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Is it art and is it antisemitism?

by Nick Wright

Labour is weathering a co-ordinated campaign which combines criticism of Corbyn’s policies and persona with an intensified drive to brand any criticism of the murderous policies pursued by Israel’s rulers with anti-semitism.

I was once branded an antisemite. It was the during the Thatcher/Major years and I was editing the newspaper of the trade union for executive civil servants. Our cartoonist, the brilliant, award winning Frank Boyle, drew a series of strips which called out the Tories for their dogma-driven privatisation policies. One depicted the Tory Cabinet as bloodthirsty pirates of a distinctly unsavoury disposition — the chief among them a swarthy, hook-nosed, carbuncled cutlass-wielding figure in a striped vest, battered pirate hat.

A flood of letters arrived, a good proportion using strikingly similar phrases, rather obviously co-ordinated and some clearly unfamiliar with the actual cartoon and more generally concerned at the left-wing character of the union’s policies. To my surprise I was accused of publishing anti-semitic images. In discussion with one or two of the more reasonable of my correspondents we were able to agree that the conflation of stereotypical Cornish pirates with the anti-semitic depiction of Jews was too far fetched to be taken as evidence of intent. But it was a useful illustration of how an image can possess an ideological power that transcends both literal meaning and the intent of its creator, the context of its creation and thus have an impact on an audience already sensitised by their own ideological position and their life experiences.

This was a useful experience in my next job working at the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.

It is in the light of this experience and after several decades of anti racist and anti fascist activity that I approach the question of the now-destroyed East End mural that is the pivot on which the latest assault on Jeremy Corbyn turns.

Less I am accused of gratuitously circulated anti-semitic images I can claim that in four years at art school; two years specialist art teacher training and three years of post graduate research as an art historian that I encountered many medieval, Renaissance and modern art and design objects imbued with anti-semitic notions. These artefacts possessed a wide currency in the times in which they were created but nevertheless remain the object of critical scrutiny. We must bring the same approach to the examination of the mural depicted here.

Called Freedom for Humanity it was painted by the Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, also known also as Mear One.

We can describe the formal features of the mural thus: Against an apocalyptic background that includes rather ambiguously crafted elements of industrial production and power generation sit six elderly business-suited men playing what appears to be Monopoly. The surface on which they are playing rests on the backs of crouching, naked, possibly androgynous figures and includes a pile of currency notes and tokens that signify industrial production, oil extraction, property ownership and, perhaps, in the case of a miniature Statue of Liberty, political values.

To the left foreground a man is carrying a poster placard that proclaims ‘The New World Order is the enemy of humanity’ while his left arm is raised to a clenched fist. To the right a melancholy mother holds her baby.

Rising above the central group is a pyramid and all-seeing eye, sometimes taken to signify Freemasonry and more universally recognised as an element in the design of US dollar bills.

It is conventional to catalogue the formal features of a work and the processes used. We can see that the artist works in a contemporary medium using commercially available saturated spray colours. We know from basic research and observation that the artist is proficient in this medium and a high degree of preparatory work and a measure of expert draughtsmanship and technical expertise is evident. This conclusion is supported by a film, available on social media, which shows the process underway.


So, having described the content how do we analyse its meaning?

We can of course, go with our immediate, subjective impressions. This clearly is what many people have done. Judging by the social media discussion some have even ventured an opinion without actually looking closely at the work. But to understand more fully we need to ask what is the painting about.

One way is to take its title. Freedom for humanity has a clear and transparent political meaning In a game of chance and skill six white men dispose of power and wealth while the oppressed and the propertyless support the structures which permit this disparity of means.

But this is not enough. Context is all important. As it is public art we already know something about the audience, we know it was made in 2012 and destroyed by the local authority. We know who made it. We know from the BBC report at the time that the artist said his artwork was not targeting Jews.

We need to locate the mural in relation to other work, including that of the artist himself, the local and global politics of its production and display and we need to understand how the public discourse around the work was originally constructed and how it has been reconstructed in the present moment.


This takes us to the contested meaning of the painting and the significance of the central group. The Times on 24 March this year reported that Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to apologise after initially defending his apparent support for “a mural depicting Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor.”

The day before The Guardian had said the that mural pictured several “apparently Jewish bankers” playing a game of Monopoly. The Guardian was on the same wavelength as the Daily Telegraph which reported that Jeremy Corbyn had questioned a London council’s decision to destroy an antisemitic mural “which depicted a group of Jewish bankers counting money on the backs of ethnic minorities.”

A more careful Jewish Chronicle was better informed about the identities of the six. It said the ‘controversial’ artwork depicted a group of businessmen and bankers sitting around a Monopoly-style board and counting money.

At the time, in 2012, there was relatively limited coverage of the mural’s destruction. Reportedly, on Facebook, the backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn had suggested that the artist was in good company. “Rockefeller destroyed Diego Rivera mural because it includes a picture of Lenin” he said. A Labour spokesman at that point claimed Corbyn was standing up for free speech.

It is unclear whether Corbyn – who is fluent in Spanish and very well-informed about Latin American history, politics and culture — was mobilising his pre-existing cultural knowledge or if he knew something of the mural’s content. However, the connection here is artistic freedom and Rockefeller, who is one of the (non Jewish) figures depicted in the East End mural.

In 1933 the Mexican communist painter Diego Rivera was commissioned to paint frescos in the lobby of the Rockefeller building in New York. He titled them The Frontier of Ethical Evolution and The Frontier of Material Development, representing capitalism and socialism. When the patron, Nelson Rockefeller, pressed Rivera to remove images of Lenin and a Soviet May Day scene Rivera refused and the mural was painted over. Rivera recreated the artwork in Mexico as Man, Controller of the Universe.

There is little critical comparison between Rivera’s work and the contemporary mural. Working in plaster and more translucent media Rivera deployed a rich and subtle colour palette, complex imagery, a vast cast of characters and drew upon a rich heritage of political understanding which articulated popular and revolutionary currents of thought.

The technical differences in production are clear enough. Both are public art, both have an avowedly political content, both are didactic. However in scope and sophistication the works could not be more dissimilar.

Given the highly politicised context of the present controversy this gives us a handle on the kind of criteria we must apply in evaluating Ockerman’s work

Two immediate issues arise. Firstly, are the bankers and business men all or predominately Jewish? Secondly, in the light of the answer to this question is the depiction of the characters anti-semitic?

To quote Ockerman: “I came to paint a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class elite few, the Wizards of Oz. They would be playing a board game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. The symbol of the Free Mason Pyramid rises behind this group and behind that is a polluted world of coal burning and nuclear reactors. I was creating this piece to inspire critical thought and spark conversation.”

We have to take him at his word. The problem is that the iconography draws on a very restricted set of references and these references are, in themselves, problematic. Set aside the passivity and subordination with which the oppressed are depicted. Look instead at the central figures who are depicted as distinctive types, painted with a clear reference, if distorted, to real historical protagonists.

Even if only two of these six bourgeois, Warburg and Rothschild, are Jewish we still need to make a judgement about the character and currency of their depiction. The draughtsmanship clearly exaggerates the distinctive features of all six men. The problem is that exaggerated depictions of Jews are created, disseminated and understood in a historically defined context that includes a powerful, even dominant, discourse that draws upon the long traditions of antisemitism embedded in the dominant ideology and expressed, over the centuries, in the dominant visual culture, including both traditional art forms, religion, politics, popular culture and mass media.

That these traditions are currently more diffused than hitherto and that today, for example, Islamaphobic narratives are more virulent and produce more dramatically dangerous consequences than does contemporary anti semitism is no justification for a lack of vigilance.

In truth, the subterranean narratives around notions of the Illuminati, Freemasonry and bourgeois conspiracies cannot, in much popular imagination, be disentangled from deeply suspect discourses in which alien, Semitic and covert elites are the controlling forces in our lives.

Such notions run exactly counter to the kind of materialist analysis that take the real and existing features of contemporary class society and seek to reveal their workings. State monopoly capitalism operates at vastly more profound levels and bourgeois hegemony is maintained by vastly greater systems of ideological domination than are illuminated by Ockerman’s mural or accessible through his restricted political imagination.

Inevitably, this mural was going to understood in the context of existing traditions. If Jeremy Corbyn had not risen to his present stature this mural would have been long forgotten.

The truth is that neither its formal construction nor its artistry, neither its political language nor its iconography is articulated with sufficient levels of complexity and sophistication. It simply collapses, without sufficient theoretical or ideological underpinnings, into an inversion of its creator’s avowed purpose.

This is bad art and worse politics.

When, five years later the long-forgotten facts around this painting’s destruction are weaponised in a new coup against Labour’s popular realignment, we can only marvel that the theoretical poverty of these latter-day art critics is matched by their political hypocrisy.

I am reluctant to criticise Jeremy Corbyn who is the most transparently honest and principled leader of the Labour Party in decades. It is true that his 2012 defence of artistic freedom might have been expressed with more circumspection and today a more robust defence might counter some of his more unprincipled opponents. But the unceasing assault on him is so obviously manufactured that I suspect its effect has a limit and that itself has more traction with a metropolitan and political elite than with broader masses of people.

It is possible to discover in the mountains of social media data instances of clear anti semitic intent. More common are maladroit formulations, poorly constructed arguments, ignorant and lazy conflations of terms that are logically distinct along with arguments that reflect various levels of conscious and unconscious bias. The diligent will find examples of trolling that have their origins in the crude public language in some sectors as well as provocations of even more dubious origin.

We can be sure that one agency or another is searching for any clumsy formulation or ill advised comment that can be weaponised against Labour. That no such diligence is directed at the Tory party or the media that serves bourgeois interest is clear enough indication that this is a project with a clear purpose.

The many hundreds of thousands of Labour folk know this. Many millions more sense the artifice entailed in this campaign. It is instructive that in working class Britain, which by and large is not deeply involved in this controversy, popular sentiment senses that Corbyn is the target. How else to account for the reports that crowds at boxing contests and football matches are breaking out in chants of Jeremy Corbyn’s name.

Already the spurt in Labour (and Momentum) membership is taken by more intransigent zionist opinion a proof itself of a wide currency of anti semitism. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s Seder night feast with a group of irreverent young Jews in his constituency itself is weaponised. Associating with the wrong kind of Jews is also anti semitic it seems.

The association of Blairite MPs with the campaign being waged by the Board of Deputies (and the more obviously Conservative-linked Jewish Leadership Council) will do them no favours with Labour supporters who know from their own experience just how limited is the purchase of anti semitic ideas in the party and the broader labour movement. Interestingly, the anti zionist Jewish Voice for Labour is experiencing a new wave of support.

We cannot disentangle the alarm that the Zionist establishment feels at the success of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement from this current offensive. Corbyn is the target because he maintains his principled solidarity with the Palestinian cause and remains opposed to the imperial war plans that pivot on Israel’s strategy towards it’s neighbouring states.

The real danger is that in conflating, for narrowly sectarian political purpose, what is a fairly widely diffused currency of anti semitic ideas with the more poisonous political anti-semitism that exists as a conscious ideology this campaign runs a real danger of reinforcing the latter.

It is not enough to point out that the most reactionary trends in Zionism act on the basis that the existence of anti semitism is the principal validation of their political project. Anti-semitism needs to be confronted at every level — not as a privileged category of political action — but as part of a conscious movement to assert the universality of human values.

Calling out the crude conflation of Zionism with Jewish identity is the basic building block of any project to combat antisemitism. That this necessarily entails a principled criticism of its mirror image in the most virulently reactionary trends in present-day Zionism is a powerful demonstration of dialectical truth.



01/04/2018 · by SKWAWKBOX · in Uncategorized. ·

On Friday, the Times’ Sam Coates put out a series of tweets about the supposed ‘Labour antisemitism problem’ – an angle the ‘MSM’ continues to push in spite of clear evidence to the contrary – to tout an article by Coates and Lucy Fisher claiming Corbyn is ‘failing to tackle antisemitism’.

The clear evidence to the contrary is research conducted by polling company YouGov for the anti-Palestine group Campaign against Antisemitism (CAA) that antisemitic attitudes have fallen sharply under Corbyn’s leadership – data that were not released by the CAA, but which the SKWAWKBOX exclusively obtained from YouGov.

Neither CAA nor YouGov have any reason to massage figures favourably for the Labour Party.

That series of tweets contains a claim so far from the Times’ own findings that it constitutes fake news – and it was put out as the ‘key finding’ of the article:

The figures show no such thing. Nineteen percent considered it a ‘genuine’ and ‘serious’ problem – while forty-seven percent say it is a genuine problem but has been exaggerated for political purposes.

Sixty-six percent therefore consider it genuine, not nineteen.

In fact, another thirty percent do not say there is no ‘genuine’ problem, but consider it ‘not serious’.

In other words ninety-six percent of Labour members acknowledge there is a problem – and of course any antisemitism is a problem, even though Labour is far better than most other parties and society in general (those CAA/YouGov data again). Of those, only ninteen percent appear not to think it is being politically exploited.

It’s hard to imagine how the narrative put out around the figures could be much less accurate – yet Mr Coates does not appear to have a general problem adding numbers together, as he combines the 47% and 30% figures to arrive at his conclusion that 77% believe it is being exaggerated.

The SKWAWKBOX contacted Mr Coates for comment about the inaccuracy of this emphatically-made ‘key finding’.

He did not respond and the tweet has still – as of 11.53am on Sunday 1 April – not been removed, although for the sake of completeness, it should be noted that he acknowledged to journalist Owen Jones that he should have included the words ‘without qualification’ in his tweet.

However, the misleading tweet has not been deleted.

Mear One’s Brick Lane Street Art: Class and Societal Inequality Not Racial Hatred

Geoff Whitehouse says people claiming that the mural incites racial hatred should get a sense of understanding and perspective

By Geoff Whitehouse

October 8, 2012 12:16 BST

Mear One’s mural on Hanbury Street has been slammed for its anti-Semitism (Photo: Reuters)

An artist paints a work depicting what he sees as the truth of underlying events that are bringing about mass inequality, death and destruction.

According to some, it is hugely offensive, should never have been seen in public and the artist responsible should be imprisoned. As always, politicians get involved and when it is seen in public, the artist receives a threat to his life.

The decent thing to do would be to ban the work, hide it away or maybe paint over it to avoid offending sensitivities.

Congratulations, you’ve just denied the world being able to see Picasso’s ‘Guernica’.

Now I’m not for one moment suggesting the latest work to stir controversy, Mear One’s ‘Freedom for Humanity’ painted in the East End of London is comparable to Picasso in its content, message or delivery. But they are in similar vein.

You don’t have to like it and you can be vehemently opposed to it. But when you have people suddenly claiming it incites racial hatred, it’s time to take a step back and, no pun intended, get some perspective.

I’ve intentionally used that example in a hyperbolic way to counter to some of the odd assertions that have been levelled at the work. The fact I have to explain that is doubly depressing but when you read the following I hope you’ll understand why.

Lutfur Rahman, the Tower Hamlets mayor, stated: “I have received a number of complaints that the mural has anti-Semitic images. I share these concerns. Whether intentional or otherwise, the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions. Where freedom of expression runs the risk of inciting racial hatred then it is right that such expression should be curtailed. I have asked my officers to do everything possible to see to it that this mural is removed.”

Freedom of expression is good, except regardless of artistic intention, if it may offend local residents and then it’s bad and should be stopped. Now if this mural was badly created or indeed hugely offensive I’d be on the side of those complaining.

But what does this work actually show – where is Mr Rahman’s “anti-semitic propaganda”?

It depicts a group of businessmen and/or bankers sitting around a board game. Indeed the artist himself has said as much in his defence.

Kalen Ockerman, aka Mear One, on his Facebook page explained: “I came to paint a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class elite few, the Wizards of Oz. They would be playing a board game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. The symbol of the Free Mason Pyramid rises behind this group and behind that is a polluted world of coal burning and nuclear reactors. I was creating this piece to inspire critical thought and spark conversation.”

However a day or so later he added: “A group of conservatives do not like my mural and are playing a race card with me. My mural is about class and privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish and white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti-semitic. This I am most definitely not… What I am against is class.”

So why is this mural so offensive to the local community that Mr Rahman is asking for it to be removed? Because it reveals that the global financial system is run by white, middle aged men, some of whom are also Jewish? I really hate to break it to Mr Rahman but if he travelled a few miles down the road to the City of London and went and sat in the boardrooms of the major banks I think he’d be in for a shock.

But then sometimes reality can be a painful thing, holding a mirror up to the world and revealing what many of us may know to true but just as many choose to ignore. But this always been at the core of street art and is one of its major attractions and has been used to highlight numerous causes, from global inequality through to anti-whaling campaigns.

Its power is the fact it’s not hanging in a gallery or part of a recognised ‘system’, it’s on a wall that you or I could walk past and observe.

Its power is also that it cannot really be controlled by local authorities, despite their best attempts. Much of what has driven the rise of Obey, ironically now a commercial entity in its own right, came from John Carpenter’s brilliant satire ‘They Live’ where the main character can see the reality behind everyday life.

Then there are artists, such as Blu in Italy, using large-scale works to highlight the hypocrisy of religion and the state.

But that power is also why it also generates such debate.

Speaking to artists, you find that many are what you might loosely term as ‘left wing’ and use their medium as a way of expressing their frustrations with the world as they see it.

Many of them are aware that they can project powerful images and messages to the public but they are also acutely aware that there is a boundary between artistic freedom of expression and its potential to offend.

So should something that could potentially cause offence be seen so openly in public?

Of course it should. And this is the crux of the issue.

The best political art, or indeed political anything – books, songs, magazine articles – should provoke critical thought, informed debate and hopefully draw attention to an issue. They shouldn’t be withdrawn just because they might or could cause offence.

The mural will likely be painted over, either by the Council (a fine use of public resources during a recession), or given its location I imagine another artist/writer will come along in a few weeks and will continue the natural evolution of street regardless.

Corbyn’s Hat

by Nick Wright

I am not highly skilled at using the image manipulation software tool Photoshop. In the primitive 1960s – when I trained as a film and TV designer – colour TV had not been invented and Daleks could not yet climb stairs. Thus I am certainly not as competent as the whizz kids who work in the BBC Newsnight graphics team.

It took me some time and experiments with several techniques to transform Jeremy Corbyn’s well-defined jaunty Donovan-style cap into a reasonable likeness of a Russian fur hat and place the thus manipulated image in a sufficiently low resolution to enable it to be projected on a Kremlin-sized backdrop without revealing the hat’s clear 1960s provenance.

In an era when every TV presenter worries that their every blemish and facial tic will be projected in startling detail it must have taken a firm directorial steer and the exercise of considerable talent for the Newsnight team to produce an image of such mannered fuzziness.

This was done, perhaps even without mature reflection, to serve the dominant media discourse that presents Jeremy Corbyn as a flaky eccentric whose politics are inflected with a doubtful patriotism.

Labourlist is a website that selects a fairly wide range of opinion on matters of interest to Labour supporters and it has give space to an offering by Luke Akehurst entitled ‘8 Things The Left Could Do To Stop Unfair Media Bias’

Akehurst is a Labour Party activist of Blairite sympathies whose failure to keep up with new times in the Labour Party has married his dismay at Corbyn’s popularity with an Orwellian anti-communism.

His take on the annoyance Labour supporters display at Newsnight’s clumsy manipulations is to wonder why: “Faced with a national security crisis where it appears that Russia has attacked a British citizen and former intelligence asset with a proscribed nerve agent in a restaurant in Wiltshire, a large segment of the online Hard Left seems oddly preoccupied with a spurious allegation that Jeremy Corbyn’s hat was photoshopped by the BBC for a Newsnight backdrop to make him look more Soviet.”

His argues that “People will be in a position to complain about being unfairly portrayed as “Soviet” if they make a few changes to their political behaviour and the image they present:

He advises a zero tolerance stance towards people within the Labour left who self-describe as “Communist” in their social media profiles or promote theories like “fully automated luxury Communism” and stop employing people from the Stalinist “Straight Left”/CPB tradition in the leader’s office.

Ending “solidarity” with vile regimes like Cuba and Venezuela and providing ideological clarity “that they are not seeking to abolish capitalism and replace it with a command economy” are necessary steps.

He says that Labour supporters should stop apologising for or giving the benefit of the doubt to Russia over its contemporary behaviour regarding assassinations in the UK, the occupation of the Crimea, and its military actions in Syria and stop promoting and writing for the Morning Star, the former newspaper of the CPGB, and appearing on Russia Today.

We should show solidarity with Labour’s social democratic sister parties in Europe, not their far-left enemies and show zero tolerance of antisemitism, “much of which derives from Soviet era propaganda that portrayed Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ who controlled capitalism and politics, and Israel as a state of racists and Nazis.:

Until then, he says, the media is going to portray you how you present yourselves, so live with it.

We can set aside the political illiteracy which conflates the popular but rather prosaic policy proposals that Britain’s communists share with most of Labour’s millions with playful ideas like ‘fully automated luxury communism. We can even write off, as the sour grapes of a ‘deselected’ Labour party office holder and NEC member, the suggestion that the “Stalinist” team that helped Corbyn revive Labour’s electoral fortunes cease their efforts.

Anyone with a sense of historical fact will find bizarre the idea that much of contemporary anti semitism is derived from the Soviet era. Akehurst is making an equivalence between the Soviet Union, which stopped fascism, with nazi Germany, which made the extermination of Jewish people its state policy.

Luke Akehurst wants to “show solidarity with Labour’s social democratic sister parties.” But his suggestion that social democrats refuse any connection to political forces that have an affinity with, historical connection to or shared ideas with the communist tradition would put many social democratic parties in a very difficult position.

Throughout the world Labour’s sister parties find their enemies not to the left but on the right.

The Partito Socialista Portuguese government would fall without communist parliamentary support, the SPD would lose control of several German lander, thousands of French, and Spanish municipalities would fall to the right, in Italy the right would rule unchallenged. Swedish and Danish social democratic governments have ruled with parliamentary communist support.

In South Africa the political heirs of apartheid would have a chance. In India the big debate is whether Congress should ally with the communists to block the BJP.

Obeying his injunction to break solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela would make pariahs of Latin American social democrats. The Workers’ Party governments in Brazil included Communist Party ministers, while in Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guyana, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Dominica progressive governments have counted on communist support.

In fact, while Labour is only an observer at the Socialist International a whole number of rebadged former marxist-leninist east European and African parties are full members.

Presently our economy is under the ‘command’ of the banks and big business and our media dominated by billionaire non doms. We live in a world of corporate capitalism – from klepto-capitalist Russia to tax avoiding firms domiciled in British dependencies. Labour needs to convince the millions of ordinary people in Britain who desperately need a Labour government to, as Luke says, end austerity, restore our public services and promote a more socially just and equal society. This means a government that it is serious about socialism.

Luke Akehurst’s proposal to boycott the Morning Star is a policy pioneered by Tory governments, imitated by a succession of post-socialist governments of Russia and continued by Putin’s regime.

Labour’s struggle with a biased BBC and the big business media might be aided if more people were encouraged to read the Morning Star. This is a newspaper published by a cooperative which counts thousands of working people, trade unions and popular organisations among its shareholders and is managed by a board comprised of people elected in a series of nationwide meetings and buttressed by representatives of a score of trade unions who hold shares.

The Morning Star policy is to give a platform for the widest range of progressive opinion. As its long-standing contributor Jeremy Corbyn says: “The Morning Star is the most precious and only voice we have in the daily media”.

Luke’s appeal to the tradition of Attlee and Bevin throws up the problems in his approach. But it struck a chord with me. My grandfather, a follower of William Morris, a veteran of the Social Democratic Federation and its successor, the Labour-affiliated British Socialist Party, told me stories of when he was in the same East London branch as Clement Attlee. In 1920 the BSP was the main constituent of the newly formed Communist Party.

Fred Bruce, my grandfather, was a skilled cabinet maker who worked for decades among Jewish craftsmen, and regarded Ernest Bevin was a rank colonialist and anti-semite. Indeed, if half the remarks attributed to Bevin are true he would find himself suspended from party membership today.

Luke might be surprised to know that for many years communists sat in parliament as Labour MPs, represented their unions at party conferences and served as councillors. He will be alarmed with the knowledge that during the war an Amalgamated Engineering Union motion to Labour’s conference to admit the Communist Party as a Labour Party affiliate was only narrowly defeated.

The Cold War conditions which made unity on the left an impossibility no longer exist. And the crisis conditions of contemporary capitalism make socialist solutions an imperative.

Electing a Labour government on such a manifesto issurely something we can all agree on.

Labourlist has yet to respond to my invitation to respond to Luke Akehurst.

A psychiatrist’s damning indictment of 500 years of racism – now revived by Trump and 9/11

Suman Fernando. Pic credit: http://www.sumanfernando.com


Suman Fernando is a gentle soft spoken  consultant psychiatrist, lecturer and honorary professor at the London Metropolitan University.    The 85 year old is not the sort of person at first sight to produce such a searing critique of racism in the UK and the US and the baleful role psychiatrists have had in treating ethnic minorities in both countries.

His book released at  the end of last year and launched by ROTA – Race on the Agenda – looks at both the history of racism which he dates from 1492 when the Spanish finally  removed the Moors from Europe and the role of psychiatry in treating ” mentally ill”  black and brown patients over a very long period.

The book is particularly relevant as Theresa May has  quietly decided to review the UK’s mental health laws  which cover some of these issues – signalling her intent by  holding a meeting of psychiatrists at Number Ten Downing Street.

It also comes at a time when the election of Donald Trump, the rise of Islamophobia in the wake of 9/11 and to an extent, the worst excesses of some people supporting Brexit, has seen a revival of popular nationalism and in the US, white supremacists.

He traces racism from the bloody Inquisition in Spain through the development of the slave trade, the rise of eugenics leading to Nazism,  the Imperialist destruction of other cultures by colonisation to the ” rivers of blood” speech of Enoch Powell as Britain faced an immigration wave in the 1960s and 1970s.

His  thesis is that – mainly because of the 1970s race relations legislation in Britain – overt racism has until recently been replaced with a form of institutional racism and psychiatry is no exception to the rule.

Indeed some of the worse psychiatric theories to treat people as seen by superior whites as ” the other” came from this profession. This was the profession that applied the concept of  ‘Drapetomania’  to slaves in the USA, the primary symptom being a persistent urge to run away.  The implication was Black Afro-Caribbeans were supposed to be happy and content as slaves  and had mental problems if they wanted their freedom.

In Britain the book provides numerous examples of how different ways of dealing what is an obvious imbalance in the number of Afro-Caribbeans being sectioned compared to white Britons. Attempts to change treatment or properly research the issue by black psychiatrists were undermined in a typical British way – their work was subsumed by more conventional psychiatrists or their findings were ignored.

He also reveals  how attempts to change matters politically were undermined. Tony Blair  appointed Paul Boateng – now Lord Boateng- as the first minister for mental health in 1997. At the time he was known to be  strident in wanting to change the treatment of black Afro Caribbeans like himself- but within months he was squashed.

Since 9/11 the danger is that racism is on the rise with Muslims rather than Afro Caribbeans as the main target. That is why the timing of this book is relevant in the context that the mental health legislation is being revised. Already psychological research is being used as a basis in the Prevent programme to decide whether teachers or NHS staff, their pupils and their patients, should be reported to the authorities if they show signs of radicalism.

The next slippery step would be to decide that these people are insane – and should be sectioned rather than prosecuted. This is not as fanciful as it sounds. Under  Labour there was a move to classify stalkers of VIPs as a mental illness and Jack Straw when he was home secretary is said to have considered whether paedophiles should be classified as insane rather than criminals.

That is why this book is so interesting because it tells how deep seated racism is among white Europeans  and how insidious the present system is in dealing with the ” other” – from stop and search to sectioning.

The one sad thing is that the book itself has been “Ghettoised” – it has been pigeon holed by the publisher  as part of ” contemporary black history ” when it is much more of an account of how contemporary British and US society has reached such a view on black and brown people.

The German publisher has created another ghetto by price – Palgrave Macmillan have priced it at a ridiculous £67.99 or £53.99 as an e-book. Amazon have a Kindle version at £45.19. So I suggest you try and get it in a public library or if you are a student make sure your university library has got one.

Institutional Racism in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology. Suman Fernando


The Clarion editors

By Amy Robinson, Durham University and Darlington Labour

When New Labour introduced tuition fees in 1998 they also willingly ushered market forces into higher education learning. Since then, the grip of the market on the education sector has steadily increased. The presence of market forces was most visible in 2012 when the coalition government tripled fees to £9,000. The recent UCU strike is simply one more case of the market tightening its grip on higher education.

Students are understandably angry. Just about all UK universities now set their fees at £9,250 whilst the current 14-day strike will affect over 1 million students across 64 universities.

However, this anger should be directed at those actors which further seek to turn universities into businesses and students into customers. The same actors which are complicit in rising tuition fees also want to make academic’s futures more precarious. The insistence of Universities UK to push through reforms to the USS pension will see some UCU member’s pensions reduced by £10,000 annually. This will leave many of academic’s pensions lower than subsistence levels. Whilst just this year the chief executive of the USS received a pay rise of £82,000.

Students should be angry and deserve to be angry. Angry at the unjustness of a system which charges young people up to £9,250 annually to continue their educations; angry at paying an interest rate on those loans of 6.1%; angry at an attempt to undermine the hard work of their lecturer’s and academic staff; and angry at a university system which pays vice chancellors six-figure sums.

Precisely, what students should be angry with is the marketisation of higher education. Therefore, it is important that as students we channel our anger towards the right actors. Don’t be angry with your lecturers be angry for them. Write to your vice chancellor’s expressing support for academic staff and/or reimbursement of tuition fees, post your support on social media using the hashtags #ucustrike and #studentstaffsolidarity or get involved locally on the picket lines. Don’t let the same actors that have been complicit commodifying education use students as leverage against UCU members.

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