Archive for the ‘LIterature’ Category

Radio 4 Serialisation Next Week of ‘The Haunting of Alma Fielding’

October 23, 2020

I put up a piece a little while ago about the book, The Haunting of Alma Fielding: a True Ghost Story, by Kate Summerscale. This was a poltergeist case investigated in the 1930s by the Hungarian researcher Nandor Fodor. Now just weeks after the book’s publication, it’s being serialised in five parts on Radio 4 as their ‘Book of the Week’, read by Emma Fielding. Is she any relation of Alma, the woman at the centre of the case, we wonder. The instalments are broadcast at 9.45 am, Monday to Friday. The blurb for the adaptation in the Radio Times by Jane Anderson on page 132 runs

Fans of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher will be delighted to know that Kate Summerscale’s latest book has been successfully condensed into five parts for radio. After reports in 1938 of a house in Croydon being invaded by a malevolent poltergeist, Nandor Fodor, a fellow at the International Institute for Psychical Research, was determined to explain the mysterious goings on, but this is more of a psychological than a psychical investigation. Gripping, engaging and utterly brilliant.

The blurbs for the individual instalments run as follows.

Monday

Flying Teacups. Emma Fielding reads Kate Summerscale’s book, which tells the story of ghosthunter Nandor Fodor’s efforts to unravel the mystery of the haunting of a housewife living in Croydon in the 1930s. Abridged by Julian Wilkinson. (p. 133).

Tuesday

The Pilfering Poltergeist. Nandor takes Alma to the seaside, where once again her poltergeist creates a stir. (p. 135).

Wednesday

Astral Projection. Alma tells Nandor Fodor about an experience of astral projection, which raises questions and unease over her case builds. (p. 137).

Thursday

An Unsettling Turn of Events:.Nandor Fodor has questions to answer. (p. 139).

Friday

An Encounter with Sigmund Freud. Explanations for Alma’s supernatural experiences prove controversial. (p. 141).

I also somehow doubt that it’s an accident that this is being broadcast in the run up to Hallowe’en either!

No Flesh Is Spared in Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation.

October 20, 2020

Well, almost none. There is one survivor. Warning: Contains spoilers.

Color out of Space, directed by Richard Stanley, script by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris. Starring

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

This is a welcome return to big screen cinema of South African director Richard Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the cult SF cyberpunk flick, Hardware, about a killer war robot going running amok in an apartment block in a future devastated by nuclear war and industrial pollution. It’s a great film, but its striking similarities to a story in 2000AD resulted in him being successfully sued by the comic for plagiarism. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a major film for the cinema since he was sacked as director during the filming of the ’90s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Th film came close to collapse and was eventually completed by John Frankenheimer. A large part of the chaos was due to the bizarre, irresponsible and completely unprofessional behaviour of the two main stars, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

Stanley’s been a fan of Lovecraft ever since he was a child when his mother read him the short stories. There have been many attempts to translate old Howard Phillips’ tales of cosmic horror to the big screen, but few have been successful. The notable exceptions include Brian Yuzna’s Reanimator, From Beyond and Dagon. Reanimator and From Beyond were ’80s pieces of gleeful splatter, based very roughly – and that is very roughly – on the short stories Herbert West – Reanimator and From Beyond the Walls of Sleep. These eschewed the atmosphere of eerie, unnatural terror of the original stories for over the top special effects, with zombies and predatory creatures from other realities running out of control. Dagon came out in the early years of this century. It was a more straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, transplanted to Spain. It generally followed the plot of the original short story, though at the climax there was a piece of nudity and gore that certainly wasn’t in Lovecraft.

Plot

Color out of Space is based on the short story of the same name. It takes some liberties, as do most movie adaptations, but tries to preserve the genuinely eerie atmosphere of otherworldly horror of the original, as well as include some of the other quintessential elements of Lovecraft’s horror from his other works. The original short story is told by a surveyor, come to that part of the American backwoods in preparation for the construction of a new reservoir. The land is blasted and blighted, poisoned by meteorite that came down years before. The surveyor recounted what he has been told about this by Ammi Pierce, an old man. The meteorite landed on the farm of Nahum Gardner and his family, slowly poisoning them and twisting their minds and bodies, as it poisons and twists the land around them.

In Stanley’s film, the surveyor is Ward, a Black hydrologist from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. He also investigates the meteorite, which in the story is done by three scientists from the university. The movie begins with shots of the deep American forest accompanied by a soliloquy by Ward, which is a direct quote from the story’s beginning. It ends with a similar soliloquy, which is largely the invention of the scriptwriters, but which also contains a quote from the story’s ending about the meteorite coming from unknown realms. Lovecraft was, if not the creator of cosmic horror, then certainly its foremost practitioner. Lovecraftian horror is centred around the horrifying idea that humanity is an insignificant, transient creature in a vast, incomprehensible and utterly uncaring if not actively hostile cosmos. Lovecraft was also something of an enthusiast for the history of New England, and the opening shots of the terrible grandeur of the American wilderness puts him in the tradition of America’s Puritan settlers. These saw themselves as Godly exiles, like the Old Testament Israelites, in a wilderness of supernatural threat.

The film centres on the gradual destruction of Nathan Gardner and his family – his wife, Theresa, daughter Lavinia, and sons Benny and Jack – as their minds and bodies are poisoned and mutated by the strange meteorite and its otherworldly inhabitant, the mysterious Color of the title. Which is a kind of fuchsia. Its rich colour recalls the deep reds Stanley uses to paint the poisoned landscape of Hardware. Credit is due to the director of photography, Steve Annis, as the film and its opening vista of the forest looks beautiful. The film’s eerie, electronic score is composed by Colin Stetson, which also suits the movie’s tone exactly.

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

Color out of Space comes after a number of other SF tales based on the similar idea of an extraterrestrial object or invader that twists and mutates the environment and its human victims. This includes the TV series, The Expanse, in which humanity is confronted by the threat of a protomolecule sent into the solar system by unknown aliens. Then there was the film Annihilation, about a group of women soldiers sent into the zone of mutated beauty and terrible danger created by an unknown object that has crashed to Earth and now threatens to overwhelm it. It also recalls John Carpenter’s cult horror movie, The Thing, in the twisting mutations and fusing of animal and human bodies. In the original story, Gardner and his family are reduced to emaciated, ashen creatures. It could be a straightforward description of radiation poisoning, and it indeed that is how some of the mutated animal victims of the Color are described in the film. But the film’s mutation and amalgamation of the Color’s victims is much more like that of Carpenter’s Thing as it infects its victims. The scene in which Gardner discovers the fused mass of his alpacas out in the barn recalls the scene in Carpenter’s earlier flick where the members of an American Antarctic base discover their infected dogs in the kennel. In another moment of terror, the Color blasts Theresa as she clutches Jack, fusing them together. It’s a piece of body horror like the split-faced corpse in Carpenter’s The Thing, the merged mother and daughter in Yuzna’s Society, and the fused humans in The Thing’s 2012 prequel. But it’s made Lovecraftian by the whimpering and gibbering noises the fused couple make, noises that appear in much Lovecraftian fiction.

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

In the film, Nathan Gardner is a painter, who has taken his family back to live on his father’s farm. This is a trope from other Lovecraft short stories, in which the hero goes back to his ancestral home, such as the narrator of The Rats in the Walls. The other characters are also updated to give a modern, or postmodern twist. Gardner’s wife, Theresa, is a high-powered financial advisor, speaking to her clients from the farm over the internet. The daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch of the Wiccan variety. She is entirely benign, however, casting spells to save her mother from cancer, and get her away from the family. In Lovecraft, magic and its practitioners are an active threat, using their occult powers to summon the ancient and immeasurably evil gods they worship, the Great Old Ones. This is a positive twist for the New Age/ Goth generations.

There’s a similar, positive view of the local squatter. In Lovecraft, the squatters are barely human White trash heading slowly back down the evolutionary ladder through poverty and inbreeding. The film’s squatter, Ezra, is a tech-savvy former electrician using solar power to live off-grid. But there’s another touch here which recalls another of Lovecraft’s classic stories. Investigating what may have become of Ezra, Ward and Pierce discover him motionless, possessed by the Color. However, he is speaking to them about the Color and the threat it presents from a tape recorder. This is similar to the voices of the disembodied human brains preserved in jars by the Fungi from Yuggoth, speaking through electronic apparatus in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. Visiting Ezra earlier in the film, Ward finds him listening intently to the aliens from the meteorite that now have taken up residence under the Earth. This also seems to be a touch taken from Lovecraft’s fiction, which means mysterious noises and cracking sounds from under the ground. Near the climax Ward catches a glimpse through an enraptured Lavinia of the alien, malign beauty of the Color’s homeworld, This follows the logic of the story, but also seems to hark back to the alien vistas glimpsed by the narrator in The Music of Erich Zann. And of course it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft movie without the appearance of the abhorred Necronomicon. It is not, however, the Olaus Wormius edition, but a modern paperback, used by Lavinia as she desperately invokes the supernatural for protection.

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

Other elements in the movie seem to come from other literary sources. The Color takes up residence in the farm’s well, from which it speaks to the younger son, Jack. Later, Benny, the elder son tries to climb down it in an attempt to rescue their dog, Sam, during which he is also blasted by the Color. When Ward asks Gardner what has happened to them all, he is simply told that they’re all present, except Benny, who lives in the well now. This episode is similar to the creepy atmosphere of children’s fairy tales, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare’s poems, which feature ghostly entities tied to specific locales.

Oh yes, and there’s also a reference to Stanley’s own classic film, Hardware. When they enter Benny’s room, glimpsed on his wall is the phrase ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This is a quote from Mark’s Gospel, which was used as the opening text and slogan in the earlier movie.

The film is notable for its relatively slow start, taking care to introduce the characters and build up atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the frenzied action in other, recent SF flicks, such as the J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboots and Michael Bay’s Transformers. The Color first begins having its malign effects by driving the family slowly mad. Theresa accidentally cuts off the ends of her fingers slicing vegetables in the kitchen as she falls into a trance. Later on, Lavinia starts cutting herself as she performs her desperate ritual calling for protection. And Jack and later Gardner sit enraptured looking at the television, vacant except for snow behind which is just the hint of something. That seems to go back to Spielberg’s movie, Poltergeist, but it’s also somewhat like the hallucinatory scenes when the robot attacks the hero from behind a television, which shows fractal graphics, in Hardware.

Finally, the Color destroys the farm and its environs completely, blasting it and its human victims to ash. The film ends with Ward contemplating the new reservoir, hoping the waters will bury it all very deep. But even then, he will not drink its water.

Lovecraft and Racism

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it does an excellent job of preserving the tone and some of the characteristic motifs of Lovecraft’s work, while updating them for a modern audience. Despite his immense popularity, Lovecraft is a controversial figure because of his racism. There were objections last year or so to him being given an award at the Hugo’s by the very ostentatiously, sanctimoniously anti-racist. And a games company announced that they were going to release a series of games based on his Cthulhu mythos, but not drawing on any of his characters or stories because of this racism. Now the character of an artist does not necessarily invalidate their work, in the same way that the second best bed Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife doesn’t make Hamlet any the less a towering piece of English literature. But while Lovecraft was racist, he also had black friends and writing partners. His wife was Jewish, and at the end of his life he bitterly regretted his earlier racism. Also, when Lovecraft was writing in from the 1920s to the 1940s, American and western society in general was much more racist. This was the era of segregation and Jim Crow. It may be that Lovecraft actually wasn’t any more racist than any others. He was just more open about it. And it hasn’t stopped one of the internet movie companies producing Lovecraft Country, about a Black hero and his family during segregation encountering eldritch horrors from beyond.

I don’t know if Stanley’s adaptation will be to everyone’s taste, though the film does credit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society among the organisations and individuals who have rendered their assistance. If you’re interested, I recommend that you give it a look. I wanted to see it at the cinema, but this has been impossible due to the lockdown. It is, however, out on DVD released by Studio Canal. Stanley has also said that if this is a success, he intends to make an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. I hope the film is, despite present circumstances, and we can look forward to that piece of classic horror coming to our screens. But this might be too much to expect, given the current crisis and the difficulties of filming while social distancing.

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

October 20, 2020

David D. Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition & Italian Fascism (University of North Carolina Press, 1979).

Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary socialism that seeks to overthrow the liberal state and replace it with a society based on the trade unions in which they run industry. It was particularly strong in France, and played a major role in Catalonia and the struggle against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It has also been a strand in the British labour movement, and produced a peculiar British form, Guild Socialism, whose leaders included the great socialist writer and former Fabian, G.D.H. Cole.

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

Fascism was a strange, heterogenous mixture of different, and often conflicting groups. These included former syndicalists, radicalised veterans from the First World War, ultra-conservative Nationalists and the Futurists, an aggressive modern artistic movement that celebrated war, speed, violence, masculinity, airplanes, cars and the new machine age. Some of these groups shared roughly the same ideas. The war veterans were deeply impressed with the corporative constitution drafted by Alceste de Ambris for D’Annunzio’s brief regime in Fiume, the Carta de Carnaro. Superficially, the Fascist syndicalists shared the same goal of creating a corporate state to govern industrial relations and run industry. However, they approached this from very different directions. The Nationalists, led by Alfredo Rocco, were ultra-Conservative businessmen, who attacked liberal democracy because of the corruption involved in Italian politics. At the same time they feared the power of the organised working class. As Italy modernised, it underwent a wave of strikes. In response, Rocco recommended that the state should take over the trade unions, using them as its organ to discipline the workers, keep the masses in their place while training them to perform their functions efficiently in the new, industrial Italy. The syndicalists, on the other hand, wanted the trade unions to play a role in industrial management and at the same time draw the working class into a fuller participation in politics. The working class had been excluded from the liberal state, but through their economic organisations, the unions, they could play a much fuller role as these governed their everyday lives. They saw the corporations and the corporate state as a means of increasing democracy and popular participation, not limiting it.

Fascist Corporativism

The corporations themselves are industrial organisations rather like the medieval guilds or trade unions. However, they included both the trade unions and employers organisations. There were already nine of them, but by the end of the regime in 1943 there were 27. Under Rocco’s Labour Charter, the Carta del Lavoro, strikes and lockouts were forbidden in the name of industrial peace and class collaboration. The corporation were required to settle labour disputes. However, if management and the unions were unable to reach agreement, then the dispute was to be referred to labour magistracy for settlement in special labour courts. Mussolini also reformed the Italian parliament, transforming the Chamber of Deputies into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. In practice the corporate state never amounted to very much. It never won over real working class support, and the corporations were never given real legislative power. It merely added another layer of bureaucracy and acted as nothing more than a rubber stamp to pass the policies Mussolini had already made. And he seems to have used it as ideological window dressing to give the impression that here was more to Fascism than his personal dictatorship.

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

The book argues that the corporate state was a genuine attempt to solve the deep problems of Italian unification left over from the Risorgimento. At the same time, it was also a radical response to the crisis, breakdown and revision of Marxist socialism and the failure of Marxist syndicalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The process of unification has produced an attitude of deep alienation from the state and politics amongst Italians, and Fascism was partly a response to this. This alienation isn’t confined to Italians, but it is particularly acute. Social studies in the 1970s showed that Italians are less likely than Americans, Brits or Germans to become politically involved. They regard the state as distant with little interest in them. At the same time, there is also an expectation that the bureaucrats in Rome will help them.

Like Germany, Italy was unified by military force and the invasion of the other, constituent states. However, for reasons of speed and a determination to preserve the new nation’s fragile unity, the other Italian states were simply annexed by Piedmont to be governed from there. There was supposed to be a constituent assembly in which the other states were to have their say in the creation of the new Italy, but this simply didn’t happen. At the same time, the industrialisation promoted by Italian liberals was concentrated in the north, so that the south remained backward and agricultural. The franchise was extremely restricted. It excluded illiterates, so that originally only 2 per cent of the population could vote. This was later extended to 7 per cent. At the same time, Italy’s leaders prevented the formation of proper political parties by taking over individuals from different parliamentary factions in order to form workable governing majorities. At the same time there was discontent and widespread criticism of the protectionism imposed to help the development of Italian heavy industry. Middle class critics believed that this unfairly benefited it at the expense of more dynamic and productive sectors of the economy. This led to the belief that Italy was being held back by class of political parasites.

This backwardness also led to an acute sense of pessimism amongst the elite over the character of the Italian people themselves. The Americans, British and Germans were disciplined with proper business values. Italians, on the other hand, were lazy, too individualistic and defied authority through lawlessness. This meant that liberalism was inadequate to deal with the problems of Italian society. ‘This English suit doesn’t fit us’, as one Fascist said. But this would change with the adoption of Fascism. One of Mussolini’s minions once declared that, thanks to Fascism, hard work and punctuality were no longer American, German and British values.

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

By the 1890s there was a crisis throughout Europe in Marxist socialism. Marx believed that the contradictions in capitalism and the continuing impoverishment of working people would lead to eventual revolution. But at this stage it was evident that capitalism was not collapsing. It was expanding, wages were rising and the working class becoming better off. This led to the reformist controversy, in which socialist ideologues such as Bernstein in Germany recommended instead that socialist parties should commit themselves to reforming capitalism gradually in order to create a socialist society. The syndicalists were originally Marxists, who looked forward to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However, they became increasingly disenchanted with Marxism and critical of the leading role of the working class. They originally believed, as with the French syndicalist Georges Sorel, that the class-conscious workers would be a new source of values. But they weren’t. They also believed that this would only be achieved through a long process of education through general strikes. They were horrified by the biennio rosso, the two years of strikes and industrial unrest that came after the end of the war, when it seemed that the Italian labour movement was going to follow the Russian Bolsheviks and create a revolution for which Italy and it working class were not ready.

At the same time, they came to reject Marxism’s doctrine that the political was determined by the economic sphere. They believed that Italy’s political problems could not be reduced to capitalism. Hence they believed that capitalism and private industry should be protected, but made subordinate to the state. Work was a social duty, and any industrial who did not run his company properly could, in theory, be removed and replaced. They also sought to give the workers a greater role in industrial management. This led them to go beyond the working class. They found a new revolutionary group in the Italian war veterans, who were radicalised by their experiences. These would have joined the socialists, but the latter had been strongly neutralist and as a result rejected and ridiculed the former soldiers for their patriotism. These found their ideological and political home with the syndicalists. At the same time, the syndicalists rejection of Marxist socialism led to their rediscovery of other, non-Marxist socialist writers like Mazzini, who also rejected liberalism in favour of a tightly knit Italian nation. Their bitter hatred of the corruption in Italian politics and its parasites led them to join forces with anarchists and other sectors of the Italian radical tradition. They believed that for Italy truly to unite and modernise, the workers should join forces with properly modernising industrialists in an alliance of producers.

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

Looking at the development of Italian Fascism, it can seem that there was a certain inevitability to the emergence of Mussolini’s dictatorship and the totalitarian Fascist state. But this argues that there was nothing inevitable about it, and that it was forced on Mussolini in order to stop his movement falling apart. When Mussolini entered parliament and took over as prime minister, he seemed to be transforming what was originally a movement into the very type of party that the Fascist rank and file were in revolt against. Fascism was reconstituted as a party, and when the future Duce met the kind, he wore the top hat and frock coat of an establishment politician. Worse, Mussolini had started out as a radical socialist, and still seemed determined to work with them and other working class and left-wing parties. He signed a pacification pact with the Socialists and Populists, the Roman Catholic party, stopping the Fascist attacks on them, the trade unions and workers’ and peasants’ cooperatives. This horrified the syndicalists, who saw it as a threat to their own programme of winning over the workers and creating the new, corporatist order. As a result they pressurised Mussolini into rescinding that pacts, Mussolini and Fascism moved right-ward to ally with the capitalists and industry in the destruction of working class organisations.

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

But it seems that the syndicalists were serious about defending the working class and giving it a proper role through the corporations in the management of industry and through that, political participation in the Italian state. Left Fascists like Olivetti and Ugo Spirito believed that the Italian state should operate a mixed economy, with the state running certain companies where appropriate, and the trade unions owning and managing cooperatives. Some went further, and recommended that the corporations should take over the ownership of firms, which would be operated jointly by management and the workers. This never got anywhere, and was denounced by other left syndicalists, like Sergio Pannunzio, one of their leaders.

From Internationalism to Imperialism

The book also raises grim astonishment in the way it reveals how the Syndicalists, who were initially quite internationalist in outlook, came to support Fascist imperialism. They shared the general Fascist view that Italy was being prevented from developing its industry through British and French imperialism. The two powers blocked Italy from access to trading with their colonies. They were therefore also critical of the League of Nations when it was set up, which they saw as an attempt by the great powers to maintain the international status quo. The Nationalists, who were formally merged with the Fascists, went further and demanded that Italy too should have an empire to benefit its industry, but also to provide land for colonisation by the surplus Italian population. Without it, they would continue to be forced to emigrate to countries like America and Britain, where they would become the lowest and most despised part of their working class. The syndicalists were also acutely aware of how low Italians were regarded and exploited in these countries, even by other members of the working class.

The syndicalists during the war and early post-war years criticised the Nationalists for their militarism and imperialism. Instead of looking forward to perpetual war, as the Nationalists did, they wanted to see instead the emergence of a new, federal European order in which nations would cooperate. This new federal state would eventually cover the world. They also looked forward to a new, equitable arrangement over access to the colonies. Pannunzio did support colonialism, which he believed was bringing civilisation to backward areas. But he also believed that colonies that were unable to become nations in their own right should be taken over by the League of Nations. Pannunzio declared ‘Egotism among nations is a material and moral absurdity; nations … cannot lived closed and isolated by must interact and cooperate’. This changed as time went on and Mussolini established the corporate state. This was always fragile and tentative, and accompanied by concessions to other sectors of Fascism on the right. In order to defend their fragile gains, the syndicalists gave their full backing to the Second World War and its imperialism, which they saw as a crusade to bring the corporate state, the great Italian achievement, but a backward world.

Workers Should Have a Role In Government, But Not Through Totalitarianism

I have to say I like certain aspects of the corporate state. I like the idea of trade unionists actively involved in the management of industry and in a special department of parliament, although as Sidney and Beatrice Webb point out in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, there are severe drawbacks with it. But any such corporatist chamber would have to be an expansion of liberal democracy, not a replacement for it. And I utterly reject and despise Fascism for its vicious intolerance, especially towards socialism and the working class, its rejection of democracy, and especially the militarism, imperialism and racism. Like Nazism it needs to be fought everywhere, in whatever guise it arises.

And the book makes very clear that the corporate state was an exaggerated response to genuine Italian problems, problems that could be solved within liberal, democratic politics.

Perhaps one day we shall see the return of trade unionists to parliaments reformed to allow them to play their proper role in government and industry. I make this recommendation in my booklet, For A Worker’s Chamber. But it should never be through any kind of autocratic, totalitarian regime.

Belfield Bashes BBC Diversity in Name of White Working Class

October 13, 2020

A days or so ago, internet radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield posted yet another video tearing into the Beeb. He’s a man of the right, who regularly attacks immigration, Black Lives Matter, forced diversity and ‘wokeness’ – what used to be called ‘political correctness’ not so long ago. He’s posted videos supporting actor Laurence Fox and his ‘Reclaim’ party, though now Fox is being sued by people he’s called ‘paedophiles’ on Twitter, and a small charity which works with disadvantaged working class young people in Manchester over the name. They’re also called ‘Reclaim’, and obviously really don’t want to have it, or their charity, associated with Fox’s outfit.

Belfield himself is also a bitter critic of the BBC and very definitely wants it defunded, if not actually wiped out altogether. He’s got some kind of personal feud with the Corporation. He was one of their presenters, but seems to have been in some kind of trouble for which m’learned friends are now involved. This seems also to have involved Jeremy Vine, as he’s posted a series of videos attacking him.

Class Attitudes at the Beeb and the Favouring of Ethnic Minorities

Belfield believes that he was looked down upon at the Beeb because of his class origins. He was a working class lad from a pit village, and this did not sit easily with the other members of the corporation, whom he lambasts as rich ex-public schoolboys, who all read the Guardian, wear chinos, sip lattes and hold lefty views and sneer at ordinary people like him. He’s also criticised June Sarpong, the head of diverse creativity at the Beeb, for demanding that there should be more Black and Asian figures in front of the camera. His view is that, according to official stats, BAME performers and presenters are already slightly overrepresent at the Beeb. The proportion of BAME actors, presenters and broadcasters at the Corporation is 15 per cent. But Blacks, Asians and other ethnic minorities only constitute 13 per cent of the British population. The real problem, according to him, is that Blacks and other ethnic minorities aren’t properly represented in the Beeb hierarchy and management.

At the same time, he rails against the Beeb lefties because White working class boys are the least privileged group in society. They underperform other demographic groups in school and jobs. At the same time, automatic ‘positive discrimination’ is not appropriate for all ethnic minorities. Indians and Chinese outperform Whites, have better jobs and higher salaries. They do not need extra help from the state, which should be target at those groups that really need it.

I think he has a point, but as with everything the right says, it’s not the whole point and more often than not its articulated with the ulterior motive of depriving everyone of state aid even when they genuinely need it. I believe he’s correct when he states that at present Britain’s minority ethnic population is 13 per cent of the total. I can also remember Private Eye attacking an anti-racist organisation for the same thing June Sarpong’s done: demanding even more representation of BAME people in excess of their real numbers as a percentage of the population.

Possible Reasons for Sarpong’s Call for More Diversity in Excess of True BAME Population Numbers

In Sarpong’s case, I think there are a number of reasons for it. The first is that she is herself Black, and seems to have automatically assumed that in this issue Blacks and Asians are suffering racial discrimination. Everyone wants the best for people like them, and so she wants more to be done for Blacks and ethnic minorities. I also think self-interest may also be involved. She’s head of Diverse Creativity, but if she admits that Blacks and Asians are already well-represented on our TV screens, then she’s contradicted some of the need for her post. And I also believe that much of it is due to the metropolitan media bubble. London, as the capital, has a very large Black, Asian and ethnic minority population. It’s well over a third, and I think it may be just under half. Black activists like Sarpong and White liberals see the high BAME population of London and automatically assume that the rest of the country must be the same. Some Black performers have described their shock on visiting parts of the country where there are very few peoples of ethnic minority background. Nearly a decade ago, the late actor and comedian Felix Dexter was a guest on an edition of the News Quiz from Scotland. Dexter, who was Black, expressed his surprise at going through some areas of Scotland where there was hardly another Black face to be seen. Which reminded me at the time of the stereotypical comments of White British explorers that they were going through regions of Africa or wherever which no White man had seen before. I doubt very much that this observation would go down at all well with racially sensitive Black activists and militantly anti-racist Whites, but it is there. I think Sarpong, and those like her, have assumed that everywhere else in Britain must be like London, and so demand the same proportion of Black stars.

All Broadcasters Dominated by Middle Class Public School Boys and Girls, Not Just Beeb

At the same time, White working class are the most underprivileged part of the population. This has been reported not just in the parts of the press you’d expect it, like the Heil, but also allegedly liberal papers like the I. The Heil has also published official statistics showing that Indians and Chinese also outperform everyone else in education and work.

I’ve also little doubt he’s correct about the lack of working class people in the Beeb, and that it’s dominated by public school boys and girls, who look down upon on peeps from more modest backgrounds. But I think that’s common throughout broadcasting. Terry Christian, whose Manc tones graced the ’90s Channel 4 yoof programme, The Word, apparently describes how he was driven mad by much the same attitude there. He was the only working class lad amongst a group of people, who all went to Winchester public school. Which no doubt explains why he wanted public schoolboys put in Room 101 when he appeared on it all those years ago.

And here’s where we get to what is not being said: how many of the staff and the performers on the other, private networks come from working or lower middle class backgrounds. How many of the faces you see on Sky and who work behind the scenes are lads and lasses who went to state comprehensives, and whose parents worked as factory workers, bus drivers, cleaners, dustmen and so on. Very few, I expect. But Belfield deliberately avoids mentioning it. Because as a right-winger he hates the BBC for its ostensible ethic of impartiality and wants it to be replaced by private networks that can feed the British public the equivalent of Fox News. Like the Times would like to do with its new channel, Times News or whatever it is, which will present news with what they claim will be an objective slant against the ‘woke’, ‘wet’ BBC. Well, the Times ain’t be a source of objective news since the departure of the late Harold Evans as editor at the end of the ’70s, so this is especially risible.

White Working Class Despised Not By Labour or Democrat Left, But Blairite and Clintonite Neocons

As for the concern for White, working class boys, I think he’s right that a certain section of the left does look down on the working class. But this isn’t the Labour left. It’s the neoliberal, corporatist right of the Democrats in America and the Labour party. There’s a very interesting book, Confronting the New Conservatism, which attacks the Neo-Conservatives and particularly their warmongering and the illegal war in Iraq. It’s mostly written from a left-wing perspective, but some of those interviewed are traditional Conservatives. One of these is a female American colonel, who bitterly attacks Bush’s grotty administration as a bunch of chickenhawks who never served in the armed forces and hated and forced out experienced senior military staff, who knew far more about the Middle East and told them directly that they were wrong. The book argues that both American parties, Republicans and Democrats, have been infected with the Neocon virus. Part of this is the bilateral support by the White middle class for affirmative action policies, provided they don’t affect their children.

Right-wing Pseudo-Feminist Attacks on Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn Shows Contempt for Working Class

You can see that in the sociological origins of the Blairites. They’re very middle class, very public school. They support affirmative action policies for women and ethnic minorities, but really don’t have any time for the working class as a whole. And especially not working class men. One of the claims that was used to attack Jeremy Corbyn over here and the awesome Bernie Sanders in America was that, somehow, they were misogynist anti-feminists. Remember all the furore about ‘Bernie Bros’ and their attacks on Hillary Clinton? This was despite Sanders’ strong support for feminist groups and his appearance as an ‘honorary woman’ at feminist rallies. Because of his support for an expanded welfare system and Medicare for All, Sanders supports policies that would benefit blue collar and lower middle class workers far more than Clinton. She was a member of the corporate elite. She has done things that have benefited women and children, but in general she supports the grotty neoliberal, corporatism that are impoverishing working folks for the benefit of the very rich.

The I and the Groaniad launched the self-same attack on Corbyn. He was a male chauvinist, who would drag the party back to the days of old Labour when it was under the patriarchal control of the trade unions. I don’t believe for a single minute that Corbyn could ever be remotely properly described as any kind of misogynist. As a member of the Labour left, which was attacked in the ’80s for its support for Black, gay, and women’s rights, I think he’s the complete opposite. As for the trade unions, I don’t doubt that they were male dominated. The strongest unions were those in mining and heavy industry, which are traditionally male jobs. Women tend to work in the service industries, which are often poorly unionised. This is because employees in those sectors are in a weaker position regarding employers. But this isn’t an argument for weakening the unions. Rather it’s an argument for strengthening them so that they can enrol and protect women workers. My mother was a teacher, and I remember that during the teachers’ strike of the 1980s banners appeared with the slogan ‘A Woman’s Place Is In Her Union’. Too right. Feminism isn’t just for middle class Thatcherite girls.

Tories Claiming To Support White Working Class In Order to Exploit Them and Destroy Welfare State Even Further

The Tories have always attack the Labour party on behalf of disadvantaged Whites. The Daily Heil ran stories from the 1980s onwards, for example, denouncing various Labour councils for giving priority for council housing to non-White immigrants. But this conveniently omits the facts that the reason there was a shortage of council housing was because of the Tories: Thatcher had sold it off, and passed legislation forbidding councils from building any more. The Tories make a great show of standing up for the White working class because of their patriotism and traditional values. By which they mean the type of working class Conservatives on whom Johnny Speight based the monstrous Alf Garnet in Til Death Us Do Part. These were people, who lived in dingy homes with cracked windows, for whom the Tories had done absolutely nothing but who somehow lionised them.

Only Labour Left Really Standing Up for Working Class Whites, as Concerned for All Working People

The people who are really standing up for the White working class are the Labour left, people like Richard Burgon and in Bristol, mayor Marvin Rees. They’re standing up for the White working class as part of their mission to defend all working Brits regardless of race and colour, Black, Asian, White or whatever. Marvin Rees is Black, but he’s Bristol through and through and has said that he intends to stand up for the White working class as well as underprivileged BAME peeps. He has said that he wants more Bristolians to know about the city’s past as a major centre of the slave trade, but he doesn’t want to demonise the White working class, because they didn’t profit from it. They also suffered, according to him. Clearly he supports Black pride, but he also genuinely support the White working class and is reaching out to them.

Blairites and Tories Exactly Same in Contempt for White Working Class

But you will not hear about these initiatives, especially from the Corbynite left, from the lamestream media or the Tories. Because it contradicts their narrative that the Labour party is racist towards White working class folks. And they have a point when it comes to the Blairites, who are geared towards picking up middle class, Tory swing voters and have ignored or scorned their working class base. Their view of what counts as correct left-wing activism is feminism and anti-racism. Both of which have their place, but they concentrate on them while going along with the Tory destruction of the economy and British industry in the name of market forces, the privatisation of the NHS, because private enterprise is always better, and the dismantlement of the welfare state and workers’ rights, because the poor, the starving, the disabled and the unemployed are scroungers who could get a proper job if only they were properly incentivised. It’s the same view of the working class the Tories hold, except that they cynically exploit the petty jealousies and vindictiveness of sections of the working class to hold them down, while all the while claiming that it’s Labour’s fault. They’re cynically exploiting White working class resentment in order to maintain the British class system and the power and authority of the traditional ruling elites. All the while risible declaring that they’re not elite at all. As Tweezer did so with her cabinet, who were almost public school educated millionaires to a man and woman.

Don’t believe right-wing shills like Alex Belfield. The Tories despise ordinary working people. The only people who are really serious about doing anything for working people – including White working people – are the true Labour centrists. People like Richard Corbyn, Dawn Butler, and the other Corbynites.

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

October 12, 2020

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

‘I’ Review of Book on the Alma Fielding Poltergeist Case

October 12, 2020

Last Friday, 9th October 2020, the ‘I’ published a review by Fiona Sturges of the book, The Haunting of Alma Fielding, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury, £18.99). Fielding was a woman from Croydon, who in 1938 found herself and her husband haunted by a poltergeist, the type of spirit which supposedly throws objects around and generally makes itself unpleasant. The review states that she was investigated by the Society for Psychical Research, in particular Nandor Fodor. Summerscale came across the case while going through the Society’s files.

I’m putting up Sturges’ review as I’ve friends, who are members of the Society and very involved in paranormal research, as are a few of the great peeps, who comment on this blog. Ghost hunting is also very big at the moment, and there are any number of programmes on the satellite and cable channels, as well as a multitude of ghost hunting groups across the UK, America and other countries. Despite its popularity, there’s a big difference between serious paranormal investigation of the type done by the SPR and ASSAP and the majority of ghost hunting groups. The SPR and ASSAP contain professional scientists as well as ordinary peeps from more mundane professions, and try to investigate the paranormal using strict scientific methodology. They contain sceptics as well as believers, and are interested in finding the truth about specific events, whether they are really paranormal or have a rational explanation. They look down on some of the ghost-hunting groups, because these tend to be composed entirely of believers seeking to confirm their belief in the paranormal and collect what they see as evidence. If someone points out that the evidence they show on their videos actually is no such thing – for example, most researchers believe orbs aren’t the souls of the dead, but lens artefacts created by floating dust moats – then the die-hard ghost hunters tend to react by decrying their critics as ‘haters’. Many of the accounts of their encounters with the supernatural by the ghost hunters are extremely dramatic. They’ll describe how members got possessed or were chased by the spirits on their home. I’m not saying such events don’t happen at all. I do know people, who have apparently been possessed by spirits during investigations. But the stories of such supernatural events put up by the ghost-hunters seem more likely the result of powerful imaginations and hysteria than genuine manifestations by the dead.

Academic historians are also interested in spiritualism and supernatural belief in the past because of what they reveal about our ancestors worldview and the profound changes this underwent during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Psychical research emerged in the 19th century at the same time as spiritualism, and was founded partly to investigate the latter. Both can be seen as attempts to provide concrete, scientifically valid proof of the survival of the soul after death at the time science was itself just taking shape and religious belief was under attack from scientific materialism. As the review says, spiritualism and psychic research were particularly popular in the aftermath of the First World War, as bereaved relatives turned to it for comfort that their loved ones still lived on in a blessed afterlife. One famous example of this is Conan Doyle, the creator of the arch-rationalist detective, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was a spiritualist, who helped, amongst other things, popularise the Cottingley Fairies in his book, The Coming of the Fairies. Another of his books in this area was Raymond, an account of his contact with the spirit of his son, who was one of those killed in that terrible conflict.

But the history of spiritualism is also interesting because of what it also reveals about gender roles and sexuality, topics also touched on in the review. Mediums stereotypically tend to be women or gay men. At the same time, historians have also suggested that there was an erotic element to seances and investigations. More intimate physical contact between the sexes was permitted in the darkness of the séance room that may otherwise have been permitted in strictly respectable Victorian society. At the same time, there is to modern viewers a perverse aspect to the investigation of the mediums themselves. In order to rule out fraud, particularly with the physical mediums who claimed to produce ectoplasm from their bodies, mediums were tied up, stripped naked and examined physically, including in their intimate parts. Emetics could be administered to make sure that their stomachs were empty and not containing material, like cheesecloth, which could be used to fake ectoplasm.

The review, ‘Strange but true?’, runs

In February 1938, there was a commotion at a terraced house in Croydon. Alma and Les Fielding were asleep when tumblers began launching themselves at walls; a wind whipped up in their bedroom, lifting their eiderdown into the air; and a pot of face cream flew across the room. The next morning, as Alma prepared breakfast, eggs exploded and saucers snapped.

Over the next few days, visiting journalists witnessed lumps of coal rising from the fireplace and barrelling through the air, glasses escaping from locked cabinets and a capsizing wardrobe. As far as they could tell, the Fieldings were not responsible for the phenomena. One report told of a “malevolent, ghostly force”. The problem, it was decided, was a poltergeist.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the writer Kate Summerscale, best known for the award-winning The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, was in the Society for Psychical Research Archive in Cambridge looking for references to Nandor Fodor, a Hungarian émigré and pioneer of supernatural study, who investigated the fielding case.

She found a dossier of papers related to Alma, compiled by Fodor, containing interviews, séance transcripts, X-rays, lab reports, scribbled notes and photographs. The file was, says Summerscale, “a documentary account of fictional and magical events, a historical record of the imagination.”

The Haunting of Alma Fielding is a detective novel, a ghost yarn and a historical record rolled into one. Blending fact and fiction it is an electrifying reconstruction of the reported events surrounding the Fieldings, all the while placing them in a wider context.

The narrative centres of Fodor, who at the time was losing faith in spiritualism – the mediums he had met were all fakes, and the hauntings he had investigated were obvious hoaxes. He was increasing convinced that supernatural occurrences were caused “not by the shades of the dead but by the unconscious minds of the living”.

But he was intrigued by Alma, who now experiencing “apports” – the transference of objects from one place to another. Rare stones and fossils would appear in her hands and flowers under her arms. Beetles started to scuttle out from her clothes and a terrapin appeared in her lap. She would later claim to be able to astrally project herself and give herself over to possession by spirits.

Summerscale resists the temptation to mine the more comic aspects of the story. She weaves in analysis on class, female emancipation and sexuality, and the collective angst of a nation. At the time, spiritualism was big business in Britain, which was still suffering the shocks of mass death from the First World War and Spanish flu. Seances to reach the departed were as common as cocktail parties. There was dread in the air, too, as another conflict in Europe loomed.

Alma became a local celebrity, released from domestic dreariness into the gaze of mostly male journalists, mediums and psychiatrists. Chaperoned by Fodor, she made frequent visits to the Institute of Psychical Research, where she submitted to lengthy and often invasive examinations.

We come to understand how Fodor stood to benefit from the cases, both in furthering his career and restoring his faith in the possibility of an afterlife. You feel his pain, along with Alma’s, as the true story is revealed.

It sounds very much from that last paragraph that the haunting was a hoax. There have been, unfortunately, all too many fake mediums and hoaxers keen to exploit those seeking the comfort of making contact once again with deceased relatives and friends. There was even a company selling a catalogue of gadgets to allow someone to take a séance. But I don’t believe for a single moment that all mediums are frauds. There is a psychological explanation, based on anthropologists study of the zar spirit possession cult of one of the African peoples. This is a very patriarchal culture, but possession by the zar spirits allows women to circumvent some of the restrictions of women. For example, they may be given rings and other objects while possessed through the spirits asking, or apparently asking, through them. It’s been suggested that zar possessions are a form of hysteria, in which women, who are frustrated by societal restrictions, are able to get around them. The same explanation has also been suggested for western mediumship and alien abductions. Many of the women, who became mediums and who experience abductions by aliens, may do so subconsciously as these offer an escape from stifling normal reality.

I also believe that some supernatural events may well be genuine. This view was staunchly defended by the late Brian Inglis in his history of ghosts and psychical research, Natural and Supernatural, in the 1990s. As an Anglican, I would also caution anyone considering getting involved in psychical research to take care. There’s fraud and hoaxing, of course, as well as misperception, while some paranormal phenomena may be the result of poorly understood fringe mental states. But I also believe that some of the supposed entities contacting us from the astral realms, if they exist, are deliberately trying to mislead us. The great UFO researchers, John Keel and Jacques Vallee, came to the same conclusion about the UFO entities. One of Keel’s books was entitled, Messengers of Deception. There’s also the book, Hungry Ghosts, again written from a non-Christian perspective, which also argues that some of the spirits contacting people are malevolent and trying to deceive humanity for their own purposes.

If you are interested in psychical research, therefore do it properly using scientific methodology. And be aware of the possibility of deception, both natural and supernatural.

Lawless Tories Pass Legislation Allowing Security Forces to Commit Crimes

October 11, 2020

This is very ominous. It’s another attack on the security of British citizens from potential persecution and tyranny from their own government. On Wednesday, 6th October 2020, Mike put up a piece on his blog reporting that Boris Johnson and his cronies have passed legislation that permits MI5, the National Crime Agency and other organisations using undercover agents and informants to commit crimes. They do, however, have to show that the offences are ‘necessary and proportionate’, but won’t say which crimes are authorised for fear of revealing the identities of their spies to the criminals and terrorists they are attempting to infiltrate and monitor. Mike also points out that there’s the danger of ‘mission creep’, that the scope of the crimes the undercover cops and agents are permitted to commit will expand as the security forces decide that this is required by their activities.

The new law was opposed by both Labour and Tory MPs, criticising the lack of safeguards in it which they described as ‘very vague and very broad’. In fact, only 182 Tory MPs voted for it. Keir Starmer once again showed his Blairite utter lack of backbone, and ordered the party to abstain. Only 20 Labour MPs voted against it. This means that it would have failed if Labour had had any principles and opposed it. Unsurprisingly, the Labour MPs who voted against it included the ‘far left’ MPs Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Ian Lavery, whose tweet explaining his reasons for doing so Mike also gives in his piece. Lavery said

I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill tonight. This was the correct course of action. I simply could not support legislation that would allow #spycops to murder, torture and use sexual violence without fear of any legal accountability.

Mike’s article also includes numerous other tweets from ordinary Brits condemning the new law and the Labour party and its leader for not opposing it, except for Corbyn and the other 19 courageous and principled MPs. Carole Hawkins, for example, tweeted

Mass kidnappings, torture & assassinations all without any comeback now the rule of law in 3rd world, nonentity Torydom. Every so called “British value” disappeared on the 5/10/20.

And Elaine Dyson said

#StarmerOut The Labour party & the public deserve better. During the COVID-19 crisis & with Brexit just a couple of months away, we need a strong opposition against the Tory gov. Labour must stop whipping its MPs to abstain on bills that leave sh*tstains on human rights.

Mike comments

There is only one reasonable response to legislation that authorises government agents to commit crimes – especially extreme crimes such as those contemplated here, and that is opposition.

But opposition is not in Keir Starmer’s vocabulary.

Let’s have a leadership challenge. He has to go.

And if he isn’t ousted this time, let’s have another challenge, and another, until he is. He has turned Labour into a travesty.

This is a real threat to the safety of ordinary citizens, and another step towards despotism and arbitrary government. This is very much the issue which made Robin Ramsay set up the conspiracies/ parapolitics magazine Lobster in the early 1980s. There is plentiful evidence that the western security forces are out of control, and are responsible for serious crimes against people and their governments. The late William Blum, a fierce, indefatiguable critic of the American empire and its intelligence agencies, has published any number of books exposing and discussing the way they have conspired to overthrow foreign governments and assassinate their leaders. One of these has two chapters simply listing the countries, whose governments the US has overthrown and in whose democratic elections it has interfered. One of the most notorious is the CIA coup of the mid-70s that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by the Fascist dictator General Pinochet.

Britain’s own security forces have also shown themselves no strangers to such activities. In the 1950s we conspired to overthrow the last, democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil industry, the majority of which was owned by us. We’ve since engaged in rigging elections and other covert activities in other countries around the world. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, British security forces colluded secretly with loyalist paramilitaries in the assassination of Republicans. The IRD, a state propaganda department set up to counter Soviet propaganda, also smeared left-wing Labour MPs such as Tony Benn as supporters of the IRA. All this and worse is described by the entirely respectable, mainstream historian Rory Cormac in his book Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy.

Such lawbreaking and criminality is the reason that there is a significant conspiracist subculture in America and Britain. Following the assassination of JFK and the shock of Watergate, many Americans don’t trust their government. This distrust mostly takes the form of paranoid, bizarre, and in my view utterly false and dangerous stories about the government forming secret pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli to experiment on humans in exchange for alien technology. But some of this distrust is justified. In the 1970s, for example, the CIA plotted to stage a bomb attack in Miami. This would be blamed on Cuba, and provide the pretext for an invasion to oust Castro and his communist government. Fortunately this was never put into practice, but this, and similar entirely historical, factual plots, mean that Americans are justified in being wary and suspicious of their secret state and intelligence agencies.

And so should we.

We’ve already taken several significant steps towards authoritarian rule. One of the most significant of these was the passages of legislation by Blair and then David Cameron setting up secret courts. This allows suspects to be tried in secret, with the press and public excluded, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security. The law also allows evidence to be withheld from the defendant and his lawyers for the same reason, in case it reveals the identities of agents and informants. As I’ve said numerous times before, this is very much the kind of perverted justice system that Kafka described in his novels The Castle and The Trial, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

The idea that the state, or high-ranking individuals within it, are engaged in a conspiracy against their own people has now become something of a staple in American cinema and television. There was Nine Days of the Condor in the 1970s, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a secret agent, whose co-workers are killed by another covert organisation while he’s out getting lunch, and then the X-Files in the 1990s. Not to mention Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, both of which feature rogue Federation officers conspiring to lead some kind of attack on the Federation itself.

Back down to Earth, the 1990’s British police drama, Between the Lines, also tackled the issue of rogue undercover agents. Between the Lines starred Neil Pearson and Siobhan Redmond as members of a unit set up to investigate offences committed by police officers. This included issues that are still, unfortunately, very much relevant, such as the shooting of unarmed suspects by mistake by armed police. One episode had the team investigating a secret agent, who had infiltrated a neo-Nazi organisation. This man was responsible for a series of assaults, raising the question that he had actually gone native and become part of the group he was supposed to bring down. This was at least 25 years ago, and it depicts exactly the kind of thing that could and no doubt has happened. Except that the Tory legislation means that the individuals responsible for such crimes, or at least some of them, will be exempt from prosecution under the new laws.

As for the claims that there will somehow be safeguards to prevent abuse, I’m reminded of the Charter of Verona, issued by Mussolini’s Fascists towards the end of Fascist rule in Italy. By then the majority of Italy had been occupied by the Allies. Mussolini himself was the puppet head of a rump Fascist state in northern Italy, the infamous Salo Republic. The Duce attempted to regain some popularity for himself and his movement by taking a leftward turn, promising the workers’ a place in industrial management. The Charter declared that no individual would be held for more than seven days without charge or trial. Which sounds far more liberal than previous Fascist rule. The reality, however, was that the Salo Republic was propped up by the Nazis, while brutal deaths squads like the Deci Mas roamed the countryside killing anti-Fascists.

Britain isn’t a Fascist state by any means at the moment. But legislation like this paves the way for the emergence of a genuine authoritarian regime. It is an active threat to the lives and security of ordinary Brits, and Starmer had no business whatsoever supporting it.

Another Lesson from France: How to Maintain a Diverse, Pluralist Press

October 10, 2020

There’s a very interesting passage in Denis MacShane’s 1986 Fabian Society pamphlet, French Lessons for Labour, where he describes how the French have been able to create a diverse and pluralistic press. Apparently it’s the most diverse in Europe with the exception of Sweden. This has been achieved partly through legislation drafted at the country’s liberation during World War II, but which was never enforced, which would have removed newspapers from the ownership of Nazi supporters and collaborators, the nationalisation of the distributors and state subsidization.

In fact, France, partly by design, partly by chance, has the most pluralist press in Europe outside Sweden. The design lies in the laws passed at the liberation in 1944/45 which dispossessed the owners of the right-wing papers which had supported Hitler before 1939 and the Vichy regime after 1940. A right of reply law and, more important, one that nationalised the press distribution agency were also passed. The latter means that left-wing newspapers and magazines are on sale in the most remote parts of France and the distribution censorship which is exercised in Britain by the two main wholesale/retail companies does not exist in France. In addition, the Government subsidises the press with cheap postal tariffs, zero VAT rating and, on occasion, direct subsidy.

The chance lies in the willingness of businessmen or corporations to put up money on left-of-centre newspapers and to support them during periods of low or zero profits. Le Matin, Liberation and the left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur (circulation 400,000) all provide a width of reporting and comments In addition, Le Monde, whose independence is assured by the right of journalists to elect its editor, maintains an objectivity and authority, and an influence because of those two values, which are not automatically hostile to a socialist government. (P. 17).

However, attempts to pass similar legislation to the 1944/5 laws in order to stop the Vichy collaborator Robert Hersant from owning 19 national and provincial papers in 1984 and 1986 was a failure, partly due to a press freedom campaign from the right.

This issue of media ownership and bias is acutely relevant on this side of the Channel as well. Since the 1980s, the press and media in Britain has been owned by a decreasing number of powerful individuals, who may also have other business interests. These individuals, like Rupert Murdoch, have been able to exert oligarchical control of the media, maintaining a strong Tory bias. Media and press bias against Labour was particularly acute during Thatcher’s administration and was certainly a factor in the 1987 general election. It has also been very much in evidence over the past five years, when even supposedly left-wing newspapers like the Mirror, the Guardian and the Observer, ran stories attacking Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the radio and television networks.

Media bias has also partly been responsible for the right-ward movement of the Labour party itself under Tony Blair. Blair was backed by the Murdoch press, and former ministers have said that Murdoch was an invisible presence at every cabinet meeting as Blair worried how his policies would be viewed by the press magnate. He was also able to gain the support of other papers with the exception of the Heil, but continued to hope that he would eventually win over that rag. I think it’s likely that press ownership will become even more restricted if some papers go under due to the Coronavirus lockdown. Even before the lockdown, the Express changed owners as its former proprietor, the pornography Richard Desmond, sold it to the Mirror group.

The willingness of businessmen to support left-wing newspapers is a crucial factor. When the Daily Herald went bust in the 1960s, to be bought by Murdoch and relauched as the Scum, it actually had a higher circulation that many of the other papers. What brought it down was the fact that it was unable to attract advertising. And I’ve encountered censorship by the distributors myself. Way back in the 1980s during the period of glasnost and perestroika introduced by Gorbachev, an English edition of Pravda was briefly available in some British newsagents. This was an exciting time as Gorbachev signed arms limitation treaties with Reagan ending the Cold War, and introduced reforms in the Soviet Union intended to turn the country into a multi-party democracy. I tried ordering it from my local newsagent in Bristol, but was told it was impossible. It was only being carried by one of the two national distributors. The one that served my area simply wouldn’t carry it.

And the newsagent chains can also exercise their own censorship. When it started out, Private Eye was seen as very subversive and viewed with distaste by many people. Many newsagents wouldn’t stock it. And at least one of the newsagents in the ‘ 90s refused to put its edition satirising the public attitude at Princess Di’s funeral on their shelves. When I asked what had happened to it when it wasn’t on sale in my local newsagents, I was told that it hadn’t come in yet. Well, there seemed to be many other newsagents, who hadn’t had it delivered either. After it returned to the shelves a fortnight later, the Eye published a series of pieces, including letters from readers, who’d had similar problems finding a copy, revealing what had actually gone on. One of the newsagents, John Menzies, had objected to the issue and its cover, and so refused to sell it.

Britain would definitely benefit considerably from similar policies towards the press as that of our friends across Le Manche. But I think getting such legislation through would be almost impossible. There were demands for workers’ control of the press in the 1980s, partly as a reaction by journalists on papers bought by Murdoch as he expanded his noxious empire. They were also concerned about editorial control and bias as the press passed into the hands of fewer and fewer owners. Those demands were obviously unsuccessful. Any attempt to pass legislation providing for state subsidisation of left-wing papers would be howled down by the Tory press as interference in press freedom and the state bailing out failing companies in contravention of the Thatcherite doctrine that market forces should be allowed full reign and failing companies and industries should be allowed to go under.

And I can’t imagine any law to deprive former collaborators or supporters of Hitler of ownership of their papers going down at all well with the Daily Mail, which is notorious for its support of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists and articles praising Hitler before the outbreak of the War. John Major in the last days of his administration wanted to pass legislation breaking up Murdoch’s empire, but by that time it was too late – Murdoch had already switched to Tony Blair and the Labour party and Major’s government was in no position to do anything about Murdoch’s pernicious control of the press.

This problem is likely to become more acute if some newspapers fold due to lack of sales during the lockdown and the impact of the internet. Media ownership is restricted enough as it is, without Murdoch trying to destroy the Beeb so that Sky and the other cable/satellite stations can take its place. It may not be too long before Murdoch’s hold on the media becomes a true monopoly. In that event, government action to break it up will become a necessity. But given the uniform opposition it would face from the press, it’s questionable if it would be successful.

Or as governments increasingly ingratiate themselves with the Murdoch press in return for its support, even be considered as an option.

‘I’ Report on Macron’s Vow to Fight Islamist Separatism in France

October 9, 2020

Here’s another piece from the I about extremism, from last Saturday’s edition for 3rd October 2020. Written by their columnist Michael Rose, it discusses the announcement by French president Macron that he intends to fight against the separatism and extremist Islam in Muslim communities on the other side of la Manche. The article runs

President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to fight “Islamist separatism”, which he said was threatening to take control in some Muslim communities around France.

France has struggled with Islamist militancy for years but the government is increasingly worried by broader radicalisation within Muslim communities. Officials cite the refusal of some Muslim men to shake women’s hands, swimming pools that impose alternate time slots for men and women, girls as young as four being told to wear full-face veils, and proliferation of Islamic schools.

More than 250 people have been killed on French soil over the past five years in attacks by Islamist militants or individuals inspired by Jihadist groups. “What we need to fight is Islamist separatism,” Mr Macron said during a visit to the impoverished Paris suburb of Les Mureaux. “The problem is an ideology which claims its own laws should be superior to those of the Republic.”

France follows a strict form of secularism which is designed to separate religion and public life. The principle was enshrined in law in 1906.

Many French Muslims have long complained of discrimination and marginalisation that have contributed to poverty and social alienation.

Foreign imams will no longer be able to train clerics in France and there will be tighter controls on the financing of mosques.

“There is a crisis of Islam everywhere, which is being corrupted by radical forms,” Mr Macron said. But he added France had a responsibility . “We have created our own separatism,” he said, citing the ghettoization of minority neighbourhoods.” (p.30).

We were taught a little about the French suburbs, the banlieus, or at least those in Paris, in Geography ‘A’ Level when I was at school nearly 40 years ago. I don’t know about now, but they were then hit by poverty and marginalisation. They were built simply to house people and so consist of nothing, or at least precious little, except tower blocks. It was assumed that the residents would go into the centre of Paris for their shopping and amusement, and so there are no, or very few, shops or local amenities. As for poverty and marginalisation, Ali A. Allawi describes the deprivation, poverty and underprivileged conditions of European Muslims in his book, The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation.

There’s also been much prejudice against Arabs and Muslims in France. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown described the very cold reception her mixed race family got there when they went for a holiday a few years ago in the Independent. I thought things had improved somewhat, as a few years later she wrote another piece about a recent holiday there in which she and her family were welcomed and treated with courtesy. There was also a series of anti-racist protests a few years ago, the name of which translates as ‘Don’t Touch My Mate’. This consisted of White young people showing their solidarity by standing up to racism and discrimination against their Black and Muslim friends.

But there has also been trouble with Muslim extremism and Islamist violence. Over a decade ago there were protests across France when the government ruled that under the doctrine of laicism, the official policy of French secularism, Muslim girls were banned from wearing the hijab in schools. This broke out despite leading French imams declaring that the ban didn’t contradict Islam and could be observed by pious Muslims. The insistence that girls as young as four should wear full-face veils is definitely extreme and not required by Islamic law. From what I remember from when I studied Islam at college as part of the Religious Studies course, girls up to seven years old can wear whatever they like. The dress requirements gradually come after they reach that age, and I think that they are only required to wear the full veil at puberty.

There have been fears about Islamic separatism in other European countries. In the 1990s there was controversy in the main Germany trade union organisation. This claimed that while the affiliated Muslim organisations or its Muslim members claimed to support integration, in reality they had a separatist attitude towards their non-Muslim brothers and sisters.

I also wonder if the accusation of separatism may not be literally true, in that some Muslims extremists may be pursuing a conscious policy of apartheid. I’ve written in previous posts how, when I was studying Islam, I came across passages in books published by British Muslim presses that demanded autonomous Muslim communities. And way back in January 2000, right at the dawning of the new millennium, the Financial Times included a brief piece featuring Anjem Chaudhry, who never met an Islamist terrorist he didn’t like. Chaudhry was then running an outfit called Sharia4Belgium, which wanted Belgian Muslims to have their own autonomous enclave with Arabic as it official language, governed by sharia law. Chaudhry’s now in jail for his support for al-Qaeda and ISIS. I don’t know if such demands are still being made by sections of British and European Islam following the 9/11 attacks and the government’s attempts to curb Muslim radicalism and promote integration. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was, somewhere, though the vicious Muslim firebrands like Kalim Siddiqui, who declared that British society was a monstrous killing machine and that killing Muslims comes very easily to non-Muslim Brits, seem to have gone quiet. The imam, who received Salmon Rushdie back into the faith, also recommended that Britain should train its own imams. When he was writing their was a shortage of Muslim clergy in Britain, and he was afraid that religious extremists from places like Pakistan were being allowed in thanks to this.

Macron’s comments also came at the same time that the Spectator published a piece claiming that the Swedish authorities had announced that immigrant communities in some of their cities were dominated by criminal gangs and had turned whole areas into a no-go zones. There was a war going on between a number of immigrant criminal gangs, in which firearms and even rocket launchers had been used. The Swedish chief of police had supposedly appeared on television to state very clearly that the immigrants responsible for the violence were not proper asylum seekers, but had come to the country simply to make money through selling drugs. This was apparently confirmed by the Swedish prime minister, Lofven, who said that his country would not be taking any of the former residents of the destroyed immigrant camp in France. Or so it has been claimed by right-wing, ant-immigration websites.

A few years ago the Islamophobic, ‘counterjihad’ websites Gates of Vienna and Vlad Tepes wrote pieces praising a book by the former mayor of one of the German towns. He claimed that his town had effectively been overrun by Muslims, who maltreated and forced out ethnic Germans. The book was widely attacked and criticised. They also claimed that Malmo in Sweden, or at least parts of it, had been taken over by Muslim immigrants and become violent, crime-ridden no-go zones for non-Muslims. I don’t know how true these reports are as they come from the racist right, websites which did have connections to the EDL. Certainly Fox News’ claim that British cities like Birmingham had been taken over by Muslims and were now no-go zones for White and non-Muslim Brits provoked widespread criticism and hilarity when they made it a few years ago.

It seems to me that nevertheless, even if these claims are exaggerated, there is nevertheless a real fear of Islamic separatism throughout Europe and that Macron is reacting to it in France.

One contributory factor, I have no doubt, is neoliberalism and the destruction of the welfare state. The French scholar, Alfred Kepel, advances this argument in his book on the resurgence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish fundamentalism, The Revenge of God. When Thatcher started her attacks on the welfare state in the 1980s, she hoped that it would lead to a resurgence of charity. This didn’t happen. But Muslims are obliged to support the poor through the zakat, the alms-tax paid to the local mosque. I think this concern to give to the local poor amongst Muslims isn’t confined just to their own community in Britain. There were Muslim restaurants giving free meals to the homeless at Christmas, and my parents bumped into a young Muslim woman, who was also buying stuff she could give to the food bank, in our local supermarket. But the support provided by the mosques in the absence of state aid does mean that communities may become more isolated and inward-looking.

If we really want to stop Islamic separatism, as well as White racism, not only should Britain and Europe take measures promoting racial integration, but neoliberalism urgently needs to be ditched. It’s dividing communities as it pushes people into real, grinding poverty. But there’s no chance of that, at least in this country, as the very rich are making too much money at the expense of the rest of us, regardless of our colour and religion.

A Lesson from the 1980s Mitterand Government: Labour Needs to Keep to Socialist Values

October 7, 2020

I used to be a member of the Fabian Society in the 1980s, and still have a few of their pamphlets around. One of those is by the Labour MP Denis MacShane, French Lessons for Labour. This discusses Francois Mitterand’s Socialist Party government which was in office from 1981 to 1986, its positive achievements and failures, and why it lost the 1986. Even after thirty-four years, some of the points made by the pamphlet are still very relevant. And one is particularly so now that Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour party and trying to return it back to Blairite Thatcherism. Because of the reasons MacShane considers Mitterand’s government failed to get re-elected was because they didn’t govern according to traditional socialist values.

This is very clearly argued in the passage ‘The need for socialist values’ in the pamphlet’s final chapter, ‘Conclusion: What Lessons for Labour?’ This runs

The relative failure off the French Socialists to set the economy moving in the right direction or to develop a positive partnership with the unions may be related to their dropping of the ideas and values of socialism soon after the election. By the end of the five years’ government, Socialist ministers were openly saying that their main achievement had been to show that they could alternate with governments of the right. This may be so but it was a major scaling down of ambition and unlikely to mobilise mass support.

Mitterand’s and ministers’ assumptions of the “national” or “above party” mode so quickly after the 1981 election and thereafter until very shortly before the 1986 contest was more than a choice of language. It was a suspension of that part of the socialist project aimed at developing egalitarian values and practices in society. In country that attaches great importance to parole, headed by a Socialist president with an extraordinary command of the language the adoption of the discourse of “modernisation” , “flexibility”, “dynamism” is to dilute the reference to politics with the nostrums of the Wall Street Journal. The qualities listed above may be necessary but to emphasise them to the exclusion of other values that distinguish socialist from conservative governments is a mistake. On all French coins the three words “Liberty”, “Equality” and “Fraternity” are inscribed. They predate Marx but each is an important element of socialist values. Of thee, the concept least applied by Mitterand was equality. Studies of the last Labour Government in Britain also showed that inequalities widened and poverty increased. If a democratic socialist government is to lessen those inequalities then some sense of necessary austerity, some imposition of standards of citizenship will have to take place. There must be some link between sacrifice and equality – that, in addition to economic growth, is perhaps the beginnings of the modern socialist project. The call to equality, the call to sacrifice was not heard clearly throughout the five years of socialist government in France. They began by thinking they could please everyone and ended by being voted out. (pp. 33-4).

I realise that Blair adopted much the same policy when he took office. His government included former Conservative MPs like Chris Patten in a ‘Government Of All the Talents’. His first act in No. 10 was to invited Margaret Thatcher round to visit. He had also managed to get Clause IV, the passage in the Labour Party constitution committing it to nationalisation, dropped earlier in the 1980s. Instead of pursuing traditional socialist policies, Blair claimed his government instead had found a ‘Third Way’. In practice he followed Thatcherite orthodoxy by continuing privatisation, including that of the NHS, and dismantling the welfare state. Blair was intent on winning over swing voters in marginal constituencies and turned away from the party’s traditional working class base. In reward for this, he was supported by the Murdoch press and received donations from big businesses that had previously donated to the Tory party. New Labour stayed in power from 1997 to 2010, so it might be thought that his policy of simply becoming ‘Tory Lite’ is successful. However, Blair lost the support of traditional Labour voters and members. He won with a lower number of votes, I believe, than Jeremy Corbyn had when he lost the 2017 election. It’s been said that by 1997 the public were so sick of the Tories, that Blair simply didn’t need to adopt their policies. He could simply have carried on with the real, socialist, Labour party policies of nationalisation, a mixed economy, publicly owned and properly funded NHS and a welfare state that genuinely supported the sick, unemployed and disabled. Policies that this country desperately needs.

For all Corbyn’s personal unpopularity, created by a vicious, libellous media, his policies – which were and are those of the traditional Labour party – were very popular with the public. But Keir Starmer has turned away from them in order to return to those of Blair. He and his grotty supporters no doubt believe this will win votes and the next election. This will probably not be the case. Blair had the support of the Murdoch press, and the Tories were more unpopular than Labour. Boris’ popularity has massively declined due to his massive incompetence in tackling the Coronavirus and is currently below Starmer’s according to recent polls. But the Labour party is still less popular than the Tories despite the Blairites telling us all that with Corbyn gone, they’d be 20 points or so ahead.

Blair’s government notwithstanding, one of the lessons Mitterand’s government has to teach us on this side of La Manche is that the Labour party needs to govern, and be seen and heard to govern, according to the values of equality and fraternity. And we need to get rid of austerity for ordinary working people. We’ve had nothing but austerity for the past ten years, and the result is nothing but bloated pay rises for the obscenely rich, and starvation and misery for the poor. It’s about time this stopped, and a proper taxation policy imposed on the rich for the benefit of everyone in this great nation.