Religion: Russell’s teapot.

From a work in progress: ‘The Authority of the Boot-maker’ by Mal Content.

“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

– Bertrand Russell: ‘Is There a God?’ 1952.

Unlike many anarchists it’s not a priority of mine to go around ridiculing other people’s spirituality – “some of my best friends are religious” – ha ha! Religion interests me only insofar as it is used to justify and reinforce power structures. It should be self-evident that hierarchical, dogmatic, and secretive institutions lend themselves to abuses of power, whether they are revolutionary socialist parties or the Roman Catholic Church. The conviction that they are acting under divine or scientific authority, and that their mission is more important than the well-being of any individual is a toxic combination.

The just-world fallacy and system justification are explicitly written into the scriptures; postulating an omnipotent and omniscient deity whose movements are so mysterious as to include hitting the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in San Bernardino, California with a mudslide on Christmas Day 2003, killing fourteen worshippers including nine children, his wonders to perform – merry fucking Christmas! Anyway, I wasn’t going to take the piss.

At its core is the concept of faith, belief in something you have read or been told without requiring proof, which would seem on the face of it to have negative evolutionary potential, however it is considered a great virtue. It follows that the writer or speaker of the ‘word of God’ must be deferred to.

If you allow the evidence of your senses and judgement of your intellect to be overruled by doctrine, you subordinate yourself not to God, but to another human being. Where religion is established, the priesthood are either directly appointed, or franchised by, the ruling class, so they are going to favour the status quo, uphold cultural traditions and endorse the prevailing mode of production. Under these circumstances interpretation of scripture is best left to professionals who can choose what to emphasise – how exactly do you get a camel through the eye of a needle? Organised religions seek to get established because they must compete for members, where they express an interest in the social order they take for granted the dominance of man over nature, of men over women, of property, debt and government.

Most religions have an ethical code*, confirming the wise and loving nature of God, despite His own delinquent conduct. Charity, honesty and self-sacrifice should help with recruitment and safeguard private property, but transaction, and its evil twin, coercion, are also built in. Piety, faith, accurate observation of rules and rituals are meant to curry favour with the God/s and stave off misfortune (except the mysterious kind). The package includes immortality, a second leap of faith that part of the person survives death to be rewarded, punished or reincarnated, bolstering virtue with a cost-benefit calculation. Eternity is a bloody long time, so this is no more than a tautologous demonstration of belief.

*The teapot is silent on these issues, though some of Her followers have adopted the mantra: “make tea not war”

Religious morality is abstracted however, it is systematically alienated from human antagonisms, so well suited to a society based on the alienation of labour. The social conditions that lead to conflict are no concern of religion; poverty and inequality are to be accepted gracefully as God’s will. Even theologically-inspired liberation movements confine themselves to appealing to ‘natural justice’ or ‘human rights’ rather than analysing and dismantling oppressive structures.

Return to fundamentalism or reform of a decadent tradition can serve to unseat an old order and make way for new social conditions of production, as the Protestant reformation paved the way for capitalism. A new religious orthodoxy lent itself to the creation of bourgeois essentials such as the concept of race – used to justify primitive accumulation, and the nuclear family – to separate production from reproduction.

Its residue is found in the apparently contradictory views of the Christian right, who promote social control while rejecting economic regulation. Abortion is opposed, but also sex education and contraception in schools. The alleviation of poverty and disease are of little importance compared with dragging unwanted pregnancies to full term. Creationism, biblical misogyny and homophobia help to muddy the water against informed choice. Behind all this woolly-headedness is a white supremacist agenda that seeks to concentrate social problems such as overcrowding, illiteracy, and ill-health in specific communities. Domestic poverty guarantees a pool of cheap, easily exploited labour. Overseas poverty lowers the price of raw materials, which boosts the margin on manufacturing. Nuclear weapons and military expenditure are supported for their vast public subsidy to private capital.

Your transactional balance sheet starts out in the red thanks to ‘sin’ or guilt – which the faithful are meant to feel most of the time, unworthy, indebted. Despite the similarity of the word ‘guilt’ (old English gylt) to words such as: gilt, gild, gold, guild geld, guilder etc., the dictionary only says: “can be confused with” however:

“Looking at instances where Old English has been changed to Latin, we find that gylt is rendered as debitum in The Lord’s Prayer, and guilty turns up as debet in the Gospel of Matthew. So here’s where there’s a case to be made for guilt having the sense of debt – something you owe. And certainly feeling guilty because you have failed to deliver what was owed doesn’t appear too way out.

If we accept this – and you’re always free to disagree – then we can find some similar Germanic family words related to debt. Old English has the word scyld meaning crime, sin, or just plain guilt, which in turn is cognate with Old Norse skuld, Old Saxon sculd, and Old High German scult, all of which also have the sense of debt or bondage.”

– Russell T. Cross: ‘The Etyman™ Language Blog’

And:

“According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of the Old English gylt is largely unknown, since the connection commonly assumed, the Old Teutonic root geld (to pay), is phonologically inadmissible. But the primary sense of ‘debt’ can still be assumed on the grounds that debitum in the NT is rendered as gylt and because the Old English scyld (Germanic schuld) developed the sense of ‘guilt’ from that of ‘debt’. The Germanic schuld, as derived from the verb sollen, has migrated to the Modern English ‘should’ to express an obligation, while the earliest use of gylt designates a “failure of duty” (OED) or something that ‘should have’ been done. As seen from the history of this semantic migration, which records the coexistence of ‘should’ and ‘should have’, or the economic and the moral sense, the modem English sense of ‘guilt’ is stricken with ambiguity.”

– David Ratmoko: ‘On Spectrality: Fantasies of Redemption in the Western Canon’.

Ah, sorry about all that, but I thought it was bleeding obvious anyway.

A Boss in Heaven is the best excuse for a boss on earth, therefore If God did exist, he would have to be abolished.

– Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State

Religion perfectly sets you up for a life of exploitation by unfathomable market forces. In a universe that is simultaneously beautiful and terrible, you are but a speck, nevertheless it was all created especially for you, you ungrateful bastard. Have faith, be submissive, obedient, even your little corner of the world is beyond your comprehension or control – except through your personal relations with the deity. Ask humbly for what you need, and if you don’t get it, it’s because you’re unworthy. It’s all about you – try harder, you’re working for the greater good, but don’t ask questions, you wouldn’t understand. Accept every twist of fortune as punishment or reward. The distant, alienated boss you never see, has more important things to do than speak to you, but nevertheless numbers every hair on your head, and even watches you in the bog.* If he makes you redundant, gives you cancer or drowns your kids, it’s only to test your faith.

* If you work for Amazon, this may be literally true.

“The world doesn’t owe you a living”, why not exactly? Monotheistic religions would have it that we owe our lives and our environment to the Creator; so that in effect we are all born in debt. The Judeo-Christian creation myth lays down the law from the beginning, adding the concept of original sin for good measure, to justify not only the subjugation of women but the following injunction:

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

– Genesis 3:19.

That was the King James Version, and comes close to excusing wage labour, or even slavery; by the time we come to the Good News Translation, it’s gone all Waitrose organic:

“You will have to work hard and sweat to make the soil produce anything, until you go back to the soil from which you were formed. You were made from soil, and you will become soil again.”

– Genesis 3:19.

It’s almost as if they hadn’t heard the Bad News about the producers having been expropriated from the soil. Historically, states have claimed divine authority or at least approval for their activities via established religion, thereby taking on the responsibility for collecting our cosmic debt; this function they sub-contract to the blessed bourgeoisie.

“Do they owe us a living? Of course they do, of course they do.
… Owe us a living? Of course they fucking do!”

– Crass: ‘Do they owe us a living?’

If life is a gift, it’s an unsolicited one so I’d say give it six months and if it’s unclaimed, it is yours to do with as you see fit. The petulant teenager protesting: “I didn’t ask to be born” may have a point; we are born to ease the debt burden of our forebears, but to whom is it owed?

“After all, we do owe everything we are to others. This is simply true. The language we speak and even think in, our habits and opinions, the kind of food we like to eat, the knowledge that makes our lights switch on and toilets flush, even the style in which we carry out our gestures of defiance and rebellion against social conventions, all of this we learned from other people, most of them long dead. If we were to imagine what we owe them as a debt, it could only be infinite. The question is: Does it really make sense to think of this as a debt? After all, a debt is by definition something that we could at least imagine paying back. It is strange enough to wish to be square with one’s parents, it rather implies that one does not wish to think of them as parents anymore. Would we really want to be square with all humanity? What would that even mean? And is this desire really a fundamental feature of all human thought?

– David Graeber: ‘Debt: The first 5000 years’.

I wouldn’t be here now but for friends who cared about me enough to keep me alive; some of them didn’t make it this far themselves so I won’t be paying them back. Nor do I count the cost with the people I care about; there are no transactions between equals.

Theology being the study of God, the science of the divine, it has to confine its investigations to those aspects of scripture that cannot be tested. A great deal of time and effort has gone into this. In our case, referring to sacred texts, we might speculate on the colour and finish of the glaze, the style of handle, the length of the spout or diameter of the lid, but the existence of the teapot is never up for dispute. If we were to examine too closely the circumstances under which it could have been launched on its orbit we would risk accusations of heresy, that we wished to know rather than simply believe.

“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.”

– Thomas Paine: The Age of Reason.

Perhaps the reluctance of some people to let go of hierarchy, dominance and transaction is a residue of childhood religion, a component of formal education in most societies, so the life of the citizen begins by making compromises with reason. We were taught Physics in one classroom, and mythology in the next, for a serious purpose. The lot of a sentient being is to be born into a world that barely accommodates our material needs, and is woefully inadequate to the desires and aspirations sentient beings must have. However much they ponder life they have little control over it as an individual and it soon comes to an end. The finality of death cracks a bigger whip than any human master, so death must be shrouded in mysticism, get that in early enough and it can be tacked on to any crank world-view as you go along. The obvious conclusion that the main obstacle to satisfaction is society itself must be suppressed. A rich and engaging fantasy life is indispensible both as a palliative and a constraint, from the stained-glass window to the magazine, the cinema, television, X-box and I-phone.

As exploitation became less direct, and the power relations were obscured, so the fantasies have grown more elaborate and intrusive. The feudal warlord would have had at his disposal most of the hypothetical punishments of the gargoyles of the pit: whips, chains and branding-irons; whereas paradise for the peasant amounted to little more than green pastures, abundance of food and respite from toil. The latter-day religious demagogue recruits misfits via youtube and twitter to create hell on earth. Nurtured in a culture of graphic but two-dimensional violence, they will have participated in fantasy genocide and performed any number of mock assassinations long before they reach adulthood – if they ever do.

The resurgence of mediaevalism in the twenty-first century is puzzling to the liberal mind. Before they get all superior, I contend that modern, secular societies are set up to be as fundamentally theological and superstitious as ever, perhaps even more than pre-technological ones. If it were not so, you wouldn’t have to spend six weeks of each year listening to bloody Christmas music at the shops, following close on the Holy Month of Halloween. Traditional feasts and Saint’s days performed important social functions that are now taken care of by facebook. In 1967 Guy Debord wrote:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

– Guy Debord: ‘The Society of the Spectacle’

Could he have imagined what was in store? Maybe that was why he shot himself in 1994. Debord’s little book is not an easy read, like most things translated directly from French to English the language creaks a bit. I’ve struggled with it several times in different translations – it’s worth persevering, as it’s basically a sequel to Marx’s Capital.

Marx used metaphysical language to describe the commodity with good reason. Commodity fetishism is the mechanism by which the worthiness or otherwise of any human behaviour, once the province of morality and religion, is decided by the relative exchange-values of things. These values determine whether your benefits will be sanctioned for missing a jobcentre appointment and which country NATO will invade next. It’s Debord’s Spectacle that, in a more blatantly aquisitive, materialistic and amoral world, obscures the underlying commodity-relations and makes them appear as rational or ethical human choices.

In my brief summary of Capital I compared commodity fetishism to primitive religion in quite a superficial, simplistic way, but things have moved on a bit since I wrote it. The mobile phone, which started out as a badge of status, signalling your activities were so important you had to be instantly contactable, eventually persuaded us it might have some practical use*. A sort of etiquette developed, people were persuaded to turn them off in restaurants and meetings, the advent of the camera phone led to a ban in schools, sports centres and swimming pools. That lasted about six months, then they gave up trying to enforce it. As soon as the mobile device granted continuous access to the Internet it became the new cigarette.

*If you’re habitually late and drive a twenty year old car, yes, but I won’t talk to you while I’m taking a crap.

People film everything; they film instead of looking, then stick it on the Internet as an offering to Social Media, the all-seeing eye of God. They even film themselves committing crime – confession, maybe? Online gaming and pornography are rituals, connecting the individual to something that is not self, but not specifically human either, call it meditation if you like, the sound of one hand clapping. The ceremonial nature of pornography is inarguable, as predictable as a Catholic Mass.

“According to Debord, the spectacle is the triumph of semblance and of sight, where the image replaces reality. Debord mentions television only by way of example; for him the spectacle is a development of that real abstraction which dominates commodity society, based on pure quantity. But if we are immersed in an ocean of uncontrollable images which prevent our having access to reality, then it would seem to be yet more audacious to say that this reality has itself totally disappeared and that the situationists were still too timid and too optimistic, now that the process of abstraction has devoured all of reality and the spectacle is today even more spectacular and more totalitarian than it was ever imagined to be, carrying its crimes to the extreme of assassinating reality itself.”

Anselm Jappe: ‘The Metaphysical Subleties of the Commodity”

If a tree falls in the forest, and no-one tweets about it, does it really fall?

As one set of victims harks back to the middle ages, albeit a techno-version, another is fascinated by zombies and vampires. Adult men and women while away their hard-earned leisure time peering into a dystopian fantasy rather than looking out the window at the dystopian reality. There are two aspects of the cult of the undead that interest me – apart from this mass retreat into infantilism, or perhaps I should say the wholesale herding of the masses into it.

The first is the substantive metaphor: we inhabit the disintegrating corpse of a dead civilisation; the ideas and values that underpinned its institutions are long-discredited and held only ironically, if at all. It dimly remembers its history, and tries forlornly to return to where it last felt alive. It shambles on inexorably, feeds on our muscles and brains, and infects us with its banality and cynicism. The vampire is of course the commodity, the shiny, innocent representative of abstract and mostly futile social labour. The limitless creative and practical abilities of human beings, wastefully alienated from them and converted into exchange-values: “Dead labour sucking living labour”, as Marx put it. It’s often not even a thing, but an experience, a service, an identity or other pretence, rendered worthless instantly the transaction is complete.

What is the relationship between these monsters? The vampire of legend was a fiend, an evil spirit, but through fiction to film and recent television incarnations has been rehabilitated. A comic or even romantic figure, and where the parastite is attractive, entertaining and seductive would it not be churlish to resent the draining of your lifeblood?

“Also shall be qualified as attempted murder the employment which may be made by any person of substances which, without causing actual death, produce a lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the administering of such substances, the person has been buried, the act shall be considered murder no matter what result follows”

– Article 246 of the Haitian criminal code 1864

Now the traditional zombie of African-Haitian folklore, the soulless person controlled by witchcraft, could just have been a metaphor for slavery itself. The modern zombie, entirely the creation of Hollywood, is entranced not by witchcraft but by an all-pervading and probably man-made disease. It’s uncannily like the modern worker; sleepwalking on their pointless daily routine through a dream-like misrepresentation of reality, desperate to consume. They are not the slaves of men, but of the commodity.

Secondly, they are both us and not us; any member of our society infected becomes the other, a universal enemy to be feared and destroyed by any and all means. It turns out there is a huge appetite for such an enemy, for grabbing a shotgun and blowing the head off the boy next door, with no comeback and no remorse. There are countless examples of popular culture and mass media creating dastardly villains to justify our worst impulses, and religion may well have originated the idea, but the zombie epitomises the alien amongst us, the alien within us, our alienated selves, our self-disgust at what capitalism has made of us. We long for someone to take it out on, for the apocalypse to put us out of our misery.

I’m not a Christian but it seemed like the message of Christ was: “if you want peace, treat everyone equal, share everything out and forgive your enemies”; how did that morph into “join our gang or we’ll set fire to you”? Or: “God hates blacks, gays and women”. Someone else’s God hates Catholics, or Protestants, Jews, Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Hindus; what do you think makes someone get up in the morning and blow themselves up in someone else’s place of worship? Fucking grow up.

I make no apology for concatenating religion, mythology and light entertainment; I hope I’ve shown they all serve the same purpose in the long run. Don’t get me started on football.

As for the universe, if it didn’t have sentient beings in it no one would ever get to hear about it, so it would be a pretty pointless exercise; in that sense it owes its existence to us, let’s give ourselves the benefit of the doubt – and beware of the dogma.

Advertisements

Some thoughts on liberalism, identity politics and the left, by Mal Content.

As a contribution to this discussion on the South Essex Heckler:


The evolution of the ruling class.

The bourgeois revolution is incomplete, although it relied heavily on racism, patriarchy, hetero-normativity, nuclear families and a Christian work ethic to get underway, the logic of the market respects only the exchange of commodities. Our bosses are getting more diverse; the sixty-two individuals who control as much purchasing power as half of humanity are not all white, or male.

Meanwhile the ruling class hedges its bets; it offers on the one hand neoliberal ‘rainbow capitalism’ underpinned by a theoretical freedom and equality under the law but no safety net, and as a fallback position, what we might call ‘capitalism in one country’ with a degree of protectionism and social conservatism to reflect local norms. As the Class that must work for wages is only allowed to construe economics in terms of jobs and money it’s easy to see why the latter reassures a section of it. Wage labour is an abusive relationship however you dress it up, and the indignity of having your status defined by your abuse, relative to someone else’s, throws up some highly reactionary positions.

Both positions of course are bogus. Identities, like everything else, are marketable commodities and therefore must trade at different prices. The USA elected a black president who presided over the torture of Muslim prisoners of war, the enslavement of black workers in the prison-industrial complex, and the systemic assassination by cops of Working Class black youth. If there is ever a female president, a gay president, a trans’ president: they may become a rallying point for those communities but they will set no one free, it isn’t their job. The ANC revolution in South Africa created a new black bourgeoisie, which exploited exactly as before; their police gunned down striking workers as they did in the days of empire. The West is awash with goods produced in the sweatshops of recently independent Asian countries. As for protectionism, capital will always find ways to move around, and to reduce the price of labour to its minimum local reproduction cost.

There has never been, in any period of capitalism, an entirely free market without a heavy reliance on primitive accumulation (theft and murder) and military expenditure. Very expensive short-lived manufactured goods that do not have to compete in the market because the decision to buy them is taken by the executive. Corporations can always borrow money against this because it’s a blank cheque, underwritten by taxpayers, the bulk of whom are Working Class. It pays for technological innovations their bosses protect with patents. Virtually everything we take for granted in the modern world was developed this way, so above all, capitalism needs enemies.

For a century, this balance between market and state was maintained by the vanity projects of a handful of sociopaths: Bolshevism and fascism, the first almost immediately creating its mirror-image. ‘The end of history’ left two vacuums, one for the bosses and one for us. Post-war anti-imperialist movements, including the Middle Eastern ones, were mostly Bolshevik-influenced. Once the Soviet empire collapsed, ‘Radical Islam’ – which the West originally co-opted against it – proved an easier vehicle with which to rally marginalised and ill-informed populations against the tidal wave of global capital, with just a hint of the Maoist ‘protracted people’s war’ about it.

The left.

Since the mirage of state socialism evaporated, left-wing parties have been no more relevant than the flat earth society. They were deeply reactionary anyway; in 70 years of the U.S.S.R. they never managed to abolish racism, sexism, homophobia or religion, all those delusions resurfaced with a vengeance and they slipped seamlessly into a market economy with most of the same people in charge. In the UK it was the craft Unions who negotiated women out of the workplace after two wars, Labour governments that struggled in vain to keep the empire, then hold back migration from its former colonies.

“We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”

– Mikhail Bakunin: ‘Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism’.

Insofar as ‘left’ refers to position in a representative assembly – which I would have no truck with – relative to the other representatives, we only use it to distance us from the right. Whereas the old left existed to contain Working Class anger and prevent it from disrupting capitalist power relations, the new left’s project was to speed the bourgeois revolution to its conclusion; maybe they wanted capitalism to succeed so they could take it over as a going concern. Maybe they just wanted their hands in the till and a cushy retirement. Ten years after thatcher abolished society, isolating our Class, a smug posh-voiced tosser named Tony Blair told us we didn’t exist. Where does that leave us? Without Class the worker is an isolated individual with no social relationship to anyone but the boss – wasn’t that the aim of the twin totalitarian projects? Either way it’s inherently nationalistic (I include ‘Eurocentrism’ in this.)

The failure of the statist left to see beyond transaction and coercion not only paved the way for fascism in all its forms but preserved capitalism long past its expiry date. We need to look back a century to the ‘Great Unrest’ and the currents of revolutionary syndicalism and self-organisation that developed in the Class to see anything like a viable alternative.

Intersectionality, privilege and the Working Class.

Liberal politics of aspiration and contempt, of ‘social mobility’ challenge you to escape from our Class rather than work together to liberate it. You are Working Class if you’ve got nothing to sell but your labour, but talk of ‘working people’ sets the bosses as gatekeepers to the Class and they’re quite comfortable using the term when they get to define it. If your measure of self-worth is being selected by some bourgeois to add value to their capital – thereby increasing their power over you – no wonder your messiah is a narcissistic parasite with a gold crapper.

Intersectionality contradicts liberalism; I define liberalism as that which postulates a theoretical freedom and equality under the law, but takes no account of structural oppression. The concept of privilege requires acceptance that:

a) Oppression is the norm, society oppresses us all by default then mitigates it for each to different extents according to how well they fit into the oppressive structure, and that:

b) No-one achieves anything entirely by their own efforts, but through their membership of a collective.

This makes it an incredibly difficult concept for many people. As difficult as understanding that the pound in your pocket is not a reward for what you did last week, but represents a complex web of social relations, and that its value is reinforced by the threat of violence.

The advantage of intersectional analysis is that it gives a sharper understanding of how and where systemic oppression is applied in practice. Its limitation is the shift in emphasis from collective struggle to individual conflicts and alliances. It reflects, and indeed encourages, a loss of confidence in the ability of individuals to appreciate, understand and fight inequalities that do not afflict them personally. Worse, in my view, is it defines the individual according to the boundaries created by the hegemonic group, which, for simplicity, I will continue to refer to as the ruling class. They have taken great pains to replace the dangerously homogenous strata of similarly oppressed peoples with a socio-economic continuum. In parallel, our focus on privilege and identity has lowered our sights from universal liberation to the temporary relief of the most vulnerable, allowing them to be taken as hostages to the economy. There’s no getting away from the fact that the greatest structural oppression is the money economy and most of the others are mediated through it.

Identity politics.

The working class is more than 50% female*, disproportionately black, migrant and/or minority ethnic. If you are black, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted and incarcerated than if you are not; at each stage the odds are against you. If you have a mental condition, you are more likely to be homeless. We can only respond to these issues as a united, fighting Class. As a comrade pointed out last week, if the white Working Class don’t get it, it isn’t because we devoted too much attention to racism, sexism, homophobia etc, but too little. If you want to appeal to the white Working Class separately, why not the straight, white, cis, male Working Class? Further divide fully employed from unemployed and precarious, and you’re not far from the failed 20th century craft Union model. Personally, I’ve never identified as ‘white’ Working Class, I’m white in the sense that I’ve got no racialised characteristics. I’m also male, fit to work, with a skilled trade. I don’t need a university lecturer to tell me that’s a privileged position, and a potentially reactionary one, yet I’ve never wanted anything from this society but to witness its demise.

*Given the gendered disparity in income which, over a lifetime, exacerbates the gap in total wealth, by any socio-economic measure of ‘working class’, males will represent less that half. Single mothers and single retired women are especially disadvantaged in this respect.

Those groups who find themselves super-exploited fight the ruling class out of necessity; for the rest, what else is there to do? Some comrades  defend Wetherspoons, X factor and a fetish for designer clothes as working class culture, now there’s identity politics! As an anarchist I’m not about to tell anyone how to express themselves; if a section of the youth decline to integrate with mainstream culture it’s because it has nothing to offer. I’ll defend the right to wear a Burqa because – just fucking try telling me what to wear.

I believe that a society based on mutual aid and solidarity can only be achieved through voluntary association, starting from a federated affinity group structure. Therefore I’ll not condemn anyone for choosing to organise with those who share their own experiences if it gets the job done. It will be fine, for a while, as long as there is a mechanism for communication and co-ordination so we’re not getting in each other’s way or duplicating effort. Post-capitalist councils of producers and users would of necessity call in delegates from groups with needs and interests that are not readily anticipated or understood by others.

So whilst I’m exasperated when privilege is played as a trump card to shut down discussion, it’s equally frustrating to have the ‘prolier than thou’ type refuse to engage with it altogether. We are dishonest with ourselves if we do not challenge oppression where we see it, and that may require some patience, but having two separate closed conversations about it serves no one but the oppressor.

“The problem is that left politics are perceived to be backward looking, while the right has ridden the tidal wave created by capitalism’s convulsions. That a significant proportion of our class see fascism as a viable alternative, we must accept as our failure. Even the anarchist movement, with which I identify, is too introspective and slow to provide practical solutions to everyday problems. What about building community solidarity by linking defence against hate crime with resistance to evictions over the bedroom tax, and general poverty relief, why are there no autonomous food banks?

In my view we need a message as simple as the EDL’s, only based on class unity, resistance to austerity and division, tying local struggles to global ones; and we need to make ourselves as visible and confident as they are.”

– ‘Life after Woolwich: a personal view.’ No Quarter issue 7.

Fascism, the state, and the Battle of Cable Street, 1936.

cablest

Background:

The ruling class openly flirted with fascism from the start; with the class system under threat on all sides, it’s easy to see how attractive the idea of obedient, conservative-minded workers marching about in uniforms was to the bosses. In 1920’s Italy, after two years of wildcat strikes, land and factory occupations by socialist and anarchist workers, landowners and industrialists funded Mussolini to recruit a scab army of Blackshirts to evict the workers and break up union meetings. They were supplied with arms and vehicles, the army supported them with training and logistics, and firearms permits were selectively granted to right-wingers. The state relied on the fascists for strike-breaking until they got out of control, then rolled over and asked them to form a government. When the official unions eventually organised armed resistance it was too little, too late.

Fascist tactics have changed little over the years. They set about to discourage and confound working class organisation through violent intimidation. Meetings were disrupted, premises and individuals targeted for attack. As they grew in numbers and resources, beatings gave way to assassinations, arson and kidnapping. The left politicians made the fatal mistake of relying on the law to protect their rights, to no avail. The courts gave the Blackshirts preferential treatment so that the violent clashes they provoked resulted in the imprisonment of antifascists. In a routine that will be familiar to present day antifascists, the police usually turned on whichever group appeared numerically smaller on the day.

Some of the stiffest resistance came from the anarchist groups and the syndicalist U.S.I. union, and they would bear the brunt of the violence. In the summer of 1921, these militants formed antifascist fighting squads ‘Arditi del Popolo’, organised along paramilitary lines. Each unit had autonomy and operated according to the political composition of its locality. Alongside anarchists and union organisers they attracted First World War veterans, republicans and members of the official Socialist and Communist parties. Rivalry between these two parties prevented them from offering support however, neither having any use for an organisation beyond its control. In August the Socialist Party signed a non-aggression pact with the fascists, requiring its members to withdraw, and P.C.I. activists were pulled away to do their own thing. The  ‘Pact of Pacification’ amounted to class collaboration between industrialists and Socialist functionaries claiming to represent the working class. It conferred an air of legitimacy on the fascists, allowing them a foothold in areas where they could otherwise not have operated. The Arditi understood as clearly as the bosses that both fascism and antifascism are outside the law. After twenty-plus fascists were killed at Sarzana, their commander lamented that the Blackshirts had got used to confronting people who ran away or offered feeble resistance, and had never actually learned to fight.

The following year, the Socialists called a legal general strike, which the fascists were largely able to circumvent with scab labour. In August 1922, three hundred and fifty Arditi successfully defended the city of Parma against twenty thousand Blackshirts who laid siege to it for six days after the police abandoned their posts. Putting their differences aside, workers built barricades, dug trenches and prepared to fight for every street with petrol bombs and axes. Eventually the fascists, who were still unprepared to take casualties, drifted away in disarray. Alarmed by such a display of working class autonomy and unity, the army occupied the town and took down all the barricades. In October Mussolini marched on Rome with a slightly larger force and the politicians capitulated. The Socialist leader Turati appealed to the King to uphold the constitution, but due to persistent lobbying by the General Federation of Industry and the Banking Association, he handed power to Mussolini, who at that time had only 35 out of about 600 deputies in Parliament. The fascists still didn’t have it all their own way, especially in the industrial North, but over years, the antifascist movement succumbed to assassination, imprisonment and exile.

“The Italian Socialists, blind as ever, continued to cling to legality and the Constitution. In December, 1923, the Federation of Labour sent Mussolini a report of the atrocities committed by fascist bands and asked him to break with his own troops. (Reference: Buozzi and Nitti, Fascisme et Syndicalisme, 1930) The Socialist Party took the electoral campaign of April, 1924, very seriously; Turati even had a debate at Turin with a fascist in a hall where Black Shirts guarded the entrance. And when, after Matteotti’s assassination, a wave of revolt swept over the peninsula, the socialists did not know how to exploit it. ‘At the unique moment,’ Nenni writes, ‘for calling the workers into the streets for insurrection, the tactic prevailed of a legal struggle on the judicial and parliamentary plane.’ As a gesture of protest, the opposition was satisfied not to appear in parliament, and, like the ancient plebeians, they retired to the Aventine. ‘What are our opponents doing?’ Mussolini mocked in the chamber. ‘Are they calling general strikes, or even partial strikes? Are they trying to provoke revolts in the army? Nothing of the sort. They restrict themselves to press campaigns.’ (Speech, July 1924) The Socialists launched the triple slogan: Resignation of the Government, dissolution of the militia, new elections. They continued to display confidence in the King, whom they begged to break with Mussolini; they published, for his enlightenment, petition after petition. But the King disappointed them a second time.”

– Daniel Guerin: ‘Fascism and Big Business’

Inspired by Mussolini, a Conservative Party faction known as ’British Fascisti’ along with the National Citizen’s Union (formerly the Middle Class Union) prepared for organised mass scabbing in the event of a general strike.  This led to the formation of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (O.M.S.), described by the Daily Mail as “defence against the reds” and announced on the letters page of the Times by the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks. The O.M.S. claimed to be non-political and had the backing of the government, who were initially uncomfortable with B.F. involvement; nevertheless many individual fascists joined and occupied prominent positions. The ‘British Fascists Ltd’ as they had become in 1924, were asked to change their name and generally tone it down a bit, they refused, though a small split complied. As the general strike approached, however, fascists swarmed into both the O.M.S. and the special constabulary.

Churchill spelt out the establishment’s position:

“Italy has shown that there is a way of fighting the subversive forces which can rally the masses of the people, properly led, to value and wish to defend the honour and stability of civilised society. She has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.”

– Winston Churchill: speaking in Rome Jan. 20, 1927.

Quoted in: Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II and the End of Civilization. by Nicholson Baker 2008.

No one came out of the General Strike looking good; the Labour Party and T.U.C. had betrayed the miners, all the politicians had displayed cowardice and the far right became confirmed in its self-appointed role of defending whatever-it-was against an imagined Jewish-Communist conspiracy. The fascists’ anti-union position brought them into immediate and violent confrontation with the left; they also hoped to recruit the unemployed, as Mussolini had done, in direct competition with the National Unemployed Workers Movement.

Socialists, communists and anarchists lost no time in organising against them. They were hampered by the reluctance of the party leaders to work together as they competed for the allegiance of the working class. The most militant workers’ association, the Communist Party, was of course directed from Moscow, and faithfully followed the meanderings of the Comintern, unhelpfully labelling anyone who declined its control as ‘social fascists’. This policy had disastrous consequences in Germany, where the party focussed on its rivalry with the Social Democrats, leaving the way open for the Nazis, whom it refused to regard as a threat. The Labour Party sought electoral respectability, rendering it useless in what would become a street-level battle for control of territory. The original ‘Independent Labour Party’, distinguished by its opposition to WW1, and its more militant antifascism, remained affiliated to the parliamentary Labour Party until 1931.

Nevertheless more or less informal coalitions appeared at local level, driven by events. The uneven treatment of the two sides by the law is quite revealing; antifascists were typically charged with riot and sentenced to hard labour, whereas four fascists who hijacked a newspaper van at gunpoint were bound over for a year. The latter stunt was pulled by a splinter group, the National Fascisti who were more explicitly violent and racist than the B.F. and included the fanatical anti-Semite Arnold Leese and William ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ Joyce.

Of course Leese was just a paranoid obsessive, wherever did he get it from?

“The part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews … is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from Jewish leaders … The same evil prominence was obtained by Jews in (Hungary and Germany, especially Bavaria).

Although in all these countries there are many non-Jews every whit as bad as the worst of the Jewish revolutionaries, the part played by the latter in proportion to their numbers in the population is astonishing. The fact that in many cases Jewish interests and Jewish places of worship are excepted by the Bolsheviks from their universal hostility has tended more and more to associate the Jewish race in Russia with the villainies which are now being perpetrated”.

– Winston Churchill: Illustrated Sunday Herald 8th February 1920.

In 1931 fascism became the latest vehicle for the ambitions of Oswald Mosley, an opportunist Parliamentarian who had enjoyed electoral success as Conservative, Labour and independent candidate before travelling to Italy and meeting Mussolini. The B.F. had appealed mainly to the establishment, landed gentry and the right of the Tory party, and its ideology was confused even by fascist standards. One of its policies was to reduce unemployment by cutting taxes to the rich so they could hire more servants! With his roots firmly in the aristocracy, a military career behind him, and having like Mussolini wandered the political spectrum, Mosley set about concocting a platform populist enough to rival the Communist Party; based on nationalism, anti-Semitism, Keynesian socialism, economic protectionism and defence of the empire. Mosley’s target was not the workers as such, but aspiring middle classes, self-employed, managerial grades, farmers, market traders and so on, basically anyone who had a stake in preserving the status quo, but didn’t have the ear of the political establishment.

His last venture into electoral politics, the New Party, performed dismally in the 1931 general election, henceforth he embraced the fascist principle of taking power by force. In Germany the Nazi party was gaining ground by such means, and emboldened by the ambivalence of the state, the movement became increasingly violent. The New Party and other assorted groups were combined into the British Union of Fascists; they followed the continental fascists’ fetish for physical culture and paramilitary drilling, and adopted a uniform based on a black fencing shirt.

The German situation was like a slow-motion replay of the Italian one; since the Kaiser had been overthrown in the Spartacist uprising of 1918/19 the German bourgeoisie had been forced to compromise with the working class to prevent a Bolshevik style revolution, and they hated it. The balance of power was held by the Social Democratic Party (S.P.D.) with its gradualist, inevitablist conception of socialism. The most powerful labour movement in the world was integrated into the capitalist state; the Communists referred to this as ‘social fascism’ whereas the Nazis regarded any combination of workers as Marxist, and therefore part of a Jewish conspiracy.

“After Hitler had been released from Landsberg the National Socialist Party was refounded early in 1925. Once more he addressed his followers in the Biirgerbrau cellar: “To make a struggle intelligible to the broad masses, it must always be carried on against two things: against a person and a cause. Against whom did England fight? Against the German Emperor as a person, and against militarism as a cause. Against whom do the Jews fight with their Marxist power? Against the bourgeoisie as a person, and against capitalism as its cause. Against whom, therefore, must our movement fight? Against the Jew as a person, and against Marxism as its cause…” He considered it necessary for psychological reasons to have only one enemy, the Jews; his opinion had not changed.”

 – Francis L. Carsten: ‘The Rise of Fascism’.

He could have been paraphrasing Churchill from five years earlier. Because the Nazis had no constituency among the workers (never more than five percent of votes in the workplace committees) the Communists and Social Democrats ignored them, preferring to squabble amongst themselves. They remained a tiny, anti-union terrorist and propaganda group, sustained financially by the industrialists and landowners.

“If the enemy had known how weak we were, it would probably have reduced us to jelly. It would have crushed in blood the very beginning of our work.”

– J. Goebbels, 1934.

So the delicate flower of fascism was nurtured and held in reserve until the start of the depression. The slump threatened to impoverish the German middle class, who resented the position of the industrial proletariat with its powerful embedded unions and negotiated guarantees; in September 1930 the National Socialists polled six million votes. Fearing revolution, the capitalists lavished money on them; by 1932 they were up to twelve million. Hitler courted the middle classes, making them all manner of unrealistic promises to break up big business and support individual enterprise, in fact the reverse happened, the Nazi government would fiercely concentrate capital into a military-industrial oligarchy.

During this period the U.S.S.R.’s own re-armament programme was heavily dependant on the goodwill of the German industrialists, who felt threatened by the pacifism of the S.P.D. The 1922 Rapallo Treaty, in which both parties waived reparations from the Great War, permitted Germany to test its military hardware in Russia as it was prohibited from doing at home by the Treaty of Versailles; this allowed both countries to benefit from the latest technology. Stalin paid for arms in hard currency, funded by wheat exports from the collective farms at the price of mass starvation, the German Communist Party must have seemed a small sacrifice. In 1931, the Comintern instructed the K.P.D. against its wishes, to vote with the Hitlerists in a referendum to unseat the Social Democrats in Prussia. Turnout was pitiful and the proposition was defeated, but this combination of complacency and sheer idiocy left the door wide open. At the 12th Plenum of the Comintern, Osip Piatnitsky  boasted that the blind obedience of the German Party was second only to the Russian one.* Nazism took hold in the universities, where the students found themselves stranded with little hope of reward for their academic achievements. As unemployment rose to six million over the next two years, the paramilitary S.A. ‘storm troopers’ provided food and shelter in their barracks and recruited a private army of three hundred thousand. The German working class was ready to fight, but its leadership capitulated again and again, preferring to ridicule the barbarians.

*’The Communist International 1919-1943 documents selected and edited by Jane Degras Volume III 1929-1943’
The Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Hitler came to power in the spring of 1933, and the Rapallo accord held until January 1934, when Germany signed a non-aggression pact with Poland. The Comintern abruptly changed tack and decided it would work with the other antifascist parties after all, however in Britain the C.P.s street fighting image did not appeal to those with political ambitions and the united front failed to get off the ground. In fact the antifascist front was originally Trotsky’s idea and had only the year before led to mass expulsions of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ from the party for advocating it. Three years later, at the next congress of the K.P.D. (in exile, naturally) the blame would be laid squarely at the door of the German leadership; two absent members Neumann and Remmele were especially singled out by the Comintern delegate Palmiro Togliatti for “underestimating fascism, and their failure to make a real effort for a united front with the Social Democrats.”*

*(ibid)

Harold Harmsworth, the proprietor of the Daily Mail and briefly the Mirror, a personal friend of Mussolini and Hitler, made his papers a mouthpiece for the B.U.F. along with General Franco and Nazi Germany. This probably accounted for the fact that a quarter of the Blackshirts were women, the majority of the Mail’s readership have always been female. The erstwhile King Edward VIII was likewise a friend and admirer of Hitler who would have had Britain on the other side in the coming world war.

“I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial public support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the enduring pacification of Europe.”

– Adolf Hitler to Harold Harmsworth, 7th December 1933.

“At this next vital election Britain’s survival as a great power will depend on the existence of a well organised party of the right ready to take over responsibility for national affairs with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Hitler and Mussolini have displayed” …

– Harold Harmsworth: ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’,
Daily Mail 15th January 1934.

“Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, S.W.”

– Harold Harmsworth, writing as ‘Viscount Rothermere’: ‘Give the Blackshirts a helping hand’, Daily Mirror 22nd January 1934.

“… the Blackshirts, like the Daily Mail, appeal to people unaccustomed to thinking. The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made. When Lord Rothermere tells his clientele to go and join the Fascists some of them pretty certainly will.”

– “A Spectator’s Notebook”: The Spectator, 19 January 1934.

“My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country.”

– Harold Harmsworth, to Adolf Hitler, 27th June 1939.

“Despite her flaws, the only responsible vote in France next Sunday is one for Marine Le Pen.”

Richard Waghorne: Daily Mail Online, 20th April 2012.

“The German slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ is somewhat tainted by its connection with Nazi concentration camps, but its essential message, ‘work sets you free’ still has something serious to commend it.

  -Dominique Jackson: Daily Mail Online, 13th August 2012.

No change there, then. The Express also advocated appeasement until the last minute, and Edward was such an embarrassment they had to make him governor of the Bahamas to get him out of the way.

Because physical superiority was central to fascist ideology, the only effective means to halt their progress was to beat them at their own game, so physical resistance developed out of necessity, a plethora of antifascist associations were formed for this purpose, some with their own uniforms. Left and union events were invaded and had to be stewarded, Jewish interests and individual Jews were subject to assault, so they either joined existing groups or organised independently. Up and down the country, political meetings were turning into pitched battles. With working class communities under attack, everything the B.U.F. did became fair game so violence accompanied them wherever they went. In 1933 16 year old Ubby Cowan went along with a group of friends to oppose a meeting addressed by William Joyce:

“I heard Joyce speaking and it was too much to bear. So I charged the stage and threw him off the platform.

When I realised that this was going on week after week in Stepney, and I remember grabbing Joyce and just saying to him, get out of it, you lying bastard. I sent him flying,

Partly because of the disinterest shown by other political parties in what was happening to Jewish people in the East end, I joined the Communists.”

– Ubby Cowan, antifascist, to Islington Tribune 29th September 2011

What was glaringly obvious to working class Jews may have escaped their wealthier fellows however.

“On New Year’s Day 1934 was formed the January Club, whose object is to form a solid Blackshirt front. The chairman Sir John Squire, editor of the London Mercury said that it was not a fascist organisation but admitted that ‘the members who belonged to all political parties were for the most part in sympathy with the fascist movement’.“

– The Times, 22 March, 1934

According to Ted Grant,* Members of the January Club included Ralph D Blumenfeld, founder of the Anti-Socialist Union, former editor of the Daily Mail and Daily Express, and the prominent Zionist Major Harry Nathan, Liberal MP for Bethnal Green North East.

*’The Menace of Fascism. What it is and how to fight it.’ By Ted Grant: June 1948. The January club’s published records contradict this. It could be that the B.U.F. subsequently expunged the names of Jewish members, or maybe Grant was trying to make a point. Either explanation is plausible; truth is the first casualty of war. Please get in touch if you can shed any light on this.

Either way, British capitalists were busy re-arming Nazi Germany; in March 1934 the merchant banker and Chairman of Vickers, General Sir Herbert Lawrence, refused to deny it:

“I cannot give you an assurance in definite terms, but I can tell you that nothing is being done without complete sanction and approval of our own government.”

– Herbert Lawrence, Quoted by Henry Owen in ‘War is Terribly Profitable’

In Gateshead the fascists attacked the I.L.P. May Day rally outside the labour exchange and were seen off by the unemployed workers. This incident prompted the formation of the ‘Greyshirts’ Anti Fascist League, which effectively shut down fascist activity in the area. In June, Mosley addressed a triumphalist rally at Olympia and the fascist stewards ran amok, beating protesters and anyone who got in their way while the police turned a blind eye, then as antifascists scuffled with the Blackshirts outside the venue some were arrested; Stepney communist Marks ‘Barney’ Becow received the first of several terms of hard labour.

In the days and weeks after Olympia, B.U.F. meetings were attacked and disrupted in London, Leicester, Glasgow, Plymouth and Brighton. By the end of 1934 the continual violence had deprived the B.U.F. of any semblance of respectability and most of its middle class membership; Rothermere ceased his public support for the group, complaining bitterly to Hitler that his hand had been forced by Jewish businesses threatening to take their advertising elsewhere.

On the 4th of October 1935 Mussolini sent his armed forces into Ethiopia and fired the opening shots in the conflict that would shortly tear up three continents. He also had his eye on the strategic Balearic Islands while Hitler coveted the ores and mineral deposits in the Iberian Peninsula and Western Sahara. Spain and Portugal had long ago lost their political and economic independence and were no longer counted amongst the great European powers; a circle of vultures looked down, waiting to deploy their natural resources in the next imperialist kick-off. Events in Spain were going to have a transformative effect on the antifascist movement and European history.

“Before embarking on the Ethiopian venture, Mussolini analysed the composition of the British population in terms of age, noting that it included 24 million women against 22 million men. Some 12 million male citizens were over the age of 50, the limit for men liable for military service in wartime. Outcome: the static masses outweigh the dynamic masses of young people. The quiet life, compromise, peace. He told me of an episode which is not without piquancy: in order to press on with his reading of a detective story Baldwin simply could not be bothered for one whole Sunday with the envelope containing the instructions concerning the Laval-Hoare Plan. The delay was enough to fuel the controversy in France and to lead to the foundering of the plan.”

 – Gian Galeazzo Ciano: ‘Diaries 1937–1943’ 3rd September 1937.

Ciano was Italy’s foreign minister during the Spanish Civil war, explaining that the Italians had no fear of British interference with their blatant piracy in the Mediterranean. The Laval-Hoare Plan to carve up Abyssinia, provoked public outcry in Britain and France.

In London, Douglas Jerrold, editor of the far-right Catholic ‘English Review’, member of Mosley’s January Club and the pro-Nazi Anglo-German Fellowship, was approached by Luis Boli­n, London correspondent of the Spanish monarchist ABC newspaper. Bolin wanted to transport General Franco in secret from the Canary Islands to Morocco, where he would launch a military coup; Jerrold in turn hired British secret agent Major Hugh Pollard. On the 11th July their chartered De Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft took off from Croydon aerodrome piloted by Cecil Bebb, who may or may not have been a spook as well, with Pollard as navigator. Pollard’s daughter Diana, and another woman, Dorothy Watson, went along to make the trip look a little less suspicious. International flights were uncommon at the time and were closely monitored by Special Branch. Pollard was a senior figure in the intelligence community, who had worked for the British in Ireland, Mexico, and Morocco. It’s inconceivable that his bosses didn’t know about and approve the project. Boli­n became Franco’s press officer and chief censor, and Pollard the chief of the MI6 station in Madrid, Bebb received an assortment of medals from Franco. Jerrold was a tireless propagandist for the nationalists during the Civil War, and later also worked for MI6.

Having failed to intimidate the left in the regions, the B.U.F turned its attention to provoking the Jewish community in East London. The fascists had a considerable following in Bethnal Green from which anti-Semitic incursions would take place; the area became a daily battleground.

“An informal anti-fascist bloc had developed in the East End. It spanned the political spectrum from left to centre and included Jewish anti-fascist bodies. On the left of the bloc stood the CP the YCL, the ILP, the NUWM, various trade union bodies, and the Labour League of Youth. The LLY continued to organise with the YCL despite the disapproval of its parent body. At its Manchester conference in April 1936 it agreed that ‘the possibilities of war and Fascism looming ahead of the workers demand a united front of all working-class youth organisations.’”

– Dave Hann, antifascist: ‘Physical Resistance. A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism.’

On the 4th of October 1936 the East End rose as one to stop Mosley’s Blackshirts marching from the City of London to Bethnal Green. The extraordinary cohesion, in particular the solidarity between the Jewish and Irish communities, that made this possible had been forged during the Great Unrest that preceded the First World War, when striking dockers and tailors had supported each other’s families. The Ex-Servicemen’s Anti-Fascist Association already had police permission to hold a march and meeting that day, but the cops insisted they make way for the fascists. Both the official Labour Party and the Board of Deputies of British Jews opposed the counter-mobilisation. The Communist Party initially opposed it then jumped on the bandwagon when it became clear its members were going to do it anyway, the instrument of’ Stalin’s foreign policy being powerless without its rank and file, who had a taste for self-organisation and wanted to bring the revolution home.

“This attitude clearly reflected what I already knew was the London District Party leadership’s position on Mosley. I was furious. I could hardly believe what I was reading. I had been fighting their ideas for years. Here was the confrontation and I could not withdraw. On the contrary, I knew that if the DPC line was carried, a heavy blow would fall on the workers of East London and workers everywhere. It would also be the end of me. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by fighting these pernicious tactics. …

… We in the CP were supposed to tell people to go to Trafalgar Square and come back in the evening to protest after Mosley had marched. The pressure from the people of Stepney who went ahead with their own efforts to oppose Mosley left no doubt in our minds that the CP would be finished in Stepney if this was allowed to go through as planned by our London leaders.”

– Joe Jacobs, antifascist: ‘Out of the Ghetto’ London 1978.

In the East End, materials were being collected for barricades and missiles, runners and spotters were recruited and fifteen first aid posts set up. Seventy years before the Internet and text messages, with few telephones and no television, the whole thing was organised in less than a week. The planned route along Whitechapel road was blocked on the day by a vast crowd, the only alternative, as antifascists had anticipated, was via Cable Street.

“Now because we’d suspected that the police might try to use this route as a secondary means of getting Mosley to his destination, we went round there the week beforehand to see what was cooking. We found a very convenient builder’s yard on the corner of Christian Street and, on several evenings leading up to October 4, the dockers came along and dumped little parcels there. It was agreed beforehand that the dockers would be responsible for preparing barricades in Cable Street should they be required. We sent a team with the dockers so that it was all organised.”

– Ubby Cowan, quoted by Dave Hann (op. cit.)

Most of the fighting was not with fascists, but with the police, who had orders to drive the B.U.F.’s paramilitary columns through at any cost. It was nothing more or less than a demonstration of state power in the face of the organised working class, it failed.

“The pavements were packed, the whole street – Aldgate High Street – was packed solid. Crowds were everywhere as far as we could see. It was impossible to make any progress. Parked in the middle of the street, towering over the crowds was a line of tramcars – marooned and empty. They could not have moved, even if anyone had wanted to move them.

The rumour went that the first tram in the line had been deliberately driven to the point by an anti-fascist tram driver, placed there to form a barricade against the fascists … My comrades and I never had a chance to get within a mile of Cable Street on that afternoon. In between us and Cable Street was a solid mass of people. Estimates afterwards said there was anything up to half a million people out on the streets of the East End that day. But no one could possibly have counted them … we gathered that the first protesters had been up early in the day and had been preparing a reception for both the police and the fascists long before either had arrived.

The fascists were assembling by the Royal Mint and police started to make baton charges, both foot and mounted, to try to clear a way for them to escort a march. They did not succeed. A barricade started to go up. A lorry was overturned, furniture was piled up, paving stones and a builder’s yard helped to complete the barrier. The police managed to clear the first, but found a second behind it and then a third. Marbles were thrown under the hooves of the police horses; volleys of bricks met every baton charge.”

– Reg Weston, antifascist, London, North Africa and Italy: from Libcom.

The following excerpts are from accounts quoted by Dave Hann in ‘Physical Resistance. A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism’ .

“One of my jobs, because I had a motorbike, was to go around the periphery of the crowd and report what was happening to the committee. … We had one doctor who was member of the Communist Party, Doctor Faulkner, who dressed up smart and went to where the Blackshirts were assembling at the Minories. The Minories was the main thoroughfare between Aldgate and the City and the fascists were all lined up there, about three thousand of them. He infiltrated them and said he was there to help out, but in fact he slipped away and passed information on their plans to the committee … Well, Doctor Faulkner very sensibly managed to get word to headquarters of what the fascists were up to and I was immediately told to go around and tell people to go down to Cable Street, not everyone, but enough to help the people already down there.”

– Lou Kenton, antifascist: London and Spain. (op. cit.)

“When the police started to move towards Cable Street, one runner ran ahead to warn them while another came to tell us. When we heard what was happening, we made a dash for cable Street and, when we got nearer, we could hear the sound of shouting and smashing and Lemonade bottles exploding. The barricades were up. They were quite high and the police were trying to climb over them but couldn’t, because people on the roofs were throwing bricks and water and goodness knows what else at them. We all started throwing whatever rubbish we could find and after about three-quarters of an hour someone on the roof shouted “They’re leaving.” We said “Who’s leaving?” and they said “The coppers.” So we climbed up the back of the barricade and the street ahead of us was littered with broken bottles and stones and all the rest of it but we could just see the back of the police horses as they were turning the corner.”

– Ubby Cowan. (ibid)

“Barrow boys used their barrows to block the way. People were even throwing piddle pots out the windows. The main thing I can remember because I was only nine at the time, was all the people fighting with the police. Because, of course, the police came in first and tried to clear the way for the Blackshirts. I can remember my grandfather fighting the police and I was very frightened because I thought he would get arrested because being black he would stand out.”

– Betty Davis, antifascist. (ibid)

The police were forced to withdraw and re-route the Blackshirts along the embankment. With red flags flying the antifascists marched to Bethnal Green instead of Moseley and his reception committee fled before them. The following day he flew to Berlin to get married at Dr Goebbels’ house, returning a week later to Liverpool and another hail of bricks from the locals.

“Mosley was finished in the East End after Cable Street. You could see the change in the ordinary people going about their day-to-day business. People were no longer scared of the Blackshirts. They were still wary of course, but they weren’t terrified anymore. Fear had allowed fascism to grow in the East End but once everyone had seen the Blackshirts beaten and humiliated, the fear disappeared. It was still dangerous to be a Jew on your own in some areas, but there was no longer this awful fear of what the future might bring.”

– Lou Kenton. (ibid)

The battle of Cable Street sent ripples across Europe and down the years; it demonstrated that ordinary people could organise themselves in defiance of their political leaders and take on the state. The Public Order Act became law in January 1937, banning political uniforms and establishing the police power to enter public meetings and ban demonstrations. Many on the left were in favour; however the new legislation would be used more often against antifascists than the far right. Mussolini cut off his funding to the B.U.F. forcing Mosley to go cap in hand to Hitler; his anti-Semitism became ever more rabid as Gestapo agents delivered regular payments from Goebbels.

“One week after 4 October, 5,000 anti-fascists celebrated with their own march, which gathered more and more numbers as it wound its way from Tower Hill to Victoria Park. With police attention, as ever, directed towards the anti-fascists, the Mile End Pogrom took place. A hundred youths ran the length of the road assaulting individual Jews and smashing the windows of Jewish owned businesses. A car was set alight. A man and a seven-year old girl were thrown through a shop window.”

– Dave Hann: (ibid)

The Communist Party was briefly kicked off the fence; a short-lived anti-fascist alliance was formed with the Independent Labour Party, the National Unemployed Workers Movement and the left of the Labour Party, the latter subsequently caved in when threatened with expulsion. The C.P. drifted away from opposing fascism at home in favour of aiding the republican government in Spain, but notwithstanding the valour of the International Brigades volunteers, Stalin had long since given up the idea of world revolution and would eventually hand victory to Franco for the sake of the internal security of the U.S.S.R.

On the 80th  anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street; consisting of excerpts from the chapter ‘Fascism and antifascism’ from a work in progress: ‘The Authority of the Boot-maker’ by Mal Content.

Briefings for Cynical Commisioning Groups (1) – How to get away with it.

cynicalcommissioninggroups1

Pdf version A4

From John Lister at London Health Emergency (LHE)

Neil Patterson, the fox hunting vicar.

By Kate Bradley.

Reverend Neil Patterson

Reverend Neil Patterson.

The Church of England is under the controversial spotlight of a Dorset anti-hunt campaigner. A petition has been started that demands that the Reverend, who holds a position of ecclesiastical training within the Hereford Diocese should either resign or be dismissed. He has been filmed by Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs, hosting fox hunting meets at his church. It is common knowledge that the Church of England listens to not many people, if they didn’t hear the voice of sex abuse victims over the years then its not likely the church are going to start to show empathy with foxes. And we all know that the head of the church is the Queen of England who has been filmed by animal rights campaigners hitting pheasants with her walking stick after she hasn’t shot them properly. So let’s be clear here that a single petition is not going to make a dent into the minds of those that run the Church of England. However, hunt Campaigners such as the Three Counties hunt saboteur group remain determined to follow and film this Reverend every time he hunts wearing a bowler hat and the church’s dog collar. Campaigners view this as being an act of obscene hypocrisy and feel that highlights once again, the corrupt flaws that lie within the church system. One of those major flaws (apart from being involved with animal cruelty) is the Church’s failure to properly address and log complaints.

Paddy Benson

Archdeacon Paddy Benson

Since the Church of England vicar was spotted hunting with the South Hereford hunt this has provoked a huge deluge of written complaints all of which have been casually swept aside by the Archdeacon of Hereford Paddy Benson. It is an astonishing neglectful attitude considering that the master of the South Hereford Hunt has been filmed throwing live fox cubs to his hounds at the kennels. This footage is one of the most disturbing, upsetting and unbelievably cruel acts ever to have come to light and joins the catalogue of atrocities committed by various fox hunting groups over the years. Since this incident was reported to the police two of the hunt members have been arrested and released on bail and the kennels were shut down by Police.

The petition that demands the sacking of Reverend Neil Patterson was handed to Archdeacon Paddy Benson whose response was:

“You ask that Church of England land will not be used for fox hunting meets again. It is not possible to give such as assurance, not least because there is no single land-owning body called ‘The Church of England’. The Church Commissioners own a lot of land; the various dioceses including the Diocese of Hereford own some land. Individual churchyards belong to the vicar in his or her corporate capacity. Each has to make its own decision.

The Church of England is committed to animal welfare, and to protection of the environment: these are among our mission objectives. However I do not need to tell you that within the church – as in the population at large – there are different views on how this relates to fox-hunting”

Campaigners are confused as to how the church claims to be committed to animal welfare whilst one of its vicars is often out riding with this hunt wearing the uniform of the church.

Archdeacon Benson also stated that fox hunting is necessary to protect livestock and sometimes “human babies”. Quite how throwing live and innocent fox cubs to a pack of hounds protects livestock and “human babies” is unclear. The throwing of the fox cubs to hounds actually trains the hounds to be extremely savage towards foxes that then provides a bloodlusting entertainment – similar to how bulls are trained to attack people in a bullfighting ring.

There is no sympathy, respect or sadness shown to these young and innocent fox cubs and clearly the Archdeacon Paddy Benson and his Reverend Neil Patterson regards it as a harmless activity and views the campaigners petition as something coming “from an extreme far left view”.

The Rev Neil Patterson does not deny he is a supporter of fox hunting and he has also hosted the Cotswold Vale Farmers Hunt and hosted a lawn meet for both packs at Weston Under Penyard church, despite the fact that these hunts are routinely shown to break the law this vicar has been given the permission of his Archdeacon to continue his blood sport hobby.

Kate Bradley

Dorset Anti-hunt campaigner – giving a voice and remembrance to the cubs savaged by South Hereford Hunt.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/23/fox-hunting-group-investigation-claims-animal-cruelty-south-herefordshire

https://www.change.org/p/the-diocese-for-the-church-to-sack-reverend-neil-patterson

Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs have asked us to point out that they receive no funding from the League Against Cruel Sports.

Does Anarchist Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan, Bashur, exist? – Zaher Baher.

Does Anarchist Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan, Bashur, exist?

By: Zaher Baher, June 2016

I was frequently asked this question in the meetings or interviews. I have always been frank and honest in my reply. I said there are not even an active anarchist group existing there let alone an anarchist movement. I would then be asked the second question ‘why’?

While there have been authority/state committed brutal suppression and repressions, also there was anarchism as a natural rebellious force of human being, so it is illogical to say there was no individual anarchists or no groups existed. There is no doubt that there was always resistance against the state/authority. People considered authority/power as evil forces. People have never seen any common interests with the states/authorities or any benefit from them. In addition, in the history of Iraq and the Middle East under Abbasid Caliphate or before, there were a few rebellion movements: Zoroastrianism, Mazdeism, Babakism and revolutionary movements like Zanj revolts, Kharijites, Karmatians and many more. Although this movement did not label themselves anarchist or communist but in view of many people they were a kind of communitarian, anarchist movements.

If we look into the history of Iraqi Kurdistan, Bashur, after the First World War we can see many reasons of the lack for anarchism and anarchist movement. In my opinion the main factors are the following:

  • Bashur was a part of Iraqi state, being dependent on the Soviet Union. The Iraqi regime since 1958 until 2003 was in Soviet bloc with the exception for a few years during 1960s.

Only the books, magazines and writings about Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, the entire communist and leftists’ movements in the world and religions were available in Arabic. All those books and writings were published either in Damascus, Beirut or in Moscow. The Syrian Communist Party under its leader Khalid Bakdash has played a big role in translating some of the books and publishing them. In addition, the Syrian’s regime was also in the Soviet Union bloc at least since Hafez Assad come to power.

In regards to the anarchism and anarchist movements in the world, they were described and introduced to us in a much distorted way. All publications about anarchism were written or translated to Arabic by the leftist communists and Russian agents, so they presented anarchism as anti-revolutionary and anti-humanist. They were the only available source showing anarchism as the opposite of what it really is. Anarchism was presented in a repulsive way, showing only it’s anti-state and anti-authoritarian aspect. We were told anarchists are rejecting power/state and leave the society in absolute chaos and disorder. No administration, no law and order, no protection – as a result of that the society would be in danger. These publications explained and described anarchism in the view of Bolsheviks and communists; they wanted to make the idea unpleasant and uninviting.

While they rejected anarchism and attacked it, there was not a single anarchist book or magazine available, not even an article in order for the people to read them before reading the hateful propaganda against anarchism. “The Poverty of Philosophy” by Karl Marx was available, but not the original Proudhon’s work, “Philosophy of Poverty” which Marx criticized.Many writings and propaganda against anarchism existed this way – without access to the ideas they fought.

In such environment, there was no possibility to learn about anarchism or anarchist movement. Consequently people were deprived from the basic knowledge of anarchism.

  • There were many political parties and people were very loyal to them

Towards the end of 1930s, Iraq and Kurdistan became the fertilized land that brought about many political parties: nationalist, patriotic, religious, liberal and communist. There was a fierce competition among them, struggling for power. They were using deception, propaganda and manipulation to bring people under their influence. Their best members and supporters were absolutely loyal to their parties and their leaders. The dependence of party members on their leaders was absolute. They were ideological fundamentalists. Killing political adversaries – members or supporters of an opposing party – was a legitimate method of ideological dispute. The war all fought against one another, during 1960s, 1980s and 1990s that we have seen is the best example. The loyalty of the party’s members became so serious, they never thought for a second of the integrity of the party polices and its leaders.

In an atmosphere like that, it is hard for new belief and thought to develop. The vast majority of people were divided over the political parties and became very tiny cogs in a very big machine of the political parties, so the parties could manipulate and to use them according to their need. They advised them to vote or not vote, to do this, not to do that, to fight one side, to be in peace with other side. In this situation the members and supporters of them become slaves of the party, they were unable to think, to analyze the situation nor to decide on their own.

Anarchism is founded on the individual’s right to free thinking and to make one’s own decisions, continuous in development and change. Blind loyalty to the power, hierarchy and state makes anarchism impossible to emerge.

  • Wars, killing and displacing people in Iraq and Kurdistan

Iraq and Kurdistan have not seen peace for over half of century. Iraq has gone through three major wars between 1980 and 2003: Iraq-Iran war, The Gulf War of 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. All these wars have intensely affected Kurdistan and its people directly or indirectly. This is in addition to the civil war, between Kurdish movement and Iraqi government that launched on 11/09/1961. This war went on and off until March 1991 when the uprising happened in Kurdistan. And from October 1992 to 1997/98 there was fighting among the fraction of Kurdish political parties themselves.

This war brought disaster to Kurdish people from both sides: the Kurdish movement and the central government of Iraq. It killed many innocent people, displaced thousands, maimed many more, destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages. The campaign of Anfal launched by Saddam Hussein between 22/02/1988 to 06/09/1988 resulted in the disappearance over 182,000 Kurdish people and over 5,000 people killed by chemical weapons.

Kurdish people in Iraq experienced the most horrible disasters of war. The suffering and trauma stay in the memory of mine and my father’s generation and cannot be forgotten.

Those of us who grew up in times of wars know how terrible the situation was. The only winners in the wars are the warlords, war traders, the big companies that make weapons and the other equipments of war and most of the time the states too. The outcome of wars to the rest of us is poverty, high prices of the daily necessity, unemployment, homelessness, and displacement, separation, forcing to move out of our lands, and becoming refugees in foreign lands. War can bring more disasters. Where there is war, there is everything except peace, unity and happiness. No doubt in the situation like that, we can only have time to think about our security, safety and running after our daily needs. This is not the moment to develop new ideas, like anarchism; in fact, hard times create more feeling of nationalism, racism and more hatred among people.

In a place where there is war, anarchism is hard to emerge – let alone to gain shape as movement. In a place where there is war, there will be growing number of state lackeys, traitors, betraying its own people. The war also quells dialog between people and restricts their freedom. Because of that not only does anarchism not develop, in fact if there is any anarchists, the war drives them to underground.

  • Kurdish society and its cultural dependence

Kurdish society in Iraq is rooted in a tradition, being a mixture of the religious and tribal hierarchy. These two elements are the base of the society and its culture. It reflects and preserves the economic structure.

We can see it in every cell of the society. Starting from the family, through nursery, school, university, company, factory, other places of work, administrations, the civil service, and the military to the very top of the society which is parliament and the leaders – all of it is based on hierarchy. In hierarchical organizations or hierarchical society, dependency is very strong. This dependency shapes the thought and mind of everyone. It is very difficult to break centralist approach, created by ever-present hierarchy. Reorganizing the society in horizontal way again is difficult; it needs educational, social, cultural and economic revolution.

In the hierarchical society with the help of its culture, culture of dependency, youngsters have to respect and obey the elders; the workers have to listen to the bosses, students to their teachers. In short the people in the bottom have to look to the top to get advice and order. This also applied to members of political parties, they had to listen to the leaders and carry out whatever they were told to do. Individuals are not independent, as they are supposed to be; they are not confident, they do not have enough trust and faith in themselves. This means everybody, every social group is restricted in thinking and making decisions. They have to obey and be loyal to their superiors and they lose their freedom of individual expression.

This is the cultural climate of Iraqi Kurdistan– Bashur, climate of many powerful tribes, many strong political parties, powerful religious faith and often “honour killings” of women. In such atmosphere individuals do not think, make decisions and sort their own problems out. They rather let others think for them, decide for them and resolve their problems whether they like it or not.

In a climate like this, while the individuals are not free, their thought and mind have been corrupted as well. Therefore, it is difficult for a new idea or thought to arrive, even harder to develop it any further.

Zaher Baher.com

False Dilemmas: A Critical Guide to the Euro Zone Crisis – from Corporate watch.

“This guide argues for opposition to the EU that is not based on discrimination or prejudice, to reclaim the space that has so far been dominated by far right movements. The crisis has cast aside any pretence of democracy; the kind of changes instituted are only possible with broad, general use of force, violence and appeals to nationalism and xenophobia. The guide documents the far reaching impacts of austerity politics and presents the main social, economic and political arguments to counter it.”

False Dilemmas

“The main conclusions to draw from this guide are that regardless of whether the country is under a Memorandum programme or not, certain rules are now imposed throughout the EU which preclude any alternative, independent economic policy that deviates even slightly from the neoliberal straitjacket.

The EU has revealed its true colours: an authoritarian, opaque, unaccountable set of institutions, governed by private lobby groups and unaccountable bureaucrats. It has spawned a racist and sexist resurgence, while drastically degrading democratic procedures, all of which have been made possible only through broad, general use of force. Debt has been used as an instrument of collective repression and as a lever to pass through extremely socially and environmentally harmful policies. To get some idea of the massive imbalance of power, we need only note that no one has been held accountable for failing banks or their debts, which were taken onto the public books, and are being paid for through the ruthless deterioration of our everyday lives.”

Download, read online or buy the book here.