In Imam Khomeini Hospital Tehran this morning, a teacher and trade unionist called Mahmoud Beheshti Langaroudi began to suffer internal bleeding in his stomach. Nearly a month into his hunger strike, and two days into a hunger strike without water, the doctors have warned his wife that persevering will likely result in serious and irreversible damage to his health. After physical and psychological torture, a secret trial and a fourteen year jail sentence reached by a prosecutor-judge in five minutes, Beheshti Langaroudi is refusing to end his hunger strike until his demands are met. He simply wants a public trial, for other trade unionists to be allowed to be present and to hear the charges against him.
Twenty one hours away by car, the inmates of the notorious Hama prison, have led an uprising against their gaolers, that has briefly liberated their prison. As rumours of mass execution spread the prisoners chased guards out of the jail, and are demanding their release, and an end to their routine torture and execution without trail or recourse to defence. Outside the prison Assad’s forces have gathered, and according to sources on the ground are preparing for a general massacre.
Let’s be clear, if you ain’t supporting uprisings of political prisoners against murderous dictatorships, you’re doing left wing politics pretty fucking poorly.
In Bahrain Zainab al Khawaja a young human rights activist and writer, is still facing indefinite trial.
These three moments, in jails across three countries show literally the current fate of the so-called “Arab Spring”, that movement of (mainly) young (often) educated and (almost entirely) poor people for democracy and a semblance of social justice across the region. Tired, starving and waiting for the next police massacre. But unbeaten.
A few people have written repeatedly about how the international Left have failed these movements, from the early signs of what was to come when Iranian and Iraqi Leftists with criticisms of the Saddam and Islamic Republic Regimes were kept away from the Stop the War Coalition in 2003, to the open support for Assad’s murderous suppression of the revolution from sections of the left internationally. Some of this stuff is documented in the book I recently contributed to Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution.
Within the context of the alleged “anti semitism scandal” inside the Labour party, the deadlock of the Left’s inability to provide a non sectarian solidarity, one that sees beyond either supporting the “anti imperialist” Syrian, Russian and Iranian regime, or on the other hand a sort of reactive soft sunni “Islamism” that sees them as the devil incarnate, and overlooks the horrendous Saudi and Western atrocities in Yemen and Bahrain takes a new shape.
August Bebel famously called anti semitism the “socialism of fools”, and its in this structural understanding of the oldest hatred, that it bears on the degeneration of the left, to the point where some of its elements will cheer the massacre of prisoners.
In the 70s, around the time of the last highpoint of working class and leftist struggle in this country, groups like IS and Big Flame began to think of “reformism”, a word which previously referred to the big institutions that argued for reforms in favour of he working class (The Labour Party, the German SPD, the TUC etc) as something more substantially ideological in the critical sense. They saw it as the basic mindset of large sections of the poor and oppressed who, rather reasonably, wan’t to see a better life for themselves but don’t necessarily want the whole destruction and overthrow of an existing order. In the 70s this mind set powered the shop floor industrial movement that won dramatic increases in workers pay and conditions, right now we can see it at work in the hundreds of thousands who have joined the Green Party and Corbyn’s Labour.
You see this mentality at work, in the way a lot of people who are basically on the left think about politics. Rather than the problems with society being fundamental, reaching to the core of the way the economy and political power work, they are, issues of individual or collective corruption, or things that can be sorted out by an extra law here, or an intervention there. In this way, the basic structural issues are ignored, and the very reasonable idea that life can get a bit better for people without root and branch change in society, turns into something utterly unreasonable that flies in the face of empirical reality every bit as violently as the supposedly utopian idea that the world has to change radically.
For instance, one of the responses to the Hama Prison Uprising, has been a petition circulated asking the US State Department to “do something” to save the prisoners. Leaving aside questions of principle, or tactics about such a move, its become absolutely clear over the last few years, that the current imperialist carve up of the region is disintegrating and the US, whether they want to or not, are not in any position to really do anything about it. Ever since Bouazizi set himself on fire in that Tunisian marketplace, the US have been able to do nothing but react to what is going on.
In the same way, whilst supporting the movement that has seen Corbyn take charge of the Labour party, its foolish to not see in its obvious context; the historic disintegration of the Labourist block in this country; as evidenced by the drubbing the Labour Party received in Glasgow on Thursday, one of its most important historical heartlands.
And when we don’t engage with the reality of what this kind of reformism ignore; that actually, there are all or nothing moments for struggles for democracy and freedom in the world, the night time story of reformist thinking emerges; the nightmare of anti semitism.
Before Slavoj Zizek decided to become a full time racist, he wrote a very interesting psychoanalytic account of antisemitism that linked it to this basic idea that the world can get better for us, without radical change. Zizek drew a parallel with the way a neurotic is obsessed with the idea of something being taken from them, the idea that a specific parent, or person or thing “fucked them up”. For a psychoanalyst in the Lacanian tradition, that was never the case, we are all always and already fucked up. That’s how antisemitism seems to work too. Instead of understanding that here and now, in the middle of our society, there is conflict between those who have and those who ain’t got, we fantasise about something that came from outside and spoiled our primordial peace. Instead of the thing that needs tinkering with being the greed or corruption of Cameron, or the geo-political set up in the middle east between the world powers, it becomes the power of the “outsider” the “foreigner” that “fucked up” our country, or our community that needs curtailing. And there’s no outsider, no foreigner like a Jew.
This analysis helps explain all sorts of peculiarities of the history of anti semitism. From the fact that a country like Japan, with a tiny and obscure Jewish community can develop its own mass and indigenous form of anti semitism.
It also helps us to understand the trajectory of someone like Naz Shah, a decent working class Labour politician whose politics developed from a mishmash of ideas about how the world might be changed, including some anti semitic elements to a serious reformist leader of the party.
Especially for those of us with heritage in Africa and Asia, this can be a seductive thing. The open sores of colonialism, salted regularly in our countries of origin and by the white establishment in our diasporic homes can make us want to believe that everything would be okay if only the west didn’t intervene. The reality is that even classical colonialism would have been impossible if the majority of our clapped out kings and vain priests hadn’t clung to the imperialists to keep them in power.
Within the context of Syria we see this working particularly obviously. Those leftists who want an easy life, and don’t want to break from a cookie cutter anti imperialism are full of stories about how the whole of the democratic movement in the region, from Libya to Iran is a “western plot” are just lying to themselves, and more importantly our revolutionary martyrs, that there is no social contradictions in the region. That the people of the region can have no indigenous struggle for democracy and national dignity, a belief that they share with the most blood thirsty neo conservatives and orientalist colonisers, sets them on a steep descent to the point where figures like Tariq Ali share article from openly anti semitic websites linked to figures like Alex Jones, claiming that ISIS are the “puppets” of Israel.
Sometimes in politics there isn’t an easy way out. Sometimes all we have is faith in the revolutionary process, and the modest solidarity we can hope to try and give.
Sometimes there is only light or darkness. There is standing with those who are struggling. Or there is cheering the muscle clad men in black as the lights go out and their motor cycle helmets go on, as the butchers knives and CS gas rattles, and the massacre begins.