Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Would Jewish Emancipation Activist David Friedlaender Be Considered an Anti-Semite Under the I.H.R.A. Definition

November 23, 2020

David Friedlaender is one of the major figures of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. This was a movement of the 18th and 19th centuries in which Jews strove to reconcile their religion and ethnicity with contemporary western culture in order to take their place alongside their gentile fellow countrymen as full and equal citizens. According to the entry on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) Friedlaender (1750-1834) was

A forerunner of Reform Judaism. Through his marriage he became part of a distinguished Prussian family of Court Jews and he was one of Moses Mendelssohn’s circle. He believed the Jews were ‘destined from time immemorial to guard and teach by example the pure doctrine of unity and sanctity of God, unknown to other people.’ He argued that prayers for friends and country should be substituted for the messianic hope, and that secular law should be studied rather than Talmud. He also was tireless in his efforts for Jewish political and civil rights in Prussia. (p. 359.

Reform Judaism is a particularly radical reformulation of Judaism, which took over some features of Protestant Christian worship. In contrast to more traditional forms of Jewish worship, such as Orthodox Judaism, prayers are held in the vernacular rather than Hebrew and include choirs. The movement originally believed strongly that Jews should work to become full members of the countries in which they lived, and rejected Zionism. Reform Judaism’s essential doctrines in the US were stated in 1885 in Pittsburgh, when the rabbis there declared

We recognise in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approach of the realisation of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men … We recognise in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason … We accept as binding only the moral laws and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilisation.

This suggests that instead of viewing the Messianic hope as the appearance of a Messiah to redeem Israel, they saw it as the inauguration of the new era of peace and justice throughout humanity. Their views on tradition and mdoern culture were modified at a meeting in Columbus and 1937, and the movement has since discarded its anti-Zionism. In Germany the movement accepted changes in the liturgy while remaining theologically conservative.

The article on them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions also says

Reform congregations are united in the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and rabbis are trained at the Hebrew Union College in the USA and Leo Baeck College in the UK. Reform Judaism has no official status in Israel (though it has a few congregations and kibbutzim), because only Orthodox rabbis are recognised; and the Orthodox repudiate such Reform organisations as the ordination (semikhah) of women as rabbis. (p. 809.

This hostility undoubtedly explains why the late Jonathan Sacks, when he was Chief Rabbi, declared that Reform Jews were ‘enemies of the faith’. This was the language of religious bigotry, the type of statement made by the fanatically intolerant before beginning their persecution and violence against their religious enemies.

As for the ordination of women, one American Jewish community made the news last year through their ground-breaking step of ordaining a Black woman as rabbi. Which should be a riposte to the racists out there who claimed that Jackie Walker, one of the peeps smeared as an anti-Semite by the fanatics in the Israel lobby, couldn’t be a Jew because of her skin colour.

The I.H.R.C. definition of anti-Semitism permits reasonable criticism of Israel, but claims that denying Jews their national right to a homeland is anti-Semitic. This is highly questionable for a number of reasons. There are a number of other nations, who at the moment don’t have their own state despite their aspirations. These include the Basques and Catalans in Spain, and the Scots in Britain. Yet there is no international declaration that states that refusal to recognise their aspirations for a homeland constitutes a form of racism.

There have also been different movements in Judaism, that rejected Zionism. On the one hand there are the ultra-traditional Haredi, who reject Israel on the theological grounds that it can only be founded by divine action through the Messiah. On the other there were Reform Jews and their predecessors, who rejected Zionism because the saw the Jews’ real homelands as the current countries in which the lived. Jewish anti-Zionist bloggers such as David Rosenberg and Tony Greenstein have pointed out that Zionism was very much a minority position amongst European Jewry before the horrors of the Second World War. In America there was little interest in Israel among Jews until the late 1960s and the emergency of Neo-Conservatism. Greenstein and the Israeli historian and critic of his country’s barbarous maltreatment of the Palestinians, Ilan Pappe have shown that rather than being pro-Jewish, Zionism has been itself tinged with anti-Semitism. Many gentile Zionists supported the movement as a way of removing Jews from their countries. It’s why Hitler initially signed the Ha’avara agreement with the Zionist leaders to permit and encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine. Pappe in his book Ten Myths About Israel includes an episode that clearly demonstrates this link between anti-Semitism and Zionism. In the 1920s Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, approached a German nobleman for his support. He noted that the man had taken an interest in it, and asked him why he didn’t support it. The aristo replied that he hadn’t, because he didn’t want people to think he was an anti-Semite.

And many of the opponents of Israel’s persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, both Torah-observant and secular, are self-respecting Jews. But they’re smeared as self-hating and anti-Semitic by the country’s fiercely intolerant defenders.

But the example of David Friedlaender shows that if denial of Jewish nationalism is defined as anti-Semitic, then some of Jewry’s most ardent and tireless workers for emancipation, dignity and equality, who believed passionately in their religion and their people’s destiny and witness to the God of their ancestors, are Jew-haters. Which is ridiculous and absurd, or so it seems to my non-Jewish eyes.

I’m sure that some criticism of Israel is undoubtedly anti-Semitic. That of real Nazis, for example. Their hatred of Israel is part of a general, virulent, genocidal hatred of Jews. But the rejection or just simple criticism of Zionism by self-respecting Jews and their gentile allies, who genuinely despise anti-Semitism along with other forms of racism and Fascism, is clearly very different.

It strikes me that the inclusion of anti-Zionism in the I.H.R.A.’s definition of anti-Semitism is simply sectarian bigotry. Some Jews are supporters of Israel, others, who may be no less Jewish, aren’t. Just as some of the gentile critics and opponents of Zionism may the Jews’ most committed defenders and supporters.

A far better definition of anti-Semitism, and one that needs no examples to clarify it, is the simplest. It’s hatred of Jews as Jews, regardless of religion or ideology. That was definition used by the man who coined the term ‘anti-Semitism’, Wilhelm Marr, founder of the Bund Antisemiten in 19th century Germany.

The Board of Deputies, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Chief Rabbinate and other Zionist organisations have no business trying to foist such a partisan and highly discriminatory definition on the Labour Party or anyone, whether Jew or gentile.

Yes, The British Jewish Establishment Really Is Just the United Synagogue

November 20, 2020

This is a kind of addendum to the post I put up yesterday, which asked who decided that the United Synagogue represented all of British Jewry. I did this because so many of those accusing Corbyn and his supporters of anti-Semitism were its members or representatives, such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the late former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and various hack journos writing for the I and other newspapers.

Now it seems that my suspicion is confirmed. I went and looked up ‘United Synagogue’ in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997). This says on page 1005

Association of Ashkenazi Jewish congregations in Great Britain. The organisation was established by Act of Parliament in 1870. It supports the British Chief Rabbinate, the London Bet Din and all the synagogues which accept the authority of the Chief Rabbi.

The Ashkenazi are eastern European Jews, who traditionally spoke Yiddish. The other branches of Judaism are the Sephardim, who are descended from Spanish Jews, whose traditional language was Ladino, a form of Old Spanish, and the Mizrahim, Arabicised Jews from the Middle East. Left-wing Jewish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have also pointed out that the Board of Deputies really only represents the Board of Deputies, and that the Chief Rabbinate conflicts with the traditional Jewish view of rabbinical authority. This states that no rabbi has more authority than any other. This means that while Chief Rabbis like Sacks and his successor, Ephraim Mirvis, can bluster and pontificate about how critics of Israel are terrible anti-Semites, other rabbis and their congregations are under no obligation to believe them.

The Jewish establishment and its institutions, which claim to speak for all Britain’s Jews, really just seem to be the United Synagogue and its inmates trying to present themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of Britain’s Jews. Hence the rage at Jeremy Corbyn for daring to spend a Passover Seder with the left-wing, socialist Jews of Jewdas. Well, they obviously invited him, unlike the true-blue Tories of the Board and Chief Rabbinate, who didn’t and instead sent glowing congratulations to Tories like Tweezer when she slithered into No. 10.

I feel that the next time someone from the Board or Chief Rabbi turns up to tell us all that Corbyn is a terrible anti-Semite and an existential threat to British Jews, they should be accompanied by an explanatory warning caption at the bottom of the screen. Like those that accompany adverts, or the statements the Beeb makes when it has to mention a specific product. This caption should go

‘The Board/ Chief Rabbinate/other pompous smear merchant is a fully-owned subsidiary of the United Synagogue. Contains parts manufactured in Israel. Other forms of Judaism are available. ‘

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

November 16, 2020

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

Radio 4 Next Week Serialises Biography of Black Haitian Revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture

November 11, 2020

Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’ next week, according to the Radio Times for 14-20 November 2020, is Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus, a biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture was the leader of slave rebellion in what is now Haiti in the late 19th century, which threw out the French and turned their former colony into the first Black republic. The piece about the serial on page 130 of the Radio Times by David McGillivray runs

Book of the Week: Black Spartacus – the Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

In 1791 enslaved Africans on the island now known as Haiti rose up against their French masters in the world’s first and only successful slave revolution. Their leader was the brilliant general and diplomat Toussaint Louverture, subject of a new book by Mauritian-born lecturer in politics at Balliol College Oxford, Sudhir Hazareesingh. Using correspondence and military reports in French archives, Hazareesingh brings startling new insights into the life of the man largely responsible for the establishment of the first black republic. Louverture, a real-life black superhero, fought not only the French but also the British and Spanish. “It was the greatest revolution of all time,” the author says. The serialisation is read by Adrian Lester.

The programme’s on at 9.45 each day, Monday to Friday. The blurbs for the days’ instalments are as follows:

Monday

1/5 Adrian Lester reads from Sudhir Hazareesingh’s biography of the former slave who headed an insurrection that led to the Haitian Revolution. The first instalment looks at Toussaint’s early life, his progress to coachman and his education by the Jesuits. Abridged by Libby Spurrier.

Tuesday

2/5 Following the Saint Domingue uprising, Toussaint show himself to be both a focused military leader and a man of compassion.

Wednesday

3/5 In 1798, Napoleon sends an agent, Gabriel de Heouville, to reduce Tousaint’s power in Saint-Domingue.

Thursday

4/5 Toussaint’s sweeping reforms of both public and private activity help to bring about huge rises in productivity and exports, but his authoritative leadership style inspires rebellions, led by his nephew Moyse.

Friday

5/5 Napoleon Bonaparte and Toussaint Louverture engage in a fierce battle of both wit and force over Saint-Dominge. After three months of fighting, Toussaint seeks to negotiate a truce, but is arrested and embarks on his first sea voyage – one way – to France.

Louverture was clearly a brilliant and gifted leader. His revolution was an inspiration to slaves across the Caribbean, and the sought to emulate his success in their own revolts. These also included the British West Indies, alarming the colonial authorities there and the government at home.

However, there was also a serious negative aspect to the revolution. Major Moody used the condition of the former slaves in Haiti after the revolt as part of the argument in his parliamentary report in the 1820s that slaves in the British Caribbean weren’t ready for their freedom. After the revolution, the government had been faced with a financial crisis due to possible loss of their export commodity, sugar. The country was therefore divided up between Louverture’s generals, and the former slaves were forbidden to leave their plantations. Each plantation was given a quote of sugar to produce. If they failed to produce this quota, then the generals and army moved in and started executing those workers. I believe they were burned to death. I don’t know whether this came after Louverture was removed from power, although it might have been during his rule when the book says that rebellions broke out against his ‘authoritative’ leadership.

Moody’s conclusion surprised contemporaries, because he certainly wasn’t personally racist. He lived in Somerset with a Black wife. His report is interesting because it also includes letters from a former American slave, who had been freed by his mistress in Louisiana. The former slave had travelled to Haiti, and obviously felt a strong attachment to his former mistress by writing letters to her about his new adopted country and its conditions.

The report also discusses issues that are still, unfortunately, very relevant today. He felt describes the greater numbers of Blacks than Whites in American prisons, and concluded that there is so much prejudice against Blacks in America and Britain that the only way they can possible succeed as equals would be if they had their own country. This is the view of Black radical groups like the Nation of Islam. Let’s work together to make sure it’s mistaken.

I haven’t come across this particular book before, but there have been other works recently published about the Black revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One of these is The Black Jacobins. Louverture was inspired by the French Revolution, which attempted to end slavery as well as liberating the White serfs from their aristocratic masters. I don’t think the French were able to restore serfdom after the revolution’s failure, but they were successful in restoring Black slavery. This led to the growth of French anti-slavery movements like Amis des Noirs.

Are Israeli Politicos Afraid of Personal Prosecution for War Crimes?

November 9, 2020

I found this fascinating little snippet in William Blum’s America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, which I think may explain some of the sheer panic and personal vindictiveness of the Israel lobby. Israel’s ministers and politicians responsible for the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians may be afraid that if a genuinely pro-Palestinian government ever takes power in Europe, they personally are up before the beak facing charges of war crimes.

Just before the publication of Blum’s book in 2014, the Spanish announced they were launching a war crimes investigation into seven high-ranking Israeli officials over the assassination of a Hamas commander in 2002. Blum writes

Lastly, Spain’s High Court recently announced it would launch a war crimes investigation into an Israeli ex-defense minister and six other top security officials for their role in a 2002 attack that killed a Hamas commander and fourteen civilians in Gaza. Spain has for some time been the world’s leading practitioner of ‘universal jurisdiction’ for human-rights violations, such as their indictment of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet a decade ago. The Israeli case involved the dropping of a bomb on the home of the Hamas leader; most of those killed were children. (p. 118)).

I remember the arrest and attempted extradition of General Pinochet. I don’t know if the laws are still in force, but the Spanish granted their investigating magistrates wide and extraordinary powers to prosecute human rights abusers around the world. They wanted Pinochet because for his government’s arrest and murder of a young Spanish man. The old brute was over here at the time visiting his friend Maggie Thatcher. Blair responded positively to the Spanish warrant for his arrest and extradition by placing him under house arrest, and there was much talk about packing him off to Spain for trial. Obviously it was a much controversy at the time, with Thatcher crying publicly how awful it was that such a friend of Britain should be treated so terribly. Well, yes, Pinochet had given us aid against Argentina during the Falklands War. But his regime was also responsible for the arrest of a number of British citizens, including women, who were carted off to be tortured in horrific ways I cannot decently describe. The use of electrodes on the eyes and genitals by these thugs is just the start.

I don’t know what happened to that case. It may have collapsed, because of procedural errors by the Blair administration. Talking about the affair on The News Quiz, the comedian and lawyer Clive Anderson said that before governments can order the arrest of prominent foreign citizens, they need to issue statements that the alleged criminal would not be welcome in their country and would face arrest if they did so. Blair didn’t, hence Anderson believed that the case would fall through.

I haven’t heard any more of the attempted prosecution of the Israeli officials. In fact I only know about it from reading Blum’s book. It’s possible that case could have been dropped too. But it does suggest that some of the Israeli politicos funding and aiding the attacks on the country’s critics and opponents may be motivated by personal desperation for avoid their own prosecution. The Spanish investigation was launched, I’d guess, c. 2012. That was when groups like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism were set up. This vile outfit of inveterate liars and smear-merchants was founded, I believe, by Gerald Falter, who was frightened by the way the British public had become critical of Israel over its bombing of Gaza. Or so I believe. I don’t doubt that Falter and his fellows were frightened at the prospect of the former defence minister and his accomplices facing prosecution in a Spanish court.

It also partly explains the sheer venom behind the Israel lobby’s smears of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites. Blissex, one of the great commenters on this blog, has repeatedly pointed out that Corbyn isn’t anti-Israel. Just as he very definitely is no, absolutely no kind of anti-Semite. But he is genuinely keen for the Palestinians to receive justice and equality. Hence a Labour government with him at the head would do what it could to stop more Israeli atrocities against the country’s indigenous Arabs. And like Blair’s attempt to arrest and extradite Pinochet, that could lead to senior Israeli officials and ministers getting the same treatment over here.

I also wonder about Starmer’s motivations as well. A few days ago he suspended Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour party simply for stating, quite correctly, that the incidence of anti-Semitism in the Labour was extremely low. He didn’t deny it was a problem, or claim that it didn’t exist. He just stated the factual truth that it was low. This was too much for Starmer, who claimed that he had to suspend the former Labour leader because of the hurt his comments had cause the Jewish community. He’s now trying to stop ordinary Labour members discussing this massively unjust decision. Starmer’s a Blairite, and it looks like he’s using allegations of anti-Semitism to purge the party not just of Corbyn, but also of his left-wing supporters.

Starmer is also a former director of public prosecutions, and while he was in that post met senior members of the American judiciary and Republican politicians. There have therefore been questions about just what he discussed with them. I wonder if Starmer’s also worried from a professional viewpoint as a senior government lawyer that if Corbyn, or someone like him gets in, Israel’s Likud politicos and their allies would face prosecution for crimes against humanity.

Before anybody says anything, I don’t doubt that Hamas is an Islamist party that wants the destruction of Israel. But that doesn’t justify the killing of civilians or the institutional racist brutalisation of the entire Palestinian people. I think the Spanish High Court was quite right to wish to investigate the Israeli minister and officials for war crimes. I wish all of the Israeli politicos responsible for the atrocities against the Palestinians were in the dock being prosecuted in the International Court of Human Rights in the Hague or wherever. Along with all the other murderous butchers around the world, like the Chinese criminals responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs.

And I’d like those, who use allegations of anti-Semitism to try and defend the regime, to be similarly exposed as their aiders and abettors.

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

October 20, 2020

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

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

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

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

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

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

Plot

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

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

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

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

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

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

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

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

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

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

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

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

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

Lovecraft and Racism

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

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

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

October 20, 2020

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

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

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

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

Fascist Corporativism

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

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

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

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

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

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

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

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

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

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

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

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

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

From Internationalism to Imperialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

October 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cummings Aims to ‘Coordinate’ OFCOM and Beeb with Appointments of Dacre and Moore

September 28, 2020

Yesterday Mike reported that Dominic Cummings was considering appointing the former editor of the Daily Heil, the legendarily foul-mouthed Paul Dacre as head of the broadcasting watchdog, OFCOM, and Charles Moore, the former editor of the Torygraph and biographer of Maggie Thatcher, as head of the Beeb. ‘Coordination’ – Gleichschaltung – was the term the Nazis used for their takeover of organisations and the imposition of Nazi aims and policies. This obviously included the press, radio, cinema and the arts under Hitler’s infamous propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels.

The process by which the Nazis imposed their censorship and control of the press is described in this paragraph from the entry ‘Press in the Third Reich’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw’s A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1987).

With the coming of the Third Reich in 1933, all papers were required to conform and editors were held responsible for the content of their papers. Such newspapers of high reputation as the Berliner Tageblatt or the Frankfurter Zeitung survived, though not as independent journals; and the latter was closed when it published adverse criticism of the late Professor Troost, Hitler’s favourite architect. From 1938, when Otto Dietrich became Reich press chief, editors were given official stories to follow. Foreign papers were still on sale in the large towns of Germany, but were forbidden when war began in 1939. The apparatus of news suppression was operated by the Gestapo; news distortion was the task of the editors of the recognised journals. (p. 278).

If this is correct – and Zelo Street has also put up an article arguing that it isn’t, and is in fact a dead cat flung on the table by Cummings to distract attention from the government’s disastrous handling of the Coronavirus crisis – then the British media will be almost totally in the control of the Tories. Mike’s put up the reaction of some of peeps on Twitter to the news. The former editors of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger and Will Hutton, respectively commented

Paul Dacre to run Ofcom, Charles Moore to run the BBC. Because Boris wants them. No process. No joke. This is what an oligarchy looks like

and

Floating Paul Dacre to direct OfCom and Charles Moore to chair the BBC is tip of the ice-berg. Follows Dido Harding, who takes Tory whip in the Lords, heading up NHS Test and Trace, and innumerable other Tory appointments. Its an one-party state. The sense of entitlement is brazen.

Yes, it is. It is the creation of totalitarian media control, though I don’t doubt that the Tories will deny this until they’re blue in the face and claim that we still have a free press and media.

The danger to free speech and genuine independent reporting is very real. Thatcher had the Panorama documentary, Maggie’s Militant Tendency, which claimed that the Tories had been infiltrated by Neo-Nazis and Fascists spiked. She retaliated to London Weekend Television’s documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, which claimed that the SAS had acted as a death squad in the extra-judicial execution of an IRA squad they could have rounded up at any time in Spain and Gibraltar by removing the company’s broadcasting license. This was then awarded to Carlton.

Goebbels’ official title during the Third Reich was ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’. Perhaps it’s also a good title for Cummings and his attempts to impose Tory absolute control on the press and broadcasting.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/27/the-johnson-age-of-corruption-and-patronage-he-appoints-dacre-to-run-ofcom-and-moore-to-the-bbc/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/bbc-ofcom-dead-cat-unravels.html

Shut Up, Boris! Even Fascists Declared They Fulfilled Individual Freedom

September 23, 2020

Boris Johnson was in parliament and on the box yesterday announcing his new plans to tackle the renewed rise of the Coronavirus. This includes drafting the army in to ensure the new regulations regarding social distancing are respected. His response to the question in parliament why cases in Britain were rising, while Germany and Italy were nearly normal, met with a characteristically jingoistic response: ours is a country that respects freedom. So we’re back to the old jibe, that even though Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were defeated and their evil regimes swept away 75 years ago, Germans and Italians are still authoritarians at heart. And Mike and the peeps on Twitter have also pointed out how alarming Johnson’s stated intention to use call in the troops coming before a no deal Brexit that may well result in shortages, including food, unemployment and civil unrest.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/22/u-turn-again-boris-johnson-every-time-you-do-you-lose-more-credibility/

Johnson’s comments about Brits supposedly valuing their freedoms more while simultaneously declaring that he may call in the army will remind some people of the slogan ‘Slavery is freedom’ in Orwell’s 1984. Orwell’s great warning of the danger of totalitarianism came from his experiences with Stalinist Communists while fighting for the Republicans against Franco in Spain. But Mussolini’s Fascists themselves also claimed that their system also granted the individual freedom and fulfilment.

Mussolini himself was very firmly authoritarian, championing the total state and condemning liberalism and individualism for undermining society and the nation. But the Fascist ideologue, Ugo Spirito, argued that Fascism’s corporative state offered the individual instead true freedom against the false promises of liberalism. People realised their full potential in society through collaboration, including in industry, as well as trade unions and society generally. It was these collective institutions that allowed people to follow the trades and occupations they desired, whether it was he thinking in his study, or the town butcher. An absolute stress on individualism led to humans living in a state of nature, and having to do everything themselves and so denied the ability to follow their true callings or rise any higher in civilisation.

He concluded of this

Laissez-faire liberalism proclaims freedom of thought and of action, free competition, private enterprise, and, above all, the sacred and inviolable character of private property. But it ends up realizing, more or less consciously, that these don’t add up to genuine freedom. Freedom is founded upon collaboration, that is, upon a choice of social goals and the social discipline required to achieve them.

From: ‘Corporativism as Absolute Liberalism and Absolute Socialism’, Ugo Spirito, in Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed. A Primer of Italian Fascism (University of Nebraska Press 2000), p. 144.

The Fascists praised and protected private property and declared that private industry was at their heart of their economic system. Spirito himself goes onto attack the idea of an omniscient state as the ultimate destroyer of human freedom.

Let us assume it were possible (through improved organization) for the state to attain true knowledge of even the smallest, most remote events. This knowledge would still not be readily translatable into leadership and discipline of a spiritual sort. It would remain abstract because outside known reality; it would generate laws that correspond only to the knower’s will. The state would still function as a bureaucracy, setting goals for the entire nation and, therefore, reducing the nation to a kind of mechanical instrument. The organism’s life would be that of a machine: to each man an assigned place, to each worker an imposed job, all according to the scheme’s rigid necessity. Each individual would be a cog lost in the overall machinery. Freedom, personality, and individual enterprise would become meaningless terms. The hoped-for social justice would translate into a general levelling, and the individual would vanish in the eyes of the state.

He went on to state

Corporativism replies to liberalism by confirming that every person’s individual freedom is sacred. Corporativism proclaims itself antiliberal only because the individual under liberalism is not a true individual, nor is his will truly free. It points to the fact that liberalism ends up denying individuals the very rights that it purports to defend. Corporativism’s antiliberalism is thus not meant to deny or to curtail freedoms. Rather, it aims to strengthen them as much as possible and to achieve liberalism’s highest aim. (p. 150).

In fact, as any fule no, Mussolini’s Fascists regime was a brutal dictatorship, where the individual was very much subordinated to the state, regardless what Fascism’s supporters and ideologues said to the contrary.

Boris, however, still talks the language of classical liberalism and the Tories are still very much permeated by Thatcher’s attack on society: ‘There is no society. There is only people’. Which very much reveals the atomisation at the heart of classical the classical liberal idea of individualism which the Fascists condemned.

But Boris and the Tories are still moving towards a very authoritarian, totalitarian state. David Cameron passed legislation providing for secret courts, Dominic Cummings has pushed the idea of identity cards and Suella Braverman and Priti Patel have both shown they either don’t understand, or just don’t recognise, the independence of the judiciary and the civil service.

The Tories claim to celebrate individual freedom, but their moving in the same direction as Fascism. And Fascists like Spirito defended their ideology by claiming it protected individual freedom, even if those arguments are directly opposed to those marshalled by Tories like Boris.

Boris has always been an authoritarian, so don’t be taken in by any of his claims that he’s protecting British freedoms. He isn’t. He’s destroying them. And remember: even Soviet Russia had constitutions claiming that individuals and their freedom were respected there.