Posts Tagged ‘Afrikaaners’

Jewish Labour Voters Show Up Tom Watson for his Support of Fascist Zionism

December 12, 2016

Mike on Saturday put up a piece about an open letter written by Jewish supporters of the Labour party, criticising Tom Watson for his support of Zionism and the Israeli state’s Fascistic persecution of the indigenous Palestinians. Watson had made a speech at a Labour Friends of Israel Luncheon, and there was a video of him singing Am Yisrael Chai.

The authors of the open letter ask him if he is aware that this is also sung by the West Bank Settlers and the Jewish Defence League when the beat up Palestinians and non- or anti-racist Israelis. They also rebut Watson’s remark that he speaks according to his conscience, by stating that if he had one, he would not have praised the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, who defended the Israeli bombing of Gaza which resulted in over 2000 Palestinians killed, including 551 children.

They refute his claim of anti-Semitism in the Labour party, stating that it is not a problem. Instead, the people suspended for anti-Semitism Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, were attacked because of their support for the Palestinians. The letter also states that it is not a coincidence that the last two were Jewish.

The letter also attacks Watson for visiting the chairman of the Israeli Labour party, Isaac Herzog, at his last, expenses-paid visit to Israel. It asks Watson if he is aware that Herzog wanted to promote total separation from the Palestinians – the creation of Palestinian ghettos, like the Bantustans in South Africa. They quote Herzog as saying

‘I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.’

Mike states that their letter is a joy to read, especially as Watson is determined to undermine Labour in order to secure a defeat for Corbyn. He does state that he also believes that Livingstone was smeared because he was also correct about Zionist collaboration in the Holocaust.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/10/labour-jewish-voters-take-down-tom-watson-and-its-a-joy-to-read/

The letter’s authors describes the Jewish Defence League as Fascist/neo-Nazi. While the Israel lobby has attacked critics of Israel, who have pointed out the similarity between the Israeli state and Fascism, including Nazi Germany, this is an accurate description. In its heyday a few years ago, the EDL was claiming not to be a racist organisation. Among the other banners flown at its marches was that of the Jewish Defence League. Anti-racist organisations, such as Hope Not Hate, are however quite willing to call the EDL ‘Fascist’, or at least, to put them alongside other extreme nationalist groups, which can fairly be described as such, because of its extreme nationalism and racism. It is therefore quite reasonable to state that the JDL is, like the EDL, a brutal, Fascistic organisation.

As for Am Yisrael Chai, its use by the West Bank Settlers and the JDL as their marching song recalls another patriotic anthem sung by a similar group: the Horst Wessel Song, the Nazi party anthem. This extolled how the SA – the Nazi paramilitary wing before it was wiped out by the even more brutal SS – was marching against ‘Comrades of the Left and brown reactionaries’. The same ultranationalism, the same street combat against political opponents and a besieged and persecuted ethnic minority. In Nazi Germany, it was the Jews, which another Nazi marching song declared ‘would lie bleeding at our feet’. In Israel it’s Arabs, and their Israeli and foreign supporters.

Regarding Herzog and his demand for ‘total separation from the Palestinians’ – this does indeed sound very much like apartheid South Africa, the architects of which, the Afrikaaner Broederbond, were strongly influenced by Nazi Germany. It is also very much like segregation America. Members of the Labour party were very strongly against both of these systems of massive racial injustice and discrimination. I’ve no doubt that Watson, if asked, would be insulted by the very question that he supported either of them. Yet he is more than willing to meet with someone who supports the same monstrous policies, providing that he’s Israeli.

Watson smeared Israel’s critics within the Labour party as anti-Semitic. But this letter makes it very clear that Watson is, through his strident support of Israeli extremism, a supporter of a genuinely and violently racist, persecutory regime.

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Miqdad Al-Nuaimi, Israel, ISIS and Anti-Semitism

May 4, 2016

In last post I discussed how Mike had put up news of the suspension of two more Labour politicians, Miqdad Al-Nuaimi, a councillor in Newport, and Terry Kelly, a councillor in Renfrewshire, following accusations of anti-Semitism. I’ve also discussed the particular allegations made against Kelly, and suggested that this may be a case of him clumsily making perfectly reasonable points, that, depending on context, may otherwise be completely unremarkable.

The same may well be true of Miqdad Al-Nuaimi. Al-Nuaimi is accused of making tweets comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, and making connections between Israel and ISIS. Now, it should be reasonable to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, no matter how offensive this comparison may seem, because there are similar attitudes to race in both countries. Israel was founded as ethno-religious state specifically for the Jewish people. There is therefore a certain similarity to Nazi Germany, which similarly granted ethnic Germans only full civil and political rights. There are a series of racist laws, which deliberately discriminate against the Palestinians. Furthermore, Netanyahu has stated that he will not allow the Arabs or their descendants, who fled Israel in 1947, to return to their ancestral homes, as this would dilute the ethnic composition of Israel as a Jewish state. And Israel is pursuing a policy designed to squeeze the few remaining Palestinians out of their homelands. So Israel is also similar to Nazi Germany and other racist regimes in seeking to purge itself of those it considers to be racially or ethnically undesirable.

Back in the 1920s, there was also an extreme nationalist group, the Maximalists, who wished to create a political-social system in Israel similar to that Fascist Italy. And a few years ago, the IDF had to do some apologising after it was caught giving its squaddies pamphlets telling them that Jews were genetically superior to everyone else. The idea of innate ethnic biological superiority is a classic racial nationalist doctrine. So it’s fair to point out that there is a Fascist element in the nation’s history, and in the ideology of parts of its armed forces.

Israel is also a democracy, whereas Nazi Germany most certainly was not. But that still doesn’t mean that it’s entirely illegitimate to compare the country to the Nazis. The systematic discrimination of the Palestinians has been compared to apartheid in South Africa. And the Broederbond, the Afrikaaner nationalist organisation that formed the core of the National Party, was influenced by the Nazis. So again, it should be possible to talk about a similarity to Nazi Germany, or at least to Nazi-influenced apartheid South Africa, in this respect as well. Just as it should also be possible to discuss the Fascist shadow in Hindu nationalism through the influence of Mussolini’s Fascists on the RSSS, the paramilitary arm of Modi’s BJP, the Hindu Nationalist Party in India, without being necessarily anti-Hindu or anti-Indian.

As for Israel and ISIS, this is the subject of a lot of conspiracy theorising on the Net. If you want to see this stuff, you can always Google it or find it on Youtube. I haven’t looked at it, because it seems completely bonkers. But that doesn’t mean that it may not be true. States do covertly fund seemingly opposing terrorist or militant organisation, in order to destroy a common enemy. For example, General Petraeus a few years ago recommended that America fund al-Qaeda in Syria to overthrow Assad. This is the same al-Qaeda that committed 9/11. The Americans also gave the nod to Saddam Hussein just before Gulf War I that he could invade Kuwait unopposed. And when he did, they counterattacked. Just because it’s unlikely, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, or make anyone prejudiced for suggesting that it has.

So here again, in the case of Miqdad Al-Nuaimi, I would suggest that his tweets and views are not necessarily anti-Semitic, and may even be quite reasonable, depending on what was said.

The War on Drugs, Racism and Eugenics in Modern America

January 29, 2016

There’s a particularly chilling passage in the chapter ‘The History of “Black Paranoia” in Cockburn and St. Clair’s End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, where they describe the revival and continuation of eugenics policies, including the use of castration and sterilisation, and the US government’s ‘war on drugs’. The chapter as a whole is intended to show that Black Americans have very good reason for not trusting the US government, considering the numerous policies that have been deliberately enacted against them. This has includes treating them as unwitting subjects for human experimentation, and the way crimes have been specifically framed by the legal authorities so that punishment bears down hardest on Blacks and other ethnic minorities. The various anti-drugs legislation is a case in point. Although middle class White Americans also used opium, marijuana and cocaine, the laws against them were formulated and promoted to specifically attack Blacks, Mexicans and Chinese, as a way of making them seem threateningly foreign. Cannabis was originally just called ‘hemp’. It was renamed ‘marijuana’ as a way of associating with Mexican workers, who were then competing with White workers in the Depression for jobs. It was associated with the racial threat supposedly posed by Black men, often using the crude imagery of school playground racial stereotype. One government headline screamed that ‘Negroes with Big Lips Lure White Women with Marijuana and Jazz.’ And all this was going on a mere few decades after one US cigarette manufacturer offered smokers cocaine-laced ciggies for their consumption.

The Destruction of Black Communities by the War on Drugs

Cockburn and St. Clair talk about the devastation wrought in downtown L.A. by the War on Drugs, which effectively turned poor Black neighbourhoods into war zones. Wards were walled off from each other, curfews imposed, and Black men were stopped and searched on the street. 89 per cent of those arrested were released without charge. Unemployment soared, as did the proportion of Blacks in US prisons. Poverty increased, and for the first in a century, the average Black life expectancy fell.

Fred Goodwin on Inner City Men Evolving Backwards

And as conditions in the inner cities deteriorated, there was a revival of eugenics. In 1992, Fred Goodwin, the director of ADAMHA, or the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration, declared that the increase in Black violence in the inner cities may well have been due to a gene for violence. He recommended that a national biomedical campaign should be launched to isolate the gene and treat the gene’s carriers. In February of that year he gave a speech to the National Mental Health Advisory Council, in which he explicitly stated that violence had increased, as individuals in the jungle conditions of the inner cities had reverted to more ‘natural’ behaviour. He stated:

There are discussion of “biological correlates” and “biological markers”. The individuals have defective brains with detectable prefrontal changes that may well be predictive of later violence. The individuals have impaired intelligence, in this case “cognitive deficit” … Now, one could say that if some of the loss of social structure in this society, and particularly within the high impact inner city areas, has removed some of the civilising evolutionary things that we have built up and that maybe it isn’t just the careless use of the word when people call certain areas of certain cities jungles, that we may have gone back to what might be more natural, without all of the social controls that we have imposed upon ourselves as a civilisation over thousands of years in our evolution.

Planting Electrodes in Brains to Control Violence

Cockburn and St. Clair link Goodwin’s attempt to find the genetic origins of violence and a medical treatment, with that of Lewis “Jolly” West, who presided over the neuropsychiatric institute at UCLA. In 1969 West announced his plan to plant electrodes in the brain of violent offenders, in order to control them. This caused such an outcry that he was forced to abandon his plans. There are shades here of the limiter in the BBC SF series, Blake’s 7. One of the early characters, Oleg Gan, had had a limiter – an electronic device designed to prevent him from killing anyone – implanted in his brain after he killed the Federation trooper, who’d raped his girlfriend. Blake’s 7 was a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ meets Star Wars, in which a motley crew of criminals led by the dissident Blake took on the totalitarian Federation. It was very much of its time, and strongly influenced by the medical abuse of psychiatry against dissidents in the former Soviet Union. West and his electrodes suggest that its creator, Terry Nation, the man, who gave children the world over the terrible joy of the Daleks, was also very much aware of the totalitarian tendencies in western science.

The Castration of the Violent

One of West’s own mentors was Dr Ernst Rodin, who was in charge of the Neurology department of Lafayette Clinic. He recommended neurosurgery and castration for the ‘dumb young males who riot’. His views were echoed by West after the Watts riots, but instead of surgery, West recommended sterilising them with cyproterone acetate. In 1972 he recommended that this should be carried out on the inmates in US prisons. This caused such an outcry that his funding was cut.

The Eugenic Sterilisation of the Unfit

Cockburn and St. Clair also cover the eugenics laws enacted in twelve US states in the first two decades of the last century. Between 1907 and 1964 about 63,678 people had been compulsorily sterilised in thirty states and one colony. But this was probably an underestimate of the true numbers of the policy’s victims. In 1974 Federal Judge Gerhard Gessell, reviewing the suit brought by them, declared that 100,000 to 150,000 people with low incomes had been sterilised annually over the past few years in federally funded programmes. Allan Chase, the author of a book on this, The Legacy of Malthus, states that this is comparable to the rate of the Nazis in their sterilisation campaign.

Such programmes were supposed to be voluntary, but Gessell ruled that an unknown number had been forced into it through the authorities threatening to take away their welfare benefits. Those most frequently targeted with this kind of pressure were women reliant on Medicaid to pay their bills for childbirth. One of the intended victims of this was Katie Relf, who successfully fought it off by locking herself into her room. Chase has estimated that by the end of the 1970s, the US was sterilising 200,000 citizens annually.

Winston Churchill, Eugenics, and the Bengal Famine

And the policy was not without its supporters over here. Winston Churchill also supported the policy, and wanted to see about 100,000 degenerates in the UK forcibly sterilised. This isn’t by far the most loathsome thing the great War Leader ever said or did. Last week, Secular Talk covered the story in the Independent that 40 per cent of Brits miss the Empire. The show covered a series of crimes against humanity committed by the Empire and its servants. These included the Amritsar Massacre, the incarceration of Afrikaaner women and children in concentration camps during the Boer War, and the Bengal Famine, in which 27 million people died of starvation. The wheat that could have fed them was diverted to British troops fighting in Europe in the Second World War. For the victims, Churchill had no sympathy. He said he hated Indians, and that it served them right for ‘breeding like rabbits’. He may have been the great leader who kept Europe free, but that doesn’t stop him from also being a moral slug.

Conclusion: Don’t Trust Those Who Claim to Have Found the Gene For Whatever

Apart from its main point – that American Blacks have every reason to be alienated and distrustful of the government and authorities, the chapter also shows how recently such racist attitudes were accepted by medical authorities, as well as the use of sterilisation against the poor generally. And it also provides very good reasons for being extremely distrustful of scientists when they claim to have found the gene for ‘X’. This includes the gene for schizophrenia, for homosexuality, and for violence. The latter surfaced yet again about a few months ago. Someone was claiming that extremely violent crims had a certain mutated chromosome. Then another biologist pointed out that roughly half of everybody also had the gene, and it didn’t make them into psychos. There’s a real danger here that if we pay too much attention to these scientists, we’ll be back with sterilisation and compulsory lobotomy. Just like the early 20th century and Nazis.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project
http://www.malcsbooks.com/resources/A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.

The Grim Reality Behind First World War Enlistment

April 4, 2014

WWI Poster

World War I Recruitment Poster, playing on the British love of sport

Yesterday I posted a sample of the great artwork from the strip, ‘The Coward’s War’, from the anti-First World War graphic novel anthology, To End All Wars. I also criticised Jeremy Paxman’s comments made a few weeks ago during his recent tour of the Gulf State. Newsnight’s long-running anchor had complained that today’s young people lacked the idealism and patriotism that had moved their great-grandfathers to volunteer for the War. He declared that most of today’s kids wouldn’t know what to do if they were put in trench. In his opinion, they’d probably just photograph it with their mobiles rather than do anything useful. I argued in the piece that if today’s young people don’t have the ideals of the Victorian and Edwardian predecessors, it’s because history has shown that all too often those ideals merely resulted in imperialist wars of oppression and exploitation.

I also received two comments on the post from Ulysses and Jess pointing out that the men, who volunteered to fight were hardly motivated by patriotism. The reason instead was to escape the grinding poverty and harsh unemployment conditions of Britain a century ago.

Ulysses stated

After reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, i seriously doubt Patriotism was the main reason for the majority of British working class men signed up.
I gather, from reading that account, conditions on the front were immeasurably better than the struggle at home to keep body and soul together by prostituting yourself to the tender mercies of employers or the poor laws, charities and Churches of the time.
The Army gave you 3 square meals, a pair of boots that reasonably fit and weren’t 4th or 5th hand when issued, and reasonable clothing that needn’t be pawned and clawed back by hook or crook between bouts of unemployment and the choice was eat, or sell the clothes off your back.
The description of Town Councillors of that time, I could easily put contemporary names to the characters in the book the parallels are so striking, it seems as though the Local Authority have taken that work of semi fiction as a working plan on how to run a town for the last 100 years.

And as for Paxo and his views on the youth of today?
I seriously hope they’d all have more sense than to spill their blood for the ideology of the ruling classes.

Jess also commented that there was no mass voluntary enlistment, and that the soldiers who did join the army did so to escape hardship and deprivation at home.

” volunteer en masse as they did for the War”
This is an old canard beast.

Quite simply, people didn’t ‘volunteer en masse’ for WW1

No ‘reputable’ historian would still suggest they did.

There were many things that caused people to enlist….over the course of the war….But the BEF that went to France in 1914 was a professional army

It would take too long, and too much space to go into detail, but , as one example, single men, thrown out of work by the outbreak of war, were denied Unemployment Assistance unless they (guess what?)

And workhouses and labour colonies were toured by recruiting sergeants looking for ‘suitable’ recruits, until a magistrates court put a stop to that…

The fact that the myth of the British volunteering en masse for service in the War is still believed, despite being discredited by historians, shows just how desperately we do need popular treatments of the War, like the To End All Wars volume above.

I don’t really know much about the First World War, and so rely on those who know more about it than me. But Ulysses’ and Jess’ comments corroborate some of the other pieces of information I’ve also come across about the reasons men volunteered for the armed forces in Britain’s imperial heyday.

Way back in the 1980s a radical historian from South Africa or Zimbabwe – I’m afraid I’ve forgotten which – presented a controversial piece on the BBC’s history programme, Timewatch. He compared the miserably malnourished British squaddies of the time of the Zulu War, with their Zulu opponents. The average British soldier joined up to avoid starvation due to unemployment, and the lack of nourishment showed itself in their poor physiques. The army had to reduce the minimum height requirement several times until it was gradually reaching four feet simply because of the poor physical standards of the men, who were volunteering for service. He also argued that they were held in contempt by the rest of British society, as Kipling depicted in his Barrack Room Ballads with the lines

‘An’ it’s Tommy this, and Tommy that,
An’ throw him out, the brute,
But it’s the thin red line of England
When the drums begin to beat.’

Their Zulu opponents, on the other hand, were the fit, well-fed elite of their society.

This caused a storm amongst the patriotic, and the BBC said they’d received a number of angry letters in response to the programme. Nevertheless, the poor physical standard of British troops was a major concern to the late Victorian and Edwardian establishment. These years saw the emergence of the Campaign for National Efficiency, which sought to make Britain and her empire better governed, and which sought improvements throughout society. And one of its aims was to improve health and physical fitness of the British people in order to raise the physical quality of the army’s recruits. The army had been alarmed at how the Afrikaaner farmers had been able to hold off the British until defeated through sheer force of numbers and superior military equipment during the Anglo-South African War. And, it should be added, other, horrific tactics such as the imprisonment of Afrikaaner women and children in concentration camps, which has created a bitter legacy amongst some Afrikaaners towards their Anglo-South African fellow countrymen.

Back to the sample artwork from To End All Wars, it struck me that the pose adopted by firing squad at the bottom of the panel mimics the pointing finger gesture in the recruiting post at the top of the page.

Coward's War pic

Sample page from To End All Wars printed in Wednesday’s I newspaper.

It’s probably me reading too much into it – after all, this is the natural posture used to sight down a gun. Nevertheless, it seems a bitter comment on the patriotic posters like that above urging the young and idealistic to sign up for death, pain, fear and mutilation.