Sunday, April 28, 2024

Speak of the Devil…

 by Ben Soton

The original three Omen films, with their dramatic music and gory accidents based around the Anti-Christ figure Damien came to an end with The Final Conflict in 1981.  These films are of course based on the premise of religious belief but whatever your views on the matter I have always found them compulsive viewing.  There was of course a 2006 rehash which unlike most remakes was a success.
Arkasha Stevenson’s The First Omen is a prequel to the original films providing an interesting back story. Set in early 1970s Italy against the backdrop of student and worker protests an American noviciate, Margaret Daino, played by Nell Tiger Free, arrives in Rome prior to ordination as a nun.  On arrival she is greeted at the airport by her mentor, the rather avuncular, if not slightly creepy Cardinal Lawrence, played by Bill Nighy.  She shares a room with Luz Valez, another novitiate who patronises bars and discos in the evening and soon encourages Margaret to do the same.  The orphanage where she works is run by Sister Silva (played by the veteran Brazilian actress Sonia Braga).  These three characters are at the heart of an evil conspiracy.
Like the previous Omen films The First Omen features an array of dramatic death scenes which are a reminder of the importance of Health and Safety Regulations. The first being that of Father Harris, played by Charles Dance; who finds his head split open by a shard of falling glass.
Though the film is set against the backdrop of an Italy racked by student protests, strikes, neo-nazi violence and, of course, the Red Brigades none of the major characters play any part in this upheaval. The film is slow moving in places and at times seems like a reality TV programme set in a 1970s Italian orphanage. But behind the scenes others are doing the Devil’s work.
The First Omen sees the return of Father Brennan, played by Ralph Ineson, who came to a brutal end in the original Omen film.  Brennan was played by Patrick Troughton in the 1976 original and Pete Postlethwaite in the 2006 remake. He uncovers a conspiracy by reactionary elements with the Catholic hierarchy stating that the Church has an over-riding fear of secularism –  an obvious reference to the forces of the left who feature in scenes of street protests.  He explains how a reactionary cabal within the Church are conspiring to recreate the Anti-Christ and unleash him upon humanity as a means of bringing people back to the True Faith.      
Fr Brennan claims that there are, in fact, two churches. One made up of genuine believers and the other that simply uses faith as a means of domination and power. There is obviously much to be said about this statement and the film does not show the Catholic Church in a positive light. A large number of Christians, if not the majority, are genuine believers and have never done any harm. Others are the exact opposite. Oscar Romero, the El Salvadoran archbishop murdered by a fascist death squad, and Jimmy Savile were both Catholics. So was Francis of Assisi and General Franco. If nothing the film is a reminder, intended or otherwise, as to the lengths reactionaries will go to maintain power. But you can judge for yourself. The First Omen is out now on general release and it is expected to be streamed in the summer.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

No arms for Israel!

Lord Cameron has come back from Israel empty-handed. The Foreign Minister went there to urge restraint on the Netanyahu government following the Iranian missile and drone attacks that were, themselves, a reprisal for the Zionist bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus that killed eleven military advisors including two of their top generals. Though the RAF, together with the French and American air force, did most of the work in fending off the Iranian drones, Cameron got nothing in return from Netanyahu apart from demands for more Western sanctions against the Islamic Republic and unconditional NATO support for whatever revenge the rabid Zionist leader is seeking.
Though not surprising in itself – the only people Netanyahu needs to heed are the Americans – it might, nevertheless, be a step too far for the Israeli leader because Cameron was clearly speaking for Joe Biden himself when he landed in Tel Aviv this week.
Biden, or rather the shadowy cabal that pull the strings behind him, must have sanctioned the Damascus attack that started this new round of fighting. Despite subsequent White House denials it’s difficult to see why Netanyahu would have opted for such a dangerous escalation without getting the green light from his masters in Washington. Some believe the Israeli leader wants to prolong the war in Gaza to scupper American plans for a new NATO bloc in the region that would include the oil-rich Saudis – and thus considerably reduce the role of the Zionist state in the region. Others that he simply wants the war to continue to remain in office and stave off the corruption charges he will face once his immunity from prosecution is lifted. Maybe he simply miscalculated the response in Tehran and Washington.
The Zionists don’t care what the Iranians think but they are certainly concerned at what is going on in Washington. Biden, who barely knows what day it is, is just a pawn of the “deep state” – that cabal of the most venal and aggressive elements within the American ruling class is clearly divided about what to do next.
We see this openly discussed in their media. Some still believe in backing Israel to the hilt to creat the “Greater Middle East” that would break up the existing Arab states into smaller, sectarian puppet governments whose rulers would depend on American and Israeli guns for protection. Others say this is simply beyond the reach of imperialism these days and that the only way forward is to cut a deal with the feudal Arab oil princes to buy off opposition on the Arab street and impose a sophisticated surrender peace that would give the semblance of a two-state solution while reinforcing American hegemony over the entire region.
The alternative is an escalating conflict that has already drastically reduced Western traffic through the Suez Canal amid fears of another all-out Middle East war that could disrupt or even cut the oil supplies from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf that the Western world depends on.
British workers have no say in what goes on in the United States but they do have a voice in the unions and on the street. Tell the Labour and union leaders that claim to represent us that British arms to Israel must be halted. We want an end to the war in Gaza and want justice for the Palestinian Arabs. And we want it now!

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Old Town blues

by Ben Soton

The BBC’s latest Monday night drama, This Town, is actually set across two towns, or more precisely cities in the 1980s.  It covers some of the politics, music and culture of the period featuring the Handsworth riots in Birmingham as well as the IRA bombing campaigns.  Also featured are the music based sub-cultures of the period; skins, rude boys and Zulus; whilst the involvement of organised crime gives it an updated Peaky Blinders feel.
The story centres around an extended family that cuts across ethnicity, nationality although interestingly not class.  The Birmingham side of the family, mixed race British/West Indian includes Gregory Williams, a soldier in the British Army (played by Jordan Bolger) and his younger brother, (played by Levi Brown) a college student and aspiring musician Dante.  
Meanwhile the Irish-Catholic Coventry side of the family, the Quinns, include Bardon (played by Ben Rose), another college student and aspiring musician; his IRA father Eamon (played by Peter McDonald) and alcoholic mother and ex-wife Estella (played by Michelle Dockery).
The series proves that Michelle Dockery should not be seen as a type-cast actress; she can ably play a working-class alcoholic as well as an aristocrat from Downton Abbey.
It opens with a scene from the Handsworth Riots of 1980 and shows the extent of police racism of the period.  Many of the scenes are intersected with music from the era as many contemporary bands had their origins in the West Midlands.
Much of the plot centres around attempts by Dante to avoid being drawn into organised crime whilst Bardon struggles to avoid being drawn into the IRA campaign by his father.
The plot is further complicated when Gregory, Dante’s brother, is ordered by his superiors to spy on the Irish side of his family. In this sense the drama reflects bourgeois attitudes of the time that are still around – that being Irish makes you susceptible to “terrorism” and being black makes you susceptible to organised crime. To avoid this both Bardon and Dante, along with other teens form a band as a means of escape amid numerous references to the M6 as a way out of Birmingham. Needless to say the essence of the series is that of individualism versus the community.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Back to the Future

Everybody expects the Conservatives to get trounced at the local elections next month. Few doubt the outcome with Labour still at least 18 points ahead in the opinion polls and the Tories undermined by growing support for the new Faragist Reform Party. But nothing can be taken for granted these days, least of all where Labour is concerned.
Starmer says “our mission-driven government will restore pride and purpose in our country. Let’s make this a reality, together”. Meaningless platitudes that will not get the vote out.
No one knows what Labour stands for these days beyond slavish support for the United States and Israel and an economic programme that differs little from the Sunak plan that Starmer claims to oppose. Starmer may have won the blessing of the City of London and the Murdoch media empire but he’s lost hundreds of thousands of party members in the process.
These are the people Labour relied on to get their vote out. Some 200,000 have dropped out of the party under Starmer’s watch. Some were supporters of the Palestinian cause hounded out on trumped up charges of “anti-Semitism”. Others were Corbynistas who’ve simply dropped out of the party whose leader has abandoned all of Labour’s core beliefs.
Some, not many, have turned to George Galloway’s latest political slate or the alternative platforms of the assorted left that try and repeatedly fail to build an alternative “workers’ party” to replace Labour. They’ve always failed – even Arthur Scargill’s valiant attempt came to nothing – because no alternative social-democratic party can get off the ground without the support of the trade unions. And the unions, for good or bad, are still largely in the sway of Labour’s bureaucrats.
George Galloway has proved, once again, capable of tapping the protest vote amongst the Muslim community to get back into parliament. But that’s as far as it goes and that’s as far as it will ever go. Without mass support from the labour movement Galloway’s “Workers Party” will fizzle out – like Respect which died the death in 2016.
Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott are a different matter. They certainly have mass support amongst the Corbynistas that rebuilt Labour’s strength in London during the Corbyn era. That may be enough to hold their parliamentary seats at the next general election. But on its own it won’t be enough to force Starmer to let them back into the Parliamentary Labour Party let alone build a new left social-democratic platform to challenge Starmer and the old Blairite gang.
As always the battle remains on the union front. Though the Labour Party is dominated by the right wing in the parliamentary party the possibility of their defeat exists as long as Labour retains its organisational links with the trade unions that fund it.
A genuine rank-and-file movement has to be built to sweep out the opportunists and bureaucrats who have reduced the unions that once represented millions of working people into hollowed out avenues for career advancement.
The fight for a democratic Labour Party is linked to the fight for a democratic trade union movement. In the unions we must struggle to elect genuine working class leaderships, who are prepared to represent and fight for the membership against the employers and against the right wing within the movement and to campaign for the removal of all anti‑trade union legislation.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Take on the Zionists!

The Americans, like the Israelis, want to crush Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian resistance that they believe is the major obstacle to the imposition of a surrender peace that would allow the Israelis to annex the parts of the West Bank they call “Greater Israel” while the Palestinians would get a next to nothing – a powerless “independent” statelet run by quislings that the feudal Arab oil princes need to justify their collaboration with imperialism on the Arab street. Even this “two-state” solution is too much for the Netanyahu government and its Zionist settlers’ bloc. The only thing they want to give the Palestinians is a one-way ticket off the land they want to colonise.
Biden, Sunak and the rest of the imperialist pack can ignore and even justify the massacre of tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in the Gaza Strip. But the murder of seven Western aid workers this week is a different matter. Three of the innocent victims were British, another was American.
This time round the shock and horror on the street can’t be simply dismissed as pro-Arab propaganda or outright “anti-Semitism”. Nothing the Israelis do with their weasel words about a “tragic accident” and an offer to pay blood money to the families of these hapless victims of Zionist terror can whitewash their latest atrocity in Gaza.
Some say Biden has told the Israelis that he wants an end to the fighting by the end of the week. That may be wishful thinking. Biden and the most venal and aggressive sections of the American ruling class that he represents have given unconditional moral and material support to Israel – support that has enabled the Zionist war-machine to slaughter over 33,000 Palestinian Arabs.
There are, of course, divisions within America’s ruling circles and the British Establishment over the current imperialist stand on Palestine. Arming Israel to the teeth to perpetuate the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights clearly no longer works. The Houthi Yemeni government’s blockade that has closed the Suez Canal to Israeli and Anglo-American shipping is bad news for imperialism. Anger on the Arab street that turns on the oil princes would be a nightmare.
Meanwhile the mass monthly protests that have rocked London for months on end have mobilised public opinion in support of the Palestinians and encouraged others to publicly speak out against Israeli aggression.
Over 600 prominent lawyers, including former Supreme Court justices, have signed a letter warning that the UK government is breaching international law by continuing to arm Israel while a former Conservative minister has publicly accused two Tory peers of working for “the interests of another country”.
Sir Alan Duncan, who served as a Foreign Office minister under Theresa May, says the Conservative Friends of Israel group was “doing the bidding of Netanyahu” and called for two of its prominent members, Lord Polak and Lord Pickles, to be removed from the House of Lords. He also accused several ministers and former ministers of not supporting international law by failing to condemn illegal settlements, including deputy premier Oliver Dowden, Michael Gove, and former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel.
Alan Duncan has broken the bourgeois consensus in Sunak’s ranks. Now someone needs to do the same in Starmer’s….