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Anti War Assembly - video

'This film by the Islam Channel captures the spirit and the inspiration of the Antiwar Assembly in Trafalgar Square on 8 October 2011. It features speeches and interviews with many of the participants, including John Pilger, Julian Assange, Anas alTikriti, Jemima Khan, Seumas Milne and many more. It took place on the tenth anniversary of the war on Afghanistan and the 'war on terror', which have caused so much death, destruction and suffering.'

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A year of Counterfire

Here's a brief retrospective on the first year of the Counterfire website, to which I contribute regularly, prompted by realising that today is our 1st birthday. Counterfire is of course more than just a website - it is a revolutionary organisation, with the site as its political hub.

We launched on 8 March 2010. International Women's Day seemed an apt occasion -and in our opening week we carried Lindsey German's succinct Feminist Manifesto.

In terms of news coverage - which I'm giving little attention to here, due to its ephemeral nature  - we had a coup in the first week, with the election of Counterfire founder member Clare Solomon as president of University of London Union. She is now standing for re-election, with online voting by ULU students starting tomorrow.

Neil Faulkner's A Marxist History of the World series has been an undoubted success, and is due to be turned into a book. There have now been 29 installments in this hugely ambitious project. Neil has been, to put it mildly, prolific - he also wrote an 11-part series on arguments about the cuts (also available as a pamphlet) and a number of theoretical articles.

There have been forays into publishing. As well as Neil's cuts pamphlet and a couple of pamphlets collating articles from the site, Counterfire's first two short books were published last September. 'Strategy and tactics' by John Rees and 'Lukacs: capitalism and class consciousness' by Chris Nineham are designed to summarise the best of the marxist tradition for a new generation.

Lukacs, the great Marxist philosopher, has been a recurring presence on the site. We've also published Tony McKenna's essay on reification and class consciousness and my own 'Lukacs after Leninism' .

As well as new theoretical articles there's been a series of archive pieces, several of which I edited and introduced. These archive items include Alexandra Kollontai on class and women's oppression, Tony Cliff's 'Democratic revolution or socialist revolution?'  and, to mark the 70th anniversary of Trotsky's death in August, a chapter from The Lessons of October.

One of the most innovative things we've published was the Stitched Up series, in which Tansy Hoskins analysed the politics and economics of fashion (the first time I've seen this topic analysed in any real depth from a marxist perspective).

A regular feature is the weekly book review, overseen by the site's reviews editor Dominic Alexander. One of Dominic's own reviews has been very widely-read: his excellent 'Arguing Socialism' surveys three introductions to socialist thought.

The student protests triggered a number of debates. The many interventions by Counterfire activists included Kate Connelly's timely article on lessons from the Suffragettes , Elly Badcock's 'Students call for Aaron Porter to resign' and James Meadway's invaluable 'Where next for the student revolt?'

In many ways Counterfire came into its own with the emergence of popular revolution in the Arab world. Joseph Daher's numerous articles, beginning with reports of revolution in Tunisia, deserve a special mention - see this piece for example.

There are loads of other things I could mention, but that will do. Ady Cousins continues to work exceptionally hard as editor, supported by the editorial team and regular contributors. I look forward to our second year...

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A year of Counterfire

Here's a brief retrospective on the first year of the Counterfire website, to which I contribute regularly, prompted by realising that today is our 1st birthday. Counterfire is of course more than just a website - it is a revolutionary organisation, with the site as its political hub.

We launched on 8 March 2010. International Women's Day seemed an apt occasion -and in our opening week we carried Lindsey German's succinct Feminist Manifesto.

In terms of news coverage - which I'm giving little attention to here, due to its ephemeral nature  - we had a coup in the first week, with the election of Counterfire founder member Clare Solomon as president of University of London Union. She is now standing for re-election, with online voting by ULU students starting tomorrow.

Neil Faulkner's A Marxist History of the World series has been an undoubted success, and is due to be turned into a book. There have now been 29 installments in this hugely ambitious project. Neil has been, to put it mildly, prolific - he also wrote an 11-part series on arguments about the cuts (also available as a pamphlet) and a number of theoretical articles.

There have been forays into publishing. As well as Neil's cuts pamphlet and a couple of pamphlets collating articles from the site, Counterfire's first two short books were published last September. 'Strategy and tactics' by John Rees and 'Lukacs: capitalism and class consciousness' by Chris Nineham are designed to summarise the best of the marxist tradition for a new generation.

Lukacs, the great Marxist philosopher, has been a recurring presence on the site. We've also published Tony McKenna's essay on reification and class consciousness and my own 'Lukacs after Leninism' .

As well as new theoretical articles there's been a series of archive pieces, several of which I edited and introduced. These archive items include Alexandra Kollontai on class and women's oppression, Tony Cliff's 'Democratic revolution or socialist revolution?'  and, to mark the 70th anniversary of Trotsky's death in August, a chapter from The Lessons of October.

One of the most innovative things we've published was the Stitched Up series, in which Tansy Hoskins analysed the politics and economics of fashion (the first time I've seen this topic analysed in any real depth from a marxist perspective).

A regular feature is the weekly book review, overseen by the site's reviews editor Dominic Alexander. One of Dominic's own reviews has been very widely-read: his excellent 'Arguing Socialism' surveys three introductions to socialist thought.

The student protests triggered a number of debates. The many interventions by Counterfire activists included Kate Connelly's timely article on lessons from the Suffragettes , Elly Badcock's 'Students call for Aaron Porter to resign' and James Meadway's invaluable 'Where next for the student revolt?'

In many ways Counterfire came into its own with the emergence of popular revolution in the Arab world. Joseph Daher's numerous articles, beginning with reports of revolution in Tunisia, deserve a special mention - see this piece for example.

There are loads of other things I could mention, but that will do. Ady Cousins continues to work exceptionally hard as editor, supported by the editorial team and regular contributors. I look forward to our second year...

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Palestine and the apartheid wall

Palestine and the apartheid wall - life under occupation in 2011
Public meeting hosted by Tyneside Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Monday 14 March · 7:00-8:30pm
Muslim Welfare House, 6 North Terrace, Spital Tongues, Newcastle

I've recently returned from a trip to the occupied West Bank - visiting major cities and towns including Jerusalem, Hebron, Jenin, Ramallah and Qalqilya - and will be reporting on what I saw and the discussions I had with local Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

At the meeting on 14 March there will be a particular focus on the impact of illegal settlements, military checkpoints and the separation wall on people in the West Bank, especially in Qalqilya - a border town completely encircled by the wall (it's also the place Newcastle is developing twinning links with).

There'll be time to discuss what Palestinians are doing in response to the ongoing abuses of their human rights - and what we can do here to provide political and practical solidarity with them. Please join us!

Read my 2 posts about the visit:

Letter from Palestine: life under occupation
Qalqilya: frontline of Israeli colonisation

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After the fall of Mubarak: cement passes through Rafah crossing into Gaza

This report about the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza strip comes via Gaza TV News on Facebook. It is a step forward in breaking the Israeli siege of Gaza, which continues to cause widespread suffering.

'The first bag of cement not approved by Israel and not through the tunnels arrives through Rafah today

Today the Tahrir4Gaza march entered Gaza, two days after their proposed entry date and brought with them the first bag of cement not approved by Israel and not through the tunnels, setting the stage for a massive shipment of cement & building materials.

This is a major step in taking down the policy of Mubarak that denied entry to much needed commodities to Gaza via the Rafah crossing. The march was undertaken with maximum co-operation with the people of Egypt and the post Mubarak authorities and expressed the will of the people of Egypt who wish to see and end to the siege.

The march was postponed after it's initial March 4th date due to complications with authorities that included the barring of foreign nationals to al-Arish and as a result the final delegation to enter Gaza was only 12 people in size.

There is still a lot of work to be done regarding the end of the siege, but with talk of another march and the possibly of a ship of cement following this up you can be assured that there will be a steady flow of people and goods ready to challenge it until it's end.'

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George Monbiot on the alternatives to cuts

'We are yet again stepping into the ring with one hand tied behind our backs. The great rally that is planned for 26 March will bring together the most impressive oppositional groups in Britain. It will show that we have the numbers and the will required to fight this government.

But there's a problem. We know what we don't want. The people co-ordinating this protest have provided compelling explanations of why the government's programme for tackling the deficit is unnecessary, unfair and likely to make the problem worse. We have been less clear about what we want.

Nowhere have I been able to find a statement of aims that is short enough to put on a flier but specific enough to be useful. There are plenty of 30-page documents and pithy slogans – but, as far as I can discover, nothing in between. What we are missing is a simple set of proposals that are agreed by the main groups and would turn this from an oppositional to a propositional movement. The lesson to be drawn from previous battles is that lasting change does not happen until we unite behind what we want – not just against what we do not.'

Read more in 'We know what to march against on 26 March; here's what to protest for'

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Help Clare Solomon win second term as ULU president

Via Counterfire:

Clare Solomon, one of the student movement's leading activists, is seeking re-election as president of University of London Union (ULU). Elected last March, the former SOAS student has used the role to spearhead resistance to the coalition government's attack on higher education and students.

ULU has not traditionally been known for protests and political campaigns. Yet in the autumn and winter of 2010 the mega-union, encompassing a wide range of London colleges, was central to launching and co-ordinating the protests against higher tuition fees and university cuts. ULU called the march to parliament on 9 December - day of the Commons vote on fees increases - which attracted at least 30,000 university, college and school students.

The National Union of Students (NUS), led by Aaron Porter, meanwhile held a 'glowstick vigil' attended by only 200 people. The contrast between the dynamism and mass participation of the ULU-initiated demonstration and the official NUS event was one source of the widespread dissatisfaction of students with the current NUS leadership.

It also illustrated what ULU - Europe's largest student union, representing over 100,000 students - can achieve with effective leadership which articulates grassroots demands.

Clare was also a prominent voice in support of the occupations which swept campuses across the country, including in London, speaking on numerous platforms and in the media to express enthusiastic support for direct action by students. As a participant in the mass direct action at the Tories' Millbank HQ on 10 November, she defended - on BBC2's Newsnight and elsewhere - students' right to take militant action.

Clare says:

"I’m proud of the role ULU played in helping pull together the biggest student movement for a generation. ULU helped support occupations and demonstrations across the city, becoming a powerful voice for students in London and beyond. That’s a voice we will need over the coming year as education faces exceptionally tough times."

Clare is also on the steering committee of Coalition of Resistance, helping strengthen links between students, trade unionists and campaigners to resist the Tory-led onslaught on public services and welfare. Speaking to over 1000 people at November's Coalition of Resistance conference, she said students had "turned this movement around" and inspired wider resistance to cuts.

Standing on a platform of commitment to high-profile, active mobilisations against education cuts, Clare recognises the battle for higher education is far from over. In just one year, ULU has been transformed into a campaigning body widely known for mass activity and solidarity. Clare continues to embody that transformation, having dedicated herself to making it happen.

Students and supporters across the capital are urged to help ensure a fighting left-wing activist is re-elected to this vital post in the movement.

How to vote
Voting is online from 9-16 March, for more info on voting go to this site: http://ulucampaigner.wordpress.com/how-to-vote/

Get involved
If you can help the campaign to re-elect Clare as president, phone 07950 735 390
Or see this web page: http://ulucampaigner.wordpress.com/get-involved/

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George Monbiot on the alternatives to cuts

'We are yet again stepping into the ring with one hand tied behind our backs. The great rally that is planned for 26 March will bring together the most impressive oppositional groups in Britain. It will show that we have the numbers and the will required to fight this government.

But there's a problem. We know what we don't want. The people co-ordinating this protest have provided compelling explanations of why the government's programme for tackling the deficit is unnecessary, unfair and likely to make the problem worse. We have been less clear about what we want.

Nowhere have I been able to find a statement of aims that is short enough to put on a flier but specific enough to be useful. There are plenty of 30-page documents and pithy slogans – but, as far as I can discover, nothing in between. What we are missing is a simple set of proposals that are agreed by the main groups and would turn this from an oppositional to a propositional movement. The lesson to be drawn from previous battles is that lasting change does not happen until we unite behind what we want – not just against what we do not.'

Read more in 'We know what to march against on 26 March; here's what to protest for'

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Remixing revolution

I'll get around to writing something about Palestine (I'm currently visiting the West Bank) when practical, but meanwhile there's this...

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Letter from Palestine: life under occupation

I'm afraid I've failed completely to blog from Palestine, due to a combination of sheer busy-ness and a lack of much internet access. Since Saturday night I've been here in the West Bank, based in Abu Dis (a suburb of Jerusalem), and am flying home on Sunday evening. A half-term holiday with a difference.

The trip is organised by the hugely impressive Camden-Abu Dis Friendship Association, which combines political solidarity with practical support, and it is simply superb. There's five of us - four teachers and a social worker - in the group and we've had a day (starting last Sunday) in each of the following: Abu Dis, Jerusalem, Ramallah (home of the discredited Palestinian Authority), Qalqilya, Jenin and Jericho.

Today's visit to Jericho - a big tourist bait, styling itself "the oldest city in the world" - and the Dead Sea was the day off from serious political and educational stuff (well, relatively speaking) because Friday isn't a working day. Tomorrow we visit Bethlehem and Hebron, the West Bank's largest city. Considering recent and current events in the Arab world, it's a particularly timely moment to actually be in Palestine.

I'll write properly about the trip next week, but a few comments will suffice for now. The separation wall is the biggest recurring theme, together with the impact of settlements and military checkpoints. I've just heard that yesterday a woman, prevented from reaching hospital in time, gave birth at a checkpoint near where we are. This is a far from unique occurence.

On Sunday in Abu Dis we talked with a teacher whose husband had a heart attack and was delayed reaching the hospital in east Jerusalem because he doesn't have the 'blue permit' Palestinians need to access Jerusalem (thankfully he came through it).

We have heard so many stories like these. We've talked with people who have themselves been directly affected by the Wall, which really is impossible to ignore here. I'd never previously realised quite how deeply it impacts on people, even splitting up some families so people can't see their own relatives. Journeys that should take 10 minutes are half an hour, an hour or even longer. We've talked with workers who get held up at checkpoints every day, and students who live on one side of the Wall but attend university on the other side.

I'd also never grasped how ever-present and visible the settlements are. I'd imagined them being out of the way, but the landscape - all valleys and hills - means you can frequently see the Israeli settlements when on the road. And there are roads set aside specially for the settlers, which Palestinians aren't permitted to travel on at all. 

The single most appalling thing was in Qalqilya on Wednesday, when we visited the intimidating walk-through (i.e. no traffic) checkpoint in this tense frontier town close to the border between Israel and the West Bank. This is the town we in Newcastle hope to develop stronger links with over coming months and beyond.

Workers who live in Qalqilya but work across the border have to walk through a forbidding military terminal. When we got close, to observe, a soldier in the surveillance tower stuck his gun out of the window and pointed it at us. It had the most remarkably oppressive atmosphere of anywhere I've been.

Qalqilya is completely encircled by the wall. It is described by people there as a kind of jail for the entire population - a collective punishment that violates human rights and international law. One of the others in our group commented that it really should be the focus of international attention, so outrageous are its circumstances.

It is strategically important for Israel both due to its location close to the border - locals speculate, probably correctly, that Israeli authorities ultimately wants to shift the boundaries and include the district within Israel itself - and the plentiful water supplies which are increasingly directed towards use by Israeli settlements in the area.

Qalqilya is an acute case which crystallises the terrible problems faced by people across the West Bank: Israeli control of space and freedom of movement, the curtailing of essential resources, high graduate unemployment, massive inequalities between settlers and Palestinians, and the human impact of living under military occupation.

There is much, much else to say. And as well as outlining the problems, if I had more time I'd give examples of the many inspiring people we've met and the diverse positive, worthwhile things they are doing to help their own people, to strengthen self-organisation and offer hope for the future. It hasn't been a remotely depressing experience, as might be expected. The Palestinian people ensure that our coming face to face with visceral reality is balanced with awareness of their resistance, dignity, optimism and humour, all of which - together with sheer friendliness and warmth - have made this an immensely positive experience.

There's also, of course, the hope offered by the on-going popular revolts in Libya - a major topic of conversation (and everyone I've discussed it with is rooting for the people and hoping Gaddafi is toppled) - and elsewhere in the Arab world. I've asked various people about the significance of Egypt's revolution, to be repeatedly told it is a source of optimism for Palestinians.

The issue of freedom for Palestine remains at the centre of Middle East politics - and it is inextricably linked to the movements of popular resistance and revolution currently shaking global politics.

I'll be talking about this visit at a Tyneside Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting on Monday 14 March, 7pm, at Muslim Welfare House, 6 North Terrace, Newcastle (all welcome). The group - me included - will be presenting and leading a workshop at the CADFA conference in Camden on Saturday 2 April (details to follow).        

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