Helen Crawford: from Suffragette to Stalinist

April 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm (Guest post, history, Roger M, scotland, stalinism, USSR)

image thumbnail

Guest post by Roger McCarthy

BBC Scotland has produced a programme on Helen Crawfurd which I highly recommend for as long as it is available on iplayer (2 PM on 29th April).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0418z4q/Women_with_a_Past_Series_2_Helen_Crawfurd/

Born in Glasgow in 1877 Helen had a respectable Victorian lower middle class upbringing with staunchly Tory parents, initially dreamed of becoming a missionary and married at 21 a Presbyterian minister who was old enough to be her grandfather.

However (at least as she recalls it from her autobiography written around 1950) her Christianity always had a radical and socialist bent which led her into the women’s suffrage movement – and inspired by her husband’s preaching of the text where Jesus chases the moneychangers from the temple the Sunday before a big suffragette ‘raid’ she gravitated into its most radical direct action wing.

This led the respectable minister’s wife into multiple stints in prison for throwing rocks through the Liberal education minister’s window and that of an army recruiting office, for setting off a small bomb at the Botanic Gardens and ‘inflammatory language’ and went on hunger strike three times.

After the death of her husband and the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 she was appalled by the transformation of most of her radical suffragette comrades into white feather waving militarists and threw herself into Red Clydeside’s anti-war movement – joining the Glasgow women’s rent strike campaign in 1915, confronting her former idol Christabelle Pankhurst at a recruiting rally and becoming an increasingly prominent and militant member of the Scottish ILP, the Women’s International League and the Women’s Peace Crusade winning a reputation as one of Red Clydeside’s fieriest orators.

She also acted at some point (probably in the summer or latter part of 1915) as a courier between James Connolly and his old SLP comrades in Glasgow who around this time had taken over the printing of The Workers Republic and met Connolly himself and other Republicans in Dublin.

The October Revolution threw her further to the left as the Bolshevik publication of the imperialist secret treaties removed whatever lingering illusions she may still have had about liberal democracies and she was increasingly involved with the internationalist left-wing of the ILP arguing for joining the new Communist International.

And this led this 43-year old Scottish minister’s widow to make the difficult and dangerous pilgrimage to Russia itself in summer 1920, travelling via fishing boat, cargo ship and the Arctic port of Murmansk, meeting up with John Reed in Petrograd who gave her a tour of the revolutionary sights and finally in late August (her autobiography’s chronology is frustratingly vague) arriving in Moscow – a few days too late for the Second Congress of the Comintern itself.

Here her 1950 autobiography is probably less than fully frank as while she met Lenin (which seems to have been a standard feature of a Moscow tour at this point) and Alexandra Kollontai she has nothing to say about any meetings with Zinoviev or Radek or any of the other senior Comintern functionaries who were to become unpersons in the 1930s, but who were hardly likely to have ignored a prominent figure in the ILP who they needed to press for either its accession to the Comintern or the biggest possible split over the issue at its next conference.

She does however have a lot to say about John Reed who she met again in Moscow on his return from the Baku Congress in mid-September and accompanied him and Louise Bryant to the Bolshoi theatre, a night which 30 years later inspired one of the few lyrical passages in her autobiography:

The great Bolshoi Theatre was opened as the autumn days approached and John Reed got tickets for us to attend several performances of opera and ballet… One evening I was seated in a small box near to the great centre box … which had originally been the Czar’s . In the box on my left was an American millionaire named Vanderlip whom John Reed told me had been visiting to see if he could get a concession in Kamchatka for something or other. –

On that evening the Czar’s box was occupied by a delegation of peasants who had come from some of the distant villages for some conference. An old peasant was seated in the centre chair – the Czar’s chair – and around him were the middle aged  and young peasant men and women with bright kerchiefs on their heads. I looked at the old peasant with his greying beard and saw the expression of wonder on his face as he gazed at the magnificence and beauty of the scene being enacted on the stage. Then I turned to watch the millionaire in the small box on my left and the words of Mary in the Magnificat came to my mind ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hast exalted those of low degree. Thou hast filled the hungry with good things and the rich thou hast sent empty away’. The old Russian eagle had been removed from the shield on the front of the Czar’s box and the hammer and sickle had taken its place. The men and women who were out in the fields producing the food of Russia were honoured while the American millionaire who wanted to exploit the resources  of Russia got a third rate seat. l was on top of the world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 8 Comments

Everything you know about Ukraine is wrong

March 19, 2014 at 12:33 am (genocide, history, imperialism, murder, posted by JD, Roger M, Russia, stalinism, truth)

Above: famine/genocide in Ukraine, 1932-33

Thanks to Roger McCarthy for drawing our attention to this article by Gary Brecher. It makes depressing reading and it should not be assumed that we endorse all the sentiments expressed. But it seems to be well-informed and is certainly well worth a read:

Reading the Anglo-American press babble on about Crimea is painful, if you know anything at all about that part of the world.

Mark Ames tried to wipe away some of the slime a few weeks ago in his article, “Everything You Know about Ukraine Is Wrong,” — and you can just assume that everything you know about Crimea is even wrong-er. Today I’ll try to take apart the nonsense going around about the Crimean Referendum and impending union with Russia.

It’s not easy diagnosing the psychotic episode brought on in the western media by Crimea, because anti-Russian stories are pushing two totally contradictory lines at the same time. Sometimes the party line is that Putin has gone crazy, and Russia is a joke, “a gas station masquerading as a country” that will pay a “big price” for grabbing the Crimean Peninsula.

Then there’s the neocon version of Russophobia, peddled by shameless old Iraq-Invasion boosters like Eli Lake. According to Lake’s latest in the Daily Beast, “Russia is invading Ukraine in the shadows.” The proof? Eli don’t need no stinkin’ proof. He’s been told that the dreaded SpetzNaz troops—Nazgul with black ski masks—are “spreading out” through the entire territory of Ukraine. His source? “U.S. officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.”

When you read a story by a shameless war shill like Lake, it’s fun to count the qualifiers and disclaimers:

“The same [Russian] special forces that appear to be rigging the elections in Crimea…”

“[t]he Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested a group of people led by a Ukrainian citizen who were said to be scoping out three of its most crucial military divisions…”

“The forces behind these operations, according to U.S. officials briefed on the updates in Ukraine, are likely the Spetsnaz…”

And finally, my personal favorite:

“On the ground in Ukraine, such confusion reigns that the role of Spetsnaz is hard to confirm. But its involvement would come as no surprise.”

If you’re old enough to have lived through the mass lobotomy that afflicted America in the leadup to the 2003 invasion, the phrasing and logic of that last quote should be painfully familiar. It amounts to this: “We have no proof but they [Saddam, the Russians, whoever you want to spend a few trillion blasting] did it anyway.”

I’m not saying Eli Lake has no more shame than a hungry weasel, but that’s what was said to me, on condition of anonymity, by the same Leprechaun who told Ralph Wiggum to burn things.

Whoops, I outed my Leprechaun source, and on St. Paddy’s day, no less. Well, no big deal—he happens to be gay, this leprechaun, so they wouldn’t have let him in the parade anyway.

You can reasonably assume that the same anonymous U.S. officials who told Lake that Russian special forces are behind all the uproar in Ukraine are the same geniuses who informed him, when he was cheerleading for the Iraq Invasion, that Saddam Hussein was tight with Al Qaeda.

Lake was so attached to that idea that even after the rest of the neocons admitted they might’ve been wrong—not that they ever apologized to the families of the dead—Lake was still looking for proof that Saddam and Osama were in it together and trying one more time in 2013 with a ridiculous claim that an “Al Qaeda conference call”—seriously, Eli said that—forced US embassy closures around the world.

The call, according to Eli, was “like a meeting of the Legion of Doom.” Especially since it turned out to be fictional, not to say totally made up, as anybody with the barest knowledge of insurgent technique knew the second they read Eli’s comic-book fantasy. Al Qaeda is headstrong but not stupid, or at least not stupid enough to do a 20-member “conference call.”

But the “Legion of Doom” theory is all Eli knows; it’s how he makes his living. It’s a template, the kind where you just fill in the bad-guy name and run it through the same old program. Out come the SpetzNaz and the anti-SpetzNaz funding, which is what Eli and his anonymous NatSec sources are all about anyway.

The two versions of Russia—McCain’s “gas station masquerading as a country” and Lake’s fearsome conqueror—both start from the same bitter knowledge, even if Senator McCain and Mr. Lake will never admit that fact in public. It’s a simple one: Russia will take Crimea, won’t pay a big price for it, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.

They all know Russia has a free hand in Crimea. Just look at McCain’s punchline: “A gas station masquerading as a country,” Why “gas station”? Because Russia is now the world’s #1 oil exporting nation, topping Saudi Arabia—that beacon of democracy and fine American ally—by more than a million barrels a day.

With reserves estimated at 80 billion barrels, Russia will have a stash of what everybody wants for a long, long time.

Which makes it kind of a big gas station, even by I-80 standards. “Two zillion pumps, no waiting!” And Russia’s gas station is never going to run short of customers. The oil market is like the recreational-drugs trade: Pundits may make up stories about “pushers,” but the truth is there’s always more demand than the supply can handle. Nobody needs to push those products; they sell themselves, and people will pay anything to get them. That means the people who own the world’s #1 “gas station” can pretty much do anything they want, like Arrakis, the only spice-exporting planet, in Dune. The crude must flow, no matter how crudely its Russian owners behave.

The only media that seem willing to acknowledge this are the finance sites. They can’t afford to let jingoism affect their bets, so they’ve been surprisingly clear-headed, saying outright that there’s nothing the West can do…

Analysts from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley have said Europe probably won’t back sanctions that limit flows of Russia’s oil and gas. European members of the Paris-based International Energy Agency imported 32 percent of their raw crude oil, fuels and gas-based chemical feedstocks from Russia in 2012.

It’s a sad day for America when you have to get your honest news from the pigs at Goldman Sachs, B of A, and Morgan Stanley. Kind of like Clarice having to walk through a gauntlet of tossed cum to hear Hannibal Lecter’s take on the latest serial killer. But the stats don’t lie: the EU gets a third of its energy from Russia, and no country on earth could survive a one-third cut in energy, especially an optional, self-inflicted one ordered by those up top on behalf of some people who, as far as anyone can tell, actually want to join Russia anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 20 Comments

Golden Dawn fascists murder rapper, threaten ‘civil war’

September 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm (anti-fascism, Europe, fascism, Greece, posted by JD, Racism, reblogged, Roger M, thuggery)

From When the Crisis hit the Fan
A new type of civil war
posted on 18 September 2013

I’m getting fed up of these numb mornings. I usually wake up in the morning, I prepare my coffee and sit on my computer to read the news and check the newspaper headlines. This morning my entire electronic universe was filled with the story 34-year old rapper Killah P (known as Pavlos Fyssas) who was killed by a fascist in Amfiali, Keratsini district, near Piraeus.

The victim, a singer known in the area for his anti-fascist lyrics and activism, was watching last night’s Champions League match with his friends at a coffee shop. During one of their discussions they said something (bad) about Golden Dawn. Someone from the crowd, obviously a Golden Dawn member (not just a voter), has called his fellow neonazi thugs and, after the match, the singer was ambushed, attacked and stabbed to death in front of his girlfriend and another couple.

Here’s one of his songs (you can activate English captions for the lyrics).

Can you be something less than immensely furious about this? I can’t.

Some days ago, another group of about 50 neonazi thugs have attacked a team of 30 communists who were wheatpasting on walls posters for the coming Communist Youth Festival. Eight communists were injured in the event that also took place near Piraeus, at Perama district. It was, once more, one of those mornings.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect a serious escalation of anti-leftist violence from Golden Dawn, despite the stated hatred from both sides. There was a very popular quote that was often appearing in my facebook timeline:

First they came for the immigrants, but I wasn’t an immigrant and I didn’t speak. Then they came for the communists, but I wasn’t a communist…

I was quickly scrolling down when I’d see this. But I am now afraid that the violence between Golden Dawn and anything Leftist is not an accidental confrontation in a battle to claim the streets but a rise in planned incidents.

One year ago, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panayotaros has given an interview to BBC’s Paul Mason. Sitting comfortably, he said that Greece is in a state of civil war. Paul Mason, a connoisseur of modern Greek History, insisted on the phrase “civil war” and Panayotaros explained:

Greek society is ready, even though no one likes it, to have a fight, a new type of civil war. One the one side there will be nationalists, like us and Greeks who want our country to be as it used to be and on the other side there will be illegal immigrants and anarchists…

Watch the video here (go to 01:55 for the Panayotaros segment)

Last week Golden Dawn was involved in tension during two events that commemorated some ugly moments of the Greek Civil War. One was at Meligalas and the other was at Giannitsa. There were no immigrants involved, just leftists and nationalists.

There have been hundreds of attacks against immigrants, leftists, homosexuals and others and the Golden Dawn party has always denied involvement. There was never a denouncing of the event itself because there were seldom enough proofs (for Justice) to incriminate them. This morning, the killer of Pavlos Fyssas has been arrested and, unofficial police sources say that, he was a supporter of Golden Dawn. Was he an official member? Does it make a difference? Of course not. He was definitely a member of a circle of thugs who have answered the phone call at the coffee shop before the end of the football match.

Not only the killer himself has now blood in his hands. The person who made the phone call also has blood in hands. Golden Dawn MPs, like Panayotaros, who have used hate speech against all non-nationalists, who have made anything they could to polarize the Greek society, they all have blood in their hands. And all those who have voted for Golden Dawn should now feel the thick red liquid in their hands too.

The Golden Dawn ballot is now wet and it’s not black anymore. It’s bloody red.

Update: I just found this great poster made back in 2012 by b-positive:

“You’ve armed their hands with your vote”

H/t: Roger McCarthy

Permalink Leave a Comment

The limits of satire, by Jonathan Coe

July 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm (academe, comedy, history, intellectuals, Roger M, satire, TV)

Roger McCarthy recommends this and comments:

“(A) superb takedown of anti-establishment satire from novelist Jonathan Coe

“Particularly love the quotes from Peter Cook in Beyond the Fringe ‘Oh my goodness four minutes warning doesn’t seem a very long time but ‘I’d remind those doubters that some people in this great country of ours can run a mile in four minutes’

“And ‘when opening his club, The Establishment, in Soho in 1961, Cook remarked that he was modelling it on ‘those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did  so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the  Second World War”.’

Above: the civil defence sketch from Beyond The Fringe

*****
 By Jonathan Coe (London Review of Books)

In 1956, James Sutherland, a professor of 18th-century literature, delivered the Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge on the subject of ‘English satire’. ‘In recent years,’ he announced, ‘there have been signs of an increased interest in satirical writing,’ but even he couldn’t have seen what was about to start unfolding in a year or two, on his very doorstep. Beyond the Fringe is routinely credited with starting the ‘satire boom’, but that accolade should really go to The Last Laugh, the 1959 Cambridge Footlights revue, directed and largely devised by John Bird. CND was just beginning to gather momentum and the show opened with a huge nuclear explosion, following which, in the words of the producer William Donaldson, the audience was treated to a whole evening’s worth of ‘terrible gloomy stuff – the punchline of every sketch was people dying.’ Nonetheless, it was undoubtedly a strong influence on Peter Cook (one of the original cast members) and the other three-quarters of the Beyond the Fringe team (Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore), who would go on to present their own take on the nuclear threat, in a sketch called ‘Civil War’.

In that sketch, a worried Moore listens trustingly as a succession of posh-voiced government spokesmen seek to reassure him that all the appropriate measures are in place in the event of a nuclear attack. When he voices disbelief that a four-minute warning would be enough, and Cook drawlingly retorts, ‘I’d remind those doubters that some people in this great country of ours can run a mile in four minutes,’ the satire actually bites. It was certainly one of the most scathing and well-targeted sketches in Beyond the Fringe. Otherwise, if this truly represented the first high point of the ‘satire boom’, the tensions and contradictions inherent in the movement were already visible. Miller’s long-winded monologue about trousers, ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, is a flight of whimsical fantasy which reminds us that it was fashionable, at that time, to admire N.F. Simpson and his theatre of the suburban absurd. Cook’s ‘Sitting on a Bench’, in which a delusional tramp informs the audience, in a glazed monotone, that he ‘could have been a judge if he’d had the Latin’, is Beckettian in its bleakness and oddity. Altogether, the subjects of each sketch are so various, and the collective point of view is so moveable, that one can pin it down no more closely than by calling it ‘anti-establishment’. Michael Frayn may have excoriated that phrase – in his brief, brilliant introduction to the published text, Beyond the Fringe, in 1963 – as denoting ‘a spacious vacancy of thought’, but really, I don’t see how we can do any better. Any real ‘establishment’ is impossible to define (this being a principal source of its power and durability), but as far as the Fringers were concerned the British version circa 1960 seems to have included at least the Church of England, the army, the government, the judiciary, the public schools and the class system, all of which were held up as worthy of incredulous laughter. And so, in discussing the movement that Beyond the Fringe helped to kick off, perhaps it would be better not to talk of satire (satire being only one of its ingredients) but ‘anti-establishment comedy’. Another thing worth remembering is that practically every one of its leading figures had been to Oxford or Cambridge and could, therefore, be seen to have at least a foothold in the establishment they were criticising: in the words of Cook’s biographer, Harry Thompson, these were not rebellious outsiders but ‘young men questioning a system they had been trained to lead’ and laughing at ‘the society that had reared them’.

The four cast members of Beyond the Fringe soon decamped to New York, where the revue achieved even longer-running success on Broadway than it had in the West End, and were out of the country by the time the BBC discovered anti-establishment comedy and gave it a national platform in the shape of That Was the Week That Was, which first aired on 24 November 1962, presented by David Frost. With the cancelling of that show little more than a year later, ostensibly on the grounds that it interfered with the BBC’s duty of impartiality in the run-up to the 1964 election, the heyday of anti-establishment comedy was already over. Yet its influence on British radio and television has never died out completely. There was never much social comment in Monty Python (until they made Life of Brian), but the (Oxbridge-educated) Not the Nine O’Clock News team at the beginning of the 1980s sometimes aimed for satire, and Armando Iannucci (University College, Oxford) has blazed such a trail through broadcast comedy in recent years that no one would begrudge him the OBE he recently accepted from the establishment he has worked so hard to undermine. Meanwhile, on Have I Got News for You and The News Quiz respectively, Ian Hislop (Ardingly, Magdalen) and old Harrovian Francis Wheen tirelessly carry on the work that the Beyond the Fringe team started more than half a century ago.

When Have I Got News for You moved to BBC One more than a decade ago it began to lose some of its teeth: so much so, after a while, that one regular panellist, Will Self, announced he would no longer be taking part. At its erratic best, however, it remains a worthwhile show. In fact the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle went so far a couple of years ago as to call Ian Hislop, on the basis of his weekly appearances there, ‘the single most influential voice in modern British politics’. He was not paying a straightforward compliment. ‘Week in and week out’, his message ‘is that pretty much all politicians are corrupt, deluded, incompetent, second-rate and hypocritical’. This message, Kettle said, is delivered with ‘enviable deftness and wit’, but it is also ‘extremely repetitive’. Steve Fielding, an academic, went further and argued in 2011 that in accepting this view of politicians as uniformly corrupt and useless, the public are embracing a dangerous new stereotype, since it ‘can only further reinforce mistrust in the public realm, a mistrust that some political forces seek to exploit’. ‘Comedy,’ he continued, ‘has always relied on stereotypes. There was a time when the Irish were thick; the Scots were careful with money; mothers-in-law fierce and ugly; and the Welsh stole and shagged sheep. The corrupt politician is one such stereotype, one that is neither racist nor sexist and seemingly acceptable to all.’ The idea that politicians are morally inferior to the rest of us is ‘a convenient view, for it means we, the audience, the voters, are not to blame for anything: we are not to blame because we are the victims of a politics gone wrong.’

Fielding’s remarks were eloquent and timely; but it is remarkable how fully they were anticipated by Frayn in 1963. Even then – in the very year of That Was the Week That Was – Frayn was using the same analogy, and could see, just as clearly, how anti-establishment comedy was letting its audience off the hook: ‘To go on mocking the Establishment,’ he wrote, ‘has more and more meant making the audience laugh not at themselves at all, but at a standard target which is rapidly becoming as well-established as mothers-in-law. To do this is not to undermine but to confirm the audience’s prejudices, and has less in common with satire than with community hymn-singing – agreeable and heartwarming as that may be.’ And Frayn, indeed, was echoing what James Sutherland had pointed out seven years earlier when he said that ‘certain kinds of satirical writing (political satire is a good example) are not normally intended to convert one’s opponents, but to gratify and fortify one’s friends.’ Or perhaps we should give the final, gloomiest word on this subject to William Cowper, writing in 1785:

Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay? … What vice has it subdued? whose heart reclaimed By rigour, or whom laughed into reform? Alas! Leviathan is not so tamed.

Despite all this, it always seems that successive generations of entertainers, bent on laughing people out of their follies and vices, remain optimistic about the power of anti-establishment comedy at the outset of their careers: it’s only later that reality kicks in. When Humphrey Carpenter interviewed the leading lights of the 1960s satire boom for his book That Was Satire, That Was in the late 1990s, he found that what was once youthful enthusiasm had by now curdled into disillusionment. One by one, they expressed dismay at the culture of facetious cynicism their work had spawned, their complaints coalescing into a dismal litany of regret. John Bird: ‘Everything is a branch of comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome.’ Barry Humphries: ‘Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There’s an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness.’ Christopher Booker: ‘Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea,” and I think we really are doing that now.’

The key word here is ‘giggling’ (or in some versions of the quotation, ‘sniggering’). Of the four Beyond the Fringe members, it’s always Peter Cook who is described as the comic genius, and like any genius he fully (if not always consciously) understood the limitations of his own medium. He understood laughter, in other words – and certainly understood that it is anything but a force for change. Famously, when opening his club, The Establishment, in Soho in 1961, Cook remarked that he was modelling it on ‘those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War’. And his comment about giggling (or sniggering) as we sink beneath the sea was developed in a Beyond the Fringe sketch called ‘The Sadder and Wiser Beaver’, about a bunch of young, would-be radical journalists who won’t admit they have sold their soul to a rapacious newspaper proprietor:

COOK: Whenever the old man has a cocktail party, there’s about ten of us – young, progressive people – we all gather up the far end of the room and … quite openly, behind our hands, we snigger at him.

BENNETT: Well, I don’t know, that doesn’t seem very much to me.

COOK: A snigger here, a snigger there – it all adds up.

The sketch makes it clear that laughter is not just ineffectual as a form of protest, but that it actually replaces protest – a point also developed by Frayn in his introduction. Ruminating on where the sudden public appetite for satire might have come from, he wrote:

Conceivably the demand arose because after ten years of stable Conservative government, with no prospect in 1961 of its ever ending, the middle classes felt some vague guilt accumulating for the discrepancy between their prosperous security and the continuing misery of those who persisted in failing to conform, by being black, or queer, or mad, or old. Conceivably they felt the need to disclaim with laughter any responsibility for this situation, and so relieve their consciences without actually voting for anything which might have reduced their privileges.

If anti-establishment comedy allows the public to ‘disclaim with laughter’ any responsibility for injustice, the sticking point is not really satire itself (for satire can take the gravest of forms) but laughter (or ‘sniggering’, to use Peter Cook’s term) in the face of political problems. Have I Got News for You presents thousands of practical demonstrations of this, so let’s look at just one of them, from the edition of 24 April 1998. It was Boris Johnson’s first appearance as a guest on the programme,[5]​5 and Ian Hislop was tormenting him on the subject of his notorious phone call with Darius Guppy, when they are alleged to have discussed the possibility of beating up an unfriendly journalist. Hislop was doing what he does best, remaining genial but suddenly toning down the humour and confronting the guest with chapter and verse for a past misdemeanour. As the exchange develops, Johnson looks distinctly uncomfortable, describing Hislop’s intervention as ‘richly comic’ and protesting: ‘I don’t want to be totally stitched up here.’ He calls Guppy a ‘great chap’, to which Hislop answers: ‘And a convicted fraudster.’ Johnson concedes this, and admits that Guppy made a ‘major goof’, and then begins to ramble and bumble in his characteristic way, groping for a way out of the corner; sensing, visibly, that Hislop has got him on the ropes, he mentions some of the other things that he and Guppy discussed during that conversation, including their military heroes. And suddenly, Paul Merton interjects with the line: ‘Hence Major Goof that you mentioned just now.’

It’s a lovely joke, which gets a terrific laugh and a round of applause. But its effect on the exchange is noticeable. An uncomfortable situation is suddenly defused: Johnson relaxes, the audience laughter gives him room to breathe and gather his thoughts. When he next speaks he is back on track, and says winningly: ‘Since you choose to bring up this unhappy episode I won’t deny a word of it. I’m not ashamed of it’ – and off he goes, into one of those endearing, self-deprecatory apologies of which he is now, 15 years later, a consummate master. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 2 Comments

Chavez and ‘post-mortem leftism’

March 9, 2013 at 8:21 am (democracy, Latin America, liberation, Marxism, populism, Roger M, socialism, stalinism)

Roger McCarthy writes:

This 2010 piece from M.A. Torres in Platypus Review #25 on Chavez is excellent, and concludes thus:

The question stands: If authentic internationalist Marxism is dead,  from what standpoint does one launch a critique of Chavez and his  followers without joining the Venezuelan opposition nostalgic for  neoliberalism? The only answer is history: The consciousness that the  present has fallen short of what once seemed politically possible, and  that this possibility could once again become available. The knowledge  that there was once such a thing as an international Left that was able  to intervene, transform, and lead social movements around the world in  the direction of the overcoming of capitalism. The awareness that the  mass politicization of the Bolivarian Revolution, which has put the word “socialism” on the lips of hundreds of thousands of working people,  will end up as yet another wasted opportunity if such a Left is not  reconstituted.

Admittedly, this standpoint is not much to start with. It is clearly  not as immediately gratifying as the self-deceiving “optimism” of  supposedly Marxist publications such as the International Socialist Review and the Monthly Review. But the game they are playing is no more than a spectator sport.  Cheering for team Chavez is a way for such post-mortem leftists to hold  on to dear life. It is how they justify their existence and convince  themselves that they are still serving a purpose: The good fight is  still being fought; even if they are helpless, they can be complacent in this helplessness, since they can always look at the next populist  strongman or, even better, wait for the next American invasion of a  Third World country to give them a new lease on life. But if we are to  reconstitute an international revolutionary Left, the first step will be to stop kidding ourselves. People continue to struggle, but the  struggle to overcome capitalism has not really been sustained.  Revolutions with a hope of actually overcoming capitalism around the  world are now a distant memory, at best. The current changes in  Venezuela cannot contribute to any real revolution until a genuine Left  challenges the regime that has instituted them. But such a feat will be  impossible if we do not finally get it into our heads that the  fatalistic slogan, “¡Patria, socialismo o muerte!” means the exact  opposite of the visionary words, “¡Proletarios de todos los países,  uníos!”

‘Post-mortem left’ is an extraordinarily useful term…..

Permalink 5 Comments

Initial thoughts on Eastleigh

March 1, 2013 at 8:27 pm (David Cameron, democracy, elections, Guest post, immigration, labour party, Lib Dems, populism, Racism, Roger M, Tory scum, UKIP)

Guest-poster Roger McCarthy did some canvassing for Labour in Eastleigh last week and is active in a not dissimilar southern seat:

1. UKIP’s breakthrough

First and foremost UKIP bucked a very clear general election trend of right-wing voters only giving them a significant (say 10%+ rather than <3%) share in seats where the MP (of whatever party) is so safe that a protest vote can be delivered without endangering the Tory’s chance of winning.

Now while Eastleigh is UKIP’s best parliamentary result ever it is presaged by previous recent by-elections where right-wing voters have deserted Conservative candidates for UKIP in significant numbers across multiple types of seats gaining 21.7% in Rotherham (safe Labour), 14.3% in Corby (Tory-Lab marginal) and 12.2% in Barnsley Central (very safe Labour), 11.8% in Middlesbrough (safe Labour)

Having said this they did not do anywhere near as well in Oldham (5.8%), Leicester South (2.9%), Manchester Central (4.5%), Feltham (5.5%) Bradford West (3.3%) or Croydon North (5.7%) all of which were safe Labour seats.

(there is probably also a strong correlation with ethnicity as well with UKIP doing – surprise, surprise – well only in very white constituencies and failing in those with significant BAME populations – even when as in Leicester and Croydon they somehow managed to rustle up an Asian or Black candidate themselves).

This brings out an interesting anomaly that of a historically very high 15 by-elections in just this first half of a parliament only one has been in a Conservative-held seat and 11 were in Labour-held seats (in comparison there were 14 by-elections over the whole 2005-10 parliament of which 3 were in Tory seats)

So we are not being given a real chance to see how deep UKIPs new found support is in Conservative and Conservative-targeted marginals as only two of the 15 by-elections have been in seats where the Tory had any chance of winning.

But with that note of caution this does raise the interesting possibility that the constant obsessive propaganda on immigration by the right wing media may have finally created a right-wing populist monster which they no longer can properly control electorally and that as has happened with the Tea Party in the US there are now significant numbers of right-wing voters so lost to elementary logic and reason that they will throw winnable elections rather than support candidates who are not right wing enough for them.

And as the only way the Tories can control immigration and give the base what they crave is by leaving he EU and this is not at all on the agenda of global capital this may create a UKIP threat which just could lose them the next election by splitting the right-wing vote in their target seats.

2. The Lib Dems hang on by their fingernails

Again the result seems to show a general and under-reported trend that the Lib Dem collapse in national polls is not being reproduced in those areas where they actually hold parliamentary seats and control councils – and that while they lost a great many votes in Eastleigh this time there are still people (and we met them on the doorstep) who believe that the Lib Dems are a restraining force on the Tories and cannot be persuaded otherwise despite all the evidence that the Tories have got through every single important item from their manifesto.

And we can’t discount the Lib Dem machine in their seats – clearly they were out in force and seem to have been particularly good at collecting postal votes and that these pushed them through the final barrier,

3. Labour disappointment

Increasing the historically very poor 2010 result by 0.2% to 9.8% is of course a real disappointment for Labour as people in the campaign office genuinely believed that they could raise it significantly toward the 1997-2005 levels of 20% and local polls all showed us doing somewhat (although not that much better) than we did on the night.

And we did run a serious campaign with an excellent candidate (Whatever one thinks of John O’Farrell’s New Labour politics he clearly was by far the brightest and most personable of the candidates) many MP and front-bench visits, hundreds of volunteers and 20,000 voter ID visits – a level of activity which compares favourably with that we put into key marginals and which seems to have been almost entirely wasted and goes some way to validating the views of Miliband-haters like Dan Hodges that we should have run no more than a token campaign.

But under this was a complete absence of any real Labour party on the ground – with just 158 members in summer 2010 (the last date for which CLP membership is available), Eastleigh was the 534th smallest CLP in the UK and they really cannot have had much more than a dozen or so even semi-active members before region and national HQ started busing in volunteers.

And like my CLP they have no councillors even in deprived urban wards (and Eastleigh has them with much of the town centre being visibly run-down) which should have vote Labour and this is a huge handicap on the doorstep – while the Lib Dems have 40 out of 44 borough seats (with the Tories holding the remaining 4).

On the plus side they were close to two of the exactly 4 Labour-held seats in the South East region and which do have active and effective CLPs – but Southampton activists are unlikely to have had much more grasp of local issues than those of us who came from further afield.

4. So much for the NHA…

This was the first real test for National Health Action which was rewarded with just 392 votes or under 1% and shows them to yet another clown party which has zero real support and if it did could only threaten Labour.

But even this was better than the wretched Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate who got just 62 votes and was soundly beaten by three genuine clown parties.

Permalink 3 Comments

TUC decline and fall?

September 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm (Roger M, solidarity, TUC, unions, workers)

A guest post by Roger

Comrade Osler observes:

THE Trades Union Congress doesn’t need to hire Blackpool Winter Gardens anymore. Nowadays it is a small scale event with just 300 delegates, all of whom fit comfortably into the basement of the organisation’s London headquarters’.

So how hath the mighty fallen….

When I first became politically active in the 1970s the TUC’s annual gatherings were national events deserving of live TV coverage of every tedious debate.
And though those glory days were long gone the 2008, 2009 and 2010 congresses were still held in big national conference centres in Brighton, Liverpool and Manchester.


The last congress I attended myself 5 years ago (admittedly as an exhibitor rather than a delegate) in The Brighton Centre still had 742 delegates and easily several hundred observers, press and exhibitors present.Even the 2010 conference still had 645 delegates representing 6.1 million members. And the biggest ever TUC was the 1980 congress with 1,203 representing 12.1 million members – suggesting that the delegate:member ratio had not changed very much in 30 years.In fact if there were only 300 delegates this is the smallest TUC since 1889 when 221 delegates representing 885,000 workers met in sunny Dundee.So what’s changed this year?

Has the TUC managed to mislay three million members in the last 12 months? (although it wouldn’t surprise me if they have lost several hundred thousand).

Have the rules on delegations and observers been radically overhauled?

Has income from the press and exhibitors now so entirely dried up given that Labour are out of power and TUs have zero (as opposed to slightly more than zero) influence on policy so that even the once mighty TUC cannot afford to hire an outside venue?

Rather surprised at how depressed I am by this single data point – everything I’ve ever valued and believed in (even trade unions and their bureaucratic-reformist leadership) really does seem to be slowly circling the pan and just awaiting history’s final flush.

And watching Ed Miliband’s profoundly uninspiring speech on youtube does nothing whatsover to lift me from that slough of despond.

Jim D adds:

Mind you, the old carthorse is co-ordinating mass strike action over pensions on 30 November…

Permalink 14 Comments

Classical music, class, race and that anti-Israel protest

September 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm (capitalist crisis, class, israel, Middle East, music, palestine, Roger M)

Guest post by Roger

Dave Osler asks an important question as to how an organisation – The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra – that employs 230-plus people can end up employing not a single member of the Arab minority that makes up 20% of Israel’s citizens.

While to my mind nothing can ever justify disrupting a performance of of Max Bruch’s violin concerto, this – if true – should trouble anyone who has a liberal or leftist bone in their body.

Now there is an argument that classical music everywhere (with the interesting exception of Japan and to a lesser degree other parts of East Asia and the Asian diaspora) is overwhelmingly the province of white middle class folks.

And you actually have a pretty good opportunity with the Proms on BBC4 to observe a whole range of orchestras and soloists from multiple countries which present a sea of white faces except for a sprinkling of Asians.

In fact flicking through the online programme the only non-white faces you’ll see in the accompanying photos are those of star Asian conductors and soloists like Myung Whun-Chung and Midori – plus some Africans and South Asians in the token ‘world’ music events that have been inserted in a desperate attempt to meet BBC diversity targets.

And in my experience a Proms audience really are the whitest people on the planet.

So it is very heavily a class thing as by most accouints I’ve come across a career in classical music is pretty much impossible unless you already  come from the upper middle classes and don’t really have to worry too much (or better not at all) about paying your own rent and I’ve met more than one who’s given up precisely because they lacked an independent source of income.

And it is going to be pretty much the same in Israel with additional freakishness from a terminally fucked-up tribalist social system.

But while classical music everywhere is not just the domain of, but a crucial status signifier of, the upper middle class, it is still difficult to explain how a 20% minority can not even produce a single janitor or receptionist or clerk fit to work for the IPO.

In America, where real resources have been put into trying to make orchestras more representative, you still get the following data from a Sphinx Organisation survay published in 2008:

‘We  see the dramatic under-representation of blacks and Latinos in orchestras (1.5%)
versus their representation in the overall population, at 13-14%. Sometimes I am
asked, why not also focus on Asian-Americans? Because in classical music there
is not the same under-representation for Asian-Americans, especially in
orchestras, as they are 4% of the population yet make up 3.4% of
orchestras.

‘We  find that almost 90% of music directors/conductors are white, with 2.3% black,
1.8% Latino, and 8.6% other. With executive directors – the key leadership
position of an orchestra – we find that less than ½ of 1 percent (0.4%) are
black and only 0.8% are Latino, with 2% other.

‘And  with artistic administrators, the key artistic leadership position in an
orchestra, we find that there are no blacks and Latinos – statistically 0%. Even
if we look at the education and community relations directors, where many
orchestras will place a minority on their staff, we find that only 3.7% are
black, 2.2% are Latino, with 3% other. These statistics give you a sense of the
lack of diversity in our orchestras.

‘If we look at the overall student body in music schools, we find that blacks
represent 6.6% and Latinos 4.9%, with Asians at 4.8%. There is some sense that
things are growing. However, when we compare all degrees, we find that the 6½ %
of black bachelors’ level students drops to less than half of that, at 2.5%, at
the doctoral level, Latinos remain about the same at 5.3%, but Asians make up
17.4% of doctoral candidates, a significant increase. Again, there is a dramatic
under-representation of blacks and Latinos in music schools compared with their
representation in the overall population.

‘But  when it comes to Asian-Americans, they are dramatically over- represented in
doctoral programs (17.4%) compared to their percentage in the population
(4.0%).

‘Music school faculty is another key area to look at; here we see that whites make up
about 90% of the total faculty, with 4.8% black, 2.7% Latino, and 3% other, but
when we look at full professors, blacks are down to 3.5% and Latinos down to
1.9%.

‘Finally let’s look at youth orchestras, because this gives us a sense of even before
college, where are we looking in terms of our young people. And unfortunately we
see very, very similar statistics to music schools, with whites making up 75% of
youth orchestras, blacks at 3.5%, Latinos at 4%, with 17.5% other, mostly
Asian-Americans’.

http://www.polyphonic.org/article.php?id=132&page=5

All of which suggests that even when they set themselves real diversity targets and spent significant resources trying to meet them, US orchestras and music schools constantly hit the problem that blacks are just not as into classicasl music as whites – and that at the orchestral player levl this can even be quantified as their only being 6% as much into it (based on comparing percentages of musicians to the wider population).

And surely not all this striking disparity can be ascribed to class:  4% of US physicians are black compared to 13% of the general population, so blacks are several times better represented in that archetypal upper-middle class profession than they are amongst classical musicians.

On the other hand, Asian-Americans (and this would appear to mean primarily East rather than South Asians), despite having no cultural affinities with western classical music at all, are significantly over-represented because being into classical music is a very strong class signifier indeed and Asian American immigrants are very successful at becoming middle class.

So this says to me that we live in a class society where many professions that once (for a brief window of more equal opportunity post-1945) were open to anyone who could demonstrate the requisite talents, are once again restricted to the upper and middle classes.

And in a crisis of capitalism without forseeable end this will become much more evident as it is already no longer anyway near enough to have the requisite degree – being able to intern for nothing and the personal contact through the right family and right school that get you the internships, are increasingly more important in getting the fewer and fewer ‘good’ jobs that are available.

So given that Israel has become a much more unequal society in recent decades, radical under-representation of Israeli Arabs in the IPO doesn’t surprise me at all – but complete non-representation of a 20% minority at any level in an organisation with hundredsa of employees does seem statistically improbable even when you control for class and the minority cultures’ disinterst  in, or even religious hostility, to this genre of music.

What I do suspect is that this has a lot more to with the inconvenience of having to get Arab-Israelis through security checkpoints when it is vitally important to the group that everyone does get to places at the same time with all their stuff intact than it does with pure racism.

Maybe not employing  the Arab guy whose (non-) presence could lead to their gigs being delayed and cancelled just makes better business sense to risk-averse managers than having to fight major bureaucratic battles with dickish/racist security officials whenever you go on tour.

Plus classical music is expensive and and AFAIK nowhere on earth do professional orchestras survive without the patronage of the state and/or rich individuals and corporate sponsors.

And in today’s Israel the state has clearly given up on pretending to produce equal representation anywhere for its non-Jewish minorities – while the nouveau riche who presumably support cultural institutions like the IPO appear to be repulsive property developers and supermarket chain owners who are much more likely to be linked to the overtly racist right than with what passes for the left and centre.

Thus even, as it seems not improbable,  that the IPO’s chief conductor and much of the orchestra are in fact good old fashioned Tel Aviv middle class Ashkenasi liberal types, any attempt to integrate and diversify themselves could well be financially suicidal.

So are the IPO simply and ingloriously knuckling under to the same sort of commercial imperatives that kept even US jazz orchestras led by lefty Jews 100% white so long as they had to earn money by touring outside the northern cities (with Artie Shaw‘s 1938 tour with Billie Holiday providing actual evidence of what happened if you ever tried to buck that rule).

And what would be the appropriate response?

1930s and 1940s anti-racist liberals and leftists didn’t disrupt performances by Shaw’s or Goodman’s or Miller’s all-white orchestras – even though these bands were playing black music to often literally segregated audiences.

Rather, leftists and anti-racists supported black and integrated bands  and venues until eventually history took its course and it became commercially unprofitable to exclude black musicians and to segregate audiences.

And more importantly they campaigned for voting rights and for anti-discriminatory legislation – which again took a whole generation (arguably five or six generations if you take the struggle back to the nineteenth century abolitionists and the reconstruction era) to bear fruit.

Realistically that is where we – or, rather, the Israeli left – are.

Probably the most positive single thing we can do is support projects like  the West East Divan Orchestra which with its every performance, every recording and every training workshop makes musical segregation look more absurd.

We can also look seriously at what the real Israeli left are saying and doing via sites like 972mag com and offer their struggles for equality, peace and justice whatever support we can.

But childish rituals of denunciation in foreign cities will achieve nothing other than to alienate people who care a lot more about music than they do about Middle Eastern politics.

Permalink 14 Comments

Wandsworth Council and the return of the Mad Official

August 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm (crime, Human rights, law, literature, London, Marxism, reaction, riots, Roger M, Tory scum, welfare, workers)

Guest post by Roger

The story that the Tories flagship
Wandsworth council are to try and evict the mother of a 17-year old rioter who has not
even yet  been convicted by the
courts 
reminds me of The Mad Official – an article GK Chesterton wrote a

century ago:

Going mad is the slowest and dullest
business in the world. I have very nearly done it more than once in my
boyhood, and so have nearly all my friends, born under the general doom of
mortals, but especially of  moderns; I mean the doom that makes a man come
almost to the end of thinking before he comes to the first chance of
living.

But the process of going mad is dull,
for the simple reason that a man does not know that it is going on.
Routine and literalism and a certain dry-throated earnestness and mental
thirst, these are the very atmosphere of morbidity. If once the man could
become conscious of his madness, he would cease to be man. He studies
certain texts in Daniel or cryptograms in Shakespeare through monstrously
magnifying spectacles, which are on his nose night and day. If once he
could take off the spectacles he would smash them. He deduces all his
fantasies about the Sixth Seal or the Anglo-Saxon Race from one unexamined
and invisible first principle. If he could once see the first principle,
he would see that it is not there.

This slow and awful self-hypnotism of
error is a process that can occur not only with individuals, but also with
whole societies. It is hard to pick out and prove; that is why it is hard
to cure. But this mental degeneration may be brought to one test, which I
truly believe to be a real test. A nation is not going mad when it does
extravagant things, so long as it does them in an extravagant spirit.
Crusaders not cutting their beards till they found Jerusalem, Jacobins
calling each other Harmodius and Epaminondas when their names were Jacques
and Jules, these are wild things, but they were done in wild spirits at a wild
moment.

But whenever we see things done wildly,
but taken tamely, then the State is growing insane.

For instance, I have a gun license. For
all I know, this would logically allow me to fire off fifty-nine enormous
field-guns day and night in my back garden. I should not be surprised at a
man doing it; for it would be great fun. But I should be surprised at
the neighbours putting up with it, and regarding it as an ordinary
thing merely because it might happen to fulfill the letter of my
license.

Or, again, I have a dog license; and I
may have the right (for all I know) to turn ten thousand wild dogs loose
in Buckinghamshire. I should not be surprised if the law were like that;
because in modern England there is practically no law to be surprised at.
I should not be surprised even at the man who did it; for a certain kind
of man, if he lived long under the English landlord system, might do anything.
But I should be surprised at the people who consented to stand it. I
should, in other words, think the world a little mad if the incident,
were received in silence.

Now things every bit as wild as this
are being received in silence every day. All strokes slip on the
smoothness of a polished wall. All blows fall soundless on the softness of
a padded cell. For madness is a passive as well as an active state: it is
a paralysis, a refusal of the nerves to respond to the normal stimuli, as
well as an unnatural stimulation.

There are commonwealths, plainly to be
distinguished here and there in history, which pass from prosperity to squalor,
or from glory to insignificance, or from freedom to slavery, not only
in silence, but with serenity. The face still smiles while the
limbs, literally and loathsomely, are dropping from the body. These are
peoples that have lost the power of astonishment at their own actions.
When they give birth to a fantastic fashion or a foolish law, they do not
start or stare at the monster they have brought forth. They have grown
used to their own unreason; chaos is their cosmos; and the whirlwind is
the breath of their nostrils. These nations are really in danger of
going off their heads en masse; of becoming one vast vision of imbecility,
with toppling cities and crazy country-sides, all dotted with industrious
lunatics. One of these countries is modern England.

Now here is an actual instance, a small
case of how our social conscience really works: tame in spirit, wild in
result, blank in realisation; a thing without the light of mind in it. I take
this paragraph from a daily paper:

“At Epping, yesterday, Thomas
Woolbourne, a Lambourne labourer, and his wife were summoned for neglecting
their five children. Dr. Alpin said he was invited by the inspector of the
N.S.P.C.C. to visit defendants’ cottage. Both the cottage and the
children were dirty. The children looked exceedingly well in health, but
the conditions would be serious in case of illness. Defendants were stated to
be sober. The man was discharged. The woman, who said she was hampered by the
cottage having no water supply and that she was ill, was sentenced to six
weeks’ imprisonment. The sentence caused surprise, and the woman was removed
crying, ‘Lord save me!'”

I know no name for this but Chinese. It
calls up the mental picture of some archaic and changeless Eastern Court, in
which men with dried faces and stiff ceremonial costumes perform some atrocious
cruelty to the accompaniment of formal proverbs and sentences of which the very
meaning has been forgotten. In both cases the only thing in the whole farrago
that can be called real is the wrong. If we apply the lightest touch
of reason to the whole Epping prosecution it dissolves into nothing.

I here challenge any person in his five
wits to tell me what that woman was sent to prison for. Either it was for being
poor, or it was for being ill. Nobody could suggest, nobody will suggest,
nobody, as a matter of fact, did suggest, that she had committed any other
crime.

The doctor was called in by a Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Was this woman guilty of cruelty to
children? Not in the least. Did the doctor say she was guilty of cruelty to
children? Not in the least. Was these any evidence even remotely bearing on the
sin of cruelty? Not a rap. The worse that the doctor could work himself up
to saying was that though the children were “exceedingly” well, the
conditions would be serious in case of illness. If the doctor will tell me any
conditions that would be comic in case of illness, I shall attach more weight
to his argument.

Now this is the worst effect of modern
worry. The mad doctor has gone mad. He is literally and practically mad; and
still he is quite literally and practically a doctor. The only question is the
old one, Quis docebit ipsum doctorem? Now cruelty to children is an utterly
unnatural thing; instinctively accursed of earth and heaven. But neglect of
children is a natural thing; like neglect of any other duty, it is a mere
difference of degree that divides extending arms and legs in calisthenics and
extending them on the rack. It is a mere difference of degree that
separates any operation from any torture. The thumb-screw can easily be called
Manicure. Being pulled about by wild horses can easily be called Massage.

The modern problem is not so much what
people will endure as what they will not endure. But I fear I interrupt….
The boiling oil is boiling; and the Tenth Mandarin is already reciting the
“Seventeen Serious Principles and the Fifty-three Virtues of the Sacred
Emperor.”

Chesterton,  A Miscellany of Men 1912

(Lest anyone think Chesterton was
exaggerating, around this very time one of my own grandparents and his siblings
was having to hide out in the back alley whenever a council inspector was
spotted making his rounds – as having several adults and 14 children living in
a 2-up, 2-down house resulted back then not in you being given a bigger house
but in either immediate eviction or the parents being carted away for precisely
the same offense of ‘neglect’).

The Tories who are now demanding
the collective punishment of whole families for the crimes of their literally
out of control offspring exhibit their own form of this madness.

No middle or upper class parent
can have the slightest comprehension of what it is like to bring up a teenage
child on the worst inner city estates and of the extraordinary levels of
character, self-sacrifice and above all luck that is required to keep them out
of trouble – just as Chesterton’s doctor and magistrates could have no
understanding of what it was to bring up a large family in a primitive cottage
on a labourer’s wage.

The Tories themselves claim that
the problem is one of unstable and dysfunctional families – so they seek to
solve it by removing the one actual element of stability remaining in the young
criminals lives – a home.

As long as that home and a family
unit however dysfunctional remains then it is at least possible to conceive of
the feral teenager coming out of jail or whatever they call borstals these days
and make positive choices that could transform their lives.

So let’s destroy that one element
of relative stability: let’s throw the whole family on the streets and deprive
them of their benefits – as if you want to reduce crime then how better to do it
than to massively increase the class of people who have no other option left than
to steal and beg.

While I am apparently one of the
few Marxists who still remembers the concept of the lumpenproletariat and that
it represents a fundamental social problem that the Bolsheviks could only solve
by the firing squad and the labour camp, this is one line I will stand with the
bleeding heart liberals to defend: collective punishment is insane and immoral.

Permalink 7 Comments