Tuesday 23 July 2013

Royal baby birth poem: Eating Placenta

Don't ever accuse me of being behind on the news. I've been keeping up with the momentous event via regular reports from The Onion, and very grateful I am too. Otherwise I might have missed it.

As poet laureate of Hackney (I'll arm wrestle you for the title), here's the first draft of my offering.

EATING PLACENTA: lines on the royal birth
23 July 2013

Daddy was bloodied by foxes,
Grandma was bloodied by paps,
Remember this, sweet boy child
When you're sucking on Catherine's baps,

You are a platinum baby
In a diamond year glistening with gold,
Born at a supermoon risen,
Whose drama has yet to unfold.

Destined to party your lifetime,
The number of the feast,
Rationalised by philosophers
And ratified by your priests.

Land mines will protect your empire,
Water-cannon govern the streets,
A chip in the brain of your subjects,
The path to your happiness greased.

Soon there will be a nice supper,
Cementing the bonding of friends;
Princes and queens and hard men,
All greatest of chums in the end.

Here is our flesh since the old times
Here is the blood in our veins,
A thanks to the newborn among us
A toast to immaculate reign.

With god on our side,
We say open wide
It's what top people do,
Eat afterbirth in stew.

(c) Anna Chen July 2013

Sunday 21 July 2013

Bruce Lee died 40 years ago: new exhibition celebrates Chinese actor's life

When I was growing up in the far east ... of London, the only representations of east Asian women available to this little half-Chinese kid were supine sex-doll lotus blossoms like Suzy Wong and Juicy Lucy, or dragon lady real-life horrors like Imelda Marcos and Madam Mao. Male examples were no better. Screen Chinese were largely consigned to quivering cowards or fiendish villains. Poor Bert Kwouk had to play an assortment of buffoons and bogey men such as Kato in The Pink Panther and the Japanese officer in the TV series, Tenko, but at least he was in work.

Bruce Lee's arrival on the scene altered perceptions and challenged stereotypes. A wing chun kung fu-trained martial artist and actor born in San Francisco to parents from Hong Kong, he was admired by people of all races, becoming an icon for minority ethnic groups who had a beautiful Asian hero to look up to at last. Not only men of Chinese and east Asian heritage, but also south Asian and African Caribbean men were inspired by this handsome super-talented Chinese American. His screen success gave rise to the mega-hit single "Kung-fu Fighting" and even my dad raised his head out of his political tomes for long enough to appreciate that a legend had landed.

To mark forty years since Bruce Lee's death on 20th July and to celebrate and honour his life, an exhibition has just opened in Hong Kong.

It's justly deserved. Lee was not only an outstanding practitioner of kung-fu — famous for his speed, power and grace — he was also majorly intelligent and a deep thinker. While teaching his art to Hollywood movie actors such as James Garner, James Coburn and Steve McQueen (already an expert in the Korean art of Tang Soo Do), he was developing his own martial art style, Jeet Kune Do (the way of the intercepting fist), which took the best from a range of forms from across the globe including western boxing. He backed it up with an interest in philosophy which he'd studied at the University of Washington, so it was much more than just about the best way to hit people: it was about discovery and growth of the self.

He co-starred in the television series The Green Hornet (1966-7) as the masked chauffeur, biding his time, working on his big break. George Takei who played Sulu in Star Trek recalls in his autobiography, To the Stars, how in a break between takes while making the pilot episode, he, James Doohan and Lloyd James were captivated by a young Asian man who was limbering up.

"Suddenly, he exploded in a burst of kicks and leaps and twirls that was a symphony of speed. Our chatting ceased. We stood there, stunned. Then he repeated the ballet. His movements had grace; his body, control and elegance. We were mesmsrized. Then the flash detonation of energy astounded us a second time.

Just then, an assistant poked his head out from his soundstage and called. "We're ready for you on the set, now, Bruce." As we stood open-mouthed, he quietly slipped back in. It had been an incredible demonstration of what incredible feats the human body is capable of. And we had just chanced upon this extraordinary spectacle.

We later learned that the martial artist was a young actor named Bruce Lee and that he was working on a new television series that had just sold called Green Hornet.
When the role that Lee helped devise finally came up — Kwai Chang Kane in the television series Kung Fu (1972-5) — he was considered too Chinese (some say his accent was considered too thick) and the part was given to David Carradine acting in yellowface. While Carradine's diction may have been pristine, he lacked Lee's awesome martial arts abilities. One Kung Fu studio vice president said, "If we put a yellow man up on the tube, the audience will turn the switch off in less than five minutes." This was ultimately the producers' loss — think how much that franchise would be worth now had Lee starred in it.

The rejection was reminiscent of what happened to Anna May Wong in the 1930s when she lost out on what would have been the pinnacle of her career when the starring role of Olan in Pearl S Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning blockbuster, The Good Earth (1937), was given to Louise Rainer.

Lee made a handful of legendary martial arts films, chiefly for Golden Harvest in Hong Kong: Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon, Game of Death, Fist of Fury, and Big Boss.

When he died in Hong Kong aged 32, on 20th July 1973, it sparked a storm of conspiracy theories. So great was the shock of his early death that many claimed he'd been murdered: that's when I learnt from my martial arts father about the existence of something called dim mak, a technique for killing with only one or two fingers applied to the right spot. (My half-brother once described seeing dad use the softened technique, where the use of three fingers dissipates the energy and only stuns, when he was in his 70s and fending off a racist assault by several thugs on the tube.) Dad said there was also a technique that resulted in major organ failure after days or weeks and that he thought this might have been used on Lee.

However, various investigatons including one by Scotland Yard concluded that he'd had an allergic reaction to a painkiller containing Equagesic, which had swollen his brain.

To double the Lee tragedy, his son, Brandon Lee, followed him into the movies, only to be shot and killed in 1993 while filming his big break in The Crow. There was no union firearms safety officer on set; the actor aimed directly at Brandon when he should have been instructed not to, and a small fragment of a bullet had remained in the gun and been overlooked. This event has spawned its own conspiracy theories and Brandon has become something of a legend himself.

No matter how some malign forces still resist, Bruce Lee broke the spell of Chinese presented as dehumanised beings unworthy of respect, love, honour and inclusion. A poet and a scholar, actor and martial artist with emphasis on the artist", he exemplified the best in humanity. Rest in peace, Bruce.

Friday 19 July 2013

The Grudge: because we do count

I discover from the redoubtable Ian Bone that, following publication of my Guardian piece on the white-out of the British working class, one of the girlfriends of one of the participants in the all-white "Spirit of '45" who I quoted, is phoning round defining me as a chippy Chinese "actress"* with a grudge about slave labour. As opposed to leftists who think slave labour is OK.

Funny I should feel grudgy about being exploited and the exclusion of ma bredren. How unreasonable of me.

I'm not expecting the wages I should have had for my full-time labour, but an apology and acknowledgment for the work I did would have been nice. And some sort of rethink about the value of Chinese workers in Britain.

You have seven days ...

[*Actresses please note, you're right down here with the Chinese. Shame, I rather like that Maxine Peake.]

Demobilising the STWC on the most crucial day of the anti-war movement: Parliamentary vote on Iraq War

I'd left the SWP and had been "asked to leave" the anti-war movement by the time of the Parliamentary vote on the Iraq war on 18th March 2003, so I missed this crucial decision. An interesting revelation from ElaneH about the lead up to the vote for war in Parliament, and an example of how all that energy from the big February demo was frittered away.

... It is interesting that C dates X's drfit away from our politics as after breaking with the SWP---it had clearly begun before this in little and then increasingly big ways. I argued this in an IB article and cannot tell you how much bullying there was by our organiser, a key organiser of the majority faction (including alex) to withdraw the article. I wasnt allowed to speak at the 2010 conference which rather than analysing what had happened turned into a rally for the majority faction and focused on the crimes of X and Y but not on the politics behind the errors.

I would like to know what C has to say about the majority of the CC's position at the time, and now, on the drift away from our politics. which were clear in the failure of stop the war under X and Y's leadership,to follow up the massive march of millions with gathering outside of parliament WHILE the vote on war was being taken. This was a key moment in holding the movement back and a serious breach of our politics--I remember being hammered by everyone for arguing that should happen but in those days (well done x et al) we didn't argue in public.

It was that failure which I assume was due to a deal with Clare Short et al, that first made me think that we, the rank and file in the movement and the party, were being treated as a stage army. Then X answered a question at a Respect meeting by saying that the reason for setting up respect was the 100 MPs who had betrayed their promise to vote against the war. He recounted that if all those who had promised to vote against war, did vote against it, the government would have lost. In hindsight i think that the reason why they were allowed to demobilsie the movement on the most crucial day without an open row in the party was that the rest of the CC also didn't spot the danger--had forgotten the most basic rules of leninism (ie Marxism) and trusted not the masses to take the movement forward but the politicans instead. A little self criticism as well as criticism might be in order when C looks at breaks with our politics. everything would have looked different with tens of thousands at parliament first demanding an anti war vote and secondly, responding in a powerful way to the vote being for war. it was harder, so much harder, to keep people involved on the ground after the deal was done. leninists should have known that.

From that point onwards, at least in East London, the party members were used as fodder. We didnt have meetings unless it was to get the line on who to vote for in selecting candidates. Two instructive moments for me were 1. early on in the respect process, a leading comrade in respect in the area got really angry with my arguing for meetings and especially for papersales, "dont you get it E," he demanded in frustration, "paper sales are not where it is at. the SWP is finished. respect is the way forward" and then a while after i was physically thrown out of the office by an SWP member close to X and Y for bringing papers into it with a threat to burn them if i brought them in again. CC members knew what was going on, but there was no leninist fight to change it, until it was way too late and the very people who had liquidated us, then wanted to differentiate us in a sectarian way. Leninism was reduced to obeying instructions or being punished... and that was not by X rees, but by the CC as a whole who lacked the leninism to take the working class comrades seriously or to engage in criticism or self criticism. apparently they were fighting among themselves bitterly but not in front of the children--how is this Leninist?

Now leading a People's Assembly near you.

Anna's view of the STWC and the anti-Iraq war compaign.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Ethnically cleansing working class history: my Guardian article

Photo: Great Western Hospital workers have been on strike against Carillion for a year.

My article in the Guardian today

People of colour like me have been painted out of working-class history

It's shocking how even voices on the left mythologise the history of Britain's labour movement as an all-white affair

Black people have lived in Britain at least from Roman times, and some historians claim that north Africans were here as much as 3,000 years ago. We know that Indian people were here as far back as Shakespeare's time. The first Chinese visitor we know of was the Jesuit priest Shen Foutsong, who communicated in Latin when he worked at Oxford's Bodleian Library in the 17th century. His portrait still hangs in the Queen's collection. People of colour have been part of the fabric of British society for centuries, but you won't find many in official histories – either from the right (look at Michael Gove's draft national curriculum) or, more shockingly, from the left.

Ken Loach's feature-length documentary, The Spirit of '45, is one recent example. A documentary about the creation of the welfare state and its legacy, it presents us with Loach's vision of the British working class, united in the struggle for a better Britain. And though it covers the period from the 1930s up to the Thatcher era, everyone featured in the film is white – it's as if people like me have been bred out of the working-class gene pool.

In this Loach is swimming with the tide. Both Maurice Glasman (of Blue Labour fame) and David Goodhart, the former editor of Prospect magazine, are very influential in Labour's thinking – and both nostalgically emphasise the importance of continuity and community values in the British working class, as against immigrants, who threaten that continuity. While the working class is rarely discussed in mainstream left circles these days, the "white working class" is endlessly debated. "Working class" becomes indivisible from "white" in such debates. ...

... Examples of cross-race class struggle are many: so why impose such a filter? Who gains? Constructing a narrative palatable to a constituency increasingly susceptible to the dishonest blandishments of the right is a divisive and dangerous game, especially in the current atmosphere of immigrant bashing and fear of the other. Harking back to a fictitious golden age when everyone was white represents surrender to an antagonism stoked up towards "outsiders", with polls showing that increasing numbers of us blame immigration for dwindling resources, though facts prove otherwise.
> > >

Clarification: although the Grunwick strike feels in retrospect like a victory because of the massive support received by the strikers whose struggle became a cause celebre, it actually ended in a defeat for the courageous women who stuck it out. I should have called it a "famous strike".

Liverpool and its Chinese seamen — history of the forcibly repatriated Chinese.

Chinese mariners forcibly sent back to China leaving families behind.

Blood and Treasure: not quite the Spirit of '45.

Guardian Black History month timeline.

Wilf Sullivan on black workers and the trade unions.

Dr Evan Smith with an illuminating response to my article: the British left and BME workers.

Indian suffragettes march for the vote.

Carillion hospital strikers out for over a year so far are mostly South Asian women.

Ken Loach talks about Spirit of '45 on BBC R4 Night Waves.

Ian Bone: That John Rees correction in full.

Saturday 13 July 2013

My new poetry videos: the Pop-Up collection

I got to borrow my friend Sukey Parnell's wonderful little pop-up studio on Friday. It's a fold-up black velvet backdrop and a collapsible tubular metal frame. Filming in the north-facing bay window on my Panasonic Lumix TZ20 produced some interesting footage.

Here, for your delectation, are some of the results from my playday.

I Am Rich and You Are Poor: lines on dead Chinese workers and their rich benefactors.


More to come.

Anna's poetry book, Reaching for my Gnu, is published by Aaaargh! Press.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Beauty and philosophy in the space travel experience

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Perspective, what one of the speakers calls "The Overview Effect". We all need one of these.

A beautiful video about the depth, height and breadth of the soul.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

SWP Marxism 2013: the happiest place on Earth

Once again, the SWP's annual Marxism summer school descends upon ULU and its immediate environs. At previous such events during the late 1990s, I was cast as trolley-dolly-in-chief, looking after guest speakers. If only I'd realised I was being used as window dressing, I'd have declined the role toot sweet.

Marxism 2013 (starting this Friday) has been gleefully anticipated as "4 days in hell", with regular external speakers staying away in droves and the few who have ignored the party's pariah status following their (mis)handling of rape allegations, pulling out at the last minute in a mass oratus interruptus. Much bloodletting is expected, plus lots of whipping the dwindling membership into line.

In response to ULU's honourable challenge to the SWP's "denial, nepotism and sexism" over senior cadre Comrade Delta's unwanted sexual predations against two young women members, I'm reposting my account of Life With The Comrades below.

While the chief architects of the "denial, nepotism and sexism" of my personal experience have gone on to pastures new running a bijou café in grim and gritty Bloomsbury, it is interesting to note the raft of leftists, both inside and outside of The Party, who knew that women comrades were abused as a matter of course. And who remained mute (or worse) when I stood up for myself against bullying, sexism, nepotism and the theft of my intellectual and physical labour — because challenging women's oppression in this pond is a moveable feast. (If it's acceptable for middle-class men and their girlfriends — all white — to be abusive and then claim the credit for the success of my full-time unpaid work, then any pretence to actual socialist principles on their part is surely a belly-laugh and a half.)

It's been most amusing, for example, to watch former loyalists who once turned on a dime in defence of the party line being dragged, kicking and screaming, into finally having to take a position, following Socialist Unity's publication of The Transcript of the SWP conference cover-up of rape allegations.

So at least we know that rape is the line in the sand ... for some of them ... once the light's been snapped on.

More SWP rape crisis accusations: "a dangerous environment to be in"
Saturday, 9 March 2013

When you treat human beings as disposable things in the name of la causa, when appropriation of activists' labour and good will is the norm, when exploitation of your own side goes unchallenged, sexual abuse is one probable outcome.

The recent rape allegations that have sent the SWP into freefall and a near fatal crisis are a manifestation of a deeper problem in the organisation. The alleged sex abuse seems to have been of a different order to that of the Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1970s and 80s: Gerry Healy regularly raped women activists and the WRP's internal regime was straightforwardly violent. I was a member of the SWP between 1996 and 2001, and running the press operation for Globalise Resistance (Gr), Socialist Alliance (SA), Stop The War Coalition (STWC) and Media Workers Against the War (MWAW) until 2003. If anything, I found the leading men in the SWP curiously sexless and not half as attractive as the women, and can count the episodes of sex pesting I heard about on the fingers of one hand (without the thumb).

There was the guy who we jokingly named the Lothario of the Left, who seemed all talk and no trousers (he wished!) and who I thought posed no real threat beyond being a bit of a pain in the butt (he wished!). The more serious rumours concerned one senior member of the central committee (now dead) who was so predatory when he was drunk that his close comrades had to keep him away from young women.

Now there's the case of an SWP woman comrade who has accused a senior party member of rape when she was 17 and he 46 — and the widespread horror at the way they dealt with it. I've only read the kangaroo court transcript and the cryptic comments at SU and seen SWP males up close. What I suspect was happening was that two odd-looking men (politics being showbiz for ugly people) were so repressed that, when they were in proximity to female activists, the power of their party status went to their heads.

This has its roots not only in society but in the culture of the organisation. It's all very well the SWP flaming their critics, but this has been building for years. They continue to stick their fingers in their ears when they should have been addressing the objectification of their own members.

I can empathise totally with W, a woman who has struggled to get a fair hearing, sympathy and respect from her comrades, not to mention an overhaul of dodgy practises, over two years or more and then in desperation went for broke and reported it to the party's internal disputes committee. Subsequent events are a clear marker of how far they have degenerated and they don't even know it.

The cases of sexual abuse now surfacing are a symptom of a deeper problem inside the left. Whether it's ripping off their activists for wages, thieving their intellectual efforts and claiming credit for their successes, ignoring patterns of abuse has emboldened the abusers and led to a diminishing regard for their members until the logical conclusion of that trajectory — where even someone's body is no longer their own — is reached. And here we are at that particular terminus.

As one former SWP member says in today's Guardian report on the matter:
She added that she was coming forward two years later because she believes the SWP is a dangerous environment for women: "I want people to know it's a systemic thing. They've done this a few times, covered things up in the interests of the party and it's a dangerous environment to be in."

One long violation and shakedown.

In my own case, working full-time for no pay on the SWP's press over several years while being subjected to their own form of obedience training left me heavily in debt and marvelling at my own stupidity.

When  I joined in 1996, the SWP had no active press office yet complained bitterly that the bourgeois press always ignored them. Did you issue press releases for your events, I asked. No they didn't, evidently expecting the press to pluck their activities from the ether and report them. Ah, I can help here, I thought, and so began my complicity in my own exploitation for the next few years.

Paul Foot may have called me "the best press officer in the country" but that hasn't stopped me being Stalinised by the left.

In my bid to help out and make a difference, I established and ran the press for their Globalise Resistance, Socialist Alliance (SA) and Stop the War Coalition (STWC) campaigns when I should have been working on my own writing, but however many hours I worked, it was never enough for them. You can be behind the computer from 8am to gone midnight on their behalf when everyone else is earning a living, but if the district organiser demands you attend a paper sale at 6am you must do it — even if only she and one other turn up and no-one else in the whole of West London does — and you only sell one paper. If the central committee head honcho tells you, f'rinstance, to screw over friends and sympathisers Paul Mason and Dave Osler and, later, RMT's Greg Tucker out of bloody mindedness when they've done an excellent job, to refuse to obey their authorit-eye as I did is to invite the SWP's collective wrath.

The head honcho I refer to here had offered me patronage when I'd mistakenly assumed his encouragement was appreciation of new blood. If only I'd realised before the sun went down that it was new blood in the way Transylvanian children of the night appreciate new blood, I'd have ridden the first coach outta town. My aim had been to bring any skills I might have into the organisation and leave it in a better shape than I found it — those skills chiefly being the ones I'd learned from the talented arts publicists who'd gained me a stack of press for my performance work. As a result the media were beginning to take notice and a strange glint was appearing in the comrades' eyes.

I think I even did some good. When Steve Godward, firefighter, and SA executive member and candidate for Birmingham Erdington in the 2001 general election, was targeted by the far right, he was hung out to dry by head honcho who dismissed him as "not representing anyone". Shocked by this betrayal of one of our own, I refused to abandon him and managed to get a small mention of the far right threat in the Mirror, as well as writing and issuing press releases for him when his own FBU cut up rough. I got SA and STWC spokespersons media interviews, always declining invitations from producers to speak once I'd briefed them, as I didn't want any suspicion that I might be using this to build a media profile for myself (as it turned out others were effectively doing) — that's what my art is for. The only time I spoke in the media about the SA was when I was invited by BBC Radio 5 Live to be on Nicky Campbell's programme in the capacity as writer and performer, which I turned into an opportunity to talk about why I felt the SA was necessary.

I was pleased to be asked to write for the International Socialism Journal which head honcho edited (pieces on Sergei Eisenstein and George Orwell). I was glad that the Socialist Review magazine — edited by one of his girlfriends — could use my cultural reviews. I was happy to help out in the printshop proof-reading (for this I received £20 per day once in a blue moon). And being trolley-dolly looking after the outside speakers at their annual Marxism events was fun in parts.

However, head honcho's sudden announcement that I was now on the Socialist Review editorial board was an unpaid duty too much (they all drew wages). I was supposed to acquiesce to this command because of the star-fuckery honour of attending meetings at Paul Foot's house. As magnificent as Paul was (I did his national press when he stood for the SA) it was yet one more time-killer and space-filler. On top of this, I was told I was to be the party's press officer — with no consultation with me — when all I wanted to do was train up members to engage with the media. You can politely decline all you want but this sort of disobedience drives them several degrees off Sanity Central.

I'd tried to be a principled comrade, helping other members of the left: to name but three examples, doing the PR that broke SWP's China Miéville into the public eye for free when he complained that his publisher wasn't making him famous and that the SWP and Bookmarks were ignoring his brilliance — also lobbying for him inside the party until they started to feature him in activities; free publicity for SA chair Liz Davies' book Through the Looking Glass; and in 1999 paying one skint SWP aristocracy member a fiver an hour we couldn't afford for 4 hours cleaning per week (her idea and a fiver more per hour than I was getting for my labour for her party) while she studied for her degree, and nearly taking out a £600 overdraft for her rent arrears before we realised her SWP parents were a lot better off than we were with well-paid full-time jobs. Quite often I'd feed her a hot meal and we'd talk politics during allotted work hours, her correcting my poor grasp and explaining why I was petit bourgeois because I was an art worker and we were all atomised. (Art workers take note that the SWP regard you as not of "the Class".) Others were telling me I was petit bourgeois because I was Chinese and we all work in catering — not racist, then.

But no good turn goes unpunished and the blowback from these instances was typical of the irrational spite and fury permeating much of the left. Maybe it was something I'd done, something I said? But when I asked if I'd done something wrong either politically or personally to deserve the hostility I was getting, head honcho merely muttered that I was "exemplary". He still wouldn't tackle the bullying, though.

There is a tide in the affairs of man, and so on. Instead of riding the wave of my fledgling career as a writer and performer, I'd jumped off it in order to service, not the revolution, but some fairly unpleasant middle-management types who wouldn't have been looked at twice had they not climbed the greasy pole of the SWP.

In order to write my book, Coolie — about the strike by several thousand Chinese workers on the American trans-continental railroad in the 1860s — I'd decided to rent out my flat for a year. Once fees and expenses were paid, that would allow me to live frugally. Yet here I was in 2001, four years later with nothing written because every minute of time and every inch of psychic space now belonged to The Party, going deeper and deeper into debt for them.

Mike Marqusee stated that, for the SA, I'd done single-handedly the equivalent of the Countryside Alliance's 6 full-time paid press officers and their support with "flair and imagination".  The Weekly Worker called my unprecedented press successes "uncanny".

John Rees described my work as being akin to turning a tanker around mid-ocean and like mining for diamonds.

Following the 9/11 attacks, among other things, I broke the back of media resistance with only the help of Marqusee writing most of the press releases, managed to wrest the anti-war brand from the CND in favour of STWC, and got Richard Sambrook, Head of BBC News, on the back foot concerning severe under-reporting of numbers at a series of our anti-war demonstrations.

Now, you can write as many long screeds as you like but without someone yelling at the media to pay attention, you may as well send it up the chimney. Not that you'd know that from the sources who are claiming press credit in the histories while giving me a Stalinesque airbrushing-out  — naughty!

To have done all that work when no-one wanted to know and then watch Certain Parties fall over themselves to lay claim to it once something was up for grabs is not an edifying sight. No sirree, not by a long chalk. As an exercise in capitalist expropriation, this class (and gender and race) act on the part of the comrades is a wonder to behold. (I shall be putting my experiences on the actual frontline of the anti-Iraq war media battle on the record soon.)

The personal is political even on Planet SWP

Surely, Anna, I hear you say, it was worth it for the greater good what you done? Well, no, sadly. Head honcho took an axe to the Socialist Alliance to get into bed with the Birmingham mosque and then Respect. Then he did ... er ... more stupid things in Respect and, several years after I'd pointed out some questionable behaviour and been stuffed for it, he and his mates had to leave the SWP to form Crossfire or Counterfire, whatever the splinter's called. But I get ahead of myself. And the class should never be premature for then down comes the big Monty Python foot.

Even the big anti-Iraq war demo ten years ago in February 2003 wasn't immune. What a backstabbing palaver that turned out to be. Head honcho's SWP side running the STWC were alarmed by the magnitude of the anger over the coming war and during a critical period instructed their members in the SWP via Party Notes not to build the demo, leaving it to the Socialist Alliance to mobilise (with the notable help of some/a few/several honourable SWP members in the provinces who effectively blew a big raspberry and carried on regardless).

Then Birmingham, the biggest and strongest STWC branch, was purged. The hippies who put together the amazing Peace Not War CD as a fund-raiser and cultural response to the impending war were screwed over. When a Jewish socialist group requested platform time to speak against the war, they were refused on the grounds that their presence would alienate Muslims. The guy who'd made their case protested and was told that "you people" were "too sensitive." I was banned from doing the press on the day but went ahead and worked from home, getting Bianca Jagger and Americans Against the War followed on the march by ITN, doing what I'd been doing all along ... Oy veh, it got FUGLY.

That huge demo was built on the spine of the SA and yet the SA chair was denied a place on the platform while Lib Dem Charles Kennedy was welcomed with open arms ... and then promptly supported "our boys" once action started. And where's it all gone, anyway? If the SWP, Counterfire and STWC claim 1 to 2 million were on the march, then they have to give a good account of where they've all gone, 'cause it's not into the left movement.

All that energy and good will from the biggest demonstration in modern British history should surely have led to action in the tradition of the Greenham Common cruise missile protests or the Faslane sit-ins. Independently, two train drivers stopped an ammo train and students held a protest, but the STWC's leading SWP Rees/German axis declared direct action and civil disobedience to be "elitist". Nothing further bar the usual march came from STW. They just sat on it while many thousands of innocents died, Iraq's infrastructure was destroyed and JP Morgan led the syphoning off of the nation's assets.

[Edit: even worse. We now know that the SWP leadership of the STWC decided not to mobilise our forces on the most important date — the parliamentary vote on whether to go to war. This happened in March 2003, only weeks after the biggest protest in British history and on the day when we could have stopped the war. Labour MPs had promised to vote against the war but, without a massive protest outside, they were easily whipped into toeing the Blairite line. I ask again: who gains?]

What a waste. What a monumental dereliction of socialist duty. If only they'd put more energy into achieving our goal instead of acquiring personal power, status and all the capitalist baubles we're supposed to reject, we might not have stopped the war but we'd have made it a harder ride for pro-war forces and come out of this with a strengthened left.

Love-bombing SWP stylee

In the eighteen months of love-bombing it took to recruit me, I received numerous assurances of SWP superiority when it came to human relations. Tony Cliff's partner, a dear sweet but fiery old lady called Chanie Rosenberg, would do her turn on the platform at conferences, making it clear how, perhaps not every sperm, but every member was sacred. "Like gold dust."

More iron pyrites than gold, I'm afraid.

How many SWP staff are employed at below Living Wage rates and with no workplace trade union representation?

I looked from pig to man and then man to pig and then back again and already it was impossible to tell who'd look better in a bacon sandwich. Then I looked a bit harder and realised that the senior women had been part of what I once rudely called the "fuck-circuit": two power couples at the top; a complicated nexus of, ahem, "relationships" over the years; Lindsey calling me into a room at SWP HQ (said to be swept for bugs) to grill me on my new boyfriend. They are OK if you come already attached to a partner but woe betide you if you change partners and the lucky fella's not from the SWP pool. As the sympathetic partner of a senior member told me regarding my treatment, "It's because you're not available." Mostly, it's less about sexual coercion and more about idiotic ego.

Once head honcho finally got himself a new special friend, she waltzed over and told me in a most unsisterly fashion that she was doing my job so there! Which would have been lovely had she done the work. That would have been difficult, however, as she was allowed to make a living at a paying job, but the status I'd built up from sheer hard slog over the years made the sweetest love token when handed over on a plate by her beau.

Still, if that's how the SWP like it — it's their party and their choice.

We need a strong left that is able to counter the coalition's attacks on the working and middle classes that are looking like something out of the Enclosures movement. However, like anyone else who ever looked at the disgusting state of the world and wanted to do something about it, I never signed up for SWP abuse and I certainly never signed up for their omerta that they go around imposing on errant former members on pain of The Treatment. It is important that this stuff gets aired for so many reasons. If they can't, after all this grief, look at themselves honestly, then they deserve everything they're getting. And the working class is better off without them.

So, sister W, I sympathise and feel your pain. You learned the hard way that there is little solidarity or comradeship in that tiny corner of the left. I wish you the best of luck in rebuilding your confidence and your self-esteem. Your new life starts here.

What are we up against?

One of Comrade W's friends spoke up for her at the conference:
"The first thing I want to say is that the complainant in this case frequently asked to come to this session, so she could be aware of what’s being said about her, because it is her case after all. She was prepared to speak out so that people could hear about her experiences and learn from what’s happened here, so that it wouldn’t happen again. But she was denied that right by the CC.
She was questioned about why she went for a drink with him, her witnesses were repeatedly asked whether she’d been in a relationship with him, and you know, she was asked about (The chair begins to talk over X to warn about providing details) … she was asked about relationships with other comrades including sexual relationships. All this was irrelevant to the case.
We’ve got a proud tradition in the party of rejecting that line of questioning by the state. This is about consent. To date she hasn’t been told what evidence was presented against her by Comrade Delta and by his witnesses. She felt she was being interrogated and felt they were trying to catch her out in order to make her out to be a liar. She did not accept the line of questioning, saying ‘they think I’m a slut who asked for it’."

"Her treatment afterwards has been worse. She feels completely betrayed. ... The disgusting lies and gossip going round about her has been really distressing and disappointing for her to hear, and the way her own witnesses have been treated in Birmingham hasn’t been much better. ... Is it right that a young woman has to plan her route to work avoiding paper-sellers, or that she comes away from a meeting crying because people refuse to speak to her? Is it right that her witnesses are questioned about their commitment to the party because they missed a branch meeting?"

It's what they do.

Anna Chen writes about the state of the party in 2003 in A Bad Case of the Trots.

The left's invisibility bomb. How's that liberation thing going for you?

Anna Chen's poem "What is Filth?" inspired by Pat Stack's blogging "filth" comment.

SWP breakaway Counterfire group leads People's Assembly: a public health warning.

Ken Loach's Spirit of '45 review: ethnically cleansing history.

Soviet Goon Boy on wtf's wrong with these people?!

I've had several SWP goons going for me on Twitter. Here's the latest. Hilarious.

The Guardian on more sex pest allegations inside the SWP.

Solomon Hughes on SWP CC arrogance over the Sheffield organiser who they protected.

Cath Elliott on the no-platform for rape deniers vote at the UNISON National Women's Conference last week.

Some analysis on why this happened and the "logic to the madness": Leninism and the 21st Century.

A Marxist perspective in "Feminism is a dirty word"

Who is saying what about the SWP Crisis.

The Left's Invisibility Bomb

The People's Assembly led by the same characters who destroyed the Socialist Alliance (People's Assembly MkI) when it suited them, and Respect.

More SWP rape accusation: "a dangerous place for a woman"

How was anti-Iraq war demo energy frittered away? Demobilising the STWC on the most crucial day of the anti-war movement.

What Next Journal

A Bad Case of the Trots: for the record.

Brilliant Thai salad dressing to zing your tastebuds


This is for my friend Louise who loves this tangy salad with its taste explosion of garlic, chilli, the sourness of the limes, and umami of the sesame, but has forgotten the recipe. She's a vegetarian and the last time I made it for her I forgot to leave out the fish sauce so we had to wash off her salad under the cold tap.

Sorry, hon. This is for you.

Thai Salad Dressing

Lime juice — 2 limes
Sesame oil — use an equal amount with lime juice
Crushed chilli seeds — 1 teaspoon
Fish sauce — 1 or 2 tablespoons to taste
Salt — half a level teaspoon (I use low sodium salt)
Crushed garlic — 2 cloves
English mustard — half teaspoon
Honey/sugar — optional

Mango — cut into batons
Nasturtium leaves and flowers to decorate
* Green, red peppers — cut into full-length strips
* Cos lettuce leaves torn into three
* Small red onion or two sliced finely into rings
Mange tout
Baby sweetcorn halved lengthways
Bean sprouts — fresh and washed thoroughly (prone to salmonella)
Sunflower seeds — a tablespoon or two
* Mint leaves — lots, don't skimp
* Coriander — lots, the whole packet

Mix up the dressing ingredients together.

For the best result, soak the mango batons in the salad dressing beforehand while you prepare the salad.

The salad ingredients are interchangeable and optional depending on what's available. The core salad you need are the lettuce, peppers, red onion, mint and coriander (asterisked).

Pour the dressing over the salad, toss and serve immediately.

Carnivores can add broken up fish sticks, chicken pieces or grilled bacon bits.

Monday 8 July 2013

Extraordinary opium exhibition deserves a visit: my South China Morning Post column

My latest City Scope column for the South China Morning Post: Mayfair exhibition hits a high note

Nestled in deepest Mayfair, where the recession has never struck, is the unlikeliest of venues for the most surprising of exhibitions.

Ensconced on Berkeley Square - where, according to the song, a nightingale once sang - and neighbouring the exclusive Annabel's and Clermont clubs, antique book dealership Maggs is currently displaying the most comprehensive collection of opium paraphernalia I've come across. Here in the city that was the command post for Britain's opium wars with China, such seductive decadence is considerably more attractive than the needles and stained spoons of your common or garden druggie.

Led through the Georgian house - where a first edition of John Fowles' A Maggot can be bought for £800 (HK$9,400) - and across the courtyard to the former stables at the back, this Alice wonders if she's about to meet a stoned caterpillar sitting on a mushroom.

A collection estimated to be worth "in the low millions [of pounds]" occupies eight glass cabinets. The most exquisite instruments of the rich junkie's ritualised quest for oblivion are on show … and they don't look cheap. No wonder. Before the mass production of opium in Bengal, Dutch opium grown in Indonesia was a luxury affordable only to the aristocracy in Britain. And this is their toolkit.

Several dozen precious pipes, perched on stands like short samurai swords, beg you to try them out. With their bright enamels, polished tortoiseshell and delicate ceramics, who wouldn't want to handle these beautiful implements? Of particular note are two pipes bearing the imperial Chinese five-toed dragon and a silver necklace - from which dangle sundry implements, as though it's a mini Batman utility belt - that puts your average coke spoon from Tiffany's in the shade.

With the evidence on show, one could almost forget the ugliness and suffering in Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: the chronic constipation, bad breath and muscle spasms that follow the initial freeing of the imagination.

"Are the exhibition items just an aesthetes' choice or did the collectors use them?," I ask. Before the words are even out, I realise it's a stupid question.

Exhibition contines until 31st July 2013. Maggs Bros, 50 Berkeley Square, London W1

Friday 5 July 2013

Greg Palast enjoys Anna Chen's "heavily armed" poetry

Look what that nice Mr Palast wrote about Reaching for my Gnu in Vice Magazine.

"Anna Chen’s poetry wears wet leathers, red lipstick, stilettos – and is heavily armed. Her slim volume, Reaching for My Gnu, is filled with what I’d call 'strap-on poems'. They look like an evening’s easy pleasure but are far more painful and unforgettable than you’d bargained for." GREG PALAST in VICE MAGAZINE

Oo-er, Greg, you'll scare the horses.

Paperback and Kindle books from here. Published by Aaaargh! Press.

Photo by Charles Shaar Murray