Posts Tagged ‘Gandhi’

Hindu Nationalist Persecution of Christians in India under Modi’s Government

July 4, 2019

One of the ladies at our church gave a talk on Wednesday about the growing persecution of Christians in India by Hindu extremists, aided and abetted by President Narendra Modi and his squalid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This is an important issue for a number of reasons, and needs to be discussed. It’s naturally important to Christians concerned with the persecution members of their faith face in many other countries, but there are other reasons why it is important. It contradicts the view being pushed by the islamophobic right, that Christians are only, or primarily persecuted by Muslims. This is being particularly promoted by the neocons and Christian Zionists, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who, it seems, are using it to work up support for Israel and for further western imperialist wars in the Middle East. Although the article was written for Christians, the laws criminalising Christian conversion and the mob violence they face are also part of a general persecution directed at other non-Hindu religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs. Discussing the resistible rise of the BJP two decades or so ago, Private Eye’s ‘Letter from India’ described how the BJP was connected to the militant RSSS, a militant Indian nationalist organisation which was partly modeled on Mussolini’s Fascists, and which was responsible for attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I am also certainly not blaming all Hindus for the actions of the BJP, or trying to attack Hinduism generally. Hinduism is a religion with a bewildering number of deities and sects, and thus has an impressive reputation for pluralism and tolerance. The extremists encouraged by the BJP also target moderate, liberal or secular Hindus because of their support of Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of India as a religiously tolerant, secular nation in which people of different faiths could live together in harmony and peace. The Hindu extremists not only reject this, they also passionately and vehemently despised its founder. A week or so ago one of the columnists in the I published a piece about how shocked they were when they first met a Hindu, who hated Gandhi. The Hindu extreme right despise and vilify Gandhi because they wanted India to be a Hindu state, and believed he had done too much to appease the Muslims.

I am also very much aware that Christian has also been spread through imperialism and military force, and has persecuted non-Christians. I don’t approve of or justify this. Religious persecution is wrong, no matter which religion is doing it.

Christianity in India is very ancient. Before Europeans arrived, there was already an indigenous Indian, Syriac Christian church. The Mar Thoma Christian church of Kerala believe that Christianity was brought to India in 50 or 52 AD by the apostle Thomas, who was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD. In 883 AD Sighelm, an ambassador to Kerala from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, visited his shrine to present thank offering from King Alfred. Another apostle, Nathanael (Bartholomew) also visited India in the first century, who brought with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Documentary evidence suggests that Christianity had reached India by the early third century AD. By 225 there was a bishop in Baith Lapat, now Shahabad in Northern India, caring for the souls of a Christian community that had been converted by missionaries from Persia and what is now Iraq. The following century, Bishop John the Persian signed the Nicene Creed, which had been drawn up as the formal statement of the Christian faith “on behalf of (the churches) in the whole of Persia, and in the great India.”

The Indian Christian population is 65 million., and comprises about 2% of the population of India, 80% of whom are Hindus. In 2016 there were 348 incidents of persecution in India recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2017 this increased to 736, of which 351 were violent. Many incidents probably haven’t been recorded, and so the true number is probably higher.

The BJP has also passed a series of laws, ostensibly against forced conversion, as part of their campaign against Christianity. These forbid the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. I’m very much aware of the term ‘rice Christianity’, dating from the 19th century. This came from the supposed tactics of some missionaries, who promised the starving a bowl of rice if they converted. The use of such inducements to get people to convert is clearly immoral. But the laws brought in against them allow Christians to be falsely accused of these tactics. In September 2017 the Jharkhand state government passed a freedom of religion law, which punishes those guilty of using ‘coercion’ to convert Hindus with three years in prison. Anyone, who wishes to change their faith, has to obtain prior permission from a magistrate. Christians have been subjected to violence and arrest, and churches disrupted because of accusations that they are breaking these laws. But the BJP is determined to roll them out nationally. The opposition party has also moved rightward to compete with the BJP, and there is fears that this will also lead to greater intolerance of religious minorities.

The tactics used against Christians not only include social exclusion, but also assault and attacks and sabotage of church buildings and private homes. They are also subject to boycotts, and a campaign, “Ghar Wapsi” (homecoming) to force Indian Christians to renounce their faith. Two years ago, in January 2017, a 50 year-old Christian convert, Bartu Urawn, and his wife were immersed in a pond by a mob for 17 hours by a mob from their village in order to force them to recant their faith. Urawn refused, dying afterwards from his ordeal. The police, however, recorded his death as ‘natural causes’. Rural Christians are especially vulnerable, and all too often the police arrest the victims instead of the perps.

Many Christians are also Dalits, formerly the untouchables, the lowest-rung of the Hindu caste system, and are considered impure and polluting by the higher castes. There is a quota system to give them access to education and employment, but these quotas don’t apply to Christians or Muslims. They’ve also suffered attacks on their homes, churches, and water sources.

See ‘Courageous faith: India’s pressured christians’ in barnabasaid, March/April 2019, pp. 6-7.

I am also very much aware that the Christian right in several American states is trying to pass ‘freedom of religion’ laws with the same intention as the Hindu extremists in the above article: to exclude religious and secular minorities from political involvement. It hasn’t quite reached the level of the Hindu extremists as described in the above article, but the intolerance of parts of the American Christian right is similar in intensity.

The BJP is, if not Fascist, then certainly fascistic in its extreme nationalism. Indeed, a prayer used by one of the BJP’s allies or constituent organisations is included in an academic textbook on Fascism to illustrate Fascism’s mystical component. The BJP is part of the growth of religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world. And as the book, Falling Off The Edge shows, a major cause of this tension and conflict is neoliberalism. The doctrine of absolute free trade without any form of government interference means that conditions for ordinary working people across the globe, whether in the developed West or the developing world, has got worse. And as conditions of grinding poverty have increased, so people have turned on minorities as scapegoats for their rage and desperation.

It’s what’s behind the growth of fascism in working class White communities in Britain. And I’ve no doubt it’s also behind the growth of Hindu extremism in India, all encouraged and promoted by Modi. It’s one of the classic tactics of the wealthy elite everywhere to divert opposition away from themselves by claiming that mainstream society is perfect. It’s only ethnic or religious minorities, who are behind all societies problems. Minorities like Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Asians or gays, depending on the society.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Fascism and intolerance has to be fought everywhere, along with the neoliberal economics that force people into poverty, despair and racism or religious extremism, whatever the colour or creed of the persecutors or their victims.

Advertisements

Hunt Wrong, Corbyn Right Not to Trust Intelligence Services on Iran

June 18, 2019

Yesterday I put up a piece stating that the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was quite right to demand evidence that Iran was responsible for the explosions that have destroyed several tankers in the Persian Gulf. This is against the accusations that Trump and the Tory government have hurled against the Iranians, who protest their innocence.

Iran is a very authoritarian theocracy with an abysmal record of human rights abuses. The Iranian secret services are capable of organising terror attacks. In the 1980s they bombed a cafe in Berlin used by Kurdish separatists. More recently they sent out naval vessels to seize the crew of a British warship in the Gulf, whom they eventually released. And there are hardliners in the Iranian government, theocracy and military who would wish to start a war with the West.

The False Claims about Iraq and 9/11

But against this, there is the long history of the American Neocons manufacturing pretexts for attacks on and invasions of countries for no other reason than that they are obstacles to American and Western geopolitical and commercial imperialism. The Iraq invasion is a case in point. George W. Bush and Blair accused Saddam Hussein of supporting Osama Bin Laden 9/11 attack. The Blair creature, as Peter Hitchens calls him, told us all that we had to go and support the American-led invasion of Iraq, because the Iraqi dictator could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. It was a lie. All of it. Saddam Hussein had zilch to do with 9/11, and there were no weapons of mass destruction. 17 of the 19 attackers in 9/11 were Saudis. None were Iraqis. The American intelligence agencies were aware that the Saudi spy agencies were involved with the attack, and the evidence pointed that involvement in it went all the way to the top, though direct evidence was lacking as the threads petered out. The American intelligence services were also acutely aware that after their invasion of Iraq, Saudi intelligence was supplying arms and collaborating with al-Qaeda and ISIS in their attacks in Iraq and Syria. Since then, records have been discovered that show that the Iraqis were interested in working with bin Laden against the West. But al-Qaeda overwhelmingly hated and despised Hussein and the Ba’athists because they were secular Arab socialists.

Real Reasons for Iraq Invasion

The real reason the Neocons wanted to oust Hussein was entirely down to western imperial ambitions. The Americans and the Saudis wanted the Iraqi oil industry and its reserves, as the latter is the largest outside Saudi Arabia. American multinationals also wanted to take over Iraqi state enterprises. And the Neocons also hoped to turn the country into the low-tax, free trade economy that they’d like to foist on America itself. And they and the Israelis also wanted Hussein overthrown because he supported the Palestinians.

Neocon and Multinationals’ Motives for Possible Invasion of Iran

I have no doubt that similar reasons are behind the latest accusations against Iran by Trump. I don’t think the American right has quite recovered from the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah, one of America’s and Israel’s allies in the region. After the Revolution, the Iranians nationalised the oil industry, taking it out of the hands of private, foreign companies. This was exactly like Mohammed Mossadeq, the country’s democratically elected prime minister, had done in the 1950s. The Iranian oil industry at the time was controlled by Anglo-Persian Oil, the British company that became BP. We joined the Americans in a CIA operation which overthrew Mossadeq, a coup which eventually led to the Shah assuming absolute power as a ruthless autocrat. I don’t doubt that American and British oil interests dearly want to grab the Iranian oil industry back. I also don’t doubt that American and western multinationals would also like to get their corporate mitts on the 51 per cent or so of the Iranian economy dominated by the state enterprises and the bonyads, the Islamic charitable foundations also managed by the state theocracy. The Neocons also want the current theocracy overthrown, not because they are genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the average Iranian, but because Iran is a fierce opponent of Israel. The dominant religion of Iran is Twelver Shi’ism, and since the overthrow of Hussein Iran has become increasingly influential amongst Iraqi Shi’a. The Saudis and other Gulf states are Sunni Muslims, who fear and oppress their own Shi’a population. A few years ago one of the leading Saudi clerics declared that the Shi’a were ‘enemies of the faith’ and ‘worthy of death’. They would like to see Iran conquered, I don’t doubt, as part of their religious campaign against Shi’a Islam.

Jeremy Hunt was in the news today as it’s reported he’s trying to calm the situation down and de-escalate tensions before it does come to violence. But he’s still criticising Corbyn for not automatically accepting Iranian responsibility for the attacks. Corbyn has committed the unforgivable sin of demanding evidence. And so he’s been grossly misrepresented as siding with the Iranians against Britain. Hunt has also attacked the Labour leader for not automatically accepting the word of the British intelligence agencies that Iran’s responsible.

But Corbyn’s quite right, and the British spy agencies can’t be trusted. 

There’s ample evidence of this. Let’s go back to the Iraq invasion. Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, but Blair insisted that they did so he could have an excuse for joining George Dubya’s invasion. And so, under government pressure, the ‘dodgy dossier’ was concocted by the spy agencies, which purported to show that Hussein did.

And British Intelligence has a very long record of publishing disinformation, propaganda and sheer lies against the British Left.

There’s the case of the Zinoviev letter in the 1920s. This was supposedly a letter written by the Russian head of the Comintern to the Labour party encouraging them to start a revolution and turn Britain into a Communist satellite, and it was published by the British press just before a general election. It’s believed that the letter was a major cause of Labour losing it to the Tories. The letter was an utter fabrication, created by MI 5 to discredit Labour. And British intelligence have kept doing it. In the 1970s MI 5 was behind various rumours and attempts to overthrow the Labour leader and Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, because he was a KGB spy. This was part of a wider campaign of disinformation during the Cold War, designed to combat the spread of Communism. The agency responsible for this, the Information Research Department, and the other agencies also manufactured stories claiming that the IRA were collaborating with the Soviet Union, and that high profile members of the Labour left were also either Communist agents or sympathisers or members of the IRA. This has continued to today. Just a year or so ago, the Institute for Statecraft, a propaganda outfit churning out online pieces attacking politicians and other public figures, whom they thought were too close to Putin, was revealed as being funded by the British government. And although it’s a private organisation, it has links to the British intelligence agencies and the section of the SAS responsible for cyberwarfare. It’s no surprise that Jeremy Corbyn was one of those smeared as a supporter or agent of Putin.

And this is quite apart from the agencies’ grubby record rigging elections and doing other dirty tricks in Britain’s former colonies, in order to make sure that they remained loyal to Britain. This is extensively described in a recent book published by a mainstream historian.

And aside from producing propaganda, disinformation and outright lies, British intelligence at one time was also notorious for its incompetence.

Apparently Margaret Thatcher was the only Prime Minister, so it was claimed in the 1990s, who regularly read their reports. Other Prime Ministers didn’t bother for the simple reason that they were rubbish. Among the failures of the western intelligence agencies was the fact that they didn’t predict the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The only organisation that knew that a revolution was coming were the Tudeh, the Iranian Communist party. And they made the mistake of assuming it would be a Communist uprising. The CIA also thought that the Ayatollah Khomeini would be a leader in the mould of Gandhi, preaching non-violent opposition, instead of the radical firebrand he actually was.

Now British intelligence might be right about Iranian responsibility for these bombings, but they need to offer evidence. Evidence that can be subjected to proper scrutiny and independent analysis. If that is not forthcoming, then the long history of the British intelligence agencies in publishing lies and propaganda, including against the Labour party and other elements of the domestic Left, means that their word cannot be trusted.

Corbyn is quite right not to trust the word of the spy agencies automatically, and demand proper evidence. Until that is produced, it seems clear to me that the British and American right-wing political and media elite, and their secret states, are merely producing more smears to prepare for Iran’s invasion. And this is being driven not by anything the Iranians are doing, but simply for the same geopolitical and corporate imperialism behind the invasion of Iraq.

John McDonnell Outrages Tories with Comments about Churchill’s Villainy

February 16, 2019

John McDonnell kicked up a storm of controversy this week when, in an interview with the Politico website on Wednesday, he described Winston Churchill as a villain. McDonnell was answering a series of quick-fire questions, and the one about Churchill was ‘Winston Churchill. Hero or villain?’ McDonnell replied ‘Tonypandy – villain’. This referred to the Tonypandy riots of 1910, when striking miners were shot down by the army after clashing with the police. According to the I’s article on the controversy on page 23 of Wednesday’s edition, Churchill initially refused requests to send in the troops, instead sending a squad of metropolitan police. Troops were also sent in to stand in reserve in Cardiff and Swindon. Following further rioting, Churchill sent in the 18th Hussars. He later denied it, but it was widely believed that he had given orders to use live rounds. There’s still very strong bitterness amongst Welsh working people about the massacre. The I quoted Louise Miskell, a historian at Swansea University, who said that ‘He is seen as an enemy of the miners’.

Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of Churchill, was naturally outraged, declaring ‘Winston Churchill saved this country and the whole of Europe from a barbaric fascist and racist tyranny, and our debt to him is incalculable’. He also said that McDonnell should be ashamed of his remarks and withdraw them forthwith.

McDonnell, speaking on ITV news, said that although he didn’t want to upset people, he’d give the same answer again to that question if he was honest, and said that he welcomed it if it has prompted a more rounded debate about Churchill’s role. He said that Churchill was undoubtedly a hero during the Second World War, but that this was not necessarily the case in other areas of his life. He said ‘Tonypandy was a disgrace.: sending the troops in, killing a miner, tryinig to break a strike and other incidents in his history as well.’

The I then gave a brief list of various heroic and villainous incidents. These were

* Saving Britain from the Nazis during and helping to lead the Allies to victory during the Second World War.

* Introducing the Trade Boards Bill of 1909, which established the first minimum wages system for various trades across the UK.

* Making the famous speech about an Iron Curtain coming down across Europe in 1946.

* According to his biographer, John Charmley, Churchill believed in a racial hierarchy and eugenics, and that at the top of this were White Protestant Christians.

* Saying that it was ‘alarming and nauseating’ seeing Gandhi ‘striding half-naked up the steps of the vice-regal palace.’ He also said ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’.

* Three million people died in the Bengal famine of 1943, in which Churchill refused to deploy food supplies.

It’s in the context of the Bengal famine that Churchill made his vile remarks about Indians. The Bengalis starved because their grain had been sequestered as back up supplies to fee British troops. In the end they weren’t needed, according to one video I’ve seen on YouTube. Churchill also said that the famine was their fault for having too many children.

He also supported the brief British invasion of Russia to overthrow the Communist Revolution, and the use of gas on Russian troops. Just as he also wanted to use gas to knock out, but not kill, Iraqi troops in Mesopotamia when they revolted in the 1920s against British rule.

He also said that ‘Keep Britain White’ was a good slogan for the Tories to go into the 1951 general election.

It’s clearly true that Churchill’s determined opposition to the Nazis did help lead to a free Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany. But according to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, he did not do so out of opposition to Fascism per se. He was afraid that Nazi Germany posed a threat to British interests in the North Sea. The Conservative journo, Peter Hitchens, is very critical of Churchill and Britain’s entry into the Second World War. He rightly points out that Churchill wasn’t interested in saving the Jews, but that we went in because of the treaties we had signed with Poland and France. As for defeating Nazism, historians have for a long time credited the Soviet Red Army with breaking the back of the Wehrmacht. In one of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs, he jokes that if Churchill hadn’t sent the troops in, then the Iron Curtain would begin about Bexhill in Kent. Churchill also went on a diplomatic visit to Mussolini’s Italy after the Duce seized power, though privately he remarked that the man was ‘a perfect swine’ after the Italian dictator declared that his Blackshirts were ‘the equivalent of your Black and Tans’. For many people, that’s an accurate comparison, given how brutal and barbaric the Black and Tans were. And as an authoritarian, Churchill also got on very well and liked General Franco. And George Orwell also didn’t take Churchill seriously as the defender of democracy. In the run-up to the outbreak of war, he remarked that strange things were occurring, one of which was ‘Winston Churchill running around pretending to be a democrat’.

Now I don’t share Hitchen’s view that we shouldn’t have gone into the Second World War. The Nazis were determined to exterminate not just Jews, Gypsies and the disabled, but also a large part of the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe. One Roman Catholic site I found had an article on Roman Catholic and Christian martyrs under the Nazis. This began with the Nazis’ attempts to destroy the Polish people, and particularly its intellectuals, including the Polish Roman Catholic Church. It quoted Hitler as saying that war with Poland would a be a war of extermination. Hitler in his Table Talk as also talks about exterminating the Czechs, saying that ‘It’s them or us.’ Churchill may have gone into the War entirely for reasons of British imperial security, but his action nevertheless saved millions of lives right across Europe. It overthrew a regime that, in Churchill’s words, threatened to send the continent back into a new Dark Age, lit only by the fire of perverted science’.

Having said that does not mean he was not a monster in other areas. The General Strike was a terrible defeat for the British working class, but if Churchill had been involved it would almost certainly have been met with further butchery on his part. Again, according to Pugh, Churchill was all set to send the army in, saying that they were ready to do their duty if called on by the civil authority. The Tory prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, was all too aware of what would happen, and when another minister of civil servant suggested finding him a position in the Post Office or the department looking after the radio, he enthusiastically agreed, because it would keep Churchill out of trouble.

As for the Bengal famine, I think that still haunts Indian nationalists today. I was looking at the comments on Al-Jazeera’s video on YouTube about the UN finding severe poverty in Britain a few months ago. There was a comment left by someone with an Indian name, who was entirely unsympathetic and said he looked forward to our country being decimated by starvation. My guess is that this vicious racist was partly inspired in his hatred of Britain by the famine, as well as other aspects of our rule of his country.

I think McDonnell’s remarks, taken as a whole, are quite right. McDonnell credited him with his inspiring leadership during the War, but justifiably called him a villain because of the Tonypandy massacre. And eyewitnesses to the rioting said that the miners really were desperate. They were starving and in rags. And Churchill should not be above criticism and his other crimes and vile statements and attitudes disregarded in order to create a sanitized idol of Tory perfection, as Johnson and the other Tories would like.

Counterpunch Interview with Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Campaigners

May 6, 2017

Last week, Counterpunch published an interview by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb with Sami Awad, a Christian Palestinian, and Yoav Litvin, a former Israeli soldier, about their campaigns to bring about an end to the brutalisation of the Palestinian people and conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land, based on the Gandhian principles of nonviolence and civil resistance. For example, Sami Awad in the articles states that he is horrified that Palestinian children don’t have Jewish friends, thanks to the system of segregation. Rabbi Gottlieb also notes that apart from the well-known conflict between Israelis and Arabs there are also tensions between Eurpean and American descended Jews and the Mizrahim, the indigenous Middle Eastern Jews. She states that the myth of the Jews returning to their ancestral homeland after 2000 years of exile has resulted in the Jewish state erasing the long history of the region’s indigenous Jews.

In her introduction, Rabbi Gottlieb writes

Sami Awad and Yoav Litvin are two men whose lives have been deeply impacted by the events of 1948 and 1967 when Palestinians were collectively driven from their homes and villages in order to make room for Jewish settlement. The Israeli Occupation of Palestine is ongoing; Israeli policies that resulted from the events of 1948 and 1967 continue to create daily suffering in the lives of Palestinians.

Sami Awad comes from a lineage of Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem. He was influenced to follow the path of nonviolence by his uncle, Mubarak Awad, a follower of Gandhi. Sami created an alternative institution, The Holy Land Trust, which is part of the wave of nonviolent movement building dedicated to resisting Occupation, which grew out of the first Intifada.

Yoav Litvin went through a personal journey from acceptance of the pre-determined role of Zionist soldier-guardian, to a person who dissents from the Israeli status quo regarding Palestinians. He uses his skills as a psychologist/neuroscientist and writer/artist to promote accountability, healing and reconciliation.

People who resist the systemic violence of Israeli Occupation in Palestine and Israel have a lot to teach us about building nonviolent movements for justice and social change under extremely challenging conditions. Millions of Palestinians suffer under a settler-colonial regime that is engaged in continuous appropriation of land, ghettoization and isolation, the imposition of hundreds of check points that curtail freedom of movement and economic growth, destruction of homes, villages and farm land, forced water deprivation, the blockade of Gaza, constant military invasion and assault, two separate and unequal systems of justice and so many other features of Israeli rule that deprive Palestinians of their capacity to live peacefully and without fear upon the land of their ancestors or fulfill their personal dreams. In addition to the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian conflict, social, political, cultural and economic divides among Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews in Israel is another complex component of the process of conflict transformation. The Zionist myth of a 2000-year absence and subsequent return of Jews to the land erases the long history of the Jews of the Middle East who are indigenous to the region.

In response to Israeli apartheid, Palestinians have chosen to resist forced removal from ancestral lands with a variety of mostly nonviolent tactics. Inspired by the successful South African struggle to end apartheid, Palestinians called upon the international community to take up boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a nonviolent solidarity tactic on July 9, 2005 after the International Court of Justice declared the Separation Wall illegal on July 9, 2004. In addition to BDS, Palestinians employ prisoner hunger strikes, Friday demonstrations against the Separation Barrier, the creation of ‘Tent Cities’, and Palestinian cultural arts to remain ‘sumud’, that is, ‘steadfast’ to their commitment to keep living on ancestral lands and preserving Palestinian culture. Palestinians refuse to be erased from history and place. Intifada, in its original meaning, means to shake off oppression through the art of resistance. This is a daily, and unavoidable practice for Palestinians, as it is a condition of existence under Israeli occupation for those who remain.

Israeli Jews who dissent from Occupation, although few in number, continue to create methods of solidarity in support of Palestinian human rights. Groups such as Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition (ICAHD), Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence, Who Profits?, Anarchists Against the Wall, Machsom Watch, Shministim, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and +972 are platforms of resistance to Occupation. The Palestinian community living inside ‘1948’ also engages in resistance through alternative institution building and human rights advocacy that includes groups like Adalah-the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adammer (prisoner rights) and many more. Palestinians living inside Israel face ongoing assaults on their capacity to remain on traditional lands and neighborhoods as well as achieve equal rights under Israeli law. The ongoing atmosphere of racism is the price Palestinians pay for continuing to live in Israel.

This is a fascinating alternative insight into the activism of decent, honourable men and women, seeking to remove a monstrous injustice. Much of this is new to me. I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone talking about non-violent resistance by the Palestinians. The news you hear about from the region seems to be exclusively about bloodshed. I’ve come across the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, but have never come across many of the other Israeli groups mentioned in this article, such as Combatants for Peace. I’m not surprised, however. Amos Oz in his book, The Israelis, records the sorrow and guilt expressed by many Israeli soldiers for their role in expelling Palestinians during the Six Day War.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/28/never-give-up-nonviolent-civilian-resistance-healing-and-active-hope-in-the-holyland/

May the Lord bless all those striving to bring a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and indeed to everyone trying to create a better future in the Middle East, one without terror, sectarianism, and imperialism.

George Galloway and Peter Hitchens on Blair and the Iraq War

August 30, 2016

This is another very interesting piece from YouTube, again featuring George Galloway. It’s not really a video, as it’s just recorded dialogue, presumably from his radio show. In it, he talks to the right-wing columnist and broadcast, Peter Hitchens. The two are from completely the opposite ends of the political spectrum, but on the matter of the Chilcot Inquiry and the Iraq War they are largely in agreement. Galloway acknowledges that he has profound disagreements with Hitchens, but also some overlap. Most of the talking in conversation is done by Hitchens, who makes some very interesting points.

Hitchens points out that, although the Chilcot Inquiry made Blair the sole culprit responsible for the Iraq War, there were many others involved, who have been exonerated, such as Alistair Campbell. Hitchens is not greatly impressed with Blair’s intellectual abilities. He states several times that he was only a figurehead, and the real leadership of New Labour was elsewhere. Blair, he contends, didn’t really understand what was going on around him. At one point Hitchens states that Blair didn’t really want to be a politician. He wanted to be Mick Jagger. He probably had the intellectual ability to be Jagger, but certainly lacked the necessary brainpower to be prime minister. He also argues that Blair was really only a figurehead for New Labour. He was found and groomed by the real leaders of the faction, who wanted someone who would be ‘the anti-Michael Foot’. They settled on Blair, and prepared him for the role without him really understanding what was going on.

Hitchens and Galloway also discuss the allegation that everyone was in favour of the War, and it was only the Left that was against it. Hitchens states that he was initially in favour of the War, but if he had the sense to turn against it in 2003, it shows that you didn’t have to have any great prophetic ability to be against it. Hitchens states that he feels that people were led to support the War, because of the myth of the ‘Good War’. This is based on the belief that the Second World War was a straightforward, uncomplicated struggle against evil. Ever since the War, our leaders have been fancying themselves as Churchill or Roosevelt, and casting every opponent as Hitler. They did it with the Iraq War, and they’re doing it now with the Russians and Vladimir Putin. They’re presenting Russia as an expansion power, and preparing for another war with Russia by sending troops to Estonia and Poland, when the reality is that Russia is not an expansionist threat and has actually ceded hundreds of miles of territory. Hitchens also informs Galloway and his listeners that Britain has actually sent troops into the Ukraine.

Hitchens goes on to state that much of the West’s destabilisation and attempts to destroy opposing regimes is done covertly, through the funding of opposition movements, the manipulation of aid, and – here Galloway supplies the words – ‘moderates’. This happened in Syria, where considerable damage was done before we started bombing them. But people don’t realise it, as this will never show up in a newsreel. As for how warmongers like Blair can be stopped, it can only come from parliament. Hitchens remarks approvingly on the way parliament stopped Cameron when he wanted to bomb Syria. Unfortunately, Hitchens concludes that turning Blair into an object of ridicule is the only justice we can expect. He is pessimistic about there being any tribunal that can bring war criminals like Blair and Bush before it, and so here there’s a difference between those, who have and those who don’t hold a religious belief. For religious believers, you hope that there will be an ultimate judgement coming. Galloway concludes by saying that he believes that there is such a punishment coming to Blair.

It’s an interesting dialogue, as the two clearly have pretty much the same perspective on the Gulf War. They’re both religious believers, as they themselves make clear. Hitchens converted from Marxism and atheism to Christianity, while I think Galloway has said that he’s converted to Islam. As believers in two of the Abrahamic religions, they share the faith that God does judge the guilty in the hereafter. Galloway is very supportive of Hitchens in this video as well. Hitchens states at one point that he’s going to publish a book on the myth of the ‘Good War’. Galloway asks him when it’s going to come out. Hitchens then replies that he hasn’t written it yet, to which Galloway then tells him to come on, as he wants to read it.

Hitchens is right about the manipulation of protest movements, humanitarian aid and opposition groups by the West to destabilise their opponents around the world. This is what happened in Chile and Iran with the overthrow of Salvador Allende and Mossadeq respectively. It happened in the Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, and I’ve no doubt Hitchens is exactly right about it occurring in Syria. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has been saying this more or lest since it was founded in the 1980s. It laments that very few, in any, academic scholars are willing to accept the fact that so much diplomacy and politics is done through covert groups.

I think Hitchens is also correct about Britain and the West always casting themselves as the heroic ‘good guys’ in their wars, though I strongly disagree with Hitchens’ reasoning behind it. Hitchens has made clear in his books, column and website that he believes Britain should have stayed away from the Second World War. He correctly points out that it was not about saving the Jews from the Holocaust, but honouring our treaty with the French to defend Poland. he also thinks that if Britain had not declared War, we would still have the Empire.

I’ve blogged before that I believe this to be profoundly wrong. We did the right thing in opposing Hitler, regardless of the motives of the time. The Poles, and the other nations threatened by Nazi Germany needed and deserved protection. Churchill’s motives for urging Britain into the War was that Nazi Germany would be a threat to British naval power in the North Sea, if they were allowed to conquer Europe. This is a correct evaluation. A Europe under Nazi domination would see Britain pushed very much to the periphery. The Nazis believed that it was control of the Eurasian landmass which would determine future economic and political power and influence. If Britain was deprived of this, she would eventually stagnate and decline as an international power.

Nor do I believe we would have kept the Empire. The first stirrings of African nationalism had emerged before the Second World War. Ghana had taken a momentous first step in being the first African colony to have indigenous members of its governing council. The Indian independence movement had been growing since the 19th century, and was gathering increasing support and power under the leadership of Gandhi. Orwell, remarking on a parade of Black troopers in French Morocco in the 1930s, stated that in the mind of every White man present was the thought ‘How long can we keep fooling these people?’ The War accelerated the process of independence, as, along with the First World War, it taught the indigenous peoples of the Empire that the British alongside whom they fought were not gods, but flesh and blood, like them, who suffered sickness and injury. The War also forced the pace of independence, as Britain was left bankrupt and exhausted by the War. As part of their reward for aiding us, the Americans – and also the Russians – demanded that we open up the Empire to outside commerce and start to give our subject people’s their independence. This was particularly welcome to the leaders of the Jamaican independence movement. This had also started in the 1930s, if not before. It was partly based on the dissatisfaction of the Jamaican middle class at having their economy managed for British interests, rather than their own. They hoped that independence from Britain would allow them to develop their economy through closer links with the US.

I also think that the belief of most British people in the rightness of the Wars we fought also comes from British imperial history. Part of the Victorian’s legacy was the Empire and the belief that this was essentially a benign institution, which gave the less developed peoples of the world the benefits of modern British rule, medicine, technology and so on, while downplaying the atrocities and aggression we also visited on them. It’s a rosy view of the Empire, which is by no means accepted by everyone. Nevertheless, it’s the view that the Tories would like to instil into our schoolchildren. This was shown a few years ago by their ludicrous attack on Blackadder and demands for a more positive teaching of British history. Unlike the Germans, who were defeated and called to account for the horrors of the Nazis and Second World War, Britain has never suffered a similar defeat, and so hasn’t experienced the shock of having to re-evaluate its history and legacy to that level. And because Hussein was a brutal dictator, Blair was indeed able to pose as Churchill, as Thatcher did before him, and start another War.

Secular Talk on the Utter Barbarity of Henry Kissinger

February 14, 2016

Yesterday I put a piece from The Young Turks about the point in the PBS debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton where the two argued about the Henry Kissinger. Clinton had been flattered by Kissinger complimenting her on how well she ran the state department. Sanders was justifiably affronted, reminded the audience of how Kissinger’s bombing of Cambodia had paved the way for the seizure of power by the Khmer Rouge and the massacres that followed. He stated very firmly that not only was Kissinger not his friend, he was proud Kissinger was not his friend.

From this Englishman, ‘Well said, Sir!’

The Turks’ video went on to describe some of the horrors for which Kissinger had been responsible. Not just in Laos, but mass death across continents, including the Fascist coup in Chile that brought General Pinochet to power. And what many people would find most chilling was Kissinger’s frank admission that he had no interest in stopping a holocaust of the Jews by the Soviets. It was not an American problem. Not even if they stuffed them into the gas chambers. ‘Perhaps a humanitarian [problem]’, he finally conceded. The West and its self-confidence has been profoundly shaken by the experience of the Holocaust, and the orchestrated massacre of the Jews, and other racial undesirables on an industrial scale with all the technical ingenuity of the Nazi military-industrial complex. Many Americans are deeply disgusted and scandalised by the fact that American industrialists continued to trade with and provide financial aid to Nazi Germany when they were implementing the ‘Final Solution’. Some of those industrialists were Jewish, and there have been several books by Jewish Americans exposing these industrialists, who chose profit over humanity and simple fellow feeling for the other members of their ethnicity and faith. I’ve got a feeling Kissinger’s Jewish. If so, he stands indicted by his own words of the same callous and monstrous attitude.

In the video below, Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk shows a bit more of the exchange between Sanders and Hillary. Hillary defends herself, saying that she’s taken advice from several sources. Kissinger was important for opening up trade with China, a trade that has benefited the US, and so she feels it was justified to take his advice, even if it came from what many people would feel was an unpleasant source. Bernie’s response was to state that Kissinger’s rationale for all the bombing and atrocities he committed in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was on the ground that it was all a house of cards. If one fell, they would all fall to the great enemy, China. And then he opened trade with China, a trade that has seen American jobs outsourced there, and Americans unemployed.

Again, absolutely right.

Kulinski adds a few more details to some of the atrocities which Kissinger assisted, or at best did nothing to stop. Kulinski quotes a Vox article on Kissinger’s carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, a bombing that indiscriminately hit civilian centres. Kissinger claimed it was to destroy Vietcong bases in those countries. It wasn’t. It was to strengthen the American position preparatory to a negotiated withdrawal. American bombs in Cambodia killed between 150,000 and half a million people. This created the instability that led to the rise of Pol Pot. The Khmer Rouge were swept to power in 1975 on a wave of public outrage against the bombings. They then proceeded to kill and massacre hundreds of thousands of people, starving the rest until ultimately a million people, 1/7th of Cambodia’s population were killed.

Kulinski points out the obvious parallels with ISIS today in Syria, and the threat that similar bombing of the country will drive their people to support the terrorists, who will then repeat the murderous horrors of Cambodia.

Kulinski also describes how in 1971, the President of Pakistan, Aga Mohammed Yahya Khan, launched a bombing campaign against Bangladesh when that nation, then simply ‘East Pakistan’, wanted independence. Not only did Kissinger not stop him, he actually sent him weapons, a policy that was illegal under US law. And it’s actually illegal under international law. When questioned about his supplying arms to the Pakistanis, Kissinger said, ‘Well, they’re anti-Communist’. He recalled the American consul in Bangladesh, Archer Blood, because he had questioned the policy, and quelled attempts to stop the slaughter. In the end the bloodshed was stopped when India intervened. God bless India! The death toll from this conflict ranges from 300,000 to 3 million.

In 2014 declassified documents suggested that Kissinger had informed the Argentinian government that they would not intervene if they too cracked down on dissidents. This was the 1976 ‘dirty war’ in which 30,000 people were rounded up and killed. Kulinski states that part of the strategy of the war involved ‘rape rooms’. He then challenges Hillary to explain how she supports women’s rights, when her friend was responsible for atrocities like that.

Kulinski states many times that Kissinger is a war criminal, who should be behind bars. His bombing of Cambodia is not something that suits anybody who fancies herself as a progressive. Rather, it’s an atrocity like those advocated by Ted Cruz. He describes Kissinger as a ‘savage’, who is exactly like ISIS.

It’s the horrors perpetrated around the globe by monsters like Kissinger, and his successors in the Reagan administration, like Oliver North, that have led to so much hatred of America around the globe. It was outrage at these barbarities that fuelled so much of Harold Pinter’s protests and criticisms of American foreign policy. And there are scattered around the world people with first hand experience of the horrors committed by Kissinger and his allies.

One of the lecturers at my old college, where I got my first degree, was Bangladeshi. He was in Bangladeshi during the war of independence, and witnessed first hand the Pakistani bombing. I can remember speaking to some of the professors, his friends, who were shocked at the horrors he must have seen.

As for the use of rape by the South American Fascist dictatorships, if you want to see a good, fictional treatment of the psychological trauma of such treatment, try the film Death and the Maiden, based on the play by Ariel Dorfman, and starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. This is about a woman (Weaver), who was imprisoned and raped repeatedly by a Fascist officer, (Kingsley). The film’s title comes from the fact that the woman was always blindfolded, but she recognised her captor because he used to put on Schubert’s piece, Death and the Maiden. Released to live her life with her husband after the eventual fall of the dictatorship, the plot of the movie follows the events of one evening when a man, who may be the same thug, turns up unexpectedly at her house after his car breaks down. Dorfman is, I believe, one of the great radical voices in contemporary South American literature, and it’s a powerful, moving piece, clearly based very much on very recent Latin American history. Also, it shows how versatile these two thesps are. Weaver’s best known from her role as Ripley in the Alien films, and Kingsley will forever be connected with his starring role in Gandhi. It’s particularly strange seeing Kingsley as a Fascist thug, the complete opposite from Gandhi and his doctrine of ahimsa.

Sanders has said he wants to end the American Empire. He has attacked the various coups and military interventions America launched across the globe, naming each one individually. To my mind, he deserves to be the next president of the US, rather than Clinton, and certainly much more than the Republicans. Clinton represents establishment corporate interests. She’d be better than the Republicans, but it would still be a continuation of the same old attitudes and much the same policies. Sanders represents the opportunity for a new, better America.

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

Michelle Thomasson on the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Martin Luther King and Gandhi

December 28, 2015

Michelle Thomasson posted a fascinating comment on the influence of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Christian peace movement that arose in response to the First World War, and its influence on Martin Luther King and the Black Baptists’ campaign against segregation, and even Gandhi on the article I put up yesterday about the Christian peace movements and Pax Christi. She wrote

Thanks for putting this list together. Wanted to add that these little lights, though small, can have an enormous effect even though there has always been war mongering support from the UK’s state church e.g. https://theconversation.com/the-church-of-englands-vote-to-effectively-back-military-action-is-a-shocking-mistake-51679

Last December, I attended a conference called ‘Movements for Peace in 1914’ at Regents College, Oxford, supported by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage; one of the talks illustrated just how far these peace movements reached. In the presentation on ‘The Relation between the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and the early Civil Rights Movement’ by Andrea Strubind (Prof of Church History and Dean of Faculty for the Institut fur Evangelische Theologie at the Universitat Oldenburg) a profound link was shown between the black Baptist movement and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). FOR had developed training and co-operation in non-violent peaceful demonstration and resistance. This training was shared in the Montgomery bus movement and many others in the Baptist church including Martin Luther King, even Gandhi learnt some of the peaceful resistance techniques from Clifford an early advocate of FOR because Gandhi had been influenced in his early years by Clifford when he had been injured and stayed with him in his home.

Today also the Quakers reach out in unexpected ways, they have peace education for schools, especially important to try and counteract the current government’s Dept. of Defence’s youth engagement strategy to build support for the armed forces (for which the poorer students are especially targeted!).
REF: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/nov/09/peace-education-schools-mililtary-ethos-children and further info from http://www.forceswatch.net/

Tolstoy’s Prediction of the First World War

April 27, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, this is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and already the BBC has put on a season of programmes commemorating the conflict. I’ve blogged on Michael Gove’s criticism of the negative view of the First World War, which he feels denigrates the courage and patriotism of the soldiers. He attacked the Beeb’s comedy series, Black Adder Goes Forth, as an example of this, and compounded his argument with knee-jerk Tory anti-intellectualism by claiming that the view was promoted by ‘Left-wing intellectuals’. A number of bloggers have attacked this diatribe, including Mike over at Vox Political. It has also provoked a response from the creators of graphic novels, who are putting together several albums presenting the horrific reality of the conflict as a response to Gove’s Right-wing patriotic view of the War.

Many people in Europe in the late 19th and first decade of the 20th centuries were very much aware of the looming threat of world conflict. One of those who foresaw it and its mass carnage was the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy. As well as a writer, Tolstoy was a pacifist Anarchist. He hated the horrors of modern, industrial society and the state that oppressed the Russian poor. He saw the solution in the abolition of the state and traditional peasant society, to the point where he gave up much of his life style as a Russian aristocrat to live, dress and work like a peasant. As a young man, he had, like many other noblemen, been a soldier and had fought in the wars to conquer Chechnya and the Caucasus. He had been highly impressed by ideas of a Chechen Sufi leader, who, when his nations’ attempts to resist the Russians through armed force were repeatedly suppressed, rejected violence and advocated instead a policy of non-violent civil disobedience. Tolstoy himself rejected violence, and took up the Sufi leader’s ideas. In turn, Tolstoy’s advocacy of the policy influenced Gandhi in his own campaign against British rule in India.

Tolstoy also campaigned on behalf of the Doukhobors, a heretical Russian Christian sect, that also rejected violence. It was due to Tolstoy’s support and that of British Quakers that the sect emigrated from Russia to settle in Canada.

He promoted his Anarchist and pacifist ideals in a series of books, What Then Must We Do?, The Kingdom of God is Within You and The Restoration of Hell. They also influenced his magnum opus, War and Peace. This was written to show that history was not made by a few great men, but by the actions of millions of ordinary people. Lionel Kochan discusses Tolstoy’s ideas, his criticisms of contemporary society, and prediction of the coming War in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970). Tolstoy attacked just about every aspect of contemporary society, including science, the press, religion, state education, and the state as a system of organised crime itself. Kochan writes:

Tolstoy, no doubt, showed little, if any, awareness of the deep-rooted complexity of the evils he stigmatized; no doubt, also, his positive doctrine was thin enough – the gospel of universal love, undogmatic Christianity, sexual abstinence, non-resistance to evil, the renunciation of tobacco and alcohol – for all that his later work constitutes an anarchist programme of profound strength. His unbridled criticism of society and its values, his corrosive and derisive scepticism, made him an anarchist more anarchic, a nihilist more nihilistic and a revolutionary more destructive than any whom Russia had yet brought forth – far more consistent and humanistic than Bakunin, far more hard-headed than Kropotkin.

What is science? He asked. Had it done anything of value to human life in determining the weight of Saturn’s satellites? What was universal suffrage? A means whereby the prisoners elected their own gaolers. Had industrialism raised the standard of living? Then look at the slums and doss-houses of Moscow. Tolstoy derided division of labour as a device for turning men into machines, book-printing as a medium for communicating ‘all the nasty and stupid things that are done and written in the world’, and reform for teaching people ‘that though themselves bad they can reform bad people’. What did the church do but maintain idolatry ‘in the most literal sense of the word – worshipping holy relics and icons, offering sacrifices to them and expecting from them the fulfilment of the worshippers’ wishes’? What did compulsory education do but ‘teach the savage superstition of patriotism and the same pseudo-obligation to obey the state’? What was the press but a means for ‘exciting feelings of mutual hostility between the nations’? What were the governments of the time, despotic and liberal alike, but – and her Tolstoy quotes Herzen’s phrase – ‘Genghis Khans with telegraphs’? The modern state was a mechanism so interlocked and interdependent that it became impossible to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent: ‘Some people demand the perpetration of a crime, others decide that it shall be done, a third set confirm that decision, a fourth propose its execution, a fifth report on it, a sixth finally decree it, and a seventh carry out the decree.’ Tolstoy’s apocalyptic vision of a state given over to destruction culminates in an anticipation of the imminent First World War:

‘The bells will peal and long-haired men will dress themselves in gold-embroidered socks and begin to pray on behalf of murder … The editors of newspapers will set to work to arouse hatred and murder under the guise of patriotism and will be delighted to double their sales. Manufacturers, merchants, and contractors for army stores will hurry about joyfully in expectation of doubled profits … Army commanders will bustle here and there, drawing double pay and rations and hoping to receive trinkets and crosses, stripes and stars, for murdering people. Idle ladies and gentlemen will fuss about, entering their names in advance for the Red Cross and getting ready to bandage those whom their husbands and brothers are setting out to kill – imagining they will be doing a most Christian work thereby.’

Kochan criticises Tolstoy for not understanding how enthusiastic and patriotic Russian servicemen initially were for the War. However, he then goes on to quote the great writer’s prediction of the condition of the soldiers in the War’s later stages, men who

‘will trudge where they may be driven, stifling the despair in their souls by songs, debauchery and vodka. They will march, freeze, suffer from hunger, and fall ill. Some will die of disease, and some will at last come to the place where men will kill them by the thousand. And they too, without knowing why, will murder thousands of others whom they had never before seen, and who had neither done nor could do them any wrong.’

For Tolstoy, the coming world war would ‘devour in a year more victims than all the revolutions of a century’. (pp. 157-8).
I strongly disagree with most of Tolstoy’s criticisms of contemporary society. He was, for example, wrong about science not benefitting humanity. it clearly has and had, most obviously in the improvements in medicine, that appeared in the 19th century. And printing and the press have increased knowledge and much good around the globe, despite the fact that they can often be used for evil. Having said that, he does have a point with the Sun, Daily Mail, and Express.

It will, however, be interesting to see if the BBC or anyone else, in their programmes on the Great War, mention Tolstoy’s prediction.

As a pacifist Anarchist, Tolstoy’s political views were strongly disapproved by Paul Johnson in the Spectator. In one of his articles in that journal he described the great novelists as somehow – I’ve forgotten quite what he wrote – being responsible for the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s tyranny. He never described how this was so. He simply asserted it, and went on. The only thing Tolstoy had in common with Stalin is that they were both radicals, who revolted against the Tsarist state. And possibly that they both had military careers. Apart from that, Tolstoy hated everything that Stalin stood for – militarism, an oppressive, coercive state, brutality and murder. And Tolstoy himself was far from unique in wishing to see a radical reform or overthrow of contemporary society. By 1905 the Tsar’s reluctance to establish any kind of constitutional reforms had pushed most sections of the Russian society in opposition. Even the Union of Unions, made up members of the liberal profession – doctors, lawyers, vets, scientists, engineers, teachers, university professors – not the usual bomb-throwing nutters – were advocating the use of violence if all else failed. There was another writer called, Tolstoy, Alexey, who survived into the Stalin era to write pieces praising the dictator. It looks like Johnson confused the two due to the same surname. But Leo Tolstoy would have been utterly opposed to the old thug.