Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Audible Anarchist

For the past couple of months or so I've been interested in and then later volunteering for a group called Audible Anarchist. Audible Anarchist is a group of volunteers making audio book versions of texts thought to be useful for the development of Anarchism and education.

Intro video

"What is anarchism? Anarchism is a diverse and overlapping set of political ideologies dedicated to creating a stateless society where all individuals are free from arbitrary authority, hierarchy, and oppression. Because our current society is based on hierarchy--the ingrained beliefs that some people should have more power than others--we believe we must destroy the systems of power that keep all people oppressed.

Audible Anarchist is a collective of volunteers from around the world dedicated to sharing anarchist ideas through audio recordings of books and essays, through podcasts, and through collaboration. Subscribe to our channel and discover the myriad resources available to you. Uploads several times each week."

Currently the main project is reading Rudolf Rocker's Nationalism and Culture but readers are free to contribute a reading on any text they wish. Speaking of the group is always open to more volunteers, all you need is a means to record audio and access to the text you wish to read. Audio editing skills are a bonus but speaking from experience its not necessary as the group has some very experienced editors.

One strength of the current Anarchist community is that it has preserved many books, essays and speeches and still continues produce more to add to it. However material in other mediums is lacking, so audio books are a way of filling in some of the gap. I myself struggle to get into some books and even short essays and have found the readings on Audible Anarchist very helpful. Currently much of the work is being done on the Youtube channel but their is also a Dischord server and subreddit. There is also a website and plans to collaborate further with Librivox the worlds largest publisher of public domain audio books.

If you wish to volunteer or get in touch feel free to contact the group using the email 

Edit: Audible Anarchist also has Sound cloud account 

Monday, 18 December 2017

Italy's Secret State Within the State

Earlier I uploaded a video about the life and murder of Giuseppe Pinelli and Italian Anarchist. While I thought the video was excellent at covering Giuseppe, I took issue with the later discussion about that period of Italian history. The guest downplayed and ridiculed the pretty well known strategy of tension and collaboration and infiltration of the Italian government and its policing arms, especially the intelligence services. Well it seems like the BBC agreed with me, because later they did another program on the murder of Roberto Calvi under Black Friar bridge. And in the process document his many, many connections to the conspiracy and interview two men instrumental in exposing it.

Murder and conspiracy among Italy's elite Roberto Calvi, head of Banco Ambrosiano, who was convicted of fraud but released on appeal shortly before his murder
At the time I thought the guest made the mistake of taking the strategy to its most extreme interpretation, that the government of Italy as a block including politicians and bureaucracy were united in a fiendish plan to use manufactured outrages like the Piazza Fontana bombing to pave the way for an openly Fascistic regime. Whereas the above video makes clear this was a plot motivated by one faction within and without the governmental system with some very powerful friends.

Also of interest, this appears to be one of the few times in history where a chapter of the Free Masons, Propaganda Du, or P2 where up to some very sketchy and murderous schemes. With that in mind and the obsessive fixation on the Masonic brothers in conspiracist circles its a little surprising this incident doesn't play more of a prominent role in that scene.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Classical Liberalism: Classical Menace

I encountered YouTube user and social commentator Sargon of Akkad about a year or so ago. He seemed like a rather obnoxious man who seemed to be deliberately playing up to the stereotype of a toxic intellectual. So I ignored him, though due to his popularity and infamy he kept popping up on my radar like in this video clip where he ends it saying he'll support Fascist terror.

Flicking through the comments and seeing his fans come out the woodwork reminded me of something else Sargon has been pretty heavily committed to in his internet career, the rehabilitation and promotion of the ideology of `classical liberalism`. Classical Liberalism, I'm just going to call it Liberalism from now on, promotes itself by appearing as a moderate and open and tolerant view point that is in strict opposition to all the various political extremists. The horseshoe fallacy is common talking point amongst this crowd.

So far as I'm aware this liberal revivalism unlike Neoliberalism doesn't appear to have grown into a full fledged political movement, so this may seem like tilting at windmills, but this is early days and I think given the prevalence of a certain smug frog its best to knock this thing on the head sooner rather than later. In my personal experience if you let a self professed Classical Liberal talk for long enough you'll eventually start hearing some pretty extreme and violent reactionary ideas. Sargon is pretty typical in that regard, but this more than just individual moral failings the whole project is rooting in some pretty vile stuff and is inherently reactionary.

This particular strand of liberalism likes to based itself on the Enlightenment period, specifically the early United States and United Kingdom, and the personalities they really like come from the 18th and early 19th century. But these societies were not wonderful bastions of reason and tolerance, they both were heavily involved in slavery, conquest and complete oppression of women. And a mans social worth and standing was dependent entirely on the size of their property holdings. Even in the democratic and republican USA property gave you unique entitlements like the right to vote or stand for office.

These weren't aberrations they coincided quite a lot with the views of many of this periods most prominent thinkers. For example John Stuart Mills On Liberty is a foundational text on Liberalism written in 1859 it largely codifies a lot of earlier liberal thinking. It outlines for example the limits of government authority, it also fully endorses colonial expansion and domination.

This isn't a man from an earlier time carrying some baggage either this is at the core of Mill's liberal framework of authority, if you're not advanced enough you should be ruled for your own good. He also was not being guilty of theoretical abstraction, Mill worked for the East India Company and assisted in the Despotic control of millions of "barbarians".

Another influential thinker often cited as one of the best thinkers of early liberalism is Thomas Jefferson the well known democracy advocate and American revolutionary. He not only drafted the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights the two pillars of liberal thought but he was so committed to them that he declared them `self evident`.

He was also a slave owner and even raped some of those slaves  . He also opposed the free coloured population, he tried to declare free black people living in Virginia declared outlaws, and wanted to expel the children of white women and black men.[1] Like Mill he also took a dim view of "Barbarians" and endeavoured to pressure the tribes living in or near US territory to leave and move further west if they couldn't be "civilised". His favourite method was tricking the tribes into debt by selling to them on credit, then using that as leverage in negotiations. In exchange for debt cancellation the government would get land for cheap and parcel it off, this would weaken the ability of the tribe to pay off any future debts and establish a negative spiral eventually forcing the tribes to either leave US territory or assimilate into the towns.

Jefferson first instructed his agents to persuade Indians to adopt agriculture. That new way of life, the agents explained, would require less land than hunting. With no need for their vast forests, the Indians were encouraged to sell their uncultivated territories for 25 cents per acre, the profits of which Indian farmers could use to purchase agricultural tools and manufactured goods. To stimulate Indian consumerism, Jefferson increased the number of government trading houses located near Native villages, arguing publicly that the establishments enabled Indians to share in the fruits of white "civilization." But it was a ploy. His real motive, he confided in 1803, was to lure Indians into spending themselves into debt, obligations that would be paid off through the sale of tribal lands.
The weapons in Jefferson's arsenal of dispossession were many and varied, and they worked to perfection. As the historian Colin Galloway has observed, Jefferson's strategy yielded some 30 treaties with approximately a dozen tribes, who ceded some 200,000 square miles of land in nine states.

The fact Jefferson owned slave is no secret of course, even his admirers acknowledge it, though they quickly make excuses. For example when his slave estate is brought up the quotation about the wolfs ear is often cited as an example of his sad reluctant compromise with that bloody institution.  "but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other." But that is a very selective quote, the full letter that it comes from makes it clear that he advocates expanding slavery throughout the Union including the newly acquired territory of Missouri. Indeed he goes so far as to call abolition a form of treason and the death of the nation.

Monticello Apr. 22. 20.

I thank you, Dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. it is a perfect justification to them. I had for a long time ceased to read the newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once concieved and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one state to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing the burthen on a greater number of co-adjutors. an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress, to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?

I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of '76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it. if they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world.

to yourself as the faithful advocate of union I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect. Th. Jefferson
This is all terrible but again it is not an aberration, these horrible views are part of the bedrock of Jeffersonian liberalism.  He believed that for the democratic society he championed to work it must be primarily agricultural and based on a large body of small land owners. The Yeomen farming class[2] essentially. In order for this class to survive and prosper it needed several things, plenty of unoccupied land, hence the pushes to removal of the tribes to free up vast acres. It also explains in addition to naked racism and belief in pseudo science the drive to maintain and expand slavery and expel the free coloured population. If the slaves were freed many of them would become free farmers and so compete for land, and so would be a destabilising influence on the yeoman farmer society Jefferson wanted to cultivate.

And speaking of cultivation...

Voltaire! The above is basically classical liberalism's slogan. If they ever do become a full fledged movement with rallies and marches that will be on most of the banners. Minor tangent, when I looked up where exactly Voltaire said this and the second result was Stormfront, I don't have a point here, just thought it was worth mentioning. Also it appears that he didn't and the quotation was attributed to him in a book written after his death by an English admirer  but the association has stuck so I'll keep going.

Voltaire was of course very influential and still is to an extent, the problem is while his works have many merits, Candide is a favourite, both his personal life and his legacy aren't very good omens if this liberal revival takes off. Voltaire was not afraid to offend or risk punishment for what he believed in, though he didn't relish being sent back to the Bastille so often used pen names and moved around when the authorities had had enough of him. The problem is though that he had a very, very poor track record when it came to defending the rights of anyone else.

He was the close friend and confidant of Frederick the Great, and may have been his lover. Frederick's regime was built on conquest and serfdom[3] so he does not appear to have made much impact in Prussia. He also had little success with his other great admirer Catherine the Great. Again he found an enthusiastic fan at the head of an autocracy built on military conquests and serfdom. He had a lively correspondence with the "enlightened despot"[4]. Indeed before the French revolution Voltaire was the most important and popular thinker amongst the Russian nobility.

Now because of the two previous examples I want to make it clear that unlike Mill and Jefferson I don't think Voltaire actively promoted any of this, though his comments praising Catherine's war with the Turks for example are pushing. I'm mainly bringing up Voltaire because he's an enlightenment figure many classical liberals openly aspire to and his legacy shows just how insufficient his ideas are for addressing extreme injustice. 18th century Russia was a society where the nobility could in effect do what they pleased so long as they did not anger a more powerful member. And yet despite years of infatuation the Russian enlightenment never translated into effective social change. On the contrary after 1789 Catherine ditched the enlightenment and aggressively stamped out what little progress had been made.

Now back to the UK. Arguably the United Kingdom since its founding in 1707 was the nation where classical liberalism made the most inroads. Indeed the UK has had several liberal Prime Ministers, and by strange coincidence these premierships often occurred during some pretty dark and bloody periods of UK history. For example Prime Minister John Russell who essentially caused the Irish famine. Now he didn't go around spreading the blight, the blight actually appeared while his predecessor the Conservative PM Robert Peel.

But the majority of the deaths can be lead squarely at Russell's feet since he not only did not take measures to prevent or limit the damage of the famine, he ended what relief efforts Peel's government had made, (small scale public works, price guarantees of corn etc.). He was the Prime minister from 1846 to 1852 nearly the entirety of the famine, and he never changed course. His actions, or rather deliberate inaction lead to the displacement of 2-3million people and the deaths of 800,000 to 1,000,000 people depending on estimates. All of whom were British subjects due to the act of Union in 1800. And again as with Mill and Jefferson this wasn't some personal failing, it was the direct result of a firm belief in a cornerstone of classic liberalism, that of the market economy.

As far as Russell was concerned the real tragedy of the famine was that it lead the British government to intervene in the economy for them it was most important to get the market back on track. To quote Trevalyn a member of Russell's government who oversaw Ireland and its (lack of relief)

Our measures must proceed with as little disturbance as possible of the ordinary course of private trade, which must ever be the chief resource for the subsistence of the people, but, coûte que coûte (at any cost), the people must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to starve.
Which seems not too bad, but the commitment to not let people starve quickly proved hollow, under Trevalyn exports of Irish food stuffs continued regularly and when in 1847 he was confronted with news that the years potato harvest had been riddled with blight this was his response.

    'The only way to prevent the people from becoming habitually dependent on government is to bring the operation to a close. The uncertainty about the new crop only makes it more necessary. Whatever may be done hereafter these things should be stopped now or we run the risk of paralysing all private enterprise and having this country on you for an indefinite number of years. The Chancellor of the Exchequer strongly supports this policy.'

And there you have it, liberal economics in a nutshell. Property and commerce before and above human costs. Whenever someone praises liberal economics and laissez-faire commerce this is what they mean.

Before I wrap up I'd like to hammer home this point with the example of the most successful liberal statesman in the UK, Gladstone. Gladstone was Prime minister four times, and Chancellor of the Exchequer another four times, so a man of influence and power. In opposition he developed a reputation for opposing the growth of the Empire. When he was in office though he made no move to withdraw British rule from any of its overseas territories. Indeed, he personal investments in several Imperial ventures. The case of Egypt is very revealing, in the 1880's tensions were growing there. Gladstone decided to intervene, the fact he had 37% of his stock invested in the country was probably just a coincidence.

Gladstone funnily enough justified Imperial aggression and domination in much the same way J.S. Mill did, for their own good, and it would end once the conquered "savages" reached an appropriate level of civilisation whatever that actually means.

The Liberal project old and new is one steeped in violence and hostile elitism. In that respect the modern "classical liberals" of today are not much different from their forefathers. The reputation political liberalism has of being an emancipatory movement for civil discourse and polite toleration is largely a product of misdirection and propaganda to cover up the atrocities and structural tyranny it presided over.

2: The term Yeomen farmer in the United States didn't have any feudal connotations
3: Frederick II past an abolition of serfdom decree in 1763 after he had fallen out with Voltaire and the decree only extended to crown lands. It wouldn't be until the revolution of 1848 when Prussian peasants would finally be freed from all feudal obligations.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The effects of the Hillsborough disaster and police cover up

"And I didn't realise I was helping their case then, and I was so, so vulnerable. I think they used that to their advantage." Steve Kelly

Steve Kelly is the brother of one of the 96 Liverpool FC fans crushed to death in 1989 in Hillsborough, this is his account of how the police treated the families of the victims and the impact of the cover up and media smears.

A bit different from the other entries in the series on political prisoners but its account of a massive police cover up and attempt to discredit and harass grieving family members for wanting to know the truth is very familiar.

Episode guide:

A heartbreaking story of a long campaign for justice in the UK. Steve's brother, Mike, was killed in the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, when 96 people died in a crush at a football stadium. Fans like Mike were blamed for the deaths, but Steve and others knew that something was amiss. In Their Own Words is a podcast from Amnesty International, where people around the world tell their extraordinary stories of fighting for their rights.

I had some more thoughts on the Hillsborough disaster and this lead to a thread on twitter.

The Hillsborough stadium disaster and the police response are very instructive. Despite billions of pounds being spent on PR for the police criticism and opposition to them is still fairly common provided it comes with a number of qualifiers. From my own experience contempt and hostility toward individual coppers is widespread and when news or rumours of police corruption and or brutality surface its not hard to convince someone that there is at least some truth to the allegations.

However the distrust usually falls under the `few bad apples` scenario. Yes those officers were corrupt and worse then the criminals they allegedly protect us all from, but they're the exception. Again from personal experience the only time I've encountered people -who aren't already involved in political radicalism of some kind- willing to believe in widespread or even total corruption or abuse from the police its in regards to a foreign police force in a nation that has a very poor reputation overall. Though there has been a bit of an exception with the police of the United States. The Black Lives Matter campaigns have really damaged the reputation of the American police internationally.

This is why I feel its very important not to let Hillsborough fade from memory after the second inquest. This was a cover up and harassment campaign organised by the entire South Yorkshire police force, from the officers at the scene on that day all the way to the top. They were supported in this endeavour to cover up the deaths of 96 people by the elected and parliamentary government and elements with the free press. Its an incontestable example of the power and attitude of the police as an institution and how even modern parliamentary democracy and independent media are not only not up to the task of keeping the police in check, but when push comes to shove will actively support even its worst excesses.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Alexandra Kollontai

Alexandra Kollontai was a very influential (for a short period of time) Bolshevik. During the Russian revolutions her views on the role of women and concepts on relationships which are often described as a precursor to the free love experiments popularised in the 1960s. The title of this audio history was The Original Revolutionary Femininist, I've changed it because its historically misleading their were several very important and prominent revolutionary feminists that predate Kollontai such as Louise Michel.

Kollontai has some admirers not just in revolutionary feminism but in Left Communist circles as she was one of the founder members of the Bolshevik faction the Workers Opposition (WO), not to be confused with the Workers Group that was around at the same time. I don't really know why personally the only major point of difference between the WO and the Bolshevik party leadership was the role of Bolshevik party controlled unions in the economy. When it came to repressive measures by the Bolshevik party against other revolutionary organisations and tendencies Kollontai and most of the WO closed ranks with the party. They would eventually regret that when Stalin came to power and attacked them,

Kollontai survived and became an ambassador to the Scandinavian countries, while in that role she often campaigned to have communist dissidents who were refugees in Sweden and Norway expelled back to their home countries where they could be arrested and executed. For example the German Communist exile Hugo Urbhans.

But despite this frankly disgusting career her writings on gender roles and women and communism still stand up for the most part and she remains an authority on the subject.

From my Deviantart

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Albert Woodfox Black Panther and Prison Organiser in his own words

This is part of a podcast series where political prisoners describe how they became victims of state repression and the conditions in the prisons they've been sent to.This one is by Albert Woodfox a Black Panther and prison organiser and details his struggles within the Louisiana State Penitentiary and the effects of solitary confinement. A short history of the Angola prison chapter can be found here

Albert Woodfox endured 44 years in solitary confinement - more than anyone else in the US. When he was imprisoned in Louisiana in the 1970s, racism was rife. Albert took a stand - and it cost him. Hear why Albert was punished over the odds and how he survived 44 years in isolation. In Their Own Words is a podcast from Amnesty International, where people around the world tell their extraordinary stories of fighting for their rights.

The Angola 3, Wallace, Wilkerson and Woodfox

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Coming out of the Shadows - Intersex people in Kenya

LGBTI people in Africa have become a pawn in cultural arguments. Their experiences and struggles are used both as ammunition for homophobic commentaries on the supposed damage that tolerance can lead to wider society. Or to cement racist narratives about savage natives.

So I think its important to see what they themselves have to say on these matters. This a documentary about the struggles of Kenya's Intersex population and how attitudes towards them have changed over time. Its roughly positive and includes a formerly homophobic priest who having attended a sensitivity training course became an advocate for his community and mentor to a local intersex person.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Liverpool 1981 - An Eyewitness Account of the Toxteth Riots

In 1981 tensions over racist police officers abusing and harassing local black Liverpudlians exploded with a riot that for a few weeks managed to drive the police out of the area and force the government to respond and look into concessions. However, with the use of CS (Tear) gas for the first time in the UK and reinforcements enabled the police to take back control of the streets.

Racism in policing hasn't gone away and riots against police harassment would become more common in the 80's. And of course the response to police killings of coloured people has sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and UK.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The CIA's First Coup in Latin America - Guatemala 1954

The CIA is notorious for its operations in Latin America. Its hard to argue that any other organisation has done more to attack and restrict democracy around the world. Their operations to topple the Presidency of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 was the first of many operations carried out that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans, and even managed to get several US citizens killed too.

 The ideological justification for the death squads and mercenaries that terrorised the continent was of course the claim that Communism would take control of the region. Of course this wasn't true, Communists of various ideologies were always in the minority even in Cuba the rebels who overthrew Batista were a coalition of very different political groups, if anything US hostility to the new regime gave the small Communist faction the opportunity to grow and become dominant.

Many of the governments targeted for coups and destabilisation were punished solely for wanting to carry out limited social and economic reforms. Some of the governments weren't even left wing but moderate right wing Christian Democratic administrations. Arbenz was not a communist, his crime was cutting into the profits of United Fruit and pursuing an independent policy. The wars fought in Latin America in the 20th century were always about protecting profits and influence.

Monday, 6 November 2017

The First Revolution of 1917

Its the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917. There have been events, retrospectives, new books, fresh praise and denunciations. However almost all of it concerns the second revolt in the Russian Empire of that year, the October (November in Gregorian calendar) Revolution.

The first Revolt, the one that actually toppled the Romanovs and Tsarism occurred in February (March Gregorian calendar). It gets overlook a lot and that's a serious weakness for those who wish to understand the impact of the Revolution of October. We have this popular misconception of Revolution being this one explosive event that sweeps much of the old ways away overnight and that simply isn't accurate.

For example, without the February revolution the October revolution would be impossible. The Bolshevik party leadership including Lenin were stuck in Switzerland, and when news reached them of mutinies and demonstrations within Russia they were initially sceptical. It wasn't until the extent of the uprisings were known that became enthusiastic. Further the overshadowing of February by October has lead to a seriously damaging myth that Revolts can only succeed under the direction of an elite group from above, the February Revolt was propelled by a series of spontaneous actions of workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors.

Bread riots by working class women in Petrograd is considered the first shot of the revolt but discontent and mutiny soon spread to the military and the factory districts, while peasants began to attack their landlords and re-establish Communes. At the head of the new Republican government was a coalition of liberal and social democratic party members. Eventually Kerensky became the nominal head of these changing coalitions. The governments moderation and commitment to continuing the First World War and its hostility to dissident Socialist and Anarchist groups soon caused popular support for the new regime to collapse and it wasn't long before a coalition of radicals dubbed the `Reds`* would overthrow the increasingly despotic coalition government.

The video below is dedicated to the February revolt and its impact.

*Contrary to popular thought the October Revolt was not solely a Bolshevik operation, it relied heavily on Anarchists and the Left Wing of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and their supporters to carry the day.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Iranian Regime Kills Labour Activists - Bread and Roses TV

Afshin Osanlu; a Labour activist targeted by the Iranian government

The "Anti-Imperialist" regime of Iran has for many years targeted Labour activists and trade unions in the country.

From 2007

 Like many supposedly revolutionary governments, this regime has been particularly harsh to workers and their representatives who have dared to protest the injustices that pervade the present system in Iran.    On April 9 this year, Iranian agents arrested Mahmoud Salehi, the founder of an independent bakery workers association. And then on three separate occasions since 2005, this same Iranian regime has arrested and imprisoned Mansour Osanloo, the president of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, an independent labor association of transportation workers.
   Most recently then, on July 10, 2007, reports indicate that plainclothes Iranian agents kidnapped, assaulted and imprisoned Mr. Osanloo.
   When transport workers have attempted to strike in order to protest their lack of rights and the arrest of their representatives, the Iranian regime has beaten them and compelled them to return to work. Iran's deplorable behavior violates its own legal obligations under its own Constitution.
And it hasn't gotten any better in recent years.

From 2015

April 29, 2015—On the eve of International Workers’ Day on May 1, Iranian authorities have arrested at least five labor leaders. The arrests have taken place in the context of intensifying labor protests, strikes, and arrests of individuals organizing or participating in labor protests.
“The Government views any labor mobilization as a national security threat,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Campaign. “Workers should be allowed to peacefully defend their common interests, without risking years behind bars.”
“Rouhani needs to turn his attention to the people of Iran. Workers are suffering and their demands need to be heard,” added Ghaemi.
Tehran Security Police arrested two members of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, Ebrahim Maddadi and Davood Razavi, in their homes on April 29, and two other labor activists, Mahmoud Salehi and Osman Ismaili, were arrested in the city of Saqez in the Kurdistan Province on April 28. On April 25, plainclothes security agents in Sanandaj, Kurdistan, arrested the labor activist Reza Amjadi.
On April 20, four days after thousands of teachers protested against low wages, Alireza Hashemi, head of the Iran Teachers Organization, was detained and transferred to Evin Prison to serve a five-year sentence originally handed out to him in 2013.
Independent labor unions are banned in Iran, strikers are often fired and risk being detained, and labor leaders face long prison sentences on trumped up national security charges.
Despite this, a growing wave of strikes and worker protests have roiled many sectors in Iran over the past year, as a combination of international sanctions and economic mismanagement has taken a heavy toll on the economy, with workers bearing the brunt of the economic pain.
Some 70% of workers’ wages are now under the official poverty line in Iran, and approximately 90% of all contracts are temporary, affording workers no insurance or protections.
Over the past year, workers in dozens of factories have experienced more than 6 months of unpaid wages. For example, 900 workers in the Ahvaz City Metro Construction project haven’t received their wages for more than four months.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut

"You should be careful about what you pretend to be, because in the end you are what you pretend to be"

Some stories don't age well, some are timeless, and a few like Mother Night get better and more important with age. Mother Night is about an American émigré who grew up in Germany between the wars. When the Nazi's come to power he stays on the country and is recruited as a spy for the American intelligence service. He is called Howard W. Campbell, Jr, a well respected playwright who is taken into the Propaganda ministry. 

The rub and the point of the story is that in order for Howard W. Campbell, Jr to rise and get close the Nazi party leadership he not only has to convince them he's a believer in Aryan supremacy and German victory he has to prove himself as a master propagandist. And he passes with flying colours, he develops a radio show addressing English speaking audiences as the `last free American`. He also forms a volunteer army for American prisoners, he appeared in Slaughter House Five to recruit in Dresden.

He does not believe a word of the horrible Nazi things he says in his role, but he's so good at what he does even the deranged and ridiculous anti-Semitic rants he delivers are received very, very well by his audience. He may not believe that "Rosenfeld" is a Jewish agent corrupting America from within, but many who listened to his radio broadcasts did. Even after the war he becomes a celebrity amongst the sad fringe of neo-fascists who diligently reprint and re-record his propaganda to inspire themselves. 

This is the issue, we are never given any reason to doubt Howard W. Campbell, Jr's sincerity when he refutes and ridicules his own Nazi lies, but the question of whether it matters is not quite as clear. Several characters point out to him that he served the Nazi regime so well in his endeavours that a true believer couldn't have done better. And we do see the effects of his poison seeping into a new generation. He may of made up all that nonsense about Jewish Bolshevism, but hundreds of angry and confused people the world over still believe in it, and are using it to support and strengthen their movement. 

The story is about the relationship between intentions and actual effects. And its for this reason that I think Mother Night has become more important than ever in the internet age. The internet has lead to the growth of subcultures and bubbles, one drawback to this is that it has stimulated the rise of "Irony culture". Irony is now basically a shield for any toxic nonsense you want to publicise, just adopt a flippant tone, and assure people you're joking if and when you get a backlash and there you go. Racism, sexism anti-Semitism, the use of slurs and threats is suddenly ok now, its being "Ironic".

Mother Night in a hundred and sixteen pages explains pretty clearly why even if that were true -I'm going to leave aside the possibility of lying for the moment- it doesn't in anyway change the fact that often what's being passed off as Ironic memes, is just bigotry toxic ideas with a wink. If you post a meme to Facebook using racial stereotypes, your still pushing racial stereotypes, and encouraging others to do so too. If you respond to other users on a forum using slurs in a jokey we're all in this together way you're still using slurs and encouraging others to do the same. If your joking amongst friends on a public platform you're still saying its ok to insult minorities to a wider audience.

Irony used in this way (and to be honest a lot of it doesn't even qualify as Irony) is no different from sincerity. You and your close circle of friends might not have a bigoted bone in their bodies, but their are plenty who do. And you'd be amazed at just what some of them can latch onto for encouragement. Quite a few people think one way to enjoy Irony without actively offending by going to extreme outlandishness, but that was what Howard W. Campbell, Jr did. Its also showing a complete lack of understanding of how the reactionary subculture works.

Actual racist talking points can be shockingly daft and wacky. It would be funny to hear how car parts breaking down often is part of a Jewish conspiracy to say wreck a nations economic efficiency via traffic jams[1] if they weren't deadly serious and act upon these fears. You cannot come up with a racist theory so ludicrous that a segment of the far right won't accept and make use of. I'll give a personal example, I make a lot of pdfs and I write a lot of blogs, I've discovered online archives of Fascist texts with pdfs I've made and posts I've written. One that stood out also had a lot of Kropotkin and Bordiga and Marx nestled between Mosley and Evola.

And none of those were jokes they were rather dry even boring texts about economics and social history.

I think a big example of this lack of understanding the targets of ridicule was the Nazbol/Anfash meme that was popular on Twitter a few months back. There was a spate of jokes and parody accounts for members of the "National Bolsheviks" and "Anarcho-Fascism". The problem being that these are actual ideologies with real members and activists. Nazbol is an undercurrent of Russian Fascism but it has a presence in several other Eastern European nations. All the ones I've encountered have been Germans.

I can assure you from experience they're just as loopy as the joke posts. But that's the trouble, if you can't tell a joke from a real threat aren't you just making it easier for the threats to move around in public? If you can use the "just a joke excuse" to diffuse criticism and backlash why can't they? Everyone's free to do what they want and I can't stop anyone who wants to meme ironic bigotry, but you should ask yourselves are you ok with people taking your jokes and using them in sincere campaigns of bigotry?


1: That was in Four Lions, but I have seen Fash types seriously suggest this

Friday, 27 October 2017

Giuseppe Pinelli - Death of an Anarchist

The 1970's were a dangerous time to be politically active in Italy. Neo Fascist paramilitaries were mounting a prolonged bombing campaign killing many. As an extra sting the fascists often posed as left wing guerrilla's in an attempt to provoke and justify an authoritarian crackdown. There were leftist paramilitaries most well known were the Rosa brigades, but they tended to focus on kidnappings and assassinations instead of bombing public buildings and train stations.

After one such bombing Giuseppe Pinelli a local railroad worker and Anarchist activist was arrested in a dragnet. Whilst in police custody he went through a fourth floor window. The police maintained that he accidentally went through the window of his own accord, but the official story was so full of holes an entire play was written debunking it.

In 2001 a new investigation found three members of a Neo Fascist group responsible for the bombing that Giuseppe Pinelli had been detained for. So in addition to being killed by police he was innocent of the charges too. The interview below gives details of his life and death, including interviews with his family. There is also a discussion of this period of Italian politics, often dubbed the Strategy of Tension period, after the plans of the Fascist groups to increase tensions to breaking point.

I'd just like to make one critical comment, in the discussion afterwards the existence of the Strategy of Tension is dismissed and likened to a conspiracy theory. This is incorrect but appears to be based on a misunderstanding. The expert refers to the Strategy of Tension as being directed by the Italian state as a sort of evil block, and that's not really what the allegation is based on.

Its often described as a state within a state because it concerned the actions of networks of Neo-Fascists and members of the security services. Charges were on occasion brought up against members of Italian right wing groups and some state officials were investigated over this period. It was less a plot by a governmental monolith and more an attempt by a faction within the government to enforce its platform. For example in 1974 Vito Micelli the former head of the S.I.D (Italian secret service) stood and won a parliamentary seat as a member of the MSI. The MSI was the party that was founded by surviving members of Mussolini's defunct Fascist regime.

He had to stand down from his S.I.D job because he was connected to a coup attempt in 1970. But he was just one example, in order for the framing of leftists and anarchists to work it required the involvement of many within the intelligence and policing services. Most arrests in the aftermath of bombings were done by tip offs from the S.I.D, arrests which were often overturned and found to be spurious once an inquest was mounted.

The strategy of Tension was a conspiracy but it wasn't a conspiracy theory, because like MK Ultra it was exposed pretty conclusively. It can only be denied if like the expert you take it at its most extreme interpretation. At one point the expert claims the strategy of tension was fictitious because its aim of turning Italy into an authoritarian dictatorship didn't happen. Well he's right, but it wasn't for like of trying, in 1970 the Fascists were so frustrated with the liberal government they attempted to overthrow it with a coup. But even when that failed senior plotters were still able to stay in their powerful positions for years afterward.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The 43 Group

In the immediate aftermath of World War II Mosley and the British Union of Fascists members were released from prison as the threat of a pro Nazi fifth column subsided. Unfortunately the defeat of their patrons Mussolini and Hitler, and the revelations of the Concentration camp system and the Holocaust didn't lead to much repenting.

Mosley and a core group of Fascists became active again in the East End hoping to rebuild their movement. Understandably this attempted resurrection was bitterly opposed by the Jewish community. The main source of opposition was the 43 Group, its backbone was Jewish ex servicemen but the group did include civilian men and women and some non Jewish members.

Here is an interview with a member of the group followed by a discussion with Professor Nigel Copsey of Teesside University about the post war resurgence of Fascism and the effectiveness of the 43 Group.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

From the Fatherland With Love - Ryu Murakami

From the Fatherland is a bit like the Japanese response to that weird pop cultural trend in America about North Korea suddenly becoming a dominant military power and somehow occupying them. That Red Dawn remake, the Homefront series of games etc. Its a lot more coherent, believable and smart than those though.

For a start North Korea has no interest in conquering Japan, they just plan to occupy Fukuoka city, and they want to do that to knock Japan and the world off balance and weaken a regional rival. Japan hasn't been doing too well at this point, its looking quite a bit like Weimar Germany. The economy is stagnant, unemployment is extreme, the government is weak and only still functioning thanks to a coalition government of moderates from the main parties. Both the political right and left are polarising society and looks like re-armament and militarisation might be a possibility. The JDF has been guying a lot of equipment, most of which doesn't really make sense unless they go on a war footing.

Meanwhile in North Korea things are (relatively) on the up. Tensions with the US have declined (wouldn't that be nice) and their economy is staggering back onto its feet. So now's the best time to strike. The plan is simple, smuggle some Special Operations Forces (SOF) into the country and start taking hostages. For their plans to work they're relying on the fact the Japanese state has no experience with situations of this sort and will probably be paralysed. Then wait for reinforcements to move into secure the territory as an exclave.

There's a ton of research that's been put into the novel and the work shows. There's an explanation for every question, how they get the first teams in, how they cover for this internationally (a fake rebellion) and how they're going to pay for the massive costs of occupation, how so few soldiers can have such tight control of so large a population etc. It wouldn't work in reality but for a novel it grounds everything really well.

But despite the premise this isn't a military pulp novel, there are some shoot outs and skirmishing but the focus is mainly on culture clash. It does this in two ways, the first is contemporary Japanese culture and North Korean military culture. Its quite funny, most of the Koreans have to drink unsweetened tea at first because they couldn't find any sugar jars, they didn't know about the little packets of sugar. Another time a sergeant discovers a porno mag and can't understand what the captions under the pictures mean. He can read Japanese fairly well its just the slang talk in the magazine about Double D's and ballistics confuses him.

The other case is with a group of delinquent youths who live in a sort of runaway commune of outcasts on the outskirts of the city. They don't fit into either world, and soon come into conflict with the commandos. By delinquents I don't mean anime nerds, these boys are so distant from other people several have assaulted or killed people already, and they weird and dangerous obsessions. One collects venomous insects, another has a sort of sawblade boomerang, another knows so much about buildings they've collected explosives and cutting torches etc.

Its a very interesting conflict, and one that's kinda depressing in its conclusions. Japanese society, its governance and values don't come out of it unscathed, and its hard to call the outcast boys heroic.  

Friday, 13 October 2017

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

The brief June insurrection in Paris 1832 was basically a footnote in the history of revolutions. It lasted two days and was crushed fairly conclusively. And yet thanks to Victor Hugo its prominence dwarves nearly every other example with the exceptions of the Russian Revolution in October 1917, the American Revolution and the Great French Revolution (that's the first one that started in 1789). Its cultural footprint is extreme. Though many are more familiar with its film and musical adaptations, unless you're Japanese in which case the 52 episode anime Shoujo Cossette would be what you think of.

Indeed the mainstream romanticism of the story has become so great, that there's been a bit of a backlash against amongst serious revolutionary types. Which I think is a shame in addition to a very engrossing-if incredibly bleak- story packed with memorable characters, it also still contains much value for those favouring a drier more practical work on revolt and repression.

Let's get this out of the way, Les Miserables is public domain so can be bought cheap or gotten for free online. Its also very easy to read, the text hasn't dated much and favours plain speaking. It is however very long, about Five full Volumes, but those volumes are broken down into separate books (48 in total) and those are broken up into chapters. So while's it quite lengthy it is very easy to break up the reading, with a bookmark. I read it over a period of three weeks, Monday to Friday while at work. If your not certain just try reading the first chapter, about the life of the Bishop, Jean Val Jean doesn't appear until later. You'll get a feel for the prose and the length is mostly equivalent.

If you do stick with it you'll be in for a treat. The musicals are in broadstrokes faithful they just cut a lot out and combine characters, but the core cast Jean Val Jean, Fantine Cossette, Javert, Marius, the Thénardiers etc make an appearance and are usually faithful. Well except in the 1990's film version where Jean Val Jean is very violent and Marius has all the character traits of the Revolutionaries dumped into him.

But the stuff that's cut out is done so for time and pace, much of what gets ripped out is some of the best parts of the story. Unfortunately the part of the story that gets mangled the most is the revolt itself. In most retellings its a tragedy about the dangers of romantic idealistic students biting off more then they can chew. They're aren't wrong in their ends, just in their means. That isn't really how it plays out in the novel. They still lose of course, but Hugo goes to great pains to establish that they republicans were a lot more serious minded about it, and the insurrection had more potential than is usually shown.

The Friends of the ABC, while they are idealistic and have romantic notions about the coming fight, are a bit more grounded.They've been preparing for months, stock piling weapons, agitating and networking. Interestingly most of their links and contacts are with secret societies of workers, mostly artisans, like stonemasons. When the revolt kicks off at General Lamarque's funeral its much more widespread, with several working class districts rising up and building barricades. The Friends of the ABC built one of the more formidable ones, they're one of the last to be breached. And many of the fighters are local workers. It still comes across as rather naïve, hoping the rest of Paris would rise once the fighting was underway, though Hugo does describe a number of incidents of spontaneous clashes with the troops occupying Paris.

The Society of the Friends of the A B C affiliated to the Mutualists of Angers, and to the Cougourde of Aix, met, as we have seen, in the Café Musain. These same young men assembled also, as we have stated already, in a restaurant wine-shop of the Rue Mondétour which was called Corinthe. These meetings were secret. Others were as public as possible, and the reader can judge of their boldness from these fragments of an interrogatory undergone in one of the ulterior prosecutions: “Where was this meeting held?” “In the Rue de la Paix.” “At whose house?” “In the street.” “What sections were there?” “Only one.” “Which?” “The Manuel section.” “Who was its leader?” “I.” “You are too young to have decided alone upon the bold course of attacking the government. Where did your instructions come from?” “From the central committee.”

That's how they fought, lets tackle why they thought. The main thrust of the uprising was to topple the Orleans Monarchy and replace it with a Republic. A republic inspired by the Republic established in 1792. However it was also strongly motivated by desires to improve the lot of the working class. If you've seen the musical or film you'll know that Post Napoleon France wasn't a great place to be poor, employed or not. Pay was low, laws very strict, both bosses, local government and police could control their fates. The prisons were cruel, (I mean even more so than now) the courts corrupt, that trial Jean Val Jean exposes himself at, wasn't an exaggeration. This is why most of the fighting was in the working class areas.

They weren't completely homogenous though, Hugo mentions Socialists, of varying types, and Mutualists. It even contains a passage about Communism. Though he's critical of it and Land reformers, he does so in a unique way. He believed their plans would kill production, and that's really the crux of the disagreement.
Communism and agrarian law think that they solve the second problem. They are mistaken. Their division kills production. Equal partition abolishes emulation; and consequently labor. It is a partition made by the butcher, which kills that which it divides. It is therefore impossible to pause over these pretended solutions. Slaying wealth is not the same thing as dividing it.
Even the Friends of the ABC aren't uniform. One is obsessed with the occupation of Poland, (it was a 19th century Palestine ) they're uniformly republicans, with the exception of Marius who isn't really a member just a friend, and Grantaire whose a drunk pessimist who hangs around because he likes Enjolras the groups leader.
I suppose its time to cover the authors politics. Victor Hugo's political ideas changed quite a bit over time, though generally of the Left. At the time of publishing Les Miserables, he could be broadly placed as a liberal Republican with Social Democratic ideals. He believed in a politically equal Republic, but one that also helped the poor while not molesting the rich so long as they were honest. He also despite being a Catholic (he would lose his faith later) believed in a secular society and bitterly attacked the church for its hypocrisy and destructive role in French society. One entire book is dedicated to listing the crimes of the Monastic orders and the Nunneries, and argues for their abolishment.

The leprosy of monasticism has gnawed nearly to a skeleton two wonderful nations, Italy and Spain; the one the light, the other the splendor of Europe for centuries; and, at the present day, these two illustrious peoples are but just beginning to convalesce, thanks to the healthy and vigorous hygiene of 1789 alone.

 And when Jean Val Jean and Cossette escape to a Nunnery, its depicted as a torturous place for the young girls in their isolated care.

Hugo is also highly contemptuous of the prison and police system. Javert is the main antagonist, and he's tormenting Jean Val Jean. the spirit of human redemption (literally) because Val Jean was on the wrong side of the law. His crime was stealing one loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children. When he went to prison for the crime they starved to death without his meagre earnings. That's the tip of the iceberg, the use of convict labour, torture and the death penalty are all bitterly condemned at length. As is the corruption of the law. Through Fantine we see that the law is weighted in favour of the well to do. Javert interferes in a street fight between Fantine and an idle rich man, he sides with the latter on the basis that they are a good law abiding citizen and Fantine is a street prostitute. She ends up dying as a result of her attack from pneumonia.

The treatment of women was very surprising considering the date of publication. Its very positive and hostile to prevailing social customs at the time of the setting and publication. Fantine's life is destroyed figuratively and then physically, because she doesn't live up to the expectations put on women. Her crime was falling in love with a young man, said young man leaves her for another, but now she's pregnant. The shame attached to this forces her far from home, she has to put her daughter Cossette in the care of strangers, and work in another town, keeping it a secret. In the musical and the latest film they make a small but important and in my view flawed change to the scene where she's discovered. In the musical/film her overseer is male and quite clearly fancies her and keeps harassing her. When he discovers she's had a child and another lover he reacts with disgust and fires her.

As an indictment of scummy bosses and the powerlessness line workers can be its a good example, but that wasn't what the passage was about originally. In the novel her overseer is also a woman, and she is not sexually harassing Fantine. She does however still fire Fantine in disgust when she learns of the out of wedlock child. Destitute Fantine has to keep sending money to her poor child, Fantine is desperate. First she sells her hair and teeth, and only then sells herself sexually. All the while wasting away and freezing to death. Her ex-boss saw her in this state and instead of remorse she feels proud and vindicated. Fantine has proven herself morally suspect so in the eyes of her ex employer she did the right and moral thing firing her. Its an accusation against the social roles for women at the time.

It was with this full power, and the conviction that she was doing right, that the superintendent had instituted the suit, judged, condemned, and executed Fantine.

 Madame Victurnien sometimes saw her passing, from her window, noticed the distress of “that creature” who, “thanks to her,” had been “put back in her proper place,” and congratulated herself. The happiness of the evil-minded is black.

In addition the story manages to cram in a lot of information about the Great French Revolution, the Revolution of 1830, the Revolution of 1848 and street fighting in 1831 and 1839. Its packed with historical information.

I could go on forever singing the novels praises but I'll stop now.

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