Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

European Democracy in Retreat: Austria Elects Nazi President

May 23, 2016

Today’s Mirror reported that Norbert Hofer, the candidate for Austria’s FPO party, managed to win the presidential election with a fraction over 51% of the vote. I gather that the presidency in Austria is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, the Mirror was worried in case it showed that the party was going to win a majority in the country’s forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The FPO is the Freiheits Partei Osterreichs, or Freedom Party of Austria. It’s an avowedly far-Right, Neo-Nazi, anti-immigration outfit. It was founded in 1956 by the former Nazi minister and SS officer, Anton Reinthaller.

I was also sent a Channel 4 News report on Hofer and his party from one of the great commenters on this blog. Hofer is a former aeronautical engineer and supporter of gun rights. He walks with a stick, having damaged his leg in a paragliding accident. The reporter notes that the mainstream parties simply don’t feature in this presidential debate. The Social Democrats and Conservatives, who have governed the country for decades, are completely absent, and Hofer’s opponent was a member of the Greens. In a brief interview with the reporter, Hofer states that Austria should offer genuine protection to the real refugees that need it, but the problem is the vast scale of immigration to Austria. The reporter states that the party’s success is a reaction to the increasing number of immigrants from Syria, as well as violent confrontations between the police and pro-immigrant groups on the Italian border. The report shows footage of just such a confrontation between Austria’s rozzers and a crowd holding placards with signs like ‘Immigrants Welcome’. He talks to a family of Syrian refugees in a house established by a former investment banker. She says she put it up to give refugees a safe place to stay. The family are all learning German, and all want to stay. Except for one man, who fears that he has no one to protect him, and so will not be able to.

The reporter also talks to Haller, a Jewish artist living in one of Vienna’s most sumptuous palaces. Herr Haller is a celebrated artist and intellectual, who believes that the current resurgence of the far Right in his homeland is merely another version of anti-Semitism, which has simply metamorphosed into islamophobia. He states that as a Jew, despite his surroundings, nothing feels more natural than to have a suitcase packed ready to be moved on.

The reporter also talks to some of the people about Hofer and the FPO during the Corpus Christi celebrations in Vienna. There, surrounding by dancing people, music and firecrackers, several young guys tell him they support Hofer and his party. In response to the question about which British politician they like, they say ‘Nigel Farage’, as they think he would be good for us. One woman also tells the reporter in German that she voted for Hofer because with all the immigrants coming in taking jobs and so on, she felt like a stranger in her own country.

The reporter in the above video notes how slick Hofer is and his sharp suit. His comments about Austria needing to provide a safe haven for genuine refugees sounds like any discussion of the subject from a mainstream politician. It seems to be part of the way the European extreme Right has become more mainstream by apparently adopting a more mainstream, less openly Nazi attitude, like Marine Le Pens’ Front National across le Manche. I am also not surprised that Hofer’s a gun nut. Quite apart from the notorious militarism of the Far Right anyway, Alex Jones’ bonkers conspiracy site, Infowars, reported that Austrian women were buying guns to protect themselves from Arab/ Muslim rapists during the mass influx of Middle Eastern immigrants from Syria through the Balkans earlier this year. The pro-gun stance seems to be symptomatic of the generally fearful situation in the country, where many feel they need firearms to protect themselves from the physical threat presented by immigrants.

The anti-racist, anti-religious extremist organisation, Hope Not Hate also have a piece about Austria on their website. This gives a brief summary of the Far Right in Austria and the various extreme Right-wing parties and splinter groups, including Hofer’s FPO. The article states that Nazism and pro-Nazi sentiments were allowed to survive in Austria because of the myth that the country was Hitler’s first victim during the Anschluss, despite the fact that many Austrians welcomed their country’s annexation by Germany. The article also notes that from the 1970s the state would not investigate Austrian citizens, who had been leading Nazis, and the controversy in 1986 when it was revealed that Kurt Waldheim, the country’s president, was a former Wehrmacht officer. In fact there was rather more to the scandal than just his membership in the wartime German army: Waldheim was also implicated in a possible war crime against a group of British squaddies during the War. It was only in 1995 that Austria also started paying full compensation to the victims of the Nazis. The FPO was in a coalition with the Conservative Austrian People’s Party – OVP – between 2000 and 2005, and so the country became the only European nation suffering diplomatic sanctions by the EU because of a Nazi government. The party has also been complicit in a series of corruption scandals.

The article also notes that the FPO appears to have infiltrated and manipulated the parts of the civil service and intelligence agencies, including the Office for Protection of the Constitution and Counter-Terrorism (the BVT). No official report on the extreme Right in Austria has been produced since 2002, and the ultra-Conservative student associations, from which many Nazis are recruited, has been removed from the list of suspect organisations. It also appears from a court case involving the Nazi Alpen-Donau.info site that Austrian Neo-Nazis have supporters within the police, the BVT and the Ministry of the Interior.

http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/country-in-focus/austria/

This is how it begins. Hitler started formulating his far-Right ideas when he was young in Austria. He states that he first became an anti-Semite when he moved to Vienna. Going through a back street, he saw one of the Jews from the Austrian Empire’s eastern provinces, probably the Ukraine, in a long kaftan, and recalled how he felt a stranger in his own country. He was also impressed by the mayor of Vienna, Karl von Lugerer and his viciously anti-Semitic Christian Social Party. In fact, Hitler had probably imbibed anti-Semitic and far-Right views before that. Many schoolchildren at the time were pan-German, wanting their country to unite with Germany, and despising the polyglot, multi-ethnic Austrian Empire, and particularly its Slavs and Jews.

Looking at Hitler’s career, and the origins of the Nazi party, it’s hard not to be struck by the impression that history is repeating itself, with islamophobia replacing anti-Semitism as the artist, Haller, said. It has to be stopped, before the West is submerged yet again in brutality, genocide and barbarism.

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Private Eye on Fraud and Corruption on Workfare Schemes

February 7, 2014

gogol-dead-souls-en

Gogol’s book, ‘Dead Souls’, about a man who mortgages dead serfs.

Last fortnight’s issue also carried this story about allegations of fraud on its workfare programmes.

‘Fraud Popular

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP0 has been trying to bury bad news about allegations of fraud on its various welfare-to-work schemes even though some were so serious it referred them to the police for investigation.

According to the department’s Report on Contracted Employment Provision, which was slipped out on the DWP website nearly a year late and under cover of darkness, in 2012-13 the government received more allegations of fraud by workfare contractors than in previous years. Though the report named no names, it blamed the “substantial media and parliamentary scrutiny” of bad behaviour by firms like A4E and Working Links on the Work Programme and other jobs schemes.

The DWP believed there was a “case to answer” in five cases, three of which were referred to police. Prosecutions did not follow because “proceedings were considered by the police to be unlikely to result in a conviction or were not considered to be in the public interest”.

The alleged frauds followed the familiar pattern of false claims for fees and falsified documents about what service had (or had not) been provided; and the contractors were simply allowed to pay back the cash. The DWP said none of the dodgy cases related to the Work Programme, but did not say which employment scheme was involved.

According to the report, DWP inspectors also found scant concern among contractors for properly protecting public money from misuse. Of 49 contractors inspected, 29 had “weak” or “limited” assurance levels for handling government cash. Only 20 offered “reasonable” or “strong” protection.

Not surprisingly, the DWP seemed reluctant to trumpet these findings from the rooftop. Though permanent secretary Robert Devereux promised MPs he would produce the report in December 2012, it was actually slipped out on the DWP website with no press announcement last October.

The Eye submitted a freedom in information request last July asking where it was. We finally received an answer this January – and an apology “for not responding earlier; no discourtesy was intended”. Of course, if a benefits claimant took so long responding to the DWP, an apology might not suffice.’

A few months ago Serco and a number of other firms were revealed to have engaged in massive fraud to gain government contracts. These included putting in claims for guarding criminals, who had long ago been released. The whole affair has more than a little of Gogol’s class work, Dead Souls, about it. Gogol was another 19th century Russian radical from the Ukraine. The book follows Chichikov, a Russian middle-ranking nobleman, as he attempts to get rich by buying up dead serfs from the surrounding gentry in order to relieve them of their tax burden. Once enough of these have been acquired, Chichikov plans to take out a loan against them, and then retire with the money and status as a true man of property to a country estate. It’s a grotesque satire on Russian society at the time. It was written in 1841, about twenty years before Alexander II emancipated the serfs in the 1860s. Serfdom is, however, coming back under the guise of workfare, with companies like A4E and Atos aiming to supply them, and a number of charities and big businesses all too willing to bid for contracts to employ them. And with A4E, Working Links, Serco and other companies committing fraud to get these government contracts, Dead Souls is now extremely relevant to 21st century Britain. Gogol’s novel essentially describes the same scam used by these companies to get rich by deceiving the government bureaucracy. It may not be called serfdom, but Chichikov is alive and well and the managing director of A4E, Serco and Atos.

Protest at its Last Extreme: The Bodies of the Dead accuse their Political Murderers

February 6, 2014

Stalin Famine

Cartoon Showing Stalin responsible for the deaths of millions through his famines

I’ve been reading the descriptions of the suffering of the Russian people during the artificial famine caused by Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture in the 1930s In Alex de Jonge’s biography of Stalin. It’s truly horrifying stuff. Whole villages were found dead of starvation, while those pitiful souls, who made it into the town suffering from scurvy, boils and sores were rounded up by the authorities and thrown into cattle trucks, to be taken to the edge of the town. They were then dumped and left to die.

De Jonge also states that the peasants had a ‘fashion’ ‘that will appeal to those for whom only the blackest humour will do.’ He then describes how starving Soviet citizens took the bodies of dead friends or even strangers and arrange them at the feet of the statues of Lenin erected in many Soviet cities’.

You can either see this as a ghastly, morbid joke by a brutalised and dying people. Or you can also see it as a last, desperate protest by people, for whom all other forms of protest were closed and denied. Stalin had absolute control of the media and the Communist party itself. He had forced out of office any and all Communist politicians, who had any sympathy whatsoever with the peasants, such as Bukharin. Bukharin was particular unpopular with the rest of the Communist party as he was a vocal supporter of the Lenin’s New Economic Policy, which established a mixed economy, and had made a speech to the peasants telling them to ‘enrich themselves’. Needless to say, after he was forced from office he later died in one of Stalin’s purges.

The pyramidal structure of Soviet politics meant that ordinary Soviet citizens did not have any political power. There had been armed resistance to the collectivisation programme. De Jonge states that in one area there were 150 peasant uprisings, as the smallholders rose up against the regime and its officials, who wished to take away their land, crops and livestock. These were described as ‘women’s rebellions’, and put down ruthlessly.

And so ultimately the only form of protest the peasants and other citizens of the USSR had against a regime that was killing them in their millions was to lay the bodies of the dead at Lenin’s feet as the last, most powerful, mute accusation.

There’s also another similarity between the Coalition’s attack on the disabled and poor, and the Communist apparatchiks who robbed and killed the starving of the USSR under Stalin. Both regimes blame the victims. The Soviet officials in charge of collectivisation blamed the peasants themselves for the famine, claiming that they were deliberately withholding food in order to bring down the Communist system. This accusation reached its most paranoid, ludicrous extreme in the January 1930 edition of the Ukrainian Communist magazine, Collective Farm Activist. This rag hysterically accused the peasants of deliberately starving themselves to death to undermine the Soviet state: ‘they have grain [but] deliberately starve themselves and their families to death in order to sow discontent among other collective farm workers’.

ukraine-great-famine-2011-11-26-11-31-19

A Ukrainian woman reads the names of the victims of Stalin’s famine in her country during a special ceremony to commemorate them in November 2011.

The Coalition and many of their apparatchiks at Jobcentre Plus and the Department of Work and Pensions similarly blames the disabled and unemployed themselves for their condition. They are able to work, they’re just feckless layabouts. At the last interview I had at the Jobcentre Plus here in Bristol, at Eagle House, I was more or less told by a young woman, ‘Arti’, that I should stop coming in as I was ‘not allowing us to help you’. She also asked me rhetorically if I was continuing to come in to make a point. She would have been brilliant in the purges.

‘Are you guilty?’
‘Very guilty, O Stalin!’
‘Then let the mad lice be shot!’

Cameron Pic

David Cameron, whose cuts to benefits have resulted in the deaths of as perhaps as many as 38,000 per year. Not as much as Stalin, but getting there.

I wondered if a far milder form of this protest could be used to protest the ruthless policies of Cameron and Clegg and their lackeys Ian Duncan ‘Matilda’ Smith and Esther ‘McLie’ McVie. People are dying in their tens of thousands now, in 21st Century Britain, due to despair and starvation as the Coalition throws them off benefit. The true figures are not released, and the extent of the deaths little reported by a largely Right-wing media. I’ve reblogged a piece by Sue Marsh from Diary of a Benefits Scrounger on her experiences of being bounced back into the audience, mendacious editing, and simply being cancelled on various television shows purporting to investigate the condition of the disabled. Benefits Street on Channel 5 was merely the latest of these. Her piece is very well worth reading, as she presents a ream of statistics about the cuts to benefits for the disabled that is very definitely not reported. Mike over at Vox Political has also repeatedly blogged on the right-wing bias of the BBC’s reporting on the cuts under Jonty whatever-his-name-is, the current gauleiter in charge of the gleichschaltung of BBC News for the Tories. There’s a real problem in that the protests against the cuts aren’t reported by the Beeb or the rest of the media.

Maggie Cartoon

Anti-Maggie Cartoon. The caption reads ‘Never have so many been robbed of so much for the benefit of so few’.

I wondered if one way of making the point that this Coalition is murdering people in the tens of thousands is use similar imagery to that of the starving in Stalin’s Russia. Stilloaks on his blog has a list and potted biographies of 45 or so people, who have so far died through having their benefit removed by ATOS. It seems to me that one way of waking people up to the way the Coalition’s policies are killing people would be to organise a demonstration, where model coffins or candles, with the names of some of the deceased, were carried by the protesters and laid at an image or statue of David Cameron, or, for real shock value, Margaret Thatcher. After all, she was the ultimate architect of the free-market attacks on the welfare state that Cameron has merely continued and extended. And as we’ve seen from demands by some of the madder Tory politicos, there’s a real cult of Maggie just as great on the Right as Lenin was for the Communist faithful. After all, one of them wanted the May Day Bank Holiday to be renamed in Thatcher’s honour. Previously they just wanted to be restored to St. George’s Day, so that the English can have a national holiday like the Welsh, Scots and Irish. So the cult of Maggie even trumps patriotism. The names and photographs of some of the deceased should be carried, read out and laid at Cameron’s feet.

I’ve no doubt that protests like this have probably been done already, but I think it really needs to be repeated again and again to make the point inescapable. If nothing else, it should show how closely the Coalition of Cameron and Clegg resembles another doctrinaire and murderous regime, which they despise so much and whose despicable utilitarian attitudes to its workers they fully share.

Stalin, Ian Duncan Smith and Terror as Corporate Management Technique

January 28, 2014

Stalin

Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, aka Stalin: Thuggish Dictator of the Soviet Union

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Ian Duncan Smith: Thuggish Dictator of the Department of Work and Pensions

One of the other books I’ve been reading lately is Alex De Jonge’s biography of Stalin, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1986). During his career Stalin is estimated to have killed at least 30 million Soviet citizens – though the real figure may be a high as 45 million or over – through a series of purges and artificial famines as he transformed the Soviet Union into the military and industrial superpower that was to dominate half of Europe and challenge America for world mastery for the next fifty years. From his boyhood Stalin was a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

The son of a drunken, abusive father, who used to challenge his son to knife him when beating him and a hard mother, Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, grew up dirty poor in the village of Gori in Georgia, one of the countries in the Caucasus that had been absorbed into the Russian Empire. The family lived in one room of a two-room house. The other was occupied by their landlord. He was short, only 5’4” tall, with an elbow left permanently stiff through a childhood accident. The second and third toes on one of his feet were conjoined from birth, and his faced had been left pockmarked through smallpox. This and his family’s poverty gave him strong feelings of inferiority. He soon developed a deep hatred of anyone in authority above him, and his need to dominate and utter lack of any feeling for others were commented on by his fellow students at the Orthodox Christian seminary in Tiflis, in which his parents had enrolled him. One of them remarked on how he was never known to cry, and greeted the joys and misfortunes of his fellow students alike with a sarcastic smile. Most of all, the young Stalin already was alien to basic human altruism. He could not understand how anyone could act kindly or generously to another out of the sheer goodness of their heart, without some ulterior motive. At the seminary he joined a secret Marxist discussion circle set up by some of the other students. He managed to split this between his supporters and opponents through his absolute insistence that only his interpretation of Marx’s doctrine could ever be correct.

He was also already an advocate of absolute, ruthless personal government. One of the stories about Stalin’s time at the seminary is about an essay he wrote on the fall of Julius Caesar. The history teacher had set them the question ‘Why did Caesar fall?’ Stalin’s essay looked at the question from the perspective of the organs of state power, identifying weaknesses and filling in the gaps where these could be strengthened. He stated that Rome’s greatest dictator fell, because he had allowed another source of authority and resistance, the Senate, to continue uninterrupted. The provincial governors opposed him, because they feared his power more than that of the Senate. He also made the mistake of relying on the support of friends, rather than managers, who depended on him for power and who could be relied on to do his bidding. As a result, he was assassinated by his two friends, Brutus and Cassius. When he was asked if his essay was recommending absolute monarchy, he responded by saying that it did not. Absolute monarchy was the control of the state by a single personality. In Stalin’s view, his recommendations were the exact opposite: the strengthening of state power through a single personality.

Stalin was eventually thrown out of the seminary for reading forbidden
books, like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Marx. He demanded that the other members of the Marxist discussion circle should likewise resign, so that they could concentrate on revolutionary activities and propaganda amongst the people. They refused, offering the excuse that they didn’t want to disappoint their parents. So Stalin denounced them all to the seminary authorities, who threw them out anyway. On their expulsion, Djugashvili told them that they were now free to pursue their revolutionary activities amongst the people. After this, the young revolutionary became a kinto, the Georgian term for a semi-criminal street hustler. His revolutionary activities included a series of bank robberies used to fund the Russian Social Democratic Party, the parent Marxist organisation which produced the Bolshevik faction, that later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

So the pattern of Stalin’s personality and rule were present from his childhood: feelings of inferiority, hatred of authority, utter ruthlessness and a need to dominate others, with a predilection for absolute power and the willingness to use violence to obtain it.

I can’t remember if it was De Jonge’s book, but I do remember that in the 1980s the Sunday Express reviewed one of the biographies of the monster. This was done as yet another of the ‘real truth about an icon of the Left’ that the Right-wing press runs every now and again in order to discredit anyone, whose views are to the left of Maggie Thatcher. In fact, Stalin had been discredited long before the 1980s. He had been out of favour in the Soviet Union ever since the ‘Secret Speech’ of 1953, in which Khruschev denounced his ‘cult of personality’. Moreover, the old thug’s fiercest critics included not only non-Communist democrats, but also dissident Marxists like Roy Medvedev, an historian and author of Let History Judge, which exposed not only Stalin and his crimes, but also his henchmen. The book’s Russian title is, if I can remember correctly, B Dvortse Istorii, which literally translated means In History’s Court, which might have a slightly different shade of meaning. Medvedev was a democrat. He presented to Brezhnev a 12-point plan drawn up by himself and other leading Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov. Nevertheless, he was a Marxist, who founded the Socialist Party of Russian Working People in 1991 in opposition to the banning of the Russian Communist party after the coup against Gorbachev.

At first sight, there appears to be very little in common between Ian Duncan Smith and Stalin. Stalin was, after all, essentially a poor street thug, who cleverly manipulated others to make his way to the very top of Soviet hierarchy. IDS is like the rest of the cabinet, a creature of privilege, who owes his position to the British class system. Nevertheless, the two share certain psychological traits in common and their management styles are very similar. In the introduction De Jonge discusses Stalin’s style of government, and rebuts the suggestion that it is somehow strange or unusual in the West. It is in the traditions of democratic government. However, it is much less unusual, and even common, when it is compared with the aggressive and ruthless management style of some company directors. These also rule by fear, though this is simply that of being sacked, rather than being sent to a forced labour camp or shot in the back of the head by the NKVD. Such chairmen are also unwilling to take advice, capricious, and surround themselves with sycophants willing to do and say anything to gain promotion, including stabbing each other in the back. And like Stalin, these company directors can turn their corporations into highly efficient, successful companies. De Jonge states

‘At first sight the country over which he and they ruled strikes Western observers as alien, as indeed it is when judged by the standards and practices of Western political democracy. However, when considered from a different point of view, much that may seem strange at first sight will strike the reader as surprisingly familiar. My interest in Stalin began many years ago, when I was in a position to compare what I knew of him with the atmosphere in a large British corporation, ruled by a chief executive who believed in management by terror. Everyone, fr4om the board of directors to the lift man, existed under the continuing threat of dismissal without warning, while sackings appeared to occur on a virtually random basis. The chairman set ambitious targets based on his intuitions, seldom listened to advice and never admitted he had made a mistake. He was surrounded by an entourage of sycophants who passed his management style down the line, subjecting their own subordinates to the same kind of bullying, with the result that the corporation operated in a terror-laden miasma of politicking, backstabbing, misrepresentation of personal achievement and the sophisticated ‘management’ of company news. Nevertheless, the technique got results, and while the chairman’s intuitive methods produced some spectacular failures, they could also be spectacularly successful. It was a world in which the dangers were colossal, but in which the rewards were commensurate with the risks.

For many years I had supposed this style of management to be unique and that those who had had the misfortune to know it were exceptionally unfortunate. However, I have come to understand that in the world of the nontenured, administration by fear, with the firing squad replaced by instant dismissal, is closer to the rule than the exception. Indeed, it appears to be the norm for any organization in which the administrators are not accountable to those under their authority and in which there is no job security. Academics tend to tr4eat STalin’s Russia as a savage and alien society that requires sophisticated analytic techniques to understand it, because tenure protects them from that perpetual threat of job loss that, with all its attendant office politics, drawn daggers and smoking guns, is part of the fabric of most peoples’ daily lives. They fail to appreciate that Soviet reality ‘begins at home’.

Now this reminds very strongly of IDS’ DWP. Let’s see, run by a bully, who governs by his own intuitions untrammelled by facts? Check. An atmosphere of fear of dismissal, with the subordinates passing this down the line to those under them? Check. Carefully managed news? Definitely check. Backstabbing? Absolutely. Furthermore, like Stalin the ultimate use of terror is the benefit sanction, in which the victim is denied state support. You can compare this to the artificial famines Stalin and his subordinates created during collectivisation, and which devastated the Ukraine in what has become known as the Holodomor. And people are similarly starving in Britain through Smith’s policies, and have died as a result. See the blog entries by Stilloaks, Mike, The Void, DEAP and Jayne Linney for this.

As for the personal psychology of the two, like Stalin IDS also appears to have an inferiority complex. There is, after all, considerable doubt whether he was actually an officer in the British army. IDS also seems to share Stalin’s intellectual vanity. Stalin became General Secretary of the Communist Party as the other Bolsheviks thought that he was too thick to present much of a threat. They believed that a Napoleonic dictator would arise after the Revolution to rule by fear. Unfortunately, they looked in completely the opposite direction, and thought it was Trotsky. Trotsky was, after all, the head of the Red Army during the Civil War, and was a far more sophisticated thinker than Stalin. And so they were looking in completely the wrong direction, while Stalin was under their noses carefully using his position to throw out anyone, who was not absolutely loyal to him. From being a thicko, who didn’t properly understand the niceties of Marxist doctrine – in the 1930s he was still supposed to be taking lessons in Dialectal Materialism – Stalin suddenly became the greatest genius of all time and all humanity, who not only understood Marx thoroughly, but had also personally solved certain problems in Plato. IDS similarly claims an intellectual ability he doesn’t possess. He has, after all, claimed to have a degree from an Italian institute of higher education, which actually doesn’t issue them.

As for spin and backbiting, it was IDS, who appears to have blamed one of his subordinates for his own mistakes. He regularly refuses to release the figures on how many people have died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, and delayed appearing before the Work and Pensions Committee for as long as possible. Like Iosip Vissarionovich from Georgia, he also believes himself to be above the law.

And like Stalin, IDS personally likes to appear surrounded by armed thugs. When he appeared before the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed policemen, who kept their guns trained on the public gallery, including disabled visitors and their carers. So IDS also has the old brute’s absolute contempt for the poor and most vulnerable in spades.

There are, however, some differences between the two. So far, Ian Duncan Smith and Cameron are not following Stalin in demanding mass arrests, and deportations to forced labour camps, although there are extremely ominous signs of something like them in Osborne’s plans to expand workfare. But the main difference is in success. Stalin was ruthless, but he turned the Soviet Union into the world’s second superpower. During the 1930s the country had an economic growth rate of something like 30 per cent. Vast industrial combines, such as those in the Donbass, virtually appeared overnight. The Tories, on the other hand, have consistently wrecked Britain’s industrial, manufacturing base. Osborne is claiming that we are well on the way to recovery, but this is only through a very clever manipulation of the statistics.

So IDS and his Tory party comrades have all of Stalin’s defects – the murderous ruthlessness, with absolutely none of the old psychopath’s capacity for turning the country into an industrial giant. And this is the man, who, as head of the Department for Work and Pensions, is in charge of the lives of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Way back in the 19th century liberal Russians cried ‘Who can be happy in Russia?’ Under Cameron, the question can be put this side of the Baltic. ‘Who can be happy in Britain?’

British Shell Companies and the Attacks on Liberal Journalism in the Ukraine

January 16, 2014

ukraine

Private Eye has long been extremely critical of the shell companies and the British tax legislation and accountancy firms that support them. These are companies that largely exist in name only, which are used as an accountancy trick to allow corporations to avoid paying tax in Britain by falsely claiming that they are resident, or owned by companies in foreign tax havens. It dates back to Blair and New Labour, but as with everything corrupt that benefits big business, it’s been taken over by the Coalition. Now, according to the Eye’s Christmas edition, these companies have been used for something even more pernicious and sinister: the attack on liberal journalism itself on the Ukraine. The Eye’s article ‘Tricking Kiev’ reports how a network of shell companies was used by the American-Ukrainian businessman, Alexander Altman, to wrest control of Ukrainian news agency, TVi, from its rightful owner, Konstantin Kagalovsky, a Russian businessman based in Britain.

The Eye says:

‘The battle in the Ukraine between pro-European reformers and the friends of Russia’s Vladimir Putin is partly a fight for control of the media.

Luckily for the oligarchs, they can rely on the acquiescence of TVi. Once a source of investigative journalism, it is now a feeble wreck thanks to a massive fraud perpetrated with the help of Britain’s lax corporate regulations.

As Eye 1344 reported, American-Ukrainian “businessman” Alexander Altman walked into TVi in April, and astonished its journalists by saying that he was now their boss. He locked out its owner, the British-based-based Russian businessman Konstantin Kagalovsky, and ordered reporters to stop causing trouble on pain of dismissal.

In a withering judgment at the High Court in London last week, Mr Justice Turner said there had been a “coup” at TVi, accomplished by “using forged documents comprising fake powers of attorney, board resolutions and board minutes”.

TVi’s baffled owner found that control had passed to a British firm called Balmore he had never heard of. No one could blame him for his ignorance. Balmore was an off-the-shelf firm, which Mr Justice Turner said “was in the precarious position of having beern served with a notice that it was to be struck off the company register for failing to submit an annual return”.

On the day Altman moved against liberal journalists in Kiev, Balmore’s annual return was prepared and filed electronically to Companies House in Britain.

The rightful owners’ lawyers secured an injunction in the summer saying that Altman must disclose information on how TVi had gone from Balmore into a maze of British shell companies. Robert Dougans, Kagolovsky’s solicitor, said Altman had refused to comply and was thus guilty of contempt of court. Even Altman’s London lawyers, Kerman & Co appeared to suspect that something unprofessional and unethical may have been going down. Internal emails, revealed to the court, show Sebastian Devlin, an associate lawyer at the firm, warning partner Carl Robinson that he saw a “real risk” in complying with Altman’s wishes. As the judge drily noted, Robinson was “unable to proffer any clear Explanation” on what Altman had asked Turner that had so worried his colleague.

Throughout the contempt case, Altman said he was the victim of a “set up”. He got out of bed one morning and found that he was associated with mysterious British companies. The judge was having none of it. If Altman were an innocent victim, “he would have made far more strenuous efforts to find out what had happened”. He “knew full well “why the companies had been formed. He was their “controlling mind”, who had retained Kerman & Co and handed them boxes of corporate documents.

The judge found Altman guilty of contempt, and will sentence him next year.

Robert Dougan, the victorious solicitor, told the Eye that despite the judgement there was still no guarantee that the Ukrainian courts would hand TVi back. “One of the reasons why people are on the streets in Kiev is because shady operators in and out of government can commit frauds and no one does anything about it.” As in so many other frauds, the fraudsters turn to “light touch” Britain for help. Dougans explained how he had found out for himself how light that touch was. “I decided to test our controls by registering my cat as a company director,” he said. “No one tried to stop me.”

(Private Eye, 21 December – 9 January 2014, p. 33).

This is a serious attack on the nascent free press in the new, post-Soviet state. The Ukraine is one of the oldest of the Russian states. As the kingdom of Kiev, tt was founded in the early Middle Ages by Varangian Vikings, who intermarried with and adopted the culture of the indigenous Slav population. Under its king, Oleg, in the 9th century it established relations with the Byzantine Empire. Oleg marched to Constantinople at the head of an army and after sacking its suburbs and nailed his shield to the city’s wall. As well as extracting tribute, he also demanded a number of agreements establishing trade between the Empire and Kievan Russia. The Byzantine Emperor acceded to his demands, and Oleg married a Byzantine princess. Later in the century, sometime after 988, the Kievan king, Vladimir the Great, converted to Christianity. This marked the beginning of the Orthodox Church in Russia, as well as the beginning of the Russian view that they are the ‘Third Rome’, after the Eternal City itself, and Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire.

The country takes its name from the Ukrainian word ‘Krai’, which means a border area. During the Middle Ages it was part of the Republic of Poland, before being conquered and incorporated into Russia. The Ukraine has produced some of the greatest Russian authors, including Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of the White Guard and the Master and Margarita.

One of my father’s workmates was Ukrainian, who finally moved back his native country to be with his family after the fall of Communism. One of my friends has also lived and worked in the former Eastern Bloc. A few years ago he holidayed in Kiev, and really loved the place. When he came back he proudly showed me the various sights he’d seen. Back in the 1990s there was some pessimism about the new, post-Soviet nation’s future. There has been considerable friction between the western Ukraine, which is largely rural and Roman Catholic, and the industrialised, Orthodox east, which has a large Russian population. Some observers and commenters feared that the country would degenerate into ethnic conflict and possible civil war, along with the emergence of anti-Semitism. While the country is clearly divided over the question of its ties to either the EU or Putin’s Russia, large scale conflict has been avoided. Indeed, the Financial Times was so impressed with the new state that in an article about it, the newspaper described it as almost a magical place, straight from a fairy-tale. The question of whether the country has closer ties to Russia or the EU is, of course, an issue for the Ukrainians themselves to decide. To do so, and to strengthen their democracy, they need a genuinely liberal, free press able investigate corruption and dodgy political dealing. Unfortunately, the extremely lax corporate legislation over here has meant that this is being stifled to serve very powerful, corporate interests.

The use of this legislation to attack Ukrainian free journalism also poses a threat to the free press in the rest of the world, including this country. Globalisation has meant that the world is now interconnected, and once international big business feels it can get away with something in one country, it will try and use the same tactic elsewhere. We cannot afford to see this as merely a problem for a far away country, tucked away in the former USSR. If it is allowed to succeed in the Ukraine, then it will eventually come here.

The Ballardian Totalitarianism of Cameron’s Britain

November 17, 2013

Last Thursday the Mirror ran a story reporting the Conservative’s deletion of their election promises from their website. They noted that this was the re-writing of history like that done by Big Brother’s totalitarian dictatorship in Orwell’s classic 1984. It was Orwell, who coined the classic statement that he who controls the past, controls the present and future, though he phrased it far better than my own memory allows here. The Mirror also reported that, astonishingly, Conservative Central Office attempted to defend their actions with the excuse that they were trying to help visitors find their way around their website better. The Mirror did not, however, pick up the similar totalitarian impulses behind this attitude. While Orwell’s description of the way absolute dictatorships distort and re-write history is well-known, this last aspect of such tyrannical regimes is far less famous. It comes not from Orwell, but from that old author of transgressive SF, J.G. Ballard.

Ballard’s novels and short stories, such as High Rise, Concrete Island, The Atrocity Exhibition and Super Cannes, are set in depersonalised, alienated futures, inhabited by psychopaths and characterised by social breakdown and savage, extreme violence. His novel, Crash, filmed in the 1990s by David Cronenberg, is about a subculture of the victims of motor accidents, who gain sexual pleasure from car crashes. The novel itself was so shocking that the publisher’s reviewer wrote a note about it say, ‘Author mentally deranged – do not publish’. Cronenberg’s film was so extreme that it sent the Daily Mail into another moral panic. Acting once again as the guardian of the nation’s moral purity, the Mail launched a campaign against it and the film flopped as a result. Many see it as a classic of SF and transgressive cinema. Ballard himself was completely different from the violent and psychotic characters in his work. Visitors to his home were surprised to find him living in respectable suburban domesticity, caring for his sick wife and raising his children. Listening to his cultured Oxbridge tones on the radio brought to mind a gentleman, who enjoyed a good malt and a good cigar, and whose favourite reading was Wisden, rather than the delineator of brutal violence and bizarre and extreme sexuality. Ballard is now recognised as one of the great SF writers of the 20th century, and his work has garnered respect outside the SF ghetto in the literary mainstream. This is partly due to the way it examines the role played by the media, including news reportage, in shaping the post-modern condition.

Back in the 1990s Radio 3 ran a short series of five interviews with writers, artists and scientists. Entitled Grave New Worlds, the series explored the transhuman condition. Amongst the guests on the programmes were the SF author Paul J. McAuley, the performance artist Stelarc, feminist writers on women and digital technology, and J.G. Ballard. The conversation got on to the subject of Ballard’s then recent novels, in which the heroes enter gated, corporate communities. Instead of peace and harmony, the heroes find that these communities are based on violence, in which brutal attacks on outsiders are used to bond together the communities’ inmates. Talking about these savage dystopias, Ballard stated that in his opinion the totalitarianism of the future would not use force, but would be characterised by servility and obsequiousness. It would claim to help you.

There is an element of this spurious claim in previous totalitarian regimes. At times both the Nazis and Stalin’s Communist states claimed to be somehow helping their victims. The propaganda films produced by the Nazis to allay international concerns about their treatment of the Jews, purported to show the victims of their deportations happily working on their new, luxurious plot of land in the special areas allocated to them in the East, rather than the violence and horrific, mass murder of the Concentration Camps. The Jews featured in these films were all forced to do so by the Nazis, the victims of beatings and torture before and after they appeared in front of the camera. Immediately after the filming was over, I believe some were taken away to be killed in the death camps.

Stalin’s propaganda for his collectivisation campaign similarly showed crowds of joyous peasants voluntarily entering collective farms bursting with food and abundance. Kniper’s stirring song, Wheatlands, written for this campaign, contains lines where the peasant subjects of the song declare that they weren’t forced iinto them. They certainly did not show the squalor and deprivation within the collective farms, nor the mass starvation caused by the campaign in the Ukraine and other areas of the former Soviet countryside.

Back in Nazi Germany, a group of shopkeeper’s in Munich took the Nazi’s professed commitment to the Corporate state at face value, and attempted to set up a similar corporation themselves. This new body was expected to regulate trade and prices. The result, however, was inflation. The Nazis reacted by dissolving it and arresting its members. They pasted notices over the arrested individuals’ shops, stating their offence and that they were ‘now in protective custody at Dachau’. This somehow suggests that it was for the victims’ benefit, rather than their punishment.

Ballard himself was a high Tory, who felt that increased legislation was stifling Britain by making it too safe. He wrote Crash while he was a correspondent for a motoring magazine. Driving along the new motorways, he felt the experience was too bland and antiseptic, and so in his imagination created a cult around a charismatic psychologist, Vaughn, whose members got their sexual kicks from staging the very accidents road and motor vehicle legislation was intended to remove. The violence in his novels, like Super Cannes, was a deliberate attempt by these societies to counteract the debilitating ennui experienced by their wealthy members by stimulating them at the most primal level through violent threats to their lives.

Now my memory of the 1970s was rather different from Ballard’s. Admittedly, I was only a boy at the time, but I do remember the road safety films. ‘Clunk Click, every trip’, with the vile Jimmy Savile, told you to wear a seatbelt. ‘Don’t be an Amber Gambler’ warned drivers of trying to rush through the orange light at crossings. There were also campaigns against drunk driving and speeding. Dave Prowse, the man behind the Darth Vader costume, appeared in one set as the ‘Green Cross Man’, helping kids cross the road safely. Alvin Stardust also appeared in one of these. Rather than the bland landscape of antiseptic safety Ballard complained about, these public information films traumatised a generation of children with images of mayhem, destruction and carnage. Cars were totalled, and drivers, passengers and pedestrians ground to bloody pulps on regular programming slots – usually just before Grandstand on Saturday afternoons. Rather than senses-dulling boredom, I’m surprised these films didn’t turn everyone watching them into quivering nervous wrecks at the thought of venturing out on the highway.

Despite Ballard’s own Right-wing political views, his observation that future totalitarian regimes will be manipulative and claiming to serve their victims, rather than adopting the naked use of force, does describe the style of Cameron’s own administration and its steady erosion of personal freedom. The ostensible rationale behind the Work Programme and Work Fare, is supposedly to get the unemployed back into work by helping them acquire the necessary skills and the habit of working. The terms and conditions imposed on Job Seekers by the DWP is presented as a ‘Job Seekers’ Agreement’, as if it were a bargain struck between two equal parties, and freely accepted by the unemployed, rather than forced on them through economic necessity. Esther McVey even had the gall last week to claim that the people suffering from sanctions on their benefit, were those ‘who refused the system’s help’. They were made to look like recalcitrant, who had gone back to recidivist scroungers, rather than the victims of a highly exploitative system that sought for even the smallest reason to deprive the poor of an income.

The papers also this week carried the news that the legislation proposed by the government to replace the ASBOs would also allow local councils to ban peaceful protests and demonstrations on the grounds that these constituted a public nuisance, or would annoy, upset or inconvenience local residents. It’s a totalitarian attack on free speech, but again masked by the claim that somehow people are being protected. Now the authorities will act to curb and ban demonstrations that may lead to violence or a breach of the peace, such as Protestant marches in Northern Ireland that go through Roman Catholic areas or demonstrations by the BNP or English Defence League that enter Black or Muslim areas. While the authorities’ actions against such marches are resented by the groups planning them, I doubt many people object to the bans on the grounds that the marches are deliberately provocative and would result in violence. Cameron’s legislation goes further than these entire reasonable concerns. Instead, they allow public protests to be banned simply because the residents in the area in which they are held may find them simply inconvenient, like being too noisy. The legislation’s main objective is to stop political protest. It is, however, disguised with the claim that it is giving local people the power to stop troublesome individuals upsetting the rest of the community, like the cantankerous pensioner, who was given an ASBO to stop him being sarcastic to his neighbours.

There is also something Ballardian about Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson’s own background. They were members of the elite Bullingdon Club after all, an elite society of the extremely wealthy. Even if they don’t go around beating, maiming and killing non-members as an exercise in corporate bonding, nevertheless they seem to have a shared contempt for the poor coming from their common background.

So Ballard was exactly right. The new totalitarianism does indeed claim to be helpful and somehow serving you, even as it takes it away its citizens’ incomes, their rights to free speech and assembly, and their pride. It’s just that Ballard got the political direction wrong. He thought it was going to come from the Left, rather than the Libertarian advocates of deregulation on the Right.