Posts Tagged ‘Francis Galton’

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Tony Linford on Toby Young, Eugenics, and Disabled People’s Right to Life

January 25, 2018

This is a piece I found on YouTube by the disabled vlogger, Tony Linford, commenting on Toby Young’s attendance at a eugenics conference at University College London. The video was posted on the 11th January 2018, so it’s somewhat old news now. But I wanted to put it up, as it gives the perspective of a disabled person on Young and his grotty views.

Linford makes the point that the Nazis considered the congenitally disabled ‘lebensunwertigen’ – ‘unworthy of life’, and that they were murdered by the SS as part of the Nazis’ eugenics programme. He goes on to stoutly defend the right of all disabled people to life, and movingly talks about his experience meeting one severely disabled youngster being cared. The lad was in a wheelchair, and was mentally challenged, in the polite way of talking about it. Nevertheless, the lad was full of life and energy, and bubbling with ideas. Linford states that he learned a lot from him. He sadly reflects that the lad’s probably dead by now, but as disabled as he was, he was certainly not ‘lebensunwertigen’.

And discussing Young and his vile opinions on selective breeding, he also wonders how many others in the Tory party also hold the same disgusting views.

My guess is that there’s quite a few, but they keep very, very quiet about it because their leaders know full well the storm of outrage they’ll cause if they ever make their beliefs public. Maggie’s mentor, Keith Joseph, provoked such indignation with his comment in the 1970s that unmarried mothers were ‘a threat to our stock’. Young clearly thought he could get away with such views. Looking at some of the videos on YouTube, it appears that the Spectator had published a piece ‘The Return of Eugenics’, which was plastered all over its front cover. It looks like that after this piece was published, and didn’t seem to have people rioting in the streets, Young thought he would be safe. I am glad that he was profoundly mistaken.

Young and the other Tory eugenics snobs, Ben Bradley, who wanted the unemployed sterilised and the police to play ‘splat the chav’ with watercannon during the London riots six years ago, and his defender James Cleverly, hold thoroughly disgusting views. It’s the same attitude Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, had, who was terrified that the biologically unfit poor would outbreed respectable, biologically superior middle and upper class people. It’s the views of privileged public schoolboys, who see themselves as innately biologically superior to everyone else, and have nothing but contempt for their social inferiors.

Cleverly tried defending Bradley’s comments about sterilising the unemployed by bleating something about it being at heart, a ‘reasonable’ statement about personal responsibility. Er, no. If the argument was about personal responsibility, then it would have been about encouraging those, who can’t afford children to use contraception. That would be about personal responsibility, as the choice would still be that of the unemployed whether or not they wanted to bring another life into the world.

Bradley’s comment was about denying the unemployed any personal responsibility, by taking away their personal freedom and forcibly sterilising them. It was a moralistic, punitive attitude by someone, who clearly has nothing but a Daily Mail-type rage against the poorest members of society.

And it isn’t just proles and the lumpenproletariat, who become unemployed. It also strikes respectable middle class people. I can remember hearing Tim Waterstone, the founder of the chain of booksellers that bears his name, speaking on the radio one day about how he spent a period unemployed. He described his feelings of absolute humiliation at the experience. Waterstone was lucky, in that I think he went on from this to start up his chain of stores. But others aren’t. They are laid off, or their businesses fail. And the lifestyle they found easy to support on their previously high salaries suddenly become a heavy burden. What happens to these people, if they have large families that they may find difficulty providing for if and when they are made unemployed? In Ben Bradley’s ideal eugenics Britain, would they be sterilised? Or do they get a pass, because they’re nice and middle class? Given the way the Tory party does everything it can to give extra money to the rich, while denying the poor the financial and medical support they need, my guess is that if this happened to a large number of middle class people, Bradley would be loudly screaming about how disgraceful it all was and demanding government support for them. His attitudes show the class snobbery that runs through Tory politics, and particularly through May’s government of privileged toffs.

The Nazis used eugenics not just to murder the disabled, but as part of their attempted extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust. The German historian Martin Broszat, in his The Hitler State, points out that the Nazi murder of the disabled served as a trial run for the mass slaughter of the Jews, including the use of poison gas. And there were Nazis and Nazi-sympathisers over here, who shared the same horrendous views.

One of these was Lord Lymington, an aristocrat, who wished to recreate the rural, agrarian and feudal society he idealised over modern capitalist, industrial society. Lymington was also a fan of eugenics, and in his 1943 book, Alternative to Death: The Relationship between Soil, Family and Community, discussed ‘the dangers of losing our own character from alien influence and blood’ in which he ranted about the threat to British racial purity from ‘the marketer, the unscrupulous trader, the slick haggler, the seditious natural underdog’, who was a type of immigrant ‘too often conditioned to the mental slum and the bazaar’. (See Richard Griffiths, What Did You Do During the War? The Last Throes of the British Pro-Nazi Right (Routledge, 2017) 240-1.) All of which is coded way of playing on anti-Semitic prejudice, without actually spelling it out in so many words. The quote graphically demonstrates why so many people found Young and his belief in eugenics so repulsive, that he ended up resigning from his position on the universities’ regulatory board. And why so many people this week have been extremely unimpressed with Bradley and Cleverly, and their stupid, bigoted, dangerous and contemptible comments.

Chunky Mark on Toby Young’s Attendance at a Eugenics Conference

January 11, 2018

In this short clip, Chunky Mark, the artist taxi driver, expresses his absolute disgust at a report that Toby Young, the grotty right-wing hack Theresa May put on the regulatory board for the universities, attended a secret eugenics conference recently at University College London. What, he asks pointedly, does this say about the Tory party? He points out that Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jo Johnson, Fraser Nelson and Andrew Neil all defended Young, despite knowing about his foul and dangerous views on this subject.

Up to this video, I was prepared to give Young the benefit of the doubt on eugenics. Yes, he’s an obnoxious, right-wing snob, who’s published pieces sneering at the working class, disabled people and a variety of left-wing issues and causes. This includes the Welsh. I can remember him appearing on one of the TV shows a few years ago describing how he had to sneak out the back way when he appeared on Welsh radio in Cardiff. Young had previously described the Welsh as ‘swarthy, stunted trolls’ or something similar, and one of the station’s listeners had decided that he wasn’t going to put up with it, and had come in to sort the wretched hack out. So Young was forced to scurry down the back stairs to avoid him and a good hiding.

I knew from the various articles on Young, including those put up by Mike over at Vox Political, that he had published a piece arguing for eugenics. This is the pseudoscientific doctrine that some people are biologically unfit, and to maintain the purity and fitness of the race should be prevented from breeding. It was a part of Nazi policy during the Third Reich, when recidivist criminals and the congenitally disabled were sterilised, in order to prevent them passing on their bad biological heritage. It was also the rationale behind the murder of the disabled under Aktion T4, in which the mentally handicapped were taken to special hospitals and gassed by Nazi doctors under the direction of the SS. The Nazis based much of their eugenics legislation on contemporary laws governing biological heredity and disability in America, which provided for the forcible sterilisation of those considered ‘unfit’. Indeed, the Nazis boasted that in this regard, they had not invented anything. Similar views were held by a number of people over this side of the Pond, where eugenics was, in the early part of the 20th century, one of the popular topics among the chattering classes. The Nazis’ crimes against humanity and their mass sterilisation and murder of the disabled, as well as their attempted genocide of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other ethnic groups they considered subhuman, were no doubt powerful influences that turned popular and elite opinion against eugenics. Nevertheless, the subject continued to survive amongst a group of supporters. The ‘societies and clubs’ section of Whitaker’s Almanac for 1987 includes the Francis Galton Society, named after Darwin’s cousin, who first promoted the idea, and which existed to promote eugenics.
I’d assumed, however, that when he published the article, Young may not have been entirely serious.

I was wrong.

Young strikes me as little more than a troll, adopting deliberately offensive views and language, in order to upset people. Sort of like Milo Yiannopolis, but heterosexual and without the Jewish heritage. I did wonder if he was one of those Tories, who admire Auberon Waugh, who used to publish similar articles in Private Eye and then the Torygraph sneering at the left, in what was seen by his admirers as some kind of wit. In fact, precious little of what Waugh seemed to me to be at all witty. It mostly seemed to be just abuse. I particularly remember his sneers at teachers in the Torygraph, which in retrospect just followed the Tory line of blaming teachers for everything wrong with British education while screaming loudly about progressive education, left-wing indoctrination and the need to bring back grammar schools. He also appeared on Wogan’s chat show, where he also spewed hate at the Greenham Common female peace protesters, decrying them as ‘lesbians’. Which wasn’t even the most original insult, as just about everyone on the right was claiming they were. Some may well have been, but certainly not all. Especially as some of the early news reports described how many of the women had children, whom they were missing terribly, and so presumably also male partners. I’d assumed Young had adopted eugenics as just another extreme, right-wing pose in order to cause the upset and anger that he appears to thrive on.

But it’s clearly not the case. If he attended this conference, then he really does believe it. Which makes him a positive danger. From the article as it appears in the video, it seems that the report comes from Private Eye, and Chunky Mark states that he can’t even read about some of the things that went on at the conference. But Young was there, along with Nazis and other horrors. As for what it says about the Tory party and its leadership, there always has been a current of extreme right-wing attitudes and policies within the Tory party, and it’s certainly been no barrier to advancement in the Tory ranks. Way back in the 1970s Thatcher’s mentor, Keith Joseph, caused outrage when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’, using the language and attitudes of eugenics. And there has been a fringe of the Tory party that admires and has had links with the Fascist right. Way back in the 1980s one of the Libertarian groups within the Tory party held an annual dinner at which the guest of honour was the head of one of the death squads then exterminating left-wingers in Central America. One of the members of that group, if I recall correctly, was Paul Staines, the founder of the Guido Fawkes blog.

Young has since resigned from his position on the universities’ board, despite being loudly supported by Theresa May. His appointment was, in any case, a calculated insult to students. Young was put in because he favours the privatisation of education, as shown by his promotion of free schools. As for his other, obnoxious views, I’ve no doubt that they appeal to the type of grassroots Tory, including those on the backbenches, who regularly cause a scandal by blaming crime on Blacks and immigration, and rant on about how wonderful Enoch Powell was. At a time when students are worried about paying off tens of thousands in debts and tuition fees, Young and his grotesque opinions were a calculated insult. They showed the Tory faithful the absolute contempt the party really had for these pesky students and their concerns over the quality of the education they were receiving, and the determination of May’s government to continue privatising education and stamping out any trace of perceived left-wing bias, regardless of the wishes of students, lecturers and educationalists themselves. All done so that universities, like schools, would indoctrinate students with the required Tory view of history and politics, as demanded by Michael Gove, amongst others.

Young’s appointment was met with a barrage of complaints and opposition, leading to his resignation. It’s significant that he was not replaced by Theresa May, despite considerable pressure to do so. Some of this may have been weakness on her part. Young was supported by Gove and Johnson, and she may have been afraid that if she sacked Young, those two would move against her, just as they intrigued against Cameron. But it also shows that May, and the rest of the Tory front bench, really don’t see anything wrong with Young’s opinions, even when they include such an inflammatory, dangerous ideology as eugenics.

Chunky Mark ends his video by stating that they should all resign. He’s quite right. This is a brutal, murderous government anyway. It’s policies of stripping away workers rights, enforcing low pay, and zero hours contracts, have forced millions in work into poverty. At the same time, their expansion of the sanctions system have resulted in nearly a quarter of a million people relying on food banks for their next meal, and has led to the deaths of almost a thousand or so disabled people, deprived of benefits after being declared ‘fit for work’. Left-wing commenters like Mike, and the commenters on his and my blogs have called the deaths ‘the genocide of the disabled’, and suggested that it does indeed come from a conscious eugenics policy by the Tories, targeting the disabled for death. But done quietly, so as not to alarm the general public. After reading about Young’s very real support for eugenics, you could be forgiven for wondering if this isn’t, after all, the literal truth.

The Tories are a danger to the working people of Britain, and particularly to the poor and disabled. They should be removed as quickly as possible, and never let back into power.

Keith Joseph and the Tories Eugenicist Hatred of the Working Class

March 17, 2014

Keith Joseph Pic

Keith Joseph: Maggie’s mentor, and the man who thought there were too many poor people with retarded children. And they were breeding.

Yesterday I put up a piece about how the Tories really did have a visceral hatred of the working class, a hatred and desire to preserve the privileges and position of the ruling elite that confirmed Marx’s view that the state was the instrument of class oppression. One of the most venomous expressions of this hatred came from Keith Joseph. Joseph was Thatcher’s mentor in the Tory party, and an enthusiastic supporter of Milton Friedman’s monetarism and the Chilean dictator General Pinochet. Although he guided Thatcher and served in her cabinet, he never actually became prime minister himself because of a speech he made about the poor in 1974.

Joseph’s view was that there were too many of them, who were too poorly educated, breeding too young. Too many of their children were mentally retarded, and they were thus a danger to solid, genetically and morally superior middle class folk. Owen Jones quotes him in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class:

In a speech in October 1974, he expressed some of the attitudes towards ‘the lower orders’ that were once common among middle-class eugenicists. He argued that ‘a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and to bring them up. They are born to mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5 … Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment.’ But the killer line was this: ‘The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened.’ Joseph’s message was clear. The poor were breeding too fast, and the danger was they were going to swamp everyone else. (pp. 45-6).

Keith Joseph’s speech could indeed have come from a 19th century Victorian eugenicist. Eugenics was founded by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. It believed that there was a real danger of the human race degenerating through the unfit outbreeding the healthy. They thus advocated a series of harsh laws to prevent those they considered genetically unfit – the dysgenic – from breeding. The movement crossed ideological boundaries, and some of the most fervent supporters of the ideology were left-wingers, like George Bernard Shaw, who wished to improve society and humanity by making reproduction more rational, and so breed healthier children. Galton himself was a member of the upper classes, and so believed they were genetically superior to everyone else, and was afraid that their superior genetic material would be outbred by the lower orders. Eugenics and Social Darwinism was taken up by many members of these classes, as it seemed to argue against the need for passing any environmental or health and safety legislation to protect the working classes from the harmful effects of industry. If people were falling ill or being killed through exposure to harmful materials, such as lead, arsenic, mercury or phosphorous, or having deformed or mentally retarded children, or killed in industrial accidents, it wasn’t because these materials were unduly hazardous, but because their stock was defective. They weren’t as constitutionally healthy as everyone else, and it was therefore better if they weren’t allowed to breed. By the 1920s 45 American states had passed eugenics legislation designed to stop the congenitally ill from having children. It also led to the compulsory castration of mentally retarded children in American mental hospitals.

The Nazis boasted that they had invented nothing in their adoption of the eugenics programme, and pointed to America and other countries, which had passed similar legislation. Under the Nazis, however, not only did contribute to the vicious racialism of the regime, which saw Jews, Gypsies and Slavs as subhumans, who were to be destroyed, but it also led directly to the planned murder of the mentally retarded by the SS under the control of Hitler’s doctors.

131010benefitdenier

Ian Duncan Smith: Under him, as many as 38,000 people a year may have died through poverty. Does he share Joseph’s eugenicist hatred of the poor?

Joseph’s opinions are extremely worrying, because of the way they suggest a coherent political view that sees the poor and disabled as a positive threat to be removed. German eugenicists called the congenitally ill and retarded ‘lebensunwertigenleben’ or ‘life unworthy of life’. I’ve blogged about some of the similarities between the Nazi murder of the mentally retarded and the apparent complete disregard for the welfare of the disabled shown by Atos and the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith. Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, Jaypot, Jayne Linney, the Angry Yorkshireman, myself and other blogs, like Diary of Benefit Scrounger and Benefit Tales, have reported the way the DWP and Atos have been concerned to have people thrown off benefit. As a result, tens of thousands are dying in poverty and starvation each year. Some have been so desperate, that they have taken their own lives. This has been reported on the above blogs. Stilloaks has a list on his blog of 45 victims of IDS’ policies, with a brief description of their circumstances when they died. It’s harrowing reading. A number of disabled people, both commenting on these blogs, and in everyday conversation, have said they feel there is a deliberate plot to kill off the disabled. Given Joseph’s 1974 rant about the genetic threat from the working class and their subnormal children, that idea begins to look all too horribly plausible.

atos-final

Does this attack on Atos really describe Tory attitudes to the poor and disabled after Keith Joseph’s rant?

I have to say, I don’t think there is a conscious plan to exterminate the working class or the disabled. It strikes me that what there is instead, is an attitude of culpable negligence arising from this attitude of class hatred and hostility to the working class disabled. There is no desire to kill them directly, in the way the Nazis did. However, they are seen as a threatening drain on resources, resources which could be better spent giving tax breaks to genetically sound multi-billionaire Tory donors. Rather than wishing to kill them actively. Rather it’s a case that their lives simply don’t matter. If they die of starvation, or kill themselves in despair or ‘while the balance of their minds’ is upset, it’s simply a case of natural wastage. They were obviously unfit to survive, as members of a feckless, profligate class. It’s simply nature’s way, and ultimately all for the best. And so rather than treat these poor souls with pity or humanity, there is simply a callous indifference to the fate of those, whose existence they regard as a real threat to society, the economy, and healthy human stock.

Gove on Blackadder and the First World War: Part Two – The British Went to War against German Social Darwinism

January 7, 2014

I’ve already posted a piece supplementing Mike’s excellent pieces over on Vox Political about Michael Gove’s comments in the Daily Mail attacking Blackadder, Oh, What A Lovely War, and ‘Left-wing academics’ for undermining the patriotism, honour and courage of the troops, who served in that conflict. In that piece I pointed out that the bitterness and rejection of patriotism for which Gove reproaches Blackadder was itself a product of the First World War, and that rather than a creation of ‘left-wing academics’, it was based very firmly in the experiences and testimony of the men who fought instead.

There is, however, something far more pernicious Gove’s comments about the First World War than simply the knee-jerk resort to patriotism of a True-Blue Thatcherite Tory. This is Gove’s statement that Britain went to war with Germany because of their ‘Social Darwinism’. This simply is not true. Social Darwinist theories were held by people right across the West from the late 19th century onwards, and certainly not just in Germany. There have been a numbers of studies, which have shown that the belief in the ‘economic survival of the fittest’ underpinned much Liberal economic and social theorising, and was used by wealthy magnates, like the Carnegies in America, to justify their opposition to state intervention, welfare, and health and safety legislation. The chattering classes all across Europe and the West also discussed legislation to limit and sterilise the indigent poor and congenitally disabled, in order to prevent them overrunning society and outbreeding their physical, mental and social superiors. These ideas formed the core of Nazi ideology, but they actually predate them. Modern eugenics, by which the unfit were to be bred out through carefully controlled selective breeding, was founded by Francis Galton in England, Darwin’s cousin. In the 1920s 45 American states passed legislation providing for the sterilisation of the congenitally disabled and particularly the mentally retarded. There was a scandal nearly two and a half decades ago at the precise week of Lady Diana’s death, when it was revealed that Sweden had still continued its campaign of sterilisation right in the 1970s. This legislation also predated the Nazis. The Swedish programme’s definition of who was congenitally unfit included sexually promiscuous girls, and members of the Tartare, Travellers rather like the Gypsies. Unlike the Gypsies, they were not considered to constitute a separate ethnic group, who were exempt from the eugenics legislation, and so they, like non-Traveller Swedes, were taken and sterilised. It was only very recently that the Tartare won recognition as an ethnic group in their own right, and so qualified for compensation for their members’ forcible sterilisation.

The same eugenicist and Social Darwinist attitudes pervaded British society. Ernest Beveridge, before he accepted the recommendations of the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb and Socialist Medical Society on which the Beveridge Report was based, also shared these views. He believed that unemployment and disability benefits should only be given to men, on the condition that they were sterilised as ‘dysgenic’ due to their inability to support themselves. It was also espoused by sections of the British military. H.W. Koch, in his paper ‘Social Darwinism as a Factor in Imperialism’ in the book The Origins of the First World, edited by Koch himself and published by MacMillan in 1972, demonstrated, with numerous quotations, how Social Darwinism formed part of the expansionist ideology of the British military in the First World War. Leading British generals and admirals advocated war with Germany as it was believed that it was through violent conflict that the unfit were weeded out and organisms and nations evolved further. Gove’s comment that Britain went to war with Germany not only ignores this, but actually falsifies the true situation in that Social Darwinism was found on the British as well as the German side.

German historians believe that the First World War was not the fault of their country, but was due to a general move to war across Europe as a whole. This view is generally rejected by historians outside Germany, who believe that the War was caused by Germany’s desire to punish the Slavs for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand the Second by Gavrilo Princip in Serbia. Nevertheless, the web of alliances that the various powers had constructed across Europe in order to prevent war acted to pull all the various nations, their colonial possessions, and extra-European allies into the conflict. Britain had become increasingly alarmed by growing German economic and military power from the late 19th century onwards. There were a series of early science fiction stories and novels, such as the Battle of Dorking, which foresaw a future German invasion of and conquest of Britain. As a result, Britain engaged in an arms race with Germany to the extent that there were already arms limitation treaties signed in 1905 between the two nations.

There were also a number of other factors involved, and I urge those interested to read ‘Sean’s’ comments to Mike’s first article on Gove and his comments about Blackadder. He knows rather more about the war and its causes than I do. He points out that the Italian Prime Minister had a few years before the War prevented it from breaking out, from example. The point here is that Britain certainly did not go to war with Wilhelmine Germany to combat the latter’s Social Darwinism, as it was shared by this country’s own chattering and military classes, but was instead due solely to geo-political questions relating to the balance of power in Europe and freedom and autonomy of Serbia and the other Slavonic nations. To state that it was is to misrepresent the origins of the War, and produce a false, pernicious picture that ignores and covers up the prevalence of Social Darwinist views in Britain and the rest of the world. It presents a nasty, black-and-white image of righteous, enlightened Allies versus proto-Nazi Germans, quite at variance with the reality.

Beyond Gove’s ignorance of the causes and spiritual, social and cultural effects of the First World War, there is the wider issue of his attitude to education and particularly the teaching of history. Gove has specifically targeted ‘left-wing academics’ for being, as he appears to see it, unpatriotic. This has been a common complaint of the Tories ever since the days of Thatcher and before, when the Express and Mail regularly carried stories of the ‘loony left’ indoctrinating vulnerable minds with subversive subjects like Peace Studies, and attacking British identity in the guise of anti-racism. I can remember Maggie sneering at one Tory conference about ‘Fabians’ and ‘anti-racist mathematics’. Now there may have been a minority of leftist radicals like that, but most weren’t, and in any case, most teachers are teachers because they want to stand in front of a chalkboard and teach, not indoctrinate their pupils one way or the other. One of the most precious, fundamental qualities in British academia is the freedom to think, debate and argue without having to bow to the dictates of the state. By attacking teachers and the academics, who hold views on the First World War and its origins at variance to his own, Gove has attacked this principle.

And this is very serious indeed. Academic freedom is under assault across the world. In Russia last year, Putin passed a law partially rehabilitating Stalin. This piece of legislation makes it illegal to denigrate Stalin as the saviour of Russia during the Great Patriotic War, the old Soviet name for World War Two. Now Stalin did indeed save the Soviet Union, but only after he signed a non-aggression pact with Ribbentrop and was totally unprepared for the Nazi invasion to the point where in the first days of the German assault Russian troops were forbidden to fire back. Far worse than that, the old brute was responsible for the deaths of 30 million Soviet citizens during the Purge. This may be an underestimate, as the true figure is unknown. It could be as high as for 45 million or more. A few years ago the BBC screened a programme on modern Russia, in which the presenter travelled to one of Stalin’s gulags. The place was dilapidated and decaying, but there were still the remains of the barracks, guardhouses and other buildings. Most chillingly, however, there were lying scattered on the ground the bare bones of the inmates, who had been starved, tortured and finally worked to death in that terrible place.

Historians and archaeologists are extremely wary about allowing nationalist bias into their work. Every nation has, of course, its own view of history, including its own. The ideal, however, is to produce an objective account free of nationalist bias. It was one of the first things I can remember being taught in history as an undergraduate. And one of the most compelling reasons for avoiding it was the way history was used and distorted by the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, like Stalin’s Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, to justify their brutal, murderous tyrannies. It has also been used to justify the invasion, colonisation and expropriation of the subject nations of the European empires around the world and the racist policies that legitimised the rule of their White masters. Hence the emergence of Historical Archaeology. The name is somewhat misleading, as it does not deal with the archaeology of the broader period for which historical records survive, such as from the ancient world onwards, but rather more narrowly of the period c.1500 to the present day. It’s called Historical Archaeology as it was founded by American researchers, for whom the written history of their country really only dates from the fifteenth century. As a discipline, Historical Archaeology tries to recover the voices and experiences of the subordinate social groups oppressed and subjected by the forces of colonialism and capitalism, who are rarely heard in the written historical accounts – the indigenous peoples, slaves, immigrants and other ethnic minorities, the working class masses and women. It’s an attempt to challenge the official histories produced by the colonial elites, which largely ignored and excluded these groups.

Gove wishes to ignore all this, to turn the clock back to what the historian Butterfield called ‘the Whig interpretation of history’, in which British history is one long process of gradual improvement, culminating in democracy and the British Empire. Gove is probably keen on the latter, but I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that the current administration pays anything but lip service to the notion of democracy. History is richer, and far more complicated than this, with frequent shameful episodes and periods when genuine oppression and brutality were all too common, and where it was never clear that the forces of humanity and justice would win. You can look, for example, at the period of vicious political repression that occurred in Britain after the Napoleonic Wars, when the government tried to crack down on anything resembling subversion against aristocratic rule. It was a period characterised by the notorious Peterloo Massacre, when the British army and a squadron of Hussars charged a peaceful demonstration gathered to hear the radical politician, ‘Orator’ Hunt. Or the slave trade and the long campaign against it, which succeeded in outlawing it in the British Empire only in 1840. Real history gives the lie to the Whig Interpretation, and casts very grave doubts over the supposed justice of British imperialism. Gove, however, would prefer that the last fifty years and more of historical scholarship, in which the Victorian view of the correctness and justice of Britain, her society, and her imperial rule, was swept away, to be replaced with a cosily reassuring Conservative version justifying the traditional British class structure, capitalism and its militaristic expansion and invasion of the wider world. He wants to return to a history guided by the old adage, ‘My country, right or wrong’.

The best comment I’ve heard on that old saying was by the fictional space detective Nathan Spring in an episode of the BBC SF series, Star Cops, back in the 1980s. In a conversation with the very shifty, patriotic commander of an American space station, the conversation moves on to patriotism and conservatism.
‘My country, right or wrong, eh?’ remarks Spring.
‘There are worse philosophies’, replies the commander.
‘Yes,’ retorts Spring. ‘Most of them begin with that one.’

Gove’s attack on teachers and ‘left-wing academics’ is also part of a general, anti-intellectual trend in Conservative politics that’s been around since Reagan and Thatcher. Back in the 1980s, the great American comedian, Bill Hicks in one of his routines used to remark, ‘Do I detect a little anti-intellectualism here. Must date from the time Reagan was elected.’ This attempts to appeal to populist sentiment by presenting a left-wing view of history as a distortion forced upon vulnerable young minds in schools, colleges and universities by subversive left-wing teachers and college and university lecturers. It attempts to present the existing order as so obviously correct, that only out-of-touch, elite liberals, who themselves sneer and patronise the working class, wish to question and challenge.

Now, you can certainly find ‘loony-left’ teachers and lecturers of whom this is true. Most teachers and lecturers, in my experience, actually don’t want to indoctrinate young minds with dangerous and subversive doctrines so much as stand in front of a class and teach. Yes, they have their biases, but the goal is to teach an objective history as supported by the facts, although how history is interpreted naturally depends very much on the individual historian and how they see the past. Gove wishes to jettison all this, and replace academic freedom, in which the accepted view of events can be freely examined and questioned, with a Conservative, patriotic view dictated by the state. It’s an attack on the very core of academic freedom. Its the mark of an insecure political elite, who fear any questioning of their authority and their view of history. And if left unchallenged, will end with Britain becoming like Russia and so many other nations around the world, where children are taught only the official history, and the nation’s shameful actions and periods are ignored. In many of these nations, those that challenge the official view of history can be subject to intimidation and imprisonment. The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, for example, has been imprisoned for insulting Turkish nationhood, because he said the country ought to admit to its culpability for the Armenian massacres. Gove’s view of history and his attack on academic freedom threaten to bring Britain close to that state.

Unfortunately, the Tories do have form for trying to use the law to purge the educational system of those, whose political views they do not share. A friend of mine, who was very much involved with his student union at Uni, informed me that in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher passed legislation intended to bar Marxists from holding posts at university. In the end, the law proved an unworkable dead letter, at the Marxists at whom it was aimed simply declared themselves to be ‘Marxian’, instead. They weren’t Marxists, but had a culture based on Marx. Hence they were exempt from such legislation. It was a very fine legal point, and some would say that it was a difference without distinction. Nevertheless, it did what it was intended to do and they kept their jobs.

Now I am aware of the reasons why Thatcher attempted to stop Marxists teaching at university, and the arguments that have been used to support it. Communist regimes around the world, from the Soviet bloc to China, have murdered millions. The argument therefore runs that if the extreme, racist right cannot be tolerated in academia because of their guilt for the murder of millions, and the murderously illiberal and intolerant nature of their doctrines, then neither should the extreme Left, who are equally guilty of such crimes. Nevertheless, there is a danger that when states start introducing legislation to regulate, who teaches in their schools and universities, based on their personal religious or political beliefs, then a step is taken towards further state control of what their citizens are allowed to think and believe, and freedom suffers. There is, rightly, legislation in place to prevent teachers and university lecturers indoctrinating their students with their personal religious or personal beliefs. Nevertheless, schools and universities are also places where students are encouraged to think for themselves, to explore different views and perspectives on particular issues, and make their own decisions. And given the immense contribution certain elements of Marxism have made to various academic disciplines, regardless of the merits or otherwise of Marxism itself as a political creed, it is only right and natural that Marxists should be allowed to teach and publish at universities, provided they too abide by the rules of open debate.

Baroness Thatcher attempted to use the law to close this down.

And Gove with this rant about Blackadder and ‘left-wing academics’ has attempted to go some way towards following her. If you value academic freedom, and right of everyone in academia to be able to teach and research, regardless of their political views, so long as they can support their views with fact and logical argument, then Gove’s latest rant, and his desire to indoctrinate young minds with his narrow view of history, must be resisted to the utmost.

Sources

Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald, Exploding the Gene Myth: How Genetic Information is Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians, Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators and Law Enforcers (Boston: Beacon Press 1997)

Philip Rahtz, Invitation to Archaeology: 2nd Edition (Oxford: Blackwell 1991)

D.G. Williamson, The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982)