Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Torturers' Accomplices

detention centre?

THE British government has collaborated with the CIA in secretly flying detainees to places where they could be tortured. It also tried to obstruct any investigation into what was going on.

So did the Italian intelligence service. So did European Union foreign minister Javier Solana, and other top EU officials.

Poland, celebrating its freedom and membership of the EU and NATO by sending its young people to provide cheap labour and prostitutes for Britain, and cheap soldiers for the US in Iraq, has also opened its skies to US "secret rendition" flights and its soil to house a secret US detention centre.

That might raise unpleasant associations in people's minds. Poles have understandably and rightly taken exception to American media carelessly calling Auschwitz a "Polish" concentration camp, when it was of course a German Nazi concentration camp established at Oswiecim on occupied Polish soil. So far, the numbers of people taken to Poland by the CIA are fairly small.
Though Halliburtons profited by contracts for the cages at Guantanamo base, we have not heard of any US companies finding it worthwhile to establish a factory for detainee labour, the way IG Farben used up slave labour in the plant it set up, behind the infamous sign "Arbeit Macht Frei", at Oswiecim.

But without even being under occupation, the Polish government is acquiescing in what may one day be called, to the chagrin of most Poles, a "Polish detention camp".

The European Parliament has issued a report on CIA "torture flights" which identifies the site of a suspected secret US detention centre in the EU - at Stare Kiejkuty in Poland. It says EU governments, including the British, knew about the practice known as "extraordinary rendition" - secret CIA flights transferring detainees to locations where they risked being tortured - but made a concerted attempt to obstruct investigations.

The MEPs single out Geoff Hoon, Labour's minister for Europe, deploring his attitude to their special committee's inquiry. They also cite the chief legal adviser to the Foreign Office, Sir Michael Wood, as holding the view that "receiving or possessing" information extracted under torture, if there was no direct participation in the torture, was not per se banned under international law. Sir Michael declined to give evidence to the committee.

The European report points out British involvment with the CIA in the process. Two UK residents, Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi citizen , and Jamil el-Banna, a Jordanian citizen, seized in the Gambia in 2002 were "turned over to US agents and flown to Afghanistan and then to Guantánamo, where they remain detained without trial or any form of judicial assistance", the report says. Their abduction was helped "by partly erroneous information" supplied by MI5.

Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian citizen and UK resident arrested in Pakistan was held in Morocco where questions "appear to have been inspired by information supplied by the UK". His lawyer has described what the report called "horrific torture".

Martin Mubanga, a UK citizen arrested in Zambia in 2002 was flown to Guantánamo Bay, and interrogated by British officials, then held and tortured for four years before being released without trial.

The European report, released on November 28, says CIA Gulfstream jets landed in secret at Szymany airport in Poland. There was circumstantial evidence, it said, that there may have been a secret detention centre at the nearby intelligence training centre at Stare Kiejkuty. Records of an EU and NATO meeting with US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, last December confirmed "member states had knowledge of the [US] programme of extraordinary renditions and secret prisons".

It criticises EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and counter-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries for a lack of cooperation with the inquiry, and NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for declining to give evidence.

At least 1,245 CIA rendition flights used European airspace or landed at European airports, the report said. It accused the former head of Italy's Sismi intelligence service, Nicolo Pollari, of "concealing the truth" when he told the committee Italian agents played no part in the CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003. It says Sismi officials had an active role in the abduction of Abu Omar, who had been "held incommunicado and tortured ever since".

There were 170 stopovers at British airports by CIA planes which came from, or were bound for, countries linked with "extraordinary rendition circuits". Though some British MPs and newspapers have assisted the investigation, the Blair government stands condemned for assisting the CIA and refusing to assist the investigation.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said: "Our government wept hot tears for torture victims in Saddam Hussein's Iraq but adamantly refuses to investigate CIA torture flights despite growing international pressure. The silence in Whitehall is damning."

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Sh! Don't scream, you're in a library!

A library is a nice quiet place to get away from the troubles of the outside world and study in peace. Some people may even sneer, if only from jealousy, at scholars tucked up in their "ivory towers", shielded by books from reality.

Well, that's not a charge you can make at the University of California, Los Angeles(UCLA). Their students got an intensive lesson in politics last week, right there in the library.

Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a UCLA student, was asked to show his student ID, or "Bruin card" to the "Community Service Officers" (student cops) during a random check at 11.30pm on Tuesday. When he was unable to produce it they asked him to leave the computer section of the library. Because he did not leave immediately they called police officers.

They used a Taser on him. A six-minute video shows Tabatabainejad screaming in pain, as he was being stunned several times with the Taser, each time for three to five seconds. He was told repeatedly to stand up and "stop fighting", and was told that if he did not do so he would "get Tased again."

Tabatabainejad was also stunned with the Taser when he was already handcuffed, said Carlos Zaragoza, a third-year English and history student who witnessed the incident. "(He was) no possible danger to any of the police," Zaragoza said. "(He was) getting shocked and Tasered as he was handcuffed."

Police say they had no way of knowing whether the individual was armed or that he was a student. But as Tabatabainejad was being dragged through the room by two officers, he can be heard repeating in a strained scream, "I'm not fighting you" and "I said I would leave."

A Taser delivers volts of low-amperage energy to the body, a painful electrical shock causing a disruption of the body's electrical energy pulses and locking the muscles. It was used in the drive setting which aims at particular parts of the body.

Other library users who protested at the way Tabatabainejad was being treated and asked the officers for their names and numbers were threatened. The video shows an officer telling a student that he would "get Tased too." At this point, the officer was still holding a Taser.

Assistant police chief Jeff Young admits the Taser is painful but claims it is more humane than a baton. This does not wash with critics. "It is a real mistake to treat a Taser as some benign thing that painlessly brings people under control", says Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union. . "The Taser can be incredibly violent and result in death".

The ACLU says 149 people have died in the US and Canada as a result of Taser use since 1999.

The threat of force from a law enforcement officer in response to a request for a badge number is an "illegal assault," Eliasberg says. But so far only the Taser victim Tabatabainejad has been cited, for obstruction of a "peace officer"(sic) in the course of his duty, before he was released from custody.

Reported in the UCLA 'Daily Bruin',

Thanks to Anna Chen for bringing this story and video to my notice.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Ladies Fingers in the Bindi Bhaji?

THESE sort are good for you. Okra, Bindi, or Ladies' Fingers. But they might not be all you get....

WATCH out for unexpected extras in your dips and atarters. Especially if you're a veggie! People in Britain spent £1.6 billion on ready meals last year and account for nearly half of all the ready meals eaten in Europe. There is a good chance that your tasty snacks came from a place like the one where Dimple Muit works.

Dimple, 27, lost the top of the middle finger of her right hand while using a machine that she had already reported as faulty. It was reported three times, but was still in use without a mechanic having been to fix it. When Dimple Muitt reported to a company nurse, they gave her some tissues to staunch the bleeding, but her manager refused to call an ambulance.

Eventually a manager took her in his car and dumped her outside the A&E at Central Middlesex hospital (Park Royal), leaving her bleeding heavily from one hand and holding a plastic bag with her severed finger in the other. By the time she arrived at Mount Vernon hospital (Northwood) for her injury to be treated the doctor had to tell her it was too late, two hours too late, for her finger to be reattached. Dimple would have to be off work for eight to ten weeks, and in constant pain.

Dimple's employer, Katsouris Foods, supplies top retailers such as Tesco, M&S Sainsbury and Waitrose. Every day the 2,500 Katsouris workers at sites in Park Royal and Wembley produce about 110,000 ready meals, 150,000 dip pots and 30,000 snack foods. But their pay and conditions are far from top, and nor is their workplace safety. Shortly after Dimple's accident a work colleague had the top of two fingers severed in another workplace accident. The GMB union says that every day there are three to four accidents at the company's three sites.

Besides fighting for decent pay and conditions, and compensation for those injured, the union is calling for more frequent and thorough inspections by the Health and Safety Executive(HSE), and enforcement of improvement orders. Workers say they know when an inspection is coming because they are ordered to clean and tidy up the factory. They also claim that improvement orders made little difference.

Temperatures, hot and cold, are important to food industry safety, for workers as for consumers. GMB branch secretary and safety expert Hiten Vaydia says thermometers and temperature probes are in short supply at Katsouris.

'Freezing cold temperatures are a major hazard in all three Katsouris sites,' Hiten says. 'In the blast freezer area temperatures can be as low as minus 18 degrees centigrade.' Although the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations require employers to limit the time for which workers are exposed, this does not always happen. Workers who have not had time to don protective clothing kept some distance away can then find themselves having to climb over boxes and crates to get to freezer doors.

At the other extreme, a twenty-year-old kitchen worker had his foot scalded when the nozzle on a pan containing 250 litres of boiling water was suddenly opened. The scars remained months after his accident. 'There was no guard on the cooker when our member was burnt,' Hiten said. 'The company didn't even take him to hospital. The company nurse told him to wait in the canteen where he remained in agony from midday until 5.30pm when I collected him and drove him to casualty.'

"Getting compensation for people injured by Katsouris is not the point", says Hiten Vaidya. No one should go to work fit and healthy and leave it injured".
Hiten spoke to Brent Trades Union Council about Katsouris on Wednesday evening, explaining some of the difficulties trades unionists face in organising at the north-west London firm, where many workers are fairly new immigrants, having to overcome language difficulties and fears about their jobs and immigration status. Nevertheless the union members are determined to obtain recognition and improvements. They deserve whatever support we can give them.

You can hear about this issue on BBC Radio Five Live's
Worricker on Sunday programme at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning. Listen for a special Five Live Report - Blood on the Bhajis
909 and 693 am or online:

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

UFOs over the City? " Take me to your Super"

OT Level 7 recuit Tom Cruise reporting for duty.

STEP aside those officers with funny hand-shakes and one rolled-up trouser leg! There's a new space-age outfit bidding to rival the freemasons for the faith and loyalty of London coppers. .

Their beliefs should certainly expand the plod's horizons. It's the Scientologists. Founder L. Ron Hubbard concluded a 1968 lecture confessing "I am not from this planet." He was unable to be specific as as to what planet he was from, though he did once mention a brief excursion to Venus.

In a lecture in November 1959, Hubbard gave an out-of-this-world account of ancient Egypt, explaining that at that time, Earth was being attacked by two forces, Space Command and Martian Command. According to an expert "Well trained Scientologists not only believe this, but they would nod sagely amongst themselves and add, "Ah, yes, the Fourth and Fifth Invader Forces. What a struggle that was."

I suppose some people will say this is no more far-fetched than some more conventional religion's beliefs if you take them literally, and for all I know it could even be adopted to take in masonic mysticism concerning Solomon's temple -if you think that's what masonry's about.

Anyway, it seems the cult has started with the City of London Police, and they are known for their imagination. At least, when they adopted stop-and-search powers supposedly to deal with the threat of IRA terrorism to the City it soon became evident from the vehicles they were stopping that they must have had information that the Irish Republicans had enlisted a secret motorised battalion, composed of Afro-Caribbean van drivers. Now the City force has retaken its powers perhaps they will be watching out for aliens.

(I mean, the extra-terrestrial kind, not those like my grandparents dealt with under the 1906 Act. Mind you I did once go out with a girl with ears like Dr. Spock - I mean the vulcan, not the children's specialist).

According to a report by Sandra Laville in the The Guardian today, the approach started with tea and biscuits after the 7/7 bombings but has blossomed since.

"The hospitality included guest invitations in May for two constables and a sergeant to attend the premiere of Mission Impossible 3 in Leicester Square, where they were able to rub shoulders with the best known Scientologist of all and the star of the film, Tom Cruise.

"The Guardian requested details of meetings between police and scientologists after a senior officer from the City appeared as a guest speaker at the opening of the £23m Scientology centre near St Paul's Cathedral last month.
At the lavish ceremony, Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley, the fourth most senior officer in the force, praised the scientologists for the support they had provided after the July 7 attacks, when followers of L Ron Hubbard's movement appeared at the police cordons of the Aldgate bomb site offering help to those involved in the emergency operation. The relationship flourished in the following months, according to the City police's register of hospitality, which all officers are required to fill out.

"The night before last month's grand opening of the Church of Scientology's centre in the City, one of the force's two chief superintendents joined a detective superintendent, a uniformed constable and a detective constable at a star-studded charity dinner at Saint Hill Manor, where prizes are awarded to followers who donate the biggest sums to the movement. The dinner was attended by Cruise, who sat at a special table nearest the past year's biggest donors.

"The next day, Sunday October 22, a sergeant recorded being offered refreshments worth between £3 and £5 by scientologists as he was policing the opening of the London centre. Another officer, a constable, was a guest at a charity gala in East Grinstead the following night, where he recorded receiving £50 worth of hospitality. Most recently, on October 24, two sergeants and two constables attended a Jive Aces concert at Saint Hill".
Gala dinners, jive bands and Tom Cruise: how the Scientologists woo City police·Unlikely relationship has blossomed since July 7· Contacts are mutually beneficial, claims group Sandra LavilleWednesday November 22, 2006The Guardian,,1953996,00.html

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Brentford, Bridgwater...and Budapest

KEIR HARDIE was elected for Merthyr in 1906, and became leader of new Labour Party.

"YOUR grandfather was with Keir Hardie", was something I heard more than once as a kid, before I had much idea who Keir Hardie was. except that this assertion was made with pride, and often preceded by "Your grandfather was a proper Labour man." What a "proper", or "real" Labour man or woman is may go undefined, except that you are unlikely to hear Tony Blair described as such.

Sadly, whether from poor working and housing conditions, bad nutrition when young, or standing at too many pickets and factory-gate meetings in the cold and rain, granddad died quite young. This meant that Mum had to leave school at 12 and sew buttons on overcoats, and I never got to learn directly how an immigrant worker from Latvia decided to switch his much-prized vote from the then Liberal Winston Churchill to this upstart Scottish miner with his idea that the workers should have their own party.

This year was packed with significant anniversaries for socialists - 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, 1926 British General Strike, 1936 civil war in Spain, Moscow Trials, and, in East London, the Battle of Cable Street. 1946, postwar squatters movement, 1956 Khruschev's "secret speech", Hungarian revolution, and Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, 1966 seafarers' strike under Wilson government, 1976 siege of Tel al Za'atar, civil war in Lebanon. . . .One anniversary that almost passed without notice was the centenary of the parliamentary Labour Party.

It was in 1900 that a conference of socialists and trade unionists agreed to a motion from James Keir Hardie that Labour MPs should form a distinct group in parliament. But it was not until 1906, with an increased Labour presence in parliament helping secure the Trades Disputes Act, safeguarding unions from legal sanctions for strikes, that this became the Labour Party.

Last week I attended a meeting organise by Labour Heritage at Brentford and Chiswick Labour hall in west London to commemorate the centenery. The meeting was chaired by former MP and London MEP Stan Newens.John Grigg spoke about the movements history in west London and south-west Middlesex, former draughtsmen's leader and Labour national secretary Jim Mortimer spoke on Labour and the Trades Disputes Act, and Hayes MP John McDonnel, left-wing candidate for the party leadership, related past struggles to the effort today to put Labour back on track as a party to defend workers' rights and fight for equality.

I'm happy to say this was a history meeting for activists, not mere academics.
Making the point that trades uniionists today have fewer rights than they were given in 1906, John McDonnel said it was a disgrace the way his constituents working for Gate Gourmet at Heathrow airport had been sacked, and that under the Tory anti-union laws which this government had kept, fellow trade unionists were penalised if they took solidarity action.

Despite other events, including a major trade union rank and file conference that weekend, the meeting was well-attended, and the discussion was keen. Yet as we heard, the official Labour Party at the top had shown little interest in marking this centenary. One of Blair's key advisers had been on record as saying the formation of the Labour Party was a big mistake, and that they'd have been better remaining with the Liberals. As for the intake of New Labour types into parliament under Blair's leadership, they cared little about the party's history and some were so ignorant that when pictures of past Labour leaders were displayed as part of a previous commemoration, they failed to recognise Keir Hardy's bearded visage, but thought it might be Jeremy Corbyn! (I'm sure the left-wing MP for Islington North won't mind the suggested comparison !)

Evidently what was once said of the US Democrats has more truth applied to New Labour - like the mule, it has neither pride of ancestry nor, we must wish, hope of progeny. The fact that the Blairites show distaste for the labour movement's history is all the more reason why we should both celebrate and study it.

Saying which, I see that Somerset postman and trade union activist Dave Chapple, whose book based on interviews with veteran Henry Suss I reported in an earlier blog,, has a new book coming out on the General Strike in Bridgwater. To mark the launch, Dave is giving a talk about how his home town fared in the Hungry Thirties. He intends to cover unemployment and child poverty, trade unions and housing, as well as the politics of the time, including the 1938 Bridgwater by-election when Vernon Bartlett won the seat as a popular front anti-appeasement candidate.

The talk is at Bridgwater Library, Thursday 23 November at 7.30pm


TALKING of history, I was wrong to say in my blog on November 1 that Peter Fryer, the Daily Worker correspondent who tried to tell the truth about what was happening in Hungary 50 years ago was unable to attend the British Communist Party's congress after he was expelled from the Party.

Attending Peter's funeral on November 8, Ron Lynn, who remembers the period well, told me that the left-wing Labour weekly Tribune made Peter its correspondent so that he could attend and cover the congress, and he also wrote it up for The Newsletter.

After the funeral , joining friends and family back at the jazz bar where Peter enjoyed playing piano, I bought a copy of Remembering 1956 (Revolutionary History, Vol.9, no.3, ) which has articles on what happened in the Communist Party in 1956, here and in France and Italy.

Also, at long last, Balasz Nagy's work How the Budapest Central Worker's Council was set up is available in English, from the Living History Library, 28 Canning Street, Liverpool L8 7NP. Describing in detail how working class democracy took shape and sought to defend both social ownership and political freedom, the pamphlet has a fresh preface by its author re-affirming that the revolution offers a progressive way out of capitalist crisis, rejecting "the false alternatives of capitalism or Stalinism, which even today still seems to hold back and paralyse the revolutionary action of working people".


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Saturday, November 18, 2006

UN calls for peace, but who will tell Israel to stop?

CATERPILLAR D9s at work in Occupied Palestine. Caterpillar boss is due in London next week.

AMID renewed killing of Palestinians and warnings of a human catastrophe,the United Nations General Assembly has called on Israel to cease military operations in the Gaza Strip. The resolution, with an addition calling on the Palestinian Authority to take action to curb violence, was passed by a vote of 156 to 7 after an emergency session on Friday.

It came a week after Palestinians buried 18 civilians, including children, killed when Israeli tanks bombarded homes in Beit Hanoun. Since June there have been more than 250 fatalities in Gaza caused by Israeli action, including more than 150 civilians. About 60 children were killed. At least 1,000 people were wounded, including about 340 children. (estimate based on figures from Physicians for Human Rights for period up to 27 October).

On November 5 the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) stated, "Israeli occupying forces have deliberately attacked and targeted unarmed civilians as well as PRCS ambulances and medical teams. On November 3, 2006, Israeli forces targeted and killed two members of PRCS medical teams, while they were attempting to evacuate a victim killed by Israeli fire in Beit Lahia area."

UN agencies and aid charities have warned of a catastrophe already hitting the sick and the poor as a result of funds and essential supplies being blocked, as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Israel's UN ambassador Don Gillerman told Friday's session that Palestinians had turned the Gaza AStrip into "a base for terrorism against Israel". The United States, Israel and Australia, together with four Pacific Island states, voted against the resolution, despite the added clause calling on Palestinians to cease armed actions.

Leaving aside the debatable morality of equating actions by oppressor and oppressed, occupier and occupied, the "even-handed" approach required to persuade European states to endorse the resolution ignores two material inequalities. One, the inbalance between home-made rockets fired by small Palestinian groups, doing little damage to Israel, and Israel's massive military machine. Two, the fact that Israeli actions are carried out by the state and its army, whereas Israel and its allies have done everything to prevent Palestinians establishing a state,and made sure the Palestinian Authority did not even have the means to curb dissident guerrilla groups.

Nevertheless, Islamic Jihad has said it is considering halting its rocket attacks on Israel following a request from Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. Abbas met leaders of the group on Friday, and urged them to halt the attacks. "Abbas said the truce is a national necessity," said Khedr Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza.
"We said the truce must be mutual ... and part of a national consensus." The Palestinian president hopes that agreement among factions will strengthen his hand to negotiate with Israel.

But with continued backing from the United States, and European Union governments looking the other way, need Israel take any notice of UN resolutions? By backing Israel's actions in witholding funds from the Palestinian Authority, and cutting aid since the Palestinians elected Hamas, the Western powers have taken sanctions against the victims, not the aggressor! The Bush administration even forbade co-operation on health, scientific and environmental projects, which could have repercussions outside the Middle East, if bird flu is not stopped.

During the Israeli war in Lebanon we saw the US and British governments co-operating to rush munitions to Israel, including "bunker-busting" munitions which destroyed a shelter, killing civilians, and cluster bombs which Israeli officers say were scatterd like confetti. Israel enjoys trade privileges in the European Union, and seems exempt from British licence limits on military supplies. Doctors in Gaza hospitals are struggling to cope with injuries caused by new chemical and other weapons, while short of even basic drugs and equipment

Accusing the "international community" of "silence and indolence", Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini,chair of the European Parliament's Development Committee, has called on the EU to lift sanctions on Palestine, review its trade ties with Israel, and stop military collaboration. Speaking after far right-winger Avigdor Lieberman, an open advocate of "ethnic cleansing" had joined the Israeli government, the Rifondazione Communista MEP urged that an EU force be sent to protect Gaza civilians.

Rather than wait for governments to take action, citizens can make themselves heard, and take various actions.

Palestinian rights law society Al-Haq has announced that it is cooperating with solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers firm (PIL) to secure the implementation of the July 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion that found Israel's construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be contrary to international law. On 15 November 2006, PIL lodged a complaint against the UK government in the High Court in London on behalf of Palestinians suffering as a result of the construction of the Wall, which carves out swathes of territory, separating farmers from their land and villages from nearby towns.

PIL argued that the UK government's granting of export licences for the sale of weapons to Israel breaches both its own "Consolidated Criteria," as well as principles of international law reflected in the ICJ Advisory Opinion. It argued that the UK government should immediately review the legality and rationality of its arms trade with Israel, in light of clear recent evidence that arms related products from UK based companies are implicated in violations of international humanitarian law carried out by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the OPT. When reviewing
its actions, the UK government must take full account of its legal obligations as reflected in
the ICJ Advisory Opinion.

Al-Haq believes that the action taken by PIL provides hope for the Palestinian people by bringing attention to the lack of respect for
international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. By holding the UK accountable for its failure to meet its obligations as a third-party state, Al-Haq hopes that the UK and other states will become more
mindful of their own international legal obligations with regard to violations carried out in the territories.

On Wednesday, 22 November, Mike Baunton, CBE, Vice-President of the Caterpillar company, which has supplied armoured bulldozers used in destrying Palestinian homes and olive groves, is due to attend a function organised by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IME) at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, in London's West End.

Palestine Solidarity and Boycott Israel campaigners will be there to meet him.

Caterpillar holds the sole contract for the supply of the military D9 bulldozers to the Israeli army. Since the murder on March 16, 2003 of peace activist Rachel Corrrie as she tried to halt a bulldozer destroying a family's home, there has been an international campaign focussed against Caterpillar. The company now says it no longer supplies the D9 to Israel, but has not said whether it still provides spare parts for the Israeli army's existing D9s.

The IME dinner is being held in the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel, closest to the Park Lane entrance. Protestors will gather outside from 5.30pm. Nearest tubes are Marble Arch and Bond Street.

As Tony Blair now speaks about the importance of 'making progress on
Israel and Palestine'. November 29 is the international day of action for Palestine, and this year campaigners for Palestinian rights and a just peace will lobby MPs on Wedesday, November 29, demanding that the UK stop military supplies to Israel, stop starving the Palestinians, restore aid to the Palestinian Authority, and respect Palestinian democracy and rights.

The lobby has been called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding(CAABU), and is supported by, among others, Jews For Justice For Palestinians, Pax Christi, Friends of Al Aqsa, War on Want, and the Jewish Socialists' Group.

All supporters of the Palestinian people who can take part are urged to join the lobby, and to contact your MP ahead to make an appointment to see them so it wll be effective.

Lobbyists will meet in the House of Commons briefing room W1 from 3 to 6pm, before seeing their MPs.. The lobby will be followed by a meeting in Committee room 12, Westminster Palace at 7pm with Dr Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian General Delegate to the UK, Jeff Halper ICAHD, Barry Camfield Asst. General Secretary TGWU, Phyllis Starkey MP, Richard Burden MP, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General Muslim Council of Britain, Betty Hunter General Secretary PSC, Gerald Kaufman MP and Colin Breed MP.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bum notes from a disoriented saxophonist and his friends

GILAD Atzmon is a brilliant musician. I first heard him live at the Conway Hall in Holborn, central London, not the poshest of venues, but he was performing at a benefit for the Vanunu campaign before rushing off to play in concert at the Festival Hall. I enjoyed his virtuoso sax performance, and fusion of jazz and Middle Eastern music, and I admired his dedication in finding time for a fund-raiser before his professional work that night.

I appreciated his gesture in calling his ensemble "Orient House". This building in Jerusalem housed the offices of the late Feisal Husseini, a Palestinian leader of some stature whose presence in the capital, centralising political and cultural work and archives, and greeting visitors (including on one occasion me) was an ongoing irritant to the Israeli occupiers. In 2001 they seized the premises, and Feisal Husseini died that year.

I was less amused when Atzmon at a fundraising gig threw in a gag about Jews not working. Maybe the people in the audience who tittered thought they were hearing irony, since most of those working to make the benefit a success happened to be Jews. But I felt tempted to heckle Atzmon by shouting "Shut up Yidele, and play us another tune!"

Feisal Huseini, son of a guerrilla leader and scion of an ancient family, was respected by even opponents and enemies as a diplomat and statesman. I don't know whether he ever tried his hand as a musician. But unfortunately, Gilad Atzman fancies himself as a thinker and political figure, and believe me, the man fronting this Orient House is no Feisal Husseini.

Anyone who has ever criticised the Israeli state or expressed support for the rights of the Palestinians will have come up against the Zionist lobbyists -sometimes themselves guilt-tripping gentiles and antisemites - who falsely identify Israel - a state, forcibly occupying land taken from Palestinians, and Zionism - the political movement that established it - with the Jewish people and religion. Hence any opposition to it is declared "antisemitic", as though any people other than Palestinians would willingly relinquish their rights and land were it not for this irrational prejudice!

Members of both the European and British parliaments have been persuaded perhaps unthinkingly to swallow the line that Zionism is but Jewish "self-determination" (not a right which the Palestinians were considered to merit).
Thus, I suppose, James Arthur Balfour, whose Aliens Act a century ago was aimed at keeping Jews out of Britain is considered a friend, since he followed up with his Declaration favouring a Jewish "national home" in Palestine in 1917. Jews who preferred to relinquish this right and stay or go elsewhere were traitors, like those Soviet Jews who had to be herded on to a plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport some years ago and taken to Israel whether they liked it or not, -some "self-determination", eh?! But if I raise that, or any other criticism of Israeli policy and Zionism, I must be a "self-hater", you see.

Being only human, Palestinians who have lost their loved ones in Israeli massacres, or seen their homes and farms destroyed, might not always express their bitterness in politically correct terms. But the Palestinian national movement has long made clear that its struggle is against a regime and ideology, not a people or religion. Only too aware of the strength of the organised Zionist Lobby here and more especially in the United States, the Palestinian movement and its supporters have analysed it factually, rather than falling for fantastic conspiracy theories about the 'Elders of Zion'. Right-wingers who have tried to use Israel's crimes as their opportunity to make antisemitism, and racism in general,respectable, have been denied openings in genuine solidarity movements. Jews on the other hand have been made welcome.

All this is frustrating, not just for neo-Nazis but for Israel's propagandists, and Zionist leaders, who are forever looking for ways to smear those supporting the Palestinians, and to shore up the invisible ghetto walls keeping their flock in order with suspicion, fear and denunciations of the "traitors" who dissent. If need be, the Mossad would hire some provocateurs to attack Jews, infiltrate pro-Palestinian movements in order to drag them into disrepute (something like this was apparently attempted in the United States using ex-cops); perhaps even use disturbed individuals to play the "self-hate" game, create confusion and stir animosity between potential allies.

Being neither privy to Mossad secrets nor prone to conspiracy theory myself, I don't say any of this is happening. I do say it is an objective set of circumstances against which people should be on their guard. And now, back to Gilad Atzmon. Some while ago he attacked various Jewish people active for a just peace (some of whom have also found themselves on Zionist hate lists) in a piece charmingly called Protocols of the Elders of North London. Having now helped circulate the letter below, I am honoured to join them.

I don't think Atzmon is any kind of "agent". He may be perfectly sincere.
From what friends have told me and what I have observed he is the kind of personality, more common among small children, that delights in upsetting people with what he thinks is clever, and takes reproach as encouragement to do it all the more.

That might suggest we should not give him so much attention. After all, whatever the outrageous views he expresses, they don't interfere with his sax playing. But they should give pause to thought to anyone considering him for anything more.

An open letter from the Jewish Socialists' Group to Scottish Palestine Solidarity


Dear Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign,

The terrible situation of the Palestinians today,especially in Gaza, demands the broadest possible unity by those who wish to challenge oppression, racism and human rights abuses. Those who disrupt that unity, or make pro-Palestinian activity vulnerable to charges of antisemitism cannot be friends of the Palestinian people. Against this background, the Jewish Socialists’ Group strongly oppose Scottish PSC’s invitation to Gilad Atzmon to speak and perform on November 22 at an event called “Zionist Control”.

Apart from the SWP, which has inexplicably invited Atzmon to its annual Marxism events, and to a book launch at its Bookmarks shop (which was picketed by “Jews Against Zionism and other anti-racists), Atzmon is shunned by other progressive, pro-Palestinian organisations. They completely reject his statements - regurgitating world Jewish conspiracy theories and diminishing the crimes of Nazism - which have been widely denounced as antisemitic. Atzmon’s outbursts have been a gift to Zionist journalists, providing them with an opportunity to discredit and smear those who support Palestinian rights and justice for the Palestinian people.

If you are not familiar with the views of the person you have invited, here are some examples from his article "On antisemitism" December 2003 on his own website ( and reprinted in Al-Jazeerah:

"We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously…American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy."

“Israel's behaviour throws some light on the persecution of Jews throughout history."

In 2005 Atzmon approvingly distributed Paul Eisen’s essay “Holocaust Wars” which the Socialist Unity website described as “a full-blooded exposition of Holocaust denial material and a tribute to notorious neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel.”
Atzmon said he had only“slight differences” with Eisen’s article.

In 2006 he wrote an article called “Beyond comparison”for Al-Jazeerah (August 12) about Israel and Nazism:

“Nazis were indeed proper expansionists, they were trying to take towns and land intact…unlike the Nazis who had respect for other national movements including Zionism, Israel has zero respect for anyone including its next door neighbours. The Israeli behavior should be realised as the ultimate vulgar biblical barbarism on the verge of cannibalism.

“While Nazism was a nationalist expansionist movement with extensive yet limited ambitions, the Jewish State and its Zionist lobbies are trying to revive the spirit of a global crusade in the name of a bizarre religious war.

“It is about time to … say it all loudly... We have to admit that Israel is the ultimate evil rather than Nazi Germany”.

Since the early 1980s the Jewish Socialists’ Group has worked closely with Palestinian organisations and solidarity campaigns and more recently with Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Just Peace UK and European Jews for a Just Peace in the struggle against occupation and for equality and self-determination forPalestinians. We have challenged Jewish communal “leaders” when they denounce opponents of Israel as antisemitic and Jewish opponents of Zionism as“self-haters”

At the same time we remain vigilant about antisemitism and other forms of racism. We agree entirely with the view of Britain’s former PLO representative, Afif Safieh, who frequently told pro-Palestinian demonstrations and meetings that antisemitism was an enemy of the Palestinians as well as the Jews. As Jewish socialists and outspoken opponents of Zionism, racism and fascism, we cannot understand how it benefits the Palestinian struggle to invite and promote an individual who speaks as Atzmon does, regardless of his origins.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has long had a clause in its aims to oppose antisemitism and all forms of racism. We cannot understand why SPSC seem intent on exposing the pro-Palestinian movement to charges of antisemitism.

We appeal to Scottish PSC to rescind the invitation and we appeal to Palestinian organisations and solidarity organisations to make their views on this known to Scottish PSC.

David Rosenberg
(on behalf of the National Committee of the Jewish Socialists’ Group)

JSG BM3725 London WC1N 3XX


BY way of a PS: Last night I rather jumped the gun and forwarded a copy of this letter to various people and organisations, not realising it had not yet been signed and officially gone out. I received some messages of agreement and support, which I have passed on to Dave Rosenberg. But thanks to a kind soul who sent Atzmon a copy, I have had e-mails today from the man himself, thanking me for the publicity (he's welcome) but also enclosing comments by two loyal supporters. One, Paul Eisen (see above) says Pottins is "stupid and racist". Well, I plead guilty to the first, because when I heard that Eisen was campaigning for a Deir Yassin memorial, I invited him to speak at a Jewish Socialists' Group meeting so we could give support. It was not till some time later that, observing his politico-religious evolution, I realised "Deir Yassin Remembered" risked becoming Deir Yassin Forgotten, if it was left to people like him.

The second message is from Israel Shamir, who some while ago announced his conversion to Orthodox Christianity, and apparently with the enthusiasm of a new convert to some rather old-fashioned views on the ingrediants of Passover matzo. He now says "Gentlemen,
my support and respect goes to our wonderful Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen. Socialists have no need for Jewish separateness. Moreover, this Pottin anyway does not observe mitzvoth and thus only pretends being Jewish.
Israel Shamir".

It's always nice to be told what Socialists need, even by a man who has reportedly popped up under another name as a Swedish antisemite, tried to flog hooky Nazi documents to David Irving, and written for a right-wing nationalist Russian magazine. I can only marvel at Shamir's intelligence sources, who must have reported to him that I eat eggs and bacon, haven't donned tefillin since my Bar Mitzvah, and am indeed an epikoros. So, my fame, or infamy has reached Jaffa, or Stockholm (and there was Gilad Atzmon saying "no one has heard of you"!) I will leave it to others to decide whose sins are worse, and which of us is a pretender.
But I can assure messrs. Shamir, Atzmon and Eisen, the Holy Trinity, that neither I nor the Jewish Socialists' Group is "separate" from the wider labour, socialist and solidarity movements, in which we will make our views felt.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

50 years ago: Suez hypocrisy at the UN

PORT SAID, 1956. British tank in devastated city. Below: Egyptian first-day cover with stamp showing civilians behind soldier. Some say armed citizens carried on resisting after the officers fled.

IN one of my favourite movies, Carlton Brown of the FO, Britain's Foreign Secretary (Raymond Huntley) makes a pompous speech at the United Nations General Assembly on why Her Majesty's government considers it right and just that the island of Gaillardia should be partitioned. The UN team sets off with whitewash to mark a line across the island.

Then the Foreign Office learns that partition would leave the much coveted uranium ore deposits on the wrong side of the partition, falling under Soviet influence. So up gets Britain's man again, to make the same high-flown speech, but this time concluding that this is why HM government thinks the island should not be partitioned. Naturally neither speech makes mention of anything as sordid and material as ore deposits. Each time the minister speaks an angelic choir sings somewhere in the background.

Carlton Brown came out in 1959. But three years earlier there was a real drama played out at the UN, about a real war. Instead of fictitious Gaillardia, the country invaded was Egypt, and the strategic prize was the Suez canal. British government hypocrisy was the same, except they contrived to have the Israeli delegate do the peformance.

Israeli forces had invaded Egypt and were nearing the banks of the canal as well the strategic object for them of Sharm el Sheikh, at the tip of the Sinai peninsula. Britain and France were preparing to join the invasion, albeit in the guise of "peacemakers". Unlike British treaties with Arab states, the deal with Israel was meant to remain secret, although RAF and French planes had already bombed Egyptian ports and airfields on October 31, 1956, three days before the UN met and voted for cease-fire resolutions.

Israeli chief of staff General Moshe Dayan had been in on the secret negotiations and was close to Prime Minister Ben Gurion. Dayan knew that the British government had not only sanctioned a full-scale Israeli invasion, but insisted upon it, to provide conditions for British intervention. Now here is Dayan's account of what happened at the UN:

"Towards the end of the Assembly session, which was adjourned in the early hours of 4 November, there was renewed pressure on Britain, France and Israel to declare their acceptance of the UN resolutions. The Israel representative asked for the floor and he announced that 'Israel agrees to an immediate cease-fire provided that a similar answer is forthcoming from Egypt'. I imagine that our representative assumed that by the time the Egyptian reply came in, we would have succeeded in capturing Sharm e-Sheikh. And even if the cease-fire went into effect with a delay of a few hours, it would not be so bad. The main point was that in principle we had announced our readiness to carry out UN resolutions.

"The Governments of Britain and France, however, almost jumped out of their skins when they learned of the statement by the Israel representative. After all, they have repeatedly announced that the whole purpose of the entry of their forces into the Canal Zone is to separate the belligerent Israel and Egyptian Armies; now, if the two combatants cease fire, what justification is there for Anglo-French intervention? In this circumstance, the situation of the British Prime Minister is particularly difficult. Public opinion in his country is against the war in Egypt, and this opposition is mounting daily, erupting in demonstrations demanding that 'Eden must go!'.

"Britain therefore asked France to use the full weight of her influence to persuade us to retract our announcement agreeing to a cease-fire. France has done this, begging us to do nothing which may shake the tottering foundations underlying Eden's position on Suez. As our friends, the French, explained it, if we did not accede to Britain's request, Eden would be compelled to abandon completely his military plan on Suez.

"After reviewing and weighing up all the factors, Ben Gurion decided to respond to the French entreaties, and at noon on 4 November, our UN representative notified Hammarskjold that his announcement at the Assembly had not been properly understood. What he had meant was that at the moment there was a de facto cease-fire on the fighting fronts. As to Israel's compliance with the Assembly resolution, this was conditional on the acceptance of satisfactory positive replies to the following five questions:

1 Is there clear and unequivocal agreement on the part of the Government of Egypt to a cease-fire?
2 Doss Egypt still adhere to the position declared and maintained by her over the years that she is in a state of war with Israel?
3 Is Egypt prepared to enter into immediate negotiations with Israel with a view to the establishment of peace between the two countries as indicated in the aide-memoire of the Government of Israel of 4 November to the Secretary-General of the UN?
4 Does Egypt agree to cease the economic boycott against Israel and lift the blockade of Israel shipping in the Suez Canal?
5 Does Egypt undertake to recall the fedayun gangs under her control in other Arab countries?

"Although Ben Gurion met the request of the French Government, he was most angry. If Britain and France had wished to exploit the fact that hostilities had broken out between Israel and Egypt, they had had six days at their disposal, from 29 October to 4 November, during which there was fighting between Israeli and Egyptian forces near the east bank of the Suez Canal. But throughout that period the British Army occupied themselves with their meticulous preparations for Operation 'Musketeer' as if they had all the time in the world. Now, when the UN Assembly called for a cease-fire, Britain was asking Israel to reject it for the sake of her (Britain's) political convenience.

"Israel had done her utmost, made a supreme effort, to end the campaign before finding herself in grave conflict with resolutions of the UN - and she had in fact succeeded. Of course she had no alternative but to refuse the demand to pull her forces back to the armistice lines; but she could at least have accepted the second demand of the resolution, the cease-fire. Now she had to add to her burdens by rejecting even that, which she would not, for herself, have needed to do.What prompted Ben Gurion to agree was, of course, not only the desire to respond to the request of France, who in the last few years has shown such sincere friendship for us. He was also actuated by the cold calculation that it is better for Israel not to appear alone as an aggressor who disturbs the peace and ignores UN resolutions. It is better that Britain and France should be with her on this front.

"The matter, however, did not end there. The French sensed that the final moments of their political time were upon them and that if they wished to land their forces on Egyptian soil, they had to do so immediately. France's Defence Minister, Bourges-Maunoury, and Foreign Minister, Christian Pineau, therefore flew to London to spur the British for the n'th time to advance the date of their landing.

"This time, apparently, the British realized that the twelfth hour had indeed arrived, but they searched for a formula which would justify their action in the eyes of the world. The formula agreed on by the British and the French was, inevitably, at the expense of Israel. The reply handed by Britain and France to the UN Secretary-General, following the Assembly resolution of 4 November, included the following sentence: 'The two Governments continue to believe that it is necessary to interpose an international force to prevent the continuance of hostilities between Egypt and Israel, to secure the speedy withdrawal of Israel forces, to take the necessary measures to remove obstructions to traffic through the Suez Canal, and to promote a settlement of the problems in the area.'"
(Dayan, M. -Diary of the Sinai Campaign, pp.181-3)

While the manouvres went on in the UN, the bombing and invasion of Egypt went ahead. Instead of freeing the Suez Canal for maritime traffic they succeeded in blocking it. Instead of toppling Nasser, as MI6 hoped, it was Eden that went. France failed to hold Algeria against the rising forces of Arab nationalism. Ben Gurion's delusions of empire in Gaza and Sinai did not last, and Israelis' dreams of peace and security (which might have seen a glimmer of hope when Nasser made secret tentative peace approaches two years before the Suez war) have remained out of reach, and almost forgotten. Having chosen their path and alliances, Israel's rulers were stuck with them.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

More tributes to Peter Fryer

Behind the woman in white is Peter Fryer, taking his place with Hungarian comrades at the congress of the Workers International (for Reconstruction of the Fourth International), in 1987.
Nearby, turning towards him, is Balasz Nagy, Hungarian Trotskyist.

I'M pleased to see Peter Fryer has had a good obituary in the Guardian, written by Scottish historian Terry Brotherstone (who like Peter and myself was a contributor to Workers Press in the late 1980s).

Communist journalist who told the truth about Hungary 1956

The death of Peter Fryer aged 79, comes 50 years to the week since his honest reporting of Hungary's 1956 revolution for the Daily Worker (now the Morning Star) split the Communist party of Great Britain, and changed his own life. A loyal CP member since 1945, and a Worker journalist for nine years, he immediately wrote a short, passionate book Hungarian Tragedy in defence of the revolution - and was expelled from the party.

Fryer's book has been compared to John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World on the Bolshevik uprising of 1917. A few days before he died, Fryer heard that Hungary's president had awarded him the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic, in recognition of his "continuous support of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight".

Sent by the then Worker editor, Johnny Campbell, to report on a "counter-revolutionary" uprising, Fryer's loyalty was to communism, Marx's "truly human society", not to the CPGB's Stalinist line. Realising that he was witnessing a popular uprising of students and workers, he sided with the revolutionaries. His dispatches were savagely edited, then suppressed.

In 1949, Fryer had covered the Hungarian Stalinist regime's show trial of Hungarian party leader, László Rajk. In good faith, he reported Rajk's "confession" - made with the promise of being spared, but resulting in his execution - as proletarian justice. So, when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's revelations about Stalinism at the 1956 Soviet Party congress were followed in Hungary by Rajk's cynical "rehabilitation", Fryer's engagement with the CPGB's crisis was personal. The "doubts and difficulties" shared by many members, for him meant confronting the part he felt he had played in Rajk's murder.

Held up at a border town on the road from Vienna to Budapest, Fryer saw his first dead bodies - 80 people shot during a demonstration. It was his turning-point. Attending the election of a workers' council at a state farm was the last straw. An apology that it was taking all day because "we have absolutely no experience of electing people" made him think: "So much for 'people's democracy'."

In late October 1956 there was a lull which followed from the brief Soviet withdrawal and ended with the Soviet army's return to Budapest on November 4 to crush the revolution. During that period Fryer offered to edit an English-language paper, and he was proud to read, in a 1961 Hungarian emigré bibliography of the revolution that this was "of capital importance as regards the character of the insurrection: the only foreign journalist who decided to act for the sake of Hungary was a Communist".

Hungarian Tragedy played a big part in the CPGB's fierce internal discussions which followed the Soviet invasion and led up to its Easter 1957 Hammersmith congress. But the party proved irredeemable. By then Fryer was working with the Trotskyist "club" of Gerry Healy (obituary December 18 1989), for which he edited the weekly Newsletter and co-edited Labour Review. These publications represent one of the few attempts by British Trotskyists to engage in serious dialogue and for a while they attracted a wide range of authors.
(Guardian obituaries, Friday November 3, 2006),,1938086,00.html
for the full article.

Meanwhile, having contacted a few people to tell them the sad news, I had the following among replies:

From Nick Davies, Labour Party member in Swansea:
This is sad news. I saw Fryer speak at a 1986 commemoration of the uprising. he modestly described 'Hungarian Tragedy' as 'a young man's book'. Maybe it was, but it was none the worse for that. Fryer thought for himself and spoke the truth about Hungary, despite the fact it lost him his job and his party membership.

Nick Davies

From Steve Ballard, north London teacher and long-standing Trotskyist, now a member of the United Socialist Party:
Peter’s greatest achievement for me was his weekly column... It was always erudite and informative, drawn from a wealth of carefully observed personal experience, often amusing, usually affectionate or generous about the people he was writing about, except when criticising someone’s action or behaviour when the need arose. He shared with his readers his interests and enthusiasms for music (particularly Latin American), history and life in general. But most importantly his column was an object lesson in how to write for a newspaper aimed at the working class - it was never pompous, patronising or unnecessarily judgemental.
His recounting of some of the crucial episodes in the history of the Communist Party were all the more telling because he had the sense not to embellish it with his own point of view or the benefit of hindsight.
Not all of Peter’s energy went on work. He was still playing the piano late on Friday nights between the sets of the main band at the Brazilian bar in Archway run by his son-in-law, a source of pleasure of which he was clearly proud.


From Amanda Sebestyen, writer and art historian:
How really sad- I noticed in the Guardian retrospective on Hungary that Peter Fryer was ill and unable to participate, but I got the impression he was more absorbed with Brazilian matters and his book about how slave music in its turn re-influenced music back in Africa.
I think he wrote wonderful prose and I really liked his handbook on writing style for journalists - it was Orwellian in its crispness and very funny.
We only met once, on a march (possibly against the gulf war of 1991) . We got talking and his discoveries were fascinating, but unfortunately we fell out over 'political correctness', ie feminism.
If there is ever a meeting about him which would be suitable for a wider audience than family and/or ex WRP members, I'd like to come.
Meanwhile I remember him with great respect.

All good wishes

From Madge Dresser, University of the West of England lecturer who has done much to promote Bristol's awareness of Black history and acknowledgement of its part in the slave trade:
Very sad news, he was such a nice man and made such a contribution to our historical understanding of Britain.


Hungarian Revolution on line:

Hungarian Tragedy, by Peter Fryer
Balasz Nagy on the Workers' Councils in 1956:
The same writer wrote an article on the The Relevance of Trotsky's Transitional Programme, in 1966, republished (with a spiteful whinge from the Spartacists) in Revolutionary History magazine:

The latest Revolutionary History is devoted to remembering 1956 and the crisis in the Communist Parties:

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Goodbye to a good comrade

PETER FRYER. Good comrade, and excellent teacher.

I heard the sad news last night that Peter Fryer had died. He had been ill for some time, but until recently he was still taking the bus in the morning down to the British Library, where he was researching for his latest book, provisionally entitled Behind the Blues.

Born in Hull, in 1927, the son of a merchant navy officer whom Depression hardships inclined to the Right, Peter turned the other way, joining the Young Communist League in 1942 and the Communist Party in 1945. He had left school in 1943, becoming a reporter on the Yorkshire Post. Sacked in 1947 because he refused to leave the Communist Party, he joined the staff of the Daily Worker in 1948, and became its parliamentary correspondent.

That year he was also sent down to Tilbury to cover the arrival of the Empire Windrush, bringing the first large number of West Indian immigrants to work and settle in Britain. Seeing them arrive planted a lasting interest which was to find fruit many years later in what became probably his best-known book, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (1984).

In October 1956, Communist Party supporters buffeted first by Khrushchev's 20th Congress speech and then the news from Hungary told themselves that it would soon be alright, because the Worker was sending Fryer to Hungary to bring the truth about what was really happening. In fact, Peter Fryer's dispatches, reporting how working people, socialists and communists, were taking part in the uprising, and how brutally they were suppressed by the secret police and Russian troops, were heavily censored or suppressed by the Daily Worker editors, and he quit the paper in disgust.

After putting some of what he had seen and heard into the book Hungarian Tragedy, Peter Fryer was expelled from the Communist Party for publically criticising it, and so could not attend the stormy party congress which saw many leaving the party.

At a time when many were abandoning communism, disillusioned and demoralised, and moving to the Right, Peter Fryer was among the few who sought a revolutionary alternative. He became the editor of The Newsletter, which was backed by Gerry Healy's group of Trotskyists then working chiefly in the Labour Party, but turned resolutely towards disillusioned Communist Party members, and industrial militants.

With Healy, former Communist Party members Cliff Slaughter and Tom Kemp, Brian Behan (brother of playwright Brendan) and others, Peter was a founder of the Socialist Labour League, which sought affiliation to the Labour Party as a Marxist group on the same terms enjoyed by the Fabians, but was instead immediately proscribed by Labour officialdom, with numerous expulsions.

The League continued its work within Labour's youth sections, reinforced by capable cadres expelled from the Young Communist League, among the trade union rank and file, and around the growing Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament CND). It was outside a CND rally at Manchester's Free Trade Hall that I bought my first copy of The Newsletter. I'd already heard of it from a right-wing Economic League leaflet and a Sunday newspaper article denouncing the "Trotskyist plot to wreck Britain", so it came well recommended! Someone gave me a leaflet advertising a meeting, "Youth Must Organise", organised by the youth paper Keep Left, and I went along with a mate from school.

One of the first things I was given to read by the SLL, along with Trotsky's Transitional Programme, was Peter Fryer's book The Battle for Socialism. Highly readable, and yet packed with sourced quotes and information, it put the Marxist case in modern English, grounded in contemporary issues and struggles, and together with the Programme became my well-thumbed guide to political action.

Among Peter Fryer's other contributions about this time were two pamphlets: "Defend the ETU - from Fleet Street and King Street!" (1958) was about the crisis in the Electrical Trades Union, where a Communist Party ballot-rigging scandal exposed in the press was used by an alliance of ex-Communists and Catholics to establish a right-wing leadership. (Fleet Street was of course then the home of the British capitalist press, while King Street had the headquarters of the Communist Party).

"Black the H-Bomb & the Rocket Bases! " [1958].brought the growing movcement against Britain becoming a nuclear war base, expressed in marches and direct action, together with the working class rediscovery of its industrial muscle, arguing that trades unionists should "black" - refuse to work on - nuclear weapons and missile bases. At this time some big unions had swung behind unilateralism in the Labour Party, but the idea of using industrial action rather than just passing resolutions which leaders ignore was very radical. Later the SLL supported the same kind of action to implement the South African boycott.

But already, as I was reading Peter Fryer, he was finding Healy's regime in the Socialist Labour League as repressive as the one he had rebelled against in the Communist Party, and decided he had had enough.

After leaving the League, Peter produced a book on Salazar's Portugal, written together with Patricia McGowan Pinheiro, then found a kind of niche with works like Mrs Grundy. Studies in English prudery, (1963) . The Birth Controllers (1965). and Private Case – Public Scandal (1966). about the hidden books of the British Museum. Anticipating the freer attitudes of the late 1960s onwards, these explorations of how society represses and twists human nature were sneered at by Gerry Healy, whose own prudish and puritanical regime concealed years of bullying and sexual abuse of comrades.

It was after the WRP majority had seen off Healy and some of us had come back to give it another go, coming in as amateurs after work to produce the Workers Press, that editor Geoff Pilling brought Peter Fryer back on board. Peter's individual column put some people's backs up, but besides lifting our paper's overall quality, he was a great bloke to work with, always approachable, helpful, and a good comrade. He never rejoined the party, whether because twice bitten he was thrice shy, as I assumed, or because he knew that, as turned out, it would not last.

However, our newfound links with Latin American Trotskyists, and Peter's personal interest (his daughter married a Brazilian) led to him making a tour and the book Crocodiles in the streets. A report on Latin America, New Park (1987). We had also republished his Hungarian Tragedy. This was republished again in 1997 with an introduction by Hungarian Trotskyist Balasz Nagy, who had been an active participant in the 1956 events.

In 1988, as a follow-up to Staying Power, came Black people in the British Empire. An introduction, published by Pluto, and as Peter came into increasing demand as a speaker there were several publications based on talks he gave, both on Black history and on another subject about which he was becoming an expert, African roots of music, which made for good fundraisers as well as enjoyable evenings. Rhythms of Resistance, about the African musical heritage in Brazil, was published in 2000.

I'd also mention his little booklet Lucid, Vigorous and Brief: Advice to New Writers, published by Index Books in 1993, and reissued in 1998, not just because he gave me a kind mention(!) but because he wrote it particularly for those of us writing for the left and workers movement, and it is a great help. Remembering Peter, I think he would have made an ideal professor, not one of those who swagger with donnish airs or become ambitious bossy bureaucrats, but an excellent teacher, his enthusiasm for his subjects exceeded only by his pleasure in helping his students.

It was last August, on an unseasonally cold wet night in Whitehall, taking part in a demonstration about the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes on the London Underground, that I met Peter Fryer. He was looking weak and ill, having just come out of hospital, but he said he felt he had to be there for that demonstration. Besides the general issue of the police shooting an innocent man in their so-called war on terror there was a sort of personal connection - electrician Jean Charles had done the wiring for Peter's son in law's restaurant, and been a popular, well-liked person in London's Brazilian community, with which Peter had a family link.

After that we occasionally met in the British Library, though I was not as regular and conscientious a worker as Peter, and sometimes only arrived as he was going. But early in September we arranged to meet for a chat over a coffee. Peter had been beavering away in the Rare Books and Music section for the book he wanted to finish, a study of life in Mississippi in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, under the working title Behind the Blues.

I had been hoping to persuade him to contribute an article for Jewish Socialist, or an interview, about the Hungarian revolt. He told me he liked the magazine, but did not feel up to taking on extra work as he was not well and was anxious to finish his book. He let us use an extract from Hungarian Tragedy instead. I also gave him a leaflet about the Brent Trades Union Council's Grunwick commemoration, which of course interested him, though as I should have realised, he would not able to come.

Though he managed a smile and a friendly chat, Peter knew he was suffering from an aneurism on the aorta, and perhaps he knew he might not make it to Hungarian revolution commemorations -such as the one tomorrow night - let alone celebrate his 80th birthday next year. Hopefully some form of public tribute will be held then nonetheless. I feel inclined to say, "Goodbye, Comrade Chips". .

Some extracts from Hungarian Tragedy

More from Index Books:

Full bibliography at

Looking back to 1956

EVENTS 50 years ago shaped the ideas of a generation. First Khruschev's "secret speech", revealing the depth of Stalin's crimes, then came the suppression of the Hungarian revolt, at the same time as the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt.

With disillusionment and anger, came new hopes for alternatives. How far were they fulfilled, and how well did we understand our period? What really happened, and what are the lessons for today's militants and radicals?

As part of the discussion, there's a seminar at Goldsmiths College on Thursday, November 2, at 5.30pm, for 6pm, sponsored by Revolutionary History and the London Socialist Historians' Group, with Toby Abse, Bob Archer, Ian Birchall, Keith Flett and Paul Flewers.

It's in the Richard Hoggart Building, Room 143, which is on Lewisham Way, SE14, nearest tube New Cross.

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