Posts Tagged ‘Imperialism’

Archaeologists Find More Skulls in Aztec Tower in Mexico City.

December 15, 2020

Yesterday’s I for the 14th December 2020 also carried the news that archaeologists had discovered even more skulls, which formed part of a tower built with the remains of the heads of victims sacrificed to the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. The article on page 33, titled ‘Tower of skulls found at Aztec dig’, runs

Dozen more skulls have been found by archaeologists digging at an Aztec temple beneath the centre of Mexico City.

The 119 skulls made up part of a tower of heads of sacrificed humans kept as a trophy by the pre-Columbian civilisation. A five-year dig beneath old buildings near the city’s Templo Mayor ruins has so far revealed 603 skulls.

The latest are thought to be part of a skull rack from a temple dedicated to teh Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice. Known as the Huey Tzompantli, it stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilophchtli, the patron of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs dominated large parts of central Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries.

Their empire was overthrown by invaders led by the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, who captured Tenochtitlan in 1521.

The piece included this photo showing the skulls encased in the tower’s walls.

The Aztecs were one of the world’s great civilisations, no question, and its destruction by the Conquistadors and the decimation of the Amerindian peoples by slavery and disease is one of the great crimes of western imperialism. But they were aggressive, warlike and cruel. They believed that the sun god, Tezcatlipochtl, depended on a constant supply of human blood to sustain him. Hence, while other peoples made treaties with their neighbours trying to make peace, the Aztecs did the opposite. They made a treaty with two of their neighbouring civilisations for perpetual war in order to supply the sacrificial victims their religion required. Their architecture reflected the bloodthirstiness of their religion. Some of their great buildings have carvings of the flayed skins of their enemies, which were hung on poles and worn by the priests. So horrific are some of their monuments, that when the British Museum held a special exhibition on them, ‘Empire of Blood’ a few years ago, the Independent’s arts journo, Philip Hensher, compared them to Auschwitz and said he wanted nothing to do with it. It sounds like an overreaction, but as I’ve hard it said that about 30,000 people a year were sacrificed in their temples, and that these deaths were celebrated in their architecture and sculpture, which Hensher also found unattractive, describing it as ‘blocky’, you can see his point. Some western archaeologists have also said that the destruction of their religion was no loss to humanity. I was reading a book on the archaeology of death around the world, and the author described the horrors of the Aztec sacrificial cult. He said very clearly that no matter how bad Christianity was, it was far better than the religion it replaced.

History Debunked on the Anachronistic Casting of Black Actors to Play Ann Boleyn and Queen Caroline

December 14, 2020

One of the complains raised by some members of the right against the demands for more Black presenters and actors on screen is that it represents a form of cultural colonisation. The past is deliberately being re-shaped to suit the multicultural present. The right-wing internet YouTuber, Alex Belfield, has argued that by the Beeb’s standards, Blacks are actually overrepresented on television. At the moment British Black and Asian population constitutes about 13 per cent of the overall population, but form 22 per cent of the presenters, performers and broadcast on the box. It’s why he choose in one of his videos to attack the Beeb for wasting even more license-payers’ money on someone to head a diversity department. He maintained that the problem wasn’t the underrepresentation of Blacks and Asians in front of the camera. It was that they weren’t represented in the ranks of BBC management, which remained very White and middle class.

There are a number of recent and forthcoming adaptations of classic literature, in which Blacks and Asians have been cast in traditionally White roles. And so Blacks have been cast to appear in the children’s classic, The Secret Garden, Philip Pullman’s Fantasy series, His Dark Materials, and Dev Patel, who played the Master in the last series of Dr. Who, appeared in a colour blind, multi-ethnic version of Dickens and is due to star in an adaptation of the medieval story, Gawain and the Green Knight. There’s also a version of the Lord of the Rings planned by the Corporation, in which a third of the cast will be Black or Asian with Lenny Henry.

But this desire to recast White characters with Blacks isn’t confined to fiction. Channel 5 has announced that it has cast a Black actress, Jodie Turner-Smith, to play Ann Boleyn in a three part series about Henry VIII’s second wife. And Netflix has also chosen a Black actress to play Queen Caroline in its regency romance, Bridgerton.

History Debunked’s Simon Webb has posted several videos about this. He was rather incensed by the decision to recast one of the characters in The Secret Garden as Black, and describes how there was some popular criticism of a similar recasting in His Dark Materials. However, he says that left-wingers and progressives answered that by arguing that the role was fiction, and that Pullman never specified what colour the character was.

That argument, however, cannot be used to defend the false representation of Boleyn and Caroline as Blacks. He views this as a deliberate attempt to colonise the past so that it resembles what he describes as the ‘bastardised’ multicultural present. It is also not being done in a vacuum. There are Blacks, who believe that Queen Caroline really was Black, as was James I of England/VI of Scotland, and Edward III’s son, Henry, the Black Prince. This recasting of real, historical figures has to be resisted because it is actively falsifying history to make it appear that Blacks had a far greater role in shaping history than they did.

Here’s the video about Ann Boleyn.

Jodie Turner-Smith to play Ann Boleyn – YouTube

The idea that Queen Caroline was Black comes from the fact that she was partly descended from a thirteenth century Spanish Moorish prince. The Moors in Islamic Spain – al-Andalus – were Arabs and Berbers, rather than Black Africans. Caroline herself was so far removed from her Moorish ancestor that any Black ancestry she had wouldn’t have been expressed physically. She was a German princess, and so would have been White in appearance.

A black queen in Netflix’ new series Bridgerton – YouTube

See also:

New, multicultural versions of two classics of English literature – YouTube

TV Diversity Is NOT A Problem 🇬🇧 22% 📺 BBC Give Us Back The £100,000,000! – YouTube

Multi-Racial Casting Already in Theatre

I think there are also a number of other factors driving this trend. Multiracial casting has been around in the theatre for a very long time. I think as far back as the 1990s Black and Asians actors were being cast in traditionally White roles in Shakespeare. I remember an article in the Independent or the I came out a few years ago commenting that such casting was accepted by audiences, even when people of different ethnicities played members of the same family. There was also something of a furore a few years ago when the Black opera singer, Willard White, was cast as Odin in Wagner’s Ring. What seems to be happening is simply that this same process is being extended to film and TV. The Dickens’ adaptation that came out recently not only starred Dev Patel as the central character, but also had members of the same family played by actors of different races. It was made by Armando Iannucci, one of the brains behind the comedy news programme, The Day Today and other shows in the 1990s.

Few Explicitly Black Parts and the Metropolitan Bubble

I also believe that it’s due to the fact that there are too few parts specifically for Black and Asian actors. That’s been the complaint voiced by one of the Black activists pushing for the greater inclusion of Black performers when he was interviewed in the I a little while back. Blacks and Asians are minorities, and generally are under represented in the upper ranks of society. Hence the demand for colour blind casting and that directors should be willing to cast Blacks and Asians. It also seems to me to be also partly a product of the metropolitan bubble in which the media and its chiefs live. Over a third of London’s population is Black and Asian, and I think there’s an automatic assumption that somehow this is true of the rest of Britain. Some Black activists and performers have been really shocked to find that there are large parts of Britain with hardly any people like themselves. Years ago the late Black actor and comedian, Felix Dexter, appeared on the panel in an edition of the News Quiz, which came from Edinburgh. He expressed his surprise that there were areas of Scotland with hardly a Black face to be seen. While undoubtedly true, his surprise struck me as also a tiny bit racist in itself. There was an element of complaint in it, as if it was somehow a defect that these places happened to be nearly all White. It reminded me a bit of the comments by Victorian explorers about going into parts of Black Africa and elsewhere previously untouched by the White man. I’m sure Dexter and those, who share his views would have been horrified by the comparison, but I believe it’s a true one.

Selling Programmes to a Non-White Foreign Audience

I also wonder if it’s also driven by a need to sell these programmes abroad. Blacks constitute something like 10-13 per cent of the American population, and together with Asians constitute 25 per cent of the American population. I’ve no doubt that the Beeb will also be seeking to sell the programmes to Black majority and Asian countries, such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and so on. Hence the decision to cast Black and Asian actors may well come from a desire to appeal to foreign, non-White audiences.

Dangers of the Falsification of History

I wouldn’t have a problem with this, were it not for two reasons. I’m afraid that it really will result in a falsification of history. If it was just a case of TV companies trying to reach new audiences in line with present, multicultural sensibilities, I’d be perfectly happy with it. Provided that the audience understood that what they were seeing was fiction. They they understood that Queen Caroline and Ann Boleyn weren’t really Black, and that Victorian and medieval Britain weren’t as multicultural as today’s London. But I really don’t think they do. And this is going to be a particular problem with some Blacks, who believe that their history has already been appropriated by Whites. This is very much the case with Afro-Centric History and ancient Egypt. All the Black people I’ve met have believed that the ancient Egyptians were Black. This isn’t unreasonable. They portrayed themselves as darker than the other peoples further north and east, like the Minoans and the Semitic peoples of Canaan and the Ancient Near East. Examination of human skeletons from ancient Egyptian tombs show that many were more Black African in appearance than previously assumed, and certainly the sculpture of Queen Ty shows her as being very Black. On the other hand the Egyptians portrayed the African peoples further south, such as those of Nubia, to be much darker than themselves. I also don’t think that the ancient historians, like Herodotus, described them as Black. Herodotus was well aware of Black African peoples and tribes, like the Ethiopians, but he doesn’t describe the Egyptians as one of them, at least, not that I can remember. It isn’t unreasonable by any means to believe the Egyptians were Black, but there’s also room for debate. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some really bonkers conspiracy theories about the supposed White appropriation of the ancient Egyptians. One Black American I knew at college claimed that the reason so many statues from ancient Egypt had chipped or missing noses and lips was because the European archaeologists deliberately removed them in order to hide their African identity. It’s a paranoid, ludicrous idea, though you can’t really blame people for believing it. Black people have historically been abused and exploited, so it’s to be expected that this sense of exploitation, and that they are being deliberately denied a glorious history, should extend to one of the most famous and brilliant of ancient civilisations.

But I’m very much afraid that once the decision is taken to cast Blacks as real, historical figures, some people will genuinely believe that these figures really were Black, and that those evil Whites have falsified history once more to hide their true racial origins.

There is also the problem that recasting the past so that it appears more multicultural than it really was may also lead to modern audiences not realising just how hard a struggle Blacks and Asians had to gain their freedom. Nearly a year ago now Mr H of the YouTube channel Mr H Reviews raised this objection to the Beeb’s new adaptation of that horror classic, Dracula. The convent to which Harker flees for help and medical treatment in Budapest is shown as multiracial, with many of the nuns Black and Asian. He felt that this was anachronistic, though I’m told by a friend of mine with a greater knowledge of church history that the Roman Catholic convents in the city were staffed with people from the missions to Asia and elsewhere, so it’s possible there would have been Black and Asian nuns there.

In the case of regency Britain and the upper ranks of society, intermarriage between Whites and Blacks wasn’t unknown, but it was rare. A few years ago back in the ’90s Radio 4 did a programme about the Black son of a White planter or British aristocrat, who had a glittering political career as an MP and ended up, I believe, as the sheriff of Monmouthshire. One the other hand, when Major Moody came to write his report in the 1820s on whether Blacks were ready for their emancipation, he argued that they would never be accepted and treated fairly by White society. Part of his argument was that there were so few marriages between Whites and Blacks among the upper classes. Moody’s wife was Black, and so his report and its conclusion that the enslaved population of the British empire weren’t yet ready for their freedom was a real shock. But if Queen Caroline is presented as a Black woman, it obviously contradicts Moody’s own observation. And his observation and the argument it supports shows just how strong racial prejudice was among some sections of the populace in 19th century Britain.

Double Standards on ‘Cultural Appropriation’

My other problem with this is that of the accusation of ‘cultural appropriation’. This only seems to go one way. Black involvement and participation in White culture is actively encouraged and its absence condemned and deplored as a form of racism. But this doesn’t go the other way. When Whites adopt non-White culture, it’s condemned as a form of cultural theft. In the case of those cultures that have been colonised and nearly destroyed by White expansion and imperialism, like the Amerindians and Aboriginal Australians, this is fair enough. But there should surely be no objection to the casting of White actors as Black characters in works by Black and Asian writers and playwrights. Not if it’s done as part of a multi-ethnic cast and avoids the obviously offensive, like blacking up. But I’ve yet to see a White actor cast in a Black part in an adaptation of one of Wole Soyinka’s works, or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I therefore feel that Webb has a point when he attacks it as a form of cultural colonisation. Because until Whites are allowed to play Black roles, that’s what it is.

I’m prepared to accept that the portrayal of myths and literary characters on screen is changing as society changes, and that mostly this harmless. Dickens, Shakespeare and medieval classics like Chaucer and Gawain are great tales, and should appeal to everyone, regardless of their colour. But I have grave reservations about the decision to do the same to historical figures.

It might be well intentioned, but too many people may believe it’s fact, and so a mythical, false history created.

Anti-Semitism, Colonialism and Zionism

December 5, 2020

I’m not surprised that the Blairites and ultra-Zionist fanatics wanted to purge Tony Greenstein from the Labour party, as they have done with so many other entirely decent people. Greenstein is, like Moshe Machover, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Jackie Walker, an anti-Zionist Jew. Which means he’s a danger to the British political and media establishment, which wishes to define British Jewry exclusively in terms of support for Israel. Or rather more narrowly, support for the current viciously racist Israeli administration. Left-wing Zionists, who also believe that the Palestinians should be treated decently and with dignity, have also suffered anti-Semitic vilification and abuse if they dare to protest against Netanyahu’s government. Jews like Greenstein, Machover, Walker and Wimborne-Idrissi are a threat to this, because they show that support for Israel is not a necessary or integral part of Jewish identity. Indeed, as David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group has pointed out, Zionism was until recent decades very much a minority position among European Jews.

But Tony Greenstein has also argued very powerfully on his blog that Zionism has also been a real threat to Jews. In his view, it is an internalisation of gentile anti-Semitism, with which it has collaborated, including in the mass murder of Jews, such as in the Holocaust, by real anti-Semites. And he has supported this with a wealth of quotes from Zionism’s founders and leaders, like Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion. Here are a few more I found about Zionism’s relationship to anti-Semitism and colonialism in an article Greenstein put up on the 3rd November 2020, about a Zoom conversation he and Machover were due to have the next day about Zionism, and whether it was inevitable ‘it would create an apartheid monstrosity in Palestine’.

One is from Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi party’s ideologue and author of The Myth of the 20th Century. In 1919 he wrote

‘Zionism must be vigorously supported in order to encourage a significant number of German Jews to leave for Palestine or other destinations [Francis Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, p.25].

He also quotes Sir Samuel Montagu, MP for Whitechapel from 1885-1900, and the only member of Balfour’s cabinet to oppose the infamous Declaration in support of a Jewish state in Palestine. Montagu said of Zionism

 ‘Is it not… a suspicious fact that those who have no love for the Jews, and those who are pronounced anti-Semites, all seem to  welcome the Zionist proposals and aspiration.?’[Sir Samuel Montagu, The Dangers of Zionism]

The Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, in his book 10 Myths about Israel, also points out that, far from being a pro-Jewish stance, Zionism in the 19th and early 20th centuries was associated with anti-Semitism. So much so that one German nobleman, whom Herzl approached for support in the 1920s, told him that he had previously not come forward to add his support because he didn’t want people to think that he was a Jew-hater.

Contemporary supporters of Israel deny that it’s a colonial state. For them it is simply the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. But Herzl explicitly described his project of creating a Jewish state as colonial in a letter to that arch-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes:

“You are being invited to help make history…it doesn’t involve Africa, but a piece of Asia Minor; not Englishmen but Jews… How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you? How indeed? Because it is something colonial… I want you … to put the stamp of your authority on the Zionist plan and to make the following declaration to a few people who swear by you: I, Rhodes have examined this plan and found it correct and practicable. It is a plan full of culture, excellent for the group of people for whom it is directly designed, and quite good for England, for Greater Britain….”

As for the danger Zionism has presented to Jews. Rudolf Vrba, one of only four people to have escaped from Auschwitz, believed that Zionism had actively assisted the Nazis’ horrific campaign of extermination:

“The Zionist movement of Europe played a very important role in the mass extermination of Jews. Indeed, I believe that without the cooperation of Zionists it would have been a much more difficult task….”

See: Tony Greenstein’s Blog: ZIONISM – What it is and Why it is Important? Zoom Meeting with Moshe Machover and Tony Greenstein (azvsas.blogspot.com)

In another post published on the 10th October 2020 attacking the SOAS’s head of Jewish studies, Professor Heszer for her piece in the Jewish Chronicle denying Israel’s colonialist origins, there are a few more revealing quotations. One of these is from a letter from William Stanley Shaw, the head of the British Brothers’ League, an anti-Semitic organisation set up to oppose eastern European Jewish immigration, to the Jewish Chronicle in 1901

“I am a firm believer in the Zionist movement, which the British Brothers League will do much incidentally to foster. The return of the Jews to Palestine is one of the most striking signs of the times…. All students of prophecy are watching the manifold signs of the times with almost breathless interest.”

As for Balfour, he was a racist, who refused to give the vote to Black South Africans because they weren’t the equal of Whites, and who told Chaim Weizmann that he also shared the ‘anti-Semitic postulates’ of Wagner’s widow, Cosima. What is astonishing is that Weizmann assured him that the Zionists also shared these views saying that he had

pointed out that we, too… had drawn attention to the fact that Germans of the Mosaic persuasion were an undesirable and demoralizing phenomenon…’ [Leonard Stein, The Balfour Declaration p.154].

If SOAS Cares For Its Reputation It Should Send Racist Professor Heszer, Head of the Jewish Studies Centre, on an Unpaid Vacation to learn what Zionism means for the Palestinians – Tony Greenstein

I think the emphasis in these quotes is Greenstein’s, rather than in the original text.

These quotes clearly show that the criticisms of Israel and the Zionist movement by people like Tony Greenstein and the others are historically justified, as is their opposition against Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians. These views do not make anyone an anti-Semite. My own preferred view is that anti-Semitism is simply hatred of Jews as Jews, and that no state or ideology should be beyond debate and criticism. This includes Israel and Zionism. The Jews have a history of debate, and there have always been a wide range of views about the nature of Judaism. I’ve come across the adage, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. British Jewry is also diverse with a range of differing views on Israel. But this debate is being shut down and a form of sectarianism promoted instead, which tries to present the British Jewish community as consisting almost solely of the United Synagogue and its institutions, the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbinate. As Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi has pointed out in her video with Double Down News, ‘The Wrong Kind of Jew’, this is very much what anti-Semites and racists have done to their victims: present them as a monolithic community.

It is disgusting and reprehensible that all of British Jewry is not represented in this debate by the political and media establishment, and that people, who hold entirely reasonable opinions critical of Israel are being vilified, harassed and purged as the very things they are not, racists and anti-Semites. The Labour party should be a place where issues like Zionism and the maltreatment of the Palestinians can be reasonably discussed and differing viewpoints held.

To stop this and demand absolute support for Israel is an attack on democracy, free speech, and proper historical debate. It is unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable that decent anti-racists, both Jewish and gentile, should be purged for holding these views.

Why America Really Fears a Nuclear Iran: They Might Be Sane and Responsible

November 30, 2020

That’s the impression given by some very revealing quotations William Blum includes in his chapter on Iran in his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. One is from the Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld, who states very clearly that the world can live with a nuclear Iran, but it would be awkward for Israel to admit that. The reason? They use the threat of a nuclear Iran to get weapons from the rest of the world.

Van Creveld said this in an interview he gave to Playboy:

The U.S. has lived with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear China, so why not a nuclear Iran? I’ve researched how the U.S. opposed nuclear proliferation in the past, and each time a country was about to proliferate, the U.S. expressed its opposition in terms of why this other country was very dangerous and didn’t deserve to have nuclear weapons. Americas believe they’re the only people who deserve to have nuclear weapons, because they are good and democratic and they like Mother and apple pie and the flag. But Americans are the only ones who have used them…. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us. We cannot say so too openly, however, because we have a history of using any threat in order to get weapons …. thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany. (pp. 97-8).

And Danielle Pletka, the vice-president for foreign and defence policy of the neo-Conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, said

The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and using it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, ‘See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately’…. And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem. (p. 99).

This suggests, I think, that Pletka and the other Neo-Cons are afraid that even if Iran doesn’t use nuclear weapons immediately, it may do so in the future. But that’s the danger with all the countries with nuclear arms, including and especially Israel. According to the Samson Option, if Israel is attacked and the majority of the country destroyed, they would launch their missiles not just at their attacker, but also at the rest of the world – Europe, Russia and Islam’s holy places. This would be partly in reprisal for the other nations not intervening on their behalf. Israel seems to be quite prepared to destroy the rest of the world purely for its own security.

If the Iranians have been developing nuclear weapons, I honestly can’t say I blame them. The country has been the victim of first British and then American imperialism, and it seems to me very clear that Washington wants regime change and that this is constant, regardless of whoever’s in the White House.

And American foreign policy actually encourages countries to have nuclear weapons by showing how vulnerable they are without them. Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass distraction. He made repeated attempts to show the Americans and their allies he didn’t have them, and the international atomic weapons inspectors knew he didn’t. And so the Americans and their allies invaded, causing massive carnage and plundering Iraq of its oil and state industries. The lesson this gives the rest of the world is the precise opposite America wants to teach: you will only be safe from western invasion if you have nuclear arms.

But this will stop the West invading and butchering for the profits of their multinationals and the Israelis getting arms from their panicked and fearful allies. So they have to go on scaring the world with the bogeyman of a nuclear Iran.

Why the World Hates America and the West: We Bomb, Kill and Wreck their Countries

November 24, 2020

One of the issues William Blum repeatedly tackled in his books about the crimes of American imperialism was the complete failure of the American political establishment and the general public to understand why their country is so hated by the rest of the world. He produces quote after quote from American politicians, civil servants and senior military officers declaring that America has America’s actions have always been for the good of those nations they’ve attacked, whose politicians they’ve overthrown or assassinated and whose economies they’ve destroyed and plundered. In their opinion, it has always been done by a disinterested America for the benefit of other nations. America has been defending freedom from tyranny and trying to rebuild their economies through free trade capitalism. And American forces have never been responsible for the deliberate targeting of civilians and have been concerned to rebuild the countries afterwards.

Again and again Blum shows that this is all lies. America has overthrown and interfered with democratically elected regimes as well as dictatorships. It has installed vicious fascist dictators, mass murderers and torturers in their place. It has stolen countries’ industries so that they could be acquired by American multinationals. It has hypocritically deliberately targeted civilians, even while denouncing its enemies for doing so. And while it has signed contracts obliging it to pay compensation to the nations it has attacked, like Vietnam and Serbia, these treaties have never been honoured.

But the American state and public have absolutely no idea why America is so hated and resented, particularly in the Muslim world. They’ve set up think tanks to try to work out why this is, and hired public relations companies to find ways of persuading the rest of the world why America is a force for good. In their view, this hatred is due not to America’s vicious imperialism per se, but simply to their mistaken views of it. In 2005 the Smirking Chimp, George W. Bush, sent his Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy on a tour of the Middle East to correct these mistaken impressions. She did not have an easy time of it, particularly in Turkey, where they told her where the people of that country made their views very clear. She told the crowd that sometimes to preserve the peace, America believed war was necessary, and repeated the lie that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, women were being better treated in Iraq. She got angry replies from the women present, to which she responded that this was just a PR problem, just like America had in other places around the world. The Arab News, the leading English-language newspaper of the Arab world, described her performance as ‘Painfully clueless’.

See: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, p. 29.

But some sections of the American political and military establishment have a far better idea of the cause of this hatred. In 1997 a study by the Department of Defense concluded that ‘Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States’.

And former President Jimmy Carter also realised that American military action in Lebanon and the consequent killing of Lebanese civilians had cause the people to hate America. He told the New York Times in an interview in 1989 that

We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the immense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers – women and children and farmers and housewives – in those villages around Beirut…. As a result of that… we became kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of our hostages and that is what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks.

See Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, pp. 34-5.

General Colin Powell in his memoir discusses the American military actions in Lebanon in 1983. Instead of blaming the terrorist attacks subsequently launched against America on Muslim hatred of western democracy and liberty, he recognised that they were only acting as America would if it were attacked.

‘The U.S.S. New Jersey started hurling 16-nch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would.’ (p. 35).

A 2004 poll by Zogby International of public opinion in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates came to the following conclusion, as reported in the New York Times:

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: ‘What is the first thought when you hard “America?” respondents overwhelmingly said: ‘Unfair foreign policy’. And when asked what the United states could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were ‘stop supporting Israel’ and ‘Change your Middle East policy’…. Most Arabs polled said they believe that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein’s rule. The majority also said that they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world. (pp. 37-8).

Which is more or less true, as Greg Palast has also shown in his book, Armed Madhouse.

The Defense Sciences Board, which advises the Pentagon, partly confirmed these findings in a report published in November 2004:

“Today we reflexively compare Muslim ‘masses’ to those oppressed under Soviet Rule. This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies-except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends…. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies…when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy…. [Muslims believe] American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.” (p. 38).

Unfortunately, our government and public opinion shares the same attitude as the American imperialists. This was shown by the full backing of the Iraq invasion and, indeed, the whole neo-Conservative foreign policy by the unindicted war criminal, Tony Blair and the propaganda of the lamestream British media. If you believe Daily Mail hack, Melanie ‘Mad Mel’ Philips, the cause of these attacks is simply Islam. It isn’t. It’s western foreign policy in the Middle East.

If we really want to do something to stop the terrorist attacks on our countries, we could start by stopping bombing, invading and looting other countries around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, even with the accession of Biden to the presidency, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The Political Background to the Balfour Declaration and the Harm Done by Western Interference in Palestine

November 23, 2020

2017 was the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. This was the statement of the British government during the First World War committing Britain to supporting a Jewish state in Palestine. There’s a very interesting article on it in Bowker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, which makes it very clear that our support for Zionism was hardly disinterested. It states very clearly that, enacted as it was by politicos who were ignorant of religion, it has resulted in immense harm and conflict. The article says that it was the

British declaration of sympathy with Zionism. It was made in a letter of 2 November 1917, from the British Foreign Secretary (i.e., Balfour) to Lord Rothschild: ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ….’It was qualified by a clause ‘that nothing should be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. But at the time, the British supported the idea of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine under British protection in order to detach Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, and as a means of encouraging Russian Jews to pressurize the new Bolshevik government to stay in the First World War. According to Field-Marshal Smuts (in 1947), it had been passed ‘to rally Jewry on a worldwide scale to the Allied Cause’. The declaration was endorsed in 1920 by the allies at the San Remo Conference. It was, however, in apparent conflict with the McMahon correspondence, which made commitments to the Arabs. Sharif Hussein and ibn Sa’ud were ‘courted in order to secure their help against the Ottoman Turks. Thus are the seeds of conflict sown by politicians who (as almost always in post-Enlightenment countries) neither understand nor care about religions. (p. 121).

We had absolutely no business making that commitment. The British Jewish establishment, including the only Jewish member of the cabinet at the time, didn’t want it. They wanted British Jews to be accepted as patriotic fellow Brits, and felt that the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to them being accused of disloyalty. The British government may have envisaged the founding of a small canton, rather than the populous country that emerged. It has also been claimed that the British government was anti-Semitic in issuing the declaration, because they followed the anti-Semitic view that Jews had considerable power in Soviet Russia. It has been remarked that it’s one of the few times anti-Semitism has worked to the Jews’ advantage.

Tony Greenstein has written a long piece about how we courted the Saudis and other Arab leaders to get their support for Israel against the interests of the Palestinians. It’s a convoluted, violent, and sordid tale. It’s also been argued that Israel was founded and supported with the aid of Britain and America as a kind of western colony and centre for European and American imperial influence in the Middle East.

The West has frequently interfered in the affairs of the Middle East not for the benefit of its people, but for the West’s own geopolitical and commercial interests. These have been very much against those of the region’s indigenous peoples. The Iraq invasion, for example, wasn’t about liberating the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant, but about grabbing its oil and state industries. Ditto the invasion of Afghanistan. We never went in to punish al-Qaeda for the horrendous attacks of 9/11 nor the Taliban’s oppression of the Afghan people. It was just another attempt to secure American oil interests in the region against those of Russia and Iran. And the article on ‘Anti-Semitism’ in the same Dictionary states that, in contrast to the hopes of the Zionists, ‘as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Muslim anti-Semitism is today even more virulent than its Christian counterpart’. (p.77).

It could therefore be said that Zionism, or at least the persecution of its indigenous Arab population by the Israeli state, far from combating anti-Semitism has simply spread it still further.

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

November 16, 2020

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

What Were British Squaddies Doing in Iraq Out of Uniform with Guns and Explosives?

November 8, 2020

William Blum has an entire chapter on Iraq in his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth about US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (London: Zed Books 2014). Like the rest of the book, it’s a searing indictment of US foreign policy, American imperialism and capitalism. It explodes just about every vile lie the American and British public have been told about the Iraq invasion by our leaders. He shows that it was all about getting hold of the country’s oil and its other industries, and that the invasion comprehensively wrecked the country, which was actually one of the most progressive and prosperous in the Middle East. And far from being welcomed and supported as liberators, we’re resented as invaders and occupiers. To the point where even people who were jailed by Saddam Hussein as enemies of his regime believe that things were better under the old tyrant.

This chapter also includes a very strange incident, in which the British army broke into an Iraqi jail to free two squaddies. They’d been caught by the Iraqi police in civilian clothing driving around firing guns and with explosives. Blum writes

The British also insist that Iraq is a sovereign nation. Recently hundreds of residents filled the streets in the southern city of Basra, shouting and pumping their fists in the air to condemn British forces for raiding a jail and freeing two British soldiers. Iraqi police had arrested the Britons, who were dressed as civilians, for allegedly firing their guns (at whom or what is not clear), and either trying to plant explosives or having explosives in their vehicle. British troops then assembled several armored vehicles, rammed them through the jailhouse wall, and freed the men, as helicopter gunships hovered above.

An intriguing side question: we have here British soldiers dressed as civilians (at least one report said dressed as Arabs), driving around in a car with explosives, firing guns… Does this not feed into the frequent speculation that coalition forces have been to some extent part of the ‘insurgency’? The same insurgency that’s used as an excuse by the coalition to remain in Iraq? (p.78).

Of course, it could all have a simple explanation, but it really does look like covert ops. Which makes you wonder what else British forces were doing in Iraq, and how much is being hidden from the public.

Quite apart from the fact that Blair and Bush destroyed a nation and the lives and limbs of courageous servicemen and women for a vicious lie. Our squaddies fought, died, or came home maimed or battle-shocked not because Saddam Hussein was a threat to our countries, but simply so that our multinationals could get rich by pillaging Iraq.

Blair lied, people died, and this should be remembered before anyone thinks this butcher is any kind of statesman.

Cummings Creates Civil Service to Take Over from Private Consultants, Who Took Over from Civil Service

November 8, 2020

Yesterday Mike put up a piece about Dominic Cummings’ reinvention of the wheel. Presumably he did so after he received an important report from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious. Boris Johnson’s pet polecat, or the distinguished advisor from Epsilon 6, as Spitting Image portrays him, has finally woken up to the fact that the legions of private consultants they brought in to do the work of the civil service, is too expensive and simply isn’t as good as civil servants. So he has created a new official department, called the Crown Consultancy. As an example of the exorbitant cost involved, Mike quotes the figures for the amount the Tories spent between 2016 and this year on just eight private consultancies – which include the usual rip-off merchants like KPMG, Deloitte and McKinsey. It’s £2.6 billion. The work obviously should have been left to the civil service, who, like other state departments, should have been properly funded with an appropriate level of staffing. Instead of being cut to pieces because the Tories don’t trust experts.

The fact that civil servants are far more efficient than private sector consultants should hardly be a revelation, no matter how new it may seem to Tories and other fans of outsourcing. It’s been known for over a decade and a half. William Blum, a long-time opponent of American imperialism and capitalism, has this little snippet in his 2014 book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (London: Zed Books).

A study of 17,595 federal government jobs by the Office of Management and Budget in 2004 concluded that civil servants could do their work better and more cheaply than private contractors nearly 90 per cent of the time in job competitions. (p. 257).

Privatisation and outsourcing doesn’t work, and the evidence has been staring everyone in the face for decades. But the decrepit, rotting facade of Thatcherism is propped up because it enriches big business, who in turn line the pockets of the Tories and Blairite Labour with corporate donations, as well as giving them seats on their boards.

While giving poor service, poverty and starvation to everyone else.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/11/07/reinventing-the-wheel-after-replacing-civil-servants-with-expensive-private-consultants-cummings-wants-to-replace-them-with-a-civil-service/

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

October 20, 2020

David D. Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition & Italian Fascism (University of North Carolina Press, 1979).

Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary socialism that seeks to overthrow the liberal state and replace it with a society based on the trade unions in which they run industry. It was particularly strong in France, and played a major role in Catalonia and the struggle against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It has also been a strand in the British labour movement, and produced a peculiar British form, Guild Socialism, whose leaders included the great socialist writer and former Fabian, G.D.H. Cole.

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

Fascism was a strange, heterogenous mixture of different, and often conflicting groups. These included former syndicalists, radicalised veterans from the First World War, ultra-conservative Nationalists and the Futurists, an aggressive modern artistic movement that celebrated war, speed, violence, masculinity, airplanes, cars and the new machine age. Some of these groups shared roughly the same ideas. The war veterans were deeply impressed with the corporative constitution drafted by Alceste de Ambris for D’Annunzio’s brief regime in Fiume, the Carta de Carnaro. Superficially, the Fascist syndicalists shared the same goal of creating a corporate state to govern industrial relations and run industry. However, they approached this from very different directions. The Nationalists, led by Alfredo Rocco, were ultra-Conservative businessmen, who attacked liberal democracy because of the corruption involved in Italian politics. At the same time they feared the power of the organised working class. As Italy modernised, it underwent a wave of strikes. In response, Rocco recommended that the state should take over the trade unions, using them as its organ to discipline the workers, keep the masses in their place while training them to perform their functions efficiently in the new, industrial Italy. The syndicalists, on the other hand, wanted the trade unions to play a role in industrial management and at the same time draw the working class into a fuller participation in politics. The working class had been excluded from the liberal state, but through their economic organisations, the unions, they could play a much fuller role as these governed their everyday lives. They saw the corporations and the corporate state as a means of increasing democracy and popular participation, not limiting it.

Fascist Corporativism

The corporations themselves are industrial organisations rather like the medieval guilds or trade unions. However, they included both the trade unions and employers organisations. There were already nine of them, but by the end of the regime in 1943 there were 27. Under Rocco’s Labour Charter, the Carta del Lavoro, strikes and lockouts were forbidden in the name of industrial peace and class collaboration. The corporation were required to settle labour disputes. However, if management and the unions were unable to reach agreement, then the dispute was to be referred to labour magistracy for settlement in special labour courts. Mussolini also reformed the Italian parliament, transforming the Chamber of Deputies into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. In practice the corporate state never amounted to very much. It never won over real working class support, and the corporations were never given real legislative power. It merely added another layer of bureaucracy and acted as nothing more than a rubber stamp to pass the policies Mussolini had already made. And he seems to have used it as ideological window dressing to give the impression that here was more to Fascism than his personal dictatorship.

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

The book argues that the corporate state was a genuine attempt to solve the deep problems of Italian unification left over from the Risorgimento. At the same time, it was also a radical response to the crisis, breakdown and revision of Marxist socialism and the failure of Marxist syndicalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The process of unification has produced an attitude of deep alienation from the state and politics amongst Italians, and Fascism was partly a response to this. This alienation isn’t confined to Italians, but it is particularly acute. Social studies in the 1970s showed that Italians are less likely than Americans, Brits or Germans to become politically involved. They regard the state as distant with little interest in them. At the same time, there is also an expectation that the bureaucrats in Rome will help them.

Like Germany, Italy was unified by military force and the invasion of the other, constituent states. However, for reasons of speed and a determination to preserve the new nation’s fragile unity, the other Italian states were simply annexed by Piedmont to be governed from there. There was supposed to be a constituent assembly in which the other states were to have their say in the creation of the new Italy, but this simply didn’t happen. At the same time, the industrialisation promoted by Italian liberals was concentrated in the north, so that the south remained backward and agricultural. The franchise was extremely restricted. It excluded illiterates, so that originally only 2 per cent of the population could vote. This was later extended to 7 per cent. At the same time, Italy’s leaders prevented the formation of proper political parties by taking over individuals from different parliamentary factions in order to form workable governing majorities. At the same time there was discontent and widespread criticism of the protectionism imposed to help the development of Italian heavy industry. Middle class critics believed that this unfairly benefited it at the expense of more dynamic and productive sectors of the economy. This led to the belief that Italy was being held back by class of political parasites.

This backwardness also led to an acute sense of pessimism amongst the elite over the character of the Italian people themselves. The Americans, British and Germans were disciplined with proper business values. Italians, on the other hand, were lazy, too individualistic and defied authority through lawlessness. This meant that liberalism was inadequate to deal with the problems of Italian society. ‘This English suit doesn’t fit us’, as one Fascist said. But this would change with the adoption of Fascism. One of Mussolini’s minions once declared that, thanks to Fascism, hard work and punctuality were no longer American, German and British values.

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

By the 1890s there was a crisis throughout Europe in Marxist socialism. Marx believed that the contradictions in capitalism and the continuing impoverishment of working people would lead to eventual revolution. But at this stage it was evident that capitalism was not collapsing. It was expanding, wages were rising and the working class becoming better off. This led to the reformist controversy, in which socialist ideologues such as Bernstein in Germany recommended instead that socialist parties should commit themselves to reforming capitalism gradually in order to create a socialist society. The syndicalists were originally Marxists, who looked forward to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However, they became increasingly disenchanted with Marxism and critical of the leading role of the working class. They originally believed, as with the French syndicalist Georges Sorel, that the class-conscious workers would be a new source of values. But they weren’t. They also believed that this would only be achieved through a long process of education through general strikes. They were horrified by the biennio rosso, the two years of strikes and industrial unrest that came after the end of the war, when it seemed that the Italian labour movement was going to follow the Russian Bolsheviks and create a revolution for which Italy and it working class were not ready.

At the same time, they came to reject Marxism’s doctrine that the political was determined by the economic sphere. They believed that Italy’s political problems could not be reduced to capitalism. Hence they believed that capitalism and private industry should be protected, but made subordinate to the state. Work was a social duty, and any industrial who did not run his company properly could, in theory, be removed and replaced. They also sought to give the workers a greater role in industrial management. This led them to go beyond the working class. They found a new revolutionary group in the Italian war veterans, who were radicalised by their experiences. These would have joined the socialists, but the latter had been strongly neutralist and as a result rejected and ridiculed the former soldiers for their patriotism. These found their ideological and political home with the syndicalists. At the same time, the syndicalists rejection of Marxist socialism led to their rediscovery of other, non-Marxist socialist writers like Mazzini, who also rejected liberalism in favour of a tightly knit Italian nation. Their bitter hatred of the corruption in Italian politics and its parasites led them to join forces with anarchists and other sectors of the Italian radical tradition. They believed that for Italy truly to unite and modernise, the workers should join forces with properly modernising industrialists in an alliance of producers.

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

Looking at the development of Italian Fascism, it can seem that there was a certain inevitability to the emergence of Mussolini’s dictatorship and the totalitarian Fascist state. But this argues that there was nothing inevitable about it, and that it was forced on Mussolini in order to stop his movement falling apart. When Mussolini entered parliament and took over as prime minister, he seemed to be transforming what was originally a movement into the very type of party that the Fascist rank and file were in revolt against. Fascism was reconstituted as a party, and when the future Duce met the kind, he wore the top hat and frock coat of an establishment politician. Worse, Mussolini had started out as a radical socialist, and still seemed determined to work with them and other working class and left-wing parties. He signed a pacification pact with the Socialists and Populists, the Roman Catholic party, stopping the Fascist attacks on them, the trade unions and workers’ and peasants’ cooperatives. This horrified the syndicalists, who saw it as a threat to their own programme of winning over the workers and creating the new, corporatist order. As a result they pressurised Mussolini into rescinding that pacts, Mussolini and Fascism moved right-ward to ally with the capitalists and industry in the destruction of working class organisations.

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

But it seems that the syndicalists were serious about defending the working class and giving it a proper role through the corporations in the management of industry and through that, political participation in the Italian state. Left Fascists like Olivetti and Ugo Spirito believed that the Italian state should operate a mixed economy, with the state running certain companies where appropriate, and the trade unions owning and managing cooperatives. Some went further, and recommended that the corporations should take over the ownership of firms, which would be operated jointly by management and the workers. This never got anywhere, and was denounced by other left syndicalists, like Sergio Pannunzio, one of their leaders.

From Internationalism to Imperialism

The book also raises grim astonishment in the way it reveals how the Syndicalists, who were initially quite internationalist in outlook, came to support Fascist imperialism. They shared the general Fascist view that Italy was being prevented from developing its industry through British and French imperialism. The two powers blocked Italy from access to trading with their colonies. They were therefore also critical of the League of Nations when it was set up, which they saw as an attempt by the great powers to maintain the international status quo. The Nationalists, who were formally merged with the Fascists, went further and demanded that Italy too should have an empire to benefit its industry, but also to provide land for colonisation by the surplus Italian population. Without it, they would continue to be forced to emigrate to countries like America and Britain, where they would become the lowest and most despised part of their working class. The syndicalists were also acutely aware of how low Italians were regarded and exploited in these countries, even by other members of the working class.

The syndicalists during the war and early post-war years criticised the Nationalists for their militarism and imperialism. Instead of looking forward to perpetual war, as the Nationalists did, they wanted to see instead the emergence of a new, federal European order in which nations would cooperate. This new federal state would eventually cover the world. They also looked forward to a new, equitable arrangement over access to the colonies. Pannunzio did support colonialism, which he believed was bringing civilisation to backward areas. But he also believed that colonies that were unable to become nations in their own right should be taken over by the League of Nations. Pannunzio declared ‘Egotism among nations is a material and moral absurdity; nations … cannot lived closed and isolated by must interact and cooperate’. This changed as time went on and Mussolini established the corporate state. This was always fragile and tentative, and accompanied by concessions to other sectors of Fascism on the right. In order to defend their fragile gains, the syndicalists gave their full backing to the Second World War and its imperialism, which they saw as a crusade to bring the corporate state, the great Italian achievement, but a backward world.

Workers Should Have a Role In Government, But Not Through Totalitarianism

I have to say I like certain aspects of the corporate state. I like the idea of trade unionists actively involved in the management of industry and in a special department of parliament, although as Sidney and Beatrice Webb point out in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, there are severe drawbacks with it. But any such corporatist chamber would have to be an expansion of liberal democracy, not a replacement for it. And I utterly reject and despise Fascism for its vicious intolerance, especially towards socialism and the working class, its rejection of democracy, and especially the militarism, imperialism and racism. Like Nazism it needs to be fought everywhere, in whatever guise it arises.

And the book makes very clear that the corporate state was an exaggerated response to genuine Italian problems, problems that could be solved within liberal, democratic politics.

Perhaps one day we shall see the return of trade unionists to parliaments reformed to allow them to play their proper role in government and industry. I make this recommendation in my booklet, For A Worker’s Chamber. But it should never be through any kind of autocratic, totalitarian regime.