Yesterday, July 27th 2013 was to have been an International Day of Action in support of Bradley Manning. But from what I witnessed in London on the day it should be remembered in the UK more as a day of International Shame for British Activism.
For all the multifarious movements, left wing parties, progressive groups and networks in the UK, a country with a proud history of fertile resistance to an entrenched monarchy and aristocratic elite with a psychotic preoccupation with royal babies and gunning down afghans with a joy-stick from a helicopter, this nation of “hard men”, pit-bull terriers and 55 million supposedly savvy and proud Brits could muster no more than three dozen stalwarts to register a public show of solidarity with Bradley Manning at this crucial juncture. I witnessed a bigger crowd queued at the Harry Potter tourist attraction on the concourse of Kings Cross Station on my way home – itself a telling symptom of the present state of world affairs.
Let us hope it is a watershed. Let us hope that it is the thud of rock bottom that sounds the alarm bells to wake the sleeping spirit of courageous working men who will not be slaves again and to shake us from this induced slumber and shed the disease that has numbed us into passive acceptance.
The Foolish Illusion of Organisation
As I combed the web for organised events for Bradley Manning the result was as clear a revelation of reality as ever one could hope to find in correct English spelling.
From the Stop The War Coalition (STWC), that grand symphony of cooperation that has spent a decade “building a Movement”, yet has nothing to its credit of ever having stopped a war and has at the same time transformed a following of 2 Million into a dwindling mob of 600 die-hards – NOTHING!
On the STWC website one finds prominent support for Manning’s nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize, a move that might do more to salvage the damaged reputation of an institution that fatally wounded its own credibility by awarding the same prize to a war criminal and has been only partially redeemed by muttered expressions of regret, than for the aid of the beleaguered Bradley Manning in the jaws of the dragon.
In a joint discussion of Snowden and Manning as whistle-blowers these men are in my view degraded by the description of them as “celebrity martyrs” and the article, which by the way ascribes 9/11 falsely, yet again to Bin Laden, dwells more on its perverse satisfaction with the empire shooting itself in the foot by its vindictive pursuit of them than with the plight of these men and the implications of what they have done. As to any expression of support for them the void speaks volumes.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), an institution of established, institutionalised, professional activists who abhor the word “Democracy” and whose most passionate commitment typically appears to be the development of their ‘activism CV’, their oratory skills and their list of publications, has from the very beginning seen the Anti-War movement as nothing more than a platform from which to mount a recruitment drive appears to have utterly consumed this coalition and sucked out any taste of life there ever was in it. I believe their involvement and (to some) obvious cynical intent has been the principal cause of the utter and complete failure of this coalition to build on the initial numbers it had in 2003. It is a failure that is unequivocally monumental and shameful by any standard and from any point of view. That a vigorous, innate and spontaneous anti-war consciousness should be so visible on the streets of London at the outset of the 21st Century, yet reduced to dissipation, despair and disillusion in the space of a decade of failure to take effective action brings no credit to the institutions whose time, potentially, had come – and is now gone.
The SWP website, which reflects more self-interest than altruism, makes no mention at all of Manning or Snowden. Yet these two men have each done more than any other individual, group or organisation, perhaps all combined so far in the 21st Century to expose and undermine the sinister aspirations and activities of the psychopaths who own western capitalism. They need our support – now.
The STWC rightly announce “Join our protest .... We are the majority but they will only listen to us if we mobilise!”, yet they seem to believe that “mobilise” means assembling to listen to celebrities of the movement pontificate from the podium. More needs to be done. The most generous estimation of these organisations is that they are entrenched in the tired old methods of demonstrations and placards, unwilling to countenance the reality of their ineffectiveness and fearful of even providing a forum for discussion of the subject.
As with all institutions, left and right, “Democracy” is a dirty word.
And there are less generous interpretations of this phenomenon abroad.
An event held for Bradley Manning at the office of Amnesty International (AI) was met with closed doors, lights out and no-one home despite the demonstration on their doorstep and so one protestor read out an expose on the scandalous appointment of Suzanne Nossel, a former aide to Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State and former visiting senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations with a string of other nefarious titles to her name, as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. One would have thought the conflict of pedigree and post so stark as to expose the game, and so it was; she was soon forced to resign. But to those who install their friends of the right into senior posts of activism of the progressive left with the aim of transforming these institutions into condoms on the fertile resistance of protest, the move apparently did not seem too audacious at all. As the Mark Kennedy scandal and later book by Guardian journalists Paul Lewis & Rob Evans, Undercover reveals and so too the massive right-wing funding of some alternative media and online activism, the disease is so endemic they probably thought it would go unnoticed. It didn’t!
On the AI-USA website I could find five articles posted in the past 3 years dealing in an insipid, dispassionate way with ‘technicalities’ of the Bradley Manning case, the last of which, posted in June, promises that AI “will continue to follow the case closely and will send an observer at key points of the trial, which is expected to run for the next several months”. Well, the trial is over and with a great deal of outrage to write about, but no follow-up on the AI website.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was over in the western suburbs of London holding a bar-b-cue in the cause of “International Solidarity” (even Margret Thatcher had praise for Solidarity, remember?). However, they could not be persuaded that there was an important and urgent need to extend that solidarity to Bradley Manning. While I can understand that with all of the misplaced, misguided, misinformed and propagandist bad press that Communism has had for almost a hundred years they are probably feeling somewhat under siege I nevertheless wish that they would recognise that the only way out of the wilderness is to continue to defend what is important to the left, even though there are more celebrated deities of the left who might turn up their noses at the idea of Communism being represented among their various causes and hobby-horses.
Today, it seems, Solidarity is unfashionable on the left.
As to the cause of the Palestinians, indeed a worthy cause and hence one that enjoyed the grandeur of a maharaja riding on the elephant of the anti-war movement in its early days all failed to raise so much as a whisper. Clearly, there is a lot going on in the Middle East to occupy their minds and they have a serious, multi-tentacle hydra to fend off at home, but given the significance of the action taken by Bradley Manning for their cause and many others, one would have thought this not too trivial a distraction.
Following the Path, not the Horse
The celebration of heroes of leadership and the worship of deities arrayed on the dais of Organisations is all very well but the ‘progressive left’ should not allow the smoke and mirrors being used to exploit our need to be organised to also confound our individual commitment to what and who is important.
Yesterday, at least in the UK, we neglected one of our heroes in a critical time of need. It truly was a disgraceful episode.
The psychopaths currently drooling over the prospect of inflicting a vindictive vengeance on Bradley Manning and hoping at the same time to install the ultimate deterrent to anyone so impudent as to contemplate exposing their criminally psychotic mentality, will surely have been making close study of this “International Day of inAction” for Bradley Manning and in the UK, can only have been emboldened in their hopes. There is little to be gained by waiting until after an event and then complaining bitterly, like abused wives in the endless round, as our false leadership and “organisers” would have us do.
The trick is to make it clear before they act where the line will be and demonstrate the potential consequences that crossing that line will have. I am not advocating violent resistance – far from it! There will be more violence than we can deal with from the establishment should we ever show indications of becoming effective and the potent potential of the video camera to destroy the last fig-leaf of legitimacy of this system will be our only real defence. Nor am I purporting to have all or even any of the answers but I do believe there needs to be a new conversation among the progressive left if we are to become effective as a matter of crucial urgency at this critical time. Following the horse is leading us into the wilderness. We must return to the path. Recognition that yesterday was a day of shame for British Activism won’t come from the mainstream media and it won’t come from the leadership of the left.
The True Path
It was a fine example that I witnessed in February 2003, of how the leadership of the left is co-opted to nobble, neuter and disable any movement of dissent. In February I had been energetically involved with the Victorian Peace Network (VPN), leafleting, postering, emailing and placarding to promote Melbourne’s part in a global demonstration on Saturday February 15th to oppose the war in Iraq. In the aftermath of a very successful demonstration that day in Melbourne there was euphoria at the follow-up meeting to discuss “where to from here”. There had been 300,000 people on the streets of Melbourne in the largest demonstration since the days of opposition to the Vietnam War at its height. There was a feeling that the VPN could succeed in its objective of fulfilling its part to Stop the War by forcing the Australian government to pull out of the Coalition of the Killing.
At a meeting gathered around an enormous table in the offices of the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne there was great enthusiasm and all manner of suggestions and ideas had been presented and discussed. Like many others I had left that meeting with the feeling that there was unanimous agreement that we must keep up the momentum and take follow-up action as soon as we could. Clearly, the success of the event would be an inducement to others to participate in a follow-up event held soon after, sending a signal of a gathering snowball of opposition to the government. This had all the markings of imminent success. Everyone left that meeting with the expectation that soon there would be an email circulated announcing a further demonstration, perhaps on Saturday March 1st or 8th. Naïvely, and perhaps like many others, I had not realised that the grand show of a round-table meeting was just a sham, that matters discussed there were irrelevant and that the real decisions were being made, probably already had been made, by a select few behind the scenes. We eagerly awaited that email. Nothing came. We made fruitless enquiries and nothing came. We waited then sent prompting emails until at last, it arrived.
To the bewilderment of everyone, the general announcement was that “the next action to be taken by the VPN would be a demonstration on the first Saturday after the war starts”. So the leadership of this organisation that had gathered such a momentum of public opposition and whose raison d’etre was to “Stop the War” would now sit on its hands waiting for the war to start. I was outraged, others could not understand why.
In my opinion this experience encapsulated the subtle and insidious means by which the establishment captures and neuters the effectiveness of progressive left through its organization; choking the wheels at the critical moments for apparently sound reasons. The antidote is that every individual must be aware of the path; that we must follow the path not the horse. We must never allow ourselves to be pulled along sleeping in the cart but must be awake, aware of the path and ready to assert ourselves whenever the horse strays and would lead us into the wilderness.
I hope that this International day of shame for British Activism serves the purpose for the wake up! Call that it truly should be.
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