Posts Tagged ‘Welfare Reforms’

American Tsarism

December 15, 2017

Going though YouTube the other day, I found a clip, whose title quoted a political analyst, radical or politicians, as saying that the American political elite now regards its own, ordinary citizens as a foreign country. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but I will have to check the video out. But looking at the title of what the leader of the Conservative branch of the Polish nationalist movement said about the Russian Empire. He described how the tsars and the autocracy exploited and oppressed ordinary Russians, stating baldly that ‘they treat their people as a foreign, conquered nation’. Which just about describes tsarist rule, with its secret police, anti-union, anti-socialist legislation, the way it ground the peasants and the nascent working class into the ground for the benefit of big business and the country’s industrialisation. The system of internal passports, which were introduced to keep the peasants on the land, and paying compensation to their masters for the freedom they had gained under Tsar Alexander, and to continue working for them for free, doing feudal labour service: the robot, as it was known in Czech. It’s no accident that this is the word, meaning ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, that Karel Capek introduced into the English and other languages as the term for an artificial human in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots.

We’re back to Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ – the rich, and everyone else, who don’t live near each other, don’t have anything in common and who may as well be foreign countries. It’s in the Tory intellectual’s Coningsby, I understand. Disraeli didn’t really have an answer to the problem, except to preach class reconciliation and argue that the two could cooperate in building an empire. Well, imperialism’s technically out of favour, except for right-wing pundits like Niall Ferguson, so it has to be cloaked in terms of ‘humanitarian aid’. Alexander the Great was doing the same thing 2,500 years ago. When he imposed tribute on the conquered nations, like the Egyptians and Persians, it wasn’t called ‘tribute’. It was called ‘contributions to the army of liberation’. Because he’d liberated them from their tyrannical overlords, y’see. The Mongols did the same. Before taking a town or territory, they’d send out propaganda, posing as a force of liberators come to save the populace from the tyrants and despots, who were ruling them.

What a joke. Someone asked Genghis Khan what he though ‘happiness’ was. He’s supposed to have replied that it was massacring the enemy, plundering his property, burning his land, and outraging his women. If you’ve ever seen the 1980s film version of Conan the Barbarian, it’s the speech given by Conan when he’s shown in a cage growing up. I think the film was written by John Milius, who was responsible for Dirty Harry ‘and other acts of testosterone’ as Starburst put it.

And it also describes exactly how the elite here regard our working and lower-middle classes. We’re crushed with taxes, more of us are working in jobs that don’t pay, or forced into something close to serfdom through massive debt and workfare contracts. The last oblige people to give their labour free to immensely profitable firms like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. And at the same time, the elite have been active in social cleansing – pricing the traditional inhabitants of working class, and often multicultural areas, out of their homes. These are now gentrified, and become the exclusive enclaves of the rich. Homes that should have people in them are bought up by foreigners as an investment and left empty in ‘land-banking’. And you remember the scandal of the ‘poor doors’ in London, right? This was when an apartment block was designed with two doors, one of the rich, and one for us hoi polloi, so the rich didn’t have to mix with horned handed sons and daughters of toil.

I got the impression that for all his Toryism, Disraeli was a genuine reformer. He did extend the vote to the upper working class – the aristocracy of Labour, as it was described by Marx, creating the ‘villa Toryism’ that was to continue into the Twentieth Century and our own. But all the Tories have done since is mouth platitudes and banalities about how ‘one nation’ they are. Ever since John Major. David Cameron, a true-blue blooded toff, who was invited by the Palace to take a job there, claimed to be a ‘one nation Tory’. Yup, this was when he was introducing all the vile, wretched reforms that have reduced this country’s great, proud people, Black, brown, White and all shades in-between – to grinding poverty, with a fury specially reserved for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled. These last have been killed by his welfare reforms. Look at the posts I’ve put up about it, reblogging material from Stilloaks, Another Angry Voice, the Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper, Johnny Void, et al.

But that’s how the super-rich seem to see us: as moochers, taxing them to indulge ourselves. It was Ayn Rand’s attitude, shown in Atlas Shrugs. And it’s how the upper classes see us, especially the Libertarians infecting the Republican and Conservative parties, whose eyes were aglow with the joys of the unrestrained free market and the delights of South American death squads and the monsters that governed them. Walking atrocities against the human condition like General Pinochet, the Contras, Noriega. All the thugs, monsters and torturers, who raped and butchered their people, while Reagan slavered over them as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And you know what? An increasing number of progressives are taking a hard look at the Fathers of the American nation. Patricians to a man, who definitely had no intention of the freeing the slaves, or giving the vote to the ladies. and who explicitly wrote that they were concerned to protect property from the indigent masses. Outright imperialists, who took land from Mexico, and explicitly wrote that they looked forward to the whole of South America falling into the hands of ‘our people’. If you need a reason why many South Americans hate America with a passion, start with that one. It’s the reason behind the creation of ‘Arielismo’. This is the literary and political movement, which started in Argentina in the 19th century, which uses the figure of Caliban in Shakespeare’s the Tempest to criticise and attack European and North American colonialism, with the peoples of the South as the Caliban-esque colonised. It was formed by Argentinian literary intellectuals as a reaction to America’s wars against Mexico and annexation of Mexican territory, and their attempts to conquer Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

That’s how South America responded to colonisation from the North and West. And colonialism – as troublesome ‘natives’ to be kept under control, is very much how the elite see ordinary Brits and Americans, regardless of whether they’re White, Black, Asian or members of the First Nations.

But you can only fool people for so long, before the truth becomes blindingly obvious. You can only print so many lies, broadcast so many news reports telling lies and twisted half-truths, before conditions become so terrible ordinary people start questioning what a corrupt, mendacious media are telling them. The constant scare stories about Muslims, foreign immigration, Black crime and violence; the demonization of the poor and people on benefit. The constant claim that if working people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’ to use Gordon Brown’s phrase. Because they don’t work hard enough, have too many children, or spend all their money on luxuries like computers – actually in the information age a necessity – or computer games, X-Boxes and the like.

You can only do that before the workers you’ve legislated against joining unions start setting up workers’ and peasants’ councils – soviets. Before the peasants rise up and start burning down all those manor houses, whose denizens we are expected to follow lovingly in shows like Downton Abbey. Which was written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory speechwriter.

Before ordinary people say, in the words of ’80s Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister, ‘We ain’t goin’ to take it’.

Before decent, respectable middle class people of conscience and integrity decide that the establish is irremediably corrupt, and there’s absolutely no point defending it any longer.

A month or so ago, BBC 4 broadcast a great series on Russian history, Empire of the Tsars, present by Lucy Worsley. In the third and last edition, she described the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. She described how Vera Zasulich, one of the 19th century revolutionaries, tried to blow away the governor of St. Petersburg. She was caught and tried. And the jury acquitted her. Not because they didn’t believe she hadn’t tried to murder the governor of St. Petersburg, but because in their view it wasn’t a crime. Zasulich was one of the early Russian Marxists, who turned from peasant anarchism to the new, industrial working classes identified by Marx as the agents of radical social and economic change.

And so before the Revolution finally broke out, the social contract between ruler and ruled, tsarist autocracy and parts of the middle class, had broken down.

I’m not preaching revolution. It tends to lead to nothing but senseless bloodshed and the rise of tyrannies that can be even worse than the regimes they overthrow. Like Stalin, who was as brutal as any of the tsars, and in many cases much more so. But the elites are preparing for civil unrest in the next couple of decades. Policing in America is due to become more militarised, and you can see the same attitude here. After all, Boris Johnson had to have his three water cannons, which are actually illegal in Britain and so a colossal waste of public money.

Don’t let Britain get to that point. Vote Corbyn, and kick May and her gang of profiteers, aristos and exploiters out. Before they kill any more people.

Bill Hicks on Politicians as Serial Killers: Jesse Helms and Now IDS?

June 11, 2014

Cannibal Iain Duncan Smith

One of America’s funniest and most incisive comedians was the late Bill Hicks, who sadly died in 1992 of cancer of the throat. Dissatisfied with comedians, who were simply content to amuse their audiences with bland material – Hicks contemptuously referred to them as ‘joke-blowers’ – Hicks used his comedy to criticise and rail against everything he considered to be stupid, mediocre or immoral in society. This included pop stars with minimal talent, or who he felt had sold out to corporate interests. A frequent subject of his attacks were the Republican administrations of Reagan and George Bush snr, whom he denounced in the strongest terms for their war-mongering, their Christian fundamentalism and the atrocities they committed in South America. Talking about how Bush had armed Saddam Hussein, Hicks said ‘How do we know he’s got all these weapons? Easy! We got the receipt… When the cheque clears, we’re right in there’. Discussing the Republicans’ criticism that Bill Clinton would raise taxes, Hicks loudly proclaimed that there were other reasons not to vote for Bush than just taxes.

I don’t know what’s happened to us as a world – maybe twelve years of Republicanism has made us think this way. But the reason I didn’t vote for George Bush is because George Bush, along with Ronald Reagan, presided over an administration whose policies towards South America included genocide. (laughs) So, yeah, you see … the reason I didn’t vote for him is cos he’s a mass murderer. Yeah. I, yeah. OK. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll … I’ll pay that extra nickel on, you know, a litre of petrol just knowing little brown kids aren’t being clubbed to death like baby seals in Honduras so Pepsi can put a plant down there.

One of his targets was Jesse Helms, the stridently reactionary Republican senator and architect of Reagan’s presidential campaign, whom Hicks accused in one rant of being a secret child-killer.

Boy, Jessie Helms. Isn’t that a great one, i’n’t he? Just another little fevered ego tainting our collective unconscious. Cos you know, anyone – like Swaggart – anyone that far to the right is hiding a very deep and dark secret. You do know that, right? I’m an armchair f***ing psychologist, but anyone that – you know when Jessie Helms finally dies, he’s gonna commit suicide first of all in a washtub out back underneath a pecan tree. He’s gonna slash his wrists and he’s gonna write in blood, ‘I been a bad boy.’ But you know they’re gonna find the skins of young children drying in his attic. Swarms of horse-flies going in and out of the eaves, and on CNN, over and over, his wife going, ‘I always wondered about Jessie’s collection of little shoes.’ Anyone that far to the right is f***ing hiding a deep, dark secret.’

It’s an extreme, vicious metaphorical description of a venomously extreme Right-wing politico. And it’s also good, metaphorical description of Iain Duncan Smith. Except that in Smith’s case, it’s close to literal truth. He really is that Right-wing, and he really does have a deep, dark secret about the number of people he’s killed. A day or so ago I compared him to the Russian Ripper, Andrei Chikatilo, who raped, murdered and ate 53 adults and children before being finally caught and shot in 1991. IDS hasn’t actually killed anyone personally, but his welfare reforms – which really amount to little more than cutting unemployment and disability benefits off to an increasing number of people – have resulted in tens of thousands of people dying in misery and poverty. Mike and his commenters over at Vox Political have estimated that it’s about 220 per week, or one person every four hours.

And he has kept his crimes very secret. Everyone trying to obtain the numbers of people, who’ve died through his policies under the FOI have been denied the information, or given carefully massaged figures that relate to previous years. Their requests have been turned down as ‘vexatious’. Which to me, indicates that the government is fully aware about the carnage his policies are causing. They just don’t care, and indeed are trying to give him their full support. And as with Reagan’s squadristi and stormtroopers amongst the South American Fascists and dictators, people in this country also think he’s responsible for crimes against humanity under the precise meaning of international law. It ain’t just poor mestizo kids being clubbed to death in Honduras, but White, Black and Brown British kids, and their parents and grandparents being starved and forced out to food banks. If you want to see the faces of those, who’ve been killed through RTU’s vicious hatred and need to persecute the poorest in society, go over to Stilloak’s blog, and those of some of the other anti-austerity and disability activists.

And unlike Helms in Hicks’ joke, RTU has shown absolutely no contrition or remorse for his crimes. He needs to be called to account now. He’s going to be on Question Time tomorrow, so it’ll be interesting to see if anyone asks him about the massive death rate his policies have caused. Though I bet they won’t.

Hick’s humour in frequently consisted of coarse, scatological invective and obscenity to the extent where Frankie Boyle seems mild in comparison. I can’t really reproduce the stronger material here. Here, however, is a piece where Hicks explains how America’s leaders are all corporate puppets. Enjoy.

1898 Call from Russian Workers to Form Union against Employers’ Abuses

April 24, 2014

I found this leaflet from the Ekaterinoslav Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in Lionel Kochan’s Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) in 1898. It’s a protest against the appalling conditions and high accident rate at the Bryansk factory. If the direct causes of the strike were particular to late 19th century Russia, I was struck by how many of the issues are recurring in Britain in the early 21st century: starvation, low wages, refusal by the company to permit ‘necessary breaks’ – according to Owen Jones in Chavs, in one call centre workers have to put up their hands, as in school, every time they wish to take a comfort break. Unions and strikers were illegal in pre-Revolutionary Russia, and this government would very much like to go the same way. Boris Johnson has said that he would like to make strikes made illegal, if they were passed without fifty per cent of the workers attending the meeting, even if all the workers present voted overwhelmingly for the strike. The leaflet reads:

Every day we must hear, no here, now there, that a man has died and our blood-suckers continue to stuff their pockets, giving
no consideration to the men who have died, whose families have lost their bread-winner and are perhaps dying of starvation. The whole day we work, pouring out our blood and sweat. Every minute we expose our life to danger, we have no chance to use an essential break, and when there are accidents they accuse us of carelessness! The greed of the capitalists, the long working day, the meagre wage – there is the cause of all accidents. Even the holidays which we have had until now, have seemed too much to these beasts of prey and they have persuaded the government, which is always on the side of the capitalists, to reduce the number of holidays in the year … Comrades, they have fooled us, they have fed long enough on our blood and sweat. Our only salvation can be Friendly Workers’ Unions, against which nothing can stand. Let us join together, comrades, in one general union and demand from the office new changes in the regulations. (p. 45).

People are starving in Britain due to the government’s reforms of the benefits’ systems. Mike over at Vox Political has launched an FOI request and went to court to get the government to release the precise numbers of figures for those who are dying. It’s about 73 people a month, although it may well be much higher. And the Work Programme and various workfare policies, traineeships and unpaid internships are all about supplying industry with unpaid labour. It’s about time all this was stopped, and working people stood together to unite to force the Tories out and overturn their vile policies.

A 19th Century Magdeburg Citizen on the Difference between Paupers and Proletarians

April 13, 2014

One of the documents reproduced in Peter Jones’ The Revolutions of 1848 (Harlow: Longman 1981) pp. 78-9 are the observations of an anonymous citizen of Magdeburg in Germany of the fundamental psychological difference between paupers and proletarians. Paupers accept their poverty, while the proletarians actively resented it and the order that caused it. The extract runs:

… the proletarian is aware of his situation. This is why he is fundamentally different from the pauper, who accepts his fate as a divine ordinance and demands nothing but alms and an idle life. The proletarian realised straight away that he was in a situation which was intolerable and unjust; he thought about it and felt a longing for ownership; he wanted to take part in the joys of existence; he refused to believe that he had to through life in misery, just because he was born in misery; moreover he was aware of his strength, as we pointed out above; he saw how the world trembled before him and this recollection emboldened him; he went so far as to disregard Law and Justice. hitherto property had been a right: he branded it a robbery.

We too have a proletariat, but not so well developed. If one were to ask our artisans, who have been ruined by competition and much else, our weavers who are out of work, silk-weavers, those who live in our cassematte and family-homes; if one were bold enough to penetrate these cabins and hovels; if one spoke to the people and took in their conditions; one would realise with a shock that we have a proletariat. Nevertheless, they are not daring enough to voice their demands, for the German is generally shy and likes to hide his misfortune. But misery grow, and we may be quite sure, even as one day follows another, that the voice of poverty will one day be terribly loud!

The policy of successive administrations since Thatcher has been to try to turn the working class from proletarians into paupers. She destroyed the traditional working class heavy industries as part of a deliberate policy of destroying the unions and creating a huge reservoir of the unemployed. See Kittysjones’ recent post on the academic report discussing this, Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom” at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/. The Tories have then promoted an active psychological policy in which the unemployed and the poor are made to believe that their poverty is somehow their fault, rather than the economic structure of society. This also has the deliberate effect of discouraging the new paupers from enjoying an idle life. So if the Tories don’t want the proletariat to feel they are powerful, they do need them to feel that they can somehow do something about their conditions, a deliberate channelling of part of the surviving proletarian psychology – the desire for ownership – into a form that will accept the increasing stratified economic and social structure. However, increasing numbers of people are seeing their desire for dignity and property frustrated and denied, as they are priced out of the property market, and suffer from the rising prices of the energy companies. And for the unemployed, thanks to government welfare reforms and benefit sanctions, even food has become unaffordable and people are forced to go to food banks to stop themselves from starving.

This cannot and must not continue. The Tories and Tory Democrats should be voted out at the next election as the working people of this country show their awareness of their strength. The voice of the poor, the disabled, the unemployed must be heard. And it must be very loud.

The Horrors of 19th Century Industrial Society and the Rejection of Liberalism for Socialism

March 14, 2014

Hearder Europe pic

I found this description of the origins of socialism in the 19th century in Harry Hearder’s Europe in the Nineteenth Century 1830-1880, 2nd edition (London: Longman 1988). He explains that it arose through the rejection of Liberalism by some 19th century intellectuals, who believed that its concentration on individual rights had been inadequate to protect people from the harsh poverty and exploitation of modern industrial society.

A more important reaction against laissez-faire liberalism and middle-class democracy was represented by a new creed, the creed of socialism. In January 1848 de Tocqueville, addressing the Assembly of the July Monarchy in the last days of its life, had pointed out a significant fact that in recent times in Paris a large number of writings had appeared attacking the right of property. Less than six months later Europe witnessed the first major socialist rising in the June Days in Paris. The idea of social equality which had gathered appreciable support under the July Monarchy was not an entirely new one in 1830. Babeuf, the follower of Robespierre in the 1790s, had worked for his idea of a dictatorship of the poor. But the creation of an industrial proletariat provided a more clearly distinguishable class, not synonymous with ‘the poor’, but large enough to justify a new political faith, and to provide the fighting columns to support such a faith. The terrible conditions of industrial workers in England and France, to be discussed in a later chapter, attracted in the first place the attention of philanthropists or agitators, who had no complete politico-economic philosophy with which to conduct the onslaught on the capitalist exploiters. But slowly it began to be realized by small groups of thinkers that the rights of the individual as thy had been defined by the English, American and French Revolutions did not protect the great majority of men in the new industrialized society from an unreasonable amount of suffering and what was in practice only a modified form of slavery. A real continuity of social justice could not be obtained merely by legislating in favour of a free economy. The free play of the laws of supply and demand did not protect the weak from the strong… French followers of Saint-Simon [early Utopian Socialist] could concentrate upon the central theme of his message, and one of them, Pierre Leroux, named the theme ‘socialism’. (pp. 57-8).

We’ve seen in our own day the massive inadequacy of the free market to provide prosperity for the working and lower middle classes. Since the 19th century the vast majority of Socialists in Western Europe have been keen defenders of democracy and individual rights, if not the right to property. The situation in this regard is now the reverse. It is the Right that is now consistently trying to undermine the rights of the very poorest members of society. Mike over at Vox Political , Jayne Linney and very many other left-wing bloggers have covered the way they have ignored parliament, and treated with contempt the calls by its committees for a cumulative impact assessment into the way the government’s welfare reforms have affected the poor and disabled it claims to be helping.

They have also attempted to pass further legislation outlawing public protests, under the guise that this may be a nuisance to the communities where the protests are held. The Angry Yorkshireman over at another Angry Voice has also covered the massive expansion of covert surveillance by this government. He has a story today about how GCHQ’s massive monitoring of the net included taking screen snaps of people having cybersex. This rather lurid fact is part of the wider point, that GCHQ was snooping on ordinary citizens, who had committed no offence and for whose surveillance they had no legal warrant. See his piece this morning: GCHQ: Spying on people’s cybersex sessions in Order to “Protect” Them, at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/gchq-yahoo-optic-nerve-horwood.html. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, since it first appeared in the 1980s, criticised the massive expansion of the powers, corruption, and political interference of the British secret state. The magazine was unimpressed by Blair’s signal refusal to curb its growth or organise any proper investigation into its failures – such as those that allowed the 7/7 bombing to occur. Its growth seems to have expanded even further under the Tories and Tory Democrats. Its spying on the ordinary suggests that the government now regards everyone of its citizens as a potential threat, an attitude that can only lead to more paranoia and more attempts to limit liberty and freedom of speech.

The need for socialist legislation to combat the poverty created by the free market is as necessary as ever. And there needs to be proper, liberal, democratic legislation to curb the expansion and development of the surveillance state. But I cannot see any of the latter coming from the Tories or Lib Dems, despite their claims to represent and promote individual liberty.