Posts Tagged ‘France’

Cameron Blocks EU Funding for Food Banks

February 27, 2014

cameron-toff

Cameron contemplates the poor from the standpoint of his own privileged background.

Yesterday’s I carried the story that the EU had voted funds to be available for spending on food banks across the EU, including in Britain. Their offer of help was, however, refused by Cameron, who declared that funding for food banks was best done at the national level. So basically, Cameron and the Coalition refused their money because he doesn’t want the EU superstate interfering in this part of British politics. He’s obviously afraid of appearing beholden to the EU when he goes up against the Europhobic section of his party, and UKIP. He wants the poor to starve, so that he can cow them into submission while appearing as the strong man of British nationalism and independence.

There is thus absolutely no reason why anyone, who was unemployed, or whose job is insecure, to vote for any of the Eurosceptics after this, whether Tory or UKIP. They’d clearly rather you starved.

The attitude reminds me of Iran’s refusal of foreign aid in the 1980s. I can’t remember quite when, but sometime in that decade, perhaps 1987, there was a terrible earthquake in the north of Iran, in one of the Turkic speaking provinces bordering Azerbaijan. There were immediately offers of help from the international aid agencies, including charities like Christian Aid. The regime flatly refused them, seeing them as a means by which the Great Satan of America and the West would spread decadent, foreign beliefs like Christianity. And so the people of the region suffered. The result was, unsurprisingly, a legacy of anti-clericalism and hatred of the regime. Cameron’s refusal of aid from the EU should do the same over here.

Looking at him, it’s clear that he shares the same contempt for the poor and starving as Marie Antoinette, who said ‘Let them eat cake’. The only difference is, the starvation from which the French people were suffering was a natural famine. This time it’s definitely caused by the Coalition, who are also aristos nearly to a man.

And after that, came decades of revolutionary war and bloodshed.

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Workers’ Self-Management in Communist Yugoslavia

February 21, 2014

Self-Management Yugoslavia

I’ve put up a lot of posts about Communist Yugoslavia recently, pointing out the similarities between the Coalition’s policies of Workfare and secret courts with the same policies there and the consequent abuses of human rights. The Yugoslav Communist party also used forced ‘voluntary’ labour after the War, and used secret courts to try dissidents, including one of the leaders and architects of the regime, Milovan Djilas. Although Yugoslavia under Tito was very much a one-party dictatorship, there is one policy, which I do find attractive. This was the experiment in Socialist self-management in which the regime attempted to withdraw partly from the economic and political control of the country and hand over some of that to the workers themselves. workers in particular business were given the power to supervise and alter the business plans of the managerial board through a system of workers’ councils, similar to the workers’ soviets in the Soviet Union before they were taken over by the Bolsheviks and turned into a rigid instrument of Communist political control. The Yugoslavian Communists went further and created a producer’s chamber in government, through which these councils and their workers were to be represented in central government. The architects of that aspect of the regime were Djilas and Edvard Kardelj.

Djilas

Milovan Djilas, Yugoslav Communist leader and architect of the Self-Management system.

In Rise and Fall, Djilas explains that they formulated the policy as a result of the Yugoslavian Communist party’s break with Stalin. They resented Soviet attempts to turn their country into a satellite of the USSR, dominating the country politically and economically so that it served Russian needs and interests, rather than their own. As they rejected Stalin, they also began to criticise Lenin and form their own, particular brand of Marxism. Djilas writes:

By late 1949 and early 1950, theoretical thinking among our top people not only had abandoned Stalin,, but als was working its way back to the roots, from Lenin to Marx. Kardelj maintained that one could prove anything with quotations, but that it was impossible to separate Lenin from Stalin completely. After all, Stalin was an outgrowth of Lenin.

As we made our way back to Marx, we often paused in our critical ponderings on the Leninist type of party. It was not only the source and instrument of victory, but a means of moving on after power had been seized. In accepting Marx’s theory of the withering away of the state- and the more decisively we broke away from Stalinism, the more firmly we believed Marx on that point – we realized that such withering away required a change in the role of the party. yet in the domain of party problems, progress was minimal and slow. We kept running up against a solid wall of ossified functionaries and a layer of party bureaucracy already formed and consolidated. (p. 267-8).

Djilas and his comrades found the solution in the passages in Marx’s Das Kapital dealing with associations of producers.

And so, as I perused in Marx those passages dealing with a future “association of immediate producers” as a form of the transition to communism, it occurred to me that our whole economic mechanism might be simplified by leaving administration to those who worked in the enterprises, the state only securing for itself the tax. One rainiy day in late spring, while we sat talking in a car in front of my villa, I presented this idea to Kardelj and Kidric. Both thought it premature. At the same time, trade union officials meeting with Kardelj proposed, among other things, discontinuing the workers’ councils, which had long existed as anemic, purely advisory forms. Kardelj, however, urged that the councils be strengthened. The one day Kidrc phoned me: “You know that idea of yours-now might be the moment to introduce it”. Kardelj was to link my idea to the workers’ councils. (p. 268). They then presented the idea to Tito and the other ruling Communists at the National Assembly’s Hall of Ministers. Tito adopted it, and then defended it to the National Assembly on June 26th 1950. (pp. 268-9).

Edvard Kardelj, in his essay ‘The System of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia’, also points to the passage in Marx’s Das Kapital on social property as one of the influences on the self-management system in Yugoslavia, as well as the comments about the nature of capital in the Communist Manifesto. He also refers to the passage on the Paris Commune in Marx’s The Civil War in France.

The passage in Das Kapital runs as follows

The capitalist mode of appropriation, which springs from the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of its proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a natural process, its own negation. This is the negation of a negation. It does not re-establish private property, but it does indeed establish individual property on the basis of the capitalist era: namely cooperation and the possession in common of the land and the means of production produced by labour itself.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx also discussed the nature of private property under capitalism.

Capital is therefore not a personal but a social power.
When, therefore, capital is converted into a common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. it is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character.

In the passage on the Paris Commune, Marx wrote

It wanted to make individual property a reality, by transforming the means of production, land and capital, which now represent the means of enslavement and exploitation of labour, into the instrument of a free and associated labour .. If cooperative production is not to be a falsehood, if it to repress the capitalist system, if the associated cooperatives are to regulate national production according to a joint plan and thus take it undere their own control and put an end to a continual anarchy and periodical convulsions, which are the inevitable fate of capitalist production – what, gentlemen, would this other than communism, the ‘possible’ communism. (See ‘Edvard Kardelj: The System of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia’ in Blagoje Boskovic and David Dasic, Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia 1950-1980: Documents (Belgrade: Socialist Thought and Practice 1980) 9-49 (23-4).

Marx was wrong about the Paris Commune. The Communards were motivated less by Socialism – Socialists were in the minority – but by local, Parisian traditions of activism and a patriotic revolt against the regime that had been humiliatingly defeated by the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War. The Yugoslavian self-management system is interesting as it went further than other experiments in workers’ control, in countries such as Germany and Austria, to try and give workers a larger degree of power in the administration of their businesses and the regulation of the economy. There was, however, a cost to this, in that when Djilas and Kardelj fell from power, the regime used the system they had created to accuse them of ‘Anarcho-syndicalist deviation’, and therefore Marxist heresy.

The Medieval Church on the Duties of the Rich to the Poor

February 21, 2014

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, who has attacked fellow Catholic Iain Duncan Smith's benefit cuts as a "disgrace". [Image: Liverpool Echo]

Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Bishop of Westminster

Last Sunday, the Roman Catholic bishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, criticised the government welfare reforms for their attacks on the poor. Needless to say, this annoyed the Prime Minster, who has now declared his belief in the essential morality of the government’s welfare reforms. Previous churchmen, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have criticised the government’s attacks on the poor and vulnerable. Dr Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, criticised Margaret Thatcher, as has his successor, Justin Welby, attacked Cameron. I can also remember the Church of Scotland looking mightily unimpressed when Thatcher addressed them on St Paul’s text, ‘If a man does not work, he shall not eat’. There’s a lot of theological discussion about that text, and it certainly is not a pretext for denying the unemployed benefit.

There was considerable debate during the Middle Ages about the moral status of wealth, whether the unemployed should be given alms to support themselves if they were not working, and the relationship between the rich and the poor. There was a belief in the Middle Ages that the rich had the moral duty to support the poor, with damnation as a possible consequence if they did not.

One of the major Middle English texts that debated this question was Dives and Pauper, a dialogue between a rich and poor man. In it, Pauper says

All that the rich man has passing his honest living after the degree of his dispensation it is other mens and not his, and he shall give well hard reckoning thereof at the doom… [the Last Judgement] For rich men and lords in this world be God’s bailiffs and God’s reeve to ordain [=provide] for the poor folk and for to sustain the poor folk.

The Fathers of the Church believed that superfluous wealth belonged to the poor. The great medieval theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, stated that

According to natural law goods that are held in superabundance by some people should be used for the maintenance of the poor. This is the principle enunciated by Ambrose … It is the bread of the poor you are holding back; it is the clothes of the naked which you are hoarding; it is the relief and liberation of the wretched which you are thwarting by burying your money away.

St. Basil, in his sermon ‘On Mercy and Justice’, stated that if the rich did not making offering to God to feed the poor, they would be accused of robbery. This was reflected in another of Pauper’s statements

Withholding of alms from the poor needy folk is theft in the sight of God, for the covetous rich withdraw from the poor folk what belongs to them and misappropriate the poor men’s goods, with which they should be succoured.

Ambrose went further and stated that those, who did not provide food for the starving killed them. Pauper also made the same statement when he referred to the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.

If any man or woman dies for lack of help, then all who should have helped, or might have helped, or knew the person’s plight, but who would not help are guilty of manslaughter.

Mrs Thatcher herself was personally very generous, and part of her argument was that private charity could provide better relief to the poor, that state support. She also believed that it was more moral, because there was an element of choice involved. Now Albertus Magnus, Aquinas’ predecessor, believed that almsgiving should also be a matter of personal choice, but that this only involved donations beyond the moral compulsion to provide for the poor out of superfluous wealth.

Unfortunately, at various times during its history the Church has not lived up to its moral responsibility to provide for the poor. This was certainly the case during the Thirteenth century, when a number of churchmen attacked their clergy for taking the money provided for poor relief. The result was that in many parishes the lay congregation put up ‘poor tables’ in parish churchyards, on which bread was to be doled out to the poor. There was a feeling amongst some churchmen that the poor had rights. Just as a vassal had the feudal right of diffidatio, or rebellion against an unjust overlord, so the poor could also spiritually rebel against the rich. Johannes Teutonicus declared that a pauper had the right to denounce a rich man publicly and excommunicate him. By the 16th century the belief had developed that God paid particular attention to the prayers of the poor against the rich. If a pauper was refused alms, and so prayed to God for His help or judgement against the rich person, who had refused him, his prayer would be answered answer the rich miser suffer as a consequence.

Nor at various periods in history was almsgiving entirely voluntary. In France during the 17th century it was compulsory for parishioners to donate to poor relief in their parish. In England giving was supposed to be voluntary, but it was strongly urged by the clergy in their sermons.

Cameron has maintained that his welfare reforms are moral. I’ve reblogged a piece by Mike over at Vox Political, which shows that Cameron and his wretched policies are morally bankrupt. As for the statement of Ambrose, Basil and the rest of the Church Fathers that refusing to support the starving makes a person responsible for their murder, it should be borne in mind that so far as many as 38,000 per year may have died as a result of being refused benefits by Cameron and the Coalition. The poor are very definitely being denied their rights. In this argument between His Grace the Bishop of Westminster and Cameron, the moral authority and traditions of Fathers are very definitely on the good bishop’s side, not Cameron’s.

Let the wailing, grinding and gnashing of teeth at Tory Central Office now begin.

Another Angry Voice on Cameron’s Failure to Honour Nuclear Test Victims

February 20, 2014

David Cameron Divisiveness Nuclear Test Veterans

The Angry Yorkshireman has posted up another excellent article, ‘David Cameron and Divisiveness’, on Cameron’s refusal to recognise and honour the sacrifice and suffering endured by the thousands of British servicemen, who took part in nuclear tests. The article begins

In February 2014 David Cameron outright refused to recognise the sacrifices made by some 10,000 British military personnel that were exposed to intense levels of radiation during the 1950s and 1960s.

These men were ordered to do things like watch nuclear detonations at close range, fly aircraft through mushroom clouds, handle radioactive materials and explore blast zones, all with no protective gear.

Many hundreds have died of cancer and other radiation related illnesses but this isn’t even the most horrifying legacy. Due to the genetic damage these men sustained, the families of many of these men have been affected by birth defects, meaning that the legacy of suffering is continuing down the generations.

Many other countries have begun to recognise the suffering inflicted on their military personnel due to radiation exposure, but the United Kingdom steadfastly refuses to offer recompense to our nuclear veterans.

A pressure group of victims and their families called Fallout has been calling for some recognition for the nuclear veterans and their families, but their concerns have been stonewalled by the government.

The Fallout campaign group have asked for the creation of a £25 million benevolent fund to help descendents that are born with genetic illnesses, a campaign medal for nuclear test veterans and a “thank you” from the Prime Minister.
The government have refused to engage with the group, and David Cameron has refused to even publicly thank the surviving veterans, perhaps out of fear that the the slightest hint of recognition would be the first step on the path to awarding these men compensation, which would hardly be unprecidented given that the United States government have been compensating their nuclear test veterans.

David Cameron’s excuse for refusing to acknowledge the nuclear test victims is teeth grindingly bad, even by his appalling standards. Here’s what he said:

“It would be divisive to offer nuclear test veterans this level of recognition for being involved in this project, when those who have undertaken other specialist duties would not be receiving the same.

The full article is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/david-cameron-and-divisiveness.html. It’s well worth reading.

This clearly is less of a reason than an excuse. The Irate Yorkshireman then goes on to show how it would not stop other servicemen, who have performed equally dangerous duties, from also demanding fair recognition for their sacrifices. He also states that Cameron’s statement is based on the same logic that saw the members of the Arctic Convoys to the Soviet Union during the War denied a medal for their great contribution to the war effort.

The Yorkshireman concluded:

The refusal to even thank these men, and David Cameron’s ludicrous “divisiveness” narrative are yet more demonstrations of the absolute contempt the Tories and the establishment classes have for the disposable “lower orders”.

This is undoubtedly at the heart of Cameron’s refusal to acknowledge their suffering – an aristocratic contempt for ‘commoners’ that sees them purely as cannon fodder, whose purpose is to obey without question their superiors, who must not be criticised for their mistakes, incompetence or indifference to the suffering of the men and women they command.

I also think there’s slightly more to it than that.

Opposition to Nuclear Power

Firstly, it strikes me that Cameron is probably afraid of reviving the remaining, smouldering anti-nuclear feelings. The nuclear industry is, after all, big business, and Cameron’s government has done its best to encourage further investment in nuclear energy and the construction of nuclear power stations. The French nuclear power company, that has been strongly supported by the British government in this, is due to start building another power stations at Hinckley point in Somerset, for example. The last thing the government wants is more protestors standing outside parliament, their council office and the power plants themselves waving placards and pointing to the possible health risks and dangers of nuclear power.

Fears of a CND Revival

Similarly, it also seems to me that Cameron is afraid of the lingering shadow cast by CND in the 1980s and 1950s, and the legacy of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common. There is still considerable opposition to nuclear weapons despite the reduction in nuclear arms after the collapse of Communism and the ending of the Cold War. A little while ago there was some controversy when the government decided that it was going to acquire a few more, upgraded nuclear missiles for Britain’s defence. I doubt very much if Cameron and the rest of the Coalition want a revival of CND and more protestors camped outside British military bases.

Damage to Reputation and Wallets of British Government, Military and Civil Servants

Most of all, I suspect that what Dave and his party really fear is the possible damage to the reputation of past politicians and civil servants, and claims for compensation from the victims of the tests and their families. British officialdom’s culture of secrecy always appeared to me to have a very strong element of the ruling classes trying to protect themselves and their pensions from criticism and attack from the people their decisions have harmed. By acknowledging the sacrifice and suffering of these servicemen, it strikes me that Cameron is also afraid this would mean that the government accepts, if only partly, its responsibility for their legacy of health problems and the congenital diseases passed on to their children. This could lead to claims for compensation, possible prosecution of the politicians, civil servants and senior military staff behind the policy.

Polynesian Victims of Nuclear Tests

Such dissatisfaction and litigation would not just be confined to British servicemen. I believe that some of the Polynesian islands, where the British tested their nuclear bombs were inhabited before the tests. Their indigenous peoples were forcible removed from their homes. The intense levels of radioactivity left by the tests has meant that they cannot return. They are permanently exiled from their native soil and the land of their ancestors. It is possible that Cameron fears that if he acknowledges the debt the government owes its servicemen for their part in the nuclear tests, these indigenous peoples would also raise embarrassing and expensive demands from the British government for the suffering they have endured through displacement and exile from their destroyed island homes.

Unethical Nuclear Testing on Civilians in America and Possibly Oz

I also wonder if Cameron is also afraid that questions about the activities of the British military for experimentation on its servicemen would stop there. IN the 1990s when the American files on nuclear testing were fully opened to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, it also revealed some highly unethical and monstrous experiments by the American armed forces and their civilian masters on the poor and disadvantaged, including those from ethnic minorities. I remember reading an article in New Scientist about this, circa 1995. The article reported the case where an Indian woman was taken into what she believed was a specialist hospital for treatment for her condition. In fact it was a secret nuclear facility, and the scientists were actually injecting her with radioactive material in order to test its effect on the human body. I’ve also got a feeling that some of those involved in this project may, like so many other scientist, have come from the Third Reich. There were also allegations a little while ago in Australia that the British and Aussie authorities used severely mentally retarded people as test subjects during nuclear bomb tests Down Under. Others have looked into this and found that there is absolutely no evidence that these people were used in this way. Nevertheless, there is the lingering question of whether the British civilian and military authorities also carried on similar, unethical experiments in the general British population.

Germ Warfare at Porton Down

And not just nuclear experiments. Questions have also been raised about the biological warfare experiments conducted by Porton Down. These have included injecting servicemen with a potentially lethal disease, which the troops were told was merely influenza, in order to test the possible results of biological warfare. They have also released various strains of ‘flu into the general population in order to research the progress of germ weapons through the British population. At least one person may have died as a result. As with the victims of the nuclear tests, this raises issues of the morality of the experiments themselves, the ethical culpability of the scientists administering the tests and the military and civilian authorities responsible for them. The victims of these tests may also possibly be liable for compensation in the same way as the victims of the nuclear tests. They also raise the same questions about what other experiments went on under secrecy at Porton Down.

Acknowledgement of Soldier’s Role in Nuclear Tests Raises Doubts about Culpability of Entire Establishment in Nuclear and Biological Experimentation

This is what Cameron clearly fears is divisive: the possibility that, simply by acknowledging the sacrifice and suffering of the military victims of British nuclear testing and their families, he could be opening the door for further questions about the government’s wider nuclear policy for defence and energy, questions and possible claims for compensation and prosecution by the Polynesian peoples, whose homes and traditional way of life has been destroyed by imperialist militarism, as well as possible demands for the investigation of germ warfare experiments by Porton Down. And behind those is the issue of whether even further, darker, and completely immoral nuclear and biological experimentation has been carried out by the British government on its poor, disabled and non-White, as was done in America.

And worst of all, there would be immense damage to the reputation, careers and pensions of the senior military officers, civil servants and MPs responsible for this, as well as the commercial damage to the firms that manufactured these weapons. And in Cameron’s rarefied world of aristocratic and upper middle class privilege, that’s the real threat. We really can’t have the proles questioning their superiors and putting them on trial, can we?

Kropotkin on Globalisation

February 14, 2014

Kropotkin Conquest Bread

On Tuesday, Barclays announced that they were shedding 7,000 jobs in Britain. The mobility of capitalism around the world is now a major feature of today’s global economy following the globalisation of capitalism and industry during the 1990s. Critics of international capitalism, such as Lenin in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism noted that this was occurring in their own time, the late 19th and vey early 20th centuries. The German Marxist, Karl Kautsky, also remarked in his writing on the movement of capital from the imperial heartlands to their colonies and what would become the Developing World. The imperialist powers were attempting to develop their possessions and open up markets and sources of labour elsewhere around the world, with the result that the industries in their heartlands would inevitably suffer.

Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread also remarked on it, and denounced the way it led to factory closures, unemployment and starvation in the imperial countries of Britain, France and so on, and exploitation and the use of military force to quell discontent in the European empires’ subject nations.

‘The result of this state of things is that all our production tends in a wrong direction. Enterprise takes no thought for the needs of the community. Its only aim is to increase the gains of the speculator. Hence the constant fluctuations of trade, the periodical industrial crises, each of which throws scores of thousands of workers on the streets.

The working people cannot purchase with their wages the wealth which they have produced, and industry seeks foreign markets among the monied classes of other nations. In the East, in Africa, everywhere, in Egypt, Tonkin or the Congo, the European is thus bound to promote the growth of serfdom. And so he does. But soon he finds that everywhere there are similar competitors. All the nations evolve on the same lines, and wars, perpetual wars, break out for the right of precedence in the market. Wars for the possession of the East, wars for the empire of the sea, wars to impose duties on imports and to dictate conditions to neighbouring states; wars against those ‘blacks’ who revolt! The roar of the cannon never ceases in the world, whole races are massacred, the states of Europe spend a third of their budgets in armaments, and we know how heavily these taxes fall on the workers.’

The British Empire has formally retreated and turned into the Commonwealth, and Cameron has slashed the armed forces and their funding. In other respects, however, the analysis is pretty as true today as it was in Kropotkin’s day. In many cases, however, the massacres are now committing by the various developing nations for their elites to gain control of the sites of raw materials, so these can be sold to global multinationals. Hence the horrific bloodshed, in which over 4 million people have been killed, in Central Africa for control of diamonds and some of the precious metals used in the IT industries, including mobile phones.

Dr Arnold Hutschnecker on the Psychology of the Tyrant

February 13, 2014

Alex de Jonge begins the last chapter of his biography of Stalin by discussing Dr Arnold Hutschnecker’s ideas about the psychology of the drive to power. Hutschnecker was at one time Nixon’s psychiatrist, and so presumably some of these insights came from his observation of Tricky Dicky’s own warped psyche.

According to de Jonge, Hutschnecker believed that the drive to power came from

‘a painful sense of one’s own insignificance, a fear of death and the wish to have others die. It is associated with a low sexual drive and an inability to love. ‘It moves on the wings of aggression to overcome inferiority … Those whose power to love and consequently create has been broken will choose war in order to experience an intoxicating sense of power or excitement.”

Now some of this is obviously true of Stalin. De Jonge points out in the book that Stalin had very strong feelings of inferiority due to his short stature, and his physical deformities. Two of the toes on one of his feet were fused, he had a withered arm and his face was pockmarked due to smallpox. He also had a bitter hatred of intellectuals, possibly dating from the time the Georgian Marxist Zhordania refused to allow him into his revolutionary group because he didn’t have the depth of understanding of Marxist theory he required. De Jonge also states that his attitude to the West was a mixture of the traditional Russian sense of inferiority at the West’s achievements mixed with a sense of spiritual superiority. This inferiority complex resulted in the Stalinist regime’s extreme xenophobia and nationalism, which saw millions of returning Soviet emigres, prisoners of war and troops from Europe after the Second World War imprisoned in the gulags or shot as potential traitors or otherwise culturally contaminated by anti-Soviet elements. It also resulted in the Soviet Union, not content with the brilliant achievements of its own citizens throughout their history, also appropriating those of the West, so that everything from the steam engine to the radio was held up as the invention of a Russian. Not that Stalin’s Russia was the only totalitarian state to do this. Mussolini’s Italy, one of whose leading scientists, Marconi, really had pioneered radio, also made the same extravagant claims. One of these was that Shakespeare was really Italian.

Stalin also recognised that he lacked the ability to love, especially after the death of his first wife. While he may not have feared death in his youth or middle age, when he was young kinto on the streets of Tiflis and gangster-cum-revolutionary holding up banks and repeatedly being exiled and escaping from Siberia, he certainly was terrified of it at the end of his life. He had the cypresses cut down on his summer estate of Kuntsevo because he found them too gloomy. Possibly some memory of his earlier Christian faith, and what he had learned at the seminary in Georgia came back to haunt him, and he began to fear that his victims would find justice against him in the hereafter. And he certainly did not lack the desire to have others die in their millions.

The description also reminds me of that of another public figure, much closer to home: Ian Duncan Smith, the head of the DWP.

Ian Duncan Smith pic

The man clearly suffers from a massive sense of his own inferiority. How otherwise can you explain his bizarre fantasies and lies, in which he has claimed, amongst other things, to have a degree from an Italian university that doesn’t grant them. He has furthermore declared that the introduction of Universal Credit and his other reforms are an advance as great as the abolition of slavery, as well as his highly dubious claim to have been an officer in the British army. And he does seem to have turned to a military career to give him the power and excitement that he lacked as a civilian.

As for the hardship and suffering his reforms in the DWP have caused, these certainly point to a large cruel and sadistic streak in his character. And while I’ve no doubt that he has a desire to cause anyone’s death, as shown in his refusal to release the figures for the number of people who’ve died after being thrown off their benefits by Atos, this is exactly what his reforms have done. You can find a list of names over at Stilloak’s blog. Some bloggers, such as Jaynelinney, have suggested that the figure may be as high as 38,000 per year.

The final chapter of de Jonge’s book also begins with a quote from Marx to Engels about the Paris Commune in 1871. This was the uprising by the citizen’s of Paris in which they tried to establish the city as an independent, revolutionary municipality after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. It was brutally suppressed by the French monarchy. Marx said

‘We think of terror as the reign of those who inspire terror; on the contrary it is the reign of people who are themselves terrified. Terror consists of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.’

This statement not only describes the paranoid psychology of Stalin himself, but also that of the millions of Soviet citizens, who collaborated with his regime in spying on and denouncing their friends, family and neighbours as saboteurs, agents of Trotsky and the Western, imperial and capitalist powers, or for having an ‘anti-party’ conception of Marxism.

It also describes the psychology of IDS and his servants within the DWP. These are, after all, also demoralised, with those on the lowest ranks of the hierarchy forced to take out advances in their salaries just to ends meet till the end of the month. It also describes the atmosphere of backstabbing and suspicion that also pervades the DWP, and the way its employees take out their own fears, resentment and frustration on those unfortunates, who come to them for unemployment benefit.

Stalin was a monster, who terrorised and murdered millions. Ian Duncan Smith is a petty bureaucrat, but one whose reforms are killing people in their tens of thousands. They are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the psychology, the feelings of inferiority and the need to persecute, are exactly the same.

The angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has posted a recent article showing the Stalinist assumptions behind IDS workfare schemes, and used Conservative arguments to demonstrate how anyone, who sincerely stands for the principles of the Right, should reject it. He also has this picture showing Smith as Stalin. This seems particularly appropriate considering the similarities between their psychologies.

IDS Stalin

And the Angry Yorkshireman’s question is all too valid. To see his article, ‘Why do Right-Wing People support Workfare’, go to http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/why-right-wing-support-workfare.html

Tories Planning Nazi-Style Work Camps to Build HS2?

February 12, 2014

Aidan Burley

Aidan Burley – Tory who organised Nazi-themed stag party. As Tory belongs to a party that supports compulsory voluntary work.

Reichsarbeitsdienst

Workers in the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi organisation of compulsory voluntary work. At least those on workfare don’t have to wear a uniform. Yet.

I found this piece of information on Guy Debord’s Cat discussing the possible reasons why Aidan Burley was treated so leniently by the Tories. Burley was the Tory politico, you will remember, who was prosecuted by the French authorities for holding a Nazi-themed stag party in France. The Cat points out in the article that Holocaust denial, the wearing of Nazi uniforms and toasting the Third Reich are all illegal in La Patrie. This is what you’d expect in a country that was defeated and occupied by the Nazis. After an investigation, an inquiry found that Burley’s decision to hold the party was ‘stupid and offensive’ but ‘not anti-Semitic’. Possibly not. There are all manner of people, who decide that dressing up as storm-troopers is great fun, who aren’t racist or anti-Semitic. I’ve known people, who play German soldiers in Second World War re-enactment groups, who very definitely aren’t Nazis in real life. Nevertheless, there are real questions of taste, quite apart from the fact that Fascist groups like the NF did use to dress up in Nazi uniform. Burley’s own lapse of taste can be compared with the scandal that erupted a few years ago, when senior students at Gloucestershire University in Cheltenham were vidoed abusing freshers and making them perform stupid and humiliating tasks while dressed as Nazis. In this case, dressing up and acting like Nazis seems to appear to a certain kind of bully, even if they aren’t actually racists.

The Cat, however, discusses the similarity between Burley’s others views and that of the Nazis, particularly regarding trade unions:

So what is so special about Burley that Cameron and the leadership of the party feel such a desperate need to protect him? Is he being groomed for the Home Office or Works and Pensions portfolio? We already know that when the Tories took office in 2010, Burley hit the ground running with his guaranteed-to-please-David Cameron venture, the Trade Union Reform Campaign. Like Burley, the Nazis didn’t care much for trade unions either and banned them outright. In their place, Hitler created the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF), headed by Robert Ley, to organize workers along nationalist and militaristic lines. DAF subgroups like Strength Through Joy and Beauty Through Work were also added to provide diversions.

The Cat ends by noting the way the Reichsarbeitsdienst used conscripted labour from the unemployed, and suggests that there are plans to use a similar scheme to build the HS2 railway link:

The Reichsarbeitsdienst was created with the purpose of providing cheap (often forced) labour that exploited unemployed men, who were used for work on major infrastructure projects like the autobahn network. Is this what the Tories have in mind for trade unionists and the unemployed if they win the next General Election? There is already talk about creating work camps for the HS2 project.

This links to a post at the Independent reporting a plan for 12 per cent of the labour used to build the link to come from the ‘disadvantaged’, which comprises the disabled and the unemployed. The article is here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/let-disabled-workers-build-the-43bn-hs2-9069578.html.

I’ve already blogged on the similarity between the compulsory ‘voluntary’ work of the Reichsarbeitsdienst under the Nazis and the compulsory ‘voluntary’ work of the Coalition’s Workfare and Welfare to Work policies. The Void and other bloggers have also reported on the strong similarity between the Tories plan to set up compulsory work and training centres for the disabled and the workhouses of Victorian Britain. Now it seems that similarity between the Nazis and the Tory party is growing stronger every day.

Guy Debord’s website itself is well-worth a look. It has some excellent critiques of the propaganda from the New Right, including some people with truly terrifying news, such as those, who seem to wish to rehabilitate American slavery. See the post Telegraph Comment of the Week (#26) for the 9th February 2014 attacking one of the Telegraph’s pet columnists. Guy Debord’s Cat can be found at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/

Reichsarbeitsdients flag

Flag for the Nazi Reichsarbeitsdienst. They don’t have one at the moment, but it’s probably only a matter of time before the Coalition decides on one.

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

February 3, 2014

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

America Homeless

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

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

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

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

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

Racial Stereotypes of Homelessness

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

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

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

Critiques of the ‘Cultures of Poverty’

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

Cultures of Deviancy and Violence in Homeless Shelters

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

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

Homeless Not Radically Different or Separate from Rest of Population

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Accumulation Family” of Immigrants to America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: the Lessons for Britain

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

The British Black Family and Chavs

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

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

The Benefits Cap Blocking an Escape from Poverty and Homelessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Angry Voice on Gove’s Great War Revisionism

January 8, 2014

Gassed Painting

Detail from the Painting Gassed, showing lines of men blinded in combat. This is what Wilfrid Owen described in his poem.

The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has also weighed in with his comments about Michael Gove’s attempt to present the Great War as something better and nobler than the squalid debacle it was. It’s excellent, and well-worth reading. Entitled Michael Gove’s Great War Revisionism, it begins by referring to the posts by Mike over at Vox Political and others, before moving on to attack recent attempts, including Gove’s to present Haig as much more competent than he actually was:

‘In January 2014 the education secretary Michael Gove penned a ludicrous article in the Daily Mail invoking the spectres of left-wing academics and BBC bias in order to argue that the First World War was not “a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite”.

Other sites (such as Vox Political and The Huffington Post) have already covered this story quite comprehensively so I’ll try to avoid reiterating too much of what has already been said. I’ll go through some of Gove’s absurd ramblings and highlight some of the many things that he’s got wrong.

“The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.”
The conflict has also been seen through the great volume of testimonies from people who served during the Great War, from the works of great war poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon to the first hand testimonies collected by the Imperial War Museum and collated in books like Forgotten Voices of the Great War, The Soldier’s War and Britain’s Last Tommies (all of which I thoroughly recommend as infinitely more enlightening than Gove’s partisan wittering on the subject). Many of these first hand testimonies are pervaded by a sense of horror at the tactical blunderings of the generals that resulted in the mass slaughter of millions of men. Gove is desperate to discount the first hand testimonies of those who were actually there in order to present his favoured interpretation; that the war was noble and necessary, that generals like Douglas “butcher” Haig did a good job under difficult circumstances and that the battle of the Somme wasn’t a tragic and futile waste of life.

Despite his efforts to resuscitate the reputation of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, some of us are aware that Douglas Haig once said the “the machine gun is a much overrated weapon”. On the first day of the battle of the Somme 60,000 British troops were killed or injured, the great majority of them by machine gun fire.’

He then goes on to note that many of the historians, who argued that the generals were incompetent, were by no means all Left-wingers. The view that the British troops were ‘lions led by donkeys’ was articulated as far back as 1962 by Ken Clarke, who was a member of Maggie Thatcher’s cabinet. He then duly attacks Gove’s comments about the British troops recognising that it was a ‘noble cause’ and points out that to say that Germany did not recognise by the prevailing international order is hypocritical, as that order was composed of the militarily strongest European nations, Britain and France. He also skewers Gove’s statement that the war was fought against German ‘Social Darwinism’, by pointing out that as an imperial power, Britain also possessed a vast, subject population, who were excluded from politics and barred from voting. This is absolutely correct. The first British colony that gave a place on its council to one of its indigenous citizens was Ghana in the 1920s. This was extremely progressive for the time, and far ahead of the other British possessions. Even in Britain, a sizable minority of the British working class was excluded from voting due to the property qualification, and women only actually got to vote in 1928, although they had been granted the franchise much earlier. In fact, far from being ‘Fascistic’ in many ways the situation was the reverse: a higher proportion of the population in Wilhelmine Germany had the vote than in Britain, although their impact on politics was excluded by a property clause which divided the population into estates and guaranteed the aristocracy and wealthy political representation far beyond their numbers. Even here, one could reasonably compare this with Britain, and the unelected and very feudal House of Lords.

The Angry Yorkshireman also take Gove to task for his attacks on the Left, and totally ignores the fact that amongst the groups and organisations calling for war as response to Germany aggression against Belgium were the trade unions, who actively encouraged men to join the army.

He then ends the piece with a series of quotations from some of those, who actively fought in the War and were bitterly critical of its conduct and the actions of their superiors. These include the last surviving Tommy, Harry Patch, Arthur Graeme West, Henry Allinghame, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and that notorious Left-wing revolution (not!), Winston Churchill, who said:

‘”How many have gone? How many more to go? The Admiralty is fast asleep and lethargy & inertia are the order of the day. However everybody seems delighted – so there is nothing to be said. No plans, no enterprise, no struggle to aid the general cause. Just sit still on the spacious throne and snooze.”

The article’s over at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/micael-gove-great-war-revisionism.html, if you want to read another excellent perspective on the War.

Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) is a collection of radical and anti-authoritarian texts from British history from 1066 to the present, collected and edited by the actor, Colin Firth, and Anthony Arnove. It was partly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Arnove had worked with Zinn translating the book into a series of stage readings of American radical and democratic texts, which toured the US. Realising that Firth was one of the book’s fans, Arnove approached him to do a British version. Firth, Arnove, and a number of their friends and other performers they admired did indeed stage a reading of some of the texts collected in The People Speak in 2010. This was filmed and broadcast by the History Channel. The two authors state that they hope a DVD of this reading will eventually be released to accompany the film of the same name made the year previously (2010) by Zinn and Arnove, with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore. Firth and Arnove rejected any claim that this was the ‘actorly activism’ attacked by critics such as Marina Hyde. Rather, they were simply doing what actors are paid to do – to act, and interpret other’s voices.

Firth states that the book is not an attack on history teachers or the history curriculum, noting that his own father is a history teacher. It comes from his feeling, dating from when he was studying history at school, that the kind of history we are taught is incomplete. It concentrates on kings and queens and politicians to the exclusion of everyone else, who are presented as a faceless, homogenous mass. This is his and Arnove’s attempt to put back into history the voice of the excluded, the Socialists, Anarchists, agitators, Chartists, suffragists, Lollards, Levellers, in short, the trouble-makers, like Zinn himself. Firth makes the point that democracy works from the bottom up, and that it’s protagonists are real trouble-makers. He also makes the point that the rights we now take for granted and accept as civilised and decent were at one point considered treason. The people, who fought for and won them were those without political power, and were hanged, transported, tortured and imprisoned, until their ideas were eventually adopted and adapted. Their continued existence is, however, precarious, and we need to defend them. ‘These freedoms are now in our care. And unless we act on them and continue to fight for them, they will be lost more easily that they were won.’

Firth and Arnove freely acknowledge that in covering two millennia, they have let much important material out. They hope, however, that their readers will feel rightly indignant about that, and be compelled to point it out, or, even better, write another the book, which will be the first of many. Firth hopes most of all it will inspire their readers to speak out, and make their voice heard on the issues they feel is important, ‘As Howard reminds us, democracy is not a spectator sport, and history is not something on a library shelf, but something in which each of us has a potentially critical role’.

Chronologically, the book has divided into five chapters, ‘1066-1450: Commoners and Kings’, ‘1642-1789: Representing the People’, ‘1790-1860: One Man, One Vote’, 1890-1945: Equal Rights’, and ‘1945-2012: Battling the State’ collecting some of the radical texts from these periods. Between these are other chapters covering particular political, constitutional, religious, national and economic issues and struggles. These include:

‘Disunited Kingdoms: ‘Our English Enemies’,
‘Freedom of Worship: ‘Touching our Faith’,
‘Land and Liberty: ‘The Earth is a Common Treasury’,
‘Empire and Race: All Slaves Want to Be Free’,,
‘Money and Class: ‘The Rank is But the Guinea’s Stamp’,
‘Workers United: Labour’s “No” into Action’,
‘War and Peace: ‘What People Have Your Battles Slain?’,
‘Gender and Sexual Equality: ‘A Human Being, Regardless of the Distinction of Sex’.

The chapter on the 400 or so years from 1066 to 1450 contains the following texts:

Ordericus Vitalis on the Norman Conquest of 1066,
The Liber Eliensis on Hereward the Wake,
Extracts from the Magna Carta,
Extracts from the Song of Lewes; written by a Franciscan monk in 1264, this sets out some early examples of the doctrine of resistance and popular rights.
It also contains a section devoted to the voice of the Peasant’s Revolt, including
Wat Tyler’s address to Richard II,
John Ball, ‘Until Everything Shall Be in Common’ (1381),
and William Grindcobbe, ‘I shall die in the Cause of Gaining our Liberty’.

The chapter on ‘Disunited Kingdoms – Our English Enemies’, includes the following pieces:
The declaration of Scottish independence at Arbroath, 6th April 1320,
Owain Glyn Dwr’s letter to another Welsh noble, Henry Don,
The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549,
Jonathan Swift’s bitterly satirical ‘A Modest Proposal’ of 1729,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish Nationalist leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
The Speech from the Dock of Tone’s successor in the United Irishmen, Robert Emmet,
Rev. John Blackwell’s Eisteddfod Address in Beaumaris in 1832, stressing the importance of literature in Welsh,
Letters from the Rebecca Riots’,
The Letter from Nicholas M. Cummins to the Times attacking the English for refusing to supply the Irish with food during the Potato Famine,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish American Fenian Leader, Captain John McClure, of 1867,
Padraig Pearse’s Eulogy for the Fenian Leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa of 1915,
An extract from the Scots writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song of 1932,
Bernadette Devlin’s Speech in Draperstown when she stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Independent Unity Party in Northern Ireland,
Silvester Gordon Boswell’s Address to Travellers on Appleby Hill of 1967, and Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy of 1970,
The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly’s lyric, ‘For What died the Sons of Roisin?’ of 1970,
Pauline M.’s description of the events of Bloody Sunday,
An editorial on the Tax-Dodgers on the Isle of Man by the Manx Marxist group, Fo Halloo,
Bobby Sands’ prison diary for 1-2 March 1981,
and an extract from Gwyn Alf Williams’ history of the Welsh, ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’ from 1985.

The section on Freedom of Worship, begins with a section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, which includes
The examination of Nicholas Leche of 1536,
The Pontefract Articles of 2-4 December 1536,
The Examination of Robert Aske, 1537,
John Foxe, ‘The Mart6yrdom and Suffering of Cicelie Ormes, Burnt at Norwich the Testimonie and Witnes of Christes Gospell’ of 1557,
Matthew Hamont’s Trial for Heresy,
John Mush, the Life of Margaret Clitherow, 1586,
Daniel Defoe’s satirical ‘The Shortest Way with Dissenters:, Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church of 1702,
Ignatius Samcho’s Letter on the Gordon Riots of 1780,
William Blake’s ‘America’ of 1793, his Preface to Milton of (1804) and Preface to Book Two of ‘Jerusalem’ of the same year.
Grace Aguilar’s History of the Jews in England of 1847,
George Jacob Holyoake, Exchange with his Caplain on Atheism (1850),
An anonymous account of the Basingstoke Riots against the Salvation Army of 1881,
and Victoria Brittain’s ‘The Meaning of Waiting’, using the words of eight Muslim women married to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The section on the period 1642-1749 contains
Elizabeth Lilburne’s Appeal against the arrest of her husband, the leveller leader John Lilburne,
Richard Overton’s An Arrow Against All Tyrants of 1646,
The Putney Debates of 1647,
John Lilburne’s Appeal to Cromwellian Soldiers of 1649,
The last speech of Richard Rumbold at the Market Cross in Edinburgh,
Reports of torture in prison from 1721,
The frontispiece to the anonymous pamphlet ‘Idol Worship, Or, the Way to Preferment, showing that the way to political power to was kiss your superiors’ rear ends,
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776,
The American Declaration of Independence,
Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Destruction of the Bastille’,
An Advertisement for Commemoration of the French Revolution by Dissenters in Birmingham in 1791,
and An Anonymous Birmingham handbill to Commemorate the French Revolution, 1791.

The section ‘Land and Liberty’ contains
Robert Kett, ‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’, 1549, against the Enclosures in Kent,
Gerard Winstanley, ‘A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England’, 1649,
The 1650 Declaration of the Wellingborough Diggers,
The ballad ‘Bonny Portmore’ of 1690, lamenting the destruction of the forest around Lough Beg,
Thomas Spence’s ‘Spence’s Plan for Parochial Partnerships in the Land of 1816), an early Utopian Socialist precursor,
John Clare, ‘The mores’, c. 1821-4,
W.G. Ward’s ‘The Battle, the Struggle and the Victory’ of 1873, on a battle between the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and the employers and landowners, who refused to employ their members,
Richard Barlow-Kennett’s ‘Address to the Working Classes’ on Vivisection of 1883,
Henry S. Salts’ Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892),
Ernest a Baker, The Forbidden Land of 1924 on the landowners’ denial of the right of access to land around the Peak District and the Yorkshire moors due to grouse shooting,
Benny Rothman on the Kinder Trespass in 1932 by ramblers,
and Voices from the Kingsnorth 6 Greenpeace protesters of 2007.

The section on Empire and Race has the above extracts,
William Cecil’s Speech in Parliament of 1588, against a bill against Strangers and Aliens Selling Wares by Retail, 1588,
William Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 4, c. 1593,
Anna Barbauld, Sins of Government, Sins of of the Nation; Or, A Discourse for the Fast, of 1793, against imperialism and war with revolutionary France,
Robert Wedderbu5rn’s The Axe Laid to the Root or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica, 1817,
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, 1831,
Louis Asa-Asa, ‘How Cruelly We Are Used’, 1831,
Joseph Sturge, Speech at the Baptist Missionary Society of Birmingham, 1836,
An Anonymous Member of the Walthamstow Free Produce or Anti-Slavery Association, Conscience Versus Cotton: Or, the Preference of Free Labour Produce, 1851,
Ernest Jones’, ‘The Indian Struggle’, 1857, supporting Indian independence during the Mutiny,
Richard Cobden’s Letter to John Bright on Indian independence, 1857,
Celestine Edwards, a Black Methodist preacher from Dominica, The British Empire, attacking imperialism,
‘A Voice from the Aliens about the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trades Union Congress of 1893, by Jewish worker protesting at a motion by William Inskip and Charles Freak to ban immigrant workers from joining trades unions,
Henry Woodd Nevinson, ‘The Slave Trade of Today’, 1906, against the cultivation of cocoa by Angolan slaves,
The Indian nationalist Ghadar Movement’s ‘An Open letter to the People of India’, 1913,
The satirical, ‘In Praise of the Empire’ by the Irish nationalist and founder of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, James Connolly,
B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘India on the Eve of the Crown Government’, 1915,
John Archer’s Presidential Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the African Progress Union, 1918,
Manifesto of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a Punjabi revolutionary Indian nationalist, 1928,
Gandhi’s Quit India Speech of 1942,
C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, on cricket and his experiences growing up in Trinidad, 1963,
Peter Hain, Defence in Trial from Picketing Apartheid South African Cricket and Rugby, 1972,
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’, 1980,
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, 1990,
The account of his own incarceration by an anonymous Tanzanian Asylum Seeker, 2000,
Benjuamin Zephaniah, ‘What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us’, 2001,
Roger Huddle and Lee Billingham’s Reflections on Rock against Racism and Love Music Hate Racism, 2004,
The People’s Navy Protest on the eviction of the indigenous islanders from the islands, 2008,
and Mark Steel’s ‘The Poles Might be Leaving but the Prejudice Remains’, 2009.

The section on the period 1790-1860 has the following extracts and pieces
An Account of the Seizure of Citizen Thomas Hardy, Secretary to the London Corresponding Society, 1794,
‘Rules and Resolutions of the Political Protestants’, 1818. Political Protestants was the name adopted by a number of northern working class radical organisations demanding universal suffrage.
There is a subsection devoted to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local militia and then a detachment of Hussars attacked and broke up a peaceful meeting in Manchester of protesters campaigning for an extension of the franchise. This section has
The Letter from Mr W.R. Hay to Lord Sidmouth regarding Peterloo, 1819,
extracts from Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy
and William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built.

The chapter also has following pieces
William Davidson, Speech to the Court in the Cato Street Conspiracy Trial, 1820,
and Mr Crawshay Recounts the Merthyr Uprising, 1831.
This is followed by a section on Chartism, including
Henry Vincent, Chartists in Wales, 1839,
Edward Hamer, ‘The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes, 1839,
and Chartist Protests in Newcastle, 1839.
Charles Dickens,’The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version’, 1841, bitterly attack Tory feudalism and massacres of radicals,
and the Bilston, South Staffordshire Chartist Rally.

The section on money and class has a piece on the rebellion of William Fitz-Osbert against the way the Anglo-Normans barons shifted their tax burden onto the poor,
George Manley’s speech from the gallows at Wicklow, where he was hanged for murder, against the murder and plunder of the rich and general such as Marlborough,
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard,
Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That,
and John Grimswaw’s ‘The Handloom Weaver’s Lament’.
This is followed by a section on Luddism, which contains
John Sykes’ account of machine-breaking at Linthwaite, Yorkshire, 1812,
An Anonymous ‘Address to Cotton Weavers and Others’, 1812,
The poem ‘Hunting a Loaf’,
The poet Byron’s speech on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, and his ‘Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill’,
The ballad, ‘The Tradesman’s Complaint’,
An extract from Carlisle’s Past and Present in which he questioned the benefits of unrestrained economic growth,
Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England,
An extract from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto,
Henry Mayhew’s ‘Labour and the Poor’,
‘The Last Sark’ by the radical working class poet, Ellen Johnston,
Thomas Hardy’s ‘To An Unborn Pauper Child’,
The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938, by Jack Dash, a Member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union,
George Orwell’s ‘England, Your England’,
John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’,
Jimmy Reid’s Inaugural Speech as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972,
and Dick Gaughan’s ‘Call It Freedom’.

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland by the Glasgow Weavers, 1820,
Richard Oastler’s Letter to the Leeds Mercury on Slavery, denouncing the harsh conditions endured by children working in the factories and mines,
George Loveless, the Tolpuddle Martyr,
Patience Kerr’s Testimony before the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842,
Thomas Kerr’s ‘Aw’s Glad the Strike’s Duin’, 1880,
William Morris’ The Depression of Trade and Socialism: Ends and Means, 1886,
Annie Besant on White Slavery in London,
Samuel Webber’s Memories of the Matchgirl’s Strike,
Ben Tillett on the Dock Strike, 1911,
The Speech, ‘I am here as the Accuser’ by John Maclean, a Revolutionary Glaswegian Socialist tried for sedition for trying to dissuade soldiers from fighting in the First World War,
An account of the General Strike of 1926 by an Ashton Sheet Metal Worker,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’,
Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’,
An account of the Miners’ Strike by Bobby Girvan and Christine Mahoney,
And Mark Serwotka’s ‘Imagine Not Only Marching Together, but Striking Together’, of 2011 against the Coalition.

The section on Equal Rights has an extract from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism,
Emmeline Pankhursts’ Kill Me or Give Me My Freedom,
George Orwell’s ‘A Hanging’,
and a section for the voices of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street against Mosely’s Blackshirts.
This section includes the testimony of William J. Fishman, a Stepney Labour activist, the then secretary of the Communist Party, Phil Piratin, Joe Jacobs, another member of the Communist Party, also from Stepney, Julie Gershon, a Stepney resident, Mr Ginsburg, from Cable Street, and Mrs Beresford, of Lascombe’s fish and chip shop.
These are followed by an extract from Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’.

The section and war and piece begins with Thomas Hoccleve’s An Appeal for Peace with France of 1412,
a Handbill from the Weavers of Royton, 1808,
John Bright’s Speech against the Crimean War,
Bertrand Russell’s Letter to the Nation, 1914,
Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against War, 1917,
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’,
The section answering the question, ‘How Should War be Prevented?’ from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas,
James Maxton’s Speech Against War,
Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator,
Phil Piratin on the Invasion of the Savoy Hotel, 1940,
Denis Knight, The Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear March, 1958,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, dedicated to Scots anti-Nuclear marchers,
and Adrian Mitchell’s ‘To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies about Vietnam)’, 1964.

There is also a section of voices from the women involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, containing testimony and memories from Kim Besly, Sarah Hipperson,Ann Pettitt, and Thalia Campbell.
This is followed by Mary Compton’s speech at the Stop the War Coalition, and Robin Cook’s resignation speech to parliament against the invasion of Iraq.

The section and gender and sexual equality begins with an anonymous sixteenth century Song on the Labour of Women,
The Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women, 1649, against the imprisonment of four of the Levellers,
An anonymous article from the Saint James Chronicle from 1790, recording the ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ between the ‘Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792,
Anna Wheeler and William Thompson’s ‘Address to Women’, an extract from their pamphlet, Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825,
A letter by an anonymous prostitute from the Times, 1858,
Josephine Butler’s An Appeal to the People of England, on the Recognition and Superintendence of Prostitution by Governments,
Edmund Kell, ‘Effects of the Acts Upon the ‘Subjected’ Women, against the humiliation endured by women through the examinations under the Contagious Diseases Act,
Oscar Wilde’s Second Trial for ‘Gross Indecency’,
Helen Gordon Liddle’s The Prisoner, an account of the force-feeding of the Suffragettes under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act,
Two passages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,
Against the Law, by Peter Wildeblood, a journalist and TV producer arrested for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency,
The memories of Vicky and Janice of Lesbian Life in Brighton in the 1950s and ’60s,
Selma James and the Women’s Liberation Workshop, ‘Women against the Industrial Relations Act’, 1971,
Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’,
Quentin Crisp’s How to Become a Virgin,
and Ian McKellen’s Keynote Speech at the 2008 Stonewall Equality Dinner.

The section, ‘Battling the State’, has pieces and extracts from
Tariq Ali’s ‘The Street is Our Medium’, from Black Dwarf, the newspaper of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with a copy of Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to Street Fighting Man.
Paul Foot’s Speech on the Murder of Blair Peach, 1979,
The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’, 1982,
Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, against the Falkland’s War,
Pensioner Nellie discussing the Poll Tax revolt,
Jeremy Hardy, ‘How to Be Truly Free’, 1993,
‘Catching Buses’ by the Bristolian disabled rights activist, Liz Crow,
Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, 2005,
Mark Thomas’ ‘Put People First G20 Protest of 2009,
Euan Booth’s ‘Subversively Move Tony Blair’s Memoirs to the Crime Section in Bookshops’,
The Speech on Student Protests by the fifteen-year old schoolboy, Barnaby Raine, to the Coalition of Resistance Conference.
The book ends with Zadie Smith’s piece attacking library closures in 2011.

As well as notes and a normal index, the book also has a chronological index, placing the pieces in order according to the dates they were written.

The book is indeed encyclopaedic and comprehensive in the range of its selected texts through two millennia of history. Firth is quite right when he says that much has been necessarily left out. Whole can and have been written about some of the subjects he has touched on, such as popular protest in history, the Enclosures, Chartism, the development of British Socialism, Irish, Scots and Welsh history and nationalism, Socialism in Britain, opposition to the workhouse, to name but a few. There are a number of works on gay, gender and women’s history. E.P. Thompson himself wrote a history of the English working class, which remains one of the standard texts on the subject. Labour history-writing goes further back than Thompson, however. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote two books on the country and town labourers respectively. A number of the first Labour MPs to be voted into parliament have also left their autobiographies, describing their rise from manual labourer to Member of Parliament.

The book does an important service by showing just how old some of the issues and techniques raised and used by today’s protesters actually are. Hoccleve’s appeal for peace with France shows that peace protests go right back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the Tenth Century the Church led a peace movement to establish God’s Truce. This was the ban on fighting by the knights and the aristocracy on certain days of the week, so that the peasants, their crops and livestock were harmed as little as possible. And some of the 19th century popular protests are surprisingly modern in flavour. I was struck in the 1980s by how similar Cobden and Bright’s peace meetings demanding an end to the Crimean War were to contemporary anti-Nuclear peace marches and protests. An earlier generation would doubtless be struck by the similarity to the anti-Vietnam protests. The various articles, pamphlets, books and letters written attacking British imperialism are a reminder that, even during the intensely patriotic Victorian age imperialism and colonial expansion were the subjects of criticism. One of Gladstone’s ministers was privately strongly anti-imperial, and wrote articles for the Liberal press denouncing imperialism. ‘A love of empire’, he wrote, ‘is the love of war’. It’s as true now as it was then.

The Anti-Saccherist League is another example of a startlingly modern Victorian protest. It was an early example of ethical consumption. It aimed to attack slavery by destroying the profits from sugar produced by slaves. Instead of buying sugar from the Caribbean, it instead promoted Indian sugar, which it believed was produced by free people. The book doesn’t mention it, but there were also feminist campaigns to end slavery. One of the petitions against slavery compiled by anti-Slavery activists, was by women, attacking the brutality experienced by enslaved women, and addressed to the Queen herself, Victoria. It was felt that she, as a woman, would have more sympathy to the sufferings of the other members of her gender in slavery than men. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman is justly famous, and has been published in Penguin Classics. It, and the 19th century pamphlet similarly protesting women’s subordination and exploitation are a reminder that feminism did not begin with the suffragettes or was a product of ’60s radicalism.

Some of the older, more ancient texts from the book could easily be reprinted today as an indictment of modern conditions and attitudes under the Coalition. The descriptions of the government and employers’ opposition to the dock and matchgirls’ strikes sound very modern indeed, and Annie Besant’s denunciation of white slavery in London – the gruelling work performed in factories by poorly paid and exploited workers, sounds exactly like the world Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the whole foul crew would like to drag us back to.

I do, however, have problems with some of the material included in the book. It’s true that the United Kingdom was largely created through military expansion and conquest, as the Anglo-Norman barons first took Wales, and then established the English pale and suzerainty over the Gaelic clans in Ireland. They tried to conquer Scotland, but England and Scotland were only politically united after the failure of the Darien colony in the early 18th century. The history of the British control of Ireland is one of repeated misgovernment and oppression, as well as missed opportunities for reform and improvement. If some of George III’s ministers had succeeded in enfranchising Roman Catholics, so that they had at least some of the same rights as Protestants, or Gladstone, himself very much a member of the Anglican Church, had succeeded in granting ‘Home Rule all round’ to the ‘Celtic Fringe’, then some of the sectarian and political violence could possibly have been avoided. Discrimination against Roman Catholics was widespread and resulted in the Civil Rights demonstrations by Ulster Catholics in the 1960s. It also produced the Nationalist terrorist groups, who, like the Loyalist terrorists, which opposed them, have been responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of civilians. I do have strong reservations of parts of the Irish folk scene, because of the way folk songs describing and denouncing historic atrocities by the British, were used by Nationalist paramilitaries to drum up hatred and support for their murderous campaigns. I am certainly not accusing any of the modern folk groups included in the book, whose lyrics denounce what they see as the continuing oppression of the Irish people, of supporting terrorism. Firth and Arnove appear to have deliberately avoided choosing the contemporary folk songs that do glamorise terrorism. Nevertheless, there is a problem in that some of the Irish folk songs about the suffering of their country and its people can be so abused. I am also definitely not impressed with Protestant, Loyalist sectarianism and its vilification of and celebration of violence against Roman Catholics.

It’s also the case that historically at least, many Protestants did support the aspirations of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen for freedom and emancipation. A few years ago Mapping the Town, BBC Radio 4’s urban history programme, broadcast an edition from Belfast. This noted that one of the first Roman Catholic churches built in the town in the late 18th or early 19th century was half funded by the town’s Protestants. Although there denominations were recognised and permitted by the Anglican establishment, unlike Roman Catholicism, which was rigorously prohibited, they also suffered serious legal disabilities and were prevented from holding political office. They shared the resentment their Roman Catholic friends and fellow Irishmen felt, and so sometimes, as here, made common cause with them. The book does include some of the speeches from Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen, the 18th century militant Nationalist organisation that included both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This makes the point that the struggle for an independent Ireland has historically included Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, possibly some further Irish Protestant texts supporting independence or Roman Catholic emancipation would have been useful, to show such issues can and did transcend the religious divide.

Another problem with the section on Ireland is that in Northern Ireland the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the province was created through an uprising against the possibility that it would become part of Eire. While the oppression of Roman Catholics in Ulster is definitely undemocratic, it also has to be recognised that Ulster has remained part of the UK through the wishes of a majority of its people. This has been implemented through democratic politics, which is something that needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, the exclusive focus on Irish nationalism in the book obscures the fact that the province’s inclusion in the UK does have a popular democratic mandate.

A further issue is the exclusion of a modern, working class Ulster Protestant voice. Nearly a decade ago now the Independent reviewed a play by a working class Ulster Protestant playwright about the Troubles. The play was about a family reacting to the rioting occurring outside. I’ve unfortunately forgotten, who the playwright was. What I do remember was his comment that working class Protestants in Ulster were disenfranchised, as there were no organisations representing them. It’s a controversial claim, but there’s more than a little truth in it. Many of the working class political parties in Northern Ireland, such as the SDLP, are more or less Nationalist. The Unionist party, on the other hand, was formed from the merger of the Conservative and right-wing parts of the Liberal party. There has therefore been little in the way of working-class Protestant political parties, although some of the militant Protestant paramilitaries did adopt a radical Socialist agenda in the 1970s. Again, it would have been good to have a text or so examining this aspect of Northern Irish politics, though one which would not support the Protestant paramilitaries and their violence.

Equally problematic is the inclusion in the book of the voices of the womenfolk of the men imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay, collected by Victoria Brittain. Now Gitmo is indeed a human rights abuse. The prisoners there are held without trial or sentencing. The reasoning behind this is that, while they are guilty of terrorism offences, wartime conditions and the pressures of battle mean that it has been impossible to obtain the level of evidence required to secure a conviction under civilian law. If they were tried, they would be acquitted, and disappear to continue their terrorist campaigns against the US. Hence, for national security they must be detained outside the law. It’s a dangerous argument, as it sets up a precedent for the kind of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ disappearances and incarceration without trial of domestic opponents that was ruthlessly used by the Nazis on their political opponents in Germany.

This does not mean that the men held without trial in Gitmo are democrats. Far from it. Those that fought for the Taliban supported a vehemently anti-democratic regime. It was a violently repressive theocracy, which rejected ‘man-made law’ in favour of the Sharia. Under the Taliban, no forms of religious belief or unbelief were tolerated apart from Islam. Women were prevented from going out in public except when clad in the chador. As they were supposed to be silent and not draw attention to themselves when in public, they were beaten if they made a sound. This included the noises made by the artificial limbs of women, who had been mutilated by the mines and ordnance used in the fighting. There was also an active campaign against female education. This situation has been challenged by the presence of the Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hardy in the News Quiz derided this as ‘collateral feminism’. He has a point. The war was not fought to liberate or improve the conditions of Afghan women. This is very much a side effect. However, if the Western occupation of Afghanistan does raise their status and give them more freedom, then it will have done some good.

As for the occupation of Afghanistan itself, I’ve read material that has argued that the real reason the Western forces are there is to secure access to and appropriate the country’s oil pipelines. There’s possibly something in that. However, the immediate reason for the invasion was al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. The destruction of the Twin Towers and parallel attacks on the Pentagon and the White House were acts of war. There is simply no two ways about this, and the West’s counter-attack and invasion of Afghanistan was an entirely appropriate response. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous to include the piece of on the suffering of the wives of the men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, when the men themselves were the militant, murderous supporters of an oppressive regime that itself had absolute contempt for democracy and Western notions of human rights.

If many of the texts in this volume seem surprisingly modern, the extracts on the Ladies of Llangollen can be somewhat misleading in that historically British society has recognised a number of intense same-sex relationships, that were not at the time regarded as homosexual, or which included a homosexual element that was nevertheless seen in context as part of a wider relationship. There has been a book published within the last year or so on the homosocial relationship between medieval knights, which examined the all-male camaraderie and loyalty between them. The chivalrous concept of campiognage, which was the extreme friendship and loyalty between two knights, could be described in homosexual terms, even when one knight was helping his comrade in arms to escape with his lady love. In the 19th century there was the ‘romantic friendship’. This was a devoted friendship between two members of the same sex. These now can strike us as definitely gay, but at the time these were not seen as being necessarily homosexual or particularly extraordinary. Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried next to another priest, with whom he shared a profound friendship, was almost certainly such a Victorian romantic friendship, rather than a straightforward gay relationship. Although the ladies of Llangollen described themselves as having eloped, they always maintained that they devoted themselves to artistic and intellectual pursuits. They were celebrated at the time for their devotion to each other, and visitors to their home included many of the 19th century’s great and good, including the Duke of Wellington. It seems to me therefore that there relationship was seen as another romantic friendship, rather than a lesbian relationship.

It is also the case that the Victorians were aware of the existence of lesbianism. The story that when they were formulating the laws against homosexuality, Queen Victoria and her ministers did not outlaw female homosexuality because they didn’t believe it existed is a myth. They knew that it did. They just didn’t see it as a particular threat. The historian Martin Pugh makes this point in his book, British Fascism between the Wars. He argues that lesbianism was only perceived as a threat to British society after the First World War, when there was a ‘crisis of masculinity’. It was widely believed that the cream of British manhood had all been carried off by the War, and that only inferior men had been left behind. This created the atmosphere of sexual panic in which arose Pemberton Billing and his notorious black book. Billing was an extreme Right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the Germans were blackmailing British homosexuals into betraying their country. He claimed to have a little book containing the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’, and regularly attacked other public figures with accusations that they were gay. At least one of his victims sued for libel, but the trial was called off when Billing accused the presiding judge of being another gay, whose name was in his book. I’m no legal expert, but it has struck me that the judge would have grounds for jailing him for contempt. Moral fears and legislation against gay women arguably date from this period, rather than the Victorian age.

These reservations aside, this is a powerful, inspiring book, that should encourage and empower anyone with an interest in radical history and who is determined to defend freedom and dignity today from the increasing attacks on it by the Coalition, the most reactionary regime this country has endured since the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.