Posts Tagged ‘Libraries’

Rachel Riley Fans Bully Ken Loach into Resigning as Anti-Racism Judge

March 25, 2020

Okay, we’re in the middle of an unprecedented public health emergency, a global pandemic that is forcing country after country across the world to go into lockdown. The French passed legislation a week or so ago stipulating that citizens had to have documented permission in order to leave the homes. Earlier this week our clown of a Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, appeared on television to tell us that he was ordering us, with certain exception, to stay in our homes. The exceptions are key workers and people caring for the sick. You are allowed to leave home to get food and other necessary visits. But that’s it. Shops, businesses and libraries are closing, and there are to be no public gatherings of more than two people.

The crisis has brought out the very best and worse of people. People are going round to check on and run errands for neighbours in high-risk categories, such as those over 70, and those with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable, like cancer patients. On the other hand, we’ve also seen mobs clearing the shelves of food and toilet paper in supermarkets and stores, hoarding them and so preventing others, like the elderly, sick and healthcare workers, from acquiring them. One of my neighbours was so upset when she personally saw this happening when she went shopping that she burst into tears in her car.

But one person the crisis hasn’t affected is Rachel Riley. She appears to be as squalid, mean-spirited, spiteful and bigoted as ever. She, Oberman and a female hack had tried to get Ken Loach and Michael Rosen dropped from judging a competition organised by the anti-racist organisation, Show Racism the Red Card, because she decided they were anti-Semites. The accusation’s risible. Ken Loach is a left-wing film auteur, who is passionately anti-racist. And that includes fighting anti-Semitism. Of course the Thatcherites inside and outside the Labour party and the Israel lobby tried to smear him as anti-Semite a year or so ago because he has directed a film attacking Israel’s barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. But he enjoys the support of very many anti-racist, self-respecting Jews in the Labour Party. When he appeared at a meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour, he was given a standing ovation.

As for Michael Rosen, not only is the accusation risible, it’s also personally offensive. Rosen’s Jewish, though this doesn’t bother the smear merchants. They seem to especially delight in smearing Jews, who dare to have the temerity to demonstrate that Judaism does not equal Zionism. Indeed, there is, or was, a bit of graffiti on a wall in Jerusalem stating ‘Judaism and Zionism are diametrically opposed’. This is an attitude completely alien to the Jewish establishment. As Tony Greenstein has pointed out time and again, the current Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis grew up in apartheid South Africa and a right-wing settlement on land stolen from the Palestinians, and led a British contingent on the March of the Flags. This is the annual event when Israeli bovver-boys goose step through the Muslim sector of Jerusalem, vandalising property and trying to intimidate the locals. Rosen is an author, poet and broadcaster. He was the Children’s Poet Laureate. I believe he has, like so many other Jewish Brits, lost relatives in the Shoah. He is a Holocaust educator, and appeared before parliament to testify about it. Like Loach, he is very, very definitely no kind of anti-Semite or Nazi. But because he dared to support Jeremy Corbyn, Riley and the other smear merchants attacked him.

Show Racism the Red Card defied the smear campaign of Riley and her fans. The organisation had received statements from people from all walks of life supporting Loach and Rosen. It therefore announced that they were delighted to have them as judges. That should have been it. But it wasn’t. Riley issued another Tweet claiming that Loach is a Holocaust denier. This was because Loach had initially supported another person, whom he believed had been unfairly accused of anti-Semitism. When he found out that the woman really was an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, he cut off all further communication. Riley deleted this Tweet, but the damage was done. Her fans and others, who had been taken in by her lie bombarded Loach and his family with abuse and threats. He has now been forced to withdraw as a judge.

Mike put up a piece commenting on this vile behaviour. He pointed out that Riley will continue bullying and smearing people until she’s stopped. He’s currently fighting a libel case brought by her, despite Riley not challenging the facts on which Mike based his statement that Riley had bullied a schoolgirl for being anti-Semitic, simply because she supported Corbyn. Mike appealed once again for donations, as justice is expensive. If he wins his case, it just might stop her trying to use the law to smear, bully and silence others. See his article at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/18/sickening-bullying-of-innocents-shows-riley-wont-stop-until-she-is-made-to/

Riley’s tactic of posting and then deleting a Tweet that could be considered libelous and an incitement to intimidation is shared by another noxious character: Tommy Robinson. The arch-islamophobe with convictions for assault and contempt of court has a habit of turning up on the doorsteps of his critics, or their elderly parents, with a couple of mates, demanding a word at all hours of the day and night. He’s also handy at dishing out smears. Mike Stuchbery, one of his most persistent critics, has been forced out of his job as a teacher and live abroad, after Robinson and his crew turned up late one night at his house, banging on the walls and windows and accusing him of being paedophile. It wasn’t remotely true, but then, as Boy George sang so long ago, ‘truth means nothing in some strange quarters’. Robinson also gets his followers to persecute and intimidate his critics, and then also denies he has deliberately provoked them. He denounces and doxes them on the Net, posting details of their home addresses, which he then deletes. No, he wasn’t sending his followers round to threaten them. It was all a mistake, and he took the offending Tweet or post off the Net as soon as possible. It’s all ‘plausible deniability’.

And Riley seems to have adopted the same tactic.

Which shouldn’t surprise anybody, considering how closely linked the Israel lobby is with the EDL. Tony Greenstein, in particularly, has documented and photographed various occasions in which pro-Israel, anti-Palestine protesters have turned up virtually arm in arm with the EDL’s squadristi. I am not accusing Riley of being an islamophobe, but she’s adopting their tactics.

She’s disgusting, and it’s long past time when anyone stopped believing her lies and abuse. I hope Mike will be able to do this when he finally has his day against her in court. Not just for Mike, but for everyone else she’s threatened, bullied and smeared.

Manifesto for a Truly Democratic, Socialist America

January 23, 2020

Bhaskar Sunkara, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (London: Verso 2019).

Introduction

This is a superb book, though conditions have changed since the book was published last year through Labour’s election defeat and the fall of Corbyn, that the new age of socialist activism and success Sunkara looks forward to is now far more doubtful. Sunkara is an American radical journalist, and the founder and editor of the left-wing magazine, Jacobin. Originally from Trinidade, he immigrated to the USA with his family when he was young. Growing up in New York, he read extensively in the Big Apple’s public library, where he came to realise the country’s dependence on services provided by the state. He immersed himself in the history and literature of socialism, finally joining the Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a registered Democrat.

The book comes praised by Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, Naomi Klein and Owen Jones. The book was partly inspired by the success of Jeremy Corbyn over here and Bernie Sanders in America in bringing socialism back into the political arena after decades of neoliberalism. This is made clear by the blurb on the dust jacket’s inside flap. This states

Socialism was pronounced dead when the Soviet Union collapsed. But with the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-led Labour party and increasing economic inequality, the politics of class struggle and wealth redistribution is back on the agenda. In The Socialist Manifesto Bhaskar Sunkara offers a primer on socialism for the twenty-first century, outlining where it came from, what it is, and what a socialist political system might look like.

Tracing the history of some of socialism’s highs and lows – from the creation of Germany’s Social Democratic Party through bloody communist revolutions to the predicaments of midcentury social democracy – Sunkara contends that, in our global age, socialism is still the only way forward. Drawing on history and his own experience in left-wing activism, Sunkara explains how socialists can win better wages and housing and create democratic institutions in workplaces and communities.

In showing how and why socialism can work today, The Socialist Manifesto is for anyone seeking a real solution to the vast inequalities of our age.

The Way to Socialism in America

The book begins with a ‘Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen’, which maps out one possible path for the transformation of America into a socialist state. Sunkara asks the reader to imagine himself as a worker at Jon Bongiovi’s pasta sauce business in Texas to show that, even under a benign and paternalistic employer, the capitalist system still leaves the workers poor and powerless. In order to compete, the firm must not only make a profit, but invest in machinery while at the same time either cutting wages or laying people off. However, the workers are empowered by a new wave of strikes and left-wing activism that sees the election of President Springsteen. Springsteen establishes a welfare state, which allows the workers to devote more of their time and energy to pressing for their demands without having to fear for their livelihood. The worker’s movement continues making gains until the economy has become nationalised. Individual firms still exist, and are run by the workers themselves rather than the state. Some of them fail. But there are also government banking schemes to help workers set up their own businesses, though still state-owned and collectively managed, when they have a good idea and are fed up with their present job. Like bottling pasta sauce. America is still a vibrant democracy, and there are a number of other parties, including a capitalist party, though that is waning in popularity. It’s not utopia, but it is a system where workers are genuinely valued.

The Rise and Transformation of Socialism from Marxism to Reformism

The socialism, whose history the book tells and advocates, is that the Marxist and Marxist derived parties, Communism and social democracy, rather than the Utopian socialism of the generation before Marx and the more extreme versions of anarchist communism and syndicalism. The book naturally describes the career of Marx and Engels, and the formation of the German SDP. This moved away from revolutionary Marxism to reformism under the influences of Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, who believed that capitalism’s survival and the growing prosperity of industrial workers had disproven crucial aspects of Marxist doctrine. Initially pacifist, like the other European socialist parties, the SDP voted for war credits at the outbreak of the First World War. This caused a split, with a minority forming the Independent Socialists (USPD) and the Communist Party. When the 1919 revolution broke out, the majority SDP under President Ebert moved to crush it using right-wing Freikorps brigades. Although the SDP was one prop of the Weimar coalition, it was never able to establish socialism in Germany, and so fell with the other parties in the collapse of the Republic to the Nazis.

Russian Communism

Sunkara’s account of the rise of Russian communism is interesting for his argument that the Bolsheviks originally weren’t any more dictatorial than their rivals, the Mensheviks. Even Kautsky recognised the need for a strong, centralised party. But Lenin originally was no dictator. Pravda rejected 44 of his articles, and the were other voices as strong or stronger within the party. What pushed it towards first authoritarianism and then totalitarianism was the stubborn opposition of the rival socialist parties, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. They were invited to join a government coalition with the Bolsheviks, but walked out and began active opposition. The Revolution was then threatened by the revolt of the Whites, leading to the Civil War, in which Britain and other western countries sent troops in order to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. This, and the chaotic conditions created by the Revolution itself led to the Bolshevik party assuming a monopoly of state power, partly as the only means available of restoring order. This began the party’s journey towards the murderously repressive state it became, though interparty democracy was still alive in the 1920s before the rise of Stalin.

Mao and China

The emergence of communism in China, its seizure of power and the reign of Chairman Mao is also covered as an example of socialism in the Third World. The nations of the Developing World, like China, took over revolutionary socialism – communism – rather than reformism, because conditions in Russia more closely resembled those in their nations. Russian had been a largely agricultural country, in which the majority of its citizens were peasants. Industrial workers’ similarly represented only a minuscule fraction of the Chinese population, and so Mao turned to the peasants instead as a revolutionary force. This chapter concludes that Chinese communism was less about empowering and liberating the workers than as a movement for national modernisation.

Sweden and the Rise and Fall of Social Democracy

The book also examines the rise and progress of Swedish social democracy. The Swedish socialist party took power early through alliances with the Agrarians and the Liberals. This allowed them to introduce generous welfare legislation and transform the country from one of the most socially backward, feudal and patriarchal states in Europe to the progressive nation it is today. But there were also losses as well as gains. The Swedes compromised their commitment to all-out socialism by preserving private industry – only 5 per cent of the Swedish economy was nationalised – and acting to regulate the economy in alliance with the trade unions and industrialists. This corporative system collapsed during the oil crisis of the 1970s. This caused inflation. The government tried to resist wage rises, which the unions resisted. The industrialists resented the growth of working class activism and began measures to counteract them. Olof Palme, the country’s prime minister, then moved in a left-ward direction through establishing funds that would allow the trade unions gradually to buy up companies. The industrialists recognised an existential threat, and succeeded in overthrowing the government.

The Swedish model, meanwhile, had been highly influential through Labour party MP Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, which in turn led to Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ as the Labour government in Britain moved from social democracy to a more left-wing alternative to neoliberalism. Other European socialist parties followed, such as the German SDP. France’s President Mitterand in the 1980s tried to break this pattern in the 1980s, but his government was also overthrown through capital flight, the industrialists taking their money out of the French economy. Mitterand tried to hang on by promising to safeguard industry and govern responsibly, but it was no use.

Socialism and America

The chapter on socialism in America is particularly interesting, as it shows, contrary to the impression given by America’s two-party system, that the country has a very strong history and tradition of working class parties and socialism, from combative unions like the IWW to organised parties like the Knights of Labor, Democratic Socialists of America, and the Socialist Labor, Populist, Progressive and Communist Parties. However, socialism has never gained power there, as it has in Britain and Europe, because of a variety of factors. These include the extreme violence of the state and private industry, the latter hiring gunmen, to put down strikes; factional infighting between socialist groups, partly caused by the extreme range of socialist opinions and the restriction of some socialist groups to particular ethnicities, and the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.

A strategy for Success

Thechapter ‘How We Win’ contains Sunakara’s own observations and recommendations for socialist campaigning and the construction of genuine socialism in America. These are

1. Class-struggle social democracy does not close down avenues for radicals; it opens them.

2. Class-struggle social democracy has the potential to win a major national election today.

3. Winning an election isn’t the same as winning power.

4. They’ll do everything to stop us.

5. Our immediate demands are very much achievable.

6. We must move quickly from social democracy to democratic socialism.

7. We need socialists.

8. The working class had changed over the past hundred and fifty years, but not as much we think.

9. Socialists must embed themselves in working class struggles.

10. It is not enough to work with unions for progressive change. We must wage democratic battles within them.

11. A loose network of leftists and rank-and-file activists isn’t enough. We need a political party.

12. We need to take into account American particularities.

13. We need to democratise our political institutions.

14. Our politics must be universalist.

15. History matters.

Conclusion

This is the clarion call for genuinely radical activism. It will almost certainly start right-wing alarm bells ringing, as Sunkara calls for left-wing activists to join main parties like the Democrats in the US and Labour in Britain. They are not to be infiltrators, but as people genuinely committed to these parties and working peoples’ causes and issues. The claims that the working class has somehow died out or no longer has radical potential is overstated. It has changed, but 60 per cent of the population are still employees drawing wages or a salary, and who have no money of their own. And the book shows very clearly that the transformation to a genuinely socialist economy is needed. Social democracy has won considerable gains for working people, gains that still persist despite constant right-wing attack. But these aren’t enough, and if left unchallenged, capital will always try to destroy them.

The book’s angled towards the US, but its lessons and many of its recommendations still apply of this side of the pond. The resurgence of genuine socialist activism in Britain is now far less certain in Britain. But hopefully this book will help show to more people why it’s still possible and needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Course the Tories Are Privatising the NHS

November 29, 2019

More lies from the party of smear and bully: they’re denying they’re selling off the NHS. At around 10.00 O’Clock on Wednesday Jeremy Corbyn appeared, brandishing a copy of the documents of the negotiations between Donald Trump and his British counterpart, Boris. And two minutes after he made his speech, the Tory spin machine trundled into action using what Peter Oborne has called its paramilitary wing, Guido Fawkes. The site stated that they had all six of the documents Corbyn had seen, and one didn’t mention the NHS at all. And the second, he declared, showed that Britain was heading for cheaper drugs through the deal with the Americans.

The Torygraph’s Christopher Hope then claimed that Corbyn was a threat to national security, as those documents had been marked secret. Zelo Street has pointed out how hypocritical this is, coming from the man or the paper that leaked ambassador Kim Darroch’s confidential views on what a massive imbecile Trump is. Tory chairman James Cleverly decided to add his tuppence worth’s, a declared that this breach of confidentiality by Corbyn showed his wasn’t fit to be Prime Minister. This was then refuted by Aaron Bastani of Novara Media, who pointed out that if that was true, then what about Fawkes, which had uploaded the documents with the civil servants’ names attached. Which Corbyn hadn’t done. And Pete tweeted that the documents actually showed that NHS access to generic drugs is an issue for the US.

This was confirmed by Steve Peers, who cited the relevant texts to disprove the Fawkes’ lies utterly. Peers tweeted

This is either ignorant or dishonest about Trump’s trade policy on drug pricing. It’s the other way around – Trump’s policy is to *increase* the prices paid for drugs outside the US … Here’s Trump’s policy on drug pricing in his own words, objecting to ‘unreasonably low prices’ outside the US – from the House of Lords library briefing on ‘the NHS and future trade deals’, 4 July 2019.

Some have objected to Corbyn saying that Trump seeks ‘full market access’ for medical products. But this phrase is found in the Trump administration’s own public document setting out its objectives in the US/UK talks … this falls short of the claim that “the NHS is for sale” in the trade talks with Trump. But we do know: a) patents/NHS drug pricing is under discussion (although we can’t be certain what final FTA would say on this) … b) Trump’s objective is NHS paying *more*, not less.

Zelo Street concluded its coverage of this with the comment

‘Labour’s revelation has cut through. The Tory boot boys have confirmed it. Game changer.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/labour-nhs-leak-validated-by-tory-spin.html

But the Tories are still pursuing a policy of NHS privatisation even without the wretched trade negotiation with Trump.

They and the Blairites have been doing it for forty years, ever since Thatcher got into power in 1979. She really did want to privatise the NHS completely, but was only prevented by a cabinet revolt. So she contented herself with privatising the ancillary services by opening them up to private tender, and trying to encourage a target of 15 per cent of the British population to take out private health insurance instead.

This piecemeal privatisation continued under John Major, who introduced the private finance initiative, in which private firms would cooperate with the government to build hospitals. A few years ago Private Eye published a piece on this, revealing that its architect, Peter Lilly, saw it as an opportunity to open up the NHS to private enterprise.

Then in 1997 Blair’s new Labour came to power, and the process of privatisation was ramped up. Blair was no kind of socialist. He was an ardent Thatcherite, who the Leaderene in her turn hailed as her greatest success. He immediately pushed through a series of reforms in which the management of hospitals would be opened up to private healthcare companies. At the same time, the NHS could also contract in private healthcare providers like hospitals. The new polyclinics or health centres that the Blair regime established were also to be privately managed by companies like BUPA, Circle Health and Virgin Healthcare. And the Community Care Groups of doctors, which were supposed to be responsible for allowing doctors to manage their own funds, were part of this policy. They could raise money through private enterprise and contract in private healthcare companies.

One of Blair’s Health Secretaries wished to reduce the NHS to nothing more than a kitemark on services provided by private companies.

And this policy was continued and expanded in turn by the Tories.

They have done nothing to repeal any of this legislation. Instead they have taken it further. Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill is particularly obnoxious as underneath its convoluted verbiage it absolves the Health Secretary from the responsibility of ensuring that everyone in the UK has access to proper healthcare. This overturns one of the core principles of the NHS that has been there ever since it was set up by Nye Bevan and the Labour Party in 1948.

And it has gone on. The Tories wanted to give whole regions over to private healthcare providers, which would have brought the NHS’ complete privatisation that much closer. At the moment the majority of medical contracts have been given to private healthcare providers. Mike revealed on his blog that about 309 contracts had been given out, thus refuting the Tory claim that they aren’t selling the Health Service off.

Let’s be clear: Corbyn is not wrong and the Tories ARE selling the NHS – now

This is a process that has been going for decades. But it is extensively covered by books like Raymond Tallis’ and Jackie Davis’ NHS – SOS. I’ve also written pamphlets on it, one of which is still available from Lulu. See my publications’ page on this site. And there are other books. Many others.

The Tories are selling off the NHS, and it is only Corbyn and his team that oppose it. The Blairites in Labour and the Lib Dems are utterly complicit in it.

If you still value the NHS, vote Labour.

Alexei Sayle on Comedy and Politics in Yesterday’s ‘Metro’

September 28, 2019

Alexei Sayle, one of the pillars of the ’80s Alternative Comedy wave which spawned The Young Ones, French and Saunders, the Comic Strip and Ben Elton was interviewed in yesterday’s Metro (27th September 2019). The man’s 67, but still angry – although the interview also says he’s mellowing – and stars in a series on Radio 4 set in a sandwich bar and due to have a headline gig at the Southport Comedy Festival. Speaking to the paper’s Jade Wright, Sayle talked about his career, the state of modern comedy and attacked austerity, the Tories and supposedly ‘moderate’ politicians, who support them. It’s interesting in that Sayle also champions Jeremy Corbyn, without the paper trying to attack the Labour leader in response or a snide aside. The interview on page 51 and continued on page 54 is entitled ‘Sayle Now On’. It’s too long for me to type it up as a whole, but here’s the bits where he mostly talks about politics, along with his family background and the lack of left-wing comedians today.

Alexei Sayle might have been in the comedy business for 40 years, but he’s not lost any of his flair for contemporary analysis. His take that ‘austerity is the idea that the 2008 financial crash was caused by Wolverhampton having too many libraries’ has been spreading like wildfire on social media. May that’s because, as he claims, there’s a surprising shortage of anti-establishment comedians.

‘There’s a gap in the market. Even if they didn’t believe in it, you’d expect someone to do it, just for the money,’ he says. ‘there were loads of left-wing comedians in the 1980s. Where are the new Ben Eltons now?’

His new Radio 4 show, Alexei Sayle’s Imaginary Sandwich Bar, in which the Wolverhampton library gag first appeared, is the Liverpool comedian on his usual erudite, and angry, form. As is evident from the show, he’s become a passionate advocate for Jeremy Corbyn and the grassroots movement he has created. ‘When people sneer at Jeremy Corbyn, it drives me nuts,’ Alexei says. ‘To hear him being called a racist by racists, it’s beyond belief. And yet I have friends who are taken in by this s**t.’

‘I hear him talk, and it makes sense, then it gets deliberately misrepresented by people who have something to gain from that, people who are very much part of the establishment.

Alexei grew up in Liverpool. His mum, Molly, was a pools clerk from a Lithuanian Jewish family and his father, Joseph, was a railway guard. Both were members of the Communist Party. But, while always political, he was keen from a young age to find his own voice. ‘I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think things are changing’, he says. ‘Voters are seeing through the politicians who claim to have moderate views, but actually what they’re saying is really quite extreme.

‘For a long time the politicians from all parties were all fighting over the votes in the middle. Politics went from strongly right-wing to mildly left-wing and there were lots of voices that didn’t get heard at all, loads of people who didn’t vote.

‘You had all these modern, careerist MPs who were almost indistinguishable from each other. But austerity has disproportionately affected young people and other groups who felt there was no one to speak for them. There are new people registering to vote all the time. Maybe they have more hope now.’

So is Alexei more hopeful, too? ‘Yes,’ he says, before pausing. ‘Maybe. More so lately. Suddenly, from nowhere, they have a genuinely left-wing leader and new voices who are vocally opposing austerity as the political ideal it is.’

‘It was never a necessity for force terminally ill people to look for jobs or to close libraries. That was a series of political decisions that didn’t really save any money any way. Now we have a leader who will speak up.’

I was never a fan of Sayle’s comedy myself, as I simply didn’t find it funny. Much of it just struck me as just abuse, without anything really deep being said. But here he’s pretty much right. The only thing I differ from him here is when he says that things have gone from extreme right to mildly left-wing. Blair was always a member of the Thatcherite extreme right. He and the rest of New Labour really did want to sell off the NHS, although I think he definitely believed in making sure that medical care was free. And he also introduced the work capability tests that have caused so many desperately ill people to be thrown off benefits, to live and die in starvation and misery. What differed about Blair is that he was genuinely anti-racist, pro-gay and anti-sexist – so long as they supported him – and was careful to sound slightly left-wing. Even when he was aiming at the same voting constituency as the Tories, using the same ministers, who had crossed the floor from the Tory party, like Chris Patten, and was taking money from the same corporate donors.

But people are waking up to how they were fooled and the country run down by the ‘moderates’ as well as the Tories and the Lib Dems. People do feel they have hope for a better future under Corbyn. As for comedy, the complaint on the right is that there are few right-wing comedians and that it’s all biased against the Tories. Which is rubbish. Buddy Hell over at Guy Debord’s Cat also wrote a blog piece complaining that the contemporary aspiring comedians he’d seen really don’t have anything funny to say. Their act simply consists of them telling the story of their life. I’m not in show business, so I have no idea why this should be so. It might simply be that the people who aspire to be comedians have been inspired by the autobiographical, observational comedy of people like Sayle, but don’t really have anything to say. It may also simply be that as the left-wing comedians of the 1980s matured and were overtaken by other comics, there was a reaction against the older generation’s political comedy. Even so, shows like The Last Leg are still managing to put a well aimed kick to the Tories. But perhaps, if more people are being inspired politically by Corbyn, this will also spur a new generation of angry left-wingers to subject the establishment to bitter scorn and derision. While showing that there can be a better world without people like Johnson, May, Cameron, Swinson and the rest of them, of course.

 

Private For-Profit University Collapses in London

August 5, 2019

Last Thursday’s I for 1st August 2019 carried a report by Ewan Somerville on the  collapse of one of the private universities set up in recent decades, GSM, on page 11. The article, titled ‘Private London university GSM collapses’, ran

One of Britain’s largest private universities has collapsed into administration, leaving thousands of students fearing they will not be able to complete their degrees.

GSM London, a for-profit private degree provider with 3,500 students, will close in September after failing to “recruit and retain sufficient numbers of students” to stay afloat. It says 247 jobs are threatened.

The UCU lecturers’ union blamed the “marketisation of education” and warned against an “increase in poorly regulated private providers”.

Jeffrey Fernhout, 23, who has just completed an economics degree at GSM, told the I he received “no warning” about the collapse. “This has left a lot of students angry, frustrated and uncertain about their future,” he said. “But the organisation was very badly managed so this isn’t a shock.”

The Office for Students, the higher education watchdog, said its “priority is to ensure that students are able to complete their studies”. GSM promised to “support as far as possible “those needing to be relocated.

The Department for Education reiterated its stance of not “bail(ing) out failing providers”.

So much for their superiority of market forces and private enterprise. Of course, this isn’t the only university in trouble. Very many are experience financial problems, partly due to cuts in government funding. When I was studying for my Archaeology Ph.D. at Bristol, I was told that the archaeology department was faced with laying off some of its teaching staff because of funding cuts made by the Blair government. Blair, Mandelson and co. funding policy was inadequate to support courses that required expensive technical equipment. I also heard from academic friends this weekend that one university has also been forced to close their conservation course for archives and libraries, despite it being considered the leading course of this type in the country. Again, the reason was the high cost of funding against the small number of students taking the course. It’s a financially simplistic attitude that ignores the fact that archives and libraries need skilled conservators, and that the money spent on such a course is repaid in the continuing upkeep of rare and valuable materials held in institutions up and down the country.

I also think that many other universities, which are similarly experiencing financial problems, also have problems recruiting the necessary number of students. Years ago, way back at the beginning of the century, another academic friend of mine predicted this would happen. He had been looking at the demographic rates, and concluded that the bulge in the number of people in their late teens and early twenties, who would enter Higher Education, had passed. Colleges and polytechnics, which were perfectly good as they were, were encouraged, if not required to expand into universities. I think that as a result, many of them have seriously overstretched themselves. Universities have complained that the initial student fees they were allowed to charge, which were capped at £3,000, were inadequate. Hence the increase to £9,000. And this has led in turn to massive student debt.

Many students now feel that they cannot afford their education, and that includes nurses. A little while ago BBC Bristol produced a documentary reporting that students number on nursing courses had fallen. Interviewing some of those still on the course, they explained that the reason was that they simply could not afford to support themselves and pay the tuition fees. Some of those still on the course explained that they had to work to support themselves. These young people often worked long hours, as well as the time they spent on their academic and practical studies. Those aspiring nurses, who are continuing their studies in this environment, are clearly to be admire for their dedication. But it’s a deplorable way to treat the future skilled medical staff which Britain needs, especially with its aging population.

And the situation has not been helped by the concern of university management and administrators for their own enrichment at the expense of teaching staff. I understand that many of the lecturers at universities are actually poorly paid. Quite a number actually work only part-time, because full-time positions are rare and extremely difficult to get. Meanwhile, we’ve seen a procession of university chancellors awarding themselves salaries in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. This mirrors the way business management has consistently voted massive pay rises for themselves, while cutting investment and freezing pay or even finding ways to deliberately underpay their employees. Like zero hours contracts.

But despite the precariousness of university finances, thanks to Thatcherite educational policies, the government is determined not to give financial support to those failing. Which means that if they go under, tens of thousands of students will have racked up tens of thousands in debt for zilch.

The introduction of market forces and the privatisation of Higher and Further Education is a failure. It’s leaving universities in financial trouble, forcing some lecturers and other non-management staff to accept poor wages and job insecurity, and leaving students with a mountain of debt which many will find impossible to pay off.

It’s another example of the utter failure of Thatcherism, despite its continuing loud promotion by a shrilly intolerant media and political establishment. It’s time to bring it to an end, and get rid of it. All of it, including the parties supporting it – the Brexiteers, the Tories and the Lib Dems. Get them out, and a proper Labour government in.

 

 

 

Two Books Showing Bristol Has Not Kept Secret Its Involvement in the Slave Trade

June 6, 2019

The week before last, Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns was in Bristol, examining its history in the Georgian period. The show’s presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, who I believe is the Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham University. She’s had a long career in television presenting programmes on archaeology, history and human evolution, beginning in the 1980s with Time Team. She’s a medical doctor, who I believe also taught anatomy at Bristol University. She regularly appeared on Time Team to give her opinion on any human remains that were recovered during their escavations.

Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Most Historic Towns’

Time Team was finally cancelled after a very successful run several years ago, but like its presenter Tony Robinson, Roberts has continued fronting history and archaeology programmes. Each week the show visits a different British town and explores a specific period of its history. Roberts tours the town, talking to experts on its history and architecture during the period, and very often tries on the ladies’ costume at the time. Last year among the various towns the series covered was Cheltenham during its heyday as a regency spa. This year’s series started off with Dover, concentrating on it history during World War II. Last week it was looking at Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, when the city became the major centre of the global coal industry. And the week before that they were in Bristol, telling its history during the Georgian period. Roberts has a personal connection to the city, as it’s her home town and she went to school here. She also had a personal connection to Cardiff, as it was at its university that she studied medicine.

Georgian Bristol

During the Georgian period – the age of the four Georges, from the early 18th century to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 – Bristol was one of the leading cities in Britain. It’s a port, whose location on the Bristol Channel gave it an excellent position for trading with Africa and America. The programme covered other aspects of Bristol’s history during the period, like the emergence of gin, the 1827 massacre by the army in Queen’s Square in Redcliffe of a mob demanding electoral reform, and the development of the Clifton and Hotwells suburbs as genteel residential areas for the city’s new mercantile elite. But Bristol’s wealth at the time was largely produced from the immense profits from the slave trade. Ships from Bristol took trade goods down to west Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the West Indies to be sold, and the ships returned to Bristol with West Indian goods like sugar and rum in what has become known as the triangular trade. And it was on this aspect of Bristol’s Georgian history that the programme concentrated.

The show is well done and the research is very thorough. Among those Roberts talked to was Dr. Steve Poole, a lecturer at the University of the West of England; a member of Bristol’s Radical History Group, who talked about the Queen’s Square Massacre; and a couple of distillers, who showed her how 18th century gin was made. She also talked to Dr. Edson Burnett about the slave trade, going through some of the ledgers left by the slavers itemising their ships’ human cargo in the city archives. Some of these are really shocking. They simply give the number of slaves shipped aboard, and the deaths during the voyage. Those taken were simply items of merchandise, with no names. The ledgers give brief descriptions of those who died and how the body was disposed of. They were simply thrown over the side. One of the most horrendous incidents was the scandal surrounding the Zong, a slave ship, which threw its entire cargo of slaves overboard during a storm, and then tried to sue the insurance company for compensation for them as lost cargo. It’s a horrific atrocity and injustice. She also mentioned how a number of plays were written during the 18th century attacking the slave trade, many of which were set in Bristol. She then spoke to the writer and artistic director of a modern play about the trade being staged by Bristol’s historic Old Vic theatre.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

The programme’s coverage of Bristol’s history during the period was fair, although there was much obviously left out because of the constraints of the programme’s length. It’s an hour long, and it could easily take that long to discuss the city’s involvement with the slave trade and some of the architecture that was built for the merchants involved in the trade. As it was, the programme showed only one of them, the house of George Pinney, a 19th century West India planter and merchant. This is now a museum, the Georgian House, open to the public in one of the streets just off Park Street. However, Roberts opened the discussion of the city’s complicity in the slave trade with a statement that was simply wrong. She said that it was a terrible secret.

Exhibitions

Well, if Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is a secret, then it’s a very badly kept one! Bristol’s M Shed museum, which takes visitors through the city’s history and some of its industries, including aircraft and motor vehicles built here, has a display on the slave trade. This shows not only slave manacles and the manillas, bracelet-like items used for barter, but also maps of homes and other properties owned and occupied by the slave merchants and plantation owners. This follows an earlier exhibit at the City Museum in Queen Street, ‘A Respectable Trade’, which was timed to coincide with the TV series of that name on BBC 1, based on the book by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. The book and TV series were about the slave trade, and much of it was set in the Bristol of the time. The exhibition was staged by local council and showed the historical reality on which the fiction was based. Gregory also appeared in a TV programme at the time, exploring the city’s connection to the slave trade, in which she spoke to several Black anti-racist activists.

Books and Pamphlets

Since then there have been a number of books published on Bristol and the slave trade. The city library has published a catalogue of books and other materials it holds on the subject.  There has also been a book published on the City in 1807, the year in which the slave trade was officially prohibited throughout the British Empire. Dr. Madge Dresser, a historian at the University of the West of England, has also published a book, Slavery Obscured, on the persistence of the slave trade after its formal abolition, in which merchants from Bristol were involved. And back in the 1990s the local branch of the Historical Association published a booklet on Bristol’s Black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Merchant Venturers, the mercantile organisation that dominated Bristol’s trade in that period, has also published a catalogue of its holdings, which included it’s members’ plantations in the West Indies.

Origin of Belief Bristol Keeping Slave Trade Connection Secret

I’ve been told by members of the city’s Black cultural and anti-racist organisations that the idea that the city council is somehow covering up the city’s involvement in the slave trade dates from the 1970s. A member of the community rang the council up to inquire about what they knew about Bristol and the slave trade, only to be told that the city wasn’t involved in it. Which is wrong. I wonder if the person, who answered the call genuinely didn’t know about Bristol’s history of slaving. But whatever the reality, this planted the idea that the city council was deliberating hiding the truth. I think it was partly to dispel this idea that the City Museum staged the 1995 exhibition.

Two Books on Bristol from the 1950s and 1970s

But even before then, the city’s involvement in the slave trade was known and discussed. For example, the book Bristol and Its Adjoining Counties, edited by C.M. MacInnes and W.F. Whittard, and published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, has several pages on the slave trade in the chapter by MacInnes, ‘Bristol and Overseas Expansion’, pp. 219-230.

The 1975 textbook, Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey, published by Georges, also covers the slave trade in its chapter on city’s 18th century trade, pp. 31-2. All the chapters are a page or so in length, with another page suggesting projects or containing questions for students on that period of the city’s history. The paragraph on the slave trade runs

Unfortunately, Bristol was better known at this time for its links with the slave trade. The “Blackbirds” sailed to Africa with various goods, exchanged them for slaves which were then shipped to the West Indies or North America. The ships then returned home iwth sugar and tobacco, the whole “Triangular Trade” bringing enormous profits to many Bristol merchants. Before 1760, Bristol carried about one-third of all the slaves, but this number died away by the end of the century as the anti-slavery movement made progress. (p. 31).

Few Obvious Monuments to Slave Trade in City

I also think that part of this misconception may come from the fact that there are few monuments from the time that obviously have direct connections to the slave trade. When I was studying archaeology at Bristol, one of the foreign students on the archaeology course complained to one of the lecturers that her housemate believed Bristol was racist, because there were no monuments for the slaves. The housemate was another foreign student, from Guiana, where I believe the buildings for landing and sale of slaves still exist. I think the student expected similar buildings to exist in Bristol. But they don’t, as the bulk of the city’s slave trade was with the West Indies. There were slaves in Bristol, but these were brought to the city as personal servants, rather than imported en masse as they were in the Caribbean.

Historic Buildings and Later Monuments Connected to Slaves and Slave Trade

However, there are architectural hints at the city’s connection to the slave trade all around. The city’s merchants decorated the exterior of their homes with carvings symbolising their connection to Africa or the Caribbean, such as pineapples. There are also coloured statues, representing the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas in St. Nicholas Market, one of which is a Black African. And several of the city’s pubs also claim a direct connection to the trade. The Ostrich, one of the pubs on the harbourside, had a cellar, in which, it was claimed, slaves were held ready for sale. When I used to drink there in the 1990s there was a poster up about it, along with reproductions of the advertisements of the time for runaway slaves. However, it may be the reality here was more prosaic. The 1995 exhibition said that many the connection of many of parts of Bristol to the slave trade may just be urban folklore. Blackboy Hill, for example, is probably not named after a slave boy, but possibly a racehorse owned by Charles II. The city has also made other gestures to commemorating the victims of the slave trade. There’s a slave walk along Bristol’s docks, and a plaque put up to those enslaved by city on one of the former warehouses by M Shed. A remarkable bridge built across the docks in the 1990s, which features two horn-like constructions, has been called ‘Pero’s Bridge’, after one of the slaves imported into Bristol. And there is a gravestone for Scipio, an African slave brought to the city by his master in one of the city’s churchyards.

Bristol has a very rich and fascinating history, of which the slave trade is one part. It’s a history that definitely needs to be told. And it has only been within the last quarter century or so that the slave trade has been memorialised in local museums, not just in Bristol, but also elsewhere. Bristol has joined Liverpool and Nantes in France in creating exhibitions and galleries on its involvement in the trade. Before then it’s fair to say that City Museum did not display anything on the slave trade. It was a period of the city’s history that most Bristolians probably would have preferred not to commemorate, but it was never forgotten nor kept hidden.

 

Handbook of Disability History in Latest Oxbow Book Catalogue

March 31, 2019

I got the latest issue of Oxbow Book News, for Spring 2019, through the post the other day. Oxbow are specialist booksellers and publishers for archaeology and history. The Book News is really a catalogue of what they have in stock. And in the latest issue was The Oxford Handbook of Disability History, edited by Michael Rembis, Catherine J. Kudlick and Kim Nielsen (Oxford: OUP 2018). The blurb for it in the catalogue runs

Disability history exists outside of the institutions, healers, and treatments it often brings to mind. It is a history where the disabled live not just as patients or cure-seekers, but rather as people living differently in the world. The Oxford Handbook of Disability History is the first volume of its kind to represent this history and its global scale, from ancient Greece to British West Africa. The twenty-seven articles, written by thirty experts from across the field, capture the diversity and liveliness of this emerging scholarship.

Unfortunately, this book is going to be well beyond most people’s pockets. It’s hardback, and the listed price is £97.00, which means that it’s only really going to be affordable to the very affluent. On the other hand, you might be able to order it from your local library, assuming that the Tories haven’t shut it down already.

What is interesting is what its publication on its own says about this as an emerging area of scholarship. It says that the history of disabled people themselves is coming to be recognised as a field of historical research and endeavour by itself, alongside other disciplines in social history like Black, women’s, and gender history. It’s possible that this is part of a change in general cultural attitudes towards the disabled, in the way that the Black civil rights and feminist movements directly caused the emergence of Black and women’s history. Unfortunately, despite this apparent change in academic attitudes, popular attitude towards people with disabilities still has some way to go. We still have the Tories closing down services for disabled people in the name of austerity, efficiency and all the hypocritical cant about concentrating resources where they’re really needed. And we still have the wretched Tory press and media demonising them as welfare scroungers. A week or so ago Zelo Street put up a post about the Spectator’s Rod Liddle attacking people with ME as malingerers, who didn’t have a real illness. To which the answer is, no, Rod, it is, they are, and you’re a soulless Murdoch hack. This wasn’t the first time he’s taken a swipe at the disabled either. A few years ago he wrote a piece about how he’d like to get a disability, that would allow him to get off work without really being disabled. Once again, he went for ME and fibromyalgia. I’ve known people with ME. They’re not malingerers, and it’s a real illness which leaves them wiped out through chronic fatigue. And it’s a long time since doctors seriously doubted whether it really existed. I think that stopped with the end of the 1980s. But obviously not in Liddle’s squalid excuse for a mind. And if you need convincing that fibromyalgia is a real disease, go over to Mike’s blog and look up some of the posts, where he mentions the suffering it’s caused Mrs. Mike. This is real, genuine pain, and definitely not imaginary. Unlike Liddle’s pretensions to objective journalism.

This looks like it could be a very interesting volume. It’s too bad it’s price puts it beyond the reach of most of us. Hopefully this will lead to further scholarship, some of which will be aimed at a less restricted audience beyond academia, and will be at a more affordable price. And I hope some of it is also taken up by activists, who use it to challenge the assumptions of Liddle and the rest of the close-minded bigots in the right-wing press and Tory party.

Declassified Irish Documents: MI5 Tried to Get UVF to Assassinate Charles Haughey

January 3, 2018

There’s an interesting article in Counterpunch today by John Wight, which might add a new dimension to the government losing around 2,000 files from the National Archives last week. The files were supposed to have been taken out by Home Office civil servants, and covered a range of very sensitive incidents, from the notorious Zinoviev Letter, through to the assassination in the 1970s of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, and the dirty war in Northern Ireland. Human Rights campaigners were alarmed in case this was an attempt to cover up human rights violations by the British state in Ulster in the long campaign against the IRA and related terror groups. The Zinoviev Letter, you will remember, was the forged letter by the British security services, which purported to be from Zinoviev, the head of Stalin’s Comintern, congratulating the Labour party on preparing to take over Britain in a revolution.

A number of Labour MPs have already made their feeling about the disappearance of the files clear, stating that this is another Orwellian attempt by the Tories to rewrite or obscure history.

It is, and this isn’t the first time the Tories have borrowed sensitive files to make sure they’re out of circulation. Anyone remember a similar incident a few years ago, when government documents similarly went missing from the archives, only for the minister responsible to claim that he had just ‘innocently’ taken them away to help him with a book he was writing? I didn’t believe that story then. The Tories have offered no excuse now, which does make you wonder what they’re trying to hide.

Some clue to this comes from Irish government documents from the 1980s that have been released under their 30-year rule. This includes a letter from the Protestant terrorist group, the UVF, to Charles Haughey, informing him that they were approached by an MI5 officer, who wished them to assassinate the Irish president. John Wight in his article about this in today’s Counterpunch writes

Said papers confirm that in 1987 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), one of the oldest and most notorious of the various loyalist/Protestant paramilitary organizations that were engaged in sectarian violence in the province during the Troubles, wrote to the then Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey in Dublin, informing him that in 1985 they were approached by Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, with a request to assassinate him.

We learn that in the letter the UVF told Mr Haughey, “In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and based in Lisburn, AlexJones was his supposed name. He asked us to execute you.” The letter subsequently goes on to allege that Britain’s MI5 supplied the group with information such as pictures of Haughey’s home, his private yacht, and details of the vehicles he travelled in.

The UVF refused follow through on MI5’s request, telling Mr Haughey, “We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/03/britains-dirty-war-in-ireland-revisited/

In fact, MI5 and the British government probably weren’t the only ones making covert plans to overthrow the opposite side. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s, Lobster covered a piece in the Irish Republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, which claimed that there had been a scheme during Haughey’s premiership to stir up sectarian violence in order to provide a pretext for an invasion of Ulster from the Republic. The plan was that after rioting and sectarian violence, armed forces from the south would enter the Six Countries as a peace-keeping force. If this is also true, then nobody, on either side of the Irish border, ends up looking good. Or anything other than deeply duplicitous and murderous.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the British state was supplying intelligence to the loyalist terror gangs, so that they could assassinate leading Republicans, as Wight’s article goes on to discuss. And there is also evidence that secret SAS units were being embedded within regular army units in Northern Ireland to act as death squads. All of which makes it very clear that there’s much in the files that this Tory government would very, very much want to hide.

Mike has already suggested that a way to stop files going missing in the future would be for the National Archives to be run like a proper library: those borrowing books have a ticket, and it is known who has borrowed what, and that they must return it on time. I completely agree, but this is too efficient, and would prevent the government from having a convenient pretext with which to lose files when their contents prove inconvenient.

And the government’s behaviour in this respect is very much like the Russian authorities during the old Communist system. Foreign researchers were at liberty to use files in the Soviet archives. However, if you wanted something sensitive or incriminating, you’d be told that those files were out. Which sounds exactly like what has been going on here.

Books on Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean Archaeology

December 30, 2017

A few months ago I got through the post the 2017 archaeology catalogue for Eurospan University Presses. Amongst some of the fascinating books listed were several on the archaeology of Black communities in America and the Caribbean. As you’ll see, they’re at prices well beyond what ordinary readers can afford. They’re really available only to the rich and academic libraries. If you’ve got access to one near you, then I recommend you try to borrow it from there. Some universities do lend to members of the public in the summer holidays when most of the students have gone home. It might also be possible to get it on interlibrary loan, although this can also mean a long wait and isn’t cheap either. The last time I enquired about it at Bristol, I was told the price was £5 per book. Which means that if you want to borrow more than one, it can become very expensive very quickly. Dam’ Tories and their cuts! I don’t know, but it may also be that some of these books may be available in PDF form over the Net at a cheaper rate. This isn’t mentioned in the catalogue, but it might be so. Alternatively, you could see if there are secondhand copies on Amazon. On the other hand, it might be worth waiting to see if a paperback edition comes out, which may be cheaper.

Here are the books I found interesting, and the blurbs for them in the catalogue.

Archaeologies of African American Life in the Upper Mid-Atlantic, edited by Michael J. Gall & Richard F. Veit
9780817319656 Hardback £74.50

Provides insights into the archaeology and cultural history of African-American life from a collection of sites in the northeastern US. This volume explores the archaeology of African-American life and cultures in the Upper Mid-Atlantic region, suing sites dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.

University of Alabama Press.

Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves and the Founding of Miami, Andre F. Krank, 9780813054513, hardback £18.50

Formed seemingly out of steel, glass, and concrete with millions of residents from around the globe, Miami has ancient roots that can be hard to imagine today. This work takes readers back through forgotten eras to the stories of the people who shaped the land along the Miami River long before most modern histories of the city begin.

University of Florida Press.

Honoring Ancestors in Sacred Space: The Archaeology of an Eighteenth Century African Bahamian Cemetery, Grace Turner, 9781683400202, hardback £79.50.

Throughout life, black Africans in the Bahamas possessed material items of various degrees of importance to them and within their culture. St. Matthews was a cemetery in Nassau at the water’s edge – or sometimes slightly below. This project emerged from archaeological excavations at this site to identify and recover materials associated with the interned before the area was completely redeveloped.

University Press of Florida.

The Rosewood Massacre: An archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence, Edward Gonzalez Tennant. 9780813056784, £84.95.

Investigates the 1923 massacre that devastated the predominantly African American community of Rosewood, Florida. The author draws on cutting edge GIS technology, census data, artefacts from excavations, and archaeological theory to explore the local circumstances and broader socio-political power structures that led to the massacre.

University Press of Florida.

Simplicity, Equality and Slavery: An Archaeology of Quakerism in the British Virgin Islands, 1740-1780, John M. Chenoweth, 9781683400110 hardback, £79.50.

Inspired by the Quaker ideals of simplicity, equality, and peace, a group of White planters formed a community in the British Virgin Islands during the eighteenth century. Here, the author examines how the community navigated the contradictions of Quakerism and plantation ownership.

University Press of Florida.

These books sound very interesting. There have been a lot of research into the homes and communities of Black Americans over the past couple of decades. They’ve been excavated in New York, and also the slave communities owned by the Founding Fathers, like Benjamin Franklin. In the case of excavating cemeteries, it’s obviously a particularly sensitive area, and the archaeologists involved have obviously had to be particularly careful in their negotiations of the host Black community and the surviving relatives of the deceased. As you should when excavating any human remains.

From what I gather from reading elsewhere, cemeteries and burial grounds are of particular importance in Afro-Caribbean culture, where it’s associated not only with personal heritage and family history and identity but also occupation of the land.

I remember correctly, the 1923 Rosewood massacre was White supremacist pogrom against the Black community in Rosewood, their politicians and their White supporters and allies. This was before McCarthyism, when the American Left was still very strong, and the Republican party the more left-wing of the two main political parties. The town’s mayor was Black, and the town council included Socialists. Even the Republicans issued a statement condemning the treatment of the poor, the corrupt corporate politics keeping them there, and declaring healthcare and education a right. Obviously the Conservatives and the Klan really couldn’t tolerate that, and stirred up resentment until it boiled over into organised violence.

As for the Quaker plantation in the British Virgin Islands, the Quakers very early denounced and condemned slavery as fundamentally opposed to their principles. John Fox, the sect’s founder, denounced and by their laws no member could own slaves. Nevertheless, the acceptance of slavery was so deeply ingrained in European society, that its rejection was not easy for many to accept. And although they were condemned from owning or dealing in slaves, some Quakers did make their cash through supplying the slave ships. If you want to know more about the Quakers, their ideals in this period, then I recommend you read David Dabydeen’s history of the Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sugar and Slaves.

Raouf Halaby on Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ as Great Banned, Anti-War Book

September 29, 2017

There’s a great piece over at Counterpunch today by their contributor, the academic Raouf Halaby, on a celebration of banned books. One of the librarians at a local university celebrated Banned Books Week by holding a Banned Books Read-Out in the college amphitheatre. Students and teaching and non-teaching staff were invited to choose a banned book, and read from it for ten minutes. The librarian also provided 100 banned books from the university library to help people decided and participate.

Halaby himself chose Kurt Vonnegut’s SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five because of its powerful anti-war message, a message that is unfortunately still very pertinent five decades after he wrote it. The novel was written against the Vietnam War, and is about a man, who comes unstuck in time, going backwards and forwards into the past and future, but returns to 1945 and the infamous bombing of Dresden, before ending up in an alien zoo. Vonnegut himself had been an American squaddie during World War II, and he and his fellows were in Dresden when it was bombed. They had been captured as P.O.W.s, and were imprisoned in a converted abattoir called ‘Schlachthof Funf’ – ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ – during the bombing. Vonnegut was a great master of irony and black humour, and I’m very sure he saw the dark humour in having been saved from a bombing raid that killed an entire town while shut up in a slaughterhouse.

Halaby states that his mother was a quaker, and that’s possibly where he gets his anti-war ideas from. But he was a soldier, and dedicated his reading of Vonnegut’s great work to some of his army buddies, who were killed in Vietnam. As for the book’s continuing relevance today, he writes

For my ten minutes, I selected Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed Slaughterhouse Five for the following reasons: 1. Since the end of WWII the U.S. has waged war on the Korean Peninsula, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and at least half a dozen more countries around the globe. 2 Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has, at long last, forced us to engage in some serious soul searching, and a much needed conversation about the many lies, mistakes, and atrocities of this war, thus providing an opportunity to reach out to the hundreds of thousands who served in Vietnam as well as those who opposed the war and helped bring it to an end. 3. The U.S. is still using its superior military power, a disproportionate, scorch earth power that incinerates thousands of precious lives in faraway lands, and a power that pulverizes entire nation states. 4. Recent threats of unleashing the “fire and fury” of nuclear weaponry poses a grave danger to humanity. 5. Innocent civilians seem to always be in the sights of machine guns, missiles, and now, drones and MOABs . 6. Those who order soldiers to wade into the hades of military adventures do so under the guise of national security; waging a war is, after all, a pernicious flag-waving pathway to furthering political careers; gullible voters continue to buy into war snake oil. 7. And finally, I have seen firsthand the ravages of war and the devastating effects wars have had on individuals, communities, nations, and regions. I have inherited my mother’s Quaker values.

Much of his article is a long passage from the book, presumably the one he read out, describing the author’s experience in Dresden and their imprisonment in the slaughterhouse, and how it shows the brutality and inhumanity of war. All war. And makes the case that ordinary bombing with conventional weapons can kill as many people as nuclear bombs. A bombing raid on Tokyo with ordinary bombs one night killed 84,000 + people, while 79,000 + people were incinerated at Nagasaki. Not that this makes nuclear weapons any better, and they’ve gone on to vastly outstrip the destructive power of conventional weaponry. He also makes the point that war is evil, but the people, who commit the acts of mass death may be perfectly normal, otherwise decent people.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/29/dont-let-them-ban-our-books/

I don’t know if Vonnegut’s book was ever banned, though I don’t doubt that it’s anti-war stance and biting satire was extremely unpopular amongst the right and the military. It was so popular, that it was made into a movie in 1972, though critics like John Clute have said it does not equal the book. Vonnegut passed away a few years ago. However, he was still a trenchant critic of American politics and society right to the end. I remember reading a newspaper article in which he made his opinions of George W. Bush, then the US president, very clear.