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Bristol’s Colston Hall Changes Name to Bristol Beacon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 6:41pm in

My fair home city of Bristol was in the news yesterday. One of its premier music venues, the Colston Hall, is changing its name. This is obviously a consequence of the pulling down of Colston’s statue on the town centre not far from the Hall a month or so ago by Black Lives Matter activists. The Hall’s been debating for a long time whether or not to change its name, and the decision has been hastened as it and other places try to distance themselves from the slaver and his legacy. Colston Tower, an office block on or near the centre, is also being renamed. And there was mention on the news a little while ago that Colston Girls’ school was also considering changing its name.

The item I saw about this on the national news showed one of the journos walking along Pero’s Bridge. It’s an eccentric structure crossing Bristol’s docks, as it has two horn-like structures either side of it at one point. It takes its name from one of the few slaves in the city, whose name is actually known. Then there was a brief interview with Dr. Edson Burnett, one of the leading historians of the Bristol slave trade. He said that the some people were afraid that the renaming of some of landmarks was an attack on history and an attempt to rewrite, but instead it was an attempt to uncover other histories that had been hidden or neglected.

He’s right, and David Olusoga was also correct when he pointed out in an article in the Radio Times the other week that none of the other historic statues in the area were attacked when the BLM protestors took down Colston’s and threw it in the docks. However, it still needs to be pointed out over and over again that Bristol’s involvement with the slave trade has never been covered up. It was mentioned in history textbooks for the city’s schoolchildren. Pero’s Bridge was put up in the 1990s, as was an exhibition, ‘A Respectable Trade’, at the City Museum and Art Gallery, and there is a gallery on it in Bristol’s M Shed.

As for the Colston Hall’s change of name, I don’t think it’ll make any difference. The debate has been going on for some time now, as have demands to have Colston’s statue removed. They were controversial, but now they’ve happened I don’t think it’ll make much difference. I think most Bristolians will simply shrug and get on with better things to do and think about.

And the Bristol Beacon is a great name for one of the city’s most historic and outstanding concert halls.

The GOP Reshaped America to Hold Onto Power—Can the Dems Do the Same Thing to Save It?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 1:00am in

Photo Credit: 3000ad / Shutterstock.com In the power grab to fill the Supreme Court seat announced the same evening as...

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Book Review: Network Origins of the Global Economy: East vs. West in a Complex Systems Perspective by Hilton L. Root

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 11:34pm in

In Network Origins of the Global Economy: East vs. West in a Complex Systems PerspectiveHilton L. Root argues for the need to consider economies and social orders as open, complex networks, focusing particularly on the transitions that have shaped Europe and China historically with implications for the present day. This original volume will not only serve as a useful textbook for university courses, but will hopefully inspire related studies exploring the social worlds behind our constantly changing economic structures, writes Gábor Bíró.

Network Origins of the Global Economy: East vs. West in a Complex Systems Perspective. Hilton L. Root. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

Mainstream economics tells us a lot about what happens in the economy and little about how the economy itself evolves. From the mainstream perspective, inspired by mechanical physics, the economy looks like a machine that works along mechanical laws. People are treated as cogs in this gigantic machine and as ‘fitters’ to the abstract model that describes its working. They are not expected to have any unquantifiable traits (hopes, fears, morals, histories) as these are deemed irrelevant for discourses of economic science. Network Origins of the Global Economy embraces another perspective, that of complexity economics, and mixes quantitative network science with qualitative historical and institutional inquiries. The idea behind this is that by analysing the formation of economies by using qualitative methods, we might be able to better understand the principles underlying quantitative changes.

Hilton L. Root and his co-authors argue that Europe and China have different hypernetwork structures and show how these structures have emerged historically. Root describes Europe as having small-world connectivity: that is, several power hubs (or nodes) connected by a few larger hubs and a couple of even larger ones. Disturbances are common. If one hub is destroyed, the neighbouring hubs can easily reach out to heal the wounds of the social fabric. The system is defined by high resilience: that is, the capacity to absorb disturbances and to restore the social order.

China is referred to as a highly centralised star-shaped network with a hierarchical, hub-and-spoke structure. Disturbances are rare, but when they do occur, they bring down the entire system, which will eventually be followed by a very similar one. The system is defined by high stability: that is, the capacity to minimalise disturbances. There is, as Root points out, a trade-off between resilience and stability. Europe has high resilience but low stability. China has low resilience but high stability. And these basic traits can not only be used to explain the great economic transitions of their past, but perhaps also to predict their future.

China is rising with the aim of becoming the ultimate rule-setter for the global economy. While the figures for Chinese outward expansion are telling, the most compelling chapters (written with Dr Liu Baocheng, director of the Center for International Business Ethics at UIBE, China) explore the China behind the numbers. By moving from the allocation-based perspective of mainstream economics (focused on how agents allocate resources) towards the formation-based perspective of complexity economics (focused on how agents form larger structures), the reader gets introduced not only to the economic performance of China, but also to what these numbers really mean to Chinese individuals and institutions on various levels.

From this perspective, China not only produces and distributes commodities, but is engaged in a historically embedded network with a path-dependence and culturally specific ways of organising economic affairs. Root and Baocheng identify legalism and Confucianism as the two most important sources of this path-dependence. While both of these philosophical traditions embrace the idea of absolute power radiating from the top through a hierarchy of committed subjects, their sources of legitimacy are different.

In Confucianism, legitimacy is seen as coming from the moral virtues of the leader, who rules based on a Mandate of Heaven with a mission to foster the wellbeing of the people. In legalism, legitimacy is seen as coming from the capacity to ensure that everything follows legal provisions. Thus, for both traditions, the capacity to secure order is the key to legitimacy. Confucianism aims to provide order through giving moral examples that should be followed. Legalism aims to provide order through ensuring correspondence with law. Not surprisingly, regimes established based on these philosophies are highly sensitive to any kind of disorder. And a very small amount of disorder can go a very long way, threatening the legitimacy of the entire system because it challenges its capacity to secure perfect order. As the authors show, these philosophies are still present in 2020, affecting what is happening in the People’s Republic of China.

A great merit of this book is that it does not shy away from addressing the entanglements of the Chinese economy. Most companies, even banks, are state-owned, with managers recruited from the Chinese Communist Party’s cadre system. Loyalty to the party is constantly monitored and secured to fit the party’s overall objectives and aims. To realise the ’Going Global’ strategy, China’s scheme to foster the overseas expansion of Chinese enterprises, three institutions were established in 2003. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) sets the prices of water, electricity, gas and oil and oversees the formation and implementation of China’s Five-Year Plans. The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) oversees all of China’s state-owned enterprises (hereafter SOEs), including those operating abroad. SASAC ensures that executives of these SOEs run their enterprise along party lines. Of course, this is also true of Chinese SOEs operating abroad, which means that China not only spreads its economic activity globally, but also its way of organising economic affairs.

The third new institution, the Central Huijin Investment Ltd. (later replaced by the Chinese Investment Corporation (CIC)) is a state-owned investment fund holding government stakes in state-owned banks and other financial institutions. So the outward expansion of Chinese SOEs is indirectly financed by the state-owned CIC, which also puts party loyalty before profit-seeking. But can Chinese SOEs survive much longer in the global economy because, like the institutions financing them, profitability is not their primary concern? Can their expansion, fuelled by the money of the state, reach the tipping point of being too big to fail? Will China’s rivals be unable to keep up with the pace of growth without a similar safety net or will the Chinese state run out of money before pumping their SOEs into defining positions on the global market? How will the global COVID-19 pandemic and the trade wars with the United States affect the globalisation of China and China’s influence in the global economy?

Network Origins of the Global Economy is a thought-provoking book that will affect scholarly discourse in multiple fields. However, the book is not without certain flaws. Some of these are structural. It only begins to analyse actual historical regimes on page 77 (of 334 pages in total, plus the Preface), after stating several times what will be discussed in each chapter and how. While this structure might be useful for students who use the volume as a textbook for a university course, it might scare off other readers who seek to jump right into the action and want to be swept away by a compelling scholarly narrative. This book, after all, touches on one of the most pressing economic issues today: the dependence of the global capitalist economic system on the local Chinese socialist economic system. That this is not explicitly addressed in the beginning of the book seems to be a missed opportunity to appeal to a wider audience of people who may be less interested in complexity economics and more interested in the impact of the global rise of China.

There are also a few other issues that should be addressed. The narrative is not consistent about whether China has a market economy. There are pages suggesting that it does have a market economy (xxvii, 181, 183, 195, 210) with a Chinese twist: a ‘socialist market economy’. Other pages seem to suggest that the Chinese economy is not a market economy (216-17). I would argue that the Chinese economy is not strictly a market economy, but retains characteristics of a planned economy. The price of certain key products is set by a central power hub rather than the market, and economic performance is made along Five-Year Plans

Another issue concerns historical narratives. Expressions like ‘the Western legal tradition’ are a bit too broad for most constitutional and legal historians. Today one cannot simply draw a direct line from Roman law, Germanic customs and canon law to the contemporary Western legal tradition (whatever that is) without making libraries of disclaimers. The authors do not explain the striking difference between the continental and common legal systems, both prevalent in the West. If ‘the Western legal tradition’ induced a coherent transformation of the whole European system, as the authors argue, why does the latter still consist of (at least) two distinctly different legal cultures? This is not the only example of painting with a broad brush. If dynastic relations are of primal importance in the historical development of the Western system, as the authors suggest, how they can explain events such as the American War of Independence (1775-83) that went against hereditary privileges but significantly furthered the Western system?

This book provides unprecedented inspiration for scholars of Friedrich Hayek and Michael Polanyi because it takes formation-thinking to a whole new level. Complexity economics, as Root calls it, seems to offer a fascinating new approach to advance our thinking about spontaneous and corporate orders by taking the middle road between economic history (and economic anthropology) and network science. Hopefully, this original volume will not only serve as a useful textbook for university courses, but will also launch a torrent of related studies exploring the social worlds behind our constantly changing economic structures.

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.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash.


Shut Up, Boris! Even Fascists Declared They Fulfilled Individual Freedom

Boris Johnson was in parliament and on the box yesterday announcing his new plans to tackle the renewed rise of the Coronavirus. This includes drafting the army in to ensure the new regulations regarding social distancing are respected. His response to the question in parliament why cases in Britain were rising, while Germany and Italy were nearly normal, met with a characteristically jingoistic response: ours is a country that respects freedom. So we’re back to the old jibe, that even though Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were defeated and their evil regimes swept away 75 years ago, Germans and Italians are still authoritarians at heart. And Mike and the peeps on Twitter have also pointed out how alarming Johnson’s stated intention to use call in the troops coming before a no deal Brexit that may well result in shortages, including food, unemployment and civil unrest.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/22/u-turn-again-boris-johnson-every-time-you-do-you-lose-more-credibility/


Johnson’s comments about Brits supposedly valuing their freedoms more while simultaneously declaring that he may call in the army will remind some people of the slogan ‘Slavery is freedom’ in Orwell’s 1984. Orwell’s great warning of the danger of totalitarianism came from his experiences with Stalinist Communists while fighting for the Republicans against Franco in Spain. But Mussolini’s Fascists themselves also claimed that their system also granted the individual freedom and fulfilment.

Mussolini himself was very firmly authoritarian, championing the total state and condemning liberalism and individualism for undermining society and the nation. But the Fascist ideologue, Ugo Spirito, argued that Fascism’s corporative state offered the individual instead true freedom against the false promises of liberalism. People realised their full potential in society through collaboration, including in industry, as well as trade unions and society generally. It was these collective institutions that allowed people to follow the trades and occupations they desired, whether it was he thinking in his study, or the town butcher. An absolute stress on individualism led to humans living in a state of nature, and having to do everything themselves and so denied the ability to follow their true callings or rise any higher in civilisation.

He concluded of this

Laissez-faire liberalism proclaims freedom of thought and of action, free competition, private enterprise, and, above all, the sacred and inviolable character of private property. But it ends up realizing, more or less consciously, that these don’t add up to genuine freedom. Freedom is founded upon collaboration, that is, upon a choice of social goals and the social discipline required to achieve them.

From: ‘Corporativism as Absolute Liberalism and Absolute Socialism’, Ugo Spirito, in Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed. A Primer of Italian Fascism (University of Nebraska Press 2000), p. 144.

The Fascists praised and protected private property and declared that private industry was at their heart of their economic system. Spirito himself goes onto attack the idea of an omniscient state as the ultimate destroyer of human freedom.

Let us assume it were possible (through improved organization) for the state to attain true knowledge of even the smallest, most remote events. This knowledge would still not be readily translatable into leadership and discipline of a spiritual sort. It would remain abstract because outside known reality; it would generate laws that correspond only to the knower’s will. The state would still function as a bureaucracy, setting goals for the entire nation and, therefore, reducing the nation to a kind of mechanical instrument. The organism’s life would be that of a machine: to each man an assigned place, to each worker an imposed job, all according to the scheme’s rigid necessity. Each individual would be a cog lost in the overall machinery. Freedom, personality, and individual enterprise would become meaningless terms. The hoped-for social justice would translate into a general levelling, and the individual would vanish in the eyes of the state.

He went on to state

Corporativism replies to liberalism by confirming that every person’s individual freedom is sacred. Corporativism proclaims itself antiliberal only because the individual under liberalism is not a true individual, nor is his will truly free. It points to the fact that liberalism ends up denying individuals the very rights that it purports to defend. Corporativism’s antiliberalism is thus not meant to deny or to curtail freedoms. Rather, it aims to strengthen them as much as possible and to achieve liberalism’s highest aim. (p. 150).

In fact, as any fule no, Mussolini’s Fascists regime was a brutal dictatorship, where the individual was very much subordinated to the state, regardless what Fascism’s supporters and ideologues said to the contrary.

Boris, however, still talks the language of classical liberalism and the Tories are still very much permeated by Thatcher’s attack on society: ‘There is no society. There is only people’. Which very much reveals the atomisation at the heart of classical the classical liberal idea of individualism which the Fascists condemned.

But Boris and the Tories are still moving towards a very authoritarian, totalitarian state. David Cameron passed legislation providing for secret courts, Dominic Cummings has pushed the idea of identity cards and Suella Braverman and Priti Patel have both shown they either don’t understand, or just don’t recognise, the independence of the judiciary and the civil service.

The Tories claim to celebrate individual freedom, but their moving in the same direction as Fascism. And Fascists like Spirito defended their ideology by claiming it protected individual freedom, even if those arguments are directly opposed to those marshalled by Tories like Boris.

Boris has always been an authoritarian, so don’t be taken in by any of his claims that he’s protecting British freedoms. He isn’t. He’s destroying them. And remember: even Soviet Russia had constitutions claiming that individuals and their freedom were respected there.

Book Review: Let There be Light: Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Electricity in Colonial Bengal, 1880-1945 by Suvobrata Sarkar

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 8:55pm in

In Let There be Light: Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Electricity in Colonial Bengal, 1880-1945Suvobrata Sarkar examines the emergence of electricity between 1880 and 1945 in Bengal, exploring the impact of its arrival upon industry, entrepreneurship, the education of engineers and the professionalisation of engineering. Thoughtful and impressively researched, the book pushes the boundaries of the historiography of science and technology in India, writes Tirthankar Roy.

Let There be Light: Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Electricity in Colonial Bengal, 1880-1945. Suvobrata Sarkar. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

From the nineteenth century, many scientific ideas and technologies that had transformed material life in Western Europe and America entered India. An extensive railway system revolutionised transportation. The electric telegraph made communication cheaper and faster. Textile mills using steam-powered machines emerged in the port cities. In the early twentieth century, cheap household gadgets like the sewing machine and bicycle, as well as an office machine, the typewriter, shaped middle-class ideas of a better life.

The diffusion of electric power from around World War One was another example of the transfer, but one that had a different order of impact. For one thing, electricity had diverse uses. Industries and mines wanted to switch to a cheaper form of energy. Entrepreneurs recognised that electricity promised new business opportunities. Electric lighting lengthened the working day. Consumers wanted electric light for the home. For another, the production of electricity needed a business system to enable the enormous investment required. India’s cosmopolitan business milieu could rise to that challenge to some extent.

The process of transfer of technology from Britain to India raises several questions. A large and relatively recent body of scholarship attempts to answer these. Most historians who write on the topic seem to hold that the production, use and operation of these technologies changed in character in the process of the transfer, that a sort of indigenisation or Indianisation of Western ideas was at work. A subset of recent studies also claims that the emergence of science and engineering education in late-twentieth-century India owed to this indigenisation that began in colonial times.

Electricity has so far been an overlooked example in this scholarship. Suvobrata Sarkar’s new book, Let There be Light, changes that. A significant part of the book deals with electricity and the impact of its arrival upon industry and entrepreneurship. The material and the arguments go beyond this one example, however. The education of engineers and the professionalisation of engineering are the main interest of the study. With turn-of-the-century Bengal as the context, the book presents an engaging narrative on that dual process.

The story has two parts. The first part runs from roughly 1847 (the start of the Thomason College in Roorkee) until World War One. In these years, indigenous engineering education was limited to specific needs for civil engineers to build bridges and canals, and mechanical engineers to operate the railways. The British colonial government of India supplied a sparse framework for education, and those who decided on the pedagogy were torn between making competent apprentices and making graduate engineers. There were mental blocks to doing much more. The colonial government did not think much of the aptitude of middle-class Indians for technical work. British industry relied heavily upon on-the-job training rather than polytechnics. And an open border to skilled migrants had ensured an easy supply of foreign workers for the technical jobs inside the factories and mines.

Despite resistance from the top, a change had begun on the ground. A government college had appeared in Shibpur near Calcutta in 1856, which functioned as a semi-autonomous engineering college from 1880 (then named Bengal Engineering College, now the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology). As Calcutta industrialised, both the industry and the people who ran the college pushed for increasing the supply of locally trained technical personnel. Industrial needs demanded diversification into electrical, chemical and mining engineering. While a limited expansion did happen, the government also pursued the idea that Indians would be better off going on a scholarship to Europe. Several Bengali young men took these scholarships and excelled in their studies and jobs. Their return, in a few cases to Shibpur itself, added to the credibility of the demand for indigenous education.

The second phase of the Indianisation story unfolded in the interwar period. World War One ended with a vague British promise to do more for Indian development, which translated into educational initiatives. As political power decentralised, Indian politicians and intellectuals lobbied hard for industrialisation on Indian terms. They wanted training, education, institution-building, skill development and reduced reliance on foreign technicians. Industrialisation and Indianisation became interlinked demands. Together, industrialisation and Indianisation became an ingredient in Indian nationalism. Interestingly, the indigenous entrepreneurs who had moved into offbeat fields and needed a specially trained workforce had mixed views about the role of education and research. They were torn, as were administrators a generation before them, between the apprenticeship model and the research-lab model.

Educationists readily embraced the second model. As the story ends, in the 1940s, the second model had found a credible expression in the College of Engineering and Technology, Jadavpur. A nationalist association was behind the start and growing reputation of this landmark institution. The inspiration was no longer artisanal Britain, but the research university of the USA. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recognised the Jadavpur degree as an equivalent of its own.

Through these pathways, the indigenisation of engineering education progressed in the interwar period. By the time independence came in 1947, the indigenous component in the technical and engineering workforce, both in public service and in private enterprises, was so prominent and so vocal as a lobby, that they could push the case for more public investment in engineering education. Independent India’s pursuit of industrialisation, with a heavy accent upon chemicals, metals and machinery production, would not be possible without these preconditions.

Let There be Light tells this story over five substantive chapters, and an introduction and conclusion. Sarkar delves deep into a variety of sources, including the archives of the Public Works Department, contemporary writings in English and Bengali periodicals, biographies and reports. These sources mesh into five case studies. The Shibpur college, the College of Engineering and Technology, Jadavpur, and the emergence of a discourse on indigenisation of engineering occupy Chapter One. This is followed by studies of two influential entrepreneurs, Sir R.N. Mookerjee (an alumnus of Shibpur) and Sir P.C. Ray, who held different views on what type of personnel the Indian industry needed (Chapter Two). Chapters Three and Four explore the electrical utility industry and the expanding uses of electricity, and Chapter Five examines the coming of age of the demand for engineering education with an Indian face in the 1940s.

The book offers many interesting statements on the legacy of the colonial times for postcolonial India. One wished for a more systematic treatment of the subject. The assertion that ‘the pattern of technological development (or underdevelopment?) of post-independence India depends […] upon its inherited structure of techno-science from the British Raj’ (2) is credible but intriguing. What is ‘underdevelopment’ doing in this sentence? I have a speculative answer to offer based on what I read in the book.

I am fascinated by an obsession with ‘quality’ of education, the accent on being world-class, that animated the discourse in the colonial times, both among the Indian nationalists and the British imperialists. The word ‘quality’ appears many times in Let There be Light. International contact and comparisons were needed for that emphasis on quality. Delivering quality in a world where most innovations happened outside Indian borders required constant comparisons. I suspect that as India adopted a heavily protectionist developmental regime after 1947, the international connection and comparison were not so important anymore, and quality dropped down in priority. Technical universities turned into mass-producing degree-giving teaching shops.

In 1945, the Bengali intellectual and nationalist Binoy Kumar Sarkar called Jadavpur ‘the Indian MIT of today’ (234). In 2020, MIT was the world’s number one university, and Jadavpur ranked 651-700. One cannot help thinking that a strength that derived from India’s cosmopolitanism in the colonial times was squandered away by an insular, occasionally xenophobic and overconfident, nationalist educational policy. This is not a criticism of the book. I hope to provoke the historians of technology to rethink the postcolonial without illusions.

What it sets out to do, Let There be Light does with competence and skill. It is a really good book. The narrative is fascinating, and the direct writing style does justice to the story. Thoughtful and impressively researched, the book pushes the boundaries of the historiography of science and technology in India, in that part of the emerging world that had once been ruled by the European colonial powers.

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:Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash.


Karin Smyth Pushing Right-Wing Candidates in Bristol South Labour NEC Elections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 7:41pm in

Tomorrow Bristol South Labour Party is holding its elections for the party’s NEC. If you are a member of that constituency Labour party, please go ahead and register to vote before the meeting begins on Zoom. Registration stops at 6.45 when you should start signing on. It’s a closed meeting, and so people won’t be admitted after it begins at 7.00 pm.

Yesterday evening I and the other constituency party members got an email from our local MP Karin Smyth outlining what she’d been doing in parliament. She’s due to give her report at the meeting. She also told us who she hopes will win our votes for the NEC. And it looks like a pack of Blairites.

‘There are many excellent candidates and I am hoping Paula Sheriff, Theresa Griffin, Liz McInnes, Johanna Baxter, Ann Black, Terry Paul, Luke Akehurst, Gurinder Singh Josan and Shama Tatler will be successful.’

Now I’ll admit my ignorance. I don’t know most of these people, but one name stands out: Luke Akehurst. If you’ve been following Tony Greenstein’s excellent blog, you’ll know that he’s one of the true-Blue Blairites, and a fanatical Zionist. He’s one who has smeared and tried to purge party members as anti-Semites if they supported Jeremy Corbyn or dared to offer the mildest criticisms of Israel. I’m guessing that the others she’s promoting have similar views.

My was one of those smeared and expelled from the party by the NEC, simply because he had the temerity to show that Ken Livingstone was historically correct when he said that Hitler supported Zionism. The Nazi leader signed a short-lived pact with the Zionist organisations in Germany to smuggle German Jewish settlers to Palestine. This was the Ha’avara Agreement, which is recognised history and documented as such in the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. 85 per cent of the initial founding capital for the Jewish state also came from Nazi Germany.

Mike was suspended from the party without being told on the evening before he was due to stand as a councillor in the local elections in his part of Wales. The NEC also went behind his back and told the press before they told him. This included Gabriel Pogrund, a hack with the Sunset Times, who then rang him up for an interview. The Sunset Times then showed its complete absence of any concern for truth by libeling him as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Which he is certainly not, and has never been. These lies were repeated by other newspapers, including the Jewish Chronicle.

Before his expulsion, Mike, like so many other decent, left-wing, genuinely anti-racist members of the Labour party, was subject to a kangaroo court hearing. This was supposed to let him challenge the NEC’s decision, but is really just window dressing designed to put a veneer of justice on what is a flagrantly unjust procedure. The Party then released a statement which again totally ignored and misrepresented what Mike said in his defence. To show how completely uninterested they were in any kind of real justice, one of the members of the hearing said, when asked by Mike if he’d read the parts of his defence in which he showed that he wasn’t an anti-Semite, admitted he hadn’t. He’d been told by someone unnamed not to. And the head of the tribunal wanted to finish early because she needed to catch the train home to Scotland.

Mike is currently suing the Labour Party for breach of contract over his shabby treatment. The hearing is next months, and he’s invited the press. I hope he wins.

Smyth’s support of these scumbags disappoints and infuriates me, but I’m not surprised. She has struck me as something of a Blairite. She was one of those who stayed away when Jeremy Corbyn visited Bristol on the campaign trail next year.

I fully intend to vote for their candidates from the Labour Left if there are any put forward, and I strongly advise others to do the same.

That is if you want a Labour Party that really stands for working people, rather than a nest of Blairite intriguers determined to enforce Tory policies and expel on fake, trumped up charges anyone who opposes them.

Lenin’s Decree on Workers’ Control in the Russian Revolution

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) also contains the text of Lenin’s decree establishing workers’ control in businesses throughout the Russian empire. This ran

  1. In the interests of a systematic regulation of national economy, Worker’s Control is introduced in all industrial, commercial, agricultural (and similar) enterprises which are hiring people to work for them in their shops or which are giving them work to take home. This control is to extend over the production, storing, buying and selling of raw materials and finished products as well as over the finances of any enterprises.
  2. The workers will exercise this control through their elected organisations such as factory and shop committees, soviets of elders, etc. The office employees and the technical personnel are also to have representation in these committees.
  3. Every large city, province and industrial area is to have its own Soviet of Workers’ Control, which, being an organ of the S(oviet) of W(orkers’), S(oldiers’)and P(easants’) D(eputies), must be composed of representatives of trade unions, factory, shop and other workers’ committees and workers’ cooperatives.
  4. ….
  5. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to supervise production fix the minimum of output, and determine the cost of production.
  6. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to control all the business correspondence of an enterprise. Owners of enterprises are legally responsible for all correspondence kept secret. Commercial secrets are abolished. the owners have to show to the organs of Workers’ Control all their books and statements for the current year and for the past years.
  7. The rulings of the organs of Workers’ Control are binding on the owners of enterprises and can be annulled only by decisions of the higher organs of Workers’ Control. (pp. 69-70).

Daniels’ explains that this idea had the support of most of the Russian workers at the time, some of whom were already putting it into practise by force. Sergei Eisenstein shows workers taking over the factories and throwing the bosses out the gates in wheelbarrows in his classic piece of Communist propaganda, October. Lenin initially supported, but later overturned it and restored the authority of the factory management despite Bolshevik opposition. The reason for it is that it simply didn’t work. Lenin genuinely believed that poorly educated workers would have no trouble running a business, but commonsense simply tells you it isn’t true.

However, workers’ control is an inspiring idea. It continued in Yugoslavia as part of their self-management system, and there are ways in which it certainly could be made to work. One obvious way is to train the worker managers up to a level where they can make informed decisions before they start. Another is through the unions providing them with expert advisers on their behalf. These are just ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure that the people who have really tried it in practice through running cooperatives and have served as trade union officials and shop stewards in negotiations with management have better from their own experience.

We desperately need an element of workers’ control and industrial democracy, if not a full-blown representative chamber for working people in parliament. Working people have seen their rights at worker devastated through forty years of Thatcherism. One of the reasons the Tories have been able to enforce their wages freezes, introduce job precarity, zero hours contracts and the gig economy is that they’ve also destroyed the unions through grossly restrictive legislation. And they’re set to make it worse after Brexit, when they will get rid of all the minimum rights workers’ have under the EU’s Social Charter. Which they’ve been wanting to do for nearly forty years, again since Thatcher.

You don’t have to be as radical as Lenin and the Bolsheviks. But we do need a return of strong trade unions, workers’ representation in the boardroom and a Labour Party that actually stands up for working people.

Images of the North African Slave Trade in White Europeans and a Quote from Hitler

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 10:07pm in

I’ve put up several posts already critising Sasha Johnson for her quote stating that Blacks will enslave Whites, for which she was thrown off Twitter. Johnson seems to see herself as a British Black Panther, and so has demanded a Black militia to defend Blacks from the police, and an all-Black party. Which roughly follows the Panthers’ programme and activism.But she’s pushed this even further, following the pattern of the activist style of politics that Conservative historian Noel Sullivan views as the real origin of Fascism into overt racism with that Tweet.

But from the middle ages to the 19th century Arabs from north Africa captured and enslaved White Europeans. This only ended in the 19th century with the French invasion of Algiers. The slave raiding increased with the rise of the Barbary pirates in the 16th century. Mediterranean Europe was particularly affected. Whole communities were attacked and carried off in France and Italy, but it also extended to Britain and Ireland and even as far afield as Iceland. I found this contemporary drawing of White European slaves being landed by the captors at Algiers c. 1700 in The History of the World, Vol 2: The Last Five Hundred Years, Esmond Wright, general editor, (W.H. Smith 1984), page 265.

The same page also carried this picture of Mulay Ismail, who ruled Morocco from 1672-1727. Morocco was another north African state which relied for its economy on slave raiding.

It’ll surprise no-one that Adolf Hitler also celebrated the conquest and enslavement of those he considered inferior races in Mein Kampf. He wrote

For the development of the higher culture it was necessary that men of lower civilisation should have existed, for none but they could be a substitute for the technical instrument without which higher development was inconceivable. In its beginnings human culture depended less on the tamed beast and more on employment of inferior human material.

it was not until the conquered races had been enslaved that a like fate fell on the animal world; the contrary was not the case, as many would like to believe. For it was the slave which first drew the plough, and after him the horse. None but pacifist fools can look on this as yet another token of human depravity; other must see clearly that this development was bound to happen in order to arrive at a state of things in which those apostles are able to loose their foolish talk on the world.

Human progress is like ascending an endless ladder; a man cannot climb higher unless he has first mounted the lowest rung. Thus the Aryan had to follow the road leading him to realization, and not the one which exists n the dreams of modern pacifists.

Adolf Hitler, My Struggle (London: The Paternoster Library 1933), page 122.

These show that not only is Sasha Johnson ignorant of the White slave trade, or just doesn’t care, she also shows the same attitude towards those she considers racially inferior and an enemy as Hitler. Only the colours have been swapped. It is, in my view, fair to call her a Nazi. And her supporters, including the members of her Black militia and prospective members of her proposed Blacks only party are also Nazis.

Now I think that she’s probably just young, stupid and got carried away. But she still deserves to be treated like any other Nazi until she grows up and sees sense. After all, to many people before the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler was a joke. There’s a line in the Bernardo Bertolucci film The Conformist, about a young man who joins the Italian Fascist party after he shoots the paedophile, who tried to attack him, that’s very pertinent. ‘When I was in Munish, there was a man ranting in the beerhalls. We all used to laugh at him. That man was Adolf Hitler’.

Book Review: Project Europe: A History by Kiran Klaus Patel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 9:21pm in

In Project Europe: A HistoryKiran Klaus Patel offers a new critical history of European integration, focusing on the period between 1945 to 1992. This book offers many fresh insights on the ways that European nations have cooperated and integrated in the post-war period and is a great read for academics and general readers alike, writes Jacob van de Beeten.

Project Europe: A History. Kiran Klaus Patel. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

Deconstructing conventional narratives of European integration

Anyone who has visited the House of European History, located in Parc Léopold just behind the European Parliament (the driving force behind the museum’s creation), will have noticed the implicit narrative present in the building’s architecture. Starting off on the dimly lit ground floor, visitors are guided through the historical developments of European nations, with special attention on the atrocities of both World Wars as well as fascist and communist ideologies. Only on the top floors, where natural light increasingly shines through, does the history of the European Union (EU) commence.

For a long time, historians have presented European integration using these tropes of light and darkness, creating a narrative in which the European continent progresses from the dark ages of nationalism to the bright present and future of Europeanism; from an age of war and destruction to a time of prosperity, peace and supranationalism. European integration is depicted as a linear, progressive development. And it is precisely these narratives that seem increasingly in question after a decade of crisis and as we approach the withdrawal of one of the EU’s largest member states, the UK.

As a self-styled ‘critical history of European integration’ (the original German subtitle), Kiran Klaus Patel’s book, Project Europe: A History, distances itself from these traditional narratives, providing a new way of looking at the history of European integration. Covering the period between 1945 to 1992, Patel adds nuance to the EU’s overly positive self-image and argues that the current crises are not as unique as we might think. In dispelling myths about the EU, Patel simultaneously takes aim at many of the contemporary criticisms of the EU. He does this in a book that has eight well-written and illuminating chapters, which focus on a range of different topics – from peace and security to the question of technocracy and disintegration. Patel himself recommends his readers start with the first chapter, but read the other chapters in no particular order. For this reason, rather than trying to summarise the book as a whole, I will draw out several of the lessons I have taken from this work.

One of Patel’s main arguments is that to understand why the effects of European integration are so far-reaching today, we must look back to the 1970s and 1980s. These decades are often regarded as a time of ‘euro-sclerosis’ in which no major institutional developments took place. Patel asserts, however, that it was precisely in this period that the European Communities (EC) – the EU’s predecessor – first acquired a significant role both within Europe and in relation to the rest of the world. Looking back to this period is thus indispensable in understanding where we are today.

The first chapter of Project Europe shows how European integration became the most potent international organisation in post-war Europe. Contrary to conventional beliefs, it was by no means clear at the time that the European Coal and Steel Community (ESCS), and later the EC, were destined to become Western Europe’s primary forum of international cooperation. In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, the ESCS barely stood out. It had to compete with a whole range of other organisations – such as the Western European Union (WEU), The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Council of Europe and the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) – which were not only founded much earlier than the ESCS, but also had more members and more ambitious goals.

Patel explains how three characteristics of the EC allowed it to surpass many of these other international organisations in the long run. First, the initial narrow economic focus allowed European integration to extend to ever more areas through spillover effects from one policy area to the other. Establishing a Common Market inevitably raises questions about environmental and hygiene standards, consumer protection and social policy. Secondly, contrary to the other organisations, the EC had a binding set of rules which were directly implemented in national legal orders. Finally, the EC had far greater financial resources at its disposal than other Western European organisations.

Crucially, however, Patel points out that it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the EC emerged as the most potent and versatile Western European organisation. From then on it started to take over many of the functions that previously were performed by those other organisations; Patel shows how this led to the first calls for differentiations or ‘Europe à la carte’. Moreover, this development also made the EC more crisis-prone. In the author’s words: ‘if everything that matters is brought under one roof, the firewalls that once separated different organisations are lost.’ By bringing these other organisations back into the picture (Patel elsewhere calls this  ‘Provincialising the European Union’), Patel is able to show there never was a masterplan or a blueprint to integrate Europe. Rather, historical contingencies, strong personalities and external influences created the EC – and, by extension, the EU – we know today.

Many of the following chapters take up this theme, with a particular emphasis on the role of the United States in the integration of Western Europe – a fact that is often conveniently forgotten (even though the term ‘integration’ was brought to Europe by US politicians and academics). In the chapter on peace and security, Patel shows how maintaining peace in Western Europe was one of the initial motivations driving European integration, with the particular aim of defusing Franco-German tension. However, the effect of peace as a motive was very modest and should not be overestimated. Economic and geopolitical interests and concerns often dominated the decision-making process, which in any case was heavily influenced by the US.

Patel therefore concludes that the EC profited more from relative peace in Europe than it practically contributed to it. However, to those arguing that the peace motive can no longer legitimise European integration, he responds that over the decades the role of the EC as a guarantor of peace has become ever more prominent. Since the 1970s and 1980s, the EC has considerably widened its range of instruments to promote peace in Europe and beyond – think, for example, of the EU’s contemporary development and neighbourhood policies.

Patel uncovers a seemingly similar paradox when it comes to prosperity. The existence of the EC was often legitimated for contributing to the reconstruction of post-war Europe. Surveying the existing literature on the impact of the EC on the economic growth of its member states, Patel finds that initially this contribution was very modest. He concludes that the ‘economic role of the EC during the trente glorieuses [the period of uninterrupted economic growth in Western Europe between 1945 and the mid-1970s] should not be overstated’. On the other hand, in the following decades, he finds that the EC was of greater importance, ensuring stability during the oil crises in the 1970s and the recovery period that followed. Again, we see that what starts out as myth turns into more than that over time.

Of the two most interesting facts that Patel conveys, one directly concerns the UK. The first fact is that while more and more people on the continent started to identify the EC with ‘Europe’ during the 1970s, in the UK the term ‘Common Market’ was preferred. Secondly, and more importantly, Patel convincingly argues that Brexit is not as singular and unique as often thought. In one of his most lucid chapters, Patel discusses the departure of first Algeria, and later Greenland, from the EC. Due to limited space, I will briefly discuss the latter.

In the 1980s Greenland organised a consultative referendum, in which a small majority of 52 per cent of the population voted to leave the EC. Those advocating exit attached particular importance to regaining control over Greenland’s fisheries. Sounds familiar? Patel not only shows how even after exiting the EC Greenland had no choice but to keep its waters open (protocols specifying the future relationship were concluded on exit), but also that in later decades the ties between Greenland and the EC actually deepened.

This episode thus tells us that long before Brexit, European integration turned out to be a potentially reversible process, despite the rhetoric regarding its ‘irreversibility’ and the march towards ‘ever closer union’. In many aspects, Patel thus offers a comforting message: integration and disintegration have always gone hand in hand. Disintegration should be seen as part of political normality, rather than as a catastrophic event with the potential to break the EU apart.

In sum, Project Europe offers many fresh and lucid insights on the ways in which European nations have cooperated and integrated in the post-war period. It is a great read for academics and general readers alike, adding much needed historical facts and figures to debates in which mythmaking on both sides of the argument prevents a clear view on the past, present and future of the EU.

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: (Rock Cohen CC BY 2.0).


Gorbachev’s Final Programme for the Russian Communist Party

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) contains the last party political programme Gorbachev. This was put forward at the last party plenum in 1991 before Communism finally collapsed. It’s an optimistic document which seeks to transform the totalitarian party and the Soviet Union’s command economy into a democratic party with a mixed economy. Gorbachev also cites as the principles underlying the transformation not just the values of the Communist party, but also the wider values of democracy, humanism and social justice.

The extract’s several pages long, and so I won’t quote it in full. But here some passages that are particularly interesting, beginning with Gorbachev’s statement of their values.

  1. Our Principles

… In its political activity the CPS will be guided by: – the interests of comprehensive social progress, which is assured by way of reforms…

-The principles of humanism and universal values.

-The principles of democracy and freedom in al ltheir various manifestations…

-The principles of social justice…

– The principles of of patriotism and internationalism…

-The interests of integrating the country into the world economy.

Section III, ‘Our Immediate Goals’ declares

… The CPSU stands for the achievement of the following goals:

In the political system. Development of the Soviet multinational state as a genuine democratic federation of sovereign republics;

setting up a state under the rule of law, and the development of democratic institutions; the system of soviets as the foundations of the state structure, as organs of popular rule and self-administration and of political representation of the interests of all strata of society; separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial…

In the area of nationality relations: Equal rights for all people independently of their nationality and place of residence; equal rights and free development of all nationality under the unconditional priority of the rights of man…

In the economy. Structural rebuilding (perestroika) of the national economy, re-orienting it toward the consumer;

modernization of industry, construction, transport and communications on the basis of high technology, overcoming our lag behind the world scientific technical level, and thinking through the conversion of military production.

transition to a mixed economy based on the variety and legal equality of different forms of property – state, collective and private, joint stock and cooperative. Active cooperation in establishing the property of labour collectives and the priority development of this form of social prosperity;

formation of a regulated market economy as a means to stimulate the growth of economic efficiency, the expansion of social wealth, and the raising of the living standards of the people. This assumes free price formation with stage gains to needy groups of the population, the introduction of an active anti-monopoly policy, restoring the financial system to health, overcoming inflation, and achieving the convertibility of the ruble.

working out and introducing a modern agrarian policy; free development of the peasantry; allotment of land (including leaseholds with the right of inheritance) to all who are willing and able to work it effectively; state support of the agro-price parity in the exchange of the products of industry and agriculture;

comprehensive integration of the country in the world economy, and broad participation in world economic relations in the interest of the economic and social progress of Soviet society.

In the social sphere. Carrying out a state policy that allows us to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable difficulties and expenses connected with overcoming the crisis in the economy and making the transition to the market…

Averting the slide toward ecological catastrophe, solving the problems of [Lake] Baikal, the Aral Sea, and other zones of ecological impoverishment, and continuing the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

In education, science and culture. Spiritual development of the people, impoving the education and culture of each person, and strengthening morality, the sense of civic duty and responsibility and patriotism…

IV. Whose Interest the Party Expresses

… In cooperation with the labour movement and the trade unions we will defend the interests of the workers, to secure: due representation of the working class in the organs of power at all levels, real rights of labour collectives to run enterprises and dispose of the results of their labour, a reliable system of social protection…

We stand for freedom of conscience for all citizens. The party takes a respectful position toward the feelings of believers…

… We are against militant anti-Communism as a form of political extremism and negation of democracy that is extremely dangerous for the fate of society…

V. For a Party of Political Action

Communists are clearly aware that only a radically renewed party – a party of political action – can successfully solve new tasks.

The most important direction of renewal for the party is its profound democratization. This assumes the independence of the parties of the republics that belong to CPS, and space for the initiative of local and primary organizations.

… Guarantees must be worked out in the party so that its cadres never utilize their posts for mercenary interests, never speak contrary to conscience, and do not fear a hard struggle to achieve noble ends.

The renewal of the party presupposes a new approach to the understanding of its place in society and its relations with the state, and in the choice of means for the achievement of its political goals. The party acts exclusively by legal political methods. It will fight for deputies’ seats in democratic elections, winning the support of voters for its electoral platform and its basic directions of policy and practical action. Taking part in the formation of the organs of state power and administration, it will conduct its policy through them. It is ready to enter into broad collaboration wherever this is dictated by circumstances, and to conclude alliances and coalitions with other parties and organizations in the interest of carrying out a program of democratic reforms. In those organs of power where the Communist deputies are in the minority, they will assume the place of a constructive opposition, standing up against any attempt at infringing with the interests of the toilers and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Collaborating with other parliamentary groups, Communist deputies will manifest cooperation toward positive undertakings that come from other parties and movements…

The CPSU is built on the adherence of its members to the ideas of certain values. For us the main one of these is the idea of humane, democratic socialism. Reviving and developing the initial humanitarian principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin, we include in our arsenal of ideas the entire richness of national and world socialist and democratic thought. We consider communism as a historic perspective, a social ideal, based on universal human values, on the harmonious union of progress and justice, of the free self-realization of the individual.


It’s an inspiring document, and if it had been passed and Communism and the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have transformed the Communist party into a modern, centre-left party, committed to genuine democracy, religious freedom, technological innovation and development, tackling the ecological crisis, rooting out corruption within the party and standing with other groups to defend workers’ rights. I do have a problem with its condemnation of extreme anti-Communism. You would expect this from a leader who still wanted the Communist party to be the leading political force in the Soviet Union. It could just refer to groups like the morons who set up various Nazi parties and organisations in the 1980s. They had absolutely no understanding of what Nazism stood for, just that it was anti-Communist. But that clause could be used against other, far more moderate groups demanding radical change. I was impressed, however, by the statement that the Communists should be prepared to take a back seat in opposition. This completely overturns the central Communist dogma that the party should always take the leading role, even when in a coalition with other parties. It’s how Stalin got them to win democratic elections, before purging and dissolving those parties and sending their members to death or the gulag.

Ultimately the programme failed. One reason is that Gorbachev really didn’t understand just how hated the Communist party actually was. When I was studying the rise of Communist and Fascist regimes at college in the mid-80s, one of the newspapers reported that there were underground pop groups in the USSR singing such ditties as ‘Kill the Commies and the Komsomol too.’ The Komsomol was the Communist party youth organisation.

Daniel Kalder in his book Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through their writing (Oneworld: 2018) that Gorby’s project was undermined by the release under glasnost of Lenin’s suppressed works. Gorbachev had based his reforms on a presumed contrast between a democratic, benevolent Lenin, who had pledged Russia to a kind of state-directed capitalism in his New Economic Policy, and Stalin with his brutal totalitarianism, collectivisation of agriculture and the construction of the Soviet command economy. But Lenin frequently wrote for the moment, and his writings contradict themselves, though there is a central strand of thought that is consistent throughout. More seriously, he himself was viciously intolerant and a major architect of the Soviet one party state through the banning of other parties. The newly republished works showed just how false the image of Lenin as some kindly figure was, and just how nasty he was in reality.

But even after 30 a years, I still think Gorby’s proposed reforms are an excellent guide to what socialism should be. And his vision was far better than the bandit capitalism and massive corruption of Yeltsin’s administration, when the Soviet economy melted down. And its anti-authoritarianism and intolerance of corruption makes it far better than the regime of the current arkhiplut, Vladimir Putin. Although it has to be said that he’s done much good restoring conditions after Yeltsin’s maladministration.

And it’s also far better than the neoliberalism that has infected the Labour party, introduced by Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schroder in Germany. I think we need something like Gorbachev’s vision here, in the 21st century Labour party, instead of further Thatcherism under Starmer.