Posts Tagged ‘Falklands War’

BBC Replaces Footage of Boris at Cenotaph with Ceremony from 2016 to Avoid Embarrassing Him?

November 11, 2019

Here’s another reason not to trust the BBC’s news coverage. Boris Johnson’s performance at the Cenotaph yesterday, when he formally laid the wreath to commemorate all those, who lost their lives fighting for this country, was shambolic. Our clown Prime Minister was caught looking around during the Two Minutes’ silence. He then walked out to the monument two earlier, and laid the wreath upside down. This was picked up by Royal Central and the Mail Online yesterday, which both commented on it, according to Zelo Street. But you could be fooled into believing that it didn’t happen by the media coverage. There’s no mention of it on the front pages of the papers. Instead, the rags concentrate on trying to claim that our economy is thriving under BoJob’s wise leadership and there is absolutely no mention of it in the Scum, which is just wall to wall Tory propaganda. Zelo Street comments

The Bozo Cenotaph shambles encapsulates the sheer venality of our free and fearless press. It is airbrushing of reality that would have made the editors of Pravda and Isvestiya blush. And it demonstrates the challenge for Labour in the upcoming General Election.

We have a press desperate to put an inept, philandering, mendacious, bigoted, uncaring clown into Downing Street. Because he’s one of theirs. I’ll just leave that one there.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/press-cenotaph-hypocrisy.html

The comparison with the Soviet manipulation of the news is also appropriate when it comes to our state broadcaster. Mike posted up a piece earlier today about how the Beeb had decided to replace the real footage of BoJob laying the wreath with a clip from 2016. This was discovered very quickly by the good folks on Twitter, who were rightly massively unimpressed and wanted to know why the Beeb had done it. The Corporation tried to wriggle out of it by saying that it was a production error, for which they apologised. This, as our parents used to say, is a likely story. The peeps commenting on the switch weren’t convinced, and neither am I. Simon Maginn, who has put in an official complaint about the Jewish Chronicle’s latest smear of Corbyn being in breach of electoral law, spoke for very many when he said

You’re liars and we know you are. You lie about things big and small, but always to Tories’ advantage.
We don’t believe a word you broadcast, because we have no reason to.
You’re corrupt, rotten and dishonest, and everyone knows that now.
Labour will reform you.
Bring it on.

Others, who didn’t believe it either included the author and scriptwriter Stephen Gallagher, and the ex-Beeb/Sky/Reuters/ PA journo Julian Shea. Evolve Politics stated that it was very unlikely that it could have been a genuine mistake, as the Beeb would have had to look through their archives to find footage from that far back. They also pointed out that the 2016 footage had obviously been substituted, because it included appearances from politicos, who have since left government. Like the former Prime Minister, Tweezer.

One viewer, Gayle Letherby, sent a written complaint to the Beeb. This ran

“I cannot accept that this was a ‘production mistake’ not least because it is clear in the 2016 footage that Theresa May and not Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister. Additionally, it surely takes some ‘skill’ to mix up footage from yesterday with footage from three years ago. I, and I know many others, can only conclude that your intention was to present the PM as more statesmanlike, more respectful, than yesterday’s performance showed him to be.

“Bias.”

Mike comments that he hopes everyone sending complaints to the Beeb like this will also post them to Ofcom, which is still investigating whether the Beeb breached its own rules on impartial coverage. He also watched Politics Live to see if they would cover this story and issue an apology. They didn’t, so he sent them this tweet to the editor, Rob Burl.

@RobBurl I was looking for the apology for BBC Remembrance Day coverage showing images from 2016 rather than yesterday, which someone clearly had to go and find, to use it instead of the shots of @BorisJohnson showing contempt for our veterans. Where is it please?

So far, he has received no reply, and thus concludes

The BBC has outed itself as a propaganda arm of the Conservative Party. Its election coverage – and other news output – should therefore be avoided on the basis of prejudice, and should be reported to Ofcom.

BBC digs out Remembrance Day clip from 2016 to avoid showing up Boris Johnson. What happened to impartiality?

Both Mike and Zelo Street compare this with the outrage the media tried to work up against Corbyn’s appearance at the Cenotaph, when they falsely accused him of wearing a blue coat to the ceremony.

But what makes this very obvious media bias to BoJob and the Tories is the complete lack of care he and they have for the real veterans. The Mirror covered the story of the death of  an 82-year old veteran, who had been evicted from his squat in Manchester along with 12 other ex-squaddies. Mike reports that they were just 13 out of the 13,000 former servicemen and women, who are now living on the streets. Mike points out that almost all of them suffer from PTSD, which often leads to drug and alcohol addiction. They receive no help from the government, which means that the Armed Forces Covenant – that those who serve or have served in the armed forces are treated fairly, which became law in 2011, is a sick joke. He quotes Chris Barwood, of the Salford Armed Forces Veterans Network, who said

 “We are turning our backs on our troops who have taken the Queen’s shilling, sworn the oath of allegiance and offered up their lives to keep us safe and yet in return we do nothing to ensure that they have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies for their remaining years.”

The only help these courageous people receive comes from charities.

Mike concludes

The crowning irony is that most members of the Armed Forces are ardent Conservatives.

I hope they reconsider that position.

Why should they vote for a party that throws them into pointless conflicts, then throws them onto the streets when they get PTSD, and whose leader shows nothing but contempt for those of their comrades who have died defending their country?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/10/boris-johnsons-contempt-for-the-forces-goes-much-further-than-laying-a-wreath-wrongly/

This problem comes round regularly, whenever the Tories get into government. I remember how, nearly 30 years ago, there were reports of homelessness, unemployment and poverty amongst ex-service personnel during John Major’s government following the first Gulf War. The army was being cut, and so thousands of squaddies were turned out onto the streets with no preparation or support for civilian life. Just as Maggie inflicted drastic cuts on the armed forces after the Falklands War. Spitting Image/Private Eye made a very bitter comment on the cynical use of British servicemen and women in their book Thatcha! The Real Maggie Memoirs, which spoofed the former Prime Minister’s own when they were published. This featured a parody of a boy’s war comic, whose hero is a Falklands veteran. Proud of serving his country until he’s shown the door, the strip ends with him gunning down a bus queue in rage and despair. This was also, obviously, a comment on the mass shootings that were just then appearing across the Atlantic and elsewhere.

I don’t know of any shootings like that, which have been done over here by former servicemen and women. I hope there hasn’t and will never be one.

But the Tories’ treatment of men and women, who have served their country with pride, honour and courage is utterly, utterly disgraceful. And Mike is quite right to ask members of the forces to reconsider their allegiance to a party that treats them so cynically. 

 

Ian Hislop Presents Beeb Programme on Fake News

October 6, 2019

According to this week’s Radio Times, Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop, is going to present a programme tomorrow at 9.00 pm on BBC 4 on fake news. The programme’s titled ‘Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story’. The blurb for it on page 75 of the Radio Times runs

The concept of “fake news” may seem like a recent, politically motivated invention, but Ian Hislop takes a long view and finds that fake news was found to be profitable long before the uncertain times of internet trolls and echo chambers. He recounts the story of the 1835 New York Sun “scoops”, which told its readers there was evidence of flying man-bats on the Moon. He also learns how fake news caused a real war between America and Spain.

An additional article about the programme, written by the Radio Times’ editor, Alison Graham, on page 73, runs

Ian Hislop looks sceptically at Christopher Blair, an unapologetic purveyor of fake news, or rather, made-up nonsense that’s simply designed,  claims Blair, to provoke the American alt-right into a frothing frenzy. It’s all done,m he says, in the name of satire.

Of course, Hislop knows a thing or two about satire, and he is unconvinced, worrying that sending such pap into the universe means even sensible people doubt the truth of real and actual news stories.

In a jolly, occasionally serious history of fake news, which of course didn’t begin with Donald Trump, Hislop goes back to 1835 and an American newspaper’s pile of piffle about telescopes trained on the Moon spotting herds of bison and “flying man-bats”. It was a sensation as crowds thronged the street outside the paper’s offices, demanding more. Thus an important lesson was learnt: fake news sells.

The Origin of the Press in 17th Century Wars of Religion

The 1835 Moon hoax is notorious. It was based on Britain sending a real astronomer to oversee the construction of a telescope and astronomical observations in South Africa. The editor of the New York Sun used this as the occasion to run a spectacular story about this astronomer having discovered, through his telescope, life on the Moon. But fake news also long predates that incident as well. The ultimate origin of the news media lies in the 17th century and the 30 Years’ War in Germany and British Civil War. The first newspapers were written to inform merchants around Europe about evens in Germany, during a conflict which ended with 1/5 of the population dead of starvation. During the British Civil War supporters of both sides wrote news sheets not just to inform people of events, but also as propaganda. And some of it was very definitely fake news. This was a deeply religious age, and the wars were religious conflicts between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Germany, and the monarchy and Anglican church on one side against parliament and the Puritans and other, more radical Protestant groups on the other. Visions, omens and miracles were widely publicised, as it was believed that these showed God’s anger or favour towards the different factions. And some of these look very, very much like fake news. Such as the supposed encounter by a British ship out in the English channel with a merman, bearing a scroll in his hand. This fishy fellow told the astonished sailors that he was heading up the Thames to present the scroll to Crown and parliament in order to get them to desist. Or something like it. Whatever happened, it all seems very dubious to me, and looks very much as though the story ultimately had its origins in a tavern somewhere, written by the kind of hack, who used to write for the Scum and the Sport. Back in 1983 the Scum ran a story in which a medium supposedly contacted the spirits of dead British heroes and heroines to see which politicians they backed. Boadicea, apparently, gave her support to Maggie Thatcher and the warriors of Goose Green. While the Sport told us all how a B52 bomber had supposedly been found on the Moon.

The Sport and the Weekly World News

The Sport always struck me as an attempt to imitate the American Weekly World News and other tabloid newspapers. It was the Weekly World News that gave the world very obviously fake stories about aliens giving their vote to Bill Clinton and interviews with a man, who claimed his mother was the yeti. Quite. This all looked like harmless fun, a bit of sensationalism that despite academic fears, no-one ever really believed. But there are allegations that there was a much more serious, even sinister side to this. According to former tabloid reporter in his book about this side of the press, Grossed-Out Surgeon Vomits Inside Patient, the American intelligence agencies were planting false stories in them as deliberate disinformation.

The British State and Official Fake News

And it isn’t just the tabloid press that published disinformation and black propaganda on behalf of the government. Over here, the IRD – a department of the British secret state – used to plant fake stories in the newspapers as part of a propaganda battle with the Communist bloc. They also concocted fake stories to destabilise the IRA and other Republican groups in Northern Ireland, and to smear the Labour party as having connections with Communism or Irish nationalist terrorism. Indeed the amount of lies put out by the IRA and other terror groups and the British government was so bad, that academics trying to make sense of what was going on in Ulster stated that they had no idea what was going on. And we’ve seen a resurgence of the British government’s black propaganda against Corbyn and the Labour party with the tweets and fake news sent out across social media by the Institute for Statecraft, which has extensive links with British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS.

BBC’s and Private Eye’s Lies about Labour Anti-Semitism

It is also richly hypocritical of the Beeb, and Ian Hislop, to produce a programme on fake news too, because of the role they have both played in promoting fake news against the Labour party. The BBC news team are incapable of opening their mouths about the Labour party without lying. This has become so bad and egregious that there is now a group appealing for funding to produce their own film refuting the lies about anti-Semitism in the Labour party put out in a recent, much criticised edition of Panorama. see, for example, Mike’s article at https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/03/leading-labour-figure-joins-documentary-to-counter-biased-bbc-panorama/

And Private Eye have been exactly the same in this regard. There is much excellent material in it, but it has shown itself as frantic as the rest of the lamestream press in denouncing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites, simply because they are critical of Israel, or have pointed out that those who are, are historically correct. As Mike did when he wrote a piece stating that Ken Livingstone was right about Hitler initially supporting Zionism. That was the piece that got Mike attacked as an anti-Semite, and libeled as such in a series of articles in the press. These also claimed that he was a Holocaust denier. They were all flat-out lies, and the newspapers retracted them after Mike complained to IPSO. Nevertheless, Private Eye and the rest of the press are still pushing their lies about Corbyn and the Labour party, just as Mike, and others like him, like Jackie Walker, are still receiving foul abuse from ignorant fanatics.

And the Beeb’s history of right-wing lies doesn’t stop there. There’s also the infamous case where they put the footage of the police attack on the Miners during the Miners’ Strike the wrong was round. It was reversed, so it appeared to show the miners attacking the police. And I’ve no doubt there are many, many other incidents like this.

BBC Trying to Regain Loss Credibility with this Programme?

It’ll be interesting to see if the programme has anything to say about these incidents. But I’m not holding my breath. This looks very much like the Beeb tackling this subject partly as a way of trying to burnish its own squalid image. The BBC and the rest of the lamestream media are rapidly losing credibility in a digital age, when you can go on the Net and find out what’s really been said and done. Along with real fake news, it has to be said. This is frightening them, as the younger generation are turning away from the Beeb’s news output altogether. The Beeb is also frightened by the fact that they are increasingly unable to shape consensus opinion, and express this in statements that claim that as a society we are in danger of becoming more fragmented as people stick to the media niches they like, which may be very different from everyone else’s. Cut through this verbiage about fears about a more ideological fragmented society, and the real fear is that of the Beeb’s management and news hierarchy that they are no longer as credible or as influential as they were, and thus are increasingly irrelevant. As shown by the fact that BoJob has tried to make the internet work for him by circumventing the Beeb and holding some kind of ‘people’s Prime Minister’s Questions’ on the Net.

The Beeb has rightly become notorious for its fake news against the left, and this programme looks like an attempt by the Corporation to try to reclaim some of its loss credibility. By presenting a programme on fake news, it tries to show that it doesn’t do anything of the sort itself. And you can trust it, because the editor of Private Eye, which did prick the establishment, is presenting it. But Private Eye was set up by people, who were very much part of the establishment. John Wells was the headmaster at Eton, for example. And Ian Hislop is very much part of the same, privately educated, Oxbridge set.

It will therefore be very interesting to see if the programme has anything to say about the Corporation’s role in peddling fake news. But I very much doubt it will.

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

April 21, 2019

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

John Quiggin on the Failure of Thatcher’s New Classical Economics

January 9, 2019

Very many Libertarians describe themselves as ‘classical liberals’, meaning they support the theories of the classical economists of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This rejects state intervention and the welfare state in favour of free markets and privatization. This theory was the basis of Thatcher’s economic policy before the Falklands War, as well as those of other countries like Australia and New Zealand. In all of these countries where it was adopted it was a massive failure, like trickle-down economics and austerity.

Quiggin describes how Thatcher’s New Classical Economic policy was a failure, but she was saved from electoral defeat, partly by the Falkland War on page 113. He writes

The only requirement for the New Classical prescription to work was the credibility of the government’s commitment. Thatcher had credible commitment in bucketloads: indeed, even more than an ideological commitment to free-market ideas, credible commitment was the defining feature of her approach to politics. Aphorisms like “the lady’s not for turning” and “there is no alternative” (which produced the acronymic nickname TINA) were characteristics of Thatcher’s “conviction” politics. The slogan “No U-turns” could be regarded as independent of the particular direction in which she was driving. In a real sense, Thatcher’s ultimate political commitment was to commitment itself.

So, if New Classical economics was ever going to work it should have done so in Thatcher’s Britain. In fact, however, unemployment rose sharply, reaching 3 million and remained high for years, just as both Keynesians and monetarists expected. New Classical economics, having failed its first big policy test, dropped out of sight, reviving only in opposition to the stimulus proposals of the Obama administration.

However, Thatcher did not pay a political price for this policy failure, either at the time of (the Falklands war diverted attention from the economy) or, so far in retrospective assessments. The only alternative to the “short sharp Shock” was a long, grinding process of reducing inflation rates slowly through years of restrictive fiscal and monetary policy. While it can be argued that the resulting social and economic costs would have been significantly lower, political perceptions were very different. The mass unemployment of Thatcher’s early years was either blamed directly on her predecessors or seen as the necessary price of reversing chronic decline.

New Classical Economics was a colossal failure. In fact Thatcherism, whether implemented by the Tories or New Labour, has been a failure, though New Labour was better at managing the economy than the Tories. The only reason it has not been abandoned is because of the charisma surrounding Thatcher herself and the fact that it gives even more wealth and power to the upper classes and the business elite while keeping working people poor and unable to resist the exploitative demands of their employers. And its given a spurious credibility to ordinary people through its promotion by the media.

Two Books By Tony Benn

January 4, 2019

I hope everyone’s had a great Christmas and their New Year is off to a good start. May the shadow of Theresa May and her wretched Brexit be very far from you!

Yesterday I got through the post two secondhand books I’d ordered from Amazon by that redoubtable warrior for socialism and working people, Tony Benn. These were Arguments for Socialism, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1979) and Fighting Back: Speaking Out For Socialism in the Eighties (London: Hutchinson 1988).

The two books differ slightly in that one is written from Benn’s perspective at the end of the ’70s, while the other was written nine years later at the end of the 1980s. In both Benn tackles the problems of the day, and lays out his radical, democratic socialist plans to revitalise the British economy and industry, strengthen and broaden democracy, and empower working people.

The blurb of Arguments for Socialism simply runs

Tony Benn, the most controversial figure in British politics, outlines a strong democratic-socialist approach to the most crucial issues in our political life over the next decade.

It has an introduction, and the following chapters, subdivided into smaller sections on particularly topics. These are

Section 1., ‘The Inheritance’, is composed of the following
The Inheritance of the Labour Movement
Christianity and Socialism
The Bridge between Christianity and Socialism
The Levellers and the English Democratic Tradition
Marxism and the Labour Party
Clause IV
The Labour Movement.

Section 2. ‘Issues of the 1970s’
Labour’s Industrial Programme
The Case for Change
Opening the Books
Planning Agreements and the NEB
Public Ownership
Industrial Democracy
The Upper Clyde Work-In
The Worker’s Co-ops
The Lessons of the Workers’ Co-ops
Democracy in the Public Sector

3. ‘Energy’
North Sea Oil
The Debate over Nuclear Energy
Windscale
The Fast Breeder
A Future for Coal
Alternative Sources of Energy
Conclusion

4 ‘The EEC’
Loss of Political Self-Determination
Loss of Control over the United Kingdom’s Industry and Trade
Unemployment and the EEC
After the Referendum

5. ‘Democracy’
Technology and Democracy
The Case for Open Government
How Secrecy Is Maintained at Present
Leaks and How They Occur
Conclusion

6. ‘Issues for the 1980s’
The Arguments
The Argument in Outline
The Present Crisis of Unemployment
Adam Smith and the Birth Capitalism
Lessons from the Pre-War Slump
Three Remedies on Offer
1. Monetarism
2. Corporatism
3. Democratic Socialism

7. ‘Jobs’
The Pension Funds
New Technology
Growth
The Trade Union Role in Planning
Workers’ Co-ops
A New Relationship between Labour and Capital

8. ‘The Common Market’
Three Criticisms of the EEC

9. Democracy
Open Government
The Unions
The Armed Forces
The Media
A New Role for Political Leaders.

Fighting Back’s blurb runs

With crisis after crisis rocking the country throughout the Eighties, the formation of new parties, divisions with in the old, mergers, reconciliations – British political life is at a watershed.

Tony Benn, in speeches on picket lines, at Conferences at home and abroad, in broadcasts, in the House of Commons, has been a consistently radical campaigning voice: for equal rights, for democracy and for peace against the increasingly brutal politics of monetarism, militarism and self-interest.

Fighting Back brings together for the first time in one volume the best of Tony Benn’s speeches from 1980 to 1988. Few poeple will have heard more than brief snippets of proceedings in the House of Commons given by television, radio and the press, so the most important debates are included here – the Falklands War, Westland helicopters, Fortress Wapping, Zircon and Spycatcher – as well as some lesser known concerns, from the ordination of women, to the politics of singer Paul Robeson.

Throughout the difficult years in Opposition, Tony Benn has played a leading role in defending and regenerating the socialist tradition. But Fighting Back is more than simply a personal testament: it is also an exciting and accessible handbook to the turbulent Eighties, whatever one’s political convictions.

After the introduction, it has the following chapters and subsections:

1. The Stalemate in British Politics
-Fifty Years of Consensus Rule
-The Party and the Government
-From Defeat to Victory
-Parliamentary Democracy and the Labour Movement

2. Prophetic Voices
-Positive Dissent
-Thomas Paine
-Karl Marx
-Paul Robeson
-R.H. Tawney
In Defence of British Dissidents

3. Fighting Back
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (May 1982)
-The Falklands War (December 1982)
-The Miners’ Strike (June 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (September 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (February 1985)
-Gay Rights
-Fortress Wapping (May 1986)
-Fortress Wapping (January 1987)
-The Irish Struggle for Freedom
-After Eniskillen
-Privatisation of Gas
-Legal Reform

4. British Foreign and Defence Policy
-The Case for Non-Alignment
-Who is Our Enemy?
-A New Agenda for the International Labour and Socialist Movements
-Some Facts about Defence
-Towards a Permanent New Forum
-Paying for Apartheid

5. Work and Health in a Green and Pleasant Land
-The Unemployment Tragedy
-Trade Unionism in the Eighties
-Full Employment: the Priority
-The Common Ownership of Land
-The Case Against Nuclear Power
-Nuclear Accidents
-The Nuclear Lobby
-Evidence Against Sizewell B

6. The Arrogance of Power
-The Case of Sir Anthony Blunt
-The Belgrano-Ponting Debate
-Westland Helicopters
-Surcharge and Disqualification of Councillors
-The Ordination of Women
-The Zircon Affair
-Spycatcher
-Protection of Official Information

7. Disestablishing the Establishment
-Power, Parliament and the People
-The Civil Service
-The Crown, the Church and Democratic Politics
-A Moral Crisis
-The Disestablishment of the Church of England
-Television in a Democracy
-Televising the House

8. Light at the End of the Tunnel
-The Radical Tradition: Past, Present and Future
-Staying True to the Workers
-Aims and Objectives of the Labour Party.

The Books and their Times

Arguments for Socialism comes from a time when this country had nationalised industries, strong trade unions and an efficient and effective planning apparatus. It was also when unemployment and discontent were rising, and the country was facing the threat of Thatcher and her monetarist agenda. The speeches and articles in Fighting Back come from when Thatcher had seized power, was busy privatising everything not nailed down, smashing the unions and trying to silence any dissent. This included attempts to prosecute civil servant Clive Ponting for leaking documents showing that the Argentinian warship, the General Belgrano, was actually leaving the Falklands warzone when it was attacked and sunk. Thatcher also banned the publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher over here, because of the embarrassing things it had to say about MI5. This turned into a massive farce as the book was widely published elsewhere, like New Zealand, meaning that foreign readers had a better understanding of the British secret state than we Brits did. It was such a ridiculous situation that Private Eye’s Willie Rushton sent it up in a book, Spythatcher.

Benn’s Beliefs on Socialism and Democracy

Benn was genuinely radical. He believed that British socialism was in danger not because it had been too radical, but because it had not been radical enough. He wished to extend nationalisation beyond the utilities that had been taken into public ownership by Attlee, and give working people a real voice in their management through the trade unions. He also fully supported the workers of three firms, who had taken over the running of their companies when management wanted to close them down, and run them as co-ops. On matters of the constitution, he wished to expand democracy by bringing in a Freedom of Information Act, strip the Crown of its remaining constitutional powers and have them invested in parliament instead, and disestablish the Church of England. He also wanted to strip the office of Prime Minister of its powers of patronage and give more to MPs. He was also firmly against the EEC and for CND. Socially, he was on the side of grassroots movements outside parliament, fully embraced gay rights and the ordination of women within the Anglican Church.

Not the Maniac He was Portrayed by the Press

He was and still is vilified for these radical views. The press, including Ian Hislop’s mighty organ, Private Eye, presented him as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, at best a mad visionary of hopelessly unrealistic ideals. At worst he was a Communist agent of Moscow ready to destroy this country’s ability to defend itself and hand it over to rule by the Soviets.

He was, it won’t surprise you to learn, anything like that.

He was very well respected by his constituents in my part of Bristol as a very good MP and brilliant orator, and was respected even by his opponents in the city. One of the leaders of Bristol’s chamber of commerce said that he was always rational and his opinions clearly thought out. I’m a monarchist and a member of the Anglican church, and so don’t share his views on the disestablishment of the Church of England. But his arguments there are interesting.

Disestablishment of the Anglican Church

Recent calls for disestablishment have come from atheists and secularists, and Benn does use the secularist argument that privileged position of various Anglican bishops to sit in the House of Lords is unfair to those of other faiths, Roman Catholics, Protestant Nonconformists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. But this argument actually comes at the end of the main body of his pieces. His main points are that the bishops shouldn’t be there, because they’re unelected, and that parliament and the prime minister, who may not be Anglicans or even Christians, have no business appointing the denomination’s clergy or deciding doctrine. It’s an argument primarily from within the Anglican church, not from someone outside, jealous of its position.

The Prime Minister against the Church and Its Members

One example of how the Prime Minister abused their position to override or impose their views against the wishes of the Church itself was when Thatcher got stroppy with the-then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie. After the Falklands War, Runcie had preached a sermon saying that we should now meet the Argentinians in a spirit of reconciliation. This is what a Christian leader should say. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers, and all that. We’ve heard it several times since by great leaders like Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But Thatcher didn’t like it because she wanted something a bit more triumphalist. This section is also interesting because it has an interesting snippet you and I south of the Border have never heard of, except if you’re a member of the Church of Scotland. That august body at its synod overwhelmingly voted in favour of nuclear disarmament. I hadn’t heard anything about that before, and I doubt many other people outside Scotland had. And it obviously wasn’t an accident. The Tory media really didn’t want anyone else in Britain to know about it, in case they thought it might be a good idea.

It wasn’t just the Church of Scotland that were against nuclear weapons. So was a leading Roman Catholic prelate, Monsigner Bruce Kent, now, I believe, no longer a member of the priesthood. One of my aunts was a very Roman Catholic lady, who was also a member of CND. She found herself on one march next to a group of Franciscan friars. So kudos and respect to all the churches for their Christian witness on this issue.

CND, the Unions and Media Bias

On the subject of CND, Benn talks about the blatant bias of the press. All kinds of people were members of the Campaign, but when it was covered on television, what you got were a few shots of clergy like Monsignor Kent, before the camera zoomed in on the banner of the Revolutionary Communist party. CND were part of Russkie commie subversion! Except as I remember, they weren’t. The Russians didn’t like them either after they criticised their maneoevres in eastern Europe.

Benn states that the media’s bias is peculiar – its somewhere to the right of the Guardian, but slightly to the left of Thatcher. This was the attitude of the establishment generally. And it was extremely biased against the trade unions. He cites the work of Glasgow Media Studies unit, who looked at the language they used to describe industrial disputes. The language used of the trade unions always presented them as the aggressor. They ‘demanded’ and ‘threatened’, while management ‘offered’ and ‘pleaded’. He then asked hsi readers to turn the rhetoric around, so that a union asking for a pay rise of 8 per cent when inflation in 10 per cent is ‘pleading’.

The Ordination of Women

His stance on the ordination of women is equally interesting. He was obviously for it, but his arguments as you might expect were very well informed. He pointed out that women had been campaigning to be ordained in the Church since the 1920s, and that other Christian denominations, like the Congregationalists, already had women ministers. As did other Anglican churches abroad, like the Episcopalians in America. It was blocked here by the Anglo-Catholics, who fear it would stop re-union with Rome. But even here, he noted, this may not be an obstacle, citing movements for the ordination of women within Catholicism. Again, it’s an argument from within the Church, or from someone genuinely sympathetic to it, than from an outsider frustrated with the Church’s stubborn refusal to abide by secular social values, although that is also in there.

Government Secrecy

And back on the subject of government secrecy, the Zircon Affair was when Thatcher banned the transmission of an edition of the documentary programme, Secret State. I’ve put up that documentary series a few years ago on this blog, because it showed the extent to which Thatcher and others had been using the Official Secrets Act to suppress information that was embarrassing or uncomfortable. Like the fact that in a nuclear war, this country would suffer massive casualties and the obliteration of its major population centres.

The book actually contains any number of interesting snippets that definitely weren’t reported, or else were only given very tiny coverage, in the mainstream press. Like details of various incidents at nuclear plants that could have led to serious accidents. He also talks about the ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme. In this international project, we sent our nuclear material over to America, where, we were told, it would be used for peaceful purposes generating power in American reactors. Well, it was used in American reactors. They refined it into the plutonium, that was then put in American nuclear warheads and sent back over here to the US nuclear bases on British soil. He also pointed out that the agreements covering the use of Britain as a base by US forces in the event of a nuclear war also contravened our sovereignty.

Ted Heath and the EU

Loss of sovereignty was also a major part of his opposition to the EU. But he also makes the point that our entry into the Common Market was also undemocratic. Ted Heath simply decided the country was going in. Parliament was not consulted and did not vote on the issue. I do remember that there was a referendum afterwards, however.

Intelligence Agencies Smearing Labour MPs

The intelligence agencies are another threat to British democracy. He cites Peter Wright’s Spycatcher memoir on how MI5 was spreading rumours smearing the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as a KGB spy. This, like much of the rest of the material in the books, has not dated. The problem of the security services smearing left-wing politicians is still very much with us, as we’ve seen from the Integrity Initiative. They’ve smeared Jeremy Corbyn as a Russian spy.

Books Still Relevant in 21st Century

I’ve only really skimmed the books so far, just reading the odd chapter, but so much of it is directly relevant now. I think if he were alive today, Benn probably would have voted ‘Leave’, but his arrangements for leaving the EU would have been far more sensible and beneficial to this country’s ordinary folk than that of Tweezer and her band of profiteers. And he is absolutely right when he writes about expanding democracy in industry. He states that the workers’ co-ops on the Clydeside and elsewhere were attacked in the press, because suddenly the British capitalist establishment were terrified because it showed that there was a genuine alternative to capitalism, and that workers could run companies.

The individual sections in these books chapters are short, and the arguments clear. He also gives point by point party programmes on particular issues, such as making this country more democratic.

Benn Democrat, Not Authoritarian Communist

And it’s this concern for democracy that most definitely marks Benn out as being a democratic socialist, not a Trotskyite or Communist. Those parties and their various sects were run according to Lenin’s principle of ‘democratic centralism’. Put simply, this meant that the party would hold some kind of open debate on issues until a decision was made. After that, the issue was closed. Anybody still holding or promoting their own opinions faced official censure or expulsion. And the Communist parties of eastern Europe would have been as frightened of Benn’s championing of democracy as the British establishment.

Conclusion

As I said, I take issue with Benn on certain issues. But his reasoning is always clear and rational, his points well argued and based in fact. Furthermore, he is impressed with the British radical tradition and how much British socialism is squarely based within it. We lost one of our greatest parliamentarians with his death.

His ideas, however, are still very relevant, and have been vindicated with time. He was right about monetarism and corporatism, about unemployment, about the need for unions, about media bias. His support of women priests and gay rights were ahead of their time, and have now become almost a commonplace, accepted by all except a few die-hard reactionaries. And he’s right about nationalisation and worker empowerment.

These are books I intend to use for my blog and its attack on Tweezer and the Tories. And I won’t be short of useful material.

Afshin Rattansi Asks What Boris Johnson Is Doing in South America

May 24, 2018

In this short clip from RT’s ‘Going Underground’, host Afshin Rattani raises the question of what Boris Johnson is doing in Chile, Argentina and Peru, and reminds his viewers of the atrocities committed by Chile’s bloody dictator, General Pinochet. Johnson began a tour of these countries yesterday. Rattansi describes all of these countries as allegedly America’s proxies, but particularly Chile. He tells how Pinochet was warmly supported by Johnson’s heroine, Margaret Thatcher. Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende, in a CIA-backed coup. The dictator was responsible for the murder and disappearance of 40,000 people. There is a sequence, in which Raymond Peredes, the son of the head of the Chilean army under president Allende, describes what happened to his father. He had every bone in his body broken, and was burned with a flame thrower before finally being shot with 20 bullets. His killers, however, did not touch his head, because they wanted him to remain conscious.

Pinochet was arrested by the Labour government after he came to London, following a warrant put out by a Spanish examining magistrate, judge Baltazar Garzon, who charged him with genocide. There is also a clip of Jeremy Corbyn stating that Pinochet does not enjoy diplomatic immunity from the charges, which including hostage-taking, genocide and extraterritorial murder.

But the old brute was defended by Maggie Thatcher, here looking even more aged, decrepit and malignly insane than ever. Thatcher stated that he’d been a good friend and ally of Britain, but now, thanks to his arrest, his health had been broken and the esteem of Britain’s courts around the world damage. So, as you might expect from a Tory premier, who backed Fascists and Fascist death squads throughout Latin America, there’s plenty of sympathy for him and none whatsoever for the tens of thousands he tortured and murdered. After his arrest, he was released by Tony Blair’s government. Rattansi continues that today the country is in the grip of more neoliberal change, which the opposition claims will cause further poverty.

Rattansi goes on to cover Argentina, where he says that Margaret Thatcher arguably helped end one American proxy dictator after she won the Malvinas/Falklands War. However, he states that ‘the bad old days’ could be returning, because the country’s president, Macri, has just taken out a loan with the IMF. Rattansi goes on to report how the president of Peru, Martin Vizcarra, hasn’t been elected yet. He only took power after his predecessor was forced to resign in a corruption scandal. But he was first to welcome US vice-president, when he touched down last week. The clip ends with Pence stating that all Latin America’s problems are due to the president of Venezuela, Maduro.

From this it seems that Boris has gone to these countries, to wee what Britain can pick up once neoliberalism hits these nations once again. In return for loans, the IMF insists that countries approaching it for aid scale down their welfare spending and privatise their state industries, usually by selling them to the Americans. It’s been described as part of the international network of American corporate imperialism. My guess is that Johnson is hoping that we might be able to buy some of the privatised industries in Argentina and also Chile and Peru. And it’s always good to remind people just how nasty Pinochet was, as well as Thatcher’s deep affection for the butcher. This tells you exactly what kind of person Thatcher was, and what kinds of people those who continue to idolise her, like BoJo, are.

As for Blair’s arrest of Pinochet, that was hopelessly bungled. There was a question about it at the time on the Beeb’s News Quiz on Radio 4. Clive Anderson, who is a lawyer as well as comedian and broadcaster, stated that in situations like that, nations are supposed to issue warning notices that particular individuals will not be welcome in their countries and would be subject to arrest before they arrived there. Blair didn’t. Chile did help us during the Falklands War, which is partly why Thatcher defended him. But he was still a brutal dictator, responsible for horrific and indescribable crimes.

The Corporate, Geopolitical Reasons Dragging Us to War in Syria

April 12, 2018

Now May and the other western leaders are clamouring for air strikes against Assad in Syria following a chemical weapons attack in Douma, which has been blamed on the Syrian president. The dangers of such strikes are immense. Russia has said it will shoot down any American missiles launched against its military. There’s a very real danger that this could flare up into a full-scale confrontation with Russia.

Which may be what our leaders want. After all, various NATO generals were predicting that by May last year, we’d be at war with Russia. One even wrote a book about it with that as the title.

I’m not even sure Assad was responsible for the poison gas attack. I don’t doubt he’s capable of it – he is a thug, and ruthless dictator. But I’ve written several times about false flag attacks involving chemical weapons, which have been staged by the Syrian rebels in order to bring America into the war on their side. And let’s not forget who the Syrian rebels are: the al-Nusra Front, which is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and ISIS. They aren’t democrats, or people who have any respect for western notions like ‘human rights’. They’re Islamists, of the type responsible for 9/11 and who have, with western armed forces, turned Iraq into a bloodbath.

And whatever humanitarian reasons are being piously spouted by May, Boris, Trump and the others, the real motives are very definitely coldly economic and geopolitical. The Neocons and Israelis have wanted Assad’s overthrow since the beginning of this century. They put together a list of the countries they wanted to invade, which included Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Iran. The Israelis hate Syria because they see it as a threat to their national security, while the Neocons want to do the same to the country as they did to Iraq – seize its oilfields and loot its state industries for the benefit of American multinationals.

And then there’s the Arabs. There’s a coalition of Arab states, led by Qatar, who want to build a gas pipeline up from the Arabian peninsula, through Syria and into Turkey. But Assad’s an ally of Russia, and this would hurt their oil pipeline coming from the east. And so Assad has blocked it. Hence the Arab states have demanded Assad’s overthrow. They even offered to pay the Americans the expenses of going in.

This is a confrontation purely for corporate profit. It has nothing to do with humanitarianism, especially as the rebels have shown themselves more than capable of butchering civilians themselves.

And it is already becoming a real threat to domestic democracy. Theresa May has declared that she wants to declare war unilaterally, without consulting parliament. Mike and the Tweeters, whose opinions he reblogs, have already discussed this and made the obvious point. Kanjin Tor has made a graphic, reblogged by Mike, stating that if May succeeds, then it will be the end of British democracy. We will then become an authoritarian dictatorship exactly like every other.

And I have no illusion that some in the British military will be highly delighted. Going through the history and politics shelves in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s a year or so ago, I found a book by another British general arguing that we needed to give our prime ministers the authority to launch an immediate military response without being burdened with the need for parliamentary debate and scrutiny. Because, you know, national security, and the need for swift action to protect Britain. And so on.

Which, in these circumstances, starts to sound like the kind of things the Nazis said following the Reichstag Fire and Hitler’s declaration of a state of emergency.

Which also raises the awkward question: if she does unilaterally declare war, does that mean that, like the Nazis, she’s going to round up and have protesters interned, as a threat to ‘national security?’

This is all about corporate profit, and in May’s case, trying to turn her into a great warleader like Thatcher and the Falklands. She’s risking a global nuclear holocaust purely for her own electoral advantage and the profits of the multinationals. She’s also a menace to British democracy.

Stop the war, before May and the corporatists kill us all.

The Salisbury Poisoning: A Pretext for War with Russia?

March 21, 2018

This alarming idea occurred to me yesterday, when I started wondering just how far the Tories are prepared to push their allegations that Russia is responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. So far, there’s precious little evidence that the Russians are responsible. Skripal had many enemies, and the Novichoks nerve agent used was created by the Russians, but the international chemical weapons authorities confirmed that they destroyed their stocks years ago. The poison wasn’t manufactured in Russia, but in Khazakstan, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union the ability to use and produce it spread to any number of other states. Including America and Israel. The government has so far refused to hand over a sample of the toxin over to the UN authority, so they can independently verify whether it is Novichoks, and Porton Down refused to follow the Tory line that the poison was definitely Russian, insisting instead that it was of a type developed by Russia. This last episode is very much like the way Tony Blair and New Labour ‘sexed up’ the MI6 report about Saddam Hussein and his non-existent weapons of mass destruction, so they could have the pretext they needed for the planned invasion of Iraq. Which makes you wonder how far the Tories are prepared to push this.

National security doesn’t seem to come into it. This seems to me to be just part of the new Cold War, started by Killary and the Democrats in America to take attention away from the fact that Clinton and her corporatist friends are horrible candidates that the American public didn’t like, and largely didn’t want in power. Ramping up tensions with Russia is useful to the Tories on this side of the Pond, as so many people have pointed out, because too many people are sick and tired of them, their cuts and their lies. And so it looks like they’re deliberately manipulating the crisis, so they can present themselves as the true, patriotic defenders of Britain, standing up to evil foreign dictators. Just like Maggie during the Falklands War.

And all the while smearing Corbyn as an evil Commie traitor in league with the Czechs and Russians. Cue the BBC and its carefully altered imagery on Newsnight to show Corbyn looking as sinister as possible.

I’m starting to worry how far the Tories are going to be prepared to push this. A couple of years ago there were NATO generals confidently predicting that by May last year, this country would be at war with Russia. Indeed, one of them even published a book about it with that as the very title. The idea was that the Russians would invade one of the Baltic States – I think it was Latvia. Mercifully, that never happened. But I am worried in case the same people on our side of the geopolitical divide nevertheless still think that a genuine, hot war will be a good idea.

Putin is a thug, and I don’t doubt for a single minute that he was behind the Litvinenko poisoning, and probably the murders of the 14 other Russians, who have died over here in suspicious circumstances. But there are very good reasons for remaining sceptical about their responsibility for the attack in Salisbury. And I don’t think ‘national security’ is the prime reason why they are blaming Russia. I read elsewhere that much of the hostility towards Russia comes from American multinationals. These poured hundreds of millions into Russia under Boris Yeltsin, when he was trying to transform it into a western-style democracy, and privatising anything that wasn’t nailed down. The Americans expected that they would be able to dominate the Russian economy. Putin stopped that, and kept Russia firmly out of America’s economic claws. Hence the massive resentment of the Russian president in American business and political circles.

It looks to me very much like the Tories and transatlantic multinationals are trying to force a confrontation with Putin, but not necessarily a war, simply for their own political and economic advantage. National security, and the poisoning and contamination of Salisbury, is just an excuse, a convenient pretext for this. Quite apart from NATO’s determination to prop up an increasingly blatant Nazi government in Ukraine, all the while keeping its true nature hidden from the rest of us. ‘Cause after all, the vast majority of severely normal Brits, Europeans and Americans very definitely would not want to back a bunch of genuine Nazis, goose-stepping around in the very uniforms their predecessors in the SS wore during World War II when they were murdering Jews and anybody else they decided was ‘subhuman’.

There’s a lot of very squalid politics going on here, and I do wonder how far the Tories and their allies are prepared to push this so they can weaken the Russian president.

Counterpunch Demolishes Some Churchillian Myths

December 8, 2017

There’s a very interesting piece by Louis Proyect over at this weekend’s Counterpunch, The Churchillian Myths of 1940, where he takes a well-observed aim at two of the recent films about the Second World War. One is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the other is the forthcoming biopic about Winston Churchill’s battle against the appeasers in the British cabinet in 1940, The Darkest Hour. This hasn’t been released yet, and is set to come out on December 21st (2017). It stars Gary Oldman as Churchill, and is directed by Joe Wright.

Dunkirk’s already attracted much criticism because of its historical inaccuracies. I think it’s been accused of racism, because it ignores the large numbers of the British forces, who were Black and Asian. But Proyect also draws on a critique of the film by Max Hastings of the Telegraph to show how the film presents a very mythical view of Dunkirk. The film has it that the British troops are under constant shooting and bombardment by the Germans, and that they are saved by the flotilla of small vessels that went over there to rescue them. In fact, according to Hastings, the Germans largely left the retreating British alone. As for being saved by the small ships, 2/3 of the troops were rescued by the fleet of big ships that were sent by the navy. There were 37 of these, but six were sunk. Proyect also criticises a scene where the sailors aboard a sinking ship discuss how they are going to get to the surface without being mown down by the Germans. He compares this unfavourably to the Poseidon Adventure, producing the quotes by the critics to show that this is actually a far superior film.

More serious is the way the film deliberately omits atrocities committed on the civilian population by the retreating British. Proyect states that at the time the British squaddies were under immense physical and psychological stress. They responded by shooting anyone that moved, including old women and nuns. This is historical fact. Proyect cites and describes one of these incidents. The trooper had been told to take no prisoners, except for interrogation, and so blazed away accordingly.

As for the Darkest Hour, Proyect draws on an article by Clive Ponting on the Churchill Myth. Older readers of this blog will remember that Ponting was the civil servant Maggie tried to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act because he leaked two documents about the sinking of the Belgrano to the Labour MP Tam Dalyell. Ponting was acquitted, because the jury weren’t about to be told what to do by Maggie.

He points out that in fact the difference of opinion between Churchill and the appeasers, like Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, was actually much smaller than most people realised. At the time, Churchill was in favour of making peace with Germany, and had sent feelers out to see what their terms were. Where he differed from Halifax and Chamberlain was that they were in favour of making an immediate peace, while he wanted to fight on for a few more months.

The film does show Churchill hesitating at one point, and Proyect states that this would have been unthinkable a few years ago, as the official archives were still closed and the only source material available were Churchill’s own self-aggrandising writings. In which he portrayed himself as the resolute warrior.

But this ignores just how pro-Nazi Churchill had been, as well as anti-Semitic. What! Churchill pro-Nazi? The very idea! But he was. In 1937 Churchill wrote of Hitler

Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms,” he said, “have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, “we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age,” Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.

As for Leon Trotsky, Churchill reviled him with all manner abuse, not just because he was a Bolshevik, but also because Trotsky was Jewish. He quotes Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, a revision history attacking the notion of World War II as ‘the good war’, from which he also took the above quote about Hitler from Churchill. Baker writes

Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a “skin of malice,” washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill, “the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.”

And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.” He called his article “Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/08/the-churchillian-myths-of-1940/

I am not surprised by Proyect’s description of Churchill’s highly equivocal attitude to Nazi Germany. Churchill himself was very authoritarian. He had visited Mussolini’s Italy, though he had not been impressed when the Duce compared the Blackshirts to the Black and Tans, and privately remarked that Musso was ‘a swine’. But he did like General Franco. The historian Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism between the Wars, states that Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany did not come from any deep ideological view, but simply because he was bitterly suspicious of Germany and believed that it would block British interests in the North Sea. Pugh points out that he didn’t seem concerned that a bloc of Fascist states in southern Europe could do the same to British interests in the Mediterranean.

It would be interesting to know what Peter Hitchens thinks of all this. Hitchens is deeply Conservative, but he is a fierce critic of the Second World War as ‘the good war’, and has absolutely no love of Churchill. Indeed, in his book taking aim at New Atheism a few years ago, The Rage Against God, he attacked the cult of Churchill as a kind of ersatz religion, put in place of Christianity. It’s a bit of stretch, as it wasn’t quite an exercising in God-building that the Soviets tried. In the former USSR there was a brief movement after the Revolution to create a kind of atheistic religion, centred around great revolutionary heroes, to harness religious sentiments for the cause of Communism. The cult around Churchill isn’t quite like that. But nevertheless, to some Churchill is almost a sacrosanct figure, against whom you must not utter a single word. You can’t, after all, imagine Dan Snow on the One Show, striding around what remains of Churchill’s office and papers, telling the world how ‘Winnie’ at one time looked approvingly on Hitler and was very nearly ready to make peace. Or that, when it suited him, he was viciously anti-Semitic.

Cartoon of Thatcher, General Pinochet, and the Man He Overthrew, Salvador Allende

June 29, 2017

This is another of my cartoons against the Tory party and its vile policies. This one is of the leaderene herself, Margaret Thatcher, and her Fascist friend, General Pinochet. Thatcher was great friends with Chilean dictator. He had, after all, given Britain aid and assistance in the Falklands conflict against Argentina. After the old brute’s regime fell, she offered him a place to stay in London and was outraged when the New Labour government tried to have him arrested and extradited to Spain on a human rights charge. Amongst the tens of thousands the thug’s administration had arrested and murdered over the years was a young man from Spain, and his government naturally wanted the old butcher arrested and tried.

The figure on the right of the picture is Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president Pinochet overthrew in 1975. Allende was a Marxist, and one of his policies was to break up the vast estates and give the land to the impoverished peasants. This was all too much for the Chilean military-industrial elite and the Americans.

Since the beginning of the Cold War, the Americans had been working to overthrew any and all left-wing governments in South and Central America and the Caribbean. These regimes were attacked because they were supposedly Communist or sympathetic to Communism. Many of the governments that the Americans plotted against or overthrew were actually far more moderate. They were either democratic Socialists, like Jacobo Arbenz’s administration in Guatemala, all were liberal. In many cases the accusation that they were Communists was simply an excuse to overthrow a government that was harmful to American corporate interests. Arbenz’s regime was overthrown because he wished to nationalise the banana plantations, which dominated the country’s economy. These kept their workers in a state of desperate poverty little better, if at all, than slavery. Many of these plantations were owned by the American United Fruit corporation. The Americans thus had Arbenz ousted in a CIA-backed coup. They then tried to justify the coup by falsely depicted Arbenz as a Communist. Marxist literature and material was planted in Arbenz’s office and photographed, to appear in American newspapers and news reports back home. The result of the coup was a series of brutal right-wing dictatorships, which held power through torture, mass arrest and genocide until the 1990s.

Allende was a particular problem for the Americans, as he had been democratically elected to his country’s leadership. This challenged the Americans’ propaganda that Communism was always deeply unpopular, anti-democratic, and could only seize power through coups and invasions. So the CIA joined forces with Allende’s extreme right-wing opponents in the military, business and agricultural elites, and fabricated a story that the president was going to remove democracy and establish a dictatorship. Allende was then overthrown, and Pinochet took power as the country’s military dictator.

In the following decades, 30,000 people were arrested by the regime as subversives, to be tortured and killed. Many disappeared. The campaign by their wives and womenfolk to find out what happened to them, which began in the 1980s, still continues. A few years ago, the BBC in once of its documentaries about the Latin America, visited Chile and filmed in the former concentration camp where the regime’s political prisoners were interned. It was situated high up in the Chilean desert. The place was abandoned, decaying and strewn with the desert dust, but still grim. The presenter pointed out the wooden building where the prisoners were tortured. It was called ‘the disco’, because the guards played disco music to cover the screams of the prisoners when they were raped.

As well as supporting its dictator against the threat of a popular Marxist regime, Thatcher and the Americans under Ronald Reagan also had another reason for taking an interest in the country. Thatcher and Reagan were monetarists, followers of the free market ideology of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school. Friedman’s ideas had also been taken up Pinochet, and Friedman himself used to travel regularly to the country to check on how they were being implemented. So much for the right-wing claim that free markets go hand in hand with democracy and personal freedom. All this came to an end in the 1990s, when a series of revolutions and protests throughout Latin America swept the dictators from power.

The links between Thatcher’s and Reagan’s administrations and the brutal dictatorships in South and Central America, as well as their connections to domestic Fascist groups, alarmed many on the Left in Britain. She also supported a ‘strong state’, meaning a strong military and police force, which she used to crack down on her opponents in Britain, such as during the Miner’s Strike. There were real fears amongst some that she would create a dictatorship in Britain. These fears were expressed in the comic strip, V For Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, which first ran in the British comic, Warrior, before being republished by DC in America. This told the story of V, an anonymous escapee prisoner and victim of medical experimentation at one of the concentration camps in a future Fascist Britain, and his campaign to overthrow the regime that had tortured and mutilated him. A film version also came out a few years ago, starring Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, Natalie Portman as the heroine, Evie, John Hurt as the country’s dictator, and Stephen Fry as a gay TV presenter. As is well known, it’s from V For Vendetta that inspired protest and revolutionary groups across the world to wear Guy Fawkes masks, like the strip’s hero.

To symbolise the mass killings committed by Thatcher’s old pal, I’ve drawn a couple of human skulls. Between them is a fallen figure. This comes from a 19th century American anti-slavery poster, showing the corpse of a Black man, who was shot dead when he tried to claim his right as an American citizen to vote. Although it came from a different country and time, the poor fellow’s body nevertheless seemed to symbolise to me the murderous denial of basic civil liberties of the Fascist right, and particularly by local Fascist regimes around the world, installed and kept in power by American imperialism, and its particular oppression of the world’s non-White peoples.

New Labour came to power promising an ethical foreign policy under Robin Cook. Apart from Pinochet’s arrest, this went by the wayside as Tony Blair and his crew were prepared to cosy up to every multimillionaire thug, dictator or corrupt politician, who were ready to give them money. Like Berlusconi, the Italian president, whose Forza Italia party had formed a coalition with the ‘post-Fascists’ of the Alleanza Nazionale and the Liga Nord, another bunch, who looked back with nostalgia to Mussolini’s dictatorship. This crew were so racist, they hated the Italian south, which they nicknamed ‘Egypt’, and campaigned for an independent northern Italian state called ‘Padania’.

Jeremy Corbyn similarly promises to be a genuine force for peace, democracy and freedom around the world. He might be another disappointment once in power. But I doubt it. I think he represents the best chance to attack imperialism and exploitative neoliberal capitalism.

So if you genuinely want to stop Fascism and exploitation here and abroad, and end Thatcher’s legacy of supporting oppressive right-wing regimes, vote Labour.