Posts Tagged ‘Liberals’

Counterpunch on George Monbiot and Nuclear Experts Spreading Propaganda about Syrian Nuclear Weapons

November 26, 2017

Thursday’s Counterpunch carried a long piece by Jonathan Cook reporting on an important piece of investigative journalism by Gareth Porter. In 2007 Israel bombed a plant they claimed was a secret nuclear reactor, constructed by Assad. Recent evidence strongly suggests that the building was no such thing, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency knew it wasn’t at the time. Nevertheless, they went ahead with the lie as part of the strategy by the Americans and Israelis, who were hoping to use the incident to bring down Assad and draw Iran into the conflict, so they could conquer that nation too.

The article also goes on to criticise the Guardian’s George Monbiot. Monbiot has, according to Cook, taken it upon himself to be a ‘Witchfinder General’, attacking figures on the left, like Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, who are cautious about accepting claims of atrocities by Assad. Like the recent gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, which appears to have been faked by al-Qaeda themselves. He also states that Human Rights Watch has also falsified information about the war between Israel and Hizbollah. Insiders lower down the organisation knew that what it said was untrue, but were silenced by their superiors.

He also states that now the attempt to unseat Assad has failed, or is failing, the Israelis and Saudis are trying to start a war in Lebanon -again- in order to draw Iran into a war they hope they can use to overthrow them.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/11/22/syria-experts-and-george-monbiot/

I’ve no doubt that this is true, and while I like much of what Monbiot says, it does show how far the Guardian has fallen as a supposedly ‘left-wing’ paper. Tony Greenstein has written several articles attacking the Groan for its blatant anti-Corbyn bias, and its willingness to spread the anti-Semitism smears on behalf of the Israel lobby. And I’m not surprised. The Groaniad backed the SDP and the Liberals in several elections, and its staff seems to be full of Blairites and Neocons. So no surprise that Monbiot is also uncritically spreading disinformation about non-existent nuclear reactors, and attacking anyone he thinks is too pro-Assad.

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The Young Turks: Trump Supporter on CNN Claims Klan Progressive Democrats

March 3, 2016

In this piece from the Young Turk they discuss the answer a Trump supporter, Lord, gave to the interviewer Van Jones when he picked Trump up on his courting of the Klu Klux Klan. Jones is Black, and so naturally very worried about the way Trump is doing his best to gain support from the Klan and other White supremacists. Lord’s response was that the Klan were Democrats and progressives.

The Turks’ succinct answer to that was, ‘In that case, why is Trump courting the support of a leftist group?’

Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola then go on to point out that yes, the Klan was indeed part of the Democrat party decades ago, when the Democrats were the American Conservative party. But this changed during the Civil Rights era, after which the Republicans courted the Klan as part of their ‘Southern Strategy’. This was the Republicans’ electoral strategy by which they allowed the Democrats to take the votes of Blacks and minorities, and concentrated on getting the votes of Southern White men. Uygur states that the Republicans have admitted this, and apologised for it. He states that he even had Pat Buchanan on his show, who admitted they got several decades of power out of the tactic.

Now the situation has changed. The Democrats are now the American left, while the Republicans are the party of the right. This was not the case previously, when the Republicans were the more liberal party. But there was also a spread of political opinions in both parties. Both Republicans and Democrats had liberal and Conservative wings. That has now changed, so that if you’re a liberal, you’re most likely a Democrat.

They then go on to describe the essential ideological difference between Conservatives and liberals/ progressives. Conservatives are most concerned to protect tradition and the way things are now. Liberals and progressives are more concerned with equality and expanding it. Decades ago, Conservatives were concerned to keep Blacks segregated and preserve White privilege, because that was the way things were and they wanted to preserve this as something valuable. Liberals on the other hand, wanted to give Blacks equality, and have since wanted to give equality to other groups, such as women and gays. The Klan were against equality for Blacks, so obviously they weren’t progressives.

They make the point that not all progressives are good and wonderful. They point to Castro’s takeover of Cuba and Mao’s China as oppressive, murderous regimes. They point out that you can have liberal economic policies, but be intensely conservative in others. The desire to concentrate and preserve power is, according to them, an aspect of Conservatism. Stalin and Mao were liberals, who moved to the right. Conservatives claim that Hitler was a liberal, but this has always been wrong. Hitler started out on the Right, and remained on the Right.

They also make the point that Lord should not be allowed back on to CNN, and not because of his support for Trump. Lord is a passionate supporter of Trump, and has even written a book about him. Trump’s policies are terrible – his declared policies of building a wall between America and Mexico, and banning Muslims from entering the US are horrendous, but they’re his opinions and so people should be allowed on air to discuss them. But Lord shouldn’t be allowed on air, because he knew absolutely nothing about history. Either that, or he’s lying. They point out that there’s a problem, in that Jones on CNN didn’t have the time to explain the issues the way they have. He was just given a few seconds to make a comeback to Lord’s ludicrous statements. And so they state that the producer should have sat down with Lord afterwards and said that they weren’t going to have him back on simply because he knew nothing about American history, and they weren’t going to let him distort history on air.

Cameron Demands Return of Chinese Slavery

October 10, 2015

David Cameron, or one his underlings at the Tory party conference this week declared that British workers should work like the Chinese in order for Britain to compete in the global marketplace. This comment, coming from a party intent on destroying workers’ rights and the last vestiges of the welfare state, as well as forcing the unemployed to labour for zero pay under workfare schemes, has sinister overtones of the ‘Chinese slavery’ denounced by British working class organisations at the beginning of the last century.

The term refers to harsh conditions forced on immigrant indentured Chinese labourers in South Africa, which became a symbol for the employers’ oppression and exploitation of the working class. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable describes it thus in this entry:

Chinese slavery. Virtual slavery; excessively hard graft for negligible rewards. The phrase became widely used as a political slogan by the LIBERALS from 1903, when Balfour’s CONSERVATIVE government (1902-1905) introduced indentured coolies from China to combat the shortage of Kaffir labour in the Rand gold mines after the dislocation caused by the South African War. They were kept in compounds and only allowed out under permit. (p. 229).

I apologise for the use of the word ‘Kaffir’.

Unfortunately, resentment about the way the Conservatives and their moneyed paymasters were trying to force British workers into the same highly exploitative conditions quickly spilled over into bitter racist hostility to Chinese immigrants in Britain. These were believed to be imported as a deliberate ploy to take jobs away from British workers and keep wages law. In 1909 a series of anti-Chinese riots broke out after a firm in one of the northern towns sacked its British employees en masse and replaced them with Chinese.

This fear has also returned with the controversy over mass immigration. Theresa May herself played on it in her speech when she demanded an end to it, stating that the importation of foreign labour had been used to drive down wages. Owen Jones in his book, Chavs, has pointed out that despite attempts to portray the White British working class has racist in recent strikes caused by the importation of low-paid workers, the strikes themselves were directed against their exploitation. The unions that called the strikes did so because these workers were being exploited, and demanded that they should enjoy the same conditions as their British co-workers.

As for China itself, it’s fair to say that the workers there are exploited. They are low paid, often toiling under extremely exploitative conditions. There has been controversy surrounding the appalling conditions workers manufacturing merchandising for the immensely rich Disney corporation. Workers employed by other firms in China have thrown themselves off roofs to end it all in despair at their exploitation.

And real slavery also exists, in the prisons and archipelago of gulags and ‘re-education’ camps to which the Communist government sends political prisoners, there to work for the state’s further profit. Just as the inmates of the German concentration camps and Stalin’s gulags were used as slave labour.

The Chinese themselves are beginning to revolt against this. There have been mass labour protests by disabled workers, discarded after industrial injuries or illnesses made them too sick to work, and by veterans of the Red Army, who were conscripted to build the vast, skyscraper megacities that now characterise modern China. They’re joined and aided by crusading civil rights lawyers, trying to use the law to get them justice.

In other words, the Chinese are doing the very things that the Tories would like to stop over here: grass-roots labour protest and the use of legal challenges to exploitation.

We should join them. Cameron, Osborne and the rest of their vile crew aren’t acting alone. They’re part of a global elite that is impoverishing workers and their families all over the world under the guise of globalisation and free market economics. We need to challenge them on this end of the Eurasian landmass, just like the Chinese are challenging them at their end. The slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’ isn’t just an empty catchphrase, but a genuine insight into the tactics that have to be adopted to stop them forcing workers around the world, whether in London, Mumbai, Beijing, or wherever, into a 21st century ‘Chinese’ slavery.

Tunes for Toilers: The Jolly Machine, edited by Michael Raven

May 25, 2014

Jolly Machine

I found this in the sheet music section of Hobgoblin Music, a music shop specialising in folk songs, music and instruments in Bristol’s Park Street. Subtitled Songs of Industrial Protest and Social Discontent From the West Midlands, the songs in this collection describe and protest about the hardships of nineteenth century industrial urban life, covering low and unpaid wages, hard, exploitative factory masters, prison and transportation, unemployment, and the threat of mechanisation, the soul destroying drudgery of the workhouse, emigration, and Chartism and the promise of political reform from the Liberals.

The songs include:

Bilston Town,
Charlie’s Song,
Chartist Anthem,
Colliers’ Rant,
Convict’s Complaint
Dudley Boys,
Dudley Canal Tunnel
Freedom and Reform,
John Whitehouse
Jolly Machine,
Landlord Don’t You Cry,
Monster Science,
Nailmaker’s Lament
Oh! Cruel,
Pioneers’ Song
Poor of Rowley,
Potters’ Chant,
Sarah Collins,
Thirteen Pence A Day,
Tommy Note,
Waiting for Wages.

There’s also an explanatory note about the songs at the back.

‘Waiting for Wages’ and ‘The Tommy Shop’ deal with ‘tommy notes’. Until the passage of the Truck Acts, many employers didn’t pay money wages to their workers, but only tokens or notes that were only valid at the company shops, thus exploiting their workers further and massively increasing their profits. ‘Waiting for Wages’ is written from the women’s point of view, and describes them waiting for their menfolk to hand over their wages, half of which they’ve already spent in the pub.

The ‘Convicts’ Complaint’ is about the harsh conditions in Ciderville Jail, while ‘Sarah Collins’ is about a woman transported to Van Diemen’s Land – Tasmania – for some unstated crime. ‘Dudley Boys’, ‘Nailmaker’s Strike’, ‘Nailmakers’ Lament’, and ‘Colliers’ Rant’ are about strikes, some of which exploded into violent confrontation between the strikers and the army. ‘Jolly Machine’, ‘Monster Science’ and Charlie’s Song – the last about a notorious factory master and the scab workers prepared to work for him – are about the poverty and unemployment caused by mass industrial production to the traditional artisan craftsmen, such as potters. The ‘Needlemakers’ Lamentation’, ‘Dudley Canal’ and ‘Oh, Cruel!’ were all written to raise money for those suffering from or threatened with unemployment. ‘Oh, Cruel’ was written for a benefit performance by a Mr Rayner on behalf of a serviceman, Tommy Strill, who had lost a leg and eye in combat. The ‘Dudley Canal Tunnel’ song was a fundraiser, which aimed at raising £5,000 to keep the tunnel open and the boatmen, who navigated through it, in work. The ‘Potters’ Chant’, ‘Bilston Town’, and ‘Poor of Rowley’ are about poverty. The last is specifically about the mindless, soulless labour in the town’s workhouse. ‘Landlord, Don’t You Cry’, and ‘Pioneers’ Song’ are about emigrants leaving Britain for a more prosperous, optimistic future abroad, including America. ‘Thirteen Pence A Day’ is a song bitterly criticising conditions in the army, and urging men not to join up to lose life and limb fighting people they don’t know and who have never done them any harm. It’s a fascinating demonstration that anti-War songs didn’t begin with Vietnam. John Whitehouse is about a man, who hangs himself after failing to find a buyer for his wife. It was the custom in many parts of England for a man to sell a wife, with whom he could no longer live at an auction in the market. It’s a shocking example of how low women’s status was. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ and ‘Freedom and Reform’ are ballads about the demands for the franchise. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ describes the immense hardship in the struggle to get the vote. Its last two verses run

We men of bone, of shrunken shank
Our only treasure dearth,
Women who carry at the breast
Heirs to the hungry earth,
Heirs to the hungry earth.

Speak with one voice, we march we rest
And march again upon the years,
Sons of our sons are listening,
To hear the Chartist cheers,
To hear the Chartist cheers.

At a time when many working and lower middle class people feel disenfranchised and ignored by the political class, this is a song that could well be revived for today’s struggle to get politicians to wake up and take notice of the poverty and alienation now at large in Britain.

‘The Great Battle for Freedom and Reform’ also demands the extension of the franchise for the workers, and urges them to support the Liberals. The first three verses read

You working men of England,
Who live by daily toil,
Speak for your rights, bold Englishmen,
Althro’ Britan’s Isle.
The titled Tories keep you down,
Which you cannot endure,
The pass the poor man with a frown,
And the Tories keep you poor.

cameron-toff

Cameron: A titled Tory keeping you down, if ever there was one!

With Beale & Gladstone, Mills & Bright,
We shall weather thro’ the storm,
To give the working man his rights,
And gain the bill – REFORM!

We want no Tory Government, The poor man to oppress,
They never try to do you good,
The truth you will confess.
The Liberals are the poor man’s friend,
To forward all they try,
They’ll beat their foes you may depend,
And never will say die.

The description of the Tories still remains exactly correct. Unfortunately, the present government has the song’s claim that the Liberals are the poor men’s friend to be a hollow joke, although it was certainly true at the time.

The songs are an interesting document about the hardship and social injustice working people experienced in the nineteenth century. It’s the other side of the coin to the image of ‘merrie England’ presented in some traditional songs and the Tory view of history promoted by Michael Gove. And with exploitative employers now eager to use the cheap labour supplied by unemployed ‘volunteers’, ‘interns’ and those on workfare, assisted by a Tory government of aristocrats enforcing a policy of low wages and harsh, anti-union legislation, these songs are all too relevant.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory

May 21, 2014

Poor Law Tune

I’ve been blogging over the past week or so about British radical folk song and working class ballads and poetry, partly as a corrective to the ahistorical, ‘merrie England’ folksiness presented by the English Democrats in their abysmal election video. Such sentiments aren’t exclusive to them, however, and are shared widely by the British Right. It’s very much a Conservative vision of England and Britain, composed of contented peasants and benign, paternal landlords. The reality was often very different, and the working class, artisans and poorer tenant farmers and agricultural labourers frequently took to music and verse to express the hardship, discontent and exploitation they experienced at the hands of the upper classes. Roy Palmer collected a number of these in his A Ballad History of England (B.T. Batsford 1979).

This is my handwritten copy of the tune for the Ballad ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’ in Palmer’s book. I’m afraid I didn’t note down the lyrics, being simply interested in the music itself at the time, and the book itself appears to be out of print. The tune’s nevertheless still interesting, and relevant today. The New Poor Law was the Liberal legislation setting up the infamous workhouses – the ‘new bastilles’ for the poor, based on the principle of less eligibility. Conditions in them were supposed to be so horrific, unpleasant and degrading, that the poor and unemployed would be deterred from entering them if they could possibly avoid it. The same principle motivates the Tory and Tory Democrats’ welfare reforms, so that signing on has been made similarly unpleasant and degrading in order to put people off claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance if they can possibly help it. And just as the inmates of the workhouse were given pointless, menial tasks that destroyed them physically and mentally, like picking oakum, so the unemployed placed on workfare through Iain Duncan Smith’s wretched welfare to work reforms are similarly given menial and pointless jobs that lead absolutely nowhere, except to make a profit for the private firms taking part in the scheme. So it’s another 19th century tune that could be re-introduced, just possibly, for the new poor of the 21st century, to whistle and hum on their way to Jobcentre or another protest rally.

I’ll post another radical working and lower class ditty tomorrow.

Universal Credit Hits Bath

February 25, 2014

The local news for this part of the West Country, BBC Points West, last night covered the introduction of Universal Credit in Bath. The programme mentioned that the system was several months over time and over budget. They interviewed a few people going into one of the city’s Jobcentres about how complicated the present system was. They replied with statements like it was a nightmare, and ‘Oh, don’t go there.’ They also briefly interviewed David Freud, the minister from the government, who was there to talk up the scheme, how it was more efficient, and less confusing and wasteful than the earlier system. Also present was a local businessman, Chris Smith, who declared that this was going to be good for business and employers. He stated that he had tried to recruit new staff many times, who told him that they’d like to work for him, but could not work more than 16 hours a week. He stated that it would be good if this were removed, and he and others like him could ‘grow a business’. The report also stated that the policy had the backing of all three major parties.

So that’s all right then, as Private Eye says whenever someone in authority issues a flimsy excuse for shoddy behaviour and double standards.

The only criticism of Universal Credit was that it was over time and over budget. I can think of a number of other criticisms, the least of which are these.

Firstly, the benefits system is complicated for a very good reason: different kinds of people need very different kinds of help, and this does not appear to have changed by trying to consolidate all the different types of benefit into one. Mike over at Vox Political has blogged and rebloggged pieces about how immensely complicated and confusing Universal Credit is, because of the sheer necessity of dealing with different people’s needs.

Secondly, any benefits to claimants under the new system simply won’t be a consideration. The government’s policy towards the unemployed is that they should be humiliated and pressured into seeking work, even if this is unavailable. Every opportunity should be taken to throw them off benefits, even if they have no other source of income. In the case of those sanctioned by Atos, this may have resulted in the deaths of 38,000 per year.

The choice of David Freud as the responsible minister to open the system in the city demonstrates this attitude very clearly. Freud is a former New Labour MP, who crossed the floor to join the Conservatives. Like the rest of the government front bench, he is a terrible toff, who doesn’t understand the poor and treats them with utter contempt. This is the man, who said that the poor should be more flexible than millionaires, as they have less to lose.

As for Chris Smith, his endorsement of the system suggests that he doesn’t wish to recruit his workers by giving them a fair day’s wage for their labours, but by recruiting the poor and desperate, forced to find work through further cuts to their benefits. And note: his comments show clearly that he is not recruiting full time staff. He has said he feels the changes to the benefits system will allow companies like his to grow by allowing workers on benefits to work more hours than the maximum of 16 to which they are currently limited. So he doesn’t want to give them full-time work, or solve his problem by employing more part-time workers to do the hours the others cannot. He seems simply to want to grow his business by extending the working hours of those he already has. Which suggests that he sees those on benefits as a supply of cheap labour to be exploited.

As for Universal Credit being backed by all three main parties, this unfortunately shows the increasing homogeneity and crushing lack of ideas of the main political parties. All of them have swallowed the Neo-Liberal Kool-Aid, and show precious little understanding for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. David Milliband, for example, has stated that he wishes the Labour party to reach out to the middle classes. I’ve no problem with that in theory, but in practice it has meant that the working class and the unemployed are being sidelined so that Milliband and his predecessors in New Labour can present the party as economically orthodox, with a harsh line on the unemployed.

This, unfortunately, is part of the reason for the resistible rise of UKIP. There’s a piece over on Guy Debord’s Cat that shows that most UKIP supporters are actually left-wing, almost as left as the Labour party. UKIP itself is, however, so far to the right that it has been declared BNP-lite. Indeed, Private Eye reported several years ago how Farage and Fuehrer Nick Griffin were seen having lunch together. Presumably they were discussing the bankruptcy of multi-party democracy and the constraints on national sovereignty of a corrupt international order, though not necessarily with reference to the Weimar Republic. Nevertheless, UKIP presents itself as radically different from the other three parties and is deliberately aiming to recruit those working class voters, who believe that Labour has abandoned them. Labour could easily parry this threat by moving back to the Left and defending the unemployed, the poor, the disabled. This would, however, mean challenging and scrapping much of the heritage of New Labour, which it clearly is reluctant to do.

As for Bath and Universal Credit, the City’s a Liberal/ Conservative seat. They have, after all, returned Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of William Rees-Mogg, as their MP. Bath is a beautiful city, but it’s like Cheltenham in that beneath the great wealth there’s a deprived underclass that lives cheek by jowl with its wealthier neighbours. Back in the 1990s it used to be on the route for the New Age travellers going to Glastonbury. It’s also an expensive city. Those on modest incomes can find it very difficult to find suitable accommodation. So while it’s almost inevitable that Universal Credit would rolled out there, it’s arrival will only cause more poverty and hardship to the city’s sizable poor population. But as they’re invisible to the crowds of tourists flooding the city for the Roman Baths, the Pump Room and the architecture for the city of Jane Austen’s novels, they’ll continue to be ignored by the politicos.

Adolf Glasbrenner’s ‘Constitushun’

February 23, 2014

Looking through the anthology of German literature from the Vormarz, the period of social and industrial discontent in Germany in the early 19th century that produced the 1848 revolutions, I came across Adolf Glasbrenner’s Konschtitution. Glasbrenner (1810-1876) was a radical Berlin journalist and writer. He trained as a merchant, but from 1830 turned to writing as a Liberal. He published the newspaper, the Berliner Don Quixote, which was banned in 1833. In 1835 he moved to Switzerland, where he published a number of works anonymously. In 1848 his Freien Blatter (Free Pages) was banned in Berlin, and he took part in the revolution that March. He became the leader of the Democratic Party of Neustrelitz in the German state of Mecklenburg. He was forced to move to Hamburg in 1850. His newspapers the Deutschen Sonntagszeitung and Phosphor were banned in 1856 and 1858. He had a constant battle with the censor as the manager of the Berliner Montagszeitung. In his works Glasbrenner wrote in the Berlin dialect, using typical figures from Berlin society, such as the casual labourer Nante and the petty-bourgeois rentier, Buffey, to satirise the contemporary political situation, in order to strengthen the popular masses’ trust in themselves, and so help prepare the way for the 1848 revolution.

Konschtitution is written in the Berlin dialect as a father attempting to explain the Prussian constitution to his son. While it’s like the 13 demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee in that both are of their time and place, it also struck me as being relevant to today’s Britain. Both Britain and Wilhelmine Germany are constitutional monarchies, and the same basic concepts of government are common to each, even if there are many differences. The judiciary in Britain still are independent, for example, whether they will continue to be so under this increasingly illiberal and authoritarian government is a good question. Here’s my attempt at a translation:

Constitushun

Today I ‘splained to my son, Willyum, what the constitushun is, dat is, in what you call the ‘high style’, and I fink dat I’ve ‘spressed it quite statesmanlike. I said to ‘im namely. The constitushun, dat’s the separashun of power. The king does, what he wants, and the people, they do, what the king wants. The ministers are therefore responsible, that nothing happens. The king rules quite irresponsibly. The government choose by means of an electoral law the people’s representatives. It’s necessary dat every law is realized. Every law only then has validity, when it’s realized.

The people’s representatives come together in two chambers and hold speeches. The first chamber consists of rich servants and the second of nightwatchmen. The chambers must be listen to in every case. Should the chamber not be listen to in every case, the crown has the right to dissolve it, but only ever for three months, in case it shouldn’t last longer. In the case that there is continual disunity between Crown and chamber, the old state diet is convoked, which steps through it in the chamber’s complete duties.

The chamber can also grant new taxes. The penalty for refusing tax established by law, should not be under ten years penitentiary. About the people’s monies (finances), everyone must be passed three months in an account, in which receipts and expenses tally. Should several millions be missing annually, these are to be viewed as spent. Should the citizens come to beggary or starve, the king is liable, to explain in a proclamation, that he’s sorry.

Justice is quite independent, but the judges can be transferred or removed. Everyone is equal before the law. Every subject has right to have his opinion about himself, and to assemble under the same conditions. The military do not swear to the state, because you don’t know what expires. The form of the state is monarchic-pulcinelle [a figure from the Italian Commedia del’Arte]. Without junkers [Prussian aristocrats], police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible.

The stupid boy stood there with his gob open, as I ‘splained the Constitushun to him. “Now do you know?” I asked him. “Nah, not quite yet”, he said, howling. That so annoyed me, that in anger I gave him a hard box on the ear., in which I expressed, ‘You prat, now know what the Constitushun is!’

I thought of translating the term ‘Junkers’ in the sentence ‘Without junkers, police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible’ as ‘toffs’ or ‘aristos’, to make it really contemporary, now that we have a government dominated by them, but I thought that would be stretching things a bit too much.

Workfare and the Nazi ‘Arbeitscheu’

February 18, 2014

sanction-sabs

As well as Jews, the Nazis also condemned a number of other groups to the concentration camps. These included Gypsies; gay men; Jehovah’s Witnesses – who were a threat to the regime as they refused to obey Hitler as a ‘secular messiah’; habitual criminals; political prisoners – largely trade unionists, Communists and Socialists, but also those Liberals and Conservatives that defied the Nazi state – who had either already served prison sentences, or been acquitted by the regular courts; and the stateless, including those Germans, who had tried to escape from the Third Reich. They and the Jews were declared to be ‘anti-social parasitical elements’. This also covered the ‘asocial’, which seems to have been a catch-all category for people the authorities decided were somehow subversive or a threat, but had no clear reason why, and the ‘workshy’ – Arbeitscheu in German.

The ‘workshy’ included those, who had rejected offers of work ‘without good reason’.

Himmler Hitler

SS leader Heinrich Himmler with Adolf Hitler. Under Himmler, the SS expanded into a vast industrial complex using concentration camp slave labour.

The reasons given for the imprisonment of Jews with criminal records, the asocial and the workshy were economic and military. They were to provide slave labour for the SS industries and the Nazi building projects. There was even a special branch of SS, the WVHA or Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt, or Economic Government Head Office, that managed the SS’ commercial interests. In 1939 the SS was operating four main businesses. These included excavation and quarrying to supply building materials; a company dealing in products from concentration camp workshops; an agricultural company dealing in food, estates, fisheries and forestry; and a textile company producing uniforms for the SS from the female detainees of women’s concentration camp at Ravensbruck.

Through take-overs of companies in the Sudetenland, the SS controlled most of the Reich’s factories producing mineral water and soft drinks; a vast furniture-making conglomerate created through the forced acquisition of former Jewish and Czech businesses; as well as companies producing building materials – cement, brick, lime and ceramics. These were mostly Polish, and operated using Jewish slave labour.

The SS also rented out their slave workers to other, civilian companies, at the rate of 4-8 marks per slave per 12-hour day. The average life expectancy of an inmate in the concentration camps was 9 months. This gave the SS an average profit of 1,431 marks per each slave.

Now clearly the government isn’t running concentration camps. They may be horrendous in their treatment of the sick, poor, and unemployed, but they’re not that evil. Nevertheless, I have posted a number of pieces pointing out the similarity between workfare and other forms of unpaid labour in the Third Reich, such as Reichsarbeitsdienst, and the gulags in Stalin’s Russia. There is some similarity here with the Nazi’s use of slave labour and workfare.

Osborne Pic

Chancellor George Osborne, who would like sanctioned jobseekers work for big business for free under Workfare.

Since the 1990s, for example, there has been an insistence that those on Unemployment Benefit/ Jobseeker’s allowance should take any job they are offered. If they refuse, they lose benefits. The long term unemployed are placed on the Work Programme and forced to take voluntary work. This is similarly not so much a form of genuine voluntary work, but a means of supplying cheap labour to big business such as Tesco’s. Furthermore, George Osborne announced last year that he was expanding the Workfare system so that even those, whose benefits had been sanctioned, would have to do it. At which point the workfare system becomes true slavery. As many of those, whose benefits have been stopped because of sanctions, have taken their own lives or died or poverty and starvation, the government’s attitudes to disability and unemployment are also lethal. And if Osborne’s plan to force those whose benefits have been stopped to work for businesses for nothing goes through, then it could rightly be said that the only difference between that and concentration camp labour is that so far there are no concentration camps. Of course, this could all change if the firms profiting from workfare decide that they need to build special barracks for them.

I’ve no object to job creation schemes, or to voluntary work. But this is the point – it has to be proper voluntary work, where the worker and choose to do it or not, without losing benefits, and where they can choose for whom they work. They should also be paid a proper, living wage, or receive some other benefits so that they are genuinely trained for work and protected from exploitation. At present, the current workfare schemes do extremely little of this.

This system needs to change, and those responsible for it should be voted out.

Manufacturing Compliance: The Nudge Unit and its Privatisation

February 10, 2014

Blakes 7 weapon

Federation scientist Cozer and his companion, the freed slave Rashel, await galactic freedom fighter Blake in the Blake’s 7 episode, Weapon.

Last Friday and today, the I newspaper has run articles reporting the impending privatisation of the Government’s Behaviour Insights Team, or Nudge Unit. The article describes the unit as using

‘insights from the emerging field of behavioural economics and psychology to subtly change the processes, forms and language used by government – to achieve outcomes that are in the in the “public good” and save money.’

A boxed article at the side then goes on to explain it more fully, stating that

‘Nudge articulates the idea that people can be persuaded to make the right decisions by simple changes in how choices are presented to them.’

It goes on to explain that the theory was first proposed in a book of the same name, published in 2008 by the economics professor Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein. They acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good. The two authors then argued that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges ‘people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.’

Although the two authors stated that “‘the libertarian aspect of our strategies lies in the straightforward insistence that, in general, people should be free to do what they like.” They then qualified this with the statement that it was ‘legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier and better.”

Today’s I carries an interview with one of the founders of the Nudge Unit, David Halpern. He states that the Unit was set up four years ago under Tony Blair as his Strategy Unit, at a time when ‘the Blair administration was expanding the size of the state – spending more and regulating more’, often according to Blair’s own personal inclination. It did not, however, catch on with the Labour government, and only came into its own with the arrival of the Coalition in 2010. Halpern states that ‘Their instincts were generally ‘we’ve got no money and we’re going to constrain the size of the state and deregulate’.

The Nudge Unit is now about to be part-privatised into a company partly owned by the government, partly owned by the social-enterprise charity, Nesta, and partly owned by Halpern and his fellow employees.

As it is presented in the I, the Nudge Unit sounds very jolly and entirely innocuous. The piece opens with Halpern describing the work of the American psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her work showing how well school children perform in tests can be boosted simply by telling them that they’ve made a good effort.

It then describes the way the Unit experimented with personalised text messages to encourage people, who were about to be hit by the bailiffs, to pay their bills on time.

In the concluding paragraphs, Halpern describes his goal to unlock ‘hidden entrepreneurs’ ‘who never get beyond garages’. He mentions the way the mountain bike arose simply through someone experimenting in their garage with bits of other bikes. ‘Studies’, according to Halpern, ‘suggest 6 per cent of Britons have come up with a significant adaptation in the last year. But most never diffuse.’

The only doubts raised about the Unit and its methods are whether they are effective. The boxed article states that it has its critics, who have argued, like Baroness Julia Neuberger in the House of Lords, that there is little evidence that it works on large scales. The main article, however, leaves the reader in little doubt: ‘A lot in government were nervous of Nudge but the theory did work in practice – and the services of the Nudge team were suddenly in demand’. Hence its privatisation three years down the line.

Now all this seems entirely benign. Few people would cavil at methods that get people to pay their bills on time, thus avoiding a visit from the bailiffs, or get children to do better at their exams, or, indeed, just to have ‘longer, healthier and better’ lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the 20th century, such departments like the Nudge Unit would have been the objects of considerable fear and suspicion, especially after the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century used propaganda and coercion to generate the mass obedience and approval they demanded from their captive populations. This found its expression in the various dystopian regimes portrayed in Science Fiction. One of the great Science Fiction series of the 1970s and ’80s was Blake’s 7. This was a space opera, whose heroes were a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ let loose in a strange, totalitarian far future. They were led, at least in the first two of their four TV seasons, by Roj Blake, a former dissident, who had been captured and then suffered psychiatric torture at the hands of the Federation. This was a future Fascist super-state, which governed through a mixture of military force, propaganda and advanced psychological techniques and drugs, that sapped the will to resist from its people. The Federation permitted no freedom of speech, belief or movement amongst its citizens. Dissidents were brutally murdered, and the survivors framed and re-educated. Heading its armed forces was the seductive Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and her henchman, the violent and psychotic Travis, played by Brian Croucher. Both Croucher and Pearce have appeared in Dr. Who; Pearce as a treacherous alien super-scientist, Jocini O’ the Franzine-Greeg in the Colin Baker/Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Two Doctors’, and Croucher in the early Tom Baker serial ‘The Robots of Death’. He has also appeared in Eastenders and as an East End hard man in the detective drama, New Tricks.

Blake’s 7 was influenced by Star Wars and Star Trek, though it’s characters and background were darker than either of those two SF classics. Blake’s second-in-command, Kerr Avon, was a ruthless embezzler with a cynical contempt for idealists. ‘Show me the man who believes something, and I will show you a fool’. Such attitudes were not a fictional exaggeration. Similar sentiments were expressed by the evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who once said ‘Scratch an idealist, and an egotist will bleed’. It isn’t hard to feel that the show’s creator, Terry Nation, had modelled the cool, rational, scientific Avon on Monod and other scientists like him.

And the methods used by the Federation to keep its citizens enslaved were also chillingly real. The show several times covered conditioning and similar brainwashing techniques used by the Federation to break and then manipulate its victims’ psychologies. Blake himself had been conditioned by intensive psychological therapy after he was captured leading a revolutionary group. Under the influence of the therapists he betrayed the other members, confessed to his own guilt, and was then reprogrammed to forget all about the events, his arrest, trial and the mass executions of his friends and family.

This aspect of the Federation was based on the notorious brainwashing techniques associated with the Communist dictatorships, particularly Mao’s China and the brutal regime of ‘self-criticism’ for those who challenged the Great Leader’s precepts during the Cultural Revolution. It also bore more than a little resemblance to the Soviet abuse of psychiatry revealed by Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward. Soviet psychiatrists had invented a spurious form of ‘schizophrenia’, which was curiously amorphous, taking just about any form required by the doctors diagnosing it and their superiors. It was used to incarcerate in lunatic asylums any and all opponents of regime. These ranged from religious believers to Communist idealists, such as a general and Old Bolshevik, who vociferously felt that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union had betrayed the noble principles of the Revolution. It also harks back to Skinner’s experiments in conditioning in the 1960s, and his fictional description of a utopian system in which the citizens had perfected themselves through the use of such psychological techniques.

About a decade ago Adam Curtis described the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used Freudian theory to lay the foundations of modern PR in his landmark series, The Century of the Self. Curtis was similarly unimpressed by PR, and dissected the way such techniques were used by corporations, the government, and some of the more sinister self-improvement cults that sprang up in the 1960s to control people’s minds. He was particularly unimpressed by the way the self-realised people of the Hippy counterculture then went off and, from reasons of liberated self-interest, voted for Ronald Reagan. The existence of the Nudge Unit seems to suggest that Halpern and his fellows saw the theories, and instead of looking at the dangers and fallacies accompanying it like the rest of the viewing public, immediately thought it was all rather cool.

Blake Carnell Weapon

The psycho-social strategist Carnell and Supreme Commander of Federation forces, Servalan, contemplate the success of David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’.

Apart from the use of conditioning and psycho-therapy, the Federation armed forces also included an elite corps of ‘pscho-social strategists’, nicknamed ‘puppeteers’ by the rest of the Federation’s Starship Troopers. These specialised in using advanced psychological techniques to predict and manipulate the behaviour of the regime’s opponents. For example, in the episode, ‘Weapon’, Servalan uses one such puppeteer, Carnell, played by Scott Fredericks, to predict the mental breakdown and then manipulate a scientist, Cozer, who has designed an unstoppable superweapon, IMIPAC. Her goal is to seize the weapon for herself, while at the same killing the Blake and his crew and taking over their spaceship, the Liberator. Of course it all fails, and the weapon is taken over instead by the former slave girl, Rashel, with whom Cozer had escaped, and the other weapon in Servalan’s plan, a clone of Blake. The two become guardians of the weapon, with Travis remarking wryly ‘The weapon protects itself’.

With fears of totalitarian states manipulating and abusing their victims’ minds in reality and SF, something like the Nudge Unit would have been enough to bring anyone with a distrust of authoritarian government out onto the streets, from old school Conservatives with a hatred of Communism and Fascism all the way across the political spectrum through Liberals, Socialists to members of the Hippy counterculture, who were extremely suspicious of what their own governments were doing about this through reading the reports about MKULTRA and the CIA LSD experiments in the underground press.

And there are real dangers to this. Who, for example, decides what project is going to make people happier, with longer, better lives? Cameron undoubtedly claims it’s the Tories, but with something like 38,000 people dying per year thanks to welfare cuts and benefit sanctions, we can safely discount his opinion. Mike has several times mentioned the Nudge Unit in posts on his blog over at Vox Political, pointing out that the forms and courses used by the Coalition as part of their welfare to work package have been set up by the Nudge Unit with the deliberate intention of getting the unemployed to blame themselves, rather than the government’s policies, for their inability to get a job. Like the children in Dweck’s experiment, they are being encouraged to do better in a situation that is not their fault. It tacitly reinforces the government’s values and the economic system which leaves the unemployed without a job, and frequently without hope. And this is most definitely malign.

This is quite apart from the dangers of ‘function creep’, in which an administrative technique or department gradually acquires more power and extends its scope, as more administrators see its potential for solving their problems. The Nudge Unit is perhaps only a minor part of British government at the moment, but it has the potential to become something far larger and much more sinister. If we don’t carefully monitor it and similar initiatives, it could easily expand into something every bit as totalitarian and manipulative as Blake’s 7 Federation and its psycho-strategists.

I found the opening titles to the first season of the Blake’s 7 on Youtube. They show some of the major themes of the Federation – the use of armed force, brainwashing and surveillance. I leave it to you to decide for yourself how much of this unfortunately is coming true, though there are surveillance cameras all over the streets and Boris Jonson has bought two water cannons to use on any more protesters in London. Here it is. Enjoy!