Posts Tagged ‘Socialists’

Vox Political on Yet Another Anti-Semitism Smear against Jackie Walker

September 29, 2016

I was starting to think that maybe I wouldn’t have to write many more pieces about the anti-Semitism allegations in the Labour party after my last post, which reported that Mike has his book out, The Livingstone Presumption, which soundly refutes them. In the same piece in which he announces the publication of his book, Mike also discusses an article by Michael Segalov, who roundly denied that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters were anti-Semites. Mr Segalov pointed out that the people, who put their lives and their bodies on the line time and again to protect Jews and their religion, were left-wingers, including Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. He made the point that the real anti-Semites were the Nazis, who have no qualms of spouting their filth and making the Nazi salute right in your face. Smearing genuine anti-racists like Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as anti-Semites devalues the word and its ability to protect Jews from those, who really wish them harm.

Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum against Real Nazism

This is all entirely correct. As I blogged yesterday, it’s been my experience too that the people, who took ant-racism very seriously and went on the marches and demos against racist and Nazi organisations were left-wingers like Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum. And there are all too genuine Nazi organisations in Britain today. One is National Action, which openly spouts conspiracist nonsense about the Jews trying to destroy the White race using Blacks, and whose members will make the Nazi salute and chant ‘Sieg heil!’ during their rallies. There’s also a miniscule National Socialist Party, who are exactly what their name suggests they are: Nazis. A few years ago there was a furore about their meeting in a pub near Bristol. Somehow the organisation had managed to book it to hold a meeting. I think they used a false name. On the day, they were there in full Nazi regalia, complete with flags. The neighbours were disgusted, properly made complaints, and the whole incident ended up on the local news. This included photos and footage of the event, showing the flags. And they were the proper, vile thing.

Jackie Walker Accused Yet Again of Anti-Semitism

Unfortunately, members of the Blairite Labour party hierarchy don’t seem to have got the message that Momentum and its members aren’t anti-Semites, and that the real threat is showing itself quite openly in the shape of National Action and the National Socialist Party. According to a story in today’s Guardian, Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum has faced calls to resign after she made ‘insensitive’ comments at a Labour party training day on anti-Semitism. She ‘incorrectly’ criticised Holocaust Memorial Day for commemorating only Jews, and is quoted as saying

“In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?”

She also took issue with the definition of anti-Semitism used at the training day, and is also accused of questioning the need for Jewish organisations, including schools to have so much security to protect them from attack. Walker has made a statement denying she said this, and apologising for any offence she might have given.

Definitions of Anti-Semitism

Mike in his comments on the case begins by stating that he also appeared at an event marking Holocaust Memorial Day, where he read a piece about the Shoah by the German playwright Peter Weiss. He states he makes an attempt at defining anti-Semitism in his book, but also gives a 7-point definition of it by David Schneider. Roughly summed up, this says that you might by an anti-Semite if you don’t make a distinction between Jews and Israel, hold Jews responsible for all the atrocities committed by Israel unless they explicitly say otherwise, and believe in the stupid conspiracy theories about the Jews having control of capitalism, the government and the BBC in order to control the world. Mr Schneider says of the latter that if they have control of the Beeb, no-one’s yet told him. Which makes me wonder if David Schneider is the actor and comedian, who has been a frequent star on a number of shows, such as the spoof news programme, The Day Today, and Alan Partridge, where he played the TV host’s boss.

Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone Not Anti-Semites

Mike also makes the point that Naz Shah’s suspension has been lifted, and only one of the tweets on which the accusation against her were made could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic. As for Red Ken, they are based on ignorance of history and taking the original comments out of context. He also makes the point that Rhea Wolfson had her bid to join the NEC voted down by her constituency Labour party by Jim Murphy, because she was a member of Momentum, who were anti-Semites. Mike makes the point that it’s amazing how people could believe that an organisation full of anti-Semites would want to see Mrs Wolfson, a Jew, promoted to the party’s governing body.

Mike’s absolutely right. They wouldn’t. The real, Nazi anti-Semites are all about keeping Jews as far away from power as possible, following all that rubbish they believe of the Jewish conspiracy to destroy the Aryan race.

Wilhelm Marr and Anti-Semitism

If you want a short definition of anti-Semitism, try the one from the person, who first coined the term in the 19th century, Wilhelm Marr. Marr was an anti-Semite, and the founder of the Bund der Antisemiten, the League of Anti-Semites, if I recall correctly. He defined anti-Semitism as the hatred of Jews simply for being Jews, regardless of Judaism as a religion. The stupid conspiracy theories that have grown up around them are basically an elaboration of that, roughly based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery drawn up by the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, to persuade Nicholas II to persecute the Jews more savagely in the Russian Empire.

Why Security in Britain?

Mike also makes the point that the Groan’s article does give the definition of anti-Semitism that was made at the event. He also says he is confused about the need for Jewish organisations here to have high security, as the reason given was the example of the attack in Toulouse. This is in France, and the French government has been criticised for failing to protect its citizens, not just Jews. And he also makes another, very good point, that Mrs Walker’s accusers have also shown their insensitivity in not considering the harm they’re doing.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/29/another-anti-semitism-row-that-completely-misses-the-point/

Another Politically Motivated Smear

I think Mike’s right when he observes that the paper doesn’t supply the definition of anti-Semitism the party used at its training day. In fact, I think there is a lot that this article isn’t telling us. And it seems to me that this is yet another attempt to smear Mrs Walker as an anti-Semite, which is itself part of a wider campaign to purge politically liberal Jews from positions of leadership as part of a Neocon agenda.

Israel’s Ethnic Cleansing of the Palestinians

If you remember, Mrs Walker was accused of anti-Semitism previously, because she had dared to criticise Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and state, quite correctly, that other peoples had also experienced their own holocausts. Both of these statements are exactly true. Israel has been and is pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians. It has been abundantly documented by courageous Jewish scholars like Ilan Pappe and Norman Finkelstein. I even found a copy of Pappe’s book on it, whose title calls it what it is, in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham.

The Holocaust and Other Genocides

As for other nations also having suffered their own genocides, the great Afro-American historian and one of the founders of the modern civil rights movement, W.E.B. Dubois, stated that the transatlantic slave trade had caused ‘a holocaust in central Africa’. The extent of the devastation inflicted on the African population by the slave trade is a subject of debate, and many historians of the slave trade would take issue with Dubois’ statement. But nevertheless, that is how many Blacks see the slave trade and its effects on Africa, not unjustifiably. And the campaigns to exterminate the First Nations of North and South America, beginning with the genocide of the Taino in the Caribbean, by European settlers is notorious. If you want to read about the genocide of the Amerindians in America, try the classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. There have also been campaign to wipe out Aboriginal Australians following the British invasion of that country, and a long string of other crimes against humanity, including the ethnic butchery following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, culminating in the Armenian Massacres and the Day of the Sword against the Christian population in the Empire’s Middle Eastern territories. Not to mention the horrific persecutions after the Second World War, such as the invasion of East Timor, Pol Pot in Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide and Bosnia during the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

The Guardian article states that

Holocaust Memorial Day is intended to commemorate all victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and other genocides, including atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda.

Neocon Attacks against Jews Universalising the Holocaust

I wonder if that attitude was being seriously followed at the Labour party training day. It’s certainly the attitude of the older, mainstream Jewish organisations, but more recently this universalising of the Holocaust has come under attack from the Neocon right. For example, one of the rightwing Canadian blogs is Five Feet of Fury, run by Kathy Shaidle. Shaidle’s blog is pro-privatisation. She attacked the 2012 British Olympic opening ceremony because it celebrate the NHS, which she and the other Republicans and High Tories desperately, and openly wanted to see sold off. She was rabidly anti-Muslim, and despite indigenous Canadians. She also hated Bernie Farber, the head of the main Jewish organisation in Canada, and those she derided as ‘official Jews’. In one of her rants against Mr Farber, she attacked him precisely because he had universalised the Holocaust. This was at the time of the Darfur massacres. Mr Farber and his organisation had launched a ‘Shabbat for Darfur’. This was a ‘sabbath’ in the sense of a day of fasting and prayer. Mr Farber and the other organisers explicitly connected the genocide now being suffered by the people of Darfur, with that of other victims of similarly massacres, and the Holocaust of the Jewish people in the Third Reich.

For most decent people, whether they’re Jews or not, Mr Farber’s stance was noble and honourable. He represented a victimised, persecuted people, standing up on behalf of all victimised peoples, to demand an end to the genocide of yet another suffering people. Shaidle, however, had nothing but scorn for Mr Farber, his organisation, and proposed Shabbat. She was outraged that the Holocaust was to be universalised. In her opinion, it was an event unique to the Jewish people, and should be regarded as such. She also sneered at Mr Farber and his organisation for concentrating on the threat to Jews from White Nazi organisations, and ignoring, or downplaying, the threat from militant Islam. The blog is also vehemently Zionist, regularly attacking the Palestinians as terrorists, and defending Israel’s annexation and occupation of the West Bank.

I don’t know how many readers Shaidle’s blog has. Possibly not many, but I don’t think she was alone in her views. The Tories over here definitely want to privatise the health service, as very many people have pointed out, including Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis in NHS-SOS, and I’ve also written my own pamphlet about it, Privatisation: Killing the NHS, which is available at Lulu. Similar attacks on Islam and the mainstream Jewish organisations have also been made by Ezra Levant, a journalist and presenter on a minor right-wing cable TV station in Canada.

The Manipulation of the Commemoration of the Holocaust by Zionism

One of Prof. Norman Finkelstein’s most controversial works is his The Holocaust Industry. Prof. Finkestein wrote it a few years ago, tracing the emergence of an industry exploiting the memory of this most heinous crime from Israel’s victories over the Arabs at the end of the 1960s. He makes the case that the Holocaust has been deliberately exploited by Zionist organisations as a way of creating public support for Israel. I’ll make it very plain here to avoid any misunderstanding: Professor Finkelstein is not a Holocaust denier. He is the son of parents, who managed to survive the horror. Hence, I think, his outrage at the way its memory has been exploited for narrow political gains and the ethnic cleansing of another people.

Using the Holocaust to Justify the Occupation of Palestine

There was an example of the kind of political exploiting Prof. Finkelstein describes about a week ago. Counterpunch wrote an article criticising Binyamin Netanyahu, after he made a speech declaring that he would not halt or recall the colonisation of the West Bank by Israeli settlers, because this would violate their civil rights. And he, or one of his cabinet, invoked the Holocaust once again to justify Israel’s colonisation of the Occupied Territories. It’s disgusting to see one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century used in a piece of twisted rhetoric to justify the persecution and dispossession of another people.

This is what makes me suspicious that there is more behind this latest smear against Jackie Walker. Despite the Groan’s protestations, there are Zionists, who would like the Shoah seen as an exclusively Jewish tragedy and resent its extension to cover the victims of other, similar crimes against humanity. It looks to me that Mrs Walker has been censured, precisely because she did universalise it and has criticised its political use by the Israel lobby.

Jackie Walker’s Black, Jewish and Anti-Racist Heritage and Activism

As for her ‘insensitivity’, I give that the same about of credence I give to the allegations against her of anti-Semitism. Mrs Walker is half-Jewish. Her mother was a Black civil rights activist, who was thrown out of America because of her activism. Her father was a Russian Jew, and so therefore probably knew more than most about real anti-Semitic persecution. She has made it clear that she has always fought against racism and anti-Semitism, and with her heritage, I do not think there are any grounds for doubting her at all. She has also stated that her partner is Jewish, and said in an interview that their family had not spoken to her after the allegations were made. This must clearly have caused her distress, so I think her accusers should be called up on their insensitivity and the emotional distress they have caused her.

The Jews and Other Victims of the Nazis

As for Walker’s own ‘insensitivity’, from the sound of it, she asked a reasonable question at a time when at least some Zionists are trying to deny the universalisation of the Holocaust, and manipulate its memory to support their own ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. It’s a disgusting attitude that insults the memory of those who suffered and perished in the Shoah. And it wasn’t just Jews, who perished in the Nazi camps. The Roma – the Gypsies, who are even now persecuted in central and eastern Europe, were also targeted for extermination by the Nazis as untermenschen, subhumans. As also were the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe – the Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Czechs and Slovaks, who were to be reduced to illiterate peasants supplying the Reich with agricultural goods, when not forced off their homelands for German colonisation and worked to death as slave labourers. And historians of the Reich have pointed out that the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews with their odious Aktion T4 ‘euthanasia’ programme against the disabled. I was taught at school that altogether 11 1/2 million people died in the Nazi camps. The majority of these – six million – were Jews, but in addition to these victims there were 5 1/2 others, who included not just the aforementioned peoples, but also political prisoners – Socialists, trade unionists, Communists, anti-Nazi Conservatives, such as Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first president after the War. It certainly should not be out of the question why these victims are also not given their due commemoration along with the Jews, with whom they were enslaved and perished.

More Hatred against Muslims than Jews in France and Britain?

I also don’t think Mrs Walker was at all out of order when she asked why Jewish organisations, including schools, needed so much high security. I am not complacent about anti-Semitic hate crime against them. The threat of Daesh is very real, as is the murderous buffoons of National Action and the National Socialist Party and related sects. But if the situation in France is comparable to that of England, then Jews are much less likely to suffer hate crime from mainstream British society than Muslims. One of the reasons the French government was keener to protect Muslims from hate crime than Jews, was because more French people considered the Jews to be French than felt that way about Muslims. In polls, only about 5 per cent of French people said that they did not consider Jews really French. While that’s clearly troubling, it’s also somewhat reassuring as it says that 95 per cent of all French people consider Jews to be French. The number of French people, who don’t consider Muslims to be French, is much higher. My guess is the situation in Britain is probably similar, and that more mainstream Brits consider Jews to be properly British than they consider Muslims.

Muslims Also Victims of Islamist Terrorism

Al-Qaeda and Daesh also do not limit themselves to killing only Jews. They kill and maim all Brits, including Muslims. That was abundantly shown in the 7/7 bombings. It was also shown earlier this week, when a young man, who had fallen under their influence, was found guilty of murdering the imam at his local mosque. The imam performed healing rituals using amulets. While this is common in parts of Islam, it is condemned by Daesh. The man was described as ‘self-radicalised’, and had come under their influence through the net. Motivated by the Islamic States sectarian intolerance towards other Muslims, he attacked and killed the imam. Just like Daesh are butchering other Muslims in Iraq and Syria, for having the temerity to hold different views about what it means to be a member of the ‘umma, the Muslim community. Muslims are as at risk from their attacks as the rest of British society.

High Security Imprisoning British Jews and Black Americans?

I think also think that Mrs Walker’s question was justified following remarks about the amount of security around Black schools in America. The left-wing internet news and politics show, The Young Turks, had a piece the other day comparing Black American schools with prisons because of the amount of security. Mrs Walker, as a woman of colour, may well have been worried that the Jewish community was also going to suffer from the same imprisonment behind walls of security designed to protect them. After all, the article states that she was particularly worried about schools, such as that attended by her daughter. While the reasons for the security are different for Black and Jewish communities – its their to protect Jews from attack by outsiders, while it’s present in Black schools to protect the children from the violent criminality that plagues many poor communities – Mrs Walker may well have been worried that the sociological and psychological effect would be the same. If that is the case, then she asked a reasonable question with only the best intentions at heart.

Jackie Walker Smeared; They Owe Us an Explanation

It is therefore my belief that the truly wronged party in this instance is Mrs Walker. This seems to be yet another attempt to smear her character as part of a campaign by the Israel lobby against the country’s critics. As I said, it looks like there is a concerted neocon campaign to make sure that only Zionists have ownership of the memorialisation of the Holocaust, to the exclusion of more liberal voices from the rest of the Jewish community. And I can understand Mrs Walker’s opposition to seeing the Jewish community and its schoolchildren walled off from everyone else behind high security. I feel dismayed by the amount of security schools generally have to maintain, with locked gates, though I well appreciate the need to protect our young people from those, who would do them harm.

I think rather than Mrs Walker being queried and investigated for anti-Semitism and ‘insensitivity’, it is the anonymous organisers of this training day, who deserve to give the rest of the Labour party, both Jews and gentiles, an explanation.

For Netanyahu’s grotesque invocation of ‘human rights’ to justify the ongoing colonisation of the West Bank, see the Counterpunch article ‘The Human Rights of the Settler’, by Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini, at http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/13/the-human-rights-of-the-settler/

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Fuhrer Bonehill Goes Looking for ‘Good-Looking’ Fascists

March 21, 2015

I found this piece on Hope Not Hate, and it’s about more comedy from the one-man Nazi Blitzkrieg, Joshua Bonehill. It seems the saw dust Duce has decided that the reason people don’t support, vote for and join Fascist parties is because their members are all stereotypically hideous. He has therefore released this advert, urging good-looking Nazis to join his party.

Bonehill Good Looking Fascists

If you can’t read it, it says

Activists

We want to create a force of good-looking, disciplined and effective activists.

The media are ever quick to portray us as thugs, scum and degenerates who care more about a can of beer as opposed to the future of this nation. Fascism was never about thuggery or violence. Fascism was all about caring and loving our folk. The skinhead scene worked well for the 1970s and 1980s, but those days are long since behind us, in order to appeal to a new generation, we have to adopt a new appearance.

To which the good Antifas of Hope Not Hate have added the ironic caption ‘Ever since a good-looking Nazi?’

If you look at many of the photos posted of the Nazis at their marches and protests up and down the country, many of them do resemble exactly the stereotype of the beer-bellied, skinhead thug. Nick Griffin, the former BNP leader, was himself so hideous that Private Eye put his mug on the cover as a ‘Nick Griffin fright mask’ you could make.

But even if the Fascist parties did smarten up their image, and started looking like supermodels and Hollywood stars, people still wouldn’t join them. Why? It’s not that their members are hideous, the entire party and its ideology is.

Fascism was all about thuggery and violence, ever since the Nazis and Fascists squadristi went around looking for Communists, Socialists, trade unionists, democrats and Jews to beat up in Weimar Germany and post-WW I Italy. Nice, gentle people don’t make the symbol of their movement the same clubs they use to bludgeon and beat down their opponents, as the Fascists did their mangonello. They also don’t sing songs about racial violence ending with the refrain, ‘Til the Jew lies bleeding at our feet’.

They also don’t engage in war crimes and perpetrate genocides so horrific that they have become the very byword and image of evil for the generations after them.

And the thuggery didn’t stop with the Second World War. It carried on in the post-War years, when one section of the NF deliberately recruited football hooligans and boot boys to attack Blacks, Asians and left-wingers. There is even TV footage of Martin Webster, the NF’s Fuhrer, blandly stating that ‘we are looking for robust young men to protect the country from Communism.’ This didn’t sound at all peaceful. Nor was it meant to be.

Actually, Bonehill’s appeal to find ‘good-looking’ Fascists could prove highly embarrassing, especially after his hilarious phone-in to Christo’s late night show on LBC talking about anal sex. For all their vicious hatred of homosexuals, a sizable proportion of the NF was gay. The head of the BNP before Nick Griffin was gay, and actually had it written into the party’s constitution that it recognised the right of people to enjoy the company of whoever they chose. In the 1980s the head and founder of the British Movement split off from the NF, sneering at them as ‘the gay NF’.

And apart from that, Hope Not Hate reported a little while ago a series of sex scandals in the BNP, with members betraying their partners with other stormtroopers and their partners. There was even a description of the mess left over from some of their more orgiastic meetings in the 1980s.

Bonehill probably won’t recruit many good-looking people. But he might have a few of the other Fascists querying his motives for doing so.

Workfare and the Nazi ‘Arbeitscheu’

February 18, 2014

sanction-sabs

As well as Jews, the Nazis also condemned a number of other groups to the concentration camps. These included Gypsies; gay men; Jehovah’s Witnesses – who were a threat to the regime as they refused to obey Hitler as a ‘secular messiah’; habitual criminals; political prisoners – largely trade unionists, Communists and Socialists, but also those Liberals and Conservatives that defied the Nazi state – who had either already served prison sentences, or been acquitted by the regular courts; and the stateless, including those Germans, who had tried to escape from the Third Reich. They and the Jews were declared to be ‘anti-social parasitical elements’. This also covered the ‘asocial’, which seems to have been a catch-all category for people the authorities decided were somehow subversive or a threat, but had no clear reason why, and the ‘workshy’ – Arbeitscheu in German.

The ‘workshy’ included those, who had rejected offers of work ‘without good reason’.

Himmler Hitler

SS leader Heinrich Himmler with Adolf Hitler. Under Himmler, the SS expanded into a vast industrial complex using concentration camp slave labour.

The reasons given for the imprisonment of Jews with criminal records, the asocial and the workshy were economic and military. They were to provide slave labour for the SS industries and the Nazi building projects. There was even a special branch of SS, the WVHA or Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt, or Economic Government Head Office, that managed the SS’ commercial interests. In 1939 the SS was operating four main businesses. These included excavation and quarrying to supply building materials; a company dealing in products from concentration camp workshops; an agricultural company dealing in food, estates, fisheries and forestry; and a textile company producing uniforms for the SS from the female detainees of women’s concentration camp at Ravensbruck.

Through take-overs of companies in the Sudetenland, the SS controlled most of the Reich’s factories producing mineral water and soft drinks; a vast furniture-making conglomerate created through the forced acquisition of former Jewish and Czech businesses; as well as companies producing building materials – cement, brick, lime and ceramics. These were mostly Polish, and operated using Jewish slave labour.

The SS also rented out their slave workers to other, civilian companies, at the rate of 4-8 marks per slave per 12-hour day. The average life expectancy of an inmate in the concentration camps was 9 months. This gave the SS an average profit of 1,431 marks per each slave.

Now clearly the government isn’t running concentration camps. They may be horrendous in their treatment of the sick, poor, and unemployed, but they’re not that evil. Nevertheless, I have posted a number of pieces pointing out the similarity between workfare and other forms of unpaid labour in the Third Reich, such as Reichsarbeitsdienst, and the gulags in Stalin’s Russia. There is some similarity here with the Nazi’s use of slave labour and workfare.

Osborne Pic

Chancellor George Osborne, who would like sanctioned jobseekers work for big business for free under Workfare.

Since the 1990s, for example, there has been an insistence that those on Unemployment Benefit/ Jobseeker’s allowance should take any job they are offered. If they refuse, they lose benefits. The long term unemployed are placed on the Work Programme and forced to take voluntary work. This is similarly not so much a form of genuine voluntary work, but a means of supplying cheap labour to big business such as Tesco’s. Furthermore, George Osborne announced last year that he was expanding the Workfare system so that even those, whose benefits had been sanctioned, would have to do it. At which point the workfare system becomes true slavery. As many of those, whose benefits have been stopped because of sanctions, have taken their own lives or died or poverty and starvation, the government’s attitudes to disability and unemployment are also lethal. And if Osborne’s plan to force those whose benefits have been stopped to work for businesses for nothing goes through, then it could rightly be said that the only difference between that and concentration camp labour is that so far there are no concentration camps. Of course, this could all change if the firms profiting from workfare decide that they need to build special barracks for them.

I’ve no object to job creation schemes, or to voluntary work. But this is the point – it has to be proper voluntary work, where the worker and choose to do it or not, without losing benefits, and where they can choose for whom they work. They should also be paid a proper, living wage, or receive some other benefits so that they are genuinely trained for work and protected from exploitation. At present, the current workfare schemes do extremely little of this.

This system needs to change, and those responsible for it should be voted out.

Manufacturing Compliance: The Nudge Unit and its Privatisation

February 10, 2014

Blakes 7 weapon

Federation scientist Cozer and his companion, the freed slave Rashel, await galactic freedom fighter Blake in the Blake’s 7 episode, Weapon.

Last Friday and today, the I newspaper has run articles reporting the impending privatisation of the Government’s Behaviour Insights Team, or Nudge Unit. The article describes the unit as using

‘insights from the emerging field of behavioural economics and psychology to subtly change the processes, forms and language used by government – to achieve outcomes that are in the in the “public good” and save money.’

A boxed article at the side then goes on to explain it more fully, stating that

‘Nudge articulates the idea that people can be persuaded to make the right decisions by simple changes in how choices are presented to them.’

It goes on to explain that the theory was first proposed in a book of the same name, published in 2008 by the economics professor Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein. They acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good. The two authors then argued that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges ‘people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.’

Although the two authors stated that “‘the libertarian aspect of our strategies lies in the straightforward insistence that, in general, people should be free to do what they like.” They then qualified this with the statement that it was ‘legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier and better.”

Today’s I carries an interview with one of the founders of the Nudge Unit, David Halpern. He states that the Unit was set up four years ago under Tony Blair as his Strategy Unit, at a time when ‘the Blair administration was expanding the size of the state – spending more and regulating more’, often according to Blair’s own personal inclination. It did not, however, catch on with the Labour government, and only came into its own with the arrival of the Coalition in 2010. Halpern states that ‘Their instincts were generally ‘we’ve got no money and we’re going to constrain the size of the state and deregulate’.

The Nudge Unit is now about to be part-privatised into a company partly owned by the government, partly owned by the social-enterprise charity, Nesta, and partly owned by Halpern and his fellow employees.

As it is presented in the I, the Nudge Unit sounds very jolly and entirely innocuous. The piece opens with Halpern describing the work of the American psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her work showing how well school children perform in tests can be boosted simply by telling them that they’ve made a good effort.

It then describes the way the Unit experimented with personalised text messages to encourage people, who were about to be hit by the bailiffs, to pay their bills on time.

In the concluding paragraphs, Halpern describes his goal to unlock ‘hidden entrepreneurs’ ‘who never get beyond garages’. He mentions the way the mountain bike arose simply through someone experimenting in their garage with bits of other bikes. ‘Studies’, according to Halpern, ‘suggest 6 per cent of Britons have come up with a significant adaptation in the last year. But most never diffuse.’

The only doubts raised about the Unit and its methods are whether they are effective. The boxed article states that it has its critics, who have argued, like Baroness Julia Neuberger in the House of Lords, that there is little evidence that it works on large scales. The main article, however, leaves the reader in little doubt: ‘A lot in government were nervous of Nudge but the theory did work in practice – and the services of the Nudge team were suddenly in demand’. Hence its privatisation three years down the line.

Now all this seems entirely benign. Few people would cavil at methods that get people to pay their bills on time, thus avoiding a visit from the bailiffs, or get children to do better at their exams, or, indeed, just to have ‘longer, healthier and better’ lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the 20th century, such departments like the Nudge Unit would have been the objects of considerable fear and suspicion, especially after the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century used propaganda and coercion to generate the mass obedience and approval they demanded from their captive populations. This found its expression in the various dystopian regimes portrayed in Science Fiction. One of the great Science Fiction series of the 1970s and ’80s was Blake’s 7. This was a space opera, whose heroes were a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ let loose in a strange, totalitarian far future. They were led, at least in the first two of their four TV seasons, by Roj Blake, a former dissident, who had been captured and then suffered psychiatric torture at the hands of the Federation. This was a future Fascist super-state, which governed through a mixture of military force, propaganda and advanced psychological techniques and drugs, that sapped the will to resist from its people. The Federation permitted no freedom of speech, belief or movement amongst its citizens. Dissidents were brutally murdered, and the survivors framed and re-educated. Heading its armed forces was the seductive Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and her henchman, the violent and psychotic Travis, played by Brian Croucher. Both Croucher and Pearce have appeared in Dr. Who; Pearce as a treacherous alien super-scientist, Jocini O’ the Franzine-Greeg in the Colin Baker/Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Two Doctors’, and Croucher in the early Tom Baker serial ‘The Robots of Death’. He has also appeared in Eastenders and as an East End hard man in the detective drama, New Tricks.

Blake’s 7 was influenced by Star Wars and Star Trek, though it’s characters and background were darker than either of those two SF classics. Blake’s second-in-command, Kerr Avon, was a ruthless embezzler with a cynical contempt for idealists. ‘Show me the man who believes something, and I will show you a fool’. Such attitudes were not a fictional exaggeration. Similar sentiments were expressed by the evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who once said ‘Scratch an idealist, and an egotist will bleed’. It isn’t hard to feel that the show’s creator, Terry Nation, had modelled the cool, rational, scientific Avon on Monod and other scientists like him.

And the methods used by the Federation to keep its citizens enslaved were also chillingly real. The show several times covered conditioning and similar brainwashing techniques used by the Federation to break and then manipulate its victims’ psychologies. Blake himself had been conditioned by intensive psychological therapy after he was captured leading a revolutionary group. Under the influence of the therapists he betrayed the other members, confessed to his own guilt, and was then reprogrammed to forget all about the events, his arrest, trial and the mass executions of his friends and family.

This aspect of the Federation was based on the notorious brainwashing techniques associated with the Communist dictatorships, particularly Mao’s China and the brutal regime of ‘self-criticism’ for those who challenged the Great Leader’s precepts during the Cultural Revolution. It also bore more than a little resemblance to the Soviet abuse of psychiatry revealed by Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward. Soviet psychiatrists had invented a spurious form of ‘schizophrenia’, which was curiously amorphous, taking just about any form required by the doctors diagnosing it and their superiors. It was used to incarcerate in lunatic asylums any and all opponents of regime. These ranged from religious believers to Communist idealists, such as a general and Old Bolshevik, who vociferously felt that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union had betrayed the noble principles of the Revolution. It also harks back to Skinner’s experiments in conditioning in the 1960s, and his fictional description of a utopian system in which the citizens had perfected themselves through the use of such psychological techniques.

About a decade ago Adam Curtis described the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used Freudian theory to lay the foundations of modern PR in his landmark series, The Century of the Self. Curtis was similarly unimpressed by PR, and dissected the way such techniques were used by corporations, the government, and some of the more sinister self-improvement cults that sprang up in the 1960s to control people’s minds. He was particularly unimpressed by the way the self-realised people of the Hippy counterculture then went off and, from reasons of liberated self-interest, voted for Ronald Reagan. The existence of the Nudge Unit seems to suggest that Halpern and his fellows saw the theories, and instead of looking at the dangers and fallacies accompanying it like the rest of the viewing public, immediately thought it was all rather cool.

Blake Carnell Weapon

The psycho-social strategist Carnell and Supreme Commander of Federation forces, Servalan, contemplate the success of David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’.

Apart from the use of conditioning and psycho-therapy, the Federation armed forces also included an elite corps of ‘pscho-social strategists’, nicknamed ‘puppeteers’ by the rest of the Federation’s Starship Troopers. These specialised in using advanced psychological techniques to predict and manipulate the behaviour of the regime’s opponents. For example, in the episode, ‘Weapon’, Servalan uses one such puppeteer, Carnell, played by Scott Fredericks, to predict the mental breakdown and then manipulate a scientist, Cozer, who has designed an unstoppable superweapon, IMIPAC. Her goal is to seize the weapon for herself, while at the same killing the Blake and his crew and taking over their spaceship, the Liberator. Of course it all fails, and the weapon is taken over instead by the former slave girl, Rashel, with whom Cozer had escaped, and the other weapon in Servalan’s plan, a clone of Blake. The two become guardians of the weapon, with Travis remarking wryly ‘The weapon protects itself’.

With fears of totalitarian states manipulating and abusing their victims’ minds in reality and SF, something like the Nudge Unit would have been enough to bring anyone with a distrust of authoritarian government out onto the streets, from old school Conservatives with a hatred of Communism and Fascism all the way across the political spectrum through Liberals, Socialists to members of the Hippy counterculture, who were extremely suspicious of what their own governments were doing about this through reading the reports about MKULTRA and the CIA LSD experiments in the underground press.

And there are real dangers to this. Who, for example, decides what project is going to make people happier, with longer, better lives? Cameron undoubtedly claims it’s the Tories, but with something like 38,000 people dying per year thanks to welfare cuts and benefit sanctions, we can safely discount his opinion. Mike has several times mentioned the Nudge Unit in posts on his blog over at Vox Political, pointing out that the forms and courses used by the Coalition as part of their welfare to work package have been set up by the Nudge Unit with the deliberate intention of getting the unemployed to blame themselves, rather than the government’s policies, for their inability to get a job. Like the children in Dweck’s experiment, they are being encouraged to do better in a situation that is not their fault. It tacitly reinforces the government’s values and the economic system which leaves the unemployed without a job, and frequently without hope. And this is most definitely malign.

This is quite apart from the dangers of ‘function creep’, in which an administrative technique or department gradually acquires more power and extends its scope, as more administrators see its potential for solving their problems. The Nudge Unit is perhaps only a minor part of British government at the moment, but it has the potential to become something far larger and much more sinister. If we don’t carefully monitor it and similar initiatives, it could easily expand into something every bit as totalitarian and manipulative as Blake’s 7 Federation and its psycho-strategists.

I found the opening titles to the first season of the Blake’s 7 on Youtube. They show some of the major themes of the Federation – the use of armed force, brainwashing and surveillance. I leave it to you to decide for yourself how much of this unfortunately is coming true, though there are surveillance cameras all over the streets and Boris Jonson has bought two water cannons to use on any more protesters in London. Here it is. Enjoy!