Posts Tagged ‘Scandinavia’

Lotus Eaters Now Blaming Migrants for the Housing Crisis

June 21, 2022

I had to blog about this, as it’s another example of the right-wing media only telling you one side of the story. Yesterday or the day before the Lotus Eaters put up a video claiming that the housing crisis was a result of immigrants taking up so much housing, and no doubt looking at the channel migrants in particular as they did so. Because they should all be deported to Rwanda, of course. They argued that immigration was the source of the housing shortage, and thus all the new building work that is threatening to cover our green and pleasant land with concrete, as the British birth rate is 1.24, below that needed to maintain the population. The reason why our population is growing, however, is because of immigration. Now the Lotus Eaters are fervent Brexiteers, hate Woke and are very strong opponents of immigration. But they’re not wrong. I believe the Pears Cyclopedia 1984 edition said the same nearly 40 years ago. It’s solid fact, rather than racist myth. Mind you, I also believe that that the population has grown also because people are living longer and not dying off as young as they did, and so there’s a younger generation growing up at the same time as its grandparents and great-grandparents are still alive. But possibly for not much longer if Johnson and his foul effluvium have their way. In the past decade they’ve been in power, life expectancy has gone into reverse so that the present generation has a shorter life expectancy than we did.

Now for what John, Callum and Sargon aren’t telling you. The welfare state and capitalism need a population that’s stable or growing. Years ago, the Financial Times wrote that the welfare state was maintained by the contributions of the present generation of workers, which were needed to maintain the level of benefits to support the older generation. Fewer people being born means less money being paid into the welfare state,, equals cuts to welfare provision. This presumably is the thinking behind the Tories’ decision back in the ’90s to try and get people paying into private ‘workplace’ pension schemes rather than the state pension, and why the state pension’s been kept low. It’s also no doubt being used to support the cuts to the welfare state in general, following Thatcher’s line that we now can’t afford to support everybody and people should have to look out for themselves. This may not affect the Lotus Eaters, as their smug sneers about ‘socialism’ and ‘leftists’ and general support for unfettered capitalism suggests to me they come from monied backgrounds. But I could be wrong.

But capitalism also requires a stable or growing population. It’s all about consumer demand, you see. The more people, the more demand for goods and services, which in turn stimulates production and should produce more profits and less unemployment as workers are taken on to produce the goods. If you have fewer people, you have less demand, declining profits and rising unemployment.

Immigrants help solve these problems, because they tend to put more into the welfare state than they take out in terms of benefits and so on. And by maintaining or expanding the population, they help to create the demand that powers industry.

And I suspect some of the demand for new housing is local to certain parts of the country. A few years ago the ‘Communist’ BBC as the Lotus Eaters no doubt think of the Corporation produced a documentary following a prospective Romanian immigrant as he tried to find accommodation over here. He ended up sleeping rough in one of the London parks. At one point he went north seeking available homes. He found a whole street-load, boarded up and deliberately kept empty. Because some obscure reason of capitalism. He was obviously not impressed, and made the obvious comment that it was stupid to have houses go empty when people needed them.

I think – and this is only my impression – that some of the migration pushing up house prices and creating demand is internal. People from the declining north, or some of them, are moving south in search of work and opportunities. People in the countryside are being priced out of local homes by rich outsiders seeking second homes. And respect to the council the other day that was reported to have banned this! Here in Bristol local people are being priced out of the housing market due to recent migrants, not from Africa, Asia or Jamaica, but from London. As a result, some Bristolians are looking towards places like Wales and the borders for affordable homes, which is going to push the prices up there. And so there’s a knock-on effect.

And last but not least, the Tories and the Heil can take some of the blame. In order to keep the economy afloat, I think it was George Osborne who linked some part of our financial performance to house prices. As a result, house prices have to be kept high. Quite apart from the Daily Heil in the ’90s constantly advising its readers on the ‘money’ pages to invest in brick and mortar as part of the ‘buy to rent’ boom. People have done that, leaving less homes around for people, who actually want to live in them to purchase.

Yes, I think there are a lot of problems surrounding immigration that need proper discussion and solution. There are problems of assimilation and integration, and while I don’t like Kemi Badenoch’s party, I think she is right about growing segregation. That’s been going on for some time, since at least the beginning of this century. The concentration on race is probably a part of it, but only a part. But you can’t blame immigrants solely for the housing shortage and new building work.

Hidden behind this is also an anti-feminist agenda. Sargon and the other Lotus Eaters have the same anti-feminist views as American conservatives. In their view, the population decline is due to modern women choosing not to settle down and marry but concentrate on having careers. They’d like to return to the old traditional family in which mum stayed at home to raise the kids and Dad worked to support them. Now I think that if they were given the choice, more women probably would stay home to look after their children. But they don’t have a choice. Since women entered the workforce, it’s been argued that the economy has responded so that families need the income from both parents to pay off mortgages and buy the family groceries. However, this claim also needs examination as I’ve also read that long before the 70s families needed both parents to work. And back in the 30s and 40s, women didn’t have a choice about not working. Some of the firms in Bristol would not employ married women with children, which was a real problem for women running away from abusive or criminal husbands.

The decline of the existing, traditional populations is also one of the arguments against abortion. If all the kids lost to abortion were allowed to come to term and live, then the population would be growing. This isn’t necessarily a racist argument. Turning Point, an arch-conservative think tank, put up a video of one of its presenters challenging a young woman on the issue. He argued that the reason the Black population has remained at 13% in the Land of the Free is due to abortion. If there was less abortion, the population would expand. She was obviously racist for being in favour of abortion, and hence fewer Blacks, while he wanted more of them. I don’t want to get into the politics of abortion, except to say that it includes major issues of bodily autonomy, female healthcare, the dangers of a return to backstreet abortions and poverty. What happens in the case of women too poor to bring their children up? Conservatives like Thomas Sowell already blame the welfare state for the decline of the Black family, but without it many women would be too poor to have the children Conservatives would like them to. In the 1920s Mussolini got very worried about falling Italian birthrates, and one of the methods he chose to tackle it, apart from getting women out of the workplace, was providing something like the equivalent of family allowance. Perhaps, if the Tories want women to stay at home and raise their families they should consider providing them with a state income for doing so. But I can imagine the screams and horror from the right if someone dared suggesting that. They shouldn’t, not if they’re good classicists. The later Roman emperors were so worried about the declining population of their empire, they passed legislation giving first Italians, and then all Roman citizens throughout the empire, a kind of family allowance. Possibly not something Johnson wants to be reminded of, for all he goes on about how wonder the Romans were.

Years ago New Scientist covered this issue with an interview on demographics. A declining birthrate is happening not just in the West, but also in Japan and China. Way back in the 90s one of the leading Japanese newspapers was so worried about it that they published an article that declared that if it carried out, in one thousand years the Japanese would be extinct. They also tried encouraging men to take an extra day off work to improve marital relations with their wives and so make more little Japanese. This got an angry response from a housewife, who said that relations between married couples didn’t improve simply because the husband was at home. China and India are also suffering from a shortage of women because of generations of infanticide. What the New Scientist demographer noted, was that the countries that have the highest birthrate have the less macho cultures and men are prepared to share the childrearing. Thus Scandinavia has a higher birthrate than Italy, and China and Japan, which have the same traditional attitudes to the division of labour, also have a low birthrate. In the case of Japan, there’s also the problem that young Japanese aren’t dating and having sex. Some even say that it revolts them. A decade ago there was a Radio 4 programme reporting this phenomenon and asking why it was so. I honestly don’t know, but I’m sure someone will blame video games.

The birthrate is also falling all over the world, although obviously in developing countries it is still much higher than over here. But Africa loses very many of its infants to appalling rates of infant mortality, so its population is very stable. In fact, there are fears that if the population continues to fall in some of these nations, their population will actually decline.

Which bring me to another point: the same demographer predicts a population crash throughout the globe in the middle of this century. This obviously contradicts the predictions of the various scientists and experts of the ’70s, who were worried about the ‘population bomb’. If this happens, countries will instead compete with each other to attract migrants. P.D. James’ SF film, Children of Men, showed that. It’s a dystopian movie in which the human race has become infertile. As a result, there’s massive political instability, but Britain has managed to keep order by becoming a quasi-Fascist state. But migrants from the rest of the world are invited, as shown by Arab mule trains around London. The hero in the story is charged with protecting an immigrant woman, who’s become the first in a very long time to become pregnant. Its a chilling movie, and one which marks a departure from the detective novels with which she made her name. But it was chilling realistic and had a point.

There are issues with immigration, but it ain’t the sole cause of the housing shortage, nor is the solution the Lotus Eaters want underneath it palatable to today’s women wanting independence. It may not even be one that works. We might instead be better off passing legislation giving greater assistance to manage family and work, like perhaps more maternity leave, and encouraging dad to share some of the housework more. But those aren’t good, Conservative attitudes and involve capitulating to feminism and greater state legislation of industry. But this terrifies the Lotus Eaters, and so they ain’t going to tell you about it. Except to argue against it.

Book on Medieval Russian State of Kiev

March 14, 2022

George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press 1948).

I picked this book up when I was at College in the mid-80s. I did medieval history at ‘A’ Level and Russian at school, and although that’s long ago, I still have an interest in eastern European history, culture and politics. One of atrocities of this war among so many is the Russian assault on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. President Zelenskyy has said that he’s afraid that his country, its history and culture will be wiped out. Kyiv is one of the great historic cities of Europe. Great Russian authors such as Mikhail Bulgakov have set their novels in the city, and in music its been celebrated by the great Russian musician and composer, Mussorgsky in his ‘The Great Gates of Kiev’. But from c. 10th to the early 13th century Kyiv, or Kiev as it is known in Russian, was the centre of a great medieval Russian empire.

This book is a comprehensive history of Kievan Russia, looking not just at the reigns of its great tsars, but also the church and religion, its literature and culture, everyday life, relations with the other states and the position of national minorities. It has the following chapters, broken down thus into sections.

  1. Kievan Russia’s Place in History
  1. Is Russia Europe?
  2. Russia’s place in the medieval world.
  3. Divergent and parallel trends in Russian and European history.
  4. The notion of east European history.
  5. The challenge of geopolitics.
  6. The significance of the Kievan period in Russian history.

II. The imperial plan and its failure, 878-972

  1. The imperial plan: dreams and realities
  2. First successes – Oleg
  3. First setback – Igor
  4. A breathing spell – Olga
  5. The great adventure – Sviatoslav

III. Conversion to Christianity

  1. The Russian paganism
  2. Vladimir the Saint before his conversion (972-87)
  3. The story of Vladimir’s conversion
  4. Laying the foundations of the Russian church (990-1037)
  5. The significance of conversion: An early appraisal.

IV. The Kievan Realm, 990-1139

  1. Vladimir as Christian ruler (990-1015)
  2. The struggle between Vladimir’s sons (1015-36)
  3. The age of Iaroslav the Wise (1036-54)
  4. The triumvirate (1054-93)
  5. The reign of Sviatopolk II (1093-1113)
  6. A social legislator: Vladimir Monomach
  7. The first two monomashichi (1125-39)

V. Economic Foundations of Kievan Russia

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Natural resources and population
  3. Hunting, agriculture and fishing
  4. Agriculture and cattle breeding
  5. Metallurgy
  6. Building industries
  7. Textile arts, furriery, tanning, ceramics
  8. Commerce
  9. Money and credit
  10. Capital and labor
  11. National income
  12. Prosperity and depression

VI. Social organisation

  1. The basic social units
  2. Social stratification
  3. The upper classes
  4. The middle classes
  5. The lower classes
  6. The half-free
  7. The slaves
  8. The church people
  9. Woman
  10. The steppe frontiersmen
  11. National minorities
  12. Concluding queries: on “economic and social feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VII. Government and Administration

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The lands and the principalities
  3. The three elements of government
  4. The princely administration
  5. Branches of administration
  6. The city-state
  7. The local commune
  8. The manor
  9. The church
  10. The judiciary
  11. Concluding queries: on “political feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VIII. The Russian Federation, 1139-1237

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The struggle for Kiev (1139-69)
  3. Keeping the balance between east Russia and west Russia
  4. Defense of the frontier
  5. The first appearance of the Mongols: the Battle of the Kalka (1223)
  6. Time runs short (1223-37)

IX. Russian Civilisation in the Kievan Period

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Language and script
  3. Folklore
  4. Music
  5. Theater
  6. Fine arts
  7. Religion
  8. Literature
  9. Education
  10. The humanities
  11. Sciences and technlogy

X. The Way of Life

  1. City and country life
  2. Dwellings and furniture
  3. Dress
  4. Food
  5. Health and hygiene
  6. The cycle of life
  7. Public calamities

XI. Russia and the Outside World in the Kievan Period

  1. Preliminary remarks
  2. Russia and the Slavs
  3. Russia and Scandinavia
  4. Russia and the west
  5. Russia and Byzantium
  6. Russia and the Caucasus
  7. Russia and the east

It also has a map of Russia in the Kievan period as well as a list of sources, bibliography and index.

I’ve no doubt that some of the material in the book has become out of date in the nearly 80 years since it was first published. For example, the book describes the veche, a popular assembly, as a democratic institution. But others have said that it met too infrequently really to have been an instrument of popular, democratic government. Although you do wonder what history might have been like if it had been. Would we now be looking at the Ukraine as one of the major foundations of European democracy alongside the British parliament, the Swiss cantons and the Icelandic althing?

Despite its inaccuracies, I think that the book is nevertheless an excellent history of this most ancient Russian state and its people.

And I hope it is not too long before peace and justice is restored to this part of eastern Europe.

The Tories and the War on Drugs

June 16, 2019

There’s been some amusement to be had this past week with various leading Tories coming out and admitting to having used drugs. Michael Gove confessed to having snorted cocaine, and Rory Stewart admitted that he’d smoked opium once, 20 odd years ago, when he was backpacking around Iran. It was at a wedding. He claimed that it couldn’t have affected him much, as he was walking 25 – 30 miles a day. My guess is that in reality he’d have been stoned out of his tiny patrician brain. It’s generally the lean, fit people, who are most affected by intoxicants, as you can see by all the tales about champion marathon runners and other athletes, who become massively drunk when they celebrate with half a pint of booze afterwards. Then there’s Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog. He hasn’t come out of the stoner closet, but he was notorious as a Libertarian for taking and advocating DMT as a mind-expanding drug. My guess is that he’d need it. As a member of an organisation that was so right-wing, it invited the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads from El Salvador to be their guest of honour at their annual dinner, Staines would need some powerful hallucinogenics to convince himself he was a decent human being.

Boris is also widely suspected of having done drugs, and it’s almost certain that the allegations are true, and of continuing to use them. But he hasn’t confessed to it. When asked whether he had at a press conference about his candidacy for the Tory leadership, he brushed the question aside by claiming that he thought the British public were more interested in what he intended to do as politician than whether he took illegal substances. He might be right for some people. We’re so used to public figures, like actors, rock stars and other media celebrities, coming forward to admit that they took drugs some time in their lives, that it almost seems unremarkable. In some parts of the entertainment industry, it’s even to be expected, as with tales of pop musicians, which have become part of the general pattern of rock excess. However, Boris’ own political career isn’t any recommendation for him as Prime Ministerial material either. He’s been so egotistical and massively incompetent that many people would have to take large amounts of illegal chemicals to be persuaded otherwise.

Author’s impression of Theresa May with potential voter.

There’s more than a little fun to be had out of all this furore. Some wag with a better grasp of video editing than yours truly could provide us all with a laugh by cutting their speeches with bits from notorious films about drugs from the past. Like the 1950s anti-cannabis film, Reefer Madness, or David Cronenberg’s ’90s flick, The Naked Lunch, based on the notorious book by William S. Burroughs. This latter film is roughly based on Burrough’s own life, and is about a pest exterminator, who gets high on the ketamine he’s using to kill the insects. As the drug takes effect, he hallucinates that he’s some kind of SF spy, and has to make his report to Interzone before flying to Morocco after accidentally shooting his wife while they were playing William Tell. The hallucinations include the hero seeing everyone in a bar as mugwumps – humanoid lizards – and a gay talking typewriter-beetle. You could have some fun showing Boris sitting down to type his statement for the leadership election, but showing the hands of Cronenberg’s hero typing away at the beetle creature. Though as the beetle-typewriter then goes on to declare how wonderful homosexuality is, this scene might not be appropriate. The Tories have declared themselves at ease with the gay community, and no-one could ever accuse Boris of it. Another excellent film candidate for mixing with the Tory leadership speeches would be Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Which also has a bar full of hallucinatory lizards, bats coming down out of the desert sky, and Richard Nixon erupting out of a TV set, amongst other bizarre visions.

But there’s also a very serious side to all this. The great commenters on Mike’s blog, when he covered this story, made some very good points about these people’s hypocrisy. They’ve all done drugs, and got away scot-free, in contrast to more ordinary users, who’d been to jail. One commenter told how he had a friend, who now suffers from PTSD because of what he’d experienced in prison after being convicted of a drugs offence. And the whole affair also seems to me to be a replay of a similar scandal back in 2004, when a number of other Tories confessed to having used cannabis.

The furore was started when Anne Widdecombe announced that she wanted harsher sentences for drugs, quite at variance with the party stance on the issue at the time. A number of Tories then came forward to announce that they’d taken it. Matthew Parris then gave his view about it all in an article he wrote for the Spectator. One Tory revealed that he had smoked cannabis at Oxford. This didn’t shock Parris, who was far more outraged by the way the august gentleman had consumed it. Parris declared that he could have been smoking cowpats for all he cared. What offended him was that the pretentious so and so had put it in his pipe. He smoked a pipe! It’s something you can imagine Rees-Mogg, the MP for the 18th century, doing. If he were inclined towards the substances used by Thomas De Quincy and Coleridge, of course.

This came at the time the government was considering changing its policy towards drug abuse. Much had been in the news about the success the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and Switzerland had achieved in their battle with illegal drugs, in contrast with Britain’s failure to combat or contain its growing drugs problem. These nations had a softer approach to tackling drug abuse. Addicts were treated not as criminals, but as sick people, who needed to be helped. But this was too namby-pamby for Widdecombe and those like her. Parris wrote that this had also been the policy in Britain, and had been giving positive results. But it all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wanted a war on drugs, and as American’s ally and the Special Relationship, we had to follow suit. The result was harsher sentences for drug offences, which actually had a negative effect on what they were trying to achieve. Treating drug addiction as a sickness makes sense, as no-one wants to be sick so they seek help. Criminalizing it, however, gives it a kind of glamour. You ain’t sick, you’re gangsta! Public enemy No. 1. And so far from deterring people from using drugs, the policy actually helps to promote it.

And then there’s the racism of the War on Drugs. Hillary Clinton deliberately played on White American fears of Black criminality when she announced Clinton’s new, tougher policies on drugs back in the 1990s. She talked about ‘superpredators’ – at the time, a term that was only used about Black men. The laws were also framed so that it targeted Blacks rather than Whites. Although studies have shown that Whites are just as likely to use drugs as Blacks, the majority of those arrested and convicted are Black. And I suspect that the situation is similar over here. Certainly it’s been clear to me from talking to Black friends that they believe that Blacks suffer disproportionately harsher punishment than White drug abusers. I know many Blacks, who won’t touch the stuff, and they make the point very clear to Whites trying to encourage them to do so.

It seems very clear to me that we need a return to a saner, more effective drugs policy. One that discourages it as it helps the victims by treating it as a disease, rather than giving it a spurious glamour it doesn’t deserve by criminalizing it. A policy that punishes and cures White and Black equally, instead of playing to White fears and racism.

But for me, the most toxic drug not mentioned in the Tory leadership contest is Conservatism. This has destroyed whole communities, and comprehensive wrecked Britain, creating poor healthcare, unemployment, despair, depression and general poor mental health, all while fostering racism, bigotry and bitter resentment against the poor, disabled and marginalised. It has done this while creating illusions of prosperity and national greatness. It’s time it was stopped. The pushers of this vile drug – Johnson, Gove, Leadsom and the rest of them – should be properly punished by losing any and every election they take part in. And the literature that encourages this vile drug – the Times, Torygraph, Mail, Sun and Express, should be binned at once and readers should turn to proper news outlets.

Only then can we look forward to a saner society, less afflicted by drugs.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 2

November 7, 2017

Continued from Part 1.

The Role of the Trade Unions

It is usually assumed that in a capitalist economy the Trade Union movement fulfills a different and essentially more democratic role than the unions in a country such as Yugoslavia. It is said that by remaining independent of management and government the unions provide the essential element in any democracy, that of opposition. This has always been one of the stumbling blocks which any advocate of workers’ control must encounter. An understanding of the role of our own trade union movement is a necessary first step towards working out a programme for democratising industry which does not fall foul of this traditional objection. This understanding may be furthered by an appreciation of the position of trade unions in other countries where social systems are different. In Britain it may well be that the trade unions become more and more committed to the status quo in industry, so their opposition function is weakened. The respect for national collective agreements, the support of the leadership for the current productivity drive, the discouragement of unofficial strike action, the rejection of co-ordinated industrial action to break the pay pause, and finally the decision to join the NEDC suggest that the unions are moving towards the position of partners in a managerial society.

The simple distinction between free trade unionism in a capitalist society, and trade unions in a communist state which become organs for the implementation of state policy, becomes increasingly blurred. We should think instead of a spectrum of relative degrees of independence from the state, ranging from the Russian trade unions at one extreme, through Yugoslav, Scandinavian and Dutch, to the British and American movements at the other, with perhaps the Communist Unions of France and Italy as the least committed to the state. The recognition of this trend does not imply advocacy of a general strike mentality over the pay pause, for example, but we need a more honest recognition of what is taking place. We should admit first that it is inevitable that the trade unions will move in the direction of close co-operation with government, and towards a ‘national interest’ point of view. As this trend continues, the worker is faced with the growing prospect of an alliance between government, employers and unions. In this situation union leaders no longer express the independent sectional and industrial aspirations of their members. Partly because of this, the role of the voluntary rank and file element in trade union government appears to be diminishing and its functions are being superseded by paid officials. The unions are becoming agencies run for their members and not by them.

With the weakening of the elements of opposition and participation there is a need to seek alternative means by which employees can express themselves in the government of industry. This need arises not only from a consideration of industrial democracy, but also of industrial efficiency. Appeals for increased industrial production, such as British Productivity Year, evoke slight response because they are based on an assumption of team spirit and equal partnership which is excluded by the very nature of social relationships in a private enterprise economy. Yugoslav experience strongly suggests that increased productivity is one of the results of their form of industrial democracy. However if democratisation in industry is advocated solely on grounds of higher productivity, it will be received with suspicion. The question would not be how much power and control can we give to democratic forms of management, but rather how small a concession will be necessary in the interests of productivity. Such a path would reproduce the history of progressive disillusion which has befallen Joint Consultation. Thus the idealist exponent of workers’ control may claim to solve must fully the economic problem of incentive.

In Britain, advocates of workers’ control have traditionally thought in terms of Trade Union management of industry. Efforts in this direction have always ended in a blind alley, since the objection that this involves a dual loyalty for the union is a valid one. As we have seen, the Yugoslav system does not involve Trade Unions in the direct management of the Enterprise. It suggests not only a new role for the Unions, but also the practical constitutional forms for the management of the firm by its employees.

The role of the unions in such a system is that of a mass social institution representing the wider national interests of the workers and tackling problems such as the overall levels of incomes and income structure, labour productivity etc. As we have suggested, there is already a tendency for British unions to assume such a role, and the doubts which we have raised about the desirability of this trend would be dispelled if the unions were operating within the framework of an industrial democracy. If workers had legally guaranteed rights of management then the need for the union to be an instrument of opposition is weakened. However, unions could still continue to protect the interests of their members by taking up grievances on behalf of groups and individuals who are in dispute with the elected management bodies. They should certainly seek to influence the decisions and activities of management bodies, but should not be tied to them in an institutional sense.

Workers Democracy in Britain

In considering the relevance of the Yugoslav model to British conditions, two objections may arise. The First concerns the compatibility of Industrial democracy and the private ownership of industry. Does it not challenge the very origins of power which are possessed by the managers of private enterprise firms? Is it not desirable for the Labour movement to give much closer attention to the possibility of introducing experimental forms of workers’ control within existing nationalised industry. This would demonstrate the practicability of the method and point a way to the fully democratic society at which the socialist movement aims.

The second objection is more difficult to counter. Yugoslavia is a one party state. is it likely that in a multi-party state, industrial democracy could be introduced with any guarantee of its permanence? Would not the anti-socialist forces exert such pressure that the system was undermined whilst it was being introduced, and abolished at the first opportunity presented by the return of a Conservative government? It is probably true in Yugoslavia that the permission of opposition views and organisations could generate counter-revolutionary forces which would seriously retard the evolution of the system. The government and the Party clearly fear this. Thus after flirting with Djilas’ heresies, which included the advocacy of a second – though socialist – party, the leadership decided against taking the risk. This is the point at which Yugoslav experience ceases to be helpful to us.

We should not therefore assume that the introduction of industrial democracy in the British context is impracticable. There are signs that unease concerning status at work has penetrated through to the political arena. Liberal party references to ‘syndicalism’ and the long-awaited Conservative Industrial Charter are manifestations of this. These schemes relate to the improvement of the position of workers within the present hierarchical framework, and do not tackle the root of the problem. We would expect that the early demonstration of the viability of a system of democratic control within the nationalised industries would generate enthusiasm for the idea and lead to demands for its extension. The British political system certainly restricts the speed of change, but a change which has become truly popular is difficult to reverse (e.g. The National Health Service). We believe that the Labour Party could, by taking the first steps towards democracy within nationalised industry, transform what has been an electoral embarrassment and a millstone into its biggest asset.

See Part 3 for my own conclusions.

The Origins of the Anti-Semitic Khazar Smear against the Jews

May 8, 2017

One of the smears against Jews is the accusation that they aren’t really descended from the ancient Israelites, but are really descended from the Khazars, a Turkish tribe in what is now southern Russia, who converted to Judaism in the early Middle Ages.

It’s an obscure, fringe theory, which very few people have probably heard about. It seems to have emerged as a particularly nasty offshoot of British Israelitism in the 1920s and ’30s. Donna Kossy devotes a few pages to it in her chapter on the Anglo-Israelites in her book, Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief (Portland, Oregon: Feral House 1994) 12-20.

Anglo-Israelitism, or British Israelitism, is the belief that the British peoples, and those descended from them in the Commonwealth and United States are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites of the Bible. The movement was started by John Wilson, who published Our Israelitish Origin in 1840. The idea was then taken up and publicised by Edward Hine. Wilson and Hine weren’t anti-Semites. They believed that the British were descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel, and that the Jews were therefore their brethren. Hine hoped that when the British realised their true descent from the lost tribes, they would join the Jews, who he believed were descended from Judah and Levi, in the Holy Land. The 12 tribes of Israel would be reunited, leading to Christ’s return in the Second Coming.

Kossy notes, however, that this theory was later used by anti-Semites and other racists to justify their hatred of other groups. Hine despised the various indigenous peoples, whose lands were invaded and conquered by the British, and felt they were on their way to extinction. These included Aboriginal Australians, the Maoris, and also the Irish, whom he identified with the Canaanites.

The foremost leader of British Israelitism in America was Howard B. Rand, who had been variously a lawyer, inventor and small businessman in Haverhill, Massachusetts. In 1928 he founded the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America, declaring himself to be its National Commissioner. Nine years later, in 1937, he founded Destiny Publications, to publish his writings about the movement. After the War he also tried to get himself elected as the Prohibition candidate for the office of Attorney General in Massachusetts.

Rand decided that the Jews were only descended from the southern kingdom of Judah, and stated that the Jewish exiles who returned from Babylon intermarried with Hittites and other gentile races. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD the Jewish nation, he believed, ceased to exist. Individual Jews, however, moved north and intermarried with the Khazars. Meanwhile, the Jews captured by the Assyrians moved west, becoming the Goths, and then the Germanic peoples of Britain, Scandinavia and Germany. (Pp. 14-15). Another writer who claimed that the Jews were really descended from the Khazars was Lothrop Stoddard, in his 1926 book, The Pedigree of Judah.

These ideas have since become a part of the various extreme right-wing movements that came to prominence in the 1990s through their confrontations with the federal authorities. Randy Weaver, who fought off the FBI for a week after they sought to arrest him on firearms charges, was a British Israelite, who believed that America was under the secret domination of the Jews, who formed the Zionist Occupation Government.

This bizarre anti-Semitic conspiracy theory comes from the view of the British Israelites that the Jews were pretending to be the true descendants of ancient Israel as part of their schemes for world domination. This is stated by one ‘Wm. Norman Saxon’, in his book, The Mask of Edom, published by Howard Rand’s Destiny Publications in 1985. (See Kossy, p. 16).

The idea that the Jews aren’t truly descended from ancient Israel, but are impostors descended from Khazars, and are plotting world domination is dangerous, ahistorical nonsense. And back in the 1990s there was real concern about the threat posed by the Militia movement in America, many of whose members believed strongly that the Zionist Occupation Government was a reality, and was determined to enslave and destroy the White race.

There is a people, the Karaim, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for ‘Readers’, living in the Crimea, Southern Ukraine and Lithuania, whose religion is Judaism, and who speak a Turkic language, that is, their language is related to Turkish and other, similar languages. As Jews, their language contains a large number of loans words from Hebrew, such as Adonai, ‘God’, sem, ‘name’, and guf, ‘body’. See Bernard Comrie, The Languages of the Soviet Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1981) 49. They are believed to be ‘a unique survival of Judaism as the official religion of the Khazar empire’. (Comrie, p. 47). Recognising their ethnic origins as remnants of the Khazar state certainly does not give any support whatsoever to the accusation that this applies to the Jewish people as a whole.

Kenneth Surin on Brexit and May’s Corporate Attack on the Poor

April 20, 2017

On Tuesday, Counterpunch published a long piece by their contributor, Kenneth Surin, on Theresa May’s plans for Brexit, and how this will inevitably harm the poor and the working people of this Sceptred Isle. And it’s what you’re already expecting, if you’ve read the Groaniad, those bits of the I newspaper that are still even remotely genuinely liberal, and bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political, the Canary, Another Angry Voice, The Void and so on. May, he predicts, will talk a hard Brexit in order to counter some of the opposition from the Tory Right, but will leave some room for a soft Brexit. She, Boris Johnson, and the other vicious grotesques currently infesting the halls of power, want to use it to turn Britain into a tax haven. So he predicts that the City of London and its connections to some very dodgy individuals – he has a paragraph giving the names of some of them – will get even murkier. But, as he points out, Britain already is a tax haven through the Channel Islands.

He states that we are likely to be given a very hard deal by the EU. He states that there was friction between Britain and the European Union as while the EU represents the power of corporate capital, it draws a line on their direct influence in government. The lingering Social Democratic tradition in these countries, like France, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations, means that the government governs for industry, but is not run like an industry. Unlike the Neoliberal vision, exported to Britain from the US, which wants government to be run exactly like a business.

He also predicts that May and her grotty team will inflict further misery on the poor, because that’s what appeals to the right-wing British press, like ‘the foreigner Murdoch’ and the ‘tax-dodging, Nazi-supporting Rothermere family’. The Tories will follow Farage, and privatise the NHS, just as the are already privatising services and levying charges for them.

He also rebuts May’s feigned concern for those ‘Just About Managing’, or the JAMs. Despite all the crocodile tears she and her cronies shed, she has done absolutely nothing for them. Wages are still stagnant, the opportunities to upgrade one’s skills are similarly being cut, as are welfare services to support the poor and unemployed.

Surin begins his article also by pointing out that when it comes to the day, the vote on Brexit is likely to be influenced by factors and issues that aren’t really relevant. He also talks about the way May has already shot herself in the foot by trying to promote Brexit using images of places, which have actually benefitted from the EU. Like the northern shipyards, which were given a million pound grant.

Surin begins his piece

“So at this moment of change [Brexit], we must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that works for all”.

— Theresa May

“My plan for Britain is not just a plan to leave the EU but a plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, underpinned by genuine economic and social reform. To make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few”.

— Theresa May

The UK’s Brexit roll-out is a constantly evolving project, zig zagging along because the Tories in charge of it, like everyone else, have no real idea of how it will culminate. So far it has been ad hockery all the way, though one or two of the project’s connecting threads are starting to be visible.

One week, Theresa “the woman without qualities” May, who voted against Brexit, is in favour of a “hard” Brexit (basically one involving no deal of any kind with the EU regarding the single market and immigration), the next she softens her tone and hints that a more placative agreement with the EU, amounting to a “soft” Brexit, might be welcomed in whatever hoped-for way.

Nothing was more symbolic of this chaos and muddled-thinking than the most recent pro-Brexit television broadcast by May, which showed her against the background of ships moving in the Scottish port of Aberdeen.

Oops– the port of Aberdeen was granted a €258 million loan from the European Investment Bank on 20 June 2016, just 3 days before the UK voted to leave the EU!

It all seems to depend on how much heat the pro-Brexit right-wing of her party, citing that chimerical entity “sovereignty”, can turn on her.

Her predecessor, “Dodgy Dave” Cameron, weary of feeling this heat, called the Brexit referendum to cool down his party’s right-wing, absolutely confident in his nonchalantly patrician way that Brits would consider themselves better-off by remaining in the EU.

Such referenda, although purportedly on a single-issue, tend invariably to have outcomes determined very much by the mood of the electorate, which is affected by a plethora of considerations having nothing specifically to do with the issue officially on the table on referendum day.

***

May’s calculation requires her to “talk” a hard Brexit, to neutralize the right-wingers who ended her predecessor’s political career, and to gain the support of the right-wing press– owned by the foreigner Murdoch, the Nazi-supporting and tax-dodging Rothermere family, Richard “Dirty Des” Desmond (the former head of a soft porn empire), the tax-dodging Barclay brothers, and a Russian oligarch.

This overseas-domiciled and tax-dodging (in the cases mentioned) crew have set the low-information agenda for those inclined towards Brexit, so May’s strategy, if we can call it that, has been accommodating towards their hard Brexit stance, while leaving things vague enough for loopholes to enable a “softish” Brexit if needed.

May, craving electoral success, has to cater to all sides and eventualities. The results are likely to be calamitous for the UK.

Why is this?

May’s primary objective is to convey the impression that Brexit will “work for all”.

Alas there is no evidence for this claim.

***

The UK’s pro-Brexit movement, in the absence of anything resembling a Lexit, is not going to be shackled by this or that constraint previously imposed by the EU.

For instance, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Trump’s non-American sycophant par excellence, though a minimal figure, has always advocated the privatization of the NHS. And this is exactly what the Tories have been pursuing by stealth since 2010.

***

May has already said she “stands ready” to use Brexit as an opportunity to turn the UK into a tax haven, or as the financial press euphemistically puts it, “a low-tax financial centre”. It is already one of course (this being the primary function of the islands of Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, and Gibraltar).

What May clearly means is that London’s financial sector, which is already awash in murky water, will become an even muddier swamp able to match similar swamps in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Panama, Hong Kong, Singapore, and so forth. Dwellers of these swamps include assorted drug dealers, human traffickers, gun runners, owners of illegal gambling syndicates…

***

In addition to May desiring this state of affairs for the City of London, it is clear from the composition of the team put together by the secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox to negotiate post-Brexit trade deals, that Brexit UK is going to pursue a thoroughgoing pro-corporate agenda.

***

This corporate bonanza will probably be accompanied by a weakening of environmental regulations, since most of the leading Brexiteers are climate-change deniers or supporters of fracking (and in most cases, both).

Pro-Brexit climate-change deniers include Farage, Michael Gove (who tried to ban climate change from the school curriculum when he was education minister), the foreign minister Boris “BoJo” Johnson, Thatcher’s finance minister Nigel Lawson, and the above-mentioned Liam Fox.

***

This hugely attractive and compassionate bunch (sic) are not going to be too concerned about pollution, biodiversity, natural habitats, animals abused by industrial farming, climate change, the prohibition of lethal pesticides, declining fish stocks, the international trade in endangered species, and the use of GMOs, when the agribusiness corporations howl about environmental regulation being a burden to them.

There will be no remotely green agenda under this ghastly crew.

***

May prates on about her deep concern for “just about managing” families (JAMs), but the austerity agenda passed on by the disastrous former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is being implemented with only a slight cosmetic tweak here and there.

The UK economy has grown since 2010, but, according to the Guardian, 7.4 million Brits, among them 2.6 million children, live in poverty despite being from working families (amounting to 55% of these deemed poor) — 1.1 million more than in 2010-11.

The report cited by the Guardian, produced by the reputable Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that the number living below the Minimum Income Standard – the earnings, defined by the public, required for a decent standard of living – rose from 15 million to 19 million between 2008/9 and 2014/5. The UK’s population is 65 million.

These 19 million people, or just under 1/3rd of the UK’s population, are its JAMs.
***

Social care is becoming increasingly unaffordable for them, the NHS is starting to charge for treatment as it undergoes a backdoor privatization, they have fewer opportunities for upskilling in order to raise their incomes, and so on. This while their wages are stagnant even as the cost of living is increasing for them.

***

Such important and pressing issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, but they are not.

The Tories pro-corporate Brexit agenda has become the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

***

Many have a name for what is really and truly going on in the UK and US: class warfare.

The bastards have the underprivileged by the throat. All the mainstream political parties are terrified of offending them, if they haven’t already thrown their lot in with the bastards.

What is desperately needed, for the dispossessed and disadvantaged, is a reversal of this situation, in which many firm hands turn round and grasp the throats of those responsible for the misery of tens of millions of people.

Is there anyone in the almost moribund Labour party, torn apart by infighting caused by its still significant Blairite remnant, capable of saying any of the above unequivocally?

Go read the rest of the article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/18/the-calm-determined-stronger-fairer-uk-brexit-zig-zag/

In answer to Surin’s final question, yes, there are plenty of people in the Labour party willing to point all this out. They’ve tried to do so ad infinitum. But the Blairites and the Tory media are doing their best to stop that message getting out. They never report what they say about the detrimental attacks the Tories and Blair have made on the welfare state, the NHS and the economy, but selectively quote them in order to make it all fit the narrative that Corbyn and his wing of the party are ignoring these issues. And it’s done deliberately to fit the narrative of Corbyn as a Trotskyite entryist.

It’s why I’m afraid that the next two months will be a very hard struggle for everyone desperate to save Britain from the corporatist swamp created by the Thatcherites and their media lickspittles.

Wartime Conference on Science, Philosophy, Religion and Democracy

March 12, 2017

I found a copy of the 1942 book, Science, Philosophy and Religion: Second Symposium, over a decade ago now in a secondhand bookshop in Totnes in Devon. As the above title page states, this comes from a conference on science, philosophy and religion and their relation to the democratic way of life, held in New York in 1942. The conference was held at Columbia University and was the successor to the first symposium, held a year earlier. The book was a collection of papers by leading members of the above disciplines, edited by Lyman Bryson and Louis Finkelstein. These were intended to show how these areas of research and experience supported democracy against the advance of the totalitarian regimes in Europe.

The volume has the following contents

I Democracy’s Challenge to the Scientist, by Caryl P. Haskins;
II Democracy and the Natural Science, Karl F. Herzfeld;
III Some Comments on Science and Faith, Hudson Hoagland;
IV The Comparative Study of Culture of the Purposive Cultivation of Democratic Values, by Margaret Mead;
V The Basis for Faith in Democracy, Max Schoen.
VI Pragmatism, Religion and Education, John L. Childs;
VII Liberal Education and Democracy;
VIII A Philosophy of Democratic Defense, Charles Hartshorne;
IX The Role of Law in a Democracy, Frank E. Horack, Jr.
X Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy;
XI, Empiricism, Religion and Democracy, Charles W. Morris;
XII Philosophical Implications of the Prevalent Conception of Democracy;
XIII The Spiritual Basis of Democracy, by the Princeton Group;
XIV Thomism and Democracy, by Yves R. Simon.
XV Democracy and the Rights of Man, Paul Weiss.
XVI The Stake of Art in the Present Crisis, George Boas.
XVIII An Approach to the Study of History, William G. Constable;
XIX Literature and the Present Crisis, Joseph Wood Krutch.
XX How Long is the Emergency, Mark Van Doren.
XXI Democratic Culture in the Light of Modern Poetry.
XXII Democratic Aspirations in Talmudic Judaism, Ben Zion Bokser.
XXIII Democracy in the Hebrew-Christian Tradition; Old and New Testaments, Millar Burrows;
XXIV Christianity and Democracy from the Point of View of Systematic Christian Theology, Nels F.S. Ferre;
XXV Philosophical Foundations of Religion and Democracy, Willliam O’Meara;
XXVI The Patristic Christian Ethos and Democracy, Albert C. Outler.

There is also a section of addresses. These are

I The Faith and Philosophy of Democratic Government, A.A. Berle, Jr.
II The Function of Law in a Democratic Society, Charles E. Clark.
III The Artist and the Democratic Way of Life, Walter Pach.
IV Democracy in Our Times, M.L. Wilson.
V The Religious Background of Democratic Ideas, Simon Greenberg, Clarence Mannion, Luther A. Weigle.

I’ve dug it out again as I believe very strongly that this symposium and its wisdom is needed again with the current stagnation of democracy and the rise of Trump in America, UKIP in Britain and the parties of the extreme right in Europe. The basis of democracy in the West has been gradually undermined over the last 30-odd years, ever since the election of Thatcher and Reagan. Successive governments in Britain and America have been determined to work for the benefit of rich, corporate paymasters against the poor and middle class. There has been a massive redistribution of wealth upwards, as welfare services have been slashed and outsourced, industries privatised and closed down, and public utilities sold off. As wages have stagnated, the corporate elite have seen their pay grossly inflated. Their taxes have been cut, while those for the poor have actually been increased.

As a result of this concentration on the demands of corporate political donors, recent studies by Harvard University and the Economist have concluded that America is no longer a full democracy. It is a ‘flawed democracy’, or even oligarchy.

At the same time governments in Britain and America have also supported the massive expansion of the surveillance state under the pretext of countering terrorism. At the same time, the rights of workers to strike, and ordinary people to protest, have been curtailed. David Cameron’s Tory administration tried to introduce a series of reforms to block street demonstrations and protests under the guise of preventing residents for suffering the nuisance caused by them.

We also have Tory and Republican administrations that insist that only their view of history should be taught in schools. Michael Gove a few years ago made a ridiculous speech complaining about the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War taught in schools, while the educational authorities in Arizona withdrew studies of slavery and the civil rights movement from the school syllabus. Instead, pupils in that state were to be taught the speeches of Ronald Reagan.

Donald Trump’s administration is overtly anti-immigration, particularly of Latinos and Muslims. It includes members of the Alt Right, like Steve Bannon and Curtis Ellis, who hold bitterly racist views. Many of Trump’s supporters are White supremacists and Nazis. UKIP and Brexit in Britain have also led to an increase in racism and racist violence against ethnic minorities. At the same time, these movements have also promoted hatred towards gays and the transgendered. And similar movements are attempting to take power or increase their gains across Europe, from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the Alternative Fuer Deutschland in Germany, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, Jobbik in Hungary, and other extreme right-wing parties in Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia.

Democracy, tolerance, pluralism and the rights of the poor are under threat. The threat in America and western Europe isn’t as overt and violent as it was when the Fascists seized power from the 1920s onwards. But it is there, and desperately needs to be resisted.

Economist Declares America ‘Not Full Democracy’

February 3, 2017

In this video, TYT Politic’s Jeff Waldorf discusses a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which states that America is no longer a ‘full democracy’. The magazine annual scores countries around the world according to a system of five categories. These are electoral pluralism and democracy, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. Nations are ranked according to a descending scale from full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid democracy and authoritarian. To be considered a full democracy, a country must have a score of 8.00 and over. America has slipped from 8.05 to 7.98, making it a ‘flawed democracy’ along with France, Italy and Japan for the first time in its history.

Waldorf argues that although it’s tempting to blame this on Donald Trump, he’s only been present for about a week, and the decline in American democracy has been going on for much longer. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. He argues that the real cause is the influence of the rich and powerful in politics. He notes that other studies have concluded, in his words, that America ‘is an oligarchy with elections’. He makes the point that not all rich people are necessarily bad, and that many support the same policies he supports, such as LGBT equality. However, the system works so that the rich are able to buy adverts promoting their policies at the expense of those that favour working and middle class people. A study has found that legislation benefiting these groups, rather than the corporate donor elite, is only passed 18 per cent of the time. Pro-LGBT legislation was passed members of the elite as well as the majority of ordinary Americans supported it. However, when the corporate rich are hostile to particular legislation, like the minimum wage, there is far more difficulty getting it passed. Most Americans, including half of the Republican party, believe the minimum wage should be higher. However, the corporate rich are largely opposed to this, as it will damage profits. And so in certain areas, it is actually illegal for the state authorities to pass legislation raising the minimum wage.

Waldorf also mentions the various countries that the report states comprise each particular category of its democratic index. North Korea, unsurprisingly, is an authoritarian regime, along with Syria. Morocco is one of the ‘hybrid’ regimes. The most democratic country, however, is Norway, followed by the other Scandinavian countries and Ireland. Britain is ranked the 16th most democratic country.

Waldorf notes that America is not alone in its slide towards authoritarianism. The report states that half of the 167 countries surveyed have seen a decline in the quality of their democracy. Waldorf states that this is due to neoliberalism. As more services are privatised, it sets up a vicious cycle which sees more right-wing politicians elected, who privatise more services in order to stop government from working.

Waldorf also suggests a number of ways in which American political culture and democracy could be restored. These include getting the money out of politics, more political parties, restoring section 5 of the voting rights act, making registration to vote compulsory and making voting easier. He also recommends ending the corporate nature of the media, where anchors sitting in a studio earn $20 million a year for reading the news, but have absolutely nothing in common with their lower or middle class viewers, and do not represent their interests.

This study and its analysis by the TYT’s man exactly describes the crisis in American democracy and its causes. A study a few years ago by, I think, Harvard political scientists concluded that America was an elected oligarchy, in which both parties served the corporate elite rather than the common man and woman. He’s also right about the way many ordinary people are alienated from political life, because the policies embraced by their elected representatives actively hurt them in favour of the corporate elite. The Harvard study noted that approval ratings of Congress really only polled a maximum of 25 per cent, and very often much less, down to the low teens, because Americans justifiably felt their politicians were ignoring them.

I am, however, surprised at Britain having a relatively high rating, even if we are only the 16th most democratic country according to the survey. Successive governments since Thatcher have followed America in legislating for the benefit of rich corporations. John Major’s administration was notorious for its corporate sleaze, while Blair did everything he could to increase the dominance of leaders of industry over the machinery of government, appointing managing directors like David Sainsbury to important government posts.

I also take issue with Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn being described as ‘populists’. Populism usually denotes right-wing demagogues, who offer their followers a false democracy, pretending to represent working class interests while at the same time standing for a range of policies, including racism, which harm their working class followers. The examples are Trump and the Republicans in the US, and the Tories and UKIP over here. Corbyn and Sanders aren’t populists, because they genuinely represent the working and lower middle classes hurt by neoliberalism. They also aren’t at all racist. In fact, both are quite definitely anti-racism and discrimination, despite the smears of the Israel lobby. What they do represent is a threat to the corporate domination of the established left-wing parties, such as the Clintonite Democrats in America and the Blairites in the Labour party over here. And thus Sanders and Corbyn are smeared as ‘populists’ by the neoliberal elite determined to misrepresent itself as occupying the moderate centre ground, when they are as responsible as the right-wing parties for establishing the power of the major corporations at the expense of the electorate.

On both sides of the Atlantic, people need to wake up to the decline in the quality of democracy caused by neoliberalism and corporate power, and fight back. We need to curb corporate donations and the appointment of managing directors to political office, so that our governments represent us, not big business.

C.A.R. Crosland on the Anti-Democratic Nature of the British Public School System

June 28, 2016

I found this description of the profoundly anti-democratic nature of the British public school system, and its pernicious effect in creating class inequality and blocking genuine modernisation and social, political and technological improvements in British society in C.A.R. Crosland’s The Conservative Enemy: A Programme of Radical Reform for the 1960s (London: Jonathan Cape 1962). Despite the fact that this was written well over fifty years ago, it’s still, unfortunately, very true and is amply demonstrated by the current Tory government, headed as it is by the old Etonian limpet, David Cameron.

The public schools offend not only against the ‘weak’, let alone the ‘strong’, ideal of equal opportunity; they offend even more against any ideal of social cohesion or democracy. This privileged stratum of education, the exclusive preserve of the wealthier classes, socially and physically segregated from the state educational system, is the greatest single cause of stratification and class-consciousness in Britain.

It is not, of course, the only cause. The effect of being for so long a great imperial power, and the psychology of discipline, hierarchy, and master-subject relationships which this induced; the persistence (and indeed continual reinforcement ) of an hereditary aristocracy; the absurd flummery surrounding the Monarchy; the obsessive snobbery (even amongst a section of the intelligentsia) about birth and titles; the deep-seated differences in accent; the national propensity to kowtow and manoeuvre for precedence – these would produce strong feelings of social deference and superiority whatever the educational system.

But the school system is the greatest divisive influence. It is no accident that Britain, the only advanced country with a national private elite system of education, should also be the most class-ridden country. The Scandinavian countries, the least class-ridden, have no significant private sector; such few private schools as exist are mainly for backward children. In France, while many private primary schools exist, middle-class children normally go tot he public lycee at the secondary stage. In Germany there are half a dozen would-be-English public schools. But only an insignificant minority even of wealthier children attend them, and the carry no national prestige; an Old Salem boy may care as passionately about his alma mater as an Old Etonian, but his prospective employer or bank manager, let along the rest of the population, could not care less. In the United States, it is true, there are not only a large number of non-exclusive private Catholic schools, but a growing number of ‘smart’ upper-class private schools which, being often academically superior to the state schools, confer an advantage in getting into the best universities. But disturbing as this trend is, these schools still do not constitute a nation-wide elite system with the divisive social influence of the English public schools; nor, given the anti-elitist psychology of the American people, are they ever likely to.

No historically-minded champion of the public schools could possibly deny that schools can have either an integrative or divisive social influence. For it was indeed the historic function of the public schools in the nineteenth century to assimilate the sons of the new and self-made middle class into the ranks of the hereditary ruling class; and even today they fulfil an integrative role for the sons of self-made men. Similarly the American high school, whatever else may be said about it, has brilliantly fulfilled the function of assimilating ethnically diverse groups into a common national culture. (As a matter of fact, most of what else is said about it by English critics is false. They always assume that its lower educational standards are due to the fact of its being ‘comprehensive’, whereas in reality they are due, as the quite different Swedish experience demonstrates, to certain specifically American factors – the attachment to ‘life-adjustment’ education, the automatic ‘social promotion by age groups and the lack of grading by ability, the preference for vocational courses, the acute shortage of teachers, the low quality of many of the teachers, and so on.) A school system can either increase or diminish social disparities; and the British public schools manifestly increase them.

And they do not even, today, provide efficient leadership. It is again no coincidence that Britain, the only country with a national elite system of private boarding schools, from which its leadership is still disproportionately drawn, should be falling so badly behind other democratic countries in the achievement of widely-accepted national goals – behind western Europe in economic performance, Scandinavia in social welfare and urban planning, the United States in technology and innovation. In the nineteenth century the public schools, disagreeable as they may have been, did at least train a leadership perfectly fitted to the needs of a growing empire. For this training, their characteristic features – the boarding, the hierarchical discipline, the emphasis on games, the carefully-nurtured sense of innate superiority – were precisely apt. They are not, however, (although now considerably modified), equally apt for a mid-twentieth-century world full of computers, Communism, trade unions and African nationalism. This is hardly surprising. The quality of leadership is not, after all, an absolute and unvarying quality. It is specific to particular situations; and what makes for good leadership in one situation may make for bad leadership in another. The public schools today, although providing ‘a good education’ in a rather narrow sense, do not generate the right type of leadership for a democratic, scientific, welfare world.

Almost every emphasis which they inculcate – on manners and ‘character’, on the all-rounder and the amateur, on the insular, the orthodox and the traditional – is wrong from the point of view of contemporary goals. it is this which partly explains those national characteristics which are at long last becoming the subject of widespread hostile comment: the reluctance to innovate, the refusal to grapple with problems, the lack of pride in maximum professional achievement, and the cult of the gifted amateur, of the smooth and rounded Wykehamist who can turn his hand to anything with a natural, effortless superiority, and with no need to stoop to the humourless professionalism of Huns or Yanks. Fundamentally this reflects a failure of English elite education to achieve the highest of all education ideals: that of fostering inquiry, dissent, and critical intellectuality. A country in which the most damning insult which Lord Salisbury could fling at Mr Iain Macleod was that he is ‘too clever by half’ is not a good prospect in the modern world. Some of our upper classes are as anti-intellectual as the Know-Nothings.

But this attitude might be attributable to aristocracy, not to the schools themselves. Unfortunately, parallel faults can found in those fields which traditional represent the culmination of the British elite system of education: the Civil Service, and Oxford and Cambridge. Beautifully adapted to its pristine task of administering a going concern without excessive interference, the British Civil Service remains notable for its honesty, industry and administrative competence. But it has failed to adapt to a world which requires the long rather than the short view, active planning rather than passive administration, novel rather than traditional ideas. Thus the Treasury has been astonishingly behind France, Holland and Sweden in adopting long-term economic planning. The Foreign Office was ponderously slow to wake up to the existence of new and revolutionary post-war situations in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Ministries of Health and National Insurance have introduced new social policies without even a research unit to investigate their probably effects. The Ministry of Education takes decisions for or against different types of school without conducting any research into their different consequences, and has little idea of how many teachers we need to carry out its own policies. The typical Whitehall attitude of mind-thorough and precise, but pedantic and unadventurous – is in part a reflection of the Oxford and Cambridge background from which most Civil Servants come. But are Oxford and Cambridge really as good as Harvard and the Sorbonne! Their farcical performance over the introduction of sociology – a lamentable compound of hidebound traditionalism and facetious superciliousness – makes one doubt it….

The need is not for more public-school-type education for the top few per cent of the population. Indeed, the whole notion of an elite-type education is inappropriate in Britain today. For both our greatest need and our largest untapped resource now lie below the level of the cleverest few per cent – although disastrously many even of these are still slipping through the net. From the viewpoint of efficiency as well as equality, we need less concentration on an educational elite and more on the average standard of attainment.

The case against the public schools, then, has grown stronger even in the last few years. First, the type of leadership which they provide is seen to be less and less appropriate to the national goals of the 1960s. Secondly, as we grasp the fact that intelligence is partly an acquired characteristic, we see even more clearly that the whole notion of an exclusive and privileged education is inconsistent with equality of opportunity. Thirdly, despite the gradual process of democratic reform in other directions, the socially divisive influence which these schools exert show disturbingly little sign of abating. (pp.174-8).

This is clearly a dated piece, as Britain was, until we left the EU, something like the fifth largest economy in the world, and England has led the world in the number of patents that come out of our universities, quite apart from the more obvious points such as the collapse of Communism. But as this government’s policies amply demonstrate, the wealth is increasingly concentrate in a very narrow circle of the extremely rich, at the expense of everyone else. And while Britain may be scientifically immensely innovative, those innovations have tended to be developed elsewhere. Maglev transport is a case in point. The idea of trains powered by magnetic levitation was the idea of the British scientist, Laithwaite. There were serious experiments in its application by British Rail, until this was axed during the cost-cutting of the early 1970s. Research was then taken over by the Germans. Which partly explains why Volkswagen’s slogan, Vorsprung durch Technik – something like ‘Advance through Technology’, isn’t translated into English.

In short, the main function of the British public schools is to lock the upper classes in power, and the rest of the country in a quasi-feudal class servility. And one of its products, Boris Johnson, looks like he’s going to be the next PM.

Oh, couldn’t we have at last at least one leader, who went to a comprehensive!

The Conservatives and the Sale of Council Housing in Britain and Sweden

May 15, 2016

I’ve put up a couple of pieces, one today and one yesterday, which attempt to expand an article Mike put up on his blog, Vox Political, about the housing shortage and the scandalous rise in evictions. These have now doubled. This ultimately comes back to the Tory sale of council houses under Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. This was deliberately designed to turn Britain into a home-owning democracy. The stock of council housing was deliberately reduced, and over the years former council houses have been bought up by housing associations and private landlords. As a result, rents in some areas have risen to the point where they are unaffordable.

Michael Sullivan in his book, The Development of the British Welfare State, notes that the Tories took their ideas for Housing Association, as a non-state solution to the housing crisis at the beginning of the ’60s, from Sweden and the Scandinavian countries.

In 1961 the Conservative government, struggling with evidence that the crisis was deepening not tapering out re-introduced substantial subsidies for new build, but, under Joseph, the Ministry of Housing was already turning to new ideas about housing for the poor. Officials seeking non-state solutions to the housing problem visited Scandinavia to investigate their not-for-profit housing association. Sir Keith, already an innovator, invested £25 million in a pilot project in 1961. In 1963, the fruit of that investment twelve two-bedroomed flats in Birmingham, took their first housing association tenants. Here, then, though from social democratic Scandinavia, was an idea that was to take root 20 years later in education and health: the publicly funded but independently managed provider of services. In the dog days of the Conservative government, a jubilant Sir Keith announced a £100 million grant to the newly formed Housing Corporation so that the idea of housing associations could spread. (P. 215).

It is therefore ironic that Sweden is also facing a housing crisis of its own, due to the importation of British Conservative housing policies in the 1990s under a Conservative administration. In 2013 riots erupted in an ethnically mixed sink estate, the product of the government’s abandonment of the social housing policies of Social Democratic administrations. This resulted in the creation of nearly all-White, affluent areas from which the poor were excluded through high rents. Owen Hatherley of the Guardian reported:

Under conservative governments in the 1990s and 2000s, housing began to be privatised, with predictable results, especially given the British experience. Flats in the most desirable areas – here, the city centre – rocketed in price. Yet Stockholm has kept building, and British architects and planners have kept visiting. The “success story” is Hammarby Sjöstad, a waterside scheme which shames the likes of Salford Quays. As much as Vällingby, it shows the virtues of long-term planning over speculation.

But although some of Hammarby was built by the municipality, it’s a wealthy and overwhelmingly white area, and rents are high. It offers little to those exiled to the peripheral million programmes. Hammarby implies that in Sweden, social democracy was only abandoned for the poor. Its innovations were retained for a bourgeoisie whose new areas are far more humane than those provided for them by British developers.

In Stockholm, the centre was cleared of the poor – the likely consequences in London of coalition’s housing policies. The stark segregation visible there means that for the first time, it should stand as an example to London’s planners of what not to do.

To read the Guardian’s article, go to: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/16/sweden-housing-programme-privatisation

The newspaper, The Swedish Wire, also carried a piece about the recommendations of the Swedish building workers’ union and its leader, Hans Tilly in 2010. It stated clearly that the Conservative government’s free market policies had failed. More new homes needed to be built, existing homes renovated and improved, especially for the needs of the elderly and handicapped.

Among the unions’ recommendations were the following points:

Do something tangible about the housing situation of young people. Today’s youth is the first generation that is having greater problems finding somewhere to live compared to their parents’ generation. Therefore we should invest in more rental housing….

Pursue a social housing policy. Everyone must have the right to their own home and this right is often a prerequisite when it comes to giving our children a good environment to grow up in.

• Establish a new Ministry for Community Development. For far too long, these issues have been divided between different policy areas. Hence, what is required is a firm grasp of construction, housing and living environment, infrastructure etc.

The present government’s housing policy is frightening. The coalition government is, however, obviously quite satisfied with what it has achieved when it comes to housing policy. Its motto is choice. The housing policy is to a large extent a non-issue for the present government. The government’s Spring Budget for 2010 gives a summary of what the government itself claims to have done as regards housing policy since 2006. 19 lines describe how the government has worked to achieve a better functioning housing market, how those living in the Million Homes Programme areas have been given the opportunity to buy their homes and how the government has introduced a system of owner occupancy in newly built blocks of flats.

See the article at: http://www.swedishwire.com/opinion/4987-swedens-housing-policy-has-failed

Across the world, Conservative housing policies have failed. They are only creating poverty, social exclusion and homelessness. The time is long past that they should be abandoned.