More blood for oil!

Illegal invasions by imperialist armies are fine, so long they’re committed by Russia plus the commo

Tblisi or not Tblisi

The Beatles assured us in their crap 1968 song ‘Back in the USSR’ that Georgia was on their mind. Oddly though, you don’t hear Paul McCartney commenting much on South Ossetia nowadays.

The war in the Caucuses has inflamed the passions of bellicose and half-witted bloggers from here to Vladikavkaz. Fortunately, a few are actually worth reading. Donald Rayfield on Open Democracy did readers a service by lending context to a conflict that to many outsiders, appears baffling. Noting Russian priming of the area through the issuing of passports, and integration into state welfare, Rayfield dubbed Russian tactics “salami slicing,” explaining that it:

“…amounted to a covert process of assimilating first the population, and then the actual country, into the Russian federation.”

Russian claims of ethnic cleansing were set out on Russia Today - watch out for analyst Evgeny Khruschev informing viewers that they “probably have a short attention span”. While any Georgian crimes against the rebel region seemed hard to verify, the First Post’s Shaun Walker reported that:

“On Tuesday, as the war came to a close, there were reports of massacres in Georgian villages inside the conflict zone Ossetian militias checking the ethnicity of residents and treating all Georgians to a bullet in the head.”

It seems that whatever the perceived or actual crimes by Georgia against its Ossetian citizens, Georgians are paying a weighty price.

Meanwhile Voices from Russia pointed out that many well-respected democracies, including, er, China and Iran, backed Russia’s actions. But Cicero’s Songs, a blog that assiduously monitors developments in the former USSR, observed that Russia will face consequences for its aggression:

“Planned joint exercises have been cancelled, and Russia's exclusion from the G8 appears all but inevitable. As the fighting continues, those who have advocated a softly-softly approach to Russia- such as Germany- are reluctantly facing the need for a tough response.”

The role of the US (and yes folks, if you want to keep your narrative simple to the point of pig-headed myopia, even Israel) have come under scrutiny from bloggers. Meanwhile, John Rees of the Respect party (SWP faction) appeared on BBC Radio 2 to remind Britain that illegal invasions by imperialist armies are fine, so long they’re committed by Russia.

As the week came to an end, the invading tanks remained in Georgia; while in Britain, so-called socialists met to work out how to apportion blame solely to America. Just for the Trots, let’s freshen up the old slogans. All together now:
More blood for oil!
Don’t stop the war!
Putin, Medvedev, FSB – How many kids can you kill for me?

What have we learned this Week?

The Stop the War Coalition blog helpfully explained that Russia was upset because its “interests” were “directly challenged” – which is why it was forced to drive its military might into the heart of a sovereign neighbour, displacing swathes of the country’s population. Some of us might not have realised before that economic and strategic concerns were a legitimate premise for such violent incursions – thanks to STWC for clarifying.

Across the Pond

The Dalai Lama. Mahmoud Abbas. Elvis Presley. What do they have in common? Alongside social security in the US – they are all 73 (except Elvis, who is definitely dead). Roosevelt’s reforms were celebrating their birthday this week, as noted by many bloggers. John Quinterno’s finger was firmly on the Progressive Pulse, as he blogged a passionate defence of American welfare, while accepting that the system could do with a tweak:

“Most importantly, the system is financed in a regressive way that that imposes a heavier responsibility on low-income wage earners.”

A lesson in fiscal fairness that ought to resonate on this side of the Atlantic.

Videos of the Week

Katie Melua, the doe-eyed Georgian songstress who left Tblisi as an eight year-old, recently sang ‘If the Lights go Out’. In the country of her birth, they now have.

This song was written by Mike Batt, who also gave us ‘Heartlands’, the Conservative party’s theme for the 2001 election - perhaps the most pointless piece of the music ever composed.

Quote of the Week

“Surely a no-brainer for every anti-imperialist in town“?

Gauche’s Paul Anderson rattles the Georgia hornet’s nest.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser