The conflict in Syria reaches its tipping point

In Ankara and Riyadh a decent night’s sleep must be hard to come by nowadays, what with the prospects of the Sunni state they’d envisaged being established across a huge swathe of Syria slipping away in the face of an offensive by Syrian government forces that is sweeping all before it north of Aleppo, threatening to completely sever supply lines from Turkey to opposition forces in and around the city, and all but ensuring that its liberation is now a question of when not if.

The success being enjoyed by government forces and its allies on the ground is a testament to their remarkable morale and tenacity despite the battering they have endured over five years of unremitting conflict. Key to this reinvigoration and success in routing opposition forces – forces which only a few months ago were in the ascendancy – has of course Russian air, communications, and logistical support. Moscow’s decision to intervene at the end of September last year may have been pregnant with risk, but so far it has been validated, and perhaps even beyond initial expectations.

Moscow not Washington is calling the shots in the region now, announcing the birth of a multipolar world and marking an astonishing recovery given the parlous state of Russia throughout the 1990s as it struggled to recover from the demise of the Soviet Union. No sooner was the hammer and sickle removed from atop the Kremlin than a procession of crazed free marketeers descended from the United States, and elsewhere in the West, to impose neoliberal nostrums in return for an IMF loan that was necessary in order to avert complete economic collapse. The record shows that rather than this collapse being averted it was accelerated by the structural adjustment reforms implemented by Yeltsin and other Russian converts to the new religion.

In Washington at the time ‘end of history’ triumphalism reigned as oh how they laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now.

Regardless, at this stage in the Syrian conflict neither the Russians nor anybody else with a vested interest in the country’s survival as a non-sectarian state will be prepared to predict victory. Not with the noises coming out of Ankara and Riyadh over the possibility of both countries sending in ground troops.

Though they claim that any such troop deployment would be carried out with the objective of confronting ISIS, only those of a gullible disposition who could possibly believe it. In truth any such intervention would carry with it the primary goal of regime change in Damascus, staving off the complete collapse of opposition forces in and around Aleppo, with Turkey harbouring the additional objective of crushing the Kurdish YPG forces that have been enjoying inordinate success against both ISIS in the north east and rebel forces further west as part of the general tightening of the noose around the city.

Saudi aircraft deploying to Incirlik airbase in Turkey, from where the US has been flying sorties over Syria in recent months, is a significant development, one that indicates the extent of panic in Riyadh at the way the conflict has turned against them since this latest offensive by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies began.

The days when an American president could pick up the phone to Washington’s allies in the Middle East and have his bidding done have passed. The impotence of the Obama administration in the face of these developments has arrived as the culmination of a decade and half of disastrous overreach in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving US power and credibility severely weakened. Even if the President wished to follow a vigorous and assertive policy towards the region and the conflict in Syria, the cost not just in money but political and public support at home negates it as a serious proposition. In Washington what was once known as the Vietnam Syndrome is now the Iraq Syndrome.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is acting safe in the knowledge that his popularity and support at home remains rock-solid, with a consistent approval rating of around 80 percent making him the envy his Western counterparts. It probably won’t be until historians a generation from now look at this period and crisis, doing so with the benefit of hindsight and distance, that Putin’s political, tactical, and leadership nous will be properly appreciated. The same goes for his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who’s reduced his US counterpart John Kerry to the role of a hapless apprentice looking on in awe at the finished article.

Proof of this comes with the outcome of the most recent talks on the conflict in Munich. Russia, in the person of Lavrov, arrived with its air campaign proceeding at full tilt, and left again having reached an agreement that it should continue at full tilt. The speed with which the narrative promulgated by the US and its allies has unravelled as a consequence of Russia’s presence is measured in the way they cling on to the fiction of ‘moderate rebels’. The most grievous example involved British Prime Minister David Cameron during last year’s Commons debate on British participation in the conflict. His claim there were 70,000 of these moderates in Syria, just waiting to install a nice and cuddly liberal democracy in Damascus the morning after Assad is forced out, met with howls of laughter everywhere apart from Syria, where Cameron’s ‘moderates’ have turned a large swathe of the country into a living hell.

It bears emphasising: the only moderates fighting in Syria are the troops of the Syrian Arab Army, made up of Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze and Christians. They and their allies, which include the Kurds of the YPG, comprise the forces of non-sectarianism in the country and the region, engaged in a pitiless conflict against the most reactionary and retrograde current of extremism the world has seen since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were rampaging across Cambodia.

For Saudi Arabia and Turkey talking tough is one thing, backing it up is a quite another. The world already got the measure of Erdogan after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian bomber a few months ago. The Turkish president went scurrying straight to his NATO allies requesting that Article 5 of its treaty, committing its members to the collective defence of each when under threat, be invoked. His request was denied by Obama and, no wonder, given he’s had reason to doubt Erdogan’s credentials as an ally since. Turkey’s attempt to paint the Kurds of the YPG as a terrorist threat to rank with ISIS is not going down well in Washington, where the Kurds are rightly viewed as an invaluable ground component of the anti-ISIS struggle and have been receiving US and Russian air support with this in mind.

With Russia’s military presence in and around Syria entrenched, and with the US increasingly disenchanted with Erdogan’s Janus-faced role in the conflict in Syria, not to mention the bellicosity of its Saudi client over Iran and a human rights record that makes every utterance in support for the kingdom a howl of hypocrisy, we are at the absolute tipping point when it comes not only to Syria’s future but the future of the region. The stakes involved leave no doubt that the mounting threat of a Saudi-led invasion of Syria speeds the hour when Iran and Russia commit their own ground troops in significant number.

The second act of this conflict draws to a close. The third and final act is about to begin.


Comrade Corbyn – book review

corbyn_cover-xlarge_trans++wu0qqbvea5pWR9yQosduCRZsQRv1g_bNOAj-kCEIYNcIt was only a matter of time before a biography of Jeremy Corbyn would surface. After all, his spectacular rise from relative backbench obscurity to leader of the opposition over the summer of 2015 was unprecedented and undeniably historic, made all the more remarkable by personal qualities of humility and decency we are unaccustomed to in our politicians much less leaders.

Jeremy Corbyn is someone who doesn’t just hold to collectivist ideas in the abstract, he lives and breathes them in everything he does and how he conducts himself. It means that for the first time in a generation a mainstream party in the UK has a leader who is shorn of personal ambition and the self-aggrandising traits of both his predecessors and counterparts.

The author of Comrade Corbyn, Rosa Prince, does at least capture this aspect of Corbyn’s character in her recently published biography of him, crediting the new Labour leader with authenticity and the refusal to relinquish core principles that have remained consistent throughout his political life. Both combine, she rightly identifies, to make him an antidote to the polished and contrived leaders that we’ve long been accustomed to, responsible in large part for a political culture that has succeeded in cultivating indifference and low expectations within those it is meant to inspire and engage.

The author is less successful when it comes to understanding the social and political factors responsible for Corbyn being elected on such an unprecedented mandate. This is evident as early as the book’s prologue when describing the moment the result of the leadership election is announced at a packed Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster. Many in attendance, the author informs us, ‘were angry and bitter at the way the contest had played out’…‘the mood was fractious’…and ‘even Corbyn’s supporters seemed somehow joyless.’ As for the man himself, ‘he too seemed less gladdened by his victory than vindicated.’

This rendering accords with the response to it by right and Blairite wing of the party, wherein rather than the party’s rebirth Corbyn’s election marked its funeral.

Immediately after the result is announced, Prince, a former Telegraph journalist, leaves the venue, gets into her car, and horses it north up the motorway ‘into the heart of middle England’ to locate Corbyn’s childhood home. Now she’s an intrepid detective on the hunt for evidence of some dark secret and foul crime. Finally managing to locate the house along a ‘country lane’, she reveals that the place is ‘so posh it doesn’t have a number, just a name.’

How could any self respecting man of the people have spent his childhood in such luxury and comfort, we are being invited to ponder?

Seminal moments in Corbyn’s extensive political hinterland are covered, some more convincingly than others. The influence of Tony Benn in helping shape his politics and worldview is recorded, and Prince does at least do a decent job of covering the emergence of the Stop the War Coalition after 9/11 and Jeremy’s role within the organisation from inception. This section is particularly refreshing in light of the media smear campaign that was carried out against the organisation late last year.

Jeremy’s reputation as a dedicated constituency MP is also mentioned, as is his longstanding interest in international and geopolitical issues. ‘Corbyn saw it as his duty to represent not just his constituents in Islington North, nor even the working people of the United Kingdom, but also the underprivileged and persecuted in every corner of the globe.’

Though we could have been spared much of the focus on Corbyn’s private life – was it really necessary to describe Diane Abbott as his ‘former lover’ more than once? – the range of voices the author quotes, running from close allies to firm opponents, does at least ensure a modicum of balance when charting his career.

A striking irony contained in the book is that while none of the Corbyn allies quoted by the author quite manage to articulate the cynicism and opportunism of Tony Blair’s malign leadership of the Labour Party as a crucial factor in understanding his spectacular rise, former home secretary and arch Blairite Charles Clarke does, even if unintentionally, when he opines that ‘If he [Corbyn] had his way, we would never have reformed the party in the 1980s, we would never have had a Labour government in 1997.’

What Clarke and others like him really mean is that we would never have had ‘that’ Labour government in 1997.

Ultimately, the book’s abiding weakness is that in line with the views of people like Charles Clarke it fails to locate Corbyn’s politics in the lived experiences of ordinary working people, thus anchoring both him and them in reality. Instead the impression left is of someone who’s spent his entire political life on the margins, devoted to lost causes and campaigns that reveal him to be a well meaning if out of touch prisoner of idealism.

Nothing could be further from the truth.


Comrade Corbyn by Rosa Prince is published by Biteback

Louis Proyect’s lousy project

For those on the left who follow political blogs, one of the more indefatiguable voices is that of Louis Proyect. For reasons unfathomable, Louis seems to have a fixation with John Wight, of this parish.

A recent article entitled “The social conservatism of the Putinite left” caught my attention due to the following sentiment:

All of a sudden I had an epiphany. People like Kit Knightly, John Wight and Mike Whitney are social conservatives. When Knightly defends the Russian Orthodox Church from “orgy-like protests”, I feel like I am listening to Glenn Back complaining about Lady Ga-Ga. Where do these people come from?
[…] These kinds of people give me the heebie-jeebies. Maybe that’s because I was a bohemian before I became a radical. I am attracted to deviants. I was a fan of male prostitute and petty thief (and distinguished playwright) Jean Genet long before I read Karl Marx. When I read Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in 1961, that was the kind of person I wanted to get to know …

Below the line on the same article there is an hilarious comment from someone called Pete Glosser, who seems to utterly lack any sense of critical self awareness:

I say that as someone who personally shook hands with Genet and William Burroughs in Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1968 and who was deeply stirred by Ginsberg’s poetry and his charismatic presence during that period.

That is nice for him, I once met the Wurzels. They do make I larff. If I am lucky I hope I may one day meet the Chuckle Brothers. To me, to you.

It seems that for Louis, and many others who were formerly active on the radical left, they have given up on actually changing the world, and instead they just want to critique capitalism in the company of those whom they feel a cultural affinity with. Socialism has become an “identity” that they use for self-definition, not a collective project for real world political change.

Let us be clear, there is no necessary link between being culturally avant garde and being politically progressive. This can be verified by moment’s reflection upon the political views of such Twentieth Century literary and artistic giants as TS Elliot, Ezra Pound, Henry Williamson, Wyndham Lewis, or FT Marinetti.

The cultural avant garde, bohemianism and what Louis bizarrely calls being a“deviant” may be rewarding, and even transcendant, it can enrich and empower lives and imaginations, and of course art which exists “in the public square” is always received in a collective cultural context, and is therefore capable of interaction with progressive politics. Avant garde art can also be pretentious shit. How Louis can see anything progressive in the jejune antics of Pussy Riot gratuitously offending the views of Russian Christians is a mystery to me.

In any event, it is not art, but collective organisation and building communities of solidarity that are the bedrock of socialism. Louis’s celebration of rather individualistic self expression has more affinity to liberalism than socialism.

It is also worth reflecting that collectivism and social solidarity is not only delivered by forces like the trade unions, and the social democratic left, but also from churches, Mosques and other faith organizations. While Louis fulminates against “social conservatism” it might be worth reflecting why Ted Cruz is supported by many blue collar voters, and how it is that GOP has managed to exploit culture wars to build a base among what Americans would call “middle class” voters.

Louis’s oeuvre is typified by pompous and prolix discourses upon matters of utter obscurity. I opened his blog today,and I quote the first paragraph randomly selected:

It would appear that Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development informs not only Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule” but four articles I recently read that are critical of Vivek Chibber’s “Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital”. This might lead one to believe that no matter how failed a project the Fourth International was, Trotsky’s ideas remain current especially for scholars grappling with the Eurocentrism of Political Marxism, a tendency that includes Vivek Chibber as one of its most truculent spokesmen.

Remind me to bring that up at my union meeting next week.

While Louis has consciously broken from the organizational forms of Trotskyism, he still holds with the essentially Trotskyist project of promoting and defending a counter-hegemonic belief system and interpreting the world through a largely self-referential and textually based polemic; which is resilient at ignoring aspects of reality that contradict it. As I wrote elsewhere about Trotskyism:

Concrete and specific situations in the modern world are often judged by reference to Trotsky’s writings about related but different circumstances more than half a century ago.There is a certain cognitive dissonance among some “Marxists” who prefer the idealised working class of their imagination to the real, living and complicated mass of working class people; and prefer purity to the compromises and adjustments that are needed to make socialism a living political reality, relevant to the day to day experience of working people.

One of the most extraordinary achievements in advancing scholarly understanding of this sort of Marxism as a belief system, (which in the modern English speaking world is really only the preserve of “Trotskyists”) is the magisterial“The Road to Terror” by J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov which assembles and discusses hundreds of previously top secret Soviet documents from the 1930s.

The work describes the process of the growing use of state terror, and in particular how the causes were not solely the personal responsibility of Stalin: agency was dispersed and devolved throughout the Communist Party. The extensive use of violence came from a particular type of party organisation that had been forged in specific historical conditions and which then encountered difficult, real-world challenges that triggered an exaggerated repressive response.

Getty and Naumov discuss the peculiar nature of Russian Marxism in the pre-revolutionary period. They reject the conceit of Michel Foucault that the language, patterns and interactions used in “discourse” create meaning – whereby language becomes the mediation through which historical reality is created as a social reality independent of physical reality. Nevertheless, while rejecting this specious and fashionably technical usage of the word “discourse”, Getty and Naumov nevertheless locate the historically specific experience of the Bolsheviks in creating a sub-culture of discourse, within the everyday meaning of that word: debate and discussion creating a particularly text-oriented belief system. As they put it:

“For the Bolsheviks before the revolution (and especially for the intellectual leaders in emigration), hairsplitting over precise points of revolutionary ideology was much of their political life. To a significant extent, Bolshevik politics had always been inextricably bound with creating and sharpening texts”

The nature of Bolshevism was to seek to create an ideologically relatively homogenous political party sufficiently socially insulated and self-referential to dare to overthrow not only the government but also to restructure or replace all of the civil society institutions that mediated daily life; and who were sufficiently self-assured to seek to form a new form of government untrammelled by the historical constraints of precedence or the rule of law.

Louis Proyect’s lousy project is to preserve the nit picking, textually obsessed pursuit of intellectual “Marxist” orthodoxy, while being utterly divorced from practical politics. It is like being in a cult with only one member. Well, it is a sort of a life.

The left needs to unite behind Sadiq Khan for London mayor

khan-corbynJudged objectively, ignoring the wall of hostile noise from a partisan media and disloyalty from a few self-promoting MPs, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party over the last several months has proven a success.

He has put together a shadow cabinet that reflects talents across the party. His support base in the Parliamentary Labour Party has broadened, his performances at PMQs and on TV have become increasingly assured, the rebellion over Syria was confined to the usual suspects, and the Oldham by-election was convincingly won, seeing off a perceived challenge from UKIP. It is worth reflecting upon the non-appearance of the UKIP threat in Oldham, because the false prediction by the 4.5%ers was based upon their political misunderstanding of the electorate.

John McDonnell as shadow chancellor has performed well, and Labour has shifted towards a coherent and credible anti-austerity economic stance. While the Conservative Party is divided over Europe, the Labour Party is overwhelmingly united, and relations between the majority who wish to remain and the minority who wish to leave are cordial.

Nevertheless, whoever had taken over the leadership of the party would have had a hill to climb. Across Britain, the Conservatives had a 6% lead over Labour at last year’s General Election, including a collapse of the vote in Scotland to just 24.3%, down 17.7% on 2010. The party paid a high price for failing to defend the record of the last Labour government, and paradoxically it seemed like it was often the left that was most prepared to defend the progressive legacy of the Blair and Brown years.

In May, Labour will face a number of electoral tests. In particular, the local government elections in England, as well as the London mayoral elections, London Assembly, Scottish Parliament and the Senedd.

It is therefore necessary to judge Labour’s performance by a realistic benchmark. In English local authorities Labour will be defending seats last contested in 2012, when Labour had a 6% lead over the Conservatives in the national polls, and the coalition government was at its lowest ebb. Electoral politics is cruel, and it is highly likely that some hard working and capable Labour councilors will lose their seats this year, though the results will be hard to predict where the Lib Dems have historically has a strong local presence, which may create considerable local variance from national trends.

It is almost inevitable that the results will be maliciously misrepresented, where Labour does well this will be reported as being despite Corbyn, and where Labour suffers, the blame will be put on the leader.

The key will by London. Some on the left are not enamoured by Sadiq Khan, and may be inclined to support George Galloway. Now I like and respect George. I don’t agree with everything he says and does, but he makes valuable contribution to British democracy because over a number of issues he has been prepared to break from the social consensus, while remaining broadly within the envelope of labourist politics. As George Galloway himself pointed out before the US Senate, over a number of issues the mainstream political consensus has been wrong, and George has been proven right.

George’s expulsion from the Labour Party was, in my view, an injustice, and it is important that the Labour Party’s adherence to the rulebook should be impartial, so that if George at some point satisfies the conditions for readmission, then personal animosity against him from some quarters should not be allowed to colour the decision.

Nevertheless I think that George is making a political mistake by standing against Sadiq. Firstly, there is frankly no prospect of building a coherent electoral space to the left of the Labour Party at the moment, and therefore George’s candidacy is individualistic. But secondly, and more importantly, Sadiq is actually a good candidate that the left should support.

Sadiq Khan has his own strong mandate having been directly voted for by Labour Party members in London to be the candidate. He comes from a working class background, he is a hard working, intelligent and compassionate MP; and he is well liked by the trade unions. One of the strengths of Sadiq is that he has a reputation for simply delivering on his promises, and working behind the scenes in support of his constituents, and for trade union members.

There is no guarantee that Labour can win the London mayoral election, but we do need to make a strong showing; and the party and the broader labour movement does need to unite behind the Labour candidate, to consolidate the gains we have made.

Aramark in GMB’s sights over low pay


An industrial dispute is looming as pay talks covering 175 GMB members employed as domestics and hostesses by private contractor Aramark at four sites of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) have stalled. GMB is seeking a living wage of £10 per hour and an end to two tier arrangements on sick pay and shift allowances at the Maudsley, Lambeth, Bethlem and Ladywell sites. Authority is being sought from GMB Southern Region for a formal industrial action ballot.

GMB has called demonstrations outside two of the sites as part of the campaign for a living wage and an end to the two tier workforce in the NHS.
The details of the protests are as follows:

from 2:30 – 3:30pm on the 2nd February,
and from 2 – 3pm on the 9th February.
outside the Bethlem Royal Hospital
Monks Orchard Road

Aramark is an American owned multinational outsourcing provider turning over $13billion. It pays many staff on the SLAM contract as little as £7:30ph for providing front line services to mental health patients.

Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “It’s unfortunate that we have been forced to ask our members whether or not they are prepared to strike but we have consistently told Aramark that our members provide a front line service in a mental health trust within London and as such they deserve to be paid a genuine living wage of £10ph, full sick pay and proper shift allowances. Our members are working around many vulnerable individuals, sometimes they are verbally and even physically attacked and yet many of them are unable to take sick leave as they are not paid for this, some of them also receive no extra pay for working weekends and bank holidays. they have rejected the offer that Aramark made to them as it went nowhere near satisfying the members demands.

“GMB will continue to press for a living wage to be set at £10 per hour as agreed at GMB Congress. Members make clear in their experience you need at least £10 an hour and a full working week to have a decent life free from benefits and tax credits. Less than £10 an hour means just existing not living. It means a life of isolation, unable to socialise. It means a life of constant anxiety over paying bills and of borrowing from friends, family and pay day loan sharks just to make ends meet.”

Here’s why Bernie Sanders can win

Though the international media’s attention is fixed on Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination for President, the real earth shaking campaign is taking place in the Democratic Party’s ranks, where Bernie Sanders is now ahead of Hilary Clinton in the polls ahead of the crucial and first Democratic primary in Iowa.

And it’s not difficult to understand why after watching this clip of Sanders in action against Alan Greenspan. Not since Eugene Debs has there been such a strong American voice for social and economic justice capable of uniting people on the basis of class, rather than keeping them divided according to race, religion, or any other false division.

Oscars so white

Last year’s Oscars ceremony in Hollywood was engulfed in controversy over the lack of major nominations for black and minority artists. The controversy this year is even greater with a movement to boycott what are being called the ‘lily white Oscars’.

Does Hollywood and the Academy have a problem with race? Are black and minority actors and artists in the movie industry regarded as second-class citizens, denied a seat at the table of mainstream acceptance even in 2016? This is the inference behind the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter campaign attacking this year’s Oscars ceremony in Hollywood, which sees all twenty acting nominations going to white performers.

This year’s controversy has gained serious traction with a campaign to boycott the ceremony being spearheaded by Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Hollywood star Will Smith. It’s a boycott campaign which has so far attracted the support of black director Spike Lee, who said: “I would like to thank president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for awarding me an honorary Oscar this past November. I am most appreciative. However my wife, Mrs Tonya Lewis Lee and I will not be attending the Oscar ceremony this coming February. We cannot support it and mean no disrespect to my friends, host Chris Rock and producer Reggie Hudlin, president Isaacs and the Academy. But, how is it possible for the 2nd consecutive year all 20 contenders under the actor category are white? And let’s not even get into the other branches. 40 white actors in 2 years and no flava at all. We can’t act?! WTF!!”

Interestingly, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy who was thanked by Lee in his statement, has added her voice to the criticism of the very academy over which she presides, claiming that it needs “to do more” and that she is “heartbroken and frustrated” at the lack of diversity among this year’s nominations.

So back to the question of if there is indeed a problem, or whether the controversy amounts to one of political correctness? Considering the evidence it is undeniably a case of the former rather than the latter. Firstly, let’s take the composition of the Academy itself. Of its 6,300 members, comprising people involved in the film industry, only 2% are Black, while less than 2% are of Latino ethnicity. There is also a problem when it comes to gender balance within the Academy, given that not only are 94% of its members Caucasian but 77% are also male.

Moreover, it’s not as if there are no strong black and minority candidates for Oscars this year. Samuel L Jackson for his performance in Tarantino’s latest movie, The Hateful Eight, is an obvious contender for best actor, while the aforementioned Will Smith has likewise been surprisingly overlooked for a nomination for best actor, considering his superb performance in one of this year’s stand out movies, Concussion. Other black and minority actors who’ve been bypassed this year are Benicio Del Toro for Sicario, Michael B Jordan for Creed, and the British black actor Idris Alba for Beasts Of No NationMeanwhile, the absence of Straight Outta Compton in the Best Film category has likewise drawn fierce criticism.

Jada Pinkett Smith, a major star in her own right, is taking no prisoners when it comes to calling for a boycott of this year’s ceremony, explaining in a series of Tweets that, “At the Oscars people of color are always welcomed to give out awards, even entertain. But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment.” She followed this up with a video message on Facebook, elaborating on the need for black and minority performers and artists to take a stand over the lack of respect and acknowledgement with which they are receiving within the industry.

For obvious reasons, it will be difficult for many to be sympathetic to the plight of people who are rich and wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of mere mortals, actors and directors who enjoy the inordinate rewards associated with Hollywood. But such a perspective fails to factor in the wider significance of the issues involved and the fact that Hollywood does not exist in isolation from the rest of American society. On the contrary, it both reflects and reinforces societal and cultural norms. Seen in this light what we seem to be witnessing is a return of racism and racist views to mainstream acceptance.

Just consider the evidence. The sheer number of unarmed black people being killed by the police over the past year, the overwhelming number of black and minorities among the largest prison population in the world, the success of Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination for President with its overtly racist attacks on Mexicans and Muslims.

Taken together, what we are witnessing is the mask of equality and freedom slipping from the face of the ‘land of the free’ to expose the ugly reality of a nation in which racism, both conscious and unconscious, is as American as that proverbial apple pie, with Hollywood and this year’s Oscars controversy merely another symptom of the problem.

This is why Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee deserve credit for confronting the issue head on. Along with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has succeeded in forcing the issue of systemic racism in US law enforcement into the mainstream, they are representative of a growing consciousness among blacks and minorities that social and racial harmony in American is at its lowest ebb in decades.

 As the writer and director Quentin Tarantino said in an interview explaining his participation in a Black Lives Matter protest march in New York last year: “Police brutality is a problem of white supremacy.”

Sadly, this problem of white supremacy goes further than police brutality. It infects every level of society in a country that was built on the African slave trade and in which African-Americans today continue to treated by too many in positions of power and influence as less than equal.