Archive for the ‘Chartism’ Category

Alex Belfield Defending Boris to Attack BBC

September 21, 2020

Alex Belfield is an internet radio host and Youtuber. He’s a ragin Conservative, and so a large number of his videos are attacks on left-wing broadcasters and critics of the government, like Owen Jones, James O’Brien and Piers Morgan. He has also attacked Sadiq Khan, immigration, especially the asylum-seekers floating over on flimsy craft from Calais, and the recent moves to expand diversity in broadcasting. This includes Diversity’s dance routine about Black Lives Matter the Saturday before last on Britain’s Got Talent. Another frequent target of his attacks in the BBC, and at the weekend he decided to join the Conservative papers trying to get sympathy for Boris Johnson.

According to an article in Saturday’s Times, BoJob has been whining about how hard it is for him on £150,000. Not only has he been through a messy divorce, but he’s also trying to support four of his six children. I thought he himself didn’t know how many children he had. And how is it he’s only supporting four, not all of them? The article claims he’s overburdened – which is also strange. I’ve put up a piece on Russian gulag slang terms which could describe him. One of them is mankirovant, which means ‘shirker’. Because he seems to be off on his hols whenever it suits, unlike other Prime Ministers. Unlike other PMs, he also dodges working at weekends and turning up at Cobra meetings. He has, apparently, taken a cut in income and, oh, the hardship!, has to buy his own food.

Mike has put up a piece in which he, and the folks on Twitter, tear into our clown PM and give him all the sympathy he deserves: which is precisely zero. They point out that Boris’ salary is still five times more than the median wage and that people on ESA are, if they’re over 25, on less £4,000 a year. By any standard, Boris is still filthy rich.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/19/poorboris-uk-citizens-give-what-sympathy-they-can-to-pm-complaining-about-money/

Belfield crawled out from under whichever Tory rock he hides under to try and defend Boris. Ah, but he has to pay all the expenses required of him now that he is prime minister. Mike points out that he has a fair few those paid by the state. His current residence, No. 10, is provided by the state gratis. Also, Boris wanted the job. This isn’t like the Roman Empire, where the rich were forced to perform ‘liturgy’. This was a list held by the local authorities of everyone, who could afford to do some kind of public service to the state. This went from acting as a kind of clerk recording and filing people’s tax returns, to membership of the ordo or local council. If you were saddled with that, it meant that you had to make whatever shortfall there was between public expenditure and tax revenue up out of your own money. The pagan Roman emperors used it as one of the punishments they inflicted on Christians, apart from torturing them to death in the arena. Neither the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Sadiq Khan or anyone else suddenly leapt upon Boris and dragged him off to be prime minister. No-one forced him to start plotting to be head of the Tory party. He wasn’t corrupted by Cassius, as Brutus was in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. And neither Cameron or Gove, the two Boris betrayed, were Julius Caesar. Although both of them, like Boris, thought they should ‘bestride the earth like a colossus’.

Boris chose the job himself. But people on ESA and low incomes don’t choose them. They’ve had them foisted upon them by exploitative employers and a government determined to make ordinary, working people an impoverished, cowed, an easily disposable workforce.

As for the expense of having a nanny and providing for his children, well, the Tories, as Mike and his peeps have pointed out, stopped child benefit after two sprogs. The argument from the right for a long time has been that people should only have children they can afford to support. Not bad advice, actually. But it has led to the Tories and New Labour demonising those they consider as bad parents. Like Gordon Brown ranting about how ‘feckless’ they were. In the words of the old adage, ‘if you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em’. But this was all right when applied to the hoi polloi. But when it hits the upper classes, somehow we’re expected to cry tears over them.

Belfield also tried defending Boris by pointing out that his salary was much less than those in many industries, including entertainment and television. And then, almost predictably, he started attacking the Beeb for the inflated pay it awards presenters like Gary Linaker. Linaker’s another of Belfield’s bete noirs. Linaker has made various left-wing remarks on Twitter and has said he’ll take into his house some of the asylum seekers coming across from France. Which has sent Tories like Belfield into a fearful bate, as Molesworth used to sa.

Now the pay earned by prime ministers is lower than many of those in industry. It always has been. I can remember under Thatcher or Major there were various Tory MPs whining about how much they earned. They demanded more, much more, to boost their pay up to that of private businessmen and senior managers. The argument was that they should be paid this money, as otherwise talented professionals would go into business instead, where their talents would be properly remunerated.

It’s another argument that didn’t go down well, not least because however poorly MPs are paid, they’re still paid far more than ordinary peeps. And for a long time they weren’t paid. Payment of MPs was a 19th century reform. Indeed, it was one of the six demanded by the Chartists. Many of the Conservatives responded by giving the money to charity. I think part of the reason politicians’ pay has remained comparatively low for so long is the ethos of public service. You are meant to want to enter politics because you are serious about serving your country and its great people. You are not meant to do so because you see it as a lucrative source of income. It’s an attitude that comes ultimately from the Stoic philosophers of the ancient world and Christian theologians like St. Augustine. It became the ethos of the public schools in the 19th century through the reforms of Arnold Bennet at Rugby. Boris therefore deserves no sympathy on that score.

Now I actually do agree with Belfield that some presenters at the Beeb are grossly overpaid. But it’s not just presenters. Private Eye has run story after story in their media section reporting how production staff and the ordinary journos in the news department, who actually do the hard work of putting programmes and news reports together, have been the victims of mass sackings and cut budgerts. At the same time, executive pay has increased and the number of managers with various non-jobs have proliferated. There is, apparently, someone presiding over a department with title ‘Just Do It!’ These departments are entangled and seem to overlap, much like the Nazi administrative system. Yes, I know, another gratuitous example of Godwin’s Law. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself.

The problem is, it’s not just the Beeb. They’re just following in the tracks of business elsewhere. Here ordinary workers have been massively laid off, forced to take pay cuts and freezes, while senior executives have seen their pay bloated astronomically. The Beeb is no different from them.

And watch carefully: Belfield isn’t telling you how much leading journos and broadcasters are paid elsewhere. Like in the media empire belonging to a certain R. Murdoch, now resident in America.

The argument used by presenters like John Humphries, for example, is that they are paid what they are worth. The argument goes that if the Beeb doesn’t pay them what they want, they can go and take their talent elsewhere, and the Beeb’s competitors will. Or at least, that’s how I understand it.

But you aren’t being told how much the presenters over at Sky are on. Or indeed, what kind of pay Murdoch and his senior staff at News International trouser. And you won’t, because that could be more than a mite embarrassing. Especially as Murdoch’s British operation is registered offshore in order to avoid paying British corporation tax.

But Murdoch, and Belfield are attacking the Beeb because the Tories hate the idea of state broadcasting and its mandated ethos of impartiality. Mind you, the rampant shilling by the Corporation on behalf of the Tories and their savage, flagrantly biased attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour showed that they don’t too. The Tories have also been taking Murdoch’s coin in corporate donations. From Thatcher onwards, right-wing governments – and that includes New Labour – signed a Faustian pact with Murdoch. They gave him larger and larger shares of British media and allowed him to dictate policy, in return for which Murdoch gave them publicity in his sordid empire of ordure.

That’s the real reason Belfield’s attacking the BBC.

Murdoch wants to get rid of state-funded competition and step in himself as the major broadcaster. And if he does so, you can expect nothing except propaganda and lies, which will we keep you poor and the elite even more obscenely rich.

Just like Boris Johnson and the Tories, despite his moans of poverty.

Posted Copies of Book ‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ to Labour Party

September 18, 2020

This afternoon I posted two copies of my self-published book, For A Workers’ Chamber, off to the Labour Party with appropriate covering letters. As I’ve explained in previous posts, the book argues that as parliament is now dominated by the millionaire heads and senior executives of big business, the working class has been excluded. It therefore needs a separate parliamentary chamber, composed of working people, elected by working people, to represent them.

I’ve also explained in the covering letters that it draws on arguments for such working class assemblies going as far back as Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trades Union, the Chartists’ parliament of trades and the Guild Socialist strand within the early Labour party. I also state that it also draws on the post-war corporatist system in Britain, in which economic and industrial affairs were decided through negotiations and organisations that brought together government, industry and trade unionists. It also discusses too the producers’ chambers, which formed part of the governmental system of Tito’s Yugoslavia under the workers’ self-management system.

I have also said in the letter that the domination of parliament by employers supports the Marxist argument that the state is the instrument of class rule. Sidney and Beatrice Webb also felt that the parliamentary system could not cope with the demands of the expansion of parliamentary business into the social and economic spheres, and so recommended the establishment of a social parliament as well as a political parliament in their 1920 book, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. Another Fabian, Herman Finer, also recommended that Britain should copy the industrial chamber the Germans had set up, which contained representatives of industry and the trade unions to decide questions of industry.

We already have part of that through parliament’s domination by industrialists. We just need to include the working class. Of course, this could also be corrected if the Labour party turns away from the disastrous policies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which have done so much to ruin our country and impoverish its people. We need a Labour party that properly supports its traditional policies – a strong welfare state and unions able to defend working people, a properly funded and nationalised NHS and public utilities, run for the benefit of the community and not private profit, and a mixed economy. But there is a real danger that the Labour party is returning to the failed policies of Thatcherism. If that is the case, then the working class needs its own parliamentary chamber to defend its interests.

The Labour Party is holding a national policy review and has asked for suggestions by email. So I’ve sent them my book and its suggestions instead to the party’s National Policy Commission. I’ve also sent a copy to Richard Burgon in appreciation of his great efforts on behalf of the Labour left and the Labour Grassroots Alliance in supporting traditional Labour party policies and working people.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get a reply. Given the rabidly right-wing politics of the Blairite Labour party bureaucracy I have wondered if I might find myself smeared and accused of being a Trotskyite or Communist infiltrator or other slur after sending a copy of my book to the National Policy Commission. After all, they suspended and smeared Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier simply because he had the temerity to send them a document defending Ken Livingstone against the charges of anti-Semitism they had leveled against him. I hope nothing like that happens to me, but I’m still left wondering.

Hooray! Copies of My Book Demanding Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber Have Arrived!

September 16, 2020

I got the two copies of my self-published book For A Workers’ Chamber, published with the print on demand service Lulu through the post today. I wrote the book way back in 2018. It argues that as parliament is dominated by millionaire company directors and senior management, working people have been effectively excluded. Blairite Labour is no help, as it has enthusiastically embraced this policy. I therefore argue that what is needed to correct this is a parliamentary chamber composed of working people, elected by working people, following ideas and demands going back as Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union and the Chartist’s assembly of a parliament of trades in the 19th century. The book’s blurb runs

For a Worker’s Chamber argues that a special representative chamber of composed of representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries.

It traces the idea of worker’s special legislative assemblies from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, anarchism, syndicalism, Guild Socialism, the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils in Revolutionary Russia, Germany and Austria, the Utopian Socialism of Saint-Simon and the Corporativism of Fascist Italy. It also discusses the liberal forms of corporativism which emerged in Britain during the First and Second World Wars, as well as the system of workers’ control and producer’s chambers in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

It argues that parliamentary democracy should not be abandoned, but needs to be expanded in include a worker’s chamber to make it more representative.

I ordered two copies of my book as I want to send one to the Labour Party. It’s now holding a policy review, and they’ve been asking members to send in suggestions for a policy. I really this idea is quite extreme and Utopian, but I want to send a copy of it to them to remind them just who they were set up to represent and where their priorities should lie. And they definitely do not lie with chasing Tory votes, taking over Thatcher’s policies and dismantling the welfare state, privatising the NHS and enrolling rich businessmen in parliament.

I’d like to send the second copy to any Labour MP or senior figure in the movement, who might be interested in it. Ken Livingstone would be the obvious choice, as he was a strong supporter of workers’ rights and industrial democracy when he was head of the GLC. Unfortunately, he has been forced out of the party due to being smeared as an anti-Semite, simply because he correctly pointed out that Hitler initially supported Zionism and sending Jews to Israel. The German Zionists signed a pact with him, the Ha’avara Agreement, which is documented on the website of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

I’m also thinking of sending it Richard Burgon, who is now one of the leading figures in left-wing Labour politics. I realise that it is probably too extreme for him, as he’s traditional centrist Labour, wanting the return of nationalisation for the NHS and utilities and a state managed but mixed economy. You know, the standard post-war social democratic consensus until Thatcher’s election in 1979. But I’m also worried about sending it to him in case his enemies in the party use it to smear him as a Commie or Trotskyite, just as they did with Corbyn.

The book is only one of a number of pamphlets and books I’ve self-published. I tried sending copies of them to the press, but didn’t get any interest. If you have any suggestions for any senior Labour figure, or simply ordinary MP or official, who would enjoy reading a copy, please let me know.

Should I Send the Labour Party a Copy of My Book ‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ as a Policy Suggestion?

September 3, 2020

I got an email from the Labour Party, of which I am a member, the other day asking if I had any policy suggestions. They’ve been holding various policy reviews for a few months now since Keir Starmer took over as leadere, and have sent at least one of these appeals for suggestions before. I can think of two policies I could suggest, one very serious, the other rather more far-fetched.

The first would be an end to the privatisation of the NHS. No further contracts should be given to private hospitals or healthcare companies. No expansion of the number of charges that Tory legislation permits for NHS services. An absolute end to the Private Finance Initiative and the construction of NHS hospitals in partnership with private companies. No handover of doctors’ surgeries or NHS hospitals to private healthcare companies to manage. If people want to pay for their healthcare, fine, but the NHS should not under be sold off to private enterprise, for them to charge us for it as so many Tories, including Dido Harding’s husband, would like.

That’s the very serious one. The other one is a piece of utopian political theorising I wrote two years ago, and published with the print on demand company Lulu. I was furious with the corruption of parliament by corporate interests. It was reported that something like 77 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and that both Houses are packed with the owners and senior officers in private enterprise. Under the corporatism of the late 20th and early 21st century capitalist penetration of politics, private firms now grant donations to parties and individual politicos, and sponsor events and conferences. In return, senior staff and directors are taken on by government as advisors, or put in charge of government departments and committees. Legislation is framed not for the benefit of the community, but for big business. This has occurred not just under the parties of the right, like the Republicans in America and the Tories here in Britain, but also in the Democrats and the British Labour Party under Tony Blair. See George Monbiot’s excellent dissection of it and its consequences in Captive State, and Rory Bremner’s, John Bird’s and John Fortune’s You Are Here. The working class is being shut out of power, even in the very party that was founded to represent it.

For A Workers’ Chamber was my suggestion for combating this by setting up within parliament a separate chamber to represent working people, organised according to industry, and whose members would consist of workers from those industries. Not managers or directors, workers. I based it on arguments for a parliament for working people that had been around since the early Socialists and Chartists in the 19th century. The blurb for my book runs

For a Worker’s Chamber argues that a special representative chamber composed of representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries.

It (t)races the idea of worker’s special legislative assemblies from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, anarchism, syndicalism, Guild Socialism, the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils in Revolutionary Russia, Germany and Austria, the Utopian Socialism of Saint-Simon and the Corporativism of Fascist Italy. It also discusses the liberal forms of corporativism which emerged in Britain during the First and Second World Wars, as well as the system of workers’ control and producer’s chambers in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

It argues that parliamentary democracy should not be abandoned, but needs to be expanded to includ(e) a worker’s chamber to make it more representative.

Of course, such a chamber wouldn’t be necessary if we had a Labour Party that took its job seriously and actually stood for working people rather than corporate interests. There was hope with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, but that’s been severely damaged, if not destroyed completely in many people’s eyes with the election of Keir Starmer. Starmer’s a Blairite neoliberal, who appears to be reversing all the policies agreed and presented in Labour’s last election manifesto. It says so much about the corporate corruption of the party that the Groaniad announced without any shame whatsoever a few weeks ago that the corporate donors, who had stopped funding the party under Corbyn, were now returning under Starmer. Corbyn had transformed Labour into the largest socialist party in Europe, and had raised money not through corporate donations and sponsorship, like Blair, but through ordinary members’ subscriptions. Blair’s and Brown’s determination to cater to big business and turn to winning middle class votes actually lost them working class support, a portion of whom instead turned to UKIP.

And now this seems set to return under Starmer.

So, should I try to be a bit provocative and send my book and its demand for a special chamber of parliament for the workers to the Labour Party as a suggestion for their policy review?

Book on the Bloody Reality of the British Empire

February 9, 2020

John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (London: Bookmarks Publications 2006).

John Newsinger is the senior lecturer in Bath Spa University College’s school of History and Cultural Studies. He’s also a long-time contributor to the conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine Lobster. The book was written nearly a decade and a half ago as a rejoinder to the type of history the Tories would like taught in schools again, and which you see endless recited by the right-wing voices on the web, like ‘the Britisher’, that the British Empire was fundamentally a force for good, spreading peace, prosperity and sound government around the world. The book’s blurb runs

George Bush’s “war on terror” has inspired a forest of books about US imperialism. But what about Britain’s role in the world? The Blood Never Dried challenges the chorus of claims that British Empire was a kinder, gentler force in the world.

George Orwell once wrote that imperialism consists of the policeman and soldier holding the “native” down while the businessman goes through his pockets. But the violence of the empire has also been met by the struggle for freedom, from slaves in Jamaica to the war for independence in Kenya.

John Newsinger sets out to uncover this neglected history of repression and resistance at the heart of the British Empire. He also looks at why the declining British Empire has looked to an alliance with US imperialism. To the boast that “the sun never set on the British Empire”, the Chartist Ernest Jones replied, “And the blood never dried”. 

One of the new imperialists to whom Newsinger takes particular exception is the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson. Newsinger begins the book’s introduction by criticising Ferguson’s 2003 book, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, and its successor, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Newsinger views these books as a celebration of imperialism as a duty that the powerful nations owe to their weaker brethren. One of the problem with these apologists for imperialism, he states, is their reluctance to acknowledge the extent that the empires they laud rested on the use of force and the perpetration of atrocities. Ferguson part an idyllic childhood, or part of it, in newly independent Kenya. But nowhere does he mention that the peace and security he enjoyed were created through the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau. He states that imperialism has two dimensions – one with the other, competing imperial powers, which have driven imperial expansion, two World Wars and a Cold War, and cost countless lives. And another with the peoples who are conquered and subjugated. It is this second relationship he is determined to explore. He sums up that relationship in the quote from Orwell’s Burmese Days.

Newsinger goes on to state that

It is the contention here that imperial occupation inevitably involved the use of violence and that, far from this being a glorious affair, it involved considerable brutality against people who were often virtually defenceless.

The 1964 film Zulu is a particular example of the type of imperial history that has been taught for too long. It celebrates the victory of a small group of British soldiers at Rourke’s Drift, but does not mention the mass slaughter of hundreds of Zulus afterwards. This was the reality of imperial warfare, of which Bush’s doctrine of ‘shock and awe’ is just a continuation. He makes the point that during the 19th and 20th centuries the British attacked, shelled and bombed city after city, leaving hundreds of casualties. These bombardments are no longer remembered, a fate exemplified by the Indonesian city of Surabaya, which we shelled in 1945. He contrasts this amnesia with what would have happened instead if it had been British cities attacked and destroyed.

He makes it clear that he is also concerned to celebrate and ‘glorify’ resistance to empire, from the slaves in the Caribbean, Indian rebels in the 1850s, the Irish republicans of the First World War, the Palestinian peasants fighting the British and the Zionist settlers in the 1930s, the Mau Mau in the 1950s and the Iraqi resistance today. He also describes how radicals and socialists in Britain protested in solidarity with these resistance movements. The Stop the War Coalition stands in this honourable tradition, and points to the comment, quoted in the above blurb, by the Chartist and Socialist Ernest Jones in the 1850s. Newsinger states ‘Anti-imperialists today stand in the tradition of Ernest Jones and William Morris, another socialist and fierce critic of the empire – a tradition to be proud of.’

As for the supporters of imperialism, they have to be asked how they would react if other countries had done to us what we did to them, such as Britain’s conduct during the Opium War? He writes

The British Empire, it is argued here, is indefensible, except on the premise that the conquered peoples were somehow lesser being than the British. What British people would regard as crimes if done to them, are somehow justified by supporters of the empire when done to others, indeed were actually done for their own good. This attitude is at the very best implicitly racist, and, of course, often explicitly so.

He also attacks the Labour party for its complicity in imperialism. There have been many individual anti-imperialist members of the Labour party, and although Blair dumped just about everything the Labour party stood for domestically, they were very much in the party’s tradition in their support for imperialism and the Iraq invasion. The Labour party’s supposed anti-imperialist tradition is, he states, a myth invented for the consumption of its members.

He also makes it clear that the book is also concerned with exploring Britain’s subordination to American imperialism. While he has very harsh words for Blair, describing his style as a combination of sincerity and dishonesty, the cabinet as ‘supine’ and Labour MPs as the most contemptible in the party’s history, this subordination isn’t actually his. It is institutional and systemic, and has been practised by both Tory and Labour governments despite early concerns by the British to maintain some kind of parity with the Americans. He then goes on to say that by opposing our own government, we are participating in the global fight against American imperialism. And the struggle against imperialism will go on as long as it and capitalism are with us.

This is controversial stuff. When Labour announced that they wanted to include the British empire in the school history curriculum, Sargon of Gasbag, the man who wrecked UKIP, produced a video attacking it. He claimed that Labour wanted to teach British children to hate themselves. The photo used as the book’s cover is also somewhat controversial, because it’s of a group of demonstrators surrounding the shot where Bernard McGuigan died. McGuigan was one of the 14 peaceful protesters shot dead by British soldiers in Derry/London Derry in Bloody Sunday in 1972. But no matter how controversial some might find it, it is a necessary corrective to the glorification of empire most Brits have been subjected to since childhood, and which the Tories and their corporate backers would like us to return.

The book has the following contents:

The Jamaican Rebellion and the Overthrow of Slavery, with individual sections on the sugar empire, years of revolution, overthrow of slavery, abolition and the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.

The Irish Famine, the great hunger, evictions, John Mitchel and the famine, 1848 in Ireland, and Irish republicanism.

The Opium Wars, the trade in opium, the First Opium War, the Taiping rebellion and its suppression, the Second Opium War, and the Third Opium War.

The Great Indian Rebellion, 1857-58, the conquest of India, company rule, the rebellion, war and repression. The war at home, and the rebellion’s aftermath.

The Invasion of Egypt, 1882, Khedive Ismail and the bankers, demand for Egyptian self-rule, the Liberal response, the vast numbers of Egyptians killed, the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, and the reconquest of Egypt.

The Post-War Crisis, 1916-26, the Irish rebellion, 1919 Egyptian revolt, military rule in India, War in Iraq, and the 1925 Chinese revolution.

The Palestine Revolt, Zionism and imperialism, the British Mandate, the road to revolt, the great revolt, and the defeat and aftermath.

Quit India, India and the Labour Party, towards ‘Quit India’, the demand for the British to leave, the final judgement on British rule in India and the end of British rule.

The Suez Invasion: Losing the Middle East, Iranian oil, Egypt and the canal zone, Nasser and the road to war, collusion and invasion, aftermath, the Iraqi endgame.

Crushing the Mau Mau in Kenya, pacification, the Mau Mau revolt, war, repression, independence, the other rebellion: Southern Rhodesia.

Malaya and the Far East, the First Vietnam War, Indonesia 1945-6 – a forgotten intervention, the reoccupation of Malaya, the emergency and confrontation.

Britain and the American Empire, Labour and the American alliance, from Suez to Vietnam, British Gaullism, New Labour, and the Iraq invasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

YouTube Video for Book ‘For A Worker’s Chamber’

February 22, 2019

This is the video I’ve just put up on YouTube for another of the books I’ve self-published with Lulu, For A Worker’s Chamber. This argues that parliament is dominated by the rich at the expense of working people, and so we need a special parliamentary chamber to represent working people, composed of working people themselves.

Here’s the blurb I’ve put up on YouTube.

This is another book I published with Lulu. It was a written as a challenge to the domination of parliament by the rich. 75 per cent of MPs, according to a recent book, are millionaires, including company directors. As a result, parliament under Tony Blair, David Cameron and now Theresa May has passed legislation favouring the rich and big business.

The result has been the destruction of the welfare state, privatization, and increasing misery, poverty, starvation and homelessness.

The book instead argues that we need a chamber for working people, elected by working people, represented according to their professions, in order to give ordinary people a proper voice in parliament. The Labour party was originally founded in order to represent working people through the trade unions. The Chartists in the 19th century also looked forward to a parliament of tradespeople.

Later the idea became part of the totalitarianism of Fascist Italy, a development that has ominous implications for attempts to introduce such a chamber in democratic politics. But trade unions were also involved in determining economic policy in democratic post-war Europe. And local councils in the former Yugoslavia also had ‘producers’ chambers’ for working people as part of their system of workers’ self-management. Such as chamber would not replace parliamentary democracy, but should expand it.

I discuss in the video just how Tony Blair allowed big business to define government policy as directed by corporate donors, and how staff and senior managers were given government posts. He particularly favoured the big supermarkets and other firms under the Private Finance Initiative. This is extensively discussed by the Guardian journalist, George Monbiot, in his book, Captive State. I make the point that this wouldn’t be quite so bad if New Labour had also acted for working people. But it didn’t. And it has become much worse under Cameron and Tweezer. In America the corporate corruption of parliament has got to the extent that a recent study by Harvard University downgraded America from being a functioning democracy to an oligarchy. I also point out that, while I’m not a Marxist, this does bear out Marx’s view of the state as the instrument of class rule.

I discuss how the Labour party was founded to represent working people by the trade unionists in parliament, who were originally elected as part of the Liberal party, the ‘Lib-Labs’, who were then joined by the socialist societies. The Chartists at one of their conventions also saw it as a real ‘parliament of trades’ and some considered it the true parliament. I also talk about how such a chamber became part of Mussolini’s Fascism, but make the point that it was to disguise the reality of Mussolini’s personal rule and that it never actually passed any legislation itself, but only approved his. Trade unions were strictly controlled in Fascist Italy, and far greater freedom was given to the employers’ associations.

I also say in the video how trade unions were involved in democratic post-War politics through a system which brought trade unions, employers and government together. However, in order to prevent strikes, successive government also passed legislation similar to the Fascists, providing for compulsory labour courts and banning strikes and lockouts.

There are therefore dangers in setting up such a chamber, but I want to empower working people, not imprison them through such legislation. And I think that such a chamber, which takes on board the lessons in workers’ self-management from Communist Yugoslavia, should expand democracy if done properly.

A Seasonal Musical Attack on the Tories: the Universal Credit Songbook

December 26, 2018

Yesterday, Christmas Day, Mike also put up another piece of musical satire and anti-Tory criticism. This was the Universal Credit Songbook, where some clever clogs has taken the tunes of traditional Christmas carols, and given them fresh words attacking the Tories’ murderous policies, and particularly Universal Credit.

Mike posted an example, tweeted by Imajsaclaimant, which runs

Away in a bedsit,
No crib for a bed
My mother is silent,
When will we be fed?

My mother is crying,
But I’m wide awake
No money for presents,
Five more weeks to wait

This seems to have inspired Michael Fulcher, who posted another piece to the same tune commemorating the death of Gyula Remes, the Hungarian man, who died outside parliament.

See Mike’s article https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/25/its-the-season-for-christmas-carols-how-about-a-couple-from-the-universal-credit-songbook/

Socialism and working class protest, has a rich musical heritage, and this, and other recent anti-Tory songs are part of this. Songs like Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’, as well as past favourites like ‘Liar, Liar’, also about May and her inability to tell the truth, and ‘Nicky Morgan’s Eyes’, about her former education secretary and her attack on state schooling.

The Wobblies’ Songbook

The Chartists in the 19th century also composed songs expressing their demand for the vote for all adult men. There are also many folk songs from the 19th century celebrating strikes and attacking poverty and exploitation.
The Labour party, at least in Bristol, had a choir back in the middle of the last century or so.

The radical American syndicalist trade union, the International Workers of the World, or the ‘Wobblies’ of the early twentieth century, were particularly known for their songs. Their songbook can also be found on the web at http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/iww.html

Many of the songs celebrate and promote the union, the power of working people and specific, heroic individuals, while others bitterly attack the owners and managers. One such is ‘The Parasites’ by John E. Nordquist. This runs

Parasites in this fair country,
Lice from honest labor’s sweat;
There are some who never labor,
Yet labor’s product get;
They never starve or freeze,
Nor face the wintry breeze;
They are well fed, clothed and sheltered,
And they do whate’er they please.

2. These parasites are living,
In luxury and state;
While millions starve and shiver,
And moan their wretched fate;
They know not why they die,
Nor do they ever try
Their lot in life to better;
They only mourn and sigh.

3. These parasites would vanish
And leave this grand old world,
If the workers fought together,
And the scarlet flag unfurled;
When in One Union grand,
The working class shall stand,
The parasites will vanish.
And the workers rule the land.

See: http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/usa/parasite.htm

Clearly, you don’t have to be a radical syndicalist wanting to see the working class utterly replace capitalism and its owners and managers to see that the poverty it describes is coming back, and that workers do need to stand together to demand real change under some form of socialism, like the reformism of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn here, and the radical left of the Democrats with Bernie Sanders in the US.

Mike hopes that Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’ will be the new No.1 this Christmas. It won’t be, but it should, if only to see the BBC go spare and try to avoid having to play such an explicitly left-wing song. I hope it, the UC Songbook and the other ditties attacking May and the rest of the Tories and their corrupt backers also get very many views and downloads, and inspired more people to sing, strum and drum against them.

They must never silence us!

Books ‘For A Worker’s Chamber’ and ‘Crimes of Empire’ Published with Lulu

May 11, 2018

This week I’ve working on publishing my books For A Workers’ Chamber and Crimes of Empire with the print on demand publishers, Lulu. This has now been done, and the books are now available, if anybody wants them.

For A Workers’ Chamber is my book arguing that as parliament is dominated by millionaires and company directors, to be really representative working people need their own parliamentary chamber within it. My blurb for it runs as follows

The book argues that working people need their own separate chamber in parliament to balance the domination of millionaire MPs holding directorships. It uses Marx’s analysis of the state as an instrument of class domination, and examines schemes for working people’s political autonomy from the Chartists, through anarchism, syndicalism, Fascism and the system of workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia, as well as the corporative management system adopted in post-War Europe. This set up negotiations between government, management and unions to settle industrial disputes and manage the economy.

It’s ISBN is 9780244386061.

Crimes of Empire is the book Florence suggested I write all that time ago, about how America and the West has overthrown generally liberal, socialist regimes, and replaced with them Fascist dictatorships when they have been an obstacle to western corporate or political interests.

The blurb for this runs

The book discusses the current wars fought by the West in the Middle East, and shows that these are not being fought for humanitarian reasons, but are part of a long history of American coups and political interference since World War II. These have been to overthrow regimes that have blocked or resisted American corporate or political interests. This policy is behind the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine, the invasions and attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria, and conflicts with Russia and Iran.

It’s ISBN is 978-0-244-08662-6.

Lulu are at http://www.lulu.com/

These are the print versions of the books. For a Workers’ Chamber is £4.50 and Crimes of Empire £10.00. The prices are exclusive of tax. I am planning to make e-book versions of them, which should bring the price down further for people who want to read them on computer or Kindle.

‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ Cover Art

April 21, 2018

Okay, I’ve completed the cover art for another book I wrote a few years ago. Entitled For a Workers’ Chamber, this argues that as most MPs are millionaires and company directors, who legislate in favour of their own class, there should be a separate parliamentary chamber for working people, elected by working people, to represent and legislate for them.

I go through and survey the various movements to put working people either in parliament, or create legislative assemblies especially for them, from the Chartists in the 19th century, the Soviet movements in Russia and Germany, anarcho-syndicalism, Fascism and the corporative state, and post-War British form of corporativism, in which unions were also to be involved in industrial consultations, before this all collapsed with the election of Maggie Thatcher. Who was also a corporativist, but had absolute no desire to involve working people or their unions. It also discusses the system of workers’ self-management in the former Yugoslavia, where workers not only had voice in running their factories, but there were also legislative assemblies at the local and national level specifically to represent them.

I haven’t been able to find a mainstream publisher, so I’m going to publish it with the print-on-demand people, Lulu. Here’s the art.

I hope you like it.