Posts Tagged ‘Communist Party’

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.

Banned from TV Under Thatcher: Maggie’s MIlitant Tendency

October 2, 2013

The Conservative party is always keen to watch for and denounced supposed left-wing bias in the BBC. There is an entire website, Biased BBC, which is full of such accusations. The Conservatives have, however, used their influence when in power to censor and suppress any material of which they didn’t approve. I’ve already blogged about how Thames TV lost its broadcasting licence because of Thatcher’s disapproval of the World in Action documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’. Another documentary that incurred Thatcher’s displeasure was the Panorama edition, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’. Mainstream political parties and organisations, such as Labour, are frequently targeted for infiltration by extremists, such as the various Communist sects. Called ‘revolutionary entryism’ by the extreme Left, the process is designed to allow the smaller, more extreme party to be able to take over its larger, more mainstream host. The extremists are thus able get into power, which they could not do on their own behalf. The nascent Communist party tried these tactics in Weimar Germany when the SPD split following the Council Revolution of 1919. The Communists tried to infiltrate the more extreme, break-away faction, the USPD, with the intention of breaking it up. This would remove the party as an alternative to the Communists. At the same time they hoped to radicalise the more extreme members of the USPD, and so get them to join the Communist party. It didn’t work, and the USPD eventually reunited with the parent party, the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour party.

Similar tactics were tried in the ’70s and ’80s by other Marxist groups, which tried to get into the British Labour party. Harry Conroy records in his biography of Jim Callaghan (London: Haus Publishing Ltd 2006) hearing a conversation between a Maoist and another extremist about how they intended to infiltrate the Labour party. In the 1980s there was the controversy over the activities within Labour of the Militant Tendency, a radical group, which seemed intent on rigging elections and other activities in order to seize power within the party. Eventually they were expelled by the then leader, Neil Kinnock. This was, however, used by the Conservatives to show that Labour was full of splits, with a weak leadership, and that it had been infiltrated by ‘Reds’. Once Labour got in, these infiltrators would use their power to set up a Communist dictatorship. It was the classic ‘Red Scare’, and was run by the Sun. It also supplied the basis for one of Frederick Forsythe’s novels, in which MI% agents have to stop a Labour party infiltrated by Communists from gaining power and turning the country into a puppet of the Soviet Union. The plot appears to represent genuine fears on the part of the CIA and MI5. James Angleton, the head of the CIA, believed that Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent, a belief shared by his colleagues in MI5 and in the Conservative party. One of those who bought this rubbish was one Margaret Thatcher. Sadly, the Red scaremongering didn’t end with the suspicions about Wilson. In the 1990s the Times libelled Michael Foot by claiming that he was a Soviet agent codenamed ‘Agent Boot’. So much for the Times as a centre of journalistic excellence.

What was not widely known at the time was that the Conservatives were also afraid that they had similarly been infiltrated by the National Front and other Far-Right organisations. A 1983 report by the Young Conservatives concluded that ‘organised infiltration is a reality’. They identified the Fascist groups that had infiltrated the Party as WISE, Tory Action and the London Swinton Circle, as well as David Irving’s Focus Policy Group. A number of Conservative MPs, which belonged to some of these groups were also suspected of NF membership or sympathies. These included Harvey Proctor, Ronald Bell and Gerard Howarth, as well as George Kennedy Young, a former deputy head of MI6, who had almost taken over the Monday Club in the 1970s, and who was particularly active in Tory Action.

The Tory party was also faced with a series of public scandals where members of the party publicly declared their support for Racial Nationalism and the Far Right. I distinctly remember a report on the Six O’clock News about the leader of either one of the Young Conservative groups or Union of Conservative Students in Northern Ireland, Tinnies, who had publicly embraced the Front’s racism. Tinnies declared of himself and his followers that ‘we are not Fascists. We are Thatcherite achievers. But if Mrs Thatcher does not want us, we will go to the Far Right.’ I’ve heard since that it was because of Fascist infiltration and sympathies amongst the membership that the Tories wound up the Union of Conservative Students, and replaced it with Conservative Future.

Larry O’Hara, a historian of Fascist politics in this period and a staunch anti-Fascist, has argued that there was no organised infiltration of the Tory party in the 1980s. The NF members, who joined the Tories, according to O’Hara, did so due to disillusionment with the NF after its catastrophic performance in the 1979 bye-election. Moreover, according to O’Hara, the actual core membership of the BNP is small, perhaps only about 200 members. Most of its members leave after about two years as they are simply anti-White immigration and have no interest in Fascist ideology. Andrew Brons, then the chairman of the NF, and the leader of the ‘Strasserite’ faction in 1984 vehemently denied that the NF had any such policy. He stated ‘the idea that we, a radical, Racial Nationalist party, should seek to infiltrate the unsavoury corpse of the Conservative party is so ludicrous that is should not need to be denied.’ Nevertheless, at the time the idea that the Fascist fringe had infiltrated the Conservative party was all too credible. Mrs Thatcher’s model of a monetarist state was General Pinochet’s Chile, and she herself was friends with the Chilean dictator. The Fascist future depicted in Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta’ strip seemed all too likely to come true. The BBC’s long-running documentary series, Panorama, investigated the allegations that the Tories had indeed been infiltrated. The resulting programme, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency, was not, however, broadcast as Thatcher had it suppressed.

In fact long before the Thatcher administration the membership of the Conservative Party and various Fascist organisations had overlapped. In the immediate period after the First World War Right-wing Tories had formed militantly anti-Socialist, anti-Semitic groups such as the British Fascisti. The first editor of the BNP after it was formed from the merger of the White Defence League and National Labour Party in 1960 was Andrew Fountaine. Fountaine was a Norfolk landowner, who had fought for the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Fountaine had been adopted by the Tories in 1949 as their candidate for Chorley. He was later thrown out of the party after he made a speech at the Conservative Party Conference criticising it for allowing Jews to gain important public offices. he then stood as an Independent Conservative in the 1950 election, only losing it by 341 votes. In 1958 he formed his own National Front, which was dissolved at the foundation of the BNP. In the 1970s and 1980s the National Front had a deliberate policy of trying to recruit members of the Conservative party, as well as alienated Whites in inner city areas. David Irving’s Focus Policy Group had made repeated attempts to purchase the mailing list of Conservative activists.

Other links between the Conservatives and the Far Right was through the various anti-immigration groups, such as the Race Preservation Society. These brought together Fascist organisations such as the BNP and Northern League as well as members of the Tory party. They were backed by wealthy private individuals, which allowed them to publish a series of magazines and pamphlets. These included Sussex News, Midland News, the British Independent, New Nation and RPS News. It has been said, however, that the RPS was not a Fascist organisation, but a federation of racial populist, anti-immigrant groups. WISE, whose initials stood for Welsh, Irish, Scots, English, was another racist, anti-immigrant group also maintained contact with the both the Conservative Party and the Fascist fringe. In the 1970s following the immigration to Britain of Asian refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda, a number of former Conservatives joined the NF, such as John Kingsley Read and Roy Painter. These embarked on a struggle for power within the NF, which culminated in Read replacing Tyndall as chairman in 1975. The Monday Club was another society in which the Conservatives mixed with members of the NF. At an anti-immigration rally in September 1972 held by the Monday Club, the NF provided the stewards and 400 members of the audience. After George Kennedy Young was defeated in his bid to become chairman, the NF was gradually excluded from the Club. The Club ultimately presented their books for examination by Lesley Wooler, of the Jewish 62 group, to make sure there were no more anti-Semites within it. Despite this, the Monday Club still retained a reputation for racism, especially after various anti-immigration rants by Norman Tebbit, one of the Club’s members and member of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet. So embarrassing is the Club’s reputation that about a decade ago David Cameron officially announced that he was severing the link between the Tory party and the Club.

The Tory party has nevertheless had links and shared members with the extreme Right over the years. This eventually became so embarrassing for Thatcher that she had the Beeb’s investigation into it pulled from the airwaves. This demonstrates the Tory party’s own willingness to use censorship and manipulate the news when th threatens their hold in power. In this respect, they may act precisely like the Fascist organisations from which they are so keen to distance themselves.

Meanwhile, here’s Spitting Image’s satirical suggestion of where Maggie that the idea for her policies.
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It’s on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2DnW5uC1_A.

Sources

Larry O’Hara, ‘Notes from the Underground: British Fascism 1974-92 – Part 1, 1974-83, in Lobster 23: 15-20 (June 1992).

Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987).