Thursday, 16 January 2020

Revolutionary Witness: The Preacher







https://youtu.be/nXZqq2smuHs

Internet Archive link

https://archive.org/details/alanrickmanrevolutionarywitnessthepreacher1989

Revolutionary Witness: The Preacher
Transcription from the 1986 television airing
God created rich people first and then showed then the world they would own and when they came to a field with thousands of headless bodies with torsos and hands like iron, God told them the headless bodies were destined to be poor workers.  The rich cried out, "But these heroes with their iron muscles will crush us."  "Don't be frightened," answered God. "I shall place very small heads and brains on their bodies so until they develop them you've nothing to fear."  Who are still the oppressors?  The rich.  Who are still the oppressed? The poor.  Your slavery is their liberty.  Your poverty is their prosperity. Priests say the poor must be content with their poverty and they'll find heaven hereafter. Idiots, cretinous rag-pickers!  My dog Georges has more sense.  Don't you know that whilst you're gazing up at heaven your pockets are being picked clean, your eyes are plucked out and you're robbed of your birthrights, blind to what is done to you?  Christ's priests seized mankind in its cradle and broke the bad news saying, "You shapeless stench. You can never be anything but filth.  Your only chance of winning a pardon for being so filthy is if you bow low in perfect humility in the face of all the afflictions, sorrows and injustices heaped upon you.  You're poor and you stay poor.  That is how it is meant to be.  Life is a bitter ordeal.  Don't speak out.  Just try and save your worthless soul.  You won't be able to but you'll give us less trouble by trying.  And when the time comes for you to die croaking, the darkness will be as hard to bear as the daylight ever was."  The Church knows its business.  It offers fear and punishment, not happiness, certainly not liberty, only servitude forever and forever.  Religion is a liar and a cheat, yet still you hunger for it.  That's why you've sent for me, Jacques Roux, Mad Jacques, Red Roux, preacher of the poor, sower of sedition, subverter of all laws, a priest who saw the light of reason and now proclaims fellowship with all who live in dark dens and desolate places.  Its fitting that I should preach perhaps my last sermon in a ruined church in the parish of St. Nicholas, summer's end.  I go before the tribunal tomorrow, charged with revolutionary excess.  Now I am, it seems, to revolutionary for the revolution.  And so it begins.  When power rested in one man, King Louis, all sorts complained of oppression, and the nobility, middle, and monied men called on the poor to help.  Together we lopped off that top branch of tyranny but the tree still stands and spreads.  New branches hide the sun of freedom from the poor, the revolutionary tribunal is one such.  I don't recognize its authority to judge me.  Only the poor of St. Nicholas can do that.  I come here, to lay the rags and tatters of my life before my peers.  Habits are hard to break citizens.  I come to confess me. Hear my confession.  Do not forgive me Father, for I have not sinned.

My own father had twelve children and as I was the cleverest he rid himself of my by sending me to school in the Angouleme Seminary.  At fifteen I was ordained a priest when I knew even less about God than I know now.  There was a priest on every dunghill, the scummier they were the more they sprouted.  But I stayed on and became Professor of Philosophy teaching students to bear with fortitude the misfortunes of others.  Like religion, philosophy solves the problems of the past and the future, never the present.  In '79, the Angouleme students rioted over the agony they saw around them and killed the cook by accident.  As a suspect teacher with ideas I was arrested and imprisoned, though I had nothing to do with the incident.  A month or so later, I was released.  No trial, no inquiry, authority had decreed it and I had no say in the matter whether I was to be free or in chains.  This is how fires are kindled.  Afterwards I spent four years in the Chair of Experimental Medicine at Angouleme. But medicine proved equally useless.  Physicians know even less than philosophers and priests gangrened together.  They lie, they all lie!  Isn't that so Georges?  You tell 'em, I've grown hoarse in the telling.  In '89 I was given this poor parish of St. Nicholas and I was born into the real world of starvation and misery and I saw the horror and the hope too.  For the Revolution burst over us, smashed the clamps that held us down, and swept us up, up with its transforming power. We opened the book we'd never read and on the first page was the word "liberty".  Listen, listen, the Revolution was born in violence.  Revolutions must be violent , it is the only way to end the greater violence that keeps the majority of mankind in servitude. Do you think that those with privileges would give them up without a fight because you have a charming smile and the best arguments? Adjuro! Adjuro!  I renounced my alliance to Rome and gave it to France.  I became a constitutional priest, put off the mitered robes of privilege and put on the white robes of liberty.  I still practice as priest and physician when called on, but I have to earn an honest living as a pamphleteer and municipal official.  I live with a good woman, Widow Petit, born Elizabeth Hubert, once laundress to the rich, now my helpmate, soul-mate, who sells my pamphlets two sous a copy.  We adopted a son, Emile. A sweet sweet boy....No more of that.  It's not for your ears or yours or yours.  My only fear, citizens, is not death but a life without them.  Georges knows.  We love them don't we, Georges, eh?

I was elected a member of the Commune and spoke for the poor.  I told Robespierre, Saint-Just, Brissot and the rest that they could never be the Revolution, just men and not to be trusted with power. Anyone with authority becomes an oppressor, a parasitic coat of filth on the hide of the common people.  Between those who command and those who obey there is only hate.  Does it follow that I reject all authority?  No, but I always keep my hat on in its presence.  In the matter of bread I consult a baker, in the matter of boots, a boot-maker, a house, a builder, for special knowledge I apply a specialist.  But I don't allow the baker, the boot-maker or builder to impose their authority over me.  I listen to them with the respect they merit--if any--but I keep the right to judge, criticize, and censure.  Why should we treat politicians of whatever stripe, royal or revolutionary, any different?  I listened to Kind Louis, Mirabeau, La Fayette the same way I listened to the baker and the boot-maker.  Don't be fooled by those who set themselves above you.  Always look at the bill they are presenting--you have to pay it.  And criticize me, too.  People thought Citizen Marat and I were enemies because we were forever attacking each other.  He called me an extremist, this from a man who declared three hundred thousand heads weren't enough.  But we were never enemies, just revolutionaries, doing our duty.  Neither of us were popular with the legislators, but it is not my purpose to be popular.  I am here to sting!  To stop me stinging, the Assembly hired me to write the report of the King's execution.  We didn't do that well, but you'll not squeeze one tear from my eye over the fate of a royal fool and his followers who talked of honor and died without it.  To the bone-yard with the whole crew! "The rich we'll gobble up, tra lee, tra la tra lie! With truffles in the rump and oysters on each eye."  I love the harp. That's how men and women should die, to the sound of harps.  They're so precious.  King Louis died to the sound of drums.  As the recording officer, I went with Citizen Santerre to the Temple Prison to escort the King to the place of execution.  Santerre brought a carriage and a guard of honor for the occasion.  We drove through streets lined with citizens.  They had three executioners waiting, three!  And eighteen drummers!  What extravagances just to kill one man.  The knife fell, Louis' head fell with it, the crowd shouted "Long live the Republic," and then I saw Citizen Santerre and the other revolutionary officials dipping their handkerchiefs in the King's blood!  I wrote it all up in my report but I was the only one who seemed disgusted by the whole spectacle.  Invading armies were about to overwhelm Paris, there was civil strife in the Vendee, rebellions in Lyon and Bordeaux, and good men and women were dying everywhere defending the revolution, even as the traitorous Louis was dying on the scaffold.  But the good and the true had no carriages, no eighteen drummers and three executioners. A Prussian sword in the belly, and English bullet in the chest, and falling face down in the mud was their end.  That's how ordinary people die, meanly, without harps or even drums to play them out.  But Louis that useless toe-rag of a man goes in style, his anemic blood gathered up as something precious.

A month later, remember, I led the attack on the Paris food merchants.  I'm proud of that attack, those in power condemned me for it so I know it must have been right.  We ask only for food, a home, a little ease, no more crying in the streets, "Bread, bread for God's sake".  We were at war and so we accepted such hardships if they were equally shared, but they weren't.  We were dying because of filthy bourgeois graft and greed.  The slimy rapacious money-mad exploiters were hoarding food to raise the price on the open market.  Our legislators wrung their hands, threatened with a whisper, and did nothing.  So we flat-bellies marched, smashed stalls, broke open shops and warehouses, and found the bread and meat and and other foodstuffs they'd hidden in abundance.  They asked us why we did it.  We told them because we needed it.  Citizen Marat said we should kill every merchant in sight.  We made do with a few score strung up in front of their own shops to encourage the others.  And it did.  The next morning, the food markets were filled again, with fruit and vegetables, bread and meat.  Like Jesus, we had performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  We must appropriate the land and money from the rich who have it in excess and give it to those who need it and live in want.  The only way to defend and save the Revolution is by pushing it as far as it'll go and then further, and that's never far enough for me.  Then Citizen Marat died, steel through the heart, painless, when he had such a painful life.  I miss him.  No one left to trust. That's why I agreed to become editor of his paper when his staffed asked me "to keep the bright flame burning". So when those impotent excremental conformists Robespierre and the Jacobin gang banned women from political power, we took up the cause.  They wanted liberty for themselves alone.  I wrote that those refugees from the leper house of reaction should be belled and booted headfirst to the nearest sewer.  In return, they persuaded Marat's widow Catherine to denounce me to the revolutionary tribunal for besmirching her husband's memory.  Poor sweet Catherine, grief takes many forms. She wanted to protect her husband's fame, she thought I was trying to take it from him in some way.  I shun fame!  It always costs to much!
Late last night, I went walking through the streets of Paris with Georges.  Just the two of us, Georges padding beside me sniffing every post and doorway, and me smoking my pipe. There's nothing better. Making love, perhaps, or making a revolution, but with a revolution, you have to be right.  It was a clear night, and empty streets, and as we passed St. Nicholas' Church, something strange happened.  I was walking, but suddenly I couldn't hear my own footsteps, not one, silence.  I was a dead man walking.  No more of that.

Tomorrow before the tribunal of mumblers I shall make no attempt to defend myself.  That doesn't mean to say I'll stay silent--never that.  I'll do what I was born to do, attack.  If the verdict of that bunch of rotting fish-heads goes against me, I die like friend Marat, through struck down by a better hand, my own!

It's been a rich confession after all friends, deserving of some penance--at least five Hail Mary's and twenty-six Amens.  After all, I've preached revolution and sedition, slaughtered a King and others, lived in sin, and will probably end even deeper in it by killing myself.  In the eyes of the Church it is a hundred percent record of failure.  But on Judgment Day, I expect to stand before my God justified.  I do not condemn myself and shall not be condemned.  And so Amen.  If it's to be the last Amen, I go gladly.  My wife and son will weep, I know.  Georges here will howl a little, won't you boy?  My friends will pause, shake their heads, and move on.  For they have the difficult part.  Living well is so much harder than dying well.  I have tried, to help create a people who are skeptical, rational, critical, not easily fooled or impressed, in a word, a free people, ungovernable.  It's a dream, of course, but I've been lucky to have lived through times that made the dream seem possible, and just for a moment, we stopped being me and mine, you and yours, us and them, and saw ourselves instead as equals in our common humanity.  We are of that generation that so transformed the world that future days and nights can never be the same.  We poor clumsy men and women turned the world upside down, inside out, round and about. 

One last word from my last sermon. The Revolution isn't complete, hardly begun.  Defend it. Don't sit back, act!  Without action, no life.  Without live, no perfection.  Without perfection, no eternal peace and freedom.  For God is an active power and we do His work in fighting the great battles: light against darkness, love against selfishness, revolution against reaction, life against death. C'mon Georges, it's time for our walk. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

So-socialism




So there was an election in the UK recently.

I'm not going to rehash the old arguments about electoralism is it viable or a betrayal? Discuss. Both sides have covered their ground far better than I would nearly a hundred years ago. For transparency sake I don't think its a viable means to building a fundamentally new and better society.

I want to talk about an accompanying argument that gets thrown up every now and then, voting as harm reduction. You get this a lot at a big usually national election, and sometimes there's merit to it, a change in government can have some beneficial outcomes for some vulnerable sections of society.

But the issue here is that it isn't a given and requires a lot ifs and maybes. Sticking with this meme above, I have met people whose response to serious social problems like homelessness is simply to urge everyone to read their favourite author. I've yet to meet one of them who was pushing Proudhon but I suppose its only a matter of time.

And yes, some governments have shown that they're willing and capable of tackling issues like homelessness. Over the years several regional and national governments have received praise for housing policies that have ended street sleeping, including Finland https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2017/mar/22/finland-solved-homelessness-eu-crisis-housing-first

And Salt Lake City, at least until they cut the funding for the program that earned them a lot of praise previously.

The increase has been particularly noticeable in Utah, which had reduced chronic homelessness by 91 percent over the decade up to 2015, according to the state’s annual homelessness report.
Experts attributed the drop to a “Housing First” policy, adopted by the state in 2005, which focused on getting people into housing, regardless of mental illness or substance abuse problems that could be treated after accommodation was secured.
“The only thing I’ve ever seen that really worked in terms of reducing the number of people on the street was the Housing First policy,” said Glenn Bailey, who directs Crossroads Urban Center, a Salt Lake City food pantry.
“The mistake we made was stopping.”
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-homelessness-housing-idUSKCN1P41EQ
So yes who forms a government can relieve some suffering or make it worse.

But the problem here is that its not really honest. Elections aren't just a question of turning out on polling day and making your mark on the right box. There's a lot more variables.

For example I first saw this meme a few days before I left the country for several weeks and I didn't get back into the UK until the day of the election. So whoever made this is in essence having ago at aloof jerks who won't do anything by advocating not doing anything for about three weeks.

This is the problem, elections tend to be at fixed points in time, so voting labour wouldn't help this person for quite a while assuming it does lead to a better outcome in the end. We would also need Labour to win the election, and for them to bring in a policy that would have results similar to Finland and Salt Lake City.

Well the manifesto didn't have a pledge on a Housing first initiative, but it did promise to end homelessness over a five year period with a Prime Ministerial taskforce, but the main commitments concerned hostel improvements, scrapping laws that allow police to target and harass rough sleepers and more funding.


No one should sleep without a roof over their head in one of the richest countries in the world. But under the Tories, the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled.

Over 125,000 children are now living in temporary accommodation, without a home to call their own – or the space they need to thrive. Labour will tackle the root causes of rising homelessness with more affordable homes and stronger rights for renters.

Labour will end rough sleeping within five years, with a national plan driven by a prime minister-led taskforce. We will expand and upgrade hostels, turning them into places where people can turn their lives around. We will make available 8,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping. We will tackle the wider causes of homelessness, raising the Local Housing Allowance in line with the 30th percentile of local rents, and earmarking an additional £1 billion a year for councils’ homelessness services.

We will bring in a new national levy on second homes used as holiday homes to help deal with the homelessness crisis, so that those who have done well from the housing market pay a bit more to help those with no home.

We will save lives this winter by ensuring extra shelters and support are in place in all areas. And we’ll repeal the Vagrancy Act and amend antisocial behaviour legislation to stop the law being used against people because they are homeless.
https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/tackle-poverty-and-inequality/

So its not nothing, but even in a best case scenario we're looking at five years to prevent homelessness, and not the winter of 2019/20.

This is why I really don't like this type of argument, its inherently dishonest. Either the people making these arguments don't understand how governance works in practice, or they do and know it isn't a vote winner so they come up with simplified forms of emotional blackmail.

Part Two: Factions and Institutions

Above I said in a best case scenario a Labour government in 2019 would end rough sleeping in five years. Best case because it assumes the reformist government is in control and will face no serious opposition. On paper in most representative systems this shouldn't be an issue because they are majoritarian, the largest factions forms the government so it usually has enough votes to make the laws and amendments.

But this is not always the case, political parties tend to be very broad churches and their are times when a schism is brewing.

President Truman is famous, but he's mainly well known for his foreign policy adventures, such as the Truman Doctrine. In contrast he's domestic record is abysmal, despite his own party often having a majority in Congress his reforms either died outright or were watered down in compromise. Because while many Senators and Representatives were Democrats, a large chunk of them came from the parties conservative wing with strongholds in the segregationist south.

Now Labour didn't win so we'll never know how the parliamentary labour party would've reacted during the government term, but based on how many of them reacted before hand provoking another leadership election, publicly denouncing the leadership and its policies etc. Intra party fighting and resistance seems like a potential outcome. Indeed most electoral governments that aren't dominated by a powerful internal faction often risk severe internal dissent if the leadership doesn't balance things well enough.

Part Three: Broken Promises




Now to be clear I'm not saying in this particular case the Labour party was lying, we'll never know but I don't see why they wouldn't intend to follow through on their stated policy. But this something that everyone should keep in mind in regards to elections. Just because a candidate or party says they'll do something in power doesn't mean they will deliver on it. Sometimes its not their fault, the intention was their they just couldn't overcome the opposition.

But other times they're actively breaking their promises. Usually in popular culture this a symptom of avarice and moral failings, but sometimes events don't give them any alternatives. Nothing is an isolated island after all.

Their are many examples to choose from, my personal favourite is the 1916 US Presidential elections. The Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson was seeking re-election and a large part of his bid was that he would keep the USA out of the First World War. Because of this many American radicals including socialists like John Reed supported him. He won and then the German Navy began unrestricted naval warfare in the Atlantic and tried to entice Mexico to invade the USA, and after that became public there was no way he could maintain the power and prestige of the USA without responding forcefully.


This is the issue with much electoral propaganda, it assumes an idealised relationship that is exclusively between the governors and the electorate who is governed. But that just isn't true, groups of politicians, state institutions, sectors of capital and international concerns all make themselves felt. So to simply boil down the supposed solution to finding a lesser evil and doing the bare minimum to support them becoming a ruling power is hopelessly naïve at best.

Part Four: What is to be done?

Okay so inviting the homeless into book clubs doesn't work and voting for one group of politicians is really more of a gamble that someone else will eventually get around to solving the problem for us, but the odds aren't great.


So what does actually work? well their are things that can be done to address the present effects of state violence and the logic of capitalist economics. I'm going to go ahead and steal this list of potential options written by Ed

Workplace organising


It’s still the case that our power as a class is strongest at the point where we produce profit: at work. If there’s a union at your work, join it and get in touch with your rep saying you’d like to help organise. If there’s no rep, get in touch with the branch and offer to take on the role (and check out these tips for being a good union rep).

If there’s no union, consider starting one: you could go with one of the larger TUC unions or smaller member-controlled unions like the UVW, IWGB or IWW. All these unions should be able to train you in the nuts and bolts of workplace organising. TUC rep training often focuses too heavily on recruiting members rather than organising, so we would highly recommend you attend the IWW’s Organiser Training. Unions often aren’t perfect, but the best way to learn how to make the best of them is to get started and get in touch with other militants. However workplace organisation begins with making connections with your co-workers, and beginning to be able to talk about pay and working conditions amongst each other, and this is worthwhile and necessary whether there is a formal workplace organisation in place or not.

Migrant solidarity


There are lots of groups around the country doing migrant solidarity work that will be invaluable in the coming years. The Anti-Raids Network do great work resisting immigration raids (read more here). So start an Anti-Raids group to build resistance to the hostile environment.

Other groups like NELMA in East London, the Unity Centre in Glasgow or Kent Anti-Racism Network all do good work. You can also get in touch to see if there are similar groups nearer to you.

Tenant organising


The Radical Housing Network would be the first port of call to see if there are any groups or campaigns in your area or to help you set one up if there isn’t. Rent Strike have been organising successful rent strikes amongst students since 2015 and have a handy ‘How-to’ section on their website. Brighton Solidarity Federation have been doing great organising for years around housing, organising rent strikes and confronting landlords and estate agents over withheld deposits and repairs. SolFed do not have functioning locals across the UK by any means, but you may be able to join other local renters unions like the London Renters Union.

Defending public services and benefits


The past ten years has seen swinging cuts to public services and benefits: Universal Credit, work capability, PIP and ESA assessments, the benefits cap and bedroom tax, cuts to domestic violence centres, libraries, and social care. Groups like Disabled People Against Cuts[/ur] and [url=http://www.sistersuncut.org/]Sisters Uncut have been fighting these restrictions of provision. There have also been recent successes from local campaigns to prevent service closures such as Essex libraries.

Things will get worse before they get better with a Tory majority, despite promises to 'end austerity' and this means talking about direct community provision too. Foodbanks are often presented as apolitical, but there are examples, like Food Hall Project in Sheffield, of providing social space – as well as food – to talk to each other about shared issues which can (and should) be spread elsewhere.

Climate change


While we have reservations about Extinction Rebellion, chances are there’ll be a group near you and it may be worth getting in touch to meet people who want to take direct action (but please, DO NOT give your info to police or get arrested for the sake of it!), especially in light of important campaigning against Heathrow expansion. The Green Anti-Capitalist Front are a more radical alternative. There are also community groups like HACAN East (against London City Airport) which could do with support/replication while Frack Off have a list of anti-fracking groups (which will no doubt be back on the agenda soon).

Self-defense


When Tommy Robinson endorsed Boris Johnson he showed what all of us knew already: that the British far-right see the Tory leader as ‘their guy’. They will be feeling pretty confident now and that won’t just come about in more far-right marches, but in more violence and aggression in general. At least three Labour canvassers were assaulted over the course of this General Election campaign and anti-Muslim violence rose 375% after Johnson’s 2018 “letterboxes” comment about burqa-wearing women. We will have to oppose this; whether that means setting up local anti-fascist groups like those around the Anti-Fascist Network, starting ‘red gyms’ or something more informal.
http://libcom.org/blog/every-challenge-can-be-overcome-6-ideas-getting-started-13122019
This isn't an exhaustive list and not everything on here will be viable for everyone, but they are examples of things that can be done immediately by people without having to wait and trust in groups and institutions to eventually get into power and then eventually look into the issue once they've managed to find a compromise that'll appease the rest of the powerful groups.

For homelessness in particular, the meme mentions Proudhon. Proudhon was a major advocate of workers co-operatives, and a major criticism of Proudhon's economic ideas is that they would not be viable in terms of building a new society that escapes capitalism. But it has had some success in providing relief and a means of support for homeless people and other marginalised populations. For example the Cartoneros of Argentina.


Of course the world isn't Argentina, but I'm trying to hammer home is that the do nothing purity/vote for the mainstream party that talks better on certain issues is really a false dichotomy. In both cases they can easily amount to nothing being done. Whereas we have many examples of things that can be done that do have at least a partial success record in providing support to each other.

Coda


I don't know who made these images, but they're drawing ability is good enough that I'm sincerely angry at both of these two caricatures for using this man as a prop for their own sense of militant posturing. So credit for that.

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