Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Europe’

Disgusted by Mike’s Kangroo Court Trial

November 14, 2018

Yesterday Mike had his hearing before a Labour party tribunal in Wales to decide the charge against him of being an anti-Semite. As is clear to anyone who reads anything Mike has actually written, rather than lies put out by a corrupt, mendacious press and the Israel lobby, an anti-Semite is the very last thing Mike is. He isn’t at all racist or prejudiced, as a gay friend of his tried to make clear to three men, who suspiciously approached him last week wanting to talk to him about the charge. Mike found that encounter extremely suspicious. They knew him by name, though he’d never met them, and claimed that they’d read about him in the papers, although as Mike wrote on his blog, he only featured in them in May last year, 2017. That’s a long time ago. It could all have been perfectly innocuous, but Mike wondered if they weren’t there to intimidate him in the last few days before he defended himself. It’s quite possible. It also wouldn’t have surprised me if they weren’t private detectives hired by someone to see if they couldn’t dig any dirt on him. It’d be odd, but it’s not unknown.

And then there was the trial itself. As Mike has said in detail in his blog, it was a complete kangaroo court. They had no evidence against him whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada, nichts, and nitchevo. But it didn’t matter. They were obviously determined to find him guilty. I have absolutely no doubt Mike defended himself to the very best of his ability, and that, were it a properly constituted court of law, he would have won the case. Either that, or even now his lawyers would be filing objections to a miscarriage of justice. But this is the Labour party witch hunt against Corbynites, so truth didn’t matter.

What apparently did matter was how his comments appeared, especially to the ‘Jewish community’. As the numerous left-wing Jewish bloggers on the internet have said with great clarity, there is no monolithic Jewish community. Judaism has always been a community of different opinions and views, as shown by the old Jewish adage, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. The group the press have chosen to present as Britain’s Jewish community are the official, Jewish Zionist establishment, the Chief Rabbi and Board of Deputies of British Jews. Which basically represents the United Synagogue and no-one else. They don’t represent the secular Jewish community, nor Orthodox Jews. The Board of Deputies of British Jews is solidly Zionist, as defined by their constitution. So they don’t represent non- or anti-Zionist Jews. Tony Greenstein has also cited proper sociological studies from respected scholars, which show that British Jews are almost wholly upper middle class. This doesn’t mean that British Jews are all Conservatives by any means, but those making the smears of anti-Semitism certainly are, as you can see from the political bias of the Jewish Chronicle. It’s a Conservative, business-oriented, religious establishment using anti-Semitism as a tool for smearing its opponents because they threaten them as Socialists seeking to empower ordinary people – which includes Jews – and support the Palestinians in their desperate search for justice against Israeli oppression. And this Conservative, Zionist Jewish establishment is closely interwoven with the Blairites in the Labour party. Blair’s followers are a minority, and always were. But they control the party bureaucracy, or at least key positions in it.

And in that position, they behave as the Stalinists they revile Corbyn’s supporters of being. Before Stalin came to power, the position of General Secretary in the Communist party was a relatively minor post. The secretary was there basically to make sure that only those of good character were party members. Which is incredible, I know, given the bloody history of the Russian Communist party and its satellites in eastern Europe. They gave it to Stalin, because everybody thought he was thick, and would be satisfied with the post. His job would be to throw out the drunks and seducers. Instead, Stalin used his position to purge the party of his opponents, and cram it with his supporters. As the old butcher said, ‘It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes.’

And this has been the strategy the Blairites and their allies, the Israel lobby, have adopted in attacking genuine, Socialist Labour party members. They’ve launched a purge of the party, using anti-Semitism and other, equally vague charges as the pretext to get rid of awkward members. And so they have smeared decent, anti-racist men and women. Not just Mike, but also Marc Wadsworth and Jackie Walker, two people of colour, who have been dedicated anti-racists that have consistently battled bigotry and Fascism. Just like Ken Livingstone, who is also no anti-Semite, as is shown very clearly in his book, Livingstone’s Labour. Like Tony Greenstein, a Jewish member of the party, like Walker, and like her and Wadsworth, also an ardent opponent of Fascism. And there are so many people like them. As I’ve pointed out, ad nauseam, the decent people they’ve smeared as anti-Semites and worse include self-respecting Jews, people who have suffered real anti-Semitism, including assault. People who lost family members in the Shoah, or whose parents were lucky enough to survive the horrors of the camps. People, who should never be insulted with such smears.

And some of the charges are risible. One man was accused of being an anti-Semite, because he posted a photo-shopped image of a jobcentre sign saying, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’. This was the slogan above the gates of Auschwitz and the other concentration camps. It means roughly ‘Work Makes You Free’. Which is the attitude of the Tory party. One of them even wrote a newspaper article using the phrase, until someone spotted it and realized that quoting Nazi slogans against those they persecuted wasn’t going to go down too well with the British public, and the offending paragraphs were removed. And the concentration camps didn’t just contain Jews. They held others the Nazis considered politically or biologically undesirable, like Socialists, trade unionists, Communists, prostitutes, recidivist criminals, the mentally ill, Russian prisoners of war and other slave workers from the Slav peoples, and Romanies. The charge against this fellow was so weak it could have been blown over in a light wind. But nevertheless, he was accused and convicted by people, who had already decided the answer.

It’s also very clear from Mike’s article that they didn’t like him refuting their attacks on other party members in public. This was bringing the party into disrepute. In fact they did that the moment they made their false accusations. The overwhelming concern here, it seems, was to preserve the reputation of the people further up the party, who made the accusations. It’s a very, very authoritarian attitude. Important people have spoken – don’t contradict them! And, to quote the Japanese proverb, the nail that stands up must be hammered down. Blair and his cronies always were authoritarian, centralizing power around them and making it very clear that dissent from Old Labour would very definitely not be tolerated. And so they were determined not to let their superiors be embarrassed by having the public shown the facts.

And it was clear from their choice of chair that Mike was never going to get a fair hearing. The person is charge was Maggie Cousins, who has form in these matters. From what I gather, this is what she does. She presides over these kangaroo courts as a kind of corporate hatchetwoman.

This was, ultimately, a PR stunt to reassure a Zionist Jewish establishment, that will never tolerate a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn, no matter what concessions are made to it, and a wider, Tory media that is seizing on any and every possible opportunity to misrepresent the Labour party as a threat to society.

I’m very impressed by Mike’s speech to them, citing Stan ‘the Man’ Lee, the creator of Marvel Comic’s superheroes with ‘Jolly’ Jack Kirby. Lee, Kirby and the majority of the creators of America’s comics industry were Jews. Lee’s real name was Stanley Martin Leiber. Kirby’s was Jake Kurzberg. There was little specifically Jewish in the comics, except that occasionally there was the odd Yiddish word or two. But there was a concern for the marginalized, and racially persecuted. This was shown in metaphorical form in the X-Men, an underground of young mutants, feared and persecuted for their special powers by outside society, and in more overt forms when Blaxsploitation emerged in the ’70s, and Marvel gave us heroes like Powerman, alias Luke Cage, hero for hire, the Black Panther, Brother Voodoo and more. And as I’ve described before, the tales did show very clearly how the Nazis regarded and treated Jews, albeit in science fictional form. These strips together preached an anti-racist message, which could sometimes be overt, as when the Black Panther went up against the Klan, or when an Adolf Hitler clone took the guise of the Hatemonger to turn Americans against each other. These were the comics Mike and I read as kids, and which definitely influenced us. They taught racial tolerance, respect and co-operation, and that bigotry, racism and oppression must be fought and defeated, at all times, everywhere. And Stan and his fellow inmates of the merry Marvel madhouse spread that vital message through the medium of popular literature – the comics. They aren’t great literature, although there’s some truly great writing and superb art in a medium that has often been critically reviled and disparaged. But they were read and enjoyed by millions, and in their way helped to make Anglophone society more tolerant. That’s Stan’s legacy to the world, which Mike duly paid tribute to in his speech at the end.

RIP, Stan Lee, a true titan of the four-colour funny papers.

It’s disgusting that Mike, and so many others have been treated this way by a party that should be defending people like him and the others against a predatory, Conservative establishment. Rather than propping up it up with lies, smears and derisory pretence at justice, presided over by faceless bureaucrats and cynical, moral cowards.

Mike’s made it very clear that he will fight on to clear his name and redress this gross injustice. I wish him all the best, as I do everyone else, who has been smeared by these bullying moral vacuities.

East European Phrase to Describe Grim Reality of Capitalism

October 8, 2017

One of the factors, which boosted the vote of the odious, neo-Nazi party, the Alternative fuer Deutschland, and the other Fascist parties now gaining votes and power in eastern Europe has been the complete disillusionment of many of their citizens with the reality of life under capitalism, according to a piece I commented on in Counterpunch a week ago. When they overthrew Communism and Soviet domination a quarter of a century ago, they looked forward to a future of western-style democracy, and a prosperous economy.

That future has not materialized. Factories have closed, and unemployment in the east of Germany remains much higher than in the west. And the same is true of much of the former eastern bloc, as the business combines that provided work, but no or not enough profit under the new, capitalist, free market economics have closed. A survey eight years ago in 2009 found that 51 per cent of people in the former East Germany wanted Communism to come back. There, and in other former Communist bloc countries, a common sentiment is ‘Things were better then. We had jobs’.

The veteran opponent of American imperialism, William Blum, comments on the continuing hostility to Communism in the American media, and their failure to realise or concede that the Communist system actually provided some benefits to its peoples, benefits which have vanished under capitalism. He states that this has resulted in a saying going the rounds in eastern Europe which succinctly describes this disillusionment.

Everything the Communists told us about Communism was lies. Everything they told us about capitalism was true.

To read the whole article, and much more in the latest issue of his Anti-Empire Report, go to: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/151

Historians and political scientists, particularly German, have described Nazism as ‘nihilistic’. This underlines the fact that it is better described by what it rejected. It attacked capitalism, liberalism, democracy, Socialism, Communism, part – though not all – of the Enlightenment – and notions of universal brotherhood and equality. Instead there was simply an aggressive, genocidal racism, xenophobia and militarism.

It strongly seems to me that the fall of Communism, and the failure of capitalism, has resulted in the resurgence of Fascism because it has created the same bleak, nihilistic mindset. When capitalism and Communism don’t work, the result is that some people will look for solutions to their political problems in the glories of an imagined past, and old racial hatreds – against Jews, Roma, and now Blacks and Muslims, will return.

The way to break this is to abandon neoliberal economics – the economics that are keeping people of all every nation around the world disempowered, impoverished and fearful in favour of boosting the profits of greedy multinationals, and bring back some form of socialism. A real socialism, that actually works for people, rather than the big corporations and the exploitative banking system at the heart of the EU.

The Influence of Metal Hurlant on Science Fiction Cinema

April 25, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece I found on YouTube about the influence French Science Fiction comics had on Star Wars. This short video by the same poster, Abstract Looper, explores the profound influence the artists of the French adult SF comic, Metal Hurlant, known to the Anglophone world as Heavy Metal, has had on modern Science Fiction cinema. Metal Hurlant was founded in 1974 by Les Humanoides Associees Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Dionnet and Philippe Druillet. The video shows the striking visual similarities between scenes and designs in the comic’s various strips, and the films Mad Max, Alien, Blade Runner, Nausicaa – Valley of the Wind, Avatar, the original 70s Battlestar Galactica TV series, Hellboy, Prometheus and the Matrix. There’s a clip of Ridley Scott saying that when he made Alien, he was influenced by the visual material produced by Moebius and the French magazine. Guillermo del Toro also confessed that he was influenced by Richard Corben, another of the magazine’s artists. Terry Gilliam also states that the magazine was an influence on him. As does James Cameron. Rutgar Hauer, who played Roy Batty in Blade Runner also appears, telling how the producers visualised the future as already old. In fact, the producers of Blade Runner based their vision of Los Angeles on the towering cityscapes of Philippe Druillet. As well as Druillet, Dionnet, Corben and Moebius, another of the comic’s creators, the Franco-Yugoslavian artist Enki Bilal, was also influential. Also making the point are the similarities between the comics’ art and the concept drawings produced for the Alien and Matrix movies.

You could also add the Judge Dredd movies to this list as well. 2000 AD’s creator, Pat Mills, hates superhero comics. When he launched the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic way back in the 1970s, he was influenced by the French SF comics. Which naturally includes Metal Hurlant. Judge Dredd’s look was created by Carlos Ezquerra, a Spanish artist living in London, who has an artistic style very similar to Moebius.

As an aside, I was also pleased that the interview with Ridley Scott also had Russian subtitles. This shows how much the world has changed since I was at school. This was the years of the new Cold War, created by Thatcher and Reagan, when there were real fears of nuclear Armageddon. I felt profoundly optimistic when the Berlin Wall fell, along with Communism. There seemed at last a real possibility of a genuine, lasting peace between eastern and western Europe. I believe very strongly that it has been a massive improvement in world affairs that the peoples of the former eastern bloc can come to Britain to live, work and raise families.

And I am appalled and angry that Trump and the Democrats are pushing a new Cold War with Putin, and thus endangering the world all over again.

Warning: Heavy Metal was an ‘adult’ comic, which means that there’s some cartoon nudity. This was the magazine that was filmed as The Heavy Metal Movie, and which became notorious for the female nudity of the ‘Taarna’ sequence, which in turn inspired the episode ‘Major B***age’ in South Park. This may have changed, however. In an interview in the comics press a few years ago, its British editor stated that the magazine was dropping the nudity, because it was irrelevant given the amount of real nudity on the Web. He promised that the magazine would still be sexy, however.

The Empire Files on the Foundation of Israel and Ethnic Cleansing of the Palestinians

November 21, 2016

This is part of a longer piece from The Empire Files, no. 37, presented by Abby Martin, formerly of RT and now, I think, a presenter with Telesur English. This tells the story of the shrinking of Palestine from the foundation of the early Zionist settlements to the carnage of the foundation of Israel in 1948. It’s a grim, ugly picture of organised, imperialist brutality, meted out by people Albert Einstein and other western Jewish critics compared to the Nazis and the Fascists, a view also held by one of the Israelis’ own army officers.

It’s entitled The Untold History of Palestine and Israel, and Martin states that this is the history that is not taught in schools. She and her team had been there filming the Israeli occupation of the West Bank for two weeks. It’s a brutal occupation that is funded by the US taxpayer to the tune of $30 billion in aid. But Israel is presented to Americans through the images of ‘Birthright Tours’, which show Israel as a fun-loving, peaceful land threatened by militant Muslims.

Palestine was originally a province of the Ottoman Empire. During Ottoman rule, it had a population of 500,000 people. 75 per cent of these were Muslims, 20 per cent Christian, and 5 per cent Jewish. Nearly all of them were Arabs. Its cities were centres of intellectual culture and art, drawing visitors and scholars from across the Middle East. Even before it had borders, Palestine constituted a distinct, recognisable nation through its peoples shared customs and culture.

Martin explains that the Zionist movement began in the late 19th century as a reaction to the anti-Semitic violence and pogroms, which broke out in eastern Europe. She correctly states that Zionism was the belief in an exclusively Jewish state. I make this point here, because Nazis used the term incorrectly to mean their stupid and imaginary Jewish conspiracies to enslave gentiles. The Zionists were at this point only a small minority within the Jewish people. Most Jews wanted to stop to anti-Semitism in their own countries. This is illustrated with an article from the New York Times about Jewish Ukrainians organising to stop anti-Semitism in Ukraine. Many Jews resisted leaving Europe on the grounds that this would be giving in to the anti-Semites.

Zionism became a fervent movement under its Theodor Herzl, who claimed to be its father. Herzl was an Austrian atheist. He first considered homelands in Argentina and Uganda, before finally deciding on creating a Greater Israel in the Middle East. As shown on a map, this would include not just Palestine, but also the whole of Jordan and Lebanon, and parts of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and a tiny section of Turkey. Herzl spent his time travelling around the West trying to gather support and sponsorship for his scheme. He wrote to the Duke of Baden, for his aid, saying

If it is God’s will that we return to our historic fatherland, we should like to do so as representatives of western civilisation and bring cleanliness, order and well-established customs, … to this plague-ridden, blighted corner of the Orient.

The Zionists promised to make Palestine a vanguard against barbarism, which meant that it would be an extension of western military power, and ‘build highways of the civilised peoples’, which meant trade for western millionaires. Their slogan was ‘A land without a people for a people without a land’. But the Zionists were all too aware that the land already had a people, and were determined to cleanse them. Another Zionist leader, Israel Zangwill, said

Palestine is not so much occupied by Arabs as overrun by them.

From the first the Zionists planned on the expulsion of the indigenous peoples. Much of the country was semi-feudal, with tenant farmers labouring for absentee landlords away in the cities of Jordan or Syria. From 1892 onwards the Zionists began purchasing this land. In many cases the new, Jewish owners evicted the original inhabitants. Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived in peace and harmony in the region for thousands of years, but these purchases and expulsions resulted in immediate conflict.

New opportunities for the further expansion of the Jewish settlements arose during World War I. The Zionists were aware that the Russians, British and French were planning to carve up the region. The infamous Syke-Picot agreement divided the Middle East between the French and British. Britain was given control of Palestine by the League of Nations. The British government, composed of lords, then issued the Balfour Declaration, which pronounced the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The British Mandate resulted in riots in Jerusalem by the indigenous Palestinians, who naturally resented having their homeland given away without their consultation.

Again, the Zionist settlers were planning the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. In 1924 the US envoy stated

The Zionists look forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.

At this point, settlers comprised 10 per cent of the population. But this was already producing a refugee crisis. This section of the film shows a picture of rally of Palestinian refugees in Syria from 1929. Already there were 50,000 of such people, thrown out of their homes. As more land was purchased, and people evicted, David Ben Gurion, the future prime minister and mascot of Ben Gurion airport, declared

We were not just working. We were conquering, conquering, conquering land. We were conquistadors.

From 1920 to 1939 the settler population rose from ten to thirty per cent. Ben Gurion himself laid out the settlers’ plans for ethnic cleansing:

We must expel the Arabs and take their places.

This policy naturally produced a rise in clashes between the Palestinians and the Zionist settlers. In 1936 the Palestinians launched a general strike against British rule. This was initially peaceful, until the British declared martial law, and recruited Zionist settlers to attack dissidents and Arab villages. This provoked the strike to become an armed uprising. The British in response embarked on a policy of blowing up Arab homes. 200 were destroyed in the Arab village of Yaffa. The rebellion was eventually crushed three years later in 1939. The death toll was 5,000 Palestinians against 300 settlers and 250 British soldiers. The Zionists formed their own armed forces, which were later used in the war of independence. These comprised the Hagana, the official force recognised by the British authorities, and various unofficial militias, the largest of which was the Irgun. These militias began by attacking the Palestinians, before moving on to British soldiers. It was the Irgun which bombed the Kind David Hotel, killing 91 people, including 17 Jews. This was so popular that one of the militias’ leaders, Menachem Begin, later became president of Israel.

Abroad, many Jews were far less impressed. Albert Einstein and a group of other Jews wrote a letter to the New York Times condemning Begin’s movement. They wrote that it was

A political party closely akin in its organisation, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.

But the Zionists continued with their plans for the country’s ethnic cleansing. Joseph Weitz, the head of the Jewish National Fund, wrote in 1940

There is no room for both people in this country … and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, to transfer them all.

… We must not leave a single village, a single tribe.

The terror created by the Holocaust with its six million Jewish dead, along with the mass murder of other peoples, political prisoners and gays, propelled Zionism from the political fringe to a mass movement. In 1947 the British turned Mandated Palestine over to the UN. This finally gave in to 70 years of Zionist campaigning, creating the state of Israel. The new state was given 70 per cent of the area’s land. Palestine was divided into three zones. However, the new Israel still had a population that was forty per cent Arab. This was a situation that the Israeli founders and leaders were determined to remove. Ben Gurion announced that

There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of 60 per cent.

In 1948 the tensions culminated in a full-blown war, during which the Israelis launched Plan Dalet for the mass terrorisation, murder and expulsion of the Palestinian people. This was the Nakba, the Palestinian term for the destruction of their homeland, a word which means, ‘disaster’ or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic.

This section of the film describes some of the massacres that were committed, and the atrocities perpetrated against innocent civilians. One of the villages targeted for extermination was Deir Yassin, where there had been no terrorist attacks committed against the settlers. Israeli soldiers murdered nearly the entire population, raping the women before butchering them. One survivor described seeing his entire family lined up to be shot, including his mother, who was breastfeeding a baby. 200 people were murdered. A Red Cross official stated

Here the cleaning up had been done with machine guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished with knives.

!2 days after this, the Zionists attacked and massacred the people of Haifa. At the same time the Israelis broadcast radio messages intended to terrorise the Arabs. These included recordings of women wailing, and the message ‘Flee for your lives. The Jews are using poison gas and nuclear weapons.’ In Abu Shusha, the Palestinians who remained in their homes were raped, then hacked to death with axes. Those who tried to flee were shot on sight. 110 people were killed. At al-Dawayima 450 were killed, with a further 250 missing. In another village, the mosque was bombed, killing the 80 people, who had sought refuge within it. The remaining villagers were rounded up in the town square and shot, leaving a further 70 dead. In Lydda the Zionists massacred around 250-500 people, 250 of which were killed in about half an hour. This was supposedly in response to gun shots being fired from the local mosque. John Bagehot-Howe, a British army officer, commented

It would be an exaggeration to claim that great numbers were massacred. But just enough were killed, or roughly handled, to make sure all the civilian population took flight.

A senior Zionist officer, Joseph Imani, saw Palestinians shot after they came out of their homes waving white flags and carrying food. He said

Where did they come by such a measure of cruelty, like Nazis. Is there no more humane way of expelling the inhabitants than such methods?

During this period 800,000 Palestinians fled their homes, comprising 80 per cent of the Palestinian population of Israel. 500 villages were razed to the ground.

This is the history that you will mostly definitely not find taught in schools, as Abby Martin says. Nor will you see it covered on the mainstream news, whether in the US or over here, by the BBC. Lobster has remarked on the way the Beeb ‘ties itself in knots’ trying to tell itself that it is not biased towards Israel, while being biased towards Israel. And that monster and apologist for mass murder, Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, would scream blue murder if anyone in the mainstream media dared to do so, or called those responsible for these atrocities what they are – butchers and mass murderers. As Einstein and the other Jewish critics said, the Zionists responsible for such atrocities and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are very much like the Nazis and Fascists. But Regev will scream that you’re an anti-Semite or ‘self-hating’, if you’re Jewish, if you dare to mention this.

But we do need to be aware of these atrocities, if we are to understand the paranoid mindset of the Muslim radicals in Britain today. Kalim Saddiqui, a vile bigot, who was one of those responsible for the hate campaign against Salman Rushdie in the 1980s and 1990s, was filmed at his mosque by the Beeb telling his congregation that

British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them.

When the documentary team challenged him on this, he tried to bluff his way out of it by blustering about how Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses had been published as part of a propaganda campaign to prepare for a ‘holocaust of Muslims’. It’s a risible, stupid slander. But to some Muslims, it has a terrible verisimilitude. Many mosques do cover the atrocities committed against Muslims in Palestine and elsewhere around the world in their equivalent of Christian parish magazines. They’re acutely aware of campaigns of terror against their co-religionists. Hence such hysterical claims over here. But these atrocities are deliberately kept hidden from us, so that Islamic terrorism can appear as completely irrational, and Muslims presented as violent terrorists and butchers, killing for the sake of it. That is, admittedly, true to a certain extent of Daesh and al-Qaeda, though even with these cases there is more to it than simply that. If there is ever to be a just peace in the Middle East, we need to know about the real history of the region, how it has been conquered and its people brutalised by western imperialism and the rapacity of multinational corporations. Not only do we need to defeat the Islamists, we also need to defeat the thugs, genocides and corporate despoilers in our own societies.

New Book on BBC Bias

November 18, 2016

Looking through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s today I found a new book on institutional bias at the BBC. It’s Tom Miller’s The BBC and the Myth of Public Service Broadcasting. I didn’t buy it, but glancing at the blurb on the back cover, it seemed to be about how the Beeb is biased towards power, and the establishment.

This really should come as no surprise to anyone. Despite the frothings of the right, which claims that the Beeb has a liberal bias, Edinburgh, Glasgow and I think, Cardiff University have studied the Beeb’s news bias, and found that it is significantly biased towards the Right. The two Scots universities found that it was far more likely to talk to Conservative MPs and businessmen, than to Labour MPs and trade unionists. The Kushner brothers, in their book, Who Needs the Cuts? state that they were prompted to write the book because of the way the Beeb and the rest of the media automatically accepted, quite uncritically, that the cuts were needed. When trade unionists appeared on the Today programme on Radio 4, and said that the cuts weren’t needed and were harmful, he was interrupted by the presenter. And then there’s Laura Koenigsberg, who is outrageously and blatantly biased. But you mustn’t accuse her of beings so, according to the Graoniad, because if you do you are only doing so because you’re a misogynist. Rubbish. People are criticising her because she is biased, and she’s a disgrace. It has nothing to do with her gender. Another of the Beeb’s reporters, who is also flagrantly biased is Nick Robinson. Remember how Robinson and his team careful cut footage of a question and answer session with Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, during the Scots Referendum? Robinson asked Salmond about whether he was worried that the main Scots financial firms would move down to London if Scotland gained independence. Salmond said no, and explained why he believed they wouldn’t. The Beeb then edited the video, first to make it appear that he evaded the question, and then claimed he hadn’t answer it all. I’m not fan of the SNP and its attacks on the Labour Party, but Salmond had answered the question, calmly and fully. It was pure falsification, a lie of the type you’d expect from the state dominated media in eastern Europe under Communism, for example. But it didn’t come from a wretched totalitarian dictatorship. It came from the Beeb, which is constantly congratulating itself on how ‘impartial’ it is, and what a world leader in quality broadcasting it constitutes.

Well, it’s biased towards the right, and more and more people are waking up to that fact, as this book appears to show.

Vox Political: BNP Accusing Jo Cox of Aiding Potential Muslim Terrorists

June 30, 2016

Racism, and racist incidents in Britain has increased as a result of the Brexit campaign, and it seems the BNP is trying to do its best to capitalise on this. It’s particularly trying to exploit the assassination of Jo Cox, who was killed after holding a constituency surgery in Birstall. She had particularly angered the racists and Islamophobes in West Yorkshire for her work supporting immigrants and anti-racist campaigns. And now, after her death, the BNP are trying to smear her.

According to Mike over at Vox Political, Paula Sherriff, the Labour MP for Dewsbury, has complained about leaflets shoved through her constituents doors by the stormtroopers. This accuses Cox of taking ‘misguided action’ by helping Muslims, who may then go on to join ISIS. She also states that it includes other vile claims. She also has complained that many of her constituents have also been racially abused. She mentions in particular a case where a seven year old girl was told by someone that the Leave vote ‘was the best day of my life’ and that the girl and people like her should all go home. Actually, those weren’t the exact words used, as Sherriff was taking out the expletives so it could be decently repeated in the House.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/30/bnp-posts-jo-cox-muslim-slur-through-neighbours-letterboxes-as-racist-attacks-soar/

It’s almost predictable that the BNP would try something to smear Cox and try to promote itself on the back of her murder. This also shows how desperate the BNP are. The party’s been the subject of various splits and leadership disputes, with former Fuehrer Griffin having been ousted. He is now running around eastern Europe trying to get the squadristi there to give him free meals and publicity. The far right in this country has shrunk down to a very few, split between a number of squabbling grouplets, all desperate to steal each others’ members. This looks like a sordid attempt by the BNP to show it can take the lead and still has some relevance in the politics of hate. It also shows how vile and pathetic the group has become, now it’s fallen from the threat it was eight or so years ago. This is it’s true face – racist, mean-spirited, slanderous and desperate. Their leaflets are only fit to be slung in the bin, as is the party itself.

Vote Leave Scaremongering, Bristol and Albanians and Romanian Immigrants

June 10, 2016

I’m still a bit annoyed about the Vote Leave’s scaremongering last night about Turks, Albanians and Romanians all threatening to abandon their homelands and march across Europe to get into Britain. Frankly, it ain’t going to happen. Apart from the fact that Turkey, for example, isn’t expected to reach the criteria for EU membership for another 30 years, the number of Turks, who actually have passports is only 8 million. Yet if you believe Vote Leave’s bilge and UKIP, all 75 million of that ancient and historic country’s people are going to leave Anatolia, just to come to Britain. Furthermore, despite the freedom of movement written into the European constitution, there are still some border checks in the Schengen area. So remaining in Europe doesn’t mean that millions of foreigners will sudden be heading over the Channel anytime soon.

As for the particular threat from Albanians and Macedonians, I think this is going to be very overblown too. Bristol’s a very diverse city in terms of the various ethnic minorities, who’ve settled here. Apart from Blacks and Asians, there were also Poles and other peoples from eastern Europe, who arrived here after the War. There are also long-established Italian families, such as Verecchia’s, who are ice cream vendors. Bristol also has an Albanian community. I don’t know how large it is, or indeed anything about it. I only know it exists from looking along the shelves at the Central Library in town, and finding a few books in that language. One of them was on Mother Theresa of Calcutta. The fact that they’re here, but are otherwise unremarkable indicates, I hope, that there’s little in the way of friction between them and other Bristolians. I certainly haven’t noticed outbreaks of mass prejudice against them in my part of Bristol, though that doesn’t mean it necessarily doesn’t exist.

The same goes for Romanians. Remember how UKIP were telling us all that millions of Romanians were threatening to come over, along with a similar number of Bulgarians? In the end, instead of the millions only a few thousand or so arrived. According to an item on the local news a few years ago, Bristol is also the major centre of the Romanian community in the UK. We have so many of them in the city, that the government decided to locate their consulate here. I’m pleased that our city has such links with a part of Europe that was previously closed to westerners. Again, I might be wrong, but I haven’t noticed any particular problems with those that have come here.

So, from the fact that Bristol’s Albanians and Romanians are so un-newsworthy, I think that these people present very little of a problem as immigrants. I’m aware that there are criminal gangs from eastern Europe, and that human trafficking from the former Soviet bloc is a problem. But from my city’s experience, I don’t see immigrants from these nations are likely to cause any problems, and I don’t believe that there’ll be the mass migration with which Vote Leave and UKIP are trying to scare us all.

It is just scaremongering, and should be treated as such.

Going Underground Interview with Momentums Jackie Walker on the Anti-Semitism Allegations

May 21, 2016

I was sent this very interesting clip from RT’s Going Underground by Michelle, who included it as a comment on my piece ‘A Very British Coup against the Left’ on the anti-Semitism allegations against various members of the Labour party. In it, Madam Walker describes the context of her comments, and her own family history as a Black woman, whose father was Jewish, and whose partner is also Jewish. This makes the accusation even more vile and grotesque than it was already known to be.

Madam Walker was accused of anti-Semitism, because she described the enslavement of Black Africans during the transatlantic slave trade as a ‘holocaust’. She explains here that she did so in a private conversation on Facebook between two friends, one of whom was Jewish, the other not. They were talking about the movement to boycott goods produced in the Occupied West Bank. One of Walker’s friends stated that they shouldn’t boycott Israel, because of the debt they owed the Jews. Walker states that she asked, ‘What debt?’ as up till then they had been talking about monetary debts. Her friend replied, ‘the Holocaust’. Walker then went on to mention the holocausts experienced by other peoples, such as Black Africans during the Slave Trade, native Americans in the conquest of the New World, and the genocide of Aboriginal Australians.

The accusations of anti-Semitism were made by a group calling itself the Israel Advocacy Movement. It was they, who dug up what was basically a private conversation made in February. They have said that they will do anything and everything to protect Israel’s interests.

She also says that she does not believe that the Labour party is profoundly anti-Semitic, and believes that it has a good record when it comes to challenging racism. The interviewer, Afshid Rattansi then mentions the accusation by the Chief Rabbi that Labour is permeated with anti-Semitism.

Rattansi also asks her about the observation made by the Palestinian ambassador, when he was previously on the programme, about why Jeremy Corbyn, one of the loudest voices for the Palestinians at the UN, has suddenly gone quiet about the issue now he is head of the Labour party. Walker states she cannot answer that, as she is not so important that Corbyn has discussed this issue with her. Nor did she want to comment about one of the other cases, in which a Labour party member had been accused of anti-Semitism.

Rattansi observed to her that these accusations all sounded very McCarthyite. She agreed, and it was particularly true that her mother had been one of the victims of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. Her mother was a Black Civil Rights activist, and her father was a Russian Jew. They had met on a march organised by Martin Luther King. Because of her activities against segregation, Walker’s mother was hauled before McCarthy’s kangaroo court and asked the notorious question, ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?’ Walker’s mother was then deported.

Not only is Walker Jewish, but so is her partner. When asked by Rattansi about the problems this must have placed on her family, she states that she doesn’t know quite what has happened, as they haven’t heard from her partner’s family since these allegations are made. This obviously must be a matter of distress and concern to Walker and her partner.

Here’s the video:

There are a number of observations to be made about the allegations in the light of this interview. Firstly, a woman, who is half-Jewish, and whose partner is Jewish is hardly likely to be an anti-Semite. This in itself is grotesque. It’s even more so when you consider that her Jewish father was Russian, and just how severely oppressed they were. Just before the tsar was overthrown there was the notorious Bielis case, in which the tsar was trying to get a Jew prosecuted under the Blood Libel that he had murdered a Christian child to use their blood to make the matzoh bread eaten during Passover. It’s a vile myth, which has caused hundreds of pogroms and violence against the Jews since it first appeared during the Middle Ages. In the 1890s many Russian and eastern European Jews fled to the West because of the terrible pogroms launched against them in the Russian Empire from racist organisations such as the Black Hundreds. As a Russian Jew, it’s highly likely that Walker’s father, his parents or grandparents, had experienced such horrors.

Her comment linking the Holocaust against the Jews with other genocides, including Black slavery, and the extermination of the First Nations of the Americas and Australia, is entirely reasonable. W.E.B. Dubois, the pioneering Black civil rights leader, was the first to make the connection between slavery and the Holocaust after he had gone to Ghana after World War II. it was part of his campaign to begin reparations and call attention to the historic injustices visited on Western Blacks. Paul Stephenson, a Black civil rights leader in Bristol, made the same comment twenty years ago when interviewed by Philippa Gregory about the statue of Edward Colston, a former slaver, on the city centre on local television in Bristol.

It is also part of accepted academic debate into what constitutes ‘genocide’. I can remember going to a seminar on this by someone, who had researched this issue when I was a postgraduate student at Bristol University. They made the same point that there have been other genocides in the past, including a notorious massacre of the Irish by the invading English in the 16th century, that was still intensely controversial in the Emerald Isle two centuries later in the 18th. Other genocides mentioned included those of the Native Americans. The brutal treatment of Aboriginal Aussies does count as a Holocaust, as they were deliberately exterminated as vermin by the invading Europeans. it’s estimated that the Aboriginal population of the continent before the British arrived was 200,000. After the conquest it was half that, 100,000.

Also, mainstream Jewish organisations also accept that the extermination of other ethnic groups are also similar to the Holocaust. They also feel that as Jews their history also obliges them to protect other ethnic groups that are the victims of racial violence. For example, Bernie Farber, the head of the main Canadian Jewish organisation, launched a ‘Shabbat for Darfur’, or religious day of fasting to call attention and to protest against the genocide in Darfur when that was an issue a decade ago.

And there were those on the Zionist and general Right, who hated Farber for it. He was particularly attacked on the website Five Feet of Fury, run by Kathy Shaidle, a former journalist. Shaidle herself I don’t think was Jewish, at least not by religion. She was, however, militantly Zionist, and quoted and supported the various radical Jewish organisations, that argued that Jews should stop looking outward to reach other to other threatened racial groups. Instead, they should concentrate on defending themselves and their own interests. And this was constructed as mainly against Arabs and Islam.

As for the Chief Rabbi, depending on who that is, I don’t have a whole lot of time for them in this regard. I thought the comment about Labour being riddled with anti-Semitism came from Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who I always thought was a Lib Dem. If so, she has her own political bias. If it was Jonathan Sacks, he had his own problems about bigoted comments. A few years ago Jonathan Sacks, the Orthodox Chief Rabbi, got into trouble as he described Reform Jews as ‘enemies of the faith’ – highly partisan and sectarian language, which frightened many people.

Madam Walker’s case shows that this isn’t about anti-Semitism. In fact, I think Walker was partly accused because she said in her conversation that she didn’t think that anti-Semitism was the real issue in racism, but the treatment of Blacks. Ken Livingstone shares the same sentiments, despite the fact that he has also very publicly condemned anti-Semitism in his book, Livingstone’s Labour. This just seems to be a nasty, extremely cynical attempt by the Israel Lobby to smear any opponents of the Israeli’s treatment of the Palestinians. Especially as, during her private Facebook conversation, one of Walker’s friends argued that there were only Palestinians in Israel as refugees during the Arab-Israeli War. Which seems to me to be another piece of Zionist mendacity. Golda Meir started that one in the 1940s when she denied that there were any indigenous Palestinians before Israel was settled.

This isn’t about genuinely defending Jews from real anti-Semites. This is about defending Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in a grotesque distortion of history.

UKIP: No Fear in Whitchurch and Hengrove

May 5, 2016

The anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate, has a list of the 1,530 extreme Right-wing candidates standing in today’s elections. Some of them are members of the various declining Fascist and Nazi grouplets. The vast majority of UKIP. Three of them are standing in my part of Bristol, Whitchurch and Hengrove.

This has worried me, as I don’t think there’s very much racism locally, and definitely don’t want any. Bristol has always been quite a diverse city. Apart from Black and Asian people, Bristol has also had a large number of citizens from other European countries, including most notably Italy, Poland and Russia. There’s a Russian Orthodox Church in Clifton on the road leading up to Bristol University past the City art gallery and museum. There is also a Polish church elsewhere in the City. And in south Bristol, in Knowle and along the Wells Road, there are shops catering to the new immigrants from eastern Europe, along with the other businesses. And Bristol’s Italian community goes back at least to the 1920s, if not long before. The last thing this city needs is an increase in ethnic and national tensions created through anti-EU tub-thumping, especially as Nigel Farage said a few days ago that the Brexit campaign should concentrate more on the question of immigration.

A few weeks ago we had a leaflet through the door for one of the Kippers standing in our ward. He was amusingly called Fear, a suitably appropriate name for a scare-mongering party. At the last council elections, one of the Kippers in Hengrove apparently did manage to scrape in.

I don’t know, who this particular Kipper was, just that he was not a success. Apparently, once he took his seat in the council, he then failed to vote for just about anything, but presumably just turned up and then collected his allowance at the end of the month. He also managed to alienate his constituents thoroughly. He’s supposed to have bad-mouthed them, before calling on the police to protect him from them.

So you have people with absolutely no interest in representing their constituents, and who treat them with absolute contempt, who are apparently just there in the council to show their hatred of the EU and foreigners. Bristol, and particularly my part of it, deserves far better.

Which is why I hope that after today, the Kipper election campaign will have failed, hope will have triumphed, and there will be No Fear in this part of south Bristol.

An Anthropological View of Homelessness in America – With Lessons for Britain

February 3, 2014

Anthony Marcus, Where Have All The Homeless Gone? The Making and unmaking of a Crisis (New York: Berghahn 2006)

America Homeless

We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man.
We got a kinder, gentler kind of napalm

– Neil Young, ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’.

I’ve posted a couple of piece before on some of the points this book makes about homelessness in America, and its relevance to Britain. One of the most important was the way the massive debt crisis of New York City’s municipal government in 1975 formed the template for Mrs Thatcher’s destruction of the welfare state in Britain, and the Coalition’s further attempts to end it altogether in the second decade of the 21st century.

The End of the Welfare State in New York and the Beginning of the Homeless Crisis

New York did have something like Britain’s welfare state, even a form of the dole and affordable, rent controlled housing. In 1975 it overspent to the point where it was unable to pay off its debt. In return for giving the City the right to issue bonds allowing it to finance its debt, the City was placed under the fiscal management of a consortium of businessmen and bankers to ensure its fiscal good government. These made swingeing cuts in the City’s welfare provision, to the point where millions were thrown out of their jobs. Unable to pay their rent, many were forced to move away from New York, while others were forced onto the streets. The rent controls remained, but instead of keeping housing affordable, they resulted in many landlords being unable to afford to maintain their properties. As a result, many were left without basic services like electricity or water, others were abandoned completely as landlords went bankrupt. Some landlords even firebombed their tenements to collect on the insurance. The result was a massive increase in homelessness. At the same time, the location and visibility of New York’s rough sleepers changed. Instead of being confined to certain run down districts – the traditional Skid Row of urban American geography, the homeless moved out into the more upmarket residential districts and even into the city centre.

Racial Stereotypes of Homelessness

The Black community was particularly hard hit. Many of the homeless men interviewed by Marcus were well-educated, from reasonably affluent, middle class backgrounds. However, the Black community particularly relied upon the municipal government, either directly or indirectly for their jobs, and so were disproportionately hit when those jobs were shed. The result was that the stereotypical image of a homeless person in the period in which Marcus worked – the late 1980s and first years of the 1990s – was a poorly dressed, mentally ill Black person. Marcus takes particular care to counter this stereotype, as it formed the basis for the campaigns of several of City’s leaders, like Mayor Dinkins, to tackle homelessness. It ignored the vast numbers of homeless Whites and the homeless Blacks, who were articulate and dressed neatly. While much effort was directed at those groups that corresponded to the stereotype, these people were ignored as they simply didn’t match contemporary ideas of who the homeless were.

The book is based on the doctoral research Marcus did amongst a group of fifty homeless Black men working for one of the City’s homelessness projects from 1989 to 1993. It is his attempt to answer the question of what happened to public awareness of the issue of homelessness. He points out that from 1983 to 1993 homelessness was one of the biggest American political issues. There were rock songs about homeless people, and universities, charities, politicians, and activist groups attempted to study and tackle the issue.

This concern evaporated from 1993 onwards. The crisis continued and the availability of proper, affordable housing continued to fall, but increasingly less attention was paid to the issue. Funds for its study dried up, and the academics researching it moved away to fresher, and more lucrative areas of study. Marcus quotes one of his former research colleagues as laughing when Marcus told him he was writing up his Ph.D. research, declaring that homelessness was so last century.

Critiques of the ‘Cultures of Poverty’

Much of Marcus’ book is a critique of the narrow historiographical focus that determined that rather than tackle the root causes of the homeless crisis in lack of suitably paid jobs, affordable housing and welfare policies that would allow the unemployed to get and retain accommodation, saw the problem exclusively in terms of the supposed moral defects of the homeless themselves in a mirror-image of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view. This grew out of the previous studies of American homelessness centred around Skid Row, the decrepit section of American towns occupied by single-occupancy hotels for the homeless, and a population of homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes and other marginal, transgressive or bohemian groups. The other major influence was Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America, which examined the squalor and poverty in urban Black ghettoes. As a result, when the American welfare state, under Richard Nixon, began to tackle unemployment and homelessness, it did so with the assumption that the homeless themselves were somehow responsible for their condition. They were supported, but that support was made as unpleasant as possible in order to force them to come off welfare whenever possible. Hence the penalisation of the unemployed through demeaning forms of state support such as food stamps, rather than a welfare cheque. Seen the similarity to the attitudes of Cameron, Clegg, IDS and McVie yet?

Cultures of Deviancy and Violence in Homeless Shelters

This attitude by the authorities that there is a ‘culture of poverty’, created by and defined by the idleness, drunkenness, profligacy and other inappropriate behaviour of the poor themselves is particularly attacked by Marcus. He found that there was no difference in morals and behaviour between the homeless people he studied, and those of the wider population. This included the ‘shelterisation’ debate surrounding the perceived culture of violence in the homeless shelters. These had been set up in New York in response to the finding of a judge that the City had failed in its legal duty to provide shelter and wholesome food for a homeless man that had been turned away from one. Marcus states that for most of the residents of these shelters, their greatest problem was finding a lead long enough to reach the wall socket so that they could do their ironing. Nevertheless, the violent criminals included in the shelters’ population meant that the developed a reputation for being dominated by ex-convict bodybuilders and their transvestite shelter ‘wives’. Marcus found that rather than being a gay space, homeless gay men were subjected to the same levels of abuse and intimidation they experienced in the outside world. Their attitude to the ex-cons was that they weren’t really gay. At the same time they had their transvestite lovers in the shelter, they also had heterosexual relationship with wives and girlfriends outside. One of Marcus’ gay informants told him that if you watched the ex-cons outside, they never held hands or socialised with their transvestite shelter partners. He concluded that they were really heterosexual men, who just wanted to have sex and weren’t concerned with whom they had it in the single sex environment of the homeless shelters.

Marcus concluded that the shelters developed their reputation for violence and bizarre behaviour, as few researchers actually interacted or examined the way their residents behaved outside of its environment. The methodological problems were too difficult, making it almost impossible. So instead the academics concentrated on their behaviour inside the shelter, and unconsciously assumed that their behaviour was formed by it. Marcus gradually came to the opposite conclusion – that the men in the homeless shelters acted as they did, not because of the environment of the homeless shelter, but because that was what they did anyway. So the various types of bizarre and slovenly behaviour, which normally remained hidden in the confines of a private home, such as one resident, who never got up on a Sunday morning but simply urinated into a glass by the side of his bed, was suddenly on public display.

Homeless Not Radically Different or Separate from Rest of Population

Linked to this was a wider problem in identifying just who exactly the homeless were. Many of the individuals studied only spent part of their time sleeping in public. Other nights they slept round a friends or girlfriends, or were given room in an airing cupboard or basement by a kindly janitor in return for doing cleaning work. There was also a wider population of young people sleeping on the floors of friends while they looked for an apartment after graduating from university. These middle class, educated Americans weren’t seen as homeless.

And many of the Black homeless men Marcus interviewed didn’t see themselves as homeless either. They compared their state to that of young Whites, who had just graduated. It was a similar stage of carefree abandon until they finally hit maturity and sorted themselves out, got a proper job and apartment. Marcus also notes that for many Black homeless men, their condition meant acting out a variety of roles. He called them The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The Good was the White man’s negro, who accepted mainstream, White American culture and values when it meant impressing White academics or employers in order to get a job or a place on an educational programme. The Bad was that of the angry, violent Black man. His informants told him they had to adopt this pose, as otherwise Whites would just see them as ‘niggers’ and disparage or exploit them. They had stories of an effeminate ‘White man’s Negro’, who tried to fit in with the culture of his White colleagues and bosses, only for him to be exploited and sacked. Interestingly, the models taken for this role of violent, rebellious Black masculinity were all race-natural. They included ‘Leatherface’, from Tobe Hooper’s class bit of grue, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Sean Connery’s James Bond. Indeed, many of Marcus’ Black informants identified by Connery so much that they felt sure that Scotland’s cinematic hard man was Black, at least partly. The Ugly was a term coined by Marcus himself, and referred to those homeless, who dressed badly and had lost both their sanity and dignity. It was a role the men studied by Marcus most disliked, because of its passivity, and lack of masculinity. Nevertheless, many homeless Black men adopted it in order to get some of the benefits that were only available through this role.

Disillusionment with Regime in ‘Not-for-Profit’ Housing

Eventually the scandal surrounding the violence and criminality within the municipal shelters became so great that the City authorities were forced to act. The system was privatised, so that instead or supplementing the vast municipal shelters were a system of ‘transient’ accommodation run by not-for-profit corporations. These were supposed to be smaller, and more responsive to their residents’ needs than the City homeless provision. Marcus examines these too, and demonstrates how many of the shelter residents became increasingly disillusioned with them, even to the point where they preferred moving back to the shelters or onto the streets.

What Marcus’ informants most objected to was the intense regimentation and supervision of almost every aspect of their lives. This was supposedly to help the homeless develop the right attitudes and habits that would allow them to move out of the transient housing and into a proper apartment with a proper job. In practice, this control was absolute and degrading. Security was tight, and the inmates were rigorously searched as they entered the building. The not-for-profits, like the shelters, also broke up heterosexual couples. Many of the homeless studied by Marcus had mental health problems of varying severity. Some were particularly ill, while others were less affected. Marcus says that in some the level of mental illness was so slight, he suspected that it may have been a pretence by the sufferer to get off the streets by feigning illness. Well, you can’t blame them for that. As part of the conditions of residence, these men were forced to take medication to combat their mental problems. They complained that it left them feeling like zombies, and deprived them of their sexual functions, a sense of emasculation, which, naturally, they particularly resented.

Lack of Economic Opportunities for Moving into Paid Work in Homeless Shelters

Coupled with this was the way the system knocked back any homeless person, who tried to get a proper job and move out of the hostel. I’ve already blogged on the experience of one homeless man, who hopefully moved to a Salvation Army home in the expectation that he would be given worthwhile work. He wasn’t, and spent his time there sweeping up, for which he was paid 17c an hour. Other homeless men in not-for-profits elsewhere found themselves unable to get work, that would pay sufficiently well for them to get a proper apartment, or a place on one of the few rent-controlled tenements held by the City. The amount of welfare paid to the homeless, which came down to a take home pay of $100 a month for those in the shelter, and $540 for those on the streets, simply wasn’t enough for them to get an apartment and support themselves. As a result, many of the most ambitious and enterprising homeless men got jobs, which they soon lost and so had to move back into the shelter. The social workers and shelter staff were aware of the problem and did their level best to try to dissuade them from trying to get proper jobs so that they would retain their SSI welfare payments. In the shelter, however, the only jobs these homeless men could do were ‘make work’ jobs, sweeping, cleaning and so on. Some of the homeless thus preferred to get jobs outside, as book keepers or security guards, or working off the books as labourers unpacking trucks for local grocery stores. These were better paid, and in the case of one homeless man, gave him status and power over the ex-con hard men working underneath him. They did not, however, pay well enough for them to get a home of their own. Marcus observes that the system seemed to have been set up in the expectation they would fail.

The Crisis in the Black Family: No Different from White Family

The book goes on to tackle the issue of the Black family, and its role in the lack of Black achievement compared to that of immigrant groups such as Asians and Latin Americans. Marcus notes that the Black family is seen as weaker, and more prone to breakdown, than the family structures of other ethnic groups. This lack of family support is seen as being the cause of the lack of social and economic advance in the Black community. Politicians, religious leaders and activists have compared the fragile Black family with the supposedly more robust structures of that of their immigrant counterparts. Instead of conflict and breakdown, these families have a high degree of mutual support and integration, so that immigrants groups like Koreans and Latinos are able to use the unpaid labour of other family members to set up prosperous businesses. Marcus shows how, as a result, Black American churches, community groups and the Nation of Islam exhort their members to take Maya Angelou’s ‘Black Family Pledge’ and emulate the family structure, solidarity and work ethic of their more prosperous immigrant counterparts.

This view of the dysfunctional character of the Black family is similarly permeated by the ‘cultures of poverty’ debate. The Black family is seen as having a uniquely dysfunctional structure and lack of values, that hinders Black Americans from achieving the same success as their White and immigrant compatriots. Marcus again takes issue with this, and demonstrates that the comparison between Black and immigrant families is false. Like is not being compared with like. Marcus states that the structure of the Black family, while different from that of recent immigrant groups, is actually no different from that of White America. He states

‘It will be my argument that, indeed, African-American families living in poverty are generally less suited to certain types of mutual aid in poverty than are their immigrant counterparts. however, this is not because of a defect in the black family or some failure to live up to American kinship norms. Rather, it is because the cultural templates of the black family, even among the poorest and least integrated into “the mainstream,” are fundamentally similar to those of other American families. Nuclear and neo-local in its norms, the African-American family, like its white counterpart, is built around voluntary companionate marriage; the shared values, identity markers, and consumption patterns of its members, and the right to seek individual accomplishment and emotional self-realization. Typically supported on a foundation of legally regulated wage labor, subsidized mortgages, individual savings, public education, state entitlement programs, and socio-legal protections by police and courts, this family type, which I will refer to as the “consumption family,” appears dysfuncational in the absence of such state provisioning and when compared to certain immigrant kinship structures, which I will refer to as the “accumulation family”.’

The “Accumulation Family” of Immigrants to America

Marcus then goes on to describe the “accumulation family” as ‘built around extended kin networks, intense group sacrifice, delayed or permanently postponed gratification, and large amounts of captive low-wage or unpaid family-based labor, particularly from women, children, new arrivals, and other dependents with less recourse to external labor options and social rights’. Marcus points out that while Black families are more likely to break down or experience real difficulties, this is not because Blacks somehow have a different set of family values from their White compatriots. They don’t. It’s simply because the Black family is generally under more acute social pressure than White families, due to the poor social and economic position of Black Americans.

As for the “accumulation family” of southern European, Latin American and Asian immigrants, this depends very much on the unpaid labour of its weaker members – women, children and new arrivals. As such, members of these ethnic groups may increasingly see it as exploitative and backward as they assimilate the values and social structures of their new home, and go from being people with one feet in America and the other in their country of origin, to more or less acculturated Americans.

Housing Panic and Social Solidarity with Squatters, Homeless and Anarchist Activists

Marcus also investigates the way the housing panic over increasingly rents and the threat of eviction created a strong sense of solidarity between ordinary citizens in New York’s slum districts, and the squatters, homeless and Anarchist activists sharing the neighbourhood. The world-wide economic depression of 1982-3 resulted in New York receiving hundreds of thousands of immigrants from eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, as well as the yuppies graduating from the University. At the same time as the blue collar workers moved out, the white collar financial and IT workers moved in. Rents shot up, to the point where some of the buildings that were worth less than $2,000 in 1977 were worth half a million or more by 1990. Many landlords were, however, prevented from increasing their rents for long-standing tenants through the City’s stringent rent stabilisation laws. Some landlords attempted to circumvent these by putting in unnecessary renovations, as recently renovated premises were immune from the controls under the legislation. Other long-standing tenants, particularly the elderly, found themselves subjected to violence and intimidation, including being thrown down stairs, in order to force them to move out. The result was that slum and low-rent districts, like Hells Kitchen, Loisaida (the Lower East Side), the printing district, West Harlem, and the Bowery became gentrified, and relaunched under the names Clinton, the East Village, Tribeca, Morningside Heights and Noho.

The result of this was that ordinary working and lower middle class New Yorkers suffered increasing alarm at the prospect of being forced out onto the streets. This resulted in popular sympathy for the murderer and cannibal Daniel Rakowitz, who killed his girlfriend, a foreign dancer, after she tried to throw him out after their affair had ended. He was caught serving up her remains as soup to the local homeless. In the East Village, tensions between the municipal authorities and ordinary residents exploded into violence when the police tried to clear the homeless, who had occupied Tompkins Square Park to form a ‘tent city’. Local residents insisted that the violence was cause, not by the homeless, but by anarchists, squatters and youths looking for trouble from outside the area, as well as some local residents. Marcus was told by one waiter at a plush restaurant that ‘this is total war and we need to make the neighbourhood unlivable for yuppies’. In fact, Marcus does point that some of the homeless did fight back, but the fiercest fighting was done by the other groups identified in the riot. He also notes that when some of the yuppies renting properties in the area were questioned, many of them were in fact in the same boat as the rest of the residents, and spending more than half their income on rent.

Marcus believed that the solidarity between the anarchists, squatters, homeless and the area’s ordinary residents occurred because for nearly a decade these groups had created a local counterculture centred on homelessness. In 1990 a group of anarchists, squatters and homeless from Tent City took over the remains of Public School 105, located on Fourth Street between Avenues B and C, and turned it into an alternative community centre. They intended to turn it into permanent, semi-permanent and temporary housing for the homeless, as well as setting up remedial reading, GED-high school equivalency test preparation and plumbing, carpentry and electrical repair classes. It also became the focus for various other anti-gentrification and radical, anti-state groups. A local Communist group, the ‘Class War Tendency’, set up classes in political economy, while a radical priest, who was a housing activist, helped the homeless to set up a soup kitchen in the Community Centre. As a result, the cops moved in in force to retake the Community Centre and clear out its homeless and radical occupants. Marcus notes that the anarchists, squatters and Tent City homeless believed that they were defending everyone’s right to a home, and many people in the neighbourhood concurred.

The radicals lost the battle for Public School 105. In 1991 Mayor David Dinkins cleared them from Tent City in Tompkins Square Park. Four years later, in August 1995, his success, Giuliani, moved in to clear the squatters out from three large tenements on 13th Street between Avenues A and Avenue B. They were successful, and although some residents attacked Giuliani as ‘Mussolini on the Hudson’, this time there was a lot less sympathy for the radicals. There still was a housing problem, and many of the anarchists, squatters and homeless people from the Park remained in the area. However, the housing panic was over, and there was a sense of defeat about being able to beat the forces of authority and create an alternative community.

American Thatcherism, Clinton and the Rise and Fall of Homelessness as an Issue

The final chapter examines the political forces that shaped the housing crisis and ultimately led to it becoming a forgotten issue. Marcus states that while most writers consider that the problems were the result of the ‘Reagan Revolution’, the cuts in state expenditure and particularly welfare that eventually led to the crisis began with the Democrat, Jimmy Carter. It was Carter, who tried to overturn Nixon’s Keynsianism and Great Society/New Deal ideology. He did not, however, have any coherent ideology, and so his attempts to cut expenditure were modest. This was to change with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s PM in 1979. It was Thatcher, who took over and turned into a coherent ideology the Chicago School economic theories, tried to break the unions, privatise public services, cut welfare spending, transfer public sector housing to the private sector, and made ‘liberal use of the military at home and abroad’. He states that in her war against the Labour party, she attacked notions of social democracy, and corporatist or civic belonging. Although she was forced out by the poll tax riots, Thatcherism remained the dominant ideology.

Thatcher’s ideology was taken over and shared over the other side of the Atlantic by Ronald Reagan. Although, unlike Thatcher, Reagan could not produce a coherent ideology, nevertheless the values he espoused were so deeply embedded in American culture that ultimate his reach was deeper, and Reagan’s attack on the unions, the New Deal and the welfare state, such as it was, was far more thorough than Thatcher could achieve.

Nevertheless, Reagan’s reforms were still hotly contested in the decade from 1982 to 1992. This changed with Bill Clinton’s election. Suddenly there was much less coverage of homeless issues in the media, and public concern about homelessness vanished. Homelessness remains, and there is still a homeless crisis with rising rents and a lack of affordable housing. However, although Hilary Clinton briefly touched on the issue during her senatorial campaign against Giuliani, few Democrats or Republicans seemed to wish to return to the issue. Marcus considers that public interest in homelessness disappeared due to the economic boom of the last years of Clinton’s presidency. This revitalised formerly moribund sectors of the American economy, unemployment was at its lowest for several decades and there was a general feeling of optimism. Amidst the boom and growth, there was little appreciation that poverty was still present and needed tackling. Marcus states that despite this optimism and the boost to the financial sector of the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalisation and information technology, the economy will inevitably contract to plunge millions into poverty and misery once more. The book was published in 2006. We only had to wait four more years before this happened.

Homelessness and Poverty Caused by Structure of Society, not Individual Failings

He believed that now, when the good times were still rolling, was the time to tackle poverty, rather than wait till after the next set of riots. He makes the point that although there was much discussion at the time about Reagan’s removal of the safety net and those who were ‘disappearing through its cracks’, no one ever raised the question about why the safety net should be necessary in the first place. The homeless crisis was just part of deteriorating social conditions across America, which saw ordinary citizens having to work harder for much less rewards. He writes

‘A safety net is only as important as the height of a jump and the distance that can be fallen. In a wildly productive society that has achieved exponential increases in productive capacity through technological and work process innovations, the last twenty years have seen housing costs increase dramatically, the average workweek grow by 20 to 30 percent, job security disappear, real wages drop, and the employment market tighten. In addition to all these problems facing all working Americans, the eight years under Clinton saw the United States imprison more people than during any period in the nation’s history. Only contemporary postcommunist Russia, with its dying industrial economy, imprisons as many people per capita.

Despite eight years of America’s greatest economic boom, none of these are signs of social health for the nearly two hundred and fifty million ordinary citizens who comprise the non-Other America. But these developments have been particularly severe for the fifty-plus million Americans at the lower ranges of the wage and skill hierarchy, who remain as poor and miserable as when Michael Harrington wrote his book about them. Though the declining safety net was a problem for most of my informants, it was only one of the aspect of the bigger problem: the rising bar that they were unable to successfully jump.’

Marcus states that the various solutions to America’s homeless problem failed because of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view of the problem: that poverty was created by particular individuals, who lacked the moral values and industrious attitudes of the rest of the population, and who therefore were profoundly Other, and the creators of their own misery. He sees this view of the origins of poverty as similar to Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘there is no society, only people’. He states of this view, that began with Michael Harrington’s The Other America that

‘Harrington and those who came after allowed that social policy was ultimately the institution for fine-tuning problems in the distribution of resources. However, their unrelenting focus on problematic groups rather than the overall social concerns facing a modern citizenry represented, at best, a progressive era model of “the poor” as loss leaders for proactive social policy. In its more common pedestrian form, it represented a positivist particularism that completely failed to view the parts as a product of the whole, blaming the pinky finger for being small, rather than identifying the hand as determining the morphology and function of the pinky or blaming the Black family for being dysfunctional rather than American kinship for producing the Black family. Such functionalist and particularist logic has proven a distraction from discussions of how America is coping with the challenges of overall social life.

When social policy is based on this particularist individuated model for the obligations and entitlements of citizenship it inevitably fails. This is because it assumes exactly what needs to be demonstrated: that the challenges being faced by the individual or group of individuals are the result of individual differences of culture, history, temperament, and the like, and not the result of being an identifiable part of a social organism. Solutions, even generous ones like the McKinney Homeless Act [this was the act that voted a billion dollars to providing shelter for the homeless] that do not consider the nature of the organism that produced a sick part, but only focus on the section deemed pathological, inevitably involve a form of social excision that is at best provisional.’

As a result, rather than identifying the economic and social factors behind the housing crisis, asking what went wrong so that a prosperous city with a surplus of affordable housing suddenly experienced a massive increase in visible homelessness, scholars instead studied the homeless themselves as an ethnic group that somehow created the problem through its cultural difference. The homeless are homeless because society has become increasingly competitive. People are being forced to jump higher and higher simply to survive. And those at the bottom simply do not have the economic, social or psychological resources. He also states that in addition to the growth and optimism experienced during the Clinton boom years, when the party of the New Deal/ Great Society anti-poverty bureaucracy once again occupied the White House, another factor contributing to the massive lack of interest in homelessness is the War on Terror.

‘The optimism and complacency of the Clinton years that hid vast seas of unvocalized misery among overworked, underpaid working-class people in post-Reganite America has given way to the ultimate silencing: the endless war on terror. However, the bar remains high, the speciation of America is firmly embedded, and the extent of planning for a rainy day is massive growth in police forces and prisons throughout the United States. The crisis remains well managed, but the future is not bright.’

Marcus suggests that the poor and homeless are social barometers measuring the problems experienced in society by Americans generally

‘They measure the amount of competition, the level of functioning that is necessary to survive, the displacement of those who must labor to live, and the degree of comfort and security that we can claim for our own lives. If they are drowning from the high price of housing, declining real wages, rising costs for education, declining public health, and the revival of nineteenth century diseases, then the rest of us are probably “up to our necks in it”‘.

American Model Producing Global ‘Race to the Bottom’ for Workers and the Poor

He suggests that instead of using Durkheimian functionalism, scholars should instead adopt a Marxian approach to examine the growth of policies by nations around the world intended to make their economies more competitive by modelling them on that of America. The result is a race to the bottom for wages, standards of living, and the overall quality of life. With its advanced, massively productive economy, America could, however, become a global leader in the opposite direction and reverse this three-decade trend for worse wages and working conditions.

Conclusion: the Lessons for Britain

Although some of the issues Marcus tackles are unique to America, much of the book is immediately relevant over this side of the Atlantic as well. Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives took over Harrington’s ‘cultures of poverty’, and as The Void, Another Angry Voice, Mike over at Vox Political, and many, many other left-wing bloggers have shown, the Coalition’s unemployment policies are based on blaming the poor and jobless for their problems. Hence the pretext for workfare, the various courses the unemployed are placed on, and the sanctions system: they’re simply devices for inculcating the correct values of industriousness in the workforce, just as Victorian paternalists worried about raising the poor out of poverty through getting them to accept the same values. The same attitudes are screamed every day from right-wing rags like the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express, and TV documentaries on the unemployed like Benefits Street.

The British Black Family and Chavs

The chapter on the misinterpretation of the dysfunctional structure of the Black family in America in also relevant here. Black activists in Britain are also worried about the greater incidence of breakdowns amongst Black families on this side of the Atlantic. One explanation for the general poor performance of Black boys at school and their greater involvement in crime and gang culture is that, due to the breakdown of their families, many boys simply don’t see their fathers, and so don’t have positive role models in a caring dad.

This patterns also extends outside the Black community to the White lumpenproletariat, now demonised as ‘chavs’. There’s similarly a pattern of broken homes, poor educational attainment, violence and criminality amongst the boys here. And this is similarly ethnicised as the result of a distinct, ‘chav’ culture, rather than the result of a variety of social and economic pressures permeating society generally. And if we’re talking about cultures of recreational violence, then historically the upper classes have also enthusiastically taken their part. In 18th century France there was a group of aristocratic youths, who described themselves as ‘les Rosbifs’. They consciously modelled themselves on the boorish behaviour of the English country squires, and so swaggered around swearing a lot and sported cudgels, which they used to beat up members of the lower orders. Oh what fun! As sociologists and historians studying the history of such youth cultures have said, there really is no difference between these and the mods and rockers, who used regularly used to beat each other senseless down in Weston during Bank Holidays when I was a teenager. These days it’s all rather more genteel. They simply join the Assassin’s Club at Oxford, and wreck restaurants.

The Benefits Cap Blocking an Escape from Poverty and Homelessness

The description of the problems of the homeless in trying to get out of poverty and into accommodation, and failing due to the cap on their benefits, is also immediately recognisable over this side of the Atlantic. The Tories are capping Housing Benefit here as part of their scheme that people on benefits shouldn’t be wealthier than those in work. The result of this is similarly going to be increased homelessness and further geographical isolation, as people are forced to move away from high-rent areas, especially in London. Not that this’ll bother Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the Bullingdon thugs. As the architecture of the new apartment blocks shows, they really don’t want to have to look at the poor. These have a separate entrances for the rich Chinese at whom they’re aimed, and the rest of us plebs, who may well include working and lower middle class Chinese Brits, who’ve been here for generations but lack the massive spondoolicks of the new, global elite.

Solidarity between Squatters, the Radical Left and Ordinary Citizens in NYC and Bristol

As for the politics of squatting, and the need for anarchists and radical activists tackling this issue, there are also lessons for Britain here as well from the experience of New York in the 1980s and 1990s. Johnny Void over at his blog strongly supports squatting amongst other forms of anarchist activism. He has pointed out on his blog that despite the scare stories run by the press about ordinary people coming back from holiday to find their house or garden shed has been taken over by squatters, this in fact has been relatively rare. Most of the squatting has been the occupation of abandoned buildings. I’ve put up on this blog a video from Youtube of homeless activists in Bristol, including a group of homeless squatters, who’ve taken over a disused building in Stokes Croft. They too were facing eviction, despite the fact that the place has been abandoned for forty years.

The issue of gentrification and the eviction of poorer, particularly Black residents, in favour of far more affluent tenants is a very hot issue here as well. A few years ago there were riots in Stokes Croft against Tescos, which had just opened another branch in that ward. The people there feared that it would force out of business local shops, and so reacted to defend their community businesses from the commercial giant. The New York experience shows that it is possible to get ordinary residents to support squatters, anarchists and other left-wing radical groups simply through a common concern for the same issues – in this case homelessness – and by being good neighbours.

Poverty and Homelessness a Problem for Society Generally Across the Globe Thanks to the ‘American Model’

Like America also, many of the poor in Britain are actually those in work, who have also seen their wages decline in real terms, despite recent lies by the Coalition, and are finding themselves having to work longer hours. The European Round Table of Industrialists, at the heart of EU’s campaign for integration, is behind much of this on this side of the Atlantic. Regardless of our different political cultures, we Europeans, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, from the North Sea to the shores of the Baltic, have to work ourselves to death to compete with the Developing World. And as Greg Palast has shown in his book, Armed Madhouse, the result of this in the Developing World is that they have lowered their wages and raised working hours to truly horrific levels in response. Well, if nothing else, it shows that Marx was right in his view that working people across the globe have to unite to combat the problems of capitalism. ‘It was the bourgeoisie who shot down the Great Wall of China’, he says in the Communist Manifesto. Hence the slogan, ‘Workingmen of all countries, Unite!’ Globalisation had meant the increased exploitation of ordinary people across the world. It’s a global problem that needs to be stopped now. We can start by throwing out three decades of Thatcherism and the culture of Neo-Liberalism.