Posts Tagged ‘Karl Marx’

Rightwingers Outraged at Acquittal of the Four Who Toppled Colston’s Statue

January 7, 2022

As a Bristolian with long personal roots in the city, I feel I’ve got to tackle this. The four people responsible for pulling the down the statue of the 18th century slave trader and philanthropist in a massive Black Lives Matter protest last year were on trial for it this week. They were charged with criminal damage, and yesterday were found ‘not guilty’ by the jury. And the right has been predictably incensed. The story’s on the front page of the Daily Mail, which reports that the jury may have been placed under pressure to acquit by the defence, which urged them ‘not to be on the wrong side of history’. The prosecution is therefore planning to appeal the decision. Nigel Farage has released a video on YouTube about it. Mixed-race Tory commenter Calvin Robinson has appeared on GB News talking about it. And inevitably the Lotus Eaters have also released a video about it, with Callum and one of Sargon’s other mates expressing their poor opinion of the whole thing. The message from the right has been the same: this decision imperils every statue in Britain, because it legitimises attacks on them through an appeal to the emotions of the attacker regardless of the letter of the law. Calvin Robinson in his interview on GB News agreed with the two journalists, one Black, one White, that you had to be very careful about limiting people’s freedom of expression. However the decision to acquit was, he explained, based on a legal loophole in the criminal damage law. This permits such damage, if the property damaged or destroyed itself serves to promote a crime. The argument made by the accused in a feature about them in the Groan was that the statue constituted a hate crime against Black Bristolians. The right-wing critics of the decision have therefore argued that this makes every statue unsafe, as an emotional reason could be found for any attack on them. The person, who vandalised Churchill’s statue last year could get off because, despite defeating Fascism, Churchill was a racist and imperialist. They have also made the point that the decision also means that Conservatives also have a right to tear down Marx’s bust in London, as he was also racist and anti-Semitic, quite apart from the millions murdered under Communism. Darren Grimes, the repulsive spawn of the Guido Fawkes site, said that he could also therefore tear down the statue of Friedrich Engels in Manchester.

Jury Freedom and the Historic Acquittal of Guilty Murderers

Yesterday Simon Webb of History Debunked also joined the debate, comparing the decision to the jury’s acquittal of the attackers of three policemen during a riot in 1820s London. The cops had been stabbed, and one killed, but the jury acquitted their attackers because the cops had attacked in a particularly aggressive and provocative manner. Webb stated that back in the 17th and 18th centuries judges could and did send juries back to reconsider their verdict, and even imprison them if they didn’t give the right verdict as directed. It was, of course, a great improvement to allow the juries the freedom to judge themselves rather than according to the opinion of the beak. But this did raise problems in cases like this. Indeed. Juries won the right to judge freely according to their own judgement following arguments for such free trials by the Levellers and particularly when William Penn, a Quaker and the founder of Pennsylvania, was put on trial for preaching his radical views in Bristol. The jury repeatedly refused the judge’s order to find guilty, and were even imprisoned. They eventually won out, and the trial helped established true British justice.

Allegations of Bias against Witness David Olasuga

One of the other objections to the trial was that one of the witnesses was the historian, David Olasuga. whom the Lotus Eaters describe as a Black activist and who admitted that, had he been able, he would have joined the mob in toppling the status. There is indeed a problem with Olasuga as some of his historical interpretations are questionable. For example, he and Reni Edo-Lodge turned up in video by the Beeb laying a plaque in Liverpool to a victim of racist lynching. Except that Wootton, the lynched man, had been part of a gang of West Indians, who had launched an attack on a group of Swedes and Russians. When a cop intervened, the West Indians repeated stabbed and tried to slash his throat. They retreated to a house where someone, probably Wootton, shot three policemen, before he was chased down to the docks trying to escape. He was hardly an innocent victim. Olasuga has been one of the Black historians claiming that historically, Britain had a much larger Black community than it probably did. He claims that there were Blacks in Roman Britain. History Debunked has shown that this largely comes from one of the legions at Hadrian’s Wall coming from the Roman province of Mauretania. This has been confused with the present day country in West Africa. However, the Roman province of Mauretania was further north in Morocco. I think there are perfectly reasonable questions of bias in Olasuga’s testimony.

Political Bias in Prosecution of Vandals

And then have come the various commenters sneering and deriding Bristol. I’ve seen the usual rants about how it’s a ‘Communist’ or ‘left-wing’ shithole; it’s a lefty university town, and as terrible as Liverpool or London. Rather more interesting was one comment from a working class Bristolian, who had been having a meal at a cafe in the city, whose customers were largely Black West Indians. These people had all been solidly against the decision. I can well believe it. I don’t think the Black community Bristol or elsewhere in our great nation is a monolithic bloc. Just like other racial groups, like Whites, Asians or Jews aren’t either. As for the four defendants, they were White middle class liberal kids, who most likely didn’t come from Bristol. There was also speculation about what would happen if someone vandalised a statue to a Black personality, like Nelson Mandela. Would this be treated the same way? Not if the example of the vandalism done to a mural of Marcus Rashford was an example. Although the messages sprayed on it weren’t racist, it was nevertheless treated as a racist hate crime. Actually, you don’t have to look that far for a similar example. After Colston’s statue was torn down, a bust in one of Bristol’s parks of a Black writer and dramatist was vandalised and the cops were after those responsible.

Some Black Bristolians Genuinely Upset at Statue

As for the feelings of fear or outrage that the defendants claimed justified the attack, the Black interviewer on GB News and Robinson both questioned whether Black people are so emotional fragile that they would be upset simply walking past Colston’s statue. Some may well not be, but others definitely were. Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy elected mayor, head of equalities and city councillor for St. George’s, was on Radio 4 last year giving her opinion about the statue and Bristol’s historic connection to the slave trade. The programme also talked to others about it, including one ordinary Black woman. She said that she felt physically sick having to walk past it on the way to work every morning. I understand and sympathise. I think her example was far better and more persuasive than the various political activists angrily demanding that it should be torn down. It was the voice of an ordinary, working-class woman, about how the statue affected her.

Arguments for the Preservation of the Statue

It also has to be stated that Black Lives Matter’s attack was deliberately against the wishes of Bristolians themselves. There had been several polls in the past about whether the statue should be taken down or not. The majority of people voted against it. Paul Stephenson, one of the organisers of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s against the bus company’s refusal to employ Blacks, gave his opinion on the issue in an interview with Philippa Gregory in the 1990s. Gregory had just had her novel, A Respectable Trade, about the Bristol slave trade adapted for television and there was an exhibition about the city and slavery then at the City Museum and Art Gallery. It has since been moved and is now on display, sans title, at the city’s excellent M Shed Museum. Stephenson has something of a mixed reputation. To some he’s a respected civil rights activists, while others regard him more a deliberate troublemaker. He declared to Gregory that Colston was a bloody mass murderer responsible for a ‘Holocaust in Africa’. This follows the statement of W.E.B. DuBois, the pioneering American Black rights activist, that slavery and the slave trade were a Black Holocaust. It sounds like hyperbole, a deliberately emotional exaggeration, but I believe it’s based on the accounts of 19th century anti-slavery activists about the fierce tribal violence generated by the slave trade, and the devastation of whole regions as a result. But Stephenson also said that he didn’t think the statue should be torn down. He believed it should remain standing with an additional note to remind people of his crimes. A similar argument was made by the Lotus Eaters, who felt that statues should be left standing, even though they may be to terrible people, because they’re history. And we need to learn from history if we are to move on.

It’s a perfectly good argument, and one advanced in the ’90s by radical anarchist band The Levellers. They took their name from the radical, proto-democrat, proto-socialist sect during the British Civil War. They also believed in ‘Godly reformation’ and so, along with the other merchandising at their concerts were copies of the Bible and Christopher Hill’s Marxist study of the British Civil War, The World Turned Upside Down. I particularly remember one of their songs that had the lines ‘I believe in justice, I believe in vengeance, I believe in getting the bastard’. But they also released a song protesting about the decision by Manchester’s Labour council to rename the town’s historic Free Trade Hall. They objected to it because it was the destruction of history and an attempt to rewrite the past. It’s strange and rather disconcerting that they should have the same view on this issue from a libertarian left perspective, as the Tories.

Lastly, it needs to be remembered that Colston was not honoured for enslaving Blacks. The statue was put up long after that was over. Rather it was because he was a great philanthropist, who gave much of his fortune away in charity. There were schools named after him and funded by his largesse. My old school used to celebrate Colston Day in his honour, when the children were given a few days off. A few were specially honoured and went to a special service at Redcliffe Church, where they were given a Colston bun.

Bristol Great City

Now for a few remarks on the decision and the views of the various right-winger, who have sounded off about it. Firstly, Bristol isn’t a shithole. It’s a large, great city with a proud history of trade, exploration, industry and invention with excellent museums and theatres. The Bristol Old Vic and its theatre school have a particularly excellent reputation and have produced some of the country’s great thesps. It has it’s problems. I believe that the Bristol’s Black community is one of the three largest in the country, along with Birmingham and London. It has its problems with marginalisation, lack of educational achievement, unemployment, drugs and violent crime, though this is by no means confined simply to Blacks. But it’s not particularly left-wing. Some areas, like Stokes Croft, have a reputation for radical politics. I’ve heard local people refer to it as ‘the people’s republic of Stokes Croft’. Other areas are Conservative, and all the shades of political opinion in between.

Academic Freedom and Marxist Indoctrination at Universities

As for the universities, the comment blaming them for the decision comes from the standard right-wing attitude that the unis are full of Marxists indoctrinating students. In fact, universities, courses and individual lecturers vary immensely. Some universities had a reputation, even in my day, for being hotbeds of left-wing activism, others were more Conservative. It also varies with the course you’re on. There hasn’t, traditionally, been much opportunity for far left-wing indoctrination in maths, science, medicine and engineering courses because of the nature of those subjects. Although it’s creeping in now in the form of ethnomathematics and the demands that the achievements of Black scientists and mathematicians should be particularly taught, it’s mostly been confined to the humanities. There have always been Marxist historians. These include the very well respected Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Saunders, and there is a specific Marxist view of history. You are taught about this on the historiography courses in history at University, along with other forms of history, such as women’s history, social history, what Butterfield called the ‘Whig view of history’ and more conservative and Conservative views. I’ve been taught by lecturers with feminist or left-wing views. I’ve also been taught by people with far more traditional views. I also know lecturer who determined to keep their political views out of the classroom. University is supposed to be a place of free speech and debate, and it’s important that this is maintained. Students should be encouraged to read sources and the historical literature critically, and make up their own views. This means an engagement with Marxism as well as other ideologies. I think Bristol university has particularly come under fire because it’s rather more conservative and traditional compared to the newer universities. It received funding from the Colston charities when it was established early in the last century. Hence I believe the granting of a chair in the history of slavery to a Black woman. It also has relatively few Black students, which contrasts with the population of the city as a whole. This is partly because it has very high standards, and as a rule Blacks generally have poorer grades than other racial groups. It is also no doubt because when I was young, going away was seen as part of university education and so you were discouraged from applying to the local university. Hence the university is now trying to give greater opportunities to study to more Blacks and ethnic minorities.

Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory and the Marxist Attack on Western Culture

Now I largely agree that the acquittal of the four defendants has set a dangerous precedent because it allows people to attack public monuments they dislike or which are controversial. James Lindsay, one of the group with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose that has attacked postmodernist Critical Theory, has argued that ideologies like Queer Theory and Critical Race Theory are deliberate attacks on traditional western culture and Enlightenment values. They are aimed at destroying the past to create a Marxist future, just as Chairman Mao did during the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. One of the ancient monuments the Red cadres smashed as part of the campaign against the ‘Four Olds’ was the tomb of Confucius! This sounds like an idea straight out of loony right-wing paranoids and conspiracists like Alex Jones and the John Birch Society, until he backs it up by reading chapter and verse from the founders of such postmodernist Marxism, like Marcuse, Horkheimer and others. And yes, I can quite believe that vandalism to a monument to a Black politico or celebrity, like Nelson Mandela, would be treated far differently and as a terrible hate crime than the attack on Colston.

But regardless of the defence’s plea to the jury to ‘be on the right side of history’, I think there would always have been pressure on the jury to acquit. Colston was a slave trader and had been controversial for decades. They naturally wouldn’t have wanted to acquit people who attacked a monument on that score, rather than the philanthropy the statue commemorated. And the defendants make a good point when they say that ‘he no longer speaks for Bristol’. There were others in the city who opposed the slave trade. As well as the slavers and the West Indian planters, Bristol also had a large abolitionist movement. If you go a little way from the centre of Bristol into Redcliffe, you’ll find the Georgian church where Jeremiah Clarkson, one of the leading 18th century abolitionists, collected the testimony of Bristol’s slavers as part of his evidence against the trade.

Other Statues Not Vandalised

As for other statues, none of those in the surrounding area were touched. Not the statue to Edmund Burke, the politician and founder of modern Conservatism through his book, Reflections on the Revolution in France. The Lotus Eaters are offering it, or reading through it, as their ‘book of the month’. I wonder if they’ll mention that Burke’s statue was signally left untouched by the rioters. As was the statue of a monk in Lewin’s Mead, which had before the Reformation been a monastic complex. They also failed to destroy the statue of Neptune and a sailor on the docks. Queen Victoria was left untouched on nearby College Green. They also didn’t destroy the statue of John Cabot outside the Council House, sorry, ‘City Hall’ and the Central Library. This was despite various ‘spokesmen’ for the Black community claiming that the City’s celebration of his discovery of Newfoundland and America, following Columbus, was a celebration of slavery. There may well be similar defences used on similar attacks on other statues, but I think such attacks will be far more difficult to defend. Churchill was indeed a racist and an imperialist, as well as personally responsible for sending troops to gun down striking miners in Wales. But to the vast majority of severely normal Brits he was also the man, who helped save Europe and the world from Nazism and the Axis. And that would also count powerfully in the case against anyone who vandalised his monument.

Historians also Successfully Defend Controversial Statues

As for testimony from historians, this can work against the iconoclasts. The BLM fanatics trying to get the statue of Cecil Rhodes torn down at Oxford university claimed that he was somehow ‘South Africa’s Adolf Hitler’. Now Rhodes was a grotty character and an imperialist, but this goes too far. Rhodes’ biographer tackled this claim on social media, at which the BLM protesters making it went quiet. They couldn’t refute it, and so went silent.

I therefore do not feel that other statues are necessarily in a greater danger than previously because of the acquittal.

Then there’s the question of any possible statue to replace it. There are rumours that it could be a Black person. Well, if there is, it should be of a Black person, who actually had contact and lived in the city. One of Bristol’s sporting heroes way back was a Black boxer. One of my aunts was friends with his daughter. I’d say this gentleman would be a good candidate for such a statue, because as a sports hero he united everyone from left and right, as well as being a citizen of Bristol.

Nigel Farage has suggested a memorial to the British navy. Absolutely. The British West India squadron did excellent work patrolling the seas for slavers. And they were by no means all racist. Captain Denman, giving evidence on a massacre of 300 unsold slaves by one of the West African slaving states to parliament, made the point that ‘it is remarkable given the advances they have made in the arts of civilisation’. He clearly believe European civilisation was superior, but had been particularly shocked because the African peoples responsible for the massacre were also comparatively civilised. Africans serving or aiding the British navy were also given the compensation payments awarded to British tars when they suffered injury and loss of limbs.

We also patrolled the waters between east Africa and India to stop western and Arab slavers, and one antipodean historian has written that in the Pacific, the royal navy was the chief protector of its indigenous peoples against enslavement.

It also needs to be remembered that one of the reasons for the British invasion of Africa was to stamp out slavery and the slave trade. I’ve no doubt that the main, if not the real reasons were simple hunger for territory and resources, and to stop those areas falling into the hands of our European imperial rivals – France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. But some of the officer involved took their duty extremely serious, such as Samuel Baker and Gordon of Khartoum. The Mahdi, against whom Gordon fought, and his followers were slavers outraged at the British government’s ban on it and the enslavement of Black Sudanese. There are therefore excellent reasons for putting up a memorial to the British navy and armed forces.

And I would also support a statue to Jeremiah Clarkson for his work in the city bringing the horrors of the trade to light.

In the meantime, despite the right-wing outrage at this act of vandalism, I think we should view the attack on Colston’s statue as a special case.

Claims of a general threat to British history because of it may well be exaggerated.

One Struggle: The People Oppressing the Indian Farmers Are Also Donors to the British Tories

May 5, 2021

As I’ve mentioned previously, last Friday I went to a Virtual pre-May Day rally on Zoom, put on as part of the Arise festival of left Labour ideas. It lasted for nearly an hour and a half, and featured great speakers from across the world, including our own Jeremy Corbyn. The international guests included Daniele Obono, a Black socialist politician from across the Channel in France, and peeps from Ghana, India and Latin America. They spoke about how people everywhere had to fight against exploitation from their own national elites, as well as combating racism, colonialism and the legacy of slavery. One of the speakers graphically showed how the poor African countries are very much at the mercy of the big multinationals with a story about Kenya and Vodaphone. The Kenyan government had asked the phone company not to give its shareholders their dividends this year, because the pay out would bankrupt the African nation.

I was also very much interested in the talk by an Indian lady about the appalling policies of Modi’s Hindu Supremacist government. This is the Indian nationalist BJP, which is extremely right-wing and bitterly intolerant of Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, as well as liberal Hindus, who believe in a secular, tolerant, pluralist India. The BJP are trying to privatise the state purchasing mechanism for the agricultural sectors. This was set up to guarantee a fair price to India’s farmers. However, the BJP are neoliberals and so want to hand it over to private entrepreneurs. This will force down prices, sending millions of farmers into abject poverty. There have been mass demonstrations and strikes against it right across India. She said that it’s the biggest protest movement in the world, number 250 million people. And Modi and his crew have reacted brutally, sending the police in to break up the protests, beat demonstrators and arrest the journalists covering them.

And guess what? Some of the businessmen backing Modi’s privatisation are also donors to the Tories over here.

This also shows how multinational capital is operating across the globe to impoverish and exploit working people.

A few months ago we had as guest speaker at a Virtual meeting of my local Labour party here in Bristol a member of Sikh community to talk about Modi’s attacks on the Indian farmers. Most of the farmers affected are Sikh, and so there are Sikh charities in this country which are giving aid to their coreligionists in India.

But it’s also very clear that working people across the world also need to unite to tackle the poverty and oppression created by capitalism because of the impact of globalisation. I am very definitely not a Communist, but Marx made this very clear in the slogan on the Communist Manifesto.

We really do need the workers of the world to unite. Because if we don’t, we will be in chains.

Bristol South Labour Party Passes Motion of Solidarity with Indian Farmers

February 16, 2021

Bristol South CLP held its monthly meeting last Thursday, and passed a number of motions. Due to the Coronavirus, these are now held over Zoom, like many meetings up and down the country generally. A number of motions were debated and passed during the meeting, one of which was solidarity with the Indian farmers. Explaining the issues was a guest speaker, Dal Singh, from the Sikh community. According to Mr Singh, the central issue is the poverty caused by the BJP’s government’s privatisation of the state purchasing apparatus for agricultural goods. The Indian government had a state organisation that bought up the farmer’s produce, giving them a fair price. But now Modi is handing this process over to private entrepreneurs, who are paying starvation prices for the produce purchased. Singh said that as a result, the farmers are going to be in debt for the rest of their lives. The farmers affected and involved in the protests aren’t all Sikhs, but Sikhs form a majority of those affected. When asked what the attitude of the Sikh community was to it, Mr Singh seemed to indicate that they were more or less resigned to it. He called it a ‘genocide’ several times, and said that Sikhs regarded it as part of the long history of their people’s suffering going back to the horrors of the partition of India and the British occupation of the Punjab. He also described how the police and armed forces were being used by the Modi government to brutalize protesters and muzzle the press, with the arrest and beating of journalists covering the protests. As well as explaining the situation, Mr Singh also gave details of charities to which people could donate to help the affected farmers, though I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what they were.

I had absolutely no problem supporting the motion. Socialists are internationalists, as the Style Council song reminds us, and we have to stand in solidarity with working people around the world. ‘Workingmen of all countries, unite!’ as Marx and Engels said in their little Manifesto. I am very pleased that others agreed, and that the motion was passed.

Someone at the meeting commented that the Indian farmers were yet more victims of Neoliberalism. Absolutely. Around the world, working people are being pushed further and further into poverty as wages are slashed, hours increased, rights at work taken away, industries privatised and deregulated. The book Falling Off the Edge, which is a critical examination of this process, the poverty it’s causing, and the violence and terrorism that it engenders as a backlash, describes very clearly how its affecting the average Indian worker. And this poverty is the creation of Modi’s BJP Hindufascist government.

Hindufascist? Yes, absolutely. The BJP is a nationalist organisation, which actively persecutes non-Hindus like Christians, Sikhs and Muslims. One of Modi’s fellow BJP politicos was the governor of a province, which took absolutely no action when pogroms broke out against the Muslim population back in the 1990s. The BJP also have connections to the RSSS, a Hindu nationalist paramilitary outfit modelled on Mussolini’s Fascists. Not only has the BJP followed the standard Neoliberal policies of privatisation, deregulation and low wages, they’ve also been trying to abolish the affirmative action programmes intended to improve the conditions of the Dalits, the former ‘Untouchables’. Debt slavery was one of the forms of exploitation and servitude that afflicted many Indians, and Mr Singh’s comment that Modi’s privatisation will mean that farmers will not be able to get out of debt certainly makes you wonder if the scumbag is actively trying to bring it back.

It’s not only non-Hindus and the lower castes Modi is persecuting. The BJP, or at least parts of it, have a real, bitter hatred of Gandhi and his influence on Hinduism, because he preached tolerance and the inclusion of the Muslims rather than turning India into a Hindu state. The party also actively persecutes liberal Indian journalists and writers. Tony Greenstein, the long term campaigner against Zionism, racism and Fascism, has also rightly criticised Labour party leader Keir Starmer for supporting Modi. Yes, I know – India is now a global powerhouse. Yes, it’s a vital trade partner with this country. But the country’s prosperity should not come through the exploitation of its working people. Just like ours shouldn’t. But this seems lost on Starmer and the rest of the Blairites.

I am very glad, however, that my local Labour party has made this gesture of support for the Indian farmers, and hope this will give them strength in their struggle with a Fascistic, exploitative government.

Book on Utopias from the 17th Century to Today

January 20, 2021

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2011).

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything for several days. Part of that is because the news doesn’t really inspire me. It’s not that it isn’t important, or that the Tories have stopped trying to strip working people of their rights and drive them further into poverty and degradation. Or that I’m unmoved by Trump trying to organise a coup to keep himself in the Oval Office like just about every other tin pot dictator throughout history. Or that Brexit isn’t threatening to destroy whatever remains of British industry and livelihoods, all for the benefit of the Tory superrich and investment bankers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have their money safely invested in firms right across the world. Or that I’m not outraged by even more people dying of Covid-19 every day, while the government has corruptly mismanaged their care by outsourcing vital medical supplies and their services to firms that are clearly incompetent to provide them, because those same firms are run by their chums. Ditto with the grossly inadequate food parcels, which are another vile example of Tory profiteering. It’s just that however disgusting and infuriating the news is, there is a certain sameness about it. Because all this is what the Tories have been doing for decades. It’s also partly because I can’t say anything more or better about these issues than has been already said by great bloggers like Mike, Zelo Street and the rest.

But I’ve also been kept busy reading some of the books I got for Christmas, like the above tome by Ruth Levitas, a sociology professor at Bristol Uni. The blurb for this runs

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of Utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia offers the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

It has the following chapters

  1. Ideal Commonwealths: The Emerging Tradition
  2. Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism
  3. Mobilising Myths: Utopia and Social Change in Georges Sorel and Karl Mannheim
  4. Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future
  5. The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris
  6. An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche
  7. A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies
  8. Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia.

I wanted to read the book because so many utopias have been socialist or socialistic, like the early 19th century thinkers Karl Marx described as utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen, and was interested in learning more about their ideas. In this sense, I’m slightly disappointed with the book. Although it tells you a little about the plans for the reformation of society, and the establishment of a perfect state or political system, the book’s not so much about these individual schemes as a more general discussion of the concept of utopia. What, exactly, is a utopia, and how has the concept been used, and changed and developed? Much of this debate has been within Marxism, beginning with the great thinker himself. He called his predecessors – Owen, Fourier and Owen ‘utopian’ because he didn’t believe their particular schemes were realistic. Indeed, he regarded them as unscientific, in contrast to his own theories. However, Marx did believe they had done a vital job in pointing out the failures of the capitalist system. Marxists themselves were split over the value of utopias. The dominant position rejected them, as it was pointless to try to describe the coming society before the revolution. Nevertheless, there were Marxists who believed in their value, as the description of a perfect future society served to inspire the workers with an ideal they could strive to achieve. This position has been obscured in favour of the view that Marx and his followers rejected them, and this book aims to restore their position in the history of Marxist thought. This idea of utopia as essentially inspirational received especial emphasis in the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a form of radical socialism in which the state and private industry are abolished and their functions carried out instead by the trade unions. Sorel himself was a French intellectual, who started out on the radical left, but move rightward until he ended up in extreme nationalist, royalist, anti-Semitic movements. His ideas were paradoxically influential not just in the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union, but also in Fascist Italy. Sorel doesn’t appear to have been particularly interested in the establishment of a real, syndicalist utopia. This was supposed to come after a general strike. In Sorel’s formulation of syndicalism, however, the general strike is just a myth to inspire the workers in their battle with the employers and capitalism, and he is more interested in the struggle than the workers’ final victory, if indeed that ever arrived.

The book also covers the debate over William Morris and his News from Nowhere. This describes an idyllic, anarchist, agrarian, pre-industrial society in which there are no leaders and everyone works happily performing all kinds of necessary work simply because they enjoy it and find it fulfilling following a workers’ revolution. Apart from criticisms of the book itself, there have also been debates over the depth of Morris’ own socialism. Morris was a member of one of the first British Marxist socialist parties, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and the founder of another, the Socialist League, after he split from them. Critics have queried whether he was ever really a Marxist or even a socialist. One view holds that he was simply a middle class artist and entrepreneur, but not a socialist. The other sees him as a socialist, but not a Marxist. Levitas contends instead that Morris very definitely was a Marxist.

When it comes to the 20th century, the book points out that utopias have fallen out of fashion, no doubt due to the horrors committed by totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, which have claimed to be ideal states. However, the critic Tom Moylan has argued that utopias have still been produced in the SF novels of Joanna Russ, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy and Samuel Delaney. He describes these as ‘critical utopias’, a new literary genre. The heroes of this literature is not the dominant White, heterosexual male, but characters who are off-centre, female, gay, non-White, and who act collectively rather than individually. The book criticises some earlier utopias, like News from Nowhere, for their exclusive focus on the male viewpoint, comparing them with the Land of Cockayne, the medieval fantasy that similarly presents a perfect world in which everything is seemingly ordered for men’s pleasure. In contrast to these are the feminist utopias of the above writers, which began in the late 19th century with Harriet Gilman’s Herland. It also discusses the value of satires like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and dystopias like Eugene Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Levitas does not, however, consider utopianism to be merely confined to the left. She also considers Thatcherism a form of utopianism, discussing the late Roger Scruton’s Conservative Essays and citing Patrick Wright’s On Living in an Old Country. This last argued that the Conservative promotion of heritage was being used to reinforce old hierarchies in a markedly racist way. Some members of society were thus delineated as truly members of the nation, while others were excluded.

The book was first published in 1990, just before or when Communism was falling. It shows it’s age by discussing the issue whether the terrible state of the Soviet Union served to deter people dreaming and trying to create perfect, socialist societies. She argues that it doesn’t, only that the forms of this societies are different from the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR. This is a fair assessment. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of books about the future colonisation of Mars, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the colonists not only succeed in terraforming the planet, but also create socialist society in which authority is as decentralised as possible, women are fully equal and patriarchy has been overthrown and businesses run by their workers as cooperatives. At the same time, those wishing to return to a more primitive way of life have formed hunter-gatherer tribes, which are nevertheless also conversant with contemporary technology.

Further on, although the Fall of Communism has been claimed to have discredited not just Marxism but also socialism, recent history has shown the opposite is true. After forty years of Thatcherism, an increasing number of people are sick and tired of it, its economic failures, the glaring inequalities of wealth, the grinding poverty and degradation it is creating. This is why the Conservative establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party, were so keen to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a Communist and Trotskyite, or whatever else they could throw at him. He gave working people hope, and as Servalan, the grim leader of the Terran Federation said on the Beeb’s classic SF show, Blake’s Seven, ‘Hope is very dangerous’. A proper socialist society continues to inspire women and men to dream and work towards a better world, and it is to stop this that the Blairites contrived to get Corbyn’s Labour to lose two elections and have him replaced by Keir Starmer, a neo-liberal vacuity who increasingly has nothing to say to Johnson and his team of crooks.

Back to the book, its discussion of the nature of utopia therefore tends to be rather abstract and theoretical as it attempts to describe the concept and the way it has changed and been used. I didn’t find this really particularly interesting, although there are nevertheless many valuable insights here. I would instead have been far more interested in learning more about the particular ideas, plans and descriptions of a new, perfect, or at least far better, society of the many thinkers, philosophers and authors mentioned.

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

October 20, 2020

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

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

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

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

Fascist Corporativism

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

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

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

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

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

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

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

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

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

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

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

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

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

From Internationalism to Imperialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does the Ban on Teaching Anti-Capitalist and Extremist Materials Affect Mainstream Textbooks?

September 29, 2020

Yesterday, Gavin Williamson, the secretary of state for education, issued his departments guideline informing schools what they could not teach. This included materials from organisations determined to end capitalism, as well as anti-Semitic material, opposition to freedom of speech and which approves of illegal activity. The Labour Party’s John McDonnell pointed out that this would mean that it’s now illegal to teach large sections of British history and particularly that of the Labour Party, trade unions and socialism, because all these organisations at different times advocated the end of capitalism. He is, of course, right. In 1945 or thereabouts, for example, the Labour Party published an edition of the Communist Manifesto. He concluded

“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace.”

The economist and former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varousfakis, who has also written a book, The Crisis of Capitalism, also commented this guidance showed how easy it was for a country to lose itself and slip surreptitiously into totalitarianism. He said

“Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that.”

Quite. I wonder how the ban affects even mainstream textbooks, which included anti-capitalist or other extremist literature. For example there are any number of readers and anthologies of various political or historical writings published by perfectly mainstream publishers for school and university students. Such as the one below, Critics of Capitalism: Victorian Reactions to ‘Political Economy’, edited by Elisabeth Jay and Richard Jay, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1986). This collects a variety of writings authors such as John Francis Bray, Thomas Carlyle, Marx and Engels, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hill Green, William Morris and George Bernard Shaw. These texts obviously document and illustrate the reactions to the rise of economics as an academic subject in the 19th century, and several of the authors are titans of 19th century British culture, literature and political philosophy, like the art critic Ruskin, the socialist, writer and artist, William Morris, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the liberal political philosophers John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hill Green, and Matthew Arnold, the headmast of Rugby, the author of Culture and Anarchy. This is quite apart from Marx and Engels and John Francis Bray, who was a socialist and follower of Robert Owen. Carlyle’s now largely forgotten, but he was a philosopher and historian who was massively influential in his day.

Clearly this is an entirely respectable text from a very respectable publisher for history students. But, thanks to the government’s new guidelines, you could well ask if it’s now illegal to teach it in schools, thanks to its anti-capitalist contents.

The same question also applies to very respectable histories by respectable, mainstream historians and political scientists, of extremist movements and ideologies like Fascism, Nazism, Communism and anarchism. For example, one of the books I used while studying the rise of Nazism at college was D.G. Williamson’s The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982). It’s an excellent little book published as part of their Seminar Studies in History range. These are short histories of various periods in history from King John and the Magna Carta to the origins of the Second World and the Third Reich, which include extracts from texts from the period illustrating particularly aspects and events. Williamson’s book is a comprehensive history of the Nazi regime, and so includes extracts from Nazi documents like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Goebbel’s diaries and as well as eyewitness account of Nazi war crimes and individual acts of heroism and resistance. It presents an objective account of Hitler’s tyranny including its horrors and atrocities. There is absolutely no way it, nor other books like it, could remotely be considered pro-Nazi or presenting any kind of positive assessment of Hitler’s regime.

But if schools are now forbidden from teaching anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic, racist and anti-democratic material, does this mean that they are also forbidden from using books like Williamson’s, which include the writings of the Nazis themselves to show the real nature of the regime and the motivations of the men behind it. I hope not, and Owen Jones in his tweet attacking the new guidelines quotes them. From this, it should be possible to make a distinction between texts produced by extremist organisations and extracts from them in mainstream histories or editions from mainstream publishers. According to Jones’ tweet, the guidelines state

Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation. Examples of extreme political stances, include, but are not limited to

  1. a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism or end free and fair elections.

2. opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, or freedom of religion and conscience.

3. the use or endorsement of racist, including anti-Semitic language or communications.

4. the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity.

5. a failure to condemn illegal activities in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people and property.

Responding to Jones’ tweet, Jessica Simor QC asks this very pertinent question

Do the fourth and fifth bullet points mean that schools should not accept Government money?

Good point.

I also have no doubt that the vast majority are going to be extremely careful about which organisation’s materials they use because of the danger of using extremist or otherwise inappropriate material.

But I can also how sometimes it may also be necessary for schools to use such materials in order to criticise them and educate their pupils about their dangers. For example, in the 1980s the BNP or NF tried to appeal to schoolchildren by launching a comic. Other extremists have also turned up at the school gates on occasion. When I was at school in Bristol during the ’81/2 race riots, a White agitator with a beard like Karl Marx’s turned up outside the school entrance with a megaphone trying to get the kids to join in. We ignored him and the headmaster next day in assembly said very clearly that any child who did join the rioting would be expelled.

Nazis are also known for lying and deliberately distorting history. If some Nazi group, for example, produced a pamphlet aimed at schoolchildren and teachers found it being passed around the playground one of the actions they could take, as well as simply banning it and punishing any kid who tried to promote it, might be for a suitably qualified teacher to go through it, pointing out the deliberate lies. When Hitler himself seized power, one Austrian university lecturer embarrassed the fuhrer by showing his students how Hitler took his ideas from the cheap and grubby neo-Pagan literature published in the back streets of Vienna. One of these pamphlets claimed that the ancient Aryans had possessed radio-electric organs that gave them superpowers like telepathy. I think it was highly unlikely that anyone listening to this professor’s lectures on Hitler ever came away with the idea that Hitler had some deep grasp of the essential forces of human biology and and natural selection.

I see absolutely no point to this legislation whatsoever. Teachers, parents and educators are already careful about what is taught in schools. In the past few years most incidents of this type have come from fundamentalist religious schools. These have mostly been Muslim schools, which have been caught teaching their students to hate Christians, Jews and non-Muslims, but there was also a Jewish school which became the centre of controversy for its opposition to homosexuality. In the 1980s Thatcher and the right-wing press ran scare stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating students with evil subversive subjects like peace studies. I am not aware that anyone with extreme left-wing, Communist or Trotskite views has been trying to indoctrinate children. But there are concerns about Black Lives Matter, which I have heard is a Marxist organisation. If that is the case, then the guidelines seem to be an attempt to ban the use of their materials. BLM did produce materials for a week of action in schools, which was thoroughly critiqued by Sargon of Gasbag, aka Carl Benjamin, the sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon has extreme right-wing Conservative views himself, though I honestly don’t believe that he is genuinely racist and his criticisms of the BLM school material was reasonable. Williamson’s guidelines look like a badly thought out attempt to stop them being used without causing controversy by tackling the organisation’s anti-racism or its critique of White society.

But it also marks the growing intolerance of the Tories themselves and their determination that schools should be used for the inculcation of their own doctrines, rather than objective teaching that allows children to come to their own. Way back in the 1980s Thatcher tried to purge the universities of Marxists by passing legislation making it illegal for them to hold posts in higher education. They got round it by making a subtle distinction: they claimed to be Marxian rather than Marxist. By which they argued that they had Marxist culture, but weren’t actually Marxists. It’s a legal sleight of hand, but it allowed them to retain their teaching posts.

These new guidelines look like an extension of such previous legislation in order to preserve capitalism from any kind of thorough critique. Even when, as the peeps Mike quotes in his article, show very clearly that it is massively failing in front of our eyes.

Gorbachev’s Final Programme for the Russian Communist Party

September 22, 2020

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) contains the last party political programme Gorbachev. This was put forward at the last party plenum in 1991 before Communism finally collapsed. It’s an optimistic document which seeks to transform the totalitarian party and the Soviet Union’s command economy into a democratic party with a mixed economy. Gorbachev also cites as the principles underlying the transformation not just the values of the Communist party, but also the wider values of democracy, humanism and social justice.

The extract’s several pages long, and so I won’t quote it in full. But here some passages that are particularly interesting, beginning with Gorbachev’s statement of their values.

  1. Our Principles

… In its political activity the CPS will be guided by: – the interests of comprehensive social progress, which is assured by way of reforms…

-The principles of humanism and universal values.

-The principles of democracy and freedom in al ltheir various manifestations…

-The principles of social justice…

– The principles of of patriotism and internationalism…

-The interests of integrating the country into the world economy.

Section III, ‘Our Immediate Goals’ declares

… The CPSU stands for the achievement of the following goals:

In the political system. Development of the Soviet multinational state as a genuine democratic federation of sovereign republics;

setting up a state under the rule of law, and the development of democratic institutions; the system of soviets as the foundations of the state structure, as organs of popular rule and self-administration and of political representation of the interests of all strata of society; separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial…

In the area of nationality relations: Equal rights for all people independently of their nationality and place of residence; equal rights and free development of all nationality under the unconditional priority of the rights of man…

In the economy. Structural rebuilding (perestroika) of the national economy, re-orienting it toward the consumer;

modernization of industry, construction, transport and communications on the basis of high technology, overcoming our lag behind the world scientific technical level, and thinking through the conversion of military production.

transition to a mixed economy based on the variety and legal equality of different forms of property – state, collective and private, joint stock and cooperative. Active cooperation in establishing the property of labour collectives and the priority development of this form of social prosperity;

formation of a regulated market economy as a means to stimulate the growth of economic efficiency, the expansion of social wealth, and the raising of the living standards of the people. This assumes free price formation with stage gains to needy groups of the population, the introduction of an active anti-monopoly policy, restoring the financial system to health, overcoming inflation, and achieving the convertibility of the ruble.

working out and introducing a modern agrarian policy; free development of the peasantry; allotment of land (including leaseholds with the right of inheritance) to all who are willing and able to work it effectively; state support of the agro-price parity in the exchange of the products of industry and agriculture;

comprehensive integration of the country in the world economy, and broad participation in world economic relations in the interest of the economic and social progress of Soviet society.

In the social sphere. Carrying out a state policy that allows us to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable difficulties and expenses connected with overcoming the crisis in the economy and making the transition to the market…

Averting the slide toward ecological catastrophe, solving the problems of [Lake] Baikal, the Aral Sea, and other zones of ecological impoverishment, and continuing the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

In education, science and culture. Spiritual development of the people, impoving the education and culture of each person, and strengthening morality, the sense of civic duty and responsibility and patriotism…

IV. Whose Interest the Party Expresses

… In cooperation with the labour movement and the trade unions we will defend the interests of the workers, to secure: due representation of the working class in the organs of power at all levels, real rights of labour collectives to run enterprises and dispose of the results of their labour, a reliable system of social protection…

We stand for freedom of conscience for all citizens. The party takes a respectful position toward the feelings of believers…

… We are against militant anti-Communism as a form of political extremism and negation of democracy that is extremely dangerous for the fate of society…

V. For a Party of Political Action

Communists are clearly aware that only a radically renewed party – a party of political action – can successfully solve new tasks.

The most important direction of renewal for the party is its profound democratization. This assumes the independence of the parties of the republics that belong to CPS, and space for the initiative of local and primary organizations.

… Guarantees must be worked out in the party so that its cadres never utilize their posts for mercenary interests, never speak contrary to conscience, and do not fear a hard struggle to achieve noble ends.

The renewal of the party presupposes a new approach to the understanding of its place in society and its relations with the state, and in the choice of means for the achievement of its political goals. The party acts exclusively by legal political methods. It will fight for deputies’ seats in democratic elections, winning the support of voters for its electoral platform and its basic directions of policy and practical action. Taking part in the formation of the organs of state power and administration, it will conduct its policy through them. It is ready to enter into broad collaboration wherever this is dictated by circumstances, and to conclude alliances and coalitions with other parties and organizations in the interest of carrying out a program of democratic reforms. In those organs of power where the Communist deputies are in the minority, they will assume the place of a constructive opposition, standing up against any attempt at infringing with the interests of the toilers and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Collaborating with other parliamentary groups, Communist deputies will manifest cooperation toward positive undertakings that come from other parties and movements…

The CPSU is built on the adherence of its members to the ideas of certain values. For us the main one of these is the idea of humane, democratic socialism. Reviving and developing the initial humanitarian principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin, we include in our arsenal of ideas the entire richness of national and world socialist and democratic thought. We consider communism as a historic perspective, a social ideal, based on universal human values, on the harmonious union of progress and justice, of the free self-realization of the individual.

(pp.379-82).

It’s an inspiring document, and if it had been passed and Communism and the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have transformed the Communist party into a modern, centre-left party, committed to genuine democracy, religious freedom, technological innovation and development, tackling the ecological crisis, rooting out corruption within the party and standing with other groups to defend workers’ rights. I do have a problem with its condemnation of extreme anti-Communism. You would expect this from a leader who still wanted the Communist party to be the leading political force in the Soviet Union. It could just refer to groups like the morons who set up various Nazi parties and organisations in the 1980s. They had absolutely no understanding of what Nazism stood for, just that it was anti-Communist. But that clause could be used against other, far more moderate groups demanding radical change. I was impressed, however, by the statement that the Communists should be prepared to take a back seat in opposition. This completely overturns the central Communist dogma that the party should always take the leading role, even when in a coalition with other parties. It’s how Stalin got them to win democratic elections, before purging and dissolving those parties and sending their members to death or the gulag.

Ultimately the programme failed. One reason is that Gorbachev really didn’t understand just how hated the Communist party actually was. When I was studying the rise of Communist and Fascist regimes at college in the mid-80s, one of the newspapers reported that there were underground pop groups in the USSR singing such ditties as ‘Kill the Commies and the Komsomol too.’ The Komsomol was the Communist party youth organisation.

Daniel Kalder in his book Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through their writing (Oneworld: 2018) that Gorby’s project was undermined by the release under glasnost of Lenin’s suppressed works. Gorbachev had based his reforms on a presumed contrast between a democratic, benevolent Lenin, who had pledged Russia to a kind of state-directed capitalism in his New Economic Policy, and Stalin with his brutal totalitarianism, collectivisation of agriculture and the construction of the Soviet command economy. But Lenin frequently wrote for the moment, and his writings contradict themselves, though there is a central strand of thought that is consistent throughout. More seriously, he himself was viciously intolerant and a major architect of the Soviet one party state through the banning of other parties. The newly republished works showed just how false the image of Lenin as some kindly figure was, and just how nasty he was in reality.

But even after 30 a years, I still think Gorby’s proposed reforms are an excellent guide to what socialism should be. And his vision was far better than the bandit capitalism and massive corruption of Yeltsin’s administration, when the Soviet economy melted down. And its anti-authoritarianism and intolerance of corruption makes it far better than the regime of the current arkhiplut, Vladimir Putin. Although it has to be said that he’s done much good restoring conditions after Yeltsin’s maladministration.

And it’s also far better than the neoliberalism that has infected the Labour party, introduced by Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schroder in Germany. I think we need something like Gorbachev’s vision here, in the 21st century Labour party, instead of further Thatcherism under Starmer.

Marxism, Black Nationalism and Fascism

September 21, 2020

Last week or so Sasha Johnson was thrown off twitter for stating that the White man would not be the equals of Blacks, but their slave. Johnson is supposedly one of the leading lights in the Oxford Black Lives Matter movement. She was filmed holding a bizarre paramilitary-style rally in Brixton. Standing in front of a uniformed squad of Black people, she compared the police to the Klu Klux Klan and declared that what was needed was a Black militia. Like the one that was standing behind her, no doubt. She also screamed ‘Black Power!’ and ‘Revolution!’ She then followed that by announcing that, as Black and Asian politicians like Priti Patel and David Lammy were all sell-outs, she was going to found a a new political party solely for Blacks.

Johnson has been called a ‘Black Panther’, though I don’t know whether it was by her admirers in the Black power movement, or by herself. It certainly seems that she’s trying to copy the Black Panthers, who were set up to defend American Blacks against shooting and murder by the police, and set up their own party. But to British eyes it also looks very much like other violent paramilitary movements, like the terrorist organisations in Ulster and White Fascist organisations, such the British Union of Fascists and the National Front.

Black Lives Matter as an organisation, I gather, is Marxist, and the Black Panthers are usually seen as radical left rather than Fascist right. But this passage from Noel Sullivan’s Fascism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd 1983) may explain how Johnson was able to move from a Marxist position to racial supremacy, albeit one that privileged Blacks against Whites.

Sullivan’s a Conservative historian, who take the view that the origins of Fascism are to be found in the activist style of politics that emerged with the French Revolution. This demanded that the public take an active part in politics as against the older, feudal system in which politics was confined to the king and the aristocracy. This new activism also set up the nation or the people against an outgroup, identified as their enemy. For the French Revolutionaries, the people were the French middle class, and their enemies were the monarchy, aristocracy and clergy. Later in the 19th century, Karl Marx identified the people with the working class. However, that didn’t end the process. This was followed in the 20th century by Asian revolutionary socialists, beginning with Sultan Galiev, identifying their peoples as the oppressed working class and urging revolution against their White colonial oppressors. Sullivan writes

In spite of Marx’s belief that his redefinition of the ‘true people’ as the proletariat represented a scientific and therefore final stage in activist strategy, the subsequent course of twentieth-century intellectual history revealed that his own position was a unstable as the one which he had attacked. Consider, for example, the doctrine advocated by Sultan Galiev in 1919, in an article entitled ‘Social Revolution and the East’. Galiev was a Marxist, in the sense that he followed Marx in identifying the true people with the proletariat. He differed from Marx, however, in his definition of the proletariat itself. The trouble with western socialism, Galiev wrote, is that ‘the East, with its population of a milliard and a half human beings, oppressed by the West European bourgeoisie, was almost entirely forgotten. The current of the international class war bypassed the East and the problem of revolution in the East existed only in the minds of a few scattered individuals. For Galiev, the true proletariat now became the Muslim, Hindu and Chinese masses of the East, and the Marxist class struggle was accordingly transformed into one between the white and coloured races. Other non-European socialists rapidly took up this theme. For example, in 1920 Li Ta-chao, one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party, defined as class-struggle as racial conflict ‘between the lower-class coloured races and the upper-class white race’. In this struggle, ‘China really stands in the position of the world proletariat.’ In Japan, Ikki Kita also pursued the racial method of defining the true people as the populace of the third world, maintaining in his Outline for the Reconstruction of the Japanese State, 1919) that ‘There are self-contrictions in the fundamental thought of those European and American socialists who approve of proletarian class-struggle within a country but who consider international proletarian war as chauvinism and militarism.’ In recent decades, Frantz Fanon has been the best-known exponent of this particular variant of the new activist style of politics. (pp. 51-2).

Sasha Johnson seems to have made a similar transition, identifying the true people with Britain’s depressed Black population. In so doing, she’s moved from a socialistic Black radicalism to Fascism. She’s become Black Britain’s version of the White Fascists Nesta Webster and Rotha Orne Linton.

I also wonder how long she’ll be a figure on the public stage. She was determined to make herself notorious and a figure of public outrage and terror, like any number of angry young people before her trying to epater le bourgeois. I don’t think Black Lives Matter have done anything to censure her or reel her in, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. At the moment she’s a liability. They and the media have made a point of showing that Blacks and Whites, especially young people, are united in their support of the movement. BLM also released statements on placards stating that they were trying to start a race war. They were trying to end one. But that is precisely what Sasha Johnson wants to do.

My guess is that Black Lives Matter will now try and rein her in, if only for the sake of publicity. As for Johnson herself, she and her supporters come across as young, idealistic and stupid. 19th and 20th century history is full of similar young men and women, angry and radical, trying to threaten the establish order. Hopefully with time she’ll settle down and grow up.

Dan Hodges Lies about Liberal Left Hating White Working Class

July 14, 2020

Yesterday I put up a piece attacking ‘Celebrity Radio’ host Alex Bellfield, who had falsely claimed that ‘lefties’ had done nothing about the sweatshops in Leicester. As I explained in my piece, the problem wasn’t with the left. The Labour MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, had talked about the problems with the area’s sweatshops in a Zoom online meeting on Saturday afternoon organised as part of the Arise festival of the Labour Left. Webbe made it very clear that she and others had tried to get the authorities to act about the appalling conditions and low pay in the city’s garment industry, but they were ignored.

Now another right-wing hack is also spreading lies about the ‘liberal left’. Yesterday a video appeared on my YouTube page from Talk Radio. This one had had the title ‘Dan Hodges – Liberal Left View White Working Class as the Enemy’. Hodges is a writer for the Daily Mail. Such is the quality of his journalism that readers of Zelo Street know him as ‘the celebrated Blues artist Whinging Dan Hodges’. It’s an old chestnut. The Tories have been pursuing this line for years. Way back in 2003/4 the Spectator was publishing pieces like ‘Blackened Whites’ about how anti-racist activists were maligning the working class. These articles contained lines such as ‘there is only one minority not welcome under Labour on the streets of central London – White men’. They also opined about how the Left despised working class Whites because of their patriotism, amongst other values.

This is a flat-out lie. It was another one that was shown as such by the speakers at Saturday’s conference. The first of these was Black Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy. She gave a superb speech making it clear that Labour stood for the working class in all its diversity, and that we should not allow the working class to be divided. It was a theme repeated again and again by nearly all the speakers there, including, I believe, Corbyn’s deputy, John McDonnell.

Owen Jones, the bete noir of the rabid right, made the same point in his brilliant book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class. He dispels accusations of racism made against the unions during a strike. I’ve forgotten the precise details, but the media presented it as if it had been caused by White workers refusing to work alongside Blacks and Asians. In fact the reverse was true. The strike had been called by the union partly because of the exploitation of BAME workers. There is racism in the working class,  and a feeling of marginalization. The latter has its roots in the way New Labour turned its back on the working class in order to chase middle class Tories. This created a constituency of White, low-skilled, working class people in their fifties for UKIP. See the excellent study of that particular piece of populism when it was led by the Fuhrage, Revolt on the Right.

I don’t believe Black Lives Matter has helped this situation. Although the demonstrators have repeatedly stressed that they are not against Whites – I’ve mentioned the meme of the cute little Black girl holding a placard spelling this out – and there was another placard with the slogan ‘We’re Not Trying to Start a Race War – We’re Trying to End One’, unfortunately that is the impression some BLM protests make. The right-wing put up another video a few days ago about a group of BLM protesters demonstrating against White privilege in Birmingham. The photograph for that video showed a White middle-aged women waving a placard with the slogan ‘Use your White Privilege for Good’. This is particularly tin-eared. Whites and ethnic minorities are not homogenous communities occupying distinct places in the social hierarchy. While Whites generally have higher status, better jobs and education, and are more prosperous than Black, this is certainly not uniformly the case. Some ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, outperform Whites. Indians are only slightly behind Whites in society as a rule. Muslims and Blacks are at the bottom, but nevertheless there are many Whites who are as poor or poorer than parts of those ethnic groups. And the worst performing group at school are White working class boys. By waving such placards, the protesters appear to show that they are indeed elite middle-class Whites with a hatred of the working class. But if they do, those protesters do not speak for all left-liberals.

The Labour left support the White working class, just as they support all the disparate communities of the working class. The Tories don’t. They only appear to in order to garner votes, fostering racial antagonism in a very cynical policy of divide et conquera. As we’ve seen over the past ten years of Tory rule, they have cut welfare benefits, frozen pay and introduced mass unemployment and job insecurity to Whites as well as Blacks and Asians, while at the same time lying to them in the pages of the Scum, the Heil, Torygraph and Spectator that they are really defending them. It’s a classic piece of misdirection that the racist elites have done for centuries. In 17th century America the colonial rulers after Bacon’s rebellion found a way to prevent White indentured labourers joining forces in revolt with Black slaves: they simply defined Whites legally against Blacks, but gave them no extra rights nor privileges. White indentured labourers were as exploited as before, but it worked. Whites felt themselves to be superior and no longer joined Black revolts quite as they did. Although many White working people, as well as liberal Whites further up in the social hierarchy could still have considerable sympathy for Black slaves. James Walvin in one of his books on slavery has a passage from a 19th century article stating that in Scotland, the women who demand slave emancipation are working class.

The likes of Hodges have been lying to Black and White for a long time. It’s time we stopped listening and exposed this lie for what it is. Working people of all colours unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains, as Marx could have said.

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.