Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Leaving Jiangxi: Tat Loo Marches Out Of The Labour Party.

Despairing Of Reform: Dunedin-based Labour Party dissident, Tat Loo (aka "Colonial Viper") told fellow members of the Anderson's Bay-Peninsula Branch that the Labour Party "is now lost at sea but does not appear to recognise that fact." Their response was a vote to put the branch into recess. Loo advised his comrades that he wanted  "no part of propping up the Thorndon Bubble careerist ‘pretend and extend’ set" and was "moving on to new political projects".
TAT LOO, like the ceremonial Chinese lion, is a potent mixture of playfulness and ferocity. Intelligent, articulate, passionate, politically impatient and singularly unwilling to suffer fools gladly, he set his sights on the Dunedin Labour Party about three years ago – and has only just run out of ammunition.
At a Special Formal Meeting of the Anderson’s Bay-Peninsula Branch of the Labour Party held in South Dunedin on Sunday afternoon (22/11/15) Loo and about twenty others announced that they were putting their controversially resurrected branch back into the constitutional limbo from which they had called it forth. Loo, himself, relinquished his executive role – but not before using-up us all his remaining shot and shell in a scathing farewell to a Labour Party he had, finally, despaired of reforming.
“Several of the current officers and LEC delegates of the ABP Branch have become deeply dissatisfied with the performance and direction of the Labour Party both locally and in Wellington and no longer wish to remain in their roles or continue supporting the party.” Loo explained in a posting on the Labour-aligned political blog, The Standard.
“Labour’s inability to be consistent in opposing the neoliberal corporation-drafted Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the softening of the stance against the 90-day right to fire, the ethnically divisive and ineffective tactics against Chinese property buyers in Auckland, the voting for National’s inequitable and discriminatory social welfare reform legislation, and the support of National’s spying and anti-terrorism bill,” said Loo, “all point to a Labour Party which is now lost at sea but does not appear to recognise that fact.”
Loo’s conclusion was grim. “The palpable sense conveyed has been that apart from minor tinkering, there are no likely or viable prospects for positive, real progressive change coming from the Labour Party in the foreseeable future.”
The veteran political journalist, Richard Harman, writing on the POLITIK blog, suggested Loo’s departure was not something over which the Labour hierarchy was likely to lose much sleep: “In fact [President Nigel] Haworth and leader, Andrew Little, might well regard the move as a minor victory in their quest to make the party more relevant to mainstream New Zealand.”
According to Harman: “Anderson’s Bay was exactly the kind of left wing Labour branch which enabled Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the British Labour party, a move which now threatens that party with divisiveness and possible electoral ostracism.”
This is nonsense. Corbyn was nominated by a clear plurality of “constituency organisations” – the equivalent of New Zealand Labour’s “LECs” (Labour Electorate Committees). The disaffection in British Labour extended throughout the entire party and its affiliated unions. Had support for Corbyn been restricted to a handful of left-wing branches, the 66-year-old backbencher could never have been elected.
New Zealand’s “Corbyn Moment” came three years ago at the 2012 annual conference held at Ellerslie in Auckland, when the party rank-and-file rebelled against the parliamentary caucus. It was around this time that Loo’s public profile began to grow, especially after his Standard pseudonym, “Colonial Viper”, was “blown” by Dunedin-based opponents of the Labour Left’s champion, David Cunliffe – of whom Loo was a strong and vocal supporter.
Indeed, it is almost certainly the “Peace of Palmerston North” – shorthand for the restoration of more-or-less cordial relations between the party rank-and-file and the parliamentary caucus that was plainly in evidence at the party’s 2015 annual conference held in Palmerston North earlier this month – that accounts for the timing of Loo’s decision to recess the Anderson’s Bay-Peninsula Branch.
After the long list of political “sins” detailed in his statement, Loo was clearly devastated by the party’s quiescent response to what he saw as the Caucus’s continuing perfidy. The “revolutionary moment” had clearly passed, and with it any good that the rebel Anderson’s Bay-Peninsula Branch might have hoped to achieve. The curious failure of David Cunliffe to fire in the 2014 election, and the catastrophic defeat it presaged, has reduced the Labour Left to a demoralised and thoroughly chastened rump.
Time to go. Loo’s parting shot was delivered with considerable accuracy at the Grant Robertson-led faction of the party, which, he believes, is slowly-but-surely gaining the upper-hand in the Little-led caucus. “We want no part of propping up the Thorndon Bubble careerist ‘pretend and extend’ set any further and will be moving on to new political projects.”
Like Mao Zedong, Tat Loo is gathering what remains of his revolutionary army and setting forth on his own “Long March” to Ya’nan.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Wednesday, 25 November 2015.

Dictatorship Or Chaos? The Only Choice Left In The Middle East.

A Room Full Of Spiders: Shia militiamen training in Iraq. Living with dictators is never easy, but if events in the Middle East since 2003 have taught us anything, it’s that living without them is impossible. The curtailment of civil liberties that characterises dictatorial regimes has often been considered an acceptable trade-off for the peace and stability they bring with them. People living in these circumstances know that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t democracy – it’s chaos.
“SADDAM WAS A FAT BLACK SPIDER high up in the corner of the room. You knew where he was, and kept as far away from him as possible.” As a description of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, the metaphor was memorable enough, but what the young Iraqi woman said next was unforgettable. “Now that Saddam has gone the room is full of spiders. You can’t watch them all, and you can’t keep out of their way.”
Living with dictators is never easy, but if events in the Middle East since 2003 have taught us anything, it’s that living without them is impossible. There’s a simple reason for this. The conditions that give rise to dictatorship are generally so appalling that the curtailment of civil liberties that inevitably follows their establishment is considered an acceptable trade-off for the peace and stability they bring with them. People living in these circumstances know that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t democracy – it’s chaos.
Let us give the West the benefit of the doubt and say that its leaders failed to grasp this obvious truth. Let us assume that when Tony Blair declared Saddam a monster, and insisted the world would be a better place without him, he was being sincere. Let us accord the same honour to President George W. Bush, and assume that he, too, was speaking sincerely when he told the US Congress, in his 2007 State of the Union address: “The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity.” Where does it leave us?
It leaves us contemplating a number of brutal truths. The first, and the most brutal, being that, even allowing for Blair and Bush harbouring only the best of intentions, the answer to “the great question of our day” is that America and her allies cannot build free societies in the Middle East. And that the men and women living there will not be sharing the political rights of Westerners any time soon.
That being the case, the West’s choice is no longer between dictatorship and democracy; it is between dictatorship and chaos. And, given that chaos is the only thing the West’s intervention in the Middle East has created, there is really only one positive choice to be made, and that is to back those military/political leaders with the best chance of maintaining, and/or restoring, peace and stability.
In terms of the present security crises precipitated by the Islamic State, and the deadly chaos of Syria’s civil war (out of which the Islamic State emerged) this can only mean recognising what the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has understood from the very beginning; that the best hope of peace and stability in Syria, and eradicating Islamic State, resides with the Baathist government of President Bashar al-Assad.
It is what Emile Simpson, former British Army officer and author of War From the Ground-Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics, is calling the “cold realism” of the  West’s diplomatic and military future. Writing for the conservative American magazine, Foreign Policy, Simpson predicts:
“The post-Paris war on terror will affirm the West’s commitment to fighting radical Islamic terrorism, but, in the process, it will reject the idiom of revolutionary, moralizing democratic change inherited from President Bush. Syria was the end of the line for that approach. This new phase will assume that terrorists are nonstate actors, and will take the view that if you have an international system built around strong sovereign states — no matter how brutal or unconcerned with human rights — life becomes much harder for nonstate armed groups, including terrorists. This is simply a reflection of the new realities we face, not a celebration of that shift.”
Democrats will stand aghast at this unapologetic re-emergence of Nineteenth Century realpolitik. They would, however, be wise to curb their outrage. The Baathist regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Assad family were, indisputably, ruthlessly oppressive in the context of political rights. When viewed from the perspective of the economic and social rights these secular Baathist regimes delivered, however, the picture changes. Modern systems of public education and health opened up the prospect of a more prosperous life for both men and women. Large-scale state interventions generated both jobs and, by Middle Eastern standards, prosperity. Most important, in both Iraq and Syria, the Baathists kept Islamic fanaticism under tight control.
All of which raises the worrying question: Was it really dictatorship that the West was determined to eradicate from the Middle East – including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States? Or was it Baathism? Were the men behind Blair and Bush actually betting that their long-term interests would be better served by “a room full of spiders?”
If so, then they lost the bet.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 24 November 2015.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Labour And The Art Of Deckchair Rearrangement: Andrew Little Re-Shuffles His Shadow Cabinet.

Doomed Exercise: The proverbial rearrangement of the Titanic's deckchairs has come to symbolise the sort of activity that serves no useful purpose. Andrew Little's Shadow Cabinet reshuffle comes perilously close to fitting this description. If Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis are the best politicians he has to offer New Zealand, then it is definitely bold new ideas, rather than people, that he needs to start bringing forward.
SOMETIME THIS WEEK (the date keeps changing) Andrew Little will announce his Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. The refreshed line-up of senior Opposition spokespeople will be the electorate’s best guide as to who will be doing what in the next Labour-led government. Barring unforeseen circumstances, and unforgiveable cock-ups, Little’s promotions, reappointments and demotions will be the last such exercise before the 2017 General Election.
Very few New Zealanders will pay much attention to Little’s final choices. Labour’s ranks, thinned by successive and increasingly severe defeats, contains nobody upon whose shoulders the burden of the electorate’s hopes has yet descended.
This is not 1977, when the occasion of the Mangere by-election threw up the gargantuan figure of David Lange. This lawyer-turned-politician was not only larger-than-life but also (and this was the crucial point) larger than the incumbent Labour Leader, Bill Rowling.
For the next five years, the big question, both in and out of the Labour Party, wasn’t if Lange would replace Rowling as leader, but when. Observing the deep impression the new Mangere MP’s ebullient personality, vicious wit, and soaring rhetoric was making on the public imagination, those Labour MPs determined to steer their party in a new direction lost no time in recruiting him to their caucus faction.
The "B-Team" - aka "The Fish and Chip Brigade". David Lange, Michael Bassett, Roger Douglas, Mike Moore.
The Party President of the time, Jim Anderton, referred to this faction, derisively, as the “B-Team”. The truth of the matter, however, was that Roger Douglas, Mike Moore, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble and, of course, Lange himself, constituted the most creative and dynamic group of politicians to be found within Labour’s parliamentary ranks. Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the ideas they were espousing, there was no disputing that theirs was the team to beat. Everybody understood that when Rowling fell (as he did, eventually, in 1982) things were going to change.
That is the way it is supposed to work in parliamentary democracies: Change is supposed to find her champion, and then, through the ballot box, acquire the power to make things happen. For good or ill, Lange guided the country out of the cul-de-sac into which Sir Robert Muldoon had led it, and the policies of Sir Roger Douglas (and his Treasury advisers) went on to change New Zealand fundamentally.
Nothing and no one of such prodigious capability lurks in Little’s caucus. Not only has Change failed to encounter a champion among its ranks, but she also struggles to find anyone interested in making much happen at all. Such reforms as Labour promised at the elections of 2011 and 2014 have been ostentatiously wiped from the agenda. And such rhetorical skill as Little is able to summon to Labour’s cause is of the sort that serves only to polish the achievements of the past. Lange’s extraordinary oratorical power; his ability to paint a future in which New Zealanders were eager to take up residence, is nowhere in evidence.
Certainly, there is nothing about his finance spokesperson which calls to mind the incandescent passion of Roger Douglas. Grant Robertson is not the sort of person who quotes Neitzsche, writes alternative budgets, or publishes a book entitled There’s Got To Be A Better Way. Although entrusted with heading-up a special party commission dedicated to The Future of Work, there is scant indication that Robertson’s investigation is likely to produce anything that The Listener wouldn’t be proud to publish.
The Wellington Central MP could, of course, be hiding his light under a bushel, and the final report of The Future of Work Commission could end up calling for a dramatic reduction in the length of the working week; a radical reformation of the law regulating workplace relations; state-subsidised retraining; and the introduction of a Universal Basic Income. But a Labour caucus willing to embrace economic and social policies of such radicalism is unlikely to look and feel as somnambulant as the one Little leads.
The latest public opinion polls in the UK are registering a sharp upward spike in support for the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party among the 18-25 and 26-35 year-old cohorts of voters. Though well behind David Cameron’s Conservatives in overall terms, this surge of support from the young is of enormous importance to British Labour’s future as a viable political party.
As Little prepares to lead his re-shuffled shadows into Labour’s centenary year, he needs to consider whether his party’s future is likely to be rescued by people, or policies. If Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis are the best politicians he has to offer New Zealand, then it is definitely bold new ideas that he needs to start bringing forward.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Monday, 23 November 2015.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

What I Believe - A Social-Democrat's Credo


Challenged by the uncompromising content of my latest posting, “Capitalism Kills”, some readers of Bowalley Road have challenged me to state my own beliefs. Accordingly, I have hunted out part of a presentation I delivered to the Labour Party Summer School held near Thames in January 2007. For all those who have been asking me to spell out what I stand for – this is my answer.

I BELIEVE that human societies arise out of need. The need for food and shelter, the need for intimacy, the need for nurturing, and the need for protection – both from natural dangers, and the aggression of our own species. To secure these needs, human beings must work, individually or collectively, but always with the ultimate purpose of keeping strong those innumerable threads that bind our communities into a functioning wholeness.
The source of fulfilment of these human needs is the natural bounty of the planet on which our species dwells. Human beings are but one of the countless life-forms which inhabit the Earth’s surface, and we share with them a fundamental dependency on the planet’s life-giving properties.
Alone among all the creatures of the Earth, humankind possesses the power to radically alter the fragile environment of its home. Such power bears with it an awesome responsibility: our own future, and the future of all other living things, depends upon our willingness to accept that what is possible is not always desirable. To ensure its survival, the human species must recognise the limits of its power.
In New Zealand, two peoples co-exist in differing states of awareness of the essential collectivism and dependency of human communities. The indigenous people possess a clear and poignant vision of humanity’s place in these islands. But the colonising peoples would not rest until the ideas and institutions of their respective cultures had taken root in New Zealand. To the extent they succeeded, the conflicts and contradictions of their homelands were also transplanted here. Resolving these conflicts and contradictions, and discovering the best means of prospering together, is the historic task of the two peoples fated to share these islands – Maori and Pakeha.
As a social-democrat I am dedicated to furthering in all aspects of my country’s social, political and economic organisation the essential equality of human beings. Social-democracy defines equality in terms of the universality of human need. Old or young, male or female, Maori or Pakeha, we are all defined by the human and ecological relationships indispensable to our existence. None of us live but by the bounty of nature and the collective exertion of our fellow human beings.
That being so, we must reject all claims hostile to the reality of our interdependence. Individuals and groups who through inherited advantage or simple good fortune are endowed with disproportionate wealth and resources, enjoy their property on the sufferance of that vast majority whose daily labours make possible a functioning society. Only for as long as, in the judgement of the many, the accumulation of property by a fortunate few serves the interests of the community as a whole, will the private control of wealth be permitted to endure. Any attempt by a minority to transform this dispensation into a system of permanent and unchallengeable privilege cannot be deemed just.
As a social-democrat I look to the state, as the institutional expression of our interdependence, to secure for all citizens a healthy and abundant life. The provision of gainful employment, education, health, housing, and the guarantee of protection against the arbitrary curtailment of the citizens’ capacity, individually, to determine freely, within the constraints imposed by their interdependence, how best to pursue their own happiness, are rights due to all New Zealanders. Political institutions and the laws they create exist to secure these rights, drawing their authority from the freely given consent of all responsible citizens. Those charged with governing our country, hold in trust the resources – both natural and social – that are the common property of all our people.
Being a social-democrat, I cannot countenance the arbitrary dispersal of the New Zealand people’s resources, nor the slow fragmentation and dilution of their rights. Neither will I surrender the sovereignty of my nation to the interests of foreigners. Though the fundamental kinship of all human beings is indisputable, New Zealand’s destiny, finally, must be the enterprise of New Zealanders alone.
This essay was posted by The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Sunday, 22 November 2015.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Punishing The Barbarians

Imperialism To The Rescue? United States infantry storm the walls of Beijing as part of the Eight Nation Alliance's successful attempt to put down the "rebellion" of Boxer terrorists and restore "civilised values" to the benighted people of China. But, the actions of the imperialist powers in 1900 are regarded very differently with the hindsight of 115 years. How shall the West's imminent actions in the Middle East be judged in 2130?
IT WAS CALLED “The Eight Nation Alliance” and it had but one purpose: to punish the Chinese people. In 1899, the Shandong peasantry had resolved to drive all “foreign devils” out of their country, rising in their thousands under the leadership of a secret society known as the Brotherhood of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. The British, with characteristic disdain, referred to these patriots as “Boxers”, and dubbed their uprising the “Boxer Rebellion”.
By 1900 the Boxers were close to achieving their goal. They had shamed the Empress Dowager, Cixi, into supporting their movement and with the assistance of the Chinese army had the “foreign devils” bottled up in Beijing’s diplomatic quarter.
It was the unthinkable prospect of these legations being over-run, and their terrified inhabitants slaughtered, that persuaded the world’s leading imperialists: Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, the USA, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Japan; to announce the formation of a joint force to lift the siege and restore the status quo ante.
The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, felt obliged to mark the departure of his own nation’s contingent with a speech. If you ever wondered why, in both world wars, the German’s were referred to as “The Hun” – wonder no more:
“Should you encounter the enemy,” said the Kaiser, “he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German.”
Confronting the Yellow Peril: The Christian West is enjoined by the archangel Michael to strike down the Asiatic threat from the East.
Needless to say, the Eight Nation Alliance – whose forces numbered in excess of 45,000 soldiers and marines – made short work of the poorly armed and inadequately led Chinese forces. Beijing was sacked and the Forbidden City ransacked of its treasures.
Never again would the imperial powers of Europe and Japan go to war alongside – as opposed to against – one another. Just 15 years after the subjugation of China, the members of the Eight Nation Alliance were tearing themselves to pieces in the First World War.
Of course, had you been reading the newspapers of the period, the foreign intervention in China would have seemed entirely reasonable. In an era when the Christian churches of the West were filled-to-bursting every Sunday, the stories of Christian missionary families being beheaded, burned alive, raped and even crucified by the brutal Boxer mobs, left Europeans feeling stunned and sickened.
These were not civilised people to be reasoned with. Indeed, the suicidal tactics of the Boxer “rebels” – many of them armed only with swords and spears – charging headlong into the murderous fire of the allies’ Maxim guns (an early type of machine-gun) struck the “reasonable men” of 1900 as the very antithesis of civilisation. In their ears, the bombastic racism of Kaiser Wilhelm did not sound nearly so shocking as it does in our own.
Perhaps the leaders of the world’s great powers should pause to contemplate the difference 115 years can make to way people interpret the behaviour of their forebears. In the minds of Presidents Hollande and Putin, the case for bringing together another Eight Nation Alliance to crush the barbaric Islamic State no doubt seems as strong as the arguments for punishing the murderous Boxers and their treacherous Empress Dowager, Cixi.
That the egregious behaviour of the imperial powers made such an uprising inevitable would have been dismissed by the political leaders of 1900 as an outrageous slur. The British Government’s open support for the 19th Century opium trade, and its callous indifference to the enormous suffering it inflicted on the Chinese people, went largely unremarked. With the benefit of 115 years hindsight, however, Britain’s culpability is as obvious as it is detestable.
How shall our own generation of political and military leaders appear from the perspective of 115 years in the future? Given the West’s numerous interventions in Middle Eastern affairs since World War II, will the atrocities committed by Islamic State strike our great grandchildren as any more worthy of historical condemnation than the atrocities of the Boxers?
As China is today, so may the Islamic world be in 2130. What will its judgement be?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 November 2015.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Capitalism Kills: Why, For The Right, The Left Is Always Wrong.


THE IDEA that the Left can do nothing right is central to the Right’s world view. In terms of both competency and morality, leftists are held to be irremediably deficient. All evidence contradicting this proposition is either ignored or denied. But any claim, no matter how absurd, which confirms the Right’s view of the Left’s deficiencies, immediately becomes holy writ. It’s as if even the slightest suggestion that the Right might be wrong has the power, if accepted, to unravel its entire understanding of the world.
This hyper-sensitivity to left-wing judgement is entirely understandable. What differentiates the Left from the Right is the former’s fundamental objection to the strongest human-beings’ urge to dominate, coerce and exploit the weakest. Absent this urge, however, none of the economic and social systems elaborated by armed minorities throughout history could have endured. Not the empires of the ancient world; not the feudal structures of the middle ages; and certainly not the capitalist system of the modern era. All of these civilisations were built on the ruthless exploitation of the weak by the strong – exploitation enforced by extreme and unreproved violence.
As it was, so it is still. Strip away all the piety, mythology and outright lies about our present, capitalist, civilisation and you will find, at its core, the domination, coercion and exploitation that its political guardians, the Right, recognise as its true essence, and will defend – to the death.
One of the Right’s most important misunderstandings of the Left is that it can, somehow, embrace domination, coercion and exploitation – and remain the Left. Notwithstanding its logical absurdity, it is the condemnation one hears most often from the Right: that the Left, in the shape of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or the Communist Party of China, is responsible for upwards of 100 million deaths.
They forget, of course, that the vast majority of those killed were individuals who refused to accept the right of either of these parties to impose their will on the people in whose name they had accomplished the overthrow of the old oppressors. Whether it be the rebellious Russian sailors at Kronstadt in 1921, or workers and peasants across the whole of China from 1949 to the present day, whoever, in the name of justice and equity, takes a stand against an oppressive system of domination, coercion and exploitation is, by definition, a leftist.
Though the Right’s inability to properly understand this simple truth is astonishing, it is hardly surprising. If they were not able to convince themselves that the Left is an irredeemably evil political phenomenon, driven by greed and envy to confiscate the hard-earned wealth of all who are superior to their neighbours in intelligence, enterprise and skill, then the Right would have to face the true character of the system it has created, operates and defends.
That would mean casting its eyes back over history and calculating the human and environmental damage it has done. Even if this exercise is limited to the capitalist era, the results are damning. The slave trade that built the fortunes of so many of Britain’s leading capitalist families. The depredations of the East India Company, whose rapacious pursuit of profit ravaged the entire Indian sub-continent. The opium trade to China, which, under the protection of the British navy, addicted millions. The list could be extended indefinitely for each of the great capitalist powers, and the death toll laboriously calculated, but it would still fall short. Because it would not include the untold millions of lives blighted and shortened by years of economic exploitation and neglect. Capitalism kills. It has done so from its earliest beginnings, and it does so still. The only distinction between the history of capitalism and the history of the Mexican drug cartels, is that the cartels have never pretended to be advancing the progress of humankind. (See here and here for Dr Wayne Hope's analysis of drug-dealing and capitalism.)
Oh, how the Right will bridle at that last sentence! How loudly they’ll protest that capitalism has lifted millions – no, billions! – out of poverty. That it was capitalism which boosted incomes, upgraded housing, delivered improved health and education, and generally uplifted and prolonged the lives of the masses.
Poor creatures. They have to believe this. Because not to believe it: not to be absolutely certain that the system that sent gun-thugs to break-up strikes; adulterated food; presided over slums; polluted whole regions; and sent entire nations off to war; was (and is) the sole source of all that is wholesome and good in the world raises the awful possibility that something, or someone, else is responsible for making life under capitalism just that little bit happier and more fulfilling for humankind.
And who could that possibly be? Surely not the trade unionists, who forced up workers’ wages? Or the social reformers, scientists and doctors, who discovered how to ward off illness and disease? Or the progressive architects and city planners, who designed cheap and sturdy housing for the poor? Or the progressive, social-democratic and labour parties, who gathered together all the agents of economic and social progress, won state power, and fastened a strong regulatory collar around the capitalist beast?
Surely, it wasn’t – no, no, it couldn’t possibly have been – the Left?
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Wednesday, 18 November 2015.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Responding To Paris: The Left Must Never Abandon Love For Hate; Justice For Revenge.

Hold Fast To Your Beliefs: We are leftists because, at the very core of our values, lies an unshakeable belief in the worth of every human-being, and in the right of every human-being to live his or her life free from exploitation and violence. That the world is so full of these evils must never daunt us, nor persuade us to abandon love for hate; justice for revenge.
TERRORIST ATTACKS – like the one that left 129 Parisians dead on 13 November 2015 – leave many leftists in a quandary. Most of us are only too aware that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom-fighter. We hesitate to join in the outpourings of outrage and sympathy because we are appalled by, and want no part of, the extraordinary hypocrisy in which these events are shrouded.
Scores of men, women and children are killed and maimed by terrorist attacks almost every day in the countries of the Middle East and Africa, and yet they merit only a few words in our news bulletins and newspapers. Certainly, nobody thinks them worthy of front-page treatment. Nor do we see significant public buildings lit up in the colours of their nation’s flag.
This is because there is an unacknowledged hierarchy of significance at work in the newsrooms of the West. People of colour; followers of non-Christian faiths; citizens of nations with which our governments are not on friendly terms: the violent deaths of such people are almost never accorded the same degree of significance as the deaths of Westerners.
If I belonged to one of these “less significant” groups, I would find it extremely difficult not to brand the actions of Western editors racist.
Because even the term “terrorist attack” carries blatantly racist overtones. In Western ears, it conjures up images of bloodthirsty organisations with outlandish names like Boko Haram, Janjaweed, Hezbollah and ISIS. It is much less common to hear the term linked to the actions of the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the other Western powers. Terrorists wear turbans and carry Kalashnikovs – not smart uniforms and M-16s.
And yet, since the end of the Second World War, the armed forces of the United States, advised and assisted by its intelligence and security agencies, has been responsible for the deaths of millions. The unrelenting air assault on North Korea (over 700,000 sorties between 1950-53) is credited (conservatively) with at least a million civilian deaths. Twice that number of civilians are estimated to have been killed by the American armed forces in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia between 1965-75. US inflicted civilian deaths in Iraq 2003-2014 are put at well over 600,000.
In 1996, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madelaine Albright, was questioned by Lesley Stahl, of CBS’s 60 Minutes, about the human consequences of the sanctions imposed by the US on the regime of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
“We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
To which Albright responded,
“I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”
Those who wonder how a group of young men can fire their automatic weapons into a crowded theatre should, perhaps, contemplate the effect of Ambassador Albright’s words on the parents and siblings of those 500,000 children.
The temptation which confronts so many on the Left is to advance these bleak statistics as some form of justification for the actions of non-state terrorists around the world. It is a temptation we must resist. That we learn the fundamental moral precept “two wrongs don’t make a right” at our parents’ knees, does not make it any the less true.
The appropriate moral response to the deliberate killing of innocent human-beings can never be the deliberate killing of innocent human-beings. If we are outraged by the callous indifference of Madelaine Albright, we must also be outraged by the pitiless brutality of the Islamic State’s jihadis in the Bataclan Theatre.
Nor is it appropriate to downplay the horror and heartache of Parisians who have lost loved ones simply because our news media has failed to highlight the horror and heartache of those who have suffered similar loss in other parts of the world.
We are leftists because, at the very core of our values, lies an unshakeable belief in the worth of every human-being, and in the right of every human-being to live his or her life free from exploitation and violence. That the world is so full of these evils must never daunt us, nor persuade us to abandon love for hate; justice for revenge.
Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 17 November 2015.