Posts Tagged ‘Totalitarianism’

Scientists for the EU Explains Why the Heaton-Harris Letter Is So Dangerous

October 28, 2017

On Thursday, the news broke that Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory whip, had written to the universities demanding details of the courses they were running on international relations, and particularly those on Brexit, asking for the names of the lecturers taking the course.

In this video lasting six minutes, the speaker takes you through the issues involved and explains the danger of a personal witch-hunt instigated by a Eurosceptic government. It’s clear that the speaker is a British scientist, who teaches at one of our unis. The blurb for the video runs

The letter from Tory Eurosceptic whip Chis Heaton-Harris to University V-Cs demanding “names of professors” that lecture on Brexit is sinister. What could the purpose of his efforts be, if not to make some kind of report to attack universities or individuals? For example, though the tabloid press? This is a classic totalitarian tactic, from Lenin to McCarthy, to politically go after and remove wider societal resistance to a government line. Universities are a common target to both left & right-wing totalitarianism because of their public voice. To drive public opinion against universities for political/power expedience is damaging both to trust across wider society and to the independence of universities. We already saw this during the referendum when Daniel Hannan peddled the notion that British Universities are paid off “sock puppets” of the EU and part of an elite, not part of “the people”.

Apparently, Hannan initially started by claiming that the universities would love it, when they were freed of EU control. When he found out that most were against leaving the EU, he then changed his tune to this populist, anti-intellectual rhetoric.

Hannan himself is a vile specimen. He’s a Dorset Tory MEP, and so, as the speaker here points out, like Nigel Farage is more than willing to get his salary from the EU. But he resents British universities, who only have a little money from the European Community, getting funding from them. The French philosophical feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, has also pointed out in frequent posts that Hannan is, or used to be, a columnist for the Torygraph Blogs. Not only is he Eurosceptic, but he also openly wants to privatise the NHS. And he lies so much that Buddy Hell calls him ‘the Lyin’ King’.

The Scientist for the EU also goes on to state that Heaton-Harris’/ Daily Heil’s anger that the overwhelming majority of universities don’t reflect the wider views of British society is wrong by pointing out that other parts of British society also don’t. Like the fishing community. But no-one tells them that 48 per cent of fishing people should now support the Remain campaign. He states that different sectors of British society have different views on the issue, according to the circumstances as it affects them.

Advertisements

The Mail and Public Opinion as a Mask for Totalitarianism

October 27, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces commenting on yesterday’s story, that the Tory Whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, a staunch supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign, attempted to intimidate lecturers across Britain by writing to them demanding details of the courses they were teaching in International Relations and politics, and specifically as it concerned Brexit. David Green, a professor and Vice-Chancellor at Worcester University, stated that this was far from innocent, but the beginning of Orwell’s Thought Police and political censorship. And he’s absolutely right. Heaton-Harris was joined by the Daily Mail, which then encouraged students to contact them giving their stories about how they were being indoctrinated with anti-Brexit propaganda.

Heaton-Harris and the Heil can both be fairly described as ‘the embittered Little Englander wing of the Tory party’, as one wag described the Eurosceptics. I’ve already written at length about how all totalitarian societies have tried to control education, the most notorious of these being Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, in order to indoctrinate their countries’ young people, and purge those teaching alternative views. Those lecturers and intellectuals, whose careers were destroyed in this way, could end up imprisoned in concentration camps and gulags, or murdered, along with the regimes’ other opponents.

But there’s also a further similarity with the demands of the Heil, in that these totalitarian regimes often hid their repression behind a façade of popular support.

The Heil wants students to inform on their lecturers. The Nazis also claimed to represent German youth, proclaiming ‘Mach Platz, Ihr Alter!’ – ‘Make way, you old ones!’ The history curriculum was particularly altered to show the Nazi view of history, in which Germany was gradually dominated and exploited by the Jews until the Nazis took power. The final section of this perverted syllabus, designed to indoctrinate German schoolkids with the notion that absolutely everything was going to get better for them now the Nazis were in charge, was entitled ‘German Youth at the Helm’.

During Mao’s vile Cultural Revolution, in which 60 million Chinese people were murdered, the country’s ancient traditions and learning banned, and its precious artistic and cultural heritage vandalised and smashed, children were encouraged to inform on their parents and lecturers.

These totalitarian regimes claimed to represent the ‘will of the people’. The Nazis used a plebiscite to show spuriously that the German people thoroughly approved of their seizure of power. And when totalitarian regimes like them banned literature that did not follow, or challenged their rule and ideology, they claimed to be doing so at the will of their people.

Mike and I had the great good fortune to be able to learn Russian at our old secondary school. And I can remember our teacher telling us during one less that he would be put up against the wall and shot when they invaded, because of a letter he’d written to the authorities. He’d been annoyed that Soviet newsstands did not carry western magazines or newspapers. He received a reply from the authorities telling him that the reason why ‘bourgeois’ western literature wasn’t on sale in the USSR’s newsstands, was not because of censorship. It was simply that the Soviet people themselves were against it. It was a lie, of course, but it was a practical example of how absolute, dictatorial regimes nevertheless cloak their repression by claiming that they’re just doing what their public wants.

Just as the Heil are claiming to do so, even when using the same methods of intellectual persecution as the Nazis, Soviets and Chairman Mao.

I said in a previous blog post yesterday that Heaton-Harris is a menace to democracy, and should go. So is the Daily Mail. It has tried to start a terrible witch-hunt against genuine free speech and free discussion in our universities. It’s a nasty, dictatorial rag, whose circulation should fall rapidly because of its support for the intimidation and victimisation of those professors, who don’t share its nasty, xenophobic views. This was an unashamedly populist piece of journalism, and it once again shows how hypocritical the Tory press is when they use ‘populist’ as a term to denigrate and smear Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

Kevin Logan’s Satirical Email to the ‘Heil’ Spoofing Brexit University Witch-Hunt

October 27, 2017

Yesterday, Mike put up several articles reporting and commenting on the antics of Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory whip, who took it upon himself to write to university lecturers teaching international relations, asking for their names and details of their courses. He was specifically concerned about what they were teaching about Brexit.

This rightly aroused very strong fears about the government trying to interfere in academic freedom. One university vice-chancellor, Dr. David Green, told Heaton-Harris that he could have the information he wanted, if he stumped up the £9,000 to study the course that all the other students have to pay. He was also quoted on RT as making the point that this was the beginning of the road to Orwell’s thought police and political censorship.

Exactly the same point was made by Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. Dr. Prentoulis also pointed out that it shows how weak the Tory position on Brexit is, if they have to go around trying to intimidate university lecturers. She also explained that she felt that, whatever her own views about Brexit were, and she said that she had campaigned against it, she trusted her students to make up their own minds.

Absolutely. University and should be an environment where young people are encouraged to be open-minded, to look at and evaluate for themselves the arguments and evidence pro et contra different views. And this, I would argue, is exactly what Heaton-Harris fears. He’s not upset at students being indoctrinated. In fact, he’s pantingly all for it. It’s just that he wants it done by right-wing Tory lecturers, who share BoJo’s attitude about ‘pinko’ papers being full of depressing predictions about how it will fail. Or Michael Gove, and his bug-eyed rant a few years ago about schoolchildren being taught the Blackadder view about the First World War in history.

As I said in my previous post about this, all totalitarian societies, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, persecute and carefully control education because of the threat it poses to their attempts to indoctrinate the young people of their states. It includes the control of school and university curricula, the expulsion of dissident lecturers, including Jews in Nazi Germany, their imprisonment and murder. Both Hitler and Stalin butchered tens, if not hundreds of thousands of teachers and university lecturers when they invaded Poland, in order to deprive its people of their intellectual freedom and independence.

All over the country lecturers and professors have been massively unimpressed. Afshin Rattansi in his interview with Prentoulis said that he understood that most of Heaton-Harris’ letters were thrown in the bin.

Others fought back by sending Heaton-Harris their satirical reply. Yesterday, Mike published a piece about how Peter Coles, an astrophysicist at Cardiff Uni, had responded to Heaton-Harris’ missive with a letter detailing how his course on cosmology and the Early Universe, (EU), also included Brexit, culminating in the line “Unanswered Questions: Limitations of the Standard Model and why the fuck are we doing Brexit?” </em

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/26/astrophysics-professors-response-to-universities-brexit-letter-is-sharp-and-hilarious/

The Daily Heil has taken up Heaton-Harris’ cause, and asked students to send in their stories about anti-Brexit propaganda being taught by university lecturers. And so other academics and members of the general public have also joined in, and today Mike has put up a selection from them.

These have included Steve Peers, professor of law at the University of Essex, whose letter begins ‘Dear Witchfinder General’.

‘Aaron’ sent a message beginning

“I attend updog university, and we are being taught anti Brexit propaganda by our left wing professors. We are now made to gather in the study hall once a week and salute an EU flag whilst the professor slowly eats a croissant.”

Will Davies said that his lecturer in Communism and Masculinities stated he believes in free speech, but only if its in a language other than English.

Tom Goodwin sent an email about how outrageous it was that his lecturers could not give him a straight answer about Brussels and curved bananas, and how infuriating it was that they should fill his head with true facts.

And Tim Brudenell sent in a piece about how he was just saluting the National Anthem, when his history lecturer broke in and forced him to eat a copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

It isn’t just the Heil that is publishing demonstrably fake, sensational news. It’s also the Torygraph, which is just as frantically Eurosceptic and hysterical about the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn. Yesterday the weirdo Barclay brothers’ esteemed organ and the Heil ran the story that Lola Olufemi, Cambridge University’s Student Union’s women’s officer, had written a letter demanding that the university replace White authors with Black and Ethnic Minority writers to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum.

This was another bogus story. Olufemi had made no such demand. Yes, she wanted the curriculum ‘decolonised’, but certainly did not say that she wanted White authors replaced. It’s probably no coincidence that both papers have published piece after endless piece protesting against non-White immigration and the growth of communities of ‘unassimilable’ immigrants.

Mike’s article makes the wider point that these newspaper are effectively shooting down the mainstream press’ claim to be trustworthy and reliable, as opposed to all the fake news coming out of the alternative media outlets, like the Internet. He states that their reputation is now in such a sorry state, that people are starting to lampoon them, and includes a piece satirising the Daily Mail, which claims that Jeremy Corbyn met Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination of JFK. Which he didn’t, being only 14 at the time.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/27/right-wing-press-stories-have-backfired-so-often-people-are-creating-their-own-spoofs/

One of the funny spoof replies sent to the Mail I’ve seen is by Kevin Logan, a male feminist on YouTube, who posted this reply. Logan’s a male feminist and supporter of transgender rights, as well as being very anti-racist. His channel consists of a number of videos, such as his series ‘The Descent of the Manosphere’, in which he tackles the outrageous far-right, and the very genuine misogyny, homophobia and racism by members of the Alt-Right and their fellow travellers on YouTube. He’s very highly educated, but is quite a sweary bloke, so be warned: the video below contains ‘colourful metaphors’, as Spock describes foul language in Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. (Gratuitous reference for Trekkers).

His spoof letter to the Heil reads

Hello there fellow patriots at the Daily Mail.

I am writing to you concerning the troublingly pro-cheese eating surrender monkey turn of events in the Gimpology Department of Wankchester University, where I am currently reading stuff and that.

I was in my compulsory ‘Communism and Being Gay Studies’ lecture on Thursday of last week and was astonished at the behaviour of my lecturer, professor Karl Stalin Trotsky-Marx, Ph.D.

Upon my raising concerns about his reMOANer sympathies, he made me stand at the front of the class and masturbate furiously while singing ‘les Marseillaise’, which is normally only something we are forced to do during our compulsory ‘White Genocide 101’ classes. Can you please send help, as I am afraid my support of Brexit may end up with me getting bummed by a German called Helmut.

Yours spiffingly, Herbert P. Wiff-Waff.

Yes, I realise swearing ain’t big or clever. But it is the reply the Heil deserves. Just as it deserves all the others.

As for Mr. Heaton-Harris, he claimed that he was writing the letters not to intimidate, but because he was writing a book on the issue. This just makes it worse, as it means that he was using his position in government for his own pecuniary gain. Which is fraud.

Now it seems that the Honourable Gentleman, and I use the words loosely, has mysteriously disappeared, just as he should and his wretched government should have done long ago. All correspondence addressed to him on this issue is now going to Tory Central Office.

And I hope it won’t be too long before these closet totalitarians follow him into obscurity.

RT on the Tory Whip Requesting Information on Universities and Lecturers Teaching Brexit

October 25, 2017

Mike’s already put up an article about this yesterday, including the reply from one outraged lecturer disgusted with this transparent attempt to intimidate and control British universities and the way Brexit is taught and discussed.

One of the Tory Whips, Chris Heaton-Harris, took it upon himself to write to university vice-chancellors demanding the details of their courses on international relations, and specifically where it discussed Brexit. He also wanted the names of the lecturers teaching the courses, the course syllabus and any lecture notes or materials on-line.

This has outraged academics across the UK, who have denounced it as McCarthyism. The programme quotes Professor David Green, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Worcester, who states that the letter appears innocent, but is in fact very dangerous. He states that it is the first step to the thought police, the political censor, naturally justified as the will of the people.

Heaton-Harris responded by claiming that Theresa May always believed in the independence of the universities and in free and vigorous academic debate. As Mike points out in his article, however, this guy is a Tory MP and so nobody believes him. RT has as their guest Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. And she calls this exactly what it is: a witch-hunt and intimidation. She states that the letters are intended to intimidate because they come on official House of Parliament notepaper, and ask for the names of the lecturers, as well as details of their coursework. When the interviewer asks if this is really so, as the MP has no authority to demand such information and most of the letters, he’s heard, were filed in the bin. She responds by saying that he could have found out that information simply by going on line. He didn’t. She states that it is an attempt by the government to control the debate. It shows how weak the government’s own position is – and the programme notes that Heaton-Harris is very much a supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign. She also says that it shows the government’s own, entirely false view of history, when they were in the universities and could control what was discussed and taught.

When the lecturer asks about how she can teach the subject impartiality, she responds by saying that students are mature enough to form their own opinions about what they’re being taught. And yes, she is a campaigner, and supports ‘Remain’, but students are able to form their own opinions on the subject.

Mike in his piece on it has the succinct reply from David Green, who told the Whip that he is at complete liberty to see what and how the subject is taught at his university. All he has to do is enroll and pay the £9,000 a year tuition fees the other students have to pay.


http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/24/tory-mp-demands-details-of-university-lectures-on-brexit-this-lecturers-response-is-perfect/

In fact, educators in schools and universities are specifically prevented by law from indoctrinating students. They have to be impartial. And in situations, where they are required to make a statement concerning a political or religious belief or issue, they have to state that it is what they believe. They cannot present their opinions as objective truth.

And I would think that the majority of British teachers and lecturers take this requirement very seriously. I can remember hearing from some of the other graduate students at Bristol that they were surprised to find that some of their lecturers had very strong personal beliefs on political issues, when their conduct in class was completely impartial. I realise that some lecturers are much less reticent about making their personal beliefs known to their class, and that academic discussion is all about forming beliefs and testing them through the weight of evidence. And I can certainly remember some lecturers in the past, who made no secret of their opinions in politics and religion. But Tony Blair’s government passed legislation to prevent indoctrination. And some students, at least, have absolutely no hesitation about making their own minds up about what they’re being taught, as Dr. Prentoulis makes clear. And in my experience also, parents may also been extremely concerned about what their children are taught at universities. So really, Heaton-Harris has no cause to try to intimidate lecturers and other educators, who should be allowed to do what they want to do: educate.

Way back in the 1980s I can remember Stephen Fry giving a rather good little talk on the radio attacking Thatcher’s policy towards education. Fry explained that the British words ‘education’ and ‘education’ come from the Latin ‘educare’, which literally means ‘to lead out’. It was all about bringing forth and developing the pupils’ and students’ own abilities, ideas and talents. But the Tories don’t want this. They want instruction instead. Instead of an intelligent, questioning workforce, they want a society of compliant drones that will have the necessary skills to work for their masters in industry, but no more. They do not want questioning minds, that are keen to decide for themselves and form their own opinions. We’ve already seen that in the way Gove went off and demanded that schools teach the received Tory version of the First World War, not Blackadder Goes Forth. Mike wrote a very good reply to that, pointing out that he was mistaking comedy for history, when Blackadder was very much comedy and did not pretend otherwise. But Blackadder was based on a real view of history supported by evidence, even if it is one with which Gove disagreed.

As for Heaton-Harris himself, he should resign. Prof. Green and Dr. Prentoulis are right: it is intimidation, and a very transparent attempt to control what is taught, as well as make educators frightened for their jobs. Totalitarian regimes always try to control what is taught in schools and universities. This was very explicit in Nazi Germany and the Communist bloc. One of the first things the Nazis did as part of their seizure of power was to ‘coordinate’ the universities, and force out Jews, Communists and anybody else, who dared to teach material they didn’t like. This included established scientific fact, like Relativity. That couldn’t be correct, ’cause Einstein was Jewish. Another victim of this purge was the Jewish mathematician David Hilbert, who was one of the great mathematical geniuses of the 20th century. But his ideas were also forbidden because he was Jewish. The resulting purge of intellectuals left Germany academic life and culture seriously impoverished, and enriched America, where many of those purged fled.

And when Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia conquered the peoples of Europe during the Second World War, they had a deliberate policy of imprisoning and murdering those nations’ intellectuals, in order to destroy any independent academic or intellectual life. This was particularly brutal in eastern Europe. In Poland, for example, tens of thousands of teachers and lecturers were imprisoned and shot because of the threat genuine free speech and discussion poses to all totalitarians and autocrats.

The same policies are pursued today by dictators and autocratic regimes around the world. These include Israel, where it is illegal to teach anything about the Palestinians’ connection to their native land. This harsh atmosphere of intellectual repression also extends to Jewish Israelis. Tony Greenstein reported a few days ago that Netanyahu’s government is trying to outlaw Breaking the Silence, a civil rights group comprising ex-squaddies, who talk about the massacres and atrocities of Palestinians they have witnessed and taken part in.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/israel-moves-another-step-nearer-being.html

Genuinely free academic discussion, debate and inquiry is one of the cornerstones of democracy and at the heart of any vital national intellectual and cultural life. Government has absolutely no business trying to censor and control political debate. By trying to do so, Heaton-Harris has shown that he is a positive danger to democracy. He should apologise and resign. Immediately.

Wartime Conference on Science, Philosophy, Religion and Democracy

March 12, 2017

I found a copy of the 1942 book, Science, Philosophy and Religion: Second Symposium, over a decade ago now in a secondhand bookshop in Totnes in Devon. As the above title page states, this comes from a conference on science, philosophy and religion and their relation to the democratic way of life, held in New York in 1942. The conference was held at Columbia University and was the successor to the first symposium, held a year earlier. The book was a collection of papers by leading members of the above disciplines, edited by Lyman Bryson and Louis Finkelstein. These were intended to show how these areas of research and experience supported democracy against the advance of the totalitarian regimes in Europe.

The volume has the following contents

I Democracy’s Challenge to the Scientist, by Caryl P. Haskins;
II Democracy and the Natural Science, Karl F. Herzfeld;
III Some Comments on Science and Faith, Hudson Hoagland;
IV The Comparative Study of Culture of the Purposive Cultivation of Democratic Values, by Margaret Mead;
V The Basis for Faith in Democracy, Max Schoen.
VI Pragmatism, Religion and Education, John L. Childs;
VII Liberal Education and Democracy;
VIII A Philosophy of Democratic Defense, Charles Hartshorne;
IX The Role of Law in a Democracy, Frank E. Horack, Jr.
X Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy;
XI, Empiricism, Religion and Democracy, Charles W. Morris;
XII Philosophical Implications of the Prevalent Conception of Democracy;
XIII The Spiritual Basis of Democracy, by the Princeton Group;
XIV Thomism and Democracy, by Yves R. Simon.
XV Democracy and the Rights of Man, Paul Weiss.
XVI The Stake of Art in the Present Crisis, George Boas.
XVIII An Approach to the Study of History, William G. Constable;
XIX Literature and the Present Crisis, Joseph Wood Krutch.
XX How Long is the Emergency, Mark Van Doren.
XXI Democratic Culture in the Light of Modern Poetry.
XXII Democratic Aspirations in Talmudic Judaism, Ben Zion Bokser.
XXIII Democracy in the Hebrew-Christian Tradition; Old and New Testaments, Millar Burrows;
XXIV Christianity and Democracy from the Point of View of Systematic Christian Theology, Nels F.S. Ferre;
XXV Philosophical Foundations of Religion and Democracy, Willliam O’Meara;
XXVI The Patristic Christian Ethos and Democracy, Albert C. Outler.

There is also a section of addresses. These are

I The Faith and Philosophy of Democratic Government, A.A. Berle, Jr.
II The Function of Law in a Democratic Society, Charles E. Clark.
III The Artist and the Democratic Way of Life, Walter Pach.
IV Democracy in Our Times, M.L. Wilson.
V The Religious Background of Democratic Ideas, Simon Greenberg, Clarence Mannion, Luther A. Weigle.

I’ve dug it out again as I believe very strongly that this symposium and its wisdom is needed again with the current stagnation of democracy and the rise of Trump in America, UKIP in Britain and the parties of the extreme right in Europe. The basis of democracy in the West has been gradually undermined over the last 30-odd years, ever since the election of Thatcher and Reagan. Successive governments in Britain and America have been determined to work for the benefit of rich, corporate paymasters against the poor and middle class. There has been a massive redistribution of wealth upwards, as welfare services have been slashed and outsourced, industries privatised and closed down, and public utilities sold off. As wages have stagnated, the corporate elite have seen their pay grossly inflated. Their taxes have been cut, while those for the poor have actually been increased.

As a result of this concentration on the demands of corporate political donors, recent studies by Harvard University and the Economist have concluded that America is no longer a full democracy. It is a ‘flawed democracy’, or even oligarchy.

At the same time governments in Britain and America have also supported the massive expansion of the surveillance state under the pretext of countering terrorism. At the same time, the rights of workers to strike, and ordinary people to protest, have been curtailed. David Cameron’s Tory administration tried to introduce a series of reforms to block street demonstrations and protests under the guise of preventing residents for suffering the nuisance caused by them.

We also have Tory and Republican administrations that insist that only their view of history should be taught in schools. Michael Gove a few years ago made a ridiculous speech complaining about the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War taught in schools, while the educational authorities in Arizona withdrew studies of slavery and the civil rights movement from the school syllabus. Instead, pupils in that state were to be taught the speeches of Ronald Reagan.

Donald Trump’s administration is overtly anti-immigration, particularly of Latinos and Muslims. It includes members of the Alt Right, like Steve Bannon and Curtis Ellis, who hold bitterly racist views. Many of Trump’s supporters are White supremacists and Nazis. UKIP and Brexit in Britain have also led to an increase in racism and racist violence against ethnic minorities. At the same time, these movements have also promoted hatred towards gays and the transgendered. And similar movements are attempting to take power or increase their gains across Europe, from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the Alternative Fuer Deutschland in Germany, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, Jobbik in Hungary, and other extreme right-wing parties in Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia.

Democracy, tolerance, pluralism and the rights of the poor are under threat. The threat in America and western Europe isn’t as overt and violent as it was when the Fascists seized power from the 1920s onwards. But it is there, and desperately needs to be resisted.

Cameron’s Totalitarian Tweet

May 16, 2015

I’m not on Twitter, and this comes from word of mouth, as I remember it. It may not be entirely accurate. Nevertheless, if even the slightest gist of it is accurate, then it’s one of the most ominous and frightening things a British politician has said in recent years.

Mike from Vox Political last night read out to me a tweet from David Cameron, in which the Prime Minister announced that the state of affairs, in which people were allowed to get on with their business, provided they broke no law, had gone on for too long. The chilling implication was that it needed to be curtailed.

One of the most basic, fundamental principles of political freedom is the rule of law, under which the citizen should be allowed to do or think what he or she pleases without interference by the state, as long this doesn’t contravene any legislation. This is so basic to western ideas of traditional liberty, that I honestly couldn’t see how any British politician could make a statement like this, unless it was in the context of combatting extremist ideologies, such as radical, violent Islamism. I wondered if Cameron had uttered this as part of the government’s campaign to protect British children from radicalisation through a counter-campaign against the propaganda of groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda.

But no. Cameron was not merely discussing the radical threat of extremist ideologies peddled by Islamist terrorist organisations. He was speaking generally, in order to justify the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. And in so doing he had expressed the fundamental principle behind the great totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

What made Fascism and Communism modern dictatorships, what distinguished them from the despotisms, absolute monarchies and dictatorships of previous centuries, was that they called for the active support, involvement and approval of their citizens. We were taught at College that they differed from ancient Rome, for example, in that the streets could be empty when the emperor or dictator drove through it in his chariot. All that mattered was the supreme ruler’s safety.

This wasn’t totally true, as the Roman emperors put on a series of spectacles in order to win popularity with the masses, and to demonstrate the power of the Roman state. It was Nero competed as a charioteer at the circus, and why he entered the Greek cultural festivals in the south of Italy as a bard and harpist. He was also careful to make sure he had his own claque in the audience, to give them their cue when to give their master the massive applause he demanded.

Nevertheless, the statement is largely true. The traditional, Conservative, medieval and early modern view of political freedom considered that the monarch should have absolute power. This was partly justified on the grounds that the head of state needed the widest range of action and powers available in cases of national emergency. In the 16th century this was compounded with the notion that a monarch’s subjects had no right to resist his authority, although they could flee persecution from a tyrant.

Nevertheless, in England it was felt that law emanated from the king in parliament. Only the two acting together could properly government the kingdom. It was also felt that while the king possessed absolute power, in practice he should give his subjects the greatest possible degree of personal freedom and so interfere as little as possible in their affairs.

Charles I said as he was about to be executed that he had done everything he could to preserve his subjects’ freedom, but government was no business of theirs. By the standards of the Liberal view of political freedom, this is nonsensical. Liberal political theory, following John Locke, considers that political freedom consists of the citizens being allowed to make their own laws through the election of their governors. Under the older, Conservative view, Charles’ statement made perfect sense. Even if the king acted alone, purely on his own account, without the constraints of parliamentary government, he could still preserve and serve his people’s freedom through actually passing as little legislation as possible, and allowing them to get on with their own business.

This changed with the French Revolution and the emergence of the activist style of politics. The nation consisted of those who actively supported the regime and its ideological programme. This meant that every citizens was required to give their absolute support to the government. Thus in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia, the individual had to join the party’s organisations, which permeated into every aspect of society. Hitler declared that citizens shouldn’t be left alone, not even in a cribbage club.

Cameron’s demand that it simply wasn’t sufficient that ordinary Brits should be allowed to get on with their lives, so long as they obey the law, takes him well into the ideological territory of the totalitarians. He and his Lib Dem enablers have already established ‘secret courts’ to try those accused of crimes, the details of which are too sensitive for the press and general public to know. This has largely been justified under the pretext of preserving national security from the threat of terrorism. Previous governments have tried to prevent certain details from being presented as evidence in open court, and the identity of vital witnesses from being revealed, on the grounds that they were gathered by and were members of the intelligence services. The publication of such evidence, or the intelligence operatives involved, would seriously compromise national security and weaken the government’s ability to counter the threat of further terrorism.

Cameron, however, has gone far beyond that. This is no longer about national security. This is about drumming up and enforcing absolute support and unquestioning obedience for the Conservatives and their programme. Not to give your support, to maintain that people have a fundamental right to freedom of belief and expression, now appears to make you an enemy of the British state, at least as Cameron now conceives it.

Centuries of traditional British freedoms are under threat, even those predating the formal establishment of democracy. Cameron and his minions must be stopped from scrapping the Human Rights Act. If he succeeds, it’ll mean the beginning of a Tory despotism similar to that of the Fascist states of the 20th century. Remember, Hitler too stated that private industry needed strong, authoritarian personal rule, and Mussolini declared that Fascism consisted fully embraced the free trade economics of the Manchester school.

Twitter’s Censorship and the Totalitarianism of the DWP’s ‘Brand’

February 7, 2014

jon-woodcock

Jon Woodcock, Brand Manager of the Department of Work and Pensions

I’ve reblogged Tom Pride’s article this morning on his site, Pride’s Purge, about Twitter’s censorship of a parody account satirising the DWP, @UKJCP. This was done at the request of Jon Woodcock, ‘Brand Manager’ at the Department of Work and Pensions. Woodcock wanted the account closed down because

‘it had been set up with the deliberate and malicious intent to devalue and criticise the work of Jobcentre Plus. In addition, there are a number of rude and potentially libellous tweets aimed at UK government, elected politicians and the heads of large private sector organisations who are committed to working with government on reducing unemployment.’

Woodcock appears to be somewhat confused about recent developments in freedom of the press, such as those that have occurred within the last 200 years or so. His pompous statements about the malicious criticism of Jobcentre Plus, and the potential libelling of their collaborators in the private sector recalls nothing so much as the way dissenting journalists in the 18th and 19th centuries were prosecuted for ‘seditious libel’ when satirising or criticising the government of the day and its ministers. Robin Day similarly hated the government being sent up. He described the satirical sixties TV show, That Was the Week That Was, which blazed the path now followed by the Not the Nine O’clock News, The News Quiz, Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image and Mock the Week as ‘deplorable’. Woodcock seems to share the same attitude. Presumably he winces every time Michael Portillo shows him his collection of early political cartoons. As his comments show, he does seem to be the type of man who’d like to censor Hogarth, Cruikshank, Gillray et al.

Then there’s the problem of why a government department should require a ‘brand manager’ at all. This is another idea that seems to have come in from general industry management culture. Many companies are extremely jealous about their brand imagery, to the point where they become extremely possessive and intolerant of anybody sending it up, or using the same kind of image as it’s part of general culture. In the 1990s Hollywood produced a film about the Loch Ness Monster. This was all well and good, but the film’s producers then tried to shut down a website about ‘Nessie’, because, as the producer’s of a film about the Loch Ness Monster, they decided that they owned copyright to the creature. Woodcock seems to come from this part of commercial culture.

goebbels

Josef Goebbels: Minister for Public Enlightenment and Brand Manager of the Nazi Party

It is also very like the commercial branding used by Josef Goebbels and the Nazi party. Also back in the 1990s, the SF author William Gibson wrote a novel, in which the central character has such a gift for branding and marketing that they feel physical pain when exposed to products or material, which have a very strong, brand identity. There was some controversy over the book because of a passage, in which the character talks about the Nazis having a very strong brand image. Talking about the book on BBC Radio 4’s arts show, Front Row, Gibson said that the passage was inspired by his own experiences in Vienna. He had been wandering down one of the Austrian capital’s side streets, and came upon a shop selling Nazi memorabilia left over from the Anschluss and the Third Reich. Gibson noted how branded it all was, with every article carrying Nazi insignia, including the notepaper. Unfortunately, Gibson was right. The Third Reich was very careful in the construction of its corporate image and that of its numerous subsections.

From 1930-33 the propaganda section of the Nazi issued detailed instruction regarding the slogans, images and themes that should appear in their posters, leaflets and party papers. The following directions, signed by Goebbels, were issued in preparation for Presidential elections of March-April 1932

‘(a) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and all Gau Propaganda Departments.
… a striking slogan:
Those who want everything to stay as it is vote for Hindenburg. Those who want everything changed vote for Hitler.

(b) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and Gau Propaganda Departments
… Hitler Poster. The Hitler poster depicts a fascinating Hitler head on a completely black background. Subtitle: white on black – ‘Hitler’. In accordance with the Fuhrer’s wish this poster is to be put up only during the final days [of the campaign]. Since experience shows that during the final days there is a variety of coloured posters, this poster with it completely black background will contrast with all the others and will produce a tremendous effect on the masses … .

(c) Reich Propaganda Department
Instructions for the National Socialist Press for the election of the Reich President
1. From Easter Tuesday 29 March until Sunday 10 April inclusive, all National Socialist papers, both daily and weekly, must appear in an enlarged edition with a tripled circulation. Two-thirds of this tripled circulation must be made available, without charge, to the Gau leadership responsible for its area of distribution for propaganda purposes… .
2. From East Tuesday 29 march until Sunday 3 April iniclusive, a special topic must be dealt with every day on the first page of all our papers in a big spread. Tuesday 29 March: Hitler as a man. Wednesday 30 March: hitler as a fighter (gigantic achievements through willpower, etc.). Friday 1 April. Hitler as a statesman-plenty of photos…
3. On Sunday 3 April at noon (end of an Easter truce), the great propaganda journey of the Fuehrer through Germany will start, through which about a million people are to be reached directly through our Fuehrer’s speeches… The press organisation is planned so that four press centres will be set up in Germany, which in turn will pass on immediately any telephone calls to the other papers of their area, whose names have been given them….’

From Nazism 1919-1945 – A Documentary Reader, 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934, edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham, (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983) 73-4.

And commercial companies were all too willing to exploit Hitler and the Nazis’ powerful brand. After Hitler seized power in 1933 under the Enabling Law, numerous German companies began marketing their products using the Fuehrer’s image. There was even a brand of sardines or smoked mackerel – I forget which – called ‘Gute Adolf’ – ‘Good Adolf’. The Italian Fascists were also no slouches in this direction. The manganello, the club Mussolini’s squadristi used for beating up their enemies, also appeared in advertising and other popular art, sometimes even as baby’s rattles.

These are simply the totalitarian expression of Jon Woodcock’s concern for his department’s brand image, taken to its most grotesque and extreme extent, and similarly used by regimes intolerant of dissent and desperate to compel the masses to give them their absolute and unthinking support.

Woodcock’s and Twitter’s censorship of @UKJCP should be a national scandal. It is, after all, another assault on free speech by a corrupt and intolerant regime that is seeking every opportunity to stifle it through legislation like the gagging laws. It also shows the way corporate branding in the hands of government departments is becoming totalitarian in its scope and basic attitudes.