Posts Tagged ‘Brexit Party’

More Nationalist Bigotry from Johnson as He Sneers at EU Leaders

July 21, 2019

Boris Johnson and his supporters preparing for government.

Mike put up a post yesterday reporting some of the recorded view of Boris Johnson on the leaders of various EU countries. In this case, they were Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emanuel Macron and the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. And as you would expect, they aren’t flattering.

Johnson apparently has raised and pondered the question whether Merkel was a member of the Stasi. Well, she does come from the former East Germany. However, I think she’s a Lutheran Christian, in which case the answer is, no, almost certainly not. Christians and other people of faith in the former Soviet bloc were harshly persecuted. It wasn’t illegal to hold services, but if you actually taught the doctrines of your religion in the former Soviet Union, you would be arrested. If you held a religious service in your home, not only would the secret police arrest you and everyone else there, but they’d also demolish your house if you were lucky enough to have a private residence. Some determined Protestants in the former DDR used to worship in the Anglican Church attached to the British embassy. See one of the chapters in the book, Why I am an Anglican, which contains testimony from a number of leading public figures, including Ian Hislop. Though I don’t blame you if his inclusion puts you off. Given the immense suspicion Merkel would have been under if she had been a practising Christian, I doubt very much she was a member of the Stasi.

But this is just a simple nationalistic jibe at her just ’cause she’s German and he doesn’t like her. She comes from the from East Germany, and so, to Boris, that means that she has to me some kind of totalitarian monster. However, as she’s a member of the Christian Democrats, the German equivalent of the Conservatives, he can hardly accuse her of being Commie. Still, I suppose we should be glad that he didn’t fall back on the old sneers and jokes that as she’s German, she must be a Nazi. I really wouldn’t put it past some of the Eurosceptics in the Tory party and peeps in UKIP and the Brexit party to make jokes about the German leaders all being Nazis, all while goose stepping about party headquarters with their fingers under their lips and their hands up in the air in a mock Nazi salute, guffawing and making comments like ‘Don’t mention the war!’ after that episode of Fawlty Towers.

Going on to the French president, BoJo called him a ‘jumped-up Napoleon’. Which surprised me, as I didn’t think Macron was a general in the French army or that he wanted to invade the rest of Europe. He’s a determined supporter of the EU, and as the Eurosceptic brigade are convinced the EU is descended from the plans of Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler to create a united Europe, all under their leadership, of course, it’s probably inevitable that Boris would compare him to the French emperor. Especially as the EU was mooting plans for a common European army. I thought on the other hand, that rather than being a megalomaniac military dictator, Macron was simply a bog-standard Neoliberal desperately trying to promote its policies of unfettered free enterprise and austerity, even though it was wrecking his country’s economy and society.

Johnson also seems to have found Varadkar’s surname difficult to get his head around, leading to another nationalist sneer. He’s reported to have asked why the Taoiseach wasn’t called Murphy like the rest of his countrymen. We’re heading dangerously close to the really offensive racist stereotypes here. He didn’t say it, but it’s close to referring to the Irish as ‘Pads’ and ‘Micks’. The reason why Varadkar has this as his surname is because his antecedents were Indian. It’s a reflection of the growing multiculturalism of modern Irish society. Which Johnson obviously can’t quite get his head around. But perhaps we should be grateful he only made a xenophobic sneer about the Irish, and didn’t say something really racist about Varadkar himself because of his Indian heritage.

The article Mike cites for this states that Johnson is planning a European tour, including Paris, Berlin and Dublin, if he wins the Tory leadership. The snippet Mike includes on his blog says that Johnson might have a few bumps ahead of him. The other EU leaders don’t trust him because of his long history of lying and frequent comparisons of the EU to Nazi Germany. And they don’t like his British exceptionalism, which is demonstrated in the above sneering remarks.

Absolutely not. But then, what can you expect from the man, who, when he was head of the Foreign Office, described the French as ‘turds’? Actually, I’m surprised Johnson, who tries so hard to project an image of himself as someone from the Tory past, didn’t use the 17th-19th century racist term for them, Nic Crapaud, from the French word for ‘frog’, crapaud. I can’t speak French, but I think the word’s pronounced ‘crapo’, which is how I feel about him and all the other Tory candidates.

Johnson was a disaster at the Foreign Office, who seemed determined to make tensions with the Russians even worse than actually soothe them. And in Thailand he opened his mouth and started reciting Kipling’s ‘Road to Mandalay’ in the country’s holiest Buddhist temple. What’s worse, he really didn’t know how that could possibly be offensive to his hosts. He had to be told it was inappropriate by the ambassador.

If Boris gets in, he’s likely to alienate Britain even further from the other European nations as well as other countries around the world. And we’re going to need them as trading partners after we leave the EU. And it’s especially dangerous regarding Northern Ireland. There have already been terrorist outrages in the Six Counties because of the collapse of the power-sharing agreement at Stormont and uncertainty over the border with Eire. The very last thing the people of Ulster and the rest of Britain need is Boris fanning the flames of Nationalist resentment over there even further with racist stereotypes and sneers.

Ah, but I forgot! He’s not bothered about them, because he’s a big fan of Trump. As is Nigel Farage. They believe Trump will give us a good trade deal. But that must include the NHS – Trump has said that nothing must be off the table.

And despite the hollow assurance by the Tories that they’re not going to give it to him, this is precisely what Johnson, Farage and the rest of the Tories and Brexit party want to do.

 

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Britain to Gets Its Own Reichsarbeitdienst for the Environment?

July 18, 2019

Yesterday’s I for Wednesday, 18th July 2019 carried an article by Stephanie Soh, ‘How young and old could help a National Nature Service’ on page 26 reported that the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts has suggested that a special Nature Service should be set up. This would be a form of National Service, in which school leavers and young people would be sent out to work on farms and the environment. The article runs

Imagine signing up for national service, and you probably picture yourself doing rifle practice, cleaning graffiti off a wall or helping elderly people in you community. But what about picking up a shovel to farm fruit and vegetables?

A “National Nature Service” – a voluntary scheme that would involve people aged 18 to 25 taking up agricultural work in rural communities – has been suggested by the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, and set up by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragements of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).

Arguing that “farming is a force for change”, it says that the sector has the potential to boost Britain’s economy and help to mitigate climate change through sustainable practices. But to do this, it needs manpower. In exchange for their work, young people would be able to do their bit for the environment, gain new experiences and reconnect with nature.

The commission suggests in its report Our Future in the Land that “aspects of the service could form part of an accredited learning scheme or apprenticeship”. It could be target at young poeple from disadvantaged communities, as well as retirees who have “time and resources to do the work”.

Grants could fund projects that would provide free bed and board to participants. With many young people struggling to find paid work, with many expected to serve internships to get a foothold in their careers, some might question why they would consider working for free on farms.

But with climate change a problem for communities everywhere, and teenagers increasingly engaged in the issue, perhaps it’s not such as far-flung ideas that they might want to volunteer for a scheme that helps them find solutions for it.

The trouble is, this is a Nazi idea. Hitler set up a Reichsarbeitsdienst, ‘imperial work service’, which was a system of compulsory voluntary work. Young people were sent off to work in agriculture for a set period. It was based on earlier voluntary work schemes set up by the Weimar government to deal with unemployment. The Nazis then took it over and massively expanded it. Again, it was used by the Nazis to claim that they had solved unemployment.

And this looks almost exactly the same, except that it’s being suggested in a country that is still just about democratic.

I’ve blogged before about the similar to the various ‘welfare to work’ schemes set up by the Tories and the Lib Dems to the Nazi Reichsarbeitsdienst, how they also claimed to be helping people tackle unemployment, while really they’re about massaging the unemployment figures and providing cheap labour to Tory and Lib Dem donors in industry and the charity section. Now the authorities have narrowed any difference between these schemes and their Nazi predecessor even further with this.

There are still some ideological differences. Part of the reasons the Nazis set up the Reichsarbeitsdienst is because they saw themselves as a peasant party, defending the rights and way of life of small farmers. Thus they enacted a series of policies which were intended to regenerate agriculture, and provide help and security for the peasants. At the same time young people were expected to work out their time on farms, they were also expected to absorb the farmers’ healthy peasant, volkisch values. As against the malign influence of the towns and urban culture, which were hotbeds of socialism and cosmopolitanism created and fostered by the Jews.

There doesn’t seem to be any anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist overtones to the scheme just yet, but this may well change if the Tories or, Heaven forbid!, the Brexit party ever get into government.

And there’s another different with the Nazi scheme. The Nazis intended the service to be part of their plan to create a classless German society, a true volksgemainschaft, or people’s community. As such Hitler gave a speech to the Reichsarbeitsdienst in which he said that there wouldn’t be a member of the political or industrial elite that hadn’t risen from their ranks.

But with a government dominated by old Etonians and other public schoolchildren, I can’t see that happening any time soon. None of the other ‘voluntary’ schemes have shown themselves better at getting the underprivileged and unemployed back into work, and I very much doubt this one will either.

Boris Johnson Cynically Tries to Appeal to Gay Community

July 14, 2019

Boris Johnson and supporters.

This weekend and last has been the occasion for gay communities across the world to hold their annual Pride celebrations. Yesterday Bristol’s gays held a march, before going on to hold a pop concert up on Durdham Downs. I think last weekend was Pride Day in America, as it also was in London. According to Points West down here, Bristol Pride was a huge success, with thousands of people enjoying the occasion celebrating diversity. I’ve no doubt this was also the case in America and London. But one person, who was definitely not welcome at the party was Boris Johnson when he tried to use it for a bit of electioneering.

Johnson put out the following Tweet

Salute all those celebrating today. I have fond memories of my pink Stetson march as Mayor! Britain leads the world in LGBT+ equality and I’ll continue to champion the cause if I am lucky enough to become our country’s Prime Minister.

This was grossly hypocritical, as Johnson has been a massive homophobe. As Britain’s gay community and their supporters well knew, and weren’t going to let Johnson forget it.

Chloe tweeted back

you called gay men ‘tank-top wearing bum boys’ and compared same-sex marriage to a person marrying a dog, didn’t attend london pride 2011-2015, allowed gay marriage ban in bermuda, and have a homophobe running your leadership campaign – so fuck your salute and fuck you too.

Amy Ashenden also tweeted

The UK is far from leading the world on LGBT+ equality and YOU are a homophobe! Don’t think we don’t see through your attempt to look pro-LGBT in time for leadership election.

Other tweeters told Johnson precisely where he could stick his salutes. Jack D remarked

So, how about you take this tweet…and shove it so far up your back passage it comes to rest next to all your other ideas. Bigot.

Quite.

Mike remarked in his piece about it that this was far from being an isolated incident, and that Johnson had very many times expressed views that could cause him embarrassment were he to become Prime Minister, stating

And you can bet that, if he becomes PM after July 23, that is exactly what will happen. And with a clown as prime minister, you can be sure the whole world will be laughing at us…

… Even people who are usually afraid of clowns.

Boris Johnson caught out over London Pride – if he becomes PM this could happen daily

Now it’s possible that Johnson could have changed his mind on gay rights. When Tony Blair first introduced civil partnerships and then gay marriage, polls were quoted showing that 75% of the British public were against it. Since then the number of people, who are against gay marriage has apparently fallen to 50% or below. And having grown up in the 1970s and ’80s, I can understand why some people have trouble coming to terms with it. Although homosexuality had been decriminalised by Labour’s then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, c. 1967, there was still massive hatred against gays. John Hurt risked his career playing Quentin Crisp, the gay rights activist and personality, in the BBC drama The Naked Civil Servant. I can remember listening amazed one lunchtime at school when one of the older lads told us that the previous night’s edition of Whicker’s World had shown a gay wedding in Las Vegas. Attitudes were beginning to change in the 1980s thanks to campaigners like Peter Tatchell and ‘out’ pop stars and celebrities like Boy George, Mark Almond, Jimmy Summerville, and bands like Bronski Beat and the Communards. The ‘8os also saw Labour controlled local councils attacked by the right-wing press and media for funding gay organisations and festivals, along with attempts to tackle other forms of prejudice, like racism. This was when Thatcher tried to pass legislation banning schools from teaching that homosexuality was natural, and there were real fears that this would be just the prelude to the Tories rounding up gays and imprisoning them in concentration camps like the Nazis. And as Thatcher was friends with the Chilean Fascist dictator, General Pinochet, the Union of Conservative Students was supporting apartheid South Africa and demanding the hanging of Nelson Mandela and adoption of racial nationalism and there was a very strong strain of Fascism and intolerance in the party, this was not an unreasonable fear.

It was David Cameron, who tried to change this and modernise the party, the same way Blair had modernised Labour. The Tories were to be thoroughly anti-racist, putting up Black and Asian candidates, cutting links to the Monday Club and expelling those with links to the Far Right. They were also now to be pro-gay. The party started fielding openly gay candidates, whereas in the past it had many closeted gays. Many of these were extremely anti-gay themselves, and there were a number of very high profile resignations when these Tories were outed. I can remember one of the new, openly gay Tory politicos confessing that his favourite band were The Scissor Sisters. As this fellow was very much an aristo, I wondered if the band really were his favourite, or if he had been advised to say they were in order to appear down with the kids. Like various Tories claimed to like the Spice Girls when they were riding high in the charts.

But there seems to be a very strong element of homophobia in the Tory party, just as the racists still exist despite Cameron’s purges. And they’re even stronger in UKIP and Fuhrage’s Brexit Party. The internet author Moggsmates released a number of tweets from Johnson’s and Rees-Mogg’s supporters’ groups revealing just how racist the pair’s respective supporters were. And I don’t doubt that they hold similar horrendous views about gays.

The gay community is very wise to reject Johnson’s cynical attempt to marshal their support. And all Britons, whatever their sexuality, should realise from this just how unprincipled and cynical Johnson is in his electioneering.

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

July 14, 2019

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Attack of the Clowns: Widdecombe Compares Brexit to Slaves’ and Serfs’ Revolts

July 6, 2019

How stupid, moronic and just plain offensive can the Brexit party get before the British public wake up and realise that they’re a bunch of Fascist buffoons turning Britain into a laughing stock. A few days we had Nigel Farage himself going full Nuremberg at a rally, which began with the sound of air raid sirens. You know, to evoke the spirit of the Blitz, because Britain leaving Europe is exactly like that time in the Second World War when Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany. Except that, er, we didn’t. We had the resources of the entire British Empire, as well as the members of the free forces of occupied Europe to help us. Like the Poles, who served in the RAF, and who shot down more Nazi planes than the bryl-creem public school boys. Zelo Street was particularly offended, posting up an article about the real horror of the Blitz, and the carnage Britain suffered, especially in area vital to the war effort, like Liverpool. Of course Brexit isn’t remotely like the horrendous death and destruction Britons suffered during the War, and to make the comparison trivialises it.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/nigel-farage-back-to-nuremberg.html

The at the opening of the European parliament, they all turned their backs as the EU’s anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ play. Despite their bluster and protestations, this is exactly what the Nazis did in the Reichstag, and similar shows the Brexit party’s Fascistic psychology. Especially as Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ looks forward to peace and harmony amongst the world’s peoples.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/brexit-partys-ode-to-nazism.html

And now the woman one gay Christian I know refers to as ‘the Widdy bigot’ position of her attitude to gays has also joint the ultra-patriotic orgy of crass stupidity, and compared Brexit to slaves’ and serfs’ uprisings and colonial revolts.

After first stating her objects to what she considered the unelected status of particular EU officials, Widdecombe declared

“There is a pattern throughout history of oppressed people turning against their oppressors. Slaves against their owners, the peasantry against the feudal barons”. 

To which she added her comment about ‘colonies rising against their empires’.

She’s wrong about the various officials and leaders of the European Union being unelected, as Zelo Street has pointed out in this article here:

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/eu-leaders-unelected-my-arse.html

As Mike reported yesterday, EU leader Guy Verhofstadt’s response to her nonsense was to call her a ‘clown’.

Widdecombe says Brexit is like the emancipation of slaves. No wonder Verhofstadt called her a clown

Black politico and activist David Lammy was particularly offended by her comparison to slavery. He tweeted

Anne Widdecombe just compared Britain leaving the EU to “slaves” rising up “against their owners”.

It is impossible to explain how offensive and ahistorical it is for you to equate my ancestors tearing off their chains with your small-minded nationalist project. Shame on you.

Exactly. To show how grossly offensive Widdecombe’s statement is, let’s consider the status of Black chattel slavery in the British Empire.

There have been different types of slavery throughout history, some types milder than others. But Black chattel slavery – which is the closest in history, and whose effects are still being felt – was particularly horrific. In this form slavery, which Mr Lammy’s ancestors suffered along with millions of others, slaves have zero rights. None. Nada. Zilch. They are property.

  • They have no political rights. They cannot vote in elections, nor stand for election to parliament or some other representative assembly. They cannot act in any official capacity whatsoever.
  • They have no legal protection under the law. They cannot serve on juries, nor can crimes committed by slaves be decided in a court of law. They have absolutely no right to due process or legal protection.
  • They may not claim equality or associate themselves with Whites.
  • As property, they have no property rights. Any property they hold is that of their master.
  • They have no right to family life. Families can be split up at their master’s pleasure. Slave women may be separated and sold apart from their men. Slave children may be separated from their parents and sold.
  • Their masters may feed, clothe and work them how they wish. Some colonies passed legislation providing that their masters had to provide some clothing for them. This was a shift – petticoat – for women, and drawers – underpants – for men. That’s it, provided once a year. Visitors to the West Indies described slaves frequently working naked in the fields.
  • They are absolutely and completely at their master’s mercy. Their owners may treat them how they wish, as they are property, not legal persons. Punishments for slaves include gagging in horrific iron masks, flogging, castration, amputation and being dissected alive. Along with other punishment too disgusting to be described here.

The status of European serfs during the Middle Ages is similar, but less severe. Serfs differ from slaves in that they are bound to the soil, while slaves are the property of individuals. European serfs also had some property and legal rights. However, they were still considered property themselves.

  • Serfs are not free but the property of the lord of the manor. Crimes between serfs are decided in the manor court.
  • They have families, but these are referred to in law as sequelae – broods.
  • They have their own land to work, but must work several days a week for their lord. They are subject to a beadle, an overseer, who presides over them with a whip as a mark of his authority. Like the slave drivers in later chattel slavery.
  • Women are not free to marry as they wish. Apart from being under their father’s authority, they are also considered property of the lord. Thus, if a serf’s daughter wishes to marry, then her father has to pay the lord compensation, called a merchet.
  • At a serf’s death, any property he holds from the lord immediately escheats back to him, and the parish priest may take his ‘best beast’. Widows have to plead in the courts, and follow various ceremonies in order to be granted their former husbands’ land and property.

Widdecombe’s stupid speech recalls the reasons why the great Black anti-slavery activist, Frederick Douglas, once attacked White American patriotic celebrations of independence in his speech ‘What To The Slave Is The Fourth of July?’ Douglas pointed out the complete irony of White Americans claiming to have thrown off the yoke of British slavery, when their Black brothers and sisters were still very much in chains.

American independence did not free all Americans from slavery. And Brexit isn’t remotely like any slave revolt or uprising. And it’s massively offensive and ahistorical, as Lammy says, for Widdecombe to claim it is.

Polish Activist Arrested for Insulting Fascists

June 25, 2019

Here’s a piece from today’s I for 25th July 2019, illustrating yet again the resistible rise of Fascism across Europe. On page 3 is a short piece about the arrest of a Polish activist for insulting Fascism at a nationalist demonstration. To make matters worse, one of the country’s politicos has defended the arrest. The article runs

An activist was charged with insulting the Polish nation for chanting “Down with Polish fascism!” at a Polish nationalist event in Przemysl, a town near the border with Ukraine. Patryk Jaki, of the ruling party, defended the arrest, saying “no person and no nation should be insulted. Nobody should be insulted as Fascists.”

I can understand why the Poles should be sensitive about nationalism, considering how for centuries they were divided up between the German, Austrian and Russian empires until the First World War. And then they were invaded by the Nazis and incorporated into the Reich in the Second, and after that a Soviet satellite until the Fall of Communism. But the protester’s arrest looks to me to be a classic example of Fascism and far right government. Further east, the Turkish government uses a law in that country forbidding the insulting of Turkish nationality to arrest and imprison those, who try to show that the Armenian Massacres were a terrible reality. And Polish nationalism with its racism, anti-Semitism and islamophobia has taken on all the trappings of Fascism. The ruling Law and Justice Party, for example, passed a rule banning any mention of Polish collaboration in the Holocaust. In fact the Poles and other Slav peoples especially shouldn’t tolerate Fascism because of their experience of genocide during the Third Reich. The Nazis considered that they and other, related peoples like Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Czechs, Slovaks, and Serbs were subhuman and should be exterminated. Hitler himself said that he would wage a war of extermination against the Poles, and they were treated with horrific barbarity. As were the Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians in the areas of the Soviet Union the Nazis conquered, and the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

This country benefited immensely from the Free Poles, who joined us during the Second World War, helping to defend Britain and win Europe back for freedom and civilisation. The Polish airmen in the RAF, along with the boys from the grammar schools, shot down more Nazi aircraft than the public schoolboys, who were made so much of. And I understood that Poles still think well of us because we declared war on Nazi Germany in their support when Hitler invaded them.

The protester was quite right to condemn the nationalists as ‘Fascists’. They are. Just as the other European nationalist parties, including UKIP and the Brexit party in Britain, are also promoting Fascism. The jackboots are marching again across Europe, and it’s long past time they were stopped, whether in Poland, the Ukraine, France, Germany or Britain.

As for the Polish government, despite its increasing anti-Semitism, marked when they allowed the country’s Fascist to march alongside them in an event to commemorate their country’s liberation from the old empires, they’ve been hailed as ‘good friends of Israel’ by Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. Because they buy Israel guns, bombs and other armaments. Polish Jewry is once again under threat, as David Rosenberg has pointed out many times on his blog, but they will get no help from Israel if the country can get a financial or other advantage from supporting their enemies in the Polish government. And its the same with other Jewish communities elsewhere in eastern Europe, in Ukraine and the Baltic States. Which shows you how hypocritical the Israeli state and the Jewish Chronicle are.

Down with Fascism anywhere and everywhere! And down with the politicians and hypocritical press, who defend it!

No Pasaran!

 

Tony Greenstein on Zionist Opposition to the Commemoration of other Holocausts

June 9, 2019

This past week has been dominated by the ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944 in an invasion that was to roll back the German forces. With the Soviet advance across eastern Europe, the invasion eventually led to the final defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe. The news coverage of the various displays, ceremonies and discussions of the events of D-Day and their historical significance have also included the Holocaust, and calls for its survivors each to be given proper honours by the Queen.

I’ve absolutely no objection to this. These men and women, now obviously thinned by time and old age, survived a true living hell at the hands of a regime that has come to symbolise tyranny and mass murder at its darkest, most extreme and malign. I also believe that the Holocaust needs to be taught, remembered and properly understood and placed in its historical, sociological and political context. The forces of the extreme Right, though severely beaten, are always at the political margins, seeking to gain a foothold back into power. Thanks to neoliberalism and its impoverishment of the masses in order to benefit the elite super-rich, Fascism and extreme right-wing populism is now on the rise again across Europe and America, from Donald Trump in the US to UKIP and the Brexit party here in the UK, Marine Le Pen and her crew in France, and the AfD in Germany. These last contain some unreconstructed, real Nazis, who have denounced their country’s Holocaust monument as ‘a badge of shame’ and have said that when they get into power, they will open up an underground railway to the infamous death camp. And then there’s the various bitterly racist and anti-Semitic regimes in eastern Europe, like Viktor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary, the Baltic states and their determination to honour as patriotic heroes Nazi collaborators during War, and the truly Nazi Azov battalion in the Ukraine.

Now more than ever we need to show how genocidal Fascism arises, and leads nations to commit the most horrific atrocities.

However, nearly a month ago, on the 13th May 2019, Tony Greenstein, a Jewish activist against all forms of racism and Fascism, and particularly its Jewish form, Zionism, put up a piece on his blog arguing that the Holocaust should not be commemorated. It’s a highly controversial piece, and obviously shocking to very many. But Greenstein is not alone, and his piece is backed up by very strong arguments. For example, it was only after the 1967 War that Israel began commemorating the Shoah. Before then they played it down and actively discouraged its commemoration. It was felt that the sufferings of the Jewish people would reflect badly on their ability to found a new state for themselves. The survivors themselves were vilified. Greenstein states that in Israel they were subject to the disgusting epithet ‘sapon’ – soap – from the myth that the Nazis turned the bodies of those murdered in the gas  chambers into the substance.

Greenstein also shows that, despite Holocaust Day being a regularly part of the Israeli calendar and the emphasis on the Holocaust and its commemoration in the Israeli education system, with young Israelis taken on trips to Auschwitz, there is no proper understanding of it or the reasons behind it. Instead, Israelis are simply taught that it was due to anti-Semitism. The result is that the Holocaust is used to foster the sense of national persecution and intense patriotism, especially against the indigenous Arabs. Forty-four per cent of young Israelis don’t believe that Arabs should be elected to the Knesset. And no Israeli, after visiting Auschwitz, has gone to the walls and fences around Gaza, and vowed ‘Never again’ for its citizens as well.

As for the Shoah’s survivors in Israel, many of them live in abject poverty, denied the compensation that Israel has claimed on their behalf. Which shows how hypocritical the Israeli state’s attitude to the welfare of these people, who endured so much, actually is. 

But the Zionists are determined that the Holocaust should be considered a unique event, a phenomenon that occurred only to the Jews. In fact Gypsies were also singled out for extermination because of their race in Nazi Germany, and the techniques of mass murder – gassing with Zyklon B cyanide gas – was developed first to destroy the congenitally disabled, who were also considered racially undesirable. The Holocaust also had a precedent in the Armenian Massacres, the attempt by the Young Turks regime to exterminate the entire Armenian people, when they rose up against their imperial masters during the First World War. Hitler was encouraged to move to the mass extermination of the Jews by his observation that the great powers – Britain, France and America – had done nothing to stop this genocide. ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’ he remarked.

And in order to preserve the idea that the Holocaust was a unique event, peculiar only to the Jews, some Zionists have also done their best to discourage comparable commemorations of the Nazi murder of the Romany and disabled, or the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians. Greenstein wrote

The elevation of the Jewish Holocaust above all other acts of genocide not only suggests that it is unique but that it has nothing to tell us beyond the fact that it occurred. If the purpose of remembering and commemorating acts of genocide is to prevent their reoccurrence and to act as a warning against their repetition, why single out one act of genocide? The genocide of the Gypsies and the Disabled are all but omitted from Holocaust museums such as Yad Vashem and the Washington US Holocaust Museum. The genocide of Africans in the slave trade or Armenians forms no part of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Indeed from the days of Herzl onwards there has been a determined refusal by Zionism to acknowledge the Armenian massacres and genocide. Lucy Dawidowicz, a prominent Zionist historian went so far as to say that unlike the Nazis, the Turks had a ‘rational’ reason for massacring Armenians. Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz and Arthur Hertzberg, all prominent Zionists, withdrew from an international  conference on genocide in Tel Aviv when the sponsors refused to remove sessions on the Armenians. (Novick pp. 192-193, Finkelstein pp. 69-70)  The Zionist lobby in the United States has repeatedly opposed any commemoration of the Armenian holocaust.

Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, in a debate with Dr Sybil Milton, the Senior Resident Historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Council argued that

‘the tragedy of the Gypsies’ whilst being ‘ no less poignant, and no less horrible’ was nonetheless not part of the Holocaust. Whilst ‘it happened at the same time as the Holocaust, and there are of course many similarities. Yet it appears to me that the Holocaust is very much a unique case. If someone prefers to call it Judeocide, that is his her privilege. It is exactly the same thing: it is the mass murder of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.’

For Zionism the Holocaust is a Jewish only affair. Sybil Milton, who was herself Jewish, responded succinctly:

‘(The) Nazi genocide, popularly known as the Holocaust, can be defined as the mass murder of human beings because they belonged to a biologically defined group. Heredity determined the selection of the victims. The Nazi regime applied a consistent and inclusive policy of extermination- based on heredity- only against three groups of human beings: the handicapped, Jews, and Gypsies.’

This correspondence ‘Gypsies and the Holocaust’ can be found in The History Teacher, Vol. 25, No. 4. (Aug., 1992), pp. 513-521.

Wiesel’s, Dershowitz’s and Hertzberg’s decision to walk out of the international conference on genocide because its inclusion of the Armenian massacres, in my view, is no doubt a direct contradiction of the fellowship many Jews feel towards them because of both peoples’ shared experience of genocide. It can be seen, for example, in the play, Burning Issues, which Mike and I saw at the theatre in Quakers Friars here in Bristol way back in the ’90s. Set in the American publishing industry, it’s similar to King Lear in that the drama is about an elderly, failing patriarch being challenged by his children. In this case, the central character is an Jewish publisher, who is determined to bring out an exhaustive encyclopaedia of the Holocaust. His fixation with the Third Reich is damaging sales, however, and his children wish to rescue the firm from bankruptcy by ditching the project and publishing something far more popular instead. The old man is himself a survivor of the Shoah, and his closest relationship is with his Armenian cleaner through the shared bond of surviving the attempted extermination of their peoples. The behaviour of Dawidowicz, Wiesel, Hertzberg and Dershowitz in their refusal to allow the extermination of other groups into the memorialisation of the Holocaust, even when they are directly comparable and relevant, is disgusting and should rule them out utterly as any kind of moral authorities on this subject.

Greenstein goes on to consider how the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, has been used to whitewash many extreme right-wing political leaders from around the world. People like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has compared himself to Hitler, and the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, which was founded by two former members of the SS. These politicians sign agreements with Israel, duly visit Yad Vashem, at which they lay wreaths, and then are duly legitimised by Israel’s Zionist establishment as friends of the Jews.

He also describes how Yad Vashem doesn’t discuss the Nazis’ murder of other ethnic groups during the Holocaust, quoting one of the journalists for the Israeli paper Haaretz. He says

Blatman noted the absence of Yad Vashem from the 5thGlobal Conference on Genocide in Jerusalem in 2016. Why? It has nothing to say on anything bar the Jewish genocide. Blatman wrote of how  

None of the hundreds of scientific events organized by Yad Vashem has been dedicated to the Holocaust and genocide…. You have to look hard to find any reference to the destruction of other populations in the Holocaust, and its chief aim seems to be to silence criticism. Similar museums in Paris and Washington hold regular activities on these topics

Whilst Yad Vashem studies what happened to the Jews in Polish or Ukrainian cities ‘they rarely address Nazi atrocities against other ethnic groups’. They study the minute detail of what happened to the Jews without ever seeing the wider picture. Yad Vashem ‘helps keep the Holocaust in a narrow Jewish ghetto that serves the xenophobic manipulations Israel makes of it.’

That is why Yad Vashem has never given birth to a comprehensive book on the Holocaust such as Gerald Reitlinger’s The Final Solution or Raul Hilberg’s Destruction of the European Jews. Holocaust research in Israel has done nothing to combat racism.

In fact, Yehuda Elkana, an Israeli historian, believed instead that the commemoration of the Holocaust had been so appropriated and corrupted by the Zionists, including Yad Vashem, that it was actively fostering Israeli racism. The only lessons they had learned from it was that Jews were victims, and so they were morally empowered to do anything against those they considered enemies with force. Elkana therefore argued that the Holocaust needs to be forgotten. Greenstein also quotes another Jewish scholar, Gideon Levy, who made the same point.

Greenstein himself writes

The Holocaust cannot be forgotten. The question is how it is remembered, by whom and for what purpose. Zionism’s abuse of Holocaust memory has to be challenged. Under capitalism all memory serves a purpose.

And concludes

The Holocaust needs to be reclaimed by the Left and Anti-Fascism.  For too long the Zionist movement has got away with harnessing the Holocaust to the chariot of racism and ethnic cleansing.

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2019-05-15T04:00:00%2B01:00&max-results=7&start=17&by-date=false

Absolutely. If Europe is to be saved from the new wave of racism and Fascism, it has to be by showing how similar the Holocaust is to the other prejudices and strains of racism now spreading across Europe. Like hatred of Blacks, Asians and Islamophobia. This needs to be done because vicious islamophobes like Tommy Robinson will declare their support for Israel and march with the extreme Right Jewish Defence League on the grounds that Israel is an outpost of western civilisation that needs to be defended from Islam.

It is absolutely disgusting that Zionism, or at least leading Zionists, are not allowing and indeed have actively blocked the commemoration of similar genocides against other ethnic groups in their memorialisation of the Holocaust. Just as it also shows that Jackie Walker had a point in her complaint that the plans by the Jewish Labour Movement to commemorate the Shoah also left out the genocidal persecution of other peoples and races, like the slave trade in Black Africans.

It is entirely right that survivors of the Holocaust should receive proper honours by her Maj at the 75th anniversary of D-Day. But we desperately need to remember also that they were and are not alone as the victims of attempted extermination. These horrors continue today, such as the Chinese state’s attempts to destroy the culture and ethnic identity of Uighurs of Sinkiang. The victims of these genocides are every bit as worthy as the generation, who passed through the Shoah, and their suffering every bit as deserving of commemoration and condemnation.

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

June 4, 2019

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Soubry Turns on Allen for Massive Election Defeat of Change Party

May 28, 2019

Here’s an interesting little piece from today’s I for the 28th Mary 2019. Change UK came very much bottom of the poll in the Euro elections this Thursday, and the recriminations have started. Anna Soubry as criticised her party leader, Heidi Allen, for telling people to vote tactically. She considers that Allen was effectively telling them not to vote for their party.

The article by David Hughes, titled ‘Allen’s bizarre strategy hit votes, says Soubry’, on page 10, runs

Senior figures in Change UK were involved in a public row after the party formed by breakaway Tory and Labour MPs failed to win any MEPs.

Anna Soubry, the party’s Brexit spokeswoman, accused leader Heidi Allen of “bizarre” behaviour for suggesting their supporters engage in tactical voting.

Former Tory minister Ms Soubry said “over 600,000 people went and voted for us, a genuinely new party”, which was an “extremely good” result, she claimed.

But she criticised Ms Allen, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think it is rather bizarre for an interim leader on the eve of a poll to tell people essentially not to vote for their party.” Mocking the leader, she added: “Let’s engage now in big, grown up politics.”

Former Tory MP Ms Allen acknowledged that her party needed to learn from what went wrong in the European Parliament elections before the next general election.

I caught a snippet of one of the female members of Change UK talking on the Beeb the other day comparing her party’s performance with that Farage’s Brexit. She said that Brexit’s success wasn’t surprising, as it wasn’t really a new party. It was simply another vehicle for Nigel Farage and his campaign against the EU. Which is exactly true. It’s simply another version of UKIP when it was under Nigel Farage’s leadership, complete with the racism, anti-environmentalism, anti-feminism, planned destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS. All of which the female speaker for Change UK didn’t mention, probably because they’re also mostly policies shared by the Tories, Blairite Labour and Change UK, with the possible exception of the anti-feminism.

She then complained that Change UK really was a genuinely new party, trying a different type of politics. A politics that was no confined to party interests. Here she was utterly wrong. There was absolutely nothing new about Change UK. It was the same old Thatcherite neoliberalism, still demanding austerity, the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state. It very happily continued the existing system of parliamentary corruption by working for the interests of its rich, corporate donors, instead of the British electorate. That’s why it was registered as a private company, rather than a political party, so that they could hide their accounts. It was, unlike the Tories, pro-Remain, and tried to dress up its solid hostility to policies that would genuinely improving conditions for working people by claiming that it was somehow centrist and non-partisan. Which is what the Lib Dems have also been saying for decades. And many people would have been put off voting for Change UK because of their selfish rejection of democratic principle by refusing to hold by-elections in their constituencies after they switched parties.

The simple fact is that Change UK is a party no-one wants and practically no-one voted for. But they really can’t accept that, and so have to carry on with all this rubbish about being a brave, new party and finding someone they blame for a defeat all of them deserved. I doubt, however, that the recriminations and backbiting are going to stop here. Time to get the popcorn in and watch as they melt down!