Wednesday, 23 September 2020

David Graeber (1961-2020)

David Graeber (February 12, 1961 – September 2, 2020
David Graeber, anthropologist and anarchist author of bestselling books on bureaucracy and economics including Bullshit Jobs: A Theory and Debt: The First 5,000 Years, has died aged 59.
On Thursday Graeber’s wife, the artist and writer Nika Dubrovsky, announced on Twitter that Graeber had died in hospital in Venice the previous day. The cause of death is not yet known.
Renowned for his biting and incisive writing about bureaucracy, politics and capitalism, Graeber was a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement and professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics (LSE) at the time of his death. His final book, The Dawn of Everything: a New History of Humanity, written with David Wengrow, will be published in autumn 2021.
Sian Cain
Thu 3 Sep 2020 16.18 BST
AS an ethnomethodologist I immediately recognise the anthropological approach of David Graeber. For example in an essay he asks:
'If there’s a line to get on a crowded bus, do you wait your turn and refrain from elbowing your way past others even in the absence of police?'
IN the 1990s, John Lee and a colleague at Manchester University did some research work on queuing in France and found that although people didn't que in a line at metro stations in Paris etc. there was none the less a pattern with rules that could be applied without any formal enforcement. I notice that in Spain that people didn't form lines at stalls in the market place but when approaching a stall simply asked the question 'Quien es el ultimo?'. Once that was known it was not necessary to stand in a rigid line and one could freely chat and wait one's turn.*
In the UK there are regional differences and Northerners will, I think, notice a difference between people using the Underground in London and between folk waiting for the No.11 bus in say Chelsea. The Underground will seem a rougher experience for the first time user I think.
The Spanish experience will also vary according to where you are and what context: villages and small shops have slightly different customs. In Morocco, I noticed that people sleep in the bus stations over night before catching an early morning bus. Tickets were often not on sale in advance of the bus ariving because touts would buy them up and offer them for resale at a premium. And when the bus arrived at Rabat bus station a wrestling match would break out as to who could get to the front. When this happen once to me and I was forced to wait I ostentatiously took off my jacket and handed it to my wife; whereupon an observant man selling the tickets quickly arranged that we got a seat on the next bus.
TIM HARFORD the 'Undercover Economist on the FT' has examined the problem of queuing thus:
Mathematicians reckon the odds are against you. If you choose a queue at random, there will be a line on either side of you, and thus a two-thirds chance that one will be faster.
Economists take a more sophisticated view. David Friedman, for instance, argues that the relevant discipline is financial market theory. Choosing the right queue is like picking the right portfolio of shares: if it were obvious which shares were good value, they wouldn’t be good value any more. If it were obvious which queue would be quickest, everyone would join it. Naive attempts to “beat the market” will fail.
Then there is “efficient market” theory – you can’t out-perform a random choice of shares because public information is immediately incorporated into share prices. In truth, most markets are not efficient and thus it is possible for an informed decision-maker to beat them. Even if supermarket queues were efficient, no queue would be a superior bet, because expert supermarket customers would quickly join any queue that was likely to be quicker.
More likely, queues are not efficient because few have much to gain from becoming expert queuers. Some have other considerations, such as minimising the distance walked, while others shop rarely, so the calculations are more trouble than they are worth.
And unlike the stock market, which a financial wizard can make more efficient by outweighing the foolish decisions of small traders, in the supermarket a single expert queuer has a limited effect on the distribution of queuing times.
I can advise you to steer clear of elderly ladies with vouchers, but more advice would be self-defeating. Too many of your rivals would read it.
First published at
Many on the left, including some anarchists, would regard this focus on queuing as trivial. Yet the queue is central to most people's lives. In some cases in some countries it has led to riots.
Yet, Davd Graeber, the anarchist, has written: 'The truth is we probably can’t even imagine half the problems that will come up when we try to create a democratic society; still, we’re confident that, human ingenuity being what it is, such problems can always be solved, so long as it is in the spirit of our basic principles — which are, in the final analysis, simply the principles of fundamental human decency.'
* How NOT to Queue in Spain
If there was one thing that would set aside a Brit from say a Spaniard more than anything else it would probably be their attitude to queuing.
Whether a Brit examining the etiquette of queuing in Spain, or - worse still - a Brit berating a foreigner´s lack of understanding of queuing etiquette in the UK one thing is clear : Queuing etiquette is - or lack of it - is quite possibly the one thing that will drive a mild mannered granny into in a raving psychotic.
I was having a conversation on this subject with my intercambio language exchange partner the other day : What exactly is the etiquette with regards to queuing in Spain, and ditto with the UK ?
Juanjo explained to me that there wasn´t any etiquette when it came to queuing in general in Spain. In smaller Towns and Villages it may be considered polite to let the elder generation go first in certain circumstance, however, in shops it was usual practice to simply ask "¿ Quien es la Ultima ?" - which means " Who is last one [in the queue]? ".
It seem that this is time honoured tradition that has served generations of Spaniards perfectly well for generations, ensuring that the last person to enter a shop knows who the customer to be served in front of them is. That way everybody knows there place and is free to wander off or chat with friends etc...
The system only becomes problematic when in wanders clueless Guiri and either jumps his place, or fails to inform the person entering the shop behind him, where his place in the queuing system is.
As far as said Guiri is concerned, the fact that there is not a linear column of people stretching neatly away from the counter, means that there is in fact no queue.
And because said Guiri is both unaware of the existence of the etiquette he alone is responsible for the total collapse of law and order in the local Panaderia, and quite often leaves the shop frustrated at the "bunfight" that he has just caused (see what I did ? that Grammar school education wasn´t for nothing ...) and convinced that the very concept of queuing in Spain does not exist.
Juanjo conceded that as far as getting served in a bar, restaurant or market stall was concerned then queuing, as us Brits would know it, didn´t exist, and he just laughed when I asked about the etiquette of queuing for public transport.
(Have you ever wondered why you never see bus loads of Spaniards at Alton Towers ?)
On the subject of Public transport, Juanjo told me he was almost lynched once whilst on a business trip to the UK when he saw his bus approaching whilst walking with colleagues towards the Bus stop. Worried that the Bus wasn´t going to hang about longer than was necessary to let the passengers get off he sprinted down the pavement and leapt onto the Bus - seemingly ignoring the column of passengers waiting in the rain. His British colleagues did the decent thing and let him do so, casually joining the end of the queue, and letting each of the passengers shoot him their best icy glare in turn whilst waiting their turn in the queue.
I explained that I wouldn´t have been at all surprised to hear that there would have been queues of British women waiting quietly in a queue to take their place for a lifeboat on the deck of the Titanic.
Even when waiting in the Casualty department of A&E you still see some people at the triage station smiling sheepishly as the duty nurse decides that the 9" nail that they have embedded through their eyeball warrants them jumping further along the queue than the guy who just stubbed his toe.
It´s a disease we Brits are born with and will more than likely never be cured.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Lear, Tolstoy, Shakespeare and Orwell

The Play’s the Thing: Orwell and Drama (Last of Three)
by Richard Lance Keeble of the ORWELL SOCIETY
19th September 2020
Drama at the BBC: The next act
Orwell’s work for the BBC is not to end in November 1943. For through his friendship with Rayner Heppenstall, a producer at the corporation, he goes on to write two fine dramatic adaptations – of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, for the Home Service on 29 March 1946 (CWGO XIII: 179-201). The second, too often neglected, is of Little Red Riding Hood (ibid: 345-354). Just like the earlier adaptation of Andersen’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ for the BBC’s Eastern Service, this reflects Orwell’s deep interest in the fairy story genre – which finds its most famous flowering in Animal Farm – A Fairy Story, in 1945. And Orwell is to adapt his famous satire on the Russian revolution for the BBC in 1947. Crick describes it as ‘very stilted’ (1980: 493) while Orwell told his friend, Mamaine Paget: ‘I had the feeling that they had spoilt it but one nearly always does with anything one writes for the air’ (Lynskey 2019: 157).
ORWELL’s fascination with the theatre and Shakespeare in particular culminates in two remarkable ways. This first is his essay, ‘Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool’, published in Polemic, in March 1947. It has been strangely missed, or its significance downplayed, by the biographers.
There is no mention of the essay at all in either Shelden (1991) or Meyers (2000) while D. J. Taylor (2003) and Bowker (2003) only comment on it en passant. Crick (op cit: 438, 520, 522) first focuses on Orwell’s critique of anarchism and pacifism; in the third reference he points out Orwell’s ‘tempered pessimism’; only in the second reference is there any mention of Shakespeare as he describes it as ‘a profound comparison of the didacticism of Tolstoy with the tolerant humanism of Shakespeare’.
From British Library’s blog on Tolstoy and Orwell
Orwell bases his critique of Tolstoy on an obscure pamphlet in which he has damned King Lear as ‘stupid, verbose, unnatural, unintelligible, bombastic, vulgar, tedious’ etc. (1980 [1947]: 793). Tolstoy fails to consider Shakespeare as a poet. ‘Those who care most for Shakespeare value him in the first place for his use of language, the “verbal music” which even Bernard Shaw, another hostile critic, admits to be “irresistible”’ (ibid: 796). Tolstoy sees no justification for the presence of the Fool. But for Orwell it’s crucial. ‘He acts not only as a sort of chorus, making the central situation clearer by commenting on it more intelligently than the other characters, but as a foil to Lear’s frenzies. His jokes, riddles and scraps of rhyme, and his endless digs at Lear’s high-minded folly … are like a trickle of sanity running through the play….'
But Tolstoy’s essential ‘anti-human’ stance draws Orwell’s special venom. Indeed, what Tolstoy probably most dislikes about Shakespeare ‘is a sort of exuberance, a tendency to take – not so much a pleasure as simply an interest in the actual process of life’ (ibid). In other words, it’s a ‘quarrel between the religious and humanist attitudes towards life’.
An early English language edition of Tolstoy’s essay.
The plot of King Lear, Orwell argues, is essentially about renunciation. And this clearly resonates with Tolstoy’s own history. ‘In his old age he renounced his estate, his title and his copyrights and made an attempt – a sincere attempt though it was not successful – to escape from his privileged position and live the life of a peasant. … Ultimately, therefore, Tolstoy renounced the world under the expectation that this would make him happier. But there is one thing certain about his later years, it is that he was not happy’ (ibid: 799, italics in the original). Indeed, one of the morals of the play is that ‘to make yourself powerless is to invite an attack’. Moreover, all of Shakespeare’s later tragedies ‘start out with the humanist assumption that life, although full of sorrow, is worth living and that Man is a noble animal – a belief which Tolstoy in his old age did not share’. Against Tolstoy’s ‘other-worldliness’, Orwell celebrates Shakespeare’s worldly vitality, his love of life which he conveys, above all, in the ‘music of language’.
Orwell next moves on to Tolstoy’s pacifism – criticising it, along with anarchism, for being intolerant. ‘For if you have embraced a creed which appears to be free from the ordinary dirtiness of politics – a creed from which you yourself cannot expect to draw any material advantage – surely that proves you are in the right? And the more you are in the right, the more natural that everyone should be bullied into thinking likewise (ibid: 802).
In many respects, Orwell is presenting a very slanted view of Tolstoy. For instance, Peter Marshall offers a totally different picture of him in his monumental history of anarchism: ‘Although Tolstoy condemned the passions of greed, anger and lust as vigorously as any tub-thumping Puritan, he was no other-worldly moralist. He recommended the happiness which is to be found in a life close to nature, voluntary work, family, friendship and a painless death.’ Moreover, Tolstoy’s promotion of anarchistic pacifism stresses its impact on people’s well-being here and now. ‘He rejects the charge that without government there will be chaos or a foreign invasion. His experience of Cossack communities in the Urals had shown him that order and well-being are possible without the organized violence of government’ (Marshall 2008 [1992]: 370, 374).
Yet Orwell is using his picture of Tolstoy for essential rhetorical purposes – and as a foil against which he can deliver his wonderfully profound celebration of life – and the music of words of his hero, William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare not forgotten in Nineteen Eighty-Four
In Orwell’s last novel, the dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four (2000 [1949]), women are represented as both highly sexualised or the complete opposite – desexualised madonnas. In her essay, ‘Desire is Thoughtcrime’, Jenny Taylor highlights the novel’s ‘dichotomy between lust and utopian desire, between woman as Madonna and whore’ (1983: 28). Julia, the ‘girl from the Fiction Department’ – though perhaps also a Party spy engaged in a honeytrap operation – conducts a passionate, secret affair with Winston Smith. Yet in another crucial scene, Winston dreams of his mother, the good breast, as part of an Arcadian Golden age of plenitude. A girl comes towards him across the field. ‘With what seemed a single movement she tore off her clothes and flung them disdainfully aside’ (op cit: 36). But her naked body arouses no desire in him. Rather ‘What overwhelmed him in that instant was admiration for the gesture with which she had thrown her clothes aside. With its grace and carelessness it seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system of thought, as though Big Brother and the Party and the Thought Police could all be swept into nothingness by a single splendid movement of the arm. That too was a gesture belonging to an ancient time.’ And he concludes the scene triumphantly: ‘Winston woke up with the word “Shakespeare” on his lips’ (ibid).
This split in the representation of women, then, is highly problematic. Yet is it not significant that Orwell brings together the worlds of the unconscious, utopian desire and High Art with his final evocation of the name of Shakespeare?
Orwell’s love of the theatre begins in his childhood and remains constant throughout his life. It has been too often missed by biographers and Orwell scholars. Theatrical plot lines are dotted about – often wittily and imaginatively – A Clergyman’s Daughter. For instance, when Dorothy, while recovering from her breakdown, teaches at Mrs Creevy’s appalling school, Orwell has a great deal of fun describing the hoo-ha and parental protests that follow her class on Macbeth with its oh so controversial/shocking line ‘Macduff was from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripp’d’ (1976 [1935]: 387). ‘I do so adore Macbeth,’ he writes to his friend Eleanor Jaques, on 18 November 1932 and is keen to take her to see a production at the Old Vic (Orwell and Angus 1970, 1: 130-131).
Orwell does not particularly distinguish himself during his stint as drama critic (1940-1941) but many of his reviews capture his sense of humour, his love of bawdy, Max Miller-ish jokes and show him playing with ideas later to be taken up in longer essays. Then while working at the BBC, his drama interests inevitably spill over into his output. Along with all his often inventive and highly original arts feature programmes and political commentaries, he designs thirteen courses based on Calcutta and Bombay University syllabuses in English and American literature, science, medicine, agriculture and psychology and runs a series introducing drama and the mechanics of production, backed up with shortened versions of Indian plays. According to Peter Davison: ‘This had a direct effect in that two participants, Balraj and Damyanti Sahni, set up a travelling drama company in India on their return’ (1996: 117).
Interestingly, his fascination with fairy stories is reflected in two dramatic adaptions he writes for the BBC – of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ while his own version of Animal Farm is broadcast in 1947.
Moreover, the work of dramatists such as Anton Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare is constantly reflected upon during his writing career (though D. H. Lawrence’s short stories and poems especially interest him rather than the plays). The Collected Works, edited by Peter Davison (1998), indicates more than 120 references to Shakespeare, 96 to Shaw, around 30 to Wilde and 11 to Chekhov. Even while fighting in the trenches alongside Republican militiamen during the Spanish civil war in 1937, Orwell is reported by his comrade, Douglas Moyle, to find time to read his favourite dramatist: ‘I was surprised to find him sitting quietly by himself, sheltering from the cold wind, reading a little volume of Shakespeare’s plays. He didn’t speak, and I realized he would rather be left alone’ (quoted in Wadhams 1984: 80).
From British Library’s blog on Olivier and Leigh’s Macbeth
Davison even suggests that the concept of ‘Doublethink’ (the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time) of Nineteen Eighty-Four could have been drawn from Macbeth. In this play, the Porter refers satirically to equivocation. Standing at the Door of Hell, the Porter asks who knocks: ‘Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to Heaven: O come in [to Hell] equivocator’ (Davison 1996: 132). An intriguing idea.
One thing is certain, however: for it’s the Bard’s sexiness and love of life that Orwell, the theatre man, celebrates so movingly and memorably in his essay ‘Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool’.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Orwell's Politics and the English Language

Richard Horton
The Orwell Society - Home | Facebook The Orwell Society. 1.4K likes. The Orwell Society aims to promote the understanding and appreciation of the life and work of George Orwell. Join here:...
GEORGE ORWELL, in his 1945 essay Politics and the English Language, wrote that “to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration”.
The Moscow press briefing held last week on the Russian COVID-19 vaccine quickly turned into a platform for national rivalry. The research, led by scientists at the N F Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology, found encouraging evidence of an immune response using their prime boost strategy of a two-component, human recombinant adenovirus vector-based vaccine. The study was small, non-randomised, uncontrolled, and did not include those most at risk of severe disease. The Russian team recognise these limitations and are proceeding with large randomised trials. The first results were released by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Aug 13. “I know that it works quite effectively”, he said, “forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks”. At last week's event, more big claims were made. The “poorly researched approaches” by “western” nations were criticised, and one speaker challenged western governments to respond to these alleged concerns—“would you please show your citizens” evidence about the safety of western vaccine candidates given the “poorly developed platforms” you are using, he said. “It doesn't make any sense to use poorly researched approaches”, he argued. His view was that a human adenovirus vector was safer than a chimpanzee adenovirus vector (the basis for the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, for example). A press conference to present the results of a scientific study became the venue for renewed Cold War conflict.
Russia isn't the only country to use COVID-19 as a tool to fight perceived adversaries. US President Donald Trump routinely refers to SARS-CoV-2 as the “China virus”. He is seeking to amplify the American public's fear of China to wound his opponent in the current presidential campaign. In Latrobe, PA, on Sept 3, President Trump suggested that, “Joe Biden wants to surrender your jobs to China”. The message is clear—China is America's enemy, it is the cause of a pandemic that has destroyed the US economy, and the policies of the Democrat candidate will only strengthen America's chief international competitor. There is not one shred of evidence to support these claims. The twisting of language in public discussion of the pandemic is now standard fare. “Thanks to the efforts of Operation Warp Speed”, said President Trump in Wilmington, NC, on Sept 2, “we remain on track to deliver a vaccine very rapidly, in record time”. He has suggested a vaccine might be available by the end of October—an important claim given that the US election will take place on Nov 3. Yet there is no possibility that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready for public use before the US election. Orwell's reflection that language is used “with intent to deceive” in “the sordid processes of international politics” could not be more apposite.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Regarding Stuart Christie by Martin Gilbert

I ONLY met him once. It was outside the gates of Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, in 1963, Stuart had only been in London a short while. His accent was so thick I had difficulty understanding him. We were both selling papers. I had PEACE NEWS, and SANITY, (now long-gone, published by national CND). Also, we were both selling FREEDOM, a very different paper from what it has declined into. Stuart indicated that the papers were selling very well. Soon, we were were both busy chatting with different people and I never saw him again.
When he was arrested [in August 1964] reactions were very mixed. Predictabley, the media’s response was something like”….typical anarchists...”. Young CNDers and our fellow travellers showed 100% solidarity with Stuart. We had an old motor coach to aid our campaigning, so drove to Blackpool for the Labour party conference.
Readers may know that back then CND was much more establishment oriented. The line was only to approve of traditional methods of getting our messages across. This was years before national CND voted to support non violent direct action; thanks to the women at Greenham Common in 1980. So instead of following the (then) strict line we lobbied for Stuart’s release. Old campaigners were furious with us. In mitigation we claimed, incorrectly, that he was only carrying literature; which was also illegal in Franco’s Spain.
Lessons were gained from it all. One was awareness of the extent of Franco’s spies. Also, how open we and other groups were to infiltration from different kinds of Cops. But too much caution can only lead to quietism.
martin gilbert Sept. ‘20

Monday, 14 September 2020

Stuart Christie: an insider's study of an authentic classical anarchist by Brian Bamford - Part Two

ANARCHISM IS not a very well understood doctrine in British politics. I realised this when Tameside Trade Union Council first published a booklet commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War in 2006 with Durruti on the cover. The then delegates of the Greater Manchester County Association of Trade Union Council clearly didn't appreciate the publication at the time, but during the meeting a large party of French trade unionists from the CGT [communist] happened to be present and while many of the local English trade unionists held back the French delegation waded-in to buy up most of the commemorative booklets we had to hand, and even later following me to the toilets to get extra copies.
It struck us at the time how utterly frigid the English trade unionists were compared to their French 'communist' CGT comrades.
This thought occurs to me now as I now with sadness write my friend and comrade, Stuart Christie's obituary. I remember that sometime after Stuart wrote the first volume of his autobiography 'GRANNY MADE ME AN ANARCHIST', I wrote a critique of it entitled 'God Help the Anarchist movement that Needs Heroes'. This in turn led to a bitter altercation between me and Stuart on the website 'Libcom' in which I believe he labelled me 'an arsehole'. However, in 2006, it was a measure of Stuart's nobility that when I invited him to write an introduction to Tameside TUC's Spanish commemorative booklet he had no hesitation in agreeing to do the job.
He probably did it because he knew me from when I first met him in Paris in August 1964, when he was about to go on to embrace the risky venture in his ill-fated journey to Madrid and ultimately to a Spanish jail for his part in a proposed attempt to assassinate General Franco. At that time we were all staying in a 'safe house' with Germinal Garcia at his apartment near Place de la République*. My wife Joan and I were returning from Spain, having first worked in Denia, Alicante throughout 1963, and later on in early 1964 moved on to La Linea on the border with Gibraltar where I worked for the MOD at the Gibraltar airport. While in Denia my eldest lad was born at the clinica there in September 1963. While in Spain and later Gib. we had taken photos of the conditions in the shanty towns in Barcelona and we sent back reports on working conditions over there for the FIJL publication Nueva Senda. At that time we were being debriefed, and thought Stuart may have been on a similar mission to us, but soon found out that they had other plans for him. At one stage he asked for our advice and was naturally interested in our own experiences.
Stuart was still in Carabanchel jail [Madrid] when my family again returned to Spain in early 1967 on our way to work in Gibraltar having had difficulties working as an electrician in Rochdale following my involvement supporting the national engineering apprentice strikes in November 1964 and February 1964. Having been blacklisted by the British MOD and throughout Gibraltar with private companies with contracts with the MOD and other contracts with the British authorities the only place on the Rock that I had a serious chance of work was with the Gibraltar City Council, supported by the Transport & General Worker's Union and Albert Risso who had close links with Sir Joshua Hassan the Chief Minister.
The anarchists on Gibraltar at that time were active within the Transport & General Workers Union and were basically anarcho-syndicalists. Stuart identified with the syndicalists, and had fallen under the influence of Bobby Lynn who he says 'had become the backbone of the Glasgow anarchist movement'. I'd stayed with Bobby Lynn in the Gorbals in 1961 and he gave me his copy of 'The Sexual Revolution' by Wilhelm Reich. Bobby was a member of the Syndicalist Worker's Federation when I stayed with him in 1961. As news leaked of Stuart's arrest Peter Turner [FREEDOM EDITOR] had contacted Bobby Lynn in Glasgow and up there they had assured him that Stuart was so dedicated to the peace movement and that it was not likely that he was guilty as claimed by the Spanish authorities. This may have influenced the report in the syndicalist Direct Action which took the line that he must be innocent, and Wynford Hicks on behalf of the anarchists argued on TV news that he was probably the victim of an 'agent-provocateur'. Another Freedom editor Vernon Richards argued more sensibly that it mattered little whether Stuart was innocent or guilty the anarchist position should be to support him.
For my part I knew what had taken place, but anticipating returning to work in Spain and expecting to continue to help the group of young Spanish exiles of the FIJL involved with the failed attempt, I decided to remain silent. Stuart himself had not been prudent before his departure for Spain and had actually participated in a BBC2 program entitled 'Let Me Speak' hosted by Malcolm Muggeridge. Muggeridge, who had been a friend of George Orwell, had often identified morally and intellectually with Tolstoy and anarchism.
In his autobiography 'MY GRANNY MADE ME AN ANARCHIST'[2004] Stuart documents the sequence of events in the summer of 1964: 'In mid-July Salvador and Bernado [Gurucharri] told me I should be ready to leave for Paris by the end of the month. Everything was now in hand for my trip to Spain. Shortly before I left... I was invited to appear on what later turned out to be, for me, an almost disastrous chat show called Let Me Speak, on ...BBC2. Having a small spectrum of anarchists, with me and another young lad called Vincent Johnson representing the "revolutionary anarchists" Muggeridge asked me if I was sincere in my revolutionary aims...would I, for instance, given the opportunity, assassinate Franco?" It was an unlucky shot in the dark, for that was pretty damn close to what I was hoping to do. What could I say but yes?.'
It is an extraordinary admission for a revolutionary anarchist to make! I doubt that the Spaniards I knew in Paris or in Spain in the 1960s would have made such a confession on the BBC or before going on a mission such as Stuart anticipated. It's almost as if he had a death wish or secretly wanted to get caught. When we knew him in Paris in August 1964 he was hopelessly naive and clearly knew little of the reality of everyday Spanish life or working conditions. He struggled to pronounce the Spanish word for 'workers'.
On page 107 of his autobiography he writes: 'I may not have been wise or competent in what I did or the way I went about it, but I did not have the benefit of hindsight'.
Never mind 'hindsight' given what he had done did he have the benefit of foresight or even a glimpse of common sense? I say this knowing, as Stuart did, that other people suffered as a consequence of what he did and the mistakes that he and his handlers made at the time. I also say this as a friend of Stuart who exchanged correspondence with him regularly over the last few years, and had documented and detailed our differences in my earlier pamphlet. One thing that troubles me is not that he wore a kilt, but that he sported a war resister badge of a broken rifle on his chest while walking around Paris in 1964 as he carried our one-year-old son Deon. He told us that he'd visited Paris the year before in the Spring; it was more 'romantic' than in August. Being romantic was probably what attracted most people to Stuart as it was part on his charm.
Yet, when we had visited Ken Hawkes, then secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Fed., and his wife before we went to Spain in February 1963, the worst winter since 1947, they treated us to a bottle of Champagne as we'd just got married and reminded us to remove our Ban the Bomb badges before we left their house on Parliament Hill for Spain. I wonder why none of us thought to urged Stuart Christie to take off his tell-tale War resister badge?
I suppose that in August 1964, we were all a bit intoxicated by the atmosphere of a time in which Franco had just celebrated 25-years of peace, and a pale-faced Salvador Gurucharri and others had just been released from jail. In Paris, at that time, we were all in high spirits as things seemed to be moving in the right direction.
While there Stuart met other major figures in the exiled Spanish anarchist movement, the organised FIJL [Fed. of young libertarians] around the Internal Defence (DI), and including militants of long standing like Octavio Alberola* and Luis Andres Edo.
In his autobiography he describes what he did as 'the act of an adolescent' and he quotes a verse from Longfellow:
'A boy's will is the wind's will, and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.' [page 120]
On reflection he goes on to admit: 'Now it will seem like to many a foolish, naive, impulsive act...'
and 'I cannot claim, either, that it was entirely altruistic - my motives were certainly in part a desire for excitement and adventure.'
On reflection he goes on to admit: 'Now it will seem like to many a foolish, naive, impulsive act...'
Essentially he was doing what we had done a year earlier when we went to Spain to escape from what then seemed like dreary Manchester; he was he says not satisfied with what would now be called 'gesture politics' of petitions and protests, and sought to engage directly with a struggle in Spain. Foresight or prudence would make cowards of us all; it was not part of his engaging personality at that time. It set Stuart outside the smelly little left wing orthodoxies which he left behind. Yet it led him to get a 'GO TO JAIL' card to a Madrid prison cell, and was for him a life changing event.
Once in Paris Stuart had made contact with the action groups of the exiled Spanish anarchist movement, organised around Internal Defence (DI) and involving militants of long standing like Octavio Alberola and Luis Andres Edo. As such during his disastrous mission he was later arrested in Madrid and charged with the possession of explosives. These were intended for an attempt on Franco’s life and he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Thanks to a continuing international pressure he was freed after 3 years.
Why was General Franco and the Francoist regime so susceptible to international public opinion in the 1960s?
I think it was in his book 'The Face of Spain' [1950] that Gerald Brenan tried to explain the mellowing of the Franco regime. In that book he explained how the Falange and those who adhered to Franco began invest in real estate and escape the relative poverty of the 1940s and 1950s. We too quickly forget that it was not just the Spanish working-class that suffered after the Civil War, but the Spanish middle-classes experienced insecurity also. My boss Senor Such told me of how in the 1940s everyone in the fishing village where I lived and worked in 1963-4 had suffered depravation after the war and some had to eat cats. Later on it had become possible to make some progress and by the time we got there in the early 1960s things were looking up as the tourists began to arrive and with the development building work on the costas things were much more prosperous for many including the low-level Falangists. This allowed some softening of the regime which may some helped Stuart Christie escape with what turned out to be a relatively short sentence of 3-years in the end. Had he been arrested some ten years earlier for the same offence it may have been an altogether different story, but by the mid-1960s the supporters of the Franco regime felt much more secure than they had been during the Second World War or in its aftermath when to some extent Spain had been isolated internationally.
* FOOTNOTE: In the early hours of 11 May 2011, 86-year-old Germinal García, a militant of the Juventudes Libertarias (FIJL) and the Paris Local Federation of the CNT in the 1950s and 1960s, passed away (in Paris). At the end of the Spanish Civil War, 13-year old Germinal had been interned in Argeles-sur-Mer concentration camp where an unknown English woman, to whom he was ever grateful, cared for him. Stowing away on a Danish freighter, the Kitty Skov, from the port of Barcelona, he escaped to the United States, where he remained for a time in New York, passing himself off as a French citizen, returning later to France to became active in the anti-Francoist struggle. Shunning the limelight, but always in the background with his strong sense of solidarity, Germinal’s apartment in the Rue Lancry was a safe haven for comrades who had escaped from Franco’s Spain — and for guerrillas such as Quico Sabaté whenever he was in Paris (it was also used by Stuart Christie prior to his trip to Spain in 1964). For that and for his ongoing service to the libertarian movement, Germinal won the respect and friendship of all who knew him. With his passing, we have the satisfying memories and the privilege of having known the friendship of a good comrade. Germinal’s remains were cremated in Paris on 17 May 2011.
Octavio Alberola, May 12, 2011 SEE ALSO The Orwell Society - Home | Facebook The Orwell Society. 1.4K likes. The Orwell Society aims to promote the understanding and appreciation of the life and work of George Orwell. Join here:...

Sunday, 13 September 2020

STUART CHRISTIE DIES! Intro. by Brian Bamford

Stuart Christie: a Scottish anarchist writer and publisher. Who when aged 18, Christie was arrested in Madrid while carrying explosives to assassinate the Spanish caudillo, General Francisco Franco. He was later alleged to be a member of the Angry Brigade, but was acquitted of related charges.
Born: July 10, 1946, Partick, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Died: August 15, 2020
Movies: The Angry Brigade: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Britain’s First Urban Guerilla Group Organizations founded: Anarchist Black Cross Federation, Cienfuegos Press
STUART Christie was an anarchist who had quality and consistency as well as quantity and a prolific output. From the early 1960s when he first engaged with Bobby Lynn and the Glasgow anarchists to his death bed listening to 'Pennies from Heaven' Stuart sternly stuck to his beliefs dedicated to a classical version of anarchism.
My last contact with Stuart was an unusually brief e-mail from him last November in which he wrote: 'Bearing up, Brian. Hope you are too. Un abrazo!.'
However I must offer a health warning, as in the 56 years since we first became acquainted in Paris in 1964, our paths have been very different. His commitment was to internationalist view while mine since the 1960s when I lived and worked in Spain has been mostly more parochial. My engagement with the anarchist movement in Spain and later Gibraltar was very different from that of Stuart even though we were functioning in the same organisation: the FIJL (DI). My role was purely one of propaganda and intelligence, and at no time was I involved in the violent activist deeds which were designed to discourage tourism or strike at General Franco.
My task and that of my then wife, Joan, was the much more humdrum; in my case one of working on the tools as an electrician, and delivering Butane Gas to the villages on the Cabo San Antonio in Alicante. Much more boring than 'daring-do' and prison life, but a way of soaking-up Spanish culture and everyday life as it was lived by many young Spaniards at that time who migrated to the coast from places like Albacete and Andalucia: working a six day week and paid 750 pesetas. Meanwhile, our FIJL campaign against Spanish tourism clearly failed, yet fortunately less tragically than Stuart's failed mission to kill Franco.
Among the many obituaries published on Stuart the most perceptive that I have yet seen has been that of the historian Julián Casanova in El País 'El escocés de la FAI que trató de matar a Franco' Casanova argues that Stuart Christie believed that 'a fusion of different forms of resistance such as the workers, the students, the greens into the language of political anarchism. Just as Bakunin, thought it was possible to harmonise individualism with the socialist collectivism.' Casanova writes: 'He [Stuart] liked the men of action, but in reality he [Stuart] and his wife Brenda went on to propagate forms of idelogy with various cultural manifestations, which demonstrated the force of culture with ideas.'
Stuart's wife Brenda died last year aged 70 years, from cancer. Casanova writes: 'The obituaries now record that his prime intention was to kill Franco. Yet he was a committed anarchist using his pen and the engaged in cultural aggitation, in times when the revolutionaries with "conciences" have past into history. Anarchist solidarity, that reflects on the concequences of industrial capilalism, nuclear disarmament, and abuses by the State. He was a Scot who would have loved to live in the golden epoch of Spanish anarchism.'
Julián Casanova knew Stuart Christie from when he met him at Queen Mary College, London, in the Autumn of 1985. At that event were other hispanistas like Ronald Fraser, and he speaks warmly of the seminars, dinners and debates over the Spanish Civil War, Franco, the monarchy, Juan Carlos and the transistion.
It strikes me that Casanova understood Stuart better than most of us.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Think You’re Not A Racist? Take The Test!

by Les May
I LIVE in Rochdale; it is an ethnically diverse town and the district I live in is no exception. Recently I fell into a physically distanced conversation with an old man who lives in the neighbourhood about an incident in which he had been involved a week or so ago.
It seems the he and his somewhat younger wife, who has underlying health problems, had encountered a group of secondary school children in a narrow passage. Needing to negotiate the passage and the children, his wife explained that she was ‘shielding’ and went through without further ado.
When it came the turn of the old man to negotiate the group one of the teenagers, a boy, coughed over him. I don’t know exactly the old man’s age, but I do know it must be in the region of eighty, so his age significantly increases the risk of him dying if he were to become infected with Coronavirus.
The old man’s assessment was that being deliberately coughed over in the middle of a pandemic can reasonably be construed as an assault. Certainly it resulted in alarm and distress for the old man as he told me.
But there’s a twist to this story. As I mentioned earlier, Rochdale is an ethnically diverse town and the old man and the schoolboy belong to different ethnic groups. One of them would I think identify, or be identified by others, as Asian or British Asian, the other as White British. Does this fact propel what happened into a racially motivated action which ought to be reported to the police as a hate incident?
So there we are; we have a ‘perpetrator’, we have a ‘victim’ and we have the fact that the two are from different ethnic groups. In this case does context matter? Should we be ‘colour blind’ in reaching a judgement, or should we take into account the ethnicity of the ‘perpetrator’ and the ‘victim’?
Comments are welcome.

Octavio Alberola says goodbye to Stuart Christie

Octavio Alberola, who was in charge of Defensa Interior and was a close friend of Stuart’s has left us this farewell message to his friend.
Stuart Christie, comrade and friend
THE news of Stuart Christie’s death arrived by phone halfway through yesterday afternoon from comrade René after he asked if I had heard the bad news and after I quizzed him brusquely: Who’s dead? I could tell from his tone of voice that it must have been somebody close who had passed away.
René’s answer stopped me in my tracks, because even though Stuart had told me a week before that the cancer had left him still hoarse and that the findings of his medical tests were none too encouraging, it never at any moment occurred to me that he would be taken so quickly. I am surrounded by several male and female comrades – more or less of my own age – who are in none too rude health and at my age (due to turn 93 shortly) the thought that one’s days are numbered is just “normal”.
But in Stuart’s case, how could this be when he was eighteen years my junior? Besides, we had both been working on joint projects and both had been determined to plough ahead with our battles with the world of authority and exploitation.
To me, his death represents not just the loss of a comrade and friend but an end to long years collaborating on joint actions and initiatives designed to expose the injustices of the world in which we live and the fight for a fairer, freer world. A world that is possible for all of us who have not given up on wishing and trying to work towards a consistent practice of active, internationalist revolutionary solidarity.
We have known many years of brotherly relations ever since our first meeting back in August 1964 and up until 2020, without interruption. Half a century of our lives in tandem, one way or another, working on behalf of a common cause, heedless of borders. That struggle, though centred on the Spanish people’s political and social vagaries, initially under the Franco dictatorship and later under this phoney democracy spawned by the Transition/Transaction, has at all times carried the imprint of an internationalist revolutionary outlook.
The evidence of that, in Stuart’s case, was the time he spent behind bars in Spain and England, and in the case of Brenda his partner, in Germany and, in the cases of Ariane and myself, in Belgium and France. Experiences that bear witness to struggles that knew no borders as we knew that a characteristic of freedom is that it is the right of every man and woman.
So how could I not feel impelled to remember it now that our fraternization with Stuart has ended with his death? As well as with the death just a few days ago of the German comrade Doris Ensinger, the partner of Luis Andrés Edo, with whom Stuart shared some of his prison experiences and with whom he rubbed shoulders in their struggles; obviously, speaking for myself, the loss of Doris in a way represented the final ending of my fraternization-in-struggle with Luis. A finale that started some years back with Luis’s own death.
The fact is that in the case of Doris’s death too I was stopped in my tracks, startled by the news of her demise communicated to me by Manel, as barely a week earlier she had sent Tomás and me an email to let us know that she had been abruptly recalled to the hospital and undergone a transplant operation … But was now back home and feeling well …
Meaning that yet again I am brought face to face with the tenuousness of our existence and the need to preserve the memory of what we strove to be and do, to the very death.
Perpignan, 17 August 2020
Octavio Alberola
From RojoyNegro_Digital el Mar, 18/08/20; 15:02 Translated by: Paul Sharkey & REPRINTED BY KATE SHARPLEY

Conserving Deference by Christopher Draper

“The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them, high or lowly, And ordered their estate.”
(C F Alexander 1848)
OR so the NATIONAL TRUST would have us believe for 'Europe’s largest conservation charity' above all conserves Britain’s class system. Whilst the National Trust's Country Houses celebrate wealth, power and aristocratic privilege, Chairman, Tim Parker, 'a private-equity asset stripper' with 'a record of brutality and heartlessness towards workers' is sacking 1,200 people, 13% of the Trust’s workforce.
A Strange Kind of Conservation
The gullible swallow the excuse of 'Covid-related income loss' but the National Trust has over a billion pounds of investments to tide it over, not to mention the two hundred million pound personal fortune Chairman Tim Parker made by closing Clark’s shoe factories, sacking workers and outsourcing to Vietnam and then asset-stripping the AA (4,000 sacked) and KwikFit (3,500 sacked).
Charity for the Over-Privileged
National Trust is indispensable to the aristocracy as a mechanism for maintaining social status whilst avoiding taxation. The State is complicit in this game, granting the National Trust a unique legal status (1937 National Trust Act) that facilitates aristocratic tax avoidance (1953 Finance Act). Off-loading liabilities onto National Trust the toffs who remain in residence, retaining title to valuable contents which they permit the Trust to display, maintain and insure then claim back and sell when financially opportune – all for merely allowing limited public access. Income-producing assets such as shops, farms, pubs, holiday cottages etc are also retained. It is a cynically perpetuated myth that there’s been any fundamental redistribution of landed wealth and power in Britain since the Victorian era.
Welcome to Dudmaston Hall
'I am Elfrida and I live here with Mark and our two children, Oscar and Rachel, plus a few family pets! We have followed in the footsteps of Mark’s parents, James and Alison Hamilton-Russell…The photographs we have spread around the Entrance Hall and family rooms belong to the Hamilton-Russell family – most of which have been taken somewhere here at Dudmaston – see if you can spot where! As a visitor to the house, not many people realise that your front door is our front door…' This drivel continues and comprises the introductory leaflet I was handed on arrival at Dudmaston, as volunteer room guides, with hushed deference, revealed that lady bountiful herself was arranging flowers in the hallway. The Trust fosters this reverential aura of enduring aristocracy, inviting visitors to share their jaundiced view of reality.
Thoughts of Chairman Tim
Tim approves of this nonsense and is so pleased with the “history” projected by the Trust’s country houses that he told the Daily Express, 'Immigrants should visit stately homes to feel more British…we all of us need to have a sense of how we arrive at where we are today' - although not all of us arrived in a Porsche, with £200m in the bank and owning expensive homes in Hampshire and Chelsea.
The British?
Managing mansions is NT’s core business and each embodies, promotes and celebrates an air-brushed version of aristocracy from which all reference to slavery, exploitation, racism, criminality and colonial oppression has been excised; a picture of the past in which the great mass of ordinary, working class people are invisible. When immigrants, on Tim’s recommendation, visit the grand houses over which he presides the only “British” they see represented, from Francis Drake to Robert Clive, were in large part rapacious racists and ruthless exploiters sufficiently deferential to monarchy to be 'ennobled'. 'Their story' never was 'Our story'.
Who Lives in a House Like This?
The Trust’s selection of whose story is told starts with its acquisition of properties – a portfolio stuffed with grand country houses but no mining villages, holiday camps, allotments or council flats. As Times correspondent Brian Hughes observed in 2007 'The National Trust has always been keener on conserving the houses of the rich and powerful than those of the riff-raff…' In recent years Trust made a token effort to acquire a few less than grand houses, usually because they’re associated with 'celebrity' but of all the hundreds of National Trust properties only one represents radical challenge to class privilege and that’s Rosedene an 1840’s Chartist cottage. Even then the Trust restricts visits and uses the cottage as a holiday let. 'English Heritage' criticises the National Trust’s misrepresentation of the property as 'visitors are presented with a slightly rosy interpretation of rural life rather than the revolutionary force that Chartism represented in the mid-nineteenth century.'
Kedleston Hall
In contrast, the National Trust is keen that you 'Experience the ambitious grandeur of this lavishly decorated 1760’s show palace, lived in over the centuries by the Curzon family. Discover the treasures of the Eastern Museum, a collection amassed by Lord Curzon while he travelled through Asia and during his service as the Viceroy of India...” There’s no hint from NT that Curzon imposed divide and rule, setting Hindu against Muslim, - an arrogant Imperialist, even Balliol, his old college has hidden away his portrait out of post-colonial embarrassment. Nor does the Trust care to mention that Kedleston’s current incumbent, the Hon. Richard Francis Nathaniel Curzon was in 2016 jailed for serial convictions of driving whilst banned. His older brother, the Rt Hon. Peter Ghislaine Nathaniel Curzon, the 4th Viscount Scarsdale is the rightful occupant of Kedleston’s 23-roomed Georgian Wing and two servants’ flats granted rent free in perpetuity by the Trust but he was imprisoned for refusing to pay his divorce settlement and never returned. Perhaps fear rather than prejudice prevents the National Trust/i> from including such unsavoury aristocratic history for Peter Curzon warned a Daily Mail reporter who tracked him down, 'Be careful what you write because people like us are very powerful – how do think Earls can do away with their nannies and disappear?'
Conserving Privilege
It’s difficult to unearth the range of privileges NT concedes to 'donors' as it refuses to publish these 'gentleman’s agreements'. They’re often arrived at informally, 'between friends', only for this imprecision to cause rifts when subsequent generations claim title to valuable contents. This occurred, for example, at Chirk Castle where descendants reclaimed and sold several valuable items before NT formalised contracts.
At Penrhyn Castle, Richard Charles Harper Douglas-Pennant retains title to a mansion in the grounds as well as 75% of the castle’s contents. NT’s Castle guidebook originally featured Jan Steen’s painting of the 'Burgomeister of Delft', until in 2004 it was withdrawn from exhibition on Douglas-Pennant’s instruction and sold for £8.1m. The current edition of the guidebook features Rembrandt’s portrait of 'Catrina Hoogsaet – the masterpiece of the collection', unfortunately Douglas-Pennant reclaimed and sold that in 2015 for £35m. In lieu of paying inheritance tax on that sale the government accepted title of 34 minor paintings already on show in the castle, including six eighteenth century watercolours of Jamaica where the family owned sugar plantations until 1943.
Bodnant Gardens is unusual amongst NT properties, as it wasn’t financed from profits of the slave trade but here, as elsewhere, NT assists in hiding aristocratic skeletons. There’s a deafening silence over the curious disinheritance of John Pochin, the only son of the garden’s founder (hence the estate passed from the “Pochins” down the female line to the “McLarens”). Then there’s Charles Melville McLaren’s guilty secret - until three years before he died, Lord Aberconway, father of the present incumbent, concealed the fact that he was amongst a group of seven British businessmen who secretly met Goering and other leading Nazis on an island off the German coast, just three weeks before war was declared in a last ditch appeasement attempt to offer Hitler a 'second Munich agreement'. The tragic effect of this meeting was to encourage the Nazis to invade Poland in the belief that Britain would not fight.
At Bodnant the Trust maintains the accessible 82 acre gardens but the family retain ownership of the 5,000 acre estate which includes farms, forestry, holiday cottages and retail outlets that the National Trust obligingly channels 260,000 visitors through each year. Michael Duncan McLaren forbids access to Bodnant Hall even though he works in London as a highly successful commercial barrister owning multi-million pound houses in Kensington and Tuscany.
Venite Adoremus
Plas Newydd was given to the Trust by the Marquis of Anglesey in 1976 but the family retain ownership of Parys Mountain which supplied invaluable copper to the African slave trade. You wouldn’t learn this from the National Trust’s presentation of the property nor would you discover much about the extraordinary life of the flamboyantly camp fifth Marquis of Anglesey as the family don’t want this publicised. The Marchioness does wish that her late husband’s study remains on view, unchanged and maintained as a shrine to his memory and NT duly complies. The Trust’s site manager, Jane Richardson, did clash with the Marchioness over her insistence on limiting public access to the gardens but was forced to concede after she was 'given a very, very clear steer' by the Trust’s Director General 'That I have a responsibility to work with the donor family and to keep them happy'!
Conserving Control
The National Trust’s Constitution provides for the restraint rather than representation of members’ views. It is a centralised and hierarchical organisation with a Chairman heading a ruling Council while the executive wing is controlled by a 'Director-General' and 'Executive Team'. Although NT comprises 14,000 staff, 65,000 volunteers and 5.6 million members they have little opportunity to influence policy.
In 2013 the National Trust bosses commissioned Leicester Business School to investigate disaffection amongst volunteers. In 2015 it concluded, 'Volunteers often felt a sense of marginalisation with respect to decision making, property developments, skills utilisation and creative input.' A staff member reported, 'I agree with the volunteers. The volunteers’ complaints are being dismissed as 'bad behaviour' by management. 'As paid staff we cannot express our opinions or feelings, we just have to toe the line.' 'Kim' articulated management’s response, 'We need them to buy into what we are ultimately trying to achieve!'
Sheep and Goats
Trust bosses claim “Our pay policy recognises that our staff are not motivated or attracted solely by pay…” and reflecting the organisation’s charitable status most of the workforce are indeed modestly remunerated although the bosses employ a different yardstick in calculating their own pay and, conveniently, “The pay arrangements for senior managers are not covered by the Partnership Agreement”. The National Trust’s top 15 bosses pocket two million pounds a year between them while Director-General Hilary McGrady “earns” £190,000 plus perks. Perks for top managers include accommodation in properties donated to the Trust but not open to the public. Thomas Hardy’s home, “Max Gate”, for instance was quietly acquired by the Trust in 1940 but kept under wraps and only opened to visitors 54 years later. Scotney Castle was donated to the Trust in 1970 but wasn’t opened to the public until 2007. For most of the 1970’s and 1980’s Margaret Thatcher occupied a three-bedroomed apartment at Scotney but despite the determined efforts of M.P.Dennis Skinner, National Trust bosses refused to disclose details of this cosy arrangement.
Manipulating the Membership
National Trust members can stand for a position on the ruling Council or submit a motion for debate at the AGM, where nominations and resolutions are decided by members’ votes, but there’s an important proviso. Members not attending routinely authorise the Chairman to vote on their behalf. Most people assume this provides a casting vote in the event of a stalemate but this isn’t the practice at the Trust. The National Trust chairmen, past and present, employ thousands of these 'proxy votes' to systematically vote down motions otherwise endorsed by the majority of members. The anti-democratic effect of this procedure has been denounced at AGM’s for more than fifty years, prompting one unsuccessful nominee, Nicholas Fry a trustee of Chester Cathedral, to describe the Council as a 'a self-perpetuating oligarchy'
In 2000 two Q.C.’s, who were also Trust members, successfully proposed a resolution banning the use of the Chair’s 'block vote' only for it to be overturned by the Chairman’s 'block vote'! Facing a membership increasingly angry at the Trust continuing to allow fox hunting on its land, in 2002 the Chairman made free use of the 100,000 'proxies' in his pocket to pack the Council with blood-sports enthusiasts including Clarissa Dickson Wright and Nicholas Soames MP. With a curious irony the National Trust’s 'democratic deficit' was denounced by the House of Lords! Forced to reform, the Trust’s Chair was compelled to reveal to members, for the first time, exactly how many proxy votes he cast at AGM’s and proxy voting for Council membership was abolished. Members were then directed which candidates to vote for and these names were printed in bold-type on ballot papers! In a rare victory, at the 2015 AGM, members finally voted out this disgraceful practice despite the chairman casting 4,065 proxy votes against. Of the total of 18 members’ resolutions submitted to the last 7 AGM’s the Chair opposed every single one including motions on ending trail hunting, on banning barbed wire and even on serving Fairtrade tea in the Trust's cafes.
At the 2017 AGM members would have finally banned trail hunts (which are a ruse to continue fox hunting with terrier men convicted for releasing foxes to be ripped to pieces by trail hounds) but the Chair cast 3,460 proxy votes to 'keep on killing'. Seventy or so trail hunts operate on National Trust land but with the 3-year exclusion rule (for resubmitting resolutions) expiring in 2020 the ban was due to be voted on again at this year’s AGM and members were confident of victory. Curiously the National Trust bosses decided to cancel the meeting. Meanwhile the Scottish National Trust responded to Covid by moving its 2020 AGM online. the National Trust adamantly rejects its members’ calls to follow suit.
Beyond Reform
As I’ve illustrated in this series of articles, the National Trust is fundamentally class-biased, racist, uninterested in ending animal cruelty or supporting environmentally friendly transport and the bosses are antipathetic to the views of volunteers, workers and members. It is an undemocratic corporation that’s proved itself incapable of internal reform and must be broken up to create numerous smaller, localised, perhaps county-sized, independent Trusts more willing and better able to reflect the many and varied histories of the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Christopher Draper (Part 4 of 4-part NT series)

Friday, 11 September 2020


YESTERDAY TOPLESS Extinction Rebellion activists were seized by police after padlocking themselves to the gates of Parliament with a banner reading 'Can't Bare the Truth?' today on the final day of climate change protest.
About 30 women gathered in central London wearing just face masks branded with '4C' and trousers, and joined hands as they chained themselves to the black railings surrounding the Palace of Westminster.
The women used D-locks to chain themselves by the neck to the railings at 9.30am on the final day of the XR protests in London.
The Metropolitan Police began shifting the women around mid-day. A spokesperson for the Met said they could not confirm the number of women arrested during the protest.
XR tweeted in response to today's demonstration: The forces of the state mobilise to crush dissent & protect the interests of the powerful, mothers & babies step up to defend the truth. We are in a #ClimateEmergency.
We face a 4C increase in temperature in the lifetime of this child. 4C = the death of millions. #WeWantToLive'.
XR activist and teacher Sarah Mintram told the Daily Mail: 'Now we've got your attention. By neglecting to communicate the consequences of a 4C world - war, famine, drought, displacement - the Government are failing to protect us.'
Officers removed the D-locks from their necks and took the women to police stations in four separate vans as supporters cheered the protesters on from Parliament Square.
The radical climate action group made headlines at the weekend after it blockaded the Newsprinters printing presses and delayed the distribution of hundreds of thousands of newspapers including the Mail.

The Wrong Kind Of News by Les May

I HAVE never taken Extinction Rebellion (XR) very seriously and I increasingly see their performances as a bit of street theatre. In part this is because when I hear people say they have 'demands' it tends to make me think they have a much higher sense of their own importance than I am inclined to assign them; in part it is because I think they give the impression that they have simple answers to complex issues.
So far as I understand their latest stunt, blockading access to printing presses, it is because the papers printed on them are unsympathetic to their views and don't print the sort of news regarding the issue of climate change that they would like to see. My response to this is 'Welcome to the real world'. Try getting anyone in the mainstream media to take seriously alternative viewpoints about, for example, raising of the pension age for women, domestic violence, contact with children following family breakdown, rape and sexual assault, etc.
Annoying though this is, not publishing the things the XR people would like to see is neither censorship nor an attack on freedom of speech. No one is saying 'you cannot say that', they are just saying 'don't expect us to print what you do say'. If XR owned the papers how much news would be published expressing scepticism about human activities being the cause of climate change?
In 1972 the Club of Rome published a study called The Limits to Growth (LtG) so the issues which XR are now addressing have been known for nearly half a century. Had this been taken seriously at the time we would not now be facing the same level of climate change. The problem XR needs to address is not how to get governments to sign up to their demands; it is how to persuade all the people who elect those governments that we have to consume less materials and energy, and that unlimited economic growth is a fantasy. The rapid shift to buying goods ordered on-line and the insistence of many people that they must have a continental holiday this year in spite of the Covid 19 pandemic, does not suggest to me that there is any great enthusiasm for reducing consumption. Changing that is where the work needs to be done.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Walking the Covid tightrope: a Bluffer's Guide

Taking a chance on exposure to Covid-19
TIM HARFORD at the end of August in his Financial Times column measured the risks of going outside and the perils of the pandemic on the street. A friend of his asked: 'What I want is a survival guide for life in the age of Covid,' The man is in his sixties and has barely left home since March mostly because of the risks of travelling on the underground seem too great. Yet the man knows that his instincts may be wrong.
Tim Harford writes: 'The typical English resident, then, has a 44 in a million chance each day of being infected. In the US, the midpoint of epidemiological models suggests around 150,000 new infections a day, or 450 per million people per day, about 10 times the risk in England. In South Korea, despite the recent spike in confirmed case, the risk of infections is probably closer to 1 or 2 per million people per day.'
These averages include folk who take precautions, people who work in exposed professions and everyone inbetween. So Mr Harford says he can only guess how much his friend's risk increases if he should decide to venture outside. Yet he estimates that for his friend Covid-19 currently presents a background risk of a one in a million chance of death or lasting harm, every day. And he claims that the 'risk of death alone is one in 2m.'.
Finally Tim Harford FT article concludes: 'But simply existing in a country where the virus is uppressed but circulating is not so risky. It depends on age, gender, geography, behaviour and much else. But on average it is half a micro-mort a day-similar to taking a bath, a going skiing, or a short motorbike ride, and consideringly less risky than a scruba dive or a skydive.'
Later Tim Harford following much publicity about the risk of taking a bath, has had to admit that he was wrong and that in truth one would have take a bath for a year to run an equivalent risk, but the risk of sky diving, and scuba diving is considerably more dangerous. What really worries Mr. Harford, the host on the Radio Four program 'MORE OR LESS' dedicated to understaning statistics, is the danger of the virous surging back; and he writes: 'We cannot afford to relax just yet, because we will be walking a tightrope this autumn.'

Unite launches campaign to stop Go Ahead Group

using COVID 19 as cover to slash pay and conditions
UNITE, Britain's biggest union, has launched an international campaign to stop the owners of the Manchester bus company Go North West from using Covid 19 as cover for making savage cuts to bus drivers' pay and conditions, while victimising and gagging a Unite union representative.
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey has written to Go Ahead Group's CEO David Brown to warn him that Unite will be using all available resources to provide "immediate assistance to our members".
"In addition to industrial action this will mean exposing your company’s behaviour to all of your stakeholders, partners and associates. This will include mobilising all of our allies and contacting our significant political network in the Nordic countries, Germany and Australasia."
Despite continuing to make millions in profits, Go North West's parent company, Go-Ahead is trying to use COVID 19 as cover to make savage cuts to bus drivers' pay, terms and conditions in Manchester. The company is intending to ‘fire’ the entire workforce to get what they want and then ‘rehire’ those that agree to accept inferior contracts. At the same time management is trying to ‘gag’ and sack Colin, a Union Rep who refused to agree the company’s demands.
Unite is calling on the company to stop 'fire & rehire’, stop the bullying and stop the cuts and enter into constructive negotiations with the drivers' union Unite. The drivers are currently being consulted on industrial action.
The company is demanding that drivers accept cuts to terms and conditions, including changes to their scheduling agreement that will cost each driver £3,500 per year on average, an unpaid increase in working hours and slashing sick pay arrangements. But Go Ahead PLC is a profitable company. The company expects its overall operating profit for the year ending June 27 2020 to be between £63m to £75m. There is no need to cut the pay and conditions of workers. This is being done out of greed - purely to increase profit.
After refusing to sign away the terms and conditions of his members, union Rep Colin, is being threatened with the sack on trumped up charges. As the only union Rep not ‘furloughed’, Colin was singled out and repeatedly, bullied by senior managers who wanted him to agree cuts without talking to his members. As part of Colin’s suspension notice the company included a ‘gagging order’, banning him from speaking to anyone who worked for Go Ahead including family members.
Unite executive officer, Sharon Graham said: "Despite continuing to make millions in profits, Go head are trying to use COVID 19 to ‘fire and rehire’ their drivers and make savage cuts to pay, terms and conditions in Manchester. The company has targeted, bullied and victimised our union rep to try to bulldoze through its plans. This is the tip of the iceberg. If Go Ahead get away with this in Manchester they will try and roll-out ‘fire and rehire’ elsewhere. Unite will not allow bad employers to use COVID 19 to attack their workforce.
"Go North West's managing director Nigel Featham has put the company on course for an unnecessary conflict. His actions could lead to lasting damage to the reputation of Go Ahead both throughout this country and overseas. Our message to the company is fair and simple - drop the disciplinary action against our union representative, drop your ‘fire & rehire’ threat and get around the negotiating table. Unite will not let profitable firms like Go Ahead use the pandemic as cover for cuts.”
For more information contact Ciaran Naidoo 07768 931 315
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web:
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Belarus: Stop the violence - defend democracy

Presidential elections were held in Belarus on August 9. They were once again blatantly falsified in favour of the long-serving ruler Lukashenko. This caused a storm of popular protest.
The security forces responded with an unprecedented terror: mass arrests, beatings and torture of protesters.
A wave of spontaneous work stoppages swept across the country. Workers started to form strike committees to prepare for a nationwide general strike in support of democratic change. The strikers demands include: recognise the results of the presidential elections as invalid, release all political prisoners and demonstrators, prevent the persecution of the strike participants and cancel the system of short term contracts.
The administration and security services are putting tremendous pressure on the strikers, members of the strike committee and their families. Many are threatened with dismissal. Activists are being detained by security services.
We must help stop the wave of violence.
Please support the online campaign supported by independent trade unions in Belarus and global unions, here:
And please - share this message with your friends, family and fellow union members.
Thank you!
Eric Lee

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Not Just A Bit Of ‘Wacky-Baccy’ by Les May

Not Just A Bit Of ‘Wacky-Baccy’ ,
IT SEEMS that the chickens are finally coming home to roost for some Rochdale councillors. Perhaps now they will take seriously the threat of gangsterism in parts of the town.
Last autumn in a series of articles I drew attention to an attack by a hastily assembled gang in the Newbold area which left one young man with life changing injuries when his hand was hacked off by an axe wielding individual who, along with three compatriots, was later sent to prison.
I also published an ‘open letter’ which had been sent individually to all Rochdale councillors asking them to publicly condemn the attack which, although clearly a case of gangsterism, had racial overtones.
Only a few councillors were courteous enough to reply. All were happy to reassure me that they were not ‘racist’, but none were willing to go on record and condemn this attack and the gangsterism it entailed. This led me to conclude that it was reasonable to describe Rochdale Council as ‘institutionally racist’.
Ten months later we have a report that three people, two men and a woman, were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs. These are considered to be the most harmful and include heroin, methadone, cocaine (including crack cocaine), ecstasy, magic mushrooms and ‘crystal meth’. The arrests took place at addresses in Newbold and Deeplish.
As the estimated ‘street value’ of these drugs isn’t far from one million pounds, we are clearly not talking about a bit of ‘wacky-backy’ in a roll up under the canal bridge. A haul valued at £900,000 points to organised crime, and organised crime points to the involvement of a gang or gangs. With this kind of money involved it makes a mockery of the idea that one can blame the problems of these areas on ‘deprivation’.
If these arrests result in convictions I don’t think it is too much to ask that on this occasion councillors of all political stripes begin to take the problem of gangsterism seriously and say so.

Press Baron's news outlets blocked

Boris Johnson condemns Extinction Rebellion protesters
YESTERDAY it was reported that Boris Johnson had condemned the Extinction Rebellion protesters for trying to silence free speech after they blocked access to three printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch. The blockade affected the distribution of several national newspapers – including The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Times and The Telegraph – which arrived late on newsstands on Saturday. Mr Johnson labelled the protests ‘unacceptable’ and pointed out that a free press was ‘vital’ for holding his Government to account for its actions on climate change. He tweeted: ‘A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change. It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.’
More than 100 protesters – who accused the papers of failing to report on climate change – used vehicles and bamboo structures to block roads outside three press sites in Hertfordshire, Merseyside and North Lanarkshire. Police said 72 people have now been arrested. Home Secretary Priti Patel accused the protesters of carrying out an ‘attack on democracy’. She wrote: ‘This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion. This attack on our free press, society and democracy is completely unacceptable.’
Yet do we have a free press?
In his book 'THE PREVENTION of LITERATURE' [Polemic, No.2 January 1946] George Orwell wrote: 'In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureacracy. Any wrter or journalist who wants to retain his integrity finds himself thwarted by the general drift of society rather than active persecution. The sort of things that are working against him are the concentration of the press in the hands of a few rich men, the grip of monopoly on radio anf the films, the unwillingness of the public to spend money on books, making it necessary for nearly for nearly every writer to earn part of his living by hack work, the encroachment of official bodies like the M.O.I. [Ministry of Information] and the British Council, which help the writer to keep alive but also waste his time and dictate his opinions...'
Orwell was writing in a time of war, but can the typical journalist today claim to be free and independent of the press barons like Murdock etc?
Boris Johnson has condemned Extinction Rebellion protesters for trying to silence free speech after they blocked access to three printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch. The blockade affected the distribution of several national newspapers – including The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Times and The Telegraph – which arrived late on newsstands on Saturday. Mr Johnson labelled the protests ‘unacceptable’ and pointed out that a free press was ‘vital’ for holding his Government to account for its actions on climate change. He tweeted: ‘A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change. ‘It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.’ More than 100 protesters – who accused the papers of failing to report on climate change – used vehicles and bamboo structures to block roads outside three press sites in Hertfordshire, Merseyside and North Lanarkshire. Police said 72 people have now been arrested. Home Secretary Priti Patel accused the protesters of carrying out an ‘attack on democracy’. She wrote: ‘This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion. This attack on our free press, society and democracy is completely unacceptable.’
Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry told Times Radio she was concerned for older readers who may have missed out on their daily dose of news. She said: ‘I don’t really know what it is that is expected to be achieved and I know that for many older listeners it’s very much part of their daily life, getting their paper delivered in the morning and I just think it’s wrong.’ A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change. It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) September 5, 2020 This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion.This attack on our free press, society and democracy is completely unacceptable.— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) September 5, 2020 The Sun accused the protesters of carrying out an ‘attack on all the free press’. Today’s Sun carried an opinion piece by Sir David Attenborough calling on Brits to do more to tackle climate change. The piece was commended by Carrie Symonds, Mr Johnson’s fiancé, who said the protest was an own goal. She wrote: ‘I care about climate change and biodiversity a massive amount but preventing a free press to spread this message further is just wrong. Not to mention all those small businesses that rely on being able to sell newspapers.’
Read more:
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While owned by News Corp, the presses also print other titles such as the Evening Standard. Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook wrote an opinion piece for the Standard the day of the protests, leading some to accuse the organisation of hypocrisy. The co-founder of XR actually wrote a column for the standard yesterday before hurrying over to blockade their printing presses— Martha Gill (@Martha_Gill) September 5, 2020 A good day to #buyanewspaper A free press matters to all of us who value a free society. They mustn’t be silenced by an intolerant minority.— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) September 5, 2020 Extinction Rebellion defended the blockade by accusing the papers of not paying enough attention to climate change. A spokesman said: ‘We are in an emergency of unprecedented scale and the papers we have targeted are not reflecting the scale and urgency of what is happening to our planet. ‘To any small businesses disrupted by the action this morning we say, “We’re sorry. We hope that our actions seem commensurate with the severity of the crisis we face and that this day of disruption successfully raises the alarm about the greater disruption that is coming”.’

Friday, 4 September 2020

Not Just A Bit Of ‘Wacky-Baccy’ by Les May

IT SEEMS that the chickens are finally coming home to roost for some Rochdale councillors. Perhaps now they will take seriously the threat of gangsterism in parts of the town.

Last autumn in a series of articles I drew attention to an attack by a hastily assembled gang in the Newbold area which left one young man with life changing injuries when his hand was hacked off by an axe wielding individual who, along with three compatriots, was later sent to prison.

I also published an open letter which had been sent individually to all Rochdale councillors asking them to publicly condemn the attack which, although clearly a case of gangsterism, had racial overtones.

Only a few councillors were courteous enough to reply. All were happy to reassure me that they were not ‘racist’, but none were willing to go on record and condemn this attack and the gangsterism it entailed. This led me to conclude that it was reasonable to describe Rochdale Council as institutionally racist.

Ten months later we have a report that three people, two men and a woman, were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs. These are considered to be the most harmful and include heroin, methadone, cocaine (including crack cocaine), ecstasy, magic mushrooms and ‘crystal meth’. The arrests took place at addresses in Newbold and Deeplish.

As the estimated ‘street value’ of these drugs isn’t far from one million pounds, we are clearly not talking about a bit of ‘wacky-backy’ in a roll up under the canal bridge. A haul valued at £900,000 points to organised crime, and organised crime points to the involvement of a gang or gangs. With this kind of money involved it makes a mockery of the idea that one can blame the problems of these areas on ‘deprivation’.

If these arrests result in convictions I don’t think it is too much to ask that on this occasion councillors of all political stripes begin to take the problem of gangsterism seriously and say so.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Charlie Hebdo & Prophet Muhammad cartoons

Al Jazeera 2/09/20:
Move comes a day before 13 men and one woman - accused of assisting the 2015 attackers of the newspaper - go on trial.
The French satirical newspaper whose Paris offices were attacked in 2015 is reprinting the controversial caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that the gunmen who opened fire on its editorial staff cited as their motivation.
The move was announced on Tuesday, a day before 13 men and a woman accused of providing the attackers with weapons and logistics go on trial on charges of terrorism on Wednesday.
In an editorial this week accompanying the offensive caricatures, the paper said the drawings "belong to history, and history cannot be rewritten nor erased".
The January 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo and, two days later, a kosher supermarket, touched off a wave of killings claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group across Europe.
Seventeen people died in the attacks - 12 of them at the editorial offices - along with all three attackers.
The attackers, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, claimed their attack on the newspaper in the name of al-Qaeda. As they left the scene at Charlie Hebdo, they killed a wounded policeman and drove away.
Two days later, a prison acquaintance of theirs stormed a kosher supermarket on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, claiming allegiance to ISIL. Four hostages were killed during the attack.
The decision to republish the cartoons will be seen by some as a defiant gesture in defence of free expression. But others may see it as a renewed provocation by a publication that has long courted controversy with its satirical attacks on religion.
The caricatures re-published this week were first printed in 2006 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, setting off sometimes violent protests by some Muslims who found the depictions offensive.
The Prophet Muhammad is deeply revered by Muslims and any kind of visual depiction is forbidden. The caricatures were perceived as linking him with terrorism.
Charlie Hebdo, infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, regularly caricatures religious leaders from various faiths and republished them soon afterwards.
The paper's Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editorial leadership placed under police protection, which remains in place to this day.
Laurent Sourisseau, the newspaper's director and one of the few staff to have survived the attack, named each of the victims in a foreword to this week's edition.
"Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular," wrote Sourisseau, also known as Riss.
The president of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, urged people to "ignore" the cartoons, while condemning violence.
The suspects, who go on trial from 08:00 GMT on Wednesday, are accused of providing various degrees of logistical support to the killers.
The trial had been delayed several months with most French courtrooms closed over the coronavirus epidemic.
The court in Paris will sit until November 10 and, in a first for a terrorism trial, proceedings will be filmed for archival purposes given public interest.
National anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard dismissed the idea that it was just "little helpers" going on trial since the three gunmen were now dead

The ‘Tyranny’ Of Social Obligation

By Les May
‘There is no such thing as society must be one of the best known comments by Margaret Thatcher . For her critics it became shorthand for a crassly individualistic world view that prized selfishness and the trashing of social obligations. For her acolytes this crude shorthand became an excuse for the policies which have come to be known, and despised by people like me, as ‘Thatcherism’. Now it appears that this crude version is alive and prospering in the minds of those protesting against the ‘tyranny’ of being told they should wear a mask in public places and practice physical distancing.
In fact Thatcher was saying something a little more nuanced than is immediately apparent in the well known version of the quote. Her point was that the state cannot solve all our problems, we have to accept some level of personal responsibility. As a democratic socialist I believe that only the state can ensure that we all have access to decent housing, lifelong healthcare and education irrespective of our income, because the so called ‘free market’amplifies and exploits inequality.
Even people who do not share my political stance readily slip into the belief that when they are ill it is the job of the NHS to restore them to health and I doubt that the protesters are any exception. If they shake off the tyranny of having to physically distance themselves and by chance meet someone who, like them, refuses to wear a mask in public and so become infected with Covid19, which of course some of their compatriots think does not exist anyhow, and go on to require hospitalisation, it is NHS staff who will risk their lives nursing them.
Wearing a mask in public places and maintaining physical distance isn’t about what the law requires it is about each of us accepting that we have a responsibility to avoid infecting others. Perhaps these demonstrators who prize selfishness above all else and reject the notion of social obligations have never known anyone who has been infected with the virus. I know three, two of them in my family and one a nearby neighbour. None of them reported it as ‘a little flu’.