Hilary Benn was a mediocrity prior to his Syria speech and he remains a mediocrity after it

Hilary Benn’s speech in favour of bombing Syria is being presented to us as if it belongs on the same level as Churchill’s ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech after Dunkirk. Even though we have a media establishment in this country which supports a government that is in the business of closing libraries instead of opening them, surely even they don’t think we’re stupid enough to fall for that one?

Rather than Churchillian or Ciceronian, Benn’s speech was a scream from the bowels of mediocrity, a tocsin sounding the call to the barricades for every middle manager, placeman, machine politician, unprincipled opportunist and technocrat in the land. It was delivered by a man who during the Spanish Civil War you know would have described as a mindless rabble the working class men and women who, in defiance of the non interventionist policy of the British government of the day, heeded the call of those holding the line against fascism in Spain.

Indeed the most offensive part of his speech was the cynical opportunism involved in exploiting the courage and heroism of the International Brigades to argue in favour of eight ageing British bombers dropping bombs on an Arab country in clear violation of its sovereignty, while allied to regional governments that have been and continue to facilitate the very menace we are supposed to be fighting. Never in the annals of historical revisionism has such an absurdity been articulated and lauded and praised from the rafters.

In the aftermath of what history will record was a low point to rank with any involving the House of Commons, the forces of reaction have waged a full on media and political offensive not only to cement their victory over bombing Syria, but to return the Labour Party to the tender embrace of Blairism, Thatcher’s most cherished accomplishment. The determination with which the anti-Corbyn faction within the PLP have sought to demonise the Labour leader’s supporters with accusations of intimidation and bullying is being vigorously supported by newspaper editors and columnists whose revulsion of democracy is only matched by the passion with which they use it as justification when it comes to defending the indefensible.

Democracy to them is the exclusive property of people educated at Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, while anyone with a working class accent who dare become politically engaged beyond their station of being allowed to cast a vote every few years is a reprobate, part of a rascal multitude deserving of contempt.

Labour’s by-election victory in Oldham immediately after the Syria vote proves that Corbyn’s message is managing to penetrate the dense fog of anti-Corbyn media bias, which has descended over the nation’s political discourse like smoke over a battlefield. Now is the time for Jeremy to start imposing his leadership within the shadow cabinet and to reject completely the portrayal of his supporters as an unruly mob intent on sowing mayhem.

His mandate is a matter of record and his pledge to democratise the Labour Party constitutes the only hope of it being re-fashioned as a weapon of social and economic justice. This is why the Tory establishment fear him more than they ever could the mediocrities who’ve revealed beyond doubt that Jeremy Corbyn’s bitterest foes are to be found in the Commons sitting behind and alongside him, rather than opposite.

They mistake his decency for weakness, and his lack of bombast for timidity. The time has arrived for him to prove them wrong and bring his mandate to bear. Protests, lobbying, agitating, these activities come under the rubric of legitimate and honourable political activity in any democratic society, which is the very reason they loathe it so. Being exposed and held up to scrutiny by ordinary working people beyond the hallowed halls of the Commons is not something our political class is used to. It makes them accountable and accountability, real accountability, for them constitutes an unpardonable intrusion into their right to rule.

During her farewell address to the volunteers of the International Brigades in Barcelona in 1938, Dolores Ibarruri, known to the world as ‘La Pasionara’, said: “You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.”

Hilary Benn was a medicroity prior to his speech on Syria and remains a mediocrity after it. Shame on him for blaspheming the name and heroism of those men and women of the International Brigades.

 

 

 

 

116 comments on “Hilary Benn was a mediocrity prior to his Syria speech and he remains a mediocrity after it

  1. jock mctrousers on said:

    I was impressed with his dance moves – sort of a St Vitus dance. His emphatic gestures were so snappy and vigorous I worried he might shake his bones out their sockets. I worry for his mental health. I think that’s the nicest thing to say about him..

  2. Pingback: David Cameron’s expensive bombing of Syria | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Molotov on said:

    Rangers used to have a player whom the crowd called “TinMan”. I don’t recall his actual name. But he came back to life for me in the dance moves of Hilary Benn referred to above…

  4. Looks like the Front National has won big in the regional elections. Maybe time for another speech from Hilary Benn to put things right? Or drone strikes in northern France?

  5. John Grimshaw on said:

    Now is the time for Jeremy to start imposing his leadership within the shadow cabinet and to reject completely the portrayal of his supporters as an unruly mob intent on sowing mayhem.

    I note that according to the news Momentum is now moving to “purge” unruly leftists who are not in or part of the Labour tradition.

  6. John Grimshaw on said:

    Duncan:
    Looks like the Front National has won big in the regional elections. Maybe time for another speech from Hilary Benn to put things right? Or drone strikes in northern France?

    Southern France as well surely.

  7. John Grimshaw: I note that according to the news Momentum is now moving to “purge” unruly leftists who are not in or part of the Labour tradition.

    You have a problem with this, John? Given the history of disruption caused by such groups in coalitions and movements I would say this is a smart move.

  8. John Grimshaw on said:

    John,

    Well I was posting it because I thought it was of interest to people. It may reflect a shift in Corbyn’s movement under impact from the establishment. In principle however I can see why you wouldn’t want people who are not in your party involved in decision making meetings. That being said the right in the LP (or it’s bureaucracy) are doing their level best to keep people out who would constitute to the life of the organisation. So it’s swings and roundabouts.

  9. P Spence on said:

    John,

    I attended a inaugural Momentum meeting last night. About 50 people present. Many declared themselves to be members of either the SP or SWP. That will have to stop. Neither of these parties can have any role in Momentum or indeed in the Labour Party. Momentum is for party members, registered supporters and individuals sympathetic to the Party’s aims. The best thing these Trotskyite grouplets can do is disband and free ex-members, after a reasonable period of purdah, to apply to join the Labour party. There is no other way forward for them: they will have zero influence outside the party; and they know it, hence their desperation to be accepted in Momentum.

  10. John Grimshaw on said:

    P Spence: to be members of either the SP or SWP.

    Did they indicate that they were going to leave their respective “Trotyskyite” organisations?

  11. George Hallam on said:

    P Spence: The best thing these Trotskyite grouplets can do is disband and free ex-members

    You can take the activist out of the SWP but can you take the SWP out of the activist?

  12. John Grimshaw on said:

    P Spence: The best thing these Trotskyite grouplets can do is disband and free ex-members, after a reasonable period of purdah, to apply to join the Labour party.

    Some of us, many of us joined these grouplets because we were extremely frustrated at the complete and utter failure of the LP to do anything vaguely radical. And the LP didn’t support the miners.

  13. P Spence on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    No. But I would be surprised if many in the SP are not now thinking that that is what they have to do, if they want to participate in Corbyn’s Labour Party. if I was in their shoes, I’d be feeling pretty irrelevant today.

  14. John (Grimshaw) the statement that the Labour Party didn’t support the miners is only partially true and therefore misleading.

    CLPs all over the country organised collections, organised accommodation for flying pickets etc. The famous photo of a woman photographer being attacked by a mounted cop at Orgreave was first published on the front page of the LP’s then paper Labour Weekly, who produced it as an A1 poster. Scargill was given a standing ovation at LP conference in 1984.

    At the start of the strike the SWP was telling its members not to participate in miners’ support groups as they were allegedly a diversion from the picket lines. When they changed their line it was in many places (including Colchester, Eastbourne and Chester- the three places I was living at that time) Labour Party members who they largely worked with in the support groups.

  15. George Hallam on said:

    Vanya: John (Grimshaw) the statement that the Labour Party didn’t support the miners is only partially true and therefore misleading.

    That would depend on ones concept of ‘the Labour Party ‘. If you regard it as a collective term for a set of independent bits then your point is valid

    However, in so far as the LP derives its importance from its position as an integral part of the British political establishment it needs to be treated as a single unit defined by its parliamentary leadership.

    (hence the ambiguity of the current situation )

  16. UncleAlbert on said:

    John: I would say this is a smart move.

    Nail on the head.

    The cult-like Marxist parties will, at best, use Momentum as a recruiting opportunity. Let’s keep them out.

    My advice to the Trots is to join Progress – a group with similar organisational characteristics. And they’ll probably feel very much at home – a significant section of New Labour’s careerist elite were once members of Far Left parties.

  17. jock mctrousers on said:

    Yes, but will Momentum next be asked to ban members of the Stop the War campaign from membership/involvement/whatever…?

    There seems to be a momentum building along those lines. Following on the Tristram Hunt’s calling StW a ‘disreputable’ organisation, TWICE on C4 News tonight Jon Snow went off topic to raise the question of whether it’s appropriate for Corbyn to attend some StW dinner.

    The first occasion was when interviewing Caroline Lucas about climate change, Snow pressed her on whether she thought it appropriate for Corbyn to dine with StW after she herself had resigned from StW because (according to Snow) of something someone to do with StW had published somewhere… I’d never heard of this, so I refer you to this Guardian article:
    Green MP Caroline Lucas steps down from Stop the War Coalition role
    Statement says decision is due to MP’s busy schedule and ‘in light of some recent StWC positions that she didn’t support’
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/08/caroline-lucas-steps-down-from-stop-the-war-coalition-role
    The bit of that article that touches on what Snow mentioned is

    ” The group was also criticised for an article – which has also been taken down – responding to the Commons speech by the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, on why he would be supporting airstrikes in Syria. It read: “Benn does not even seem to realise that the jihadist movement that ultimately spawned Daesh [Isis] is far closer to the spirit of internationalism and solidarity that drove the International Brigades than Cameron’s bombing campaign.”

    I don’t know if that WAS anything to do with her resigning, because she rightly said that wasn’t what she came there to discuss.

    Then at the end of the show, there was a so-called discussion with Will Self (who’s sort of ok) and some slimy Henry Jackson society posh Tory drip, and Snow brought up this story again and again… The show ended with the Tory repeating over and over that StW was disreputable, and ANTISEMITIC, ANTISEMITIC, ANTISEMITIC!!! That clinches it, I suppose

  18. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya: John (Grimshaw) the statement that the Labour Party didn’t support the miners is only partially true and therefore misleading.
    CLPs all over the country organised collections, organised accommodation for flying pickets etc. The famous photo of a woman photographer being attacked by a mounted cop at Orgreave was first published on the front page of the LP’s then paper Labour Weekly, who produced it as an A1 poster. Scargill was given a standing ovation at LP conference in 1984.

    I accept your point Vanya but see what George said afterwards. If Labour is part of the worker’s movement then it and a substantial section of the TU leadership failed to rally around the miners with the results we have since seen.

    Vanya: At the start of the strike the SWP was telling its members not to participate in miners’ support groups as they were allegedly a diversion from the picket lines.

    From what I’ve been told it was worse than that. Because Cliff etc. was still in the “downturn” then he/they thought that the miners strike wasn’t going to come to anything so the SWP’s members didn’t initially do anything. They then had to play catch up as you say after the event when they realised the strike was serious.

  19. John Grimshaw on said:

    jock mctrousers: “Benn does not even seem to realise that the jihadist movement that ultimately spawned Daesh [Isis] is far closer to the spirit of internationalism and solidarity that drove the International Brigades than Cameron’s bombing campaign.”

    I can’t find this now Jock. It’s only on secondary sources. I assume someone did put out this stupid statement because elsewhere StW says that it is an organisation of different groups of people thus implying that they don’t have a central command centre in charge of what they say(?). To me that sounds like some kind of feeble back handed apology. All that being said it is quite clear that as part of the establishment’s attack on Corbyn and via him the Left in general this part of a witch-hunt which I suspect Momentum is suffering from. StW formally says it takes no views on the Labour Party for what it’s worth. The Henry Jackson Society bloke that you and I saw on the news was crying out “Anti-Semitic” because he’s pro-Zionist and he knows that StW isn’t. But it’s a good way to muddy the waters.

  20. John Grimshaw on said:

    UncleAlbert: The cult-like Marxist parties will, at best, use Momentum as a recruiting opportunity. Let’s keep them out.
    My advice to the Trots is to join Progress

    Are you saying all Marxist Parties are cult like or only the Trot ones? Just thought I’d ask. However given the SWP/SP’s track record I’d say you are right about them attending the meeting to recruit someone if they can. But then why shouldn’t they?

  21. jock mctrousers on said:

    John Grimshaw: I assume someone did put out this stupid statement because elsewhere StW says that it is an organisation of different groups of people thus implying that they don’t have a central command centre in charge of what they say(?).

    I’m not clear that this was even more than a comment on a blogpost hosted by StW… Is there such a thing? I get regular newsletters from them, but confess I never read them – I turned out for all the marches for the first few years, but like everyone else, y’know…

    But ” don’t have a central command centre in charge of what they say(?).” doesn’t wash – I recall a few different people calling themselves StW’s ‘communications manager’ over the years. If they haven’t got a communications manager, what kind of campaign are they? Ok – one whose emails you can safely ignore for years…

    Whatever, StW should make it clear if that analogy with the International Brigade has been taken out of context, or is a comment on a blog post, or what,… It’s certainly not an analogy I’d wish to be associated with myself.

  22. jock mctrousers on said:

    Yes, the hacks have all got their orders. They brought it up on Newsnight last night and again on the Daily Politics today, with Neil and sexypants Jo badgering some Labour woman (who was actually very good, I must say) over and over, though she’had explained that the International Brigade thing was just a comment on a blogpost – they insisted against all assurances that this was an official statement of StW.

    This is a serious state slander campaign. Surprise surprise.

  23. jock mctrousers on said:

    I must point out of course that it is MY OWN view and not the official view of Socialist Unity, that Jo Wotsit on Daily Politics is a ‘sexypants’.

  24. I had to laugh about the woman in the Question Time audience who said something like Benn would be a good leader of the opposition. This was rather odd given that his speech was in support of the government! He also supports the government on a number of other crucial issues such as Trident replacement.

    His speech said ‘we cannot pass by on the other side’ i.e. do nothing.
    The only problem is that nobody had advocated doing nothing. Nor did he mention that ISIS developed in part because of the invasion of Iraq which he supported.

    On the subject of the alleged intimidation of MPs over the Syria vote, did you hear about the Conservative MP who added a death threat to a constituent’s e-mail?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3346220/Tory-MP-voted-bomb-Syria-Facebook-death-threat-row-adding-unless-die-constituent-s-email.html

    I can hardly wait to read Nick Cohen and Andrew Rawnsley denounce this in the next edition of the Observer.

  25. #40 The fuss is that if people whose political sympathies historically are seen as being with the IBs in Spain then make a comparison between the IBs and foreign jihadis in Syria, that’s open to the implication that they are by extension sympathetic to those same foreign jihadis.

  26. UncleAlbert on said:

    John Grimshaw: why shouldn’t they?

    Because they contribute nothing.

    I live in a semi-rural constituency where there has always been a prominent radical element. Whenever things hot-up, perhaps around a particular campaign, a bunch of Marxist missionaries head-out from the nearest city with instructions to conscript us. But there’s never anyone daft enough to sign-up. So, in response to our non-compliance they set about attempting to destabilise our already existing structures and processes.

    Eventually they return from whence they came. And, after a while, another set of gullible Marxists are instructed to attempt the same.

    In order to avoid repetitions of this wearisome experience Momentum groups should close the door on them immediately and get on with local campaigning etc.

  27. jock mctrousers: Whatever, StW should make it clear if that analogy with the International Brigade has been taken out of context, or is a comment on a blog post, or what,… It’s certainly not an analogy I’d wish to be associated with myself.

    The author of the article does not support the Islamic State.

    As far as I can see, an unfortunate choice of words and the malicious quoting of those words out of context have combined to distort a reasonable point. The author is trying to understand what motivates people to travel to the Middle East to fight for Isis. He is not, in any way expressing support for it.

    Here is the article in question:

    http://infernalmachine.co.uk/mr-benn-goes-a-bombing/

    and here you can read articles by the author, Matt Carr, commenting on the reaction to the original article:

    http://infernalmachine.co.uk/

    There are two important lessons we can draw:

    1. We should be aware that what we write can and probably will be quoted out of context to discredit the Left. Normally this wouldn’t matter as we don’t generally have a lot to lose and nobody is interested in what we have to say. However, the Left is currently centre-stage in national politics and what we say is watched for potential sticks with which to beat the Left in general and the current Labour leader in particular – so it is crucial that we give our opponents as few such opportunities as possible. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to exercise great care in the way we express ourselves.

    2. We shouldn’t take too much notice of quotations presented out of context.

    The real outrage was the nauseating attempt by Benn to draw a parallel between British imperialism and the International Brigades.

  28. John Grimshaw,

    The stupid remarks are from an article by someone called, I think, Matt Carr, who writes a blog called Infernal Machine.

    The original article including the fuckwitted comparison still can be found there.

    Clearly whoever runs STW website made a tactical error, in presenting such a view which potentially undermines the basis of the coalition.

    But it was an error of judgement obly about the breadth of views which should be carried by website of a coaltion including a wide variety of positions and opinions. Clearly there are many other views in STW and most supporters of the organization would consider Matt Carr’s opinion on this not only wrong, but offensive.

    However, STW made an error of editorial discretion. On the big issues of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, STW has been correct, and the British establishment has been wrong.

    Concentating on Matt Carr and the silly decision to publish his article by STW is a tactic to set the envelope of acceptible political opinion, and to use guilt by association to put STW beyond the pale

    We shouldn’t play their game

  29. John (Grimshaw) I put your surname in brackets because I only used it to distinguish you from John (not Grimshaw) . Were it not for the fact that there used to ve a regular contributer who referred to himself as John G that’s what I’d call you but I live in hope that he might return. If only because he got a regular pasting 🙂

  30. jock mctrousers on said:

    Zaid,

    Thanks for that.

    Andy Newman: The stupid remarks are from an article by someone called, I think, Matt Carr, who writes a blog called Infernal Machine.

    The original article including the fuckwitted comparison still can be found there.

    Clearly whoever runs STW website made a tactical error, in presenting such a view which potentially undermines the basis of the coalition

    I think you’re setting the bar a bit high there, Andy. That was a perfectly innocuous article, if a bit careless. To quote the author, from the second of Zaid’s links,

    ” Of course I didn’t think that a paragraph from my blog would have been highlighted in the way it was, but I should have taken greater care, particularly in these difficult times, when a stray word or sentence taken out of context can easily acquire entirely different meanings to the ones you intend. ”

    I think a short, diplomatic preamble to the International Brigade bit would have sufficed, along the lines of ” Given the relentless propaganda from the UK govt and media about Assad’s massacring of civilians, and the UK govt’s long stated support for anti-Assad rebels (as for instance in the recent complaints about Russia bombing ‘Western-supported rebels) – then it would hardly be surprising if some UK muslims believed the UK govt and saw jihad in Syria as something like the International Brigade blah blah… you get my drift. Indeed I seem to recall reading of some returners from Syrian being arrested, offering such a defence, and having to be let go… but I couldn’nt swear to that.

  31. George Hallam on said:

    Vanya: The fuss is that if people whose political sympathies historically are seen as being with the IBs in Spain..

    I seems my mistake is the expect too much consistency from people.

    The international brigades were the result of a Comintern initiative with the aim of supporting the Spanish republican government. Most of the volunteers were either communist party members or highly sympathetic to the communist party. That it, stalinists organised stalinists in pursuit of the stalinist policy of a popular front against Fascism.

    From what I hear and read the overwhelming majority of ‘Stop the War’ activists reject Stalin and all his works, especially with regard to Spain.

    Conventional wisdom on the Left is that the only way Spanish Fascism could have been defeat was if there had been a socialist revolution. At the time leftists said that there would be very little difference between a victory for Franco or for the Republic.

    However, instead of trying to overthrow the republican government the international brigades supported it and by fighting Franco, helped to prop it up.

    Given the above, it seems to me that there can be very few leftists who sincerely admire these who volunteered for the international brigades. Therefore there can be no question of any sympathy for foreign jihadis.

    But, as I say, perhaps I’m being too logical.

  32. #51 Probably the wrong expression. A play on words.

    Nevertheless, your comment is all over the place. So much so that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

    But I think you should at least attempt to explain the significance of your assertion that most people who support StW believe that the Popular Front strategy in Spain was wrong and that it was necessary to fight for socialism in this discussion.

    Is there some connection between that position and being soft on Daesh?

  33. #51 And again, who are “the left”. Your love/ hate relationship with the term is becoming epic.

  34. John Grimshaw on said:

    Zaid: an unfortunate choice of words

    The whole of the Left associated with Corbyn in some fashion is under massive attack at the moment. This includes StW and Momentum. I note that the news is now saying that Momentum may come under investigation for the “incorrect” use of data bases. However people should not assist the establishment by posting ridiculous things that they have not thought through.

  35. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: We shouldn’t play their game

    Of course Andy. Well put. I don’t. There is a seriously orchestrated campaign by the establishment now to smash the forward thinkingness started by the pro-Corbyn election movement and I have to say I’m less confident now that it will survive than I was a month ago, however we have to do what we can do.

  36. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam: The international brigades were the result of a Comintern initiative with the aim of supporting the Spanish republican government. Most of the volunteers were either communist party members or highly sympathetic to the communist party. That it, stalinists organised stalinists in pursuit of the stalinist policy of a popular front against Fascism.
    From what I hear and read the overwhelming majority of ‘Stop the War’ activists reject Stalin and all his works, especially with regard to Spain.
    Conventional wisdom on the Left is that the only way Spanish Fascism could have been defeat was if there had been a socialist revolution. At the time leftists said that there would be very little difference between a victory for Franco or for the Republic.
    However, instead of trying to overthrow the republican government the international brigades supported it and by fighting Franco, helped to prop it up.
    Given the above, it seems to me that there can be very few leftists who sincerely admire these who volunteered for the international brigades. Therefore there can be no question of any sympathy for foreign jihadis.
    But, as I say, perhaps I’m being too logical.

    George I don’t know where to go with this. Like Vanya I think some (not all) of it is all over the place. First you are right that many of the International Brigades were Stalinist supporters or sympathisers. However there were also some who were Trots or anarchists, and there were also many from a LP background. And of course as you will know the people they had gone to fight with included not just the Republican government, Socialists but Spanish Stalinist supporters, POUM, CNT etc. These groups obviously didn’t all agree with each other by any stretch.

    My own view remains that the hardline Stalinists fought to defeat Fascism but also to support the poilcies of the USSR which then often put them in a contradictory position with regards to the revolutionary movement. In order to do that the Stalinists often attacked other groups on the left to achieve their objectives. That being said I don’t think you can fault the bravery of the IBs. There is still a wonderful monument in the park near Craven Cottage in honour of the local people who went to fight. You should see the last episode of “When the Boot Comes In” by the way. James Bolam plays Jack the gun runner who tries to give them to the “Socialists” but then falls foul of the Stalinists who kill him to steal said guns. I agree that probably StW Coalition would not have a lot of time for Stalinist policies, although maybe some do as it’s a coalition. StW was originally founded by the SWP high command but now is organised by Counterfire.

    All of that being said I don’t know where you get the idea from that leftists would think that it would be better to have Franco than the republic? How did “propping up” the Republic help Franco? Surely the better position rather than your seemingly ultra-left one would’ve been to support the Republic against Franco whilst at the same time as fighting for a new revolutionary future? The CNT for example gave critical support to the Republic.

    I don’t think the “Foreign Jihadis” are in any sense the same as the IBs as the man in his blog seems to suggest.

  37. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya,

    Yes funny Vanya. I do of course think that people should try to be consistent but I also think they should be flexible as well. My comment was rather about George’s obvious pompousness. George lighten up!

  38. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw: I don’t know where you get the idea from that leftists would think that it would be better to have Franco than the republic?

    What I actually wrote was:

    George Hallam: At the time leftists said that there would be very little difference between a victory for Franco or for the Republic.

    “very little difference between” is not the same as ‘better than’.

    Where did I get the idea from?

    I’d like to say by listening to the wireless.

    The revolution in Spain was the result of a military and fascist conspiracy. The first imperative need that presented itself to the CNT-FAI was to drive out the conspiratorial gang. …

    With the most fervent desire to aid the revolution in Spain, our comrades outside of it were neither numerically nor materially strong enough to turn the tide. Thus finding themselves up against a stone wall, the CNT-FAI was forced to descend from its lofty traditional heights to compromise right and left: participation in the government, all sorts of humiliating overtures to Stalin, superhuman tolerance for his henchmen who were openly plotting and conniving against the Spanish revolution. …

    Their need to meet Franco’s military equipment was a matter of life and death. The Spanish people had not a moment to lose if they were not to be crushed. What wonder if they saw in Stalin the saviour of the antifascist war? They have since learned that Stalin helped to make Spain safe against the fascists so as to make it safer for his own ends.

    The critical comrades are not at all wrong when they say that it does not seem worthwhile to sacrifice one ideal in the struggle against fascism, if it only means to make room for Soviet Communism. I am entirely of their view – that there is no difference between them.

    Jane Patrick, CNT-FAI radio broadcast (29th March, 1937)

  39. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw: don’t know where you get the idea from

    The Spanish war has probably produced a richer crop of lies than any event since the Great War of 1914-18, but I honestly doubt, in spite of all those hecatombs of nuns who have been raped and crucified before the eyes of Daily Mail reporters, whether it is the pro-Fascist newspapers that have done the most harm. It is the left-wing papers, the News Chronicle and the Daily Worker, with their far subtler methods of distortion, that have prevented the British public from grasping the real nature of the struggle

    The fact which these papers have so carefully obscured is that the Spanish Government (including the semi-autonomous Catalan Government) is far more afraid of the revolution than of the Fascists. It is now almost certain that the war will end with some kind of compromise, and there is even reason to doubt whether the Government, which let Bilbao fail without raising a finger, wishes to be too victorious; but there is no doubt whatever about the thoroughness with which it is crushing its own revolutionaries. …

    Broadly speaking, Communist propaganda depends upon terrifying people with the (quite real) horrors of Fascism. It also involves pretending – not in so many words, but by implication – that Fascism has nothing to do with capitalism. Fascism is just a kind of meaningless wickedness, an aberration, ‘mass sadism’, the sort of thing that would happen if you suddenly let loose an asylumful of homicidal maniacs. Present Fascism in this form, and you can mobilize public opinion against it, at any rate for a while, without provoking any revolutionary movement. You can oppose Fascism by bourgeois ‘democracy, meaning capitalism. But meanwhile you have got to get rid of the troublesome person who points out that Fascism and bourgeois ‘democracy’ are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. .

    George Orwell “Spilling the Spanish Beans” New English Weekly, 29 July and 2 September 1937

    http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/scw/orwell2.htm

    The reference for the previous post is:
    http://spartacus-educational.com/SPanarchists.htm

  40. #61 But how is any of this relevant to the current discussion?

    The reality is that neither foreign volunteers going to fight for the jihadis, be they Daesh or others, nor British warplanes going to bomb targets in Syria can be compared with the IBs in Spain.

    Your response to myself either as John Grimshaw or I have interpreted fails to deal with the fact that these are false analogies.

    Even if it were the case that virtually all StW activists would, if asked, think that the broad POUM/ anarchist/ trotskyist position was correct and the strategy of the government of the Spanish Republic/ Comintern/ USSR was wrong (and given that the chair of StW is Andrew Murray I suggest that it’s not the case) where does that take us?

  41. jock mctrousers: I think a short, diplomatic preamble to the International Brigade bit would have sufficed, along the lines of ” Given the relentless propaganda from the UK govt and media about Assad’s massacring of civilians, and the UK govt’s long stated support for anti-Assad rebels (as for instance in the recent complaints about Russia bombing ‘Western-supported rebels) – then it would hardly be surprising if some UK muslims believed the UK govt and saw jihad in Syria as something like the International Brigade blah blah…

    But he didn’t write that, he wrote something completely different..

    Nor is he a naive, he has apparently written 4 or 5 books, and is considered by some an expert in the study of terrorism.

  42. George Hallam on said:

    Vanya: Even if it were the case that virtually all StW activists would, if asked, think that the broad POUM/ anarchist/ trotskyist position was correct and the strategy of the government of the Spanish Republic/ Comintern/ USSR was wrong (and given that the chair of StW is Andrew Murray I suggest that it’s not the case) where does that take us?

    1. ‘Stop the War’ has been accused of being sympathetic to terrorism.

    2. A StW supporter made a comparison between volunteers for IS in Syria and the International Brigades in Spain. This has been used as evidence of such sympathy.

    3. I pointed out that the parallel has been made several times before by others, including the BBC, without this being seen as implying support for IS. So, on its own the analogy proves nothing.

    4. The only way I can see this as a valid argument working is through ‘approval by association’ (the inverse of ‘guilt by association’). But this will only work if the person making the comparison approved of the International Brigades.

    5. By and large, British leftists are hostile to Stalinism. Since the International Brigades were from start to finish a Stalinist project, they can’t be accused of supporting them. Consequently the ‘approval by association’ argument falls.

    The two quotes I gave show how hostile leftists were to the Stalinist strategy of making the defeat of Franco a priority.

    The quotes were rather long so people could get the whole argument rather than a snippet.

    The key lines are:

    “there is no difference between them” [fascism and Soviet Communism].
    Jane Patrick, March, 1937

    [Communist propaganda argues that ] “You can oppose Fascism by bourgeois ‘democracy, meaning capitalism”.
    [This is impossible because] “Fascism and bourgeois ‘democracy’ are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”
    George Orwell July-September 1937

    I think that, despite its length, this defence of ‘Stop the War’ has some merits.
    Unfortunately, the argument is flawed because it rests on the hidden premise that leftists are rational.

  43. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam,

    This doesn’t of course mean that I agree with you. However for the sake of interest you could do no worse than “The Anarchists of Casas Viejas” Jerome r Mintz 1982

  44. Andy Newman,

    It is not Matt Carr who has been naive, but the person who reposted his piece on the StWC site. It is quite reasonable for Matt Carr to discuss the similarities and differences between present-day international jihadis and the International Brigades. It should quickly become apparent that the differences vastly outweigh the similarities, once the comparison is made. If the piece had remained only on Carr’s blog, it would have done no harm. But given the heightened level of scrutiny of StWC at the moment, and the fact that the war party is desperate to twist any- and everything to fit its preconceived view that StWC, and in particular Jeremy Corbyn, are a bunch of “terrorist sympathisers”, the StWC should not post or repost anything online without first asking: “how will this be misrepresented?”

  45. #66 Like John I see.

    However the huge problem with your argument is that most people on the British left today, even if those who come from a trotskyist tradition, don’t have that negative attitude to the IBs that you quote from Orwell and the FAI.

    In fact when I attended the Jarama commemoration earlier this year there was an SWP member there who has recently decorated his entire house gable end with an IB mural. One of the leading officers of the IBMT is an anarchist.

    And not just the Brits. The PCE (mainstream Spanish Communist Party) stall had a set of badges depicting posters from the Civil War. I discovered that one was a POUM poster. (Btw the PCE apologised retrospectively a good few years ago for their role in the fate of Nin, leader of the POUM).

    The banners and flags on the commemorative march included POUM (obviously historical as the POUM no longer exists) and anarcho-sydicalist ones. Needless to say these were hugely outnumbered by those of the PCE.

    So certainly if you read trotskyist and allied literature you will find the classic (incorrect) anti-popular front position reflected in possibly Ken Loach’s worst film- Land and Freedom, but I suggest that doesn’t flow into the attitudes of most modern leftists towards the IBs.

    Now that may be illogical and inconsistent, but it doesn’t mean it’s not real. And surely if you know people are inconsistent and illogical it’s a bit illogical in itself to put forward an argument premised on them not being?

  46. So there is no defence for people on or associated with the left to publish or write things in any way connected to StW suggesting that there is a similarity between British jihadis going to Syria to fight for Daesh etc and the British Communists etc who went to Spain to fight fascism.

    Which is presumably why it was taken down.

  47. Francis King: It is not Matt Carr who has been naive, but the person who reposted his piece on the StWC site.

    Agreed. Coming on the back of the idiotically insensitive tweet they sent out immediately after the Paris atrocities, the level of amateurishness and political immaturity had been shockingly bad.

    They could not have made life more difficult for Corbyn if they tried. I just hope he doesn’t get dressed up as Santa at their Xmas party this weekend. The press will have a field day if he’s seen prancing around the place in a red suit.

  48. George Hallam on said:

    Vanya: So there is no defence for people on or associated with the left to publish or write things in any way connected to StW suggesting that there is a similarity between British jihadis going to Syria to fight for Daesh etc and the British Communists etc who went to Spain to fight fascism.

    So the Left’s only hope is for a verdict of ‘Guilt but insane’?

  49. Francis King: If the piece had remained only on Carr’s blog, it would have done no harm. But given the heightened level of scrutiny of StWC at the moment, and the fact that the war party is desperate to twist any- and everything to fit its preconceived view that StWC, and in particular Jeremy Corbyn, are a bunch of “terrorist sympathisers”, the StWC should not post or repost anything online without first asking: “how will this be misrepresented?”

    You would think.

    There are intelligent and capable people involved with STW, unfortunately there are also – it seems – other people who are complete fools.

    A coalition that embraces a wide political diversity but who agree over a single shared aim is a powerful thing.

    A coalition that embraces the wise and serious but also includes fuckwits and cultists is neither use nor ornament

  50. Andy Newman: surely his film about Ireland was even worse

    I remember years ago bumping into Paul Laverty, who I believe has written all Loach’s films since Carla’s Song back in the mid nineties, in Covent Garden. It was the strangest thing. I just happened to be walking along the street when Laverty approached me to ask directions. I’d only just watched a documentary about him two nights previously on BBC2, about, on how his experience working as a human rights lawyer in Nicaragua had inspired him to write Carla’s Song, and how he came to start working with Loach. We ended up going for a bite to eat at a cafe nearby and spent an hour or so chatting about writing and politics. We’re talking 1998-99.

    I ran into him again years later in LA at a press screening of Bread and Roses. which I thought was decent, and he remembered me. He’s a decent bloke, politics aside. The two of them have enjoyed a long working relationship together. I’m looking forward to his next film about the impact of benefit sanctions.

  51. #76 Carla’s Song and Bread and Roses are imho pretty good films, but generally Loach’s directly political stuff I find pretty awful, the worst examples being Land and Freedom, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Spirit of 45.

    My Name is Joe, Sweet Sixteen, Riff Raff, Looking for Eric and Raining Stones on the other hand are brilliant and Ihave a feeling the one about sanctions will be as well.

  52. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya: Looking for Eric

    Don’t come back because I know where you live, I’m a post man. Not exactly correct but I don’t think I’ve laughed so much for a long time. By the way maybe I’ve got no filmic appreciation but I didn’t think wind was that bad.

  53. John Grimshaw on said:

    I see Chris nineham was up against Emma Reynolds MP this AM. The establishment is definitely going for it.

  54. John Grimshaw on said:

    For the sake of completeness.

    The Stop the War Coalition is under unprecedented attack because of its opposition to the bombing of Syria and because attacks on it are perceived to weaken Jeremy Corbyn. Here in straight forward terms are our views on some issues now being routinely misrepresented by the Tory government, the right of the Labour Party and sections of the media.

    1. The STWC has never supported the Assad regime. Just as we never supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi. Only in the minds of ‘them or us’ pretend patriots does the opposition to our own government’s wars mean support for dictators or terrorists. Our case has always been that war will worsen the problem and not solve it. We were right in that analysis in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

    2. The STWC has never supported Russian intervention in Syria and issued a statement opposing the bombing as soon as it began.

    3. The STWC does believe that it is the people of Syria who are the only ones who should decide the fate of their country free of all great power and regional power interference.

    4. The STWC is utterly opposed to the IS as a totally reactionary and, in the Arab Spring, counter revolutionary force.

    5. The STWC believes that the invasion and dismemberment of Iraq, and western support for Saudi Arabia, were and are instrumental in the creation of the IS.

    6. The STWC does not support calls for western invention, including an air war to establish a no fly zone, whether those calls emanate from Syrian exiles or anyone else, just as we did not support such calls from anti-Taliban or anti Saddam Afghans or Iraqis. Syrians do not all speak with one voice but many are opposed to western bombing.

    7. The STWC concentrates on campaigning against UK government policy because this is where we are citizens and voters. No one else can change UK government policy but a movement in this country. But of course we support anti-war movements in other countries who, rightly, are focussed on opposing their own governments. This is how genuine internationalism works.

  55. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw: For the sake of completeness.

    Members and affiliates must support the aims of Stop the War as set out in our constitution“.

    http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/about

    Aims

    The Stop the War Coalition was formed on September 21st, 2001 at a public meeting of over 2,000 people in London. The platform statement above was ratified at public meetings held in October 2001 in London.

    1.The aim of the Coalition should be very simple: to stop the war currently declared by the United States and its allies against ‘terrorism’. We condemn the attacks on New York and we feel the greatest compassion for those who lost their life on 11th September 2001. But any war will simply add to the numbers of innocent dead, cause untold suffering, political and economic instability on a global scale, increase racism and result in attacks on civil liberties. The aims of the campaign would be best expressed in the name Stop the War Coalition.

    2.Supporters of the Coalition, whether organisations or individuals, will of course be free to develop their own analyses and organise their own actions. But there will be many important occasions when united initiatives around broad stop the war slogans can mobilise the greatest numbers.

    http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/constitution

    I think that this is clear enough.

  56. #78 Having done a city and guilds in media production, worked for 15 years in the Post Office in Manchester, being a fan of both Cantona in his own right as well as Man United and a “fellow traveler” of FCUM and knowing some of the extras I had a load of good reasons to appreciate Looking for Eric.

    My opinion of The Wind… is admittedly coloured massively by the fact that I know that the political analysis and narrative within it is hopelessly wrong historically. Classic trotskyist wishful thinking- I tend to lump it with Land and Freedom for that reason.

    In fact both contain some great acting and cinematography. But the problem is that if someone chooses to make films that are based so strongly on a political message, then it becomes for those who know (or think if you prefer) that the message is crap very difficult if not impossible to separate the message from the media.

    By the way, on the subject of Land and Freedom, while hating to speak ill of the dead (particularly as he was someone I had a lot of time for otherwise) Loach’s then scriptwriter plagiarised and twisted the story quite shamelessly and to add insult to injury, he nicked it from a Manchester YCL member whose Mancunian (not Scouse) grandfather fought in the International Brigades (not the POUM) and who wrote letters home to her grandmother.

    And there was no coincidence.

    The grandfather in question was seriously wounded and left for dead at the Ibro, designed the IB commemorative plaque in Manchester Town Hall and was a close friend of the Commander- in- Chief of the British Contingent (also a Manc by the way).

  57. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam,

    Sorry George most of my last post is a quoted statement, in case others didn’t realise. But I think it’s fairly clear. I’m not a member of StWC however I think it’s clear enough.

  58. John Grimshaw,

    It is hard to see how STW can be supported over Syria when they extend their political position beyond the single issue of opposing UK involvement in the war, and also include the divisive position of also opposing Russia’s lawful support for the sovereign government of Syria.

    This does lead them to the position of effectively opposing all real military opposition to ISIL.

  59. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw: Sorry George most of my last post is a quoted statement, in case others didn’t realise.

    I hadn’t realised.

    John Grimshaw: But I think it’s fairly clear.

    Hmm.

    4. The STWC is utterly opposed to the IS as a totally reactionary..

    So far so good.

    and,

    Oh dear, can’t you just stop at condemning IS.

    in the Arab Spring,

    No, don’t mention the ‘Arab Spring’.

    counter revolutionary force.

    I think this makes it fairly clear that STWC has completely lost its way.

  60. From today’s Morning Star:

    Syria- Removing Assad still the West’s aim

    by Our News Desk

    The Communist Party (CP) has warned that the underlying purpose of British military intervention in Syria remained the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

    Speaking at a meeting of the party’s political committee on
    Wednesday, CP national organiser Ben Stevenson said that
    regime change was the only policy to unite the US and British
    governments with theIslamist rulers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
    “It would also enable the Western powers to establish extra military bases in the greater Middle East region, whose natural resources and transport routes are vital tobig business interests,” Mr Stevenson said.

    And he poured scorn on shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn’s December 2 speech to the Commons in favour of further British
    involvement in Syria, accusing him of political graverobbing.

    “Sending the British air force to help US imperialism maintain the Middle East in a permanent state of intervention and war has nothing in common with the Communist International sending internationalnbrigades to defend Spanish
    democracy against fascism,” Mr Stevenson blasted.

    The CP political committee is clear that economic, military and financial sanctions against Islamic State (Isis) and its supporters will not be enough and that the Syrian government should be supported in its efforts to inflict a military defeat on Isis and
    “all other sectarian, terrorist forces.”

    It said that this principle should stand alongside the Vienna talks to reach a settlement between the Syrian government and the non-Islamist opposition.
    The CP also declared solidarity with its sister parties in Syria and Iraq and endorsed their condemnation of Turkish military incursions against the Kurds and in aid of sectarian insurgents.
    The committee called for a big turnout for this Saturday’s
    Stop Bombing Syria demonstration in London, assembling
    outside BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A at 12 noon.

    news@peoples-press.com

  61. Andy Newman,

    They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Opposing Russia’s bombing campaign leaves them open to the charge of opposing any real military opposition (from third parties, at least) to ISIL. Supporting Russia’s bombing campaign leaves them open to the charges that they only oppose Western imperialism but cheerlead Russian imperialism, that their humanitarian objections to war are hypocritical in view of the collateral damage caused by Russian bombs, etc. etc. Saying nothing about it invites charges of political cowardice from all camps. Overall, I think StWC has taken the only reasonable line it could take. Most of its long-standing criticisms of Western bombing campaigns apply equally well to Russia’s efforts. Those who want to campaign in favour of Russian bombing but against British bombing had best do it outside of StWC, under the aegis of a separate organisation.

  62. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: Most of its long-standing criticisms of Western bombing campaigns apply equally well to Russia’s efforts.

    There are only two coherent criticisms of Western bombing campaigns.

    1. They don’t work.

    2. They’re not legal.

    Neither of these apply to Russia’s bombing campaign.

    1. It can work because it’s supported by “boots on the ground”, or more exactly, the air campaign is in support of a disciplined military force that happens to be indigenous.

    2. It’s legal because the Russian action is at the request of the government.

  63. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: Do you reach that conclusion purely on the basis of the way I present the options in that little post?

    Of course not. I based it on the judgments that you’ve handed down in a long series of posts.

  64. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: Those who want to campaign in favour of Russian bombing but against British bombing had best do it outside of StWC, under the aegis of a separate organisation.

    I suggest that Those who want to campaign in favour of the overthrow of the existing Syrian government should set up their own campaign.

  65. Francis King: Those who want to campaign in favour of Russian bombing but against British bombing

    Not sure who wants to make an issue of campaigning in favour of Russian bombing.

    They key point in the StW statement is,

    “The STWC concentrates on campaigning against UK government policy because this is where we are citizens and voters. No one else can change UK government policy but a movement in this country…”

    Neither the Russian nor Syrian governments are going to be affected much either way by those in this country who wish to campaign for or against what the Russian military are doing in Syria.

  66. No, there are other coherent criticisms of third-party bombing campaigns. Here are just a few of them.
    1. They inflame the political conflicts on the ground, making them even more intractable.
    2. They tend to create new conflicts.
    3. They kill innocent civilians (people tend to stress or downplay this according to which side has caused it, but it makes little difference to the victims)
    4. The resentments bombing campaigns cause can fester for decades and flare up again in unexpected ways.

    As for the two points you make in favour of the Russian campaign, both of them applied in full force to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan from 1979. Considering the longer-term outcome, that operation can hardly be considered a success.

  67. Francis King: Saying nothing about it invites charges of political cowardice from all camps. Overall, I think StWC has taken the only reasonable line it could take.

    No, it would have been an entirely sensible position to simply oppose British involvement in Syria, as a political coalition within the UK, whose only legitimate orientation is to concern itself with British government policy.

  68. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: there are other coherent criticisms of third-party bombing campaigns. Here are just a few of them.
    1. They inflame the political conflicts on the ground, making them even more intractable.
    2. They tend to create new conflicts.
    3. They kill innocent civilians (people tend to stress or downplay this according to which side has caused it, but it makes little difference to the victims)
    4. The resentments bombing campaigns cause can fester for decades and flare up again in unexpected ways.

    1, 2, and 4 are not separate free-standing arguments, they all hinge on the same point – bombing has knock one effects. But the same applies to every military action and, indeed, war in general.

    However, it also applies to non-military action and not going to war.

    As you said yourself, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    Instead of trying to decide the issue on the basis of abstract principles, serious people have to get down and work out what’s going on and how any action or inaction is likely to play out.

    Of course there’s a very real danger they’ll get it wrong and make things worse, but that’s the way things are.

    However, analysing what’s actually going on is likely to give better results than ignoring reality and making decisions on principle.

  69. jock mctrousers on said:

    Andy Newman: No, it would have been an entirely sensible position to simply oppose British involvement in Syria, as a political coalition within the UK, whose only legitimate orientation is to concern itself with British government policy.

    Exactly. They got it right first time when they said that their purpose is solely to oppose BRITISH intervention (because that’s all they can affect), and then they lost their nerve and contradicted themselves by opposing Russian intervention. It’s too late now, but their position should have remained that they don’t (as an organisation) take any position on Russian intervention, because that’s not their job.

  70. jock mctrousers on said:

    On second thoughts, of course it’s not too late, given that the public has the collective memory of a goldfish. StWC must get its position (that it doesn’t have a position on Russian intervention) right and stick to it, and if their wobble is thrown up against them, just do what everyone else does – ignore the question and state their position over and over ….

  71. Andy Newman: No, it would have been an entirely sensible position to simply oppose British involvement in Syria, as a political coalition within the UK, whose only legitimate orientation is to concern itself with British government policy.

    That will work fine right up to the point when some journalist or interviewer asks for the StWC attitude to the Russian campaign. We know how a refusal to answer will be spun.

    Likewise, suddenly insisting that all we can affect is British policy will seem a little strange in the light of all the things we have been saying about US and French policy since 2001. Unless someone here is going to argue that StWC should shut up about France and America?

  72. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: That will work fine right up to the point when some journalist or interviewer asks for the StWC attitude to the Russian campaign. We know how a refusal to answer will be spun.

    You are subordinating campaigning to pandering to the media.

    Real campaigning is about connecting with ordinary people. It’s nice if you can use the media to do this but it you are challenging the political establishment then you are on a hiding to nothing.

  73. Francis King: That will work fine right up to the point when some journalist or interviewer asks for the StWC attitude to the Russian campaign. We know how a refusal to answer will be spun.

    I am critical of STW’s inability to answer this question in a way that makes sense. It describes the political limitations of the united front and just the other day I had an exchange with John Rees on FB over it.

    However at a time when it has come under attack from the right and fake left, as it has recently, the priority is to give the organisation unequivocal solidarity. Tariq Ali’s piece in The Independent yesterday was a superb riposte to this orchestrated campaign, led by Peter Tachell. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/the-assault-on-stop-the-war-is-really-aimed-at-jeremy-corbyn-a6768651.html.

    I was planning a relaxing weekend, but have decided instead to catch a 6am train to London tomorrow morning in order to attend the STW demo.

    I hope it gets a massive turnout.

  74. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: As for the two points you make in favour of the Russian campaign, both of them applied in full force to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan from 1979.

    If you want to make a analogies between Syria in 2015 and Afghanistan in 1979 then I suggest you make a proper analysis.

    You will find that it will

    quickly become apparent that the differences vastly outweigh the similarities, once the comparison is made.

  75. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam,

    In Afghanistan in 1979 the USSR intervened to support the government in it’s own interests surely? And then got a bloody nose from the locals armed and supported by the Americans. In other words it was a proxy war which the Western imperialists won. The “blow back” is a different question. I would suggest to you that if you are a Russian Nationalist like Putin then the intervention in Syria has become a matter of honour whilst also about being about interests. Where it will end up is to soon to say, although at the moment Putin seems to have made a good call. It rather reminds me of Czarist policy prior to WW1. New Rome etc.

  76. George Hallam: analogies between Syria in 2015 and Afghanistan in 1979

    In both cases governments with substantial popular support, concentrated but not exclusively among the more urban and educated sectors, appealing across ethnic and religious divisions with a modernising and emancipatory programme of health, education are under assault from Western-backed, rural based opponents whose defining ideology is a primitive fundamentalist variant of Islam.

  77. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw: In Afghanistan in 1979 the USSR intervened to support the government in it’s own interests surely?

    Yes. Though it would be useful understand what those interests (perceived or real) were.
    http://lists101.his.com/pipermail/intelforum/2002-May/006251.html

    John Grimshaw: And then got a bloody nose from the locals armed and supported by the Americans.

    As a tool of analysis, “got a bloody nose” lacks precision.

    The received wisdom is that Afghanistan was a military disaster on the scale of the US involvement in Vietnam. This judgement does not survive examination.

    John Grimshaw: In other words it was a proxy war which the Western imperialists won.

    If you want to put it this way then feel free to do so. However, it’s rather simplistic.
    There are two point that need to be understood.
    Firstly, US support for Afghan fundamentalists predates not just the Soviet intervention of December 1979 but even the revolution of April 1978.

    In 1974 Pashtuns in Baluchistan started an armed insurrection against the Pakistan government. The Daoud government in Afganistan was ‘unhelpful’ and perhaps in retaliation,

    Pakistan provided funds, material and weapons to Islamic fundamentalist organizations and other anti-Daoud Afghan extremists conducting raids and sabotage inside Afghanistan. A former member of Pakistan’s government at the time has insisted that these operations were not intended to overthrow Daoud but to force him to negotiate. This could explain why Iran, at the same time it was offering economic aid to Daoud and pressing him to resolve the conflict with Pakistan, was also supplying US weapons and equipment to the insurgent groups in Afghanistan. Some of this material went through Pakistani channels and some passed directly to groups operating in western Afghanistan. Iran, because of its own sizable Baluch community, had its own motives for seeing the armed revolt in Baluchistan quelled, and provided Pakistan with US helicopters for use in this effort. According to at least one source, these actions by Iran were carried out in “loose collaboration” with the US. Egypt and Saudi Arabia also were providing support to Afghan Islamic fundamentalist groups, some of which would have a lasting presence on the Afghan battleground.
    https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/predicting-the-soviet-invasion-of-afghanistan-the-intelligence-communitys-record/predicting-the-soviet-invasion-of-afghanistan-the-intelligence-communitys-record.html#fn17

    Secondly, the social forces in Afghanistan whose government the Soviet Union intervened to support had a real existence. This is shown by the way the Kabul government of Najibullah proved to be more resilient than Western analysts expected.

    The Soviets began withdrawing their troops in May 1988 and this was successfully completed in February 1989. The Soviet Union was formally dissolved on December 26, 1991.

    Russian aid to Afghanistan stopped 1st January 1, 1992. This was not just the end of arms supplies to Kabul, it also included food and fuel. Meanwhile, aid to the mujahideen continued to flow in via Pakistan.

    Despite this the Najibullah’s government survived three and a half months until 14 April. It was only when Dostum defected joined forces with Massoud, a Tajik mujahideen commander, that Najibullah’s position became untenable.

  78. George Hallam on said:

    Nick Wright,

    Agreed, there are parallels. Though, as ever, detailed analysis is required to avoid simplistic analogies.

    Unless, of course, you don’t mind sounding like Trotsky