18 December 2007

Taser Torture in Britain

Today we can read in the Guardian that a totally innocent car driver, Mr Sylvester, was stopped on the street in London by armed police. When he got out of the car, he was ‘tasered’ several times and collapsed onto the street breaking a front tooth. His car was searched while he writhed in agony in his blood and urine.

While a case can be made for tasers – i.e. that they are a usually non-lethal alternative to a firearm – they are in fact often deployed as instruments of on the spot torture without the bruises. Two thirds of those tasered in London were black, so we can now update the old saying, ‘the only good nigger is a well tasered one.’ The sole defence a police officer need give, it would seem, is that the victim was, or in Mr Sylvester’s case might become, aggressive.

In 2005 police officers followed a suspect (in this case again a completely innocent one) from the street into the London Underground and, without attempting to arrest him, assassinated him on the spot. When the result of that incident is that the police are not to blame and only a few operational procedures need adjustment, what real hope is there that victims of taser torture will receive justice.

12 December 2007

Open Borders

At midnight on 20 December Hungarian border guards will pack up their bags on the frontiers with Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia and thereafter anyone can pass without let or hindrance. Hungary along with Malta, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and the Baltic states will join the Schengen agreement making possible unimpeded land travel across most of the EU plus Norway and Iceland. (Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland and Cyprus will join Schengen later.)

All of this contrasts sharply with the control freaks in London. Last summer witnessing the ‘border’ with France at Ashford international railway station, I was reminded of Berlin’s former Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. Not only will border controls be maintained, but they will be reinforced with details kept of everybody entering and leaving the UK. Ireland, to retain its travel free arrangements with Britain, is effectively debarred from Schengen.

One could argue that this British paranoia is driven by its island geography, except for the fact that Iceland, Malta and Cyprus are Schengen members or candidates. Much more of a factor is the cynical motive of the London government to stress the ‘threat to Britain’ and then to be seen to be ‘tough’ by imposing stricter border controls. Gordon Brown hopes that this kind of jingoism will garner his failing New Labour government popular support.

6 December 2007

CONQUEST, Robert - Lenin

Fontana 1972

Read October 2007

This short book is clear and insightful. Though written in an age when the legacy of Lenin was still widely honoured throughout the world, the book seems to have avoided irrelevance in the post 1989 epoch. Lenin’s thought is set against the Russian social and intellectual context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Conquest also binds in Lenin’s own distinctive personality into the analysis of his success and legacy. In structure, the book deals chronologically with the development of Lenin’s political thought and activities, with clearly defined chapters on specific topics, e.g. the revolutionary party, the state, etc.

Many on the left will be rightly sceptical of Conquest. His history as Communist Party member turned Washington-approved anti-Soviet academic raises suspicions that his motive is more to discredit the left than to evaluate Lenin. While, of course, Conquest’s criticisms of Lenin are nowhere hidden in the book, they are accompanied by articulate evidence from which the reader can draw his or her own judgments. But often, it must be admitted, Conquest’s judgments resonate with those on the left who see in Lenin, not only a tactical genius, but also the man who was primarily responsible for killing the marriage between history’s two good guys: socialism and liberalism.

Only at one point did I feel that Conquest’s exposition had gone beyond the borders of intellectual honesty. His almost flippant rejection of Lenin’s account of imperialism - through the true, but irrelevant, presentation of investment figures - marred what was otherwise an unfavourable but honest assessment of his topic.

Throughout, the book is written in a sharp, crisp literary style, which makes the text both enjoyable and easy to read. Despite the passage of time since its authorship, I recommend this book as a valuable addition to the analysis of twentieth century political thought.