Literature

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

Since almost as long as I can remember, the Tories and their lackeys in the press have been attacking health and safety legislation. The common reasons trotted out are that it is an unnecessary burden to employers, binding them with complicated red tape and costs. More recently the authors of Britannia Unchained and similar works have demanded that such legislation protecting people at work should be rolled back in order to make Britain more competitive against countries in the Developing World, whose workers don’t benefit by such protection. The Tories have tried to make this assault popular by making health and safety legislation seem not only cumbrous, interfering and bureaucratic, but also massively overprotective and silly. Remember all those stories from the Heil years ago claiming that, thanks to the ‘Nanny state’, schools were having to make children wear goggles before playing conkers?

The truth is that when health and safety legislation was introduced in the ’70s, it massively cut down on deaths and injuries among working people – and that’s basically why the Tories would like to get rid of it. They want labour to be cheap and easily disposable, and health and safety laws are an obstacle to that. And the chapter by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte in The Violence of Austerity by Whyte and Vickie Cooper shows exactly how devastating in terms of lives and injuries their attacks on the legislation has been. The government watchdog in charge of overseeing the implementation of the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive, has had its funding cut by 47 per cent. The Tories have also threatened to close it down altogether. In 2013 the government launched a review in order to see whether there was still a need for its functions and if it complied with good governance. The number of staff employed at the executive fell from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,706 in December 2013. Since the Tories came to power, the number of inspections by the Executive has fallen by a third.

These cuts have resulted in an increase in work-related accidents and injuries, although the authors warn that the government’s figures are almost certainly too low. The real figures are almost certainly higher. They write

Typically, the official ‘headline figure’ published by the HSE records between 140 and 240 deaths per year resulting from sudden injury and 13,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases and illnesses. Those figures, however, only reflect a small proportion of total deaths caused by work. The first figure does not include key categories of deaths cause by work. The Hazards Campaign estimates that seven times more deaths are caused by work incidents than the figure official cited by the HSE. HSE figures exclude work-related road traffic deaths, the workplace deaths recorded in other industries that the HSE does not have formal responsibility for, like the maritime and civil aviation industries, or deaths to members of the public killed by a work activity, such as scaffold collapses or train crashes. A more complete estimate would also include suicides attributed to work related stress. There are approximately 6,000 suicides involving working-age people in the UK each year, and a number of those involve workers driven to despair by work-related stress. In Japan, where work-related suicides are officially recognised and compensated, it is estimated that 5 per cent of suicides are work-related. This estimate, if applied to the UK, would amount to roughly 300 people killed through work related strees.

In sum, a more complete figure of workplace deaths caused by sudden injury, which takes into account all of the above exclusions, would amount to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths every year, or 3-4 deaths per day. (p. 142).

They also argue that the estimated number of deaths from occupational diseases are also probably grossly underestimated once recent academic studies are taken into account. For example, a 2005 study of the causes of occupational and environmental cancer by Richard Clapp estimated that about 8-16 per cent of all cancer deaths came from occupational cancer. If the mid-range figure of 12 per cent is taken as the number of occupational deaths from cancer, the number of people dying through work-related cancer is 18,000 per year.

A 2005 paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated tath 15-20 per cent of all cases of COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – could be work related. Which means 6,000 deaths per year. There is also evidence that up to 20 per cent of all deaths from heart disease are related to conditions at work. This figure adds up to 20,000 deaths per year.

A further conservative estimate that diseases in which work can be a contributory cause, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and so on comprise a further 6,000 deaths per annum.

They state

All of this adds up to an overall estimate by the Hazards Campaign of up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illness every year – four times the typical HSE estimate of around 13,000 per year. Our contention then, is that the HSE figures grossly underestimate the number of workers whose current working conditions expose them to both the well-known and the newer risk factors, that will produce the workers deaths of the future. (p. 143).

They also make the point that the death toll is still rising, because of toxins to which people may have been exposed to as much as 40 years previously, such as some carcinogens. The EU has estimated that in the 1990s five million workers, or 22 per cent of the working population, were exposed to cancer-causing substances.

They also argue that, thanks to austerity, more workers are suffering under poor working conditions that are damaging their health. These include bullying and harassment, long hours, and the zero hours contracts imposed on 5.5 million workers. The insecurity these contracts cause are linked to stress, heart and circulatory diseases. Workers are also still exposed to dusts and chemicals that cause or contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. They also point to the connection between low paid work and poor safety standards

Low paid work guarantees more than hardship: low pay goes hand in hand with low safety standards. Occupational injuries and diseases such as diabetes and cancer are directly linked to low paid jobs. (p. 144).

They also make the point that the ‘compensation culture’ the Tories have claimed exists is actually a myth. In fact, many workers don’t receive the compensation to which they’re entitled. They write

One of the first moves of the Coalition government, in October 2010, was to appoint Lord Young, a former Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, to deliver ‘a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.’ He found absolutely no evidence of this ‘compensation culture’, citing figures which actually showed a downward trend to legal claims, but still demanded action to deal with ‘red tape’. Indeed, figures obtained by Hazards Magazine show that fewer than one in seven people suffering an occupational injury or disease ever receive compensation. For occupational diseases alone, this drops to just one in twenty-six. For most occupational cancers, there is barely any prospect of compensation at all.  (p. 145).

They also show that the government’s division of work into high and low risk is also highly dubious and has resulted in an increase in deaths at work. It was done by Cameron’s government in order to restrict HSE inspections to those jobs considered high risk. But the low risk category is wide, and includes textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, road and air transport and docks, electricity generation and the postal and courier services. Hazards Magazine found that 53 per cent of all deaths at work caused by sudden injury were in the low risk sector. Palmer and Whyte state ‘In other words, the government’s fiscal purge of health and safety enforcement has meant abandoning scrutiny of the workplaces where the majority of deaths occur’. (p. 145).

Palmer and Whyte state that this death toll should be a ‘call to arms. to any government, regardless of its political stance. But instead, despite the ‘glaring’ evidence that the red tape is good for workers, employers and the economy, governments have doubled down and insisted that such legislation is an intolerable nuisance. This has reached the point where the HSE doesn’t even both to ask ‘what’s so wrong with red tape anyway?’ The government’s ideological obsession with red tape means that ‘there is no room for argument or evidence that health and safety legislation doesn’t burden business, while its absence carries a high cost to business, workers and the public purse.’

This means that when some rag like the Heil, the Depress, or the Scum claims that health and safety legislation is unnecessary, costly and stifling business, they are lying. And lying to defend an attitude to workplace safety that is murderously dangerous to working people.

But then, as the disabled have found, Tory responsibility for mass injury and death is nothing new.

 

 

Cartoon: Iain Duncan Smith as ‘Nosferatory’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 5:53am in

Here’s another cartoon satirising the Tories. As I’ve said in my previous pieces, I’ve taken my inspiration from Horror films and ‘B’ movies. In this case, it’s based on Hans Murnau’s 1920’s German silent version of Dracula, Nosferatu. And who better to be portrayed as the vampire than Iain Duncan Smith, a man who responsible for so many of the 130,000 deaths the Tories have killed through austerity.

 

Voter ID and Other Tricks to Stop the Radical Poor from Voting

Mike reported a little while ago that the Tories were going ahead with their plans to demand photographic identification of voters at polling stations before allowing people to cast their votes. This is supposedly to cut down on voting fraud, despite the fact that actual instances are so low they’re negligible. Of course, the people who will find it most difficult to produce such identification will be students and the poor. Which is why the Tories are introducing it.

It’s another trick they’ve learned from the American Republicans, who introduced similar legislation over there. It prevents the poor, students and Blacks – the demographics mostly likely to vote Democrat – from being able to vote. And such tricks to stop working class radicals and Blacks from voting have a long history in America. All the way back to the Populist movement in the 1890s. This was a left-wing movement of America’s rural poor against exploitation by the great landlords. Bhaskar Sankara gives a brief description of it, and its fall, in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

But ferment was growing in rural America. The Populist Movement sprang from the 1870s struggles of indebted farmers in central Texas but soon spread throughout the country. As the price of cotton collapsed and the economy entered a depression in the 1890s, the Populists fervently supported Debs during the Pullman Strike, backed many demands made by labor, and were leading tenant and sharecropper efforts against the crop-lien system. Populist leader Tom Watson challenged white and black farmers to organise across racial lines, telling a crowd, “You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system that beggars both.”

In 1892, the movement formed a national political party around a progressive platform that called for a graduated income tax, nationalised railways, debt relief, and public works to combat unemployment. Planter elites responded with a campaign of electoral fraud and violence, including the lynching of hundreds of organisers, while the Democratic Party came to co-opt much of the movement’s platform in 1896. After the pro-Populist Democrat William Jennings Bryant’s election loss that year, the movement fell apart. Legislative efforts to disenfranchise blacks through poll taxes and biased “literacy tests” were expanded, helping prevent another multi-racial movement from emerging for decades. (pp. 163-4).

That’s the tactics of the Right. Keep whites and blacks attacking each other, so that they don’t unite against the system that’s oppressing both, and bring in laws to disqualify Blacks and the White poor from voting. The Tories also do both. But they haven’t yet started lynching members of the Labour party. So far, that’s been left to the far right. Thomas Mair and his assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox. Then there are the crazed Brexiteers who screamed at Anna Soubry that she was a traitor, and who took a model gibbet to their protests outside parliament, and the Nazi, homophobic thugs who beat up Owen Jones.

Perhaps after the Tories have introduced voter ID and similar legislation, they’ll bring back lynching as well. They’ve encouraged people to beat up the disabled already.

Architect of Soviet Terror Loathed Himself for His Crimes. What About the Tories for Theirs?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/01/2020 - 9:54pm in

Bhaskar Sankara’s book, The Socialist Manifesto, contains a very interesting quote in its chapter on the rise of Soviet communism and its transformation into the brutal, repressive, murderous state under Stalin. It’s from Felix Dzherzinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police after the Russian Revolution. Dzherzinsky became so disgusted with himself for all the tens of thousands of people he’d had arrested, tortured and murdered that he declared, ‘I have so much blood on my hands that I don’t deserve to live’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the Soviet state from continuing to kill and torture, so that the victims of Stalin’s purges amount to over 30 million.

When can we expect similar remorse from the Tories? Their system of welfare reform, work capability tests and benefit sanctions have resulted in 130,000 deaths at least. When do we get to hear something like Dzherzinsky’s cry from Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and the other grotesques in the DWP? When will we hear expressions of sadness and regret for Maggie’s friendship with General Pinochet, a real Fascist, who also had tens of thousands rounded up, raped and tortured after the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende? When are we going to hear Paul Staines, of Guido Fawkes, express contrition for his membership of a Libertarian Tory outfit, that made the head of a central American death squad their guest of honour at one of their annual dinners?

We aren’t. Not ever. Because the Tory party will not, not even personally, feel sorrow for its complicity in death and terror, not even in private.

It will just hide it, and carry on lying to people that it stands for freedom and humanity while continuing to support mass death.

 

Classic Reply to Criticism of Socialists for Having Communist Supporters and Activists

The right-wing scumbags were after America’s Bernie Sanders last week. Having succeeded in defeating Labour in the elections over here, and Corbyn’s campaign to bring prosperity, dignity and empowerment to the British working class, they’re trying to do the same to America’s working people. They’ve started attacking Bernie’s cause of Medicare for All, whereby American people’s medical bills would be paid by the American state. 40 million people in the Land of the Free can’t afford medical insurance. 40,000 people every year die because they can’t afford medical treatment. In some states, people are hoarding medicines, including those prescribed by vets for animals, because they can’t afford drugs. But the Republicans and their corporate masters once again have started attacking Medicare For All in the interests of keeping the private healthcare companies’ profits high, and America’s working and lower middle class poor and sick. And they’ve also launched a few more personal attacks on Bernie himself. Last week several videos appeared on YouTube claiming that a member of his campaign team was a violent Communist.

I’m not surprised that a Communist would work for Sanders. The American Communist party seems to have a history of joining mainstream left-wing movements. Sometimes its to try and take them over, as Marxist parties have tried to do elsewhere in the West. And sometimes it’s simply to help them in their attempts to improve conditions for working people. In the 1950s and ’60s, I think, a number of Communists were found working for the Democrats.

They tried similar tactics over here with Jeremy Corbyn. Apart from smearing him as a Trotskyite and Stalinist, they also attempted to discredit him through one of his campaign team, Seaumas Milne. Milne really is a Stalinist, who continues to support the old thug. His views on Stalin are genuinely disgusting, but that doesn’t discredit everything else he does. His books and articles tearing modern capitalism to shreds are still excellent. And just because Milne admires the brutal dictator, it doesn’t follow that Corbyn does, and the chance of Milne setting up a similar dictatorship in Britain, even if he wanted to, is absolute zero.

There have been similar attempts to discredit other socialist parties and leaders through their employment of or work with Communists. I’ve been reading Bhaskar Sankara’s superb The Socialist Manifesto. This is his call for radical change in America, and its transformation into a genuinely socialist state in which workers actually manage the companies in which they work, share the profits, and enjoy a welfare state comparable to those of Europe, only rather more expanded. The first few chapters are a history of socialism in various countries from its Marxist roots. This covers the rise of Social Democracy in Germany, Communism in Russia and China, social democracy in Sweden and socialism in America. America has, surprisingly, a very long tradition of socialism and working class parties. But these failed to make it into mainstream politics through factionalism, inept leadership, missed opportunities and violent opposition from the American state and capital. Private corporations hired armed thugs to put down strikes, along with the police and army. The Communist party also contributed to this through its factionalism, its blind obedience to the Comintern line even when this conflicted with the local party’s and American people’s own interests in favour of that of the Soviet state’s, and attacks on rival socialist parties. They caused the collapse of one working class, socialist organisation by infiltrating it in order to turn it into a Communist satellite. At which point everyone else in the organisation left. The Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party did the same thing in Britain in the 1970s when they infiltrated the Anti-Nazi League.

But there also were instances where Communists and reformist socialists attempted to work together. This happened in the Congress of Industrial Organisations, founded in the 1930s by John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers’ union. The CIO had a large rank and file, but needed skilled leaders and organisers, and so drew on those from other socialist organisations. When it was pointed out to him that a large number of them were members of the Communist party, Lewis replied, ‘Who gets the bird? The dog or the hunter?’

Quite.

American Communism’s actually rather interesting, as it saw itself as firmly in the tradition of the American Revolution. And in contrast to the dull, crushing boredom of the Soviet Communist party, it also seems rather fun. The Party had a very strong social side to it, holding youth dances and other social events. It was also very strong on reaching out and defending Black Americans, which explains how Jackie Walker’s parents met. Her mother was a Black civil rights activist, and her father was of Jewish Russian descent. They met at a Communist civil rights event, if I remember properly.

They also revered the American Revolution and were, in their way, as patriotic as other Americans. When the Daughters of the American Revolution forgot their annual commemoration of Paul Revere’s ride, they had a man dress up as an 18th century minuteman and ride down Broadway in New York. They proclaimed ‘The DAR forgets, but the Communist party remembers!’ Another of their slogans was ‘Communism is 20th Century Americanism!’

Bernie Sanders is very far from being a Communist. His views are far more like those of mainstream European social democrats. There isn’t much about nationalisation in his book, Our Revolution, though he does favour worker cooperatives. He also doesn’t want to nationalise American healthcare. He just wants the government to pay people’s medical bills – hardly a radical suggestion from the European perspective. The Germans have had it since Bismarck’s Socialist Laws of 1875. But that, and Bernie’s concern to expand the American welfare state, restore union power and give working people proper employment rights – in effect, to undo forty years of Reaganomic misgovernment – is too much for American capital.

Communism fell in the 1990s. But socialism is alive and reviving. The world as well as America needs Bernie in the White House.

So let’s making Socialism 21st Century Americanism and Britishism!

 

Collection of Science Fiction Stories Tackling Racism

Allen De Graeff, ed., Human And Other Beings (New York: Collier Books 1963).

Science Fiction, it has been observed, is more often about the times in which it was written than about the future. Quite often it’s been the ‘literature of warning’, in which the author has extrapolated what they feel to be an ominous trend in the present to show its possibilities for the future if left unchecked. Thus H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine presented a nightmarish far future in which capitalist elites and the working class had diverged into two separate species. The Eloi – descendants of the elite – were small, dreamy creatures, with no industry of their own. They were the food animals instead of the Morlocks, descendants of the working class, who had been forced into lives of underground toil by the late Victorian and Edwardian class system. Other SF stories have tackled the problems of overpopulation – John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, the catastrophic over-reliance on mechanisation for, well, just about everything – E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, or the horrifying potential of genetic engineering and mass psychological conditioning, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and so on. I borrowed this colllection of SF stories from a friend. It’s interesting because it uses the theme of contact with alien and other non-human intelligences to criticise and denounce the very real, present issue of racism. The book’s blurb begins with the quotation ‘”Everything that diminishes human dignity is evil,”‘, and continues

With this timeless truth as his theme, Editor Allen DeGraeff has collected a group of superbly told science fiction tales that support it with horror or humor. Other planets, other centuries, living beings of shapes and colors other than “human” are the imaginative ingredients. Shock, surprise, and sympathy are the emotions they act upon.

  • Would you join the Anti-Martian League? Or, like Sam Rosen, would you fight it?
  • Would the gentle Adaptoman – four arms, two brains, three eyes-arouse your hostility if he worked in your office?
  • Could you live as a Professional in a world of Categoried Classes if there were also people known as Wipers, Greasers, and Figgers?
  • Would you marry an Android, a person physically just like you, but artificially “Made in the U.S.A.”?
  • Would you mock or make a friend of Narli, the charming fur-bearing exchange professor from Mars?
  • Could you serve with a soldier Surrogate, a human being reclaimed from the dead with biological techniques of the future?

In settings ranging from the Second Battle of Saturn to Earth 2003 and shining blue-green globe Shaksembender, these authors portray the ideas of human dignity.

The authors, whose work is collected in the volume include some of SF great masters – Ray Bradbury, William Tenn, Leigh Brackett, Frederick Pohl, both alone and with his frequent collaborator, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley and Eric Frank Russell.

The stories were written at a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining power, although still bitterly opposed by a viciously racist, conservative state apparatus and politicians. A number of other SF writers were also using the genre to denounce racism. Sometimes that was through metaphor, such as in Cordwainer Smith’s ‘The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’. This tale’s titular heroine is a young woman genetically engineered from cats. She is a member of an oppressed servile class of similarly genetically engineered animals. These creatures are denied all rights by their human masters, and humanely killed by euthanasia is they are unable to perform their functions. Through telepathic contact with another such creature, a dove of immense intelligence and wisdom, C’Mell is able to persuade a human board of inquiry to grant her people human rights. Other SF writers tackled racism directly, such as Harry Harrison in his 1963 story, ‘Mute Milton’. This was his angry reaction to a comment by a redneck southern sheriff’s response to the news that Martin Luther King was highly respected in Sweden and Scandinavia, and had been awarded the Nobel prize. The sheriff responded that King might be popular in Norway, but back in his town he would be ‘just one more n***er’. Harrison’s story is about a Black American college professor, who comes to a southern town on his way to another university to present his invention: a radio that runs on gravity. A stranger to the racial repression of the Deep South, he falls into conversation in a bar with a wanted civil rights activist while waiting for his bus out of town. The Black activist tells him what it’s really like to be Black in the South. The sheriff and his goons burst into the bar looking for the activist. He escapes out the back. The sheriff and his men shoot, but miss him and shoot the professor instead. When one of the goons tells the sheriff that they’ve killed an innocent man, he just shrugs it off as ‘another n***er’.

Racism has since gone on to be a major topic of much SF. It’s been explored, for example, in Star Trek, both recently and in the original 60’s series. It also inspired Brian Aldiss 1970s short story, ‘Working in the Spaceship Yards’, published in Punch. This was about a man with a Black friend having to come to terms with his own feelings about androids as they started working alongside them in the spaceship yards of the title, and going out with human women. It’s a satire on the racial politics of the day, when many White Brits were, as now, concerned about Black and Asian immigrants taking their jobs. And specifically anti-Black racism was tackled in an episode of Dr. Who written by award-winning Black children’s writer, Mallory Blackman. In this tale the Doctor and her friends travel back to the American Deep South to make sure Rosa Parks makes her epochal bus journey against the machinations of White racist from the future determined to stop Blacks ever gaining their freedom.

Not everyone is satisfied with the metaphorical treatment of racism pursued by some SF. I can remember arguing with a friend at college about Star Trek, and how the series explored racial tension and prejudice through Mr Spock. Despite being half-human, Spock was still an outsider, distrusted by many of his human crewmates. My friend believed instead that the series should have been more explicit and specifically explored anti-Black racism. More recently there has been the rise of Black SF writers, who use their work to address issues of race and the Black experience. An anthology of their work was published back in the 1990s as Dark Matters, a pun on the dark matter of astronomy, that is supposed to give the universe its missing mass.

Even if not explicit, the metaphorical approach allows writers to say what otherwise may not be said, as in the former Soviet Union. There, writers such as the Strugatsky brothers used the ‘Aesopian’ mode – SF as fable – to attack conditions in the Communist state, which would have been subject to censorship and severe punishment if said openly. Over in the capitalist world, the political situation was much freer, but there were still limits to what could be portrayed. Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Lt. Uhuru in the episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, but the network faced deep opposition from broadcasters in the Deep South. An indirect treatment also allows people to think about or accept ideas, which they would have rejected through a more straightforward treatment of the subject. Some readers may have been more receptive to anti-racist ideas if presented in the form of aliens than through an explicit treatment of colour prejudice against Blacks and other races.

This anthology, then, promises to be very interesting reading both through the tales themselves, and what they have to say about the times in which they were written. Times in which Science Fiction was joining the other voices denouncing racism and demanding equality and freedom for all, human and non-human. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Rocket Engine Street Art in Cheltenham

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 9:21pm in

One of the shops in Cheltenham has a very unusual piece of street art decorating its door. It’s of the rocket motor designed to power the Russian N1 spaceship to the Moon. The N1 was the Russian counterpart of the massive American Saturn V, and was similarly intended for a manned mission. Unlike the Americans, the Russian rocket would have a small crew of two, only one of whom would make the descent to the lunar surface in a module very much like the American. Unfortunately the project was a complete failure. Korolyov, the Soviet rocket designer, had died by the time it was being designed, and the head of the design bureau was his second-in-command, Mishin. Mishin was an excellent lieutenant, but this project was far beyond him. The N1 space vehicles kept exploding on the launch pad. These were powerful spacecraft, and the explosions destroyed everything within a radius of five miles. After three such explosions, one of which, I think, killed Mishin himself, the project was cancelled. The Russians never did send a man to the Moon, and instead had to satisfy themselves with the Lunakhod lunar rover.

I’d been meaning to take a photograph of the painting for sometime and finally got around to it yesterday. The full painting isn’t visible during the day, as much of it is on the cover that gets put over the door at night. This is the part of the painting shown in the top photograph. During the day only the bottom part of the engine, painted on the door itself, is visible.

The shop-owner himself was really helpful. He saw me crouching trying to photograph the bottom part of the engine, and asked if I knew what it was. When I told him it was a rocket motor, he proudly replied that it was TsK-33 for the N-1, and asked if I wanted to photograph the whole thing. I did, so he got down the door cover. Talking to him about the painting both then, and later on with a friend, who also has an interest in space, he told us a bit more about the rocket engine and his painting of it. Although the N-1 was scrapped, the Russians still retained the rocket engines. Someone from the American Pratt and Whitney rocket engine manufacturers met one of the engineers, designers or managers on the N-1 motors, who showed him 33 of the engines, which had been mothballed after the project’s cancellation. The Pratt and Whitney guy was impressed, as it turns out that these Russian motors are still the most efficient rocket engines yet created. He made a deal with the Russians to take them back to America, where they are now used on the Atlas rockets launching American military satellites. Or that’s the story.

My friend asked if the shopkeeper had painted it himself. He hadn’t. It had been done by a street artist. The shopkeeper had seen him coming along painting, and asked him if he would do an unusual request. And so the artist came to paint the Russian rocket engine.

There’s much great street art in Cheltenham, though as it’s an ephemeral genre you have to catch it while it’s there. Just before Christmas there was a great mural of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour logo in one of the town’s underpasses. I wanted to photograph that too. But when I tried yesterday, it had gone, replaced with another mural simply wishing everyone a happy Christmas.

But I hope the rocket engine, as it was done specifically for the shop, will be up for some time to come.

It also seems to me to bear out the impression I’ve had for a long time, that the real innovative art is being done outside of the official artistic establishment. The painting would have delighted the Futurists, who were into the aesthetics of the new machine age. And also the French avant-garde artist, Marcel Duchamps. Duchamps anticipated the Futurists concern with the depiction of movement in his painting, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’. He also painted a picture of ‘The Star Dancer’, which isn’t of a human figure, but a ship’s engine, which also anticipates the Futurists’ machine aesthetic. Unfortunately, what he is best known for is nailing that urinal to a canvas and calling it ‘The Advance of the Broken Arm’ as a protest against the artistic establishment. This went on to inspire Dada, and other anti-art movements. It’s now in Tate Modern, although it no longer has the same urinal. As a work of art, I really don’t rate it at all. Neither do most people. But for some reason, the artistic establishment love it and still seem to think it’s a great joke.

The real artistic innovations and explorations are being done outside the academy, by artists exploring the new world opened up by science and the literature of Science Fiction. And it’s to that world that this mural belongs. 

 

 

 

 

Trotsky on the Failure of Capitalism

I found this quote from Trotsky on how capitalism has now outlived its usefulness as a beneficial economic system in Isaac Deutscher and George Novack, The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology (New York: Dell 1964):

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfill its essential function, the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. (p. 363).

I’m not a fan of Trotsky. Despite the protestations to the contrary from the movement he founded, I think he was during his time as one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution and civil war ruthless and authoritarian. The Soviet Union under his leadership may not have been as massively murderous as Stalin’s regime, but it seems to me that it would still have been responsible for mass deaths and imprisonment on a huge scale.

He was also very wrong in his expectation of the collapse of capitalism and the outbreak of revolution in the Developed World. As an orthodox Marxist, he wanted to export the Communist revolution to the rest of Europe, and believed that it would be in the most developed countries of the capitalist West, England, France, and Germany, that revolution would also break out. He also confidently expected throughout his career the imminent collapse of capitalism. This didn’t happen, partly because of the reforms and welfare states established by reformist socialist parties like Labour in Britain and the SPD in Germany, which improved workers’ lives and opportunities, which thus allowed them to stimulate the capitalist economy as consumers and gave them a stake in preserving the system.

It also seems to me that capitalism is still actively creating wealth – the rich are still becoming massively richer – and it is benefiting those countries in the Developing World, which have adopted it, like China and the east Asian ‘tiger’ economies like South Korea.

But in the west neoliberalism, unregulated capitalism, certainly has failed. It hasn’t brought public services, like electricity, railways, and water supply the investment they need, and has been repeatedly shown to be far more inefficient in the provision of healthcare. And it is pushing more and more people into grinding poverty, so denying them the ability to play a role as active citizens about to make wide choices about the jobs they can take, what leisure activities they can choose, and the goods they can buy. At the moment the Tories are able to hide its colossal failure by hiding the mounting evidence and having their hacks in the press pump out favourable propaganda. But if the situation carries on as it is, sooner or later the mass poverty they’ve created will not be so easily hidden or blithely explained away or blamed on others – immigrants, the poor themselves, or the EU. You don’t have to be a Trotskyite to believe the following:

Unfettered capitalism is destroying Britain – get rid of it, and the Tories.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the Economic, Academic and Social Costs of Brexit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/01/2020 - 9:17pm in

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown issued another stinging attack on Brexit in the I yesterday. She sharply criticised the Brexiteers triumphalism, that made them demand the mass celebration of Britain’s departure from the EU with a ‘festival of Brexit’, churches ringing their bells up and down the country, street parties and ‘a big, fat, jingoistic party in Parliament Square on January 31st’. She compared the proposed celebrations with the forced, state-mandated festivities of North Korea, and quoted the Roman satirist Juvenal on how the rich distracted the plebs with bread and circuses while taking away their liberties. She also bitterly complained about the way Remainers were now seen as somehow treacherous for their rejection of this wave of jingoism despite the closeness of the vote in the referendum. But she also made very good points about the immense cost Brexit had already inflicted on our economy, education, and society. She wrote

According to a detailed report by ratings agency S&P, Brexit has already cost the economy £66bn. It calculates that the amount is more than we paid into the European Union for 47 years. The economy is stagnant. The Union  of the four nations may not hold. Migrants and black, Asian and minority ethnic Britons are experiencing more hostility. Complaints are met with increased hostility or disbelief. Universities are panicking about the potential loss of EU grants and the Erasmus+ scheme – a travel bursary for young people which enriched their lives.

Musicians and artists are losing essential EU connections. Care homes cannot get workers because EU citizens are leaving. Too many feel unwelcome or are discouraged by new, costly and unfair immigration rules. NHS workers from elsewhere are becoming disillusioned.

She then describes how an Asian friend, Priti, told her about the increasing racism she was experiencing.

My friend Priti, a nurse who came over from India five years ago, says: “This is not the country I came into. Not the place my parents loved when they studied here. It has become so impolite. Even when I am changing a bandage or putting drops in their eyes, some patients shout at me to go bac. My colleagues are great but I am going – I have a job in Dubai. They need us but don’t behave well.”

We need these foreign nurses and doctors, who do an excellent job caring for our sick. It’s disgusting that they should be treated with such contempt and abuse.

Brexit is wrecking our economy, placing the Union under potentially devastating stress, and impoverishing our education system, our arts and culture, and denying needed expertise and labour to the NHS. But somehow we are meant to celebrate all this as a victory for Britain.

Alibhai-Brown herself says that Remainers should follow Will Hutton’s advice, and light candles on 31st January before going back to Brexit. She says that we must, for the sake of the younger generation and the future of this once-formidable nation.

I don’t think we can reasonable go on opposing Brexit forever without isolating ourselves politically. But I think we should be trying to get the best possible deal with the EU and trying to forge lasting, beneficial links with it.

While pointing out that so far, it is a massive, astronomically expensive failure.

Austerity and Prison Violence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/01/2020 - 11:37pm in

A week or so ago Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on the death of a disabled man in prison. From what I remember, like many such instances the man’s own special needs had been ignored and he was actually in prison for a minor offence. At least, one that should not merit his murder. Mike connected this to the Tories’ ongoing campaign of mass murder against the disabled.

In fact, violence, including self-harm, has risen massive in British jails since the Tories launched their wretched austerity. Joe Sim has authored an entire chapter on it in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. Sim has his own particular view of the crisis. He considers that prison violence hasn’t itself been created by austerity. It’s always been there, and is part of society’s brutal maltreatment of the poor and marginalised. But it has been massively intensified by the Tories’ cuts.

The stats are horrifying. Between 2011 and 2016, sexual assaults almost doubled. In 2014-15 there were over 400 serious incidents requiring the intervention of the specialist National Tactical Response Group, In 2015 an average of 160 fires were started each month. Self-harm rose by 40 per cent in two years, so that in 2015, 32,313 incidents were recorded.

321 died in the year to June 2016, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. 105 of these were self-inflicted, a rise of 28 per cent. Deaths by natural causes rose by 26 per cent to 186. Between January 2010 and December 2016, 1637 prisoners died, 542 of which were self-inflicted.

In 2015-15 there were nearly 5000 assaults and acts of violence against the different groups of people working in prisons. These included 423 on prison officers below the rank of principal officer, 828 on nursing auxiliaries and assistants, 640 on nurses, 535 on care workers, and 423 on welfare and housing associate professionals.

Sim states that to many commentators, including the media, Prison Officers’ Association and mainstream politicians, the cause of this increased violence are the cuts to the prison budget. These amounted to £900 million between 2011 and 2015, or 24 per cent of its overall budget. The Prison Reform Trust said that it was

[n]o mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff.

I’m not disputing that very many of those incarcerated are guilty of the most heinous offences, and fully deserve their incarceration and punishment. But it is very clear that austerity has resulted in a massive deterioration in conditions which fueling violence in prisons against staff and prisoners. There’s obviously a long and complicated debate about the purposes of prison – to punish, reform, or even both – but it is clear that neither staff nor prisoners deserve the maltreatment and violence the cuts have generated.

This isn’t reformative. It isn’t proper punishment. It is carnage.

But the Tories just love killing and death when it’s directed against the poor and powerless.

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