5 December 2011

Income Inequality in Britain

Income inequality in Britain is growing even bigger.

A recent OECD report has provided some figures for income inequality in Britain. It is worth noting some of these.

In 1985 the income ratio between the top and bottom deciles of the population was 1:8. By 2008 that figure had grown to 1:12. In comparison, the ratio in other northern European countries (e.g. Germany, Netherlands) had deteriorated from 1:5 to 1:6 over the same time period.

Even that masks the growth of income of the very rich: i.e. the top one percent of the population. In 1970 they took home 7.1 percent of national income; by 2005 the figure stood at 14.3, with the top 0.1 percent alone taking around 5 percent of pre-tax income.

In the 1970s and 1980s taxation and benefits were able to re-distribute around half of the increases in income going to the richest. By the 2000s that figure fell to 20 percent.

Opinion polls in Britain show that around two-thirds of people believe that income inequality is too big.

Finally, it should be noted that the OECD report is based on official documentation. In reality, the rich receive more than is ever officially attributed to them through a variety of legal and illegal means.

2 December 2011

Ĉu Ĝi Estas Nur Fabelo? (Is it only a fable?) by Jan Wolski

This book published in 1935 weaves a fantasy of inter-war Polish children building cooperatives and planning for better future.

This is a strange fairytale – a mixture of pure fantasy and political parable. The story is set in an impoverished village in interwar Poland. The children engage in various forms of naughty behaviour which parental disapproval – shown physically and morally – fails to rectify. The local teacher (La Senjoro Instrusito) believes that the root of all naughtiness is an attempt by children to emulate adult behaviour. The cure is to set up a youth cooperative in the village in which the children can produce things for themselves – products ranging from schoolbooks to the skating shoes. The children are enthusiastic and set about the work and so become model child citizens.

The bulk of the book consists of an imaginary state of affairs in which all aspects of building a network of cooperatives, first across Poland and then across the world, are considered. The boundless optimism of the young people for the project is unreal, but somehow makes the book interesting. You know that everything will turn out well.

In the final chapter we have moved on ten years and the teacher has retired. He is invited to visit a cooperative colony in the mountains where by chance all his old pupils (now trained as doctors, cooperative administrators, etc) now live. We glance into this regimented but idyllic community of cooperative, polite and enthusiastic young people. Visitors from cooperatives Denmark, Italy and even Algeria are there. In this later edition of the book, it is emphasised that Esperanto is spoken for international communication. The last pages of this book, published just four years before Poland’s conflagration in the Second World War, express the forlorn hope that such a generation of young people will go on to build a world based on peace and cooperation.

This book is no Comintern tract. It is distinctly Polish with endless soft nationalistic references to Polishness and indirect praise for the Polish dictator Josef Pilsudski. The book espouses moral virtue, cooperation, collectivism and self-help. It is a wonderful portrait of the hopes of a forgotten age.

I picked up this book in the Esperanto bookshop in Budapest for some fifty eurocents. Its pages are yellow with age; and one thought – perhaps more interesting than the contents of the book itself – is the where the book has been, and the history it has seen, since its publication in Warsaw in 1935.

WOLSKI, Jan. Ĉu Ĝi Estas Nur Fabelo? Esperanta Eldono-Kooperativo en Varsovio 1935

The book was written in Esperanto. (La libro estas verkita esperantlingve.)


20 October 2011

Ethnic Cleansing at Dale Farm

The liquidation of the Dale Farm gypsy settlement is a case of localised ethnic cleansing camouflaged with the language of protecting the Green Belt.

On Wednesday 19 October 2011 after several appeals and much dithering in the courts – in which Britain’s judges prioritised planning law over human rights – the forceful eviction of gypsies from the Dale Farm settlement began.

On the first day, the settlement, weakly defended by residents and non-violent direct action activists, was attacked at day break by columns of riot police. Electric stun guns (tasers) were offensively deployed on two occasions. Once the residents and their supporters had been subdued, the bailiffs moved in to do their dirty work of demolishing homes.

The gypsies were evicted from their ten-year-old settlement, consisting of land which the settlers either owned or had been leased to them. There were no issues of trespass.

The gypsies themselves were dispersed and driven from the municipality of Basildon. Their pain is every bit as strong as that of people ethnically cleansed in Palestine or elsewhere. Eighty-six families and around one hundred children were rendered destitute, left to inhabit car parks and road lay-bys.

To carry out this piece of micro-ethnic cleansing, Basildon’s Conservative-led council and the Home office spent around twenty million pounds to make hundreds of people homeless. That amounts to some 230 000 pounds per gypsy family. Obviously Cameron and the Basildon Council leader, Tony Ball, think this is money well spent to pander to racist sentiment in Britain.

Those who say this is merely about upholding the laws of urban planning are either using this pretext to cover their racism or to absolve their consciousnesses. There is simply no meaningful parallel in preventing a property developer building for profit or a homeowner building an extension with the bulldozing of a decade old settlement. Why should planning law trump all other considerations? When the London orbital M25 motorway was built thousands of square kilometres of Green Belt land were concreted. Of course, a derogation for the M25 motorway was permitted because the road was deemed important. But why was there no derogation for the largest gypsy settlement in England?

The Dale Farm settlement is to be bulldozed in an attempt to create the pretence that it never existed.

19 October 2011

Zamenhof: the forgotten philosopher

Ludvik Zamenhof's humanism led to a rejection of nationalism.

Ludvik Zamenhof tends to be known, if at all, as the creator of Esperanto. As an ethical and social philosopher, his humanism is little studied outside the Esperanto community. Zamenhof’s thought had biblical origins. He was influenced by the prophet Hillel the Elder, whose Golden Rule, what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, was developed by Zamenhof into a rejection of nationalism and religious intolerance. In their place Zamenhof promoted cosmopolitanism and universal human values. Below I provide a translation of a single passage of Zamenhof’s writing.

“I am totally convinced that every nationalism presents only the greatest unhappiness for humanity, and that the aim of every people should be the creation of a harmonious humanity. It’s true that the nationalism of oppressed people – a natural reaction of self defence – is more excusable than the nationalism of oppressors; but, if the nationalism of the strong is ignoble, the nationalism of the weak is imprudent; yet each reinforces the other and presents a vicious circle of unhappiness from which humanity can never escape unless all of us give up our self-love of the group and try instead to establish ourselves on a wholly neutral basis.”

The original Esperanto was:

“Mi estas profunde konvinkita, ke ĉiu nacionalismo prezentas por la homaro nur plej grandan malfeliĉon, kaj ke la celado de ĉiuj homoj devus esti: krei harmonian homaron. Estas vero, ke la nacionalismo de gentoj premataj — kiel natura sindefenda reago — estas multe pli pardoninda, ol la nacionalismo de gentoj premantaj; sed, se la nacionalismo de fortuloj estas nenobla, la nacionalismo de malfortuloj estas neprudenta; ambaŭ naskas kaj subtenas unu la alian, kaj prezentas eraran rondon de malfeliĉoj, el kiuj la homaro neniam eliros, se ĉiu el ni ne oferos sian grupan memamon kaj ne penos stariĝi sur grundo tute neŭtrala.”

12 October 2011


Functionalism is a sociological theory which suffers from deficiencies and can provide an underpinning for conservative world views.

Functionalism (and its resultant method of research, which leads to the comparison of institutions in different societies) is far from useless. Postulating that in order to exist an institution has to do X, Y and Z and then asking how it does it raises key questions for investigation and analysis.

The problems lie in what is NOT asked in the functionalist paradigm.

History: in Society A a function is fulfilled by activity P. In Society B the same function is fulfilled by activity Q. But why the difference? It has to be explained by the different histories of societies A and B, and not by the comparison between them.

The functionalist paradigm also ignores what political actors themselves think they are doing.


How Rulers Rule: Three Types of Regime

Political regimes keep themselves in power by one of three methods: repression, wining the propaganda war against their opponents or by having no serious opponents.

States have repressive and ideological mechanisms at their disposal, all of which serve to put the brakes on radical social change. Indeed, given the massive discrepancies of income, wealth, status and power within all societies - and assuming people not to be inherently masochistic - one can assume radical distributional change would occur, if it were not for these mechanism of control that hold back both revolution and radical reform. In the last hundred years or so, the main threat to the ruling elites in capitalist countries was the demand for some form of socialist society, and indeed socialist writers used up an enormous amount of ink attempting to fathom out how socialism could come about. While socialism was by far the most powerful challenge both politically and ideologically to capitalist rule, opposition has also come from various forms of fascism and, more recently, from fundamentalist Islam.

In the developed world only two types of regime have existed until now: one is the capitalist system, often but not always, operating in a democratic or semi-democratic polity. The other was the rule of communist parties in Europe, Asia and a few other outposts; historical communism constituted a significant global force during what Eric Hobsbawm called the short century 1917-89. Under both capitalism and state socialism, however, there has always been a strata or class of people who possessed disproportionate wealth and power, though inequality was greatest in capitalist countries, most of which most of the time were, ironically, democracies.

Much traditional Marxist writing has sought to identify and clarify the capitalist state per se. While such an approach is not incorrect, I think it fails to capture what can be seen as three specific forms of elite rule and state formation over the last century or so.

The first is repressive rule through the authoritarian state. The elites maintain their rule by using the military and police to restrict civic rights (freedom of speech, assembly, etc) and these regimes either have no elections or else corrupt the electoral process. We can assume that the majority of the people, if they had the choice, would vote the existing political elite out of office and vote in politicians who would attempt to bring about fundamental regime change. Regimes of this kind have been present in Europe: fascist Germany and Italy until the end of the end of the Second World War, or Spain, Portugal and Greece until the 1970s are examples. All the former communist countries had political regimes of this type.

The second is ideological rule, which historically has only occurred in capitalist countries. All of these regimes have had a large measure of civil liberty and competitive elections, though of course behind the state there is still a repressive arm. The ruling elites maintain their privileges in several ways. First, they are able to convince the majority of people that they are better rulers than the leaders of left wing parties, a goal which is achieved though their dominance in the media and often by means of approving concessions, such as social welfare. Second, the leaders of left-wing parties are co-opted into the political elite and/or end up compromising their social democratic goals to acquire or keep office. Third, the power of capital as a ‘pressure group’ is so huge it can usually force left-wing governments to compromise. In Western Europe until recently this has been the pattern of politics: political elites seeing off, co-opting or compromising moderate social democracy. In every case the majority of people have been convinced not to back parties seriously contemplating radical social change.

The third is post-ideological rule. In western Europe the long-term trend in the first three-quarters of the twentieth century was for the left to grow in strength and for ideological rule to replace repressive rule. However since the 1980s, and after 1989 in particular, the left – social democratic, communist, or liberal – has collapsed as a political force. The reasons for this are several, but the result is to create a society where capitalist power, and the groups which benefit from it, face no serious organised challenge at all. Working people shun politics altogether. Everyone who suffers economically individualises his or her pain; they filter their alienation through music, drugs and on-line virtual contacts. Community and shared meaning evaporate and are replaced with cults, mysticism or sheer isolation. Logic, argument and intellectual debate disappear in favour of the soundbite or the fatuous. Political competition in democracies comes more and more to focus on spin and trivia (e.g. bald leaders are never elected, etc) as the fundamental assumption of the system are increasingly unquestioned.

Of course this trichotomy is only a rough and ready one. Particular states at particular times are likely to combine elements from all three ideal types. The model is problematic in dealing with situations where ‘ideological rule’ is maintained by and within one ethnic group while another faces a repressive rule; e.g. Palestinians in Israel, or indeed the social underclass in the US or Britain today. Nonetheless I believe the trichotomy is very clear in describing the overall political model in Western Europe as regards the movement from ‘repressive’ to ‘ideological’ and then to ‘post-ideological’ rule.

The trichotomy can be clarified by mean of a joke. The devil is showing a newcomer around Hell. In the first room there are a group of people sitting in a barrel of shit. The man asks, ‘Why don’t they get out?’ ‘Ah,’ says the devil, ‘they can’t because there is a soldier there with a gun waiting to shoot anyone who tries.’ They go into the second room where there are another group sitting in a barrel of shit. The man notices, though, that the soldier is asleep, so he asks ‘why don’t they get out?’ ‘Well,’ says the devil, ‘look, there’s a TV screen telling them how nice and warm it is in barrel compared with outside.’ They go into a third room and the man again sees a group of people sitting in a barrel of shit, once again the soldier is asleep, but this time the TV is just showing pop videos. ‘So why don’t they get out?’ asks the man. ‘Well,’ says the devil, ‘they’re busy watching the videos and they don’t know that there’s life outside the barrel.’

Post-ideological rule came into full bloom in the mid 2000s both in Europe and North America. It was reinforced by the myth of eternal economic growth financed on credit; a boom in which all but the poorest would find fulfilment in ever-expanding private consumption. Yet, the economic base of that society shattered in the financial crisis which exploded in the autumn of 2008, leading to soaring unemployment, bankruptcy and economic despair. One feels writing today (July 2009) that the car has gone over the cliff, but not yet hit the rocks. We are seeing the end of a political era without being able to find the birth of a new one. The whole society remains limp in inactive anticipation. Politically not much has happened, even if fascist parties have won some electoral backing across Europe. We are in phoney war where the post-ideological model, in it present form at any rate, has come to an end but failed to disappear.


1 October 2011


In grammar the term complement is sometimes used with different meanings. The core meaning of complement is for a word, phrase or clause which is necessary in a sentence to complete its meaning. We find complements which function as a sentence element (i.e. of equal status to subjects, verbs and objects) and complements which exist within sentence elements.

Complements which are sentence elements

subject complement
A subject complement tells more about the subject by means of the verb. In the examples below the sentence elements are (SUBJECT + VERB + COMPLEMENT)

Mr Smith is a management consultant. (a predicative nominal)
She looks ill. (a predicative adjective)

object complement
An object complement tells us more about the object by means of the verb. In the examples below the sentence elements are (SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT + COMPLEMENT). Object complements can often be removed leaving a well-formed sentence, thus the use of the term complement is slightly illogical.

We elected him chairman. (a predicative nominal)
We painted the house white. (a predicative adjective)

adverbial complement
Adverbials are usually an adjuncts (i.e. they can be removed and a well-formed sentence remains). In the following sentence both adverbial adjuncts can be removed and a properly formed sentence remains.

Yesterday I saw Anna at the station.

If, however, an adverbial is a necessary sentence element then it is correctly referred to as a complement. The structure of the sentence below is (SUBJECT + VERB + ADVERBIAL COMPLEMENT)

John put the basket in the garden. (i.e. John put the basket is not a properly formed sentence)


11 September 2011

HAMID, Mohsin - The Reluctant Fundamentalist

An atmospheric novel that gives the flavour of post 9/11 America.

The novel focuses on a young Pakistani whose family sends him to America and who succeeds in the 1990s American dream. Though different on account of his Pakistani background, he nonetheless finds a place in yuppie America as an elite management consultant. He develops a relationship with an haute bourgeois American woman who, on account of the death of an earlier boyfriend, has developed serious mental problems.

The protagonist is not personally abused by the events of 9/11, but his whole position in the US is rendered psychologically impossible. His girlfriend is institutionalised and he, after failing in his job and finally resigning, returns to his family home in Pakistan.

We learn about the story as the protagonist relates it to an unknown American in a restaurant in Pakistan We are led to believe that the listener is a CIA agent who at any moment will shoot the storyteller or have him deported to the Guantanamo gulag.

The book is an interesting insight into the post 9/11 mindset of a character, who shares two worlds – the yuppie America and an Islamic country.

Published by Penguin 2007


24 August 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: case dropped

The 23 August 2011 saw New York prosecutors drop sexual assault charges against Dominque Strauss-Kahn. Whether non-consensual sex had taken place was doubtful.

If Dominique Strauss-Kahn's relations with Nafissatou Diallo, the alleged victim, were consensual, then they are rightly the business of nobody else. It neither reflects well nor badly on DSK as a politician.

The inability of Diallo to tell a consistent story to prosecutors was the cited reason for the collapse of the case; but it seems that there are problems even in the best version of her story.

First, why was she in his executive suite at all? Imagine a male cleaner being in the room when, say, Angela Merkel emerged naked from a shower.

Second, “hot bunny” DSK may be, but for him to come out of the bathroom, then unexpectedly to come across a middle-aged cleaner and jump on her before she had the chance to leave the room! Well this is possible, but I suggest unlikely.

Third, DSK appears to be 62 year-old in the best of health. Yet for him to force a woman in the prime of her strength to have oral sex strains the imagination. Surely Mrs Diallo could have used her jaws to defend herself, and DSK would have known that.

No-one except DSK and Diallo will ever know the truth of what happened, but certainly Mrs Diallo’s accusation seems to have several "holes."

5 August 2011

Fisher and May Bowles: different laws for different people

Injurious assaults by the police are exonerated: non-injurious ones by political protesters are punished.

Nicola Fisher

The first case is that of Nicola Fisher. On 2 April 2009 Nicola Fischer attended a vigil for the newspaper vendor and bystander, Ian Tomlinson, killed the day before by police during the G20 demonstrations. Apparently, Fisher was standing in a place where the police did not want her to be.

Fisher’s account, which is backed up by film of the incident, runs as follows:

"Suddenly quite a few police officers came and made a line in front of us and almost straight away the officer in front of me shouted 'get back' and pushed me before I even had a chance to move. When he did that I, as an instant reaction, pushed back, then straight away he gave me a back-hander across my left cheek."

Not content with that, police officer Delroy Smellie then calmly took out his baton and beat Fisher on the legs causing her to dance in pain and leaving her with extensive bruising.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) decided to prosecute Smellie for assault.

Nicola Fisher did not appear at the trial, and despite the evidence against Smellie, District Judge District Judge Daphne Wickham acquitted him of assault. She said there was no evidence that his use of the baton was not approved, correct or measured.

Jonathan May-Bowles

On 19 July 2011 Rupert Murdoch was giving evidence to the House of Commons Media Select committee. Murdoch’s company, News International, has been engaged in illegal phone tapping, paying money to police officers and has for a long time extended its influence over elected government. Its aim is to support business interests, the establishment and right wing ideas in addition to making money.

May-Bowles, sitting in the audience, threw a paper plate covered in shaving foam into Murdoch’s face.

Rupert Murdoch did not appear at the trial. The same district judge, Daphne Wickham, sentenced Jonathan May-Bowles to six weeks imprisonment (reduced on appeal to four) for assault.


Fisher suffered injury: her attacker was acquitted because he was a police officer. Murdoch suffered no injury: his attacker was jailed to deter protest.

3 August 2011

Officer acquitted of assault on Nicola Fischer

The Nicola Fisher case established the precedent that police can beat protesters with impunity.

Nicola Fisher, aged 38, was a participant in a small vigil held on 2 April 2009 to commemorate the police killing of the newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, the previous day. Tomlinson had been attempting to make his way home during the G20 demonstrations when he was bitten by police dogs, truncheoned and hurled to the ground. He died from his injuries minutes later.

From a policing point of view Nicola Fisher was at most irritating and perhaps in the way. Officer Smellie saw fit to give her a back-hand across the face; he then calmly removed his baton to administer two hard strokes on her thighs before turning his attention to other things. His misfortune was that everything he did was filmed.

To dispel the view that gratuitous police violence was tolerated, and to assuage the concerns of Daily Mail readers, the authorities needed to throw a police officer to the wolves. Of the recorded police violence against demonstrators in April 2009, the Fisher incident was not the most serious, but it was the most suitable for prosecution. Officer Smellie made the ideal fall guy; he looked like a thug, and he had hit a woman.

Yet Fisher didn’t play ball and failed to turn up to the trial. But, surprisingly, despite the evidence against him Smellie was acquitted.

Thus a precedent was set: arbitrary violence against demonstrators was to be tolerated and unpunished police behaviour; this is not what the authorities had wanted. While, of course, police had often beaten left-wing and ‘alternative’ protesters, it was another matter to be seen to be giving it official sanction.

19 July 2011

Hackgate - corruption in Britain

Hackgate throws light on the British State.

The Hackgate Scandal is still unravelling, although many aspects almost certainly remain hidden. Nevertheless, a chink of light is illuminating the inner workings of the British state. What has been shown is that politicians, their advisers and leading police officers at the very heart of the British state are entangled in a web of dishonesty and corruption. Further details are spewing into the public domain every day.

The nucleus of the scandal is a web of people connected to the company News International, headed by the eighty-year-old Rupert Murdoch. In recent decades this media organisation has been a powerful peddler of the basest form of right-wing news propaganda, the aim of which has always been to defend those with power and wealth while trashing left-wing-wing and progressive ideas. Not content with being just a media conglomerate, the company forged an alliance based on reactionary ideology, financial interests and political blackmail with governing British political parties; i.e. the Tories and New Labour (1997-2010). News International, though ‘gifts’ and appointments, also extended its grip over London’s Metropolitan police so they were hamstrung in tackling News International’s criminality.

The company's wrongdoing that is currently the focus of attention was the hacking of mobile telephones of celebrities, politicians and crime victims, an act of criminality carried out by gangster-like crooks employed by News International. The accusation against leading politicians and the police is that they turned a blind eye and continued to cuddle up to characters from New International even after they knew of this criminality.

Even though the spotlight has fallen on this corruption, public expectations of government, police and media are now so low, it is questionable whether a large public reaction will result.

15 June 2011

Europe after socialism and social democracy

With the demise of socialism and social democracy in Europe a new politics is coming into existence.

Is a new pattern of political alignment appearing in Europe? On 31 May Peter Spiegel wrote in The Financial Times:

“We may be witnessing a generational change in European political dynamics. Traditional left-right divisions have narrowed… In its place, we are seeing a new division, between globalisers and localisers. The urban elites on both the left (intellectuals, liberal internationalists) and the right (free traders, global business leaders) face a challenge to their postwar consensus from a new group of revanchists. This political force also comes from both the left (trade unionists, working-class whites) and the right (rural nationalists, far-right xenophobes).”

How does an observation such as Spiegel's fit with a Marxist conception of society? I think it must be something like this:

While a particular system of class relations (i.e. owners of capital versus people who can only acquire the means to live by selling their labour power) is a concomitant of any kind of capitalism, political ideologies and identities within and across social classes under capitalism vary over time and from place to place. In other words, in different capitalist societies or in one society at different times, the politics can be markedly different.

That said, in Europe at least in the twentieth century, the major political division that ran though society tended to mirror class relations. Large numbers of working class people identified with the parties of the left, communist and social democratic, while non-socialist parties, liberal or conservative, had their base among capitalists, managers and professional people. This political division based on social class grew and became sharper, at least until the mid 1970s.

The strength of the left across Europe in post war Europe tended to force all non-socialist factions into an electoral alliance against the left. With the demise of the left since the end of the twentieth century, the raison d’etre for that anti-socialist unity has attenuated, so different currents of non-socialist opinion can again compete against each other in the political sphere.

How then is the right dividing? We can see nationalistic elements breaking away from the main parties of the right. The mainstream right remains attached to running a globalised capitalism within a liberal democratic framework, while the nationalist right attempts to rally "the people" against outsiders, immigrants, the EU, etc.. In Britain, this phenomenon is to some extent straitjacketed by the first-past-the-post electoral system, which favours a duopoly of political parties. Nonetheless, the continued electoral existence of the UK Independence Party, UKIP, shows the trend.

The left, once a coalition between socialism and progressive liberalism, is splitting along the same lines as the right. Political liberalism, internationalist in outlook, retains its hold within much of the intelligentsia, but this cosmopolitan movement is ever more at odds with illiberal and parochialising tendencies, now masquerading as the British left. I will mention two here: so-called Blue Labour and multiculturalism.

Following New Labour’s 2010 election defeat, a movement has developed within the Labour Party to shift the party’s image from urbanite Middle England to a kind of political “Chavism” – or what is increasingly called Blue Labour. In essence, this an attempt to steal some of the clothes of the fascistic right and incorporate them in Labour’s image; e.g. promoting nationalism, scapegoating immigrants, being tough on crime, etc. Authoritarian populism of this kind is epitomised by the New Labour ex-Communist former Home Secretary John Reid.

Multiculturalism, meaning the use of the state to facilitate and maintain separate cultural identities, may run counter to the ideas of Blue Labour, but it has nothing to do with either political liberalism or socialism. Under multiculturalism, just as under a mono-cultural system, the rights of individuals are trumped by the demands of traditional cultural groups and their governing hierarchies. In a mono-cultural society one culture supposedly binds everybody within a state; in multiculturalism your ethnic origin determines which community norms bind you. One only has to look at the growth of faith schools in Britain to see this in action.

That the leading dynamic on the “left” has become a battle between two parochial and illiberal currents, Blue Labour and multiculturalism, is itself proof the demise of socialism and social democracy.

The main conclusion to arise from the short essay is that the heart of the left, the symbiosis of political liberalism and the struggle for socio-economic equality, seems to have fallen off the agenda. Socialists can today only choose the least worst option from what remains.

9 June 2011

Sex: behaviour and fantasy

The distinction between sexual deeds and sexual fantasy needs to be maintained

Yes, actual sexual behaviour and sexual fantasy are two distinct things; and the vast majority of people know that. For the most part, sexual behaviour is under the control of the individual; sexual fantasy never is.

The psychopath and the puritan both make the same mistake of conflating the two. The psychopath allows his fantasies to govern his behaviour; while the puritan tries to force his/her fantasies (and often those of other people though censorship) to conform to acceptable behaviour.

A sensible social policy would not be to deny and punish fantasy when it is expressed, but to stress the difference between it and acceptable behaviour.

26 May 2011

Issues Involved in Rape

In May 2011 remarks by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and the Conservative MEP Roger Helmer threw the issue of rape into the headlines.

Behind the sloganising, allegations and denials, there two issues of substance. First, are some rapes more serious than others? Second, can a woman be responsible for her own rape?

The definition of rape varies between jurisdictions, but the essence of the crime is something like this: the offence of rape is committed when a man uses his penis to penetrate another person when he has no reasonable grounds for believing that his victim has consented. Though men can of course be raped, the main focus of discussion is on female victims.

The issue of whether some rapes are more serious than others contains a confusion in the way the question is posed; i.e serious for whom? If, however, we are talking in terms of the severity of legal sanctions that ought to be imposed on the rapist, then the focus must be on the degree of his wrong-doing.

The slogan “rape is rape” does not provide an answer. In the same way one could say “theft is theft” or “assault is an assault” without becoming any the wiser. Measuring the degree of wrong-doing by the perpetrator of a crime is in every case dependent on the circumstances in which the crime was committed. That is not to suggest there are circumstances in which a rape is committed, but that there is no crime.

One further confusion needs to cleared up. Some want to argue that violence, kidnapping, drugging, etc of the victim are aggravating factors. But this is a red herring because these are additional crimes occurring in conjunction with the rape; they are not intrinsic to the crime of rape.

The question then is this: do some acts of penetrative sex, when the perpetrator has no reasonable grounds for believing that his victim has consented, amount to a lesser or greater degree of wrong-doing depending on the circumstances in which they occur?

There is a strong feminist voice which says no, but I disagree. There are any number of factors (e.g. the age of rapist) which could aggravate or mitigate the crime, but I want here to mention the most important. I believe the degree of wrong-doing is still great but less when a rape occurs after the parties have started intimate sexual activity.

Turning now to the second issue of whether a woman (or indeed a man) can be held responsible for her own rape, my answer is emphatic, no. Rape occurs when when the perpetrator has no reasonable grounds for believing that his victim has consented to penetrative sex. The prior behaviour of the victim is irrelevant.

Confusion arises in discussions about victims causing their own rape because some people mix up a factual cause with an act of wrong-doing. Quite clearly if I leave my wallet on a seat in a station waiting room and it is stolen, my action was a cause of the theft, but there is no element in wrong-doing in my action. A woman can dress and act in a certain way which may be a factual cause of her rape (i.e. if she hadn’t done so, the rape would not have occurred), but there is no act of wrong-doing on her part.

I believe the points above are obvious and should be acceptable to most people. A great disservice is committed by those feminists who respond to any discussion on the issue of rape - apart from those parroting slogans such as “rape is rape” - with the response that the commentator is excusing rape. That is simply not true.

12 May 2011

The Guardian restricted in publishing Wikileaks

The Guardian was afraid to publish and sought the protection of the New York Times.

The idea that the press in Britain is subject to state censorship and intimidation is hardly a revelation, but seldom has the point is been demonstrated so clearly.

When Julian Assange and Wikileaks handed over the US Embassy cables to The Guardian in London, the paper was afraid to publish them. In the first place, The Guardian feared publication would be prevented by court action.

In a lecture on 10 May 2011, the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, spelled out the point:

We suspected that, if we went it alone under the framework of laws governing newspapers in this country, we simply wouldn't be allowed to get away with it. We would be sued, or injuncted,"

Such legal threats of prior restraint were not all. Rusbridger was also given “some bloodcurdling learned opinions" about what might happen to him personally and to the newspaper if he published the material.

The solution was to publish in partnership with the New York Times - in other words, to hide behind the US constitutional protections of American media. The Guardian would be safe because there would be no point in attacking it as the New York Times was simultaneously publishing the same material.

Rusbridger made the point like this: "It seemed a good idea to harness the whole exercise to a country with extremely robust media laws rather than risk it all on the quicksands of the British legal system."

I am not saying that the decision was wrong, but it is interesting to ponder on what Rusbridger might have done, had the New York Times not agreed to assist in the publication.

Most of the discussion about the control and bias of the press centres on issues of ownership and finance. Yet it is still the case that the British state retains powers to gag and intimidate the press. The Left often seek to criticise liberal democracy, but it is often more to the point to criticise the limitation on liberal democracy in Britain.

22 April 2011

Clegg-phobia is based on two hard facts

The deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats is hated by many across the political spectrum.

Why is Nick Clegg the focus of so much hate? There are two reasons.

First, he campaigned against tuition fees, VAT rise, etc and adopted the façade of someone who would bring integrity to dishonest politics. He sold out to the Tories and reneged on his promises.

Second, at least since Thatcher, the Liberal Democrats have presented themselves as a liberal-minded party of the centre left – and with Labour the centre-left had a majority in Britain. Clegg betrayed that tradition by turning the Liberal Democrats into the Tories junior and subordinate partner.

Many want the cane to bite deep into Clegg’s backside and so will now vote no to AV.

21 April 2011

The Royal Wedding

The wedding of Price William and Kate Middleton is a combination of absurd entertainment and a slap in the face to democracy.

To my aesthetic taste the sight of Regent Street decked out in Union flags is grotesque. This kind of omnipresent display of symbols works at the same psychological level as the Nuremberg rallies, even if the political context is different.

However, we should not forget that the monarchy today is mainly a source of entertainment, rather than an institution of deference which cements together a political community. If some people want enjoy the fanfare of the wedding, then stand back and let them get on with it.

Of course, as a democrat I object to the selection of the future head of state being determined by the sexual organs of these two privileged people. A hereditary head of state makes no more sense than a hereditary dentist. I object to public money being spent on their wedding; and I object to either of them having any legal status in Britain, other than that enjoyed by other British citizens

Yet that said, I won’t lose sleep over the wedding because when set against all the other inequalities and injustices in Britain, this one ranks as not very important. At least one can laugh at it – or better still ignore it.

19 April 2011

Using the Alternative Vote to cane Nick Clegg

Voting no to AV just to hurt Nick Clegg is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

On 5 May 2011 Britain will have its first referendum on electoral reform. On offer is to replace the current simple majority system (aka. first-past-the-post) for electing the House of Commons with the alternative vote. According to opinion polls, the “No to AV" campaigners have a 16% point lead in a referendum campaign which has generated little enthusiasm among the electorate. It seems that those planning to vote are more intent on having the cane bite deep into Nick Clegg’s backside, than they are on marginally improving the effectiveness of their votes in general elections.

AV, if introduced, would have two noticeable effects. The first would be to permit some voters a first preference vote for candidates who can’t win (Green, BNP, etc) and after those candidates are eliminated to transfer their votes to the big parties. This is a sop to gesture politics, nothing more.

Second, in those constituencies in which the winning Tory or Labour candidate had less than half the votes and the Liberal Dems were in a strong second place, transfers would give some of these seats to Clegg’s party. The result would be to boost the possibility of the hung parliaments – and hence Clegg’s bargaining power. It is exactly to prevent that latter possibility that many will vote no to AV – even if it is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

AV, however, need not always increase the chance of hung parliaments. In 1997, for instance, AV would have increased New Labour’s massive overall majority because votes for eliminated Liberal Democrat candidates would have disproportionately transferred to Labour candidates leading to more Tories losing their seats to Labour.

While AV does lessen the amount of wasted votes in elections, it is not a system of proportional representation. Only full fledged PR can realise the principle of one person, one vote, one value – and Cameron has made sure that is not on offer.

13 April 2011

Humanitarian bombing in Libya

Under the pretext of a humanitarian agenda the US, Britain and France are bombing government targets in Libya. Socialists should not support this.

Aerial bombing in Libya in support of the weaker side in a civil war increases the humanitarian agony in the country. The left could urge the US, Britain and France to do one of the following.

One, support a rapid military intervention and the establishment of a pro-Western regime in Libya on the grounds that this action would end the civil war; and – even if non-democratic and non-socialist – such a regime would perhaps be more humanitarian than Gaddafi’s personal dictatorship.

Two, leave Libya to its own devices on the grounds that it is not for the capitalist countries to deny Libya its sovereignty by determining what happens there.

The third idea that the West can partially intervene to promote a left-leaning democracy is nonsense. You only have to look at Western support for the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to see that pro-capitalist orientation is the purpose of Western foreign policy, not the promotion of democracy which may end up questioning imperialist domination of the region.


When we talk about intervention in Libya we are not talking about something akin to socialists going off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. For all practical purposes, the left has a simple binary choice: back Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy in their use of state military might against Gaddafi, or not back it.

The purpose of the Western powers is to topple Gaddafi and establish a pro-Western regime in Libya. They wish to do this without “putting boots on the ground,” so they reply on aerial bombing. The effect is to prolong the conflict. The well-being of Libyans stuck in a prolonged civil war hardly matters beyond the realms of spin and false pretext for their action.

Perhaps when/if the Gaddafi regime is toppled a more human will emerge, but it may not. Libyans should determine Libya’s future not the US, Britain and France.

Therefore, stop the bombing.

4 April 2011

Ian Tomlinson - The Meaning of His Death

The death of a street newspaper vendor following a vicious assault by police shows how Britain's repressive state operates.

On 1 April 2009 a diverse crowd of people gathered in the centre of London to protest at the G20 summit meeting of world leaders. Most were peaceful if noisy; a tiny minority were there to commit acts of vandalism. But overall, the commercial district of London came to resemble a street carnival of clowns, jugglers, hippies and ordinary people taking to the street to make a point.

Sometime after seven in the evening news filtered through of a death. The police soon made it clear what had happened: a newspaper vendor in his late forties, Ian Tomlinson, uninvolved in the demonstration but surrounded by black-clad anarchists, had collapsed: a heart attack was suspected. Police medics rushed to his aid but were met with a barrage of bottles hindering their efforts. News outlets aired the story.

In the following days several witnesses challenged the police account, but the police complaints authority (IPCC) felt safe in dismissing them and endorsed the police version of events. A post mortem revealed that Tomlinson had indeed died of a heart attack.

A week later conclusive evidence of what had really happened emerged from an unlikely source: the mobile phone footage of a New York hedge fund manager. The film showed Tomlinson walking along, hands in his pockets away from a line of police. Suddenly one of them, Officer Simon Harwood, dressed in a black balaclava partially obscuring his face and with his police identification number removed from his clothing, stepped forward. He truncheoned Tomlinson on the legs and then pushed him to the ground. Stunned, Tomlinson struggled into a sitting position and was assisted to his feet by a demonstrator. Far from helping, the line of police looked on or through Tomlinson as if he were not a person in distress at all. A dazed Tomlinson stumbled out of sight of the camera and minutes later he collapsed and died.

Two further post mortems by independent doctors established that Tomlinson had died from internal bleeding consistent with being thrown to the ground. The first was made public immediately; the second only months later.

The police behaviour on the 1 April 2009 against largely peaceful civilian demonstrators was almost certainly the most gratuitously violent in modern times. Little, if any, attempt was made to distinguish between people committing crimes and those simply attending and protesting, or in Tomlinson’s case by-standers caught up in the event. Forced into street holding pens (popularly called ‘kettles’) with no means of escape, men and women were punched, kicked, hit with batons and shields and bitten by police dogs. In attacking Tomlinson Officer Harwood’s behaviour was probably no worse than that of many of his colleagues. Harwood was unlucky for two reasons: Tomlinson died and the assault was filmed.

Some argue that the police went berserk in London on 1 April 2009. That is not the case: had they done so many tens of people would have died; in fact neither Harwood nor the police in general wanted to kill anyone. The police operation, led by a Commander Broadbent, certainly allowed officers to humiliate lawful protesters and beat them in a non life-threatening way. And to ensure that individual officers were not accountable for their actions, they were permitted to wear balaclavas and a blind eye was turned to their removal of identification badges on their uniforms. Broadbent felt, not without good reason, that the government, courts and media would side with him and his officers even when their actions constituted illegal assaults on innocent people.

The Tomlinson death presented a problem. State disregard for police violence at public order events normally depends on two conditions: first, that the police don’t kill or seriously injure people and second that the details of who was at fault in any particular confrontation remained murky. Tomlinson’s death broke both these conditions. Justice in a state supposedly governed by the rule of law now demanded that charges of assault and (given that Tomlinson had died as a consequence of a serious assault) manslaughter should be pressed against Harwood.

The Crown Prosecution Service took fifteen months to come a decision; it decided in the end not to prosecute Officer Harwood. It’s reasons were transparently dishonest. Manslaughter charges could not be brought, it said, because of the conflicting post mortem results. Yet the results of the first police-instigated post mortem had been rejected by two independent doctors; and even if Tomlinson had died from a heart attack, it was impossible to argue that his experience at the hands of Officer Harwood had not contributed to his death. In addition it was by now apparent that the police had summoned the first pathologist, Dr Freddy Patel, because he could be relied on to give the police the results they wanted at the time (i.e. that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack brought on by being surrounded by black clad anarchists). And to finally demolish the credibility of the police-instigated post mortem it was revealed that Dr Patel was later stuck off the list of approved Home Office pathologists on account of other incidents of misconduct undertaken in support of the police.

And what of the assault charge? Well, it was time-barred because it had to brought within six months and the prosecution service had taken fifteen to reach its decision.

Some have argued that the institutions of the state (prosecution service, courts, etc.) will always support the police when they are in conflict with ordinary people, so the decision not to prosecute Harwood is no surprise. There is much precedent to support this argument, but it should be pointed out that by not prosecuting Harwood, the police and prosecution services suffered a loss of legitimacy in the eyes of all those who cared to look - not just people on the left. It would have been far more beneficial to the police in the long run to have claimed Harwood was a ‘bad apple in the barrel’ and to have sent him to court.

The refusal of the prosecution service to charge Harwood seems to have its cause elsewhere. The evidence against Harwood was rock solid and a majority of people wanted and expected him to be charged with at least assault. What the Crown Prosecution Service was saying in its decision is that WE the state decide prosecutions, irrespective of the evidence and the demands of justice. You, the people, can collect all the evidence you like and argue as logically as you want, but is WE who retain the power.

The Meaning of the Tomlinson Case

The meaning of all this is not, as some have suggested, that the police have been given a carte blanche to assault and kill at random. Officer Harwood, even if he never faces a criminal trial, has not been given a pat on the back but faced interrogation and a possible charges for manslaughter for over a year. No police officer could be sure that if these events were repeated in the future he would be treated so leniently. The meaning of the Tomlinson case is more subtle.

Tomlinson demonstrates that the institutions of force and law (police, police complaints authority, prosecution service) cannot be held to popular legal account. They are corrupt, not in the sense that the people working in those institutions take money to mis-perform their duties, but that they brazenly disregard the purpose for which they exist and citizens have little or no form of address against their maladministration. The police lie and organise ‘bent’ autopsies; the police complaints authority act as puppets of the police. The prosecution service obstructs and drags its feet and gives wholly dishonest reasons for failing to prosecute. Such is the nature of the institutions of the British state today.

Also noticeable is the near total silence of British politicians; they seem quite relaxed with a society in which a police officer truncheons a passer-by, hurls him to the ground and to his death, but then goes unpunished. The maladministration of the police, the police complaints authority and the prosecution service leave them equally untroubled.

Tomlinson has divided effects on state power. On the one hand the case has undoubtedly undermined trust in the police; the misconduct is too clear-cut for anyone who cares to notice. On the other, the state has reinforced its unaccountable power over the people in that even when there is rock-solid evidence of state misconduct, citizens have no right to remedy. People are subject to the state; the state is not accountable to the people who live within it.

Postscript: Following the urban riots of 2011 when public sympathy with the police had at least been partially restored, P.C. Harwood was tried for manslaughter. The severity of the charge and the then prevailing public attitude, if nothing else, meant that a divided jury failed to convict him. He was later dismissed from the police.

1 April 2011

The Fortnum and Mason Affair

The British state is doing all it can to shut down the popular UNCUT movement

Uncut is a grass roots activist organisation, consisting mainly of the educated young. The movement is opposed to tax avoidance by retailers and other companies, particularly at a time when sadistic spending cuts are being inflicted on the services required by ordinary working people. Uncut tactics involve non-violent direct action without vandalism, typically noisy sit-down protests in the department stores owned by tax avoiding companies.

On 26 March 2011, in an action separate from the TUC sponsored demonstration, Uncut staged a sitdown protest in London’s upmarket Fortnum and Mason department store. The facts of what happened are not disputed.

The police arrived and informed the protesters that they could leave unmolested. Once outside every protester – in excess of one hundred persons – was arrested. The young people were distributed to police stations around London and held overnight. Their mobile phones and clothes were confiscated and they were charged with the offence of aggravated trespass and banned from entering the centre of London. Charges of criminal damage were imposed and then, at least for most of them, dropped. Whether they are later found guilty of a criminal offence or not, their names will entered on the police lists of "domestic extremists" for life.

The decision to make a mass arrest and then detain Uncut activists overnight – a wholly disproportionate action given the minor nature of the offence - was a political one. By contrast, far fewer anarchist vandals were arrested. Quite clearly, the police wished to intimidate young people from engaging in effective peaceful protest against tax avoidance, rather than arrest anarchists engaged in property damage.

In their propaganda after the event the government and police sought to associate the Uncut activists with anarchist hooliganism and violence. Yet among the left and the informed, nobody believes that. The barefaced lying by the police to the activists has also further undermined the credibility of the police both in the eyes of Uncut and the public.

Uncut alone is no substitute for organised political opposition, but in terms of raising consciousness and involving people in constructive protest action, there is nothing better in Britain today. Socialists should support it with their voices, money and bodies.


Two views are circulating on the internet about the police prioritising Uncut and not the Black Bloc anarchists in the London protests of 26 March 2011.

One view holds that the police targeted the peaceful Uncut activists out of frustration because they were unable to arrest the anarchists. The other view maintains that the anarchists, who are at least in part infiltrated by police agents, were not stopped in their street rampage in order to bolster public support for harder policing. The arrest of the Uncut activists was then undertaken to associate them in the public mind with the anarchists.

I do not know which view is correct. However whichever alternative is the case, the police are shown to be acting improperly.

29 March 2011

New proposed restrictions on protest in Britain

Anarchist disorder and vandalism in London on 26 March 2011 has given cover to the government's proposal to ban named people from participating in political protest.

The Home Secretary Teresa May, says she is considering introducing a ban on “known troublemakers” attending political protests. Government propaganda is clearly attempting to equate political disorder with football hooliganism.

Such a law would be a gift from heaven for the police. No longer would they have to prove to a court that a particular person had committed an offence; it would enough to show that a banned person was present at a political protest.

Whatever one feels about anarchist hooligans having their political rights taken away, it surely would not be long before such bans were extended to practitioners of non-violent direct action (e.g. Uncut) and others attending political events of which the police disapproved.

While this pernicious provision may fail thanks to the Human Rights Act – or be stymied on practicalities; e.g. what counts as political protest? – it nonetheless needs to be opposed with everything we have got to oppose it.

28 March 2011

Contemporary Anarchism

Today’s anarchism is an infantile disorder; a pathology which manifests itself in the desire to destroy the symbols of state authority, property and social order as an end in itself. Anarchism offers nothing in terms of how society could be beneficially reformed, but takes refuge in an incoherent romanticism of returning people to some kind of state-of-nature without law or technology. To most people these ideas are as repugnant as they are ridiculous.

However, I would also borrow the term “primitive rebellion” in this context. Today capitalist market fundamentalism is hegemonic and many suffer under that system. That some youngsters could be bothered to get up and to do something politically is not to be condemned.

25 March 2011

TUC demonstration: Saturday 26 March 2011

On Saturday 26 March 2011 there will a TUC organised march through London to protest against the cuts in public services which are promoted by the coalition government.

The immediate aims of the demonstration are twofold. First, a large demonstration will send a message to the government, indicating the level of organised opposition to Tory/Lib Dem policy. This pressure will hopefully push the government into mitigating the effects of some of the measures. Second, the protest will provide an opportunity for ordinary working people to organise and through their organisation become stronger and more confident in their opposition to the government.

One issue of contention is the high level of TUC cooperation with the police, perhaps even to extent that the police are organising the march with the TUC as a junior partner. The merits of this are unclear. On the one hand, cooperation with the police may prevent the demonstration descending into mayhem. Chaos and widescale damage do little to advance the arguments of the left; and the acrimony resulting from such an outcome would deepen rifts in the left.

Yet full compliance with the police also carries dangers. There can be little doubt that the default position of the police is to oppose the demonstrators and to perceive themselves as serving the will of government, corporate power and authority. To that extent, everything that they do will be to frustrate and mitigate the purposes of the demonstrators. FIT officers will be collecting data on everyone, and the stage will be set for even more repressive policing in the future.

That be as it may, the main point is to have a large and successful demonstration on Saturday.

Police and anarchist strategy

The police do indeed face a dilemma with this march.

In the case of the student demonstrators the main aim of policing was to kettle and beat protesters with the purpose of intimidating people against protesting.

This cannot be the strategy tomorrow. The police will wish to keep their legitimacy in the eyes of the many ordinary trade unionists and working people, who will be demonstrating. Therefore, they will go to some lengths to avoid heavy repressive policing.

One strategy of the anarchists will be to provoke the police into heavy-handed behaviour with the very purpose of discrediting them. I think this strategy is mistaken: first because it will fail, and second because, in so far as it is successful, it will only deter ordinary people from taking to the streets in the future.

11 March 2011

Assumptions of super injunctions

A so-called super injunction has one aspect which is seldom spelled out: the role of obedience.

In essence a super injunction has two parts: one prevents the facts pertaining to an affair being stated; the other prevents disclosure of the fact that the courts are censoring the press on the matter. In other words if the media covers the topic in any way, they must not tell the whole truth and must not say that they are only telling part of the truth.

No press organisation can be restricted by an injunction unless it is informed of its existence. And for any injunction to make sense to those who are required to act as censors, at least the key facts of what is to be censored need to be communicated. For instance, the recent Goodwin injunction would have to be a little more specific than ordering, “Don’t publish anything on Fred Goodwin.”

If then the recent Fred Goodwin injunction (and at the time of writing I don’t know what it covers exactly) was communicated to all the main media outlets, it means that there are tens of people who know the key facts of the matter, but are sufficiently law abiding to keep stumm. For once information spills onto the web – and particularly on sites hosted in free speech jurisdictions – it is secret no longer.

Nonetheless, information does seep onto the web and increasingly we read The Guardian in combination with Google.

9 March 2011

Get rid of the royal family

The very existence of the British royal family contradicts everything that a liberal democracy is supposed to be about. At its most benign the family serves as entertainment akin to a soap opera; but they also pollute governance with their nepotistic corruption, as is amply demonstrated by the current revelations concerning Prince Andrew’s trade promotion role with dictators.

Ridding ourselves of these royal parasites will not be easy. New Labour brown-nosed to them as much as the current coalition. But simply ignoring the upcoming royal wedding would be a start.

Don't write a premature obituary for Marxism

I wouldn’t write the obituary of Marxism too soon. The thoughts of the old man and his successors have a stubborn habit of re-appearing. In our age when class inequality is soaring and the future of the young has been trashed in education and employment, the allure of Marxian analysis should not be underestimated.

The peak sales of Eric Hobsbawm’s recent offering “How to Change the World, Marx and Marxism, 1840-2011” plus the recent gobbling up of re-issued Marxist tracts in Germany must at least demonstrate a growing interest outside a sclerotic academia.

Of course the younger generation will adapt Marxism in new ways. In the 60s and 70s Freudianism, libertarianism and linguistic structuralism was interweaved into historical materialism to embed the theory into academia. The young today will make new syntheses – and all the older generation can do is watch and perhaps try to prevent the repetition of old mistakes.

8 March 2011

Girl Rioters

The Daily Mail has branded female protesters in Britain as “Girl Rioters.”

If on 26 March 2011 fifty percent of the people demonstrating against the current economic onslaught on ordinary working people are women, we should welcome the fact. We should also insist that fifty percent of the organisers are women.

The Daily Mail - in deploying language like Girl Rioters - is disparaging protest; they will always try to divide working people along ethnic and gender lines. The hope of these reactionaries is to appeal to sexist working class men and to encourage them to keep “their” women at home. They will not succeed.

George Lichtheim on Imperialism

Imperialism subordinates one set of people to another by economic, political or ideological means.

Last week I took down another dusty Penguin paperback from my bookshelf, George Lichtheim’s slender volume “Imperialism” published in 1971. I must have bought it in the early 1980s, though I don’t remember doing so.

As its name suggests, the book is an attempt to define the concept of imperialism and Lichtheim does so historically from an independent Marxist perspective. His main thesis is that imperialism has had different features in different epochs: antiquity, medieval Europe, the mercantile age, industrial capitalism and the new imperialisms following the Second World War. With independent insight, he weaves his way through the claims of Kautsky, Hilferding, Luxemburg, Lenin, Mao, etc.

Lichtheim writes in a clear accessible English and displays encyclopaedic erudition in his writing. His is a style and approach much lacking in the current era. The only drawback to the book is that the initial chapters deal with his topic in antiquity and medieval Europe which are not matters of gripping interest to many.

Lichtheim himself committed suicide in 1973.

LICHTHEIM, George - Imperialism, Penguin 1971

Many people have sought out this entry for an in-depth analysis of the book. I am sorry to disappoint them with this brief comment.


4 March 2011

Assange and interrogation dates in Sweden

The Assange legal case shows bias and imbalance.

The Swedish Association of Lawyers is enquiring into the conduct of Julian Assange's Swedish lawyer, Björn Hurtig, after London magistrate, Howard Riddle, condemned Hurtig as an unreliable witness for giving false testimony during Assange's extradition hearings.

Hurtig falsely claimed in the hearing that Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, had made no attempt to interview Assange before he left Sweden on 15 September 2010. She had in fact given Hurtig one proposed date.

Not content with attacking Hurtig, Riddle went on to say:

"It would be a reasonable assumption from the facts that Mr Assange was deliberately avoiding interrogation before he left Sweden."

Hurtig’s “mistake” has indeed been very damaging to Julian Assange, but Riddle’s assertion that Assange was “avoiding interrogation” seems unproved on the facts.

First, Hurtig had made several previous attempts to arrange an interview for Assange with Ny; and it was Ny who had turned down the earlier opportunities.

Second, it is unclear whether Hurtig passed on Ny’s proposed date to Assange.

The disingenuous behaviour of Ny is apparent. Hurtig, in a letter to Assange’s London solicitors dated 14 November 2010, claims that on 14 September Ny told him that Assange was free to leave Sweden. If that is so, and there is no reason to disbelieve it, Ny seems to have facilitated Assange leaving Sweden prior to her questioning him. Why?

There is another aspect to the undermining of the credibility of Hurtig. He is the only person outside the Swedish state to have seen the text messages between Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen, messages which apparently undermine their allegations against Assange.

More generally, there is a total imbalance in the case. Any fault or oversight on the Assange side is picked on and the worst inferences are drawn from it, while a myriad of irregularities from the prosecution are passed over.

3 March 2011

Disproving Marxism: is it possible?

If I had to pose the hardest question to Marxist theory it would be this rather simple one: What events could take place in the future which would refute Marxism?

If Marxists don’t come up with an answer, but say instead that anything that happens is compatible with Marxist theory, then surely Marxist theory cannot explain anything at all. It would be as meaningful as a weather forecast that said it would either rain or not rain within the next twenty-four hours.

To say the same thing in philosophical terms, Marxism must surely give rise to potentially falsifiable synthetic a postiori propositions and not simply consist of a priori ones.

The microscope conception of Marxism

Some have argued that Marxism cannot the refuted by events in the world for the following reason. Propositions, it is argued, are of two kinds: empirical ones which can be refuted by testing against reality and philosophical ones which cannot. The latter would include propositions of mathematics, formal logic and Marxism. One way of illustrating Marxism when seen like this is to compare it with a microscope. A microscope enables us to see an object which otherwise would remain unknown to us, but nothing that we see “invalidates” the working of the microscope.

This view, though, seems to lead to an uncomfortable conclusion. Social sciences (sociology, politics, economics, etc) do give rise to falsifiable hypotheses. Marxism can’t give us any statements on these matters because if it did they would be refutable, and if they were refutable then the Marxism that gave rise to them would also be refutable.

This kind of formulation, if left here, seems to imprison Marxism into a closed metaphysical system.

Marxism conceived only as history

Some argue that Marxism is only about history, so the theory cannot be refuted by events in the future. Many people do in fact see Marxism as primarily a tool for understanding the past, as a theory of “postdiction” as opposed to prediction. And indeed, Marxism conceived as a narrative on human history is easy to understand. It’s not necessary to comprehend what caused what, but merely what happened. And what did happen was written down by Marx, Engels and later Marxist writers.

This kind of historicism is extremely flexible. If we discover new information about the past, we simply slot it in somehow with what we have already been told in the Marxist narrative. If we find something that is false in that narrative, we take it out without our conception of history collapsing. Such an approach is not wholly without merit, but I would contend that it too easily lends itself to propaganda and can neither verify nor falsify Marxism.

How Marxism is done

How does Marxism work? It is about selecting phenomena from the gamut available, expressing those facts in Marxian concepts and then integrating the facts into the Marxian meta-narrative.

Marxism could be contradicted not by facts in the world – because after all we make history even if not in conditions of our making, so anything is possible in the future – but by finding that the facts that underpin the Marxist paradigm are wrong.

Some discoveries would seriously undermine the Marxian paradigm. Three examples:

The existence of God

Human social behaviour was changing because of developments in the brain independent of social conditions.

Any area of society (e.g. politics,) was explicable without reference to the whole of society.

Marxists can and do come up with specific theories which can be falsified without damaging Marxism. (E.g. the immiseration thesis)

2 March 2011

The Alternative Vote: a minor reform

In May 2011 a referendum will be held on the replacement of Britain’s First-Past-The-Post electoral system with the Alternative Vote.

The Alternative Vote (AV) allows voters to rank their choices 1,2,3, etc, instead of placing a simple cross against only one candidate. In the first round of counting, votes are awarded to candidates according to each voter’s first preference. If no candidate has 50% of the votes, the lowest placed candidate is eliminated and the candidate’s votes are re-allocated according to the eliminated candidate’s second preferences. In each successive round, the lowest placed candidate is eliminated and the votes for that candidate are transferred until one candidate exceeds 50% of the votes.

AV does indeed mean that the successful candidate in the single member constituency is more representative than under First-Past-The-Post, but AV is not proportional representation. The Greens, for instance, could chalk up a double digit percentage of the vote across the country, but still fail to win a single seat.

According to current opinion polls, in the majority of British parliamentary constituencies the first and second candidates will be Tory or Labour. Thus the only voting decision of any importance would be whether the voter ranked higher the Labour or Tory candidate. The two-party system would be mostly preserved.

In a minority of constituencies the Liberal Democrats could expect to occupy the first or second position after the first count. Since they could expect to receive Tory or Labour transfer votes, their chance of winning these seats would be boosted.

AV is still capable of leading to perverse results; e.g. Labour pushing the Liberal Democrats into third place in the penultimate count and then losing to a Tory, whereas had Labour tactical voters got the LibDem into second place the LibDem would have defeated the Tory in the final count.

In fact, this voting reform is so minor, so easy to introduce and is so obviously a fairer way of voting in single member constituencies, a referendum to introduce it seems unnecessary.

Facts and Opinions: some basic points

It is worth making a simple basic distinction between facts and opinions.

A fact is a proposition which is constituted by socially agreed terms (i.e. the words in the sentence)and verified by socially agreed means: e.g. Sweden is seeking Julian Assange’s extradition.

Opinion is of two kinds.

First, opinion can pertain to a proposition asserted by someone which cannot be either verified or falsified: e.g. Julian Assange has engaged only in consenting sexual acts. The weight of an opinion which alleges a fact is dependent on the likelihood of the alleged fact being true.

Second, opinion can consist of an “ought premise” e.g. All those who engage only in consenting sexual acts ought not be punished. Ought premises cannot be deemed true or false; they can only be judged consistent or inconsistent with other ought premises.

Ought premises, if universal, can be combined with facts or “opinion facts” to produce new ought premises. For example:

All those who engage only in consenting sexual acts ought not be punished.
Julian Assange has engaged only in consenting sexual acts
Therefore, Julian Assange ought not be punished

All this is very formalistic, but it does provide a means for decoding texts which mix, fact, alleged fact and opinion.

1 March 2011

Why Britain's conservatives oppose the Alternative Vote

In opposing the alternative vote, Britain’s Conservatives are trying to cheat history.

If you look at the start of every period of Tory-dominated government (i.e. 1931, 1951, 1970, 1979, 2010.), the percentage of the electorate voting Tory is always lower than on the previous occasion.

Today, the Tories can only hope to form a majority government by being the single largest party under a simple majoritarian electoral system. Under AV in most of those constituencies where the Liberal Democrats can get into the second place the Tory would be doomed. Parliaments are more likely to be hung.

AV is not about proportional representation (one person, one vote, one value) but merely a step to make the individual MP more representative of the voters in his or her constituency. But that is not to Tory advantage.

28 February 2011

Blair asks Gadaffi not to kill protesters

Blair has phoned Gaddafi and asked him not kill protesters.

If you want to sum up Blair’s politics in a single sentence it would be this: he sought to strengthen capitalist power in Britain and imperialist capitalist power in the world. In partnership with George Bush he promoted the Iraq War with those ends in mind.

In aligning himself with US power, Blair had no problem embracing dictatorships in Saudi Arablia, Egypt and elsewhere. If Gadaffi was prepared to bring his dictatorship on board, that was fine with Blair.

For Blair now to be phoning Gaddafi and asking him not to kill protesters is about as nauseous a piece of hypocrisy as is his professed religious beliefs.

26 February 2011

Can Assange receive a fair trial in Sweden?

It is impossible for any impartial court to convict Julian Assange on the evidence.

On 25 February 2010, the day after Julian Assange lost his case against extradition to Sweden in a London magistrate’s court, his solicitor, Mark Stephens, wrote an article in The Guardian arguing that Assange could not receive a fair trial in Sweden.

Stephens correctly emphasised that Assange, if extradited, would be held in solitary confinement pending interrogation and trial, and that the hearing of evidence would be in camera with no opportunity for Assange’s lawyers to cross-examine witnesses. Moreover, instead of a jury, assessors appointed by Swedish political parties would determine guilt.

All this amounts to a deficiency in justice, particularly as the evidence against Assange appears unreliable and there are suggestions of political manipulation. Justice in this case which is not seen to be done cannot ever be done.

Yet in his article Assange’s solicitor fails to mention the fundamental reason for Assange not being able to receive a fair trial in Sweden, with Stephen’s reticence presumably due to the fact that the argument is inadmissible in the British courts. Quite simply, it is impossible for any impartial court to convict Julian Assange on the evidence, all of which is now in the public domain and subject to public scrutiny.

The complainants, Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen, have made allegations which Assange has denied, but the circumstantial evidence in the case all piles up to suggest that the women’s allegations are not true.

One of two situations must therefore apply. Either the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, is pursuing Assange with no hope of a successful prosecution; or there is indeed a court in Sweden which could convict on the basis of this unreliable evidence. In either situation it would be wrong to extradite Assange.

Julian Assange is appealing the decision of the magistrate’s court. A successful challenge to the issuing of the European Arrest Warrant on technicalities may or may not be possible – though I wouldn’t hold my breath. Nevertheless, we should not forget the key reason, even if is never argued in a British court.

Photo: Mark Stephens

24 February 2011

The Assange case: some comments

The Assange case is multifaceted and still evolving. The mainstream media have failed to collate the factual material which is available and still less to draw reasoned conclusions from it. Here are a few isolated points and comments.

How should the case be seen in overview?

The case against Assange has been handled improperly by Swedish prosecutors. The allegations against him are unprovable. The circumstantial evidence points to the allegations being untrue. So unless Assange incriminates himself, no unbiased court could convict him.

Assange has been snookered by the combination of four factors: his own arrogance and stupidly; the confused spitefulness of two women, a prosecutor who wants to make an example of a prominent but vulnerable man and three governments out to make life as difficult as possible for Assange.

What is the key point to make in opposing Assange’s extradition from Britain?

The best way to fight this case is to pose the big question: does Marianne Ny have sufficient evidence to prove in a court that Assange committed sexual offences?

As the answer is no, and it clearly is no, then this EAW is being sought for persecution and not for legitimate prosecution.

How could Assange best defend himself as an individual?

Assange’s best defence would be to write an honest and humble account of exactly what happened in bed with the two women and publish it.

What situation are the women in?

why, if these sexual assaults happened at all, were the women so happy to continue friendly relations with Assange after the event? The most convincing explanation is that the alleged sexual offences did not happen and the women are liars.

But let us suppose for a moment that the women merely exaggerated and had no intention of being pawns in this train of events that they set in motion. And perhaps the whole prosecution is chugging along without their will or desire. We don’t know.

Evidence given in camera in Sweden will never answer these questions. These issues will haunt these women, whose identities are widely known, until they die. How much simpler it would be if they chose to speak out publicly now

23 February 2011

Why are the middle-aged middle class so apathetic in the crisis?

The Cameron Government is pursuing an economic policy which will impoverish and wreck the lives of huge numbers of people. The pain is every bit as bad as that inflicted by the Thatcher governments in the 1980s. But contrasting now with then reveals two political differences.

First, the Cameron-led coalition of millionaires has avoided the public gloating sadism associated with men like Norman Tebbit, who were so prominent under Thatcher. While “Tebbitism” no doubt appealed to the ranks of Daily Mail readers (then and now), opposing his brand of narrow-mindedness and authoritarianism united the left at a cultural level in the 1980s.

Second, in the 1980s – even as it moved to the right – the Labour Party provided a rallying point through its propagation of a social democratic alternative for Britain. Today the Labour Party is hogtied in its opposition, for on nearly every issue from rampant inequality to tuition fees, the coalition government is proceeding further along a track previous trodden by New Labour.

Yet the middle-aged middle class left which was so anti-Thatcher two decades ago has not just lost a discernable enemy icon and a friend in the Labour Party, it has also been hobbled by its own experience. Let me explain how.

In the 1970s and early 1980s the educated young reacted in horror at the demise of the achievements of the Post War consensus. As politics polarised, much of the educated young attached itself to the left with more ardour than did those in their adulthood in the 1960s. Yet history played a trick. Although the young middle-class left lost politically, at the person level it prospered – and this bred in many a political cynicism and disengagement from politics. That cynicism was fed further as the generation passively witnessed the immorality and betrayals of New Labour; so when the economic turn came at the end of the 2000s, it could respond with nothing but sarcasm and jokes.

One can just hope that the younger generation can do better.