Posts Tagged ‘English-Speaking Union’

Leave.UK and Boris Now Using Racism to Push Brexit and Get Votes

October 9, 2019

I suppose it was inevitable. I realise not everyone, who voted for the Leave campaign is racist by any means. A lot of working class and left-wing peeps voted to leave the EU no doubt because of the very real problems with it. Private Eye has been describing for years its corruption, its lack of democracy and accountability of its senior officials, and the high-handed way it deals with member states that don’t toe the line. Years ago it described how the-then president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was aghast at the terms it presented him and his country for membership. He complained that his country hadn’t been treated like that for over thirty years. Which meant that he was comparing it to the way it had been pushed around when it had been a Soviet satellite. This drew an outraged reaction from two of the MEPs in the EU delegation, both of whom, I think, were left-wing. One of them was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French politician, who had been a radical leader during the ’68 revolution. They screamed at Klaus that the EU was definitely democratic, and the architect and keep of peace after the Second World War.  Robin Ramsay, the editor of the conspiracy website Lobster, is an old-fashioned left-wing Eurosceptic. He objects to the EU because economic Conservatism and neoliberalism is built into it. He regards a strong nation state with nationalised industries as the best political and economic system and protector of the rights of working people. Tony Benn was the same, noting in one of his books the real harm membership of the EU actually did to our economy and industry.

But Benn was also realistic, and recognised that we were now also economically dependent on the EU, and that leaving it would also cause severe disruption and damage. 

All of which is not considered by the right-wing supporters of Brexit. They’re not interested in protected our nationalised industries, like what remains of the NHS, because they want to sell it off to the highest bidder. And that means, at the moment, Donald Trump. Thus for all their posturing, they were quite happy to see our railways owned by the Bundesbahn, the German state railway network, and our water by the French, and then the Indonesians. And our nuclear power stations built and owned by the French and Chinese. They’ve got no objections with other states and nations owning our infrastructure, as long the British state doesn’t.

And there is and has always been a nasty undercurrent of racism in the Right’s attitude to the EU. Now with the latest poster from Leave.UK it’s all out in the open. As Mike’s shown in his article, they’ve now put up a poster showing Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her arm raised in a quasi-Nazi salute, or what could be interpreted as one. And there’s a slogan ‘We didn’t Win Two World Wars to be Pushed Around by a Kraut’.

This is just pure racism, expressed in racist language. And the imagery is offensive and wrong. As Tony Greenstein showed in his article, the CDU had its share of former Nazis amongst its members. And incidentally, so was the Freie Demokraten, the German equivalent of the Liberal party. Back in the 1980s there was a massive scandal when it was revealed that neo-Nazis had all been infiltrating them. Even the odd member of the SPD has been outed as a former member of the Nazi party. But that doesn’t mean that the CDU, or any of the other German democratic parties are really Nazi, simply because they’re German. I think Merkel herself is genuinely anti-racist, and tried to demonstrate how far her country had moved from the stereotype left over from the Third Reich when she invited the million or so Syrian and North African refugees to settle in the Bundesrepublik. It backfired badly on her, as people, not just in Germany, were afraid their countries were going to be swamped by further Islamic migrants and the wave of 200 or so rapes by a minority of them provoked an vile islamophobic reaction. But Merkel herself, and her people, aren’t Nazis and aren’t engaged in some diabolical plot to dominate Europe by stealth. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, ad nauseam.

Mike’s article cites the comments from three continental papers, who I believe have rightly assessed the situation and BoJob’s shenanigans with the EU. They differ in that some of them think the Blonde Beast is aiming for a no-deal Brexit, or that, denied that, he wants a Brexit extension. But whatever the outcome, he wants most of all to blame it on the EU. Those nasty foreigners are responsible! He and the Tory press are trying to present it as though Boris and the Tories have done everything they can to secure a deal, and it’s all due to those horrible, intransigent foreigners, and particularly the Germans, that they haven’t. Thus they’re seeking to work up nationalist sentiments so that they’re voted back in with a massive majority, having seen their lead in the polls.

I can well believe it. It’s what they’ve always done.

I remember how the Tories became the Patriotic Party under Thatcher in the 1980s. Thatcher stood for Britain, and anyone, who opposed her and the Tories more widely was definitely not One Of Us. They were some kind of traitor. The Labour party was full of Commies and IRA sympathisers, as well as evil gays determined to corrupt our youth in schools. Thatcher represented Britain’s warrior heritage and island independence. She constantly and consciously harked back to Winston Churchill. Their wretched 1987 general election video showed Spitfires zooming about the skies in what Alan Coren drily called ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. Over the top of this an excited male voice declaimed ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. Actually, the quote comes from Rousseau’s Social Contract, and is ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. Which is a far better description of the free trade, low tax world Thatcher wanted to introduce and her destruction of workers’ rights and the welfare state. Thatcher was our bulwark against domestic terrorism and the IRA at home – even though she was secretly negotiating with them – and the Communists and Eurofederalists of the EU abroad.

The Tories continually used the imagery and memories of the Second World War and the Empire to drum up support.

It’s a crude, nationalistic view of British imperial history. The idea that somehow we stood alone against Hitler during the Second World War is a myth, but one that all too many of us buy into. We survived and were victorious because we had the support of our empire. We were fed, and our armies staffed, by the colonies, including those in the Caribbean, Africa and India. If it hadn’t been for them and the Americans, we would have fallen as well.

And the history of the British empire and its legacy is mixed. Very mixed. I don’t deny that many of the soldiers and administrators that founded and extended it were idealists, who genuinely believed they were creating a better order and were improving the lives of their imperial subjects. But there was also much evil. Like the history of the Caribbean and the slave colonies in North America, or the treatment of the Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, like the Maoris or Aboriginal Australians. They weren’t noble savages, as portrayed in the stereotypes that have grown up around them. But they didn’t deserve the massacre, displacement and dispossession they suffered. The Irish patriot, Roger Casement, was a British imperial official, and was radicalised by the enslavement of South American Amerindians by the British rubber industry in the Putomayo scandal. This turned him against British imperialism, and made him an ardent fighter for his own people’s independence. To get a different view of the empire, all you have to do is read histories of it from the perspective of the colonised peoples, like the Indians or the slaves in the Caribbean. Or, for that matter, the horrific treatment of Afrikaner civilians in the concentration camps during the Anglo-South African ‘Boer’ War. In too many cases it was a history of persecution, dispossession and oppression, fueled by greed and nationalism.

Ah, but the British Empire stood for democracy!

It was largely founded before the emergence of democracy, which everywhere had to be fought for. And parts of the British imperial establishment remained anti-democratic after the Liberals extended the vote to the entire working class and women at the beginning of the 20th century. Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two world wars states that sections of it were not happy with the extension of the franchise in the 1920s, especially the diplomats and administrators in the Indian office, like Lord Curzon. It’s highly dubious how much of a patriot Churchill was. In the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell remarked in one of his press articles how strange the times were, with Churchill ‘running around pretending to be a democrat’. And there was a very interesting article years ago in the weekend edition of the Financial Times that argued that it was only because Britain needed allies during the Second World War, that the English Speaking Union appeared as one of the leading organisations in the spread of democracy.

But still we’ve had it drummed into us that the Empire was an unalloyed, brilliant institution, our country is uniquely democratic, and the Tories represent both and our national pride and heritage against the depredations of Johnny Foreigner.

Salman Rushdie and the rest are right. We need proper, balanced teaching about the Empire to correct some of these myths.

Supporters of the Labour Party and Remain campaign in response to the latest eruption of bilious racism and xenophobia have released their own posters. One shows Boris Johnson and has the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fascist’. Another shows Nigel Farage with the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fraud’. At the bottom is another legend, reading ‘Let’s Not Leave EU’.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/leave-campaigns-response-to-angela-merkel-is-racism/

They’re right. And the Tories and the Leave campaign are whipping up racism simply for their own benefit. If they get a no-deal Brexit, or win a general election, they will privatise the NHS, destroy what’s left of the welfare state. Our industries will be massively harmed, and whatever’s left of them will be sold to the Americans. 

It will mean nothing but poverty and exploitation for working people. That’s how the Tories use racism and xenophobia.

Don’t be taken in by their lies. Stand up for democracy and peace and harmony between peoples and nations. Get rid of Boris, Farage and Aaron Banks. And support Corbyn and Labour.

 

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Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project
http://www.malcsbooks.com/resources/A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.