Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

An 18th Century Rabbi’s Defence of Religious Criticism of the Rich and Powerful

November 23, 2020

Whenever any clergyman or religious figure dares to criticise them, the Tories always issue this refrain: that the reverend gentleman has no business doing so, and if he stuck to promoting his religion, the seats in his place of worship would have more worshippers on them. This has been largely directed at the Tories’ critics in the Anglican Church, especially since the Church’s report published under Archbishop Runcie about the increase in poverty in Britain. I also recall that arch-Thatcherite Norman Tebbitt also made some insinuations, based on the sing-song voice and other mannerisms characteristic of a certain type of Christian clergyman at the time, that Runcie somehow was totally wet and weedy. This was in complete ignorance that Runcie had been an army chaplain and so ferocious that he was known as ‘Killer Runcie’.

But an 18th century German rabbi, Jonathan Ben Nathan/ Nata Eybeschuetz/ Eybeschitz, had an answer to such accusation. He felt that religious people had the right to attack the conduct of public figures and that this made them more popular with ordinary people, not less. I found this stated in the article on him in Bowker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. This says that

In his work as a rabbi, he took the view that religion is n ot confined to ‘the religious’, i.e., that teaching and preaching must reach out to affect the conduct of public life. ‘It is regrettable that our preaching is dealing constantly with out duties to God. Let the preacher protest, with a prominent voice, against the malpractices of prominent men, and the people will come to love him and delight in his sermons. (p. 332).

So clearly criticism of the rich and powerful hadn’t driven people away from religion, at least in his experience. I’m aware that explicitly party political statements by people of faith, or statements that may be interpreted as such, can be divisive. There are as many people repelled as attracted when right-wing Christian ministers start attacking gay marriage, for example. But there should be a place for religious criticism of the powerful and their policies, and especially when they harm the poor and defenceless. That’s been a vital element of the Jewish and Christian witness ever since the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, which states very clearly that the Almighty defends the poor, weak and marginalised against the rich and powerful.

Jeremy Corbyn was in no way an anti-Semite, and he had no lack of Jewish supporters because of the depth of his commitment to defending their interests as part of his staunch opposition to every kind of racism. As did Ken Livingstone, who said on an interview with George Galloway on RT’s Sputnik, that Jews greeted him on the street and told him they knew he wasn’t an anti-Semite.

But these Jews were sidelined and deliberately ignored by a political establishment that feared Corbyn as the radical, genuinely socialist leader working Brits of all colours, ethnicities and religious views need. Instead they parroted the smears of him and his supporters as anti-Semites by a true-blue Tory Jewish establishment. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had even sent a message congratulating Theresa May when she became Prime Minister. And the Board then went berserk accusing Corbyn of snubbing the Jewish community when he chose to spend a Passover Seder with the left-wing Jews of Jewdas. Well, the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbinate really only represent the United Synagogue, which has taken upon itself to try and present itself as the sole true Jewish community, despite that there has never been a monolithic Jewish community. No rabbi has more authority than any other, and there is the old Jewish saying I’ve found ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. Jewdas are a part of Britain’s diverse Jewish community, and they almost certainly invited him, so his attendance at their Passover Seder definitely wasn’t a snub to the Jewish community. Only the rich, pompous Tory section.

The Tories should stop trying to shut their left-wing critics, both Jews and Christians, up. They have a right and religious duty to defend the poor and meek against the rich and powerful.

And it’s high time that the media dropped the partisan anti-Semitic contempt for left-wing Jews, and allowed them to speak. Because the Thatcherite, Tory policies Ephraim Mirvis appears to approve of are harming working, sick, disabled and elderly Jews and well as gentiles.

Robot Takeover Comes Nearer as Britain Intends to Employ 30,000 Robot Soldiers

November 11, 2020

If this is true, then the robot revolution that’s been haunting the imagination of Science Fiction writers ever since Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots just got that bit nearer. Monday’s edition of the I for 9th November 2020 carried this chilling snippet:

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form a key part of the British army within two decades. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, told Sky News that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

This has been worrying many roboticists and computer scientists for decades. Kevin Warwick, the professor of cybernetics at Reading University, begins his book with a terrifying prediction of the what the world could be like three decades from now in 2015 in his 1990s book, March of the Machines. The robots have taken over, decimating humanity. The few humans that remain are desexed slaves, used by the machines to fight against the free humans that have found refuge in parts of the world difficult or impossible for robots to operate in. Warwick is absolutely serious about the threat from intelligent robots. So serious in fact, that he became a supporter of cyborgisation because he felt that it would only be by augmenting themselves with artificial intelligence and robotics that humans could survive. I went to see Warwick speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science years ago. When it came to the time when he answered questions from the audience, he was naturally asked whether he still believed that robots could take over, and whether this could happen as soon as 2050. He replied that he did, and that the developments in robotics had brought it forwards by several decades.

There have been a series of controversies going back decades when a country has announced that they intend to use robot soldiers. When this happened a few years ago, it was received with denunciations by horrified scientists. Apart from the threat of an eventual robot revolution and the enslavement of humanity, a la the Matrix, there are severe moral questions about the operation of such machines. Robots don’t have consciences, unlike humans. A machine that’s created to kill without proper constraints will carry on killing indiscriminately, regardless of whether its targets are a soldiers or innocent civilians. Warwick showed this possibility in his book with a description of one of the machines his department has on its top floor. It’s a firefighting robot, equipped with sensors and a fire extinguisher. If there’s a fire, it’s programmed to run towards it and put it out. All well and good. But Warwick points out that it could easily be adapted for killing. If you replaced the fire extinguisher with a gun and gave it a neural net, you could programme it to kill people of a certain type. Like those with blonde hair and blue eyes. Set free, it would continue killing such people until it ran out of bullets.

Less important, but possibly also a critical factor in the deployment of such war machines, is popular reaction to their use against human soldiers. It’s been suggested that their use in war would cause people to turn against the side using them, viewing them as cowards hiding behind such machines instead of facing their enemies personally, human to human, in real combat. While not as important as the moral arguments against their deployment, public opinion is an important factor. It’s why, since the Vietnam War, the western media has been extensively manipulated by the military-industrial-political complex so that it presents almost wholly positive views of our wars. Like the Iraq invasion was to liberate Iraq from an evil dictator, instead of a cynical attempt to grab their oil reserves and state industries by the American-Saudi oil industry and western multinationals. Mass outrage at home and around the world was one of the reasons America had to pull out of Vietnam, and it’s a major factor in the current western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Popular outrage and disgust at the use of robots in combat could similarly lead to Britain and anyone else using such machines to lose the battle to win hearts and minds, and thus popular support.

But I also wonder if this isn’t also the cybernetics companies researching these robots trying to find a market for their wares. DARPA, the company developing them, has created some truly impressive machines. They produced the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which looks somewhat like a headless robotic dog, hence its name, as a kind of robotic pack animal for the American army. It all looked very impressive, until the army complained that they couldn’t use it. Soldiers need to move silently on their enemy, but the noise produced by the robots’ electric motors would be too loud. Hence the contract was cancelled. It could be that there are similar problems with some of their other robots, and so they are waging some kind of PR battle to get other countries interested in them as well as an America.

I’m a big fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a band of former war robots, led by Hammerstein, who are now employed fighting interplanetary threats and cosmic bad guys. When not remembering the horrors they experienced of the Volgan War. These are truly intelligent machines with their own personalities. In the case of Hammerstein and his crude, vulgar mate, Rojaws, a moral conscience. Which is absent in another member of the team, Blackblood, a former Volgan war robot, and ruthless war criminal. I really believe that they should be turned into a movie, along with other great 2000 AD characters, like Judge Dredd. But I don’t believe that they will ever be real, because the difficulties in recreating human type intelligence are too great, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a centuries’ time there might be genuinely intelligent machines like C-3PO and R2D2, but I doubt it.

The war robots now being touted are ruthless, mindlessly efficient machines, which scientists are worried could easily get out of control. I’ve blogged about this before, but the threat is real even if at present their promotion is so much PR hype by the manufacturers.

It looks to me that General Carter’s statement about using 30,000 of them is highly speculative, and probably won’t happen. But in any case, the armed forces shouldn’t even be considering using them.

Because the threat to the human race everywhere through their use is too high.

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.

Gorbachev’s Final Programme for the Russian Communist Party

September 22, 2020

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) contains the last party political programme Gorbachev. This was put forward at the last party plenum in 1991 before Communism finally collapsed. It’s an optimistic document which seeks to transform the totalitarian party and the Soviet Union’s command economy into a democratic party with a mixed economy. Gorbachev also cites as the principles underlying the transformation not just the values of the Communist party, but also the wider values of democracy, humanism and social justice.

The extract’s several pages long, and so I won’t quote it in full. But here some passages that are particularly interesting, beginning with Gorbachev’s statement of their values.

  1. Our Principles

… In its political activity the CPS will be guided by: – the interests of comprehensive social progress, which is assured by way of reforms…

-The principles of humanism and universal values.

-The principles of democracy and freedom in al ltheir various manifestations…

-The principles of social justice…

– The principles of of patriotism and internationalism…

-The interests of integrating the country into the world economy.

Section III, ‘Our Immediate Goals’ declares

… The CPSU stands for the achievement of the following goals:

In the political system. Development of the Soviet multinational state as a genuine democratic federation of sovereign republics;

setting up a state under the rule of law, and the development of democratic institutions; the system of soviets as the foundations of the state structure, as organs of popular rule and self-administration and of political representation of the interests of all strata of society; separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial…

In the area of nationality relations: Equal rights for all people independently of their nationality and place of residence; equal rights and free development of all nationality under the unconditional priority of the rights of man…

In the economy. Structural rebuilding (perestroika) of the national economy, re-orienting it toward the consumer;

modernization of industry, construction, transport and communications on the basis of high technology, overcoming our lag behind the world scientific technical level, and thinking through the conversion of military production.

transition to a mixed economy based on the variety and legal equality of different forms of property – state, collective and private, joint stock and cooperative. Active cooperation in establishing the property of labour collectives and the priority development of this form of social prosperity;

formation of a regulated market economy as a means to stimulate the growth of economic efficiency, the expansion of social wealth, and the raising of the living standards of the people. This assumes free price formation with stage gains to needy groups of the population, the introduction of an active anti-monopoly policy, restoring the financial system to health, overcoming inflation, and achieving the convertibility of the ruble.

working out and introducing a modern agrarian policy; free development of the peasantry; allotment of land (including leaseholds with the right of inheritance) to all who are willing and able to work it effectively; state support of the agro-price parity in the exchange of the products of industry and agriculture;

comprehensive integration of the country in the world economy, and broad participation in world economic relations in the interest of the economic and social progress of Soviet society.

In the social sphere. Carrying out a state policy that allows us to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable difficulties and expenses connected with overcoming the crisis in the economy and making the transition to the market…

Averting the slide toward ecological catastrophe, solving the problems of [Lake] Baikal, the Aral Sea, and other zones of ecological impoverishment, and continuing the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

In education, science and culture. Spiritual development of the people, impoving the education and culture of each person, and strengthening morality, the sense of civic duty and responsibility and patriotism…

IV. Whose Interest the Party Expresses

… In cooperation with the labour movement and the trade unions we will defend the interests of the workers, to secure: due representation of the working class in the organs of power at all levels, real rights of labour collectives to run enterprises and dispose of the results of their labour, a reliable system of social protection…

We stand for freedom of conscience for all citizens. The party takes a respectful position toward the feelings of believers…

… We are against militant anti-Communism as a form of political extremism and negation of democracy that is extremely dangerous for the fate of society…

V. For a Party of Political Action

Communists are clearly aware that only a radically renewed party – a party of political action – can successfully solve new tasks.

The most important direction of renewal for the party is its profound democratization. This assumes the independence of the parties of the republics that belong to CPS, and space for the initiative of local and primary organizations.

… Guarantees must be worked out in the party so that its cadres never utilize their posts for mercenary interests, never speak contrary to conscience, and do not fear a hard struggle to achieve noble ends.

The renewal of the party presupposes a new approach to the understanding of its place in society and its relations with the state, and in the choice of means for the achievement of its political goals. The party acts exclusively by legal political methods. It will fight for deputies’ seats in democratic elections, winning the support of voters for its electoral platform and its basic directions of policy and practical action. Taking part in the formation of the organs of state power and administration, it will conduct its policy through them. It is ready to enter into broad collaboration wherever this is dictated by circumstances, and to conclude alliances and coalitions with other parties and organizations in the interest of carrying out a program of democratic reforms. In those organs of power where the Communist deputies are in the minority, they will assume the place of a constructive opposition, standing up against any attempt at infringing with the interests of the toilers and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Collaborating with other parliamentary groups, Communist deputies will manifest cooperation toward positive undertakings that come from other parties and movements…

The CPSU is built on the adherence of its members to the ideas of certain values. For us the main one of these is the idea of humane, democratic socialism. Reviving and developing the initial humanitarian principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin, we include in our arsenal of ideas the entire richness of national and world socialist and democratic thought. We consider communism as a historic perspective, a social ideal, based on universal human values, on the harmonious union of progress and justice, of the free self-realization of the individual.

(pp.379-82).

It’s an inspiring document, and if it had been passed and Communism and the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have transformed the Communist party into a modern, centre-left party, committed to genuine democracy, religious freedom, technological innovation and development, tackling the ecological crisis, rooting out corruption within the party and standing with other groups to defend workers’ rights. I do have a problem with its condemnation of extreme anti-Communism. You would expect this from a leader who still wanted the Communist party to be the leading political force in the Soviet Union. It could just refer to groups like the morons who set up various Nazi parties and organisations in the 1980s. They had absolutely no understanding of what Nazism stood for, just that it was anti-Communist. But that clause could be used against other, far more moderate groups demanding radical change. I was impressed, however, by the statement that the Communists should be prepared to take a back seat in opposition. This completely overturns the central Communist dogma that the party should always take the leading role, even when in a coalition with other parties. It’s how Stalin got them to win democratic elections, before purging and dissolving those parties and sending their members to death or the gulag.

Ultimately the programme failed. One reason is that Gorbachev really didn’t understand just how hated the Communist party actually was. When I was studying the rise of Communist and Fascist regimes at college in the mid-80s, one of the newspapers reported that there were underground pop groups in the USSR singing such ditties as ‘Kill the Commies and the Komsomol too.’ The Komsomol was the Communist party youth organisation.

Daniel Kalder in his book Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through their writing (Oneworld: 2018) that Gorby’s project was undermined by the release under glasnost of Lenin’s suppressed works. Gorbachev had based his reforms on a presumed contrast between a democratic, benevolent Lenin, who had pledged Russia to a kind of state-directed capitalism in his New Economic Policy, and Stalin with his brutal totalitarianism, collectivisation of agriculture and the construction of the Soviet command economy. But Lenin frequently wrote for the moment, and his writings contradict themselves, though there is a central strand of thought that is consistent throughout. More seriously, he himself was viciously intolerant and a major architect of the Soviet one party state through the banning of other parties. The newly republished works showed just how false the image of Lenin as some kindly figure was, and just how nasty he was in reality.

But even after 30 a years, I still think Gorby’s proposed reforms are an excellent guide to what socialism should be. And his vision was far better than the bandit capitalism and massive corruption of Yeltsin’s administration, when the Soviet economy melted down. And its anti-authoritarianism and intolerance of corruption makes it far better than the regime of the current arkhiplut, Vladimir Putin. Although it has to be said that he’s done much good restoring conditions after Yeltsin’s maladministration.

And it’s also far better than the neoliberalism that has infected the Labour party, introduced by Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schroder in Germany. I think we need something like Gorbachev’s vision here, in the 21st century Labour party, instead of further Thatcherism under Starmer.

Black and Islamic Calls for Autonomous Communities and Colonies in the West

September 17, 2020

On Tuesay I put up a piece comment on the plans by two Black entrepreneurs to set up a Blacks-only town in rural Georgia, to be named Wakanda after the fictional African supertechnological nation in Marvel’s Black Panther. The idea’s part of a long tradition of American ideal communities, beginning with the first Puritan settlers. it recalls the Utopian Socialist communities of the 19th century as well as the Free Black townships set up by Baptist missionaries in Jamaica, Antiqua, Demerara and Berbice in order to protect the newly freed former slaves from re-enslavement by the planters. However, coming nearly a century and a half after the abolition of slavery in America and the British Empire, this looks more like the compounds and proposed colonies of White racists, that have been set up in the Hayden Lakes area of America and which a group of British Nazis tried and failed to set up on a French farm.

Paul Boateng and the Black and Asian Studies Association

Way back in 1984/5 the Black British Labour politician, Paul Boateng, called for the establishment of autonomous Black communities in Britain. He was criticised for this in the pages of the Observer, which rightly viewed it as an attempt by Blacks to introduce apartheid. I’ve mentioned before that when I was doing voluntary work for the Empire and Commonwealth I was for a time corresponding with a Black studies organisation. This was the Black and Asian Studies Association, based in London. I split with them over the views they expressed of Whites in a copy of their magazine they sent me. I think it was no. 32/33, around about 2001-3 or so. One of the views, which I objected to was their comment that Blacks need their own space. I presume they meant by this separate arts and community centres, rather than separate geographical areas. When Blacks and other ethnic groups are a minority, and a depressed minority, this is actually reasonable and just. But they made it after reporting an article in the Observer that predicted that after the middle of this century Whites would be a minority in Britain and Europe. This was followed by another comment firmly rejecting any restrictions on non-White immigration, because it was racist. Now there was no comment about the Observer article itself. It was simply presented as something their readers should know about. I don’t know whether the editor believed the prediction or not. They could have felt it was alarmist. I don’t know. But coming after this prediction, the continued support for unlimited immigration and separate spaces for Blacks – but not for Whites – struck me as simply a form of colonialism.

Demands for Muslim Autonomous Colonies

I recall reading a passage in Ali A. Allawi’s The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation (New Haven: Yale University Press 2009) in which he discusses the establishment of autonomous Muslim communities in America. He bases his argument on the methods used by the British in founding their own colonies. The British themselves were a minority, and so they encouraged the citizens of other European nations to settle in their colonies in exchange for which they promised to respect and preserve these peoples’ own languages, culture and laws. Thus America should permit the similar establishment of autonomous Muslim communities, who would be free to follow their own culture under sharia law but which nevertheless would still be loyal to the American state. Allawi, a former Minister of Defence and Minster of Finance in the postwar Iraqi government, is a critique of both the westernisation of Islam and Salafi fundamentalism and Islamism. But this call for Islamic colonisation really can’t be tolerated. The best defence against it is the American separation of church and state, which was used against the followers of one of the grunge gurus from India when he tried to set up a theocratic town in Oregon.

The radical Islamist Anjem Chaudhry made the same demand for an autonomous Muslim community in the pages of the Financial Times colour supplement for the 1st January, 2000. Chaudhry, then running an outfit called Sharia4Belgium, was claiming that Muslims should have their own separate community with Arabic as its language under sharia law. I think he may have been able to argue this as Belgium is already split into several different regions occupied by its different traditional ethnic groups – French-speaking Wallonia, Flanders and a German-speaking enclave. Chaudhry’s own lack of engagement with Belgium’s traditional peoples is shown in the title of his organisation. The 4/for pun simply doesn’t work in either of the country’s two majority languages, French or Flemish. This is another demand for what is in effect Muslim colonisation.

Way back in the 1990s I briefly tried a postgraduate degree researching British Islam. I eventually gave up, partly because I couldn’t handle some of the polemic coming from the radical fringes. During this time I came across similar arguments contained in books from British Islamic publishers. One was on sharia law by Ibrahim E. Doi, the former head of the Islamic society at Oxford University. Another was a guide to the adab, the traditional Muslim system of morals and courtesy. The introductions to both books demanded the establishment of independent, autonomous Muslim communities, governed by sharia law, in Britain. If these were not permitted, then British multiculturalism was a sham.

Self-Enclosed Communities in Britain and Germany

Since then I have seen plenty of articles in the press, including liberal journals like Prospect, worrying about the increasing separation between White and Muslim communities. There was an article a while ago in that magazine discussing a city in the north of England, where the Muslim and non-Muslim White communities were nearly separate with a minimum of interaction. Other articles elsewhere in the press have mentioned the situation in Germany, where the Turkish minority may also form self-enclosed communities. It has been argued that in these communities, people can get by without any knowledge of German, supported as they are by Turkish businesses and able to watch and listen to Turkish broadcasting. But I don’t believe I’ve ever come across anyone discussing the demands for separate Islamic colonies, at least not in Britain. It’s possible that the journos writing those articles don’t know about and neither do British politicians. I’ve also never heard Tommy Robinson mention them either, so it seems very likely that he and his gang of thugs don’t know about it. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the authorities are aware of them. They’re just not publicising them for fear of riots and the breakdown of ‘community cohesion’. The same reason they permitted the Asian paedophile gangs in Rotherham to go on for so long.

In many ways this is doubtless a good thing, as you can imagine the massive scaremongering and islamophobia that would be generated by the right, including Tommy Robinson and the EDL and the Daily Heil. 9/11 saw a rise in hate crimes against Muslims, and Boris Johnson’s infamous article in the Torygraph attacking the burqa resulted in further physical attacks on the minority of Muslim women clad in the garment. Several were murdered.

Sharia Law Small Minority in British Islam

It’s important not to exaggerated the numbers of western Muslims, who may support this view. One of the papers a few years ago notoriously claimed that the majority of British Muslims wanted the establishment of sharia law here. In fact a close reading of the stats showed that only 5 per cent of Britain’s Muslims wanted it, and then only where it didn’t conflict with British law. I’ve heard that most Muslims in the West base their ideas on Islamic law on the Qu’ran, where most of this is about inheritance, rather than systems of government. I very much doubt that the majority of Muslims would welcome the formal imposition of what amounts to a system of autonomous ghettos, and certainly not those immigrants who have come to Britain to escape persecution in very draconian and authoritarian Islamic states.

The demands for separate, autonomous Muslim communities seem to be attempts by Islamic traditionalists to impose their views on the majority of their coreligionists, who seem more comfortable in a multi-faith society allowing the free interactions of people with different religious or non-religious views. And the general Muslim community seems to have become less insular, stressing engagement with wider British society rather than retreat. This has been shown in Muslim restaurants feeding the poor and homeless during the Christmas period, and community festivals like Eid, commemorating the end of Ramadan. This is celebrated with a large feast, which the Muslim community in parts of Bristol shared with their non-Muslim fellow residents.

No No-Go Zones in Britain

Fox News made itself a massive laughing stock a few years ago when it hysterically claimed that Muslims were taking over Britain. Birmingham was 100 per cent Muslim, which surprised the mayor and people of that great city. There were no-go areas in towns throughout Britain, where non-Muslims feared to tread. This was also angrily refuted by the mayors and politicos of those towns so accused, as well as ordinary British peeps.

Nevertheless, these calls for segregation do seem to be still around. A while ago I noticed in the ‘ethnicity’ shelves in Bristol’s Central Library a book by a prominent Muslim woman from one of the northern cities. I can’t remember who she was, but one of her claims was she was a matchmaker and an agony aunt, who had appeared on the Beeb’s Asian Network. The book’s blurb stated that it was about the rise of racial conflict and violence between Asians and other ethnic groups, and offered ‘a surprising solution’. The only surprising solution I can think of is segregation. I didn’t look at the book, so I might be wrong.

Belfield on Islam in Birmingham

I also wonder if this, or similar views, are secretly held by some of the leaders of Britain’s Muslim communities. Following the stabbings in Birmingham, right-wing radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield put up video calling for Birmingham’s authorities to clamp down on the threatening environment in one particular area of the city. Some of this was uncontroversial. He specifically mentioned the druggies on the streets there. But he also, and some of the callers to his programme, claimed that there was a Muslim presence there which was overpowering and threatening to non-Muslims. He attacked the chanting coming from the local mosque, as well as preaching, some of which seemed to be political by Muslims on the street. This, he said, was not tolerated in other towns.

I wouldn’t like to say that Belfield is personally racist. Certainly one of the callers supporting his view wasn’t. She said she had no problem with the Black population of the area, who were also Brummies. But he is vehemently anti-immigrant, condemning the arrival of asylum seekers from Calais. He also seems to be have been taken in by the rumours that the stabbings were committed not by a Black Brit with mental health problems, but by one of the Somalian asylum seekers he and Nigel Farage have been moaning about. He also attacked Leeds English language local radio for broadcasting warnings about the Coronavirus in Urdu, which is the language, or one of the languages used on the Beeb’s Asian Network, which is also based in Leeds.

Covert Support for Extremism Among Some British Muslim Leaders

But there is a problem in that the leaders of Birmingham Central Mosque and British Islamic organisations have a history of saying one thing and believing quite another. Ed Hussain in his book, The Islamist, an account of his time as a militant Islamic radical, describes the various leaders of the British Muslim community, who visited No. 10 to reassure Tony Blair that they supported his campaign against Islamic radicalism, all the while holding the very beliefs they affected to condemn. It’s therefore quite possible that the leaders of whatever mosque Belfield was attacking may want Muslim autonomous areas, and are acting on this belief as far as they can in a democratic, pluralist society. I hope not, but I don’t know.

This is a situation that needs watching. It will be interesting to see if Black British and Muslim radicals start making demands for autonomous areas following developments in America. If so, they need to be discussed, refuted and fought. Such views would be unacceptable coming from White supremacists and racists, and should be no more tolerated coming from any other colour or religion.

Sargon of Gasbag on Black Lives Matter’s Material for Schools’ Day of Action

September 11, 2020

I’m no doubt going too far in some people’s eyes by reblogging this. After all, this is Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon’s a true-blue Libertarian Tory. He supports Boris Johnson’s Tories, Donald Trump and was formerly a member of UKIP. He passionately supports Brexit, capitalism and doesn’t believe that the Tories are privatising the NHS on the grounds that he thinks no-one would buy it. Although he is anti-racist and has debate the Alt Right, his own nationalist views are so extreme that he himself has been accused of racism. He has very conservative views on women and gender. When he was adopted by the Kippers as one of their candidates in a Euro election a few years ago, it became a national scandal. There were protests against him when he tried speaking in Bristol and Cornwall. People threw milkshakes and buckets of fish over him, and he was banned from a local restaurant here in Bristol. There were letters of protest against his candidacy from the other Kippers. The Gloucestershire branch dissolved itself in disgust, and a very large proportion of the party’s membership resigned.

I don’t share his political views and strongly disagree with him about Brexit. It’s destroying Britain. As is Johnson’s free trade Thatcherism. And the NHS is most definitely being privatised.

But I’m reblogging his post about the materials Black Lives Matter had put together for a proposed day of action in schools this summer because I believe that while he misses the point and is wrong about many of the issues BLM raise with their teaching materials, there are others that he is right to tackle and criticise.

Someone leaked the school syllabus Black Lives Matter had put together onto the web, and Sargon makes it clear that it’s a full-one attempt to indoctrinate children. He then goes on to critique some of BLM’s proposals one by one.

He begins with BLM’s call for a week of action in schools. This declares itself to be a national uprising that affirms the lives of Black students, teaches and families. This week centres classroom lessons on structural racism, intersectional Black identities, Black history and anti-racism through the thirteen guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sargon declares that this is an attempt to indoctrinate children with a one-sided view of history, politics and moral philosophy without their parents’ presence or even knowledge, in order to turn them into activists. Sargon naturally states that this not something he would like them to do to his children.

He then goes through Black Lives Matters’ Guiding Principles. They are

Restorative Justice: We intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a peaceful struggle that is restorative, not depleting. This strikes Sargon as like a cult, like some of those he read about a while ago, where they interrogated each other in order to form a tightly-knit community in which they were emotionally connected in a weird and unfriendly way.

Diversity: We respect and acknowledge differences and commonality. Sargon doesn’t comment on this, but this seems to be the standard attitude now being taught in schools and promoted as the norm throughout society.

Empathy: We practice empathy. We engage comrades with intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.

Loving Engagement: We embody and practice justice, liberation and peace in our engagements with one another.

Queer Affirming: We foster a queer-affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless s/he or they express otherwise. Sargon doesn’t comment on this either, but at one level it’s also unremarkable. Schools have also come under pressure to tackle homophobia and promote gay tolerance and equality. There are problems with this when it comes to what is age appropriate. Homophobia is certainly not confined to the Black community, but it does seem to be particularly strong there. A few years ago back in the 1990s BBC Radio 4 broadcast a documentary, The Roots of Intolerance, in which the Black British gay presenter went across Britain and the Caribbean seeking to understand where the deep hatred of gays in Black society came from. This was a particular issue at the time, as there was a spate of extremely homophobic songs emerging from Black artists. That controversy has now died down somewhat, but I don’t believe the situation has altered in the past 25+ years. I disagree with this part of BLM’s manifesto because the attack on heteronormativity is too extreme and should not be taught and encouraged.

Transgender Affirming: We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women, who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence. We particularly make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. Sargon states that if he caught a school teaching his children this, he would take them out. He even says he’d send them to a Catholic school – and he was a militant atheist. This radical stance is aimed particularly at the Black community, but seems to be part of the general trend throughout American and British society. Trans activists are campaigning for this to be taught in schools. Again there are problems with what is age appropriate, and also the indoctrination of the vulnerable. Some children are being taught by the medically unqualified that they are transgender, while in fact they may simply be mentally ill. There is particular concern that those convinced that they are transgender may be simply autistic. Girls are being particularly affected, and so some opponents of the radical trans movement feel that it is an anti-feminist ideology.

Unapologetically Black: We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter we do not need to qualify our position to love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others. Sargon makes the point that this also validates the idea that White lives matter as well. In fairness, Black Lives Matter has never said that they didn’t, although some of their members, like Sasha Johnson, almost certainly don’t believe they do. But Sargon also argues that their statement about being unapologetically Black means that their opponents can also argue that they are unapologetically White. Their stance legitimates White nationalism. The only way they can combat this is by adopting Robin Di Angelo’s tactic of stating ‘it’s rules for me but not for thee’.

Black Women: We build a space that affirms Black women and is free of sexism, misogyny and environments in which men are centred. Sargon doesn’t mention it, but this seems to be just another approach Black Lives Matter shares with other radical groups and which reflects the anti-sexism campaigns in general society.

Black Families: We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work double shifts so they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work. This confuses Sargon as he says that he thought patriarchy wanted women in the home, barefoot and pregnant. But I think he’s failed to reaslise that this section appears to written for those poorer families, where the absence of a father means that the children aren’t supported by the second income that is now required to support a family. This situation is particularly acute among the Black community, but certainly isn’t unique to it. It is also found among the White poor.

Black Villages: We disrupt the western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and villages that collectively care for one another, especially our children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable. Sargon states that this is a fantasy world.

He has a point in that it appears to be a racialised view, that idealises the African model of communal childcare. For example, in many traditional African cultures the women of the village also breastfeed each other’s children. And then there’s that supposed African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child. But no-one has ever been able to find such a saying in traditional African lore.

However, there is a general principle here that is perfectly acceptable. When my parents were settling down to raise us, they had the support of relatives and neighbours. People at that time did look out for each other, giving poorer friends items they had no longer use for, doing each others’ shopping and looking after each other’s children in sickness and emergencies. That hasn’t completely vanished, but it was done much more than is now common. That sense of community has been damaged by the extreme individualism that is atomising society.

Globalism: We see ourselves as part of a global Black family and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world. This seems to follow the pattern of much Black activism. Black civil rights campaigners have seen the struggle of western Blacks as part of a general, global struggle of Black nations for independence from White domination since at least W.E.B. DuBois, who moved to Ghana after it gained independence.

Intergenerational: We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn. Sargon believes that this erases children, but thinks this is good for the kind of people this would attract. This is wrong. The statement simply means they value older people. Again, it’s in line with the general, mainstream attack on ageism.

Collective Value: We are guided by the fact that all Black Lives Matter regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status or location. This, Sargon declares, is the endpoint of the radical left’s thinking in race. Or it could be an attempt to create a united Black community with its own sense of pride in order to combat some of the real issues plaguing the Black community, like drugs and Black on Black violence.

Sargon on BLM’s ‘Talking to Young Children

Sargon then moves on to the section about Talking to Young Children about the Guiding Principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Sargon states that this section uses phraseology, that could only be by people who don’t have children. He then singles out the sections on ‘diversity’, ‘globalism’ and ‘transgender-affirming’. The last says that ‘everyone get to choose their own gender through listening to their heart and mind. Everyone gets to choose whether they are a girl or a boy or both or neither or something else, and no-one gets to choose for them’. Which Sargon sarcastically warns will leave children rather confused. And I believe that is one of the dangers of adopting such a radical stance when it comes to gender identity. I don’t doubt that some people do feel that they are in the wrong body, and that after very careful thought and medical advice they should be able to transition. But this is something rather more complicated than saying people choose their own gender identity.

‘Collective value’ – Sargon thinks this is the same as individual value.

‘Unapologetically Black’. This section states that there are lots of different kinds of people and one way that we are different is through the colour of our skin.’ Sargon believes that this highlights the issue of race, and will turn children into a generation of racists. The section goes on ‘It’s important to makes sure that all people are treated fairly, and that’s why we, and lots of other people all over the country and the world, are part of the Black Lives Matter movement.’ This tells children that they are going to be a race warrior for the Black Lives Matter movement. But this section also connects with what the movement was saying in their thirteen principles about also valuing people from other races, but that it had to start with Black people’s own first. It therefore does not mean that they necessary disparage other races.

Plans for Week of Action

He then goes on to critique their plans for a week of action, which is a week of activism. This is simply to train children how to be activists. The programme includes sections like ‘Show Solidarity’, ‘Post on Social Media’, ‘Teach a Lesson’, ‘Attend an Event’, create things. He believes this document is real, because it has too many graphics to be otherwise. He points out the contradiction between their statement that they embody and practice justice, liberation and peace in their engagements with each other with a raised fist, a representation of violence.

The materials also include abstracted posters that can be used. Sargon believes that the consistency of the messages shows that this was planned in a central committee. He then goes on to discuss their suggestions for what should be taught at elementary school. Which includes youth activism. The plans for their week of action include ‘Day 1 kick-off: using your voice for a cause; Day 2: past and present youth activism’; guiding questions like ‘what is a cause?’, ‘what does it mean to use your voice for a cause? ‘, ‘why is it important to stand up for what you believe in?’, ‘what are the different ways we can create change?’, ‘home issues and the home community’, a project day. Sargon criticises this on the grounds that they are training children who are unable to think critically about what they are being taught, nor do they know any of the facts of the matter behind it. Sargon does not assume that they will give them a fully informed picture either. He calls it indoctrination.

Postmodernism and Afro Futurism in High School

Moving on to the material for high school, he says that this is where it gets really good. Like ‘Afrofuturism’ and ‘Postmodern Principles’. Sargon asks rhetorically whether he wants a group of radical race warriors, who consider everything about our society racist, to indoctrinate his children into a postmodern education? He says ‘No’, and adds that it’s only because he doesn’t want his child to come out of school believing that the world around him into which he’s been born and raised is evil and that he has to do everything in his power to tear it down. And that he himself, as a White person, is going to be part of the problem. And that every Black person he meets is some kind of inferior species, that needs his help and guidance to be saved. He doesn’t agree with that kind of worldview at all, nor with postmodernism as the kind of lens to view things with.

Sargon is absolutely right about Postmodernism. I extensively criticised it earlier when this blog was centred on Christian Apologetics. Postmodernism and cultural relativism are entirely inadequate as the basis for morality because of their rejection of the idea that it is objective. This was also the attitude of the Italian Fascists and Nazis. Mussolini took over Nietzsche’s idea that there was no objective morality, and the Nazis believed that morality and philosophical values differed from nation to nation according to race and ethnicity. Hence the Nazis’ insistence on Aryan science, maths and other racist nonsense. But the idea of racial and gender equality, for example, demands an objective morality that applies to all humans and is universally valid. Postmodernism, despite its pretensions to do this, actually doesn’t support such universal and objective values.

He believes this comes out in the section on Afro Futurism. This begins with a section on ‘Utopia’, which defines it as ‘an imagined place where everything is perfect, and asks the reader to define their utopia.’ It asks people to dream about their perfect place, a consistent theme throughout the documents. It asks the students what problems they could solve with their superpowers and what they would look like in this imaginary world. Sargon responds with ‘Who cares? You live in the real world’ and points out that they have limited resources at hand and limited options. So they should stop talking about an imaginary freedom of the will, as if the will is something separate to the physical world and gets to decide everything for it. He doesn’t want them thinking about superpowers, but asking how they can get good grades, how can they get a good job, how can they be healthy and stable, how can they raise children of their own, how can they form a family and be a healthy person.

This is a fair criticism. From what I can see, Afro Futurism simply means Black science fiction and particularly the imagining of Black advanced technological societies, like Wakanda in the film Black Panther, based on the Marvel comic books. There’s nothing wrong with such dreams, but schools should be teaching more immediate and achievable goals and aspirations to their students.

High School Materials

From this he moves on to the high school section, where there is more interesting stuff. Like ‘the BLM High School: the Black Panther Party’; ‘Social Justice Mathematics Materials’; ‘Black Lives Matter Haiti’, ‘Chicago Race Riots’, all of which Sargon describes as full-on Black Lives Matter propaganda. Sargon states that this doesn’t mean that they’ll get the opportunity to pump this out, but the fact that they’ve prepared it shows that there is time, money and materials behind it and it will get somewhere.

Then on to their reading materials. These include the Black Panther’s Apologia. This is the Panther’s 10 point programme, which were:

  1. We want freedom. We want the power to determine the destiny of our Black and oppressed communities.
  2. We want full employment for our people. They believed that the federal government had the responsibility and obligation to give everyone either a job or a guaranteed income. Sargon shows his libertarianism here by saying that it shows that they believed that they were the serfs of the state. This part of their manifesto is certainly radical. If you read it, it says that if businessmen are not willing to provide employment, the technology and means of production should be taken away from them and placed in the hands of the people, so that they can do so. It’s certainly a communist demand. But at the time this was written, in Britain the social democratic post-war consensus was still governing British politics. This meant that the government believed it had the responsibility to create full employment. This was through a mixed economy and state economic planning. Attlee only nationalised a very small number of industries, and so it did not necessarily mean that the state would employ everyone, only that it would help create the economic framework for everyone to be able to get a job. As for a guaranteed income, this could just mean proper unemployment benefit. This was part of the minimum welfare provision set up by Roosevelt’s New Deal, but I don’t know how far it extended. Like the British unemployment benefit before the creation of the welfare state, it may have only reached certain sections of the working class. In which case the Panther’s demands are entirely reasonable.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our Black and oppressed communities. Sargon questions this by stating that if they believe the state is robbing them, why do they want it to provide them with a job, as they wouldn’t be free. This section goes back to the old promise of 40 acres and two mules. Sargon asks what they would do with this if they were dumped in the middle of the Midwest. They wouldn’t be able to take care of two mules. He knows he wouldn’t know what to do with them, and that they wouldn’t know either. Again, if you actually look at what they’re proposing, they also say they would accept the monetary equivalent. They’re talking about reparations for slavery, and for the slaughter of 50 million Black people they believe America has committed worldwide.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for human beings.
  5. We want decent education for our people. This also includes the statement that it should expose the true nature of decadent American society. They want to be taught the true history of their people and role in present-day society. Which looks like the origin of Black History Month.
  6. We want completely free healthcare. Sargon reads this out, but makes no comment. But it’s a reasonable request, and is behind the NHS in Britain, now under attack from the same forces of capitalism that the Panthers saw as oppressing Black Americans.
  7. We want an end to police brutality and murder of Black people, and all other people of colour, all oppressed people inside the United States. From what little I know of the Black Panthers, it was the casual police killing of Blacks that provoked the rise of the Panthers in the first place. They believed the only way they could protect Black people was to take up guns and shoot back. Hence Sasha Johnson’s bizarre fantasy of setting up a Black militia here in the UK, despite this country’s rather different history.
  8. We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression. This was obviously written during the Vietnam War, but it’s still applicable now.
  9. We want freedom for all Black and oppressed people. Sargon skips over this, omitting that it’s about freeing people in jail, and that they also want trial by a jury of peers for everyone charged with so-called crimes under the country’s laws. This is a central cornerstone of western justice.
  10. We want bread, housing, education, justice, peace. Sargon declares that these are flights of fantasy that sound like radical communist agitation, and for the Black Panthers, a militant, murderous party. Certainly the Panthers do seem from this to have been very radical left, and influenced by communism. But the demand for decent housing, full employment and free healthcare could be solved simply through a social democratic mixed economy welfare state. Horrifyingly radical to Americans, but the norm in Britain at the time.

Social Justice Maths

Sargon goes on to other topics, which he thinks are very weird. Like materials for social justice mathematics, a copy of Oakland police statistics for 1st July 2013, and Stanford university’s big study of racial disparites, and the stats for New York police’s stop and frisk.

Sargon’s Concluding Criticisms

Then there’s the Teaching Tolerance Guide, subtitled ‘Discussing Race, Racism and other Difficult Topics with Other Students’. There are also videos. Sargon once again describes it as a social justice package – which is quite correct – and states that the same talking points are repeated over and over again throughout it. He states that it is to present a one-sided narrative on all these points in order to construct the belief that American and other societies are uniquely evil, encouraging children to go into flights of fantasy about what might be, instead of being pragmatic, responsible and trying to build a better world one step at a time.

Sargon says that this should be resisted at all costs. If you’re a parent, you should enquire at your local school if they have any Black Lives Matter teaching materials that they will be teaching your children and request a copy of them. And if they don’t, you should kick up a stink, threaten to pull your child out and tell other parents to do so, because this is racial indoctrination. He even says that you could send the other parents this video to show what these materials look like.

He then ends the video by plugging his merchandising, based on Orwell’s statement that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. And with Black Lives Matter we have entered that time of deceit. Our societies are not evil. They are good societies. Black Lives Matter is a malign cult, which he believes has spread through our societies because they are good, decent and people do not want to be racist. This is partly right. Black Lives Matter exists because society does treat Black people unfairly, but it has spread because people do not want to be racist as the mixed race crowds of their protests show. He believes it has spread through a postmodernist education establishment with a deconstructionist agenda which says that if things are looked at in a certain way, White societies are uniquely evil when they aren’t.

Here’s Sargon’s video.

The materials Sargon analyses and critiques in this video seem to show that in many ways Black Lives Matter is unremarkable. It has much in common with other left-wing movements demanding racial and gender equality and promoting gay and now trans rights. It also seems to follow much previous Black activism in connecting the deprivation of Blacks in the west with White western imperialism and colonialism. I don’t dispute either that its view that Blacks are particularly disadvantaged in America is due to institutional racism, as certainly legislation has been used to disqualify Blacks from opportunities, jobs and services, including welfare provision, that has been reserved for Whites.

This is not the whole story, however, and such a view should not be taught in school. What is appropriate as voluntary community activism becomes dangerous indoctrination when taught in the classroom. The idealisation of the Black Panthers is a particular problem. While much of their demands were reasonable and entirely justified, they were a violent paramilitary terrorist organisation. It’s intoxication with the Panthers and their violence that has inspired Sasha Johnson to style herself as a Black Panther and try to set up her own, similar Black paramilitary organisation.

I also share Sargon’s objections to teaching children that western society is uniquely evil and persecutes Blacks, who always require particular assistance. And that Whites are responsible for this, and somehow intrinsically racist unless taught otherwise. This is only part of the story, and the reality can be far more complex.

Despite its careful wording about tolerance and diversity, the materials for BLM’s proposed day of action would only create more racial hostility, division and resentment. They should definitely not be taught in schools.

Radio 4 Programme Next Thursday on the Repatriation of Looted Museum Exhibits Following Black Lives Matter

August 18, 2020

The Radio Times also states that next Thursday on Radio 4 at 11.30 am there’s a documentary on the debate about the repatriation of looted African artefacts now on display in British museums. The blurb for it on page 125 of the Radio Times runs

In the wake of protesters in Bristol pulling down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, Gary Younge talks to museum curators as they review what is on display.

There’s an additional piece by Simon O’Hagan on the previous page, 124, which adds

Museums might be closed, but curators are keeping busy reassessing what they have on display – minds focused by the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June. In the words of one curator, “in Britain you’re never more than 150 miles rom a looted African object.”

Presented by Gary Younge, who discovers that when the public is re-admitted to museums after lockdown, there is a distinct possibility that some display cases may have notable absences.

The debate over the return of looted and seized objects to indigenous communities around the world has been going on for several decades. Much of it is about the display of human remains. A few years ago a series about the British Museum showed that august institution repatriating a set of indigenous Australian burials to Tasmanian people from which they were seized. It’s not just African and indigenous peoples demanding that their ancestors and their property should be returned. The Greeks have famously been demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles for decades, if not since they very moment Lord Elgin collected them in the 19th century. In very many cases, I don’t doubt that the moral argument is with those demanding their return, and that it’s the right thing to do.

The mention of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol adds a dimension that complicates the issue. The repatriation of these objects is supposed to be about modern, western museums correcting the moral injustices of an imperial past. But many of the looted objects themselves are the products of slaving societies, and were seized by British forces during wars fought to extirpate the slave trade.

The Benin Bronzes are case in point. These are superbly sculpted bronze heads, which were made as part of shrines to the chief’s oba. Literally meaning ‘right arm’, the word also denotes his spiritual power, rather like the numa of the pagan Roman emperors. However, Benin, then Dahomey, was a major centre of the African slave trade. It had a plantation economy centred on cotton production like the American Deep South, and was a major exporter. So much so that the British launched a war against them from 1850 to 1852 after their king, Guezo, refused to give it up and continued trading. The bronzes were seized by the victorious British forces.

Nobody was talking about their repatriation until the 1980s, when ‘African radical’ and the highly controversial leader of Brent council, Bernie Grant, demanded their return. I’ve no doubt that Grant was motivated by genuine indignation about the humiliation of an African nation by the British empire. But there is an irony here in that such a very outspoken opponent of anti-Black racism should have been seeking to return objects that had been taken as part of military action against an African slave state. And one that had absolutely no qualms, and grew rich, from enslaving the ancestors of Black Brits, West Indians and Americans like Grant.

Ditto with some of the objects that may have been returned to Ethiopia. A year or so ago the I reported that a particularly holy cross belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which had been seized by the British army in the 19th century, had also been repatriated to its country of origin. I wondered if the relic had also been looted in a similar campaign launched in that century to stop Abyssinian slave-raiding across the border into Sudan and what is now Kenya. If so, then it could be argued that it should not be repatriated, as it was a legitimate spoil in a war the British were justified in waging.

And let’s not be under any illusion that the African slaving nations wouldn’t also have enslaved the British servicemen they fought. One of the documents I found cataloguing the materials on slavery in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol was a parliamentary blue book on the British action against the African slavers in Lagos. One of the chiefs involved stated that if he won, he was going to shave the head of the British commander and make him carry his palanquin. Which sounds very much like a declaration that he intended to enslave him.

I think the area of the repatriation of objects looted from Africa is much more complicated morally than is being discussed and presented, and that African involvement in and culpability for the slave trade is being quietly glossed over in order to present a cosy, straightforward narrative of imperial aggression and guilt.

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

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

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

Arab Intellectual George Antonius on British and American Double Standards on Pre-War Jewish Immigration

February 13, 2020

One of the points John Newsinger makes in his chapter on Palestine in The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, is that both Britain and America had double standards when it came it came to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. While they were more than prepared to encourage it in Palestine, where the refugees came to colonise, they were less willing to allow them to enter their own countries. In 1935 the US only allowed 4,837 Jews to enter the country, for example. In that same year the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine was 66,472. This would have been the equivalent of 2 million Jews entering Britain. The Arab intellectual, George Antonius, was acutely aware of this and sympathetic to position of the Jewish refugees. But he didn’t see why the burden of such immigration should be borne by the Arabs. Newsinger quotes his comment

The treatment meted out to the Jews in Germany and other European countries is a disgrace to its authors and to modern civilisation, but posterity will not exonerate any country that fails to bear its proper share of the sacrifices needed to alleviate suffering and distress. To place the burden upon Arab Palestine is a miserable evasion of the duty that lies upon the whole civilised world. It is also morally outrageous. No code of morals can justify the persecution of one people in an attempt to relieve the persecution of another. The cure for the eviction of Jews from Germany is not to be sought in the eviction of Arabs from their homeland; and the relief of Jewish distress may not be accomplished at the cost of inflicting a corresponding distress upon an innocent and peaceful population.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians are still being oppressed and ethnically cleansed by the Israelis because of Europe’s moral failure, not just in the rise of Nazism and the persecution of Jews in the first place, but also our refusal to accept our share of Jewish refugees.

 

‘I’ Article About Research into Artificial Wombs and their Morality

January 8, 2020

This is another science story from yesterday’s I for 7th January 2020. It’s about current research into developing artificial wombs. At the moment, these would be for very premature babies, but they could in theory go much further, which raises some serious ethical issues.

The article by Alla Katsnelson, ‘Baby in a bag: could humans be grown in an artificial womb?’ runs

Critically preterm babies face an uncertain future. Although a foetus is considered viable at 24 weeks of gestation, only about 60 per cent of babies born so young will survive, and many will experience life-long complications.

For those born a couple of weeks earlier, the statistics are even more dire: just 10 per cent of babies born at 22 weeks are likely to survive.

building a so-called artificial womb could potentially save these babies. In October, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands announced that they had received a grant for E2.9m (£2.5m) to develop a prototype of such a device. But the project isn’t the only artificial womb on the horizon. In 2017, researchers in Philadelphia transferred foetal lambs, aged between 105 and 115 days of gestation (equivalent to about 28 to 30 weeks human gestation), into a so-called biobag filled with artificial amniotic fluid. After several weeks in the bag, the lambs developed normally. And in March 2019, an Australian and Japanese research team kept younger lambs, about 95 days’ gestational age, alive in a different system.

Dr Matthew Kemp, who led the latter work, admits that researchers don’t fully understand foetal growth in the womb, which makes replicating it a challenge. The Dutch group noted plans to roll out a clinic-ready prototype in five years, but Dr Kemp says it will probably take much longer. And because the technology is so costly, it’s unlikely to be widely available any time soon.

So far, what researchers call artificial wombs are essentially souped-up incubators. They provide a fluid-filled space in which a foetus can receive nutrients and oxygen through a ‘placenta’. From there to full-on ectogenesis – incubating foetuses outside a human for the full duration of a pregnancy – is an enormous leap.

But many bioethicists note that technology moves quickly, and proactively thinking through the possibilities is important.

In this more futuristic vision, artificial wombs can do a lot for society, says Dr Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist at Fordham University in New York. It could allow people who can’t carry a pregnancy for whatever reason – illness, infertility, age, or gender – to do so. It might also shift some of the childbearing responsibilities carried by women. But it also raises concerns. For example, ex-utero gestation would probably turn reproductive rights on their head, says Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer and bioethicist at the University of Manchester. If a foetus can gestate outside a woman’s body, the choice fo whether or not to have the baby might be deemed out of her hands.

Another issue is that our legal rights are predicated on having been born alive. “I don’t think that a gestating subject in an artificial womb necessarily meets that requirement,” says Romanis. “That raises some questions about human entities ex-utero that have never existed before.

There have been newspaper articles about the development of artificial wombs since the 1980s, at least. The Absurder published one c. 1985, and I think the Independent also published one in the 1990s. And the whole area of artificial reproduction has been a live issue since the first ‘test tube’ baby created through in vitro fertilisation in the 1970s. But it also raises the spectacle of the kind of dystopian society Aldous Huxley portrayed in Brave New World, where humans are bred in hatcheries, engineered and conditioned for their future role in society. The Auronar, the telepathic race to which Cally, one of the heroes of the Beeb’s SF series, Blake’s 7, also reproduced through artificial gestation.And one of the predictions in Brian Stableford’s and David Langford’s future history, The Third Millennium, is that during this millennium this will be the preferred method of human reproduction, at least in some extraterrestrial colonies. And over a decade Radio 4 broadcast a series in which various intellectuals created fictional museums. One was ‘the museum of the biological body’, set in a post-human future in which people were neuter cyborgs born from hatcheries. This is obviously very far off, and I doubt anywhere near the majority of humans would ever want to reject gender and sexuality completely, whatever certain sections of the trans community might believe.

As with cloning and Dolly the Sheep, it raises very profound and disturbing questions about humanity’s future and how far technology should expand into the area of reproduction.