Posts Tagged ‘Vox Political’

Tories Now Want to Set Up Privately Run ‘Secure Schools’

April 10, 2021

This is really alarming, considering the appalling record of the outsourcing giants running the privatised prisons. Mike put up a piece yesterday suggesting a possible reason for Gavin Williamson’s absurd statement that pupils’ behaviour had got worse during the lockdown and absence from school. Mike and myself both noted that there was zero evidence for this. In fact a friend of mine, who is a school governor, believed the children at her school were actually better behaved. And it seems this friend isn’t alone. Mike put up a series of quotes from people in education saying very clearly that children’s behaviour hadn’t deteriorated. One of them even said it had improved. Williamson’s statement is thus pure nonsense.

But there is a possible explanation for it in the Tories’ proposed change to the school system, which in fact is a further expansion of the prison-industrial complex. He wants to introduce privately run ‘secure schools’. This sounds to many concerned educationalists like the return of the Young Offenders Institutions. One of those, who oppose this plan, is Zahra Bei, who fears that they will be a ‘fast track to prison’. The Tories have said that they won’t be ‘prisons with education’, but I really don’t put much faith in that considering the Tories appalling record of lying as easily as most people breathe. Private companies have so far been excluded from running such schools, but the government wants to reform this legislation so that they can do so under the guise of charities. This seems to me to be already a scandalous disaster in waiting, considering the mess companies like G4S, Serco and the rest of them have made of running adult prisons and migrant detention centres. It was only a few years ago that conditions in privately run prisons were so appalling that the prisoners were rioting. Private Eye has also run any number of stories in its ‘Footnotes’ or ‘In The Back Column’ about the tragic deaths of young people put in adult prisons, either by their own hand or murdered by their fellow inmates. The Tory plan to start building privately run prison schools seems to me to threaten the further deaths of vulnerable young people. And this is quite apart from the horrors of their predecessors, as depicted in films like Scum.

But I can see more children being unjustly sentenced to these places as the government and the companies running them want to turn a profit and give a nice, fat dividend to the shareholders. The ‘capped crusader’ Michael Moore gave an example of such a glaring miscarriage of justice in his documentary Capitalism – A Love Story. This was the case of a teenage American girl, who was sentenced to a spell in prison. The girl had committed a trivial offence. I can’t remember what it was – it may have been simply bunking off school or underage drinking. It certainly wasn’t anything more serious. It was the kind of crime which over here would be have been punished with a small fine or so many hours community service. Or simply being grounded by her parents and having her playstation taken away for the duration. But no, the beak decided that she was such a dangerous delinquent, that only a spell in the slammer would deter her from a life of crime. Well, actually, not quite. The real reason was that the judge was on the payroll of the private company running the prison. Their profits depend on people being put in them. Hence the incentive for the esteemed lawman to put a teenage girl behind bars.

And I’m afraid the same will happen here. Williamson’s comments about the bad behaviour of all those children coming back to school seems set to prime public opinion for it. The Tories are past masters at exploiting the public’s fear of rising crime, especially by the young. Children haven’t become worse behaved because of the lockdown. In fact, Mike’s probably right when he says that they may even have become more self-disciplined because of it. But Williamson needs people to believe that children’s behaviour has got worse, so that he then has a pretext for locking them up in his new, shiny, privately run educational prisons.

When they run the risk of really getting set on a career as a crime and a lifetime in prison, or brutalised by the staff employed by private companies running the schools or the other inmates, with the dreadful prospect that some will either commit suicide or be killed by the others. Bei has said that the majority of people put in these wretched schools will be young, Black, poor and disabled. That’s a certainty, given that the prison population is generally composed of the poor and those from ethnic minorities. The number of female prisoners in the UK is comparatively small – 4,000 women compared to 80,000 or so men. But women in prison can be particularly vulnerable, especially as the majority of them aren’t violent. It’s been claimed that many of the women currently banged up are for crimes like failure to pay their TV license. But I can imagine a number of girls getting sentenced to these schools as part of Williamson’s campaign to stamp out the entirely imaginary tide of school-age crime he wants us to think is coming.

Tory Flag-Waving Now Reaching Reaganite Proportions

April 6, 2021

Patriotism, someone once said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And the Tories have done their best to show how true this is, especially last week when it seemed that they wasted no opportunity to wave the flag. This also led them to generate more synthetic outrage towards the BBC. Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty raised Tory ire when Stayt joked about the relatively small size of the union flag on display during an interview with Matt Hancock or one of the other Tory ministers. This led to howls from the Tory press that the Beeb was sneering at the flag. They weren’t. They were laughing about the Tory’s sheer opportunistic use of it.

It’s no accident that they’ve started waving the flag in the weeks running up to the local elections. Their performance on health, the economy, Brexit and just about everything else has been dire. They’re still trying to privatise the health service by stealth, they insulted the nurses with a 2 per cent pay rise, which is in real terms a cut in their salaries, wages are still frozen, more people are being forced into real, grinding poverty, the queues at the food banks are as long as ever, or longer. The Brexit that Boris has been so desperate to ‘get done’ is spelling disaster for Britain’s manufacturing industry, and businesses dealing with the continent and ordinary Brits wishing to travel abroad are now faced with mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy which the Brexiteers blithely assured us wouldn’t happen. Hopefully this year will see us coming out of lockdown and the Coronavirus crisis. We’ve a far higher rate of peeps receiving the vaccine than the EU, but that shouldn’t distract attention from the colossal way the Tories have mismanaged the Covid crisis as a whole. As Mike’s pointed out in one of his articles, Tory bungling and corruption – they gave vital medical contracts to companies owned and run by their friends and supporters, rather than to firms that could actually deliver – that over 100,000 people have died of the disease. One of the good peeps on Twitter has shown how this compares to the numbers killed in some of the genocides and ethnic massacres that have plagued recent decades. And the report, which was supposed to show that Britain isn’t institutionally racist, has been torn to shreds with some of the academics cited claiming they were not properly consulted and seeking to distance themselves from it. And then there are the mass demonstrations up and down the land against their attempts to outlaw any demonstration or protest they don’t like under the guise that it would be a nuisance.

And so, with all this discontent, they’ve fallen back to Thatcher’s tactics of waving the flag at every opportunity. One of the hacks at the Absurder in the 1980s said that Britain had three parties – the patriotic party, who were the Tories, the loony party, which was Labour, and the sensible party, which was the SDP/Liberals. Which showed you the paper’s liberal bias even then. The SDP, Liberals and their successors, the Lib Dems. have sold out utterly, while after four decades of Thatcherism Michael Foot’s Labour party looks far less than loony. But the hack was right about the Tories and patriotism. Thatcher waved the flag as frantically as she could and constantly invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill and World War II. One particularly memorable example of this was the Tory 1987 election broadcast, which featured Spitfires zipping about the sky while an overexcited voice told the world ‘Man was born free’ and concluded ‘It’s great to be great again’.

Here’s another feature of Fascism that’s been adopted by the Tories to add to those on Mike’s checklist. Fascism is an ideology of national rebirth and revival. Thatcher was claiming she was making us great again, just as Donald Trump claimed he was doing for America. Just as Oswald Mosley called one of his wretched books The Greater Britain. And unfortunately, as Zelo Street has also pointed out, Fascists like the Nazis have also used people’s natural loyalty to their flag as a means of generating support for their repulsive regimes. British Fascism was no different. Mosley also made great use of the flag at his rallies, and this tactic was taken over by his successors in the National Front and BNP. This has been an embarrassment to ordinary, non-racist Brits, who simply like the flag. One of my friends at school was a mod. At the time, the union flag and British bulldog formed a large part of mod imagery without meaning that the person was a racist or White supremacist. During one of the art lessons my friend started painting a picture with those two elements – the union flag and bulldog. The teacher came over and politely asked him not to do so, as he was afraid people would like at it and come to the wrong conclusion. This was just after the 1981/2 race riots, so you can understand why. But it is frustrating and infuriating that ordinary expressions of reasonable patriotism or simple pop culture iconography have become suspect due to their appropriation by the Far Right.

But the real excesses of flag-waving were to be seen over the other side of the Pond in Reagan’s America. Reagan was wrecking his country with privatisation and an assault on what the country had in the way of a welfare state, while murdering the people of countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua by supporting Fascist dictators and their death squads. But, like Thatcher, he did everything he could to use the symbols of American nationhood. Like the Stars and Stripes. A Republican party political broadcast in 1984 or thereabouts showed the American flag being raised no less than 37 times. This was so bizarrely excessive that one of the Beeb’s foreign correspondents commented on it. As far as I am aware, no-one took him to task for sneering at it.

This flag-waving is part of the Tories attempts to present themselves as the preservers of British national identity, tradition and pride against the assaults of the left, particularly Black Lives Matter and their attacks on statues. I’m not impressed with the attacks on some of the monuments, like that of Winston Churchill, even though he was a racist. But in Bristol the only statue attacked was that of the slavery and philanthropist Edward Colston. None of the other statues in and around Bristol’s town centre of Edmund Burke, Queen Victoria, Neptune and the sailors who made my city a great port, were touched. And then there was the protest last week against the new school uniform policy at Pimlico Academy in London. This ruled out the wearing of large afro hair styles. So the students started protesting it was racist. The headmaster also raised the union flag, which led the statement from one of the students, Amna Mukhtar, that it weirdly felt like they were being colonised. And then some idiot burnt the flag in protest. The headmaster has now rescinded the school’s uniform code and taken the flag down. Now I gather that one of the Tories is now calling for every school to fly the union flag.

It all reminds me of the comments the late, great comedian Bill Hicks made when Reagan and his supporters were flying the flag and their outrage when a young member of the Communist party burned it. After making jokes about the Reaganite rage and hysteria, Hicks said that he didn’t want anyone to burn the flag, but burning wouldn’t take away freedom, because it’s freedom. Including the freedom to burn the flag.

Quite. And the Tories are wrecking our country and taking away our freedoms while cynically waving the flag.

So when they start spouting about it, use your scepticism and think of Hick’s comment instead. And vote for someone else.

Disabled Girl Gets Bionic Arms Based on Movie ‘Alita’s’ Heroine

April 3, 2021

Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t put anything up for the past week or so. It’s the usual reasons, I’m afraid: I’ve been busy with other things and for the most part, I simply haven’t found the week’s news inspiring. I felt there was precious little I could add to the excellent coverage and analyses given by Mike and Zelo Street. And so, rather than simply repeating what they had to say, I preferred to keep silent. But there are some stories that do need further comment, and I certainly intend to cover them. But before I do, here’s a more positive, rather heartwarming piece I found on YouTube.

It was put up by the tech company, Open Bionics, which makes state of the art, and very stylish, prosthetic limbs. Narrated by Hollywood director James Cameron, it tells how the company created a pair of superb artificial arms for British teenager Tilly Lockey. Lockey had lost her arms from septicaemia caused by meningitis. But, as Cameron shows, she had never let her disability hold her back, and the video shows Ms. Lockey as a junior school girl painting using an artificial arm. Cameron’s best known as the director of such hits as Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Avatar and Titanic, but he was also the producer of the film Alita – Battle Angel. Based on the Manga of the same name, Alita is the story of a mysterious cyborg girl, found by a doctor rummaging around the rubbish dump below an airborne city in which Earth’s rich and powerful live, far above ordinary masses, who live in the city below it. The doctor repairs the girl, who has lost her memory. Slowly Alita begins to recover bits of her history, joins the other cyborg players in a murderous sports race, attempts to become one of the cyborg warriors fighting crime and evil in this future world, and is forced to confront the villains controlling this new society from the floating city above it.

Cameron points out that cybernetic limbs are expensive, but the company is working to make them affordable. They’re also trying to make them attractive, which is why they’ve based those they’ve give to Tilly on the arms of Alita’s heroine. As well as getting the arms, the girl also got to attend the film’s premier.

I have a feeling Open Bionics might be based in Bristol. If I’m right, they used to be part of the cybernetics lab at the University of the West of England, which has done some impressive robotics research. The lab set up a commercial company to produce artificial limbs based on characters from Science Fiction movies.

As for Alita, I think it got mixed reviews. Some critics were spooked by the character’s large eyes, but I think that was simply following the artistic conventions of Manga comics and translating it to a live action film. Some critics said that while it wasn’t that good, it was actually far better than some of the rubbish being produced by Hollywood at the time. I’ve got it on video and liked it. There are rumours of a sequel being made, which would be great if they were true. But unfortunately the Coronavirus lockdown has meant that many Hollywood projects have had to be put on hold. The release of Denis Villeneuve’s much-awaited version of Dune has been postponed to October, when hopefully the cinemas will re-open.

The video’s obviously a piece of corporate promotion, but it’s great that the company and its talented engineers are working to make technologically impressive artificial limbs at affordable prices, and that they’ve given them to this spirited young lady. I have a feeling she’s also one of the women featured on the Shake My Beauty YouTube channel, which features other disabled women talking about life with their prosthetic limbs. While also demonstrating that having mechanical arms and legs certainly doesn’t make them less beautiful or capable of enjoying normal, physical activities including sports.

No! Black Lives Matter Had Zilch to Do with Bristol Riot

March 23, 2021

More lies and racism from Nigel Farage and Andy Ngo. Yesterday’s big story was the riot in Bristol on Sunday night. A crowd had gathered during the day to protest the Tory’s wretched and abominable Police and Crime bill. This is another landmark in the Tories’ push to turn Britain into a Fascist state, as it would ban all protests or demonstrations if someone considered them a nuisance, as well as place further restrictions on Travellers. At the moment, the leaders or organisers of an illegal demonstration can be prosecuted and forced to pay a £10,000 fine. It may have been to avoid this that yesterday’s demonstration appeared not to have any clear leadership or organisational structure and this may have been one of the reasons it turned violent.

The crowd had originally been peaceful, assembling on Bristol’s College Green outside the Council House, sorry, ‘City Hall’. Most of the demonstrators had apparently left and gone home by the evening, when the crowd marched on the police station in Bridewell Street for a sit down protest. It was there that the protest became a riot. The police station was attacked, windows smashed and graffiti scrawled on the wall. Cars were also set at light, and the mob fought the police. Four policemen were reported to have been hospitalised, and seven protesters arrested.

It’s unclear who was responsible for the riot. Politicians from across the political spectrum yesterday condemned the rioters, including Bristol’s brilliant elected mayor, Marvin Reese. Reese called the riot ‘politically illiterate’, and made the point that it actually strengthened the Tories’ arguments for tougher measures against demonstrations. But people, who were at the demo claimed that the riot broke out when the police attacked the crowd. Mike’s put up a series of Tweets on his blog from one of the protesters, Adam Johannes, a Bristolian, who said that the police pushed people, kicked those on the ground, when the crowd pushed back, police in riot gear struck protesters on the head and sent in the attack dogs. Novara Media’s TyskySour discussed the riot and what it meant for left-wing protests in this country in their edition last night. They spoke to two people, who were present, one of whom was a journalist from the Bristol Cable. The journo believed that the riot was caused by the protesters. The other person believed that the police had started it with unprovoked attacks.

I don’t know which is true. The police have launched unprovoked attacks on demonstrators before, which the media has spun as the protesters attacking the police. The most notorious example of this was the police attack on the strikers at Orgreave colliery during the Miners’ Strike. The BBC reversed the footage of the attack to falsely accuse the strikers of attacking the police. One of the my cousins saw the police attacking members of the crowd during the Poll Tax demonstrations nearly thirty years ago. On the other hand, there are idiots who join demonstrations in order to provoke them to riot. One of my friends ran into one of these morons when he went to a Poll Tax demonstration with his mother.

But one this is clear. The riot had absolutely zero to do with Black Lives Matter. Or, indeed, any other left-wing organisation. But this hasn’t stopped the Fuhrage and Andy Ngo claiming that it did. Andy Ngo’s an Asian-American, but this hasn’t stopped him from supporting the American far right. He posted a series of Tweets stating that Bristol was England’s Portland, and that the rioters had raised hammers and sickles. The main groups at the riot, according to this observer from across the Atlantic, were Black Lives Matter, Antifa and Extinction Rebellion, among others. Well, he’s either lying or desperately needs glasses, because nobody in Britain has mentioned any of these groups. From what was shown on TV, the protesters were all, or overwhelmingly White. There was absolutely no connection to Black Lives Matter. As far as I can make out, there were no Antifa, Extinction Rebellion weren’t there either, and absolutely no-one, but no-one, was waving hammers and sickles. This is all just the product of Ngo’s fevered, Alt-Right imagination.

This didn’t prevent the man one of the commenters here calls ‘Niggle Frog-Face’ from also claiming that BLM were somehow involved. The Fuhrage tweeted “In Bristol tonight we see what the soft-headed approach to the anti-police BLM leads to. Wake up everyone, this is not about racial justice. These people want all-out anarchy and street violence … The BLM protests were anti-police, it is a key goal of the organisation. The worrying events in Bristol tonight are an extension of that. We have given into and encouraged the extreme left, and this is the result”. The peeps on Twitter responded by pointing out that Farage was only doing this because he was racist and hoping to stoke up further racism in the UK.

However, unfortunately I do feel that Farage may have a point. The right has accused the police of treating Black Lives Matter with a leniency that was not extended to White counter protesters. And it does seem that they are right. At some of the riots the police took the knee before the BLM protesters. There’s also video footage of the cops running away from BLM rioters, although such footage can be manipulated to present a false impression, as with the Orgreave film. On the other hand, the right-wing protesters, who turned out to stop further Black Lives Matter attacks on statues do seem to have been attacked and treated more harshly by the police. It is possible that the police’s admirable restraint in refusing to defend Edward Colston’s statue when it was pulled down by a group of BLM protesters in the summer may have encouraged some of the militants in the demonstration to believe that the police would act with a similar restraint if they rioted.

Whether that was the case or not, I don’t know. It’s a possibility. But what isn’t in doubt is that neither BLM nor the other groups were involved in Sunday’s riot. As for Bristol being England’s equivalent of Portland, I don’t know. I’ve never been to Portland. It might be a very nice place, despite being the scene of many of last year’s BLM riots. But, apart from the attack on Colston’s statue, Bristol hasn’t had any BLM riots. And the mob attacking the old slaver’s statue didn’t attack any of the other monuments in the area, property or police. Farage and Ngo are simply lying.

As for the wretched Police and Crime Bill, this certainly is an attack on our civil liberties which needs to be very strongly resisted.

But rioting will only strengthen the hands of those determined to turn this great nation into a Fascist police state.

For further information, see: Did POLICE turn Bristol ‘Kill the Bill’ protest into a riot? | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Zelo Street: Bristol – Farage Does A Racism (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Policing Bill Sparks Riots In Bristol | #TyskySour – YouTube

Boris Says There’s No Money to Pay Nurses, But Has Millions to Spend on Atomic Weapons

March 17, 2021

Mike’s put up an excellent and disturbing article today, which shows very clearly where Boris Johnson’s priority’s really are. He’s planning to reverse the proposed reduction of Britain’s nuclear arsenal to 180 warheads and increase it instead to 260. As the peeps on Twitter have pointed out, this is a 45 per cent increase. It’s supposed to be in preparation for a possible terrorist attack using chemical or nuclear weapons by 2030. ‘Russ’, one of the critics of this insane proposal, has asked what Boris intends to do in the event of an attack like 9/11, when the terrorists came from four different countries. Would he launch those missiles at four different capitals? He states ‘Not a chance. Idiotic, dangerous, flashy bullshit.’

The question about 9/11 is a very good one. The vast majority of the plotters came from Saudi Arabia, and there is very, very strong evidence that responsibility for the attack goes all the way to the very top, to country’s present king or his head of intelligence. But George Dubya and Blair didn’t order reprisals against Saudi Arabia. Instead, we invaded Afghanistan. The country was indeed hosting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the organisation responsible for it. But I’ve also heard that the Afghans denied all knowledge of the plot and offered to surrender bin Laden to the Americans, but were ignored. The American military were planning the possibility of invading Afghanistan several years before in order to control a planned oil pipeline passing through it.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was also accused of complicity with 9/11, and Blair was scaremongering about Hussein having weapons of mass destruction that could be launched within three quarters of an hour. This was also a lie. The real reason for the invasion was, once again, oil. The American and Saudi oil companies wanted Iraq’s reserves and its oil industry, while American multinationals also wanted to get their grubby mitts on the country’s state industries. The actual cost to the Iraqi people has been horrendous. The country’s tariff barriers were lowered as part of a plan to create the low tax, free market state the Neo-Cons dreamed about, with a result that every nation dumped their excess goods there, undermining its domestic businesses. The result was soaring bankruptcy and unemployment. The country’s welfare state was destroyed, as was the ability of women to pursue a career in safety outside the home. The country was riven by sectarian violence, and the mercenaries used as part of the invasion force ran amok, running drugs and prostitution rings. They also shot ordinary Iraqis for sport. The Allied forces also used depleted uranium and other highly toxic materials in their armaments, with the result that the country also has a horrendously high rate of birth defects.

And now Boris wants more nukes. Does he intend to use them on further victims of western imperialism, countries deliberately and wrongfully blamed for terrorist attacks just to further western geopolitical and commercial goals? Mike also suggests that it seems to him that Boris is planning to start some kind of war with a country on or near the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and would like to set off a few nukes to show how tough he is.

This is all too possible. The American radical magazine, Counterpunch, published an article a few years ago arguing that the American military was set on a policy of ‘full spectrum dominance’. This meant that it was to remain the world’s only superpower with the ability to destroy or conquer any other country that could threaten it. And it looked very, very much that Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be terribly offended by the treatment of Meghan Markle, was preparing for a war with China. Lobster has also published a very detailed article arguing that, despite the rhetoric and posturing about the Chinese threatening western security interests in the South China Sea, the Chinese actually aren’t any danger at all. But they do threaten the global American commercial power both in practice and at an ideological level. The Americans believe in deregulation and free trade, while in China capitalism is regulated and state-directed. The global struggle between America and China is partly about which model of capitalism should be dominant.

And then there’s the issue of whether you could ever use a nuclear bomb in the event of a terrorist attack. From the 1970s to historic Good Friday peace agreement in the ’90s, Northern Ireland and Britain suffered terrorist violence and bombings. In Ulster this was by Irish Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitaries, while in Britain the bombings were carried out by the IRA. Following 9/11, one of the critics of the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq asked whether Britain would have used the same tactics of mass bombing and air strikes on Northern Ireland in response to the IRA’s terrorism. Of course we wouldn’t, although we did send troops there to suppress it. There’s a real possibility that, thanks to Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement could break down and Ulster could once again fall into violence and bloodshed. Which also raises the spectre of further terrorist bombings in Britain. Would Boris nuke Derry or Belfast in response? I doubt it. At the same time, many of the Islamist terrorists responsible for atrocities in Britain seem to be homegrown, Muslim Brits who come from ordinary, peaceful families, but who have been radicalised by Islamist propaganda on the Net or from some firebrand preacher in a British mosque. Obviously, Boris isn’t going to use it in Britain itself.

There’s also the danger that if Boris every uses them against a foreign enemy, it’ll pitch the world into a nuclear war that will end very quickly with the destruction of the planet. I can remember the late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen commenting on this in one of his shows on the Beeb during Reagan and Thatcher’s New Cold War of the 1980s. ‘Do you know,’ he said in his tobacco and whisky cured voice, ‘that there are enough nuclear weapons to blow up the world three times. Three times! Once is enough for me!’ It was a profound relief for millions around the world when Reagan and Gorbachev signed their arms limitation agreement in Iceland. That, and the collapse of Communism, promised the beginning of a better world, where we wouldn’t have to fear nuclear annihilation. Well, it was until India and Pakistan looked set to nuke each other later in the ’90s.

But now those dreams of a better, more peaceful world are fading as Boris once again wishes to send us all back to the days of Thatcher and the Cold War. Thatcher was vehemently in favour of keeping Britain’s nuclear deterrent. So much so that she falsified the results of an experiment to estimate the results of a nuclear war on Britain. The experiment showed that it would end with the country’s major cities reduced to nuclear cinders. This was too much for the leaderene, who had the parameters of the projection altered to give the results she wanted. But this still would have resulted in millions dead, and so she had the parameters altered again to show that Britain would have survived with minimal damage. By which time the whole exercise had to be scrapped as it was completely unreliable.

Michael Foot, the leader of the Labour party at the time, favoured unilateral nuclear disarmament. He was right, but the Tories and their puppet press viciously attacked him as some kind of fool or traitor, who would give in to the evil Commies. The complaint of many Tories was that he would give our nuclear weapons away. Unlike Maggie, the bargain basement Boadicea, as I think Roy Hattersley once called her.

It looks very much like Boris is playing the same game. He’s wrecking the economy, destroying the health service and welfare state, but he’ll have the right-leaning part of the British public praising him for standing up to those evil foreigners and protecting the country with nukes.

And all the while he’s claiming that there’s no money to give the nurses and other hardworking, front-line professionals anything more than what is in reality a derisory cut in wages. Which is clearly a lie. But it does remind me of what Goering once said:

‘Guns will make us powerful. Butter will make us fat.’

He’s following the Nazis in deliberately starving people while splashing the cash on arms.

For further information, see: Nuclear bomb announcement sends clear message: warmonger Johnson has cash to KILL, not heal | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Tories Killing Free Speech and Democracy in the Name of Stopping ‘Nuisance’

March 16, 2021

Following the Met police’s rough manhandling of the women at the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common and the consequent outcry, our smirking excuse for a home secretary, Priti Patel wishes to introduce legislation with the explicit intention of limiting public protest. This, as Mike and the good peeps on Twitter have pointed out, is Fascism. It’s suppression of the fundamental right to public protest. The intention is to stop criticism of the government. But the Tories are past masters in lying, and so they’ve dressed this latest assault on democracy up as somehow empowering the public. They’re not doing it to stop free speech, you see. They’re trying to empower local communities, who may find themselves seriously disrupted by noisy protesters. It’s about stopping them making a nuisance of themselves. And so the proposed legislation will, if passed, allow the authorities to cancel a demo if even a single person complains about it.

There’s a quote, which unfortunately I’ve largely forgotten, which states that Fascism never comes as a repressive force. It always presents itself in friendly terms until it is too late, the concentration camps have been put up and thugs in jackboots are stamping on human faces, to use George Orwell’s metaphor. There’s another quote that says that the totalitarianism of the future won’t present itself as an oppressive tyrant, but as society’s benevolent, obedient servant. Patel’s wretched bill surely bears out the truth of this statement. It’s Fascism all right, but dressed up as defending local communities’ right not to have their peace and quiet spoilt by anything as vulgar as an enraged or concerned public.

While Priti Patel is trying to push the bill through parliament now, it isn’t just her that’s behind it. It’s a Tory idea that’s been around since ‘Dodgy’ Dave Cameron was in No. 10. He also tried to pass it, but with no success. Now, almost a decade later, the Tories are trying again.

The Labour party plans to oppose the bill. So should everyone who values democracy and free speech, regardless of party. And including and particularly Tories. One of the Transatlantic Conservative sites I used to read several years ago was opposed to government legislation outlawing Holocaust denial. There was a debate at the time over whether the Canadian government should join other countries in banning it. This was just during the Conservative Harper administration. The Jewish owner of the site was against this, arguing that Conservatives should not support legislation limiting free speech. If the precedent was set, then it would give a weapon to the Tories’ enemies, who could use it to their own advantage. Exactly. And I have come across Tories who are genuine, passionate defenders of free speech. Years ago Lobster reviewed a book written by one of them, which recognised that every democratic freedom we now enjoy isn’t a natural outgrowth of the development of some transcendent principle of freedom and democracy inherent in British or western society. No, these freedoms are the hard-won results of bitter struggles. And Patel’s vile legislation makes it very clear that struggle is far from over.

People are already organising petitions and planning protests against the bill. I received this email from Democracy Unleashed, laying out the arguments and asking me to sign a petition against it, which I did. It runs

‘Once again, the government is attempting to force controversial legislation through Parliament without proper scrutiny.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains provisions that could land peaceful protestors with up to ten years’ imprisonment if their protest is deemed capable of causing “serious annoyance” to any section of the public. 

Did the People’s Vote marches cause “serious annoyance”? What about Black Lives Matter? Or Extinction Rebellion? Or March for Women? Or Stop The War Coalition? Which one of those protests do you think the Home Secretary would ban under this new legislation?

I will not be silenced

Many thousands of people take part in hundreds of protests across the United Kingdom every year. In most cases, a little bit of nuisance is what gets them noticed and their messages heard. Whether or not you agree with their cause, their right to protest is an essential part of a healthy democracy and any legislation that dilutes that right should be subject to very careful scrutiny indeed. 

We don’t think protestors campaigning passionately (or noisily) but peacefully for a cause should face the possibility of a prison sentence just because the Home Secretary has decided that someone might find their protest “seriously annoying.”

This legislation represents a serious attack on the foundations of our democracy and history tells us that such attacks often signal the beginning of something more sinister. We need to wake up to the threat and do something while we still can.  

Sign the petition to tell the Home Secretary that government cannot be allowed to bury our democratic rights just because it suites them to do so. 

I’ll sign the petition

Help us make this the loudest protest possible by sharing the petition on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp with the hashtag #SeriouslyAnnoyed. ‘

We have to oppose this bill, otherwise democracy in Britain will be as hollow and meaningless as Singapore. You have the right to speak in public there about political issues, but you have to register with the police in advance, who have the power to turn you down and arrest you. Needless to say, people aren’t exactly lining up at the Singaporean equivalent of Speaker’s Corner.

And that’s the kind of empty, hollow democracy Priti Patel and her predecessors want for Britain.

Not All Africans Were the Victims of European Slavery – Some Were the Slavers

March 5, 2021

As I mentioned in a previous post, a few days ago Bristol city council passed a motion brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake and seconded by Labour deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Craig supporting the payment of reparations to the Black community for slavery. Bristol becomes the first town outside London to pass such a motion. Although the motion is a radical step, on examination it seems not so very different from what Bristol and other cities are already doing. Lake herself said something like the reparations weren’t going to be a free handout for everyone, or something like that. The motion, as I understand it, simply calls for funding for projects, led by the ‘Afrikan’ community itself, to improve conditions and create prosperity in Black communities so that they and their residents enjoy the same levels of opportunity and wealth as the rest of us Brits. This has been coupled with calls for ‘cultural reparations’. What this means in practice is unclear. It appears to me that it might include monuments to the people enslaved by Bristol and transported to the New World, the repatriation of stolen cultural artefacts or possibly more support for Black arts projects. But as far as I am aware, the city has already been funding welfare, arts and urban regeneration projects in Bristol’s Black majority communities, like St. Paul’s, since the riots forty years ago. It looks to me far more radical than it actually is.

The motion was passed by 47 votes to 11. Those 11 opposing votes came from the Tories. They stated that while the motion came from a ‘good place’, they were not going to vote for it because it was just reducing a complex issue to a binary. Mike in his piece about it says that it sounds like doubletalk to him. It does to me, too, but there might be a genuine issue there as well. Because Lake has made the motion about the ‘Afrikan’ community in Bristol as a whole, including both Afro-Caribbean and African people. Both these parts of Bristol’s Black community are supposed to qualify equally for reparations. Her eccentric spelling of the ‘African’ with a K exemplified this. She claimed that this was the originally spelling before Europeans changed it to a C. The K spelling indicated the inclusiveness of the African community. This looks like total hogwash. Western European nations use the Latin alphabet, which was developed by the Romans from the Etruscans. The Romans and the Etruscans were both Europeans. I am not aware of any Black African nation having used the Latin alphabet, let alone spelt the name of their continent with a K. The Berber peoples of north Africa have their alphabet, used on gravestones. The ancient Egyptians wrote in hieroglyphs. Coptic, the language of the indigenous Egyptian Christian church, which is descended from ancient Egyptian, uses the Greek alphabet with the addition of a number of letters taken from the demotic ancient Egyptian script. Ge’ez, the language of Christian Ethiopia, and its descendant, Amharic, also have their own scripts. It’s possible that medieval Nubian was written in the Latin alphabet, but it might also be that it was written in Greek. It therefore seems to me that K spelling of Africa is a piece of false etymology, invented for ideological reasons in order to give a greater sense of independence and antiquity to Africa and its people but without any real historical support.

At the same time there is a real difference between the experience of the descendants of enslaved Africans taken to the New World and the African peoples. Because the latter were deeply involved in the enslavement of the former. Some Europeans did directly enslave Africans through raids they conducted themselves, like the privateer Jack Hawkins in the 16th century. But mostly the actual raiding and enslavement of the continent’s peoples was done by other African nations, who sold them on to the Europeans. European slave merchants were prevented from expanding into the continent through a combination of strong African chiefs and disease-ridden environment of the west African coast. As a result, the European slave merchants were confined to specific quarters, like the ghettoes for European Jews, in African towns. Britain also mostly took its slaves from West Africa. The east African peoples were enslaved by Muslim Arabs, the Portuguese or by the Dutch for their colonies at the Cape or further east in what is now Indonesia.

Slavery also existed in Africa long before the arrival of the Europeans. Indeed, the kings of Dahomey used it in a plantation agricultural economy to supply food and cotton. They were also enslaved by the Arabs and Berbers of north Africa. The first Black slaves imported to Europe were taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. The trans-Saharan slave trade survived until 1910 or so because the Europeans did not invade and conquer Morocco, one of its main centres.

Following the ban on the slave trade within the British Empire in 1807, Britain concluded a series of treaties with other nations and sent naval patrols across the world’s oceans in order to suppress it. Captured slavers were taken to mixed courts for judgement. If found guilty, the ship was confiscated, a bounty given to the capturing ship’s officers, and the slaves liberated. Freetown in Sierra Leone was specifically founded as a settlement for these freed slaves.

The reaction of the African peoples to this was mixed. Some African nations, such as the Egba, actively served with British sailors and squaddies to attack slaving vessels. I believe it was British policy to give them the same amount of compensation for wounds received in action as their White British comrades. Other African nations were outraged. In the 1820s there was a series of attacks on British trading stations on the Niger delta in order to force Britain to resume the slave trade. As a result, Britain fought a series of wars against the west African slaving states of Dahomey, Badagry, Whydah and others. On the other side of the Continent, Britain invaded what is now Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe partly to prevent these countries being claimed by their European imperial rivals, but also to suppress slavery there. In the 1870s the British soldier, Samuel Baker, was employed by the ruler of Egypt, the Khedive Ismail, to stamp out slaving in the Sudan and Uganda. Later on, General Gordon was sent into the Sudan to suppress the Mahdi’s rebellion, one cause of which was the attempt by the British authorities to outlaw the enslavement of Black Africans by the Arabs. The Sudan and Uganda also suffered from raids for slaves from Abyssinia, and we launched a punitive expedition against them sometime in the 1880s, I believe. Some African chiefs grew very wealthy on the profits of such misery. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey in the 18th century had an income of £300,000 a year, far more than some British dukes.

Despite the efforts to suppress slavery, it still persisted in Africa. Colonial officials reported to the British government about the problems they had trying to stamp it out. In west Africa, local custom permitted the seizure of someone’s relatives or dependents for their debts, a system termed ‘panyarring’ or pawning. The local authorities in Sierra Leone were also forced to enact a series of reforms and expeditions further south as former slaves, liberated Africans, seized vulnerable local children and absconded to sell them outside the colony. Diplomatic correspondence also describes the frustration British officials felt at continued slaving by the Arabs and the collusion of the Ottoman Turkish authorities. While the Ottomans had signed the treaty formally outlawing the slave trade, these permitted individuals to have personal servants and concubines. The result was that slaving continued under the guise of merchants simply moving with their households. The Turkish authorities were generally reluctant to move against slavers, and when police raids were finally launched on the buildings holding suspected slaves, they found the slaves gone, taken elsewhere by their masters.

Slavery continued to survive amongst some African societies through the 20th century and into the 21st. The 1990s book, Disposable People, estimated that there were then 20 million people then enslaved around the world. Simon Webb, the Youtuber behind ‘History Debunked’, has said in one of his videos that the number is now 40 million. Slave markets – real slave markets – have been reopened in Uganda and in Islamist held Libya following the western-backed overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy.

From this historical analysis, some African nations should very definitely not be compensated or receive reparations for slavery, because they were the slavers. Black civil rights activists have, however, argued that the continent should receive reparations because of the devastation centuries of warfare to supply the European slave trade wrought on the continent. Not everyone agrees, and I read a comment by one diplomat or expert on the issue that, when it came to reparations, it should be Black Africans paying the Black peoples of the Americas and West Indies.

Nevertheless, Lake’s motion states that all Black Bristolians or British are equal victims of British enslavement. This seems to be a view held by many Black Brits. A reporter for the Beeb interviewed some of those involved in the Black Lives Matter protest last summer when the statue of the slaver Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol. The journo asked one of the mob, a young Black lad, what he thought of it. ‘I’m Nigerian’, said the lad, as if this explained everything. It doesn’t, as the Nigerian peoples practised slavery themselves as well as enslaving others for us and their own profit.

It feels rather churlish to raise this issue, as I’ve no doubt that people of African descent suffer the same amount of racial prejudice, poverty and lack of opportunity as West Indians. If the issue was simply the creation of further programmes for improving the Black community generally, then a motion in favour really shouldn’t be an issue. At the same time, if this was about general compensation for injustices suffered through imperialism, you could also argue that Black Africans would have every right to it there. But the issue is reparations for slavery and enslavement. And some Black Africans simply shouldn’t have any right to it, because they were the slavers.

It would be difficult if not impossible to create schemes for improving the condition of Britain’s Black community under the payment of reparations without including Africans as well as Black West Indians. But it also seems to me that the Tories unfortunately also have a point when they complain that Lake has reduced it to a binary issue. She has, simply by claiming that all ‘Afrikans’ were the victims of British enslavement.

And it’s been done in order to create an inclusive Black community, which ignores the different experiences of slavery by the various peoples that make it up, against White Bristol.

Starmer’s Flag-Waving and Fixation on Celebrities Shows Hollowness of New Labour

February 11, 2021

I know this is another piece of old news, which Mike has commented on already but there are a few more things to say about it. A few days ago Mike posted up a piece about an idea from the Labour party about winning more members and votes. This new, exciting strategy for gaining the support of the British public was for Starmer to be seen more with the Union Jack. Yep, Starmer’s leadership, which is already determined to copy Tory economic policies, also wants to follow them and be seen as the party of flag-waving – some critics called it’ flag-shagging’ patriotism.

The Tories have been draping themselves in the flag and waving it at every opportunity just about since they emerged in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Their aggressive projection of themselves as the party of British patriotism became particularly acute under Maggie in the 1980s. Thatcher was deeply inspired by Winston Churchill’s heroic vision of the British people and their history, and so was constantly invoking his memory and legacy. Thus we had Torygraph headlines quoting the Leaderene, screaming ‘Don’t Call Them Booj-wah, Call Them British’, while the spirit of the Battle of Britain was invoked in the Tory 1987 election broadcast. This featured Spitfires zooming about the sky, while an excited voice intoned ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. It’s a misquotation of the great Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His book, The Social Contract, one of the first works advocating democracy and a major influence on the French Revolution, begins: ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. You can see why Thatcher didn’t want to include the second part of that sentence. Commenting on it on Radio 4’s News Quiz, the late Alan Coren drily called it ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’ and made the point that all the servicemen, whose memory and sacrifice Thatcher was exploiting all came back and voted Labour. Now Starmer apparently wants to wave the flag as well in order to win over Tory voters.

The new strategy was proposed by a focus group, which were used by Blair’s New Labour to devise party policy, or put the rubber stamp on those the Dear Leader had already decided upon, when the grinning butcher of Iraq was in office. It was part of the Blairite’s centralisation of decision-making, their managerialism and their pointed determination to ignore the demands and recommendations of grassroots members. Now it seems we’re back to the same tired old attitudes and strategies.

Mike and the peeps on Twitter saw past this threadbare strategy immediately. They quoted Dr. Johnson, who said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. But I remember Jon Downes, the frontman for the Devon band Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space making another observation: ‘a patriot is a man with nothing left to say’. This was in a song entitled ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’. It was a commented on Major’s Conservative party, which carried on the flag-waving while handing over vast tracts of Britain’s historic landscape to English Heritage, which promptly erected fences around them to keep the British public out, as at Stonehenge. Major’s Tories were ideologically bankrupt. It was Thatcherism with the nasty bits cut off and a marked paucity of ideas. His big notion for galvanising the British public behind his party was a ‘Cones Hotline’. This was a number you could call if you thought their were too many cones clogging up the roads. It’s hardly a grand vision, and was rightly ridiculed by Spitting Image and the rest of the media.

And Starmer’s leadership really doesn’t have any ideas. His policy so far has been to agree with the Tories, then criticise them in retrospect. He seems determined to copy their disastrous economic and social policies of privatisation, including that of the NHS, the destruction of the welfare state, and low wages, just like Blair. The only difference is that Blair and Starmer claimed that they would be able to carry out these Tory policies better than the Tories themselves.

Starmer really, really doesn’t have anything left to say. A fact also confirmed by another recommendation. This was that he should be seen with celebrities. Well, that was another feature of Blairite New Labour, which was also very relaxed, as Peter Mandelson put it, about people getting rich. Hence Blair’s desire to be seen with such celebrity businessmen as Beardie Branson and Alan Sugar. But Mike and the other Twitter peeps pointed out that, thanks to his attack on Corbyn, Starmer might find recruiting other celebs to endorse him difficult. Robert Webb apparently has torn up his Labour membership card.

I realise Angela Rayner also returned to make a speech claiming that Labour was still behind the policies laid out in last year’s election manifesto – nationalised public services and welfare state, strong unions, workers’ rights and so on, but Mike asked the pertinent question of whether you could trust her or him on this issue. And you can’t. They’ve shown repeatedly that they’re not prepared to honour the manifesto.

The flag-waving and celebrity-seeking isn’t going to win over traditional Labour voters, who will see past it. Some may even be repelled by it because of the way the Tories appropriated British patriotism and mixed it with aggressive imperialist nostalgia and xenophobia. And it isn’t going to win over Tories. There is a hard rump of extreme right-wing Tory types, who regard the Labour party as the enemies of Britain. The anti-immigrant YouTube channel, We Got A Problem, refers to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants as ‘imported Labour voters’. There are people who honestly believe the allegation that Blair deliberately encouraged mass non-White immigration to this country to destroy the largely White society at the heart of Tory visions of Britain. The same type of people, who believe that the Jews are also encouraging non-White immigration to destroy the White race, the Kalergi plan and the Great Replacement. These people aren’t going to be won over by Starmer waving the flag. They are, of course, probably not going to vote Labour anyway because of Labour’s avowed commitment of multiculturalism. Blair also waved the flag during ‘Cool Britannia’, but it also included Blacks and Asians along with more traditionally British images to project the view of a new, multicultural Britain. That was two decades ago, and while it impressed many, the super-patriotic right still regard it as some kind of betrayal of British identity through its inclusion of non-White culture. Starmer waving the flag won’t get them to change their political allegiances.

In fact, there is a sense that traditional Labour was and has always been the true party of patriotism. George Bernard Shaw pointed it out years ago in his book The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism and Sovietism. He stated that socialists wanted money to be spent here, in Britain, developing its industries and aiding its working people. The Tories, on the other hand, allowed the idle rich to spend their wealth abroad, while undercutting domestic industry with products from the colonies, whose people could be exploited more cheaply. Just like under slavery.

Mike made the point that you could connect British patriotism to a desire for a fairer society where people were supported by a proper welfare state. You could also begin by presenting the Labour party as the party of true British patriotism by saying that it was opposed to the rich hiding their immense wealth away in offshore tax havens, as well as benefiting from tax cuts while the rest of the population have to shoulder the tax burden. Oh yes, and industries that, instead of being owned by the British people, were owned by multinational corporations which simply took their profits without reinvesting in them.

But that would be seen as horribly xenophobic and attacking the free trade and foreign investment the Neoliberals are trying to promote, and so would probably be denounced as horribly racist. Even as the Tories continue to demonise immigrants and asylum seekers.

Disaster Predicted for Labour in May Elections – Will They Blame the Left?

January 29, 2021

As if this question needs to be asked. Mike this morning put up a piece commenting on recent forecasts that Labour under Starmer’s leadership will actually lose seats in the local elections in May. Only 4 per cent of Tory voters are predicted to switch to Labour. This will be a disaster for Labour, and should be a catastrophe for Starmer as it shows that his policy of turning Labour into the alternative Tory party isn’t working. Starmer isn’t winning support for Labour because he has violated the first rule of an opposition party: this is to oppose. Instead, Starmer has offered support and ‘cautious criticism’. This has often come after Tory policies have been proven to be failures, so that Johnson ridiculed him from the Dispatch Box as ‘Captain Hindsight’. And his lack of any decisive alternative alternative vision to the wretched Tories also allowed Johnson to sneer at him as ‘General Indecision’.

Worse, Labour is losing its core voters thanks to Starmer’s own war on the left. He has scrapped Corbyn’s manifesto policies, which were genuinely popular despite the media’s and political establishment’s successful vilification of Corbyn himself. Starmer has carried on purging the left under the pretext of cracking down on anti-Semitism. He has alienated Labour’s traditional supporters in the Black and Asian communities by his half-hearted gestures of support for Black Lives Matter and his refusal to punish the real racists in the Labour Party, who bullied Diane Abbott and other Black MPs and activists. And it’s fairly obvious why. These racists are all from the right, the section of the party that supports him. He also has not punished the various conspirators who deliberately plotted to sabotage the party’s election campaign in 2017 and 2019. Again, these are all right-wingers, so safe from punishment for their misdeeds. And to make his and his faction’s grip on the party secure, David Evans has suspended members and constituency parties that have dared to criticise the Dear Leader and passed fresh regulations stipulating that electoral candidates must meet with his approval as suitable prospective MPs. Which means, as Mike’s pointed out, that no-one from the left will be accepted, even if they have the full backing of their local parties.

If the predicted electoral disaster does occur – and I’ve no doubt it will – then it should rightly be the end of Starmer and the Blairites. The Blairite tactic of triangulation – finding out what will appeal to Tory voters, donors and the media, and then doing it – isn’t working. The public has seen through the New Labour tactic of copying Tory policies while claiming that, once in power, Labour will be better at them. Tory voters are going to stick with the Tories, because why should they accept a pale imitation under Starmer? Johnson’s defeat should be an open goal. This week the number of people, who’ve died from the Coronavirus hit 100,000. This truly horrendous death toll is a direct result of Johnson’s selfish, inept and half-hearted policies, the corruption that has led him to award vital medical contracts to firms owned by his friends, which then catastrophically can’t fulfil them. And instead of the great, radiant victory for British independence, business and entrepreneurialism, Brexit is rapidly showing itself to be another disaster. It is hitting British business hard with extra bureaucracy and tariffs for trading with the EU. It is expected to decimate our already severely stricken manufacturing industry.

The fact that Starmer is losing to Johnson should mean that Starmer should vacate the Labour leadership following the May elections, assuming that Labour does as poorly as predicted. By I predict that won’t happen. That would leave the leadership open to someone from the real Labour centre. Someone determined to support Corbyn’s policies of a nationalised National Health Service, publicly owned utilities, a proper, functioning welfare state that the gives the support the poor, the unemployed, the long-term sick and disabled they really need, protects working people with proper employment rights and strong trade unions, and ends the wretched pay freezes and exploitative gig economy. These were all genuinely popular. But they frighten big business and the Tory and New Labour media. Hence the determination to bring down Labour by any means possible. Hence the smears of Corbyn and his supporters as Communists, Trotskyites and Jew-haters. And they’ll do it again.

The Blairites have shown through their electoral sabotage and their attempted coups that they mean to hang on to power whatever the cost. Even if it destroys the party. Thus I predict that if Labour does fail miserably in May’s elections, Starmer will stay. He and the media will claim that this was because the stain of anti-Semitism is still hanging over the party. More purges of the Corbynite left will be demanded and follow. And it won’t do a bit of good. The party will remain unpopular, possibly even more so.

But Starmer won’t care how unpopular it is, so long as he and the Blair have a secure grip on it. And at some point he’ll even be rewarded with a peerage just like the turncoats and plotters.

For further information, see: Labour isn’t winning back Tory voters by trying to be Tory. What will Starmer try next? | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Book on Utopias from the 17th Century to Today

January 20, 2021

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2011).

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything for several days. Part of that is because the news doesn’t really inspire me. It’s not that it isn’t important, or that the Tories have stopped trying to strip working people of their rights and drive them further into poverty and degradation. Or that I’m unmoved by Trump trying to organise a coup to keep himself in the Oval Office like just about every other tin pot dictator throughout history. Or that Brexit isn’t threatening to destroy whatever remains of British industry and livelihoods, all for the benefit of the Tory superrich and investment bankers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have their money safely invested in firms right across the world. Or that I’m not outraged by even more people dying of Covid-19 every day, while the government has corruptly mismanaged their care by outsourcing vital medical supplies and their services to firms that are clearly incompetent to provide them, because those same firms are run by their chums. Ditto with the grossly inadequate food parcels, which are another vile example of Tory profiteering. It’s just that however disgusting and infuriating the news is, there is a certain sameness about it. Because all this is what the Tories have been doing for decades. It’s also partly because I can’t say anything more or better about these issues than has been already said by great bloggers like Mike, Zelo Street and the rest.

But I’ve also been kept busy reading some of the books I got for Christmas, like the above tome by Ruth Levitas, a sociology professor at Bristol Uni. The blurb for this runs

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of Utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia offers the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

It has the following chapters

  1. Ideal Commonwealths: The Emerging Tradition
  2. Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism
  3. Mobilising Myths: Utopia and Social Change in Georges Sorel and Karl Mannheim
  4. Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future
  5. The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris
  6. An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche
  7. A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies
  8. Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia.

I wanted to read the book because so many utopias have been socialist or socialistic, like the early 19th century thinkers Karl Marx described as utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen, and was interested in learning more about their ideas. In this sense, I’m slightly disappointed with the book. Although it tells you a little about the plans for the reformation of society, and the establishment of a perfect state or political system, the book’s not so much about these individual schemes as a more general discussion of the concept of utopia. What, exactly, is a utopia, and how has the concept been used, and changed and developed? Much of this debate has been within Marxism, beginning with the great thinker himself. He called his predecessors – Owen, Fourier and Owen ‘utopian’ because he didn’t believe their particular schemes were realistic. Indeed, he regarded them as unscientific, in contrast to his own theories. However, Marx did believe they had done a vital job in pointing out the failures of the capitalist system. Marxists themselves were split over the value of utopias. The dominant position rejected them, as it was pointless to try to describe the coming society before the revolution. Nevertheless, there were Marxists who believed in their value, as the description of a perfect future society served to inspire the workers with an ideal they could strive to achieve. This position has been obscured in favour of the view that Marx and his followers rejected them, and this book aims to restore their position in the history of Marxist thought. This idea of utopia as essentially inspirational received especial emphasis in the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a form of radical socialism in which the state and private industry are abolished and their functions carried out instead by the trade unions. Sorel himself was a French intellectual, who started out on the radical left, but move rightward until he ended up in extreme nationalist, royalist, anti-Semitic movements. His ideas were paradoxically influential not just in the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union, but also in Fascist Italy. Sorel doesn’t appear to have been particularly interested in the establishment of a real, syndicalist utopia. This was supposed to come after a general strike. In Sorel’s formulation of syndicalism, however, the general strike is just a myth to inspire the workers in their battle with the employers and capitalism, and he is more interested in the struggle than the workers’ final victory, if indeed that ever arrived.

The book also covers the debate over William Morris and his News from Nowhere. This describes an idyllic, anarchist, agrarian, pre-industrial society in which there are no leaders and everyone works happily performing all kinds of necessary work simply because they enjoy it and find it fulfilling following a workers’ revolution. Apart from criticisms of the book itself, there have also been debates over the depth of Morris’ own socialism. Morris was a member of one of the first British Marxist socialist parties, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and the founder of another, the Socialist League, after he split from them. Critics have queried whether he was ever really a Marxist or even a socialist. One view holds that he was simply a middle class artist and entrepreneur, but not a socialist. The other sees him as a socialist, but not a Marxist. Levitas contends instead that Morris very definitely was a Marxist.

When it comes to the 20th century, the book points out that utopias have fallen out of fashion, no doubt due to the horrors committed by totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, which have claimed to be ideal states. However, the critic Tom Moylan has argued that utopias have still been produced in the SF novels of Joanna Russ, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy and Samuel Delaney. He describes these as ‘critical utopias’, a new literary genre. The heroes of this literature is not the dominant White, heterosexual male, but characters who are off-centre, female, gay, non-White, and who act collectively rather than individually. The book criticises some earlier utopias, like News from Nowhere, for their exclusive focus on the male viewpoint, comparing them with the Land of Cockayne, the medieval fantasy that similarly presents a perfect world in which everything is seemingly ordered for men’s pleasure. In contrast to these are the feminist utopias of the above writers, which began in the late 19th century with Harriet Gilman’s Herland. It also discusses the value of satires like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and dystopias like Eugene Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Levitas does not, however, consider utopianism to be merely confined to the left. She also considers Thatcherism a form of utopianism, discussing the late Roger Scruton’s Conservative Essays and citing Patrick Wright’s On Living in an Old Country. This last argued that the Conservative promotion of heritage was being used to reinforce old hierarchies in a markedly racist way. Some members of society were thus delineated as truly members of the nation, while others were excluded.

The book was first published in 1990, just before or when Communism was falling. It shows it’s age by discussing the issue whether the terrible state of the Soviet Union served to deter people dreaming and trying to create perfect, socialist societies. She argues that it doesn’t, only that the forms of this societies are different from the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR. This is a fair assessment. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of books about the future colonisation of Mars, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the colonists not only succeed in terraforming the planet, but also create socialist society in which authority is as decentralised as possible, women are fully equal and patriarchy has been overthrown and businesses run by their workers as cooperatives. At the same time, those wishing to return to a more primitive way of life have formed hunter-gatherer tribes, which are nevertheless also conversant with contemporary technology.

Further on, although the Fall of Communism has been claimed to have discredited not just Marxism but also socialism, recent history has shown the opposite is true. After forty years of Thatcherism, an increasing number of people are sick and tired of it, its economic failures, the glaring inequalities of wealth, the grinding poverty and degradation it is creating. This is why the Conservative establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party, were so keen to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a Communist and Trotskyite, or whatever else they could throw at him. He gave working people hope, and as Servalan, the grim leader of the Terran Federation said on the Beeb’s classic SF show, Blake’s Seven, ‘Hope is very dangerous’. A proper socialist society continues to inspire women and men to dream and work towards a better world, and it is to stop this that the Blairites contrived to get Corbyn’s Labour to lose two elections and have him replaced by Keir Starmer, a neo-liberal vacuity who increasingly has nothing to say to Johnson and his team of crooks.

Back to the book, its discussion of the nature of utopia therefore tends to be rather abstract and theoretical as it attempts to describe the concept and the way it has changed and been used. I didn’t find this really particularly interesting, although there are nevertheless many valuable insights here. I would instead have been far more interested in learning more about the particular ideas, plans and descriptions of a new, perfect, or at least far better, society of the many thinkers, philosophers and authors mentioned.