Posts Tagged ‘Sexism’

Nestle, Pinkwashing and the Corporate Enslavement of Black Africans

July 5, 2021

Apart from the mad internet radio host, Alex Belfield, another right wing YouTube channel I keep an eye on is The Lotus Eaters, with Sargon of Gasbag, alias Carl Benjamin, and his friends. It annoys me with its calm assumption that capitalism is perfect, more privatisation and deregulation will lift the world’s starving billions out of poverty and their casual sneers against the left. I found their review of Ze’ev Sternhell’s latest book on Fascism, Neither Left Nor Right, absolutely unwatchable because of the massive amount of ignorance about the subject, and just intellectual history generally. Sternhell’s an Israeli who grew up in Poland during the Nazi invasion. He’s a very well respected scholar of Fascism, not surprisingly. But Benjamin and his cronies took the book as proving that Fascism is a form of socialism. This idea is rampant on the right. This ignores the Fascist alliance with big business, their promotion of capitalism, and their recruitment of private sector businessmen to run the vast industrial associations through which the Nazis exercised control of industry and society. Mussolini started out as a radical socialist, but moved right to ally with the industrialists and feudal landlords to break up the socialist trade unions, smash workers’ and peasants’ cooperatives, and destroy other dangerous liberal political parties, like the Populists. The Italian Popular party was founded as a Catholic organisation, and stood for a widening of democracy including the radical step of votes for women and further rights for the workers and peasants. But the papacy at the time allied with the Fascists to smash it because it wasn’t under the control of the bishops. Yes, Mussolini’s ideal of the corporative state, in which industries are run by vast industrial associations which combine the trade unions with the employer’s organisations, sort of if someone combined the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress and then gave them a separate parliamentary chamber, was derived from anarcho-syndicalism. But it also incorporated ideas from Nationalists like Alfredo Rocco, who wanted the state to take over the trade unions from a right-wing, pro-business viewpoint. It also ignores Adolf Hitler’s adulation of the big businessman as biologically superior to the proles, his blanket refusal to nationalise anything and a speech he made to the German version of the CBI stating that business needed dictatorship to protect it. Instead you generally get a lot of waffle about how the Nazis were socialists, because they said so, but it and Fascism were different types of socialism to Communism. In fairness, this analysis of Italian Fascism does have more than an element of truth. In the words of Sargon’s matey Callum, Fascism is socialism after it dumps Communism. Which is almost true, but ignores the fact that Communism is only one form of socialism, and was so even at the time. But it excludes the fact that Mussolini and the rest were generally and fanatically pro-capitalist. The statement that it must somehow be a form of socialism rests on the Fascist’s state control of industry. But this state control is contrasted with an idealised form of free market capitalism that has never existed. And Fascist corporativism looks very much like the Blairite Third Way or modern neoliberalism, in which the heads of big corporations form government policy and and are rewarded with government posts.

It looks like Boris Johnson’s crony capitalism, and is, I fear, what we are moving towards with his continued attack on democracy and the right to protest.

However, I believe very strongly that the Lotus Eaters are absolutely right about the extremist views promoted by the far left, like Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory. So do many left-wing intellectuals, who feel that there is still a lot of racism, sexism and bigotry that needs to be tackled, but despise Critical Race Theory and Queer Theory for their rejection of objective truth and fact in favour of feelings, ideological assumptions and subjective interpretations.

It was the end of Pride Month a few days ago, and the Lotus Eaters marked the occasion by sneering at the corporate nonsense various big companies were putting out to show that they indicated Pride and gay and trans rights. I’m blogging about this not because I wish to attack genuine support for gay rights or promote intolerance towards trans people, but because some of this corporate support does seem a mite excessive. And in some cases it might even be hypocritical. The Lotus Eaters’ video included a promo video from one of the banks telling everyone to watch their pronouns around trans people. Ikea went even so far as to launch gay and trans sofas. The gay sofa has various colour straps running across it, presumably to represent the colours of the rainbow gay flag. The trans sofa has various slogans written on it, one of which is ‘No-one will believe you.’ The sofa is also decorated with prints of multicoloured hands. Various trans people appear in the video saying that they can really express their essential selves on this piece of furniture. Which makes it sound like no trans person was ever comfortable on a normal sofa before. Sargon and Callum then giggle about how the hands and slogan make the sofa creepily rape-y, and unfortunately they do have a point.

But they have a rather more serious point when they report that a legal suit brought against Nestle, one of the companies loudly promoting their support of gay and trans right, was thrown out last week by an American court. The suit was against the company’s use of enslaved Black African labour in the production of the cocoa from which their chocolate is made. The case was thrown out because the people enslaved aren’t under American jurisdiction. Sargon and Callum used it to argue that Nestle, and all the other companies, really don’t care about the various left-wing issues they claim to support, like Black Lives Matter. They just want to be seen as nice, liberal and cuddly to avoid being attacked for racism or any other form of bigotry. And in the case of gay rights, it’s called ‘pinkwashing’.

Israel’s particularly guilty of this, using the state’s official tolerance towards gay culture and the Jerusalem Pride parade to present a false liberalism and appeal to western liberals and radicals against Islam. Israel is pro-gay, even though many of its citizens are extremely conservative in their views and hate gays just like they’re hated by other religions and societies. They contrast this with the persecution of gays in contemporary Islam. But traditionally Islam was far more tolerant of homosexuality. Tele Sur’s Abbie Martin reported that when she went to Palestine, she found the situation the complete opposite of what the Israelis were claiming. Gayness was definitely tolerated, and she saw gay couples who were not persecuted at all.

Nestle’s a nasty corporation. I remember the scandal a few years ago when they were pushing their baby milk, a substance that needed to be bought after the baby was started on it, as against healthy breastfeeding in Africa. And all for corporate profit. It doesn’t surprise me that they source their cocoa from plantations using slave labour. It also bears out a comment by one of the great readers of this blog, who pointed me in the direction of an article about how the various big companies all pledging their support for Black Lives Matter were ruthless exploiters of slave, or starvation level labour in the developing world. This is all lies and corporate hypocrisy, done to impress liberal consumers in the West, while the reality is very different.

I’ve also no doubt that the example he makes of Nestle using Black African slave labour also damages his case for unrestrained capitalism. This is what unrestrained private enterprise looks like. The most horrific example of this was the Belgian Congo, now Zaire, when it was the personal fief of the Belgian king, Leopold. Leopold set up his own private police force, the Force Publique, and demanded that all Congolese produced a set amount of rubber. If they didn’t, they were beaten, mutilated and killed. Eight million Congolese died in what can only justly be described as a holocaust. This is what unrestrained global capitalism is doing today – forcing people into real slavery and poverty. We need more regulation, not less.

And I’m dam’ sure that the case against Nestle was brought by lefties outraged at this corporate enslavement for a western multinational.

Don’t be taken in by this type of false advertising, which only really applies to the West. We needed to see beyond the specious support some companies give to liberal issues like anti-racism and gay rights, and look at what is really going on elsewhere in the world.

If you want to have a look at their video, it’s entitled ‘Social Justice Is Going Over the Top’ and it’s at (2) Social Justice is Going Over the Top – YouTube. I’m not going to post it, just link to it, because, well, this is Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, and the Lotus Eaters are annoying, even when they make some decent points people on the left can also get behind.

Academics Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose On the Dangers of Post-Modern ‘Social Justice’ Ideology

May 21, 2021

I’ve commented before attacking Critical Race Theory and its rejection of conventional academic standards and norms, as well as its dangerous anti-White intolerance. But CRT is only one of a number of similar disciplines that can be grouped together under the title of ‘social justice’ ideologies that share a similar outlook and origin. These arose in the 1980s and 1990s from Post-Modernism and represent a real attack on the fundamental concepts and values of Enlightenment liberalism, individualism, science and objectivity.

The Grievance Studies Hoax

I found the video below on YouTube, entitled Applied Postmodernism – How ‘Idea Laundering’ Corrupting American Universities. It’s of a talk given by the scholars Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose at the Aspen Jewish Centre in Aspen, Colorado, on 30th July 2019. These three were so fed up with the quality and venom of ‘social justice’ pseudo-scholarship that they devised the ‘Grievance Studies’ hoax. They submitted 20 spoof papers to various postmodern academic journals, drawing on these disciplines’ previous literature to support deeply morally repugnant conclusions. One of these papers concluded that men should be trained like dogs not to participate in rape culture, while another said that straight White men at college should be trained to the floor to teach them about their privilege. Seven of these papers were accepted and a further seven were under consideration before the group ‘fessed up and they were withdrawn. Not only were these spoof papers accepted, but they were even praised approvingly by the journals’ editors. The reviewer of the paper about treating men literally like dogs called it ‘an important contribution to knowledge’.

Student Unrest at Evergreen College

The group were prompted to stage this hoax by a violent, extremist student protest at Evergreen University. This was one of the least racist universities in the US, but radical students took it over, wandering about campus with bats and dragging people out of cars, claiming that it was intolerably racist. Only one of the academics, Brett Weinstein, stood up to the students. He committed the unconscionable crime of asking them what their evidence was. This was vehemently rejected and Weinstein himself pilloried because the postmodern ideologies that motivated these students does not permit any questioning. If someone simply asks for evidence, or presents any criticism, this is seen as proof of their racism or bigotry.

Two of the academics speaking, Boghossian and Lindsay are American. The third, Helen Pluckrose, is British. She begins the talk by explaining that she was moved to start investigating and opposing these ideologies through her research as a feminist historian. She was interested in 14th century women’s spiritual writing, but was told that her research would not be accepted unless she examined it through the postmodern feminist ideological lens. If she continued pursuing her own ideological independent view, she would be blocked from doing a Masters and a doctorate. She sees herself as being attacked for standing up for the reality of biology and traditional liberal values in the broadest sense. The group are critical of the modern college environment with its safe spaces intended to protect people from encountering opposing ideas. This has created a generation of brittle students, who are unable to cope with opposing ideas when they encounter them.

Postmodern Ideologies of Power and Identity

The ‘social justice’ disciplines they attack and expose are the theoretical humanities which have arisen since the 1990s – Critical Theory, Post-Colonial Theory, Queer Theory, disability studies, fat studies and so on, which are all part of the general Cultural Studies movement, which is based on postmodern philosophy. These are founded on the ideas that knowledge isn’t something that exists independently and objectively, but is invented. Western knowledge is an oppressive system of knowledge that has been created by White men through language. It is not objective, but represents instead the universalisation of the values of these elite White men. Instead of seeing society as consisting of individuals, these disciplines see it as composed of different demographic groups with different relationships to power. White men speak with power, women and ethnic minorities have no power. The ideologies are prejudiced against great White men and western knowledge, but are favourable to women’s and eastern knowledge. These different demographic groups have different values. Science is consciously rejected as an instrument of oppression of elite White men. These disciplines demand instead that it should include feelings, personal experiences and cultural traditions. But these demands are made without any supporting rational argument.

Idea Laundering

The term ‘idea laundering’ was coined by Brett Weinstein. Just as money laundering allows criminals to present tainted money as really coming from legitimate sources, so idea laundering allows deeply flawed scholarship to gain a false respectability. It’s the process by which opinions, rather than solid fact, are published in academic journals as established, peer-reviewed research. This is then given further respectability through references in the work of other, succeeding scholars. One of the examples of this Helen Pluckrose cites is the feminist text, Doing Gender. This starts with the idea that men and women are cognitively identical, but have been socialised into different roles. The book has been immensely influential, and has spawned a number of other books with similar titles expanding and applying its ideas. And some of these are absolutely crazy. One of these books states that heterosexual men are only attracted to women because they have been socialised to do so, a complete rejection of the reality of human sexual reproduction. Another example cited is Critical Dietician Studies. This was founded by a group of postmodernists as a venue for their own papers after they were rejected by mainstream journals of nutrition. One of their papers approvingly refers to Lenin for his ideas about nutrition, despite the fact that Lenin is one of the very last people to be considered an authority on it.

Social Justice Movements’ Intolerance

The group state that they weren’t the first people to comment on this poor and highly ideologically driven scholarship, but no-one else knew what to do about it. When another critical academic, Bruce Gillie, tried to publish a paper defending colonialism, not only was it rejected but he himself received death threats. They state that their academic opponents do not play by the conventional rules of engagement. Boghossian later describes how he had someone follow him into a gents’ toilet in order to beat him up, but was fortunately prevented by the presence of Brazilian judo instructor. These highly intolerant ideas aren’t just in academia, but are increasingly found outside it. For example, there was a recent article in the Washington Post entitled ‘Why Can’t We Hate Men?’. The group state that they have received emails and inquiries asking for help from professors, students and others, including a lawyer from the Canadian equivalent of the Bar Association, the EU parliament, and even knitting and hiking groups, which have become divided by these ideologies.

Another part of this new, postmodern, ‘social justice’ scholarship they attack is the notion of White privilege. This is based on Peggy MacKintosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. This is simply concerned with perceived racial privilege rather than economic or educational privilege. It would not accept that a Black millionaire is more privileged than a homeless White man. These ideas have developed so that it states that the mere recognition by White people that they are privileged isn’t enough. They are actively complicit in it because they are born into and speak with a system of White privilege and oppression. The fundamental attitude is that racism exists everywhere, and the question is never whether it exists, but how it manifests in a particular circumstance.

Personal Politics and Strategies to Tackle Postmodernism

The group state that they aren’t Conservatives. They’re actually liberal atheists, but they believe there should be a place for Conservative scholarship in the academy. They coined the term ‘Grievance Studies’ not to deny that there were genuine grievances, but to look at the scholarship based on postmodernism using particular grievances and issues. This pseudo-scholarship is based on a profound cultural relativism, denies universal values and standards, and the individuals. Pluckrose states that as a feminist historian she wants to examine issues of social justice rigorously without deny biology. But this is impossible with postmodernism.

When asked how they intend to combat these movements, they state that they aim to do so by clearly explaining the issues and providing resources. Lindsay and Boghossian wrote a book together, How To Talk to Someone You Disagree With. Pluckrose is writing a book on the origins of the ‘social justice’ movement. I think someone has made a film about the hoax, as the group several times refer to it and the video seems to be about the panel discussion that followed a screening of the film. Boghossian talks about going into the ‘belly of the beast’, showing the film in colleges and building a movement there. They’re also constructing a website.

One major obstacle is the educational establishment. They state that teaching in the US is now based very much on a postmodern, ‘social justice’ book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This is designed to look for and attack racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry at the expense of factual learning. Another problem is that liberals aren’t pushing back against these ideas as there doesn’t seem to be a good alternative. Decent people don’t want to be seen as against social justice. The issue is therefore to show that this ‘social justice’ scholarship is illiberal by those who genuinely want equality and a level playing field.

Attacks by Opponents

The three are asked about how they have been personally affected by this affair. Pluckrose states that as an independent scholar, she isn’t at the same risk as Boghossian, a tenured academic. Nevertheless she has had her views extremely misrepresented, been called a fascist and had her family’s internet accounts cloned so that trolls can attack her online. Lindsay says that he is also independent and that his experience is therefore almost the same as Pluckrose’s, and that he has lost friends and family. He states he is against racism and sexism, but just wants the scholarship about it to be better.

It is Boghossian who has suffered the most. He states that he is hated by his colleagues at the university, and has been the target of a persistent campaign of harassment and smears. There have been hit pieces on him in newspapers. He has been accused of criminal activities and maltreating his family, who have also been targeted. Less seriously, he has also been accused of supporting Trump and being pro-life, as well as being a Nazi and a grifter. The group give a further example of how this postmodern ‘social justice’ movement is pushing ideology at the expense of fact. They cite a book for maths teachers that urges them to use the subject as a way of indoctrinating students with this ideology.

Social Justice Postmodernism Not as Popular as Appears

They believe, however, that these ‘social justice’ movements are really just a small, but very powerful and influential minority and that it is opposed by many on the left. This is the old economic left and the socialists against the new identitarian left. There is also opposition from liberals, centrists and the centre-right. I think they are quite amused by the fact that, although liberal atheists, their ideas have been adopted by the Conservative religious right and are now taught in Southern Baptist seminaries. But they believe that this small, but highly influential ideological minority is nevertheless exercising a chilling culture. They talk about performative falsification. This is when people appear to go along with ideas they don’t hold, and even become enforcers for them out of fear that they will be targeted otherwise. They talk about receiving letters from students apologising for signing petitions against them, who felt that they would suffer if they didn’t. As far as the universities go, it appears to be the elite universities that suffer the most from this ideology. Pluckrose cites here recent demonstrations at Oxford and Cambridge. The lower tier universities aren’t quite so affected, as they have more students from working class backgrounds, who want practical knowledge and can’t afford to be concerned so much with social theory.

The group believes that these ideas could not have gained their power without the internet. However, they existed in the universities as far back as the 1980s. Postmodernism first arose in the 1960s as a movement by disaffected Marxists to analyse and deconstruct the existing power structures. This petered out as they seemed to be of no practical use. They were taken up again in the 1980s at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement by scholars and activists determined to give them a practical application. An example of this is Kimberley Crenshaw and the Black identity politics, which drew very much on postmodernism.

Regarding the future, Pluckstone has great hope in student groups, who have contacted her to speak to them and send information. There is a counterbalance to the ‘social justice’ movement, but at present it can’t speak. It needs resources and to find others like them. People do need to speak freely about it. University professors want to challenge it, but feel silenced. They describe how they have been contacted by a left-wing psychologist, who wishes to tackle social justice issues, but objects to the way the ‘social justice’ movement handles them. He wanted advice on what he could do.

What Parents Can Do

The group are asked what parents can do to resist this indoctrination. This is an issue that particularly affects Pluckstone, as she is also a parent. She explains that she talks to her fifteen year old daughter about issues like freedom and equality, and that reverse racism and sexism are still racism and sexism. She advises parents that when they get messages from the school stating that they are going to teach diversity and equality, they should ask the school why they are going to teach it that way. This shows the school that they will get pushback if they are too ideological. She states that it is rather different in England, where Christianity is present in schools, but she advises them to concentrate on the rules, which are rather stronger in America, preventing religious or political indoctrination in schools.

The group also advises people to be aware of language, as there are certain ‘trojan horse’ words which smuggle in the ideology. One such is ‘equity’. This does not mean ‘equality’, but simply making up for past injustices. Another code word is ‘critical’, which in this context does not mean ‘critical thinking’. They also recommend the book Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rausch, which is suitable for 12-13 year olds, and which lays on the need to defend freedom of speech. They also attack Robin Di Angelo’s White Fragility as an example of the type of best-selling ‘social justice’ book they oppose.

They also believe that children know when they’re being lied to, and this could result in the baby being thrown out with the bath water. If the teaching becomes too ideological, not only will children reject the ideology, but also the solid teaching in which the ideology is embedded. As an example of how unselfconsciously intolerant ‘social justice’ ideology is, the group describe how they took the twelfth chapter of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, in which he describes his aims for the Nazi party, and carefully edited it to be about intersectional feminism. This was one of the spoof papers that were successfully submitted to various postmodern journals. In this instance it was taken up by a feminist journal.

A member of the audience suggests that they should produce soundbites that would appeal to fifteen year olds. The group say that they are going to produce a variety of books aimed at beginners’, intermediate, and advanced levels so to be intelligible to different people of all ages and ability. Boghossian also says that he is compiling a ‘turnkey’ syllabus for university professors.

Postmodern Attacks on Medicine

As an example of how this ideology is negatively affecting people, they talk about the use of pronouns. People are now being required to give their pronouns not as a statement of their own gender identity, but to show they are in line with the gender ideology. One of the three talks about how he personally knows one woman, who was a rape victim and very uncomfortable when she was asked what her pronouns were because of her experience. They also describe how cancer researchers have been placed under pressure by pro-fat activists not to say that obesity is a factor in some cancers because this is prejudicial against fat people. At the same time, extreme disability activists have placed medical professionals under pressure to withhold information on autism and deafness because it would be ‘ableist’ not to want to have a disabled child. This shows the power of the movement. When money corrupts academia, it’s immediately recognised and opposed. But this ideological corruption of education is much more difficult to see and so more acceptable. They also state that young people speak the jargon of postmodern social justice fluently, because they are surrounded by it all the time.

I’ve put this video up not to support the Conservative right, but because, as this group has shown, the postmodern ‘social justice’ movement is viciously intolerant and attacks fundamental ideas of individual freedom, dignity and individual worth on which western liberal society is based and which are at the heart of the politics of both the mainstream left and right.

And its because of their intolerance, divisiveness and racism and sexism that these ideas need to be fought by those on the left.

Election Promises of Labour and TUSC Candidates in Bristol Mayoral Elections

April 23, 2021

Down here in Bristol we not only have elections for the city council looming, but also for the elected mayor and police and crime commissioner. Because of health issues, not just my own but also other members of my family, we’ve arranged to have postal votes. The ballot papers arrived the other day, and enclosed with them were booklets produced by the local authority explaining the voting procedure, answering various FAQs and giving policy statements and promises from the candidates. Not only does Bristol have a Labour candidate, the present elected mayor Marvin Rees, but there’s also one from the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, Tom Baldwin. Here’s their election promises from the booklet for the mayoral election.

Mayor Marvin’s runs

Delivering for Bristol

Building a City of Hope

It is an honour to serve as Mayor of Bristol, the city I am proud to be from and where I am bringing up my family.

Together we have led Bristol in the face of the pandemic, economic downturn, social change and instability, and climate change, with the added uncertainty of Brexit. Many of us have experienced real loss this year, as people have come together like never before to support each other.

Working with partners all over Bristol, we are building a city where nobody is left behind underpinning our ambition with compassion and our commitment to sustainability. We are focused on protecting and creating jobs, and delivering for residents, we are creating jobs by bringing employers like Channel 4 to our city, bringing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment into Bristol, and delivering our mass transit system.

Together, against the odds, we are making a difference.

On 6 May, we are proudly standing on our record of delivery – including all our 2016 pledges and more. With your support, we can all keep building a more sustainable, inclusive, and ambitious Bristol: our City of Hope.”

There then follows a list of what Labour has already achieved.

“9,000 new homes, tripling affordable house-building, rough sleeping down 80%

12,000 work experiences and £9m for south Bristol construction skills centre.

99 new biogas buses, RPZ fees frozen, 75 miles of segregated cycleways

Kept all our libraries and children’s centres open

Building new schools, creating mental health training and free breakfast clubs

Best core city for recycling, deep-cleaned 700 streets, planted 60,000 trees

Won Channel 4 relocation, invested in sport and leisure centres – giving control to communities”

This is followed by his promises for the future

“Building our underground, with free travel for apprentices and students

Protecting jobs and building a living wage city

Investing £1 billion in clean energy and doubling our trees

Investing in more schools and quality work experience

Building 2,000 new homes a year – 1,000 affordable

Investing in social care, helping older people stay in their homes.”

The pages for Tom Baldwin of the TUSC state has the statement ‘TUSC Against Cuts’, and then proceeds as follows:

“Tom says: “The pandemic has exposed the huge injustices and the divide between workers and big business. We’ve had to fight for our safety as the bosses and government put profits first. Now we have to fight to protect jobs and services as they try to make us pay for the crisis.

Bristol needs a mayor who will stand up for ordinary people. I stand for a socialist society run for people not profit.”

‘The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition organises to give a voice to working-class people who have been abandoned by the main parties. It includes the RMT union and the Socialist Party, of which Tom is a member.

Tom is 37 and lives in Aston. He is an active trade unionist and campaigner.

Bristol needs a fightback

Defend jobs and services – Vote Tom Baldwin

A Socialist mayor for the millions, not the millionaires

If elected Tom will…

  • Build a mass united struggle of workers and young people to win back the council funding taken by the government.
  • Reverse all cuts to council jobs and services, move budgets based on Bristol’s needs.
  • Oppose and reverse outsourcing and privatisation.
  • Never increase council tax, rents and charges faster than wages rise
  • Push for a publicly owned, top quality and affordable public transport network, run for need not profit
  • Address the housing crisis by building thousands of council homes and capping private rents
  • Defend the right to peaceful protest
  • Fight for decent jobs. Support all campaigns to protect safety, jobs, pay and conditions, including strike action by workers
  • Stand for jobs and homes for all. Oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of oppression and division.
  • Only take the average wage of a worker in the city, not the inflated £79,000 mayoral salary.’

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As you know, I despise Keir Starmer and his continuing destruction of the Labour party, including the purge of left-wingers and socialists, in order to turn it into a Blairite neoliberal party. I’ve also got criticisms of the way Marvin Rees has run the city, but in general I think he’s done a good job and has been a far better mayor than his predecessor, ‘Red Trousers’ Ferguson.

I’ve been told by some of the great peeps on this blog that the TUSC were formed by the people in the Labour party, who were thrown out for opposing Blair’s cuts and policy changes, though I’ve also heard that the Socialist Party is the former Militant Tendency, a group that infiltrated and tried to take over the Labour party in the 1980s. But their policies are what the Labour party should be standing for. The mayoral elections are run according to proportional representation. I would therefore urge people to consider giving the TUSC their second vote.

If more people vote for them, to the point where it’s a significant number, perhaps the leaders of the Labour party will take note, and move the party further to the left. Or it will encourage the present Labour left to continue the struggle against the Blairites by showing them that real, socialist policies are popular and can win.

Where Are All These Communists the Tories Claim Are Threatening Britain?

February 22, 2021

Okay, I might be a bit slow here, but I am starting to wonder what planet Nigel Farage, Priti Patel and the Tory party and press are on when they start screaming that British society is under threat from a resurgent, but covert Marxism? About a week or so ago now Zelo Street posted a piece about the McCarthyism that now seemed set to grip the nation. The smirking, odious, racist Priti Patel had announced that MI5 were looking into renewed threats from the Fascist far right and the Marxist left. According to her, the Socialist Party, or the Socialist Workers’ Party as it used to be known, might be infiltrating Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. Yup, as in the days of the Cold War, the Commies and Trots are at it again, trying to infiltrate other left-wing groups and take them over.

In fairness, this was a tactic of the Socialist Workers Party, which practised something called ‘revolutionary entryism’. The idea was to infiltrate other left-wing organisations and try to turn them into front organisations for the party in an attempt to make Trotskyite Marxism something like a popular mass movement. They did it in the 1970s/80s to Rock Against Racism, which had been set up to challenge the rise of the NF, BNP and other Fascist scumbags. All that it achieved, however, was the collapse of the organisation as the majority of its membership left. They weren’t interested in Trotskyite Marxism. They simply wanted to hear some great bands while combating Fascism and racial hatred. It’s because of its antics attempting to infiltrate and take over every vaguely left-wing organisation, or capitalise on every left-wing issue at the expense of other organisations, that many on the left, from the moderate, reformist Labour Party to various anarchist groups, don’t trust the SWP.

Besides this is the fact that Black Lives Matter, or at least its American parent, is already a Marxist organisation. If the Socialist Workers were trying to infiltrate it, it would be a case of one Marxist group trying to take over another. It’s possible, but seems unlikely. It sounds like something from the Illuminatus! books by Robert Anton Wilson and O’Shea, about warring secret societies plotting against and trying to infiltrate each other.

As for Extinction Rebellion, from what little I’ve seen of its broader political content – and this comes from idly looking at one of the organisation’s posters put up on a wall while waiting for a taxi – it does seem to be a radical left organisation. It’s very anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist. But it seems to me that this comes from the very radical programme adopted by parts of the Green movement. When it first emerged in the 1980s or so, the German Green Party – Die Gruenen – included as one of its leading members the lawyer for the Bader-Meinhof gang. There’s a section of the anarchist movement that is also very ecologically aware. The American anarchist intellectual, Murray Bookchin, was advocating a green, eco-friendly anarchism back in the 1980s and in the 1990s there was a British anarchist mag called Green Anarchist, I believe. You don’t need to invoke the Trotskyites of the SWP to explain Extinction Rebellion’s socially radical, anti-capitalist programme.

Would the SWP be interested in infiltrating Extinction Rebellion? I don’t know. Possibly. But they aren’t nearly as strong as they were. I think Marxism as a whole suffered a loss of credibility with the fall of Communism, which might be why radical anti-capitalists seemed to switch to anarchism or else an undefined ‘anti-capitalism’ that could take in a range of socialist and radical left views. The Socialist Workers, now renamed as the Socialist Party, are still about. You can find their videos on YouTube. But even before the lockdown they didn’t seem to be the visible presence on the streets they used to be.

The Tories and their press need to scare people with a threat from the radical left. I remember that in the late ’80s and ’90s they switched from trying to frighten people with the bogeyman of Communist infiltration – although they’d done that with the Labour Party in the 1987 election – to anarchism with the rise of Class War. Now that Class War has also gone the way of many radical movements and fizzled out, the Tories in Britain and the Republicans in America have turned once again to invoking the spectre of Communism.

And because of the very anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-LGBTQ+ policies adopted by some universities, they’re now trying to claim that western education is under threat from Marxist infiltration. Nigel Farage apparently was in the pages of the Depress a few days ago, writing that the Marxist takeover of our education system was nearly complete. Really? I must have missed all that. There are Marxists in the universities, and have been for a very long time. And some of them are excellent scholars. I got a feeling that Vere Gordon Childe, the Australian archaeologist who first devised the notion of the Neolithic Revolution – the idea that agriculture and the rise of the first settled societies were linked and constituted a radical break with the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleo- and Mesolithic – was a Communist. He was, however, a brilliant archaeologist and highly influential, even if recent excavations in Turkey have demonstrated that people were settling down into villages before the invention of agriculture. And yes, there are and have always been academics with very pronounced left-wing views. I can think of a number from my own experience as a student. But many others, probably the vast majority, aren’t. And some academics, who privately hold left-wing views, are very careful to keep them separate from their teaching. And whatever their political views, I think the main concern of all teaching staff, from university academics to school teachers, is simply to teach, not to indoctrinate students.

In any case, there are laws against political or religious indoctrination anyway. I think it was introduced by Blair. Teachers are not supposed to teach their political or religious opinions as fact. They are to avoid this as much as possible. If they can’t, then they are supposed to make clear that this is just their opinion. This legislation has been around since at least the middle of the last decade, if not earlier. It should provide sufficient protection already from attempts by the politically motivated to indoctrinate their students.

All these claims of a surreptitious takeover of the education system by Marxists seems to be a return to the days of Maggie Thatcher, when rags like the Depress, the Heil and the local paper for Bristol, the Evening Post, ran stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating their students. The Scum attempted to titillate and scare its readers with a tale about children in various London boroughs – possibly Brent – being taught to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ as an anti-racist version of ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’. This is supposed to have been invented by the wretched rag, but I’ve talked to people, who’ve claimed that it was done in their former school, so who knows? At the same time, I’ve heard that Thatcher also introduced legislation with the intention of purging Marxists from the education system. In fact the Marxists got round it by claiming to be ‘Marxian’. They were only Marxists in culture. It was a fine distinction, but it allowed them to retain their jobs.

But apart from this, university is supposed to be a place for the formulation and discussion of a wide range of views. A vital part of the university experience is the exposure to different opinions and encouragement to form their own views. The current scaremongering about the Marxists trying to takeover the education system is the opposite of this. It’s an attempt to limit free speech and discussion, as Zelo Street pointed out, only the approved Tory views will be heard. Hence the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’.

Now I will concede that some student bodies are intolerant with protests against talks by visiting personalities they believe hold unacceptable views. Gender critical feminists and their allies, for example, have found themselves blocked from speaking at some universities because their views are held to be bigoted against the transgendered. But there’s also a cancel culture on the right. The estimable Tony Greenstein put up a piece last week about attempts by the Board of Deputies and Bristol University’s Union of Jewish Students to have one of the lecturers, David Miller, banned as an anti-Semite. This is not because of anything Miller has said against Jews. His cardinal sin is saying that Zionism must be destroyed. As we’ve seen, the Board and the other, establishment Jewish organisations are fanatically pro-Israel and conflate opposition to that nation, or simply criticism of its barbaric treatment of the indigenous Palestinians, with real Jew hatred. But Zionism has never been synonymous with Judaism. For many Jews, it’s diametrically opposed, as the graffiti on a wall in Jerusalem had it. Zionism is an ideology, not a people. Stating that Zionism needs to be destroyed is a contentious viewpoint, but it does not mean that the speaker wishes harm to the Jewish people.

Who is the free speech tsar, who will defend lecturers like David Miller? I think it would be a very brave politician who would risk damaging his or her career by doing so in the present political climate. Even if they had the inclination to do so, which the political establishment doesn’t.

I do find some of the radical policies now being implemented in some universities alarming, like the reports that students in some places of learning will be required to take compulsory anti-racism training in order to combat anti-Black racism on campus. It’s obviously very well intentioned, but as I’ve said, racism really isn’t simply a case of White on Black, and I am afraid such mandatory courses are based on a very simplistic view of Whites that sees White culture as innately racist, or inclined to racism. But I see absolutely no evidence that Marxists are behind it.

All this nonsense by Patel and the Tory press about Marxist infiltration is just another Red Scare in order to whip up support for legislation designed to purge the universities of anything that contradicts received Tory ideology. They are trying to destroy free speech, not defend it, and the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’ is in many ways dangerous and hypocritical.

For further information, see:

Zelo Street: Free Speech Champion WON’T BE (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Zelo Street: War On Woke = Government Censorship (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Defend Bristol University’s Professor David Miller – Defend Academic Freedom – Defend Free Speech – Tony Greenstein

If you wish to defend Dr Miller from these outrageous allegations, you can sign a petition at Change.org here, as I have done.

http://chng.it/rTqY9r2FgM

Right-Wing Radio Loudmouth Alex Belfield Demands Starmer Be Suspended with Corbyn

October 30, 2020

Starmer clearly believes that suspending Jeremy Corbyn and misrepresenting the EHRC report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party were somehow draw a line between his own shabby leadership of the Labour party and that of Corbyn’s. His apologies and uncritical acceptance of the demands of the Board of Deputies for another witch hunt in the Labour party against the former Labour leader and his supporters as an effort to cleanse the party of anti-Semitism did win Starmer the approval of the Board and other Zionist Jewish groups. But not everybody has been so impressed. Right-wing internet radio host, Alex Belfield today put up this video demanding that Keir Starmer should also be suspended.

Belfield’s extremely right-wing. He’s a fierce opponent of immigration and critic of Black Lives Matter and similar anti-racist movements and initiatives, as well as general left-wing snowflakery, as he sees it. He also has a particular, personal hatred of the BBC, having worked in it for decades. He left due to some kind of dispute, which has involved lawyers. He despises the Beeb for its ‘woke’ views on race, sexism and trans rights, and claims that he was looked down upon by its overwhelmingly middle class staff and management because of his own working class origins. He therefore takes every opportunity to demand that it be defunded.

And now he turns his fire on Keir Starmer. Starmer, he says very clearly, should himself be suspended along with Corbyn. He makes it clear that it’s not for him to decide whether the former Labour leader was anti-Semitic, but not only was Starmer an MP during Corbyn’s leadership, his constituency was Holbourne and St Pancras, which was bang right next door to Corbyn’s. Starmer should therefore have known what was going on.

And he also brings Jimmy Savile and the Beeb into it. It is, says Belfield, exactly like the Beeb claimed that it didn’t know Savile was a vicious child abuser after this was revealed, despite Savile working for the Beeb for decades. But Starmer also has a personal connection to the Savile case. He was director of public prosecution when the decision was taken not to prosecute Savile for the allegations of child abuse. Allegations that have since been shown to be true.

Here’s the video.

I don’t believe for a single minute that Jeremy Corbyn was ever anti-Semitic, and neither were his supporters. But he and those accused of anti-Semitism were smeared as such because they supported the Palestinians, but not Palestinian terrorism, against the decades-long efforts to cleanse them ethnically by the Israeli state. And as Corbyn and his supporter were also traditional centrist Labour, supporting a strengthened welfare state, decent wages for working people, a state-owned and funded NHS, strong unions and a mixed economy, the anti-Semitism smears gave the Thatcherite, New Labour right an opportunity to smear and expel them.

Corbyn was a victim of a conspiracy by his own right-wing party bureaucracy to force him out. They deliberately did everything they could to throw the elections, withheld information on anti-Semitism in the Labour party, and bullied Black and Asian MPs and activists like Diane Abbot. But they worked to Starmer’s advantage, and so he has not taken action against them.

The result of all this is that the Labour party is haemorrhaging working class and ethnic minority support. As a Blairite, Starmer may well welcome this. Blair after all had complete contempt for the party’s working class base in his attempt to turn it into a second Tory party in pursuit of the middle class and swing voters. It’s also threatening to create a civil war that will cost Labour the next election.

Starmer clearly thought suspending Corbyn would win him greater approval from the right-wing political establishment. But if Belfield’s example is any gauge, he’s wrong.

Because after Corbyn they’re coming for him.

Private Eye: Tony Abbott Part of Free Trade Group Wanting to Sell NHS to Americans

September 10, 2020

This fortnight’s Private Eye for 11th -24th September has a very ominous story about new Brexit adviser’s Tony Abbott’s attitude to this country’s single greatest institution, the NHS. He’s part of a free trade group run by the extreme right-wing Tory MP, Daniel ‘Lyin’ King’ Hannan, which wants to privatise the NHS. The article ‘Rough Traders’ runs

Britain’s controversial new trade adviser Tony Abbott, ex-Australian PM, is also on the advisory board of a right-wing British “free trade” group that wants to open the NHS to US competition in a future trade deal.

Abbott, appointed to the government’s new Board of Trade last week, joined the Initiative for Free Trade, a think tank set up by keen Brexiteer and former Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, in 2017. International trade scretary Liz Truss has co-opted Hannan on to her new Board of Trade alongside Abbott, making clear the official sympathy for Hannan’s think tank (whose launch in 2017 was graced by a certain Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary).

So what kind of Brexit does these two gung-ho free marketeers now advising the government actually want? In September 2018, their Initiative for Free Trade jointly published an “Ideal US-Uk Free Trade Agreement” with the Cato Institute, a right-wing US think tank. Its proposed deal “should open all government procurement markets to goods and services providers” from either country; and it said explicitly: “Health services are an area where both sides would benefit from openness to foreign competition” – meaning the NHS, its hospitals and drug purchasing should be fully open to US firms. It accepted the NHS was a political hot potato – “We recognise any changes to existing regulations will be extremely controversial” – and so suggested a stealthy approach whereby “the initial focus should be on other fields such as education or legal services” before health, so “negotiators can test the waters and see what is possible”.

The paper from Abbott and Hannan’s think tank also said the UK should get ready to eat US chlorinated chicken and hormone enhanced beef; and any deal should avoid “restrictions based on scientifically unsubstantiated public health and safety concerns”. And provisions on workers’ rights and environmental protections? Yes: any deal should avoid these too.

Much of the objections to Abbott’s appointment have concentrated on his own personal failings – his racism, sexism and homophobia. He comes across as personally obnoxious, the living embodiment of Barry Humphries’ character, Sir Les Patterson, the Australian cultural attache. More serious is his sheer incompetence. He was in office for two years before his own party gave him the heave-ho, and then lost his safe seat to an independent.

But this is what really scares me. He and his buddy Hannan really do want to sell off the NHS. Hannan’s been promoting this for a very long time, so it’s no surprise from this direction. They’re going to do it by stealth, which also comes as no surprise, as that’s what they’ve been doing for the past forty years or so. And the Americans have been very heavily involved in all this. Johnson and the Tories have already included the NHS in their talks with the Americans, and one their best to kept it secret. They’re trying to pass further legislation to keep the negotiations as a whole under wraps, so we can’t see that this is what they’re doing.

And to cap it all, they’re determined to feed us chlorinated chicken, hormone injected beef, and wreck the environment and further degrade workers’ rights. Because this is what free trade American capitalism is all about – feeding people dodgy food, wrecking the planet and making sure there are no penalties for workers’ sick or injured at work.

Get Abbott out of the Brexit negotiations. Get private industry out of my NHS. And get the Tories out of office!

The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

August 15, 2020

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

May 26, 2020

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bristol South Letter about Leaked Report and Its Inquiry to Labour Party

April 27, 2020

The officers of my local constituency Labour party, Bristol South, sent a copy of a statement they had written to the national party attached to the email update they sent to members. In it they expressed their concerns about the leaked report into the plotting and sabotage of Labour’s election campaign and the forthcoming inquiry into it on behalf of the constituency party’s members. It runs

Statement from Bristol South Constituency Executive Committee members to:
Keir Starmer MP Leader Angela Rayner MP Deputy Leader and Labour Party Chair,
Andi Fox NEC Chair and Jennie Formby General Secretary

The undersigned members of the Bristol South Constituency Executive are extremely
concerned about the alleged pattern of extensive misconduct in the 851 page document leaked last week. The document outlines how some Labour Party staff members have made a concerted effort to undermine our democratically elected Leadership, compromise our Election Campaigns, even wishing or working for our defeat, and contributed to or impeded the fight against anti-semitism, racism, bullying and sexism within our party.

Labour Members have contacted us expressing their frustration, anger and feelings of being let down by these alleged actions and factional behaviours within the party. So many members have volunteered their time, money, skills and energy to get Labour representatives elected at all levels, in order to build a better society, only to find that their efforts have apparently been mocked and nullified by the very people who should have been supporting them.

The report does document the improvements in complaint handling and proactive work against anti-semitism since Jennie Formby was elected as General Secretary, and whilst we appreciate the recently announced independent investigation by the Leadership Team, we call for:
 The NEC as our ruling body should hold an emergency meeting to set out the terms of
the independent inquiry and a transparent process for investigating the alleged
misconduct
 To publish a timetable for that inquiry and when it reports, that reflects urgency and a
quick turn around
 The full report on the independent investigation to be made available to Labour Members along with any and all recommendations for action
 Administrative suspension, pending investigation be applied for alleged gross misconduct for those named and documented in the report
 Accountability for alleged misuse of funding
 A commitment to cultural and procedural change in the party at national, regional and
local levels

We are concerned about the wellbeing of members who the document has shown to be abused and members who are distraught at its contents, whilst recognising the rights of those accused. The Labour Party needs to work together if we are to be successful; we all need to work to build a more inclusive, democratic, and accountable party at all levels where all members can feel safe and free from the kind of bullying that this report documents. 

This is an opportunity to learn lessons; the membership and our voters need to be shown thatchanges have been made to ensure this can never happen again.

Mabel Hahner, Chair David Meacham, Vice Chair Membership
Jane Britton, Vice Chair Zoe Goodman, Campaign and Data Co-ordinator
James Tuite, Secretary Lee Starr-Elliott, Disability Officer
Gwyneth Brain, LGBT Officer Hribhu Mendiratta, Youth Officer
Bianca Rossetti, Policy Officer Ajay Kumar, Political Education Officer (share)
Ted Powell, TULO Officer (share) Victoria Coddington, Social Media Officer (share)
Thomas Pearce, TULO Officer (share) Geraint Evans, Social Media Officer (share)
Lynn Parfitt, CLP Fundraising Officer Corey Miller, Political Education Officer (share)
Daisy Carter, Women’s Officer Mohammed (Ajmal) Miah, BAME Officer

The local party’s chair, Mabel Hahner, states in the email update itself that it is regrettable that unredacted versions of the report containing people’s identities and their locations are circulating, and states that she nor the local party have passed around copies of the report.

The statement was not marked ‘confidential’, so I believe I can post this up here. I’m doing so because it shows very clearly that my local party, and no doubt very many others, want there to be a genuinely fair inquiry into this matter.

I must say, however, that I differ from the local officers in that I strongly believe from the conduct of those making the accusations of anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters and indeed the Labour party itself, as well as the excellent character of very many of those accused, that the truth was the complete opposite of the impression of rampant anti-Semitism under Corbyn’s leadership. There has been ample testimony from pro-Corbyn Jews and Jewish organisation, like Jewdas, Jewish Voice for Labour, Shraga Stern, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni and too many others that these allegations were false and entirely politically motivated. Many of them were personally victims of this witch-hunt, along with the entirely decent, anti-racist non-Jews like the Black anti-racism activist Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone and my brother, Mike Sivier. I find it absolutely abhorrent that those people, Jews and gentiles, should be viciously smeared and libeled by a corrupt, right-wing political and media establishment.

I personally wish that there was also a will genuinely to tackle and refute the anti-Semite witch-hunt, which would exonerate and restore the memberships of those unfairly libeled and expelled. This may well be far too much to hope for under Starmer’s leadership.

Nevertheless the letter from the local Labour party shows how strong feelings about this affair are in our constituency party and no doubt very many others, and there will be pressure on Starmer and his team to conduct a fair inquiry.

 

 

Right-Wing NEC Members Try to Suspend Whistleblower, Protect Racists

April 24, 2020

After the leak of the suppressed report showing that Blairite members of Labour’s bureaucracy were responsible for plotting against Corbyn, including deliberately sabotaging Labour’s attempts to win the 2017 and 2019 general elections, the right-wing members of the NEC are doing everything they can to protect the guilty and target the innocent. Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that certain unnamed right-wing extremists on the committee called for the suspension of those they suspected of leaking it. They had no evidence whatsoever. Furthermore, as Tony Greenstein has pointed out in the first part of his piece about the right-wingers plotting, bullying and corruption, there are laws protecting whistleblowers. And the first thing an organisation does, which has been accused of wrongdoing by one of its employees or staff, is trying to identify the whistleblower, because these organisations are really guilty of wrongdoing. In the end, the move was not agreed by the committee. Mike states that

(I)f it had been, then Labour’s more than half a million members would have had grounds for an immediate vote of no confidence in the committee. I urge all party members to watch these representatives closely.

In the meantime, as he also points out, Labour’s NEC has done absolutely nothing to suspend those accused of the plotting and sabotage. This is despite the fact that they were attempting to stop Corbyn himself taking action against alleged anti-Semitism in the party. Mike has pointed out that the plotters aren’t anti-Semites themselves, nevertheless they were aiding and abetting it. There continued membership of the party is in stark contrast to the members actually accused of anti-Semitism, who were suspended with little or no opportunity to defend themselves. So once again, it seems that the right-wingers are determined to hang on to power through abusing their positions and double standards.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/23/labourleaks-right-wingers-on-nec-try-to-suspend-people-they-suspect-without-evidence/

Where are the suspensions connected to the leaked Labour anti-Semitism report?

Meanwhile, the Skwawkbox has reported today that a right-wing BAME NEC member, Unison activist Carol Sewell, tried to get racism excluded from the references of the committee’s investigation of the leaked report. The Skwawkbox was told by another committee member, who was outraged at her conduct, that Sewell wanted to have it omitted because it would predetermine the report’s outcome. The anonymous speaker said that in the end they managed to get racism, sexism and discrimination included in the terms of the report’s investigation, but the attempt to get it dropped shows the right’s contempt for the membership and equalities. Sewell changed her vote when she saw that her proposal wasn’t going to be accepted, but did nothing to strengthen the references of the investigation. And the contributions from all three of the new, right-wing NEC members who were elected to their positions the same day Starmer was declared the Labour leader were all ‘pretty bad’.

I appreciate that Black people really don’t like being called Uncle Toms by Whites, and completely understand why. But considering how the report describes the horrendous racist abuse inflicted by the Blairites, I really don’t think she can be fairly described any other way. Sewell as supported in her election to the NEC by the Blairite groups Labour First and Progress, and her conduct reflects extremely badly on them. It provides more evidence that they aren’t remotely interested in genuinely battling racism, only in using the anti-Semitism smears to protect Israel and oust their opponents.

New right-wing NEC BAME member ‘spoke against including racism’ in scope of ‘Labour leak’ investigation

Many Labour members are extremely unhappy about both Starmer’s election and the way the NEC wishes to conduct its investigation into the leak. People are talking about suing Labour and demanding their subscription money back because of the Blairite’s plotting and sabotage. If Starmer refuses to listen to them, and protects the Blairites instead, he may well be the leader who destroys the party. Which is no doubt how the Blairites would like it, because they’re determined to wreck the party rather than have a left-wing – or, more properly, a genuinely centrist – Labour leader carry the party to victory.