Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment’

ATOS and the Nazi Murder of the Mentally Ill

February 18, 2014

atos-final

So many people now are struggling to support themselves after Atos has thrown them off invalidity benefit, that many see it as an organised attack on the very lives of the disabled themselves. If you read the comments to the Void’s posts about Atos, or those on Vox Political, you find the same thing said again and again: ‘I don’t think there will be any more people in a few years time, because Atos and the government will have killed us all off’. Some of the disabled people in the unemployment course I’ve been on have also said the same thing. People may phrase it differently, but the sentiment remains exactly the same: a feeling that the government is deliberately murdering the disabled as part of their welfare reforms.

The Nazi Euthanasia Order

The Nazi regime had a deliberately policy of murdering the mentally ill in its infamous ‘Euthanasia Order’. It was a secret decree passed by Hitler himself, and back dated to the 1st September 1939. It was implemented by Hitler’s personal doctor, Karl Brandt, and the Chief of the Fuehrer’s Chancellery, Philipp Bouhler. The major figure in the carrying out of this mass murder was Bouhler’s deputy, Oberdienstleiter Victor Brack. Brack was head of the Central Office, which handled, amongst other things, the requests for the ‘euthanasia’ of the incurably ill. Brack’s colleague in this was a Dr Hefelmann.

Brandt, Bouhler and their staff recruited a small group of doctors, who were in favour of euthanasia. These were then given membership of the Fuhrer’s Chancellery and granted promises of immunity from prosecution for their actions through Hitler’s secret decree.

The Reich Working Group for Asylums and Hospitals

The group and its intentions were strictly secret. They operated under the innocuous cover name of ‘Reich Working Group for Asylums and Hospitals’. Their real job was to select the programme’s victims. Under the Reich Health Leader, the former SS doctor Leonhardt Conti, and his subordinate Dr Linden, the head of Asylums and Nursing Homes in the health division of the Reich Ministry of the Interior, questionnaires were sent out, ostensibly for the registration of the sick in the Third Reich’s asylums.

The SS and the Gassing of the Disabled

The regime also set up a cover organisation from the SS transport fleet, The Welfare Transport Company for Invalids Ltd. Their duty was to remove the programme’s victims from their normal asylums to the institutions where they would be murdered. The main institutions for this were Hadamar in Hesse, Hartheim near Linz Grafeneck in Wurttemberg and Sonnestein in Saxony, where chemists from the Institute of Criminal Technology from the Reich Criminal Police Office tried out gassing them with carbon monoxide. The operation was financed through another cover company set up by the Fuehrer’s Chancellery, the Welfare Foundation for the Benefit of Asylums. Only about fifty people knew all the details about the programme. The directors of the asylums from which the victims were taken were only told that they had been transferred for special observation and treatment. The only Reich minister, who was directly informed by Hitler about the secret authorisation of the doctors was the head of administration in the Fuehrer’s Chancellery, Hans Lammers.

Opposition from Roman Catholic Churchmen

The euthanasia programme had to be abandoned in 1941 following opposition from the public, the legal system and the administration. The main opponent of the programme was the Cardinal Archbishop of Muenster, Count Clemens Galen. Galen was fiercely critical of Nazi racism, and had published a critique of The Myth of the Twentieth Century, by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, in 1934. He publicly attacked the programme in a sermon. Regarding it as a crime, he informed the civil police. His condemnation of the programme was so effective, that it enraged Hitler and Goebbels had to advise the Fuehrer against ordering the Count’s arrest. Nevertheless, the programme had resulted in the medical murder of 70,000 people, by no means all of whom were ‘incurably insane’.

ATOS Not Physically Killing Disabled Like Nazis

However horrendous ATOS are – and they are deeply amoral and horrendous – they are clearly unlike the Nazi euthanasia programme. They do not have the ill and disabled taken away by a state operated private company and murdered in a secret institution, as was done under the Third Reich. The person assessed remains free. All that is done is that their benefits are removed. And at least in theory the most disabled individuals, who cannot work are still supported through benefits.

38,000 A Year Killed by ATOS’ and DWP’s Denial of their Benefits

Nevertheless, ATOS’ administration of the assessments has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. ATOS have been set secret targets by the DWP to have a specific percentage of claimants thrown off benefits, a quota system that has been implemented across the system to cover people on Jobseeker’s Allowance. The number of people, who have died after their assessment by ATOS remains unknown. Ian Duncan Smith simply refuses to release the figures. Jaynelinney on her blog has estimated that it may be as high as 38,000 per year.

ATOS, DWP, Ian Duncan Smith and Esther McVie Refuse to Take Responsibility for Deaths Caused by Benefit Reforms

This indicates that the government is well aware of the number of deaths that have resulted, and are too ashamed or afraid of the public to release the true statistics. And while the system is not set up for the organised, physical mass murder of the unemployed, the government’s welfare policies are aimed at the removal of large numbers of them from government support, fully aware that for many this will result in their death. As they are not physically murdered, however, the government, the civil servants and ATOS employees and executives involved in the policies do not see themselves as responsible and so do not care.

This is disgusting and unacceptable. Although they have not physically killed anyone, the government’s benefit reforms have nevertheless resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. In this sense ATOS, the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith, the Disabilities Minister Esther McVie, and David Cameron and George Osborne are certainly responsible, and all the more so because they know it is happening and have done nothing to change the policy.

It needs to stop. And stop now.

Let’s hope the protests against ATOS tomorrow help turn public opinion even further against the administration and its lethal policies.

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Workfare Before the Nazis

February 17, 2014

Reichsarbeitsdienst

Members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi compulsory ‘voluntary’ work organisation used to end unemployment.

I’ve already blogged on the strong similarities between the Coalition’s workfare and the Reichsarbeitsdienst established by the Nazis. This, like workfare, was a form of voluntary work, which had been made compulsory and extended in order to combat the massive unemployment resulting from the Great Crash of 1929. By January 1932, the year before the Nazi Machtergreifung, unemployment in Germany had reached 6,042,000.

Franz von Papen, the German Chancellor, had also attempted to lower unemployment by encouraging the German industrialists to take on more workers. Those that did so were rewarded with tax vouchers, and allowed to cut wages by up to 50 per cent. The trade unions naturally denounced this as stimulating the economy ‘at the expense of the workers’. His predecessor, Bruning, had similarly tried to create more jobs, but had suffered from the hostility of the country’s leading industrialists, to whom von Papen’s grant of tax breaks and wage cuts were intended to make the policy more acceptable.

Von Papen was an aristocrat from Westphalia. Although he was formally a member of the Catholic Centre party, he was no democrat and led a government in which members of the aristocracy were so predominant that it was mocked as ‘the baron’s cabinet’. When Papen led the coup against the Prussian government, he was described as a member of the DNVP, the Conservative Deutsche National Volkspartei. The Prussian government was led by three of the main democratic parties, the Socialist SPD, the Roman Catholic Centre Party and the DDP, one of the German Liberal parties. They were brought down by a referendum organised by the DNVP, the Nazis and the paramilitary Stahlhelm. Before this, Papen, and his predecessor, Bruning, had seen the exclusion from power of first the SPD and then the Catholic Centre Party, until only the parties of the Right remained.

This is another point of similarity to contemporary Britain. The Coalition is similarly aristocratic, with Cameron, Clegg and Osborne all true, blue-blooded, Eton-educated members of the aristocracy. They have similarly come to power in a right-wing coalition that has been brought to power through an international financial crisis. They have also tried, albeit ostensibly, to solve the problem of unemployment through a series of measures including cut wages, and indeed, no wages at all, for the unemployed compulsorily placed in the Work Programme.

Those measures were harsh and unjust then, just as they are harsh and unjust now. Workfare, like its Nazi and Weimar predecessors, should be rejected and genuine measures to generate jobs and give workers a living wage, need to be introduced instead.

From Political Apathy to Dictatorship

February 17, 2014

Russell Brand

Russell Brand: Funny man and bête noir of the Right

A little while ago, Russell Brand caused controversy by declaring that politics and politicians was now so corrupt that people shouldn’t vote. He then went on to say that he wanted a revolution instead, though qualified this by saying it should be bloodless. Both statements were extremely controversial, with Webb, the other half of the comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, attacking him advocating revolution, which, in his view, led to violence, gulags and horrific atrocities by the state.

These are all indeed dangers of a revolution, and were certainly consequences of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. They can also be the dangers of political apathy, of deliberately not voting, at least as used in the tactics of the extreme Right to bring down a democratic system they detest.

Hans Zehrer

Hans Zehrer: Extreme Right-wing Theoretician of apathy.

One of the leading neoconservative intellectual circles in Germany during the last years of the Weimar republic was based around the magazine Die Tat (‘The Deed’ in German), edited by Hans Zehrer. Zehrer was influenced by the sociological theories of Max and Alfred Weber, Karl Mannheim, and Vilfredo Pareto. The last was an Italian political theorist, who was particularly important in the rise of Fascism for his theories about the role of elites in shaping society. The early 1930s were a period of acute unemployment and frustration for young German graduates as the twice as many students graduated from university than there were suitable jobs for them. Zehrer was interested in the role of the intellectual in society, and shared their resentment at the lack of opportunities for them. He therefore urged them to abandon the Weimar republic, and drew on the experiences of the various youth leagues and Pareto and other political theorists to develop ideas about the new elite that would arise from these alienated intellectuals. He was so opposed to the Weimar republic and its democracy that he urged his readers to stand back from any political activity with the slogan ‘Achtung, junge Front! Draussenbleiben! (Attention, young front! Remain Uncommitted!)

There are parallels to today’s situation. Disenchantment with the political system is strong, with more and more people staying away from the voting booths. Employment prospects for graduates are similarly declining. Despite the massive expansion of Higher Education over the last twenty or thirty years, the number of careers open to graduates has not expanded, but sharply declined. As result, many students leaving university now find themselves performing menial, dead-end jobs saddled with tens of the thousands of pounds student debt. None of the political parties has shown themselves remotely sympathetic. It was Tony Blair, who introduced tuition fees. This was followed, however, by a massive increase under the Coalition. The Lib Dems are particularly resented for their complicity in this. Not only had Nick Clegg lied when he told the nation’s students that he would abolish them, but Vince Cable also declared that graduates should automatically pay more tax as they would inevitably become high earners. This is a fact that has escaped many former students, now waiting on tables or flipping burgers in McDonald’s. There is considerable alienation against the present situation and the three main parties, who are held to be responsible for it.

This hasn’t shown itself in a turn to extremist parties, however. Communism has more or less collapsed, and the BNP remains extremely unpopular. Other Right-wing groups and parties, however, have emerged, such as the English Defence League and UKIP. The latter deny they are racist, but are motivated by bitter resentment of the EU, to the point where they have been described as ‘BNP-lite’. They also claim to stand apart from the three main parties, Labour, Liberals and Conservatives, but are like them in that they share their Neo-Liberal economics. Indeed, they are more extreme in their enthusiasm for privatisation, free-trade and the destruction of the welfare state than the Tories.

In the Weimar republic, the alienation of the Conservative intellectuals contributed to the rise of the Nazi dictatorship. That probably won’t occur here, as truly Fascist movements are despised. What it is leading to is less voters turning out to oppose UKIP. And there is the danger that without an active engagement in politics by the British public, this will become the preserver of unelected, managerial elites. Those who would undoubtedly benefit from this are the multinational corporations to whom the government has handed so much of the administration of British public life and state. Atos as public servants are appalling. Atos as an unelected government would be unimaginably worse.

More on the Weird Psychology of Ian Duncan Smith

February 16, 2014

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Last week I put up a post showing how Ian Duncan Smith’s psychology conforms to the ‘drive to power’ identified by Nixon’s quondam psychiatrist, Dr Arnold Hutschnecker. As described in Alex de Jonge’s biography of Stalin, Hutschnecker

derives it from a painful sense of one’s own insignificance, a fear of death and the wish to have others die. It is associated with a low sexual drive and an inability to love. ‘It moves on the wings of aggression to overcome inferiority … Those whose power to love and consequently create has been broke will choose war inorder to experience an intoxicating sense of power and excitement’. (p. 510).

This seems to be a good diagnosis of a man, who has falsely claimed, amongst other things, to have a degree from an Italian institution that doesn’t issue them, and whose claim to have been an officer in the British army is also highly questionable.

laundry basket

A laundry basket, though not possibly the type IDS has been known to hide in.

Jaypot added a few more details to the discussion in her comment to the piece.

IDS is a narcissist and he enjoys the power he has over people’s lives. I truly believe that he enjoys hearing about the deaths of people as he can only feel enjoyment, and, perhaps a sexual release in his persecution of the poor.
Another emotion that IDS does feel is fear – he is absolutely terrified of everyone who is poor or beneath him, which has been seen on a number of occasions. One was hiding in a laundry basket in Edinburgh (PMSL) and one of the most famous ones is where he has the armed guards surrounding him when waiting to go into the committee about his “use of statistics and his waste of money on UC). Those armed police should NOT have had their guns pointed at anyone, least of all the small amount of people who had every right to also go into the committee hearing! I still think that should be dealt with by the police commissioner!
IDS is coming to the end of his failed “career”, just like his whole life has been one failure after another. Here’s hoping karma gets him and let’s hope it’s very soon.

Fear of the general public is another psychological trait IDS, and indeed Cameron and Georg Osborne, share with Stalin. None of them can be seen as ‘men of the people’ in the same sense of Hitler, Mussolini, or indeed, Oswald Mosely. While they like power, they seem to be definitely afraid of meeting the public except in highly organised and choreographed events. Until the 1930s, Stalin was very rarely photographed and granted very few interviews to the Soviet press. During the purges he was so terrified of the reactions of the Soviet people, that at the annual May Day parade in Moscow one year Red Square was empty of crowds, except for a group of children waving banner and slogans located a quarter of a mile away from Stalin and the other Communist leaders. All the cheering heard during that celebration of Communist power was recorded, and played over loudspeakers.

I similarly noticed that the Olympic Stadium was empty was David Cameron gave his speech imploring the Scots to stay in the United Kingdom. It was conspicuous that Cameron did not do the Scots the courtesy of addressing them directly in Scotland itself, but chose to make his statement in the London, the former metropolis of the British Empire. Furthermore, Alex Salmond has challenged him to a debate. Cameron has ducked this, saying that he will talk to the Scots people themselves later this year. This will, no doubt, be in a very carefully, micro-managed political walkabout, where hostile or dissenting voices can be side-lined or edited out to present an image of Cameron talking easily to an enthusiastic, or at least receptive, Scots public, rather than given the barrage of criticism and abuse he’s more likely to get north of the Border.

It also looks very much that Cameron knows that Salmond is the better debater, and is desperate not to lose face by being beaten in an argument with him in public. As for the general public south of the Border, it was very noticeable indeed that there was no-one except the media in the Olympic Stadium when he made the speech. If it had been Oswald Mosely, that stadium would have been full, along with heckling and mass fighting. This obviously wouldn’t look good for the leader of an ostensibly centre-right part, although Cameron shares Mosely contempt for the organised working class. And so Cameron stands to give a speech in an empty stadium.

George Osborne similarly appears anxious around the British public. One of my colleagues on the unemployment course I’m on at the moment remarked on how uncomfortable Osborne looked when he met a group of workers at an engineering factory on a political walkabout a few months ago. And so he well might. Osborne, like Cameron, is another aristocrat, who has nothing in common with the majority of the British people, and who clearly fears the reception he might get for his economic and social policies that are intended to shift the tax burden onto them and deprive them of even more public services in order to generate tax cuts for the rich.

As for workfare, Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav Communist leader and dissident describes why the Yugoslavs tried to abolish forced voluntary work after their break with Stalin. He also states that he objected to it, not just because of the hardship and suffering it inflicted on the ‘volunteers’, but also because of the psychology behind it. He writes

Soon after Stalin’s death, we abolished voluntary mass physical labor for youth and disbanded the collective farms. The initiative for the first came from the youth leadership at its congress of March 6 and was promoted by economists: youth labor was too costly and inefficient. I supported their initiative, though more for political than for economic reasons. I felt that voluntary mass labor was an outmoded form that encouraged quasi-military, monolithic thinking among our young people-thinking more akin to slogans than to freedom.

This does, I think, also go straight to the heart of the thinking behind workfare in the definitely anti-Communist, private enterprise supporting Conservative party. The Conservatives like the army, or at least, they did until the Coalition decided to cut their funding too, and have tried to impose a military solution to social problems. I remember how they called for the re-introduction of conscription back in the 1980s to solve the problems of youth crime and poor education. A decade or so later, and Michael Howard was recommending US-style ‘boot camps’ to straighten out young offenders. The same mindset seems to permeate IDS’ and Osborne’s workfare. The Nudge Unit has been involved in shaping the various unemployment forms and procedures to that the unemployed see themselves and their own personal failings as the cause of their inability to find a job, rather than the economy or government policy. And mindless drudgery stacking shelves for Tesco and turning burgers also seems deliberately designed, not just to supply cheap labour to their corporate paymasters, but also to break the spirit of the unemployed. We have seen just how hostile the system is to anyone, who manages to get a fulfilling voluntary job outside of the menial drudgery prescribed by the DWP or Jobcentre Plus. Remember the case of the geography graduate, who was told that she couldn’t do voluntary work in a museum, and that she had to work instead at one of the supermarkets?

Now the army states that its training is designed to mould the psychology of its soldiers. A friend of mine, a former army officer, once told me that the army tries to break you, in order to put you back together. As with all the rest of the government’s policies, the Coalition has adopted only the negative parts of this process: the breaking of the individual’s spirit. While they claim that workfare encourages a proper attitude to work, clearly the other qualities the army seeks to inculcate in its soldiers and officers – courage, self-reliance, initiative, are not required. If they were, there would be absolutely no problem with that graduate doing her voluntary work at the Museum. But all that is really wanted is demoralised, obedient drones for corporate exploitation.

The Coalition conform to the psychology of tyrants like Stalin, who fear their own people, and attempt to destroy them physically and mentally. Workfare, like the mass ‘voluntary’ labour of the totalitarian regimes, is another tool in this process.

Forced ‘Voluntary’ Labour in Communist Yugoslavia and Coalition’s Workfare

February 14, 2014

Djilas

Milovan Djila, Yugoslavian Communist politician and leading dissident

I’ve posted a number of pieces attacking workfare and pointing out its similarity to the programmes of forced ‘voluntary’ work imposed in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. A piece I’ve reblogged here from the website, Guy Debord’s Cat, has also reported on the government’s plans to use work camp labour in the construction of the HS2 rail link. This is another strong reason to oppose the link.

In addition to Stalin’s Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia also adopted a programme of forced ‘voluntary’ labour in the first years of the Communist regime after the Second World War. The Yugoslavian Communist leader and dissident, Milovan Djilas, describes the system in his book Rise and Fall (London: MacMillan 1985). Djilas was Vice-President of Yugoslavia and became President of the National Assembly in 1953. He was removed from office the following year for criticising the party’s abuses, arrested for ‘hostile propaganda’ and then sentenced to seven years in prison following the publication of his book, The New Class in 1957. This attacked the Communist party for becoming a new, exploitative class, which in its way was worse than the old bourgeoisie. Djilas considered that despite its corruption, the bourgeois capitalist classes had at least invested their own money in the businesses they ran. Its successor, the Communist party and its officials, were worse in that they did not do even that, just exploiting the state and its material advantages for themselves. Rise and Fall was Djilas’ account of his life and political career from his appointment as head of the Yugoslavian Communist’s agit-prop department in the new regime after the War, to his eventual fall from power, imprisonment and release.

He describes the Communist regime’s use of ostensibly voluntary labour in the following passages:

‘Reconstruction and renewal called for extraordinary measure. Arising out of wartime necessity, spontaneous workers’ efforts rapidly became important and even imperative for anything involving heavy, unmechanized work. Soon, renewal and reconstruction were no longer regulated by their own economic and human laws, but originated more and more with the state bureaucracy and its directors. As industrialization proceeded, labor shortages became the most critical problem. In propaganda and in official consciousness, therefore, renewal and reconstruction came to be understood as sacred, patriotic, socialist duty, in the wake of which came mobilization into “voluntary mass labor brigades” – a mobilization more and more forced. The police began to play a part of their own in the economy by supplying these brigades to agricultural co-operatives. They were composed mainly of peasants, though they also included convicts of all kinds. At that time convicts numbered in the tens of thousands. The whole system multiplied and spread, and who knows where it might have led had it not become more costly than it was worth-had we not found ourselves in a dead end of inefficiency and Soviet manipulation.’ (pp. 22-3).

Later on Djilas describes the wretched condition of the volunteers and the appalling conditions they were forced to endure.

‘Passing through Bosnia in the spring of 1946 or 1947, I reached the Romanija Mountains, to the east of Sarajevo, where I saw hundreds of people, half-starved and freezing, sitting idle in logging camps. Talking with them, I found that they were mostly from Serbia and that they had neither been sentenced to work nor had they truly volunteered. Although they were supposed to work for as long as two months, they got no pay, and their food consisted of soup without meat, plus half a kilo of corn. Such a listless, underfed force, unpaid into the bargain, could not possibly have been induced to work hard, even if the proper specialists had been on hand. I encountered similar “volunteers” elsewhere – in Yugoslavia they could be found all over. Upon return to Belgrade, I conveyed my impressions to leading comrades, most of all to Kidric. Everyone saw the disadvantage and unreasonableness of so-called voluntary labor, but no one knew how else our projected tasks could be carried out. Soon thereafter, Kidric and his staff figured out that the cost of it all, including transport, food, medical care, and so forth, exceeded the return. “Voluntary” labor was abolished. What remained was voluntary work for the young, as part of their ideological upbringing, and, on the local level, labor that was truly voluntary’. (pp. 143-4).

As Djilas’ book extensively show, the Yugoslavian Communist party was initially strongly influenced by Stalin and Soviet Communism, before breaking with them later on the in 1940s. Nevertheless, they recognised it was too uneconomic, as well as suffering it inflicted on those forced into it, and so ended it. Despite this, Ian Duncan Smith and the rest of the Coalition have backed its introduction as workfare in the UK, and George Osborne has proposed to expand it so that even those with no income through benefit sanctions will be forced to work for free. See the posts on this by The Void and Another Angry Voice. And like the Yugoslavian Communists’ use of such forced and voluntary work, there is an ideological dimension as well as commercial or economic one. IDS’ reforms are all to make signing on as humiliating for the unemployed as possible in order to save the state the expense of supporting them. They are also constructed with the deliberate intent of psychologically manipulating the unemployed into blaming themselves, rather than the government or wider economy, for their failure to find work.

In a recent article, Another Angry Voice has presented several arguments why Right-wingers should not support IDS’ workfare, and queried by the Tories still continue to back it.

IDS Stalin

He has also suggested a few answers to this, none of them pleasant. The question, however, remains a good one and should be taken seriously by anyone on the political right, who seriously cares about the sovereign rights of the individual.

Kropotkin on Globalisation

February 14, 2014

Kropotkin Conquest Bread

On Tuesday, Barclays announced that they were shedding 7,000 jobs in Britain. The mobility of capitalism around the world is now a major feature of today’s global economy following the globalisation of capitalism and industry during the 1990s. Critics of international capitalism, such as Lenin in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism noted that this was occurring in their own time, the late 19th and vey early 20th centuries. The German Marxist, Karl Kautsky, also remarked in his writing on the movement of capital from the imperial heartlands to their colonies and what would become the Developing World. The imperialist powers were attempting to develop their possessions and open up markets and sources of labour elsewhere around the world, with the result that the industries in their heartlands would inevitably suffer.

Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread also remarked on it, and denounced the way it led to factory closures, unemployment and starvation in the imperial countries of Britain, France and so on, and exploitation and the use of military force to quell discontent in the European empires’ subject nations.

‘The result of this state of things is that all our production tends in a wrong direction. Enterprise takes no thought for the needs of the community. Its only aim is to increase the gains of the speculator. Hence the constant fluctuations of trade, the periodical industrial crises, each of which throws scores of thousands of workers on the streets.

The working people cannot purchase with their wages the wealth which they have produced, and industry seeks foreign markets among the monied classes of other nations. In the East, in Africa, everywhere, in Egypt, Tonkin or the Congo, the European is thus bound to promote the growth of serfdom. And so he does. But soon he finds that everywhere there are similar competitors. All the nations evolve on the same lines, and wars, perpetual wars, break out for the right of precedence in the market. Wars for the possession of the East, wars for the empire of the sea, wars to impose duties on imports and to dictate conditions to neighbouring states; wars against those ‘blacks’ who revolt! The roar of the cannon never ceases in the world, whole races are massacred, the states of Europe spend a third of their budgets in armaments, and we know how heavily these taxes fall on the workers.’

The British Empire has formally retreated and turned into the Commonwealth, and Cameron has slashed the armed forces and their funding. In other respects, however, the analysis is pretty as true today as it was in Kropotkin’s day. In many cases, however, the massacres are now committing by the various developing nations for their elites to gain control of the sites of raw materials, so these can be sold to global multinationals. Hence the horrific bloodshed, in which over 4 million people have been killed, in Central Africa for control of diamonds and some of the precious metals used in the IT industries, including mobile phones.

Welfare to Work Hits Sickness Benefits

February 10, 2014

I’ve just reblogged Mike’s post over at Vox Political on the government’s plan to set up a service to the long term sick off benefit and back into work. Mike found the plans on the BBC’s website yesterday. They were also announced on the Andrew Marr Show that morning. Marr did not, however, provide any details except that it would help employees and employers get back into work, and gave the statistic of the number of days lost due to sickness. In fairness, Marr did actually say that we had the lowest rate of long-term sickness in Europe.

In my comment to the piece I’ve already stated my opinion that it looks like the government is introducing a similar scheme to long-term sickness as they have with disability and unemployment. The emphasis will be getting people back into work, regardless of whether they are fit or well, and the possible effects to their long term health. It’s supposed to be voluntary at the moment, but as the commenter’s on Mike’s blog have pointed out, this was also how Universal Jobmatch was introduced, and now it’s very compulsory if you sign on benefit. I also have absolutely no doubt that legislation will also be introduced to deprive the sick of benefit if they don’t follow the back-to-work regime offered by this private company.

And I also have very severe reservations about the competence of whichever company they choose to run this service. Atos’ questionnaire for assessing whether someone is well enough to return to work is, quite frankly, so unscientific that it my view it constitutes medical fraud. The doctors and other medical professionals that administer it are merely window-dressing. They are not required to use their own, personal medical knowledge or initiative to declare whether or not you are fit. The assessment could be carried out by an ordinary civil servant with exactly the same results. Moreover, Atos and its employees have repeatedly shown themselves to be mendacious. They have lied and lied again to meet the government’s targets for people thrown off benefits. What are the odds that this new crew will be any different? Any takers?

One of the best comments on the situation comes from Florence, who has posted this on Mike’s piece:

What about the existing “pilot” scheme that is compulsory for those claiming sickness benefits? SOund just like what they are supposed to be promoting on this “service” to the disabled and chronically ill.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pilot-schemes-to-help-people-on-sickness-benefits-back-to-work

The official site says:-

“People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits……….(they) will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit, to focus on helping them move closer to being able to get a job!

So there is a choice, – attend or starve? So no choice, then? It continues:-

“The regular discussions with healthcare professionals – which will be provided by Ingeus UK – will not replace someone’s GP, but can promote health support and help a claimant to re-engage with their GP if they are struggling to adapt to their condition. They will also signpost claimants to activities and information to help them manage their condition to improve their readiness for getting a job, and work with local services to provide a holistic approach to health interventions.”

So what will be the “help” to “adapt”?

Experience says it will be a form of crude behavioural abuse, sorry, help called CBT. We all know how the Nudge Unit has worked before in ignoring all professional standards about coercion to participate. CBT has been proven (in published MEDICAL papers) to be worse than useless for people with long-term illnesses such as arthritis, and especially fibromyalgia and other chronic immune system problems with associated fatigue, and depression. The main study showed that for the first few weeks of CBT all seemed much better in treated group but 10 months later the untreated group – who had been left to manage their own illness – were in fact much better, more able to cope with pain, and more had achieved better mental & physical functioning.

The most telling remark came from someone who had been referred for CBT for fibromyalgia (aka complex regional pain syndrome). She said that it was tantamount to physical and mental torture, and in the end she agreed to everything that she was expected to, including doing exercise programmes that were causing extreme pain & distress, just so they would sigh her off from the programme. After, she needed treatment for depression.

Crude abuse seems the right description. The government seems to have outsourced motivating the long-term unemployed back into work to various forms, which now ring them up at home to harass them, demanding to know why they have not found work. One of my friends has been subjected to this, and when he asked them what they were doing, the person at the other end of the line claimed that they were ‘motivating him’. No, it’s not motivation. It’s simple abuse. But it’s in line with a government that has no solutions except to blame and persecute the poor and the sick.

New York, 1975, Margaret Thatcher and the Coalition’s Britain: Same Script, Different Actors

January 19, 2014

I’ve started reading Anthony Marcus’ Where Have All the Homeless Gone: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis (New York: Berghahn 2006). Marcus is an anthropologist who did his Ph.D. research from 1989 to 1994, first examining the causes of the 1988 riots in Tompkins Square Park, and then as a staff ethnographer on a social work project intended to improve the chances of the mentally ill being able to get into and retain housing. Marcus’ informants were a group of fifty-five Black men, none of whom saw themselves as homeless. The book is an examination of the reasons why homelessness was a major issue in the decade from 1983 to 1993, but then suddenly dropped out of American consciousness. From being one of the most discussed and important political issues, it has vanished and become almost invisible, despite the fact that the numbers of the homeless are still rising. Marcus makes a number of fascinating and observations in his book the situation and perception of the homeless in New York. He makes it very clear that Reaganite economics is behind much of the poverty, and particularly blames ‘American Thatcherism’ for its rise. The book is mainly about the failure of the Democrats’ campaigns to end homelessness, however.

One of the important points Marcus makes is that much of the failure to tackle homelessness in US is due to the ethnographic construction of the homeless. Marcus describes how, when he was doing his research, he became increasingly confused about who ‘the homeless’ actually were. Did it include people, who only slept on the streets for a few nights a week, but at other times were in shelters, or slept at girlfriends’? What about the people, who were given space in a storage area, like a cupboard, basement or upper landing in a building for a janitor, in return for which they worked off the books cleaning or performing other jobs. Furthermore, many of the men he studied, like their White counterparts, could be described as ‘bohemian’ rather than conform to the traditional image of homelessness. These were men from middle class backgrounds, sometimes college educated, who viewed homelessness as merely a transient phase before getting themselves off the streets and into permanent, fixed accommodation. One man described himself as a poet. He notes that quite a few of the homeless in New York were college and university graduates, who were left homeless after leaving uni, and who were forced to move around, sleeping at friends’. Get ready, Britain! This is your future! With the rise in tuition fees, and many graduates now forced to find work at lower paid, menial jobs, for which they are overqualified, such as stacking shelves at Tesco or serving in McDonalds, I have absolutely no doubt that this will come to Britain soon, if it already hasn’t done so.

What struck me most of all was the similarity between the comprehensive destruction of New York’s advanced welfare system after the City Went bankrupt in 1975, and the situation in modern Britain. Here, like New York nearly forty years ago, the Coalition is demanding the destruction of our remaining welfare state under the guise of combatting the nation’s debt.

New York City suffered an acute fiscal crisis in the 1970s, which culminated in the City defaulting on its loans in 1975. The then president, Republican Gerald Ford, declared that he would veto any bill intended to bail it out. The government then placed New York City under the control of the Municipal Assistance Corporation in exchange for granting it the right to issue bonds to pay off its debt. The Municipal Assistance Corporation was a consortium of bankers and businessmen given the task making sure the City stayed solvent. Marcus then describes the consequences of this decision:

‘Their version of making the city financially solvent involved the beginnings of a larger ideological project that would sweep the United States, the United Kingdom, and much of the world during the 1980s. The New York City welfare state that provided free tertiary education, a comprehensive public health system, a version of the “dole”, and many other social programs that had brought New York City derogatory nicknames like Moscow on the Hudson and the Soviet Republic of New York City would be no more. As the US Secretary of Treasury, William Simon, testified in October of 1975 about the federal aid program that had been offered to New York City to address its fiscal crisis, it should be “so punitive, the overall experience made so painful, that no city, no political subdivision would ever be tempted to go down the same road”. Tens of thousands of layoffs, scores of thousands of job eliminated through “attrition” in the public sector, often disastrous reductions in health, firefighting, policing, education, and social services, and a tremendous breakdown in public morale followed. …. There is hardly a New Yorker who lived in the city at this time who does not have some memory of a family member thrown out of work, a favourite teacher in high school saying goodbye to his or her class, or some kind of deterioration in city living.’ (p. 37).

This had a disastrous effect on the lives of Marcus’ informants:

‘Many of my informants traced the origins of homelessness to the New York City financial crisis of 1975. They were from families that had depended on the vast New York City welfare state for everything from education and housing to jobs, summer recreation programs, and health care. Even informants who had been young children during the dark days of 1975 could remember adults around them panicking as mass layoffs and budget cuts changed their lives and forced them to scale back their expectations. I had informants who had grown up in New York City who remembered their first experiences of housing loss after a parent was laid of 1975. They talked about going from being “middle class black folk” to being poor. For most of them it meant a brief period in a welfare hotel followed by a move to a poorer, more marginal neighbourhood. Sometimes it merely meant moving to a smaller apartment and sharing a bedroom with younger siblings.’

Elsewhere Marcus described how this led to a massive decline in the quality of housing as whole neighbourhoods were left to become derelict, and the transformation of these areas during the boom in the late 80s and early 1990s when these areas became gentrified. This was the period when New York City’s economy and workforce went from being working class, blue collar manufacturing and industrial, to white collar, based on the financial and IT sectors.

The parallels to the British experience are strong and obvious. Margaret Thatcher, when she was in office, used the financial crisis the country had experienced under Labour as a pretext for a wholesale attack on the British welfare state. Now, 39 years later, Cameron, Clegg and the Coalition are doing the same. They have, however, much less excuse for doing so, as despite their rhetoric the crisis is not the result of overspending by Labour, and the debt is actually much lower than it has been for 200 of the last 250 years. This has not forced the Tories and their Lib-Dem satellites changing their tune, however. It’s exactly the same script, but with different actors.

Or if you want to put it crudely, ‘same sh*t, different +++holes’.

The Increasingly Authoritarian Character of Democratic Governments Across Europe

January 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unemployment and the True Capitalist Parasites

January 9, 2014

I found this piece on the Tumblr site, Visceral Surreality, which reproduces beautiful and often strange images.

Jason Read Capitalist Parasites

It’s a quotation from Jason Read, which states:

‘People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as parasites fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognised by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society’.

Very succinctly put, and increasingly very true, as we’re seeing from the examples of the Coalition everyday.