Wednesday, 26 July 2017

1948 French Coal Miners Strike

There are a lot of important events in Labour history that get overlooked. The Coal Miners strike in 1948 in France is one of them. I have tried for days to find information on this event and so far all I've found is a short interview on Radio Fours History Hour, some archival footage from Pathe with no commentary just a few minutes of film reel recording random events during the strike and one article by a French Trotskyist organisation written at the time and translated into English at a later date. I'm assuming there's more information in French, but even with my limited French I wasn't get many results and couldn't read what I found.

The Trotskyist article is interesting but unfortunately the authors were motivated by a desire to discredit the French Communist Party (PCF) and cast themselves as its replacement, rather than recount the events of the strike accurately for the benefit of all. And since its the only source I've found I can't tell how accurate the information it does provide is. Indeed it seems to contradict the miner being interviewed, in the BBC documentary. I have found two other sources, however one is hidden behind a pay wall and the other has only translated a brief abstract, the rest of the article is in French, so no help there.

 In frustration and a desire to make things a little easier for other searchers I've made a video by splicing some of the Pathe footage together with the part of the History hour on the strike.


A French user shared this( an eleven minute account of the strike including more footage and commentary, worth watching if you understand French.


Hello and welcome to the History Hour podcast from the BBC World Service with me Max Pearson. The past brought to life by those who were there.


The years immediately after the Second World War were characterised by huge changes, and evolving sometimes hardening attitudes. The tectonic plates of competing ideologies were shifting; an Iron Curtain between East and West appeared. In the midst of these global tensions individuals and groups of people could find their lives turned upside down by powerful forces beyond their control.

That’s what happened to one group of key workers in France in 1948. They were coal miners who found their wages and conditions cut in the post war austerity and they went on strike. But as this report from Lisa Louis reveals they were crushed by a government fearing the influence of creeping Communism.

[Music, French language version of the Internationale]

Norbert Gilmez:

We had become the pariahs of the Republic, they were regarding us as terrorists, although the government was actually terrorising us.

Lisa Louis:

Norbert Gilmez was one of the strikers at the pit in Bulli Limine (not clear transcriber note) in Northern France. Now 95 and still living locally, he remembers how until the strike coal miners were considered hero’s helping France struggle back onto its feet after the devastation of the Second World War.

[Music and an excerpt from a government speech]

These Miners are giving their all. In 1919 it took five years to make up for the losses after the war, in 1945 it only takes two years.

Norbert Gilmez:

90% of French industry was running on coal, the miner was the country’s most popular worker. He was celebrated and seen as a Patriot, those of us who were working down the mines were badly equipped, we just had cloth shoes with holes in them and pickaxes to dig with. But we were enthusiastic about our job, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work, to give the country back its coal.

Lisa Louis:

But the Miners enthusiasm soon soured. In 1948 the government started to strip away what they considered to be well earned rights. Their minimum wage was abolished, slashing their pay up to 80%. A second controversial measure concerned occupational diseases.

Norbert Gilmez:

The strike started with a ballot, it was very democratic, 94% of us took part, 90% voted in favour. It was an all out strike.

Lisa Louis:
However the government was determined not to give in. it sent riot police and the army to confront the miners.

[British radio news report]

As the French coal strike enters its fourth week and industries become crippled by lack of coal, troops and police take over pits in the northern basin.

Norbert Gilmez:

The riot police kept beating us, many of us were arrested, often at home ad sent to the prison of Béthune. They mainly arrested Union members, six strikers were killed, the police were ruthless.

Lisa Louis:
Gilmez helped organise the walkout at his mine, as an office worker he arranged for the distribution of clothes to the miner’s families and to have their children evacuated to other places for safety. As a punishment, the authorities targeted Gilmez’s family.

Norbert Gilmez:

While I was away they searched our house, my wife was on her own with our son. She was pregnant, they pushed her against the wall and grabbed her by the throat. They said we will kill your husband if we catch him, she was terrified.

Lisa Louis:
Faced with this overwhelming force the miners lost. By the end of November all industrial action was over, 3,000 strikers were arrested nationwide, many received prison sentences even though it was not illegal to strike. Gilmez was convicted for “impeding the proper functioning of the mines”.

Norbert GIlmez:

I was sentenced for something that was technically impossible, they said two colleagues and I had told some railway workers to bring a coal train back into the mine instead of taking it to the coking plant. Its true that the rail workers had asked us for advice, but we said we didn’t have the power to tell them what to do. You know that verdict just didn’t make sense.

Lisa Louis:
Gilmez spent fifteen days in prison, and he was sacked just like the other 3,000 arrested strikers. But that wasn’t the end of the state’s revenge, after their release the miner’s found themselves blacklisted.

Norbert Gilmez:

We were searching for work everywhere, however it was really difficult. I finally got a job as a road worker, but only half an hour after I’d started work they came up to me and said the mining corporation doesn’t want us to employ you, you have to go. All the private companies in the region were dependent on the state owned mines, it was like a state within a state in France.

Lisa Louis:
Gilmez finally found work as a journalist on a Communist newspaper. It meant a daily commute by bus of several hours. His sacked former colleagues were facing a similar situation, they struggled to find jobs and most of them eventually had to move far away to make a living. Even many of those who kept their jobs faced retribution.

Norbert GIlmez:
My Comrade Leon Leclees had the incurable lung disease silicosis, but when he was diagnosed the Doctors told him to work above ground, then after the strike the bosses sent him back underground where he would breathe in that poisonous dust. Little by little he could feel himself dying. For me this was torture and state terrorism.

Lisa Louis:
But why was the French government so intent on punishing the mining communities? After World War Two the tensions between the Soviet Union and the West had begun almost immediately. In 1947 the Communists had been forced out of France’s coalition government, in 1948 Soviet backed Communists had staged a coup in what was then Czechoslovakia. Most of the French miners were Communists, for Jules Moch the Interior Minister at the time the Union leadership was pursuing a hidden agenda.

[Excerpt from a press release by Jules Moch]

The miners themselves are fighting for better working conditions and higher salaries. But the Communist party intends to get back into power, the leaders of the strike want to reproduce what happened in Prague just a few months ago. They want to stage a coup.

Lisa Louis:
Gilmez himself was and still is a Communist, but he denies that there was a Communist plot.

Norbert Gilmez:
the government has invented this myth, it was never our plan to stage a revolution. The only issues in the ballot for the strike were our demands to keep our rights. Let me give you an example; at one point we managed to turn the tables and capture 200 riot police. You know what we did with their weapons? We destroyed them and threw them in the river. Do you really think we would have done that if we had been planning a revolution?

Lisa Louis:
But it was the beginning of the Cold War, can you understand that the government might fear a Communist plot was behind the strike?

Norbert Gilmez:
I do understand what you mean, but you know there is a saying in French `when someone wants to kill his dog, he will say the dog is blind`. If you want to crackdown on people, you will find a reason. There had been another strike in 1947, when the miners were asking for more meat and bread. The government had given in, that’s why they felt that in 1948 they had to crack down on the miners.

Lisa Louis:
The French government has gone some way to acknowledging that the miners were treated unjustly. Sixteen of them received €30,000 each as compensation for their unfair dismissal. In September 2016 President Francois Hollande honoured several miners who had lost their military grades as a consequence of the strike.

[Excerpt from Hollande’s speech]

There are causes which are worth a lot of effort even if they happened a long time ago, and now only a few people are still concerned by this. Making up for one injustice is like setting the world in order.

Lisa Louis:
But GIlmez says its not nearly enough. Almost seventy years on his fury hasn’t dimmed. He says the government destroyed the strikers lives and should reimburse them for their lost careers.

Norbert Gilmez:
I think everybody should have the right to live happily, and I still believe in justice. If the government doesn’t pay me and my wife, then my children can continue the fight.

Lisa Louis:
France’s last coal mine closed in 2004.

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

Note: Broken links or other download problems? Please let me know in the comments.


The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals
Conquered City
Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism (PDF)
Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism (Epub)
Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism (mobi)

Hugo's novel about the French Revolution Ninety Three, named after the year 1793
Ninety-Three (mobi)

Capital the Manga
Volume I
Volume II

Spectacular Times:
Complete archive of a series of small 'pocketbooks' in the late 1970s/early 1980s entitled 'Spectacular Times' by Larry Law. They serve as a brief introduction to situationist ideas. Each consists of newspaper clippings, quotations, handwritten text by Law and illustrations, all compiled and arranged with great humour!
Spectacular Times 01-02: Images and everyday life
Spectacular Times 03: The media
Spectacular Times 04: Fin De Spectacle
Spectacular Times 05: Into the Endgame
Spectacular Times 06: Food
Spectacular Times 07: Women and the Spectacle
Spectacular Times 08: The Skeleton Key
Spectacular Times 08-09: skeleton Keys (Double Issue reprint)
Spectacular Times 10: Animals
Spectacular Times 11: More of the Shame
Spectacular Times 12: The Bad Days Will End
Spectacular Times 13: Cities of Illusion
Spectacular Times 14: Bigger Cages and Longer Chains

Pyrate Captain Mission
Revolutionary Self Theory

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 you're 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 art for 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 mediaeval 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 that's 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 how's 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 through 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 it, 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.

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