Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

New BBC Series Next Week on Universal Credit

January 28, 2020

The BBC is screening a new documentary series next week on Universal Credit. Titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’, the first installment is on BBC 2, on Tuesday 4th February at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In-depth look at the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentres and claimants, during the implementation of the biggest change to the benefits system in a generation. This edition focuses of Peckham Jobcentre in south London. Rachel left a 27-year caareer in the NHS to care for her elderly parents. She’s been struggling to pay her rent and bills while paying back an advance she took out while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment. Jobcentre staff member Karen works tirelessly to support claimants but is frustrated that she has to supplement her low earnings with a second job. (p. 86).

An additional piece about the show by David Butcher a few pages earlier, on page 84, also says

There’s a key scene in this first episode of a series about benefits, where the civil servant in charge of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, shows us a whiteboard in the Department for Work and Pensions called the “motherboard”. Among the grids and numbers is a piece of paper stuck on that says, “Pay claimants the right amount of money and on time”. It seems a modest aim but, as Couling tells us, “It has defeated the benefits system for the last 35 years.”

The series helps us understand why. Its strength is that we meet not just those at the top of the benefits bureaucracy but those at the bottom – officials at a Jobcentre in Peckham, south London, known as “work coaches”, and their claimants or “customers”. In their sometimes testy encounters we see how Jobcentres have become a one-stop shop, helping claimants with food bank vouchers, housing and childcare. As unemployed labourer Declan says, unhappily, “It’s like they’ve got a hold of your life.”

I think this programme has been expected. If I recall correctly, there has been some discussion whether it would accurately reflect conditions in the DWP and the misery and despair Universal Credit has inflicted on claimaints. There were fears that it would follow the path set by a similar documentary a few years ago. This was also made with the help of the DWP, but presented a very sanitised view of the Department as government-sanctioned propaganda.

It’s to be hopedthat this will be different from the previous series, and from the ‘poverty porn’ produced by Mentorn Television like ‘Benefits Street’. But considering the massive bias on the BBC news desk against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, and its general bias towards supporting austerity and the Conservatives, that may be too much to expect.

Unite’s Len McCluskey Attacks Anti-Corbyn Plotters, Backs Rebecca Long-Bailey

January 27, 2020

Today’s I for 27th January 2020 also reports that the head of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, attacked Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents and publicly supported Rebecca Long-Bailey when he appeared on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday. The report, by Richard Wheeler, runs,

Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn “used the anti-Semitism issue” faced by Labour to undermine the leader, Unite’s Len McCluskey has claimed.

The union’s general secretary labelled such actions “despicable” but also acknowledged that Labour “never handled the anti-Semitism issue correctly”.

Mr McCluskey also said it was “unfair” to describe the Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey as “continuity Corbyn”, arguing she backs the “radical nature” of the alternative offered by the party but will have different priorities to Mr Corbyn. Unite has supported Ms Long-Bailey for the leadership. Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr McCluskey said: “I’m absolutely convinced that ther were those individuals who opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s election right from the beginning… used the anti-Semitism issue – which I think is quite despicable that they did this on such an important subject – to undermine Corbyn, there’s no doubt about that.

Dawn Butler, the Black lady campaigning to become Labour’s deputy leader, also attacked the anti-Corbynites at a Labour hustings yesterday. She told the ‘moderate’ MPs who plotted to oust the leader that ‘you lost us the election in 2017’. She also described her anger at them, and her pledge never to join a coup.

But the Skwawkbox adds that she could have gone much further. The plotters meant Labour to lose the 2017 election, just as they meant the party to lose the December election. They were stunned by how close Labour came to winning the election in 2017 with a very similar election to the one a month ago, except for Brexit. They therefore had to put their plans on hold and wait for the last election.

Skwawkbox states that these MPs and plotters should never be allowed to profit from the suffering of millions of people in this country and their shameless willingness to rewrite history to support their false narrative. It concludes

Dawn Butler’s straight talking helps to dismantle that fake narrative. She and Richard Burgon, who have both showed loyalty to the cause of helping the millions in misery, deserve your first- and second-preference votes in the deputy leadership contest – and your CLP nominations to ensure they are on the ballot.

See: https://skwawkbox.org/2020/01/26/video-brilliant-butler-slams-saboteur-mps-you-lost-us-the-election-2017/ which also contains a short, 55 second video of that part of Butler’s speech.

This is brilliant. Both McCluskey and Butler are absolutely right, as is the Skwawkbox about the plotters’ determination to make Labour lose the elections and the immense threat they pose to the poor and working people. However, it wasn’t just the plotters within the Labour party, who were using the anti-Semitism accusations against the party. The lies were repeated by all their opponents – the Tories, Lib Dems and the media as a whole, as well as the Jewish establishment. The latter was determined to destroy Corbyn simply because he was a critic of Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. And the party did not handle the accusations well. It should have gone on the attack and powerfully rebutted them, instead of caving in and meekly accepting them. This was seen as weakness and encouraged the smear merchants to go further. And unfortunately Long-Bailey was one of those, who gave in to their demands without a murmur. Now, by accepting the Board of Deputies highly manipulative and totalitarian demands for the Labour party on this issue, Long-Bailey, Starmer, and Nandy have ceded absolute control over it to them. This will ensure their continued interference and meddling in the party’s affairs in order to stifle reasonable criticism of Israel and prevent a truly radical leader achieving power. They will do this because they’re Zionists and Tories, not because they’re really interesting in protecting Jews.

We need Rebecca Long-Bailey as leader, just as we need Dawn Butler as deputy. But we also need to be realistic and aggressive in rebutting similar smears and plots against a left-wing leadership in the future.

From 25 Years Ago: Beeb Director-General Found in Tourist Party with Tories

January 26, 2020

This is very old news indeed, coming from Private Eye’s edition for Friday, 16 June 1995. But it shows just how long the Tories have been using their tactic of accusing the BBC of bias against them, and how false that accusation is. Because in that issue, the Eye reported how a group touring the Scottish highlands and found themselves in the company of BBC Director-General John Birt and a group of senior Tory MPs. The report ran

Proof positive of Lord Tebbit’s claim that the BBC is a leftie-run conspiracy dedicated to destroying the British way of life came last month.

A pair of hillwalkers, seeking shelter from the elements in a bothy on a remote west Highland hillside, startled a small group of conspirators huddled inside the hut.

First BBC director-general John Birt blinked owlishly out of the gloom. The “Red Ken” Baker, former home secretary, grinned foolishly. Also present in Sandinista-style camouflage gear (and green wellies) were Sir Tim “the Trot” Renton, ex-chief whip, and Sir Adam “Bolshie” Butler, former Tory MP for Bosworth and son of the late Rab. 

They were guests of Jonathan Bulmer, owner of the North Harris estate, whose wife is the daughter of Lord Glanville, cousin of the Queen.

How they are related: BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey’s wife, Lady Susan, is lady-in-waiting to Brenda.

Clearly the tentacles of international communism have a stranglehold on our national broadcaster, just as the wise lord warned. (p.10).

Clearly this confirms that the Tories’ claim that the Beeb is biased against them is absolute rubbish. It also adds weight to the academic studies showing that the BBC is massively biased towards the Tories, and against Labour and the trade unions.

Not least because it shows how BBC senior staff mix with them and the aristocracy.

Reply to Argument that It’s the Poor’s Own Fault They Can’t Afford Food

January 25, 2020

We’ve all heard the arguments from the Tories and their lapdogs in the press denying the reality of hunger and starvation here in the UK. Tories like Edwina Currie, amongst others, have told us that people aren’t really desperate when they go to food banks. It’s just that’s free food. Or else they can’t cook properly, or when they do eat, they choose expensive meals that they can’t afford. Now there are some individuals, to which this does apply. But it is by no means the complete picture for everyone suffering ‘food poverty’. The real causes of people going to food banks or otherwise going hungry are benefit cuts and wage stagnation. Incomes now lag behind inflation, so that many people are simply unable to afford basic food items. Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton make this very clear in their chapter, ‘Hunger and Food Poverty’, in Cooper’s and Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. They write

Reports of rising food poverty and food bank use have largely been ignored or dismissed by the UK government, with politicians suggesting that supply is fuelling demand and blaming the poor for lacking budgeting skills, making poor food ‘choices’ and being unable to cook. In contrast to government discourse, however, research shows that the cost of food relative to disposable income (affordability) is crucial and that in the wake of the financial crisis and the subsequent policies of economic austerity, the affordability of food was severely reduced. (p. 95).

I’ve put this up because this is an argument we have heard again and again. And it’s an argument you can bet the Tories will repeat ad nauseam. But it’s garbage. And it is going to need refuting again and again with passages like the above.

This Tory lie cannot be attacked and refuted too often.

Bhaskar Sunkara on Blair’s Devastation of the Labour Party

January 25, 2020

The papers and the media have been doing everything they can to attack the left-wing candidates in Labour’s leadership contest and puff the ‘moderates’. That has meant trying to discredit Rebecca Long-Bailey, the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate. She was the subject of a series of smears and untruths last weekend by the Tory press, in which it was claimed that she and her husband were millionaires and so on. At the same time, the remaining liberal papers, like the I, have been promoting candidates like Lisa Nandy. I’ve just heard someone from the Labour party, speaking on a Radio 4 news programme just now, make a few scornful comments about Long-Bailey. He remarked that it was surprising that Keir Starmer and Nandy were so far ahead, considering that the Corbynites had their hands on the centres of power in the party for three years. He was particularly sneering at Long-Bailey for saying that she gave Corbyn ’10 out of 10′. Corbyn, he stated, had lost three elections. And that was the point where I decided to put fingers to keyboard to make a few comments myself, and correct this fellow’s biased and misleading remarks.

For a start, I think Corbyn did exceedingly well, at least initially. The party had lost much of its membership under Blair and Brown. Corbyn managed to turn this around, so that it became the largest socialist party in Europe. Yes, he did lose three elections. But during one of those elections, even though he lost, he won an enormous number of seats from a  low starting point, so that it marked the most gains by the party in several years. And he did this despite massive opposition. This came from the Parliamentary Labour Party, a sizable number of whom were constantly intriguing against him, threatening coups and mass departures. These were aided by the media, including the increasingly far right and wretched Beeb, which did everything it could to smear and vilify Corbyn and his supporters. And then there was the unrepresentative organisations that pass themselves off as the Jewish establishment. These, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish press, did everything they could to smear Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites simply for making perfectly valid criticisms of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

And from what I understand, Corbyn did not have his hands on the mechanisms of power. Or not completely. When he was first elected I was told by a friend that Corbyn had left himself in a very weak position by not purging the party bureaucracy. This was based on a piece he’d read in an online magazine. The bureaucracy were all Blairites, and had been expecting to be sacked. But Corbyn retained them, preferring instead to run his campaign from his own constituency office. If this is true, then he made a rod for his own back. It is certainly true that he had to struggle for control of the NEC and the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, also did his best to undermine and discredit Corbyn at every opportunity. I don’t think any Labour leader could have won elections under these circumstances.

The press and the Labour centre – for whom, read ‘Thatcherite entryists’, are nostalgic for Blair, his neoliberal economic policies of privatisation, including NHS privatisation, and restructuring of the welfare state. New Labour under Blair and Brown was in power for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010. This was because they had the support of the mass media and big business, whom they rewarded with government posts. But their leadership decimated the party itself, and ultimately helped to discredit them.

Bhaskar Sunkara describes how Blair and Brown managed to reduce the party to half its former size in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

The Japanese have a word for looking worse after a haircut: age-otori. Its synonym in English should be Blairism. Despite initial electoral success and some attempts on the margins to solve social issues such as child poverty, Blair and Brown pursued policies that undermined their own social base. When Blair became prime minister in 1997, Labour had four hundred thousand party members. By 2004, it had half that. That year Labour lost 464 seats in local elections. With anger over the party’s privatisation agenda and oversight of the financial crisis, as well as its support for the disastrous Iraq War, Labour was out of power and completely discredited by 2010. (p.209).

Part of the reason Labour lost the north was because, under Blair and Brown, the party ignored its working class base in order to concentrate on winning swing voters and appealing to the middle class. The working class were expected to carry on supporting the party because there was nowhere else for them to go. But that base showed its dissatisfaction by voting for Brexit, and then backing Johnson because he boasted that he was going to ‘get Brexit done’. But Corbyn’s left-wing followers and successors realise this, and are determined to start representing and campaigning for the working class again.

The Blairites, the media and the industry want the Labour party back to where it was – numerically small, and supporting big business and the rich against the working class, the NHS and the welfare state. This is the reason they’re attacking Long-Bailey and the other left-wing candidates, and praising and promoting moderates like Starmer and Nandy. But Blair’s success was only possible because the Tories were even more discredited than he was. And there was no need for his Thatcherite policies. They weren’t particular popular with the electorate at large, and with the massive majority that he won in the year, he could have started putting back real socialism instead. But that would have alienated the Tory voters he was determined to win over, Murdoch and the Tory press, and his backers in business.

Corbyn was defeated, but I don’t believe for a single minute that his policies have been discredited. Rather I think it’s the opposite: Blairism has. And while the Tories now have a massive majority, their policies are destroying the country and its people.

Only a return to traditional, old Labour values and policies will restore it.

The Crisis at the BBC and the Cancellation of the Victoria Derbyshire Show

January 23, 2020

A few days ago the Director-General of the Beeb, Lord Tony Hall, formally stepped down. According to Mike over at Vox Political, Robert Peston has said that this means that the Beeb’s chairman, David Clementi, can oversee the installation of a new D-G, who isn’t under the control of Boris and the Tories. But Mike argues instead that Clementi’s time as chair is nearly over, and it’s likely that Johnson will use his influence instead to make sure the next D-G is a Tory puppet, who will purge anyone BoJob and Cumming’s don’t like. He also reblogs posts from the ever-perceptive Tom London, who points out that the Beeb has already been significantly biased towards the Tories. The bias against Labour and Jeremy Corbyn personally was so pronounced that it denies the election democratic validity. Tom London says that while it might say ‘Democracy’ on the tin, that democracy has already vanished when nothing but propaganda is being pumped out.

Quite so. As Mike says, the Tories’ plan is to install someone, who will raise no objection to their privatisation of the Beeb and its replacement by commercial operators, who will kowtow to the Tories.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/22/johnsons-corrupt-plan-for-the-bbc-the-propaganda-arm-of-the-tory-party/

In fact, as Mike also says, the Beeb has been under Tory influence for quite some time. Ever since David Cameron passed legislation allowing the public sector to recruit from the private industry. This has led to the influx of further senior management and corporate bosses at the Beeb, determined to turn it into a propaganda mouthpiece for the Tories.

It was also announced today that the Corporation was axing the Victoria Derbyshire Show. Derbyshire is a highly respected journalist, and the decision dismayed journalists and media figures as diverse as Paul Lewis, Stephen Pollard, the extreme right-wing editor of the Jewish Chronicle; Martin Barrow, and the Labour MP Tracy Brabin. Lewis described the show as ‘innovative’, praising the way it dealt with important social issue like poverty other mainstream shows would have struggled with, and called it ‘a people’s current affairs programme’. The former MP Danielle Rowley said that the show made complex issues accessible through a wide-ranging format, different voices, and great journalism and presenting. Martin Barrow, who is a foster carer as well as a journo, condemned its cancellation, and said he would always be grateful to the show for its reports into children’s care and young people’s mental health. Brabin said that the show was unique in having rigorous campaigning and allowing the public to have their say. She also praised Derbyshire as sharp, approachable and with a personal story that made her relatable. Laura Smith from Crewe and Nantwich praised the show for making sure that the voices of the survivors of historic abuse were heard, and praised the personal bravery of named victims that appeared on the show.

Zelo Street states that not everyone was upset by the show’s cancellation. Right-wing guttersnipes Darren Grimes and the Economist’s David Vance were overjoyed, though Vance considered it no more than a welcome start and wanted the complete closure of the Beeb.

Zelo Street believed that the show’s cancellation might not be unrelated to the fact that Derbyshire showed up Dominic Raab in the 2017 general election. Raab had claimed that the people using food banks weren’t poor, just experiencing ‘cash flow problems’.

The Street concluded

Once again, journalism is publishing, or indeed broadcasting, what someone does not want to see published, or broadcast. And the increasingly craven BBC is axing it.

Trebles all round for leering Tory boot boys. A lesson in grim reality for everyone else.’
See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/01/victoria-derbyshire-binned-big-bbc.html

Another right-wing figure, who was not at all sorry to see Derbyshire and her show cancelled was Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, who has made a video about it. Sargon and his equally deranged followers are convinced that the Beeb is biased towards Left and against the Tories, even when all the evidence shows the complete opposite. He thought she was particularly biased towards the Tories because she accidentally used the ‘C’ word for Jeremy Hunt’s surname when announcing a story. She immediately apologised, and said it was usually men, who used that word. Which is actually true, though I have heard it used by some foul-mouthed women. Sargon decided her comment showed that she had planned it, and thus her whole demeanour was an act. My guess is that it was a genuine mistake, but someone in the Newsroom probably had been referring to Hunt by the obscenity. Hunt’s name practically invites it. Derbyshire may well have heard it so often, that she accidentally said it herself, even though it was genuinely something she wouldn’t normally have said.

I’m not sure that Derbyshire is as unbiased as her supporters claimed. I was at a local Labour party meeting last week, and one of the subjects that came up again and again was the extreme bias against Labour by the media and its continued pushing of the anti-Semitism smears. And Derbyshire had done her fair share of this as well. When interviewing a spokesman from the Labour Party, Derbyshire had persistently asked them if they thought Corbyn needed sensitivity training. The spokesman had replied that he already had such training, as had they all. Too which she responded that she couldn’t believe the Labour party representative had said that he didn’t need it. Which is not what the Labour person had said.

Sargon’s video about it is interesting, however, for some of the stats he found. These included Derbyshire’s salary – £200 – £249,000 – and her viewing figures: 39,000. He concluded that her show had such a small audience that this was reasonable saving. He also pulled out the ratings for the audience of BBC news. Under Lord Hall, it has declined from 27 million three years ago to 18 million. It’s lost a third of its audience. While Sargon and other members of the right and extreme right are convinced it’s because of the Beeb’s nonexistent left-wing bias, the reality is that many of those 9 million viewers, who’ve turned off or over, will be left-wingers and Scots Nats put off by the Corporation’s pro-Tory bias.

My guess is that Derbyshire’s cancellation shows the direction the Beeb is moving. The Corporation’s being run down as it becomes nothing but a Tory propaganda outlet. The Tories would like to privatise the Corporation completely, but still recognise how valuable it is in the meantime. 70 per cent of the British public take their broadcast news from it. So the BBC will retain its main news programmes while closing down those, like Derbyshire, that provide a public service but don’t have massive ratings.

In that way the Tories will turn it into a propaganda network Goebbels would have been proud of, while preparing it for eventual privatisation and replacement by the networks of the Tories’ corporate backers.

 

Lisa Nandy Praised by the ‘I’ – and the Reasons Are Obvious

January 20, 2020

One of the candidates in the Labour leadership elections is Lisa Nandy. I got the distinct impression that she’s from the Blairite right of the party, and is probably the most right-wing candidate there. She made a speech that was very well received by the I. Next to their report was a piece by one of their hacks, declaring that she was original and tough, but that wasn’t what the Labour party wanted. I’ve forgotten quite what the headline was, but it gave the impression that she was what the Party needed, but not what they’d accept.

And the reason for the hack’s praise was obvious. The article it accompanied, about Nandy and her candidacy, had the title ‘Tax Polluters, Not High-Earners’. I didn’t read on. I didn’t feel I needed to. That made it obvious what Nandy’s position was, and why the I was favouring her. She was a Blairite liberal. She was worried about the environment – an entirely good thing – but was definitely not going to do anything to upset corporate interests and the rich, like actually taxing them. Which means she isn’t going to to do anything to tackle the deep and appalling inequalities of wealth in Britain. She isn’t going to redistribute any of the massive wealth that the rich 1 per cent have accrued in the years of Thatcherism to where it’s need at the bottom of the social pile. Or that’s how it seems. She’ll just make token efforts to tackle poverty, without halting the privatisations, including that of the NHS or the promotion of the heads of corporations and senior executives to positions of government. At least, that was my impression. I may well have misjudged her.

Blair’s Third Way failed, just as neoliberalism and Thatcherism have failed. They’re only kept going because of the lies and spin by the media, including newspapers like the I that are supposedly left-wing. But these papers, and the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites in Labour are just offering the same stale, failed policies.

Thatcherism needs to be junked totally and completely, and the voices clamoring for it in the media should be ignored. We need a return to socialism, and the leadership of someone who will continue the Corbyn project, but will be firmer about defending it and rebutting malicious slurs than he was.

And that person is definitely not Lisa Nandy.

Question Time Makes Tory Bias Official Policy

January 18, 2020

Yesterday, Tracy Keeling over at The Canary posted up a piece reporting that the Beeb had finally come out and made a public statement about the way they were selecting the audience for Question Time, as revealed on the show the night before. Apparently, they aren’t going to choose audiences to represent the broad views of society as a whole. No! They’ve decided that audiences members will be selected according to ‘the current political picture’ in the country in which it is held. This means that, following the Tory election victory, the audience in Liverpool Thursday night was mostly composed of Tories. Even though the city had returned only Labour MPs.

Fiona Bruce, the show’s nauseatingly biased presenter, tried to pass this off as normal, stating

As usual, our audience has been selected to reflect the current political picture, depending where we are. So here in England that means there are more Conservative than Labour supporters plus a smaller number from other parties.

Keeling points out that this is very definitely not ‘as usual’, as the Beeb’s own webpage on Frequently Asked Questions stated

Question Time selects local audiences which reflect a broad range of political views. … This is to ensure a range of views are represented in the audience. …

As with the make-up of the panels, Question Time is aiming to achieve due impartiality in the membership of the audience across the series as a whole, rather than being confined to an exact mathematical formula for each programme.

The article then goes on to discuss a number of instances where the audience seemed to be mostly Tory plants. One such case was a show in Scotland, where only 7 members of the audience out of 80 in shot raised their hands to show they were supporters of the SNP. At the time the SNP had 40 per cent support up there.

Then there was the Youth Question Time for the under-30s, which made the split between Remainers and Leavers 50-50. But 70 per cent of people under 30 voted Remain. Admittedly this was at the time of an election, so there were laws dictating their treatment of the issue. But even so, it delivered a Tory win. Femi Oluwole was so outraged that he complained about these instances social media, and told the Beeb it would be simpler if they just confessed to being a Tory propaganda machine. Rho, another poster, asked where all the Scousers were last Thursday’s edition, and wondered if they’d had to bus the Tories in from outside.

Keeling says in her article that the Tories have little regard for the Beeb, just as the Beeb has little regard for the Left and Labour, and it seems that the Corporation is running scared of them. This new policy on Question Time was announced after Johnson declared that his government would consider scrapping the license fee. She also pointed out that the programme had already been subject to complaints of pro-Tory bias. However, this policy on audience selection is new, whatever Bruce and the Corporation claim to the contrary.

The outrageous new audience selection policy BBC Question Time revealed last night

I put up a piece the other day from Lobster about the way the Tories had turned the corporation into a channel for the propaganda. The Corporation’s anti-Labour bias has been acutely obviously for years, particularly in its vilification of Jeremy Corbyn. Now it’s become overt and undenied, at least on Question Time, and at least as regards the audience. I’ve no doubt that the Corporation will continue to huff and puff about how its political broadcasting and reportage is impartial, and try to wave away allegations of bias as simple mistakes. But they aren’t mistakes, and the bias will become even more extreme and acute.

At the moment, only 44 per cent of people trust the Beeb’s news according to a recent poll. If the Beeb carries on like this, that’s going to be a lot less. And the left-wingers they used to rely on to defend them from privatisation will be well and truly alienated and sick of them by the end of it.

I’m heartily fed up with the Beeb’s newsroom. There’s hardly one of them now that I trust with truthfully reporting the news. There should be a mass sacking, beginning with Fiona Bruce.

Collection of Science Fiction Stories Tackling Racism

January 18, 2020

Allen De Graeff, ed., Human And Other Beings (New York: Collier Books 1963).

Science Fiction, it has been observed, is more often about the times in which it was written than about the future. Quite often it’s been the ‘literature of warning’, in which the author has extrapolated what they feel to be an ominous trend in the present to show its possibilities for the future if left unchecked. Thus H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine presented a nightmarish far future in which capitalist elites and the working class had diverged into two separate species. The Eloi – descendants of the elite – were small, dreamy creatures, with no industry of their own. They were the food animals instead of the Morlocks, descendants of the working class, who had been forced into lives of underground toil by the late Victorian and Edwardian class system. Other SF stories have tackled the problems of overpopulation – John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, the catastrophic over-reliance on mechanisation for, well, just about everything – E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, or the horrifying potential of genetic engineering and mass psychological conditioning, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and so on. I borrowed this colllection of SF stories from a friend. It’s interesting because it uses the theme of contact with alien and other non-human intelligences to criticise and denounce the very real, present issue of racism. The book’s blurb begins with the quotation ‘”Everything that diminishes human dignity is evil,”‘, and continues

With this timeless truth as his theme, Editor Allen DeGraeff has collected a group of superbly told science fiction tales that support it with horror or humor. Other planets, other centuries, living beings of shapes and colors other than “human” are the imaginative ingredients. Shock, surprise, and sympathy are the emotions they act upon.

  • Would you join the Anti-Martian League? Or, like Sam Rosen, would you fight it?
  • Would the gentle Adaptoman – four arms, two brains, three eyes-arouse your hostility if he worked in your office?
  • Could you live as a Professional in a world of Categoried Classes if there were also people known as Wipers, Greasers, and Figgers?
  • Would you marry an Android, a person physically just like you, but artificially “Made in the U.S.A.”?
  • Would you mock or make a friend of Narli, the charming fur-bearing exchange professor from Mars?
  • Could you serve with a soldier Surrogate, a human being reclaimed from the dead with biological techniques of the future?

In settings ranging from the Second Battle of Saturn to Earth 2003 and shining blue-green globe Shaksembender, these authors portray the ideas of human dignity.

The authors, whose work is collected in the volume include some of SF great masters – Ray Bradbury, William Tenn, Leigh Brackett, Frederick Pohl, both alone and with his frequent collaborator, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley and Eric Frank Russell.

The stories were written at a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining power, although still bitterly opposed by a viciously racist, conservative state apparatus and politicians. A number of other SF writers were also using the genre to denounce racism. Sometimes that was through metaphor, such as in Cordwainer Smith’s ‘The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’. This tale’s titular heroine is a young woman genetically engineered from cats. She is a member of an oppressed servile class of similarly genetically engineered animals. These creatures are denied all rights by their human masters, and humanely killed by euthanasia is they are unable to perform their functions. Through telepathic contact with another such creature, a dove of immense intelligence and wisdom, C’Mell is able to persuade a human board of inquiry to grant her people human rights. Other SF writers tackled racism directly, such as Harry Harrison in his 1963 story, ‘Mute Milton’. This was his angry reaction to a comment by a redneck southern sheriff’s response to the news that Martin Luther King was highly respected in Sweden and Scandinavia, and had been awarded the Nobel prize. The sheriff responded that King might be popular in Norway, but back in his town he would be ‘just one more n***er’. Harrison’s story is about a Black American college professor, who comes to a southern town on his way to another university to present his invention: a radio that runs on gravity. A stranger to the racial repression of the Deep South, he falls into conversation in a bar with a wanted civil rights activist while waiting for his bus out of town. The Black activist tells him what it’s really like to be Black in the South. The sheriff and his goons burst into the bar looking for the activist. He escapes out the back. The sheriff and his men shoot, but miss him and shoot the professor instead. When one of the goons tells the sheriff that they’ve killed an innocent man, he just shrugs it off as ‘another n***er’.

Racism has since gone on to be a major topic of much SF. It’s been explored, for example, in Star Trek, both recently and in the original 60’s series. It also inspired Brian Aldiss 1970s short story, ‘Working in the Spaceship Yards’, published in Punch. This was about a man with a Black friend having to come to terms with his own feelings about androids as they started working alongside them in the spaceship yards of the title, and going out with human women. It’s a satire on the racial politics of the day, when many White Brits were, as now, concerned about Black and Asian immigrants taking their jobs. And specifically anti-Black racism was tackled in an episode of Dr. Who written by award-winning Black children’s writer, Mallory Blackman. In this tale the Doctor and her friends travel back to the American Deep South to make sure Rosa Parks makes her epochal bus journey against the machinations of White racist from the future determined to stop Blacks ever gaining their freedom.

Not everyone is satisfied with the metaphorical treatment of racism pursued by some SF. I can remember arguing with a friend at college about Star Trek, and how the series explored racial tension and prejudice through Mr Spock. Despite being half-human, Spock was still an outsider, distrusted by many of his human crewmates. My friend believed instead that the series should have been more explicit and specifically explored anti-Black racism. More recently there has been the rise of Black SF writers, who use their work to address issues of race and the Black experience. An anthology of their work was published back in the 1990s as Dark Matters, a pun on the dark matter of astronomy, that is supposed to give the universe its missing mass.

Even if not explicit, the metaphorical approach allows writers to say what otherwise may not be said, as in the former Soviet Union. There, writers such as the Strugatsky brothers used the ‘Aesopian’ mode – SF as fable – to attack conditions in the Communist state, which would have been subject to censorship and severe punishment if said openly. Over in the capitalist world, the political situation was much freer, but there were still limits to what could be portrayed. Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Lt. Uhuru in the episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, but the network faced deep opposition from broadcasters in the Deep South. An indirect treatment also allows people to think about or accept ideas, which they would have rejected through a more straightforward treatment of the subject. Some readers may have been more receptive to anti-racist ideas if presented in the form of aliens than through an explicit treatment of colour prejudice against Blacks and other races.

This anthology, then, promises to be very interesting reading both through the tales themselves, and what they have to say about the times in which they were written. Times in which Science Fiction was joining the other voices denouncing racism and demanding equality and freedom for all, human and non-human.