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)