FREE JULIAN ASSANGE

I’m near to a meandering attempt to write about the increasing suppression of views opposing the voices of the powerful. As I prevaricate Priti Patel approves the extradition of Julian Assange. Indeed it is a dark day for freedom of thought, expression and interpretation. As for British democracy, it is revealed yet again as no more than at best a liberal oligarchy with no genuine accountability to its citizens.’

Extradition Statement: Patel approves extradition

Don’t extradite Julian Assange

This is a dark day for Press freedom and for British democracy. Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination.
Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.

It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead, she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise.

Foreign laws now determine the limits of press freedom in this country and the journalism that won the industry’s most prestigious prizes has been deemed an extraditable offence and worthy of a life sentence.

The path to Julian’s freedom is long and tortuous. Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system; the next appeal will be before the High Court. We will fight louder and shout harder on the streets, we will organise and we will make Julian’s story known to all.

Make no mistake, this has always been a political case. Julian published evidence that the country trying to extradite him committed war crimes and covered them up; tortured and rendered; bribed foreign officials; and corrupted judicial inquiries into US wrongdoing. Their revenge is to try to disappear him into the darkest recesses of their prison system for the rest of his life to deter others from holding governments to account.

We will not let that happen. Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. We will fight to return Julian to his family and to regain freedom of expression for us all.

Thanks to Tim Dawson

Yanis Varoufakis

Politician, DiEM25, Greece

“The game is up. Years of lies exposed. It was never about Sweden, Putin, Trump or Hillary. Assange was persecuted for exposing war crimes. Will those duped so far now stand with us in opposing his disappearance after a fake trial where his lawyers will not even know the charges?”

Alice Walker

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist

“Years from now people will say: Oh, if only I had known what we were losing when they abused this decent and courageous man!
I would have done something! But now, what can I do, since these days I don’t dare express what I know and think! Regret is too often the fruit of silence.”

Mairead Maguire

Nobel Peace Prize winner

“Julian Assange and his colleagues in Wikileaks have shown on numerous occasions that they are one of the last outlets of true democracy and their work for our freedom and speech”

Dunja Mijatović

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe

“Allowing Mr Assange’s extradition… would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

Rose-tinted spectacles indeed: Dave Backwith questions my naivete

In this guest blog, Dave Backwith, a dear friend and comrade takes me to task in respect of my naive support for the truckers and their supporters in Canada. In the end I continue to disagree with him about how best to understand what’s going on. Momentarily it’s tempting to enter into a point-scoring argument, which might remind us both of our involvement in Marxist polemics back in our younger days. This would be deeply unhelpful. As it is I’m scribbling something about ‘why I believe what I believe’, which seeks to trace the conflict between dominant and dissident ideas in the unfolding of my consciousness, however false and flawed. In doing so I end up musing upon why I find it ground-breaking that we can now watch live streams of what’s happening on the ground in Ottawa, of interviews with participants and of daily press conferences as a counter to the opinions expressed in the mainstream media or that of a hate researcher! Of course. both must be gazed upon with a critical eye.

SHOULD WE KEEP ON TRUCKING?

Tony says readers, “might be wary of my rose-tinted version of events”.  Well, yes: rose-tinted is certainly how it looks to me.  I don’t get the unqualified support for the truckers and it’s not obvious to me that the blockade is a ‘joyous festival of the oppressed’ which the left should welcome – far from it.

The global spread of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement and that the Canadian Truckers’ ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ had over 300,000 signatures before it was withdrawn, suggest that the truckers’ grievances are widely held.  But what those grievances are isn’t entirely clear.  According to David Maynard, the Ottawa resident Tony quotes at length, their “overwhelming concern” is that Covid vaccine mandates are “creating an untouchable class of Canadians”.  The truckers, Maynard asserts are:

“…our moral conscience reminding us – with every blow of their horns – what we should have never forgotten: We are not a country that makes an untouchable class out of our citizens”.

This claim about the country Canada is doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, as the history of its indigenous peoples shows.  It also overlooks the fact that capitalism, by its nature, marginalises and ostracises people all the time.  Maynard, nonetheless, seems to have arrived at this view because he went out his front door, talked to some truckers and found that they are run-of-the-mill, friendly folk and not “a monstrous faceless occupying mob”.

It seems to me that Maynard sets up a false dichotomy: the ‘monstrous mob’ against the conscience of the nation.  On one side are the horn-honking, racist neo-Nazis, on the other the culturally diverse, polite, friendly folk he meets.  Maynard seems to accept a truckers’ claim that, “No one’s a Nazi here” and finds, “not a hint of anti-vax conspiracy theories or deranged ideology”.  During his stroll among the truckers Maynard doesn’t meet any racists, misogynists or Nazi’s. 

The implication is pretty clear. The, “white supremacists, racists, hatemongers, pseudo-Trumpian grifters, and even QAnon-style nutters” which, according to Maynard, the media say are encamped outside his window, are an invention of reporters remote from the blockade: they don’t really exist.  And yet reports of less than saintly behaviour by the truckers are not hard to find.  The Guardian, for instance, reports spreading anger at the protest among Ottawa residents and finds, “that truckers and their supporters had harassed or threatened locals”. Reuters, meanwhile, reports that:

  • Some convoy participants have been photographed with racist flags and accused by residents of vandalizing pro-LGBTQ businesses.
  • Cornerstone Housing for Women, an emergency shelter, said in a statement that “Women and staff are scared to go outside of the shelter, especially women of color.”

The reporter, Julie Gordon, adds that, “three women were heralded as heroes in shawls after a photo of them blocking a truck on a residential street went viral on social media”. She quotes one of the women, Marika Morris, as saying, “That was the only way to communicate that we don’t want them to terrorize us and we don’t want them to occupy our streets”.  Meanwhile Pam Palmater,  an Indigenous lawyer, contrasts the apparent reluctance of the police to remove the blockade with the policing of  indigenous people’s protests, “It’s OK if angry white men do it, because they are politically aligned with you, but it’s not OK if Indigenous people peacefully protect their own rights”.

All this amounts to a very different view of the protest from Maynard’s. These and other reports suggest to me that the picture is a lot more nuanced and contradictory than the one he paints.  They also raise the question of whose freedom the ‘Freedom Convoys’ are so determined to defend.  The vast majority (over 80%) of Canadians have been vaccinated against covid – as have most truckers.  Vaccination does not, of course stop transmission of the virus and it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get covid.  But it is very effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19  (Canada.ca).  Yet Maynard perversely claims that “refusal to take the vaccine, however misguided, only hurts the unvaccinated person”.  This is nonsense and suggests a very individualistic mindset.  Humans are, lest we forget, social beings who live in complex societies.  What we do, what happens to us, inevitably affects other people (e.g. health care professionals, friends and family). The freedom asserted by the protestors is individual freedom; it is, as George Monbiot puts it, “freedom from the decencies owed to other people, freedom from the obligations of civic life”.

Another reason why I’m wary of Tony’s endorsement of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ is the similarities the convoy has with the populist mob which stormed the US Capitol last January last year. Tracey Lindeman describes the Ottawa protest as “overwhelmingly white” and says that what began,

“as a demonstration against vaccine mandates for truckers… has morphed into protest against broader public health measures – and as a rallying point for both conspiracy theorists and opponents of the government of Justin Trudeau”.

According to ‘hate researcher’ Dan Panneton, the Ottawa convoy includes, “a motley array of Western separatists, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, antisemites, Islamophobes and other extremists”.  And, he says, “Several of the convoy organizers have a history of white nationalist and racist activism; and (according to George Monbiot) of attacks on trade unions.  The convoys have also been endorsed by the likes of Donald Trump and Elon Musk.   To all this Lindeman detects the ‘same undercurrent of populism’ as fed the Capitol insurrection’, “a powerful current fed by disinformation, conspiratorial thinking and deepening social divides”.

Monbiot depicts the Freedom Convoy as an ‘incoherent protest’, typical of recent popularist demonstrations.  These are, he says:  

“gatherings whose aims are simultaneously petty and grandiose. Their immediate objectives are small and often risible… The underlying aims are open-ended, massive and impossible to fulfil”. 

Thus the Freedom Convoy’s demands go from the lifting of vaccine mandates, to removal of all Covid related public health measures to removal of the government.  Monbiot says such movements are likely to occur in hard times, particularly with growing inequality. After decades of neo-liberalism the Covid pandemic, gave a further boost to inequality.  During the pandemic the world’s 10 richest men have more than doubled their wealth, while 163 million people have been pushed below the poverty line.  Inequality is socially corrosive; it eats away at solidarity and fosters individualism.  In doing so it plays to conspiracy theories.  It is after all true that, in the age of tech billionaires, a very wealthy, largely unaccountable elite wield enormous power.  

Truck drivers have not been spared the ravages of neo-liberalism: it’s a tough, insecure, badly paid job.  And the left is, as Tony says, weak, struggling to offer a convincing alternative to people on the wrong end of the growing social divide.  So it’s not hard to see why popularism might have its appeal. That’s one thing. Portraying the ‘Freedom Convoy’ as, “the spontaneous rise of struggle from below” which we should celebrate is another.

Dave Backwith

POSTSCRIPT

I cobbled this together last night and intended to put it up without further comment but time stands still for no person. The police have moved in and arrested some of the organisers. And, evidently, even my bank account is under threat of being frozen because I’ve sent a donation to the truckers and have supported ‘indirectly’ their protest. Perhaps this is what I have come to, a hapless supporter of violent, illegitimate right-wing insurrection. And, thus, I presume all those dismissive of the Freedom Convoy’s credentials can only welcome in the interests of democracy the ‘necessary’ assault on its presence and motives.

For what it is worth a lawyer, sympathetic to the protest, offers a differing interpretationto be viewed with a critical eye

And this Canadian writer, Matthew Ehret writes as follows to be read with a critical ear

Ottawa Freedom Convoy Tears Down Illusion of Democracy in North America

LEVELLERS DAY, MAY 17: THE STRUGGLE FOR RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY NEVER ENDS

At a historical moment when an orchestrated unethical campaign of fear and authoritarian repression threatens hard-fought for civil liberties and undermines, however flawed its practices, representative democracy, it is sobering and necessary to remember and honour the struggles of the past.

LEVELLERS DAY – Burford, Oxfordshire.

Radical history inspires today. Learning the lessons of history from the pioneers of 1649 to the challenges of today

On 17 May 1649, three soldiers were executed on Oliver Cromwell’s orders in Burford churchyard, Oxfordshire. They belonged to a movement popularly known as the Levellers, with beliefs in civil rights and religious tolerance.

During the Civil War, the Levellers fought on Parliament’s side, they had at first seen Cromwell as a liberator, but now saw him as a dictator. They were prepared to fight against him for their ideals and he was determined to crush them. Over 300 of them were captured by Cromwell’s troops and locked up in Burford church. Three were led out into the churchyard to be shot as ringleaders.

In 1975, members of the WEA Oxford Industrial Branch went to Burford to reclaim a piece of history that seemed to be missing from the school books. They held a meeting in remembrance of the Leveller soldiers. The following year, Tony Benn came and read in the church and in each succeeding year, people have come to Burford on the Saturday nearest to 17 May, debated, held a procession, listened to music and remembered the Levellers and the importance of holding on to ideals of justice and democracy.

An example of a Levellers debate

Want to read more…

SERTUC has published The Levellers Movement, an account of perhaps the first political movement to represent the ordinary people. You can download it free here The Levellers Movement. Hard copies have sold out!

Thanks to the Levellers Association, the Oxford WEA and the Oxford Trades Council for the material and images.

Farewell Μανόλης Γλέζος : Reading, criticising and resisting to the end

In recent weeks I’ve been trying to write something both critical and useful about the present COVID-19 crisis. My stumbling effort is put to shame upon hearing of the death of the great Greek critic and political activist, Manolis Glezos at the age of 98. Even in his final decade he was still writing, a book on social mobilisation here, a history of acronyms there.

Together with Apostolos Santis, he earned legendary status in Greece on account of their dramatic act – the date, April 30th 1941. The daring duo tore down the swastika from the Acropolis. It had been hung on the ancient monument by the occupying Nazis. In their words they determined to remove the flag as it “offended all human ideals”.

However he was to become frustrated by the attention given to this impulsive heroism, remarking that ‘everyone identifies me with the flag incident…but I had done things before that, I had done things after that, and I’m doing things now.’

Indeed he had. Across the decades Glezos was imprisoned twenty eight times by the Germans, the Italians and then by Greek governments, suffering torture and solitary confinement. At the coup d’état of 21 April 1967, Glezos was arrested as a leader of the Left Opposition. During the Regime of the Colonels, the military dictatorship led by Giorgos Papadopoulos, he was exiled until his release in 1971. Looking back on nearly 16 years of incarceration he commented:

“They say to survive in prison you should love yourself, eat and read. Well I never loved myself, I didn’t care about food but I constantly read.”

His mercurial life witnessed him struggling with the classical contradiction between the price of involvement in parliamentary politics and the necessity of an extra-parliamentary commitment to struggle from below. In fact he was elected to the Greek Parliament on four occasions prior to the 21st century, twice as a representative of the United Democratic Left in the 1960s whilst still in prison, twice in the 1980s on a PASOK ticket, at the time the Greek version of the British Labour Party. It would seem he was chastened by this latter experience, withdrawing from Parliament to devote himself to the nurturing of grass-roots democratic projects and initiatives.

This focus was inspired by his love for the short-lived, but vibrant period of Athenian democracy, which in the words of Castoriadis sowed a seed, both frail yet hardy, for the future. When elected in 1986 as President of the Apeiranthos Community Council on Naxos, his home island, he immediately sought support for abolishing the privileges of the council, promoting the creation of a People’s Assembly founded on principles of direct democracy. Evidently the experiment was successful for many years, before it ran out of democratic steam. It would be fascinating to find out more about its demise, whether, to take but one factor, it foundered on the lack of a democratic commitment within a hierarchical Greek educational system.

He returned to mainstream political activity as the new century beckoned, involved in the rise of a rainbow alliance of the radical Left, Synaspismos. which was to give birth to SYRIZA [The Coaliton of the Radical Left]. The streets, oι δρόμοι, beckoned too. In March 2010, Glezos was participating in an anti-austerity protest in Athens, when he was hit in the face by a police tear gas canister. He was carried away injured. Back in the corridors of power he was elected as a SYRIZA MP in 2012 as the new found party rose to power on a wave of popular, progressive support. Thence in 2014 he entered the EU parliament, gaining 430,000 votes, more than any other candidate in Greece. Once there he addressed the assembled by way of Euripides and Theseus, arguing that the European Union should aspire to the example afforded by Ancient Athens, a free city, free of tyranny and ruled by the many.

Unsurprisingly Glezos was appalled by SYRIZA’s capitulation to the Troika following the people’s overwhelming rejection of a deal with the creditors, expressed in the July 2015 Greek referendum. In the aftermath he is quoted as reflecting,

“I apologize to the Greek people because I took part in this illusion, let’s react before it is too late”.

For now it does seem late in the day. Political disillusionment remains the norm in my adopted country. For Glezos resistance still ran deep in his veins. In 2017 in a scene of unbearable poignance, on a rain-soaked November day, this remarkable man, 95 years of age at the time, paid lonely homage to the fallen of the 1973 Polytechnic Uprising.

Four decades of neoliberal ideology, its explicit encouragement of self-centredness has undermined our belief in the common good. Ironically Manolis Glezos dies at a moment when the collective spirit threatens to rise from the ashes. For now I’ll leave him to have a last word with regard to not forgetting the past if we are both to grasp the present and the future.

The struggle continues,

Ο αγώνας συνεχίζεται

Why do I go on? Why I am doing this when I am 92 years and two months old? I could, after all, be sitting on a sofa in slippers with my feet up. So why do I do this? You think the man sitting opposite you is Manolis but you are wrong. I am not him. And I am not him because I have not forgotten that every time someone was about to be executed [during WWII], they said: ‘Don’t forget me. When you say good morning, think of me. When you raise a glass, say my name.’ And that is what I am doing talking to you, or doing any of this. The man you see before you is all those people. And all this is about not forgetting them.

Manolis Glezos, 2014

A world without politicians – reimagining ‘Athenian’ democracy in the 21st century

I thought news of this coming event here on Crete might make you chuckle a little. And, if you are anywhere in the vicinity of the wonderful RAKI BAR Χασομερι, it would be smashing to see you!

Friday 15 February, 11:00 Xasomeri, Vamos
Morning Talk

A world without politicians – reimagining ‘Athenian’ democracy in the 21st century –Tony Taylor

Politicians are held in little regard, seen as corrupt, self-seeking and out of touch. Yet their place in the order of things is rarely questioned. However, as crisis consumes contemporary society, parliamentary democracy itself is exposed as a spectacle of deceit. Disillusioned with both politicians and the ballot box the demos retreat into passivity or flirt with fascism. Tony Taylor will propose its time to rid ourselves of these parasites and escape from the illusions of representative democracy.  He will suggest that direct democracy as the authentic expression of ‘the power of the people’ is within our grasp, provided we recognise that politics and democracy, forever open to question, are our collective business and nobody else’s. Without such a revolutionary shift in our consciousness an Armageddon of humanity’s making lies on the horizon.

Οι πολιτικοί κρατιούνται ελάχιστα, θεωρούνται ως διεφθαρμένοι, εγωκεντρικοί και από άγγιγμα. Ωστόσο, η θέση τους στη σειρά των πραγμάτων σπανίως αμφισβητείται. Ωστόσο, καθώς η κρίση καταναλώνει τη σύγχρονη κοινωνία, η ίδια η κοινοβουλευτική δημοκρατία εκτίθεται ως θέαμα δόλου. Απογοητευμένοι με τους πολιτικούς και την εκλογική κουβέρτα, οι άνθρωποι υποχωρούν σε παθητικότητα ή φλερτάρουν με φασισμό. Ο Αντώνιος Τέιλορ θα προτείνει το χρόνο του για να απαλλαγούμε από αυτά τα παράσιτα και να ξεφύγουμε από τις αυταπάτες της αντιπροσωπευτικής δημοκρατίας. Θα υποδείξει ότι η άμεση δημοκρατία ως αυθεντική έκφραση της «εξουσίας του λαού» είναι μέσα μας, υπό την προϋπόθεση ότι αναγνωρίζουμε ότι η πολιτική και η δημοκρατία, ανοιχτά για πάντα ερωτηματικά, είναι η συλλογική μας δραστηριότητα και κανείς άλλος. Χωρίς μια τέτοια επαναστατική μετατόπιση στη συνείδησή μας, μια καταστροφή της ανθρωπότητας βρίσκεται στον ορίζοντα.

Apologies to my Greek friends for imperfections in the translation.