Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism’

‘We Own It’ Planning Day of Protest Against Hancock’s NHS Privatisation

June 11, 2021

It seems Matt Hancock and the Tories haven’t given up on their wretched plans to privatise the NHS. The Health Secretary is planning to introduce legislation that will allow private healthcare companies on to the management of NHS organisations. Apparently, this has already happened with Virgin sitting on the board of the NHS in Bath And North-East Somerset. The anti-privatisation organisation We Own It is planning a day of protest against this latest move to break up the health service next Thursday, with symbolic tugs of war taking place between the public and private healthcare companies up and down the country. I got this email from them yesterday.

“Matt Hancock is planning legislation that will let private companies make decisions about our NHS care.

It’s already starting to creep in – Virgin were given a seat on the new NHS body in Bath and Somerset.

You can help to stop this in its tracks by making an impression all across the country with a clear image: this is a TUG OF WAR between you and private companies. 

Will you join in the National Day of Action on July 17th and organise a local ‘tug of war’ stunt to say NO to the private takeover of our NHS?

I will join in the National Day of Action

We think this legislation is coming to parliament quite soon.

So NOW is the time to get organised.

By organising an eye-catching ‘tug of war’ stunt, with private companies on one side ❌and US on the other ✊, you’ll be helping to get the news out and show our collective outrage.

Don’t worry if you’ve never organised an action like this before, we’ve got you covered!

If you want, you can come to a training session and there’s a step by stepp here.

The stunt doesn’t need to be big. It just needs you, a few friends and a rope!

Will you be part in the National Day of Action on July 17th to stop Virgin making decisions about our health and our NHS?

I’ll take part in the Day of Action

The government is trying to put on a spin on this bill, saying it will end privatisation, because they know privatisation of our NHS goes down like a lead balloon.

So it’s VITAL that together we get a huge amount of coverage for the Day of Action.

Find out more about organising for the day, with our handy step by step!

We can support you every step of the way.

What about the rest of the UK? This bill will mean disintegration of our NHS in England. Luckily the rest of the UK is not going ahead with these plans yet.

But it is not a good sign for the direction of our NHS as a whole, long term.

We’ll have action for everyone take on July 17th to say no to this private takeover.

Thank you for being part of this fight. You’re not alone in fighting for our NHS.

In solidarity,

Cat, Zana, Johnbosco, Chris, Alice and Pascale – the We Own It team”

I’m afraid I’m too ill at the moment to take part in this myself, but I’m putting it up in case anyone else wants to get involved.

This is extremely ominous, as it definitely won’t be the end of the privatisation of the NHS, whatever lies Hancock spouts. After it’s gone through, the Tories will find yet another pretext to hand it over to private healthcare companies until it is totally transformed into a fully private, for-profit system like America’s. It has to be fought every step of the way.

Starmer should be doing this, but like the good Blairite he is, when it come to tackling capitalism he’s nowhere to be seen.

Help! David Evans Wants to Indoctrinate Me to Believe Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism

June 8, 2021

The terrible events in Israel last week when Palestinians and Israelis rioted and fought following the state’s attempts to ethnically cleanse Arabs from their homes in east Jerusalem ready for Jewish settlers clearly has had the anti-Semitism witch-hunters in the Labour party rattled. Because far-right Zionist nationalists and their supporters in the British political and lamestream media establishment have decided that even the mildest criticism of Israel and its barbaric policies towards the indigenous Arabs is anti-Semitic. Those who make them are to be ruthlessly smeared as Jew-haters and Nazis. The Labour party’s grotesque party bureaucracy has fully signed up to this attitude with the Jewish Labour Movement as one of the main organisations within the party demanding the automatic trial and purging of Israel’s critics. Even when those critics are entirely decent men and women, like Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Mike, Martin Odoni, Marc Wadsworth and so many, many others, who utterly despise and attack all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.

As a Labour party member, I got this merry little email in my inbox yesterday from David Evans inviting me to a session of online anti-Semitism training the Monday after next.

When I first became General Secretary of the Labour Party, I made my priorities clear.

I want to ensure that our Party is a welcoming environment for all our members.

In order to tackle antisemitism, it is vital to understand it.

That’s why I’m inviting you to an awareness raising training session for Labour Party members on understanding antisemitism, covering what antisemitic incidents look like in the UK and the world today, identifying different elements of antisemitism and how members of the Labour Party can create a welcoming environment for Jewish members.

The training will take place online, Monday 14 June from 6:00 – 7:00pm.

Help tackle the issue – sign up for the session today.

…..

The session will be introduced by Mike Katz, National Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, and delivered by Rebecca Filer, National Organiser for the JLM, which has been the Labour Party’s Jewish affiliate for over 100 years.

The Labour Party is built on the values of solidarity, equality and respect. Our movement thrives when it is together. That’s why I am very grateful for all the invaluable work that has gone into this training session, and would like to stress its importance. I have undertaken the training myself and found it thought provoking and useful.

Once more, I would like to urge all members who are able to attend the session to do so.

Best,

David Evans
General Secretary

The short answer to this invitation is ‘definitely not’. I know a fair amount about anti-Semitism. I know some great Jewish peeps and studied the rise of Fascism and Nazism as part of my history degree at College. And I’m very aware that what Evans, Katz and Filer want to tell me is anti-Semitism isn’t.

The Jewish Labour Movement is utterly incapable of giving an objective, non-ideological and impartial discussion of anti-Semitism. It used to be Paole Zion, ‘Workers of Zion’, a pro-Zionist Jewish socialist organisation and until very recently it was absolutely moribund. Then it was taken over by somebody, given a massive cash injection and renamed the Jewish Labour Movement. This was after the bombing of Gaza nine years ago, which also prompted the foundation of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism because its ultra-Zionist founders were shocked to find that the British public did not view with pleasure the spectacle of the Israeli military machine killing Arab civilians. Even its name is a lie. It’s affiliated to the Labour party, but you don’t have to be a member of the Labour party or even Jewish to be a member. And in fact, the organisation has been embarrassed several times when one of its gobby mouthpieces has been revealed as such.

This is profoundly different from Jewish Voice for Labour, whose members must be Jewish and members of the Labour party, although gentiles may have associate membership. But then JVL are left-wingers, who supported Corbyn and criticised Israel, so they’re the wrong kind of Jews.

The ideological weapon the witch-hunters have used against Israel’s critics is the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which has been criticised by legal experts as dangerous imprecise. It conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, and so, in the view of one of its inventors, Kenneth Stern, has been used to chill criticism of Israel.

In fact, a far better definition of anti-Semitism is the simple one devised by Wilhelm Marr, the founder of the German League of Anti-Semites in the 19th century and the man who first coined the term. Anti-Semitism is simply hatred of Jews, as Jews. Now this can take terrible forms, the most notorious being the murderous and absurd conspiracy theories about the Jews controlling capitalism, Communism and the trade unions and encouraging race mixing and non-White immigration to destroy the White race, or that the Jewish people are engaged in a similar conspiracy to destroy Islam.

The anti-Semitism witch-hunters, however, have abused real history and politics through the use of a form of grotesque literary criticism. Israel very definitely has been engaged in plots against other governments, such as when a member of staff at the Israeli embassy was caught by al-Jazeera plotting with a senior British civil servant over who should be a member of Tweezer’s cabinet. But because this was a plot, even though it was real, and allegations of plotting and conspiracies have long been a staple of anti-Semitic attitudes, criticism of such actions are silenced by the accusation that anyone talking about them must somehow be anti-Semitic, even when the plots are perfectly real. If you criticise Israel for doing so, or use the wrong language when describing the country’s actions and policies, you will be attacked and vilified for using ‘anti-Semitic tropes’. Even when you are factually correct, and not remotely anti-Semitic.

Especially if you are factually correct, and not anti-Semitic.

This is the view that Evans, the Jewish Labour Movement and other wretched organisations like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Board of Deputies of British Jews wish to foist on the Labour party and its members. It’s a disgusting distortion what real anti-Semitism is, and has been used to vilify, persecute and purge genuine opponents of anti-Semitism. These have included Jews, and their friends and supporters, who have genuinely suffered anti-Semitic abuse and assault. The Labour party has definitely not been a welcoming place for critics of Israel.

I shall very definitely not be attending if such training is to be given by such odious, deceitful and mendacious organisations.

The Irish Nationalists on Multinational Agribusiness Land Clearances in Africa

June 3, 2021

Two of the many great commenters on this blog, Brian Burden and Gillflowerblog, are concerned about my watching too many videos from the far right. As they have pointed out, the danger with it is that it can turn you a Tory after a night of bad, troubled dreams. Just like the hero of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis turns into a beetle after a similar disturbed night. I’ve no time for Fascism or the far right. The horrors of the Nazi and Fascist tyrannies are so enormous and vile that no sane, decent person can ever support them. The most infamous of those is the murder of 6 million Jews, and 5 1/2 million assorted gentiles in the Nazi death and concentration camps, but it also includes the atrocities by the Ustashe regime in the former Yugoslavia and by the Italian Fascists against the Arabs and Ethiopians. But it seems that amid the racism and xenophobia the Irish far right are uncovering some very disturbing facts about the actions of multinational corporate capitalism in sub-Saharan Africa that could very easily form part of a liberal critique and politics of international protest.

For some reason YouTube’s put up for my viewing a series of videos from the Irish Nationalist Party, despite the fact that I’m not Irish and definitely not a member of the far right. But they are interesting because of what they show about the issues now driving the rise of the nationalist right in Eire. From what I’ve seen in these videos, the Nationalists are against the EU, mass immigration, gay and trans rights and multinational finance capitalism. Their attacks on finance capitalism are superficially entirely reasonable. They hate the way Ireland and its enterprises have been parcelled up and sold off to foreign owners through offshore holding companies and tax havens. They’re right. This is also what has been done over here in Britain, and is still being done by the Tories. They rightly criticise the government for bailing out the banks responsible for the 2008 financial crash and the austerity that was consequently imposed on the Irish people. Just as over this side of the Irish Sea, our government bailed out the banks and rewarded the people responsible for the crash, while at the same time using it as an excuse to impose cuts on the welfare state, state expenditure on education and the NHS and low wages for everyone not a multimillionaire. And part of their hatred of the EU seems to come from the European Union’s role in imposing this austerity as well as other, socially liberal policies which go against traditional, conservative Irish morality.

In one of their videos, they compare the offshore financial houses and the EU to the absentee landlords that oppressed the Irish peasantry during the 19th century, and whose predations and exploitation was a major cause of the grievances that finally produced the Irish Revolution. But underneath the liberal, reasonable critique of multinational finance capitalism, there’s something far more intolerant. In one of the videos I watched, the speaker talked about how there needed to be research into the role of international finance capitalism in the Cromwellian invasion. This sounds to me to be the old anti-Semitic nonsense about the Jewish banking conspiracy. The nonsense spouted by the Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and which inspired Adolf Hitler and the other architects of the Holocaust.

They also hate the Irish government and the country’s mainstream parties, as well as the EU, for mass immigration, which they claim is taking Irish jobs from Irish workers and making Irish people homeless as accommodation which should go to them is given instead to immigrants. It’s standard far right stuff in many ways.

But one of their speakers at a local rally said something very interesting about what the multinational agricultural firms and the EU are doing in Africa. He claimed that they were destabilising the continent through purchasing vast areas of land and then clearing them of the indigenous, local people in order to turn them into vast farms. One of these estates being set up in Niger is, according to him, 5,000 square miles in extent. These firms are building huge walls around these estates, which have created tension and conflict. It’s the reason why so many military age men from the continent are seeking asylum on this side of the Mediterranean. They’re fleeing the wars and conflicts this is fuelling.

Now I don’t know how true this is. But it sounds horrifically plausible. Way back in the ’90s some of the creators of 2000AD put out a very political comic strip, World War Three, about a future war in Latin America driven by the big agricultural firms. I got the impression that this was based on fact and reasonable predictions. It was SF as the ‘literature of warning’. Now it sounds like something very similar is really happening, but this time in Africa.

I’m sure this is being discussed elsewhere, but I’m unaware that it has been covered in the mainstream media or by the mainstream parties. I wonder if this is a consequence of the embrace of neoliberalism by the European left. I very much doubt that Tony Blair and his successors in the Labour party want anyone noticing that free market, international capitalism in its genuine sense rather than as a code for ‘Jews’ brings nothing but wage slavery, poverty, misery and death. The Fascists and the far right, however, are left free to mention it. They are, after all, at the moment numerically small in Ireland and Britain and so few people will take any notice. And decent people will ignore it, because it comes from such a contaminated source.

Odiously, we have now got into a situation where reasonable criticisms of multinational capitalism are being shut down by the rightists under the pretext of combatting anti-Semitism in the Labour party. And instead they’re being embraced by people, whose solution is the ‘socialism of fools’ described by August Bebel.

We need real socialism, and a politics of tolerance and internationalism to protect working people across the world, whether Africa, Ireland or Britain.

I’m not going to show the video or link to it, but if you want to see it on YouTube, it’s title is: Ciarán McCormack – “The UN, the EU and the World Bank are destabilising Africa.”

Mad Right-Winger Alex Belfield Attacks GB News as Based in France and Part of Murdoch Empire

June 1, 2021

This is very interesting. Alex Belfield, the mad right-wing internet radio host, who believes the lockdown should be immediately lifted, hates the immigrants coming over from France in their dinghies, and wants the NHS to be handed over to private management, apart from other high Tory policies and talking points, has just posted up a video today laying into GB News. This is supposed to be the patriotic, private news station, fronted by former editor of the Economist, the Scotsman and the Sunset Times, now head of the company in charge of the alt-right Spectator, Andrew Neil.

And this is Belfield’s first criticism of the station. Neil lives in France, and will be broadcasting from across the Channel. Which looks very bad for a company claiming to be Great Britain News, the patriotic alternative to the ‘wet, woke BBC’. The claim is that Neil has been stranded across La Manche because of the lockdown, although Belfield points out that he’s probably there since the weather’s warmer and the food and wine better. In fact, Neil’s been living in France for years. When he was editing one of the papers he used to hold the morning’s editorial meetings via Speakerphone, which caused the staff no end of embarrassment and doubtless hilarity when they are the sounds of Brillo struggling with his dog, Napoleon, which bit him.

But a more important criticism is in the second half of this video. Belfield points out that GB is not patriotic. It’s part of a multinational, the Murdoch empire. And while its broadcasters will tell us – he means fellow right-wingers like himself – what they want to hear, they aren’t us and are not on our side.

Quite.

This is what the Left and even some Tories have been saying since forever and a day. When Murdoch made moves to buy the Times in the late ’70s or early ’80s, there were Tories who objected to its acquisition by the smut merchant who has ruined journalism and coarsened culture across the civilised world. But Thatcher wanted his support, and so gave in to his request. As did her intellectual heir in the Labour party, Tony Blair, and now the Tory administrations of Cameron, Tweezer and BoJob.

There are of course solutions to the problems of the multinationals. These are to nationalise the utilities to make sure that they receive proper investment and work to serve the British public, rather than provide profits for their foreigner owners and management; end the offshore shell companies which allow the superrich to avoid paying tax; and pass legislation preventing foreigners owning British papers. This is what the Americans did in their country, and its why Murdoch moved to America and took out American citizenship in order to retain Fox News and other parts of his empire over there.

But all this is anathema to the elite who run our country and political parties, who are neoliberals to the core and have personal interests in many of these firms. This includes Keir Starmer, who wants to return the Labour party to being the servant of wealthy, corporate donors rather than a party for ordinary working people.

But in the meantime, this video is interesting as it shows that Belfield is aware that something is seriously wrong with globalisation. He just thinks that somehow it can be resolved within laissez-faire capitalism.

Book Setting British Empire and the Debate in Its Historical Context

May 31, 2021

Jeremy Black, The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015)

This is another book I got through the post the other day after ordering it from a catalogue. Jeremy Black is, according to the book’s potted biography, Professor of History at Exeter University, and the author of over 100 books. He’s also written for the Journal of Military History, RUSI, which is the journal of the Royal United Services Institute and History Today. The list of other publications about the British Empire lists another book edited by him, The Tory World: Deep History and the Tory Theme in British Foreign Policy, 1679-2014. From this, it might be fair to conclude that Black’s a man of the right.

I read his book, Slavery: A Global History a few years ago when I was writing my own book on the British Empire and slavery a few years ago, and really enjoyed it. Instead of dealing with the British transatlantic slave trade in isolation, it showed how slavery was widespread right across the world and described how the British imperialists tried to end it in their subject territories. I bought this because, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, British imperialism has once again become a matter for heated debate and violent denunciation. The motives of the people behind some of these denunciations and demands for justice seem more than a little suspect to me. For example, a month or so ago one of the speakers in an Arise Festival online meeting was the head of the Black Liberation Movement, the British branch of Black Lives Matter. In her speech she declared that Britain should take asylum seekers ‘because you oppressed us under colonialism’. The short answer to that is that this was supposed to be corrected when the former colonies were granted their independence. Instead, many of them very swiftly degenerated in horrific, murderous dictatorships, like Idi Amin’s Uganda and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. There was a very deliberate decision in her speech to ignore and gloss over post-colonial misgovernment and oppression, no doubt because it doesn’t fit the narrative she wants to present of Britain being responsible for all her former colonies’ woes.

I am also not impressed by the very loud demands for Oxford University to remove Cecil Rhode’s statue. Don’t get me wrong, he was a blackguard. He’s supposed to have said that the people he liked to employ were greedy sycophants, or something like that. Some critics have also said that his imposition of the colour bar in Rhodesia was particularly hypocritical, as he didn’t personally believe in it. But pre-colonial east Africa was hardly some idyllic Wakanda. Many of the indigenous peoples practised slavery themselves, and were preyed on by Arab, Swahili, Marganja and Yao slavers. And you can argue that, as horrendous as White rule was, it was far better than Mugabe’s genocidal dictatorship. The people calling for the statue’s removal seem to me to be Black African nationalists, butthurt over what they see as a slight to their racial and national dignity. But I also wonder if some of its also motivated by a consciousness of their nations’ failures post-independence.

I bought the book as it promised to discuss the debate surrounding the British Empire as telling its history. Black states that it needs to be seen in its historical context and not judged by the standards of the present day. This is actually what I was taught in my first year of studying history at College. You’re not supposed to create ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ of history, because if things had turned out differently, our standards and culture would have been different.

The blurb for the book runs

What was the course and consequence of the British Empire? The rights and wrongs, strengths and weaknesses of empire are a major topic in global history, and deservedly so. Focusing on the most prominent and wide-ranging empire in world history, the British Empire, Jeremy Black provides not only a history of that empire, but also a perspective from which to consider the issues of its strengths and weaknesses, and right and wrongs. In short, this is a history both of the past, and of the present-day discussion of the past, that recognises that discussion over historical empires is in part a reflection of the consideration of contemporary states.

In this book Professor Black weaves together an overview of the British Empire across the centuries, with a considered commentary on both the public historiography of empire and the politically-charged character of much discussion of it. There is a coverage here of social as well as political and economic dimensions of empire, and both the British perspective and that of the colonies is considered. The chronological dimension is set by the need to consider not only imperial expansion by the British state, but also the history of Britain within an imperial context. As such, this is a story of empires within the British Isles, Europe, and, later, world-wide. The book addresses global decline, decolonisation, and the complex nature of post-colonialism and different imperial activity in modern and contemporary history. Taking a revisionist approach, there is no automatic assumption that imperialism, empire, and colonialism were ‘bad’ things. Instead, there is a dispassionate and evidence-based evaluation of the British Empire as a form of government, an economic system, and a method of engagement with the world, one with both faults and benefits for the metropole and the colony.

Black states that criticism of British imperialism is also a criticism of capitalism, which in many cases is very definitely and obviously true. However, he also criticises Kwesi Kwarteng’s history of the British empire for its denunciations of British colonial oppression in some of the colonies, like Nigeria. And while British imperialism may well have brought some benefits, much of it is still indefensible by modern standards. Like the plantations in Ireland, the genocide and dispossession of indigenous peoples, like aboriginal Australians and the American Indians, the seizure of native land in Africa and so on. He notes that the most successful colonies are White settler nations like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but this hardly outweighs the disastrous consequences of the White invasion for the indigenous peoples.

I haven’t read it yet – I’m still making my way through a number of other books – but I hope to do so, and will probably blog about it in the future to give my views and conclusions about what looks like a timely and provocative book.

Book on Anti-Capitalism

May 29, 2021

Simon Tormey, Anti-Capitalism: A Beginner’s Guide (London: One World, revised edition 2013).

Like many people, I’ve been doing some reading during the lockdown. I found this in one of the mail order book catalogues I get, and ordered it as it looked interesting. I got through the post the other day. It was first published in 2004 and was republished in a revised edition nine years later. The blurb for it on the back runs

The financial crisis, bank bailouts, and the dash to austerity have breathed new life into protest movements across the globe, and brought anti-capitalist ideas into the mainstream. But what does it mean to be anti-capitalist? And where is anti-capitalism going – if anywhere?

Simon Tormey explores these questions and more in the only accessible introduction to the full spectrum of anti-capitalist ideas and politics. With nuance and verve, he introduces the reader to the wide variety of positions and groups that make up the movement, including anarchists, Marxists, autonomists, environmentalists, and more. Providing essential global and historical context, Tormey takes us from the 1968 upsurge of radical politics to the 1994 Zapatista insurrection, the 1999 Seattle protests, and right up to Occupy and the uprisings across the Eurozone.

This is a fascinating and bold exploration of how to understand the world – and how to change it.

A biographical note states that Tormey is a political theorist based in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney. He was the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham.

The book has an introduction and the following chapters:

  1. The Hows and Whys of Capitalism
  2. Anti-Capitalism after the ‘End of History’
  3. A ‘movement of movements’1: ‘reformism’, or ‘globalisation with a human face’
  4. A ‘movement of movements’ II: renegades, radicals and revolutionaries
  5. The Future(s) of Anti-Capitalism: Problems and Perspectives

There is a timeline of contemporary anti-capitalism, a glossary of key terms, thinkers and movements, and a list of resources.

Although the book was published eight years ago, I think it’s still going to be very relevant. The world may have been in lockdown for the past year with governments supporting their economies, but the Tories have neither gone away nor changed their stripes. It’s been pointed out that they never let a crisis go to waste. Once the lockdown is lifted, they’ll revert back to cutting the welfare state, privatising the NHS and with further attacks on workers’ rights, increasing job insecurity and lowering wages. We will need to organise again and resist them. The book’s short at 181 pages, excluding the index, but it looks like a very useful and necessary contribution to combating neoliberalism and the poverty and misery it is inflicting on working people across the globe.

One Struggle: The People Oppressing the Indian Farmers Are Also Donors to the British Tories

May 5, 2021

As I’ve mentioned previously, last Friday I went to a Virtual pre-May Day rally on Zoom, put on as part of the Arise festival of left Labour ideas. It lasted for nearly an hour and a half, and featured great speakers from across the world, including our own Jeremy Corbyn. The international guests included Daniele Obono, a Black socialist politician from across the Channel in France, and peeps from Ghana, India and Latin America. They spoke about how people everywhere had to fight against exploitation from their own national elites, as well as combating racism, colonialism and the legacy of slavery. One of the speakers graphically showed how the poor African countries are very much at the mercy of the big multinationals with a story about Kenya and Vodaphone. The Kenyan government had asked the phone company not to give its shareholders their dividends this year, because the pay out would bankrupt the African nation.

I was also very much interested in the talk by an Indian lady about the appalling policies of Modi’s Hindu Supremacist government. This is the Indian nationalist BJP, which is extremely right-wing and bitterly intolerant of Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, as well as liberal Hindus, who believe in a secular, tolerant, pluralist India. The BJP are trying to privatise the state purchasing mechanism for the agricultural sectors. This was set up to guarantee a fair price to India’s farmers. However, the BJP are neoliberals and so want to hand it over to private entrepreneurs. This will force down prices, sending millions of farmers into abject poverty. There have been mass demonstrations and strikes against it right across India. She said that it’s the biggest protest movement in the world, number 250 million people. And Modi and his crew have reacted brutally, sending the police in to break up the protests, beat demonstrators and arrest the journalists covering them.

And guess what? Some of the businessmen backing Modi’s privatisation are also donors to the Tories over here.

This also shows how multinational capital is operating across the globe to impoverish and exploit working people.

A few months ago we had as guest speaker at a Virtual meeting of my local Labour party here in Bristol a member of Sikh community to talk about Modi’s attacks on the Indian farmers. Most of the farmers affected are Sikh, and so there are Sikh charities in this country which are giving aid to their coreligionists in India.

But it’s also very clear that working people across the world also need to unite to tackle the poverty and oppression created by capitalism because of the impact of globalisation. I am very definitely not a Communist, but Marx made this very clear in the slogan on the Communist Manifesto.

We really do need the workers of the world to unite. Because if we don’t, we will be in chains.

Abolition and Radical Politics in Bristol in the 1830 Election

March 5, 2021

A few days ago Bristol city council passed a motion, brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake and seconded by Bristol’s deputy mayor and head of equalities, Asher Craig, for the payment of reparations for slavery. Despite the radical language used – Lake referred to people of African descent as ‘Afrikans’, claiming that this was an inclusive term and the original spelling of the word, which Europeans had changed – the motion was in many ways unremarkable. It called for funding to be directed to create sustainable Black communities and promote racial equality. These programmes were to be guided by the needs, views and historical perspectives of the Black communities themselves.

But this isn’t really very different from what Bristol, and most other cities with a Black or Asian population, are already doing. Since the riots of 1981/2 Bristol has been funding schemes to regenerate St. Paul’s and other deprived areas in Bristol’s inner city with a large Black population. And I got the impression that these schemes were tailored to meet the demands and requirements of the various Black organisations active in those areas.

The continuing debate over Bristol’s role in the slave trade prompted me to look for a pamphlet published decades ago by the Bristol branch of the Historical Association on Bristol and the abolitionist campaign, Bristol and the Abolition of Slavery: The Politics of Emancipation, by Peter Marshall. The pamphlet’s text has been put online by Bristol Record Society, and can be read at bha037.pdf (bristol.ac.uk). Reading it, what I found particularly interesting is the way the pro-Abolition Whig candidate, Edward Protheroe for the 1830 election linked the emancipation of slaves with policies that would defend the freedom and increase the prosperity of the city’s working people against the rich elite and the West Indian Merchants. An election placard, ‘Who Is The Man Of Your Choice? Protheroe!’, stated

‘Who is for a poor man having a cheap loaf? – Protheroe!

Who is for a poor man having a cheap and good pot of beer? – Protheroe!

Who is for reform in parliament?- Protheroe!

Who is for taking off sinecures, pensions,&c? – Protheroe!

Who votes against the lavish expenditure in building palaces, &c?- Protheroe!

Who is a friend to freedom?- Protheroe!

Who is opposed to this ‘man of the people’ and for what?

The West India Merchants, because Protheroe is a friend to all mankind, and freedom all over the world!!

Will you permit these West India Merchants to ENSLAVE YOU?

Will you let them dictate to you, who shall represent you, in defiance of your own wishes?

No! You are Freemen!

Teach them a lesson. Convince them that however they may rule with despotic sway in the West Indies-they shall not lord it over you! That you will not be their slaves, their vassals or their tools!! …’

There has always been a strong working class sympathy for anti-racism and Black improvement. In the 18th and 19th centuries slave proprietors lamented the fact that White working class Brits were not only in favour of the abolition of slavery, but actively assisted escaped slaves. This was particularly true in Scotland, where the miners were bondmen – slaves – themselves.

Recently the Labour left has stressed that its programmes to support and improve the conditions of Blacks and other ethnic minorities are also linked to their broader campaigns in support of the British working class. They state that the White working class were not involved in the enslavement of Blacks, and have suffered from the same system of class rule and capitalism that resulted in Black slavery and exploitation. Protheroe’s election placard shows how far back those sentiments went in Bristol, to the early 19th century at least.

And this class connection between the White working class and British BAME communities needs to be stressed and maintained, because the Tories are trying to exploit White working class resentment to push through their policies of impoverishment, exploitation and death. But Protheroe’s placard also shows how White working people’s solidarity can also be used to push for radical political change and anti-racism.

Ian Lavery on the Need for Working Class Labour MPs

February 27, 2021

This is another excellent article from Labour Outlook, whose messages I stand solidly behind. Lavery’s a member of the socialist group of Labour MPs. In this piece, he describes how Labour lost its traditional heartlands, the very communities in which the party was born, because it no longer represented them. This was because a professional political class had developed, very few whose of members were working class. It was also because of the attitude within New Labour that the working class could be ignored and taken for granted because they had nowhere else to go. As a result, many of Labour’s traditional supporters either stayed home, or voted for others. They felt betrayed by Labour’s stance on Brexit and alienated by the ’90s socially liberal legislation. I am particularly impressed with the two final paragraphs, which run

But there is more to it that just that. Labour representatives cannot focus group their way to a better society. We need people with the heart and instincts that can only come from the bitter sting of personal experience. Parliament is desperately short of people who have claimed benefits, gone through life with disabilities or struggled day in day out in bad employment. This past year we have seen key workers carry the country on their backs, yet the green benches are sadly lacking in them too. We desperately need people with this experience to rebuild our country.

Labour has a history of promoting positive discrimination and it has an even longer history of championing the cause of working people. It is time that we remember our roots and embrace protected places for working class candidates throughout of our movement. If we do not trust in the power of people from our heartlands, why should they ever again put their trust in us?

I think Lavery is absolutely right. The Tories have been able, unfortunately, to position themselves as the real champions of the working class partly because they are able to reflect genuine working class concerns, though often in a crudely distorted form and with simplistic, deeply unjust solutions. For example, rather than blame unemployment on the cyclical crises of capitalism, they use scapegoats such as immigrants, who they falsely claim are taking away British jobs. They often speak in the language of ordinary people, while New Labour was notorious for its managerial attitude and jargon. Socialism always has had a very strong intellectual tradition because of its roots in the analysis and examination of the failings of the aristocratic and capitalist social orders. But all too often this has meant that socialism could be attacked as elitist, the product and concern of academics and intellectuals with no real experience or interest in real, working class life. This is despite the fact that many of the great intellectual pioneers of socialism were very definitely working class. Extreme right-wing mouthpieces, such as the internet radio host Alex Belfield, play on their working class origins while advocating policies which have hurt and will continue to hurt and exploit the very class from which they claim to come. It’s time this was challenged, and Labour put up their working class candidates.

Here’s the article as a whole:

‘Labour suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Tories in 2019 losing the very working-class communities where we were born as a party. Whilst there has been a meagre upswing in our polling position, the figures behind the headline tell a sorry tale about our position in the places Labour held for decades.

As Jon Trickett, Laura Smith and I have argued for some time the Labour Party has simply lost touch with working class communities. As a professional political class took over the institutions of the party three decades ago, inside Labour a shift took place and in too many instances our elected politicians were no longer representative of the communities that they served. An almost authoritarian level of social liberalism pervaded our party. But the consequences at the time were near non-existent.

That was in part because the New Labour machine tapped into a wildly successful electoral project that was built on the premise that the working-class backbone of the Labour vote had nowhere else to go. But as always short-term gain is built on sand. As the optimism of the 90’s and 2000’s gave way to cynicism, those working people who had felt ignored and even ridiculed by their party begun to stay at home and as time went on if they did come out to vote, it wasn’t for us.

As the party flounders seeking solutions to its current woes, I can say with certainty that “getting the band back together” and trying to emulate New Labour simply will not work. Neither will the current strategy based on following focus groups and repeating confusing messaging. It is Labour’s job to articulate an easily understood vision of a better future based on the principles on which our party was founded, and we need to make people believe we can deliver it.

In 2017 we ended up only a few thousand votes away from a fundamental break with a system which for too many has caused hardship. That the positive aspects of that campaign should never be forgotten is one thing and something that has been extensively covered. But as a party member and elected representative for decades it concerns me greatly that it could be decades until we see a Labour government again. So many of our traditional voters who for so long had not bothered came out to support us, to back a message of hope and to put their trust in us, perhaps one last time. I suspect many will be looking now and wondering what happened.

There is no easy way forward for Labour. Rebuilding long held bonds, severed by a feeling of betrayal over Brexit, will not be an easy task. Standing shoulder to shoulder with workers and communities in their struggles through deep roots is the way we must do this. But there is something else Labour must take seriously.

Whilst in recent decades our party has been at the forefront of diversifying Parliament, fewer and fewer of our senior politicians come from a working-class background with a few notable exceptions. This is a huge issue if we ever again hope to form a government. Labour cannot represent the country it seeks to lead without being representative of it. Winning trust back amongst these voters means selecting deep-rooted candidates with a track record of standing up for their communities. Being the drop off point of a conveyor belt full of “professional” politicians is simply not an option.

But there is more to it that just that. Labour representatives cannot focus group their way to a better society. We need people with the heart and instincts that can only come from the bitter sting of personal experience. Parliament is desperately short of people who have claimed benefits, gone through life with disabilities or struggled day in day out in bad employment. This past year we have seen key workers carry the country on their backs, yet the green benches are sadly lacking in them too. We desperately need people with this experience to rebuild our country.

Labour has a history of promoting positive discrimination and it has an even longer history of championing the cause of working people. It is time that we remember our roots and embrace protected places for working class candidates throughout of our movement. If we do not trust in the power of people from our heartlands, why should they ever again put their trust in us?’

See: Labour cannot focus group the way to a better society – we need working-class MPs. Ian Lavery MP Exclusive. – Labour Outlook

Book on Utopias from the 17th Century to Today

January 20, 2021

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2011).

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything for several days. Part of that is because the news doesn’t really inspire me. It’s not that it isn’t important, or that the Tories have stopped trying to strip working people of their rights and drive them further into poverty and degradation. Or that I’m unmoved by Trump trying to organise a coup to keep himself in the Oval Office like just about every other tin pot dictator throughout history. Or that Brexit isn’t threatening to destroy whatever remains of British industry and livelihoods, all for the benefit of the Tory superrich and investment bankers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have their money safely invested in firms right across the world. Or that I’m not outraged by even more people dying of Covid-19 every day, while the government has corruptly mismanaged their care by outsourcing vital medical supplies and their services to firms that are clearly incompetent to provide them, because those same firms are run by their chums. Ditto with the grossly inadequate food parcels, which are another vile example of Tory profiteering. It’s just that however disgusting and infuriating the news is, there is a certain sameness about it. Because all this is what the Tories have been doing for decades. It’s also partly because I can’t say anything more or better about these issues than has been already said by great bloggers like Mike, Zelo Street and the rest.

But I’ve also been kept busy reading some of the books I got for Christmas, like the above tome by Ruth Levitas, a sociology professor at Bristol Uni. The blurb for this runs

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of Utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia offers the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

It has the following chapters

  1. Ideal Commonwealths: The Emerging Tradition
  2. Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism
  3. Mobilising Myths: Utopia and Social Change in Georges Sorel and Karl Mannheim
  4. Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future
  5. The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris
  6. An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche
  7. A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies
  8. Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia.

I wanted to read the book because so many utopias have been socialist or socialistic, like the early 19th century thinkers Karl Marx described as utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen, and was interested in learning more about their ideas. In this sense, I’m slightly disappointed with the book. Although it tells you a little about the plans for the reformation of society, and the establishment of a perfect state or political system, the book’s not so much about these individual schemes as a more general discussion of the concept of utopia. What, exactly, is a utopia, and how has the concept been used, and changed and developed? Much of this debate has been within Marxism, beginning with the great thinker himself. He called his predecessors – Owen, Fourier and Owen ‘utopian’ because he didn’t believe their particular schemes were realistic. Indeed, he regarded them as unscientific, in contrast to his own theories. However, Marx did believe they had done a vital job in pointing out the failures of the capitalist system. Marxists themselves were split over the value of utopias. The dominant position rejected them, as it was pointless to try to describe the coming society before the revolution. Nevertheless, there were Marxists who believed in their value, as the description of a perfect future society served to inspire the workers with an ideal they could strive to achieve. This position has been obscured in favour of the view that Marx and his followers rejected them, and this book aims to restore their position in the history of Marxist thought. This idea of utopia as essentially inspirational received especial emphasis in the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a form of radical socialism in which the state and private industry are abolished and their functions carried out instead by the trade unions. Sorel himself was a French intellectual, who started out on the radical left, but move rightward until he ended up in extreme nationalist, royalist, anti-Semitic movements. His ideas were paradoxically influential not just in the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union, but also in Fascist Italy. Sorel doesn’t appear to have been particularly interested in the establishment of a real, syndicalist utopia. This was supposed to come after a general strike. In Sorel’s formulation of syndicalism, however, the general strike is just a myth to inspire the workers in their battle with the employers and capitalism, and he is more interested in the struggle than the workers’ final victory, if indeed that ever arrived.

The book also covers the debate over William Morris and his News from Nowhere. This describes an idyllic, anarchist, agrarian, pre-industrial society in which there are no leaders and everyone works happily performing all kinds of necessary work simply because they enjoy it and find it fulfilling following a workers’ revolution. Apart from criticisms of the book itself, there have also been debates over the depth of Morris’ own socialism. Morris was a member of one of the first British Marxist socialist parties, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and the founder of another, the Socialist League, after he split from them. Critics have queried whether he was ever really a Marxist or even a socialist. One view holds that he was simply a middle class artist and entrepreneur, but not a socialist. The other sees him as a socialist, but not a Marxist. Levitas contends instead that Morris very definitely was a Marxist.

When it comes to the 20th century, the book points out that utopias have fallen out of fashion, no doubt due to the horrors committed by totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, which have claimed to be ideal states. However, the critic Tom Moylan has argued that utopias have still been produced in the SF novels of Joanna Russ, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy and Samuel Delaney. He describes these as ‘critical utopias’, a new literary genre. The heroes of this literature is not the dominant White, heterosexual male, but characters who are off-centre, female, gay, non-White, and who act collectively rather than individually. The book criticises some earlier utopias, like News from Nowhere, for their exclusive focus on the male viewpoint, comparing them with the Land of Cockayne, the medieval fantasy that similarly presents a perfect world in which everything is seemingly ordered for men’s pleasure. In contrast to these are the feminist utopias of the above writers, which began in the late 19th century with Harriet Gilman’s Herland. It also discusses the value of satires like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and dystopias like Eugene Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Levitas does not, however, consider utopianism to be merely confined to the left. She also considers Thatcherism a form of utopianism, discussing the late Roger Scruton’s Conservative Essays and citing Patrick Wright’s On Living in an Old Country. This last argued that the Conservative promotion of heritage was being used to reinforce old hierarchies in a markedly racist way. Some members of society were thus delineated as truly members of the nation, while others were excluded.

The book was first published in 1990, just before or when Communism was falling. It shows it’s age by discussing the issue whether the terrible state of the Soviet Union served to deter people dreaming and trying to create perfect, socialist societies. She argues that it doesn’t, only that the forms of this societies are different from the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR. This is a fair assessment. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of books about the future colonisation of Mars, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the colonists not only succeed in terraforming the planet, but also create socialist society in which authority is as decentralised as possible, women are fully equal and patriarchy has been overthrown and businesses run by their workers as cooperatives. At the same time, those wishing to return to a more primitive way of life have formed hunter-gatherer tribes, which are nevertheless also conversant with contemporary technology.

Further on, although the Fall of Communism has been claimed to have discredited not just Marxism but also socialism, recent history has shown the opposite is true. After forty years of Thatcherism, an increasing number of people are sick and tired of it, its economic failures, the glaring inequalities of wealth, the grinding poverty and degradation it is creating. This is why the Conservative establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party, were so keen to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a Communist and Trotskyite, or whatever else they could throw at him. He gave working people hope, and as Servalan, the grim leader of the Terran Federation said on the Beeb’s classic SF show, Blake’s Seven, ‘Hope is very dangerous’. A proper socialist society continues to inspire women and men to dream and work towards a better world, and it is to stop this that the Blairites contrived to get Corbyn’s Labour to lose two elections and have him replaced by Keir Starmer, a neo-liberal vacuity who increasingly has nothing to say to Johnson and his team of crooks.

Back to the book, its discussion of the nature of utopia therefore tends to be rather abstract and theoretical as it attempts to describe the concept and the way it has changed and been used. I didn’t find this really particularly interesting, although there are nevertheless many valuable insights here. I would instead have been far more interested in learning more about the particular ideas, plans and descriptions of a new, perfect, or at least far better, society of the many thinkers, philosophers and authors mentioned.