Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A Letter to Ian Pindar

While I concede that in a review of this brevity it is difficult, to sum up, a book that runs to close to six hundred pages but your review of Robert Service-Trotsky is a travesty of critical writing.(1)

In the opening sentence, you declare the same hostility to the subject as the author. You remark “Trotskyites who like to compare their man favourably to the murderous Stalin will probably be disappointed by this bold and balanced biography”.

As a person who opposes Stalin, I must say that your cynical belittling the major political differences between Trotsky and Stalin contributes to the already right-wing, low level and ideologically driven Soviet historiography.

Even in short review a summation of the differences, such as the dispute over the Permanent Revolution, Socialism in a single country as opposed to international socialism to name just two would have given this review a balanced and informed look. But that is not really your objective.
As Service observes, “If ever Trotsky had been the paramount leader instead of Stalin, the risks of a bloodbath in Europe would have been drastically increased.” The above quote which you note verbatim is absurd as well as a funny. Did you even think to examine what he said? Could you explain to me what Trotsky could have done that would have been worse than the Gulags, and the murder of the entire Bolshevik cadre as well as the killing of millions of peasants and workers during the reign of Stalin? Could it really be worse than the Stalinist induced defeats of the Spanish, German and French working class to name a few who led the rise of Fascism which in turn led to the murder of six million Jews and fifty million people killed in the Second World War?

“He also notes that Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution (1923), in which writers are expected to toe the party line, prepared the way for “cultural Stalinism”. I am not expecting you to be an expert on Trotsky’s writings or for that matter the Russian Revolution., but have you read Trotsky’s writing on Literature and Culture. Like Service, you seem to be under the impression that the bigger the lie the more easily it is believed. It is clear you have no comprehension of the debate over “culture” that raged inside the Bolshevik Party of which Lenin took a major interest. Trotsky opposed Stalin’s “Socialist realism” saying that it had nothing to do with Marxism. If you are interested in this debate, I draw to your attention the writings of Aleksandr Voronsky in his book Art as the Cognition of Life, as a poet I am sure you will find this book rewarding.

Lastly, you cannot just repeat verbatim the lies and slanders and outright distortions of Service without any independent verification. After all, you are writing for the Guardian, not the Sun. Even you must know that a number of your readers will be familiar with this period of history and will not accept your lazy and slapdash method of reviewing a book.

You go on “And he founded and trained the Red Army. In short, he was "no angel”. He had a “lust for dictatorship and terror”. Unfortunately, my friend, you cannot just state and quote Service like him you have to prove your assertions.

“He also abandoned his first wife and their two baby girls in Siberia, and later drove one of those daughters to suicide”. This slander is repeated again by you. Did you look into this?
Well, David North a Leading authority on the Russian revolution did and had this to say on the matter “Service devotes an enormous amount of space to blackguarding Trotsky as a faithless husband who cruelly abandoned his first wife and their two children. “As a husband,” writes Service, “he [Trotsky] treated his first wife shabbily. He ignored the needs of his children especially when his political interests intervened. This had catastrophic consequences even for those who were inactive in Soviet public life—and his son Lev, who followed him into exile, possibly paid with his life for collaborating with his father.” [p. 4]

One would hardly guess, based on Service’s telling of the story, that either the oppressive conditions of Tsarist Russia or, later, the persecutions of Stalin had anything to do with the tragic fate of Trotsky’s family and loved ones. In fact, Service actually criticizes Trotsky for assigning responsibility to the Soviet regime for the death of his daughter Zina in 1933” (2)

1)Robert Service-Trotsky-Guardian Newspaper

2)David North Historians in the Service of the “Big Lie”: An Examination of Professor Robert Service’s Biography of Trotsky. www.wsws.org.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

British Home Secretary campaigns to overturn Geneva Convention on asylum

Britain's Home Secretary Jack Straw is currently campaigning amongst international leaders to overturn the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, which guarantees the right to asylum. His proposals are said to have won support from social democratic heads of government gathered earlier this week at a European Union (EU) summit in Portugal. During the meeting, Straw cynically seized upon the terrible deaths of 58 Chinese immigrants—found suffocated in the back of an airtight lorry at Dover port—to reiterate his demand for change.

Straw has described the Convention as “out of date.” At a debate, Is Britain's asylum policy fair?, sponsored by the Observer newspaper in London recently, Straw said that his intention was to place asylum law on a “more rational basis”. Speaking alongside Conservative spokeswoman Anne Widdecombe and right-wing journalist Peter Hitchens, Straw claimed that his measures would be “fairer”. Asylum-seekers would no longer be prey to “people traffickers”, charging extortionate prices to smuggle migrants into Britain, he said.

Straw set out his proposals in a speech before the European Conference on Asylum in Lisbon last Friday. He claimed that the “essential contradiction” at the heart of the 1951 convention was that, whilst setting out an individual's right to asylum, it does not oblige any particular country to admit him or her. The result is that “genuine” refugees often have to enter a country illegally before they can lodge their claim to asylum, he said.

Straw has proposed a new scheme, which involves setting up an internationally agreed list of “safe countries” from which Britain and other European countries would not accept asylum claims.

Those fleeing countries internationally recognised for severe human rights abuses would have to lodge their claim in their home country (!) or a neighbouring state. Provided the country met the agreed criteria, the applicant would be extended temporary protection under an international quota system. The applicant would have to prove that they faced a “clear cut case of persecution”.

The Home Secretary argues that the change would mean host countries would not have to fund the cost of supporting asylum-seekers whilst their claim was being processed. Those leaving countries deemed to be “safe”, however, would almost certainly not have their claims even assessed.

Straw's measures represent a fundamental attack on civil liberties. The Geneva Convention guarantees the right to asylum, without conditions. Drawn up during the Cold War, many of its Western signatories regarded the Convention as another means of prosecuting their economic and political struggle against the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries. (The US amended its immigration policy in 1965 to guarantee refugee status to any one coming from an Eastern European country). Two years later, the Convention was extended beyond its original geographical limitations, so as to apply to anyone who was forced to leave their country “as a result of a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

The collapse of the Stalinist-ruled states, however, has removed the Convention's propaganda value. More fundamentally, the drive toward capitalist restoration in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has unleashed a social catastrophe in these countries, helping to fuel rising levels of poverty and political instability across the world. Many are so desperate to escape the increasingly harsh conditions they face that up to one million people are in the process of seeking entry to Western countries at any one time, according to Home Office estimates.
The response of the US and the EU has been to firmly bolt the door shut. Asylum-seekers are routinely described as “bogus”, with those trying to escape an impoverished existence derided as “parasites” and “economic migrants”. It is these measures that have forced many immigrants to turn to criminal gangs and traffickers in an attempt to enter Western countries, often at the cost of their lives.

Previous Conservative governments in the UK have sought to undermine the Convention by adding national “protocols” and amendments that subverted its provisions. The Blair Labour government now proposes to overturn the right to asylum altogether.

Amnesty International spokeswoman Kate Allen explained that Straw's proposals turned the “the Refugee Convention on its head by making it into a charter for governments to bar asylum seekers, rather than for asylum seekers to seek refuge.” Under Straw's proposals, asylum claims from many places would be routinely dismissed, because they were deemed to be living in a “safe” country. Those attempting to escape countries recognised for “severe” human rights abuses would not only be forced to remain under these conditions in order to qualify, but would also have to openly declare their intention to leave—greatly increasing the risk of persecution, detention, torture and even murder.