Posts Tagged ‘Russian Revolution’

William Blum on the Economic Reasons behind the New Cold War

December 8, 2017

William Blum, the veteran and very highly informed critic of American imperialism, has put up a new edition of his Anti-Empire Report. This is, as usual, well worth reading. In it he attacks the new Cold War being fought with Russia, and reminds us of the stupidity and hysteria of the first.

Blum does a great job of critiquing the claim that the Russians interfered in the American election. He points out that the American intelligence services actually know how to disguise the true origins of Tweets, and questions the motives imputed to the Russians. He states that the Russians presumably don’t think that America is a banana republic, which can be easily influenced and its government overthrown by an outside power. He also questions the veracity of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Clapper is one of those claiming that the Russians did influence the election. But as Blum reminds us, Clapper himself is a liar. He lied to Congress when he was asked if the American intelligence apparatus was spying on its citizens. He said ‘No’. The answer, as revealed by Edward Snowden, was very definitely ‘Yes’.

He then gives a long list of instances from the First Cold War where people were unfairly accused of Communism and persecuted. For example, in 1948 the Pittsburgh Press published the names, addresses and places of work of 1,000 people, who had signed the form backing the former vice-president, Henry Wallace’s campaign for the presidency, as Wallace was running for the Progressive Party.

Then there’s the case of the member of a local school board, who decided that the tale of Robin Hood should be banned, because he was a ‘Communist’. Which is good going, considering that the tales of Robin Hood date from the 14th/15th centuries and are about a hero who lived in the 13th – six centuries before Karl Marx. However, this woman wasn’t the only one to dislike the tales for political reasons. The compiler of a children’s book of stories about heroes deliberately left him out in favour of Clym of Clough, a similar archer outlaw, but from ‘Bonnie Carlisle’, partly because Hood was too well-known, but also because he thought there was something ‘political’ about the stories.

Blum also covers the way Conservatives claimed that the USSR was responsible for the rise in drug abuse in America, and was deliberately creating it in order to undermine American society. He also states that the Russians were also trying to destroy America through fluoridation of the water. As General Jack D. Ripper says in Dr. Strangelove: ‘We must keep our bodily fluids pure.’

Then there are the pronouncements that American universities were all under Communist influence, and the reason why American sports teams were also failing was because of Communist influence.

The anti-Communist hysteria was also used to denounce and vilify the United Nations. Blum writes

1952: A campaign against the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because it was tainted with “atheism and communism”, and was “subversive” because it preached internationalism. Any attempt to introduce an international point of view in the schools was seen as undermining patriotism and loyalty to the United States. A bill in the US Senate, clearly aimed at UNESCO, called for a ban on the funding of “any international agency that directly or indirectly promoted one-world government or world citizenship.” There was also opposition to UNESCO’s association with the UN Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that it was trying to replace the American Bill of Rights with a less liberty-giving covenant of human rights.

Oh yes, and rock and roll, pop music and the Beatles were also seen as part of a Communist plot to destroy American moral fibre. A few decades later, in the 1980s, the same right-wing pastors were saying the same thing, though this time the tendency was to blame Satanists rather than Commies.

And the list goes on, including instances from the 1980s when visiting Russians were subjected hostility and abuse because they were perceived as a danger to the US, thanks to films like Rambo and Red Dawn.

The report ends with Blum discussing Al Franken, a Democrat politician and broadcaster, who is now accused of sexual assault. Blum argues that the real issue that should get people angry at Franken is the fact that he backed the Iraq War, and went out there to entertain the troops, showing that he was perfectly happy with the illegal and bloody invasion of another country.

He also reveals that the list of people, who have been on RT, was compiled by a Czech organisation with the name European Values, which produced the report
The Kremlin’s Platform for ‘Useful Idiots’ in the West: An Overview of RT’s Editorial Strategy and Evidence of Impact. Blum states that it’s not exhaustive, as he’s been on it five times, and they haven’t mentioned him.

He also notes the RT’s Facebook page has four million followers and that it claims to be ‘the most watched news network’. It’s YouTube channel has two million likes. And so is this the reason why the American authorities have thrown away freedom of the press and forced it to register as a foreign agent.

He also comments on the way Theresa May has also got in on the act of blaming the Russians for everything, and is accusing them of interfering in Brexit.

But what I found interesting was this piece, where quotes another writer on the real reason the Americans are stoking another Cold War:

Writer John Wight has described the new Cold War as being “in response to Russia’s recovery from the demise of the Soviet Union and the failed attempt to turn the country into a wholly owned subsidiary of Washington via the imposition of free market economic shock treatment thereafter.”

https://williamblum.org/aer/read/153

This makes sense of a lot of murky episodes from the Cold War. I think Lobster has also commented several times on the way Conservative have accused the USSR of causing the drug crisis. I distinctly remember one of the columnist for Reader’s Digest, Clare Somebody, running this story in the 1980s. If memory serves me right, she also claimed that the Russians were doing so in cahoots with Iran. The Iranian theocracy are a bunch of thugs, but somehow I don’t think they can be accused of causing mass drug addiction in the West. They’re too busy fighting their own. I can’t remember the woman’s surname, but I do remember that she turned up later as one of the neocons frantically backing George W. Bush.

As for the campaign against the United Nations on the grounds that internationalism is unpatriotic, that’s still very much the stance of the Republicans in America. It’s part and parcel of the culture of American exceptionalism, which angrily denounces and rejects any attempt to hold America accountable to international justice, while upholding America’s right to interfere in everybody else’s affairs and overthrow their governments. ‘Cause America is a ‘shining city on a hill’ etc.

As for wishing to bring down Putin, because he’s shaken off the chains of American economic imperialism, that’s more than plausible. American big business and the state poured tens of millions into Yeltsin’s election campaign back in the 1990s, including his crash privatisation of the Russian economy. Which just about destroyed it. In which case, it shows that Lenin was right all those decades ago, when he described how pre-Revolutionary Russia was enchained by western economic imperialism. And perhaps the world, or at least, anybody who does not want their country to be bought up by American capitalism, should be grateful to the Archiplut for showing that a nation can defy American capitalism.

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Lenin’s Speech Denouncing Anti-Semitism

November 22, 2017

I found this fascinating little clip of a speech by Lenin, the founder of Soviet Communism, on Maoist Rebel News, presented by Jason Unruhe. I am very definitely not a Maoist, as I think it’s undeniable that he was one of the most murderous tyrants of the 20th century. About 60 million Chinese died in the purges and mass starvation created by the ‘Cultural Revolution’, and countless precious art treasures and other monuments from the country’s rich, ancient past, were destroyed.

Nevertheless, this piece is interesting and important as it shows how the Bolsheviks took seriously the threat of anti-Semitism, and were keen to stamp it out. Unruhe made the video in response to an appearance by Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars on Mark Levin’s radio show. Harrison owns the pawn shop featured in the show. It’s an American programme, but it’s also shown over here on one of the satellite/cable channels. I tried watching it once, when it was on the History Channel, in the vague hope that it might actually be interesting. It wasn’t. The programme largely consisted of the crew musing over various artifacts – in this case, a couple of pistols left over from the Old West – and speculating about how much they were worth. It reminded me a little of the Beeb’s antiques’ programmes, with the exception that the people looking at the antiques didn’t actually seem to know very much about them, apart from the very basics.

On Levin’s show, Harrison went off and laid into Barack Obama. Obama was ‘anti-business’ and blamed the Jews and intelligentsia for everything, just like Lenin. Well, no. Barack Obama is not at all like Lenin. Barack Obama is very definitely not ‘anti-business’, even remotely. As the Jimmy Dore Show and other alternative news shows have pointed out, ad nauseam, Obama is a bog-standard corporatist politician. He tried to privatise the public schools by turning them into Charter Schools, the American equivalent of British academy schools. Even Obamacare is private enterprise. It was originally dreamed up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and promoted by Newt Gingrich, an arch-Republican. The last time I looked, America was still very much a private enterprise economy. Obama has even said that he considers himself to be a ‘moderate Republican’.

But such accusations are almost par for the course for the bonkers end of the Republican party. There have even been right-wing Christian radio hosts declaring that he was a mass-murderer, who was secretly planning to kill even more people than Mao and Stalin. And this is apart from all the hysterical screaming that he was a Communist-Nazi-crypto-Islamist terrorist intent on bringing about the fall of America and western civilisation.

He also spent eight years in power, and has now departed. Nobody was assassinated, or rounded up in cattle trucks to be deported to death camps. Or incarcerated in FEMA, which would be the modern equivalent, if you believe Alex Jones. But the rhetoric shows the sheer, blind hysteria that gripped some of these maniacs whenever Obama was mentioned.

Unruhe points out that it is factually incorrect that Lenin blamed the Jews for the problems of the nascent Soviet Union. He states that the Soviet leader spent a year touring the former Russian Empire, denouncing anti-Semitism and Jew hatred. How is this known? Because there are recordings of him. He then plays one. It’s clearly from a gramophone recording, complete with crackles and scratches, but it is subtitled in English. My Russian really isn’t very good at all, but from what little I can catch, the translation is accurate, and it states what Lenin is actually saying.

Lenin states that it is the capitalists, the landowners and the tsars, who were trying to stir up hatred against the Jews, as a way of dividing the working people of all nations and getting them to hate each other. He states that it is a medieval, feudal superstition, that exists only when workers and peasants are kept in slavery by the landlords. He says that most Jews are workers, and therefore our brothers. He acknowledges that amongst the Jews there are capitalists, the bourgeois and kulaks, just as there are all of these amongst Russians. He states that this hatred against the Jews is being stirred up by the capitalists to divert attention away from who really is exploiting working people: capital!

He cries out several times ‘Shame upon the tsars’ for stoking hatred against the Jews, for stirring up pogroms, massacres and persecution.

Unruhe points out in his introduction to the speech that it was actually Lenin’s opponents, the tsars, who were anti-Semitic. This is solid, established fact. Nicholas II was viciously anti-Semitic himself, and believed firmly in the ‘Blood Libel’ – the poisonous myth that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to make the matzo bread for Passover. One of the issues that discredited Nicholas II’s rule was his repeated attempt to prosecute a Jew, Beilis, on this charge, despite the most anti-Semitic of his ministers telling him that it was stupid and ridiculous.

And in opposition to the workers’ and revolutionary movements, there were the Black Hundreds. These were groups of extreme right-wing supporters of the traditional order, who were viciously anti-Semitic.

It’s obviously glaringly true that Lenin was ‘anti-business’. But saying that makes it appear as though it was just a matter of prejudice. It wasn’t. Russia’s working people and peasants at the time laboured in appalling conditions, with many on literal ‘starvation wages’. And although the serfs had been freed in the 1860s by Alexander I, their lords and masters still treated their workers as unfree slaves. There were cases where factory masters told their workers ‘We own you!’ Hence before the Bolshevik coup there were hundreds of strikes and peasant revolts up and down the Russian Empire. You can easily see why before Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power, there was a revolution that overthrew the Tsar, and the workers began electing left-wing parties like the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Trudoviks and Socialist Revolutionaries on to the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets they set up to represent their own interests against the power of the capitalists.

As for the capitalists and business using anti-Semitism to divide working people of all nations, anti-Semitism in the West has been rightly discredited and regarded with loathing by the majority of people since the defeat of Nazism. But the right has used racism to try and attack the left and organised Labour. You can see it in the way the Tories have tried to stir up nationalist sentiment against Muslims and other ‘unassimilable’ immigrants, quite apart from the fearmongering about workers coming from elsewhere in the EU and eastern Europe.

I’m not a fan of Lenin. He created a very authoritarian system, which eventually led to the murderous tyranny of Stalin. But he was no anti-Semite, and his speech still remains a very relevant commentary on the political uses of racial hatred.

My Unpublished Book Arguing for Worker’s Chamber in Parliament

November 21, 2017

I’ve begun compiling a list of articles on the various coups and other methods the US and the other western countries have used to overthrow, destabilise or remove awkward governments and politicians around the world, when those nations have been seen as obstructions to the goals of western, and particularly American, imperialism and corporate interests. ‘Florence’, one of the great commenters on this blog, suggested that I should write a book on the subject, to which she can point people. She’s worried that too few people now, including those on the left, are aware of the struggle against dictators like General Pinochet and the other butchers in the Developing World, who were set up by us and the Americans as part of the Cold War campaign against Communism. Many of the regimes they overthrew weren’t actually Communist or even necessarily socialist. But they were all reforming administrations, whose changes threatened the power and profits of the big American corporations. Or else they were otherwise considered too soft on the Communist threat. So, I’m compiling a list of the various articles I’ve written on this subject, ready to select some of the best or most pertinent and edit them into book form.

A year or so ago I got so sick of the way parliament was dominated by the very rich, who seem to pass legislation only to benefit themselves rather than the poor, that I wrote a pamphlet, For A Workers’ Chamber. This argued that what was needed to correct this, and really empower working people, was a separate chamber in parliament directly elected by working people themselves. I’ve tried submitting it to various publishers, but so far those I’ve approached have turned it down.

Here’s a brief summary of the pamphlet and its arguments.

For A Workers’ Chamber is a short work of 22, 551 words, arguing that a special representative chamber composed by representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries. These have pushed through legislation exclusively benefiting their class against the best interests of working people. It is only by placing working people back into parliament that this can be halted and reversed.

The pamphlet traces the idea of workers’ political autonomy from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, Anarchism, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, the workers’, socialists and peasant councils in Revolutionary Russia, and Germany and Austria during the 1919 Raeterevolution. It also discusses the emergence corporatist systems of government from the Utopian Socialism Saint-Simon in the 19th century onwards. After Saint-Simon, corporativism next became a much vaunted element in the constitution of Fascist Italy in the 20th century. This merged trade unions into industrial corporations dominated by management and big business in order to control them. This destroyed workers autonomy and reduced them to the instruments of the Fascist state and business class. It also discusses the development of liberal forms of corporatism, which emerged in Britain during and after the First and Second World War. These also promised to give working people a voice in industrial management alongside government and management. However, it also resulted in the drafting of increasingly authoritarian legislation by both the Labour party and the Conservatives to curb trade union power and industrial discontent. It also examines the system of workers’ control and producers’ chambers, which formed the basis of the self-management system erected by Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It also recommends the part-nationalisation of those companies seeking to perform the functions of state agencies through government outsourcing, or which seek to influence government policy through the election of the directors and senior management to parliament as a way of curtailing their influence and subordinating them to the state and the wishes of the British electorate.

The book examines the class basis of parliamentary democracy as it emerged in Britain, and the Marxist critique of the state in the writings of Marx and Engels themselves and Lenin during the Russian Revolution, including those of non-Bolshevik, European Social Democrats, like Karl Kautsky, who rejected the need for institutional workers’ power in favour of universal suffrage. It also critically analyzes Tony Crosland’s arguments against nationalisation and workers’ control. The book does not argue that parliamentary democracy should be abandoned, but that a workers’ chamber should be added to it to make it more representative. The final chapter examines the possible advantages and disadvantages of such a system, and the problems that must be avoided in the creation of such a chamber.

I’m considering publishing the pamphlet myself in some form or other, possibly with Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone’s interested in reading a bit of it, please leave a comment below and I’ll send you a sample chapter.

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro Explains Why Zionists Do Not Speak for World Jewry

November 14, 2017

And the good rabbi does not mince his words, as you’ll see later.

I found this on a YouTube channel entitled ‘Jewish Bund’. I don’t know who they are, but my guess is they’re probably politically left-wing. The Jewish Bund was the Jewish Socialist organisation in the countries of the Russian Empire. Along with the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, it was one of the constituent organisations of the Russian Social Democratic Party, before it fragmented completely into competing factions, which were then overtaken and suppressed during the Bolshevik coup of 1917.

It’s a video from an organisation, True Torah Jews against Zionism. I don’t know anything about the organisation, but it is obvious that they are another organisation of Torah-observant Jews, who reject Zionism as incompatible with the principles of Judaism.

The video was posted in 2015, and was prompted by Netanyahu’s visit to America. Netanyahu, with his usual lack of any kind of modesty or self-effacement, declared that he was not only Israel’s emissary, but also that of world Jewry. The rabbi and his interviewer, who is also clearly an observant Jew, soon set about demolishing that claim.

The rabbi points out, again and again in this video, that Netanyahu’s claim is ridiculous. He makes the point that Jews are and have been resident in very many countries. It’s a religion that comprises people of different nationalities. The rabbi’s own ancestors lived in Poland for 500 hundred years. Netanyahu doesn’t speak for him. He also rejects Netanyahu’s claim to represent him on religious principles, as well as simple nationality. Netanyahu is secular. He doesn’t observe the Torah, the Mosaic code. So he clearly doesn’t speak for the rabbi and other, Torah-observant Jewish people like him. The rabbi states that it’s as if the King of Bulgaria turned up in America, claiming that he represented and spoke for the Jewish people. Not only would the claim be demonstrably wrong, but people would laugh and ask, jokingly, what right the Balkan monarch had to claim that they do. Netanyahu doesn’t represent world Jewry, just Israel.

He and his interviewer state that the majority of rabbis have condemned Zionism down the ages. How then can Netanyahu make this claim? Rabbi Shapiro states that they’ve been doing it since the foundation of Zionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He states that one of the great pioneers of the Zionist movement used an obscure point of Roman law, which allows someone to deputise for another as their proxy, to argue that he and the Zionist movement therefore represented the world’s Jews. The rabbi then goes on to argue that they had to adopt this tactic, as otherwise, without a country of their own, no-one would listen to them.

He then attacks this piece of rhetoric not only for its obvious falsehood, but because of the danger it presents to diaspora Jews. Rabbi Shapiro states that there is a threat implicit in it. It’s to show foreign politicians that there are people in their countries, who have outside loyalties that can be mobilised against them, if Israel’s desires are not complied with. This the rabbi understandably considers a vile slur against diaspora Jews living in their countries outside Israel. The ideals of the Torah determinate that Jews should live and work for the benefit of the nations in which they are resident. But this claim, and its hidden threat, are actively harmful to Jews by making it appear that they are quite ready to work against the best interests of their home countries and their fellow citizens for the good of Israel, a foreign power.

He is also scathing about another piece of rhetoric that is used along with the claim: that of the Holocaust. He is understandably offended with the cynical way Zionists use the horrific suffering of Jews during the Shoah in order to gain sympathy.

The video also puts up that notorious statement from one of the founders of Zionism, that anti-Semites will be more useful as allies to Zionists than decent people, with no prejudices, because they share the Zionists’ goals of getting Jews to emigrate.

The interviewer then asks the rabbi what can be done about this situation, when the media seems determined to marginalise and ignore voices like theirs. The rabbi is not downhearted. He states ‘We’re Jews. We have God on our side!’ He states that the Lord, who protected Mordechai and Esther during the Persian Empire, will protect them, just as He protected Jews from extinction over the last two thousand years. He advises his viewers that they can help combat Netanyahu’s pernicious claim by talking to their gentile fellows, and telling them that the Torah does not support what Netanyahu says, and that Jews are loyal fellow Americans.

I’ve no doubt that the rabbi is correct. Historians and critics of Israel have described over and over again how Zionism was a minority viewpoint amongst the world’s Jews. For many Torah-observant Jews, the state of Israel was a blasphemy, as they believed that Israel could only be restored by the Messiah. Tony Greenstein a few weeks ago put up a piece about a book and interview by a Canadian rabbi on Jewish opposition to Zionism. He also described in a piece about one of the non-Zionist leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto, Marek Edelman, how the majority of the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Poland voted solidly for the Bund and its campaign for Jews to take their place as fellow, equal citizens of their home countries.

And the rabbi’s fear that Netanyahu’s claim to represent Jews the world over casts suspicion on diaspora Jews by implication as agents of a foreign power was shared by the majority of British Jews at the time of the Balfour Declaration. The leaders of Britain’s Jewish community were very highly integrated into British culture and society. When Balfour was devising the Declaration, they – and the only Jewish member of his cabinet – objected for the same reason the rabbi above did. They wanted to be seen as loyal fellow Englishmen and women. You can see it in the oath of the Jewish equivalent of the Boys’ Brigade, in which boys swore ‘to be a good Englishman and good Jew’. And no doubt in very many other ways, in which they expressed their pride in being British and their loyalty as equal fellow Brits.

This is the video that Netanyahu very definitely would not want anyone to see, and neither would the Neocons, who have been guiding American imperial policy in the Middle East since Bush’s invasion of Iraq, or the Christian religious right, who are more fervent in their Zionism than America’s Jews. These are the people the media is determined to exclude. I’ve put up videos from YouTube from other Jewish organisations showing vast demonstrations in New York, with a crowd of about ten thousand or more, which the makers have claimed have not been covered by the American media.

And it’s clear why they don’t want videos like this to be seen: it destroys the right-wing claim that Israel is synonymous with Jewry, and that those, who don’t back Israel are anti-Semites. Even if, like these guys, they are religious observant men and women guided by the Torah, the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud.

Two Russian Revolutionary Posters: Victory to the Workers and Peasants or Death Under Capitalism

November 9, 2017

As I’ve mentioned several times, this is the centenary year of the October/November Russian Revolution. A week or so ago I put up a few Communist era Soviet posters, which I felt still held an important for the contemporary, post-Communist world. They were against Fascism and war, with one in particular against the threat of nuclear holocaust. We now face the threat of a resurgent extreme Right in America and Europe, while Trump has brought us perilously close to a nuclear war with North Korea.

The two posters below come from the time of the Russian Revolution and Civil War.

The text in the poster above talks about the workers and peasants arming themselves in order to defend their freedom against the power of the capitalists and the White Russians. The two panels at the bottom state that the power of the bourgeoisie is the power of death.

This poster shows a victorious worker, holding a banner proclaiming all power to the workers’ and peasants’ Soviets, underneath which is the slogan ‘Or Death to the Capitalists’ on one side the page. On the other side is a caricature capitalist standing on top a prone worker, waving a banner proclaiming ‘All Power to the Capitalists’. Underneath this the legend reads ‘Or death under the feet of the capitalists’.

I very definitely do not believe in violent revolution, and don’t want British democracy overthrown by anyone, whether of the Right or the Left. But I’m putting these posters up as they are acutely relevant to Britain in the Present.

This government is killing people for the benefit of the rich. On Tuesday Mike blogged about a report by the Trussell Trust that revealed that the roll out of Universal Credit in more districts had resulted in a thirty per cent increase in people using food banks. Between April and September of this year, 2017, foodbanks handed out 586,907 emergency food parcels, which constitutes a 13 per cent rise on the figures for the same period last year. In those areas where Universal Credit has been implemented for six months or more, the number of people using them has risen by 30 per cent.

Mike commented on the way IDS had appeared on the Beeb today, to comment on the misbehaviour of Priti Patel and Boris Johnson without anyone commenting on his crimes against the British people. He concluded

Thousands of people have died. Remember that, whenever you see this man.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/11/07/this-should-be-the-proof-we-need-that-tory-universal-credit-is-starving-british-families/

Absolutely. As in the Russian revolutionary posters above, this government is killing people for the benefit of the rich and big business. It is destroying the welfare state to create bigger profits for industry, an impoverished, crushed workforce prepared to work for starvation wages, and immense tax cuts for the wealthy 25 per cent of the population.

The solution is not armed revolution, but organisation. We just need to keep campaigning, putting pressure on this weak and wobbly government and its blustering, corrupt and incompetent leader, and force them out. And then keep them out.

Before the party of Thatcher, David Cameron and Theresa May murder thousands more people through IDS’ policies.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 1

November 7, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces about workers’ control and industrial democracy, the system in which the workers in a particular firm or industry have their representatives elected on to the board of management. It was particularly highly developed in Communist Yugoslavia, following the ideas of Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, and formed an integral part of that country’s independent Communist system following the break with Stalin and the Soviet-dominated Comintern in 1948.

In 1963 the Fabian Society published the above pamphlet by Frederick Singleton, a lecturer on Geography and International Affairs in the Department of Industrial Administration at the Bradford Institute of Technology, and Anthony Topham, a staff tutor in Social Studies in the Adult Education department of Hull University.

The pamphlet had the following contents.

Chapter 1 was on Political Structure, and contained sections on the Communist Assumption of Power, the 1946 Constitution, the 1953 Constitution, and the Policy of the League of Communists.

Chapter 2: Economic Planning, had sections on the Legacy of the Past, From Administration to Fiscal Planning, Autonomy for the Enterprise, the Investment System, and Recent Developments.

Chapter: The Working Collective, has sections on the Workers’ Council, the Managing Board, the Director, Departmental Councils, Economic Units, the Disposal of Funds by Economic Units, Allocation of Personal Income, Structure and Role of the Trade Unions, the Right to Strike, Education for Workers’ Self-Management, Workers’ Universities, Worker’s Management in Action: Decision Making, Structure of a Multi-Plant Enterprise, and Incentives or Democracy: the Problem of Motive.

The final chapter, was the Conclusion, which considered the lessons the system had for Britain. It ran:

In considering the lessons which British socialists may draw from the Yugoslav experience, we must not lose sight of the different nature of our two societies and the disparity in levels of industrial development. But it is also relevant to ask how far the ideas of workers’ control could, with the stimulus of the Yugoslav experience, become a truly popular element of British Labour policy. It is true that, with the Yugoslav exception, past experience of this form of Socialism has been inconclusive and fragmentary. Usually, it has been associated with periods of revolutionary fervour such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Catalan movement during the Spanish Civil War, and the factory Soviets of Russia in 1917-18. The experience of Owenite Utopian communities in this and other countries is misleading, in that they existed as small and vulnerable enclaves in a basically hostile society. On the other hand, there is an authentic tradition within the British Labour movement, represented by the early shop stewards’ movement, the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionists, upon which we can draw. The Fabian tradition too, is not exclusively centralist or bureaucratic. In the 1888 volume of Fabian essays, Annie Besant raised the question of decentralisation. She did not believe that ‘the direct election of the manager and foreman by the employees would be found to work well’, but she advocated control of industry ‘through communal councils, which will appoint committees to superintend the various branches of industry. These committees will engage the necessary managers and foremen for each shop and factory.’ The importance attached to municipal ownership and control in early Fabian writings is related to the idea of the Commune, in the government of which the workers have a dual representation as consumer-citizens and as producers. This affinity to Yugoslav Commune government is even more marked in the constitutions evolved in Guild Socialist writings.

The history of the progressive abandonment of these aims, and the adoption of the non-representative Public Corporation as the standard form for British Socialised undertakings, is well known. Joint consultation, which was made compulsory in all nationalised industries, became the only instrument of workers’ participation. Yet the problem of democracy in industry is one which should be of great concern to the British socialist. It must surely be apparent that the nationalised industries have failed to create amongst the mass of their workers a feeling of personal and group responsibility. Even in the most ‘trouble-free’ gas and electricity industries, there is little real enthusiasm for the present system of worker-management relations. Nationalisation may have appeared to the Labour government to have solved the problems of the industries concerned. But the experience of the workers in these industries has not confirmed this. They found that joint consultation between managers and unions leaders plus vaguely defined parliamentary control did not create anything resembling industrial democracy. Had it done so, there would have been much stronger popular resistance to the anti-nationalisation propaganda which was so successful in the years preceding the 1959 election.

We therefore feel that the basic aim of the Yugoslavs is one which has validity for our own situation, and we conclude with some observations on the British situation suggested by an acquaintance with the Yugoslav system.

The Problem of Scale

The forms of economic organisation and management which have been evolved by the Yugoslavs are unique, and a study of them provides a valuable stimulus to those who seek ‘a real understanding of a scheme of workers’ control that is sufficiently comprehensive to operate over an entire industry, from top to bottom, and through the whole range of activities’. However, as the scale of production grows, the problem of ensuring that democratic control extends beyond primary groups such as Economic Units through the intermediate levels to the central management of the firm and the industry, becomes more and more difficult. There is a strong body of opinion which believes that schemes of workers’ control must ultimately founder in the context of modern large-scale production. The small, multi-firm industries of the Yugoslav economy make democratic control less difficult than in a highly developed industrial society such as our own.

But questions, which should be asked in relation to our own economy are: how far could the nationalised industries be broken down into the smaller, competing units, without serious loss of efficiency? How far is the growth in the average size of firm (as opposed to scale of production units) the outcome of purely commercial and power considerations, rather than concern for increased efficiency through economies of scale? How far have we been misled by the mystique of managerial skill into accepting the necessity of autocratic control by the managers in both private and public industries? After all, the principle of lay control over salaried experts is the normal and accepted principle in national and local government, and within the Co-operative movement. The decisions in these fields are no less complex and ‘technical’ than in industry. Where lay control in local Councils and Co-operative Management Boards is more apparent than real, how far is this due to the prevailing faith in technology, which makes us reluctant to transform the contribution of the elected representatives by a thorough and enthusiastic education programme of the kind found in the Yugoslav Workers’ Universities?

In the conditions of modern industry, decisions taken by line managers and directors are frequently a matter of choosing between alternative course the consequences of which have been calculated by technical staffs. Such decisions are of a social and political, rather than a technical nature, i.e. they are precisely the sort of decisions which should be undertaken by democratic bodies. These factors should be borne in mind when examining the conclusions of some writers that, whilst the Yugoslav experience is interesting, and may have relevance for countries at a similar stage of industrialisation, it has little bearing on the problems of advanced industries societies.

Continued in Part 2.

Pravda International on Ukrainian Anarchist Revolutionary Nestor Makhno from c. 1988.

November 2, 2017

This is the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, which broke out in October/November 1917, depending on which calendar is being used – the Julian or Gregorian. One of the results of Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980s was that historians were at last able to examine and reappraise other left-wing revolutionaries against the former Russian empire, who would previously have been dismissed or attacked by the Communists as ‘bourgeois socialist’ or counterrevolutionary, simply because they weren’t Communists. The edition of Pravda International which I managed to dig out the other week, vol. 3 no. 5, dating from around 1988/89, began a series of articles by Vasily Golovanov, reprinted from the Literaturnaya Gazeta, about the Ukrainian anarchist, Nestor Makhno, who led an uprising of the workers and peasants in the Ukraine during the Russian Revolution and Civil War in the 1920s.

Nestor Ivanovich Makhno: the ‘little father’ of the Ukraine

The introduction to the article ran

The Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army of the Ukraine – an independent popular movement which expropriated the estates of the landed gentry and distributed the land to the peasants, fought the Austrian invaders, the White Armies of Deniken and Wrangel, finally, Trotsky’s Red Command – took its name and inspiration from it charismatic military leader, Nestor Makhno. VASILY GOLOVANOV’s article in Literaturnaya Gazeta illustrates how the revolutionary potential of the peasantry – not only in the struggle to overthrow the old landowning system in Russia, but also in the work to create a new society – has been largely ignored or underrated.

In the history of the revolution, no figure is so shrouded in mystery and contradiction as Nestor Ivanovich Makhno. Even while he was still alive the most unlikely rumours circulated about him.

One story goes that when he was baptised, the priest’s vestments caught fire, which signified to all present that the child would be a rebel. Other rumours have it he was sentenced to hard labour for the murder of his brother, and that during the first months of the revolution he robbed his own villagers to buy a house in Moscow where he lived in luxury – a story put about by the Austrian troops who occupied the area after the treaty of Brest Litovsk, when Makhno was already a partisan. It is precisely these ‘facts’ that have coloured our view of this almost mythological figure.

Due to the black and white view of history in the 20s and 30s no serious historical works deal with Makhno. The journal War and Revolution published an analysis of Makhno’s partisan warfare tactics, but to date there has been no research on Makhno as the social phenomenon he was. Labelled a bandit, his memory has been stowed away among the historical archives in the hope that time would erase the image of the man who had led the peasant war in the Ukraine.

Makhno was born of a poor, fatherless peasant family. At 16 he was apprenticed to a carpenter in his home village Gulyai-Polya in the Ukraine, where joined a local anarchist group involved in carrying out expropriations.

In October 1907, following the death of a postman during the hold-up of a post coach, the police hunted the group down in earnest and by the following year 14 people had been arrested. All broke down under interrogation and blamed Makhno for the murders, but still he would not confess.

Due to his youth, Makhno’s sentence of 20 years’ hard labour was commuted to imprisonment in the Butyrky prison in Moscow, where he spent nine years shackled hand and foot for bad behaviour. But it was in prison that Makhno met his mentor, Peter Arshinov, a fellow Ukrainian anarchist whom he trusted completely.

Released after the February 1917 revolution, Makhno – now 28 and without a penny to his name – returned to his native Gulyai-Polya where he found himself playing a central role in village affairs. Elected chairman of the Peasant Union, he was also made head of the Council of Peasant Deputies.

But the pace of events did not allow for the luxury of reflection. In June, workers’ control was proclaimed and a Committee of hired Farm labourers was set up under the Union of Workers and Peasants to act against the landed gentry. In August, during Kornilov’s advance on Petrograd, Makhno organised the confiscation of weapons held by the landowners and bourgeoisie in the region.

The regional Congress of Soviets and the Gulyai-Polya anarchist group next called on the peasants to ignore the caretaker government and the Central Rada (council) and declared the immediate expropriation of land from the churches and landowners. They also set up free agricultural communes on the estates with – as far as possible – the kulaks and landowners being included in the communes.

By October the estates had been expropriated and the land ploughed up despite ‘threats from government agents’. With sedition in Gulyai-Polya threatening to spread to neighbouring provinces, the caretaker government sent a representative to punish those who had confiscated the weapons. Makhno summoned the government agent to the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution and ordered him to ‘leave Gulyai-Polya within 20 minutes, and the boundaries of (his) revolutionary territory within two hours’. After this incident no one ever troubled this strange Soviet region against until the German invasion in June 1918.

Following the German invasion, Makhno travelled to Moscow for advice. There – according to Makhno – he met Lenin who was greatly interested in his agrarian changes. In his memoirs Makhno recalls Lenin asking three times how the peasants understood the slogan ‘All Power to the Soviets’. Makhno replied that to them it mean the Soviets and all bodies under their control, should be responsible for setting policy at local level.
‘In that case, the peasants in your region have been infected with anarchy,’ Lenin is reported to have said.
‘And is that such a bad thing?’ responded Makhno.
‘I don’t mean to say that it is. On the contrary, I would be very glad since it would accelerate the victory of Communism over capitalism,’ Lenin explained – adding that he considered peasant anarchy to be a temporary ailment which would soon pass.

Makhno left Moscow with the opposite conviction. Although he was a ‘soviet’ anarchist, his understanding of the revolution was very different from that of the Bolsheviks. Makhno naturally did not recognise that the party had any leading role to play. For him, the ‘lowly’ regional soviet was the only organisation which could directly express the will of the people; the hierarchy of the soviets was to him absurd and the proletarian state – personified by bureaucrats – was a dangerous lie.

In December 1917, when the Bolsheviks had consolidated their position in the Levoberezhna, their relationship with the anarchists was friendly, despite obvious differences of opinion.

During this period Makhno worked in the legal commission of the Aleksandrovsky revolutionary committee, a body which reviewed cases of people arrested under Soviet power, but it was work he did not enjoy. Moreover, when they started arresting the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, Makhno was on the point of storming the local jail.

The row over the elections to the founding congress, which he dubbed the ‘political game of cards’, also annoyed him. ‘The parties won’t serve the people, but the people the parties. Already they are talking about “the people”, but it is the parties which are running things,’ he told his new comrades-in-arms. But they did not agree with him and he resigned from the revolutionary committee and returned to Gulyai-Polya – to escape from the distortions of ‘politics with a capital P’.

In Gulyai-Polya an agricultural commune had been set up on the former estates of the gentry. Peasants and workers, who owned no property were allocated land and equipment confiscated from the land owners and kulaks.

The attempt by the Gulyai-Polya soviet to set up a direct exchange with the city is interesting. The village soviet sent flour to the workers in the Prokhovorovskaya and Morozowskaya textile mills with a request for cloth in exchange. But because the authorities opposed this petty bourgeois method of supplying the towns, the cloth sent by the textile workers was intercepted by the authorities and shipped instead to Aleksandrovsk. Subsequent events may possibly have brought the disagreements between the nascent ‘proletarian’ model of socialism and its ‘peasant’ alternative to a head and led to some sort of compromise, but the unexpected German invasion of the Ukraine prevented this development. It is not easy to explain why Makhno parted company with the Bolsheviks, since there was a period when his relationship with the Reds was official and apparently permanent.

Makhno returned from Moscow in 1918 disappointed with some of his fellow anarchists who he felt had ‘slept through’ the revolution. While he had little sympathy for the Bolsheviks’ ‘staid’ revolution, Mkahno nevertheless realised that none of the opposition parties had a leader of Lenin’s stature or strength to ‘reorganise the road of revolution’. For this reason he amalgamated the peasant insurgent ‘army’ – which had liberated a large area of eastern Ukraine from Petlyurov – with the Bolsheviks.

By agreement with the Red Army High Command (March 1919), Makhno’s army was allowed to keep the name Revolutionary insurgent Army. They were sent communist commissars and weapons, and came under the tactical direction of the command fighting Denikin. Yet for months later the idyll came to an end when, according to the generally accepted version of events, Makhno opened the front to the White due to a rift between himself and the Bolsheviks.

I Teper, one of Makhno’s cultural department, who wrote an account of the period, blames the assortment of semi-criminals who surrounded Makhno, flattering him as the ‘second Bakunin’. Yet it was not vanity which separated Makhno from the Bolsheviks. It is difficult to know why, having ceased to support Soviet power, Makhno did not go over to the Whites, but stubbornly continued to fight on against all odd on two fronts at once. In his opinion the revolution had not added a single thing to the peasant conquests on the left bank of the Dnieper; they had held the land even before the Land Decree was passed. Then, when they started founding state farms in the Ukraine the peasants’ response to this wholesale ploughing up of land was to ensure they did not leave a single shred of anything which could be used by the state farm.

Tension was also growing between Moscow, Kharkov and the countryside. Attempts to imagine the new society and how it differed from capitalism, have led Marxists to believe that under socialism all areas of the economy should be nationalised, right down to the smallest peasant smallholding. That was why in 1919 most communists thought of the peasantry as the last bourgeois class not conscious of its social obligations; they looked upon it as a material which the proletariat needed in order to fulfil its historical mission. A Kollontai wrote at the time: ‘In the Ukraine, now that worker and peasant power have been consolidated, the inevitable gap is starting to appear between these two irreconcilable elements… the petty bourgeois peasantry is totally opposed to the new principles of the national economy which come from communist teaching.’

Hence the cruelty of the food policy, and the trend of describing all peasant protests against food allocation and the resolutions passed by arbitrary peasant congresses, as ‘kulak protests’. A series of spontaneous, sometimes very violent uprisings swept through the young republic during the summer of 1918, only quietening down during the White invasion. But the understanding that the interests of the agrarian petty bourgeoisie could not be ignored came only three years later, after a series of outbursts culminating in the Kronstadt rebellion where, under the slogans of ‘free Soviets’ armed peasant troops and units of the Red Navy established a revolutionary commune which survived for 16 days, until an army was sent to crush it.

Taranovsky, one of Makhno’s lieutenants, the commander of the Jewish division at Gulyai-Polya.

Another of Makhno’s lieutenants, Fyodor Shchus.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the following issues. Makhno is discussed in George Woodcock’s book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 2nd edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986). The Anarchist Reader, (Fontana Press 1986) also edited by George Woodcock, also contains a passage by Peter Arshinov, ‘Makhno’s Anarchism in practice’ (pp.236-42).

The kulaks, denounced by the Bolsheviks, were the rich peasants, who they considered formed a separate class exploiting the landless peasants beneath them. It was against this section of the peasantry that the collectivisation policy was directed. The results, particularly in the Ukraine, as an horrific famine, which carried off millions of people. I think the death toll for Ukraine was seven million. Despite wanting to reappraise Makhno, Golovanov still follows Marxist ideology in describing him as petty bourgeois, and expecting him to side with the counterrevolutionary forces of the Whites following his break with Lenin. In fact, it’s not hard to understand why Makhno did not do so: it was precisely because he was an anarchist that he didn’t join the Whites in their campaign to re-establish Tsarism and the traditional quasi-feudal, capitalist hierarchy. Some historians have also concluded that Makhno’s revolution in Ukraine was also quasi-nationalistic. It was a form of national independence movement, but the Ukrainians had not then developed a complete idea of themselves as forming a separate nation, and so Makhno’s anarchist revolution formed as a kind of substitute.

Makhno ultimately failed, the Bolshevik Red Army reconquered Ukraine, and Makhno and his followers fled into exile, dying in Paris. When the Germans invaded in 1942, the were welcomed by many Ukrainians as liberators, only for opinion to turn against them when the Nazis began to behave as Nazis, treating them as Slav subhumans to be brutalised and exploited. It was only following the Fall of Communism that Ukraine became an independent state during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Makhno’s revolution in Ukraine and his resistance to the Bolsheviks have nevertheless been an inspiration to subsequent anarchist revolutionaries across the world. And it’s interesting to speculate how different world history would have been, had he won, and created an independent, anarchist Ukraine.

Three Soviet Anti-War Posters

October 21, 2017

I found these three posters in the art book, The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1987 and was struck by their continued relevance to events today. The book is a collection of Soviet political posters from the Bolshevik coup of 1917 to the time the book was published in the mid-1980s, taken from the Lenin library. In many ways it’s an art-historical chronicle of the great events that shaped the Soviet Union, from the Revolution, through the Civil War, collectivisation and industrialisation, the Nazi invasion, nuclear tensions of the Cold War, Gagarin’s epoch-making spaceflight and then on to the years of stagnation under Brezhnev.

Two of the posters below were part of a number produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, which the Russians called the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Their message against war is simple and eternal, using the images of a woman and child in one, and a small child in the other, to get the message across.

The Russian behind the little girl reads simply ‘Don’t Need War’.

The slogan in this poster says ‘Not For Wars’.

This last poster is less anti-war, than anti-nuclear testing. Nevertheless, it was painted in 1958 during the Cold War, when the West and the Communist bloc faced each other amid an intense atmosphere of distrust and hostility, and it seemed that nuclear Armageddon could come at any moment. This is the background to the formation of groups in the West like CND. The Russian is a simple cry of ‘No!’

I realise that there’s an element of hypocrisy in these posters, as the Soviet Union was a military superpower, which used its armed forces to dominate its satellites in eastern Europe, and was intent on developing its own nuclear arsenal.

But I wanted to put these images up because of their powerful message now, when our political leaders seem to be intent on driving us towards another useless, dangerous Cold War with Russia, and Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the madman in charge of North Korea, have been threatening each other with their nuclear and conventional weapons over in the Pacific.

In the case of Kim Jong-In, he’s simply the latest scion of a family of brutal ‘Stalinist’ dictators, who hang on to power through terror and mass arrest. In the case of Trump and the western politicians, the new Cold War is another attempt to isolate and weaken Russia on the geopolitical stage, provide a reason for giving more massive government contracts to the arms manufacturers, and in the case of Killary and the corporatist Democrats, divert attention away from their own very corrupt dealings with Putin’s Russia abroad, and Wall Street and big business at home.

America’s wars in the Middle East are killing hundreds of thousands, and have displaced many millions more. They have reduced secular Arab nations to ruins, and created legions of Islamist militants and sectarian death squads, who kill, maim, butcher and enslave in their turn. And now Trump seems intent on forcing some kind of confrontation with Iran.

And so we still need to hear these posters’ vital message, whatever we think of Russia’s Communist past.

During the Cold War of the 1980s, Sting sang ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ The answer from these posters is clearly ‘Yes’. Just as the Arabs and Iranians do.

No more imperialism.

No more war.

Radio 4 Programme on British Invasion of Russia to Overthrow Russian Revolution

October 13, 2017

Also on Radio 4 next week, on Friday, 20th October 2017 at 11.00 am., is a programme on the British invasion of Russia. This followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917, and was intended to overthrow the new Communist regime. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times states

The story of a little-known war that took place a century ago along the frozen rivers of the Russian Arctic and transformed Russia’s relations with the West for decades to come. After the October Revolution, thousands of foreign troops under British command fought Russians on Russian soil for more than 18 months. Lucy Ash meets the 93-year-old son of General Edmund Ironside, who wrote at the time that he was in charge of “a tiny army of not very first class troops” stranded in the icy vastness of Russia “in the midst of a bitter civil war”. (Page 139).

Again, there’s a bit more information on the facing page, 138, written by Tom Goulding. This reads

The UK’s relationship with Russia has always seemed cold – coloured by by decades of menacing but empty rhetoric on both sides. so it’s often overlooked that just under 100 years ago a real and bloody conflict took place between Britain and the Bolsheviks in the frozen Arctic. Journalist Lucy Ash investigates this infamous incursion of British boots on Russian soil by speaking to the 93-year-old son of Edmund Ironside, the general who led Churchill’s crusade to put down the fledgling Bolshevik state. The intervention was a disaster, and the resulting mistrust between the two countries looms large to this day.

With 20/20 hindsight, it could be said that it’s a pity that the invasion didn’t succeed. The Bolsheviks were authoritarians from the start. They suppressed the other political parties and organisations, including left-wing and socialist groups such as the Mensheviks, Trudoviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Strict discipline was reintroduced, and the Bolsheviks reinstated the same proprietors and managers to manage the factories and other industrial concerns that they’d nationalised, against the desires of the anarchists, syndicalists and Left Communists, who wished to create a genuine worker’s state with worker’s control of industry. These were also suppressed, and their leaders and members arrested.

And if Bolshevik rule had been overturned, the Nazis may never have come to power as there would not have been a Communist threat that they could claim to be protecting Germany and the upper and middle classes from. And Stalin would not have come to power, to kill and imprison something like 30 million Soviet citizens – although some estimates put the death toll higher at 45 million – in the gulags and purges.

On the other hand, the Whites were also extremely brutal and oppressive. They, like the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, also held out the prospect of restoring democracy. However, the leader of one of the White counter-revolutionary bands was a maniac, who I think believed himself to be Jesus Christ or Buddha – or both. This butcher used to throw cold water over his prisoners’ naked bodies in the depths of the Russia winter so that they froze to death, and snap pieces of their bodies. Tony Greenstein in a recent blog post describes how the Zionist leaders approached another anti-Semitic White General, Petlyura, about sending Jews from Russia to Palestine. The Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov vividly describes the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence during the Civil War in the Ukraine in his classic, The White Guard, adapted from his play, The Days of the Turbins. He mentions the lynching of Jews by the peasants, and one of the characters killed by the mob in this way is a Jewish man, whose only crime was to have left his home to try to buy food and medicine for his family.

And if you read accounts of the Russian Revolution, it’s very clear why the peoples of the Russian Empire rose up, even if they mostly didn’t support Lenin and the Bolsheviks: they were pushed to the end of their tether through losing a war for which the ordinary squaddies were poorly treated and equipped, and by social conditions of horrendous poverty and near starvation in industry and the countryside. Russia was beset by strikes, and their were hundreds of peasant uprisings that occurred one after the other in the Russian countryside.

As for the British invasion, it seems to me it had two objectives. These were to keep the Russians in the War, fighting the Germans and Austrians, and to overthrow the Bolshevik state as a threat to capitalism. I dare say that it was accompanied with claims that it was about defending democracy, but as it wasn’t until the ’20s that all men got the vote regardless of property qualifications, and women finally gained the suffrage, such claims are probably rather specious.

Pat Mills, in one of the interviews I put up a few weeks ago, mentioned that he wrote a story for the First World War strip, Charlie’s War, in the comic Battle, which dealt with the British invasion of Russia. Mills is very left-wing, and says in the interview that the British officers ‘behaved like animals’. Which I don’t doubt they did, considering the stupid brutality they later unleashed in Ireland during their Revolution, though this was mostly done by the auxiliary units, the Black and Tans, rather than the regular army.

Pat Mills Talks to Sasha Simic of the SWP about the Politics of 2000AD

September 15, 2017

This comes from the Socialist Workers’ Party, an organization of which I am not a member and which I don’t support. But this is another really great video, in which one of the great creators of the British comics for over forty years talks about politics, social class, the role of capitalism and women and feminism, not just in 2000AD, but also in comics and publishing generally, and the media.

Mills was speaking as part of annual four day convention the Socialist Workers hold on Marxism. Simic introduces himself as the person, who gets the annual geek slot. As well as a member of the party, he’s also a convener of USDAW. And he’s very happy in this, the centenary of the Russian Revolution, to have on Pat Mills.

Mills starts by saying that as he was growing up in the 50s and 60s, he read the same books everyone else did – John Buchan, Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Pimpernel. But there was something about it that made him angry, and it was only looking back on it that he came to realise that what infuriated him was the fact that these were all authors from the upper and middle classes, who created heroes from those class backgrounds. He makes the point that these were good writers, but that some of their work was very sinister the more you go into it. Like John Buchan. Buchan was the major propagandist of the First World War. Mills says that Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s infamous spin doctor, had nothing on him. He promoted the First world War, for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada.
He states that he doesn’t want to go too far into it as he’ll start ranting. Nevertheless, he’s glad to be able to talk to the people at the SWP’s convention, as it means they have a similar opinion to him, and he doesn’t have to censor himself.

He makes the point that there are very, very few working class heroes, and believes this is quite deliberate. It’s to deprive working people of a strong role. When the working people do appear, it’s as loyal batmen, or sidekicks, and there is an element of parody there. And it’s not just in comics and literature. In the 1980s he was contacted by the producers of Dr. Who to do a story. He wanted to have a working class spaceship captain. He was told by the script editor that they couldn’t. They also didn’t like his idea to have a working class family. It was only by looking back on where this hatred of the heroes of traditional literature came from, that he came to realise that it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to have any generals in his work.

He also talks about how it’s easier to get away with subversion in comics, as comics are treated as a trivial form of literature, which nobody really cares about. The profit motive also helps. So long as it’s making money, comics companies don’t care what’s going on. And this explains how he was able to get away with some of the things he did in Battle. He states that the way he works is by pretending to write something mainstream and inoffensive, and then subvert it from within. An example of that is Charley’s War in Battle. This looks like an ordinary war strip, but in fact was very anti-war. Even so, there were times when he had to be careful and know when to give up. One of these was about a story he wanted to run about the entry of the Americans into the War. In this story, a group of White American squaddies are members of the Klan, and try to lynch a Black soldier. Charley wades in to help the Black guy. The management rejected the story on the grounds that they didn’t want anything too controversial. Mills decided to draw in his horns and bite his tongue at that point, because he had a bigger story lined up about the British invasion of Russian in 1919, when we sent in 20-30,000 men. It was, he says, our Vietnam, and has been whitewashed out of the history books.

He also makes the point that subversion was also present in the girls’ comics. Even more so, as there was a psychological angle that wasn’t present in the boys’. For example, there was one story called ‘Ella in Easy Street’, where a young girl reacts against her aspirational family. They want to get on, and so the father has two jobs, and the mother is similarly working very hard to support their aspirations. But Ella herself is unhappy, as it’s destroying what they are as a family. And so she sets out to sabotage their yuppie dream. Mills says that it’s not all one-dimensional – he looks at the situation from both sides, pro and con, but the story makes the point that there are things that are more important that materialism and social advancement, like family, comradeship. He says that such a story could not be published now. It’s rather like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, where the hero, in the end, throws the race as a way of giving the system the finger.

Mills reminds his audience just how massive girls’ comics were in the ’70s. They were bigger, much bigger, than the boys’. 2000AD sold 200,000 copies a week in its prime. But Tammy, one of the girls’ comics, sold 260,000. This is really surprising, as women read much more than we men. These comics have all disappeared. This, he says, is because the boys’ took over the sandpit. He has been trying to revive them, and so a couple of stories from Misty have been republished in an album.

This gets him onto the issue of reaching the audience, who really need it. In the case of the stories from Misty, this has meant that there are two serials on sale, both of which are very good, but in a book costing £17 – odd. The only people going to read that are the mothers of the present generation of girls, perhaps. To reach the girls, it needs to be set at a lower price they can afford. This is also a problem with the political material. If you write something subversive, it will receive glowing reviews but be bought by people, who already agree with you. He wants his message to get further out, and not to become a coffee table book for north London.

He talks about the way British comics have grown up with their readership, and the advantages and disadvantages this has brought. British comics has, with the exception of 2000AD, more or less disappeared, and the readership of that comic is in its 30s and 40s. People have put this down to demographics and the rise of computer games, saying that this was inevitable. It wasn’t. It was our fault, says Mills. We fumbled it. Games workshop still have young people amongst their audience, while the French also have computer games across the Channel, but their children are reading comics.

Mills goes on to say that it’s easier writing for adults. Writing for 9 and 10 year olds is much harder, because if they don’t like a story, they’ll say. He says to his audience that they may think the same way, but they’re much too polite to say it at conventions. And they had to respond to their young readers as well, as the kids voted on it every week. They’d tell you if they thought it was a bad story, even if you thought it was the best one so far, and asked yourself what was wrong with the little sh*ts.

He also talks about how difficult it is to break into comics. He has friends, who have been trying for decades to get into 2000AD, and have been unsuccessful. His advice to people trying to do so is: don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s 2000AD. And this also effects text publishing. All the publishers have now been bought up, so that HarperCollins have the fingers in everything, such as Hodder and Stoughton. And their politics aren’t ours.

The way round this is to get into web publishing. Here he digresses and talks about pulp fiction, which is a close relative of comics. He was talking to a guy at a convention, who writes pulp fiction and puts it on the net. It only costs a few pence. The man writes about a zombie apocalypse, but – and this is true, as he’s seen the payment slips – he’s pulling in £3,000 a month. Mills says that this is important as well. He wants to get his material out there, but he also wants to eat. This shows you how you can make money publishing it yourself. Later on in the video, after the questions and the comments from the audience, he goes further into this. He mentions some of the web publishers, one of which is subsidiary of Amazon, which will allow people to publish their own work. He also talks about self-publishing and chapbooks. He found out about these while writing Defoe, his story about Leveller zombie killer in an alternative 17th century England. Chapbooks were so called because they were cheap books, the cheap literature of the masses. And this is what comics should go back to. He says that everyone should produce comics, in the same way that everyone can also make music by picking up an instrument and playing a few chords.

He also praises some of the other subversive literature people have self-produced. Like one piece satirizing the British army’s recruitment posters. ‘Join the army’, it says, ‘- like prison, but with more fighting’. Mills is fairly sure he knows who wrote that as well. It was another guy he met at a convention, who was probably responsible for the anti-war film on YouTube Action Man: Battlefield Casualties. He enormously admires this film, and is envious of the people, who made it.

He also talks about some of the fan letters he’s had. One was from the CEO of a school, he talks about the way reading 2000AD opened up his mind and changed his moral compass. The man says that everything he learned about Fascism, he learned from Judge Dredd, everything about racism from Strontium Dog, and feminism from Halo Jones. He and his headmaster, whom he names, were both punks and he’s now opened a school in Doncaster. The most subversive thing you can do now is to try to create an open-minded and questioning generation of young people. The letter is signed, yours, from a company director, but not an evil one, and then the gentleman’s name.

He concludes this part of the talk by describing the career of James Clarke, a member of the Socialist Labour Party, the Communist Party, a lion tamer and conscientious objector. During the War he ran escape lines for British squaddies in France. And people say that pacifists are cowards, Mills jokes. How much braver can you be than sticking your head in a lion’s mouth. He wrote a pamphlet defending a group of comrades, who tried to start the revolution by following the example of the Irish Nationalists and blow things up with a bomb. The pamphlet argued that this was wrong, and that if the working class wanted to gain power, they should concentrate on confronting capitalism through direct action. He also wrote poetry. Mills describes Clark as being a kind of Scots Tom Baker. One of these is a biting satire of Kipling’s If. The poem begins by asking if the reader can wake up every morning at 5 O’clock, or 4.30, and then labour at their machines, and see their wives and children suffer deprivation while those, who haven’t earned it take it all the profits, and describes the backbreaking grind of hard working life for the capitalist class in several stanzas. It ends with the statement that if you can do all that, and still be complacent, then go out, buy a gun and blow your brains out.

Clearly, I don’t recommend any actually do this, but it is a witty and funny response to Kipling’s poem. I found it hugely funny, and I do think it’s a great response to what was voted Britain’s favourite poem by the Beeb’s viewers and readers a few years ago. Can you imagine the sheer Tory rage that would erupt if someone dared to recite it on television!

Many of the comments are from people thanking Mills for opening their eyes and for writing such great stories. They include a man, who describes how Mills’ works are on his shelf next to his copy of Das Kapital. Another man describes how he used to buy 2000AD just after going to church on Sunday. So after listening to some very boring sermons, he came back from Baptist chapel to read all this subversion. One young woman says that the zines – the small press magazines, that appeared in the 1990s – seem to be still around, as she has seen them at punk concerts. Another young woman says that although comics are seen as a boys’ thing, when she goes into Forbidden Planet near her, there are always three girls in there and two boys. She also talks about how many young women read Japanese manga. Mills states in reply that manga stories generally are light and frothy, and so not the kind of stories he wants to write. But as for women in comics, he says that he spoken several times to students on graphic novel courses, and each time about 75 per cent of them have been women, which is good.

He also talks about Crisis and Action. The Third World War strip in Crisis was about the politics of food, and was set in a world where food production was dominated by a vast multinational formed by the merger of two of today’s megacorporations. Mills states that when the strip covered what was going on in South America, that was acceptable. However, at one point he moved the story to Brixton, finding a Black co-writer to help with the story. At that point, the White Guardian-reading liberals started to be uncomfortable with it. There was also a story in which Britain leaves the EU. This results in the rise of a Fascist dictatorship, and the EU responds by invading Britain. Mills says that he’s been trying to get Crisis relaunched, but the company are stringing him along with excuses, probably because it’s easier than arguing with him.

Mills obviously did the right thing by finding a Black co-writer. Marvel suffered a barrage of criticism with some of their attempts to launch a series of Black superheroes, like the Black Panther as part of the Blaxploitation wave of the 1970s. The Black Panther was particularly criticized. The creators were old, White dudes, who didn’t understand urban Black culture, even if the comics themselves were sincere in presenting a sympathetic view of Black Americans and combating racism.

He also talks briefly about Action, and the controversy that caused. What really upset Mary Whitehouse and the rest was ‘Kid’s Rule UK’, a strip in which a disease killed everyone over 16, and Britain was inhabited solely by warring street gangs. Mills used to take the same train from where he was living at the time with Mary Whitehouse. He said he was editing a Hookjaw script at the time, and notice Whitehouse over the other side of the carriage looking daggers at him. So he put in more carnage and more arms and legs being bitten off.

One of the most interesting questions is about the politics and morality of Judge Dredd. Dredd is a fascist, and in one of the strips it seemed to take the side of authority over subversion with no irony. This was in a story about the punks taking over Megacity 1. At the end of the strip, Dredd gets hold of the leader, and makes him say, ‘I’m a dirty punk.’ Mills actually agrees with the speaker, and says that there are people, who take Dredd as a role-model. He’s had letters from them, which he doesn’t like. He doesn’t know what these people do. Perhaps they have their own chapterhouse somewhere. He went cold inside when he heard about the story. It wasn’t one of his. It was by John Wagner, who isn’t at all political, but is very cynical, so this has some of the same effects of politics. But 75 per cent of Dredd comes from Mills. Mills states that it’s a flawed character, and that can be seen in why the two Dredd films never did well at the box office. Dredd was based on a particular teacher at his old school, as was Torquemada, the Grand Master of Termight, a genocidally racist Fascist military feudal order ruling Earth thousands of years in the future. They were both two sides of the same coin. That was why he enjoyed humiliating Torquemada. But it isn’t done with Dredd. Yet it could have been different, and there could be instances where people have their revenge on Dredd without losing the power of the character. He states that it was because Chopper did this in the story ‘Unamerican Graffiti’, that this became the favourite Dredd story of all time.

It’s a fascinating insight into the politics of the comics industry. The zines and other self-published small magazines he describes were a product of the Punk scene, where people did start putting together their own fanzines in their bedrooms. It was part of the mass creativity that punk at its height unleashed. As for the web comics, he talks about a couple that he finds particularly impressive, including those by the author of the dystopian science fiction story Y – the Last Man, set in a future in which all the men in the world have been killed by another disease. A number of my friends used to publish their own small press magazines in the 1990s, as did Mike. Mike started his own, small press comic, Violent, as an homage to Action when it was that comics anniversary. Mike was helped by some of the artists and writers from 2000AD, and so some of the tales are very professional. But probably not for delicate, gentle souls.

Amongst SF fandom, chapbooks are small books which another publishes himself. And they have been the route some professionally published authors have taken into print. Stephen Baxter is one of them. I think his Xelee stories first appeared in a chapbook he sold at one of the SF conventions.

Looking back at Kids Rule UK, this was my least favourite strip in Action. I was bullied at school, and so the idea of a Britain, where everything had broken down and there was nothing but bullying and juvenile violence really scared me. Action took many of its strips from the popular culture of the time. Hookjaw was basically Jaws. One-Eyed Jack seemed based very much on the type of hard-boiled American cop shows, if not actually Dirty Harry. One of the SF movies of the late sixties was about an America in which teenagers had seized power, and put all the adults in concentration camps were they were force-fed LSD. One of the four Star Trek stories that were banned on British television until the 1980s was ‘Miri’. In this tale, Kirk, Spock and the others beam down to a planet occupied entirely by children, as all the ‘grups’ – the adults – have been killed by disease. Kids Rule UK seems very much in the same vein as these stories.

Mills’ story about Dr. Who not wanting to show a working class family, let alone a spaceship captain, shows how far the series has come when it was relaunched by Russell T. Davis. Christopher Eccleston basically played the Doctor as northern and working class, wile Rose Tyler’s family and friends were ordinary people in a London tower block. As for not wanting to show a working class spaceship captain, that probably comes from very ingrained class attitudes in the aviation industry. A friend of mine trained as a pilot. When he was studying, their tutor told the class that the British exam included a question no other country in the world required, and which was particularly difficult. He stated that it was put there to weed out people from working or lower middle class backgrounds, as they would fail and not be able to retake the exam, as their competitors from the upper classes could.

It’s great to hear Mills encourage people try to produce their own work, and not be disheartened if they are rejected by mainstream publishers. I’m also saddened by the absence of any comics for children. They offered me when I was a lad an escape into a whole world of fun and imagination. And at their best, they do encourage children to take an interest in real issues like racism, sexism, bigotry and exploitation. I hope some way can be found to reverse their disappearance.