Posts Tagged ‘New York’

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Reply to Criticism of Socialists for Having Communist Supporters and Activists

January 20, 2020

The right-wing scumbags were after America’s Bernie Sanders last week. Having succeeded in defeating Labour in the elections over here, and Corbyn’s campaign to bring prosperity, dignity and empowerment to the British working class, they’re trying to do the same to America’s working people. They’ve started attacking Bernie’s cause of Medicare for All, whereby American people’s medical bills would be paid by the American state. 40 million people in the Land of the Free can’t afford medical insurance. 40,000 people every year die because they can’t afford medical treatment. In some states, people are hoarding medicines, including those prescribed by vets for animals, because they can’t afford drugs. But the Republicans and their corporate masters once again have started attacking Medicare For All in the interests of keeping the private healthcare companies’ profits high, and America’s working and lower middle class poor and sick. And they’ve also launched a few more personal attacks on Bernie himself. Last week several videos appeared on YouTube claiming that a member of his campaign team was a violent Communist.

I’m not surprised that a Communist would work for Sanders. The American Communist party seems to have a history of joining mainstream left-wing movements. Sometimes its to try and take them over, as Marxist parties have tried to do elsewhere in the West. And sometimes it’s simply to help them in their attempts to improve conditions for working people. In the 1950s and ’60s, I think, a number of Communists were found working for the Democrats.

They tried similar tactics over here with Jeremy Corbyn. Apart from smearing him as a Trotskyite and Stalinist, they also attempted to discredit him through one of his campaign team, Seaumas Milne. Milne really is a Stalinist, who continues to support the old thug. His views on Stalin are genuinely disgusting, but that doesn’t discredit everything else he does. His books and articles tearing modern capitalism to shreds are still excellent. And just because Milne admires the brutal dictator, it doesn’t follow that Corbyn does, and the chance of Milne setting up a similar dictatorship in Britain, even if he wanted to, is absolute zero.

There have been similar attempts to discredit other socialist parties and leaders through their employment of or work with Communists. I’ve been reading Bhaskar Sankara’s superb The Socialist Manifesto. This is his call for radical change in America, and its transformation into a genuinely socialist state in which workers actually manage the companies in which they work, share the profits, and enjoy a welfare state comparable to those of Europe, only rather more expanded. The first few chapters are a history of socialism in various countries from its Marxist roots. This covers the rise of Social Democracy in Germany, Communism in Russia and China, social democracy in Sweden and socialism in America. America has, surprisingly, a very long tradition of socialism and working class parties. But these failed to make it into mainstream politics through factionalism, inept leadership, missed opportunities and violent opposition from the American state and capital. Private corporations hired armed thugs to put down strikes, along with the police and army. The Communist party also contributed to this through its factionalism, its blind obedience to the Comintern line even when this conflicted with the local party’s and American people’s own interests in favour of that of the Soviet state’s, and attacks on rival socialist parties. They caused the collapse of one working class, socialist organisation by infiltrating it in order to turn it into a Communist satellite. At which point everyone else in the organisation left. The Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party did the same thing in Britain in the 1970s when they infiltrated the Anti-Nazi League.

But there also were instances where Communists and reformist socialists attempted to work together. This happened in the Congress of Industrial Organisations, founded in the 1930s by John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers’ union. The CIO had a large rank and file, but needed skilled leaders and organisers, and so drew on those from other socialist organisations. When it was pointed out to him that a large number of them were members of the Communist party, Lewis replied, ‘Who gets the bird? The dog or the hunter?’

Quite.

American Communism’s actually rather interesting, as it saw itself as firmly in the tradition of the American Revolution. And in contrast to the dull, crushing boredom of the Soviet Communist party, it also seems rather fun. The Party had a very strong social side to it, holding youth dances and other social events. It was also very strong on reaching out and defending Black Americans, which explains how Jackie Walker’s parents met. Her mother was a Black civil rights activist, and her father was of Jewish Russian descent. They met at a Communist civil rights event, if I remember properly.

They also revered the American Revolution and were, in their way, as patriotic as other Americans. When the Daughters of the American Revolution forgot their annual commemoration of Paul Revere’s ride, they had a man dress up as an 18th century minuteman and ride down Broadway in New York. They proclaimed ‘The DAR forgets, but the Communist party remembers!’ Another of their slogans was ‘Communism is 20th Century Americanism!’

Bernie Sanders is very far from being a Communist. His views are far more like those of mainstream European social democrats. There isn’t much about nationalisation in his book, Our Revolution, though he does favour worker cooperatives. He also doesn’t want to nationalise American healthcare. He just wants the government to pay people’s medical bills – hardly a radical suggestion from the European perspective. The Germans have had it since Bismarck’s Socialist Laws of 1875. But that, and Bernie’s concern to expand the American welfare state, restore union power and give working people proper employment rights – in effect, to undo forty years of Reaganomic misgovernment – is too much for American capital.

Communism fell in the 1990s. But socialism is alive and reviving. The world as well as America needs Bernie in the White House.

So let’s making Socialism 21st Century Americanism and Britishism!

 

‘I’ Article About Research into Artificial Wombs and their Morality

January 8, 2020

This is another science story from yesterday’s I for 7th January 2020. It’s about current research into developing artificial wombs. At the moment, these would be for very premature babies, but they could in theory go much further, which raises some serious ethical issues.

The article by Alla Katsnelson, ‘Baby in a bag: could humans be grown in an artificial womb?’ runs

Critically preterm babies face an uncertain future. Although a foetus is considered viable at 24 weeks of gestation, only about 60 per cent of babies born so young will survive, and many will experience life-long complications.

For those born a couple of weeks earlier, the statistics are even more dire: just 10 per cent of babies born at 22 weeks are likely to survive.

building a so-called artificial womb could potentially save these babies. In October, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands announced that they had received a grant for E2.9m (£2.5m) to develop a prototype of such a device. But the project isn’t the only artificial womb on the horizon. In 2017, researchers in Philadelphia transferred foetal lambs, aged between 105 and 115 days of gestation (equivalent to about 28 to 30 weeks human gestation), into a so-called biobag filled with artificial amniotic fluid. After several weeks in the bag, the lambs developed normally. And in March 2019, an Australian and Japanese research team kept younger lambs, about 95 days’ gestational age, alive in a different system.

Dr Matthew Kemp, who led the latter work, admits that researchers don’t fully understand foetal growth in the womb, which makes replicating it a challenge. The Dutch group noted plans to roll out a clinic-ready prototype in five years, but Dr Kemp says it will probably take much longer. And because the technology is so costly, it’s unlikely to be widely available any time soon.

So far, what researchers call artificial wombs are essentially souped-up incubators. They provide a fluid-filled space in which a foetus can receive nutrients and oxygen through a ‘placenta’. From there to full-on ectogenesis – incubating foetuses outside a human for the full duration of a pregnancy – is an enormous leap.

But many bioethicists note that technology moves quickly, and proactively thinking through the possibilities is important.

In this more futuristic vision, artificial wombs can do a lot for society, says Dr Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist at Fordham University in New York. It could allow people who can’t carry a pregnancy for whatever reason – illness, infertility, age, or gender – to do so. It might also shift some of the childbearing responsibilities carried by women. But it also raises concerns. For example, ex-utero gestation would probably turn reproductive rights on their head, says Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer and bioethicist at the University of Manchester. If a foetus can gestate outside a woman’s body, the choice fo whether or not to have the baby might be deemed out of her hands.

Another issue is that our legal rights are predicated on having been born alive. “I don’t think that a gestating subject in an artificial womb necessarily meets that requirement,” says Romanis. “That raises some questions about human entities ex-utero that have never existed before.

There have been newspaper articles about the development of artificial wombs since the 1980s, at least. The Absurder published one c. 1985, and I think the Independent also published one in the 1990s. And the whole area of artificial reproduction has been a live issue since the first ‘test tube’ baby created through in vitro fertilisation in the 1970s. But it also raises the spectacle of the kind of dystopian society Aldous Huxley portrayed in Brave New World, where humans are bred in hatcheries, engineered and conditioned for their future role in society. The Auronar, the telepathic race to which Cally, one of the heroes of the Beeb’s SF series, Blake’s 7, also reproduced through artificial gestation.And one of the predictions in Brian Stableford’s and David Langford’s future history, The Third Millennium, is that during this millennium this will be the preferred method of human reproduction, at least in some extraterrestrial colonies. And over a decade Radio 4 broadcast a series in which various intellectuals created fictional museums. One was ‘the museum of the biological body’, set in a post-human future in which people were neuter cyborgs born from hatcheries. This is obviously very far off, and I doubt anywhere near the majority of humans would ever want to reject gender and sexuality completely, whatever certain sections of the trans community might believe.

As with cloning and Dolly the Sheep, it raises very profound and disturbing questions about humanity’s future and how far technology should expand into the area of reproduction.

Is Black Anti-Semitism Behind the Attacks on Jews in New York?

December 30, 2019

Yesterday came the shocking news that there had been yet another anti-Semitic attack in New York. The attacker had pushed into a rabbi’s house where he and a group of others were celebrating Hanukkah, and stabbed five of them. And Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon, has posted a video about it.

Sargon is the right-wing ranter, who broke UKIP. He’s a ‘classical liberal’, or rather Libertarian, who believes in privatising everything, destroying the welfare state even further, and is anti-feminist and racist. So it should come as no surprise that he supports Donald Trump. Sargon is the man who sent the Tweet to Jess Philips telling her that he wouldn’t even rape her. When he joined UKIP and was selected as one of their two candidates for the south-west constituency in the Euro elections, the branch in his own town of Swindon asked for him to be deselected. Gloucestershire UKIP disbanded in disgust, and he was greeted with protests and thrown milkshakes and fish in places like Bristol and Truro on his election tour.

But this time Sargon seems to have raised an interesting issue and made a decent point. In his video, he goes through some of the newspaper coverage of the incidents. Yesterday’s attack is sadly only one of a number that have been carried out in recent weeks, so that several of the members of the Jewish community affected have said that they felt they were living in Nazi Germany.  Sargon noted how the newspapers claimed that the attackers were of both genders and all races, male and female, Black and White. He found a piece where one newspaper columnist called for Jews and Blacks to unite against their common enemy, white supremacy. But Sargon stated that in all the incidents he’d seen, the perpetrators had been very largely Black, although there were a few Hispanics. And he quite naturally wondered why.

Now it could be that the idea that the attacks are committed by Blacks is an illusion. It’s possible that there were equal numbers or more of Whites involved, but for some reason these were not covered as examples. Or else they were reported, but Sargon couldn’t find them when he searched the net. Certainly there have been terrible anti-Semitic attacks carried out by White racists this year.

But some of the attacks may also be due to causes peculiar to certain forms of Black radicalism. If that’s true, then it must also be stressed that this is only going to be a minority within America’s Black community, just as White racists like Richard Spencer certainly do not represent all White Americans.

Sargon suggested that it might be connected to a speech by the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, which was taken down from YouTube. Farrakhan, whose anti-Semitism is notorious, had ranted about the Jews, at one point comparing them to Termites. Given that the attackers seemed to be largely Black, he didn’t see how Trump or White supremacy could be blamed. He claimed that Trump didn’t have any problem with Jews, as his daughter had converted to Judaism. So, he asked, why were Blacks attacking Jews? He then made the perfectly reasonable point that we wouldn’t know unless somebody asked them.

It is possible that Farrakhan’s highly inflammatory rhetoric against Jews could have inspired some of the attackers. Farrakhan is the head of the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organisation that, from the standpoint of orthodox Islam, is highly heretical. It’s a mixture of 19th century Freemasonry, Sudanese Sufism and elements of Ufology. It’s central doctrine is that W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, is the Son of God. Farrakhan claims that he was taken up to a flying ‘mother wheel’ by a UFO from a mountain in Mexico, and shown that Fard is alive and well and living on Venus, directing the war against Whites. The religion calls for the creation of a separate nation for Black Americans as it considers that they will never have justice or equality under White domination. They also believe that hundreds of thousands of years ago Blacks had an advanced civilisation, travelling to and exploring the Moon. White people are albinistic mutants created by a renegade Meccan scientist. Way back in the 1990s Farrakhan was predicting that American would be destroyed by a nuclear attack from an alliance of Muslim nations, that would free Black Americans. The religion is obviously bitterly hostile to Whites, or at least White civilisation. Given the immense exploitation and injustice Blacks have suffered in American and western history, it’s understandable.

Farrakhan also has a particular hatred of the Jews, because he blames them for the slave trade. Mainstream, respectable scholarship, such as Hugh Thomas’ comprehensive The Slave Trade, actually shows that Jews formed a tiny minority of slave traders and slave-owners.

A number of right-wing American websites also reported that the man responsible for an attack on a Jewish supermarket just before Christmas was a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites. This was a response to one of the left-wing Democrat politicos, who claimed that it was the vile work of a White nationalist. The Black Hebrew Israelites were founded c. 1964 by two preachers of Black Judaism, Gerson Parker, who took the name Nasi Hashalom, and Louis Bryant, who became Nasi Shaliach Ben Yehuda. Hashalom was the group’s spokesman, and revered as the Messiah. In 1969 they established a community in Dimona in Israel. The group believe that the only real Jews are Black Americans of slave ancestry.  Jews are fakes, and are part of the conspiracy to hide Black Americans’ real, spiritual identity from them. They will be destroyed, along with the rest of the religion’s enemies, at the Battle of Armageddon. This didn’t impress the Israeli authorities, who ruled that the Black Hebrew Israelites were not genuine Jews, and so could be legally deported. However, this hadn’t occurred by 1992, and the group was reported to have good relations with the Israeli authorities.  

It’s possible that the growth in the Nazi and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in the White population may also have encouraged similar poisonous ideas in the Nation of Islam. The September 8th, 1992 issue of the religion’s newspaper, The Final Call, carried an article that suggested that the American government was planning to fake an alien landing in order to set up a tyrannical one-world government. The article featured an interview with UFO researcher Nario Hayakawa, who said

The U.S. government behind a veil of secrecy, is testing these aerial devices or select pilots may be receiving instructions [from alien beings] on how to fly these disk shaped crafts developed by the government for the purpose of staging a fake extraterrestrial event in the very near future, perhaps around 1995… Secret international banking groups and other global secret groups are going to forcefully eliminate international borders and create some kind of controlled society… The most amazing weapon they will use to do this will be the extraterrestrial threat. 

(See Donna Kossy, Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief (Portland: Feral House 1994) 27).

This is very similar to some of the ideas promoted by White conspiracy theorists at the time, like Bill Cooper in his book, Behold a Pale Horse. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince also suggested that there was a conspiracy to create a Fascist social order with a fake alien landing in their book, The Stargate Conspiracy, published at the same time. This last book does not, however, blame the Jews and is certainly not anti-Semitic.

These ideas have been around for decades, however. This raises the question of why these attacks are being carried out now.

While Sargon is right that Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism – she did so when she married Jared Kushner, his son-in-law – Trump’s administration did contain allegedly genuine anti-Semites like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, and he did have links to and sympathy for the Alt Right. It might be that the growth in far right activism and racist rhetoric that his presidency has encouraged among White nationalists and racists like Richard Spencer has encouraged a similar increase in racism and anti-Semitism among some Black radicals.

On the other hand, it may also be that these attacks arise from tensions that a particular to the Black community. But left-wing commenters may also be right in that Trump’s neoliberal economic policies have resulted in more Americans of all colours facing terrible poverty. This is going to exacerbate racial tensions as groups compete over scarce resources. And the economic and social sense of threat this creates may cause some to seek out the Jews as scapegoats.

Racism and anti-Semitism have to be fought in all their forms. But the underlying economic causes have to be tackled as well – the poverty and the sense of despair and alienation this generates.

And that means electing a government that Sargon is definitely opposed to: one that will overturn decades of neoliberalism and restore genuine prosperity and a proper welfare net to working people. A government headed by Bernie Sanders.

 

 

Video of the V-9: the German Missile Against America

December 26, 2019

Hi peeps! I hope you had a great Christmas Day, and are enjoying Boxing Day.  Here’s another piece about German World War 2 aerospace technology. It’s a video from Mark Felton’s channel on YouTube about the America Rocket. Felton posts vlogs about World War II fighting machines, and in this video he describes how the rocket was designed by Werner von Braun to hit New York. It was a two-stage version of the V-2. Unlike its predecessor, however, it was to be piloted. The German guidance system couldn’t work over such a long range without beacons. The German navy tried placing these in Greenland and other places on the other side of the Atlantic, but they were quickly found and destroyed by the Allies. This left them with creating a piloted version of the missile their only option. It was not, however, a suicide weapon like the Japanese kamikaze. Just before or during its final dive, the pilot was expected to bail out and parachute to safety. Lack of funding and the turn of the War against the Nazis meant that this was fortunately never built. If it had been, not only would the Nazis have built the world’s first ICBM, but they would have been the first nation to put a man in space.

Again, I should say that while I’m impressed with the scientific and engineering expertise in the development of the V-2 and this missile, I despise its purpose. The V-2 was responsible for thousands of deaths in London, and the prospect of a missile that could hit New York is terrifying. Particularly if the Nazis had succeeded in developing nuclear weapons. And the Third Reich was, of course, a brutal dictatorship dedicated to the enslavement and extermination of millions.

After the War there was a plan by the British Interplanetary Society to adapt a captured V-2 so that it could carry a man into space. Nothing came of it, however, as when the plan was finalised the Ministry of Supply weren’t interested and the missiles and their parts were no longer available.

European Haredi Jewish Organisation Condemns Chief Rabbi’s Attack on Corbyn and Labour

November 27, 2019

Here’s a story from Mike’s blog that, as he points out, you won’t find in the mainstream press. A leading rabbi for the Haredi Jewish organisation, United European Jews, Mayer Weinberger, has written a letter on behalf of his organisation’s Executive Board condemning Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ attack on Jeremy Corbyn. Not only does Rabbi Weinberger defend Corbyn for his support of the British Jewish community, but actually thanks him.

Mike makes the point that this shouldn’t be too surprising, as the organisation comes from the True Torah Jews, which thoroughly rejects Zionism. True Torah and Haredi Jews believe that the Jewish people should stay in exile until – and only until – the coming of the Messiah. Only he has the divine right to restore the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. Until then they are to remain and, in the words of the Hebrew Bible, ‘pray for the health of the city’. That is, they are to live as members of the nations in which they live, working and praying for their common good.

R. Weinberger writes

I write to you on behalf of the Executive Board of the United European Jews organisation regarding an unusually disturbing declaration that was … reported in the media claiming that the overwhelming majority of British Jews are “gripped by anxiety” at the prospect of a Labour victory in the forthcoming general election.

Please not that we totally reject and condemn in no uncertain terms these remarks, which [do] not represent the views of the mainstream chareidi Jews that live in the UK.

We believe that such assertions are due to propaganda with a political and ideological agenda. An agenda which, I might add, is diametrically opposed to fundamental Jewish values as well as the opinions of tens of thousands of Jews in our community.

At this time, we also relay our gratefulness for your numerous acts of solidarity with the Jewish community over many years and also welcome your assurances that Labour will do everything necessary to defend the Jewish way of life and protect our rights to practise our religion.

For all this, we take this opportunity to say: Thank you! Mr Corbyn.

R. Weinberger is quite right when says that the Chief Rabbi’s remarks are propaganda based on a political and ideological agenda. The Chief Rabbi is a Zionist, as many Chief Rabbis before him have been. He is a friend of Netanyahu and Boris Johnson, and has made comments in the past supporting the bombing of Palestinians.

Mike reminds us in his post about the letter that this should show that R. Mirvis’ claims about the opinion of British Jews towards the Labour leader are not as conclusive as the Chief Rabbi claims.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/27/chief-rabbis-rant-condemned-as-political-and-ideological-propaganda/

Many Jews from all walks of life and all shades of religious opinion – from secular people to members of the clergy – have written or taken to social media to express their support for Jeremy Corbyn. Earlier today Mike put up a piece on his blog  about the messages of support for Corbyn and anger and condemnation Jewish Labour supporters had posted against Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ comments.

Unafraid: Jews respond to Chief Rabbi’s (and other) claims that they fear a Corbyn Labour government

And it is a mistake to assume that the Jews have a monolithic cultural or religious identity. The Talmud is full of the debates between the great rabbis of the past regarding the interpretation of Scripture and the Law. Even minority opinions are preserved, and many of these accounts end with no conclusion having been reached. The text simply says, ‘And so they disagreed’. And I think the Jewish people also see themselves as being particularly disputatious. There’s a Jewish saying, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. I got the impression that debate is a vital part of the teaching at the yeshivas, the rabbinical colleges, so that the students can properly learn how to interpret scripture and form correct, reasonable opinions on its observance. The I stated in its coverage of Mirvis’ comments that he represents the United Synagogue, which they claimed was the largest Jewish denomination in Britain. That may be so, but the Jewish community also includes secular Jews, who obviously aren’t represented because they don’t attend synagogue, nor Orthodox Jews. And even within the United Synagogue you can wonder how many people he really speaks for. As Tony Greenstein and other Jewish critics have pointed out in their rebuttals to the Board of Deputies’ attacks on Corbyn, not all synagogues allow women to vote or stand for election as deputies, and some haven’t changed their deputies for years. Which means that even here, Mirvis may only be speaking for a Zionist, Tory clique.

However, the British media is determined not to show Jewish support for Corbyn and the Labour party. Some of the newspapers, including supposedly left-wing journals like the Observer, have refused to publish letters from Corbyn’s Jewish supporters. There is also a similar reluctance to cover anti-Zionist, or Israel-critical Jewish opinion generally. A few years ago I put up a video on this blog of a public meeting in New York of ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Jews. I believe they were members of ‘True Torah’. The video claimed there were 30,000 people there. I don’t know if that’s true, but it was very clear that there were very many and the meeting was huge. But it received no press or media coverage, from what the video said.

I believe this also points to one of the underlying reasons why the British and American political and media establishments have been so keen to smear Corbyn on this side of the Atlantic as an anti-Semites, and left-wing Democrats, including supporters and staffers working for Bernie Sanders. Who is himself Jewish. It is not simply a profoundly Conservative establishment trying to discredit left-wing threats to its continued dominance. It is not only because of the power of the Israel lobby in our two countries. I think it is also because Israel has played a vital part in Western great power policy in the Middle East since the days of the British Mandate. Geopolitical considerations demand that Britain supports Israel in the Middle East as a way of maintaining power and influence in the region.

And to the supporters of this policy, Corbyn is a real threat. Not because he wants the destruction of Israel, but simply because he wants an end to Israeli apartheid and a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A policy supported by many Jews, who feel that to be Jewish means always identifying with the oppressed, never the oppressor.

And that means making sure that the Jewish voices supporting Labour must not be allowed real coverage by our Tory press and media.

 

Is Riley’s and Oberman’s Fixation with Corbyn Heading towards Clinical Paranoia?

November 9, 2019

Mike’s had to put up another piece on his site asking his supporters to dig into their pockets again to help fund his defence against Rachel Riley. His preliminary hearings set for December 11, and he needs a further £6,684. Justice in this country is expensive, which is why I think Riley is pursuing her entirely malicious libel claim against Mike, and threatens anybody else, who dares to criticise her, with legal action.

But the fixation Riley and her bestie, Z-list actor Tracy-Ann Oberman, have with supposed Labour anti-Semitism, and particularly Jeremy Corbyn, is so extreme and irrational that I’m starting to wonder if it’s edging into clinical paranoia. For example, a few months ago one of the two heard the Durham miners’ band playing ‘Hava Nagila’ at their annual gala. Riley – or was it Oberman? – blew her top and declared it was like the KKK playing it. Except that it wasn’t. The Durham miners’ explained that they played the tune every year, and resented being compared to the Klan. As they should. But the pair have obviously decided that as Corbyn and his supporters want justice for the Palestinians, they are anti-Semites, and so every member of a trade union or the Labour party is thus likely to be a Nazi.

And a few weeks ago Oberman decided that Corbyn was stalking her personally. She was performing in a play at a theatre in Manchester, and Corbyn turned up visiting the theatre. But it had nothing to do with persecuting Oberman. Corbyn’s actually a patron of that particular theatre, and was one of the people, who got it set up in the first place. He was there to see a play. This seems to show, to me, that Oberman is on the verge of real paranoia.

I’ve compared her fixation with Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the past to some of the bizarre racist myths about Roman Catholics and Blacks circulating around poor White Protestants in the southern US. A documentary was made about this a few years ago, but I can’t remember its name. Apparently this included tales that Roman Catholics were secretly telepathic, and if you suddenly found yourself thinking about the Pope, it meant that they were secretly beaming Roman Catholic ideas into your head. Blacks also had a powder they could put on their body that would make them appear White. Thus your mate could really be Black. She also reminds me of the paranoid messages the FBI used to get during the Cold War from people, who wore the tinfoil beanie against the CIA/Red Chinese/Aliens beaming their mind control rays at them. As well as the other nutters, who thought they’d found Adolf Hitler alive and well and working at the local Jewish delicatessen in New York.

She also reminds me of Steve Renstrom, AKA She-Bop Steve, an American artist, who decided that Senator Alan Cranston was behind a vast conspiracy to kill millions including John F. Kennedy and the actor John Belushi. Donna Kossy provides an example of his insane rants in her Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief (Portland, Oregon: Feral House 1994). This has the following

The Goods on the Big Boys

Reagan/Cabinet, Iran/Contra Situation –

IT’S A CRANSTON ‘TAKES THE FALL’ FRONT LIE

[TERROR OF JUSTICE]

The Reich, or Cranston Co., owns the scenario and is undermining the power and popularity of the Presidency. The Reich is freaking about the possibility of justice re their mass slaughtering of the people.

So, they opportuned and exacerbated the Iran thing plus deviously calling for conclusions, anti-Reagan conclusions, all across the land. (brainwashing every voice). This one really tipped me: picture of Reagan on the front page pointing to head. (At the same time as Iran scheme!)

The Dan Rather Incident: Horrifying Berlin 42 Implications

It was designated also to blind mass “Dupe Troop” levels. “What’s the frequency” was a ‘drop’ they’d buy a “it’s pigs allright, must be o.k. to beat up newsmen. We ought accept more ‘n more Nazi violence and atrocities. And it’s o.k. also about owning the media about it.”

P.S. All during this writing I’m being insanely tortured. Also flow “cover up” and American guilt lies every second.

The Iran/ Contra scandal was when members of Reagan’s government were caught supplying arms to Iran, so that they would pressure Shi’a terrorists in Lebanon into releasing captured American hostages. The conspiracy also involved sending aid to the Fascist Contras in Nicaragua in exchange for allow them to export cocaine to America. The Dan Rather incident was when the veteran American newsman was assaulted in New York by someone, who seemed to think he was responsible for mind-control beams or some such similar nonsense, and beat Rather over the head shouting, ‘What’s the frequency, Kenneth?’

It might sound a bit extreme comparing Riley’s and Oberman’s fixation with Jeremy Corbyn and She-Bop Steve’s paranoid views about Senator Cranston. But I do think that there are real similarities there and that, if they’re not careful, Riley and Oberman will end up as real paranoiacs blaming Corbyn for all manner of conspiracies, including UFOs.

Mike’s very grateful to his supporters for all the help he gets, no matter how small. If you want to help him, go to https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/08/target-set-to-fund-next-hearing-in-riley-libel-fightback/ and follow the instructions there.

Anti-Black Racism and the Anti-Semitism Smears

August 2, 2019

Looking back at two of the most notorious instances, where decent anti-racists have been smeared as an anti-Semites, it occurred to me that behind them there’s a very nasty strain of anti-black racism. These two cases were the attacks on Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum by the Campaign Against Truth and the Jewish Labour Movement, and against Marc Wadsworth by Ruth Smeeth. Both were not only passionate and committed campaigners against all varieties of racism, they were also Black.

Walker is Jewish by descent and faith. Her partner is Jewish, and she sent her daughter to a Jewish school. She is an outspoken opponent of Israeli apartheid, and began attacking it through her activism against its counterpart in South Africa. Because of this some Zionist organisation has apparently identified her as the second most dangerous threat to Israel along with Jeremy Corbyn.

She was accused of anti-Semitism when snoopers from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism dug up an old Facebook conversation between her and two or three other historians and scholars discussing Jewish financial involvement in the slave trade. Walker made it clear that she was looking at it partly from the angle of being a Jew herself. She said that the Jews involved were ‘my people too’. It’s a legitimate area of historical research, and Jackie has subsequently very ably defended herself by citing studies of this by mainstream, respectable Jewish historians. Nowhere did she claim that the Jews were solely responsible for the slave trade, or even its main investors. She has made it clear that the responsibility for the slave trade lies with the Christian monarchs of the states that engaged in it.

Nevertheless, her words were taken out of context and further distorted, and she was the subject of a vile article in the Jewish Chronicle claiming that she had. This formed the basis for a complaint against her to the Labour party demanding her expulsion. She was also accused of anti-Semitism by the Jewish Labour Movement. They secretly recorded her at a workshop on the proper commemoration of the Holocaust for Holocaust Memorial Day. Jackie complained that she was unable  to work with their definition of anti-Semitism and objected to the way Holocaust Memorial Day concentrated exclusively on Jewish suffering to the exclusion of other groups, who had also suffered similar genocides, like Black Africans. I believe the definition of anti-Semitism to which she objected wasn’t the normal definition that it is simply hatred of Jews as Jews, but the IHRC definition, which conflates it with opposition to Israel. And while Holocaust Memorial Day does mention the holocausts of other ethnicities, there is increasing hostility amongst some Zionists on their inclusion. As Tony Greenstein has shown, the Israeli state is keen to present the Holocaust as a unique phenomenon which targeted only Jews, despite the Nazis’ determination to murder other groups and races, like the Roma and the disabled, not to mention the Slav peoples they intended to enslave and turn into a class of peasant serfs.

Jackie was duly expelled from the party, though not for anti-Semitism, which he accusers couldn’t prove, but on other, spurious charges, like bringing the party into disrepute or some other nonsense. Since then, she has been the victim of sustained, vicious abuse. She has been told that she should be hanged from trees, or killed and her body dumped in bin bags. This is so vile, that she has forbidden her daughters from reading her email, because she doesn’t want to see them upset by the abuse their mother is getting. And amongst these accusations is the claim that she cannot be properly Jewish, because she’s black. Which is itself definitely racist.

Now it seems to me that at the heart of these smears against Walker is the assumption that, as a Black anti-racist activist, she must be an anti-Semite. This is based on the very public comments several decades ago of two leading Black American figures, Louis Farrakhan and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Farrakhan is, or was, the head of the Nation of Islam, the religious movement led by Malcolm X. Although it sees itself as a form of Islam, it is by Muslim standards highly heretical. It’s based around the worship of W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, as God incarnate. It also has elements of those new religious movements centred on UFOs, like the Aetherius Society. Farrakhan claims that he was taken up by a UFO from a mountain in Mexico to an orbiting ‘mother wheel’, where he was told that W.D. Fard and Jesus were alive and well on Venus, where they would direct the future war against Whites.

As well as bitterly hostile to Whites, Farrakhan is also vehemently anti-Semitic. He really does believe that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade. This is definitely rejected by every proper scholar of the subject, including Jackie herself. 

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Farrakhan organised a series of events protesting against the conditions of Black people in America. One of the most spectacular was the ‘Million Man March’, in which a million Black men were to march on Washington D.C. It was supposed to be a men-only event, as the religion has very traditional views on sex and gender roles. Women were supposed to be at home, looking after the children. And it was supposed to be for Blacks only. In the event, the organisers could only reach the numbers they wanted through letting Whites join.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson was a Christian minister, who was also a Black anti-racism activist. He was popular, and at one stage it looked like he might win the Democratic presidential nomination. Eddie Murphy in his stand-up comedy routine included jokes about the shock White racists would get after they drunkenly voted for him as a joke, only to wake up the next morning to find Jackson in the White House. It’s possible that two decades before Barack Obama, America could have seen its first Black president. Jackson’s political ambitions took a nosedive, however, when he began to move close to Farrakhan and made anti-Semitic comments. The most notorious of these was when he called New York ‘Hymietown’ because of its large Jewish population.

It therefore seems very strongly to me that the accusations of anti-Semitism against Jackie Walker were partly intended to recall the real anti-Semitism of Farrakhan and Jackson. The implication there seemed to be that because she dared discuss Jewish involvement in the slave trade, she must share Farrakhan’s odious views. Not least of which is because she’s a Black anti-racist activist, and so was he.

Ditto with Marc Wadsworth. He was smeared by Ruth Smeeth because he caught her passing on information to a Torygraph journo next to her at a Labour party event. She then claimed that he was guilty of using the anti-Semitic trope of Jews as leaders of a conspiracy against her. The lamestream press had a field day with this, repeating this lie and even screaming that he was the Labour activist, who made her cry.

Wadsworth is not Jewish, but he is a committed anti-racist activist. Among his achievements was getting the parents of the murdered Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, to meet Nelson Mandela. He also worked with the Board of Deputies of British Jews to formulate improved legislation to protect Jews from real anti-Semitic violence after a spate of attacks by the NF/BNP in the Isle of Dogs in the 1980s. He’s very, very definitely not a racist. But truth doesn’t matter to these scoundrels, and they libelled him as such anyway.

Like Jackie Walker.

I think part of the underlying assumption here is that both Jackie and Marc must be racist themselves, because they’re Black. When riots broke out in Black communities across Britain in the first years of Thatcher’s reign c. 1981/2, the Tory press claimed that they weren’t caused by poor social conditions, lack of opportunities, high unemployment suffered by British Blacks, or institutional racism in British society. No! The real reason Blacks in Toxteth, Liverpool, St. Paul’s, Bristol, and Brixton in London, was because they were anti-White racists. And although nearly four decades have passed since then, I think that’s still the assumption, or the implication, behind the accusations against Marc and Jackie. Black anti-racism activists must be anti-White, and anti-Semitic, because of the assumptions and events of over three decades ago.

Meanwhile, it’s noticeable how uninterested in combating racism, or actively racist those making the accusations of anti-Semitism are. the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has precious little to say about real Fascism and anti-Semitism, preferring to rail instead against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. Margaret Hodge did so little to combat the NF/BNP in Islington, that when the BNP’s Derek Beacon and his storm troopers got onto Tower Hamlet’s council, they sent her a bouquet of flowers. Tom Watson, who has done his best to facilitate these accusations in the Labour party, was a friend of Phil Woolas, who was prosecuted for running an islamophobic campaign portraying Muslims as terrorists. David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group has written on his blog about how the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the 1980s did their level best to prevent Jews from going on anti-racist marches and events like Rock Against Racism. The ostensible reason was that they were afraid Jews would be exposed to anti-Zionist propaganda. But others suspected that the real reason was that the Board did not want them mixing with people from different races and communities. And the respected historian of Jewish community in Britain, Geoffrey Alderman, was put under pressure by the Board in the 1970s to remove from his book his finding that 2 per cent of the Jewish community in the UK voted for the BNP because they hated Blacks and didn’t want their children going to school with them.

Of course, the people making these defamatory accusations of anti-Semitism against decent people don’t confine them to Blacks. They also make them against Whites, and particularly against Jews critical of Israel. These latter, who obviously include Jackie, are subjected to the most vile abuse, which would automatically be considered anti-Semitic if it came from non-Jews. Like some of the comments Tony Greenstein has received by Zionist Jews, telling him that they wish he and his family had died in the Shoah.

But it seems to me that behind the smears of Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth there is nevertheless a very strong undertone of anti-Black racism, a racism that permeates their accusers and the right-wing media, which supported those smears.

 

 

France Recruits SF Writers as Military Strategists

July 22, 2019

I’m afraid I’ve lost the cutting for this, so I can’t really give you the details. But it was reported in last week’s I that the French have recruited five science fiction writers for one of their defence organisations. I realise that some people will consider it so far-fetched that SF writers can have anything sensible to say on the subject of present day warfare or possible terror attacks, that it’ll sound like a joke to them. There may well be muttered sneers about these peeps protecting la patrie from the Daleks, Klingons or some other threat from beyond the stars. But there’s some very sound sense in it. SF writers have written about terrible threats to global security, wars and terror attacks almost from the very beginnings of the modern genre in the 19th century. Jules Verne described an anarchist waging war against the rest of the world in his story, Robur le Conquerant. H.G. Wells predicted something like modern tank warfare in his The Land Ironclads, although these massive vehicles were more like ships and moved on dozens of mechanical legs like centipedes. Another short story, The Stolen Bacillus, dealt with the attempted use of germ warfare by terrorists. In this story, an anarchist works his way into the confidence and laboratory of a biologist working on a new type of infectious germ. The anarchist seizes a vial of the cultures, and escapes, running across London with the scientist in hot pursuit. When it appears that he will be cornered and caught, the anarchist drinks the vial, deliberating infecting himself with the disease organism, and then runs on, taking care deliberately to bump into people. All is well, however, as rather than being a lethal pathogen, the disease is actually quite harmless. All it does is to make those infected with it turn a different colour. Which is either yellow or blue. The story may have had a happy ending, but for its late Victorian audience it raised a real, terrifying possibility.

With warfare moving into areas previously considered the realm of SF, like Trump’s call for a space force, the US navy testing laser weapons, war robots being developed by Boston Dynamics and the very real threat of cyber attack, it makes sense for the French to recruit suitable SF writers. After all, back in the 1980s before 9/11, one of the major thriller writers published a novel about a group of terrorists flying a plane into the Twin Towers. It’s possible that their recruitment by the military may also be a gesture to show how hip and modern Macron’s presidency is. Alongside old, trusted methods and guides, he’s turning to imaginative popular culture. But it also shows that we really are increasingly living in an age of Science Fiction.

Time Travel Tale of Scientists Warning of Ecological Collapse: Gregory Benford’s ‘Timescape’

May 10, 2019

Gregory Benford, Timescape (London: Victor Gollancz 1980).

Julian, one of the great commenters on this blog, has asked me to do a review of Gregory Benford’s time machine book, Timescape. I read it a few years ago, having bought the 1996 edition, over a decade and a half after it was first published. It is just a bit dated now in its prediction of life in 1998, but still well-worth reading if you’re into physics and hard SF.

Benford, the ‘Galactic Centre’ Novels and Timescape

Gregory Benford is an American astronomer and hard SF writer. He’s probably best known for his ‘Galactic Centre’ series of novels. Set thousands of years in the future, this is about the last remnants of humanity battling for survival against a ruthless and almost overwhelmingly superior machine civilisation, the Mechs, at the centre of the Galaxy. Hard SF is the type of science fiction that tries as far as possible to keep to established scientific rules. Such as, for example, the inviolability of the rule of Relativity, so that there are no Faster Than Light drives taking humans to the stars in a matter of hours, days or months rather than years. But that doesn’t mean ruling out other scientific advances, like time travel. Several of the ‘Galactic Centre’ novels are set in an artificial environment within the Black Hole at the centre of our Galaxy, where careful engineering by alien creatures formed of pure magnetism have merged two Black Holes to form an artificial environment of warped space time, within which humans and organic aliens are able to seek sanctuary from the Mechs. The curvature of spacetime and stress cracks within it in this environment allow the inhabitants to travel backwards and forwards in time. One of the novels features the adventures of a modern human family, who are forced to flee forward in time as the Mechs invade, almost to the end of time itself.

Brief Synopsis

Timescape doesn’t go that far, and is very firmly set in the recent past, and near future according to the time it was written. It’s the tale of two scientists and their friends, Gordon Bernstein and his fellows at CalTech in 1963, and Gregory Markham, an American scientist and his friend Markham, at Cambridge Uni in 1998. Bernstein is a young graduate student, who detects strange signals from an experiment he and his fellows are running, signals that he gradually begins to realize cannot be explained as just random noise or the product of background radiation. In 1998 Markham and Renfrew are working on ways to generate tachyons, faster than light subatomic particles that will travel back in time through bombarding iridium with high energy particles. They hope that by creating such particles, they may be able to use them to send a warning to the past.

The Earth in this very near future is dying. The ecology is collapsing through a deadly bacteriological bloom that destroys vegetable and animal life. The result is global famine, poverty and social unrest, with food rationing and bands of hostile, violent beggars moving across England. Markham and Renfrew hope they can send a message to the past detailing how the disease can be fought and eradicated in order to save civilisation by preventing the catastrophe occurring in the first place.

Time Travelling Subatomic Particles from Space

The idea of using subatomic particles and quantum physics to contact the past is highly speculative, of course, but not unreasonable. Some interpretations of quantum physics suggest that information is able to move backwards through time, so that events in the future are able to determine the results of certain experiments, for example. There was also speculation in the 1990s that some subatomic particles reaching Earth from despite might be tachyons in origin. I can’t quite remember whether these were a type of neutrino or meson, but the theory was that they were produced by high energy events in space, such as supernovas. This produced tachyons, which traveled backwards in time until they decayed to become neutrinos or mesons or whatever, which were then able to be detected by scientists.

The Connecticutt College Professor’s Time Machine

Also in the 1990s came a plan by a Black professor at Connecticutt Community college to build a real, working time machine. This wouldn’t be able to transport people, just other subatomic particles back into the past. The idea was to create an Einstein-Rosen Condensate of iridium ions. An Einstein-Rosen Condensate is a strange state of matter where a plasma – an ionised gas is supercooled so that its component particles behave as a single particle. This plasma was to be whirled around in a chamber mimicking the spin of stars. Stars are so massive that as they spin, they pull the fabric of space time itself around after them. The effect has been observed around the Sun, providing confirmation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It has been suggested that this effect could be used in the case of extremely massive objects, like Black Holes, to travel back in time. You simply enter the region of space being dragged around by the Black Hole, and then travel in the opposite direction to the local movement of spacetime. This should make you go back in time, it is suggested, and so you should be able to leave that area of space some time in the past, before you entered it. The professors plan worked along similar lines. Electrons would be shot into the chamber in the opposite direction to the circulation of the condensate. This should allow them to travel back into the past. If the scientists running the experiment found a larger number of electrons in the condensate than normal or otherwise explained, before they had started shooting them into it, then it would mean that the electrons had traveled there from the future. Time travel, or at least that possibility of communication between past and future, would be possible.

This obviously got very many people very excited. H.G. Wells’ grandson, who directed the ’90s version of his grand-dad’s classic, The Time Machine, appeared in a documentary telling us that the age of time travel was almost upon us. The experiment was due to be run aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think it must have been cancelled when one exploded, thus grounding the fleet and finally endings its use.

Time and the Weird World of Quantum Physics

Benford warns in his acknowledgements that

Many scientific elements in this novel are true. Others are speculative, and thus may well prove false. My aim has been to illuminate some outstanding philosophical difficulties in physics. If the reader emerges with the conviction that time represents are fundamental riddle in modern physics, this book will have served its purpose.

Which must be one of the rare occasions when a scientist writes a book to show how mysterious and incomprehensible a scientific phenomenon is, rather than how it can be grasped and understood. This famously applies to quantum physics. As one prominent scientist said of this subject, you don’t understand it, you just get used it.

Science and Society in the ’60s and ’90s

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of physics in the book, though none of its so hard that only physics graduates, let alone the late Stephen Hawking, would be the only people that understand it. And the book does an excellent job of showing what it must have been like doing physics at an advanced level in the early 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s. Gordon Bernstein, the hero of the early years, is a New York Jew, whose girlfriend, Marjorie, is a Conservative gentile. As his investigations proceed, he first believes that the signals are messages from space before coming to understand they’re from the future instead. He faces scepticism and opposition from his colleagues and academic supervisors, and risks being failed and his academic career and research terminated. as he goes on and his theories become public, he suffers from the attentions of the press and a procession of cranks, who traipse through his office door offering their own weird theories. I think this is a common experience to many astronomers and cosmologists. I can remember reading a comment by one such scientist that hardly a week went by without him receiving in the mail letters from people explaining their ‘theory of the universe’. At the same time, Bernstein’s relationship with his girlfriend also comes under pressure. His family don’t approve, and would like him to marry a nice Jewish girl instead. There are also political disagreements. Penny and her friends fully support the Vietnam War, views that aren’t shared by the liberal Bernstein. But in a twist, it’s Penny who understands that the waiters at their favourite restaurant are gay, is comfortable with that fact.

Back in Blighty in 1998, Markham’s and Renfrew’s backgrounds are solidly middle class. This is still a world where women were expected to stay home and cook, and the aristocracy still wields power and influence. A society in which entitled public school boys shout their food and alcohol choices in the local pub in Latin. It’s a world in which Markham is an outsider, and resents the privilege and condescension of the upper class Brits among which he moves.

Timescape and ’70s Fears of the End of Civilisation

Like much near-future SF, the book’s now dated. 1998 is now twenty years ago, and fortunately civilisation has not collapsed. Not yet. The book was partly a product of the sense of crisis in the 1970s, when many people really did fear the end of civilisation through industrial and social unrest and ecological collapse. It was predicted that overpopulation would result in mass famine, while the resources would run out and the Earth itself become uninhabitable through massive pollution. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened. Not yet. But there is still a real danger of global civilisation collapsing through irreversible ecological damage from climate change and pollution, and algal blooms are poisoning the water in some parts of the world. Despite it’s age, the book thus remains acutely relevant.

Social Change and the Rise of Domestic Computers

In other respects, the book as a prediction of the future hasn’t worn quite as well. The advance of feminism in the 1980s and ’90s meant that traditional gender roles were breaking down as women sought careers outside the home. By 1998 there was the expectation that both partners in a relationship would be working, and the old domestic arrangement in which women looked after children and the home and were supported by their husbands was seen as anachronistic. At the same time, he also doesn’t predict the advances in information technology that has produced the home and personal computers or mobile phones. There is, however, a machine called the Sek, which is a type of answerphone and database, if I recall correctly.

Conclusion

These differences between the book’s expectation of what the ’90s would be like and the reality actually don’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the story. Science Fiction tends not to be very good at predicting the future. If it was, then humanoid robots with a comparable level of intelligence and genuine consciousness, like Star Wars’ C3PO, would be in every home and we would already have colonies on the Moon, Mars and Earth orbit. We don’t have any of that. But we do have personal computers, the internet and mobile phones, as well as a variety of industrial machines, which weren’t predicted. Many SF novels still remain worth reading even though their predictions of the future, or the contemporary present in which they were set, are dated. These include such classics as those of H.G. Wells’, Jules Verne, John Wyndham and so on. What matters in the story and the writer’s ability to create a convincing, fascinating world, which Timescape does.

While some of its details are inaccurate, this is still a readable, gripping story with a solid base in plausible science, and whose warning about environmental decline is, horrendously, just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1980.