Posts Tagged ‘Orphans’

The Demands of the Independent Social Democrats during the 1919 German Council Revolution

August 20, 2016

I found this statement of the political demands of the Independent Social Democratic Party in J.W. Hiden’s The Weimar Republic (Harlow: Longman 1974), pp. 78-9. The Independent Social Democratic Party – USPD – were the left-wing of the main German Socialist party, the SPD, which split in 1919 over the issue of the workers’ councils. These had sprung up across Germany following the defeat in the First World War, and were modelled on the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils that had been set up in 1917 during the first phase of the Revolution, which eventually ended in the Bolshevik coup. Hiden in his comments notes that at the time the USPD issued their demands, there was actually no chance of it being implemented. The elections to the National Assembly had already been held, and the Spartacist Uprising, which was intended to establish Germany as a Communist state, had been quelled. Nevertheless, he considers it important as the kind of state that the Revolution could have created.

The immediate demands of the USPD are:

1. Inclusion of the Councils system in the constitutions. Decisive participation of the Councils in legislation, state and municipal government and in industry.

2. Complete dissolution of the old army. Immediate dissolution of the mercenary army made up of volunteer corps (Freikorps). Disarming of the bourgeoisie. The setting up of a people’s army from the ranks of the class conscious working sector. Self-government for the people’s army and election of officers by the ranks. The lifting of military jurisdiction.

3. The nationalist of capitalist undertakings is to begin at once. It is to be executed immediately in the sphere of mining, and of energy production (coal, water-power, electricity), of concentrated iron and steel production as well as insurance. Landed property and great forests are to be transferred to the community at once. Society has the task of bringing the whole economy to its highest degree of efficiency by making available all technical and economic aids as well as promoting co-operative organisations. In the towns all private property is to pass to the municipality and sufficient dwellings are to be made available by the municipality on its own account.

4. Election of authorities and judges by the people. Immediate setting up of a Supreme Court of Judicature which is to bring to account those responsible for the world war and the prevention of a more timely peace.

5. Any growth of wealth achieved during the war is to be removed by taxation. A portion of all larger fort8unes is to be given to the state. In addition, public expenditure is to be covered by a sliding scale of income, wealth and inheritance taxes.

6. Extension of social welfare. Protection for mother and child. War widows, orphans and wounded are to be assured a trouble-free existence. Homeless are to be given the use of the spare rooms of owners. Fundamental reorganisation of public health system.

7. Separation of state and church and of church and school. Public, standardised schools with secular character, to be developed according to socialist educational principles. The right of every child to an education corresponding to his ability and availability of the means necessary for this end…

The programme’s clearly a production of the revolutionary ferment at the end of the First World War. But much of it remains acutely relevant for today. For example, we do need the nationalisation of public utilities – electricity, gas and water – as millions are being overcharged and exploited by these companies. The railways are notoriously expensive and inefficient. Under private management they consume three times more money from subsidies than they did when it was a nationalised industry as British rail. At the same time, Britain’s forests are being privatised, to the public’s disadvantage, by the Tories.

Similarly, there does need to be increased taxation of the super-rich. Under Blair and the Tories the rich have benefited from massive tax cuts, and the tax burden has been unfairly passed to the poor. Inequality has massively increased, so that a vanishingly small minority of people own far more than the rest of us combined. This was shown very clearly last week when the Duke of Westminster died, leaving £9 billion to his son.

Social welfare certainly needs to be extended. Blair and the Conservatives have consistently cut benefits for and demonised the poor, disabled and unemployed as ‘scroungers’. The result is that some 4.7 million are living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands are only kept from starving by food banks. As for the war wounded, and the widows and orphans produced by Blair’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I wonder how much help they are receiving, despite charities like Help For Heroes. Many of the squaddies that fought for their country during Gulf War I were left homeless. I have a strong feeling that many of their comrades in these wars have also been left, discarded by the state, in similar poverty and destitution. We also need a profound reorganisation of the public health services, as these are being privatised by Blair and the Tories.

There’s an irony here in that USPD wanted homeowners to have to take in the homeless. This is the precise opposite of what the Tories have been trying to do to those in council houses with the ‘Bedroom tax’. Millions are being left without homes, not just because they aren’t being built, but because many properties were bought as part of the buy-to-let market. Rents have risen, so that many people can no longer afford them, let alone think of owning their own home. But the Tories are the party of business and property, and something like this measure would fill them with panic. After all, it’s why they have a fit of the vapours every time someone talks about the ‘Bedroom tax’. They definitely don’t want to give the rest of the population the terrible impression that they are going to tax everyone’s bedroom. But doing it to the very poorest is perfectly acceptable.

I went to a church school, and don’t agree with the complete separation of church and state or absolutely secular schools, although I understand the reasons why many do. But I do support their statement that every child has right to the education that corresponds to his ability, and the means necessary for that end. It should be an automatic right. Unfortunately, this is also being undermined by the academies, that were brought in by Blair and which the Tories want to expand. They’d also like to bring back grammar schools, which were abandoned in favour of comprehensives because they did discriminate against working class children achieving a high education. And the introduction of tuition fees by New Labour and then increased by the Tories is leaving students with crippling debts, which are actively leading a quarter of graduates to stick to low paid jobs in order to avoid the extra burden of paying them off.

As for the most radical proposal, the inclusion of workers’ council in the political system – there’s a very, very strong argument for that too. The massive corporate corruption of parliament has shown that it increasingly does not represent the working class or their interests. It represents the power of big business, and their campaign to have a poor, desperate, poverty-stricken working class willing to be exploited through workfare, zero-hours and short-term contracts and the like.

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Secular Talk on the Alabama Textbook Defending Slavery

August 18, 2016

This is another fascinating video from the atheist/secularist news programme, Secular Talk, commenting on an Alabama school history book that taught students in the state for a generation that slavery was beneficial to the enslaved Black population. Clyde Smith was a high school student in 1971, and he posted online pictures of the textbook used in the state schools. It was called History for Schools by Charles Grayson Somersell, and was taught from 1955 to well into the ’70s. The book told its young readers that slaves were given good quality clothes, and were better off than contemporary free labourers, White or Black. They were given the best medical care that the times could offer by their masters. The book didn’t mention the regular whippings, nor the frequent rape of enslaved women by their masters, who then did not take care of the children – a fact that is notorious to Black Americans. Kulinski makes the point that slaves weren’t viewed as people, quite literally, and were forced to work long hours. The textbook also explicitly stated that ‘Slavery was the earliest form of social security in the United States’, and states that it was illegal for a master to emancipate a slave after he was too old to work. Kulinski points out that this meant that elderly slaves remained in chains, and slaves were worked until they died.

Kulinski makes the very good point that this shows the basic, unspoken beliefs of Whites in the Southern US, the kind of ideas they express only among themselves in private. It also explains why so many of them were shocked and outraged by demands to remove the Confederate flag. To them, rather than the symbol of evil and oppression, it represented a good and beneficial order, which looked after its enslaved workers and gave them excellent healthcare, in contrast to the poverty of free workers in the North.

Finally, Kulinski explains why he’s talking about this now: because the battle is never over. You have to explain and keep explaining certain basic points about human dignity and freedom, because to people raised on this propaganda, they were the good guys and slavery was not necessarily an evil system.

I put this video up because it boggled my mind how anyone could approve of slavery, or present it as essentially beneficial as late as the 1970s. it explains some of the racism in the Deep South, as well as some of the other weird and bizarre attitudes held by the American Right. I did wonder how far the equation of social security and healthcare with slavery explained the bizarre attitude of the Libertarians that the welfare state is also a form of slavery. There was a prize exchange on American television from Congress when Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul were talking about universal state healthcare for Americans. Rand Paul, a Libertarian Republican, started spouting nonsense that state healthcare reduced doctors and other employees to slaves, and that they would be woken up in the middle of the night by people breaking down their front door to get them to treat patients. This was done when the two were taking the testimony of doctors involved in the state medicare programme. Sanders, who wants a universal healthcare like the NHS, dispatched that piece of stupidity by simply asking one of the doctors if she’d ever had this happen to her. Obviously, she hadn’t. In Britain doctors, surgeons, nurses and other employees are paid employees with all the rights of free people. They do have to treat patients, but no-one’s going to break down their doors except in emergencies, and they are perfectly free to leave the profession. Unfortunately, their status, pay and working conditions is declining, thanks to Jeremy Hunt and the Tories, who wish to destroy the state system and replace it with private enterprise.

As for the conditions slaves endured, the Alabama text books is right on some points. Defenders of slavery in both America and Britain pointed out that slaves were frequently treated better, and enjoyed better working conditions, than the ‘factory slaves’, the free workers employed in the factories of the northern US and in Britain. They’re probably right. Factory workers worked long hours in appalling conditions for miserable pay, and in some ways their condition did tremble on the edge of true slavery. Tony Robinson in an episode of Time Team devoted to industrial archaeology pointed out – with justifiable anger – how factory masters purchased children from orphanages to use as young workers. Also, when the British were seeking to improve the conditions of slaves in the Caribbean in the 1820s, they were also forced to pass legislation forbidding masters from freeing slaves who were too old to work as a way of avoid the expense of maintaining them. This was a period when the British government was passing legislation demanding that slaves were properly fed and clad.

This does not, however, make slavery any better. Slaves were worked to death. There was a debate in the 17th and 18th centuries over whether it was more profitable to work a slave to death quickly, and so make a massive profit quickly, but then have to go to the expense of buying a new slave; or whether it was better to give them moderate amounts of work and keep them working steadily so that they lived longer.

They were not given good quality clothing. The slave laws provided that the men should receive yearly a pair of drawers – that is, underpants – and the women a petticoat or shift. But that’s it. Now much did depend on the attitude of the slave masters. Archaeologists examining the material of the slaves on Ben Franklin’s estate found that the slaves there had a very high standard of living. They were well-fed, had fine crockery, and played instruments like the violin. But there were no doubt many more cases where the slaves were given very little. Visitors to the Caribbean remarked on the enslaved workers labouring naked in the fields. And Kulinski is right to talk about the flogging and sexual exploitation, though he passes over some of the other, more extreme and vile forms of punishment that existed, such as mutilation.

It’s a fascinating, grim insight into the mindset that was instilled in a generation of southern US schoolchildren, and which is still being regurgitated by Republicans across the US today.

Words of Wisdom from Ancient Persia

March 19, 2015

One of the great kings of the ancient Persia Empire stressed his commitment to maintaining social harmony and justice in an inscription carved into one of his monuments. I can’t remember whether it was Cyrus or Darius, but that particular shah-in-shah boldly stated: ‘It is not my will that the strong do harm to the weak. It is not my will that the weak do harm to the strong.’ The Persian Empire, like most of the empires of the Ancient Near East, was a feudal states, which included slavery. Nevertheless, Darius was careful to restore and respect the rights and religions of the various nations he had conquered through his defeat of the Babylonians. And it also shows that the Persian emperors recognised that the poor also had rights, which needed to be respected and protected against depredation and exploitation by those higher up the social hierarchy.

Similarly, Deuteronomy in the Bible demands charity and contains a number of laws to provide support for the widow and the orphan. These include not harvesting the margins of fields, so that families without a male provider could use them to get some food. Other ancient nations in the region also included laws to protect the fatherless in their law codes, while their rulers also boasted of their concern to protect the widow and orphan.

This was millennia ago, and seems now to have been entirely forgotten. Dr Barnardo’s, a British charity set up in the 19th century to care for orphans, said two days ago that there was now no safety net welfare provision in Britain. Despite Cameron’s and IDS’ pious sputterings, the widow, the orphan and the poor are not being protected and supported. Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers really do want to take us back to the early 19th century, when the poor could be allowed to starve, or forced into the ‘New Bastilles’ of the workhouses.

Perhaps it’s time we ignored their specious pretexts for their persecution of the bereaved, the sick, disabled, unemployed and marginalised, and went back to the great maxims of the ancient world. And judged the Tories, UKIP and Lib Dems accordingly.

The French Revolutionary Sansculottes, Their Attitudes, Ideology and Continuing Relevance

April 22, 2014

French Revolution Book

I have found this description of the Sansculottes, the radical Parisian republicans, in D.G. Wright, Revolution and Terror in France 1789-1795 (London: Longman 1974). They weren’t working class, but a mixture of people from across the working and middle classes, including wage-earners and prosperous businessmen. The majority of them were tradesmen, shopkeepers, craftsmen, small masters, compagnons and journeymen. Their membership reflected the structure of Parisian industry, which largely consisted of small workshops employing four and fourteen workers. Despite containing many members of the middle class, the Sansculottes believed strongly in manual work and direct democracy.

The ideal sans culotte, depicted in popular prints, wore his hair long, smoked a pipe and dressed simply: cotton trousers (rather than the knee-breeches, culottes, of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie), a short jacket and the bonnet rouge (the Phrygian cap of the freed slave in ancient times). Powdered wigs, scent, knee-breeches, buckled shoes, flowered waistcoats, bows and lorgnettes were dismissed as foppish and frivolous trappings of privilege, with overtones of sexual deviancy. Equally dismissed were the manners and deferent behaviour of the ancient regime: the good sans culotte took his hat off to nobody, used the familiar ‘tu’ rather than ‘vous’ and ‘citoyen’ rather than ‘monsieur’, and swore in the colourful Parisian slang of the Pere Duchesne. He tended to judge people by their appearance: those who wore fancy clothes, spoke in ‘posh’ tones, looked haughty, or failed to offer the fraternal kiss of liberty. Those who seemed to despise the honest working man were in trouble. A music dealer was arrested as a suspect for observing, at a sectional meeting, ‘It was disgusting to see a cobbler acting as president, particularly a cobbler who was badly dressed’.

‘Aristocrat’ and ‘moderate’ became interchangeable terms for those who opposed in any way the outlook and aspirations of the sans culottes or appeared to look down on them or ridicule them; they were also applied to those who seemed indifferent and lacking in the open enthusiasm of the good revolutionary. ‘Aristocrat’ could include those who refused to buy biens nationaux or to cultivate land or sell it at a fair price, or failed to find employment for labourers and journeymen, or refused to subscribe generously to patriotic loans, or to those dealt in gold rather than republican assignats or speculated on the Bourse or in joint stock companies. As the revolutionary crisis deepened in 1793, ‘aristocrat’ increasingly came to mean bourgeois property owner; in May an orator in the Section du Mail declared: ‘Aristocrats are the rich wealthy merchants, monopolists, middlemen, bankers, trading clerks, quibbling lawyers and citizens who own anything.’ Wealth always raised sans culotte suspicion, unless offset by outstanding political virtue. Hoarders and monopolists were seen as hand-in-glove with large merchants, bankers and economic liberals in a plot to starve the people and crush the Revolution; for sans culottes were ultra sensitive to the problem of food supply and the price of bread, while they lived in constant fear of plots and betrayal. Hunger, as well as democratic politics and puritanical moral views, was a cement holding the disparate sans culotte groups together. Hence pillage could be justified as ‘egalitarian’ and ‘revolutionary’ in that it fed the people and struck at the machinations of hoarders and speculators, the visible vanguard of counter-revolution. Sans culottes always tended to advocated immediate and violent political solutions to economic problems and, with brutal simplicity, assumed that spilling blood would provide bread.

Despite the fact that many sans culottes were small property owners, there existed a deep-rooted egalitarianism. They believed in the ‘right to live’ (‘droit a l’existence’) and in ‘the equality of the benefits of society (l’egalite des jouissances). A family should have enough to live on in modest comfort, especially sufficient bread of good quality flour. No rich man should have the power of life and death over his fellow men by his ability to monopolise food and other basic necessities. thus food prices and distribution should be controlled by law, while the government should take stern action against hoarders and speculators. Some of the more radical sans culotte committees demanded taxation of the rich, limitation of rents, restriction of the activities of large financiers, government-assisted workshops and allowances for widows, orphans and disabled soldiers. (pp. 52-4).

‘He was a fervent believer in direct democracy, a concept which stemmed ultimately from Rousseau and the Social Contract and filtered down into the sections through the revolutionary press, broadsheets and speeches, revolutionary songs and Jacobin Club pamphlets and propaganda. Authority could not be delegated, for the true basis of government was the people, sitting permanently in their evening sectional meetings, where they discussed laws and decrees. Deputies should be delegates rather than representatives and be constantly and immediately answerable to societies populaires. The latter had the right to scrutinise the laws of the Assembly, administer justice and the police, and help to run the war effort. Thus the sans culottes saw themselves and the ‘nation’ as synonymous. (pp. 54-5).

We don’t need the murderous bloodthirstiness of the sans culottes, some of whom took their children to public executions as part of their political education, and, as time wore on, became increasingly nationalistic and chauvinistic, to the point where they insisted on Parisian French as they only indicator of political reliability, and were hostile and suspicious of other languages spoken in France, such as the Breton Celtic tongue, and even other French dialects. And I don’t share their radical atheism and hatred of Christianity and Roman Catholicism. However, we do need a revival of other parts of their attitude and values: the radical egalitarianism, which despises and revolted against any attempt to sneer at someone because of their occupation as a worker or manual tradesman. Owen Jones in Chavs points to the way Kenneth Clarke once heckled John Prescott with the cry of ‘Here, barman’, because Prescott had once been a ship’s steward. And this government is indeed that of ‘Aristocrats … wealthy merchants, monopolists, middlemen, bankers, trading clerks, quibbling lawyers’ and the owners of vast property and industry. And monopolists, bankers and economic liberals are pursuing policies that penalise and push into grinding poverty the poorest and weakest sections of the society for their own profit.

Instead of a government by them, which benefits the rich alone, we desperately need instead a government of real egalitarians, that is not afraid to pursue policies that include the ‘taxation of the rich, limitation of rents, restriction of the activities of large financiers, government-assisted workshops and allowances for widows, orphans and disabled soldiers’ and more. Regardless of one’s attitude to religion, it’s about time we returned and revived their radical egalitarianism against a radically unequal, illiberal and thoroughly oppressive regime.

cameron-toff

David Cameron: He personifies the Sansculotte statement ‘Aristocrats are the rich wealthy merchants, monopolists, middlemen, bankers, trading clerks, quibbling lawyers and citizens who own anything.’