Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’

Vox Political on Tory Breach of Electoral Law to Get Jenrick a Seat

February 14, 2016

I’ve reblogged already a piece by Mike on Tory gerrymandering and their proposal to cut the number of MPs so they can get about 20 more for themselves. This is another story that shows the absolute contempt the Tories have for electoral regulations when it comes to themselves. Last Tuesday, Mike put up this story from Channel 4 news, about how the Tories went over the £100,000 spending limit for bye-elections in order to get Robert Jenrick elected as MP for Newark. http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/09/tories-exposed-they-apparently-tried-to-buy-three-by-elections-breaking-legal-spending-limits-on-all-of-them/.
From his previous record of standing in elections, it seems the Tories are desperate to get him elected somewhere. There’s a graphic up there showing some of the other places where he’s tried his luck, like Southwell, Vincent Square in London, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Croydon, Shropshire and Herefordshire. All of whom seem have said, ‘No’, forcing him to go on his way. This should, at least, make some of his constituents wonder if his sympathies might be a trifle mercenary. At the very least, when he says he’s proud to be a member of Newark’s community, he’s said it something like five times before, all no doubt with the same level of sincerity.

And given the increasing nepotism in British politics, you’re left wondering who he’s related to, or with whom he’s having an affair. Clearly someone decided that they wanted him in parliament, despite his dismal record of not getting elected, campaign after campaign. So who’s he connected to, and what backs are he scratching.

And now for a bit of Godwin’s Law. Yes, I’m going to compare the Tories to Fascists once again. But they deserve it, and the parallels are there. One of the great myths about European Fascism is that they took power through their sheer popularity and physical force. In Italy, this centres around the March on Rome in about 1921, the legions of Fascisti marched to overthrow the liberal Italian state, the Mussolini at their head. In actual fact, they took power through the cowardice of the existing authorities and very clever electoral manoeuvring, including a piece of truly astounding gerrymandering.

Mussolini entered the Italian parliament as a partner in a right-wing coalition with one of the factions in the Liberal party, in order to give them enough of a majority to form a government. Despite their bullying, violence and intimidation, the actual numbers of people voting for Il Duce and his thugs were small. When he put himself up for election in his hometown of Padano, Mussolini lost. By a very long margin. The Fascists only got into power by declaring Italy as single electoral district, and thus manipulating the system so that they got an absolute majority. If the previous system of electoral districts had remained in place, the Fascists wouldn’t have won the election and would have stayed a violent, nasty, but limited force on the right.

And as for the March on Rome, well, the head of the Roman police was a cop of the old school, who regarded Musso’s forces with the same contempt that Colonel Gruber had for the Italians in the BBC comedy, ‘Allo, ‘Allo. They were a ‘rabble’, and he was confident that he could disperse them with the a few good shots when the crunch came. Unfortunately, King Emmanuele II didn’t have his backbone, and caved in. They were allowed into Rome unmolested, and the king offered Mussolini the leadership of the Italian state.

My point here is that Mussolini won by massively rigging the electoral system, in order to destroy Italian socialism, liberalism and keep the working people firmly in their place at the bottom of Italian society. Just like Jenrick, Cameron and Osbo are doing overspending and gerrymandering in modern Britain. The only thing Cameron needs to do now is appear in a stupid uniform with a chicken on his head. ‘Eyyy, Colonello!’

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Immigration, the Conservatives and the Nazis

February 28, 2014

In my last blog post, I discussed Grant Shapps’ attempt to rebrand the Tories as the ‘Workers’ Party’, and pointed out that this was exactly the same tactic the Nazis adopted in their attempt to win German workers away from the ‘Marxist’ socialism of the SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party, the Communists, trade unions, Anarchists, Syndicalists and other genuine working class and socialist organisations.

Looking through the Nazis’ 25 point party programme, drawn up in 1920 by Hitler, Gottfried Feder and Anton Drexler, I found another similarity to the Nazis in the Tories attitude and policies towards immigration. The Nazis were, of course, bitterly hostile to non-German immigration. Point 8 of the party programme stated ‘Non-German immigration to be stopped.’ Point 4 of the programme stipulated that ‘Citizenship to be determined by race; no Jew to be a German.’ Point 5 demanded that ‘non-Germans in Germany to be ‘only’ guests and subject to appropriate laws. Point 8 made it very clear that the Nazis wanted ‘non-German immigration to be stopped.’

Now opposition to immigration does not necessarily make anyone a Nazi. Global mass immigration has become a very controversial topic, and while many people would like to see an end to mass immigration to the UK, extremely few would wish to see the rise of racism and the growth of Fascist or Neo-Nazi parties to any kind of electoral strength. All the political parties are under pressure to cut down on immigration to the UK. What struck me looking through the Nazis’ policies towards combatting non-German immigration was its virtual identity with those of Cameron’s Conservative party in Point 7 of the party programme. This stated

The livelihood of citizens to be the state’s first duty. Should the state’s resources be overstretched, non-citizens to be excluded from the state’s benefits.

The Coalition has clearly decided that the state does not have a duty of care towards its citizens in its policy of savage cuts to the welfare state that now sees about a quarter of all British children in poverty, and 80,000 children homeless last Christmas. This has been done, however, on the pretext that such cuts were necessary in order to cut the budget deficit. They have further spuriously claimed that their reforms will lift even more citizens out of poverty. Go over to Vox Political and look at today’s post Iain Duncan Smith’s new plan to prolong child poverty, which I’ve reblogged here today.

The Tories have, however, stated that they intend to exclude immigrants to Britain from state benefits. Foreign migrants to Britain may not claim Jobseeker’s allowance for at least six months, and there are extremely controversial plans to exclude illegal immigrants from being treated by the NHS. Furthermore, there have also been proposals that foreigners resident in the UK should have to pay for their medical treatment.

All this is very much in line with the above Nazi policy. So much so, that you could be forgiven for being afraid that points 4 and 5 would also be implemented.

As for Point 8, the Tories aren’t opponents of all immigration. As has been shown by the sale of very expensive home in London to rich businessmen and professionals, mainly from the Far East, the Tories don’t object to immigrants if they’re rich. It’s only the poor they dislike. But here they appear to be non-racist, as they hate the British poor as well.

John Stuart Mill on the Right to Free Speech, vs. IDS and the Coalition

February 1, 2014

600_JohnStuartMill_StatueofLiberty

John Stuart Mill is one of the great founders of the modern concepts of political liberty, democracy and equality for women. His book, On Liberty, became the classic statement of Liberal ideology to the point where it was given to the leader of the Liberal party on his accession. He saw parliament as supremely important as the organ of government in which every opinion present in the country should be expressed and debated, so that politicians should form and adjust their policies accordingly. He wrote

‘In addition to this [i.e., the function of control], the Parliament has an office, no inferior … in importance; to be at once the nation’s Committee of Grievances, and its Congress of Opinions; an arena in which not only the general opinion of the nation, but that of every section of it, and as far as possible of every eminent individual whom it contains, can produce itself in full light and challenge discussion; where every person in the country may count upon finding somebody who speaks him mind well or better than he could speak it himself – not to friends and partisans exclusively, but in the face of opponents, to be tested by adverse controversy; where those whose opinion is overruled, feel satisfied that it is heard, and set aside not by a mere act of will, but for what are thought superior reasons, and commend themselves as much to the representatives of the majority of the nation; wh4ere every party or opinion in the country can muster in strength, and be cured of any illusion concerning the number or power of its adherents; where the opinion which prevails in the nation makes itself manifest as prevailing, and marshals its hosts in the presence of the government, which is thus enabled and compelled to give way to it on the mere manifestation, without the actual employment, of its strength; where statesmen can assure themselves far more certainly than by any signs, what elements of opinion and power are growing, and what declining, and are enabled to shape their measures with some regard not solely to present exigencies, but to tendencies in progress. Representative assemblies are often taunted by their enemies with being places of mere talk and bavardage. There has seldom been more misplaced derision. I know not how a representative assembly can more usefully employ itself than in talk, when the subject of talk is the great public interests of the country, and every sentence of it represents the opinion either of some important body of persons in the nation, or of an individual in whom some such body have reposed their confidence. A place where every interest and shade of opinion in the country can have its cause even passionately pleaded in the face of government and of all other interests and opinions, can compel them to listen, and either comply, or state clearly why they do not, is in itself, if it answered no other purpose, one of the most important political institutions that can exist anywhere, and one of the foremost benefits of free government. Such “talking” would never be looked upon with disparagement if it were not allowed to “doing”; which it never would, if assemblies knew and acknowledged that talking and discussion are their proper business, while doing, as the result of discussion, is the task not of a miscellaneous body, but of individuals specially trained to it; that the fit office of an assembly is to see that those individuals are honestly and intelligently chosen, and to interfere no further with them, except by unlimited latitude of suggestion and criticism, and by applying or withholding the final seal of national assent … Nothing but the restriction of the function of representative bodies within these rational limits will enable the benefits of popular control to be enjoyed in conjunction with the no less important requisites (growing ever more important as human affairs increase in scale and complexity) of skilled legislation and administration.’

He also made it very clear that he had some sympathy with Socialist aspirations for the improvement of humanity and the destruction of the class system. He stated

‘In short, I was a democrat, but not the least of a Socialist. We [i.e., he and his wife] were now [i.e., in the early 1850’s] much less democrats than I had been, because as long as education continues to be so wretchedly imperfect, we dreaded the ignorance and especially the selfishness and brutality of the mass; but our ideal of ultimate improvement went far beyond Democracy, and would class us decidedly under the general designation of Socialists. While we repudiated with the greatest energy that tyranny of society over the individual which most Socialistic systems are supposed to involve, we yet looked forward to a time when society will no longer be divided into the idle and the industrious; when the rule that they who do not work shall not eat, will be applied not to paupers only, but impartially to all; when the division of the produce of labour, instead of depending, as in so great a degree it now does, on the accident of birth, will be made by concert on an acknowledged principle of justice; and when it will no longer either be, or be thought to be, impossible for human beings to exert themselves strenuously in procuring benefits which are not to be exclusively their own, but to be shared with the society they belong to. The social problem of the future we considered to be, how to untie the greatest individual liberty of action with a common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour …

… and we welcomed with the greatest pleasure and interest all socialistic experiments by select individuals (such as the Cooperative Societies) which, whether they succeeded or not, could not but operate as a most useful education of those who took part in them, by cultivating their capacity of acting upon motives pointing directly to the general good, or making them aware of the defects which render them and others incapable of doing so’.

So how does the Coalition measure up to these ideals? Not very well at all. Indeed, there is more than a little of a ‘democratic deficit’ at the heart of their conception of the value of parliament. The Coalition has just passed the gagging law, which means that unless you are an approved corporate lobbyist, you may not approach parliament to voice your opinions and concerns. Unless you’re a prospective Corporate sponsor, and there’s money and directorships in it, Cameron and Clegg really don’t want to hear what you think or have to say. They also don’t want to see you, either. Legitimate, democratic displays of protest can now be banned as a nuisance to the people down whose road you are marching. It’s particularly dangerous in London, as BoJo has decided that, while he can’t find the money to pay the firemen to stop your house or business burning down, he can afford to buy watercannon to train on protesters. It’s a German watercannon, so perhaps its a bit too repressive for them. Back in the 1960s and 1970s their use in the Bundesrepublik was extremely controversial, after a protester was killed by one during demonstrations by the ‘extraparliamentary opposition’. I’ve got a feeling that incident fuelled the conviction that all too many Nazis had escaped justice at Nuremberg, and were still holding lucrative posts in the police, armed forces and civil service. BoJo likes to present himself as man of the people against Cameron, but his instincts are definitely with their oppressors and the watercannons are just two more weapons in his armoury.

Not only does the Coalition not want to have to discuss any nasty, disturbing and possibly liberal ideas in parliament, or see them on the streets, they also don’t want to have to answer to parliament or keep the people informed of the consequences of their policies either. IDS dragged his feet until the very last minute before attending the Work and Pensions Committee. When he did, ‘RTU’ appeared surrounded by bodyguards and armed police officers, just in case the members of the public in attendance said something unpleasant about him. Or cause a serious, life-changing injury to his dignity by throwing a custard pie at him, like someone did to Murdoch. As for non-interference by parliament in the way the officials charged with executing their public policies perform their duty, well, once again IDS fails to make the grade. He tried to get one of his subordinates to take the blame for his own mistakes.

It’s not just RTU that hasn’t read his Mill. The Information Commissioner hasn’t either. FOI requests for information on the number of people, who’ve died after being judged fit for work by ATOS have been repeatedly turned down. Why? They’re vexatious. IDS’ DWP has also refused to release information about this and similar issues on the grounds that it would cause opposition to their policies, and prevent those policies from being implemented. So much for believing that political ideas need to be discussed in parliament, and held up for criticism. Or as someone once said, ‘Arguments are upsetting and sometimes cause you to change your mind’. Or words to that effect.

As for Socialism, the Tories have been an enemy of this ever since Maggie Thatcher declared it was a nasty, foreign import that she was going to destroy. At first Cameron’s localism agenda looks like it might be approved by Mill, for the way he wanted public institutions like libraries and so on to be staffed by volunteers. Mill also lamented the way modern society left increasingly few posts without pay, where they individual would have the honour for working for the public good without material reward. However, under the Coalition, as under Blair, politicians have been all too keen to enjoy material benefits – increased pay, and lucrative posts with industry. It’s only those, who can’t afford to that are expected to work for nothing, like the increasing ranks of the unemployed on workfare. As for the destruction of the class system, and the division of the world into the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, that had already increased under Labour and the gap is even wider under the Coalition.

So, despite their talk about democracy and accountability, the Coalition has consistently acted against some of the most fundamental principles of democracy articulated by Mill, perhaps its greatest British exponent. In some ways this isn’t surprising coming from the Conservatives, who traditionally stood for the privileges of the ruling classes. Clegg, however, must take his credit for the way he and the others supporters of the free-market ‘Orange Book’ have done so much to destroy Mill’s political legacy and the enduring Liberal traditions in which they were raised, and which they have betrayed.

Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) is a collection of radical and anti-authoritarian texts from British history from 1066 to the present, collected and edited by the actor, Colin Firth, and Anthony Arnove. It was partly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Arnove had worked with Zinn translating the book into a series of stage readings of American radical and democratic texts, which toured the US. Realising that Firth was one of the book’s fans, Arnove approached him to do a British version. Firth, Arnove, and a number of their friends and other performers they admired did indeed stage a reading of some of the texts collected in The People Speak in 2010. This was filmed and broadcast by the History Channel. The two authors state that they hope a DVD of this reading will eventually be released to accompany the film of the same name made the year previously (2010) by Zinn and Arnove, with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore. Firth and Arnove rejected any claim that this was the ‘actorly activism’ attacked by critics such as Marina Hyde. Rather, they were simply doing what actors are paid to do – to act, and interpret other’s voices.

Firth states that the book is not an attack on history teachers or the history curriculum, noting that his own father is a history teacher. It comes from his feeling, dating from when he was studying history at school, that the kind of history we are taught is incomplete. It concentrates on kings and queens and politicians to the exclusion of everyone else, who are presented as a faceless, homogenous mass. This is his and Arnove’s attempt to put back into history the voice of the excluded, the Socialists, Anarchists, agitators, Chartists, suffragists, Lollards, Levellers, in short, the trouble-makers, like Zinn himself. Firth makes the point that democracy works from the bottom up, and that it’s protagonists are real trouble-makers. He also makes the point that the rights we now take for granted and accept as civilised and decent were at one point considered treason. The people, who fought for and won them were those without political power, and were hanged, transported, tortured and imprisoned, until their ideas were eventually adopted and adapted. Their continued existence is, however, precarious, and we need to defend them. ‘These freedoms are now in our care. And unless we act on them and continue to fight for them, they will be lost more easily that they were won.’

Firth and Arnove freely acknowledge that in covering two millennia, they have let much important material out. They hope, however, that their readers will feel rightly indignant about that, and be compelled to point it out, or, even better, write another the book, which will be the first of many. Firth hopes most of all it will inspire their readers to speak out, and make their voice heard on the issues they feel is important, ‘As Howard reminds us, democracy is not a spectator sport, and history is not something on a library shelf, but something in which each of us has a potentially critical role’.

Chronologically, the book has divided into five chapters, ‘1066-1450: Commoners and Kings’, ‘1642-1789: Representing the People’, ‘1790-1860: One Man, One Vote’, 1890-1945: Equal Rights’, and ‘1945-2012: Battling the State’ collecting some of the radical texts from these periods. Between these are other chapters covering particular political, constitutional, religious, national and economic issues and struggles. These include:

‘Disunited Kingdoms: ‘Our English Enemies’,
‘Freedom of Worship: ‘Touching our Faith’,
‘Land and Liberty: ‘The Earth is a Common Treasury’,
‘Empire and Race: All Slaves Want to Be Free’,,
‘Money and Class: ‘The Rank is But the Guinea’s Stamp’,
‘Workers United: Labour’s “No” into Action’,
‘War and Peace: ‘What People Have Your Battles Slain?’,
‘Gender and Sexual Equality: ‘A Human Being, Regardless of the Distinction of Sex’.

The chapter on the 400 or so years from 1066 to 1450 contains the following texts:

Ordericus Vitalis on the Norman Conquest of 1066,
The Liber Eliensis on Hereward the Wake,
Extracts from the Magna Carta,
Extracts from the Song of Lewes; written by a Franciscan monk in 1264, this sets out some early examples of the doctrine of resistance and popular rights.
It also contains a section devoted to the voice of the Peasant’s Revolt, including
Wat Tyler’s address to Richard II,
John Ball, ‘Until Everything Shall Be in Common’ (1381),
and William Grindcobbe, ‘I shall die in the Cause of Gaining our Liberty’.

The chapter on ‘Disunited Kingdoms – Our English Enemies’, includes the following pieces:
The declaration of Scottish independence at Arbroath, 6th April 1320,
Owain Glyn Dwr’s letter to another Welsh noble, Henry Don,
The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549,
Jonathan Swift’s bitterly satirical ‘A Modest Proposal’ of 1729,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish Nationalist leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
The Speech from the Dock of Tone’s successor in the United Irishmen, Robert Emmet,
Rev. John Blackwell’s Eisteddfod Address in Beaumaris in 1832, stressing the importance of literature in Welsh,
Letters from the Rebecca Riots’,
The Letter from Nicholas M. Cummins to the Times attacking the English for refusing to supply the Irish with food during the Potato Famine,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish American Fenian Leader, Captain John McClure, of 1867,
Padraig Pearse’s Eulogy for the Fenian Leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa of 1915,
An extract from the Scots writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song of 1932,
Bernadette Devlin’s Speech in Draperstown when she stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Independent Unity Party in Northern Ireland,
Silvester Gordon Boswell’s Address to Travellers on Appleby Hill of 1967, and Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy of 1970,
The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly’s lyric, ‘For What died the Sons of Roisin?’ of 1970,
Pauline M.’s description of the events of Bloody Sunday,
An editorial on the Tax-Dodgers on the Isle of Man by the Manx Marxist group, Fo Halloo,
Bobby Sands’ prison diary for 1-2 March 1981,
and an extract from Gwyn Alf Williams’ history of the Welsh, ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’ from 1985.

The section on Freedom of Worship, begins with a section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, which includes
The examination of Nicholas Leche of 1536,
The Pontefract Articles of 2-4 December 1536,
The Examination of Robert Aske, 1537,
John Foxe, ‘The Mart6yrdom and Suffering of Cicelie Ormes, Burnt at Norwich the Testimonie and Witnes of Christes Gospell’ of 1557,
Matthew Hamont’s Trial for Heresy,
John Mush, the Life of Margaret Clitherow, 1586,
Daniel Defoe’s satirical ‘The Shortest Way with Dissenters:, Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church of 1702,
Ignatius Samcho’s Letter on the Gordon Riots of 1780,
William Blake’s ‘America’ of 1793, his Preface to Milton of (1804) and Preface to Book Two of ‘Jerusalem’ of the same year.
Grace Aguilar’s History of the Jews in England of 1847,
George Jacob Holyoake, Exchange with his Caplain on Atheism (1850),
An anonymous account of the Basingstoke Riots against the Salvation Army of 1881,
and Victoria Brittain’s ‘The Meaning of Waiting’, using the words of eight Muslim women married to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The section on the period 1642-1749 contains
Elizabeth Lilburne’s Appeal against the arrest of her husband, the leveller leader John Lilburne,
Richard Overton’s An Arrow Against All Tyrants of 1646,
The Putney Debates of 1647,
John Lilburne’s Appeal to Cromwellian Soldiers of 1649,
The last speech of Richard Rumbold at the Market Cross in Edinburgh,
Reports of torture in prison from 1721,
The frontispiece to the anonymous pamphlet ‘Idol Worship, Or, the Way to Preferment, showing that the way to political power to was kiss your superiors’ rear ends,
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776,
The American Declaration of Independence,
Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Destruction of the Bastille’,
An Advertisement for Commemoration of the French Revolution by Dissenters in Birmingham in 1791,
and An Anonymous Birmingham handbill to Commemorate the French Revolution, 1791.

The section ‘Land and Liberty’ contains
Robert Kett, ‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’, 1549, against the Enclosures in Kent,
Gerard Winstanley, ‘A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England’, 1649,
The 1650 Declaration of the Wellingborough Diggers,
The ballad ‘Bonny Portmore’ of 1690, lamenting the destruction of the forest around Lough Beg,
Thomas Spence’s ‘Spence’s Plan for Parochial Partnerships in the Land of 1816), an early Utopian Socialist precursor,
John Clare, ‘The mores’, c. 1821-4,
W.G. Ward’s ‘The Battle, the Struggle and the Victory’ of 1873, on a battle between the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and the employers and landowners, who refused to employ their members,
Richard Barlow-Kennett’s ‘Address to the Working Classes’ on Vivisection of 1883,
Henry S. Salts’ Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892),
Ernest a Baker, The Forbidden Land of 1924 on the landowners’ denial of the right of access to land around the Peak District and the Yorkshire moors due to grouse shooting,
Benny Rothman on the Kinder Trespass in 1932 by ramblers,
and Voices from the Kingsnorth 6 Greenpeace protesters of 2007.

The section on Empire and Race has the above extracts,
William Cecil’s Speech in Parliament of 1588, against a bill against Strangers and Aliens Selling Wares by Retail, 1588,
William Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 4, c. 1593,
Anna Barbauld, Sins of Government, Sins of of the Nation; Or, A Discourse for the Fast, of 1793, against imperialism and war with revolutionary France,
Robert Wedderbu5rn’s The Axe Laid to the Root or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica, 1817,
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, 1831,
Louis Asa-Asa, ‘How Cruelly We Are Used’, 1831,
Joseph Sturge, Speech at the Baptist Missionary Society of Birmingham, 1836,
An Anonymous Member of the Walthamstow Free Produce or Anti-Slavery Association, Conscience Versus Cotton: Or, the Preference of Free Labour Produce, 1851,
Ernest Jones’, ‘The Indian Struggle’, 1857, supporting Indian independence during the Mutiny,
Richard Cobden’s Letter to John Bright on Indian independence, 1857,
Celestine Edwards, a Black Methodist preacher from Dominica, The British Empire, attacking imperialism,
‘A Voice from the Aliens about the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trades Union Congress of 1893, by Jewish worker protesting at a motion by William Inskip and Charles Freak to ban immigrant workers from joining trades unions,
Henry Woodd Nevinson, ‘The Slave Trade of Today’, 1906, against the cultivation of cocoa by Angolan slaves,
The Indian nationalist Ghadar Movement’s ‘An Open letter to the People of India’, 1913,
The satirical, ‘In Praise of the Empire’ by the Irish nationalist and founder of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, James Connolly,
B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘India on the Eve of the Crown Government’, 1915,
John Archer’s Presidential Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the African Progress Union, 1918,
Manifesto of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a Punjabi revolutionary Indian nationalist, 1928,
Gandhi’s Quit India Speech of 1942,
C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, on cricket and his experiences growing up in Trinidad, 1963,
Peter Hain, Defence in Trial from Picketing Apartheid South African Cricket and Rugby, 1972,
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’, 1980,
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, 1990,
The account of his own incarceration by an anonymous Tanzanian Asylum Seeker, 2000,
Benjuamin Zephaniah, ‘What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us’, 2001,
Roger Huddle and Lee Billingham’s Reflections on Rock against Racism and Love Music Hate Racism, 2004,
The People’s Navy Protest on the eviction of the indigenous islanders from the islands, 2008,
and Mark Steel’s ‘The Poles Might be Leaving but the Prejudice Remains’, 2009.

The section on the period 1790-1860 has the following extracts and pieces
An Account of the Seizure of Citizen Thomas Hardy, Secretary to the London Corresponding Society, 1794,
‘Rules and Resolutions of the Political Protestants’, 1818. Political Protestants was the name adopted by a number of northern working class radical organisations demanding universal suffrage.
There is a subsection devoted to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local militia and then a detachment of Hussars attacked and broke up a peaceful meeting in Manchester of protesters campaigning for an extension of the franchise. This section has
The Letter from Mr W.R. Hay to Lord Sidmouth regarding Peterloo, 1819,
extracts from Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy
and William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built.

The chapter also has following pieces
William Davidson, Speech to the Court in the Cato Street Conspiracy Trial, 1820,
and Mr Crawshay Recounts the Merthyr Uprising, 1831.
This is followed by a section on Chartism, including
Henry Vincent, Chartists in Wales, 1839,
Edward Hamer, ‘The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes, 1839,
and Chartist Protests in Newcastle, 1839.
Charles Dickens,’The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version’, 1841, bitterly attack Tory feudalism and massacres of radicals,
and the Bilston, South Staffordshire Chartist Rally.

The section on money and class has a piece on the rebellion of William Fitz-Osbert against the way the Anglo-Normans barons shifted their tax burden onto the poor,
George Manley’s speech from the gallows at Wicklow, where he was hanged for murder, against the murder and plunder of the rich and general such as Marlborough,
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard,
Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That,
and John Grimswaw’s ‘The Handloom Weaver’s Lament’.
This is followed by a section on Luddism, which contains
John Sykes’ account of machine-breaking at Linthwaite, Yorkshire, 1812,
An Anonymous ‘Address to Cotton Weavers and Others’, 1812,
The poem ‘Hunting a Loaf’,
The poet Byron’s speech on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, and his ‘Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill’,
The ballad, ‘The Tradesman’s Complaint’,
An extract from Carlisle’s Past and Present in which he questioned the benefits of unrestrained economic growth,
Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England,
An extract from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto,
Henry Mayhew’s ‘Labour and the Poor’,
‘The Last Sark’ by the radical working class poet, Ellen Johnston,
Thomas Hardy’s ‘To An Unborn Pauper Child’,
The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938, by Jack Dash, a Member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union,
George Orwell’s ‘England, Your England’,
John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’,
Jimmy Reid’s Inaugural Speech as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972,
and Dick Gaughan’s ‘Call It Freedom’.

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland by the Glasgow Weavers, 1820,
Richard Oastler’s Letter to the Leeds Mercury on Slavery, denouncing the harsh conditions endured by children working in the factories and mines,
George Loveless, the Tolpuddle Martyr,
Patience Kerr’s Testimony before the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842,
Thomas Kerr’s ‘Aw’s Glad the Strike’s Duin’, 1880,
William Morris’ The Depression of Trade and Socialism: Ends and Means, 1886,
Annie Besant on White Slavery in London,
Samuel Webber’s Memories of the Matchgirl’s Strike,
Ben Tillett on the Dock Strike, 1911,
The Speech, ‘I am here as the Accuser’ by John Maclean, a Revolutionary Glaswegian Socialist tried for sedition for trying to dissuade soldiers from fighting in the First World War,
An account of the General Strike of 1926 by an Ashton Sheet Metal Worker,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’,
Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’,
An account of the Miners’ Strike by Bobby Girvan and Christine Mahoney,
And Mark Serwotka’s ‘Imagine Not Only Marching Together, but Striking Together’, of 2011 against the Coalition.

The section on Equal Rights has an extract from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism,
Emmeline Pankhursts’ Kill Me or Give Me My Freedom,
George Orwell’s ‘A Hanging’,
and a section for the voices of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street against Mosely’s Blackshirts.
This section includes the testimony of William J. Fishman, a Stepney Labour activist, the then secretary of the Communist Party, Phil Piratin, Joe Jacobs, another member of the Communist Party, also from Stepney, Julie Gershon, a Stepney resident, Mr Ginsburg, from Cable Street, and Mrs Beresford, of Lascombe’s fish and chip shop.
These are followed by an extract from Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’.

The section and war and piece begins with Thomas Hoccleve’s An Appeal for Peace with France of 1412,
a Handbill from the Weavers of Royton, 1808,
John Bright’s Speech against the Crimean War,
Bertrand Russell’s Letter to the Nation, 1914,
Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against War, 1917,
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’,
The section answering the question, ‘How Should War be Prevented?’ from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas,
James Maxton’s Speech Against War,
Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator,
Phil Piratin on the Invasion of the Savoy Hotel, 1940,
Denis Knight, The Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear March, 1958,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, dedicated to Scots anti-Nuclear marchers,
and Adrian Mitchell’s ‘To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies about Vietnam)’, 1964.

There is also a section of voices from the women involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, containing testimony and memories from Kim Besly, Sarah Hipperson,Ann Pettitt, and Thalia Campbell.
This is followed by Mary Compton’s speech at the Stop the War Coalition, and Robin Cook’s resignation speech to parliament against the invasion of Iraq.

The section and gender and sexual equality begins with an anonymous sixteenth century Song on the Labour of Women,
The Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women, 1649, against the imprisonment of four of the Levellers,
An anonymous article from the Saint James Chronicle from 1790, recording the ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ between the ‘Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792,
Anna Wheeler and William Thompson’s ‘Address to Women’, an extract from their pamphlet, Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825,
A letter by an anonymous prostitute from the Times, 1858,
Josephine Butler’s An Appeal to the People of England, on the Recognition and Superintendence of Prostitution by Governments,
Edmund Kell, ‘Effects of the Acts Upon the ‘Subjected’ Women, against the humiliation endured by women through the examinations under the Contagious Diseases Act,
Oscar Wilde’s Second Trial for ‘Gross Indecency’,
Helen Gordon Liddle’s The Prisoner, an account of the force-feeding of the Suffragettes under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act,
Two passages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,
Against the Law, by Peter Wildeblood, a journalist and TV producer arrested for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency,
The memories of Vicky and Janice of Lesbian Life in Brighton in the 1950s and ’60s,
Selma James and the Women’s Liberation Workshop, ‘Women against the Industrial Relations Act’, 1971,
Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’,
Quentin Crisp’s How to Become a Virgin,
and Ian McKellen’s Keynote Speech at the 2008 Stonewall Equality Dinner.

The section, ‘Battling the State’, has pieces and extracts from
Tariq Ali’s ‘The Street is Our Medium’, from Black Dwarf, the newspaper of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with a copy of Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to Street Fighting Man.
Paul Foot’s Speech on the Murder of Blair Peach, 1979,
The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’, 1982,
Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, against the Falkland’s War,
Pensioner Nellie discussing the Poll Tax revolt,
Jeremy Hardy, ‘How to Be Truly Free’, 1993,
‘Catching Buses’ by the Bristolian disabled rights activist, Liz Crow,
Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, 2005,
Mark Thomas’ ‘Put People First G20 Protest of 2009,
Euan Booth’s ‘Subversively Move Tony Blair’s Memoirs to the Crime Section in Bookshops’,
The Speech on Student Protests by the fifteen-year old schoolboy, Barnaby Raine, to the Coalition of Resistance Conference.
The book ends with Zadie Smith’s piece attacking library closures in 2011.

As well as notes and a normal index, the book also has a chronological index, placing the pieces in order according to the dates they were written.

The book is indeed encyclopaedic and comprehensive in the range of its selected texts through two millennia of history. Firth is quite right when he says that much has been necessarily left out. Whole can and have been written about some of the subjects he has touched on, such as popular protest in history, the Enclosures, Chartism, the development of British Socialism, Irish, Scots and Welsh history and nationalism, Socialism in Britain, opposition to the workhouse, to name but a few. There are a number of works on gay, gender and women’s history. E.P. Thompson himself wrote a history of the English working class, which remains one of the standard texts on the subject. Labour history-writing goes further back than Thompson, however. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote two books on the country and town labourers respectively. A number of the first Labour MPs to be voted into parliament have also left their autobiographies, describing their rise from manual labourer to Member of Parliament.

The book does an important service by showing just how old some of the issues and techniques raised and used by today’s protesters actually are. Hoccleve’s appeal for peace with France shows that peace protests go right back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the Tenth Century the Church led a peace movement to establish God’s Truce. This was the ban on fighting by the knights and the aristocracy on certain days of the week, so that the peasants, their crops and livestock were harmed as little as possible. And some of the 19th century popular protests are surprisingly modern in flavour. I was struck in the 1980s by how similar Cobden and Bright’s peace meetings demanding an end to the Crimean War were to contemporary anti-Nuclear peace marches and protests. An earlier generation would doubtless be struck by the similarity to the anti-Vietnam protests. The various articles, pamphlets, books and letters written attacking British imperialism are a reminder that, even during the intensely patriotic Victorian age imperialism and colonial expansion were the subjects of criticism. One of Gladstone’s ministers was privately strongly anti-imperial, and wrote articles for the Liberal press denouncing imperialism. ‘A love of empire’, he wrote, ‘is the love of war’. It’s as true now as it was then.

The Anti-Saccherist League is another example of a startlingly modern Victorian protest. It was an early example of ethical consumption. It aimed to attack slavery by destroying the profits from sugar produced by slaves. Instead of buying sugar from the Caribbean, it instead promoted Indian sugar, which it believed was produced by free people. The book doesn’t mention it, but there were also feminist campaigns to end slavery. One of the petitions against slavery compiled by anti-Slavery activists, was by women, attacking the brutality experienced by enslaved women, and addressed to the Queen herself, Victoria. It was felt that she, as a woman, would have more sympathy to the sufferings of the other members of her gender in slavery than men. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman is justly famous, and has been published in Penguin Classics. It, and the 19th century pamphlet similarly protesting women’s subordination and exploitation are a reminder that feminism did not begin with the suffragettes or was a product of ’60s radicalism.

Some of the older, more ancient texts from the book could easily be reprinted today as an indictment of modern conditions and attitudes under the Coalition. The descriptions of the government and employers’ opposition to the dock and matchgirls’ strikes sound very modern indeed, and Annie Besant’s denunciation of white slavery in London – the gruelling work performed in factories by poorly paid and exploited workers, sounds exactly like the world Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the whole foul crew would like to drag us back to.

I do, however, have problems with some of the material included in the book. It’s true that the United Kingdom was largely created through military expansion and conquest, as the Anglo-Norman barons first took Wales, and then established the English pale and suzerainty over the Gaelic clans in Ireland. They tried to conquer Scotland, but England and Scotland were only politically united after the failure of the Darien colony in the early 18th century. The history of the British control of Ireland is one of repeated misgovernment and oppression, as well as missed opportunities for reform and improvement. If some of George III’s ministers had succeeded in enfranchising Roman Catholics, so that they had at least some of the same rights as Protestants, or Gladstone, himself very much a member of the Anglican Church, had succeeded in granting ‘Home Rule all round’ to the ‘Celtic Fringe’, then some of the sectarian and political violence could possibly have been avoided. Discrimination against Roman Catholics was widespread and resulted in the Civil Rights demonstrations by Ulster Catholics in the 1960s. It also produced the Nationalist terrorist groups, who, like the Loyalist terrorists, which opposed them, have been responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of civilians. I do have strong reservations of parts of the Irish folk scene, because of the way folk songs describing and denouncing historic atrocities by the British, were used by Nationalist paramilitaries to drum up hatred and support for their murderous campaigns. I am certainly not accusing any of the modern folk groups included in the book, whose lyrics denounce what they see as the continuing oppression of the Irish people, of supporting terrorism. Firth and Arnove appear to have deliberately avoided choosing the contemporary folk songs that do glamorise terrorism. Nevertheless, there is a problem in that some of the Irish folk songs about the suffering of their country and its people can be so abused. I am also definitely not impressed with Protestant, Loyalist sectarianism and its vilification of and celebration of violence against Roman Catholics.

It’s also the case that historically at least, many Protestants did support the aspirations of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen for freedom and emancipation. A few years ago Mapping the Town, BBC Radio 4’s urban history programme, broadcast an edition from Belfast. This noted that one of the first Roman Catholic churches built in the town in the late 18th or early 19th century was half funded by the town’s Protestants. Although there denominations were recognised and permitted by the Anglican establishment, unlike Roman Catholicism, which was rigorously prohibited, they also suffered serious legal disabilities and were prevented from holding political office. They shared the resentment their Roman Catholic friends and fellow Irishmen felt, and so sometimes, as here, made common cause with them. The book does include some of the speeches from Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen, the 18th century militant Nationalist organisation that included both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This makes the point that the struggle for an independent Ireland has historically included Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, possibly some further Irish Protestant texts supporting independence or Roman Catholic emancipation would have been useful, to show such issues can and did transcend the religious divide.

Another problem with the section on Ireland is that in Northern Ireland the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the province was created through an uprising against the possibility that it would become part of Eire. While the oppression of Roman Catholics in Ulster is definitely undemocratic, it also has to be recognised that Ulster has remained part of the UK through the wishes of a majority of its people. This has been implemented through democratic politics, which is something that needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, the exclusive focus on Irish nationalism in the book obscures the fact that the province’s inclusion in the UK does have a popular democratic mandate.

A further issue is the exclusion of a modern, working class Ulster Protestant voice. Nearly a decade ago now the Independent reviewed a play by a working class Ulster Protestant playwright about the Troubles. The play was about a family reacting to the rioting occurring outside. I’ve unfortunately forgotten, who the playwright was. What I do remember was his comment that working class Protestants in Ulster were disenfranchised, as there were no organisations representing them. It’s a controversial claim, but there’s more than a little truth in it. Many of the working class political parties in Northern Ireland, such as the SDLP, are more or less Nationalist. The Unionist party, on the other hand, was formed from the merger of the Conservative and right-wing parts of the Liberal party. There has therefore been little in the way of working-class Protestant political parties, although some of the militant Protestant paramilitaries did adopt a radical Socialist agenda in the 1970s. Again, it would have been good to have a text or so examining this aspect of Northern Irish politics, though one which would not support the Protestant paramilitaries and their violence.

Equally problematic is the inclusion in the book of the voices of the womenfolk of the men imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay, collected by Victoria Brittain. Now Gitmo is indeed a human rights abuse. The prisoners there are held without trial or sentencing. The reasoning behind this is that, while they are guilty of terrorism offences, wartime conditions and the pressures of battle mean that it has been impossible to obtain the level of evidence required to secure a conviction under civilian law. If they were tried, they would be acquitted, and disappear to continue their terrorist campaigns against the US. Hence, for national security they must be detained outside the law. It’s a dangerous argument, as it sets up a precedent for the kind of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ disappearances and incarceration without trial of domestic opponents that was ruthlessly used by the Nazis on their political opponents in Germany.

This does not mean that the men held without trial in Gitmo are democrats. Far from it. Those that fought for the Taliban supported a vehemently anti-democratic regime. It was a violently repressive theocracy, which rejected ‘man-made law’ in favour of the Sharia. Under the Taliban, no forms of religious belief or unbelief were tolerated apart from Islam. Women were prevented from going out in public except when clad in the chador. As they were supposed to be silent and not draw attention to themselves when in public, they were beaten if they made a sound. This included the noises made by the artificial limbs of women, who had been mutilated by the mines and ordnance used in the fighting. There was also an active campaign against female education. This situation has been challenged by the presence of the Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hardy in the News Quiz derided this as ‘collateral feminism’. He has a point. The war was not fought to liberate or improve the conditions of Afghan women. This is very much a side effect. However, if the Western occupation of Afghanistan does raise their status and give them more freedom, then it will have done some good.

As for the occupation of Afghanistan itself, I’ve read material that has argued that the real reason the Western forces are there is to secure access to and appropriate the country’s oil pipelines. There’s possibly something in that. However, the immediate reason for the invasion was al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. The destruction of the Twin Towers and parallel attacks on the Pentagon and the White House were acts of war. There is simply no two ways about this, and the West’s counter-attack and invasion of Afghanistan was an entirely appropriate response. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous to include the piece of on the suffering of the wives of the men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, when the men themselves were the militant, murderous supporters of an oppressive regime that itself had absolute contempt for democracy and Western notions of human rights.

If many of the texts in this volume seem surprisingly modern, the extracts on the Ladies of Llangollen can be somewhat misleading in that historically British society has recognised a number of intense same-sex relationships, that were not at the time regarded as homosexual, or which included a homosexual element that was nevertheless seen in context as part of a wider relationship. There has been a book published within the last year or so on the homosocial relationship between medieval knights, which examined the all-male camaraderie and loyalty between them. The chivalrous concept of campiognage, which was the extreme friendship and loyalty between two knights, could be described in homosexual terms, even when one knight was helping his comrade in arms to escape with his lady love. In the 19th century there was the ‘romantic friendship’. This was a devoted friendship between two members of the same sex. These now can strike us as definitely gay, but at the time these were not seen as being necessarily homosexual or particularly extraordinary. Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried next to another priest, with whom he shared a profound friendship, was almost certainly such a Victorian romantic friendship, rather than a straightforward gay relationship. Although the ladies of Llangollen described themselves as having eloped, they always maintained that they devoted themselves to artistic and intellectual pursuits. They were celebrated at the time for their devotion to each other, and visitors to their home included many of the 19th century’s great and good, including the Duke of Wellington. It seems to me therefore that there relationship was seen as another romantic friendship, rather than a lesbian relationship.

It is also the case that the Victorians were aware of the existence of lesbianism. The story that when they were formulating the laws against homosexuality, Queen Victoria and her ministers did not outlaw female homosexuality because they didn’t believe it existed is a myth. They knew that it did. They just didn’t see it as a particular threat. The historian Martin Pugh makes this point in his book, British Fascism between the Wars. He argues that lesbianism was only perceived as a threat to British society after the First World War, when there was a ‘crisis of masculinity’. It was widely believed that the cream of British manhood had all been carried off by the War, and that only inferior men had been left behind. This created the atmosphere of sexual panic in which arose Pemberton Billing and his notorious black book. Billing was an extreme Right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the Germans were blackmailing British homosexuals into betraying their country. He claimed to have a little book containing the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’, and regularly attacked other public figures with accusations that they were gay. At least one of his victims sued for libel, but the trial was called off when Billing accused the presiding judge of being another gay, whose name was in his book. I’m no legal expert, but it has struck me that the judge would have grounds for jailing him for contempt. Moral fears and legislation against gay women arguably date from this period, rather than the Victorian age.

These reservations aside, this is a powerful, inspiring book, that should encourage and empower anyone with an interest in radical history and who is determined to defend freedom and dignity today from the increasing attacks on it by the Coalition, the most reactionary regime this country has endured since the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.

The Bedroom Tax: Tories Turning Socialism around to Punish the Poor

November 15, 2013

A friend once described the Coalition’s policies to me as ‘Socialism for the rich’. He’s quite right, of course. Under Socialism, the resources of the state are used to improve conditions for the poorest members of society. Since Thatcher, however, this situation has been completely reversed. The power of the state has been used instead to enrich the wealthiest and most powerful, while further grinding down and impoverishing the poorest. You can see that in the way immense tax breaks have been granted to the extremely rich, while companies have been given lucrative government contracts and subsidies for providing essential, including the management of state-owned organisations and parts of the civil service. These include the railways, parts of the NHS, the police service, and the welfare infrastructure, now being mismanaged by Serco, G4S and ATOS. The poor, on the other hand, have seen their state support, in the form of welfare benefits, cut and the services they use privatised and placed in the hands of the private sector.

It seems the Coalition have a strategy of finding a Socialist policy, and then inverting it to use against the very people it was designed to help. The bedroom tax is an example of this.

Something similar was to the fictitious ‘bedroom’ subsidy was in fact proposed in Germany in the 1920s by the USDP – the Unabhangige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or the Independent German Social Democrats. They were a Left-wing, but Non-Communist, Socialist party that had split from the Social Democrats over their alliance with the bourgeois parties and use of the paramilitary Freikorps units to put down the Council Revolution that had spread through Germany and Central Europe in 1919. One of the policies adopted by the USDP was that legislation should be passed, forcing homeowners to take in the homeless. This use of state power over the homes of private individuals may now appear shocking to a British public, raised on the Thatcher ideal of popular home-ownership. On the continent, however, most people live in rented accommodation. At the time, houses were split into multiple occupancy, with different families occupying different rooms within the same house. The poorest could be crammed into single rooms, such as the mother of one of the child victims in Fritz Lang’s cinematic classic, M. Twenty years ago one of the journalists in the colour section of the German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, went back to visit Silesia. This was one of the two ‘arms’ of Germany to the north and south of Poland, which had been granted to the new country after World War II, and its German population expelled. The journalist had been one of those 1 1/2 million people, who had been forced to move to the new German borders further west. On his visit to his former home, he managed to find his old neighbourhood and its building, reminiscing about the various families that had shared the house in which he had lived as a boy. The legislation proposed by the USPD would therefore have been used against landlords as an attempt to solve the housing crisis that afflicted many countries, including Britain, after the World War I.

Mike over at Vox Political and a number of other, great Left-wing blogs have pointed out that the so-called subsidy the Coalition claims was granted to council tenants with a spare bedroom is entirely fictitious. It never existed. The claimed rationale for ending it, is that it would either force tenants with an extra, unused room to take in a lodger, or else free up council properties to be used by those, who really need such extra rooms to house their members. In fact it’s simply another ruse to slash welfare spending, and at the same time penalise those in council housing. In fabricating their pretext for doing so, the Tories have clearly taken the same idea as that proposed by the USPD, and then turned it backwards so that it affects and penalises not the prosperous rich, but the poorest and most in need of state housing. It is another example of the Coalition’s ‘Socialism for the Rich’.

I wondered if we should not, in fact, return to the spirit of the USPD’s original legislation. Cameron and the Old Etonian aristos and members of the haute bourgeoisie, who adorn his cabinet and Tory Central Office are, after all, public servants. They are paid salaries and expenses by the state. They are also very wealthy individuals, whose homes no doubt match their inflated incomes. This also applies to the heads of the companies contracted to run what little remains of the state infrastructure. These state should similarly have the right to force them to open up their mansions to the poor and destitute. David Cameron this week made a speech declaring that working-class children should raise their aspirations. Well, what better example can Cameron set for the new, aspiring, socially mobile working class he envisions, than for he and his colleagues to give a place at their firesides to the homeless and Job Seekers. The radical journalist Cobden believed that one of the causes of the unrest and dissatisfaction rife in early 19th century Britain was due to the breakdown of the hospitality farmers traditionally gave their workers. In traditional agricultural society, these ate and lived with the farmer himself, and so master and servants shared bonds of familiarity and loyalty. By the time Cobden was writing, this had broken down, and Cobden believed that their banishment from their master’s house and table was a major cause of class discontent. Surely, as someone determined to restore the great traditions of British society, Cameron should be the first to return to this great custom, and offer his own home as residence to Britain’s new poor as a good, paternalistic master in this century?

Staring into the Abyss: The Return of the Colonels to Greece?

September 30, 2013

Pride’s Purge has posted this disturbing piece, Far-Right Coup in Greece in the Offing?, on an ultimatum delivered to the Greek civilian government by the country’s Reservist Special Forces demanding the dissolution of the current government, the nationalisation of German-owned businesses and the expulsion of immigrants. The Purge’s article begins:

‘(Not satire – it’s the result of pointless austerity to pay back non-existent debts to reckless bankers)

A very worrying announcement has just been made by the Greek army Special Forces Reserve Union in Greece after increasing violence between neo-fascist Golden Dawn supporters and the government.

A bulletin was posted on the SFRU website yesterday which included a demand for the immediate resignation of the democratically elected Greek government, the seizure of German owned business and repatriation of immigrants.’

He then gives a rough translation of the Reservists’ demands.

The article can be read at http://tompride.co.uk/far-right-coup-in-greece-in-the-offing.

Now this is extremely worrying, and should put everyone involved in left-wing politics in Europe on the alert. It looks like the army, or at least a section of it, once again wants to take power in Greece, just as it did in the 1970s. Their seizure of power was the result of a deliberate ‘strategy of tension’ planned and executed by Fascist groups and parties in collaboration with sympathetic extreme Right-wing elements in the state. One of the chief agents in this was an Italian neo-Fascist called Della Chiaei, who has to be one of the most vile characters ever to stalk the Post-War political fringe. Della Chiaei hated the post-War, bourgeois democratic Italian republic. He later said of himself that ‘others coloured their nausea with red. I coloured mine black’, meaning that like the extreme Left, he was sickened by modern Italy, but turned to Fascism rather than revolutionary socialism. Fascist ‘strategy of tension’ consisted in promoting political break down and establishing a state of emergency by infiltrating radical Left-wing groups and directing them towards terrorism. The resulting chaos and panic provides the Fascist sympathisers in the state with the opportunity of declaring a state of emergency, seizing political power and establishing a Fascist dictatorship with the consequent dismantling of any human rights or democratic political institutions. Della Chiaei began his career infiltrating a Bakuninite anarchist group, and encouraging them to engage in a bombing campaign. When his campaign of ultra-Right terrorism failed to result in a Fascist coup in Italy, he went off to do the same in Greece. The result was the military coup and the notorious ‘rule of the Colonels’. According to Purge’s article, the Reservists state that they are demanding these policies as a result of their battles with the Fascist Golden Dawn. Although the army’s opponents in this case are Neo-Fascists, rather than the extreme Left, it still seems very much to me that a similar ‘strategy of tension’ is being enacted there.

And if it happens in Greece, it will start to happen elsewhere as well. Despite Mussolini’s initial statement, history has proved that Fascism is very much for export. Della Chiaei went all the way round the world, including to South America, working for extreme Right-wing dictatorships. I was talking about the current European political situation with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he was worried that were seeing the end of the democracy in Europe. Right-wing parties, and anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic organisations are on the rise all over Europe, from Jobbik in Hungary and the Front National in France. Some of this is simply a reaction to mass, extra-European immigration, particularly from the Islamic world. It is also a reaction to the failure of Neo-Liberalism to provide jobs and opportunities for the poorest in society. Capitalism appears to have failed, Communism was discredited when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many of the European Socialist parties have taken over Neo-Liberal policies to a greater or lesser extent. The Financial Times reported in its magazine right at the beginning of the Millenium in 2000 that many Germans were disillusioned with the Socialist SPD in Germany following Gerhard Schroder’s cuts in benefits. The result is that for some disaffected Europeans, the extreme Right becomes a credible political alternative, and a channel for their resentment at a global economic order that has no time for them.

At the moment, with the exception of the Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik and, to a lesser extent, Fidesz parties, the explicitly Fascist parties in Europe are miniscule. The actual long-term membership of the BNP in Britain is minute: about 200 people. Most of its recruits leave after about 2 years, as by and large they have no interest in Fascist ideology. They join it mostly because from an hostility to non-White immigration. The problem is, the Nazis were also a fringe policy until the financial crash of 1929. In an interview on the BBC Alan Moore, the writer of the V for Vendetta graphic novel, said that he was worried about the current government. This wasn’t because the Coalition were Fascists, but because the current austerity programme mirrored Weimar Germany. While I disagree with many of Moore’s views, here he is absolutely right. The news of a possible coup in Greece is extremely worrying. We urgently need to guard against its emergence there, and in the rest of Europe.

Another Angry Voice on 9/11, and Global Anti-Freedom Movements Backed by America

September 12, 2013

9/11 is, of course, the anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre that led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Angry Yorkshireman has another, excellent piece on his blog, commenting on this and demolishing the US claim that they are the defenders of global freedom. He points out that long before the Taliban became our enemy, they were the West’s allies against the Russians in Afghanistan. The West has also supported militant Islamists in Kosovo, in the former Yugoslavia, and is now supporting them against Assad in Syria. He also describes how the Americans supported the overthrow of the Marxist, but democratically elected regime of Allende in Chile as part of a campaign to implement the extreme free trade, monetarist policies of the Chicago school. Under Operation Condor the US worked to install further right-wing, military dictatorships in South America, and then with these regimes to establish similar dictatorships in Meso-America under Operation Charly. The Angry One concludes

‘The 40th anniversary of the US backed military coup in Chile will pass virtually unnoticed in the United States and great swathes of the public will continue to believe the comforting lies that the US has a history of promoting democracy and freedom, rather than a demonstrable history of deliberately and callously undermining them.

The millions of victims of the vile US backed Latin American dictatorships are not the only people that should be remembered on September the 11th. The countless global victims of the vile “greed is a virtue” neoliberal pseudo-economic ideology devised by the Chicago boys, supported by the US government and born in Chile on this day 40 years ago are also just as worthy of remembrance as the victims of the September 2001 atrocities.’

One of the interesting points the Angry One raises is the fact the Argentinian Junta installed by the US replaced the regime of Isabel Peron. This raises the issue of the influence of Peronism in Argentinian politics. Juan Peron was indeed a thug and mass-murderer, but he also seems to have been motivated by a genuine concern to aid the poor. James Dunkerley, the Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of London, in his book, Warriors and Scribes: Essays on the Politics of Latin America, notes that it is a peculiarity of South American politics Peronism and similar dictatorships take the place in South America of Social Democratic – democratic socialist – parties in Europe. Now Right-wing American authors, such as Jonah Goldberg, have attempted to discredit socialism in America by lumping it in with Fascism. In their eyes, Fascism is a left-wing movement, despite the fact that Mussolini gained power by declaring he supported Free Trade and the Manchester School, and sat with the rest of the Right-wing parties, rather than the socialists and Communists on the Left in the Italiam parliament before it was overthrown and replaced by his personal dictatorship. It has got to the point where American Republican, and their counterparts in Britain, have referred to the Fascist BNP as ‘the Left-wing BNP’. Now this can work both ways. As well as rejecting any equation between democratic socialism and Fascism, I also suggest that instead of using just ‘Fascist’ to refer to any Right-wing dictatorship, we should describe Pinochet’s and similar, free-market regimes as exactly what they are: monetarist, economic libertarian, and carry on describing them as such until the view that such economic policies are automatically associated with freedom is thoroughly discredited.

The Appropriation of Anarchist Doctrines in Fascist Italy and Cameron’s Conservatives: Philip Blonde, Kropotkin and ‘Red Toryism’

August 10, 2013

I’ve blogged previously about the way Cameron’s Conservatives have adopted Rothbard’s Anarcho-Capitalism but without its Libertarian basis as part of their campaign to create an extremely authoritarian, Neo-Liberal state. This parallels the way Mussolini also used the anarcho-syndicalist elements in the Fascist movement and party to create a totalitarian dictatorship, which actively oppressed the workers and violently attacked any kind of socialism. A further example of Cameron’s attempts to appropriate and utilise anarchist ideas is Philip Blonde’s ‘Red Tory’ ideology. Blonde is Cameron’s political mentor. In his book, Red Tory, Blonde is very positive towards the great 19th century Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin was a Russian scientist, whose study of the flora and fauna in Siberia convinced him that Darwin’s idea of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (actually a term coined by Herbert Spencer), was wrong, and that co-operation between organisms was the driving factor in evolution. He was an Anarcho-Communist, who fundamentally believed in essential human goodness. One of the arguments directed against Kropotkin’s anarchism was that he was actually too optimistic about human nature. If humans really were as benign and co-operative as he believed, it was argued, then why would you need a revolution against the capitalist order. Blonde is similarly favourably inclined towards other, libertarian socialist movements in the 19th century. He also draws on the history of paternalistic Tory reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury and the Factory Acts, to try to present a kind of left-wing Conservatism. This tries to show that the Tories can and will pass legislation that will benefit and protect the working class from exploitation.

This libertarian socialist strand of Conservatism was immediately contradicted by the coalitions own policies on taking power. Instead of showing themselves to have any real sympathy for the poor and working class, the Tories and Lib Dems immediately passed legislation curtailing welfare benefits, legal protection for employees, and the exploitation of the unemployed for the benefit of big business. The speed at which they put all this into practice suggests that for all the socialistic ideals presented in Red Tory, Cameron and Blonde were never serious about them. It was instead a propaganda move intended to win a section of the working class away from Tony Blair and New Labour.

Something of the kind still appears to be going on in parts of the Conservative party. Despite the Conservative’s attempts to limit and discourage union membership, one of the Conservatives, Carswell, appears to have embraced them as a potential force for Conservatism and possibly as the cornerstone of authentic working class culture. Less than half of trade unionists vote Labour, and Carswell has, apparently gone every year to various trade union events. At the same time, he is extremely hostile to state welfare provision. My guess is that he’s trying to co-opt the unions for the Tories in an attempt to further break the Labour party from divorcing them from their original base. Quite what he thinks the place of the trade unions are in a Conservative political system, I can only guess. In the early part of the last century the unions were hostile about the establishment of the welfare state because they handled part of the bureaucracy for the workers’ health insurance schemes. Carswell may well be thinking that he could sell Conservatism to the unions this way, by making them responsible for their members welfare, rather than the state. He may also wish to create a system of trade unions that were compliant with the orders of the factory masters, such as the ‘yellow’ trade unions in 19th century Germany and Austria, or the Conservative trade unions of the 1970s.

I think the unions would be extremely foolish, however, if they were taken in by his ideas. The Labour party was formed by the unions, in conjunction with the socialist societies, in order to promote legislation protecting the working class and the engagement with working class issues in parliament. The Conservatives have been consistently hostile to this with successive administrations from Edward Heath onwards passing legislation intended to break their membership and power. As regard the Conservative trade unions themselves, these were dissolved by Thatcher herself. Their leader was left embittered, and declared that the Tories were on the side of the industrial exploiters. Which is what his counterparts on the Left had been saying all that time.

Book Review: The Development of the British Welfare State

July 16, 2013

By Michael Sullivan (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf 1996)

Sullivan State Book

This is another history of the welfare state, though from the standpoint of narrative history, rather than the documentary approach of From Beveridge to Blair. Sullivan’s book was published in the mid-1990s, but I’ve included it here as much of the material it contains is still relevant today.

The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with the development of the British welfare state from the first Liberal legislation introducing old age pensions and health cover to the crisis in the welfare state in the decades from 1970 to the 1990s.

Part two deals with the individual welfare services – education, health policy and the NHS, the personal social services, post-war housing policy, and social security since the war.

The third part summarises the development and apparent decline of the welfare state, raising questions about it such as whether the welfare consensus was ever real.

Before the Welfare State

Chapter 1: ‘Before the Welfare State, covers the introduction of the first welfare legislation passed by Campbell-Bannerman’s Liberal government of 1906. It has sections on the Embryonic Welfare State, discussing the first old age pensions, Lloyd George’s People’s Budget of 1910, and Liberal Social Insurance; Social Democracy: the Political Source of Reformism?; Marxism and Labourism as Twin Threats to Welfare Statism; Fabianism, Ethical Socialism and Social Democracy, with further sections on Fabianism: Its Appeal for Labour, Fabianism’s Contribution to Labour Thinking and The Contribution of Fabianism Considered; Ethical Socialism: the Heart of Labour Reformism; Tawney’s Ethical Socialism: Labour and Social Policy and Labour Social Democracy: Social Reformism Comes of Age.

The Road to 1945: War, Welfare and the People’s Will

Chapter 2 discusses the war years and the run up to Labour’s 1945 election victory. It has sections on the career of Ernest Beveridge and his proposal for the creation of the welfare state, consensus with the major stakeholders, the government’s reaction to the Beveridge report, the debate over the report and disagreements in cabinet about it, the parliamentary debate on Beveridge, which resulted in 121 MPs voting against the government for its reluctance to implement the report’s proposals, which resulted in Churchill being forced to accept it. The chapter also examines the role of collectivism; the emergence of Labour; Social Policy in War Time, with further sections on health policy, this significance of war-time policy for the social policy of the post-war period; Education Policy; and Conclusion.

The Emergence and Growth of the Welfare State

This deals with the development of the welfare state from its foundation in 1945 to 1969. It has the following sections: the Emergence of the Welfare State; the Economic Context; the Post-War Welfare State; Developing Social Security; Introducing a National Health Service; Labour’s Housing Policy; The Mosaic of Reform and Conservatism; Conservative criticisms of the welfare state; Consolidationists versus radicals; Conservativism and Social Policy 1951-64, which has a section on Convervatives and anti-welfarism; Conservative Responses, including Conservative justifications of the welfare state; Reactions to the Right: the Challenge of Social Democracy, including sections on Titmuss’ defence of the Welfare State, Crosland and the Welfare state and his redefinition of socialism, citizenship and social policy, and the rediscovery of poverty; Emerging Issues and Labour and Social Policy, 1964-9.

The Welfare State in Crisis

This chapter deals with the period from 1970 to 1995. The first section, Farewell to Welfare Statism, has sections, on poverty and labour, challenges to Keynes and Beveridge and Enoch Powell and the ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech; the 1970s; Labour on the Welfare Crisis; Conservatives and Social Policy; Welfarism and the new Conservatism; the New Conservative Experiment from 1979-1990, with subordinate sections on dealing with unemployment, restrictions on public expenditure, the National Health Service, radical approaches to social policy from 1983 to 1990; Public Resistance to the Dismantlement of the Welfare State; The Major Governments and Social Policy, with sections on whether the 1990 to 1995 administration was a development of Thatcher’s project or its demise, health policy in the Major governments, education policy in the 1990, rethinking the social agenda, and the Major administrations and social policy. The last section in this chapter is an appraisal of the New Conservatism’s Social Policy, including a discussion of its long-term strategy and incremental change.

Post-War Education Policy: Continuity and Change

The has sections on the Labour Government and the Butler Act; The issue of Comprehensives, including sections on the debate within the Labour Party, the movement away from comprehensive education by teacher’s organisations, and the first comprehensive schools; Education and Society, 1951 to 1964, including sections on the squeeze on education spending, and the replacement of the squeeze by increased spending, the continuing debate over comprehensive education in the Labour party, the question of whether there was a resurgence in the Labour Left, or if it was a redefinition of social democracy, evidence from sociological and psychological research, changes in schooling and changing attitude among parents, education and the economy, and the attitude of the Conservative Party; the various reports into education of the 1950s and 1960s; and the Robbins Revolution in the expansion of the higher education.

Education, Retrenchment, Privatisation and Consumers

This chapter deals with the period from 1965 onwards. It has sections on Education Policy and the Labour Governments, 1964-70, including sections on the Labour government and comprehensive education, the unusual method in which this policy was introduced by administrative circular, the way the cabinet was not involved in the introduction of the policy, relations between central and local government, the Labour party and the professionals involved, such as teachers, and the use of the circular to avoid opposition in parliament; Conservatives and Education, 1970-4, with sections on Margaret Thatcher and the comprehensive schools, her ending of free school milk, her initial policies of expanding education; Education Policy during the 1974 to 1979 Labour Governments, with sections on comprehensive schools and the ‘great debate’ on education; and the Thatcher governments and education.

Health Policy and the National Health Service

This chapter covers the post-war period up to the book’s publication. This has sections on the creation of the National Health Service; the period of initial conflict, followed by consolidation, with sections on demand and supply, consolidation, the question of hardening of inequalities and the power of the medical profession; From ad hoc innovation to rational planning, with sections on the 1962 Hospital Place, and financing the National Health Service; the return to the ad hoc approach to reforms, with sections on the 1974 reorganisation of the National Health Service; the question whether the new philosophies actually led to changes in service, with sections on further reorganisation, the Griffiths Report, general management and the marketization of the National Health Service, marketization and the National Health Service: competitive tendering, marketization and health: private practice, private insurance and private facilities, the national health service reforms, the National Health Service and Internal Markets, papering over the cracks in the White Paper, the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Acts, and where the NHS may go from here. The last section, Making Sense of It All, has further sections on supply and demand and equality. The post-script to this chapter notes the proposed changes by the Labour government at the date the book was written.

Personal Social Services

This chapter begins with a short summary of the post-War social services, including a section on the reorganisation of state social work. There is then further sections on personal social services in the post-War period; the changes in the 1960s, with further sections on the Seebohm report and community development; attempts to fill the gap between aims and resources in the 1970s; the arrival of community social work in the 1980s, with a section on the disappearance of the Barclay Report as it challenged the Neoliberal ideology of the Conservative party; the return of Care in the Community; attempts to explain personal social services policy, including the sections on the Left’s critique, the attack from the Right, and personal social services and the New Conservatism.

Post-War Housing Policy

This begins with Labour’s attempts to end the housing shortage, followed by sections on Macmillan and Housing; the return of the market; the construction of high rise flats; Conservatives and the market; the New Towns; the ‘affluent society’ and housing policy in the 1960s, with sections on demographic change, the reaction to the Rachman scandal, Labour and housing policy from 1964-70, a new ideology and the decision to build more houses, the ending of the construction of high rise flats, and the existence of the homeless poor in the new welfare state; the record of Ted Heath’s Conservative government on housing 1970-4; Labour and Housing, 1974 to 1979; Changing policies to housing during Margaret Thatcher’s three administrations, with sections on the right to buy, the 1988 Housing Act. The last section is a critical summary of Post-War housing policy.

Social Security Since the War

This has sections on the Conservatives and Social Security, 1951-64, with a sections on pensions; Labour, and Poverty and Social Security, with sections on demographic and economic crisis, the rediscovery of poverty, and the Left’s reappraisal; the Heath Government and Social Security, with sections on Keith Joseph and the Family Income Supplement, the expansion of social security, the retrenchment in welfare spending due to the 1973 oil crisis, and the integration of tax and social security; Labour governments and social security policy; the Thatcher Governments and Social Security, with section on the 1976-8 review, her first administration, the 1980 ‘Annus Horribilis’, attacks on ‘scroungers’, the Fowler Review in Mrs. Thatcher’s Second Administration, Income Support, Family Credit, Housing Benefit, Social Fund, SERPS, the promise of radical change, and the 1988 Social Security Act; Emerging Issues, with sections on the preference for means-testing, the retention of work incentives, fraud and abuse, racism against the Black community, the contraction of the role of the state in favour of charities, self-reliance and independence, and the construction of residual welfare state; the 1990s, with sections on workfare and the Tory ‘Bastards’ in Major’s administration. The final section summarises briefly the changes in social security from 1945.

From the Cradle to the Grave: The Beginnings, Development and Demise of the Welfare State?

This final chapter reviews the progress and changes in the welfare state in order to question whether it is at its end. It has the following sections, on whether there was a real welfare consensus, Keyne’s, Beveridge and the origins of the 1945 welfare settlement; Neoliberal and Radical Right hostility to the post-War consensus as ‘backdoor tyranny’, and scepticism on whether the consensus ever existed at all; the question of whether the consensus has been smashed, with sections on the problems of Thatcher’s first administration, and her administrations from 1983 to 1990, the National Health Service, Education, Social Security and Personal Social Services, and Housing; Majorism and Welfare, with sections on social policy spending and his introduction of Thatcherite policies on the family and personal responsibility; continuity and change in the welfare state from 1945 to 1995; Continuity and change, with further sections on the debate over equality, professionals and welfare; further directions in the welfare state, with sections on Labour and the welfare state in the 1990s, Blair’s shift from social class to community, whether the effective re-making of the Labour Party meant the death of social democracy, economic prudence, the acceptance of internal markets in the NHS; New Labours emphasis on social responsibility rather than social rights, opt-out schools, from universalism and selectivism, ineffecitiveness and inefficiency and consumerism in the old welfare state, and Labour and consumer choice.

Each chapter has a chronology and suggestions for further reading.

The book provides a detailed examination of the development of the welfare state over its first fifty years, and the nearly forty years prior to its establishment by Clement Atlee. It covers the political debates and manoeuvring over policy, and includes extracts from the speeches and documents made and compiled by its architects, reformers and adversaries. These can be quite long – the speech by Lloyd George advocating his ‘people’s budget’ is well over a page. It thus provides a good overview of the welfare state’s history, and the changes from state provision to the post-Thatcherite political climate of hostility, privatisation and marketization, and the reliance on charities.

Gun Rights in 19th Century Britain: A Left-Wing Cause

July 7, 2013

The issue of gun rights – the right of the individual to bear arms, as stated in the American 2nd Amendment, is today pretty much the preserve of the Conservative Right in America and Britain. There are some Democrats and Radicals, however, who support the individual’s right to arm him- or herself against tyranny. In 19th century Britain, however, gun rights were supported and demanded by radical members of the disenfranchised working class.

Peter Hitchens on Contemporary Politics and the British Empire

After the last shooting tragedy in America, Peter Hitchens’ posted his views on the issue on his blog on the Mail on Sunday webpage. Hitchen’s is very much a man of the Right, having rejected his youthful Trotskyite Marxism and moved across the floor to Conservatism. He is also a staunch defender of Christianity, unlike his late brother, Christopher, who was a militant New Atheist. Nevertheless, politically Hitchen’s is very much his own man. He heartily despises David Cameron for his rejection of tradition, Conservative marriage and sexual morality. He frequently derides him as ‘Mr. Slippery’ for Cameron’s electoral duplicity and lack of any consistent morals. Some of his views seem to be those of the traditional Left, or Butlerian Conservatism, rather than modern Cameronite post-Thatcherism. He had opposed the sale to the private sector of council houses and the railway network, and objects to private policing and prisons on the grounds that only the state has the moral authority to prosecute and punish crime. Many of his views are eccentric and highly controversial. He believes that we should have stayed out of the Second World War, for example. In his view this would have allowed us to preserve our national independence and Empire against the supranational, unaccountable misgovernment of the European Union. I believe he is profoundly mistaken in this. In one of his articles from the 1930, George Orwell describes watching a parade of Black African troopers in the French army in Morocco. Orwell describes the troopers’ expectant looks as they saluted the watching White officers. He stated that at that point, he knew what every white man there was thinking, ‘How long can we keep on fooling these people?’ The break-up of the British Empire was partly a product of Britain’s economic exhaustion and near-defeat by the Axis during the Second World War. Nevertheless, the independence movements in Africa and particularly India predate the War. Modern historians of the British Empire have pointed out that the Empire was actually an economic drain on Britain after c. 1900. In many ways the Second World War merely accelerated a process that had already began, rather than caused the break-up of the Empire.

Peter Hitchen’s on Gun Ownership

However strange or peculiar Hitchen’s views are, they are always historically informed. According to Hitchen’s, 19th century Britain had an attitude towards the freedom to buy arms that makes modern Texan legislation look positively effeminate. The licensing of firearms was only introduced in the 1920 when governments feared a possible revolution. I don’t know, but this sounds about right. The 1917 Russian Revolution had been accompanied by radical revolutionary campaigns throughout Europe. A soviet revolution broke out in Germany in 1919, comprising independent radical Socialists and anarchists, which then gave rise to a full-scale Communist insurrection in German, Austria and Hungary. Italy in the same period saw ‘Red Week’ and the invasion of the factories, again by radical Socialists. Even after these were put down, the situation was still very unstable politically, with militant anti-democratic movements of both Left and Right. These included the Nazis in Germany, and the seizure of power by Mussolini’s Fascists in Italy. It was against the rise of these violent, paramilitary movements, including the British Union of Fascists, that the government introducing legislation banning uniformed political organisations. My guess is that the restriction on firearms ownership was part of this legislation.

19th Century British Chartism

In 19th century England, the right to own guns and other weapons was demanded by the ‘physical force’ Chartists, militantly campaigning for the franchise to be extended to the working class. Government at that time was strongly aristocratic, and the franchise was very much restricted to the landed aristocracy and gentry and the middle classes. Poverty, disease and squalor were common. Working hours were long, and conditions appalling. Fourteen hours days were the norm. One German writer in the 1820 in Bavaria said he knew young people in their 1920s who already looked like old men, so worn out were they by hard work. Chartism was an attempt by the working class to gain the right to vote and political freedom against this background of hardship and inequality. Led by the London cabinet-maker, William Lovett and Francis Place, a master tailor, the movement’s charter, from which it took its name, had six demands:

1. Votes for all men over 21.
2. No property qualifications.
3. Annual parliaments.
4. Equal Representation (which meant that all electoral constituencies were to be equal in size)
5. Payment of MPs
6. Vote by ballot.

Chartism and the Right to Bear Arms

Beyond the Charter, the movement could be extremely diverse with no uniform political philosophy. Most Chartists were laissez-faire economic liberals. Some were Socialists. There were Christian Chartists, who combined a radical programme of political democracy with worship of the Lord in their own chapels. There was also a division between ‘physical force’ Chartists, who were prepared to use violence to advance their gaols, and the more respectable ‘moral force’ Chartists, who believed that only logic and rational persuasion should be used. Among the ‘physical force’ Chartists were Joseph Rayner Stephens and R.J. Richardson. Stephens was a radical Methodist minister from Ashton-Under-Lyne, who had been disowned by the Methodist Conference for his views. He exhorted working men to take up arms to defend their constitutional rights against a brutal, centralizing authority. R.J. Richardson, who came from Salford, joined him in his demands. In 1839 he gave a lecture to the Chartist National Convention ‘to show the advantage and propriety of arming the people as the best guarantee of the liberties of a country’, citing authorities as diverse as Aristotle, Queen Elizabeth and Dr. Johnson.

Decline of Chartism and Hitchen’s View of Gun Ownership

Chartism declined after the middle of the century from a number of causes. Partly this was ridicule, as the monster petitions of millions of signatures presented to parliament by the Chartists to secure constitutional reform consisted mostly of forged signatures, like ‘the Duke of Wellington’ and ‘Queen Victoria’. Another cause was the rise in living standards as the economy expanded and legislation improved housing and working conditions. Lastly, successive legislation enlarging the franchise, culminating in that of Disraeli’s Conservatives, gave nearly all working men except the very poorest the vote, thus making the Charter obsolete. Nevertheless, its history does show that in the 19th century the right to bear arms was a demand of the revolutionary Left, rather than the Conservative Right as it is today. As for Hitchens’ view of gun ownership, he stated that in his view you should have the right to own one, but having seen what they did to the human body, you shouldn’t really want one.