Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

Pictures of Britain’s Wartime Flying Ladies and Engineers

April 5, 2020

A little while ago I put up a post about a series of books written by Captain W.E. Johns. These were naturally about the female counterpart of his great hero, Biggles, a longtime favourite of British children’s fiction. This was Worrals, a member of the ATA, the wartime aviation service, which included women that delivered new planes to the RAF. In a series of three books, Worrals and her friend Frecks became uncovered a Gestapo plot, eventually parachuting into occupied France to fight the Nazis responsible.

One of the other books I ordered from the same mail order company specialising in bargain books, was Britain in Pictures: Aviation (Lewes: Ammonite Press/Press Association 2012). This is a collection of photographs of aircraft in Britain from the very earliest flights, such as the gas balloons used by the army during the First World War, right up to today’s high performance jets and helicopters. It also includes a photograph of the Swiss aviator, Yves Rossy, who successfully crossed the Channel in 2008 on a homemade, jet propelled wing. A far less successful attempt, also reproduced in the book, was that of Frenchman Stephane Rousson, who tried to fly from Hythe in Kent to Calais in a pedal-powered airship, the Mlle. Louise. Sadly, high winds preventing him from completing his journey. But I like and admire the inventors, hobbyists and eccentrics who create new aircraft to take to the skies like the great pioneers of aviation over a century ago.

The book also contains photographs of the women of the ATA – Air Transport Auxiliary – and WAAF – the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Here are a few of them.

This one is of Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower in a de Havilland Tiger Moth trainer. She was a pilot and author, and was the head of the women’s branch of the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. Sadly she died in childbirth in 1947.

This one is of a group of ATA women pilots in their flying gear, ready to go to work, from 1939. The book says that they received no conversion training for new aircraft. They were simply given the machine’s handbook and expected to get on with it!

This is a photo of three of the first nine women to join the ATA – Mrs Marion Wilberforce, Miss Rosemary Rees and Mrs G. Patterson. All three of these ladies survived the War.

This photo is of two flight mechanics from the WAAF painting squadron markings on the fuselage of a Hawker Hurricane. Members of the WAAF didn’t fly, but they did perform a number of other valuable duties during the War.

It was ladies like these, who did their bit to defeat the Fascist threat. I salute them, and the women and men, who have followed them into aviation, to ‘slip the surly bonds of Earth, and touch the face of God’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Trek: Was Gene Roddenberry Influenced by Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ Novels

March 20, 2020

This is just a bit of SF fan speculation before I start writing about the really serious stuff. I’ve just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Pirates of the Asteroids. First published in 1952, this is the second of five novels about David ‘Lucky’ Starr, Space Ranger. In  it, Starr goes after the Space Pirates, who killed his parents and left him to die when he was four. He tries to infiltrate their organisation by stowing away aboard a remote-controlled ship that’s deliberately sent into the asteroids to be attacked and boarded by the pirates. He’s captured, forced to fight for his life in a duel fought with the compressed air push guns NASA developed to help astronauts maneuver during spacewalks. After fighting off an attempt on his life by his opponent, Starr is taken by the pirates to the asteroid lair of a reclusive, elderly man, one of a number who have bought their own asteroids as retirement homes. The elderly man, Hansen, helps him to escape, and the pair fly back to Ceres to meet Starr’s old friends and mentors from the Science Academy. Starr and his diminutive Martian friend, Bigman, decide to return to the old hermit’s asteroid, despite it having disappeared from its predicted position according to Starr’s orbital calculations in the meantime. Searching for it, they find a pirate base. Starr is captured, his radio disabled, and literally catapulted into space to die and the pirates plan to attack his spaceship, left in the capable hands of Bigman. Starr and Bigman escape, travel back to Ceres, which they find has been attacked by the pirates in the meantime, and the hermit, Hansen, captured. Meanwhile Earth’s enemies, the Sirians, have taken over Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. Starr reasons that the pirates are operating in cahoots with them to conquer the solar system, and that the pirates are taking Hansen there. He heads off in hot pursuit, seeking not just to stop the pirates and their leader before they reach Ganymede, but thereby also prevent a devastating war between Earth and Sirius.

In many ways, it’s typical of the kind of SF written at the time. It’s simple fun, aimed at a juvenile and adolescent readership. Instead of using real profanity, the characters swear ‘By space’ and shout ‘Galloping Galaxies’ when surprised or shocked. It also seems typical of some SF of its time in that it’s anti-war. The same attitude is in the SF fiction written by Captain W.E. Johns, the author of the classic ‘Biggles’ books. Johns wrote a series of novels, such as Kings of Space, Now to the Stars, about a lad, Rex, and his friends, including a scientist mentor, who make contact with the civilisation behind the UFOs. These are a race of friendly, humanoid aliens from Mars and the asteroid belt, who befriend our heroes. Nevertheless, there is also an evil villain, who has to be defeated by the heroes. It’s a very long time since I read them, but one thing a I do remember very clearly is the anti-war message expressed by one the characters. The scientist and the other Earthmen are discussing war and the urge for conquest. The scientist mentions how Alexander the Great cried when he reached the borders of India, because there were no more countries left to conquer. The characters agree that such megalomaniac warriors are responsible for all the needless carnage in human history, and we’d be better off without them. This is the voice of a generation that lived through and fought two World Wars and had seen the horror of real conflict. They weren’t pacifists by any means, but they hated war. It’s been said that the people least likely to start a war are those who’ve actually fought in one. I don’t know if Asimov ever did, but he had the same attitude of many of those, who had. It’s in marked contrast with the aggressive militarism of Heinlein and Starship Troopers, and the ‘chickenhawks’ in George W. Bush’s administration way back at the beginning of this century. Bush and his neocon advisers were very keen to start wars in the Middle East, despite having done everything they could to make sure they were well out of it. Bush famously dodged national service in Vietnam. As has the latest incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump.

But what I found interesting was the similarity of some the elements in the book with Star Trek. Roddenberry, Trek’s creator, was influenced by another SF book, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, as well as the ‘Hornblower’ novels. The latter is shown very clearly in Kirk’s character. But I suspect he was also influenced by Asimov as well in details like the Vulcan Science Council, subspace radio and the energy shields protecting Star Trek’s space ships. The Science Council seems to be the chief organ of government on Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan. Which makes sense, as Vulcans are coldly logical and rational, specialising in science, maths and philosophy. But in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books, Earth’s Science Council is also a vital organ of government, exercising police powers across the Terrestrial Empire somewhat parallel to the admiralty.

Communications across space are through sub-etheric radio. This recalls the sub-etha radio in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and shows that Adams probably read Asimov as well. In Star Trek, space communications are through ‘sub-space radio’. The idea of FTL communications isn’t unique to Asimov. In Blish’s Cities in Flight novels, the spacefaring cities communicate through normal radio and the Dirac telephone. The ansible, another FTL communication device, appears in Ursula K. Le Guine’s 1970s novel, The Dispossessed. What is striking here is the similarity of terms: ‘sub-etheric’ and ‘sub-space’. These are similar names to describe a very similar concept.

Star Trek’s space ships were also protected by force fields, termed shields, from micrometeorites and the ray weapons and torpedoes of attacking aliens, like Klingons, Romulans, Orion pirates and other riff-raff. The spacecraft in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books are protected by histeresis shields. Histeresis is a scientific term to describe the lag in materials of the effects of an electromagnetic field, if I recall my ‘O’ level Physics correctly. Roddenberry seems to have taken over this concept and imported it into Trek, dropping the ‘histeresis’ bit. And from Trek it entered Star Wars and Science Fiction generally. The idea is absent in the recent SF series, The Expanse. This is set in the 23rd century, when humanity has expanded into space. The Solar System is divided into three political powers/ groups: the Earth, now a united planet under the government of the United Nations, the Mars Congressional Republic, and the Belt, which is a UN protectorate. The Martians have gained their independence from Earth only after a war, while the Belt is seething with disaffection against UN/Martian control and exploitation. The political situation is thus teetering on the brink of system-wide war, breaking out into instances of active conflict. The ships don’t possess shields, so that bullets and projectiles launched by rail guns smash straight through them, and the crews have to dodge them and hope that when they are hit, it doesn’t strike anything vital. The Expanse is very much hard SF, and I suspect the absence of shields is not just the result of a desire to produce proper, scientifically plausible SF, but also a reaction to force fields, which have become something of an SF cliche.

But returning to Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ novels, it does seem to me that Roddenberry was influenced by them when creating Star Trek’s universe alongside other SF novels,  just as Adams may have been when he wrote Hitch-Hiker. Asimov’s best known for his ‘Robot’ and ‘Foundation’ novels, which have also been highly influential. But it looks like these other books also exercised a much less obvious, though equally pervasive influence through Roddenberry’s Trek.

Cartoon: Paul Staines – Reefer Madness

March 10, 2020

Galactic Greetings, and welcome to another of my cartoons satirising the Tories and their appalling members. The target of this one is Paul Staines, the founder and head honch of the Guido Fawkes political gossip and smear site. And the film the cartoon’s inspired by is the old stoner favourite, Reefer Madness. This was a propaganda movie put out in the 1950s to warn people off cannabis. I think its plot is about a bunch of people smoking weed, losing their minds through its powerful intoxication and murdering each other.

I don’t condone the use of illegal drugs, but thousands, probably millions of people in this country ingest it or some form or other, and definitely don’t suffer those ill effect. Like any drug, it does have its dangers. There is, apparently, such a thing as cannabis psychosis, where very heavy users of the drug have damaged their brains. And I have been told of instances of violence inflicted by those damaged by such drug use. But for most people, the effects are probably those described by a chief of police back in the 1980s. The government then was considering decriminalising it. They asked the good rozzer what he thought of it. He declared that he’d tried it once, and all it did was make him giggle. This is probably all it does to most people, who use it. Hence the film is now chiefly watched by stoners for camp laughs, because it’s so hilariously, massively wrong.

I’ve no objection to the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal use. I’m not happy with cannabis consumption at the moment because it’s illegal, and so in the hands of criminal organisations who can be extremely dangerous and violent. At the same time, I’m afraid that if it was made legal, the kind of people who are attracted to it because it’s forbidden fruit would move on to harder, more dangerous drugs, like heroin and cocaine. And these are already a far too big problem.

Staines is a suitable target for jokes about drugs, because he was part of a libertarian organisation, the Libertarian Alliance. The Libertarians, apart from believing in the complete destruction of the welfare state, absolute unregulated private industry and the privatisation of the NHS, also advocate the legalisation of recreational drugs. Staines himself was into Ecstacy. This was the drug of the ’90s rave scene, in which Staines was also deeply involved, helping to organise many of the musical gatherings. See his Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Staines. The French philosophical feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, found this piece by Staines explaining his support for recreational drugs in an essay he wrote for the Libertarian Alliance.

A lot of my Thatcherite/Libertarian friends get very suspicious when I tell them about the love and peace aspects of taking Ecstasy. To them love and peace equals hippies equals leftist. The feeling of unity and shared enjoyment to them smacks of collectivism, not the rugged individualism that they favour. But the drug actually removes inhibitions, liberating your mind from petty concerns. You feel a sense of solidarity, but it is totally voluntary, there is no coercion. Libertarians are opposed to coercive collectivism, but if I as an individual choose to enjoy a collective experience because I want to, than that is up to me. I suspect that a lot of right-wingers, Conservative, Thatcherite or Libertarian, cling to their inhibitions and are actually afraid of letting go. Many Conservatives by their very nature fear the dynamic. They are wary of the unusual and prefer tradition, stability and the conventional. The idea of losing their inhibitions to the extent that they might say or do something embarrassing horrifies them.

Some people, particularly those of a Conservative inclination, have an irrational dislike of drugs, often based on what they believe or know about drug addicts. Somehow drug pushers are evil, akin to poisoners. A lot of drug pushers are unpleasant, but that is because it’s an illegal business, and criminals are often unpleasant, violent people. Some drug dealers I know are ruthless, dishonest, dangerous psychopaths, while others are honest, peace loving, fair minded people who just happen to be in a business of which the majority of people are said to disapprove. If alcohol or tobacco was made illegal a similar situation would arise with them. Most British Conservative groups are not at all sympathetic towards legalising drugs, the Committee for a Free Britain being the only one that has come down in favour of decriminalising drugs. This might have something to do with the fact that during my time at the Committee for a Free Britain we got through quite a lot of the stuff.

At the same time, Staines’ own political sympathies were also with the authoritarian extreme right. While a member of the Federation of Conservative Students in Hull, Staines wanted to form an alliance with the BNP. He disagreed with them on immigration, but that was his only point of difference with them. He did, however, share their goals of a return to leadership, the abolition of the welfare state, and the elimination of communism in Britain – in the mass media, education and the trade unions. This was also when the FCS supported apartheid in South Africa.

He was also a member of the Campaign for a Free Britain, which was funded by Rupert Murdoch. This used to have as speakers at its conferences such delightful figures as Adolfo Calero, one of the leaders of the Nicaraguan Contra death squads. According to Wikipedia, he also used to write reports on human rights violations by the Sandinistas. Staines’ political sympathies, therefore, a very definitely Fascistic.

See: https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/tag/paul-staines/

This is why I’ve shown Staines with cannabis leaves, smoking a reefer, along with a giant toadstool. It’s fly agaric, whose white spots contains a powerful hallucinogenic used by Siberian shamans. And the face in the stalk is that of Guido’s latest junior teaboy, Tom Harwood. He’s there because he’s a member of the Fawkes massive, and, at least in the photos put up by Zelo Street, looks either stoned or colossally thick. And as Staines is so far right-wing, it struck me that if he was on hallucinatory drugs, he’d see Hitler. According to the late drug guru, Terence McKenna, people using DMT, a powerful psychoactive used by South American shamans, commonly see entities he calls ‘the machine elves’ during their trips. I’ve replaced them with the Grey aliens of UFO lore, who to me represent much the same thing. And as Staines is a Fascist, they’re wearing World War I-style German spiked helmets. Because Staines was a passionate member of the rave scence, he and they clutch glow sticks. The trouble is, the Greys’ large eyes look a little like the aviator spectacles used by American cops. This makes them look like they’re an extraterrestrial tribute band for Village People. Which is a terrifying thought.

Anyway, here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it, and hey, don’t have nightmares!

It also struck me while drawing this that if you wanted to nobble Staines, with his history of raves and drug use all you’d need to do is put on one of the bands associated with the scene, like Inspiral Carpets or The Shamen. Then before you know it, the flashbacks would start and he’d be out there in a warehouse on his own, waving glow sticks around while singing ‘Es are good! Es are good!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manifesto for a Truly Democratic, Socialist America

January 23, 2020

Bhaskar Sunkara, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (London: Verso 2019).

Introduction

This is a superb book, though conditions have changed since the book was published last year through Labour’s election defeat and the fall of Corbyn, that the new age of socialist activism and success Sunkara looks forward to is now far more doubtful. Sunkara is an American radical journalist, and the founder and editor of the left-wing magazine, Jacobin. Originally from Trinidade, he immigrated to the USA with his family when he was young. Growing up in New York, he read extensively in the Big Apple’s public library, where he came to realise the country’s dependence on services provided by the state. He immersed himself in the history and literature of socialism, finally joining the Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a registered Democrat.

The book comes praised by Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, Naomi Klein and Owen Jones. The book was partly inspired by the success of Jeremy Corbyn over here and Bernie Sanders in America in bringing socialism back into the political arena after decades of neoliberalism. This is made clear by the blurb on the dust jacket’s inside flap. This states

Socialism was pronounced dead when the Soviet Union collapsed. But with the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-led Labour party and increasing economic inequality, the politics of class struggle and wealth redistribution is back on the agenda. In The Socialist Manifesto Bhaskar Sunkara offers a primer on socialism for the twenty-first century, outlining where it came from, what it is, and what a socialist political system might look like.

Tracing the history of some of socialism’s highs and lows – from the creation of Germany’s Social Democratic Party through bloody communist revolutions to the predicaments of midcentury social democracy – Sunkara contends that, in our global age, socialism is still the only way forward. Drawing on history and his own experience in left-wing activism, Sunkara explains how socialists can win better wages and housing and create democratic institutions in workplaces and communities.

In showing how and why socialism can work today, The Socialist Manifesto is for anyone seeking a real solution to the vast inequalities of our age.

The Way to Socialism in America

The book begins with a ‘Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen’, which maps out one possible path for the transformation of America into a socialist state. Sunkara asks the reader to imagine himself as a worker at Jon Bongiovi’s pasta sauce business in Texas to show that, even under a benign and paternalistic employer, the capitalist system still leaves the workers poor and powerless. In order to compete, the firm must not only make a profit, but invest in machinery while at the same time either cutting wages or laying people off. However, the workers are empowered by a new wave of strikes and left-wing activism that sees the election of President Springsteen. Springsteen establishes a welfare state, which allows the workers to devote more of their time and energy to pressing for their demands without having to fear for their livelihood. The worker’s movement continues making gains until the economy has become nationalised. Individual firms still exist, and are run by the workers themselves rather than the state. Some of them fail. But there are also government banking schemes to help workers set up their own businesses, though still state-owned and collectively managed, when they have a good idea and are fed up with their present job. Like bottling pasta sauce. America is still a vibrant democracy, and there are a number of other parties, including a capitalist party, though that is waning in popularity. It’s not utopia, but it is a system where workers are genuinely valued.

The Rise and Transformation of Socialism from Marxism to Reformism

The socialism, whose history the book tells and advocates, is that the Marxist and Marxist derived parties, Communism and social democracy, rather than the Utopian socialism of the generation before Marx and the more extreme versions of anarchist communism and syndicalism. The book naturally describes the career of Marx and Engels, and the formation of the German SDP. This moved away from revolutionary Marxism to reformism under the influences of Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, who believed that capitalism’s survival and the growing prosperity of industrial workers had disproven crucial aspects of Marxist doctrine. Initially pacifist, like the other European socialist parties, the SDP voted for war credits at the outbreak of the First World War. This caused a split, with a minority forming the Independent Socialists (USPD) and the Communist Party. When the 1919 revolution broke out, the majority SDP under President Ebert moved to crush it using right-wing Freikorps brigades. Although the SDP was one prop of the Weimar coalition, it was never able to establish socialism in Germany, and so fell with the other parties in the collapse of the Republic to the Nazis.

Russian Communism

Sunkara’s account of the rise of Russian communism is interesting for his argument that the Bolsheviks originally weren’t any more dictatorial than their rivals, the Mensheviks. Even Kautsky recognised the need for a strong, centralised party. But Lenin originally was no dictator. Pravda rejected 44 of his articles, and the were other voices as strong or stronger within the party. What pushed it towards first authoritarianism and then totalitarianism was the stubborn opposition of the rival socialist parties, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. They were invited to join a government coalition with the Bolsheviks, but walked out and began active opposition. The Revolution was then threatened by the revolt of the Whites, leading to the Civil War, in which Britain and other western countries sent troops in order to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. This, and the chaotic conditions created by the Revolution itself led to the Bolshevik party assuming a monopoly of state power, partly as the only means available of restoring order. This began the party’s journey towards the murderously repressive state it became, though interparty democracy was still alive in the 1920s before the rise of Stalin.

Mao and China

The emergence of communism in China, its seizure of power and the reign of Chairman Mao is also covered as an example of socialism in the Third World. The nations of the Developing World, like China, took over revolutionary socialism – communism – rather than reformism, because conditions in Russia more closely resembled those in their nations. Russian had been a largely agricultural country, in which the majority of its citizens were peasants. Industrial workers’ similarly represented only a minuscule fraction of the Chinese population, and so Mao turned to the peasants instead as a revolutionary force. This chapter concludes that Chinese communism was less about empowering and liberating the workers than as a movement for national modernisation.

Sweden and the Rise and Fall of Social Democracy

The book also examines the rise and progress of Swedish social democracy. The Swedish socialist party took power early through alliances with the Agrarians and the Liberals. This allowed them to introduce generous welfare legislation and transform the country from one of the most socially backward, feudal and patriarchal states in Europe to the progressive nation it is today. But there were also losses as well as gains. The Swedes compromised their commitment to all-out socialism by preserving private industry – only 5 per cent of the Swedish economy was nationalised – and acting to regulate the economy in alliance with the trade unions and industrialists. This corporative system collapsed during the oil crisis of the 1970s. This caused inflation. The government tried to resist wage rises, which the unions resisted. The industrialists resented the growth of working class activism and began measures to counteract them. Olof Palme, the country’s prime minister, then moved in a left-ward direction through establishing funds that would allow the trade unions gradually to buy up companies. The industrialists recognised an existential threat, and succeeded in overthrowing the government.

The Swedish model, meanwhile, had been highly influential through Labour party MP Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, which in turn led to Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ as the Labour government in Britain moved from social democracy to a more left-wing alternative to neoliberalism. Other European socialist parties followed, such as the German SDP. France’s President Mitterand in the 1980s tried to break this pattern in the 1980s, but his government was also overthrown through capital flight, the industrialists taking their money out of the French economy. Mitterand tried to hang on by promising to safeguard industry and govern responsibly, but it was no use.

Socialism and America

The chapter on socialism in America is particularly interesting, as it shows, contrary to the impression given by America’s two-party system, that the country has a very strong history and tradition of working class parties and socialism, from combative unions like the IWW to organised parties like the Knights of Labor, Democratic Socialists of America, and the Socialist Labor, Populist, Progressive and Communist Parties. However, socialism has never gained power there, as it has in Britain and Europe, because of a variety of factors. These include the extreme violence of the state and private industry, the latter hiring gunmen, to put down strikes; factional infighting between socialist groups, partly caused by the extreme range of socialist opinions and the restriction of some socialist groups to particular ethnicities, and the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.

A strategy for Success

Thechapter ‘How We Win’ contains Sunakara’s own observations and recommendations for socialist campaigning and the construction of genuine socialism in America. These are

1. Class-struggle social democracy does not close down avenues for radicals; it opens them.

2. Class-struggle social democracy has the potential to win a major national election today.

3. Winning an election isn’t the same as winning power.

4. They’ll do everything to stop us.

5. Our immediate demands are very much achievable.

6. We must move quickly from social democracy to democratic socialism.

7. We need socialists.

8. The working class had changed over the past hundred and fifty years, but not as much we think.

9. Socialists must embed themselves in working class struggles.

10. It is not enough to work with unions for progressive change. We must wage democratic battles within them.

11. A loose network of leftists and rank-and-file activists isn’t enough. We need a political party.

12. We need to take into account American particularities.

13. We need to democratise our political institutions.

14. Our politics must be universalist.

15. History matters.

Conclusion

This is the clarion call for genuinely radical activism. It will almost certainly start right-wing alarm bells ringing, as Sunkara calls for left-wing activists to join main parties like the Democrats in the US and Labour in Britain. They are not to be infiltrators, but as people genuinely committed to these parties and working peoples’ causes and issues. The claims that the working class has somehow died out or no longer has radical potential is overstated. It has changed, but 60 per cent of the population are still employees drawing wages or a salary, and who have no money of their own. And the book shows very clearly that the transformation to a genuinely socialist economy is needed. Social democracy has won considerable gains for working people, gains that still persist despite constant right-wing attack. But these aren’t enough, and if left unchallenged, capital will always try to destroy them.

The book’s angled towards the US, but its lessons and many of its recommendations still apply of this side of the pond. The resurgence of genuine socialist activism in Britain is now far less certain in Britain. But hopefully this book will help show to more people why it’s still possible and needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The History Book on the TUC from Its Beginnings to 1968

December 26, 2019

The History of the T.U.C. 1868-1968: A Pictorial Survey of a Social Revolution – Illustrated with Contemporary Prints and Documents (London: General Council of the Trades Union Congress 1968).

This is another book on working class history. It’s a profusely illustrated history of the Trades Union Congress from its origins in 1868 to 1968, and was undoubtedly published to celebrate its centenary.

Among the book’s first pages is this photograph show the TUC’s medal, below, which reads: Workingmen of Every Country Unite to Defend Your Rights.

There’s also these two illustrations on facing pages intended to show the TUC as it was then and now.

After the foreword by the-then head of the TUC, George Woodcock, and the list of General Council in 1967-8, the book is divided into four sections on the following periods

1868-1900, on the first Trades Union Congress and the men who brought it to birth.

1900-1928, in which the TUC was consulted by Ministers and began to take part in public administration.

1928-1940, which are described as the TUC’s formative years and the fight for the right to be heard.

and 1928-1940, in which wartime consultation set the pattern for peacetime planning.

These are followed by lists of trade unions affiliated to the TUC circa 1968 and the members of the parliamentary committee from 1868 and the General Council from 1921.

The text includes articles and illustrations on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into trade unions, including a photograph of Queen Victoria’s letter; from the beehive of 1867 to the TUC of 1967; the early leaders of the TUC and the political causes at home and abroad, for which they rallied trade union support; some of the events that led to the TUC’s foundation and the Royal Commission on Trade Unions; the TUC and the Criminal Law Amendment Act; working men voting during the dinner hour; working hours and conditions which the TUC wanted to reform, particularly of women and children; Punch cartoon of the sweated workers exploited for the products displayed at the Great Exhibition; Alexander McDonald, the man behind the miners’ unions; campaigns for compensation for industrial injury and safeguards for sailors; farm labourers’ unions, the public and the church; the advent of state education and the birth of white collar unions; mass unemployment and demonstrations in the Great Depression of the 1880; the trade union leaders of the unemployed and their political allies; squalor and misery in London; forging the first link with American unions; the TUC on the brink of the 20th century; the ‘new unionism’ and the matchgirls’ strike; the dockers’ strike of 1889; the birth of the Labour Party in 1906; passage into law of the TUC’s own trade union charter; the trade unions and the beginnings of the foundation of the welfare state by the Liberals; Women trade unionists, the Osborne Judgement; the introduction into Britain of French and American syndicalism; the great dock strike of 1911, and the great transport strike of 1912; the Daily Herald; Will Dyson’s cartoons; the TUC on the eve of World War I; the War; the wartime revolution in trade unions; the TUC’s contribution to the war effort; rise of shop stewards; the impact of the Russian Revolution on the British Labour movement; peace time defeat; the appearance of Ernest Bevin; the replacement of the Parliamentary Committee by the General Council in the TUC in 1921; the first proposal for the nationalisation of the coal mines; 1924, when Labour was in office but the trade unions were left out in the cold; the gold standard and the General Strike; the Strike’s defeat and punitive Tory legislation; the TUC’s examination of union structure after the Strike; TUC ballots the miners to defeat company unionism; Transport House in 1928; the Mond-Turner talks and consultations between workers’ and employers’ organisations; Walter Citrine and the IFTU; the 1929 Labour government; opposition to McDonald-Snowden economies; McDonald’s 1931 election victory; propaganda posters for the National Government; the 1930s; the state of industry and TUC plans for its control; union growth in the young industries; young workers fighting for a fair chance; the TUC and the British Commonwealth; the Nazi attack on the German unions; the TUC and the international general strike against the outbreak of war; the waning of pacifism inside the TUC; the Labour Movement and the Spanish Civil War; Neville Chamberlain and ‘Peace in our Time’; summer, 1939, and the outbreak of World War II; Churchill’s enlistment of the TUC and Labour Party in government; the coalition government and the unions; TUC organises aid to Russia after the Nazi invasion; plans for post-War reconstruction; the TUC, godfather to the Welfare State; the Cold War; the bleak beginning of public industries in 1947; David Low’s cartoons of the TUC; the drive for productivity; the Tories and the Korean War; TUC aid to Hungary and condemnation of Suez; the official opening of Congress House; TUC intervention in industrial disputes; trade union structure; from pay pause to planning; trade unionists given a role in industry; government pressure for a prices and incomes policy; TUC overseas contacts; and recent changes to the TUC.

The book’s an important popular document of the rise of the TUC from a time when unions were much more powerful than they were. They were given a role in government and industrial movement. Unfortunately, the continuing industrial discontent of the post-War years have been played on by nearly every government since Thatcher’s victory in 1979. The result is stagnant and falling wages, increasingly poor and exploitative conditions and mass poverty and misery. All justified through Zombie laissez-faire economics. Corbyn offered to reverse this completely, and give working people back prosperity and dignity. But 14 million people were gulled and frightened by the Tories and the mass media into rejecting this.

Strong trade unions are working people’s best method for expressing their economic and political demands along with a strong Labour party, one that works for working people, rather than solely in the interest of the employers and the financial sector. Which is why the Tories want to destroy them and are keen that books like these should be forgotten.

Let’s fight against them, and make sure that books like this continue to inspire and inform working class people in the future.

 

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

Lobster Reviews Boris Johnson’s Biography of Churchill

October 9, 2019

There have been a couple of deeply critical reviews of books by leading Tories. Last fortnight Private Eye reviewed and dissected David Cameron’s self-serving tome. In it, Cameron tries persuading the rest of his that his time at No. 10 resulted in us all being more prosperous, with a strong economy and political stability. The satirical magazine trashed this nonsense by showing instead that Cameron comprehensively wrecked Britain by calling the referendum on EU membership.  And last week Lobster added to its number for Winter 2019 a review by John Newsinger of Boris Johnson’s 2014 biography of Churchill.

Newsinger is the professor emeritus of history at one of the universities in Bath. As such, he knows what he’s talking about – and makes it very clear that BoJob, on the other hand, doesn’t. It’s a comprehensive demolition of both Johnson’s book and the aspirations behind it. Newsinger argues that Johnson’s reason for writing this unnecessary piece – there are hundred of others published every year – is not to prevent Churchill from being forgotten, as he claims, but to try to burnish his own reputation through identification with Churchill. And it’s here that Newsinger is also brilliantly critical. He makes it very clear that Churchill was far from the greatest of the great men, who make history, as Johnson seems to believe. He was a deeply flawed man, who enjoyed war for the opportunities it gave him and members of his class for greatness, while viewing those lower down the social scale as mere cannon fodder. The review begins

When this book was first published back in 2014 it did not seem to be worth the trouble reviewing. It was a truly appalling volume that no one except the right-wing press could possibly take seriously; and they only praised it to advance the career of its author. As a supposed biographical study of Winston Churchill it was altogether worthless, even worse than Johnson’s earlier ‘histories’ of the Roman Empire and London and they were pretty dire. And dire books are obviously a reflection of their author. Johnson is a serial liar and casual racist, a homophobe, a sexist and a xenophobe. He is akin to a cross
between Benny Hill and Benito Mussolini: completely without principles, wholly
irresponsible and unfit for any public office. However, as we know, the incredible has happened and a desperate Conservative Party has actually installed him as Prime Minister! Thus, the book is now worth some critical attention – not for anything it has to say about Churchill but, as I have already indicated, for what it tells us about the author.

Churchill’s reputation for heroic leadership during the War is the product of very careful state propaganda comparable to Stalin’s. He had nothing in common with ordinary people. He didn’t meet them and only once used public transport. As for Churchill’s concern for ordinary people, Johnson believes he found it in the great warleader’s concern for his nanny. Newsinger bitingly observes that only a public schoolboy could think that concern for their nanny equals concern for ordinary people.

Newsinger is also suitably derisive about Johnson’s claim that Churchill resonated with the British public for four reasons. These are 1) our national sense of humour, 2) our massive capacity for booze, 3) our suspicion of people who are unusually thin, and 4) our view of Britain as the homeland of eccentrics. Newsinger comments

Really! It is difficult to know what to make of this moronic garbage. The whole discussion is positively embarrassing. One is shocked that the author of this nonsense is a Member of Parliament, let alone the Prime Minister, and can only hope that the book never falls into the hands of someone studying for their History GCSE.

As for Churchill not being a warmonger, Newsinger acknowledges that Churchill fought bravely in the campaign against the Mahdi in the Sudan, and in the Anglo-South African War. The battle of Omdurman was more of a massacre than a battle. British casualties number only 48, while 16,000 Sudanese were killed, many of them when they were trying to surrender or lying wounded. Newsinger does, however, credit Churchill with opposing the shooting and bayoneting of the wounded. As for Churchill not being a warmonger, Newsinger writes

Quite how he squares this with his account of how Churchill ‘loved’ – yes, loved – war is
difficult to see. On one occasion, Churchill actually told Margot Asquith that war was ‘delicious’ – and this was during the horror that was the First World War. He was ‘excited by war’ and ‘without war he knew there could be no glory – no real chance to emulate Napoleon, Nelson or his ancestor Marlborough’. ‘War sent the adrenalin spurting from his glands’. (pp. 168-169) But while he ‘loved’ war, he did not support wars of aggression. Once again, this is so much nonsense. In 1914 Britain was a satisfied Empire intent on holding on to what it had already conquered but, as soon as the war began, the country’s war aims encompassed the dividing up of enemy colonies with its allies. As Johnson himself admits, the British Empire was in control of 9 per cent more of the world after the War than it had been before. This was not just by chance. This was what the war was really all about, what millions had died for – that and the glorification of men like Churchill.

Johnson admires Churchill’s support for all the reforms brought in while he was a liberal under Asquith, reforms Newsinger notes were opposed by the Tories at the time. He also tries to give Churchill credit for the achievements of Attlee’s government, though objects to the pension age having been lowered from 70 to 65. He states that the government will have to correct this, which, as Newsinger also notes, will leave millions with no pension entitlement.

Johnson also tries to equate Churchill’s own views and policies towards India with that of himself and his relations with the EU. He claims that Churchill largely ignored India, and was chiefly concerned with positioning himself as the successor to Stanley Baldwin. But this ignores the fact that Churchill was determined to maintain the British position in India. He also doesn’t mention the Bengal Famine, which killed three million Indians, which Churchill caused. He does mention it in his previous book on The Spirit of London, which Newsinger also criticises in the review. Johnson gives it two, very critical comments in that book. However, Johnson isn’t alone in ignoring the Famine. And he doesn’t include it because it would cast doubt on his view of Churchill as the great man, and the British Empire as a benevolent institution towards the indigenous peoples.

Newsinger particularly attacks one chapter in Johnson’s book about the great man’s errors and mistakes. These are given ratings for the Churchill Factor and the Fiasco Factor. Newsinger calls it the most stupid part of the book. Gallipolli, which resulted in 55,000 British and imperial troops dead and 123,000 wounded. Johnson gives this debacle a rating of 10 in each category. Newsinger writes

what that actually means is anyone’s guess. While Johnson is attempting to be witty, what he actually displays is an astonishing degree of callous disregard for the immense suffering and enormous loss of life that the battle cost. In many ways, this sums up his own particular version of the Great Man view of History.

He also comments that when Johnson describes how Churchill was regarded with distaste and suspicion by the Conservatives in 1940 as an outsider and ‘rotter’, he’s talking about himself. The difference, however, is that by that time Churchill had considerable experience in government. The promiscuous Johnson also seems somewhat concerned about Churchill’s sexual appetite, or lack of it. He finds this remarkable in a man with such otherwise titanic appetites. As Newsinger says, this tells us nothing about Churchill but much about Johnson. And he concludes

One thing that we can be certain of is that, whatever one thinks of Churchill, there is no way he would ever have let someone like Boris Johnson anywhere near the levers of power.

This is an article that deserves to be read because it lays bare how Johnson regards himself and Churchill, and exposes some of the myths about Churchill that we’re still taught through the mass media. If you want to read it, it’s at

https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster78/lob78-churchill-factor.pdf

Leave.UK and Boris Now Using Racism to Push Brexit and Get Votes

October 9, 2019

I suppose it was inevitable. I realise not everyone, who voted for the Leave campaign is racist by any means. A lot of working class and left-wing peeps voted to leave the EU no doubt because of the very real problems with it. Private Eye has been describing for years its corruption, its lack of democracy and accountability of its senior officials, and the high-handed way it deals with member states that don’t toe the line. Years ago it described how the-then president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was aghast at the terms it presented him and his country for membership. He complained that his country hadn’t been treated like that for over thirty years. Which meant that he was comparing it to the way it had been pushed around when it had been a Soviet satellite. This drew an outraged reaction from two of the MEPs in the EU delegation, both of whom, I think, were left-wing. One of them was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French politician, who had been a radical leader during the ’68 revolution. They screamed at Klaus that the EU was definitely democratic, and the architect and keep of peace after the Second World War.  Robin Ramsay, the editor of the conspiracy website Lobster, is an old-fashioned left-wing Eurosceptic. He objects to the EU because economic Conservatism and neoliberalism is built into it. He regards a strong nation state with nationalised industries as the best political and economic system and protector of the rights of working people. Tony Benn was the same, noting in one of his books the real harm membership of the EU actually did to our economy and industry.

But Benn was also realistic, and recognised that we were now also economically dependent on the EU, and that leaving it would also cause severe disruption and damage. 

All of which is not considered by the right-wing supporters of Brexit. They’re not interested in protected our nationalised industries, like what remains of the NHS, because they want to sell it off to the highest bidder. And that means, at the moment, Donald Trump. Thus for all their posturing, they were quite happy to see our railways owned by the Bundesbahn, the German state railway network, and our water by the French, and then the Indonesians. And our nuclear power stations built and owned by the French and Chinese. They’ve got no objections with other states and nations owning our infrastructure, as long the British state doesn’t.

And there is and has always been a nasty undercurrent of racism in the Right’s attitude to the EU. Now with the latest poster from Leave.UK it’s all out in the open. As Mike’s shown in his article, they’ve now put up a poster showing Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her arm raised in a quasi-Nazi salute, or what could be interpreted as one. And there’s a slogan ‘We didn’t Win Two World Wars to be Pushed Around by a Kraut’.

This is just pure racism, expressed in racist language. And the imagery is offensive and wrong. As Tony Greenstein showed in his article, the CDU had its share of former Nazis amongst its members. And incidentally, so was the Freie Demokraten, the German equivalent of the Liberal party. Back in the 1980s there was a massive scandal when it was revealed that neo-Nazis had all been infiltrating them. Even the odd member of the SPD has been outed as a former member of the Nazi party. But that doesn’t mean that the CDU, or any of the other German democratic parties are really Nazi, simply because they’re German. I think Merkel herself is genuinely anti-racist, and tried to demonstrate how far her country had moved from the stereotype left over from the Third Reich when she invited the million or so Syrian and North African refugees to settle in the Bundesrepublik. It backfired badly on her, as people, not just in Germany, were afraid their countries were going to be swamped by further Islamic migrants and the wave of 200 or so rapes by a minority of them provoked an vile islamophobic reaction. But Merkel herself, and her people, aren’t Nazis and aren’t engaged in some diabolical plot to dominate Europe by stealth. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, ad nauseam.

Mike’s article cites the comments from three continental papers, who I believe have rightly assessed the situation and BoJob’s shenanigans with the EU. They differ in that some of them think the Blonde Beast is aiming for a no-deal Brexit, or that, denied that, he wants a Brexit extension. But whatever the outcome, he wants most of all to blame it on the EU. Those nasty foreigners are responsible! He and the Tory press are trying to present it as though Boris and the Tories have done everything they can to secure a deal, and it’s all due to those horrible, intransigent foreigners, and particularly the Germans, that they haven’t. Thus they’re seeking to work up nationalist sentiments so that they’re voted back in with a massive majority, having seen their lead in the polls.

I can well believe it. It’s what they’ve always done.

I remember how the Tories became the Patriotic Party under Thatcher in the 1980s. Thatcher stood for Britain, and anyone, who opposed her and the Tories more widely was definitely not One Of Us. They were some kind of traitor. The Labour party was full of Commies and IRA sympathisers, as well as evil gays determined to corrupt our youth in schools. Thatcher represented Britain’s warrior heritage and island independence. She constantly and consciously harked back to Winston Churchill. Their wretched 1987 general election video showed Spitfires zooming about the skies in what Alan Coren drily called ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. Over the top of this an excited male voice declaimed ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. Actually, the quote comes from Rousseau’s Social Contract, and is ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. Which is a far better description of the free trade, low tax world Thatcher wanted to introduce and her destruction of workers’ rights and the welfare state. Thatcher was our bulwark against domestic terrorism and the IRA at home – even though she was secretly negotiating with them – and the Communists and Eurofederalists of the EU abroad.

The Tories continually used the imagery and memories of the Second World War and the Empire to drum up support.

It’s a crude, nationalistic view of British imperial history. The idea that somehow we stood alone against Hitler during the Second World War is a myth, but one that all too many of us buy into. We survived and were victorious because we had the support of our empire. We were fed, and our armies staffed, by the colonies, including those in the Caribbean, Africa and India. If it hadn’t been for them and the Americans, we would have fallen as well.

And the history of the British empire and its legacy is mixed. Very mixed. I don’t deny that many of the soldiers and administrators that founded and extended it were idealists, who genuinely believed they were creating a better order and were improving the lives of their imperial subjects. But there was also much evil. Like the history of the Caribbean and the slave colonies in North America, or the treatment of the Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, like the Maoris or Aboriginal Australians. They weren’t noble savages, as portrayed in the stereotypes that have grown up around them. But they didn’t deserve the massacre, displacement and dispossession they suffered. The Irish patriot, Roger Casement, was a British imperial official, and was radicalised by the enslavement of South American Amerindians by the British rubber industry in the Putomayo scandal. This turned him against British imperialism, and made him an ardent fighter for his own people’s independence. To get a different view of the empire, all you have to do is read histories of it from the perspective of the colonised peoples, like the Indians or the slaves in the Caribbean. Or, for that matter, the horrific treatment of Afrikaner civilians in the concentration camps during the Anglo-South African ‘Boer’ War. In too many cases it was a history of persecution, dispossession and oppression, fueled by greed and nationalism.

Ah, but the British Empire stood for democracy!

It was largely founded before the emergence of democracy, which everywhere had to be fought for. And parts of the British imperial establishment remained anti-democratic after the Liberals extended the vote to the entire working class and women at the beginning of the 20th century. Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two world wars states that sections of it were not happy with the extension of the franchise in the 1920s, especially the diplomats and administrators in the Indian office, like Lord Curzon. It’s highly dubious how much of a patriot Churchill was. In the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell remarked in one of his press articles how strange the times were, with Churchill ‘running around pretending to be a democrat’. And there was a very interesting article years ago in the weekend edition of the Financial Times that argued that it was only because Britain needed allies during the Second World War, that the English Speaking Union appeared as one of the leading organisations in the spread of democracy.

But still we’ve had it drummed into us that the Empire was an unalloyed, brilliant institution, our country is uniquely democratic, and the Tories represent both and our national pride and heritage against the depredations of Johnny Foreigner.

Salman Rushdie and the rest are right. We need proper, balanced teaching about the Empire to correct some of these myths.

Supporters of the Labour Party and Remain campaign in response to the latest eruption of bilious racism and xenophobia have released their own posters. One shows Boris Johnson and has the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fascist’. Another shows Nigel Farage with the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fraud’. At the bottom is another legend, reading ‘Let’s Not Leave EU’.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/leave-campaigns-response-to-angela-merkel-is-racism/

They’re right. And the Tories and the Leave campaign are whipping up racism simply for their own benefit. If they get a no-deal Brexit, or win a general election, they will privatise the NHS, destroy what’s left of the welfare state. Our industries will be massively harmed, and whatever’s left of them will be sold to the Americans. 

It will mean nothing but poverty and exploitation for working people. That’s how the Tories use racism and xenophobia.

Don’t be taken in by their lies. Stand up for democracy and peace and harmony between peoples and nations. Get rid of Boris, Farage and Aaron Banks. And support Corbyn and Labour.

 

Fascism’s Advocacy of Privatisation and Financial Retrenchment

August 15, 2019

I’ve posted a number of blogs about the way some Conservative propagandists have tried to discredit socialism by claiming that Fascism was a form of it. The argument here is that Fascism advocated the state planning and management of the economy like state socialism, and so therefore must similarly be a form of socialism. For the Libertarians, any state intervention in the economy or industry is automatically attacked as socialism. They demand instead complete free trade and the reduction of the state to an absolute minimum, based on their ideas of 19th century laissez-faire economics. For them, any economic system that is not based on complete free trade and unregulated private industry is socialism, not capitalism. Left-wing commenters, on the other hand, have argued very clearly that this is a very unrealistic idea of capitalism, which has never existed in reality. Mussolini did indeed begin his career as a radical socialist, and Fascism itself emerged from Italian anarcho-syndicalism after the First World War.  However, Mussolini broke with the socialists and forces of the Italian left, to embrace capitalism and the parties and organisations of the right. The Fascists were supported by the rich landowners and the industrialists in their attacks on socialism, trade unions, and the peasant organisations. They were invited into the Italian parliament to join a coalition of right-wing Liberals and eventually merged with the Italian Nationalists. They also rejected, at least initially, state intervention in industry. In government, Mussolini stated that Fascism stood for the economics of the Manchester School, that is, absolute free enterprise.

The Fascists’ Conservative economic stance is clearly seen in their 1921 Party programme. This demanded a system of cuts to uneconomic businesses and public works projects that is very similar to the policy taken towards them by right-wing governments, including New Labour, ever since Margaret Thatcher. And it also declared its support for private industry against state control. In the section ‘Cornerstones of Fiscal Policy and Policies for National Economic Reconstruction’ are the following clauses

  1. Balancing state and local budgets (when necessary) by means of rigorous cutbacks to all parasitic or redundant entities and via reductions in expenditures neither crucial to the well-being of the beneficiaries nor justified by more general objectives.
  2. Decentralisation of the public administration so as to simplify the delibery of services and to streamline our bureaucracy, without falling into the trap of regionalism (which we firmly oppose).
  3. Shielding the taxpayers’ money from misuse by means of the abolition of all state or local government concessions and subventions to consortia, cooperatives, factories, special clienteles, and other entities similarly incapable of surviving on their own and not indispensable to the nation.

….

6. Cessation of policies favoring public works projects that are botched, undertaken for electoral reasons, or supposedly to insure law and order, projects that are unprofitable because of the irregular and fragmentary way in which they are distributed.

….

8. Return to private sector of industries that the state has managed poorly, in particular the telephone system and the railroads. Regarding the latter, competition needs to be enhanced between the major lines, which need, in turn, to be managed differentially with respect to regional and local lines.

9. Abolition of the state monopoly on postal and telegraphic communications so that private enterprise may supplement and eventually replace the state-run service.

The subsequent section, ‘Cornerstones of Social Policy’, begins with a statement of the importance of private property and industry as the fundamental basis of Fascist economic and social policy. This runs

Fascism recognises the social function of private property. At once a right and a duty, private property is the form of management that society has traditionally granted individuals so that they may increase the overall patrimony.

In its opposition to socialist projects for reconstruction that rely upon a dogmatically collectivist model of economics, the National Fascist Party has its feet firmly planted in the soil of our historical and national reality. This reality does not allow for a single type of agricultural or industrial economy. The party, accordingly, supports any and every solution, be it individualistic or any other kind, that will guarantee the maximum level of production and well-being.

The National Fascist Party advocates a regime that would strive to increase our national wealth by unleashing individual enterprises and energies – the most powerful and industrious factor in economic production – and by abolishing, once and for all, the rusty, costly, and unproductive machinery of state-, society -, and municipality-based control. The party thus supports all efforts to enhance Italy’s productivity and to eliminate forms of individual and group parasitism. 

see Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed., A Primer of Italian Fascism (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press 2000), 14-15.

Now the Fascist programme did contain elements of Socialism, such as the demands for an eight hour working day, and later in Mussolini’s regime the state ended up owning a sizable part of the Italian economy as it was forced to buy up failing corporations. But even if the regime was forced to go back on its stated policy of allowing failing companies to go to the wall, it still strongly supported private enterprise although subject to considerable state intervention.

It’s very clear from this that, at least at that stage, Fascist economic policy was very similar to the free enterprise economics of Thatcher and Reagan. There’s also a further similarity, in that contemporary politics in both America and Britain is also corporatist. The Italian Fascist economy was supposed to be run by a ‘Chamber of Corporations and Fasces’ in which both representatives of management and the trade unions sat together. In practice the trade unions were strictly controlled by the Fascist state, with the management and proprietors enjoying a far greater degree of freedom. Contemporary Britain and America has a form of corporativism, in that very members of Congress in the US and parliament in Britain are proprietors or senior management of private firms. The parties also receive substantial funding from private corporations, with the result that government policy is framed to benefit private corporate interests, rather than working people.

Unlike Mussolini’s later regime, however, the current right-wing governments haven’t worked out that free trade and an economy based on untrammeled, absolute private industry doesn’t work either. They’re what the Australian economist John Quiggin has described as ‘zombie economics’, because the ideas are dead and should have been discarded long ago, but are still haunting us.

Conservative propagandists are therefore completely wrong. Fascism was pro-capitalist, and supported private enterprise, despite the movement’s left-wing origins and Mussolini’s attempt to return to socialism during the brief period of the Nazi-supported Salo Republic. It is very similar to today’s Conservativism rather than socialism, although the Republicans and Tories haven’t outlawed rival political parties nor tried to replace parliament or congress with a personal dictatorship and corporativist chamber. But Boris Johnson over here and Donald Trump across the pond are sounding more Fascist day by day, as BoJob’s splenetic attack on British MPs ‘collaborating’ with the EU shows.

Boris Johnson’s Cure for Depression – Go Back to Work!

July 21, 2019

Boris Johnson and his legion of deep thinkers ponder mental health.

Just as Johnson has ignorant views on foreign nations and their leaders, so, it should come as no surprise, that he also has stupid and ignorant views on depression and mental illness. Yesterday Mike put up another article, based on a piece by Poorna Bell in i News, about Johnson’s latest piece in the Torygraph, in which he informs that disgusting rag’s readers about his ideas for tackling this serious health problem. And it really isn’t anything worth considering. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. His views on its solution aren’t just ignorant, they’re actually dangerous.

BoJo believes that depression can not only be effectively tackled, the cure would also help the economy and save money, all at the same time. So what is this wonder cure? Simples. He wants the depressed to go back to work. Because it worked for Winston Churchill during his ‘Black Dog’ episodes. According to the sage of Henley on Thames, or wherever it is he’s MP, it was through work Churchill ‘pitchforked off’ his depression. He goes on to write that what is true for Churchill is also to a certain extent true for the rest of us – that we derive a large extent of our self-esteem from our work. He goes on to say that it is being engrossed in our daily tasks that we derive an all-important sense of satisfaction.

Mike shrewdly remarks that if hard work’s so good at curing depression, then why has Boris himself never tried it? He admits its a low blow to claim that the man, who would be PM is mentally ill, but his views are an offence against people, who really have been diagnosed with these problems. He therefore asks

As this man may soon be the UK’s prime minister, why has nobody demanded that he undergo a mental health check?

Boris Johnson’s comment about mental illness raises one revealing question

Bell, the writer of the original article on which Mike’s is based, also isn’t impressed. She lost her husband to depression, and makes the point that it isn’t that people with depression don’t want to work, it’s that they can’t.

We’ve heard this kind of nonsense before. When the Tories first got nearly nine years or so ago, they and a number of mental health charities were advocating this approach. Tom Pride, Johnny Void and a number of other left-wing blogs, including Mike, tore it to pieces. They especially attacked the directors of the mental health charities making these claims, pointing out that they really had no understanding of depression and other forms of mental illness before, and their personal connections to industry and right-wing think tanks.

It’s the advice given out by fit types, who have never suffered any form of anxiety or depression, and so have absolutely zero understanding of it. To them, it’s just feeling a bit down. But never mind, you can pull yourself out of it, if you want to! Those people usually tell you how they were left feeling very depressed once, but they were able to come out of it by putting their mind to it.

And they’re wrong.

Depression isn’t like feeling ‘a bit down’. It is, as one scientist, Lewis Wolpert, called it A Malignant Sadness, which was the title of the book he wrote about his experience with it after losing his mother. And you can’t pull yourself out of it. Those with it try, and fail, and the failure makes them feel worse. Or at least, that was my experience when I came down with it nearly three decades ago.

Johnson’s comments are also those of someone, who has never had to take a job he didn’t want or like in his life. As an Old Etonian, he could always rely on his wealth and connections to open doors for him, just like his fellow old school chum David Cameron was invited to work for the royal family. Johnson worked first as a journalist, then became editor of the Spectator, and finally a professional politician with an eye on the top job. I dare say all these jobs have their stresses and problems. But he has never been forced to take a menial, poorly paid job simply to put a roof over his head and/or food on the table. He has never been in a zero-hours or short-term contract, nor had to worry about any other kind of job precarity. And whatever else they were, his jobs weren’t boring.

When I had my breakdown, I was in an extremely boring job. I had nothing to distract me from the fears and anxieties I had at the time. And so, while I can’t claim the job caused the breakdown, it didn’t help and made my mental health worse.

And I’m sure I’m not alone by a very, very long chalk.

At the time I was working in an office, as very junior staff. And job hierarchy is very much part of the problem. Way back in the 1990s the Beeb’s flagship science programme, Horizon, covered the problem of stress. Using the civil service records going back to the First World War or so, they showed that while the people at the top of the civil service were also under pressure, it was the people at the bottom of the pile who suffered from stress-related illnesses. And the crucial reason why they did, and they’re seniors didn’t, was simply because their seniors were in a position of leadership. They had control, whereas the staff at the bottom didn’t. One former, high ranking civil servant said that when he joined, it was like the whole world was opening up to him.

Which exactly describes Johnson’s position and mentality.

He could always count on a very good position, even if it wasn’t one of leadership. As an Etonian, he immensely privileged and has access to a world of opportunity very much not granted to you and I. And it shows. He’s always enjoyed good mental health, even if that doesn’t hold true for commonsense, intelligence and simple common decency. He has never, ever in his life suffered the anxieties and stresses of the powerless, the people most likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

He doesn’t understand their predicament. Neither do his readers, or the rest of the Tory party and its degraded, mendacious press.

He isn’t interested in making genuinely sick people well. He’s only interested in finding ways to get people back into poorly paid, insecure work. Or if not that, then simply off the benefits the poor and sick need to survive.

And this means that if he gets in, we can expect the wretched workfare, benefit sanctions and work disability tests to continue. Because it’s all justified in getting people back to work, as that will cure them.

Except it doesn’t. Mike has put on his blog time and again case after case in which the DWP declared a severely ill person ‘fit to work’. And quite often they tried to justify this by saying that working ‘would bring positive benefits to their self-esteem’ or some other similar sniveling rubbish. Like the case where the DWP passed someone as fit to go back to work, who was being treated for cancer in the spine. This person was in no way fit to go back, but the assessor decided they should because ‘it would give them something to look forward to.’

Disgusting!

Boris is a menace to the disabled poor, as is his wretched party. Get them out, and a Labour party, led by Corbyn, in!