The Fall of the Berlin Wall and “The End of History”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 12:10am in

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Today (‎9/11/19) marks the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (which did not quite make its own thirtieth anniversary). It will be accompanied by the usual capitalist paeans to the wonders of democracy and the capitalist way of doing things. The following article from Communist Review 8 (later Internationalist Communist) appeared in January 1990 but has never been reproduced digitally before. It was our deeper reflection not only on the collapse of the USSR’s empire in the East but the burgeoning crisis of world capitalism as a whole

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On Karl and/or Michael Polanyi on the Rise of Fascism.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/11/2019 - 1:13am in



Totalitarianism, hostile to all dynamic systems, attacks their standards and ideals. In the totalitarian view those who pursue ideals are neglecting their duty to society, for the sake of unsubstantial values of purely formal significance. The...[denial of] the justification of pure science, is a case in point. We will come back to it later in detail.

Another aspect of the same conflict arises from the democratic nature of the dynamic systems. Their growth takes place through the life and action of the community of specialists in charge. It is a democratic life conducted publicly, under the voluntarily accepted laws of this circle. We have seen how every new addition to the social heritage is suggested in public, discussed and codified, or rejected in public under the guidance of the "influentials" acting as elected officers. At the same time the specialist circles keep up popular contacts all around them. They appeal to a wider range of lay connoisseurs or specially interested members of the general public, and through these they recommend themselves to the common man throughout the entire community. Thus they establish the standing of their particular pursuits in the life of society as a whole. The inner circle of creative men becomes entrusted by the whole of society with the cultivation of certain ideals, in which the rest of the people take part at various stages of interest. We have here a system of indirect representation, at each stage of which people less experienced and interested in a particular field confide in others, more intimately concerned with it.

The expansion of modern public life during the 19th century, which has continued rapidly during the past two decades through the advent of the wireless and film, had made this informal mode of self- government, by direct response of the public to the activities of various specialised strata, a most important element of democracy. It has recently become a factor in politics, where it seems to be side-tracking to some extent the electoral machine. In the United States in particular, the division between the Legislative and the Executive has invited the development of this type of direct public influence-- exercised through the press and the results of private polls which sway in major issues the views. of the professional politicians-the electoral machinery retaining of course its function as the ultimate sanction of public opinion.

The existence of this modern form of democracy, upheld by the circles of dynamic systems and the general public connected with them, makes it necessary for modern dictators to become totalitarian. No absolute ruler can be satisfied to-day with dominion life alone. That realm in itself is shadowy and for example by the regime of South American can become real to-day only by eradicating the cultural life with all its widespread popular roots. prestige of the guardians of intellectual and moral their autonomous circles are dispersed, and the wider thereby to a helpless mass, can the dictator address without fear of control or criticism.'--Michal Polanyi (1941) "The Growth of Thought in Society, Economica, 442-3

Last week, I noted that in the Great Transformation (1944), Karl Polanyi argues that markets are inherently fragile and proper functioning markets are very disruptive of traditional forms of life and destroy previously existing organic culture. This generates reactions that have the (possibly conflicting) aims to shore up and protect the market and protect society to slow down the rate of social change. In some some cases these reactions work in the same direction and thereby strengthening forces that threaten to overwhelm liberal society. Thus, "Fascism, like socialism, was rooted in a market society that refused to function."  Because nineteenth century liberal society was global, for Polanyi the fascist reaction to the implosion of market society is a world-wide phenomenon. Given the clear rise of fascist tendencies around the world, Polanyi's thought has returned to salience.*

One arresting feature of  Karl Polanyi's account is his treatment of the capitulation of democratic forces against rather weak fascist action. And while he sometimes -- in a minor key -- suggests this was due to a kind of cynical miscalculation (from craven self-interest) by conservative business-friendly interests, his account implies -- in the major key -- the shocking result is due to a lack of faith among democratic elites. Why this is so, he does not quite explain.+ So, while Polanyi is strong on describing the triggering conditions when liberal societies are vulnerable to implosion, he does not explain the mechanism. Somewhat surprisingly, the thought of another Polanyi can be helpful here.  

Karl Polanyi's younger brother, Michael, had more liberal political tendencies than Karl. Unlike Karl -- who has a narrow identification of liberalism with free markets in people and land, and a fixed exchange rates (i.e., the gold standard) --, Michael Polanyi emphasizes the rise of specialized, partially self-governing intermediary societies (within science, art, law, the crafts, engineering, medicine, etc.) as constitutive of liberal society. In these intermediary societies, professionals get to exercise independent judgment that, regardless the diversity of underlying private motives, indirectly serve the common good (over time). These self-governing intermediary societies have a complex inward-looking dynamic and a complex outward-looking dynamic partially mediated by what Polanyi calls "influentials." (In my own work (recall) I call these "aggregators".)

The evolving views that are characteristic of development of these intermediary societies are fundamentally influenced by discussion about evidence and ideals.) And, while Michael Polanyi, does not use the phrase, it's clear he thinks these intermediary societies are democratic in virtue of the fact that they instantiate the ideal of 'government by discussion' not force, among (relative) equals. As it happens, one of the more important intermediary societies is political in character at the interface of professional politicians and opinion makers and the expert-influentials that advise them. (Here Polanyi seems to echo (recall) Lippmann, who he does not quote.)

Michael Polanyi thinks that the attack, characteristic of fascist thought, on elites is really an attack on the significance of these 'influentials' and the independent power(s), including prestige, these represents. (He thinks this, partially, reflects the legacy of aristocratic disdain of science.) I find this helpful in understanding why anti-liberal political movements ranging from populists to fascists and marxists, never let up in attacking many of the intermediary societies, but especially law and the academy, as long as they are independent. The whole point is to make these intermediaries feel isolated so that when the inevitable power grab comes, the ruling strata of these intermediaries lack the faith and confidence to stand for their independence. It's an insight that today's fascists have grasped.

*But (recall) Melinda Cooper's excellent account of the limitations of Polanyi's analysis.

+Culture and socialization are important recurring features of Polanyi's larger analysisin The Great Transformation.

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.

Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.

One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.

Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.

The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.

Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.

In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.

In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.

He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.


The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.

As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.

Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.

Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.

He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.


The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.

Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.

But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.

The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.

Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.

The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.

But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.

Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.

The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.

Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.

The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.

From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.

The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.

Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.

Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.

He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.

The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.

The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.

Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).

The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.

It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.

While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.

The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Three New Reads – October

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/10/2019 - 2:00am in

Aptly enough – one hundred and two years to the month since those ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’ – all three (four if you’re on the ball) of my read recommends today are about Russia. I chose them not because it’s October though. I chose them because one way or another Russia – ask Tulsi Gabbard – is very much in the news.

Forty Years Since the Death of Onorato Damen

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/10/2019 - 11:46pm in


Italy, Marxism

image/jpeg icondamen40.jpg

The document which follows comes from a speech at a public meeting held by the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) on 16 October 1979, two days after the death of Onorato Damen. Neither we nor our Italian comrades have ever made a fetish of Damen, despite his stature as a revolutionary, and the enormous contribution he made to the foundation of what today is our Internationalist Communist Tendency. However, we could not let the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of his death go unmarked.

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On Perry Anderson; writing on the Politics of Austerity, discursive power, Greece and the EURO

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/10/2019 - 12:35am in

It was no accident that the first tremors of the earthquake to come originated not in the us but in the eu, with the crisis of bnp Paribas and collapse of Northern Rock in August–September 2007. Entanglement with America to the west; predation in Europe itself to the east, where Tooze shows the extent of the financial appropriation of local assets in the former Communist countries by Dutch, Austrian and Scandinavian capital. Nor, of course, has he anything but scorn for the role of the ecb and the turn to austerity once the crisis broke.
There, in one of the many gripping set-pieces of the book, Tooze delivers a damning verdict on the treatment of Greece by the Commission, the ecb and the imf, and subsequently the European Council, which presided over its fate from 2010 onwards. The crushing of Syriza’s attempt to negotiate less draconian terms for its society and economy is not only vividly portrayed, but set in the wider context of the thwarting of governments of the left in these years by the external imposition of ‘political and financial discipline’ on them. No one could doubt on which side Tooze’s sympathies lie in this exercise of brute power. But just where did this discipline come from, and how far did it extend? At this crux, his account takes leave of absence. At its centre lies the nature of the European Union, and the position of Germany within it. Evasive on the first and inconsistent on the second, Crashed offers no coherent account of the relationship between them, for it is too protective of each.
Decisive in this regard is the book’s abstraction of the decisions taken by policy-makers from the structures in which they were working. What was the matrix of the monetary union created at Maastricht?--Perry Anderson (2019) "Situationism a la Envers," in New Left Review (119), p. 80.

Prompted, apparently, by a review (by Cedric Durand) of Tooze's Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, Perry Anderson's widely circulated essay, which ranges widely over Tooze's oeuvre and twentieth century politics, is a stinging rebuke of the "complacency" and brutality of "left liberalism" (a term also used by Tooze to describe himself) or "centrist liberalism" (a term used by Anderson (85)). My interest here is not in defending left liberalism; much of Anderson's (and Tooze's) criticism of it is spot on.

Rather, my interest is in the claim that "governments of the left" within the EU have been thwarted by "external imposition of 'political and financial discipline' on them" by the EU. This claim fits two larger trends of broadly left-wing intellectual British writing about the EU, which has two functions: (i) to combat the politics of austerity in the UK; (ii) to undermine the legitimacy (and its anti-democratic technocracy) of the EU. (Since the Brexit vote not all left-sympathetic intellectuals embrace (ii), of course.) For all their merits, such writings tend to present intra EU debates in ways that fail to do justice to the political agency of the participants in them. 

First, it is undeniable that the EU creates obstacles to certain forms of "governments of the left," especially those that are in the Eurozone. The most important of these are rules against government control of the economy and attempts to pursue industrial policy that end up favoring local producers. That is to say, left-wing governments that would pursue nationalist agendas are indeed severely handicapped by the EU. But redistributionist left-wing governments are, if they are willing and capable of taxing the local rich, not so-handicapped. Yes, the rich have ways of hiding some of their money, but it's not EU rules that prevent member states from finding and taxing it; rather there is a lack of political will. And the lack of political will is a function of the lack of local political power. The absence of political power makes the reliance on debt so tantalizing. But debt-financing is not itself characteristic of governments of the left. (As the next paragraph illustrates.)

Second, it is undeniable that the EU has thwarted the democratic will of some of the citizens of its member states during the crisis. But this is not directed at governments of the left. This becomes transparent if we reflect on the following passage (partially quoting Tooze): "when Papandreou and Berlusconi were ousted as premiers of Greece and Italy in 2011, senior officials in Berlin could be heard boasting: ‘We do regime change better than the Americans’; and to admit that the Fiscal Compact of 2013 was a straightforward imposition of the German ‘debt brake’ on the rest of the Eurozone." (81) Whatever else one may wish to say about Berlusconi, his is in no sense a government of the left.

As an aside, it is notable that Portugal goes unmentioned. In 2015 an anti-austerity would-be-left-wing government was thwarted (briefly). But it was not the EU who did so, but the country's president. Eventually constitutional processes prevailed, and Portugal has had a left-wing government since.

Third, and let me now turn to the heart of the matter: Greece. It is worth mentioning that Syriza was never crushed. After it became the main opposition party, in May 2012, it became the governing party in 2015. It called a snap-election after its defeat in EU elections, and was defeated (in Summer of 2019). But it is now the regular opposition. And if Greek politics has stabilized (that is by no means certain) it can expect to govern again.

It is, of course, true that Syriza failed to undo much of the austerity that was imposed on Greece by the Troika prior to its ascension to power. I have  been quite critical of the EU's policies toward Greece in the midst of the crisis (see for example here in Dutch). These policies were manifestly designed to protect well connected (German, Dutch, and French) bankers and not Greek citizens. But English language critics of Greek austerity tend to ignore four pertinent facts: (1) the annual budget deficit of Greece was, when the crisis started, around 15% of GDP. It remained above 10% for the next few years. While one can argue about the size and speed of budget cuts and the distributional effects of these, austerity in Greece has very different character from the voluntary austerity pursued by, say, Tory/Lib Dem and Tory governments in the UK. Austerity in Greece was real, but claims about it also tend to be exaggerated. Its "size relative to GDP of [was] 4.0% in 2010, 3.1% in 2011, 2.8% in 2012 and 0.8% in 2013."+ In particular, in contrast to the UK, the Greek state lacks the capacity to raise income; this was, in fact, exhibited in the boom period prior to the crisis

In addition (2), there was widespread distrust of the Greek ruling elites in the rest of Europe thanks to the decades long fraud by successive Greek governments, statisticians, etc. It is pretty clear that non-Greek banks and officials were (sometimes actively) complicit (and profited) from this. While I think more should have been done to hold those responsible (inside and outside Greece) accountable, and to show more public good-will toward Syriza, politically (1) and (2) made it impossible for any EU politician to advocate for massive transfers from Northern taxpayers to Greek citizens. If Anderson  (recall also this post) cared to advance a reform of the EU, he would argue that some such structural transfers are necessary inside the Eurozone. Of course, he is not interested in doing so.**

Also, (3) a majority of Greek citizens apparently prefer staying inside the Euro.* And when given the option to leave the Euro on favorable terms and staying in, they seem to wish to stay in even if it means austerity. This is by no means irrational because inside the Euro, the purchasing power of Greek citizens is better preserved (at the cost of high unemployment and low growth). Even accounts (correctly) highly critical of German and Dutch politicians, acknowledge that the German government was willing to spend serious money to facilitate a Greek exit from the Euro.

One never hears the intelligentsia critics of austerity talk about (1-3). This is remarkable because such intellectuals use their discursive power to deny Greek political agency (within the constraints that they face). This is also evident in Cedric Durand's review of Tooze: 

Tooze rightly stresses, from the very start it was never a question of economic necessity. The ecb could have bought Greek bonds in 2010 and stabilized the crisis very rapidly, but chose not to because it ‘meant to send a message: austerity or else!’ By using Greece as their exemplum, he argues, ‘right-wing fearmongers, conservative political entrepreneurs and centrist fiscal hawks shifted the political balance’ in the Eurozone. This was the moment when a crisis with its origins in the private financial sector was rebranded as a problem of fiscal and welfare profligacy.

Even if one were to grant that the financial crisis as a whole has its origins (not at least partially in misguided government regulations and policies but) wholly in the private financial sector (and ignore the enormous investment of subprime loans by European, regional state owned banks, etc.), this is manifestly not the case of the Greek crisis (which has a relatively small financial sector).++ In addition, and again this is often ignored by the English speaking intelligentsia writing for each other, the Euro crisis is really caused by the mercantile policies of Germany and the Netherlands.

That is to say, Anderson is right to claim (in his criticism of Tooze) that "The single currency is the ark of a covenant that is not to be questioned." (83) I think there is no doubt that at the height of (the ongoing!) crisis, no government leader wanted to be responsible for the break-up of the Euro on their watch. But the reason for this is pretty clear: (4) there is no evidence to think that ordinary citizens in even the countries that suffer most during the financial crisis wanted to leave the Euro.*** (This, of course, does not play well to British audiences, and is discomfiting to Lexiters, and so one never hears about it.) But if one wants to understand "decisions taken by policy-makers from the structures in which they were working." this is non-trivial omission.  



+There was significant suffering in Greece, due to collapse of growth and rise of unemployment. Because salaries and currency are not flexible, and the effects of structural re-organization are slow, this became inevitable. Much more should have been done to put income in the hands of ordinary Greek citizens.

*Once this became clear, Greek bargaining power inside the EU has been negligible. 

**There is no political path to such transfers at the moment. But by focusing on austerity or not, the intra-Eurozone debate is mis-represented. The real question is, are German (and Dutch) taxpayers willing to finance a European wide safe-net. Phrased like that it is no surprise the former are unwilling to do so. But one can imagine one being developed out of a European Green Deal in the future. 

++One may well think that Durand has a point that the ECB could have directly bailed out the Greek government. As Anderson notes, eventually ECB did start buying Greek bonds. But he fails to realize (recall) that during the financial crisis, the ECB was de facto allowing the Greek central bank to print money. Both prevented collapse of the system, but neither helped ordinary citizens much. 

***I played around a bit on the Eurobarometer website. And I am confident of this claim, but I welcome learning of more finegrained studies per country, etc.

Utopia, Marx, Colonialism, and the Lockean Proviso

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 14/10/2019 - 9:18pm in

“As their cities are composed of families, so their families are made up of those that are nearly related to one another.  Their women, when they grow up, are married out, but all the males, both children and grand-children, live still in the same house, in great obedience to their common parent, unless age has weakened his understanding, and in that case he that is next to him in age comes in his room; but lest any city should become either too great, or by any accident be dispeopled, provision is made that none of their cities may contain above six thousand families, besides those of the country around it.  No family may have less than ten and more than sixteen persons in it, but there can be no determined number for the children under age; this rule is easily observed by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them. By the same rule they supply cities that do not increase so fast from others that breed faster; and if there is any increase over the whole island, then they draw out a number of their citizens out of the several towns and send them over to the neighbouring continent, where, if they find that the inhabitants have more soil than they can well cultivate, they fix a colony, taking the inhabitants into their society if they are willing to live with them; and where they do that of their own accord, they quickly enter into their method of life and conform to their rules, and this proves a happiness to both nations; for, according to their constitution, such care is taken of the soil that it becomes fruitful enough for both, though it might be otherwise too narrow and barren for any one of them. But if the natives refuse to conform themselves to their laws they drive them out of those bounds which they mark out for themselves, and use force if they resist, for they account it a very just cause of war for a nation to hinder others from possessing a part of that soil of which they make no use, but which is suffered to lie idle and uncultivated, since every man has, by the law of nature, a right to such a waste portion of the earth as is necessary for his subsistence.  If an accident has so lessened the number of the inhabitants of any of their towns that it cannot be made up from the other towns of the island without diminishing them too much (which is said to have fallen out but twice since they were first a people, when great numbers were carried off by the plague), the loss is then supplied by recalling as many as are wanted from their colonies, for they will abandon these rather than suffer the towns in the island to sink too low.--Thomas More Utopia. Book II

In a famous footnote, which inspired many generations of Marxist historians, in chapter 28 of Capital, Book 1, Marx calls attention to, and quotes, the description of the deleterious effects of the violent enclosures on farming communities in Book 1 of Utopia. Marx attributes the quote to Thomas More and not to the character Raphael Hythloday. This is notable because Thomas More is also a character in Utopia, with a perspective distinct from Hythloday's. This makes Utopia notorious (recall this post) difficult to interpret because one cannot take for granted that any character, including More, speaks for the author. 

To the best of my knowledge Marx never commented on the passage quoted above. In context, it is Hythloday's description of Utopian policy (that he endorses). The first part of the paragraph describes some of the mechanisms the Utopians use to keep population in a fixed equilibrium. (Given that the Utopians have managed to root out famine, and run food surpluses, we can infer there are more mechanisms.) One of the mechanisms mentioned in the passage is the practice -- which resonates with known Greek and Roman history -- to send out colonists in order to control population in the homeland (Utopia).

The Utopian colonists settle in places where the land can support more inhabitants than the existing local population. At that point the colonized either voluntary allow themselves to be subsumed under the Utopians way of life or resist; and then get attacked by the Utopians.

At this point, Hythloday mentions the Utopian justification for colonial war: when "a nation [hinders] others from possessing a part of that soil of which they make no use, but which is suffered to lie idle and uncultivated, since every man has, by the law of nature, a right to such a waste portion of the earth as is necessary for his subsistence."  This argument has been called "the agricultural argument" (by Thomas Flanagan) and it has been treated, as Barbara Arneil implies, as an anticipation of features of the Lockean proviso.

To be sure, the actual law of nature reported Hythloday is better understood as a kind of right of necessity. The idea that under great duress you can take from others some of their property in order to survive. This right of necessity was common ground in the sixteenth century, and we find echoes of it as late as Adam Smith and Sophie de Grouchy, although to the best of my knowledge it was not used to justify colonial war.

It is peculiar that Hythloday does not note that the justification for colonial war is patently being abused. The Utopian colonists are not starving at home. At any given time, the Utopians have two years' food stored. To repeat, they leave Utopia in order to keep the population stable (which is the point of the whole paragraph in context) not to flee famine. 

As an aside, when a few pages later, Hythloday, moves to the subject of war, he presents them as near pacifists: "They detest war as a very brutal thing, and which, to the reproach of human nature, is more practised by men than by any sort of beasts.  They, in opposition to the sentiments of almost all other nations, think that there is nothing more inglorious than that glory that is gained by war." It turns out that there are only three official justifications for war: (i) "either to defend themselves or their friends from any unjust aggressors;" (ii) or to "assist an oppressed nation in shaking off the yoke of tyranny." In addition, and somewhat surprisingly also (iii) "offensive wars" but they never do that "unless they had been consulted before the breach was made, and, being satisfied with the grounds on which they went, they had found that all demands of reparation were rejected, so that a war was unavoidable." Hythloday seems to have forgotten the justification for colonial wars.

To return to the main argument. The Utopian justification for colonial wars is, of course, not just rooted in version of the right of necessity. As we have seen it also relies on the idea that one has no right to keep others from appropriating uncultivated land. When Utopia was published (1517), the Spanish were just starting their colonial projects. (Hythloday is presented as Portuguese who had traveled, in part, with Amerigo Vespucci.) So, the book has an uncanny prophetic quality. It is, then, no surprise that this feature of the Utopian justification for colonial wars are thought to anticipate Locke (recall):

Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough and as good left, and more than the yet unprovided could use. So that, in effect, there was never the less left for others because of his enclosure for himself. For he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left him to quench his thirst. And the case of land and water, where there is enough of both, is perfectly the same.

It is uncanny how much this resembles the Utopian frame of mind. After all, the whole point of Utopian ideology and practice is to improve the land. Of course, the Utopians have no interest in defending individual property rights (Locke); their colonies also embrace communal ownership.+  And while I don't mean to suggest that the Utopians have an explicit formulation of the spoilage condition, they would clearly endorse it.* 

I close with three observations: first, the pre-history of the Lockean proviso explicitly involves a colonial project. Second, the Lockean proviso has roots in very egalitarian tendencies (for the in-group); this suggests that -- pace my colleague Bas Van der Vossen -- the left libertarian interpretation of Locke may well be defensible on broader contextual grounds. 

Third, and finally, there is no contradiction between Hythloday's endorsement of colonial land-grabbing of idle land, and his criticism of enclosure of the commons (which need not be idle, after all). It is uncanny how, when discussing colonialism and Wakefield's political economy, in chapter 33 of Capital, Marx sees the connection: "We have seen that the expropriation of the mass of the people from the soil forms the basis of the capitalist mode of production. The essence of a free colony, on the contrary, consists in this — that the bulk of the soil is still public property."

Of course, Marx goes on to say that the: "secret" of prosperity is that "every settler on it therefore can turn part of it into his private property and individual means of production, without hindering the later settlers in the same operation." But, analytically, as More discerned, this is also true of communist settler colonies. 

+There are a few exceptions to this rule, but that need not concern us here.

*It's true that the Utopians only belatedly have heard of Genesis. So, they lack a biblical justification.

On the Establishment of the Group “Emancipación”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/09/2019 - 8:28pm in


Spain, Marxism

image/jpeg iconFirst_Congress_Emancipation.jpg

We have been asked from several quarters to give our views on the new group, Emancipación. As a context for our reflections we start with a brief summary of our guidelines for debating, orienting and regrouping the world’s revolutionary forces.

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Frances Barber’s Racist, Anti-Semitic Meltdown at Ash Sarkar and Jon Lansman

Frances Barber is a minor ‘sleb, who appears in bit parts here and there. She turned up in Red Dwarf in the ’90s as one of the forms of shape-shifting genetically engineered organism that fed on emotion. Appearing as a glamorous woman, the creature fed on the Cat’s vanity. She also appeared a little while later in an episode of the sitcom My Family, in which she played a woman with depression, who was part of a poetry group which the son joins. She’s part of the coterie around Rachel Riley and Tracy Anne Oberman, who think that Corbyn and the Labour party really are Nazis. Because criticising Israel as an apartheid state and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians means you have to be a fully paid-up anti-Semite ready to get another Holocaust going. And Zelo Street has put up an excellent piece describing and commenting on her meltdown at Ash Sarkar in which she unintentionally displayed how racist she was.

Why the fury? Sarkar had appeared on Question Time, and describes her self as Communist. She then issued a series of tweets declaring that her beloved Labour Party was now the Communist party, attacking Communism as a hateful, despicable regime and sneering that it was ‘good our [Labour] representative – meaning Ash Sarkar – loves it’. There two things at least wrong with that statement, as Zelo Street reminds us. Firstly, just because a regime describes itself as something doesn’t mean it actually is. North Korea describes itself as the ‘democratic people’s republic of North Korea’, but is obviously anything but. And as Sarkar herself reminded Barber, she’s not a member of the Labour party. Barber couldn’t accept this. She asked Sarkar why she was representing Labour. Sarkar replied that she wasn’t, unless she’d been elected an MP and hadn’t noticed. Then Barber had the first of her racist sneers. She responded

“Neither you or Shami Chakrabati [sic] have been elected, but you speak on behalf of Seumus [sic] each time you are on Political programs . We the people hate it. You do not speak for us”.

To which another tweeter, Louise Raw, answered in turn by asking Barber why she was throwing Sarkar in with Shami Chakrabati. Sarkar was a media commentator, Chakrabati the Shadow Attorney General. It couldn’t be because they were both Asian, could it?

Then Barber moved on acting out Godwin’s Law. This states that in an internet debate, sooner or later someone will compare someone else to the Nazis. Barber then commented on the news that there had been a proposal in the Labour party to put a candidate up against Harriet Harman if she chooses to stand as Speaker by declaring that Labour were ‘the Brown Shirts’. And when she found out that Jon Lansman, the head of Momentum had tabled a motion calling for the abolition of the post of Deputy Leader, she again made an accusation of Nazism. ‘As if we didn’t tell you,’ she wrote, Ernst Rohm in action’. As Zelo Street pointed out, she had just called a Jew a Nazi, which is anti-Semitic according to the definition of the term by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association.

Zelo Street concluded

‘Not much use calling anti-Semitism on others if she’s going to indulge in it herself. And that’s on top of the brown people inference. Ms Barber needs to learn one lesson.

Stay away from Twitter late at night. Or don’t bother, and give us all a good laugh.’

Let’s make a few more points here, just to expand on those already made by the Sage of Crewe. When Sarkar describes herself as Communist, she’s undoubtedly talking about the Communist ideal, before it was substantially altered by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. I’ve put up pieces showing that most Marxists before the Bolshevik coup were democrats, after Marx himself. Except that they believed in a genuine democracy in which the workers took power into their own hands. Mainstream Marxist intellectuals like the Austrian Karl Kautsky hated the Bolshevik dictatorship and their persecution of the former upper and middle class. As for Soviet Communism, this described itself as Marxist-Leninism. In other words, Marxism as interpreted and adapted by Lenin. And when I was studying the Russian revolutionary movement at College, we were told that Lenin had altered Marxist doctrine almost as much, or as much, as the Revisionists.

As for the Labour party, the one thing Corbyn and the rest aren’t, is Communists. Corbyn’s programme of empowering the working and lower middle class by reviving the welfare state, taking the railways and other utilities into state ownership, giving back working people rights at work and restoring trade union power, is really simply a return to the post-War social democratic consensus. The consensus that no-one seriously challenged until Thatcher in 1979, with disastrous consequences. It’s nowhere near the complete nationalisation or the bureaucratic state Soviet Marxism demanded.

And let’s make one thing very clear: Corbyn and his supporters are very far from Nazis. 

Historically, it’s been left-wing Socialists, Communists and trade unionists, like Corbyn and his supporters, who’ve actually stood up physically to Nazism and Fascism in this country. If you want further evidence, go over to David Rosenberg’s blog, Rebel Notes. Rosenberg’s Jewish, and a member of the Jewish Socialist Group. He comes from the tradition of the Bund, the eastern European Jewish Socialist party, who fought for Jews to be able to live and work as equals and fellow countrymen with the gentile peoples of the countries in which they lived. They had no desire to go to Israel and displace a people, who had historically treated the Jews better than Christian Europeans. Which means he’s also a strong critic of Israel. Rosenberg has put up many pieces describing how the Communists, the ILP and trade unionists, including the ’47 Group of Jewish combat vets kicked the rear ends of Mosley and his squadristi in the BU up and down London and the provinces, so that gentiles, Jews, Blacks, Asians and working people in general could live in peace and dignity without fearing the jackboot. See, for example, his article ‘When Stockton Fought Back’, about how the good folk of Stockton on Tees fought Mosley when he tried campaigning in their toon.


His most recent article is ‘When I Listen to Boris Johnson and Hear Mosley’, about the similarities between our anti-democratic populist Prime Minister and Mosley when he was leader of the New Party before its transformation into the BUF.

It’s a comparison that has become particularly pertinent, especially as the Torygraph a few days ago decided to give space to Jaak Madison, a member of the Estonian conservative party. The article’s been taken down because Madison stated that he found Fascism had many great points, and Madison himself was a Holocaust denier or minimalist.

Corbyn and his supporters are anti-Fascists. The real stormtroopers are nearly all on the right, whatever idiots and liars like Barber, Riley and the rest think, led by a mendacious media and Zionist Jewish establishment. They are the only people, who really stand between us and real Fascism in this country.

As for Barber herself, she clearly thinks of the Labour Party in terms of New Labour, Blair’s Thatcherite entryist clique. They did some good things, but they stood for Neoliberalism and the destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS. They wanted it to become another Conservative party, and in some ways went beyond the policies of the Tories themselves. They were no friends to working people, both Jewish and gentile. And neither is Riley, Barber and Oberman for supporting them.

The Gloves are Off: Global #ClimateStrike Next Friday.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/09/2019 - 4:39pm in

The Global #ClimateStrike against climate change is set for next Friday.

Personally, I support the strike, intend to attend and I urge readers to join us. Readers can find further information on the strike in the SS4C website.

I think older generations have failed. Capitalism was bound to fail anyway, so its defenders, whether orthodox or heterodox, purists or reformers, were facing a hopeless task to begin with. So their failure to address climate change and its apocalyptic consequences is no surprise.

But we, socialists and workers, also failed. We failed in our attempts to create a better, more rational, sustainable society. And we are running out of time. There may not be another opportunity, thus there’s no time for despondency. That’s a luxury we can’t afford. It’s time to act, as we pray we are not too late.

Without further ado, I’ll leave readers with palaeontologist, mammalogist, and conservationist Tim Flannery’s appeal to action

The gloves are off: 'predatory' climate deniers are a threat to our children
A child jumps from a rock outcrop into a lagoon in the low-lying Pacific island of Tuvalu. AAP/Mick Tsikas Tim Flannery, University of Melbourne

In this age of rapidly melting glaciers, terrifying megafires and ever more puissant hurricanes, of acidifying and rising oceans, it is hard to believe that any further prod to climate action is needed.

But the reality is that we continue to live in a business-as-usual world. Our media is filled with enthusiastic announcements about new fossil fuel projects, or the unveiling of the latest fossil-fuelled supercar, as if there’s no relationship between such things and climate change.

In Australia, the disconnect among our political leaders on the deadly nature of fossil fuels is particularly breathtaking.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor, left, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Both believe the polluting coal industry has a strong future in Australia. Lukas Coch/AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to sing the praises of coal, while members of the government call for subsidies for coal-fired power plants. A few days ago, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor urged that the nation’s old and polluting coal-fired power plants be allowed to run “at full tilt”.

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In the past, many of us have tolerated such pronouncements as the utterings of idiots – in the true, original Greek meaning of the word as one interested only in their own business.

But the climate crisis has now grown so severe that the actions of the denialists have turned predatory: they are now an immediate threat to our children.

A ‘colossal failure’ of climate activismEach year the situation becomes more critical. In 2018, global emissions of greenhouse gases rose by 1.7% while the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere jumped by 3.5 parts per million – the largest ever observed increase.

No climate report or warning, no political agreement nor technological innovation has altered the ever-upward trajectory of the pollution. This simple fact forces me to look back on my 20 years of climate activism as a colossal failure.

Many climate scientists think we are already so far down the path of destruction that it is impossible to stabilise the global temperature at 1.5℃ above the pre-industrial average without yet to be developed drawdown technologies such as those that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. On current trends, within a decade or so, stabilising at 2℃ will likewise be beyond our grasp.

And on the other side of that threshold, nature’s positive feedback loops promise to fling us into a hostile world. By 2100 - just 80 years away – if our trajectory does not change, it is estimated that Earth will be 4℃ warmer than it was before we began burning fossil fuels.

Far fewer humans will survive on our warming planetThat future Earth may have enough resources to support far fewer people than the 7.6 billion it supports today. British scientist James Lovelock has predicted a future human population of just a billion people. Mass deaths are predicted to result from, among other causes, disease outbreaks, air pollution, malnutrition and starvation, heatwaves, and suicide.

My children, and those of many prominent polluters and climate denialists, will probably live to be part of that grim winnowing – a world that the Alan Joneses and Andrew Bolts of the world have laboured so hard to create.

Thousands of school students from across Sydney attend the global climate strike rally at Town Hall in Sydney in March 2019. Mick Tsikas/AAP 
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How should Australia’s parents deal with those who labour so joyously to create a world in which a large portion of humanity will perish? As I have become ever more furious at the polluters and denialists, I have come to understand they are threatening my children’s well-being as much as anyone who might seek to harm a child.

Young people themselves are now mobilising against the danger. Increasingly they’re giving up on words, and resorting to actions. Extinction Rebellion is the Anthropocene’s answer to the UK working class Chartists, the US Declaration of Independence, and the defenders of the Eureka Stockade.

Its declaration states:

This is our darkest hour. Humanity finds itself embroiled in an event unprecedented in its history, one which, unless immediately addressed, will catapult us further into the destruction of all we hold dear […] The wilful complicity displayed by our government has shattered meaningful democracy and cast aside the common interest in favour of short-term gain and private profit […] We hereby declare the bonds of the social contract to be null and void.

 Words have not cut through. Is rebellion the only option?Not yet a year old, Extinction Rebellion has had an enormous impact. In April it shut down six critical locations in London, overwhelmed the police and justice system with 1,000 arrests, and forced the British government to become the first nation ever to declare a climate emergency.

So unstable is our current societal response that a single young woman, Greta Thunberg, has been able to spark a profoundly powerful global movement. Less than a year ago she went on a one-person school strike. Today school strikes for climate action are a global phenomenon.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate change activist from Sweden, participates in a school strike in Washington in September 2019. Shawn Thew/EPA 
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On September 20 in Australia and elsewhere, school principals must decide whether they will allow their students to march in the global climate strike in an effort to save themselves from the climate predators in our midst, or force them to stay and study for a future that will not, on current trends, eventuate.

I will be marching with the strikers in Melbourne, and I believe teachers should join their pupils on that day. After all, us older generation should be painfully aware that our efforts have not been enough to protect our children.

The new and carefully planned rebellion by the young generation forces us earlier generations of climate activists to re-examine our strategy. Should we continue to use words to try to win the debate? Or should we become climate rebels? Changing the language around climate denialism will, I hope, sharpen our focus as we ponder what comes next.The Conversation
Tim Flannery, Professorial fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.