Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

From Private Eye: A Few Choice Comments on Blair (and the Blairites)

June 30, 2016

With the Blairites now doing their level best to oust Jeremy Corbyn, I thought I’d post here a few appropriate comments on their leader from some old copies of Private Eye. The first is their cover for Friday, 2nd October 1998.

Blair Purge Cover

Under the headline, ‘Blair Calls For Unity’, it shows Blair pointing at a monitor screen, saying, ‘There’s a leftie – chuck him out!’ Which is precisely the same attitude as the Chickencoup rebels now trying to unseat Corbyn.

And in reply to them, I’ve decided to post this advert for a line of rugby shirts from Private Eye for the issue of the 4th-17th February 2005.

Bollocks to Blair Ad

I realise that the firm behind it was probably a load of Tory toffs, just as I apologise for the language. But sometimes the only appropriate response is profanity.

Blair screwed the working people of this country, and led us into an illegal war in Iraq. So screw the Blairites and their boss!

Johnny Cash Finger

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The Coalition’s Secret Courts and Communist Yugoslavia’s Gulags

February 15, 2014

gulag_1

Inmates at a Soviet Gulag

Many bloggers, including myself, have raised the issue of the Coalition’s increasing intolerance, its attempts to close down freedom of speech and the press through legislation such as the anti-lobbying bill. Vox Political yesterday reblogged a piece showing that Britain had fallen from 29th to 33rd place in the world for press freedom following the government’s campaign against the Guardian for publishing the revelations of comprehensive British and American secret surveillance.

One of the most alarming developments in the Coalition’s creation of an increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial state are the secret courts, which have been set up with the full backing of those champions of freedom and democracy, the Lib Dems. Another Angry Voice has particularly blogged and commented on them. He gives this brief description of them:

For those of you that don’t know about what the Tory “Secret Courts” bill entails, here’s a brief description: As it now stands, defendants (or claimants in civil cases) can be excluded from the hearings where their fates are decided; they will not be allowed to know what the case against them is; they will not be allowed to enter the courtroom; they will not be allowed to know or challenge the details of the case; and they will not be allowed representation from their own lawyer, but will instead be represented (in their absence) by a security-cleared “special advocate”.

See his post ‘Secret Courts: The Very Illiberal Democrats’ at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/secret-courts-very-illiberal-democrats.html

This legislation places Britain alongside the nightmarish perversions of justice described in fiction by Franz Kafka in his novels The Castle and The Trial, in which the hero has been arrested and repeatedly interrogated for an unknown crime. He does not know himself what he is supposed to have done, and the authorities never tell him. This grotesque injustice was the reality in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Under the Ba’ath legal code, there were a set of laws, knowledge of whose existence was also prohibited and for which individuals could be arrested and tried. I can remembering hearing about this through the BBC’s radio coverage of the arrest and eventual execution of Bazoft, a British journalist of Iranian origin, who was arrested for spying by Hussein’s regime. The passage last March of the Secret Courts bill, and the government’s attempt to prosecute the Guardian for Snowden and clamp down on other forms of dissent, raises the real possibility that such a grotesque miscarriage of justice will also occur in Britain.

Apart from Hussein’s Iraq, it is also very, very much like the totalitarian regimes of the Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, where anyone considered to be a threat to the regime was subject to summary arrest and deportation into the concentration camps and gulags. Further communication with them was difficult, if not impossible. In both regimes those arrested simply disappeared. For the Nazis, such unexplained disappearances were a deliberate part of the system of arrest and imprisonment. It was called ‘Nacht und Nebel’, or ‘Night and Fog’, and was intended to cause even further terror of the Nazi dictatorship.

Djilas

Milovan Djilas, Yugoslav Communist leader and dissident

The Yugoslavian Communist regime of Marshal Tito also established a gulag after it’s split with Stalin in the late 1940s. The Yugoslavs were resisting Stalin’s attempt to turn their country into a satellite of the Soviet Union. Undercover of diplomatic missions, joint Yugoslav-Soviet companies and even a Soviet film of Tito’s victory in the Second World War and the rise of the Communist government in Yugoslavia, Stalin’s regime attempted to recruit spies against Tito’s government. The international Communist organisation, the Cominform, was also used to recruit agents and spread discontent in order to undermine Yugoslavia’s independence.

The regime responded with the summary arrest of anyone suspected of pro-Soviet sympathies and the establishment of a gulag for them on Goli Otok, or Bare Island. Milovan Djilas, a former Vice-President of Yugoslavia, President of the National Assembly and later leading dissident, describes the system of arrests and the brutal conditions under which the inmates were held in his autobiographical account of the regime and his part in it, Rise and Fall.

He notes the camp’s extra-legal basis, and the way it was established at the highest authority.

The camp for Cominformists on Goli Otok (“Bare Island”) in the northern Adriatic was organized without a legal basis. At first, Cominformists were simply taken into custody and shipped there. A law was passed later covering obligatory “socially useful labor,” as the camp activities were innocently designated for official purposes. Moreover, not even the Politburo, or its inner circle, the Secretariat, ever made any decision about the camp. It was made by Tito himself and implemented through Rankovic’s State Security apparatus. (p. 235).

After examining the motives behind those who joined the Cominform against the Yugoslavian regime, including personal rivalry and frustration at their lack of personal advancement, Djilas describes the harsh conditions in the camp.

Sentences to Goli Otok were imposed by the security organ. By law, no term could exceed two years, but there was no limit on its renewal. Inmates who languished there for ten years were not uncommon.

On his passage to the island the prisoner was shoved-in fact, hurled- to the bottom of the boat. Then, when he emerged on Goli Otok, he had to run the gauntlet. This was a double line of inmates, who vied with one another in hitting him. If gouged eyes were a rarity, broken teeth and ribs were not. There were also incorrigibles, who were subjected to lynching, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes not.

The inmates had no visitation rights. They received neither letters nor packages-at least not in the early period. Until word leaked out unofficially, their families had no idea where they were; letters were addressed to a number, as to soldiers in wartime. Their labor was not only hard and compulsory, but often meaningless as well. One of the punishments was carrying heavy stones back and forth. Work went on in all kinds of weather. What stuck in their tormented memories, as I can well understand, was labouring on rocky ground in scorching heat. State Security got carried away with making a productive enterprise out of Goli Otok, for this was the period when the Security bosses were tinkering with our economy and founding export firms; yet nothing came of this “production” but suffering and madness. Then, when finally released, inmates were sworn to silence about the camp and its methods. This could have been taken for granted, yet little by little the truth came out anyway, especially after the fall of Rankovic in 1966. (pp. 241-2).

Tito was intent on suppressing the Cominform in Yugoslavia with as little bloodshed as possible. The camp was intended on ‘re-educating’ the political prisoners, rather than murdering them, a process that was nevertheless carried out with extreme brutality.

This nuance of his-on the head but not off with it-explains why so few Cominformists were killed. But it also became the basis for unimagined, unheard-of coercion, pressure, and torture on the island. There, re-education, or “head-knocking”, was made the responsibility of certain inmates- the “reconstructed” ones-who in effect collaborated with Security. The latter involved itself as little as possible, leaving the re-education to “self-managing units” made up of reconstructed inmates, who went to inhuman extreme to ingratiate themselves and win their own release. They were inventive in driving their fellow victims similarly to “reconstruct” themselves. There is no limit to the hatred and meanness of the new convert toward yesterday’s coreligionists. (p. 241).

Djilas makes it clear that many of those interned in the camp would not have been imprisoned if they had instead been tried in an open court.

But regardless of any such factor, there is no question that the vast majority of Cominformists would never have been sent to Goli Otok had the proceedings been the least bit legal, reasonable and undogmatic. People were arrested and committed to the camp for failure to report intimate “cominformist” conversations or for reading leaflets and listening to the short-wave radio. Subsequent victims included those who at the time of the resolution said that we ought to have attended the Bucharest meeting at which our party was condemned.

Djilas recognised that Communist ideology played a part in the construction of the camp and the terror they inflicted in order to destroy Stalin’s influence in Yugoslavia. He also cautions, however, against viewing such human rights abuses as a purely Communist phenomenon.

But the way we dealt with those arrested and their families-that was something else again. There was no need to behave as we did. That conduct sprang from our ideological dogmatism, from our Leninist and Stalinist methods, and, of course, in part from our Balkan traditions of reprisal.

But analyses can be left to historians and philosophers. My business is to get on with the tale, a tale of defeat and disgrace, not only for Yugoslav Communism but also for our times and humankind. If the Yugoslav gulag, like the Soviet, is explained purely in terms of the “inhuman” or “antihuman” nature of Communism, that is an oversimplified judgment that in its way is just as ideological. Ideology, I think, was only a motivational expression, the appeal to an ideal, justifying the insane human yearning to be lord and master. Sending people off to camps is neither the invention nor the distinction of Communists. People like those of us at the top of the heap, with our ideals and absolute power,, are bound to throw our opponents into a camp. yet if the treatment of the inmates had come up for discussion-if discussion had not been precluded by Tito’s omnipotent will-different views would have emerged among us and more common-sense and human procedures would have been instituted. Some of us were aware of this paradox: a camp must be established, yet to do so was terrible. (pp. 236-7).

The Western press was also content not to report the existence of the forced labour camp.

Characteristic both of the time and of the relationships then unfolding was the attitude towards the press, Eastern as well as Western, toward the camp. The Western press by an large showed no interest in it, certainly no critical interest. The same could be said of the Western diplomatic corps. Whenever the persecution of Cominformists came up, as if by agreement these diplomats displayed a tacit understand: our independence and the state were threatened by a combination of external and internal pressure. But there was also a note of ambiguity, of malicious joy behind the Westerners’ façade of understanding: let the Communists exterminate each other and so reveal the very nature of Communism. (pp. 242-3).

All these elements are present in the policies the Coalition has adopted towards press freedom and the unemployed. The secret courts set up by the Coalition would allow those deemed to be a threat to be tried without the normal conventions to ensure justice and protect the accused until they are found guilty. This is important: in British law, you are innocent until the court is convinced of your guilt, and the onus is on the prosecution to prove their case.

The Coalition have also shown themselves more than willing to use psychological techniques to indoctrinate their policies’ victims. The unemployment courses and forms drawn up with the advice of the Nudge Unit are designed so that the unemployed will blame themselves for their joblessness, rather than the economy.

Elements within the Conservative party have also at times called for the establishment of camps for individuals they judged to be a threat to the British state. One of the reasons behind the assassination of Airey Neave, Margaret Thatcher’s political mentor, in the 1970s by the INLA was because Neave had called for the establishment of internment camps in northern Ireland. And as workfare shows, there is a strong impulse towards using compulsory ‘voluntary’ labour to support big business in Britain, just as it was used in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, and, for that matter, Tito’s Yugoslavia.

Nor can the British press be depended on to guard traditional British freedoms of speech and justice. AS Mike over at Vox Political has shown, part of the reason for the marked decline in press freedom in this country is due to the Right-wing press’ collusion with the authorities in attacking the Guardian and Edward Snowden. It’s has been alleged by Lobster that in the 1980s the Sunday Times under Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil was a conduit for disinformation from the British security services. Certainly Neil has shown no qualms about making unsupported claims about Allende’s democratically elected Marxist government in Chile in order to support the coup led by Thatcher’s friend, General Pinochet.

These secret courts, the gagging laws and workfare have to be stopped now, before they develop into something exactly like the forced labour camps of the Nazis and Communists. And that has to start by voting out the Coalition.

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Together their reforms are laying the foundations for a police state and forced labour camps.

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.

A Hellish Morass of the Demoralised, Poorly-Paid and the Back-Stabbing: Life at the Bottom of the Civil Service

November 23, 2013

I’ve been doing a course run by one of the local further education colleges and held at one of Bristol’s museums these past two weeks, intended to give the unemployed some of the skills and qualifications to help them find work. It’s been fascinating meeting the other people on the course, and hearing their stories and views about employment and the Job Centre. They’re a very mixed group. Some are intellectual and academic, while others’ skills and experience lie in the practical, manual trades. Listening to them, it’s a complete mystery why some of them don’t have jobs. There are a few, who have been out of work for a couple of years, yet are clearly articulate, capable and willing. Several have been on other courses before. Several of them have suffered from bullying employers in what were blatantly cases of constructive dismissal. Many also have been badly treated by the Job Centre.

One of the gents on the course has worked at one time in the Civil Service. It is not a job to which he wishes to return. He stated that at the lowest levels – that of the AAs, it is extremely poorly-paid, and the other employees are personally treacherous in their desperation to move on. AA stands from ‘Administrative Assistants’. Their job is basically going round taking claimant’s files to those higher up the chain of command, to the AOs, who interview clients, and the EOs, HEOs and office managers making the decisions. They also deliver the mail. According to this fellow, the pay is below £7,000. As a result, many are forced to ask for advances on next month’s salary in order to make ends meet. What he found shocking is that they were so acculturated to this exploitative arrangement, that they accepted it as normal. He also was shocked and disgusted at the amount of back-stabbing he had encountered amongst them, as each one fought against the others to climb up the corporate ladder. From the way he describes it, it sounds very much like he was glad to leave the job. It sounds very much like Thomas Hobbes’ ‘war of each against all’, with personnel, who are very definitely nasty and brutish.

This is very different from the civil service AAs I met in my career over twenty years ago. I don’t know how much they were paid, but they were largely a very good-natured, cheerful bunch, who got on well together, while doing their jobs efficiently and conscientiously. That, however, was over two decades ago, and clearly years of re-structuring by Blair and now the Coalition has taken its toll.

I don’t think this fellow is alone in his feelings about working in the Civil Service either. I’ve met other civil servants, who were bitterly disgusted at their working conditions and the poor management from above. They too, wanted to get out of it.

Now this reflects very strongly on IDS’ claim to leadership quality. Ian Duncan Smith has made much of attending Sandhurst, even if there are considerable doubts about whether or not he actually graduated. He desperately wants the public to be impressed with his alleged leadership ability through his claimed rank in the army.

Well, the treatment of the employees in the civil service seems to disprove this.

It hardly needs to be said that the armed forces are tough environments. Discipline is rigorously enforced, frequently through lurid personal abuse screamed at you by the Sergeant Major. However, team work, and a paternalistic attitude by the commanding officers are also vitally important. Conservative opponents of Bush’s Neo-Con policies and the invasion of Iraq within the US military were highly critical of the extreme individualism and personal touchiness of the Neo-Con political advisers they were required to obey. They derisively referred to them as ‘chickenhawks’, because despite their belligerence and willingness to expend lives, they personally had never seen combat, and had frequently done their best to make sure they had avoided military service. They were also greatly unimpressed by the fact that only two of Bush’s army of advisers ever did team sports. The army, at least in the US, liked team sports because the survival and effectiveness of troopers in combat depends on their working well as a team, not as a group of individuals. In team sports, like American Football, no single player was more important, or immune to criticism for poor performance than the others. It didn’t matter if you were a great quarterback, if you dropped the ball, you could still expect to be bawled at by the coach, like anyone else, observed one female general. She stated that Bush’s Neo-Cons could never handle professional criticism as a result of their not playing such sports. When their judgements or decisions were criticised, they took immense umbrage as if it were an attack on them personally. Other officers have been critical of the way the armed forces has stressed individualism in its recruiting drive, and its apparent omission of how much teamwork and the active subordination of individual interests to that of the group plays in the forces as a whole. One senior officer in the US army voiced his low opinion of its recruiting slogan ‘Be an army of one’. He stated it was ridiculous, as the army was one of the biggest, least individual bureaucracies there was. Despite the horrors of war, it was the camaraderie that many soldiers found in the army and the solidarity they experienced with their fellow squaddies that they enjoyed, and which has been celebrated in literature, songs and poetry, like Kipling’s.

Good generals also frequently have a paternalistic attitude to the personnel under them. Nicholas Courtney, The actor, who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stuart in Dr Who remarked in an interview that a good commander looks after his men. This was explain the Brigadier’s decisions in combating the various alien invasions and attempted coups by mad scientists, which plagued Earth regularly during his long career with the Doctor. Now these adventures were clearly fictional, but the ethos guiding the Brigadier’s treatment of the men and women under him in UNIT is real. General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who is very definitely an Eton-educated member of the establishment, states in his memoirs that he found out that one of the key leadership skills was looking after one’s troops. This didn’t mean being soft with them, but it did mean you took more care of them than you did yourself.

Almost none of this seems to be present in civil service that has been created and over which Ian Duncan Smith and his fellows preside. There clearly is no comradeship amongst people, who are all bitterly fighting each other for the merest chance of promotion. Neither can one see a paternalistic attitude amongst the senior staff and ministers, when they have increasingly inflated salaries while the people on the lowest rungs of their organisation are reduced to asking for advances to cover their inadequate pay. One can find accounts of great generals, who personally risked their careers to get their troops the equipment they needed despite the obstructions of the army bureaucracy. There’s a fictional description of such in Bulgakov’s The White Guard, set during the Russian Civil War in the 1920s. IDS certainly doesn’t seem to have fought to improve conditions for the civil servants under his management. Added to this, there is the personal cowardice of IDS himself. Like the Neo-Cons described and derided by traditional American Conservatives, IDS appears unable to take professional criticism and reacts badly when he meets it. He has repeatedly failed to meet opponents of his welfare reforms, and avoided answering questions by parliamentary committees. Once upon a time, generals led from the front. IDS, it appears, prefers to be well behind lines so he doesn’t have to take the flak dished out to his troops. And as we’ve seen, if he can’t legitimately get his way, then he reverts to bullying. No wonder he may have been returned to his unit.

This, then, is the state of the civil service under Ian Duncan Smith. It’s badly led, with no team spirit or esprit de corps, at least at its lowest levels. There it is a poisonous hell of back-stabbing by the desperate and demoralised, acculturated to poor treatment and poor pay. It’s little wonder that the civil servants in turn mistreat and abuse the job seekers and other benefit claimants. And all while IDS and his fellow ministers vote themselves increasingly bloated salaries. This constitutes the Tories’ ideas of leadership and ideal social conditions in modern Britain.

A View into the Phone Hacking Scandal, and the Dark, Ugly Heart of Murdoch Journalism

October 4, 2013

News of the World? Fake Sheiks and Royal Trappings, Peter Burden (London: Eye Books 2008).

Fake Sheikhs

The author is the father of a girl, whose boyfriend genuinely knows Princes Wills and Harry. As such, the girl and lad were – unsuccessfully – targeted by the ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mahmood Mazher. This is Burden’s account not only of the incident, but of the history of the infamous ‘phone hacking scandal’, Murdoch tabloid journalism and the News of the World. He charts the history of such journalism right back as far as the 18th century and the Monitor newspaper. This Georgian rag was a predecessor of the News of the World in that it adopted an attitude of pious distaste, while retailing news of sexual scandal amongst the great and not very good. George Crabbe summed up this early incarnation of tabloid prurience in the poem:

‘Then lo, the sainted Monitor is born,
Whose pious face some scared texts adorn
As artful sinners cloak the secret sin,
To veil with seeming grace the guile within
So moral essays on his front appear
But all is carnal business in the rear.’

Burden goes on to trace the rise of the News of the World itself, and how it kept itself afloat with similar stories of scandal. So firmly was the News of the World associated with this kind of yellow journalism, that it’s nickname in Private Eye was ‘News of the Screws’. In the 1960s, however, sales of the News of the World began to fall and its proprietors considered partnerships with other media moguls. One of these was a young Rupert Murdoch. The News’ owner in this period comes out actually as being rather a naïve, gentlemanly soul, in contrast to the contents of his scandal sheet. He was told repeatedly by his colleagues that if he went into business with Murdoch, the Dirty Digger would stab him in the back and he’d be ousted from his own newspaper. The proprietor refused to listen, went ahead with a deal that signed over part of the newspaper to Murdoch, and within half a year he was out. His wife, however, didn’t like the Digger. When they met over lunch, she found him humourless, amongst other things.

The book has on its frontispiece a quotation from a former news editor on the News of the Screws: ‘… that is what we do – we go out and destroy other people’s lives.’ Burden discusses some of the truly low points in the rags miserable history of the invasion and destruction of people’s lives. One of these was in the 1970s, when one of the journalists covered the activities of a man running a walking society. In fact, he was swinger, who used the society as a cover for his own interest in group sex. When asked why his own wife wasn’t part of the shenanigans, the man said that he’d like her to, but she simply wasn’t interested in it and so he kept his double life secret from her. The Screws went ahead with the story. The man running the ‘walking society’ was so devastated by it that, tragically, he took his own life. This led to a scandal about the way the Screws ran its stories, and reforms were put in place to stop it all occurring in the future. Nevertheless, it shows the immense harm that such stories do to otherwise blameless individuals. Sure, the man in question was an adulterer. The people involved in it were all consenting adults, however, so no harm was done to anyone. In today’s more liberal moral climate, it could be argued very strongly that what they got up to in the privacy of their own homes was no business of anyone else. It certainly doesn’t warrant driving someone, who may otherwise have been a perfectly decent person, to suicide.

Other low points in the News’ race to the journalistic pit include their persecution of Russell Harty. Remember him? Harty was the much-loved, rather camp host of a week day chat show in the 1980s. He is perhaps most famous for being beaten up live on TV by Grace Jones, the singer and female muscle freak. The design of the set met that Harty couldn’t face more than one guest at the same time. After talking to Jones, he turned to talk to his other guest. Jones thought he was ignoring her, and so gave him a clip on the top of the head. It was a bizarre, funny moment, and added yet more evidence to prove that Grace Jones was deeply scary. There was a car advert in which her mechanical head suddenly emerged from the desert. Her mouth opened like a set of mechanical garage doors, and the car shot out. After driving around a bit, it returned back into Jones’ gaping maw. This was the decade when Arnie’s Terminator first appeared, so this may have been Jones’ turn to represent female cyborg muscle.

It was not, however, the fearsome chanteuse that persecuted Harty during his terminal illness. Harty tragically died of AIDS. During his treatment, however, he, his friends and family were repeatedly pestered by the Screws’ journalists covering the story. After breaking into his private room in hospital, the Screws’ then rented a room in the house opposite so they could take long lens shot of the sick broadcaster in his bed. it was another demonstration of how low the Screws and its journalists would go. One of them had such a reputation for indulging in stories of indiscreet sexual shenanigans that he acquired the soubriquet ‘Onan the Barbarian’.

The there’s the ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mahmood Mazher. Mazher’s stock-in-trade is to dress up as an Arab sheikh, and arrange a meeting with various members of the aristocracy or celebrities on the pretext of going into business with them. he then inveigles them into doing or saying something embarrassing or criminal. In the case of the aristocracy, this consists in indiscreet comments about the royal family. With celebrities like the Radio 1 DJ, Johnny Walker, this consists of pestering them to get drugs. When they do, Mazher takes it away for testing, and the Screws runs the story revealing that they are a drug fiend. Mazher has even gone so low as to stitch up members of his own family. His brother, Waseem, was employed in the BBC’s Asian unit at Pebble Mill. Waseem Mazher noticed that, contrary to Beeb regulations, a number of directors and producers at the Mill were using the Beeb’s equipment to edit films they were making for rival companies. At that time both Waseem and Mazher were living at home. Waseem mentioned this over family dinner. Mazher immediately recognised the story and ran it. For breaking the broadcasters’ code of omerta, Waseem was ostracised to the point where he could not work in British broadcasting. He now operates a radio station in Afghanistan. Friends and family clearly mean nothing to this man.

One person, who was not deceived by Mazher was George Galloway. Mazher contacted Galloway for a meeting in his guise as the sheikh. On his way to the meeting, Galloway recognised Mazher’s accomplice and bodyguard, a seven-foot tall man mountain with gold teeth, nicknamed ‘Jaws’ because of his similarity to the Bond villain. This alerted him to what was to come. Now I’m not a fan of Galloway. He has publicly supported some of the nastiest regimes in the Middle East, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the current government in Damascus. Mind you, not that he’s alone in that. As I’ve pointed out, Maggie, Bush and Reagan were selling arms to Saddam’s regime in the 1980s. In the 1950s the CIA was running him as a hitman to whack out members of the Iraqi government after a revolution toppled Britain’s puppet. Arguably, his opinions on the Middle East are no worse than that of the British establishment. He’s just more consistent about them and open. Galloway is a supporter of the Palestinians and against Israel. He states, however, that he is anti-Zionist, but not an anti-Semite. During their conversation, Mazher tried to trap him into saying something vilely anti-Semitic and in favour of the Holocaust. Galloway was not tricked, and refused to take the bait. He replied that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity. Defeated, Mazher withdrew.

When Mazher was pulling these stunts in the 1990s, Private Eye ran a story in their ‘Street of Shame’ column. One of his victims finally caught up with him and asked him, over the phone, why he was involved in such despicable journalism. His reply? ‘But I’ve got a mortgage’. Burden notes that Mazher was originally quite a courageous, genuinely investigative journalist. He was beaten up during an investigation into the availability and use of guns amongst Manchester’s street gangs. Understandably, he gave up this type of journalism, to concentrate on weaker, less violent targets.

As for Burden’s daughter,she and her beau were flown to America by the ‘Fake Sheikh’ pretending to be interested in making a business deal with them. Mazher took them to a nightclub, and then tried to get them to say something unpleasant about the Princes, the Queen Mother and Prince Philip. The lad, who has set up nightclubs with one of the Princes, remained discreet about it all and said he really couldn’t comment, as he genuinely had no opinion. On their return to Britain, the couple slowly realised that they may have been duped and the person they encountered was Mazher in his habitual guise. Burden checked with the Screws, who replied that they had indeed tried to deceive them, and that it had been a complete waste of several thousand pounds.

Most of the book is, of course, about the phone hacking scandal, the journalists, editors and private investigators involved, how they were discovered hacking into the Princes’ private email and mobile phone messages. They were discovered after running as genuine a phone call one of the Prince’s had made to the other pretending to be his girlfriend. Burden goes further, and talks about the Murdoch’s personal management of his empire, his appointment of Rebbekah Brooks as editor of the Screws, and the weird legal economics that informs how Murdoch runs him empire. Murdoch’s chief legal advisor was one Crone. Crone used to guide his master on how much their newspapers would lose in fines and damages if they lost a libel case on a particular story. He used to raise up the fingers on his hands to show how many thousands it would cost them. Murdoch and his editors then did a few brief calculations. If the number of copies sold outweighed the amount they’d have to pay in damages, then they printed the story. Burden also criticises Murdoch and his empire for the way he has generally lowered journalistic standards through his prurient sensationalism.

Burden also considers the debate surrounding what is in the people’s interest, versus what is of interest to the people. This means whether the content of a piece of journalism is worth printing because of its importance to British society and economy. As against whether people want to read it simply out of desire to get some kind of thrill from reading about others’ private lives and peccadilloes. Burden himself seems to favour a law like that of the French legislation guaranteeing the individual’s right to a private life. This effectively puts peering into the private lives of MPs, celebs and others out of bounds. You can see his point, but I don’t think the argument is at all solid, especially after the accusations of rape directed a few years ago against a senior French politician.

This book, however, gives valuable personal and historical insight into the News of the World, and the background to the phone-hacking scandal still enveloping News International. It also shows the moral paucity at the heart of Murdoch’s media empire.

Meanwhile, here’s a clip of the formidable Ms Jones laying into Russell Harty.

It’s on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpWo15Jc2JQ.

And here’s Spitting Image’s take on Murdoch’s true journalistic values:

This is on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVIkmJcodFM.

A Resource for Contemporary Arab Politics: A Brutal Friendship by Said Aburish

October 4, 2013

London: Indigo 1998.

Aburish Cover

Although this book was published over fifteen years ago, it is still highly relevant for providing the historical background to the Arab Spring and contemporary events in the Arab world. Aburish’s book traces the history of the bloody relationship between the Western powers and their client regimes in the Middle East. The book describes how the conquering British and French in the 19th and 20th century carved up the Middle East into its present mosaic of state and supported various political movements and politicians in these countries in order to maintain their control and overlordship. This continued even after former decolonisation. Leadership of the free world then passed from Britain to America, who manipulated the Middle East during the Cold War in order to check Russian influence. Oil also played a major part in the political economy of the Middle East, with Britain and America supporting some highly repressive and deeply authoritarian regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to keep the oil flowing. Arab leaders, who revolted against their neo-colonial overlords were ousted, frequently through coups and assassinations. Among the various assassinations arranged by the Western powers was a plot in the 1950s to kill Iraq’s anti-Western leaders. The assassin was sponsored by the CIA, and, although the plot failed, was able to escape to Syria. The assassin? Saddam Hussein.

Aburish shows how the new political divisions and regimes created and imposed by the Western imperialists were often deeply resented by the indigenous peoples, and responsible for further hatred and violence within those nations. The Prime Minister of Iraq in the early 1950s was described in glowing terms by Western politicians and the press. He was, however, so hated by the Iraqi people that not only was he literally torn apart by a mob during a revolution, but they also ran over the pieces in a car. The atrocities committed by the Maronite Phalange in Lebanon during that nation’s Civil War in the 1980s also have their roots in Western diplomacy. When the British and French divided the Middle East during the Mandate, they enlarged the area under Maronite jurisdiction far beyond that people’s traditional homeland. When Lebanon was created, the Maronites were the largest single religious group in Lebanon, and so were given a leading position in that nation’s complex political structure. Demographic changes between the ’20s and the 80’s saw the Maronite population reduce in comparison with the Muslim sects. Fearing losing control of their nation and their expanded heartland, the Maronites reacted with appalling savagery. Aburish describes the notorious massacres they committed on the Muslim inmates of the refugee camps.

He also describes the Orientalist prejudices of the Western, particularly British, explorers and diplomats, who created the modern Near East. These, such as the great, pioneering British lady explorer, Gertrude Bell, preferred Bedouine nomads and tribal warriors to modern, educated middle class Arabs. They saw the desert warriors as representing the true, noble Arabs, while reviling what they saw as the corruption of urban society, like Beirut and its fleshpots. I can believe this. One contributor to Lobster was a colonial civil servant, who believed he had seen serious electoral fraud in Nigeria in the run-up to the Biafran War. He was bitterly critical of the aristocratic British colonial officers, whom he states were looked up as ‘polo-playing pr*cks’ by their subordinates. These had far more affection for the feudal Fulani than for the settled, agricultural Nigerian peoples. During the War, Britain secretly supplied arms to the Muslim Fulani against Christian Nigerians in order to keep the oil supplies flowing. I can believe that the British officer class were closer to the Fulani than the other Nigerian peoples. The Fulani were pastoralists with a feudal social structure. The officer class of the British army has also largely been drawn from the aristocracy, and with the same love of equestrianism and horsemanship the British army and the Fulani emirs and their warriors shared similar social classes and outlook.

In the last chapter, Aburish criticises the attitude of Arab expatriates in London ‘the Beiru-on-Thames syndrome’. He objects to the way they have taken over Western attitudes towards their peoples and society, and considers that they form a new slave class.

The anti-Islam blogs have frequently criticised liberal, pro-Arab journalists, such as the Independent’s Robert Fisk, for their support of the Arab Spring, and the deeply illiberal Salafi regimes that have arisen from it. Although it was written over fifteen years ago, this book shows why so many liberals did have such high hopes of the liberal movements that ousted the previous secular dictatorships: these regimes were so horrific, and did little but enrich themselves while serving the West. Western friends of the Arabs, like Fisk, therefore hoped and expected that these regimes would be removed by a new class of politicians, who would truly lead their people to dignity and independence. Unfortunately, this hasn’t occurred, and the Middle East still remains a bloody battle ground.

If you want to know more about the Middle East, and the background to the current events and bloodshed, then I recommend this book.

Lobster on Maggie’s Arms to Iraq

October 4, 2013

In previous blog posts on the activities of the CIA in South America, such as on Alan Moore’s strip ‘Shadowplay’ in the graphic novel anthology, Brought to Light, I mentioned the way Reagan supplied guns and armaments to the Contras in Nicaragua, and Hizbollah and Iran in the Iran-Contra affair. America also broke the arms embargo and secretly supplied Saddam Hussein with armaments. As did Britain, by express authorisation of Premier Thatcher. The parapolitical journal, Lobster, has an article, ‘Maggie’s Guilty Secret’, by John Hughes-Wilson, exposing how Thatcher aided the Americans secretly to supply arms to both sides during the Iran-Iraq War bin contravention of international law. He discusses how this was done through secret contracts and CIA front companies. This account of Maggie’s duplicity, and the way it was kept secret from parliament and the public eye, is at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster66/lob66-maggies-secret.pdf.

Private Eye Joke Cover on Bush and the Middle East – Policy Now Continued by Obama in Syria

September 23, 2013

Private Eye put the above joke on the cover of their issue for the 4th to 11th of February, 2005. Commenting on the recent Iraqi election, the cover shows Condoleeza Rice saying ‘It’s a great day for freedom’. Behind her, Bush replies ‘Now I’m free to attack Iran!’

Bush Iran Joke

The joke was very much based in reality, as seven years ago there was indeed the possibility that Bush would launch an attack on Iran in order to prevent them developing nuclear weapons. This hostility to Iran has continued under Obama in Syria. I have discussed in several previous blog posts American resentment of Syria’s signing of a non-aggression pack with the Islamic Republic. I have suggested that the Jihadis funded by Saudi Arabia and controlled by the Kingdom’s intelligence chief, Turki al-Faisal, have as part of their objective the curtailment of Iran’s attempts to take over OPEC by taking control of a larger portion of the Middle Eastern oil supply. Although a direct attack on Iran seems fortunately to have receded, nevertheless the current civil war in Syria and western attitudes to Assad and the Ba’ath party are essentially a continuation of Bush’s oil policy in Iraq and his hostile stance to Iran. Despite the rhetoric, it isn’t about freedom or human rights, just oil and geo-politics.

And just to remind everyone what Bush’s invasion of Iraq was really about, here’s Spitting Image’s view of Gulf War I in the form of George Bush snr. answering questions in Britain’s Mastermind TV quiz. It’s another example of the way the satire from twenty-odd years ago is still very much fresh and relevant. The faces may have changed, but the attitudes, issues and posturing remain the same. Enjoy!

Another Angry Voice on 9/11, and Global Anti-Freedom Movements Backed by America

September 12, 2013

9/11 is, of course, the anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre that led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Angry Yorkshireman has another, excellent piece on his blog, commenting on this and demolishing the US claim that they are the defenders of global freedom. He points out that long before the Taliban became our enemy, they were the West’s allies against the Russians in Afghanistan. The West has also supported militant Islamists in Kosovo, in the former Yugoslavia, and is now supporting them against Assad in Syria. He also describes how the Americans supported the overthrow of the Marxist, but democratically elected regime of Allende in Chile as part of a campaign to implement the extreme free trade, monetarist policies of the Chicago school. Under Operation Condor the US worked to install further right-wing, military dictatorships in South America, and then with these regimes to establish similar dictatorships in Meso-America under Operation Charly. The Angry One concludes

‘The 40th anniversary of the US backed military coup in Chile will pass virtually unnoticed in the United States and great swathes of the public will continue to believe the comforting lies that the US has a history of promoting democracy and freedom, rather than a demonstrable history of deliberately and callously undermining them.

The millions of victims of the vile US backed Latin American dictatorships are not the only people that should be remembered on September the 11th. The countless global victims of the vile “greed is a virtue” neoliberal pseudo-economic ideology devised by the Chicago boys, supported by the US government and born in Chile on this day 40 years ago are also just as worthy of remembrance as the victims of the September 2001 atrocities.’

One of the interesting points the Angry One raises is the fact the Argentinian Junta installed by the US replaced the regime of Isabel Peron. This raises the issue of the influence of Peronism in Argentinian politics. Juan Peron was indeed a thug and mass-murderer, but he also seems to have been motivated by a genuine concern to aid the poor. James Dunkerley, the Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of London, in his book, Warriors and Scribes: Essays on the Politics of Latin America, notes that it is a peculiarity of South American politics Peronism and similar dictatorships take the place in South America of Social Democratic – democratic socialist – parties in Europe. Now Right-wing American authors, such as Jonah Goldberg, have attempted to discredit socialism in America by lumping it in with Fascism. In their eyes, Fascism is a left-wing movement, despite the fact that Mussolini gained power by declaring he supported Free Trade and the Manchester School, and sat with the rest of the Right-wing parties, rather than the socialists and Communists on the Left in the Italiam parliament before it was overthrown and replaced by his personal dictatorship. It has got to the point where American Republican, and their counterparts in Britain, have referred to the Fascist BNP as ‘the Left-wing BNP’. Now this can work both ways. As well as rejecting any equation between democratic socialism and Fascism, I also suggest that instead of using just ‘Fascist’ to refer to any Right-wing dictatorship, we should describe Pinochet’s and similar, free-market regimes as exactly what they are: monetarist, economic libertarian, and carry on describing them as such until the view that such economic policies are automatically associated with freedom is thoroughly discredited.

Why The US Want Regime Change In Iran: And Its NOT Because Of Nuclear Weapons

September 12, 2013

Another interesting video from Stormcloudsgathering, found by Sparaszczukster. While I certainly don’t support their call for a revolution, I do feel they’re on to something here. Iran does indeed have the world’s third largest reserves of oil. Not only do the Iranians not subscribe, and seek to undermine the petrodollar system, foreign investment in Iran and ownership of Iranian industries is strictly prohibited. Like Syria and Iraq before the American invasion, Iran’s economy is dominated by a massive state sector. The oil industry is state-owned. A vast part of the Iranian economy is also dominated by the bonyads, Muslim charitable foundations, including the ‘Foundation for the Poor’ that also owns and controls much industry. After the invasion of Iraq, the large state corporations were privatised and sold to American corporations. Given the way the Iranian state and para-state sector – the bonyads – dominate the economy and exclude foreign capital, my guess is that the American military-industry complex would also like to do the same to Iran. The Iranians are also supporting the insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to Private Eye, there have already been reports of contact – fighting – between British forces and Iranian troops. The Iranian regime is also militantly hostile to Israel. I suspect that these factors will lead to a strike, or escalation of tension sometime between the West, led by America, and the Iranians, and an invasion of Iran is a real possibility.

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