Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

IDS’ Beliefs and Fascist Irrationalism

February 17, 2014

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Ian Duncan Smith: The Sane Choice

‘Do I detect a little anti-intellectualism here? Must’ve started about 1982 [the year Reagan was elected] I think’,

– Comedian Bill Hicks on being reproached for reading in a Virginia waffle house.

‘This man is dangerous. He believes his own propaganda.’

– German Conservative politician on Adolf Hitler.

Ian Duncan Smith doesn’t seem to like defending his policies rationally. His department has repeatedly refused demands to release the figures of the numbers of people, who have died due to being denied benefit support as a result of his reforms. Such requests are decried as ‘vexatious’. Other excuses for not releasing them include the straightforward admission that these would create public opposition to them, and prevent their implementation. Mike’s blogged about this a number of times on Vox Political, after his own request for the figures under the FOI was turned down. These statements are a tacit admission by IDS and the rest of his department that they know their policies are killing people by the thousands, and that they simply don’t work in the way they’re claimed. They just don’t want you and the rest of the British public knowing it.

When challenged whether his views are correct, IDS has been known to retreat into mere statements of belief. They are correct, according to IDS, because he believes in them.

Another political figure, who used much the same arguments, stressing belief, rather than rationality, was the Right-wing German writer, Ernst Junger. Junger stated that it was completely unimportant whether a cause was true or not. What was important was ‘to sacrifice oneself for a faith, regardless of whether that faith embraces truth or error.’

Junger was one of the intellectual precursors to Nazism. He declared that it was a privilege to take part in the intellectuals high treason against intellect. Unlike the Left, who were horrified by war, Junger saw it as inspiring and ennobling, glorifying the First World War and its violence in his 1922 collection of essay Der Kampf als innere Erlebnis (Struggle as Inner Experience). He stated

Combat is one of the truly great experiences. And I have still to find someone to whom the moment of victory was not one of shattering exaltation… I should not like to do without this force among the complex of emotions that drive us through life.

Considering war as a necessity and a release, he further stated that in military combat

the true human being makes up in a drunken orgy for everything he has been neglecting. Then his passions, too long damned up by society and its laws, become once more uniquely dominant and holy and the ultimate reason.

He therefore urged for a state of Total Mobilization, in which work would be a preparation for war. This would lead the working class away from Socialism and Marxism, and spread nationalism further throughout society. Of the First World War he said

This war is not the end, but the chord that heralds new power. it is the anvil on which the world will be hammered into new boundaries and new communities. New forms will be filled with blood, and might will be hammered into them with a hard fist. War is a great school, and the new man will be of our cut.

Other Right-wing intellectuals also shared Junger’s irrationalism. Junger was influenced by Oswald Spengler, whose ‘The Decline of the West’ exerted a profound influence on Fascist and nationalist groups in Germany and throughout Europe. In his 1924 speech On the Political Duties of German Youth, Spengler declared

Whether one is right or wrong-that doesn’t amount to much in history. Whether or not he is superior to his adversary in a practical way, that is what decides whether he will be successful. .. To be honourable and nothing else-that’s not enough for our future… To train oneself as material for great leaders, in proud self-denial, prepared for personal sacrifice, that is also a German virtue. And, given the case that, in the hard times ahead, strong men will appear, leaders to whom we must entrust our fate, then they must have something upon which they can rely. They need a generation such as Bismarck did not find, which appreciates their kind of action and does not reject it for romantic reasons, a dedicated band of followers who have, but way of long and serious self-training, come to the point of understanding the necessary and do not-as would doubtless be true today -reject it as un-German.

Both Hitler and Mussolini saw their parties as movements, first and foremost, in which action and belief came before reasoned analysis and political programmes. Hitler refused to announce the Nazis’ programme for the 1933 German elections because

All programmes are vain; the decisive thing is the human will, sound vision, manly courage, sincerity of faith, the inner will.

Mussolini attempted to give Fascism a quasi-religious element in the policy of Fascismo Mistica, that would render it invulnerable from rational attack. Ten years before Hitler’s statement, he declared that Fascism was, above all, a myth:

We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality.

George Sorel

This Right-wing celebration of the forces of unreason, of belief and violence instead of rationalism and intellectual analysis and discussion, ultimately derives from Georges Sorel. Sorel was a Syndicalist, who believed that the workers should use trade unions to seize power in through violent revolution in a General Strike. However, it was not necessary that the General Strike should actually occur. All that mattered was that it should provide an inspiring myth that would encourage the workers to action against the bourgeoisie.

This irrationalism was designed to place the central, mobilising ideas of Fascism and Nazism beyond rational criticism.

Just to assert the supreme importance of such things as race, blood, soul, will character, and manly courage is to place all politics beyond criticism, since obviously belief in such things is impervious to rational attack. To say that modern Italy is the heir of Imperial Rome, that the Third Reich is the continuation of the empire of Barbarossa, that liberalism is foreign to the ‘Latin mind’, that purity of race is more important than thought, that ‘insight’ is more valuable than ‘barren intellectualism’-all of these assertions may be ridiculous, but they are argument at a level above-or below-that at which refutation is possible.

Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought III: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd. 1959) 300.

And so it is with Ian Duncan Smith. His statements that he ‘believes’ in his policies towards the unemployed and the disabled is also intended to put them beyond rational questioning.

Now Conservativism isn’t Fascism, even though many of the proto-Nazi writers of the Weimar period, such as Moeller van den Bruck, considered themselves ‘revolutionary conservatives’. Nevertheless, Conservatism does share with Fascism a stress on the irrational, and an appeal to social solidarity rather than rational arguments. This is particularly clear in Private Eye’s review of Roger Scruton’s 1987 Untimely Tracts

Roger Scruton is an anomaly: a conservative intellectual. In the past, few Tories have felt a need to theorize and few have been able to write or enunciate clearly. Even now most Tory utterances are pleasantly uncomplicated: the faithful barking of Paul Johnson, say, or the appreciative gargling of Auberon Waugh.

But this will not do for Professor Scruton. He wants his arguments; he has to have his reasons. Of course, to well-brought-up Tories this simply show him up as a grammar school bug, too keen by half. Scruton knows that intellectuals are a bit off, but he just can’t help himself. He is a philosopher, through and through. For the social solidarity which stiffens most reactionaries, he seeks to substitute a flow of ‘hences’ and ‘therefores’.

‘Rogers’ Thesaurus’ in in Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 287-8.

Hence the furious denunciations of Left-wing intellectuals and academics for daring to question rationally traditional society and its institutions. It’s therefore not surprising that Scruton in the above book declared that most teachers were ‘diseducated’, lamented that the majority of MPs ‘are no longer from a social class which feels no need to use the Commons for the purpose of social gain’ and defends hereditary peerages as essential to economic stability.

Now I am not accusing IDS of being a Fascist, but his appeal to belief to defend his policies, rather than reasoned argument, is part of Fascist irrationalism. You can also see a Fascistic element in his militarism, and the determination to use mass mobilisation – workfare – to mould the working class to take them away from socialism. Under IDS this is much less to do with forming work as preparation for war, and so giving the workers an element of excitement, but of simply crushing their wills to reduce them to the level of servile drones for international capitalism.

All this needs to be challenged, and IDS held to account. His appeal to belief, rather than facts and figures, is ridiculous and dangerous, just as it was to a far great extent with the Nazis and Fascists.

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Dr Arnold Hutschnecker on the Psychology of the Tyrant

February 13, 2014

Alex de Jonge begins the last chapter of his biography of Stalin by discussing Dr Arnold Hutschnecker’s ideas about the psychology of the drive to power. Hutschnecker was at one time Nixon’s psychiatrist, and so presumably some of these insights came from his observation of Tricky Dicky’s own warped psyche.

According to de Jonge, Hutschnecker believed that the drive to power came from

‘a painful sense of one’s own insignificance, a fear of death and the wish to have others die. It is associated with a low sexual drive and an inability to love. ‘It moves on the wings of aggression to overcome inferiority … Those whose power to love and consequently create has been broken will choose war in order to experience an intoxicating sense of power or excitement.”

Now some of this is obviously true of Stalin. De Jonge points out in the book that Stalin had very strong feelings of inferiority due to his short stature, and his physical deformities. Two of the toes on one of his feet were fused, he had a withered arm and his face was pockmarked due to smallpox. He also had a bitter hatred of intellectuals, possibly dating from the time the Georgian Marxist Zhordania refused to allow him into his revolutionary group because he didn’t have the depth of understanding of Marxist theory he required. De Jonge also states that his attitude to the West was a mixture of the traditional Russian sense of inferiority at the West’s achievements mixed with a sense of spiritual superiority. This inferiority complex resulted in the Stalinist regime’s extreme xenophobia and nationalism, which saw millions of returning Soviet emigres, prisoners of war and troops from Europe after the Second World War imprisoned in the gulags or shot as potential traitors or otherwise culturally contaminated by anti-Soviet elements. It also resulted in the Soviet Union, not content with the brilliant achievements of its own citizens throughout their history, also appropriating those of the West, so that everything from the steam engine to the radio was held up as the invention of a Russian. Not that Stalin’s Russia was the only totalitarian state to do this. Mussolini’s Italy, one of whose leading scientists, Marconi, really had pioneered radio, also made the same extravagant claims. One of these was that Shakespeare was really Italian.

Stalin also recognised that he lacked the ability to love, especially after the death of his first wife. While he may not have feared death in his youth or middle age, when he was young kinto on the streets of Tiflis and gangster-cum-revolutionary holding up banks and repeatedly being exiled and escaping from Siberia, he certainly was terrified of it at the end of his life. He had the cypresses cut down on his summer estate of Kuntsevo because he found them too gloomy. Possibly some memory of his earlier Christian faith, and what he had learned at the seminary in Georgia came back to haunt him, and he began to fear that his victims would find justice against him in the hereafter. And he certainly did not lack the desire to have others die in their millions.

The description also reminds me of that of another public figure, much closer to home: Ian Duncan Smith, the head of the DWP.

Ian Duncan Smith pic

The man clearly suffers from a massive sense of his own inferiority. How otherwise can you explain his bizarre fantasies and lies, in which he has claimed, amongst other things, to have a degree from an Italian university that doesn’t grant them. He has furthermore declared that the introduction of Universal Credit and his other reforms are an advance as great as the abolition of slavery, as well as his highly dubious claim to have been an officer in the British army. And he does seem to have turned to a military career to give him the power and excitement that he lacked as a civilian.

As for the hardship and suffering his reforms in the DWP have caused, these certainly point to a large cruel and sadistic streak in his character. And while I’ve no doubt that he has a desire to cause anyone’s death, as shown in his refusal to release the figures for the number of people who’ve died after being thrown off their benefits by Atos, this is exactly what his reforms have done. You can find a list of names over at Stilloak’s blog. Some bloggers, such as Jaynelinney, have suggested that the figure may be as high as 38,000 per year.

The final chapter of de Jonge’s book also begins with a quote from Marx to Engels about the Paris Commune in 1871. This was the uprising by the citizen’s of Paris in which they tried to establish the city as an independent, revolutionary municipality after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. It was brutally suppressed by the French monarchy. Marx said

‘We think of terror as the reign of those who inspire terror; on the contrary it is the reign of people who are themselves terrified. Terror consists of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.’

This statement not only describes the paranoid psychology of Stalin himself, but also that of the millions of Soviet citizens, who collaborated with his regime in spying on and denouncing their friends, family and neighbours as saboteurs, agents of Trotsky and the Western, imperial and capitalist powers, or for having an ‘anti-party’ conception of Marxism.

It also describes the psychology of IDS and his servants within the DWP. These are, after all, also demoralised, with those on the lowest ranks of the hierarchy forced to take out advances in their salaries just to ends meet till the end of the month. It also describes the atmosphere of backstabbing and suspicion that also pervades the DWP, and the way its employees take out their own fears, resentment and frustration on those unfortunates, who come to them for unemployment benefit.

Stalin was a monster, who terrorised and murdered millions. Ian Duncan Smith is a petty bureaucrat, but one whose reforms are killing people in their tens of thousands. They are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the psychology, the feelings of inferiority and the need to persecute, are exactly the same.

The angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has posted a recent article showing the Stalinist assumptions behind IDS workfare schemes, and used Conservative arguments to demonstrate how anyone, who sincerely stands for the principles of the Right, should reject it. He also has this picture showing Smith as Stalin. This seems particularly appropriate considering the similarities between their psychologies.

IDS Stalin

And the Angry Yorkshireman’s question is all too valid. To see his article, ‘Why do Right-Wing People support Workfare’, go to http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/why-right-wing-support-workfare.html

Twitter’s Censorship and the Totalitarianism of the DWP’s ‘Brand’

February 7, 2014

jon-woodcock

Jon Woodcock, Brand Manager of the Department of Work and Pensions

I’ve reblogged Tom Pride’s article this morning on his site, Pride’s Purge, about Twitter’s censorship of a parody account satirising the DWP, @UKJCP. This was done at the request of Jon Woodcock, ‘Brand Manager’ at the Department of Work and Pensions. Woodcock wanted the account closed down because

‘it had been set up with the deliberate and malicious intent to devalue and criticise the work of Jobcentre Plus. In addition, there are a number of rude and potentially libellous tweets aimed at UK government, elected politicians and the heads of large private sector organisations who are committed to working with government on reducing unemployment.’

Woodcock appears to be somewhat confused about recent developments in freedom of the press, such as those that have occurred within the last 200 years or so. His pompous statements about the malicious criticism of Jobcentre Plus, and the potential libelling of their collaborators in the private sector recalls nothing so much as the way dissenting journalists in the 18th and 19th centuries were prosecuted for ‘seditious libel’ when satirising or criticising the government of the day and its ministers. Robin Day similarly hated the government being sent up. He described the satirical sixties TV show, That Was the Week That Was, which blazed the path now followed by the Not the Nine O’clock News, The News Quiz, Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image and Mock the Week as ‘deplorable’. Woodcock seems to share the same attitude. Presumably he winces every time Michael Portillo shows him his collection of early political cartoons. As his comments show, he does seem to be the type of man who’d like to censor Hogarth, Cruikshank, Gillray et al.

Then there’s the problem of why a government department should require a ‘brand manager’ at all. This is another idea that seems to have come in from general industry management culture. Many companies are extremely jealous about their brand imagery, to the point where they become extremely possessive and intolerant of anybody sending it up, or using the same kind of image as it’s part of general culture. In the 1990s Hollywood produced a film about the Loch Ness Monster. This was all well and good, but the film’s producers then tried to shut down a website about ‘Nessie’, because, as the producer’s of a film about the Loch Ness Monster, they decided that they owned copyright to the creature. Woodcock seems to come from this part of commercial culture.

goebbels

Josef Goebbels: Minister for Public Enlightenment and Brand Manager of the Nazi Party

It is also very like the commercial branding used by Josef Goebbels and the Nazi party. Also back in the 1990s, the SF author William Gibson wrote a novel, in which the central character has such a gift for branding and marketing that they feel physical pain when exposed to products or material, which have a very strong, brand identity. There was some controversy over the book because of a passage, in which the character talks about the Nazis having a very strong brand image. Talking about the book on BBC Radio 4’s arts show, Front Row, Gibson said that the passage was inspired by his own experiences in Vienna. He had been wandering down one of the Austrian capital’s side streets, and came upon a shop selling Nazi memorabilia left over from the Anschluss and the Third Reich. Gibson noted how branded it all was, with every article carrying Nazi insignia, including the notepaper. Unfortunately, Gibson was right. The Third Reich was very careful in the construction of its corporate image and that of its numerous subsections.

From 1930-33 the propaganda section of the Nazi issued detailed instruction regarding the slogans, images and themes that should appear in their posters, leaflets and party papers. The following directions, signed by Goebbels, were issued in preparation for Presidential elections of March-April 1932

‘(a) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and all Gau Propaganda Departments.
… a striking slogan:
Those who want everything to stay as it is vote for Hindenburg. Those who want everything changed vote for Hitler.

(b) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and Gau Propaganda Departments
… Hitler Poster. The Hitler poster depicts a fascinating Hitler head on a completely black background. Subtitle: white on black – ‘Hitler’. In accordance with the Fuhrer’s wish this poster is to be put up only during the final days [of the campaign]. Since experience shows that during the final days there is a variety of coloured posters, this poster with it completely black background will contrast with all the others and will produce a tremendous effect on the masses … .

(c) Reich Propaganda Department
Instructions for the National Socialist Press for the election of the Reich President
1. From Easter Tuesday 29 March until Sunday 10 April inclusive, all National Socialist papers, both daily and weekly, must appear in an enlarged edition with a tripled circulation. Two-thirds of this tripled circulation must be made available, without charge, to the Gau leadership responsible for its area of distribution for propaganda purposes… .
2. From East Tuesday 29 march until Sunday 3 April iniclusive, a special topic must be dealt with every day on the first page of all our papers in a big spread. Tuesday 29 March: Hitler as a man. Wednesday 30 March: hitler as a fighter (gigantic achievements through willpower, etc.). Friday 1 April. Hitler as a statesman-plenty of photos…
3. On Sunday 3 April at noon (end of an Easter truce), the great propaganda journey of the Fuehrer through Germany will start, through which about a million people are to be reached directly through our Fuehrer’s speeches… The press organisation is planned so that four press centres will be set up in Germany, which in turn will pass on immediately any telephone calls to the other papers of their area, whose names have been given them….’

From Nazism 1919-1945 – A Documentary Reader, 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934, edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham, (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983) 73-4.

And commercial companies were all too willing to exploit Hitler and the Nazis’ powerful brand. After Hitler seized power in 1933 under the Enabling Law, numerous German companies began marketing their products using the Fuehrer’s image. There was even a brand of sardines or smoked mackerel – I forget which – called ‘Gute Adolf’ – ‘Good Adolf’. The Italian Fascists were also no slouches in this direction. The manganello, the club Mussolini’s squadristi used for beating up their enemies, also appeared in advertising and other popular art, sometimes even as baby’s rattles.

These are simply the totalitarian expression of Jon Woodcock’s concern for his department’s brand image, taken to its most grotesque and extreme extent, and similarly used by regimes intolerant of dissent and desperate to compel the masses to give them their absolute and unthinking support.

Woodcock’s and Twitter’s censorship of @UKJCP should be a national scandal. It is, after all, another assault on free speech by a corrupt and intolerant regime that is seeking every opportunity to stifle it through legislation like the gagging laws. It also shows the way corporate branding in the hands of government departments is becoming totalitarian in its scope and basic attitudes.

Bite the Ballot, The Coalition and Youth Voter Apathy

February 5, 2014

Bite the Ballot

This morning, the BBC’s breakfast TV show covered the activities of a new group, Bite the Ballot, which is attempting to combat voter apathy amongst young people and encourage them to vote. The programme showed one of their members explaining to a group of young people that unless they vote, they have no voice in determining important government issues and that somebody would be voting for them. They also interviewed one young woman, who gave the reasons she believed that young people didn’t have an interest in politics. She didn’t take much interest in it, because she felt she didn’t know enough about it. Politics, and the differences between the parties, for example, weren’t taught in schools. And without a proper grounding in these issues, young people simply had no interest in it or voting.

The programme also remarked on the influence of members of the older generation, like Russell Brand, and their cynical attitude to politics and politicians. Brand caused controversy a few months ago by telling people not to vote, because of the complete lack of interest in representing the public by politicians. I distinctly remember Billy Connolly saying much the same thing a few years ago. The Big Yin declared himself to be an anarchist, and urged his audience, ‘Don’t vote – it only encourages them!’

This cynicism and apathy is partly caused by the venality and mendacity of politicians themselves. The expenses scandal that broke out doubtless confirmed many people’s belief that politicians were all corrupt and just in it for themselves. Nor would recent revelations about Clegg and Cameron’s lies about the NHS and tuition fees contradict such opinions. Mike has blogged on the report on the Guardian, pointed out to him by one of the great commenters on his blog, that Cameron made his statement that he would not privatise the NHS, and Clegg declared that he would not raise tuition fees before the general election with the intention that they would not keep these promises once elected. The public was lied to by a pair of cynical media manipulators of whom Goebbels would have been proud.

George Sorel

Georges Sorel: Radical Syndicalist who believed all politicians were liars.

The radical anarchists of the 19th century attacked parliamentary democracy for the way they believed politicians lied to and exploited the expectations of the voting public. The revolutionary Syndicalist, Georges Sorel, declared in his work, les Illusions du Progres that

‘Democracy succeeds in confusing people’s minds, preventing many intelligent persons from seeing things as they are, because it is served by advocates skilled in the art of confusing issues, thanks to captious language, a supple sophistry, and a monstrous apparatus of scientific declamation. It is especially with respect to the democratic era that one may say that humanity is ruled by the magic power of big words rather than by ideas, by formulas rather than by reasons, by dogmas the origin of which no one ever dreams of seeking rather than by doctrines founded on observation’.

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

David Cameron and Nick Clegg: Two of the politicians trying to prove Sorel right.

This exactly describes the Coalition, which has indeed deceived – and continues to deceive – the British public, and whose doctrine are neither exhaustively scrutinised by the Fourth Estate, but simply repeated as obvious common sense, nor are founded on observation. In fact, IDS deliberately seeks to obstruct proper examination of his policies by dragging his feet over giving any information to the Work and Pensions Committee, and blocking release of the figures showing the number of people, who’ve died after being thrown off benefit by ATOS.

There are dangers to this cynicism. Sorel’s radical anti-parliamentarianism, and his cult of violence expressed in Reflexions sur la Violence, influenced both the Bolsheviks in Russia and Mussolini’s Fascists. When he died both countries sent delegations to pay their respects.

However, the atrocities committed by the great totalitarian regimes like the above in the 20th century have had an effect in turning many people off politics. Certainly very few now have any time for extremist political doctrines like Communism or Fascism. The result is that most of the population, rather than seek radical answers outside parliament, or the reform of politics itself to make it more representative and more responsive to the needs and desires of the electorate, simply turn away. Faced with dissimulation and corruption, people simply change channels on the TV, or turn to the celeb gossip or the sports pages in the newspapers. ‘How do you tell when a politician is lying? His lips move’, as the old joke went on the late, and very great Max Headroom show.

Which may be exactly what the politicos want. Political journalists noted that Blair’s government was highly suspicious of the general public, and was very careful to stage manage congresses and meetings with them to present Blair in the best possible light. Mass membership of the Labour party declined, as voters felt Blair was not interest in the views of the little people, only in rich donors. The same attitude pervades the Conservative and Liberal parties, which have also seen their membership decline for very much the same reasons.

Not that this bothers Cameron and Clegg. These are upper-class aristos, leading a government of upper-class aristos. I get the impression that their background and temperament makes them instinctively distrustful of modern, mass politics. They’d far prefer that of the 18th and early 19th century, when there was a proper property qualification to vote, which excluded all but 20 per cent of the population from having the vote. This left government in the hands of the aristocracy, like themselves. Mike has reported how the government’s reforms of the registration system for voting will leave many confused and so disenfranchised, which certainly seems in line with such an attitude. Possibly in dark corners of smoke-filled rooms in Whitehall or Chequers Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the old Etonians gather round to complain about how it all should have stopped with the Great Reform Act of 1833, or at least with Disraeli’s expansion of the franchise in the 1870s. After all, the rotten and pocket boroughs weren’t all bad, and at least guaranteed the right sort of people a place in parliament.

nixon

Richard Nixon: the corrupt politician’s corrupt politician. But at least he knew how he put young people off politics.

Richard Nixon had the self-awareness to recognise that his attempts to overthrow the American constitution had put the young and idealistic off politics. In his interview with the late David Frost, ‘King Richard’ said he’d like to apologise to the young kid, who now felt all politicians were liars and frauds. His apology wasn’t sincere. Rather than being spontaneous, he’d carefully prepared it in order to gain public sympathy and wrongfoot Frostie. But even if he said it for purely selfish reasons, he at least was honest about the effects of his actions. There has been no such honesty from Cameron and Clegg. Mind you, they’ve got away with it. Nobody’s impeached them. But we live in hope.

Bite the Ballot are doing an excellent job of encouraging young people to take an active interest in politics. Public turn out at elections is declining alarmingly, to the point where I feel there is a real danger of politics simply becoming the preserve of an elite managerial class, which is funded and co-opted – not elected -from their friends in industry, with the masses kept a very poor second, if at all. If politicians really want people to start turning out at elections and give them a mandate for their policies, then the tenor of much modern politics needs to be changed. The political parties need to turn their attention to recruiting and representing the public, not rich donors. We also need politicians and governors, who can speak simply, clearly and without the management jargon that has now got into modern politics. People with a more ordinary background, who know what it is like to be a member of the working and lower middle classes, who have worked 9 to 5 jobs worrying about take home pay, rents and mortgages, and the difficulties of getting the kids into a good school, rather than the ambitious young things straight out of politics, philosophy and economics courses, and who understand that world only from the statistics they’re given by think tanks, Special Advisors and whichever management consultants or financial firm is the current governments flavour of the month.

But most of all, they can start by actually telling the truth to the public, and not cynically lying just to get a few more votes.

Was Wissen Sie von England, Die Nur England Kennen?

November 21, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Orwell on How the Upper Classes and Tories Hindered Britain in World War 2

October 17, 2013

One of Margaret Thatcher’s electoral strategies was to hark back to the Second World War, and present herself very much in the mould of her hero, Winston Churchill. Back in the 1990s the BBC did a documentary series showing how she had taken over Churchill’s own, heroic view of British history in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. She modelled both her own personal image and her style of politics on it, and on Churchill’s own image as the great statesman and warleader, who had kept Britain free during the Second World War. This was particularly clear – indeed, you were repeatedly hit over the head with it, metaphorically speaking, in the Conservative Party Political Broadcast for the 1987 election. This featured black and white film footage from the War of Spitfires zooming about the clouds, and ended with an enthusiastic actor’s voice declaring that ‘it’s great to be great again!’ Alan Coren on that week’s edition of the News Quiz described it as showing how Britain was saved by ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. He then reminded the nation that all the servicemen, whose courage and sacrifice Thatcher was using to promote her party, had then all come back and voted Labour in the 1946 election.

This constant presentation of herself as the incarnation of Churchillian statesmanship was not without problems. While the Second World War really was the great man’s finest hour, in many respects Churchill himself was an unpleasant figure. He started politics as a Liberal, but joined the Conservatives when they introduced old age pensions and sickness insurance for the workers, claiming that it was ‘socialism by the back door’. During the 1922 General Strike, Stanley Baldwin deliberately gave him in a job in the Telegraph Office to get him out of the way after he announced the army’s willingness to step in against the strikers. Amongst some on the Left, he is also remembered – falsely – as the man, who sent the army in against a demonstration by workers in Newport. It’s a myth, but such was his reputation for hostility towards organised labour that it’s still widely believed. Speaking on the above-mentioned BBC documentary, a former member of the Irish nationalist terrorist organisation, the INLA, stated that he found it easier to recruit members under Thatcher than under Ted Heath, because of Thatcher’s deliberate association with Churchill. Churchill might be a great hero in Britain, but to Irish nationalists he was hated for sending the brutal Black and Tans to suppress the Irish rebellion.

George Orwell was also unimpressed with Churchill and the Conservative party’s stance on Fascism. As a Socialist, he believed Churchill’s stance as the defender of democracy to be mere pretence. He also stated that the Stock Exchange had cheered Franco’s side when they rebelled against the Republican Government.

In his article, ‘England, Your England’ of 1941, Orwell attacked the political power and aims of the aristocracy, and the claim that everyone was equally making sacrifices for the war effort. He wrote

‘England is a family with the wrong members in control. Almost entirely we are governed by the rich, and by people who step into position of command by right of birth. Few if any of these people are consciously treacherous, some of them are not even fools, but as a class they are quite incapable of leading us to victory. They could not do it, even if their material interests did not constantly trip them up. As I pointed out earlier, they have been artificially stupefied. Quite apart from anything else, the rule of money sees to it that we shall be governed largely by the old – that is, by people utterly 8unable to grasp what age they are living in or what enemy they are fighting. Nothing was more desolating at the beginning of this war than the way in which the whole of the older generation conspired to pretend that it was the war of 1914-18 over again. All the old duds were back on the job, twenty years older, with the skull plainer in their faces. Ian Hay was cheering up the troops, Belloc was writing articles on strategy, Maurois doing broadcasts, Bairnsfather drawing cartoons. It was like a tea-party of ghosts. And that state of affairs has barely altered. The shock of disaster brought a few able men like Bevin to the front, but in general we are still commanded by people who managed to live through the years 1931-9 without even discovering that Hitler was dangerous. A generation of the unteachable is hanging upon us like necklace of corpses.

As soon as one considers any problem of this war – and it does not matter whether it is the widest aspect of strategy or the tiniest detail of home organization – one sees that the necessary moves cannot be made while the social structure of England remains what it is. Inevitably, because of their position and upbringing, the ruling class are fighting for their own privileges, which cannot possibly be reconciled with the public interest. It is a mistake to imagine that war aims, strategy, propaganda and industrial organisation exist in watertight compartments. All are interconnected. Every strategic plan, every tactical method, even every weapon will bear the stamp of the social system that produced it. The British ruling class are fighting against Hitler, whom they have always regarded and whom some of them still regard as their protector against Bolshevism. That does not mean that they will deliberately sell out; but it does mean that at every decisive moment they are likely to falter, pull their punches, do the wrong thing.

Until the Churchill Government called some sort of halt to the process, they have done the wrong thing with an unerring instinct ever since 1931. They helped Franco to overthrow the Spanish Government, although anyone not an imbecile could have told them that a Fascist Spain would be hostile to England. They fed Italy with war materials all through the winter of 1939-40, although it was obvious to the whole world that the Italians were going to attack us in the spring. For the sake of a few hundred thousand dividend drawers they are turning India from an ally into an enemy. Moreover, so long as the moneyed classes remain in control, we cannot develop any but a defensive strategy. Every victory means a change in the status quo. How can we drive the Italians out of Abyssinia without rousing echoes among the coloured peoples of our own Empire? How can we even smash Hitler without the risk of bring the German Socialists and Communists into power? The left-wingers who wail that ‘this is a capitalist war’ and that ‘British Imperialism’ is fighting for loot have got their heads screwed on backwards. The last thing the British moneyed class wishes for is to acquire fresh territory. It would simply be an embarrassment. Their war aim (both unattainable and unmentionable) is simply to hang on to what they have got.

Internally, England is still the rich man’s Paradise. All talk of ‘equality of sacrifice’ is nonsense. At the same time as factory workers are asked to put up with longer hours, advertisements for ‘Butler, One in family, eight in staff’ are appearing in the press. The bombed-out populations of the East End go hungry and homeless while wealthier victims simply step into their cars and flee to comfortable country houses. The Home Guard swells to a million men in a few weeks, and is deliberately organised from above in such a way that only people with private incomes can hold positions of command. Even the rationing system is arrange that it hits the poor all the time, while people with over £2,000 a year are practically unaffected by it. Everywhere privilege is squandering good will. In such circumstances even propaganda becomes almost impossible. As attempts to stir up patriotic feeling, the red posters issued by the Chamberlain Government at the beginning of the war broke all depth-records. Yet they could not have been much other than they were, for how could Chamberlain and his followers take the risk of rousing strong popular feeling against Fascism? Anyone who was genuinely hostile to Fascism must also be opposed to Chamberlain himself and to all the others who had helped Hitler into power. So also with external propaganda. In all Lord Halifax’s speeches there is not one concrete proposal for which a single inhabitant of Europe would risk the top joint of his little finger. For what war-aim can Halifax, or anyone like him, conceivably have, except to put the clock back to 1933?

It is only by revolution that the native genius of the English people can be set free. Revolution does not mean red flags and street fighting, it means a fundamental shift of power. Whether it happens with or without bloodshed is largely an accident of time and place. Nor does it mean the dictatorship of a single class. The people in England who grasp what changes are needed and are capable of carrying them through are not confined to any one class, though it is true that very few people with over £2,000 a year are among them. What is wanted is a conscious open revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the rule of the old. It is not primarily a question of change of government. British governments do, broadly speaking, represent the will of the people, and if we alter our structure from below we shall get the government we need. Ambassadors, generals, officials and colonial administrators who are senile or pro-Fascist are more dangerous than Cabinet ministers whose follies are committed in public. Right through our national life we have got to fight against privilege, against the notion that a half-witted public-schoolboy is better fitted for command than an intelligent mechanic. Although there are gifted and honest individuals among them, we have got to break the grip of the moneyed class as a whole. England has got to assume its real shape. The England that is only just beneath the surface, in the factories and the newspaper offices, in the aeroplanes and the submarines, has got to take charge of the nation.’

Fortunately, the allies did win the War, and in a few instances the opposite was true. Instead of pulling our punches, we also committed war crimes. The bombing of Dresden is the classic example, though many others have also denounced the carpet bombing of civilians. One of these is the Conservative journalist, Peter Hitchens. I strongly disagree with Hitchens on most issues, but here I think he is fundamentally correct. In his opinion the bombing of Nazi Germany’s civilian population was a murderous act. It did not hinder the Nazi war machine, nor did it demoralise the German population any more than their bombing of ours reduce our determination for victory.

But Orwell, when he was writing, could not have known that we would win. Indeed, as subsequent historians have pointed out, at one point in 1942 the majority of the cabinet turned against him and demanded that we make piece with Germany. It’s to Churchill’s immense credit that he refused and managed to turn the cabinet completely around to his opinion. Orwell was right about the way many of the moneyed classes did favour Nazi Germany. Martin Pugh on his book on British Fascism between the two world wars, notes that much of the aristocracy was discreetly pro-Nazi. The upper classes also generally supported Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The one notable exception to this was the Duchess of Bute and Argyll. Known as the Red Duchess for her pamphleteering in support of the Spanish Republicans, she repeatedly attempted to point out that the Spanish government certainly wasn’t solely occupied with Anarchists and Communists, but that most of them were liberals and democrats. Pugh also points out that Churchill himself wasn’t anti-Fascist, and admired Franco. He was hostile to Nazi Germany because he feared that it would be a rival to British imperial power, ignoring the fact that a Fascist Spain could also block or impeded British imperial access to the Mediterranean. And Orwell was right that the Second World War did encourage the subject races of the British Empire to seek independence. India was the first, followed by Ghana and the others. It’s actually one of the reasons Hitchen’s believes we should not have entered the War. He appears to believe that if we had not fought Hitler, we would still possess an Empire. Well, the Empire was in decline anyway, and its loss was a fair price for keeping Europe free.

What is striking about Orwell’s piece is just how much is relevant today. We are still ruled by the moneyed class. Literally, in fact. Both Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and their associates have backgrounds in finance, rather than manufacturing. They are also public schoolboys, and if not half-witted, certainly believe absolutely that they have a better right to govern than the mechanic, no matter how intelligent. The Conservatives and their Liberal lickspittles are still claiming that everyone is suffering equally, while working conditions are made worse and people turned out of their homes. And the Tory party has repeatedly sold arms to nations that have then used them against us, like Iraq during the Gulf Wars.

Orwell was like just about every other writer and commentator in that his views weren’t always right. But they are still very much worth reading. The novelist, journalist and freedom fighter is still very relevant now, nearly sixty years after his death.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.

Staring into the Abyss: The Return of the Colonels to Greece?

September 30, 2013

Pride’s Purge has posted this disturbing piece, Far-Right Coup in Greece in the Offing?, on an ultimatum delivered to the Greek civilian government by the country’s Reservist Special Forces demanding the dissolution of the current government, the nationalisation of German-owned businesses and the expulsion of immigrants. The Purge’s article begins:

‘(Not satire – it’s the result of pointless austerity to pay back non-existent debts to reckless bankers)

A very worrying announcement has just been made by the Greek army Special Forces Reserve Union in Greece after increasing violence between neo-fascist Golden Dawn supporters and the government.

A bulletin was posted on the SFRU website yesterday which included a demand for the immediate resignation of the democratically elected Greek government, the seizure of German owned business and repatriation of immigrants.’

He then gives a rough translation of the Reservists’ demands.

The article can be read at http://tompride.co.uk/far-right-coup-in-greece-in-the-offing.

Now this is extremely worrying, and should put everyone involved in left-wing politics in Europe on the alert. It looks like the army, or at least a section of it, once again wants to take power in Greece, just as it did in the 1970s. Their seizure of power was the result of a deliberate ‘strategy of tension’ planned and executed by Fascist groups and parties in collaboration with sympathetic extreme Right-wing elements in the state. One of the chief agents in this was an Italian neo-Fascist called Della Chiaei, who has to be one of the most vile characters ever to stalk the Post-War political fringe. Della Chiaei hated the post-War, bourgeois democratic Italian republic. He later said of himself that ‘others coloured their nausea with red. I coloured mine black’, meaning that like the extreme Left, he was sickened by modern Italy, but turned to Fascism rather than revolutionary socialism. Fascist ‘strategy of tension’ consisted in promoting political break down and establishing a state of emergency by infiltrating radical Left-wing groups and directing them towards terrorism. The resulting chaos and panic provides the Fascist sympathisers in the state with the opportunity of declaring a state of emergency, seizing political power and establishing a Fascist dictatorship with the consequent dismantling of any human rights or democratic political institutions. Della Chiaei began his career infiltrating a Bakuninite anarchist group, and encouraging them to engage in a bombing campaign. When his campaign of ultra-Right terrorism failed to result in a Fascist coup in Italy, he went off to do the same in Greece. The result was the military coup and the notorious ‘rule of the Colonels’. According to Purge’s article, the Reservists state that they are demanding these policies as a result of their battles with the Fascist Golden Dawn. Although the army’s opponents in this case are Neo-Fascists, rather than the extreme Left, it still seems very much to me that a similar ‘strategy of tension’ is being enacted there.

And if it happens in Greece, it will start to happen elsewhere as well. Despite Mussolini’s initial statement, history has proved that Fascism is very much for export. Della Chiaei went all the way round the world, including to South America, working for extreme Right-wing dictatorships. I was talking about the current European political situation with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he was worried that were seeing the end of the democracy in Europe. Right-wing parties, and anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic organisations are on the rise all over Europe, from Jobbik in Hungary and the Front National in France. Some of this is simply a reaction to mass, extra-European immigration, particularly from the Islamic world. It is also a reaction to the failure of Neo-Liberalism to provide jobs and opportunities for the poorest in society. Capitalism appears to have failed, Communism was discredited when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many of the European Socialist parties have taken over Neo-Liberal policies to a greater or lesser extent. The Financial Times reported in its magazine right at the beginning of the Millenium in 2000 that many Germans were disillusioned with the Socialist SPD in Germany following Gerhard Schroder’s cuts in benefits. The result is that for some disaffected Europeans, the extreme Right becomes a credible political alternative, and a channel for their resentment at a global economic order that has no time for them.

At the moment, with the exception of the Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik and, to a lesser extent, Fidesz parties, the explicitly Fascist parties in Europe are miniscule. The actual long-term membership of the BNP in Britain is minute: about 200 people. Most of its recruits leave after about 2 years, as by and large they have no interest in Fascist ideology. They join it mostly because from an hostility to non-White immigration. The problem is, the Nazis were also a fringe policy until the financial crash of 1929. In an interview on the BBC Alan Moore, the writer of the V for Vendetta graphic novel, said that he was worried about the current government. This wasn’t because the Coalition were Fascists, but because the current austerity programme mirrored Weimar Germany. While I disagree with many of Moore’s views, here he is absolutely right. The news of a possible coup in Greece is extremely worrying. We urgently need to guard against its emergence there, and in the rest of Europe.

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

September 19, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right-Wing Opposition to Green Politics

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

Attenborough: UN Should Not Give Food to Famine Victims

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

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

India Starvation Photo

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

Attenborough and Atheist Attacks on Religion and Christianity

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

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

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

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

Pakistan Contraception Photo

Women in Pakistan receiving contraceptive advice.

Fall in Birth Rate throughout the World

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

Racist Fears over Campaigns to Limit Population

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

Attenborough’s Comments and the Irish Potato Famine

Irish Famine Photo

Irish victims of the Potato Famine queuing to emigrate.

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

Fascism and the Green Movement

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

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

Attenborough’s Comments and the Macc Lads

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

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

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

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

Overpopulation in SF Cinema

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

Here’s the trailer for Soylent Green.

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And this is the movie trailer for ZPG.

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Bernard Ingham, the Press Office under Thatcher and Mussolini and the Fascist Spin City

August 11, 2013

All regimes to a greater or lesser extent have attempted to manipulate public opinion to their own ends. A curiously modern example from the Middle Ages is the use of political ballads against Henry VI’s wife, by his opponent, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the father of the infamous Richard III. Richard had been England’s Lord Protector, governing the country. reacting to the king’s incompetence and weak-mindedness, Richard launched a political campaign against him. Political ballads attacked the queen as a ruthless, foreign princess, intent on conquering and oppressing her husband’s lands while misleading him as to her intentions. He and the king’s supporters also launched campaigns against each other in parliament, culminating in a general election, as well as fighting each other on the battlefield. Although a medieval conflict, the Wars of the Roses also appears strikingly modern, almost like the founding archetype of the coups that have been staged since. Richard III at one point even made speeches from the balcony, like great 20th century dictators like Mussolini.

Informal Influence over the Press in Democracies

During the 20th century much of the control of the press in the democracies was informal. Presidents and prime ministers arranged press conferences and dinners with sympathetic press barons. There were censorship rules, that could be invoked in times of national crisis, such as laws against the dissemination of enemy propaganda during First and Second World Wars. Some of the restrictions on what was printed in the press was simply through the personal relationship between the editor and the family of leading politicians. At the Cheltenham Festival of Literature one year, the British caricaturist Gerald Scarfe told the story of how one of his early cartoons was spiked by the editor of the Times. It was of Winston Churchill in his final period as an MP in parliament during his declining years when the powers that had inspired the country to keep on fighting during the War were fading. Scarfe said that at the time Churchill was senile, and the cartoon showed him at the end of the green benches, asleep and drooling. The Time’s editor rejected it on the grounds that it would upset the great man’s wife, Clemmie, when she opened it at breakfast in the morning.

Bernard Ingham and Thatcher’s Press Office

This relationship with the press changed slightly when Mrs. Thatcher established a press office under Bernard Ingham. Now Ingham strongly rejects the description of himself as a spin doctor. Nevertheless, as Maggie’s press officer he institutionalised the government’s manipulation of the news and public opinion in a way previous administrations had not. This in turn prepared the way for its expansion under Peter Mandelson during Blair’s government, and the consequent use of spin and propaganda by the governments following them.

Rigid Control of Press in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy

Totalitarian regimes are notorious for their absolute control of the press and media to garner mass support. In Hitler’s Germany, they were placed under the control of Josef Goebbels, the ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’. This prompted the satirical joke, said with one eye looking over the shoulder for the Gestapo, that the Goeb was the minimum amount of power required to turn off 100,000 radio sets. Despite the Nazis’ claim that they were enthusiastically supported by the great German public, you can gather from this what that public really thought of their leaders’ rantings.

Control of the press in Mussolini’s Italy was similarly strict. Under a law of 1924, an area’s prefect could warn any editor who ‘damaged the credit of the nation at home or abroad’, ‘aroused unjustified alarm in the public’, and published ‘false or tendentious news’. Editors were also at risk if they published material inciting class hatred or urged disobedience to the law. An editor that was warned twice could be dismissed from his post by the prefect. Another decree gave the prefects the right to sequestrate the issue of a particular paper that had broken the above rules. Originally this legislation was used only against the Socialist and Communist press and papers that had very small circulations. In 1925 it was expanded against the last remaining liberal newspapers. Mussolini tried to encourage the newspapers to adopt a friendly attitude towards to his regime. When this failed, official censorship increased, while the newspapers’ proprietors were threatened with forcible closure and the destruction of their equipment. Under Alfredo Rocco, the former leader of the Nationalists and Mussolini’s Minister for Justice, a corporative Order of Journalists was set up. This was under the control of the Commissione Superiore alla Stampa, composed of other journalists, rather than magistrates. Despite Rocco’s claim that the Commissione ‘realizes both the autonomy of the class and its link with the State’, he himself appointed its members and the Order as a whole was an instrument for controlling the journalists. No journalist, who was not on its rolls was allowed to practise his profession. Stalin used a similar organisation to control writers in the Soviet Union. This was the Writers’ Union, which had actually been founded to protect literature and the press from control by the old tyrant. From 1927 to 1928 there was a sustained campaign in Italy to purge the press of non-Fascist journalists and editors. By the end of the 1920s two-thirds of the newspapers outside the major cities were owned by the Fascist Party. At the same time, the magazines and newspapers published by the individual local Fascist groups, the federations or the Fasci, were reduced by Mussolini’s brother, Arnaldo, for greater economy and to make their control by the central Fascist organisations easier.

Censored Subjects in Fascist Press

In September 1928 the regime issued new guidelines detailing what newspapers were and weren’t allowed to print. All news was intended to be optimistic and present the regime in a positive light. Newspapers were ordered to give minimal coverage to rail disasters, bank failures and air crashes. Journalists were to treat natural disasters ‘with great sobriety’. Mussolini himself decreed that the crime column should be ‘demobilized’, especially stories of suicides, tragedies of passion, violence and child molestation. Editors were also banned from publishing photographs of nude or scantily clad women. I wonder how the Right-wing tabloids like the Sun, Star, Daily Mail and so on would cope under a Fascist dictatorship, considering that much of their content consists of photographs of nude or scantily clad women, and in the Sun, a hysterical campaign against paedophiles in which innocents were targeted and persecuted.

Informal Control of Press by Mussolini; Purchase of Newspapers by Industrialists for Fascist Regime

In other ways, however, the Fascists’ control and manipulation of the press was much more subtle. From 1922 to 1924 this was done informally. Il Duce’s Press Officer, Cesare Rossi, arranged deals in which private financiers sympathetic to the regime bought up opposition newspapers. The radical Milan newspaper, Il Secolo, was purchased for the regime by a group of industrialists headed by Borletti and Cesare Goldmann. Another newspaper, the Corriere Italiano, founded by the regime, was financed by consortium consisting of Fiat, Ilva, Terni, and the shipping magnate, Odero. This approach was discredited in the crisis following the regime’s assassination of the dissident philosopher, Matteotti, in exile Marseille. This revealed the sordid intrigue surrounding the Corriere Italiano and its companion Fascist paper, Nuovo Paese. In the unrest that followed, the headquarters of opposition newspapers were occupied by Fascist squads, and were only allowed to resume publication after submitting to the orders of the local Fascist ras.

In fact simple economic reasons meant that the party and the government could not afford to own and control all the Italian newspapers and magazines. The most important Italian papers thus remained in the hands of the private owners and industrialists, who held them long before the Fascist seizure of power. These proprietors continued to use them to influence the government’s economic policy and secure favours from the regime.

Pre-Fascist Staff Retained under Fascism

There was also some continuity with the pre-Fascist press, in that the regime permitted newspapers and magazines to retain their previous, non-Fascist staff, provided they did not produce material criticising the regime or its policies. Indeed, Mussolini appears to have intended to present some degree of political pluralism. He allowed the trade union newspaper, Il Lavoro, to resume publication in Genoa after it had been closed down. Il Lavoro was the paper of a group of CGL leaders that had capitulated to the regime, and continued to employ a number of well-known opponents of the regime. Mussolini appears to have kept it going in order to appeal, unsuccessfully, to the working class.

Press Office as Institution Common to Thatcher’s Britain and Fascist Italy

While the control of the press by the Italian Fascists was extreme, there is some comparison to the situation in today’s early 21st century Britain. Following Mrs. Thatcher and Bernard Ingham, subsequent British administrations have employed a Press Office like Mussolini and Cesare Rossi. Favourable coverage by the press has been seen as vitally important. From Blair onwards, the government has been sensitive to projecting a positive image through press barons such as Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre of the Mail. These industrialists have similarly been active, like the right-wing press baron Alfred Hugenberg in Weimar Germany, to build up massive media empires presenting their view of current events with an eye to influencing government policy. One former member of Blair’s cabinet said that Murdoch was a quiet presence at all the premier’s cabinet meetings, meaning that Blair was constantly concerned what Murdoch’s reaction to his policies would be.

Grant of Newspapers and Broadcasters by British Governments to their Supporters

Like Mussolini, Mrs Thatcher and subsequent prime ministers also have been active to ensure that particularly important newspapers were owned and acquired only by their supporters. Mrs. Thatcher made sure that the Times and other newspapers were bought by Rupert Murdoch, rather than the left-wing, and corrupt, Robert Maxwell. Blair and his cronies also waved through the acquisition and merger of various satellite firms by Murdoch despite concerns that this set up a dangerous monopoly, concerns that were also raised when Richard Desmond, the owner of the Express, purchased Channel 5. Mrs. Thatcher also acted to support the press barons in their destruction of the print unions, when the press finally moved out of Fleet Street after centuries of occupation.

‘Death on the Rock’ and Thatcher’s Closure of London Weekend Television

Equally significantly, Thatcher acted to close down a TV company that did not follow her line on the killing of a group of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. According to Private Eye, the Prime Minister was angered by the World in Action documentary, Death on the Rock. The IRA squad in question had travelled to Gibraltar in preparation for an attack on the British army there. The documentary presented evidence that the security services had had the squad under surveillance the whole time they were preparing for their attack. It stated that there had been numerous occasions where the terrorists could have been stopped and arrested without, or with minimal bloodshed. This was not done, and the entire squad was shot dead in what appeared to be an extra-judicial killing. In short, rather than straightforwardly protecting the servicemen and women stationed on the Rock, the SAS had acted as a Death Squad. Lady Olga Maitland said as much a few years later in her biography of Thatcher, when she declared that the purpose of the exercise was to send a sharp message to the IRA.

This is a strong and highly contentious claim. Now the IRA and the other terrorist groups in Ulster were responsible for acts of horrific violence against innocent civilians and members of the security services that left hundreds killed or mutilated, and showed little remorse or compassion for their victims. Most Brits supported the armed services in their campaign against them. There is, however, a line in such military campaigns that cannot be crossed by a democratic regime governed by human rights. This is what prevents nations with a proud democratic tradition, like Britain, from descending into arbitrary government and gun law like the South American Right-wing dictatorships. World in Action argued that this line had been crossed. World in Action was produced by London Weekend Television, which as a result lost its broadcasting license. This was granted instead to their competitors, Carlton, whom Thatcher obviously felt could be relied on to produce more positive coverage.

Conclusion: Increased Government Control of Media and Decreasing Political and Social Freedom in Post-Thatcher Britain

The result is that the freedom of the press in contemporary Britain is far more fragile than it appears. Mussolini was unsuccessful in gaining absolute control of the press, but was also concerned to present the semblance of pluralism. Press diversity in contemporary Britain is also coming under increasing pressure. Newspapers and magazines are increasingly owned by a very few proprietors, who see to it that their monopolies are protected and expanded by the governments of the day. In return, they support a Right-wing agenda that demands further privatisation, the suppression of working class political organisations and the curtailment of welfare benefits and the eventual dismantlement of the welfare state. Finally, broadcasters that present evidence of flagrant government violations of human rights will be penalised and closed down. Perhaps the difference is that in Mussolini’s Italy, it was a case of private industrialists aiding an extreme Right-wing state. In post-Thatcher Britain, it’s an extreme Right-wing state aiding its industrialists. The gap between freedom and tyranny is increasingly a fine one.

Sources

‘Press’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport Connecticut, Greenwood Press 1o9i82) 437-40.

Adrian Lyttelton, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929, 2nd Edition (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1987) 394-400.

Colin Richmond, ‘Propaganda in the Wars of the Rose’, History Today, July 1992, 42:12-18.

‘Toadying the Line’, reviews of Margaret Thatcher: The First Ten Years, Lady Olga Maitland (Sidgwick & Jackson); Margaret Thatcher: The Woman Within, Andrew Thomson (W.H. Allen), in Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 224-5.