Category Archives: Censorship

Labour: anti-Semitic or just resisting occupation?

Today there’s an important addition to the group of MPs defecting from the UK Labour Party: Joan Ryan.

Important because Ryan is Chair of Labour Friends of Israel. She recently lost a no-confidence vote in her constituency so her days as an MP are probably numbered anyway.

Are we beginning to see an orchestrated drip-drip of resignations following the departure of ‘The Insignificant Seven’, as the Morning Star called them, at the start of the week? Their destructive intent is clear for all to see from their dizzy remarks.

In a statement Labour Friends of Israel said:

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, anti-Jewish hatred and demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state has been allowed to flourish. The politics of the hard left represent a threat to the security of the UK, to our traditional alliances and to the stability of the Middle East and its only democracy, the state of Israel.

We will continue to work both within the Labour party and with like-minded, independent MPs on the left and centre left to promote a two-state solution, to combat anti-Zionist antisemitism and counter the delegitimisation of Israel. Joan Ryan MP will remain in her position as our Parliamentary Chair.

Israel, of course, is no Western-style democracy. It’s an ethnocracy, that is a deeply ethnic power structure behind a thin democratic veneer.

Joan Ryan leaves with a long, ranting attack on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Over the past three years, she says, the Labour party under Corbyn “has become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism. This problem simply did not exist in the party before his election as leader…. I have been horrified, appalled and angered to see the Labour leadership’s dereliction of duty in the face of this evil….

“I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned, and their integrity called into doubt.

“I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while its leadership singles out for demonization and delegitimization the world’s only Jewish state.

“And I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while this requires me to suggest that I believe Jeremy Corbyn – a man who has presided over the culture of anti-Jewish racism and hatred for Israel which now afflicts my former party – is fit to be Prime Minister of this country. He is not.”

This “singling out” of Israel for criticism is an old refrain. Israel does a good job of delegitmizing itself by its contempt for international law and cruel subjugation of Palestinians whose lands they have stolen – and continue to steal. And people of conscience single out Israel because these unforgivable crimes are going on in the Holy Land, territory which is sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. It was also a British mandate and in 1948 we abandoned it in an unholy mess. We have a responsibility to make amends.

Ms Ryan complains about “a revolving door disciplinary policy with those accused of antisemitism briefly suspended and then quietly readmitted to the party”. Ken Livingstone will be interested to hear that. He was suspended “indefinitely” from the party nearly 3 years ago. Those accused of anti-Semitism are typically subjected to administrative suspension for around 6 months during which their reputation and public standing are shattered and they are hampered in their work if councillors or MPs. Life is made hell. And if the disciplinary hearing finds the charges baseless there are no consequences for the vexatious accuser.

And she grumbles about the party’s refusal to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. “Jeremy Corbyn had but one priority: to preserve the right of antisemites to label Israel a ‘racist endeavour’. That priority tells me all I need to know about his fitness to lead the Labour party and our country.” This remark is particularly stupid. Several legal experts have pointed out how the IHRA definition contradicts existing laws and conventions guaranteeing freedom of expression and would cause endless trouble if used in an attempt to punish.

Furthermore the Israel project was from the start – before Balfour even – unashamedly racist in purpose as demonstrated yet again only a few months ago when Israel enacted nation state laws that make its non-Jewish citizens distinctly second-class.

The Ryan rant goes on to include remarks like these:

  • “The Jewish community has made clear that it believes a Jeremy Corbyn government would be an existential threat to it. I will not campaign to put such a government into office.”
  • The mindset that tolerates antisemitism “is one that would ostracise the Middle East’s only democracy in favour of the Ayatollahs in Tehran: a regime which tramples on human rights, has the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians on its hands, and seeks to dominate and subjugate the region and impose its theocratic brutal rule.”
  • “And it is one that would abandon our friends in Europe in favour of appeasing Vladimir Putin….”
  • “Nine years of Tory government have caused enormous damage to my constituency and the country. Held hostage by the hard right of her party, the Prime Minister is now preparing to inflict a crippling hard Brexit – one that will rob the young of their future. Jeremy Corbyn and the Stalinist clique that surrounds him offers no real opposition to any of this.”

Under the influence

So, of the eight ex-Labour MPs now huddled together in the Independence Group six are signed up Friends of Israel. Why would any politician in receipt of a salary from the British taxpayer wish to promote the interests of a foreign military power – and a belligerent, racist one at that? Why are they allowed to? After all, doesn’t that breach the second of the Seven Principles of Public Life, namely Integrity – “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.”?

But put that to the watchdog, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and you’ll get nowhere. Eleven years ago twenty senior professionals wrote to the CSPL about the undue influence of the Israel lobby at the heart of British government. They reminded the Standards Committee how Friends of Israel had embedded itself in the British political establishment with the stated purpose of promoting Israel’s interests in our Parliament and bending British policy.  The various Friends of Israel groups had gone to great lengths to influence those in power a good many of whom, it seemed, had reached their high positions with FoI help. The network acted as a sort of parliamentary freemasonry. The political director of Conservative Friends of Israel at the time claimed that with over 2,000 members and registered supporters alongside 80 percent of the Conservative MPs, it was the largest affiliated group in the party.

Its website stated that the CFI “strives to support the Conservative Party at all available opportunities. In the run up to the 2005 General Election… CFI supported candidates up and down the country. As candidates are now being continuously selected for target seats, CFI has developed a special programme of weekly briefings, events with speakers and a chance to participate in delegations to Israel.” It also had a ‘Fast Track’ group for Conservative parliamentary candidates fighting target marginal seats. The political director himself was seeking election to Parliament. If successful where would his loyalty lie?

Senior Conservatives tried to justify these activities by insisting that Israel was “a force for good in the world” and “in the battle for the values that we stand for, for democracy against theocracy, for democratic liberal values against repression – Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together” [my emphasis].

Eleven years on, we can see what “good” Israel has been in the world and what impact the British government’s “viewpoint” ever had on the Israeli government’s criminal conduct.

The best thing Corbyn could do is shut down the Labour Party’s Friends of Israel operation. If people want to form such associations let them do it outside Westminster. They should not be allowed to flourish within any parliamentary party.

As for the Conservative Party’s flag-waving for Israel, words fail.

The Attack on Facebook is not for our Benefit

It’s some achievement to get me sympathising with Mark Zuckerberg. But denunciations from a powerful combination of a parliamentary committee in the UK and self-appointed watchdogs of the new media like the Guardian almost managed it.

The digital, culture, media and sport select committee finally published a damning report into Facebook after an 18-month investigation, as reported today by the Guardian.

The solutions demanded by the committee, however, are intended not to make Facebook and new media more accountable, as the report claims, but to reassert the dominance of the British state in surveilling the public and revive the declining fortunes of the more trusted old media corporations, the Guardian very much included.

And lurking behind it all is the terror of the political-media class at the spread of a new kind of political insurgency – a rejection of the current status quo for war and neoliberal pillage – given voice on new media platforms that is readily dismissed, by both the committee and the Guardian, as “fake news”.

What is really at issue becomes clear the moment one starts to unpick the report. It intentionally conflates three entirely different problems, muddling them together to win support for all three.

The aim is to hammer Facebook into submission, not for our benefit – as is desperately needed – but so that the state and media establishment can “take back control”.

Let’s look at the report’s conclusions.

First, it rightly accuses Facebook of being “digital gangsters”, harvesting private information so that it can be sold. Facebook, the committee warns, has been monetising our private lives.

“Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states.

It hardly needs pointing out that Facebook is a for-profit company that specialises in accumulating information, the details of our lives we willingly hand over.

It was inevitable that a global company providing a digital platform for sharing information between friends would get greedy and share that same information privately with those who wish to exploit us, whether commercially or politically.

Until data-sharing companies arose, the state and its security services had a near-monopoly on such covert surveillance. Think of all those CCTV cameras dotted along the high street. Or watch an episode of TV show The Hunted, where former police officers quickly hunt down members of the public on the run.

The parliamentary report sounds much less like a clarion call for our privacy to be respected than a threat to Facebook from the establishment over such information being spread around too much.

Because when this kind of data becomes too accessible, you risk unpredictable outcomes, like a Dominic Cummings using it to engineer victory in the Brexit referendum. And who knows, if this carries on, one day the Scottish nationalists might find a way to win independence from London rule.

Second, the committee is exercised by the fact that Facebook has created “market dominance” for itself to “crush rivals” and is “shutting them out of its systems to prevent them from competing with Facebook or its subsidiaries”.

Hmm, doesn’t that sound exactly like what companies are supposed to do in our neoliberal capitalist societies? After all, if we turn our attention to the old media for a moment, hasn’t Rupert Murdoch been allowed to create “market dominance”? Doesn’t he seek to “crush rivals”? Don’t all large companies try to “shut out” competitors? Why is it so bad only when Zuckerberg, does it?

Or is this not really about “market dominance”, but about a young upstart social media corporation replicating the economic models of the old media giants and nudging them into the long grass?

The problem is not that Facebook has market dominance, but that our economies are nowadays premised solely on the idea that a tiny number of corporations gain market dominance. Let’s challenge that idea, not single out Facebook.

Third, we get to the nub of what this is all about. The giveaway is in the report’s remit, as explained by the Guardian: it was set up in response to concerns “about the influence of false information and its ability to spread unscrutinised on social media”. Or as the paper describes it more pithily elsewhere, the committee was investigating “disinformation and fake news”.

The goal here is not just to ensure that the state regains control over our private information and that the old media regain their commercial  advantage.

More importantly still, the goal is that both get to control the political agenda, the ideological narrative. All that fearmongering about “Kremlin bots” and “fake news” on social media is designed to curtail dissidents voices, those who demur from the centrist – warmongering, planet-destroying, neoliberal – consensus.

The critical left – anything to the left of the Blairites, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – are being presented as politically toxic as the white-supremacist right. Both are viewed as equally a threat, as evidence of a dangerous populism, as the wild weeds sown by “fake news”.

The committee report is simply the latest hammer blow against the new media, with Facebook most prominent, to bring it into line, to fully subordinate it to the traditional political and media class.

Tom Watson, the Labour party’s deputy leader, and the man best placed to stab Corbyn in the back should the right moment arrive, is not even shy of making that clear: “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him [Zuckerberg] and his company into line.”

Facebook, of course, has no ideological objections to complying. It does not care about freedom of speech, or pluralism, only about its image and market position.

Karim Palant, the company’s UK public policy manager, happily responded: “We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform.”

What holds it back from full compliance is not the damage that will be inflicted on our political freedoms from a crackdown on dissident views, or “fake news”, but the the economic pain it will incur if it hands back control of the digital data it has amassed.

The Battle for Free Speech: Meghan Murphy vs. Twitter

Last week, Canadian feminist and journalist, Meghan Murphy, announced that she is suing Twitter. Having been permanently suspended from Twitter last Fall, Murphy’s lawsuit challenges Jack Dorsey’s contention made last September to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Twitter Transparency and Accountability wherein he stated, “We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions, period.” Taking aim at Twitter’s contradictory and unevenly-applied policy, Murphy’s lawsuit is legally challenging Twitter by accusing  this big tech company of censoring content made by users based on conflicting political perspectives (eg. conflicting with those of Dorsey or others at Twitter). Meghan confirms that Dorsey has acted against his own company’s mandate which was “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers. Our business and revenue will always follow that mission in ways that improve and do not detract from a free and global conversation.”

In a video explanation, Murphy details the reasons for her lawsuit, outlining the many contradictions within Twitter’s exercise of its policies and its censorship of its users, most notably feminists and anyone who is gender critical. Murphy’s “crime”? She tweeted this: “Men are not women” and “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?” Reminiscent of the tenor preceding the Scopes Monkey Trial, this lawsuit is bound to mark the stark terrain between free speech and censorship while also legally cementing the fundamental right to discuss critically the pitfalls of politically acceptable speech when multi-billion tech firms are today sponsoring the main arenas of free speech: social media.

It’s not only conservative pundits who are perplexed by this double-standard of who gets to have a Twitter account (eg. Donald Trump and Louis Farrakhan), but also centrist publications are covering this event. But why are many left-wing news sources ignoring both Murphy’s banning from Twitter in addition to the more problematic elision of women’s rights around which this issue turns? And how will such a lawsuit affect the levels of responsibility that everyone from website/domain hosting companies to social media elites must maintain in order to keep in check with national laws that protect freedom of expression?

This lawsuit is bound to be a game-changer for everyone as it will challenge many basic “givens” about social media and the power of tech giants like Twitter. Without a doubt, Facebook, Instagram and Google, among others in this field, are playing close attention to this lawsuit, since what results from this lawsuit will potentially set out case law for a good many years.

For starters, tech giants are today controlling public opinion through censorship and how they excise certain individuals from public participation on what Twitter itself admits is not a private—but a public—platform. Dorsey is on record numerous times stating just this. When interviewed by Sam Harris about Meghan Murphy two weeks ago, Dorsey is asked about why Murphy was banned when Twitter has kept accounts by numerous people and groups that have posted inflammatory content. Dorsey’s answer contradicts what he told the U.S. government last fall: “I don’t believe that we can afford to take a neutral stance any more…I don’t believe that we should optimize for impartiality.” Harris then asks Dorsey, “Why not take refuge in the First Amendment?” as a comprehensive response. Dorsey’s response: “The enforcement of [our rules] is not always apparent….If you just look at one enforcement action, we don’t suspend people purely for saying one particular thing permanently.” While Dorsey exempts violent threats from this rule, it is clear that Dorsey is playing language games in how he has shifted Twitter’s role as arbiter of free speech: “I don’t think we can be this neutral passive platform any more.”  Effectively, Dorsey is advocating for censorship. Hence, the disconnect between what he said to Senate last year and where Twitter asserts itself as a public arena for the democratic sharing of ideas and against what Dorsey calls the “shutting down” of those who “weaponise” Twitter. He goes on to claim that Twitter’s role is more about what the platform “amplifies” and and what conversations it “gives attention to”—all this to couch removal of those who produce content that Twitter does not agree with.

Harris warns the listener before the interview that Dorsey is skilled at stepping around difficult questions, but as you listen to the interaction, it is painfully clear that Dorsey promotes censorship by stating that Twitter’s focus is on promoting certain ideas, not people. Still Dorsey is cognizant that people produce ideas, not the inverse. So in this interview he is slippery, plays with terminology and essentially justifies the removal of what he deem disagreeable viewpoints through the removal of the creators of such viewpoints. Renaming censorship as focusing on “what are we amplifying”, Dorsey has come up with a slick media spin for a metaphorical “re-education camp” for banned Twitter users.

As is the case for Murphy, social media is used for building a brand and career, marketing, research and company promotion. Murphy’s suit argues that being banned from Twitter negatively impacts her work as a journalist pointing to how news publications cite Twitter from The New York Times and beyond. Additionally, where the public geographic spaces of old are being deferred to social media, this brings up new challenges for what Dorsey has repeatedly called Twitter—a “public square.” In fact, in his Senate testimony last year, Dorsey used this term five times to refer to Twitter. So one must wonder why the public square is being privately controlled, or at the very least, why private companies hosting the public forum are exempt from upholding the laws which guarantee free expression.

Like Twitter, fellow tech giants are dangerously approximating the role of censors of free speech in their respective empires which they had claimed, years earlier, to have created to expand free speech. Dorsey clearly expresses a desire for “healthy conversation” but fails to uphold the promised platform for freedom of expression one year later.

“Instagram Helped Kill My Daughter”: Censorship Tendencies in Social Media

It is all a rather sorry tale.  Molly Russell, another teenager gorged on social media content, sharing and darkly revelling, took her own life in 2017 supposedly after viewing what the BBC described as “disturbing content about suicide on social media.”  Causation is presumed, and the platform hosting the content is saddled with blame.

Molly’s father was not so much seeking answers as attributing culpability.  Instagram, claimed Ian Russell, “helped kill my daughter”.  He was also spoiling to challenge other platforms: “Pininterest has a huge amount to answer for.”  These platforms do, but not in quite the same way suggested by the aggrieved father.

The political classes were also quick to jump the gun.  Here was a chance to score a few moral points as a distraction from the messiness of Brexit negotiations.  UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was in combative mood on the Andrew Marr show: “If we think they need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.”  Material dealing with self-harm and suicide would have to be purged.  As has become popular in this instance, the purging element would have to come from technology platforms themselves, helped along by the kindly legislators.

Any time the censor steps in as defender of morality, safety and whatever tawdry assertions of social control, citizens should be alarmed.  Such attitudes are precisely the sorts of things that empty libraries and lead to the burning of books, even if they host the nasty and the unfortunate.  Content deemed undesirable must be removed; offensive content must be expunged to make us safe.  The alarming thing here is that compelling the tech behemoths to undertake such a task has the effect of granting them even more powers of social control than before. Don’t they exert enough control as it is?

While social media giants can be accused, on a certain level, of faux humanitarianism and their own variant of sublimated sociopathic control (surveillance capitalism is alive and well), they are merely being hectored for the logical consequence of sharing information and content. This is set to become more concentrated, with Facebook, as Zak Doffman writes, planning to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp further to enable users “across all three platforms to share messages and information more easily”.  Given Facebook’s insatiable quest for advertising revenue, Instagram is being tasked with being the dominant force behind it.

The onus on production and exchange is on customers: the customers supply the material, and spectacle.  They are the users and the exploited.  This, in turn, enables the social media tech groups to monetise data, trading it, exploiting it and tanking privacy measures in the process.  The social media junkie is a modern, unreflective drone.

In doing so, an illusion of independent thinking is created, where debates can supposedly be had, and ideas formed.  The grand peripatetic walk can be pursued.  Often, the opposite takes place: groups assemble along lines of similar thought; material of like vein is bounced around under the impression it advances discussion when it merely provides filling for a cork-lined room or chamber of near-identical thinking.  All of this is assisted by the algorithmic functions performed by the social media entities, all in the name of making the “experience” you have a richer one.  Far be it in their interest to make sure you juggle two contradictory ideas at the same time.

Instagram’s own “Community Guidelines” have the aim of fostering and protecting “this amazing community” of users.  It suggests that photos and videos that are shared should only be done by those with a right to do so.  Featured photos and videos should be directed towards “a diverse audience”.  A reminder that the tech giant is already keen on promoting a degree of control is evident in restrictions on nudity – a point that landed the platform in some hot water last year.  “This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.”  That’s many an art period banished from viewing and discussion.

The suicide fraternity is evidently wide enough to garner interest, even if the cult of self-harm takes much ethical punishment from the safety lobby.  Material is still shared.  Self-harm advisories are distributed through the appropriate channels.

Instagram’s response to this is to try to nudge such individuals towards content and groups that might just as equally sport reassuring materials to discourage suicide and self-harm.  Facebook, through its recently appointed Vice-President of Global Affairs, Sir Nick Clegg, was even happy to point out that the company had prevented suicides: “Over the last year, 3,500 people who were displaying behaviour liable to lead to the taking of their own lives on Facebook were saved by early responders being pointed to those and people and intervening at the right time.”

This is all to the good, but such views fail in not understanding that social media is not used or engaged in to change ideas so much as create communities who only worship a select few.  The tyranny of the algorithm is a hard one to dislodge.

In engaging such content, we are dealing with narcotised dragoons of users, the unquestioning creating content for the unchallenged. That might prove to be the greatest social crime of all, the paradox of nipping curiosity rather than nurturing it, but instead of dealing with the complexities of information from this perspective, governments are going to make technology companies the chief censors.  It might well be argued that enough of that is already taking place as it is, this being the age of deplatforming.  Whether it be a government or a social media giant, the same shoddy principle is the same: others know better than you do, and you should be protected from yourself.

Understanding the Soviet Union, Inequality, and Freedom of Expression

In a book which seemingly offers simple, but clever, rules to help people gain control over their lives, psychologist Jordan Peterson curiously pours a lot of vitriol on Marxism/communism and the nation states that practice(d) communism.1

Peterson writes that Marx discombobulated history and culture:

Marx attempted to reduce history and society to economics, considering culture the oppression of the poor by the rich. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivized. The result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions were subject to oppression rivalling that still active in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. (loc 5256-5257)

As a minimum, what Peterson stated is overtly brazen defamation of Marx. But before defending Marx from the groundless invectives of Peterson, it should be noted with utmost comfort that Peterson’s approach to analyzing the thought of Marx and his role in history and issuing verdicts thereof manifestly demonstrates Peterson’s poor knowledge of Marxian thought. What is remarkable here is that naïve ideological parochialism supplants informed elements of debate. To explain, Peterson is overconfident that he, as a psychologist, can read the mind of Marx. So he volunteered to tell us that when he summoned his spirit to his couch, this told him that he was attempting to “reduce history and society to economics.”

Surprisingly, Peterson comes across as incognizant that Marx’s principle pillar of historical materialism rests on the paradigm that all societies, regardless of stage of development, follow specific and historically developed economic models that inexorably shape their lives and societal structures. Marx gave the greatest example on this matter when he described the endless cycles of a typical Indian village that persisted since the dawn of history until Britain colonized India thus introducing its economic model that gradually obliterated the old system. Another example, when Britain colonized Mali, it instituted that villagers could not tender their produce for barter and had to use money (introduced by the colonial office) as a means of exchange. This forced the villagers to abandon their villages and work as salaried labor in town — and this is exactly what Britain wanted to tighten its grip on Mali.

To expand on this argument, Peterson is attempting to reduce Marxism to what he claims was put into practice in the Soviet Union and Eastern Asia. Marx did not say that culture, per se, oppressed the poor. Marx said that each historical epoch is constructed around a particular mode of production that helps to shape culture. Under capitalism it is the capitalists that control the means of production, thus the bourgeoisie (the rich) are able to manipulate culture to benefit their self-interest over that of the proletariat (working class). John Storey, a British emeritus professor of Cultural Studies explains that Marx situated culture on a ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’:

The ‘base’ consists of a combination of the ‘forces of production’ and the ‘relations of production’… The superstructure consists of institutions (political, legal, educational, cultural, etc.), and what Marx calls ‘definite forms of social consciousness’ (political, religious, ethical, philosophical, aesthetic, cultural, etc.) generated by these institutions. Marx provided a general theory of history and politics, in which it is important to locate a cultural text or practice, there will always remain questions that relate to its formal qualities and specific traditions.

Finally, has Peterson ever been to North Korea? What information does he rely on to draw his conclusions? Wikipedia? Western corporate-state media? Has his home-and-native land, Canada, ever achieved housing for all its citizens? Tuition-free university education for all? Jobs for everyone? One should be aware and cautious before parroting monopoly-media disinformation.

Plunging further into history, Peterson notes:

The decayed social order of the late nineteenth century produced the trenches and mass slaughter of the Great War. The gap between rich and war was extreme, and most people slaved away in [bad] conditions … Although the West received word of the horrors perpetrated by Lenin after the Russian Revolution, it remained difficult to evaluate his actions from afar. (loc 5270)

Peterson leaves out many crucial points. For example, why was there a gap between the rich and the poor? What political-economic ideology precipitated WWI? Why does Peterson not mention western forces fighting in Russia to overturn the revolution? Why would western powers want the revolution overturned?

In part 2 of the Real News interview with Marxist Alexander Buzgalin deals with these points and more:

PAUL JAY: Good. Once again, let me get this right- Professor Buzgalin is Professor of Political Economy and director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, picking up from part one, the 1920s in the Soviet Union, after the revolution, my understanding, at least. It was a time of tremendous excitement, of transformations, beginnings of modern movie-making takes place in the Soviet Union, some of the innovations are world class. Why and how, and I know this is an enormous question, really boil this down- how does something so transformative turn into such bureaucracy?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s a really great, very important and very difficult question. A brief and little bit primitive explanation: The Soviet Union was born in the- appeared in a period of terrible contradictions. So, world capitalism, World War I, terrible bloody war, for what? For killing of millions of people for the profit of corporations. And one result was material basis and cultural basis for a new society. So, it’s like a kid that appeared in the dusty, cold atmosphere without good parents or without parents at all. How to survive? It will be some mutations. And we had mutations and we had very small chances for growing up, for normal development of this kid.

New socialist trend, not socialist country, but trend, movement in socialist direction. And of course, we received a lot of mutations. Firstly, it was real huge energy, created by revolution, by victory in civil war. Energy of creation of new society, enthusiasm and so on. In the same time, in new economic policy in the 1920s, we had a lot of elements of market capitalism and so on. It was, by the way, not a bad model of combination of capitalism, market, and new socialist trends, with big contradictions. But then, because of terrible conditions, absence of material base inside, and the very dangerous, very aggressive-

PAUL JAY: Meaning the absence of any modern industry.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. It was necessary to create, during ten years, modern industry and a huge military complex in order to prevent defeat in the war against world fascism. By the way, I want to stress, in 1930s, fascism became rule. It was Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, then all Europe capitulated.

PAUL JAY: And strong support in Britain and the United States, including the King of England.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and by the way- yeah, Britain and the United States were not very sympathetic to the Soviet Union rule at all. And one minute, one very important fact. When German fascists, Nazi, took power, it was one country around France, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, strong industrial states altogether- Britain, the U.S.- no problem to defeat Germany. And what was the result? Germany occupied France, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Austria. Nobody can resist- democratic liberal capitalism could not resist to fascism. And only this strange mutation, Stalin’s socialism, could have a victory.

PAUL JAY: And I think a lot of people in the West don’t understand how clear this was, what was coming as early as 1930, 31, 32-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but after that, we had this bureaucratic mutation because of all these reasons. And the more we had power of bureaucracy and the less we had the real control from below, real opportunity to make something in social organization from below, the more we had degradation of socialist trends. And we moved from domestic socialism, in the atmosphere of capitalism around, towards attempts to build consumer society, but without the opportunity to consume. The economy of shortage consumer society.2

Peterson read a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, yes, a book that details horrible injustices. But Buzgalin lived in the USSR, saw the fall of the Soviet Bloc, and lived through the transformation to modern Russia. Russia is not communist today, but Russians did try to bring back communism and were thwarted by American interference in the Russian presidential election to get their man, the inebriate Boris Yeltsin, into the Federal Assembly.

Peterson turns to another writer, George Orwell, to expose Stalin’s crimes: “He [Orwell] published Animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release.” (loc 5301)

In the preface to the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm Orwell wrote:

I have never visited Russia and my knowledge of it consists only of what can be learned by reading books and newspapers. Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods. It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.

But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet régime for what it really was. Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism. On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.

Unlike Peterson who sees Marxism as an ideology predestined to produce atrocities, Orwell sees that corrupted humans have corrupted Marxism. Orwell was a contemporary who refused to judge Stalin, whereas Peterson removed in time does judge Stalin. Orwell considers that there may have been circumstances that forced Stalin to act in barbaric fashion. Buzgalin cited some of those circumstances above, although he does not name such as an excuse for Stalin’s barbarity.3 Does Peterson take into account the circumstances and the times when he passes wholesale judgment?

Inequality

Turning to the present, communism has waned in many countries while at the same time the burgeoning of neoliberalism has seen inequality soar.

Peterson offers a puzzling take on inequality. He favors a hands-off approach to it: “We don’t know how to redistribute wealth without introducing a whole host of other problems…. But it certainly is the case that forced redistribution, in the name of utopian equality, is a cure to shame the disease.” (loc 5351)

Tim Di Muzio, a senior lecturer in international relations and political economy at Wollongong University in Australia, states that capitalism is a pathological addiction in which capitalists seek differential accumulation – to primarily increase the wealth gap between themselves and others; in other words, greater wealth inequality. (p 49) For this reason, the capitalist system cannot rid wealth inequality or significantly reduce the inequality, and neither is capitalism — the nebulous invisible hand aside — designed to do this.4

Peterson says we don’t know how to redistribute wealth. Certainly he admits that he doesn’t know how to do it. Indeed, he even warns against trying redistribution, by implying redistribution to be an untoward “utopian equality.” Why in the name of “utopian equality”? Why not in the name of fairness and dignity for all humans? Peterson is at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that one of the freedoms sought is a world where humans are free from want. As stipulated by the UDHR, among those human rights affected by inequality are:

  • Article 23: Right to work, to equal pay for equal work, and to form and join trade unions
  • Article 24: Right to reasonable hours of work and paid holidays
  • Article 25: Right to adequate living standard for self and family, including food, housing, clothing, medical care and social security.

Does Peterson think that the current distribution of wealth is fair? If it is not fair, then does Peterson suggest leaving the current maldistribution as is? And what caused a maldistribution to occur? Should not the conditions that caused such a maldistribution be dealt with? The gap between the rich and the poor is widening. In 1820, the gap was 3:1, in 1950, 35:1, and in 1992, the gap was 72:1.5 The “World Inequality Report 2018” declares an increasing gap between haves and have-nots and points to capitalism as a cause. That this is a gargantuan problem, is adduced by the fact that about half of the planet’s population must get by on less than $2.50 a day (80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day). What “host of problems” is it that Peterson would consider to supersede the dignity of half the globe’s population?

Why focus on redistribution of wealth? What about the capitalist system wherein the maldistribution occurred? Peterson says don’t redistribute. However, if communism leads to Gulags as Peterson claims, then by the same logic does capitalism not lead to maldistribution and inequality? But Peterson does not argue for a economic reform. Would it not be logically and morally preferable to have a system that allows for a fair distribution at the outset that would not require a redistribution. But that might require a revolution, something Peterson also eschews as he considers that would cause suffering.6

Peterson on Compelled Speech

Peterson came into wider public prominence when he railed against the Canadian government’s Bill C-16 which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include “gender identity or expression” as grounds protected from discrimination. Peterson mischaracterized the bill as compelling speech by using hate laws. Nonetheless, Peterson gained a following based on his pro-freedom of expression.

In his book, Peterson seemingly contradicts this pro-freedom of expression stance:

I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them. Such people have a perfect right to their opinions and actions, if they remain lawful. But they have no reasonable claim to public funding. (loc 5359)7

Unlawful opinions? Really?

What does Peterson mean by “demolition of the culture”? Culture is an abstract, something that cannot be physically demolished. Sure, artifacts of the culture can be destroyed, but Peterson did not write cultural artifacts. And what does Peterson mean by “lawful”? He gives no examples of institutions and educators behaving unlawfully. What Peterson writes sounds curiously like a call for censorship. One wonders whether orating for the replacement of capitalism (and its maldistribution of wealth) with communism in western society is beyond the bounds of accepted discourse. In other words, if you don’t like the cultural set-up, and you want to exercise your freedom of speech, then the dominant culture will put you on the street. That would be, in essence, governmental violence, and it would cause suffering — something Peterson says he seeks to avoid.

Peterson appears to be treading a tightrope here. He supports freedom of speech, but seemingly sets out parameters in which free speech may not occur. First, Peterson holds that it must conform to societal dictates as far as public funding is concerned. Yet is that not censorship? It stands as an antipode to compelled speech – something Peterson adamantly opposes. Hate speech aside, but are not forced speech patterns similarly egregious as enforcement aimed at preventing utterances? Second, one might wonder exactly what Peterson means by the “conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them.” Culture? That is a wide-encompassing term. Does Peterson consider “the demolition of the culture” that sends soldiers abroad to overthrow governments not to the home government’s liking, to devastate foreign lands, to decimate civilian populations, and to plunder the resources as deserving of being cut off from public funding? Third, Peterson argues that speech must “remain lawful.” Where is the freedom in that? Of course, freedoms come with responsibilities. One does not run into a public school and foolishly yell “Shooter!” while knowing full well that no shooter has been spotted on campus, thereby causing a stampede of students and a potential for injuries. But the right to dissent, even against a prevailing view in society, is a sine qua non of a country that professes to cherish democracy and freedoms. After all, how often is it that a majority, or substantial section, of a society has gone amuck? Nazi Germany, imperialist Britain, imperialist USA, colonial Canada, Wahhabists, Zionists, all spring to mind to be parked alongside the brutal excesses of some communist governments. It is incumbent upon people whose consciences are pricked by iniquity caused by or in complicity with their society and country to speak out and steer the ship-of-state back on a proper course. Most people whose consciences are seared are not about to be dissuaded from doing what they consider right by a cut off in public funding. Lastly, what does Peterson propose for the criteria and regulating of the “institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture,” so as to determine what and who should be deprived of public funding? Who should decide? As a basis, a standing bureaucracy would be required for this task.

In a so-called representative democracy such as the United States, universities and research and development are largely funded by government. If these institutions and scientists are antithetical to the agenda of the government, then should their funding be cut off? Case in point, the overwhelming majority of the scientific community has sounded the alarm about the increasing potential of a looming catastrophe: fossil-fuel burning causes emissions of greenhouse gases and this is cited as the cause of global warming, melting ice caps, thawing permafrost, and weather calamities. Yet, one can observe the Donald Trump government stacking agencies whose purported agenda is to protect the environment signalling a rejection of climate change, raising the profile of a sprinkling of climate skeptics, and caving in to the interests of Big Oil.

  1. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
  2. Part 6 will discuss IQ, equal pay for equal work, Mao Zedong, and Chinese communism
  1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos (Penguin Random House UK, 2018).
  2. Success and Mutation in the Soviet Union – RAI with A. Buzgalin (2/12),” The Real News, 12 July 2018.
  3. The longtime communist ruler of Albania, Enver Hoxha, in his With Stalin: A Memoir, paints a far more flattering portrait of Sta1in than western historical accounts.
  4. Tim Di Muzio, The 1% and the Rest of Us: A Political Economy of Dominant Ownership (Zed Books, 2015): 48-49.
  5. Anup Shah, “Causes of Poverty,” Global Issues, 30 April 2006.
  6. See part 3.
  7. Peterson: “Neither should we teach them [our children] unsupported ideologically-predicated theories about nature of men and women—or the nature of hierarchy.” (loc 5382)

Anti-BDS Bill Defeated

Some may be happy to learn that the US Senate didn’t pass the ‘anti BDS bill’ on Tuesday. But a look at the vote reveals that America’s politicians are fully removed from the American ethos of freedom. Fifty six  mostly Republican Senators, just 4 shy of the 60 needed to pass the bill, voted to enact a law contrary to the Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech as granted by the 1st amendment. The defeated bill included a provision to allow states and local governments to punish Americans who boycott Israel. This was an astonishing and nearly successful attempt  to legislate crude government interference with freedom of speech in its most protected form: political speech. The fact that such a bill made it to the floor of the Senate confirms that the American political establishment is an occupied zone committed to silencing opposition to Israel and its lobby.

Democrats did not necessarily oppose the anti BDS bill on first amendment grounds. Instead, most Senate Democrats have vowed to block all legislation in the Senate until it votes to end the government shutdown. Trump has closed the Federal government until Congress accedes to his demand for $5.7 billion to begin to erect an Israeli style ghetto wall on the Mexican border.

If the president is so desperate to defend America’s southern border, perhaps he should consider not giving military aid to Israel, even if  just for two years. This would free $8 billion and give Trump enough cash to build his wall and then maybe he could invest the remaining $2.3 billion where it’s really needed: to make America great again.

Fiasco In Islington, Part 2

Gilad Atzmon

More facts have come to light in the case of Gilad Atzmon and his banning by the Islington Town Council from performing at a jazz concert on December 21, 2018. The original scenario was that one e-mail from one person calling Atzmon an antisemite somehow persuaded the Islington council to take the drastic step of removing Atzmon from a town-owned venue. Many who heard the story felt this was a rash decision which would surely be reversed when the facts were brought to light. But the Council voted to uphold its decision and Atzmon was indeed not allowed to play.

Now it appears that the single complainant – Martin Rankoff –  was not just an anonymous fan of Israel but the UK director of Likud-Herut. Herut (or ‘freedom’) was Israel’s founding nationalist party from 1948 until it later merged with Likud. It is a militant and extreme Zionist organization whose roots go in a straight line from Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin up to Benjamin Netanyahu today. Jabotinsky and Begin helped form the Irgun terrorists in 1937. Irgun committed notorious massacres in Palestine leading up to and during the Nakba (or ‘catastrophe’) of 1947-1948. These include the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 91 people, and the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948 in which 254 unarmed Palestinian villagers were brutally murdered as an incentive for other Palestinians to leave. On its web site Likud-Herut UK lists Jabotinsky and Begin as “visionaries.” Likud-Herut is a member of the World Zionist Organization and the Zionist Federation of the UK who believe in “the inalienable right of all Jews to live and settle in all parts of the Land of Israel.”

In a letter to the New York Times in 1948 Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others compared Herut to the Nazis and Fascists who had just been defeated in World War II. Referring to this letter, Ramzy Baroud recently wrote:

The ‘Nazi and Fascist’ mentality that defined Herut in 1948 now defines the most powerful ruling class in Israel. Israel’s leaders speak openly of genocide and murder, yet they celebrate and promote Israel as if an icon of civilization, democracy and human rights.

The history of Herut and Likud tells us a great deal about who the people are who complained about Atzmon to Islington Town Council. When Atzmon moved to appeal his being banned, formidable opponents again appeared in the form of the Simkins Law firm, one of the most expensive law practices in Britain, with not one but two partners at Simkins being put on the case. These are Gideon Benaim and Tom Iverson. Benaim recently became well known in Britain for winning an invasion of privacy suit against the BBC on behalf of pop singer Cliff Richard, who said he spent £3.4m ($4.3 million) on the case. Clearly, representation by Simkins doesn’t come cheap. Also listed in Benaim’s resumé as a client is the Las Vegas Sands Corporation which likely has no problem with Simkins’ fees either. The Sands casino is owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who, as it happens, is a primary sponsor of the Likud Party in Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson owns the newspaper Israel Hayom, a mouthpiece for Netanyahu and Likud.

Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx
5/28/15, Sheldon Adelson at The Champions of Israel Gala. (NYC)

It now appears that Atzmon’s banning was not the result of a casual complaint; it was an intentional attack on a well-respected supporter of Palestinian human rights by the Likud organization, directly represented by Martin Rankoff. The attack was followed up by the hiring of a lawyer who has worked for Likud godfather Sheldon Adelson. The connection to these powerful forces may explain why Islington Town Council leader Richard Watts, without any delay or attempt at negotiation, took the step of going straight to a decision to hire an expensive law firm. This is while Islington is facing serious austerity and shortage of funds in its own operating budget. Islington has a population of about 206,000 people. This very month, 43 of those people were counted in one survey as homeless and sleeping on the streets.

Regarding the financial problems of his borough and others around London, Richard Watts, told The Independent in October 2018:

“unprecedented” funding pressures and demand for adult and children’s social care and homelessness services was “pushing councils to the limit”.

“As a result less money is being spent on the other services that keep our communities running such as libraries, local roads, early intervention and local welfare support,” he added.

Yet, to Watts and his fellow councilors in Islington, backing partisans for a foreign country – Israel — took precedence over the pressing needs of the people whom they are supposed to represent. Either Watts was inexcusably careless with scarce town funds or a deal was made and he knew that he could depend on Likud-Herut to back him. Or, like politicians all across Europe and the US facing the power of the Israel lobby, he knew he couldn’t afford to say no.

According to Simkin’s web site, Gideon Benaim “has extensive expertise in the areas of defamation, privacy, harassment and copyright.” Perhaps it is not a coincidence that immediately after Islington brought in Simkins, identical statements from an unnamed Labour spokesman describing Atzmon as “a vile antisemite” appeared in both the BBC and The Guardian. Perhaps a lawyer experienced in defending people against defamation and harassment would also know how to perpetrate these things. Perhaps this was Benaim’s opening move. Character assassination is a common tactic in cases that have a weak legal foundation, such as this one, as it goes a long way to convicting the accused before their case ever reaches a courtroom.

The involvement of Likud-Herut in the attack on Gilad Atzmon, and Islington’s official backing of that attack, constitutes a monumental scandal. This wasn’t just a stupid mistake; it was a hit. It is an affront to reason that an an arch-racist organization like Likud, who from the beginning have stood for the removal of the people of Palestine from their own land by means of terror, murder, and forced expulsion, could possibly claim they they were defamed by someone pointing out these very crimes. There is a case of defamation here for sure – the defamation of Gilad Atzmon. For Zionists, defamation is nothing more than a tool to destroy opponents who can’t be dealt with by other means. We are long since tired of truth tellers being accused of antisemitism. We’re tired of national and local resources being used to prop up the criminal state of Israel. Coercion by advocates for Israel is at the center of this issue in Islington, as it is in many other towns and many other countries. For the sake of Palestine and our own sovereignty, it has to be called out and stopped.

• Read Part One here

Gilad Atzmon’s Seasonal Message

Following the intense smear campaign against me, my work, my writing and my livelihood, I decided to produce this short Christmas message and address the ludicrous accusations against me and also to wish you all merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thank you all for your support.

To sign a petition in support of Gilad click here

Lodge a formal complaint with Islington Council: https://www.islington.gov.uk/contact-us/comments-and-complaints?status=inprogress

Email: ku.vog.notgnilsinull@llahylbmessa

Contact the Council: +4420 7527 2000

To support Gilad’s legal battle:  https://donorbox.org/gilad-needs-additional-support

Fiasco In Islington

Jazz saxophonist and writer Gilad Atzmon was recently banned from playing at an assembly hall in Islington, a borough of London, by order of the Islington Town Council. This came about as a result of an e-mail from one person—Martin Rankoff saying nothing more than that if Atzmon was going to be at the venue on December 21 he would give a ticket that was given to him to someone else. Rankoff wrote, “Mr Atzmon’s news and beliefs I personally find repulsive and do not wish to be in the same place as him, let alone listen to his music.” Rankoff included links to ADL and Israeli news outlets accusing Atzmon of antisemitism. Incredibly, on the basis of this letter alone, the Islington Council went way out of its way and contacted the show’s promoter to get Atzmon banned—something Rankoff didn’t even ask for.

Imagine the situation in reverse: Gilad Atzmon writes a letter to the Council saying he is uncomfortable with Martin Rankoff appearing in the audience at Islington assembly hall. He refers to Mr. Rankoff’s pro-Israel Twitter page where Rankoff calls Jeremy Corbyn “A F***ing Antisemite and Racist” and where Corbyn is pictured on a bike with a comment suggesting Corbyn should be rammed by a car. Atzmon says that he doesn’t feel safe with Rankoff in the audience. He finds Mr. Rankoff’s support for Israel repulsive because Israel was founded on genocide against the people of Palestine. As proof he provides links to news reports on the slaughter of unarmed protestors in Gaza since  March 30, 2018, and a story on the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.

This imaginary second complaint would have been scorned as an abridgement of Rankoff’s rights. Indeed, since the Islington Council has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, in which criticism of Israel is deemed antisemitic, the Council would probably feel obliged to forward the letter to the authorities as evidence of hate speech.

The Council provided a statement on the banning in which it says: “under the Equality Act 2010, the Council must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to foster good relations between different races and religions within the borough. The Council took account of the fact that Mr Atzmon’s presence at the Hall, and knowledge of his presence among residents of the borough, might harm such relationships, as well as the Council’s duty to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the borough.”

This begs the question—in what way would either the “presence” of Gilad Atzmon or “knowledge of his presence among residents” harm the relationship between different races and religions in the borough? Atzmon was to appear at the venue as a saxophone player in a jazz group. It’s hard to imagine a more severe inversion of the concept of discrimination. On the basis of the feelings of one complainant, the right of a musician to work or even be present in Islington is taken away.

What lies behind this is a familiar tactic. Zionists have no argument to counter critics of Israel, so they try to shut them up by attacking their character and robbing them of their livelihood. Now AIPAC and other lobbies are working to make it illegal to criticize Israel, as we see in the recent case of a Texas speech therapist whose yearly contract was denied because she refused to sign a pledge not to support a boycott of Israel. One might ask, what does a teaching position in Pflugerville, Texas have to do with one’s opinions about a country seven thousand miles away? And why does that country have the right to compel anyone in the US to sign a loyalty oath?

If the BDS movement doesn’t do it, zealotry and fanatacism will be the undoing of the Zionist project. People don’t like being told what they are allowed to think and say. When our words and thoughts are policed, it makes us question all the more. What were once decent leftist positions against racism and discrimination have been twisted into a new kind of totalitarianism, one in which it is racist to question the racist, and discriminatory to question discrimination; one in which we are told to think something doesn’t exist when we can see with our own eyes that it does. The self-righteous members of the Islington Town Council have set a very dangerous precedent, and have been used as fools on top of it.