Posts Tagged ‘Environmentalism’

Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.

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The Real News on the Israel Lobby’s Attempt to Discredit Dr Cornel West

August 15, 2016

Earlier this morning I put up a piece commenting on a post Mike published yesterday about a piece in the Mail. This was another smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum. They were, once again, accused of being anti-Semitic and compared to the SA, the radical paramilitary wing of the Nazis, who were massacred by the SS in the infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives’. As I’ve said before, this is a gross libel. Those accused of anti-Semitism included principled anti-racist, anti-Fascist campaigners, many of whom, like Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, another Labour activist, are Jewish. They have been smeared as anti-Semites because they have dared to stand up to the Israel lobby over the persecution of the Palestinians.

It’s not just in this country that the Israel lobby is desperately trying to discredit its opponents with such smears. The major Zionist political group in America is AIPAC, the American-Israel Political Action Committee. This works to promote Israeli interests amongst American politicians, including through political donations. And they’ve been smearing those on the American Left as anti-Semites also when they’ve dared to criticise Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. One of Bernie Sanders’ staff, the woman in charge of the Jewish Outreach part of his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, was sacked after she was also smeared as an anti-Semite. This was despite the fact that she was not only Jewish, but also very active in her community.

One of the others Left-wing politicians on the other side of the Pond, who also was the victim of an attempt to discredit him, was Dr. Cornel West. Dr. West is a Black Christian theologian and politician. He was one of the major figures in Bernie Sanders’ election team. He’s everything the Republicans despise – anti-Racist, pro-welfare, pro-working class, anti-poverty, pro-feminist, pro-environment. I would also imagine that it drives them mad to hear this coming from a Christian theologian, when they want to have the absolute monopoly on Christian opinion in the United States. Dr. West angered AIPAC because he made a speech stating that the safety of ‘our dear Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel’ could not be secured with the occupation of Palestine, and that events in Gaza, the West Bank and other Palestinian areas had shown that for too long the humanity of ‘our dear Palestinian brothers and sisters’ had been denied. Dr. West describes everyone as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’, following the pattern of the rhetoric in some Christian churches, though I don’t think it’s just rhetoric either, but a sincere expression of his desire to live in love and peace with the rest of humanity. He was also very clear in condemning anti-Semitism. He declared that it had gone hand in hand with every Christian civilisation, and many Islamic. And it was to be condemned.

So, a critic of Israel, but not an anti-Semite, nor even hostile to Israel. He stated clearly that Israel’s occupation of Palestine was acting against the safety of the Jewish people there. But it was too much for AIPAC. in this piece from The Real News, the anchor talks to Glen Ford, a Black newsman, about a letter condemning West’s comments from 50 Black Democratic politicians. Ford comments that this is common tactic of the opponents of Left-wing Black politicians – to set one Black man to discredit another. The letter was written by Bakari Sellers, a Black activist who is also a member and activist for AIPAC. The letter is mostly quotations from Hillary Clinton praising Israel, with approving comments from AIPAC through Sellers. Ford and the anchor agree that the real issue, as the letter seems to acknowledge, is West’s advocacy of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaign, which Sellers/ AIPAC denounce as a new form of anti-Semitism, and accuse it of going behind the back of official attempts to find a peaceful solution through negotiations. They state that peace can only come through these official overtures, and not private protests.

Ford and the anchor also discuss how the majority of Black politicians are supporters of AIPAC, but also afraid of them too. As are White politicians, and those of other ethnicities. Ford says that AIPAC isn’t afraid of, and actually boasts about, destroying politicians. He even compares them to ISIS. The willingness of Black Democratic politicians to support the Zionist lobby contrasts very much with the attitude of younger, more radical Blacks, such as the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. This young people draw parallels between the American police’s brutal treatment of Blacks, and the brutal treatment of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians. This linking of the struggle for Black civil rights in America and the struggle of the Palestinians for dignity and independence was made as far back as 1967. This was when the student activists at the Student Non-Intervention Co-ordinating Committee – SNICC – expressed their solidarity with the Palestinians at the time of the Six Day War. However, since then AIPAC has been actively recruiting Black supporters on College campuses. One of these was Bakari Sellers, although his father was one of the pro-Palestinian members of SNICC.

Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Rvn87ozUBw

This is what’s really going on: the Zionist lobby, both here and in America, are bullies, attempting to destroy any politician or activist, Black or White, Jewish or Gentile, who dares to criticise their atrocious treatment of the Palestinians. They’re doing it to the Labour Left; they did it to Bernie Sanders, and his staff, including Dr. West. It makes no difference if you are sincere anti-racist, who has actively campaigned against anti-Semitism, and faced racial hatred yourself, as many of those, who’ve been smeared by the Zionists have. Many of the Jews and people of Jewish heritage, who’ve been libelled as such have been the victims of anti-Semitic abuse themselves. one of these was the Scots lady, who found her election to the NEC scuppered by Jim Murphy, because she was connected to Momentum, who were ‘anti-Semitic’.

These allegations of anti-Semitism are to direct attention away from, and render out of bounds, all criticism of Israel and its butchery and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of Palestine. The Palestinians the Israelis have expelled also include thousands of the country’s indigenous Jewish population. It’s a European-American colonialist settler state. And one reason the denunciations of anti-Semitism are now being made so frequently and so shrilly is that an increasing number of people, including Jewish Americans, are becoming aware of this and demanding change.

Book Review: Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience

July 10, 2016

Ecofascism Pic

By Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier (Edinburgh: AK Press 1995).

Biehl and Staudenmaier are two activists in left-wing, Green and Anarchist politics in Germany, while Staudenmaier has also been active in the US. The Green movement generally is the product of the 1960s ‘hippy’ counterculture, and its experiments to create a more peaceful, egalitarian society in harmony with the earth and the natural world. The ecological movement was launched by a congress of scientists, concerned at the damage to the natural world by pollution, in Rome in the early 1970s. Among the most influential works that launched the movement is Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring, of 1962. Apart from its immense political influence, it also influenced SF literature in Frank Herbert’s massive Dune series of books, based around the desert planet Arakis, its sandworms, and the consciousness expanding spice they produce, which allows human to traverse the galaxy.

Germany was the country where the Green movement first became a formidable political force. Like Green parties and movements everywhere, German Greens were largely left-wing anti-authoritarians. I think the leader of the German Green party at one point was the Baader-Meinhof gang’s former lawyer. Back in the 1980s I wrote to the German Greens asking for information about them, and they kindly sent me an English language version of their manifesto. It’s cover showed that piccie from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, in which the great clown is crushed between two massive cog wheels. I can’t remember much about it, but as well as creating a more ecological aware and sensitive society, the party was also concerned to free people from being crushed by modern industrial society.

It was most definitely not Fascist stuff. But Fascists in Germany have been determined to appropriate it to gain electoral support. After Rudolf Hess died in the 1980s, for example, there was a Neo-Nazi rally, including outlaw bikers, outside his former home. They read out their noxious manifesto, which included their promises to find alternative forms of energy and properly conserve the environment. Noble ideals polluted by being adopted by such a politically vile group. It was combat this that Biehl and Staudenmaier wrote their book.

The book is actually written in two parts. The first, by Staudenmaier, is entitled ‘Fascist Ideology: The “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents’. The second, by Biehl, is ‘”Ecology” and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-Right’. Staudenmaier in his piece traces the emergence of a peculiar, Volkisch, German racist ecological consciousness. This arose in the 19th century as part of the Blut und Boden, ‘Blood and Soil’ ideology, that became an intrinsic component of Nazism. Peoples were formed, both physically, mentally and spiritually, so volkisch ideologues argued, by their environment. And so German nationalists argued passionately for the conservation of their country’s landscape and its natural beauty. It’s quite a shock to read of how these writers combined ideas that at other times and places were highly progressive – concern for the natural world, and the respect and dignity of indigenous first nations, with virulent nationalism, and particularly anti-Semitism. This concern for the German environment continued into the Third Reich. The Nazi dictatorship set up a series of writers and officials, whose duty it was to minimise the damage produced through the Nazi state’s construction of vast industrial complexes and the autobahns. Care was taken to make sure these were specially sited and built to respect the landscape around them.

Biehl’s piece also discusses the emergence of mystic volkisch racial essentialism in the 1920s, and its rejection of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, including democracy, as enslaving and hostile to the fundamental German national character. She then describes the various neo-Nazi groups, organisations, and businesses that have tried to present themselves as ecological aware and active. These include the National Revolutionaries, Freedom German Workers’ Party, the Republicans – founded by a former SS squaddie, Franz Schonhuber – the National Democrats and the German People’s Union. Organisations with a rightist political orientation include the World League for the Protection of Life, and the former East German dissident Communist, Rudolf Bahro. Bahro was originally a Marxist thinker, who was persecuted by the East German state for his ideas. Since then, he became increasing occupied with Green issues and moved towards the extreme Right. Biehl describes an exchange between him and the veteran American Anarchist, Murray Bookchin, at a Green conference in Germany. Bookchin was one of the creators of post-scarcity Anarchism in the 1960s, an Anarchism adapted to the changed circumstances of the modern ‘affluent society’. He was also deeply concerned with the environment. At the conference, Bahro declared that ‘we need a Green Adolf!’, which rightly annoyed Bookchin. If I remember correctly, it drew a deeply critical response from Bookchin. I doubt if he was the only one disgusted by the comment.

In her conclusion, ‘A Social Ecology of Freedom’, Biehl notes how these developments were not limited just to Germany. Nick Griffin was also trying to present the National Front as being ecological aware, proclaiming ‘Racial preservation is Green’, and similar sentiments have been made in the US by White supremacists and racists there.

She writes

A love of the natural world and alienation from modern society are in themselves innocent and legitimate ideas, and it was by no means a historical necessity that they be permutated into a justification for mass murder. Nor is ‘ecology’ limited an interpretation as a social Darwinist racial jungle, or politicized along tribal, regional and nationalist lines. Nor is ‘ecology’ inherently an antirational, mystical concept. Finally, the ecology crisis can hardly be dismissed; it is itself very real and is worsening rapidly. Indeed, the politicization of ecology is not only desirable but necessary. (p.64).

And

‘Ecological’ fascism is a cynical but potentially politically effective attempt to mystically link genuine concern for present-day environmental problems with time-honored fears of the ‘outsider’ or the ‘new’, indeed the best elements of the Enlightenment, through ecological verbiage. Authoritarian mystifications need not be the fate of today’s ecology movement, as social ecology demonstrates. But they could become its fate if ecomystics, ecoprimitivists, misanthropes, antirationalists have their way. (pp.65-6).

The American Right has also bitterly attacked environmentalism and Green politics, deliberately linking them to the environmentally engated parts of the Nazi programme during the Third Reich. As this book shows, genuine Green activists like Biehl and Staudenmaier are well aware of the Nazis and their legacy, and actively reject those, who would attempt to appropriate ecological awareness in order to promote racism and tyranny.

Adam Curtis and Brooker’s 2014 Wipe: Putin and the Postmodern Politics of Control through Confusion

January 26, 2015

Charley Brooker

Charley Brooker: Master of the Baleful Gaze of Criticism

‘Confuse your enemy and you confuse yourself!’

-General ‘Mad Bloody Butcher’ Cheeseman, The Fall of the Mausoleum Club, (Radio 4, 1985).

I found Charley Brooker’s review of last year, Newswipe 2014, over on Youtube. Assisted by Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas, Brooker casts his jaundiced eye over last years’ events, and inveighs against the horrors and stupidity therein, both of themselves and in the media, that reported them. Brooker’s comments are masterpieces of highly inventive scorn and outrage. Cunk and Shitpeas, for their parts, are highly intelligent people, who satirise the news by posing as complete morons for whom even a relatively straightforward film like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ is beyond their comprehension.

Brookers’ angry nihilism, in which he sees recent events and the latest offerings of the world’s celebrity-obsessed media as proof that we live in an absurd, pointless universe, wherein human civilisation is a bad joke about to collapse, and Cunk and Shitpeas’ faux naïve and inane comments are amusing enough. What lifts the show into another dimension entirely is a short film by Adam Curtis, on the way politicians are using the feelings of helplessness created by the terrible events replayed across our TV screens as an instrument of control.

Curtis is the director of the superb documentaries The Living Dead, The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, and How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. These explored how politicians used and abused theories of history, psychology, game theory and simplified models of human behaviour based on computer models, to boost their own power, while depriving the people they claim to represent of the power to change their destinies and better their lives. In this film, he explores how politicians, both those in Putin’s Russia and in Britain, have created an absurd, meaningless view of contemporary events in order to maintain their power by keeping their peoples deliberately confused and off-balance.

Tserkov, and the Politics of Spectacle and Subversion

This tactic was invented in Russia by Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Tserkov, who has spent 15 years aiding Russia’s elected tsar. Tserkov was an avant-garde artist, and important elements from Conceptual art into Russian politics. The Soviet Regime has staged and promoted a series of gatherings and spectacles as part of its campaign to mobilise Russian support. But he has also gone further, giving funding to groups directly opposed to his master and each other, from Neo-Nazi stormtroopers to Human Rights activists. He has also deliberately let everyone know he has done this. This has produced a radical destabilisation of the opposition, as it is no longer clear what is authentic and genuine, and what is carefully staged propaganda. The result is an enervating feeling of defeat.

Tserkov has even found a way to profit from the terrible civil war now raging in Ukraine. Last year he published a short story about how politicians could practise what he called ‘non-linear warfare’. In this, the gaol is not to win the war, but to use it to spread further confusion. The aim is to create a situation in which no-one really knows who the enemy is, or why they are fighting.

Cameron’s Absurd Government and the Politics of Despair

Curtis goes further, and argues that a similar condition is present in this country. Although not deliberate, the confusion created by politicians’ contradictory policies and actions has had the same result. He identifies Cameron as the British counterpart of Tserkov’s shape-shifting, non-linear politician, and gives the following examples of his government’s contradictions and confusion:

* Aging deejays are prosecuted for their historic crimes, but not the bankers, whose actions have created the current global economic mess.

* We are told that President Assad is evil. However, his Islamist enemies are worse, so we end up bombing them, thus helping Assad.

* George Osborne says that the economy is booming, but wages are going down.

* Gidiot says that they are cutting the national debt, but the deficit has actually increased.

*The government is pursuing a policy of austerity, taking money out of the economy. They are, however, putting it back in through ‘quantitative easing’.

Quantitative easing is the massive subsidy and bail-outs the taxpayer is giving the banks. It amounts to £24,000
per family. This has not gone to the poor, but to the richest five per cent. It is the biggest transfer of wealth, and could be a real scandal, but nobody knows anything.

Because there is no effective counter-narrative offered to the above policies, the public similarly feels defeated, disempower. The response is ‘Oh dear’.

But, says Curtis, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Baudrillard

Tserkov’s Co-Option of the Society of the Spectacle

From here, it looks like Tserkov took hold of the Society of the Spectacle, and adopted it as a deliberate policy. The Society of the Spectacle was a theory developed in the 1960s by Baudrillard, the French postmodern philosopher. Baudrillard believed that capitalism survived ideological attack, by taking over its opponents weapons and then re-presenting them as spectacles. The forms had been preserved, but their ideological power had been drained and discarded. Way back in the ’90s, one of the small press magazines devoted to the weird and bizarre gave the Glastonbury Festival as an example. When it started, it was very definitely a fringe, countercultural event. It’s very existence was a challenge to mainstream culture. Now it is very much a part of that same mainstream culture. Instead of seeing the bands for free, you are now charged tens, sometimes hundreds of pounds for a ticket.

The former Soviet Union, like all totalitarian regimes, had a deliberate policy of staging fake demonstrations and events in support of the regime. There’s an old story from a very public school teacher, who organised a trip for her girls to the former USSR. One of the planned outings for the day was disrupted by a noisy Soviet peace demonstration. The headmistress duly complained to the authorities, who reassured her, ‘Do not worry, ma’am. This spontaneous display of the people’s anger will end at 2.00 pm precisely’.

Subverting Situationism

Where Tserkov differs is that he has gone beyond this, using the ideas of Situationism and turning them back on themselves. The Situationists were hippy anarchists, who organised a series of spectacles to subvert mainstream, ‘straight’ society. Malcolm McLaren, the founder of the Sex Pistols, claimed to have been a Situationist, but this was just a bit of self-aggrandising hype on his part. The tactic hasn’t gone away with punk and the hippies. It’s still used by contemporary anarchists to use comedy, humour and spectacle to satirise and subvert capitalism and its organs of oppression and control. Tserkov has learned from this, and turned it against the opposition, using the very methods of liberation from capitalism and the state as weapons for their preservation and extension.

Non-Linear War, Vietnam, ‘ Nomad’ and ‘Deathlok the Demolisher’

As for Tserkov’s theories of non-linear war, you can trace these back to the feelings of disempowerment and confusion in 1970s in America created by Vietnam and Watergate. The Vietnam War presented ordinary, patriotic and freedom-loving Americans with terrible reports of their country’s atrocities against another people, all in the name of freedom. Despite the unequal status between the two countries, the war dragged on for decades, and the American public saw the friends and relatives killed, and many of those that returned home stricken with terrible physical and psychological injuries. This result was a feeling of anomie and despair. The nation’s self-confidence took a further blow with Watergate, when even the supreme leadership were shown to be corrupt.

Captain America Forswears his Country

That feeling of alienation and national disenchantment found expression in the comic strips of the day. American comics began to explore political issues, including racism, feminism and the abuse of the media to aid in crime and foment hate. It was perhaps expressed most forcefully by the actions of that most patriotic superhero, Captain America. The Captain is a symbol of everything good and noble in American society. In the strip, he had been created as a super-soldier to fight the forces of evil in the shape of the Third Reich, a storyline followed in the recent film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Faced with his country’s corruption, the Captain changed his name and costume to become ‘Nomad’, a superhero without a country.

Deathlok

Deathlok: Robocop against an Anonymous Enemy

Post-Vietnam disillusionment and confusion found further expression in another Marvel strip, Deathlok the Demolisher. Deathlok was a cyborg created from the mechanical reanimation of an American army officer. The strip was set in a future America devastated by a terrible war, in which whole cities have been abandoned. To fight the war, the government has taken to creating cyborg soldiers, vicious killing machines like Deathlok, which are engineered to enjoy killing and maiming. A battle with a rival cyborg destroys the mechanisms controlling Deathlok, allowing the human side to reassert itself, and the man inside to go on a quest to recover his humanity. In flavour, the strip very much resembled Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, with its cyborg hero, robotic killing machines and a city devastated by crime and political neglect. Unlike Robocop, which came out later, the strip made it deliberately unclear what the point of the War was, or even who soldiers like Deathlok had been created to fight. The suggestion was that it had all somehow been staged by the government, to divide, terrorise and rule.

There are no cyborgs slugging it out on the streets of Moscow or Kiev, but the depiction of ‘non-linear war’ looks exactly like the shattered America in Deathlok.

Tory Lies Drawing

Shifty Cameron, Austerity and the Enrichment of the already Wealthy

As for Cameron, he is indeed a protean, shape-shifting politicians, adopting guises only to abandon them when he got into power. Remember when he said that ‘this would be the greenest government ever?’ It didn’t take long for that to go once he got his foot through the front door of No. 10, along with his promises about the health service and the abandonment of the market economy so proclaimed by his mentor, Philip Blond, in his book, Red Tory.

The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich is not confusing by any means. It’s been a feature of American politics for decades, where the government has pursued a policy of austerity for the poor, and subsidies and tax breaks for the rich. It’s only confusing because the extremes of poverty and wealth created by the banking crisis has thrown into very acute relief.

Assad, Islamism and the Paradoxes of the Modern Middle East

As for Assad, this is the product of Western politicians genuinely not understanding the politics of the Middle East. They pursued idealistic goals that ran in direct contradiction to the perceived good of the nations to which they were applied. Assad and his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dictators, who held power through terror and brutality. Western governments see themselves as defenders of democracy and freedom, and so felt bound to support the popular revolts that broke out in the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’. Yet however undemocratic these regimes were, they were also secular, Westernising regimes that ostensibly promoted liberal policies of religious tolerance and personal freedom and relative gender equality to an extent which the Islamic and Islamist regimes that sought to replace them did not. The result has been the volte-face from seeking to oust Assad, to trying to combat his enemies in order to preserve his secular, Ba’ath regime.

Time to Reject Failed Neo-Liberalism

All of this has had a disempowering effect, because the parties have moved so close together, that there is little apparent difference between them. They are still attempting to apply discredited economic and foreign policies, while hiding their failures.

It’s long past the time when this situation changed, and politicians began thinking out of the Neo-Liberal box.

Chunky Mark The Artist Taxi Driver Interviews Frankie Boyle

June 13, 2014

Earlier this week, I wrote about the late, great Bill Hick’s brand of highly political comedy, and how he used it as a weapon to attack everything he considered to be oppressive, stupid and malign in politics and popular culture. Hick’s comedic description of the Reaganite senator Jesse Helms as murderous child-killer now strikes me as a pretty good description of our own Iain Duncan Smith. Smith’s reforms are leading to mass starvation and despair, with an estimated death rate of about 220 per week, or three every four hours. I cannot, however, see RTU finally having his conscience catch up with him, so that he ends it all by cutting his wrists in a bathtub under a pecan tree, while investigators find the bloody skins of all the children he’s murdered up in his attic. He’s also very self-aggrandising and self-promoting, so I doubt very much he’d ever write a suicide note saying ‘I been a bad boy’ either.

I did, however, find this interview on Youtube between Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver, and Frankie Boyle. Boyle is, of course, the comedian, whose remarks were so offensive he left the satirical panel show, Mock The Week, for his own late night show, Tramadol Nights, on Channel 4. Left-wing, outspoken, and with a seeming indifference or actual hostility to polite sensibilities and what is considered to be acceptable public discourse, Boyle shows himself in the interview to be intelligent, articulate and very well-informed, as well as political active for highly contentious and controversial issues. In the interview he discusses how he went on a hunger strike in support of Shakir Ahmed, a British internee in Guantanamo Bay, whom Boyle considers to have been wrongfully imprisoned. The conversation also touches on a number of esoteric, mystical subjects, like Vedantic (ancient Hindu) pantheism, Gnostic Christianity, Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, semiotics and conspiracy theories, the MKULTRA mind control programme, and the Bilderberg group. Fans of a certain Galaxy’s Greatest Comic will also note the way he compares the situation in Gitmo, where people have been interned without trial on a tropical island, with a 2000 AD strip. Zarjaz!

Boyle Careful in Speech about Non-Western Societies, also Concerned about Women’s Role Models

For someone, who became notorious for his offensive humour, it’s interesting to note how careful and well-thought out Boyle actually is about what he says. For example, at one point he talks about ‘primal’ societies. This is the approved, ‘pc’ term for tribal cultures. Note he does not say ‘primitive’. One of the reasons the term ‘primal’ was adopted in preference to ‘primitive’ was to make the point that these peoples are not primitive, but have their own, often very sophisticated culture.

He is also very definitely not a misogynist. He describes Pippa Middleton and other, upper-class women like her, as essentially Stepford Wives, promoting notions of female passivity. He defends making jokes about ‘rape’ but arguing that it is absurd to make it off-limits for humour, and points out that it depends on the type of joke being made. He wanted to make jokes that stigmatise the perpetrator, not the victim, and contrasted proper jokes of this sort with the type of treatment that is considered acceptable. He specifically mentions here two-part drama series on ITV, which he describes as the lowest kind, and pop songs about ‘rape’ that rhyme it with ‘cape’. As for the abuse doled out to women on Twitter, he agrees that this is part of an extremely twisted, misogynist culture. He sees it very much as part of a general ‘rape culture’.

Growth of Culture Where Attacks on Disabled and Poor Permissible

It’s clear that Boyle believes that there should be no limits to comedy, nor what should be able to be discussed, joked about, lampooned and satirised, in order to attack the oppressive and vicious. He and Chunky Mark, discussing the government’s welfare reforms, are shocked that Grant Shapps can actually declare – without shame!- that he’s proud of putting 5,000 cancer victims on workfare. Boyle states that he believes the government can get away with this because there is a silence about discussing disability in our culture, and so they can get away with attacking and bullying the disabled.

He is, however, extremely sceptical about the way humour is being used in the West to attack and criticise authority. He believes that it is now acceptable to make jokes attacking austerity, because there is now no difference between parties so that it doesn’t matter if these jokes are made. He argues that it was New Labour that began the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich under PFI, and that this had been going on for fifteen years with no pretence that anything different was happening. Thus, Cameron can state that he is not worried about getting votes because of his policies, because he knows that a few days after he announces a policy, Ed Miliband will appear on TV agreeing with him.

British Satire and Romanian Comedy for State Propaganda

He also describes how shocked he was when a Romanian guide with whom he was working pointed out the similarity between a Romanian comedy programme and Britain’s own Have I Got News For You. The Romanian show featured a comedian, who started making jokes about the country’s minister of defence. The politico in question was actually in the audience at the time, covered in medals. And the comedian then went over to him for a bit of friendly badinage. Boyle says it was blatant propaganda, and when he remarked on it, his Romanian guide said, ‘But you have it in your country!’ When Boyle disagreed, the Romanian continued, ‘Yes, you do. It’s Have I Got News For You’. And Boyle states that when you see Boris Johnson on the programme, pretending to be a lovable oaf, and receives cheers and applause when it’s announced he’s going to be on there next week, that’s exactly right. ‘Satire should not be doing that’, he comments.

Scandals, Official Racism and Miscarriages of Justice Now Acceptable in British Political Culture

Boyle and the Taxi Driver also make the point about how British society has declined to the point where things, which would have provoked riots a few years ago, like the privatisation of the NHS and the racist vans, are suddenly possible. They criticise the public’s passivity in the face of the Health Service’s sell-off by the Tories, and discuss not just the racist vans encouraging immigrants to go home, but also the racial stereotyping of the Border Control Agency. They apparently stood at several stations in London, making note only of ‘people of colour’. He and Mark also discuss manifest injustice in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian student shot by mistake as a terrorist by the police. Despite the fact that many of the police officers committed perjury at the trial, they were not punished. Similarly wicked is the fact that it has taken over 20 years to break the silence surrounding Hillsborough and the authorities’ lies about that tragedy.

Media Bias Keeping Voters Ignorant

Boyle also discusses at length the problem of media bias. He defends the BBC, stating that there are some very good people in it, who do an excellent job by their standards, but its mixed in with their received class prejudices. He notes the way the Right-wing media have demonised nurses, teachers and firefighters. He also states that with the rape joke, he had 2,000 people laughing. The outrage there wasn’t public, it was that the TV companies were afraid of the outrage created by the media barons.

He also talks about the way the media shapes opinion by not reporting events and opinions. Mike’s covered this topic in his comment to his reblog of Inforrm’s review of The Knowledge Gap. In this case, it’s the way the media has omitted some of the real fears of the Iranian people. Chunky Mark states that he had an Iranian student, who told him how that country’s people were genuinely afraid of an American and British invasion. This is all too likely. Bush was banging on about the possibility of invading Iran when he was in office, and there were certainly protest meetings organised against it up and down Britain. Boyle points out that the Iranian government suggested that there should be a central bank of nuclear material, and that countries should be able to use it, after first getting permission from the controlling international authorities. This was turned down by America and Israel because they were for non-proliferation, which meant stopping other countries acquiring nuclear power.

Boyle is concerned about the way so little information now reaches the general public, because of the way the media is selectively managed. He states that a little while ago, the media used to talk about ‘low information voters’ when organising election coverage. These were people in the rural parts of America, who didn’t read newspapers or have the depth of knowledge to make an informed choice while voting. The term has now fallen into disuse, as so few people now have that depth of knowledge about politics that the media considers everyone to be a ‘low information voter’.

This selective reporting also extends to western environmentalists. Boyle points out that whereas a few years ago, the Green movement produced characters like Swampy, this is now absent from contemporary reporting. He feels it’s because the news corporations have learnt that if they concentrate on characters and personalities, like the above marshy gentleman, then the public will become sympathetic towards them. This is something the corporations wrecking our planet do not want.

British and American Exceptionalism and Imperialist Brutality and Exploitation

Boyle and the Taxi Driver also discuss and express their outrage at the way Britain, the US and their allies have slaughtered and exploited the developing world. For Chunky Mark, the banks, oil industry and arms industries are the motors of the economy, and so peace is definitely not something that their leaders want. Boyle here points out that Palestine is the test-bed for new military technology, which the Israelis then sell elsewhere. The full-body scanners now used at airports are an example. They also discuss the mining companies, and the murder, atrocities and misery inflicted on the developing world. Britain built its wealth through the exploitation of other nations when it was an imperial power. This has since changed, so that Britain is no longer an imperial power in its own right, but a client state of America. They also describe and criticise the exceptionalism that permits Britain and America to behave like this. Britain and America are terrorist states, but refuse to recognise this, as terrorism is only something that is done by their enemies. Boyle makes the point that when another country behaves like Britain or the US, it provokes an invasion. When we do it, it simply causes another meeting about the definition of ‘terrorism’. Boyle does not, however, blame the troops. He points out that there are some very good people in the British army. The atrocities and massacres come from the people who lead them.

Obama Greater Global Tyrant than Bush

Somewhat unusually, Boyle considers Barak Obama to be actually worse than Bush. Bush was constantly concerned to justify himself and win over the American public. Hence, he merely imprisoned people without trial in Gitmo. Obama is more credible than Bush, and so much more dangerous. He doesn’t stop at merely vanishing them into America’s gulag, but assassinating people without trial through drone strikes.

Criticism of SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems; Scotland Should be Independent, Best Party Green

Boyle is also outspoken in his views about Britain’s domestic politicians, and the institutions that support them. He describes London as a gigantic tax haven, which sucks in illegal money from around the world, citing the book Treasure Islands on the role of these places in the global economy. He and Mark both attack Tony Blair for his morally corrupt business interests around the world. He is dismissive of Ed Milliband, and notes with sardonic humour the absurdity of the Lib Dems, who have now started talking about what they would be able to do, if they weren’t in power. Boyle is unusual in that he supports Scots independence, but not the SNP. He states that it’s absurd that Scotland should be ruled by a completely different centre of power 500 hundred miles away, whose culture and interests are so markedly different. He believes that the SNP and Alex Salmond, in their heart of hearts, don’t actually want independence, just ‘autonomy max’, but within the framework of the British state. That’s why he believes the ‘Yes’ campaign is so lacklustre. He suggests that what should happen is that the Scots should vote ‘Yes’, then stop voting for the SNP altogether, and go and vote for someone, who would create the socialist republic the country needs. Like the Greens, who have a genuinely alternative agenda. It’s a point that has been made by the Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice. And, of course, he is highly critical of the monarchy and its role in preserving Britain’s class structure. He’s also suspicious of Snowden’s revelations of mass NSA snooping. Not because they aren’t true, but merely because they’re being released now. So do the authorities want us to believe we’re being monitored in order to keep us in line. This might be a bit too paranoid. But even so, as someone once said, ‘Even paranoiacs have enemies. They just don’t know who they are’. Another conspiracy watcher also one observed that whatever you think they’re doing to you, the reality is far worse than you image.

Boyle’s views are controversial, and I know there are those, who take exception to his criticisms of the Labour party. Kittysjones in her blog has made the point that Labour aren’t as Right-wing as has been claimed. The interview was clearly filmed some time ago before Milliband began making some of the more radical promises that will undo much of the Tory programme. Nevertheless, it’s stimulating and worth listening to for the depth of knowledge and a different perspective Boyle brings to these issues. Like Hicks, Boyle is a comedian with a point. Not just a joke-blower being pointlessly offensive.

Radical Balladry: John Clare, the Enclosures and the Destruction of the Environment

May 18, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Jess also posted up this poem by John Clare, the 19th century poet and agricultural worker, in her comment to one of my pieces on radical working class music and poetry, as another piece that continues to speak to modern needs and issues today from over a hundred years ago. In this instance it’s the threat to the environment from intensive commercial agriculture.

The Mores

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave
And memory’s pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors, loosing from the sight, far, smooth, and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay
As poet’s visions of life’s early day
Mulberry-bushes where the boy would run
To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done
And hedgrow-briars – flower-lovers overjoyed
Came and got flower-pots – these are all destroyed
And sky-bound mores in mangled garbs are left
Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft
Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please
With men and flocks imprisoned ill at ease
Each little path that led its pleasant way
As sweet as morning leading night astray
Where little flowers bloomed round a varied host
That travel felt delighted to be lost
Nor grudged the steps that he had ta-en as vain
When right roads traced his journeys and again –
Nay, on a broken tree he’d sit awhile
To see the mores and fields and meadows smile
Sometimes with cowslaps smothered – then all white
With daiseys – then the summer’s splendid sight
Of cornfields crimson o’er the headache bloomd
Like splendid armys for the battle plumed
He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye
As fallen landscapes from an evening sky
These paths are stopt – the rude philistine’s thrall
Is laid upon them and destroyed them all
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine
But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go
Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade goodbye
And much they feel it in the smothered sigh
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came
And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes
Have found too truly that they were but dreams.
John Clare
http://ecohist.history.ox.ac.uk//readings/clare-poems.pdf

Firth and Arnove include it in the section, ‘Land and Liberty’, in their The People Speak, as an example of popular protest against the Enclosures, which saw thousands of tenant farmers and agricultural workers forced off their land as they were enclosed and developed by the landlords.

Historians now take the view that before the rise of the Romantic movement, and particularly before Shell published their motoring guides to the British countryside in the 1920s and 1930s, people had a much more utilitarian attitude to the environment. Rather than seeing it simply or primarily as a place of beauty, it was seen instead as a working environment, valued by the people who lived there for the resources they could exploit.
This changed when Shell published their motoring guides, which opened the countryside up to city dwellers, who were now able to travel by car into the countryside to enjoy its beauty and quaint, historic buildings.

I’m not entirely convinced by this. While people I know who’ve come from a farming background have said that the farming and agricultural community does have a much less romantic attitude to the countryside, and does indeed see it in terms of what can be used, people down the centuries have always celebrated it’s beauty. You can see it as a far back as one of the Viking romances. There is a tale where a Viking warrior decides to leave his home due to harassment from other, hostile warriors. Travelling on the road away from his farmstead, he takes one last look at it. He is struck by the beauty of the sun shining on his farm in the valley, and so changes his mind. He turns back, determined to fight for his land and his home.

And of course there are all the songs and poems written during the Middle Ages about the beauty of the countryside in spring time.

As for modern attempts to preserve the environment, these date to the late nineteenth century, when Ruskin and others up and down the country started a movement to preserve the local countryside from development so that local people could continue to enjoy it, over two decades before the Shell Guides appeared. The enjoyment of the countryside, not just as a place of work, but also as a place of leisure and beauty, goes back a long way.