Posts Tagged ‘India’

Thomas Spence on the Aristocracy and the National Debt

February 27, 2014

Spence Book Cover

Thomas Spence (1750-1807) was an 18th century radical. Born in Newcastle, he was influenced not just by the Enlightenment, but also by the radical Presbyterian minister James Murray. He believed that the parishes should become self-governing communes. The power of the landlords would be overthrown, and instead of being governed by the local squire, they would be ruled instead through a council directly elected by all members of the parish, including women and children. These communes would each take all the surrounding land into their collective ownership, to rent out to particular businesses. The rents raised would then by spent on a programme of public works, including road and canal building, schools, and medical care and hospitals for the sick and infirm, as well as supporting the unemployed. The money left over from this expenditure would be paid each quarter day to every parishioner, including women and children. The Communes would also elect a central parliament to deal with national affairs, although the Communes would still hold a great deal of autonomy, including the possession of militias for their own defence.

After his death his followers formed the Society of Spencean Philanthropists, which increasingly turned to violent revolution to transform society. They were involved in the Spa Fields riot of the 2nd December 1816 and the Cato Street Conspiracy to blow up parliament. Both Houses of Parliament had denounced them as revolutionary conspirators in 1817, and government action after the Cato Street conspiracy effectively destroyed the Society. Nevertheless, supporters of Spence’s Land Plan continued to influence working class politics. They were active in the National Union of the Working Classes and the Chartist East London Democratic Association in the 1830s.Bronterre O’Brien, one of the leading Chartist writers, was particularly influenced by Spence.

One of his writings is a question and answer session on the national debt, which he uses to attack bitterly the aristocratic government of the day and its oppression of the poor. Here it is:

For poor Johnny Bull,
Who is now so dull;
A few plain questions,
To suit his thick skull.

Questions: What is the National Debt?

Answer: Money borrowed by the rich men of the nation from the rich men of the nation and placed to the nation’s account.

Q. What is done with the money thus borrowed in the nation’s name?

A. The rich men of the nation give it to each other under pretence of places and services, civil, ecclesiastical and military.

Q. Are not those places and services absolutely and indispensably necessary to the good of the nation?

A. So far the reverse, that many of those places are fictitious and therefore called si9necure; but almost the whole are created under the specious but false pretence of war, religion and jurisprudence as a colour for distributing the public money among themselves.

Q. Is public money never given but under pretence of some place or service, real or nominal?

A. It is frequently given under pretence of former services; and frequently also under pretence of secret services; and the sums thus disposed of are called pensions.

Q. Do the rich men make the nation pay interest for the money they thus squander away among themselves?

A. Yes, certainly; for it they alone had it to pay, they would not be so ready at borrowing.

Q. Was it always the custom of those at the head of the nation to govern by running it in debt?

A. No: until our Glorious Revolution, our government, however, covetous or extravagant, never expected more than could be raised upon the spur of the occasion. They had no notion of taxing future generations before they were born.

Q. It is probably that this system of taxing futurity can continue long?

A. No. For the interest of the debt will soon be more than the revenue of the country will pay.

Q. How must the interest then be paid?

A. The rich men of the nation must borrow of each other to pay the interest as they did before to fund the principle.

Q. But when the revenue and the money borrowed are condemned before hand to pay the interst of the national debt, what must support the government?

A. Those who have got both principle and interest must then govern gratis.

Q. Will those who have all along paid themselves so liberally take the trouble at last of governing us for nothing? Surely no. We must inevitably be ungoverned! Can no way be thought of supporting our government in such unparalleled distress?

A. Let them go a-pirating with the Algirines (North African pirates from Algiers).

Q. Nay; them they have long been in league with, and far excelled in depredation, as the African coast and both the Indies can woefully witness; insolence and robbery, rapine and murder, have been fully tried in every quarter of the globe.

A. Then damn them, I’ve done with them!

Spence sees the National Debt as something that the rich have created in order to make themselves even richer, and compares them with the Barbary Pirates of Algiers, who raided and enslaved European ships and southern Europe. Indeed, he was well aware of and bitterly opposed to the way Britain had attacked and enslaved the peoples of the African coast, India and the Caribbean for the commercial gain of the ruling classes.

Although over 200 years have passed since his death, and economics has moved on considerably since his time, these views are still valid. The rich men, the commercial bankers of Britain and America, ran up massive debts for their own vast profits, and the vast, national mercantile companies of the 18th century, like the East India Company and the Royal African Company, have gone and been succeeded by the vast multinationals. Who are still exploiting people for the profit of the rich in Africa, the Caribbean, India and in the rest of the world. And these rich men now make up the government here to enrich themselves still further.

cameron-toff

David Cameron: The type of aristocratic government minister Spencer denounced in the 18th century. Another example of the durability of British tradition.

Bloody revolution aside, it’s time some of our MPs followed Spence and showed a bit more compassion for the poor and supported the welfare state that he predicted against the government’s depredations.

Spence Oppression Cover

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Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) is a collection of radical and anti-authoritarian texts from British history from 1066 to the present, collected and edited by the actor, Colin Firth, and Anthony Arnove. It was partly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Arnove had worked with Zinn translating the book into a series of stage readings of American radical and democratic texts, which toured the US. Realising that Firth was one of the book’s fans, Arnove approached him to do a British version. Firth, Arnove, and a number of their friends and other performers they admired did indeed stage a reading of some of the texts collected in The People Speak in 2010. This was filmed and broadcast by the History Channel. The two authors state that they hope a DVD of this reading will eventually be released to accompany the film of the same name made the year previously (2010) by Zinn and Arnove, with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore. Firth and Arnove rejected any claim that this was the ‘actorly activism’ attacked by critics such as Marina Hyde. Rather, they were simply doing what actors are paid to do – to act, and interpret other’s voices.

Firth states that the book is not an attack on history teachers or the history curriculum, noting that his own father is a history teacher. It comes from his feeling, dating from when he was studying history at school, that the kind of history we are taught is incomplete. It concentrates on kings and queens and politicians to the exclusion of everyone else, who are presented as a faceless, homogenous mass. This is his and Arnove’s attempt to put back into history the voice of the excluded, the Socialists, Anarchists, agitators, Chartists, suffragists, Lollards, Levellers, in short, the trouble-makers, like Zinn himself. Firth makes the point that democracy works from the bottom up, and that it’s protagonists are real trouble-makers. He also makes the point that the rights we now take for granted and accept as civilised and decent were at one point considered treason. The people, who fought for and won them were those without political power, and were hanged, transported, tortured and imprisoned, until their ideas were eventually adopted and adapted. Their continued existence is, however, precarious, and we need to defend them. ‘These freedoms are now in our care. And unless we act on them and continue to fight for them, they will be lost more easily that they were won.’

Firth and Arnove freely acknowledge that in covering two millennia, they have let much important material out. They hope, however, that their readers will feel rightly indignant about that, and be compelled to point it out, or, even better, write another the book, which will be the first of many. Firth hopes most of all it will inspire their readers to speak out, and make their voice heard on the issues they feel is important, ‘As Howard reminds us, democracy is not a spectator sport, and history is not something on a library shelf, but something in which each of us has a potentially critical role’.

Chronologically, the book has divided into five chapters, ‘1066-1450: Commoners and Kings’, ‘1642-1789: Representing the People’, ‘1790-1860: One Man, One Vote’, 1890-1945: Equal Rights’, and ‘1945-2012: Battling the State’ collecting some of the radical texts from these periods. Between these are other chapters covering particular political, constitutional, religious, national and economic issues and struggles. These include:

‘Disunited Kingdoms: ‘Our English Enemies’,
‘Freedom of Worship: ‘Touching our Faith’,
‘Land and Liberty: ‘The Earth is a Common Treasury’,
‘Empire and Race: All Slaves Want to Be Free’,,
‘Money and Class: ‘The Rank is But the Guinea’s Stamp’,
‘Workers United: Labour’s “No” into Action’,
‘War and Peace: ‘What People Have Your Battles Slain?’,
‘Gender and Sexual Equality: ‘A Human Being, Regardless of the Distinction of Sex’.

The chapter on the 400 or so years from 1066 to 1450 contains the following texts:

Ordericus Vitalis on the Norman Conquest of 1066,
The Liber Eliensis on Hereward the Wake,
Extracts from the Magna Carta,
Extracts from the Song of Lewes; written by a Franciscan monk in 1264, this sets out some early examples of the doctrine of resistance and popular rights.
It also contains a section devoted to the voice of the Peasant’s Revolt, including
Wat Tyler’s address to Richard II,
John Ball, ‘Until Everything Shall Be in Common’ (1381),
and William Grindcobbe, ‘I shall die in the Cause of Gaining our Liberty’.

The chapter on ‘Disunited Kingdoms – Our English Enemies’, includes the following pieces:
The declaration of Scottish independence at Arbroath, 6th April 1320,
Owain Glyn Dwr’s letter to another Welsh noble, Henry Don,
The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549,
Jonathan Swift’s bitterly satirical ‘A Modest Proposal’ of 1729,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish Nationalist leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
The Speech from the Dock of Tone’s successor in the United Irishmen, Robert Emmet,
Rev. John Blackwell’s Eisteddfod Address in Beaumaris in 1832, stressing the importance of literature in Welsh,
Letters from the Rebecca Riots’,
The Letter from Nicholas M. Cummins to the Times attacking the English for refusing to supply the Irish with food during the Potato Famine,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish American Fenian Leader, Captain John McClure, of 1867,
Padraig Pearse’s Eulogy for the Fenian Leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa of 1915,
An extract from the Scots writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song of 1932,
Bernadette Devlin’s Speech in Draperstown when she stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Independent Unity Party in Northern Ireland,
Silvester Gordon Boswell’s Address to Travellers on Appleby Hill of 1967, and Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy of 1970,
The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly’s lyric, ‘For What died the Sons of Roisin?’ of 1970,
Pauline M.’s description of the events of Bloody Sunday,
An editorial on the Tax-Dodgers on the Isle of Man by the Manx Marxist group, Fo Halloo,
Bobby Sands’ prison diary for 1-2 March 1981,
and an extract from Gwyn Alf Williams’ history of the Welsh, ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’ from 1985.

The section on Freedom of Worship, begins with a section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, which includes
The examination of Nicholas Leche of 1536,
The Pontefract Articles of 2-4 December 1536,
The Examination of Robert Aske, 1537,
John Foxe, ‘The Mart6yrdom and Suffering of Cicelie Ormes, Burnt at Norwich the Testimonie and Witnes of Christes Gospell’ of 1557,
Matthew Hamont’s Trial for Heresy,
John Mush, the Life of Margaret Clitherow, 1586,
Daniel Defoe’s satirical ‘The Shortest Way with Dissenters:, Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church of 1702,
Ignatius Samcho’s Letter on the Gordon Riots of 1780,
William Blake’s ‘America’ of 1793, his Preface to Milton of (1804) and Preface to Book Two of ‘Jerusalem’ of the same year.
Grace Aguilar’s History of the Jews in England of 1847,
George Jacob Holyoake, Exchange with his Caplain on Atheism (1850),
An anonymous account of the Basingstoke Riots against the Salvation Army of 1881,
and Victoria Brittain’s ‘The Meaning of Waiting’, using the words of eight Muslim women married to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The section on the period 1642-1749 contains
Elizabeth Lilburne’s Appeal against the arrest of her husband, the leveller leader John Lilburne,
Richard Overton’s An Arrow Against All Tyrants of 1646,
The Putney Debates of 1647,
John Lilburne’s Appeal to Cromwellian Soldiers of 1649,
The last speech of Richard Rumbold at the Market Cross in Edinburgh,
Reports of torture in prison from 1721,
The frontispiece to the anonymous pamphlet ‘Idol Worship, Or, the Way to Preferment, showing that the way to political power to was kiss your superiors’ rear ends,
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776,
The American Declaration of Independence,
Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Destruction of the Bastille’,
An Advertisement for Commemoration of the French Revolution by Dissenters in Birmingham in 1791,
and An Anonymous Birmingham handbill to Commemorate the French Revolution, 1791.

The section ‘Land and Liberty’ contains
Robert Kett, ‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’, 1549, against the Enclosures in Kent,
Gerard Winstanley, ‘A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England’, 1649,
The 1650 Declaration of the Wellingborough Diggers,
The ballad ‘Bonny Portmore’ of 1690, lamenting the destruction of the forest around Lough Beg,
Thomas Spence’s ‘Spence’s Plan for Parochial Partnerships in the Land of 1816), an early Utopian Socialist precursor,
John Clare, ‘The mores’, c. 1821-4,
W.G. Ward’s ‘The Battle, the Struggle and the Victory’ of 1873, on a battle between the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and the employers and landowners, who refused to employ their members,
Richard Barlow-Kennett’s ‘Address to the Working Classes’ on Vivisection of 1883,
Henry S. Salts’ Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892),
Ernest a Baker, The Forbidden Land of 1924 on the landowners’ denial of the right of access to land around the Peak District and the Yorkshire moors due to grouse shooting,
Benny Rothman on the Kinder Trespass in 1932 by ramblers,
and Voices from the Kingsnorth 6 Greenpeace protesters of 2007.

The section on Empire and Race has the above extracts,
William Cecil’s Speech in Parliament of 1588, against a bill against Strangers and Aliens Selling Wares by Retail, 1588,
William Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 4, c. 1593,
Anna Barbauld, Sins of Government, Sins of of the Nation; Or, A Discourse for the Fast, of 1793, against imperialism and war with revolutionary France,
Robert Wedderbu5rn’s The Axe Laid to the Root or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica, 1817,
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, 1831,
Louis Asa-Asa, ‘How Cruelly We Are Used’, 1831,
Joseph Sturge, Speech at the Baptist Missionary Society of Birmingham, 1836,
An Anonymous Member of the Walthamstow Free Produce or Anti-Slavery Association, Conscience Versus Cotton: Or, the Preference of Free Labour Produce, 1851,
Ernest Jones’, ‘The Indian Struggle’, 1857, supporting Indian independence during the Mutiny,
Richard Cobden’s Letter to John Bright on Indian independence, 1857,
Celestine Edwards, a Black Methodist preacher from Dominica, The British Empire, attacking imperialism,
‘A Voice from the Aliens about the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trades Union Congress of 1893, by Jewish worker protesting at a motion by William Inskip and Charles Freak to ban immigrant workers from joining trades unions,
Henry Woodd Nevinson, ‘The Slave Trade of Today’, 1906, against the cultivation of cocoa by Angolan slaves,
The Indian nationalist Ghadar Movement’s ‘An Open letter to the People of India’, 1913,
The satirical, ‘In Praise of the Empire’ by the Irish nationalist and founder of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, James Connolly,
B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘India on the Eve of the Crown Government’, 1915,
John Archer’s Presidential Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the African Progress Union, 1918,
Manifesto of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a Punjabi revolutionary Indian nationalist, 1928,
Gandhi’s Quit India Speech of 1942,
C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, on cricket and his experiences growing up in Trinidad, 1963,
Peter Hain, Defence in Trial from Picketing Apartheid South African Cricket and Rugby, 1972,
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’, 1980,
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, 1990,
The account of his own incarceration by an anonymous Tanzanian Asylum Seeker, 2000,
Benjuamin Zephaniah, ‘What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us’, 2001,
Roger Huddle and Lee Billingham’s Reflections on Rock against Racism and Love Music Hate Racism, 2004,
The People’s Navy Protest on the eviction of the indigenous islanders from the islands, 2008,
and Mark Steel’s ‘The Poles Might be Leaving but the Prejudice Remains’, 2009.

The section on the period 1790-1860 has the following extracts and pieces
An Account of the Seizure of Citizen Thomas Hardy, Secretary to the London Corresponding Society, 1794,
‘Rules and Resolutions of the Political Protestants’, 1818. Political Protestants was the name adopted by a number of northern working class radical organisations demanding universal suffrage.
There is a subsection devoted to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local militia and then a detachment of Hussars attacked and broke up a peaceful meeting in Manchester of protesters campaigning for an extension of the franchise. This section has
The Letter from Mr W.R. Hay to Lord Sidmouth regarding Peterloo, 1819,
extracts from Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy
and William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built.

The chapter also has following pieces
William Davidson, Speech to the Court in the Cato Street Conspiracy Trial, 1820,
and Mr Crawshay Recounts the Merthyr Uprising, 1831.
This is followed by a section on Chartism, including
Henry Vincent, Chartists in Wales, 1839,
Edward Hamer, ‘The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes, 1839,
and Chartist Protests in Newcastle, 1839.
Charles Dickens,’The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version’, 1841, bitterly attack Tory feudalism and massacres of radicals,
and the Bilston, South Staffordshire Chartist Rally.

The section on money and class has a piece on the rebellion of William Fitz-Osbert against the way the Anglo-Normans barons shifted their tax burden onto the poor,
George Manley’s speech from the gallows at Wicklow, where he was hanged for murder, against the murder and plunder of the rich and general such as Marlborough,
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard,
Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That,
and John Grimswaw’s ‘The Handloom Weaver’s Lament’.
This is followed by a section on Luddism, which contains
John Sykes’ account of machine-breaking at Linthwaite, Yorkshire, 1812,
An Anonymous ‘Address to Cotton Weavers and Others’, 1812,
The poem ‘Hunting a Loaf’,
The poet Byron’s speech on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, and his ‘Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill’,
The ballad, ‘The Tradesman’s Complaint’,
An extract from Carlisle’s Past and Present in which he questioned the benefits of unrestrained economic growth,
Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England,
An extract from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto,
Henry Mayhew’s ‘Labour and the Poor’,
‘The Last Sark’ by the radical working class poet, Ellen Johnston,
Thomas Hardy’s ‘To An Unborn Pauper Child’,
The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938, by Jack Dash, a Member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union,
George Orwell’s ‘England, Your England’,
John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’,
Jimmy Reid’s Inaugural Speech as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972,
and Dick Gaughan’s ‘Call It Freedom’.

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland by the Glasgow Weavers, 1820,
Richard Oastler’s Letter to the Leeds Mercury on Slavery, denouncing the harsh conditions endured by children working in the factories and mines,
George Loveless, the Tolpuddle Martyr,
Patience Kerr’s Testimony before the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842,
Thomas Kerr’s ‘Aw’s Glad the Strike’s Duin’, 1880,
William Morris’ The Depression of Trade and Socialism: Ends and Means, 1886,
Annie Besant on White Slavery in London,
Samuel Webber’s Memories of the Matchgirl’s Strike,
Ben Tillett on the Dock Strike, 1911,
The Speech, ‘I am here as the Accuser’ by John Maclean, a Revolutionary Glaswegian Socialist tried for sedition for trying to dissuade soldiers from fighting in the First World War,
An account of the General Strike of 1926 by an Ashton Sheet Metal Worker,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’,
Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’,
An account of the Miners’ Strike by Bobby Girvan and Christine Mahoney,
And Mark Serwotka’s ‘Imagine Not Only Marching Together, but Striking Together’, of 2011 against the Coalition.

The section on Equal Rights has an extract from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism,
Emmeline Pankhursts’ Kill Me or Give Me My Freedom,
George Orwell’s ‘A Hanging’,
and a section for the voices of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street against Mosely’s Blackshirts.
This section includes the testimony of William J. Fishman, a Stepney Labour activist, the then secretary of the Communist Party, Phil Piratin, Joe Jacobs, another member of the Communist Party, also from Stepney, Julie Gershon, a Stepney resident, Mr Ginsburg, from Cable Street, and Mrs Beresford, of Lascombe’s fish and chip shop.
These are followed by an extract from Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’.

The section and war and piece begins with Thomas Hoccleve’s An Appeal for Peace with France of 1412,
a Handbill from the Weavers of Royton, 1808,
John Bright’s Speech against the Crimean War,
Bertrand Russell’s Letter to the Nation, 1914,
Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against War, 1917,
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’,
The section answering the question, ‘How Should War be Prevented?’ from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas,
James Maxton’s Speech Against War,
Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator,
Phil Piratin on the Invasion of the Savoy Hotel, 1940,
Denis Knight, The Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear March, 1958,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, dedicated to Scots anti-Nuclear marchers,
and Adrian Mitchell’s ‘To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies about Vietnam)’, 1964.

There is also a section of voices from the women involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, containing testimony and memories from Kim Besly, Sarah Hipperson,Ann Pettitt, and Thalia Campbell.
This is followed by Mary Compton’s speech at the Stop the War Coalition, and Robin Cook’s resignation speech to parliament against the invasion of Iraq.

The section and gender and sexual equality begins with an anonymous sixteenth century Song on the Labour of Women,
The Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women, 1649, against the imprisonment of four of the Levellers,
An anonymous article from the Saint James Chronicle from 1790, recording the ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ between the ‘Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792,
Anna Wheeler and William Thompson’s ‘Address to Women’, an extract from their pamphlet, Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825,
A letter by an anonymous prostitute from the Times, 1858,
Josephine Butler’s An Appeal to the People of England, on the Recognition and Superintendence of Prostitution by Governments,
Edmund Kell, ‘Effects of the Acts Upon the ‘Subjected’ Women, against the humiliation endured by women through the examinations under the Contagious Diseases Act,
Oscar Wilde’s Second Trial for ‘Gross Indecency’,
Helen Gordon Liddle’s The Prisoner, an account of the force-feeding of the Suffragettes under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act,
Two passages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,
Against the Law, by Peter Wildeblood, a journalist and TV producer arrested for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency,
The memories of Vicky and Janice of Lesbian Life in Brighton in the 1950s and ’60s,
Selma James and the Women’s Liberation Workshop, ‘Women against the Industrial Relations Act’, 1971,
Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’,
Quentin Crisp’s How to Become a Virgin,
and Ian McKellen’s Keynote Speech at the 2008 Stonewall Equality Dinner.

The section, ‘Battling the State’, has pieces and extracts from
Tariq Ali’s ‘The Street is Our Medium’, from Black Dwarf, the newspaper of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with a copy of Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to Street Fighting Man.
Paul Foot’s Speech on the Murder of Blair Peach, 1979,
The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’, 1982,
Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, against the Falkland’s War,
Pensioner Nellie discussing the Poll Tax revolt,
Jeremy Hardy, ‘How to Be Truly Free’, 1993,
‘Catching Buses’ by the Bristolian disabled rights activist, Liz Crow,
Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, 2005,
Mark Thomas’ ‘Put People First G20 Protest of 2009,
Euan Booth’s ‘Subversively Move Tony Blair’s Memoirs to the Crime Section in Bookshops’,
The Speech on Student Protests by the fifteen-year old schoolboy, Barnaby Raine, to the Coalition of Resistance Conference.
The book ends with Zadie Smith’s piece attacking library closures in 2011.

As well as notes and a normal index, the book also has a chronological index, placing the pieces in order according to the dates they were written.

The book is indeed encyclopaedic and comprehensive in the range of its selected texts through two millennia of history. Firth is quite right when he says that much has been necessarily left out. Whole can and have been written about some of the subjects he has touched on, such as popular protest in history, the Enclosures, Chartism, the development of British Socialism, Irish, Scots and Welsh history and nationalism, Socialism in Britain, opposition to the workhouse, to name but a few. There are a number of works on gay, gender and women’s history. E.P. Thompson himself wrote a history of the English working class, which remains one of the standard texts on the subject. Labour history-writing goes further back than Thompson, however. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote two books on the country and town labourers respectively. A number of the first Labour MPs to be voted into parliament have also left their autobiographies, describing their rise from manual labourer to Member of Parliament.

The book does an important service by showing just how old some of the issues and techniques raised and used by today’s protesters actually are. Hoccleve’s appeal for peace with France shows that peace protests go right back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the Tenth Century the Church led a peace movement to establish God’s Truce. This was the ban on fighting by the knights and the aristocracy on certain days of the week, so that the peasants, their crops and livestock were harmed as little as possible. And some of the 19th century popular protests are surprisingly modern in flavour. I was struck in the 1980s by how similar Cobden and Bright’s peace meetings demanding an end to the Crimean War were to contemporary anti-Nuclear peace marches and protests. An earlier generation would doubtless be struck by the similarity to the anti-Vietnam protests. The various articles, pamphlets, books and letters written attacking British imperialism are a reminder that, even during the intensely patriotic Victorian age imperialism and colonial expansion were the subjects of criticism. One of Gladstone’s ministers was privately strongly anti-imperial, and wrote articles for the Liberal press denouncing imperialism. ‘A love of empire’, he wrote, ‘is the love of war’. It’s as true now as it was then.

The Anti-Saccherist League is another example of a startlingly modern Victorian protest. It was an early example of ethical consumption. It aimed to attack slavery by destroying the profits from sugar produced by slaves. Instead of buying sugar from the Caribbean, it instead promoted Indian sugar, which it believed was produced by free people. The book doesn’t mention it, but there were also feminist campaigns to end slavery. One of the petitions against slavery compiled by anti-Slavery activists, was by women, attacking the brutality experienced by enslaved women, and addressed to the Queen herself, Victoria. It was felt that she, as a woman, would have more sympathy to the sufferings of the other members of her gender in slavery than men. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman is justly famous, and has been published in Penguin Classics. It, and the 19th century pamphlet similarly protesting women’s subordination and exploitation are a reminder that feminism did not begin with the suffragettes or was a product of ’60s radicalism.

Some of the older, more ancient texts from the book could easily be reprinted today as an indictment of modern conditions and attitudes under the Coalition. The descriptions of the government and employers’ opposition to the dock and matchgirls’ strikes sound very modern indeed, and Annie Besant’s denunciation of white slavery in London – the gruelling work performed in factories by poorly paid and exploited workers, sounds exactly like the world Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the whole foul crew would like to drag us back to.

I do, however, have problems with some of the material included in the book. It’s true that the United Kingdom was largely created through military expansion and conquest, as the Anglo-Norman barons first took Wales, and then established the English pale and suzerainty over the Gaelic clans in Ireland. They tried to conquer Scotland, but England and Scotland were only politically united after the failure of the Darien colony in the early 18th century. The history of the British control of Ireland is one of repeated misgovernment and oppression, as well as missed opportunities for reform and improvement. If some of George III’s ministers had succeeded in enfranchising Roman Catholics, so that they had at least some of the same rights as Protestants, or Gladstone, himself very much a member of the Anglican Church, had succeeded in granting ‘Home Rule all round’ to the ‘Celtic Fringe’, then some of the sectarian and political violence could possibly have been avoided. Discrimination against Roman Catholics was widespread and resulted in the Civil Rights demonstrations by Ulster Catholics in the 1960s. It also produced the Nationalist terrorist groups, who, like the Loyalist terrorists, which opposed them, have been responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of civilians. I do have strong reservations of parts of the Irish folk scene, because of the way folk songs describing and denouncing historic atrocities by the British, were used by Nationalist paramilitaries to drum up hatred and support for their murderous campaigns. I am certainly not accusing any of the modern folk groups included in the book, whose lyrics denounce what they see as the continuing oppression of the Irish people, of supporting terrorism. Firth and Arnove appear to have deliberately avoided choosing the contemporary folk songs that do glamorise terrorism. Nevertheless, there is a problem in that some of the Irish folk songs about the suffering of their country and its people can be so abused. I am also definitely not impressed with Protestant, Loyalist sectarianism and its vilification of and celebration of violence against Roman Catholics.

It’s also the case that historically at least, many Protestants did support the aspirations of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen for freedom and emancipation. A few years ago Mapping the Town, BBC Radio 4’s urban history programme, broadcast an edition from Belfast. This noted that one of the first Roman Catholic churches built in the town in the late 18th or early 19th century was half funded by the town’s Protestants. Although there denominations were recognised and permitted by the Anglican establishment, unlike Roman Catholicism, which was rigorously prohibited, they also suffered serious legal disabilities and were prevented from holding political office. They shared the resentment their Roman Catholic friends and fellow Irishmen felt, and so sometimes, as here, made common cause with them. The book does include some of the speeches from Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen, the 18th century militant Nationalist organisation that included both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This makes the point that the struggle for an independent Ireland has historically included Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, possibly some further Irish Protestant texts supporting independence or Roman Catholic emancipation would have been useful, to show such issues can and did transcend the religious divide.

Another problem with the section on Ireland is that in Northern Ireland the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the province was created through an uprising against the possibility that it would become part of Eire. While the oppression of Roman Catholics in Ulster is definitely undemocratic, it also has to be recognised that Ulster has remained part of the UK through the wishes of a majority of its people. This has been implemented through democratic politics, which is something that needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, the exclusive focus on Irish nationalism in the book obscures the fact that the province’s inclusion in the UK does have a popular democratic mandate.

A further issue is the exclusion of a modern, working class Ulster Protestant voice. Nearly a decade ago now the Independent reviewed a play by a working class Ulster Protestant playwright about the Troubles. The play was about a family reacting to the rioting occurring outside. I’ve unfortunately forgotten, who the playwright was. What I do remember was his comment that working class Protestants in Ulster were disenfranchised, as there were no organisations representing them. It’s a controversial claim, but there’s more than a little truth in it. Many of the working class political parties in Northern Ireland, such as the SDLP, are more or less Nationalist. The Unionist party, on the other hand, was formed from the merger of the Conservative and right-wing parts of the Liberal party. There has therefore been little in the way of working-class Protestant political parties, although some of the militant Protestant paramilitaries did adopt a radical Socialist agenda in the 1970s. Again, it would have been good to have a text or so examining this aspect of Northern Irish politics, though one which would not support the Protestant paramilitaries and their violence.

Equally problematic is the inclusion in the book of the voices of the womenfolk of the men imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay, collected by Victoria Brittain. Now Gitmo is indeed a human rights abuse. The prisoners there are held without trial or sentencing. The reasoning behind this is that, while they are guilty of terrorism offences, wartime conditions and the pressures of battle mean that it has been impossible to obtain the level of evidence required to secure a conviction under civilian law. If they were tried, they would be acquitted, and disappear to continue their terrorist campaigns against the US. Hence, for national security they must be detained outside the law. It’s a dangerous argument, as it sets up a precedent for the kind of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ disappearances and incarceration without trial of domestic opponents that was ruthlessly used by the Nazis on their political opponents in Germany.

This does not mean that the men held without trial in Gitmo are democrats. Far from it. Those that fought for the Taliban supported a vehemently anti-democratic regime. It was a violently repressive theocracy, which rejected ‘man-made law’ in favour of the Sharia. Under the Taliban, no forms of religious belief or unbelief were tolerated apart from Islam. Women were prevented from going out in public except when clad in the chador. As they were supposed to be silent and not draw attention to themselves when in public, they were beaten if they made a sound. This included the noises made by the artificial limbs of women, who had been mutilated by the mines and ordnance used in the fighting. There was also an active campaign against female education. This situation has been challenged by the presence of the Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hardy in the News Quiz derided this as ‘collateral feminism’. He has a point. The war was not fought to liberate or improve the conditions of Afghan women. This is very much a side effect. However, if the Western occupation of Afghanistan does raise their status and give them more freedom, then it will have done some good.

As for the occupation of Afghanistan itself, I’ve read material that has argued that the real reason the Western forces are there is to secure access to and appropriate the country’s oil pipelines. There’s possibly something in that. However, the immediate reason for the invasion was al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. The destruction of the Twin Towers and parallel attacks on the Pentagon and the White House were acts of war. There is simply no two ways about this, and the West’s counter-attack and invasion of Afghanistan was an entirely appropriate response. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous to include the piece of on the suffering of the wives of the men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, when the men themselves were the militant, murderous supporters of an oppressive regime that itself had absolute contempt for democracy and Western notions of human rights.

If many of the texts in this volume seem surprisingly modern, the extracts on the Ladies of Llangollen can be somewhat misleading in that historically British society has recognised a number of intense same-sex relationships, that were not at the time regarded as homosexual, or which included a homosexual element that was nevertheless seen in context as part of a wider relationship. There has been a book published within the last year or so on the homosocial relationship between medieval knights, which examined the all-male camaraderie and loyalty between them. The chivalrous concept of campiognage, which was the extreme friendship and loyalty between two knights, could be described in homosexual terms, even when one knight was helping his comrade in arms to escape with his lady love. In the 19th century there was the ‘romantic friendship’. This was a devoted friendship between two members of the same sex. These now can strike us as definitely gay, but at the time these were not seen as being necessarily homosexual or particularly extraordinary. Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried next to another priest, with whom he shared a profound friendship, was almost certainly such a Victorian romantic friendship, rather than a straightforward gay relationship. Although the ladies of Llangollen described themselves as having eloped, they always maintained that they devoted themselves to artistic and intellectual pursuits. They were celebrated at the time for their devotion to each other, and visitors to their home included many of the 19th century’s great and good, including the Duke of Wellington. It seems to me therefore that there relationship was seen as another romantic friendship, rather than a lesbian relationship.

It is also the case that the Victorians were aware of the existence of lesbianism. The story that when they were formulating the laws against homosexuality, Queen Victoria and her ministers did not outlaw female homosexuality because they didn’t believe it existed is a myth. They knew that it did. They just didn’t see it as a particular threat. The historian Martin Pugh makes this point in his book, British Fascism between the Wars. He argues that lesbianism was only perceived as a threat to British society after the First World War, when there was a ‘crisis of masculinity’. It was widely believed that the cream of British manhood had all been carried off by the War, and that only inferior men had been left behind. This created the atmosphere of sexual panic in which arose Pemberton Billing and his notorious black book. Billing was an extreme Right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the Germans were blackmailing British homosexuals into betraying their country. He claimed to have a little book containing the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’, and regularly attacked other public figures with accusations that they were gay. At least one of his victims sued for libel, but the trial was called off when Billing accused the presiding judge of being another gay, whose name was in his book. I’m no legal expert, but it has struck me that the judge would have grounds for jailing him for contempt. Moral fears and legislation against gay women arguably date from this period, rather than the Victorian age.

These reservations aside, this is a powerful, inspiring book, that should encourage and empower anyone with an interest in radical history and who is determined to defend freedom and dignity today from the increasing attacks on it by the Coalition, the most reactionary regime this country has endured since the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.

Observations on the Suicide of Jacqueline Harris

November 26, 2013

Like very many other people, I was saddened and angered to read Johnny Void’s and Tom Pride’s posts on the death of Jacqueline Harris. This lady took her own life after ATOS found her fit for work, despite her multiple disabilities and the great pain she suffered from them. This poor woman, like me, came from Bristol. I’ve also had a run-in with ATOS. Here are a few more of my observations and comments on the case. I intend to write a much deeper article attacking the pseudo-scientific nature of the ATOS assessment form later.

I don’t know if there are any other ATOS centres in Bristol, but there’s one at Flowers Hill in Brislington. This is a suburb of Bristol, which contains a mixture of light industrial buildings and former warehouses along with residential homes, and some of the most historic buildings in Bristol. It has Arnos Vale cemetery, dating from the 19th century. The funeral monuments there are impressive, with one of the most striking the tomb of Rajah Rammohan Roy, an Indian reformer and one of the founders of his country’s independence movement. He was married to the daughter of Bristol Unitarian minister, and preached in her father’s chapel. I believe there is an annual visit to his grave every year by members of the City’s Indian community. Other monuments include the Black Castle, an 18th century factory in the shape of a castle, made from black stone. There is also a 19th century mental hospital. Established by those guardians of peace and humanity, the Quakers, this was pioneering in its day for the humane treatment given to the inmates. It possessed extensive grounds and gardens for the patients’ enjoyment, as it was found that this greatly assisted their healing and recovery.

If I recall correctly, the ATOS offices are in a complex of buildings just down from a DIY centre and other stores. ATOS share the site with a complex of buildings, which include an NHS administration and a driving test centre.

When you go for an assessment, bring someone into the interview with you, or record it. It has been my experience that ATOS will lie and try and falsify your answers. You need to keep some kind of record of the interview, and that other person will remember or pick up on things that you may not notice or forget. Similarly, when going through the form it is very wise to photocopy it after you have filled it out, so you have a record of your answers there.

This poor woman’s suicide, along with so many others, raises the following points and questions.

Firstly, ATOS have tried to distance themselves from the tragedy. They state that they have no part in any decision on benefits. This is disingenuous. While the decision to end someone’s claim is taken by the DWP, rather than ATOS, ATOS clearly have the contract for the development and administration of their tests on the express knowledge that those, who fail it will lose their invalidity or disability entitlement. With this in mind, they cannot justly deny responsibility for the loss of benefits from those they judge fit to work.

In view of the number of people, who have committed suicide after ATOS declared them fit for work, it should be asked what training ATOS gives its personnel to deal with extremely distressed or suicidal interviewees. Johnny Void and the other left-wing bloggers have carried stories reporting that some Job Centres are training their staff to deal with such emergencies. I myself have seen a stack of cards for the Samaritans on the desk of one of the interview staff at the Job Centre Plus in Eagle House, St Stephen’s Street in Bristol. Are there similar items stocked by staff at ATOS? If not, why not?

Seventy-five per cent of ATOS decisions that someone is fit for work have been overturned on appeal. This suggests that either the ATOS assessors are criminally negligent when administering the tests, or that they are under pressure to falsify results to get a negative decision which will please their paymasters in the DWP. I said before that it has been my own experience that ATOS will lie in order to be able to turn down your claim. There have been revelations of secret quotas for benefit sanctions within the DWP and Job Centres, along with bonuses and gifts awarded to staff, who have the most number of claimants disallowed. Is there are a similar system operating within ATOS? What pressure are its staff under to declare someone fit for work? Are they also given financial incentives and gifts, like Easter Eggs, for so doing?

What policies and procedures does ATOS have to protect the vulnerable adults they interview? We have had reports of people with severe mobility problems forced to take their assessment in centres, which are some distance from where they or their lifts may park, or else on the upper floors of buildings. Does ATOS consider this acceptable? The ATOS form itself is heavily biased towards physical disability. It and its administrators therefore appear to have little experience or awareness of mental health issues. What procedures have been put in place to safeguard people with schizophrenia or disorders, like depression during the interview and afterwards? Shouldn’t their fitness for work or otherwise be assessed by a trained, objective psychiatrist or psychologist?

Johnny Void and the others have also reported that many of the employees administering the test are not doctors, but nursing staff. This is unacceptable. However, the medical qualifications of ATOS’ assessors are, in my experience, superfluous and irrelevant. They do not examine you themselves under their own initiative, but simply ask you the questions on the form. Presumably medical staff are employed in case a physical examination, such as to confirm some of the claims made by the interviewee, is necessary. Mostly I think it’s just to provide a pseudo-professional medical gloss to the proceedings.

The interviewing staff do at least have some medical qualifications. What are the medical qualifications of the decision-makers? Are they doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists? Or is that an entirely risible question, and they are really just another bunch of faceless bureaucrats? Again, from the procedure it seems that no proper medical experience is required or needed. All the decision makers do is go through the form, tot up the answers and then declare a person fit, even if that person is in a coma or possibly dead. This is no exaggeration. These things have happened. If the decision makers are medical personnel, have any of them expressed reservations or criticisms about the tests? Or resigned? What mechanisms are in place to assure that any criticisms or complaints they have about the test are passed on and accepted?

The ATOS assessment has also led to violations of British disability law, and contravenes the Hippocratic Oath. This was for centuries taken by British and European doctors. It has now been discarded, but is, I believe, still held in great respect by parts of the profession. At its heart is the stipulation that the doctor should ‘first do no harm’. Clearly this lies at the heart of all medical practice. If you can’t cure something, then for heaven’s sake don’t make it worse. But ATOS does make it worse. Clearly the individuals who have suffered heart attacks due to the stress of their assessment, or mentally ill people who’ve taken their own lives, have been made worse by the procedure. Private Eye a few years ago ran a story about one woman, who had already frequently attempted suicide. Tragically, she succeeded after ATOS told her she was fit for work, and no longer eligible for benefits. ATOS broke the law. According to the Eye, it is explicitly against the law to force the mentally ill to undergo such tests if this will exacerbate their condition. Has ATOS ever been prosecuted for one of these incidents? Were staff disciplined for such legal and medical negligence? What procedures were set in place to stop this ever occurring again?

Well, it seems to me that the answer is obviously none, but the question still needs to be asked.

Ordinary doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can be sued for malpractice. They have medical insurance to provide for this, and practice under the knowledge that they are responsible for the care of the patients and may be sued and convicted if they abuse or criminally neglect this sacred trust. The Coalition are considering passing legislation that will further criminalise and inflict severe penalties for negligent hospital staff. The question must be raised here of whether similar procedures are in place to discipline and try ATOS staff generally – the interviewers and decision makers – for similar negligence and malpractice in or through the administration of the test, quite apart from the horrific incidents mentioned above.

These are a few of the questions I feel still need to be answered. I believe strongly that the ATOS assessment form and process does not constitute proper, valid medical practice but a form of pseudo-medical bureaucratic quackery to provide a professional gloss to what is at heart an entirely bureaucratic procedure. Science is meant to be objective. According to Popper, the essence of science is falsification: the experimenter arranges his tests not to prove a theory, but to disprove it. If this occurs, new theories must be devised, and further experiments conducted. This is how science has progressed, and it has resulted in astounding advances in nearly all areas of endeavour, including biology and medicine. The ATOS test is the exact opposite of this. It has been devised and administered according to a narrowly and ideologically driven pre-conceived notion of what constitutes ‘fitness for work’, regardless of the personal needs and abilities of the individual to whom it is administered. It has been expressly designed to get as many people off benefit as possible according to the Neo-Liberal imperative of reducing government spending (but only on the poor). In this, it is strongly reminiscent of other pseudo-medical and pseudo-scientific fads, such as monkey glands, the removal of vestigial organs in order to make us more evolved, and the Stalinist ‘proletarian’ science of Lysenkoism. The only proper solution to this is to have ATOS shut down immediately, its wretched assessment permanently expunged from responsible, ethical medical practice. Oh yes, and the prosecution of Thierry Breton and his minions for culpable negligence and serious malpractice.

Was Wissen Sie von England, Die Nur England Kennen?

November 21, 2013

This is my schoolboy German for ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’

One of the major problems facing this country is the British refusal and apparently inability to learn other people’s languages. Having a second language can be immensely personally enriching, as it gives you a greater access to nations and cultures beyond your own. British visitors to the Continent, for example, can be pleasantly surprised and delighted by the way their stumbling attempts to speak the language of the country they’re visiting is appreciated by its people. Even if what you’re trying to say is halting and stumbling, the people you’re saying it to generally appreciate you’re making the effort, rather than arrogantly assuming that everyone speaks English. There have also been concerns for a long time that British industry is being held back by our collective reluctance to learn other tongues. Industrialists have long pointed out that if we want to sell our products to other nations, we have to persuade them to buy British in their own languages. And unfortunately, too few of us are studying another tongue.

This problem was being earnestly debated on breakfast television Tuesday or Wednesday morning. The Beeb were talking about the personal and professional advantages of speaking foreign tongues. One of their guests in this matter was a gentleman, one of those veritable ‘Briareus of tongues’, who could speak very many of them. In this case, the man could speak about eleven fluently. This is rather less than the eighteenth century Italian cardinal, who had mastered fifty, and who was therefore given the above nickname. Unfortunately, despite such multi-lingual experts as the Beeb’s guest a day or so ago, few people are following their example.

And it does shows, especially in some of the ideologues of the Right, who argue we should be following the employment practices of other nations, like the authors of Britannia Unchained. This bunch denounced British workers as lazy, and urged that the nation’s workforce copy those of the powerhouses of the developing world like China and India in working 19th century hours for miserable pay in the kind of conditions described and denounced by Charles Dickens and the other 19th century reformers. They are also doing the workers of the Developing World no service with their book either. Just as Britain and the rest of the Developed World has increased hours, so the working hours in India, China and the other developing nations have been massively extended. It’s a vicious circle, which seems to profit no-one except the multinational business elite now exploiting workers across the globe.

Of course, the author’s of Britannia Unchained seem unaware of this. If they are aware, they certainly don’t want you to be. And they also appear to be stunningly ignorant of business cultures much nearer home, like Germany.

In recent years the Germans have been doing their level best to challenge their image around the world. There has been a flow of steady articles and pieces in the German and foreign press challenging their image as the staunch incarnation of the Prussian virtues of hard-work and efficiency that created the Wirtschaftwunder. Rather than the dour, humourless drones slaving away all hours in the name of ruthless efficiency, the Germans are keen to point out that they do, in fact, enjoy a good joke. A few years ago there were adverts for Berlin, which boasted that it was the place where the art of living was practiced 24 hours a day, complete with a photo of a German rock star strumming out a mighty power chord on his electric guitar. The new Germany, the adverts said, stands for fun.

The punishing labour regimes of the Nazi and Communist dictatorships are similarly an image from the past that the Germans are increasingly challenging. Rather than spending their entire time grafting away at the workplace, German writers and commenters have pointed out that Germany has one of the shortest working weeks, and gives its workers longer holidays than many other countries. I can remember reading a piece by one German journalist in one of the British newspapers, which said that nothing contradicted the image of the hard-working German that the typical modern office in the Bundesrepublik. There, the staff quietly worked in comfort, with the coffee machine bubbling away to itself in a corner. And in such a relaxed, comfortable employment environment, it’s almost inevitable that someone would be going on about how lazy they all were. A few years ago, one of the German magazines ran a feature entitled ‘The German National Hobby: Krankfeiern‘, which I assume means ‘throwing a sickie’. The piece was accompanied by a photo showing an office worker crouched on a desk, surrounded by water, presumably to indicate the way German industry was being drowned by a flood of lazy workers, all skiving off work.

To Anglo-Saxon audiences, the idea that the Germans are all fun-loving with a relaxed attitude to work is almost comically bizarre. It runs directly counter to everything we know, or think we know, about the German character. After all, northern European nations are expected to be sober and hard-working, while it’s the Mediterranean south that’s all about fun and relaxation. It’s like the comment Badvoc made about the difference the Romans and ancient British in the 1980s Channel 4 comedy, Chelmsford 123: ‘We’re not like these hardworking Romans with their roads and efficiency. We have a more relaxed attitude to life. We say ‘manana!’ Yet, believe it or not, this was the German national image before the Prussian kings – one of whom had such a foul temper he was called ‘Die Bose Wetter von Hohenzollern’ took over the country. I was taught at school that in the 17th century the Germans were considered to be the most easy-going people in Europe. That was shattered by the rise of Prussia, the Napoleonic, Franco-Prussian Wars, and World Wars I and II. This has passed, on the Germans are going back to their national image in the 17th century, despite the horrors of the Gradgrinds of German industry.

So how does this new generation of relaxed funsters regard us across the North Sea? Well, as far as the work ethic is concerned, the attitude is now very much reversed, or so it seems. A few years ago a group of German financial workers and banking whizzkids from ‘Manhattan am Main’ were sent off to work in the company’s London branch. They were reported as making jokes about how, in England nothing worked properly. This seems to be pretty much a constant since Britain’s disastrous industrial performance in the 1970s. Unlike the 1970s, when we were the strike-ridden ‘sick man of Europe’, other jokes were about how hard we worked. We had, at least in the opinion of these employees, swapped places with their country as the nation, whose workers slave away driving themselves into the ground at work. Only without the efficiency and product quality.

All this appears to have been excluded from Britannia Unchained. After all, it would undermine their case if they compared us to the Germans, who now know how to combine a strong economy with a reputation for quality products and have a good time. After all, you can’t tell a country of miserable wage-slaves that they’re all skivers and malingers compared to their fun-loving EU counterparts across the Nordsee, regularly clocking with ruthless efficiency at a reasonable hour every day.

Way back in the 1980s Channel 4 briefly held won the rights to broadcast the cricket from the BBC, before they, in turn, were trumped by Murdoch and Sky. Their trailer for the test match season against the West Indies was, in its own small way, a work of art. It opened with pictures of sun-drenched beaches and tropic rainforests, while a female Caribbean face lilted the Kiplingesque lines ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Hence the title of my piece. One of their innovations, I believe, was a female commentator, who had a West Indian accent. They take cricket extremely seriously over that side of the Atlantic. The University of the West Indies in Kingston has a department of Cricket Studies. One of the course’s professors appeared on TV over here a little while ago talking about how the West Indies team’s sporting excellence had boosted the region’s self-image and pride. And the quote used by the advert is still a very, very good question. Kipling himself held some extremely Right-wing views. In the 1920s he formed a group to fight the General Strike. This collapsed when their treasurer ran off with their funds. He wrote the poem with the lines ‘What should they know of England, who only England know?’ in response to riots in the north of England against working conditions there. Nevertheless, the question is a good one, and can be asked of the Right as well as the Left. ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Going by the authors of Britannia Unchained, very little.

A New System of an Old Slavery: George Osborne’s Workfare and 19th Century Negro ‘Apprenticeship’

November 9, 2013

Slave Pic

Illustration of slave in the mask and shackles used by Europeans to imprison them.

Earlier this week I reblogged a piece from The Void, reporting @refuted’s uncovering of George Osborne’s proposals to expand workfare. Under this new scheme, compulsory workfare, directed by the Jobcentre, would include those in part-time work and the disabled. Those already doing voluntary work would also be forced to go on workfare, and work elsewhere, if their supervisors decided that their current unpaid employment was not appropriate. This is all alarming enough, but what is particularly abhorrent is the plan force even those, who receive no benefits at all, into workfare.

I’ve blogged before about the similarity between workfare and slavery. At the moment although workfare is degrading and exploitative, it is not yet actual, literal slavery. Osborne’s proposal to make those without benefits do it tips it over into the real thing.

Cameron Pic

Osborne Pic

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Esther McVey picture

From Top: David Cameron, George Osborne, Ian Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. Their workfare schemes mark the reintroduction of slavery to Britain after 173 years.

Slavery comes in a variety of different forms, some less malign than others. Most people know about Western chattel slavery, but there are other forms, such as serfdom, and various types of bonded, indentured or customary labour. The villeins of medieval Europe were serfs, who were tied to their land. In return for their holdings, they were expected to perform a certain numbers of days’ labour on their masters demein. When so working, they were supervised by the beadle, the lord’s steward, who held a cudgel or whip as a symbol of his authority and his right to beat them. They could not marry without asking the permission of their lord, and were required to pay a fee – the merchet – when they did. As the law considered them subhuman, the legal terminology for their families did not dignify them with the human term. Instead they were called ‘sequelae’ – ‘broods’. When they died, the lord of the manor took their ‘best beast’ – their best cow. These were the conditions that led to the Peasants’ Revolt in England in the 14th century, and similar peasant rebellions in the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. Serfdom in England eventually withered away as customary work was commuted into cash payments. Despite this, the last English serf died in the mid-seventeenth century.

Serfdom Pic

Serfdom continued to survive in the rest of Europe into the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was finally abolished in France during the French Revolution. It survived in parts of Germany until the 1820s, and in Russia until 1865, when they were liberated by Tsar Alexander II.

Bonded Labour in Scots Mining

Although serfdom and slavery did not exist in English law, other forms of servitude certainly did exist in Britain in eighteenth and nineteenth century. The coal miners in Scotland were bonded labourers, not quite slaves, but still considered the property of the mine owners. Needless to say, the British and particularly the Scots aristocracy and business elite viewed with alarm the solidarity these White slaves showed towards their Black counterparts in the West Indies and elsewhere. There was also little racism amongst White miners towards their Black colleagues, as they were all, regardless of their colour, exploited slaves working in dangerous and horrific conditions.

Global Slavery in Late 20th and 21st Centuries

Horrifically, slavery has survived into the 21st century. The book Disposable People, published in the 1990s, describes the various forms of slavery that existed in the closing decade of the 20th century, and which still blights humanity today. Traditional, chattel slavery exists in Mauretania. Bonded labour is used Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the labourers are low-cast Muslims – the Sheiks – and Christians in the brick industry. Then there is the horrific conditions for the workers and women forced into prostitution in the industrial towns and logging camps in south-east Asia, such as Thailand. It also exists in Brazil, where recent documentaries have shown government organisations and police units raiding and freeing slaves held captive in compounds. In this country, several farmers have been prosecuted for enslaving illegal immigrants to the UK, holding them virtual prisoners in horrific conditions and paying them 20p per week. Migrant workers from Pakistan, India, the Phillipines and Africa are also treated as slaves in the Gulf Arab states. The law in these countries states that foreigners entering the country must have a personal sponsor responsible for them. When these labourers enter the Gulf Arab states to work, their employers immediately seize their passports. They are then housed in appalling workers’ barracks, and forced to work extremely long hours in the blazing heat with little protection or medical care. Many of the personal staff rich Arabs take to serve them when they go to live in the West are also treated as slaves. Again, their employers take their passports and other documents, and force them to work extremely long hours, and are beaten as a punishment for any kind of unsatisfactory behaviour. One of the case histories in the book is of a maid for an Arab woman in London, who was forced to stand at the door, waiting for her mistress’ return when she went out, no matter how long the mistress was absent. On her return, the maid was expected to massage her hands, and struck and abused if this was not done properly.

Enslavement of African Children by Foster Parents

Slavery also exists through the custom of some African peoples of sending their children to be fostered by wealthier relatives. The motive for this is clearly the expectation that the child will have better opportunities through living and growing up in the household of a family member, who is wealthier and better educated. Unfortunately, the opposite is frequently true. African children, who have been sent to stay with their richer relations in Africa and in Europe, have found themselves enslaved and abused by the very people their parents trusted to look after them. The Victoria Climbie case, in which a young African girl sent to live with a relative in London was eventually abused and killed by the woman and her partner was national news, shocking and disgusting the British public. Unfortunately, it is one instance of a wider pattern of abuse amongst some African immigrants.

The book estimated that there were about 20 million slaves around the world. My guess is that this number has massively expanded in the past two decades. The Independent newspaper a week or so ago stated that there were 25 million prostitutes, who were practically enslaved by ruthless recruiters and pimps, across Europe today. Furthermore, while the elites in the Developing World have become, like their counterparts in the West, massively rich, the poor has become much poorer. They are now working longer hours, for less pay, and in worse conditions. In countries like China industry also uses cheap labour from prisoners and the political inmates in forced labour camps. There are 60 million people kept in these political gulags across China. Disposable People stated that there are difficulties estimating the true number of slaves across the world, and freeing them because slavery is frequently disguised under a number of covers, such as long term labour contracts.

Similarity Between Workfare and 19th Century ‘Negro Apprenticeship’

George Osborne’s proposals for the expansion of workfare is, I believe, similarly disguised system of slavery. Especially, and blatantly when the proposed scheme does not allow those placed on it to be given welfare benefit.

I’ve also blogged before now on the close similarity between Cameron, Osborne and IDS’ workfare, and similar schemes used in Nazi Germany to solve unemployment and provide cheap labour for industry. It is also extremely similar to ‘Negro Apprenticeship’, a form of servitude that effectively extended the enslavement of Blacks in some of the British colonies beyond the formal abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1837.

The authorities in Britain and some of the larger Caribbean colonies, which were sparsely populated with abundant uncultivated land, such as Jamaica, feared that the liberation of their slave populations would result in economic and social collapsed. They believed that unless suitable steps were taken, the former slaves would abandon their former masters’ estates and withdraw to occupy the unused land. It was believed that the slaves were idle. The land in Jamaica was extremely fertile, so it would be possible for a man to support himself and his family by only working three days a week. They were therefore afraid that the freed slaves would simply return to subsistence agriculture, which would support only themselves and their families. The commercial economy of these colonies, based on the export of sugar, would therefore collapse, and a prosperous, civilised nation would fall into poverty and barbarism. The authorities attempted to prevent this by instituting a period of ‘apprenticeship’ following the formal abolition of slavery in 1837. Under its provisions, the former slaves would continue to work on their masters’ plantations over a period of four to seven years. During this period the amount of time they spent working for their masters would be gradually reduced, until they were finally free, independent men and women. In practice, however, this staggering did not occur, and they continued effectively work as slaves until 1840.

The Apprenticeship system was greeted with outrage by the slaves themselves, and White and free Coloured abolitionists in the Caribbean and Europe. The government was particularly alarmed when placards denouncing Negro Apprenticeship were put up on the walls in Birmingham. Public pressure forced the government to act, and Negro Apprenticeship was eventually ended.

There are several points of similarity between 19th century post-slavery Negro Apprenticeship, and Osborne’s workfare.

1. Both systems assume that those subject to them are idle and socially irresponsible. The point of such schemes is ostensibly to prepare those on them – former slaves in the 19th century, unemployed workers in the 21st, to become independent, self-reliant, responsible members of society.

2. In both systems, the worker’s personal freedom is removed, and they are expected to work for others for no or little pay. The fact that at the moment, most people on workfare receive some kind of benefit does not necessarily disqualify it as a system of slavery. As the plantation system became firmly established in the Caribbean in the 18th century, so skilled slave artisans were frequently hired out by their masters to work for others in return for wages. Moreover, medieval serfs and slaves in the British Caribbean possessed their own plots of land, on which they could work for themselves. Medieval law termed this land, which the serf cultivated for himself, his peculium. This is paralleled in 21st century by those in voluntary or part-time work elsewhere, whom Osborne now wishes to force into workfare. You could also make out a case for the agencies, like Ingeneus, that administer the workfare schemes, as forming the 21st century equivalent of those slave masters, who hired out their skilled slaves.

3. Both systems are based on providing cheap labour to support the countries’ national economy and big business. In the 19th century this consisted of forcing the former slaves to work for their plantation masters. In early 21st century Britain this means sending the unemployed to stack shelves in Sainsbury’s, or any of the other major firms that sign up to his scheme.

Finally, there is a further parallel between 19th century slavery and the Tories’ campaign to drive down working conditions and raise working hours. Both were partly based on the argument that this must be done in order to maintain the British industrial competitiveness. One of the arguments used by the opponents of abolition in the 19th century was that the abolition of slavery would make British sugar too expensive to compete globally with foreign, slave produced sugar. Similarly, the authors of Britannia Unchained declared that British workers were too lazy and pampered to compete with countries like India and China, where labour is cheaper and works much longer hours.

Priti Patel

Priti Patel, Britannia Unchained, Workfare and the ‘Coolie Trade

If one wished to bring race into this, one could argue that Priti Patel, one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, is an ‘Uncle Tom’. Patel is Asian, and her arrival and rise in the Conservative Party was greeted by the Daily Mail as showing that the Conservative Party were embracing the Black and Asian community. On their part, the British Blacks and Asians were also putting aside their racial resentments, to play a role in wider British society. It was hinted that the policy of racial resentment was exclusively the province of the Left, which was simply interested in picking over past grievances for its own, purely sectional gain.

I’ve described Osborne’s expanded workfare scheme as ‘a new system of slavery’ in this post’s title. This was quite deliberate. From 1817 onwards the British government attempted to find labourers elsewhere to replace the Black plantation slaves. Black slaves resented their enslavement, and were perceived as recalcitrant workers. They were also inclined to rebel. Hence the title of one of Dr. Richard Hill’s books, The Blacks Who Defeated Slavery, if I remember the title correctly. After Abolition, they attempted to find other peoples, who would supply cheap labour to the plantations in place of the former slaves. The result was the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured immigrants to the Caribbean from China, and what is now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. These were in theory free. In return for their years’ of work on the plantations, they would receive wages and a grant of land. In practice they were ruthlessly exploited, working extremely long hours in poor conditions. The death rate could be extremely high, and contact with their families and loved ones in their homelands was frequently non-existent. Wives and children of indentured labourers often could not hear from their husbands and fathers for 20 years or so. Many were the victims of kidnappers, and forced into slavery across the kala pani – the Black Waters surrounding India. Leading British politicians denounced the Coolie Trade as ‘a new system of slavery’, which forms the title of the history of the trade by Hugh Tinker. I urge anyone with an interest in this black chapter of British imperial history to read it. I am certainly not suggesting that Patel and her colleagues are advocating replacing British workers with those from China, the Indian sub-continent, or elsewhere in the Developing World. What I am saying is that Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained wish to import the systems of exploitation in these countries to British workers. And that includes Asian and Black Brits, whose parents and grandparents came to this country in the hope of finding work that was better paid and in better conditions, than those in their countries of origin. Patel is destroying the aspirations of her parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and in that sense surely well deserves to be called an Uncle Tom.

The parallels between 19th century slavery and Osborne’s plans for workfare are now so close, that I believe it may be worthwhile contacting human rights organisations like Anti-Slavery International about them, and campaigning against them as literal slavery. Anti-Slavery International is a charity dedicated to combatting slavery throughout the world. In 1995 the exhibition ‘A Respectable Trade’ held by City Museum and Art Gallery in Bristol on the city’s past as a major slave port included pamphlets by Anti-Slavery International, and donation and membership forms for those wishing to continue the fight of great liberators like Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce. Amongst their pamphlets on slavery were those on exploitative working conditions in the UK, including child labour. Osborne’s workfare should surely be of concern to anyone opposed to seeing slavery revived in any form whatsoever.

1842 Punch

‘Capital and Labour’: a bitter cartoon from Punch from 1842, showing the luxury enjoyed by the rich contrasted with the poverty and squalor endured by the labouring poor which support them. This is kind of system Cameron and co. wish to restore.

Say No to Slavery Pic
Sources

I’ve mentioned a number of excellent books on slavery and the ‘Coolie Trade’ in this post. Other excellent books include Hugh Thomas’ Slavery, Dr Richard Hill’s Blacks in Bondage and Blacks in Freedom, written by a former member of the Jamaican independence movement, and Bill Yenne’s illustrated book, Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. This last contains some truly horrific photographs from the 19th century of slaves, who were abused and mutilated

Have Scientists from Sheffield University Found Life from Outer Space?

September 19, 2013

A team of scientists from Sheffield University believe that they may have discovered extraterrestrial life. According to this story on MSN News http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/has-life-from-space-just-accidentally-arrived-on-earth/ a group from the University’s department of molecular biology and biotechnology under Professor Milton Wainwright sent a balloon 27 km up into the stratosphere during the recent Perseid meteor shower. The balloon was launched from Chester and came down near Wakefield. The balloon carried microscope studs, which were set to open between 22 and 27 km above the Earth. To ensure that the results were not contaminated by organisms from the Earth’s surface, the equipment was sterilised before it was launched.

When it returned, it was found that the studs had collected a variety of microscopic organisms. Some were diatoms, a form of algae, along with more unusual life-forms. Prof Wainwright said “It is generally accepted that a particle of the size found cannot be lifted from Earth to heights of, for example, 27km. In the absence of a mechanism by which large particles like these can be transported to the stratosphere, we can only conclude that the biological entities originated from space. Our conclusion then is that life is continually arriving to Earth from space. Life is not restricted to this planet and it almost certainly did not originate here. If life does continue to arrive from space then we have to completely change our view of biology and evolution. New textbooks will have to be written!”

Disease Space

The team’s finding appears to corroborate the highly controversial views of the origin and evolution of life on Earth of the late Sir Fred Hoyle and his colleague, Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe. Panspermia is the theory that life originated in space and later colonised Earth. It was first put forward in the 19th century by the Swedish astronomer, Svante Aarhenius. In the late 1970s and early ’80s Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe wrote a series of books Lifecloud (London: Dent 1978), Diseases from Space (London: Sphere 1979) and Evolution from Space (London: J.M. Dent 1981), reviving and expanding the theory. They suggested that not only had life come to Earth from space, but that it was viruses and bacteria continued to arrive from space to infect humans and another creatures here on Earth.

Most controversially, they suggested in the last book that Darwin’s theory of evolution was inadequate to explain the evolution of the Earth’s creatures. They argued that the process of evolution was actually too rapid to be cause by what they viewed as they slow processes of Natural Selection operating on random mutation. They considered instead that evolution was actually driven through viruses and other genetic material entering and mutating terrestrial organisms from space. More speculatively still, they suggested that the seeding of such genetic material on Earth was done deliberately by advanced extraterrestrial civilisations. They suggested that these would artificial, machine intelligences from another cosmos in the multiverse. Their theory that evolution has been consciously directed is extremely similar to Intelligent Design, proposed and supported by the mathematicians and scientists William Dembski and Michael Behe. Most of the supporters of Intelligent Design are religious, and the theory has been severely attacked as a form of Creationism.

Evolution Space

This is not the first time a scientific balloon has returned from the stratosphere containing what was suggested was extraterrestrial microbial life. A few years a balloon sent up by scientists in India returned to Earth with red slime. Like Prof Wainwright, the Indian scientists believed this material had been collected from too high an altitude for it to have come from the Earth. They came to the conclusion that it must therefore have come from space. Fred Hoyle died twenty or so years ago in the 1990s. The media did contact Chandra Wickramasinghe, who was then working at Cardiff University, if I recall correctly. Prof Wickramasinghe was delighted that there was now further evidence to support his and Sir Fred’s theory.

Meanwhile, Prof Wainwright’s team intend to repeat the experiment in October, when there is a meteor shower associated with Halley’s Comet. This will spread further cosmic dust. If the balloon returns again with similar material, it will confirm the team’s theory.

All this is fascinating and highly controversial. I don’t think, however, there’s any remote chance of them finding anything like the horrific extraterrestrial disease in Michael Creighton’s book and film, The Andromeda Strain.

Tory Councillor Told To Resign after Criticising David Attenborough – But Attenborough Does Believe in Doing Nothing for the Starving

September 19, 2013

Late yesterday evening there was a story on the MSN News about Phil Taylor, a Conservative councillor in Ealing, who had been told to resign for his comments on Twitter about David Attenborough. According to the article, Taylor had been angered by a statement by Attenborough on the need to curb the growth of the world’s population. He tweeted ‘I do wish this silly old fart would practice what he preached and take a one-way trip to Switzerland’. The leader of the Labour Party in Ealing Council, Julian Bell, condemned Taylor’s comments, and demanded that he should either apologise or resign. Taylor was also criticised by Scott Freeman, from the anti-bullying charity, Cybersmile, for setting a bad example and encouraging cyberbullying.

In reply to these criticisms, Taylor said in an email “My tweet reflected my frustration with Attenborough repeatedly using his ‘national treasure’ status to promote a set of views that see people as being a problem. His prescriptions seem always to apply to other people.

“My view of the world is that we have to work out how to make sure that the 9 billion people who will populate the world by 2050 all have a good life. They all have hopes and dreams and don’t need to be told what to do by Attenborough.”

The article concludes with the simple statement that ‘Sir David said in a radio interview this morning that he recognised that population controls were a controversial area and emphasised that he felt more strongly towards a human baby than any animal.

However, it is important to have a debate over what we do about the rising pressures on natural resources, he said.’

The full article can be read at:
http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/david-attenborough-should-kill-himself-says-tory-councillor.

Right-Wing Opposition to Green Politics

Now the Right does not like Green politics. In America Green politics are criticised as a Left-wing strategy for increasing taxation, regulation and enforcing income redistribution. The last means Republicans don’t like it because the Greens want to take money from the rich and give to the poor. Conservatives in America and Britain believe that Big Business has an absolute right to exploit, pollute and destroy the environment and its flora and fauna. In response to pressure from Green politicians and environmental groups, they have set up astroturf organisations, like ‘Wise Use’ to counter such criticism and present Conservatives as advocating instead a responsible approach to the environment in line with a policy promoting the proper exploitation of the natural world.

Attenborough: UN Should Not Give Food to Famine Victims

Now the suggestion that Attenborough should go and end his life in a Dignitas clinic is extreme, and it does set a bad example when so many children have ended their lives through abuse on the Internet. Taylor’s comment is not, however, quite as bad when you read what Attenborough himself had said. This is truly monstrous. According to the Daily Telegraph, Attenborough told their interviewer about his fears about overpopulation and appeared to suggest that the starving of the developing world should be left to die. The great broadcaster apparently said:
“What are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They’re about too many people for too little land. That’s what it’s about. And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.” According to the article, he stated that overpopulation was a problem, and that if we didn’t tackle it, nature itself would, as it had done for a long time in the past. He also believed that the major obstacles to managing the world’s population was the attitude that having children was a human right, and the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception. He also acknowledge that his statement about Ethiopia and its starving could be ‘misconstrued as an attack on poor people as the issues of major concern were in Africa and Asia.

The article about his comments can be read here:http://news.uk.msn.com/articles?cp-documentid=257478670.

India Starvation Photo

The victims of a famine in India. David Attenborough doesn’t want the UN to give food to people like these.

Attenborough and Atheist Attacks on Religion and Christianity

Now Attenborough has shown himself with these comments to be monstrously ignorant and callously indifferent to global suffering. I have been extremely unimpressed with Attenborough for several years now, ever since he added his voice to that of Richard Dawkins in sneering at religion. That’s a different issue, but I found his remarks then ignorant and uninformed, as countless people of faith, and particularly Western Christians, did contribute to the rise of science. For a more complete discussion of how Christianity laid the basis for modern science, see R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1971). I was also not impressed by his attitude, which suggested that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection had somehow disproven the existence of God. I’ve blogged several times on this issue. For a proper discussion of this issue, see Own Chadwick, ‘Evolution and the Churches’ in G.A. Russell, ed., Science and Religious Belief: A Selection of Recent Historical Studies (London: The Open University/ University of London Press 1973)282-93. These are separate issues. Attenborough’s comments here also seem woefully ignorant and misinformed.

Traditional Attitudes towards Large Families in Western History and Modern Developing World

Let’s take his comment about the Roman Catholic church’s stance on contraception being part of the problem. In actual fact, many cultures and religion advocate large families. In tradition Moroccan society, a family with fewer than 12 children was described as ‘unfinished’. The pagan religions in Africa also lay great stress of large families and the fertility of their flocks and herds. As for attitudes to the environment and animal life, Nigel Barley in his account of his fieldwork amongst the Dowayo people of Cameroun, The Innocent Anthropologist, noted that they had very little knowledge of the animal life around them, and were quite prepared to exterminate any creature they disliked, such as lions. He states that family planning is so unpopular that there is a joke that the only thing that will not be opened and misappropriated when you send it through the post in West Africa is a packed of condoms.

He also does not seem to know, or understand the reasons why the developing world, and indeed Britain and the West before the twentieth century, had large families. These were massive infant mortality rates and to provide support for the parents in their old age. Barley himself says that one of the most moving demonstrations of the tragically high rate of death in childhood in Africa is a question in the Nigerian census form. This asks you how many children you have. After this is the question ‘How many are still living?’ In traditional societies, such as Britain before the establishment of the welfare state in 1948, there is no or little state provision for citizens in their old age. People therefore have large families in order to support them when they have become too elderly to manage for themselves.

Pakistan Contraception Photo

Women in Pakistan receiving contraceptive advice.

Fall in Birth Rate throughout the World

Attenborough also seems to have ignored the fact that globally, birth rates are dropping. Governments throughout the developing world have launched campaigns to control their populations through family planning and contraception. This includes the developing world. The French anthropologist, Richard Tod, has pointed to the fact that, although families in the developing world may be much larger than in the West, there has been a dramatic decline. In some Middle Eastern nations, such as those of the former Soviet central Asian republics like Azerbaijan, for example, the birth rates are comparable to those of Western Europe. In Britain and much of the developed world, including Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan, the birth rate is actually below replacement levels. The population in Britain has grown only because of immigration. The Japanese are so concerned about their demographic decline that Japanese newspapers have run stories predicting that in a thousand years’ time, the Japanese people will be extinct. One of the reasons why the Land of the Rising Sun is putting so much resources into developing robots is to create a suitable workforce. The Japanese are unwilling to permit mass immigration to provide the country with labour, and so have turned to cybernetics and robots instead. In fact the global decline in the birth rate has alarmed some demographers, anthropologists and economic planner. In mid-1990s New Scientist carried an interview with a scientist, who believed that population growth had peaked or was peaking. He believed that by the middle of this century there would be a population crash. The result would be increased strain on the welfare state due to the cost of caring for an aging population. The economy would also contract, and countries would have to compete with each other to attract migrants to join their nations’ workforce. He also believed that the high mortality rates in some African nations coupled with a low birth rate would cause their populations to shrink. He believed that the first nation that could be so affected would be Ethiopia. We are here looking very much at the kind of dystopian future predicted by the film Children of Men. This portrayed a Fascistic future Britain, in which no children had been born for 18 years.

Racist Fears over Campaigns to Limit Population

Attenborough’s comments here also threaten to increase racial tension and spur on the rise of the racist Right. IN Britain and America the Fascist and Nationalist Right see demands by the ruling elite that we should limit the size of our families as part of a policy of racial extermination directed at the indigenous White population. They believe that there is a deliberate policy by the liberal elite of wiping out Whites, and replacing them with Black and Asian immigrants. Attenborough’s comments will be seen by them as another example of this policy. Black Nationalists may also see it as a racially motivated attempt to exterminate them. Private Eye a few years ago reported the outrageous comments by a Black leader in South Africa, telling people not to use contraception to stop AIDS as this was really another racist attempts by Whites to limit the Black population. Such statements have some verisimilitude due to the fact that BOSS, the South African secret service, had at one time been active trying to develop diseases that would specifically target Blacks. Attenborough might fear that his comments may be ‘misconstrued’ as an attack on the poor of Africa and Asia, but given the highly mixed legacy of European colonial administrations, one cannot reasonable blame them for doing so. About ten or so years ago a history book came out. It was entitled ‘Third World Holocausts’, or something like that. I can’t remember the exact title. I do, however, remember what it was about. The book described the way European colonialists had committed terrible atrocities in their African and Asian possessions from the political and economic ideologies of the time. In the 19th century, for example, there was a terrible famine in one of the Indian states. I believe it was Bengal, during which millions starved to death. The Raj refused to import and distribute food to its victims from the belief that this would undermine the principle of free trade they were trying to adopt across the Empire.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Irish Potato Famine

Irish Famine Photo

Irish victims of the Potato Famine queuing to emigrate.

Much closer to home, Attenborough’s comments recall the attitude of British politicians and civil servants during the Irish Potato Famine. The head of the British civil service, Trevelyan, stated that the victims of the famine should be left to starve. It was, he stated, their fault due to their improvident and irresponsible lifestyle. The result was the legacy of bitterness and hatred which further fuelled Nationalist demands for home rule under Charles Stuart Parnell and violent revolution from the Fenian Brotherhood and later Irish Republican groups. Attitudes like Attenborough’s have partly contributed, however, remotely, to the rise and persistence of terror groups like the IRA.

Fascism and the Green Movement

Attenborough’s views are also similar to some other, viciously misanthropic, extreme Right-wing views found in certain sections of the Green movement. In the 1990s one of the anarchist groups became alarmed at the Fascist tendencies then entering the Green movement. Murray Bookchin, a leading anarchist intellectual, who advocates Green, post-scarcity Anarchism, walked out of a Green conference in Germany when one of the speakers, a former East German dissident, declared that they needed a ‘Green Adolf’. Private Eye, in ‘Ape Sh*t’, its May 1988 review of Brian Masters biography of John Aspinall, The Passion of John Aspinall, remarked on the thuggishness of Aspinall’s political opinions. Aspinall has stated that humans are ‘vermin’, and stated that he favours a policy of ‘beneficial genocide’. He believes Britain’s population should be reduced from 54 to 18 million. He also has explicitly Fascist political sympathies. He supports ‘a right-wing counter-revolution, Franco-esque in spirit and determination’. See Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 226-7 (p,. 226).

Now I don’t think Attenborough is a Nazi. He has not advocated a Fascist dictatorship nor has any racist views. Indeed, quite the opposite. His programme, Man Alive, in the 1970s brought anthropology to British television and he was always polite and courteous to the primal peoples he spoke to and whose lives he explored. It’s a pity that this respect has not been extended to their children or grandchildren forty years later. Attenborough himself has been responsible for some of the very best of British television. He has delighted and educated the British public with his programmes on animals and wildlife for about sixty years. The BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol has brought from fame and honour to the city for its achievements in wildlife broadcasting. When he was controller of BBC 2, he was responsible for bringing some of the most innovative ideas to British television. Who now remembers Brass Tacks, a programme which allowed members of the public to talk about their political views? Unfortunately, Attenborough’s views in this instance less resemble those of an enlightened, genuinely liberal educator, but that of a loudmouthed bigot.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Macc Lads

Attenborough’s view in this instance resemble those of the Macc Lads. This was a northern punk band, which specialised in deliberately offensive lyrics. These could reasonably be described as misogynist, homophobic, and racist. I don’t know if the band themselves actually were. One of their songs describes them listening to the Band Aid global fundraising concert to help the famine victims of Ethiopia and Africa. The song ends with the lines

‘But I didn’t send money
t’ starving n*ggers
Because I’m a fookin’ Nazi’

I’ve been told that the Macc Lad’s songs were not meant seriously. Sadly, Attenborough here appears to have joined them, and this time meant it.

I would hope that Attenborough reconsiders his position in this matter, and issue the apology for his comments that they demand.

Overpopulation in SF Cinema

Apart from this, problems of a vastly overpopulated world has been portrayed in two films, Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and ZPG (Zero Population Growth), starring Oliver Reed. The future in ZPG is one in which, due to population pressure, even domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, have become extinct. The plot involves the attempts by the hero and his wife to preserve their child after the government outlaws having children.

Here’s the trailer for Soylent Green.

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And this is the movie trailer for ZPG.

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Guns Will Make US Powerful. Obamacare Will Make Us Fat

August 7, 2013

The American Right has bitterly opposed Obama’s attempt to introduce a single-payer health service similar to those in Canada, Australia and Europe. The arguments used against it is that it has added increased bureaucracy to American healthcare. It is also claimed that American companies are also being penalised by the increased taxes needed to support it. The spurious claims that private American healthcare is superior to the socialised systems of Britain and Europe. Among the more emotive claims is that socialised medicine is somehow totalitarian, because the individual citizens in the countries that have it are supposed to be at the mercy of their government and their doctors. This argument runs that people no longer have any control over their lives, as governments and the medical profession demand that the adopt a healthy lifestyle and eating habits in order to keep medical costs low. This argument is itself specious, as it’s been a very long time since Americans have been free to ignore the advice of their own doctors. They are tied very much to the demands of the insurance companies that provide the cover for their healthcare.

One of the other arguments that the Right has used, and this is the one I intend to examine here, is that expenditure on Obamacare will critically endangers America’s military power and ability to defend freedom abroad. The Right-wing journalist and broadcaster Mark Steyn has particularly used this argument. Steyn used to write for a number of British papers, before he went to America to join Rush Limbaugh as one of the leading figures in American Right-wing journalism. The argument runs that at present, America is able to support a large military force, much of which is stationed overseas because its comparatively low government expenditure makes this affordable. During the Cold War and after 9/11, America’s forces have been actively defending the free world. This is in stark contrast to the military impotence of post-World War II Europe. Europe, according to Steyn, is crippled and decadent due to its commitment to maintaining a high level of expenditure on its welfare systems. They are therefore unable and unwilling to support military campaigns defending freedom across the world. This, warns Steyn and the Right, is what America will become unless Americans vote against President Obama, whom they deride as America’s first European president.

It’s an argument comparable to the quote from Goring about the desirability of military power over an increased food supply: Guns will make us powerful. Butter will make us fat. The only difference is that in this case, the American Right is demanding such sacrifices in order to defend democracy.

Now let’s examine the claim in more detail. First of all, many members of the present EU did not have much in the way of an overseas Empire. The main imperial nations were Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark also had imperial colonies overseas, but they were much smaller than those of the first four countries. Germany lost its African colonies after the First World War. Spain’s colonies in Latin America broke away during a series of wars for independence in the 19th century. Belgium’s own imperial adventure in the Congo became a major international scandal due to the enslavement of the indigenous peoples to work on the Belgian crown’s vast sugar plantations, in which truly horrific atrocities were committed. Italy was a latecomer to imperialism. Its attempts to establish an empire in Africa in the 19th century resulted in some humiliating defeats by the indigenous peoples, such as at Adowa. This resulted in the downfall of the democratically elected regime and its replacement, for a time, with a military dictatorship. Its greatest attempts to establish itself as a major imperial power came with Mussolini’s dictatorship. This was done with great brutality and the infliction of horrific atrocities. It has been estimated that between Italy’s conquest of the country in the 1920s and decolonisation in the 1950s, about a third of the Tunisian population was killed fighting their occupiers. Despite the regime’s attempts to settle Italian farmers in Libya, bitter resistance remained and Italians were unsafe except in the coastal cities.

All the European powers were left exhausted by the Second World War, which stimulated nationalism and the demands for independence in their subject territories. One African or Indian nationalist commented on the way the experience of fighting with the British destroyed in the First World War destroyed their image of invincibility. Before the War the British had appeared to be supermen. Now, seeing them injured, sick and suffering like their imperial subjects, convinced Africans and Indians that they were the same as them, and could be defeated. George Orwell in one of his piece of journalism records watching a parade of Black troops in French Morocco. He states that standing there, watching them pass, he knew what was going through the minds of every White man present: How long can we continue to fool these people? Writing in 1910, the leader of the German Social Democrats, Karl Kautsky, observed the increasing opposition to European imperialism in Asia and Africa and predicted the rise of violent nationalist revolutions against the European powers in the occupied countries.

‘The spirit of rebellion is spreading everywhere in Asia and Africa, and with it is spreading also the use of European arms; resistance to European exploitation is growing. It is impossible to transplant capitalist exploitation into a country, without also sowing the seeds of revolution against this exploitation.

Initially, the expresses itself in increasing complications, colonial policies, and in a growth of their costs. Our colonial enthusiasts comfort us, with regard to the burdens the colonies now impose on us, by referring to the rich rewards the future will bring. In reality, the military expenses required for the maintenance of the colonies are bound to increase constantly from now on – and this will not be all. The majority of countries of Asia and Africa are approaching a situation in which intermittent uprisings will become continuous and will ultimately lead to the destruction of the foreign yoke. Britain’s possessions in East India are nearest to this stage: their loss would be equivalent to the bankruptcy of the English state’.

(Karl Kautsy: Selected Political Writings, ed. and trans. by Patrick Goode (London: MacMillan 1983), p. 77.)

Historians now consider that the Empire was a drain, not a source of wealth, for Britain after 1900. Britain’s gradual departure from its colonies was also a condition for the military and financial aid given by its allies, America and the Soviet Union, during the Second World War. In a series of meeting held with the British authorities and the British Anti-Slavery Society, the Americans demanded the opening up of Britain’s colonies to American trade. The Russians also demanded access to British colonial markets and Britain’s gradual withdrawal from her colonies. By and large Britain’s decline as an imperial power was peaceful, as her colonies were granted independence one after another, beginning with India and Pakistan, from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Nevertheless, Britain did fight a series of wars to retain control of some her colonies in the face of rebellion by the indigenous peoples in Kenya and Malaya.

The establishment of the welfare state in Britain certainly did add greater expenses to the government. However, Britain was unable to support its Empire due to the immense costs of the Second World War on one side and the demands by the formerly subject people’s for independence on the other. Moreover Britain was unlike America in presenting a convincing claim to be defending freedom. America’s own attempts to establish an Empire was confined roughly to the period around 1900. Britain, however, remained a major imperial power and could not present an entirely convincing claim to be defending freedom while denying its subject people’s self-government.

Steyn’s view that the establishment of a welfare state results in military weakness and a reluctance to engage with military threats on the world stage also breaks down completely with some of the other European nations. The origins of Germany’s welfare system lie in Bismarck’s legislation providing German workers with old age pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance. This was several years before the late 19th century Scramble for Africa, which saw the Kaiser attempt to gain colonies there. Furthermore, the use of military force abroad is associated in the minds of the German public with the horrors and militant nationalism of the Third Reich. This is the reason successive German administrations have found it difficult sending troops abroad, even if they were to be used as peacekeepers preventing greater atrocities from being committed by other warring peoples, such as in the former Yugoslavia. As for Italy, the BBC’s foreign affairs programme on Radio 4, From Our Own Correspondent, stated that the country was unwilling to send further troops to support the coalition forces after 9/11 out of fears for the damage terrorist reprisals would inflict on its priceless artistic, architectural and cultural heritage. The small size of many European nations, such as Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, also prevents them from sending vast numbers of troops comparable to those of America or Britain abroad. In the case of Belgium, there is also considerable amount of guilt over the horrors of the atrocities in the Congo, and it has only been in the past few decades that the country is facing up to its history in this area. After the Second World War the country, so I understand, simply wished to forget the whole affair. I don’t know, but like Germany, this may well colour any attempts to interfere militarily in another nation with the Belgian people.

In short, Europe’s gradual military withdrawal from the wider world has far less to do with the expense of maintaining a welfare state than with the economic exhaustion and social and political disruption of two World Wars, and the demands of its former subject peoples for self-determination. The European experience does not suggest that American military power will decline with the introduction of Obama’s single-payer health service, and certainly should not be used to generate opposition to it.

Lord Shaftesbury on the Need for an Indian Factory Act 1879

July 23, 2013

In my last post I discussed the forthcoming Channel 4 drama, The Mill, set amongst the child labourers of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. I mentioned that similar conditions still exist in the Third World today, and that it is the world to which the Tory writers of Britannia Unchained look back, a world of misery, starvation, overwork and exploitation. I also mentioned that due to longer working hours being introduced in Britain and other parts of the West, the working days of the Developing World was also lengthening to inhuman proportions.
I found this speech by Lord Shaftesbury to the House of Lords from 1879 advocating the introduction of an Indian Factory Act, like that he had campaigned for in England thirty years earlier. It makes clear the horrific working conditions in both England and her Indian colonies, and the way industrialisation in both nations had similarly affected their workers. Here it is.

‘On what principle, or what theory, is India to be exempted from the duties and obligations of civilised society? Creed and colour, latitude and longitude, make no difference in the essential nature of man. No climate can enable infants to do the work of adults, or turn suffering women into mere steam-engines … But what say you, my lords, to a continuity of toil, in a standing posture, in a poisonous atmosphere, during thirteen hours, with fifteen minutes to rest? Why, the stoutest man in England, were he made, in such a condition of things, to do nothing during the whole of that time but be erect on his feet and stick pins in a pincushion, would sink under the burden. What say you, then, of children – children of the tenderest years? Why, they become stunted, crippled, deformed, useless. I speak what I know; I state what I have seen …

In Bradford, in 1838, I asked for a collection of cripples and deformities. In a short time more than eighty were gathered in a large courtyard. They were mere samples of the entire mass. I assert without exaggeration that no power of language could describe the varieties, and I may say the cruelties, in all those degradations of the human form. They stood or squatted before me in the shapes of the letters of the alphabet. This was the effect of prolonged toil on the tender frames of children at early ages. When I visited Bradford under the limitation of hours, some years afterwards, I called for a similar exhibition of cripples; but, God be praised, there was not one to be found in that vast city …

Forty-six years ago I addressed the House of Commons in a kindred appeal and they heard me; I now turn to your Lordships and I implore you in the same spirit, for God’s sake and in His name, to have mercy on the children of India.’

The Act was passed, but never enforced.

Nevertheless, it shows the acute social consciousness and relative lack of racial prejudice, at least in this issue, of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury himself was an aristocrat, and an evangelical Christian at the time when that branch of Christianity stood for progressive social reform. He believed in a static society, with the aristocracy holding their natural place at its top. He also believed that people have a Christian duty to ameliorate the conditions of others during the time on Earth, and would have to answer for their lack of charity before the Lord after their death. It was this deep religious faith that prompted his campaigns against long working days for women and children.

I thought the speech was worth repeating because, as I said, it is all too contemporary with Conservatives, particularly the authors of Britannia Unchained, recommending lengthening working hours here to match the Third World. Shaftesbury’s speech describes the world we left. It also describes the world the authors of Britannia Unchained would have us return.

Source

Peter Vansittart, Voices 1870-1914 (New York: Franklin Watts 1985)

John Locke and the Foundations of British and American Democracy

July 4, 2013

Locke Portrait

Career and the Constitution of Carolina

One of the founders of the British and American democratic tradition was the English philosopher, John Locke. Born in 1632, it was Locke who established the modern liberal idea of government by defending the right of the nation to choose their government through elected representatives against the claims for the monarchy to have absolute power, advocated by royalists such as Sir Robert Filmer. From 1668 to 1675 he was Secretary to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, and from 1673 to 1675 he was Secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Locke helped draft the Fundamental Constitutions for the Government of Carolina in 1669. This contained Locke’s own ideas, that he had previously expressed in his Essay Concerning Toleration of two years previously. He believed that no-one should be a freeman in Carolina, or possess any land or dwelling there, who did not believe in a God. If they did believe in the Almighty, however, they not only had the right to live in the colony, but also to the authorities’ protection for their person, property and religious beliefs. Locke was certainly not in favour of complete religious toleration. He excluded Roman Catholics, who were associated with continental absolute monarchies, such as France and Spain, as well as atheists. In the event, his proposed constitution was never enacted, yet some of the ideas it contained were strong enough to be put into practice. Carolina thus offered a greater protection to emigrants fleeing religious persecution than either Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. Locke stated that everyone possessed the fundamental rights of ‘life, liberty and property’, which inspired the American Revolutionaries to enshrine the basic rights of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ in the American Constitution.

Political Ideas in the Two Treatises of Government

Locke himself saw his arguments for representative democracy as part of the English tradition of political liberty that stood staunchly opposed to the absolute monarchy of Filmer’s Patriarcha. The first part of Locke’s classic political text, Two Treatises of Government, consists in demolishing Filmer’s arguments. It is arranged in several books, the first of which has the title ‘An Essay Concerning Certain False Principles’. The first chapter is ‘On Slavery and Natural Liberty’. It begins

‘Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an “English,” much less a “gentleman”, should plead for it.’

He later defined political power as

‘that power which every man having in the state of Nature has given up into the hands of the society, and therein to the governors whom the society hath set over itself, with this express or tacit trust, that it shall be employed for their good and the preservation of their property… it can have no other end or measure, when in the hands of the magistrate, but to preserve the members of that society in their lives, liberties, and possessions, and so cannot be an absolute, arbitrary power over their lives and fortunes, which are as much as possible to be preserved … And this power has its original only from compact and agreement and the mutual consent of those who make up the community’.

Locke’s Family’s Homes of Wrington and Pensford, Somerset

Locke was born in Wrington, in Somerset, and his family came from the village of Pensford. This is also in Somerset, not far from the city of Bristol. The great British travel writer, Arthur Mee, described Pensford as follows:

‘It has a character, and a good one; could any tiny place be more crowded with quaint loveliness? Perhaps we found it at its best, for it was a glorious spring day and the aubrietia was creeping down the stone walls through which the river runs, ten feet down from the cottage gardens to the water, and it is all bridges- three little stone ones and a colossal viaduct dwarfing the village, the tower, the roofs and everything with its 16 great arches carryinig the trains 100 feet up in the air. A perfect miniature is the little domed lock-up looking down the street. Wandsdyke which runs close by is hardly noticed.

The 14th century church is nearly moated with the little river; in its long history the nave has been flooded four feet deep. It has a 15th century font with quatrefoils and roses; a Jacobean pulpit of which every inch is carved with swaures and circles and leaves, and in the tower we found an odd little man most certainly winking, though winking at nothing we could see.

In this small place there live two people whose son was to join our immortals, father and mother of our philosopher John Locke’.

According to Mee, there is also a bust of Locke in Wrington parish church. It was taken there after his uncle’s house in the village was torn down.

Since Locke’s time, democracy and liberal, representative government has spread to many more countries than just Britain and America. The largest democracy on Earth is now India. Black Britons, American and West Indians may well consider Locke’s comments on slavery profoundly wrong, considering their own peoples history of enslavement by Europeans. Nevertheless, Locke’s ideas on government firmly laid the foundation for modern, constitutional democracy and the replacement of absolute monarchy by liberal regimes.

Sources

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd 1924).

Arthur Mee, ed. Somerset: County of Romantic Splendour (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1940)