Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens’

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

Satirist Would Cast Stuffed Animal to Play Boris Johnson

December 3, 2019

Here’s a funny story from yesterday’s I to provide some light relief, though it’s still about our comedy prime minister. And yes, I know it’s ad hominem, but it’s still funny. According to the article ‘PM could be played by stuffed animal’ by Alex Green, the satirist Armando Iannucci declared that he would make this casting choice at the British Independent Film Awards. Most of the article was really about the decision to cast Dev Patel as the hero in Iannucci’s colour-blind version of Dickens’ novel, The Personal History of David Copperfield. Iannucci said that he made the casting decision as a statement of Britishness, which ‘is open and generous and eccentric and funny, rather than closed and isolationist and withdrawn, which is the language we are hearing at the moment in certain other quarters.’

But of our comedy Prime Minister, the writer and creator of comedies like The Thick Of It, The Day Today and The Death of Stalin said, according to the newspaper, ‘I would probably use…stuffed animals. The smaller the better. The animal that shits the most.” This precisely shows how much Johnson is esteemed by the creator of those TV series and film. And as Johnson continues to show how inept, greedy and treacherous he really is, so more people are going to agree with Iannucci.

Jimmy Dore Show: Bernie Sanders Supporters Chant ‘The Media Is Corrupt’ at Rally

August 14, 2017

This is why Google, Facebook and the mainstream media hate left-wing, progressive and Socialist bloggers and vloggers. People are sick of their lies, and know that they’re corrupt. And they say it.

In this clip from The Jimmy Dore Show from July 2016, the American comedian and his guests comment on a clip from a Bernie Sanders rally in Philadelphia. The crowd spontaneously turned towards the section of the stadium where the media were positioned, and chanted ‘the media is corrupt’, while pointing fairly and squarely at them.

Dore makes the point that not only are people fed up with establishment politics and its corruption, they’re also sick of establishment media. ‘How’, he asks rhetorically, ‘can it not be corrupt, when just five guys own it? Five guys!’ As for how the media felt having the crowd turn on them, he speculates that they’re already so soulless they didn’t feel anything. It’s all about money and simply getting on TV, whatever happens. It has nothing to do with presenting the news. It is, in his words, ‘all about selling soap to people’.

And their ears are so stuffed with money that they don’t hear it when the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future come calling. Scrooge should have been like them, and stuffed money in his ears when they turned up in Dicken’s story, A Christmas Carol.

Well, now we’ve seen how the corporate media is reacting to this, both in the US and this side of the Pond. They’re corrupt, they know they’re corrupt, but rather than doing anything about it, like raising standards and actually reflecting what’s important to severely normal citizens, they’re just taking the corporate money and representing the corrupt politicos and their corporate paymasters. It’s just business as usual.

And they way they’re responding to criticism is by trying to drive out and slander the independent media outlets, and the myriad bloggers and vloggers, who are telling it like it is. It’s why YouTube is demonetizing videos by left-wing broadcasters like The Young Turks, Secular Talk, David Pakman and Sam Seder. It’s why Facebook is prioritizing corporate content, to deprive independent bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political of an audience.

It’s why one of the soulless corporate shills from the Groaniad penned a piece last week loftily claiming that corporate media hacks like his paper were the acme of journalistic standards, while all you’d get from the independent media and bloggers like Mike are lies, sloppy reporting and fake news.

Despite the fact that a lot of lies and fake news has always come from the mainstream press.

As for Mike, he’s a qualified journalist, who worked on a series of local papers. He even edited one for a time. Mike cares deeply about what he writes, about professionalism and proper journalistic standards, and checks the accuracy of his stories.

And so do very, very many other bloggers. For example, Another Angry Voice. I don’t know the Angry Yorkshireman’s background, but his pieces are carefully and thoughtfully argued and meticulously footnoted.

And they’re not the only bloggers doing quality journalism on the Net. The disability websites, like DPAC and others are goldmines for information about the government’s attacks on disabled people, and the pseudoscientific nonsense on which the Work Capability Tests are based on. There are thousands, perhaps millions of others, all saying what the corporate, mainstream media, including the Beeb, do not want you to hear.

Support them. Read them, and reblog them if you like what they say. Don’t let them be silenced.

Vox Political: Public Sides with Archbishop of Canterbury against Scrooge Farage

December 29, 2016

This story adds one piece more to the pile of evidence screaming out how thoroughly, grottily mean-spirited Nigel Farage is. On Christmas Day, Rev. Justin Welby, the current archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted the following message:

“Jesus came to us homeless and in a manger. This Christmas, please pray with me for the poor, hungry and homeless, here and abroad.”

This was too much for Farage, who tweeted back

“Merry Christmas! Ignore all negative messages from the Archbishop of Canterbury and have a great day!”

As a result, a social media campaign has been launched, where users of the site have been posting messages supporting the Archbishop under the hashtag #ImWithJustinWelby”.

Mike speculates that this may be part of a sea change against the various rightwing windbags like Farage and, indeed, the entire Tory cabinet, who have been promoted by their parties far beyond their meagre abilities, and have been responsible for making 2016 the dire mess it has been.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/29/imwithjustinwelby-and-against-nigel-farage-who-in-their-right-mind-wouldnt-be/

You actually begin to wonder what kind of society the Tories and ultra-Tories like UKIP have created, when a politico like Farage finds the Archbishop’s message offensive or controversial. Christian religious leaders and laypeople have been exhorting their co-religionists to remember the poor at this time of year since, well, actually since Charles Dickens first invented the modern Christmas way back in the 19th century with A Christmas Carol. The story was a piece of deliberate social engineering by the great novelist. Dickens was appalled by the poverty he saw in the Britain of his time – hence the term ‘Dickensian’, because of the care he took to describe it. Dickens felt that part of the solution to this problem would be to re-awaken the Christian conscience through stressing the spirit of generous charity at this festival. It was his rebuttal to the sentiments he puts in Scrooge’s mouth, about the poor finding relief from starvation through prison or the workhouse.

But this very traditional Christmas message – which has been repeated just about every year since Dickens effectively revived and reinvented its celebration in Britain – is now seen by the Fuhrage as some kind of dangerous moralistic ploy to spoil everyone’s fun. It isn’t. It’s inclusive. It’s about sharing the fun around, to combat poverty and social alienation.

And Britain might now be a largely secular society, but many atheists and secular people would agree with central point of the Archbishop’s message: that as the nation settles down to enjoy itself, it should also remember those less fortunate than themselves.

Farage’s reaction to the Archbishop’s message also shows how used the Tories are to automatically attacking any comment about social conditions from the Church. Ever since the Anglican church issued the first of a series of reports in the 1970s condemning the Tory party for increasing poverty in Britain, the Tories have been sneering and attacking them in their turn. There’s even a wretched blog, Cranmer, which states that it has been set up to support all rightwing Christians, particularly Anglicans, now that the Anglican clergy are turning to politics. The Tories’ reaction to such comments has now become instinctive. As soon as a senior clergyman dares to point out that poverty still haunts Britain, even in such a mild, inoffensive and entirely non-controversial form as the Archbishop’s Christmas tweet, someone like Farage has to stand up and denounce it.

And so, in the spirit of selfish greed and indulgence, we have Farage demanding that everyone should ignore the poor and homeless, and concentrate on stuffing themselves.

His statement also shows up another glaring moral fault in UKIP in the party’s attitude to immigration and non-Whites. Despite what the Fuhrage has said, his party is full of racist bigots, Islamophobes and White supremacists, who see Blacks and Asians as a dangerous threat to the British way of life and morality. But over Christmas, a number of Asian take-aways and restaurants have shown far more of the Christmas spirit than Farage. Mike put up a story about a fish and chip shop in Brum, run by two Asian brothers, which was going to supply free meals to the homeless and elderly on Christmas Day. I also heard that some of the Asian restaurants were also going to do likewise in Cheltenham. This spirit wasn’t confined to the Asian community – other hostelries, like a pub in Glastonbury, were also doing the same. I’m not here claiming that Blacks or Asians are any more virtuous than Whites. But the simple fact that so many Asian restaurants were doing so amply demonstrates that the obvious isn’t automatically true either. It shows how bigoted UKIP are, and their lack of compassion for society as a whole.

A few years ago one of the TV companies ran a show which adopted an interesting take on the issue of immigration. The show worked on the principle of ‘one in, one out’. Every week, the presenters gave the case for letting a particular person into the country, and canvased their viewers on who they’d like to see deported. One of those the great British public wanted to see thrown out of the country by a very long margin, according to Private Eye, was the editor of rabidly xenophobic Daily Mail, Paul Dacre. I think we should adopt the same attitude here. The Archbishop should be fully supported, and everyone who gave their time, money or other help to the poor and homeless at Christmas needs to stay, regardless of their ethnic or religious origins. Nigel Farage, however, must go.

Farage is Scrooge. Deport him now!

Simon Callow on the Press’ Perverse Attitude to Gay Celebrities

July 21, 2016

Simon Callow was on the BBC’s One Show last night. He, and his co-stars Anita Dobson and Bill Paterson were on, talking about a forthcoming TV series in which they play a group of pensioners, who throw dignity to the winds and decided to grow old disgracefully. Callow’s character is a man, who finds that having reached 70 and done his duty of working for a living and raising children, he feels robbed of his life, and wishes to return to the time when he was 18, and dreamed of a world of poetry, booze and drugs. A kind of anti-Victor Meldrew, if you like. This led into an interesting little discussion about when people decide you’re too old to do various ‘young’ activities, like going to nightclubs, wearing skinny jeans and sneakers. All accompanied with a picture of Keith Richards in full Rock axeman mode, who is 72 and doing all of the above.

Apart from this little insight into changing attitudes to aging and the elderly, Callow also gave a very interesting little window into the bizarre and contrary attitude of Fleet Street in the 1980s. Callow’s gay, but his sexuality has always been something of an open secret. Indeed, he himself did not try to hide it at all, despite the advice of his friends. He tried to come out several times in the 1980s, but the press ignored it every time he did. This was thirty years ago when attitudes towards homosexuality were harsher than they are now. There were gay celebrities, like Jimmy Somerville and Mark Almond, but attitudes generally were so hostile that many stars were very firmly in the closet. I can remember Elton John and Freddie Mercury both suing the press for printing that they were gay, before they finally came out.

Callow believed that honesty was the best policy, and so described how he gave several interviews to the press, in which he admitted his sexuality. What is strange and interesting, is that the press didn’t want to know. They never printed these stories, according to the great man. He said that they wanted to find people out.

This, it seems to me, indicates a kind of cynical, calculating cruelty in the press’ attitude to dealing with same-sex attraction. Clearly, what matter to them was the scoop, the revelation of an aspect of a celebrity’s life that they’d otherwise like to keep quiet. A prurient, salacious attitude, cynically exploited to boost sales by intruding on other people’s private lives. it seemed to me to be little more than a nasty delight in publicly humiliating someone, who was vulnerable to abuse because of their sexuality.

They couldn’t get Callow, however, because unlike many of his contemporaries, he believed and still believes that gay people are better off being open about their sexuality. He specifically mentioned the T-shirt slogan produced by the gay activist group, Stonewall, ‘Some people are gay. Get over it’. Clearly, the press at the time were mightily upset that Callow wasn’t tormented by the idea of people knowing about his sexual orientation. If I recall correctly, I think it was known at the time that he was gay, but that nobody was bother. I can remember hearing about how he was gay when I was at school, when he was in a family serial on ITV. It didn’t stop any of the kids I knew, who watched the programme from doing so. Callow now is one of Britain’s best-loved thesps. He’s toured the country presenting a one man show on Dickens, and appeared in an early episode of the revived Dr Who as his hero. So his sexuality clearly hasn’t set him back there. Nor should it.

But the anecdote does show the weird, persecutory and exploitative attitude of the press towards homosexuality and other’s privacy. It’s another example of why Private Eye’s column about the newspapers is called ‘Street of Shame’.

Vox Political Reports the Return of the Workhouse

October 28, 2015

This is truly chilling, and should frighten and upset anyone, who has any idea of history, or has simply read Dickens. Mike over at Vox Political has this piece reporting the conversion of a former bus depot in Blackburn into a recycling centre and accommodation for the homeless. The inmates will not only be given a roof over their head, but also training, education and work experience et cetera.

Mike’s report begins

Yes, you read the headline correctly. As originally reported on this blog in November last year, a former bus depot in Blackburn seems set to become the first new workhouse the UK has seen since before the Second World War.

Amazingly, Labour-controlled Blackburn with Darwen Council has approved in principle the sale and conversion of the Transdev/Lancashire United garage in Manner Sutton Street in Eanam on the edge of Blackburn town.

“SENIOR councillors have approved the framework of a deal to transform a semi-derelict former bus depot into a charity and recycling centre.

Under the scheme, up to 10 otherwise homeless people would live at the site under supervision.”

A charity calling itself Recycling Lives would run the site as a recycling centre for metal, scrap cars, tyres, plastics, televisions and redundant household items.

You can expect more of this as the government’s decimation of the NHS and the welfare state continues. The workhouses are usually considered something from the 19th century, but they continued in England right up to 1947. They were only ended by the creation of the welfare state.

And I’m not surprised that it was a Labour council, which approved the scheme. I dare say that as it was presented to them, it seemed very left-wing and progressive: housing, training and support for the homeless and unemployed, as well as recycling, so appropriately Green and environmentally friendly. And of course, there are enough Blairites still in the Labour party, who think hitting the working class as hard as possible and cutting benefits to the poorest is perfectly acceptable if it wins the support of the aspirational middle classes and the approval of Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre.

This shows just how far back our political class is willing to take us. All the way back to the 19th century. And if you have any doubt just how nasty and degrading these institutions were, remember that when they were set up they were called ‘The new bastilles’. They were a product of the Liberal administration, and even the Tories in some areas were so horrified by them that they refused to build them.

This is a vital issue that I intend to blog about in the future. In the meantime, Mike’s article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/10/28/workhouse-deal-is-signed-between-council-and-charity/. Go and do so. This is a warning of what will come.

Coming Soon to TV this Christmas: IDS – A Real Video Nasty?

December 13, 2014

Ever since Charles Dickens invented the ‘traditional’, Victorian Christmas with A Christmas Carol, ghost and horror stories have been a part of the season’s entertainment. In the 1970s and ’80s the BBC broadcast a series of ghost stories, including a version of Dickens’ The Railwayman, and the chilling tales of the master of the British ghost story, M.R. James. The latter were told by Robert Powell, taking the part of James himself, who every Christmas settled down in his room at Oxford to tell a story of the ghastly and supernatural to his students. Last year Mark Gatiss of the League of Gentlemen and now Dr Who, presented a documentary on James’ life and career. Gatiss and the other members of the League were horror fans, and arguably much of the new Dr Who has its roots less in Science Fiction than Dark Fantasy and Horror. He therefore was a good choice as the programme’s presenter.

Other spooky delights on offer on TV in the past were Hammer’s gory and grisly tales, such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and The Wolfman, featuring Oliver Reed as a werewolf, a part, which it could be said, he continued playing in many of his subsequent dramatic performances on chat shows around the world for much of his life. Some of his still remember his finest hour when he was thrown off the final programme of the discussion programme, After Dark.

Now watching the trailers last night for the forthcoming seasonal delights on the Beeb, I came across something that was genuinely unpleasant, far more so than anything dreamed up by Terence Fisher and the other fevered minds at Bray Studios in the 1960s. It was for a celebrity edition of University Challenge, and one of the faces looked like that of IDS.

This is genuinely grotesque. Christmas is traditionally a time of peace and goodwill to all, and yet there’s precious little of that on display with IDS and his actions. This is the politician, who has cut benefits and imposed sanctions to the point where claimants have actually died of cold and starvation on Britain’s streets, in their homes, or taken their lives through desperation. This is the politicians, who has lied and lied again about the effects of his policies to parliament. Not only that, but he is also personally treacherous and utterly without honour. When one lady, a Dutchwoman who had grown up here, worked all her life and paid her tax came to him as her MP about immigration problems, not only did … Smith refuse to help, he tried to have her deported.

Good King Wenceslaus, the song goes, took pity on a poor man ‘gathering winter fuel’, and so took him home to share his food and hearth out of charity. The real King Wenceslaus was the early medieval king of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, who converted the country to Christianity. I’ve got the feeling that the Czech version of his name is Vaclav, which is obviously still a popular name in the Republic. It’s the first name, for example, of the dissident poet and first democratic Czech president after the fall of Communism, Vaclav Havel. I don’t know whether the real King Wenceslas ever did what the carol describes, but it’s not impossible. Medieval religion strongly emphasised charity and the ‘works of mercy’ as part of the co-operative grace granted to humanity through which they could gain salvation partly through their good works. It formed what modern scholars have termed an ‘economy of salvation’ in which wealthy merchants and rich noblemen were careful to work out exactly how much money they should spend on charity for the poor in order gain time off in Purgatory. Looking after the material needs of the poor was particularly important, as it was believed that they far dearer to the Lord than the rich, and so their blessings and prayers were particularly important in securing God’s pardon.

For all IDS’ rhetoric about ‘social justice’, I’ve seen precious little evidence that IDS has anything but hatred and contempt for the poor. Far from helping the poor man collect his firewood, and show due concern for the page following in his footsteps against treacherous, icy footing, IDS strikes me as far more likely to have taken away the pauper’s firewood as above the level allowed by feudal law, and given him a strong lecture on his improvidence and lack of self-sufficiency in not having rationed his firewood properly in the Christmas season. And the page would have to have made his own way to keep up with the king, as this would have been the only way to give him the proper training to compete in the go-ahead, globalised economy of the 11th century.

It also struck me as the beginning of a charm offensive by the Tory party in preparation for next year’s election. The Tories are keenly aware that they have an image as ‘the nasty party’. IDS himself is surely aware that he is one of the most hated men in Britain. It’s why he opened a jobs fair in his constituency, Chingford, early and left before the masses arrived. It’s also why he has been forced to sneak out the back when appearing at a job centre in Bath, as well as hide in laundry baskets to escape protesters. He’s also such a physical coward that when he appeared before a select committee in parliament to give evidence, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed cops, pointing their guns at the public, including a number of disabled people and their carers in the public gallery.

His appearance on a festive edition of University Challenge looks like an attempt to present him as genial and family-friendly, a jolly type quite prepared to make a fool of himself on a quiz show at this time of year, rather than the vindictive, mean-spirited curmudgeon his really is.

It also seems to bear out a comment by Mark Kermode about the personal character of the makers of Horror and Family movies. Kermode’s the film critic on Radio 5 Live. He’s a long term Horror fan, having written books on Horror cinema and spoken before the British Boards of Film Certification about the censorship of particular video nasties. You remember them. They were films like Driller Killer, I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left, that were so disgusting that when they appeared in the 1970s and ’80s they were banned. Kermode has said in his reviews that the makers of Horror movies all invariably tend to be really nice people. Wes Craven, who made Last House on the Left and then the Nightmare on Elm Street series, was actually a genuinely nice, highly educated, intelligent man. Craven has said in interviews that the extreme and genuinely disgusting violence and brutality in Last House on the Left was partly inspired by the images that were coming out of Vietnam in 1973. He saw the film as a polemic against violence, and showing how violence simply begets even more violence. To that point, he once walked out of one of Quentin Tarentino’s flicks. When one of the horror great Horror directors asked him how he could walk out of Tarentino’s movie, after he had directed something as revolting as Last House on the Left, Craven replied, ‘Well at least my movie’s about something!’

M.R. James seems to be another case in point. Rather than being a pale, sour misanthrope, Gatiss’ programme described James as quite a jovial, very sociable figure in real life, who enjoyed physically romping with his fellow students. Gatiss talked to the son of one of James’ students, who said that his father believed him to have been a non-practicing gay. Regardless of the speculation about James’ sexuality, what was clear was that James was a genuinely friendly man, who enjoyed his friends’ company and affection.

By contrast, according to Kermode, you can bet that the people who make family films are personally nasty. Well, this seems pretty much the case with IDS, which is no doubt why he wants to appear on TV in a positive light. Forget Hammer, Frankenstein, Dracula and Freddie Kruger, this is one Horror story I’ll be glad to miss.

Remembering the Victims of Cameron’s Benefit Cuts

December 6, 2014

Mike has an excellent post up over on Vox Political, urging us to remember the poor, disabled and vulnerable this Christmas. It ain’t an original message. Indeed, it’s been at the moral centre of Christmas, whether or not you are a Christian or merely keep it as a secular festival, ever since Charles Dickens effectively re-invented the holiday in A Christmas Carol.

Mike’s piece, however, gives it added urgency, because of the hidden cost in human lives of the government’s disastrous cuts to welfare benefits. These have meant that the poor, destitute and disabled are dying of their infirmities after being found ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, soon to be replaced by the equally scabrous and excremental Maximus. However, the government is determined to cover up these statistics. The official reason is that the statistics alone won’t tell you if the person dying would have passed away naturally from their illness, regardless of what help was given. Mike’s article shows exactly how this claim is sheer nonsense.

He also points out that another set of victims, whose deaths will also go unrecorded, will be those, who have taken their lives in desperation. He states

Some claimants take their own lives while on the benefit. This could be due to many reasons including the hopelessness of a situation where they foresee themselves being pushed off-benefit (this goes for people in both the WRAG and the Support Group because they are all under the threat of continual reassessment), or suffering more and more cuts to the amount received (in comparison with inflation) that their quality of life will suffer, or they’ll be kicked out of their homes, or they won’t be able to afford the necessities of their lives. The government does not record the number of people who do this and pays no attention to the verdicts of coroners performing inquests on them.

Apart from the well-known statistic that most suicides occur at Christmas, which is fine if you’re affluent, in good health and surrounded by friends and family, but terribly lone and depressing if you aren’t, Mike also reports the appalling statistic that more people decide to end their lives under Tory than Labour governments.

Hence the article strongly recommends that we all look out for people we know, who may be vulnerable and in danger this Christmas.

The article’s This Christmas, remember the hidden casualties of the Coalition years, and it’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/12/04/this-christmas-remember-the-hidden-casualties-of-the-coalition-years/.

One of the most fascinating pieces in the article is Mike’s statement that he recently had the pleasure of talking to a journalist from Russia Today about the problems of the poor in Britain, and the way the British government does not report the true extent of the suffering. He states that is truly something when a foreign news corporation takes more of an interest in this issue than the British press.

Absolutely. And it’s a complete reversal of the BBC’s boast that it is somehow a more trusted source of information than foreign news agencies, tightly controlled by the state.

You’ve probably seen the Beeb’s advert for itself, in which someone from the foreign service or an activist from a repressive regime talks about how they and their fellows used to listen to the BBC World Service as the only source of objective news about their country.

Now the tables have been turned. In the West, the Soviet Union and its satellites were the archetypal repressive dictatorships after the Fascist states of the Second World War. The news media in those nations were looked down upon – rightly – as just instruments of state propaganda. There was an old Soviet joke about the names of the two major Soviet papers, Izvestia, ‘News’, and the Communist Party paper, Pravda. The joke went that there was no Truth in the News, and no news in the Truth.

Even now, after the fall of Communism, there are still extremely strict limits on press reporting in Russia. Journalists have been beaten and murdered for reporting facts the authorities find inconvenient. Yet with all the restrictions, their media may be a more trustworthy source of news about the true state of our own society than the Beeb, which so proudly boasts of its impartiality and objectivity.

In which case, all I can say is ‘Slava Rossiskii zhurnali’ – Glory to the Russian newspapers. And apologies for my poor schoolboy Russian.

Charles Dickens on the Brutality and Rapacity of the Tories

September 29, 2013

Charles_Dickens_1858

Charles Dickens is one of the great titans of modern English literature. His works have been prized, celebrated and imitated since the publication of The Pickwick Papers . The book’s appearance prompted a horde of copies lower down the press hierarchy in the penny journals. The copyright laws were much less rigorous then, and so these, lesser novels all had titles similar, but not identical to those of Dickens himself. His book, Sketches by Boz, was taken and copied by one of the 19th century popular journalists, as ‘Sketchbook by’, followed by a name very similar to Dickens’ ‘Boz’. His books have been adapted into stage plays, films and musicals, most famously A Christmas Carol, which has twice been filmed as a cartoon, and Oliver Twist, which became Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! His novels have also been frequently adapted for television. In the 1970s, for example, many of the Beeb’s period costume dramas broadcast on Sunday evening were adaptations of Dickens. I particularly remember Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield.

Despite his deserved popularity and immense respect, I suspect Dickens’ status as one of the Great Men of English Literature has probably done much to put people off him. People have a tendency to distrust automatically anything that becomes official, established art. One way to guarantee that people refuse to read a particular willingly is to put it on the school syllabus. Moreover, modern audiences are also likely to be left alienated by some of the characteristics of much 19th century writing, such as verbosity and their sentimentality. Boys in particular are likely to be put off him because of his novels’ period character, which associates them with the great 19th century lady novelists Jane Austen and the Brontes. In Superman II, for example, Clarke Kent’s identity as a wimpish square is firmly established, when Superman’s alter ego announces he wasn’t around to cover one incident as he was at home that evening reading Dickens. One suspects that its the kind of literature that such narrow-minded upholders of bourgeois respectability as Mary Whitehouse liked. For those younger readers suspicious of Dickens, I strongly recommend his short story, The Railwayman. It’s one of the classic British ghost stories, and completely amazed me when I read it as a teenager with its complete absence of all the dullness, verbosity and sentimentality I’d expected to come across in his works. Today one of Dickens’ great champions is the thesp Simon Cowell, who has toured in a one man play about the great writer and his life, and even appeared as his hero in a episode of Dr. Who, with Christopher Ecclestone playing the Time Lord. The video below comes from the Guardian, and is on Youtube. In it, Simon Callow takes the viewer around Dickens’ London.

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Dickens is partly celebrated for his work defending the poor and describing the hardship and poverty of the lives of ordinary people in 19th century Britain. Indeed, his surname has become a byword for conditions of grinding poverty and squalor in the word ‘Dickensian’. Dickens himself consciously wrote some of his novels both as works of social criticism, but also actively to improve the conditions of the poor. Horrified at the respectable middle classes’ indifference to the suffering of the labouring poor, he wrote A Christmas Carol. This transformed Christmas from a relatively minor holy day into the massive festival that it is today. As a socially engaged writer, Dickens could and did write bitter pieces sharply attacking the Conservatives. In 1841 the Liberal magazine, The Examiner, published his ballad, The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version. It was a parody of a traditional ballad celebrating the virtues of the gentry. The hero of the traditional ballad shared his good fortune with his social inferiors, in the line ‘while he feasted all the great, he never forgot the small’.

Dickens wrote his satirical versions after the reforming Whigs had lost office and been replaced by Peel’s Conservatives, and the country was in the middle of a depression. The poem attacks the Tories for their corruption, brutal and oppressive laws, and their savage oppression of the poor to enrich themselves and the other members of the aristocracy. Cheekily, Dickens states as a direction for the poem’s performance that it should be said or sung at all Conservative dinners. It shows that what could be described as agit-prop literature long preceded the Communist party. The blackly humorous suggestion of performance venue and the bitter satire of the poem itself very much reminds me of the same mixture of humour and bitter social criticism in much contemporary radical, popular protests following 1960’s Situationism. This leads to the question of whether Dickens, if he were alive today, would be marching with the demonstrators, neatly attired in top hat and tail coat, and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Here’s the poem:

‘I’ll sing you a new ballad, and I’ll warrant it first rate,
Of the days of that old gentleman who had that old estate;
When they spent the public money at a bountiful old rate
On ev’ry mistress, pimp and scamp, at ev’ry noble gate,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

The good old laws were garnished well with gibbets, whips, and
chains,
With fine old English penalties, and fine old English pains,
With rebel heads, and seas of blood once in hot in rebel veins;
For all these things were requisite to guard the rich old gains
Of the fine old English Tory timnes;
Soon may the come again!

The brave old code, like Argus, had a hundred watchful eyes,
And ev’ry English peasant had his good old English spies,
To tempt his starving discontent with fine old English lies,
Then call the good old Yeomany to stop his peevish cries,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

The good old times for cutting throats that cried out in their need,
The good old times for hunting men who held their fathers’ creed.
The good old times when William Pitt, as all good men agreed,
Came down direct from Paradise at more than railroad speed …
Oh the fine old English Tory times;
When will they come again!

In those rare days, the press was seldom known to snarl or bark,
But sweetly sang of men in pow’r, like any tuneful lark;
Grave judges, too, to all their evil deeds were in the dark;
And not a man in twenty score knew how to make his mark.
Oh the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

Those were the days for taxes, and for war’s infernal din;
For scarcity of bread, that fine old dowagers might win;
For shutting men of letters up, through iron bars to grin,
because they didn’t think the Prince was altogether thin,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

But Tolerance, though slow in flight, is strong-wing’d in the main;
That night must come on these fine days, in course of time was
plain;
The pure old spirit struggled, but its struggles were in vain;
A nation’s grip was on it, and it died in choking pain,
With the fine old English Tory days,
All of the olden time.

The bright old day now dawns again; the cry runs through the
land,
In England there shall be deear breat – in Ireland, sword and brand;
And poverty, and ignorance, shall swell the rich and grand,
So, raly round the rulers with the gentle iron hand,
Of the fine old English ~Tory days; Hail to the coming time!

Great literature transcends the ages, and speaks eternal truths about human nature, politics and society. What is shocking reading this is just how much is true today. The line about the silence of the press in the face of horrific oppression and abuse just about sums up much of the modern press under Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclay twins and the rest.

Source
Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013).