Posts Tagged ‘Tony Benn’

Lobster: Integrity Initiative Working to Privatise NHS

June 30, 2020

Remember the Integrity Initiative? That was the subsidiary of the Institute for Statecraft that was found to be a private enterprise propaganda outfit working with the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. It was set up after former New Labour PM Gordon Brown read a piece about the IRD’s activities during the Cold War and thought it was a good idea. IRD was the branch of the British secret services that was supposed to counter Soviet propaganda. It did this, but also branched out into smearing Labour MPs like the late Tony Benn as Communist agents and IRA sympathizers. The Integrity Initiative was caught doing the same, spreading lies about Jeremy Corbyn and a host of European politicos, officials and senior military staff because it and its network of hacks decided they were too close to Putin.

Robin Ramsay has more to say about the II in his ‘View from the Bridge’ column in the recent edition of Lobster, issue 80. He makes the point that superficially the II would be acceptable if all it did was counter Russian propaganda. He argues that few on the left seem to accept that the country really is a kleptocracy that murders its opponents at home and abroad, and reminds his readers that one of the watchwords of the old left was ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’. This is right, but history and the career of the II itself has shown to date that British counterpropaganda goes well beyond this into operations that seriously compromise democratic politics at home, and frequently overthrow it abroad. Like the coup where British intelligence worked with the CIA to overthrow Iran’s last democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq.

But II isn’t just working to smear decent, respectable left-wing politicos like Corbyn. It’s now attacking one of the fundamental modern British institutions: the NHS. Among the hacks recruited by the II is the American journo, Anne Applebaum, who has written for the Economist and the Spectator, amongst other rags. But the II also includes a subgroup on NHS reform, which has nothing to do with Russian propaganda. Ramsay instead argues that its purpose is instead to counter opponents of NHS reform. In other words, it’s been set up to promote NHS privatisation. Which means it has a neoliberal agenda.

See his section ‘Ah yes, the USA as moral leader’ at

Click to access lob80-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

Given the extreme right-wing politics of British counterpropaganda operations, this is almost certainly right.

Which means that at least part of the British secret state is lying to us to support the Tories’ and New Labour privatisation of the NHS.

 

Tony Benn on Overseas Investment at the Expense of Britain’s Workers

May 17, 2020

A few days ago I posted up a piece about Shaw’s critique of British imperialism. As I said in the earlier piece, Shaw wasn’t against imperialism in itself, if it had been genuinely for the benefit of the conquered peoples. But it wasn’t. It was really to exploit them, as a cheap workforce unprotected by the Factory Acts in Britain which protected domestic workers. The result was the exploitation of non-Whites abroad, while British manufacturers were ruined by the import of the cheap goods they produced, and British workers made unemployed.

This situation still remains, thanks to globalisation and the rise of the multinationals even though the British empire is no more. Tony Benn was a staunch opponent of the multinationals and the same abuses of overseas investment. In a 1985 speech in parliament on unemployment, Benn said

We would have to stop the export of capital. Since the government came to power, for every family of four, £4,300 has left Britain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that we must tighten our belts because that is the way to solve the problem. But if a worker tightens his belt, the employer sends the money to South Africa, where the wages are lower still, because Botha’s police will not allow the unions to organise. The export of capital could not continue if we wished to solve the unemployment problem.

Ruth Winstone, ed., The Best of Benn: Speeches, Diaries, Letter and Other Writings (London: Hutchinson 2014) p. 166.

That’s still very pertinent today, when Tory donor James Dyson has moved his plants to the Far East and Jacob Rees-Mogg has investments all over the world, including in a condom factory in Indonesia.

Tony Benn – the greatest Prime Minister this country never had.

Lobster on the Prosecution of Craig Murray and Mountbatten, Mosley and the Abortive 1968 Coup Against Wilson

May 10, 2020

Robin Ramsay, the head honcho of the parapolitics site Lobster, has just updated the ‘News from the Bridge’ section of the current issue, no. 79, with some very interesting little snippets. One of these is about the current prosecution by the Scots authorities of Craig Murray for contempt of court.

Craig Murray and the Possible Framing of Alex Salmond

Murray’s crime is that he commented online about Alex Salmond’s trial while it was happening, stating that he believes that Salmond was framed by the Scottish state. Murray also knows four other people, also supporters of Scots independence, who have similarly been visited by the cops from the ‘Alex Salmond’ team, because they also blogged or posted about the case. Murray says, as quoted by Lobster,

The purpose of this operation against free speech is a desperate attempt to keep the lid on the nature of the state conspiracy to fit up Alex Salmond. Once the parliamentary inquiry starts, a huge amount of evidence of conspiracy which the court did not allow the defence to introduce in evidence during the criminal trial, will be released. The persecution of myself is an attempt to intimidate independent figures into not publishing anything about it.The lickspittle media of course do not have to be intimidated. To this end, I am charged specifically with saying that the Alex Salmond case was a fitup and a conspiracy in which the Crown Office was implicated. So I thought I would say it again now:

The Alex Salmond case was a fit-up and a conspiracy in which the Crown Office was implicated, foiled by the jury. If Scotland is the kind of country where you go to jail for saying that, let me get my toothbrush.’ (emphasis in the original)

I honestly don’t know how credible this allegation is. Unfortunately, powerful men do take sexual advantage of the women around them, as the Harvey Weinstein scandal has glaringly showed. But Salmond was acquitted because he was able to show that he was not where he was alleged and with the women he was accused of assaulting at the time the attacks were supposed to have been committed. The suggestion that Salmond was framed by the Scots state, presumably to prevent Scotland gaining independence, does seem to pass beyond the limits of credibility. It looks like a conspiracy theory in the pejorative sense of the term.

Unfortunately, the British state does smear opposition politicians. IRD did it in the 1970s when they falsified all manner of documents and manufactured fake reports, published in various newspapers and magazines, that Labour politicians like Tony Benn were IRA or Communist sympathisers and agents of the Soviet Union when they definitely weren’t. We’ve seen the same tactics revived just last year, when they were used by the Democracy Initiative and its parent body, the Institute for Statecraft, against Jeremy Corbyn and other European politicos and public figures, who were deemed too close to Putin. And far from being a private company, the Democracy Initiative had links to MI5 and the cyberwarfare branch of the SAS.

The Beeb also played its part in broadcasting disinformation about Salmond and Scots independence. Remember the way the Corporation successively edited the answer Salmond gave Nick Robinson to a question about how it would affect the Edinburgh financial sector. Robinson asked him if he was worried that the big financial houses in the Scots capital would move south if Scotland ever became independent. Salmond gave a full reply, stating that this would not be the case. This was edited down during the day so that first it appeared that Salmond didn’t give a proper reply, before it was finally edited out altogether. Nick Robinson then claimed in the final report about it that Salmond hadn’t answered the question.

Britain has also intervened in other countries to remove politicians that were deemed an obstacle or a threat to British interests. These were mostly interference in the elections and politics of former colonies and independent states in the Developing World, like the coup that overthrew Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. But the British governor of Australia was also persuaded by the Tories to remove Gough Whitlam from office in the 1970s in an overt display of British power.

Scottish independence is a threat to the continued existence of Great Britain as a state. It also has powerful implications for Britain as a global power. Mike or one of the great left-wing bloggers has stated that if Scotland did become independent, Britain would no longer be large or populous enough to hold a position on the UN security council. While a covert campaign to frame and discredit Salmond seems incredible to me, I honestly don’t think it can be fairly discounted.

Mountbatten and Mosley as Figureheads for an Anti-Wilson Coup

The other snippet that I found particularly interesting ultimately comes from Andrew Lounie’s new e-book The Mountbattens. The books follows a number of others in stating that in 1968 the former viceroy of India was approached by the chairman of the Mirror group, Cecil King, to help overthrow Harold Wilson and form a government of national unity. This is similar to the proposals for other coups against Wilson made in the middle of the next decade, the ’70s. See Francis Wheen’s book, Strange Days Indeed. What boggles my mind, however, is that before King approached Mountbatten, he’d gone to Paris to ask Oswald Mosley if he’d be interested. How anyone could ever believe that a Fascist storm trooper like Mosley could ever be an acceptable leader of any kind of British regime, or that a country that had interned him and fought against the political order he represented during the War would ever accept him, is frankly incredible. Mountbatten had met King with the government’s scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman. When King mentioned that he’d met Mosley, Zuckerman walked out followed by Mountbatten. This is the standard version of the event. Lounie’s book differs from this by claiming that Mountbatten didn’t particularly object to becoming the head of such a junta, and was even taken with the idea.

The book also claims that Mountbatten was bisexual, and recklessly pursued younger men. He was also, it is alleged, supplied with boys from the Kincora Boys’ Home.

I hadn’t read before that King had tried to interest Oswald Mosley in leading a British government after a military coup. This is significant in that it shows that some elements of the British media establishment were more than willing to install a real Fascist as leader rather than tolerate a democratically elected socialist government under a leader they despised, like Wilson. 

See:https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster79/lob79-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

and scroll down to find the snippets ‘Craig Murray under attack’, and ‘The Mountbattens’.

 

Tony Benn on the Security Service’s Hostility to the Labour Movement

February 28, 2020

The revelation last year that Tweezer’s government was funding the Democracy Initiative and its parent organisation, the Institute for Statecraft, revealed that the British secret state was still hostile to the Labour movement and determined to attack and disrupt any political figure standing for radical change. The Initiative was supposed to combat pro-Russian propaganda on the Net, but instead focused on smearing and trying to discredit British and foreign political leaders, of whom it disapproved. One of them was, surprise, surprise!, Jeremy Corbyn. Although supposedly a private company, the Democracy Initiative had extensive links to the British secret state and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. As the election rolled on, we also saw various army chiefs and spokespeople for the intelligence agencies tell the Tory papers that they regarded Corbyn as a threat to national security.

In fact the British secret services were always suspicious of the Labour Party. They’re part of the establishment, and so regarded the Labour movement as a whole as subversive. There is considerable evidence that MI5 was behind the rumours in the 1970s smearing the Labour premier Harold Wilson as a KGB spy. Lobster has published a series of articles about British intelligence’s campaign of disinformation against Labour, including how the IRD – a now defunct intelligence department – published fake documents and news during the 1970s to smear Labour politicos like Tony Benn as IRA sympathisers and Communists.

Benn was very much aware of this, and discusses it and the establishment’s general animosity towards the Labour movement in many of his books, including the volume: Tony Benn: Arguments for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullin. Benn wrote

The security services, or at least an element within them, regard those who work within the Labour movement, especially its socialist activists, as being a security risk for that reason alone. Conservatives would not be so classified.

This interpretation of a security risk has never been publicly discussed by ministers, although, if it is as widespread as I believe it to be, it raises major issues of public policy and civil liberties. For it means that the security services, far from being limited in their work to the discovery of direct external and internal threats to our democracy, are also active indirectly as the upholders of the status quo in our society and are treating socialists who wish to change that status quo by democratic means as potential enemies of that democracy.

In the long run this is the biggest threat to political freedom from the state. In the short run it is used to justify a degree of surveillance of certain organisations and individuals in Britain which goes far beyond what is publicly admitted.

The methods used include the widespread interception of communications, the extensive tapping of telephones, and the maintenance of a bar upon employment for people in both government and sensitive industrial work against whom no conceivable charge of treason or subversion would stand up for one moment in any court of law, nor would it command public support if it had to be justified publicly. Hence the secrecy.

The trade unions are of course a special target for surveillance by the security services. The evidence recently published by the Post Office Engineering Union must be taken seriously in this context. There is no room for doubt that active trade unionists do have their telephone calls regularly intercepted,. and this surveillance is redoubled during industrial disputes, as in the miners’ strikes in 1972 and 1974. I was present on one social occasion when a former Labour prime minister indicated this quite clearly.

Twide, as a minister, I was told categorically that the candidates I had proposed for major public appointments were not acceptable on security grounds. The two men concerned were senior members of the General Council of the TUC, active in the Labour Party, and each was then playing a key role in supporting the policies of the then Labour Government. In each case it took a letter from me to the prime minister personally, and in one case a request for a meeting with him, to discuss the matter, to have these objections overruled. Had I not done so, the men would have remained disqualified from public service on security grounds.

Ministers who have direct responsibility for the work of the security services, if asked about the way they exercise their responsibilities, always insist that their control is direct, personal and complete. I very much doubt whether this is the case. If it is so, the Labour ministers must have authorised the incidents of which I have personal knowledge, and this they certainly should not have done. But in my view it is much more likely that the security services do not inform the ministers of what is going on, or cover up their activities in phrases designed to secure acquiescence. (pp. 75-6).

He adds further details to this description of the activities of the British secret state in note 5 to that chapter, ‘Civil Liberties and the Security Services’ on pp. 241-2. This states

According to Mr Chapman Pincher in his book Inside Story, Sidgwick and Jackson 1978, MI5 have files on more than two million people and our security services apparently believe that 59 Labour MPs in the 1974-9 Parliament had ‘current or recent connections with Communist, Trotskyite and other Marxist organisations’. The Special Branch also appear to take a close interest in politics and trade union affairs. For example, during an occupation to prevent closure of a British Steel subsidiary in Greenwich, workers came across Special Branch reports on two of their colleagues. For details of this and other cases see Crispin Aubrey, Who’s Watching You, Pelican, 1981, pp. 36-7.

Benn produced a list of his own suggestions for combating the threat to British democracy from the security services, the civil service establishment and new technology. These were

  1. An analysis of the dangers to the security of the state, external and internal.
  2. A study of the technology now available and the use to which it is being put by other comparable countries.
  3. To consider the case for publishing every year all information that could be published without endangering security, including: i, The budget and staffing of the security services. ii. The names of those in charge of them, as in the USA. iii The guidelines issued to those services relating to their objectives and methods. iv The numbers of dossiers in existence relating to political activities. v A report on the reasons for collecting these dossiers and an account of what happens to the information acquired for inclusion in them. vi An annual report on the total number of interceptions of communications by telephone or mail. vii The full list of foreign security services with which UK security services have arrangements for reciprocal exchange of information, or with which they work.
  4. To argue the case for a special House of Commons select committee, meeting, when necessary, in secret, composed exclusively of privy councillors empowered to question both the responsible ministers and security chiefs on the whole range of their policy and activities – to report annually to Parliament in a form which can be published.
  5. To press for an appeals procedure for citizens reporting to the select committee on matters concerning their own records only.
  6. To have the same rights to information for citizens about records and files kept on them as are enjoyed by US citizens under contemporary US legislation.
  7. To secure the introduction of a ‘Security Services Annual Act’ under which, as with the Army and the Airforce Acts of earlier years, Parliament gains the ultimate control of the security services. (p. 89).

These are all excellent suggestions, but there is absolutely no chance that they’ll ever get passed in the foreseeable future. Boris has an overwhelming majority, which means that he will have no trouble blocking any attempt to reel in the security services. There would also be strong opposition from the Blairites in the Labour Party. When Blair got into power, he and his cabinet were not at all interested in making the security services more accountable. This was so even when MI5 had kept many of them under surveillance as potential subversives. It is symptomatic of this attitude that although Jack Straw was offered the chance of looking at his MI5 file, he didn’t.

And so unfortunately the security services will continue to work against Labour activists, viewing them as subversives, even when they are no such thing.

Rejoice! Murdoch Press Losing MILLIONS

February 23, 2020

Here’s a bit of good news amidst the horrors of this Tory government, the floods, deportations, rampant racism and the Coronavirus: the Murdoch press is losing money. Very big money. Zelo Street has just put up a very revealing piece about their accounts for the period ending June 2019. This reveals that the Murdoch empire has been hit with a charge of £26,721,000 for one-off payments for legal fees and damages paid to the claimants in the phone hacking scandal. They’ve also incurred other one-off costs for UK newspaper matters of £25,737,000. Other charges include £1, 549,000 for the Management and Standards Committee. This means that the total damage is £54,007,000. Mind you, the directors still remain handsomely rewarded. They have been paid £5,191,000. Of which Rebecca Wade got £2,787,000. Overall, the company lost a total of £67, 952,000. The total loss for the financial year is £67,952,000. Which means that even without the phone hacking scandal, the company would have lost £14 million.

Zelo Street comments

‘Will the Murdoch press make money again in the next few years? Given the claims keep on coming, and the potential downside for the Sun titles if there is serious blowback (as happened with the Screws over the Dowler hacking), it’s not such a daft question.

Or is Rupe just in it for the political leverage? There’s a $64,000 question for you.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/murdoch-press-still-losing-money.html

That’s a very good question. A little while ago Private Eye raised the same issue regarding the Times. The actual amount of income generated by the Thunderer is so small, and its losses correspondingly so high, that if it was any other paper it would have been closed down years ago. But because it’s the British paper of record, Murdoch keeps it going because it gives him a seat at the same table as the politicos.

The Sage of Crewe recognises how influential the Murdoch titles still are. Tim remarks that the Murdoch’s goons still exceed the other titles, even those of the Heil, in the hate they can lay on their targets. The rest of the press follows their lead, and knows better than to mess with them. But the costs of the phone hacking scandal show all this is catching up with Dirty Rupe and his empire of sleaze.

Tony Benn in his book, Arguments for Democracy, points out that the Daily Herald didn’t fold because it lacked a popular readership. It collapsed, and then was subsequently bought by Murdoch and transformed into the scabby rag it is now, because it lacked advertisers. At the time its readership was bigger than the Times, the Groaniad and the Financial Times added together. What killed it is that its working class readers were too poor to appeal to the advertisers.

I’ve no doubt the paper’s sales increased massively after it was transformed into the Scum. But I also think that it was kept afloat because it was a Tory paper. It was the first working class Conservative newspaper, and so companies that would have had second thoughts about advertising in a socialist paper were probably more prepared to place adverts with Rupe’s mighty organ.

The question is, will that continue. If the Murdoch papers continue to lose readers, will there come a point when the advertisers demand that they’re not getting enough exposure for the money they’re spending, and demand that his newspapers cut their advertising rates. Which will mean another financial hit for them. And what will happen if Murdoch doesn’t shake off his newspaper’s reputation for gross breaches of journalistic standards. Of course the Scum’s journalistic reputation always was low, but in the 1980s and ’90s there was also a tendency to laugh it off as a joke. One of the silly parties standing in Gloucestershire in either the 1983 or 1987 election was the ‘Have the Sun Redesignated as a Comic’ Party. This shows how seriously some people viewed it. Which is unfortunate, as while the Scum certainly deserved its mockery, the joke also created a kind of complacency. For the more intelligent, the Scum was dire and a joke, but it still was massively influential, and the policies it and its master promoted – rampant militarism, welfare cuts, privatisation and a culture of ruthless selfishness and greed – were anything but funny.

But with the phone hacking scandal, some of that laughter has died, quite apart from the bitterness the good folk of Liverpool still feel about the paper’s gross libel of their fair city. How long before the paper’s reputation gets just that bit too toxic that the advertisers don’t want to risk their reputations by being associated with it. And if they go, the Scum goes too.

And hopefully, there’ll be a few more years where the Murdoch press makes such spectacular losses, that it won’t be too long in coming.

Tony Benn’s Suggestions for Media Reform

February 10, 2020

One of the other books I picked up going through the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham last Friday was Tony Benn: Arguments for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullins and published in 1981. Based on Benn’s speeches, articles and lectures over the previous two years, the book was Benn’s observation on the profoundly undemocratic nature of British society, and his suggestions for reform. He wanted to create a more democratic society that would empower ordinary people and move towards the establishment of socialism.

Although it was written forty years ago, the book and its arguments are still tremendously relevant. One of the chapters is on media bias against the working class and the Labour party. As we’ve seen over the past five years and particularly during the last election in December, this is very much a live issue because of the unrelenting hostility by nearly all of the media, including and especially the Beeb, against Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters and the Labour party as a whole. Benn discusses right-wing media bias in the chapter, ‘The Case for a Free Press’, and on pages 118 to 120 he makes his suggestions for its reform.  Benn wrote

‘Some Proposals for Reform

Reform of the media has only recently come to be taken seriously. The Glasgow University Media Group, the Campaign for Press Freedom, the Minority Press Group and academics such as James Curran at the Polytechnic of Central London have produced a wealth of carefully researched analysis and proposals for reform which would reward seriously study. At the time of writing the Labour Party National Executive Committee has a working party considering what must be done to obtain a media responsive to the needs of a twentieth-century democracy rather than an arm of the British establishment. I do not wish to anticipate the proposals of the working party, but in the interests of stimulating debate on this important subject I set out below some of the possibilities for reform which are now being discussed in the Labour Party and elsewhere.

  1. An Open Press Authority

This has been suggested by James Curran and Jean Seaton in their book Power Without Responsibility. This would be a public agency accountable to Parliament and it would aim to extend the freedom to publish. The OPA objectives would include the following:

i Provision off a launch fund, raised partly from a tax on media advertising expenditure, to assist new publications.

ii Grants to assist publications that have failed to attract significant advertising.

iii A National Print Corporation to extend modern printing facilities to a wide range of publications.

iv A guarantee of distribution for minority publications through a new wholesale organisation.

2. Anti-Monopoly Legislation

Considerations will have to be given to legislation to break up the huge newspaper monopolies; existing monopoly legislation has proved wholly ineffective for this purpose. Such legislation should also prohibit or severely limit investment by newspaper chains in television and commercial radio.

3. Reform of the Wholesale Trade

Wholesale and retail distribution of British newspapers and magazines in dominated by just three companies: W.H. Smith, John Menzies and Surridge Dawson. In many areas one or other of these companies has a complete monopoly. The result is that non-consensus publications have great difficulty in reaching the news stands. The French have solved this problem by imposing a legal obligation on wholesalers and retailers to carry, on request, all lawful publications excluding pornography. Publishers have to pay a handling charge on all returns. As a result the French public have access to a far more diverse range of political views than we do in Britain. The French example should be studied.

4 The Right of Reply

Where a newspaper or magazine has published a report about an individual or group which seriously distorts the truth, the person or organisation offended should have the right to set the record straight in the columns of that newspaper. The reply should be allotted adequate space and prominence and it should appear as soon as possible after the original story. It should be made legally enforceable. The Campaign for Press Freedom has set out the case for a right of reply in an excellent pamphlet.

5 Broadcasting

i Instead of being composed of the ‘great and the good’, worthy citizens chosen for their alleged impartiality, the boards of the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority should contain representatives of a wide spectrum of opinion and interest groups.

ii The proceedings of the two boards of governors and all internal directives on policy should be publicly available.

iii The IBA should be given a legal obligation when awarding franchises, to give preference to non-profit-making applications such as cooperatives; at present most franchises got to companies more concerned with profits than quality.

iv The BBC is too big. It should be broken up into separate independent units for television, radio and the overseas service.

v The BBC licence fee, which places the Corporation at the mercy of the government, should be abolished and replaced by a grant awarded by Parliament five years in advance.

vi The Fourth Channel, as presently constituted, is controlled by the IBA and will buy in programmes from commercial companies. It should be reconstituted as a separate, publicly financed cooperative which would act as a ‘publisher’ of programmes made by freelance and independent production groups.

6 Satellite Broadcasting

By the mid-1980s satellite communication systems will make it feasible for American or European commercial television to be relayed into Britain. The result could be a diversion of advertising revenue away from existing publicly regulated services and an end of any chance of creating and maintaining public service broadcasting. As a matter of urgency Britain must contact other European governments with a view to placing under international control all companies using satellites for this purpose.’

He concludes the chapter with this:

These are some of the ways in which the British media could be developed to serve democracy rather than a consensus which has long been overtaken by events. I list these suggestions simply as a basis for consideration in an area where, until recently, there has been very little positive discussion. The free flow of information is the life blood of democracy and the present ownership structure and organisation of our media is incompatible with democracy. At a time of crisis, such as we now face, itis important that people should be able to choose freely between the various alternatives that political parties are seeking to put before them. To do that they need to be properly informed. That should be the role of the media in a democracy.

I’m not sure how many of these suggestions are relevant today, given the expansion of satellite and cable broadcasting,  the establishment of Channel 5 and the rise of the Net. My guess is that much of it is still acutely relevant, and the situation regarding the press monopolies has got worse since Benn wrote this. Murdoch now has an even firmer grip on the press and his own satellite channel, Sky, which he’d like to replace the Beeb. The Beeb has shown itself craven and massively biased towards the Tories, but they’re going to break it up and sell it off if they can in order to please Murdoch and the other commercial broadcasters. I think most of these reforms are still very much needed, but can’t see them ever being put in place given the massive opposition they provoke among the press and media barons, who control public opinion.

Corbyn’s supporters found a way round that with the internet, and Richard Burgon at the recent Labour deputy leadership hustings in Bristol suggested that Labour supporters should look to this and other alternative media rather than the old media. There are problems with this too, as the right have also latched on to the power of the Net. But it might just be the best, or only, way to move forward.

 

The Labour, Pro-Working Class Arguments for Brexit

December 22, 2019

The decisive factor which swung 14 million people to vote Tory in the general election two weeks was Brexit. Labour’s programme of reforms was popular, despite the predictable Tory attacks on it as impractical, costly, too radical, Marxist and so on. 60 to 70 per cent of the public in polls supported the manifesto, and the party received a slight boost in popularity in the polls after its public. The areas in Labour’s heartlands in the midlands and north that turned Tory were those which voted ‘Leave’. Craig Gent in his article for Novara Media on the lessons Labour must learn from this defeat lamented this. By backing Remain, Labour had ceded Brexit to the Conservatives, allowing them to shape the terms of the debate and the assumptions underlying it. But Gent also argued that it could easily have gone the other way.

Indeed it could. Labour’s policy, before the right-wing put pressure on Corbyn to back a second referendum, was that Labour would respect the Leave vote, and try for a deal with the EU that would serve Britain the best. Only if that failed would Labour consider a general election or second referendum. This is eminently sensible. The referendum was purely on whether Britain would leave the European Union. It was not on the terms under which Britain would leave. Despite Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, he will have no more success than his predecessor, Tweezer. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has stated that the negotiations are going to take far long than the eleven months Johnson claimed. The people who voted for him are going to be sorely disappointed.

The right-wing campaign for leaving the EU heavily exploited racism and xenophobia. Not only had Britain lost her sovereignty to Brussels, but it was because of the EU that Britain was being flooded with immigrants taking jobs and placing a burden on the social and economic infrastructure. In fact, the Black and Asian immigrants entering Britain were permitted, as Mike showed on his blog, through UN agreements covering asylum seekers. Moreover immigrants and foreign workers were a net benefit to Britain. They contributed more in taxes and took less in benefits. But with this was drowned out, along with other, vital Remain arguments in the Tory rhetoric of hate.

But there was always a part of the Labour movement that also distrusted the European Union for democratic, socialist reasons. The late Tony Benn devoted an entire chapter to it in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism. One of his primary objections to it, as he outlined in a 1963 article for Encounter magazine, was

that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses its bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice.

Like right-wing Eurosceptics, Benn also objected to Britain joining the EU because of loss of national sovereignty and democracy through inclusion into a European superstate. He was also worried about the threat from Brussels to British industry. The European Union hated Britain’s nationalised industries, and Benn said that he was told by Brussels bureaucrats that investment, mergers and prices in the former British steel industry would have to be controlled by them. Every issue of state aid to British manufacturing industry would have to be subject to the European commission. He was very much afraid that British manufacturing would be unable to compete against the better financed and equipped European firms, and so close. And he also argued that membership in the European Union would create higher unemployment through the EU’s economic policy, which was exactly the same as that tried by Conservative premier Ted Heath’s first government. He believed that EU membership would leave British workers with a choice of either being unemployed at home, or moving to Europe to seek work. Only the directors and shareholders in European companies would profit. He then gives the statistics showing how much Britain was paying to the EU for policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, that penalised Britain’s highly efficient farming system in favour of that of the continent, and the disastrous effect EU membership had had on British industry and jobs. The devastation caused to some sectors of British industry and agriculture also formed part of Conservative attacks on the EU. The former Mail, now Times journo, Quentin Letts, bitterly criticises the EU in his book, Bog Standard Britain, for the way the common fisheries policy drastically cut back our fishing fleet to a fraction of its former size.

It also seems that Ted Heath also used some very underhand, dirty tricks to rig the initial referendum to give the result he wanted: that the British people agreed with him and wanted to join Europe. This was the subject of an article in the parapolitical/ conspiracy magazine, Lobster some years ago.

I’m a Remainer. I was as shocked by the Tories’ victory as everyone else on the Left. I expected that they would win because of the vast propaganda and media resources they had poured in to attacking Labour and Corbyn personally. But I was astonished by how large the victory was. I believed that the continuing failure to secure a deal with Europe would have made Brexit less popular, not more. The result of the original referendum was so narrow that I believed a second would reverse the decision. How wrong I was.

Some of the Eurosceptic arguments against Europe are overstated or simply wrong. The EU was a threat to our nationalised industries, but it seemed nothing prevented the French, Germans and Dutch from retaining theirs and buying up ours, as the Dutch firm, Abellio, was awarded the contract for some of our rail services. Britain’s entry into the EU did not result in us losing our sovereignty. We retained it, and all law passed in Brussels had to become British law as well. And I believe very strongly that leaving Europe, especially under a no-deal Brexit, will badly damage our trade and economy.

But understanding Brexit and the arguments against EU membership from the Left from people like Tony Benn, may also provide a way of winning back some at least of the support Labour lost at the election. Labour can show that it understands the fear some people in those communities have about the loss of sovereignty, and the effect EU membership has had on trade, manufacturing and employment. But we can also point out that the Tories are using the same set of economic principles as the EU, and that this won’t change so long as Boris is Prime Minister. And any trade agreement he makes with the Orange Generalissimo will be worse than staying in the EU. It won’t secure British jobs or support British industry, manufacturing or otherwise. Indeed, it will cause further damage by placing them at a disadvantage against the Americans.

A proper Brexit, that respected British workers and created a fairer, better society, could only be brought in by Labour. But the Thursday before last, 14 million people were duped into rejecting that. But Labour is learning its lesson, and people are getting ready to fight back.

Labour can and will win again, on this and other issues. Brexit may have got Johnson in, but it may also be the issue that flings him out. 

Leave.UK and Boris Now Using Racism to Push Brexit and Get Votes

October 9, 2019

I suppose it was inevitable. I realise not everyone, who voted for the Leave campaign is racist by any means. A lot of working class and left-wing peeps voted to leave the EU no doubt because of the very real problems with it. Private Eye has been describing for years its corruption, its lack of democracy and accountability of its senior officials, and the high-handed way it deals with member states that don’t toe the line. Years ago it described how the-then president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was aghast at the terms it presented him and his country for membership. He complained that his country hadn’t been treated like that for over thirty years. Which meant that he was comparing it to the way it had been pushed around when it had been a Soviet satellite. This drew an outraged reaction from two of the MEPs in the EU delegation, both of whom, I think, were left-wing. One of them was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French politician, who had been a radical leader during the ’68 revolution. They screamed at Klaus that the EU was definitely democratic, and the architect and keep of peace after the Second World War.  Robin Ramsay, the editor of the conspiracy website Lobster, is an old-fashioned left-wing Eurosceptic. He objects to the EU because economic Conservatism and neoliberalism is built into it. He regards a strong nation state with nationalised industries as the best political and economic system and protector of the rights of working people. Tony Benn was the same, noting in one of his books the real harm membership of the EU actually did to our economy and industry.

But Benn was also realistic, and recognised that we were now also economically dependent on the EU, and that leaving it would also cause severe disruption and damage. 

All of which is not considered by the right-wing supporters of Brexit. They’re not interested in protected our nationalised industries, like what remains of the NHS, because they want to sell it off to the highest bidder. And that means, at the moment, Donald Trump. Thus for all their posturing, they were quite happy to see our railways owned by the Bundesbahn, the German state railway network, and our water by the French, and then the Indonesians. And our nuclear power stations built and owned by the French and Chinese. They’ve got no objections with other states and nations owning our infrastructure, as long the British state doesn’t.

And there is and has always been a nasty undercurrent of racism in the Right’s attitude to the EU. Now with the latest poster from Leave.UK it’s all out in the open. As Mike’s shown in his article, they’ve now put up a poster showing Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her arm raised in a quasi-Nazi salute, or what could be interpreted as one. And there’s a slogan ‘We didn’t Win Two World Wars to be Pushed Around by a Kraut’.

This is just pure racism, expressed in racist language. And the imagery is offensive and wrong. As Tony Greenstein showed in his article, the CDU had its share of former Nazis amongst its members. And incidentally, so was the Freie Demokraten, the German equivalent of the Liberal party. Back in the 1980s there was a massive scandal when it was revealed that neo-Nazis had all been infiltrating them. Even the odd member of the SPD has been outed as a former member of the Nazi party. But that doesn’t mean that the CDU, or any of the other German democratic parties are really Nazi, simply because they’re German. I think Merkel herself is genuinely anti-racist, and tried to demonstrate how far her country had moved from the stereotype left over from the Third Reich when she invited the million or so Syrian and North African refugees to settle in the Bundesrepublik. It backfired badly on her, as people, not just in Germany, were afraid their countries were going to be swamped by further Islamic migrants and the wave of 200 or so rapes by a minority of them provoked an vile islamophobic reaction. But Merkel herself, and her people, aren’t Nazis and aren’t engaged in some diabolical plot to dominate Europe by stealth. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, ad nauseam.

Mike’s article cites the comments from three continental papers, who I believe have rightly assessed the situation and BoJob’s shenanigans with the EU. They differ in that some of them think the Blonde Beast is aiming for a no-deal Brexit, or that, denied that, he wants a Brexit extension. But whatever the outcome, he wants most of all to blame it on the EU. Those nasty foreigners are responsible! He and the Tory press are trying to present it as though Boris and the Tories have done everything they can to secure a deal, and it’s all due to those horrible, intransigent foreigners, and particularly the Germans, that they haven’t. Thus they’re seeking to work up nationalist sentiments so that they’re voted back in with a massive majority, having seen their lead in the polls.

I can well believe it. It’s what they’ve always done.

I remember how the Tories became the Patriotic Party under Thatcher in the 1980s. Thatcher stood for Britain, and anyone, who opposed her and the Tories more widely was definitely not One Of Us. They were some kind of traitor. The Labour party was full of Commies and IRA sympathisers, as well as evil gays determined to corrupt our youth in schools. Thatcher represented Britain’s warrior heritage and island independence. She constantly and consciously harked back to Winston Churchill. Their wretched 1987 general election video showed Spitfires zooming about the skies in what Alan Coren drily called ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. Over the top of this an excited male voice declaimed ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. Actually, the quote comes from Rousseau’s Social Contract, and is ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. Which is a far better description of the free trade, low tax world Thatcher wanted to introduce and her destruction of workers’ rights and the welfare state. Thatcher was our bulwark against domestic terrorism and the IRA at home – even though she was secretly negotiating with them – and the Communists and Eurofederalists of the EU abroad.

The Tories continually used the imagery and memories of the Second World War and the Empire to drum up support.

It’s a crude, nationalistic view of British imperial history. The idea that somehow we stood alone against Hitler during the Second World War is a myth, but one that all too many of us buy into. We survived and were victorious because we had the support of our empire. We were fed, and our armies staffed, by the colonies, including those in the Caribbean, Africa and India. If it hadn’t been for them and the Americans, we would have fallen as well.

And the history of the British empire and its legacy is mixed. Very mixed. I don’t deny that many of the soldiers and administrators that founded and extended it were idealists, who genuinely believed they were creating a better order and were improving the lives of their imperial subjects. But there was also much evil. Like the history of the Caribbean and the slave colonies in North America, or the treatment of the Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, like the Maoris or Aboriginal Australians. They weren’t noble savages, as portrayed in the stereotypes that have grown up around them. But they didn’t deserve the massacre, displacement and dispossession they suffered. The Irish patriot, Roger Casement, was a British imperial official, and was radicalised by the enslavement of South American Amerindians by the British rubber industry in the Putomayo scandal. This turned him against British imperialism, and made him an ardent fighter for his own people’s independence. To get a different view of the empire, all you have to do is read histories of it from the perspective of the colonised peoples, like the Indians or the slaves in the Caribbean. Or, for that matter, the horrific treatment of Afrikaner civilians in the concentration camps during the Anglo-South African ‘Boer’ War. In too many cases it was a history of persecution, dispossession and oppression, fueled by greed and nationalism.

Ah, but the British Empire stood for democracy!

It was largely founded before the emergence of democracy, which everywhere had to be fought for. And parts of the British imperial establishment remained anti-democratic after the Liberals extended the vote to the entire working class and women at the beginning of the 20th century. Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two world wars states that sections of it were not happy with the extension of the franchise in the 1920s, especially the diplomats and administrators in the Indian office, like Lord Curzon. It’s highly dubious how much of a patriot Churchill was. In the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell remarked in one of his press articles how strange the times were, with Churchill ‘running around pretending to be a democrat’. And there was a very interesting article years ago in the weekend edition of the Financial Times that argued that it was only because Britain needed allies during the Second World War, that the English Speaking Union appeared as one of the leading organisations in the spread of democracy.

But still we’ve had it drummed into us that the Empire was an unalloyed, brilliant institution, our country is uniquely democratic, and the Tories represent both and our national pride and heritage against the depredations of Johnny Foreigner.

Salman Rushdie and the rest are right. We need proper, balanced teaching about the Empire to correct some of these myths.

Supporters of the Labour Party and Remain campaign in response to the latest eruption of bilious racism and xenophobia have released their own posters. One shows Boris Johnson and has the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fascist’. Another shows Nigel Farage with the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fraud’. At the bottom is another legend, reading ‘Let’s Not Leave EU’.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/leave-campaigns-response-to-angela-merkel-is-racism/

They’re right. And the Tories and the Leave campaign are whipping up racism simply for their own benefit. If they get a no-deal Brexit, or win a general election, they will privatise the NHS, destroy what’s left of the welfare state. Our industries will be massively harmed, and whatever’s left of them will be sold to the Americans. 

It will mean nothing but poverty and exploitation for working people. That’s how the Tories use racism and xenophobia.

Don’t be taken in by their lies. Stand up for democracy and peace and harmony between peoples and nations. Get rid of Boris, Farage and Aaron Banks. And support Corbyn and Labour.

 

Scots Tory Davidson Warns Boris Willing to Destroy UK for Brexit

June 28, 2019

On the 18th of this month, Mike at Vox Political wrote a piece noting a YouGov poll that found that the majority of Tory members are hellbent on getting Brexit, even if it means the break-up of the United Kingdom, significant damage to its economy and even the destruction of the Tory party itself.

The poll found that, when asked the question whether they would be willing to avert Brexit if it meant Scotland or Northern Ireland leaving Britain, 63% and 59% of Tories would be quite happy to see those nations leave Britain. 61% said they would also be prepared to accept significant damage to Britain’s economy if we left the EU. 54% also said that they would be happy to see the Tory party destroyed for Brexit. Only 36% put their party’s survival before Brexit.

See: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/06/18/most-conservative-members-would-see-party-destroye

Commenting on this, Mike predicted in his article that Scottish SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would mention it in her speech marking 20 years of devolution.

The Tory death wish: They’ll have Brexit even if it destroys the UK

And now, according to the front page of today’s I, 28th June 2019, the leaders of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson, has warned that Boris’ determination to achieve Brexit whatever the cost – ‘do or die’ – risks breaking up the UK. She was therefore backing Jeremy Hunt instead. Davidson said

‘I want to see him [Johnson] make assurances that it’s not Brexit do or die, it’s the Union do or die. That’s exactly what we’ve seen from the other candidate in the race and that’s why he’s going to get my vote.’

The newspaper also reports that

Polling has suggested that if the former foreign secretary becomes prime minister it could boost support for Scottish independence. (p.6).

Mike reported that the only thing that would stop the Tories from demanding Brexit at the first opportunity is the likelihood that this would lead to Corbyn taking up the reigns of government. But, he concluded

such a government is more likely if they choose a leader committed to Brexit at any cost.

And at the moment, Boris Johnson is the the leading candidate in the Tory leadership contest, despite his determination to force through Brexit whatever the cost. The I has also reported that he’s said that those Tories opposed to a no-deal Brexit will not get posts in his government.

And I’m not at all surprised that the Tories are willing to risk the break-up of the EU. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard rumours that the Tories were on the verge of collapse during Blair’s tenure of office. So much so that they were considering changing their name to the ‘English Nationalists’. And I do remember reading an opinion piece in the Heil, which considered that the departure of Scotland from the Union would not significantly harm Conservatism. This claimed that it was only recently that the Tories in Scotland had called themselves Conservatives. Before then they were called the Unionist party. But this still goes back to the period after the early 18th century union with Scotland. What would be the point of having a unionist party, if there was no union, and no real likelihood of ever reviving it?

It just confirms that Brexit is very much an English demand, and the Tory Brexiteers are bitter English nationalists, neither more nor less.

And it flies in the face of the way the Tories under Thatcher appropriated Britishness, its symbols and history. I can remember one headline in the Sunday Telegraph, unsurprisingly about how wonder Thatcher was, had the headline ‘Don’t Call Them Boojwah, Call Them British!’ I think it was a quote from Maggie herself. But the Conservatism she promoted was deeply bourgeois and nationalistic to its core. They seemed to waste no opportunity to drape themselves in Union Flags, like Tim Brooke-Taylor in his Union flag waistcoat on the Goodies, but without the comic trio’s irony. In one programme about Thatcher and the Tory party, her husband, Dennis, declared that his favourite song was Rule Britannia. Which he then tried to sing, only to realise he didn’t know the words. And then there was their infamous 1987 election film, which seemed to show that they had singlehandedly won the Battle of Britain. This showed old wartime footage of Spitfires chasing about the skies, while an excited voice declared ‘Man was born free. It’s our fundamental right.’ Really? I thought the complete quote, from the first sentence or so of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract was ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’ Which effectively describes the condition of everyone, who isn’t massively rich, under the Tories. The sadly departed Alan Coren commented drily about it on the News Quiz, calling it the Royal Conservative Airforce, and saying what a pity it all was for the Tories that after the War the servicemen all came back and voted Labour. Quite. But it does show how the Tories appropriated British patriotism.

And it also shows the reverse: how the Tories demonised anyone who didn’t share their chauvinism and racism – who wasn’t, as Thatcher put it, ‘one of us’ – was really an evil subversive intent on destroying Britain. Left-wing members of the Labour party, who supported the ‘troops out’ movement, like Tony Benn, land who made the reasonable point that to stop the violence we had to talk to Sinn Fein, were vilified as supporters of the IRA. And the same people, who wanted to thaw relations with the USSR instead of ramping up tensions like Reagan and Thatcher, because of the very real danger of nuclear Armageddon were also vilified as Communists by the Tories, the Tory press, and the press secret state.

Oh yes, and if Labour got in power under someone like Benn, Foote, Livingstone or even Neil Kinnock, when he actually believed in traditional Labour values, would destroy the economy.

But it isn’t Labour threatening to destroy the UK. Corbyn and his supporters aren’t telling the world that they’re content to break up the EU or consciously wreak the British economy, provided they get a disastrous policy through. It’s the Tories.

They’re the real subversives and destroyers of this nation. Which is why they have to make up bogus stories about the Labour party being full of anti-Semites, Trotskyites and Stalinists.

If you want to see a genuinely prosperous, united Britain, that’s fair to working people of every nation in this great country, vote Labour.

Because the Tories are happy to see it destroyed and impoverished.

 

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

April 21, 2019

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.