Posts Tagged ‘Sailors’

Lobster Article on British Prime Ministers and the Secret State

October 13, 2016

The Winter 2016 issue of Lobster also has a very disquieting review by John Newsinger of a book on the relationship between British Ministers and the intelligence services, The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers by Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac. This discusses not only the way British prime ministers have co-operated with the secret services in the bugging and surveillance of the Left, and how they used the services in a series of foreign operations, including Iraq, but also how the same intelligence services also worked against them, including interventions by foreign espionage services in Britain. In doing so, several reputations are left tarnished and some convenient myths destroyed.

One of the keenest supporters of British intelligence against his domestic opponents was Harold Wilson. When he was in office in the 1960s, Wilson had had leftwing trade unionists put under surveillance, taps placed on their phones, and bugged. This included the participants in the 1966 strike by British merchant seamen. Others kept under very close watch included, naturally, the Communist party. He also encouraged other rightwing union leaders to cooperate with MI5. Those, who did so included Harry Crane, the head of the GMWU, who passed information onto Sarah Barker, the Labour Party’s national agent, who in turn passed it on to the spooks.

Wilson also continued the secret wars the Tories had begun in Yemen and Indonesia. The British, Saudis and Israeli secret services provided aid and assistance to rebels, who perpetrated the same kind of atrocities as ISIS. Unlike ISIS, they didn’t cause a scandal and international terror by posting them online. Newsinger notes that Aldrich and Cormac state that the extent of the British involvement in the 1965 massacre of the Left in Indonesia is a mystery. As this also involved the commission of atrocities, besides which those of ISIS seem pale by comparison, this is a very convenient mystery. It’s widely believed that Wilson kept Britain out of the Vietnam War, but this is not the case. Wilson actually wanted to send a token force, but was prevented from doing so because of the extent of British public opinion against the War and the opposition of the left wing within the Labour party itself. This did not prevent him from providing the Americans with intelligence support. This involved not only GCHQ, but also MI6, who provided reports on the effect of American bombing campaigns from the British embassy in Hanoi. The Americans were also allowed to operate their biggest CIA station in that part of Asia from Hong Kong. In addition to this, Wilson also wanted MI6 to assassinate Idi Amin, but they refused. Considering the carnage wrought by this monster, it’s a pity that they didn’t.

Wilson himself was the subject of various intelligence plots and smears against him, despite his collaboration with the intelligence services. This involved not only MI5, but also the South African intelligence service, BOSS. This got to the point where it was literally spies watching other spies, with BOSS spying on the anti-apartheid campaign, while themselves being spied on by MI5. BOSS were allowed to get away with their espionage, however, as it was claimed that they had a film of MPs taking part in an orgy and a dossier on a sex scandal that was far more shocking and compromising than Christine Keeler.

Ted Heath in the 1970s had Jack Jones, the leader of the TGWU put under surveillance. Joe Gormley, the head of the NUM, was also an informant for special branch throughout the decade. The usual practice at MI5 when a company requested assistance monitoring radical trade unionist was to pass the case on to the Economic League, a private outfit specialising in blacklisting trade unionists. But Ford also demanded that Special Branch vet their workforce, to which Heath agreed. This led to more firms demanding information on trade unionists, including Massey Ferguson. Not only was the British government under Heath actively compiling blacklists of trade unionists, Heath himself demanded that MI5 should have some of the militant activists ‘done’.

Under Thatcher the number of private intelligence agencies tackling her domestic enemies, like CND, increased. But Newsinger observes that the book does not cover at all the involvement of this agencies in the machinations against the NUM in the Miners’ Strike, and the establishment of the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Newsinger comments

Perhaps the official material is not available, but not to have any discussion of the great miners’ strike at all is a serious shortcoming. The very absence of material, if this was indeed the case, is tremendously significant and deserved discussion. This was, after all, the decisive engagement that shifted the balance of class forces and made everything that has followed possible.

The book also covers Blair’s wars, which Newsinger does not cover in his review, finding the book’s revelations about Cameron’s own warmongering in Libya and Syria more interesting. MI6 and the Defence chiefs advised Cameron not to try to bring down Gaddafi. This didn’t stop him, and Cameron had the agency and SAS give the rebels training, arms and body armour. MI6 wanted the Libyan dictator sent into exile into Equatorial Guinea, where his own links to them would not be placed in any danger by him having to appear before an international human rights court. But this problem was, as Newsinger notes, solved by his death.

The book also reveals that a number of people within MI6 and the CIA did not believe that Assad’s regime in Syria was responsible for the Sarin attack in Ghoutta. They believed that the real perpetrators were the al-Nusra Front, backed by Turkey, which hoped to provoke the US into starting a bombing campaign. The US was ready with a fleet of aircraft, which Britain was also set to join, but the operation was cancelled due to the disagreements over responsibility for the atrocity within the US secret services.

The authors also report that Mossad has also been responsible for kidnappings and murders in London, but give no further information.

Newsinger concludes that ‘after reading this book we not only know more than we
did, but also how much more we need to know and unfortunately how much we are likely to never know….’

What is also clear from reading this is not only the extent of the involvement of British prime ministers in covert operations, against left-wingers and trade unionists in Britain and a series of foreign regimes abroad, but also the weakness of parliament in restraining them. British involvement in the bombing of Syria was stopped because of dissension within the American intelligence community, not because of opposition from parliament. As for Heath targeting British trade unionists for surveillance and possible assassination, Newsinger remarks on how this is ‘dynamite’, which should be investigated by the Commons Intelligence Select Committee. There is not the most remote chance of this happening, however, as the Commons Intelligence Select Committee is really
just a parliamentary spittoon into which the intelligence agencies occasionally feel obliged to gob.

Lobster’s entire raison d’etre is the belief that western, and particularly the British intelligence services are out of control and responsible for immense crimes that otherwise go undocumented and unpunished. Newsinger’s review of this book and its potentially explosive contents bear out this belief. It also hints by its omissions that there is more buried yet deeper, which may never be brought to light.

The article’s at: http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster72/lob72-black-door.pdf

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Proto-Fascism at Fiume and those Denied ‘Political Rights’

March 19, 2016

Noel O’Sullivan in his book on Fascism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd 1983) has an appendix containing the constitution of Fiume. This was the proto-Fascist state founded by the Nationalist poet, playwright and adventurer, D’Annunzio, shortly after the First World War. The island had been granted to the new kingdom of Yugoslavia, although it had previously been part of Dalmatia, which had been a Venetian possession in the Middle Ages. The decision of the people of Fiume to join Yugoslavia was seen as a bitter insult to the notion of Italianita, Italian character and pride, and so, assisted by the Syndicalist sailors, D’Annunzio marched on the island, conquered it, and set up what has been described as ‘a comic-opera’ government that lasted a year before the Italian government succeeded in ousting it.

In power, D’Annunzio’s regime had all the hallmarks and practices that were adopted by Mussolini, including the corporative state and speeches from the balcony by the dictator. D’Annunzio and his collaborators published a constitution, formally setting out the basis of the new statelet’s government. Article 17, in the section ‘The Citizens’ lists the people, who would be denied their rights as citizens under the law. It stated

Those citizens shall be deprived of political rights by formal sentence, who are: condemned by law; defaulters with regard to military service for the defence of the territory; defaulters in the payment of taxes; incorrigible parasites on the community if they are not incapacitated from labour by age or sickness. (p. 196).

This criminalises conscientious objectors, those unable to pay tax, and malingering benefit scroungers. It’s so close to modern Tory ideology that I’m surprised Ian Duncan Smith didn’t have it framed and put up behind his desk, or that Peter Lilley didn’t read it out twenty years ago when he was goose-stepping up and down the Tory Party conference reading out his ‘little list’ of people he didn’t like. Naturally, this was all about welfare scroungers, including unmarried mothers. You know, the people Sir Keith Joseph thought were a menace to ‘our stock’, and so presumably ought to be culled for eugenic reasons.

But while the Tories hate people, who don’t pay their taxes if their poor and simply dodging them, they do seem just to love the rich, who decide that paying taxes is for the little people, and demand all kinds of tax loopholes and offshore schemes to avoid paying their whack. They can’t do enough for them. Which is why I think it might be a good idea to introduce a version of the law over here. Instead of denying the rights of citizenship to people on welfare and anti-militarists, it should instead just deny it to the wealthy, who can pay their taxes but seek to withhold them. I think that would be a good policy. After all, if they’re using offshore accounts as a basis for avoiding tax, then they can’t or shouldn’t complain if their right to vote, stand as a political candidate or serve on a jury is removed from them. I think a dose of that revision of the Fascist law could be very popular. Just not with the rich or the Tories.

Workers’ Councils as a Support for Democracy

March 18, 2014

Eisner pic

Kurt Eisner, Bavarian politician and Workers’ Council leader, in 1918.

Yesterday I put up a piece about the establishment of workers’ control of industry during the Russian revolution in 1917, when Lenin granted the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils – the soviets – the power to manage the enterprises in which their members were employed. Germany also experienced a council revolution of its own 1918, following its defeat in the First World War. This was a period of immense political turmoil throughout Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Germany, the Kaiser was forced to abdicate and his noble successor, Prince Max of Baden, granted sweeping changes to the constitution. Germany was to become a constitutional monarchy, stripped the emperor of command over the army and made the Reichstag, the German parliament, responsible for deciding war and peace. In Germany the revolution started on the 29th October, when the sailors at Kiel mutinied against an order to launch one last attack on England. With support from the dockers, they established a workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ council. From there the movement spread through the rest of Germany.

Although the councils appear to have been modelled on the Russian soviets, there was very little Communist influence in them. Most of their members belonged to the majority socialist Social Democrat Party. In many cases the movement fizzled out after a year. In some parts of Germany they acted as Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, advising working people on how to obtain better wages, conditions or housing. Only in the Ruhr did they attempt to nationalise the mines. Their existence was a matter of considerable controversy, as majority of the German Social Democrats felt that they were a threat to the parliamentary democracy they wished to create.

The leader of the workers’ council in Munich, Kurt Eisner, was a left-wing theatre critic. He was not a radical nor an opponent of parliamentary democracy. He wished instead to combine the new workers’ councils with parliament to create a system where the workers and peasants had a direct influence on parliament. In a meeting with the representatives of other German states in Berlin, Eisner thus explained his ideas

The workers; and soldiers’ councils must remain the basis of the whole movement, and in the south the peasant councils too, which in the east would be agricultural labourers’ councils. The more the workers’ and soldiers’ councils were given an opportunity to do fruitful work the less we would have to fear the bogy of chaos.

With regard to the question of the National Assembly it was entirely obvious that it must be summoned. This applied to the Reich as well as to the individual Diets. The revolution was no the same as democracy, the revolution would have to create democracy (Hear, hear!)

It must thus be our task to use the time to lead the whole mass of the people towards democracy. There were people who maintained that democracy consisted of elections every five years and then remaining at home for five years. That was the bourgeois parliamentarianism of the past. Now all productive forces must be employed in the work of democratic consolidation…

The revolution was only two weeks old, and if there was much discussion about the excesses of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, one thing was certain: they had not yet ignited a world war; such small matters should not be taken too seriously…

F.L Carsten, Revolution in Central Europe 1918-19 (Aldershot: Wildwood House 1988) 183.

In a debate in the Bavarian cabinet with Frauendorfer, who opposed the councils, Eisner stated that giving the council legislative, rather than advisory powers, would be Bolshevism, to which he was opposed. He was instead a supporter of parliamentary democracy. This was, however, qualified in a speech he made a few days later to a conference of Bavarian workers’ councils.

The workers’ councils shall be the parliaments of those doing physical and also intellectual work, and if this is countered by the view that the National Assembly, the Diet, will make these workers’ councils redundant, then I maintain: on the contrary, we may do without the National Assembly rather than without the workers’ councils. (Tumultuous applause.)

For, if the National Assembly is not to lead again into empty parliamentarianism, then the living force of the workers’ councils must unfold itself., The workers’ and other councils are as it were the organization of the electors. The electors must watch and be active and must not leave it to the deputies to do whatever clever or stupid things they see fit to undertake. The function of these councils in my opinion is the direct politicization and democratization of the masses…. (pp. 185-6).

Eisner, however, lost the subsequent Bavarian elections and the Diet passed a Basic Law establishing the Diet as the organisation to which ministers were responsible, rather than the councils. Eisner was therefore asked to offer his recognition the next day, the 21st February. As he was on his way to the Diet to do so, he was shot dead by an extreme right-wing aristocrat, Count Anton Arco-Valley.

Parliament should clearly be at the heart of British politics as the cornerstone of democracy and representative government down the centuries. There is, however, a real problem in that many people are alienated from government., especially the working classes, who feel that all the parties are the same. This is to some extent true, as all the parties have adopted the same Neoliberal policies to a greater or lesser extent. If the parties really are serious about trying to get more people to take an interest in politics, then they need to create institutions where ordinary people genuinely feel that their voices are heard, and that politicians are not left to do whatever they wish in parliament regardless of the views or the impact it will have on the electorate. And politics should be far more than simply a case of putting a cross in a box every five years. We now need an expansion of politics and democratic institutions, not the atrophied state in which they have lapsed since Thatcher.