Saturday, 22 July 2017

Stitched Up

I owe my mother a lot, she's taught me many things and the debt keeps growing. For example recently she's given me a perfect example of the inherent conflict between employee's and their bosses. A lot of modern left wing discourse tends to miss the point of class dynamics to a degree, the focus is mainly on sweatshops or massive corporation so small time businesses and "ethical" capitalists tend to get a pass. This was one of the problems with the Occupy movement and its 1% vs 99% it kinda blurred the lines a lot with its populist framing.

My mother recently got a job with a small textile business that makes ships sails and boat covers. She really liked, she got on with her two co-workers and she even got along with the boss, lets call him Dave. The money while small was enough to live on and she does enjoy sewing and has experience with industrial sewing machines. And yet just after three months the relationship has soured, and its simply because of the capitalist/worker dynamic.

Dave is unusual as far as bosses go like many smallish businessmen he does do some productive work mainly arranging sales (as in purchasing) and machine maintenance. He's also a hippy type, my mother told me how laidback he is and he's only interested in providing for his family and he was more than accommodating for his employees personal issues. So a nice guy, there were a few warning signs I could of picked up on but why spoil some much needed good news for my mother? What productive would be achieved? So instead I just made vague noncommittal agreements.

Now the use of past tense is giving it away, now Dave the hippy has turned around and said he wants my mother to give up her permanent position in favour of an as and when piece work basis when its busy. He's said the reason for this is because there aren't enough orders but the number of orders have increased since my mother started not declined. Its seems more likely that he's overspent, for a Hippie he isn't lacking in luxuries, and so instead of tightening his belt he's trying to reduce the payroll and holiday pay of his business while keeping personal expenses.

This is obvious because he hired my mother not on a temporary basis when business was unusually good, it was a permanent placement complete with paid holidays, holidays which my mother just so happens to be taking next month when this new employment terms would take effect. So its clearly an excuse, perhaps though this nice Dave is making an excuse because he wasn't happy with my mothers work and hoped to let her down gently? Well he has a funny way of showing his displeasure if so, every piece my Mother has made including the ones on her trial shift have either been sold, or placed for sale within the general stock, she's even been trusted with making some special orders.

The workshop mainly makes general sails and covers differentiated by size and colour but does do special orders for say special patterns or the name of a vessel stitched in, etc. She is by her own admission slower than the other seamstresses but that is part of the process for a textile worker. Usually how it works is you learn the stages needed for creating the article, whether it be a sack, a shirt a blanket etc, and once you've shown you know how to use the machine and handle the materials you then focus on eliminating what's often described by management as excess or wasted time. Muscle memory in a word, to maximise efficiency in textile production a worker has to get to the point where every step is an automatic response. I remember as a child being taken to the textile factory my mum worked in in the 90's after school waiting for her to finish her shift. A lot of them weren't even looking at their work they were just doing it.  They were working constantly and the ratter tatter of the sewing machines never stopped but all of the steps were just subconscious movements, no mistakes no slow downs.

And that was what my mother was doing these past two and a bit months, she went from an average of 3 sails to 4 and occasionally 5. All of which were sold or put up for sale. The other full timers could average a standard sail at 45 minutes give or take. Covers and special orders are too different to standardise.

But moving beyond my mother for a minute her workplace relations provide a perfect example of the inherent exploitation of capitalism. One of the warning signs from the very beginning for me was how much my mother was being paid. She and her co-workers are on minimum wage (£7.50), that seemed rather meagre for a workshop catering mainly to the luxury market. Standard hours are three eight hour days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) with extra days to cover for time off or when orders have increased quite a bit. So I asked her how much a standard sail sells for, on average they go for £500. Now that doesn't include covers or special orders but the bulk of sales are standard sails, so 7.50 times by 24 (average hours) and multiplied by three (number of staff) is £540 so one sail by one staff member covers most of the wage bill, if all three employee's turn up and fulfil one sail, Dave has made nearly a thousand pounds of profit. As it stands my mother with her four sails clears the wage bill and makes him nearly fifteen hundred pounds of profit per day. And remember she's below average at the workshop.

But of course wages aren't the only outgoing for a business, there's rent on workspace, though he owns the workshop outright so doesn't pay rent, the cost of building or buying the business, though Dave inherited it from his father so that doesn't apply, the machines, industrial sewing machines aren't cheap its true. But the ones he uses he got from his dad and have been in use for over ten years, haven't broken down and show no signs of breaking down or any noticeable decline in performance and probably won't for years, so we can scratch that off the list too.

Ah but what about materials! Well its true that materials for sails can be quite expensive (but then that is covered in the sale price) and the workshop uses several. But the main material they use is a form Polytarp, now as material Polytarp, its a bit like the material for water proof overalls, and its incredibly cheap in its raw form and can be bought in bulk easily. So while materials do add to the outgoings unless Dave is being ripped off it doesn't add that much.

 So business issues aren't really the issue here, what is the root of this conflict is power dynamics. Dave owns the business so he calls the shots, and while it is incredibly unfair of him to shift the burden for his own spending sprees (this isn't the first time he's done something like this after a big splash on something) onto his own employees, but legally speaking he's in the right his workshop his rules, and the power relationship means there isn't much to be done within the system. Either he changes his mind and learns to take his own problems on the chin or workplace resistance convinces him to back down.

No matter how friendly and nice an employer is, they are incapable of being your friend. Its not because they're bad people Dave does seem genuinely nice and kind and I'm sure he thinks he's being magnanimous by pushing my mother onto a piecework rate instead of firing her outright, though the fact he's singling out the employee whose been employed for the shortest period and thus has fewer legal protections and obligations is kinda telling. Its the power relationship and the mutually conflicting interests of capital and labour. He has the power to transfer his problems onto others and can do so in a way that maintains his livelihood, and so he is taking it.

Its not personal its just business, and that is the root of the problem.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Mad Marx:

From Existential Comics

I may have been a touch pessimistic about the stagnation of leftist education. In the past couple of days I've encountered some new materials. For today here's a mini series on Marx by Philosphy Tube, that I find to be very interesting and presenting in an engaging way. It won't make you an expert but it does explain a few things.

The playlist,

Episode 1 Labour & Class Conflict

Episode 2 Capitalism's Consequences

Episode 3 Cultural Marxism & Political Correctness

Episode 4 Beyond Capitalism

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Napoleon: The Man and the Myths

Historian Andrew Roberts presents a series, recorded partly on location in Paris, which dispels some myths about Napoleon Bonaparte.

As a history buff I've spent a lot of time in Bonaparte's shadow. For a man who left such an impact on historical accounts its surprisingly difficult to find neutral accounts of the man and his record. Historians and authors tend to fall into one of two camps, Napoleon L'Empereur, admirers who view him as the great liberator and moderniser of a stagnate Europe, or Napoleon the bloodthirsty Antichrist. 

There's not much overlap, and this podcast series by Andrew Roberts leans toward the former, but it does demolish quite a few myths about old Boney, so I think its worth listening too.

 épisode Un

 Napoleon was savaged by British caricaturists during his lifetime. They loved to portray him as 'little Boney' - a short, uncouth, villainous, Corsican upstart. In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts dispels some of those myths. Recorded partly on location in Paris, Roberts visits Napoleon's tomb and the Foundation Napoleon, where the Emperor's huge correspondence is kept. Far from the short bully of contemporary propaganda, Andrew Roberts suggests Napoleon was charming, learned, a gifted military tactician - and of average height. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Deux

 It's said that France became a police state under Napoleon. He wanted to know everything about his growing empire and, despite the revolution, crowned himself as Emperor to rule over it. Historian Andrew Roberts challenges this bald account of events. He presents Napoleon as a ruler who rescued France from its post-revolutionary chaos, whose sense of order and efficiency was welcomed by his countrymen. Roberts also argues that Napoleon was not interested in interfering in the lives of his subjects and that he broke with tradition by rewarding people of merit and talent - regardless of their class. For the first time, those of humble birth could rise to the highest positions in the country. The programme is recorded partly on location in France. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Trois

 Vaulting ambition, a politically calculating marriage, endless battles across Europe, a Russian campaign that cost the lives of half a million French troops - there is much for which history can criticise Napoleon. But historian Andrew Roberts defends Napoleon against these charges and makes the case for him as a man more sinned against than sinning - though the retreat from Moscow, vividly described, left Napoleon's army in dismal disarray with many men succumbing to deaths from disease and cold and suicide. As a result, Napoleon was exiled to Elba. Although of course, he would return. The programme is partly recorded on location in Paris. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio Production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Quatre

The battle of Waterloo changed the future of Europe and sealed Napoleon's fate. But why did such a successful and experienced commander as Napoleon lose that battle, 200 years ago today? Historian Andrew Roberts describes Napoleon's uncharacteristic catalogue of errors, the poor communications on the battlefield and the Emperor's miscalculation about the vital part that would be played by the Prussians, fighting on the Allied side. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Cinq

 What does history make of Napoleon? Exiled to St Helena, where it was hoped by the British that he would be forgotten, he in fact remained - and remains - a figure of fascination. For Europeans, he is still the author of civil reforms that underpin laws today. In France, his schools, architecture and infrastructure are a constant reminder of his rule. Opinion is of course divided. Those on the right in France tend to admire Napoleon as a strong Enlightenment leader; those on the left stress his warlike and tyrannical side. In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts allows listeners to make up their own minds. The programmes are partly recorded on location in Paris. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Well in Theory

 “During the past nine years the International has developed more than enough ideas to save the world, if ideas alone could save it, and I challenge anyone to come up with a new one. It’s no longer the time for ideas, it’s time for actions.” Mikhail Bakunin 1873,

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it" Karl Marx

For the past couple of days Left Twitter seems to keep stumbling back into an argument over the role of theory. Some good points were made, but as usual they tended to get drowned out and it wasn't long before the disagreements became embittered.

I have some thoughts on the subject but think it best to outline them here rather than on the 140 character limit platform. To summarise in an admittedly unfair but sadly not that unfair manner the debate boiled down to everyone should read big bulkly and inaccessible tomes to have an opinion worth listening too, or a complete rejection of theory if it can't be explained in an easy way for a contemporary and virgin audience.

Now that didn't apply to everyone but that was where both poles were placed and as the argument drew on they started pull more users closer to each of them. Personally speaking I find this divide to be largely arbitrary and not really helpful.

I personally struggle with theory, as I said in my post on the Discourse Collective, I don't really like dealing with abstract concepts, I understand and remember the words, but usually they don't really mean anything to me until I'm more acquainted with it. One way I've found make theoretical works more accessible to me was to got to it from history. The first texts by Marx, Bakunin and Kropotkin I read were their essays on the Paris Commune. I read them because I was familiar with the events of the Commune so when they used terminology I wasn't familiar with I had an image I could link it to. And from there I worked my way up.

I think a lot of the difficulty lies in finding the best way to come at something.

Lets start with theory;

Theory: Theory (the concept I mean) is a bit misunderstood. When we use the T word we usually refer to big bulkly tomes full of abstraction and a language unique to the author. A good example would be the word state, nearly every political outlook under the sun means something a bit different by that word, for Weber the state was a monopoly on violence, for Marx and instrument of class domination, for anarchists a hierarchical power relation that props up and defends other hierarchical power relations like class rule etc. And yes these books are an example of theory and the criticisms levelled at what we can call pure theory are quite accurate. They can be impenetrable, they assume you've read multiple other books before hand, even if they're supposed to be an introduction, the text is mostly abstract or to heavily linked to an event or process, the language has become outdated etc.

But that isn't all that theory is. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, is a novel about painters in 1910's England. And yet its full of socialist theory and criticism of capitalist economics. So long as you can read you don't need any background knowledge to understand the theory in Philanthropists its does an incredible job using its narrative as a teaching tool. You don't have to agree with its ideas my father certainly didn't when he read it, but you know its theory and you understand the argument being presented.

The same is true of The Jungle or the Grapes of Wraith, I often find recommending these three novels to people interested in social history but not necessarily socialist theory is a good first taste. But not everything can be turned into a novel, but there are other ways to learn theory in a more accessible form.

Capital was a big offender in the twitter storm, it is pretty hard to get into, but there are a few ways to lessen the workload. For example, their is a Manga that adapts part of the Capital. In addition to imagery to associate with the idea it uses a narrative to demonstrate and explain some of the concepts like surplus value, and so on.

It doesn't cover everything but its a light read and it does give you a frame of reference for the rest of the work. It certainly helped me with Volume One. There is also an abridged (60 or so pages) version compiled by Otto Ruhle, That does a similar thing without pictures, but with more concepts.

There are also many introductions to Capital and reading guides online. I've never used them though so can't comment.

Society of the Spectacle:

Society of the Spectacle (SOS) is without doubt the most impenetrable text I've ever come across. Indeed Debord deliberately wrote in as opaque a manner as possible. He came to regret that as he spent the last years of his life complaining about how misused and misunderstood SOS was. I've read a lot of Situationist texts and they are all much easier to understand than SOS which is the introductory text!

 For example,


In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.

Fortunately other Situationists were less willing to play silly games with their readers, their are several ways to break it open.  Tiernan Morgan and Lauren Page came up with an illustrated guide to SOS

In addition to the graphics the pair take the time to explain several of SOS thesis's, like the manga and the abridgement in addition to explain several specific concepts they provide a point to access the rest. Though its still pretty hard going.

In addition the group Audio Anarchy have done something interesting with SOS. Instead of just turning the text into audio like they usually do, the group instead had readers read out a thesis, explain it and then relate it to their lives. Well except for the one title the Anarchists, he just reads it out and says he agrees with it, which is basically useless, but the rest is good.

Action as Theory:

Another issue with this divide is the obscuring of action as a form of theory. This is I feel one of the greatest strengths of syndicalism, much of its theory is developed and taught through action. To take the IWW as an example they mainly do education through practicals and workshops. The organiser training is not only a tool to build confidence and help members learn how to organise, its also a demonstration of class dynamics and the use of solidarity and direct action.

The Wobblies were also pioneers of other forms of teaching without relying solely on reading. Joe Hill, arguably the most well known Wobbly organiser, wrote songs to teach theory and bind workers together through singing. And he wasn't alone, the Wobblies had a large roster of singers and song writers, in particular Ralph Chaplins most famous song written in 1915

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
For the Union makes us strong

Solidarity forever, solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
For the Union makes us strong

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite 
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?  
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?  
For the union makes us strong
It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving 'mid the wonders we have made
But the union makes us strong 
All the world  that's owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone 
We have laid the wide foundations, built it skyward stone by stone 
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own  
While the union makes us strong
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power gain our freedom when we learn
That the Union makes us strong
 In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousandfold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the Union makes us strong
And then there's our old friend Mr Block. Mr Block was a comic strip character whose daily misadventures explained the obstacles of class society to workers in a very accessible format. He gets screwed over by the bosses he admires, he struggles to get anywhere despite being a model worker and his attempts to break into the upper class all fall flat.

To be perfectly honest I think the only way out of a bottleneck is to develop a plurality of education tools, audio, video, graphics, books, practicals, music and even games. Relying on the same texts that even by 1939 where considered partially obsolete isn't going to be enough.


There is one other aspect to this that I think is worthy of commenting. The issue of gatekeeping. I'm not really happy with the term but its the one in general use so I'll go with that. In my experience there is an attitude that someone's opinion isn't worth hearing if they haven't done the same reading everyone else has. This is a fairly common thing but it amazes me how common it is amongst Communists.

Communism is supposed to use a scientific analysis and rooted in materialism i.e. economic reality. So if your discounting a view because it doesn't tally with your own reading list that is neither scientific nor material its just another form of literary elitism. The whole point of communist theory is to relate to the material world in some way. If it doesn't do that, then either the theory is poor or the person extolling it isn't as familiar with it as they like to assume.

One of the worst behaviours I've seen in left wing discourse is this fundamentalist approach of reciting quotations without substantiation or grounding in reality. If Marx/Kropotkin/Mao/Debs/Debord/Lenin/Bakunin/Bookchin etc said it, it must be true and you are wrong if you disagree for any reason and that's the end of it, is what this approach is saying. Its very frustrating dealing with these people, especially if you do know the works their quoting too. Even if the quotation is correct by some fluke, its not an answer and once someone starts reciting from the good book(s) the conversation is over. There's no point continuing it, even if what they're quoting was disproven by the course of events, unless it was retracted by the author at a later date its just walls made of words that they'll use again and again and again.

I believe a worryingly large number of people who bury their heads in texts have forgotten the point of the endeavour. Quotations are fine but of themselves all they prove is that you have read the text and can remember it. Without applying its lessons to the real world and seeing how it measures up, you're just using up your free time. To go back to the quotes at the top there for a minute, that's the point Marx and Bakunin were getting at, theory divorced from action, or rather theory that can't be translated into action is pointless.

Then there's the issue that since Communism is materialist by far the greatest teaching tool is practical experience with the economic system, and the class struggle itself. Who understands the concept of alienation of labour more? Someone whose read of it or someone who lives it? What about surplus value, someone whose calculated the national averages or someone who compares their wage packet to the projected profits of the company? and so on, and so on. You can understand the workings of capitalism without reading economic texts, you can understand oppression without reading anti authoritarian literature, you can understand the importance of the environment without subscribing to Greenpeace's email lists etc. And to be honest if someone can't tell another person who does understand the subject from someone who doesn't without the use code words (same terminology) then I don't believe they've understood the theory either.

Just as it its important to have a frame of reference for understanding theory, its important to have a frame of reference for applying it. Often what happens in arguments the views of some will be written off simply because they don't use the approved terminology favoured by the approved reading lists. That's another warning sign the conversation is going nowhere, by the way, when one side starts getting really picky with the word choices of the others. To be honest if either start happening your better off breaking it off.

The idea that we must all study the same texts to have ideas and opinions worthy of consideration is put bluntly just a form of snobbery. And a symptom of a closed mind, its one of the reasons this left unity thing won't work because a large number have nothing but contempt for the theory of schools of thought that aren't their own.  Left unity in practice usually means everyone should listen to us.

This is why a lot of interleft criticism is just insults and mischaracterisations, why bother learning what the others actually think when its all trash anyway? The point of the majority of lefty  criticism isn't to help everyone improve and develop its to discredit competitors so everyone ends up joining your "side".

This theory/action divide is often just another excuse to do the same.

Give and Take:

But of course this isn't one sided, both sides have justifiable frustrations. It isn't fair or practical to expect those familiar with a work to dispense knowledge on demand. But on the other hand dumping a book in someone's lap and expecting them to not only muddle through but come to the same conclusions you have (I speak from experience here, often disagreement is seen as a sign of incomprehension or you being overly emotional) is simply daft.

But there is a potential solution, rebuilding study groups and book clubs. In the past most parties and radical unions and propaganda groups developed programs to not just read books but to help members and sympathisers understand them. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense is famous for confrontation and wearing berets and waving shotguns around, but much of what they actually did was provide community services and support for members. Most large Chapters had reading and discussion groups for the texts on their reading lists.

The IWW has had some success reviving the Working People's College and summer camps and workshops at branch levels. And the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) has maintained a fairly consistent study program and summer school. But these are exceptions really, the trend has been to just leave education to individual members in their off time or have members follow the lead of important members.

The internet has seen a bit more of a revival though, had a Capital reading group, the Something Awful literature sub forum has a book of the month reading and discussion thread that occasionally reads political and philosophical books. And I discord I recently joined has a book club channel. I think rebuilding discussion and study groups are the way to overcome most of these problems.

It'll open up texts to more readers, allow the community to develop their analytical and critical thinking skills, limit the tendency of theory reading to lead to group think and mindless recitations and remove the burdens from our shoulders.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Big Reddebrek PDF Archive

For about four or so years now I've been indulging in a rather strange hobby, I like making PDFs. My father got me an e-reader as a present but unlike Kindles and Ipads the company that made it went broke before I got mine, so it had no online service to get books from. You could however manually add texts to it either through usb or a cameras memory card. So I got into the habit of doing that, and reading on the go.

Unfortunately free e-books can be hard to find if you don't want to be limited to pre 1923 English language texts. Sites get taken down or ask you to download dodgy addons etc. Fortunately online texts are more plentiful and stable (though not always a lot of these sites were hosted on platforms like geocities) and after a little practise you can make them into pdfs/epubs fairly easily.

Depending on the websites formatting it can be as simple as highlighting, and then copy and pasting into a text document, and then exporting them into (pdf is the standard) a e-format and then you can transfer into all the others using software like Calibre.

I then decided to share them and a few people thanked me and it just escalated from there. I now have over 400 made and I keep making them now and then. So I'm making this blog as an archive of sorts for the pdfs I've made. Feel free to download and share if you like them.

Most of these use text hosted on and can be found attached to their articles or in this thread,

Link to the folder

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Berserk:No Godhands, No Masters

EDIT:Sorry I should of made this clear from the beginning, if your completely new to Berserk the franchise depicts quite graphic scenes of violence, torture, mutilation and all kinds of abuse including sexual assault and abuse of children, and I talk a bit about this below, so read with caution.

I've recently been playing Berserk: The Band of the Hawk in my off time, and it reminded me of that 90's anime series so I decided to watch it again. If your not familiar Berserk has a reputation for being really  hardcore in its depictions of violence, including sexual violence, and its unrelentingly bleak atmosphere. A lot of people describe the show as Metal, whether that's an insult or a compliment depends on who said it, but I think it fits.

Even the soundtrack has a Metal aesthetic

 If your interested, there's a very thorough recap of the series by youtuber Bennett the Sage.  Its a very interesting and strange series, it looks like a medieaval fantasy show and in some ways is, there are knights, kings and castles and undercurrents of magic and monsters but that's about as far as the similarities go.

There are no heroes here, no gallantry and pure and noble souls resisting the forces of evil. Guts the protagonist isn't a knight, he's a mercenary, and he doesn't really fight because he needs the money, he does so because personal traumas. He keeps throwing himself into random battles and in the beginning keeps letting his guard down deliberately. He does have a slither of conscience, which compared to every other character makes him the default hero but even that doesn't prevent him from doing unambiguously evil things.

On my re-watch I noticed something which on reflection is rather obvious, the show has a very uncompromising criticism of hierarchy. In general the theme can be summarised as `power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely`.  But it does also go into a specific critique of Feudalism and why a social system based on that is a terrible idea. The world that Berserk is set in isn't just for show its a genuinely functioning Feudal society, there's a Nobility who have special privileges, the peasantry are bound to their lords, there's class tensions between commoners and nobles.

And its not a very good life for those at the bottom of the hill. There's a war that's been going on for over a hundred years between the Kingdom of Midland and the Empire of Tudor. Its a war purely for the benefit of the Nobles, the Tudor Empire wants to expand, and once Midland expels the invaders their King wants to start taking their lands and estates. For the peasants this war presents no benefits no matter who wins, and while its going on their subject to extreme violence and economic pressure. Bandits and the armies of the two Kingdoms routinely sack the villages, and if and when the war ends they'll just have no masters whom they send their tributes, taxes and tithes. To drive the point home, in one episode a snake monster man has become the new lord of a territory and aside from his eating of humans there's not that much difference. His rule is based on the Feudal social contract, serve me and I'll protect you i.e. I won't directly attack you with my army. His army are brutal bullies but that's true of the many of the enforcers of the Lords who aren't weird snake monsters.

Indeed the Nobles are so unaccountable they are shown frequently to indulge in every vice at the expense of their subjects. Including child rape. Several Nobles are known rapists of children and while they do come to bad ends its because of outside military forces who aren't part of their social system. One gets killed because he decided to take part in a battle, the other gets killed by their victim because a band of mercenaries happened to be passing and their leader intervened. And of course eating human flesh and the sexual assault of children are just the most extreme examples of the powerlessness of subjects in this society. A man has sexual relations with the princess of Midland so the King, whose been shown to be a bit of a liberal reformer as far as Kings go, orders the offender to be killed slowly over a period of several years via extreme torture.

Fights to the death are the only way to settle disputes in Midland

It turns out even the "ideal" King has a dungeon and a torturer on the payroll. We actually see what happens to the poor sod after a few years of this treatment, he can barely move and is almost catatonic from the pain. 

But class relations are more than the naked display of brute force, there's is also the question of social mobility. And despite the infamous reputation for blood and brutality its the issue of social mobility thats the main driver of the plot. Guts the fellow with the massive sword and the constant grimace is the protagonist but its not really his story until the end. The storyline in the anime is driven by the ambitions of Griffith the leader of the mercenary unit the Band of the Hawk, which Guts ends up joining.

Griffith is ambitious, he's a commoner but he dreams of his own Kingdom, the hows and whys aren't really important to him he knows what he wants and he'll risk everything to get it. It seems he's come to the conclusion the best way to get a Kingdom is to get Midlands, and the series shows how he plans to get it. At first it appears to be a combination of Warlodism, he manoeuvres the Band of the Hawk into being the most impressive and important unit in Midlands forces, usually by taking on suicide missions and driving his troops to their limit, while doing his best to seduce the Kings daughter.

But since a commoner rising in court is a threat, he's soon targeted by a conspiracy of Nobles, so his plans are quickly modified to include murder of opponents and any collateral. Griffith despite the adoration of his mercenaries-it basically grows into a personality cult- is not a good person, to get anywhere close to his dreams he's already taken on the worst features of the Nobility, kill threats and potential threats, use those beneath you as tools for your own personal ambitions. Berserk makes this explicit thourgh the use of flashbacks and anecdotes from those whom knew Griffith the longest. He was always driven but he wasn't that callous, he intervened when he came across a Noble attempting to rape a young Casca, and from what he says and does its made clear he's personally disgusted with what he sees. And after Casca kills the Noble in self defence he takes her with him. At one point he let a child who dreamed of becoming a Knight join his band, and when the boy inevitably died he took the death very hard. And early on in the Hawks existence Griffith prostituted himself to a Lord for a large sum of money he could use to expand the Hawks into a more impressive fighting unit. He went through with it but found the experience very traumatic.

But by the time we meet Griffith that spark is largely gone, at one point in the storyline Griffith has a rival murdered, but during the assassination the Lords son an eight year old boy is also killed, and when Griffith learns of this he has no reaction whatsoever. The death of innocent children no longer matters to him, all he cares about is that the rival is out of the way.

The last few episodes of the series spell this out very bluntly in an arc I like to call the breaking of Griffith. Just after the half way point of the show I started getting annoyed by Griffith, I felt like I was just watching one brutal despotic monster, fight other brutal despotic monsters for the right to be a brutal despotic monster to people who are just trying to live their lives in peace. It turns out that was actually the point, and in the last few episodes Griffith has to confront whose he really become without illusions or hollow self justifications.

A group of demons(The God Hand) have taken a shine to young Griffith and they decide to give him a dose of the truth. They point out to him that the pursuit of his dreams have meant building a bridge over the corpses of thousands. Hawks members, allies and enemies all have to die if Griffith wants to get that Kingdom he's longed for, for so long. Put so bluntly he is of course repelled-well at first he reacts with self loathing- and tries to make excuses to the fields of the dead. But of course sorry doesn't bring back the dead, in the end he decides he still wants his kingdom despite everything and makes a deal with the demons for power. And to seal the deal he lets monsters eat the Band of the Hawks.

 So the arc of Griffith is that he in order to pursue power he became a figurative monster and then went from a figurative monster into a literal monster, he even has bat wings to prove it. And again we saw that this isn't unique, the only difference between a Feudal lord and a snakeman lord is that an Earl is probably not going to literally eat his serfs at a banquet.

Oh and in the world of Berserk there are Gods but they're all pretty much evil who dedicate themselves to living off human suffering. So basically to sum up the world of Berserk won't know peace and joy until a mass movement arises opposing all Gods and Masters.

Monday, 3 July 2017

When Copaganda Backfires

Admit, that theme song is echoing in your mind right now, its basically the anthem of law enforcement

When I was young my parents managed to save up enough for a cable package, and it really did change everything. We got to see the Simpsons on Telly there were channels just for cartoons and movies and documentaries. Back then the History channel even broadcast programs that had nothing to do with Ancient Aliens or Hitler.

But even back then there was still dead air that needed filling even though there were less than a hundred channels. And just like now one of the easiest ways to fill gaps in advert blocks was cop procedural shows, cop docs and cop dramas. Not much has changed, but recently I've come to the realisation that all those rainy weekends spent watching anything that was on accidentally played a part in my political development.

Now by political development, I don't mean Capital P politics like say identifying with a political party or an explicit current of ideology, but it did help stimulate my critical thinking skills, and gave me reasons to start questioning my preconceptions about life. And most of it was thanks to whats known in some circles as Copaganda (Cop, propaganda, entertainment and information that is pro policing as an institution).

I first got into Copaganda by watching America's Dumbest Criminals (ADC). ADC was funny well funny to pre teen me anyway, and it was reassuring to see bad guys utterly fail in their selfish antics. But after I started watching other similar stuff, those shows about dashcam car chases mostly. Its mostly a blur now looking back but a couple of pieces stick out in my mind.

I once saw a documentary about the incident with the MOVE 9 group in Philadelphia. Now the doc was purely from the police point of view, it didn't go into detail about who the MOVE group were, it portrayed them as a sort of cult that was abusing the children of its members. It did however detail how police try to break into the MOVE building, how there was a gun battle, and how later on the police decided to break the stalemate by dropping a bomb on top of the building. What stood out to me was an account by a police officer who went into the now burning building and found some children. The children were terrified of him and he recounted with disgust how this shows that the group had been indoctrinating their children against the police.

This left a deep impression on me. This is a man who was part of a force that had just besieged the home of these kids, shot at their parents and then dropped a bomb on their heads and set fire to their home, indoctrination or not, why wouldn't they be terrified of the police? I thought about how I'd react if that happened to me and I'm sure I would be terrified of the police and my parents went to great lengths to get me to respect the police.

Even as a child the lack of awareness displayed by this adult struck me as strange. It also left me questioning how exactly the police can protect the community when they're actively trying to kill members of that community. Dropping a bomb from a helicopter in the middle of the city isn't something a community protection force should've been doing.

Another similar shard of memory comes from what I can only describe as one of those `Worlds Most Dangerous Car Chases` shows but with riots instead of chasing drunk drivers. Assuming its the same show and I'm not merging two in my mind this program was probably my first introduction into the "Outside Agitators" argument. They showed footage of a teachers strike in South America and the voice over was keen to stress the difference between the picket line of teachers and a group of violent extremists, whom a group masked up using home made guns -a bit like spud guns- to fire paint projectiles at a line of riot police. The voice over pointed out that some of the police had spray painted pro teacher slogans on their shields and remarked that the police kept their cool and that there was no escalation.

I found that curious because it implied that police don't often keep their cool (which turned out to be true, but young kid) and that there was a danger that a group could easily manipulate the police into attacking unrelated people. That was quite an eye opener, but it went a bit further. Another segment was from what I think was one of the anti WTO riots like Seattle 99. It showed a line of police defending an empty corporate office building from rioters. The voice over was praising the officers for standing up to violence, not giving in and successfully protecting property. And that was very important for me. I knew that police were the people you went to to report a theft but the idea that they protect property in general just wasn't something I had considered.

Indeed I can remember what I was thinking watching the clip, I was thinking, Why? Why put yourselves at risk of injury to protect an empty building, why is a building that's owned by an ultra rich company with insurance need so much security? Why are the police defending an empty building when in order to do so they have to inflict injury on the people they're supposed to be protecting? They were clubbing people right on the head and face, even as a kid I knew head injuries can be very serious, so to see them go to such lengths protecting property was so strange and unnerving to me. I couldn't see why an institution that is supposed to protect and serve the community didn't take the path of least harm-lesser evil if you like- and let them smash that empty building up. The building would be repaired and be open again very quickly, so why actively beat people up and risk your own staff? It just didn't seem rational to me.

My parents aren't radical by any definition of the word, but they were uncompromising on how people are more important than things and money. Whenever a terrible accident happens on the news, my Mother usually complains that the news seems more focussed on the financial tolls instead of the casualties.

Indeed the program itself beyond these two examples led to quite a bit of thinking on my part. I had grown up thinking that criminals were bad people and morally weak, and had seen a couple of examples of this type in my home town. But in this show ordinary people from all around the world, Asia, Europe the Americas etc, whom the police were opposing were just workers, students and people who were clearly heavily motivated over some kind of grievance. I did know what a strike was, or rather what a moderate version of a strike was, and wage disputes settled by standing outside a factory didn't seem to warrant police intervention as far as I could see. Yes I knew that vandalism was wrong and against the law, but the people outside the office were so determined to smash that place up, they were prepared to go through a wall of shields and risk getting knocked out in order to do it, and that just didn't seem to fit the image of selfish and cowardly bullies preying on their neighbours.

And it also seemed rather strange to me that these people were being opposed by a police force that was armed to the teeth and on what looked like a war footing. Striking students in Seoul were met with police in armour, gas masks and armoured vehicles and gas grenades. I couldn't see why ordinary people were met with such naked force when at worst they would commit vandalism, but the murderers on the news seemed to have been dealt with by normal coppers. It just seemed so disproportional. The only comparison I could think of at the time was Northern Ireland, and back then there was still a lot of guns and explosives floating around and very high tensions over the possibility of a new armed insurrection. Not to knock the militancy of striking teachers and student protestors in the 90s but I somehow doubt they posed the same level of physical threat as a resurgent paramilitary with years of stockpiling and experience in urban terrorism.

Now of course I eventually found out the answer, police forces as we know them were established mainly to protect property and mainly the property of those who have the most property to be threatened, and as a result their standards for acceptable force is tied more to how serious the threat in question is to authority, and not the community.

Class conflict roiled late nineteenth century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late nineteenth century echoes down to today – except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.
              Sam Mitrani
 That's also largely true of most forms of civil governance, even Adam Smith had some interesting things to say on the subject.
Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all. – Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter I, Part II On the Expence of Justice
Of course Smith was talking about the oppression of the poor largely as a result of corruption rather than by design, but if even liberal idealists can see some problems with the way society treats the relationship between people and property, well there's bound to be some problems.

Looking back I think this was really start of my questioning of society as it was presented to me. I can't think of anything else I was exposed to at such a young age that stimulated my critical thinking skills, intentionally or otherwise. I guess, looking back that I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't been so lazy and spent so much time channel surfing.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Whatever Happened to, Dear old Lenin?

I've recently re-read Lenin's State and Revolution, arguably his most famous work. Its the one I've seen most referred to by modern Leninists who wish to get new members anyway. I read it and Imperialism years ago when I was still pretty new to left wing politics and they were both over my head.

State and Revolution is quite interesting as both a work of theory and a window into history, it was written in August and September (Old Russian calendar I believe) 1917 and Lenin makes that abundantly clear with numerous references to what was then current events. Its also quite easy to read, its fairly short and the translation on is very good, it reads like an English language original. I did have to look up what panegyric meant but other than that I had no issue understanding the text. The book is largely quotation, mainly from Marx and Engels who are praised heavily, and the German SPD members Kautsky and Bernstein who are criticised constantly. There's not that much of Lenin in the text and most of his words are tied heavily to the quotations or references to the then current political situation.

A fact that's often overlooked about Marx and Engels, even by numerous modern and not so modern Marxists, is that the pair were more than willing to adapt and alter and develop their ideas over time when they encountered new experiences. Their early pre 1848 writings are different from what they published after the Revolutions of 1848. Napoleon the Thirds coup in 1851 also provoked new developments in Marx's thinking. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte isn't as famous as the Manifesto but a lot of people are familiar at least with the title and the quotation "Once as tragedy, then as farce". And of course most importantly the Paris Commune of 1871 was a very important experience that affected Marx. So much so that months before the uprising at Montmartre, Marx wrote an address to the Parisian workers warning them to remain disciplined and not try to overthrow the government of France. But once the uprising was under way and the Commune was proclaimed he championed it. Indeed he was so impressed with the Communes brief existence that he actually went and made a revision to the Manifesto to include a lesson from the Commune.

Personally I think this the most interesting thing about State and Revolution, the book is a good time line of Marx and Engels attitudes toward the state and explains how it developed in a more radical direction. If he died after writing the Manifesto, you could be forgiven for thinking Marx believed Communism could be achieved simply by taking control of the state by any means, an electoral landslide or a coup would do. Marx did stress the need for a revolutionary mass mobilisations of the workers, but the aim was the conquest of the state so you could be forgiven for wanting to skip a few steps.

That attitude is basically what Lenin was criticising the Opportunists-socialists who were willing to collaborate for state power- for doing. Throughout the work he criticises Kautsky and his fellows for deliberately (in his view) distorting Marx and Engels on the questions of the State and Revolution
“We can quite safely leave the solution of the problems of the proletarian dictatorship of the future,” said Kautsky, writing “against” Bernstein. (p.172, German edition)
This is not a polemic against Bernstein, but, in essence, a concession to him, a surrender to opportunism; for at present the opportunists ask nothing better than to “quite safely leave to the future” all fundamental questions of the tasks of the proletarian revolution.
From 1852 to 1891, or for 40 years, Marx and Engels taught the proletariat that it must smash the state machine. Yet, in 1899, Kautsky, confronted with the complete betrayal of Marxism by the opportunists on this point, fraudulently substituted for the question whether it is necessary to smash this machine the question for the concrete forms in which it is to be smashed, and then sough refuge behind the “indisputable” (and barren) philistine truth that concrete forms cannot be known in advance!!
This passage is from the final section but the tone and manner of argument is consistent from the first page. Kautsky is being dishonest, his dishonesty seems to be motivated by political expediency etc.
The books strengths are its criticisms of Kautsky and the way it outlines Marx and Engels, it even reproduces some rare letters of Engels not easily found otherwise. If you wish to see Marx and Engels views on the state in total State and Revolution is the easiest way of doing that.
However there are some interesting weaknesses in the book. Mainly it doesn't really explain the relationship between the State and the Revolution. Oh it talks about the two from cover to cover but its mostly reference, neither Lenin, nor Marx or Engels explain the necessary link. They all talk about how important it is to smash the bourgeois state machine (its parliaments, prisons, standing armies, police and bureaucracy) and replace it with a new one, the replacement is a bit vaguer but it involves the people armed and mandated and recallable delegates handling administration work without privileges beyond workmen's wages. And a system like the Paris Commune, but a bit different, like either a union of communes or the commune model on a smaller scale, depending on the quotation. And that this will eventually lead to the withering away of the rest of the state and complete the revolution with its abolishment.

But at no point do any of the three make the case why the state is necessary at all in this process. Lenin constantly criticises the Anarchists in the book for not realising why the state in its proletarian form is absolutely necessary for its completion for example

We have now seen how, in their controversy with the anarchists, marx and Engels with the utmost thoroughness explained their views on the relation of revolution to the state. In 1891, in his foreword to Marx’ s Critique of the Gotha Programme, Engels wrote that “we”—that is, Engels and Marx—"were at that time, hardly two years after the Hague Congress of the [First] International, engaged in the most violent struggle against Bakunin and his anarchists."
The anarchists had tried to claim the Paris Commune as their “own”, so to say, as a collaboration of their doctrine; and they completely misunderstood its lessons and Marx’ s analysis of these lessons. Anarchism has given nothing even approximating true answers to the concrete political questions: Must the old state machine be smashed? And what should be put in its place?
It is safe to say that of this argument of Engels', which is so remarkably rich in ideas, only one point has become an integral part of socialist thought among modern socialist parties, namely, that according to Marx that state “withers away” — as distinct from the anarchist doctrine of the “abolition” of the state.
It was solely against this kind of “abolition” of the state that Marx fought in refuting the anarchists! He did not at all oppose the view that the state would disappear when classes disappeared, or that it would be abolished when classes were abolished. What he did oppose was the proposition that the workers should renounce the use of arms, organized violence, that is, the state, which is to serve to "crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie".
These quotations are from all over the book and are only a couple of the many similar (actually identical in intent) criticisms. I thought about laying them out chronologically, but there really isn't any point while Marx and Engels develop throughout book, the attacks on anarchism don't really change.

Notice how they don't actually explain why there view is the correct one? Well we do get a slight substantiation in the last one about Marx commenting on disarmament. Here's the quotation Lenin was referring to in that last extract.

This controversy took place in 1873. Marx and Engels contributed articles against the Proudhonists, “autonomists” or "anti- authoritarians", to an Italian socialist annual, and it was not until 1913 that these articles appeared in German in Neue Zeit.
"If the political struggle of the working class assumes revolutionary form," wrote Marx, ridiculing the anarchists for their repudiation of politics, "and if the workers set up their revolutionary dictatorship in place of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, they commit the terrible crime of violating principles, for in order to satisfy their wretched, vulgar everyday needs and to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, they give the state a revolutionary and transient form, instead of laying down their arms and abolishing the state."
(Neue Zeit Vol.XXXII, 1, 1913-14, p.40)

Now Marx was specifically arguing with the followers of Proudhon (Mutualists) here, Bakunin the other major Anarchist contemporary of Marx whom he also hated, could not possibly be accused of pacifism. If anything Bakunins flaw was the opposite a bit to quick to emphasis violent insurrection. But even limiting the criticism to Proudhon and the Mutualists there are still some issues here. Firstly the Mutualists did take part in the fighting of Paris Commune, Proudhon himself while he was personally not a supporter of the use of force ideally, and never fought himself as far as I know[1], he did still go to the barricades in Paris 1848 and met with the revolutionaries there and he did support the revolutions throughout the continent, so even on this limited grounds its simply a false accusation.
In addition there's the equivalence of armed force and the state which is simply bizarre. By this point in time Marx was firmly wedded to the idea that for a revolution to be successful it must smash the old state machine including its repressive forces, the police and army, and that special armed bodies of men would be needed to carry this out. But if that happens, then the state has been broken down and you already have a means of organised violence already mobilised and bloodied, so why is a new state necessary then? The bourgeoisie have already lost their shield and the workers are already armed. In order to fulfil Marx's vision they would have to achieve quite a few of the preconditions of Anarchism and then step back from that.

But the weakness of the criticism of the anarchists is even shallower at times, here's a quotation from Lenin that may sound familiar to a syndicalist if reworded a bit

We are not utopians, we do not “dream” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and "foremen and accountants". The subordination, however, must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and working people, i.e., to the proletariat. A beginning can and must be made at once, overnight, to replace the specific “bossing” of state officials by the simple functions of "foremen and accountants", functions which are already fully within the ability of the average town dweller and can well be performed for "workmen's wages".
He gets another dig in at the Anarchists but after that he starts talking about something that seems very close to workers self organisation. The reference to Foremen is a bit odd but since he's lumped them in with accountants it seems more like a reference to work team leaders then say the Boss's toady. And he says that the workers can and should start taking on economic administrative tasks, so if they can do this immediately and under a hypothetical socialist revolution the majority of the workers are already mobilised into special armed bodies and mandated delegations, why is the factory and workshop movement lagging behind? And if it isn't lagging behind the others than again the state which Lenin says is just an instrument for one class to oppress another, becomes even more redundant.

If the bourgeoisie have lost the state machine, the people are armed and willing to fight, and the economy is quickly being taking over by the workforce, why do you need a rump state? What precisely can it do that the class conscious and mobilised working masses who keep in mind have already overcome the main physical threats to the revolution can't?

This question is just not answered in the text, and considering the subject, its the most important one to be addressed. Lenin himself criticised Kautsky for leaving important questions unanswered in his texts so why shouldn't the same apply here?

There was going to be a seventh chapter, but according to the notes that would be about the 1905 and 1917 revolutions so I doubt there would be an answer there.

I decided to read this again because it was recommended to me by several self described Leninists, but I honestly don't think they've read it recently either because it doesn't say what they seem to think it does. One actually went so far as to claim that Lenin wasn't a statist because he wrote this book. I'll be honest this book actually makes me think the Anarchist approach to the State and Revolution is more credible not less, and I've come to that conclusion largely agreeing with the text.

I actually enjoyed reading State and Revolution,it was written to attack the pro war Provisional Government and the Pro War German Social Democrats, so Lenins main targets are deserving of the venom and he is correct that the opportunists, Kautsky, Bernstein and Plekhanov did distort what Marx and Engels said on this issue.

But mainly I was impressed because I saw Marx, Engels and Lenins ideas develop after each section, and as they got more radical and more nuanced they seemed to get much closer to Anarchism. The specific hypotheticals of the new revolutionary society they came up with probably wouldn't be welcome in an Anarchist paper, but at there most developed the differences largely boil down to terminology (like Engels arguing that his proposed Commune system isn't really federal but a Union) and pacing issues. Its pretty weak criticism when you strip out the insults and mischaracterisations.
I can see why other Bolsheviks feared Lenin had succumbed to Anarchist deviationism, of course he didn't but it is amusing that even a number of Leninists think Lenin was at his best when at he was at his most Anarchistic.

1: I'm not an expert on Proudhons ideas or his life so its possible I'm wrong here, but if so I think this would make the criticism even weaker.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017


When the war ended in 1945, my job was in jeopardy. For nearly four years i had worked as a translator-scriptwriter-broadcaster for the U.S. Office of War Information. Our teamof three took mimeographed releases from OWI headquarters in Washington, sometimes serviceable, sometimes bizarre, most of the time marvellously inappropriate, and fashioned brief anti-Nazi newscasts to be transmitted by European “black stations” set up by the British. To this day i cannot say whether our propaganda ever reached its target- people in Europe would be severely punished if they were caught tuning into these pernicious foreign broadcasts. Now the OWI was gradually being dismantled. But the loss of a job bothered me far less than what i was beginning to learn in great detail about the concentration camps.

Shortly after I reached America in 1938, I had established contact with a German-Jewish weekly called Aufblau (“Reconstruction”). I contributed articles on film, literature, and theatre. Aufblau  was one of the first papers in New York to publish documentation on the camps, on the destruction of Jewish communities. It printed eyewitness accounts by those who had lived through Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and others. Only later, as more facts were disclosed in American and Swiss publications, did I begin to accept the unacceptable. I knew my father had not survived; it took years until my sister in Holland could find me, or, rather, until I could find her. And at night, when sleep evaded me, my brain conjured up Eric Langer, the one true friend of my Frankfurt years, who had joined the German navy in 1935and of whom I had no news for more than ten years. The day after Germany’s surrender I began writing Hilda, his mother, at their old address in Cronberg, near Frankfurt- but invariably the letters came back marked “Addressee moved. No forwarding address.” Again and again I flipped through the tattered pages of my Frankfurt address book, picking out names and places. But my missives went unanswered.

That Ferdi, another companion of my school years, never responded I could have anticipated. Ferdi, erratic, sexually compulsive, politically promiscuous, and altogether reckless, had for years lived in furnished rooms and changed them frequently. And of course no relatives of mine were still living in my hometown. In short, I was cut off. Only by revisiting Frankfurt might I find Eric, or at least discover somebody who knew of him and his mother. But while one part of me urged me to go back, leaving everything in America behind, the other part shouted the opposite: after what had happened in Germany, it was impossible to return. In some way or another, every adult beyond a certain age had collaborated; it seemed, with the barbarians. Only the very young could be trusted, and they could not provide the clues I needed.

One voice told me to leave behind, at least for a while, the first satisfying job I had obtained since the OWI broadcasting unit was disbanded. I had been hired on three days’ notice as an adjunct lecturer in German language and literature at the City College in New York. Against all expectations, I took my work. After a few semesters I had even learned the intricate procedures of academic etiquette, or, rather, I had learned which rules to observe and which to bend. Yet I felt so insecure that I did not dare take other than summer vacations. When I discussed my predicament with a chequered group of German-speaking émigrés who assembled every Saturday evening at the comfortable ramshackle apartment of a Viennese woman known as Countess Valeska- no one knew her real name- I received no advice, but a lot of heat. Several members castigated me for even thinking about setting foot on German soil; others, equally fervent, declared their intention of going home to help build a new strong German democracy.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

How I Became an Anarchist: A. Neselbergs

 A translation of an article published in 1931 detailing events in Latvia before WWII and how Esperanto played a part in the political development of the author, a Latvian revolutionary. The Esperanto original can be found here.

I was born in the year 1909 in Riga, the Capital of Latvia (then a province of Russia). My parents were workers. I passed most of my youth in Riga. In this city I also lived through many difficulties caused by the World War. During the Revolution I saw, the people fraternising with the soldiers and overturned the Tsars power. I will always remember those days when the people ruled themselves. I also remember the arrival of the Whites (Nationalists/Monarchists) their shameful power and butchery of thousands of workers. From these days though still a child I became an opponent of their religious dogma and an atheist. Because of the poor living conditions in the city my parents left for the countryside, settling in the provinces. My father hired himself out as farm labourer and I was employed as a Sheppard.

Working from sun up to sun down, seeing the lifestyle of our master I began to understand the difference between him and me, between exploiter and exploited. From that time I supported all kinds of workers party. Later I moved to the city of Jelgava and actively took part in the Socialist Youth Sports movement (in 1927).

After a short time I began to see that although the leaders in party offices talked about mass demonstrations and revolutionary acts, but during membership meetings took steps to collaborate with the bourgeoisie and state officials. I began to lose faith in them. But after the failure of an anti Fascist uprising, Lithuanian political exiles gathered in Poland, I became linked with them and illegally crossed the Poland-Latvia border to fight Lithuanian Fascists (in 1927).[1]

In 1928 I crossed the Lithuanian border carrying anti-Fascist literature and was arrested. As a result I was condemned to fifteen years in prison. While a prisoner I began learning Esperanto and received my first information about Anarchism via SAT.[2] After 30 months I received an amnesty and returned to Latvia. Now I was regarded as a suspect person. Three times I was arrested, and then released. After my return I was elected to the committee of the Latvian Sport Self Defence Association (Social Democratic) of Jelgava. I took with me the strength of class struggle consciousness and broke up the compromise policy, in response the central committee wanted me expelled. But the membership opposed that measure and the leadership did not succeed.
Later I drifted little by little away from the social democrats. En some old Esperanto newspaper I discovered the address of the Anarchist International Youth organisation. I immediately joined it and subscribed to its information service. Later I subscribed to the Libera Laboristo (Free Worker) the organ of the Ligo of Esperantistaj Senŝtatanoj (League of Esperanto speakers without a state). In August this year I joint SAT and subscribed to there [rest of sentence is missing in original]. Thanks to Esperanto I have relations with comrades in several different countries and Esperanto helped me find the life goal of Anarchy.

Published in the Sennaciulo on the 17th of December 1931.

1: In 1926 there was a coup that toppled the elected government and replaced it with the right wing Lithuanian Nationalist Union. Afterwards the regime faced sporadic uprisings and resistance for several years. Referring the Nationalist Union as Fascist today is considered rather controversial, as differences with Mussolini's Italy aside, the charge of Fascism was the justification used by the Soviet Union to conquer and occupy Lithuania in 1940.
2: The Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (World Non-national Association) a world wide assocaiton of Esperanto speakers active in the Labour movement. Still active today.

Sunday, 4 June 2017


The persecution and attempted extermination of homosexuals represents but one part of the exhaustive crusade the Nazis launched to purge Germany of contragenics of all kinds and to create an Aryan elite that would dominate Europe and, finally, the world. Today, hindsight enables historians more clearly to assess the successes and failures of the Nazi regime’s policies. But the distance of time and professional “objectivity” has by no means resolved the riddle of the Third Reich. The crimes committed, and the crimes planned, were so unspeakably monstrous that the human mind fails to apprehend their full dimensions. What happened is now known; the question of why it happened remains unanswered.

A number of historians have interpreted the Nazis’ war as a crusade, kindled not by greed for territorial and material gains but by a mission: to create an exclusively Aryan utopia. If millions had to be sacrificed for this lofty goal, it did not matter. Other historians consider World War II a replay of World War I. Both interpretations are partly correct. Hitler waged several wars, and Himmler waged several wars; occasionally their aims overlapped. The generals, whose obedience was assured after von Fritsch debacle in 1938, tried to carry out Hitler’s often amateurish orders in a professional way. After 1943, a few recognised his folly and occasionally thwarted his directives. Hitler’s aims were clear: he was as eager to conquer Europe as he was to annihilate the Jews. Toward the end, with one part of his mind registering the fact that final military victory might elude him- although until the last nights in the bunker he would not confront this- he decided at least to win that other war, the one against the Jews.

Himmler, for his part, was overtaxed. First, he had to carry out orders for the elimination of Jews, Poles, antifascists, and other “dangerous” groups. Second, he untiringly pursued his own efforts to strike out against other contragenics such as Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals. From a practical and strategic point of view, this campaign was not worth the huge policing effort it needed to succeed. But, then, few of his goals could be called reasonable or practical. While the Allies held Germany encircled, Himmler still wasted energy and personnel in pressuring the armed forces to more vigorously prosecute sexually deviant soldiers and sailors.

Himmler’s and Eicke’s innovation- the concentration camps- must be understood as the evil icons of our century. The Nazi’s totalitarian apparatus could not tolerate nonconformity of any kind, and all deviants were to be eliminated. The German military machine, however, was engaged in a conventional war of territorial conquest. As the net closed tighter around the naqzis, every able-bodied male was needed- at the front or in the war factories under Albert Speer. These two goals kept colliding: here castigation and slavery, there attempts to run an efficient economic machine. In vain Speer tried to obtain better conditions for his forced-labour battalions: they remained ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-clothed, and unable to fulfil work quotas. Whether Speer knew more about conditions in the camps than he admitted is debatable. Police authorities were continually meddling with the running of camp enterprises. They arrested inmate-labourers for trifling infractions. Throughout their tenure, Hoess and other commandants were caught in a double bind. The continually received contradictory orders- for example, to provide manpower for a new munitions depot, and simultaneously to apply stricter punitive measures against recalcitrant prisoners.  Even notorious commandants such as Franz Stangl of Treblinka or Josef Kramer of Belsen could not increase war related production in the camps while the prisoners who manned them were brutalised or eliminated.

By 1944, less ideologically blinded Nazis began to realise that what Hitler had brought forth was, indeed, a modern version of hell. The fact that some officials beame aware of the need to cover up their crimes can be seen from the frenetic efforts, starting as early as mid 1942, to erase all proof.  Records were burned and witnesses eliminated- which, of course, produced over witnesses. These exertions failed for several reasons. First, crimes of such enormity cannot be kept hidden. Even when Hitler cautiously began the euthanasia program in 1939, involving a limited number of native misfits and cripples, it could not be kept concealed. The villagers soon knew what the black smoke rising from the new “asylums” meant. Although many of the new penal colonies were purposely built amid vast plains and marshes of the East, the mass transports and the mass killings- and the smell of the smoke- could not be kept secret. Second, from early on, the antifascists and some of the better organised Jewish prisoners started copying and hiding important files and records,  sometimes burying them in the grounds or bricking them into the buildings they were constructing. Of course, most buildings did not last, and the hastily scribbled lists mostly disintegrated. But enough telltale evidence escaped oblivion. After 1943, Allied headquarters also knew of these infernos in the East, although the Allies preferred to deemphasise their true nature. And, naturally, not all camp employees could be counted on never to talk out of camp. Quite a few paid for their indiscretions and were arrested for “spreading subversive rumours”- but the damage was done. If the Nazis tried to create “holes of oblivion,” they failed on a vast scale.

 The Nazi penal machinery, as I have indicated, was both illogical and efficient. It sacrificed the practical needs for manpower and material to an ideological rationale that undermined the effort to win the war. The enormity of both the penal bureaucracy and the crimes committed by it and its chiefs compounded that inefficiency in both the short run and the long run, by destroying the war-winning capacity of Germany and by devastating the country’s national image for generations to come.

 The homosexuals, by a series of laws, were treated as subhumans does not seem in retrospect particularly illogical or even unexpected. After all, their classification as heretical deviants boasted a long lineage.  From the viewpoint of Nazi logic, the extermination policy concerning homosexuals had a kind of ideological justification. Himmler’s concept of a National Sexual Budget classified homosexuals as “propagation blanks” and diagnosed them as a health hazard because they spread a so-called homosexual infection. Eicke’s police needed no such ideological rationale: homosexuals were simply regarded with the hatred characteristic of ancient homophobic institutions.

In the course of European history, a vast number of bulls and mandates, pamphlets and tracts lumped together Jews, homosexuals, and other heretics, and linked them to witches, sexual deviants, and traitors. In the thirteenth century, for example, the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 forbade Jews from holding public office; they were directed to wear special garments to distinguish them from Christians. Perhaps it was here that the practice of scapegoating by coded badges began, a technique  that, some seven hundred years later, the Nazis would use to identify contragenics. It seems that if the /inquisition called a man a heretic, it meant that he was a practicing homosexual and vice versa. And in England, from the thirteenth century on, as the Jews were driven out, a new code condemned to death arsonists, sorcerers, heretics, those who slept with the wives of their feudal lords, and those who had intercourse with Jews, animals, or their own gender. Again and again, authorities charged their opponents, both real and imagined, with religious (and later political) and sexual malpractices. From the thirteenth century to the twentieth, the hold of these anti-Semitic and homophobic mythologies has never been broken among large parts of the population of Western Europe.

Given this rich tradition of hatred in Western civilisation, a fundamental question arises as to whether certain features of Hitler’s reign of terror were an eruption of evil unique to twentieth-century Germany. Over this issue historians and sociologists have quarrelled violently and inconclusively. For some, Hitler and his followers represent a gang of perverted if not demented paranoiacs; for others, the Third Reich is judged to be the legitimate heir to the militarist-imperialist traditions of Germany. Neither explanation satisfies. Perhaps Richard Rubenstein was closer to the heart of the matter when he suggested that it was wrong to “isolate Nazism and its supreme expression, bureaucratic mass murder and the bureaucratically administered society of total domination, from the mainstream of Western culture.” The Third Reich forever destroyed the myth of inexorable human progress. In less than one hundred years after most Western nations had finally abolished slavery, Hitler and Himmler brought it back. This time the slaves were not a special ethnic group, exploited solely for economic purposes, but rather contragenics of all kinds who were pushed into the forced-labour battalions in the camps and the factories surrounding them. While the Gulag that dots Russia’s northern tundra was not designed to exterminate its inmates, it enslaves them and must be classified as a close relative of Hitler’s bone mills. One is tempted to say that the twentieth century has mistreated minorities in a more brutal fashion than many preceding periods. And it is precisely technological progress that has made possible ever more refined techniques of brutalisation, torture, and obliteration.

Thus the fate of the gays under the Third Reich may serve as a touchstone for all those victims swept away by the hurricane of hatred. To this day, the extent and impact of this catastrophe has not been fully understood. At the end of hostilities, when Allied soldiers first entered the concentration camps, they did not really comprehend what they saw. And despite the overwhelming flood of information about the Nazis’ infernal machine, we still have not understood what it may foreshadow. In many ways, the spectres of the Third Reich still haunt us- not because a few elderly Nazis may be hiding in South America and not because groups of younger neo-Nazis demand attention with recycled swastika ideologies and emblems. The spectres begin to come to life whenever fanatical fundamentalists of any sect- religious or secular- take over a nation and call for a holy war against its most vulnerable and vilified minorities.

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