Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

Vandal Attacks BBC Statue Because of Colston Verdict

January 12, 2022

This evening, a man climbed up to a ledge on the front of Broadcasting House, the Beeb’s HQ, and started to attack the statue of Ariel by Eric Gill. Someone took film of him smashing the statue’s feet with a hammer, and it’s been widely posted and reposted by right-wingers over YouTube. The man was David Chick, and there’s a phone call from him on the channel of someone rejoicing in the monicker ‘Tyrant Finder UK’. Chick and the Tyrant Finder are both men, who can’t utter a sentence without using the F-bomb nor other foul language, but in the phone call Chick makes it clear that he’s attacking the statue because Gill was a paedophile. Indeed he was. During his life he professed to be the model of Roman Catholic piety as a tertiary Franciscan. After his death it was discovered that not only did he rape his two daughters but also the family dog. But Chick also seems to have done it out of anger for the acquittal of the Colston Four. And he’s being applauded by people, who similarly believe, or seem to believe, that the BBC is promoting child abuse with the statue and who are also angry at the Bristol verdict. The attitude seems to be that if the woke can tear down statues, then so can they.

Mad right-wing Youtuber Alex Belfield was one of those who put up an approving video of the attack earlier this evening. He has his own grievances against the Corporation. He claims he was forced out of the Beeb because he’s a poor White kid from a pit estate and not one of the middle class, Guardian reading, university educated Naga Manchushy types, as he calls them. He also has some kind of personal feud with various broadcasters, like Jeremy Vine. He frequently rants against the Beeb demanding its privatisation and the Eric Gill statue is one of the weapon he uses in the attacks. He criticises the Corporation for keeping the statue on its facade, which he seems to claim shows the indifference to child abuse which allowed Jimmy Savile to carry on with his predations unstopped.

Gill certainly was a vile human being, and some of his art does pose a genuine moral problem. A few years ago Victoria Coren discussed him in her documentary, How to Be a Bohemian, which traced the history of bohemianism from 19th century Paris and the Romantics to Britain, the Bloomsbury Group, the Bright Young Things and today’s London and its drag queens. Gill was one of the Bohemians she discussed. She was particularly upset at a bas relief Gill had made of a nude girl. I can’t remember what the sculpture’s official title was, but Gill called it ‘F*cking’. The girl in it was his 15 year old daughter, whom he was abusing at the time. Victoria Coren was talking to a female art expert about the sculpture and the unsettling questions it raised. The expert denied that this was a problem with a comparison to W.B. Yeats and his poetry. Nobody, she declared, objects to Yeats’ poetry because he was a Fascist. Coren replied that they did, and she was particularly unhappy about it. As her father, Alan Coren, was Jewish, it’s very easy to understand why Victoria Coren would have deep misgivings about the poet. It must be said, though, that Yeats was only a Fascist for a short time. If I remember correctly, this was c.1919. He later left them and was very critical about them.

I’m sure most people would be unhappy at Gill’s sculpture of his nude daughter, and would have very strong moral questions against its display. But it isn’t the Ariel statue. And there is still a need to separate the artist from the art. Many of the greatest figures in the arts, literature and science were vile people, or had loathsome views, like Dickens, for example. He’s undoubtedly one of the greatest writers in the English language, but he fully supported General Eyre and his brutal suppression of the Morant Bay rebellion by former slaves on Jamaica. But that in no way invalidates his work, in the same way that Orwell pointed out that Hamlet isn’t diminished by the fact that Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed. I also don’t think you can quite compare the Ariel statue to that of Edward Colston. The Ariel statue is of a character from Shakespeare, used as a kind of mascot by the Corporation. It is not a monument to someone who was a slaver, even if he did give most of his money away in charity.

Those defending and applauding the attacker are wrong on another point. They seem to believe that Colston’s Four’s acquittal has somehow become a precedent, which they can use to defend their attacks. But this isn’t the case. Jury trials, according to Adam Wagner, a lawyer on the Net, don’t set precedents, so Chick could still find it difficult to defend himself if he’s arrested.

I’m deeply unhappy about cultural vandalism regardless of who’s doing it. The attack on Colston’s statue is understandable given that it’s been a subject of controversy and demands for its removal for decades. And now it seems the right have also decided that they are entitled to attack any statues they find offensive, and I’m afraid that this will kick off more vandalism rather than reduce it.

I don’t deny that there’s a good case for taking some statues down, but I don’t support violent attacks on public art, regardless of whether it comes from the right or left. And I think Belfield’s attacks on the Beeb’s statue largely come from his own personal feud with the corporation and the Conservative’s demands for the Beeb’s privatisation and its replacement by a private broadcaster. This hostility partly comes from the Tories’ deep ideological objection to nationalised industries, their loyalty to Rupert Murdoch and his shoddy empire and their hatred of the Beeb because, once upon a time, it used to hold them to account. Some of us can still remember the time Michael Heseltine stormed off Newsnight, tossing his mane after a grilling by Paxman.

Britain’s statues are now threatened not just by the woke left, but by a vengeful, intolerant Conservative right using the outrage it has generated against the offending statue as part of its campaign to silence its critics.

James Lindsay Tears Apart Queer Theorist Paper Attacking Childhood Innocence

December 31, 2021

I hope I’m not boring you with all this, but I thought I should post this video by James Lindsay up as well. It follows his first video attacking Queer Theory and its deliberate grooming of schoolchildren through pornography and grossly inappropriate topics being taught in sex education. Lindsay argued, citing the postmodernists and Marxist writers themselves, that Queen Theory really isn’t about genuinely helping gay, bi and trans children and adults come to terms with their sexuality and find acceptance in society, so that they can lead normal, functioning, happy lives alongside straight people. Rather, it is all about increasing their alienation and making them even more angry and transgressive in order to turn them into a revolutionary mass which will overthrow capitalism instead of the working class. This follows closely Georg Lukacz’s sex education programme in Hungary, which was explicitly designed to use sexual liberation to alienate children from their parents and conventional capitalist society. This was then taken up by the Frankfurt school and played a very strong role in the sexual liberation movements of the 1960s. Lindsay backs up the arguments in his previous video by going through a Queer Theory paper, written by Hanna Dyer, a woman at Carlton University in Canada, that explicitly states this.

Queer Theory’s Rejection of Gay Rights

Early on in the paper, Dyer denounces the recent legislation granting gay people equal rights. Lindsay is not homophobic, even though his attacks on Queer and Critical Theory and calls for those promoting it to be put in gaol make him sound like a very right-wing Conservative. I don’t know what his political views are. He may be a man of the right, but he makes it clear that all parents should come together to combat what is being taught in schools in Social Emotional Learning and Comprehensive Sex Education regardless of politics, race, sexuality and religion. All that should matter is the class ‘parent’. Lindsay states that gay acceptance has been of immense benefit to society. But Dyer attacks it because such liberal legislation will help reconcile gays with the capitalist society they wish to overthrow. This continues throughout her wretched article. Later on she attacks Dan Savage’s video on YouTube, ‘It Gets Better’. Savage is gay, and with another man, produced a video to reassure gay children that even though they’re bullied and have an awful time at school, it gets better when you grow up. People are more accepting. I think this often depends on your particular place in society. Working class culture could be traditionally extremely homophobic, and there is a vicious homophobia prevalent in some parts of Black culture. But in general middle class culture has become very accepting to the point where one YouTuber described how a Conservative friend had completely accepted gay equality. Savage produced his video in response to the high rate of suicide amongst gay kids. He wanted to stop it by showing that ‘It Gets Better’. He released the video on YouTube because he felt schools would resist its message. According to Lindsay, Savage is actually ‘super liberal’. But to Dyer he’s an evil White man – she doesn’t call him a scholar or researcher, just ‘White man’ in order to show how evil he is. Apart from his race, she sees him as a servant of capitalism, trying to stop the revolutionary potential of the gay masses by incorporating them into neoliberalism and promoting upward mobility.

Now I strongly believe that the sooner we dump neoliberalism the better. It is doing immense damage to ordinary working people of whatever, race, creed, sexuality or religion. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to reassure vulnerable gay children that they can still a place as an accepted member of society, who should be able to look forward to the same job opportunities as the rest of us and have the same aspirations to social advancement. And I’d say that attacking a video that genuinely tries to stop gay kids committing suicide is actually evil.

The Attack on Childhood Innocence in order to Promote Radically Alienated Gay Identities

The paper goes on to attack the whole notion of childhood innocence. She hates the idea that children are asexual and proto-heterosexual. Lindsay states that here she comes into conflict with biological fact. Most people across society all over the world are heterosexual. Only a minority are gay. This is aside from any moral considerations that see heterosexuality as more moral than homosexuality. He makes it clear that he supports the teaching that ‘Some people are gay. Get over it’, as Stonewall once said in an advertising programme. Lindsay has said in his previous video that Queer Theorists really don’t like that common sense attitude. Moreover, they see gender and sexuality as identities without essence, social roles people perform rather than are. Therefore they seek to groom children for their role as queer revolutionaries by breaking down barriers and having them sexually experiment. This include the binary oppositions male/female, adult/child. And around the 1hr 14 minute mark, Dyer says this explicitly. Which clearly opens the way to grooming by paedophiles. Lindsay states that children have a very strong belief in these opposition and that he believes them to be biologically innate. He also makes the point that paedophile relationships massively damage the young victims psychologically. A very high number schizoid people have the condition due to childhood abuse. But Dyer seems also to be offended by the biological fact that most people are heterosexual. She wants to changes that, and queer not just gay children, but children as a whole. This is very much how the attacks on heteronormativity have seemed to me, and I’m glad that Lindsay has come to the same conclusion I have.

Later on, she attacks the whole notion of reproductive sex because gay people, who naturally cannot have children through gay sex, cannot achieve the same level of privilege as straight ‘breeders’ in a society that privileges heterosexual reproduction. But this is a revolt against biology, as it is through heterosexual reproductive sex that the human race is perpetuated. Ah, but so too are the mechanisms of capitalist control and repression. Instead the goal should be hedonistic, non-reproductive sex, which she explicitly connects with the death urge through Marcuse and other Marxist thinkers. This is just plain nihilism. Thinking about it, it makes me wonder if Pope John Paul II had a point when he described Enlightenment society as a ‘cult of death’. I think he was wrong about the Enlightenment, but certainly right about these pernicious postmodernist ideologies.

Childhood Innocence Blamed for Racism and Genocide

Naturally, race gets drawn into it in order to produce the broad, intersectional coalition of races and sexualities that postmodernists hope to create as an oppositional front against capitalism. Childhood innocence should be challenged, because it chiefly affects White children. Black children are less innocent, and stereotypically more streetwise. Lindsay says it’s rubbish. Here I think he’s wrong. I think the stereotype is that Black children are tougher, more worldly-wise, and more ‘street’. but that doesn’t mean that their parents don’t want to preserve and guard their innocence just as much as Whites. And apparently childhood innocence is also genocidal. Whites want to preserve their kids more than those of other races, and this is somehow ties in with one of the genuine mass-murderers of the US Indian Wars. This was the general responsible for the Sand Creek massacre, who wanted not only adult indigenous Americans killed, but also to be physically mutilated and their children murdered as well in order ‘to stop lice breeding’. It’s an absolutely horrific attitude and atrocity, but as Lindsay points out, just ’cause someone was an idiot in the past doesn’t mean that everybody who believes in childhood innocence is. She also brings social class into her argument about gay acceptance and queer children, although Lindsay states these are actually non-issues. He also points out that at the centre of all this is are repeated attacks on conventional ideas of childhood development, which stresses that children go through certain stages and that the material they’re given should be age appropriate. Like the books in school libraries that are graded according to suitability for different ages of reader. Dyer talks about getting Queer Theory to influence ideas of childhood pedagogy along with Critical Race Theory. But this isn’t about helping gay children. It’s all about destabilising children’s personalities, to make them angry and disaffected, to make them Marxist revolutionaries determined to destroy western civilisation.

Alex Jones Right about Queer Theory and Transhumanism

At times Lindsay sounds like the mad conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. He says at one point that if he goes on reading it, he’ll end up screaming about Satan like the bonkers Texan libertarian. Well, Jones talked a lot of conspiracist nonsense about ‘the globalists’, which is very close to the wretched anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He also falsely accused decent people of being child abusers for the Democrat party, claimed Barack Obama was the antichrist, Hillary Clinton of being possessed by alien demons, a practicing witch and a robot from the waist down, and other nonsense. Like NASA was running a child slave labour based on Mars. Which nobody knew about, least of all NASA, as they took the time to deny it, not least because it would cost $16 billion just to send six people to Mars let alone the legions of kids Jones, or rather, one of his guests, claimed.

But it seems Jones had a point. I’ll admit I had a laugh when Jones ranted about feminism and gay rights being a transhumanist cult to turn us all into sexless cyborgs. But Lindsay says that transhumanism is one offshoot of Critical Theory. The World Economic Forum is made up of transhumanists, who all want to link us to the Net through biological implants so that we will live at least part of the time in Virtual reality. We will own nothing and we will be happy.

This sounds like Star Trek’s Borg to me. In ‘Q Who?’, the Star Trek The Next Generation episode which introduced them, Q transports the Enterprise to system J17, where they encounter and are attacked by a Borg cube that has just finished assimilating a planet. As one of them beams aboard, Q says to Picard, ‘Look at it, Jean-Luc. It’s not a he, it’s not a she… it’s an augmented humanoid.’ But one of the heads of the big American tech corporations is a transwoman and transhumanist, and wrote a paper promoting transhumanism as a feminist project to go beyond gender. And there certainly was a lot of talk about genderless future cyborgs when transhumanism was being discussed back in the ’90s. ‘We are Postmodern Borg. Resistance to Critical Theory is futile. You will be assimilated’.

Destroying State Education Not the Solution

Throughout the video, Lindsay angrily stops his analysis of the text to remind his readers that this is being done by groomers in the sex education now being taught in American schools. This means your children. And this is primarily state schools though some private schools are also involved. He loudly urges people to take their children out of these schools. I see his point. There’s a video by anti-trans ideology activists Kellie-Jay Minshull, in which she goes through some of the material recommended for schools by Stonewall. And it is about sexualising children. One of these is a game in which children put together various body parts and have to guess what sex act may be possible with them. This really is inappropriate. Yes, children should be taught about the changes happening to their bodies and their emerging sexuality in adolescence. And I quite agree that at an appropriate age, children should be taught that some people are gay but should be accepted like anybody else. But this doesn’t do that. It is about breaking down barriers, barriers which are there for a reason. There is an organisation, the Safe Schools Alliance, for parents worried about this form of indoctrination. He also points out that the ideas are very similar to Herbert Marcuse’s proposals for Marxism to take over university education.

But the solution isn’t to pull kids out of state education, as the Conservative right wants. I think the American public school system was founded by Thomas Jefferson, who realised that for America to work as a functioning democracy it needed an educated public. Absolutely. If you destroy public education, you get back to the conditions of 19th century Britain before it was made compulsory. Education was definitely not free, and only the rich could afford to send their children to the public (elite private) and the grammar schools. Working class children could go instead to dame schools, usually run by an elderly woman, hence their name, where educational standards could be very low. Many children couldn’t send their children to school, and so illiteracy rates were much, much higher. Proper state education has made the British public much more educated and informed, though sometimes you wonder.

What needs to be done is for parents instead to fight this indoctrination as hard as they can, so that their children get a proper education and not just indoctrination, whether from the extreme left or the extreme right.

James Lindsay on Post-Modern Marxism and the Indoctrination of Children in Sex Education

December 31, 2021

This is one of the serious videos I want to post and discuss. What Lindsay says is alarming and should leave any decent person deeply concerned about the direction sex education is taking in America and increasingly over here. Because he argues that the recent inclusion of real pornographic material as educational tools and very detailed discussion of different sexualities and gender identities isn’t by accident, nor is it done, as it claims, to help gay or transgender students. Rather it’s a deliberate ploy by a noxious coalition of post-modernist Marxists and MAPs – Minor Attracted Persons, or paedophiles to the rest of us – to destroy childhood innocence. The intention is not to help children properly understand their developing sexuality and anatomy, but to increase their anxiety and unhappiness in order to create socially disaffected young people alienated from their parents and society, ready to start the revolution.

Conspiracy theories like this have been going round the Conservative right for donkey’s years, usually ascribing this to ‘cultural Marxism’, the Frankfurt School and the Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci. I didn’t give them much credence, especially as the term ‘cultural Marxism’ is derived from the Nazis ‘Kulturbolschevismus’, ‘Cultural Bolshevism’, and was part of their noxious anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It sounds so bonkers and extreme, that if it appeared in the pages of Daily Heil, I would have quite happily disregarded it. But Lindsay is an American mathematician and part of the group, with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, that has taken on postmodernist Critical Theory and its offshoots – Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial Theory, to show how pernicious and destructive these ideas actually are. He’s familiar with the literature, although he states his knowledge of it isn’t perfect and he needs to do more reading. But he cites the lead thinkers to back up this argument.

Lukacz and the Destruction of Childhood Innocence

For Lindsay, this all started with George Lukacz, one of the leaders of the 1919 Communist Revolution in Hungary. Lukacz started sex education in Hungarian schools with the deliberate intention of fomenting radical dissent amongst the students against traditional, Christian society and morality. He introduced pornographic material similar to what is now being promoted in American schools. There was a outrage a few weeks ago about one of the Young Adult books now being recommended as part of American Sex and Social Development Education. This was explicitly about the character’s exploration of queer sexuality and included a scene where one individual has oral sex with a girl wearing a strap-on dildo. He also introduced notions of different sexual identities. This is because Lukacz, and later postmodern Critical Theorists, hate the idea of childhood innocence. They see this as part of a mechanism by repressive capitalist society to repress children’s sexuality in order to redirect it towards capitalist work. They also have similar ideas about ‘White innocence’. They don’t like people growing up in environments where race is not an issue and where folks value each other for what they are, rather than the colour of their skin. This is another function of repressive, exploitative capitalism. Only Whites are racially innocent, as Blacks and other ethnic minorities have to live with the reality of a very racialised society. Lindsay states that this is nonsense, as the attacks on White culture over the past 30 years have shown.

Bela Kun’s Communist government was overthrown, and Lukacz fled to Germany, where he met the Frankfurt school of Marxist scholars, including Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Horkheimer and Felix Weil, who bankrolled the movement. These took up his ideas and later imported them into America after the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Also influential in this movement was Gramsci and his ideas of cultural hegemony. Gramsci turned the Marxist doctrine of the economic base determining culture on its head. Faced with the failure of the working class to rise up and overthrow capitalism, he theorised that what was needed was to change the prevailing culture. Lukacz and the others saw five main obstacles to spreading Marxism in Europe. One of these was religion. They also hated the natural bond between parents and their children, which also acts as a stabilising influence. According to Lindsay, they see sexuality and people as an ‘identity without essence’. They don’t have a fixed identity, and so Critical Theory deliberately tries to destabilise this even further, to create more confusion and discontent, and break the bond between children and parents as part of a wider campaign to discredit traditional culture. Lindsay compares this with Mao’s Cultural Revolution, its attack on the ‘Four Olds’ and the use of children to inform on and persecute their parents. These ideas were behind the far left discontent on the 1960s. Capitalism had produced rising living standards, and the working class were no longer interested in overthrowing capitalism. Marxist intellectuals were therefore determined to find a new revolutionary class, and so began looking towards other social groups like gays. The sexual radicalism of the 60s was part of a wider Marxist attack on traditional social mores.

Capitalism’s Suppresson of the Libido

Lindsay recognises that the monogamy the Queer Theorists despise is difficult for humanity. People aren’t good at it. Nevertheless, he believes that there is a human sexual morality and that traditional Christian morality roughly approximates to it, but not perfectly. I think Lindsay is an atheist/ Humanist. He is also aware that Christians have persecuted gays. But Queer Theory isn’t about solving those problems, and the Marxist sexual radicals have promoted paedophilia. In the 1980s Judith Butler, one of the founders of Queer Theory, wrote a book defending paedophilia. He also talks about a book by Herbert Marcuse which tried to mix Freud and Marxism to challenge what he saw as capitalism’s suppression of the libido and redirection into capitalist work. This also aimed at destabilising the personalities of the young minds, which were to be indoctrinated with this teaching, but felt they would emerge as ideologically ‘mature’ individuals. Lindsay notes that this is about spreading political awareness amongst children. Marcuse’s use of ‘mature’ rather than adult is deliberate.

Most Teachers Want to Teach, Not Indoctrinate

Lindsay has nothing but loathing and contempt for these ideas and their promoters. He states at one point that they should be in jail, which is fascistic but understandable if he’s right about what’s going on. If this is being done to normalise paedophilia and to exploit young people’s discomfort about their emerging sexuality, it it’s not about genuinely helping gay and transgender children but about making their confusion and maladjustment worse, then it has no place in schools. In contrast to the scare stories about Commie teachers indoctrinating students, most teachers are severely normal people. They don’t wish to indoctrinate students but simply stand in front of a class and teach their subject. And these are boring, traditional subjects like maths, science, history, geography, whatever. I don’t know what the situation is in America, but in Britain Tony Blair brought in very strict legislation banning indoctrination in schools. All that is needed to stop the extremists doing it in Britain is simply to discipline and sack them according to the law. But I do agree that anyone deliberately promoting paedophilia to children should be banged up behind bars.

Mobilising People against Queer Theory

I think Boghossian, Lindsay and Pluckrose are people of the left, not Conservatives. Pluckrose now defines herself as a liberal rather than a socialist, although she says her actual political ideas haven’t changed. Lindsay wants a coalition of people from left and right, Republican and Democrat, Black and White, to challenge and attack these ideas. People should be aware of what their children are being taught in schools. And if their kids are being fed literature like that wretchedly explicit book, they should confront the school board, film it and then try and place the video on YouTube. It won’t be accepted, because the platform will view it as pornography. Case proven.

Older Marxists Not Sexual Radicals

If Lindsay is correct, which he seems to be, then the right’s attack on ‘cultural Marxism’ is actually right, and definitely needs to be fought. But this doesn’t mean that anything else the right says – about free markets bringing prosperity, for example, is correct. The 60s were an era of prosperity partly because government was strongly involved in business and economic growth. And the Critical Theorists’ view of sexual morality is strongly contrary to the life styles and views of many of the older generation of working class Marxists. Instead of believing in free love, most of them believed in marriage and the family. When Andre Breton, the Pope of Surrealism, gave a lecture on free love to the French railwaymen’s union in the 1920s, his solidly Communist audience were very definitely not impressed.

What Lindsay says about the influence of Marxist critical attacks on traditional sexuality and its influence on 60s radicalism is important, if true. The attack on marriage and promotion of free love went far beyond Marxism into anarchism, situationism and similar movements, and I’d always assumed it was due to ideas that predated Marx and which were held across the radical left. In many cases, I think that’s true. But there does seem to be a definite Marxist strategy there as well. It explains why so many revolutionaries of that period were also rebelling against traditional sexual morality.

There is a danger here of starting a new McCarthyism in which anything vaguely left-wing is suddenly smeared as ‘Communist’, like the Right tried to do with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in Labour.

But Queer Theory does seem to be utterly pernicious and really needs to be fought.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at the Art and Career of ‘American Hero’ Steve Ditko

December 10, 2021

More comics stuff, and a rather longer video than usual at 1hr 9minutes, but the subject deserves it. Steve Ditko is one of the great, legendary figures of American comics. He’s probably best known for creating Spiderman and the occult hero Dr. Strange with Stan ‘the Man’ Lee for Marvel. But as this video shows, Ditko worked for many other American comics companies – DC, Charlton, Dale and EC among them as well as self-publishing his personal works. In the video, the Kayfabers Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg go through the volume Ditko Unleashed: An American Hero, which accompanied an exhibition of the great man’s work. The book’s bilingual in English and Spanish, which suggests that the exhibition may have been in Spain. The volume not only describes Ditko’s career, but gives plentiful illustrations of his art.

Ditko, like Kirby, came from a blue-collar, working class background. He went into art school to study cartooning, as he wanted to be a comics artist. His career was uneven, working for a number of different publishers and in a variety of different genres – monster, science fiction, horror as well as the superheroes for which is he is best known. He also worked with some of the great names in American comics. At times he inked the awesome Jack Kirby, at other times he was inked by Frank Miller, the artist and writer chiefly responsible for turning Daredevil into one of Marvel’s leading heroes. I think he may also have been inked by John Byrne, one of the major artists behind the New X-Men. He was admired by many of these new artists. The epic Jim Starlin, in one edition of his Warlock comic, ‘One Thousand Clowns’, dedicated it to Ditko for showing us a new reality. Starlin’s art was rather more naturalistic, but he also used the same floating paths and mystic portals in his work. He also went through several hard times in his career. At one point he moved away to New York to recover from tuberculosis, then, as in Britain, a major killer. There were also years when he struggled, as many others did, to get work. He also worked on a number of merchandising tie-ins, like Micronauts and Rom: the SpaceKnight, which were intended to promote toy figures. I read the comics, which were excellent without having any interest in buying the toys, which might indicate they were too successful. Like the adverts for Cinzano Bianco wine with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Everyone enjoyed them and they’re still fondly remembered by peeps of a certain vintage, but the people watching the ads couldn’t remember the brand of booze and so didn’t buy it. Ditko, like Kirby, broke off from Marvel for a time, before he returned, working on the above tie-ins along with the robotic superhero Machine Man.

Ditko, Politics and Morality

Unlike Stan Lee, who was a liberal, Ditko was very Conservative, a follower of Objectivism, the philosophy of supercapitalist ideologue Ayn Rand. He also had very black and white views on morality, which were expressed in his personal creations, Mr. A and The Question. He believed that heroes should be heroes, their morals pure and uncompromised. True to his ideals, he turned down work when the characters he was being asked to depict didn’t live up to them. A few years ago Jonathan Ross made a documentary for BBC 4 or one of the other channels searching for Ditko. One of those interviewed was Brit comics titan Alan Moore, who described meeting Ditko at Ditko’s home. He says that Ditko had a very narrow, inflexible view of morality, telling Moore, like one of his characters, that there were only two ways, a right way and a wrong way. Ditko’s politics are very definitely not mine, and I’m very much aware that in the real world, things are very often never a case of black and white but more shades or grey and motives can be less pure than we’d like. But after the comics industry went through a phase in which they tried to make their heroes darker – Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the foremost – and it was difficult telling the heroes from the villains, it’s refreshing to have someone who believes in old fashioned heroics.

The Kayfabers believe that if he were working today, Ditko would be cancelled or at least severely annoy and alienate 50 per cent of his audience. I think the first is certainly true. There has always been a left-wing message in American comics and an awareness of social issues. In the late 1960s into the 1970s both Marvel and DC tackled issues like racism and the rise of the feminist movement. As a response to the latter, Marvel created the Valkyrie, original a woman scientist who revolted against the patriarchy after having the credit for her discoveries stolen by her male colleagues. The Hulk comic also questioned American militarism, while Captain America, in disgust at Watergate and the contemporary corruption of American politics, renounced his patriotic monicker to become Nomad. Of course it wasn’t long before he rediscovered his faith in the rightness of the American way and put his uniform back on. However, Lee has also said in an interview that he was careful not to make the message too shrill so that it alienated readers that didn’t share his politics. Now many Conservative and moderate left comics creators and fans believe that in many strips, the political message has become too overt at the expense of traditional qualities like plotting, characterisation, dialogue and sheer fantasy. This was the motive behind Comicsgate a few years ago, when a number of comics creators, like Ethan van Sciver, broke away from the main comics companies of DC and Marvel to set up on their own.

Heroism and Its Absence in Modern Genre Film and Literature

One of the problems Az of Heels vs. Babyface and The Critical Drinker is that many of today’s pop culture heroes actually don’t act like heroes. For example, in one episode of Batwoman reviewed by Az, he comments critically on the way Batwoman treats the villain, a woman who has murdered several innocents. When Batwoman confronts her, she tells Batwoman that she’s killed so many people out of rage at her persecution as a lesbian. As a result, Batwoman, a lesbian herself, lets her go. This is simply immoral. The persecution of otherwise perfectly decent people because they’re attracted to the opposite sex is wrong, but it doesn’t justify the murder of innocents. Whatever political views real policemen and women have, they still have to act impartially and arrest those, who break the law and especially those who commit terrible crimes like mass murder.

The Critical Drinker put up a whole video about the failure of contemporary SF heroes to live up to the standards of true heroism with the latest Star Trek iterations as a case in point. He contrasted these were the high standards of professionalism demanded of the captain and crew in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that series, the characters knew the importance of duty and respecting the command hierarchy even if they disagreed with it. At the same time, Picard and the other senior officers demanded and got the best from their crew. Several of the episodes involved leading characters learning the difficulties of command. There is one episode where one of the characters is training for promotion. Part this training involves trying to find ways to prevent a warp core breach that will destroy the Enterprise. The problem is insolvable until nearly every option has been tried except the one the prospective leader has been consciously trying to avoid: they have to send Jordi into the warp core to fix it, a command which will result in his death. But it’s unavoidable, and both characters know their duty is to their ship. The would-be commander has to give the order, which Jordi calmly accepts. And a hard lesson is learned. Instead, the crew of the new Trek franchises are grossly unprofessional. They bicker over there personal relationships in front of a superior officer, react badly to the stressful conditions they should, as crew aboard a quasi-military spacecraft, be trained to deal with and try to undermine their superior officers. Case in point: one sequence where Kirk and Spock attempt to beat the living daylights out of each other. Yeah, I’m aware that it happened in an episode or two of the original Trek, like the classic ‘Amok Time’, but there were extenuating circumstances. I like Star Trek and have got a couple of the recent Trek films on DVD. But I think the Drinker has a point, even if it comes from a jaundiced, booze-soaked mind. I think we need a few more heroes who are genuinely heroic in the old fashioned sense, even if the social views they hold may be those of the left.

Stylistic Strong Points

But Ditko’s own career also had its contradictions. At one point he was working on BDSM/ fetish comics, and there were certainly questions raised about the spectacular and surreal effects in several of his strips. Many of his characters, like Dr Strange, enter strange realms in which roads float apparently in mid-air, and doors and portals appear leading to elsewhere, like the mobile holes in many a cartoon strip. Strange shoots beams of light and conjures up strange geometrical figures in his incantations. These effects resemble the entoptic imagery seen when people start to hallucinate after using mind-altering drugs. Which led to the obvious question: was Ditko also on ’em. Ditko was too straitlaced to use recreational chemicals, and answered ‘No’. It all came from within, from his own unaided imagination. Which says to me that Ditko had an awesome imagination on his own, and that the really great, creative people don’t need drugs.

I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Ditko, as his artistic style with Marvel seemed rather too simple. I really admired those artists who were rather less stylised and more detailed and naturalistic. Nevertheless, this video shows that Ditko was a master of his art. The Kayfabers point out that he’s great at cityscapes and portraying fluid action sequences in which the characters are constantly in motion. In some of the strips, Ditko also used colour washes to enhance his line art, and the result is stunning. There are also a couple of strips where Ditko’s inkers were beginning to use computers to add inks and colour to his pencils, which are also very striking.

The Kayfabers also think that some of the pictures come from the private collections of people who acquired them less than legally. There is a black market in comics art, and Ditko was a victim along with many others. They won’t name names, of course, because they don’t want to get writs from m’learned friends. But they also state they’re just glad that someone, somewhere has preserved these pictures that would otherwise have been lost. Ditko also suffered into inadvertently giving people his autograph, thus cheating himself of money. He didn’t give autographs. However, if someone wrote to him asking for his autograph, they’d get a polite reply for Ditko saying ‘No’. Which he’d sign. People cottoned on to this, and exploited it.

Comics and Other Genre Artists True Artistic Innovators Deserving Academic Respect

The Kayfabers also lament that Ditko and that other American comics legend, Jack Kirby, weren’t more articulate. If they had been able to use the kind of language critics and intellectuals use about art, they could easily have been up there with Warhol and the Factory. But they were working artists, who had to grind out their strips to make a buck, and so didn’t have time to mix with people in art galleries. I completely agree. It’s been my opinion for a very long time that the truly great, innovative art exploring new visions, directions and tools is that of the space, science fiction and fantasy artists, including book illustrators and comics artists. And there are others who feel the same. I can remember watching one video about comics, in which one of the speakers said he felt angry seeing the work of artists hung in art galleries, who had based their work on comic artists. He felt that the original comics artists should have got the money and their work hung instead. Way back in the ’90s I tried to get one of the art magazines to accept an article in which I argued this point, and showed the stylistic similarities between respect fine artists like H.R. Giger and those of the Soviet austere school and such comics greats as Kirby and the British master of aliens, robots and the grotesque, Kevin O’Neil. Unfortunately, it was turned down because it would have been too expensive to run. But the point remains. And it'[s shown in Ditko’s art. There’s a panel in which the exhibition shows a clear influence on one of Ditko’s weird geometrical designs in a portal in Dr. Strange with a painting from the Russian avant-garde artist Vassily Kandinsky. The two debate whether there is a genuine influence there, before concluding that their probably is. I can easily believe it. Many comics artists have their own heroes and influences in fine art as well as other great illustrators of the past. Way back at the comics festival UKCAC ’90 I remember going to a talk by Charles Vess, who talked about the great artists and illustrators he admired. I can well believe that Ditko absorbed and incorporated ideas from fine art as well as cartooning and illustration, and that his own work pushed these ideas forward into new directions.

The book goes up to 2016, nearly the end of Ditko’s life. He died only a few years ago. Wossy in his quest to find the great man managed to track him down to an advertising agency in the Big Apple. Ditko agreed to meet Woss and the other host, but it all had to be off-camera. The programme concluded with Wossy stating that when they met Ditko he was very sweet, gave them lots of copies of his work, but they couldn’t repeat what he said to them. And so walked off into the New York crowd.

Well, RIP Steve Ditko, one of the greats of American founders. The book and the video by the Kayfabers are a great overview of one of the creators of some of the most iconic modern American superheroes.

Lab Grown Goats and the Shape of Wombs to Come

November 19, 2021

I found this photo of goat fetuses growing in tanks filled with amniotic fluid in a Japanese lab in an old an old issue of Scientific American Presents – Your Bionic Future from autumn 1999. It illustrated an article by Tabitha M. Powledge, ‘The Ultimate Baby Bottle’, which had on the contents page the comment ‘Aldous Huxley was right. Artificial wombs are in our future.’ I hope, I really hope that they aren’t. At least, not in the way he portrayed it in Brave New World. In the book, the Fordists have abolished natural reproduction so that everyone is grown artificially in hatcheries. As a result, sex is only for pleasure – and as this is a hedonistic society there are plenty of orgies – and the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are dirty terms of abuse. This is definitely not a society anyone would want to see realised. On the other hand, milder forms of such reproduction have also been suggested. The people of humanity’s first extraterrestrial colony also reproduce in hatcheries in Brian Aldiss’ and David Wingrove’s history of the future, The Third Millennium. And in Paul McAuley’s book, In The Belly of the Whale, the two human species on Fomalhaut also reproduce through cloning in hatcheries, but are placed with surrogate parents who raise them in something like a normal family structure after their birth.

The success of the Japanese scientists in growing the goat fetus’ generated a considerable interest at the time. It was widely predicted, as the Scientific American article did, that this would lead to artificial wombs. In fact there was speculation about possible breakthroughs in such research a decade earlier in the 1980s. About 1984/5 I remember an article appearing in the Absurder which predicted that some day people would be gestated in such devices.

I’ve got very mixed feelings about this. I can admire the scientific skill behind it, and it does touch that part of me that enjoys seeing Science Fiction become reality. I can also see that it would benefit women, who for one reason or another could not carry a baby to term. But I don’t know how women would react to such machines if they became possible. I realise that pregnancy and childbirth are fraught, dangerous times for women and their children. Many women go through everything from the discomfort of bad backs and morning sickness to far worse conditions that may seriously damage their health. The other night there was a piece on the One Show, for example, about the dangers to pregnant women from a condition that causes severe nausea. And then there are the problems and dangers in childbirth itself.

But femininity throughout history has been intimately bound up with motherhood. So much so that in many traditional societies the view of women has been that of baby factories, whose primary role is the bearing and raising of children. Modern feminism challenges this in order to give women the freedom to work outside the home in previously masculine roles and professions. But I am not sure if women would welcome the complete separation of femininity from motherhood. Would women feel somehow diminished, deprived of a vital component of their womanhood, if there was a wholesale move towards artificial reproduction? Part of the psychological motivation behind gender critical feminisms opposition to transwomen being accepted as women is a powerful feeling that this is men usurping and appropriating femininity, while marginalising natural biological women. Reading through some of the comments on Kellie-Jay Kean’s videos, I came across some women talking about the joy they felt as women bearing children. One women said that men’s lives must be so empty because of their inability to do so. Now these are just a few women’s views, but I do wonder how women with a similar attitude would look upon artificial wombs.

I also wonder whether there would be the same strong bond between parents, and especially mothers, and their children if babies weren’t born naturally but collected from the hatchery. I realise that the parents of adopted children are in a similar position, and generally greatly love their children, as, of course, to step-parents. I’m also well aware of the dreadful neglect and abuse some parents inflict on their kids. It’s perfectly possible, therefore, that bringing your baby home from the lab for their first time would have all the emotional impact of a natural birth and that the parental bond wouldn’t be affected. But nevertheless, I wonder.

And I’m also worried that such hatcheries could lead to the further mechanisation of what would once have been considered essential human traits, to produce genuine post-human creatures like the cyborgs of the transhumanists. These could be far beyond us in their capability while at the same time lacking in what we consider to be our essential human natures, like the Cybermen and Sontarans of Dr. Who.

These are deep, ethical issues. But fortunately, they have become pressing just yet, as the promised artificial wombs have yet to appear.

My Email to the ‘I’ Recommending Putting Up Statues of African Slavers in Bristol

June 1, 2021

I’ve just sent this email to the I newspaper, noting that Colston’s statue is now rightly on display in the M Shed in Bristol. But I also go further, and suggest that in order to get a proper perspective on the city’s connection with the slave trade, it needs to put up statues to the African slavers involved. These were the chiefs who actually supplied the slaves, and the Barbary pirates who raided Europe, including Bristol and the south-west for White slaves. Here’s the email:

Dear Sir, 

I note on the local news for Bristol that Edward Colston’s statue has been lifted out of the docks and put on display at the city’s excellent M Shed museum. I think this is the proper place for it, because Colston is part of Bristol’s history, and his philanthropy – he founded charities that supported numerous schools in the city – is one reason he was defended for so long. It is, unfortunately, an uncomfortable fact that otherwise admirable people can do the most terrible things, and we distort the past and miss this vitally important point about human nature if it is omitted.

But I also strongly feel that there are other presences in Bristol’s history that are going unrecognised, if not actively and deliberately edited out. Europeans did not catch the slaves themselves. They purchased them from powerful Black African kings, who organised the raids and did the bloody business of enslaving. Chiefs like Duke Ephraim of Dahomey made £300,000 a year in the 18th and 19th centuries. But, with the exception of the excellent ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition at the City Museum in the 1990s, there is no mention of this, and indeed I get the distinct impression that Councillors Cleo Lake and Deputy Mayor Asher Craig would very much like to place the whole blame for Black slavery on Whites. A few months ago they passed a motion calling for the payment of reparations for slavery, which included all ‘Afrikans’ as victims of the infamous trade.

Another presence is Sultan Mahomet IV of Morocco. From the 16th/17th century through to the early 19th, Barbary pirates from what is now Morocco and Algiers raided Europe for White slaves. About 2 1/2 million White Europeans were so carried off into bondage. In Britain, the south-west of England, including Bristol, was particularly vulnerable to attack and ships and their crews from the city were taken and enslaved. But there are no monuments commemorating this anywhere in the city, again presenting a cosy, distorted view that slavery is just something evil Whites did to Blacks.

Colston’s plinth is now empty, and no doubt there is a debate going on about how it should be used. Might I suggest two statues, one of King Guezo of Dahomey, against whom Britain went to war to stop his predations on other Africans, and Mahomet IV to correct the racial imbalance?

Yours faithfully,

I’ll let you know if they publish it, and if there’s any response.

Edward Colston’s Statue Needs to Be in a Museum to Educate People About Slavery

May 31, 2021

Last week, the BBC local news for the Bristol area, Points West, reported that the statue of Edward Colston had been put on display in the M Shed, one of the city’s many museums. The statue was famously pulled down last summer by Black Lives Matter protesters and thrown in the docks. It’s being put on display, along with an old tyre that was also hauled out of the docks with it and a plaque. The M Shed is asking the Bristolian public what their views about its display are.

I think it needs to go on display along with an explanatory plaque. I don’t think the statue will be particularly missed from its plinth on the city centre. It’s naturally been controversial for decades, and there have been campaign to have it pulled down since the 1990s. But it needs to be retained and displayed because of the uncomfortable facts about the slave trade and those who dealt in it.

If Colston was only a slaver out for his own profit, then there would or should be no objection to the tearing down of his statue. But he was more complex than that. He gave most of his money away to charity, so that there have been schools founded on his bequests. I remember my old secondary school celebrating Colston Day each year, in which a few selected pupils got to attend a special service and receive a free bun. This was very definitely not a racist school. We had regular sermons against racism and the colour bar in school assemblies and the regular church services at Christmas and the beginning of term. Mike told me of one incident where the headmaster gave one boy a roasting for calling one of the Black lads a ‘N***er’. The school building was already crumbling, and the headmaster was so loud telling the lad off that bits actually flaked off.

One of the problems with slavery, and indeed much history, its that the morals of the past are very different from our own. This was first noted by the 18th century Italian historian and philosopher, Vico, and then by Nietzsche and his ‘transvaluation of values’. It’s extremely difficult for us to understand how otherwise good and decent people could perpetrate the most terrible atrocities, like slavery. But they did, and this needs to be recognised and understood. If nothing else, it helps to explain why it took William Wilberforce and the abolitionists so long to have it banned, and why decent people respected and defended Colston and his statue. History needs to be understood on its own terms, even when its controversial. Especially when its controversial.

We falsify it and create new dangers if we try to present it simply so as to fit modern morals.

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.