Posts Tagged ‘Peter Jones’

Stephen Hawking to Play The Book in New Series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 18, 2018

The I newspaper yesterday reported that the physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, is set to play the Book in a new radio series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Entitled ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Edition’ the series will commemorate the original show on Radio 4 back in 1978, featuring the original cast.

I loved the original series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the first two books based on the show, the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. However, I lost interest in it after the third book. I tried reading the fourth, only to give up. I think by that time Douglas Adams himself was growing tired of writing them. I’ve heard someone say on an interview that he was only lured back to write his last Hitch-Hiker book by the publisher’s promise that in it he could destroy every possible Earth in every possible universe. So I’m not sure I’ll listen to it, especially as the series is being carried on by other writers.

I also wasn’t impressed by Adams’ expressed contempt for the genre he wrote in. Back in the 1990s he was interviewed on the radio by Paxo, who said his book was Science Fiction, but different. It was good. Adams replied by saying that he didn’t write Science Fiction. Which is odd, because that’s what Hitch-Hiker is. But I guess Adams wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as a genre writer.

At that time the prejudice of the literary establishment towards Science Fiction and Fantasy was much stronger than it is now. I can remember seeing Terry Pratchett speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, saying how the organisers looked on him as if he was going to talk to people about fixing motorcycles. There’s a clip of the BBC arts programme, The Late Review, in which the Oxford lecturer and poet, Tom Paulin, and a female litterateur are asked to review one of Pratchett’s books, where they both make very disparaging remarks. The woman states that she felt like writing across it in big lines ‘I cannot read any more’. Paulin compared it to lifting up a stone to find all these weird people doing weird things underneath it. And going further back to the 1950s Brian Aldiss commented in The Trillion Year Spree that at that time, despite being championed by Kingsley Amis, pornography had a better reputation than Science Fiction amongst the literary elite.

Pratchett had to fight against that literary snobbishness throughout his life, but is now being taken very seriously by critics. I think Adams avoided it. Back in the ’90s he and Hitch-Hiker were the subjects of one edition of the South Bank Show with Melvin Bragg. But perhaps the price of that critical acclaim was his denial that he wrote Science Fiction at all.

But other people are different, and so I’ve no doubt that there are millions of Hitch-Hiker fans out there, who will be delighted to hear the news. They know who they are. They’re the people, who bought merchandising, like the Hitch-Hiker bath towels. This was a large, white bath towel with the text from the HHGG talking about how every Hitch-Hiker really needed to know where their towel was on it. I found one of those in Forever People, the comics/ SF shop in Bristol. The show’s fans are also the people, who organised conventions with dubious names like ‘Slartibartday’, after one of the creators of the Earth, Slartibartfast.

Hawking is in many ways an ideal choice for The Book after the death of Peter Jones, who was its original voice on Radio 4 and then in the BBC 2 TV series. He already has an electronic voice to fit the character of an electronic book, and is a world famous space scientist and advocate of space colonisation. But you wonder how massive his ego will be after playing a publication, which the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes as, amongst some people, having displaced the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom.

Anti-Union Propaganda and the Myth of the Strike-Prone Seventies

March 8, 2016

The Tories in their attacks on the trade unions make much of the supposed damage caused by strikes to public services and Britain’s status in the world. They hark back particularly to the 1970s as the era when the unions were totally out of control, wrecking British industry, already struggling from Socialist mismanagement by the Labour party, with irresponsible strikes and picketing. This, they claim, was a decade of social and economic chaos, when Britain was only saved from collapse by the timely election of Margaret Thatcher and her tough policy on the unions.

Eric Hopkins provides an interesting rebuttal of this received wisdom in his Rise and Fall of the English Working classes. He writes on page 131:

Other aspects of union activity which undoubtedly attracted criticism included the speed with which some union officials called men out on strike, often on the basis of a show of hands at a mass meeting (the ‘wildcat’ strike); then there was the practice of overmanning, and the persistence of inter-union demarcation disputes. Occasionally there was violence on the picket lines, when blacklegs or scabs were attacked. Middle-class prejudice against unionism was strengthened by films such as I’m Alright, Jack (featuring Peter Sellers as a self-important shop steward), and The Angry Silence, portraying the treatment meted out to a blackleg. A popular TV comedy, The Rag Trade, amusing and harmless in itself, featured Miriam Karlin as a militant shop steward in a small clothing workshop whose strident blast on the whistle and cry of ‘Everybody out!’ would bring work to an abrupt end, to the dismay of the bumbling and inefficient proprietor, played by Peter Jones. In fact, the majority of strikes were conducted properly enough, and were based on perfectly legitimate grievances; the real problem was the increase in unofficial strikes which did not follow the conventional procedures. Although the belief grew up at the time that England was particularly strike-prone, there is actually no reason to supposed that workers here went on strike more readily than workers elsewhere in Europe. Further, three-quarters of all strikes lasted less than three days for most of the 1960s. In the late 1960s this proportion was reduced but still remained at about half in the 1970s. Earlier, on the coal industry was more strike-prone than other industries – 70 per cent of all strikes between 1952 and 1957 were in the coal industry. Later on, the metal industry and the motor industry became the commonest industries for strikes. Yet even then, in the period 1971-3 there were no strikes at all in 95 per cent of manufacturing plants.

There were serious issues with union power in the 1970s, particularly with the three-day week and the National Union of Mineworkers’ battle with Ted Heath. It seems from this that Britain’s reputation as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ particularly beset by strikes has been very much exaggerated.

The Overthrow of the French Parliament by the Workers in the 1848 Revolution

April 20, 2014

1848 Book pic

Peter Jones in his book The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) describes the events of February 1848 in Paris, which culminated in a mob of workers storming the French Chamber of Deputies to overthrow the government and the monarchy:

On 20 February 1848 the reformers and the opposition to Guizot’s government in France made plans to hold a political banquet in Paris. the banquet was banned by the government and, as a result, the common people of Paris held a procession through the streets in protest against the decision. Their leaders presented a petition to the Chamber of Deputies demanding Guizot’s resignation.

The discontent against the government, and against Guizot in particular, had been growing during 1847 but then it had largely been a campaign of middle-class politicians. Now it was the cause of the common people of Paris and on 22 February 1848 the police had to clear an unruly crowd in the Place de la Madeleine. The next day the King, Louis Philippe, dismissed Guizot and called on Mole to lead the government. But this concession had come too late, because on the same evening a great throng of people had made their way along the Boulevard des Capucines to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs only to find their passage blocked by a troop of cavalry and infantry. According to Victor Hugo, the people at the head of the procession tried to stop and turn aside, ‘but the irresistible pressure of the huge crowd weighed on the front ranks’. A shot rang out, and in the panic that followed a whole volley was fired. At least forty people were killed. The victims were piled on a cart lit with torches and within a few hours the city was blocked with barricades.

On the following morning, 24 February, Alexis de Tocqueville, a prominent member of the Chamber of Deputies, left his house feeling that he could ‘scent revolution in the air’. A group of men gathered round him and asked for news, and he warned them that the only real danger to the government was if they themselves got too excited and took matters to extremes. ‘”That’s all very well, sir,” they said, “the government has got itself into this fix by its own fault; so let it get itself out as best it can …”‘ Louis Philippe had done just that – he had abdicated that same afternoon and a Provisional Government had been set up.

The Provisional Government would probably have decided in favour of a Regency but the invasion of the Chamber of Deputies by a crowd of workers on the afternoon of 24 February pushed the Provisional Government towards a republic. Paris was now in the hands of the workers and the ‘dangerous classes’. Earlier that day they had invaded the Tuileries Palace and dumped Louis Philippe’s empty throne in the courtyard. According to Flaubert the ‘common herd ironically wrapped up in laces and cashmeres … Hats with ostrich feathers adorned blacksmiths’ heads, and ribbons of the Legion of Honour supplied waistbands for the prostitutes’. Lamartine, who was popular with the people, nevertheless witnessed the invasion of the Chamber of Deputies with fear:

‘They crowded the corridors, and rushed with their cries of mortal combat into the spectators’ galleries. Their clothes torn, their shirts open, their arms bare, their fists clenched and resembling muscular clubs, their hair wildly dishevelled, and singed with cartridges, their countenances maddened with the delirium of revolution, their eyes smitten with the spectacle, so novel to them, presented by the Chamber … all revealed them as desperadoes, who were come to make the last assault on the last refuge of royalty.’

They were armed with pikes, bayonets, and sabres. ‘Down with the Regency!’ they shouted, ‘The Republic forever’. Their demonstration meant that the new Provisional Government was forced to include the Socialists Louis Blanc and Flocon, as well as a solitary but symbolic worker, Albert. (pp. 1-2).

From France, the revolutionary movement spread to Bavaria, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Milan and Palermo. It did not last. They soon fizzled out and were brutally suppressed. In France the forces of the Right regrouped, the Revolution was suppressed and the Provisional Government was replaced by the new monarchy of Napoleon III.

The Workers’ Uprising in the ‘June Days’

The workers rose up again in June in protest at the closure of the National Workshops providing work for the unemployed. Alexis de Tocqueville, the nobleman, whose book on Democracy in America is still one of the great texts of political science, states that they were motivated from hunger.

In that city there were a hundred thousand armed workmen formed into regiments, without work and dying of hunger. Society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy; those who had anything united in common terror. There were no longer ties of sympathy linking these two great classes, and a struggle was everywhere assumed to be inevitable soon… (De Tocqueville, Recollections, in Jones, p. 83).

We Need a Campaign, Not Revolution, to Put Workers and Socialists in Government Today

We don’t need a revolution in this country, with violence and bloodshed. What we do need are more mass demonstrations and pressure on the government and the political parties to change their policies. Now as then, people are starving. Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers has estimated that about 55,000 people are dying per year due to government sanctions. The rate could be as high as 78,000. This is massively unreported. Stilloaks over on his blog gives the names and the stories of some of the victims.

Furthermore, the working class are massively under-represented in government and parliament. All the parties are eager to chase the votes of the aspiring middle class, and while there is in itself nothing wrong with this, it has been done at the expense of the working class. Earlier generations of Labour politicians included people from the working class, who made their way into parliament from the trade unions. One of the earliest Labour politicians to be elected to Westminster was an agricultural worker, and gave his autobiography, I believe, the title of ‘From Plough to Parliament’. Ernest Bevin, Labour’s Foreign Minister under Clement Atlee, was a dock worker and founder, with Harry Gosling, of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. Tony Blair and Ed Milliband have tried to loosen the Party’s links with the unions. And many of the modern ranks of politicians across the political spectrum come from very middle class backgrounds. Instead of trade union activism, they frequently come from a more academic background, having read of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Uni. The Tory and Tory Cabinet are a demonstration of this middle and upper class domination of politics and parliament. They are nearly all toffs with connections to banking and finance.

And the class composition of parliament and the parties shows in the parties’ economic and welfare policies. Any kind of nationalisation is considered unacceptable as they have adopted, to a greater or lesser extent, Thatcherite Neoliberalism. The government’s welfare policies, rather than address problems with the economy as the cause of poverty, blame the workers themselves for being too lazy or ill-prepared to find a job themselves. The result is a policy of punitive sanctions and highly coercive measures forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits to enrich private industry.

It’s time this stopped. We need proper, Socialist economic measures and the members and representatives of the working class back in parliament. The 1848 Revolution put, at least for a time, the Socialists Louis Blanc and Flocon in government, along with Albert, a worker. This was celebrated and praised as an example of what universal suffrage could achieve by the great German Socialist leader, Ferdinand Lassalle. The time is long overdue when a British government also included Socialists and workers.

A 19th Century Magdeburg Citizen on the Difference between Paupers and Proletarians

April 13, 2014

One of the documents reproduced in Peter Jones’ The Revolutions of 1848 (Harlow: Longman 1981) pp. 78-9 are the observations of an anonymous citizen of Magdeburg in Germany of the fundamental psychological difference between paupers and proletarians. Paupers accept their poverty, while the proletarians actively resented it and the order that caused it. The extract runs:

… the proletarian is aware of his situation. This is why he is fundamentally different from the pauper, who accepts his fate as a divine ordinance and demands nothing but alms and an idle life. The proletarian realised straight away that he was in a situation which was intolerable and unjust; he thought about it and felt a longing for ownership; he wanted to take part in the joys of existence; he refused to believe that he had to through life in misery, just because he was born in misery; moreover he was aware of his strength, as we pointed out above; he saw how the world trembled before him and this recollection emboldened him; he went so far as to disregard Law and Justice. hitherto property had been a right: he branded it a robbery.

We too have a proletariat, but not so well developed. If one were to ask our artisans, who have been ruined by competition and much else, our weavers who are out of work, silk-weavers, those who live in our cassematte and family-homes; if one were bold enough to penetrate these cabins and hovels; if one spoke to the people and took in their conditions; one would realise with a shock that we have a proletariat. Nevertheless, they are not daring enough to voice their demands, for the German is generally shy and likes to hide his misfortune. But misery grow, and we may be quite sure, even as one day follows another, that the voice of poverty will one day be terribly loud!

The policy of successive administrations since Thatcher has been to try to turn the working class from proletarians into paupers. She destroyed the traditional working class heavy industries as part of a deliberate policy of destroying the unions and creating a huge reservoir of the unemployed. See Kittysjones’ recent post on the academic report discussing this, Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom” at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/. The Tories have then promoted an active psychological policy in which the unemployed and the poor are made to believe that their poverty is somehow their fault, rather than the economic structure of society. This also has the deliberate effect of discouraging the new paupers from enjoying an idle life. So if the Tories don’t want the proletariat to feel they are powerful, they do need them to feel that they can somehow do something about their conditions, a deliberate channelling of part of the surviving proletarian psychology – the desire for ownership – into a form that will accept the increasing stratified economic and social structure. However, increasing numbers of people are seeing their desire for dignity and property frustrated and denied, as they are priced out of the property market, and suffer from the rising prices of the energy companies. And for the unemployed, thanks to government welfare reforms and benefit sanctions, even food has become unaffordable and people are forced to go to food banks to stop themselves from starving.

This cannot and must not continue. The Tories and Tory Democrats should be voted out at the next election as the working people of this country show their awareness of their strength. The voice of the poor, the disabled, the unemployed must be heard. And it must be very loud.

Maria Miller, Government Corruption and the French Revolution of 1848

April 13, 2014

140405maria-miller

Maria Miller: Tory MP forced to resign for expenses fiddling, paralleling the 1847 prosecution of French Minister Teste for corruption.

One of the causes of the French Revolution of 1848 was a couple of scandals involving government ministers. The duc de Praslin was arrested and brought to trial for battering his wife to death because he was in love with an English governess. He committed suicide before being sentenced. A former Minister of Public Works, Teste, was tried in 1847 for using his position to gain industrial concessions. The effect of the two scandals was to reinforce opposition to the Prime Minister, Guizot, and ‘together these cases were taken as a revelation of the manner of life of the governing classes’. (Peter Jones, The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) 30).

We’ve had a series of scandals concerning child abuse committed by senior members of the Tory party and Cyril Smith, the Liberal MP. Maria Miller has just been forced to resign despite opposition and support from David Cameron because of the way she fiddled her expenses. She then showed her absolute contempt for parliamentary standards by issuing a derisory thirty-second apology, while one of her aides threatened the Daily Telegraph when they broke this story. And there is the continuing scandal of the Tory and Tory Democrats MPs pushing through the privatisation of the NHS in order to gain government contracts for their own healthcare companies.

For many people now, like the French public in 1848, these scandals – and particularly the expenses fiddling and government corruption – show the corrupt morals of the governing classes. Cameron and Clegg had better act before the mob star5ts gathering outside Whitehall, singing the ‘Marseillaise’.

The Conditions of the Working Class in 19th Century Lille

April 13, 2014

Priti Patel

Priti Patel, one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, who wish to reintroduce Third World Conditions 21st Century Britain.

Neoliberal ideological looks back to the 19th century as the great age of European industrial expansionism through laissez-faire economics. They believe that if similar conditions were created in modern Britain and Europe through an extensive programme of privatisation, deregulation and the curtailment of government welfare spending, industry would similarly prosper and expand.

The 19th century was also a time of immense poverty, misery and suffering for the new, industrial working class, who poured into the cities as the labour force for the new factories. They lived in conditions of grinding poverty comparable to those of the poor of today’s Developing World. Adolphe Blanqui, in his Les Classes Ouvrieres en France pendant l’annee 1848, published in Paris in 1849 gives a description of the appalling poverty endured by the working class population of Lille.

A succession of islets separated by dark and narrow alleyways, at the other end are small yards called courettes which serve as sewers and rubbish-dumps. In every season of the year there is damp. The apartment windows and the cellar doors all open on to these disease-ridden alleyways, and in the background there are pieces of iron railing over cess-pits which are used day and night as public lavatories. The dwellings are ranged round these plague-spots, and people pride themselves on still being able to gain a small income from them. The further the visitor penetrates into these little yards, the more he is surrounded by a strange throng of anaemic, hunchbacked and deformed children with deathly pale livid faces, begging for alms. Most of these wretches are almost naked and even the best-cared-for have rags sticking to them. But these creatures at least breathe fresh air; only in the depths of the cellars can one appreciate the agonies of those who cannot be allowed out on account of their age or the cold weather. For the most part they lie on the bare soil, on wisps of rape-straw, on a rough couch of dried potato-peelings, on sand or on shavings which have been painstakingly collected during the days work. The pit in which they languish is bare of any fittings; only those who are best-off possess a temperamental stove, a wooden chair and some cooking-utensils. ‘I may not be rich,’ an old woman told us, pointing to her neighbour lying full-length on the damp cellar floor, ‘but I still have my bundle of straw, thank God!’ More than three thousand of our fellow-citizens lead this horrifying existence in the Lille cellars.

Cited in Peter Jone, The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) 78.

It was partly due to these appalling conditions that the working class revolted in 1848 to overthrow the monarchy. And France wasn’t alone in the suffering of its poor. Similar conditions of appalling poverty were found throughout Europe, including England and Germany.

The Tories and Tory Democrats wish to see these conditions return. Priti Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained argued that Britons should similarly work much longer hours for lower pay for Britain to compete with the emerging economic powerhouses of the Developing World, such as India and China. If they have their way, the laissez-faire economics they embrace and advocate will lead to similar grinding poverty, while enriching the prosperous few. Just like in the 19th century, the age they so admire.

19th Century Liberals Not Democrats

April 13, 2014

Libertarians claim that they returning to the real Liberalism of the 19th century, while also claiming that they stand for true, individual freedom against the encroachments of the state. Yet historians have pointed out that in the 19th century, while Liberals fought for individual freedoms against aristocratic privilege and feudal oppression, they were not Democrats and feared the working classes. Peter Jones in the book The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) states

Liberalism in the nineteenth century was the belief that government should be carried on by means involving consent among the various sections of society or the nation. Liberalism’s intellectual justification was derived from eighteenth-century rationalism, which had attacked all forms of arbitrary power, particularly the power of kings. Liberals believed that the power of traditional institutions, such as the Church and the monarchy, should be restrained by institutions presenting the interests of society more generally and the aristocracy and the more wealthy sections of the middle class in particular. The liberal programme – government by parliament or representative assembly, freedom of the press and individual freedom – was most popular among the emerging classes of manufacturers, merchants and professionals, who saw the privileges of the Church and the most wealthy sections of the aristocracy as obstacles to their own economic and social betterment. Liberals, as distinct from those who preached democracy, believed in the sovereignty of parliament rather than the sovereignty of the people. Middle-class liberals regarded democracy with suspicion, since it was associated in their minds with the excesses of the First French Republic . Consequently middle-class liberals in both Britain and France advocated broadening the property franchise: ‘Vox populi, vox dei, which gives to the majority the infallibility of God … is the most dangerous and most despotic absurdity that has ever emerged from the human brain. If you want to ruin a state give it universal suffrage’, so claimed Odilon Barot, leader of the Dynastic Opposition in the 1840s.

This concern for the interests of the middle classes and the fear of democracy and the working class explains why von Hayek and Mises, the founders of modern Libertarian, were prepared to serve and give their approval to extreme Right-wing regimes – Dollfuss’ Austrofascist dictatorship in Austria, and General Pinochet in Chile. It also explains why sections of the Italian Liberal party actively co-operated with Mussolini and appointed him as a coalition partner. In this milieu, Pareto’s elitism, which stemmed from his belief in free trade, was merely part of a general distrust of the masses taken to its logical conclusion. And Fascism did gain support from the Italian middle classes for its support of liberismo – sound money, a balanced budget, free trade and private enterprise against the threat of Socialism and organised Labour. The same authoritarian mindset also explains why the Tory Democrats have supported highly authoritarian and illiberal initiatives by the Tories, like secret courts and the Gagging Law.

This fundamental authoritarianism is disguised, but nevertheless extremely strong in other areas of Right-wing ideology. The Neo-Conservatives of Bush’s administration considered themselves to be ‘Democratic revolutionaries’. Nevertheless, they believed strongly in limited the power of the state in favour of extreme laissez-faire economic policies. One Neo-Con politician interviewed on Adam Curtis’ series How We Lost Our Dreams Of Freedom, stated that the democracy they wanted to introduced was ordered to exclude state economic intervention. The NeoCons have even written their policies into the Iraqi constitution to make them unalterable. This policy no doubt influenced David Cameron in his statements that he would try to force subsequent governments to follow his policies even if the Tories lost next year’s elections.

For all their claims to represent individual freedom, Libertarians, as the self-professed heirs of 19th century Liberalism, share the same distrust of democracy and fear and despise the working class and organised labour. The freedom they espouse are those only for a very restricted class of the wealthy and privileged.