Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

Lobster on Politically-Motivated False Accusations of Anti-Semitism

May 2, 2016

I found this very interesting and pertinent quote from Uri Avnery’s paper, ‘Manufacturing Anti-Semites’ in Tom Easton’s article, ‘Terrorism, Anti-Semitism and Dissent’, in Lobster 47, Summer 2004: 3-8. The article’s an analysis of the role of the Neo-Cons in Britain and America, and the Israel lobby, in the invasion of Iraq and the new imperialism in the Middle East. The article’s based on four books, Covert Action: The Roots of Terrorism, ed. Ellen Ray and William H. Schaap, The Politics of Anti-Semitism, ed. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair, The Betrayal of Dissent: Beyond Orwell, Hitchens and the New American Century by Scott Lucas, and George Galloway’s I’m Not The Only One. He writes

Uri Avnery’s ‘Manufacturing Anti-Semites’ is a very powerful attack on the present government of Israel by one of its own citizens.

‘The Sharon government is a giant laboratory for growing the Anti-Semitism virus. It exports it to the whole world. Sharon’s propaganda agents are pouring oil on the flames. Accusing all critics of his policy of being anti-Semites, they brand large communities with this mark. Many good people, who feel no hatred at all towards the Jews but who detest the persecution of the Palestinians, are now called anti-Semites. thus the sting is taken out of this word, giving it something approaching respectability.’

In America, he says, ‘the Jewish establishment is practically straining to prove that it controls the country’. Avnery describes how in 2002 a young black congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, ‘dared to criticise the Sharon government, support Palestinians and (worst of all) Israeli and Jewish peace groups. The Jewish establishment found a counter-candidate, practically unknown black woman, injected huge sums into the campaign and defeated Cynthia. All this happened in the open, with fanfares, to make a public example – so that every senator and congressperson would know that criticising Sharon is tantamount to political suicide.’

Easton in his paragraph quotes the absolute dominance of the Israel lobby over congress, and the disastrous effect this has had on relations between America and the rest of the world.

This theme is taken up by George Sutherland, the pen name of a ‘senior congressional staffer’, in describing what he calls ‘Our Vichy Congress’. He writes: ‘For expressions of sheer grovelling subservience to a foreign power, the pronouncements of Laval and Petain pale in comparison with the rhetorical devotion with which certain congressmen have bathed the Israel of Ariel Sharon.

After detailing several examples of the way the Israeli lobby operates, including preventing an investigation of the Israeli ‘arts students’ saga, he concludes:

‘Israel’s strategy of using its influence on the American political system to turn the US national security apparatus into its own personal attack dog – or Golem – has alienated the United States from much of the Third World, has worsened US ties to Europe among rancorous insinuations of anti-Semitism, and makes the United States a hated bully.’

Sutherland quotes the words of EU commissioner Chris Patten in The Washington Post: ‘A senior Democratic senator told a visiting European the other day: “All of us here are members of Likud now.”(p.5).

Avnery, and Israeli critics of their country’s foreign policy and maltreatment of the Palestinians, are, not surprisingly, subject to intense hostility in their homeland. In one poll, a majority of Israelis declared that those of their countrymen who defended the Palestinians should be stripped of their citizenship. Avnery also has a point about the way the cavalier use of accusations of anti-Semitism have cause the word to lose much of its sting. The Cynthia McKinney affair was reported and remarked on in the Libertarian blog, Vox Day, which is highly critical of Israel and does have a very pronounced tone of anti-Semitism.

The accusations directed at Naz Shah, Ken Livingstone and now Jeremy Corbyn are in line Sharon’s strategy of trying to silence his critics with the same accusation. And the more it’s used, the more likely it will have the opposite effect.

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Vox Political: Cameron’s Proposal To Exclude Returning Jihadis Will Not Be a Deterent

November 16, 2014

Mike over at Vox Political has an article pointing out the flaws in Cameron’s proposal to stop Jihadis returning from Iraq and Syria from entering Britain, Cameron’s terror tactics hold no fears for the fanatics. He points out that denying British citizens passports would be in contravention of international law, as it would leave them stateless.

It also contradicts the cornerstone of British justice in that you are innocent until proven guilty, as a person’s passport would be taken away from them automatically. Furthermore, innocents, who had travelled to those countries for perfectly ordinary decent reasons, such as to help friends and family in the crisis, could be forced to turn to the Jihadis for help. This would actual assist in the radicalisation of British Muslims.

Furthermore, it actually doesn’t tackle any of the root causes of the radicalisation of British Muslims, but only the symptom: those who have already been radicalised, and gone abroad to fight.

Mike’s article begins

So “British jihadists who travel abroad to fight could be prevented from returning under new powers” outlined by David Cameron, could they?

Whose stupid idea was that?

Not everybody who goes to the ‘danger’ countries is going to be a threat; they could have perfectly legitimate reasons for going. In fact, the vast majority have been proven to have no interest in violence at all.

But anyone who goes out could have their passports taken away for two years, unless they agree to be escorted back here and then undergo an extensive “de-radicalisation” programme – brainwashing, it seems.

The move puts the government on extremely dodgy ground because, legally, it can’t take away anybody’s passport while they’re abroad because that could leave them – effectively – stateless, or at least lead to them acting as if they are, and this is illegal under international agreements. Or is Cameron reneging on international – and indeed common – law?

It assumes guilt before trial. People who are suspected – take note of that: suspected – of being jihadists will be told they cannot return to their home country, despite having been found guilty of nothing, unless they submit to measures that some may describe as extreme. There appears to be no appeal mechanism.

Mike’s views agree with those of a friend of mine, a western scholar of Islam, who used to teach it at university. He also believed that many of the British Muslims travelling to the Middle East were going there for perfectly innocent reasons. Many problem still have friends and family in Iraq and Syria, and are probably going to check that they’re all right, and give them whatever help they can. These people don’t want to fight and aren’t interested in joining the jihad. They’re simply worried about their loved ones.

He also believed that many of the jihadis, who now want to return to Britain, are probably not much of a threat. He believed that the majority of those wanting to return have probably got the urge to fight out of their system, and will settle back down peacefully into society.

He is not, however, at all complacent about the nature of ISIS itself. They are genocidal maniacs, who kill, maim and butcher without qualm. However, in his view, the really evil butchers will stay in Syria and Iraq, rather than come back to Britain.

Chunky Mark The Artist Taxi Driver Interviews Frankie Boyle

June 13, 2014

Earlier this week, I wrote about the late, great Bill Hick’s brand of highly political comedy, and how he used it as a weapon to attack everything he considered to be oppressive, stupid and malign in politics and popular culture. Hick’s comedic description of the Reaganite senator Jesse Helms as murderous child-killer now strikes me as a pretty good description of our own Iain Duncan Smith. Smith’s reforms are leading to mass starvation and despair, with an estimated death rate of about 220 per week, or three every four hours. I cannot, however, see RTU finally having his conscience catch up with him, so that he ends it all by cutting his wrists in a bathtub under a pecan tree, while investigators find the bloody skins of all the children he’s murdered up in his attic. He’s also very self-aggrandising and self-promoting, so I doubt very much he’d ever write a suicide note saying ‘I been a bad boy’ either.

I did, however, find this interview on Youtube between Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver, and Frankie Boyle. Boyle is, of course, the comedian, whose remarks were so offensive he left the satirical panel show, Mock The Week, for his own late night show, Tramadol Nights, on Channel 4. Left-wing, outspoken, and with a seeming indifference or actual hostility to polite sensibilities and what is considered to be acceptable public discourse, Boyle shows himself in the interview to be intelligent, articulate and very well-informed, as well as political active for highly contentious and controversial issues. In the interview he discusses how he went on a hunger strike in support of Shakir Ahmed, a British internee in Guantanamo Bay, whom Boyle considers to have been wrongfully imprisoned. The conversation also touches on a number of esoteric, mystical subjects, like Vedantic (ancient Hindu) pantheism, Gnostic Christianity, Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, semiotics and conspiracy theories, the MKULTRA mind control programme, and the Bilderberg group. Fans of a certain Galaxy’s Greatest Comic will also note the way he compares the situation in Gitmo, where people have been interned without trial on a tropical island, with a 2000 AD strip. Zarjaz!

Boyle Careful in Speech about Non-Western Societies, also Concerned about Women’s Role Models

For someone, who became notorious for his offensive humour, it’s interesting to note how careful and well-thought out Boyle actually is about what he says. For example, at one point he talks about ‘primal’ societies. This is the approved, ‘pc’ term for tribal cultures. Note he does not say ‘primitive’. One of the reasons the term ‘primal’ was adopted in preference to ‘primitive’ was to make the point that these peoples are not primitive, but have their own, often very sophisticated culture.

He is also very definitely not a misogynist. He describes Pippa Middleton and other, upper-class women like her, as essentially Stepford Wives, promoting notions of female passivity. He defends making jokes about ‘rape’ but arguing that it is absurd to make it off-limits for humour, and points out that it depends on the type of joke being made. He wanted to make jokes that stigmatise the perpetrator, not the victim, and contrasted proper jokes of this sort with the type of treatment that is considered acceptable. He specifically mentions here two-part drama series on ITV, which he describes as the lowest kind, and pop songs about ‘rape’ that rhyme it with ‘cape’. As for the abuse doled out to women on Twitter, he agrees that this is part of an extremely twisted, misogynist culture. He sees it very much as part of a general ‘rape culture’.

Growth of Culture Where Attacks on Disabled and Poor Permissible

It’s clear that Boyle believes that there should be no limits to comedy, nor what should be able to be discussed, joked about, lampooned and satirised, in order to attack the oppressive and vicious. He and Chunky Mark, discussing the government’s welfare reforms, are shocked that Grant Shapps can actually declare – without shame!- that he’s proud of putting 5,000 cancer victims on workfare. Boyle states that he believes the government can get away with this because there is a silence about discussing disability in our culture, and so they can get away with attacking and bullying the disabled.

He is, however, extremely sceptical about the way humour is being used in the West to attack and criticise authority. He believes that it is now acceptable to make jokes attacking austerity, because there is now no difference between parties so that it doesn’t matter if these jokes are made. He argues that it was New Labour that began the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich under PFI, and that this had been going on for fifteen years with no pretence that anything different was happening. Thus, Cameron can state that he is not worried about getting votes because of his policies, because he knows that a few days after he announces a policy, Ed Miliband will appear on TV agreeing with him.

British Satire and Romanian Comedy for State Propaganda

He also describes how shocked he was when a Romanian guide with whom he was working pointed out the similarity between a Romanian comedy programme and Britain’s own Have I Got News For You. The Romanian show featured a comedian, who started making jokes about the country’s minister of defence. The politico in question was actually in the audience at the time, covered in medals. And the comedian then went over to him for a bit of friendly badinage. Boyle says it was blatant propaganda, and when he remarked on it, his Romanian guide said, ‘But you have it in your country!’ When Boyle disagreed, the Romanian continued, ‘Yes, you do. It’s Have I Got News For You’. And Boyle states that when you see Boris Johnson on the programme, pretending to be a lovable oaf, and receives cheers and applause when it’s announced he’s going to be on there next week, that’s exactly right. ‘Satire should not be doing that’, he comments.

Scandals, Official Racism and Miscarriages of Justice Now Acceptable in British Political Culture

Boyle and the Taxi Driver also make the point about how British society has declined to the point where things, which would have provoked riots a few years ago, like the privatisation of the NHS and the racist vans, are suddenly possible. They criticise the public’s passivity in the face of the Health Service’s sell-off by the Tories, and discuss not just the racist vans encouraging immigrants to go home, but also the racial stereotyping of the Border Control Agency. They apparently stood at several stations in London, making note only of ‘people of colour’. He and Mark also discuss manifest injustice in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian student shot by mistake as a terrorist by the police. Despite the fact that many of the police officers committed perjury at the trial, they were not punished. Similarly wicked is the fact that it has taken over 20 years to break the silence surrounding Hillsborough and the authorities’ lies about that tragedy.

Media Bias Keeping Voters Ignorant

Boyle also discusses at length the problem of media bias. He defends the BBC, stating that there are some very good people in it, who do an excellent job by their standards, but its mixed in with their received class prejudices. He notes the way the Right-wing media have demonised nurses, teachers and firefighters. He also states that with the rape joke, he had 2,000 people laughing. The outrage there wasn’t public, it was that the TV companies were afraid of the outrage created by the media barons.

He also talks about the way the media shapes opinion by not reporting events and opinions. Mike’s covered this topic in his comment to his reblog of Inforrm’s review of The Knowledge Gap. In this case, it’s the way the media has omitted some of the real fears of the Iranian people. Chunky Mark states that he had an Iranian student, who told him how that country’s people were genuinely afraid of an American and British invasion. This is all too likely. Bush was banging on about the possibility of invading Iran when he was in office, and there were certainly protest meetings organised against it up and down Britain. Boyle points out that the Iranian government suggested that there should be a central bank of nuclear material, and that countries should be able to use it, after first getting permission from the controlling international authorities. This was turned down by America and Israel because they were for non-proliferation, which meant stopping other countries acquiring nuclear power.

Boyle is concerned about the way so little information now reaches the general public, because of the way the media is selectively managed. He states that a little while ago, the media used to talk about ‘low information voters’ when organising election coverage. These were people in the rural parts of America, who didn’t read newspapers or have the depth of knowledge to make an informed choice while voting. The term has now fallen into disuse, as so few people now have that depth of knowledge about politics that the media considers everyone to be a ‘low information voter’.

This selective reporting also extends to western environmentalists. Boyle points out that whereas a few years ago, the Green movement produced characters like Swampy, this is now absent from contemporary reporting. He feels it’s because the news corporations have learnt that if they concentrate on characters and personalities, like the above marshy gentleman, then the public will become sympathetic towards them. This is something the corporations wrecking our planet do not want.

British and American Exceptionalism and Imperialist Brutality and Exploitation

Boyle and the Taxi Driver also discuss and express their outrage at the way Britain, the US and their allies have slaughtered and exploited the developing world. For Chunky Mark, the banks, oil industry and arms industries are the motors of the economy, and so peace is definitely not something that their leaders want. Boyle here points out that Palestine is the test-bed for new military technology, which the Israelis then sell elsewhere. The full-body scanners now used at airports are an example. They also discuss the mining companies, and the murder, atrocities and misery inflicted on the developing world. Britain built its wealth through the exploitation of other nations when it was an imperial power. This has since changed, so that Britain is no longer an imperial power in its own right, but a client state of America. They also describe and criticise the exceptionalism that permits Britain and America to behave like this. Britain and America are terrorist states, but refuse to recognise this, as terrorism is only something that is done by their enemies. Boyle makes the point that when another country behaves like Britain or the US, it provokes an invasion. When we do it, it simply causes another meeting about the definition of ‘terrorism’. Boyle does not, however, blame the troops. He points out that there are some very good people in the British army. The atrocities and massacres come from the people who lead them.

Obama Greater Global Tyrant than Bush

Somewhat unusually, Boyle considers Barak Obama to be actually worse than Bush. Bush was constantly concerned to justify himself and win over the American public. Hence, he merely imprisoned people without trial in Gitmo. Obama is more credible than Bush, and so much more dangerous. He doesn’t stop at merely vanishing them into America’s gulag, but assassinating people without trial through drone strikes.

Criticism of SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems; Scotland Should be Independent, Best Party Green

Boyle is also outspoken in his views about Britain’s domestic politicians, and the institutions that support them. He describes London as a gigantic tax haven, which sucks in illegal money from around the world, citing the book Treasure Islands on the role of these places in the global economy. He and Mark both attack Tony Blair for his morally corrupt business interests around the world. He is dismissive of Ed Milliband, and notes with sardonic humour the absurdity of the Lib Dems, who have now started talking about what they would be able to do, if they weren’t in power. Boyle is unusual in that he supports Scots independence, but not the SNP. He states that it’s absurd that Scotland should be ruled by a completely different centre of power 500 hundred miles away, whose culture and interests are so markedly different. He believes that the SNP and Alex Salmond, in their heart of hearts, don’t actually want independence, just ‘autonomy max’, but within the framework of the British state. That’s why he believes the ‘Yes’ campaign is so lacklustre. He suggests that what should happen is that the Scots should vote ‘Yes’, then stop voting for the SNP altogether, and go and vote for someone, who would create the socialist republic the country needs. Like the Greens, who have a genuinely alternative agenda. It’s a point that has been made by the Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice. And, of course, he is highly critical of the monarchy and its role in preserving Britain’s class structure. He’s also suspicious of Snowden’s revelations of mass NSA snooping. Not because they aren’t true, but merely because they’re being released now. So do the authorities want us to believe we’re being monitored in order to keep us in line. This might be a bit too paranoid. But even so, as someone once said, ‘Even paranoiacs have enemies. They just don’t know who they are’. Another conspiracy watcher also one observed that whatever you think they’re doing to you, the reality is far worse than you image.

Boyle’s views are controversial, and I know there are those, who take exception to his criticisms of the Labour party. Kittysjones in her blog has made the point that Labour aren’t as Right-wing as has been claimed. The interview was clearly filmed some time ago before Milliband began making some of the more radical promises that will undo much of the Tory programme. Nevertheless, it’s stimulating and worth listening to for the depth of knowledge and a different perspective Boyle brings to these issues. Like Hicks, Boyle is a comedian with a point. Not just a joke-blower being pointlessly offensive.

Hoisted by their Own Petard: Tories Embarrassed by Food Banks and Muslim Alienation

June 12, 2014

A few days ago, Mike over at Vox Political reported that attack on food banks, and the religious organisations that ran them, by Nick Couling. Couling is one of Iain Duncan Smith’s underlings over at the DWP. According to Couling, the rise in food banks was not due to an increase in underlying poverty. No! It was all due to Christian evangelisation, as the Christian charities and churches that run them attempt to use them as a tool for reaching out to the wider, secular community. Mike said in his article that it was a peculiar attitude to take, considering that RTU Smith himself strongly connected his welfare reforms in quasi-religious terms with his own Roman Catholicism. And going further, David Cameron managed to cause outrage at Easter by trying to give his ‘Big Society’ policies are religious justification, not least amongst Christians objecting to the Tories’ increasing impoverishment of millions of citizens through wage restraint and their programme of savage cuts. However, the religious motivation behind the government’s programme of increasing benefit cuts and the dismantlement of the welfare state goes all the way back to that icon of modern Toryism, Maggie Thatcher.

The French researcher, Jean Kepel, in his book on the rise of militant, fundamentalist religion, The Revenge of God, notes that one of Thatcher’s reasons for attacking the welfare state was to strengthen organised religion. She wanted to counter increasing secularisation and the drift away from the churches by cutting down on state welfare provision. This would, she believed, result in the poor and needy having to turn to religious organisations – the churches – for help instead.

And this has indeed occurred, to the great embarrassment of the Tories. The numbers of people using food banks, and the amount of food and meals they provide, are an independent source of statistics for the massive growth of poverty in this country. The unemployment figures can be massaged and doctored by the DWP, which only counts those in receipt of particular types of benefit, while ignoring others. Similarly, Kittysjones in an article, which I reblogged earlier this week, showed how Cameron used the Gini Coefficient to manipulate the figures on inqueality of wealth, and so purport to show that this was a less unequal society than it is. And if that doesn’t work, you can always block the publication of statistics altogether, as RTU has done with the number of people, who’ve died since being assessed as fit and well by Atos. He won’t release the information, and petulantly denounces anyone who demands it as ‘vexatious’, as Mike and the other welfare activists have repeatedly found out.

As Mike reported this morning, IDS tried it on the Trussell Trust back in 2011. The Trust’s head got a phone call from someone in his office stating that Smith was very angry with them. It was another attempt to silence an independent, embarrassing source of information.

It didn’t work. And so this week, after trying to promote themselves as pillars of Christian morality, Couling and his masters apparently decided that they were all militant Dawkinite atheists, determined to protect secular Tory Britain from the march of evil, Left-wing Christian evangelism. Presumably they’ll all go back now and try to erase the bits where Thatcher prates in her speeches about ‘Judeo-Christian values’, and show her instead meeting A.C. Grayling and brandishing copies of Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

That’s determination to strengthen religious organisations through the destruction of secular alternatives is also, according to Kepel, one of the factors in the growth of Islamic Fundamentalism in the UK. It’s not the only, or main one by any means. For Kepel and other researchers into the emergence of militant Islam in the UK, the immediate catalyst was the Satanic Verses controversy in the 1980s. The sense of outrage at the book’s perceived blasphemy shocked and infuriated a very sizable proportion of the country’s Muslim community, and allowed a platform for some deeply intolerant and violently bigoted religious leaders, as well as ordinary, far less radical Muslims, who simply found the book immensely offensive. Kepel notes that what Thatcher failed to appreciate, was that the Muslim community would be in a better position to provide these welfare services than the Christian churches. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, the fundamentals of Muslim faith and practice, is the zakat, or alms tax. Muslims are expected to give a tenth of their income to the mosque, which in turn is supposed to distribute this money to the community’s poor. The Muslim community thus possessed as an integral part of their faith an independent source of support for their community. As a result, as state support was cut down and removed, many Muslim communities became more inward-looking and alienated as their poor turned to this and other more traditional forms of support.

And so it gave yet greater impetus to the kind of militants, that have now surfaced allegedly trying to undermine secular education in Birmingham through ‘Operation Trojan Horse’.

Of course, that isn’t the only assistance Maggie gave to the bigots and fundamentalists. Some of the worst firebrands were deliberately allowed to enter Britain as a reward for their services in resisting the Russians in Afghanistan. This included one deeply unpleasant mujahid, who blew up an airliner carrying military staff from Afghanistan back to Moscow. The plan also happened to be full of schoolchildren, heading back to Russia for the vacation. But this atrocity was perfectly acceptable to Thatcher, because, after all, Communist Russia was ‘the evil Empire’.

And so the poverty, despair and alienation caused by Thatcher’s attack on the welfare state has come back to haunt them. Not that his will cause any embarrassment for the Tory leadership, who have a time-honoured policy of blaming anyone and everyone but themselves. And so the widespread use of food banks is blamed on Christian evangelism – no, but that is party what Maggie wanted – and is silent on their role in promoting and giving material assistance to militant Islam.

And before people start blaming the Muslim community as a whole, just remember that in many cases the authorities repeatedly ignored the warnings of moderate Muslims, shocked at the intolerance and violent hatred coming out of the radical mullahs. The police were repeatedly tipped off about the nature of the Finchley Mosque and its preaching of the jihad by an Algerian Muslim, but did nothing until it became unavoidable. Probably because this would cause official embarrassment and contradict Maggie’s own policy. And so the country’s own security suffered, because Maggie wanted to bring down Communism.

Homelessness, Evictions and Revolution: Ireland, 19th century; Britain, 21st?

May 16, 2014

Irish Eviction Pic

I found this photo of an Irish peasant being evicted from his holding in the W.H. Smith History of the World: The Last Five Hundred Years (Feltham: Hamlyn 1984), p. 519. The caption for it reads:

Evicting a peasant from his holding: the poverty-stricken Irish peasantry’s resentment of prosperous English absentee landlords was just one contributory factor in the unstoppable demand for Home Rule and the dissolution of the Union of England and Ireland.

The oppression of the Irish peasantry through heavy rents and the eviction of large numbers, who couldn’t pay, created bitter resentment that did indeed contribute strongly to the demand for Home Rule, popular uprisings and Fenian – Irish nationalist – terrorism against the British. And I wonder how long it will be before the Tory cuts and the mass poverty they have caused in Britain will lead to the same resentment and violence in the UK.

Many people now in Britain also feel alienated and abandoned by a political class that appears isolated and out of touch with the needs of the British people themselves, and concerned only with the further enrichment of the extremely wealthy through further privatisation and tax cuts. The government’s austerity programme has led to a level of starvation in the UK not seen since the 19th century. Rising house prices have created a ‘Generation Rent’, who have little opportunity to get on the property ladder. And the notorious ‘Bedroom Tax’ and prohibition on the further construction of council housing have seen people forced out of their homes and into Bed and Breakfast accommodation and hotels, simply because they can no longer afford the rent on their council houses. And as the rich get richer, British cities like London are seeing a social cleansing as the poor and working class are forced out to the suburbs and less expensive towns as they are priced out by the rich.

If these policies continue, the resentment and alienation felt by the poor, working and lower middle class in this country will get worse. And the celebrations up and down the country last year of the death of Margaret Thatcher show just how long and deeply such bitterness can and will last. Thatcher was overthrown by the Tories in a cabinet coup in the first years of the 1990s nearly a quarter of a century ago.

You can only push people so far before the bitterness and resentment turns to violence. The shooting of Mark Duggan in 2010 resulted in rioting, and it only needs more incidents like that to cause further unrest. Boris Johnson is clearly worried about it, otherwise he wouldn’t be trying to purchase two second-hand water cannons from the Germans. And one of the causes of radical resentment in the Federal Republic was the death of a protester after being hit by water cannon during a riot in 1969. I’m not saying that violence, rioting and terrorism will inevitably occur. The popular mood at the moment seems simply to be one of sullen resignation. Nevertheless, if people are left without hope, and the government appears too distant, self-interested and arrogant, the potential is there. The existence of formal parliamentary democracy may not make much difference, if people feel that there is no real choice, or there is a continued dominance of one political party. It is believed that if Scotland secedes, the result will be a decline in the number of Labour MPs, with the result that future government are likely to be dominated by the Conservatives. The existence of democracy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s did not prevent the revival of Irish nationalist terrorism, because the dominance of the Unionist party meant that the Roman Catholic population did not feel that their grievances and institutional oppression against them were being addressed. It may therefore not be long before a similar situation arises in Britain and England, where large number of the poor and working class feel they have no alternative for making themselves heard except through violence and acts of terror.

I don’t want that. There’s been enough bloodshed in British history already. Hopefully this can be prevented before it’s too late. The ‘Bedroom Tax’, Workfare, and cuts to welfare benefit all need to be scrapped, and a government elected determined to create real jobs, rather than just the illusion to serve the corporate interests of wealthy donors. It needs a more representative parliament, with members drawn from the working and lower middle classes, rather than the professionals and lawyers, who now predominate. And certainly not the Eton-educated aristos now forming the present cabinet. Only in this way can we stop, and possibly just begin to reverse, the bitter resentment and hatred now forming against Britain’s out of touch, complacent and exploitative elite. A resentment that if it goes further will lead to violence and bloodshed that may last decades.

Explaining the Rise of UKIP

May 12, 2014

UKIP Book pic

Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support For The Radical Right in Britain, by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin (Abingdon: Routledge 2014) traces the history and changing fortune of UKIP from its foundation in 1991 as the Ant-Federalist League to today, when the party appears to have overtaken the Lib Dems to take its place as one of Britain’s leading the parties. It’s part of a series of texts published by Routledge on the theme of ‘extremism and democracy’. Most of these books are devoted to the Fascist and racist Right, though it also includes a book on Left-wing terrorism, general political extremism, and studies of terrorism in America, from the KKK to al-Qaeda. A fair bit of the book is statistics taken from sociological and political surveys, dealing with political, social and economic attitudes and electoral performance. Most of these are straightforward, but not exactly easy or riveting reading. Much more interesting is the history of the party itself. It also includes sample quotations from UKIP supporters explaining their reasons for supporting the party, and rejection of the three others.

Leadership Challenges and the Referendum Party

It covers the various leadership struggles, including perma-tanned talk show host Robert Kilroy-Silk joining the party, only to leave after failing to take control. It also suffered in its early days from competition from James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, a true single-issue party that solely existed to campaign for a referendum on Europe. With the advantage of Goldsmith’s considerable fortune behind it, UKIP was very much the poor relative, lagging behind the Referendum Party in both funding and publicity.

UKIP, the BNP and the Conservatives

It also looks at the way UKIP has changed its name and identity as it has tried to differentiate itself both from the BNP and, rather more gradually, the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party. It’s founder, Dr Alan Sked, was a Liberal and historian at the London School of Economics. He became a Eurosceptic during the 1980s when running the European Studies course at the LSE. Sked stated that ‘I just kept meeting all these bureaucrats and other Euro-fanatical academics who came to give papers, politicians from different parts of Europe, and reading endless MA theses on the EU. I just came to the conclusion that the whole thing was mad.’ (p. 21). Sked was influenced by Thatcher’s ‘Bruges speech’, in which she attacked the dangers of Euro federalism, and joined the Bruges group. The authors describe this as ‘a right-wing think tank that received financial backing from Sir James Goldsmith’. Sked called the new group the Anti-Federalist League as he intended it to follow in the footsteps of Cobden and Bright’s anti-Corn Law league in the 19th century. Sked states ‘I thought it would be the equivalent of the anti-Corn Law League. Just as the anti-Corn Law League converted [Robert] Peel to free trade, the anti-Federalist league would convert the Tory Party to Euroscepticism and British independence.’

As an anti-EU, anti-immigrant, but ostensibly not a Fascist party, UKIP’s progress has been overshadowed by the BNP. After the League’s failure in the 1992 elections, it was re-launched with its present name. The ‘UK’ was chosen instead of ‘British’ in order to differentiate it from the British National Party, who had just captured council seats in London’s East End. Since then the party has suffered a series of controversies over the activities of racial extremists in its ranks, one of whom was a mole for the BNP. Sked himself left the party he founded because he believed it had been heavily infiltrated by the Nazi Far Right. In the 2009 European elections Farage himself admits he was under pressure from a faction in the party, including members of the National Executive Committee, led by the tennis player, Buster Mottram, and by some Conservative MEPs to do a deal with the BNP. UKIP had suffered badly from competition with the BNP. The deal would preserve the party from competition and defeat by the BNP by dividing the country between them. UKIP would have free reign in the south, while the BNP would concentrate on the north of England. In fact part of UKIP’s success since 2010 has come from their active competition for votes from the BNP. In Oldham Paul Nuttall targeted the members of the White working class, who were not racist, but voted for the BNP because no-one else was representing them. Farage said of this strategy:

We [said] on the doorstep: ‘If you’re a BNP voter cause you’re a skilled/ semi-skilled worker who thinks his job has been seriously impinged upon, his income’s gone down, his local community’s changed and he’s not happy with the make-up of the local primary school, whatever it may be. If you are a BNP voter for those reasons but you don’t support the BNP’s racist manifesto and you are effectively holding your nose at voting BNP, don’t vote for them, vote for us. We are a non-racist, non-sectarian alternative to the British National Party.’ It was the first time that we ever said to BNP voters: ‘Come and vote for us.’

It could be said of this approach that the BNP was approaching the White voters, whose attitude is ‘I’m not racist, but …’

Lord Pearson and Anti-Islam

Pearson of Rannoch, the party’s leader in 2010, was also known for his vitriolic views against Islam, which he sees as fundamentally incompatible with the British tradition of gender equality and democracy. He invited Geert Wilders to Britain to present his film, Fitna, to parliament. The book discusses these views, and the impact they had on the party.

UKIP’s Neoliberal and Anti-Socialist Domestic Policies

The party has also had to struggle to forge its own identity rather than act as an off-shoot of the Tories. Sked founded it to act as a pressure group on the Conservatives, and at various times the party’s election strategy has been strongly geared towards influencing them. Under Pearson, the party deliberately did not contest seats where there was a Eurosceptic Conservative candidate, and a full-fledged alliance with the Tories was mooted. The book’s authors consider that it was finally in their election manifesto of 2010, where the party outlined their domestic policies, that UKIP became a radical right party in its own right. The authors write

For the first time they went into a general election with relatively detailed proposals on domestic and foreign policy and a costed economic programme, all of which were organised around four central principles: personal freedom; democracy at the national and local level; small government; and tax reduction. UKIP were pushing ahead with a clear attempt to rally a coalition of socially conservative and financially insecure working-class voters, offering them tough opposition to the EU and immigration, but threatening also a range of measures designed to appeal to their economic needs and right-wing ideological preferences: a flat-tax to help the lowest paid workers, investment in the manufacturing sector, new jobs for manual workers, more police on the streets, stronger prison sentences for criminals, grammar schools, an end to political correctness, Swiss-style referenda, a more proportional election system and the restoration of British values. UKIP were no longer the single-issue, anti-EU pressure group: they had become a fully-fledged radical right party. (pp. 84-5).

Although these policies were designed to appeal to a working class electorate, UKIP is a party of the Libertarian Right. This emerged in the years from 2005-10 under the leadership of their chairman, David Campbell-Bannerman. The book states that he was

tasked with leading a policy review, designed to rebrand UKIP as campaigning for independence from the established political class, whether in Brussels or Westminster. Activists talked of presenting the disgruntled electorate with a ‘radical libertarian alternative’ to the ‘social democratic consensus’. (p. 71).

UKIP are populist Neoliberals, like the rest of the contemporary political parties. They are not moderates, and as the rejection of the ‘social democratic consensus’ indicates, are anti-socialist. It was also in this period that UKIP’s electoral base shifted. UKIP began receiving increased support in areas with a higher proportion of working class voters than average, with poor education and health. They lost support in in areas with larger than average proportion of middle class professionals and university graduates.

Blue-Collar Support for Radical Right and Growing Middle Class Influence in Left-Wing Parties in Europe

In fact the changes in the composition of UKIP’s supporters and constituency mirrors that of the other radical right parties across Europe, from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France to Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria, the Northern League in Italy, and the People’s Party in Denmark. These expanded into the working class voters, who were left behind as the manufacturing sector of the European economy shrank, and the Social Democratic parties that were originally founded to defend them shifted instead to appealing to the middle class. These were far more liberal and cosmopolitan in outlook than their fellows in the lower classes. The book describes this situation thus

As the financially more secure and socially more liberal middle classes in Europe continued to grow, so their influence on electoral competition and centre-left politics became ever stronger. These new groups brought a distinct set of values and priorities to the left-wing parties they joined. Their ‘post-material’ agenda prioritised issues like the environment, civil liberties, global social justice and human rights, prompting centre-left parties to overhaul their strategy to win them over. Socialist economic ideas of a planned economy and strong state intervention were downplayed, and replaced by an acceptance of a strong role for free markets and a globally integrated economy. Redistribution and workers’ rights were also given less emphasis, with a greater focus on improving public services, a cause which united both ‘new’ and ‘old’ left, and on efforts to boost opportunities rather than equalise access to resources. Across Europe, the centre-left also shifted more firmly in favour of European integration. Whereas previously some social democrats had been openly hostile towards the Europe project, viewing it as a capitalist club that opposed socialism, from the 1980s they became more supportive, viewing the EU instead as a valuable mechanism through which they could tame capitalism and entrench social democratic principles at the supranational level.

But as Przeworski predicted, these changes came with a cost: the new middle-class agenda marginalised the left’s traditional voters. Their old working-class electorates became dissatisfied with a political system where their traditional voice appeared to have been lost and showed a growing willingness to back more radical parties that articulate their sense of abandonment from the mainstream and responded to their concerns about issues that aroused little interest among new left elites: immigration; national identity; the perceived threat from the EU; and rapid social change more generally.

Alienation of Working Class British Voters from Labour Party

In Britain many White working class voters became increasingly alienated from Labour because of its attempts to retain the loyalty of the ethnic minorities. These had become a significant part of the electorate by the turn of the millennium, and their support for Labour was no longer guaranteed. Many Muslims, for example, had expressed their opposition to the invasion of Iraq by joining the Lib Dems or Respect. Labour attempted to win their support through a liberalisation of the immigration system, tougher legislation against racial discrimination and the promotion of more Black and Asian candidates for parliament. The result of this was that many of the disadvantaged White voters felt that Labour cared more about immigrants than them. Furthermore, the party’s promotion of laissez-faire economic liberalisation also alienated many of the same voters, who now believed that the party was only concerned for the rich. Previously the voters alienated by Labour’s anti-racism would have voted Conservative, but they were also alienated from Cameron’s party by his adoption of the same attitudes to race and multiculturalism as Blair. The result has been that these voters turned to UKIP.

UKIP and the Contrasting Fortunes of the SDP

The book notes that UKIP’s apparent breakthrough into mainstream electoral politics is very recent. Even in the middle of the last decade the party was gaining only 1-2 per cent of the vote on average. For most of the party’s history, very few of their candidates ever even gained enough votes to retain their deposit. They also compare the party’s rise with that of the SDP. When this split from the Labour party, it had a fair size of the vote and was expected to break the mould of the two-party system. Instead it eventually collapsed and was merged with the Liberals. The authors see its failure, compared with the apparent success of UKIP, as due to the origins of the SDP in a split at the top of politics, rather than arising from the electorate itself.

UKIP and Future Labour Electoral Strategy

The book also has a section considering what UKIP’s success means for the other parties, including Labour. They say about this

The dilemma Labour face is between short-term and long-term strategy. In the short term, the strong temptation for Labour will be to sit back and let UKIP divide the Conservative vote at the next general election, thereby lowering the bar for their own victory and a return to power. Some Labour commentators have taken pleasure in the irony of an electoral split undoing the right in the same way as the left has been undone many times in the past. Yet such as ‘laisser faire’ approach to UKIP comes with serious longer-term risks. As we saw in chapters 3 and 4, the UKIP vote comes primarily from ‘left behind’ social groups who were once solidly Labour. UKIP have driven a wedge between the struggling, blue-collar ‘Old Left’, who once supported Labour on economic grounds, and the educated, white-collar ‘new Left’ who often back them on the basis of social values. If they allow UKIP to become established as part of the mainstream political conversation, either with MPs at Westminster or a strong presence in labour heartlands, the centre-left risks making that divide permanent. It will be much harder for Ed Miliband and his party to win back working-class voters with Ukippers running continuous and high profile campaigns on Europe, immigration and traditional British values. Labour also need to remember that UKIP’s rise has been driven as much by populist hostility to the political establishment as by ideology or policy. This does not hurt them much at present, as they are in opposition and therefore not the main focus of anti-system feeling. If they were to win the next elect, they would find UKIP’s populist barbs directed at them. A failure to combat UKIP before 2015 will result in a stronger populist opponent to future Labour governments.

UKIP: Neoliberal Party Exploiting Working Class Support

The book describes UKIP as a paradox. This is absolutely correct. They are a working class party, whose leadership has adopted all the Neoliberal policies of the Conservative Right. Despite their demands for more democracy, they are very strongly anti-working class. if you want examples, go over and look at the Angry Yorkshireman’s discussion of their domestic policies over at Another Angry Voice. And their deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, has stated that he wishes to privatise the NHS. The right-wing, Eurosceptic, anti-NHS Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has also suggested that the Tories should form an alliance with UKIP. If UKIP did gain power, either by itself or in coalition with the Tories, it would be the working class that would suffer immensely. UKIP have raised and brought to prominence a number of pressing and vital issues – like the continuing role of race and ethnicity in politics, the need to protect an increasingly alienated working class, but they themselves are no solution to these problems.

Cameron and Ceaucescu: United in Opposition to Journalistic Freedom

February 3, 2014

I’ve reblogged Mike’s and David Hencke’s pieces about the threat to journalistic freedom posed by recent government legislation that would force journalists to reveal their sources to the police. If they do not, then the police may seize their records, including their computers.

Make no mistake, once this passes into law, these powers will be used. There have been a number of cases already where British journalists have had their computers, notes and records seized by the police after they have released information that the authorities would rather have kept under wraps. The EU can be just as bad. One German journalist working in Belgium had his computer and documents seized by the police after he started revealing just how corrupt the European Union was. He was lucky. One of the female officials inside the EU itself, who started raising awkward questions about the amount of corruption, ended up falling from the top floor of a Brussels multi-storey car park in highly suspicious circumstances. The EU is, of course, one of the bête noirs of the Tory Right, but this hasn’t stopped the Tories from emulating them in this attempt to suppress free speech.

David Hencke’s piece about it reports that some journalists’ organisations are protesting about the legislation. The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice wondered how the Right-wing press will react when they’re at the sharp end of this piece of legislation. I have to say I doubt they will make much fuss at all, except if this is done by a Labour government. Then it will be seen as another example of their Marxist perfidy. The parapolitical magazine Lobster has several times stated that a number of right-wing newspapers, like the Sunday Times under Andrew Neil, were used as conduits for disinformation by the British secret state. And there are certainly a number of journalists all too ready to collaborate with the harassment and intimidation of their fellow journalists, who are not prepared to betray their sources to the authorities.

About a decade ago Private Eye ran a story about a female journalist on one of the broadsheets, who had been working on a story about the activities of the terrorist organisations in Ulster. This attracted the attention of one of her male colleagues, who made much about his supposed links to British intelligence. He approached her several times saying that his masters ‘wanted a word’, and demanded to know, who her sources were. When she made it very plain that she was not going to end her career as a journalist by betraying them, he threatened her with the words, ‘Well, we can do this the nice way, or the nasty’.

Now I’ve made my disgust at terrorism of any variety very plain on this blog. However, it goes without saying that to get a story, and give the public a clearer picture of what’s really going on, good journalists sometimes have to talk to some ‘bloody nasty people’, to use a phrase describing certain members of the British Far Right. A lot of intelligence work, supposedly, simply involves going through the papers every morning. It’s hard to see how a piece of legislation that allows the police ample powers to force journalists to reveal their sources can serve the interests of national security, as it would have a chilling effect on journalists investigating anything that remotely touches on terrorism, or organised crime or anything else that would remotely excite the interest of Inspector Knacker. The press would be simply reduced to reporting safe subject, and repeating the statements passed on by their governmental superiors.

Pretty much like Tass did during the days of the former Soviet Union.
Hmmm… now I know what the business model for the new, Coalition-friendly BBC is. Possibly German radio under the Nazis would be a closer analogy. I wonder if Oliver Letwin is going to change his job title to ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment?

Either way, the Coalition has taken another step towards totalitarianism with this latest assault on free speech and free journalism. Ceaucescu, the Communist president of Romania, was so paranoid that his secret police, the Securitate, held copies of the typescript from all the typewriters in the country, just in case someone, somewhere, was writing all that nasty samizdat stuff that got authors like Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak published in the USSR. It’s only a short step to that from the government’s desire to allow the police to force journalists to reveal their sources without the current judicial checks and balances. Ceaucescu also caused massive starvation within his own country by exporting most of their agricultural products to get hard currency, leaving his own people poor with little food on sale in the state shops. Obviously this is not at all like the glorious, Thatcherite administration of David Cameron, where there is plenty of food in the shops, affordable to all, except the unemployed, who have to rely on foodbanks and skips, in hardship and famine created by his welfare policies. But then, which apparatchik in any of the totalitarian parties had much time for the ‘narod’, the people, the lower orders?

It took centuries for Britain to develop a genuinely free press. It’s now under sustained attack. If this succeeds, then we will be back in the 18th and 19th century, when journalists were regularly sued and put out of business for publishing ‘subversive libel’ when they attacked government policy or its ministers. And this would suit David Cameron, Osborne, and the rest of the pukka-Etonian establishment now in power just fine. After all, you can’t have the proles rocking the boat, can you?

The Increasingly Authoritarian Character of Democratic Governments Across Europe

January 15, 2014

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve been attending a course at the M Shed here in Bristol intended to better equip we unemployed to find and hold down a job. It’s an interesting mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, and it’s fascinating talking to them about their experiences and hearing their perspectives on the government and the current situation. One of the ladies on the course is Polish, and its interesting talking to hear about her country and the situation over there after the fall of Communism. Alarmingly, it seems that in both Britain and supposedly democratic Poland, the political elites are becoming increasingly suspicious and distrustful of their citizens.

We’ve seen this most recently in Britain in Ian Duncan Smith’s militaristic conduct before the Work and Pensions Committee. Smith appeared before the Committee accompanied by bodyguards and armed policemen, who pointed their weapons at the public gallery, including a party of disabled people and their carers. Quite what Smith feared a group of respectable members of the British public, who had already been checked by security, would do is a mystery. Presumably he now simply thinks that anyone disabled constitutes some form of threat, regardless of their ability or even basic willingness to assault him. This disgusting incident, the Coalition’s attempt to suppress democratic debate by third parties in their Transparency and Lobbying Bill and the threat to the right to peaceful demonstration posed by the latest anti-nuisance legislation, are merely a part of a long process that has been going on since Thatcher.

One of the other people attending the course jokes about wanting a job as an assassin so he can kill David Cameron. When he did so this week, I replied that he might have a problem with that, as I think there’d be a queue. Someone else added that you’d have a problem getting anywhere near him with the security he’s got round him. I told the Polish lady that this was a real issue. I described how Downing Street had originally been open to the public, who were quite able to go up and down the street as they wished. It was now closed off, and there were similar restrictions around the Houses of Parliament.

She replied that it was like that in Poland. One of her relatives had worked at the Ministry of Information during the Communist dictatorship. At the time it was quite open to the public, so that anyone could walk in off the street and talk to an official there. There was someone sat at a desk watching them, but that was all the security there was. Now it’s completely different. To get into the building now, a visitor has to pass through several layers of security. She said it was one ironic that the place was now so heavily guarded under democracy, when it had been free of this during the Communist dictatorship.

Listening to this, it seems to me that there is a common process at work across the globe. The Guardian’s John Kampfner wrote a book a few years ago discussing how the world’s governments, from Blair’s Britain to Singapore, Putin’s Russia and China, were increasingly suppressing democracy. He believed that at the time the world’s governments were doing this, they were also trying to provide for economic growth. This is almost certainly true in the case of the three other nations I’ve mentioned here, but I see absolutely no evidence of George Osborne being interested in making anyone wealthy, except those who are colossally rich already. The governing elites, whether in the nominally democratic West or in the authoritarian states of Putin’s Russia, Singapore or China, increasingly fear and distrust the people, on whose behalf they claim to govern. In Britain some of this increased security was a result of the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign, which in the 1980s saw a bomb attack on hotel venue for the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, and a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. More recently there have been fears of Islamist terrorists following the 7/7 London suicide bombers, and other attempts, like that during the G8 conference in Glasgow, which have mercifully been foiled.

The increased level of security, and the restrictions on the individual’s right of access to parliament, or passage through Downing Street, is far out of proportion to the actual level of threat. When Blair placed further restrictions on how close public demonstrations could come to parliament, the Conservative press strongly criticised him, pointing out that such measures weren’t imposed by previous governments, even during the IRA’s terror campaign. It seems very much to me that there now exists across Europe and the rest of the world, a transnational governing elite that, in the West at least, loudly and ostensibly declares its support for democracy while harbouring a deep suspicion of the masses whose interests they claim to represent, but with whom socially and educationally they have nothing in common.

And that’s every bit as grave a threat to democracy as any group of murderous extremists. The problem is particularly obvious and acute in eastern Europe. After the fall of Communism in the former East Germany, some of its citizens experienced ‘Ostalgie’, a nostalgia for their old, Communist country. Despite the federal government’s attempts to prop up the old, Communist industries, many of the firms simply could not compete in the new, free Germany and went under. The result was a wave of unemployment. Faced with a democracy that seemed unable to provide for them, some turned instead to the Far Right. There have been similar problems elsewhere in eastern Europe, and other countries have also seen the emergence of extreme Nationalist parties. If democratic governments cannot provide their citizens with a better standard of living than they had under the dictatorships, and actively seem more dictatorial and authoritarian in their way, there is a real danger that their citizens will turn to anti-democratic, authoritarian movements, whether of the Right or Left.

That’s one of the dangers in the East, quite apart from the present danger that, across the globe, Neo-Liberal elites, mouthing reassuring slogans about democracy and pluralism, are gradually suppressing democracy where it conflicts with their policies.

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.

Former French Foreign Minister: Britain Planned to Attack Syria Two Years Previously

September 3, 2013

The clip below is of the former French foreign minister, Dumas, stating on French television that he had been at a meeting two years previously in London. He claimed that during the meeting, David Cameron told him Britain had made plans to invade Syria, because of the threat the Syrians posed to Israel. He claimed further that the Israeli president had said to him that Israeli wished to leave in peace with the surrounding states. If they couldn’t, they would take these states down.

I don’t know whether this claim is true or not. The bombing of Greenpeace’s ship, The Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand in the 1980s by French special forces shows that the French are also capable of taking violent covert action against those groups they see as acting against their national interests. In the case of the Rainbow Warrior, the ship had been active in demonstrations against French nuclear testing in the Pacific. It is possible that this claim is disinformation, designed to serve some purpose of the French state in the region in some way. It could, of course, also just be complete rubbish uttered by the former minister for his own ends, or simply due to a poor memory.

My guess is that there’s probably something to it. Although Syria had initially cooperated with America in intelligence gathering after 9/11, by 2002 the relationship had soured. Michael Young, in his paper, ‘Syria, the US and Terrorism’ states that the pro-Israel and Neo-Conservative groups in Bush’s government increasingly disliked Syria, partly because the Syrians had provided sanctuary to Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas. This wasn’t the sole cause of these groups’ hostility towards Syria. Other reasons included Syria’s occupation of Lebanon and the fact that the country also appeared to be allowing Islamic terrorists and remnants of the Ba’ath party to enter Iraq to attack Coalition forces. I think that it’s therefore highly likely that some kind of decision was made several years ago to attack Syria for these reasons.

Source

Michael Young, ‘Syria, the US and Terrorism’, in Christopher Heffelfinger, ed., Unmasking Terror: A Global Review of Terrorist Activities (Washington DC: The Jamestown Foundation 2005) 56-8.