Posts Tagged ‘Green Movement’

Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.

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Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Apollo Astronaut Michael Collins on Sexism, the Fragile Earth and Banning Guns in Space Colonies

July 13, 2017

Last week I put up a post about a clip of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, pulling faces at a rambling, incoherent speech made by Donald Trump. Trump was signing into law an act affirming America’s commitment to the space programme. His speech about it was less than inspiring however, and Aldrin, who not only went to the Moon himself, but has also been a staunch supporter of opening the High Frontier up to ordinary women and men, was very definitely less than impressed.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story, written by the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins. Collins was the pilot, who flew the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon, and then waited in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing, before flying back with them on the return journey to Earth. The book is Collin’s account of how he came to be astronaut. Determined to be a pilot after being allowed to hold the joystick of a passenger aircraft on which he and his family were travelling as a child, he joined the USAF and became a test pilot. He then moved on to join NASA’s space programme. He describes the rigorous training required, and his first flight into space with John Young in Gemini 10 in July 1966. He also explains how he came, reluctantly, to leave the astronaut programme for a variety of reasons, not least was the way it was stopping him from spending time with his family. And in his final chapter he, like Aldrin, looks forward to the future spread of humanity throughout the Solar system and beyond, with humans going to Mars and then Titan, a moon of Saturn, which may hold the key to the origin of life.

This isn’t an explicitly political book. Nevertheless, Collins does comment on specific issues as they affect the racial and gender composition of the astronaut programme, his perspective on the importance of the environment and why he believes guns would be banned by the inhabitants of a space colony. These are all issues which Trump, his supporters and donors in the gun manufacturers and lobbyists would strongly oppose.

In the passage where he discusses how he and the other astronauts became part of a panel, whose job was to select a fresh batch of astronauts, makes a point of explaining why only white men were selected. He then goes on to comment that although this was what was done at the time, he believes and hope that this will change, and that Blacks and women are just as capable of flying air- and spacecraft equally well. He points out that the highly technological nature of modern aircraft means that there is absolutely no biological obstacle to women piloting such high performance machines. He writes

Note that I have said “he”, because there were no women in the group, nor where there any blacks. In thinking about that, it seems to me that there were plenty of women and blacks who could get the highest marks in categories 1 and 4 [their intelligence and how badly they wanted to be astronauts], but in 1966 categories 2 and 3 [education and experience] tended to rule them out. There simply did not seem to be aeronautical engineers and experienced test pilots, who were black or women. I think, and hope, that will change in the future. Flying a modern jet aircraft does not require a great deal of strength, for one thing. Hydraulic flight controls, like power steering in a car, prefer a light touch, and women should do as good a job as men. Obviously, an airplane has now way of telling the skin colour of the person flying it. (pp. 72-3. My comments in brackets).

He describes how looking at the Earth from space made him aware how fragile it was, and of the importance of preserving the environment.

I will never forget how beautiful the earth appears from a great distance, floating silently and serenely like a blue and white marble against the pure black of space. For some reason, the tiny earth also appears very fragile, as if a giant hand could suddenly reach out and crush it. Of course, there is no one giant hand, but there are billions of smaller hands on earth, working furiously to change their home. Some of the changes being made are good, and others bad. For example, we are learning more efficient ways of catching fish, and that is good because it means more people can be fed from the oceans. If, on the other hand, these new methods result in the disappearance of species, such as whales, then that is bad. The automobile gives us great mobility, but pollutes our atmosphere. We cook cleanly and efficiently with natural gas, but we are running short of it. Newspapers and books spread knowledge, but require that trees be chopped down. It seems that nearly every advance in our civilisation has some undesirable side effects, Today’s young people are going to have to acquire the wisdom to see that future changes help our planet, not hurt it, so that it truly becomes the beautiful, clean, blue and white pea it seems to be when viewed from the moon. The earth truly is fragile, in the sense that its surface can easily shift from blue and white to black and brown. Is the riverbank a delightful spot to watch diving ducks, or is it lifeless greasy muck littered with bottles and tires? More people should be privileged to fly in space and get the chance to see the fragile earth as it appears from afar.
(p. 146).

Further on in the book, he states that future orbiting settlements would get their power from solar energy, as this would not only be abundant and free, but also clean, unlike coal. (pp. 150-1).

He also remarks on the way the Apollo missions differed from previous historic expeditions in that the explorers were unarmed, and suggests that the future inhabitants of a space colony at one of the libration points where the gravity of the Earth and Moon cancel each other out, and so named ‘Libra’, would similarly see no need for carrying weapons.

Apollo set a precedent for the future in another interesting way. It was probably the only major human expedition in which no weapons were carried. In similar fashion, no weapons would be permitted on Libra and Librans simply would not be able to understand why earth people continued to shoot one another. On Libra, if people felt hostile, they would be urged to put their energies into athletic contests or other competitive events, or simply to let off steam by going flying.

He then describes how the lower or zero gravity in the colony would allow people to fly aircraft power by their own muscles. (pp. 154-5).

Most of this is, or at least should be, non-controversial. Scientists have been warning us about the immense danger to our ecosystem, and the horrific decline in its natural wildlife as more and more habitats are destroyed, and an increasing number of species threatened with extinction, since the early ’70s. Among those warning of the ecological perils to the planet was the inspirational astronomer and NASA scientist, Carl Sagan. And indeed, one of the most powerful images that stimulated ecological awareness and the burgeoning Green movement was that picture of the Earth as a fragile, blue orb hanging in the blackness of space taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. Way back in the mid-1990s the Beeb’s popular science programme, Horizon, devoted an edition, ‘Icon Earth’, to how this photo had influenced politics and culture.

The picture hasn’t just made more people aware of the urgent need to protect the environment. Some of the astronauts have spoken about how it brought home to them how artificial racial and national divisions are. They point out that there are now boundaries visible from space. Helen Sharman, the British astronaut who flew with the Russians to Mir in the 1980s, states in her book about her voyage that space helps to foster international understanding and cooperation. She observes that astronauts are the least nationalistic people.

As for guns, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that shooting in the enclosed environment of space habitat could have truly disastrous consequences through the damage it could do to the machinery and fabric of the colony itself, and their ability to preserve human life in the harsh environment of space. A bullet through the outer skin of a spacecraft could lead the escape of its air, causing those within to die of suffocation and decompression.

Trump, however, is supported by the racist and misogynist Alt Right, who would like to roll back Black Civil Rights and women’s social and political gains since the 1960s, while the Republican party as a whole is generously funded by the NRA and the gun lobby, and the Koch brothers and other industrial magnates. The Koch brothers own much of the American petrochemical industry, and so, like many of the other multimillionaire businessmen, are very strongly opposed to any kind of environmental protection. The Kochs in particular are responsible for closing down awkward parts of the American meteorology and environmental science laboratories when they dare to issue warnings about the damage industry is causing to the country’s natural beauty and wildlife. They are then replaced with other institutions, also funded by the Kochs and those like them, which then conveniently deny the reality of climate change. The Republicans and their supporters in industry have also set up fake ‘astroturf’ Green movements, like Wise Use, which seek to undermine the genuine environmental movement.

Given the way the experience of looking back at our beautiful planet from space has transformed political, social and cultural perspectives all across the world, you can understand why some astronauts just might feel they have excellent reasons for pulling faces at their president.

Stephen Hawking and Other Celebs Urge Public to Vote Labour

June 6, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that Ricky Gervaise, Dr Stephen Hawking and Mark Ruffalo, the actor, who played Dr. Bruce Banner, the alter ego of the Incredible Hulk, have all urged the public to vote Labour on Thursday.

Gervaise issued a Tweet stating he wasn’t telling people which way to vote, but it was a fact that the only way to keep the Tories out was to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Mark Ruffalo stated that he humbly endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, as he offers people an alternative to the corporate status quo, which never ends well for people. This prompted John Prescott to Tweet ‘Hulk smash Tories’.

Indeed he would. Banner and the Hulk in the original Marvel comics were profoundly countercultural figures. The Hulk was anger incarnate, born in the radiation blast of an American nuclear test when Banner tried to save teenager Rick. And Rick was very much a ‘rebel without a cause’, a youth, who’d driven into the test zone, heedless of his own safety, because he didn’t feel society had anything for him.

While Banner was very much a square, whose girlfriend was the daughter of the commanding officer in charge of the test, the tenor of the strip was very much anti-militarist. The commanding officer hated the Hulk, and had resolved to destroy him. The Hulk, however, really only wanted to be left alone, and so one constant theme was the running battle between the Hulk and the US army. Ang Lee’s film version of the strip, which unfortunately flopped, got this part of the Hulk’s characterisation absolutely right. And in the 1970s, the anti-militarist message of the strip became stronger. In one story, for example, Banner discovered and did his best to oppose dehumanising military experiments to link soldier’s brains to battle robots, experiments that had resulted in the troopers themselves feeling robotic and mechanical.

The influence of the Vietnam War in dehumanising a generation of American young men, to turn them into ruthless monsters responsible for horrific atrocities, is shown very clearly here.

And one real-life physicist, who has also come out for the Labour party is Cosmologist Dr. Stephen Hawking. Hawking told the Independent and the Mirror that he was voting Labour, because another five years of the Tories would be a disaster for the NHS, the police and other public services.

His endorsement has been welcomed by people like Dr. Alex Gates. Hawking is best known for his book, A Brief History of Time, though his background is in Black Holes. Dr Hawking even has a variety of radiation named after him. Black Holes, or rather the Event Horizons around them, are gradually evaporating, and the radiation they give off is called ‘Hawking Radiation’.

And so Dr. Gates quipped that Hawking had spotted the Black Hole in the Tories’ NHS budget.

One space scientist, who I feel would definitely have supported Jeremy Corbyn over here and Bernie Sanders in his own country, is Dr. Carl Sagan. Older readers of this blog may remember Sagan from his TV blockbuster history of science, Cosmos, and his SF novel, Contact, which was turned into a film with Jodie Foster as the astronomer heroine, who travels through a wormhole to make contact with an alien civilisation.

I very definitely don’t share Sagan’s views on religion. He was a religious sceptic and a founding member of CSICOP. But he was also a man of the Left, who hated imperialism and militarism, and supported the burgeoning Green movement. In the 1980s he warned that a nuclear war would result in a devastating global ‘nuclear winter’ of the type created by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

It’s since been shown that this wouldn’t actually occur. But Sagan was right to press for nuclear disarmament, and absolutely right to oppose the new Cold War Reagan and Maggie Thatcher were trying to whip up against the Russians.

He was also critical of the design of the space shuttle. This was supposed to be the vehicle that would open space up to just about everyone, provided you were fit enough to stand the three Gs of acceleration into orbit. The Challenger disaster put an end to that.

Sagan informed the public that the original design for the Shuttle had been for a smaller vehicle, which would have been purely civilian and much safer and more effective. However, the American military had stopped this, because they wanted a larger vehicle to carry their spy satellites. The result was the over-engineered machine, which exploded at least twice, and whose launches had to be cancelled because of engineering problems.

Sagan died of prostate cancer in the 1990s. He was a brilliant scientist and visionary, who speculated about life on Mars and Venus, and, like Hawking, was a staunch advocate of the colonisation of space. And he was inspiration to a generation of young people to have an interest in space and science. One of the most obvious examples of this is Dr Brian Cox, who freely acknowledges Sagan’s influence.

One feels that Sagan would have firmly resisted everything Bush, Blair, and now Trump, Cameron and May have done to destroy the environment and spread carnage around the world through their wars in the Middle East, quite apart from the Trump’s administration hatred of mainstream science.

You don’t have to use Sagan’s ‘spaceship of the imagination’ to travel light years to see the immense harm Theresa May and her party have inflicted on the NHS, the public services and our national security.

And you don’t have to be a great scientist to realise that the Tories’ attacks on education – their spending cuts, privatisation of schools, and burdening students with tens of thousands in debts – will stop the country’s young people fulfilling their academic potential, regardless of the bilge they may spout about encouraging the STEM subjects.

And I think Hawking has spoken out about the dangers of May’s cuts to science funding and research.

The only party that is ready to undo all of this is Labour.

So please, vote for Corbyn on June 8th.

Let’s Get Fascist with Neoliberal Corporatism

August 1, 2016

By which I certainly don’t mean supporting racism, xenophobia, genocide and the destruction of democracy, or vile, strutting dictators.

British and American politics are now dominated to an overwhelming extent by the interests of corporations and big business. Corporations in America sponsor and donate handsomely to the campaign funding of congressmen and -women, who return the favour, passing legislation and blocking other acts to the benefit of their corporate sponsors. I put up a piece a little while ago from the radical internet news service, Democracy Now!, reporting on how funding by the Koch brothers has resulted in policies that massively favour the oil industry, against the Green movement and efforts to combat climate change. Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, is also part of this corrupt web. She sits a number of leading American companies, and was paid something like a quarter of a million dollars for speeches she made to Wall Street. This has had a demonstrable effect on her policies, which strongly favour big business and, naturally, the financial sector. This corruption of American democracy ultimately goes back to the 1970s, when a court ruled that sponsorship by a corporation constituted free speech under the law, thus undermining the legislation that had existed for over 150 years against it. After about forty years of corporate encroachment on the res publica, the result is that America is no longer a democracy. A recent report by Harvard University concluded that the nation had become an oligarchy. This is reflected by the low rating of Congress in polls of the American public. These have shown that only about 14% of Americans are happy that their parliament represents them.

This situation is no different over here, although the corruption has been going on for much longer. ‘Gracchus’, the pseudonymous author of the 1944 book, Your MP, detailed the various Tory MPs who were the owners or managers of companies. Earlier this evening I posted piece about the recent publication of a book, Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics, which revealed that British MPs have about 2,800 directorships in 2,450 companies. It’s blurb states that MPs are not working for the general public. They are working for these companies. Nearly a decade or so ago, George Monbiot said pretty much the same in his book, Corporate State, as he investigated the way outsourcing, privatisation and the Private Finance Initiative meant that the state was increasingly in retreat before the encroachment of corporate power, which was now taking over its functions, and official policies were designed to support and promote this expansion. This has meant, for example, that local councils have supported the construction of supermarkets for the great chains, like Sainsbury’s, despite the wishes of their communities, and the destructive effects this has on local traders, shopkeepers and farmers.

In America, there is a growing movement to end this. One California businessman has set up a campaign, ‘California Is Not For Sale’, demanding that Congressmen, who are sponsored by corporations, should wear sponsorship logos exactly like sportsmen. In my last blog post, I put up an interview between Jimmy Dore, a comedian with The Young Turks, and David Cobb, the Outreach Officer with Move to Amend, a campaign group with 410,000 members across America, working to remove corporate sponsorship.

As I’ve blogged before, we desperately need a similar campaign in Britain. But it would be strongly resisted. Tony Blair’s New Labour was notorious for its soft corruption, with Peter Mandelson’s notorious statement that the party was ‘extremely relaxed about getting rich’. The Tories are no better, and in many ways much worse. When this issue was raised a few years ago, a leading Tory dismissed it with the statement that the Tory party was the party of business. David Cameron pretended to tackle the problem of political lobbying, but this was intended to remove and limit political campaigning by charities, trade unions and other opposition groups, leaving the big lobbying companies and the Tories’ traditional corporate backers untouched.

This corporate domination of politics and the legislature has been termed ‘corporatism’. This also harks back to the corporate state, one of the constitutional changes introduced in Italy by the Fascists under Mussolini. This was partly developed from the Italian revolutionary syndicalist tradition. The corporations were supposed to be a modern form of the medieval guilds. They consisted of both the employer’s organisations and the trade unions for particular industries, and were responsible for setting terms and conditions. Parliament was abolished and replaced with a council of corporations. Mussolini made much of this system, arguing that it had created social peace, and that it made Fascism a new political and economic system, neither Socialist nor capitalist.

In fact, the corporate state was nothing more than ideological camouflage to hide the fact that Fascism rested on brute force and the personal dictatorship of Mussolini. The power of trade unions was strictly subordinated to the control of the industrialists and the Fascist party. The Council of Corporations had no legislative power, and was really just there to rubber stamp Musso’s decisions.

But if the Tories and big business want a corporate state, perhaps they should get a corporate state, though following the more radical ideas of Fascist theorists like Ugo Spirito. Spirito was a philosophy professor, teaching at a number of Italian universities, including Genoa, Messina, Pisa and Rome. At the Ferrara Congress on Corporative Studies, held in May 1932, he outraged the Fascist leadership and conservatives by arguing that the Corporate state had resulted in property acquiring a new meaning. In the corporations, capital and labour would eventually merge in the large corporations, and their ownership would similarly pass from the shareholders to the producers, who manage it based on their industrial expertise. It was attacked as ‘Bolshevik’, and Spirito himself later described it as ‘Communist’. Despite the denunciations, it was popular among university students, who wanted the Fascist party to return to its radical Left programme of 1919.

If we are to have a corporate state with industrialists represented in parliament, as so promoted by neoliberal politicians, we should also include the workers and employees in those industries. For every company director elected to parliament, there should be one or more employees elected by the trade unions to represent the workforce. And as another Fascist, Augusto Turati argued, there should be more employee representatives elected than those of the employers because there are more workers than managers.

And as the outsourcing companies are performing the functions of the state, and those captains of industry elected to parliament are also representatives of their companies, these enterprises should be subject to the same public oversight as state industries. Their accounts and the minutes of their meetings should be a matter of public record and inspection. Considerations of commercial secrecy should not apply, because of the immense responsibility they have and the importance of their duties to the public, particularly as it affects the administration of the welfare state, the health service, and the prison and immigration system.

On the other hand, if this is too ‘Socialist’, then industry should get out of parliament and stop perverting democracy for its own ends and inflicting poverty and hardship of the rest of us.

RT on the FBI Spying on Anti-Fracking Activists as ‘Eco-Terrorists’

July 21, 2016

This is an interview for RT, in which their presenter, Anya Parampil, talks to Leslie James Pickering, the leader of the anti-fracking group, Keep It In The Ground, about the FBI’s surveillance of anti-fracking activists. The fracking companies in America have recruited the FBI in their attempts to spy on and intimidate their opponents in the Green movement. One company in Anadarko is quoted as saying that they have moved over to using military-style surveillance, and branded anti-fracking activists ‘an insurgency’. The FBI is also using informants, and Pickering admits that this has a chilling effect in putting some people off becoming members. But the effect is limited, he adds. He states that such surveillance is contrary to the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, and, despite activists being branded ‘eco-terrorists’, their activities are mostly law-abiding. The most extreme they extend to is damage to property. This is in contrast to the companies, which cut down forests in order to extract the oil and shale gas, wrecking the environment and poisoning the water as they do so. Pickering states that branding mostly peaceful people as ‘terrorists’ is very dangerous, and it is applied indiscriminately to people, who go beyond just standing with a form in their hands signing petitions.

I’m reblogging this, as although it’s another domestic American issues, it also addresses the comparable situation over here. The police have used spies and agents provocateurs to infiltrate the Green Movement in this country, as I recall, and the Tories and the fracking companies are determined to marginalise and close down anti-fracking activism in this country. Channel 4 News broadcast a piece about this a few years ago. As Pickering says, this shows the determination of the authorities to enforce companies working for the bottom line, against the people and the interests of the wider community.

Vox Political: Cameron Sneers at Corbyn and Migrants on Holocaust Memorial Day

January 27, 2016

Mike has posted this story on Vox Political about Cameron’s disgraceful lies about Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to the Calais migrants’ camp: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/27/liar-camerons-bunch-of-migrants-comment-attacked-by-labour/ Cameron stated that Corbyn had met with ‘a bunch of migrants’ and told them that they could all come to England.

The first thing to note about this is that, like just about everything Cameron and the Tory front bench ever utter, it’s a lie. Corbyn did indeed meet some of the migrants, but he did not say they could all come to England. He stated that those with a family connection should. This is clearly different from allowing all of them in, as Cameron well knows.

What is most shocking isn’t that Cameron lied once again, and certainly not that he has lied about migration, an issue which the Tories themselves have been shown repeatedly that they are unable to tackle, despite the boasts, promises and often aggressive rhetoric demonising asylum seekers. What is shocking and really offensive is Cameron’s sneering and offhand attitude to the migrants themselves. They’re ‘a bunch’. Like bananas. A mixed assortment, in other words. And he said this on Holocaust Memorial Day.

This is the day when Europe remembers not only the Nazi extermination of the Jews, but, by wider extension, all victims of racism and genocide. The blurb for it in the Radio Times actually says that. And many Jewish organisations make an explicit connection between commemorating and protesting against their own history of persecution, and contemporary genocides and crimes against humanity. Bernie Farber, the head of one of the major Canadian Jewish organisations, drew the ire of the Canadian right-wing Tories a few years ago during the Darfur crisis. Why? He organised an official ‘Shabbat for Darfur’, a ‘Sabbath’ of fasting and prayer against the genocide against its people then being carried out by the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militias. It annoyed the particularist right, who felt that Farber should just be concerned to commemorate the sufferings of the Jewish people, without worrying about others. And unfortunately, there are others over here who share the same opinion. Like Richard Desmond, who wrote a moving description of his own visit to Auschwitz, before going on to join UKIP, despite the fact that many of the migrants UKIP vilify and denounce are similarly fleeing from the organised extermination of their peoples in their homelands. It seems from this that Cameron has the same view.

A year or so ago Mike also put up another piece commenting on Ian Duncan Smith’s visit to Auschwitz and the hypocrisy involved there. The ‘Gentleman Ranker’ was trying to show he shared the world’s horror and outrage at the crime, while at the same time his policies, like the Nazis, attacked and degraded the sick, unemployed and disabled. In the case of denying them benefit, to the point of death. IDS seems to have regarded the trip as little more than a photo opportunity, a chance to show that he was a decent human being by going on a pilgrimage to a place of the most extreme horror. While all the time, his policies say otherwise. And Cameron, from his dismissive comments about the migrants at Calais, also apparently shares this blithe indifference, even hostility, to the victims of such holocausts today.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper protested against Cameron’s comments and his sneering lack of concern for those, who have lost everything. She is to be applauded for it. As for Cameron, he should feel ashamed, both about his lying, and the sneering racism underneath it. But I doubt that he will. Cameron is a toff, and as the American Socialist journalist Chris Hedges pointed out in a piece I reblogged last week, the upper classes are unpleasant psychopaths. They sneer at the lower classes and have the same contempt for the middle class. It is, however, disguised by clever PR work and various much-publicised philanthropy.

Cameron’s offhand remark about ‘a bunch of migrants’ also tells you everything you need to know about the Tory attitude to globalisation and the social disruption this causes. The elites love it, because it allows them to break the power of national governments to regulate the economy and protect the working and lower middle classes by exporting industry to other countries around the world, where labour is cheap and welfare provision minimal. And if the workers there prove a bit ‘bolshie’ and demand their rights, it can be moved to somewhere else. For the working peoples of the world, it’s been disastrous, as they’ve seen their working conditions deteriorate, wages stagnate and working hours increase. The process is documented in the book Falling Off the Edge, and Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse. The result of this has been the massive disruption of many societies in the Developing World, culminating in terrorism by guerrillas and the state. The result of this has been the mass migration of millions of displaced people around the world, seeking safety or a better standard of living.

Like those in Calais.

And this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Way back c. ’95, the BBC’s long running science programme, Horizon, devoted an edition to ‘Icon Earth’. This was about the photograph of the full Earth taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, and the way it had changed our perspectives. The programme made the point that there had been no photographs of the Earth as a whole before then. The result of this was that there was a change in consciousness, as the world’s populations became less concerned with their own, particular affairs on more aware of the importance of the planet and interrelatedness of the world’s peoples and their actions. It helped stimulate the nascent ecological movement, as part of this.

The programme covered the contemporary debate about globalisation, then being embraced by the Major and Bliar Conservative and Labour parties. One of the speakers on the programme was an Indian social activist, who opined that while politicians liked globalisation for the opportunities it gave for business, they did not like the mass migration it also engendered. Her words were accompanied by footage of migrants trying to get through various borders, fighting police and border guards as they did. I think she was particularly concerned at the way immigrants to the west from south Asian countries, like India, were being blocked as governments increasingly clamped down. But she also predicted that as time went on, we would also see pockets of the Third World appear in the West.

She’s right. Priti Patel and the other globalists behind the book, Britannia Unchained, wanted to see Brits similarly forced to work the long hours for few material rewards as their counterparts in the Developing World, in order to make Britain, or rather their bosses, more prosperous. And this attitude was echoed in Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems by the MP for Taunton Dean, who wrote his ‘magnificent octopus’ (apologies Baldrick) on the same subject. And the mass migration thrown up by globalisation has carried on. The victims of globalisation’s disruption of societies and economies across the globe, and Cameron and Bliar’s wars in the Middle East, are there in the Calais migrant camps. But they’re un-people, those outside the circle of bankers, industrialists and big businessmen, who are the only people who matter to Cameron. They’re of no interest to him except as a political embarrassment to Cameron, or, at best, just as an opportunity to score a point over a principled rival before his claque of right-wing morons. They are the flotsam and jetsam of the world, thrown up by globalisation.

Cameron’s attitude is disgusting, but entirely explicable in terms of his class and politics. He’s a liar, and the political and economic theories he embraces with such passion have caused misery on a global scale, but he has nothing but contempt for their victims, both within Britain and outside. The sooner he’s voted out, the better.

Simon Pegg and SF and Comic Book Infantilism

May 23, 2015

I was on holiday last week, which was why I haven’t put anything up for a few days. Never mind – I’m back now, and ready to pour more scorn, criticism and bile on the Tory government and the establishment sycophants and global corporate exploiters that support it.

But before I do, I’d like to tackle one issue that’s been bothering me, ever since I read about it in the papers and Radio Times last week. Simon Pegg got in the news for claiming that contemporary culture was being infantilised through Science Fiction, comic books, and the movies that were based on them.

As Pegg himself admitted, this is deeply ironic comic from him. He’s made his name as an SF and comic book nerd. In Spaced, the comedy he co-wrote, he played a struggling comic book artist/writer, who worked behind the counter at his local SF and comic shop. As well as the zombie rom-com, Shaun of the Dead, he also wrote Paul, his homage to science fiction geekdom, in which he and Nick Frost play a pair of SF geeks, who stumble upon the real alien that the US government has kept secret ever since the Roswell crash. The interview in the Radio Times, in which he made the comments, begins with a discussion of his role as Scotty and one of the writers on the new Star Trek movie.

Pegg made his comments about the infantilising effects of comics and SF when talking about how he was trying to smarten up and not be a ‘slobby husband’ for his wife, Maureen. As part of which, he had stopped drinking, turned to living a healthier life style, and stopped dressing as a teenager. The Radio Times then went to state how this new, adult perspective had changed his view of Science Fiction and comics. It said

This new grown-up perspective chimes with Pegg’s views on the culture in which he made his name and plies his trade. As Mark Gatiss said in Radio Times last month, “The geeks have indeed inherited the Earth.” On the other hand, this empowers the fanboy who wrote an autobiography called Nerd Do Well.

But on the other… “Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.

Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things comic books, superheroes … Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, “he continues. “Because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

Now Pegg hasn’t said anything that a multitude of other, SF writers haven’t said before. Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, famously said that the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction was thirteen. Brian Aldiss, who amongst his various works wrote the short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long, on which the Kubrick/ Spielberg film A.I. was based, was highly unimpressed by Star Wars. In his history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, he made the sneering observation of its massive fan popularity that ‘a thousand throats thirsting for escapism must be slaked (if not cut)’. Many SF authors moved away from writing SF over their careers, such as Christopher Priest. Priest denies that he was ever an SF writer, but does not despise the genre or its fans. He’s said that he still has affection for the genre. Michael Moorcock, the editor of the SF magazine, New Worlds, leader of the SF ‘New Wave’, and author of the cult Elric novels, in the edition of the 1979 series on SF writers, Time Out of Mind, also stated that Science Fiction was essentially an immature form of literature. Moorcock then considered that the reason why so many SF writers had stopped and gone on to other forms of literature was simply that they’d grown up.

The great Polish writer, Stanislaus Lem, made pretty much the same point from his own personal experience in his book on Science Fiction, Microworlds. Lem’s an extremely highbrow Polish writer, who amongst his various works wrote Solaris, which was later filmed by the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Lem has been very strongly influenced by the South American ‘magic realist’ writer, Borges, and was deeply impressed by Philip K. Dick. In Microworlds, he talks about the ‘transformation of trash’, in which the shop-worn props of Science Fiction – robots, aliens, mutants and spaceships – were transformed into a new kind of serious literature by Dick. He hoped, through his own writing and literary criticism, to make a similar contribution and raise the literary standards of the genre so that it could take its place as serious literature. He abandoned this, and the genre itself, as impossible.

Moorcock also began his career keen to raise the literary standard of Science Fiction. He was keen to import the experimental styles explored by William S. Burroughs and other, contemporary, literary writers. Again, in Time Out Of Mind, he talks about how he find his attempts to do so rejected and condemned by the SF old guard, particularly Frederick Pohl.

Now it’s fair to say that much Science Fiction is escapist fantasy, as is much literature generally. Nevertheless, much Science Fiction literature and cinema has tried to tackle serious issues. SF at times has been the ‘literature of warning’, exploring the terrible consequences that could arise if a particular political, social or technological course is pursued now. It’s also been used to critique and criticise existing society. This was particularly true of SF in the former Soviet Union, where writers like the Strugatsky brothers wrote in the ‘Aesopian mode’, to present Science Fictional fables to say obliquely observations about the true state of Soviet society, that could not be said openly.

It’s possible to draw up a list of Science Fiction novels, films and short stories, that have made serious points about human existence and the state of society. Most fans of the genre undoubtedly have their own favourites, or can think of others, that also do this. This is just happens to be the list I’ve drawn up at the moment.

1. War of the Worlds.

H.G. Wells’ novel of the devastation of Earth by Martian invaders had its origins in a discussion between Wells and his brother about the destruction of indigenous, primitive societies, by European colonialism. Wells wondered what it would be like, if a similarly technologically superior invader came and did the same to Great Britain, the leading imperialist power of the late 19th century.

The book remains relevant to contemporary society even today, more than a century after its publication. Stanislas Lem has praised the book for its depiction of the nature of total war, and what it feels like to be the victim of an invader determined to wipe you out utterly. Lem lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation of his home country. Apart from their aim of exterminating the Jews in the Holocaust, the Nazis also saw Poles, along with Russians, Ukrainians and the other Slavic peoples as ‘subhuman’, who were to be worked to death as slave labour. Their treatment of the Poles was similarly brutal. Lem felt that Wells’ novel of alien invasion gave a far better depiction of what the Nazi occupation was actually like, than many purely factual accounts of this dark period in his country’s history, to the point where he got annoyed with them and discarded them.

2. Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian novel of the dehumanising effects of biotechnology, in which humans are artificially gestated in hatcheries. In this technocratic, hedonistic society, real culture has withered away and society itself grown static because of the concentration on the purely sensual.

3. Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Karel Capek’s stage play introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. It was one of the very first to explore the possibility that humans could one day be overthrown by their mechanical creations. The robots in the play aren’t mechanical so much as artificially created humans, very much like the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Capek was writing at the time working class, radical Socialist and Communist revolutions had broken out in central and eastern Europe, and the play can also be read as a parable about their threat to the bourgeois European order.

If anything, the book has become even more relevant today, as scientists and social activists have become increasingly alarmed at the threat that robots might shortly do exactly as described in the book. Kevin Warwick, the Reader in Cybernetics at Reading University and former cyborg, begins his pop-science book on robots, March of the Machines, with a chilling depiction of the world of 2050. In this world, the machines have very definitely taken over. The mass of humanity have been exterminated, with those few remaining either living wild, if lucky, or enslaved as domesticated animals by their mechanical masters.

Some international agencies share this alarm. There is a pressure group actively campaigning against the construction of killer robots. A few years ago the international authorities were so alarmed that they actively forbade the use of such robots on the battlefield after one country made the suggestion that such machines should be used today, based on existing technology.

4. Silent Running

After working on 2001, Doug Trumbull wanted to produce a less coldly-intellectual, more emotional SF film than Stanley Kubrick’s epic. This was film is one of the first with a ‘green’ message, about humanity’s destruction of the environment. It’s about one astronaut’s quest to save the last green spaces from Earth, now preserved on spaceships, from destruction. He disobeys the command to scupper his ship and return to Earth, and takes them to safety in the rings of Saturn.

Other films exploring similar themses include Zero Population Growth and Soylent Green. In Zero Population Growth, the world is massively overpopulated to the point where most animal and plant species, including domestic pets, have become extinct. The government therefore mandates a total cessation of reproduction for a generation. The film tells the story of a couple’s attempts to preserve the life of their child after the wife finds out she’s pregnant. The husband and father is played by Oliver Reed, who was a brilliant actor as well as notorious drunk.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room! Make Room!, was the first SF book to explore the possible consequences of the global population explosion and mass starvation.

5. Solaris

Based on Lem’s novel of the same name, Tarkovsky’s novel explores the problem of communicating with a genuinely alien intelligence, and what this would say in turn about human nature. The story follows the attempt of an astronaut to find out just what is happening aboard a space station orbiting the eponymous world. The planet itself is one vast organism, which creates replicas drawn from the human explorers’ own minds to try and work out what they are. One of these replicas takes the form of the hero’s ex-lover, with whom he begins a second, doomed romance.

Among its comments on space and humanity’s place in the universe are the lines ‘There are only a few billion of us. A mere handful. We don’t need spaceships. What man needs is man.’

The film was remade about a decade or so ago by Steven Soderbergh. His version is shorter, but apart from adding a sex scene and making Snow, the physicist, a Black woman rather than White man, there really isn’t much difference between the two, to the point where in some places they’re shot for shot the same. I prefer Tarkovsky’s original version, but you may feel differently.

6. Stalker

This is another movie by Tarkovsky, based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers. The stalker of the title is an outlaw, who makes his money taking people into, and retrieving objects from, a mysterious, forbidden zone. In the book, the normal laws of nature do not apply within the zone, and its hinted that it is due to the crash of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. In Tarkovsky’s version, the zone is result of some kind of disaster. Tarkovsky’s film explores the nature of guilty and responsibility as the various characters attempt to venture further into the zone. The highly polluted, dangerous environment has a destructive effect on the biology of those entering into it. The Stalker himself has a disabled daughter, Monkey. Some hope for humanity is indicated by the fact that, although she cannot walk, Monkey nevertheless has developed psychokinesis.

Although this is another classic of Soviet, and indeed SF cinema generally, I think it’s seriously flawed. Tarkovsky cut out most of the special effects sequences from the books on which Stalker and Solaris were based, in order to concentrate on the human characters. As a result, the film suffers from a lack of genuine, shown menace, and instead is verbose and actually rather boring. Also, the central character in the book is far nastier. In the final scene in the novel, he wilfully sacrifices his accomplice to one of the Zone’s traps, so that he can retrieve the central, alien object coveted by everyone venturing into the zone – a golden ball that grants wishes. This is a film, which in my view does need to be remade by a director like Ridley Scott.

7. Blade Runner.

Apart from its sheer immense style, and the beauty of some of the scenes, this is another film that attempts to explore human nature through the mirror of its artificial, bio-mechanical opposite. Although it’s told from Deckard’s perspective, in many ways he’s actually the villain. The Replicants he hunts are bio-engineered slaves, who have escaped their bondage and come to Earth in the hope of extending their extremely short, artificial lifespans. They can’t, but in the process grow and develop in psychological depth and as moral beings. To the point where they are morally superior to their human creators. The penultimate scene where Batty saves Deckard from falling shows that he has passed the Voight-Comp test, which judges a subject’s a humanity according to their empathy and desire to save a trapped, struggling animal. It also has one of the most quoted poems in SF cinema – I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’

8. They Live.

This alien invasion drama is also a sharp satire on modern, global capitalism. A homeless construction worker discovers that the world is secretly dominated and exploited by skeletal aliens, who are at the heart of global capitalism. While it’s a low-budget action piece, Carpenter has said in interviews that he intended to give it an extra element by using it to criticise contemporary politics and economics. In the film, humanity’s exploitation by the interplanetary corporate business elite and their human shills and partners is responsibility for mass poverty, unemployment and homelessness – all to boost profits. If you cut out the aliens, this is pretty much what the bankers and global corporate elite have done and are still doing today. And it’s got the classic line, ‘I’ve come to do two things: kick ass and chew gum. And I’m all out of gum.’

9. V For Vendetta

This is another film, which has been denounced by the author of the work on which it’s based, in this case the SF strip of the same name by Alan Moore, which first appeared in the British anthology comic, Warrior before being published by DC in their Vertigo imprint. The strip was very much a product of its time – Thatcher’s Britain, and the new Cold War with the former Soviet Union. The strip envisaged the emergence of a Fascist Britain following a nuclear war between the US and the Eastern bloc. Moore has said in interviews that the strip attempted to explore the moral ambiguities of violence, whether it can be justified against innocents as part of a wider campaign against an unjust system. He also wanted to make the point that many of the supporters of the Fascist regime could be considered otherwise good people, just as many otherwise decent Germans supported the horrific Nazi regime.

It’s a superhero movie, which does nevertheless accurately show the realities of life in a Fascist dictatorship – the mass internment of political prisoners, arbitrary censorship, and experimentation on those considered subhuman or ‘dysgenic’ – in the language of eugenics – by the authorities. It lacks the contemporary relevance of the original strip, as Margaret Thatcher and the Tories did have strong links to the far right. Thatcher was an admirer of Pinochet, for example. The strip explored many of the issues thrown up by contemporary stories of corruption in the political, social and religious establishment, like paedophile clergy. Despite Moore’s rejection of the movie, it’s still a piece of genre, comic book cinema that does try to make an extremely serious point about Fascism and intolerance by placing it in modern, 21st century Britain.

10. Children of Men

Based on the book by P.D. James, and starring Clive Owen and Thandie Newton, this is another dystopian yarn. This time it takes a completely different view of the future and its perils from Soylent Green and Z.P.G. In this future, humanity has been afflicted with mass sterility. No children have been born for 18 years. Owen plays a policeman, charged with protecting an immigrant woman – Newton – who carries the only child to be conceived for over a decade. As a consequence of the sterility, society in volatile and unstable. Only Britain has a relatively stable system thanks to the establishment of a Fascist-style dictatorship.

Although fiction, James’ book nevertheless explores a genuine social issue. Globally, populations are falling, to the extent that some demographers have predicted a population crash sometime in the middle of this century. In Britain and much of Europe, they’re below population replacement level. This is particularly acute in Japan, and is one of the causes of that country’s massive investment in the development of robot workers. Much of the fall in birth rates is due simply to people limiting the number of children they have in order raise their quality of life. There is, however, the additional problem in that the sperm counts of western men is falling, to the point that during this century a significant number will be considered medically sterile. Children of Men is another dystopian work that is chillingly plausible.

It’s possible to go on, and add further works of serious SF cinema, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Zero Theorem and Gattaca, with its depiction of a stratified society ruled by the genetically enhanced. Now I have to say that I agree with Pegg that an awful lot of SF films since Star Wars has been escapist fantasy, and can see his point about some of it having an infantilising effect. This is by no means true of all of it, as I’ve attempted to show.

Even films like Star Wars that are pure, or mostly spectacle can be worth serious discussion and consideration, if they’re done well. For all its escapism, Star Wars was astonishing because it showed a detailed, convincingly realised series of alien worlds, machines and space craft. Moreover, the second movie – The Empire Strikes Back – did present Luke Skywalker with a genuine moral dilemma. His friends Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids have been captured and are being tortured by Vader and the imperials. Skywalker is faced with the choice of trying to help them, and in so doing losing his soul, or preserving his moral integrity by letting them suffer and die. His confrontation with Vader present him further with another, particularly acute moral dilemma. Vader reveals himself to be his father, and so if he kills him, he commits parricide, a particularly abhorrent crime. This also has literary antecedents. In one of the medieval Romances, the hero is faced with the revelation that the leader of the foreign army devastating his lord’s realm is his father, and so he is confronted with the terrible dilemma of having to kill him.

Now I don’t think that the potential of Science Fiction to explore mature issues and genuinely relevant problems has been fully explored in the cinema. One of the solutions to the problem is for fans of genre cinema to try and support the more intelligent SF movies that are released, such as Moon, which came out a few years ago. This would show producers and directors that there’s a ready audience for genuine, thought-provoking, intelligent SF as well as the gung-ho, action escapism.

Delingpole, Jack Aspinall, the Conservatives and Eco-Fascism

April 11, 2014

Commend him for announcing the Savile investigation

Michael Gove: Believes Global Warming is another piece of ideology dreamed up by academics. This time their ‘activists’ not ‘Left-wing’, but same anti-intellectual drivel.

Looking through the politics section of Waterstone’s the other day, I found James Delingpole’s Ecofascism. I didn’t buy it, because its author’s name pretty much told me what I could expect. Delingpole is a columnist for the Telegraph and Spectator, who specialises in pieces describing at length how disgusting and depraved the underclass are. I am not remotely surprised Delingpole has also decided to produce a lengthy diatribe against the Green Movement. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have a bitter hatred of the Green movement. they dislike the way it seeks to limit the activities of industry in order to stop humanity fouling the planet even further. They also resent the Green tariffs levied on polluting industries, like the notorious ‘carbon tax’ to limit carbon dioxide emissions, as a form of Socialist redistributive taxation by stealth. Hence the attacks on anthropogenic global warming by the former Tory chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and Michael Gove’s attack on it being taught in the class room. The Conservatives have also tried to block Green initiatives through the foundation of fake grass-roots, ‘astroturf’ pressure groups, like Wise Use in America.

As with the Right’s attempt to link Socialism with Fascism, because of the latter’s inclusion of some Socialist or anti-capitalist policies, so Conservatives also link the Green movement with Fascism because Hitler also favoured certain Green policies. In his Table Talk, for example, Hitler discusses the need to protect the German natural environment and develop renewable energy supplies. Of course, simply because Hitler shared these ideas does not automatically mean they are in any sense Fascistic. Much of the Green movement is left-wing in political orientation. A large part of the Anarchist movement is very Green. There was a Green Anarchist group and magazine in Britain in the 1990s. The German Green party had, amongst its leaders, the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s former lawyer.

There is, however, a problem in that some parts of the Fascist extreme Right is also Green, or presents itself as environmentally concerned, because of Hitler’s own Green inclinations. Neo-Nazis have attempted to infiltrate the Green movement. A little while ago the Anarchist publishers, A.K. press, produced a small book describing the way various Nazi groups and organisations were attempting to do this. Murray Bookchin, one of the leading ideologues of modern, post-scarcity Anarchism, walked out of one conference after a former East German dissident declared that we needed a ‘Green Adolf’. Unfortunately, some parts of the Green movement also echo the genocidal rhetoric of Nazism in their desire to limit the growth of the human population. David Attenborough, who is very definitely not a Nazi, was criticised by a Tory local councillor a year or so ago after he made an appalling comment about the West sending aid and food to the Developing World. Attenborough had said that we must be mad to send food to Starving Africans, when the lack of resources meant that there was no food to support them and the local wildlife in their overpopulated area. He later apologised for his statement and said that he was more concerned with the survival of human children than with animals.

Such sentiments, however, are not limited Nazis, Left-wing or ‘Deep’ Greens or ecologically-concerned scientists and television presenters. They can be also be found amongst figures, whose politics is probably best described as extremely reactionary Conservative, like the millionaire zoo-keeper, Jack Aspinall. Aspinall runs a number of private zoos around the planet. He has one in Australia, which appeared on one of the animal programmes on ITV several years ago. The programme showed the late Australian zoologist and TV presenter, entering the gorillas’ enclosure so he could enjoy some quality with these majestic apes. It was great television, with some fascinating and delightful shots of Irvine being accepted by and playing with these animals, just as David Attenborough himself did all those decades ago in Life On Earth. It’s definitely not safe for everyone, however. When the late Johnny Morris entered a cage with some aggressively boisterous young males, they ran at him several time, knocking him over and leaving him with several broken ribs.

Aspinall himself is extremely Right-wing, and definitely seems to prefer animals to people. He was in the news several times in the 1990s after his animals killed two or three of their keepers, and a tiger badly mauled a model’s arm. Brian Masters, in his biography, The Passion of John Aspinall, quotes him as saying that the world, including Britain, was vastly overpopulated. Here in Blighty we needed to cut our population down from about 60 million to eight. He also declared that we need a Right-wing counter-revolution, ‘Francoist in spirit and determination’. Franco was indeed a Fascist dictator, but his regime also included other groups in order to counterbalance the Phalange’s radicalism. His regime has therefore been described as essentially palaeo-conservative, using the trappings of Fascism to give it a more modern guise. Aspinall’s own political beliefs appear to be the same – extreme Right-wing, illiberal anti-democratic Conservative, rather than Fascist. Nevertheless, he clearly identified with that part of Fascism.

This doesn’t affect Green politics as a whole, however. There is still an ecological crisis of immense proportions facing the planet, and whatever Gove or Lawson say to the contrary, by far the vast majority of scientists are convinced of the reality of anthropogenic global warming. It is the Green movement’s Conservative detractors, who are ideologically driven, not the Greens themselves. And regardless of ‘Green’ varieties of Nazism and Fascism that appeared during the 1990s, at least one of those, who could be described as Eco-Fascist, Jack Aspinally, was an arch-Conservative. But somehow I doubt that’s something Delingpole or Gove would really like to admit in their campaigns against the ecologically conscious and Left-wing academics and intellectuals.

The TTIP and Corporate Power in Europe: Europe Inc.

January 16, 2014

One of the posts I put up to do way on Lobster’s review of a book analysing the structure of the EU and the way it is influenced and controlled by large corporations with little democratic accountability. I did so in order to provide a bit more information to Mike’s excellent post over at Vox Political on the TTIP and the way this will leave democratically elected national governments at the mercy of multinational corporations, and result in further dismantling of the British welfare state and the final privatisation of the NHS. In addition to the short book review I blogged about earlier, I found a much longer review of a book by the same organisation in Lobster 34, Winter 1998, which provides a little more information on the corporate and corporatist interests at the very heart of the EU. These are the organisations pressing for the destruction of the welfare state and the privatisation of nationalised industries across the European Union.

Europe Inc: Dangerous Liaison Between EU Institutions and Industry was the first publication of the Corporate Europe Observatory, a foundation based in Amsterdam set up to ‘monitor and report on the activities of European corporations and their lobby groups. They were also beginning to publish a quarterly newsletter, Corporate Europe Observer, with its first issue being published in October 1998. The newsletter cost about £10 a year in hardcopy, but was emailed free. The CEO could be contacted at ceo@xs4all.nl or at PO Box 92066, 1090 AB Amsterdam. They also had a website at http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/.

The main EU organisation representing the interests of transnational corporations (TNCs) and promoting economic policies that favour them is the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT). It is the ERT and the multinationals it was set up to serve that are behind the EU’s plans for ‘completing the internal market’ through the liberalisation and deregulation of a number of industries, such as energy, telecommunications, and transport, as well as the EU’s aim of promoting global free trade. They are also behind the use of ‘benchmarking’ as a tool used by EU decision-makers for comparing European industries with their competitors in the rest of the world. This is done by comparing wages, taxes, infrastructure and potentially all other areas. The ERT in general simply outlines general policy.

The formulation of detailed legislation favouring the multinationals is done by UNICE (the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe) through its highly efficient lobbyists. This affects every aspect of European legislation.

The ERT has also produced a number of offshoots to tackle additional problems where necessary. In 1994, after the ERT had successfully placed the Trans-European Network infrastructure programme on the EU’s political agenda, it created the European Centre for Infrastructure Studies (ECIS). This has had an almost symbiotic relationship from its very beginning with the European Commission, with both aiming for the completion of the TENs programme.

The ERT has also become highly influential through the establishment of various EU working groups, which have often been set up by the EU on the ERT’s own recommendation. These include the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG), which also has official EU status, and which effectively doubles the ERT’s influence, and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). The ERT was also the parent organisation of the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe (AMUE). This was the organisation behind European Monetary Union and the single currency.

The book also notes that there are thousands of other lobbying firms and organisations in the EU, of which the ERT, UNICE, ECIS and AMUE are merely four of the most powerful. One of the other lobbying organisations is EuropaBio, which campaigns for the abolition of restrictions on biotechnology. Another is the World Business Council of Sustainable Development (WBCSD), whose membership overlaps considerably with the ERT. It, however, describes itself as one of the world’s most influential green business networks.

The ERT and UNICE are responsible for influencing the EU’s Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) process. This has the goals of strengthening the powers of the European Council and Commission, and their ‘ability to act’, ensuring that the EU adheres to the schedules for the adoption of the single currency and the expansion into central and eastern Europe and for establishing global free trade. They are also responsible for combatting any revision of the EU treaties that might undermine their goals of promoting EU global competitiveness through the introduction of environmental or social legislation.

Small and Medium-sized businesses are also represented in the EU through a number of organisations, one of which is the European Union of Craftsmen and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME). Although this is represented in a number of EU advisory bodies, it is excluded from the most influential of these, such as the Social Dialogue and the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG).

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is also represented in the Social Dialogue advisory body, along with UNICE and CEEP, which represents the public sector. The Social Charter states that ETUC has to be consulted, but globalisation and the creation of the internal market have undermined the trade unions national position. The employers’ bodies ensure that commitments to the Social Chapter are kept to an absolute minimum. There is thus very little that the trade unions both in the EU and at the level of the member states can do to force the employers to accept legislation aimed at improving pay and conditions for the workers.

The green lobby similarly has problems being properly represented in the EU, as it lacks the necessary financial clout and organisation. They also have difficulties getting access to the major officials formulating and developing EU policies and legislation, particularly in the European Commission. They have had greater success gaining access to the European Parliament. Industry is, however, far better represented here through giving MEPs job, assistants and presents. The green movement, at least when the book was produced in 1998, was strongest at the local and national level.

There is a group set up to promote dialogue between social and environmental groups, industry and public organisations, European Partners for the Environment (EPE). This has organised meetings on a variety of topics at the request of the European Commission, but has made no attempt to alter the EU’s development model, so that it will not immensely damage the environment or the EU’s peoples.

It was corporate lobbying that was behind the establishment of the Phare and Tacis aid programmes, set up to assist western multinationals wishing to expand into the countries of central and eastern Europe. Europe Inc ends with the conclusion

‘It is not enough to look at the democratic gaps in the EU decision-making structure to explain why corporate lobby groups have gained such a strong foothold in the apparatus. The strong grip of TNCs on European economies, which is a direct consequence of the creation of the Internal Market and increasing globalisation, must be challenged. Economic dependency upon TNCs leaves governments with little option but to adapt to the agenda proposed by corporate lobby groups. To effectively reduce the political influence of TNCs, European economies must be weaned from their dependence upon these corporations’.

Lobster has ceased publication in hardcopy, but is still very much alive on-line, including an archive of its back issues.

So there it is. The mass privatisation of public industries and utilities across Europe, the single currency, and the reduction in wages and working and living conditions for workers in the name of global competitiveness, are all the result of lobbying by multinationals and their organisations, like ERT. The TTIP is merely another step in this larger economic programme, specifically that of the TABD, but one that would have massively detrimental effects for national economies and working conditions right across Europe. It also struck me reading Lobster’s review of the book how much ERT’s aims resembled that of the authors of Britannia Unchained, who also demanded a reduction in British workers’ pay and conditions in order to make us compete with India and China.