Posts Tagged ‘French Revolution’

Steve Bannon’s Admiration for French Fascist and Nazi Collaborator

March 20, 2017

The more you find out about Steve Bannon’s views, the clearer it is that he’s a real Fascist, who should be kept as far away from government, and decent society, as possible. In this piece from TYT Nation, the host, Jeff Waldorf, talks once again about Bannon’s love of the French racist novel, The Camp of the Saints, and how he views the wave of immigrants that entered Europe from Syria through the prism of its narrative.

The book was written in the 1970s by Jean Raspail, and describes an armada of boats carrying 800,000 poor immigrants from India, who come to France to overthrow White, Christian civilisation. The immigrants are described in scatological, pornographic terms, and their children are also described as diseased, ‘like spoiled fruit’. They are welcomed into Europe by a corrupt liberal establishment, including a liberal pope from Latin America. The book’s hero, Calgues, is a White supremacist, who kills both these immigrants and the White liberals, who have allowed them in and help them. After murdering a hippy, Calgues reflects on how these young people have been ‘culturally cuckolded’ and deprived of the sense of knowing that they belong to the superior civilisation.’
I’ve put up a piece about this before, when one of the other left-wing YouTube news presenters did a segment about it.

But Bannon’s admiration for French Fascism seems to extend beyond this novel, right back to the French monarchist and Fascist, Charles Maurras. Maurras was the founder and editor of the extreme rightwing newspaper, Action Francaise. He was bitterly anti-Enlightenment, a view that Bannon also shares. Bannon has also said that he wants the Enlightenment to end. Maurras was bitterly anti-Semitic, and was prosecuted several times for urging and demanding the assassination of Jewish politicians, including, in 1936, the then president, Leon Blum. During the Nazi Occupation and the Vichy Regime, he wrote articles supporting the deportations and the arrests of resistance members, Jews and Gaullists. Indeed, he went so far as to recommend that if the Gaullists themselves could not be found and arrested, then their families should be rounded up and shot. Waldorf shows how this parallels Trump’s own views on the arrest and torture of the families of terrorists suspects.

It doesn’t surprise me that remotely that Maurras was anti-Enlightenment. There was a very strong element of this in European Fascism generally. After the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler wrote that the shame of 1789 – the year of the radical phase of the French Revolution – had been undone. So strong was this element, that many historians viewed Fascism as an entirely anti-Enlightenment movement, until later research showed how Fascism had also taken on elements of Enlightenment thought. The religious right also despises the Enlightenment for its attack on Christianity and organised religion. Here again, the situation is rather more complicated, in that recent historians have pointed out how European Enlightenment doctrines built on earlier philosophical attitudes and religious concepts. The doctrine of democracy and equal human worth are two of those. The idea that humans all have equal value and dignity ultimately comes from the Christian doctrine that everyone is equal before God, though medieval philosophers like Thomas Aquinas were quick to point out that this did not apply to their functions in earthly society. Similarly, the doctrine that people have inalienable human rights is also a metaphysical, religious doctrine, in the sense that it is not immediately obvious. It seems so to us, because it is so much a part of our culture. Nevertheless, it rests on a series of arguments and attitudes that are not self-evident, and have to be demonstrated.

Bannon is already notorious for his White Supremacist and anti-Semitic views. This adds further details on them. Waldorf also notes that Bannon has described himself as a ‘cultural Leninist’, which he equates with Bannon’s economic populism. This isn’t quite right. Bannon is a ‘cultural Leninist’ in that he shares Lenin’s goal of destroying the state, and then reconstructing it to serve his movement and ideology. Which makes Bannon very dangerous, indeed.

And it isn’t just America, which is in danger. Hope Not Hate has also published articles on Breitbart’s role in supporting UKIP, and their plan to create an even more extreme, anti-immigrant, racist party. Among the various Breitbart columnists in this country is James Delingpole, who also used to write for the Spectator. It has also given space to the bigoted rantings of the right-wing troll, Katie Hopkins. I gather she’s got a column in the Scum. The fact that she is also being embraced by real White Supremacists like Breitbart, whose leader admires such overtly racist works and individuals, should disqualify her from having her racist nonsense published in the mainstream press, even one as low as the Scum.

Bannon himself is only one of a number of a racist ‘basket of deplorables’, which includes Richard Spencer, the founder of the Alt-Right. All of them should be cleaned out of government as quickly as possible, before they can bring even more misery to America’s working people and people of colour, and export their vile views and policies over here.

Hubert Humphrey on Civil Rights

November 18, 2016

I found this 1948 speech by Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, who was then a candidate for the senate and later became vice-president under Lyndon Johnson, defending Black Civil rights in The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Protest, ed. by Brian MacArthur (London: Penguin 1998).

We are here as Democrats. But more important, as Americans – and I firmly believe that as men concerned with our country’s future, we must specify in our platform the guarantees which I have mentioned.

Yes, this is far more than a party matter. Every citizen has a stake in the emergence of the United States as the leader of the free world. That world is being challenged by the world of slavery. For us to play our part effectively, we must be in a morally sound position.

We cannot use a double standard for measuring our own and other people’s policies. Our demands for democratic practices in other lands will be no more effective than the guarantees of those practiced in our own country.

We are God-fearing men and women. We place our faith in the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.

I do not believe that there can be any compromise of the guarantees of civil rights which I have mentioned.

In spite of my desire for unanimous agreement on the platform, there are some matters which I think must be stated without qualification. There can be no hedging – no watering down.

There are those who say to you we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late.

There are those who say this issue of civil rights is an infringement on states’ rights. The time has arrived for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.

People – human beings – this is the issue of the twentieth century. People – all kinds and all sorts of people – look to America for leadership, for help, for guidance.

My friends, my fellow Democrats, I ask you for a calm consideration of our historic opportunity. Let us forget the evil passions, the blindness of the past. In these times of world economic, political and spiritual, above all, spiritual-crisis, we cannot, we must not, turn from the path so plainly before us.

That path has already led us through many valleys of the shadow of death. Now is the time to recall those who were left on that path of American freedom.

For all of us her, for the millions who have sent us, for the whole 2 billion members of the human family, our land is now, more than ever, the last best hope on earth. I know that we can – I now that we shall – begin here the fuller and richer realization of that hope, that promise of a land where all men are free and equal, and each man uses his freedom and equality wisely and well. (pp. 205-6).

I thought Humphrey’s speech need restating after Donald Trump’s election victory and the very real danger he now poses to freedom and equality in America. Trump’s surrounded and supported by Fascists. He’s promoted a racist and anti-Semite, Steven Bannon, as his chief strategist in the White House and is now preparing to initiate legislation require Muslims to be registered, as if they were enemy aliens. All of them, even if they are innocent of anything even remotely anti- or un-American.

And where Trump leads, I fear Europe will follow. He has an ally in Nigel Farage, many members of whose party, UKIP, are venomously xenophobic and bitterly anti-Muslim. Then there’s the threat of Marine Le Pen and the Front National in France, and the Alternative fuer Deutschland in Germany. Not to mention the waves of Fascist intolerance now spreading throughout eastern Europe, most notably in Hungary with Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party.

The civil rights struggle in America was a profound inspiration and influence on Black people’s struggle for civil rights here in the UK. There is, or was, even a civil rights museum in Birmingham. That’s the Birmingham over here, not Birmingham, Alabama. Decent Europeans and Americans need to stand together against this new Fascist threat against freedom, equality, toleration, human dignity and everything liberals have campaigned for since the French Revolution.

Review: The Liberal Tradition, ed. by Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock

November 6, 2016

(Oxford: OUP 1967)

liberal-tradition-pic

I picked this up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. I am definitely not a Liberal, but so many of the foundations of modern representative democracy, and liberal political institutions, rights and freedoms were laid down by Liberals from the 17th century Whigs onward, that this book is of immense value for the historic light it sheds on the origins of modern political thought. It is also acutely relevant, for many of the issues the great liberal philosophers, thinkers and ideologues argued over, debated and discussed in the pieces collected in it are still being fought over today. These are issues like the freedom, religious liberty and equality, democracy, anti-militarism and opposition to the armaments industry, imperialism versus anti-imperialism, devolution and home rule, laissez-faire and state intervention, and the amelioration of poverty.

Alan Bullock is an historian best known for his biography of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, which remains the classic work on the Nazi dictator. In the 1990s he produced another book which compared Hitler’s life to that of his contemporary Soviet dictator and ultimate nemesis, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. The book has an introduction, tracing the development of Liberalism from its origins to the 1930s, when the authors consider that the Liberal party ceased to be an effective force in British politics. This discusses the major issues and events, with which Whig and Liberal politicians and thinkers were forced to grapple, and which in turn shaped the party and its evolving intellectual tradition.

The main part of the book consists of the major historical speeches and writings, which are treated in sections according to theme and period. These comprise

Part. Fox and the Whig Tradition

1. Civil Liberties.

Two speeches by Charles James Fox in parliament, from 1792 and 1794;
Parliamentary speech by R.B. Sheridan, 1810.
Parliamentary speech by Earl Grey, 1819.
Lord John Russell, An Essay on the History of the English Government and Constitution, 1821.
Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1828.

2. Opposition to the War against Revolutionary France

Speeches by Charles James Fox, from 1793, 1794 and 1800.

3. Foreign Policy and the Struggle for Freedom Abroad

Earl Grey, parliamentary speech, 1821;
Marquis of Lansdowne, parliamentary speech, 1821.
Extracts from Byron’s poems Sonnet on Chillon, 1816, Childe Harold, Canto IV, 1817, and Marino Faliero, 1821.

4. Parliamentary Reform

Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1822.
Lord Melbourne, parliamentary speech, 1831.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1831.

Part II. The Benthamites and the Political Economists, 1776-1830.

1. Individualism and Laissez-faire

Two extracts from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
Jeremy Bentham, A Manual of Political Economy, 1798.

2. Natural Laws and the Impossibility of Interference

T.R. Malthus, Essay on Population, 1798.
David Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 1819.

3. Free Trade

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations,
David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy,
Petition of the London Merchants, 1820.

4. Colonies

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

5. Reform

Jeremy Bentham, Plan of Parliamentary Reform, 1817.
David Ricardo, Observations on Parliamentary Reform, 1824.
Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code, 1830.
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography.

Part III. The Age of Cobden and Bright.

1. Free Trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws

Petition of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to the House of Commons, 20 December 1838.
Richard Cobden, two speeches in London, 1844.
Cobden, speech in Manchester, 1846,
Lord John Russell, Letter to the Electors of the City of London (The ‘Edinburgh Letter’) 1845.

2. Laissez-Faire

Richard Cobden, Russia, 1836.
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1846.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1846.
Joseph Hume, parliamentary speech, 1847.
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848.

Education

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech 1847.
John Bright, parliamentary speech 1847.

4. Religious Liberty

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833.
John Bright, two parliamentary speeches, 1851 and 1853.

5. Foreign Policy

Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1849;
Viscount Palmerston, speech at Tiverton, 1847;
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1850; speech at Birmingham, 1858; speech in Glasgow, 1858;
John Bright, letter to Absalom Watkins, 1854;
W.E. Gladstone, parliamentary speech, 1857;

6. India and Ireland

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833;
John Bright, four speeches in parliament, 1848, 1849,1858, 1859;
Richard Cobden, speech at Rochdale, 1863.

Part IV. The Age of Gladstone

1. The Philosophy of Liberty

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859;
John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861;
Lord Acton, A Review of Goldwin smith’s ‘Irish History’, 1862;
Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877.
Lord Acton, A Review of Sir Erskine May’s ‘Democracy in Europe’, 1878.
Lord Acton, letter to Bishop Creighton, 1887.
Lord Acton, letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881;
John Morley, On Compromise, 1874.

2. Parliamentary Reform

Richard Cobden, two speeches at Rochdale, 1859 and 1863;
John Bright, speech at Rochdale, 1863; speech at Birmingham, 1865; speech at Glasgow, 1866; speech at London, 1866;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Chester, 1865; speech at Manchester, 1865; parliamentary speech, 1866;

3. Foreign Policy

W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1877 and 1878; speech at Dalkeith, 1879; speech at Penicuik, 1880, speech at Loanhead, 1880; article in The Nineteenth Century, 1878.

4. Ireland

John Bright, speech at Dublin, 1866 and parliamentary speech, 1868.
W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1886 and 1888.

Part V. The New Liberalism

1. The Philosophy of State Interference

T.H. Green, Liberal Legislation or Freedom of Contract, 1881;
Herbert Spencer, The Coming Slavery, 1884;
D.G. Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, 1891;
J.A. Hobson, The Crisis of Liberalism, 1909;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;

2. The Extension of Democracy

Herbert Samuel, Liberalism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Plymouth, 1907;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Newcastle, 1909;
H.H. Asquith, speech at the Albert Hall, 1909.
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

3. Social Reform

Joseph Chamberlain, speech at Hull, 1885, and Warrington, 1885;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Saltney, 1889;
Lord Rosebery, speech at Chesterfield, 1901;
Winston S. Churchill, speech at Glasgow, 1906;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Swansea, 1908;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 8th July 1912;

4. The Government and the National Economy

H.H. Asquith, speech at Cinderford, 1903;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Bolton, 1903;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Bedford, 1913, and speech at Middlesbrough, 1913;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

5. Imperialism and the Boer War

Sir William Harcourt, speech in West Monmouthshire, 1899;
J.L. Hammond, ‘Colonial and Foreign Policy’ in Liberalism and the Empire, 1900;
J.A. Hobson, Imperialism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Stirling, 1901.

6. Armaments

Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at London, 1905;
William Byles, parliamentary speech, 1907;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches from 1909 and 1911;
Sir J. Brunner, speech at the 35th Annual Meeting of the National Liberal Federation, 1913.

7. Foreign Policy

House of Commons debate 22nd July 1909, featuring J.M. Robertson and Arthur Ponsonby;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches, 1911 and 1914;
House of Commons debate, 14th December 1911, featuring Josiah Wedgwood and J.G. Swift MacNeill;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 1 August 1914;

Part VI. Liberalism after 1918

1. The End of Laissez-faire

J.M. Keynes, The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926;
Britain’s Industrial Future, the Report of the Liberal Industrial Inquiry, 1928;
J.M. Keynes and H.D. Henderson, Can Lloyd George Do It? 1929,
Sir William Beveridge, Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.

2. The League and the Peace

Viscount Grey of Fallodon, The League of Nations, 1918;
Gilbert Murray, The League of Nations and the Democratic Idea, 1918;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 24th June 1919;
J.M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1919;
D. Lloyd George, speech at London, 1927;
Philip Kerr, The Outlawry of War, paper read to the R.I.I.A., 13 November 1928;
The Liberal Way, A survey of Liberal policy, published by the National Liberal Federation, 1934.

Epilogue

J.M. Keynes, Am I a Liberal? Address to the Liberal summer school at Cambridge, 1925.

In their conclusion, Bullock and Shock state that Liberal ideology is incoherent – a jumble – unless seen as an historical development, and that the Liberal party itself lasted only about seventy years from the time Gladstone joined Palmerstone’s government in 1859 to 1931, after which it was represented only by a handful of members in parliament. The Liberal tradition, by contrast, has been taken over by all political parties, is embodied in the Constitution, and has profoundly affected education – especially in the universities, the law, and the philosophy of government in the civil service. It has also inspired the transformation of the Empire into the Commonwealth. It has also profoundly affected the British character at the instinctive level, which has been given expression in the notion of ‘fair play’.

They also write about the immense importance in the Liberal tradition of freedom, and principle. They write

In the pages which follow two ideas recur again and again. The first is a belief in the value of freedom, freedom of the individual, freedom of minorities, freedom of peoples. The scope of freedom has required continual and sometimes drastic re-defining, as in the abandonment of laissez-faire or in the extension of self-government to the peoples of Asia and Africa. But each re-definition has represented a deepening and strengthening, not an attenuation, of the original faith in freedom.

The second is the belief that principle ought to count far more than power or expediency, that moral issues cannot be excluded from politics. Liberal attempts to translate moral principles into political action have rarely been successful and neglect of the factor of power is one of the most obvious criticisms of Liberal thinking about politics, especially international relations. But neglect of the factor of conscience, which is a much more likely error, is equally disastrous in the long run. The historical role of Liberalism in British history has been to prevent this, and again and again to modify policies and the exercise of power by protests in the name of conscience. (p. liv).

They finish with

We end it by pointing to the belief in freedom and the belief in conscience as the twin foundations of Liberal philosophy and the element of continuity in its historical development. Politics can never be conducted by the light of these two principles alone, but without them human society is reduced to servitude and the naked rule of force. This is the truth which the Liberal tradition has maintained from Fox to Keynes – and which still needs to be maintained in our own time. (pp. liv-lv).

It should be said that the participation of the Lib Dems was all too clearly a rejection of any enlightened concern for principle and conscience, as this was jettisoned by Clegg in order to join a highly illiberal parliament, which passed, and is still passing under its Conservative successor, Theresa May, legislation which is deliberately aimed at destroying the lives and livelihood of the very poorest in society – the working class, the disabled and the unemployed, and destroying the very foundations of British constitutional freedom in the creation of a network of universal surveillance and secret courts.

These alone are what makes the book’s contents so relevant, if only to remind us of the intense relevance of the very institutions that are under attack from today’s vile and corrupt Tory party.

Capital Investment Funds for Trade Unions on the Continent

May 21, 2016

Introduction Unions Pic

Also in Ben Hooberman’s book, An Introduction to British Trade Unions, is a discussion of a fascinating scheme launched in Denmark to allow the unions to build up a 50% investment fund in industry. Hooberman writes

The Danish trade unions have adopted a programme for a wage earners’ national profit and investment fund. The principle behind it appears to be a form of profit-sharing in which wage earners in private and public employment would be given a share in the capital growth of industry. Employers would contribute 1 per cent of their wages bill in the first year and increase their contribution by 1/2 per cent annually until a fifty per cent contribution is made to the fund each year. It is proposed that the fund should be controlled and administered by the trade unions themselves. The object of the proposal is to create for trade unions a means of controlling capital in industry in the same way as they influence the level of wages and conditions of employment. In both West Germany and France there are in existence means for the payment of ‘investment wages’ to workers. Both the German and French schemes began with legislation; in Germany tax concessions are granted to workers involved in voluntary capital-sharing arrangements, while in France the statutory capital entitlement is calculated directly from annual profits. (P. 74).

This is a fascinating scheme, as if it were logically carried to its conclusion, it would give workers an equal share in industrial capital through the mechanism of capitalism itself. With the systems of works councils recommended by the TUC and EU, it’s more evidence just why Thatcher and the rest of the Tory Right were so frightened of organised labour. And they clearly still are, given by their continuing attempts to destroy the unions.

The continental nature of these proposals also explains why the Tory Euro-sceptics bitterly hate the EU and its Social Charter. It also explains why Thatcher got her knickers in a twist about ‘patriotism’ versus ‘Socialism’, and declared Socialism to be a nasty foreign doctrine. This is ridiculous. Trade Unions first appeared in England, as did the co-operative movement, so certain parts of Socialism are British in origin. And if we’re talking about foreign ideas, so it modern democracy and human rights, come to that. The Rights of Man were first articulated during the French Revolution, and the ideas about free trade espoused by Adam Smith were pioneered by French writers discussing the problems of the agricultural economy in 18th century France. Thatcher’s ideas on this point don’t make much sense, but then, there is so little in Maggie’s ideology that does.

Dodgy Dave’s Offshore Tax Havens and the French Revolution

April 19, 2016

The big story last week was undoubtedly the public fury over the rich using offshore tax havens to avoid paying tax. And one of the offenders seeking to avoid paying his share of the tax burden was our own Prime Minister, Dave Cameron. I did very little blogging last week, as I was involved in other things. Also, I couldn’t think of much I could add to what was already being said by the protestors themselves, and to the comprehensive coverage being given to it by Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers.

This is a scandal that has been going on for decades. I think Microsoft was one of the first in the 1980s, when it went offshore to avoid paying corporation tax. And tax evasion both using offshore companies and more ordinary forms of the extremely rich trying to get away with paying the bare minimum, if at all, has also been going on for decades. Private Eye has been attacking the Tax Office since the days of New Labour, and possibly long before that, for the way in which its heads have had numerous lunches with the big industrialists and the major accountancy firms, all to sort out ways of allowing the corporate rich to minimise their tax contributions. There has also been an open ‘swing door’ between the tax office and treasury, and the accountancy firms, as they have sent people to assist the government in formulating its tax policy. It’s yet another example of the corporatist policies corrupting British politics.

As for dodgy Dave, he lied to parliament, used it to enrich himself through avoiding paying tax on money left to him by his father. And he probably genuinely doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. The attitude of the financial sector and in business generally is that you do what you can legally to avoid paying tax. I can remember when I worked very briefly – for all of three days – for a group of extremely dodgy independent financial consultants in Bristol’s Berkeley Square – we were taught some of the ruses. Like you make all your assets over to the business, and try to include everything that could possibly be considered an expense or a loss. When I objected, because somebody has to pay for the roads, police, armed forces, hospitals and so on, I was told, ‘You’re a real p*nis if you want to pay tax.’

Dave’s a member of the aristocracy, and the aristocracy have been doing this since before the days of the French Revolution. Indeed, one of the causes of the Revolution was that the aristos not only weren’t paying their taxes, they were shifting the tax burden onto the poor. And this has also been one of the major aims of the Tories. And yes, it also started under Thatcher. I can remember a book came out in the early 1980s that advocated all manner of Right-wing policies, and was very enthusiastically received by the books page of the Sunday Express. One of its suggestions was getting rid of income tax, and replacing it with indirect taxes – VAT. It was another way of giving tax cuts to the rich, and shifting the burden on to the poor.

Last week, dodgy Dave and a whole host of others got caught out by the release of the ‘Panama Papers’. It added further evidence that whatever Dave said, we weren’t all in this together. This was pretty obvious from the beginning, but the material from Mossack Fonseca made it pretty much incontrovertible. Or at least it did in the case of the Prime Minister.

Of course, the Tories were furious, though I don’t set much store by their rage. I’ve no doubt that many, perhaps even most of them, have done much the same. Something like 75% of British MPs are millionaires, and the Tory party has always considered itself the party of business, with a natural right to lead. My guess is that some of the rage is simply that Cameron got caught. Either way, it shows the absolute double standards used by the Prime Minister for himself and his rich friends. And Private Eye is right. The whole system of offshore tax havens should be closed down. And furthermore, the corporatist influence on politics should be cleaned out. The big accountancy firms should be debarred from sending their personnel to advise the tax office, along with the other big firms seeking to sponsor and donate to the parties in order to get a slice of state business later.

The One Show and Ian Hislop on IDS’ Crying over the Unemployed

April 8, 2016

Yesterday, the Beeb screened the documentary, showing Ian Duncan Smith, the Minister for Culling the Disabled and Unemployed, crying his crocodile tears. Presented by Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop, and entitled Workers or Shirkers, it aimed to tell the story of how there had been a constant tension in British politics between offering state aid to the poor as unfortunates requiring help on the one hand, and a much tougher line demanding that they look after themselves on the other. The interview between Hislop and aIDS, in which the Gentleman Ranker shed his tears, was a discussion about Victorian attitudes to poverty.

I didn’t watch the programme, for the very good reason that I thought it would make me angry. There was also no need. Hislop himself was on The One Show Wednesday evening to talk about it, and they showed the clip of aIDS crying then. I wasn’t impressed. Usually I’ve got quite a lot of respect for Hislop. I’ve used material from Private Eye to attack the Tories, and particularly their privatisation of the NHS and the vicious and murderous sanctions regime by the DWP, ATOS and Maximus. But his comments and the lack of them about this incident left me somewhat disappointed.

Let’s be clear from the start that IDS did not break down in floods of tears. He was merely talking to Hislop about a 19 year old girl, who’d given up on finding a job. So his voice broke, and he dabbed his eye. Several times. He then said, ‘I’m sorry, but she reminded me of my daughter.’ It wasn’t open weeping so much as when some people stop themselves when they’re beginning to well up, and then try to excuse this sudden show of emotion by saying that ‘they’ve just got something in their eye’. Or other such words to maintain their dignity.

Now, I follow Mike, and probably most left-wing commenters on this government, that IDS’ performance, whatever it was, was certainly not a genuine display of grief. Or if it was, it was only that he’d so far managed to kill so few. IDS has presided over a regime that has killed about 490 odd people from neglect, starvation and by their own hand, after having them thrown off benefits. Over a quarter of a million more have had their mental health exacerbated – sometime severely – by the sanctions regime. And far from expressing any remorse, IDS has simply had a guffaw about it in parliament with David Cameron. He laughed about it when some of the cases histories of those, who had suffered were read out in the House of Commons.

And then he has the gall to pretend that he is somehow ‘caring’.

What I disliked was that neither the presenters of the One Show nor Hislop, who should, and probably does know better, didn’t challenge the authenticity of this performance. The Show’s regular female presenter said sympathetically, ‘You can tell that was genuine’. When asked about his reaction, Hislop said that he was surprised, and didn’t expect it from the Ranker. He seemed prepared to give Smith the benefit of the doubt. He said that if it had been someone like Tony Blair, he would have expected there to have been an onion. The presenters then asked why he didn’t try to comfort Smith, at which Hislop laughed, ‘No! It is Ian Duncan Smith’.

Now Hislop’s failure to tackle the authenticity or lack thereof of Smith’s tears is serious. I’m assuming that Hislop was aware about the jolly chuckle Smith had about the suffering his policies had caused in parliament. It should have been mentioned, as it puts into perspective not just Smith’s, but this entire government’s attitude towards poverty and unemployment. But he didn’t. You’re left wondering about how far Hislop’s own sympathies are with Smith, and the Beeb’s bias towards the Conservatives. Or it may simply be any case of the weird code of Omerta amongst some journalists – that you don’t push politicos too hard, or they’ll stop giving you the interviews you need.

I also wasn’t impressed by some of the other comments Hislop made which were purely historical. For example, he talked about how Edwin Chadwick, who invented the workhouse system, was later castigated and reviled because of its horrors. Hislop, however, says that at the time workhouses were accepted, and the hatred merely came later. In my experience, this simply was not the case. When they were set up the workhouses were denounced by the poor and the radical press as ‘the new Bastilles’, prisons where the poor would be incarcerated like criminals, like the infamous prison for political prisoners under the ancien regime in France before the Revolution. Some parishes were so horrified by them that they flatly refused to build any. If anything, the workhouses only became accepted after a notorious case in the 1880s when inspectors found the inmates in one were so starving, that they were cutting open the bones to be ground for fertiliser in order to get at the marrow bone inside. That incident started a parliamentary inquiry into the terrible conditions in the Workhouses, resulting in some improvement in conditions. And even then, there were contemporary folk songs and popular ballads attacking them.

So after seeing this rather biased view of the historical reality behind the workhouse, and Hislop’s failure to tackle Ian Duncan Smith, I simply didn’t feel that I wanted to see the documentary. Perhaps the next one will be better. I hope so, but after that, I’m not sure.

Understanding Trump’s American Fascism

March 21, 2016

Okay, I’ve tried for about a week not writing about Donald Trump. I know some of you feel that I’ve given too much attention to this moron, and that this country has enough on its plate with the thugs who are in power over here. Including the one that left office late Thursday evening, the fall-out of which is still continuing. The problem is, Trump’s too big, too slow moving and the parallels with real Fascism too glaringly overt. You can compile a list of all the elements in Fascism, which are present in Trump’s campaign or the general background of right-wing anxiety and hysteria, which has contributed to it.

And if Trump gains power, he will be a problem over here. Not just personally, in that his decisions on the economy and policies of the world’s only surviving superpower will have direct consequences for Britain and the rest of the world, but also in the malign political influence his election over there will have on domestic politics. Events in America and elsewhere in the world have a legitimising effect on similar developments over here. Blair and the New Labour clique took their queue from Bill Clinton and his New Democrats. These aren’t to be compared to the Canadian New Democrat party, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Labour party. Clinton’s ‘New Democrats’ were a revision of the Democrat party, which took over much of the ideology of Reagan’s Republicans, especially financial deregulation, curbs on welfare spending and workfare. Clinton was almost certainly better than the alternative, but nevertheless he continued Reagan’s squalid political legacy. And over here, Blair copied him, introducing workfare, and pursuing Thatcher’s policies of deregulating the economy, including the financial sector, and cutting down on welfare spending. And then you can go further back, to the 1920s and ’30s, when Fascist parties sprang up all over Europe in imitation of Mussolini’s squadristi and later the Nazis in Germany. The British Union of Fascists was just one of them. They also included such groups and political cults in this country as the British Fascisti – actually extreme Right-wing Tories and Arnold Leese’s The Britons. If, heaven help us, Trump ever gets into power, his occupation of the White House will mean that European politicians will start aping him. Which means more racism, more misogyny, further restrictions on personal freedom, and domestic politics marked and supported by brutality and violence. So, here’s a bit on Trump’s ideological precursors and the similarity of his campaign to Fascist and proto-Fascist movements.

As I said, you can make a list out of the similarities between Trump’s campaign and personal style of politics, and those of real Fascists. Let’s begin with

Violence

Trump’s campaigns have been marked by his supporters striking and beating protestors. Trump himself has stood on his platform fondly looking back on the old days when those who dared to disrupt political campaigns like his would be taken out on stretchers. He’s even offered to pay his supporters’ legal fees if they assault someone. And at the weekend his scheduled rally in Chicago descended into a near riot when Trump cancelled and refused to show up.

One liberal female newsreader commenting on the violence at Trump’s rallies said that when she was growing up in California in the 1980s, you never saw it except on the extreme right-wing fringe, at was barely politics – Skinhead concerts. Marinetti in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, an avant-garde artistic movement that became briefly aligned with Fascism, declared

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure and by riot; we will sing of the multi-coloured polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals.

Georges Sorel, a revolutionary Syndicalist, who later became involved with extreme right-wing French royalist and anti-Semitic movements, proclaimed in his Reflexions sur la Violence that it was only in violent revolution that men were truly free, and were able to make a new man inside themselves. He was published by a French artistic group, the Compagnons de l’Action d’Art, who declared ‘Long live violence against all that makes life ugly’.

Marinetti went on to further declare ‘We today separate the idea of the Fatherland from that of reactionary, clerical Monarchy. We unite the idea of Fatherland with that of daring Progress and of anti-police revolutionary democracy’.

It could almost describe exactly Trump’s ideological background. Much of extreme right-wing politics in America is predicated on a profound opposition to monarchy dating from the Revolution. You can see it in such extremist political movements as Lyndon LaRouche’s ‘Democrats’ back in the late 1980s and 1990s, who believed that the Queen and the Vatican were locked in a deadly covert battle for world domination, with Her Maj running the world’s drug trade from the back of Buck House. Alex Jones’ Infowars internet set has been heavily backing Trump as ‘the only anti-globalist candidate’. He’s also paranoid about the British monarchy. There’s a hilarious segment on his show where he talks about Britain’s secret police picking up anybody who failed to show due respect to Brenda during some royal occasion a few years ago. He roundly declared that ‘they (the British) have no freedom’.

Well, I must have been out when that happened. I don’t doubt that the rozzers did pick up a few troublemakers back then. But that last time I looked, you were still free in this country to say what you liked about the Royal Family. A few years ago the Queen turned up in my home town of Bristol to present the Maundy Money at a ceremony in the city’s cathedral. Apart from those due to receive it, and the crowd of royalists and general rubberneckers, there was a demonstration from MAM – the Movement Against the Monarchy. A lot of the pensioners and other members of the public were annoyed at their demonstration, but I don’t recall there being mass arrests.

Trump also retweeted one of Mussolini’s sayings ‘It is better to live one day as a lion that one hundred years as a sheep.’ Trump said he just liked it because it’s a good quote. And so it is. What makes it suspicious is that it comes from Musso, who advocated a similar cult of violence. When he was still a revolutionary Socialist, the future Duce wrote an essay on Nietzsche, published in the magazine La Voce. He announced

We must envisage a new race of “free spirits”, strengthened in war, in solitude, in great danger … spirits endowed with a kind of sublime perversity, Spirits which liberate us from the love of our neighbour.

Misogyny

Trump has an extremely reactionary attitude towards women. When a female journalist at Fox News dared to ask him a difficult question, he sneering responded that she did so ‘because she was bleeding’. This too, is par for the course for the Fascist Weltanschauung. ‘We advocate scorn for women’, declared the Futurists, who celebrated ‘youth, speed, virility.’ This later became ‘Youth, Speed, Violence’, as women joined the movement. This was coupled to the cult of the charismatic leader. Adolf Hitler said, ‘the masses are like women. They want a strong man to lead them.’ Il Duce in Italy was also opposed to women skiing, riding or cycling, as this was supposed to make them infertile and prevent them from their ‘natural and fundamental mission in life’, of having babies.

On this matter, the general attitude of the Republican party and the American Right is very similar to that of Mussolini’s Italy. Musso was also worried about the declining Italian birth rate. In 1927 he made a speech stating that he aimed to increase the Italian population from 40 million to 60 million over the next 25 years. Contraception and abortion were both banned. In Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany women’s role was defined as very traditional and domestic. Instead of going out to work, they were to stay at home and raise families.

The Republican party and the Right today is similarly worried about the fall in the birth rate of the White race, and there are websites and discussions on Right-wing internet sites devoted to the demographic decline of the West. The American religious Right is also strongly opposed to abortion and there is similar opposition to women taking up positions of economic or political leadership. I can remember way back in the 1990s one Republican pastor hysterically declaring that Hillary Clinton was ‘the type of woman who leaves her husband, turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft and sacrifices her children.’ There, and I thought that she was just a bog-standard, rather boring corporate type. Who could have guessed she led such an exciting, subversive life?

But this leads on to and is part of another feature of the Fascist Weltanschauung, that is also part and parcel of the GOP worldview:

The Decline of the West

Italian Fascism and Nazism also grew out of the 19th century feeling that Europe was threatened by decadence, and racial and cultural degeneration. It was threatened by democracy, organised labour, feminism, all of which were making Europe enfeebled. Hans Nordung described this supposed decline in his book, Degeneration, as did Oswald Spengler in his The Decline of the West. It’s an attitude that similarly pervades the Right today, alarmed by the challenge posed by militant Islam, the rise of China as a world power, and mass immigration from the Developing World. Various Republican and Right-wing leaders today in America scream about the threat of Socialism, by which they mean any kind of collectivism or state intervention, as well as feminism, which is also held to weaken America. Mussolini declared at one time that he supported women’s demands for the vote in England, as one women became politically enfranchised they would spread pacifism, leading to Britain’s decline as an imperial world power.

Exceptionalism

Right-wing American politics still has the belief that America is different from and superior to all other nations. It’s more moral, and hence America demands the absolute right not to be bound by the international treaties and conventions it imposes on others. Kyle Kulinski over at Secular Talk commented on the outrage that would occur if, say, one of the Muslim countries launched drone attacks on known White supremacists in America. Drone attacks on Muslim terrorists in countries like Yemen, with whom America is not actually at war, is nevertheless perfectly acceptable. And way back under Clinton, the Americans were keen to set up the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and that the other nations around the world should sign the treaties binding them to it and outlawing such crimes. Except for America. It was felt that America did not need to be so bound, and indeed that this would only be an impediment to the ability of the Land of the Free to export that freedom around the globe.

The Italian nationalist poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose own later excursion to Fiume set up all the political institutions that were taken over into Musso’s Fascist Italy, made the same claim for Italy and her imperialist adventures in Africa. In his ‘Augural Song for the Chosen Nation’ he proclaimed

So you will yet behold the Latin Sea
covered
with massacres in your war … Italy, Italy
sacred to the new dawn
with the plough and the prow.

Racism

Fascism is, for most people, synonymous with racism. In this, Italian Fascism was originally rather different from Nazism. The Italian Fascists, while extremely nationalistic, weren’t originally racists. About 80 per cent of Italy’s Jews managed to survive the War, because many Jews had been extremely patriotic and supported the new Italian state which had been brought into being by Mazzini and the other Italian revolutionaries in the 19th century. A number of them had joined the Fascist movement. One of the leading Italian generals, Ovato, was Jewish, and he was buried with military honours and a headstone ‘For Family, Faith and Fatherland’ at the same time his compatriots elsewhere in Italy were being rounded up and butchered. The Nazis were bitterly anti-Semitic, as is notorious, and took over the scientific racism that originated in the 19th century with Count Gobineau in France, amongst others. Apart from Jews, the Nazis also hated Gypsies and Slavs, as well as non-Whites. Once in power, they organised a campaign to sterilise the mixed-race children of German women and Black American soldiers, who had been part of the army of occupation after the First World War. Mussolini also passed a series of anti-Semitic legislation in imitation of Hitler’s.

Although not initially racist, they also sterilised and butchered the indigenous African peoples in the parts of Africa they conquered. Their nationalism also led them to launch campaigns to force Italian language and culture on the other ethnicities that found themselves within Italy’s borders, like ethnic Germans and Slavs.

Trump’s popular because he has announced that he will build a wall to prevent further immigration from Mexico. At rallies his supporters have also racially abused Black and Muslim protestors. The Young Turks interviewed a group of three young guys protesting against Trump at a rally in West Chester, Ohio. One of them was a substitute teacher. He was worried by White pupils on schools in which he taught coming in, and saying to their Black and Asian classmates that ‘once Trump gets in, you’ll be deported.’ There have also been instances of racist abuse at College sports events. In one instance, the supporters of a basketball team from an all-White area chanted ‘Trump, Trump, Trump!’ when playing a mixed-raced team from a much more ethnically diverse part of the same state. Among his supporters Trump has attracted various card-carrying Nazis and White supremacists. He’s even been endorsed by the Klan. There has also been a recent documentary in America by PBS television, which covered the way one southern family had been brought together by Trump. Many of them had not voted for decades, and the family had been divided between Republican and Democrat supporters. But they had all been brought together by Trump. This was fine, until you saw the tattoos on the wife’s arms. These included the type of Celtic cross used by the Neo-Nazi right, and the numbers 88, which in Nazi circles stand for Heil Hitler.

Trump has also announced that he wishes to place a ban on Muslims entering America. Those Muslims permitted to remain will have to carry badges and identity documents. These has naturally alarmed Jewish and civil rights groups, who have noted the obvious parallels with the treatment of Jews in the Third Reich in the years preceding the Holocaust. Mussolini too was an opponent of Islam. In the 1920s he prevented a mosque from opening in Rome.

Militarism

Trump’s actually ambiguous on this. Both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists had at their core radicalised, extremely nationalistic corps of ex-servicemen from the First World War. These former the Brownshirts of the SA in the Nazi party, and the Blackshirts, the squadristi and arditi, the latter elite Italian soldiers in Mussolini’s Fascists. The American Right has also thrown up in past decades various paramilitary movements. The survivalists stockpiling food and guns for the end of the world in the 1980s were succeeded by the Militia movement, who were similarly arming themselves for an invasion. Amongst the loonier theories was the idea that the Russians had left secret tank battalions in Mexico and Canada, ready to roll into the American heartland. A few days ago after one rally, one group appeared on the Net declaring themselves willing to serve as the ‘Trump militia’, working as bodyguards. They called themselves the Lion Militia, and debated online which uniform to wear. One was a lion costume, the other was that of the Brownshirts. I’m fairly certainly these were jokes, but nevertheless, there is something more seriously Fascistic underneath.

On foreign policy, Trump has been vague, issuing blatantly contradictory statements about his intentions in the war in the Middle East. At times he’s said that America should keep out of it, and leave it to Putin to sort out. At other times he’s announced that he intends to go in much harder than the previous presidents, killing not only the terrorists themselves, but also their families. He has also stated that he’s in favour using torture, ‘even if it doesn’t work’.

Mussolini similarly had a contradictory attitude to war. His regime was always strongly militaristic. He demanded that Italians should live in a permanent state of war. He wanted an army of five million men with a forest of bayonets, an air force so vast it would blot out the sun and a navy that other nations would fear as a threat to their security. And yet he also saw himself as a great peacemaker, and was genuinely affronted that he did not win the Nobel Peace Prize for the Locarno Settlement.

Historians of the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe noted that they generally arose in countries, where the military was accorded a very high respect, and which had been united through military action. This included Germany, which was united through Bismarck’s conquests of the individual German states, and Cavour and Garibaldi, who did the same in Italy. It also applies to America, which was created through violent revolution and expanded westwards through military conquest.

The Activist Style of Politics

Conservative critics of Fascism have suggested that Fascism owes its basis partly to the development of the activist style of politics, which arose with liberalism and democracy. Before the French Revolution, politics had been strictly confined to the governing elites. After the French Revolution, all citizens were required to be politically involved. This expansion of direct political activism also involved the definition of those who were outside the new nations. In the case of the French Revolution, this was the aristocracy. In the case of Fascism, it revised the activist style so that those outside the new national community were the regime’s political opponents and ethnic minorities.

America was one of the world’s first modern democracies. It emerged from a Revolution against British government and perceived tyranny. That liberal tradition of democratic political activism is also revised on the American extreme Right. Trump’s backed by Alex Jones’, the motto of whose Infowars internet programme is ‘1776 Worldwide’. Jones, Trump and the other right-wing demagogues believe that democracy is under threat, and can only be defended through strong and sustained action against powerful internal and external threats.

Conspiracies

The Nazi Right has always been characterised by bizarre conspiracy theories. In the case of the Nazis in Germany and their successors, these were anti-Semitic theories, some derived from the infamous Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Nazis believed that Germany and the West was under attack from a Jewish conspiracy linking financial capital to the Communists. Germany had not been defeated in the First World War, but had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Jews. These stupid and vile theories have continued on the Nazi fringe. In the 1990s various members of the American Nazi fringe and Militia movement, like Timothy McVeigh, believed that their government was secretly ruled by ZOG – the Zionist Occupation Government, dedicated to exterminating the White race through racial mixing. There have also been all manner of bizarre conspiracies about the Bilderberg Group and Trilateral Commission. Jones, Trump’s supporter, is one of those who believes in these, though I think he’s Jewish. Whatever his religious background, he’s very definitely not anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, he is part of the same conspiracy fringe. These have reached bizarre extremes. Jones and his predecessors, for example, believe that the FEMA legislation passed in the 1990s is in preparation for an act of emergency, which will see Christians and other political opponents rounded up by the regime and placed in concentration camps. 20 years ago, back in the 1990s, the coloured dots on road signs in Philadelphia which marked when they were painted so that the highways authorities knew when to give them their next lick of paint were also the subject of a bizarre rumour. Those dots were supposed to show the location of the secret concentration camps which were going to be set up.

Contempt for Parliamentary Democracy

Both Nazism and Fascism were motivated by opposition to liberal, parliamentary documentary. The Nazis overthrew German democracy through a series of emergency decrees following the Reichstag fire. Mussolini led his Fascists on a March on Rome. Trump has similarly said that there will be riots if his opponents in the Republican party conspire to deprive him of the nomination to be the candidate for the presidency in a brokered convention. In the 1990s there was briefly a call for the Militias to march on Washington, though this was turned down as some of their members feared that it was an attempt to provoke them so that they could be banned by the government. More recently there has been a march in Washington held by the militant supporters of gun rights, though they did not attempt to overthrow the government.

Elitism

Both the Nazis and Italian Fascists believed that only elites had the right to rule, taken from writers like Ortega y Gasset and Vilfredo Pareto in the case of the Fascists. For the Nazis, this was based in Social Darwinism. Businessmen, provided they were Aryans, had the right to enjoy their prominent social positions and economic leadership because they had shown their superior talent and genetic worth through competition in the world of business. It’s an attitude that can still be found in the mainstream Right, both in America and Britain. Trump is the most outspoken in his embrace of this attitude. A businessman from an extremely wealthy family, he has made sneering reference to the poor, and how those from poor families should not have the right to rule because their family background shows that they don’t have the necessary biological inheritance to have made their way to the top earlier. And he has absolute contempt for the poor.

Charismatic Leadership

At the heart of Fascism was the cult of the strong, charismatic leader, whose unique qualities made him supremely fitted to govern. They alone possessed the ability to govern according to the popular will, even if the people themselves didn’t know it was. Furthermore, as men of exceptional ability operating in times of crisis, they were not bound by the judicial constraints placed on others. Carl Schmidt, a jurist, who worked briefly for the Nazis before falling out with them, established this principle in his piece, ‘The Fuehrer Protects Justice’, defending Hitler’s action in the mass killing of the SA by the SS in the Night of the Long Knives. Trump has not gone so far as to advocate the mass killing of his political opponents. But he has made it very clear that his supporters will use force if his claim to power is denied, and that he will revise the laws to permit torture. And at the core of his appeal is his claim to be able to provide America with strong leadership. And that’s always been synonymous with authoritarian rule.

Conclusion: Trump’s Political Inheritance of American Fascism

From this it’s clear that Trump is not an isolated phenomenon. He’s the culmination of a growing sense of threat and militaristic political movements that have been growing since the 1980s. Many of these qualities – the xenophobia, anti-Feminism and hatred of organised labour is actually fairly commonplace and characteristic of right-wing politics in America. But with Trump they’ve became particularly extreme. Some of this is a reaction to Barack Obama’s presidency. The presence of a Black man in the White House, whose background is Islamic though he himself isn’t, has created a profound alienation amongst the more hysterical elements in the Republican party. He’s been denounced as a secret Muslim, Nazi and Communist. In the case of the latter, it’s because of Obamacare, which was in origin a Republican idea. But it’s held to be too close to socialised medicine, and thus to Nazism and Communism. Because both are varieties of Socialism. Or at least, they are to right-wing pundits like Jonah Goldberg.

And the result has been the rise of Donald Trump.

Now I don’t think that once in power, Trump will overthrow democracy, force all Americans into uniform and start opening extermination camps. I do think, however, that American will become a much more intolerant place, and that Muslims and illegal immigrants will stand a far greater chance of losing any kind of political rights. And I can certainly see him interning Muslims, or at least some of them, like the Japanese, Germans and Italians were also interned as enemy aliens in the Second World War.

But his presidency will be a nightmare, and it will weaken democracy and genuinely liberal institutions in the Land of the Free. And that will be a disaster in a world where the forces of Right authoritarianism is growing.

Pitt’s Speech Demanding the Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the French Revolution

March 2, 2016

Also going through the book, Your MP, by the pseudonymous ‘Gracchus’, I found Pitt’s speech of the 16th May 1794, asking parliament to pass a bill suspending Habeas Corpus in order to allow the government to round up subversives during the French Revolutionary War.

Now I’ve written a number of pieces on this blog about the origins of democracy in certain strands of theology that stressed the need for representative assemblies and which permitted Christians to overthrow a tyrant. One of the criticisms of this type of history, however, is that it misrepresents how difficult and arduous the process by which democracy emerged in the West actually was. Instead of a being a smooth development in which democracy finally flowered from long, historic constitutional roots, at each stage of the process valuable constitutional freedoms had to be fought for, and were only painfully won. And historians have pointed out that for much of its history, Britain was an authoritarian state, which was all too ready to dispense with its citizens’ ancient freedoms when it suited the governing classes. The classic example of this was the 18th century, when fear of the Revolution across le Manche spreading over here moved the British government to suspend Habeas Corpus and pass range of legislation severely limiting free speech and banning a variety of ‘seditious combinations’, including the nascent trade unions.

Here’s Pitt’s speech:

The monstrous modern doctrine of the Rights of Man … threatens to overturn the government, law, property, security, religion, order and everything valuable in this country, as it has already overturned and destroyed everything in France, and endangered every nation in Europe …

That great moving principle of Jacobinism, the love of plunder, devastation and robbery, which now bears the usurped name of liberty … the arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich, and crush all; the dark designs of a few, making use of the name of the people to govern all; a plan founded in the arrogance of wretches, the outcasts of society …

With some qualifications because of its florid 18th century, this has a peculiar contemporary ring about it. The attack on the ‘Rights of Man’ for example. If you replace that with the European convention on Human Rights, which is based on the French Revolutionary tradition of les droits du l’homme, (excuse my French), then the sense is more or less the same. As is the rant about the ‘arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich.’ With a few alterations, you could put this in the pages of the Daily Mail today and no-one would notice. Really. A few years ago the Mail took it into its tiny collective skull to publish a rant against the French education system. It particularly attacked the elite state schools, which educated the French technocratic and governmental elite. They were nasty, horrendous, undemocratic, and excluded the French hoi polloi. Which is probably true, I dare say. It then started to compare them negatively with the British public schools, which were supposed to be better, and the mark of a freer society. Some of us would argue that it actually shows the alternative.

In fact before the introduction of democracy over here in the form of the acts finally extending the franchise to women and the rest of the working class, the doctrine of universal human rights really wasn’t widely adopted over here. The ruling classes thought it was too abstract, and too French. Instead, they linked political rights to property qualifications and the ability to pay certain levels of tax and rates. And you can see that today. It’s carefully hidden, but there is definitely an attitude that if you’re rich, you should have more rights than the rest of us. Willie Whitelaw in the 1980s said that business owners ought to have two votes, as they were responsible not just for themselves, but for their employees. One of the High Tories about twenty years ago wrote a book arguing that we should ditch all the horrendous reforms of the 1960s, and get back to a more stable age before gender equality, the legalisation of homosexuality, when there was better respect for property. He wanted the property qualification restored for jury service, so that people with a responsible attitude to the protection of property would fill the court rooms, passing guilty sentences on those caught infringing the country’s property rights.

So it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the long history of suspicion by the ruling classes against any doctrine of equality and universal rights, that Theresa May now wants to extend the powers of the surveillance state. Or even that in the last parliament the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation providing for secret courts and massively extending the length of time a suspect could be held for trial during their investigation.

Britain considers itself one of, if not the great founding nation of political liberty. Pitt’s speech, and the ominous rise of the surveillance state under Major, Bliar and Cameron, makes you wonder how true this really is.

+69***++++66666
3.+

Vox Political on BoJo, Gove and Somebody Else Demanding Public Clean Up Britain for Free for the Queen

February 29, 2016

This is a very bizarre story. The government has, in what it thinks is its infinite wisdom, that we should all get off our backsides this summer and celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday by cleaning up the country for free. Mike over at Vox Political asks the obvious question why the poor should be expected to work free of charge for a multi-millionaire monarch. The scheme was launched today by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and someone called Rory Stewart, wearing hi-vis jackets matching T-shirts with the slogan ‘Clean for the Queen’, and posing next to a giant banner of the slogan. Mike points out that this is particularly hypocritical, given that BoJo, Gove and presumably Stewart would never, ever, absolutely do anything themselves unless they were being very generously paid for it.

Go see Mike’s blog for his comments, piccies of the three Tories and the poster, and further information on the way this has been greeted on Twitter. Even one of the hacks on the Graun has had a dig at this.

Tories line up to demand free labour for our multi-millionaire monarch

It’s a bizarre idea. The Tories have clearly decided that something should be done to celebrate Brenda’s longevity. My guess is that in previous ages this would probably have resulted in pageants, fetes and parties up and down the country. Roughly the same kind of jollification that was de rigueur under the Victorians when the Queen (Gawd bless ‘er!) reached a particularly venerable age. They have, however, clearly decided that this is not acceptable in today’s economic climate, because it would cost money.

And as the government’s policy is based on cutting services, and getting the rest of the population to perform them for free, let getting old age pensioners to run libraries under ‘localism’, they’ve clearly settled on this policy instead. So, no street parties like we had a few years ago when it was the anniversary of D-Day. Instead, we’re all being told to get to work, and like it, because it’s celebratory.

It all reminds me of the corvee, the system of forced labour that was part of the serfs’ feudal duties to the lord of the manor during the Middle Ages, and which survived in France and elsewhere until the French Revolution. The Queen is a feudal monarch, and once again, her loyal subjects are being asked to toil for her for free on public works. No doubt Cameron will be making notes, wondering how he can fit it into some kind of universal, neo-feudal system. How about placing each citizen of this glorious nation under the personal authority of a leading businessman, who can use them anyway they like, putting them to work for free, on the pretext that this is somehow promoting public spirit and teaching them how to be good employees and submit obediently to the authority of the upper classes. Or is this too much like workfare?

It also reminds me of one of the more bizarre Communist rituals that used to go on in the former Soviet Union. Every year in February, in the depths of the Russian winter, there was a national cleaning day, when good Soviet citizens had to clean the streets and spring clean their places of work. That included cleaning the windows, and opening them to the bitter Russian cold. You were also expected to bring out of storage – or hiding – all the old statues of Lenin and the tat celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution, putting them proudly on display. The busts of Lenin came in a variety of materials, to suit the pockets of the Soviet purchaser. The really expensive busts were in stone. The cheaper alternative was papier mache. I can remember reading a description of the kerfuffle that broke out during one of the spring-cleans in a travel book on the Soviet Union in one office, wear they discovered that their papier mache bust of the great Soviet leader had got damp and sprouted mushrooms.

This was the Soviet Union, one of the archetypal monolithic totalitarian states. For all that Cameron, BoJo, Gove and their odious cohorts represent the direct economic polar opposite in capitalism, they share the Soviet state’s authoritarianism, its need to control absolutely and its rigidly hierarchical social order. This was a society where the party elite had access to a range of goods and services, including special, curtained shops, from which the ordinary Soviet citizens were barred. This was a state built on slave labour, where the leaders of the various industries had actually put in orders to the KGB for the numbers of new people they wanted arrested to work for them. Workfare has been organised very much on the same lines, where the unemployed are effectively rented out to the ‘work providers’ as unfree workers, who are paid only their jobseekers allowance. And not even that, if they’ve been sanctioned. Mike and the other bloggers have shown that, by law, you are still liable to perform workfare, even if you’ve been sanctioned and are not being given your Jobseeker’s Allowance. This is true slave labour, of which Stalin would be envious.

And it seems this initiative, to get us all cleaning the country up for the Queen, is pretty much more of the same. Now I’ve no objection whatsoever to campaigns to Keep Britain Tidy, like there were in the 1970s. I wish more people had respect for their environment, and there was less littering and fly-tipping. But I don’t see why we should be expected to do it for nothing. And I am very suspicious in case the government suddenly announces that it is very impressed with how well this has worked, and now wants to roll it out as a national scheme.
I can see that coming all too easily.

British Constitutional Theory and Blair and Cameron’s Surveillance State

November 2, 2015

Over the past few decades we’ve seen the powers of the secret state expand massively, and there are ever-increasing demands for increased powers of surveillance and data-gathering. A few days ago the government intended to pass a bill stipulating that the internet companies should keep browsing histories for a year, just in case the police or security agencies were interested. The power to look at these was to be granted by ministers, rather than judges. Cameron, however, backed down at the last minute, faced with what looks like another rebellion in the Lords.

If this is really what happened, then the Lords are right. And Cameron should know it, if he has any idea of British constitutional theory, or even a grounding in the Classics.

Which given the fact that he didn’t know what Magna Carta was, wouldn’t surprise me.

Since the Middle Ages there has been a long line of British political theorists firmly opposed to the expansion of the powers of the state to spy, prosecute and control. In the Middle Ages the percentage of criminal cases, which resulted in a conviction was low – about five per cent. Nevertheless, medieval English political theorists during the Fifteenth century considered that this was an acceptable price to pay for protecting the citizen from oppression and malicious prosecution by a tyrannical state. They compared the turbulent state of contemporary England with France. France was more peaceful, but this, they believed, had been purchased at the price of a despotic, absolute state.

This attitude continued into the 18th century. Blackstone, one of the greatest British constitutional theorists and historians, declared that it was better that ten thieves and criminals should escape, than one good man should be hanged.

And as someone, who no doubt has studied the Classics as part of their expensive education at Eton, Cameron should know very well the attitude of the Roman historians to the corrupt and brutal Roman Emperors, who ruled by fear, and had networks of spies and informers. Like Nero or Caligula.

This does not mean that there isn’t a very strong authoritarian strain in British politics. Britain became extremely authoritarian during the French Revolution, when all manner of legislation was passed against radical groups, popular assemblies and trade unions.

But this is counterbalanced by a political tradition firmly opposed to despotism, and which also stands opposed to the massive expansion of the surveillance state, which is increasingly demanding information on each of its citizens.

This is only a few sketchy thoughts on the issue at the moment. But it is an extremely worrying issue, which I intend to pursue further.

As for my own thoughts on crime and terrorism – I want criminals and terrorists to be caught and properly punished from their crimes in a court of law. I want the police to have sufficient powers to be able to do this. But I don’t want them to have more power than needed, at the expense of the liberty of ordinary people. This latter is what Cameron’s proposed reforms undermine.

And one other saying is important here: The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.