Posts Tagged ‘Free Market’

Fabian Blueprint for a Socialist Britain

June 11, 2020

Sidney and Beatrice Webb, with an introduction by Samuel H. Beer, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (Cambridge: London School of Economics/ Cambridge University Press 1975).

I got this through the post yesterday, having ordered it a month or so ago. The Webbs were two of the founding members of the Fabian Society, the others including George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. The idea of the NHS goes back to their minority report on the nation’s health published in the years before or round about the First World War. First published in 1920, this is their proposal for a socialist Britain.

The blurb for it on the front flap runs

The Constitution for a Socialist Commonwealth is a book that helps us understand the ‘mind of the Webbs’. Of all their works, it is the most general in scope – Beatrice called it a ‘summing up’ – and it does much to reveal the ideology of the great partnership. And since the mind of the Webbs was also the mind (though not the heart) of British socialism, an appreciation of this ideology, considered not only with regard to its confusions and blinds spots, but also its insights and intellectual sensitivities, helps one understand the Labour Party and what is still sometimes called ‘the Movement’.

But the book also has a broader importance. The problems that prompted the Webbs to write it still plague Great Britain and other, advanced societies. In 1920, the year of its publication, the modern democratic state was being sharply confronted by a syndicalist challenge based on the rising economic power of organised producers’ groups. Hardly less serious were the political difficulties of giving substance to parliamentary and popular control int eh face of growing bureaucratisation and a mass electorate. With regard to both sorts of problems, the Webbs were often prescient in their perceptions and sensible in their proposals. They concentrate on economic and political problems that are still only imperfectly understood by students of society and have by no means been mastered by the institutions of the welfare state and managed economy.

After Beer’s introduction, the book has the following chapters, which deal with the topics below.

Introduction

The Dictatorship of the Capitalist – The Manifold Character of Democracy.

The book is split into two sections. Part 1, ‘A Survey of the Ground’, contains

Chapter 1 – Democracies of Consumers

Voluntary Democracies of Consumers – Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Relative Advantages of Voluntary and Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Consumers.

Chapter 2 – Democracies of Producers

The Trade Union Movement – Professional Associations of Brain Workers – The Relative Advantages and Disadvantages of Obligatory and Voluntary Associations of Producers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Producers: (i) Trade Unions; (ii) Professional Associations.

Chapter 3 – Political Democracy

The Structure of British Political Democracy: (a) the King; (b) the House of Lords; (c) the House of Commons and the Cabinet – Cabinet Dictatorship – Hypertrophy – A Vicious Mixture of Functions – the Task of the M.P. – the Failure of the Elector – The Warping of Political Democracy by a Capitalist Environment – Political Parties – The Labour Party – The Success of Political Democracy in general, and of British democracy in particular – The Need for Constitutional Reform.

Part II, ‘The Cooperative Commonwealth of Tomorrow’, begins with another introduction, and then the following chapters.

1 – The National Government

The King – the House of Lords – The National Parliament – the Political Parliament and its Executive – the Social Parliament and its Executive – the Relation between the Political and the Social Parliaments – Devolution as an Alternative Scheme of Reform – The Argument summarised – the Political Complex – The Social Complex – The Protection of the Individual against the Government.

2 – Some Leading Considerations in the Socialisation of Industries and Services

Three Separate Aspects of Economic Man – The Relative Functions of Democracies of Consumers and Democracies of Producers – Democracies of Citizen-Consumers – Democracies of Producers – ownership and Direction – The Participation in Management by the Producers.

3 – The Nationalised Industries and Services

The Abandonment of Ministerial Responsibility – The Differentiation of Control from Administration – The Administrative Machine – District Councils – Works Committees – the Recruitment of the Staff – Discipline Boards – Collective Bargaining – Advisory Committees – The Sphere of the Social Parliament – How the Administration will work – Initiative and Publicity – The Transformation of Authority – Coordinated instead of Chaotic Complexity – The Price of Liberty.

4 – The Reorganisation of Local Government

The Decay of Civic Patriotism – The Chaos in the Constitution and Powers of existing Local Authorities – Areas – The Inefficiency of the ‘Great Unpaid’ – The Principles on which Reconstruction should proceed – The Principle of Neighbourhood – The principle of Differentiation of Neighbourhoods – The principle of Direct Election – The Principle of the General Representatives – The Correspondence of Area and Functions – The Local Government of Tomorrow – The Representation of the Citizen-Consumer – The Local Councillor – Vocational Representation – Committees of Management – Machinery for Collective Bargaining – The Practicability of Vocational Self-Government in Municipal Government – The Industries and Services of Local Authorities – Emulation among Local Authorities – The Federation of Local Authorities – The Relation of Municipal Institutions to the Social and Political Parliaments.

5 – the Sphere of Voluntary Associations of Consumers in the Socialist Commonwealth

The Co-operative Movement – The Limitations of the Cooperative Movement – Constitutional Changes in the Cooperative Movement – Other Voluntary Associations of Consumers – Adult Education – The Future of the Country House – The Extension of Personality – The Problem of the Press – The Safeguarding of the Public Interest.

6 – The Reorganisation of the Vocational World

The Trade Union Movemewnt as the Organ of Revolt against the Capitalist System – The Right of Self-Determination for each Vocation – What Constitutes a Vocation – The Right of Free Enterprise for Socialised Administrations – Vocational Organisation as a Stratified Democracy; (a) How will each Vocation be recruited? (d) The Relative Position of Obligatory and Voluntary Organisation in a Vocation; (e) The Function of Vocational Organisation; (f) Subject Associations; (g) The Development of Professional Ethic; (h) Vocational Administration of Industries and Services; (i) Is there any Place for a National Assembly of Vocational Representatives?

7 – The Transitional Control of Profit-Making Enterprise

The Policy of the National Minimum – The Promotion of Efficiency and the Prevention of Extortion – The Standing Committee on Productivity – The Fixing of Prices – The Method of Expropriation – Taxation – The Relation of Prices to the National Revenue – The continuous Increase in a Socialist Commonwealth of Private Property in Individual Ownership – How Capital will be provided – The Transition and its Dangers- The Spirit of Service – The Need for Knowledge.

I’ve been interested in reading it for a little while, but finally decided to order it after reading in Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism that the Webb’s included an industrial parliament in their proposed constitution. I’d advocated something similar in a pamphlet I’d produced arguing that parliament was dominated by millionaires and managing directors – over 70 per cent of MPs have company directorships – working people should have their own parliamentary chamber.

The book is a century old, and doubtless very dated. It was republished in the 1970s during that decades’ acute trade union unrest and popular dissatisfaction with the corporative system of the management of the economy by the government, private industry and the trade unions. These problems were all supposed to have been swept away with the new, private-enterprise, free market economy introduced by Maggie Thatcher. But the problem of poverty has become more acute. The privatisation of gas, electricity and water has not produced the benefits and investment the Tories believed. In fact electricity bills would be cheaper if they’d remained in state hands. Ditto for the railways. And the continuing privatisation of the NHS is slowly destroying it for the sake of expensive, insurance-financed private medical care that will be disastrous for ordinary working people.

And the growing poverty through stagnant wages and welfare cuts, seen in the growth of food banks, is also partly due to the destruction of trade union power and the exclusion of working people from the management of their companies and industries.

I haven’t yet read it, but look forward to doing so because I feel that, despite Tory lies and propaganda and no matter how dated, the Webbs’ proposals and solutions are still acutely relevant and necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health Expert Predicts Government Tardiness Could Lead to 40,000 Deaths from Virus

April 19, 2020

Zelo Street has already covered this story, but it was also reported in yesterday’s I for Saturday, 18th April 2020. The global health expert, Anthony Costello has told a group of MPs that Johnson’s failure to tackle the virus quickly could lead to as many as 40,000 people dying from it. The article by Jane Clinton, ‘UK ‘too slow’ to react to virus and set for second wave, expert warns’, runs

A leading global health expert has accused the Government of being too slow to acton the outbreak and warned that the death toll in the UK could reach 40,000.

Professor Anthony Costello, of University College London’s Institute for Global Health, told a committee of MPs that the “harsh reality” is that “we were too slow with a number of things” and that “further waves” of the disease could mean Britain suffers the highest death toll in Europe.

He said: “This wave could see 40,000 deaths by the time it’s over. If we’re going to suppress the chain of transmission of this virus in the next stage we all hope that the national lockdown and social distancing will bring about a large suppression of the epidemic so far – but we’re going to face further waves. 

“And so we need to make sure that we have a system in place that cannot just do a certain number of tests in the laboratory, but has a system at district and community level.”

Professor Costello, a former official with the World Health Organisation, has previously said that the could be as many as 10 waves of the virus.

Giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, he cautioned that there should not be “any blame at this stage” but that “we can make sure in the second wave we’re not too slow.”

The criticism came as Austria’s Health Minister, Rudolf Anschober, said that the number of new cases of Covid-19 in the UK was “frightening” other EU states.

Zelo Street’s article comments on a piece in the Torygraph, which states that new research has dealt a severe blow to hopes of herd immunity. The Torygraph article also reported Costello’s suggestion that there could be eight or ten waves of the virus, killing as many as 40,000 people. But Zelo Street adds the further comments Prof Costello made on Twitter. Costello attack Matt Hancock’s refusal to let the British people know the process for lifting the lockdown, when the South Korean government had a website that contains all the details on the virus in their country. He called for the government to discuss plans for a restoration of community testing and contact tracing, digital apps to aid monitoring and quarantine, the policy of ‘flattening the curve’ should be abandoned, as this implied a commitment to further herd immunity and thus more deaths. He also wanted more volunteers to come forward as a ‘community protective shield’.

Prof Costello also condemned the Government’s policy that could lead to 40,000 deaths. There was no modelling of early testing, a suspension of community tests and contact tracing on March 12, and a two-weeks delay in the implementation of social distancing and lockdown. And he told Observer journo Carole Cadwalladr

So we are heading up towards over forty thousand deaths. That will make us two hundred times higher than [South] Korea. It could easily put us in first place for the world, although I think the US may rival us for that rate. So this is the worst public health catastrophe of the last century. We have to ask questions about why it’s happened.” Matt Hancock’s job just became a little more challenging.

Zelo Street commented that he was just the latest expert to contradict the opinions of the right-wing, free market supporting media class, and wondered how long it would be before they realised that their tactics of misinformation and lies wouldn’t work on an enemy that couldn’t be demonised into silence. He concluded

‘Prof Costello is another to have done us – and the Government – a great service. Maybe we should start listening to experts – and put the boo-boys in the bin where they belong.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/another-expert-pans-government.html

A possible death toll of 40,000 people, 200 times that of South Korea. And all because Boris and the Tories were determined to run down the NHS in order to create an absolute free market economy.

Whatever Professor Costello says about not blaming anyone, that’s an indictment. Even if, as we all hope, this disease doesn’t carry off that many.

 

 

Haulage Industry Considers Nationalisation May Be Necessary

April 10, 2020

I found this very interesting piece in Wednesday’s edition of the I, for 8th April 2020. It reports that the head of the haulage industry believes that it might have to be nationalised in order to preserve it. The article, ‘Nationalisation may be needed, says chief’, runs

The haulage industry may need to be nationalised unless firms are given cash to avoid going bust, a trade association claims. Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said around 20,000 companies have completely stopped operating, which is around 30 per cent of the sector.

Obviously, Burnett would almost certainly prefer those firms to be given cash by the government rather than nationalised. But this ties in with a comment on the BBC 10 O’clock news that evening, which is that there were some radical voices suggesting that the assistance given to industry must go further than the government’s present policy. According to the Beeb, they have suggested handing firms over to the banks, or part-nationalising them with the government as a partner.

I’ve also heard that some other countries are nationalising important industries in order to keep them running during the present crisis, a prospect that must surely terrify the Tories and their corporate backers over here.

Of the two options, I am massively in favour of nationalisation. The banks are too large, too powerful and too greedy and self-interested. Giving any industry to them will not guarantee that they will keep them running. Rather, I can see them doing to firms what the hedge funds have done to those they own – keep them starved of funds and running at a technical loss as a legal tax dodge. This works well until the company faces serious financial trouble, when the whole house of cards comes crashing down. As it has disastrously and scandalously with many care homes. Either that or the banks will simply use them as a cash cow, and the minute the companies experience trouble, will stop investing in them and try to sell them off or close them.

I’m massively in favour of the second option, partial nationalisation. The Oxford economist, Ha-Joon Chang, has pointed out in his book, 21 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, that those continental firms that are part owned by the state are more stable and long-lasting that those run for shareholders. It’s because the government has a vested interest in keeping them running. Unfortunately, with this lot in charge or the Blairites in the Labour party, I can see them selling the firms off at the earliest opportunity, and at a knockdown price below their market value the moment they decided that it’s safe to do so.

But for the moment, it seems that nationalisation is back on the agenda, if only at the fringes of the debate. And that means something else: Corbyn was right about the economy, as this crisis has shown.

Because, contrary to Thatcherite dogma, the free market isn’t going to preserve industry, and creates jobs and wealth. It never has, except for the rich. And this is shown very starkly in the present crisis.

 

Cartoon: The Dead Thatchers – Kill the Poor

April 3, 2020

And now for another of my cartoons, in which I try to express my outrage, anger and disgust at the Conservative party and their murderous, destructive policies. This one takes the form yet again of a CD cover or promotional poster for the totally imaginary band, the Dead Thatchers. I was inspired to invent them by the American punk band, the Dead Kennedys. Their angry songs bitterly attacked the economic and social conditions of Reagan’s America. One of their songs, which I’ve based this cartoon on, was ‘Kill the Poor’.

As you can see, the cartoon shows a firing squad shooting dead a representative selection of poor folks, that the Tories despise and have been killing for years, while all the while claiming to help them. Looking on are David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, their eyes blood red. The people shot represent the disabled, the unemployed, single mothers, low paid workers and asylum seekers.

And as left-wing bloggers and activists like Mike, Another Angry Voice, Zelo Street, The Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper and so many, many others have shown for the past decade and more, Tory and Thatcherite policies are killing the poor. The harsh regime of fitness to work tests and benefit sanctions imposed by the DWP, as well as cuts in the amount paid and a waiting time of five weeks from making the claim to first payment for Universal Credit, have resulted in an estimated 120,000 people dying from austerity. Over a quarter of a million people a few years ago were forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together. Millions of children and adults were living in poverty. And thanks to Boris’ incompetent, bungled and penny-pinching handling of the Coronavirus crisis, that’s all got worse. Much worse. Firms have sacked their workers, rather than apply for the government help to pay 80 per cent of their wages. The government has promised to pay 80 per cent of the earnings of the self-employed and small businesses, but this is calculated on whether they pay business rates. Not all businesses do. Some, which share a building, leave it to their landlord. Those firms won’t get anything. And the small businessmen who will qualify won’t get it until June. For many of them, this will be too late.

And don’t be misled. The Tories do hate the poor. They despise and revile anyone on benefits as a scrounger. They see them as biologically inferior, people who should ideally be discouraged from claiming benefits or even allowed to die, rather than become a burden to the rich. Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and their brief hireling, Andrew Sabisky, all have this eugenicist view. As does the wretched, loathsome Toby Young, who attended a eugenics conference alongside real anti-Semites, racists and Nazis. And then there are all the Tory and other right-wing hacks, like Brendan O’Neil of Spiked, Trevor Kavanagh of the Scum and others, who complain bitterly about the lockdown, because, like BoJob and Cummings, they believe old people, the disabled and the weak should be left to die rather than the economy be damaged. Thanks to this attitude and the decades-long campaign of vilification in the press, the British public thinks that 27 per cent of all benefit claims are fraudulent, whereas the true figure is something like 0.2 per cent. This hatred also extends to single mothers, of course. Tory minister Peter Lilley had them on his little list of people he despised, who he sang about as a pranced about the stage in a parody of the song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado at a Tory party conference back in the ’90s. And nearly two decades before then, in the mid-70s, Thatcher’s mentor Sir Keith Joseph declared they were a threat to our stock, provoking mass outrage at such a Nazi comment.

And of course the victims include asylum seekers because of the very long tradition of Tory racism, a racism that has led to their brutalisation by profiteering and incompetent government outsourcing companies like Serco in the detention centres. Not that the racism is just confined to asylum centres. A large section of the Tories is deeply racist, and particularly towards Muslims. They are also far more genuinely anti-Semitic than Labour. A few days ago David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group put up a piece detailing some instances of their anti-Semitism. This included an incident remembered by the former speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. He was told by an unnamed Tory MP that if he had his way, ‘people like you’ would not be allowed in the chamber. Bercow asked him what he meant – lower class people, or Jews. The man replied ‘Both’.  But never mind, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis heartily loves the Tories and warmly welcomed Tweezer entry to 10 Downing Street. Mirvis seems to consider anti-Semitism as synonymous with anti-Zionism or hostility to Israel, so he and the rest of the Jewish establishment have precious little interest in combating real anti-Semitism when it comes from genuine Nazis or the right. Comfy little Tory supporters, they’re only interested in manufacturing spurious claims and smears against the left.

As for the low paid, they hate them because not only do they claim benefits, but, like the unemployed, the believe it’s their fault they’re poor. In their idea of capitalism, a version that has never existed apart from their imaginations, the free market rewards merit. If a worker is low-paid, then it’s their fault. They should either work harder, or actively find a better paid job. Even if, thanks to the low-wage policies they’ve imposed since Thatcher, there are none about. In that case, it’s just tough. The free market is somehow sacrosanct and inviolable.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you like it, and, as always, please don’t have nightmares.

 

NAFTA, and Boris Johnson’s Trade Agreement with Trump Are Threats to State Healthcare

December 16, 2019

One of the chapters in the book Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure, edited by Daniel Drache and Terry Sullivan, is by Barry Appleton, ‘International agreements and National health Plans: NAFTA’. NAFTA  is the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade zone that was set up in the 1990s which included America, Mexico and Canada. Appleton states that it is too early to fully appreciate the impact of the agreement, but states that ‘The NAFTA affects health care in two ways. first, acts as a general limitation on the ways that governments can deal with public policy. Second, the agreement acts to lock in market liberalisation in the health sector’. (p. 87). 

The treaty includes clauses like the following that prevent governments from nationalising the property of other nations:

No Party may directly or indirectly nationalize or expropriate an investment of an investor of another Party in its territory or take a measure tantamount to nationalization or expropriation of such an investment (‘expropriation’), except:

(a) for a public purpose;

(b) on a non-discriminatory basis;

(c) in accordance with due process of law and Article 1105 (1); and

(d) on payment of compensation in accordance with paragraphs 2 through 6. 

Now the renationalisation of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries taken over by the Americans would, I believe, come under ‘public purpose’, and so be permitted, but there would be objections to this. I remember at the time when the Americans were setting the system up there was real concern amongst the left that if the Americans were allowed to buy up British industries, including parts of the NHS under a NAFTA-trade deal, we would find it impossible to renationalise them.

This should still be a major concern with Boris Johnson’s negotiations with Trump, in which, despite Boris’ denials, the NHS is very much on the table. In fact Johnson, Liam Fox and Daniel Hannam set up the Institute for Free Trade in 2017 in order to push for a deal with the Americans, in which private American companies would be allowed to run British hospitals.

If this goes through, we may find it impossible under international law to get them, and other important businesses, back.

Don’t let Boris privatise the NHS.

 

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Before We Go to War with Iran, We Should Listen to Michael Moore and Neil Young

September 22, 2019

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on Secular Talk’s video about the drone strikes on the Saudi oilfields. The host, Kyle Kulinski, stated that he believed the media would start lying and claim that these attacks were completely unprovoked. The reality is that they were committed by the Houthis in Yemen in retaliation for the genocidal war the Saudis are waging against their country. Kulinski also predicted that the media, including the Beeb, would tell us all that Iran, and only Iran, was responsible. He states that it’s possible that the Iranians have helped them, and that elements in Iran do support and celebrate it. But he fears a push for war, and doesn’t trust any of the actors – Trump, Netanyahu or the Saudis – to draw back.

I share his fears. And so, I believe, do very many other people. On my YouTube page the other day I found the video below from that old rocker, Neil Young. It’s of him playing ‘Rocking in the Free World’. I think its from the Michael Moore documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. In it the Capped Crusader showed how George Dubya, the American-Saudi oil interests and the military industrial complex pushed for war in the Middle East following the terror attack on 9/11. Wars that they were very careful not to let their sons or daughters become physically involved, while actively recruiting the working class, and particularly the Black working class, to be their cannon fodder.

The film ends with Neil Young’s ‘Rocking in the Free World’.

I know people, who don’t like the song because they think it’s actually a celebration of the capitalist west. So did the late Radio 1 DJ John Peel. He chose it as one of his favourite tracks in an interview on Radio 4 I can remember listening to in the ’90s. He didn’t like it for the same reason, until he listened to it properly. It’s an angry, bitter song, and as flag-wavingly patriotic as Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’. They’re both about how America gives working people nothing but poverty while sending them to fight wars.

Consider the lyrics to Young’s song:

There are warning signs on the road ahead

Some people are saying that we’re better off dead….

That’s another kid,

Who’ll never go to school,

Never fall in love,

Never get to be cool….

We got a thousand points of light

for the homeless man.

We got a kinder, gentler machine gun ham. 

The tunes played over footage of demonstrations in America against Bush, Young and his band in concert, recruiting sergeants going round Black neighbourhoods, and the chaos, grief and warfare in Iraq and the Middle East.

The clip begins with Dubya stumbling his way through the saying ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ But he couldn’t remember it properly, and so ends with stating the saying’s message ‘Don’t get fooled again’. To which Moore adds, ‘For once, we agree’. Then into the song.

Moore’s absolutely right, as has been corroborated by the former Guardian journo, Greg Palast, in his book, Armed Madhouse. In it he provides copious proof that the Iraq invasion was started, not because Saddam Hussein backed Osama bin Laden, or to liberate the Iraqi people from his dictatorship, but because the Saudi and American oil interests wanted the Iraqi oil reserves. The multinationals wanted to get their grubby hands on Iraqi state enterprises, the Neocons wanted to remove another source of support for the Palestinians, and create the low tax, free market utopia of the kind they want to introduce in the US. The result was absolute chaos. Apart from the carnage of the war, the Iraqi economy was decimated under the impact of foreign imports. Iraqi domestic firms couldn’t compete and collapsed. There was 60 per cent unemployment.

This is what will happen to Iran if we get fooled by the right-wing political elite, the oil industry and the military-industrial complex. It won’t be to liberate the Iranian people from their despotic government, nor to defend an innocent Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are Wahhabis – militant Sunnis – who despise and fear the Shi’a. That’s why they invaded Yemen: the Shi’a Houthi had overthrown the Sunni government. A few years ago one high-ranking Saudi cleric, the Sharif of Mecca or Grand Mufti, declared that Shi’a Muslims were ‘heretics and worthy of death’. Iran supports the Shi’a nations in the Middle East, hence Saudi determination to destroy the country’s regime. Israel and its supporters here also wants the Iranian government overthrown, because they are intensely hostile to Israel, expressing their hate in genocidal language, and support the Palestinians. Western oil interests want to get their hands on the Iranian oil industry, because we used to own it before Prime Minister Mossadeq nationalised it briefly in the 1950s before we had him overthrown, and it was nationalised against during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Our multinationals want to seize Iranian industries, as under current Iranian legislation they cannot be invested in or owned by foreign companies. And this includes the 51 per cent of the economy held by the state or the bonyads, the Islamic charitable funds. In fact, Forbes was whining about how unfree Iranian industry was, meaning that westerners couldn’t get their mitts on it, a few years ago.

These are the forces pressing for war with Iran.

They fooled many people 18 years ago after 9/11. But not everyone. One million people in Britain marched against the invasion of Iraq, including our local priest. Since then, I’ve no doubt more people know how spurious the cause for war was. More people realise that the two chiefly responsible for the war, George Dubya Bush and Tony Blair, are liars and war criminals.

Don’t let them fool our people again!

Not one courageous squaddie should be sent to his or her death killing ordinary Iranians, just to make the oil industry and the multinationals rich!

 

 

 

Labour to Help Working Poor in First Term

July 18, 2019

On a more optimist note, yesterday’s I also carried a report on page 8 by Harriet Line, ‘Labour ‘would end in-work poverty by end of first term’. This ran

Labour will eliminate the “modern-day scourge” of in-work poverty by the end of the party’s first full term back  in office, John McDonnell is to promise. 

The shadow Chancellor will pledge to make structural changes to the economy, ensure public services are free at the point of use and provide a strong social safety net to tackle the issue if his party enters government.

Mr McDonnell is to set out his party’s plans in a speech at the launch of the Resolution Foundation’s Living Standards Audit this morning.

He will say:”Behind the concept of social mobility is the belief that poverty is OK as long as some people are given the opportunity to climb out of it, leaving the others behind.

“I reject that completely, and want to see a society with higher living standards for everyone as well as one in which nobody lacks the means to survive or has to choose between life’s essentials.”

“Without any one of these three elements, we will not be able to achieve the sustained eradication of poverty, the dramatic narrowing of inequality, and the transformation of people’s lives that will be the central purpose of the next Labour government.

“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said last year that ‘in-work poverty is the problem of our times’.

“I am committing today to ending this modern-day scourge, to eliminating in-work poverty by the end of Labour’s first full parliamentary term.”

The JRF executive director, Claire Ainsley, commended Labour’s “significant ambition” as being “the right thing to do”.

She added: “Delivering this commitment should be the No 1 focus for political leaders after Brexit.”

Now expect this to be attacked by the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites. And I don’t doubt that they’re playing up about anti-Semitism in the Labour party again to try to drown out this message. It’s the precise thing they, and their masters in business, really don’t want people to hear.

All of these groups are Thatcherites to the core, and Thatcherism accepted the Neoliberal doctrine, derived from 19th century laissez-faire economics, that wages should be as low as possible. She also believed in making life harder for the unemployed in order to force them to take care of themselves, and this has been extended to other groups, like the working poor. Their poverty and poor conditions are supposed to be justified by lowering labour expenses in business, thus allowing them to become more profitable and enriching managers, proprietors and shareholders. And the constant refrain of Tories in response to complaints about low wages is that if you don’t like it, you can get another, better job elsewhere. Because the free market will supposedly also act to make employers try to remain competitive by offering the best terms and conditions to their workers. Even when the same market forces are expected to act against that very thing.

It’s Labour’s determination under Corbyn to end in-work poverty, to empower workers, giving them proper wages and restoring the welfare state after its decimation by forty years of Thatcherism, that the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites find so threatening. And Margaret Hodge let this hidden agenda behind her faction’s attack on Corbyn and his supporters out the bag a few weeks ago.

She condemned Corbyn and his supporters for offering the working class ‘bribes’, like the above, which they could never fulfill.

Which shows that Hodge and her fellows are simply died in the wool Thatcherite entryists, who have no place in a genuinely socialist, Labour party.

As for the ability of Labour to bring this about, it reminds me of a story about a young American farm boy and the Progressive Party back in the 1920 and ’30s. The Progressive Party aimed at improving conditions in rural America, where there was and is much massive poverty. Among their policies, the Party promised to build roads to every farm. The story goes that a group out in the American countryside was discussing this. They turned to a local farm boy, whom they knew was a supporter of the Progressives, and asked him if he really believed the Progressives could actually do it. The lad replied, ‘If my dog can tree it, I’ll have it’.

And Labour can end in-work poverty, despite the threats and screams from the right. 

Video Urging Boycott of Eurovision to Combat Israeli Artwashing

May 15, 2019

The Eurovision Song Contest is nearly upon us, and TV stations all across Europe have started showing the contestants going through their moves and ditties ready for the big event. This year it’s in Israel, and last night the Beeb started their broadcast from that country. This raises the awkward issue of how the Israeli state is using the event as propaganda, to try to present itself as a liberal, progressive nation while in fact its the reverse. It’s an apartheid state, which has practised a 70 + year campaign of apartheid, arrest, torture and ethnic cleansing against its indigenous people, the Palestinians.

This video comes from Breadtube’s European All-Stars, with speakers including the Spanish Javi, Amelia Jane, Brit Kevin Logan, and Paul Morrin. It’s done with humour, with Javi himself opening the video with a piece in Spanish explaining to his compatriots that they are to hang on, because they’re experiencing cultural difficulties. But it’s very solidly factual, and presents a powerful, irrefutable argument why decent people should not go to Israel and should boycott the Song Contest.

Amelia Jane begins by describing the Song Contest’s origins. It’s staged by the European Broadcasting Union, and was devised to pull the various European nations together after the Second World War. It’s gone from a very upper class oriented event to something rather more democratic. It’s now campy and so LGBTQ positive that it’s almost the precursor to the full Pride parades later in the year.

Despite the EBU’s claim that it is apolitical, the contest has always had its share of controversies, and even the existence of state broadcasters like the EBU in an age of post-Milton Friedman neoliberalism is controversial. Turkey pulled out of the contest a few years ago in protest at two women kissing during one of the pieces. But before that, Austria refused to broadcast it following the inclusion of Franco’s Spain. The ghastly thug was using it to open up his Fascist state to the rest of the world. Since the fall of Communism, it’s included a number of states that were in the former Soviet Union, with the exception of Russia itself. These are using the Song Contest to position themselves as more liberal, progressive, and oriented towards north-west Europe and the free market.

It’s also expanded far beyond the conventional boundaries of Europe. Since the beginning its included Israel, but now also includes Morocco and Australia. This was supposed to be only for a single time, but has somehow continued.

Here Kevin Logan takes up the narrative, talking about Israel as a colonialist, apartheid state. He states that it is a colonialist state, that took over a large proportion of Palestinian territory after the war of 1948 and the departure of the British. It is a religious state, where Jews are the privileged citizens. The indigenous Arabs, however, have been subjected to continuing arrest, massacre and ethnic cleansing. Those who remain in Israel are subjected to a form of apartheid. He states that current technology means that the Israelis cannot hide their atrocities, which include the arrest and torture of children as young as five. He compares this with apartheid South Africa, which also experienced boycotts in sport, the arts and elsewhere in protest at its racism.

This part of the video shows clips of the Israeli forces doing precisely what Logan describes, including arresting small children and a journo shot by the IDF. And to show what ordinary Israelis think of Islam and Palestinians, he shows clips from Abby Martin’s Empire Files, in which various young Israelis declare their hatred of Islam, desire to see Arabs and Israelis segregated, and that the whole of Palestine is theirs and Jews and Arabs should not intermarry, because they are God’s Chosen People.

Phil Morrin then takes over to show how the Israelis are turning to the arts and culture to burnish their very soiled image. He explains what green-, art-, and pinkwashing are. Greenwashing would be if the IDF tried to convince the world that it was now a progressive, caring organisation by putting its squaddies on a vegan diet. He declares that the real vegans wouldn’t be impressed, and would say that the diet was merely plant-based. Similarly, the Israeli state has also used Eurovision and queer issues to try to present itself as more humane and progressive than it really is. This was twenty years ago, when the Israeli contestant was bearded woman Dana International. Actually, I though International was really a pre-operative transsexual, meaning that she was biologically male, rather than completely female at that point. And then the other year their entry was a song about resisting bullying, performed by a plus-sized singer determined to combat stereotypes about body size. He wonders how that would have gone down with the 27 people the Israelis shot that year, which actually was one of the quietest.

The video ends with a call for people to get involved with the boycott campaign and stay away from Israel in order to overturn it, and create a Palestine, which is free, democratic, and where all its citizens enjoy equal rights. And this includes the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. It may not do much, but the Eurovision Song Contest now has such cachet that Madonna wanted to take part and was denouncing people, who were urging its boycott. Okay, Javi says, they’ve got Madonna, but we’ve got Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd. So the guitar on our side is better, but probably not the dancing. The video ends with Javi appealing for donations.

I’ve no doubt that this video, posted on May 7th, has already got the Zionists’ teeth gnashing. It’s precisely the kind of material that will have the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Board of Deputies, and the various parties’ ‘Friends of Israel’ all screaming ‘anti-Semitism’, including Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement. The groups, who howl with outrage at anyone, who dares to suggest that Israel has no right to exist as a state that declares itself as the homeland of the Jews, while denying the Palestinians a right to their homeland, or to live as equal citizens in a religiously and racially neutral Israel. But this doesn’t stop the video being true, and its arguments valid.

And Israel and its supporters are ultimately behind the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, and the foul lies against decent, anti-racists and campaigners and anti-Semitism and Fascism like Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Mike Sivier, Martin Odoni, Tony Greenstein, Cyril Chilson, and so many, many others.

Given how the Israeli state and its craven supporters have behaved to Mike and the rest, I don’t even want to see it on TV. Go boycott it, even if you’ve no intention of going to Israel anyway. Watch something on the other channels, or put in a DVD, listen to a CD, go on YouTube, play footie, snooker, go down the pub. Do anything, in fact, but give your precious time and attention to Israel’s efforts to divert the world’s attention away from its true, horrific, Fascist reality.

 

 

 

 

Kevin Logan Demolishes Turning Point UK’s Sneer about Socialism

March 12, 2019

This is a very short video – just over two minutes long – by male feminist and anti-Fascist vlogger Kevin Logan. The target of his very well-aimed rebuttal is a tweet from Turning Point UK. You know, the daft British subsidiary of the American Conservative organisation, Turning Point, which was launched over here by Charlie Kirk and Candace Owen. Kirk’s the propagandist, who got terribly upset when Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks asked him how much he made. To which Kirk responded by shouting that he ‘LIVED LIKE A CAPITALIST EVERY SINGLE DAY’ and challenged Uygur to a fight before people calmed him down. A piece of this bit of fine verbal parrying is shown in Logan’s video. And Owen is the Black female Conservative, who at the launch of the Turning Point UK said that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist, but a globalist, and seemed to say that everything he did would have been alright, if he’d just stuck to his own country. For which she was rightly attacked by everyone.

Logan here responds to a sneering tweet from these fine examples of the Conservative intelligentsia, ‘If socialism is so great, then why do people fight tooth and nail to flee socialist countries for free market capitalist countries?’

What’s Logan’s comeback?

‘Well, if free market capitalism is so great, then why do free market capitalist countries have to insist on embargoing, sanctioning, funding coups, invading, and overthrowing socialist nations all the time. I mean, if socialism is so f**king terrible, then surely it’ll fall over on its own. There’s no need for all this f**kery. It’s almost like you’re full of s**t, guys.’ He also points out that by their own pseudo-libertarian definition, free market capitalism hasn’t actually happened either. And the constant messing around with socialist nations means they’re hack bastards.

Quite. And he’s right. The late critic of the American Empire, William Blum, devotes two chapters to the left-wing, socialist regimes which America has attempted to overthrow in his book Democracy: America’s Deadliest Export, and it’s a long, long list. And Logan is probably very well aware of it as he’s a graduate of 20th century history and politics, so he knows his stuff.

This rebuttal counts for 1.12 minutes of the video. These is footage of him in bed having his face hit by his cat’s tail. Because it’s cute and funny.

Here’s the video.