Posts Tagged ‘Docks’

Noakes and Pridham on the Middle Class Precursors of Nazism

March 13, 2019

As well as discussing and documenting the history of Nazism, Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham in their book Nazism 1919-1945: 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934 (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983) also discuss the precursors of the Nazis from the late 19th century to the time of the First World War.

They state that radical nationalism first arose amongst the German middle class, who resented their political exclusion by the aristocracy and who felt that the dominance of the aristocracy had weakened Germany through alienating the German working class. This radical right was organized outside parliament in Leagues, such as the Pan-Germans. These middle class radicals rejected the liberal attitudes of patriotism, tolerance and humanity of their fathers, especially when it came to ‘enemies of the Reich’. Noakes and Pridham write

This ‘new Right’ – like its French counterpart – developed outside the political parties in pressure group-type organisations known as ‘leagues’ – the Pan-German League, the Navy League, etc. Its ideology reflected the ideas and political aspirations of the middle-class generation which had grown up in the immediate aftermath of German unification and came to maturity in the 1890s and 1900s. These men had discarded the remnants of the enlightened 1848 Liberalism of their fathers and grandfathers. According to Heinrich Class, who became chairman of the Pan-German League, three ideals had characterized the liberalism of his father’s generation: ‘patriotism, tolerance, humanity’. However, ‘we youngsters had moved on: we were nationalist pure and simple. We wanted nothing to do with tolerance if it sheltered the enemies of the Volk and the state. Humanity in the sense of that liberal idea we spurned, for our Volk was bound to come off worse.’ For men like Class the fortunes of the new German state had acquired paramount importance: their own self-esteem came to be bound up with the prestige of the new Reich.

The populist flavour of this new nationalism derived from their sense of exclusion from the traditional Prusso-German establishment. As successful businessmen, professionals and bureaucrats who had benefited from the rapid economic development following unification, they resented the patronizing attitudes of the traditional elites who tended to regard them as parvenus. Moreover, they felt that the elitist nature of the political establishment weakened Germany by alienating the masses, encouraging the growth of class spirit and dividing the nation. In their view, this fragmentation of the nation was also encouraged by the existing political system of parliamentary and party government. This, it was felt, simply reinforced the divisions between Germans and led to the sacrifice of national interests for the benefit of sectional advantage. They rejected the idea central to liberal democracy that the national interest could only emerge out of the free interplay of differing interests and groups. Instead, they proclaimed a mythical concept of the Volk – an equivalent to the pays reel of pre-1914 French nationalism – as the real source of legitimacy and claimed that current political institutions (the Reichstag, parties etc.) were distorting the true expression of national will. In their view, the key to uniting the nation was the indoctrination of an ideology of extreme nationalism: above all, the goal of imperial expansion would rally and united the nation. (pp.4-5).

They also state that these volkisch nationalists believed that Germany was under threat by the ‘golden international’ of high finance and western liberalism, controlled by the Jews, the ‘black international’ of Roman Catholicism and the ‘red international’ of socialism. Thus there was a foreign threat behind their domestic opponents the left Liberals, Catholic Centre Party and the Social Democrats, and so considered these parties guilty of treason. (p.5). The radical right became increasingly influential in the years before the outbreak of the First World War as a reaction to the rise of the German socialist party, the Social Democrats, which became the largest single party in the Reichstag in the 1912 election. The government appeared too willing to compromise with the moderate left, and so the traditional German Conservatives began to join forces with the radicals. (p.5).

They state, however, that it was during the War that this new Right really gained influence through demands for a victorious peace’ that would give Germany foreign colonies and stave off further demands for increasing democracy in Germany. This saw new political parties founded by the industrialists to obtain this goal. They write

It was, however, during the course of the First World War that this new Right seized the initiative. The main focus of their efforts was a campaign to commit the Government to a so-called Siegfrieden in which Germany would use her expected victory to demand large-scale territorial annexations in both East and West in the form of overseas colonies. This was regarded as vital not simply in order to re-establish Germany as a world power, but also as a means of diverting pressure for democratic reform at home. As the pressure for a compromise peace and for constitutional reform increased after 1916, the Right responded with even more vigorous agitation. The main emphasis of this campaign was on trying to reach a mass audience. On 24 September 1917, in a direct response to the Reichstag peace Resolution of 17 July, a new party was founded – the Fatherland Party. Financed by heavy industry, and organized by the Pan-German League and similar bodies, its aim was to mobilise mass support for a Siegfrieden and to resist moves towards parliamentary democracy. The party soon acquired over a million members, mainly among the middle class.

The Pan-Germans were, however, particularly anxious to reach the working class. Already, in the summer of 1917, a ‘Free Committee for a German Workers’ Peace’ had been established in Bremen by the leader of a ‘yellow’ i.e. pro-employer workers’ association in the Krupp dockyards, which carried out imperialist propaganda supported by the army authorities. Among its 290,000 members was a skilled worker in the railway workshops in Munich named Anton Drexler, who established a Munich branch of the organization on 7 March 1918 and who soon was to become a co-founder of the Nazi party. (pp.5-6, my emphasis).

They go on to say that this party was originally very limited, with only forty members, and so the Pan-Germans were forced to try more effective propaganda themes, such as outright anti-Semitism. (p.6).

It’s thus very clear from this that Nazism definitely was not a genuinely socialist party. It has its origins in the radical, anti-parliamentary nationalism of the late 19th and early 20th century middle class. Its immediate parent organization was a fake worker’s movement set up by Germany industry and supported by the army. This contradicts the allegation by modern Conservatives, like the Republicans in America and the Tories over here, that the Nazis were a socialist party.

However, the ‘Free Committee for a Workers’ Peace’ does sound like something founded by the Tories, when they were declaring themselves to be the true party for working people two years ago. Or the creation of Tony Blair, when he was still in charge of the Labour party, and determined to reject any real socialism and ignore the wishes of genuine Labour members and supporters in order to gain funding from industry and votes from the middle classes, who would otherwise vote Tory. And who very definitely supported imperialist wars, although they were camouflaged behind rhetoric about freeing Iraq and giving its people democracy.

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BBC Drama about Horror Writer H.P. Lovecraft

October 30, 2018

This looks like it could be one for fans of the 1920s Horror/SF writer H.P. Lovecraft. Next Tuesday on Radio 4, 6th November 2018 at 2.15 pm Radio 4 are broadcasting a drama, ‘Talk to Me: H.P. Lovecraft’, by Sara Davies and Abigail Youngman. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

The strangest of all HP Lovecraft weird tales isn’t fiction at all but concerns his marriage to businesswoman Sonia Greene. The horrors which make Lovecraft’s fiction so chillingly effective may not have been merely a product of his imagination. (p. 139).

Weird Tales was the name of the magazine that published Lovecraft’s horror stories. Lovecraft is famous as the creator of the ‘Cthulhu mythos’, about a pantheon of evil alien gods – the Great Old Ones – that seeped down to Earth from the stars. They have been banished, but nevertheless still wait for their chance to return, when the stars are right and Great Cthulhu himself rises from the deep in the submerged city of R’lyeh. Either to destroy humanity, or bring about an unhallowed age of reveling and killing.

It’s hard to see how the cosmic horrors he described had any basis in reality. But Lovecraft himself was racist. He was anti-Semitic, despised Blacks and the non-White immigrants then entering New York and America. Recurring themes in his stories are racial decline, inbreeding and miscegenation. Not just with evil, non-human races, as in his short story The Shadow over Innsmouth, but also with other, human peoples. Cthulhu is worshipped by mixed race ‘mongrels’ like the rural people of Louisiana and the docks districts of the ports. He also had contempt for the rural ‘White trash’ of the southern US as well.

It’s questionable just how racist Lovecraft was. He was racist, but at the time so were many other Whites, and it’s actually debatable whether he was worse than most other people. I don’t know much about his personal life, except that he spent most of it in his home town of Providence, Rhode Island. I also think that his wife was Jewish. She said that she did her best for him, so that he would become a chrysalis out of which would emerge a great writer. She lamented that the great writer did indeed come forth, but that he became ever more distant from her. See the biography, The Strength to Dream. I suspect the drama’s about his deteriorating relationship with his wife, as he moved away from her to produce his tales of cosmic horror.

American Labour History: Film about the ‘Wobblies’

May 8, 2016

This is a fascinating film by the Women’s Film Preservation Unit about the I.W.W. The International Workers of the World, or ‘Wobblies’, as they were called, were a radical American Syndicalist trade union formed at the beginning of the 20th century. They were called ‘Wobblies’ apparently because some of the Chinese workers couldn’t pronounce the ‘R’ sound, and so when they tried saying the Union’s name, it came out sounding something like ‘Wobblies’. And the name stuck.

The film traces the union’s history, from its origins to eventual demise about the time of the First World War through the memories of a group of senior citizens – old blue collar workers – who had joined it and taken part in its struggles. The Wobblies believed in the eventual ownership and management of the means of production by the workers, and the abolition of the wage system. Beyond that, as one of these elders says, they weren’t sure. They were, however, inclusive in a way that the mainstream unions, founded by Samuel Gompers, weren’t. The American Federation of Labor was a craft union that wouldn’t take unskilled labourers. Following the racial bigotry of the time, they didn’t take Blacks either. But the Wobblies did. One of the speakers is a Black man, who tells how he joined the Union because they were the only union would take and defend Black people like himself. They also took and fought for women and immigrants. Another speaker is an elderly lady, who talks about how she joined the union, and the strikes she took part in. The Wobblies allowed their women members considerable freedom, and were pilloried for it. The lady recalls how one of the accusations was that the Wobblies pushed women to the front of the demonstrations and picket lines. She replied that they didn’t. They just didn’t keep them at the back. It was up to the women themselves where they went.

They also recruited the immigrant workers that were then flooding into America as its population expanded massively to provide labour for its expanding economy. This was the period when logging began in the great wood and the railways were still being laid down across America. Workers were needed in factories, mills and docks. And so the Wobblies recruited Italians, Poles and other nationalities. These men and women too suffered tremendous prejudice and persecution for their membership of the union during the First World War, and particularly after the Russian Revolution. The Wobblies were persecuted as a revolutionary, ‘Communist’ organisation. There was a wave of xenophobia resulting in the ‘Palmer raids’, anti-immigrant police raids in which foreign workers were rounded up and deported. This was directed at the I.W.W., but the authorities frequently couldn’t find enough of them, and so just picked up foreign workers at random. It should come as no surprise that the Fascist Right in Britain in the interwar years also wanted similar raids against suspected foreign revolutionaries, or just plain foreigners, over here.

These were men and women, who had extremely rough lives, working immensely hard for poverty wages. The Black speaker describes what it was like to be a dock worker. Further on in the film, one of the other surviving workers, a White guy, was a lumberjack. He describes the appalling conditions he and the other men worked in. They were lodged in bunkhouses with no washing facilities and no mattresses on the bunks. The result was that they were riddled with lice and bedbugs. He also says that there was saying that you could smell a lumberjack before you could hear him, and you could hear him before you could see him. And the work itself was tough and dangerous. The same guy talks about the various bones he broke in accidents, including when he was crushed by a log and his entrails ‘were pushed out my tail-end’. He also shows the stump of one of his fingers, which he lost in another accident. At the camp, the dinner plates weren’t washed properly. They were nailed to the tables to stop them being stolen by bindlestiffs – migrant workers, who preyed on other tramps. They were simply hosed down after the meals were finished. Many of the workers were also farm labourers, picking fruit.

And in addition to the work, there was brutal repression by the police and management. The speakers describe armed police coming into break up the strikes, and the extreme violence used against picketing workers. Any excuse would do to get a striker into court. One of the ladies describes how she was arrested on a charge of using obscene language against one of the cops. Fortunately, she was acquitted when she told the judge, ‘You’re honour, I don’t use such language’. A week later the same cop asked her out. She turned him down, not surprisingly.

In addition to the violence from the police, there was the threat of the scab labourers recruited by management. These also came in with guns and police protection. As a result, strikes could explode into extreme violence, including gun fights. In one strike involving the dock workers, 127 people were shot to death or otherwise killed. In another incident, striking workers, who got on a boat to get to their workplace were fired upon by the management, leading to four deaths. The government became involved in many strikes, using tactics that would now be considered ‘Fascistic’. Or should be. The army were frequently called in to shoot and arrest them. During the First World War, the union left it a matter of individual conscience whether to oppose the War or not. Many did, including one who was sent to France. The reason presented for American intervention was that Europe – France and England – owed America money. So the Wobbly went down the line of American doughboys in the trenches asking them if the Europeans owed ’em anything personally. Of course they didn’t, though he describes some of the younger, more patriotic men getting angry. When the union went on strike, they were accused by the government of being collaborators with the Kaiser and the enemy. And when the Russian Revolution broke out in October 1917, they were accused of working for the Russians to bring America down. One of the ladies describes how striking men, including her husband, were rounded up by the army, and then taken to what seems like an internment camp out in the desert, loaded into freight cars with no food or water.

Much of the Wobblies’ membership came from migrant workers. In order to get to new jobs, these frequently travelled by freight train across the country looking for work. It was extremely hazardous. One of the workers describes the sadness of passing lit homes, while himself hungry. The train crew operated a racket, in which they’d charge the workers for their journey. This stopped when the union put in its own strong arm gang, who dealt out their own rough justice to them. Then there were the hijackers, who get on to a train to rob its passengers. These particularly targeted union organisers, as they frequently carried thousands of dollars worth of union fees with them. One of the tactics used against the trade unionists was to thrown them off the train, so that they fell under the wheels of the car. Again, the union was also capable of defending its members against them. When of these guys describes how they cut the letters I.W.W. onto the forehead and cheeks of a hijacker with a razor as a lesson.

One of the workers also describes how they managed to get a free ride at management’s expense. The company hired a whole load of scab workers and was paying for them to travel by train. So the Wobblies got on too and began busily recruiting them. Those that didn’t, were thrown off, so that by the time they all arrived, nearly everyone on the train was a Wobbly. Which naturally made the management furious. The lumberjack also describes the ‘stand-up’ strikes that frequently did more harm to the company than the sit-down strikes. These were basically go-slows, or work to rules, where the workers went into the forests for work, but either vanished, or did as little as possible. And the former dockworkers describe how the union supported starving workers with soup kitchens, and that after they won the dispute, the leaders organised a banquet for the workers.

The Wobblies declined after the War as a result of police and state repression, and from ideological divisions in the union itself between Communists and Anarchists after the Russian Revolution. Many members felt that they ought to be trying to start a revolution in America. They were sympathetic to the Russian Revolution, and argued that the Russians had finally done it while they talked about it. The former lumberjack describes how the debates between the revolutionary and anti-revolutionary factions got so heated, that debates would frequently end in fist fights.

Although the memories of the former workers are at the heart of this movie, this isn’t simply a staid film of rather boring talking heads. Along with the speakers themselves are contemporary archive footage, newspaper headlines, and anti-Wobblie propaganda cartoons, including an animated sequence which I think may well have been from them, rather than being a contemporary film, though I might be wrong. It also includes dramatic recitation of some of the words of the Wobblies themselves. It begins with the voice of Wobblies being questioned about their country of origin, all giving various answers which avoided ‘America’, but in line with their belief that they were all indeed the Industrial Workers of the World. It also includes some of the words of the American capitalists against whom the I.W.W. were pitched in battle, and these are very ugly. One industrialists stated that the man who did not pay his workers below the minimum wage level, robbed his shareholders. Forget Dave Cameron’s and his Republican counterparts’ in America smooth words about the Tories being ‘for hardworking people’: this is the true, brutal face of capitalism.

The film’s also enlivened considerably by the songs of the Wobblies themselves. The Union was known for its songs, and many of the workers interviewed describe keeping their song books with them, or singing during the strike to keep their spirits up. Some of these are beautiful pieces of American folk song, often with a wry humour, like ‘Hooray, I’m a Bum’. I don’t agree with some of the anti-religious sentiment in a couple of these, though I can see why they were written. They were produced at a time when many towns passed laws against street orators, with the exception of the Salvation Army. The Wobblies themselves used to set up meetings in the streets to recruit new members, with the speaker himself standing on a soapbox. The police would arrest them while leaving the Sally Ann speakers alone. And so there developed a vicious rivalry between the two organisations for speaking pitches. Looking through the music credits, I saw that one of the arrangements was sung by Peggy Seeger and England’s own Ewan MacColl, the father of British pop singer Kirsty, and writer of the classic ‘Dirty Old Town’.

It also uses paintings of some of the strikes, presumably created by the workers themselves. These are naturally na├»ve in style, but nevertheless constitute valuable pieces of folk art from one of America’s most notorious outsider groups.

This is a fascinating, harrowing, exuberant movie about a labour group that is little known over this side of the Atlantic. Looking down the list of comments on the Youtube page, one of the commenters remarked that this is the type of history that’s been removed from the official version. Indeed it is. It’s the type of history that at one time would have made it onto Channel 4 or possibly PBS in the Land of the Free. Now you’re only likely to see it either on BBC 4, or at your local arts cinema.

Health and Safety Legislation and the Fall in Fatal Accidents at Work

March 15, 2016

One of the Tories’ favourite targets, shared with positive zeal by the right-wing press, is health and safety legislation. This they claim is a terrible burden on businesses, and has resulted in stupid, nonsensical rulings against even the most harmless and trivial pastimes. A few years ago, if you can remember that far back, there were reports that children were now no longer able to play conkers in school, unless they wore safety goggles.

Presumably the health and safety legislation being attacked is the body of legislation, which began with the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, which stipulated that every firm must draw up rules governing safety at work, and brought a further eight million workers under the protection of the new regulations. This did have a significant effect in cutting down accidents at work, despite the fact that during the 1980s many firms decided to cut corners and failed to observe much of it during the depression. Eric Hopkins in his book, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes, quotes the Chief Inspector’s Report of 1985 on this:

Economic pressures have adversely affected working conditions in many premises, and an increase in the numbers of small firms and sub-contracting businesses, some of which have standards of safety and health which fall well below … what is acceptable, has added to the Inspectorate’s problems of source deployment. the recession has led many employers to economise on safety. Some firms have made safety officers redundant and passed responsibility for safety to personnel officers, line management or security officers with little or no experience in safety matters. (Pp. 210-211).

He also gives the comparative statistics for fatal accidents at work between 1975 and 1985. These are as follows.

1975
Factories … 231.
Construction… 181.
Docks and Warehouses…15
Total … 254.

1985
Manufacturing … 100
Construction … 95
Service Industries … 59
Total… 427

Mike over at Vox Political reported the other day that the Tories are planning to shift the burden of proof for accidents at work from the company to the victims, in order to cut down on the number of people successfully suing their employers for industrial injuries.

As this shows, the Health and Safety Legislation has succeed in cutting down on the number of accidents at work. If the Tories succeed in getting it scrapped or significantly reduced, it will mean more workers will suffer injury and permanent disability at work, without any chance of recompense from the guilty employers.