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Was Mussolini’s 1931 Policy on the Banking Crash Better than Britain’s 2008 Bail-Out?

Here’s another interesting question posed by the changing policies of the Italian Fascist state towards industry and the financial sector. Fascism celebrated and defended private industry as the essential basis of the Italian economy and society. When Mussolini first took power in the early 1920s, he declared that Fascism stood for ‘Manchester School’ capitalism – privatisation, cuts to public services and expenditure and the lowering of wages and welfare benefits. But this changed with the development of the Fascist state through the establishment of the corporations – industrial organisations combining the employers’ organisations and the trade unions, which were supposed to take over the management of industry – autarky, which aimed to make Italy self-sufficient and the movement to a centrally planned economy.

This was partly achieved in the early 1930s when Mussolini set up two state institutions to buy out the Italian banks following the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression. These not only bought out the banks, but also the industries these banks owned and controlled, so that the Italian state ended up owning just under a fifth of the Italian economy.

This is described in a passage in the article ‘Industry’ in Philip V. Cannistraro’s Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press 1982). This runs

Two public agencies were created to save banks and crucially affected industries: the Istituto Mobiliare Italiano (IMI) on November 13, 1931, which was to control credit; and the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) on January 23, 1933. IRI was by far the more radical solution, for it purchased all the shares of stock in industrial, agricultural, and real estate companies previously held by banks. (The banking law of 1936 prohibited banks from extending long-term credit to industrial concerns). Although the industrialists fully expected a return to “normalcy” and to private enterprise after the crisis had passed, Mussolini had successfully created an instrument for the permanent intervention of government in the economy. By 1939 IRI controlled a series of firms representing 44.15 percent of the capital of Italian stock values and 17.80 percent of the total capital of the country – hence, the Fascist government controlled a proportionately larger section of national industry than any other government in Europe except the Soviet Union. (p. 278).

This allowed the government to interfere and restructure the Italian economy leading to the expansion of the manufacturing economy and a reduction in imports. On the other hand, poor government planning and an inefficient bureaucracy meant that Italian domestic manufactures were frequently inferior and the country had a lower growth rate than many other western European countries.

But this contrasts very strongly with policy of Britain and America to the financial sector after the 2008. The banks were bailed out with public money, but were not nationalised and the government has continued with its ‘light touch’ approach to regulation. Meaning that the banks have been free to carry on pretty much as before. Public spending, especially on welfare, has been drastically cut. Despite the Tories claiming that this would boost the economy and they’d pay of the debt within a couple of years or so, this has very definitely not happened. In fact, the debt has massively increased.

This has added to the long term problems of Britain’s manufacturing industry. Left-wing economists have pointed out that Britain’s domestic industries suffer from a lack of capital because the financial sector is geared towards overseas investment. A situation that has no doubt got worse due to globalisation and the personal investment of many Tory and New Labour MPs in foreign industry and their savings in offshore tax havens. British industry has also suffered from the ignorance and neglect of successive prime ministers from Maggie Thatcher onwards. Thatcher couldn’t understand that her policy of keeping the Pound strong would damage British exports, and in any case did not want to rescue failing British industries. They were either to be allowed to go under, or else sold to foreign companies and governments. Tony Blair went further, and believed that manufacturing industry’s place in the British economy could be successfully taken over by the financial sector and the service industries.

But this has also been a failure. Ha-Joon Chang in his 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism has pointed out that manufacturing industry is still very much of vital importance. It’s just that it has grown at a slower rate than the other sectors.

Fascist Italy was a totalitarian dictatorship where Mussolini ruled by fear and violence. There was no freedom of speech or conscience in a system that aimed at the total subordination of the individual, economy and society. Mussolini collaborated with Hitler in the persecution of the Jews, although mercifully this wasn’t quite so extreme so that 80 per cent of Italian Jews survived. The regime was aggressively militaristic aiming at the restoration of a new, Roman-style empire in the Mediterranean. Albania, Greece and Ethiopia were invaded along with Tripoli in Libya and Fascist forces were responsible for horrific atrocities as well as the passage of race laws forbidding racial intermixture with Black Africans.

It was a grotesque, murderous regime which was properly brought to an end by the Allied victory of the Second World War. It must never be revived and Fascism must be fought every where. But it does appear that Mussolini’s policy towards the banks and industry was better than that pursued by our supposedly liberal democracies. But the governments of our own time are also becoming increasingly intolerant and authoritarian. The danger of our country becoming similar repressive dictatorship under Boris and the Tories is very real.

We desperately need the return to power of a genuinely socialist Labour government, committed to investment in the welfare state and public services with a nationalised NHS, a mixed economy and positive commitment to democracy and freedom of speech rather than the illusion maintained by the mainstream media and Tory press.

And that will mean overturning over three decades of Thatcherite orthodoxy on the banks and financial sector, just as Mussolini changed his policies towards them with the aim of restoring and expanding Italian industry.

Milton Friedman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 5:07pm in



I have been reading The Great Persuasion Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression by Angus Burgin (ostensibly in order to write an article on Michael Polanyi) and was taken with this Chapter on Milton Friedman.

I hadn’t really crystalised for myself until the chapter pointed it out Friedman’s revolutionary modus operandi. Namely:

  • his preference for arguing about means and not ends,
  • his desire for persuasive engagement with those who disagreed with him and
  • the way this framed disagreement productively
  • the way this focused his energies on what I’ve called ‘policy hacks’.

I think these are very good things and discover that I’ve been channelling him – and that, though it’s not canvassed in the chapter, Keynes is similar with all his ‘plans’ for this and that – though Keynes’s plans were typically plans for the economy as a whole, and not the recipe book of ideas like the purchaser/provider split that I suspect began as debating points with Friedman.

We could do with more of this on the left.

He really was the economist as engineer rather than scientist in the sense that Herbert Simon spoke of the sciences as being about knowing the world and the professions as being about designing a better world. The chapter also makes clear how untutored and uninterested Friedman was in methodology or philosophy. In this he wouldn’t be the first person to have had a big impact on the methodology of a subject without having much idea of what he was talking about.

Anyway, regarding the four points above, Friedman gave himself an unfair advantage which was:

  • the extreme simplicity, not to say simple-mindedness of his basic view of how the world did and should work which, as the chapter makes clear, took wing as he progressed through his life. Not believing in estate taxes or anti-discrimination law was pretty much the low point. There was also South Africa and Chile. But then he did think of his greatest achievement as getting rid of conscription. So it takes all sorts.

The first four points offered nifty rhetoric and recipes for targeted change for all seasons. And the final point attached it all to a radically cut down toy model not just of the economy but of the whole social world. This was a world in which capitalism, like democracy, is better than all the alternatives tried and therefore this creates a presumption in its favour – for schools, healthcare, inheritances and monopolies – right up to but not including the point at which the case becomes absurd. It was a very effective bit of performance art. Milton might not have been able to charm the birds from the trees, but, judging from the way things are travelling today, he successfully charmed the devil out of his lair.

Local is actually best

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 5:00pm in

I have to say I agree with this slightly unconventional point of view – evidence based as it is: I’m not at all suggesting herd immunity is correct for even the ‘Economist’ submits: It is not clear that this high death rate bought Sweden any immediate economic advantage. Its GDP dropped in the second quarter... Read more

Book Review: The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland by Ben Jackson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 9:27pm in

In The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern ScotlandBen Jackson offers a new history of the political and theoretical debates that have provided the intellectual foundations for Scottish nationalism as a social and political movement. This is a hugely important contribution to British political history and a work that will doubtlessly become part of the canon on Scottish politics, writes Jennifer Thomson

The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland. Ben Jackson. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought devolution to the forefront of British politics. The different policies that the four separate nations of the United Kingdom have adopted to fight the virus (and the differing results), and the various policy problems that it has thrown up, have acted as an almost daily reminder of the multi-level, and often competing, nature of governance across the UK. Indeed, there is a growing suggestion that the pandemic may be contributing to a strengthening of support for Scottish independence. On top of Brexit, and a ruling Conservative government at Westminster which enjoys very little support in Scotland, a global pandemic may be the final straw for the Union.

In the light of this, Ben Jackson’s The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland is particularly timely. It provides much-needed contextualisation to the still very recent political phenomenon that is Scottish nationalism. His book is an intellectual history of the ‘conception and theorisation’ (8) of the ideas behind Scottish nationalism. As such, this is a consciously elite study (focusing almost exclusively, as Jackson acknowledges, on the writings of men (10-11)) and speaks less to the lived reality of nationalism and its politics for ordinary Scots. As Jackson writes in the introduction, this focus is warranted given that the intellectual underpinnings of Scottish nationalism have not been given sustained academic consideration and that ‘existing accounts of Scottish nationalism have ascribed too little weight to the political ideas used by politicians, intellectuals and activists’ (6). The Case for Scottish Independence thus fills a key hole in the literature on Scottish nationalism by taking seriously the political and theoretical debates which provide the intellectual foundations for it as a social and political movement. As such, it represents a hugely important contribution to British political history, and it is a work which will doubtlessly become part of the canon on Scottish politics.

The book follows a loosely chronological structure, with the first chapter considering nationalist thinking prior to the 1960s, but the majority of the book focuses on the period from the 1960s onwards, when Scottish nationalism stepped into the political spotlight. The main structuring of the book is, however, along thematic lines, with each chapter focusing on one element of the debate around Scottish independence.

The flag of Scotland

Following the introduction, the second chapter addresses the work of philosopher George Davie and arguments around the distinctive nature of the Scottish university system. Davie argued that Scottish higher education had focused on a more generalist and humanist model, as opposed to an English system which emphasised a more specific and narrow mode of study. As Jackson writes, such characterisations of Scottish intellectual and educational life as unique (and implicitly superior) to its southern counterpart ‘were only indirectly presented as arguments for Scottish independence’ (55), but nonetheless helped to create a sense that a particular and highly important aspect of Scottish culture was being eroded through the Union.

The successive chapters turn to consider imperialism and nationalism’s place on the left-right political spectrum respectively. Jackson addresses the work of political theorist Tom Nairn to survey the impact that the gradual loss of the British Empire following the Second World War, and the respective weakening of British identity, had in the nationalist imagination. He argues that there has been little serious place in nationalist thought for the idea that Scotland was ever in a ‘colonial relationship’ with England, ‘at least in the most common sense of that term’, but that the ‘loss of political autonomy after 1707 also led to some loss of cultural autonomy’ (88), leading to what Nairn referred to as ‘self-colonisation’.

The following chapter illustrates how this perceived difference has been enunciated with regards to political economy. As it outlines, the positioning of the Scottish National Party (SNP) to the left of Scottish Labour is a relatively recent phenomenon. The chapter focuses largely on the work of the ’79 group, a collective of longstanding supporters of independence, including future First Minister Alex Salmond, which was formed in the aftermath of the 1979 failed referendum on devolution. It illustrates how the development of economic policy in nationalist thinking has fluctuated in recent decades, moving from a Scandinavian model of high tax and spend to an Irish model of low corporation tax comforted through the protective cushioning of European Union (EU) membership. Jackson paints a picture of an economic policy which is distinctly less radical than the manner in which much mainstream UK coverage of Scottish politics tends to discuss Scotland’s political economy, and which sounds distinctly risky in light of the 2008 financial crisis.

The final chapter considers the issue of sovereignty and nationalism’s evolving understanding of it. Jackson addresses this largely in relation to the Constitutional Convention of the 1980s and the UK’s membership of the EU. The SNP’s strong support for the EU in recent decades sometimes appears to fly in the face of its support for independence from the other Union of which it is a member. As Jackson points out though, this pluralist approach reflects a ‘realpolitik’ – ‘as a small country, Scotland would need to find a place within international relations’ (146) and the EU would be a key part of this. As discussed above, the EU grew to represent a welcoming home in the understanding of a future independent Scotland, a community for small states which reflected a growing interest by nationalists in ‘Ireland’s successful transformation into a vibrant European economy’ (158).

Jackson’s work is an important reminder that Scottish nationalism remains a political phenomenon that has only really emerged at the forefront of the public imagination in recent decades. As such, it remains a particularly interesting development for historians and social scientists to attempt to explain. Implicit in the varied sources and thinkers that Jackson draws upon is the fact that there is no obvious enemy of the Scottish nation – no great, grand narrative of historical oppression to be told, as in the vein of Ireland. There is not even a distinctively separate identity as in the linguistic and cultural nationalism of Quebec or Catalonia (or, closer to home, Wales). As Jackson outlines, the history of nationalist thought in Scotland has been diffuse, and has at times fluctuated quite dramatically across the political spectrum, particularly with regards to its economic policy: ‘its character has been a contingent one, its rationale shifting in response to wider intellectual and social trends’ (175). The main glue for nationalist sentiment was, and remains, anger at the fundamental and profoundly negative legacy that Thatcherism had on the economy, institutions and people of Scotland.

Jackson ends on a note of caution for the SNP, pointing out that much of the debate he analyses in the book has happened outside of the confines of the party and that ‘even in the devolutionary era, Scottish nationalists remained reluctant to engage each other in spirited public debate about their political objectives’ (176). Such an admonishment seems important, especially in the context of the upcoming Holyrood elections in the spring of 2021 which, should they return a clear SNP majority, may provide the impetus for the party to argue for a second referendum from Westminster. Without a clear understanding of what the goals of independence are, and without an acknowledgement of multiple glaring failings that the party have presided over whilst in government (recent school exam results being just one), the party may fail to appeal outside of their core base. As Jackson appears to argue in closing, Scotland deserves a bigger and better debate about what it is and where it is going. A key part of this is understanding where it came from and how it has arrived at this particular point as a country –Jackson’s book is an essential component of that.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Image Credit: (Alasdair Mckenzie CC BY 2.0).


How Does the Ban on Teaching Anti-Capitalist and Extremist Materials Affect Mainstream Textbooks?

Yesterday, Gavin Williamson, the secretary of state for education, issued his departments guideline informing schools what they could not teach. This included materials from organisations determined to end capitalism, as well as anti-Semitic material, opposition to freedom of speech and which approves of illegal activity. The Labour Party’s John McDonnell pointed out that this would mean that it’s now illegal to teach large sections of British history and particularly that of the Labour Party, trade unions and socialism, because all these organisations at different times advocated the end of capitalism. He is, of course, right. In 1945 or thereabouts, for example, the Labour Party published an edition of the Communist Manifesto. He concluded

“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace.”

The economist and former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varousfakis, who has also written a book, The Crisis of Capitalism, also commented this guidance showed how easy it was for a country to lose itself and slip surreptitiously into totalitarianism. He said

“Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that.”

Quite. I wonder how the ban affects even mainstream textbooks, which included anti-capitalist or other extremist literature. For example there are any number of readers and anthologies of various political or historical writings published by perfectly mainstream publishers for school and university students. Such as the one below, Critics of Capitalism: Victorian Reactions to ‘Political Economy’, edited by Elisabeth Jay and Richard Jay, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1986). This collects a variety of writings authors such as John Francis Bray, Thomas Carlyle, Marx and Engels, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hill Green, William Morris and George Bernard Shaw. These texts obviously document and illustrate the reactions to the rise of economics as an academic subject in the 19th century, and several of the authors are titans of 19th century British culture, literature and political philosophy, like the art critic Ruskin, the socialist, writer and artist, William Morris, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the liberal political philosophers John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hill Green, and Matthew Arnold, the headmast of Rugby, the author of Culture and Anarchy. This is quite apart from Marx and Engels and John Francis Bray, who was a socialist and follower of Robert Owen. Carlyle’s now largely forgotten, but he was a philosopher and historian who was massively influential in his day.

Clearly this is an entirely respectable text from a very respectable publisher for history students. But, thanks to the government’s new guidelines, you could well ask if it’s now illegal to teach it in schools, thanks to its anti-capitalist contents.

The same question also applies to very respectable histories by respectable, mainstream historians and political scientists, of extremist movements and ideologies like Fascism, Nazism, Communism and anarchism. For example, one of the books I used while studying the rise of Nazism at college was D.G. Williamson’s The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982). It’s an excellent little book published as part of their Seminar Studies in History range. These are short histories of various periods in history from King John and the Magna Carta to the origins of the Second World and the Third Reich, which include extracts from texts from the period illustrating particularly aspects and events. Williamson’s book is a comprehensive history of the Nazi regime, and so includes extracts from Nazi documents like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Goebbel’s diaries and as well as eyewitness account of Nazi war crimes and individual acts of heroism and resistance. It presents an objective account of Hitler’s tyranny including its horrors and atrocities. There is absolutely no way it, nor other books like it, could remotely be considered pro-Nazi or presenting any kind of positive assessment of Hitler’s regime.

But if schools are now forbidden from teaching anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic, racist and anti-democratic material, does this mean that they are also forbidden from using books like Williamson’s, which include the writings of the Nazis themselves to show the real nature of the regime and the motivations of the men behind it. I hope not, and Owen Jones in his tweet attacking the new guidelines quotes them. From this, it should be possible to make a distinction between texts produced by extremist organisations and extracts from them in mainstream histories or editions from mainstream publishers. According to Jones’ tweet, the guidelines state

Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation. Examples of extreme political stances, include, but are not limited to

  1. a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism or end free and fair elections.

2. opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, or freedom of religion and conscience.

3. the use or endorsement of racist, including anti-Semitic language or communications.

4. the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity.

5. a failure to condemn illegal activities in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people and property.

Responding to Jones’ tweet, Jessica Simor QC asks this very pertinent question

Do the fourth and fifth bullet points mean that schools should not accept Government money?

Good point.

I also have no doubt that the vast majority are going to be extremely careful about which organisation’s materials they use because of the danger of using extremist or otherwise inappropriate material.

But I can also how sometimes it may also be necessary for schools to use such materials in order to criticise them and educate their pupils about their dangers. For example, in the 1980s the BNP or NF tried to appeal to schoolchildren by launching a comic. Other extremists have also turned up at the school gates on occasion. When I was at school in Bristol during the ’81/2 race riots, a White agitator with a beard like Karl Marx’s turned up outside the school entrance with a megaphone trying to get the kids to join in. We ignored him and the headmaster next day in assembly said very clearly that any child who did join the rioting would be expelled.

Nazis are also known for lying and deliberately distorting history. If some Nazi group, for example, produced a pamphlet aimed at schoolchildren and teachers found it being passed around the playground one of the actions they could take, as well as simply banning it and punishing any kid who tried to promote it, might be for a suitably qualified teacher to go through it, pointing out the deliberate lies. When Hitler himself seized power, one Austrian university lecturer embarrassed the fuhrer by showing his students how Hitler took his ideas from the cheap and grubby neo-Pagan literature published in the back streets of Vienna. One of these pamphlets claimed that the ancient Aryans had possessed radio-electric organs that gave them superpowers like telepathy. I think it was highly unlikely that anyone listening to this professor’s lectures on Hitler ever came away with the idea that Hitler had some deep grasp of the essential forces of human biology and and natural selection.

I see absolutely no point to this legislation whatsoever. Teachers, parents and educators are already careful about what is taught in schools. In the past few years most incidents of this type have come from fundamentalist religious schools. These have mostly been Muslim schools, which have been caught teaching their students to hate Christians, Jews and non-Muslims, but there was also a Jewish school which became the centre of controversy for its opposition to homosexuality. In the 1980s Thatcher and the right-wing press ran scare stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating students with evil subversive subjects like peace studies. I am not aware that anyone with extreme left-wing, Communist or Trotskite views has been trying to indoctrinate children. But there are concerns about Black Lives Matter, which I have heard is a Marxist organisation. If that is the case, then the guidelines seem to be an attempt to ban the use of their materials. BLM did produce materials for a week of action in schools, which was thoroughly critiqued by Sargon of Gasbag, aka Carl Benjamin, the sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon has extreme right-wing Conservative views himself, though I honestly don’t believe that he is genuinely racist and his criticisms of the BLM school material was reasonable. Williamson’s guidelines look like a badly thought out attempt to stop them being used without causing controversy by tackling the organisation’s anti-racism or its critique of White society.

But it also marks the growing intolerance of the Tories themselves and their determination that schools should be used for the inculcation of their own doctrines, rather than objective teaching that allows children to come to their own. Way back in the 1980s Thatcher tried to purge the universities of Marxists by passing legislation making it illegal for them to hold posts in higher education. They got round it by making a subtle distinction: they claimed to be Marxian rather than Marxist. By which they argued that they had Marxist culture, but weren’t actually Marxists. It’s a legal sleight of hand, but it allowed them to retain their teaching posts.

These new guidelines look like an extension of such previous legislation in order to preserve capitalism from any kind of thorough critique. Even when, as the peeps Mike quotes in his article, show very clearly that it is massively failing in front of our eyes.

Schools are now for indoctrination, not education, as teaching of non-capitalist ideology is forbidden

Oh Say Can You Sing?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 9:00pm in

Before you sing the national anthem in public, you have to take this into account: If you’re going to strain for...

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Is the End of Debtfare Forced Labour?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 5:26am in

In his chapter ‘The Violence of the Debtfare State’ in Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, eds., The Violence of Austerity (London: Pluto Press 2017), David Ellis uses the term ‘debtfare’ to describe the dismantling of state welfare provision and its replacement by debt and credit. And I’m starting to wonder how far this can go before something like debt slavery arises. The Romans abolished debt slavery, but the punishment for debt was addictio, forced labour. People are being forced into mountains of debt through poverty created by austerity and the removal of living wages and proper unemployment and disability benefits. Students are also mired in it through tuition fees which now may amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

I am therefore left wondering at what point the various banks and other organisations offering credit will stop it and start demanding their money back or some other form of repayment. Clearly if people remain in debt, they can’t repay the money. The alternatives seem to be either that the banks keep on giving them credit in the hope that they’ll be able to repay something, or else write it off as a loss. But if the number of people in irrecoverable debt hits millions, what happens? If the levels of indebtedness actually starts to harm the banks and the other organisations, will they turn to the state to demand some kind of forced labour in order to make good their profits?

I’ve already pointed out the similarity of the workfare schemes to the forced labour systems of Stalin’s Russia. Stalin used slave labour from the gulags to industrialise the Soviet Union. Business managers would give the KGB lists of the kind of workers their enterprise needed, and the KGB would then have those with the appropriate skills and qualifications accused of anti-Soviet crimes and arrested. The workfare scheme now used to punish the unemployed doesn’t teach anybody any new skills, nor does it allow them to find employment. Indeed the stats a while ago showed that people on workfare were less likely to get a job than if they were left to their own initiative. But workfare does supply cheap, state-subsidised labour to the scheme’s backers and the parties’ business donors, like the supermarkets.

So if the number of people in grievous, irrecoverable debt, will the government simply write them off and let them starve to death, as so many disabled people have done already thanks to false assessments under the Work Capability Tests? Or will they decide they can still make some money for business by pressing them into compulsory labour in order to work their way out of it, as in the Roman system?

I’m not saying this will happen or even that it’s likely. But I do wonder if it’s a possibility.

Cummings Aims to ‘Coordinate’ OFCOM and Beeb with Appointments of Dacre and Moore

Yesterday Mike reported that Dominic Cummings was considering appointing the former editor of the Daily Heil, the legendarily foul-mouthed Paul Dacre as head of the broadcasting watchdog, OFCOM, and Charles Moore, the former editor of the Torygraph and biographer of Maggie Thatcher, as head of the Beeb. ‘Coordination’ – Gleichschaltung – was the term the Nazis used for their takeover of organisations and the imposition of Nazi aims and policies. This obviously included the press, radio, cinema and the arts under Hitler’s infamous propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels.

The process by which the Nazis imposed their censorship and control of the press is described in this paragraph from the entry ‘Press in the Third Reich’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw’s A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1987).

With the coming of the Third Reich in 1933, all papers were required to conform and editors were held responsible for the content of their papers. Such newspapers of high reputation as the Berliner Tageblatt or the Frankfurter Zeitung survived, though not as independent journals; and the latter was closed when it published adverse criticism of the late Professor Troost, Hitler’s favourite architect. From 1938, when Otto Dietrich became Reich press chief, editors were given official stories to follow. Foreign papers were still on sale in the large towns of Germany, but were forbidden when war began in 1939. The apparatus of news suppression was operated by the Gestapo; news distortion was the task of the editors of the recognised journals. (p. 278).

If this is correct – and Zelo Street has also put up an article arguing that it isn’t, and is in fact a dead cat flung on the table by Cummings to distract attention from the government’s disastrous handling of the Coronavirus crisis – then the British media will be almost totally in the control of the Tories. Mike’s put up the reaction of some of peeps on Twitter to the news. The former editors of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger and Will Hutton, respectively commented

Paul Dacre to run Ofcom, Charles Moore to run the BBC. Because Boris wants them. No process. No joke. This is what an oligarchy looks like


Floating Paul Dacre to direct OfCom and Charles Moore to chair the BBC is tip of the ice-berg. Follows Dido Harding, who takes Tory whip in the Lords, heading up NHS Test and Trace, and innumerable other Tory appointments. Its an one-party state. The sense of entitlement is brazen.

Yes, it is. It is the creation of totalitarian media control, though I don’t doubt that the Tories will deny this until they’re blue in the face and claim that we still have a free press and media.

The danger to free speech and genuine independent reporting is very real. Thatcher had the Panorama documentary, Maggie’s Militant Tendency, which claimed that the Tories had been infiltrated by Neo-Nazis and Fascists spiked. She retaliated to London Weekend Television’s documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, which claimed that the SAS had acted as a death squad in the extra-judicial execution of an IRA squad they could have rounded up at any time in Spain and Gibraltar by removing the company’s broadcasting license. This was then awarded to Carlton.

Goebbels’ official title during the Third Reich was ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’. Perhaps it’s also a good title for Cummings and his attempts to impose Tory absolute control on the press and broadcasting.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/27/the-johnson-age-of-corruption-and-patronage-he-appoints-dacre-to-run-ofcom-and-moore-to-the-bbc/


Marc Bloch's phenomenology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 4:03am in



Marc Bloch's Historian's Craft: Reflections on the Nature and Uses of History and the Techniques and Methods of Those Who Write It is challenging to read, in part because it is not exactly what it seems to be. The English title suggests it is a handbook of sorts on the art and practice of historical research. But this is not quite right. In fact, the suggestion is partly the result of an unfortunate choice by the translator; the French title Apologie pour l'histoire, ou Métier d'historien might with equal justice be translated as "A discourse on history: The historian's calling". It is not a finished manuscript, as Lucien Febvre explains in a preface to the English edition. But it is certainly not organized as a treatise on methods. Instead, it is an extended reflection by Marc Bloch about his own thought processes as a creative, imaginative historical researcher. It includes many examples from Bloch's own research as a medieval historian, and it illustrates the ways in which he interrogates and contextualizes these "tracks" of medieval historical life.

Throughout the text Bloch questions some of the most basic assumptions that both historians and educated readers often make about the past -- periods, social systems, the significance of centuries (twelfth century, nineteenth century history); historical categories such as serfs and servitude; and many other fascinating assumptions that are shattered by Bloch's careful dissection of the examples he considers.

I am inclined to think of this book as a "phenomenology" of the practice of historical research -- a careful, detailed reflection on the particular thought-processes and question-posing that Bloch undertakes in investigating a particular historical problem. It is analogous to the reflections of a great biologist, reflecting upon and analyzing her efforts over decades to solve empirical puzzles in the laboratory and in the field, and to make sense of the phenomena under study. It is as if Darwin had used his notebooks to reveal to the reader the thought processes through which he arrived at various fundamental ideas of the theory of evolution. Brilliant!

The intellectual activities that Bloch illustrates through his phenomenological self-reflection are both "skills", learned through the training associated with becoming a historian, and "creative acts", exercised by an innovative and intelligent inquirer who is probing history to uncover some of its processes, mechanisms, and anomalies. Here is just one small example:

  • I have before me a Roman funerary inscription, carved from a single block, made for a single purpose. Yet nothing could be more variegated than the evidences which there await the probing of the scholar’s lancet. (145)

And Bloch proceeds to identify the numerous angles we can take on understanding and situating this inscription: linguistic, beliefs, political history, economics and trade, …

Some of the particularly important topics that Bloch considers in the later chapters of the book include: identifying and evaluating historical evidence; arriving at appropriate and useful historical concepts and classifications; making appropriate selections of aspects and topics for study within the infinite texture of the past; and synthesizing the phenomena that have been studied into comprehensible statements about the past.
On the topic of historical evidence Bloch is especially emphatic in casting doubt on the primacy of documents as sources of definitive historical truth. He discusses a number of strikingly contemporary issues -- the perennial possibility of lies and deception, the cognitive limits of direct participants and observers, the common fact of "fake news" and rumors (yes, he was concerned with fake news!), and the likelihood that some of the documents one considers are deliberate fabrications. The "critical methods" of historians of the previous several generations are specific and logical techniques for evaluating the truthfulness of documents: comparing with other documents, considering spelling and orthography, considering the paper and ink of the document, and considering the consistency of dates and persons mentioned in the documents. Documents certainly have their role in the "epistemics" of historical knowledge. But Bloch emphasizes that many other sources of historical knowledge are equally valuable from an epistemic point of view: monuments, place names, urban geography, excavations, and garbage dumps. All these sources can provide the historian with important traces of the social and economic realities of the past.
But Bloch suggests that these problems concerning historical evidence are less difficult than a second group of problems confronted by the historian, the problem of arriving at a vocabulary for classifying and analyzing the past. He emphasizes that the use of familiar concepts can seriously mislead the historical researcher. The familiar concept may involve the importation of background assumptions that are profoundly misleading about the social and institutional realities of the past. His example of “family law” (148 ff.) is illustrative.

Take the family — whether it be a question of the small matrimonial family of today in a state of perpetual expansion and contraction or of the great medieval house, that community consolidated by such a lasting network of feelings and interests … (148)

These two instances are dramatically different, and the historian needs to reflect upon these differences. The "family" is not the same social entity or arrangement in the two settings. Bloch makes a similar point about the names of things that are used in historical documents. For example, he comments on the use of "aratrum" ("unwheeled plow") and "farruca" ("wheeled plow") (159), a pair of terms whose use is often confused in medieval documents and is highly consequential for anyone studying technological change in agriculture. Likewise, he comments upon the changing associations that the Latin term "servus" has had, leading eventually to the French term "serf" (159). Bloch notes that similar language implies similar social realities, but that this is fundamentally misleading in this case; “the differences between the serves of ancient Rome and the serf of the France of St. Louis far outnumber the similarities” (160). 
Another set of concerns in a similar vein bridge between language and social ontology, when Bloch underlines the problem of identifying large social systems in history. 

Even among historians, custom tends to confuse the two expressions, “feudal system” and “seigneurial system,” in the most troublesome manner. This is arbitrarily to equate the complex of dependent ties characteristic of a warrior aristocracy with a type of peasant subjection which not only was very different by nature but had arisen very much earlier, lasted much longer, and was far more widespread throughout the world. (171)

Bloch also casts doubt on the historian's common predilection for identifying distinctive historical periodization, presupposing a qualitative and substantively important difference between the activities, processes, and institutions of the distinct periods. Against this presupposition he shows that “the Middle Ages” and the “Renaissance” are arbitrary constructions. Here is what he has to say about the "Middle Ages":

In truth, the term “Middle Age” has no more than a humble pedagogical function, as a debatable convenience for school curriculums, or as a label for erudite techniques whose scope is moreover ill-defined by the traditional dates. A medievalist is a man who knows how to read old scripts, to criticize a charter, to understand Old French. Unquestionably that is something. It is certainly not enough to satisfy a real science in its search for accurate periodization. 181

Even centuries are a misleading historical construct. There is no distinctive historical content or explanatory importance in the designation of "eighteenth-century culture" or "twelfth-century urbanization"; the fact that an event or process occurred between 1700 and 1799 is completely irrelevant from an explanatory point of view.
These kinds of observations add up to a theory of “cognition of historical reality”, or what we might call a “philosophy of historical language”.

Careful re-reading of The Historian's Craft makes it seem that the real importance and significance of Bloch's book have not been fully understood. The book deserves a monograph of its own, to unpack the many threads of commentary that are relevant to the philosophy of history today. The book is a rich expression of the intelligence and mental processes of this great historian. It is an important contribution to the philosophy of history, and to the philosophy of language in the context of historical analysis.

Complaint by German Socialists and Democrats of Nazi Bullying in Schools

Donald Trump in America and the Tories over here have started their attack on our countries’ education systems. Trump has set up a commission to make American schooling more patriotic and teach American schoolkids that they are part of an exceptional nation. Over here, Johnson and his clown cabinet have ruled that it is illegal for schools to teach criticisms of capitalism or use anti-capitalist materials, along with materials attacking democracy or which are anti-Semitic. This seems to be a reaction to Black Lives Matter, which is a Marxist organisation that criticises American society from a Marxist as well as Black anti-racist perspective. Trump has already banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory to federal institutions. In my opinion, Trump was quite right to do so. Critical Race Theory states quite openly that all Whites are racist, and any institutions created by Whites must automatically also be racist and oppressive to Blacks and other people of colour.

Trump’s demand for patriotic American education is different, and it was compared to the Hitler Youth, although I put up a piece a few days ago making the case that it was much more comparable to the Italian Fascists’ reforms of the Italian school curriculum.

The Nazis also reformed their school history syllabus in order to teach their twisted view that capitalism, democracy, socialism and all Germany’s economic and political woes were down to the Jews and would be solved by Hitler and his band of thugs. Johnson has rejected anti-Semitism, but there are many real, vicious anti-Semites as well as anti-Black and anti-Asian racists in his party, so perhaps it’s only time before Boris introduces a racist element into the curriculum.

In addition to the Hitler Youth, the Nazis also introduced a Nazi pupils’ league for grammar school boys and a students’ league for the universities. The kids in these leagues went around beating up and bullying the children of socialists and democrats. I found this complaint about their attacks in J. Noakes and G. Pridham, eds., Nazism 1919-1945, Vol 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934 (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983).

To the Oldenburg Ministery for Churches and Schools, 21 November 1930

The Committee of the Oldenburg branch of the Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold submits the following matter to the State Ministry with a request for a prompt comment:

Leaflets have recently been distributed in the playgrounds of the schools of the city of Oldenburg and its vicinity, inviting people to join a National Socialist Pupils’ Association. We enclose one of these leaflets.

A number of pupils have already followed the appeal to join this pupils’ association. These consider themselves pledged, in the spirit of the leaflet, to bully those who disagree with them. In the playground these pupils join together and sing National Socialist combat songs. Children of Republicans are called names, their satchels are smeared with swastikas, and they are given leaflets with swastikas or ‘Heil Hitler’ or ‘Germany awake’ written on them. In the school in Metjendorf the son of a Republican was beaten up during the break by members of the pupils’ association so badly that he had to stay at home for over a week. Grown-ups who are known to be members of a Republican party are called names by the pupils when they pass by the school. In one case this even happened out of the window of a classroom.

Since the children of Republicans are unfortunately in a minority in secondary schools they cannot defend themselves against these combined attacks. With an effort they preserve their self-control, but as soon as the child gets home, this too collapses. He then seeks refuge in tears and complaints. The parents find that lessons following breaks in which their child has been molested by his class mates are useless because he is too preoccupied with the events of the break. Sometimes teachers, not knowing the reason for the child’s inattention, punish him as well. The same state of mind influences his homework, which therefore cannot be of a standard which a child in a good, cheerful mood would normal achieve. Again this has its effects at school.

It might be answered that parents and children have the right to make a complaint. This is true and yet at the same time not true. It must unfortunately be said that apart from a group of teachers who would treat such a complaint objectively, there are a number from whom this cannot be counted on and to whom one does not turn because they too are National Socialists or are active in other right-wing associations;. The relationship of trust necessary between teachers and parents and their children has completely gone.

Since we have heard that some headmasters have already declared that they are not in a position to deal with these incidents as required, since they have received no instructions from the Ministry, we request that such instructions should be issued as soon as possible. We can presumably be sure that the Sate Ministry will admit an attitude which does justice to all concerned and will decree tha tpupils’ associations of political organisations are forbidden.

Yours faithfully,

The committee of the Oldenburg Branch of the Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold. (p. 79)

The Reichsbanner Red-Black-Gold was a paramilitary organisation set up in 1924 by the German Socialist party and other democrats to defend the Weimar republic against the right-wing paramilitaries.

Is this the future of the British school system? Are the Tories going to go further and found right-wing pupils and students’ associations to enforce proper patriotic and pro-capitalist teaching by school staff and the correct patriotic attitudes amongst other pupils? Various right-wing American organisations, like Turning Point, have a university professor watch or something of that name, which compiles lists of left-wing university professors with the aim of getting them fired for teaching their doctrines. Incidentally, the BNP/NF did something similar in British schools in the 1980s. They encouraged schoolchildren to monitor their teachers in case they were teaching Communist ideas, and report to them. Then the storm troopers would come for them and beat them up. Boris hasn’t introduced that, but that’s a natural development of this process of political censorship.

This legislation is also completely unnecessary. There has been legislation banning the indoctrination of children in schools since at least the 1980s, when Maggie Thatcher and the right-wing press ran a similar scare campaign about Communist teachers and the introduction of Peace Studies as a subject. Further legislation was introduced over a decade ago by Tony Blair. These laws stipulated that teachers could not present their own personal political or religious views as fact. If they were somehow required to state their views, they had to make it clear that it was only what they believed. As for prohibiting children from studying material which attacks democracy or promotes anti-Semitism, apart from it rather obviously makes studying the Nazis difficult, I believe that schools are already required to teach British values. Which are democracy, tolerance, diversity and so on.

This new legislation seems to me to have absolutely nothing to do with protecting vulnerable and impressionable minds from indoctrination by extremists. It seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to use the fears generated by Black Lives Matter and its Marxist, anti-capitalist ideology to sneak in Tory, establishment indoctrination instead.