This is sad. In a new interview with Playboy magazine Helen Thomas, the nonagenarian veteran Washington correspondent known for confronting D.C. politicians with tough questions (how telling that this earns one a ‘reputation’ among the Washington press corp), engages in straightforward antisemitism, averring inter alia that “Jews” possess “total control” of the American political system. Thomas’s career was ended last year after she commented that Israeli Jews should “go home” to Europe.
Following this latest interview, which has aroused predictable glee from the usual quarters, some American liberals, still fond of Thomas for the way she went after the Bush administration, have been tempted to dismiss her comments as evidence of “dementia” (see, e.g., the comments here). This explanation is, as far as I can see, groundless. She seems perfectly cogent to me.
Her comments in the interview are clearly antisemitic, and obviously indefensible. It is a real shame, but it isn’t worth having a massive go at her for it - she has already been thoroughly discredited, and to continue on the pile-on seems a little cruel (as does continuing to offer her platforms on which to self-destruct).
That said it is worth trying to understand what lies behind her antisemitism. She doesn’t, after all, appear to be an “antisemite” of the neo-Nazi variety. Rather, she’s obviously someone who has many admirable qualities, and whose politics are in other respects not bad, who has, all this notwithstanding, succumbed to the oldest hatred. It might be instructive to inquire why.
Based on this interview, it seems to me that it stems from two sources, both of which should be understood in the context of her identification with Lebanese and Palestinian victims of Israeli violence. First, she appears to be straightforwardly unable to distinguish between ‘Israel’ and ‘Jews’. She constantly switches back and forth between the two as if they were synonymous - “Israel does x to the Palestinians” followed by “Why are Jews doing this?” etc. This practice of conflating Israel with Jews tends to be antisemitic in its implications, and is usually practiced by antisemitic critics of Israel on the one hand and apologists for Israeli policies seeking to smear legitimate criticism of Israel as antisemitic on the other.
Second, she simply lacks a serious understanding of the way class and business interests operate in domestic politics. She apparently has no conception of the deep economic and military ties between American and Israeli elites, and so the only explanation she can find for US support for Israeli occupation is in the machinations of a Jewish lobby. This is a problem that extends well beyond her. The Walt-Mearsheimer analysis of the way the lobby operates is not antisemitic in itself - it is entirely legitimate to attempt to explain certain policies pursued by the state in terms of the influence exterted by a political lobby - but the way it’s often framed does lend itself to antisemitic explanations. To the extent that that kind of analytical approach posits a thing called “US interests”, understands them to be opposed to Israeli occupation, and then explains why the US nonetheless supports Israeli occupation against its own interests in terms of the influence exerted by an external (external to “US interests”) lobby group, one can see the path laid out which the likes of Blankfort, Petras and others have pursued into lunacy.
Opposition to US support for Israeli occupation combined with a failure to understand the material bases for that support, usually as a consequence of an overly rosy or “realist” conception of what US power is, tends to lead to wild exaggerations of the influence of an Israel or Jewish lobby understood as an external and corrupting, even parasitic, force. And from there, it is a short step to the kind of views Helen Thomas airs in the interview quoted above.
The up-shot of this, apart from resisting antisemitism wherever it appears (and only then), is that we should a) make sure to avoid conflating Israel with Jews, whichever side of the argument we’re on; and b) try to formulate a serious and convincing alternative analysis of US support for Israeli occupation that is able to explain the role of the pro-occupation lobby, and the way it interacts with elite interests in the US, without resorting to antisemitic demonology.
(Credit to Max for getting me thinking about the connections between impoverished analysis of the role of the ‘Israel’ lobby and antisemitism of the Blankfort/Petras/Thomas variety).
In February we organised a discussion between Dan Hind and Richard Seymour at Cafe Oto in East London. A recording of the talk has now been aired on Resonance FM, the leading radio art station, on the show “Sean Gittins is Puzzled By...”. Listen to it here.
There are occasions when world events seem to laugh at pure political principles. There certainly aren’t as many as there seem to be. Often our politicians and our media present us with false choices, or downright falsified choices. ‘OK, we shouldn’t have given all that support to Saddam Hussein, but we did, and now he’s developing WMDs. The past is past. The question is: what do we do now?’ Those who were fooled by that kind of deceitful argument have long since resolved not to get fooled again.
But there are situations where bad decisions in the past do seem to have got us into a situation in which there are no genuinely good alternatives. And the present situation in Libya certainly looks like it’s one of them. For one thing, the disarray with which NATO leaders seem to have been thrown by it could not look less like the glib transatlantic spin machine of past conflicts.
Gaddafi’s war machine is moving east, blasting the Libyan revolution to smithereens as it does so. The end is not a foregone conclusion. But there is every chance that he could yet win.
What on earth do we do now?
At times, it seems as if the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya is talked about as if it were the equivalent of waving a magic wand over the country. Dispel the evil emperor’s diabolical engines, and his power will crumble to dust.
Of course, much of the lack of enthusiasm we have seen on this matter from the US (and other powers) is accounted for by the fact that the reality of creating a no-fly zone in this instance would be anything but simple. Libya has sophisticated air defences which would have first to be removed by a series of air strikes. We know very well that even supposedly ‘surgical’ airstrikes have a strong tendency to go astray; and that’s without factoring in a situation on the ground as confused as Libya’s. Next you have the Libyan airforce itself, which is kitted out with the latest equipment, and which we have every reason to think will put up a fight. This will not just be a patrolling job. It may very well be a real air battle with people getting killed. And this, of course, at a time when Western countries (if they were the ones to impose the zone) are already militarily overstretched and broke.
Then there is the fact that we have no guarantee – even once a no-fly zone is imposed – that it will actually ensure the success of the revolution. Gaddafi is better equipped than the rebels even without his aircraft, and now he has some momentum. Moreover an attack on his airforce by outside forces could as well boost the morale of his forces as deflate it. It would give concrete reality to Gaddafi’s currently crazy sounding claim that his is a patriotic struggle against an imperialist plot. Indeed, just by evening the odds it would cast him in more romantic light: recall how quickly in 2003 Arabs who had railed against the horrors of Saddam’s regime began talking about him – even his very brutality – as hallmarks of a paragon of strength, pride and manliness. In fact, that’s precisely how Libyan state tv is trying to frame Gaddafi right now.
What if a no-fly zone were imposed and Gaddafi looked like he was going to win anyway? In abstract principle, one could try to justify a no-fly zone purely as a sort of police operation – as a way of protecting civilians from a particular type of war crime, irrespective of the rights and wrongs on the ground. But this is wholly naive. First, if simply protecting civilians is the aim here, then we hardly need reminding that a modern airforce is no prerequisite for an effective genocide. If anything, by denying Gaddafi a relatively swift, crushing victory we might be inviting yet more bloodshed than will undoubtedly occur if this is what he, in fact, achieves. There is a more cynical problem as well. It is now utterly inconceivable that – after everything that’s been said and done – the international community can avoid the impression that it has tried to pick a winner in this conflict. And if, after what will to all intents and purposes be an offensive military operation, the winner we have picked fails to win, that’s got to look a lot like losing. And governments don’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars on fighting hi-tech wars in order to lose.
This leaves the prospect of any operation to impose a no-fly zone looking a lot more like NATO’s 1999 intervention in Kosovo than the airborne patrols that policed the skies over Iraq after 1991. In the case of Kosovo, the a-priori ruling out of any commitment of a ground force meant that the operation came within an ace (actually not even within an ace, within a desperate bluff) of debacle, as it invited the Serbs simply to sit out the pummelling until the smart bombs ran out.
Which implies that any commitment to an operation in Libyan airspace could quite easily escalate into a full blown military intervention. Readers of Bright Green are no doubt too intelligent to fall for arguments from negative association, but it happens that the Project for a New American Century has been calling for just that.
The problem is that the alternative – basically to do nothing – is probably equally horrendous. If Gaddafi wins (it’s still an ‘if’, of course), then there can be no doubt that he will massacre his opponents and brutally lock down the country. So much for the alleged ‘progress’ in Libya reported in recent years by the likes of Amnesty International.
It seems hardly likely that the rebels will give up without a fight, so we can expect an extended guerilla insurgency, no doubt (as is the normal course of such things) with escalating levels of desperation, radicalisation and brutality on all sides. Gaddafi will be an international pariah again. He will look for new friends where he can, and no doubt will find a few in insalubrious places. As a wealthy pariah state, one might well speculate that he will want to re-start his nuclear weapons programme. The softer impacts can hardly be pleasant either. The tide of Arabic revolutions will likely stop here. The lesson for other dictators will be that more, not less brutality is the way to go.
Where does this leave us? First, it is naive to impose a no-fly zone without planning for a possible escalation. If Gaddafi wins in spite of it, then it may well be worse than if there never was one in the first place. If anyone is to impose such a measure, then that someone must be prepared – at least in principle – to go all the way. NATO certainly isn’t interested; nor should it be. More US boots on Middle Eastern ground is the last thing we need. We can, or course, forget the UN.
That leaves the Arab league, which has been surprisingly swift to act in expelling Libya, censuring Gaddafi, and – in principle – approving the no-fly zone. But there seems little reason to think that the Arab league is capable of much more than that.
There is one party, though, which may still be able to alter this tragic course of events: Egypt. Still fresh from the fervour of its revolution – a revolution seen as accomplished in spite of, rather than because of American help – Egypt has the credibility to be seen as a genuine liberator. With that, it carries the grand, but for decades fading memories of the days when it aspired to be the head and heart of the Arab nation. Its star now resurgent, it will be eager to reclaim that crown again. Ironically, it also has the state-of-the art American equipped military to do the job. And of course it also has more practical reasons to get involved. Pariah Libya under victorious Gaddafi is hardly a neighbour it is likely to want.
Of course, there are good reasons why Egypt is likely to be wary of any move like this. Its political scene remains unstable and chaotic. Its economy is in shreds. The prospect of one sovereign Arabic state invading and deposing the head of another is a strong taboo in Middle Eastern politics (Saddam Hussein being an exception that very clearly proves the rule). But even these reasons, seen in a certain light, actually add to the case. A patriotic war now might do a lot to bring together both revolutionary and military factions in the country. And if (as it would have to be) the war was supported financially by outside assistance (America, Europe and, possibly, the Gulf) then it might offer a temporary source of re-employment for laid off tourism sector workers and their like. Moreover, intervention by one Arab state into another is by no means unthinkable. It was, after all, Syria rather than France or the US that successfully ended the Lebanese civil war. And just a couple of days ago we learned that Saudi Arabia – the state most likely to object to Egypt throwing its weight around – has itself sent troops to its neighbour, Bahrain; something which presumably entitles Egypt to play its own subregional stability card.
There is, beyond this, a broader historical argument for why this may not be such a bad idea. Contrary to what many might believe, Western countries do not have a monopoly on humanitarian interventions. Indeed, quite the contrary: most of the military interventions most widely considered to have genuinely accomplished humanitarian goals were carried out by third world countries in their immediate neighbours. The scholar Nicholas Wheeler, for example, has argued persuasively that India’s intervention in Bangladesh (1971), Vietnam’s (1978) intervention in Cambodia against the unspeakable horrors of the Khmer Rouge and Julius Nyerere’s (1978) intervention against Idi Amin can all be endorsed as campaigns which genuinely relieved a terrible human situation in the countries where the operations took place. Regional interventions are risky, of course, in so far as they may promote regional instability. But they have great advantages: local countries still have to live with the places they intervene in for the indefinite future: they have a long term stake in their stability, as well as much more complex cultural interlinkages. By contrast – even if for the sake of argument we consider the humanitarian interventions of Western powers in (for them) distant lands to have been motivated by genuinely humanitarian concerns, no one trusts a do-gooder. And with sound reasons: quite apart from any ulterior motives they may have, there is no compelling reason for do-gooders to stay the course. They can leave whenever it is politic. That’s why Europe has carried on investing in Bosnia, for example, but Somalia has been left to stew in its own juice.
Indeed, even from the point of view of prospective Western backers, pleading their own financial woes, an Egyptian intervention is plainly likely to be a lot more cost effective than it would be to deploy their own forces.
This latter argument may sound rather grotesque. But there is an underlying moral logic to it. We – Western countries – plainly owe a debt to the Libyan people. Gaddafi has his killing machines because we sold them to him. It is our duty to make this good as best we can. But this isn’t our fight. And if we try to make it so, we steal it from those to whom it belongs. One might object that even by financially backing an Egyptian operation we would undermine its credibility. Maybe. But Arab countries are pretty good at their own PR, and besides, everyone knows that the US already backs the Egyptian military to the tune of roughly 1.5 billion a year.
Of course, one would hardly expect Libya’s problems to be solved overnight. So a commitment of this sort might seem worryingly open ended. But whatever happens now, Libya is likely to end up needing a lot of help. An Egyptian intervention justified on national security grounds would be as good a way as any to open the door to a broader based UN mandated peace keeping mission later on.
None of this is to suggest that an Egyptian intervention is a good option. There are all kinds of ways it could go terribly wrong, of course. Nor is there any suggestion that it is an option at all. But if it were an option (and the initiative could, of course, only come from Egypt), it might be the least worst option.
Gilbert works in the International Relations Department of St Andrews University, where he is completing a PhD.
Speaking on World in Action in 1988, former assistant director of the BBC, Alan Protheroe, noted that the only way the BBC could please its Conservative critics would be...
“...for the 9 o’clock news to [be read by] a man in uniform backed by the Union Jack. The signature tune would have been replaced by the National Anthem and it would have been a kind of RaRaRa news bulletin... I’m not exaggerating too much when 1 describe it that way.”
Nicolai Gentchev, who will take the helm of BBC One’s flagship political programme in the summer when the production team makes its controversial move from Westminster to Glasgow, has written for International Socialism Journal and Socialist Review.
As far as the Telegraph and the Conservative MP Philip Davies are concerned: “...it is a further indication of left-wing bias at the BBC. We can expect more of the same from Question Time - audiences that are hostile to the government, left-wing panels and a left-wing agenda being pushed.”
Numerous independent reports have observed that, in reality, the BBC emerges as generally more respectful and sympathetic towards the government than other broadcasters. As Noam Chomsky points out though, if the Propaganda Model is functioning well it should indeed appear to have a left-wing bias:
The following is my response to a piece posted by my colleague Ellie Mae O’Hagan last month. Ellie has graciously allowed me to respond at much greater length than she gave herself in her original post so I would urge readers to please read Ellie’s comments on her piece and any comments she makes here.
I read with interest my colleague Ellie Mae O’Hagan’s blog post a few weeks ago, “Why we should accept pornography as part of our society”. Engaging with the work of pro-pornography feminists is invariably a dispiriting experience – typically such writers misrepresent the feminist anti-porn critique, trivialise the effects of pornography, and downplay or simply deny the blatant misogyny that dominates the genre. Ellie’s piece is more subtle and considered than much of the pro-porn oeuvre. Nonetheless, I take issue with Ellie at a number of points, in particular her view of what pornography is and her overly-generous account of the feminist pro-porn group ‘Our Porn, Ourselves’.
Porn and Me
First off, a brief confession. I have been a regular user of pornography and I continue to this day to struggle with the purchase porn has on my sexuality. Having been a user confers both advantages and disadvantages for commenting on this topic. One advantage is that I can feel directly the effect porn has had upon my sexuality. Porn for me has been a lived experience, I can recognise and feel the impact that porn has had on me psychologically and emotionally. I believe that porn has increased my tendency to objectify women (to see women as targets of sexual conquest rather than as full human beings). I believe it has encouraged in me a taste for sex which conforms to that standard porn dichotomy – dominant male, subordinate female – and that it has had a negative effect on my relationships. Porn for me has thus not been a liberating force and far from developing my sexual horizons (a supposed benefit of porn often claimed by its advocates) my use of porn has sharply narrowed my sexual imagination. The principal disadvantage of being an “insider”, so to speak, is that there is a danger that I may unfairly view my experience as typical, that I may project my own feelings onto others, assuming that porn usually has a negative effect upon users when this may not be the case. Many anti-porn writers have of course come to their views without having been porn users themselves, but it seems to me to be only fair to the reader to acknowledge my own subjective experience regarding the topic.
What is Pornography?
Ellie states that “porn, in one form or another, has been part of our lives for thousands of years”. Artistic depictions of human sexuality, which is what Ellie seems to have in mind, are indeed as old as the hills - but that is not a meaningful definition of pornography. It strikes me as pretty obvious that when people talk about pornography they are talking about material that is very different from Victorian peep shows or the erotic art of the Romans. Instead, I believe, they are referring to the production of visual images of the human body to be masturbated to (mostly by men) on an industrial scale, largely using real people, and typically suffused with misogyny. This is a phenomenon that originates in the twentieth century. It contains important discontinuities from previous forms of sexual imagery.
What is of course controversial in this definition of porn is the claim that it tends to be misogynist. A variety of considerations justify this. Firstly, there is the evidence from content analysis studies of typical pornographic material: for example, in 2007 Robert Woztnitzer and Ana Bridges published an analysis of 50 of the most popular porn videos. 88% of the analysed scenes showed physical aggression; nearly half included verbal insults or threats; 70 percent of the acts of aggression were carried out by men and 87% of those acts were committed against women. Only 5% of the acts of aggression were responded to by requests to stop – overwhelmingly women were portrayed as wanting/enjoying violence. Despite the apparently successful normalisation of porn that has occurred in recent years, the misogynistic nature of the genre is further revealed in the ways in which the term ‘porn’ is and is not deployed. For instance if porn was not, at some level, understood as being hostile to the notion of equality between the sexes then we would have little use of the term “erotica”. The attributes that mark erotica out from porn are: comparative blurring of the gender divide, greater reciprocity and displays of affection between participants, and the depiction of sexual relations between long term partners with deep feelings for one another (in porn, as a general rule, emotional depth and fidelity are shunned).
Consider also sex scenes in films and novels – if we were to accept Ellie’s very broad definition then ought we to describe such scenes as “pornographic”? There are of course scenes within mainstream fare that are so described, but typically that is a criticism (Tinto Brass’s 1979 film Caligula, for instance) or it applies in cases where a writer has deliberately imitated porn for a particular artistic purpose (e.g. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho).
So the claim that we must accept pornography because it has always been with us does not, I think, hold up, unless we render the term meaningless by conflating it with any and all depictions of human sexuality.
“many argue that porn doesn’t have to be anti-feminist. Groups like Our Porn, Ourselves are part of a long-term campaign to close the gap between feminism and porn. There is a difference, they argue, between endorsing abuse, and observing a good old shag. Even when a woman is being dominated, she can still have agency and be an equal in the act. Surely we can resist genuine oppression while embracing our sexuality?”
The claim here seems to be that unless outright abuse is occurring then porn ought not to be subject to criticism. But even if all porn were made under the most laudable conditions imaginable and with the full and happy participation of the performers, the dominant narratives of porn would still render it deeply problematic at best. Most (all?) leftists recognise the importance of dominant narratives within mainstream media in facilitating inequality and violence (structural or otherwise) . Whilst leftists do not deny the capacity of ordinary people to interrogate mainstream media and come to a more realistic picture of reality, we all know that the biases of the media have real effects upon people’s beliefs, feelings, and actions. Oddly, this crucial understanding all too often evaporates when the media under consideration is the porn industry. Porn, we are told, is mere fantasy, with no effects on the user or the wider culture. But the stories that the media tell us always matter and the story that most porn tells is a pretty simple and a pretty depressing tale: pornography transmits the message that women are not equal human beings but that they are mere sexual objects to be used and discarded by men. OPO appear to be largely blind to this message and its significance, their website utterly failing to address the troubling narratives that are so prevalent in contemporary porn .
OPO’s evasion of reality also extends to their description of working conditions within the industry. Consider this apparently serious statement from their website:
“Contrary to the popular fables about pimps and helpless, lost little girls who need someone to save them; today’s porn performers are feminist-identified, strong-minded CEO’s of their own multi-million dollar companies.”
Read that again. Not “some porn performers are feminist-identified, strong-minded CEO’s”; not “10 per cent of performers”; not “0.01% of performers” (a more likely figure); no: apparently most (all?) female porn performers today are raking in millions and ordering their hired underlings around (in standard third wave “feminist” fashion, women assuming the roles of moneyed alpha males is of course a good thing).
If OPO merely want to create genuinely feminist depictions of sex then I have no real issue with them (though I seriously doubt they will find much of a market for it – there is nothing stopping men from using erotica rather than porn right now). However, if OPO were serious in their claim to be pro-women they would not obscure the current reality of pornography. Well intentioned or not, OPO and other pro-porn feminists (“sex positive feminists” is the inaccurate and self-regarding term they prefer) are providing a service to the porn industry by allowing pornographers to use their approval and their denial of porn’s reality to boost the pornographers’ claims to be at the vanguard of women’s sexual liberation. That is a pretty poor service to women and not much help to men trying to extract themselves from the misogynistic mindset of the porn industry.
Responding to Pornography
In his writings on porn Robert Jensen has suggested that given how little recognition there currently is of its misogynistic nature, now is not the time to be deciding what to do about porn – rather, in the present, we ought to be focused on consciousness raising. However, the question of unionisation of porn performers that Ellie raises is a live issue and it would be callous not to address it. Porn is not going anywhere any time soon and while it exists we ought to do what we can to improve the situation of porn performers. Ellie suggests that we need to accept porn as part of our society and grant it a role in order to improve the position of women within the industry. However, it is not at all clear to me why one cannot be both opposed to pornography and be fully prepared to support reforms within the existing industry. The world would be much better off if the coal industry disappeared overnight but the existence of the industry is a fact and opposing it in the long term does not preclude one from supporting workers within that industry in their efforts to organise and improve their conditions. To take that position is not to patronise or to insult but to recognise the complexities of reality: the porn industry ought to vanish and we should do all we can to improve the situation of those working within it.
With regard to longer term solutions there have been a variety of proposals for dealing with porn suggested by radical feminists, the most high profile being the ‘Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance’ drafted by the American radical feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine Mackinnon. Whether or not one agrees with such proposals, however, the advantage of engaging with such work is that unlike pro-porn literature it at least has the virtue of being prepared to honestly confront the reality of porn. Now is not the time to hide from that reality. While pornography has always been misogynist, its present trajectory is especially disturbing - porn has never been as cruel and hate-filled as it is now. It is increasingly usual for women to be depicted enjoying highly unusual and likely painful acts such as “DPs” and “double anal”, accompanied by a range of gender-specific insults (‘cunt’, ‘whore’, ‘slut’, etc) and a broad menu of deliberately humiliating acts: ‘facials’, ‘gagging’, ‘ass to mouth’, ‘bukkake’, etc. Acts of aggression – face slapping, spitting, choking – are increasingly normalised, and acts of affection and gentleness such as kissing or hugging are ever rarer. The desire to hide from the nature of contemporary porn is understandable – it is disturbing and frightening to consider how many men (and women) are sexually aroused by this type of material. It is understandable, and also, in my view, a serious mistake.
Alex Doherty is a co-editor of NLP and has written for Z Magazine, Counterpunch and Dissident Voice.
As part of my illustrious life as a temp, I worked at a corporate law firm for a short time last month. ‘This office,’ announced the Operations Manager, ‘is exceptionally green.’ Later I would watch a lawyer oversee a multi-million pound oil deal in Russia – on recycled paper, naturally.
Welcome to the strange and contradictory world of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): a phenomenon in which businesses attempt to paper over the cracks they create as they strive for a more unequal society. You may already be familiar with the contrary sins of CSR: Starbucks lauding fair-trade whilst denying coffee farmers the rights to their own beans, Marks and Spencer using free-range eggs while taking advantage of sweatshop labour, to name a few. The list is seemingly endless.
Contrary to what you might think, the pitfalls of CSR aren’t a new phenomenon. Oil tycoon JD Rockefeller, largely celebrated as the world’s first philanthropist, was responsible for a monopoly of the American oil industry that drove others out of business, and laid the foundations for the oil futures market that has since caused us so many economic problems. In 1880, The New York World described his oil company as ‘the most cruel, impudent, pitiless, and grasping monopoly that ever fastened upon a country.’ Whilst pushing his competitors into poverty, Rockefeller funded services for the poor and needy, and was celebrated for it. Back in the 1800s, Rockefeller was the earliest example of major CSR in action.
UK Uncut’s hijacking of Vodafone’s CSR website, World of Difference, highlights a particularly salient example of CSR at its most rank. The site, complete with photo of happy traveler and obligatory poor person, offers people the chance to do paid work with a charity for two months. Or as Vodafone puts it, ‘the opportunity [for people] to change their own world and make a difference to someone else’s for much longer.’
As UK Uncut points out, this would be a charming pledge if it weren’t for the fact that Vodafone is also guilty of gargantuan tax-dodging: tax-dodging that, if it were eliminated, could prevent all cuts to charities in the UK. It is grossly hypocritical of Vodafone to willingly acknowledge the value of charity in order to polish its corporate image, as it employs armies of accountants to avoid the tax that could pay for them.
Once again this comes down to fairness. The fact is; it is simply not fair that a company is avoiding billions of pounds’ worth of tax whilst extolling the virtues of charity. It is equally unfair that people should be denied homes, access to healthcare and free education in one of the richest countries in the world.
UK Uncut is not criticizing businesses for facilitating good in the world: it is pointing out the hypocrisy of advocating a charitable cure for hardship, whilst denying the tax revenue that would provide prevention. To suggest that sending a few well-meaning people off to a developing country is any substitute for billions of pounds’ worth of tax is disingenuous and frankly unacceptable.
That Vodafone would use charitable giving, a genuinely altruistic act for most, as a figleaf for their contempt for tax law is a very bitter thing indeed. If more companies were held to account and forced to pay their fair share of taxes, there would be no need for CSR to exist in the first place. Taxation isn’t just about money: it’s about fairness, democracy and civility. No CSR project can compensate for denying us those things. As Augustine once so rightly put it, ‘charity is no substitute for justice withheld.’
“The so-called UK tax gap – taxes that are recognised but go unpaid, outright tax evasion, and tax avoidance – is estimated at 40 billion pounds per year by HMRC; and at 120 billion per year by Richard Murphy, who has done a lot of pioneering work on this. It would never be possible to collect all this, but many billions, and possibly tens of billions, is a reasonable estimate of what might be possible. This could not go all the way towards making up for the huge cuts now being instigated – but it could go a long way. It is a genuine and big alternative to cuts.”
The last time Newsnight interviewed libertarian socialist demi-god Noam Chomsky it went down likethis.
This time round wasn’t much better. Paxman began by introducing Chomsky as a “high priest of the left” (which makes me what, exactly?). To this Paul Mason, who ought to know better, added, by way of summarising what Chomsky is about, that Chomsky believes that the U.S. is “totalitarian”. This is false (Chomsky in fact frequently describes the U.S. as possibly the “freest country in the world” and the entire thrust of his analysis of media propaganda relies on this being so) but it successfully placed him in the ‘loony left’ category so that there was no danger of viewers taking what he said seriously.
The interview itself mainly consisted of Paxman making his bemused face, but Chomsky managed to get a few decent points in. However, he was only given ten seconds or so for each response and so had to limit himself to slogans (‘Obama is worse than Bush’, etc.). Chomsky has previously observed that this structural feature of the media - “concision” - works against views that differ from the conventional wisdom:
The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg launch at the Swedenborg Society - a panel discussion with chair Susie Orbach, award–winning playwright David Edgar, editor Dr Lea Haro and writer and cultural historian Lesley Chamberlain, with readings by Dame Harriet Walter.
Special talk ‘Rosa Luxemburg: A revolutionary woman’ on International Women’s Day, founded 100 years ago by Luxemburg’s close friend, comrade and confidante Clara Zetkin, to whom many of the letters are addressed. A discussion about socialism and feminism with Lisa Appignanesi, Dr Nina Power, Lea Haro, and chair Natalie Hanman, editor of Guardian Comment is Free.