Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built for Cars is a revisionist history, reclaiming the role of bicycles in the development of roads and the cars that dominate them. When a class, a race, a gender reclaims its history it is usually in the cause of self-assertion. After reading this I was indignant when a privileged usurper tooted me for walking across the entrance of a cul-de-sac which they were turning into. Listen, these are my f***** streets too, you know.
The later Victorian age. The railway lines had cut through the country on their purpose-built tracks and profoundly changed ideas of mobility. The roads, once well maintained for mail coaches, had fallen into disuse. But in the 1870s and 1880s people started pedalling themselves at speed and with the commercialisation of the Safety bicycle in 1885 bicycling became popular with the elite, affordable for the middle-classes and then finally through second-hand sales and mass production, taken up by the clerks and the factory workers. It powered invention. In 1896 more than half of the 28,000 patents were for improvements in bicycles.
The Psycho Ladies’ Bicycle -1889. Step through for the skirt problem
Cyclists were heading from the paved streets to the countryside, on roads which unlike the railways were not then seen as conduits for fast-moving traffic. Roads were originally made for a human or horse pace and for short journeys. But a new desire had been formed – for self-propelled travel over a distance on a smooth surface.
Passage on the king’s highway is an ancient right in England. A landmark court case in 1879 established bicycles as “carriages” under law and so with the rights to use the roads in the same way as broughams and hackneys. The Cyclists’ Touring Club had one of their members (an MP) add a clause to the Local Government Act of 1888 which effectively prevented county councils from creating by-laws to prohibit cycling on the roads.
Along with lobbying for legislation cyclists campaigned for better surfaces via bodies like the Roads Improvement Association. Some roadworks the members funded themselves. They produced equipment including a ring to measure the size of stones for surfacing, kept an eye on maintenance and made themselves guardians of the highways as modern cycling advocates act as wardens for cycle paths. Eventually this work was taken over by the Road Board “the first central authority for British roads since Roman times”.
Where the cyclists went the motorists then followed and their lobby groups were often the cycling groups with “Automobile” added to the name. One of Cartlon Reid’s main themes is that this was not a case of the poor man’s transport (the bicycle) overtaken by the rich man’s vehicle (the automobile). Bicycles were at first expensive – the high-wheelers (“penny farthings”) were ridden by moneyed athletes. Aristocrats like the Marquess of Queensberry, Oscar Wilde’s enemy, were keen cyclists as was Daisy, Countess of Warwick, one of Edward VII’s mistresses. Arthur Balfour was president of the National Cyclists’ Union and Herbert Gladstone, son of W E Gladstone and one time Home Secretary vigorously pedalled, and pushed for street paving and road maintenance. In the USA the League of American Wheelmen was founded in Newport, the millionaires’ holiday village,
The League of American Wheelmen also campaigned for better roads via the Good Roads Movement, again with a combination of politics and practical demonstration. Their campaign included rolling “road shows”. “The Good Roads train.. would disgorge road builders, a traction engine, a road roller, a sprinkler and broken stone, from which an “object lesson” road would be constructed at prearranged stopping points.” Railway interests opposed them, and farmers, who were responsible for half-heartedly maintaining the rural roads, did not want to be taxed for the benefit of city-slicker cyclists, however much their own wagons jolted on the ruts and ridges. ”Eventually the farmers were won over and the politicians found there was mileage in a publicly paid for road system.” In 1916 the Federal Aid Road Act was signed by Woodrow Wilson, himself a cyclist who had been much impressed by the roads in Britain and France on cycle journeys in his youth.
By then many of the cyclists had become motorists as well. They were the rich who loved speed and self-propelled travel and the very latest gadgetry, promoted by the cycling industry’s flair for advertising. They used the maps that Messrs Bartholomew had crowd-sourced from members of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. The technology behind these early motors – the pneumatic tyres, the ball bearings, the spoked wheels, the precision engineering skills – had been created by the cycling industry.
French cycling poster, 1897
“Carl-Benz’s Patent Motorwagon, the first true automobile, was a motorised two-seater tricycle… The key components for Henry Ford’s Quadricycle – including the wire spoke wheels, bush roller chains and pneumatic tyres – were from bicycles.”
The Nazis erased the cycling origins of Benz’s Motorwagen from history and monument and at the launch of the 15 millionth Model T in 1927 the Ford company claimed that the “Ford car… started the movement for good roads.” The now plebeian bicycle became something of an embarrassing ancestor to the more powerful and more progressive seeming vehicle.
So the well-connected cyclists who had lobbied for good roads became well-connected motorists who wanted unthwarted access to these roads. And they took them over, though they numbered only in thousands, while the cyclists were in the millions because the masses had begun to ride bicycles.
The rights to the passage on the King’s highway was a liberal right which then in the spirit of Ayn Rand was taken over by the strongest and most ruthless. Even a speed limit law was seen as “unEnglish” and as the motorists were of the upper echelons, they resented being treated as criminals for breaking it. (The motoring public is still resentful that they are subject to law – witness fury at speed cameras. One of the cycling groups’ aims is to lower speeds in urban centres to 20mph.)
Carlton Reid compares this to the enclosures “when land in common use by the many was fenced in and appropriated by the few.”
And like the landowner the motorist feels himself entitled to the roads. Hold up his passage he won’t feel merely inconvenienced, but righteously outraged, spluttering like Hilaire Belloc’s JP:-
I have a right because I have, because,
Because I have, because I have a right.
Moreover, I have got the upper hand,
And mean to keep it. Do you understand?
Familiar political themes run through this book. One is of how laissez faire can become devil take (or run over) the hindmost. Another is the Revolution Devouring Its Own Children. A group or class will agitate to bring about a change that will ultimately destroy them, like Iranian leftists demonstrating for the removal of the Shah only to end up being killed by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. The cyclists lobbied for good roads and got them, and were then pushed off them by the sheer force of a ton of metal, going at five times their speed.
However though Roads Were Not Built… is a polemic shot through with a sense of injustice for the written out and colonised – the literally marginalised literally pushed in the gutter when they had literally paved the way for the motorist – it could be enjoyed by Jeremy Clarkson. It buzzes and hums with innovation and invention. It’s crowded with energetic promoters and lobbyists, engineers and entrepreneurs and tinkerers, sportsmen and pioneers. Cycling did come as a miracle, bestowing a sense of speed and independence. “The cyclist is a man half made of flesh and half of steel that only our century of science and iron could have spawned.” wrote Charles-Louis Baudry de Saunier in The Art of Cycling (1894).
In our own equally exciting and innovative age of computing we are half flesh, half digital stream. Thus Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built… was kickstarted by crowdfunding. He put his researches on his entertaining blog. You can get the book as a big dead-tree soft-back with lots of colour plates (histories of cycling always have cool pics) or as an “iPad version with 10 videos, two audio clips, a 3D spinnable object, and 580+ illustrations, many of which zoom to full-screen.“
Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce
The book ends with potted biographies of many of the motor grandees with a cycling background and their firms, my favourite being that of Lionel Martin. Eton rich. Held long-distance records on tandem and tricycle. He and his friend Robert Bamford were both members of the Bath Road Club and were souping up ordinary cars.
Their advertisement in the Bath Road News:- “If you must sell your birthright for a mess of petrol, why not purchase your car – from Bamford & Martiin Ltd, the most humorous firm in the motor trade.” These cars became Aston Martins.
“Martin was a tricyclist to his dying day. He was killed in October 1945 after being knocked from his tricycle by a motor car on a suburban road in Kingston-upon-Thames.”
This report comes from the (US) International Socialist Organisation and is the best coverage of the Ferguson protests I’ve yet been able to find:
A grand jury wouldn’t indict Mike Brown’s killer, but the angry protests in Ferguson and beyond show the struggle will go on.report.
DARREN WILSON has gotten away with murder–and the American injustice system sent the message once again that Black lives don’t matter.
It was long after dark on November 24 when St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch marched to the microphone and announced that a grand jury had refused to indict the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer on any charge at all for killing 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9.
This was the result that millions of people expected, but it was shocking anyway: A white cop who shot more than a dozen bullets at an unarmed African American teenager, killing him, was not only off the hook, but was being portrayed as a victim.
After days of rising tensions as the long-awaited grand jury decision didn’t come, people in Ferguson and around the country erupted in bitter protest. Even while Barack Obama followed McCulloch onto the airwaves to make his own statement urging peace, police fired their first volleys of tear gas and smoke grenades in Ferguson.
The media bemoaned the “violence” in Ferguson when a police car was wrecked and local businesses set on fire–without the slightest recognition of the violence that African Americans living in a city like Ferguson endure on a daily basis, directly at the hands of racist police and indirectly as a result of endemic poverty and unemployment.
Tory Russell, the co-founder of Hands Up United, responded firmly when asked in a CNN interview if he was “urging calm” after the decision. Russell replied, “I am urging calm. I’m urging calm for the police officers to not pepper spray me, tear gas me, mace me and shoot rubber bullets…People need to urge the police to be calm. Stop hurting kids, stop traumatizing our communities.”
The media vultures had their cameras trained on Ferguson, but there were angry demonstrations around the country after the grand jury decision was announced. In Chicago, hundreds of protesters took over Lake Shore Drive. In Oakland, Calif., in the largest protest in the Bay Area, the hastily organized solidarity demonstration drew more than 1,000 people who marched through downtown and later blockaded Interstate 580, one of the major routes through the city. Nearly a thousand turned out to Times Square.
There will be more protests today and in the days to come. We need to make sure everyone who was outraged by Mike Brown’s murder and inspired by the rebellion in Ferguson against racism and police violence raises their voices and sends a message: We won’t forget Mike Brown–and our struggle for justice will continue.
Above: the only known film of Snoozer, with his ‘Snoozer’s Telephone Blues’ dubbed
I’ve been vaguely aware for some years, of a legendary jazz guitarist called Snoozer Quinn. I knew from something I’d read, that he was highly regarded by fellow musicians in the 1920’s and 30’s, but didn’t record much until he was – literally – on his death bed in a TB sanitorium in the late 1940’s, when someone brought in a portable recording machine and asked him to play into it.
Some of these recordings have been available on the internet for a while, but not the complete set and not on CD. Now, Mike Dine’s 504 Records has put out all 12 of these death-bed recordings known to exist, on a CD called ‘The Magic Of Snoozer Quinn’.
Here are the very detailed and knowledgeable CD booklet-notes by Charlie Crump:
Snoozer Quinn was a classic example of a musician’s musician.
Born Elvin McIntosh Quinn in McComb, Mississippi on October 18th 1906, he was a child prodigy, learning to play mandolin and violin by the age of seven, before taking up the guitar which was to become his instrument of choice.
After the family moved to Bogalusa, La, he became a professional musician, playing with the family band before going on the road at the age of seventeen with bands led by Jack Wilrich and later Mart Britt. He first met Johnny Wiggs in 1924 when he joined Peck Kelly’s Texas based band, then playing in Shreveport, La. Returnin to Bogalusa, Snoozer was picked up by Wingy Mannone who was putting together a New Orleans style band for a gig at Bob White and Eddie Connors Somerset Club in San Antonio, Texas. Joe Mannone’s New Orleans Rhythm Band consisted of Wingy Mannone (tpt), Don Ellis (sax), Charles ‘Pee Wee’ Russell (clt), Joe Lamar (pno), Snoozer Quinn (gtr), Joe ‘Hooknose’ Loycano (bs), Clause Humphries (ds), the job lasted three months.
From late 1925 to 1928 he played in the New Orleans area where he was heard at an after hours jam session by members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, including Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer, then playing at the St. Charles Theatre in October 1928. Trumbauer was so impressed with Snoozer’s playing that he took him to Paul Whiteman’s room so that he could hear him play. Johnny Wiggs recalled that one of Snoozer’s tricks was to play pizzicato and hold the chord with one hand and shoot out the other to shake your hand. He did this to Whiteman while playing ‘Tiger Rag’. Whiteman was so knocked out by this that he immediately offered Snoozer a job, and he played with the Whiteman organisation until around mid-April 1929.
As far as recordings were concerned this move did not do much to enhance Snoozer’s career, as he only appeared on two, or possibly three, over the Whiteman period. At the end of his stay with Whiteman he appeared on Bing Crosby’s first session to be issued under his own name and on a session, rejected at the time, by (singer) Bee Palmer which included Frank Trumbauer and an inaudible Bix Beiderbecke and has only recently seen the light of day as a CD issue (and on youtube). Discographies also list him as appearing on the Columbia issue of the Mason-Dixie Orchestra, a Frank Trumbauer group, shortly after leaving Whiteman. His only other recordings were a rejected session for Victor in San Antonio in May 1928 and ten titles with another guitarist as accompanist to Jimmie Davis on ten country styled tracks in May 1931.
After the Jimmie Davis period he played with Earl Crumb’s Band in New Orleans over a long period in the early 1930’s and continued to work in the South until the end of his playing career was brought about by failing health at the end of that decade.
However, he started playing regularly again by the mid-1940’s, including a long spell with Earl Crumb’s Band at the Beverly Gardens Restaurant on Jefferson Highway in New Orleans. One of Snoozer’s last appearances was at the New Orleans Jazz Foundation Concert in April 1948.
Advanced tuberculosis caused him to be confined to a sanatorium for the last few years of his life. Effectively that would have meant the end of Snoozer’s music had it not been for Johnny Wiggs, who had maintained contact with him over the years and considered his music of sufficient importance to justify a further attempt to preserve Snoozer’s guitar work. Although he had spent over 20 years as a teacher of mechanical drawing and had only recently started playing again, Wiggs took his cornet, a portable recording machine and blanks to the sanatorium where Snoozer was a patient. The twelve tracks presented here, some of which have Wiggs added on cornet, are those recorded at the time. Four of the titles were issued privately by Johnny Wiggs on two 78rpm records on his Wiggs Inc. label and are included in this set which represents all those that were recorded at that time.
Given the circumstances of the recording the results are remarkably good, with only one track showing any sign of groove damage.
The exact dates of the recordings are unknown but they fall between the dates of Snoozer’s entry to the Sanatorium in 1948 and his death in 1949.
* H/t: Jason Hill (for bringing my attention to the youtube film)
* ‘The Magic Of Snoozer Quinn’ is available from 504 Records, 20 Clifton Road, Welling, Kent, DA16 1QA, England. Tel: 020 8303 9719
* Lots more on Snoozer, here
* Finally, I hope it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I have no commercial interest in this CD.
Given the present state of British politics, and the present state of the Labour Party, it’s safe to say that Labour was never going to win the Rochester and Strood byelection.
Mind you, it’s worth remembering that maverick Labour leftist Bob Marshall-Andrews represented the constituency from 1997 until the last election, and though there have been boundary changes, Rochester is a solidly working class constituency.
But this time Labour knew that the predominantly white electors, with their concerns about immigration and misinformed scepticism towards Europe, were not going to vote Labour in sufficient numbers for the party to regain the seat. UKIP were always favourites to win, but at least Labour could comfort itself with the thought that the Tories were going to be the main losers and suffer the biggest humiliation.
That was until Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, and Labour MP for Islington South, tweeted the picture above, accompanied by the words “Image from Rochester”: the accompanying sneer could not be seen, but was all too obvious.
The wise and perceptive Anne Perkins commented in the Graun:
“It may be the most devastating message Labour has managed to deliver in the past four years. It’s already being described as the party’s “47%” moment – a reference to the observation that nailed shut the lid on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, when he dismissed the 47% of American voters who wouldn’t ever back the Republicans.
“It is really quite hard to come up with a more lethal tweet to send out to the party’s core vote on polling day.”
Mark Reckless’s comments on deporting EU migrants have shown that he is, essentially, a racist and (Farage’s half-hearted denial of this being UKIP true policy, notwithstanding) so is UKIP as a whole. But not all – or even most – of the people who vote UKIP are hardened racists.
To sneer at working class people who choose to display the St George flag and happen to own a white van, is to display a degree of patronising, middle class arrogance that only a particularly stupid New Labour career politician could possibly come out with.
As Ms Perkins notes, “One click, just one click, that’s all it takes. Ed Miliband’s Labour is once again the party of the metropolitan elite.”
P.S: At least Skinner’s back on form as he denounces Reckless and Carswell in the Commons: here
Forty years ago tonight, two bombs exploded inside busy pubs in the centre of Birmingham, killing 21 people and injuring another 182. In the light of atrocities that have happened since, this may not seem such a shocking incident, but at the time it was traumatic – we in mainland Britain had not experienced such an attack upon civilians since the Second World War. There never was any serious doubt that (with or without the knowledge of the Army Council) members of the Provisional IRA were responsible, though to this day Sinn Fein and their now-mainstream representatives have failed to acknowledge it.
An additional six people can be added to the tally of victims: the innocent men who were each deprived of 16 years of their liberty for a crime they didn’t commit.
I was living in Birmingham at the time, a young student member of the International Socialists. The bombings made a major and permanent impression upon me, but I’ll come to that later. First, I’ll deal with what happened within the working class in Birmingham, then with the response on the left.
There was a massive and vicious backlash against all Irish people in Birmingham. Anyone of Irish extraction or with any known Irish connection, was immediately put in fear of their life. A worker who was known to have played the pipes at an IRA funeral was strung up at Rover Solihull (he survived, but only by luck). Johnny Bryant, a member of ‘Workers Fight’ (forerunner of the AWL) was driven out of his job at Lucas, never able to return. In shops, offices and factories throughout Birmingham, people of Irish extraction or with Irish names were terrified and quite a few went into hiding. A massive march took place from the Longbridge car plant to the City Centre. Socialist activists at Longbridge had to make a quick decision as to how to react. The Communist Party who dominated the Longbridge Joint Shop Stewards Committee simply went to ground. The International Socialists, who had a few shop stewards and supporters in the plant, decided to join the march in order to argue against any anti-Irish backlash and to prevent the National Front taking the lead. They were surely right to do so. Immediately after the march, IS students (including myself) joined Frank Henderson and others in leafleting the city centre against any backlash.
To the best of my knowledge, no-one actually died as a result of the backlash in Birmingham, but that was purely a matter of luck. The atmosphere was murderous and Irish people, and those of Irish extraction, were living in real fear for their lives.
The left was in a state of shock, just like everyone else. The Communist Party and their Irish-in-Britain front, the ‘Connolly Association’, simply waited for things to blow over. The IS, which had shop stewards in major factories like Longbridge and Lucas, was in political disarray, though individual IS militants (notably Frank Henderson at Longbridge), often played principled and even heroic roles. As stated above, Frank and the other IS shop stewards and activists at Longbridge joined the protest march and argued against the anti-Irish backlash. IS members with Irish names simply went into hiding – and who can blame them?
But despite the brave and principled role of IS industrial militants like Frank, the organisation as a whole was disorientated and incoherent. No-one knew what the “line” was – whether we continued to give “critical but unconditional” support to the Provos or not. The following week’s Socialist Worker didn’t help: the headline was “STOP THE BOMBINGS – troops out now”, which didn’t really clarify matters. Was “STOP THE BOMBINGS” a demand on the Provos? Were we suggesting that the bombings were, in reality, a just and/or inevitable consequence of the presence of the troops? What the hell were we saying?
About a week after the bombings IS held an emergency meeting for all Birmingham members in the upstairs room of a city centre pub. Duncan Hallas did the lead-off, and quoted extensively from the Official IRA paper, denouncing the bombings. Inevitably, several comrades responded by asking why, therefore, we supported the Provos, instead of the Officials, whose ‘line’ on individual terrorism seemed much closer to ours. My recollection is that Hallas didn’t really have an answer to that, and the meeting ended in a sullen and resentful atmosphere of dissatisfaction. We all knew that Hallas had been talking bollocks, but we didn’t know what the answer was. The reaction of many IS industrial militants was that it was best to steer clear of any involvment with “difficult” issues like Ireland, and to stick to “pure” industrial work.
For myself, the bombing was a sort of political coming of age. It taught me that the IS was incoherent and unprincipled on the question of Ireland, and nationalism more generally. It taught me that international issues cannot be divorced from industrial work. Most importantly, it taught me that politics is not a game or a pass-time: working class people had died and we had to have something to say. Ultimately, it taught me that simplistic “anti-imperialism” that costs working class lives is no way forward. It helped me to grow up politically – but at a terrible price.
PS: an untold story: The role of the firefighters and cabbies.
Fire engine driver Alan Hill was on duty at Birmingham Highgate station that night, and was called to the scene of the first bomb, at the Mulberry Bush pub. He told Birmingham historian Carl Chinn (in the Birmingham Mail five years ago) the following:
“There was now complete gridlock in the city. The only option I had was to do a reverse run down the full length of Corporation Street against the one way traffic pouring out of the city centre. It was totally against brigade policy but I really had no alternative.
“When I reached the bottom of Corporation Street, I turned left into New Street.
“Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. Seconds before, another bomb had expolded at the Tavern in the Town basement pub in New Street..
“The street was a scene of utter devastation.
“We sent a radio message to Fire Control explaining the position and requesting another four fire engines and forty ambulances to assist us. There was only the four of us. There were around 150 casualties. Many were trapped inside the dark basement.
“The officer in charge of the fire engine, John Frayne, who at the age of 28 was the oldest member of the crew realised it would be ages before assistance arrived.
“John explained our position to the crowd and asked for volunteers. Twelve brave men stepped forward to assist us.
“The other two firemen, Nigel Brown and Martin Checkley, were already down in the basement.
“Although I had requested 40 ambulances I realised we would be lucky to get any. It was a case of first come first served and I knew the firemen at the Mulberry Bush had already requested every available ambulance in the city. My stomach sank to my fire boots.
“With every alarm bell in the street ringing, it was difficult to hear yourself think, but about 12 minutes into the incident someone behind me was clearly shouting ‘Alan.’ I turned around. It was George Kyte.
“George was a taxi owner driver who lived in Corisande Road, Selly Oak. I knew George well I had worked with him in the past as his night driver.
“With typical understatement George said ‘I know you’re busy. I am on a rank in Stephenson Place. A couple have asked me to take them to hospital. Can I do that and will you need their details?’
“I could have kissed him.
“I told George, ‘Get on your radio. Make an emergency call. I need every available cab in the city here at this address now URGENT.’ Within seconds the message was sent via the TOA radio system.
“Access into New Street had been blocked by a cordon set up in St Martins Circus so the street was claer of passing traffic. Within a matter of moments the glow of an orange taxi sign became clearly visible in the darkness at the end of the street. It looked like a stretch limo. It turned out to be 25 black cabs nose to tail moving slowly towards us.
“It was the start of the ‘scoop and run’ method. As many casualties and carers as possible were packed into each cab and taken immediately to the Accident and General hospitals. Almost 100 casualties were removed from the scene outside the Tavern on the first taxi run.
“Other cabs appeared on the scene soon afterwards and were joined by cabs returning from the first run. Even two ‘black and white’ cars that shared the TOA radio scheme turned up.
“Considering that there would have been no more than 50 black cabs working the entire city at that time of a Thursday night, the reponse was overwhelming… without any shadow of a doubt there would have been far more fatalities that night from trauma and blood loss had the taxi drivers not responded in such a magnificent and selfless manner.”
In memeory of Jimmy Ruffin, May 7 1936 – Nov 17 2014
The Council Collective performing the extended version of Soul Deep live on Channel 4’s The Tube, 14th December 1984 at the studios of Tyne-Tees Television in Newcastle Upon Tyne. In aid of the striking miners this single featured Paul Weller, Mick Talbot, Dee C. Lee, Jimmy Ruffin, Junior Giscombe, Dizzy Hites and Vaughan Toulouse.
This article is republished from the website of the American International Socialist Organisation, a group once associated with the British SWP, but who broke their links with them some years ago. I think it’s an important contribution to the debate around identity politics, ‘intersectionality’ postmodernism and the relationship between class and oppression. It’s a longish piece, but quite accessible and well worth taking the trouble to read – JD:
Sharon Smith is author of the forthcoming Women and Socialism: Marxism, Feminism and Women’s Liberation  and Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States . At the Socialism 2014 conference last June, she spoke at a session that took up the discussion about the politics of privilege theory and the practice of privilege-checking.
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I THINK it’s important to make clear at the outset of this presentation that recognizing and appreciating the degree of gross inequality in capitalist society–which is a necessary feature not only of exploitation, but also of oppression–is much more important than the term you use to describe it. That is, whether you call it “privilege,” or “benefits” or “advantages” is not the main issue.
The only way we can hope to build a movement that fights oppression in all its forms, and also includes all oppressed people within it, is not by minimizing the degree of oppression that exists, but by recognizing its many manifestations–no matter which oppressed group you are discussing.
It is also the case that a solid proportion of people, especially young people, who have become radicalized in recent years have done so precisely because of their recognition of and opposition to oppression–be it racism, sexism, LGBTQ oppression, disability oppression or any number of other forms of oppression that exist today.
This makes sense. On the one hand, the dramatic growth in class inequality since 2008 has led to a sharp rise in class-consciousness–most recently demonstrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. But this class-consciousness is mostly limited to anger at class and social inequality–without an obvious connection to a working-class strategy to transform society.
This is completely understandable, since anyone in the U.S. who became politically aware after the mid-1970s will have had little to no opportunity to experience firsthand the solidarity that is palpable among workers who are fighting shoulder to shoulder in an open-ended mass strike. So while the misery caused by the system is obvious to all those who are radicalizing today, the potential power of the working class is not.
Recent generations of young radicals have often gotten their first introduction to the issue of combatting oppression through reading the very influential Peggy McIntosh essay of 1989, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
The best thing about this essay is that it forces its white readers to appreciate the many manifestations of racism in everyday life. But the essay itself primarily focuses on individual awareness, rather than putting forward a particular strategy for ending racism. I also find that it tends to conflate the meaning of “white” people with white middle-class people, without actually integrating a class analysis.
For its intended purposes, though, this essay raises awareness and does some good–mainly arguing that white people looking at themselves in the mirror should realize the many ways that people of color are victimized in ways that white people do not experience. And McIntosh certainly doesn’t call for privilege-checking as a strategy for social change. This strategy arrived to the radical left much later on. Read the rest of this entry »
In memory of Comrade Jim Padmore, who’s died aged just 47. This was selected by Comrade Dave Kirk:
He was one of the most commited and educated Marxists i know. He was at every picket line, demo and meeting he could make. Yet its the stuff like after meeting drinks, the books he leant me and getting nostalgic and sun burnt with him at Durham miners Gala last year that i remember.
Pete Radcliff writes:
Those who argue that there would be no difference between a Tory or Labour election victory, watch this. If there are any socialists who don’t think they can connect with an election campaign run on these views – if they don’t think our movement will have their hopes raised by such a victory – I would like to know why.
Of course, hope and abstract promises don’t change the world – we would need to organise vigorously to make Labour in power do as much as we can of what we need.
If you don’t think this is the case, let me know. Go for it – I have the day off work (Pete wrote this earlier today-JD)
A view from Pakistan by Pervez Hoodbhoy:
Why Does Malala Yusufzai’s Nobel Bother So Many On The Left?
Take Arundhati Roy. For one who has championed people’s causes everywhere so wonderfully well, her shallow, patronizing remarks were disappointing…
Arundhati Roy’s charm and lucidity have iconized her in the world of left-wing politics. But, asked by Laura Flanders what she made of the 2014 Nobel Prize, she appeared to be swallowing a live frog:
“Well, look, it is a difficult thing to talk about because Malala is a brave girl and I think she has even recently started speaking out against the US invasions and bombings…but she’s only a kid you know and she cannot be faulted for what she did….the great game is going on…they pick out people [for the Nobel Prize].”
For one who has championed people’s causes everywhere so wonderfully well, these shallow, patronizing remarks were disappointing.
Farzana Versey, Mumbai based left-wing author and activist, was still less generous last year. Describing Malala as “a cocooned marionette” hoisted upon the well-meaning but unwary, Versey lashed out at her for, among other things, raising the problem of child labour at her speech at the United Nations: “it did not strike her that she is now even more a victim of it, albeit in the sanitized environs of an acceptable intellectual striptease.”
But hang on a bit! This “kid” and “cocooned marionette” did not achieve world-wide admiration for opposing US-led wars or child labour or for a thousand and one other such good-and-great things. The bullet that smashed through her skull came because she opposed the Pakistani Taliban’s edict that all education for girls must end forever in the Swat valley after 15 September 2009, and her vigorous campaign for every girl child’s right to education.
It is perfectly clear why Malala has had to be damned to eternity by her left-wing critics: she has been photographed in the company of men judged to be villains: Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Ban Ki Moon, Richard Holbrooke, and others. It is also obvious that she could not have won the Nobel peace prize—which is always an intensely political affair—but for support from the highest quarters in the western world. Consequently many on the left have easily dismissed her condemnation of drone strikes in Pakistan, as well as the $50,000 from her Nobel Prize money which she gave for rebuilding Gaza schools, as thin ploys aimed at image building.
Unsurprisingly leftist critiques of Malala’s Nobel have been eagerly seized upon by right-wingers in Pakistan, helping seal the narrative for many of my countrymen and women. For cultural and religious reasons, as much as for political ones, they have already come to loathe the West even more than arch-enemy India. In the weeks after she was shot, several students at my university told me they see Malala Yousafzai as Malala ‘Dramazai’, an ‘Illuminati Psy Op’, and a willing tool of the West who is out to badmouth Pakistan and make it appear unreasonably dangerous. Many doubted that she had been shot at all—the Taliban know how to kill.
Pakistan’s officialdom also harbours a hidden, but deep, hostility to her. Although the government officially acclaimed the Prize, a resolution to honour Malala was unsuccessfully moved last week by the opposition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial assembly. Instead the KPK assembly passed another resolution to press the US government to free the “daughter of Pakistan”, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a convicted Al-Qaida affiliate who is now serving out her 86-year sentence atFort Worth, Texas. Mainstream Urdu newspapers describe Malala as a poster girl of the West, and a Trojan horse for introducing secularism in Pakistan.
I have no expectations from the millions of my conspiracy obsessed fellow Pakistanis. But have Malala’s left-wing detractors—including those who I have long respected for their outspokenness in opposing multiple forms of oppression and imperialist wars—ever really bothered to know why she was shot?
In the following, I have translated and condensed a 9-page pamphlet entitled Aqeedon ka Tasadum explaining why Malala had to be killed. Written in Urdu and signed by the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, it was circulated shortly after the shooting:
Preamble: This is a war of two faiths, Islam versus kufr (unbelief). On the one side there is true education and modesty; on the other is nudity, music, dancing, and disgraceful gyrations. On the one side there is respect for the veil; on the other are those females who appear on TV and give interviews to men who are not relatives. In fact they dare to mock the Taliban and mujahideen who seek to prevent nudity, lewdness, and Westernization. So here is why this so-called Malala, a pawn of Western interests and secular forces, had to be brought to justice:
First, is Malala a child? No! She was born on 18 July 1998, which makes her 15 years and 4 months old. She had crossed puberty and shown the signs. Thus she had to be treated as an adult woman responsible for her deeds.
Second, is the killing of women allowed in Islam? Yes! After the conquest of Mecca, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had personally ordered several women to be killed, including by stoning to death. Hazrat Ali too had declared as correct and justified the strangling of a Jewish woman who had verbally abused the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Third, what does Pakhtun culture say? Although some media commentators claim that killing girls is against our culture, this is nonsense. If a boy and girl are even suspected of doing something together, it is common to kill both.
Fourth, was Malala guilty? Yes! This so-called innocent “child” actually wrote a diary under the false name of Gul Makai, and daily criticized us in it. She called Obama her ideal, and preferred the secular education of Lord Macaulay to Islamic education.
Fifth, was Malala unarmed? No! She was armed with the pen, a weapon sharper than the sword, with which she daily defamed Islam and Muslims. She portrayed the Taliban as beastly savages. This is why we rightly punished her.
Conclusion: By focusing on Malala this filthy (Pakistani) media shows it is prostituted to the Americans. It says no words of protest against the strip-searching and incarceration of the daughter of Islam (Dr Aafia Siddiqui). It makes a false hero out of one who deserved what she got.
A puzzle: why does such savage bestiality often find no, or only cursory, reference in today’s left-wing discourses? Boko Haram’s sex captives, ISIL’s beheadings, Taliban suicide attacks against civilians, and scores of atrocities by multiple Islamic groups should appal and disgust all those who believe in human equality, decency, and freedom. The Left is most certainly built upon these strong moral foundations, so why the near silence?
The explanation has two parts. First, a portion of the Left has a wholly negative view of western agendas, uncritically rejecting everything as self-serving and hypocritical. Second, many progressives today do not wish to leave a comfort zone where all global problems can be safely blamed on to the West. Having two baddies—America and Islamism—threatens to muddy up the waters. They would prefer to keep life simple.
But shouldn’t one be a little cleverer, more discerning? It is doubtlessly true that the pursuit by the United States of its strategic and economic interests fed and fuelled the rise of violent Islamism through its multiple wars and interventions, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US continues to be the principal protector and ally of Saudi Arabia—which has long funded jihadists across the globe. It stokes anger through its unconditional support for aggressive Israeli expansionism. In such situations it is right and proper to condemn the US and fight back.
At the same time, one must recognize that western culture and politics have changed in important ways. This is not because of the Obamas, Bushes, or Blairs but owes instead to a protracted, centuries-long struggle by the working class and activists. No longer can any western country afford to be seen as a merciless colonizer, or to freely militarily ravage and economically plunder as in past centuries. Constraints on their still callous corporate and political elites have steadily grown. Therefore western agendas and interests can sometimes be intelligently leveraged for furthering what is important for peoples everywhere: education, peace, female emancipation, freedom of thought and action, labour rights, and all that the Left holds important. Malala has played this game with the West well, giving us hope that in these bleak times there are still some among us who have their heads screwed on right.
A young Pakistani progressive, Ghausia Rashid Salam, departs from common opinion by paying her this tribute:
“We should be honoured that Malala emerged from our country, because we know better than any white man, better than any South Asian, what Pakistan is, and what life here is like. We know, better than anyone else in the world, how resilient you have to be to emerge from a life under the Taliban and not give up fighting for your rights, or the rights of others. We should be happy that the Western world can see for itself the brutal conditions we, and other parts of the world, live in, because the more fortunate parts of the world need to check their damned privilege and start making genuine efforts to bring change.”
It is surely time for one-track leftists to learn that we live in a multiple-tracked world, to recognize that there can be more than one baddie, and to resist from simplifying at the cost of accuracy. Else they do grievous wrong to all.
Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad. This article first appeared on telesur