Posts Tagged ‘‘Religion Society and Reform 1800-1914)’

Samuel Smiles’ Condemnation of the Evils of Laissez-Faire

September 26, 2019

Samuel Smiles was the author of Self-Help, a 19th century manual on how the working classes could escape poverty by helping themselves. He’s been seen as a cornerstone of Conservative values, to whom Maggie Thatcher harked back when she promoted her attack on the welfare state as giving people more self-help. Andrina Stiles’ discusses how Victorian philanthropy is seen by some historians as an attempt to create ‘a docile, subservient working class out of a large, ill-educated and potentially revolutionary mass of people’ and that ‘the whole basis of Victorian involvement in charitable enterprise as an exercise in social control based on Samuel Smiles’ teaching about self-help’ in her book, Religion, Society and Reform 1800-1914 (London, Hodder & Stoughton 1995). But she also states that this view has been challenged by other historians. These argue that while he moderated his views on laissez-faire in later life, he did not believe it adequate to tackle social problems. And she provides as proof a passage from Smiles in which he bitterly condemns it. She writes

But other historians now believe these views to be a travesty of Samuel Smiles’ teaching. Although his book Self-Help was not published until 1859, they point out that its contents had been delivered as a series of lecturers to working-class audiences in Leeds 14 years earlier at a time of social conflict; and that in those lectures Smiles was not preaching quiescence but radicalism. Although he later moderated his political views and came to agree with laissez-faire in economic matters, he never accepted it was the right policy in dealing with social abuses, writing passionately of the need for outside intervention where self-help by the poor was obviously an inadequate remedy:

When typhus or cholera break out they tell us Nobody is to blame. That terrible Nobody… Nobody adulterates our food. Nobody poisons us with bad drink… Nobody leaves towns undrained. Nobody makes thieves, poachers and drunkards. Nobody has a dreadful theory – laissez-faire – leave alone. When people are poisoned with plaster of Paris mixed with their flour ‘let alone’ is the remedy … Let those who can find out when they are cheated. When people live in foul dwellings, let them alone, let wretchedness do its work; do not interfere with death. (p. 98).

So much for Thatcherite ‘Victorian values’. They killed people in the 19th century, and they’re killing them now as the Blairites and the Tories make obtaining welfare benefits for the unemployed and disabled as difficult and humiliating as possible. The result is that over a quarter of a million people are only kept from starvation by food banks, tens of thousands of disabled people have died after being thrown off benefits due to being assessed as fit for work, and there is a chronic housing shortage through Maggie’s determination to sell off council housing and forbid the building of any more.

But the Tories and the Libertarians keep singing the old refrain. Things will be better with more self-help, less state reliance and regulation. Private enterprise and capitalism will make everything better. A few months ago Dave Rubin and Candace Owens of the American right-wing group, Turning Point, tried to convince Brits when they came over to push their vile, outmoded views on this side of the Pond. Libertarianism was devised by extreme right-wing businessmen, most notably the Koch brothers, in order to defend depriving working people of state support and trade union power, whilst enriching big business. It always was close to Nazism. In the 1970s the American Libertarian rag, Reason, even published an issue pushing Holocaust Denial. Over this side of the Atlantic, the Libertarian organisations, like the National Association For Freedom, or the Freedom Association as it became, used to support the South American dictators. This included Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog, who was a member of one of these societies. One year the guest of honour at their annual dinner was the head of one of Central American dictator Rios Montt’s death squads. When Staines wasn’t out of his head raving with the machine elves on psychoactive chemicals, of course.

Laissez-faire in its Conservative and Libertarian versions brings nothing but poverty, sickness and death to the masses. Smiles knew this and condemned it. But the Thatcherites are still pushing it, because it keeps the poor poor and very much under the control of the rich.

The Jewish Establishment’s Extension of Control over 19th Century Eastern European Jewish Immigrants

September 26, 2019

There’s a very interesting section in Andrina Stile’s Religion, Society and Reform 1800-1914 (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1995) discussing the challenge the Sephardic Jewish establishment faced in the 19th century from the influx of Ashkenazi Jews fleeing persecution in eastern Europe. The British Jewish community was assimilated, and shocked by the poverty and lack of education of the new immigrants. They therefore tried to assist them and help them to integrate into British society. However, while this assistance was well-intentioned, they were also afraid of the immigrants’ political radicalism. Many of them were Socialists, and they challenged the Jewish religious establishment by setting up independent charities and prayer groups, the chevroth, that acted as alternatives to the established synagogues and centres of Jewish culture and learning. As a result, the Chief Rabbis began a campaign to centralise their power and authority, leading to the establishment of the United Synagogue.

Stiles’ writes

This great influx of immigrants completely destabilised Anglo-Jewry for a while, socially, economically and religiously. The majority of the newcomers were poor and uneducated, used to a life of violence and prone to riot. A campaign of education and training was begun by the Jewish elite, not in an attempt to keep down a potentially dangerous proletariat and maintain the social status quo, but to turn the newcomers into respectable citizens, wean them away from socialist politics and integrate them into existing society. Schools, hospitals and charitable institutions of all kinds were established and adult education was vigorously pursued in the hope of instilling bourgeois values; but the immigrant populations in London, Leeds and Manchester remained stubbornly unwilling to co-operate. Not only was the Hebrew Socialist Union formed in 1875 with the aim of organising workers in the East End of London, but there was also a sudden and spontaneous growth of religious confraternities, chevra. These chevra provided spiritual, social and material comfort for those in need. Groups of ‘poor foreigners’ who could not afford to attend the synagogues, where they were not made welcome, would combine to form the necessary quorum of ten men for worship. In any room they could borrow or rent cheaply they held their own services. However unsalubrious, crowded and uncomfortable, a chevroth ‘supplied them not only with their religion, but with their art and letters, their politics and their public amusements. It was their home as well as the Almighty’s’. The failure of the synagogues to provide for the poor probably explains why, according to the 1851 Religious Census, only 16 per5 cent of Jews attended the official Sabbath service.

The Jewish elite disliked these independent organisations for their religious extremism, their encouragement of class divisions and their radical politics and looked for a way to counter the influence of the chevra. They found it in the development of a strong, hierarchical and centralised religious government under the leadership of the Adler family. Father and son, the Adlers filled the office of Chief Rabbi for 66 years (1844-1911), during which time they gather into their hands complete control of all religious matters. Social affairs were co-ordinate in 1858 by the formation of the Jewish Board of Guardians and the process of centralisation was completed when hitherto autonomous religious congregations were brought together by the creation of the United Synagogue in 1870. (p. 143-44).

This seems to parallel some of the conflict with British, American and western Judaism today over the support for Israel. And it strongly appears to me that right-wing Zionist Jewish establishment in Britain isn’t just frightened about falling support for Israel and its vile colonialist programme of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. They also seem to be very much afraid that the great-grandchildren of the Jewish radicals of the 19th century are rediscovering their Socialist heritage.

David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group has described on his blog how the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the 1980s accused the GLC of anti-Semitism because Ken Livingstone dared to give them a small grant. The Board were infuriated because the JSG wasn’t affiliated to them. Rosenberg himself celebrates the tradition of the Bund, the 19th century eastern European Jewish party, which wished to create a socialist order while remaining in their traditional European homelands. Their motto, in Hebrew, translated as ‘Wherever we are, that’s our homeland’. They wished to be equal, fellow citizens with the gentile peoples with whom they lived. This was completely unacceptable to the Zionists, who were a minority among the eastern European Jewish masses.

Jeremy Corbyn has been bitterly denounced as an anti-Semite for his support of equality and dignity for the Palestinians by the Conservative establishment, including the Blairite ‘moderates’ in Labour itself. And they’ve also accused him and his supporters of being Communists, Trotskyites and Stalinists because they stand for a return to the post-War social democratic consensus. A strong welfare state, a nationalised National Health Service that carries out its commitment to provide universal healthcare free at the point of delivery, and workers’ rights and effective trade unions, are too much for the right-wing establishment, Jewish, gentile or whatever, to tolerate. Among those on the receiving end of this campaign of smears and vilification have been left-wing, Corbyn-supporting Jews, like Jackie Walker. Corbyn has a proud tradition of supporting the Jewish community, as bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political, the Skwawkbox and very many others have shown. And he enjoys the respect and support of part of the Jewish community. This includes the ultra-Orthodox Haridi, whose campaign to preserve their burial ground he and Dianne Abbott supported when the local synagogue wanted to redevelop it. Within the Labour party Corbyn is supported by Jewish Voice for Labour, and he spent Passover with the radical Jewish group, Jewdas. Which sent the Board and the witch-hunters berserk once again. They howled ‘anti-Semitism!’, because he dared to celebrate a Jewish holiday with ‘the wrong sort of Jews’. You know, people who may have seen themselves as in the tradition of the Hebrew Socialist Union, rather than respectable business types.

The Conservative Jewish establishment seems to feel that its power is being challenged, both in terms of foreign policy – support for Israel – and domestically in that there are independent Jewish organisations following left-wing politics. And so these decent people are also smeared as ‘self-hating’, anti-Semitic and ‘the wrong kind of Jews’, just as the Israel lobby as a whole smears anybody, who decries Israeli ethnic cleansing.