Posts Tagged ‘Weimar Republic’

Universal Credit Hits Bath

February 25, 2014

The local news for this part of the West Country, BBC Points West, last night covered the introduction of Universal Credit in Bath. The programme mentioned that the system was several months over time and over budget. They interviewed a few people going into one of the city’s Jobcentres about how complicated the present system was. They replied with statements like it was a nightmare, and ‘Oh, don’t go there.’ They also briefly interviewed David Freud, the minister from the government, who was there to talk up the scheme, how it was more efficient, and less confusing and wasteful than the earlier system. Also present was a local businessman, Chris Smith, who declared that this was going to be good for business and employers. He stated that he had tried to recruit new staff many times, who told him that they’d like to work for him, but could not work more than 16 hours a week. He stated that it would be good if this were removed, and he and others like him could ‘grow a business’. The report also stated that the policy had the backing of all three major parties.

So that’s all right then, as Private Eye says whenever someone in authority issues a flimsy excuse for shoddy behaviour and double standards.

The only criticism of Universal Credit was that it was over time and over budget. I can think of a number of other criticisms, the least of which are these.

Firstly, the benefits system is complicated for a very good reason: different kinds of people need very different kinds of help, and this does not appear to have changed by trying to consolidate all the different types of benefit into one. Mike over at Vox Political has blogged and rebloggged pieces about how immensely complicated and confusing Universal Credit is, because of the sheer necessity of dealing with different people’s needs.

Secondly, any benefits to claimants under the new system simply won’t be a consideration. The government’s policy towards the unemployed is that they should be humiliated and pressured into seeking work, even if this is unavailable. Every opportunity should be taken to throw them off benefits, even if they have no other source of income. In the case of those sanctioned by Atos, this may have resulted in the deaths of 38,000 per year.

The choice of David Freud as the responsible minister to open the system in the city demonstrates this attitude very clearly. Freud is a former New Labour MP, who crossed the floor to join the Conservatives. Like the rest of the government front bench, he is a terrible toff, who doesn’t understand the poor and treats them with utter contempt. This is the man, who said that the poor should be more flexible than millionaires, as they have less to lose.

As for Chris Smith, his endorsement of the system suggests that he doesn’t wish to recruit his workers by giving them a fair day’s wage for their labours, but by recruiting the poor and desperate, forced to find work through further cuts to their benefits. And note: his comments show clearly that he is not recruiting full time staff. He has said he feels the changes to the benefits system will allow companies like his to grow by allowing workers on benefits to work more hours than the maximum of 16 to which they are currently limited. So he doesn’t want to give them full-time work, or solve his problem by employing more part-time workers to do the hours the others cannot. He seems simply to want to grow his business by extending the working hours of those he already has. Which suggests that he sees those on benefits as a supply of cheap labour to be exploited.

As for Universal Credit being backed by all three main parties, this unfortunately shows the increasing homogeneity and crushing lack of ideas of the main political parties. All of them have swallowed the Neo-Liberal Kool-Aid, and show precious little understanding for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. David Milliband, for example, has stated that he wishes the Labour party to reach out to the middle classes. I’ve no problem with that in theory, but in practice it has meant that the working class and the unemployed are being sidelined so that Milliband and his predecessors in New Labour can present the party as economically orthodox, with a harsh line on the unemployed.

This, unfortunately, is part of the reason for the resistible rise of UKIP. There’s a piece over on Guy Debord’s Cat that shows that most UKIP supporters are actually left-wing, almost as left as the Labour party. UKIP itself is, however, so far to the right that it has been declared BNP-lite. Indeed, Private Eye reported several years ago how Farage and Fuehrer Nick Griffin were seen having lunch together. Presumably they were discussing the bankruptcy of multi-party democracy and the constraints on national sovereignty of a corrupt international order, though not necessarily with reference to the Weimar Republic. Nevertheless, UKIP presents itself as radically different from the other three parties and is deliberately aiming to recruit those working class voters, who believe that Labour has abandoned them. Labour could easily parry this threat by moving back to the Left and defending the unemployed, the poor, the disabled. This would, however, mean challenging and scrapping much of the heritage of New Labour, which it clearly is reluctant to do.

As for Bath and Universal Credit, the City’s a Liberal/ Conservative seat. They have, after all, returned Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of William Rees-Mogg, as their MP. Bath is a beautiful city, but it’s like Cheltenham in that beneath the great wealth there’s a deprived underclass that lives cheek by jowl with its wealthier neighbours. Back in the 1990s it used to be on the route for the New Age travellers going to Glastonbury. It’s also an expensive city. Those on modest incomes can find it very difficult to find suitable accommodation. So while it’s almost inevitable that Universal Credit would rolled out there, it’s arrival will only cause more poverty and hardship to the city’s sizable poor population. But as they’re invisible to the crowds of tourists flooding the city for the Roman Baths, the Pump Room and the architecture for the city of Jane Austen’s novels, they’ll continue to be ignored by the politicos.

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From Political Apathy to Dictatorship

February 17, 2014

Russell Brand

Russell Brand: Funny man and bĂȘte 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.

Alan Moore on ‘V for Vendetta’

September 28, 2013

Mike over on Vox Political is, if you hadn’t already guessed, a long term comics fan. He’s blogged several times on the very disturbing parallels between the current financial crisis and the authoritarian, exploitative Coalition government, and the Fascist Britain portrayed in his graphic novel, V for Vendetta. I found the video below on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX7ehbE1vc0. It was originally broadcast on either BBC 3 or 4 in their documentary series, Comics Britannia. Moore here talks about how it came out of his activities with Rock against Racism, and states that like a lot of Science Fiction it was really about what is happening now, not the future. He makes very plain his anarchism and antipathy to leaders. He also says that he wanted to explore the morality of violence and states that he did not want to write it so that because he, Moore, was an Anarchist, it was therefore all right for the Anarchist hero to use violence.

He also wanted to portray the Fascists in the novel as ordinary people, some of whom may even have been likable. The Nazis, he points out, were not monsters from space and did not suddenly arrive from the pit of hell. This is, unfortunately, entirely accurate. Hannah Arendt in her description of the trial of Adolf Eichmann talked about the ‘banality of evil’. Primo Levi, the noted Italian author and holocaust survivor, said of the concentration camp guards that they were no different from the rest of humanity. In his words, ‘they had our faces’. Moore points out that the Nazis included the butchers, teachers and street-sweepers, many whom simply went along with what was going on, or they believed in the ideology. It’s a point which needs to be made. There’s a lot of complete rubbish written about Nazi Germany. Since the book The Morning of the Magicians appeared in the 1960s there has been a slew of books portraying Hitler as a literally demonic force, an evil black magician in touch with malign occult entities. He wasn’t. The Nazis were a product of the racial, geopolitical and eugenic theories then current in Europe and America at the time. There were brought to power by the financial collapse of 1929, the political disintegration and factionalism of the Weimar Republic, and the fear of global Communism and Soviet totalitarianism, although this last has been disputed by some historians. Hitler had read and taken some of his ideas about evolution from the pamphlets produced by the leaders of bizarre, Neo-pagan groups, like Lanz Von Liebenfels and Guido Von List. Their ultimate influence on Nazism was minimal and they were suppressed under Nazis. Some of their ideas survived in Himmler’s SS. For a proper understanding of this aspect of Nazism, see The Occult Roots of Nazism, by Nicholas Goodrick Clarke (London: I.B. Tauris & Co, 1992).

The most horrific aspect of the Nazis and other totalitarian butchers is that they were not literal demons or crazed alien machine creatures, like Dr. Who’s Daleks, but ordinary people. That needs to be accepted if we really wish to understand the immense evil they did as part of the dark side of the human psyche.

This is Alan Moore, talking about his work on V for Vendetta.