Posts Tagged ‘St. Petersburg’

American Tsarism

December 15, 2017

Going though YouTube the other day, I found a clip, whose title quoted a political analyst, radical or politicians, as saying that the American political elite now regards its own, ordinary citizens as a foreign country. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but I will have to check the video out. But looking at the title of what the leader of the Conservative branch of the Polish nationalist movement said about the Russian Empire. He described how the tsars and the autocracy exploited and oppressed ordinary Russians, stating baldly that ‘they treat their people as a foreign, conquered nation’. Which just about describes tsarist rule, with its secret police, anti-union, anti-socialist legislation, the way it ground the peasants and the nascent working class into the ground for the benefit of big business and the country’s industrialisation. The system of internal passports, which were introduced to keep the peasants on the land, and paying compensation to their masters for the freedom they had gained under Tsar Alexander, and to continue working for them for free, doing feudal labour service: the robot, as it was known in Czech. It’s no accident that this is the word, meaning ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, that Karel Capek introduced into the English and other languages as the term for an artificial human in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots.

We’re back to Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ – the rich, and everyone else, who don’t live near each other, don’t have anything in common and who may as well be foreign countries. It’s in the Tory intellectual’s Coningsby, I understand. Disraeli didn’t really have an answer to the problem, except to preach class reconciliation and argue that the two could cooperate in building an empire. Well, imperialism’s technically out of favour, except for right-wing pundits like Niall Ferguson, so it has to be cloaked in terms of ‘humanitarian aid’. Alexander the Great was doing the same thing 2,500 years ago. When he imposed tribute on the conquered nations, like the Egyptians and Persians, it wasn’t called ‘tribute’. It was called ‘contributions to the army of liberation’. Because he’d liberated them from their tyrannical overlords, y’see. The Mongols did the same. Before taking a town or territory, they’d send out propaganda, posing as a force of liberators come to save the populace from the tyrants and despots, who were ruling them.

What a joke. Someone asked Genghis Khan what he though ‘happiness’ was. He’s supposed to have replied that it was massacring the enemy, plundering his property, burning his land, and outraging his women. If you’ve ever seen the 1980s film version of Conan the Barbarian, it’s the speech given by Conan when he’s shown in a cage growing up. I think the film was written by John Milius, who was responsible for Dirty Harry ‘and other acts of testosterone’ as Starburst put it.

And it also describes exactly how the elite here regard our working and lower-middle classes. We’re crushed with taxes, more of us are working in jobs that don’t pay, or forced into something close to serfdom through massive debt and workfare contracts. The last oblige people to give their labour free to immensely profitable firms like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. And at the same time, the elite have been active in social cleansing – pricing the traditional inhabitants of working class, and often multicultural areas, out of their homes. These are now gentrified, and become the exclusive enclaves of the rich. Homes that should have people in them are bought up by foreigners as an investment and left empty in ‘land-banking’. And you remember the scandal of the ‘poor doors’ in London, right? This was when an apartment block was designed with two doors, one of the rich, and one for us hoi polloi, so the rich didn’t have to mix with horned handed sons and daughters of toil.

I got the impression that for all his Toryism, Disraeli was a genuine reformer. He did extend the vote to the upper working class – the aristocracy of Labour, as it was described by Marx, creating the ‘villa Toryism’ that was to continue into the Twentieth Century and our own. But all the Tories have done since is mouth platitudes and banalities about how ‘one nation’ they are. Ever since John Major. David Cameron, a true-blue blooded toff, who was invited by the Palace to take a job there, claimed to be a ‘one nation Tory’. Yup, this was when he was introducing all the vile, wretched reforms that have reduced this country’s great, proud people, Black, brown, White and all shades in-between – to grinding poverty, with a fury specially reserved for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled. These last have been killed by his welfare reforms. Look at the posts I’ve put up about it, reblogging material from Stilloaks, Another Angry Voice, the Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper, Johnny Void, et al.

But that’s how the super-rich seem to see us: as moochers, taxing them to indulge ourselves. It was Ayn Rand’s attitude, shown in Atlas Shrugs. And it’s how the upper classes see us, especially the Libertarians infecting the Republican and Conservative parties, whose eyes were aglow with the joys of the unrestrained free market and the delights of South American death squads and the monsters that governed them. Walking atrocities against the human condition like General Pinochet, the Contras, Noriega. All the thugs, monsters and torturers, who raped and butchered their people, while Reagan slavered over them as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And you know what? An increasing number of progressives are taking a hard look at the Fathers of the American nation. Patricians to a man, who definitely had no intention of the freeing the slaves, or giving the vote to the ladies. and who explicitly wrote that they were concerned to protect property from the indigent masses. Outright imperialists, who took land from Mexico, and explicitly wrote that they looked forward to the whole of South America falling into the hands of ‘our people’. If you need a reason why many South Americans hate America with a passion, start with that one. It’s the reason behind the creation of ‘Arielismo’. This is the literary and political movement, which started in Argentina in the 19th century, which uses the figure of Caliban in Shakespeare’s the Tempest to criticise and attack European and North American colonialism, with the peoples of the South as the Caliban-esque colonised. It was formed by Argentinian literary intellectuals as a reaction to America’s wars against Mexico and annexation of Mexican territory, and their attempts to conquer Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

That’s how South America responded to colonisation from the North and West. And colonialism – as troublesome ‘natives’ to be kept under control, is very much how the elite see ordinary Brits and Americans, regardless of whether they’re White, Black, Asian or members of the First Nations.

But you can only fool people for so long, before the truth becomes blindingly obvious. You can only print so many lies, broadcast so many news reports telling lies and twisted half-truths, before conditions become so terrible ordinary people start questioning what a corrupt, mendacious media are telling them. The constant scare stories about Muslims, foreign immigration, Black crime and violence; the demonization of the poor and people on benefit. The constant claim that if working people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’ to use Gordon Brown’s phrase. Because they don’t work hard enough, have too many children, or spend all their money on luxuries like computers – actually in the information age a necessity – or computer games, X-Boxes and the like.

You can only do that before the workers you’ve legislated against joining unions start setting up workers’ and peasants’ councils – soviets. Before the peasants rise up and start burning down all those manor houses, whose denizens we are expected to follow lovingly in shows like Downton Abbey. Which was written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory speechwriter.

Before ordinary people say, in the words of ’80s Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister, ‘We ain’t goin’ to take it’.

Before decent, respectable middle class people of conscience and integrity decide that the establish is irremediably corrupt, and there’s absolutely no point defending it any longer.

A month or so ago, BBC 4 broadcast a great series on Russian history, Empire of the Tsars, present by Lucy Worsley. In the third and last edition, she described the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. She described how Vera Zasulich, one of the 19th century revolutionaries, tried to blow away the governor of St. Petersburg. She was caught and tried. And the jury acquitted her. Not because they didn’t believe she hadn’t tried to murder the governor of St. Petersburg, but because in their view it wasn’t a crime. Zasulich was one of the early Russian Marxists, who turned from peasant anarchism to the new, industrial working classes identified by Marx as the agents of radical social and economic change.

And so before the Revolution finally broke out, the social contract between ruler and ruled, tsarist autocracy and parts of the middle class, had broken down.

I’m not preaching revolution. It tends to lead to nothing but senseless bloodshed and the rise of tyrannies that can be even worse than the regimes they overthrow. Like Stalin, who was as brutal as any of the tsars, and in many cases much more so. But the elites are preparing for civil unrest in the next couple of decades. Policing in America is due to become more militarised, and you can see the same attitude here. After all, Boris Johnson had to have his three water cannons, which are actually illegal in Britain and so a colossal waste of public money.

Don’t let Britain get to that point. Vote Corbyn, and kick May and her gang of profiteers, aristos and exploiters out. Before they kill any more people.

Today Is International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day today. According to Wikipedia, it was first started by the Socialist Party of America, who held the first Women’s Day in New York on February 28th, 1909. Following a suggestion by Luise Zietz at an International Women’s Conference in August 1910, it was then celebrated the next year in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It then spread to the Russian Empire, and became a formal day of celebration under Lenin and Alexandra Kollontai after the Bolshevik coup. It was then celebrated mostly by the Communist countries until 1975, when the UN inaugurated International Women’s Day.

The Wikipedia article gives its history as follows

The earliest organized Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union.[3] There was no strike on March 8, despite later claims.[5]

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark.[6] Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day (singular) and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified at that conference.[7][8] Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women.[9] The following year on March 19, 1911 IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.[3] In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations.[7] In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the martyrs of the Paris Commune.[7] Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination.[2] Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.[7]

Although there were some women-led strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8.[5] In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries.[5] The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.[5][10]

In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.[11]

In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Petrograd, Russia, on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution.[2] Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.[5] Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”[5]

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”

From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists in 1936.[7] After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.[12]

The United Nations began celebrating in International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.[13]

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’. The article then explains

In a message in support of International Women’s Day, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented on how women’s rights were being “reduced, restricted and reversed”. With men still in leadership positions and a widening economic gender gap, he called for change “by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world”.

A few weeks ago The Young Turks released the news that the organisers of the Women’s Marches in America were planning a Women’s General Strike against Trump. I don’t know if this is actually taking place, but there are a number of articles about it in today’s I newspaper. Including a report that the veteran feminist, Gloria Steinem, has called Trump a ‘walking violation of women’s rights’. Which is true, unfortunately.

So I’d like to give my best wishes to all the females readers of this blog on this special day.

Solidarity Pamphlet on Bolsheviks’ Destruction of Workers’ Control in Russian Revolution

September 24, 2016

bolsheviks-workers-control

Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control/ 1917-1921/ The State and Counter-Revolution (London: Solidarity 1970).

I picked this short book – 89 pages – in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. Solidarity were a libertarian Communist group that believed that the workers should operate and manage the means of production. In their statement of beliefs at the back of the book, they state in point 9 ‘We do not accept the view that by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness.’ (p. 89). This is a direct contradiction of Lenin’s belief, firmly expressed in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done?, that the workers could only achieve trade union consciousness, and needed to be led to Socialism by a group of dedicated revolutionaries. The book itself states that it is a work of history, which intends to show how the Bolsheviks betrayed the revolution of 1917 by suppressing the movement for workers’ control in the factories and the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Revolution had begun when Russia’s working people rose up against Tsarism and the Kerensky government that replaced it. They formed factory committees which took over the management of the factories to various degrees in industry, and formed the soviets – councils – of working people across Russia, which formed a parallel system of popular government to that of the duma, the Russian parliament. Communist historiography has presented Lenin as fully behind these developments. He passed a decree stating that ‘workers’ control is established in the factories’ and praised the soviets, proclaiming the slogan, ‘All Power to the Workers’ Soviets’. The conventional historical view states that the workers were in fact unable to run industry, and so the government was forced to reintroduce the entrepreneurs, managers and technicians that the workers had previously turfed out of the factory gates in wheelbarrows.

This pamphlet shows that the opposite was true. From initially supporting them as a bulwark against the return of capitalism, and a necessary precondition for the nationalisation of industry, Lenin turned to active dislike and opposition, but was forced to support them for reasons of expediency. Lenin, Trotsky and their faction in the Bolsheviks really wanted Russian industry to be managed by a state bureaucracy, with a single person in command of individual factories and enterprises. Lenin adopted the slogan to present himself and his faction as fully behind the soviet revolution, while doing everything he could behind the scenes to reduce this to a mere slogan. Their practical strategy for destroying the factory committees involved incorporating them into the trade unions. These had always been under political control in Russia, partly through necessity as for most of the time they were illegal. The Bolsheviks in turn transformed these from popular organisations to campaign for better wages and conditions, to instruments of the Bolshevik party to discipline and organise Russian labour, so that it obeyed the state and the managers. It was the trade unions that set wages and determined working conditions. At the same time as they were being absorbed by the unions, the committees were gradually stripped over their powers until they were finally dissolved following the Kronstadt rebellion, which was intended to restore democracy to the Revolution by overthrowing Bolshevik rule. The Bolsheviks were also actively destroying democracy throughout the system of government and industrial management by gradually removing elections and replacing them with political appointments. As part of this, the trade unions could elect their members to the various Bolshevik political organs, but this became subject to the party’s veto. Candidates elected by the unions not approved by Lenin and his faction could be blocked.

This resulted in the construction of the totalitarian, monolithic Soviet state, while industry saw the removal of workers’ power and the return of the very industrialists and entrepreneurs, who had been overthrown. Indeed, after the failure of authoritarian ‘war communism’, with its forced requisitions of food from the peasantry during the Civil War, 1921 saw the limited return of capitalism itself in the establishment of a private sector as part of the New Economic Policy.

Not all of the Bolsheviks were in favour of this policy, and Lenin, Trotsky and their faction faced bitter opposition from a series of groups and individuals within the party, including Preobrazhensky, Osinsky, Bukharin and Alexandra Kollontai, in the ‘Democratic Centralists’ and ‘Left Communists’. Despite their efforts, theirs was a losing battle and in the end they were fighting a series of rearguard actions to preserve the last vestiges of the factory committees and the autonomy of the trade unions.

Outside the party, the Bolsheviks also faced opposition from anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, who also wished to preserve the factory committees from attacks from the party and the trade unions. The booklet discusses the increasing mass arrests of these, and the closure of a range of anarchist newspapers and magazines, such as Burevestnik, Anarkhia and Golos Truda (Workers’ Voice). The final demands of the Left Communists for trade union autonomy and its management of industry was also denounced by Lenin as ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’.

Apart from its description of the way the Bolsheviks overturned the founding principles of the revolution, supplanting control and management by the workers themselves, with a system of control and management by the party, its functionaries, and returned capitalist businessmen in the name of the workers, the pamphlet’s also interesting for discussing the various literature produced by the revolutionaries and their plans for instituting practical system of workers’ control. For example, the Exploratory Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd War Industries, convened on April 2nd, 1917, issued the proclamations that

From the Factory Committee should emanate all instructions concerning internal factory organisation (i.e. instructions concerning such mattes as hours of work, wages, hiring and firing, holidays, etc.) The factory manager to be kept notified…

The whole administrative personnel (management at all levels and technicians) is taken on with the consent of the Factory Committee which has to notify the workers of its decisions at mass meetings of the whole factory or through shop committees…

The Factory committee controls managerial activity in the administrative, economic and technical fields … representatives of the Factory Committee must be provided, for information, with all official documents of the management, production budgets and details of all times entering or leaving the factory … (p.2).

The Kharkov Conference of Factory Committees, held on May 29th that same year, declared that the committees should become

organs of the Revolution… aiming at consolidating its victories. The Factory Committees must take over production, protect it, develop it. They must fix wages, look after hygiene, control the technical quality of products, decree all internal factory regulations and determine solutions all conflicts. (p.4).

The Second Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd, held at the Smolny Institute from the 7th-12th August, also stipulated that

‘All decrees of Factory Committees’ were compulsory ‘for the factory administration as well as for the workers and employees – until such time as those decrees were abolished by the Committee itself, or by the Central Soviet of Factory Committees’. The pamphlet states that

the committees were to meet regularly during working working hours. Meetings were to be held on days designated by the Committees themselves. Members of the Committees were to receive full pay – from the employers – while on Committee business. Notice to the appropriate administrative personnel was to be deemed sufficient to free a member of the Factory Committee from work so that he might fulfil his obligations to the Committee. In the periods between meetings, selected members of the Factory Committees were to occupy premises, within the factory, at which they could receive information from the workers and employees. Factory administrations were to provide funds ‘for the maintenance of the Committees and the conduct of their affairs’. Factory Committees were to have ‘control over the composition of the administration and the right to dismiss all those who could not guarantee normal relations with the workers or who were incompetent for other reasons’. ‘All administrative factory personnel can only into service with the consent of the Factory Committee, which must declare its (sic!) hirings at a General Meeting of all the factory or through departmental or workshop committees. The ‘internal organisation’ of the factory (working time, wages, holidays, etc.) was also to be determined by the Factory Committees. Factory Committees were to have their own press and were ‘to inform the workers and employees of the enterprise concerning their resolutions by posting an announcement in conspicuous place’. (pp. 8-9).

The Wikipedia entry on Solidarity states that the group was always small, but played a disproportionately large role in the industrial disputes of the 1970s and the campaign for workers’ control and management in industry. The system of complete workers’ control set up during the Russian Revolution is far too extreme to be popular in Britain, at least at present and the foreseeable future. Worker’s involvement in management has still been put back on the agenda, even if in a half-hearted way by Theresa May, no doubt as a calculated deception. The pamphlet itself remains a fascinating description of this optimistic movement in Russian revolutionary history, and its betrayal by the Communist party, and is an important corrective to the standard view that workers’ control was fully supported by them.

Strikes and Industrial Protest in an Anti-Union State: Pre-Revolutionary Russia

February 20, 2016

Like just about all its predecessors, Cameron’s government is doing its level best to emasculate and destroy the trade unions. Thatcher did it back in the 1980s with her union-busting legislation, and then the highly militarised use of the police during the Miners’ strike. Cameron’s trying to destroy them and their political representation in the Labour party through attacks on the union levy, further legal limits on the right to strike, and the legalisation of the use of blackleg labour from agencies to stop strikes being anything but cosmetic. The International Labour Organisation in the UN have denounced this last piece of legislation. And David Davies, one of the most right-wing of the Tory MPs, called Cameron’s plan to force stikers on pickets to giver their names to the police as ‘Francoist’.

Dave Cameron hopes this legislation will leave the unions powerless, and the workforce cowed, willing to accept the very worst wages and conditions. In the short term, he’s probably right, but in the long term, probably not. Not from the example of pre-Revolutionary Russia. The lesson there is quite the opposite: if you grind people down into the dirt for long enough, and deprive them of the right to strike and form unions, they will nevertheless strike and form unions, and the strikes and unrest will get more severe the worse conditions gets and the more force is deployed.

Lionel Kochan, in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) notes that in 19th century Russia it was illegal to form trade unions, go on strike or form any kind of collective organisation for the workers. (p. 42). There were no friendly societies or strike funds to support striking workers. Nevertheless, strikes became a feature of Russian industrial life. To be sure, not all workers went on strike. He states that between 1895 and 1904, only half the workers in factories tended to go on strike, most of which didn’t last very long. The average strike lasted about ten days. (p. 44).

Nevertheless, industrial unrest became so chronic that the government was forced to increase the police and the armed forces to put down strikes. The number of policemen was raised to 1 to 250 workers, and there was one factory inspector, whose duties included warning workers that they could not legally strike, and what would happen to them if they did, for every 3,000 workers. The army was called in to suppress strike action and workers’ demonstrations 19 times in 1893, 50 in 1899, 53 in 1900, 271 in 1901 and 522 in 1902. (p. 47). And the number of those on strike could be huge. During the revolutionary agitation of 1905, 111,000 people had gone on strike by 8th January. (P.88). At its height, there were 125,000 people on strike in the Russian capital. (p.94). In 1907, 740,000 people went on strike. (p. 160).

Most of these strikes were for purely economic reasons – an increase in wages and the betterment of working conditions, rather than for political reforms such as the establishment of a parliament and the right to vote. Nevertheless, the number of political strikes increased as the new century progressed. And this was despite some minimal concessions to modern representative politics, such as the establishment of a parliament – the Duma – albeit on a very restricted franchise by Nicholas II. In 1910 there were 222 strikes involving 46,000 workers. The following year, 1911, there were 466, with 105,110 workers. And the number of political strikes went up from eight in 1910 to twenty four in 1911. (p. 161). In 1912 the number of political strikes rocketed to 1,300. (P.162). And then in 1914, the year the War broke out, the number of strikes as a whole shot up to 3,466, of which 2,500 were politically motivated.(p. 164).

In many ways, this is to be expected. If you drive people down to the point where they have absolutely nothing to lose, they will revolt, and revolt violently. At one point wages were so low -just 40 kopeks – that they were insufficient for a worker to support a family. You can compare that to the in-work poverty today, where most welfare recipients are people working, often very long hours, but not earning enough to support themselves or their families.

Despite the glowing picture of the Developing World by the Tory writers of Britannia Unchained, which urged Brits to work harder for less money, ’cause that’s what workers outside the West are doing, parts of India is currently riven by Maoist rebels. I’ve mentioned the Naxites before, radical Marxists in the poorest states in Indian waging a guerrilla war on behalf of the peasants and Dalits. And much of the radical Muslim unrest and terrorism in India has concrete social and economic motives. In many areas, Muslims are treated as second-class citizens, given the worst jobs and with an unemployment rate higher than their Hindu compatriots. In fact, most of the Islamic unrest throughout the world probably has its origins less in religious doctrine and more in conditions of high unemployment, low pay, poor opportunities and political sclerosis.

By making democracy a sham, and repressing unions and other organisations trying to work for better wages and working conditions, Cameron is storing up problems for the future. The Fascist dictatorships of Salazar in Portugal and Franco in Spain collapsed, partly through workers’ strikes. As did the Communist dictatorships at the opposite end of Europe.

Now Cameron needs to maintain the illusion of democracy, and some minimal welfare state in order to deceive people that his government is actually democratic, and he is doing something to help them. After all, Bismarck said

Give the workman the right to work as long as he is healthy, assure him care when he is sick, assure him maintenance when he is old … If you do that … then I believe the gentlemen of the Social-Democratic programme will sound their bird-calls in vain. (Cited in Koch, p. 48).

Of course, Cameron is doing his best to make sure people don’t have the right to work, or are cared for and maintained in sickness and old age. He wants to pass welfare provision on to private industry, who will provide a much poorer service. But he needs to give the illusion that he is doing all the above. And it’ll probably work – for a time. Possibly even decades. But at the end there will be an explosion. And it may be all the more bloody, because of the way he has reduced democracy to a sham, so that people will just discard it in favour of authoritarianism, just as after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 millions of Germans were convinced that democracy had failed.

But what does Cameron care? He probably banks on being long dead by then, if he gives it any thought at all. Or perhaps he dreams of fleeing somewhere else, when the conflagration finally comes. To Switzerland, perhaps. Or the Cayman Islands. South America. Perhaps, America itself, always assuming Sanders doesn’t get in. And if it all kicks off before then, he, or Bojo, or some other Tory pratt, will indulge their stupid fantasy of being a great war leader, bravely reconquering the cities from Communist militants.

And we’re back to Orwell’s description of the future: a boot stamping on a human face. Forever.

Nigel Farage: Poundland Enoch Powell or Britain’s Own Mad Vlad Zhirinovsky?

December 12, 2014

Brand on Farage as ‘Poundland Powell’

Russell Brand was in the Independent and on MSN news today. The paper and the internet news service were reporting the spat between him and the Kippers’ Fuehrer on Question Time last night. The revolutionary, author and film star had called Farage a ‘Poundland Enoch Powell’. The Duce of the anti-EU right had responded by declaring that Brand had a messiah-complex.

It’s not hard to see Brand’s point, and the comparison’s a good one. Powell and Farage are both right-wing, anti-immigration politicians, and from a certain point of view Farage is definitely rather more downmarket than the man whose former schoolfellows used to call ‘Scowly Powelly’. Powell after all was something of an academic, who taught classics at one of the Australian universities. He was also multilingual and could speak Urdu. Farage, by contrast tries to promote himself as something of a man of the people, an ordinary bloke, who likes a beer in a pub and smokes.

Powell and Farage also have in common the fact that they both deny that they are actually racist. Farage likes to boast that UKIP is a non-racist, non-sectarian party and that it has a ban on taking members from the extreme right – the National Front, BNP, and Britain First, for example, while targeting the allegedly non-racist supporters of these parties. Despite the deeply violent, venomous imagery of Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, it’s been claimed that Powell himself actually wasn’t personally racist and despised the Nazi stormtroopers, who were attracted to him after his infamous speech. Farage has learned from Powell’s mistakes, and how the former Conservative cabinet minister became virtually a political pariah because of his vile rhetoric. Farage promises instead to tackle immigration and get Britain out of the EU, all the while reassuring voters that his is not a racist party. It isn’t officially, at least in its public pronouncements, but as recent events have shown, it has had more than its share of racists in it.

Beer, Cigarettes, and Class Image in Politics

Brand also attacked Farage for his blokey, beer and ciggies image. This accounts for part of the Fuehrer’s electoral charm, as it gives him an apparent connection to the working and lower middle classes that the mainstream parties don’t have. Cameron and Clegg are toffs, who it would be far easier to imagine enjoying a sherry or extremely expensive fine wine than a pint of Best in a boozer. The same could be said of the Islington New Labour set around Tony Blair. A few years ago when Blair was in power, there was a story that Peter Mandelson had gone to a fish and chip shop in his Hartlepool constituency. Although strongly denied at the time, it was claimed that Mandelson had asked if the mushy peas northern chippies serve were avocado dip.

Brand’s right-wing opponents, like Peter Hitchens, have claimed that Brand’s working class image is false, pointing to the fact that he is very highly educated from a middle class home. Farage’s own image as a ordinary bloke is also untrue, as the man himself is public school, millionaire financier. I doubt very much that beer, the tipple of the working man and woman since time immemorial, is also Farage’s favourite beverage as he appears to claim.

Farage and the Mad Russian Fascist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky

In this respect Farage seems to me less like Enoch Powell, and more like Vladimir ‘Mad Vlad’ Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Russian far right in the 1990s. Both are extreme Right-wing populists, who deliberately try to present themselves as somehow standing up for the ordinary, working class people of their countries. Zhirinovsky racism was far more overt than that of Farage’s party. He was the leader of the venomously anti-Semitic Liberal Democratic party, which emerged amongst the economic chaos of Yeltsin’s mass privatisation of the Russian economy after the collapse of Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Zhirinovsky’s part was ultra-nationalistic, racist and profoundly anti-democratic. The BBC in the 1990s filmed him on the Russian campaign trail, sailing along the Volga in a ship making speeches to disaffected Russian voters and plotting his next moves against his political rivals.

The picture that emerged was of a shrewd, cynical politico, who made contemptuous jokes about his own country and had no qualms about smearing and spreading lies about other politicians if it would serve his purpose. Unlike many Russians, he didn’t drink or smoke, but deliberately cultivated an image to appeal to the average Russian worker, who like their British counterparts, liked their booze and ciggies. As the ship sailed along, its speakers blared out Mad Vlad’s campaign song, whose lyrics the Beeb translated as

Zhirinovsky’s a proper Russian bloke,
Even though he doesn’t drink or smoke
.

They then went on to describe how Zhirinovsky, if he met the singer, would embrace him, before giving him a drink and cigarette. You can see the parallel with Farage, and the way he tries to appeal to the British working class with his pint and ciggie image.

As for spreading lies about his rivals, Zhirinovsky was shown cooking up a slander he was going to put about the mayor of St. Peterburg, Nemtsov. Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union have a reputation among Western businessmen as ‘the wild East’ for its violent lawlessness and political corruption. In the 1990s there were a series of assassinations of prominent businessmen, journalists and dissident politicians. Zhirinovsky decided that his party would claim that Nemtsov had murdered one of his opponents, and dumped the body in the Neva. Although slanderous, the allegation was all too credible given the massive political violence at the time. As he and his cronies cooked up this rumour, Zhirinovsky nodded his head and declared it to be ‘good information’, although the Beeb translated the latter word as ‘propaganda’.

Farage doesn’t lie about his opponents like Zhirinovsky, but he is very careful to lie or conceal his party’s true intentions. A string of leading Kippers, including Bob Nuttall, their deputy chairman, have made it very clear that they despise the NHS, and wish to repeal the statutory benefits and laws protecting workers and employees, such as paid holidays and maternity leave for women. When pressed on these statements, and the extremely right-wing policies put forward in their manifesto, Farage’s response is to deny that they are actually party policy. He has disavowed the 2010 election manifesto, describing it as drivel, and somewhat speciously claiming that he had no part in its formulation. The indications are there, however, that these are the party’s true policies behind the more liberal face the Kippers present to the voting public.

As for his supposed patriotism, Zhirinovsky was shown telling jokes about how terrible his country was. One of them was about two World War II British airmen, who get lost, fly off course, and crash in Russia. Coming across a kolkhoznik – collective farmer – they ask the astonished peasant where they are. ‘Up the a***’ the farmer replies. ‘That’s it’, declares one of the airmen, ‘we’re in Russia’.

Farage has similarly shown a double standard on the issue of immigration and the EU bureaucracy. The Kipper MEPs don’t vote, but are nevertheless eager to collect their salary for turning up at the European parliament. Farage has made it clear that he doesn’t want immigrants, because, according to him, they take British jobs. Not only is that factually incorrect, but Farage has personally broken this stance. His wife is German, and is employed as his secretary.

Unlike Zhirinovsky, and the parties of the Nazi right, Farage has always claimed to be democratic, and the Kippers have claimed that their party advocates the establishment of direct democracy in Britain, like that of Switzerland. Zhirinovsky, on the other hand, would have dissolved the fledgling Russian democracy if he’d won. ‘Vote for me’, he was filmed telling his audience, ‘if I win, you will never have to vote for me again’. The danger with Farage is if he ever gets into power, then for many it will be too late to vote him out once his policies of greater privatisation, benefit cuts and destruction of workers’ and women’s rights takes effect.

Farage is wilier, shrewder, and far more subtle than Powell or Zhirinovsky. He is, however, like them a right-wing populist, and particularly like Zhirinovsky in adopting a pose of enjoying working class tastes in order to gain votes and advance an anti-working class agenda.