with links to pages on other Ukrainian prisoners (from Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group)

Report of a visit to Oleg Sentsov (from the Russian Reader)

An interview with Oleg Sentsov’s cousin, Natalya Kaplan, who visited him earlier this month (from the Russian Reader)

An outline of the case of Pavlo Hryb, the Ukrainian school student framed up by the Russian authorities (from Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group)

Report of the campaign of repression against Crimean Tatars (from Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group)

What Sentsov could die for, by Maria Kuvshinova (from the Russian Reader)

■ Stories by Oleg Sentsov, on the PEN International web site: “Testament”, “Autobiography” and “Dog”.


Heathrow: “jobs vs climate action” is a false choice. Reject it

June 28, 2018

Parliament’s vote for a third runway at Heathrow airport shows how far the Labour party is from putting together economic policies combining social justice and action to curb global warming.

More than 115 Labour MPs – well over half the parliamentary party – voted for Heathrow expansion on Monday, ignoring a warning in the debate by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, that it posed “a threat to the planet”.

McDonnell, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow expansion, said that, if a legal challenge by local councils and Greenpeace failed, an “iconic, totemic” battle would be unleashed to stop the project. The Vote No Heathrow group is already gearing up for such a battle.

Before the vote, Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union – a big financial donor to Labour and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn in internal political battles – wrote to MPs urging them to support Heathrow expansion.

It is the false choice that McCluskey hinted at in his letter – that if the workers’ movement participates Read the rest of this entry »


Social justice and ecological disaster: Red Green Study Group comments

June 28, 2018

Integrated strategies to face the crisis in relations between society and nature – “essentially, the dynamics of capitalist economic relations” – have been proposed to Labour by the Red Green Study Group in the UK.

In a response to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum consultation, Environment, Energy and Culture: A Greener Britain, the group says a “combined approach” to tackling poverty, inequality and environmental degradation is vital.

The whole response is attached as a PDF here. Or you can read it on line on the Red Green Labour blog here. Or download it from the Labour party site here.

The group’s summary says:

This response is the result of prolonged discussion among members of the RED-GREEN STUDY GROUP, which has been working since 1992 on bringing together green, socialist and feminist thinking.

Contributors include trade unionists, members of the Labour Party, members of the Green Party and unaffiliated socialists. Our commitment to producing this response arose from the renewal of hope given by the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the new leadership of the Party.

Our response covers a wide range of topics, across transport, industrial production, farming and food, fishing, biodiversity, planning, energy production and conservation, climate change, health, education Read the rest of this entry »


Desperately seeking socialism

June 18, 2018

A response by GABRIEL LEVY to Dissidents Among Dissidents, by Ilya Budraitskis – and Budraitskis’s response to that response. (Dissidents Among Dissidents (Dissidenty Sredi Dissidentov) was published in Russian in 2017 by Free Marxist Publishers [Svobodnoe Marksistskoe Izdatelstvo].)

Русская версия здесь / Russian version here

The “new cold war” is the subject of the most politically compelling of the essays in this book by the Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis. He wrote it in the summer of 2014, as Russian troops streamed into eastern Ukraine to fight alongside the Russian-armed militia of the separatist “people’s republics”, and the Russian ultra-nationalists, mercenaries and volunteers who joined them.

The existence of a “new cold war” was already being treated in public discourse as an “obvious and indisputable fact”, Budraitskis argues – but “the production of rhetoric has run way ahead of the reality” (pp. 112-3).

To question the assumptions behind the rhetoric further, in the essay, “Intellectuals and the Cold War” (in English on line here), Budraitskis considers the character of the original cold war, i.e. between the Soviet bloc and the western powers between the end of the second world war and 1991. The cold war was a set of “principles of the world order”, construed by ruling elites and then confirmed in intellectual discourse and in the everyday activity of masses of people, he writes (p. 112).

The reality of continuous psychological mobilisation, and the nerve-straining expectation of global military conflict, as apprehended by society as a whole, became a means of existence, reproduced over the course of two generations, in which loyalty to beliefs was combined with fear and a feeling of helplessness before fate.

This proposition, that the cold war was essentially a means of social control, in which masses of people were systematically deprived of agency, certainly works for me. I wondered whether Budraitskis knows

Prague, 1968: students take on Soviet tanks

of the attempts, made during the cold war on the “western” side of the divide, to analyse this central aspect of it – for example of the work of Hillel Ticktin and others in the early issues of the socialist journal Critique (from 1973). (Ticktin wrote on the political economy of the Soviet Union, interpreting it in the context of world capitalism. The journal web site is here.)

Today, the cold war’s binary ideological constraints live on, Budraitskis argues. “The trauma of choice between hostile camps has still today not been overcome” (p. 123). As an example, he quotes the reactions to Russia’s participation in the war in eastern Ukraine by, on one hand, Aleksandr Dugin, the extreme right-wing Russian “Eurasianist”, and, on the other, the American historian Timothy Snyder. (See here (Russian only) and here.)

For Dugin, the military conflict in eastern Ukraine amounted to “the return of Russia to history”. For Snyder, it was confirmation that Ukraine had finally to recognise that it was part of Europe. Dugin’s Read the rest of this entry »


Ireland 1981, Ukraine 2018: support the political prisoners

June 11, 2018

The Ukrainian film maker Oleg Sentsov, unjustly imprisoned in Russia, is going into the fifth week of a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. ANTHONY McINTYRE, a former Irish political prisoner, explains in this interview why he supports this demand.

Gabriel Levy. What’s your view of the international campaign, taking place in the run-up to the World Cup finals, to draw attention to the Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and to demand their release?

Anthony McIntyre. It resonates with the human rights campaigning ahead of the World Cup final in Argentina back in 1978. The military junta under Jorge Videla was engaged in serious human rights

A 1981 protest in support of the Irish Republican hunger strikers, ten of whom died

abuses and when an opportunity presents itself like the World Cup, where the media will concentrate, it has to be seized. So, I think it is the thing to do.

GL. Many of the prisoners are from Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014. Some of the most well-known prisoners, including Oleg Sentsov, have been jailed on “terrorism” charges that all the international human rights organisations regard as fabricated. Another prisoner, Volodymyr Balukh, was sentenced for possessing a Ukrainian flag. Others are civil society activists from the Crimean Tatar community that has suffered discrimination since Soviet times. To what extent would you regard the prisoners as victims of imperialism?

AM. I think imperialism is a term that has been used much too liberally over the years by the Left. It now sounds like a slogan rather than something that is analytically descriptive. The prisoners are victims of an aggressive and intrusive power.

Whether that power is exercised on the grounds of pursuing markets and profit, or as part of the politics of power and security in a volatile world, is up for discussion, but its effects are catastrophic for those in Crimea.

Russia, given its geographic location and historical proximity to threatening powers, might expand outside its own borders but not necessarily for imperialist reasons as understood by Marxists. But that expansionism is necessarily unjust.

GL. There is a view widespread on the “left” that the Russian government can not be defined as imperialist, because of its anti-NATO and anti-US rhetoric. People in Ukraine, Chechnya and Syria, who have dealt with the Russian military at first hand, think otherwise. What do you think? Read the rest of this entry »


“Free the Kremlin’s hostages”

June 3, 2018

Demonstrators in London yesterday demanded that Russia release 70 Ukrainian political prisoners.

The picket was part of an international action to support the film director Oleg Sentsov, one of the 70, who has been on hunger strike since 14 May in the Labytnangi prison colony.

Sentsov, who was arrested in Crimea after it was annexed by Russia in 2014, was sentenced to 20 years on fabricated terrorism charges.

On 25 May, Oleksandr Shumkov, a Ukrainian serviceman taken forcibly to Russia and imprisoned there, started a hunger strike in support of Sentsov. And on 31 May they were joined on hunger strike by Oleksandr Kolchenko, an anarchist militant from Crimea tried together with Sentsov and sentenced to ten years.

Another Ukrainian prisoner in Russia, Volodymyr Balukh, a farmer jailed for possession of a Ukrainian flag in Russian-occupied Crimea, went on hunger strike on 19 March. From the 25th day of his action he started taking minimal nutrition – oat broth and a piece of bread each day – to avoid being force-fed.

The London picket was organised by Ukrainians studying and working in London, who were joined by British supporters. Rafis Kashapov, a civil society activist from the Tatarstan republic in Russia, recently ordered by a Russian court to desist from political activity, was there too.

News of the international campaign here: #FreeSentsov #SaveOlegSentsov #TheyAreStillThere #LetMyPeopleGo.

Sasha Dovzhyk, one of the organisers of the protest, said: “It’s a pleasant day in London, less so in Labytnangi colony, where Oleg Sentsov was brought to rot for 16 years after he had served four years Read the rest of this entry »