Posts Tagged ‘Moscow’

Boris Getting the Coronavirus Shows How Seriously He Took It

March 27, 2020

The big news today is that the charlatan passing himself off as prime minister has personally come down with Covid-19. He showed mild symptoms of the virus, including a temperature, was tested for it, and the results were positive. He is therefore self-isolating in some corner of No. 10. Nevertheless, he was still keen to show that he was, in the words of one BBC news presenter this morning, ‘Tiggerish’. He was not incapacitated, and would carry on the business of government through teleconferencing and other methods. And if he does become too ill to govern, then the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, will take over. Lord preserve us!

Boris, as the Prime Minister, was in an especially exposed position because his duties mean that he has to meet many different people every day. Just like Prince Charles has, who has also contracted the disease. Fortunately, Boris has come down with it several weeks after he met her Maj, so she doesn’t have it. But it’s partly BoJob’s own fault that he’s got it. Mike today put up an article reporting and commenting on the fact that Boris was warned not to shake hands. But he carried on regardless, even boasting that he was. He would be all right, you see: all you needed to do was wash your hands, that was the important thing. Er, no. That’s why the health authorities have been telling everyone to stand 2 metres away from each other. Hand washing’s important, but on its own it won’t stop anyone getting the virus. As BoJob has just found out.

But this shows very clearly how seriously Boris and the Tories, or at least his circle, took the virus: not very. Mike quotes the New York Times, which comments on the woeful leadership our comedy prime minister has shown in this crisis. He’s been cheerful when he should have been grave, and presented a muddled message when clarity was needed. It’s a poor performance from someone who was selected because of their communication skills.

I think part of the problem comes from Boris’ own attitude to his briefs. George Galloway remarked during an interview that he’s know Boris for 20 years, and he doesn’t read the information given him. It’s why his performance as Foreign Secretary was such an embarrassing disaster. He went to Moscow to soothe relations with Putin, only to make matters worse with remarks about the Russian autocrat when he returned. And then there was that embarrassing episode when he visited Thailand, and the British ambassador had to ask him to be quiet when he was being shown round the country’s holiest temple. He started to recite Kipling’s ‘Road to Mandalay’, and couldn’t understand why that may not have been appropriate.

But there’s more than an element of willful ignorance in his attitude. Medical experts have said that he should have imposed the lockdown seven weeks ago. Boris didn’t, because he accepted Cummings’ bonkers, malign idea that all that was needed was herd immunity. The disease should be allowed to spread through the general population. No lockdown should be imposed, as that would damage the economy. This took priority over people’s health, and if some old people died it was just too bad. This policy is nonsense, the kind of Bad Science Ben Goldacre attacked in his book of that title. But even after Boris took the decision to close some businesses, pubs, clubs and other social gatherings were allowed to continue. Many Tories said that they were still going out for their pint, despite the government advising them – but not actually forbidding them – not to. Those still heading down the boozer included Boris’ own father, Stanley. The pubs and other establishments were only shut down, apparently, because Macron told Boris that if he didn’t, he’d close the French border. And that would seriously harm the economy.

And this lunatic attitude is still fervently embraced by some parts of the Tory establishment. This afternoon the Sage of Crewe put up a piece about another bonkers article in the increasingly desperate and bizarre Torygraph by a hack called Sherelle Jacobs. Jacobs has decided that Cummings was entirely correct, and BoJob has been panicked into adopting the present strategy by Imperial College research. She claims that there is ‘no consensus’ on how to handle the virus, but, as Zelo Street points out, she cites no sources for that view. And she also rants about how the strategy is also due to ‘liberal managerialism’ and ‘global elites’. She’s spouting dangerous nonsense, but she was supported in her delusion by Toby Young. Young declared that Boris was spooked by ICL’s modelling, but we don’t know how reliable that is, and that it’s beginning to look as if ICL exaggerated the risks of not adopting hard suppression measures. Which is more nonsense for which Tobes provides absolutely no data to back it up.

I’ve said in several previous blogs, as have many others, like Buddyhell and Vox Political, that Boris’ attitude is rooted in the Tories’ own eugenicist views. They regard the poor and disabled as ‘useless eaters’, who should be allowed to die so that the fit and the able, and most of all, the rich, should be allowed to prosper. Boris was content to tell the nation that many of their loved ones would die before the time, but wasn’t going to do anything about it, because their lives simply weren’t important. He and the others in his circle were fit and, as the rich and privileged, biologically superior according to their Social Darwinist views. Only the biologically inferior would catch it, whose lives don’t count and are an encumbrance to the right of the rich to do what they want and pay as little tax as possible. Now Boris has shown how irresponsible and stupid that attitude is by coming down with it himself. Positive thinking and a clean pair of mitts are important, but they won’t save you on your alone.

But the Torygraph’s refusal to accept that a lockdown is necessary is part of the Tories’ wider refusal to believe experts. The Heil and other right wing papers have published claptrap telling the world that global warming is a myth. Michael Gove famously declared a few years ago that people were tired of listening to experts. And I believe I recall that when one of the Tories – I think it was Iain Duncan Smith – was actually confronted with evidence showing his policies wouldn’t work, he had nothing to say except that he believed it.

Well, the Tories prefer belief and pernicious pseudoscience over reality. As a result, Boris has now got the disease and thousands more people are in danger of dying from it.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/toby-young-jumps-virus-shark.html

Has hand-shaking Johnson taken his whole cabinet down with coronavirus?

Radio 3 Series Next Week on Paul Robeson

March 26, 2020

Radio 3’s The Essay next week is doing a series of programmes on Paul Robeson. The show’s called ‘The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs’, and is on from Monday to Friday at 10.45 pm. The short description of the series by David McGillivray on page 122 of the Radio Times runs

The turbulent life of Paul Robeson, the American performer whose career was shamefully curtailed by racism and anti-Communist hysteria, is reflected in five of his songs in a series of essays through the week. His was one of the most magnificent bass baritone voices of the 20th century, and the story behind his biggest hit, Ol’ Man River, is told by his granddaughter tomorrow [Tuesday]. Robeson’s most sustained success in films was in the UK but mostly the roles offered him were demeaning and he turned to political activism. The trade union ballad, Joe Hill (Friday) provides a melancholic epitaph.

Here are the blurbs for the individual episodes by day.

Monday.

No More Auction Block

The life and struggles of New Jersey-born bass-baritone singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) are explored through five of his songs. Robeson’s signature performances include Show Boat and Othello, but spirituals defined his early career, and in 1925, Robeson and his accompanist Lawrence Brown turned them into “art music”. In this first installment, scholar and professor of black music Shana Redmond explores the ways in which Robeson’s performances of No More Auction Block map his own struggles.

Tuesday

Ol’ Man River

Susan Robeson explores the personal and political aspects of the song that is forever identified with her grandfather  – Ol’ Man River, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein expressly for Robeson for their groundbreaking 1927 musical Show Boat. But the singer would not wrap his unique voice around it  until the following year in the London production. He would have a lasting and complex relationship with the song, especially as a black superstar performing for white audiences. “My grandfather transformed Ol’ Man River from a song of submission and despair into a song of resistance.”

Wednesday

The Canoe Song

Paul Robeson and film should have been a perfect fit. The 20th Century’s first black superstar had presence, voice and fierce intelligence that projected from the screen. British audiences adored him, but for Robeson cinema was a constant betrayal of his political idealism. Matthew Sweet considers the confusing threads that make up Zoltan Korda’s 1935 Empire flag-waver Sanders of the River, which still hummed to the astonishing power of Robeson’s voice in the Canoe Song, prompting British audiences to declare him as “our Paul”. 

Thursday

Zog Nit Keynmol

When Paul Robeson stood before a Moscow audience on the evening of 14th June 1949 in the Tchaikowski Hall, few expected to hear him perform the Yiddish Partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say). His rendition of this fierce anthem of defiance, composed in the middle of Nazi slaughter, was thick with emotion, and at the end the crowd either fiercely applauded or booed. Robeson had sung for those he knew were already murdered, imprisoned or facing death as a new wave of Stalinist repression against Soviet Jews was underway. Nigerian-born actor and singer Tayo Aluko explores Robeson’s torment and contradictory emotions that make this performance so dramatic.

Friday

Joe Hill

London-based cultural historian Marybeth Hamilton summons up the ghosts of both Earl Robinson’s 1936 song Joe Hill – about the Swedish-American labour activist – and Paul Robeson as she explores the ways Robeson was so completely erased from culture and memory for many Americans. “If any one song in Robeson’s repertoire sums up those histories of denial silencing it is Joe Hill.

Paul Robeson – one of the left-wing giants of the 20th century. I had a very left-wing aunt, who was a massive fan of Robeson. She would have loved this. I also wondered if all the Israel-critical Jews smeared and vilified by the Israel lobby shouldn’t sing Zog Nit Keynmol. From what I gather from reading David Rosenberg’s and Tony Greenbstein’s blog’s, the greatest resistance against the Nazis, including the Warsaw ghetto, came from the anti-Zionist Bund. The Zionists all too often made deals with the Nazis, as when the Zionist newspaper, the Judischer Rundschau, praised the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and urged its readers to ‘wear your yellow stars with pride.” Or when Rudolf Kasztner, the head of the Zionists in occupied Hungary, cut a deal with the Nazis whereby tens of thousands were deported to Auschwitz in return for a few being allowed to emigrate to Israel.

MPs Told that Russia Has Infiltrated Britain

March 13, 2020

Boris Johnson still hasn’t published the report into Russian influence in the UK, probably because it would be highly embarrassing for his party. He and many of the other leading Tories have very close relationships with Russian oligarchs from whom they have received very handsome donations. Mike and Zelo Street have blogged about the strange non-appearance of the report. However, according to the I, MPs were told that Putin had extended his influence into this country. The article by David Connett, ‘Kremlin has infiltrated Britain, MPs told’, in this Tuesday’s I for 10th March 2020, runs

MPs have been told that Russia hired British politicians and consultants to help advance its criminal interests and to “go after” Vladimir Putin’s enemies in London, it was reported last night.

MPs on the parliamentary intelligence and security committee were told by businessmen and anti-corruption campaigner Bill Browder that Moscow had “infiltrated” Britain by using well-rewarded “British intermediaries”.

The information was submitted to MPs who drew up the Russia report suppressed by Boris Johnson, The Guardian newspaper reported.

The Browder evidence was submitted in secret to the committee which carried out a two-year investigation into how the Kremlin is seeking to influence UK politics. Its 50-page report was ready for release last November, before the election. No 10 cleared the document after the election but it is not clear when it will be published.

Clearly it’s very embarrassing for Tories. But remember – they’re the party of patriotic Brits, and it’s Corbyn and the Labour Party who were selling out this country to the Russians. Or the Czechs. Or Hamas, and indeed anyone else they could use to smear him.

Anton Petrov’s Tribute to Veteran Cosmonaut and Space Artist, Alexei Leonov

October 16, 2019

Last Friday, 11th October 2019, Alexei Leonov passed away, aged 85. Born on 30th May 1934, Leonov was one of the first Russian cosmonauts and the first man to walk in space. His obituary in yesterday’s I, written by Nataliya Vasilyeva, ran

Alexei Leonov, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to walk in space 54 years ago – and who nearly did not make it back into his space capsule – has died in Moscow aged 85.

Leonov, described by the Russian Space Agency as Cosmonaut No 11, was an icon both in his country as well as in the US. He was such a legend that the late science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke named a Soviet spaceship after him in his sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two.

Leonov staked his place in space history on 18 March 1965, when he became the first person to walk in space. Secured by a tether, he exited his Voskhod 2 space capsule. “I stepped into that void and I didn’t fall in,” he recalled later. “I was mesmerised by the stars. They were everywhere – up above, down below, to the left, to the right. I can still hear my breath and my heartbeat in that silence.”

Spacewalking always carries a high risk but Leonov’s pioneering venture was particularly nerve-racking, according to details that only became public decades later. His spacesuit had inflated so much in the vacuum of space that he could not get back into the spacecraft. He had to open a valve to release oxygen from his suit to be able to fit through the hatch. Leonov’s 12-minute spacewalk preceded the first American spacewalk, by Ed White, by less than three months.

Leonov was born in 1934 into a large peasant family in western Siberia. Like countless Soviet peasants, his father was arrested and shipped off to Gulag prison camps under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but he managed to survive and reunite with his family. 

The future cosmonaut had a strong artistic bent and even thought about going to art school before he enrolled in a pilot training course and, later, an aviation college. Leonov did not give up sketching even in space, and took coloured pencils with him on the Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975.

That mission was the first between the Soviet Union and the US, carried out at the height of the Cold War. Apollo-Soyuz 19 was a prelude to the international co-operation aboard the current international Space Station.

Nasa offered its sympathies to Leonov’s family, saying it was saddened by his death. “His venture into the vacuum of space began the history of extra-vehicular activity that makes today’s Space Station maintenance possible”, it said in a statement.

“One of the finest people I have ever known,” the Canadian retired astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote. “Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, artist, leader, spacewalker and friend, I salute you.”

Russian space fans have been laying flowers at his monument on the memorial alley in Moscow that honours Russia’s cosmonauts. Leonov, who will be buried today at a military memorial cemetery outside the Russian capital, is survived by his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren. 

Anton Petrov put up his own personal tribute to the great cosmonaut on YouTube yesterday, 15th October 2019, at his vlog, What Da Math. Petrov posts about astronomy and space, and his video yesterday placed Leonov in his context as one of a series of great Soviet science popularisers before Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene or Carl Sagan. Petrov shows the stunning paintings done by Leonov with his friend, the science artist Andrei Sokolov. He describes how Leonov’s spacesuit expanded so that he couldn’t enter the capsule, and was forced to let some of the oxygen out. As a result, he nearly lost consciousness. This showed both the Russians and Americans that spacesuits had to be built differently. He also describes how Leonov, during his 12 minutes in space, was profoundly struck by the profound silence. It was so deep he could hear his heart pumping, the blood coursing through his veins, even the sound of his muscles moving over each other.

Petrov states that the Russian cosmonauts did not enjoy the same celebrity status as their American counterparts, who could live off book signings. Many had to support their families with other work. In Leonov’s case, it was painting. He illustrated a number of books, some with his friend Sokolov. These are paintings Petrov uses for the visuals in his video. He considers these books the equivalent to works by modern science educators like Carl Sagan. They were meant to encourage, inspire and educate. Sokolov’s and Leonov’s art was not just beautiful, but very accurate scientifically and included some SF elements. Some of these elements were borrowed by other science fiction writers. the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is somewhat similar to one of Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings. This became a joke between the two, with Leonov creating a miniature version for the great American director to keep. Kubrick also borrowed many of the ideas for the movie from the Russian film director, Pavel Kushentsev. An extremely talented cameraman, Kushentsev made films about the first Moon landing, the first space station and the first man in space decades and years before they became reality. And all of his movies were scientifically accurate. Some of his movies are on YouTube, and Petrov gives the links at his site there for this video.

Petrov explains that he is talking about these men because their era has ended with Leonov’s death. Leonov was the last of the five astronauts on the Voskhod programme, and so all the men who inspired youngsters with amazing paintings and film are now gone. He considers it unfortunate that some of their experiences in the last days of their lives were not very happy. They did not live to see the future they depicted, and their paintings were not appreciated by the modern generation. Kushentsev said before his death,

Popular science is dying, because there is no money. No demand. Nobody wants to educate. Everyone just wants to make money everywhere possible. But one mustn’t live like this. This is how animals live. Men have reached the level of animals – all they want to do is eat and sleep. There is no understand that this humanity has passed a certain phase of evolution. We must understand the direction of this evolution. For this, we need culture, we need knowledge. 

Petrov believes Kushentsev’s criticism of modern Russian society also applies more broadly to the modern generation in the West, to all of us as well. We are all doing what he said we shouldn’t – just living for the money, to eat and sleep. Unfortunately, according to Petrov, nothing has changed in the 20 years since his death. But there are people out there in the world working to change this, to produce culture, to inspire and share knowledge. But sometimes the world crushes them, simply because it can. But Petrov says that, like those Soviet men before him, despite not being a famous astronaut or talented artist, or even someone who has very good diction, he will continue doing his part of sealing the hope for humanity, continue the work of these great men and inspire new generations to do things, believe in science and create a better world. Because as Leonov once said,

the Earth was small, light blue and so touchingly alone. Our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word ’round’ meant until I saw the Earth from space. 

Petrov concludes ‘Goodbye, comrade, and thank you for all the paintings.

This is the first of two videos about Russian art from that era of space exploration. I’ll post the other up shortly.

I don’t feel quite as pessimistic as Kushentsev. Brian Cox, who’s now taken Sagan’s place as the chief space broadcaster on British television, has attracted record audiences for his stage presentation about science and the universe. There is a massive interest among the public in space and space exploration. At the same time, there are a number of really great science vlogs and channels on YouTube. Petrov’s is one, but I also recommend John Michael Godier and the Science and Futurism channel, presented by Isaac Arthur.

Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings, they are of a universe of rich, vibrant colour. Spacesuited figures explores strange, new worlds, tending vast machines. They stand in front of planetary landers somewhat resembling the American lunar module. Or crawl across the landscape in rovers, gazing at horizons above which hang alien, often multiple, suns. The best space art shows worlds you’d like to visit, to see realised. These paintings have this effect. It’s a pity that on the blurb for this video over at YouTube, Petrov says that these paintings come from old postcards, which are difficult to come by. It’s a pity, as they still have the power to provoke wonder and inspire.

I’m not sure Leonov himself was quite so pessimistic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main space museum was closed, and many of its exhibits sold off. Before it finally closed its doors to the public, they held a rave in it. I think Leonov was in attendance, sitting at the back with his wife. Someone asked him what he thought of it all. The old space traveler replied that they had found graffiti on the walls on Babylon complaining about the behaviour of the younger generation. ‘It is,’ he said, ‘the young man’s world’. It is indeed, and may cosmonauts, space pioneers, scientists and artists like Leonov, Sokolov, Kushentsev and Kubrick continue to inspire the young men and women of the future to take their strides in the High Frontier.

Two Books By Tony Benn

January 4, 2019

I hope everyone’s had a great Christmas and their New Year is off to a good start. May the shadow of Theresa May and her wretched Brexit be very far from you!

Yesterday I got through the post two secondhand books I’d ordered from Amazon by that redoubtable warrior for socialism and working people, Tony Benn. These were Arguments for Socialism, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1979) and Fighting Back: Speaking Out For Socialism in the Eighties (London: Hutchinson 1988).

The two books differ slightly in that one is written from Benn’s perspective at the end of the ’70s, while the other was written nine years later at the end of the 1980s. In both Benn tackles the problems of the day, and lays out his radical, democratic socialist plans to revitalise the British economy and industry, strengthen and broaden democracy, and empower working people.

The blurb of Arguments for Socialism simply runs

Tony Benn, the most controversial figure in British politics, outlines a strong democratic-socialist approach to the most crucial issues in our political life over the next decade.

It has an introduction, and the following chapters, subdivided into smaller sections on particularly topics. These are

Section 1., ‘The Inheritance’, is composed of the following
The Inheritance of the Labour Movement
Christianity and Socialism
The Bridge between Christianity and Socialism
The Levellers and the English Democratic Tradition
Marxism and the Labour Party
Clause IV
The Labour Movement.

Section 2. ‘Issues of the 1970s’
Labour’s Industrial Programme
The Case for Change
Opening the Books
Planning Agreements and the NEB
Public Ownership
Industrial Democracy
The Upper Clyde Work-In
The Worker’s Co-ops
The Lessons of the Workers’ Co-ops
Democracy in the Public Sector

3. ‘Energy’
North Sea Oil
The Debate over Nuclear Energy
Windscale
The Fast Breeder
A Future for Coal
Alternative Sources of Energy
Conclusion

4 ‘The EEC’
Loss of Political Self-Determination
Loss of Control over the United Kingdom’s Industry and Trade
Unemployment and the EEC
After the Referendum

5. ‘Democracy’
Technology and Democracy
The Case for Open Government
How Secrecy Is Maintained at Present
Leaks and How They Occur
Conclusion

6. ‘Issues for the 1980s’
The Arguments
The Argument in Outline
The Present Crisis of Unemployment
Adam Smith and the Birth Capitalism
Lessons from the Pre-War Slump
Three Remedies on Offer
1. Monetarism
2. Corporatism
3. Democratic Socialism

7. ‘Jobs’
The Pension Funds
New Technology
Growth
The Trade Union Role in Planning
Workers’ Co-ops
A New Relationship between Labour and Capital

8. ‘The Common Market’
Three Criticisms of the EEC

9. Democracy
Open Government
The Unions
The Armed Forces
The Media
A New Role for Political Leaders.

Fighting Back’s blurb runs

With crisis after crisis rocking the country throughout the Eighties, the formation of new parties, divisions with in the old, mergers, reconciliations – British political life is at a watershed.

Tony Benn, in speeches on picket lines, at Conferences at home and abroad, in broadcasts, in the House of Commons, has been a consistently radical campaigning voice: for equal rights, for democracy and for peace against the increasingly brutal politics of monetarism, militarism and self-interest.

Fighting Back brings together for the first time in one volume the best of Tony Benn’s speeches from 1980 to 1988. Few poeple will have heard more than brief snippets of proceedings in the House of Commons given by television, radio and the press, so the most important debates are included here – the Falklands War, Westland helicopters, Fortress Wapping, Zircon and Spycatcher – as well as some lesser known concerns, from the ordination of women, to the politics of singer Paul Robeson.

Throughout the difficult years in Opposition, Tony Benn has played a leading role in defending and regenerating the socialist tradition. But Fighting Back is more than simply a personal testament: it is also an exciting and accessible handbook to the turbulent Eighties, whatever one’s political convictions.

After the introduction, it has the following chapters and subsections:

1. The Stalemate in British Politics
-Fifty Years of Consensus Rule
-The Party and the Government
-From Defeat to Victory
-Parliamentary Democracy and the Labour Movement

2. Prophetic Voices
-Positive Dissent
-Thomas Paine
-Karl Marx
-Paul Robeson
-R.H. Tawney
In Defence of British Dissidents

3. Fighting Back
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (May 1982)
-The Falklands War (December 1982)
-The Miners’ Strike (June 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (September 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (February 1985)
-Gay Rights
-Fortress Wapping (May 1986)
-Fortress Wapping (January 1987)
-The Irish Struggle for Freedom
-After Eniskillen
-Privatisation of Gas
-Legal Reform

4. British Foreign and Defence Policy
-The Case for Non-Alignment
-Who is Our Enemy?
-A New Agenda for the International Labour and Socialist Movements
-Some Facts about Defence
-Towards a Permanent New Forum
-Paying for Apartheid

5. Work and Health in a Green and Pleasant Land
-The Unemployment Tragedy
-Trade Unionism in the Eighties
-Full Employment: the Priority
-The Common Ownership of Land
-The Case Against Nuclear Power
-Nuclear Accidents
-The Nuclear Lobby
-Evidence Against Sizewell B

6. The Arrogance of Power
-The Case of Sir Anthony Blunt
-The Belgrano-Ponting Debate
-Westland Helicopters
-Surcharge and Disqualification of Councillors
-The Ordination of Women
-The Zircon Affair
-Spycatcher
-Protection of Official Information

7. Disestablishing the Establishment
-Power, Parliament and the People
-The Civil Service
-The Crown, the Church and Democratic Politics
-A Moral Crisis
-The Disestablishment of the Church of England
-Television in a Democracy
-Televising the House

8. Light at the End of the Tunnel
-The Radical Tradition: Past, Present and Future
-Staying True to the Workers
-Aims and Objectives of the Labour Party.

The Books and their Times

Arguments for Socialism comes from a time when this country had nationalised industries, strong trade unions and an efficient and effective planning apparatus. It was also when unemployment and discontent were rising, and the country was facing the threat of Thatcher and her monetarist agenda. The speeches and articles in Fighting Back come from when Thatcher had seized power, was busy privatising everything not nailed down, smashing the unions and trying to silence any dissent. This included attempts to prosecute civil servant Clive Ponting for leaking documents showing that the Argentinian warship, the General Belgrano, was actually leaving the Falklands warzone when it was attacked and sunk. Thatcher also banned the publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher over here, because of the embarrassing things it had to say about MI5. This turned into a massive farce as the book was widely published elsewhere, like New Zealand, meaning that foreign readers had a better understanding of the British secret state than we Brits did. It was such a ridiculous situation that Private Eye’s Willie Rushton sent it up in a book, Spythatcher.

Benn’s Beliefs on Socialism and Democracy

Benn was genuinely radical. He believed that British socialism was in danger not because it had been too radical, but because it had not been radical enough. He wished to extend nationalisation beyond the utilities that had been taken into public ownership by Attlee, and give working people a real voice in their management through the trade unions. He also fully supported the workers of three firms, who had taken over the running of their companies when management wanted to close them down, and run them as co-ops. On matters of the constitution, he wished to expand democracy by bringing in a Freedom of Information Act, strip the Crown of its remaining constitutional powers and have them invested in parliament instead, and disestablish the Church of England. He also wanted to strip the office of Prime Minister of its powers of patronage and give more to MPs. He was also firmly against the EEC and for CND. Socially, he was on the side of grassroots movements outside parliament, fully embraced gay rights and the ordination of women within the Anglican Church.

Not the Maniac He was Portrayed by the Press

He was and still is vilified for these radical views. The press, including Ian Hislop’s mighty organ, Private Eye, presented him as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, at best a mad visionary of hopelessly unrealistic ideals. At worst he was a Communist agent of Moscow ready to destroy this country’s ability to defend itself and hand it over to rule by the Soviets.

He was, it won’t surprise you to learn, anything like that.

He was very well respected by his constituents in my part of Bristol as a very good MP and brilliant orator, and was respected even by his opponents in the city. One of the leaders of Bristol’s chamber of commerce said that he was always rational and his opinions clearly thought out. I’m a monarchist and a member of the Anglican church, and so don’t share his views on the disestablishment of the Church of England. But his arguments there are interesting.

Disestablishment of the Anglican Church

Recent calls for disestablishment have come from atheists and secularists, and Benn does use the secularist argument that privileged position of various Anglican bishops to sit in the House of Lords is unfair to those of other faiths, Roman Catholics, Protestant Nonconformists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. But this argument actually comes at the end of the main body of his pieces. His main points are that the bishops shouldn’t be there, because they’re unelected, and that parliament and the prime minister, who may not be Anglicans or even Christians, have no business appointing the denomination’s clergy or deciding doctrine. It’s an argument primarily from within the Anglican church, not from someone outside, jealous of its position.

The Prime Minister against the Church and Its Members

One example of how the Prime Minister abused their position to override or impose their views against the wishes of the Church itself was when Thatcher got stroppy with the-then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie. After the Falklands War, Runcie had preached a sermon saying that we should now meet the Argentinians in a spirit of reconciliation. This is what a Christian leader should say. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers, and all that. We’ve heard it several times since by great leaders like Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But Thatcher didn’t like it because she wanted something a bit more triumphalist. This section is also interesting because it has an interesting snippet you and I south of the Border have never heard of, except if you’re a member of the Church of Scotland. That august body at its synod overwhelmingly voted in favour of nuclear disarmament. I hadn’t heard anything about that before, and I doubt many other people outside Scotland had. And it obviously wasn’t an accident. The Tory media really didn’t want anyone else in Britain to know about it, in case they thought it might be a good idea.

It wasn’t just the Church of Scotland that were against nuclear weapons. So was a leading Roman Catholic prelate, Monsigner Bruce Kent, now, I believe, no longer a member of the priesthood. One of my aunts was a very Roman Catholic lady, who was also a member of CND. She found herself on one march next to a group of Franciscan friars. So kudos and respect to all the churches for their Christian witness on this issue.

CND, the Unions and Media Bias

On the subject of CND, Benn talks about the blatant bias of the press. All kinds of people were members of the Campaign, but when it was covered on television, what you got were a few shots of clergy like Monsignor Kent, before the camera zoomed in on the banner of the Revolutionary Communist party. CND were part of Russkie commie subversion! Except as I remember, they weren’t. The Russians didn’t like them either after they criticised their maneoevres in eastern Europe.

Benn states that the media’s bias is peculiar – its somewhere to the right of the Guardian, but slightly to the left of Thatcher. This was the attitude of the establishment generally. And it was extremely biased against the trade unions. He cites the work of Glasgow Media Studies unit, who looked at the language they used to describe industrial disputes. The language used of the trade unions always presented them as the aggressor. They ‘demanded’ and ‘threatened’, while management ‘offered’ and ‘pleaded’. He then asked hsi readers to turn the rhetoric around, so that a union asking for a pay rise of 8 per cent when inflation in 10 per cent is ‘pleading’.

The Ordination of Women

His stance on the ordination of women is equally interesting. He was obviously for it, but his arguments as you might expect were very well informed. He pointed out that women had been campaigning to be ordained in the Church since the 1920s, and that other Christian denominations, like the Congregationalists, already had women ministers. As did other Anglican churches abroad, like the Episcopalians in America. It was blocked here by the Anglo-Catholics, who fear it would stop re-union with Rome. But even here, he noted, this may not be an obstacle, citing movements for the ordination of women within Catholicism. Again, it’s an argument from within the Church, or from someone genuinely sympathetic to it, than from an outsider frustrated with the Church’s stubborn refusal to abide by secular social values, although that is also in there.

Government Secrecy

And back on the subject of government secrecy, the Zircon Affair was when Thatcher banned the transmission of an edition of the documentary programme, Secret State. I’ve put up that documentary series a few years ago on this blog, because it showed the extent to which Thatcher and others had been using the Official Secrets Act to suppress information that was embarrassing or uncomfortable. Like the fact that in a nuclear war, this country would suffer massive casualties and the obliteration of its major population centres.

The book actually contains any number of interesting snippets that definitely weren’t reported, or else were only given very tiny coverage, in the mainstream press. Like details of various incidents at nuclear plants that could have led to serious accidents. He also talks about the ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme. In this international project, we sent our nuclear material over to America, where, we were told, it would be used for peaceful purposes generating power in American reactors. Well, it was used in American reactors. They refined it into the plutonium, that was then put in American nuclear warheads and sent back over here to the US nuclear bases on British soil. He also pointed out that the agreements covering the use of Britain as a base by US forces in the event of a nuclear war also contravened our sovereignty.

Ted Heath and the EU

Loss of sovereignty was also a major part of his opposition to the EU. But he also makes the point that our entry into the Common Market was also undemocratic. Ted Heath simply decided the country was going in. Parliament was not consulted and did not vote on the issue. I do remember that there was a referendum afterwards, however.

Intelligence Agencies Smearing Labour MPs

The intelligence agencies are another threat to British democracy. He cites Peter Wright’s Spycatcher memoir on how MI5 was spreading rumours smearing the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as a KGB spy. This, like much of the rest of the material in the books, has not dated. The problem of the security services smearing left-wing politicians is still very much with us, as we’ve seen from the Integrity Initiative. They’ve smeared Jeremy Corbyn as a Russian spy.

Books Still Relevant in 21st Century

I’ve only really skimmed the books so far, just reading the odd chapter, but so much of it is directly relevant now. I think if he were alive today, Benn probably would have voted ‘Leave’, but his arrangements for leaving the EU would have been far more sensible and beneficial to this country’s ordinary folk than that of Tweezer and her band of profiteers. And he is absolutely right when he writes about expanding democracy in industry. He states that the workers’ co-ops on the Clydeside and elsewhere were attacked in the press, because suddenly the British capitalist establishment were terrified because it showed that there was a genuine alternative to capitalism, and that workers could run companies.

The individual sections in these books chapters are short, and the arguments clear. He also gives point by point party programmes on particular issues, such as making this country more democratic.

Benn Democrat, Not Authoritarian Communist

And it’s this concern for democracy that most definitely marks Benn out as being a democratic socialist, not a Trotskyite or Communist. Those parties and their various sects were run according to Lenin’s principle of ‘democratic centralism’. Put simply, this meant that the party would hold some kind of open debate on issues until a decision was made. After that, the issue was closed. Anybody still holding or promoting their own opinions faced official censure or expulsion. And the Communist parties of eastern Europe would have been as frightened of Benn’s championing of democracy as the British establishment.

Conclusion

As I said, I take issue with Benn on certain issues. But his reasoning is always clear and rational, his points well argued and based in fact. Furthermore, he is impressed with the British radical tradition and how much British socialism is squarely based within it. We lost one of our greatest parliamentarians with his death.

His ideas, however, are still very relevant, and have been vindicated with time. He was right about monetarism and corporatism, about unemployment, about the need for unions, about media bias. His support of women priests and gay rights were ahead of their time, and have now become almost a commonplace, accepted by all except a few die-hard reactionaries. And he’s right about nationalisation and worker empowerment.

These are books I intend to use for my blog and its attack on Tweezer and the Tories. And I won’t be short of useful material.

Tories Fund ‘Fake News’ Think Tank to Smear Corbyn

December 10, 2018

Mike this morning also put up a very importance piece about how Tweezer’s party has also been seeking to undermine British democracy by providing 2.25 million pounds to a think tank, the Institute of Statecraft, to spread smears against Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party, and individual Labour politicos.

The Institute is based in an old mill in Fife, and runs a programme, the Integrity Initiative, to counter Russian propaganda. This is supposed to be done through a collection of friendly journos and ‘influencers’ throughout Europe, who will go online and attack Russian propaganda on the Net. Instead, it appears that the think tank has been using the money given it by the Foreign Office to smear Corbyn as an instrument of Moscow on Twitter. One Tweet included an extract from a newspaper article denouncing Corbyn as a ‘useful idiot’, a phrase Lenin used to describe sympathetic individuals in the West, who could be manipulated by the Bolsheviks. The Tweet then said

His open visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.

Another Tweet ran

It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.’ A further message refers to an ‘alleged British Corbyn supporter’ who ‘wants to vote for Putin.

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, stated it was outrageous and said that one of the cardinal rules of British politics was that government funds should not be used for party purposes. She made the point that the smears weren’t outside the government’s control, as it said in its funding agreement with the company that the money would be used in party to expand the Integrity Initiative as well as Twitter and social media accounts. She concluded

So the Government must now answer the following questions: Why did the Foreign Office allow public money to be spent on attempting to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition? Did they know this was happening? If not, why not? And if they did, how on earth can they justify it?

According to RT, the revelations follow the leak of classified documents to the Sunday Mail.

Chris Williamson commented

What the hell is going on? I tabled a parliamentary question recently and discovered the Foreign Office has given 2 million of public money to a shady organization that’s indulging in black propaganda against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

Another Labour MP, Jon Trickett, said

If it is true that there is a deep state, taxpayer funded operation against our party it is totally unacceptable and explanation and an enquiry must be conducted immediately.

RT reported that the Foreign Office has now launched an investigation stating that any involvement in domestic politics would be condemned. Alan Duncan, the minister of state for Europe and the Americas, said

I don’t know the facts, but if there is any kind of organization for which we are paying, which is involved in domestic politics in that way, I would totally condemn it.

Here’s RT’s report on the scandal.

Mike in his article about the think tank and its smears also quotes Duncan, who said that

The Institute for Statecraft is an independent, Scottish, charitable body whose work seeks to improve governance and enhance national security. They launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to defend democracy against disinformation.

In financial year 2017/18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500. This financial year, the FCO is funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.

Mike comments that the statement that Institute for Statecraft was defending democracy was simply untrue, as they should not be posting disinformation on social media. And nobody else should be doing so either.

He also reminded us that less than a year ago, Gollum, I mean, Tweezer, had announced that she was launching a rapid reaction force based in the cabinet office to rebut fake news. Mike had said then that

This is not an attempt to ensure a ‘fact-based public debate’. It is a bid to hijack the news and turn it into Tory propaganda.

He adds in his article that he was right. It’s just that the government has outsourced its propaganda.

Mike’s article also gives the responses of a number of Labour supporters and MPs condemning the Institute’s smears. One of them, Aaron Bastani, states that if the Institute has a list of journos and influencers smearing the leader of the opposition, then it has to be made public immediately. And Dan Carden MP remarked on how, with the exception of the Scottish Daily Record and the Sunday Mail, this was being ignored by the mainstream media. He stated that these were strange times, but we still expected democracy to be defended.

Mike replies

Yes, we should expect democracy to be defended.

Just not by right-wingers like those running the BBC and most of the print news media – or by our democratically-elected government.

Yet this is the government that wants to push us all through Brexit, in the name of democracy.

It doesn’t stack up. We need an election to get the Tories out of office, and then a police investigation to find out who authorised the Foreign Office to fund this offence.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/10/to-blazes-with-brexit-its-being-handled-by-a-government-that-used-public-money-to-undermine-the-opposition/

I wondered if the reason the lamestream media have so far ignored the story is because so many of those newspapers and organisations might have been involved in it. Several journos have been named as the conduits for government propaganda in the press. One of these was Andrew Neil, when he was the editor of the Sunday Times.

Actually, the Tories and the British secret state have a long history of smearing the Labour party and its leaders as agents of the Russians. Back in the 1920s there was the notorious Zinoviev Letter, forged by MI5, which purported to come from the head of the Comintern in the Soviet Union, Zinoviev, instructing the Labour party to get ready to stage a revolution and turn the country into a Communist satellite state.

Then in the 1970s the CIA and MI5 smeared Harold Wilson as a Russian spy. This has been extensively discussed by the conspiracy/parapolitics magazine, Lobster. One of those, who believed this tripe was Maggie Thatcher.

Robin Ramsay, in his recent additions to the ‘News from the Bridge’ section of Lobster, has also posted up a piece ‘IRD Reborn’, commenting on a report by Iain Cobain in the Groaniad that the British government has the army’s 77th Brigade conducting ‘information operations’. There’s also the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) in the Home Office. According to Cobaine, the department, founded in 2007

says privately that it aims to “effect attitudinal and behavioural change” through methods including the dissemination of messages on social media, leafleting homes and feeding stories to newspapers, was modelled on a secretive anti-communist body called the Information Research Department (IRD), set up in Britain in 1948.’

Apparently, RICU was set up by Gordon Brown, who read Frances Stonor Saunders’ Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, and instead of taking the book and its revelations as a condemnation, actually thought it would be a good idea.

Ramsay comments

I think it may be safe to say that Brown knew nothing about the IRD’s activities, especially their role in the British state’s disinformation operations – a.k.a. the ‘Lisburn lie machine’ – in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. This pioneered the business of putting out so much disinformation – fake news – that no-one knows what to believe.

The rest of that section discusses whether or not anyone really believes the kind of fake news spouted by people like Alex Jones and InfoWars. Ramsay concludes that it’s probably very few.

The current issue of Lobster, 76, is at: https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/issue76.php
To see the piece, download the ‘View from the Bridge’ by clicking on it, and then scroll down the piece until you get to the right section. There’s also an awful lot of other very important pieces in that section, including government data-gathering on private citizens and implantable bio chips to keep track of us.

William Blum on the Anti-Semitism Smears and American Policy Towards Israel

October 10, 2018

William Blum, a veteran critic of US and western imperialism, has some very acute comments about the use of anti-Semitism smears to defend Israeli interests in the latest issue of his Anti-Empire Report. He makes the point that the attitude on the Right is that you can be as anti-Semitic as you please, so long as you support Israel. Thus Republican administrations and politicians have included prominent anti-Semites and met with real Nazis and anti-Semites abroad, without being criticized for it themselves.

He writes

Oh my god, I’ve been called an anti-Semite!

British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and many others in the UK and the US are attacked for being anti-Semitic if they criticize Israel. But John McCain had very friendly meetings, and posed for photos, with prominent neo-Nazis in Ukraine and the Middle East – without being accused of being anti-Semitic. People involved in political activity on the left have to learn to ignore charges of anti-Semitism stemming from their criticism of Israel. These accusations are just thrown out as a tactic to gain political advantage – like with “anti-American” and “conspiracy theorist” – and do not deserve to be taken seriously. Whenever possible, such name-calling should be made fun of.

There’s an unwritten rule in right wing circles: It’s okay to be anti-Semitic as long as you’re pro-Israel. Evangelical preacher Pat Robertson is such an example.

While in the past an “anti-Semite” was someone who hates Jews, nowadays it is the other way around: An anti-Semite is someone the Jews hate.

“God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America’s Middle Eastern policy and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.” – John LeCarré

George Bush, Sr.’s Secretary of State, James Baker, famously said to a colleague: “Fuck the Jews! They don’t vote for us anyway”. 8

Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser under Jimmy Carter: “An anti-Israel bias is not the same as anti-Semitism. To argue as much is to claim an altogether unique immunity for Israel, untouchable by the kind of criticism that is normally directed at the conduct of states.”

It’s all true, as we’ve seen very much in the abuse handed out to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, including Jews, by the Israel lobby here in Britain.

Other topics covered in Blum’s Report include his correspondence with a Washington Post journo correcting his assertion that America has always tried to improve relations with Moscow; the colossal lack of evidence behind the claims that the Russians interfered with the American elections; how the current immigration crisis is the direct result of NATO’s bombing of Libya to oust Colonel Gaddafy, and how Donald Trump is wrong to believe that getting the other members states of NATO to pay more is not necessarily a good thing from their point of view.

Regarding the bombing of Israel and the resulting rise in migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to the West, Blum quotes the Libyan dictator himself, who predicted that this would be the result.

“Now listen you people of Nato. You’re bombing a wall, which stood in the way of African migration to Europe and in the way of al Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You’re breaking it. You’re idiots, and you will burn in Hell for thousands of migrants from Africa.”

He points out the benefits Gaddafy had brought Libya, like free education, healthcare and other benefits that other African countries did not possess, and the real reason he was toppled: he refused to be American’s obedient fief. As a result the country was bombed almost daily for six months. Blum claims that Hillary was the leading advocate of attacking Libya, but I’ve seen others claim that it was really Blair and Sarkozy. Regardless of whoever pushed for it, the reality is that Libya’s secular welfare state has vanished and the country is in the hands of Islamists. And the weapons amassed by Gaddafy’s regime are now dispersed across North Africa amongst some very unpleasant Islamist groups.

For more information, see: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/160

After the Secret Flights to Deport Windrush Migrants, No-One Is Safe in Tory Britain

April 20, 2018

Mike in his articles attacking May and her truly foul decision to destroy the evidence needed for the Windrush migrants to show their right to live in our wonderful country also mentioned that poem by Martin Niemoller. Niemoller was one of the scandalously few Christians in Nazi Germany to oppose the regime. You know the poem. It’s become something of a cliché – It opens with the various groups the Nazis came for, with the refrain ‘I did not speak out, because I was not’ whichever group was being attacked. It ends with the line that when they finally came for him, there was no-one to stand up for him. This was the reality in Nazi Germany. The Nazis attacked group after group, not just Jews, but also Gypsies, Socialists, Communists, trade unionists, the disabled, and other political and religious dissidents. And it had an effect. The Catholic Centre Party, which could have voted against the Nazi seizure of power, actually voted for it because they were afraid that the Nazis would come and attack them and the Church. It didn’t help. The Nazis had no qualms about dissolving them, along with the other political parties. The only parties that voted against the Nazis were the SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party, and the Communists.

The victims of Nazi persecution vanished into ‘Nacht und Nebel’ – ‘Night and Fog’. They were snatched from the homes, and vanished without trace, to be tried before special courts, in secret. The secrecy was quite deliberate. It was done to create fear and deter anyone else from protesting against the Nazi regime. Or in the case of Jews, Gypsies, and the congenitally disabled, simply being. One of Hitler’s most notorious comments is his line ‘The people need fear. A healthy fear is good for them’. Torquemada, the science-fictional galactic Fascist villain of the Nemesis of the Warlock Strip in 2000AD, said the same, except he dropped the ‘healthy’ bit. I’m sure the line was a deliberate quote by the writer, Pat Mills, and shows the research he did on the Third Reich that influenced the war stories in Battle and his other strips against racism and Fascism. ‘Nemesis’ was a fantasy, but based solidly in fact and addressing a real issue.

The knock on the door in the middle of the night and arrests by secret police weren’t unique to the Nazis. It was done in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and by authoritarian regimes across the world, right up to the present day. Like Communist China and Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, to name just two. And I wonder how long it will be before the Fascist, anti-Semitic Fidesz government in Hungary starts doing the same, after their prime minister declared a list of 200 organisations to be subversive followers of George Soros. Who is, of course, a Jewish financier, exactly like the villains of Nazi conspiracy theory.

But we can’t be complacent. Blair tried to introduce secret courts in this country, and Dave Cameron and Nick Clegg did. These are special courts for those charged with terrorism, and where public disclosure of the evidence is judged to be harmful to that old chestnut, national security. Under the legislation, these trial may be held in secret. The accused and their lawyer may not know the identity of their accuser, or the evidence against them. Or even what the charge is.

It is exactly like the perverted judicial systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. And once again, literature got their first. Franz Kafka described all this in his novels, The Castle and The Trial. Kafka, however, had a peculiar sense of humour. He said once that these tales are meant to be funny, in an ironic way. I can remember being told at school that irony plays a big part in the German sense of humour – OK, Kafka was a Jewish Czech, but he wrote in German, and I guess he shared their sense of humour. But it wasn’t a joke under the Nazis and the other totalitarian regimes, and it far from a joke now.

The people unfairly deported were thrown out of this country on secret flights, often shackled in contraptions like leg and hip restraints. This follows the ‘secret renditions’, in which foreign nationals accused of terrorism offences were secretly flown out of this country to others as a way of evading our laws banning torture in interrogations. The Tories clearly felt that after doing it successfully to one group, they could do it to others. So from terrorist suspects, they moved on to entirely respectable people, who came here to work and make a better life for themselves. People who endured massive racism and shouldn’t have to put up with any more of it.

If the Tories can do it to one group, they will do it to others. Food banks are another example. They started out to help asylum seekers waiting for adjudication on their right to stay in the UK, who were banned from claiming benefits. But Ian Duncan Smith and his boss, David Cameron, expanded them to cover ever person thrown off benefits under their murderous sanctions regime.

The Tories start by picking on unpopular outgroups, like terrorists and coloured immigrants. And then they push their policies into the most vulnerable groups of mainstream society.

Remember, in the 1970s large sections of the Tory party really thought that Harold Wilson was a KGB agent and the Labour party was riddled with Communists taking orders direct from Moscow. And leading members of the establishment, including Times journo Peregrine Worsthorne, wanted a coup and the internment of those judged to be dangerous radicals. This included not only politicians, but also trade unionists and journalists. You can read about it in Ken Livingstone’s 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour.

You are not safe, no matter how long you’ve lived here. Even if your a tradition, White Brit. On this evidence, if the Tories continue with their arrests and secret deportations, they will eventually come round to making us vanish into their equivalent of ‘Night and Fog’. Just like the Nazis.

And if we don’t act against this and the other injustices, no-one will stand up for us. Just like no-one stood up for the Jews and the other victims of the Nazis in Niemoller’s poem and real life.

May and the Tories are a clear and present threat to democracy and the security of decent people. Racism and the persecution of immigrants is the start. Get them out, before they turn this country into something very close to Nazi Germany.

Pat Mills: Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History: Part Two

March 30, 2018

The brutal treatment inflicted by the two ‘Prefects of Discipline’ understandable left Mills with a hatred of the Catholic church. He isn’t alone there. The Irish comedian Dave Allen, and his countryman, the much-loved Radio 2 broadcaster and presenter Terry Wogan, also had no particular love of the church because of the similar sadistic discipline they’d also received as part of their Catholic education. And I’ve met many ordinary people since then, who have also fallen away from the church, and often against Christianity altogether, because of it. One of my uncles was brought up a Catholic, but never attended church. This was partly due to the brutality of the monks, who taught him at his school.

Mills also corrects the impression that Judge Dredd was immediately the favourite strip in the comic. The good lawman wasn’t, and it was months before he attained that position. And he also attacks Michael Moorcock for his comments criticising the early 2000AD in the pages of the Observer. Moorcock was horrified by Invasion, and its tale of resistance to the conquest of Britain by the Russians, hastily changed two weeks or so before publication to ‘the Volgans’. Moorcock had been the boy editor of Tarzan comic, and declared that in his day the creators had cared about comics, unlike now, when the creators of 2000AD didn’t. This annoyed Mills, and obviously still rankles, because he and the others were putting a lot of work in to it, and creating characters that children would like and want to read about. One of the recommendations he makes to prospective comics’ creators is that writers should spend four weeks crafting their character, writing and rewriting the initial scripts and outlines of the character in order to get them just right. And artists need two weeks creating and revising their portrayal of them. This was difficult then, as creators were not paid for what Mike McMahon called ‘staring out of the window time’, though Mills generally managed to find someway round that. It’s impossible now, with tight budget and time constraints.

I can see Moorcock’s point about the Invasion strip. It wasn’t Mills’ own idea, although he did it well. True to his beliefs, its hero was working class, a docker called Bill Savage. He didn’t initially want to work on it, and was only persuaded to by the then editor telling him he could have Maggie Thatcher shot on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. But it is a right-wing, Tory fantasy. It appeared at the tale end of the ’70s, when MI5, the CIA and Maggie Thatcher had all been convinced that the Labour leader, Harold Wilson, was a KGB agent, and the trade unions and the Labour party riddled with Communists or fellow-travelers ready to do the bidding of Moscow. The strikes in the period led to various arch-Tories, like the editor of the Times, Peregrine Worsthorne, trying to organise a coup against the 1975 Labour administration. And ITV launched their own wretched SF series, in which a group of resistance fighters battle a future socialist dictatorship.

He also discusses the office hatred of the character Finn and the man it was based on. Finn was Cornish, driving a taxi round the streets of Plymouth by day. He was practising witch, and at night battled the forces of evil and against social injustice. The character was based on a man he knew, an ex-squaddie who was a witch. Mills has great affection for this man, who introduced him to modern witchcraft, and in whose company Mills joined in ceremonies at the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. But the management didn’t like him, and had him sacked. There was a persistent dislike of the character, which seemed to come from its basis in witchcraft, and Mills himself was the subject of lurid stories about what he was supposed to get up to at these ceremonies. This ended with the strip’s abrupt cancellation, without proper explanation. Mills states that he is very distantly related to one of the women executed for witchcraft at Salem, and so is very definitely down on people, who despise and malign witches.

I’m not surprised by either the rumours and the hostility to the strip. This was the 1990s, the heyday of the Satanism scare, when across America, Britain and Europe there were stories of gangs of Satanists abusing animals. Children were being conceived by abused women, used as ‘brood mares’, to be later used as sacrifices to Satan. It was all rubbish, but repeated by a wide range of people from Fundamentalist Christians to secular feminist social workers. And it destroyed many lives. You may remember the Orkney scandal, where forty children were taken into care following allegations of abuse. The minister at the local kirk was supposed to be a Satanist, who had an inverted crucifix hanging from his ceiling. It was no such thing. It was, in fact, a model aeroplane.

Much of this dangerous bilge came from a group of rightwing evangelicals at the Express. I’m not surprised. I can remember the Sunday Express repeating some of this drivel, including the ludicrous claim that CND was Satanic because of its symbol. This was declared to be an old medieval witchcraft symbol, based on a broken cross. I mentioned this once to a very left-wing, religious friend, who had been a member of the nuclear disarmament group. He looked straight at me and said levelly, ‘No. It’s semaphore’. The scare pretty much disappeared in Britain after a regular psychiatrist issued a report stating very firmly that such groups didn’t exist. There are several excellent books written against the scare. The two I read are Jeffrey S. Victor’s Satanic Panic and Peter Hough’s Witchcraft: A Strange Conflict. Victor is an American sociologist, and he takes apart both the claims and gives the sociological reasons behind them. Hough is one-time collaborator of ufologist Jenny Randles, and his book comes at it from a sympathetic viewpoint to modern witches and the occult milieu. He talks about the political beliefs of modern occultists. These naturally range all over the political spectrum, but the majority are Lib Dems or supporters of the Green Party and keen on protecting the environment. And far from sacrificing babies or animals, those I knew were more likely to be peaceful veggies than evil monsters straight from the pages of Dennis Wheatley or Hammer Horror.

The 1990s were also a period of crisis for the comic, which went into a spiral of decline as their best talent was stolen by DC for their Vertigo adult imprint. There was a succession of editors, who, flailing around for some way to halt the decline, blamed the remaining creators. They were increasingly critical, and seemed to be encouraging the abuse letters being sent to them from what seemed to be a small minority of fans. There were also plans to interest TV and Hollywood in developing 2000AD characters in film. Mills and Wagner were horrified to find they were giving away the rights dirt cheap – in one case as low as pound. The comic was close to collapse, but was eventually saved by Rebellion and its current editor.

Continued in Part Three.

More Warmongering by the Beeb and the Tories over Salisbury Poisoning

March 22, 2018

Quite a few people have put up pieces tearing great, raw chunks out of the government’s story that the Russians are responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Salisbury. Last week, Leftwingnobody, one of the great commenters on this blog, posted up a link on his blog to a piece in the Irish Times, which stated that it was unlikely the Russians were responsible. Leftwingnobody’s link is at https://leftwingnobody.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/unlikely-that-vladimir-putin-behind-skripal-poisoning/?wref=tp. Go to it, and follow the link for more information.
Craig Murray, who was formerly our man in Uzbekistan, before being kicked out because he had moral objections to our dealing with a corrupt, repressive tyrant, has also cast doubt on the government’s story. And Mike has also posted up continuing developments, which add more questions. Today he put up a piece quoting the Russians, who said that if they had used military grade nerve agents, then far more people would have been affected than the Skripals and the poor cop, who was poisoned. And they would all be dead, not incapacitated. Which is how it struck me. Furthermore, the Russians couldn’t use their original stocks of the Novichoks poison, because this would have decayed after 27 years. Quite apart from the fact that the international chemical weapons authority confirmed the Russians had destroyed them. But as the scientist, who developed the toxin revealed, the knowledge of how to manufacture it is now out in the public sector, and so any number of countries or individuals could be behind the attack. Porton Down has refused to confirm that the Russians were responsible, and stated only that the nerve agent was of ‘Russian manufacture’.

But as far as May and the Tories, and their lapdogs in the Beeb are concerned, the Russians are responsible, and we’re facing a new threat from Putin. Who, according to BoJo, is now like Hitler. At least in the way he’s going to use next year’s world cup in Moscow, which will be like the Berlin Olympics in 1938.

I caught May pontificating on the Six O’clock News about how the Russians were threatening us and our European allies. The report also said she was trying to persuade the other European leaders to join her. Queue a shot of Angela Merkel going down a corridor, looking grim and serious. Then it moved on to Boris, saying that he wasn’t trying to stoke tensions with his wild comparison with Hitler. And on the local news this evening, they were also talking about the Salisbury poisoning and described the chemical used as ‘the Russian nerve agent’, although this is still open to doubt. Back to the Six O’clock News, the Beeb showed an Estonian diplomat talking about the Russian threat.

This is dangerous talk, whatever nonsense BoJo might try to bluster in order to justify his absurd comments. The Russians lost 20 million people fighting Hitler during the War. Millions of their squaddies were starved and worked to death as slave labourers after being captured as P.O.W.s by the Nazis. It’s therefore highly offensive for BoJo to make this stupid, insulting comparison. Also, as Simon Reeve showed in his documentary series about Russia a few months ago, the Russians are genuinely proud of their armed forces and the way they defended their homeland during the Great Patriotic War. Their equivalent of Remembrance Day/ Veteran’s Day is far more like a party, with food and drink, as well as marches and speeches, than the very solemn and austere ceremonies we go through every November 11.

I don’t doubt that Putin will try to exploit the World Cup to promote his government and his country, but the accusation that he will is more than a little hypocritical. Every government uses international sporting events like the World Cup, or the Olympics, to promote themselves. I can still remember the Americans at the Atlanta Olympics in the 1980s. As for Russia threatening Europe, in many cases it’s the other way. Russia is ringed by NATO bases right along its borders. This was after the original treaty with Gorbachev pledged NATO not to expand up to its borders in return for Gorby withdrawing all their troops from eastern Europe and allowing the former satellites to go their own way. I’m sympathetic to the fears of the Baltic States, who were reincorporated into the USSR after a brief period of independence when Stalin threw the Germans back in World War II. But at the same time, the Estonians are building monuments to Nazi collaborators as national heroes. And the supposedly democratic government of the Ukraine includes real, uniformed Nazis, who are now out on the streets of Kiev to keep order. But you won’t find that mentioned on the news, because obviously, the vast majority of people in this country will not want to support a blatantly Fascist regime.

So once again, we’re being fed lies by the Tories and the media, lies which could take us to war. And who benefits? Well, May and the Tories, obviously. She was seven points behind Labour in the polls, and the Tories are looking at being wiped out in London. Thus, she’s trying to copy Thatcher, and act like a ‘bargain-basement Boadicea’, rattling her sabre furiously. The real reason for this tension is less a military threat from Russia, and far more the fact that the American multinationals, who thought they would get to control the Russian economy under Yeltsin, have found themselves stymied by Putin. It’s like the Iraq invasion all over again: dodgy claims of weapons of mass destruction, and economic motives – western corporate interests – disguised as an attack, or resistance to, an evil tyrant.

Putin is a thug, and a real enemy of democracy. Journalists and opposition politicians in Russia have been arbitrarily arrested, jailed, beaten and murdered by his thugs. And I don’t doubt that at least some of the 14 Russians, who’ve died over here in suspicious circumstances, have been assassinated by him. But Corbyn is right about the Salisbury poisoning. It isn’t clear that he’s behind it, and we need far more proof before stoking up international tensions.

But the Tories are doing it anyway, for their own cynical electoral advantage, and those of their corporate financers. And if there is a war, the people who will pay the price will be ordinary working people. When Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the Republican Neocon leadership were very careful to make sure that none of their sons or daughters were likely to be posted to the conflict zone. As opposed to the poor and working class, whose districts were targeted by the recruiting sergeants.

As for Boris, looking at the way he has conducted himself as foreign secretary, I can only agree with the Russians. It is amazing that he is the spokesman of a nuclear power. Actually, it’s downright terrifying.

For all our sakes, we need the media to hold May and the rest to account, to ask the hard questions that Laura Kuenssberg and the rest of the Beeb’s pro-Tory lackeys aren’t asking. Before the Tories start another war for the benefit of multinational capital.