Above: Balotelli embraces his foster mother
Antisemitism in all its loathsome forms is on the rise in Britain and the rest of Europe. Like all other forms of racism it needs to be challenged and opposed whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. Shiraz has frequently made the point that sections of the left and liberal-left are all too prone to overlook antisemitism or “contextualise” it, especially when it takes the guise of “anti Zionism” or supposed Palestinian “solidarity.”
Mario Balotelli’s republished Instagram comments were foolish and ill-judged, but surely not racist or antisemitic in intention. In fact, as far as I can judge, he was trying to make an anti-racist point with humour, and to turn some traditional racist stereotypes against the bigots. Naïve, certainly, but surely not deserving of a fine or ban from the Football Association.
Balotelli has now issued a fulsome apology, but his initial reaction – “My Mom is jewish so all of u shut up please” – struck me as quite understandable. His Italian foster mother is, indeed, Jewish and he’s clearly proud of that heritage. When members of the Italian team, including Balotelli, visited Auschwitz before the Euro 20 championship in 2012, he reportedly sat alone on the rail track at the camp, staring silently ahead and a little later told his team-mates about his foster mother and a box of letters she keeps under her bed. He’d never told anyone before.
Lay off this well-meaning eccentric, and worry about the real antisemites who campaign to boycott Jewish businesses, Jew-bait Israeli sports teams and performers, daub swastikas on synagogues and carry banners comparing Israel with Nazi Germany. There’s plenty of them on both the right and sections of the “left.” They’re the real antisemites these days.
Above: Brown and Blair
Gordon Brown is in many respects a tragic figure: a man who lived and breathed politics, but when he finally achieved his burning ambition, blew it in spectacular fashion.
He also has had some real tragedy in his personal life.
By most accounts, a brooding, resentful character and (according to some) a bit of a bully, he can also (again, according to some) be very entertaining in private and is very loyal to his friends. Compared to his erstwhile friend, the superficial chancer Tony Blair, Brown is a deep and thoughtful character. In contrast to the lightweight and eclectic Blair, he is a man of the labour movement. – which makes his role in creating the foul aberration that was New Labour somehow more treacherous than that of the ideologically footloose semi-Tory Blair.
Brown’s splendid role towards the end of the Scottish referendum campaign gave us a momentary glimpse of just what a principled and passionate figure he could have been. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a traitor even to the reformist tradition in which he stands, but part of me can’t help liking him and even feels some pity for him. Perhaps, away from mainstream politics he’ll make some amends for New Labour and do some worthwhile campaigning on issues like girls’ rights, that are clearly very important to him and his wife Sarah. I certainly hope so, because I really want to like and respect him.
Marxism and imperialism
Lenin’s theory has been turned into dogma
By Martin Thomas
(First published in 1996)
We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable opposition…. Our tasks… we realize not through the medium of bourgeois governments… but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a ‘defence’ cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not even pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiment of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks confronting us.
By the end of the ’60s, what had once been ‘the pride’ of Marxism – the theory of imperialism – had become a ‘Tower of Babel’, in which not even Marxists knew any longer how to find their way.
Giovanni Arrighi 
There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as a ‘negative’ Social-Democratic slogan that serves only to ‘sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism’ without at the same time offering a positive answer to the question of how Social-Democracy will solve the problem when it assumes power. A ‘negative’ slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not sharpen, but dull, consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, meaningless declamation.
V I Lenin 
If European capitalism needed colonies in the first half of this century, why has it not collapsed without them in the second half? If early 20th century imperialism marked ‘the highest stage of capitalism’, the ‘epoch of capitalist decay’ – as revolutionary Marxists wrote at the time – what is the late 20th century?
To answer these questions we must first clear away much confusion. Though Lenin’s famous pamphlet on imperialism is one of the finest polemics in the whole of Marxist politics, the ‘Leninist orthodoxy’ which made it, or rather a garbled version of it, into the master-textbook of twentieth-century world politics and economics has confused rather than clarified. The concepts of ‘export of capital’, ‘finance capital’, or ‘monopoly capital’ as the essence of the matter are – so I shall argue – neither special theoretical innovations of Lenin, nor adequate keys for an understanding of imperialism in a broader view of history.
Imperialism and high finance: Kautsky builds on Engels to answer Bernstein
Maybe the first big classical-Marxist statement on imperialism was by Karl Kautsky, in 1899, replying to Eduard Bernstein’s call for a ‘Revision’ of the perspective of Marx and Engels.
In the 1890s Engels had identified monopolies, cartels, credit and high finance as expressions that classic individual capitalism was decaying and becoming ‘socialistic’, but in an upside-down way which sharpened plunder, swindling, and crises. Colonialism was a profit-making venture of the new financial aristocracy. 
Bernstein argued, on the contrary, that the new trends made capitalism more open to peaceful and piecemeal progress. Credit gave the system more flexibility. Industrial cartels (associations of companies bound together by agreements on production levels, prices and sales) gave the capitalists more conscious control. They could avoid overproduction by mutual agreement. The growth of the world market, and improvements in communications and transport, also made the system more flexible. Capitalism could probably postpone ‘general commercial crises’ for a long time.
Bernstein criticised the way the German government pursued its imperialist policy, but argued that the trend was towards peace and harmony between nations. ‘The workman who has equal rights as a voter… who… is a fellow owner of the common property of the nation, whose children the community educates, whose health it protects, whom it secures against injury, has a fatherland…’, and so should oppose Germany being ‘repressed in the council of the nations’. Moreover: ‘Onlya conditional right of savages to the land occupied by them can be recognised. The higher civilisation ultimately can claim a higher right.'
Bernstein’s scenario of peace and free trade was an illusion, replied Kautsky. ‘Protective tariffs are easier introduced than abolished, especially in a period of such raging competition on the world market… Free trade! For the capitalists that is an ideal of the past.’ Bernstein claimed that speculation was a disease of capitalism’s infancy. But infant capitalism was being promoted across the world by the ‘overflowing capitals of the older countries… Argentinian and Transvaal speculation holds its ‘wildest orgies’ not only in Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, but equally in the venerable City of London.’
And colonialism, Kautsky insisted, was inseparable from militarism and the despoiling of colonial peoples for the benefit of ‘the modern kings of finance [who] dominate nations directly through cartels and trusts and subject all production to their power’. 
‘The financier,’ Kautsky went on to argue, ‘finds militarism and a strong active governmental policy, both external and internal, very agreeable. The kings of finance need not fear a strong governmental power, independent of people and Parliament, because they can rule such a power directly either as bondholders [i.e., as people who lend money to the government], or else through personal and social influences. In militarism, war and public debts they have a direct interest, not only as creditors, but also as government contractors…
‘It is wholly different with industrial capital. Militarism, war and public debts signify high taxes… War signifies besides this… a break in trade… A strong governmental power arouses anxiety in [the industrial manager] because he cannot directly control it… he inclines rather to liberalism… [But] The opposition between finance and industry continually decreases… finance ever more and more dominates industry.'
Much of Kautsky’s argument was a Marxist conversion of ideas which were to be summed up with great verve by the English radical liberal, J A Hobson, in a book motivated by the Boer War (Imperialism, 1902).
‘The Imperialism of the last three decades,’ wrote Hobson, ‘is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations.’ But imperialism continued because, ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests.’
Arms contractors, some exporters, the shipping trade, the military, and those who wanted jobs for their sons in the Indian Civil Service, all had an interest in imperialism. But ‘the governor of the imperial engine’ was ‘the great financial houses’, which were investing abroad at such a rate.
‘The economic taproot of Imperialism’ was overproduction and glut of capital. ‘Messrs Rockefeller, Pierpoint Morgan [etc.] need Imperialism because they desire to use the public resources of their country to find profitable employment for the capital which would otherwise be superfluous.’
Imperialism was also parasitic. ‘To a larger extent every year Great Britain is becoming a nation living upon tribute from abroad, and the classes who enjoy this tribute have an ever-increasing incentive to employ the public policy, the public purse and the public force to extend the field of their private investments, and to safeguard and improve their existing investments. This is, perhaps, the most important fact in modern politics.'
The overproduction and glut were due to inequality of income. The workers could not consume much because of low wages; the capitalists could not possibly use all of their huge incomes on luxuries, and thus had vast amounts left seeking investment. Balance should be restored through social reform, higher wages, more spending on public services. This would lead to more balanced national economies and less searching for markets abroad.
Kautsky saw a similar permanent glut. ‘If the capitalist mode of production raises the mass production of goods to the utmost, it also limits to a minimum the mass consumption of the workers who produce these goods, and therefore produces an ever greater surplus of goods for personal consumption…' He differed from Hobson in arguing that this glut would be resolved by the collapse of capitalism and the socialist revolution, rather than by ‘social reform’, and in contending that finance-capital dominated, rather than being only a ‘sectional interest’ counterposed to ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole’.
Another difference was that Hobson used the word ‘imperialism’, where the German Marxists at this stage would use a term like ‘world policy’. ‘Imperialism’ was not special Marxist jargon: on the contrary. The Marxists took over the term from the common usage of British bourgeois politics – where some, like Rosebery, called themselves ‘Liberal Imperialists’, others, like Hobson, anti-imperialists. They used it in the same sense as common usage – the new aggressive colonial and world-economic policy of the big powers – and sought to uncover its economic roots in the rise of high finance.
Many of the core ideas of the whole literature were already expressed by 1902: militarism, colony-grabbing, conflict and an authoritarian state as the political trends; high finance, economic decadence and glut, and export of capital, as the economic underpinnings.
But what exactly was finance capital? This question was never properly resolved. And the recurrent idea of metropolitan capitalism having become ‘glutted’ would also cause confusion.
Effective demand depends not only on consumption but also on investment; and, in fact, fluctuations in demand for investment goods are generally the prime movers in crises. Demand for those investment goods can soar while final consumption stagnates – and, vice versa, the run-up to a crisis is generally a period of unusually high working-class consumption but sagging investment.
‘Overproduction’ is not a permanent condition; capitalism constantly sheds overproduction through crises and then builds it up again. The relation between supply and demand for money-capital is determined by the tempo of self-expansion of capital. It is a relation between profits accumulated from past capitalist exploitation, and profits available from present capitalist exploitation. The spasmodic nature of capitalist development means that this supply-and-demand relation is constantly falling out of balance and generating ‘surpluses’ of money-capital. But those surpluses are a function of the cycle of boom and slump, not of any absolute level at which an economy becomes ‘full up’ of capital.
The notion of an absolute level after which a capitalist economy will become permanently ‘glutted’ and awash with surplus capital is a recurrent theme in mainstream economics, from Adam Smith to Keynes. It has been attractive to socialists because it seems to show that capitalism must inevitably break down. It is misleading.
Let me make it clear: I’m against banning the SWP under any circumstances, and anywhere,and so are all comrades I’ve discussed this with. But the following discussion, on Comrade Coatesy’s blog, puts another point of view:
Up to their Old Tricks.
This is an important statement which should be taken with the next Blog Post (from Phil, a Very Public Sociologist and Howie’s Corner).
27th of November.
International Socialist Network.
We oppose a moral panic over free speech in student unions: they are member organisations not the state. However, we think we need the highest and most rigorous standards around free speech. Free speech cannot be absolute; it has to be negotiated by our community. We have a duty to provide a secure environment for all. We must have consistent positions on where the limits are, and be very clear and open in the reasons for these limits. We don’t think the no-platform policy against the SWP is being applied consistently. A consistent approach could ban most mainstream political parties and the Catholic Church from student unions on the same grounds used for the SWP’s ban. A better approach to the SWP and SWSS in student unions is not to shut down the society, nor to ban them. We should support and fight for unions to have decent membership disciplinary policies for misogynistic behaviour. If any SWP or SWSS member in a student union is behaving in a misogynistic way then they should be told to change their behaviour by the union. Failing that, they must be disciplined as a member of the student union, as any normal member would be for misogynistic behaviour.
Many comrades in what remains of SWP can still be debated with. However, the moments of internal opposition have passed. Opposition activists have left; many into rs21 and the IS Network. Bans and no-platform policies will probably further stifle honest discussion in the SWP, and may ultimately be counter-productive as the SWP would use the attempts to ban it to try to regain legitimacy by rallying people around it in a fight for free speech.
SWP Bullies London Black Revolutionaries (from All that is solid.)
27th of November.
As you might expect, hearing a bandwagon trundling along in the distance, the SWP tried to get a piece of last night’s LBR-arranged 5,000 strong ‘FromLondon2Ferguson’ protest outside the American embassy. According to this LBR statement below, the SWP didn’t take kindly to something being organised without their “assistance”. It has been lightly edited.
We would like to clarify a recently alarming statement on behalf of Stand Up To Racism posted to us by Dennis Fernado and Sabby Dhalu.
From the hours of 25/11/14 3:00pm – 26/11/13 1:00am. LBR Organisers received a bombardment of calls from SUTR organisers.
We would like to refute some accusations being made.
At 1am of the 26th of November. SUTR approached us with the possibility of some of their Non-Socialist Workers Party members to speak as speakers of both events. We made the democratic decision to of course allow the families of those killed in police custody to speak at the event, as some have been arranged too already. We would like to convey respect and solidarity to all speakers of both events.
Our organisation received a plethora of threats from Weyman Bennett over the phone, ranging from the threat to dismantle and “go to war” our organisation if we continued to “ignore the leaders of the movement” and secondly, if we ever organise events within Anti-Racism, that we must be obliged to speak to SUTR/SWP.
What strikes me about the statement is the entitlement of Bennett and his acolytes. Remember, the SWP is an organisation that has suffered the worst crisis in its 60 year history and recently appealed for unity among leftists. What this episode demonstrates is this toxic tub of toy town Trots have learned nothing from their rape allegation cover up, nothing from the revulsion they inspire in the wider left, and nothing about how to repair their organisation. Their attempt to bully London Black Revolutionaries demonstrates why they should be avoided at all costs and never be allowed to pimp off campaigns and movements not of their making.
The story comes via Howie,
The outcry over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black youth in Ferguson has focused a lot of attention on racism and justice in the USA. Unsurprisingly the protests has attracted coverage in the media and the attention of political activists on the far-left who have organised a vigil outside the US embassy today (26th November).
As usual the Socialist Worker Party has tried “muscling in” on the demo which has led to a fallout with the London Black Revolutionaries, an organisation I have no previous knowledge of.
LBR have published a lengthy statement.
Tomas Prouza posted the picture (above) on Friday, having been upset by Cameron’s suggestion that EU immigrants should only be allowed to claim welfare after they had been in the UK for four years.
Tomas responded by posting the photo of these Eastern Europeans (not only Czechs, but Poles as well) who helped defeat fascism, with the words: “These Czechs ‘worked’ in the UK for less than four years. No benefits for them?”
This followed an earlier Tweet by Prouza in which he said: “Cameron’s speech on migration: taxing people according to their nationality? What other criteria will come next?”
Prouza’s sentiments were echoed in Warsaw, with the Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz releasing a statement that read: “Poland will not agree to changes undermining the principles of the EU’s single market, specifically the free movement of people.”
The Tory leader’s speech marks an attempt to regain the agenda after embarrassing official figures showed net migration to Britain is higher than it was when the coalition came to power, leading experts to conclude that his promise to cut migrant numbers was “dead and buried”.
Unemployed Europeans heading to Britain to find work will have six months to find a job or they will be kicked out, he said in a keynote speech on immigration.
Cameron’s proposals may be hard to enact as the European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz has warned that they would need the approval of all the rest of the European Union’s member states.
“Let’s be clear,” he told the Huffington Post UK. “If they [Cameron’s proposals] are not in the interests of all 28 member states, we will not get it [any re-negotiation].”
Schulz said that the UK was not part of the Schengen Group [26 European member states without border control] or in the euro, and the rest of the member states would only look at any new proposals for change once they were concrete.
“He says ‘our relationship with the European Union’, well, this is a relationship with yourself. The UK is a member of the EU. I don’t negotiate about my relationship with myself, it’s a little bit strange.”
Cameron signalled that those with jobs will only receive in-work benefits, such as tax credits, and social housing once they have been in the UK for four years.
No child benefits or tax credits for children living elsewhere in Europe will be paid out, regardless of how long an EU migrant has paid into UK coffers under the plans.
He insisted the package of measures he is unveiling will mean Britain has the toughest welfare system for EU migrants anywhere in Europe.
He said: “People have understandably become frustrated. It boils down to one word: control. People want Government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union. And yet in recent years, it has become clear that successive Governments have lacked control. People want grip.
“I getdon’t want limitless immigration and they don’t want no immigration. They want controlled immigration. And they are right. Britain supports the principle of freedom of movement of workers. Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market.
“So we do not want to destroy that principle or turn it on its head. But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years. My objective is simple: to make our immigration system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the EU into the UK.
“We intend to cut migration from within Europe by dealing with abuse; restricting the ability of migrants to stay here without a job; and reducing the incentives for lower paid, lower skilled workers to come here in the first place. We want to create the toughest system in the EU for dealing with abuse of free movement.
“We want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here and to stop UK taxpayers having to support them if they don’t … EU jobseekers who don’t pay in will no longer get anything out. And those who do come will no longer be able to stay if they can’t find work.
“The British people need to know that changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation. I say to our European partners, we have real concerns. Our concerns are not outlandish or unreasonable. We deserve to be heard, and we must be heard.
“Here is an issue which matters to the British people, and to our future in the European Union. The British people will not understand – frankly I will not understand – if a sensible way through cannot be found, which will help settle this country’s place in the EU once and for all.
“And to the British people I say this. If you elect me as Prime Minister in May, I will negotiate to reform the European Union, and Britain’s relationship with it. This issue of free movement will be a key part of that negotiation.
“If I succeed, I will, as I have said, campaign to keep this country in a reformed EU. If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out. But I am confident that, with goodwill and understanding, we can and will succeed.”
Tomas Prouza responded with the photo at the top of this post, and the words: “These Czechs ‘worked’ in the #UK for less than four years. No benefits for them?”
H/t: Ian Woodland
Above Coleridge, about 15 years ago, playing along to one of his records with Django Reinhardt
“During the mid-thirties jazz in Britain was enriched by the presence of West Indian musicians like trumpeters Dave Wilkins and Leslie Hutchinson; saxophonists Bertie King, George Roberts, George Tyndale, Louis Stephenson and Freddie Grant; pianist Erroll Barrow; bassist Coleridge Goode; drummer Clinton Maxwell and guitarist Lauderick Caton. They were often joined, in various combinations, by the Cardiff-born blacks, Joe and Frank Deniz, on guitar” – Jim Godbolt, Jazz in Britain 1950-70 (Quartet Books, 1989).
The late Jim Godbolt’s tribute to black musicians on the early British jazz scene was as welcome as it was unusual in 1989. Sadly, all the players he mentions are now long gone – with one exception: bassist Coleridge Goode who is still with us and celebrates his 100th birthday tomorrow, Saturday 29th November. Coleridge has had an amazing career: he worked with Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt when they were in London in the 1940’s, in Ray Ellington’s Quartet (regulars on the Goon Show), and in the late ’50s began working with fellow West Indian Joe Harriott in a pioneering group playing free-form jazz and then, in the ’60s, Indo-jazz fusions.
He continued playing until only a few years ago, and was a regular at veteran bebop drummer Laurie Morgan’s jam sessions at the Kings Head in Crouch End, London (which I believe, are still going on) in the 1990s. At 100 years old, he remains an avuncular and inspiring presence on the British jazz scene.
Happy birthday, Coleridge!
2005: from left: Coleridge Goode, Tommy McQuater, Jim Godbolt and Frank Deniz
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.