Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Revolution’

Simon Webb’s Speech to the Traditional Britain Group: A Critique

December 29, 2022

One of the great commenters on this blog asked me the other day if I’d watched Simon Webb’s speech to the Traditional Britain Group, which has been posted up on YouTube. Webb is the man behind History Debunked, in which he criticises, refutes and comments on various historical myths and distortions. Most of these are against Black history, as well as racial politics. Occasionally he also presents his opinions on gay and gender issues. Like other YouTubers and internet commenters, you need to use your own discretion when watching his material. Sometimes, when he cites his sources, he’s right. At other times he’s more probably wrong. As much of his material is against mass immigration, particularly Black and Asian, and he believes that there is a racial hierarchy when it comes to intelligence, there’s some discussion of the man’s political orientation. He’s definitely right-wing, reading the Torygraph and attacking Labour as ‘high spending’. But it’s a question of how right-wing. Some people have suggested he’s English Democrat or supports a similar extreme right fringe party.

The other day he gave a speech at the Traditional Britain Group, which is a particularly nasty set of rightists within the Conservative party. There was a scandal a few years ago, you’ll recall, when Jacob Rees-Mogg turned up at one of their dinners. Mogg claimed he didn’t know how far right they were, but was shown to be somewhat economical with the actualite when someone showed that he’d actually been warned against associating with them. They are fervently against non-White immigration and some of them have a dubious interest in the Nazis and the Third Reich. I’ve also been told that their members include real Nazis and eugenicists, which is all too credible. They also want to privatise the NHS. I found this out after finding myself looking at their message board a few years ago. They were talking about how they needed to privatise the health service, but it would have to be done gradually and covertly because at the moment the masses were too much in favour of it. Which has been Tory policy for decades.

Webb’s speech is about half and hour long, and takes in slavery, White English identity and how Blacks have taken ownership of the subject so that it’s now part of theirs, White guilt over it and the industrial revolution and how White Brits are being made to feel ashamed of imperialism. He also blamed Tony Blair for mass immigration and claimed that it was due to this that the health service was collapsing.

The British Empire

He started off by saying that when he was young, everyone believed that the British Empire was a good thing and that we had brought civilisation to Africa and other parts of the world. I don’t doubt this. He’s older than me, and so I can believe that the received view of the Empire in his time was largely positive. Even the Labour party broadly supported imperialism. Its official stance was that Britain held these countries in trust until they were mature enough for self-government. This has changed, and there is a general feeling, certainly on the left, that it’s something we should be ashamed of. But this has come from historians and activists discussing and revealing the negative aspects of colonialism, such as the genocide and displacement of indigenous peoples, enslavement, forced labour and massacres. The end of empires tend to be particularly bloody, as shown in the various nationalist wars that ended the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and the French possession of Algeria. Britain fought similar bloody wars and committed atrocities to defend its empire, as shown in the massive overreaction in Kenya to the Mao Mao rebellion. Jeremy Black, in his history of the British Empire, also argues that support for the empire fell away from the 1970s onwards as British youth became far more interested in America. I think the automatic condemnation of British imperialism is wrong and one-sided. It’s also somewhat hypocritical, as the same people condemning the British Empire don’t condemn other brutal imperial regimes like the Ottomans. It’s also being used by various post-colonial regimes to shift attention and blame for their own failings. But all this doesn’t change the fact that some horrific things were done during the Empire, which politicians and historians have to deal with. Hence the shame, although in my view there should be a space for a middle position which condemns the atrocities and celebrates the positive.

Britain and Slavery

He then talks about how slavery is now identified solely with Black transatlantic servitude. But he argues that the White English can also claim slavery as part of their identity. He talks of the first mention of the English in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, when pope Gregory the Great saw some English children for sale in the slave market in Rome. Asking who such beautiful children were, he was told they were Angles. At which Gregory punned, ‘Non Anglii, sed angeli’ – ‘Not Angles but angels’. At the time of the Domesday Book 10 per cent of the English population were slaves. And the mob that tore down Colston’s statue in Bristol were unaware that the city had been exported English slaves over a millennium before. These were shipped to the Viking colonies in Ireland – Dublin, Wexford and other towns – from whence they were then trafficked internationally. Slavery existed long before Black transatlantic slavery. The first record we have of it is from 4000 years ago in the form of document from the Middle East recording the sale of slaves and pieces of land. While they weren’t aware of transatlantic slavery at school, they knew slavery existed through studying the Bible. The story of Joseph and his brothers, and the Israelites in Egypt. But slavery has now become identified exclusively with Black slavery and is part of the Black identity. It’s because we’re supposed to feel guilty about slavery and feel sorry for Blacks that Black people over overrepresented in adverts, on television dramas and even historical epics, such as the show about the Tudors where half the actors were Black.

Webb is right about slavery existing from ancient times. There are indeed documents from the ancient near eastern city of Mari in Mesopotamia recording the sale of slaves along with land and other property, as I’ve blogged about here. One of the problems the abolitionists faced was that slavery existed right across the world, and so their opponents argued that it was natural institution. They therefore also claimed that it was consequently unfair and disastrous for the government to abolish it in the British empire. He’s right about Pope Gregory and the English slaves, although the word ‘Angli’ refers to the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that settled and colonised England with the Saxons and Jutes after the fall of the Roman Empire. Angles in Anglo-Saxon were Englas, hence Engla-land – England, land of the Angles, and Englisc, English. Bristol did indeed export English slave to Ireland. Archbishop Wulfstan preached against it in the 11th century. We were still doing so in 1140, when visiting clergy from France were warned against going for dinner aboard the Irish ships in the harbour. These would lure people aboard with such promises, then slip anchor and take them to Ireland. The Irish Vikings also imported Black slaves. One chronicle reports the appearance of a consignment of blamenn, blue or black men in Old Norse, in Dublin. David Olasuga has also claimed that they imported 200 Blacks into Cumbria. Bristol’s export of White English slaves is mentioned in a display about it in the city’s M Shed Museum, which also contains the statue of Edward Colston. I do agree with Webb that there is a problem with popular attitudes towards slavery. Its presentation is one-sided, so that I don’t think many people are aware of it and its horrors outside the British Empire, nor how White Europeans were also enslaved by the Muslim Barbary pirates. I very strongly believe that this needs to be corrected.

Black Overrepresentation on TV

I don’t think it’s guilt over slavery alone that’s responsible for the large number of Black actors being cast on television, particularly the adverts. I think this is probably also due to commercial marketing, the need to appeal to international audiences and attempts to integrate Blacks by providing images of multiracial Britain. Many adverts are made for an international audience, and I think the use of Blacks has become a sort of visual shorthand for showing that the company commissioning the advert is a nice, anti-racist organisation, keen to sell to people of different colours across the world without prejudice. At home, it’s part of the promotion of diversity. Blacks are, or are perceived, as acutely alienated and persecuted, and so in order to combat racism the media has been keen to include them and present positive images of Black life and achievement. There are organisations dedicated to this task, such as the Creative Diversity Network, as well as systems that grade companies according to how they invest in multicultural enterprises, such as television and programmes with suitably racially diverse casts. Webb has himself talked about this. He’s also stated that Blacks are disproportionately represented on television, constituting only 6 per cent of the population but a very large proportion of actors in TV programmes and adverts. This might simply be because other, larger ethnic groups, such as Asians, aren’t so concerned with entering the entertainment industry and so aren’t represent to the same extent. Hence, Blacks sort of stand in for people of colour as a whole. As for adverts, I’ve also wondered if some of this might be purely commercial – a concern to sale to an emergent, affluent, Black market, perhaps. It also struck me that it might also be a make work programme. As I understand it, there are too many drama graduates for too few roles. This is particularly going to hit Blacks and other ethnic minorities because Britain at the moment is still a White majority country. There have consequently been demands for colour blind casting, as in Armando Iannucci’s recent film version of Oliver Twist. A year or so ago one Black actor announced that there should be more roles for Blacks or else they would go to America. As for the casting of a Black woman as Anne Boleyn, this seems to follow the theatre, where colour blind casting has existed for years. I think it also follows the tacit demand to create an image of the British past that conforms to modern multicultural society rather than how it really was. And some of it, I think, just comes from the feeling that as modern Blacks are as British as their White compatriots, so they should not be excluded from appearing as historical characters who were White. I think these considerations are just as likely, or more likely, to be the causes of the disproportionate number of Blacks appearing on camera than simply pity for them as the victims of slavery.

Blair Not Responsible for Mass Immigration

Now we come to his assertion that Blair was responsible for mass immigration. When he made this declaration, there were shouts, including one of ‘traitor’. I don’t believe that Blair was responsible for it, at least, not in the sense he means. The belief that he was, which is now widespread on the anti-immigrant right, comes from a single civil servant. This official claimed that Blair did so in order to change the ethnic composition of Britain and undermine the Tories. But did he really? This comes from a single individual, and without further corroboration, you can’t be sure. In fact Blair seems to have tried to cut down on immigration, particularly that of non-Whites. In order to dissuade people from coming here, he stopped immigrants from being able to apply for welfare benefits. The food banks now catering to native Brits were originally set up to feed those immigrants, who were no longer eligible for state aid. I also recall David Blunkett stating that they were going to cut down on immigration. The Guardian also accused Blair of racism over immigration. He had cut down on non-White immigration from outside Europe, while allowing White immigration from the EU and its new members in eastern Europe. The right had also been concerned about rising Black and Asian immigration for decades, and in the 1980s Tory papers like the Depress were publishing articles about unassimilable ethnic minorities. This started before Blair, and I don’t think he was deliberately responsible for it.

But I believe he was responsible for it in the sense that many of the migrants come from the countries Blair, Bush, Obama and Sarco destroyed or helped to destroy in the Middle East, such as Libya, Iraq and Syria. Blair had made some kind of deal with Colonel Gaddafy to keep migrants from further south in Libya, rather than crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. This was destroyed when Gaddafy’s regime was overthrown by Islamists. The result has been the enslavement of Black African migrants, and renewed waves of refugees from North Africa fleeing the country’s collapse.

He also stated that the industrial revolution, which was something else that was traditionally a source of pride, is now considered a cause for shame instead. Britain had been its birthplace and given its innovations to the rest of the world. However, we are now expected to be ashamed of it through its connection to slavery. The cotton woven in the Lancashire mills came from the American slave south, while sugar came from the slave colonies of the Caribbean. We’re also supposed to be ashamed of it because it’s the cause of climate change, for which we should pay reparations.

The Industrial Revolution and Climate Change

Okay, I’ve come across the claim that the industrial revolution was financed by profits from the slave trade and that it was based on the processing of slave produced goods. However, this is slightly different from condemning the industrial revolution as a whole. You can lament the fact that slavery was a part of this industrialisation, while celebrating the immense social, technological and industrial progress itself. After all, Marx states in the Communist Manifesto that it has rescued western society from rural idiocy. The demand that Britain should feel ashamed about the industrial revolution because of climate change comes from Greta Thunberg. It is, in my view, monumentally stupid and actually shows an ignorance of history. It’s based on an idealisation of pre-technological societies and an idealisation of rural communities. It’s a product of European romanticism, mixed with contemporary fears for the future of the planet. But the agrarian past was no rural idyll. People in the agricultural societies before the urbanisation of the 19th century had very utilitarian attitudes to the environment. It was a source of resources that could be used and exploited. The nostalgia for an idealised rural past came with the new generation of urban dwellers, who missed what they and their parents had enjoyed in the countryside. And rural life could be extremely hard. If you read economic histories of the Middle Ages and early modern period, famine is an ever present threat. It still was in the 19th century. The Irish potato famine is the probably the best known example in Ireland and Britain, but there were other instances of poverty, destitution and starvation across the UK and Europe. Industrialisation has allowed a far greater concentration of people to live than would have been possible under subsistence agriculture. Yes, I’m aware that overpopulation is a problem, that industrial pollution is harming the environment and contributing to the alarming declining in animal and plant species. But technological and science hopefully offer solutions to these problems as well. And I really don’t want to go back to a subsistence economy in which communities can be devastated by crop failure.

The call for climate reparations, I think, comes from Ed Miliband, and in my view it shows how out of touch and naive he is. I have no problem the Developed World giving aid to some of those countries threatened by climate change, such as the Pacific islands which are threatened with flooding due to the rise in sea levels. But some countries, I believe, are perfectly capable of doing so without western help. One of these is China, which also contributes massively to carbon emissions and which I believe has also called for the payment of climate reparations. China is an emerging economic superpower, and I see no reason why the west should pay for something that it’s doing and has the ability to tackle. I am also very sceptical whether such monies would be used for the purposes they’re donated. Corruption is a massive problem in the Developing World, and various nations have run scams to part First World donors and aid agencies from their money. When I was at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum one of these was a scheme for a hydroelectric dam in Pakistan. The Pakistani government was calling for western aid to finance the project. Britain refused, sensing a scam, for which we were criticised. Other countries happily gave millions, but the dam was never built. All a fraud. I suspect if climate reparations were paid, something similar would also happen with the aid money disappearing into kleptocrats’ pockets. There’s also the problem of where the tax burden for the payment of these reparations would fall. It probably wouldn’t be the rich, who have enjoyed generous tax cuts, but the British working class through indirect taxes. In short, it seems to me to be a colossally naive idea.

But these ideas don’t seem to be widespread. When he announced them, there were shouts from the audience to which Webb responded that it was coming, and they should wait a few years. Perhaps it will, but I’ve seen no enthusiasm or even much mention of them so far. They were mentioned during the COP 27 meeting, and that’s it. Thunberg’s still around, but after all these years I think she’s somewhat passe. At the moment I don’t think these ideas are issues.

Mass Immigration Not the Cause of NHS Crisis

Now let’s examine his statement that it’s due to immigration that the NHS is in the state it’s in. This is, quite simply, wrong. He correctly states that while Britain’s population has grown – London’s has nearly doubled and Leicester’s grown by 30 per cent – there has been no similar provision of medical services. No new hospitals have been built. As a result, where once you could simply walk into your doctor’s and expect to be seen, now you have to book an appointment. And when it comes to hospitals, it’s all the fault of immigrants. He talks about a specific hospital in London, and how the last time he was in that area, he was the only White Brit in the queue. This was because immigrants don’t have GPs, and so go to the hospital for every problem. We also have the problem of sick and disabled people from the developing world coming to the country for the better services we offer. A woman from the Sudan with a special needs child will therefore come here so that her child can have the treatment it wouldn’t get in the Sudan.

I dare say some of this analysis is correct. Britain’s population has grown largely due to immigration. One statistic released by a right-wing group said that immigration was responsible for 80 per cent of population growth. It’s probably correct, as Chambers Cyclopedia stated in its 1987 edition that British birthrates were falling and that it was immigration that was behind the rise in the UK population. I don’t know London at all, and I dare say that many of the immigrants there may well not have had doctors. I can also quite believe that some immigrants do come here for our medical care. There was a case a few weeks ago of a Nigerian woman, who got on a flight to London specifically so that she could have her children in a British hospital. I think this was a case of simple health tourism, which has gone on for years, rather than immigration.

But this overlooks the fact that the problems of the NHS has been down to successive Thatcherite regimes cutting state medical care in Britain all under the pretext of making savings and not raising taxes. Thatcher closed hospital wards. So did Tony Blair, when he wasn’t launching his PFI initiative. This was supposed to build more hospitals, but led to older hospitals being closed and any new hospitals built were smaller, fewer and more expensive. Cameron started off campaigning against hospital closures, and then, once he got his backside in No. 10, carried on with exactly the same policy. Boris Johnson claimed that he was going to build forty hospitals, which was, like nearly everything else the obese buffoon uttered, a flat lie. And Tweezer, Truss and Sunak are doing the same. Doctors surgeries have also suffered. Many of them have been sold off to private chains, which have maximised profits by closing down those surgeries that aren’t profitable. The result is that people have been and are being left without doctors. If you want an explanation why the NHS is in the state it is, blame Thatcher and her heirs, not immigrants.

Conclusion

While Webb has a point about the social and political manipulation of historical issues like the slave trade and the British Empire, these aren’t the reasons for the greater appearance of Black actors and presenters on television. Blair wasn’t responsible for mass immigration, and it’s underfunding and privatisation, not immigration, that’s responsible for the deplorable state of the health service. But he’s speaking to the wrong people there anyway, as the TBG would like to privatise it.

I am not saying it is wrong to discuss these issues, but it is wrong to support a bunch of Nazis like the TBG, who will exploit them to recreate all the social inequality, poverty and deprivation of pre-modern Britain.

Time Team Creator Tim Taylor Attempting to Bring Back Show through Patreon on YouTube

December 14, 2020

Remember Time Team? That was the popular archaeology show on Channel 4 that ran from the late 1980s to the early part of this century. Presented by Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in the Blackadder series, the show broadcast each week a short archaeological investigation of a different site. These investigations only lasted three days and attempted to solve a particular historical or archaeological. It would begin with the questions raised by the site they were excavating that week. Was it really the location for a Roman villa, lost Norman castle, or medieval manor house, for example? Robinson would lay out what has been found so far, stating what they hoped to find and saying a bit more about the excavation and who would be taking part, before finishing, ‘And, as usual, we’ve got three days to find out’.

It was immensely popular, at least for Channel 4 shows and archaeology programmes. It spawned a number of tie-in book and publications. Some of the programmes were written up as pamphlets in a series of Time Team Site Reports. In the spring/summer of 2004 or 5 the show also embarked on their Big Dig. This was a piece of mass archaeology involving the general public. The goal was to get the British public digging test pits up and down the country in their back gardens or other premises, and see what they found. And the British public joined in with enthusiasm. Some of the excavations were carried out, not just by the fit and able, but also by people with learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities. It was part of the show’s ethos to get everyone involved. They were also keen to demonstrate that archaeology wasn’t just about the rich, kings, princes and the nobility, but also about ordinary people. Hence there were a number of shows devoted to excavating industrial sites, such as a very early, pioneering factory in Birmingham dating from the industrial revolution. This was important not just for its role in the country’s industrialisation, but as a place where ordinary peeps worked. The Team also excavated further abroad. In one edition, they went to St. Kitt’s to dig on a former sugar plantation. This dated from the period of British transatlantic slavery. The show therefore discussed Caribbean plantation slavery and its horrors, and also excavated the site of the quarters of the estate’s enslaved workers. In another edition, Robinson also described the horrendous living condition of the urban working class in the 19th century, as recorded by the inspectors. This described people living in cellars mouldy with damp and with rags stuffed into the cracks in windows. One of these hovels also had a dead baby on the floor. He also described how factory owners would also purchase children from the workhouses to labour in the factories. Robinson’s a member of the Labour Party, and there was real anger in his voice when describing these horrors.

Time Team sort of fizzled out a few years after the death of one of its founders, Dr. Mick Aston, and a row over choice of presenters. One of the Team had been dropped, and replaced by a model. The new presenter had actually done a degree in archaeology, but this caused a nasty background argument. I believe the lady at the centre of row chivalrously offered to step down.

Now it seems the show might be coming back, though on YouTube rather than television. Tim Taylor, the show’s creator, posted a video on YouTube on the 11th December 2020 giving an update on how the attempts were progressing so far, and what remained to be done. The show’s being financed through subscriptions on Patreon, and the video’s partly an appeal for more people to join. The show also has its own Patreon Channel, on which videos will appear over the next few days of Helen Geake, Carenza Lewis and Phil Harding discussing the plans for Stage 1. They’ve started looking at sites and contacting key team members. Stages 2 & 3 will involve more research, site mapping on their new digital database, collecting key paperwork for each site, assembling potential experts, talking to local communities, and then creating a PD – Project Design, the archaeological strategy. They will also be auditioning new field archaeologists for Stage 3, with the possibility of a ‘dig off’. That will be when they really build the Team. They managed to get 1,000 patrons in 3 days, but in order to get Stages 2 & 3 underway they need to have 3,000 patrons by the end of January 2021. When 2 & 3 are complete, they’ll share the list of sites, so that people can choose which sites go forward to stage 4, where they visit those locations. Taylor states that the show depends on people supporting them on Patreon and appeals for more people to become members and patrons. He tells the viewers that they’re posting an old Time Team episode on their Time Team Classic YouTube channel on Sunday – yesterday, 13th December 2020. The show ends with a message of support from Robinson.

Time Team ANNOUNCEMENT Next steps and news from Tony Robinson! – YouTube

This is really interesting, and I’d like to see the show come back, but have mixed feelings about it. While the programme has been immensely influential and has doubtless got people interested in archaeology, it has not been without its detractors. The criticisms I’ve heard are that the Team never wrote up their findings and didn’t fill in the sites after they’d finished. This is only what I’ve heard, and so I couldn’t swear it was true, though I did hear about them not filling in their digs from two different sources. This has led to accusations that they have been trashing sites. That said, the Team were professional archaeologists with the exception of Tony Robinson, and some of the TV presenters brought in for the specials, such as Sandi Toksvig when they were digging up Viking York. She was obviously chosen because she’s Danish. They also had the support of some very senior British archaeologists, such as Francis Pyor, who was the head of one of one of the major British archaeological societies. Mick Aston, a founding member of the Team, was a lecturer at Bristol University, as was Dr. Mark Horton, who appeared on several of the shows before going off to front Coast. Raksha Dave, another member of the Team, has also subsequently appeared on various history/ archaeology shows. Although nothing is said about her ethnicity, Dave’s Asian, and I think her presence on the programmes wasn’t just due to her skills as an archaeologist, but also to try and widen the discipline’s appeal and include people from ethnic minorities. Like very many other academic subjects, there’s a concern in archaeology to recruit more people of colour. Mark Horton is particularly keen to see more people in general take up archaeology. When Bristol University launched its exhibition on the city’s involvement in the Slave Trade, ‘A Respectable Trade’, back in the ’90s the Uni also launched a scheme to interest young people, in which a prospective future archaeologist would be sent to work on an excavation in the Caribbean. Again, nothing was said, but it’s the kind of project, which I think they devised in the hope that it would appeal particularly to Black youngsters.

It’ll be very interesting to see if Taylor’s successful, and show comes back, if only YouTube. And there’s clearly a space there for more people from ethnic minorities to enter the subject and, perhaps, join the show as presenters.

Hopefully, if it does get off the ground, it will inspire more people, of all colours, to get involved in archaeology. The future’s yours, folks! Get those trowels ready!

The Spanish Civil War and the Real Origins of Orwell’s Anti-Communism

January 2, 2019

Orwell’s 1984 is one of the very greatest classic dystopian novels depicting a bleak future in which the state has nearly absolute, total control. It’s particularly impressed Russians and others, who lived through and criticized Stalinism. Some of these have expressed amazement at how Orwell could have written the book without actually experiencing the horrific reality of Stalin’s USSR for himself. After the War, Orwell became a snitch for MI5 providing the agency with information on the suspected Communists. It’s a sordid part of his brilliant career as an anti-imperialist, socialist writer and activist. Conservatives have naturally seized on Orwell’s 1984, and the earlier satire, Animal Farm, to argue that the great writer had become so profoundly disillusioned that he had abandoned socialism altogether to become a fierce critic of it.

This is unlikely, as the previous year Orwell had written The Lion and the Unicorn, subtitled Socialism and the English. This examined English identity, and argued that for socialism to win in England, it had to adapt to British traditions and the English national character. But it didn’t reject socialism. Instead, it looked forward to a socialist victory and a socialist revolution, but one that would be so in keeping with English nationhood that some would wonder if there had been a revolution at all. He believed this would come about through the increasing blurring of class lines, and pointed to the emergence of a class of people occupying suburban council housing, who could not be easily defined as either working or middle class.

This view of the necessity of developing of a particularly British, English variety of socialism was one of the fundamental assumptions of the Fabians. They said in the History of the society that

‘Fabian Essays’ presented the case for Socialism in plain language which everybody could understand. It based Socialism, not on the speculations of a German philosopher, but on the obvious evolution of society as we see it around us. It accepted economic science as taught by the accredited British professors; it built up the edifice of Socialism on the foundations of our existing political and social institutions; it proved that Socialism was but the next step in the development of society, rendered inevitable by the changes which followed from the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century.

In Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought, Vol. 3, Hegel to Dewey (London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959) 309.

George Bernard Shaw, in his paper ‘The Transition to Social Democracy’, also stressed that the movement towards socialism was a proper part of general developments in British society. He wrote of the Fabian programme

There is not one new item in it. All are applications of principles already in full activity. All have on them that stamp of the vestry which is so congenial to the British mind. None of them compel the use of the words Socialism or Evolution; at no point do they involve guillotining, declaring the Rights of Man, swearing on the alter of the country, or anything else that is supposed to be essentially un-English. And they are all sure to come – landmarks on our course already visible to far-sighted politicians even of the party that dreads them.

Lancaster, op. cit., p. 316.

Shaw was right, and continues to be right. Thatcher wanted to privatise everything because she was afraid of the ‘ratcheting down’ of increasing nationalization, and believed this would result in the gradual emergence of a completely socialized British economy. And the fact that so much British socialism was based on British rather than continental traditions may also explain why Conservatives spend so much of their effort trying to persuade the public that that Socialists, or at least the Labour left, are all agents of Moscow.

It appears to me that what turned Orwell into an anti-Communist was seeing the Communist party abandon its socialist allies and attack their achievements under Stalin’s orders in the Spanish Civil War. The Trotskyite writer Ernest Mandel discusses this betrayal in his From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (New York: Schocken Books 1978).

The switch to a defence of the bourgeois state and the social status quo in the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries – which implied the defence of private property in the event of severe social crisis and national defence in the event of imperialist war – was made officially by the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. It had been preceded by an initial turn in this direction by the French Communist Party (PCF) when the Stalin-Laval military pact was signed. The clearest reflection of this turn was the Popular Front policy; its most radical effects came with the application of this policy during the Spanish Civil War. In Spain, the Communist Party made itself the most determined, consistent and bloody defender of the reestablishment of the bourgeois order against the collectivisations spontaneously effected by the workers and poor peasants of the Republic and against the organs of power created by the proletariat, particularly the committees and militias, which had inflicted a decisive defeat on the miltaro-fascist insurgents in nearly all the large cities of the country in July 1936. (p. 18).

Others have also pointed out that the nightmare world of 1984 is a depiction of a revolution that has taken the wrong turn, not one that has failed, which is another tactic adopted by Conservative propagandists. Orwell was greatly impressed by the achievements of the Spanish anarchists, and anarchism is highly critical of state socialism and particularly the USSR.

It thus seems to me that what Orwell attacked in Animal Farm and 1984 was not socialism as such, but its usurpation and abuse by bitterly intolerant, repressive groups like the Bolsheviks. It was a view partly based by what he had seen in Spain, and would no doubt have been reinforced by his awareness of the way Stalin had also rounded up, imprisoned and shot socialist dissidents in the USSR. Orwell was probably anti-Communist, not anti-Socialist.

Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part 3

May 25, 2018

It is also possible to find parallels in the careers of individuals, which, when carefully selected, may refer to a completely different person. As an extreme example, consider the eulogy made by some of the French at the Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany. They began praising a great national leader, responsible for aggressively including those parts of his nation, that had been separated from the main, parent homeland for centuries. Sounds like Hitler after the annexation of the Sudetenland, doesn’t it? This same national figure was also responsible for persecuting and expelling a religious minority, working against his country and its faith. Which also sounds like Hitler and the Jews.

It wasn’t.

The figure they were talking about was Louis XIV. The Sun King had begun a series of wars to annex French-speaking communities in other nations, like the Kingdom of Burgundy, which had previously been part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also responsible for the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the renewal of persecution and final expulsion of the Huguenots, French Protestants. Many of these fled to England, where they brought new skills in weaving and clock-making, for example, and contributed to Britain’s industrial revolution taking off earlier than its counterpart in France. People hearing the speech were intended to believe it was about Hitler until the real identity of this national leader was revealed.

Through carefully selecting parallels and facts, you can make almost anyone appear as something they are not. Which is something the Israel lobby and the people making those smears know very well, as they twist and deny facts, and take words and comments out of context, or simply make them up.

But to return to the subject of racial insults and the subjective evidence of how they may appear to other people, this reminds me of two notorious cases in America where people were falsely accused of racially insulting Blacks.

One of these concerned a Black staffer working in the US Treasury department during Clinton’s presidency. He was responsible for setting or estimating the funding levels. A Black colleague tackled him on his figures, criticising them for being too low. The staffer rejected this, and said, ‘No, I’m not being niggardly’. His interlocutor then sued him for his use of racist language. Presumably this was because ‘niggardly’ sounds like ‘n888er’. In fact, the two words are etymologically distinct. The modern English term ‘niggard’, comes from the Middle English word ‘nig’, meaning a miser or worthless person. It has absolutely nothing to do with later racist terms for people of colour. But it’s similarity to that term was enough to anger his opponent, who doubtless sincerely felt that it was a derogatory term, and that he had been insulted.

The case was much discussed in the press, because of its similarity to a novel that had recently come out by one of America’s great literary giants, The Human Stain. This is about a man in a well-paid, responsible job, who is also brought low and sued for racism, when he uses an ambiguous term, which his accusers believe is racist, but which really isn’t.

And then there’s the case of the Jewish student at one of the American colleges, who was sued by a group of Black sorority girls. The poor fellow had been revising for an exam he had the next day. Unfortunately, right outside his window and below him there were a group of young Black women very loudly celebrating some sorority even. At last, driven to exasperation by his inability to concentrate due to the noise they were making, he threw open his window and shouted out, ‘Shut up, you water buffalo!’ The girls decided they’d been insulted, and so took him to the college authorities. And the court proceeding there seem almost farcical. One member of staff turned up to give evidence that water buffalo were African animals. They aren’t. They’re East Asian. The accused student himself defended himself by saying that he was using ‘water buffalo’ to translate the Hebrew word ‘behema’, which has no racial connotations. In fact, as I understand it, the word ‘behema’ simply means ‘beast’, of any kind.

Both of these are stupid, wrongful accusations, that should never have come to court, although I’ve no doubt the people making the accusations sincerely believed they’d been terribly insulted because of their race.

And they clearly show the terrible dangers and miscarriages of justice which occur when subjective impressions are taken as the yardstick for assessing whether a comment or statement is racist or not.

And subjective impressions, and the rule that something may be racist, if another person thinks it is, regardless of whether it really is, or was intended to be, must not be allowed to become the standard for upholding the anti-Semitism smears against Labour party members. Or anyone else for that matter.

As this article has shown, it privileges emotion, ignorance and pernicious urban myths against truth and fact. It is also of a piece with the ‘paranoid style’ animating the Fascist right, and which has resulted in the creation of real, terribly evil conspiracy theories, which are a danger to Blacks, Jews, left-wingers and members of new religious movements, like practising occultists, who were accused of Satanic ritual abuse in real witch hunts back in the 1990s. Quite apart from ordinary people, who also found themselves accused of Satanism because of false memories and the coaching of those utterly convinced that a Satanic conspiracy exists.

Subjective impressions don’t lead to truth. They lead to witch hunts, false convictions and massive injustice. Which is why the Israel lobby and is collaborators in the Labour party are determined to use it. It has to be stopped, and the real yardsticks – impartial fact – used instead.

‘Florence’ Suggests I should Compile a Book about British & American Support for Fascist Dictators

November 12, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on a video from the Aussie left-wing blogger, Democratic Socialist. This showed the Tory media’s double standard in reviling Jeremy Corbyn as a supporter of terrorism, Iran, and an anti-Semite, when he is none of those things. But the hacks of the Telegraph definitely did not make those accusations against their Tory molten idol, Maggie Thatcher, when she by association supported all of the above through her friendship with General Pinochet.

Corbyn’s support for Iran was based on an interview he made to an Iranian group, the Mossadeq Project. Mohammed Mossadeq was the last, democratically elected prime minister of that ancient and extremely cultured nation. He was no theocrat, but a secular liberal. He was also a Baha’i, a post-Islamic, syncretistic faith which embraces human equality, including that of men and women. The Shi’a Muslim establishment have hated them since the faith first emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there have been terrible pogroms against them. This hatred is not shared by all Iranian Muslims, and I have personally known Iranian Muslims, who are heartily sick of the way their Baha’i friends are treated.

Mossadeq’s crime was that he dared nationalise the Iranian oil industry, then dominated by the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which became BP. This resulted in us and the Americans organising a coup, which toppled Mossadeq, and began the long process by which the Shah gradually assumed absolute power, ruling through terror and a secret police force, SAVAK.

‘Florence’, one of the many great commenters on this blog, commented

In the early 70s I volunteered to help type up translation transcriptions of reports from torture victims of the “Shit” of Iran, as Private eye called him. (It was as evidence for Amnesty.) Its not something you can ever forget. When the revolution happened, it was simply new bosses at the same slaughter houses. This is another lesson learned; the violence required by a state to terrorise its own people seeps into the culture, and remains for generations (maybe longer, its too early to tell in most of the cases you cover in this interesting and evocative piece). The violence of the state becomes symmetrical in the revolution in many countries, Iran, Iraq, etc. that follows such repression.

(For this reason I also worry that, for example, the almost visceral hatred of the disabled (and other poor) in the UK bred by the eugenics of neoliberalism for decades will not be so easily dislodged with a change in government. )

I see that the experience of having lived through those times is no longer part of the wider political education of the younger members of the left. In Labour the excesses of the neoliberals all but wiped out that generation and the links. I talk sometimes to our younger members in the Labour party and they are fascinated – but totally clueless. I do try to point them at this blog for this very reason. They are oblivious to who Pinochet was, why it mattered to us then and now, the refuge given to that butcher by Thatcher, the entire history of the Chicago school etc. The traditional passing in of this history, personal history too, through social groups in the Labour party has all but broken down.

As a suggestion, perhaps you could edit your blogs into a book we could use in discussion groups? You would help us be that collective memory board for the newer (not just younger) activists. It would help tease out the older members stories of their personal part in the struggles at home and abroad, but more than that your pieces on the collision of religious and political also show the rich complexities of life.

I am really honoured that my blog is so highly regarded and useful. While talking to Mike earlier today, I mentioned the idea to him. He was enthusiastic and supportive, making a few suggestions on how I should go about it. I told him I have had problems finding a mainstream publisher for some of my other books I have written. He suggested I should try Lulu again, and have the cover done by a professional artist. This would be a great help to actually selling the book, and he could put me in touch with some of the great comics artists he’s worked with.

I am therefore definitely going to look into this.

Now for the other points ‘Florence’ has raised in her comment.

As for the point about how a whole generation in the Left and the Labour party having an awareness and opposition to the various Fascist leaders run riot around the world thanks to British and American support as part of their political education, I think that’s how very many people got involved in politics. Private Eye covered these issues, as it still does, and there was the series of comedy reviews put on in support of Amnesty in the 1980s called The Secret Policeman’s Ball. These featured some of the greatest comedy talents of the day, such as the Pythons and the languid, caustic wit of Peter Cook. I don’t think you had to be particularly left-wing to be a fan, only a supporter of democracy and civil liberties. Very many of the other kids in my Sixth Form were into it, including those, who could be described as working-class Tories.

But come to think about it, we haven’t seen anything like that on our screens for many, many years. The series was becoming long and drawn out towards the end, but nevertheless there’s no reason something else like it, which could be launched. And I don’t doubt that there are young, angry, talented comedians out there, who are perfectly capable of stepping up to the mike and doing it.

And some of the absence of comment and criticism of the monsters, who ran amok across the globe thanks to British and American support does come from the victory of neoliberalism. Including its adoption by New Labour. Blair was an Atlanticist, and an alumni of the Reagan-founded British-American Project for the Successor Generation, or BAP for short. This was a group that trained up future British political leaders, sending them on free jaunts to the US, so that on return to Britain they would be enthusiastic supporters of the ‘Special Relationship’. And they did a superb job on Blair. Before he went on one jaunt, he was a supporter of unilateral disarmament. When he returned, after meeting the American nuclear lobby, he was fully on board with us supporting America’s siting of nukes in Britain, as well as our own, independent nuclear deterrent.

Much of the activism against these thugs came out, it seems to me, of the campaigns against the Vietnam War. This inspired the radical young people of the time to look more closely at what America and the West were doing in the Cold War, and the people we supported as the bulwark of ‘freedom’ – which really meant ‘capitalism’ and western big business – against the Soviets. And the brutal realities of Pinochet’s regime, and that of the Shah of Iran, and very many others, were extensively reported. Clive James in one of his TV reviews written for the Observer, acidly commented on an interview on British TV with some high level thug from the Shah’s Iran. This torturer was asked about the brutal methods of interrogation employed by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. There was no problem, said the thug. They were improving all the time. Oh yes, commented James, or something similar.

Incidentally, an Iranian friend of mine told me had some experience of the activities of the Shah’s secret police himself. Back in Iran, he’d been a footie fan. But he noticed that several of his mates kept disappearing. He then found out that one of his friends was a snitch for the secret police, and had been informing on them. It’s when you hear these experiences from the people, who observed what was happening, that really begin to understand why so much of the world is less than enthusiastic about western imperialism. And why so many Iranians were taken in by that other thug, Khomeini. When he returned to Iran, he promised freedom to all Iranians. That didn’t last long, as it was back to normal with the rapists and torturers in Evin prison under his regime.

I was also part of a British medieval re-enactment group. One of the great peeps I met in that was an American chap, whose ancestry was South American. He was proud of his Incan heritage, and in America he’d been part of a similar group, that recreated the warrior traditions of this Andean people. He’d also been a translator for one of the human rights organisations, translating documents on abuses from Spanish.

There is indeed a whole generation out there, with personal experience of the dictatorship supported by the West, people whose wealth of knowledge and experience should be passed on.

But part of the problem is the supposed break with dictatorship and the entry of neoliberalism into the Labour party. The Fall of Communism was meant to be the End of History, as heralded by Francis Fukuyama. From now on, Western liberal democracy and capitalism would reign unchallenged. And with the threat of Communism gone, the Americans decided to cut their losses and move against the Fascist dictators they’d been propping up. Hence their ouster of General Noriega.

This gave the impression that the world was going to be nicely democratic, with the unspoken assumption that western, Euro-American culture would remain dominant and unchallenged.

But the old culture of lies, coups and regime change when the dominated countries in the developing world get too uppity is still there. As are the Cold Warriors. We didn’t invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to free its peoples. We invaded because the Neocons wanted their state industries for American multinationals, and the Saudi-American oil industry wanted their oil fields. And Israel wanted to stop Hussein from aiding the Palestinians. Human rights was just a convenient pretext. And it’s been like this for the last 14 years.

Just like we’re also being told lies about the situation in Ukraine. The Maidan Revolution was not spontaneous. It was staged by the CIA, National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros, and Victoria Nuland in Obama’s state department. It was to stop Ukraine becoming too close to Putin’s Russia. Ukraine has always had strong links to its eastern neighbour. Indeed, Kiev was one of the earliest and most powerful of the Russian states to emerge in the Middle Ages. Trying to sever the links between the two is similar, as someone put it, to Canada moving away from America to side with the Communist bloc.

But we aren’t being told any of that. Nor are we told that real, unreconstructed Nazis from the Pravy Sektor are in the ruling coalition, and that there is credible evidence that human rights abuses have been visited on the Russian minority and Russian speaking Ukrainians.

We are just being told that Putin is a thug – which is true – and that he’s ready to invade the former Soviet satellites. Which probably isn’t.

There is also a further problem, in that some of the countries, whose Fascist leaders Britain and America supported, are very remote. I’d guess that many people really wouldn’t be able to find them on a map, let alone know much about their history. And so we face the same problem the Czechs faced, when Chamberlain sacrificed their country to Hitler at Munich. They are faraway countries, of which we know nothing.

And this is a problem with British imperial history generally. Salman Rushdie once said that the British don’t know their own history, because so much of it happened abroad. This is true. British capitalism was stimulated through the colonisation of the West Indies, the slave trade and the sugar industry. How much is a matter of debate. Black and West Indian scholars have suggested that it was the prime stimulus behind the emergence of capitalism and the industrial revolution in Britain. Others have argued instead that it added only 5 per cent to the economy. But that it did have an effect is undeniable, especially on its colonised peoples. In the West Indies, this meant the virtual extermination of the indigenous Amerindian peoples and their replacement with enslaved Africans.

Well, the Empire has gone, and been replaced by the Commonwealth. But western domination of these countries’ economies still remains through the various tariff barriers that the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal called Neocolonialism. As well as the domination of their industries by western multinationals.

There are book available on the British Empire, some of them critical. Like John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried, and a recent book about the internment, torture and mutilation of the indigenous Kenyans during the Mao Mao crisis, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But the people, who appear on TV to talk about imperialism tend to be those on the right, like Niall Ferguson, who will admit that the British Empire was seriously flawed, but on balance did more good. Which might be true, but still glosses over some of the horrors we perpetrated.

And many of these are still kept from us. The public documents supporting the allegations of the victims of British torture in Kenya only came to light because they fought a long and hard battle in the British courts to get them released. I honestly don’t know what other nasty little secrets are being kept from us, in case it embarrasses senior ministers or industrialists.

So if you want to see the brutal reality behinds the West’s foreign policy, you have to read specialist magazines, many of them small press. Like Robin Ramsay’s Lobster, which has been going since the 1980s, and which is now online, and Counterpunch, an American radical magazine and website, which has been digging the sordid truth up about the American Empire and the rapacity of capitalism and the global elite. I also recommend William Blum’s The Anti-Empire Report, and his books, as well as Greg Palast’s dissection of the real reasons we invaded Iraq, Armed Madhouse.

More material on the rapacity of western imperialism is coming to light through the internet, and especially the emergence of alternative news sites. And there is a growing audience for it, as young and older people from across the world are brought together through international links. This isn’t just business, but also through the foreign students coming to Britain, as well as Brits living, working and studying elsewhere in the world.

The problem is getting it out there, and moving it from the sidelines so that it becomes a major topic that can be used to challenge our leaders and hold them to account, without being written off as ‘loony radical lefties’ spouting about things no-one else wants to know about or even hear. About other ‘faraway places, of which we know nothing’.

Archaeology Confronts Neoliberalism

March 5, 2017

I got the latest catalogue of books on archaeology and history from Oxbow Books, an Oxford based bookseller and publisher, which specialises in them, a few days ago. Among the books listed was one critical of neoliberalism, and which explored the possibilities of challenging it from within the profession. The book’s entitled Archaeology and Neoliberalism. It’s edited by Pablo Aparicio Resco, and will be published by JAS Arquelogia. The blurb for it in the catalogue states

The effects of neoliberalism as ideology can be seen in every corner of the planet, worsening inequalities and empowering markets over people. How is this affecting archaeology? Can archaeology transcend it? This volume delves into the context of archaeological practice within the neoliberal world and the opportunities and challenges of activism from the profession.

This isn’t an issue I really know anything about. However, I’m not surprised that many archaeologists are concerned about the damage neoliberalism is doing to archaeology. 15 years ago, when I was doing my Masters at UWE, one of the essay questions set was ‘Why do some Historians see heritage as a dirty word?’ Part of the answer to that question was that some historians strongly criticised the heritage industry for its commodification of the past into something to be bought, sold and consumed. They placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. Rather than being an object of value or investigation for its own sake, Thatcherite free market ideology saw it very much in terms of its monetary value. They contrasted this with the old Conservative ethos, which saw culture as something that was above its simple cash value.

Social critics were also concerned about the way Thatcherism was destroying Britain’s real industries, and replacing them with theme parks, in which they were recreated, in a sanitised version that was calculated not to present too many difficult questions and represented the Tory view of history. One example of this was a theme park representing a mining village. It was on the site of a real mining village, whose mine had been closed down. However, other pieces of mining equipment and related buildings and structures, which were never in that particularly village, were put there from other mining towns and villages elsewhere. It thus showed what an imaginary mining village was like, rather than the real mining community that had actually existed. It was also a dead heritage attraction, a museum, instead of a living community based around a still thriving industry.

There were also concerns about the way heritage was being repackaged to present a right-wing, nationalistic view of history. For example, the Colonial Williamsburg museum in America was originally set up to present a view of America as a land of technological progress, as the simple tools and implements used by the early pioneers had been succeeded by ever more elaborate and efficient machines. They also pointed to the way extreme right-wing pressure groups and organisations, like the Heritage Foundation, had also been strongly involved in shaping the official, Reaganite version of American ‘heritage’. And similar movements had occurred elsewhere in the world, including France, Spain and the Caribbean. In Spain the concern to preserve and celebrate the country’s many different autonomous regions, from Catalonia, the Basque country, Castille, Aragon and Granada, meant that the view of the country’s history taught in schools differed greatly according to where you were.

Archaeology’s a different subject than history, and it’s methodology and philosophy is slightly different. History is based on written texts, while archaeology is based on material remains, although it also uses written evidence to some extent. History tends to be about individuals, while archaeology is more about societies. Nevertheless, as they are both about the investigation of the human past, they also overlap in many areas and I would imagine that some of the above issues are still highly relevant in the archaeological context.

There’s also an additional problem in that over the past few decades, the Thatcherite decision to make universities more business orientated has resulted in the formation of several different private archaeological companies, which all compete against each other. I’ve heard from older archaeologists that as a result, the archaeological work being done today is less thorough and of poorer quality than when digs were conducted by local authorities.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure that the editor and contributors to this book are right about neoliberalism damaging archaeology and the necessity of archaeologists campaigning against it and its effects on their subject. By its very nature, the past needs to be investigated on its own terms, and there can be multiple viewpoints all legitimately drawn from the same piece of evidence. And especially in the case of historical archaeology, which in the American context means the investigation of the impact of European colonisation from the 15th century onwards, there are strongly emotive and controversial issues of invasion, capitalism, imperialism, the enslavement of Black Africans and the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For historians and archaeologists of slavery, for example, there’s a strong debate about the role this played in the formation of European capitalism and the industrial revolution. Such issues cannot and should not be censored or ignored in order to produce a nice, conservative interpretation of the past that won’t offend the Conservative or Republican parties and their paymasters in multinational industry, or challenge their cosy conception that the free market is always right, even when it falsifies the misery and injustice of the past and creates real poverty today.

Friedrich Engels: Principles of Communism

June 19, 2016

Engels Communism Pamphlet

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham last wee, I found a copy of Friedrich Engels’ Principles of Communism, published by Pluto Press. It was written in 1847, and is a very short introduction to Marx and Engels’ ideas of what constituted Communism. It’s 20 pages in length, and is written in the form of a catechism, Engels presenting their ideas as answers to the following questions: What is Communism? What is the proletariat? Proletarians, then, have not always existed? How did the proletariat originate? Under what conditions does this sale of the labour of the proletarians to the bourgeoisie take place? What working classes were there before the industrial revolution? In what way do proletarians differ from slaves? In what way do proletarians differ from serfs? In what way do proletarians differ from handicraftsmen? In what way do proletarians differ from manufacturing workers? What were the immediate consequences of the industrial revolution and the division of society into bourgeoisie and proletariat? What we the further consequences of the industrial revolution? What follows from these periodic commercial crises? What will this new social order have to be like? Was not the abolition of private property possible at an earlier time? Will the peaceful abolition of private property be possible? Will it be possible to abolish private property at one stroke? What will be the course of this revolution? Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone? What will be the consequences of the ultimate disappearance of private property? What will be the influence of Communist society on the family? What will be the attitude of Communism to existing nationalities? What will be its attitude to existing religions? How do Communists differ from Socialists? What is the attitude of the Communists to the other political parties of our time?

It’s basically the first draft of The Communist Manifesto, and Engels himself wrote to Marx saying the catechetical form should be dropped, and it should just be called the above.

What I found particularly interesting flicking through it was Engels’ discussion of modern industrial capitalism, which he saw as producing periodic economic crises. It was the task of the proletarian – the working class – not just to liberate themselves from capitalism by taking control of the means of production, but also to prevent further commercial crises occurring through the establishment of Communism, which would also be a more efficient economic system.

In answer to question 12: What were the further consequence of the industrial revolution? Engels writes

Big industry created in the steam engine and other machines the means of endlessly expanding industrial production, speeding it up, and cutting its costs. With production thus facilitated, the free competition which is necessarily bound up with big industry assumed the most extreme forms; a multitude of capitalists invaded industry, and in a short while more was produced than was needed. As a consequence, finished commodities could not be sold, and so-called commercial crisis broke out. Factories had to be closed, their owners went bankrupt, and the workers were without bread. Deepest misery reigned everywhere. After a time, the superfluous products were sold, the factories began to operate again, wages rose, and gradually business got better than ever. But it was not long before tooo many commodities were again produced and a new crisis broke out, only to follow the same course as its predecessor. Ever since the beginning of this (nineteenth) century, the condition of industry has constantly fluctuated between periods of prosperity and periods of crisis; nearly every five to seven years a fresh crisis has intervened, always with the greatest hardship for workers, and always accompanied by general revolutionary stirring and the direst peril to the existing order of things.

13: What follows from these periodic commercial crises?
First:
That though big industry in its earliest stage created free competition, it has now outgrown free competition; that for big industry competition and general the individualistic organisation of production have become a fetter which it must and will shatter; that so long as big industry remains on its present footing it can be maintained only at the cost of general chaos every seven years, each time threatening the whole of civilisation and not only plunging the proletarians into misery but also ruining large numbers of the bourgeoisie; hence either that big industry must itself be given up, which is an absolute impossibility, or that it makes unavoidably necessary an entirely new organisation of society in which production is no longer directed by mutually competing individual industrialists but rather by the whole society operating according to a definite plan and taking account of the needs of all.

Second: That big industry and the limitless expansion of production which it makes possible bring within the range of feasibility a social order in which so much is produced that every member of society will be in a position to exercise and develop all his powers and faculties in complete freedom. It thus appears that the very qualities of big industry which in our present-day society produce misery and crises are those which in a different form of society will abolish this misery and these catastrophic depressions. We see with the greatest clarity:
(I) That these evils are from now on to be ascribed solely to a social order which no longer corresponds to the requirements of the real situation; and
(II) That it is possible, through a new social order, to do away with these evils altogether.

14: What will this new social order have to be like?
Above all, it will have to take the control of industry and of all branches of production out of the hands of mutually competing individuals, and instead institute a system in which all these branches of production are operated by society as a whole, that is, for the common account, according to a common plan, and with the participation of all members of society. It will, in other words, abolish competition and replace it with association. Moreover, since the management of industry by individuals necessarily implies private property, and since competition is in reality merely the manner and form in which the control of industry by private property owners expresses itself, it follows that private property cannot be separated from competition and the individual management of industry. Private property must therefore be abolished and in its place must come the common utilisation of all instruments of production and the distribution of all products according to common agreement – an a word, what is called the communal ownership of goods. In fact, the abolition of private property is doubtless the shortest and most significant way to characterise the revolution in the whole social order which has been made necessary by the development of industry, and for this reason it is rightly advanced by Communists as their main demand. (pp.10-12).

In practice, central planning of a large, complex industrial society is far too difficult, and the results are massive economic inefficiencies and an acute shortage of goods. It’s one of the reasons Communism fell. However, since the adoption of neo-liberalism as the economic creed of the main political parties in the West, we’ve seen the same kind of economic crises that afflicted 19th century capitalism return with the banking crisis in 2008, along with the ‘iron law of wages’ which Marx and Engels observed in the Communist Manifesto was forcing down more and more of the lower middle class into the ranks of the workers, and impoverishing the workers as employers tried to cut wages.

But if it’s impossible to plan a nation’s economy absolutely completely, nevertheless Ha-Joon Chang in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism makes the point that governments still carry out some forms of economic planning, not least in supporting research and development, in which private industry is reluctant to invest on its own. Thus some form of state planning is nevertheless effective in avoiding and ameliorating the economic crises which neoliberal economics create.

The Image of the 19th Century Rural Poor

May 7, 2014

Country Poor pic

This is another photograph of the poor, this time from the countryside. It’s of a farm labourer and his family from Jacob Bronowski’s book accompanying and with the same title as his blockbuster science series, The Ascent of Man (London: BBC 1973) pp. 260-1. In that part of the book, dealing with the Industrial Revolution, Bronowski shows what the reality of life was like for most of the people in the British countryside during the 18th and 19th centuries. The caption for the photo reads:

‘The Labourer lived in poverty and darkness. The first photographs of rural life come as a shock. They belie any idyll of rusticity.’

In the main body of the text, he writes

‘We dream that the country was idyllic in the eighteenth century, a lost paradise like The Deserted Village that Oliver Goldsmith described in 1770:

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain.

How blest is he who crowns in shades like these,
A youth of labour with an age of ease.

That is a fable, and George Crabbe, who was a country parson and knew the villager’s life at first hand, was so enraged by it that he wrote an acid, realistic poem in reply.

Yes, thus the Muses sing of happy Swains,
Because the Muses never knew their pains.

O’ercome by labour and bow’d down by time,
Feel you the barren flattery of a rhyme?

The country was a place where men worked from dawn to dark, and the labourer lived not in in the sun, but in poverty and darkness.’ (p. 260).

In addition to being a brilliant scientist and science populariser, Bronowski was also a member of the Fabian Society. He wrote one of their pamphlets on ‘Socialism and Science’. Conservatism relies very much on an highly selective, idealised past. This is particularly true now as the Tories attempt to remove or minimise the institutions of the welfare state. One of the Times’ blue-blooded reviewers talked about a new ‘social restoration’ of the aristocracy under Thatcher, harking back to the ancient aristocratic order of lords and peasants. This was what it was really like for most people in the countryside in the 19th century, in stark contrast to the fantasies of the upper classes. And it’s what Osborne and co. are trying to bring back.

Historical Drama: The Mill on Channel 4, Sundays 8.00 pm

July 23, 2013

Channel 4 begins another historical drama, The Mill, this Sunday at 8.00 in the evening. In contrast to the medieval chivalry and power politics of BBC’s The White Queen on an hour later, The Mill is set amongst the factory slaves of the northern cotton mills during the Industrial Revolution. It’s based on the real history of Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire in the 1830s. This was the period when the new factory masters bought children from the workhouses to work amongst the machines in the mills. The working day was 13 hours long with accidents common. The apprentices were unpaid, and could only look forward to a few shillings if they completed their apprenticeship when they turned 18. The Mill dramatizes the events and controversy of 1833 when the government of the time attempted to introduce the 10 Hours Act, limiting children’s working day to those hours.

The blurb for The Mill on page 62 of the Radio Times runs as follows

‘A glowering, brutal mill foreman yells at a clutch of young female workers, women he’s frequently pulled from the dusty, hellish cauldron of the factory floor to indecently assault in a privy: “You’re apprentices, orphans, bastards! No one’ll listen to you, so say nothing!’ New Tricks it ain’t.

But if you like your dramas bleak, visceral and raw, sticky with the blood of dead and injured workers in the scarred and cauterised landscape of Britain during the Industrial Revolution, then The Mill will be your weekly treat. John Fay’s script is sweatily powerful as misery is piled upon misery. Children are frequently badly injured by unsafe, unguarded machinery and everyone works long hours in hideous conditions. And they are powerless and without hope.’

Two of the female stars of The Mill were talking about their roles in the series on breakfast TV on BBC 1 yesterday. Unfortunately I missed most of it. They did, however, mention that they ended up working 13 hours days shooting the series, and talked about the heat, noise and the dangers of the machines on which they were filmed. As lurid as it sounds, the series appears to be historically accurate. The evidence gather by contemporary reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury, religious campaigners such as George Muller in Bristol, presented to the government’s commissions of inquiry and published in works like Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, present a grim picture of appalling poverty, despair and degradation. In Britain and the rest of Europe, legislation was passed by successive governments first limiting their hours and then outlawing child labour. There are still concerns about child labour in Britain even now. Back in the 1990s the anti-slavery charity, Anti-Slavery International, published a pamphlet discussing violations of the child labour legislation in Britain. Even though it is carefully regulated in Britain, it is still used throughout the developing world, in conditions very similar to that of 19th century Britain.

This is the world the authors of Britannia Unchained are harking back to with their spurious complaints that Brits are too lazy and need to work longer hours. Greg Palast, the American radical journalist, attacked this claim in his book, Armed Madhouse. Palast found that rather than making the West more competitive, it encouraged Developing Nations to raise their working hours even more, until you reached the long hours and appalling conditions of Chinese forced labour camps.

Channel 4 as Radical, Alternative Broadcaster

I can’t say that I’ll watch The Mill. It’s going to be far too grim for me. I prefer television that’s much less visceral and more escapist. It is, however, important. Channel 4 has been criticised of late for broadcasting mass-market programming that could be shown on any channel in order to improve its ratings. The channel was originally set up to show material of minority interest, as a kind of alternative BBC 2. As a result it broadcast opera, foreign movies, and documentaries on left-wing or radical issues. Jeremy Isaacs, its first head, said he aimed to broadcast northern miners’ oral history, amongst other subjects. It also showed material aimed at racial minorities. This included All India Goldies, a series of Indian films, and a massive TV version of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Much of its output was also fairly sexually explicit. It also included programmes on homosexuality, before this became more acceptable. AS a result the Daily Mail regularly attacked it, and hysterically dubbed Michael Grade, its director-general of the time, ‘Britain’s pornographer-in-chief’. More recently, Quentin Letts, the political sketch writer for the Mail and very definitely a man of the right, has attacked Channel 4 for not keeping to its original raison d’etre. He points out that its opera broadcasts introduced the art to a mass audience, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers. It’s also supposed to have confounded the Leaderene’s husband. Denis Thatcher thought that by ‘alternative programming’, Channel 4 would be screening things like yachting. Well, it’s been several decades, but it looks like Channel 4 might be trying to reclaim its position as the channel of intelligent, radical broadcasting.

18th Century Religious Scepticism Not Based on Science: Part 2 – Atheist Materialism

June 8, 2013

In the first part of this essay, I examined how most of the arguments against Christianity and revealed religion used by the Deists were philosophical, rather than scientific. Science did play a part in their attacks on Christianity, but it was a subordinate role. The same is true of 18th century atheism. Most of the arguments used by Jean Meslier in his Testament, for example are again, moral, philosophical and political, rather than scientific. Meslier was a former Roman Catholic priest, who attacked Christianity and particularly Roman Catholicism for its supposed immorality. He considered that religions were artificial creations of ruling elites, intended to justify and further their own power. He attacked Christian morality for supposedly preaching an acquiescent attitude towards tyranny, like monarchist rule in contemporary France. Like many later atheists, he also attacked the idea of an immortal soul and rewards in the hereafter for discouraging people from social reform here on Earth.

The Three Scientific Developments Used to Argue for Atheism in the 18th Century

Like some of the Deists, he also believed that matter had self-organising properties. The evidence for this came from three sources. These were John Turbeville Needham’s experiments into spontaneous generation, Haller’s discovery that muscles from recently deceased animals contracted when pricked, and the hydra’s ability to regenerate when cut. Needham was an English Roman Catholic priest. In his experiments he noted the appearance of microscopic organisms from the remains of vegetable matter and even the gravy from roast meat. Albrecht von Haller was a Swiss naturalist, who believed that there was an unknown force present in the heart. This indicated that matter had its was able to move itself independently of the soul. La Mettrie, the author of the materialist, L’homme machine (Man a Machine) of 1747 incorporated it into his own arguments against the existence of the soul. The dissection of polyps showed that this creature would become two or more when cut into pieces, and so apparently disproved the idea of indivisible animals. Finally, the great 18th century atheist, Denis Diderot argued living creatures may have evolved over millions of years to produce their present forms. He suggested a kind of natural selection, in which useless or defective physiological features had died out. This gave living creatures the appearance of design, even though they were simply the products of chance evolution.

These Experiments Do Not Necessarily Lead to Atheism

In fact all three of these scientific discoveries could be interpreted in other ways that did not support materialist atheism. Needham himself did not see any danger to religion in his results. Indeed, he was attacked by Voltaire as an Irish Jesuit monger of fraudulent miracles, despite the fact that he was English, not Irish, and not a Jesuit. As for the new force of motion supposedly inherent in muscle tissue, Haller believed it was similar to gravity. Both forces were known through their effects, but were ultimately instruments of a Creator God. He considered the presence of this so-called “irritability” in muscle tissue was much less important than contemporary debates in embryology in supporting or leading to atheism. At the time Haller was engaged in an argument with C.F. Wolff over the nature of the development of the embryo. The debate centred around two rival concepts, epigenesis and pre-formation. Epigenesis was the view that the embryo developed from the less organised material of the egg. Pref-formation, by contrast, was the view that creature already existed, pre-formed in the egg or sperm of the animal. Haller strongly supported pre-formation. He considered that the development of living beings from unorganised matter would indicate that similarly life itself had originated through these forces without the action of a creator God. Wolff believed that his observation of chick embryos had indeed shown that individual organisms develop from the primordial, undifferentiated matter of the egg. Unlike Haller, he did not see any theological difference whether one believed in either theory. He stated that ‘Nothing is demonstrated against the existence of divine power, even if bodies are produced by natural forces and causes, for these very forces and causes … claim an author for themselves just as much as organic bodies do.’ Thus immaterial forces and the matter they shaped were both grounded in God.

AS for Abraham Trembley’s experiments with the polyp, this was only felt to show that polyps did not have indivisible souls. It was not believed to be relevant to other animals and humans. Indeed, more conservative naturalists believed that the polyp was actually a missing link in God’s great chain of being between plants and animals.

Joseph Priestley: Scientist, Revolutionary and Unitarian, Rational Christianity

Some Unitarians, such as the Dissenting Minister Joseph Priestly, also managed to combine materialism with a form of Christianity. Priestly was an active scientific research. His experiments on the various gases included the production of what he termed ‘dephlogisticated air’, which was later called ‘oxygen’ by Lavoisier. Priestly attempted to show that materialist science would serve to purify Christianity of what he considered to be superstitious features derived from ancient Platonism, such as, he believed, the doctrine of the Trinity. Priestly was a philosophical monist, who believed that God worked through forces that were neither physical or immaterial as commonly understood. They could be identified with matter, but this was a matter that possessed active powers of motion and organisation. He did not believe in an immaterial soul, but did look forward to the Resurrection. He also accepted miracles, and argued as proof that without them, Christianity could not possibly have spread. He was also an egalitarian, who supported first the French, and then the American Revolutions. He finally moved to America after the War of Independence. In an 1802 letter to Thomas Jefferson, Priestly described how he was looking forward to living under the protection of the American Constitution. He praised this as ‘the most favourable to political liberty, and private happiness, of any in the world’. Despite his scientific scepticism of orthodox Christianity, he always denied that he was an atheist. When one of his French materialist friends at a dinner stated that he no more believed in Christianity than they did, he replied that he was indeed a Christian believer.

Science as Means for Purifying Christianity, Unitarians Active in Scientific Advances of Industrial Revolution

For Priestly, scientific progress was ‘the means under God of extirpating all error and prejudice, and of putting an end to all undue and usurped ahtority in the business of religion as well as science’. These views were shared by other Unitarians in the main British manufacturing towns. These Unitarians were active in scientific research and their practical application in industry. They were particularly prominent in the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, but were also strongly present in most of scientific societies outside London. William Turner, another Unitarian, was the dominant figure behind the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society. Turner has been described as believing that the Industrial Revolution was not happening behind God’s back, but at His express command.

Conclusion: 18th Century Science Not Necessarily atheist, Could Lead instead to Rational, Unitarian Christianity

Thus, scientific developments also played only a small role in the atheist arguments that arose during the 18th century. Like the arguments of the Deists, these were also primarily moral, philosophical and political. The three major scientific observations that did seem to argue for atheism and materialism – Needham’s observation of spontaneous generation, the response of dissected muscle tissue to stimulation and the polyp were largely seen as having no relevance to the wider debate about the Almighty. In the case of the continued activity in muscle tissue, this was seen as like Newton’s force of gravity in being based in God, and as a force through which the Lord worked.
Finally, Joseph Priestly and his fellow Unitarian scientists showed how some Dissenters combined a belief in science to produce an unorthodox form of rational Christianity.