Posts Tagged ‘Rousseau’

Leave.UK and Boris Now Using Racism to Push Brexit and Get Votes

October 9, 2019

I suppose it was inevitable. I realise not everyone, who voted for the Leave campaign is racist by any means. A lot of working class and left-wing peeps voted to leave the EU no doubt because of the very real problems with it. Private Eye has been describing for years its corruption, its lack of democracy and accountability of its senior officials, and the high-handed way it deals with member states that don’t toe the line. Years ago it described how the-then president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was aghast at the terms it presented him and his country for membership. He complained that his country hadn’t been treated like that for over thirty years. Which meant that he was comparing it to the way it had been pushed around when it had been a Soviet satellite. This drew an outraged reaction from two of the MEPs in the EU delegation, both of whom, I think, were left-wing. One of them was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French politician, who had been a radical leader during the ’68 revolution. They screamed at Klaus that the EU was definitely democratic, and the architect and keep of peace after the Second World War.  Robin Ramsay, the editor of the conspiracy website Lobster, is an old-fashioned left-wing Eurosceptic. He objects to the EU because economic Conservatism and neoliberalism is built into it. He regards a strong nation state with nationalised industries as the best political and economic system and protector of the rights of working people. Tony Benn was the same, noting in one of his books the real harm membership of the EU actually did to our economy and industry.

But Benn was also realistic, and recognised that we were now also economically dependent on the EU, and that leaving it would also cause severe disruption and damage. 

All of which is not considered by the right-wing supporters of Brexit. They’re not interested in protected our nationalised industries, like what remains of the NHS, because they want to sell it off to the highest bidder. And that means, at the moment, Donald Trump. Thus for all their posturing, they were quite happy to see our railways owned by the Bundesbahn, the German state railway network, and our water by the French, and then the Indonesians. And our nuclear power stations built and owned by the French and Chinese. They’ve got no objections with other states and nations owning our infrastructure, as long the British state doesn’t.

And there is and has always been a nasty undercurrent of racism in the Right’s attitude to the EU. Now with the latest poster from Leave.UK it’s all out in the open. As Mike’s shown in his article, they’ve now put up a poster showing Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her arm raised in a quasi-Nazi salute, or what could be interpreted as one. And there’s a slogan ‘We didn’t Win Two World Wars to be Pushed Around by a Kraut’.

This is just pure racism, expressed in racist language. And the imagery is offensive and wrong. As Tony Greenstein showed in his article, the CDU had its share of former Nazis amongst its members. And incidentally, so was the Freie Demokraten, the German equivalent of the Liberal party. Back in the 1980s there was a massive scandal when it was revealed that neo-Nazis had all been infiltrating them. Even the odd member of the SPD has been outed as a former member of the Nazi party. But that doesn’t mean that the CDU, or any of the other German democratic parties are really Nazi, simply because they’re German. I think Merkel herself is genuinely anti-racist, and tried to demonstrate how far her country had moved from the stereotype left over from the Third Reich when she invited the million or so Syrian and North African refugees to settle in the Bundesrepublik. It backfired badly on her, as people, not just in Germany, were afraid their countries were going to be swamped by further Islamic migrants and the wave of 200 or so rapes by a minority of them provoked an vile islamophobic reaction. But Merkel herself, and her people, aren’t Nazis and aren’t engaged in some diabolical plot to dominate Europe by stealth. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, ad nauseam.

Mike’s article cites the comments from three continental papers, who I believe have rightly assessed the situation and BoJob’s shenanigans with the EU. They differ in that some of them think the Blonde Beast is aiming for a no-deal Brexit, or that, denied that, he wants a Brexit extension. But whatever the outcome, he wants most of all to blame it on the EU. Those nasty foreigners are responsible! He and the Tory press are trying to present it as though Boris and the Tories have done everything they can to secure a deal, and it’s all due to those horrible, intransigent foreigners, and particularly the Germans, that they haven’t. Thus they’re seeking to work up nationalist sentiments so that they’re voted back in with a massive majority, having seen their lead in the polls.

I can well believe it. It’s what they’ve always done.

I remember how the Tories became the Patriotic Party under Thatcher in the 1980s. Thatcher stood for Britain, and anyone, who opposed her and the Tories more widely was definitely not One Of Us. They were some kind of traitor. The Labour party was full of Commies and IRA sympathisers, as well as evil gays determined to corrupt our youth in schools. Thatcher represented Britain’s warrior heritage and island independence. She constantly and consciously harked back to Winston Churchill. Their wretched 1987 general election video showed Spitfires zooming about the skies in what Alan Coren drily called ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. Over the top of this an excited male voice declaimed ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. Actually, the quote comes from Rousseau’s Social Contract, and is ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. Which is a far better description of the free trade, low tax world Thatcher wanted to introduce and her destruction of workers’ rights and the welfare state. Thatcher was our bulwark against domestic terrorism and the IRA at home – even though she was secretly negotiating with them – and the Communists and Eurofederalists of the EU abroad.

The Tories continually used the imagery and memories of the Second World War and the Empire to drum up support.

It’s a crude, nationalistic view of British imperial history. The idea that somehow we stood alone against Hitler during the Second World War is a myth, but one that all too many of us buy into. We survived and were victorious because we had the support of our empire. We were fed, and our armies staffed, by the colonies, including those in the Caribbean, Africa and India. If it hadn’t been for them and the Americans, we would have fallen as well.

And the history of the British empire and its legacy is mixed. Very mixed. I don’t deny that many of the soldiers and administrators that founded and extended it were idealists, who genuinely believed they were creating a better order and were improving the lives of their imperial subjects. But there was also much evil. Like the history of the Caribbean and the slave colonies in North America, or the treatment of the Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, like the Maoris or Aboriginal Australians. They weren’t noble savages, as portrayed in the stereotypes that have grown up around them. But they didn’t deserve the massacre, displacement and dispossession they suffered. The Irish patriot, Roger Casement, was a British imperial official, and was radicalised by the enslavement of South American Amerindians by the British rubber industry in the Putomayo scandal. This turned him against British imperialism, and made him an ardent fighter for his own people’s independence. To get a different view of the empire, all you have to do is read histories of it from the perspective of the colonised peoples, like the Indians or the slaves in the Caribbean. Or, for that matter, the horrific treatment of Afrikaner civilians in the concentration camps during the Anglo-South African ‘Boer’ War. In too many cases it was a history of persecution, dispossession and oppression, fueled by greed and nationalism.

Ah, but the British Empire stood for democracy!

It was largely founded before the emergence of democracy, which everywhere had to be fought for. And parts of the British imperial establishment remained anti-democratic after the Liberals extended the vote to the entire working class and women at the beginning of the 20th century. Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two world wars states that sections of it were not happy with the extension of the franchise in the 1920s, especially the diplomats and administrators in the Indian office, like Lord Curzon. It’s highly dubious how much of a patriot Churchill was. In the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell remarked in one of his press articles how strange the times were, with Churchill ‘running around pretending to be a democrat’. And there was a very interesting article years ago in the weekend edition of the Financial Times that argued that it was only because Britain needed allies during the Second World War, that the English Speaking Union appeared as one of the leading organisations in the spread of democracy.

But still we’ve had it drummed into us that the Empire was an unalloyed, brilliant institution, our country is uniquely democratic, and the Tories represent both and our national pride and heritage against the depredations of Johnny Foreigner.

Salman Rushdie and the rest are right. We need proper, balanced teaching about the Empire to correct some of these myths.

Supporters of the Labour Party and Remain campaign in response to the latest eruption of bilious racism and xenophobia have released their own posters. One shows Boris Johnson and has the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fascist’. Another shows Nigel Farage with the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fraud’. At the bottom is another legend, reading ‘Let’s Not Leave EU’.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/leave-campaigns-response-to-angela-merkel-is-racism/

They’re right. And the Tories and the Leave campaign are whipping up racism simply for their own benefit. If they get a no-deal Brexit, or win a general election, they will privatise the NHS, destroy what’s left of the welfare state. Our industries will be massively harmed, and whatever’s left of them will be sold to the Americans. 

It will mean nothing but poverty and exploitation for working people. That’s how the Tories use racism and xenophobia.

Don’t be taken in by their lies. Stand up for democracy and peace and harmony between peoples and nations. Get rid of Boris, Farage and Aaron Banks. And support Corbyn and Labour.

 

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

April 22, 2014

French Revolution Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cameron-toff

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