Posts Tagged ‘Riots’

Two Books Showing Bristol Has Not Kept Secret Its Involvement in the Slave Trade

June 6, 2019

The week before last, Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns was in Bristol, examining its history in the Georgian period. The show’s presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, who I believe is the Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham University. She’s had a long career in television presenting programmes on archaeology, history and human evolution, beginning in the 1980s with Time Team. She’s a medical doctor, who I believe also taught anatomy at Bristol University. She regularly appeared on Time Team to give her opinion on any human remains that were recovered during their escavations.

Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Most Historic Towns’

Time Team was finally cancelled after a very successful run several years ago, but like its presenter Tony Robinson, Roberts has continued fronting history and archaeology programmes. Each week the show visits a different British town and explores a specific period of its history. Roberts tours the town, talking to experts on its history and architecture during the period, and very often tries on the ladies’ costume at the time. Last year among the various towns the series covered was Cheltenham during its heyday as a regency spa. This year’s series started off with Dover, concentrating on it history during World War II. Last week it was looking at Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, when the city became the major centre of the global coal industry. And the week before that they were in Bristol, telling its history during the Georgian period. Roberts has a personal connection to the city, as it’s her home town and she went to school here. She also had a personal connection to Cardiff, as it was at its university that she studied medicine.

Georgian Bristol

During the Georgian period – the age of the four Georges, from the early 18th century to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 – Bristol was one of the leading cities in Britain. It’s a port, whose location on the Bristol Channel gave it an excellent position for trading with Africa and America. The programme covered other aspects of Bristol’s history during the period, like the emergence of gin, the 1827 massacre by the army in Queen’s Square in Redcliffe of a mob demanding electoral reform, and the development of the Clifton and Hotwells suburbs as genteel residential areas for the city’s new mercantile elite. But Bristol’s wealth at the time was largely produced from the immense profits from the slave trade. Ships from Bristol took trade goods down to west Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the West Indies to be sold, and the ships returned to Bristol with West Indian goods like sugar and rum in what has become known as the triangular trade. And it was on this aspect of Bristol’s Georgian history that the programme concentrated.

The show is well done and the research is very thorough. Among those Roberts talked to was Dr. Steve Poole, a lecturer at the University of the West of England; a member of Bristol’s Radical History Group, who talked about the Queen’s Square Massacre; and a couple of distillers, who showed her how 18th century gin was made. She also talked to Dr. Edson Burnett about the slave trade, going through some of the ledgers left by the slavers itemising their ships’ human cargo in the city archives. Some of these are really shocking. They simply give the number of slaves shipped aboard, and the deaths during the voyage. Those taken were simply items of merchandise, with no names. The ledgers give brief descriptions of those who died and how the body was disposed of. They were simply thrown over the side. One of the most horrendous incidents was the scandal surrounding the Zong, a slave ship, which threw its entire cargo of slaves overboard during a storm, and then tried to sue the insurance company for compensation for them as lost cargo. It’s a horrific atrocity and injustice. She also mentioned how a number of plays were written during the 18th century attacking the slave trade, many of which were set in Bristol. She then spoke to the writer and artistic director of a modern play about the trade being staged by Bristol’s historic Old Vic theatre.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

The programme’s coverage of Bristol’s history during the period was fair, although there was much obviously left out because of the constraints of the programme’s length. It’s an hour long, and it could easily take that long to discuss the city’s involvement with the slave trade and some of the architecture that was built for the merchants involved in the trade. As it was, the programme showed only one of them, the house of George Pinney, a 19th century West India planter and merchant. This is now a museum, the Georgian House, open to the public in one of the streets just off Park Street. However, Roberts opened the discussion of the city’s complicity in the slave trade with a statement that was simply wrong. She said that it was a terrible secret.

Exhibitions

Well, if Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is a secret, then it’s a very badly kept one! Bristol’s M Shed museum, which takes visitors through the city’s history and some of its industries, including aircraft and motor vehicles built here, has a display on the slave trade. This shows not only slave manacles and the manillas, bracelet-like items used for barter, but also maps of homes and other properties owned and occupied by the slave merchants and plantation owners. This follows an earlier exhibit at the City Museum in Queen Street, ‘A Respectable Trade’, which was timed to coincide with the TV series of that name on BBC 1, based on the book by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. The book and TV series were about the slave trade, and much of it was set in the Bristol of the time. The exhibition was staged by local council and showed the historical reality on which the fiction was based. Gregory also appeared in a TV programme at the time, exploring the city’s connection to the slave trade, in which she spoke to several Black anti-racist activists.

Books and Pamphlets

Since then there have been a number of books published on Bristol and the slave trade. The city library has published a catalogue of books and other materials it holds on the subject.  There has also been a book published on the City in 1807, the year in which the slave trade was officially prohibited throughout the British Empire. Dr. Madge Dresser, a historian at the University of the West of England, has also published a book, Slavery Obscured, on the persistence of the slave trade after its formal abolition, in which merchants from Bristol were involved. And back in the 1990s the local branch of the Historical Association published a booklet on Bristol’s Black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Merchant Venturers, the mercantile organisation that dominated Bristol’s trade in that period, has also published a catalogue of its holdings, which included it’s members’ plantations in the West Indies.

Origin of Belief Bristol Keeping Slave Trade Connection Secret

I’ve been told by members of the city’s Black cultural and anti-racist organisations that the idea that the city council is somehow covering up the city’s involvement in the slave trade dates from the 1970s. A member of the community rang the council up to inquire about what they knew about Bristol and the slave trade, only to be told that the city wasn’t involved in it. Which is wrong. I wonder if the person, who answered the call genuinely didn’t know about Bristol’s history of slaving. But whatever the reality, this planted the idea that the city council was deliberating hiding the truth. I think it was partly to dispel this idea that the City Museum staged the 1995 exhibition.

Two Books on Bristol from the 1950s and 1970s

But even before then, the city’s involvement in the slave trade was known and discussed. For example, the book Bristol and Its Adjoining Counties, edited by C.M. MacInnes and W.F. Whittard, and published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, has several pages on the slave trade in the chapter by MacInnes, ‘Bristol and Overseas Expansion’, pp. 219-230.

The 1975 textbook, Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey, published by Georges, also covers the slave trade in its chapter on city’s 18th century trade, pp. 31-2. All the chapters are a page or so in length, with another page suggesting projects or containing questions for students on that period of the city’s history. The paragraph on the slave trade runs

Unfortunately, Bristol was better known at this time for its links with the slave trade. The “Blackbirds” sailed to Africa with various goods, exchanged them for slaves which were then shipped to the West Indies or North America. The ships then returned home iwth sugar and tobacco, the whole “Triangular Trade” bringing enormous profits to many Bristol merchants. Before 1760, Bristol carried about one-third of all the slaves, but this number died away by the end of the century as the anti-slavery movement made progress. (p. 31).

Few Obvious Monuments to Slave Trade in City

I also think that part of this misconception may come from the fact that there are few monuments from the time that obviously have direct connections to the slave trade. When I was studying archaeology at Bristol, one of the foreign students on the archaeology course complained to one of the lecturers that her housemate believed Bristol was racist, because there were no monuments for the slaves. The housemate was another foreign student, from Guiana, where I believe the buildings for landing and sale of slaves still exist. I think the student expected similar buildings to exist in Bristol. But they don’t, as the bulk of the city’s slave trade was with the West Indies. There were slaves in Bristol, but these were brought to the city as personal servants, rather than imported en masse as they were in the Caribbean.

Historic Buildings and Later Monuments Connected to Slaves and Slave Trade

However, there are architectural hints at the city’s connection to the slave trade all around. The city’s merchants decorated the exterior of their homes with carvings symbolising their connection to Africa or the Caribbean, such as pineapples. There are also coloured statues, representing the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas in St. Nicholas Market, one of which is a Black African. And several of the city’s pubs also claim a direct connection to the trade. The Ostrich, one of the pubs on the harbourside, had a cellar, in which, it was claimed, slaves were held ready for sale. When I used to drink there in the 1990s there was a poster up about it, along with reproductions of the advertisements of the time for runaway slaves. However, it may be the reality here was more prosaic. The 1995 exhibition said that many the connection of many of parts of Bristol to the slave trade may just be urban folklore. Blackboy Hill, for example, is probably not named after a slave boy, but possibly a racehorse owned by Charles II. The city has also made other gestures to commemorating the victims of the slave trade. There’s a slave walk along Bristol’s docks, and a plaque put up to those enslaved by city on one of the former warehouses by M Shed. A remarkable bridge built across the docks in the 1990s, which features two horn-like constructions, has been called ‘Pero’s Bridge’, after one of the slaves imported into Bristol. And there is a gravestone for Scipio, an African slave brought to the city by his master in one of the city’s churchyards.

Bristol has a very rich and fascinating history, of which the slave trade is one part. It’s a history that definitely needs to be told. And it has only been within the last quarter century or so that the slave trade has been memorialised in local museums, not just in Bristol, but also elsewhere. Bristol has joined Liverpool and Nantes in France in creating exhibitions and galleries on its involvement in the trade. Before then it’s fair to say that City Museum did not display anything on the slave trade. It was a period of the city’s history that most Bristolians probably would have preferred not to commemorate, but it was never forgotten nor kept hidden.

 

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Lyra McKee and the Return of the Troubles in Northern Ireland

April 20, 2019

Yesterday Mike reported the death of Lyra McKee, a crusading journalist in Ulster, who was shot dead during rioting at the Creggan estate in Derry. Police had been despatched their to search for arms and ammunition that it was feared would be used by Republican terrorists, hoping to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising with a return to violence and bloodshed.

Mike makes the point that there are no reasons good enough to justify murder, and that 21 years after the Good Friday agreement there must be a commitment instead to friendship. Power must once again be restored to the Stormont Assembly, and the people of the Six Counties should be shown that the Irish border will remain open, whatever Britain’s relationship with the EU is like.

He states that the best way to shut down violence is to remove the cause for it. But Tweezer has instead stated that ‘nothing has changed’. Well, problems with a political cause need a political solution, and so he asks May squarely why nothing has changed.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/04/19/journalist-shot-dead-in-northern-ireland-21-years-after-good-friday-agreement-why/

I think we all know the reason for that. Devolved government in Northern Ireland has collapsed through a failure of the two coalition parties to cooperate. And Tweezer has increased insecurities over the Irish border through her determination to hold on to power at the expense of a proper Brexit deal or alternative government, that could find one. And she is being propped up by a Loyalist party with very extreme views, linked to political corruption and terrorism.

The people of Ulster and the British people need and deserve better.

One of the problems Jerry Adams faced in selling the Good Friday agreement to the Republicans was that to many of them, it was simply a return to the situation before the Troubles. Northern Ireland had a devolved assembly, but it’s government was taken over by Westminster after the Troubles broke out. And there was a ‘hard border’ with Eire. Now that the government of the Six Counties is once again in the hands of Britain and there is again a prospect of a hard border returning, it is not surprising that anxiety among the Nationalist community in Ulster is rising and that dissident Republicans are seeking to exploit this and begin the terrorist campaign again.

It’s time this was stopped before it began, as Mike said. It’s time there was a renewed commitment to making democracy work in Northern Ireland, no hard border with Eire, and Tweezer and her wretched Brexit scheme out from No. 10. And preferably Corbyn in, who was never a supporter of terrorism, and had the respect of all the parties in Northern Ireland. And we need this immediately, before more innocents are killed.

Zelo Street Demolishes Times Anti-Corbyn Smear

February 25, 2019

It seems the media really are absolutely terrified of Corbyn getting into No.10, as they’re increasing their vilification. Not only are the accusations that he, and his supporters in the Labour party, are anti-Semites are coming thick and fast from the Independents and the Blairites with the Labour split, but the right-wing, and specifically the Murdoch press, are falling back on the old canard that he’s a Trotskyite.

This morning, the good fellow at Crewe behind the Zelo Street blog put up a piece demolishing the latest attempt by the Murdoch press to defend Tom Bower’s biography of the Labour leader. This is the hit piece on Corbyn, which has screamed that he’s a ruthless operator, who has skillfully removed all ‘centrist’ – read: Thatcherite – opponents – who stood in the way of his ruthless ascent to power.

The claim itself is nonsense. Corbyn won the first Labour election partly because the Thatcherite vote was split between three candidates. And far from being a ruthless Machiavellian intriguer, one of the complaints I’ve heard is that he isn’t ruthless enough. When he first came to power, he was expected to purge the party bureaucracy of Blairites, just as Blair and Brown had purged the apparat before them and stuffed it full of their supporters. But he didn’t. If he had, we wouldn’t be suffering this mess now.

As for the revelations in Bower’s biography that supposedly reveal what an absolute blackguard he is, they’re incredibly disappointing. One of the worst of these came from his ex-wife, who says that he ignored her emotional needs, was boring and talked about politics all the time. What a bastard! This is hardly spousal abuse, It’s just two people, who were unsuited to each other. This fortnight’s Private Eye sent it all up with a spoof of it, by Tom Boo-hoo-hooer, with the title ‘Chapter 94, How Corbyn Wet the Bed, Cried All Night and Pooed his Nappies’.

Faced with this ridicule, the Times has seen fit to try to defend Bower, with the allegation that Corbyn is an academic failure – he apparently got two ‘Es’ and a failure at ‘A’ levels – but became a Trotskyite while teaching geography in Kingston, Jamaica. Corbyn went over there as part of the VSO programme. Apparently it was his experience of the 1968 Kingston riots that turned him into a radical leftist determined to create a British Communist state.

Zelo Street remarks that there are several problems with this. Firstly, no-one in Corbyn’s family told Bower about this, and the idea that they were deliberately concealing it from the old hack is absurd. David Osland on Twitter pointed out that at the time it would have been difficult for Corbyn to have become a Trotskyite in Jamaica, as there was then no Trotskyite movement there. Another Tweeter also pointed out that the real Trotskyites had Corbyn down as a trendy leftie, like Margaret Hodge, rather than anything further and more serious. John Field then made the point that most people accusing him of being a Trotskyite don’t actually know what a Trotskyite is. The article concludes

‘Exactly. Bower has been touring the TV studios, rambling on about communism without one gram of fact to back it up. He is just smearing with the objective of delegitimising Corbyn.
Trouble is, he’s not very good at it. Bit like the press which is enabling him, then.’
See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/corbyn-biographer-trotskyism-smear.html
And that’s also my experience of talking to people, who believe he’s Trotskyite: they don’t know what a Trotskyite is, and don’t off any evidence that he is one. None whatsoever. They don’t provide any evidence that he belonged to any Marxist organisation, let alone specifically Trotskyite one, or that he believes or has said anything remotely about Trotskyite dogma. It’s just smears without any shred of supporting evidence. But it’s said by the Times, the Mail and the rest of the dying press, so their readers believe it.

Video Debunking Rees-Mogg’s Poisonous Revisionist Lies about British Concentration Camps in Boer War

February 18, 2019

Yet more evidence to add to the growing mound of it that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a monster, who should not be let anywhere near high office, and that Question Time is horrendously biased. After John McDonnell made his remarks in an interview with Politico during the week, in which he said that Churchill was a villain because he sent in the British army to shoot down striking miners during the Tonypandy riots, Churchill’s legacy was apparently taken up and debated on Question Time. One of the guests on the panel was the Young Master, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who declared that the concentration camps in which Afrikaner women and children were imprisoned during the Boer War, also called by historians the Anglo-South African War, were beneficial to their residents, ‘humanitarian’ and that the death rate in them was no higher than in the Glasgow at the time.

This is, quite simply, a pack of utterly odious, reprehensible lies. The death toll in them was horrifically high, and generations of historians have condemned them as an atrocity. Rees-Mogg’s comparison of their death rate with that of Scotland’s great industrial toon provoked articles in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. I also found this video below on YouTube on the A Different Bias channel very effectively demolishing it and denouncing Mogg for what he is.

The presenter, Phil, begins by saying that there are two types of people on the subject of the British Empire. There is one set, who believe it is over and done with, while for another the Empire has not gone away. It has merely declined, and that is a good thing. He makes the point that there are misapprehensions of history on both sides, and that these need correcting. Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

He describes the background to the debate, and says that John McDonnell was naïve. Politico had set a trap for him, and instead of walking into it, declaring Churchill was a villain, he should have said, ‘Second World War – Hero’ and left it at that. He then moves on to talk about the concentration camps. He states that he believes the term ‘concentration camp’ first appeared during the Boer War. This erupted when the British tried to take over the gold fields in the free Afrikaner republics. The Afrikaner government granted concession after concession to the British, but this was not enough for Lord Milner, who wanted everything. And so War broke out.

However, despite the British forces outnumbering those of the Afrikaners, we were losing. We didn’t know the terrain; the Afrikaners did, and resorted to guerrilla warfare to defeat us. Lord Kitchener, the chief of the British forces, responded with a scorched earth policy. Boer farms were raised, their crops destroyed and livestock slaughtered. As a result, Afrikaner civilians displaced by the war fled to the camps, which were initially refugee camps. This became official military policy, with the British forcibly moving Afrikaner civilians into them. It was a deliberate attempt to defeat the Afrikaners through the detention of their women and children.

Inside the camps, conditions were atrocious. Hunger and disease were rampant. 50,000 died, 80 per cent of whom were children. This is illustrated very clearly by the photo Phil uses as the background for his talk, which shows a skeletally emaciated Afrikaner child. And the death rate at the time was nowhere near that of contemporary Glasgow. The death rate in the camps was 50 per cent. In Glasgow it was about 2 per cent. He gives the exact figures in the video. Furthermore, the suffering in the concentration camps was deliberately inflicted, while no-one was trying to kill the Glaswegians, except possibly other Glaswegians on a Friday night. The camps’ horrors were widely reported in the British press, creating a storm of public outrage. The government commissioned a committee of inquiry hoping to whitewash it all. Instead of finding that the reports were mistaken and the suffering exaggerated, the committee found that in fact conditions were actually far worse. As a result, the British government was forced to hand over management of the camps to the committee, who managed to reduce the death rate to 2 per cent.

At the beginning of his video, Phil asks rhetorically if there’s anyone who believes that concentration camps are beneficial to those interned in them, or that they do anything but bring shame upon their masters. He concludes, ‘No’, and so goes on to discuss them. He states that when Rees-Mogg came out with this vile nonsense, he was clapped by the audience and the presenter did not interrupt him.

Phil also recognizes that there are many shameful incidents in the past, which are only seen as atrocities in hindsight today, through the lens of our modern values. But the concentration camps aren’t one of them. They were seen as abnormal and barbaric at the time. He ends by describing Mogg as a monster, and he is ashamed and concerned that he has such a grip over the British people.

Absolutely. One of the people I worked with at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a White anti-racism activist, who had lived for a time in the former Rhodesia and had friends in South Africa. I gathered from him that while the Afrikaners liked us, referring to us as ‘nefe Brit’ – ‘nephew Brit’, the concentration camps and the atrocities of the Boer War were still bitterly resented. There was a museum to them, and one of the items on display was supposedly the bits of glass and nails that were put into the prisoners’ food.

There is absolutely no doubt that the concentration camps were an atrocity and are very definitely a deep stain on the history of the British Empire. Rees-Mogg’s attempts to justify them on Question Time really can’t be seen as anything less than an act of historical revisionism, as noxious as any other attempt to erase atrocities from historical memory. Mogg is polite, and studied history at Oxford, though no-one seems to know precisely what period or subjects he studied. He’s either thus deeply ignorant or a liar. I think he’s probably the latter. He should have been stopped, and someone with better knowledge of this period allowed to speak. Now the video does show Mogg making these terrible statements, and a female panelist looking incredulous at him and trying to rebut him. But he goes on with them nonetheless.

It’s the responsibility of historians to look at past events critically and try to strive for accuracy and objectivity, not matter how uncomfortable, distressing or shameful the subject. Mogg has not done so. He has shown himself indifferent to human suffering, both of past generations and of the present, where people are being reduced to starvation through the Tories’ wretched austerity programme and Brexit. As for those, who clapped him, well, what can you say? They have shown themselves to be the ‘gammon’ of fervent Brexiteers that get outraged whenever anyone dares to challenge their conception of Britishness or right-wing British values. And they can’t bear to acknowledge that we were also responsible for committing atrocities in our imperial heyday.

Mogg indeed is a monster. He is unsuited to be an MP, and, like Boris Johnson, his patriotic, Tory views of the past and the Empire are a threat to British people at home, and our standing and friendship with other nations in the wider world. And the ignorance and bigoted nationalism of his followers are also a threat and a disgrace. Just as it is also disgraceful that they are the audience the Beeb’s Question Time now seems determined to play up to.

Tweezer’s Threat to Post-Brexit Democracy

December 26, 2018

Last Wednesday, the 19th December 2018, Mike put up a truly alarming article. May, he reported, was planning on putting 3,500 squaddies on the streets of Britain if the country crashed out of the EU without a deal.

Mike in his article made the point that it looks like the Tories are desperate to get the country out of Europe before new tax legislation comes in, which would force the millionaires she serves to pay more tax. It’s a very strong argument. The only reason we are due to leave the EU on the date May set is because May set it. If negotiations with the EU take longer to secure a deal, it’s possible for May to postpone it. But she clearly doesn’t want that. And Tory policy, and for that matter, New Labour’s, has been for us to become a low wage tax haven off Europe, for the benefit of the extremely rich. Hence the continuing scandal of the City of London becoming one of the major centres of global money laundering. For further information, see the ‘In the City’ column in Private Eye.

Mike also commented that May appeared to be deliberately running down the clock to Brexit, perhaps due to being deliberately influenced with the hard right European Research Group and Jacob Rees-Mogg. And low taxes mean that not enough money is available for social policies that benefit ordinary people. Mike therefore concluded that

Put these elements together and it may be easier to understand why Mrs May is planning to deploy 3,500 soldiers onto the streets of the UK in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit. Martial law would preserve her government – sorry, dictatorship – against the civil unrest that her policies seem certain to provoke.

Mike then supports his conclusion with further arguments – that Tweezer knows she’s on borrowed time, but is determined to cling on to power, that the government wishes her to stay in power to continue the harm she’s doing to our country and society, and the complicity of the media in this, distracting the country in order to stop them realizing how they are being stripped of their rights and forced into debt.

Mike’s commenters are also extremely alarmed at the idea of Tweezer calling in the armed forces, and some of their comments are very well worth reading. Dan Delion, for example, said

If you want to know what may be in the pipeline, I urge you to read part 2 (Emergency Powers) of the Civil Contingency Act 2004 (it’s not long ~ 10pp) which describes the legislatiion that already exists – set up by Tony Blair, as it happens.
This is nothing to do with the replacememnt for Emergency Planning (that’s part 1 of said Act), but is intended to deal with any form of civil strife – just like Brexit.. Makes me wonder if May found what was up her sleeve and has been planning to keep the law in reserve, just in case Remoaners (or any other bodies) get uppity!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/19/brexipocalypse-may-threatens-martial-law-if-she-doesnt-get-her-contradictory-way/

This really is monstrous. The last time I can remember the army being called on to the streets of Britain was back in the 1970s, when there was a widespread fear that the country was on the verge of collapse, mostly due to strikes. And members of the establishment, including the Times and the editor of the Mirror, were definitely planning a coup in the mid-70s to overthrow Harold Wilson’s minority Government. This was partly because he was feared – and smeared by MI5 – as a KGB agent. Ken Livingstone discusses the proposed coup in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour. Left-wing activists, including journalists, were to be rounded up and interned in one of the islands off Scotland. This was no mere fantasy. Francis Wheen also describes the proposed coup and the plotters in his book, Strange Days: Paranoia in the ’70s. And Lobster has discussed several times MI5’s smears against Wilson.

The plotters did try to get the generals at Sandhurst interested, but they did their duty to Queen and country instead and send them packing. but there is nevertheless a real threat there. The Trotskyite writer, Ernest Mandel, in his book From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (New York: Schocken Books 1978) argued that democratically elected socialist and Marxist regimes have always been prevented from fully carrying out their dismantlement of big capital by the military. Mandel’s book is an attack on the ‘Eurocommunist’ direction western European Marxist took as they broke from the Stalinism and rigidly bureaucratic politics of the Soviet Union and turned instead to democratic elections and multiparty politics. It was a strategy intended to avoid a violent confrontation between the workers and capital. Mandel writes

Now, the essential aim of the Eurocommunist strategy is precisely to avert this confrontation at any price. Its capacity to influence the behaviour of the bourgeoisie, however, is virtually nil. The coups of Kapp, Mola-Franco, De Gaulle, Pinochet and Eanes have never been warded off by the pledges of Ebert-Noske, Otto Wels, Prieto, Thorez, Allende, or Mario Soares that the army is ‘national’ and ‘democratic’ and ‘stands above the class struggle’ and ‘respects the constitution’. (pp. 196-7).

The Kapp putsch was an attempt by parts of the army to overthrow the Weimar coalition government of post-WW I Germany headed by Ebert, the head of the SDP, the German equivalent of the Labour party. Thorez was the head of the Communist party in France when De Gaulle briefly seized power to govern by decree. Allende was the democratically elected Marxist president of Chile who was overthrown by Pinochet. General Franco was the Fascist leader of Spain, who overthrew the Republican government. I’m not familiar with the other names. Mandel is here discussing Marxist politicians, who were unable to stave off coups or coup attempts. Jeremy Corbyn very definitely isn’t a Marxist, but the Tories and mainstream media have been trying to smear him and his followers as Communists, Trotskyites and Stalinists. I can easily believe that some Tories would want him overthrown militarily if he did become prime minister.

I was talking a few months ago to one of the priests at our church, who also has strong left-wing beliefs. He lived and ministered for a long time in Australia, and told me that he wondered if Corbyn would ever be allowed to take power. He considered it possible that the Tories here would do what their counterparts Down Under did. They invoked the Queen to have the definitely democratically elected Gough Whitlam removed from office. I think if that happened here, it would utterly discredit the monarchy, though I can see a very carefully crafted story being concocted by the political establishment and the media to justify such an outrageous abuse of the monarchical prerogative.

And even if May’s preparations to put the army on the streets in the event of a No Deal Brexit is only to prevent rioting, there’s still more than element of self-interest about it. It was rioting over the poll tax in 1989 that forced Thatcher to retire, even though she won the vote of No Confidence in the Tory party with a slightly higher majority than Tweezer. And she nearly went eight or nine years previously, in 1981-2, with the rioting then.

And she clearly is concerned that rioting will occur if Britain leaves the EU without some kind of deal. Rioting no doubt caused by lack of food, medicine and other essential services caused by her shoddy negotiations with the EU.

May is a direct threat to British democracy, and the lives and livelihoods of Britain’s citizens. She works only for the rich, and would like to use the army to keep herself in power. Just like Thatcher’s friend, the mass murderer and torturer General Pinochet, and the other Latin American fascists the Tories supported.

Jeremy Corbyn Calls for ‘No Confidence’ Vote on Tweezer

December 17, 2018

So it’s finally happened. Despite the SNP telling the world that Corbyn is content to leave Theresa May in power for now, the Labour leader has done precisely the opposite: he’s tabled a motion of ‘No Confidence’ in May. This video from RT shows him announcing that he is doing so, and was posted c. 6.45 pm, today, Monday 17th December 2018. Mr. Corbyn says

The Prime Minister has obdurately refused to ensure that a vote took place on the date she agreed, she refuses to allow a vote to take place this week and is now, I assume, thinking the vote will be on the 14th January, almost a month away. This is unacceptable in any way whatsoever. So, Mr speaker, as the only way I can think of ensuring a vote takes place this week, I am about to table a motion which says the following:

That this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister, due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straight away on the withdrawal agreement and framework for future relationships between the UK and European Union, and that will be tabled immediately, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

John Bercow replies with “I think the honourable gentleman for what he said. It requires no response from me, but it’s on the record.”

May listens quietly throughout Corbyn’s speech with that silly smile on her face, before leaving the debating chamber in silence.

Corbyn’s finally done something to force May to call a vote on the Brexit deal, as well as striking a blow at May herself. I was hoping for something like this, along with many others. I was furious at May’s decision last week to travel again to the EU to seek yet more concessions, and the results of her bungling. As Mike showed on his blog, she achieved nothing except to make things worse as the EU removed some of the clauses which would have worked in our favour.

May is an absolute liability to this country and the welfare, health and livelihood of its citizens. Thatcher had the good grace to leave when the Tories held a ‘No Confidence’ vote against her, and she actually had more votes than May. But then, there were also riots breaking out all over the country protesting against her iniquitous poll tax.

Does that mean that the people of this country have to do the same to get rid of her? I sincerely hope not, but this is what it looks like. And despite all her verbiage about people coming back together to get the best deal for Brexit, she has done nothing of the kind to do this. The country is still as divided as ever, and the pundits in the papers over the past month have been worrying about this almost as if a civil war was about to break out. Which it isn’t, thank heaven, and the newspaper’s predictions and alarms just show how hysterical and alarmist they are.

I hope this vote succeeds. I hope that it forces the vote on the Brexit deal to be held this week, before Tweezer can postpone it further into Never-Never Land. And I hope she goes. Now.

Radio 3 Programme Tomorrow on Harlem Poet Langston Hughes at the Beeb

June 9, 2018

At 6.45 pm tomorrow, Sunday 10th June 2018, Radio 3’s Sunday Feature is on Langston Hughes at the BBC, brought there through his friendship with producer Geoffrey Bridson. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

A look at how an unlikely friendship led to the epic 1964 Third Programme series The Negro in America, which was presented by the great Harlem poet Langston Hughes. The series brought to the airwaves sounds and voices of the civil rights struggle of Jazz music and of black literature – sounds and voices that had rarely been heard in Britain. Media historian Professor David Hendy pieces together the story of Hughes and his friendship with British co-producer Geoffrey Bridson. the programme includes highlights from the original series; remarkable on-location recording of riots in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963; writers James Baldwin and LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka), Jazz musicians Cannonball Adderley and Cecil Taylor. (p. 120).

Frightened Davidson Tells May to Concentrate on Funding NHS

May 31, 2018

A day or so ago I put up a post arguing that Corbyn’s promise to renationalise the NHS had Tweezer and the Tories rattled, as there had been a story in the I that May had held the promise of repealing some of Andrew Lansley’s vile Health and Social Care Act. This is a long, convoluted act which basically absolves the Health Minister of the requirement to provide universal healthcare free at the point of delivery to everyone in Britain. It’s one of the major landmarks on the long campaign of the Thatcherite right – both Tory and New Labour – to privatise the NHS. May was also talking about increasing taxes to mend the funding deficit in the NHS. This was, however, spoilt by May acting true to form as a Tory. She immediately declared that everyone would have to pay this tax, which could be as high as £2,000. Mike’s posted a piece on his blog about how this was worked out, and pointed out that not everyone should have to pay the same amount. We have progressive taxation in this country, which means that the rich pay higher rates of tax than the poor, who can’t afford it. The Tories, however, hate progressive taxation, because they’re solidly on the side of the rich and despise the poor. And so Thatcher, Major, Cameron and now May have done their best to shift the tax burden onto the poor, in order to lower the tax rates on their rich friends. And Thatcher came unstuck in 1990/1 when she tried to promote the poll tax.

Like May’s proposed tax increase for the NHS, this was supposed to be a uniform rate charged on rich and poor alike. It was expected to replace the rates, which were charged on the value of your property. So a rich Tory donor living in a mansion was going to be charged the same amount of money as someone on unemployment benefit living in a simple terraced house. Never mind: Thatcher and her cabinet of grotesques claimed this was ‘democratic, because we all pay the same’. The British public didn’t agree, and there were massed protests and riots against it. I also know of a number of magistrates, who resigned because of it. As Justices of the Peace, they would be required to enforce this piece of legislation, which they personally felt was terribly unjust. And rather than find people guilty in support of a law, with which they profoundly disagreed, they obeyed the calls of their consciences and resigned. And I have every respect to these people for doing so. Thatcher was then outed in a coup, Major installed as her replacement, and unfortunately the Tories carried on in power until Blair’s victory in 1997.

It struck me at the time, as I said in my previous article, that May was probably trying to scare people with the £2,000 figure, which many poorer people wouldn’t be able to afford, so she could claim that the NHS is unaffordable as it stands. Cue more privatisation. Despite the fact that we could easily afford it if we took a leaf out of the European’s book and spent more on the NHS, and increased the tax rates for the rich instead.

But the fact that May is holding out the prospect of undoing her predecessor’s legislation, and raising taxes for the NHS, shows that Corbyn’s got her rattled.

And not just May. It also seems to have worried ‘Rape Clause’ Ruth Davidson north of the Border. The I ran a story on Tuesday reporting that Davidson had warned may to concentrate on increasing funding for the NHS, and ditch plans for more tax cuts. If she didn’t, she risked relegating the Tories to history.

This shows just how far the panic is spreading in the Tory party. Quite apart from Davidson and Gove forming a think tank – surely an oxymoron in their cases – to reinvigorate the Tory party with new ideas. Because, they warn, if they don’t have them, the Tories may be out of power for a whole generation.

Well, I’d just love to see this vile party and its horrendous politicians thrust out of power, and not just for a generation. That’s too short a time.

As for the gurning, smirking leader of the Tories in Scotland, today’s I carried pieces from a couple of newspapers predicting that Davidson is too young, ambitious and talented to be content to remain head of the Tories in Scotland. According to them, she will most probably try to head down south to forge a political career in Britain and Wales. What a terrible prospect! Davidson is responsible for trying to implement the government’s wretched austerity campaign in Scotland, including its demand that women, who’ve had more than two children due to rape, should have to prove this is the case when claiming child benefit. Hence her soubriquet of ‘Rape Clause’. It’s a nasty piece of vindictive legislation which punishes already vulnerable women, who have been traumatised by their sexual assault. But this is the Tories, who have absolute contempt for the poor, the weak and the underprivileged. Davidson is supposed to be a ‘liberal’ Tory, but there’s no evidence of that except her sexuality. And despite May’s attempts to position herself as a feminist, this is a thoroughly misogynist piece of legislation. The last thing the rest of Britain needs is for her to come down south to spread even more misery down here.

Actually, reading between the line, it’s possible that Davidson may not have a choice. For all that she’s supposed to have masterminded the revival of the Tories in Scotland, she didn’t actually increase their vote. Instead, the SNP’s vote decreased and Labour’s revived, which split the opposition and allowed the Tories to emerge as the largest single party, even though most
Scots voted against them. Which is another argument in favour of proportional representation. Given the parlous situation of the Tories in Scotland, it’s possible that the Scots may vote them out. This would result in the party looking around for a new leader, and Davidson given her marching orders. In which case, if she wanted to continue her career, she’d have to go south.

I don’t want her coming to England and Wales, but I look forward to the Scots voting out the Tories and their thoroughly grotesque and objectionable leader.

SF Short Film: Robots of Brixton

May 18, 2018

This is an interesting piece of what Beyoncé would call ‘Afrofuturism’ from the Dust channel on YouTube. Dust specialise in putting up short SF films, like the one above. This film, directed by Kibwe Tavares, imagines a kind of future Brixton, where all, or nearly all the people living there are robots. The film’s hero, a robot with Afro-Caribbean features, walks through the area, before relaxing with a robot friend, by toking what appears to be the robotic version of a bong.

A riot then breaks out, and robot riot police appear to crush it. This is intercut with scenes from the 1981 riots in Brixton, over which is dubbed a voice talking or reciting a piece about ending oppression. The film ends with shots of bodies on the ground, then and in this robotic present. And the quotation from Marx on a black screen: ‘History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as a farce’.

People of all races like and produce SF, and there are a number of very well respected Black SF writers, most notably Samuel R. Delaney, who’s been going since the 1960s and ’70s, and Olivia Butler, the author of Clay’s Ark and the Parable of the Sower. A few years ago a volume of SF by Black authors was published with the title Dark Matter, the title also referring to the all the invisible cosmic stuff that’s adding missing mass to the universe. Also in the 1990s over this side of the pond there appeared a book, written by a Black author, about an all-Black mission to save a space colony by turning them Black. This was to save them from a plague which affected only Whites. I can’t say I was impression by this piece, as it seemed to me to be as imperialistic as the White ideologies of civilising Blacks by giving them European civilisation. This seems to be less controversial, though still dealing with a sensitive subject. It is also part of the character of much SF since it first appeared in the 19th century as ‘the literature of warning’.

A Security Card To Track Workers’ Movements in the Orwellian Office

February 2, 2018

It seems employers will seize any opportunity or technological development to spy on their workers. Yesterday the I carried a story about a tech company, that had developed a chip, carried in a security card, that would allow employers to monitor the whereabouts of their workers as moved through their building. It would help them see if they were spending too long in the loos or otherwise wasting time.

This is very much like something out of some of the nightmarish futures portrayed in cyberpunk SF. In Jack Womack’s novels of a parallel Earth in which central authority has collapsed along with Christianity – Ambient, Heathern, Random Acts of Mindless Violence and Elvissey – power is held by an oppressive industrial conglomerate. This corporation makes sure its staff stays at their desks through the simple expedient of shackling them there in stocks.

And we’re getting closer to that nightmare future all the time. I’ve mentioned the book on the terrible way office workers are treated in America, White Collar Sweatshop, before on this blog. One of the elements of modern American office life that was draining any kind of joy from clerical work was the constant surveillance.

And it’s being done over here to call centre workers. According to Private Eye, the weirdo Barclay Twins also tried to inflict it on their hacks in the Torygraph. The Gruesome Twosome had motion detectors put up around the hacks’ desks, so they could tell when they were walking about and not sat behind them making up stories about how wonderful capitalism and the Tories were, and how Corbyn was an evil Communist anti-Semite. This was a step too far for the galley slaves on the sinking rag. They revolted, and the vile pair had to take them down.

Britain really is becoming a totalitarian, Orwellian society, where we are monitored all the time. In 1984, the TVs watch you, to make sure you’re doing what Big Brother’s government wants. Now there are fears that private companies are collecting personal data on individuals from the internet, in order to target them better for advertising. And this is apart from the expansion of state surveillance under the Snooper’s Charter, and the travesty of the Secret Courts, in which you may not know what you’re accused of, nor the evidence against you, or who the witnesses and accusers are, or have members of the press and the public present, if the authorities deem all this is endangers ‘national security’.

And with the corporate media now panicking that no-one’s watching the Beeb and other news broadcasters because of their horrendous pro-Tory bias, perhaps it won’t be too long before some bright spark at a right-wing, corporate thinktank decides that we really ought to be monitored to make sure we’re watching the required amount of TV per day. Just like in the Robert Rankin comic SF/Fantasy novel, Armageddon – The Musical.

As for how evil the corporate masters of Womack’s fictional world is, the Southern businessman whose drawling pronunciation of ‘Heathen’ provides the title of the second book in the sequence, Heathern, organises shooting parties where the quarry is Black, Asian and Mexican children.

So far our captain of industry aren’t that despicable. Not just yet. On the other had, we do have IDS and Esther McVile to thank for the genocide of the disabled. This is their warped welfare policy, in which the goal is to throw as many desperate and needy people of government support as possible, even if it kills them. According to an official report, this has resulted in the deaths of 120,000 people.

They’re killing people, but doing so without alarming the sensitivities of all the ‘aspirant’ middle class folks, who vote for them. No gas chambers or SS-style murder clinics, as under Aktion T4. They just through them off benefit, have the Heil and the rest of the baying Tory press vilify them as frauds and scroungers, and leave them to starve to death.

But we can put actually physically shooting the poor for sport past them? Toby Young is an ardent supporter of eugenics with a hatred of the working class and nothing but sneers and contempt for ‘diversity’ and feminism. He also wrote that he masturbates to images of starving Africans. And his oppo Ben Bradley wanted the cops to play ‘splat the chav’ during the 2012 London riots. It might be a bit of stretch, but I can imagine both these charmers writing stupid pieces about how shooting chavs and the rest of the disadvantaged would be a nice day’s sport.