Posts Tagged ‘Nixon’

The Aboriginal Writer on Release of Documents about America and Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’

May 9, 2016

Back in March, the Aboriginal Writer over at La Moderna Epoko put up a grim piece about the release of official papers, which may cast light on America’s role in the ‘Dirty War’ unleashed by the Argentinian junta against not just domestic guerrillas, but also dissidents and suspected Socialists. The article consists of several excerpted pieces from press articles. One of these, from the Nation, states that

A special declassification project of still-secret CIA, Defense Department, and FBI records not only would reveal concrete evidence regarding unresolved atrocities in Argentina, but also offer a long-overdue acknowledgment of US support for the ensuing repression in the months following the military takeover. “This anniversary and beyond,” Rice said, “we’re determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation.”

It’s almost needless to say that this outbreak of right-wing state terror was supported by Hillary’s good friend, Henry Kissinger. The editorial board of the NY Times wrote:

A few months after a military junta overthrew President Isabel Perón of Argentina in 1976, the country’s new foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Guzzetti, told Henry Kissinger, America’s secretary of state, that the military was aggressively cracking down on “the terrorists.” Mr. Kissinger responded, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly,” an apparent warning that a new American Congress might cut off aid if it thought the Argentine government was engaging in systemic human rights abuses. The American ambassador in Buenos Aires soon reported to Washington that the Argentine government had interpreted Mr. Kissinger’s words as a “green light” to continue its brutal tactics against leftist guerrillas, political dissidents and suspected socialists.

Another excerpt quotes Kissinger as saying that Nixon’s administration was eager to show the Argentinians they supported them. And the piece also quotes the present Pope Francis, then head of the Jesuit order in Argentina, as stating that he has many regrets over his own response to the regime. Pope Francis has been criticised because when he was a priest in Argentina, he did little to criticise the regime’s attacks. That particularly snippet states that Francis, then simply Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was an opponent of Liberation Theology. This is a form of Christian theology, which is strongly influenced by Marxism to stress the Christian commitment to the poor. This suggests that at the time, Bergoglio shared the regime’s hostility towards Communism, even if he was not a supporter of the regime’s wider attacks on the Left and civil society.

Other snippets cover the continuing efforts of the mothers and grandmothers to reunite the Disappeared – children who were stolen from their biological parents and given up to be raised by Fascists – with their surviving relatives.

For more information, go to: https://aboriginalwriter.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/what-was-the-united-states-role-in-argentinas-dirty-war/

The other year, Britain declassified documents going back to the Mao-Mao rebellion in Kenya, revealing the atrocities the British committed in their attempts to suppress the rebellion. The release of the documents also allowed a group of Kenyans, who had been the victims of war crimes committed by the British, to win a lawsuit against the British government. There’s a book out about the atrocities, entitled Britain’s Secret Gulags. Lobster’s long-term contributor, John Newsinger, has also written a book about atrocities committed by the British Empire, The Blood Never Dried. The article states that the documents on America’s role in the Argentinian ‘Dirty War’ were released after legal decisions by judges and following FOIA requests. Over here, the Tories and their New Labour collaborators, like Jack Straw, have been trying to water down the British Freedom Of Information Act. This has now stopped, but they still have the view that you should only request government documents to understand how official decisions were made, not to challenge them. Apart from being a deliberate attempt to stop people like Mike and the other disability campaigners trying to use it to challenge the DWP’s appalling maltreatment of the disabled, it also makes you wonder what terrible atrocities our government is hiding from us.

The Young Turks, the Democrat Primaries, and the War Crimes of Henry Kissinger

February 13, 2016

Oh Henry Kissinger,
Oh How we’re missing yer!

Monty Python’s Henry Kissinger song.

The hideous political ghost of Henry Kissinger reared its head the other day in the Democrat debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on PBS. Hillary was proud that Kissinger complimented her on the way she had run her department, and basked in the old politico’s compliment. Bernie Sanders, however, made it very clear what he thought of this pillar of the Nixon administration, and said he was proud that Kissinger was not his friend.

In this clip from The Young Turks, John Iadarola presents the argument that Kissinger is a war criminal, exactly as his detractors allege. Actually, on this issue, there isn’t much to ponder: the old bastard’s actions and statements speak for themselves, and indict Kissinger as one of the great monsters of the late 20th century. Iadarola sums it up by saying that he is a man no-one should want to have as a friend, and especially not someone who wants to be a presidential candidate.

Among the facts against Kissinger are the following:

* When he was in the State Department, Kissigner worked to prolong the Vietnam War as long as possible.

* He encouraged Nixon to bug and intimidate his political enemies.

* He supported the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos, which killed untold thousands of people and destabilised the country, leading to the rise of a murderous regime that butchered millions.

* He also engineered the 1973 Chilean coup, and similar military interventions in Rhodesia, East Timor and Argentina.

Iadarola also gives some damning quotations from Kissinger’s own mouth. These range from the simply cynical – such as his belief that intelligence isn’t necessary for the use of power, and is sometimes an impediment, to the truly monstrous. He stated that military men were dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy, which possibly explained why he was so massively unconcerned about their deaths in the Vietnam War. In 2000 he said approvingly that he could think of no better way to unite America than behind an terrorist attack an American overseas target, and that George Dubya was the man to do this. He also asked during the Vietnam War why Americans should ‘flagellate’ themselves for what the Cambodians were doing to each other. He was also quite prepared to work with the Khmer Rouge regime, despite the fact that he knew they were massacring ten of thousands of their own people. Indeed, he himself called them ‘murderous thugs’.

During the 1991 race riots on the West Coast, he stated that although Americans weren’t prepared to accept UN troops there today, they would tomorrow if they promised to restore order. He said people feared the unknown, and to protect themselves from it the peoples of the world would willing plead for their leaders to take power, so that individual rights would wither before the world government. He also stated that the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union was not an American concern. And if the Soviets stuffed them into gas chambers, that wasn’t an American concern either. He did, however, concede that ‘perhaps [it was] a humanitarian concern.’ This is particularly cynical, considering that Kissinger was himself Jewish. The 1970’s were the decade that saw an increasing interest in the Holocaust, including a TV series of the same name. This is particularly shocking because of the profound horror the Holocaust justifiably still evokes for Europeans and Americans.

I began this article with a quote from Monty Python’s Henry Kissinger song. And the correct answer to those lines should be ‘No. We are not ‘missing yer”. It was Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace prize after the bombing of Hanoi that made Tom Lehrer, the great satirical song writer, to give up. After all, what’s left to lampoon if reality does something that grotesque.

The Young Turks: Ted Nugent Posts Anti-Semitic Rant Blaming Jews for Gun Control

February 12, 2016

The drift of the Republican Right to full-fledged Nazism continues. In this video, The Young Turks anchors Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola comment on another piece of racism by Ted Nugent, ageing rocker, pervert, draft dodger, and pillar of the N.R.A. Nugent has been severely criticised and there have been demands that he should issue an apology after he posted a piece on Facebook asking the rhetorical question who the people demanding gun control were. He called these people the enemies of freedom. And guess what? The people he chose were all Jews. He even stuck little Israeli flags next to their faces, and accused some of being Israeli agents. Uygur points out that he’s wrong about many of those, whom he identifies as Israelis. Most of the men and women he’s fingered as Mossad agents or whatever aren’t. They’re simply American citizens. And quite often they’re distinguished American citizens, whose patriotism should be unquestioned. One of them is a general and the president’s chief of staff. Another is the governor of New York state. These are foul libels.

He’s also maligned the victims of the Holocaust. There’s another post in which Nugent states that he pondered why so many Germans were taken in by Adolf, and so many Jews went quietly to their deaths. This is under the headline, ‘Soulless Sheep to the Slaughter’.

Uygur and Iadarola point out that this pretty much a natural progression. The Right has always hated the Jews. They started off attacking Mexicans and Blacks. Now they’ve moved on to Muslims when they’ve become massively unpopular. And now, inevitably, Nugent has started on the Jews after following those bandwagons.

And this is particularly rich from Nugent. Nugent was so terrified of serving in the Vietnam War that he emptied his bowels in his pants for a week or so, in order to have himself declared mentally unfit. The Turks state they don’t blame him for not wanting to fight in Vietnam. They wouldn’t have wanted to either. But he’s been trying to make up for it ever since by trying to present himself as a supermasculine advocate for hunting and gun rights.

They also point out that it’s simply not true that Jews in Nazi Germany went quietly to their deaths. Many stood up and resisted, fighting extremely hard for their lives and those of their families and communities. But they were butchered anyway, right down to the last man and woman, because the Nazis had superior fire power. So calling the victims of the Shoah ‘soulless sheep’ is a gross lie, and not just a terrible insult to the victims of one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century.

There’s also a party political aspect to this. American Jews traditionally tended to vote Democrat. Many of them were also staunchly behind NAACP and the campaign for Black Civil Rights in America. As teacher, they tended to work in the Black schools, and generally lived and worked in closer contact with Blacks than other sections of the American population. And Nixon was also paranoid about them. Despite the fact that Kissinger was Jewish and there were other Jewish Americans on his staff, Nixon was obsessed with there being a Jewish plot against him, and distrusted Jews because of their traditional left-wing leanings.

This anti-Semitism had died down somewhat after the American Right decided they were going to back Israel after the victories of the Six Day War in the 1970s. In the 1990s, members of the Likud party worked for the Republicans, helping to draft plans for a future invasion of Iraq. But now with a rising tide of anxiety about immigration from Mexico, the threat of Islamist terrorism some parts of the Republicans are once again falling back into hatred of the Jews. And as The Turks themselves point out, it always ends with the Jews.

This is frightening. Nugent’s a disgrace, and should apologise immediately. And the whole drift towards racism and Fascism in America, Britain or wherever needs to be stopped. Before anyone dies in pogroms and race riots.

Empire Files: Saudi Arabia’s History of Thuggery

January 17, 2016

Yesterday I put up a number of posts criticising and attacking Saudi Arabia and its brutal use of the death penalty, following the complaint of the Saudi Foreign Minister, al-Jubair, that the kingdom had an image problem because of it, and moaning that people should respect their use of the death penalty ‘Because it’s the law’. This is another, very informative, and grimly fascinating video discussing Saudi Arabia’s long history of repression, violence and brutality from its very foundation. The video’s from Empire Files, which is another news agency specialising in criticising and documenting the corruption and political oppression committed by the American Empire.

Presented by Abby Martin, the video begins with shots of the western great and good meeting and praising various Saudi royals, mentioning the country’s election to the UN Human Rights Council. It then goes on to discuss the Saudi use of public executions. Among the crimes liable to the death penalty are atheism and adultery. 43% of all executions are for non-violent drug offences. It also discusses the execution of Ali al-Nimr, a democracy protester, by crucifixion and beheading. These cases are judged in secret courts, and other punishments include amputation and whipping.

The programme also goes on to examine the almost complete absence of rights for women in Saudi Arabia. Despite having been given the right to vote, women in Saudi Arabia require the permission of male relatives or guardians to go to school, work or even receive medical treatment. They may also be punished for their own sexual assault. The video cites a rape case, where the victim received more lashes than her attackers. Women constitute only 17% of the Saudi work force. 77% of female graduates are unemployed.

The kingdom has also been actively clamping down and suppressing protesters and activists campaigning for democracy. Many of these have been arrested and tried in secret courts. The punishments include execution, or transferral to re-education centres. The attacks on democracy campaigners escalated after 9/11. Before hundreds were being arrested. Now it’s thousands. Furthermore, no civil rights organisations are allowed in the country.

The programme then moves on to describe the history of the kingdom. It’s an absolute monarchy, ruled by a single dynasty. The current king’s personal wealth is estimated at $18 billion. Despite the obscene wealth of its rulers, 20% of its population live in abject poverty, with a youth unemployment rate of 30%.

Thirty per cent of the country’s population is composed of migrant workers, who are virtually slaves due to the system of kafala, sponsorship, through which they are imported. The programme describes their exploitation, with 15 – 20 hour working days, maltreatment, confiscation of passports on arrival, and adverts for runaway labourers and domestic workers, similar to those for de jure slaves in the American West.

Martin then talks to the Saudi dissident, Ali al-Ahmed, the head of the Gulf Institute. Al-Ahmed states that part of the problem is that the country’s vast wealth is confined to the king, his relatives and cronies. The present king can in no way be described as a great reformer. He imprisoned his four daughters for 14 years, and to this day no-one knows what happened to them. The king is an absolute monarch. The Saudi parliament is only partially elected. It is also partly appointed, and wields no power. As for the judicial system, al-Ahmed describes it as medieval and tribal. It deliberately excludes women, blacks, ordinary people and the Shi’a. It is similar to ISIS. And the bond between Saudi Arabia, America and the West is money. Bill Clinton and George Bush have both visited Saudi Arabia, probably secretly looking for Saudi sponsorship for their election campaigns. Al-Ahmed states that this should be investigated by the FBI. It appears to be a case of the Saudis trying to buy off prospective American presidents in the aftermath of 9/11.

The kingdom itself was founded after 20 years of warfare and campaigning by Ibn Saud, who declared himself king in 1925. Ibn Saud was aided in his rise to power by a religious militia. These later revolted, and so Ibn Saud had them massacred. The conquest of what is now Saudi Arabia was complete by 1932. Ibn Saud tried, and failed, to conquer and incorporate what is now Yemen.

The Saudi family struck oil after World War I, and invited the Americans in to exploit it. The Americans were only too pleased, after having been shut out of the rest of the oilfields of the Middle East by the triumphant European colonial powers. The American oil company, Chevron, staked its claim to the Saudi oilfields in 1933. This resulted in the formation of Arab-American Oil – Aramco. Despite the name, Aramco was 100 per cent owned by the Americans. It is the property of four American oil companies, including Chevron and Mobil. These oil companies paid a small proportion of their profits to the Saudi royal family as royalties.

Italian bombing during the Second World War severely disrupted oil supplies. In 1943 President Roosevelt declared that the defence of the Saudi oilfields was a national priority. Two years later, in 1945, Roosevelt signed a treaty with the Saudis giving them American protection in exchange for oil. This was the start of the network of American army and naval based in the country. In 1953 15,000 or so oil workers went on strike, demanding a union. The monarchy responded by assassinating the leaders and promulgating a royal decree banning working class organisations. In 1962 a left-wing revolution broke out in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UK responded by supporting the royalist counterrevolution.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West has not gone untroubled, however. There was a rift following the foundation of Israel. In response to Israeli victories during the Arab-Israeli wars, the Saudis launched their oil embargo, sparking the energy crisis of the 1970s. This did not, however, bother Nixon and Kissinger very much. If the worst came to the worst, they planned on bombing the kingdom in order to secure the vital supplies of oil. In the event, they didn’t need to take such drastic action. The Saudis were alarmed by the spread of Communism. So Nixon and Kissinger convinced the Saudis, along with the UAE, Qatar and Bahrein to back their war on Communism and specifically the conflict in Vietnam.

In the 1980s Saudi Arabia was the major backer of the Mujahideen. In 1979 there was a religious uprising in imitation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was suppressed, and the 60 leaders executed. Saudi Shi’a were also attacked for celebrating a Shi’a religious festival. Following the killing of a student, there were mass demonstrations by the Shi’a, women’s organisations, the Communist party and the religious community. In retaliation, the Saudis deployed 20,000 soldiers, strafing the Shi’a communities with helicopter gunships. And Ronald Reagan pledged his support in suppressing any revolution. Saudi Arabia was, of course, the major American base in 1990 for the Gulf War.

The Saudis’ response to the Arab Spring was, predictably, also harsh. The regime issued a ban on all journalism that dared to question or criticise the monarchy, and the internet was subject to even heavier censorship. Saudi troops helped to crush the Arab Spring in neighbouring Bahrein. Despite this, people are still fighting and dying for their right to freedom in the east of Saudi Arabia. There was another uprising in 2013 following the shooting of another young person. Saudi Arabia has also responded to the threat by making massive purchases of arms. It is the biggest customer for American weapons, having bought $5.5 billion of them c. 2012. The kingdom is also a major financier of al-Qaeda and ISIS. This was admitted by Hillary Clinton in documents revealed by Wikileaks. They are estimated to have given $100 billion to terrorists.

They also had strong links to the 9/11 hijackers. 28 pages of the official inquiry into 9/11 remain classified, but the leader of the inquiry has stated that the material points to Saudi Arabia as a major funder. Nevertheless, the current crisis in the Middle East has alarmed them so much, that the Saudis have held secret meetings with Israel. The Saudis have also been active trying to suppress the rebellion in Yemen. So far, half of those killed have been civilians. Saudi arms have levelled the ancient and historic city of Sanaa, and there are cases where civilians and rescue workers have been attacked and killed.

This is a brutal, authoritarian and cruel absolute monarchy, responsible for the savage suppression of human rights and democracy throughout the Middle East. It is scandalous that the West continues to support this murderous regime, although not surprising given the vast profits from and the dependence of the West on Saudi oil, while western arms manufacturers make money from selling to them.

Cameron’s Distortion of the Figures for Welfare Fraud

March 11, 2014

131001cameronspeech

Mike over at Vox Political has several times blogged on the way the government has distorted or even falsified statistics to justify their harsh policies towards the unemployed and disabled. Owen Jones’ book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, provides one example of this in the way Cameron tried to justify a crackdown on benefit payments, citing the statistics for welfare fraud as the reason:

Soon after David Cameron came to power in 2010, he started selling the idea that people are out of work due to their personal inadequacies: a sentiment which is, of course, one of the pillars of the chav caricature. The prime minister pledged a crackdown on welfare ‘fraud and error’, declaring that it cost the taxpayer £5.2 billion. But he had cunningly combined the cost of fraud committed by welfare recipients (just £1 billion a year) with that of errors on the part of officials (amounting to the far more considerable sum of £4.2 billion a year). In doing so, he ensured that a much bigger headline figure associated with benefit fraud was lodged in the popular imagination. (p. 196).

To use Hunter S. Thompson’s description of one Richard Milhouse Nixon, this is a man so crooked he has to screw his pants on in the morning.

Dr Arnold Hutschnecker on the Psychology of the Tyrant

February 13, 2014

Alex de Jonge begins the last chapter of his biography of Stalin by discussing Dr Arnold Hutschnecker’s ideas about the psychology of the drive to power. Hutschnecker was at one time Nixon’s psychiatrist, and so presumably some of these insights came from his observation of Tricky Dicky’s own warped psyche.

According to de Jonge, Hutschnecker believed that the drive to power came from

‘a painful sense of one’s own insignificance, a fear of death and the wish to have others die. It is associated with a low sexual drive and an inability to love. ‘It moves on the wings of aggression to overcome inferiority … Those whose power to love and consequently create has been broken will choose war in order to experience an intoxicating sense of power or excitement.”

Now some of this is obviously true of Stalin. De Jonge points out in the book that Stalin had very strong feelings of inferiority due to his short stature, and his physical deformities. Two of the toes on one of his feet were fused, he had a withered arm and his face was pockmarked due to smallpox. He also had a bitter hatred of intellectuals, possibly dating from the time the Georgian Marxist Zhordania refused to allow him into his revolutionary group because he didn’t have the depth of understanding of Marxist theory he required. De Jonge also states that his attitude to the West was a mixture of the traditional Russian sense of inferiority at the West’s achievements mixed with a sense of spiritual superiority. This inferiority complex resulted in the Stalinist regime’s extreme xenophobia and nationalism, which saw millions of returning Soviet emigres, prisoners of war and troops from Europe after the Second World War imprisoned in the gulags or shot as potential traitors or otherwise culturally contaminated by anti-Soviet elements. It also resulted in the Soviet Union, not content with the brilliant achievements of its own citizens throughout their history, also appropriating those of the West, so that everything from the steam engine to the radio was held up as the invention of a Russian. Not that Stalin’s Russia was the only totalitarian state to do this. Mussolini’s Italy, one of whose leading scientists, Marconi, really had pioneered radio, also made the same extravagant claims. One of these was that Shakespeare was really Italian.

Stalin also recognised that he lacked the ability to love, especially after the death of his first wife. While he may not have feared death in his youth or middle age, when he was young kinto on the streets of Tiflis and gangster-cum-revolutionary holding up banks and repeatedly being exiled and escaping from Siberia, he certainly was terrified of it at the end of his life. He had the cypresses cut down on his summer estate of Kuntsevo because he found them too gloomy. Possibly some memory of his earlier Christian faith, and what he had learned at the seminary in Georgia came back to haunt him, and he began to fear that his victims would find justice against him in the hereafter. And he certainly did not lack the desire to have others die in their millions.

The description also reminds me of that of another public figure, much closer to home: Ian Duncan Smith, the head of the DWP.

Ian Duncan Smith pic

The man clearly suffers from a massive sense of his own inferiority. How otherwise can you explain his bizarre fantasies and lies, in which he has claimed, amongst other things, to have a degree from an Italian university that doesn’t grant them. He has furthermore declared that the introduction of Universal Credit and his other reforms are an advance as great as the abolition of slavery, as well as his highly dubious claim to have been an officer in the British army. And he does seem to have turned to a military career to give him the power and excitement that he lacked as a civilian.

As for the hardship and suffering his reforms in the DWP have caused, these certainly point to a large cruel and sadistic streak in his character. And while I’ve no doubt that he has a desire to cause anyone’s death, as shown in his refusal to release the figures for the number of people who’ve died after being thrown off their benefits by Atos, this is exactly what his reforms have done. You can find a list of names over at Stilloak’s blog. Some bloggers, such as Jaynelinney, have suggested that the figure may be as high as 38,000 per year.

The final chapter of de Jonge’s book also begins with a quote from Marx to Engels about the Paris Commune in 1871. This was the uprising by the citizen’s of Paris in which they tried to establish the city as an independent, revolutionary municipality after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. It was brutally suppressed by the French monarchy. Marx said

‘We think of terror as the reign of those who inspire terror; on the contrary it is the reign of people who are themselves terrified. Terror consists of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.’

This statement not only describes the paranoid psychology of Stalin himself, but also that of the millions of Soviet citizens, who collaborated with his regime in spying on and denouncing their friends, family and neighbours as saboteurs, agents of Trotsky and the Western, imperial and capitalist powers, or for having an ‘anti-party’ conception of Marxism.

It also describes the psychology of IDS and his servants within the DWP. These are, after all, also demoralised, with those on the lowest ranks of the hierarchy forced to take out advances in their salaries just to ends meet till the end of the month. It also describes the atmosphere of backstabbing and suspicion that also pervades the DWP, and the way its employees take out their own fears, resentment and frustration on those unfortunates, who come to them for unemployment benefit.

Stalin was a monster, who terrorised and murdered millions. Ian Duncan Smith is a petty bureaucrat, but one whose reforms are killing people in their tens of thousands. They are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the psychology, the feelings of inferiority and the need to persecute, are exactly the same.

The angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has posted a recent article showing the Stalinist assumptions behind IDS workfare schemes, and used Conservative arguments to demonstrate how anyone, who sincerely stands for the principles of the Right, should reject it. He also has this picture showing Smith as Stalin. This seems particularly appropriate considering the similarities between their psychologies.

IDS Stalin

And the Angry Yorkshireman’s question is all too valid. To see his article, ‘Why do Right-Wing People support Workfare’, go to http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/why-right-wing-support-workfare.html

Explaining the Coalition’s War on the Poor and Disabled

February 4, 2014

Stow Rich Poor

A rich man ignoring a beggar’s cries for charity, from Bateman’s Chrystal Glass of Christian Reformation of 1569

The Coalition is responsible for some of the harshest and punitive legislation directed at the poor, the unemployed and the disabled in recent years. Under the pretext of trying to pay off the immense debt created by the bank bailout, Cameron and Clegg have together passed highly illiberal legislation intended to pare down the welfare state to its barest minimum. The result has seen as massive resurgence in poverty in the UK, with thousands now reduced to relying of food banks or scavenging in skips for food. This has been accompanied by a concerted campaign of vilification and demonization directed at the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. The middle market tabloids, the Daily Mail and Express, are notorious for their attacks on single mothers, unemployed ‘scroungers’ and immigrants, whom they scream – one cannot, in all decency, describe their shrill headlines with anything as mild as ‘allege’ or ‘contend’ are here to claim Britain’s generous welfare payments. The BBC and Channel 4 have both screened documentaries purporting to show the reality behind those claiming job seekers allowance. The most recent of these was ‘Benefits Street’ on Channel 4. These have singled out and portrayed the unemployed as, at best, idle scroungers, and at worst a criminal or semi-criminal underclass living by fraud and theft in an underworld of drug taking and violence.

This viciousness even extends to the disabled. The pseudoscientific assessment practised by ATOS on behalf of the government is designed to declare as many of the disabled to be as fit for work as possible. The result has seen severely and terminally ill people thrown off benefit. Thousands have taken their lives in despair as a result. Stilloaks has compiled a list over that his site, and the Void and Mike over a Vox Political, and many, many other have also blogged on this. As many as 38,000 people may have died as a result of benefit sanctions inflicted by the Department of Work and Pensions and the policies of Ian Duncan ‘Matilda’ Smith and Esther ‘McLie’ McVey. These are just guesses, however, as the DWP will not release the figures for the years after 2011. This indicates that the statistics are truly shaming, even for a department run by those two callous incompetents.

I know a number of disabled people and their families, who believe that society is now much less considerate in its treatment of the disabled personally. One man I know, whose wife is sadly confined to a wheelchair, told me that he and his wife have, at times, experienced rudeness and sometimes abuse from members of the public. He initially put this down to the influence of Little Britain, where one character only feigns his disability and is, when his brother’s back’s turned, perfectly fit, well and active. My own feeling is that things are rather more complicated, and that such attitudes probably spring as well from media reports exposing some of those who have notoriously feigned disability in order to collect benefits. The reporting of such crimes is out of all proportion to the amount of fraud that actually goes on. In reality, it’s negligible – less than 1 per cent. nevertheless, this has formed another pretext for cutting and ending benefits and services to the disabled.

This situation needs explanation. Almost everyone would agree that a truly civilised society is one that extends help to its poorest, most disadvantaged citizens. Why, then, does this government, and the right-wing media that back it, support such severe attacks on the very poorest members of society.

There appear to be several causes to this. They are

1. An attitude towards poverty, derived from the Victorian, but dating from the Middle Ages, that sees poverty as the fault of the poor themselves through their own immorality.

2. A fear that the poor somehow represent a dangerous drain on public resources and a threat to the social order. State support must be limited in order to prevent them increasing.

3. An appeal to popular selfishness, by which government ministers and their media supporters present taxes levied to support the poor as being an unwelcome imposition on the good, self-sufficient moral public. These in turn are described as being somehow penalised for their sturdy self-sufficiency. Hence the comments by politicians of capping benefits so that ‘strivers’ are not upset by the sight of their unemployed neighbours living well on benefits.

Behind these attitudes are the class interests of the upper and upper middle classes. The Coalition’s administration has marked one of the most extreme shifts of wealth from the poorest to the richest since that of Margaret Thatcher. The Tories in particular have enacted a series of policies designed to break organised working class resistance and open the poor up to further exploitation by the multinational firms, who constitute their paymasters. The tax breaks enacted by the Coalition have benefitted the very richest the most. Furthermore, the denial of state support to the poor and the privatisation of the NHS is designed to open them up as a potential market for private health care and insurance. In this, provoking hatred by the insecure but working towards the unemployed and disabled is a useful tool, as it prevents the two groups developing a solidarity that could challenge and potentially overturn such policies.

The punitive attitude to the unemployed can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Then as now there was a debate between theologians and political writers on whether charitable support should be given to the unemployed. The outbreaks of mass poverty caused by the Enclosures and depressions in 16th century England also created the fear amongst the ruling class of the threat to social order posed by roving bands of masterless men. Hence the harsh legislation against vagabonds and the general unemployed. One law, which became a dead letter, state that if an employer offered a job to an unemployed man, he had to take it. If he did not, the prospective employer could seize him and force him to work for free. These days, it’s simply called workfare. Under George Osborne, the unemployed can now be forced to work for big business in order to get their benefits. A further piece of legislation dreamed up by Gideon, sorry, George, means that even those, whose benefits have been stopped by sanctions, must perform workfare for free.

Vlad Dracula

Vlad Dracula of Wallachia, the model for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He had all the beggars in his principality burned to death at a banquet. IDS and McVie haven’t done anything that obvious yet, but they’re trying their best to match his killing of the poor and unemployed.

This fear of the threat posed by unemployed and disabled beggars was taken to its most brutal extreme by Prince Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, the Romanian prince, who provided Bram Stoker with the historical model for Count Dracula. Concerned by the increase in beggars in his principality, Vlad organised a feast to which they were all invited. When all the beggars had entered the hall in which it was to be held, Vlad ordered the doors closed and barred, and had the place burnt down. The Coalition haven’t done anything as blatant as that, but with the poor and disabled dying of despair and starvation by the tens of thousands at their hands, the effect is the same.

Medieval ideas of the deserving and undeserving poor, and the fear of the political dangers posed by them, also underlie the Victorian ideas about respectability and its opposite. The historian Eric J. Evans describes these ideas in The Forging of the Modern State, 1783-1870

‘An important distinction in mid-Victorian Britain was between respectability and non-respectability. Respectability consisted in earning a degree of independence by one’s own efforts, in self-discipline (especially in sexual and bibulous matters), and in veneration for home and family as the basic social organism from which all other virtues flowed. The non-respectable could not provide for their families without State or charitable aid, were sexually promiscuous, regularly drunk, failed to put enough aside for rainy days and flitted from one rented tenement to another, as often as not to avoid paying their dues…

… Moral imperatives were necessary not just for reasons of ostentatiously sanctimonious piety (though the Victorians had their full share of such qualities) but to prevent a grand explosion. The Victorians dubbed those who did not live by their rules ‘the dangerous classes’ and they meant the phrase to be taken literally. The idle, drunken, rootless lower orders represented more than a moral affront; they threatened progress.’ (p. 280).

Thomas Malthus believed that state assistance to the poor was wrong, as if they were given such aid, their numbers would only increase to be a further burden on society. Hence the principle of ‘less eligibility’ in the Liberals New Poor Law of 1833 that established the Workhouses. The Angry Yorkshireman at Another Angry Voice has covered this particularly well. This was the view that conditions in the workhouses should be so harsh, that the poor would not take up such assistance unless they were driven by absolute necessity.

This attitude also extended to private charity. Margaret Thatcher the rest of the transatlantic New Right extolled the virtues of private charity over state aid, as they felt it was more effective than state benefit. It also had the advantage of being purely voluntary. The Victorians had a slightly different view. They were worried about the extent of the provision of charity in terms that are strikingly similar to Conservative American criticisms of ‘cradle to grave’ socialism. Dr Stallard declared at a meeting of the National Association for the promotion of Social Science in 1868 that ‘There is not a want, or form of human wretchedness, for which provision is not made in more or less degree … from the cradle to the grave, benevolence steps in to offer aid’. The year after he made this speech, the Charity Organization Society was set up to rationalise the amount of money given away to the poor. The ‘vicarious and indolent charity’ targeted by the Society was that which simply did not benefit the recipient. The Society therefore distinguished between the deserving and undeserving poor, and attempted to ensure that the donations given were both uplifting and actually improved those who received it. These were frequently taught the error of their ways, so that they did not return to relying on charity.

These policies have re-entered British politics through the influence of the American sociologist Michael Harrington and the welfare policies of Richard M. Nixon. Harrington was concerned about the existence of extreme poverty in America’s Black ghettos. His classic study of them, The Other America, was designed to stimulate discussion of the roots of such poverty and persuade the government and charities to act. Unlike left-wing critics of poverty, he did not trace the causes of such deprivation in the wider structure of American society and its economy, but believed the fault lay in the poor themselves. They were kept poor by a ‘culture of poverty’ that made them Other from the moral, industrious and prosperous rest of America. This attitude in turn influence the expansion of the welfare state constructed by Tricky Dicky. These were designed to combat poverty by providing state assistance, but this was to be made so humiliating that the poor would try to get off them as soon as possible.

This bourgeois ethic of respectability and hard work was also shared by the working class, and was seen by them and their rulers as they key to prosperity. Just before his death in 1865, Palmerston told a meeting of artisans that ‘Wealth is, to a certain extent, within the reach of all … you are competitors for prizes .. you will by systematic industry, raise yourselves in the social system of the country – you will acquire honour and respect for yourselves and your families. you will have, too, the constant satisfaction of feeling that you have materially contributed to the dignity of your country’. It sounds exactly like something Cameron or Gove would say today.

Despite a rising class consciousness amongst some working class radicals, there was considerable disunity amongst the British working class, which had strong feelings about the proper place each part had in the social hierarchy. One working class author stated in 1873 that

‘Between the artisan and the unskilled labourer a gulf is fixed. While the former resents the spirit in which he believes the followers of genteel occupations look down upon him, he in turn looks down upon the labourer. The artisan creed with regard to the labourer is, that they are an inferior class, and that they should be made to know, and kept in their place’.

This sounds very much like the ‘aristocracy of labour’, which Marx developed to explain why, contrary to his earlier expectations, the workers in Britain did not form a homogenous class ready to revolt against their masters and exploiters. Evans in the above book considers that this disunity arose through ‘the heterogeneity of Britain’s industrial base’ which ‘worked against the transmission of shared feelings of deprivation or exploitation despite the endeavours of bourgeois intellectuals to conceptualise economic development in terms of inevitable class struggle.’ (p. 173).

Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and their supporters in the press have attempted to play on the variety and disunity of common feelings of solidarity in the working and lower middle classes by stoking fears of the unearned privileges experienced by certain groups of employees. Last year, for example, the Daily Mail followed American Conservatives in stoking resentment of state employees, by starting a campaign against the larger pensions civil servants supposedly enjoyed over those in the private sector. This was evidence of civil servant’s greed, rather than the result of the repressive wage structures of private industry. It served to distract attention away from the economic and political causes of deteriorating wages in the private sector by stirring up resentment of better paid employees.

Hence, too, the demonization of the poor and disabled as feckless scroungers, as this prevents the development of dangerous sympathies to them that would also upset the system of unfettered private industry loudly demanded and promoted by Cameron, Clegg and their lackeys.

And the attack on the welfare state has opened some very lucrative, captive markets for private welfare provision. Private Eye a little while ago produced an in-depth pull-out section demonstrating that the ludicrously expensive and exploitative ‘Private Finance Initiative’ was first proposed under Margaret Thatcher by, I believe, Peter Lilley, as a way of opening up the NHS to private industry. Mike over at Vox Political and Another Angry Voice have blogged repeatedly and provided a wealth of details about the connections the Tories and Lib Dems have to the firms seeking to profit from the NHS’ privatisation. This includes, no surprise! – Ian Duncan Smith. Other policies that seek to transfer state benefits to the private sector include the Workplace Pensions now being lauded by Nick Hewer in the government’s ads. A little while ago there was also talk about introducing private ‘unemployment insurance’ for those worried about the state provision they would receive if laid off. I don’t think that got very far, but it’s symptomatic of the way the private financial sector sought to exploit the increasing gaps in state welfare provision.

The Coalition’s vitriolic war on the unemployed, the poor, sick and disabled draws on notions of the deserving and undeserving poor in order to further bolster and expand the wealth and power of the extremely rich, and create a divided and powerless workforce oblivious to its exploitation and resentful of its more successful, and apparently less deserving neighbours. It opens the poor further up for commercial exploitation by insurance companies and private health care providers, like Unum. In this war to expand and entrench their own class interests, those now forced to scavenge from bins or die in poverty and despair are the true victims of an increasingly harsh and exploitative upper class, which needs their demonization to force their reforms through.