Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Richard Tice Calls for the Partial Renationalisation of the Water and Power Companies

February 1, 2023

Reform posted this short video, just over two minutes long, on their YouTube channel. In it, their current fuehrer calls for the partial, and rather half-hearted renationalisation of the water and power companies. He tries to connect this with Brexit, and has a dig at Starmer for initially backing it and then dropping it, saying he was no longer interested. Tice begins by stating that we are being badly served by the water companies, who are foreign-owned and so use various dodges to avoid paying tax. No other country allows vital parts of their infrastructure to be owned by foreigners. This is quite true, and Mike has been pointing this out on Vox Political since forever and day. This has been the case since they were privatised by the Tories great, molten idol of private enterprise, Maggie Thatcher, in the 1980s. He wants them partly renationalised – 50 per cent owned by the state, 50 per cent owned by pension funds, and placed under private management. This, he feels, will bring it the best of both state and private enterprise.

He’s wrong, of course. There is no magic solution behind private industry. When they’ve been handed state enterprises or institutions, their policy has always been the same: sack people and make those who remain work for less in poorer conditions in order to deliver profits and shareholder dividends. This has been done in the NHS, when hospitals and doctors’ surgeries have been handed over to private companies. In the case of GPs, this has also resulted in unprofitable patients being dumped and their surgeries closed. It also reminds me slightly of the restructuring of industry under the Nazis. Companies were linked together in a series of industrial associations, set up as private companies but membership of whom was mandatory under the Nazi regime. These associations were under the direction of the state planning apparatus running the economy. And the head of these industrial associations always came from private industry, even when the companies under him were state-owned. Obviously Tice isn’t calling for an extension of this system to British industry as a whole or its transformation into a centrally-planned economy. But he makes the same assumptions that Hitler and the Nazis, as well as the Italian fascists did, about the superiority of private industry. And as a true-blue Brexiteer he tries to link it to Brexit by saying that, as with the departure from the EU, this is all part of Britain taking back control.

Still, Tice has got something right, even though I think his speech is partly influenced by a BBC report today that Oxford Council has called for the end of water privatisation, as well as the outrage of the massive profits the private power companies have been making while energy bills have rocketed.. He’s clearly looking around for policies which he thinks will resonate with the public, and so has recognised, albeit grudgingly from the half-hearted way he wants it done, that the majority of the British public want the renationalisation of the public services. Of course, he’s still extremely right-wing in demanding more cuts to the welfare state, which he’s justified with the bogus explanation that British people need to move into low paid jobs in order to stop the British state importing more foreigners to do them. I posted a piece yesterday rubbishing that, and you should also read the comments on the piece left by the greater people reading this blog, who have added much more relevant information. But it is interesting that in this area of policy, Reform has moved left of Labour.

Not that I’ll believe they’ll keep their promises, anymore than I believe Starmer will.

The Long Johns on the Pointed Lesson of the South Sea Bubble

January 30, 2023

Here’s another razor-sharp piece of satire from the Long Johns, the late John Bird and John Fortune, though it’s set very firmly in the past. It’s from Raveemismail’s channel on YouTube, and has them performing their dialogue in period costume as an ordinary investor caught out by a predatory broker selling shares in the South Sea Bubble of 1720. This was a notorious financial scandal when shares were being sold in the South Sea Company. Very handsome profits were promised, the shares skyrocketed in value but there was absolutely nothing backing them up. The whole affair collapsed ruining people. The dialogue also mentions a similar scandal of 90 years previously, the tulipomania that hit the Netherlands where members of the respectable Dutch middle class bankrupted themselves buying tulips. This is obviously acutely relevant to similar crashes far more recently, like the subprime mortgages and the bankers’ crash. From the comments to the video it seems that it was also relevant to the way bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were being pushed. It just shows that how relevant some incidents from the past still are in the 21st first century.

This is so much the case that one American investment house used to require its employees to read the book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written in the 19th century. The book discussed a series of historical and contemporary fads, from alchemy and the witch craze in the Middle Ages to the craze for people saying ‘Quoz’ in England at the time. And one of these was the South Sea Bubble. It’s a pity nobody took that piece of history more seriously, or we might have avoided the bankers’ crash, austerity, and nigh on 15 years of austerity and poverty inflicted on the poor and ordinary working people in order to keep the banks afloat and give more money to the already bloated rich.

Are the Tories Demanding Further British Involvement in Ukraine as a Diversion from their Crookedness?

January 24, 2023

That was the allegation made today in a video put up by Our Favourite YouTube ‘Historia’. Johnson was in one of the tabloids today giving Britain the benefit of his experience and talent in foreign affairs. I just saw the headline which was something about how Britain should give more aid to Ukraine as if it falls, Putin will be a threat to Europe. I didn’t read any more. It was in something like the Depress or the Scum or some other terrible rag, which isn’t worth reading. But apparently he had more to say. He wanted Ukraine to be admitted to NATO ASAP. Simon Webb over at History Debunked took this idea apart, showing that far from leading to peace or defeat for the Russians, it would instead probably lead to World War III. If NATO did admit Ukraine, then the next Putin attacked we would be required to counterattack by the terms of the treaty. You can see how this would expand into a direct war between NATO and Russia and the possibility that this would go nuclear very quickly. Putin and his aides have been making threats of a nuclear strike against the NATO countries, as well as threatening to invade Sweden if it joined NATO. One of the news articles that came up for me a little while ago on the news feed on my browser argued that Putin wasn’t bluffing when he made these threats. Elsewhere the group of scientists responsible for the Doomsday Clock showing how far away we are from nuclear Armageddon moved its hands forward to 90 seconds to minute. This places us in unprecedented danger, the group says. So what Johnson has said is so colossally stupid that the former Prime Minister should be nowhere near power. But what do you expect from him? This is the edit, you will remember, who started reciting the Road to Mandalay when on an official visit to Thailand’s holiest Buddhist temple. This is the nutter, who went off a diplomat mission to Moscow to soothe tensions with Putin, only to ramp them up even further at a press interview on his return. And there’s more and worse. There was a story going round last year that Zelensky was about to make a peace deal with Putin, only to persuaded otherwise when Johnson turned up to advise him.

Webb suggests that this suicidal belligerence from Johnson may come from the sorry state of affairs He, Rishi Sunak and Zahawi are in. Zahawi’s facing criticism and calls for an inquiry because he’s been dodging paying tax, Sunak got a loan from a Tory donor, who was then rewarded with a place at the Beeb and Johnson is similarly having his collar felt for breaches of ministerial conduct. Webb states that Johnson couldn’t have made these comments without approval from Sunak, and so this sabre-rattling is just to get us to look away from their personal corruption. I can see there being more than something behind this. One of the ways governments try to divert attention from domestic failures is to start a foreign policy conflict.

But there are other aspects to the Ukraine conflict which make it very clear that all is not as it appears. After the fall of communism, the west signed a deal with Gorbachev that NATO would not expand into the former eastern bloc and threaten Russia’s borders. But this is what NATO has done with the accession of Poland and other states. The Maidan Revolution which overthrew the pro-Russian Ukrainian president in favour of one who was pro-western, wasn’t a spontaneously democratic display of popular anger. It was carefully orchestrated by Victoria Nuland and Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state, and the National Endowment for Democracy, the organisation that has taken over the CIA’s role in engineering regime change.

But there are dangers for rightists and ethnonationalists in following this line of inquiry. Before you know it, you could end up like the late American Nazi leader, Francis Parker Yockey. Yockey was a White supremacist almost straight out of the skits of the Blues Brothers and The Producers. He used to appear on Public Access Television in New York in the 1970s, seated wearing a blue uniform and motorcycle helmet and flanked by two of his storm troopers ranting his fascist nonsense. Not surprisingly, he was eventually kicked off air following complaints from Jewish viewers. Surprisingly for a raving Nazi, Yockey was a fan of the Soviet Union. He felt it was the great hope for the White race because it was still a dictatorship after the western nations had embraced corrupt democracy. There was a similar tendency over here in Nick Griffin’s BNP. There was a section of its membership and supporters that admired Colonel Gadaffy’s Libya.

Webb has posted videos suggesting that Britain needs a dictator for White Britain to survive and that we should be giving medals to particularly prolific women like the Nazis did. But the Soviet Union also gave out ‘Heroic Mother’ medals and there was a similar scheme by Mussolini as part of his ‘Battle for Births’. Putin is also a dictator, who is also keen on promoting national pride among his people, and he has succeeded in raising the Russian birth rate, which had been declining below replacement levels.

Putin’s a thug and a monster, but if you want to see where such ideas about nationalist dictators lead, they lead to people like him. If not worse.

The Economic Falsehoods Behind ‘Expansionary Austerity’

January 23, 2023

Expansionary Austerity is one of the discredited and utterly falsified economic theories the Australian economist John Quiggin attacks in his book Zombie Economics (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010). It’s the idea that savagely cutting government expenditure will somehow restore economic growth. It was the policy adopted by governments across the world, including Dave Cameron’s Conservative administration in Britain, to save the global economy after it had been comprehensively trashed by the banksters in 2008. It was based on the theories of Albert Alesina and a number of co-authors, most notably Sylvia Ardagna and their study of how austerity had supposedly benefited various countries, Tales of Fiscal Adjustment: Can Austerity Be Expansionary. One of the countries examined in their study was Quiggin’s own, Australia. He went back and looked at what they said about it, and found that it was riddled with inaccuracies and errors. He gives the following examples to show how seriously, seriously flawed their study was:

*Alexina and Ardagna attribute the policy of austerity to “a leftwing government elected in 1985.” In fact, the government was elected in early 1983 at the depths of a severe recession. It implemented an expansionary fiscal policy. The recovery was well under way when the government took measures, beginning in 1984, to wind back the budget deficit.

  • Alesina and Ardagna assert that the main budget savings came from “cuts in transfer programmes …. mainly concentrated on unemployment insurance.” Spending on unemployment benefits fell but not because of cuts. The unemployment rate was falling, and expenditure on benefits declined as a result. This is the standard Keynesian “automatic stabilizers” at work.
  • Most strikingly of all they write, “Australia is a clear case of an ‘expansionary fiscal contraction.’ GDP grew faster during and in the aftermath of the adjustment, both in absolute terms and relative to the G7 countries. A private investment boom was associated with profits and easier access to credit following the financial deregulation process that took place in 1985-6. ‘ This is like the story of the man who jumps off a tall buiilding and says, as he passes the 25th floor, “All good so far.” Writing a decade later, in 1998, Alesina and Ardagna must surely have been aware that, almost immediately after their story ends, Australia entered the worst recession in postwar history.’ (pp.225-6).

Quiggin continues

‘Australia’s recession was triggered by contractionary monetary policy, but its severity resulted primarily from the collapse of the investment boom mentioned by Alesina and Ardagna. The boom was dominated by speculative investment projects undertaken by so-called entrepreneurs who took advantage of financial deregulation to build conglomerate empires that failed in the crisis, almost taking down the banking system with them. The Australian experience of the 1980s was a preview of what would happen in the United States and Europe in the 2000s.

To sum up, the tale told by Alesina and Ardagna bears no relation to the actual history of Australia in the 1980s. The most revealing point about their account is their eagerness to shift the burden of adjustment to a crisis onto its most vulnerable victims-the unemployed. In this respect, the literature on expansionary austerity of which this paper was a part might have served as a warning of the brutal policies that were to be adopted in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.’ (p. 226).

Quiggin then goes on to discuss the global financial crisis and the austerity programmes that followed, showing how they were failures. These policies were nevertheless pushed because they allowed the 1 per cent elite to expand their wealth and power against everyone else. The chapter concludes by showing how the crisis could have been solved using Keynesian economics.

Despite the Tories’ pronouncements that austerity has ended, I’ve seen no evidence that this is the case. They continued to cut public expending catastrophically until forced to do the reverse by the Covid pandemic. And now that the world is going back to some semblance of normality, they’re going to return to it.

The working people of Britain and the west have been forced into poverty and starvation through nonsensical policies based on bad, massively inaccurate and biased research. It’s time austerity was discarded and Keynsianism, with a proper welfare state, was restored.

Gracchus Babeuf and the Calls for a Welfare State in 18th Century France

January 21, 2023

Gracchus Babeuf was a French revolutionary, who tried to overthrow the Directory and establish a communist state during the French Revolution as the leader of the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’. He’s one of the founders of the European socialist and communist traditions. I’ve been reading Ian Birchall’s book on him and his legacy, The Spectre of Babeuf (Haymarket Books 2016), and it’s fascinating. Birchall discusses the influences on Babeuf, which included Morelly, the author of the Code de la Nature, which also advocated a communist system with a centrally planned economy, Nicolas Collignon, who wrote an 8 page pamphlet demanding the same, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Collignon’s ideal state, the citizens were to be provided with free food and clothing, high quality housing, schools and healthcare. Like the Tories, he also believed in competition, so doctors would be graded according to their performance. Those that cured the most would be consequently paid more and get promotion, while those who cured the least would be struck off. Even before he devised his own communist plans, he was already discussing the need for collective farms. What he meant by this is not collective farms in the soviet sense, but farms run cooperatively by their workers rather than a single farmer with employees. And he was also in favour of creating a welfare state. In a book he authored on correct taxation, he wrote

‘That a national fund for the subsistence of the poor should be established. That doctors, apothecaries and surgeons should be psif wages out of public funds so that they can administer assistance free of charge. That a system of national education be established out of which all citizens may take advantage. That magistrates be also paid wages out of public revenue, so that justice can be done free of charge.’ (p. 29).

Birchall also attacks the view promoted by Talmon in his The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy that Babeuf was an authoritarian who prefigured soviet tyranny. Talmon was an Israeli Conservative writing at the beginning of the Cold War. But Babeuf himself, although a revolutionary, was also keen to preserve and expand democracy. One of his suggestions was that there should be a set of elected officials charged with making sure that delegates to the national assembly were representing their constituents properly. If they weren’t, the people had the right to recall them.

Regarding industrial organisation, he believed that the citizens in each commune should be divided into classes, each class representing a different trade. The members of these classes would appoint governors, who would set the work and carry out the instructions of the municipal government. It’s very much a command economy, and utopian in that money would be abolished.

I can’t say I find Babeuf’s full-blown communist ideas attractive, for the reason I believe in a mixed a economy and the right of people to do what they wish outside of interference from either the authorities or other people. And I really don’t see how such a state could last long without a money economy. Some Russians looked forward to the establishment of such an economy at the beginning of the Russian Revolution when the economy began to break down and trading went back to barter in some areas until the Bolsheviks restored the economy. And there is clearly conflict between violent revolution and democracy. But I respect his calls for a welfare state. He was also an advocate of equality for women and an opponent of imperialism, which he felt corrupted extra-European peoples with European vices. This view is clearly based on the 17th century ideas of the Noble Savage, in which primitive peoples are seen as better and more morally advanced than civilised westerners.

Demands for a welfare state are as old as socialism itself. We cannot allow the British welfare state and NHS to be destroyed by the Tories and Blairite Labour under Starmer.

Reform Party Promising to Protect British Freedoms against the Government, the EU and Unelected Organisations

January 20, 2023

Okay, I just found a brief video on YouTube, posted eight days ago, on Nick Buckley’s channel. Buckley’s a former police officer and campaigner against knife crime, who’s appeared a couple of times on the Lotus Eater’s channel. I wasn’t surprised then, when he posted this video interviewing Richard Tice about Reform’s ‘Eight Principles’. In the video, however, he only talks about four of them. These are largely about protecting British democratic rights against the threat of the state and unelected organisations and quangos. According to Tice, Brits are aware that they’re born free and have inalienable rights unlike in the EU. Thus, Brits are able to whatever they like unless prohibited, while in the EU they can only do whatever the EU tells them to.

The irony about this is that the idea that humans are born free comes from a continental philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau has been condemned as one of the founders of totalitarianism. One Conservative American group made Rousseau’s The Social Contract one of the most evil books of all time alongside Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin included him among his Six Enemies of Freedom and the Lotus Eaters have also put out videos attacking him. But Rousseau’s book begins with the words, ‘Man was born free yet everywhere he is chains.’ The idea that you should be free to do whatever you want unless the law says otherwise, I think comes from John Locke a century before, and is the foundation of modern liberal ideas of freedom. However, other European philosophers also had views similar to Locke’s, that the state should be limited to the role of a night watchman, in the sense say that it should protect its citizens’ lives and property, but otherwise not interfere. This is the view expressed by the German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt in his Grenzen Der Wirksamkeit der Staat – ‘Limits of the Effectiveness of the State’. I don’t know what the underlying philosophy of government of the European Union is. I suspect there isn’t one beyond harmonising various trade and other regulations between member states and allowing for the movement of labour and capital. The original intention was to create a united trading bloc to preserve western European economic independence from America or communist eastern Europe. The Eurosceptic right has frequently ranted about the EU being some kind of totalitarian state with comparisons to Nazi Germany and communism, but I’ve seen no evidence to support it. And rather than limiting freedom, I think the EU believes it is actively creating and nurturing freedom in its member states. Such as when it condemns Poland and Hungary for their legislation banning homosexuality and gay rights.

Now let’s go through the principles as explained by Tice and Buckley in the video.

  1. The state is our servant not our master.

I don’t believe any believer in liberal democracy, whether of the left or right, would challenge this. The only people who would are either Fascists, following Mussolini’s pronouncements that the individual is nothing before the state, followers of Hegel’s dictum that ‘the state is the divine idea as it exists on Earth. We must therefore worship the state’ and supporters of Soviet Communism before Gorby’s brief reforms. However, in the context of Reform, a party of the right, it seems to me that this is yet another bland statement intended to justify further privatisation and the expansion of the power of private industry and the destruction of the welfare state against working people, the poor, the unemployed and disabled.

2. Lend us your power and we’ll give you back your freedom.

This could be said by just about any political party, even those which were real enemies of freedom. Hitler, in one of his rants at Nuremberg, declared ‘Everything I am, I am through you. Everything you are, you are through me’. The Nazi party anthem, the Horst Wessel song, also has lines about German freedom. Hitler also talked about preserving freedom through separating the different spheres of party and state and preserving private industry, though in practice under the Nazi regime the party and state apparatus were intermeshed and private industry ruthlessly subordinated to the state. Mussolini also made speeches about how the freedom of the individual wasn’t limited under fascism, except in certain ways, all of which was equally rubbish.

3. People are free.

This means, as he explains, that people naturally hold certain rights and liberties that should always be protected and defended. These include freedom of speech, religion and conscience. This does not mean that certain types of speech have no consequences. I interpret this as meaning that he feels that people can say what they want, but people are also free to express outrage and take action against others for offensive or dangerous speech that is not otherwise banned by law. Tice goes on to say that in practice, while people believe in this principle, they negotiate to give up a certain amount of this freedom with the state.

I think here he means particularly the legislation on hate speech, which in his view prevents proper criticism of certain protected groups in order to combat racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and so on. He has a point, as opponents of gay rights, who have made their opposition very clear in speeches, often quoting the Biblical prohibition against it, have been arrested. In Scotland Maria Miller, a gender critical woman, was arrested for hate speech simply for putting up stickers with the slogan ‘Scots Women Won’t Wheesht’, meaning that they wouldn’t be silent, in her campaign against the proposed gender recognition legislation north of the border. In my opinion, arresting someone for saying that goes beyond a concern about stirring up hatred against trans people into active attempts to police thoughts and opinions about trans rights.

But there are good reasons behind the legislation banning hate speech. In the case of racism, it’s to prevent Nazi groups stirring up hatred against vulnerable minorities like the Jews, people of colour and gays, all of whom have been or are targets of abuse and physical assault.

4. National Sovereignty

This means protecting British traditions, institutions and culture from enemies both external and internal. The external foes include the EU. The internal threats to British tradition and democracy are unelected pressure groups and organisations. These include big tech and companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook. This is a fair point. These organisations can and do censor material posted on their platforms. The right have been complaining about their posts disappearing or the algorithms governing their availability in searches being altered so that they become invisible, but the same censorship is also inflicted on the left. If Tice and his crew get the chance, I’ve no doubt they’ll demand greater freedom of speech for their supporters while maintaining or even strengthening the censorship against their opponents on the left.

Other threats, unsurprisingly, are the European Union, while among the unelected organisations wielding power he puts the environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and the gay rights organisation Stonewall. Tice states that a few years ago Greenpeace published their manifesto for Yorkshire, which was a diatribe against the car, and therefore, in his view, an attack on the automobile industry in west Yorkshire. One of the accusations the extreme right is throwing at environmental groups is that they wish to ban cars and private transport as part of their plan to establish Green Communism. He also includes Stonewall and the massive influence it wields, although no-one has elected it. There is a problem with Stonewall in that the advice it has been giving to companies, the government and the civil service has been wrong. They deliberately gave a wrongful interpretation of the legislation covering trans issues which was very much what they wanted it to say, not what the law actually did. As a result, a number of groups cut their connections to the organisation.

But unelected groups like Greenpeace, Stonewall and so on acquire their power through possessing, or being perceived to express, expertise and competence in particular issues. In the case of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, it’s the environment. Amnesty International is respected because of its thorough investigation and documentation of human rights abuses, even though governments may pay no attention to its findings. Stonewall is taken notice of because it speaks, or claims to speak, for Britain’s gays and articulates their concerns and recommendations to combat prejudice.

Even in the 19th century governments had to pay attention to popular protest organisations, such as the massive abolitionist campaign against slavery, the Anti-Corn Law League set up by Cobden and Bright to have the corn laws repealed so that the price of grain would fall and working people able to feed themselves. There was also the anti-war protests against the Crimean War led by John Bright and others. There are problems with unelected groups exercising power beyond their competence or suitability, but modern governments have always had to deal with organised groups. Tice’s singling out of the environmental groups and Stonewall seems to me to be as much to do with a hatred of their views – the Brexiteers are full-scale behind the right of private industry to trash this country’s green and pleasant land – than with their supposed power outside of the formal sphere of elections. I doubt that Reform would ever go as far if they were in power, but it reminds me more than a little bit of Mussolini’s statement that there should be ‘nothing outside the state, nothing against the state’, and similar bans on private quasi-political organisations in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

But what you’ll also notice is that these principles tell you absolutely nothing about how Reform as a party intends to act on them, except by reading the lines. What does Reform intend to do about the health service? Not said. I suspect, in fact, that as a party of the right they’ll want to privatise even more of it. What about the welfare state and the scandal of millions of people using food banks? No answers there, either. I suspect, however, that in practice you’d get more mantras of encouraging people to be independent, find work and so on, coupled with rants about welfare scroungers. What about industry? Again, the reality is almost certainly that they want more deregulation. Well, we’ve had four decades of Thatcherite privatisation and deregulation, and the result is the mass poverty and failing economy we’re now experiencing. Industry should be acting for the good of society and its employees and not just shareholders and senior management. This means limiting economic freedom, but as the Liberal journalist J.A. Hobson said, in order for the mass of people to be free you need to limit the freedom of the rich. Which is obviously toxic to the Conservatives and other parties of the right.

To sum up, what Reform seems to be doing with these principles is to try to position themselves as defenders of traditional British liberties against the threat of the evil EU and pesky Green and gay groups. But this hides an illiberal ideology that views such groups as somehow subversive, would probably remove the obstacles against real, dangerous expressions of racial and other prejudice, and which would promote the interests of private industry against ordinary Brits.

We can’t afford to be taken in by sweet words hiding their true intentions.

Piece from Ugandan Television about Heritage Centre Celebrating Emin Pasha, Fighter Against the Slave Trade

January 20, 2023

I came across this piece yesterday from the Ugandan broadcaster UBC. It’s a short video about the restoration of buildings donated by local people to the Ugandan government to be used as a heritage centre commemorating the stay in the area of the Emin Pasha. Pasha, real name Edward Schnitzer, was born in Poland but briefly settled in this part of Uganda in 1891-2 to combat the slavers in the area. He then left for what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he died a couple of years later. The heritage centre will be also be an information centre, and has been visited by students from Uganda’s university and primary schools. Although the speaker states that there has been no serious incidents, he does describe some friction between the restoration team and local people. From the context it seems that this may be over the gift of the land and buildings to the government, but relations have been soothed by the fact that the government is actually restoring the buildings.

East Africa was prey to Arab, Portuguese and Indian slavers and the African tribes who allied with them to do the actual slave raiding. During the ‘scramble for Africa’ of the late 19th century, Britain fought against these slavers. There were also military expeditions launched by the Egyptian pashas in the 1870s to stamp out slaving in the Sudan and Uganda. I wonder if Pasha was part of these operations, as shown by his taking a Muslim name.

I’m putting up this video, because it shows a different aspect to the memorialisation of the slave trade in Africa, one in which the men, who fought against it are celebrated. In the case of Emin Pasha, this is a White European, whose efforts on behalf of and with Black Ugandans is clearly appreciated and celebrated.

A Democratic Marxist Condemnation of the Soviet Regime

January 18, 2023

A few days ago I put up a post about the 18th century communist Morelly. He had some interesting ideas, although I made it clear that I am not a supporter of communism because of the tyranny, poor economic performance and poverty of the Soviet regime. One of the great commenters here remarked that describing the USSR as a tyranny probably wouldn’t go down very well with the Socialist Workers Party, now renamed the Socialist Party. I’m not sure, as the Socialist Workers were, in their day, a Trotskyite party, and therefore opposed to the communism of the USSR over the issue of Stalin’s dictatorship. The impression I had was that the Trotskyite parties wanted a communist society, but one where the workers themselves would hold power through soviets, rather than controlled by the communist bureaucracy.

As well as the Trotskyites, there were democratic Marxists in the west, who believed that socialism should be achieved democratically and rejected violent revolution and the dictatorship of the USSR. Karl Kautsky, an Austrian Marxist and one of the leaders of European Marxism, took this position. Another was the French Marxist, Lucien Laurat, who made the following scathing condemnation of the Soviet tyranny in Russia in his Marxism and Democracy, published by the Left Book Club in 1940.

‘In the fascist countries we can still observe the existence of capitalist characteristics, where as in Russia these characteristics have been radically destroyed as a result of the absolute seizure by the State of all the means of production and distribution. Although the Russian economic system has often been called “State capitalism”, and although the term “State slavery” employed by Karl Kautsky seems to us a more appropriate designation in our opinion, the present Russian regime is not slavery, or serfdom, or capitalism, but something of all three. It is related to slavery and serfdom by the absolute and total suppression of all freedom for the workers, who are tied by domestic passports to their places of residence, and often to their places of employment, like the feudal serf to the glebe. It is related to capitalism by the preservation of a great number of economic categories and legal forms. However, it is fundamentally different from any of these systems.

With more reason, and, of course, with all those reservations proper to such historical comparisons, we may rather compare the present Russian regime with the social and economic regime of the Incas, who dictatorially governed Peru before the discovery of America: an authoritatively controlled economic system strongly marked by numerous communist traits, but with a division of society into classes. No one can say how and toward what this curious social system might have developed had not a brutal and rapacious conqueror brought it to a sudden and premature end. It is quite certain, however, that on an infinitely larger scale, with an incomparably higher mass culture, and provided with all the achievements of twentieth-century science, our modern Incaism over what is called “one-sixth of the globe” reproduces from the social and and political point of view the most characteristic traits of Peruvian Incaism of four hundred years ago.

Just as the Russian State disposes absolutely over the material elements of the economic process, so it disposes dictatorially over the human element also. The workers are no longer free to sell their labour-power where they like and how they please. They no longer enjoy freedom of movement in the territory of the U.S.S.R. (domestic passports) The right to strike has been suppressed, and if the workers expressed even the slightest desire to oppose the methods of Stakhanovism, it would expose them to the severest punishments.

The Russian unions, strictly under the orders of the governing party, are merely organs charged with the execution in their own province of the political instructions of the Government. The instruments destined to defend the working class against the directive organism of the economic system have become instruments in the service of these organisms. The working class thus finds itself subjected to the discretionary power of a bureau-technocracy identical with the State apparatus.’ (Pp. 200-2).

There, and if you only listen to the Libertarians, you would think that only von Hayek believed that communism was slavery, although in his case he all meant all forms of socialism. Not that I think he had any hatred of right-wing dictatorship. He served in Dollfuss’ Austro-Fascist regime, which ended with the Nazi invasion and supported the various fascist dictatorships in South America. This, too me, shows how far Libertarians really believe in freedom.

Guardian Article on Ethiopia Covering Up Its Slaving Past

January 18, 2023

Today’s Groaniad has published a fascinating article on Ethiopia’s refusal to acknowledge its history of slavery and slaving, ”If you had money, you had slaves’, how Ethiopia is in denial about the injustices of the past’, by Fred Harter. Here are a few extracts.

‘Histories of the country gloss over slavery and the subject rarely surfaces in public discourse. At the National Museum of Ethiopia in the capital, Addis Ababa, none of the exhibits deal with domestic slavery, while in Dalbo the chains once used to bind slaves have been melted down to make knives and farm implements. Little has been preserved.

“Slavery is a controversial issue,” says Nigussu Mekonnen, a guide at the museum. “There is limited evidence and information about it.”

“We tend to ignore certain kinds of history that would shape the negative image of the country,” says Kiya Gezahegne, an assistant professor in the social anthropology department at Addis Ababa University. Instead, official narratives focus on Ethiopia’s ancient Christian civilisation and its reputation as the only African country to have successfully resisted European colonisation.

“We are taught to be proud of our identity, and bringing in this narrative of slavery would be a challenge to that discourse,” says Kiya.

Yet slavery was once widespread in Ethiopia. Stretching back centuries, slaves served as soldiers, domestic servants and labourers, who were put to work at royal courts, in churches and fields.

Many were born into servitude. Others were captured in raids and during wars, or sold into slavery after they failed to pay debts. Much of the trade was domestic, although Ethiopian slaves were also sold across the Red Sea to Arabia and Turkey, where they were prized as concubines and servants.

Historical data on the slave trade is patchy. Ahmed Hassen, a professor of history at Addis Ababa University, says the number of enslaved people ebbed and flowed, especially during times of war, but estimates that up to one-third of Ethiopians were enslaved at different points in history.

In some districts, the proportion was likely even higher. The sociologist Remo Chiatti calculates that 50 to 80% of people were slaves in parts of Wolaita, a southern kingdom centred on Dalbo that was absorbed into the Ethiopian empire in the 1890s.

“Slavery was everywhere,” says Ahmed. “It was the backbone of labour; it was the source of everything. It was not only landlords and the court of the emperor keeping slaves, but also rich peasants. If you had money, you had them.”

Abolition came slowly, the result of “external and internal realities”, says Ahmed. The first big step came in 1923 when Haile Selassie signed an accord promising to end slavery to gain admittance to the League of Nations, although the practice was not stamped out entirely. In the 1930s, Benito Mussolini used the issue to justify his invasion of Ethiopia, which Italian fascist propaganda cast as a “civilising mission”.

In 1942, after Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian occupation, Haile Selassie issued the decree abolishing slavery. Even then, the practice lingered in some pockets and the influence of the former slave-owning aristocracy would not be smashed until 1974, when revolution swept to power the Provisional Military Administrative Council, also known as the Derg, a Marxist-Leninist military junta that introduced land reforms.

Today, the impact of slavery is keenly felt. After abolition, many slaves became part of the families of their former masters, but in some areas the descendants of enslaved people are seen as impure and are marginalised, barred from participating in ceremonies such as funerals or marrying into other clans. In Addis Ababa, it is common to hear light-skinned highlanders refer to darker-skinned people from southern Ethiopia as “bariya” (slave).

“Slavery in Ethiopia is not a historical phenomenon,” says an Ethiopian researcher, who did not want to be named. “Its legacy still affects people’s lives today.”

Little has been done to heal these rifts. In 2019, a year after Abiy Ahmed became prime minister on a tide of mass protests and promising reform, Ethiopia’s federal parliament set up a reconciliation commission to address past political repression and historical injustices, including the slave trade.

“It is one of the injustices that Ethiopian society inflicted on its members,” says Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, the head of Ethiopia’s Roman Catholic church, who participated in the commission. “We felt slavery should not be put under the table. It should be studied and addressed if there is to be real reconciliation.”

But the commission’s work was never published and it has now been subsumed into a broader national dialogue commission, which opposition parties claim is government-controlled. Critics of the government say political repression has crept back in after the outbreak of the war in Tigray in November 2020.

The polarised environment has made it harder to discuss issues such as slavery. A teacher in Addis Ababa, who did not want to be named, says he grew up with “zero knowledge” that slavery was once so widespread.“People are too preoccupied with ethnic-based politics,” he says. “If you talk about slavery, you are accused of trying to divide your group.”

He says: “I see a lot of posts online about George Floyd, talking about how racist America is, and of course that’s an issue. But we also need to talk about inequality here. There are still ethnic groups looking down on others.”

A new generation of historians are starting to piece together the history of Ethiopia’s slave trade, but discussions remain confined to academic journals and seminar rooms. Last year, there were no public events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of abolition, and most local oral histories are still hidden.’

This is interesting, as it shows that Ethiopia, like many of the other countries outside Europe that were involved in the slavery and the slavery, is also trying to tackle this aspect of their past. Historical slavery is an issue affecting many different countries and cultures, and certainly not a case of evil White Europeans and American enslaving noble Black Africans. Nevertheless, this is how it is viewed and presented by many activist groups.in Britain and America.

For further information, see https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/jan/18/ethiopia-slaves-in-denial-about-injustices-of-the-past

Open Britain on the Tory Attack on Democracy

January 17, 2023

I got this email from the pro-democracy organisation, Open Britain, on the Tories’ continued campaign against democracy in our fair country. It runs

Dear David,

Over the last four years, we have witnessed a rapid reduction in the fairness and inclusivity of UK politics. Rishi Sunak seems determined to continue Boris Johnson’s all-out assault on the rights, institutions, and norms designed to hold the government to account. Academics have a term for this process: “democratic backsliding”.

It’s worth reflecting on recent years through the lens of backsliding to understand where Johnson, Truss, and Sunak are taking us – and how low we’ve already sunk. Researchers at University College London have identified the following critical elements of backsliding:

  1. Breakdown in the norms and standards of political behaviour
  2. Disempowerment of the legislature, the courts, and independent regulators
  3. The reduction of civil liberties and press freedoms; and/or
  4. Harm to the integrity of the electoral system 

On the first element, it’d be nearly impossible to deny that norms and standards in UK politics have become warped beyond recognition, largely thanks to Boris Johnson.

The sheer quantity of Johnson’s absurd lies to the public. The blatant PPE contract corruption. The unlawful attempt to prorogue Parliament. The repeated partying throughout the pandemic. Truss’ appointment of Mark Fullbrook as chief of staff. Rishi Sunak’s refusal to sack Suella Braverman amid egregious security violations. Take your pick.

But norms have also been eroded at a deeper level. The government now appears comfortable with breaking international law whenever it suits their needs.

The Internal Markets Bill (2020), the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (2022), the planned Bill of Rights Bill, and the plans to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda all undermine the UK’s long-held reputation for upholding international agreements on human rights and trade agreements (many of which UK ministers and officials helped to draft). Our government is clearly quite comfortable ignoring its citizens and the international community. It’s safe to say that the first box on that list is checked.

On the second element, backsliding may not be as apparent, but close inspection reveals some seriously concerning changes here too.

The government has attracted robust criticism from the Hansard Society for rushing bills through Parliament and abusing the ‘statutory instruments’ mechanism to limit Parliament’s ability to scrutinise bills properly.

They have also drawn widespread criticism for taking steps that inevitably undermined the powers and independence of the Electoral Commission. Boris Johnson removed the Commission’s powers to prosecute and attempted to give a (then) Tory-dominated committee control over its operations, and a number of Conservative MPs even called for its abolition.

It’s not just the Electoral Commission either. Former Commissioner for Public Appointments Peter Riddell also accused the government of “packing” appointment panels to blatantly place political allies in the House of Lords.

On the third element, we’ve also seen that this government is willing to toss aside fundamental rights and freedoms when they become politically inconvenient. The Policing Act (2022) was a significant affront to our right to protest, including giving police the right to shut down “noisy” protests.

That is now followed by the Public Order Bill (2023), currently in the Lords, which seeks to expand these measures further, giving police the right to pre-emptively crackdown on protests before they happen and keep registers of known activists based on facial recognition data. If that’s not an infringement of civil liberties, then nothing is.

And let’s not forget Dominic Raab’s grubby plans to overturn the Human Rights Act. 

We’ve also recently seen the press and the labour movement under fire from the government. Several journalists were arrested while covering climate protests last November, despite showing valid press IDs. And the government’s plans to privatise Channel 4 last year – finally abandoned under public pressure this January – and their continued hostility towards the BBC betray an instinct for threatening vital public news services when they are perceived to be getting in the way.

The Sunak government’s latest priority is to crack down on the right to strike by introducing government-set minimum service standards, once again choosing authoritarian mandates over dialogue or compromise. It’s hard to deny backsliding is also occurring in this area.

On the final element, it has been clear for some time that the integrity of the voting system used for general elections is in jeopardy. The Elections Act (2022) now requires voters to show ID at polling stations, something that creates a barrier to legitimate electors being able to exercise their democratic right to vote. Worse, the government’s choice of valid ID seems to disadvantage people from demographics less likely to vote Conservative. That bill also mandated the use of FPTP for Mayoral and Police Commissioner elections, entrenching a broken system that does not accurately reflect the true will of the electorate. 

It’s clear that the UK is indeed in a phase of democratic backsliding. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue on this path. 

As we move forward in 2023, OB will continue to work, alone and with partners who share our ambitions and values, to ensure UK democracy is striding forwards, not sliding backwards.

The Open Britain team

P.S. We and a number of partners in the democracy sector are working to put pressure on Labour to commit to making the changes we need to renew our political system. You can help right now by signing our joint petition here to get Keir Starmer to support proportional representation.

Add to this the secret courts that Dodgy Dave Cameron pushed through, in which you can be tried in secret, without you or your defence knowing the identity of your accusers and evidence withheld from you if the authorities deem it necessary for reasons of national security, and we really are heading towards what some commenters call ‘a democratic deficit’.

I didn’t realise this, but the tribune was the Roman magistrate charged with defending the rights of the plebs and the army. Hence the phrase, ‘a tribune of the people’. The late 18th century French revolutionary communist, Gracchus Babeuf, also recommended a panel of officials charged with making sure local politicos performed their duties. If they didn’t, their constituents had the right of recall and out they would go. I like this idea, and the fact that the Romans knew that you needed officials to protect democratic rights and freedoms shows, in my opinion, just how wise they were. Not wise enough not to be ruled by a bunch of raving psychopaths, but you can’t expect too much from past ages.

Boris claims to be a great admirer of ancient Rome. It’s a pity the tribunes aren’t one of them. Instead from the Tories we get a lot of bluster about democracy and free speech right when they trying to undermine all of it.