Posts Tagged ‘French Revolution’

Radio 4 Programme on Friday on the History of British Fascism

February 17, 2021

Radio 4 on Friday, 19th February 2021 begins a new, three part series on the history of British Fascism, Britain’s Fascist Thread. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times, which is on at 11 O’clock in the morning, runs

Historian Camilla Schofield explores a century of British fascism, from the formation of the British Fascisti in 1923, arguing that it is a central and ongoing part of the British story. The first programme takes the rally staged by the British Union of Fascists at Olympia in June 1934 as a keyhole through which to look in order to understand fascism in the years before the Second World War.

The additional piece by David Crawford about the series on the facing page, 132, reads

There have been fascist movements in Britain for almost a century now and, with the recent news of young teenagers being arrested for being a part of neo-Nazi groups, it seems as if this stain on our national character is not fading away. Historian Camilla Schofield, who has published a book on Enoch Powell and Britain’s race relations, argues that fascism shouldn’t be seen as something alien imported from abroad but a central and, yes, ongoing part of the British story. This three part survey of British Fascism begins at the rally by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists at Olympia in 1934 then rewinds to 1923 when the androgynous, upper-middle class Rotha Lintorn-Orman formed the British Fascisti, supposedly after an epiphany while digging her garden. A warning from history not to take our precious democracy for granted.

Martin Pugh also argues that British Fascism wasn’t an import from abroad but a continuation of certain strands in British political history in his book on British Fascism between the Wars. This is based on the British Fascists’ own contention that their movement had its basis in Queen Elizabeth’s enfranchisement of certain towns in the 16th century. This formed a native corporatist tradition like the corporate state Mussolini was creating in Fascist Italy.

As for Rotha Lintorn-Orman, I think this very middle class lady was an alcoholic, who thought that she was in astral contact with the spirit of the Duc d’Orleans, a nobleman from the time of the French Revolution. This aristo’s ghost told her that all revolutions from the French to the Russian were the work of the Jews, who were trying to destroy European, Christian civilisation.

The British Fascisti were really extreme right-wing Tories rather than Fascists proper. They specialised in disrupting socialist meetings and supplying blackleg labour during strikes. In one confrontation with the left, they managed to force a van supplying copies of the Daily Herald, a Labour paper, off the road. I think Oswald Mosley described their leadership as consisting of middle class women and retired colonels. They were in talks to merge their organisation with Mosley’s until Britain’s greatest wannabe dictator asked them about the corporate state. I don’t think they knew what it was. When he explained, they decried it as ‘socialism’ and Mosley decided that they weren’t worth bothering with.

Pugh’s book also argues that the British idea that our nation is intrinsically democratic is very much a product of hindsight. He points out that there was considerable opposition to democracy amongst the upper classes, especially the Indian office. British ideas about the franchise were tied to notions of property and the ability to pay rates. The French notion that the vote was an inalienable right was rejected as too abstract.

British fascism is also shares with its counterparts on the continent an origin in the concerns of the 19th century agricultural elite with the declining health and fitness of their nations. The upper classes were appalled at the poor physiques of men recruited by the army to fight the Boer War from the new, industrial towns. There was an obvious fear that this was going to leave Britain very weak militarily.

It’s also struck me that with her background in race relations, Schofield will also argue that British fascism also has its roots in native British racism and imperialism, citing organisations such as the anti-Semitic British Brothers League, which was formed to stop continental Jewish immigration to Britain.

Oswald Mosley also tried telling the world that British fascism wasn’t an import, but then, he also tried telling everyone that the Fasces – the bundle of rods with an axe – was an ancient British symbol. It wasn’t. It was a Roman symbol, and represented the power of the lictor, a type of magistrate, to beat and execute Roman citizens. It was adopted by Mussolini as the symbol of his movement, Fascism, which actually takes its name from the Italian word fascio, which means a bundle or group. I think that Pugh’s right in that there certainly is a native tradition of racism and extreme nationalism in Britain, and that the British self-image of themselves as an innately democratic nation is a product of Churchill’s propaganda during the Second World War. However, Fascism proper with its black shirts and corporative state is very much an import from Mussolini’s Italy. But then, Mosley also claimed that socialism and liberalism were also imports. It will, however, be interesting to hear what Schofield has to say, especially with the really bonkers parts of British fascism, like Lintorn-Orman and her spiritual conversations with French aristocratic Jew-haters from the Other Side.

Video of Me Playing the ‘Rights of Man’ Hornpipe

December 16, 2020

Here’s a bit of British folk music from the radical tradition. I’ve just put up on my YouTube channel a short, six minute video of myself playing, or trying to play, an 18th century hornpipe celebrating The Rights of Man, one of the books of the great 18th century English radical democrat, Tom Paine. He was born the son of a Thetford staymaker, and a supporter of the American Revolution. His pamphlet, Common Sense, was written to defend it, and attacks the institutions of the British monarchy and aristocracy. He was initially a supporter of the French Revolution, but turned against that as a perversion of his principles. The Rights of Man was written as a defence of republicanism. Although it was massively popular with a print run of 200,000 copies, it was denounced by the upper classes up and down Britain and burned on village greens before being finally banned by royal decree. Not surprisingly it still had a huge underground circulation in Scotland and Ireland. Paine eventually emigrated to America where he died. I think he was too radical for the Americans, although The Rights of Man was praised and regarded as highly influential by several American presidents. Unfortunately, his remains weren’t allowed to rest quietly. A fan, John Cobbett, dug them up and brought them back to Blighty. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt and the skeleton was seized as an asset, before it was ruled that it wasn’t. The skeleton disappeared and no-one knows what has happened to it.

I found the sheet music to this, as well as a brief description of Paine’s life and career, which I read out in the video, in Robin Williamson’s English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes (New York: Oak Publications 1976). I play it on a keyboard, but with the setting on violin so that it sounds as it was originally intended to be played. Or as close I can manage it. The arrangement printed in the book is Scots.

Rights of Man Hornpipe – YouTube

Radio 4 Next Week Serialises Biography of Black Haitian Revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture

November 11, 2020

Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’ next week, according to the Radio Times for 14-20 November 2020, is Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus, a biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture was the leader of slave rebellion in what is now Haiti in the late 19th century, which threw out the French and turned their former colony into the first Black republic. The piece about the serial on page 130 of the Radio Times by David McGillivray runs

Book of the Week: Black Spartacus – the Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

In 1791 enslaved Africans on the island now known as Haiti rose up against their French masters in the world’s first and only successful slave revolution. Their leader was the brilliant general and diplomat Toussaint Louverture, subject of a new book by Mauritian-born lecturer in politics at Balliol College Oxford, Sudhir Hazareesingh. Using correspondence and military reports in French archives, Hazareesingh brings startling new insights into the life of the man largely responsible for the establishment of the first black republic. Louverture, a real-life black superhero, fought not only the French but also the British and Spanish. “It was the greatest revolution of all time,” the author says. The serialisation is read by Adrian Lester.

The programme’s on at 9.45 each day, Monday to Friday. The blurbs for the days’ instalments are as follows:

Monday

1/5 Adrian Lester reads from Sudhir Hazareesingh’s biography of the former slave who headed an insurrection that led to the Haitian Revolution. The first instalment looks at Toussaint’s early life, his progress to coachman and his education by the Jesuits. Abridged by Libby Spurrier.

Tuesday

2/5 Following the Saint Domingue uprising, Toussaint show himself to be both a focused military leader and a man of compassion.

Wednesday

3/5 In 1798, Napoleon sends an agent, Gabriel de Heouville, to reduce Tousaint’s power in Saint-Domingue.

Thursday

4/5 Toussaint’s sweeping reforms of both public and private activity help to bring about huge rises in productivity and exports, but his authoritative leadership style inspires rebellions, led by his nephew Moyse.

Friday

5/5 Napoleon Bonaparte and Toussaint Louverture engage in a fierce battle of both wit and force over Saint-Dominge. After three months of fighting, Toussaint seeks to negotiate a truce, but is arrested and embarks on his first sea voyage – one way – to France.

Louverture was clearly a brilliant and gifted leader. His revolution was an inspiration to slaves across the Caribbean, and the sought to emulate his success in their own revolts. These also included the British West Indies, alarming the colonial authorities there and the government at home.

However, there was also a serious negative aspect to the revolution. Major Moody used the condition of the former slaves in Haiti after the revolt as part of the argument in his parliamentary report in the 1820s that slaves in the British Caribbean weren’t ready for their freedom. After the revolution, the government had been faced with a financial crisis due to possible loss of their export commodity, sugar. The country was therefore divided up between Louverture’s generals, and the former slaves were forbidden to leave their plantations. Each plantation was given a quote of sugar to produce. If they failed to produce this quota, then the generals and army moved in and started executing those workers. I believe they were burned to death. I don’t know whether this came after Louverture was removed from power, although it might have been during his rule when the book says that rebellions broke out against his ‘authoritative’ leadership.

Moody’s conclusion surprised contemporaries, because he certainly wasn’t personally racist. He lived in Somerset with a Black wife. His report is interesting because it also includes letters from a former American slave, who had been freed by his mistress in Louisiana. The former slave had travelled to Haiti, and obviously felt a strong attachment to his former mistress by writing letters to her about his new adopted country and its conditions.

The report also discusses issues that are still, unfortunately, very relevant today. He felt describes the greater numbers of Blacks than Whites in American prisons, and concluded that there is so much prejudice against Blacks in America and Britain that the only way they can possible succeed as equals would be if they had their own country. This is the view of Black radical groups like the Nation of Islam. Let’s work together to make sure it’s mistaken.

I haven’t come across this particular book before, but there have been other works recently published about the Black revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One of these is The Black Jacobins. Louverture was inspired by the French Revolution, which attempted to end slavery as well as liberating the White serfs from their aristocratic masters. I don’t think the French were able to restore serfdom after the revolution’s failure, but they were successful in restoring Black slavery. This led to the growth of French anti-slavery movements like Amis des Noirs.

Marxism, Black Nationalism and Fascism

September 21, 2020

Last week or so Sasha Johnson was thrown off twitter for stating that the White man would not be the equals of Blacks, but their slave. Johnson is supposedly one of the leading lights in the Oxford Black Lives Matter movement. She was filmed holding a bizarre paramilitary-style rally in Brixton. Standing in front of a uniformed squad of Black people, she compared the police to the Klu Klux Klan and declared that what was needed was a Black militia. Like the one that was standing behind her, no doubt. She also screamed ‘Black Power!’ and ‘Revolution!’ She then followed that by announcing that, as Black and Asian politicians like Priti Patel and David Lammy were all sell-outs, she was going to found a a new political party solely for Blacks.

Johnson has been called a ‘Black Panther’, though I don’t know whether it was by her admirers in the Black power movement, or by herself. It certainly seems that she’s trying to copy the Black Panthers, who were set up to defend American Blacks against shooting and murder by the police, and set up their own party. But to British eyes it also looks very much like other violent paramilitary movements, like the terrorist organisations in Ulster and White Fascist organisations, such the British Union of Fascists and the National Front.

Black Lives Matter as an organisation, I gather, is Marxist, and the Black Panthers are usually seen as radical left rather than Fascist right. But this passage from Noel Sullivan’s Fascism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd 1983) may explain how Johnson was able to move from a Marxist position to racial supremacy, albeit one that privileged Blacks against Whites.

Sullivan’s a Conservative historian, who take the view that the origins of Fascism are to be found in the activist style of politics that emerged with the French Revolution. This demanded that the public take an active part in politics as against the older, feudal system in which politics was confined to the king and the aristocracy. This new activism also set up the nation or the people against an outgroup, identified as their enemy. For the French Revolutionaries, the people were the French middle class, and their enemies were the monarchy, aristocracy and clergy. Later in the 19th century, Karl Marx identified the people with the working class. However, that didn’t end the process. This was followed in the 20th century by Asian revolutionary socialists, beginning with Sultan Galiev, identifying their peoples as the oppressed working class and urging revolution against their White colonial oppressors. Sullivan writes

In spite of Marx’s belief that his redefinition of the ‘true people’ as the proletariat represented a scientific and therefore final stage in activist strategy, the subsequent course of twentieth-century intellectual history revealed that his own position was a unstable as the one which he had attacked. Consider, for example, the doctrine advocated by Sultan Galiev in 1919, in an article entitled ‘Social Revolution and the East’. Galiev was a Marxist, in the sense that he followed Marx in identifying the true people with the proletariat. He differed from Marx, however, in his definition of the proletariat itself. The trouble with western socialism, Galiev wrote, is that ‘the East, with its population of a milliard and a half human beings, oppressed by the West European bourgeoisie, was almost entirely forgotten. The current of the international class war bypassed the East and the problem of revolution in the East existed only in the minds of a few scattered individuals. For Galiev, the true proletariat now became the Muslim, Hindu and Chinese masses of the East, and the Marxist class struggle was accordingly transformed into one between the white and coloured races. Other non-European socialists rapidly took up this theme. For example, in 1920 Li Ta-chao, one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party, defined as class-struggle as racial conflict ‘between the lower-class coloured races and the upper-class white race’. In this struggle, ‘China really stands in the position of the world proletariat.’ In Japan, Ikki Kita also pursued the racial method of defining the true people as the populace of the third world, maintaining in his Outline for the Reconstruction of the Japanese State, 1919) that ‘There are self-contrictions in the fundamental thought of those European and American socialists who approve of proletarian class-struggle within a country but who consider international proletarian war as chauvinism and militarism.’ In recent decades, Frantz Fanon has been the best-known exponent of this particular variant of the new activist style of politics. (pp. 51-2).

Sasha Johnson seems to have made a similar transition, identifying the true people with Britain’s depressed Black population. In so doing, she’s moved from a socialistic Black radicalism to Fascism. She’s become Black Britain’s version of the White Fascists Nesta Webster and Rotha Orne Linton.

I also wonder how long she’ll be a figure on the public stage. She was determined to make herself notorious and a figure of public outrage and terror, like any number of angry young people before her trying to epater le bourgeois. I don’t think Black Lives Matter have done anything to censure her or reel her in, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. At the moment she’s a liability. They and the media have made a point of showing that Blacks and Whites, especially young people, are united in their support of the movement. BLM also released statements on placards stating that they were trying to start a race war. They were trying to end one. But that is precisely what Sasha Johnson wants to do.

My guess is that Black Lives Matter will now try and rein her in, if only for the sake of publicity. As for Johnson herself, she and her supporters come across as young, idealistic and stupid. 19th and 20th century history is full of similar young men and women, angry and radical, trying to threaten the establish order. Hopefully with time she’ll settle down and grow up.

Would Disraeli Have Supported the Tory’s Lawbreaking Bill?

September 15, 2020

I found this brilliant quote by Disraeli in Peter Vansittart, Voices 1870-1914 (London: Jonathan Cape 1984):

In a progressive country change is constant, and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines. (P. 12)

The classic definition of Conservatism, as expressed in its foundational text, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, is that change should be carried out very much in deference, to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people. The traditionalist right objects to socialism because they see it as a violation of principle in favour of ‘deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines,’ just as they objected to the French Revolution, which was also based on abstract principles against national tradition.

But this also raises the question of whether the great 19th century Conservative statesman and novelist would ever have voted with the 344-odd Tories, who trooped through the lobbies to support Boris’ Internal Markets Bill. Because this bill itself breaks the law for the sake of an abstract principle – hostility to the EU – which will wreck Britain’s reputation and her dealings not just with the European Union. And Brexit itself is threatening to break up the three hundred year old union of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to return the latter to sectarian violence and murder. Three former Prime Ministers, including John Major, David Cameron – the ultimate cause of this mess – and Gordon Brown, and the former leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, have all stood up to condemn it.

Would Disraeli have voted for Boris bill? Moot. But if you go by the above statement, it’s highly doubtful. But then, Disraeli undoubtedly had more brains than Boris and his cabinet put together.

Liverpool to Put Information Plaques on Buildings and Monuments with Connections to Slavery

August 24, 2020

The Black Lives Matter protests across the world have prompted the authorities in Liverpool to examine once again their great city’s connection to the slave trade. According to an article by Jean Selby in today’s I, for 24th August 2020, the city is going to put up information plaques around the city on areas and places connected to the slave trade. The article’s titled ‘Liverpool to acknowledge its history of slavery’. I think it’s slightly misleading, and something of a slur, as the City has already acknowledged its connection to slavery a long time ago. It has an international slavery museum, which I think may have started as a gallery in its maritime museum way back in the 1990s. This has inspired Black rights and anti-racism campaigners to approach the council here in Bristol calling for a similar museum down here. From what I gather from the local news website, The Bristolian, Asher Craig, a councilor for St. George’s in Bristol and the head of the local equalities body, told them to go away and find a private backer first. This is the same Asher Craig, who in an interview on Radio 4 showed that apparently she didn’t know about the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed, nor about the various official publications, including a 1970s school history book for local children, that discuss Bristol’s history in the slave trade, and told the Beeb she wanted a museum of slavery here in Bristol. According to The Bristolian, the campaigners are dismayed at the city’s refusal to build such a museum following the examples of Liverpool in the Britain and Nantes in France.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of London journos writing pieces about places like Bristol and Liverpool blithely claiming, or implying, that only now are they acknowledging their role in the abominable trade. I can remember getting very annoyed with the News Quiz and some of the comedians on it over a decade ago when I similar story came up about Liverpool. Jeremy Hardy, a great left-wing comedian sadly no longer with us, said something suitably sneering about the city and slavery. But the impression I have is that it’s London that has been the most sensitive and most desperate to hide its past in connection to slavery. Nearly two decades or so ago, when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I had the privilege of meeting a young Asian artist. She was working on a project commemorating the slave trade by making models of old factories and mills from the foodstuffs they produced, which had been cultivated through slavery. She told me that she’d approached a number of towns and their museums, and received very positive reactions to her work. They had all been very willing to give her whatever help they could, though some of these towns had only been in the slave trade for a very short time before being squeezed out by competition from Bristol and Liverpool. As a result, they often genuinely had little in their collections connected to slavery. But they were willing to give any help they could. But her experience with the Museum of London had been quite different. They made it plain that they didn’t have any holdings on slavery whatsoever. I’ve been told since then that things are a bit different, and that individual London boroughs are quite open and apologetic about their connection to the slave trade. But it does seem to me that it is London that is particularly defensive and secretive when it comes to commemorating its own history of slave dealing.

Back to the I’s article, which runs

Liverpool will address its ties to the slave trade with a series of plaques around the city explaining the history behind its street names, building and monuments.

The city council plans to acknowledge the role the port city played in colonialism and the vast wealth generated from the trafficking of human beings. According to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool ships carried about 1.5 million slaves, half of the three million Africans taken across the Atlantic by British slavers.

Falkner Square, named after an 18th-century merchant involved in the slave trade, is among those expected to have a plaque installed.

“We have to be led by our communities on how to do this and do it in a way that is sensitive to both our past and our present,” mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said as he announced the project yesterday. He was marking Slavery Remembrance Day – which commemorates the anniversary of a 1791 slave uprising in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He continued: “I do not believe that changing street names is the answer – it would be wrong to try and airbrush out our past. It’s important that we have a sensible and informed discussion about theses issues. We need to judge the past with a historical perspective, taking into account today’s higher ethical standards and, most importantly, how everyone, from every community in the city, feels about it.”

And advisory panel, chaired by Michelle Charters, recommended the creation of Eric Lynch slavery memorial plaques, named in honour of Eric Lynch, a Ghanaian chief who is a descendant of African slaves and spent his life drawing attention to the city’s slavery history.

His son, Andrew Lynch, said: “These plaques are a tribute to Eric’s long years of work as a black community activist and educator, teaching the people of Liverpool to acknowledge and understand their historic inheritance in an honest and open way, and uncovering the contribution made by black people throughout our great city.”

This all sounds actually quite reasonable. I think it’s fair to put the plaques up for those wanting such information. And I really don’t believe those places should be renamed, as this is a form of rewriting history. You shouldn’t try to erase the past, although I accept that some monuments, like those of Colston, are unacceptable in today’s moral and political climate for very good reasons.

However, I think this says less about Liverpool’s history and more about the present desperate state of the Black community in Britain. Back when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum all those years ago, I remember talking about some of the materials we had on slavery and its history by West Indian academic historians. I heard from some of the staff that some of this was actually quite controversial in some of the West Indian nations, but for reasons that are completely the opposite to the situation in this country. They’re controversial, or were then, among Black West Indians, who feel that they’re racist against their White fellow countrymen and co-workers. Apparently after one book was published, there was a spate of letters in the local press by Black people stating that their bosses or secretaries were White, and certainly weren’t like that. I think if the Black community in Britain shared the same general level of prosperity and opportunity as the White population, there would be precious little interest in slavery and its commemoration except among academics and historians. It would be an episode from the past, which was now mercifully over, and which the Black community and the rest of society had moved on from.

I also think that demands for its commemoration also come not just from the material disadvantages the Black community in general suffers from, but also its feelings of alienation and marginalisation. They feel that they and their history are being excluded, hence the demands for its commemoration. However, I think the reverse of this is that such demands can also look like expressions of anti-White sentiment, in which the present White population is demanded to be penitent and remorseful about something they were not responsible for, simply because they’re White.

And there are also problems with the selection of the events commemorated International Slavery Remembrance Day. This looks like Toussaint L’Louverture’s Black revolution on Haiti. L’ouverture was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. It was he and his generals that overthrew the French authorities in what is now Haiti, giving the country its present name and making it a Black republic in which power and property could only be held by Blacks. It naturally became a shining beacon for the aspirations of other Black revolutionaries right across the Caribbean and even the US. Major Moody discusses it in his 1820s report on slavery, which critically examined whether Blacks were prepared for supporting themselves as independent, self-reliant citizens after emancipation. His report included correspondence from Black Americans, who had been freed by their owners and moved to Haiti, but still kept in touch with them.

Moody was not impressed with the progress of the revolution, and concluded that Blacks weren’t ready for their freedom. This shocked many abolitionists, as Moody himself was a married to a Black woman. But if you read his report about Haiti, you understand why. After successfully gaining their freedom, the Haitians had been faced with the problem of maintaining it against European aggression on the one hand, and economic collapse on the other. The result was the imposition of virtual enslavement back on the plantation workers, who had fought so hard for their freedom. The country’s estates were divided up among the generals. The former slaves were forbidden to leave them, and quotas of the amount of sugar they were required to produce were imposed. If the poor souls did not produce the required amount, they were tortured or burned to death. It seemed to me when I read the Blue Book Moody published, kept in the Museum’s libraries, that Moody’s decision against supporting immediate emancipation for the enslaved peoples of the Caribbean was based on a genuine horror of such atrocities and fear that this would be repeated across the West Indies.

I don’t think Marxist historians would be surprised at the brutality that arose after the Haitian revolution. Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin believed that history followed certain deterministic laws, and were acutely interested in the French Revolution. From this they believed that all revolutions followed an inevitable pattern. After the initial gains of freedom, the revolution would be overthrown and a period of reaction arise, created by a dictator. Just like Napoleon had overthrown the French Revolutionaries to create a new, imperial monarchy. In their own time, they were afraid that the new Napoleon, who would undo the Russian Revolution, would be Trotsky. And so they missed Stalin’s threat. The reintroduction of slavery by L’Ouverture’s generals is just part of this general pattern in the progress of revolutions. Nevertheless, like the destruction of personal freedoms following the Russian Revolution and then Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s, it does raise the awkward question of whether it should, like the Russian Revolution, really by celebrated or commemorated without significant caveats.

This aside, I’m sure that following Liverpool’s decision, there will also be demands for Bristol to do the same. There is already a slave walk around the docks in Bristol and a plaque commemorating the slaves exploited and traded by Bristol merchants. The M Shed has a gallery on Bristol and the slave trade, which includes a map of various streets and properties in the city and its surroundings built and owned by slavers and those with connections to the trade. And the latest monument, set up in the 1990s, is a remarkable bridge down on the docks. This has two horns either side of it, but has been named ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after one of the very few slaves traded by the city in the 18th century, who identity is known.

The Tory Attitude to Mass Starvation: Let Them Eat Cake

August 4, 2020

Mike’s put up this evening on his blog a piece wondering if the reason the Tories launched their ‘Help Out To Eat Out’ scheme to encourage people to start going out to restaurants again wasn’t because they wanted to restart the economy, but simply stuff their faces at public expense. He’s put up a couple of pieces about the Tory MPs Nadhim Zahawi and the abomination formerly in charge of the NHS, Jeremy Hunt, both talking about how they used to scheme to get a free lunch. There’s a meme about Zahawi stating just how much he’s raked in on expenses and for working for an oil company, in addition to his generous salary as an MP. But he doesn’t feel that such largesse should be awarded to the disabled, and voted for a £30 cut in their benefits.

Mike’s blogged about this issue before. The scheme was never going to tackle the real problem of starvation, or ‘food poverty’ in this country, because the people afflicted by it can’t afford to go to restaurants. Many of them can’t afford to buy food, which is why there’s been such a massive expansion in food banks.

But the middle classes, and the rich Tories who represent them, can.

This all reminds of the expenses scandal back in 2004, when large sections of parliament were caught claiming as much as they could get their hands on in expenses, far beyond what was being awarded in pay for the rest of us mere mortals. They had also voted to cut the salaries of their staff. That blew up in their faces when it was exposed by the Torygraph, which may well have been the last time that wretched newspaper ever did anything right.

And now they’re doing it again while millions starve.

It all reminds me of the famous reply Marie Antoinette supposedly gave to the news that the French peasantry were starving because they had no bread.

‘Well, let them eat cake’.

That’s come to symbolise the grotesque self-indulgence and absolute complacency of the French aristocracy, an attitude that led to the Revolution, the execution of the monarchy and the mass murder of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety.

This seems to be the modern, Tory British version. People don’t have food on the table, but blow them! Let them go to a restaurant instead, like the Tories and their rich friends from the Bullingdon Club and other centres of the self-indulgent, callous rich.

Was ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ really meant to help super-rich Tories get cheap meals at the taxpayer’s expense?

Tony Greenstein on the Abuse of Anti-Semitism to Silence Criticism of Israel

March 24, 2019

This video was put on YouTube two years ago, in March 2017, by Brighton BDS, the local branch of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and oppression of the Palestinians. It’s one of two videos from that meeting, in which Greenstein and Jackie Walker respectively tell of how accusations of anti-Semitism are used to stifle justified criticism of Israel. Both Greenstein and Walker are Jewish critics of Israel, and despite their being firm anti-racists and anti-Fascists, have thus been smeared as anti-Semites.

Greenstein begins his speech by welcoming his audience, and congratulating them in that they are going to see two anti-Semites for the price of one. He explains that the accusations of anti-Semitism have nothing to do with real anti-Semitism. They’re the method used to silence critics of the unjustifiable, like Israel’s destruction of a Bedouin village in the Negeb desert to make way for a Jewish village. And Administrative Detention, where the only people detained without trial are Palestinians. It is also difficult to justify a law which retroactively legalises the theft of Palestinian land, and the existence of two different legal system in the West Bank, one for Palestinians and the other for Jews. He states that in most people’s understanding of the word, that’s apartheid. It’s certainly racist. And it’s easier to attack critics as anti-Semitic, than deal with the issues concerned.

And Israel doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It receives more aid from the United States than every other country in the world combined. Israel is defended because it’s a very important partner of the West in the Middle East. It’s critics do single out Israel, because it’s the only apartheid state in the world, the only state that says one section of the population – Jews – will have privileges, while the other section won’t. He states that there are many repressive states in the world, but there is only one apartheid state. The Zionists then reply that there’s only one Jewish state. Greenstein responds to that by pointing to 1789 and the liberation of the Jews in France during the French Revolution, the first people to be granted such emancipation. The French Revolution established the principle that the state and religion should be separate. This is also a cardinal principle of the American Constitution, but it doesn’t exist in Israel. Greenstein states that he has the right to go to Israel, claiming citizenship, and get privileges like access to land because he’s Jewish, while Yasser – a member of the audience – has no such rights, despite being born their and having a family there, because he’s not Jewish. You can’t say it’s not racist and unjust, and so they accuse people, who criticise it, of anti-Semitism.

He makes the point that it’s like the British in India. They didn’t claim they were going there to exploit the natural wealth of India, and pillage and rape it. No, they justified it by saying they were going there to civilise it by getting rid of Suttee, the burning of a man’s widow on his funeral pyre. He cites Kipling’s metaphor as the Empire as a burden on the White man’s back. It was the Empire on which the sun never set, which was because, as some people said, God didn’t trust the British. It wasn’t just the Conservatives, but also the Labour party, who justified British imperial rule in these terms. The Labour Party justified it as trusteeship. Britain held the lands in Africa and Asia in trust for their peoples until they came up to our standard of civilisation.

It’s the same with Israel today. When Britain and America support Israel, they don’t do it because it’s colonisation, or because Jewish mobs go round Jerusalem every Jerusalem Day chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’, utter anti-Muslim blasphemies and their other actions, which mean Arabs have to stay in their homes to avoid being attacked by thousands of settler youths. It’s because of anti-Semitism and some vague connection with the Holocaust. But opposing Israel is in no way anti-Semitic. He states that the definition of anti-Semitism is simple. It is ‘hostility to Jews, as Jews’. He states that a friend of his, the Oxford academic Brian Klug, worked that out years ago. He then talks about how the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism was devised in 2004 to connect anti-Semitism with Israel by the European Monitoring Commission. It met much resistance, and was opposed by the University College Union, the National Union of Students opposed it along with other civil society groups. In 2013 the EUMC’s successor took it down from its website and it fell into disuse. It was then revived as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. This then emerged a few months previous to the meeting, when a Home Affairs Select Committee report, apart from attacking Jeremy Corbyn and Shami Chakrabarti for tolerating anti-Semitism in the Labour party, came up with this new definition. This takes 500 words to say what could be said in 50.

One of these is accusing Jews of being more loyal to each other than their own nation. He shows that definition is nonsense by stating that if he received a pound for every time he was called a traitor because he was an anti-Zionist, he’d be quite rich. The essence of Zionism is that Jews owe a dual loyalty, and their main loyalty is to Israel. Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, not just for its own citizens, but for Jews everywhere. This is unique, as most countries have a citizenship based on that country, to which everyone belongs, and a nationality. Britain has a British nationality. That nationality applies to everyone who lives in a particular place. If Scotland became independent, as the SNP made clear, then everyone living in Scotland would have Scots nationality. The same with France and Germany. But in Israel there is no Israeli nationality, although it says so on the Israeli passport. But the Hebrew translates as ‘citizen’ not ‘nation’, but the Israelis assume most people are too stupid to notice the difference. There are hundreds of nationalities in Israel, primarily Jewish, but also Arab, Islamic, Christian and those of other religions. But the only nationality that counts is Jewish, and it applies not only to Jewish citizens and residents, but also Jews wherever they live. He states that this is the foundation stone of Israeli racism, that some people – Jews- are returning, because their ancestors were there 2,000 years ago. This is one of the many racist myths that abound.

He then goes on to another definition, ‘Denying the Jews the right to self-determination’. He states that he asked Joan Ryan, the Labour MP and chair of Labour Friends of Israel, when she was wittering on about how anti-Semitic to oppose the Jewish right to self-determination about it. He wrote her a letter, to which she never replied, which asked her when precisely Zionism talked about the Jewish right to self-determination. It’s only very recent. If you look back at Zionist documents, like The Jewish State, by the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, it talks about colonisation. The first Zionist congress, held in 1897, was a result of the publication of Herzl’s pamphlet. The Zionists never talked about Jewish self-determination, they talked about colonisation and did so for most of their history. But with the change in zeitgeist they changed it to Jewish national self-determination. But this means that Jews are not citizens of the country where they live. He compares Jews to Roman Catholics, as the idea that all Roman Catholics form the same nation is clearly a retrogressive step. In many ways it’s an anti-Semitic step, as it says that Jews do not belong in the countries in which they live, as they’re all one and the same. 

He goes on to talk about Herzl himself, and encourages his audience to Google him, if they haven’t already. Herzl was a Viennese journalist, who operated in Paris. His diaries are particularly interesting, as if you read all four volumes of them, you find he talks about anti-Semitism as having the divine will to good about it. In other words, there would be no Zionism without anti-Semitism, which provides the propulsion for Jews separating out of their own nations and going on for what he hoped would be a Jewish nation. Herzl traveled around Europe trying to create an alliance between Zionism and one of the imperial powers of the time. Eventually in 1917 they reached an agreement with the British imperialists, Lloyd George’s war cabinet, the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain granted them the land of Palestine over the heads of the Palestinians, who were not asked for their opinion.

When Herzl was going around the European princes, he met the Kaiser’s uncle, the Grand Duke of Baden, who told Herzl that he agreed with him and supported him. This was because Herzl told him that Zionism would take the revolutionary Jews away from the socialist movement and move them to a pure national ideal. The Grand Duke said he had no problems supporting Zionism except one. If he supported Zionism, which was at that time very small, only a handful of Jews supported Zionism up to 1945, then people would accuse him of being anti-Semitic. Most Jews at the time considered Zionism to be a form of anti-Semitism. Greenstein asks how many people know that on Lloyd George’s war cabinet, the one member who opposed the Balfour Declaration was its only Jewish member, Sir Edwin Montague, who later became the Secretary of State for India. He accused all his fellows of anti-Semitism, because they didn’t want Jews in Britain, but wanted them to go to Palestine. And he states that is what they’re opposing today. The opposite is true when they accuse Israel’s opponents of being anti-Semitic. It is the Zionist movement that has always held that Jews do not belong in these countries  and should go to Israel. We see it today in the election of Donald Trump. There has been an outbreak of anti-Semitism, and the Zionist movement has no problem with it, because Trump is a good supporter of Israel. And the appointment of Steve Bannon was welcomed by the Zionist Organisation of America, who invited him to speak at their annual gala in New York. He didn’t attend because there was a large demonstration of leftists and anti-Zionists. He concludes that if someone today tells him he doesn’t belong in this country, they’re either a Zionist or an anti-Semite.

Greenstein thus exposes the real agenda behind the anti-Semitism accusations and the utter hypocrisy of those making them, as well as the real anti-Semitism that lies at the heart of Zionism itself. It’s to silence critics like Greenstein and Walker that they, and so many other decent anti-racists, have been accused of anti-Semitism while the real anti-Semites, like Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, have been given enthusiastic welcomes by the Israeli state.

However, the decision by many Democrat politicos not to attend the AIPAC conference this weekend may indicate that there’s a sea change coming in the American people’s tolerance for this nonsense. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Israel’s critics like Greenstein and Walker are properly recognised as the real opponents of racism and anti-Semitism, and the people who smeared them held in contempt for their lies and vilification.

Trailer for Mike Leigh’s ‘Peterloo’

October 28, 2018

The left-wing British film director, Mike Leigh, has a film coming out about the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ in 1819 when a defenceless crowd that had gathered in Manchester to hear the radical politician, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, was charged by cavalry.

It was a period of severe economic recession, unemployment, political discontent and stifling censorship of freedom of speech, protest and the press. This passage from The History of the World: The Last 500 Hundred Years, General Editor Esmond Wright (Feltham: Hamlyn 1984) describes the conditions at the time.

At the end of the war England entered upon a long depression which brought to many even greater hardship than the war had done. Industries lay depressed with the sudden cessation of wartime demand, agriculture no longer enjoyed the protection that Napoleon’s blockade had brought and began to contract, while European countries, impoverished after years of conquest and exploitation, could not afford to resume their former level of trade. It was, in fact, twenty years after 1815 before British exports recovered to their previous level. Added to the existing problems of unemployment and low wages were some half a million demobilized soldiers and sailors, suddenly thrown onto a labour market that could not absorb them. The years from 1815 to 1820 were mong the darkest in English history when many feared, with some cause, a repetition of the events which had torn France apart in 1789.

Radicalism – an extreme form of politics which advocated fundamental reform of the constitutional and financial system – grew to brief importance under such popular leaders as Cobbett and Hunt. In their hatred of industrialization they preached a naïve ‘back-to-the-land’ philosophy which seemed attractive to populations of former peasants exposed to the insecurities of town life. Significantly, the cause of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819, when a defenceless crowd was charged by squadrons of cavalry, was a speech by Hunt, not on the problem of wages or unemployment, but on the subject of land reform.

Most labour movements in the first half of the century had this strong agrarian background. A majority of the new town dwellers were peasants by origin, unaccustomed to the regularity of factory work and the overcrowded life in slums and tenements. They turned instinctively to solutions that offered simpler, better understood relationship in which men seemed to be something more than mere instruments of production. Working people gave their support to Radicalism, not because they understood or even cared very much about abstract democratic principles but because it represented a protest against the unacceptable conditions of life. To its few middle- and upper-class supporters it was much more – a progressive, democratic demand for a government responsible to the popular will and an administrative system based on efficiency rather than privilege.

To such suggestions the governments of the fay responded with severe repression. The Tory party remained in office from the end of the war until 1830, first under Lord Liverpool, later under the wartime hero, the Duke of Wellington. Their belief was that the British constitution was perfect and that any attempt to disturb it must be put down firmly. Trade unions were illegal until 1824 and even after that striking was still a criminal offence, public meetings and meeting-places required to be licensed and newspapers were subject to a crippling stamp duty of five pence a copy. Together with such measures went a crude system which paid a meagre dole to labourers whose earning were inadequate to support their families (the Speenhamland system of poor relief) and which had the effect of impoverishing whole areas of the country. (p. 396).

This sounds very much like the kind of Britain Tweezer, Bojo, Rees-Mogg and their followers would like to return to us to. A country where unions and strikes are banned, restrictions on public meetings and censorship of the press. Except when it supports the Tories, of course. Blair and Cameron both tried to bring in legislation limiting demonstrations. They’ve been banned within a certain area of parliament, and Cameron wanted to pass legislation outlawing public protests if they caused a nuisance to local residents. Which is a convenient way of suppressing public expressions of dissent while claiming that you aren’t intending to do any such thing. ‘The government is fully behind freedom of speech and assembly, but this will be an intolerable nuisance to the people actually in the area’, is how the argument would run. And they’d also like to see more people slaving away in cruel and exploitative conditions in poverty, with a benefits system totally unable to cope.

Which is what makes Leigh’s movie of such contemporary significance. Here’s the trailer.

I caught a few moments of Leigh being interviewed on the Beeb the week before last. He was talking about how the incident was an important event in Manchester’s history. Walking around the historic part of Manchester, he pointed out buildings that had been there at the time and which had been included in the film.

Leigh’s known for his improvisational approach to film making, but the interviewer said that this movie felt more scripted, and Leigh agreed. I can’t say I’m a fan of Leigh’s work – it’s a bit too grim for my tastes – but this is something I’d like to see. The Peterloo Massacre is nearly 200 years ago, but it still has resonance and immense importance to the early 21st century Britain of Tweezer and the Tories.

The Trump Statues: Nudity, Castration and the Punishment of Slaves

April 9, 2018

I sent this piece below off to the left-wing American website and magazine, Counterpunch. It’s a reply to a previous article they put up about the satirical statues of Trump, which appeared when he was campaigning for the presidency. These showed him naked, with a small penis and no testicles. One of their female writers compared this humiliating portrayal with the way nudity has been frequently historically used to punish women. She also cited the Fantasy series Game of Thrones and one of the punishments inflicted on a female character in that. But the statues’ genital deficiencies point to another way nudity was also used. Along with castration, it was also used in South American colonial society to punish captured runaway slaves. The Statues’ portrayal of Trump thus seems very fitting, given his aggressive masculinity and support for racists and White supremacists.

The magazine hasn’t used the article, and I don’t think they ever will. So here it is.

Nudity, Emasculation and the Humiliation of Slaves:
The Hidden Politics of the Anti-Trump Statues

Remember those statues of Trump which appeared in various cities across America about a year or so ago, when the Orange Generalissimo of reality TV was strutting about stadiums across America trying to get people to elect him? These were life-size statues of him, naked, with a tiny penis and no testicles. Today, Wednesday 28th March, the British papers reported that the last remaining one of a set that wasn’t destroyed, was put up for sale at Julien’s Auction in New Jersey. The statues were a subversive comment on a man, whose personal behaviour and style of government is one of aggressive masculinity and misogyny. One of the female contributors to Counterpunch published a piece a year or so ago when these statues first appeared. Written from a feminist perspective, it commented on this sculptural humiliation of the future president, and in particular its similarity to the methods used in the past to humiliate women. The statues’ nudity recalled the way errant women were also humiliated by being paraded naked.

It’s true that public nudity has been most used to humiliate women, but it wasn’t exclusively so. Men have also been humiliated on occasion by being exhibited naked by their enemies. In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, nudity was a badge of shame, and there’s a plaque from ancient Egypt showing a group of Asian prisoners being led, naked, by their Egyptian captors. And during the 18th century heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, public nudity and mutilation, including castration were used to humiliate enslaved Africans, who ran away or otherwise resisted their White masters. The slave societies of the New World was gripped by the fear of slave resistance, which itself took various forms. Enslaved Africans revolted in armed rebellions. They also ran away from their masters, or confined themselves to less dramatic forms of resistance, such as eating dirt, sabotage, or finding ways not to perform, or perform badly, their allotted work. To combat this, the slave masters punished their slaves with a variety of brutal measures, ranging from whipping to execution. These included various forms of mutilation, including castration.

This fear intensified during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the British and other European colonial nations feared that the slaves would follow Toussaint L’Ouverture and Black Jacobins of Haiti, and rise up against their masters to found free Black states. And so they resorted to increasingly brutal methods to discourage them. In one British Caribbean colony, one enslaved man was forced to sit on a cannon as it was fired, which understandably left him shaken and terrified. A female planter was also awarded five pounds by the local legislative assembly in another British colony, for having her male slaves castrated as a deterrent to further resistance.

It wasn’t just in the British colonies that emasculation was used to crush rebellious slaves. The Spanish slave code provided that runaway male slaves should be punished through the amputation of their member, and then exhibited naked to the public, a further punishment intended to humiliate them further after the horror of the mutilation itself, as well as dire warning to others also considering absconding. And it is this punishment, which the Trump statues, with their nudity and lack of genital endowment most closely resemble.

As a caricature of the President, it’s very appropriate indeed. Not only is Trump keen to project aggressive masculinity and sexuality, his regime is also notorious for its racism and connection to White supremacism. Trump tried and failed to pass legislation banning Muslim immigration from specific countries, largely those where he has no business dealings. He’s promised to build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Latino/as getting into the country illegally. And his supporters and staff have included members of the Alt Right, determined to preserve White dominance as America rapidly becomes racially diverse. One of the most notorious examples of this racist support base came when Richard Spencer, the founder and leader of the Alt Right, greeted Trump’s election at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan room with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ and a raised right arm in something that looked very much like the Fascist salute, despite his claims to the contrary later.

And some right-wing extremists in the Republicans have gone further. Not only do they defend slavery, but some of them have advocated it, or something close to it. A few years ago, one Republican politician recommended that illegal Mexican immigrants should be held captive by the state, and forced to work on public works. This is forced labour, which comes under the UN definition of slavery. Michelle Bachman, during her 2011 presidential campaign recommended a biography of General Robert E. Lee by J. Stephen Wilkins, which blamed the ‘radical abolitionists’ of the north for starting the Civil War, claimed that Southern slave masters treated their slaves with respect, and gave them enough food and personal possession to live a ‘comfortable but spare’ existence. The book even claimed that American slaves were fortunate in being brought out of their own, pagan homelands, and their godless brutality to Christian America. The Victorian English explorer, Sir Richard Burton, made the same argument nearly 250 years ago in his Wanderings in West Africa. It was also repeated by a number of Trump supporters during his presidential campaign back in 2016.

The disgraced former anchor of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, also repeated it, claiming that the slaves, who worked on the White House were well treated and fed. The Texas school board also tried indoctrinating their children with a carefully sanitized view of it. Back in 2015 one Texas mom was horrified to find that her child’s geography textbook described the enslaved people ripped from their homes in Africa to toil in American plantations as ‘workers’. The protestors, who turned up to demonstrate against the removal of the statue to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, also argued that slavery had been beneficial. And some Libertarians also resent anti-slavery legislation. One confused Libertarian caller to Sam Seder’s internet news show back in 2013 also tried arguing that the anti-slavery laws were a tyrannical infringement of his liberty. Why? Because they deprived him of his right to own slaves. It’s an argument which shows how dangerous and demented at least some Libertarians are.

This shows there’s considerable nostalgia for slavery amongst some Republican supporters, who were very encouraged by Trump’s election and his racist policies. It’s true that during the 18th century some paternalistic slave masters, like George Washington, were concerned to treat their slaves well. Archaeologists working on Benjamin Franklin’s estate found that many of his slaves had very good material possessions. Some had fine china, and played the violin, for example. But for others, the reality was grinding poverty and the tyranny of the whip. In the British Caribbean, the slave codes provided only that male slaves should be given a pair of drawers, and women shifts once a year. Even in the 19th century visitors to these colonies remarked on seeing slaves toiling naked in the fields. As for benefiting from being taken to America, many Africans instead naturally desperately yearned to return to their homes. Some threw themselves into the sea on their arrival in the Caribbean in attempts to swim back to Africa. And if they couldn’t return to Africa, some of them dreamed of recreating an African society in the New World. In one late sixteenth century rebellion in the British Caribbean, the slaves planned on creating a new social order based on the type of monarchies, with a king and queen mother, they had known in Africa.

The subversive statues of Trump not only comment on and invert his projected image of potent masculine leadership. They also attack and undermine the racism at the heart of his administration by subjecting him in image to the humiliation meted out to runaways in the Latin south. Since then, the statues have nearly all vanished, while unfortunately their real-life model remains at large in his occupancy of the White House.