Posts Tagged ‘‘The Crystal Bucket’’

Clive James on Nixon’s Interview with Henry Kissinger

July 7, 2018

One of the books I was reading in hospital was Clive James’ The Crystal Bucket (London: Picador 1981). As I said in a previous blog post, James was the TV critic for the Observer. He started out on the radical left, and ended up a Conservative, writing for the Torygraph. During the 1980s and 1990s, he had his own show, first on Channel 4 with Sunday Night Clive, and then on the Beeb with Monday night. In these, he zoomed up and down the information superhighway to bring you satirical comment on the news and interview stars like Peter Cook, William Shatner, and Sylvester Stallone’s weird and highly embarrassing, at least for him, mother.

James could be witty and intelligent, and in The Crystal Bucket he reviewed some of the programmes then being shown on the serious issue of the time. Like old Nazis and Fascists like Albert Speer and Oswald Mosley talking about Nazi Germany or their career as Fascists, without once admitting that they were genuinely persecutory anti-Semites, responsible or in Mosley’s case, criminally supporting a regime that murdered people in their millions for no other crime than their ethnicity or political orientation.

James also reviewed David Frost’s interview with Richard Nixon, in which America’s most notorious president until Trump tried to sound repentant for the horrors of his foreign policy, while actually not denying or repudiating them at all. This was the interview that was recently filmed as Frost/Nixon.

Frost also interviewed the man responsible for Nixon’s genocidal foreign policy, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger brought chaos, torture and death across the globe from the overthrow of Allende in Chile to the support of another Fascist thug in Pakistan. Of whom Nixon himself said that this thug was ‘a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’. Kissinger’s massive bombing campaign was responsible for the rise in power of the Khmer Rouge, who became the leading opposition group against the Americans. And after they seized power came the genocides and massacres of Pol Pot’s Year Zero, in which 1-2 millions died.

The review’s particularly interesting for this passage. James was not a total opponent of the Vietnam War, and seems to have believe that the Americans were right to fight against the Viet Cong because of the horrors they would inflict on the rest of the country when they gained power. He criticised Frost, because he thought Frost had bought the whole anti-Vietnam War argument, and states that the Americans were justified in bombing North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia. They were just too brutal, as was Kissinger’s foreign policy generally, and his overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was criminal.

James wrote

Indeed Frost’s questioning, though admirably implacable, was often wide of the mark. Frost had obviously bought the entire ant-war package on Cambodia, up to and including the idea that the North Vietnamese had scarcely even been present within its borders. They were there all right. There was considerable military justification for US intervention in Cambodia, as even some of the most severe critics of Nixon and Kissinger are prepared to admit. ‘Now jusd a minude,’ fumed Kissinger, ‘with all due respecd, I think your whole line of quesdioning is maging a moggery of whad wend on in Indo-China. ‘

Well, not quite. Nixon and Kissinger might have had short-term military reasons for their policy in Cambodia, but the ruinous long-term consequences were easily predictable. Nor, despite Kissinger’s plausible appeal to international law, was there anything legal about the way he and his President tried to keep the bombing secret. In fact, they conspired to undermine the United States Constitution. Kissinger’s personal tragedy is that his undoubted hatred of totalitarianism leads him to behave as if democracy is not strong enough to oppose it.

Unfortunately his personal tragedy, when he was in power, transformed itself into the tragedy of whole countries. The most revealing part of the interview was not about South East Asia, but about Chile. It transpires that a 36 per cent share of the popular vote was not enough to satisfy Kissinger that Allende had been democratically elected. Doubtless remembering Hitler, who had got in on a comparable share of the total vote, Kissinger blandly ascribed Allende’s electoral victory to a ‘peculiaridy of the consdidution’. But Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister of Great Britain by the same kind of peculiarity, and presumably Kissinger, if he were still ruling the roost, would have no plans to topple her. By what right did he topple Allende?

Kissinger couldn’t even conceive of this as a question, ‘Manipulading the domesdig affairs of another goundry’, he explained, ‘is always gombligaded.’It is not just complicated, it is often criminal. The Nixon-Kissinger policy in Chile was an unalloyed disaster, which delivered the population of that country into the hands of torturers and gave Kissingers’ totalitarian enemy their biggest propaganda boost of recent times. You didn’t have to be Jane Fonda to hate the foreign policy of Nixon and Kissinger. all you had to be was afraid of Communism.
(‘Maging a Moggery’, pp.226-228, 4th November 1979).

This shows up two things. Firstly, the sheer murderousness behind Hillary Clinton. Posing as the ‘woman’s candidate’ in the Democratic presidential election contest, and then again in the elections proper against Trump, she showed none of the deep feminine, and feminist concerns for peace and humanity, which have seen women across the world lead marches and protests groups against war and Fascism. Like the women in Chile who formed a group campaigning for the release of information on the victims of Pinochet’s coup who ‘disappeared’. I remember Sinead O’Connor singing ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ back in the 1990s as part of a programme celebrating them and protesters like them. Hillary, instead, has shown herself every bit as much a military hawk and anti-democrat as the generals she surrounded herself with. I’ve no doubt that if she had won the election, we would now be at war with China and Russia. She’s also the woman, who glowingly boasted how she went on holiday with Kissinger, something that did not impress Bernie Sanders in the presidential debates.

It also shows up the Times. A few weeks ago, I posted up a bit I found in a book on the right-wing bias of the British media. This was an extract from the Times, in which one of their lead writers declared that Pinochet’s coup was entirely justified, because Allende only had 36 per cent of the vote and he couldn’t control the country.

Well, Thatcher had the same proportion of the vote, and there was widespread, determined opposition to her in the form of strikes and riots. But instead, rather than calling for her overthrow, the Times celebrated her election victory as a return to proper order, economic orthodoxy and the rest of the right-wing claptrap.

It shows just how thuggish and hypocritical Murdoch’s Times is, and just how much Hillary certainly didn’t deserve the support of America and its women. She’s been whining about how she’s been the victim of left-wing ‘misogyny’ ever since. But if you want to see what she really represents, think of Nixon, Chile’s disappeared, it’s campaigning women and Sinead O’Connor’s performance. O’Connor herself, in my opinion, is no saint. But she’s the better women than Hillary.

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End Workfare Now: Part 3

June 20, 2017

Workfare Is Unjust

Workfare unfairly penalises the unemployed. For example, in 2011 the ConDem government made the conditions imposed on benefit claimants and the penalties for avoidance under the Labour government’s New Deal even more stringent. Those performing workfare were required to work for up to thirty hours a week for 28 days. The work performed was to be that which benefited the community. Taken as wages, this meant that claimants were working at a rate of £2.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage. If they turned the job down, or didn’t complete the course of mandatory labour, they had their benefits sanctioned for three months. This was increased to six if they repeated the ‘transgression’. This is unjust, because no-one else in society is expected to work for the minimum wage except convicts in prison.

It’s also unjust in that it makes the economically insecure even more so, and takes away the way long-accepted social right to refuse to work. At the same time, it gives power over the unemployed to the state’s bureaucrats and the private outsourcing companies. Also, forced labour is offensive against human dignity and does not lead to increased personal development.

Workfare Stops People Looking for Jobs

Spending thirty hours a week on workfare actually cuts down on the available time the unemployed are able to spend looking for work. P.A. Gregg, in their book Job Guarantee: Evidence and Design (Bristol: Bristol University Centre for Market and Public Organisation 2009) actually found that because of this, workfare actually stopped people from getting jobs.

Lowering Incomes over Life

Workfare is also unjust, as instead of giving people the ability to acquire a career, or jobs leading to one, it may instead lower their long-term income by keeping them in a series of low-paid, temporary work. People should have the right to decide for themselves which jobs to take and what they should do when it affects their long term prospects. If the state instead forces them to take a certain course, then it should also be required to compensate them if the course demanded is the wrong one.

Workfare Keeps Wages Low

By forcing people to take low-paid jobs, and making this a threat to force other workers also to take jobs that pay less than they would otherwise take, workfare leads to lower wages. The Labour Party in the UK declared that it was in favour of a ‘national living wage’ above the minimum. However, it then contradicted this intention by stating that those performing workfare would do so at the minimum wage. The Labour party may have meant this to stop those on workfare competing with those in paid employment, though MPs like Liam Byrne have shown themselves to be every bit as spiteful and punitive in their treatment of the unemployed as the Tories. In any case, this policy still puts on pressure to force wages downwards.

For there to be a genuine living wage, politicians should increase and strengthen the ability of the unemployed to bargain for higher wages. It is only when workers really have an effective ability to bargain that employers are either forced to pay a living wage, or decide that the job is unnecessary and the potential productivity too low. Standing concludes from this that ‘The reality is that the utilitarian mindset does not care about the precariat’.

Workfare Labour Replaces Genuine Workers

If the jobs performed under workfare were genuine and productive, it would be unfair to workers in those jobs, and to the short-term unemployed, as the government-subsidized labourers supplied under workfare would replace existing workers, or stop them hiring other unemployed people. In 2011 Tesco collaborated with the Jobcentres to create 3,000 unpaid placements for those on workfare, who would work for the company for four weeks. Homebase and Asda were
also keen to use such unpaid labour. As was Poundland, which also announced that it was taking on benefit claimants, though it denied that this would affect their existing recruiting activity. Whatever those companies said, clearly their use of cheap workfare labour was replacing paid workers and stopping the unemployed from getting permanent jobs with those companies.

Workfare Extends State Power

When the High and Appeal Courts upheld the challenge to performing mandatory workfare by the geology graduate, who objected to having to work in Poundland, and a young chap, who had been sanctioned for refusing it, the Condem government responded by rushing through emergency legislation making the refusal to perform workfare punishable by sanctions. The procedure in which the legislation was rushed through parliament was supposed to be use only in national emergencies. The legislation further contravened accepted notions of justice, in that it acted retrospectively. That is, it punished actions committed before the laws against them had been passed, an idea that strikes at the very notion of justice enshrined across the world in human rights laws. The Labour party, which should have opposed this motion, didn’t. They abstained, and members of the Shadow Cabinet were told that if they voted against the motion, they would have to resign. This demonstrates just how deeply workfare had become embedded as the official ideology of the state and the main parties.

Welfare-to-Work as Corporate Scam

The private companies administering workfare, such as A4E and Ingeus, have profited immensely from this new, growth industry in unfree labour. They are paid £13,500 for every person they manage to put in a long term job. If the job is only short-term, then they receive only half that amount. There is thus considerable pressure for them to choose only those most likely to obtain long term employment, and thus discriminate against vulnerable minorities, including the disabled. The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, complained that more of the people being referred to these companies were those with disabilities, who had been judged ‘fit for work’ according to the tests imposed for the Employment and Support Allowance awarded to the disabled to help them maintain their independence.

The workfare companies also have wide powers in deciding which ‘work placements’ to put people on, and what counts as ‘community benefit’. The DWP permits them to place workers in private companies if this is considered to benefit those firms’ local communities. For a long time the DWP has refused to publish the information on the allocation of workfare labourers to private firms. The government flatly refused to reveal the identities of the participating firms on the grounds that if they did so, the scheme would fail due to public pressure forcing them to drop out. A list of the firms involved has recently been released after a series of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The two largest workfare contractors also refused to comment, when they were asked if they were forcing the workers contracted to them to work for private companies.

Additionally, many of the private companies administering the scheme are run by, or have links to, politicians, which is symptomatic of the general corporate corruption of parliament and the revolving door between corporations, MPs and senior civil servants. Tomorrow’s People, the charity that became notorious for stranding the workfare labourers it had employed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee under London Bridge, where they were forced to sleep, was run by a Conservative peer.

Conclusion: End Workfare Forced Labour

Workfare is thus highly exploitative, and should be banned. It is the thin edge of a wedge leading to the increasing use of force against the poor and unemployed. One staff member from the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux described the situation to Standing thus

The boundaries of the acceptable are being pushed further in the direction of unfree labour. We’ve been here before – breaking stones in return for food during the Irish famine, and similar schemes in 16th & 17th century England, the difference being that technology means peoples’ activity can be monitored more and informal economy lifelines are being pushed further underground. I was talking with a colleague who has picked up growth of prostitution as one means of survival. I don’t know what it would take to break us (society, whatever that means) out of apathy to make protests against what we’re doing to ourselves.

Standing also makes a very apt point, directed at those members of the Left, who refuse to take a stand on it, fearing that it would damage their parties’ chances of winning elections. He states

It is a moralistic policy that should be passionately opposed by every liberal and progressive. If doing so puts political success at risk, so be it. Values matter.

This looks like a dig at Blairite New Labour, which has consistently abstained on the workfare issue instead of firmly opposing it. The Blairites based New Labour’s electoral success on appealing to swing voters, and not challenging Tory policy, except on the grounds that they could administer it more efficiently and were more concerned with social justice. The latter view is particularly specious, as in many cases New Labour went much further in its austerity and privatisation programmes than the Tories. It’s a concern that still motivates the Blairites in their repeated campaigns against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s not an excuse for failing to tackle this new form of forced labour, a system that is slowly edging towards real slavery.

Bibliography

Alexander Berkman, ‘Lazy Men and Dirty Work’, in George Woodcock, ed., The Anarchist Reader (Fontana Press: 1986) 334-338.

Alex DeJonge, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Fontana/Collins 1986) 270-2.

‘Miss World and Mrs Mao’ in Clive James, The Crystal Bucket (Picador: 1982) 232-4.

Guy Standing, A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London: Bloomsbury 2014) 262-79.

‘Labour Service (Reicharbeitsdienst – RAD)’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1988) 213.

‘Unemployment’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London