Archive for the ‘Factories’ Category

Tony Benn on Overseas Investment at the Expense of Britain’s Workers

May 17, 2020

A few days ago I posted up a piece about Shaw’s critique of British imperialism. As I said in the earlier piece, Shaw wasn’t against imperialism in itself, if it had been genuinely for the benefit of the conquered peoples. But it wasn’t. It was really to exploit them, as a cheap workforce unprotected by the Factory Acts in Britain which protected domestic workers. The result was the exploitation of non-Whites abroad, while British manufacturers were ruined by the import of the cheap goods they produced, and British workers made unemployed.

This situation still remains, thanks to globalisation and the rise of the multinationals even though the British empire is no more. Tony Benn was a staunch opponent of the multinationals and the same abuses of overseas investment. In a 1985 speech in parliament on unemployment, Benn said

We would have to stop the export of capital. Since the government came to power, for every family of four, £4,300 has left Britain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that we must tighten our belts because that is the way to solve the problem. But if a worker tightens his belt, the employer sends the money to South Africa, where the wages are lower still, because Botha’s police will not allow the unions to organise. The export of capital could not continue if we wished to solve the unemployment problem.

Ruth Winstone, ed., The Best of Benn: Speeches, Diaries, Letter and Other Writings (London: Hutchinson 2014) p. 166.

That’s still very pertinent today, when Tory donor James Dyson has moved his plants to the Far East and Jacob Rees-Mogg has investments all over the world, including in a condom factory in Indonesia.

Tony Benn – the greatest Prime Minister this country never had.

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw on Imperialism: Exploitation Abroad, Poverty and Unemployment at Home

May 13, 2020

As I may have already said, I’ve been reading George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. It’s a brilliant book, in which the great Fabian playwright attacks and exposes the contradictions, flaws, poverty and inequality in capitalism and argues for a gradual, socialist transformation of society through nationalisation and the equalisation of incomes. Although it was written between 1924 and 1928 some of the topics Shaw covers are still acutely relevant. He argues for the nationalisation of the banks because private bankers have caused massive financial problems and concentrate so much on big business that small businessmen and women suffer through lack of funds. He also shows how the extremely wealthy should have their incomes reduced, because instead of doing anything genuinely productive with their money they simply hoard it. And that means sending it overseas. This is an acute problem now, with the super-rich hoarding their money unspent in offshore tax havens, instead of properly paying their fair share to build up the country’s health service and infrastructure.

Shaw is also acutely critical of imperialism for the same reason. He is not against imperialism per se. Indeed, he states that it would be admirable if we really had taken over the different lands of the empire for the benefit of the indigenous peoples. But we hadn’t. We’d taken them over purely for the enrichment of the capitalists through the exploitation of their non-White inhabitants.

The process, according to Shaw, began with the arrival of a single British trading ship. This was fine on its own, but others also arrived. Soon a trading post was set up, and then the merchants behind the trade demanded the entire country’s annexation. Capitalism preferred to fund socially destructive enterprises, like gin, rather than the socially useful, like lighthouses, which had to be set up and managed by the government. The market for gin had been saturated, and so the capitalists had proceeded to look abroad for more profits for the gin trade. And once a country was conquered and incorporated into the empire, its Black inhabitants were forced into commercial labour unprotected by legislation, like the Factory Acts, that protected British workers.

These overworked, underpaid, exploited colonial workers were able to produce goods that undercut those of domestic, British manufacturers. As a result, British businesses were going bankrupt and British workers laid off, except for those in the service industries for the extremely wealthy. The great mill and factory towns of the north and midlands were declining in favour of places for the genteel rich, like Bournemouth.

Ordinary working people couldn’t starve, as the capitalist class had grudgingly allowed the establishment of the dole following the mass unemployment that followed the First World War. But there weren’t any jobs for them. This was why the British government was encouraging them to emigrate, promising to pay £12 of the £15 fare to Australia if the worker would provide £3 him- or herself.

Now Shaw’s description of the foundation and expansion of the empire is obviously over-simplified, but nevertheless contains more than a grain of truth. Both Fiji and New Zealand were annexed because they had suffered an influx of White settlers through trading ships. The people arguing for their annexation, however, did so because they were opposed to the indigenous peoples’ exploitation. The White settlers in Fiji were aiming to set up a government for Whites with an indigenous king, Cakobau, as puppet ruler to give it a spurious legitimacy. More enlightened colonists therefore persuaded Cadobau and his government to approach Britain and ask for annexation in order to prevent the dispossession and enslavement of indigenous Fijians. In New Zealand the request for annexation was made by Christian ministers, who were afraid that the country would be conquered for Roman Catholicism by France on the one hand, and that the whalers and other traders who had already settled there would destroy and exploit the Maoris through alcohol, prostitution and guns.

And the enslavement and exploitation of the indigenous peoples certainly occurred. Apart from enslavement and dispossession of the Amerindians and then Black Africans in the first phase of British imperialism from the 17th century to the end of the 18th, when the British empire expanded again from the early 19th century onward, it frequently did so under the pretext of destroying the slave trade. However, once we were in possession of those territories, indigenous slavery was frequently tolerated. Moreover, British colonists often used forced labour to build up their plantations and businesses. This occurred around about the time Shaw was writing in Malawi. When slavery was outlawed in the British empire in 1837, the planters replaced it with nominally free indentured Indian labourers, who were worked in conditions so atrocious in the notorious ‘coolie trade’ that it was denounced as ‘a new system of slavery’.

The British government had also been encouraging its poor and unemployed to emigrate to its colonies as well as the US in what historians call social imperialism from about the 1870s onwards.

Reading this passage, however, it struck me that the situation has changed somewhat in the last 90 or so years. Britain is no longer exporting its surplus labour. All the countries around the world now have strict policies regarding emigration, and the developed, White majority countries of Canada, New Zealand and Australia are busy taking in migrants from the developing world, like Britain and the rest of the West.

But the super rich have found a way to surreptitiously go back on their early policy of providing welfare benefits for the unemployed. Through the wretched welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and other Tory scumbags, they’ve torn holes in the welfare safety net with benefit sanctions, fitness to work tests and a five week waiting period. The result is that the unemployed and disabled are starving to death. And those that aren’t are frequently prevented from doing so only through food banks and private charity. This has been changed somewhat with the expansion of welfare payments for workers on furlough and food packages for the vulnerable during the lockdown, but this is intended only to be a temporary measure.

I can remember when globalisation first began in the 1990s. It was supposed to lead to a new era of peace and prosperity as capital moved from country to country to invest in businesses across the globe. But the result for Britain has been mass unemployment. And while developing nations like India have massively profited, it has been at the expense of their own working people, who are now labouring for lower pay and in worse conditions than ever.

The empire has gone to be replaced by the commonwealth. But what Shaw said about it and the exploitation and poverty it caused is true of today’s neoliberal global economy.

Except instead of encouraging emigration, the Tories and the rich have found ways to starve to death Britain’s surplus workers.

Worrals of the WAAF – Captain W.E. John’s Flying Heroine for Girls

March 23, 2020

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals of the WAAF (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Carries on (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Flies Again (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns was the creator of that great British hero, ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, an RAF fighter ace, who with his friends Algy and Ginger foiled the evil designs of the German menace in a series of tales set in the First and Second World Wars. They’re classics of British children’s literature. They appeal mostly, but by no means exclusively to boys – they’re have been plenty of female readers. Even though they’re now somewhat passe, they’re influence on British popular culture is still noticeable. In the 1980s there was an attempt to translate the character into film with an SF twist. Johns’ hero was still a World War II airman, but was sent into the present day by time warp. The character was so much a staple of British literature, that he was lampooned, I believe, by Punch’s Alan Coren in his short story, ‘Biggles Strikes Camp’. More recently, the square-jawed space pilot, ‘Ace’ Rimmer, the heroic alter ego of the cowardly, egotistical and sneering Rimmer in TV’s Red Dwarf, seems to be something of a mixture of Biggles and that other great British hero, Dan Dare, the pilot of the future.

But during the Second World War, Johns was also determined to thrill and inspire girls with a similar figure for them. And so he wrote a series of three books about Joan Worralson, ‘Worrals’, and her friend Frecks. They were pilots in the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, which was set up to deliver aircraft to the RAF. Although not combat pilots, Worrals and Flecks soon found themselves actively fighting the Nazi menace in Britain, and then France. The books were republished in 2013 by Indie Books. There’s also some connection there with the RAF Museum, as that institution has its logo proudly printed on the back cover.

I found them in a recent catalogue for Postscript, a mail order firm specialising in bargain books. They were there, alongside serious histories of women in aviation and the WAAF. I liked the ‘Biggles’ books when I was a schoolboy, and decided to order them to see what his female counterpart was like. A decision helped by the fact that they were £2.95 each. They came shortly before the shutdown last week. I haven’t read them yet, but will probably give them a full review when I do. In the meantime, here’s the blurbs for them:

1: Worrals of the WAAF

Britain: 1940

Joan Worralson – Worrals to her many friends – is ferrying a replacement aircraft to a RAF fighter station when she is plunged into combat with a mysterious plane.

Later, she and her friend Frecks investigate what that plane was up to – and fall into a nest of spies.

With their own airfield the target for destruction, the two girls will need every ounce opf skill and daring to save the day.

2: Worrals Carries On

Britain: 1941

While Britain reels from nightly air attacks, Worrals and Frecks are stuck in the routine of delivering new planes to the RAF – until a chance discovery put them on the trail of a Nazi spy.

The hunt leads them to London at the height of the Blitz and even into occupied France. Cut could it be that the traitor is right in their midst? And ready to hand them over to the Gestapo?

3: Worrals Flies Again

1941: Occupied France

British agents are risking their lives behind enemy lines. But how to get that vital information back home?

MI6 need a pilot who speaks French like a native and with the courage to take on an operation so crazy that it might just work. A job for Worrals.

But when she and Frecks fly to the isolated French castle that is to be their base, they discover that nothing is what it seems – and the Gestapo have got there first.

Like other professions and employers, the RAF is trying to diversify its ranks and recruit more women and people of BAME backgrounds. This was shown very clearly a few months ago on the One Show, in a section where pilot and former Countdown numbers person, Carol Vorderman, herself a pilot, talked about the winners of a competition by the Air Cadets  and the RAF to find their best and most promising members. There were three, two of whom were girls, while the third was a Black lad. As a reward, they were given a tour of the vast American factory where they were building the new high performance jets that were due to come into service over this side of the Pond, and talk to some of the American Air Forces pilots. These included a young woman, who was so thrilled with flying these machines that she told them she couldn’t believe she got paid for doing it. There was also a little subtext informing the viewer that young women could still fly these deadly war machines without sacrificing their femininity. One of the girl cadets was a blogger, who specialised in makeup and beauty. And there’s also a more general drive within aviation to recruit more women as pilots, for example in civil, passenger flight.

There have clearly been for a long time women interested in flight and careers in the armed forces. I don’t know how many girls were encouraged to join the WAAF or take to the air by reading Worrals – I suspect they more likely to be influenced by the ‘Biggles’ stories. There was also an attempt to launch a comic strip which featured a group of female pilots fighting for Britain in the WAAF or RAF in the girls’ comics. This was mentioned in the excellent short BBC documentary series, Comics Britannia. However, the strip didn’t prove popular with female readers and was closed down. The comic asked them what they’d rather read instead, and they said, ‘a good cry’. This resulted in a series of strips of unrelenting misery in their comics, including ‘Child Slaves of War Orphan Farm’. I think stories about heroic female pilots sticking it to the Nazis would have been far healthier, but the girls of the time obviously didn’t want it. I don’t know if the books would have any greater success now, when writers are trying to create strong role models for girls in fiction.

I haven’t read them yet – they’re on my ‘to read’ list, along with many others. But I intend to read them eventually. I’m interested in finding out what they’re like, and how they stand up to today’s changed ideas about gender roles. And more importantly, whether they’re any fun. I look forward to finding out.

And my mother wants to read them afterwards. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Hartley-Brewer Sneers as Greta Thunberg Visits Bristol

February 29, 2020

Yesterday, Norwegian schoolgirl eco-warrior and global phenomenon Greta Thunberg visited my hometown, the fair city of Bristol. She was due to speak at College Green by City Hall in Bristol, before leading a march through town to the Tobacco Factory. This was exactly what it’s called, but the tobacco industry has just about vanished from Bristol, and it is now a theatre. Many of the city’s schools gave their pupils the day off so that they could join her. Her visit was naturally the main focus of the local news yesterday. Thousands went to see her, and it was a real family event. Parents and grandparents also went, and took their children and grandchildren. The teenage organisers, who had invited her, were interviewed. They were intelligent and articulate. One of them, a young man, was given the opportunity by the local TV crew to appear again promoting another, different, but equally important issue. The lad had said that he wished there was the same kind of crowds and interest for combating knife crime. He’s absolutely right, as this is a plague claiming and wrecking young people’s lives up and down the country. So the crew told him to wait a moment while they found someone he could talk to about this. With luck this should lead to positive developments so that in a few months’ time or however long, he should be back with us organising a mass campaign against that issue.

Thunberg’s visit was an historic occasion for the city. The people going enjoyed it, and it will doubtless have delighted Mayor Marvin and the other members of the council, who are trying to turn Bristol into one of the world’s leading Green cities. I didn’t go, as I still have this stinking cold, though I didn’t really feel like attending anyway. But I’m glad for the people, who did.

One person, who definitely didn’t approve of Thunberg’s visit was TalkRadio right-wing mouthpiece and howling snob, Julia Hartley-Brewer. According to Zelo Street, Hartley-Dooda got very sneering about the whole affair on Twitter. First she retweeted Mike Graham, another right-wing TalkRadio entity calling Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a ‘plank’, because he was in Bristol with his sister and family to support the demo. Dooda herself then issue the following Tweet explaining why she wouldn’t let her daughter go on the march:

If my child wanted to join a school #ClimateStrike I’d expect her to: 1. Know enough to pass a test on climate change facts 2. Agree to give up fashion, all lifts home & all holiday flights 3. Even if she did both 1 & 2, I still wouldn’t let her bunk off school”.

She had to sneer at the Beeb’s coverage of pro-Brexit demonstrations, stating

‘At least 30,000 people.’ Or, if it was the same size crowd at a pro-Brexit rally in a BBC report, ‘hundreds of people’”.

She then sneered at the people, who did attend, with this tweet

There’s something about the people attending this #climatestrike by #BristolYS4C with #Greta that I can’t quite put my finger on… Gosh, now what *is* it? I wonder if [Jon Snow] or a BBC reporter could help out?” This was followed by “Nope, I still can’t work out what it is. It’s on the tip of my tongue but…”

This was accompanied by photos of the crowd. If she’s trying to imply that they were somewhat lacking in charisma or shoddily dressed or whatever, she’s seriously missed the mark. They don’t look like anything to me except severely normal people with their hoods and anoraks on getting soaked.

She then retweeted a piece by someone called Ben Pile, who completely denies the existence of global warming and who had attacked George Monbiot:  “George invents victims of climate change in Bangladesh and Ethiopia … Both countries have in fact boomed over the last two decades”.

She then followed this by retweeting Darren Grimes, who was in turn responding to Guido Fawkes and their endorsement of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which, you will not be surprised, also denies the existence of global warming. Grimes was moaning that, thanks to environmental concerns, Britain couldn’t build an additional airport even though with contribute less than 1% to global emissions.

The Sage of Crewe concludes of her rather mean-spirited behaviour

‘But seriously, this is a sad show of inconsiderate selfishness by someone who is regularly given a platform by major broadcasters. Just because Ms Hartley Dooda wants to carry on with her long-haul jollies doesn’t invalidate the scale of the climate crisis. And the only reason she seems concerned about the Coronavirus is because that, too, could prevent her jetting off to embark on another exhibition of conspicuous consumption.

Julia Hartley Dooda cares. But only about Herself Personally Now.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/julia-hartley-dooda-spooked-by-teenager.html

In fact, the event seems to have been positively received by very many teachers and educationalists. Many of the group that organised it, a group of youth climate strike activists, came from Chew Valley school. Chew Valley is the name of one of the neighbouring villages outside the city. The school said that they had been given time off for the pupils to go. One of the girls involved, a 17-year old, was given an honorary doctorate by Bristol University for her work researching birds and working for their preservation. Another teacher, who was going with his pupils, said that they were incorporating the visit into the curriculum. This apparently covers the environment and ecology. Thunberg’s visit was also important to the citizenship part of the curriculum as well, because it is an example of the right to protest.

But as a right-wing Murdoch hack, Dooda doesn’t believe in global warming or cares about the environment, because doing so gets in the way of those all-important corporate profits. It’s an attitude obviously shared by Grimes and the Paul Staines’ collective. Pile pointing to Bangladesh and Ethiopia experiencing significant economic growth is, as Zelo Streets points out, a piece of misdirection. Climate change doesn’t necessarily prevent it. But it does mean a deterioration in the environment and living conditions for those countries hit by it. Bangladesh may well be experiencing a boom at the same time it’s threatened by rising sea levels.

As for organisations like the Global Warming Policy Foundation, they are very definitely in the minority. The vast majority of scientists believe that global warming is an established fact. Groups like the Foundation, on the other hand, tend to be the pet scientists set up and funded by big business in order to protect themselves and their profits. The Koch brothers set up a number of fake ‘astroturf’ right-wing grassroots organisations and research groups denying climate change, in order to protect their companies in the fossil fuel industry.  I dare say the GWPF is a similar organisation, whose findings should be taken with the same scepticism given to the pronouncements of the various medical research groups funded by the tobacco industry, which told everyone that there was no link between ciggies and cancer.

And just looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham a few weeks ago, I came across an academic book about environmental decline and the effects of global warming. The information supporting its existence is out there, if Hartley-Brewer cares to look.

But she won’t. Because that might show her that unrestrained capitalism isn’t completely good and benign, and that she herself might have to change her behaviour to save the planet. Like stop jetting around to exclusive, exotic resorts to show how much wealthier she is than the rest of us.

Everybody in Bristol seems to have had a great time yesterday, despite Dooda’s determination to sneer at it all. I hope the world pays attention to them, than hacks like her. Which will not only annoy Dooda herself, but her master, Murdoch. And that, like fighting climate change, is itself a noble goal.

Private Eye Attacks the Tories’ Stupid and Damaging ‘Free Ports’ Policy

February 20, 2020

Eight days ago on 12th February 2020, Mike put up a piece criticising the Tories’ great new wheeze for invigorating Britain’s economy. They want to set up ten ‘free ports’ after Brexit, in which there will be no import/ export tariffs on goods if they aren’t moved offsite. No duty is paid, if these goods are re-exported, so long as they don’t come into the UK. Similarly, no duty will be paid on imported raw materials if they are processed into a finished product, provided that these aren’t then move to the rest of Britain.

Mike comments

No doubt the businesses involved in taking raw materials, processing them and re-exporting them would have their head office based in a tax haven.

So, who benefits? The UK economy won’t!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/02/12/who-will-profit-from-post-brexit-freeports/

This is exactly the same point made by Private Eye in its latest issue for 21st February to 5th March 2020. In its article, ‘Unsafe Havens’, the Eye says

Given Rishi Sunak’s background in offshore finance, it’s no surprise he will soon be turning parts of the UK into tax havens. Just three days before last week’s promotion, the eager-to-please Sunak launched hi spet policy for freeports around the UK.

He first pushed the plan as a relatively new MP in a 2016 paper for the right-wing Centre of Policy Studies. Now he has his hands on the tax controls and can do whatever it takes to entice major investment in the zones (ie big tax breaks and few questions asked).

At this point, warnings from the EU begin to sound ominous. Although Sunak claimed that freeports, which exempt imports from various taxes and tariffs in great secrecy, weren’t possible within the EU, there are in fact 82 of them. But the EU has found they do far more harm than good. And on the very day Sunak launched his consultation promising to “unleash the potential in our proud historic ports, boosting and regenerating communities across the UK as we level up”, the European Commission was clamping down on freeports yet further, pointing to a “high incidence of corruption, tax evasion, criminal activity”.

Even Sunak innocently asks in his consultation: “In your view, are there any particular tax policies that you think could increase the risk of tax avoidance or tax evasion activity being routed through a freeport?” To which the correct answer is: yes, the freeport policy itself.

I was immediately suspicious of this policy, because it looks like an attempt to copy the Chinese ‘Special Economic Zones’. These are islands of unrestricted capitalism in certain provinces, where there are very low taxes and, I believe, employment rights for workers. They have helped to turn the country into an economic superpower, but the cost is immense. There is massive worker exploitation, and there have been well-publicised cases of employees at various companies, who have committed suicide because of their ill-treatment. So much so that one company responsible for extremely poor working conditions put up suicide nets around one of its factories in order to catch staff trying to end their lives but jumping off. China’s an extremely authoritarian state, but there are rumblings of discontent from its impoverished and exploited workers and human rights activists.

Way back in the late 19th and very early 20th century a nasty term, ‘Chinese slavery’, was applied to conditions like this. Part of the impetus in the formation of the early Labour Party was the fear among British workers that the government was going to force them into similar conditions.

The Chinese shouldn’t have to work in such exploitative environments, and neither should Brits – who include people of Chinese descent, who have been here for generations. This is yet another nasty, exploitative idea from a nasty exploitative party, which feels that the workers, whether White, Black or Asian, should be forced into conditions of near slavery.

While they enjoy the profits funneled through tax havens.

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.

Private Eye: Government Plan to Draft Army as Local Government Officials in Event Brexit Crisis

September 6, 2019

There’s a very worrying story right at the beginning of this fortnight’s Private Eye. It’s page 7, where the actual text of the magazine starts right after the first few pages of advertising. Titled ‘Privates on Parade’, it reveals that Project Yellowhammer, the secret government plan for dealing with mass shortages caused by Brexit, also includes provisions for drafting the army in as local government officials. The reason they’ll be needed there is because there aren’t enough civil servants in the national administration to deal with the crisis, and if it happens, they’re going to have to draft in local government officials. The article runs

The government has spent the past fortnight trying to play down the leaked Operation Yellowhammer document about preparations for a “no deal” Brexit. Ministers initially pretended it was an old plan; when it emerged that the document was dated August 2019, they claimed preparations had alread moved on since then.

But the ramifications of the plans are extraordinary. To fill the thousands of extra civil service posts required the government has arranged for a rather unorthodox shuffle: if/when a “no deal” Brexit happens, thousands of local government officials are to be reallocated to Whitehall departments to fortify Sir Humphrey.

Who will run town and county halls in their absence? This is where matters become surreal. The army – including territorial volunteers – are being issued with instructions to take over local government posts, in a civilian capacity, in the event of “no deal”.

One officer, who admitted he was uncomfortable at the optics of all this, observed to the Eye that this involved putting soldiers in charge even when they lacked basic literacy and numeracy. Quite how they would get on in calculating council tax, or providing adult social care and children’s services, remains to be seen…

There are several remarks to be made about all this. The first is that it shows how stupid and destructive successive Conservative administrations have been in their determination to slim down the civil service. This has now reached the point where there are too few of them to run the country effectively in the event of a national crisis, like a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The second is the massive implications this has for democracy in this country. I would imagine that one reason the unnamed officer felt uncomfortable about the ‘optics’ of the army moving into local government is that it looks very much like the beginnings of a military coup. And events don’t have to go much further before it really would amount to a military take-over of civilian government. I think that Operation Yellowhammer also provides for emergency legislation to deal with possible civil unrest in the event of shortages of food, medicines and other essential services. After a wave of rioting up and down the country the government could declare a state of emergency, draft in the army and put in force martial law.

Given Boris’ personal authoritarianism, as shown in his prorogation of parliament, I can imagine that he may even wish to dispense with parliamentary supervision in such an emergency. With the very loud support of the Tory press, he dissolves parliament again, which will only be recalled in after the restoration of order. And it probably isn’t so far-fetched to see some of the Tory right and British press demanding the arrest of left-wing subversives. If the unions call a strike, I imagine they’d be delighted. They could go back to Maggie’s tactic of posing as the nation’s champion against the bullying of the union barons. Further legislation would be passed or invoked to break up the strikes, ban trade unions and arrest trade unionists. At the same time, allegations of Communist connections and sympathies would be used to justify the arrest and detention of left-wing activists and trade unionists as threats to national security. This might be going too far, but I could also imagine the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the right-wing Zionists of organisations like Herut handing over lists of names of ‘the wrong sort of Jews’ in order to make sure Jewish critics of Israel and Conservatism were also arrested and detained. Because after all, they’re a threat to Israel, one of the West’s major outposts in the Middle East.

I’m not saying this will happen, only that it could. Back in 1975 the Conservative party and parts of the press, including the Times and the Mirror, were also pressing for a coup to overthrow Harold Wilson’s Labour government. Because industrial unrest had got out of hand, and he was supposed to be a KGB spy. See Francis Wheen’s book on paranoia in the ’70s, Strange Days Indeed. It’s also described in Ken Livingstone’s 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, in which the-then mayor of London discusses how there were plans to round up left-wing activists, MPs and journalists, and have them sent to concentration camps on one of the Scottish islands.

The plan to draft soldiers in to local government also reminds me of the very strong position of the armed forces in the economies in many developing countries. In Pakistan, for example, the army also runs businesses, like cement factories. I’ve heard that the same is true of Egypt. The military is deeply entwined with large sectors of industry. Now Johnson and co.’s plan only involves drafting the military in to deal with a shortage of civil servants. But Zelo Street posted a piece recently showing that the government was also considering buying up the surplus food produced by our farmers if they could not export to the continent, and asked whether they would also provide financial support to the British car industry, another part of the economy that’s under threat. If the government decides that they, too, will have to be given over to army management or staffing, then Johnson and the Tories will really have turned this country into a third world nation. He’ll have a created a real military dictatorship, like those that have afflicted Pakistan and other nations. And they will be cheered on in this destruction by the right-wing press, like the Times, the Mail and the Scum. Lurking behind this threat of a coup, is the danger of a return of real Nazism from Social Darwinists like Toby Young and Dominic Cummings, who fear that giving education and welfare support to the poor and disabled is a threat to our racial stock and the proper running of our society by the upper classes. You can see them demanding legislation once again to sterilise the disabled and those on benefits.

The Tories and the right-wing media, including the Beeb, are now a real threat to democracy, whatever Boris and the Polecat now say about holding elections. We have to get them out, even if that means that Corbyn and the rest of the opposition have to bide their time for the moment. The future of our country and its people really is at stake.

 

 

Fascism’s Advocacy of Privatisation and Financial Retrenchment

August 15, 2019

I’ve posted a number of blogs about the way some Conservative propagandists have tried to discredit socialism by claiming that Fascism was a form of it. The argument here is that Fascism advocated the state planning and management of the economy like state socialism, and so therefore must similarly be a form of socialism. For the Libertarians, any state intervention in the economy or industry is automatically attacked as socialism. They demand instead complete free trade and the reduction of the state to an absolute minimum, based on their ideas of 19th century laissez-faire economics. For them, any economic system that is not based on complete free trade and unregulated private industry is socialism, not capitalism. Left-wing commenters, on the other hand, have argued very clearly that this is a very unrealistic idea of capitalism, which has never existed in reality. Mussolini did indeed begin his career as a radical socialist, and Fascism itself emerged from Italian anarcho-syndicalism after the First World War.  However, Mussolini broke with the socialists and forces of the Italian left, to embrace capitalism and the parties and organisations of the right. The Fascists were supported by the rich landowners and the industrialists in their attacks on socialism, trade unions, and the peasant organisations. They were invited into the Italian parliament to join a coalition of right-wing Liberals and eventually merged with the Italian Nationalists. They also rejected, at least initially, state intervention in industry. In government, Mussolini stated that Fascism stood for the economics of the Manchester School, that is, absolute free enterprise.

The Fascists’ Conservative economic stance is clearly seen in their 1921 Party programme. This demanded a system of cuts to uneconomic businesses and public works projects that is very similar to the policy taken towards them by right-wing governments, including New Labour, ever since Margaret Thatcher. And it also declared its support for private industry against state control. In the section ‘Cornerstones of Fiscal Policy and Policies for National Economic Reconstruction’ are the following clauses

  1. Balancing state and local budgets (when necessary) by means of rigorous cutbacks to all parasitic or redundant entities and via reductions in expenditures neither crucial to the well-being of the beneficiaries nor justified by more general objectives.
  2. Decentralisation of the public administration so as to simplify the delibery of services and to streamline our bureaucracy, without falling into the trap of regionalism (which we firmly oppose).
  3. Shielding the taxpayers’ money from misuse by means of the abolition of all state or local government concessions and subventions to consortia, cooperatives, factories, special clienteles, and other entities similarly incapable of surviving on their own and not indispensable to the nation.

….

6. Cessation of policies favoring public works projects that are botched, undertaken for electoral reasons, or supposedly to insure law and order, projects that are unprofitable because of the irregular and fragmentary way in which they are distributed.

….

8. Return to private sector of industries that the state has managed poorly, in particular the telephone system and the railroads. Regarding the latter, competition needs to be enhanced between the major lines, which need, in turn, to be managed differentially with respect to regional and local lines.

9. Abolition of the state monopoly on postal and telegraphic communications so that private enterprise may supplement and eventually replace the state-run service.

The subsequent section, ‘Cornerstones of Social Policy’, begins with a statement of the importance of private property and industry as the fundamental basis of Fascist economic and social policy. This runs

Fascism recognises the social function of private property. At once a right and a duty, private property is the form of management that society has traditionally granted individuals so that they may increase the overall patrimony.

In its opposition to socialist projects for reconstruction that rely upon a dogmatically collectivist model of economics, the National Fascist Party has its feet firmly planted in the soil of our historical and national reality. This reality does not allow for a single type of agricultural or industrial economy. The party, accordingly, supports any and every solution, be it individualistic or any other kind, that will guarantee the maximum level of production and well-being.

The National Fascist Party advocates a regime that would strive to increase our national wealth by unleashing individual enterprises and energies – the most powerful and industrious factor in economic production – and by abolishing, once and for all, the rusty, costly, and unproductive machinery of state-, society -, and municipality-based control. The party thus supports all efforts to enhance Italy’s productivity and to eliminate forms of individual and group parasitism. 

see Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed., A Primer of Italian Fascism (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press 2000), 14-15.

Now the Fascist programme did contain elements of Socialism, such as the demands for an eight hour working day, and later in Mussolini’s regime the state ended up owning a sizable part of the Italian economy as it was forced to buy up failing corporations. But even if the regime was forced to go back on its stated policy of allowing failing companies to go to the wall, it still strongly supported private enterprise although subject to considerable state intervention.

It’s very clear from this that, at least at that stage, Fascist economic policy was very similar to the free enterprise economics of Thatcher and Reagan. There’s also a further similarity, in that contemporary politics in both America and Britain is also corporatist. The Italian Fascist economy was supposed to be run by a ‘Chamber of Corporations and Fasces’ in which both representatives of management and the trade unions sat together. In practice the trade unions were strictly controlled by the Fascist state, with the management and proprietors enjoying a far greater degree of freedom. Contemporary Britain and America has a form of corporativism, in that very members of Congress in the US and parliament in Britain are proprietors or senior management of private firms. The parties also receive substantial funding from private corporations, with the result that government policy is framed to benefit private corporate interests, rather than working people.

Unlike Mussolini’s later regime, however, the current right-wing governments haven’t worked out that free trade and an economy based on untrammeled, absolute private industry doesn’t work either. They’re what the Australian economist John Quiggin has described as ‘zombie economics’, because the ideas are dead and should have been discarded long ago, but are still haunting us.

Conservative propagandists are therefore completely wrong. Fascism was pro-capitalist, and supported private enterprise, despite the movement’s left-wing origins and Mussolini’s attempt to return to socialism during the brief period of the Nazi-supported Salo Republic. It is very similar to today’s Conservativism rather than socialism, although the Republicans and Tories haven’t outlawed rival political parties nor tried to replace parliament or congress with a personal dictatorship and corporativist chamber. But Boris Johnson over here and Donald Trump across the pond are sounding more Fascist day by day, as BoJob’s splenetic attack on British MPs ‘collaborating’ with the EU shows.

Brendan O’Neill Claims El Paso Mass Murderer ‘Eco-Terrorist’

August 10, 2019

Is there no lie so low that Brendan O’Neill and Spiked won’t stoop to? Spiked magazine, as has been pointed out by various left-wing blogs, is completely unrelated to the satirical magazine of the same name that briefly appeared in the 1990s. That was an attempt to compete with Private Eye, but rather more left-wing and much more scatological. It had a cartoon strip spoofing Clinton with the title ‘Clinton’s Got Aides’, for example, which was presumably a pun about both the presidential staffers and the disease. The modern Spiked is frantically right-wing. It’s what happened to the net work around Living Marxism magazine after Communism collapsed. Instead of carrying on the ideological struggle for equality and workers’ rights, the former Revolutionary Communists decided to throw on in their lot with capitalism and became extremely right-wing. And one of their latest pieces of drivel is very unpleasant indeed.

On Thursday, the Sage of Crewe put up on Zelo Street a piece taking apart an article by Brendan O’Neill, one of Spiked’s hacks, who decided to vent his spleen and try to smear the left with the El Paso massacre last weekend. You’d have thought this would be difficult, as the murderer was a White supremacist with a bitter hatred of immigrants. Like the White terrorist a few months ago who shot up the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, because they were Jews, who were heavily involved with a charity for immigrants. But no, for O’Neill it was because the mass-murderer was an ‘eco-terrorist’. O’Neill’s piece began

In his alleged manifesto, the killer, alongside his racist rants about Hispanic people and the ‘replacement’ of whites, attacks modern society for being eco-unfriendly. Westerners’ lifestyles are ‘destroying the environment’ and ‘creating a massive burden for future generations’, he says. He seems obsessed with the core element of green thinking.

He then went on to state that the murderer in his manifesto was also strongly opposed to urban sprawl, consumer culture for producing thousands of tonnes of plastic and electronic waste, and humanity’s decimation of the environment. He also alleged that the murderer targeted a Wal-Mart as an act of ‘eco-Malthusianism’. O’Neill speculated that he not only wanted to kill Latinos, but also shoppers. He also claimed that the butcher, who opened fire on the worshippers at the mosque in Christchurch said that he was an ‘eco-Fascist’ not a Nazi. The Zelo Street article effectively tears O’Neill’s nonsense to shreds, quoting a comment by Zubaida Haque:

Brendan O’Neill’s piece is utterly dishonest. I’ve seen the manifesto thru a journalist. It’s almost entirely focused on immigrants and barely mentions environmentalists. And there’s a whole section on guns, how it’s great that US have them and how the killer needed to adapt his”.

Zelo Street notes that, strangely, O’Neill’s article doesn’t mention that. He also skewers the article’s attempts to appear mildly even-handed by throwing in a few ‘perhaps’ and ‘it seems’ when the title of the wretched article asserts that ‘El Paso was a vile act of eco-terrorism’. He concludes that O’Neill is a massive charlatan, ‘so no change there then’.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brendan-o-neill-out-trolls-himself.html

There are several points of interest about the article, and how it tries to divert attention from the attacker’s real motives. One is O’Neill’s careful avoidance of informing his readers that the El Paso terrorist was a gun nut. The Republican party gets a considerable amount of funding from the NRA, whose leadership get donations from the gun and munitions companies. Most Americans, including the rank and file members of the NRA, would actually like tougher legislation on certain types firearms to prevent atrocities like this occurring. Or at least, preventing the killers from having access to military-grade weaponry. But because of the power of corporate sponsorship, this is ignored in favour of the fanatics, who believe that every American should have the right to own the type of guns and armaments wielded by professional soldiers. In the name of freedom, of course.

The argument here is that a free people need guns in order to defend themselves from an oppressive regime. The Holocaust is often cited as an example. If the Jews had guns, it’s argued, they could have successfully fought off the Nazis. This ignores the fact that the legislation permitting and demanding their persecution was gradually enacted, so that it is difficult to tell when German and eastern European Jews could have rebelled before it was too late. Furthermore, while the Jews were disarmed, the Nazis were also very firmly in favour of ‘Aryan’ Germans owning firearms. And in many cases, Jews did not go passively to the gas chambers, but rose in heroic revolt. But this didn’t help them, because they were pitched against the massively superior force of the German armed forces. No matter how incredibly bravely they fought, it was inevitable that, with the exception of the Russian Jews, who banded together in that country’s forests, they’d lose.

Guns don’t guarantee freedom. And the availability of military-grade weapons to the public just makes atrocities like El Paso possible, regardless of the views of doubtless responsible weapons hobbyists.

There’s also the attempt in O’Neill’s article to smear Green politics with the taint of Fascism. The Republicans in America have been doing that for a very long time. I remember coming across this type of argument in the 1980s. This argues that because the Nazis were very ecologically aware, environmentalism itself is somehow automatically Fascist. This obviously ignores the central features of Fascism – dictatorship, extreme nationalism, racism and militarism. It also ignores the fact that the roots of the modern Green movement lies in the increasing appreciation of the threatened beauty of the natural world from the 19th century onward by thinkers and social movements that had nothing to do with Nazism or organised anti-Semitism. One source of the American Conservationist movement, for example, is working class huntsmen. The same people the American Right tends to celebrate and defend. In fact much of the early Conservationist movement in both America and Britain came from the first few generations of factory workers, who yearned for the beauty of the countryside their parents and grandparents had left in search of work. At the same time, local authorities and the wider public in Britain became concerned about the threat to the countryside from urban sprawl and the dangers to health from industrial pollution, lack of sanitation and overcrowding. One early example of this new sensibility in art is Cruikshank’s 1829 cartoon, London Going Out of Town, which shows the capital, represented by decaying buildings, and personified by marching, anthropomorphic buckets and spades, invading a terrified, equally anthropomorphised countryside.

O’Neill’s piece also shows how desperate the Anglo-American Right are to divert attention from the role of nationalism in the rising racism and the resulting atrocities. Remember how Candace Owens, when she appeared over here to promote Turning Point UK, tried to distance nationalism from the Nazis? She notoriously claimed that, in her opinion, Hitler wasn’t a nationalist. He was the opposite of a nationalist, she claimed, because he didn’t want what was right for his own country. He imposed it on others. She was rightly torn to shreds for this piece of utter bunkum by people, who pointed out that her wretched comment seemed to suggest that it would have been all right for Hitler to exterminate the Jews, if he had just kept to those in Germany. They also pointed out that Hitler actively said that he was a nationalist. It was in his party’s name: the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). Conservatives, not just in America, like to claim that he was a socialist on the basis of the party’s name, despite the fact that the Nazis weren’t and were actively hostile to it, whatever they said to the contrary. But they really don’t want to face the fact that he also rightly claimed to be a nationalist.

O’Neill’s article is thus absolute rubbish, designed to protect nationalism and the gun lobby by throwing the blame instead on the Green movement. It’s an example of Spiked’s absolute mendacity, and is pretty much in line with the Right’s hatred of environmentalism and its increasing concern to defend racism and extreme nationalism. And unfortunately, as governments in America and Britain move rightward, I fear we can expect more of this dangerous nonsense.