Posts Tagged ‘Tariq Ali’

The Western Myth of Buddhist Tolerance Blinding the World to Its Persecution of Muslims

December 17, 2017

The clip below is a grim report from The Young Turks about the methodical rape of Rohingya women in Myanmar by the Buddhist armed forces. This comes from a report from the Associated Press with 29 women and girls, who had fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Some of these testimonies are very disturbing. In one instance, a woman was nine months pregnant, when she was caught by the soldiers and raped. She couldn’t get away because of her condition. Nevertheless, her husband, who sounds like a scumbag himself, is blaming her. She didn’t run fast enough. He, however, had already scarpered. In another interview, one woman told of how she and her husband were both caught, and her other half was tied to a tree while the Myanmar storm troopers gang raped her in front of him. When he began to scream and cry at what was being done to his wife, they stabbed and killed him.

Savagery, brutality and violence are part of the human condition, and are found in people of every race, creed and political ideology. Buddhism is no different from any other religion or ideology in this regard. But M. Reza Pirbhai published an article in Counterpunch in September this year, 2017, arguing that the world’s failure to respond adequately to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar was partly due to the western, liberal myth that Buddhism is uniquely tolerant. He begins his article by arguing that the silence and reluctance to condemn the atrocities is partly due to western imperialist perceptions of Islam as uniquely evil. He then goes on to argue that the positive image Buddhism has as a uniquely tolerant religion was created in the 19th century by disaffected western intellectuals. Alienated by the sectarianism and bigotry of their own Christian culture, they turned to the Buddhist east, and so created an entirely false image of the religion as uniquely peaceful and tolerant. He writes

Academia is in fact rife with examples of scholarship that touts the tolerance and inclusiveness of Buddhists and the general argument is nothing new. According to Thomas A. Tweed, Professor of History at Notre Dame University, increasing awareness of religious diversity due to colonial expansion and Christian missionizing led Euro-American Enlightenment intellectuals repelled by Christian sectarianism to consider Buddhism to fit the bill of the “natural religion” (or “perennial philosophy”) they sought, one that exuded “tolerance” toward people of different faiths and was amenable to scientific progress. So convinced were they that some, such as the nineteenth century German-American scholar Paul Carus, even chastised Asian Buddhists when they launched polemical assaults on Christian missionaries, accusing the Asians of using language the “Buddha certainly would not…” So was born the pervasive myth, characteristically articulated by the early twentieth century Swedish-American Theosophist Herman Vetterling, that Buddhism is “a religion of noble tolerance, of universal brotherhood, of righteousness and justice,” and that in its growth as the religion of a global community it had not “caused the spilling of a drop of blood.”

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Michael Jerryson, picks up where Tweed signs off to show that the tendency to associate Buddhism with tolerance did not die in the early twentieth century or remain bound in an ivory tower. In the wake of World War II, it found its way into the writings of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, marching further forward in time with such works as Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and by the 1980s assumed political dimensions in the form of the Free Tibet Movement. And finally, who can forget (even if you want to) Keanu Reeves in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha.

Social history, however, tells a different tale than Orientalists and popular culture. For every instance of forbearance, history also provides examples of violent intolerance legitimated by Buddhist doctrines and conducted by practitioners. As many ancient Jain and Brahmanical texts speak of persecution at the hands of Indian Buddhists, as Buddhists accuse their South Asian competitors of the same. And consider Jerryson’s examples of the sixth century Chinese Buddhist monk Faqing, who promised his 50,000 followers that every opponent they killed would take them to a higher stage in the bodhisattva’s path. Or recall that with the advent of nationalism, Buddhist monks rallied to the cause as with Japanese Rinzai support for the military campaign against the Russians in 1904-5, or Zen and Pureland Buddhist justifications of the Japanese invasions of China, Korea and Singapore during World War II. Buddhism has been corrupted in these places, they argued, and violence is necessary to insure that ‘true’ Buddhism is restored and preserved. The same rhetoric – of some fundamental Buddhism under threat – also underwrites the more recently nationalized bigotry and violence that Buddhist monks and laypersons have unleashed on non-Buddhists in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and, last but not least, Myanmar.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/13/rohingya-and-the-myth-of-buddhist-tolerance/

It isn’t just Muslims, who are in a perilous position in Myanmar. So too are the country’s Roman Catholics, who are also under the threat of Buddhist persecution. This explains why the Pope was very careful not to describe the Rohingya as indigenous Burmese when he decried the violence against them the other week. He was afraid of upsetting the authorities too much, and calling down persecution on the country’s Christian population. At least according to another article in Counterpunch.

Pirbhai’s article notes that Buddhist priests, laymen and armed forces have also carried out atrocities against those of rival or different religions elsewhere, including Sri Lanka. In May 2013 Tariq Ali also published a piece about rising Sri Lankan Buddhist fundamentalism. This was during the conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamils, who wanted a separate state and union with India. The Sinhalese are Buddhists, while the Tamils are Hindu, although the Tamil Tigers, the revolutionary force fighting for independence, were Marxists and therefore atheists. The civil war resulted in horrific atrocities, for which the Sri Lankan army was condemned, but little action taken by the West. And Muslims there were also the victims of Buddhist intolerance. Ali wrote:

Four years after the brutal assault on the Tamil population and the killing of between 8—10,000 Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, there is trouble again. The saffron-robed fanatics, led by the BBS—Bodu Bala Sena: the most active and pernicious of Buddhist fundamentalist groups that have sprouted in Sinhala strongholds throughout the island— are on the rampage again. This time the target is the relatively small Muslim minority. Muslim abattoirs have been raided, butchers shops attacked, homes targeted. Terrified kids and adults in Muslim areas are living in fear. The police stand by watching passively while the Sri Lankan TV crews film the scenes as if it were a school picnic.

A few weeks ago, Buddhist monks led some hoodlums and attacked the car sales room of a Muslim-owned company (Emerald Trading) in Pepliyana. Reason? An employee was stepping out with a young Sinhala woman and her father had complained to a local monk. A journalist on The Sunday Leader (a courageous broadsheet whose editor Lasantha Wickramatunga had, four months ago, denounced President Rajapaksa for corruption, predicted in print that he would be killed as a result and was) reported on 2 April that, ‘Following the complaint, an eye-witness saw a monk leaving one of the temples in Pepiliyana followed by a group of youths, mostly under 25 years of age. The group carried stones and, people were later to discover, kerosene…’

As if the anti-Tamil pogroms were not enough to satisfy the blood-lust, a BBS blogger explained the ‘reasoning’ behind the targeting of Muslims in the Colombo Telegraph (6 March 2013):

“Muslims have been living in this country since 7th century and now only they want to have Halal food in Sri Lanka. Population wise they are only 5%. If we allow Halal, next time they will try to introduce circumcision on us. We have to nip these in the bud before it becomes a custom. We should never allow the Muslims and Christians to control anything in Sri Lanka. What is Halal to Muslims is Harem to Sinhala Buddhists. Slaughtering cow and eating beef should also be banned in Sri Lanka. Instead, we should promote pork. We are glad that the parliament has re-introduced pork in their menu. Hijab, burqa, niqab and purdah should be banned in Sri Lanka. The law and the legislature should always be under the control of the Sinhala-Buddhists and our Nationalist Patriotic president. After all, Sri Lanka is a gift from Buddha to the Sinhalese.”

Difficult to imagine how circumcision could be ‘nipped in the bud’ even by a buddhist, or how the percentage of the Muslim population could have decreased from 9.7 percent in 2011 to 5 percent today. It has undoubtedly gone down but demographers doubt it could have done so by more than one or two percent at the most. The decline is obviously a direct result of unchecked harassment and persecution. It has gone down over the last few decades. The Tamils did their bit. Muslims in Tamil-majority areas were harassed and effectively driven out by ethnic purists from both the communities. They regret what they did now because it has been done to them on a much larger scale.

If it were only the BBS mouthing this nonsense, it would be one thing. But many within Sinhala political-military mainstream pander to rhetoric of this sort. In Pottuvil in the Ampara district, for instance, where the Muslims are a majority, the uniformed soldiers have been collaborating with the local monks and monasteries to erect Buddhist statues and inflaming the region in noise pollution via loudspeakers which start early with Buddhist hymns and a nightly replay. Local women who own land are being driven off it: the monasteries steal as the army provides protection.

The 1911 consensus revealed, as has always been the case, that the Buddhists compose a huge majority (70.2 percent), followed by the Tamil Hindus (12.6), Muslims (9.7) and Christians (7.4). Nobody threatens the Buddha or his followers except fanatics from within.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/03/on-buddhist-fundamentalism/

Ali ends his article with a report of Buddhist sectarian attacks on Muslim fishermen in Myanmar.

And will talk of Burma joining the Commonwealth be nipped in the bud? Buddhists have clashed with a tiny Muslim minority and driven them out of their villages, though the cause in this case appears to be material rather than ethno-religious Puritanism. The Buddhists wanted the land for themselves. A macabre confrontation resulted in, of all places, an Indonesian refugee camp where the Burmese Muslims had been provided with shelter. Eight Burmese Buddhist fisherman whose vessel had foundered in nearby waters were also rescued by the Indonesians and taken to the same camp. That night the two sides battled and all the fishermen apart from one were killed. Muslim casualties were two dead, and seven wounded.

It was an ominous precursor of the mass violence against the Rohingya that broke out a few years later.

Pirbhai ends his article by noting no religion has the monopoly on violence. But the myth of Buddhism as uniquely peaceful and tolerant is blinding Americans to the savagery that Buddhists, as humans, are capable of committing.

“No religion has a monopoly on ‘violent people’,” Jerryson astutely concludes, “nor does any one religion have a greater propensity for violence.” All religions are vast complexes of thought and institutions and devotees of each can always find legitimacy for hostility or hospitality toward the other depending on mundane needs or wants. It is for this very reason that the apparent disconnect between historical Buddhism and the sustained Euro-American myth of its tolerance is as malignant as the perpetual dehumanization of Islam and Muslims is cancerous. These Buddhists have long been the good guys and those Muslims the bad in this lore. Each is a necessary fiber in the liberal fabric of Euro-American imagination that veils the gaze of international law when it comes to the murder and displacement of the Rohingya.

George Galloway Interviews on China and Tax Dodging by the Rich

December 6, 2017

This is a very interesting edition of Sputnik, one of the programmes on RT, hosted by media bete noir George Galloway, and a young Asian lady simply called Gayatri. Sputnik was, of course, the first satellite put into Earth orbit by the Russians. The name means ‘fellow traveller’ in Russian, and has come to mean an artificial satellite ever since.

In the first half of the programme, Galloway and Gayatri interview Jeanne-Marie Gescher, a British sinologist, who has been studying China ever since the notorious Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Gescher has written a book about the country and its transformation, and describes how she was just about the only western person flying into China after the massacre, when all the other westerners were trying to get out. This, however, gave her a head start of a couple of years over the other academics researching China, when she was one of the very few westerners actually in the country. Galloway talks about President Xi’s party congress, and makes the point that most of it was about ‘socialism with a Chinese face’, rather than economics. He and Gescher also discuss the role of a strong central authority in governing and forming China, ever since its foundation all those millennia ago. They make the point that the role of a strong central authority is so much at the core of the country’s character and government, that it has been said that without it China is like sand. Gescher states that ever since the ancient shamans led the earliest ancestors of the Chinese to settle down, there has been a tension between two philosophies towards government and the natural order. One is that the natural world is too complex for people to understand, and so government is best carried out by a single ‘son of Heaven’ – the official title of the Chinese emperor – who governs autocratically. The other recommends instead that the world be subject to a structured investigation. This is not democratic, but it is wider than the concentration of power in a single autocratic figure. Gescher also describes the way China has repeatedly fragmented over the ages, only to come back together as a single, unitary empire again, with a quote from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the great classics of Chinese literature. To people of a certain age, the book is best known as the basis for the Chinese swashbuckling tale broadcast by the Beeb in the ’70s, The Water Margin.

They also discuss Donald Trump’s apparent volte-face last week. Before he went to China, he was full of anger at the Chinese and there was much resentment in the American media about perceived Chinese mistreatment. Trump was going to tear them off a strip about it. After he got there, however, and met the President, he ended up praising the country. Gescher states that this has shown the Chinese that Trump ‘flip-flops’. This will worry them, as there is nothing more dangerous than a leader, who so capriciously changes position.

Next on the show is Professor Steve Keen, who has also written a book demolishing economics. Keen’s a former economics professor at Kingston University, though at the end of the interview he states that he has left academia to go his own way via Patreon. Keen, Gayatri and Galloway discuss the infamous Paradise Papers and the tax dodging by the very rich. Keen himself isn’t shocked by the way the super-rich like Bono, Lewis Hamilton and the Queen have deprived the treasury of their taxes. He seems to accept that it’s just part of the pathology of the very rich. He states that they’re terrified of anyone else getting their hands on their money, and so pay enormous fees to people, who tell them how they can legally avoid paying cash.

Galloway is shocked, however, and makes the ironic point that the Queen, in her case, is actually avoiding paying tax to herself. Which is true. He also wonders about the mentality of the rich, who will spend their money on colossally expensive items like luxury super-yachts. Keen states he knows someone, who has actually bought one. This man had a 120-ft yacht, but turned it in for a 140 foot vessel, complete with space for a grand piano. He states that this comes from the sheer greed and sense of entitlement of the rich.

He then talks about the various fake holding companies and offshore accounts that the rich use in order to avoid paying tax in the country where they really make their money. He’s actually been to the Cayman Islands, and seen the office block, where so many multinational companies legally have their headquarters. He states that he read so many of the brass plaques on the building’s walls before he gave up. But it was all a scam. There was no-one in the building. It was all very much a legal fiction.

Keen himself has recommended his own way to stop this. At the moment, the tax on profits allows the rich to dodge paying tax by allowing them to cast their companies as subsidiaries working for a parent organisation somewhere else in the world. To stop them doing that, Keen recommends that there should be a tax on transactions instead, which would bring money back into the treasury and which couldn’t be avoided by setting up fake parent companies.

He also has a very different view of taxation than other economists. He argues that the point of taxation isn’t to pay for government services. Governments, by their nature, create money. They pump it into the economy. What taxation does is take it out of the economy, so you don’t have runaway inflation.

Talking about his decision to leave academia, Keen states that it was forced on him by the government’s effective privatisation of higher education. This has turned students into ‘informed consumers of higher education’. However, the league tables concentrate on the Russell Group, and so the new universities that were created post 1992 are starved of funding. This has led him to break with the university, and start crowdfunding his work. He states that he has a great bunch of people funding him through Patreon, and that he’s learned a lot from them. He is also critical of university tenure, because it creates a very conformist mindset. It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to do the opposite, but he states that by the time professors have done all the things needed to gain tenure, they are afraid of stepping out of line.

The programme ends with Galloway and Gayatri reading out some of the Tweets they have received on the shows contents. Several people remark that, whatever Trump says, America very much needs China to avoid collapsing. And others are about the Queen and the rest of the rich dodging tax.

This is interesting, as it shows that Galloway is a very good interviewer. I also find it quite a nostalgic experience, as it reminds me of what quality television on BBC 2 used to be like in the 1970s and 1980s. No fancy graphics, just the programme’s host or hosts in the studio and his or her guests, talking. You can see the same approach used by Tariq Ali on his TV show. And while it is talk, it’s very much informed talk by experts, that isn’t dumbed down and reduced to soundbites by programme editors afraid that too much pop videos have left people with an attention-span no longer than a gnat’s.

Keen’s perspective on the rich and their sheer avarice is interesting, as is his proposed solution. I’m also struck by his innovative attitude to taxation. I’ve read similar things like it on Mike’s blog, where he has reblogged material from the Mainly Macro economist. As has the Angry Yorkshireman, Tom Clarke. This looks like a positive approach to the dismal science that will break the Tory orthodoxy about taxation and paying for the welfare state.

Dr Gerald Horne on Trump as the Product of the Racist History of the US

September 10, 2017

This is another fascinating video from Telesur English. It’s from an edition of the Empire Files, in which the host, Abby Martin, interviews Dr. Gerald Horne, the chair of History and African American Studies at the University Houston. Dr. Horne is the author of 20 books on slavery and black liberation movements. The blurb for the video on YouTube states that his most recent work is The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States.

The video is just over half an hour long, and it completely overturns the entire myth of the founding of the United States, in which the Founding Fathers were noble idealists, intent on bringing about a truly democratic state in which all men would be free. In fact the opposite was true. The Founding Fathers were either slave-owners, or else otherwise deeply connected to slavery and slave trade through their business interests. Instead of noble liberators for everyone, they were deeply opposed to granting Black Americans their freedom.

Dr. Horne argues that they were the products of British imperialism and its slave trade, which was first introduced into the Caribbean and then shifted north to the English colonies in North America. He traces the history of Black enslavement and anti-Black racist movements from the American Revolution to the American Civil War, and thence to the formation of successive waves of the Klan. His intention is to show that Trump is not an historical aberration, a strange historical throwback on America’s long progress to freedom and liberty, but a product of America’s racist history and the mass support anti-Black movements have enjoyed and exploited throughout it.

The programme begins by explaining the background to the Confederate monuments, which the Unite the Right stormtroopers marched to defend in Charlottesville the week before last. These were not simply memorials to great generals or valiant soldiers, as the myth around them says. Most of the Confederate monuments in the US were erected in two periods – the period of Jim Crow in the 1920s and ’30s, when the segregation laws were being introduced, and the 1950s when the Civil Rights movement was beginning. They were set up to convey a very specific message: that while Black Americans were technically free, the ‘Negro’ had better know his place beneath the White man. Or else.

He then goes on to describe the emergence of slavery in the US. He states that Britain at the end of the 16th century was ‘a failed state’. The British Civil War of the 1640s between Charles I and parliament was a quasi-bourgeois revolution, which gave some rights to the British merchant and middle classes. The real bourgeois revolution was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which allowed the middle classes to exert more political control, and allowed British merchants to wrest control of the slave trade away from the Crown as a royal monopoly.

The most important part of the British empire in the New World at the time was the Caribbean, and particularly Jamaica. These colonies became immensely profitable due to sugar. However, in the 1720s there was an economic crisis in Caribbean slavery, so some of the major Caribbean slaveowners moved north, to Carolina and other parts of the US. It was from these slave-owning families that the Founding Fathers were descended.

Horne also briefly discusses the role north American slavery played in the definition of White identity. Back in Europe, the different European peoples saw themselves as members of separate nations – English, Irish, Scots, French, Germans and so on. it was only when they crossed the Atlantic to America that they created an overarching racial identity to differentiate them from their Black slaves.

Horne then goes on to argue that the major catalyst for the American Revolution was the American colonists’ frustration at the British governments attempts to limit slavery and stop further colonial expansion beyond the Alleghenies. One of the critical moments in this was the Somerset Case, which ruled that slavery was illegal in England. The ruling was expanded to Scotland a year later. The taxes against which the Boston Tea Party was staged included those levied on slaves. They had been imposed by the British government as a deliberate anti-slavery measure. The British government was also tired of expending men and treasure in the various wars against the continent’s indigenous peoples. This angered the colonists, who longed to expand and seize native American land to the west. One of those, who stood to make a profit from this, was George Washington, who was a land speculator. As indeed, in a curious historical parallel, is Donald Trump. The Founding Fathers also feared and hated Black Americans, because the British had given their freedom to all Black Americans, who remained loyal. As a result, the Black Americans were solidly behind the British against the emerging independence movement.

Dr. Horne then goes on to talk about the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves held by the Southern states. Horne points out that it was felt at the time that Lincoln had somehow broken the rules of war, and done the unthinkable by arming the slaves. As for Lincoln himself, he didn’t have much sympathy with them, and was considering deporting them after the end of the war. Horne goes on to discuss how the deportation of Americans of African descent continued to be discussed and planned at various periods in American history afterwards. It was yet again discussed in the 1920s, when there was a movement to deport them back to Africa.

After the ending of slavery in American following the defeat of the South, many of the American slave-owners and traders fled abroad, to continue their business overseas. Several went to South America, including Brazil, while others went to Cuba.

After the Civil War came the period of reconstruction, and the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th century. Horne also talks about the lynching movement during this period of American history, which continued into the early 20th centuries. Not only were these intended to terrorise Black Americans to keep them in their place, but at the time they also were also almost like picnics. Photographs were taken and sold of them, and White spectators and participants would cut the fingers off the body and keep them as souvenirs. Dr. Horne remarks that, sadly, some White homes still have these digits even today.

He also talks about the massive influence D.W. Griffith’s viciously racist Birth of a Nation had on the Klan, boosting its membership. Klan groups began to proliferate. In Michigan, one branch of the Klan concentrated on fighting and breaking trade unions. Later, in the 1950s, the Klan entered another period of resurgence as a backlash against the Civil Rights campaign.

Horne makes the point that in this period, the Klan was by no means a marginal organization. It had a membership in the millions, including highly influential people in several states. And the Klan and similar racist organisations were not just popular in the South. The various pro-slavery and anti-Black movements also had their supporters in the North since the time of the Civil War. He also argues that the campaign against segregation was extremely long, and there was considerable resistance to Black Americans being given equality with Whites.

He also states that one of the influences behind the emergence of the Alt-Right and the revival of these latest Fascist and White supremacist movements was the election of Barak Obama as the first Black president of the US. Obama was subject to rumours that he was really Kenyan, with the whole ‘birther’ conspiracy theories about his passport, because he was Black, and so couldn’t be a proper American. And it is this bitter hostility to Obama, and the perceived threat to White America which he represents, that has produced Trump.

Watching this video, I was reminded of Frederick Douglas’ great speech, What To the Slave is the Fourth of July? Douglas was a former slave and a major voice for abolition in America. His speech noted how hollow the rhetoric about the Founding Fathers protecting Americans from slavery under the British, when they themselves remained slaves in reality.

He’s right about the rule of the sugar economy in saving the British colonies in the Caribbean, though from my own reading about slavery in the British Empire, what saved these colonies first was tobacco. It was the first cash crop, which could easily be grown there.

The role opposition to the British government’s refusal to allow further colonial expansion in provoking the American Revolution has also been discussed by a number of historians. One book I read stated that British colonial governors were encouraged to intermarry with the indigenous peoples. Thus, one of the governors on the British side actually had cousins amongst one of the Amerindian nations. The same book also described how the British granted their freedom to Black loyalists. After their defeat, the British took them to Canada. Unfortunately, racism and the bleak climate led them to being deported yet again to Sierra Leone. There were also Black loyalists settled in the British Caribbean colonies. One report on the state of colony instituted by its new governor in the early 19th century reported that the former Black squaddies were settled in several towns, governed by their own N.C.O.s under military discipline. These Black Americans were orderly and peaceful, according to the report.

As for the former American slave traders, who emigrated to Latin America, this is confirmed by the presence of one of the witnesses, who appeared before the British parliament in the 1840s, Jose Estebano Cliffe, who was indeed one of the émigré merchants.

Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks have also described the horrors of the lynchings in the Deep South, including the picnic, celebratory aspect to these atrocities. They made the point that if news reports today said that similar lynchings had been carried out by Arabs in the Middle East, Americans would vilify them as savages. But that attitude doesn’t extend to those savages in the US, who carried out these atrocities against Blacks.

It’s worth mentioning here that Blacks weren’t the only victims of lynching. Tariq Ali in an interview in the book Confronting the New Conservatism about the Neocons states that in Louisiana in the 1920, more Italians were lynched than Blacks.

The video’s also worth watching for some of the images illustrating Dr. Horne’s narrative. These include not only paintings, but also contemporary photograph. Several of these are of the slaves themselves, and there is a fascinating picture of a group of Black squaddies in uniform from the Civil War. I found this particularly interesting, as the photographer had captured the character of the soldiers, who had different expressions on their faces. Some appear cheerful, others more suspicious and pessimistic.

There’s also a very chilling photograph of people at a lynching, and it’s exactly as Dr. Horne says. The picture shows people sat on the grass, having a picnic, while a body hangs from a tree in the background. This is so monstrous, it’s almost incredible – that people should calmly use the murder of another human being as the occasion of a nice day out.

This is the history the Republican Party and the Libertarians very definitely do not want people to read about. Indeed, I put up a piece a little while ago at a report on one of the progressive left-wing news programmes on YouTube that Arizona was deliberately suppressing materials about racism, slavery and segregation in its schools, and making students read the speeches of Ronald Reagan instead. As for the removal of Confederate monuments, right-wing blowhard and sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly, formerly of Fox News, has already started making jokes about how ‘they’ want to take down statues of George Washington. Nobody does, and the joke shows how little O’Reilly really understands, let alone cares about the proper historical background behind them. I’ve no doubt that Dr. Horne’s interpretation of history would be considered by some an extreme view, but it is grounded in very accurate historical scholarship. Which makes it an important counterbalance to the lies that the Republicans and Libertarians want people to believe about the country and its history.

Secret Society Part 2: Description of Episodes

January 16, 2015

In the first part of this post I talked about Duncan Campbell’s 1987 series, Secret Society, which sought to uncover the some of the secrets of the British state. These included programmes on the existence of secret cabinet committees; Margaret Thatcher’s surveillance, harassment and campaign to discredit CND; the establishment of increasing numbers of computer databases holding personal information, and the sale of this information by local government to private companies; the secret treaty with the Americans providing for the creation of a highly authoritarian British state effectively under American military control in the event of a nuclear war; the Association of Chief Police Officers, and its secretive and highly authoritarian structure and dealings with the authorities; the purchase of faulty radar equipment by the British state from private companies; and the Zircon affair, when Campbell’s documentary revealed the existence of a British spy satellite. Below is a fuller description of the contents of the individual episodes I was able to find on the web, and links to them on Youtube.

Part 1: Secret Cabinet Committees, covered the various committees, that were so secret that not even cabinet ministers knew of their existence, nor which of their colleagues sat on them. It also described how Clement Freud attempted to pass a secret government act, which aimed at making government far more open. This was effectively torpedoed and emasculated by Jim Callaghan’s government.

After the fall of Jim Callaghan’s administration following the Winter of Discontent, Thatcher’s government was determined to continue the culture of secrecy. She set up a series of secret government committee to destroy CND. Her tactics included doctoring the findings of a report into the results of a possible Soviet nuclear attack on Britain. As the predictions of the number of cities destroyed was far too high to be acceptable to the British public, Maggie and her ministers and advisers altered them. In their approved version, the Soviet missiles missed many major cities, to destroy empty land in the countryside, like Snowdonia. Eventually the report was scrapped, as the successive political alterations to it made it so unrealistic as to be useless.

Thatcher also set up two societies to tackle CND directly. These consisted of the Campaign for Peace for Freedom, a more or less respectable, open organisation, and the Coalition for Peace through Security. This was a far more sinister organisation, bankrolled by the Conservative America group, the Heritage Foundation. This group specialised in disrupting CND marches and protests. an Anti-CND think tank was established, and members of CND spied on by Michael Heseltine. At the same time, the line between government and political party became blurred. Government civil servants were drawn in to plan Thatcher’s campaign for re-election, against previous protocols that kept the two apart. One example of the way the line between the state and political party was crossed by Thatcher was the involvement of her press manager, Bernard Ingham, in the Westland affair.

Episode 2: We’re All Data Now, described the way confidential information kept by public officials, such as local councils, were now sold to private industry. It covered the emergence of the private databanks, that were responsible for the unsolicited mail now coming everyday through the mailbox. The documentary found that every council, except for Greenwich, had sold the voters’ roll, the list of people on the electoral roll and their address, to private industry. At the time, there were only two of these private databases, CCN and UAPT. These also collected information from other sources, and were involved in debt collection. The documentary expressed concern about the collection and storage of information on people from their birth onwards on computer, and the release of sensitive personal information held by the NHS to other official organisations. It specifically criticised the NHS Central Index as a threat to privacy and freedom.

The Home Office was also busy compiling its own databases. These included one on cars, and a Suspect Index, for use by passport officials identifying politically dangerous or suspect people entering Britain. There were about 10,000 people on it, including the actress and political firebrand Vanessa Redgrave, and the radical politician and civil rights agitator Tariq Ali.

There was pressure on the government to pass legislation guarding against the collection of personal information by the government. This resulted in the Protection of Information Act. Although the government tried to pass this off as its own initiative, it was really due to pressure from the Council of Europe. Britain was threatened with a serious loss of trade with the continent unless we passed legislation protecting us from government spying. The Act was still unsatisfactory in a number of ways. One of the speakers in the documentary states that it basically said that so long as an official department notified the authorities of what they were doing, they could do it. The Inland Revenue, for example, gave personal information to other government departments, including the police. There were also provisions that allowed some official organisation to acquire information illegally, without leaving an official record that they had consulted individual personal records.

Episode 3: In Time of Crisis, covered the secret official obligations to America and its armed forces over here, which would come into effect in the horrific event of a nuclear war. They were based on those drawn up during the Second World War, but went far beyond them. They were drawn up by Peter Harvey and remained highly confidential. The government denied they existed, and they were even secret from parliament. It’s no wonder, as they effectively provided for the military occupation of Britain by the US and the creation of a highly authoritarian government.

If the unthinkable had occurred, the treaty provided for the selective arrest of dissidents and protestors, including the mass internment of pacifists and political opponents. The government would also pass a series of measures to control transport and movement by the public. These were aimed at controlling panicking crowds as well as political dissidents. Refugees were to be kept off the roads, which would be reserved for the armed forces. Whole areas around military bases, some stretching for miles, would be placed under military control. Officially, the British police would retain their primacy in the relationship between British and American forces. In reality, American forces would be used to suppress British dissidents. Civilian government would also leave the ruins of London, to direct events from a secret national centre. The programme gave the estimated numbers of American troops that would enter Britain to fight the war. In its first stage, there would be about 75,000 American troops stationed here. This would rise to 3-400,000. Amongst other resources, holiday ferries would be commandeered to ferry American troops to and from mainland Europe.

The treaty also provided for the requisitioning of important supplies and the imposition of conscript labour. All oil would become national property, including that in private cars, and reserved for official use. Hospitals would also be obliged to treat combat troops, who would take priority over civilians. The treaty was signed in 1973 under Ted Heath. Kenneth Clarke even took steps to identify those with the necessary skills required in wartime, who would be drafted into working and labouring for the government.

Finally, the treaty allowed the establishment of secret courts, and the operation of government without any democratic controls or safeguards.

Britain was not the only country by far that negotiated a treaty like this. A similar agreement was concluded between the Americans and Germany, and by 13 other nations. Unlike Britain, Germany’s treaty with the US was a matter of public record and not a state secret. In fact, Britain out of fifteen nations was unique in keeping the treaty secret.

Episode 4: The Association of Chief Police Officers – ACPO.
ACPO was the highly secretive and very undemocratic organisation for very senior rozzers. One of those speaking on the documentary included its deputy head, the controversial head of Manchester police, James Anderton. ACPO’s governing committee, the Central Conference had links to other organisations, where it kept in contact with civil servants. The Conference’s meetings were extremely secret, even from the Association’s rank and file. The president of the Association was selected by its Policy Committee, and not elected by its members.

The Association was responsible for some of the brutal tactics meted out to the strikers during the Miners’ Strike, particularly at the Battle of Orgreave. The Association produced a manual on riot control, whose tactics were in contravention of home office rules. One example of this was the use of truncheons, which went far beyond what the official guidelines considered acceptable. The Association also set up a National Responding Centre during the Miners’ Strike, which threatened to become the core a national police force, a further contravention of official policy. The NRC was official dismantled, but was then set up again in the guise of Mutual Aid. This raised the spectre of the emergence of a militarised police force, like those in many continental nations. Anderton maintained, however, that the Association did not want the creation of a single national police force, and that the NRC was its alternative to it. The Association was nevertheless politically active, directly lobbying parliament on issues such as the Public Order Bill.

ACPO also developed guidelines for intelligence gathering, under which the constabulary were to collect information, even on members of the public. Police officers were supposed to cultivate informants and sources of information on every street. Reports were compiled not only on criminals, but on ordinary people in the street going about their business. Sixty per cent of those spied on were ordinary people with no criminal convictions. Sometimes people were reported for the most trivial reasons, showing the Conservative political beliefs of the compilers. For example, there was a report on a teenage girl, simply for being pregnant and ‘having shocking pink hair’.

The Association’s authoritarian structure and secrecy was not popular with other parts of the police force. The police authorities, for example, were critical of the domineering power of the Chief Constable.

Part 5: Zircon.

Zircon was the highly secret, multi-million pound British spy satellite. It was so secret that this part of the documentary brought the BBC and its reporter, Duncan Campbell, into direct conflict with the government. Campbell was only able to get official acknowledgement of its existence by catching out the government’s scientific adviser.
Campbell pretended to want to talk about another issue entirely. He then sprang the question on the adviser without warning, who responded with the barely audible gasp of ‘I can’t talk about that’. As a result, the Special Branch raided the headquarters of BBC Scotland, who made the series, and the premises were secured for two years under the Official Secrets Act. Opposition MPs raised questions in the House about the raid, while Malcolm Rifkind denied the government was responsible. Thatcher nevertheless sacked the Beeb’s Director General, Alisdair Milne, because of the incident.

Here are the show’s episodes:

Episode 1: Secret Cabinet Committees
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2wGQfqQBMM

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2hySVTwV7s

Episode 2: We’re All Data Now

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDS3VtzC-yk

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuIasa6CmnY

Episode 3: In Time of Crisis

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIEnrFtoZ-c

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPniRV2IVSk

Episode 4: ACPO

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM975q7ErfU

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVpAoFpPQog

Here’s the BBC report on the Special Branch raid on BBC Scotland after the Zircon programme.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRuH7WPmD90

Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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