Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

Blum’s List of Country In Which US Has Interfered with their Elections

February 18, 2017

A few days ago I posted up a list of the nations in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower where the US had interfered in its politics to block the election of a left-wing or liberal candidate, have them overthrown, or colluding and gave material assistance to a Fascist dictator and their death squads. As well as outright invasions, such as that of Grenada and Panama under Reagan and Bush in the 1980s, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under George Dubya.

Blum also has a list of countries, where the US has interfered with their domestic politics to pervert their elections. These include

The Philippines 1950s

Setting up by the CIA of a front organisation, the National Movement for Free Elections to promote its favoured politicians and policies, giving finance and other assistance to those candidates, disinformation, and drugging and plotting to assassinate their opponents.

Italy 1948-1970s

Long-running campaigns against the Communist party and to assist the conservative Christian Democrats.

Lebanon 1950s

CIA funding of President Camille Chamoun and other pro-American politicians; sabotaging of campaigns of politicos sceptical of American interference in their country.

Indonesia 1955

CIA donated a million dollars to Centrist Coalition to attack the electoral chances of President Sukarno and the Communist party.

British Guiana/Guyana 1953-64

Campaign to oust prime minister Cheddi Jagan, using general strikes, terrorism, disinformation and legal challenges by Britain.

Japan 1958-1970s

CIA funding of conservative Liberal Democratic Party against the Japanese Socialist Party, allowing the Liberal Democrats to stay in power continuously for 38 years.

Nepal 1959

CIA operation to help B.P. Koirala’s Nepali Congress Party to win the country’s first ever election.

Laos 1960

CIA arranged for massive fraudulent voting to ensure electoral victor of local dictator Phoumi Nosavan.

Brazil 1962

CIA and Agency for International Development funded politicos opposed to President Joao Goulart, as well as other dirty tricks against various other candidates.

Dominican Republic 1962

US ambassador John Bartlow Martin instructs the heads of the two major parties before general election that the loser would call on his supporters to support the winner, and that the winner would offer seats to the loser’s party. Also worked with the government to deport 125 people, including supporters of previous dictator Trujillo and Cuba.

Guatemala 1963

Overthrow of General Miguel Ydigoras, as they feared he was about to step down and call a general election, which would be won by previous reforming president and opponent of American foreign policy, Juan Jose Arevalo.

Bolivia 1966

Funding by CIA and Gulf Oil of campaign of president Rene Barrientos. The CIA also funded other rightwing parties.

Chile 1964-70

Interference in the 1964 and 1970s elections to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, democratic Marxist, to the presidency.

Portugal 1974-5

CIA funded moderates, including Mario Soares and the Socialist Party, and persuaded the other democratic socialist parties of Europe to fund them in order to block radical programme of generals, who had overthrown Fascist dictator Salazar.

Australia 1974-5

CIA funding of opposition parties and use of legal methods to arrange overthrow of prime minister Gough Whitlam because he opposed Vietnam War.

Jamaica 1976

Long CIA campaign, including economic destabilisation, industrial unrest, supplying armaments to his opponent and attempted assassination to prevent re-election of Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Panama 1984, 1989

CIA-funded campaigns first of all to support Noriega, and then against him in 1989, when the CIA also used secret radio and TV broadcasts.

Nicaragua 1984, 1990

1984: Attempt to discredit the Sandinista government by CIA. The opposition coalition was persuaded not to take part in the elections. Other opposition parties also encouraged to drop out; attempts to split Sandinistas once in power.

1990: Funding and partial organisation of opposition coalition, UNO, and its constituent groups by National Endowment for Democracy to prevent election of Sandinistas under Daniel Ortega; Nicaraguans also made aware that US intended to continue proxy war waged by Contras if they elected him.

Haiti 1987-88

CIA supported for selected candidates after end of Duvalier dictatorship. Country’s main trade union leader claimed US aid organisations were smearing left-wing candidates as Communists and trying to persuade rural people not to vote for them.

Bulgaria 1990-1, Albania 1991-2

Interference in both countries election to prevent re-election of Communists.

Russia 1996

Extensive backing and support to Yeltsin to defeat Communists.

Mongolia 1996

National Endowment for Democracy funded and helped form the opposition National Democratic Union, and drafted its platform, a Contract with the Mongolian Voter, based Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. The goal here was to accelerate the regime’s privatisation programme and create government favourable to the establishment of American corporations and intelligence agencies in the country.

Bosnia 1998

US turns country into ‘American protectorate’ by appointing Carlos Westendorp as high representative in 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. Before 1998 elections Westendorp removed 14 Bosnian Croatian candidates, claiming reporting by Croatian television biased. After election removes president of Bosnia Serb republic on grounds that he was causing instability.

In 2001 and 2005 high representative also removed one of the three joint presidents of the country. In 2005 high representative Paddy Ashdown, who sacked Dragan Covic.

Nicaragua 2001

US smears against Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, accused of human rights violations and terrorism. US ambassador openly campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolanos. US also pressurised Conservative party to withdraw from the elections so as not to split right-wing vote. There were also adds in the papers signed by Jeb Bush, claiming that Dubya supported Bolanos. Bolanos himself also stated that the Americans had told him that if Ortega won, they would cease all aid to the country.

Bolivia 2002

Extensive campaign against socialist candidate Evo Morales because he was against neoliberalism and big business, as well as the attempts to eradicate the coca plant, the source of cocaine.

US ambassador smeared him with accusations of connections to drug cartels and terrorism. US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere also said America could cut off aid if Morales elected. Meetings between US ambassador and officials and leading figures in rival parties to support Morales’ rival, Sanchez de Lozada.

Slovakia 2002

Warnings by US ambassador to the country and the US ambassador to NATO that if they elected Vladimir Meciar, former president running on anti-globalisation campaign, this would damage chances of their country entering EU and NATO. Also interference by National Endowment for Democracy against Meciar.

El Salvador 2004

Campaigning by US ambassador and three US Republican members of congress, including Thomas Tancredo of California, threatening cessations of aid and work permits for the countries’ people to work in America, in order to prevent election of FMLN candidate Schafik Handal and win victory of Tony Saca of the Arena party. FMLN former guerilla group. Handal stated he would withdraw Salvadorean troops from Iraq, re-examination privatisations and renew diplomatic contacts with Cuba. Arena extreme rightwing party, pro-US, free market, responsible for death squads and the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Afghanistan 2004

Pressure placed by US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, on political candidates to withdraw in favour of Washington’s preferred candidate, Hamid Karzai.

Palestine 2005-6

Massive pressure by the Americans to prevent the election of Hamas, including funding of the Palestinian Authority by the National Endowment for Democracy.

This last country is my own suggestion, not Blum’s.

Great Britain?

Go and read various articles in Lobster, which describe the way the US and its various front organisations collaborated with the right-wing of the Labour party to stop possible Communist influence. In the 1980s Reagan also created the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, alias BAP, to cultivate rising politicians of both the left and the right, and make them more favourable towards America and the Atlantic alliance. These included Tony Blair and Ed Balls, but you won’t read about it in the Times, because it’s editor was also a BAP alumnus.

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Vox Political: Jackie Walker’s Response to Anti-Semitism Smears on ‘Free Speech on Israel’

October 4, 2016

Mike has put up another important piece about the anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker. Mrs Walker has written a long piece explaining her attitude and comments on the website Free Speech on Israel, to which Mike’s attention was directed by one of the people he was talking to on Twitter.

In the pieces Mike has reposed, Mrs Walker explains her comments linking the Jews to the transatlantic slave trade. She states that she was trying to make the point that there are no hierarchies of genocide, and that her people were involved in both sides of the slave trade. She is Black and Jewish, and noted that the Jews also played a role in financing the slave trade, hence the number of early synagogues in the Caribbean. She also makes the point that it was the Christian rulers of Spain and Portugal, who massacred and expelled the Jews from their kingdoms, and that it was overwhelmingly Christian kingdoms and empires that profited from the kidnap, enslavement and murder of Africans. She states that she is perfectly happy to correct the different impression her Facebook comments made. She also makes the important statement

“The shame is, at a time when antisemitism has been weaponised and used against certain sections of the Labour Party, nobody asked me before rushing to pin the racist and antisemitic label on me.”

She says that she is perfectly willing to change her views if they are shown to be wrong in future. But she did not state, as the Jewish Chronicle claims she did, that Jews played a disproportionate part in the slave trade. She makes the point instead, quoting the historian Arnold Wiznitzer, that at that time and place the Jews were also involved in financing the sugar and slave trade. She also quotes the historians Kagan and Morgan as describing the Jews as a stateless minority within the European empires, but who also played a key role in expanding them. She also cites Jonathan Israel on the peculiar position of the Jews as both the victims and agents of empire.

Mike’s quotes from her conclude with this paragraph:

“This was the point I was attempting to make on Facebook, in a comic-strip, abbreviated, inadequate, deficient sort of conversational way. This was my point, as the Israel Advocacy Movement could see even as they decided to weaponise my words. No peoples have a monopoly of suffering or virtue. No peoples are special or free of the complexity of history. That is as true in the Middle East now as it ever was anywhere, in all places, with all peoples, across the diversity of our globe and so it will remain until, and unless, we achieve the goal of all internationalists – the liberation of humanity.”

Mike states in his comments that ‘certain…elements’ have tried to claim that Mrs Walker’s comments on the Jews and slave trade came from those of the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan made speeches in the 1990s claiming that the slave trade was basically the fault of the Jews. Mike has challenged those claiming that Walker’s views are the same as Farrakhan’s to show him how they are linked. Mike notes that they have not done so.

The article’s at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/03/jackie-walker-responds-to-accusations-of-antisemitism-free-speech-on-israel/

Please go and read this article. Mrs Walker clearly is very well-informed about the slave trade and Jewish involvement in it, as well as the complex nature of European imperialism, and the historiography of both. It is a fact that the global European empires also frequently used subaltern peoples as part of the mechanism of imperial expansion and exploitation. The slave trade was immensely profitable, and so it not only involved White Europeans, but Muslim Arabs and Black Africans. Recognising this should not be considered anti-African, anti-Arab or islamophobic, any more than noting that some Jews were involved in the transatlantic slave trade, should make one an anti-Semite, provided that this is kept within the bounds of historical fact. And Jackie Walker has done just that. She has not done what Louis Farrakhan, and which some White Nazis and members of the At Right do, and made Jews, or Africans, or Muslims solely responsible for the slave trade, or accused them of playing the major role in it.

She is clearly not an anti-Semite. Rather, she has shown that she possesses a critical intelligence, which is not satisfied with facile simplifications of complex issues. And that makes her a danger. She has been targeted, in my view, because she is like the very many Jews and people of Jewish heritage, who do not accept the simplistic message promoted by the Israel lobby that the immense suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and throughout history justifies their brutalisation and oppression, in turn, of the Palestinians. Authoritarian regimes of all shades, from Fascists and Nazis to the Stalinist Communists, cannot stand people, who dare to think for themselves. This is why free speech, and the ability to say things that others might consider offensive, is so vital for genuinely humane, democratic societies. The Right likes to attack politically correct speech codes, saying ‘No-one has the right not to be offended.’ They will also quote Orwell on the importance of telling truths people don’t want to hear. Both of these statements are correct, if you’re telling the truth. They trivialise both of these aphorisms, because they take them as giving them licence to sneer at women and ethnic minorities, and insist on traditional hierarchies of race and gender. But those two comments go much further than that. Orwell, for all his hatred of totalitarianism and Communism, was an anti-imperialist and Socialist. During the Spanish Civil War he fought for the non-Marxist Socialist faction, POUM, and was strongly impressed by the achievements of the anarchist movement, which he described in Homage to Catalonia. The Young Turks have pointed out time and again that for all their sneering at political correctness and ‘safe spaces’, it is the Right, who are the worst at invoking political correctness to silence speech that is offensive to them.

And this is what the Likudniks of the Jewish Labour Movement and the Israel lobby have tried to do to Mrs Walker. Like the American Right with its shouts of ‘Political correctness’ and denunciations of laws against ‘hate speech’, they are hypocritically using perceived offensiveness to try to silence and stifle genuine historical and political debate, in order to present a simplistic, carefully sanitised and politically useful view of history.

This is to be resisted, and resisted to the utmost. The distorters of history, who use carefully crafted falsifications to justify their own brutality, cannot be allowed to win, regardless of who they are and who they claim to represent. We need to be supporting Jackie Walker, and those like her, who are not satisfied with the easy answers of totalitarian propaganda, and who stand for genuine Socialist internationalism against militaristic nationalism posing as its opposite.

Vox Political: Real Wages Fall by Ten Per Cent Under Tories

July 30, 2016

Mike also published a piece last week on a report published on Wednesday by the TUC, which found that while wages had grown in real terms across the EU between 2007 and 2015, they had fallen in Britain by 10.4%. The average rise in wages across the EU was 6.7 per cent. In Poland, wages had risen by 23 per cent. In Germany wages rose by nearly 14 per cent, and in France by 10.5 per cent. The only countries across the OECD which suffered a fall in wages were Portugal, Britain and Greece.

Mike’s article has two illustrations – one is a graph showing the rise in real wages in various countries, while another is a meme showing the massive pay rises enjoyed by other, very privileged groups, in Britain. Like Bankers, whose pay has risen by 35%, directors of FTSE 100 companies, 14%, and MPs, whose pay has gone up by 11%.

Mike makes the point that New Labour must share some of the blame for this, as not only was Peter Mandelson and his chums very relaxed about people making money, they were also extremely relaxed about wages stagnating. He makes the point that the crash his the poorest the hardest, and the austerity launched by the Tories has been punishing and impoverishing the poor to bail out the bankers and the rich. He also makes the point that Owen Smith’s solutions are just cosmetic, and won’t do anything without concrete proposals for the redistribution of the extra money gained through the ‘wealth tax’ he proposes.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/real-wages-in-the-uk-have-fallen-by-more-than-10-per-cent-under-tories/

Mike’s right about New Labour being very relaxed about wages stagnating. In fact, wage restraint has been a major part of the neoliberal consensus ever since Maggie Thatcher took power in 1979. Keynsianism tolerated high inflation – and in the 1970s at times the inflation rate in Britain was truly eye-watering – as it was coupled to an expanding economy. Both Labour and the Tories attempted to keep pay rises within certain boundaries nevertheless. Thatcher’s Monetarism was much harder towards inflation. It saw this it as the major obstacle to economic growth, and so demanded that it be ruthlessly cut, even if this meant shedding jobs on a truly massive scale, accompanied by a fall in real wages, and the dismantlement of various welfare programmes. It also meant abandoning the Keynsian commitment, pursued over 40 years, to full employment.

Robin Ramsay in a piece on his ‘News from the Bridge’ column in Lobster, made the point that when he was studying economics at Uni in the 1970s, Monetarism as an economic theory was so poorly regarded by his lecturers that they left it to the undergrads to work out what was wrong with it. Which shows you it was known even then to be totally rubbish and useless. He argues that it was adopted by the Tory party because it gave them a rationale for doing what they wanted to do on other grounds – destroy organised labour, dismantle the welfare state, including the Health Service, and grind the working class into poverty.

Now a number of economists are pointing out that, despite the emphasis by the Tories on wage restraint and very low inflation rates, the economy is not growing. I think Han Joon Chang is one of these in his 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The comparison with Greece is particularly chilling. Greece has been ruthlessly punished by the Troika with very harsh austerity policies, partly because the Greeks dared to defy the Eurozone authorities and elected Syriza, a radical anti-austerity party. Counterpunch has attacked the economic despoliation of the country by mainly German banks as a form of economic warfare. Greece was one of the countries that suffered from the effective collapse of the Eurozone. The result has been grinding mass poverty for its people. One recent programme on the country’s plight showed children picking rubbish off dumps to sale, just as they do in Developing Nations. The presenter looked on, aghast, and made the point that he had never seen this before in what was supposed to be a developed, European country.

Is this what New Labour and the Tories have in store for us? One of the books I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday was about how Britain would have a ‘third world’ economy by 2014. Clearly the book was written a little while ago, and the timing’s out, but nevertheless, the appearance of third world conditions in Britain is a real possibility. There are already 3.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands facing off poverty only because of food banks. I also remember how this was predicted on a BBC Horizon programme, entitled, ‘Icon Earth’, twenty years ago. The programme was about how the image of the Earth in space, taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, had affected global religious, political and economic perspectives. That image had stimulated people around the world to realise that everyone on Earth shared a common home. One result of this, so the programme claimed, was globalisation. It discussed the growing campaigns against migration from the developing world with an Indian anti-racism activist. She predicted that as globalisation progressed, pockets of the third world would appear in the first.

She’s right. This has happened with Greece, and it is occurring in Britain, thanks to the Tories and New Labour. But unlike Greece, we cannot blame the EU. We never joined the Eurozone, and the deterioration in wages and conditions will occur because of Brexit. The cause of this stagnation ultimately is three and half decades and more of Thatcherism.

Ken Livingstone on the Rehabilitation of Fascists to Protect Capitalism

May 29, 2016

Ken Livingstone has always been a fierce opponent of racism in all its forms. He makes this very clear in the chapter ‘Labour Should Have Listened to Black People’ in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour. He states clearly that all forms of racism, whether against Blacks, the Irish, or anti-Semitism, are the worst form of reaction and should be fought against. His anti-racism and anti-Fascism are made even clearer in the chapter, ‘Made in the USA’, which is about how the US gained economic and political hegemony over Europe from the end of World War I as part of its campaign to halt the advance Communism. Leninspart is justifiably outraged out how, at the end of World War II, America and the Western powers began to rehabilitate Fascists and Nazis as part of this global power struggle. He writes

The policy of reviving capitalism in Germany, as well as the attitude taken towards Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal, by the United States and Britain required the rehabilitation of Fascists. This was made simpler by the fact that most Allied leaders, contrary to their claims, had not objected to Fascism as such. What was unacceptable was fascism which threatened Britain and US interests. The US banker Morgan had financed Mussolini’s Italy and Churchill had summarised his attitude towards Mussolini in his History of the Second World War:

He was, as I had addressed him at the time of the fall of France, the ‘Italian lawgiver’. The alternative to his rule might well have been a communist Italy, which would have brought perils and misfortunes of a different character both upon the Italian people and Europe … Even when the issue of the war had become certain, Mussolini would have been welcomed by the Allies.

In line with this attitude, Adenauer, the United States choice to lead West Germany, was perfectly prepared to consort with Nazis. As Walter Laquer Smith admits in his pro-cold War Europe Since Hitler:

While Adenauer’s anti-Nazi record was above reproach, he was less than scrupulous in the choice of his closest collaborators: there could be but one opinion about the career of men like Oberlander and Globke in the Nazi era, but the former was dropped only after protests from all sides and Globke, a lawyer who had provided the official interpretation to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws of 1935, remained for years the Chancellor’s close associate and confidant, despite heavy pressure.

Similar policies of rehabilitating ex-Fascists were pursued in the other ex-Axis states. In Italy, out of 800,000 pre-liberation civil servants, many of whom had been members of the Fascist Party, no more than a few hundred were removed from their posts. An amnesty was granted in October 1946 after which only 3-4,000 Fascists and war criminals remained in prison. The surviving Fascist dictatorships of Franco and Salazar were propped up by the United States. The support later given by the United States and Britain, to regimes such as that of South Africa, Pinochet in Chile, and Stroessner in Paraguay had its direct forerunner in the support given to rehabilitating European Fascists.

He goes on to describe how Britain and the US were deeply implicated in this odious policy.

The problem for the USA and Britain in this policy was that the war had been fought under an anti-Fascist banner and the majority of the population of Europe was strongly anti-Fascist. For that reason much work of rehabilitating Fascists and war criminals had to be done under cover and its truth is coming out only today. Ed Harriman has been prominent in exposing this and it is wroth quoting at length from his article in the New Statesman and Society of 5 August 1988:

The first to champion this dubious cause [of protecting war criminals] was Hector McNeil, the Labour government’s man at the United Nations. At the UN General Assembly’s second session in 1947, Soviet, Byelorussian, Ukrainian and Yugoslav delegates taxed McNeil to explain why Britain was sheltering war criminals in displaced persons camps in Germany … ‘In the town of Hoxter in the UK zone of occupation lives the butcher of the Byelorussian people, … Rodoslav Ostroski’, charged a Russian delegate … Ostroski … the Nazi-groomed ‘Fuhrer’ who press-ganged 60 battalions of his countrymen into fighting, and killing, for the Nazi cause. The liquidation of Jews in Byelorussia … was by then well known. Yet McNeil was unmoved. In 1961, Soviet authorities charged three Estonians with organising the mass murder of some 120,000 Jews, prisoners of war and other ‘untermenschen’ … in Estonia. Two pleaded guilty and were shot. The third, Ain Mere, was then living in Leicester. The Soviets said Mere was the Estonian police boss under the Nazis who personally ordered prisoners to be exterminated in the Jagala concentration camp, and joined the local SS. The Soviet request for his extradition was refused. ‘My record was checked when I came to England over 10 years ago,’ Mere told The Times. The Foreign Office reply was to inform the Soviet government that Britain did not recognise Estonia as part of the Soviet Union.

Harriman notes:

In 1945 the Joint Intelligence Committee declared that the Soviet Union, not Nazi Germany, was Britain’s prime intelligence target … In the perverse logic of the spying world, there were few better sources for this than the Gestapo, which had devoted enormous resources and considerable vigour to liquidating communist suspects. The united States government now admits that Gestapo agents and their files were avidly sought be American intelligence. In 1983 the US Justice Department published a hefty report spelling out exactly how the Americans recruited one such agent – Klaus Barbie [the Butcher of Lyons] – and then gave him a free ride to South America. The appendix of the US report explains that before the Americans bagged him, Barbie was being recruited, in 1945, by a pair of ex-Nazis working as agents for Britain’s SIS, a Dr Hoffman and his superior, a man called Markus. Markus had been aide-de-camp to SS Intelligence General Walter Schellenberg, who set up a network of spies and saboteurs amongst Soviet collaborators… Shortly after the war Markus became the mayor of a small town in the British zone in Germany and, according to US documents, ‘was given the task of forming for the British a network of agents in Germany’… Prosecutions of war criminals quickly became an embarrassment to [the Labour] Government. They impeded the cold war… Churchill was one of the first to call for an end to war crimes investigations … Shortly afterwards Churchill made a much publicised donation to the support fund for Nazi Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, who was being 5ried in Hamburg for murdering prisoners of war on the eastern front. Proceedings against Manstein’s fellow officers had already been dropped by British prosecutors on grounds of the defendants’ ‘poor health’. In 1941, in the Crimea and short of food, von Manstein had ordered: ‘The Jewish-Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all… especially in the occupied cities, a large part of the population will have to starve.’ By 1952 Manstein was a free man serving in the West German army. The UN War Crimes Commission was quickly wrapped up. Prosecutors such as Gerald Draper found their efforts thwarted. the British and American authorities were not cooperative. General Lucius Clay declared that as of the end of 1947, no more suspected war criminals would be handed over for prosecution from the American zone in Germany. The British followed suit. (Pp. 170-2).

These are clearly not the words of someone who denies the existence of the Holocaust, let alone an anti-Semite. Rather they show that Leninspart was acutely aware of the horrific reality of the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews, and was rightly revolted by the way his country’s leaders and the US, including the Labour, had protected Nazi war criminals as part of the Cold War against the USSR. And just as some members of the Labour party were involved in this, so was that great Conservative hero, Winston Churchill.

The Immense Popularity of the Beveridge Report, and its Reception by Labour and the Tories

March 11, 2016

A week or so ago I had a debate on here with a critic, who objected to my crediting Aneurin Bevan with the creation of the NHS. He asserted that the Beveridge Report, on which the NHS is based, was a policy of the wartime National Government, and also had Conservative support.

This is true. However, the Beveridge Report was based on the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and the Socialist Medical Association, who had been demanding a free medical service for decades. Indeed, a free health service had been Labour party policy since the 1930s. And while the Tories in the Coalition government also supported Beveridge’s outline of the welfare state, it had particularly strong support in the Labour party.

Pauline Gregg in her book, The Welfare State, describes the massive popularity the Beveridge Report enjoyed with just about all parts of the British population on pages 19-20.

On November 20, 1942, only seventeen months after the appointment of the Committee, it was ready and signed. On December 2, it was made available to the public, and seen at once to go even beyond the expectations of The Times. Though called, simply, Social Insurance and Allied Services, it was an eloquent cry to end poverty, disease, and unemployment, and purported to supply the means of doing so. Its appeal was instantaneous. Queues besieged the Stationary Office in Kingsway. Not only the Press but BBC news bulletins summarized the Report. Brendan Bracken, the Minister of Information, needed only a few hours in which to perceive its enormous propaganda value, and soon it was being trumpeted across the world in many languages. At the cost of 2s, the then normal price of a government White Paper, it immediately became a best-seller at home and abroad, the subject of leading articles, letters to the Press, speeches and discussions at every level of society. Beveridge himself explained his Plan to millions on the radio and on the cinema screen, as well as addressing countless meetings. In twelve months 256,000 copies of the full Report were sold, 369,000 copies of an abridged edition, 40,000 copies of an American edition. Permission was given for translation into Spanish, Portuguese, and German. Translations were published in Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Mexico, and Switzerland. Parts 1 and VI were translated into Czech, the abridgement into Italian and Chinese.

The Trades Union Congress and the Co-operative Party gave it their blessing. the National Council of Labour, representing all the bodies of organized Labour, called for the legislation necessary to implement the Report at an early date. The Liberal Party supported it, and through Geoffrey Mander welcomed the general principles of “that momentous report”. A group of young Tories tabled a motion in the House of Commons requiring the Government “to set up forthwith the proposed Ministry of Social Security for the purpose of giving effect to the principles of the Report”. “We believe”, said Quintin Hogg, who sponsored this motion, “the keynote of the restatement of political controversy after the war to be practical idealism.” The Beveridge scheme, said another Tory Member of Parliament, “touches the individual life of every man, woman and child in the country and reaches deep down into the homes of the people”. The Labour Party made the Report peculiarly its own. “It expresses”, said Sydney Silverman at its Conference in 1943, “the basic principle of this Party, the only thing which entitled us at the beginning and entitles us now to regard ourselves as fundamentally different from all other parties.” The Report, wrote The Times, had changed the phrase “freedom from want” from a vague though deeply felt aspiration into a plainly realizable project of national endeavour. “Sir William Beveridge and his colleagues have put the nation deeply in their debt, not mere for a confident assurance that the poor need not always be with us, but far a masterly exposition of the ways and means whereby the fact and the fear of involuntary poverty can be speedily abolished altogether.” The Report, it concluded, “is a momentous document which should and must exercise a profound and immediate influence on the direction of social changes in Britain.

Gregg notes on page 23 that in the House of Commons, when it came to a vote only a minority voted for the immediate implementation of the policy. In the end the Labour Party tabled an amendment calling for the early implementation of Beveridge’s plan as a test of Parliament’s sincerity. She also notes on page 25 that many Tory MPs voted against the motion as a reaction against the Plan’s support by Labour.

Meanwhile the Labour amendment was put to the House of Commons. “The Beveridge Plan”, said James Griffiths, moving it, “has become in the minds of the people and the nation both a symbol and a test. It has become, first of all symbol of the kind of Britain we are determined to build when the victory is won, a Britain in which the mass of the people shall ensured security from preventable want. Almost … every comment that has been made in the Press and on the platform since the Report was issued, the widespread interest taken in it and in its proposals, and the almost universal support given to it, are clear indications that the Report and the plan meet a deep-felt need in the minds and hearts of our people.”

But the effect of calling upon a Labour amendment was to unite the Tories against it, in spite of their own speeches, and Griffiths’ amendment was lost by 335 votes to 119, leaving the original non-committal motion to stand. It was a regrettable position. After the welcome and the publicity given to Beveridge’s proposals, and the high hopes raised, the Report was accepted by then sent to another Committee at Whitehall, who spent nearly two years considering it. Further consideration of details had, indeed, been assumed by its author. But the impression given was of shelving the Report, of wriggling out of the proposals. “This”, said Griffiths after the counting of the votes in the House of Commons,” makes the return of the Labour Party to power at the next election an absolute certainty.”

(My emphasis).

The commenter also found my story, about how the pharmacist father of one of my mother’s friends declared he was going to vote Labour because so many people needed the NHS ‘absurd’. This was presumably because he couldn’t accept the idea of a true-blue Tory businessman ever voting Labour. But this paragraph shows this was pretty much what did happen, and the government knew it the moment the Tories voted against the Labour motion.

As for Sydney Silverman’s statement that support for the welfare state is what makes the Labour party fundamentally different from all other parties, it’s a pity that this wasn’t taken on board by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when they decided to continue Thatcher’s programme of dismantling the welfare state and privatising the NHS. And it’s a pit that it isn’t recognised by Bliar’s successors – Liz Kendall and now Dan Jarvis.

Strikes and Industrial Protest in an Anti-Union State: Pre-Revolutionary Russia

February 20, 2016

Like just about all its predecessors, Cameron’s government is doing its level best to emasculate and destroy the trade unions. Thatcher did it back in the 1980s with her union-busting legislation, and then the highly militarised use of the police during the Miners’ strike. Cameron’s trying to destroy them and their political representation in the Labour party through attacks on the union levy, further legal limits on the right to strike, and the legalisation of the use of blackleg labour from agencies to stop strikes being anything but cosmetic. The International Labour Organisation in the UN have denounced this last piece of legislation. And David Davies, one of the most right-wing of the Tory MPs, called Cameron’s plan to force stikers on pickets to giver their names to the police as ‘Francoist’.

Dave Cameron hopes this legislation will leave the unions powerless, and the workforce cowed, willing to accept the very worst wages and conditions. In the short term, he’s probably right, but in the long term, probably not. Not from the example of pre-Revolutionary Russia. The lesson there is quite the opposite: if you grind people down into the dirt for long enough, and deprive them of the right to strike and form unions, they will nevertheless strike and form unions, and the strikes and unrest will get more severe the worse conditions gets and the more force is deployed.

Lionel Kochan, in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) notes that in 19th century Russia it was illegal to form trade unions, go on strike or form any kind of collective organisation for the workers. (p. 42). There were no friendly societies or strike funds to support striking workers. Nevertheless, strikes became a feature of Russian industrial life. To be sure, not all workers went on strike. He states that between 1895 and 1904, only half the workers in factories tended to go on strike, most of which didn’t last very long. The average strike lasted about ten days. (p. 44).

Nevertheless, industrial unrest became so chronic that the government was forced to increase the police and the armed forces to put down strikes. The number of policemen was raised to 1 to 250 workers, and there was one factory inspector, whose duties included warning workers that they could not legally strike, and what would happen to them if they did, for every 3,000 workers. The army was called in to suppress strike action and workers’ demonstrations 19 times in 1893, 50 in 1899, 53 in 1900, 271 in 1901 and 522 in 1902. (p. 47). And the number of those on strike could be huge. During the revolutionary agitation of 1905, 111,000 people had gone on strike by 8th January. (P.88). At its height, there were 125,000 people on strike in the Russian capital. (p.94). In 1907, 740,000 people went on strike. (p. 160).

Most of these strikes were for purely economic reasons – an increase in wages and the betterment of working conditions, rather than for political reforms such as the establishment of a parliament and the right to vote. Nevertheless, the number of political strikes increased as the new century progressed. And this was despite some minimal concessions to modern representative politics, such as the establishment of a parliament – the Duma – albeit on a very restricted franchise by Nicholas II. In 1910 there were 222 strikes involving 46,000 workers. The following year, 1911, there were 466, with 105,110 workers. And the number of political strikes went up from eight in 1910 to twenty four in 1911. (p. 161). In 1912 the number of political strikes rocketed to 1,300. (P.162). And then in 1914, the year the War broke out, the number of strikes as a whole shot up to 3,466, of which 2,500 were politically motivated.(p. 164).

In many ways, this is to be expected. If you drive people down to the point where they have absolutely nothing to lose, they will revolt, and revolt violently. At one point wages were so low -just 40 kopeks – that they were insufficient for a worker to support a family. You can compare that to the in-work poverty today, where most welfare recipients are people working, often very long hours, but not earning enough to support themselves or their families.

Despite the glowing picture of the Developing World by the Tory writers of Britannia Unchained, which urged Brits to work harder for less money, ’cause that’s what workers outside the West are doing, parts of India is currently riven by Maoist rebels. I’ve mentioned the Naxites before, radical Marxists in the poorest states in Indian waging a guerrilla war on behalf of the peasants and Dalits. And much of the radical Muslim unrest and terrorism in India has concrete social and economic motives. In many areas, Muslims are treated as second-class citizens, given the worst jobs and with an unemployment rate higher than their Hindu compatriots. In fact, most of the Islamic unrest throughout the world probably has its origins less in religious doctrine and more in conditions of high unemployment, low pay, poor opportunities and political sclerosis.

By making democracy a sham, and repressing unions and other organisations trying to work for better wages and working conditions, Cameron is storing up problems for the future. The Fascist dictatorships of Salazar in Portugal and Franco in Spain collapsed, partly through workers’ strikes. As did the Communist dictatorships at the opposite end of Europe.

Now Cameron needs to maintain the illusion of democracy, and some minimal welfare state in order to deceive people that his government is actually democratic, and he is doing something to help them. After all, Bismarck said

Give the workman the right to work as long as he is healthy, assure him care when he is sick, assure him maintenance when he is old … If you do that … then I believe the gentlemen of the Social-Democratic programme will sound their bird-calls in vain. (Cited in Koch, p. 48).

Of course, Cameron is doing his best to make sure people don’t have the right to work, or are cared for and maintained in sickness and old age. He wants to pass welfare provision on to private industry, who will provide a much poorer service. But he needs to give the illusion that he is doing all the above. And it’ll probably work – for a time. Possibly even decades. But at the end there will be an explosion. And it may be all the more bloody, because of the way he has reduced democracy to a sham, so that people will just discard it in favour of authoritarianism, just as after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 millions of Germans were convinced that democracy had failed.

But what does Cameron care? He probably banks on being long dead by then, if he gives it any thought at all. Or perhaps he dreams of fleeing somewhere else, when the conflagration finally comes. To Switzerland, perhaps. Or the Cayman Islands. South America. Perhaps, America itself, always assuming Sanders doesn’t get in. And if it all kicks off before then, he, or Bojo, or some other Tory pratt, will indulge their stupid fantasy of being a great war leader, bravely reconquering the cities from Communist militants.

And we’re back to Orwell’s description of the future: a boot stamping on a human face. Forever.

Huff Post on Kipper Throwing Strop at Bristol Uni on Any Questions

March 1, 2015

Radio 4’s political debate programme, Any Questions on Friday was at Bristol Uni. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the radio equivalent of BBC 1’s Question Time. A different panel of politicians appear at various locations up and down the country each week, and are asked questions by the audience. On the panel this last week was David Coburn, a UKIP MEP. Coburn’s odd in that he’s openly gay, yet opposes same-sex marriage. He’s accused its supporters as ‘equality Nazis’. Which is weird, considering that the Nazis most certainly did not favour equality, and were very firmly against male homosexuality. During the Third Reich gay men were sent to the concentration camps, and identified with a pink triangle on their camp uniform. It’s quite bizarre, considering that in the bio that was sent to the audience, he described himself as ‘a big, screaming poof’.

The Huffington Post’s article, Ukip MEP David Coburn Got Slow Hand-Clapped So Called BBC Audience Names, reports how the students were definitely not impressed by Coburn’s remarks about immigrants pricing British people out of the housing market. So they started to give him the slow handclap. This enraged Coburn, and he started ranting about how the audience was ‘Green’ and full of ‘Lib Dems’. The article begins

Ukip MEP David Coburn appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme on Friday evening. He got slow hand-clapped by members of the audience. So he called them names.

Coburn got into a fight with the audience at Bristol University during a discussion about housing. “How would we know how many houses we need? Because we don’t know how many people are coming into the country,” he said, having dismissed the “wind” from Labour’s shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds.

Coburn, Ukip’s MEP from Scotland, said Britain should leave the EU in order to be able to properly understand how many houses needed to be built. Members of the audience then started to loudly slow handclap the MEP.

“This is a blatantly Green [Party] audience,” Coburn shot back, as host Jonathan Dimbleby tried to keep things calm. “Many of these people sitting around here, all very nice bourgeois Greens and whatever and so on and so forth, what about the working man? How can he afford a house if he is competing with open door immigration?”

The article’s at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/27/ukip-mep-david-coburn-was-slow-hand-clapped-by-bbc-audience_n_6772468.html. There’s an audio file with it, so you can hear this broadcasting train wreck for yourself.

Now I don’t know how many people in the audience were Green party members or Lib Dems. I’m sure there were a number, but probably far less than Coburn believes. The Lib Dems have lost a lot of student support, and created a great deal of hostility for themselves on campuses up and down the country through raising tuition fees. I’ve been at conferences on medieval history, where speakers have compared Nick Clegg with some of the Middle Ages most notorious liars and slippery customers. It’s one of the reasons why I believe that Labour’s plan to cut tuition fees from £9,000 down to £6,000 should be a vote-winner.

The party political allegiances of the students there probably wasn’t the only reason they showed their disapproval so audibly. There’s now a global market in education, and people come to British universities from all over the world. And increasingly vice-versa. Brits are now also choosing to study in America, and also at continental universities, such as Paris and Brussels. Many members of the academic staff are also foreign. Among the lecturers at the archaeology and anthropology department at Bristol, for example, were academics from across Europe – Greece, Germany and Portugal. There were also visiting speakers, who gave seminars and lectures to the Arch-Anth Soc (Archaeology and Anthropology Society) from across the world. The students were no less diverse, coming from places like Greece, America, Canada, India and Thailand. This is part of what makes going to uni such an enriching experience. Quite apart from the purely academic study, you get to meet and mix with people from different, often vastly different backgrounds and cultures.

And your own understanding of the world, its immense problems and vast opportunities, is broadened.

With so many in the audience either foreign, or the friends and fellow students of people from outside the UK, it really isn’t surprising that the audience disliked Coburn’s comments so strongly. They are simply narrow and xenophobic. And many of the foreign students are going to find them particularly hollow, as the fees for them were much higher than those for domestic students. They were, however, living in the same halls of residence, and the same types of student accommodation. So they probably didn’t feel that they were pushing house prices up.

Quite apart from the experiences of foreign students and their circumstances, Coburn’s attempt to link it to immigration from the EU, or anywhere else, is quite wrong. There have been cases recorded in the right-wing press, like the Daily Mail, where large numbers of immigrants have placed a strain on available stocks of council housing. However, the root cause of the lack of affordable housing is because the incomes of the very rich have increased far beyond those of the working and lower middle class, regardless of ethnicity or immigrant status. Not enough houses have been built, and since Thatcher the government has been trying to get rid of council housing. In fact Thatcher expressly forbade any more from being built. As for affordable housing, for many people this is a grim joke. The rents for affordable homes are pegged at 80 per cent of the market rate, which for many people in London still means that they will be unable to afford them. The rich, through their immense wealth, push up property prices, beyond the ability of the lower income groups to rent or purchase.

And if immigrants from the continent really were pushing us all out of house and home through their sheer numbers and obscene wealth, why is it then that, according to the stats Johnny Void has put on his blog, 34 per cent of rough sleepers in London are foreign?

The only areas of which I can think, where Coburn’s comments about immigrants pushing up property prices might be true, is in the very affluent parts of London, like Kensington and Knightsbridge, where luxury apartment have been built aimed at the global super-rich, such as the Chinese, or bought up by Russian oligarchs. Now the last time I looked, China and Russia were not part of the EU.

Coburn was given the slow hand-clap by Bristol Uni’s students, not just because some of them were left-wing, though that was probably also part of it. But also because they knew from their own experience at Uni that Coburn was talking dangerous, xenophobic nonsense. And they reacted accordingly.

Vox Political: Tories Suppressed Reasonable Drug Policy, Lib Dems Claim

December 29, 2014

Mike over at Vox Political has a piece on the departure of the Lib Dem minister, Norman Baker, from the Home Office. Baker threw in his job the department because he believed that it was blocking a genuinely reasonable and effective policy to combat drug addiction. The article’s title is Tories turned down ‘reasonable and practical’ drugs policy proposals – Baker, and it’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/12/27/tories-turned-down-reasonable-and-practical-drugs-policy-proposals-baker/. It begins

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat who quit his Home Office job earlier this year claiming it was “like walking through mud”, has released details of proposed drugs policy reforms that he says Home Secretary Theresa May suppressed.

When he left, he said the will “to take forward rational evidence-based policy” had been in “short supply”, referring in particular to a Home Office report published in October, which found “no obvious” link between tough penalties and levels of illegal drug use.

He has now outlined his backing for three suggestions which he said the Home Office had drawn up:
◾Treating addicts with prescribed heroin under clinical supervision
◾A “Portuguese model” in which those who commit minor drug offences are offered treatment rather than facing criminal charges
◾Medicinal use of cannabis for certain conditions.

This isn’t the first time the Lib Dems have criticised the government for its policy on drugs. There is a section of the Lib Dems that periodically calls for the legalisation of cannabis. This has been debated on and off since I was at school. It even had some support from senior police officers. I can remember when this was debated back in 1983 or so when Thatcher was the elected dictator a chief constable saying he didn’t object to its legalisation. He tried it, and all it made him do was giggle.

Dangers of Cannabis Use

Cannabis does have its dangers, just like nearly every other kind of drug. Unlike heroin, it is not physically addictive. Excessive use may cause ‘cannabis psychosis’, where the user is tipped over into a form of insanity, though I know some mental health workers, who dispute this. It can also cause sterility in boys, who smoke it before puberty.

Medical Benefits of Cannabis

It’s significant here that Baker has not called for its blanket legalisation, only for its medical use to be legalised. This is perfectly reasonable, as cannabis has been known to be an effective treatment for the pain from MS, certain forms of arthritis and some people have found that it helps reduce the nausea from chemotherapy for cancer. There is therefore quite a strong case for its use as a medical drug, under strict supervision.

Benefits of Heroin vs. Methadone for Addicts

As for treating heroin addicts with that drug, again under medical supervision, this sounds shocking but is actually also entirely reasonable. Years ago I attended a computer course at one of Bristol’s FE colleges. One week it was running a drugs education campaign, in which members of one of the anti-drugs organisations wandered around attempting to persuade the students not to get involved in it. I think they were former addicts. Certainly the one I spoke to was. He told me that he believed that the current treatment of heroin addiction with methadone should be discontinued, and replaced with heroin as methadone was more harmful and more addictive than the drug it was intended to treat. It takes longer to come off methadone than it does heroin. Methadone does more damage to the system than heroin, and actually makes the user feel physically sicker than heroin. So while the use of heroin instead of methadone to treat heroin addiction seems simply wrong, even, perhaps, something of a reward for getting on the drug in the first place, like the use of marijuana for medical purposes there is actually good evidence to support it.

Matthew Parris’ Criticism of Tory Drugs Policy

There is little doubt that the current drugs policy is a shambles. Surprisingly, there’s a large section of the Tory party that actually knows this and agrees. One of them is Margaret Thatcher’s former Personal Private Secretary, Matthew Parris. Parris had got the sack from that post, after he replied to a letter addressed by an elderly lady to the Leaderene. The letter writer had complained about the poverty she was experiencing due to Maggie’s policies. Parris responded by telling her to shut up and stop complaining. The news of this got to the Mirror, and Parris got the sack. He later appeared on Radio 4 saying that his dismissal wasn’t quite like it was reported in the press, as the lady’s letter was a general rant about a number of topics, including being disturbed, so he claimed, by the noise from the local Asian children.

Parris was, however, an opponent of the government’s attempts to stamp out drug use hard through tough legal penalties. He didn’t believe it worked, and wrote an article in the arch-Tory magazine, The Spectator, explaining why. The article appeared over a decade ago now. It’s immediate cause was unilateral declaration by Anne Widdecombe that if the Tories entered government, they would come down even harder on drug use. This alarmed many others in her party, who didn’t share her opinions. There was, no doubt, a utilitarian aspect to this, as some of them may have been alarmed at the prospect of losing support from the Libertarians, who generally support drug liberalisation. Several very senior Tories came out to criticise the woman, who’s been dubbed ‘Doris Karloff’. A number even said that they’d tried cannabis themselves, and it had done them no harm. One had even smoked it in his pipe at Uni. This last revelation shocked Parris, who said that he couldn’t care less what the Conservative gentleman smoked – it could have been cowpats for all he cared. What he found shocking was that the man had smoked a pipe.

Treat Addiction as Disease, not Crime

The furore coincided with a general debate on the government’s drugs policy. It’s interesting that Baker points to the Portuguese system as a successful model for treating drug addiction. At that time in the early Noughties, the country that was held up as a suitable model for a successful drugs policy was either Switzerland or Austria. The approach, however, appears similar in that drug use and addiction is treated as a medical problem, rather than a crime. The result has been that those countries that have taken such an approach have a much lower incidence of drug addiction than Britain. Parris’ article pointed this out, and explained the reason for it. Basically, it’s the old one that if you make something a crime, then it becomes glamorous and seductive. It becomes ‘forbidden fruit’, and so some at least are drawn to it, simply because it is forbidden. If you make it a disease, which needs treatment on the other hand, it becomes much less attractive. No-one really likes being sick.

This approach was not, however, pioneered in Portugal, Austria or Switzerland. What is not mentioned in these reports, but was in Parris’ article, is that it was the system used in Britain under Ted Heath and Jim Callaghan. And according to Parris, it was beginning to pay off, with the number of addicts falling. In fact, according to Parris, the government may even have felt that they had beaten the drugs problem.

Then Maggie came along, and reversed it.

Why?

Reagan and the War on Drugs

According to Parris, Thatcher was forced to due to pressure from the Americans. Reagan had just entered the White House, and launched his ‘War on Drugs’. This was the renewed offensive against drugs, which domestically saw children encouraged to inform on their parents for smoking the weed. Internationally, it saw American troops launched into Latin American countries, like Colombia, to destroy the drug trade and the international gangs that deal in it at source. The result has been a bitter devastating war that has cost tens of thousands of lives in countries like Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and which shows no signs of stopping. The drug gangs in those countries are deeply unpleasant and responsible for truly horrific crimes and atrocities. They need and deserve to be stamped out. Military force, however, is not sufficient for this. A new approach is needed, which acts against the trade and the gangs that support it by reducing consumption in the affluent global north and west. One way of doing this is simply by reducing its attractiveness.

Conclusion: Make Drugs Less Attractive by Showing Them as Disease

Instead of looking at drugs as part of a rock ‘n ‘roll lifestyle, where young, hip rebels live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse, the view should be that the reality is that drugs will leave you poor, sick and dead. And due to the ravages of the chemical disease, you definitely won’t be beautiful.

From what I understand, the approach Norman Baker recommended isn’t a case of being ‘soft’ on drugs. In Portugal, Switzerland and the other countries that have adopted it, drugs are still illegal and their medical use tightly controlled. It really is a case of simply moving from treating it as a crime to a disease, which needs to be cured. This was, after all, the British policy, before Reagan decided that the troops needed to be sent in, and Maggie obediently complied.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.

Guns Will Make US Powerful. Obamacare Will Make Us Fat

August 7, 2013

The American Right has bitterly opposed Obama’s attempt to introduce a single-payer health service similar to those in Canada, Australia and Europe. The arguments used against it is that it has added increased bureaucracy to American healthcare. It is also claimed that American companies are also being penalised by the increased taxes needed to support it. The spurious claims that private American healthcare is superior to the socialised systems of Britain and Europe. Among the more emotive claims is that socialised medicine is somehow totalitarian, because the individual citizens in the countries that have it are supposed to be at the mercy of their government and their doctors. This argument runs that people no longer have any control over their lives, as governments and the medical profession demand that the adopt a healthy lifestyle and eating habits in order to keep medical costs low. This argument is itself specious, as it’s been a very long time since Americans have been free to ignore the advice of their own doctors. They are tied very much to the demands of the insurance companies that provide the cover for their healthcare.

One of the other arguments that the Right has used, and this is the one I intend to examine here, is that expenditure on Obamacare will critically endangers America’s military power and ability to defend freedom abroad. The Right-wing journalist and broadcaster Mark Steyn has particularly used this argument. Steyn used to write for a number of British papers, before he went to America to join Rush Limbaugh as one of the leading figures in American Right-wing journalism. The argument runs that at present, America is able to support a large military force, much of which is stationed overseas because its comparatively low government expenditure makes this affordable. During the Cold War and after 9/11, America’s forces have been actively defending the free world. This is in stark contrast to the military impotence of post-World War II Europe. Europe, according to Steyn, is crippled and decadent due to its commitment to maintaining a high level of expenditure on its welfare systems. They are therefore unable and unwilling to support military campaigns defending freedom across the world. This, warns Steyn and the Right, is what America will become unless Americans vote against President Obama, whom they deride as America’s first European president.

It’s an argument comparable to the quote from Goring about the desirability of military power over an increased food supply: Guns will make us powerful. Butter will make us fat. The only difference is that in this case, the American Right is demanding such sacrifices in order to defend democracy.

Now let’s examine the claim in more detail. First of all, many members of the present EU did not have much in the way of an overseas Empire. The main imperial nations were Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark also had imperial colonies overseas, but they were much smaller than those of the first four countries. Germany lost its African colonies after the First World War. Spain’s colonies in Latin America broke away during a series of wars for independence in the 19th century. Belgium’s own imperial adventure in the Congo became a major international scandal due to the enslavement of the indigenous peoples to work on the Belgian crown’s vast sugar plantations, in which truly horrific atrocities were committed. Italy was a latecomer to imperialism. Its attempts to establish an empire in Africa in the 19th century resulted in some humiliating defeats by the indigenous peoples, such as at Adowa. This resulted in the downfall of the democratically elected regime and its replacement, for a time, with a military dictatorship. Its greatest attempts to establish itself as a major imperial power came with Mussolini’s dictatorship. This was done with great brutality and the infliction of horrific atrocities. It has been estimated that between Italy’s conquest of the country in the 1920s and decolonisation in the 1950s, about a third of the Tunisian population was killed fighting their occupiers. Despite the regime’s attempts to settle Italian farmers in Libya, bitter resistance remained and Italians were unsafe except in the coastal cities.

All the European powers were left exhausted by the Second World War, which stimulated nationalism and the demands for independence in their subject territories. One African or Indian nationalist commented on the way the experience of fighting with the British destroyed in the First World War destroyed their image of invincibility. Before the War the British had appeared to be supermen. Now, seeing them injured, sick and suffering like their imperial subjects, convinced Africans and Indians that they were the same as them, and could be defeated. George Orwell in one of his piece of journalism records watching a parade of Black troops in French Morocco. He states that standing there, watching them pass, he knew what was going through the minds of every White man present: How long can we continue to fool these people? Writing in 1910, the leader of the German Social Democrats, Karl Kautsky, observed the increasing opposition to European imperialism in Asia and Africa and predicted the rise of violent nationalist revolutions against the European powers in the occupied countries.

‘The spirit of rebellion is spreading everywhere in Asia and Africa, and with it is spreading also the use of European arms; resistance to European exploitation is growing. It is impossible to transplant capitalist exploitation into a country, without also sowing the seeds of revolution against this exploitation.

Initially, the expresses itself in increasing complications, colonial policies, and in a growth of their costs. Our colonial enthusiasts comfort us, with regard to the burdens the colonies now impose on us, by referring to the rich rewards the future will bring. In reality, the military expenses required for the maintenance of the colonies are bound to increase constantly from now on – and this will not be all. The majority of countries of Asia and Africa are approaching a situation in which intermittent uprisings will become continuous and will ultimately lead to the destruction of the foreign yoke. Britain’s possessions in East India are nearest to this stage: their loss would be equivalent to the bankruptcy of the English state’.

(Karl Kautsy: Selected Political Writings, ed. and trans. by Patrick Goode (London: MacMillan 1983), p. 77.)

Historians now consider that the Empire was a drain, not a source of wealth, for Britain after 1900. Britain’s gradual departure from its colonies was also a condition for the military and financial aid given by its allies, America and the Soviet Union, during the Second World War. In a series of meeting held with the British authorities and the British Anti-Slavery Society, the Americans demanded the opening up of Britain’s colonies to American trade. The Russians also demanded access to British colonial markets and Britain’s gradual withdrawal from her colonies. By and large Britain’s decline as an imperial power was peaceful, as her colonies were granted independence one after another, beginning with India and Pakistan, from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Nevertheless, Britain did fight a series of wars to retain control of some her colonies in the face of rebellion by the indigenous peoples in Kenya and Malaya.

The establishment of the welfare state in Britain certainly did add greater expenses to the government. However, Britain was unable to support its Empire due to the immense costs of the Second World War on one side and the demands by the formerly subject people’s for independence on the other. Moreover Britain was unlike America in presenting a convincing claim to be defending freedom. America’s own attempts to establish an Empire was confined roughly to the period around 1900. Britain, however, remained a major imperial power and could not present an entirely convincing claim to be defending freedom while denying its subject people’s self-government.

Steyn’s view that the establishment of a welfare state results in military weakness and a reluctance to engage with military threats on the world stage also breaks down completely with some of the other European nations. The origins of Germany’s welfare system lie in Bismarck’s legislation providing German workers with old age pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance. This was several years before the late 19th century Scramble for Africa, which saw the Kaiser attempt to gain colonies there. Furthermore, the use of military force abroad is associated in the minds of the German public with the horrors and militant nationalism of the Third Reich. This is the reason successive German administrations have found it difficult sending troops abroad, even if they were to be used as peacekeepers preventing greater atrocities from being committed by other warring peoples, such as in the former Yugoslavia. As for Italy, the BBC’s foreign affairs programme on Radio 4, From Our Own Correspondent, stated that the country was unwilling to send further troops to support the coalition forces after 9/11 out of fears for the damage terrorist reprisals would inflict on its priceless artistic, architectural and cultural heritage. The small size of many European nations, such as Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, also prevents them from sending vast numbers of troops comparable to those of America or Britain abroad. In the case of Belgium, there is also considerable amount of guilt over the horrors of the atrocities in the Congo, and it has only been in the past few decades that the country is facing up to its history in this area. After the Second World War the country, so I understand, simply wished to forget the whole affair. I don’t know, but like Germany, this may well colour any attempts to interfere militarily in another nation with the Belgian people.

In short, Europe’s gradual military withdrawal from the wider world has far less to do with the expense of maintaining a welfare state than with the economic exhaustion and social and political disruption of two World Wars, and the demands of its former subject peoples for self-determination. The European experience does not suggest that American military power will decline with the introduction of Obama’s single-payer health service, and certainly should not be used to generate opposition to it.