Posts Tagged ‘Communist Party’

Next Week’s Episodes on the Radio 4 Series on the History of British Socialism

February 25, 2018

The BBC Radio 4 series, British Socialism: The Grand Tour, continues on its usual timeslot of 1.40 pm on weekdays next week, beginning with a programme on Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Here’s the programmes due to be transmitted, with the brief descriptions of them from the Radio Times.

Monday
Sidney and Beatrice Webb and the Fabian Society

Michael Ward, Dianne Hayter and Steven Fielding join Anne McElvoy to explain how Beatrice and Sidney Webb contributed to the development of the modern welfare state.

Tuesday
Ernest Bevin vs. Stafford Cripps

McElvoy traces the battle between rival traditions of British socialism amid the crises of the 1930s.

Wednesday
1945

Anne McElvoy examines how Ellen Wilkinson went from the Communist Party to the Jarrow March, and to a seat in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Education.

Thursday
Socialist Feminism and 1968

Anne McElvoy explores how the women’s liberation movement and the politics of 1968 changed the language of socialism in Britain. With contributions from Sally Alexander of Goldsmiths, University of London; Barbara Taylor of Queen Mary, University of London; and Jon Lawrence of the University of Exeter.

Friday
Tony Benn

Amid the crises of 1970s, competing strands of British socialism struggled for dominance. There were the statist technocrats, who looked back to Labour’s 1945 victory and the building of the Welfare State; the post-1968 generation who had revived the tradition of a socialism focused more on radical self-realization. Meanwhile, the shop stewards forged a new approach to trade unionism. So when Tony Benn moved from a mild, modernising emphasis on the possibilities of technology, and started marching alongside workers who had occupied their factories, it was a significant turn. Present by Anne McElvoy.

And there’s an omnibus edition of that week’s programmes on the same channel at 9.00 pm in the evening that same day.

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Poll Shows 58 Per Cent of Russians Would Like Communism to Come Back

November 25, 2017

This is another great little video from Jason Unruhe of Maoist Rebel News. I’ve already made my opinion about Mao and Stalin very clear: they were mass murdering monsters, who made their countries great through the deaths of millions of their own countrymen. 30 million + soviet citizens died in Stalin’s purges and gulags. 60 million died of famine and in re-education camps during Mao’s wretched ‘Cultural Revolution’.

Nevertheless, these totalitarian states gave their people some benefits. And it shows in the nostalgia many people across the former eastern bloc feel for the old system. According to a poll by RT, 58 per cent of Russians said they would like the Soviet Union to return. 14 per cent stated it was quite feasible at the moment. Forty-four per cent said it was unfeasible, but desirable. 31 per cent said that they would not be happy even if events took such a turn. And 10 per cent could not give a simple answer to the question.

Unruhe then goes into the reasons why so many Russians want the USSR back. He points out that the majority of Russians are not Communists, do not identify with the Communist party and are not members of it. He says it was because there were better jobs, with better pay, far more stability, better vacation times and a higher standard of living. They also had a better infrastructure, which collapsed along with the USSR. He points out that we’ve all seen the images of abandoned, decaying areas which have had their funding withdrawn due to the collapse of Communism. They had a military that the world feared and that the Americans were terrified was going to destroy them all. They also couldn’t be bullied, and they were capable of retaliating in huge ways. Sanctions couldn’t hurt them, and couldn’t destroy their financial system. The Soviet people had a country they could be proud of, and although Putin is pushing Russian independence, he can’t do it nearly to the extent that the old Soviet Union could. And so it actually means something when people, who aren’t Communists, say they’re in favour of its return.

There’s a quote from one of the old Labour thinkers, to the effect that everyone, who believes in human rights must hate the USSR. But everyone, who genuinely has Socialism in his core also admires it.

As I understand it, They old Soviet system was massively sclerotic, with colossal overmanning in industry and enterprises. For example, you couldn’t simply pick up what you wanted at the shops. You had to queue to be served, then pick out what you wanted, and then wait for it to be served to you, and to pay for it. I’ve read of people in architect’s office spending their days transferring figures from one column to another, in what was supposed to be a good job that some people had been working towards for years. Utterly soul destroying.

But at the same time, the state was expected to provide full employment. And it did it, albeit at the expense of quality work. And I’ve no doubt that the pay was better, that people did have better holidays, organised through the trade unions and state leisure organisations. You could go and take a vacation down at one of the spa resorts on the Black Sea.

And everything he says about the Soviet Union’s industrial and military power is also correct. In the 1950s under Khrushchev, the Soviet Union made such rapid advances that the Americans were terrified that they would win, and overtake capitalism as the affluent, consumer society. Didn’t happen, but it would have been brilliant if it had.

And Unruhe is also correct when he says that the Russians were no threat to Europe or the West. They weren’t. After the initial expansion, the apparatchiks and nomenclature in the Communist party were content with simply holding the system together and feathering their own nests with Western goods they brought back from their diplomatic travels abroad.

As for the Russians not being Communists, I can remember being told by Ken Surin at College, who is now a writer for Counterpunch, that there were more Communists in America than the USSR. Having said that, Soviet citizens grew up in an explicitly political environment, where they were indoctrinated with atheism and the ideal of the Communist regime. Some of that is going to sink in, even if they are otherwise alienated from the Communist party.

But the introduction of capitalism under Yeltsin destroyed Communism, and dam’ near destroyed Russia. The economy went into meltdown, so that instead of paying their workers wages, factories paid them in kind. In one firm making sewing machines, they gave their workers those machines.

And the economic meltdown directly affected people’s health. Russia didn’t have a welfare state as such. There was no unemployment benefit, as you didn’t need one. Unless you were a subversive ‘parasite’ and an enemy of the system, the state found you work. But there was a free, state medical service, with more doctors than America. In practice, how well you were treated depended on your ‘blat’ – your clout, leverage, whatever. It was a very corrupt system. But this melted down along with the economy, and doctors started going private. Just as they’re continuing to do under Putin.

As a result, illness rates shot up. In Lukashenko’s Beloruss, which retained the Communist system, people remained as healthy – or unhealthy – as they were before Communism collapsed in the USSR.

And none of this was done for the Russians’ benefit. Oh, Yeltsin hoped that capitalism would improve things in Russia, but it was all financed, once again, by Clinton and the Americans, who poured tens of millions into political advertising.

I’ve already made my own low opinion of Lenin abundantly clear: but he was right in his pamphlet Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Russia, and other less developed nations like it, were held back by global capitalism. They were then. And it’s the same goal now, except that as Killary can’t have her way she’s starting a new Cold War.

Well, millions of Russians want their country back.
And they’re not alone. You can find roughly the same percentage all over the former Communist bloc. The former Soviet satellites hate the Russians, particularly in Poland. But they had a better standard of living, work, and a system that had larger ideals. They were told that they were the progressive vanguard leading humanity to a brighter, better future. Racism was there, but it was frowned on. Women were treated as second-class citizens, but at the same time the state and Marxist ideology was also concerned with their liberation and getting them into masculine jobs.

And some of the old Communist countries weren’t that far behind the West. I’ve read that if you tweaked the stats a little, then economically the old East Germany was about equal, or just behind, the north of England. Which isn’t an advert for Communism, but even less of one for Thatcherite capitalism.

In short there’s a saying going round eastern Europe: ‘Everything the Communists told us about Communism was a lie. Everything they told us about capitalism was true.’

Capitalism isn’t working. And the peoples of eastern Europe know this. It isn’t working here either, but we’re too blinded by the mass media, and the illusions of past imperial greatness, to realise it.

Pat Mills Talks to Sasha Simic of the SWP about the Politics of 2000AD

September 15, 2017

This comes from the Socialist Workers’ Party, an organization of which I am not a member and which I don’t support. But this is another really great video, in which one of the great creators of the British comics for over forty years talks about politics, social class, the role of capitalism and women and feminism, not just in 2000AD, but also in comics and publishing generally, and the media.

Mills was speaking as part of annual four day convention the Socialist Workers hold on Marxism. Simic introduces himself as the person, who gets the annual geek slot. As well as a member of the party, he’s also a convener of USDAW. And he’s very happy in this, the centenary of the Russian Revolution, to have on Pat Mills.

Mills starts by saying that as he was growing up in the 50s and 60s, he read the same books everyone else did – John Buchan, Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Pimpernel. But there was something about it that made him angry, and it was only looking back on it that he came to realise that what infuriated him was the fact that these were all authors from the upper and middle classes, who created heroes from those class backgrounds. He makes the point that these were good writers, but that some of their work was very sinister the more you go into it. Like John Buchan. Buchan was the major propagandist of the First World War. Mills says that Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s infamous spin doctor, had nothing on him. He promoted the First world War, for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada.
He states that he doesn’t want to go too far into it as he’ll start ranting. Nevertheless, he’s glad to be able to talk to the people at the SWP’s convention, as it means they have a similar opinion to him, and he doesn’t have to censor himself.

He makes the point that there are very, very few working class heroes, and believes this is quite deliberate. It’s to deprive working people of a strong role. When the working people do appear, it’s as loyal batmen, or sidekicks, and there is an element of parody there. And it’s not just in comics and literature. In the 1980s he was contacted by the producers of Dr. Who to do a story. He wanted to have a working class spaceship captain. He was told by the script editor that they couldn’t. They also didn’t like his idea to have a working class family. It was only by looking back on where this hatred of the heroes of traditional literature came from, that he came to realise that it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to have any generals in his work.

He also talks about how it’s easier to get away with subversion in comics, as comics are treated as a trivial form of literature, which nobody really cares about. The profit motive also helps. So long as it’s making money, comics companies don’t care what’s going on. And this explains how he was able to get away with some of the things he did in Battle. He states that the way he works is by pretending to write something mainstream and inoffensive, and then subvert it from within. An example of that is Charley’s War in Battle. This looks like an ordinary war strip, but in fact was very anti-war. Even so, there were times when he had to be careful and know when to give up. One of these was about a story he wanted to run about the entry of the Americans into the War. In this story, a group of White American squaddies are members of the Klan, and try to lynch a Black soldier. Charley wades in to help the Black guy. The management rejected the story on the grounds that they didn’t want anything too controversial. Mills decided to draw in his horns and bite his tongue at that point, because he had a bigger story lined up about the British invasion of Russian in 1919, when we sent in 20-30,000 men. It was, he says, our Vietnam, and has been whitewashed out of the history books.

He also makes the point that subversion was also present in the girls’ comics. Even more so, as there was a psychological angle that wasn’t present in the boys’. For example, there was one story called ‘Ella in Easy Street’, where a young girl reacts against her aspirational family. They want to get on, and so the father has two jobs, and the mother is similarly working very hard to support their aspirations. But Ella herself is unhappy, as it’s destroying what they are as a family. And so she sets out to sabotage their yuppie dream. Mills says that it’s not all one-dimensional – he looks at the situation from both sides, pro and con, but the story makes the point that there are things that are more important that materialism and social advancement, like family, comradeship. He says that such a story could not be published now. It’s rather like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, where the hero, in the end, throws the race as a way of giving the system the finger.

Mills reminds his audience just how massive girls’ comics were in the ’70s. They were bigger, much bigger, than the boys’. 2000AD sold 200,000 copies a week in its prime. But Tammy, one of the girls’ comics, sold 260,000. This is really surprising, as women read much more than we men. These comics have all disappeared. This, he says, is because the boys’ took over the sandpit. He has been trying to revive them, and so a couple of stories from Misty have been republished in an album.

This gets him onto the issue of reaching the audience, who really need it. In the case of the stories from Misty, this has meant that there are two serials on sale, both of which are very good, but in a book costing £17 – odd. The only people going to read that are the mothers of the present generation of girls, perhaps. To reach the girls, it needs to be set at a lower price they can afford. This is also a problem with the political material. If you write something subversive, it will receive glowing reviews but be bought by people, who already agree with you. He wants his message to get further out, and not to become a coffee table book for north London.

He talks about the way British comics have grown up with their readership, and the advantages and disadvantages this has brought. British comics has, with the exception of 2000AD, more or less disappeared, and the readership of that comic is in its 30s and 40s. People have put this down to demographics and the rise of computer games, saying that this was inevitable. It wasn’t. It was our fault, says Mills. We fumbled it. Games workshop still have young people amongst their audience, while the French also have computer games across the Channel, but their children are reading comics.

Mills goes on to say that it’s easier writing for adults. Writing for 9 and 10 year olds is much harder, because if they don’t like a story, they’ll say. He says to his audience that they may think the same way, but they’re much too polite to say it at conventions. And they had to respond to their young readers as well, as the kids voted on it every week. They’d tell you if they thought it was a bad story, even if you thought it was the best one so far, and asked yourself what was wrong with the little sh*ts.

He also talks about how difficult it is to break into comics. He has friends, who have been trying for decades to get into 2000AD, and have been unsuccessful. His advice to people trying to do so is: don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s 2000AD. And this also effects text publishing. All the publishers have now been bought up, so that HarperCollins have the fingers in everything, such as Hodder and Stoughton. And their politics aren’t ours.

The way round this is to get into web publishing. Here he digresses and talks about pulp fiction, which is a close relative of comics. He was talking to a guy at a convention, who writes pulp fiction and puts it on the net. It only costs a few pence. The man writes about a zombie apocalypse, but – and this is true, as he’s seen the payment slips – he’s pulling in £3,000 a month. Mills says that this is important as well. He wants to get his material out there, but he also wants to eat. This shows you how you can make money publishing it yourself. Later on in the video, after the questions and the comments from the audience, he goes further into this. He mentions some of the web publishers, one of which is subsidiary of Amazon, which will allow people to publish their own work. He also talks about self-publishing and chapbooks. He found out about these while writing Defoe, his story about Leveller zombie killer in an alternative 17th century England. Chapbooks were so called because they were cheap books, the cheap literature of the masses. And this is what comics should go back to. He says that everyone should produce comics, in the same way that everyone can also make music by picking up an instrument and playing a few chords.

He also praises some of the other subversive literature people have self-produced. Like one piece satirizing the British army’s recruitment posters. ‘Join the army’, it says, ‘- like prison, but with more fighting’. Mills is fairly sure he knows who wrote that as well. It was another guy he met at a convention, who was probably responsible for the anti-war film on YouTube Action Man: Battlefield Casualties. He enormously admires this film, and is envious of the people, who made it.

He also talks about some of the fan letters he’s had. One was from the CEO of a school, he talks about the way reading 2000AD opened up his mind and changed his moral compass. The man says that everything he learned about Fascism, he learned from Judge Dredd, everything about racism from Strontium Dog, and feminism from Halo Jones. He and his headmaster, whom he names, were both punks and he’s now opened a school in Doncaster. The most subversive thing you can do now is to try to create an open-minded and questioning generation of young people. The letter is signed, yours, from a company director, but not an evil one, and then the gentleman’s name.

He concludes this part of the talk by describing the career of James Clarke, a member of the Socialist Labour Party, the Communist Party, a lion tamer and conscientious objector. During the War he ran escape lines for British squaddies in France. And people say that pacifists are cowards, Mills jokes. How much braver can you be than sticking your head in a lion’s mouth. He wrote a pamphlet defending a group of comrades, who tried to start the revolution by following the example of the Irish Nationalists and blow things up with a bomb. The pamphlet argued that this was wrong, and that if the working class wanted to gain power, they should concentrate on confronting capitalism through direct action. He also wrote poetry. Mills describes Clark as being a kind of Scots Tom Baker. One of these is a biting satire of Kipling’s If. The poem begins by asking if the reader can wake up every morning at 5 O’clock, or 4.30, and then labour at their machines, and see their wives and children suffer deprivation while those, who haven’t earned it take it all the profits, and describes the backbreaking grind of hard working life for the capitalist class in several stanzas. It ends with the statement that if you can do all that, and still be complacent, then go out, buy a gun and blow your brains out.

Clearly, I don’t recommend any actually do this, but it is a witty and funny response to Kipling’s poem. I found it hugely funny, and I do think it’s a great response to what was voted Britain’s favourite poem by the Beeb’s viewers and readers a few years ago. Can you imagine the sheer Tory rage that would erupt if someone dared to recite it on television!

Many of the comments are from people thanking Mills for opening their eyes and for writing such great stories. They include a man, who describes how Mills’ works are on his shelf next to his copy of Das Kapital. Another man describes how he used to buy 2000AD just after going to church on Sunday. So after listening to some very boring sermons, he came back from Baptist chapel to read all this subversion. One young woman says that the zines – the small press magazines, that appeared in the 1990s – seem to be still around, as she has seen them at punk concerts. Another young woman says that although comics are seen as a boys’ thing, when she goes into Forbidden Planet near her, there are always three girls in there and two boys. She also talks about how many young women read Japanese manga. Mills states in reply that manga stories generally are light and frothy, and so not the kind of stories he wants to write. But as for women in comics, he says that he spoken several times to students on graphic novel courses, and each time about 75 per cent of them have been women, which is good.

He also talks about Crisis and Action. The Third World War strip in Crisis was about the politics of food, and was set in a world where food production was dominated by a vast multinational formed by the merger of two of today’s megacorporations. Mills states that when the strip covered what was going on in South America, that was acceptable. However, at one point he moved the story to Brixton, finding a Black co-writer to help with the story. At that point, the White Guardian-reading liberals started to be uncomfortable with it. There was also a story in which Britain leaves the EU. This results in the rise of a Fascist dictatorship, and the EU responds by invading Britain. Mills says that he’s been trying to get Crisis relaunched, but the company are stringing him along with excuses, probably because it’s easier than arguing with him.

Mills obviously did the right thing by finding a Black co-writer. Marvel suffered a barrage of criticism with some of their attempts to launch a series of Black superheroes, like the Black Panther as part of the Blaxploitation wave of the 1970s. The Black Panther was particularly criticized. The creators were old, White dudes, who didn’t understand urban Black culture, even if the comics themselves were sincere in presenting a sympathetic view of Black Americans and combating racism.

He also talks briefly about Action, and the controversy that caused. What really upset Mary Whitehouse and the rest was ‘Kid’s Rule UK’, a strip in which a disease killed everyone over 16, and Britain was inhabited solely by warring street gangs. Mills used to take the same train from where he was living at the time with Mary Whitehouse. He said he was editing a Hookjaw script at the time, and notice Whitehouse over the other side of the carriage looking daggers at him. So he put in more carnage and more arms and legs being bitten off.

One of the most interesting questions is about the politics and morality of Judge Dredd. Dredd is a fascist, and in one of the strips it seemed to take the side of authority over subversion with no irony. This was in a story about the punks taking over Megacity 1. At the end of the strip, Dredd gets hold of the leader, and makes him say, ‘I’m a dirty punk.’ Mills actually agrees with the speaker, and says that there are people, who take Dredd as a role-model. He’s had letters from them, which he doesn’t like. He doesn’t know what these people do. Perhaps they have their own chapterhouse somewhere. He went cold inside when he heard about the story. It wasn’t one of his. It was by John Wagner, who isn’t at all political, but is very cynical, so this has some of the same effects of politics. But 75 per cent of Dredd comes from Mills. Mills states that it’s a flawed character, and that can be seen in why the two Dredd films never did well at the box office. Dredd was based on a particular teacher at his old school, as was Torquemada, the Grand Master of Termight, a genocidally racist Fascist military feudal order ruling Earth thousands of years in the future. They were both two sides of the same coin. That was why he enjoyed humiliating Torquemada. But it isn’t done with Dredd. Yet it could have been different, and there could be instances where people have their revenge on Dredd without losing the power of the character. He states that it was because Chopper did this in the story ‘Unamerican Graffiti’, that this became the favourite Dredd story of all time.

It’s a fascinating insight into the politics of the comics industry. The zines and other self-published small magazines he describes were a product of the Punk scene, where people did start putting together their own fanzines in their bedrooms. It was part of the mass creativity that punk at its height unleashed. As for the web comics, he talks about a couple that he finds particularly impressive, including those by the author of the dystopian science fiction story Y – the Last Man, set in a future in which all the men in the world have been killed by another disease. A number of my friends used to publish their own small press magazines in the 1990s, as did Mike. Mike started his own, small press comic, Violent, as an homage to Action when it was that comics anniversary. Mike was helped by some of the artists and writers from 2000AD, and so some of the tales are very professional. But probably not for delicate, gentle souls.

Amongst SF fandom, chapbooks are small books which another publishes himself. And they have been the route some professionally published authors have taken into print. Stephen Baxter is one of them. I think his Xelee stories first appeared in a chapbook he sold at one of the SF conventions.

Looking back at Kids Rule UK, this was my least favourite strip in Action. I was bullied at school, and so the idea of a Britain, where everything had broken down and there was nothing but bullying and juvenile violence really scared me. Action took many of its strips from the popular culture of the time. Hookjaw was basically Jaws. One-Eyed Jack seemed based very much on the type of hard-boiled American cop shows, if not actually Dirty Harry. One of the SF movies of the late sixties was about an America in which teenagers had seized power, and put all the adults in concentration camps were they were force-fed LSD. One of the four Star Trek stories that were banned on British television until the 1980s was ‘Miri’. In this tale, Kirk, Spock and the others beam down to a planet occupied entirely by children, as all the ‘grups’ – the adults – have been killed by disease. Kids Rule UK seems very much in the same vein as these stories.

Mills’ story about Dr. Who not wanting to show a working class family, let alone a spaceship captain, shows how far the series has come when it was relaunched by Russell T. Davis. Christopher Eccleston basically played the Doctor as northern and working class, wile Rose Tyler’s family and friends were ordinary people in a London tower block. As for not wanting to show a working class spaceship captain, that probably comes from very ingrained class attitudes in the aviation industry. A friend of mine trained as a pilot. When he was studying, their tutor told the class that the British exam included a question no other country in the world required, and which was particularly difficult. He stated that it was put there to weed out people from working or lower middle class backgrounds, as they would fail and not be able to retake the exam, as their competitors from the upper classes could.

It’s great to hear Mills encourage people try to produce their own work, and not be disheartened if they are rejected by mainstream publishers. I’m also saddened by the absence of any comics for children. They offered me when I was a lad an escape into a whole world of fun and imagination. And at their best, they do encourage children to take an interest in real issues like racism, sexism, bigotry and exploitation. I hope some way can be found to reverse their disappearance.

Vox Political Launches New Book Against the Anti-Semitism Smears

September 28, 2016

Mike yesterday announced the publication of his latest book, The Livingstone Presumption. This is written to refute the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour party, along with other MPs, councillors and activists such as Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone. It was the allegation against Ken Livingstone that the book’s title alludes to. It’s available now as an e-book, and will shortly appear in print.

I’ve no doubt it provides an excellent deconstruction of the real reasons for these slanders. Of course, I’m Mike’s brother, so naturally I support it’s publication. But more than that, I’m confident that Mike, as an excellent journalist, has got the facts absolutely right, and shows the real reason for these disgraceful smears. As I’ve pointed out, these have been made against decent people, many of whom have dedicated their lives and political careers to fighting anti-Semitism and racism, and which include Jews, and people of Jewish heritage.

Michael Segalov on the Left against Real Nazis

Mike announced the book was out in an article he wrote yesterday commenting on a piece by Michael Segalov in an article in the Independent. Segalov stated in the Independent that Corbyn’s supporters weren’t anti-Semitic. Far from it. In his experience, they were the people, who were most active combating the real, and openly Nazi, anti-Semitic far right. Mike quotes him writing

For years now I’ve travelled across the UK to report from far-right, fascist and neo-Nazi rallies, and the counter-demonstrations that take place alongside. I’ve seen the real threat that faces Jews in the country, those who profess hatred for Jews and our religion, who wear swastikas as badges of honour, who’ll salute like a Nazi in front of your face… It’s the left, and Corbyn’s supporters, who’ve put their bodies on the line time and time again to protect us from these racist organisations.

That’s why these cries of anti-Semitism make a mockery of a real and present danger. Corbyn’s commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice has been well documented for decades. His supporters are those who’ve stood alongside him. Accusing these people now of peddling prejudice is nothing but political point-scoring at its worst. It undermines real hatred, and waters down the impact of calling out anti-Semitism when it rears its ugly head.

Unfortunately, Mr Segalov still believes that Ms Shah and Red Ken are anti-Semites, but states that they are not supporters of Corbyn. Ken’s a very long-standing member of the party, while Shah supported Yvette Cooper against Corbyn in the Labour elections.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/27/new-book-highlights-the-real-reasons-for-anti-semitism-allegations-in-the-labour-party/

Naz Shah and Livingstone Not Anti-Semites

Segalov’s wrong about Shah and Red Ken. Mike’s pointed out that Naz Shah has good relations with her local synagogue, something I’m very sure she wouldn’t enjoy if she were any kind of anti-Semite. As for Red Ken, I’ve pointed out time and again the stance he has always taken against racism, whether against Blacks, Jews, the Irish or whoever, to the point where he and the GLC in the 1980s became ridiculed and reviled for it. The Leninist Newt-Fancier devoted several chapters in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour not just to arguing that the Labour party should pay far more attention to empowering the Black community and combatting racism against them, but also to denouncing the recruitment of real Nazis by the secret state after the Second World War. These had been given sanctuary in Britain, as the authorities believed they could be useful in the struggle against Communism. Those recruited included people, who had participated in the most disgusting crimes perpetrated against the Jews by the Third Reich, including pogroms and the Holocaust.

The Zionists Relationship with the Nazis vs. Jewish German Patriots

Red Ken is not an anti-Semite. But he is a critic of Israel, a committed the terrible offence of being absolutely factually correct when he stated that Hitler had supported Zionism. He and the Nazis had, briefly, at the beginning of the regime, as a tactic for removing Jews from the Reich. This is documented history. As is the Zionists’ own cynical, utilitarian attitude to the butchery of the Jewish people by the Nazis. They were in favour of it, as they believed this would encourage more Jews to emigrate to Israel. They bitterly resented Jewish German patriots, like the Jewish Servicemens’ League, which not only fought ardently against the persecution of the Jews in Germany, but was also an acutely uncomfortable reminder that Jews had loyally served their country in the carnage of the First World War, and were no more treacherous than any other German. It’s another documented historical fact that German Jews had responded with a wave of patriotism in the 19th century when the restrictions against them serving in the armed forces were lifted. They volunteered along with their gentile comrades for service in the Great War. It’s one of the supreme, tragic ironies that Hitler’s captain, the commanding officer, who recommended him for the Iron Cross, was Jewish.

The British Left against Fascism

But Mr Segalov is entirely correct when he states that it’s the left, and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, who will put their bodies on the line to fight to protect Jews and others from the real racists. It was my experience growing up in the 1980s that the people, who joined Rock Against Racism, marched against the BNP, and fought in gang battles in the street against them, were exactly the same types Tom Watson sneered at when he described Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as ‘hippy Trotskyite rabble’. Or whatever it was. It was the same type of people, who joined CND and joined groups and wore the T-shirts demanding ‘Justice for Nicaragua’, when that country was being ravaged by the Contras. It was the same type of people that published leaflets and flyers pointing out Thatcher’s support for the Far Right, and real Fascists like Pinochet and lesser known butchers in Latin America.

The Far Right and Nazism

Unfortunately, Mr Segalov is not exaggerating when he says that the real Nazis will openly make the Nazi salute in front of you, and who do wear swastikas as badges of honour. Way back in the 1960s and ’70s the National Front indeed strutted about in Nazi uniform. Andrew Brons, one of the fixtures of the Far Right for all these decades, was arrested in the 1970s, according to Private Eye, for screaming Nazi slogans at frightened elderly ladies in Birmingham. He was then apprehended by a policeman, who had a very Asian surname. According to the Eye, Brons patronised him with a lecture about how he was allowed to do all this because of the fine British tradition of freedom of speech. Obviously, he ignored the hypocrisy of using that argument when, as a Nazi, he clearly didn’t believe in it. He then further insulted said copper by telling him that he wouldn’t understand such elevated concepts as he was racially inferior. This is clearly not the kind of thing to say to someone, who has the power to arrest you. I have the feeling that Brons spent the rest of the conversation trying to explain himself down at the police station.

For a moment in the 1990s and 2000s the BNP dropped the costumes and tried to present themselves as a mainstream party, oriented towards community politics. They were still racist and anti-Semitic, but they tried to disguise it. Now that the BNP has all but collapsed, parts of the Far Right in this country have gone back to open Nazism. The most blatant of these groups is National Action, formerly the youth wing of one of the Far Right parties. If memory serves me right, it was either the BNP or National Front. Michelle, one of the commenters on this blog, sent a link in her comment to an earlier piece I wrote, to a discussion of the Far Right in one of the left-wing political meet up groups. This was a talk, followed by a question-and-answer session, presented by Matthew Feldman, a university lecturer specialising in the study of Fascism. Dr Feldman illustrated his lecture with numerous videos, one of which was truly chilling. It showed National Action at one of their demos quite openly shouting anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi nonsense. They were spouting the old conspiracist canard about the Jews using Blacks to destroy White racial purity in order to further the Marxist agenda of overthrowing White civilisation. Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt school were also thrown in as example of ‘cultural Marxism’.

Marxism Not Anti-White Racism

It’s all nonsense. Marx never wrote anything about destroying White civilisation. He and his collaborator, Engels, were interested solely in examining the class nature of history and modern capitalism as part of their programme of liberating the working class. They also had some disgusting racist ideas themselves. Marx hated the Slavonic peoples, as he believed that their economic and social ‘backwardness’, as he saw it, would make them a dangerous counterrevolutionary force, and looked forward to the day when they, and other similar ‘backwards’ peoples, like the Celts and Basques, would die out. He also sneered at his German rival, Lassalles, as ‘the Jewish n*gger’.

No Anti-White Jewish Conspiracy

There has never been any kind of Jewish conspiracy to destroy White civilisation. This is just a vile product of the diseased imagination of the Nazis, and their successors in the American right-wing conspiracy culture. Jews were part of the campaign to gain civil rights for Blacks in America, as many Jews had strong connections with Black communities through their jobs, such as teachers in Black majority schools and neighbourhoods.

Gramsci and Cultural Hegemony

As for ‘cultural Marxism’ and the Frankfurt school, this is also a confusion of them and the ideas of cultural hegemony by Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was an Italian Communist, who attempted to explain the persistence of capitalism and its support amongst the working class, by suggesting that this was due to the basis of modern culture in the ideology and values of upper and middle classes. This was so pervasive, that it was automatically seen as natural by the workers, despite the fact that it directly went against their interests. Marx himself had already argued much of this in his theory of ‘false consciousness’. Gramsci turned Marxist tactics on its head by arguing that what was needed to liberate the workers was to challenge capitalist culture, rather than the traditional Marxist tactic of changing capitalist culture by attacking its basis in the economic structure of society.

The Frankfurt School and the Origins of Fascism in Mass Culture

There’s a section on the Frankfurt School by Jean Seaton in her chapter ‘The Sociology of the Mass Media’ in the book on the British media which she co-authored with James Curran, Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain (London: Routledge 1988) pp. 221-7. She points out that the Frankfurt School were left-wing German emigres, who had been forced to leave Germany through the rise of the Nazis. They believed that Fascism had its origins in modern mass culture, and applied this analysis to modern American society. Rather than being left-wing ideologues dedicated to the destruction of traditional, White, Christian society, she points out that actually their views weren’t that far from those of British critics of modern mass society, whose views were based in a far more traditional, British, non-Marxist set of cultural values.

Cultural Marxism: What It’s Really About

As for the term ‘cultural Marxism’, this is also the boneheaded product of more confused thinking. It seems to be a garbled notion of the distinction many academic Marxists drew in the 1980s between what was ‘Marxist’ and ‘Marxian’ in order to keep their jobs. Thatcher passed a law making it illegal for Marxists to hold posts at the universities. They responded by denying that they were Marxists, but held ‘Marxian’ cultural views. It was a fine, and actually rather artificial distinction, but it nevertheless allowed them to keep their jobs. However, this has been taken over by the radical right, who have thrown it into their scrambled notion of Gramsci’s hegemony.

National Action also make their Nazism very clear in their costume and conduct. As well as shouting Nazi ideology in the streets, they also openly wear Nazi-style clothes and regalia. In the video Dr Feldman showed as part of his presentation, they did indeed openly make the Nazi salute, shouting ‘Sieg heil!’ as they did so. National Action aren’t the only openly Nazi group on the Far Right. There’s even a small, National Socialist party, whose members include the infamous racist responsible for killing and mutilating innocent people in a series of three nail bomb attacks on Black, Asian and Gay pubs and cafes in London. His victims included a bride and an unborn child. The members of this minuscule party do turn up and parade around in Nazi uniforms and insignia.

The Left Not Anti-Semitic, But Anti-Racist

While Mr Segalov is wrong about Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah being anti-Semites, he is certainly right about the openly Nazi character of part of the Far Right, and about the way the Left, including supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, have attempted to right them, including physical assault. Matthew Collins in his book, Hate, about his own career in the BNP and NF, states at one point that the Communist Party used to provide its members with self-defence training so that they could attack any Nazis they encountered on building sites. Mr Segalov is right to point out how wrong and damaging it is in the struggle against real racism and anti-Semitism to malign Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters so. Mike book also puts the record straight on this, and about the smears against Naz Shah and Livingstone.

Vox Political: ‘Sack Kuenssberg’ Removed due to Misogynist Trolls

May 10, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up several pieces about the controversy surrounding a 38 Degrees petition to have the Beeb’s politics editor, Laura Kuenssberg, sacked because of her overt Conservative bias. It seems that the fellow, who put up the petition has taken it down because it had in his view been hijacked by sexist trolls.

See the article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/10/sack-kuenssberg-petition-taken-down-due-to-sexist-trolls/

This follows a piece in the Guardian in which the former political editor of the Independent on Sunday, Jane Merrick, stated that Kuenssberg had faced a level of abuse not directed at male reporters, like Nick Robinson, which was explicitly misogynistic. She reported that Kuenssberg had been called a whore and a bitch on Twitter. She then made general comments about Corbyn’s supporters. They weren’t all sexist misogynists – far from it. But she said that there was a ‘core of hard-left misogyny’ that emerged when he was under pressure. This was the same kind of abuse that had been directed at Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips. She then called on Corbyn, as the advocate of a kinder type of politics, to condemn this abuse of a respected journalist.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/10/sexism-accusation-against-anti-kuenssberg-campaigners-is-a-classic-diversion-tactic/

Mike points out in these articles just how overt Kuenssberg’s political bias is.

Mike writes:

This Writer considers the BBC’s political editor to be hopelessly prejudiced in favour of the Conservative Party. It is an issue that has nothing to do with her gender, skin colour, religion or any other such defining factor.

She simply can’t keep her own politics out of her work. For a reporter, that is a fatal error and This Writer cannot understand why anybody would want to support her in it – least of all a Labour MP like Ms Phillips.

If Kuenssberg wants to turn every report into a pro-Tory opinion piece, then let her become a pundit. Stick her on the Daily Politics or This Week with Andrew Neil and give the political editor’s job to somebody who can do it impartially.

He also posts a piece from one of his commenters, who has a nephew, who did some number crunching of his own, which flatly contradicts Kuenssberg’s assertions. Kuenssberg has claimed that these elections are ‘mid-term’, when they are not, and that Labour should be winning hundreds of seats, which they haven’t. Looking at the evidence, the commenter’s nephew says that actually Labour have done quite well, and it is the Tories who have taken the hardest blows. The commenter states:

“In fact this is the worse Tory performance in the local elections since 1996 when John Major only got 29% which was an improvement from 1995 when they only got 25% of the vote. But again this is not being reported.”

Mike also condemns the sexist abuse of Kuenssberg. Not only are such views vile in themselves, but they bring into disrepute everyone, who genuinely wants the Beeb to report fairly and accurately, and have allowed Kuenssberg to get away with her biased journalism.

Mike in his article also suggests that the sexist comments might be a deliberate strategy to torpedo the complaints about her bias. He states that all a political stooge has to do is get their supporters to sign the petition and leave offensive messages on it. Then all they have to do is make complaints about it. He makes clear that this may not have happened in Kuenssberg case, but it is a possibility, at least from now on.

In fact, this is exactly the tactics Hillary Clinton’s supporters have used against her rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders. She accused Sanders’ supporters of being sexist, especially after a group of them threw money at her in protest at her accepting funding from Wall Street. She also hired an internet company to go online to tackle Bernie’s supporters posing as her supporters. The Company was ironically called Correct the Record. And I’ve posted up a piece a week or so ago from Secular Talk, which reported how a string of pro-Bernie websites got taken down after complaints from Clinton to the host company about sexism and misogyny. The numbers of websites taken down – something like 12, or perhaps as high as 25, I can’t really remember, all in one evening, make it highly suspicious that this was really due to sexism by the sites’ members.

As for Corbyn and the ‘hard Left’ having a misogynist core, well, perhaps. It wouldn’t surprise me. Obnoxious trolls are, after all, found everywhere. But it’s not typical of the hard Left in my experience. In the 1980s the Left was reviled and abused for being PC. This was the decade when alternative comedians like Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, French and Saunders, the Young Ones, Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton burst onto our screens from the London comedy clubs. They refused to make the same sexist and racist jokes as the previous generation, reared in the working men’s clubs, like Bernard Manning. They were explicitly Left-wing, and actually made jokes about the chauvinistic treatment of women and at the expense of comedians like Manning.

They were part of a general trend in the Labour party of the time. Part of what had Ken Livingstone sneered at as ‘Red Ken’ was the fact that the-then leader of the GLC gave his support to a whole plethora of organisations for women and minorities. In his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, the bane of Margaret Thatcher talks about the evolution of human society from primordial matriarchy, and argues for a nationwide network of women’s support offices. This naturally drove Thatcher nuts. At one of the Tory conferences she delivered a foam-flecked rant about ‘Fabian champagne Socialist’ teachers corrupting the minds of their tiny charges with homosexual propaganda and ‘anti-racist mathematics’. Now, thirty or so years later, we have the Tories claiming to be okay with gay marriage. As for misogyny, one of the lads I knew at College, who was a very committed Labour party supporter, was very far from being either racist or misogynist. This was also characteristic of much of the Left outside the Labour party. I can remember reading a piece in the Express about one of the Marxist sects – possible either the Communist Party are the Socialist Workers, or perhaps just Militant in the Labour party, which explicitly noted how anti-sexist the men were, and their rejection of certain forms of traditional masculinity.

I’m not saying that there haven’t been sexist trolls spouting vile abuse at Kuenssberg, who are genuinely left-wing. But after the tactics used by Hillary Clinton to smear Sanders’ supporters, I’m more than a little suspicious.

The Six Tories for Leaving Europe, Who’ll Make You Want to Stay In

February 21, 2016

Mike has posted up a picture on Vox Political of the grim Rogue’s Gallery of leading Tories supporting Britain leaving the EC. He refers to them as six good reasons not to vote for the Brexit. They include John Whittingdale, Theresa Villiers, Ian Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove and Priti Patel. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/20/at-least-six-good-reasons-not-to-support-brexit/.

This is absolutely right, and current EU legislation at least helps keep some of their monstrous policies in check. For example, Priti ‘As a Picture’ Patel, was one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, a vile little screed which scorned British workers for being lazy, and told us all that we should work harder, for less, because that’s what people in the Third World were doing. Except that in this case, the reverse was true. The people of the Developing World were working harder, because we were. If we work fewer hours, for a bit more money, they might get a bit more too out of their employers. At the moment, British workers, as part of the EU, are guaranteed certain minimal rights under the Social Charter. Naturally, the Tories hate this with a passion. If we leave the EU, Patel and her fellow slave drivers will get their way and strip British workers of the rights and benefits we’ve built up over centuries.

Then there’s Chris Grayling. Grayling’s in charge of British justice, rapidly becoming British injustice. The Tories have set up a system of secret courts, in which you may not even know what the evidence against you or who your accuser is, if someone decides this contradicts the national interest. Grayling has cut legal aid, so that the poorest now find themselves unable to afford a solicitor. And he effectively wants to set up special prisons for political offenders, starting with Islamist terrorists.

The obstacles here are the European human rights legislation and the court of justice. The Tories have long resented these on the grounds that they protect terrorists from deportation. They don’t. They do, however, protect the human rights of EU citizens, and that’s what Grayling and the rest of the Tories want to strip from British citizens. And just remember – in the 1970s the Tories were planning internment camps for Labour MPs, the Socialist Workers, Communist Party, and leaders of youth, age and minority activist groups in the Shetland Isles. And with Grayling and Cameron planning a British gitmo for Islamists, it looks like radical Muslims aren’t going to be the only people rounded up as a threat to national security.

IDS – what can I say here? He himself is a walking indictment of the Tories. The minister for chequebook genocide has done his level best to kill, starve and impoverish the poor and disabled by cutting back on welfare support. And he’s been criticised repeatedly by international organisations. These have included the UN. Of course there’s a resentment there for the welfare provision in many EU countries, and the Social Charter. So long as we’re in the EU, there will be pressure for British workers to enjoy some of the same welfare benefits as in the other EU countries in western Europe. And this drives the Tories up the wall. They would like us to leave Europe, and become more like America, or at least the Republican version thereof, where there’s little or no welfare support.

So if you truly value the freedom, rights and welfare benefits British workers currently cling on to, vote for the ‘In’ campaign. Because if you vote with those six for leaving the EU, they will deprive you of all your rights. It’s their primary reason for wanting to leave Europe. Trade has little to do with it.

The British Intelligence Service’s Plans for a Coup and the Internment of Radicals in the 1970s

February 17, 2016

Earlier this evening I reblogged a piece from Vox Political, where Mike discussed a piece in the Canary about Cameron’s plans to isolate Islamist radicals in a special prison, rather like Guantanamo Bay. Mike raised the obvious and chilling question of whether this would be a concentration camp, especially with the government’s secret courts providing the legal basis for the Nazi-style Nacht und Nebel round-up and imprisonment of radicals.

I believe Mike’s fears are entirely justified. In the mid-1970s there were sections of the establishment that openly advocated a coup against the-then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. They’re discussed by the journalist and frequent guest on the News Quiz, Francis Wheen in his book, Strange Days Indeed: Paranoia in the 1970s. They’re also discussed, along with other intrigues and campaigns by MI5 and MI6 against the Labour left in ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone’s book, Livingstone’s Labour: A Manifesto for the Nineties. He writes

As the economy disintegrated under Wilson’s mismanagement, there began to be talk of the need for a change of government or even a coalition of the great and the good drawn from the British establishment. In the summer of 1967, the CIA, the FBI, MI5, MI6, and the Australian and New Zealand security services met in secret in Melbourne, Australia. They were addressed by Golitsin about his Wilson allegations and Wright presented information which he claimed raised the question of the loyalty of Willi Brandt. This meeting was followed by a visit to MI5 by Angleton who claimed to have confirmation from another source, whom he claimed could not be named, that Wilson was indeed a Soviet agent.

Matters began to hot up when the press baron Cecil King, a long-standing MI5 agent, began to discuss the need for a coup against Wilson. He informed Peter Wright that the Mirror would publish any damaging anti-Wilson leaks that MI5 wanted aired, and at a meeting with Lord Mountbatten and the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Solly Zuckerman, King urged Mountbatten to become the leader of a government of National Salvation. Zukerman pointed out that this was treason and left the meeting which came to nothing due to Mountbatten’s reluctance to act. (P. 53).

He also states that one army intelligence officer states that the security services had also convened meetings to determine the location of a possible internment camp for radicals in the Shetland Islands. One of those involved in this process was George Young, who had been the deputy head of MI6. ‘Red’ Ken quotes this passage from Young’s Subversion and the British Riposte, published in 1984:

(A) security counter-action need cover no more than 5,000 persons, including some 40 MPs, not all of them Labour; several hundred journalists and media employees, plus their supporting academics and clerics; the full-time members and main activists of the Communist party and the Socialist Workers Party; and the directing elements of the 30 or 40 bodies affecting concern and compassion for youth, age, civil liberties, social research and minority grievances. The total internment could easily be accommodated in a lesser ‘Gaelic Archipelago’ off the West Highlands.

Livingstone goes on to state that in the end the talks of coups amounted to nothing through a variety of factors. King lost his place at Mirror newspapers because of his increasingly erratic behaviour, which got worse. In 1974 he gave a speech to a group of officers at Sandhurst, urging them to overthrow Wilson in coup. ‘They thought he was made’, says the Bane of Thatcher. (p.54)

He also states that MI5 was also behind smears that Ted Heath was gay. Apparently the Tory MP Captain Henry Kerby was used to spread the rumour that the Tory Prime Minister was gay and had had an affair with a Swedish diplomat. Says Ken ‘I suspect that for some in MI5 being a Swedish diplomat and homosexuality were virtually synonymous anyway.’

Livingstone says that this sound like something from one of Frederick Forsythe’s grotty novels, but it’s all true and deadly serious. I’m sure he’s right. And the same kind of rumour mongering started again in the 1990s about the late former Labour leader, Michael Foot. It was Golitsin again. According to the defector, Foot was a KGB spy codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’. Really. And the conduit for the smear, which cost Murdoch a liberal actions, was the Times under its editor David Leppard.

You’d like to think that MI5 and MI6 had changed since the days of Thatcher. David Cameron, however, is despite all his verbiage about ‘One Nation’ Toryism, a Far Right authoritarian. I simply don’t think you can discount the idea that he would start rounding people up as subversives, not just Muslim radicals, but anyone, anyone at all, if he could get away with it. And his decision to start setting up special jails of Islamists seems to confirm it.

Cameron’s is a government of ‘filofascisti’. It’s the terms the Italians used to describe the ’80s generation of Yuppie Fascists. Rather than appear in Blackshirts and jackboots, they all adopted sharp business suits, and posed for the cameras like the models in GQ adverts for suits. The desire to imprison, beat, and attack immigrants, trade unionists, Socialists, Communists and others remained. Just as it is with Cameron and his pack of thugs.

Chris Hedges on Erosion of Civil Liberties, Journalism, the Military-Industrial Complex and the American Empire

January 18, 2016

On Saturday I posted up a piece from The Empire Files about the long history of oppression, exploitation and brutality in Saudi Arabia. This is another video from the Files. Here the presenter, Abby Martin, talks to the veteran journalist Chris Hedges about the Empire and its machine of domination, including his experiences as a reporter in Iraq and El Salvador. Hedges is a Socialist, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and the host of Days of Revolt on TeleSur English.

The programme begins with a discussion of how the American state cracked down on anti-War agitators, such as the Socialists Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Berkman and others for their opposition to World War I. This conflict saw the beginnings of the military-corporatist machine and the rise of modern state propaganda, pioneered by the Creel Committee and the use of the Sedition Act to crush dissent and peace protests.

After the War, the object of hatred turned from ‘the Hun’ to Communism and what has been described as ‘the psychosis of war’. This psychosis became institutionalised as total war after World War II. After World War I, the factories, that had turned to munitions production, changed back to their peace-time produces. This did not occur after the Second World War. The factories simply carried on producing arms, supported by a government financial network. This created the modern fusion of military and corporatist power.

Hedges and Martin also explore the way the American Empire differs from other, previous imperia. Hedges states that America, unlike other empires, colonised itself. The US army, for example, acted on behalf of the mining corporations, the loggers and so on during the expansion of the American West and the genocide of the Native Americans. After the colonisation of America was complete, America expanded overseas with the annexation of the Philippines and gun boat diplomacy in the Caribbean. Previous empires, like the British, occupied the countries they conquered. American doesn’t. Instead, America trains willing indigenous elites to act on its behalf. These included dictators like Mobutu in Zaire, Samosa in El Salvador and the Shah of Iran. They also overthrow foreign rulers, who threaten American corporate interests. Allende in Chile was overthrown because he threatened to nationalise the copper industry. Arbenz was ousted in Guatemala, because he was going to nationalise the property of United Fruit. America does not directly occupy these countries, but trains their indigenous rulers troops and supplies them with arms to govern for them.

The 1979 victory of Sandinistas in Nicaragua provoked a strong response from America, as they showed that they were not going to protect American corporate interests. And so Reagan pumped massive resources into the resistance movement and in supporting the dictator in El Salvador. The Salvadorean regime were given a fleet of 70 Huey helicopter gunships. They also recruited ‘black’ armies, that did not officially existed, using troops from outside the country. And CIA operatives were also brought in to aid the operations against the Salvadorean rebels. Half the population of El Salvador were landless peasants, while the land was owned by only ten families. The mass of the population were kept in dire poverty Hedges describes as worse than serfdom. When they tried to protest, or resist by forming labour unions and other organisations, they were gunned down in the street. At one point the death squads were killing a thousand people a month.

When America invaded Iraq, the same people, who organised the death squads in Latin America were brought in and used in the same strategy there. One of the officers, who was part of the American forces in the Iraq, had organised and led the death squads in El Salvador. In Iraq he created the Shi’a death squads to murder and terrorise the Sunni Muslims. The result of this was the creation of ISIS.

Hedges also describes the difficulties journalists faced reporting these facts from Iraq. Those reporters, who did cover these abuses were under constant attack from the American government, and particularly the state department. They were vilified as ‘fifth columnists’ and collaborators with America’s enemies. They also faced opposition from their own Washington bureaux. They could also be targeted for execution. In El Salvador, 22 journalists were killed during the war. He also states that the press themselves were quite willing to be used to support the American state’s propaganda in El Salvador. In the First Gulf War, the press was subject to very harsh restrictions. Dick Cheney wanted to deport Hedges, but was unable to find him. Very few war reporters – only 10 – 15% – actually go anywhere near the war. Instead, they stayed away from the front to listen to Cheney and the generals give lectures. The pool system of trustworthy reporters used to control the press in Iraq was actually administered by the journalists themselves. Hedges refers to these journalists as ‘Judenraten’, the Nazi term for the councils the Nazis set up in Jewish communities to administer them, and which chose the members of the population, who were to be sent to the gas chambers. And those journalists, who did join the troops, received great rewards for producing stories about how heroic the soldiers were. For his efforts in covering the dark side of the Iraq War, Hedges was booed off the stage when he gave a speech at Rockford College. The New York Times, for which he was writing, even accused him of damaging their reputation for impartiality. Its columnists were selected by the establishment to report the war as they wanted it. He states that it destroyed his career, but he would not have been able to live with himself if he had not spoken out. He stated he knew people, who had been killed, and describes the destruction of the country. 1 million people have been killed, 4 million displaced; and it has been irreparably destroyed as a unified nation state. It had some of the most modern infrastructure in the Middle East. This has also been destroyed.

Hedges makes it clear that the war is about natural resources, despite the verbiage about bringing democracy. He also states that you can’t be a Socialist without being an anti-imperialist and anti-militarist. It’s important to break the back of the Empire, because the methods it uses to control the subject peoples are then brought back into the heartland to use against the American people. The result of this is that Americans are under greater surveillance, the police has been militarised, civil liberties eroded and removed and so on. All of which could be seen from where they talking in Baltimore. It was the classic disease of empire, which the Greek historian Thucydides had documented when he examined the way ancient Athens similarly destroyed its democracy when it began its imperialist expansion.

Hedges and Martin criticise Bernie Sanders, the left-wing Democratic candidate for the American presidency. Sanders, they state, has not tried to tackle the military-industrial complex. Part of this is that the defence industry and its contractors are able to provide jobs to workers. Hedges quotes one writer as describing the emergence of the military-industrial complex during the Second World War as ‘a coup d’état in slow motion’. At the moment defence officially accounts for 52% of American state expenditure, but this is almost certainly far too low. It doesn’t count veteran affairs, the nuclear arsenal or research and development. The real figure is probably around $1.6 trillion. He states that you can’t really talk about reform when so much is spent on the military. Martin Luther King mentioned this, and that was the moment when, as far as the news was concerned, he was obsolete. It was also the moment Lyndon B. Johnson removed FBI protection, leaving him exposed to assassination. Hedges quotes Engels to the point that it really is a case of ‘barbarism or Socialism’. The world is facing the crisis of climate change, while America is facing the severe problems all empires ultimately face of expanding beyond their ability to maintain themselves. This was the cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Martin and Hedges also discuss the potential for revolution in America. Hedges states that when the system becomes so corrupt, that the elites only rule for themselves, there is always blowback. This can take malign forms, such as the Nazis in Germany. In America, blowback came in the form of FDR. He told the elites that either they gave up some of their power, there would be a revolution. This was when America still had the Communist and Progressive Parties. He states that America is now faced with the problem of challenging the dominant ideology, which has become so deeply ingrained. He describes going through the cemeteries in the American South with a civil rights lawyer. And in all of them there were row upon row of Confederate flags. The lawyer informed him that these had all gone up in the past ten years. Hedges states that what is happening in America is the same that happened in Yugoslavia just before it broke up. When people are made so desperate, they retreat into myth. Hedges finds the current rhetoric against Muslims particularly frightening, as it follows the pattern of violence he found in the wars he covered. Minority groups are first subject to verbal attack, followed by real, physical violence. He describes the American state as hostage to corporate and military power. This has become sacralised in the Christian religion, and part of the American gun cult. It will ignite into Fascism. It’s a symptom of a declining civilisation, the only solution for which is to re-integrate people into the economic system.

It’s a deep discussion, offering profound insights into the emergence of America as the modern imperial power, and the role played in this expansion by the corporate and military interests for whom the American state acts. This military-industrial complex dominates an empire abroad, and is stripping liberties and rights from its own people. The result is violent extremism abroad and at home, as alienated right-wing Americans become even more radicalised.

Empire Files: Saudi Arabia’s History of Thuggery

January 17, 2016

Yesterday I put up a number of posts criticising and attacking Saudi Arabia and its brutal use of the death penalty, following the complaint of the Saudi Foreign Minister, al-Jubair, that the kingdom had an image problem because of it, and moaning that people should respect their use of the death penalty ‘Because it’s the law’. This is another, very informative, and grimly fascinating video discussing Saudi Arabia’s long history of repression, violence and brutality from its very foundation. The video’s from Empire Files, which is another news agency specialising in criticising and documenting the corruption and political oppression committed by the American Empire.

Presented by Abby Martin, the video begins with shots of the western great and good meeting and praising various Saudi royals, mentioning the country’s election to the UN Human Rights Council. It then goes on to discuss the Saudi use of public executions. Among the crimes liable to the death penalty are atheism and adultery. 43% of all executions are for non-violent drug offences. It also discusses the execution of Ali al-Nimr, a democracy protester, by crucifixion and beheading. These cases are judged in secret courts, and other punishments include amputation and whipping.

The programme also goes on to examine the almost complete absence of rights for women in Saudi Arabia. Despite having been given the right to vote, women in Saudi Arabia require the permission of male relatives or guardians to go to school, work or even receive medical treatment. They may also be punished for their own sexual assault. The video cites a rape case, where the victim received more lashes than her attackers. Women constitute only 17% of the Saudi work force. 77% of female graduates are unemployed.

The kingdom has also been actively clamping down and suppressing protesters and activists campaigning for democracy. Many of these have been arrested and tried in secret courts. The punishments include execution, or transferral to re-education centres. The attacks on democracy campaigners escalated after 9/11. Before hundreds were being arrested. Now it’s thousands. Furthermore, no civil rights organisations are allowed in the country.

The programme then moves on to describe the history of the kingdom. It’s an absolute monarchy, ruled by a single dynasty. The current king’s personal wealth is estimated at $18 billion. Despite the obscene wealth of its rulers, 20% of its population live in abject poverty, with a youth unemployment rate of 30%.

Thirty per cent of the country’s population is composed of migrant workers, who are virtually slaves due to the system of kafala, sponsorship, through which they are imported. The programme describes their exploitation, with 15 – 20 hour working days, maltreatment, confiscation of passports on arrival, and adverts for runaway labourers and domestic workers, similar to those for de jure slaves in the American West.

Martin then talks to the Saudi dissident, Ali al-Ahmed, the head of the Gulf Institute. Al-Ahmed states that part of the problem is that the country’s vast wealth is confined to the king, his relatives and cronies. The present king can in no way be described as a great reformer. He imprisoned his four daughters for 14 years, and to this day no-one knows what happened to them. The king is an absolute monarch. The Saudi parliament is only partially elected. It is also partly appointed, and wields no power. As for the judicial system, al-Ahmed describes it as medieval and tribal. It deliberately excludes women, blacks, ordinary people and the Shi’a. It is similar to ISIS. And the bond between Saudi Arabia, America and the West is money. Bill Clinton and George Bush have both visited Saudi Arabia, probably secretly looking for Saudi sponsorship for their election campaigns. Al-Ahmed states that this should be investigated by the FBI. It appears to be a case of the Saudis trying to buy off prospective American presidents in the aftermath of 9/11.

The kingdom itself was founded after 20 years of warfare and campaigning by Ibn Saud, who declared himself king in 1925. Ibn Saud was aided in his rise to power by a religious militia. These later revolted, and so Ibn Saud had them massacred. The conquest of what is now Saudi Arabia was complete by 1932. Ibn Saud tried, and failed, to conquer and incorporate what is now Yemen.

The Saudi family struck oil after World War I, and invited the Americans in to exploit it. The Americans were only too pleased, after having been shut out of the rest of the oilfields of the Middle East by the triumphant European colonial powers. The American oil company, Chevron, staked its claim to the Saudi oilfields in 1933. This resulted in the formation of Arab-American Oil – Aramco. Despite the name, Aramco was 100 per cent owned by the Americans. It is the property of four American oil companies, including Chevron and Mobil. These oil companies paid a small proportion of their profits to the Saudi royal family as royalties.

Italian bombing during the Second World War severely disrupted oil supplies. In 1943 President Roosevelt declared that the defence of the Saudi oilfields was a national priority. Two years later, in 1945, Roosevelt signed a treaty with the Saudis giving them American protection in exchange for oil. This was the start of the network of American army and naval based in the country. In 1953 15,000 or so oil workers went on strike, demanding a union. The monarchy responded by assassinating the leaders and promulgating a royal decree banning working class organisations. In 1962 a left-wing revolution broke out in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UK responded by supporting the royalist counterrevolution.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West has not gone untroubled, however. There was a rift following the foundation of Israel. In response to Israeli victories during the Arab-Israeli wars, the Saudis launched their oil embargo, sparking the energy crisis of the 1970s. This did not, however, bother Nixon and Kissinger very much. If the worst came to the worst, they planned on bombing the kingdom in order to secure the vital supplies of oil. In the event, they didn’t need to take such drastic action. The Saudis were alarmed by the spread of Communism. So Nixon and Kissinger convinced the Saudis, along with the UAE, Qatar and Bahrein to back their war on Communism and specifically the conflict in Vietnam.

In the 1980s Saudi Arabia was the major backer of the Mujahideen. In 1979 there was a religious uprising in imitation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was suppressed, and the 60 leaders executed. Saudi Shi’a were also attacked for celebrating a Shi’a religious festival. Following the killing of a student, there were mass demonstrations by the Shi’a, women’s organisations, the Communist party and the religious community. In retaliation, the Saudis deployed 20,000 soldiers, strafing the Shi’a communities with helicopter gunships. And Ronald Reagan pledged his support in suppressing any revolution. Saudi Arabia was, of course, the major American base in 1990 for the Gulf War.

The Saudis’ response to the Arab Spring was, predictably, also harsh. The regime issued a ban on all journalism that dared to question or criticise the monarchy, and the internet was subject to even heavier censorship. Saudi troops helped to crush the Arab Spring in neighbouring Bahrein. Despite this, people are still fighting and dying for their right to freedom in the east of Saudi Arabia. There was another uprising in 2013 following the shooting of another young person. Saudi Arabia has also responded to the threat by making massive purchases of arms. It is the biggest customer for American weapons, having bought $5.5 billion of them c. 2012. The kingdom is also a major financier of al-Qaeda and ISIS. This was admitted by Hillary Clinton in documents revealed by Wikileaks. They are estimated to have given $100 billion to terrorists.

They also had strong links to the 9/11 hijackers. 28 pages of the official inquiry into 9/11 remain classified, but the leader of the inquiry has stated that the material points to Saudi Arabia as a major funder. Nevertheless, the current crisis in the Middle East has alarmed them so much, that the Saudis have held secret meetings with Israel. The Saudis have also been active trying to suppress the rebellion in Yemen. So far, half of those killed have been civilians. Saudi arms have levelled the ancient and historic city of Sanaa, and there are cases where civilians and rescue workers have been attacked and killed.

This is a brutal, authoritarian and cruel absolute monarchy, responsible for the savage suppression of human rights and democracy throughout the Middle East. It is scandalous that the West continues to support this murderous regime, although not surprising given the vast profits from and the dependence of the West on Saudi oil, while western arms manufacturers make money from selling to them.

Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) is a collection of radical and anti-authoritarian texts from British history from 1066 to the present, collected and edited by the actor, Colin Firth, and Anthony Arnove. It was partly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Arnove had worked with Zinn translating the book into a series of stage readings of American radical and democratic texts, which toured the US. Realising that Firth was one of the book’s fans, Arnove approached him to do a British version. Firth, Arnove, and a number of their friends and other performers they admired did indeed stage a reading of some of the texts collected in The People Speak in 2010. This was filmed and broadcast by the History Channel. The two authors state that they hope a DVD of this reading will eventually be released to accompany the film of the same name made the year previously (2010) by Zinn and Arnove, with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore. Firth and Arnove rejected any claim that this was the ‘actorly activism’ attacked by critics such as Marina Hyde. Rather, they were simply doing what actors are paid to do – to act, and interpret other’s voices.

Firth states that the book is not an attack on history teachers or the history curriculum, noting that his own father is a history teacher. It comes from his feeling, dating from when he was studying history at school, that the kind of history we are taught is incomplete. It concentrates on kings and queens and politicians to the exclusion of everyone else, who are presented as a faceless, homogenous mass. This is his and Arnove’s attempt to put back into history the voice of the excluded, the Socialists, Anarchists, agitators, Chartists, suffragists, Lollards, Levellers, in short, the trouble-makers, like Zinn himself. Firth makes the point that democracy works from the bottom up, and that it’s protagonists are real trouble-makers. He also makes the point that the rights we now take for granted and accept as civilised and decent were at one point considered treason. The people, who fought for and won them were those without political power, and were hanged, transported, tortured and imprisoned, until their ideas were eventually adopted and adapted. Their continued existence is, however, precarious, and we need to defend them. ‘These freedoms are now in our care. And unless we act on them and continue to fight for them, they will be lost more easily that they were won.’

Firth and Arnove freely acknowledge that in covering two millennia, they have let much important material out. They hope, however, that their readers will feel rightly indignant about that, and be compelled to point it out, or, even better, write another the book, which will be the first of many. Firth hopes most of all it will inspire their readers to speak out, and make their voice heard on the issues they feel is important, ‘As Howard reminds us, democracy is not a spectator sport, and history is not something on a library shelf, but something in which each of us has a potentially critical role’.

Chronologically, the book has divided into five chapters, ‘1066-1450: Commoners and Kings’, ‘1642-1789: Representing the People’, ‘1790-1860: One Man, One Vote’, 1890-1945: Equal Rights’, and ‘1945-2012: Battling the State’ collecting some of the radical texts from these periods. Between these are other chapters covering particular political, constitutional, religious, national and economic issues and struggles. These include:

‘Disunited Kingdoms: ‘Our English Enemies’,
‘Freedom of Worship: ‘Touching our Faith’,
‘Land and Liberty: ‘The Earth is a Common Treasury’,
‘Empire and Race: All Slaves Want to Be Free’,,
‘Money and Class: ‘The Rank is But the Guinea’s Stamp’,
‘Workers United: Labour’s “No” into Action’,
‘War and Peace: ‘What People Have Your Battles Slain?’,
‘Gender and Sexual Equality: ‘A Human Being, Regardless of the Distinction of Sex’.

The chapter on the 400 or so years from 1066 to 1450 contains the following texts:

Ordericus Vitalis on the Norman Conquest of 1066,
The Liber Eliensis on Hereward the Wake,
Extracts from the Magna Carta,
Extracts from the Song of Lewes; written by a Franciscan monk in 1264, this sets out some early examples of the doctrine of resistance and popular rights.
It also contains a section devoted to the voice of the Peasant’s Revolt, including
Wat Tyler’s address to Richard II,
John Ball, ‘Until Everything Shall Be in Common’ (1381),
and William Grindcobbe, ‘I shall die in the Cause of Gaining our Liberty’.

The chapter on ‘Disunited Kingdoms – Our English Enemies’, includes the following pieces:
The declaration of Scottish independence at Arbroath, 6th April 1320,
Owain Glyn Dwr’s letter to another Welsh noble, Henry Don,
The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549,
Jonathan Swift’s bitterly satirical ‘A Modest Proposal’ of 1729,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish Nationalist leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
The Speech from the Dock of Tone’s successor in the United Irishmen, Robert Emmet,
Rev. John Blackwell’s Eisteddfod Address in Beaumaris in 1832, stressing the importance of literature in Welsh,
Letters from the Rebecca Riots’,
The Letter from Nicholas M. Cummins to the Times attacking the English for refusing to supply the Irish with food during the Potato Famine,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish American Fenian Leader, Captain John McClure, of 1867,
Padraig Pearse’s Eulogy for the Fenian Leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa of 1915,
An extract from the Scots writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song of 1932,
Bernadette Devlin’s Speech in Draperstown when she stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Independent Unity Party in Northern Ireland,
Silvester Gordon Boswell’s Address to Travellers on Appleby Hill of 1967, and Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy of 1970,
The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly’s lyric, ‘For What died the Sons of Roisin?’ of 1970,
Pauline M.’s description of the events of Bloody Sunday,
An editorial on the Tax-Dodgers on the Isle of Man by the Manx Marxist group, Fo Halloo,
Bobby Sands’ prison diary for 1-2 March 1981,
and an extract from Gwyn Alf Williams’ history of the Welsh, ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’ from 1985.

The section on Freedom of Worship, begins with a section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, which includes
The examination of Nicholas Leche of 1536,
The Pontefract Articles of 2-4 December 1536,
The Examination of Robert Aske, 1537,
John Foxe, ‘The Mart6yrdom and Suffering of Cicelie Ormes, Burnt at Norwich the Testimonie and Witnes of Christes Gospell’ of 1557,
Matthew Hamont’s Trial for Heresy,
John Mush, the Life of Margaret Clitherow, 1586,
Daniel Defoe’s satirical ‘The Shortest Way with Dissenters:, Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church of 1702,
Ignatius Samcho’s Letter on the Gordon Riots of 1780,
William Blake’s ‘America’ of 1793, his Preface to Milton of (1804) and Preface to Book Two of ‘Jerusalem’ of the same year.
Grace Aguilar’s History of the Jews in England of 1847,
George Jacob Holyoake, Exchange with his Caplain on Atheism (1850),
An anonymous account of the Basingstoke Riots against the Salvation Army of 1881,
and Victoria Brittain’s ‘The Meaning of Waiting’, using the words of eight Muslim women married to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The section on the period 1642-1749 contains
Elizabeth Lilburne’s Appeal against the arrest of her husband, the leveller leader John Lilburne,
Richard Overton’s An Arrow Against All Tyrants of 1646,
The Putney Debates of 1647,
John Lilburne’s Appeal to Cromwellian Soldiers of 1649,
The last speech of Richard Rumbold at the Market Cross in Edinburgh,
Reports of torture in prison from 1721,
The frontispiece to the anonymous pamphlet ‘Idol Worship, Or, the Way to Preferment, showing that the way to political power to was kiss your superiors’ rear ends,
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776,
The American Declaration of Independence,
Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Destruction of the Bastille’,
An Advertisement for Commemoration of the French Revolution by Dissenters in Birmingham in 1791,
and An Anonymous Birmingham handbill to Commemorate the French Revolution, 1791.

The section ‘Land and Liberty’ contains
Robert Kett, ‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’, 1549, against the Enclosures in Kent,
Gerard Winstanley, ‘A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England’, 1649,
The 1650 Declaration of the Wellingborough Diggers,
The ballad ‘Bonny Portmore’ of 1690, lamenting the destruction of the forest around Lough Beg,
Thomas Spence’s ‘Spence’s Plan for Parochial Partnerships in the Land of 1816), an early Utopian Socialist precursor,
John Clare, ‘The mores’, c. 1821-4,
W.G. Ward’s ‘The Battle, the Struggle and the Victory’ of 1873, on a battle between the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and the employers and landowners, who refused to employ their members,
Richard Barlow-Kennett’s ‘Address to the Working Classes’ on Vivisection of 1883,
Henry S. Salts’ Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892),
Ernest a Baker, The Forbidden Land of 1924 on the landowners’ denial of the right of access to land around the Peak District and the Yorkshire moors due to grouse shooting,
Benny Rothman on the Kinder Trespass in 1932 by ramblers,
and Voices from the Kingsnorth 6 Greenpeace protesters of 2007.

The section on Empire and Race has the above extracts,
William Cecil’s Speech in Parliament of 1588, against a bill against Strangers and Aliens Selling Wares by Retail, 1588,
William Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 4, c. 1593,
Anna Barbauld, Sins of Government, Sins of of the Nation; Or, A Discourse for the Fast, of 1793, against imperialism and war with revolutionary France,
Robert Wedderbu5rn’s The Axe Laid to the Root or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica, 1817,
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, 1831,
Louis Asa-Asa, ‘How Cruelly We Are Used’, 1831,
Joseph Sturge, Speech at the Baptist Missionary Society of Birmingham, 1836,
An Anonymous Member of the Walthamstow Free Produce or Anti-Slavery Association, Conscience Versus Cotton: Or, the Preference of Free Labour Produce, 1851,
Ernest Jones’, ‘The Indian Struggle’, 1857, supporting Indian independence during the Mutiny,
Richard Cobden’s Letter to John Bright on Indian independence, 1857,
Celestine Edwards, a Black Methodist preacher from Dominica, The British Empire, attacking imperialism,
‘A Voice from the Aliens about the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trades Union Congress of 1893, by Jewish worker protesting at a motion by William Inskip and Charles Freak to ban immigrant workers from joining trades unions,
Henry Woodd Nevinson, ‘The Slave Trade of Today’, 1906, against the cultivation of cocoa by Angolan slaves,
The Indian nationalist Ghadar Movement’s ‘An Open letter to the People of India’, 1913,
The satirical, ‘In Praise of the Empire’ by the Irish nationalist and founder of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, James Connolly,
B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘India on the Eve of the Crown Government’, 1915,
John Archer’s Presidential Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the African Progress Union, 1918,
Manifesto of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a Punjabi revolutionary Indian nationalist, 1928,
Gandhi’s Quit India Speech of 1942,
C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, on cricket and his experiences growing up in Trinidad, 1963,
Peter Hain, Defence in Trial from Picketing Apartheid South African Cricket and Rugby, 1972,
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’, 1980,
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, 1990,
The account of his own incarceration by an anonymous Tanzanian Asylum Seeker, 2000,
Benjuamin Zephaniah, ‘What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us’, 2001,
Roger Huddle and Lee Billingham’s Reflections on Rock against Racism and Love Music Hate Racism, 2004,
The People’s Navy Protest on the eviction of the indigenous islanders from the islands, 2008,
and Mark Steel’s ‘The Poles Might be Leaving but the Prejudice Remains’, 2009.

The section on the period 1790-1860 has the following extracts and pieces
An Account of the Seizure of Citizen Thomas Hardy, Secretary to the London Corresponding Society, 1794,
‘Rules and Resolutions of the Political Protestants’, 1818. Political Protestants was the name adopted by a number of northern working class radical organisations demanding universal suffrage.
There is a subsection devoted to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local militia and then a detachment of Hussars attacked and broke up a peaceful meeting in Manchester of protesters campaigning for an extension of the franchise. This section has
The Letter from Mr W.R. Hay to Lord Sidmouth regarding Peterloo, 1819,
extracts from Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy
and William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built.

The chapter also has following pieces
William Davidson, Speech to the Court in the Cato Street Conspiracy Trial, 1820,
and Mr Crawshay Recounts the Merthyr Uprising, 1831.
This is followed by a section on Chartism, including
Henry Vincent, Chartists in Wales, 1839,
Edward Hamer, ‘The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes, 1839,
and Chartist Protests in Newcastle, 1839.
Charles Dickens,’The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version’, 1841, bitterly attack Tory feudalism and massacres of radicals,
and the Bilston, South Staffordshire Chartist Rally.

The section on money and class has a piece on the rebellion of William Fitz-Osbert against the way the Anglo-Normans barons shifted their tax burden onto the poor,
George Manley’s speech from the gallows at Wicklow, where he was hanged for murder, against the murder and plunder of the rich and general such as Marlborough,
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard,
Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That,
and John Grimswaw’s ‘The Handloom Weaver’s Lament’.
This is followed by a section on Luddism, which contains
John Sykes’ account of machine-breaking at Linthwaite, Yorkshire, 1812,
An Anonymous ‘Address to Cotton Weavers and Others’, 1812,
The poem ‘Hunting a Loaf’,
The poet Byron’s speech on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, and his ‘Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill’,
The ballad, ‘The Tradesman’s Complaint’,
An extract from Carlisle’s Past and Present in which he questioned the benefits of unrestrained economic growth,
Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England,
An extract from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto,
Henry Mayhew’s ‘Labour and the Poor’,
‘The Last Sark’ by the radical working class poet, Ellen Johnston,
Thomas Hardy’s ‘To An Unborn Pauper Child’,
The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938, by Jack Dash, a Member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union,
George Orwell’s ‘England, Your England’,
John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’,
Jimmy Reid’s Inaugural Speech as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972,
and Dick Gaughan’s ‘Call It Freedom’.

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland by the Glasgow Weavers, 1820,
Richard Oastler’s Letter to the Leeds Mercury on Slavery, denouncing the harsh conditions endured by children working in the factories and mines,
George Loveless, the Tolpuddle Martyr,
Patience Kerr’s Testimony before the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842,
Thomas Kerr’s ‘Aw’s Glad the Strike’s Duin’, 1880,
William Morris’ The Depression of Trade and Socialism: Ends and Means, 1886,
Annie Besant on White Slavery in London,
Samuel Webber’s Memories of the Matchgirl’s Strike,
Ben Tillett on the Dock Strike, 1911,
The Speech, ‘I am here as the Accuser’ by John Maclean, a Revolutionary Glaswegian Socialist tried for sedition for trying to dissuade soldiers from fighting in the First World War,
An account of the General Strike of 1926 by an Ashton Sheet Metal Worker,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’,
Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’,
An account of the Miners’ Strike by Bobby Girvan and Christine Mahoney,
And Mark Serwotka’s ‘Imagine Not Only Marching Together, but Striking Together’, of 2011 against the Coalition.

The section on Equal Rights has an extract from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism,
Emmeline Pankhursts’ Kill Me or Give Me My Freedom,
George Orwell’s ‘A Hanging’,
and a section for the voices of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street against Mosely’s Blackshirts.
This section includes the testimony of William J. Fishman, a Stepney Labour activist, the then secretary of the Communist Party, Phil Piratin, Joe Jacobs, another member of the Communist Party, also from Stepney, Julie Gershon, a Stepney resident, Mr Ginsburg, from Cable Street, and Mrs Beresford, of Lascombe’s fish and chip shop.
These are followed by an extract from Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’.

The section and war and piece begins with Thomas Hoccleve’s An Appeal for Peace with France of 1412,
a Handbill from the Weavers of Royton, 1808,
John Bright’s Speech against the Crimean War,
Bertrand Russell’s Letter to the Nation, 1914,
Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against War, 1917,
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’,
The section answering the question, ‘How Should War be Prevented?’ from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas,
James Maxton’s Speech Against War,
Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator,
Phil Piratin on the Invasion of the Savoy Hotel, 1940,
Denis Knight, The Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear March, 1958,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, dedicated to Scots anti-Nuclear marchers,
and Adrian Mitchell’s ‘To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies about Vietnam)’, 1964.

There is also a section of voices from the women involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, containing testimony and memories from Kim Besly, Sarah Hipperson,Ann Pettitt, and Thalia Campbell.
This is followed by Mary Compton’s speech at the Stop the War Coalition, and Robin Cook’s resignation speech to parliament against the invasion of Iraq.

The section and gender and sexual equality begins with an anonymous sixteenth century Song on the Labour of Women,
The Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women, 1649, against the imprisonment of four of the Levellers,
An anonymous article from the Saint James Chronicle from 1790, recording the ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ between the ‘Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792,
Anna Wheeler and William Thompson’s ‘Address to Women’, an extract from their pamphlet, Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825,
A letter by an anonymous prostitute from the Times, 1858,
Josephine Butler’s An Appeal to the People of England, on the Recognition and Superintendence of Prostitution by Governments,
Edmund Kell, ‘Effects of the Acts Upon the ‘Subjected’ Women, against the humiliation endured by women through the examinations under the Contagious Diseases Act,
Oscar Wilde’s Second Trial for ‘Gross Indecency’,
Helen Gordon Liddle’s The Prisoner, an account of the force-feeding of the Suffragettes under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act,
Two passages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,
Against the Law, by Peter Wildeblood, a journalist and TV producer arrested for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency,
The memories of Vicky and Janice of Lesbian Life in Brighton in the 1950s and ’60s,
Selma James and the Women’s Liberation Workshop, ‘Women against the Industrial Relations Act’, 1971,
Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’,
Quentin Crisp’s How to Become a Virgin,
and Ian McKellen’s Keynote Speech at the 2008 Stonewall Equality Dinner.

The section, ‘Battling the State’, has pieces and extracts from
Tariq Ali’s ‘The Street is Our Medium’, from Black Dwarf, the newspaper of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with a copy of Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to Street Fighting Man.
Paul Foot’s Speech on the Murder of Blair Peach, 1979,
The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’, 1982,
Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, against the Falkland’s War,
Pensioner Nellie discussing the Poll Tax revolt,
Jeremy Hardy, ‘How to Be Truly Free’, 1993,
‘Catching Buses’ by the Bristolian disabled rights activist, Liz Crow,
Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, 2005,
Mark Thomas’ ‘Put People First G20 Protest of 2009,
Euan Booth’s ‘Subversively Move Tony Blair’s Memoirs to the Crime Section in Bookshops’,
The Speech on Student Protests by the fifteen-year old schoolboy, Barnaby Raine, to the Coalition of Resistance Conference.
The book ends with Zadie Smith’s piece attacking library closures in 2011.

As well as notes and a normal index, the book also has a chronological index, placing the pieces in order according to the dates they were written.

The book is indeed encyclopaedic and comprehensive in the range of its selected texts through two millennia of history. Firth is quite right when he says that much has been necessarily left out. Whole can and have been written about some of the subjects he has touched on, such as popular protest in history, the Enclosures, Chartism, the development of British Socialism, Irish, Scots and Welsh history and nationalism, Socialism in Britain, opposition to the workhouse, to name but a few. There are a number of works on gay, gender and women’s history. E.P. Thompson himself wrote a history of the English working class, which remains one of the standard texts on the subject. Labour history-writing goes further back than Thompson, however. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote two books on the country and town labourers respectively. A number of the first Labour MPs to be voted into parliament have also left their autobiographies, describing their rise from manual labourer to Member of Parliament.

The book does an important service by showing just how old some of the issues and techniques raised and used by today’s protesters actually are. Hoccleve’s appeal for peace with France shows that peace protests go right back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the Tenth Century the Church led a peace movement to establish God’s Truce. This was the ban on fighting by the knights and the aristocracy on certain days of the week, so that the peasants, their crops and livestock were harmed as little as possible. And some of the 19th century popular protests are surprisingly modern in flavour. I was struck in the 1980s by how similar Cobden and Bright’s peace meetings demanding an end to the Crimean War were to contemporary anti-Nuclear peace marches and protests. An earlier generation would doubtless be struck by the similarity to the anti-Vietnam protests. The various articles, pamphlets, books and letters written attacking British imperialism are a reminder that, even during the intensely patriotic Victorian age imperialism and colonial expansion were the subjects of criticism. One of Gladstone’s ministers was privately strongly anti-imperial, and wrote articles for the Liberal press denouncing imperialism. ‘A love of empire’, he wrote, ‘is the love of war’. It’s as true now as it was then.

The Anti-Saccherist League is another example of a startlingly modern Victorian protest. It was an early example of ethical consumption. It aimed to attack slavery by destroying the profits from sugar produced by slaves. Instead of buying sugar from the Caribbean, it instead promoted Indian sugar, which it believed was produced by free people. The book doesn’t mention it, but there were also feminist campaigns to end slavery. One of the petitions against slavery compiled by anti-Slavery activists, was by women, attacking the brutality experienced by enslaved women, and addressed to the Queen herself, Victoria. It was felt that she, as a woman, would have more sympathy to the sufferings of the other members of her gender in slavery than men. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman is justly famous, and has been published in Penguin Classics. It, and the 19th century pamphlet similarly protesting women’s subordination and exploitation are a reminder that feminism did not begin with the suffragettes or was a product of ’60s radicalism.

Some of the older, more ancient texts from the book could easily be reprinted today as an indictment of modern conditions and attitudes under the Coalition. The descriptions of the government and employers’ opposition to the dock and matchgirls’ strikes sound very modern indeed, and Annie Besant’s denunciation of white slavery in London – the gruelling work performed in factories by poorly paid and exploited workers, sounds exactly like the world Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the whole foul crew would like to drag us back to.

I do, however, have problems with some of the material included in the book. It’s true that the United Kingdom was largely created through military expansion and conquest, as the Anglo-Norman barons first took Wales, and then established the English pale and suzerainty over the Gaelic clans in Ireland. They tried to conquer Scotland, but England and Scotland were only politically united after the failure of the Darien colony in the early 18th century. The history of the British control of Ireland is one of repeated misgovernment and oppression, as well as missed opportunities for reform and improvement. If some of George III’s ministers had succeeded in enfranchising Roman Catholics, so that they had at least some of the same rights as Protestants, or Gladstone, himself very much a member of the Anglican Church, had succeeded in granting ‘Home Rule all round’ to the ‘Celtic Fringe’, then some of the sectarian and political violence could possibly have been avoided. Discrimination against Roman Catholics was widespread and resulted in the Civil Rights demonstrations by Ulster Catholics in the 1960s. It also produced the Nationalist terrorist groups, who, like the Loyalist terrorists, which opposed them, have been responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of civilians. I do have strong reservations of parts of the Irish folk scene, because of the way folk songs describing and denouncing historic atrocities by the British, were used by Nationalist paramilitaries to drum up hatred and support for their murderous campaigns. I am certainly not accusing any of the modern folk groups included in the book, whose lyrics denounce what they see as the continuing oppression of the Irish people, of supporting terrorism. Firth and Arnove appear to have deliberately avoided choosing the contemporary folk songs that do glamorise terrorism. Nevertheless, there is a problem in that some of the Irish folk songs about the suffering of their country and its people can be so abused. I am also definitely not impressed with Protestant, Loyalist sectarianism and its vilification of and celebration of violence against Roman Catholics.

It’s also the case that historically at least, many Protestants did support the aspirations of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen for freedom and emancipation. A few years ago Mapping the Town, BBC Radio 4’s urban history programme, broadcast an edition from Belfast. This noted that one of the first Roman Catholic churches built in the town in the late 18th or early 19th century was half funded by the town’s Protestants. Although there denominations were recognised and permitted by the Anglican establishment, unlike Roman Catholicism, which was rigorously prohibited, they also suffered serious legal disabilities and were prevented from holding political office. They shared the resentment their Roman Catholic friends and fellow Irishmen felt, and so sometimes, as here, made common cause with them. The book does include some of the speeches from Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen, the 18th century militant Nationalist organisation that included both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This makes the point that the struggle for an independent Ireland has historically included Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, possibly some further Irish Protestant texts supporting independence or Roman Catholic emancipation would have been useful, to show such issues can and did transcend the religious divide.

Another problem with the section on Ireland is that in Northern Ireland the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the province was created through an uprising against the possibility that it would become part of Eire. While the oppression of Roman Catholics in Ulster is definitely undemocratic, it also has to be recognised that Ulster has remained part of the UK through the wishes of a majority of its people. This has been implemented through democratic politics, which is something that needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, the exclusive focus on Irish nationalism in the book obscures the fact that the province’s inclusion in the UK does have a popular democratic mandate.

A further issue is the exclusion of a modern, working class Ulster Protestant voice. Nearly a decade ago now the Independent reviewed a play by a working class Ulster Protestant playwright about the Troubles. The play was about a family reacting to the rioting occurring outside. I’ve unfortunately forgotten, who the playwright was. What I do remember was his comment that working class Protestants in Ulster were disenfranchised, as there were no organisations representing them. It’s a controversial claim, but there’s more than a little truth in it. Many of the working class political parties in Northern Ireland, such as the SDLP, are more or less Nationalist. The Unionist party, on the other hand, was formed from the merger of the Conservative and right-wing parts of the Liberal party. There has therefore been little in the way of working-class Protestant political parties, although some of the militant Protestant paramilitaries did adopt a radical Socialist agenda in the 1970s. Again, it would have been good to have a text or so examining this aspect of Northern Irish politics, though one which would not support the Protestant paramilitaries and their violence.

Equally problematic is the inclusion in the book of the voices of the womenfolk of the men imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay, collected by Victoria Brittain. Now Gitmo is indeed a human rights abuse. The prisoners there are held without trial or sentencing. The reasoning behind this is that, while they are guilty of terrorism offences, wartime conditions and the pressures of battle mean that it has been impossible to obtain the level of evidence required to secure a conviction under civilian law. If they were tried, they would be acquitted, and disappear to continue their terrorist campaigns against the US. Hence, for national security they must be detained outside the law. It’s a dangerous argument, as it sets up a precedent for the kind of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ disappearances and incarceration without trial of domestic opponents that was ruthlessly used by the Nazis on their political opponents in Germany.

This does not mean that the men held without trial in Gitmo are democrats. Far from it. Those that fought for the Taliban supported a vehemently anti-democratic regime. It was a violently repressive theocracy, which rejected ‘man-made law’ in favour of the Sharia. Under the Taliban, no forms of religious belief or unbelief were tolerated apart from Islam. Women were prevented from going out in public except when clad in the chador. As they were supposed to be silent and not draw attention to themselves when in public, they were beaten if they made a sound. This included the noises made by the artificial limbs of women, who had been mutilated by the mines and ordnance used in the fighting. There was also an active campaign against female education. This situation has been challenged by the presence of the Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hardy in the News Quiz derided this as ‘collateral feminism’. He has a point. The war was not fought to liberate or improve the conditions of Afghan women. This is very much a side effect. However, if the Western occupation of Afghanistan does raise their status and give them more freedom, then it will have done some good.

As for the occupation of Afghanistan itself, I’ve read material that has argued that the real reason the Western forces are there is to secure access to and appropriate the country’s oil pipelines. There’s possibly something in that. However, the immediate reason for the invasion was al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. The destruction of the Twin Towers and parallel attacks on the Pentagon and the White House were acts of war. There is simply no two ways about this, and the West’s counter-attack and invasion of Afghanistan was an entirely appropriate response. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous to include the piece of on the suffering of the wives of the men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, when the men themselves were the militant, murderous supporters of an oppressive regime that itself had absolute contempt for democracy and Western notions of human rights.

If many of the texts in this volume seem surprisingly modern, the extracts on the Ladies of Llangollen can be somewhat misleading in that historically British society has recognised a number of intense same-sex relationships, that were not at the time regarded as homosexual, or which included a homosexual element that was nevertheless seen in context as part of a wider relationship. There has been a book published within the last year or so on the homosocial relationship between medieval knights, which examined the all-male camaraderie and loyalty between them. The chivalrous concept of campiognage, which was the extreme friendship and loyalty between two knights, could be described in homosexual terms, even when one knight was helping his comrade in arms to escape with his lady love. In the 19th century there was the ‘romantic friendship’. This was a devoted friendship between two members of the same sex. These now can strike us as definitely gay, but at the time these were not seen as being necessarily homosexual or particularly extraordinary. Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried next to another priest, with whom he shared a profound friendship, was almost certainly such a Victorian romantic friendship, rather than a straightforward gay relationship. Although the ladies of Llangollen described themselves as having eloped, they always maintained that they devoted themselves to artistic and intellectual pursuits. They were celebrated at the time for their devotion to each other, and visitors to their home included many of the 19th century’s great and good, including the Duke of Wellington. It seems to me therefore that there relationship was seen as another romantic friendship, rather than a lesbian relationship.

It is also the case that the Victorians were aware of the existence of lesbianism. The story that when they were formulating the laws against homosexuality, Queen Victoria and her ministers did not outlaw female homosexuality because they didn’t believe it existed is a myth. They knew that it did. They just didn’t see it as a particular threat. The historian Martin Pugh makes this point in his book, British Fascism between the Wars. He argues that lesbianism was only perceived as a threat to British society after the First World War, when there was a ‘crisis of masculinity’. It was widely believed that the cream of British manhood had all been carried off by the War, and that only inferior men had been left behind. This created the atmosphere of sexual panic in which arose Pemberton Billing and his notorious black book. Billing was an extreme Right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the Germans were blackmailing British homosexuals into betraying their country. He claimed to have a little book containing the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’, and regularly attacked other public figures with accusations that they were gay. At least one of his victims sued for libel, but the trial was called off when Billing accused the presiding judge of being another gay, whose name was in his book. I’m no legal expert, but it has struck me that the judge would have grounds for jailing him for contempt. Moral fears and legislation against gay women arguably date from this period, rather than the Victorian age.

These reservations aside, this is a powerful, inspiring book, that should encourage and empower anyone with an interest in radical history and who is determined to defend freedom and dignity today from the increasing attacks on it by the Coalition, the most reactionary regime this country has endured since the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.