Posts Tagged ‘Gulags’

Anton Petrov’s Tribute to Veteran Cosmonaut and Space Artist, Alexei Leonov

October 16, 2019

Last Friday, 11th October 2019, Alexei Leonov passed away, aged 85. Born on 30th May 1934, Leonov was one of the first Russian cosmonauts and the first man to walk in space. His obituary in yesterday’s I, written by Nataliya Vasilyeva, ran

Alexei Leonov, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to walk in space 54 years ago – and who nearly did not make it back into his space capsule – has died in Moscow aged 85.

Leonov, described by the Russian Space Agency as Cosmonaut No 11, was an icon both in his country as well as in the US. He was such a legend that the late science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke named a Soviet spaceship after him in his sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two.

Leonov staked his place in space history on 18 March 1965, when he became the first person to walk in space. Secured by a tether, he exited his Voskhod 2 space capsule. “I stepped into that void and I didn’t fall in,” he recalled later. “I was mesmerised by the stars. They were everywhere – up above, down below, to the left, to the right. I can still hear my breath and my heartbeat in that silence.”

Spacewalking always carries a high risk but Leonov’s pioneering venture was particularly nerve-racking, according to details that only became public decades later. His spacesuit had inflated so much in the vacuum of space that he could not get back into the spacecraft. He had to open a valve to release oxygen from his suit to be able to fit through the hatch. Leonov’s 12-minute spacewalk preceded the first American spacewalk, by Ed White, by less than three months.

Leonov was born in 1934 into a large peasant family in western Siberia. Like countless Soviet peasants, his father was arrested and shipped off to Gulag prison camps under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but he managed to survive and reunite with his family. 

The future cosmonaut had a strong artistic bent and even thought about going to art school before he enrolled in a pilot training course and, later, an aviation college. Leonov did not give up sketching even in space, and took coloured pencils with him on the Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975.

That mission was the first between the Soviet Union and the US, carried out at the height of the Cold War. Apollo-Soyuz 19 was a prelude to the international co-operation aboard the current international Space Station.

Nasa offered its sympathies to Leonov’s family, saying it was saddened by his death. “His venture into the vacuum of space began the history of extra-vehicular activity that makes today’s Space Station maintenance possible”, it said in a statement.

“One of the finest people I have ever known,” the Canadian retired astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote. “Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, artist, leader, spacewalker and friend, I salute you.”

Russian space fans have been laying flowers at his monument on the memorial alley in Moscow that honours Russia’s cosmonauts. Leonov, who will be buried today at a military memorial cemetery outside the Russian capital, is survived by his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren. 

Anton Petrov put up his own personal tribute to the great cosmonaut on YouTube yesterday, 15th October 2019, at his vlog, What Da Math. Petrov posts about astronomy and space, and his video yesterday placed Leonov in his context as one of a series of great Soviet science popularisers before Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene or Carl Sagan. Petrov shows the stunning paintings done by Leonov with his friend, the science artist Andrei Sokolov. He describes how Leonov’s spacesuit expanded so that he couldn’t enter the capsule, and was forced to let some of the oxygen out. As a result, he nearly lost consciousness. This showed both the Russians and Americans that spacesuits had to be built differently. He also describes how Leonov, during his 12 minutes in space, was profoundly struck by the profound silence. It was so deep he could hear his heart pumping, the blood coursing through his veins, even the sound of his muscles moving over each other.

Petrov states that the Russian cosmonauts did not enjoy the same celebrity status as their American counterparts, who could live off book signings. Many had to support their families with other work. In Leonov’s case, it was painting. He illustrated a number of books, some with his friend Sokolov. These are paintings Petrov uses for the visuals in his video. He considers these books the equivalent to works by modern science educators like Carl Sagan. They were meant to encourage, inspire and educate. Sokolov’s and Leonov’s art was not just beautiful, but very accurate scientifically and included some SF elements. Some of these elements were borrowed by other science fiction writers. the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is somewhat similar to one of Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings. This became a joke between the two, with Leonov creating a miniature version for the great American director to keep. Kubrick also borrowed many of the ideas for the movie from the Russian film director, Pavel Kushentsev. An extremely talented cameraman, Kushentsev made films about the first Moon landing, the first space station and the first man in space decades and years before they became reality. And all of his movies were scientifically accurate. Some of his movies are on YouTube, and Petrov gives the links at his site there for this video.

Petrov explains that he is talking about these men because their era has ended with Leonov’s death. Leonov was the last of the five astronauts on the Voskhod programme, and so all the men who inspired youngsters with amazing paintings and film are now gone. He considers it unfortunate that some of their experiences in the last days of their lives were not very happy. They did not live to see the future they depicted, and their paintings were not appreciated by the modern generation. Kushentsev said before his death,

Popular science is dying, because there is no money. No demand. Nobody wants to educate. Everyone just wants to make money everywhere possible. But one mustn’t live like this. This is how animals live. Men have reached the level of animals – all they want to do is eat and sleep. There is no understand that this humanity has passed a certain phase of evolution. We must understand the direction of this evolution. For this, we need culture, we need knowledge. 

Petrov believes Kushentsev’s criticism of modern Russian society also applies more broadly to the modern generation in the West, to all of us as well. We are all doing what he said we shouldn’t – just living for the money, to eat and sleep. Unfortunately, according to Petrov, nothing has changed in the 20 years since his death. But there are people out there in the world working to change this, to produce culture, to inspire and share knowledge. But sometimes the world crushes them, simply because it can. But Petrov says that, like those Soviet men before him, despite not being a famous astronaut or talented artist, or even someone who has very good diction, he will continue doing his part of sealing the hope for humanity, continue the work of these great men and inspire new generations to do things, believe in science and create a better world. Because as Leonov once said,

the Earth was small, light blue and so touchingly alone. Our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word ’round’ meant until I saw the Earth from space. 

Petrov concludes ‘Goodbye, comrade, and thank you for all the paintings.

This is the first of two videos about Russian art from that era of space exploration. I’ll post the other up shortly.

I don’t feel quite as pessimistic as Kushentsev. Brian Cox, who’s now taken Sagan’s place as the chief space broadcaster on British television, has attracted record audiences for his stage presentation about science and the universe. There is a massive interest among the public in space and space exploration. At the same time, there are a number of really great science vlogs and channels on YouTube. Petrov’s is one, but I also recommend John Michael Godier and the Science and Futurism channel, presented by Isaac Arthur.

Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings, they are of a universe of rich, vibrant colour. Spacesuited figures explores strange, new worlds, tending vast machines. They stand in front of planetary landers somewhat resembling the American lunar module. Or crawl across the landscape in rovers, gazing at horizons above which hang alien, often multiple, suns. The best space art shows worlds you’d like to visit, to see realised. These paintings have this effect. It’s a pity that on the blurb for this video over at YouTube, Petrov says that these paintings come from old postcards, which are difficult to come by. It’s a pity, as they still have the power to provoke wonder and inspire.

I’m not sure Leonov himself was quite so pessimistic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main space museum was closed, and many of its exhibits sold off. Before it finally closed its doors to the public, they held a rave in it. I think Leonov was in attendance, sitting at the back with his wife. Someone asked him what he thought of it all. The old space traveler replied that they had found graffiti on the walls on Babylon complaining about the behaviour of the younger generation. ‘It is,’ he said, ‘the young man’s world’. It is indeed, and may cosmonauts, space pioneers, scientists and artists like Leonov, Sokolov, Kushentsev and Kubrick continue to inspire the young men and women of the future to take their strides in the High Frontier.

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Is Margaret Hodge an Hysterical, Paranoid Lunatic?

February 21, 2019

I wonder about the sanity of some of the witch-hunters accusing people of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Or at least their sense of proportion. Margaret Hodge, who claimed that Ruth George’s perfectly reasonable inquiry into whether the Labour Splitters were funded by Israel, is a case in point. She caused outrage and disgust a few months ago when she screamed at Corbyn in the House of Commons, and reviled him as ‘a f***ing anti-Semite’. For which she was duly suspended under Labour party rules that apply to everyone.

This was too much for her sensitive soul, and she compared the stress this had caused her with the fear Jews in the Third Reich felt, waiting for the knock on the door from the Gestapo ready to send them to the death camps. People, who really had had family imprisoned in the concentration camps were rightly outraged. Hodge was attacked for her grossly insensitive comments by Jews, whose family had been sent to these murder factories, and also by non-Jews, who had also had family members incarcerated for their opposition to Hitler’s Reich. Like a young man, whose Sudeten German grandfather was sent there because he was a Communist.

The witch-hunters were also outraged a week or so ago when Jenny Formby dared to reveal the truth about anti-Semitism in the Labour party: there actually wasn’t a lot of it, and only a very few people had actually been expelled. This was too much for them, who can’t stand the thought that anyone they’ve denounced could possibly be innocent. Hodge herself whined that this couldn’t possibly be true, as she’d denounced 200 people.

200? What party did she think she was in? The BNP, the Klan or something? The Labour party is now, thanks to Corbyn, the largest Socialist party in Europe, and as a mass party it obviously is going to include some anti-Semites. But real research shows that anti-Semitism in the Labour party has actually fallen under Corbyn, and is lower than in wider British society. Also, other Jews and Jewish groups have come forward, like Jewish Voice for Labour, and a group of Orthodox rabbis. The good rabbis said that they had absolute confidence in Corbyn, while the peeps at Jewish Voice for Labour said that although there was anti-Semitism in the party, they had never personally, or only very rarely, ever personally experienced it. These were Labour members of long standing, who had been active in their local constituency parties.

But the accusations of anti-Semitism aren’t really about anti-Semitism. Not as it is defined by Wilhelm Marr, the founder of the German Bund Anti-Semiten, who coined the term. He said that it was hatred of Jews, simply as Jews. This is the standard dictionary definition. What Hodge and co see as anti-Semitism is actually criticism of Israel. And long term Jewish critics of the Israeli state and its brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, like Norman Finkelstein, have made the point Israel defends itself by accusing its critics of being anti-Semites. And this is what has been going on here.

And what the witch-hunters decide is a basis for an accusation of anti-Semitism is very, very wide. One young man was accused of anti-Semitism and expelled, or suspended, because he posted a picture of a Jobcentre sign carrying the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, the infamous inscription above the gates of Auschwitz. His accusers maintained that he was somehow denigrating Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. But he wasn’t. He was denigrating the suffering of the jobless inflicted by the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith. Who had begun an article actually quoting this infamous slogan, and saying that it should be rehabilitated because of its usefulness in getting people back into work. It was, he wrote, part of his ethos. Not surprisingly, his editors weren’t impressed, and this part of his article was removed a few hours later. But the Gentleman Ranker had said, nonetheless. And Tony Greenstein and others also pointed out that the inscription was on all the concentration camps, whose members also included the long-term unemployed, people declared arbeitscheu, or ‘workshy’, by the Nazis.

In fact Hodge’s denunciation of 200 hundred people doesn’t remind me of serious accusations, so much as the hysterical persecutions that have occurred in very repressive societies in the past. Like the witch craze in 16th and 17th century Europe, in which people could be accused of witchcraft for the flimsiest of reasons. Or the horrific purges of Stalin’s Russia, where voicing even the slightest comment, which could be considered disrespectful of the tyrant could see you arrested by the NKVD and sent to the gulags. One man was arrested simply for remarked that Stalin didn’t seem quite well when the dictator coughed or something similar during a speech. It also reminded me of all the nutters that wrote into the FBI denouncing anyone and everyone as a Communist agent during the Red scare of the Cold War. Or indeed of the quarter of the East German population that were spying on their friends and neighbours to the Stasi.

It also reminds me of a very dark joke I heard once by an American comedian years ago on one of Bob Monkhouse’s shows on the Beeb in the 1980s. This was a series in which Monkhouse interviewed other comedians, including Pamela Stephenson before she returned to psychiatry. One of his guests was an American comedian, whose act included a parody of the stereotypical, racist southern sheriff. Putting on the accent and persona, the comedian told the following joke.

‘You know, I can tell if someone’s a murderer simply by the look in their eye. And if they got that look in their eye, I hang them. Well, one day I saw this black man, and he had that look in his eye. So I hung him.’

If you know the history of lynching in the Deep South, then it’s probably not a joke. Blacks – and other minorities – were lynched for almost no reason at all, simply for being ‘disrespectful’ to Whites. And the local community would celebrate their deaths, holding a mass party and even breaking pieces off the victims bodies to take home as souvenirs. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has described this in one of their videos. British anti-racist YouTuber Kevin Logan has also mentioned it in one of his, complete with a photograph taken as one such lynching, showing the crowds gathering and rejoicing around two lynched Blacks. Some idea of the pressure and fear of that environment came across very clearly in the Dr. Who story at the beginning of the season about Rosa Parks.

I’m not accusing Hodge of being racist. But I am accusing her of having the same paranoia that has motivated witch-hunters and persecutors, like those in Stalin’s Russia and the anti-Communist fanatics of the ’50s.

So what did those 200 people do, that made her accuse them of anti-Semitism. Does she think she has the ability to see if someone’s an anti-Semite, just by looking in their eye? And did she accuse those 200 simply because they looked at her funny? It might not have been quite because of that, but I very much doubt that the reason she gave was much stronger.

Giles Udy Tries Fomenting Red Scare against Corbyn and Labour

February 4, 2019

The Tories must really be in trouble. Not only are their supporters claiming they’re ahead in the polls, based simply on the evidence of one poll, and their fellow travelers in the Labour party are talking of quitting because of anti-Semitism, yet again, but the Tory press is now trying to run another Red Scare campaign.

This type of anti-Labour propaganda began with the Zinovieff letter in the 1920s. This purported to be a letter from the head of the Comintern in Communist Russia urging Labour to turn Britain into Communist state. It may have cost Labour the election that year, though some historians have suggested that Labour would have lost anyway and the letter itself didn’t make much difference. It certainly didn’t come from the Soviet Union, but was cooked up much closer to home by MI5.

In 1987 when Thatcher was up against Neil Kinnock, the Tory press ran it again. This time they claimed that there was a group of Labour MPs, who were secret Communists. If Labour was elected, they would oust Kinnock, seize power and turn Britain into a Communist state. The Scum also ran a double page spread of various left-wing Labour MPs, like Ken Livingstone and Diane Abbott, with quotes underneath them intended to scare the public into believing they were dealing with the ‘loony left’, as the Tories called them. The quote purporting to come from Red Ken had him saying that he didn’t believe in the British army, but in a worker’s army to guard the factories. And Diane Abbott was supposed to have said that ‘all White people are racist’. At the same time, the Tory press had been loudly telling everyone that Livingstone was a Marxist. Those who knew him made it clear that he wasn’t. He could sound like them on occasions, and was quite willing to use them. But he was never a Communist. So it’s a fair bet that Livingstone and Abbott may never have made the comments the Scum attributed to them, or if they did, they were ripped out of context. In any case there was no secret cabal of Commies within the Labour party plotting to seize power and turn us into the UKSSR.

Not that it stopped one of the Thatcher’s favourite novelists, Frederick Forsythe, writing another thriller based on this premise. This was about MI5 working to prevent Moscow turning Britain into a Soviet satellite through a group of infiltrators, who had worked their way into a Labour party headed by someone, who bore more than a little similarity to Michael Foot.

Now it seems the Tories are running the same scare tactics again. Zelo Street today has put up a very interesting piece about historian Giles Udy, who issued a series of Tweets promoting a forthcoming article in Tory political magazine Standpoint. Udy claims that Labour has a ‘shadow manifesto’ which states that capitalism has taken Britain to the abyss and only the seizure of power by the working class can save us. This document predicts that this revolution will be opposed by a Fascist dictatorship run by industrialists and newspaper editors, which will start a White Terror with death squads. This will only be avoided if the police, civil service, armed forces, security services and the judicial system are purged and replaced with supporters of the revolution. The lower ranks will be sent for re-education.

This is, of course, all twaddle. Zelo Street makes it clear that if you actually look at the article, you’ll find that the document in question doesn’t come from Labour. Not at all. It comes from the Communist Party of Britain’s 25,000 word piece, Britain’s Road to Socialism. This might actually cause a problem for a real journalist or historian, who would be well aware that this very obviously does not come from the Labour party. Udy tries to wave this objection away by saying that the words ‘socialist’, ‘democratic socialist’ and ‘communist’ are virtually interchangeable to describe followers of Marx. As Zelo Street remarks, they aren’t at all, and this is fraudulent in the extreme.

See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/giles-udy-corbyn-red-scare-busted.html

In fact, Udy has previous in trying to smear Corbyn and other members of the Labour party as agents of Moscow. In February last year he issued a series of Tweets touting an article by him in the Torygraph. This was at the time the Tory press were claiming that Corbyn had passed information on to the Czech secret service, despite the fact that he didn’t. Udy claimed that Corby and Abbott must have met party officials when they went on holiday in the former DDR, and that the Stasi would have preserved records of these meetings. Except that Corbyn and Abbott didn’t meet anyone from Honecker’s ruling party, and the Stasi didn’t have any records of them doing so. Those facts did not deter Udy. He claimed that he didn’t believe Corbyn had taken money from the East Germans, but he was only one of various deluded members of the Labour party, who were admirers of socialist totalitarianism, and lamented the fact that Blair’s revolution hadn’t cleaned them all out. The other high-ranking Labour figure and trade unionist, who had taken Soviet money, he claimed, was Jack Jones, the former head of the Transport and General Workers Union, now Unite. He also claimed that Jones’ wife had been a Soviet agent since the 1930s. This was all bilge. He only had one source for this nonsense, and that was the Soviet defector and liar Oleg Gordievsky. But Jones and his wife were safely dead, and so couldn’t sue.

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2018/02/corbyn-smear-enter-useful-idiot.html

Udy was supposed to be a historian of the gulags, and was respected on the Right supposedly for his insight into the Labour party and Soviet Union. But Zelo Street said that after this article, he squandered whatever little credibility he had, and was just a paranoid fraud. ‘So no change there’.

None whatsoever. When things get tough for the Tories, run a scare story about them and Communism. This posed a problem when Blair was in power, as he was as right-wing as they were. They solved it then by published various fictions predicting that sometime in the next decade the remains of the European socialist parties would united with the Muslims to start a new Holocaust of European Jews. Frederick Raphael reviewed a book, which had this as its theme, set in France, around about 2004 in the Spectator as I recall. Now that they’ve got a real left-winger to fear and smear in the case of Corbyn, they’ve dropped all the stuff about Islam and are going back to Communism.

As for Standpoint itself, it’d be very interesting to know what connections it has, if any, with the British or American secret state. When the roughly left leaning political magazine, Prospect, first appeared about a decade or so ago, Lobster noted that it was more than a little like Encounter, another political mag from the ’60s – ’70s that was revealed to have been financed by the CIA. The right-wing press in this country has been running articles from the British secret state. It’s therefore quite possible that British intelligence or one of its nominally independent subsidiaries has been feeding it bilge about the Labour party as well. Like the smears against Corbyn and other British, American and European political figures claiming they were agents of Putin by the Integrity Initiative.

Which brings us right back to MI5 and the Zinoviev letter. And how old and shopworn the Tories’ smear tactics are.

Lenin on Worker’s Industrial Management, Government and the Withering Away of the State

December 24, 2018

One of the central tenets of Marxism is that the period of socialism ushered in by the seizure of power by the workers will eventually lead to the withering away the state and begin the transition to the period of true Communism. This will be the ideal, final phase of society when the government of people will be replaced by the administration of things.

Lenin seems to have believed that the transition to this ideal society would begin after everything had been nationalized and placed in the hands of the workers. The workers would then be able to manage the economy and society through the way capitalism had simplified the management of industry so that it could be performed by the workers themselves. This is explained in a passage from his The State and Revolution, reproduced in Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought, Vol. 3: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959), pp.193-4.

Accounting and control – these are the chief things necessary for the organizing and correct functioning of the first phase of Communist society. All citizens are here transformed into hired employees of the State, which is made up of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of one national state ‘syndicate’. All that is required is that they should work equally, should regularly doe their share of work, and should received equal pay. The accounting and control necessary for this have been simplified by capitalism to the utmost, till they have become the extraordinarily simple operations of watching, recording and issuing receipts, within the reach of anyone who can read and write and knows the first four rules of arithmetic.

When the majority of the people begin everywhere to keep such accounts and maintain such control over the capitalists (now converted into employees) and over the intellectual gentry, who still retain capitalist habits, this control will really become universal, general, national; and there will be no way of getting away from it, there will be ‘nowhere to go’.

The whole of society will have become one office and one factory, with equal and equal pay.

But this ‘factory’ discipline, which the proletariat will extend to the whole of society after the defeat of the capitalists and the overthrow of the exploiters, is by no means our ideal, or our final aim. It is but a foothold necessary for the radical cleansing of society of all the hideousness and foulness of capitalist exploitation, in order to advance further.

From the moment when all members of society, ore even the overwhelming majority, have learned how to govern the State themselves, have taken this business into their own hands, have established control over the insignificant minority of capitalists, over the gentry with capitalist leanings, and the workers thoroughly demoralized by capitalism-from this moment the need for any government begins to disappear. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it begins to be unnecessary. The more democratic the ‘State’ consisting of armed workers, which is no longer a State in the proper sense of the term, the more rapidly does every State begin to wither away.

for when all have learned to manage, and independently are actually managing by themselves social production, keeping accounts, controlling the idlers, the gentlefolk, the swindlers and similar ‘guardians of capitalist traditions’, then the escape from this national accounting and control will inevitable become so increasingly difficult, such a rare exception, and will probably be accompanied by such swift and severe punishment (for the armed workers are men of practical life, not sentimental intellectuals, and they will scarcely allow anyone to trifle with them), that very soon the necessity of observing the simple fundamental rules of every day social life in common will have become a habit.

The door will then be open for the transition from the first phase of Communist society to its highest phase, and along with it to the complete withering away of the state.

Lenin’s ideas here about industrial management and the withering away of the state are utopian, despite his denials elsewhere in his book. Lancaster in his comments on the passage points out that industrial management required to feed, clothe and house a society is far more complex than simply ‘watching, recording and issuing receipts’. Lenin in fact did try to put workers’ control into practice, with the result that industry and the economy almost collapsed completely. The capitalists and managers, who had been thrown out of the factories and industries in wheelbarrows by the workers, were invited back in afterwards, and restored to their former power. At the same, Alexandra Kollontai and the Left Communists, who wanted the workers to run the factories through trade unions, were gradually but ruthlessly suppressed as Lenin centralized political decision making.

Lancaster also points out that the administration of things nevertheless means government, and that it is very hard to convince a man, who has just been refused permission to open a new bus route or produce as many shoes as he can, that he is not being governed. Lancaster also argues that practice in both the democratic west and the USSR shows that a truly ‘stateless’ society impossible. He also states that the reduction of society to one enormous factory or office will repulse the normal mind, as it resembles a colony of insects, and that the similar routinization of the fundamental rules of normal social life into a habit destroys the autonomous individual and reduces them to a machine. He could also have mentioned, but doesn’t, the very sinister implications of ‘armed workers’ and the use of military force. The USSR was created by violent revolution, and maintained itself through force. Those attempting to set up their own businesses were arrested for ‘economic sabotage’ and sent to the gulags, where they were treated worse than ordinary criminals.

However, workers are capable of participating in government. One of the points Anthony Crossland made in one of his books was that the American unions had a large measure of industrial democracy, all though it was never called that. He was arguing against worker’s control, considering it unnecessary where there were strong unions, a progressive income tax and the possibility of social advancement. The unions have since been all but smashed and social mobility has vanished. And under Thatcherite tax reforms, income tax has become less progressive as the rich are given massive tax cuts, while the tax burden has been shifted on to working people. But the point remains: workers are capable of becoming managers. It was demonstrated by the anarcho-syndicalists in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. And Red Ken, when he was once asked by a journo why he supported worker’s management, said that it came from his experience as had of the GLC. Livingstone was now the head of a vast local government system, but there was nothing special about him. So, he believed, could ordinary people run a business. I think Leninspart was probably too modest, and he possessed managerial talents others don’t have, but the point’s a good one.

If the ability to make managerial and governmental decisions were broadened, so that they included employees and members of the public, this would empower both groups. It would make the domination of the rich 1% more difficult, and lead to a more equal, less class-ridden society. A truly classless, stateless society is probably impossible, as the example of the USSR shows. But introducing a measure of workers’ control is surely worthwhile in order to make things just that bit better.

Of course, to do so properly might mean giving working people management training. Well, Thatcher tried to turn British schoolchildren into a new generation of capitalists by making business studies part of the curriculum. She stressed competition and private enterprise. But it would turn her ideas on its head if such education instead turned workers not into aspiring businesspeople, but gave them the ability to manage industry as well as the elite above them.

That really would be capitalist contradiction Marx would have enjoyed.

Private Eye on Sunday Times’ Smear of Michael Foot as KGB Agent

October 3, 2018

The media this week has been full of the news about a book about the KGB defector, Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a high-ranking KGB officer, whose father was also a KGB officer, and who had been slated to be the next chief of the Soviet spy agency and secret police. When he defected, Gordievsky brought with him whole dossiers of KGB records, which were invaluable for ending the Cold War. However, Gordievsky himself was a self-admitted liar. And one of those lies was that the former leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

This falsehood was published in 1995 by the Times, and was promptly answered by a libel action by Foot and a cover by Private Eye sending the whole thing up. Foot won the case, and the Eye also published an article taking apart the whole story and exposing the Times’ article for the libel it was.

Now with the publication of the new biography, the Sunday Times has decided to repeat the libel again. And Private Eye has responded again with another article effectively demolishing this sorry piece of gutter journalism. The piece was published in last fortnight’s Eye for the 21 September to 4 October 2018, and entitled ‘Shooting Yourself in the Foot’, and runs

<strong>”MI6 believed Michael Foot was paid Soviet informant,” a Times front-page headline announced last Saturday. “Truth about former Labour leader emerges 23 years after he sued Sunday Times for libel.” The editor of the Times, John Witherow, also published the Sunday Times story about the former Labour leader in 1995 – and is clearly still sore about the embarrassment and ridicule it earned him.

It’s not only the editor, it’s the same story-based entirely on a claim by former double agent Oleg Gordievsky that he once saw a KGB file marked “Agent Boot”, which apparently referred to Michael Foot. The only difference is that the previous version was taken from Gordievsky’s memoirs while the latest one comes from a new biography of the spy.

According to the Times, The book “presents the first corroboration by MI6 officers of the allegations made by the Soviet defector”. No it doesn’t, at least not in the normal meaning of corroboration, ie additional proof or confirmation. In 1995 the Sunday Times reported Gordievsky’s allegation that the KGB regarded Foot as an agent of influence; now the Times says some people in MI6 thought the Russians regarded him as an agent of influence. And why did they think that? Because, er, Gordievsky had told them so. In short, not a smidgin of supporting evidence has “emerged” since Witherow last ran the story.

At the time of the earlier farrago, the Sunday Times claimed that it was “based on interviews with Gordievsky and six other former KGB officers”. But it omitted to add that only Gordievsky believed in “Agent Boot”. Although the paper claimed that the London-based KGB colonel Mikhail Lyubimov had recruited Foot, Lyubimov himself promptly denied it.

So the allegations were not made by “the KGB”, as Witherow told his readers 23 years ago and again last Saturday. They came solely from a single ex-KGB man, Gordievsky – whose unreliability was officially confirmed in May 1995, just three months after the Sunday Times splash, by the then solicitor-general Sir Derek Spencer. Speaking on behalf of the government during an appeal by Michael Smith, who had been convicted of spying for the Russians, Spencer told the Lord Chief Justice that some boasts made by Gordievsky in his memoirs were “not correct”. He described one of Gordievsky’s claims, about identifying undercover KGB agents to his British controllers, as “another exaggeration”. As the judge observed: “He must have lied to everybody at one time or another.”

With just one witness to rely one, it’s no surprise that Witherow and the Sunday Times couldn’t defend a libel action against Foot. More surprising is that the editor is now repeating even the most egregious howlers from his previous debacle. According to the 1995 story, for instance, Foot regarded Moscow as “a beacon of world peace” until 1968, when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia brought him “down to earth with a bump” and he ceased to be a fellow-traveler. Exactly the same narrative appeared in last Saturday’s Times. From the 1940s to the 1960s, it claimed, Foot was an “agent of influence” who could be “fed pro-Soviet ideas and reproduce them in articles and speeches” – but in 1968 he became “intensely critical of Moscow in the wake of the Prague Spring”. After that, his “enthusiasm for the Soviet Union appears to have waned”.

The claim that Foot was a pro-Soviet mouthpiece until 1968 is easily disproved. As long ago as 1946, a Labour MP wrote to Tribune complaining of the “jaundiced prejudice against Russia” in Foot’s articles. In 1948, soon after becoming Tribune’s editor, he published a leader attacking left-wingers who “are still gulled by the monstrous delusion that the Russians are the friends, not the enemies, of democratic socialism”. During the Soviet blockade of Berlin, he urged the West to “drive a land passage through the Russian zone against Russian resistance and if necessary by force of arms”.

When Ian Mikardo MP resigned from Tribune’s board of directors in protest at the editor’s anti-Soviet stance, Foot was unapologetic. “The Soviet leaders … believe as a matter of theory that the end of establishing Soviet Communism wherever they can justifies any means for its attainment,” he wrote. “They believe also as a matter of theory in secrecy, censorship, dictatorship and the ruthless annihilation of the rights of individuals.” And so it went on. When the Russian tanks crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956, Foot was quick to condemn this “hideous outrage”.

Odd behavior for a man who, the Times alleges, wa sbeing paid to publicise “pro-Soviet ideas”. Why didn’t they ask for their money back. (p. 10).

Foot was right: the Soviet Union and the Communists were always hostile to democratic socialism, though Stalin used the existence of democratic socialist parties and other left-wing organisations to provide a spurious democratic justification for his transformation of their countries into Soviet satellites after the end of the Second World War. Stalin would amalgamate the Communist parties of the various countries the USSR had liberated with the largest left-wing party. This was usually the mainstream, democratic socialist under the pretext of reuniting the two forms of Socialism. Before the First World War in Germany and Italy, for example, there was only one socialist party, which included not only democratic socialists – reformists – but also radical Marxist revolutionaries. After the First World War, the radical Marxists split away from the reformist majority parties to form their countries’ Communist parties. In countries where the socialism was weak, Stalin amalgamated the Communists with the largest and most popular left-wing party, such as the various Peasants’ Parties. The new, umbrella Socialist party would then make a statement adopting Marxism-Leninism – the Communism of the Soviet Union – their official ideology, and the democratic socialists would find themselves purged and either executed or sent to the Gulags.

In the West there were some mainstream socialists, who really did believe that Stalin represented Socialism, such as the Fabians. But Foot, to his immense credit, clearly wasn’t one of them.

However, Maggie Thatcher hated socialism, because it came from the same ideological roots as Communism, and the Tory press in the 1980s was very quick to smear any Labour politician or activist as a potential traitor or agent of Moscow. Foot came in for particular abuse because of his support for CND and unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was therefore inevitable that one of the Tory papers would eventually smear him as a KGB agent.

As it stands, the Sunday Times has form on libeling people. As well as smearing Foot, it also libeled Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Since that article came out, the Sunset Times has repeated the smear and tried to back it up, and the Eye has published yet another tearing it to shreds.

The satirical rag has done an excellent job attacking the lies and falsehoods against Foot. Too bad that it also seems to have swallowed the lies and falsehoods about Jeremy Corbyn.

Poll Shows 58 Per Cent of Russians Would Like Communism to Come Back

November 25, 2017

This is another great little video from Jason Unruhe of Maoist Rebel News. I’ve already made my opinion about Mao and Stalin very clear: they were mass murdering monsters, who made their countries great through the deaths of millions of their own countrymen. 30 million + soviet citizens died in Stalin’s purges and gulags. 60 million died of famine and in re-education camps during Mao’s wretched ‘Cultural Revolution’.

Nevertheless, these totalitarian states gave their people some benefits. And it shows in the nostalgia many people across the former eastern bloc feel for the old system. According to a poll by RT, 58 per cent of Russians said they would like the Soviet Union to return. 14 per cent stated it was quite feasible at the moment. Forty-four per cent said it was unfeasible, but desirable. 31 per cent said that they would not be happy even if events took such a turn. And 10 per cent could not give a simple answer to the question.

Unruhe then goes into the reasons why so many Russians want the USSR back. He points out that the majority of Russians are not Communists, do not identify with the Communist party and are not members of it. He says it was because there were better jobs, with better pay, far more stability, better vacation times and a higher standard of living. They also had a better infrastructure, which collapsed along with the USSR. He points out that we’ve all seen the images of abandoned, decaying areas which have had their funding withdrawn due to the collapse of Communism. They had a military that the world feared and that the Americans were terrified was going to destroy them all. They also couldn’t be bullied, and they were capable of retaliating in huge ways. Sanctions couldn’t hurt them, and couldn’t destroy their financial system. The Soviet people had a country they could be proud of, and although Putin is pushing Russian independence, he can’t do it nearly to the extent that the old Soviet Union could. And so it actually means something when people, who aren’t Communists, say they’re in favour of its return.

There’s a quote from one of the old Labour thinkers, to the effect that everyone, who believes in human rights must hate the USSR. But everyone, who genuinely has Socialism in his core also admires it.

As I understand it, They old Soviet system was massively sclerotic, with colossal overmanning in industry and enterprises. For example, you couldn’t simply pick up what you wanted at the shops. You had to queue to be served, then pick out what you wanted, and then wait for it to be served to you, and to pay for it. I’ve read of people in architect’s office spending their days transferring figures from one column to another, in what was supposed to be a good job that some people had been working towards for years. Utterly soul destroying.

But at the same time, the state was expected to provide full employment. And it did it, albeit at the expense of quality work. And I’ve no doubt that the pay was better, that people did have better holidays, organised through the trade unions and state leisure organisations. You could go and take a vacation down at one of the spa resorts on the Black Sea.

And everything he says about the Soviet Union’s industrial and military power is also correct. In the 1950s under Khrushchev, the Soviet Union made such rapid advances that the Americans were terrified that they would win, and overtake capitalism as the affluent, consumer society. Didn’t happen, but it would have been brilliant if it had.

And Unruhe is also correct when he says that the Russians were no threat to Europe or the West. They weren’t. After the initial expansion, the apparatchiks and nomenclature in the Communist party were content with simply holding the system together and feathering their own nests with Western goods they brought back from their diplomatic travels abroad.

As for the Russians not being Communists, I can remember being told by Ken Surin at College, who is now a writer for Counterpunch, that there were more Communists in America than the USSR. Having said that, Soviet citizens grew up in an explicitly political environment, where they were indoctrinated with atheism and the ideal of the Communist regime. Some of that is going to sink in, even if they are otherwise alienated from the Communist party.

But the introduction of capitalism under Yeltsin destroyed Communism, and dam’ near destroyed Russia. The economy went into meltdown, so that instead of paying their workers wages, factories paid them in kind. In one firm making sewing machines, they gave their workers those machines.

And the economic meltdown directly affected people’s health. Russia didn’t have a welfare state as such. There was no unemployment benefit, as you didn’t need one. Unless you were a subversive ‘parasite’ and an enemy of the system, the state found you work. But there was a free, state medical service, with more doctors than America. In practice, how well you were treated depended on your ‘blat’ – your clout, leverage, whatever. It was a very corrupt system. But this melted down along with the economy, and doctors started going private. Just as they’re continuing to do under Putin.

As a result, illness rates shot up. In Lukashenko’s Beloruss, which retained the Communist system, people remained as healthy – or unhealthy – as they were before Communism collapsed in the USSR.

And none of this was done for the Russians’ benefit. Oh, Yeltsin hoped that capitalism would improve things in Russia, but it was all financed, once again, by Clinton and the Americans, who poured tens of millions into political advertising.

I’ve already made my own low opinion of Lenin abundantly clear: but he was right in his pamphlet Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Russia, and other less developed nations like it, were held back by global capitalism. They were then. And it’s the same goal now, except that as Killary can’t have her way she’s starting a new Cold War.

Well, millions of Russians want their country back.
And they’re not alone. You can find roughly the same percentage all over the former Communist bloc. The former Soviet satellites hate the Russians, particularly in Poland. But they had a better standard of living, work, and a system that had larger ideals. They were told that they were the progressive vanguard leading humanity to a brighter, better future. Racism was there, but it was frowned on. Women were treated as second-class citizens, but at the same time the state and Marxist ideology was also concerned with their liberation and getting them into masculine jobs.

And some of the old Communist countries weren’t that far behind the West. I’ve read that if you tweaked the stats a little, then economically the old East Germany was about equal, or just behind, the north of England. Which isn’t an advert for Communism, but even less of one for Thatcherite capitalism.

In short there’s a saying going round eastern Europe: ‘Everything the Communists told us about Communism was a lie. Everything they told us about capitalism was true.’

Capitalism isn’t working. And the peoples of eastern Europe know this. It isn’t working here either, but we’re too blinded by the mass media, and the illusions of past imperial greatness, to realise it.

Abby Martin on the Jimmy Dore Show Talks about US Crimes of Empire: Part 2

November 18, 2017

This is the second part of my article on the interview with Abby Martin on the Jimmy Dore Show. Martin is the presenter of the Empire Files on TeleSur English, and a former presenter at RT. She is impassioned, incisive and tells the story of the victims of American and western imperialism both abroad in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the mass of severely normal Americans at home burdened with the tax bill and the sheer rapacious greed of the neoliberal, corporate elite.

She states that Boeing and the other big corporations fund the adverts in the media simply to show the journos, who’s paying their wages, and so keep in line. The media is now all about advertising, not news.

They then talk about the rampant Russia-phobia, which Martin says is causing her to lose her mind. At first she just thought it was the product of Trump and his brown shirts. Dore rips this to shreds by pointing out that it’s not Russia that preventing Americans from getting what they want on a range of issues. 90 per cent of Americans want some form of gun control. But they ain’t getting, and it’s not because of Russia. 80 per cent of the US wanted a public option for Obamacare. Didn’t get it. Not because of Russia either. Americans also want Medicare For All and free college education. Denied that too – but not by the Russians. And everybody in America wants the wars to end. And it ain’t the Russians that are preventing that from happening. The people really screwing America is Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, big pharma, and the fossil fuel industry.

Back to Boeing and its adverts, the company’s funding Meet the Press to shut the press up. Half of America doesn’t believe in climate change, because it’s just presented by the media as just another point of view. And this is because the networks are funded by the fossil fuel industry. And the networks bring on general after endless general to talk about how the US should go to war with North Korea. All they talk about is how the war should be fought, but they are never challenged on the reason why. They never bring on Medea Benjamin, the head of the anti-war opposition group, Code Pink, except to mock her. Similarly, you never see union leaders on TV, nor are there any anti-war voices. As for Brian Williams, who was sacked for telling porkies about how he took fire, his real crime was that he didn’t tell his audience that the ‘objective’ news he was broadcasting was paid for by the generals who appeared on his show.

They then talk about the revolving door between the generals and the defence contractors. After the generals retire, they go to work for some company like General Electric. Martin talks about the $500 million in one bill sponsored by John McCain, to train the Ukrainians against Russian aggression. She caustically and accurately remarks that ‘we’re now funding neo-Nazis’, after setting up the coup that overthrew their last president. America is also giving $750 million to Israel for defence.

The Russia scare was hatched by Ralph Mook and John Podesta in the Democrat party, and it’s grown into a huge conspiracy. Martin describes how she saw it all developing three years ago when she was working for RT. They first attacked Al-Jazeera, demonising it as the propaganda wing of Saddam Hussein. Then they turned against RT as a network and her personally. She states that the report on which the accusations are based is rubbish. It looks like it was half written by some unpaid intern. There’s that contempt for any truth or real fact in this document. She noticed when one of RT’s presenters publicly resigned over Putin’s annexation of the Crimea. That was a psy-ops operation launched by William Kristol, one of the founders of the Neocons and the head of the Project for the New American Century. There was absolute no proof that Russia was meddling in American democracy. And half of the document attacked Martin personally. It was fomenting radical discontent, and the elite hated the way they covered third parties, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street. so talking about how half of America has less than $1,000 in savings is now Russian propaganda. It’s at this point that Martin states she never said anything in praise in Putin. She states that there are plenty of leftists and socialists working at the network, not because they like Putin, but because there is nowhere else to go.

They then talk about how the Democrat party is full of people, who voted for Bush twice. And particularly the way Keith Olberman, whom Martin had previously admired, came out and publicly apologised to George Dubya. She states that Bush is a war criminal. He set up a gulag (Guantanamo) killed and tortured people wholesale, but when he appeared on Oprah she held his hand as if he was Buddha! Martin said she realised Obama was a fake when he refused to prosecute the war criminals. So now they have Trump, who’s hated because he’s a narcissist, but knows he will have people applauding every time he bombs people. They ask rhetorically whether the media will apologise to Nixon if Trump wins a second term.

They then go on to discuss how Trump is actually less dangerous, and more of a threat to the establishment, then Mike Pence, the Vice-President. Martin describes Pence, with good reason, as a ‘Christian ISIS who wants to kill gays’. He’s psychotic, but you wouldn’t have the cult of personality you have with Trump. She states that the Christian Evangelicals love him, as without him they wouldn’t have got in. And so Pence and DeVos are quite happy to use him as the fall guy, taking the rap for the policies they’re pushing through Congress. Trump represents the worst elements in society – the cult of celebrity, of reality TV shows, the adulation given to millionaires. She states that Joyce Behar, another personality, was paradoxically the voice of reason when she said on one interview that things wouldn’t be better if they only got rid of Trump. No, not if that meant Mike Pence becoming president. They talk about how, when Bush was in power, everyone talked about Bush Derangement Disorder. Then it was Obama Derangement Disorder, and now its Trump Derangement Disorder. But Dore also points out that progressives dodged a bullet with Trump. Voting for the lesser of two evils meant that they got Trump, who is too incompetent to get his policies through.

To be continued in Part 3.

The Mail and Public Opinion as a Mask for Totalitarianism

October 27, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces commenting on yesterday’s story, that the Tory Whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, a staunch supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign, attempted to intimidate lecturers across Britain by writing to them demanding details of the courses they were teaching in International Relations and politics, and specifically as it concerned Brexit. David Green, a professor and Vice-Chancellor at Worcester University, stated that this was far from innocent, but the beginning of Orwell’s Thought Police and political censorship. And he’s absolutely right. Heaton-Harris was joined by the Daily Mail, which then encouraged students to contact them giving their stories about how they were being indoctrinated with anti-Brexit propaganda.

Heaton-Harris and the Heil can both be fairly described as ‘the embittered Little Englander wing of the Tory party’, as one wag described the Eurosceptics. I’ve already written at length about how all totalitarian societies have tried to control education, the most notorious of these being Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, in order to indoctrinate their countries’ young people, and purge those teaching alternative views. Those lecturers and intellectuals, whose careers were destroyed in this way, could end up imprisoned in concentration camps and gulags, or murdered, along with the regimes’ other opponents.

But there’s also a further similarity with the demands of the Heil, in that these totalitarian regimes often hid their repression behind a façade of popular support.

The Heil wants students to inform on their lecturers. The Nazis also claimed to represent German youth, proclaiming ‘Mach Platz, Ihr Alter!’ – ‘Make way, you old ones!’ The history curriculum was particularly altered to show the Nazi view of history, in which Germany was gradually dominated and exploited by the Jews until the Nazis took power. The final section of this perverted syllabus, designed to indoctrinate German schoolkids with the notion that absolutely everything was going to get better for them now the Nazis were in charge, was entitled ‘German Youth at the Helm’.

During Mao’s vile Cultural Revolution, in which 60 million Chinese people were murdered, the country’s ancient traditions and learning banned, and its precious artistic and cultural heritage vandalised and smashed, children were encouraged to inform on their parents and lecturers.

These totalitarian regimes claimed to represent the ‘will of the people’. The Nazis used a plebiscite to show spuriously that the German people thoroughly approved of their seizure of power. And when totalitarian regimes like them banned literature that did not follow, or challenged their rule and ideology, they claimed to be doing so at the will of their people.

Mike and I had the great good fortune to be able to learn Russian at our old secondary school. And I can remember our teacher telling us during one less that he would be put up against the wall and shot when they invaded, because of a letter he’d written to the authorities. He’d been annoyed that Soviet newsstands did not carry western magazines or newspapers. He received a reply from the authorities telling him that the reason why ‘bourgeois’ western literature wasn’t on sale in the USSR’s newsstands, was not because of censorship. It was simply that the Soviet people themselves were against it. It was a lie, of course, but it was a practical example of how absolute, dictatorial regimes nevertheless cloak their repression by claiming that they’re just doing what their public wants.

Just as the Heil are claiming to do so, even when using the same methods of intellectual persecution as the Nazis, Soviets and Chairman Mao.

I said in a previous blog post yesterday that Heaton-Harris is a menace to democracy, and should go. So is the Daily Mail. It has tried to start a terrible witch-hunt against genuine free speech and free discussion in our universities. It’s a nasty, dictatorial rag, whose circulation should fall rapidly because of its support for the intimidation and victimisation of those professors, who don’t share its nasty, xenophobic views. This was an unashamedly populist piece of journalism, and it once again shows how hypocritical the Tory press is when they use ‘populist’ as a term to denigrate and smear Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

America’s Private Prisons: Capitalism’s Forced Labour Camps?

October 21, 2017

In this clip from the Jimmy Dore Show, the American comedian and his co-hosts, Ron Placone and Steffi Zamorano, the Miserable Liberal, discuss the use of convict labour supplied by the American prison system by businesses and the state. Many of the fire fighters now tackling the fires raging in California were female cons. Dore points out that this is skilled, dangerous work. But nevertheless, these women were sent to do it, and some of them have been killed doing so. He goes on to discuss Kamala Harris, who repeatedly refused to release prisoners when their time was up and they were due to go back to civil society. Eventually, she was sued and said in court that the reason she wasn’t releasing them was because they were too useful as workers. Now Steve Prettor, the sheriff of Caddo County in Louisiana, has appeared to tell the American public why he doesn’t like releasing good, Black prisoners either: because they’re too useful as workers for the prison system.

Dore calls this system exactly what it is: slavery. And there is a whole slew of firms using unfree, unpaid convict labour. These include McDonald’s, Walmart and a contractor for Starbuck’s. Dore makes the point that this is what used to happen in Communist countries like North Korea, which we – the West – denounced. Now it’s being done by capitalism in America.

In one of the many interviews with the radical American journalist Chris Hedges on YouTube, Hedges talks about the massive poverty and unemployment created by capitalism and neoliberalism. He states that in American towns which have particularly suffered, the prison population has expanded immensely. This is because the state and capital have no use for these men in normal business. However, they are immensely valuable as a source of contracts for the private prison system.

And Dore is exactly right when he compares unfree convict labour in America with the forced labour systems of the Communist bloc. I’ve blogged about this before. Stalin industrialised the Soviet Union using the forced labour of millions of Soviet citizens. Businesses and enterprises needing particular types of worker would send shopping lists of how many they needed to the KGB, who would then round them up as traitors and enemies of the Soviet state, and then send them to the Gulags. Where they would be put to work building some new industrial plant.

The Nazis also had a similar system using Jewish slave workers in the concentration camps. Skilled Jewish craftsmen were put to work in a company owned and operated by the SS producing luxury products. They even produced a catalogue.

As neoliberalism privatises and takes over more of the functions of the state, so contemporary capitalism increasingly takes on the features of the totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

I don’t think we in Britain have any cause to be complacent about this, as I can see the same system easily taken over by the outsourcing companies like G4S and Serco in Britain’s privately run prisons.

This is not justice, not punishment nor rehabilitation. It is simply capitalism and slavery. And needs to be stopped.

Radio 4 Programme on British Invasion of Russia to Overthrow Russian Revolution

October 13, 2017

Also on Radio 4 next week, on Friday, 20th October 2017 at 11.00 am., is a programme on the British invasion of Russia. This followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917, and was intended to overthrow the new Communist regime. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times states

The story of a little-known war that took place a century ago along the frozen rivers of the Russian Arctic and transformed Russia’s relations with the West for decades to come. After the October Revolution, thousands of foreign troops under British command fought Russians on Russian soil for more than 18 months. Lucy Ash meets the 93-year-old son of General Edmund Ironside, who wrote at the time that he was in charge of “a tiny army of not very first class troops” stranded in the icy vastness of Russia “in the midst of a bitter civil war”. (Page 139).

Again, there’s a bit more information on the facing page, 138, written by Tom Goulding. This reads

The UK’s relationship with Russia has always seemed cold – coloured by by decades of menacing but empty rhetoric on both sides. so it’s often overlooked that just under 100 years ago a real and bloody conflict took place between Britain and the Bolsheviks in the frozen Arctic. Journalist Lucy Ash investigates this infamous incursion of British boots on Russian soil by speaking to the 93-year-old son of Edmund Ironside, the general who led Churchill’s crusade to put down the fledgling Bolshevik state. The intervention was a disaster, and the resulting mistrust between the two countries looms large to this day.

With 20/20 hindsight, it could be said that it’s a pity that the invasion didn’t succeed. The Bolsheviks were authoritarians from the start. They suppressed the other political parties and organisations, including left-wing and socialist groups such as the Mensheviks, Trudoviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Strict discipline was reintroduced, and the Bolsheviks reinstated the same proprietors and managers to manage the factories and other industrial concerns that they’d nationalised, against the desires of the anarchists, syndicalists and Left Communists, who wished to create a genuine worker’s state with worker’s control of industry. These were also suppressed, and their leaders and members arrested.

And if Bolshevik rule had been overturned, the Nazis may never have come to power as there would not have been a Communist threat that they could claim to be protecting Germany and the upper and middle classes from. And Stalin would not have come to power, to kill and imprison something like 30 million Soviet citizens – although some estimates put the death toll higher at 45 million – in the gulags and purges.

On the other hand, the Whites were also extremely brutal and oppressive. They, like the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, also held out the prospect of restoring democracy. However, the leader of one of the White counter-revolutionary bands was a maniac, who I think believed himself to be Jesus Christ or Buddha – or both. This butcher used to throw cold water over his prisoners’ naked bodies in the depths of the Russia winter so that they froze to death, and snap pieces of their bodies. Tony Greenstein in a recent blog post describes how the Zionist leaders approached another anti-Semitic White General, Petlyura, about sending Jews from Russia to Palestine. The Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov vividly describes the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence during the Civil War in the Ukraine in his classic, The White Guard, adapted from his play, The Days of the Turbins. He mentions the lynching of Jews by the peasants, and one of the characters killed by the mob in this way is a Jewish man, whose only crime was to have left his home to try to buy food and medicine for his family.

And if you read accounts of the Russian Revolution, it’s very clear why the peoples of the Russian Empire rose up, even if they mostly didn’t support Lenin and the Bolsheviks: they were pushed to the end of their tether through losing a war for which the ordinary squaddies were poorly treated and equipped, and by social conditions of horrendous poverty and near starvation in industry and the countryside. Russia was beset by strikes, and their were hundreds of peasant uprisings that occurred one after the other in the Russian countryside.

As for the British invasion, it seems to me it had two objectives. These were to keep the Russians in the War, fighting the Germans and Austrians, and to overthrow the Bolshevik state as a threat to capitalism. I dare say that it was accompanied with claims that it was about defending democracy, but as it wasn’t until the ’20s that all men got the vote regardless of property qualifications, and women finally gained the suffrage, such claims are probably rather specious.

Pat Mills, in one of the interviews I put up a few weeks ago, mentioned that he wrote a story for the First World War strip, Charlie’s War, in the comic Battle, which dealt with the British invasion of Russia. Mills is very left-wing, and says in the interview that the British officers ‘behaved like animals’. Which I don’t doubt they did, considering the stupid brutality they later unleashed in Ireland during their Revolution, though this was mostly done by the auxiliary units, the Black and Tans, rather than the regular army.