Posts Tagged ‘Suffragettes’

Book on How to Resist and Campaign for Change

November 4, 2018

Matthew Bolton, How To Resist: Turn Protest to Power (London: Bloomsbury 2017)

About this time last week, hundreds of thousands of people were out on the streets marching to demand a second referendum on Brexit. It was the biggest demonstration since 2 million or so people marched against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. And as Mike commented in his blog post about it, as likely to do as much good. Blair and his corrupt gang ignored the manifest will of the people, and went ahead anyway, determined to prosecute a war whose real reasons were western imperialism and multinational corporate greed. The march failed to stop the war and the chaos it caused is still ongoing. Just as last week’s march will also fail to prevent the Tories doing whatever they want.

It’s a disgusting situation, and this book is addressed to everyone who’s fed up with it. The author, Matthew Bolton, is an organizer with the campaigning group Citizens UK and their Living Wage campaign. And the book is addressed to people, who have been on the march, and are sick and tired of being ignored. Right at the very beginning of the book, he writes

This book is for people who are angry with the way things are and want to do something about it; for people who are frustrated with the system, or worried about the direction the country is going in. For people who are upset about a particular issue, or want a greater say in the changes happening in their neighbourhood. They’ve posted their opinions on social media and they’ve shouted at something they’ve seen on the news. They’ve been on the big march and they’ve been to the ballot box, but what more can be done? This is for people who want to make a change, but they’re not sure how. (p.1)

A few pages later he describes the dangers to democracy and the increasing sense of powerlessness people now feel when decisions are taken out of their hands by politicians.

What’s at stake here is more important than simply helping people who care about particular issues to run effective campaigns. It’s about democracy. In the past, people who wanted to make a difference, and believed in change fought for democracy with sweat, blood and courage. The Chartists, the Suffragettes and other endured prison and faced death in their struggle for the chance to have a say in the governance of the country. They organized and campaigned to force the ruling elites to open up our political system to influence by the majority of the people. It is a great misunderstanding to think that they were fighting for the chance to put a cross in a box once every few years. They were fighting – week in, week out – for power. Fighting for more people to have more influence.

Over time, we have become confused. Now we have the vote, we have mistaken politics for Parliament and have come to see democracy as something to watch on television or follow on Twitter, like spectators at a football game – or worse, to switch off from it completely, losing trust in politicians, losing trust in the media, losing trust in the system. Democracy doesn’t just mean ‘to vote’, it means people power. It means embedding political action into our day-to-day lives, in our communities and workplaces. It is a vision of a society where power is distributed amongst the people, not concentrated in the hands of the few. It’s not an end state, but a constant struggle for people to fight for a seat around the decision-making table.

But it doesn’t feel like we are at the table. It feels like we are on the menu. Power is being concentrated in the hands of an increasingly small circle of people. We have a revolving door of Cabinet ministers becoming bankers, becoming newspaper editors, becoming chief executives. We have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that our democratic system would create a better future for us all. But it doesn’t look that way. By lunchtime on the first Wednesday in January, after just two-and-a-half days’ work, FTSE 100 bosses will have earned more than the average person will earn that entire year. The generation now in their twenties will be the first in modern times to be worse off than their parents. What we want for ourselves and our children – a decent job, a home, a health service, a community – is under threat. (pp. 4-5).

He then discusses how the political terrain has shifted immensely recently, with people demanding change, giving as examples the vote to Leave in the Brexit referendum and the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But he also makes the point that you need a strategy and that winning campaigns are very well planned and organized. And he gives two examples: Rosa Parks and Abdul Durrant. While the action that sparked off the bus boycott that began the Civil Rights movement in earnest was presented as spontaneous in Dr. Who, in reality it was very carefully planned. The Montgomery chapter of the NAACP had been planning a boycott for a year before she refused to give up her seat. They had already tried this with three other Black passengers, but had failed to light the fuse of public indignation. This time, they found the right person with Rosa. Durrant was a leader in the East London Communities Organisation, part of Citizens UK, who worked nights as a cleaner in HSBC in Canary Wharf. He led a campaign to get better pay for workers like him, and then organized a media and mass protest to get it.

As for Bolton himself, he comes from a working/ middle class family. His father’s family were working class, his mother’s solidly middle class. He attended Cambridge university, but went to the state primary in his part of London. The local area was very rough, and his mother wanted him privately educated, and he was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a private school in Dulwich. He says that it was at this time that the stark difference between conditions in south London and the bubble of privilege in Dulwich began to grate on him. He was mugged twice in his neighbourhood, once at the point of a knife, punched several times in the face, and violently carjacked. After private secondary school, he went to sixth form at a state school that also had its fair share of problems. He describes how some of his friends from private school went on to work with a family friend in the City, which he describes as a conveyor belt to a decent university and a great career. Others had to avoid gang trouble on their way home, looked after their young siblings in the evening because their mother was working nights, scrimped and saved to pay the gas meter, and then tried to do their homework. He continues

It wasn’t just the unfairness that made me angry: it was the fact that as a society we say success is determined by how clever you are and how hard you work. If you fail, it’s your fault. That convenient lie made me angry then and it makes me angry now. (p. 21).

The book describes the strategy he has devised over years of campaigning to affect change. It starts off by identifying the issue you are particularly angry about – it could be anything – and identifying the people in authority who may be able to do something about it. He rejects the idea that powerlessness is somehow noble, and recommends instead that protestors concentrate on developing their power, as well as appealing to those that already have it to help them through their self-interest. The book also talks about the correct strategy to adopt in meetings and talks with those in authority and so on. It is all about mobilizing popular protest for peaceful change. After the introduction, pieces of which I’ve quoted above, it has the following chapters:

1. If You Want Change, You Need Power

2. Appreciating Self-Interest

3. Practical Tools to Build Power

4. Turning Problems Into Issues

5. The Action is in the Reaction

6. Practical Tools to Build a Campaign

7. Unusual Allies and Creative Tactics

8. Finding the Time.

9. The Iron Rule.

I’m afraid I didn’t finish reading the book, and have no experience of campaigning myself, so I can’t really judge how useful and applicable it is. But just reading it, it seems to be a very useful guide with sensible, badly needed advice for people wanting to mount effective campaigns on the issues that matter to them. And Bolton is absolutely right about the rising, obscene inequalities in our society and the crisis of democracy that has developed through the emergence of a corrupt, self-interest and interlinked media-political-banking complex.

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Radio Programme on Sylvia Pankhurst’s Support for Ethiopia against the Fascist Invasion

February 1, 2018

There are a number of programmes next week marking the centenary of the passage of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote. One of the most interesting of these looks like a programme on Radio 4 on Monday, 5th February 2018, at 8.00 pm, Sylvia Pankhurst: Honorary Ethiopian. The brief description of it in the Radio Times runs

Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst got involved in the Ethiopian cause following its invasion by Italy in 1935 , and would later be recognised as an honorary citizen and given a state funeral. Here, Helen Pankhurst explores her grandmother’s role in the fight for Ethiopian independence.

Bristol and Bath have a connection to Ethiopia’s struggle for independence, as those cities were the home of Haile Selassie’s children during the War. They used to go to Victoria Park, though I think this was the one in Bath rather than Bristol.

There were some western intellectuals, who sided with the Italians during their invasion. One of these was Lady Kathleen Simon, who wrote a book on slavery. The Ethiopian emperor, Menelik II, had formally ended slavery in the country, but slaving still went on. British officers like Major Darnley, the author of Slaves and Ivory, complained that Ethiopian slavers were crossing the border to abduct the indigenous peoples of Uganda, then very much part of the British empire. His book was an account of his undercover mission into Ethiopia and a description of the way various provinces had been devastated by slave raiding by the Ethiopian aristocracy. It was partly written as a piece of polemic. Darnley was incensed that the authorities were taking no action against the slavers, and that in fact an area in Uganda around the border with Ethiopia had been declared a ‘no-go zone’ to British personnel. At the end of his book he argued that we should invade and conquer Ethiopia in order to halt their raiding into British territory, as well as the horrors of slavery and the slave trade in Ethiopia itself.

I don’t think Darnley supported the Italians, but Simon certainly did. At the end of her book, entitled simply Slavery, she also discusses Ethiopian slavery and slave raiding, and praises the Italian invasion as she believed that it would put a halt to it. I don’t think Mussolini had much of an interest in slavery, if any. He was far more keen to build a mighty new Roman empire. And issues like personal freedom certainly were very much not the concern of the man, who invented totalitarianism. Still, Simon’s book shows how some members of the British aristocracy supported Italian Fascist imperialism for ostensibly liberal motives.

Democratic Socialist on Liberalism, Classical Liberalism and Fascism

November 6, 2017

I’ve blogged several times about the connections between the Libertarianism of Von Mises and Von Hayek and Fascism, and the 1970s Fascist coup in Chile led by General Pinochet, which overthrew the democratically elected Communist president, Salvador Allende. I reblogged a video the other day by Democratic Socialist, in which he showed that Pinochet, contrary to the claims made by the Von Mises Institute, was indeed a brutal dictator, and that his rescue of Chilean capitalism, threatened by Allende’s entirely democratic regime, was very similar to Hitler’s seizure of power in Nazi Germany.

In the video below, Democratic Socialist explains the difference between the Liberalism of the Enlightenment, and the ‘Classical Liberalism’ of Von Mises and Von Hayek, both of whom supported Fascist regimes against Socialism and Democracy. In Von Mises case, he served in Dollfuss’ ‘Austro-Fascist’ government, while his pupil, Von Hayek, bitterly denounced democracy, supporting the regimes of the Portuguese Fascist dictator Salazar and then Pinochet’s grotty dictatorship in Chile. Von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, claimed that a planned socialist economy was also a threat to freedom, and influenced both Winston Churchill and Maggie Thatcher. And the latter was a good friend and admirer of Pinochet.

The video begins with Democratic Socialist drawing a distinction between Enlightenment Liberalism, and ‘Classical Liberalism’. Enlightenment Liberalism was a revolutionary force which challenged the power of the feudal aristocracy and the clergy. It championed freedom of belief, the right to free speech and assembly, freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial. It also stated that people had a right to private property.

Von Mises, the founder of ‘Austrian economics’ and ‘Classical Liberalism’, declared that the essence of his political and economic system was private property, and was hostile towards both democracy and socialism because both appeared to him to challenge the rights of the owners of the means of production. Thus he supported Dollfuss during the Austrian Civil War, when Dollfuss suppressed the socialists and Communists with army. The video includes a clip from a British newsreel showing Austrian soldiers shooting at the houses in the working class suburb of Vienna, into which the Schutzbund – the ‘Protection League’ formed by the Socialists and Communists – had retreated following Dollfuss’ attempt to suppress them by force. The voiceover describes Dollfuss as ‘diminutive’, and a still from the footage shows an extremely short man in uniform surrounded by various uniformed officers. Which seems to add him to the list of other dictators of shorter than average height – Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Franco. The Nazis themselves were profoundly hostile to the Enlightenment. After the 1933 seizure of power, Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazis’ chief ideologist, declared that the legacy of 1789 – the year of the French Revolution – had been ended by the Nazi coup.

After the War, Von Hayek’s attacks on socialist planning in The Road to Serfdom led Churchill to make a scaremongering speech about Labour in the 1945 election. Socialist planning, the great war leader declared, was abhorrent to the British people, and could only be imposed through a ‘Gestapo’, which he had no doubt, would be very humanely carried out. The video shows two senior members of the Labour party, one of which was the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Callaghan, Denis Healey, describing how horrified they were by this slur against people Churchill had worked so closely with during the War.

In fact, Churchill’s lurid rhetoric had the opposite effect, and encouraged more people to vote for the Labour party so that they won with a landslide.

The video goes on to cite the texts, which document how Von Hayek declared his support for Salazar in Portugal, stating that he would preserve private property against the abuses of democracy, and how he claimed that the only totalitarian state in Latin America was that of Salvador Allende. Who was elected entirely democratically, and did not close any opposition newspapers or radio stations. Democratic Socialist also shows that Thatcher herself was a profound admirer of Pinochet, putting up a quote from her raving about his dictatorship. He also states that Thatcher, like Pinochet, also used the power of the state to suppress working class opposition. In this case, it was using the police to break up the miner’s strike.

Democratic Socialist is right in general about Enlightenment Liberalism being a revolutionary force, but many of its leaders were by no means democrats. The French Revolutionary was also keen to preserve private property, and the suffrage was based on property qualifications. Citizens were divided into ‘active’ and ‘passive’ – that is, those who possessed enough money to qualify for voting, and those who did not. This was also true of the American Founding Fathers, who were also keen to preserve the wealth and privileges of the moneyed elite against the poor masses. The fight to extend the franchise so that everyone had the vote, including women, was a long one. Britain only became a truly democratic country in the 1920s, after women had gained the vote and the property qualification for the franchise had been repealed. This last meant that all working class men had the vote, whereas previously only the wealthiest section of the working class – the aristocracy of labour – had enjoyed the franchise following Disraeli’s reforms of 1872.

The British historian of Fascism, Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism Between the Wars makes this point to show that, rather than having a long tradition of democracy, it was in fact only a recent political innovation, against which sections of the traditional social hierarchy were strongly opposed. This was the aristocracy and the business elites. He states that in Britain the right to vote was connected to how much tax a man paid, and that the principle that everyone had an innate right to vote was rejected as too abstract and French. This distrust of democracy, and hatred of the forces of organised labour, that now possessed it, was shown most clearly in the upper classes’ reaction to the General Strike.

As for the other constitutional liberties, such as a free press, right to a fair trial and freedom of assembly, Pugh also states that the 19th and early 20th century British ‘Liberal’ state was quite prepared to suppress these when it suited them, and could be extremely ruthless, such as when it dealt with the Suffragettes. Hence he argues that the Fascists’ own claim to represent the true nature of traditional British government and values needs to be taken seriously by historians when explaining the rise of Mosley and similar Fascist movements in the ’20s and ’30s.

Democratic Socialist is right when he states that the Classical Liberalism of Von Mises and Von Hayek is Conservative, and supports the traditional feudal hierarchy of the aristocracy and church as opposed to the revolutionary Liberalism of the new middle classes as they arose in the late 18th and 19th centuries. But I don’t think there was a clear division between the two. British political historians have pointed out that during the 19th century, the Liberal middle classes slowly joined forces with the aristocracy as the working class emerged to challenge them in turn. The modern Conservative party, with its ideology of free trade, has also been influenced by one aspect of 19th century Liberalism, just as the Labour party has been influenced by other aspects, such as popular working class activism and a concern for democracy. Von Mises’ and Von Hayek’s ‘Classical Liberalism’ can be seen as an extreme form of this process, whereby the free enterprise component of Enlightenment Liberalism is emphasised to the exclusion of any concern with personal freedom and democracy.

Libertarian Sexism – Just Fascist Misogyny Mixed Up with Rothbard and Rand

July 20, 2017

About a week ago I put up a post commenting on a video from Reichwing Watch, a YouTuber who creates videos and documentaries about the rise of the extreme Right. That particularly video remarked on the way contemporary Libertarian was becoming a front for Fascism. The two ideologies share the same hatred of democracy, Socialism, minority rights, and organized labour, and exalt instead authoritarianism, private property and industry. The video included clips of comments from Rand and Ron Paul, Hoppe, Ayn Rand and other Libertarian ideologues laying out their highly elitist views, along with similar comments from Adolf Hitler. Libertarians have often described themselves as Anarcho-Individualists or Anarcho-Capitalists. Now, however, a number of them, of whom the most prominent appears to be the internet blogger, That Guy T, have begun to describe themselves and their ideology as Anarcho-Fascism.

And one of the attitudes they share with traditional Fascism is sexism and a deep distrust of women. Both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists believed that women were inferior to men, and that, rather than seeking equality and careers, they should properly confine their activity to the home. In Nazi Germany girls were explicitly educated to be home-makers under the official Nazi slogan ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ – ‘Children, Kitchen, Church’. This education culminated in a useless qualification derided as the ‘pudding matric’. The Italian Fascists held the same opinions, and also equated masculinity with aggressive militarism. One of Mussolini’s slogans was ‘Fighting is to man, what motherhood is to woman.’ Incidentally, it’s quite ironic that a female screenwriter, interviewed in the Radio Times this week about her forthcoming detective series about the organized abuse of women in international prostitution, is quoted as saying, ‘motherhood is the equivalent of when men go to war.’ I’ve no doubt many mothers, and fathers, for that matter, see it differently. Though it might appear to be so after they’ve been up all night with a crying baby.

Some of the clearest statements of Fascist misogyny came from the Futurists, the modern art movement launched in 1909 by the Italian poet, Marinetti. This glorified youth, speed, the new machine age, violence, dynamism and virility. Mussolini in his manifesto baldly stated ‘We advocate scorn for woman.’ In his manifesto Contro L’Amore ed il Parlamentarismo – ‘Against Love and the Parliamentary Process’, Marinetti declared ‘the war between the sexes has been unquestioningly prepared by the great agglomerations of the capital cities, by nocturnal habits, and by the regular salaries given to female workers.’ The Futurists were impressed by the militant dynamism of the suffragettes and early feminist movements, but later became violently opposed to any kind of demands for equality or female liberation. Marinetti declared that “Women hasten to give, with lightning speed, a great proof of the total animalization of politics… the victory of feminism, and especially the influence of women on politics will in the end succeed in destroying the principle of the family”.
(‘Love and Sexuality’ in Pontus Hulton, ed. Futurismo: Futurism and Futurisms (Thames and Hudson 1986) 503.

The same attitudes have returned with the rise of the anti-feminist Conservatives following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Much of this is a reaction to the gradual decline of the nuclear family and massive increase in divorce following the emergence of more liberal attitudes to sexuality in the ‘permissive society’. Thus, Conservatives like the American Anne Coulter, Libertarians like Vox Day, and their British counterparts, many of whom seem to be in UKIP, stated very openly that they were in favour of removing women’s right to vote. This was partly because they feel that women favour the Left, and so reject economic individualism and property rights for collectivism and a welfare state. The denizens of the Men’s Rights Movements, who are regularly critiqued and pilloried by the male internet feminist, Kevin Logan, are also vehemently opposed to female sexual liberation. Far and Alt Right vloggers like Avis Aurini sneer at modern women as promiscuous, whose selfish hedonism is a threat to marriage and the family. One of the individuals even hysterically declared that women were responsible for the fall of all civilisations. This would no doubt surprise historians, who have actually studied the reasons for their fall. The forces responsible can include climate change and desertification, foreign invasion, social and political stagnation and economic decline. Rome fell, for example, because from the third century AD onwards it was suffering massive inflation, a growing tax burden that the aristocratic rich evaded, and put instead on the shoulders of the poor, a growing gulf between rich and poor that saw the free Roman plebs decline in legal rights and status to the same level as the slaves, along with the massive expansion of aristocratic estates worked by slaves, urban decline as the population fled to the countryside, a decline in genuine democratic institutions and the rise of feudalism, and, of course, the barbarian invasions. Women don’t feature as a cause, except in the writings of some of the Roman historians commenting on sexual depravity of various emperors, and the general moral decline of Roman society. O tempora! O mores!

Whatever intellectual guise the contemporary Conservative and Libertarian right might want to give such ideas, such misogyny really is just Fascism, or an element of Fascism. It’s just been given another name, and mixed up with the economic individualism of Ayn Rand, von Hayek and von Mises, rather than Hitler, Mussolini and Marinetti. It is, however, rapidly approaching and assimilating them as well. If female freedom and, more widely, a genuinely democratic society are to be preserved, the Fascist nature of such misogyny needs to be recognized, and very firmly rejected.

Shirin Ebadi and the Regime’s Oppression of Working-Class Iranians

June 1, 2013

It’s the centenary this week of the death of the British Suffragette, Emily Davidson. Davidson protested against the exclusion of women from the franchise by jumping in front of the King’s Horse at the Derby. More recent historical research has suggested that she actually hadn’t wanted to commit suicide, and fell, rather than deliberately jumped. Regardless of her precise actions, her death has become one of the most notorious events associated with the campaign for votes for women. The BBC and a number of other media have been running features commemorating the event and the Suffragette campaign over the past week or so.

Shirin Ebadi and the New Suffragettes

The Independent newspaper has been running a series, ‘The New Suffragettes’, on contemporary women campaigning for women’s rights. Yesterday’s (Friday, 31st May) edition featured the Iranian judge and social campaigner, Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi was the country’s first female, appointed by the Shah. She lost that position following Khomeini’s Revolution in 1979. She was also dismissed from her position on another prominent legal organisation because it was considered that her gender was unsuitable for such a position of authority. She has campaigned for divorced women in Iran to gain custody of their sons, as well as their daughters, and has set up a number of NGOs to improve conditions for women and the poor in Iran. She has particularly campaigned against the persecution of Iranian dissidents. She also campaigned for the release of the Canadian Iranian young woman, who was brutally imprisoned in Iran a few years ago. She has lived in exile in London after attempts on her life, sponsored by the Regime, and the savage beating of her husband. In the article she described her shock when reading transcripts of a recorded meeting between members of the Iranian secret police. Reading the report, she came across a statement there was a piece where one of the government thugs said, ‘And the next one’s Ebadi’. It made it all too clear that she was one of those marked for death.

Despite this, she is still very much a Muslim. She stated in the interview that the low position of women in Middle Eastern society was not due to Islam, but to these nation’s traditional patriarchal culture. The Independent noted that despite official hostility, she is a real heroine to many Iranians and has been greeted by cheering mobs when she has appeared to speak to them.

Ebadi and Swedish Journalistic Colleague on Right-Wing Oppression in Iran

A year or so ago I came across a book written by her and a Swedish journalist in one of the bargain bookshops in my home town. It was written from a left-wing, Social Democratic perspective. I seem to recall that her co-writer belonged to one of the unions or other left-wing organisations in Sweden. The book was an attempted to describe the regime’s oppression of the Iranian working class. It also attempted to argue that the Iranian regime was not attempting to buid nuclear weapons, and that there should therefore be no military action taken against the country. The first point was made abundantly clear by her descriptions of thuggery, arrest and violence against Iranian factory workers, truckers, busmen and trade unionists. The second argument I found much less convincing. Her point was that in Iran much, if not most of the oil revenue is exported to gain foreign currency. The Iranian regime is trying to develop nuclear power to lower domestic oil consumption, so that more can be sold abroad. The Iranian government is, however, aggressively anti-Semitic and has made a number of vicious threats against Israel, America and their European allies. It also has developed missiles with capable of reaching Vienna. Even if the primary purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme is to provide electricity, the possibility is all too real that it could be diverted to military purposes.

Ebadi and her co-writer were critical of contemporary Western writers on Iran, who glowingly described the life-style and attitudes of the westernised middle class. If I recall correctly, they viewed this as extremely condescending and culturally imperialist. They also attacked such attitudes for excluding the mass of the Iranians, the ordinary Iranian working class, who were not westernised.

Suppression of Worker’s Organisations by Revolutionary Regime

In the first half of the book she described how the fragmented Iranian radical left, which at one time consisted of 74 different organisations and groups, was suppressed by Khomeini and his followers after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Their members were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and killed, or forced into exile. As I mentioned, Ebadi herself is still a devout Muslim, and denounced this as un-Islamic. She is critical of the radical Marxist Iranian group, the MEK, as it is militantly atheist and deliberately broadcasts and publishes blasphemous material in order to offend Muslims. Trade unions and other working class political organisations are banned. Their members are harrassed and imprisoned under trumped-up charges of colonialism or collaboration with imperialism. Wages for Agha and Begum Average Iranian are kept appallingly low, and working conditions are horrendous. The only working-class organisations that are permitted are factory shuras (councils). These deliberately include both employees and employers, and exist to promote the regime’s version of Islam in the workplace. Ebadi and her fellow author state that these councils have been compared with the DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), the labour organisation the Nazis introduced to replace trade unions and control the German workforce. In the last days of the Shah, according to Ebadi, the regime was so terrified of armed revolution that soldiers were stationed in the factories to prevent the workers from rising up. The contemporary Revolutionary regime has done exactly the same.

The ‘Millionaire Mullahs’

She describes the close alliance between the merchants of the Tehran Bazaar and the governing ulema. This has produced a new class of ‘millionaire mullahs’. This is the English translation of a Farsi term, which literally means ‘the son of a mullah who becomes a prince’. Although private property is sanctioned and protected in Iranian Revolutionary law, the country’s economy is dominated by the bonyads, Islamic charities that own large sectors of Iranian industry, including oil. The largest of these is the ‘Foundation for the Poor’, part of whose remit is to provide subsidized housing. As a result, there is massive corruption, with the mullahs exploiting their control of these bonyads and their industries to enrich themselves.

Working-Class Protest Action

As a result of this, there is massive discontent among ordinary, working class Iranians. Strikes and industrial action are brutally suppressed. In one case, Tehran’s busmen attempted to form a union and were arrested and imprisoned. Nevertheless, some concessions have been wrung out of the authorities when members of a particular factory or industry have had all they can take. These then organise mass protests, sometimes numbering thousands. These then force their way into the management’s offices, or those of the officials in charge of that particular industry.

Poor Conditions and Violence Towards Women

Women have particularly suffered under the Revolutionary regime. They are paid less than men, and in addition to working long hours are also expected to cook the meals and do the housework at home. There is also high male unemployment. This has resulted in a rise in domestic violence as unemployed men take out their frustrations on their wives.

Ahmadinejad’s Attempts at Reform Blocked by Regime

Ebadi recognises that Ahmadinejad himself comes from a poor background, and was serious about improving conditions for the Iranian working class. He made a speech during his election campaign in which he promised that he would put more on the sofiyeh, the cloth spread on the grounds on which Iranians place their food, like the dinner table in Europe. His attempts at reform have been stifled, and will continue to be thwarted, by the structure of the Iranian state and its component institutions. The Pasdaran – The Revolutionary Guards – and the Regime’s theocratic governing bodies are directly involved and profitting from the exploitation of the working class. As a result they have more than once block Ahmadinejad’s attempts to improve matters, and arrested or removed from office his allies.

Corruption and Exploitation by Liberal Politicians

Ebadi is critical of the apparently liberal politicians and members of the ulema, including the former president Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani is a pistachio merchant, and notoriously corrupt. He and the other liberals are, according to the book, interested solely in pursuing their own commercial profit and careers. She recalls the outrage felt when the regime agreed to meet with striking workers in one of the nation’s football stadiums. The politicians promised political and economic improvements – raised wages, better conditions. In the event, when the meeting finally occurred the workers found instead that it was being staged as a propaganda event to promote Rafsanjani’s political career.

Dispossession and Oppression of Ethnic Minorities

The regime has also worked to oppress and dispossess the country’s numerous ethnic minorities. The Farsi-speaking population accounts for only about 51 per cent of the population. Other ethnic groups include Kurds, Luris, Baluchis, Turkic-speaking peoples, including nomads, and Arabs in Khuzestan. These people’s have seen their homelands seized and settled by Farsi Iranians. Some of these areas, such as Resht in the north, and Khuzestan in the west, are rich in natural resources. The industries in these areas are run by Farsis, and frequently employ only Farsis, so the indigenous peoples are excluded from enjoying the benefits of their own homelands. A similarly policy has been pursued in China in Sinjiang, so that Han Chinese have settled and dominated industry in the homeland of the Muslim Uighurs. It is this policy that is responsible for the discontent and jihadist violence amongst the Uighurs.

Exploitation in the Oil Industry

Khuzestan possesses considerable oil reserves, and a result is one of the major centres of the Iranian oil industry. Working conditions are appalling, with migrant workers housed in camps surrounded by armed guards. Wages are slightly higher than in the rest of the country, but are still insuffient to support the workers. Many have become heavily in debt to support themselves, and drugs are widely used. The Regime and the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards, are heavily involved in this trade. The book includes a statement by an oil worker that while there, he saw the column bringing the drugs flanked by guards from the Pasdaran.

Iranian Fascist, Question of Support by Leftists like George Galloway

The picture of the regime presented by the book is one of a brutal suppression. It is a regime that would be denounced as Fascist, as well as racist and colonialist if it occurred in a western country in the Americas or Europe. Ebadi herself and her Swedish co-writer come across very much as very left-wing. They are pro-Iranian, and definitely anti-racist. The book raises an important question, notably the support the Regime has enjoyed from members of the European far Left. The most prominent Left-wing politician in this regard is George Galloway, the former Labour MP and one of the founders of the Respect Party. Galloway now has a job as a presenter on Iranian Press TV. He previously supported Saddam Hussein, and there’s a clip of him hailing the deceased dictator for, amongst other qualities, his indefatiguability. It would seem from Ebadi’s and her colleague’s book that Galloway abandoned his socialist principles a long time ago to support an oppressive regime that attacks the Iranian working class and brutalises and dispossesses its ethnic minorities.

Funniest Description of a Philosopher of the Week: Nietzsche

June 1, 2013

This is from the trailer for the BBC suffragette comedy, Up the Women:

‘Who was Nietzsche?’
‘Like Shocked-headed Peter, only much crosser!’

It does just about sum up Germany’s greatest preacher of splenetic Nihilism and the Superman.

Well, I liked it, anyway.