Tuesday, 31 May 2011

My Hotmail account has been hacked

Not for the first time. A series of spam emails have been sent out to just about everyone I have ever contacted from my Hotmail address. Please let me know if this caused you any problems.


Sunday, 29 May 2011

White blackface?

Following my last blog about blackface I had an exchange of messages on Facebook with a reader of this blog, who commented:

“I still don't see how a ‘blackened face’ is any different from blackface - even when looking at it ‘objectively’, outside of our own time and culture. If they really meant it for more theatrical purposes, having nothing to do with race, then why did they always use black? Surely that wasn't the only color they had available.”

My comment back to her was that she was speaking as someone who found it difficult to imagine living in a world where she had never seen a person of African heritage and where something like soot was plentiful. I doubt if not considering those two things was really being ‘objective’.

Whilst acknowledging that the term ‘morris’ in ‘morris dancing’ has been linked to the word ‘Moorish’, I am still going to suggest that we can distance blackened faces in British rituals from theatrical blackface, and I am going to do it by the following analogy.

Here is a picture of Xhosa initiates in South Africa…

… surely if they really mean their white face-paint for ritual purposes having nothing to do with race then why do they always use white? Surely that isn’t the only colour they have available.

In fact we have no evidence to suggest that they are imitating white people any more than the Australian Aborigine below is, or Makua women in Mozabique are.

I hope that readers get the point of this analogy.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Il Ciarlestrone

Adriana Crespi calls it Il Ciarlestrone, Pierfrancesco La Mura calls it Il Ciarlavotto, and Maria Grazia Galatà recites it as Il Giabbodonte. I have no idea why there are so many Italian versions of this piece. Adriana Crespi's is below - see if you can guess what the original is:

          Era brillosto, e gli alacridi tossi
          succhiellavano scabbi nel pantúle:
          Méstili eran tutti i paparossi,
          e strombavan musando i tartarocchi.

          «Attento al Ciarlestrone, figlio mio!
          Fauci che azzannano, fauci che ti artigliano,
          attento all'uccel Giuggio e attento ancora
          Al fumibondo chiappabana!»

          Afferò quello la sua vorpi da lama
          a lungo il manson nemico cercò...
          Cosí sostò presso l'albero Touton
          e riflettendo alquanto dimorò.

          E mentre il bellico pensier si trattenea,
          il Ciarlestrone con occhiali brage
          venne sifflando nella fulgida selva,
          sbollentando nella sua avanzata.

          Un, due! Un, due! E dentro e dentro
          scattò saettante la vorpida lama!
          Ei lo lasciò cadavere, e col capo
          Se ne venne al ritorno galumpando.

          «E hai tu ucciso il Ciarlestrone?
          Fra le mie braccia, o raggioso fanciullo!
          O giorno fragoroso, Callò, Callài!»
          stripetò quello dala gioia.

          Era brillosto, e gli alacridi tossi
          succhiellavano scabbi nel pantúle:
          Méstili eran tutti i paparossi,
          e strombavan musando i tartarocchi.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Quote of the day, 26th May 2011

"A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government."
                    Kenneth Boulding (1910 - 1993)
                    economist, mystic, and poet.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The People's Republic of Stokes Croft

An interesting video clip from The Guardian web site - the area of Bristol which saw mass protests over a proposed supermarket. There is criticism that the activists themselves are people who have moved into the area, but the activism itself is very encouraging because it typifies grass-roots decision-making and mutual aid.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Françoise Hardy

When I was eight or nine years of age I hoped I would grow up to look like Françoise Hardy. I was wrong on so many counts!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bert Williams (1874 - 1922)

The more I write about 'blackface' the more interesting material I come up with. The pictures above and below are of Egbert Austin Williams, known as Bert, an African-American performer (I use the term for want of a better - he was actually born in the Bahamas, not the USA). His most notable achievement was to be the first person of his race to take a lead part on Broadway. What he is best remembered for, however, is his comedy double-act with George Walker, for which he wore blackface!

Bert Williams' most famous song is 'Nobody' - here is a 1913 recording of it. And here is a wonderful version of it by Ry Cooder, supported by the Golden Gate Quartet. Below is a publicity photo of Bert Williams, immaculately dressed but with a casual pose. W C Fields called him "The funniest man I ever saw, and the saddest man I ever knew."

Friday, 20 May 2011

A revolution needs no leaders!

The above anarchist axiom is (of course, wink wink) mine. By it I mean that as soon as 'leaders' emerge a revolution is dead and buried, because it simply becomes a matter of replacing one power structure with another. This has been the case in 17c England, 18c France, 18c America, 20c Russia, and so on and so on. When Lenin declared "All power to the Soviets" - the people's free assemblies - that was the last thing he actually meant!

I have been following a fascinating documentary series on BBC Radio 4 in which Martin Sixsmith (author, journalist, and expert on Russia) has been outlining Russian history. The thrust of the series has been to try to explain why Russia always seems to default to autocracy, and its insights are valuable to anyone who is interested in history. My major quarrel with MS is that his default position is 'liberal democracy', which he sees as normative. This is a cultural view which tends to taint his objectivity. Time and time again in the series he points to moments at which Russia might have taken steps which would have led it to become a 'liberal democracy' along the Western European model; these seem to be - to him - moments when Russia made the wrong choice, or rather did not make the right choice.

To my own mind (and I will be the first to admit that I am biased) the pivotal moments in Russia's history were those at which there may well have been a 'power vacuum' but at which people themselves, independent of ideology and 'leaders', might have taken their own destiny into their own hands. The 1917 Revolution was one such time.

Nevertheless listening to the series, conscious of MS's bias and my own, has been very rewarding. One thing it did was to point me to the entirety of Tarkovsky's brilliant film Andrey Rublyov on YouTube.

It is interesting how the meaning of words can be subtly altered by use or abuse. The hijacking by the Bolsheviks of the political autonomy of the 'Soviets' gave rise to the assumed title of their superstate, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This in turn, in late 20c American Newspeak, gave rise to the use of 'Soviet' to mean 'communist' and in particular 'Russian communist' - phrases such as "Do we want our country to be taken over by the Soviets?" could be heard. Thus a word which meant a free assembly, the absolute building block, at least in potential, of a democracy greater than we currently know and enjoy in the West, was subverted by abuse to equate to a type of tyranny.

Do I want my country to be 'taken over' (ha!) by 'the Soviets'? Damn right I do! I want those free assemblies. I want delegates I can recall. I want a loose, confederation of the lowest possible tiers of participatory democracy. I want basic, gentle administration instead of the dead hand of bureaucracy. I want an end to secrecy, to vested interest, to the theft of labour.  I am sick of the remoteness of 'representative' democracy, sick of the political class, sick of government's powerlessness in the face of capitalism. I want democracy!

Jings... sorry, I didn't mean today's entry to be such a rant...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Marie's Jukebox, 5

More random-play madness...

  1. The Hexmen – Ridin’ the L&N
  2. Kinnie Starr – Sun Again
  3. Blind Boys of Alabama – Higher Ground
  4. Desmond Dekker – 007
  5. Jean-Yves Thibaudet – S Rachmaninov, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
  6. Jimi Hendrix – Fire
  7. Loreena McKennitt – The Dark Night of the Soul
  8. Ella Fitzgerald – Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
  9. Kraftwerk – Autobahn (dance mix)
  10. Green Day – Boulevard of Broken Dreams
  11. Roy Richards – Contact
  12. London Symphony Orchestra, c. Gennadi Rozhdestvensky – P I Tchaikovsky, Marche Slave
  13. Gigliola Cinquetti – Non Ho L’Eta
  14. Otis Redding – My Girl
  15. Yamo – Tra Testa E Mano
  16. Cyndi Lauper – True Colours
  17. Nat King Cole & George Shearing – September Song
  18. Michael Flanders & Donald Swann – Bed
  19. Jake Thakray – The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle
  20. Elle Patrice – Rising

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Selected on-line rants

Over the past few months I have been reading political discussion threads here and there, and noting down any interesting points of view. I’m aware of course that events have a nasty way of overtaking commentary. Several important things have occurred since I recorded the views below, so I thought I would put them in this showcase before the names and incidents became as remote as Sir Anthony Eden and the Suez Crisis.

I neither endorse nor oppose any of the views expressed. I shall append them here without much further comment, except as follows. Firstly they are short, often polemic statements; in order to develop the arguments of each the writers would need time and space to prepare a fully referenced essay, and that’s not what these discussion threads are about. Secondly one commenter referred to ‘true socialism’ as ‘the approach to resource allocation in which resources are allocated through central planning’ along with ‘collective/public ownership of productive resources’, giving the examples of the USSR, pre-reform China, North Korea, etc. Those centralist, statist regimes are (in my opinion) not true socialism at all. The Bakunin/Kropotkin models with power devolved away from the centre are true socialism (and indeed true democracy!), and these have not even been given the chance to fail yet.

I don’t know the identities of the writers, with the possible exception that the writer of the section I have headed Oil and the American Dream is, I believe, a blogger called John Clarkson.

Oil and the American Dream

The USA has a 200 year old political system, that is based on a 300 year old idea. This kind of inept government, where the checks and balances end up destroying any hope of change for the people will not survive population growth or the end of the age of oil. I've calculated using the latest statistics that the world will run dry of oil by roughly 2036. This figure is also quoted by the EU in their calculations. But American leaders don't seem to understand. They continue to have an American Dream - one that is based on cheap oil, cheap transport, easy access to credit, and plenty of opportunity for economic growth. But this is a dream. In the age of scarce oil, all of these reverse. As population grows slowly representation erodes. Check out your congress. Find out how many representatives the population of your area had in 1950, and how many they have now per person. You'll see democracy is dying. As it dies a Plutocracy led by the Tea Party are on the rise. These are the same nerds that destroyed the banking regulations, and allowed the banks to finally take all of the money from the people. These were Republicans. The Democrats proved powerless to deal with this, because when you are trillions in debt, because of an open cheque written by your government to bail out these banks, then your country is screwed big time. The fact is America will no longer be a superpower soon. It's infrastructure is packing up and not being properly repaired. The cost of everything is rising as the oil price rises. Soon China will be self sufficient. She won't need America or Europe. She'll be a law unto herself. Why sell abroad when you have an internal market. Chinamerica will die as the oil prices rise until oil is finally rationed just to grow and transport food.

If you've not woken up to these facts and you believe in a Flat Earth where resources are infinite in size, or that God will come down from heaven and sort it all out, you my friends are up for a rude awakening. Oil scarcity, not climate change is future threat to civilisation.

After all, without cheap, portable fuel, how can you build nuclear power, do mining on the scale it is now, feed people, build renewable energy, or just drive a car economically? You cannot, and America will be the country most hurt by the tides of history.

Atrocities committed by our troops

First commenter: As an ex marine I'm saddened by the incidents reported but not surprised. Armed forces are habitually recruited from the lower strata of society mainly disaffected men with little or no social responsibility, trained in a bullying and aggressive manner to be disconnected from and supercilious of those they are reputedly trying to protect. Racism, homophobia, misogyny and gang ethics are the working creed of the Marines and those of us who tried to reject by treating the civilian population with respect and trust this were treated to physical and mental abuse, accused of letting the side down and left because the scary fact became: the enemy was the man next to you - and if someone in their own group is considered 'wrong' how when given weapons and no cultural, social training are they going to react when confronted by virtual aliens? Like this....

Second commenter: I had a few friends in the RAF and Royal Marines. They really confirm what [the other commenter] is claiming. One ex Royal Marine claimed that in Africa, the squaddies resorted to punching up prostitutes for amusement since HIV was such a threat there. I think politicians such as Tony Blair are so far detached from reality that they couldn't imagine such things might happen in a war zone. Or perhaps they do, and they really are callous and inhumane as they claim the terrorists are?

Nick Clegg

How can someone as obviously hollow as Clegg ooze so much smarm and bullshit?

Read up on AntiSocial Personality Disorder and ask yourself the same question again. Superficial charm, manipulative behaviour, laxness with the truth - all used to achieve own ends and no remorse shown to those taken in by the sociopath's behaviour. Some psychologists estimate 5% or more of the population are sociopaths. Not all sociopaths end up exhibiting violence.
Many who fit the profile run companies, are bosses and achieve 'great' things. They love power and are skilled in using their deviant behaviour to achieve it and to achieve a veneer of public acceptability.

[Note to forum moderators. Many peer reviewed research papers on this]

The American Right’s distortion of the term ‘Socialism’

First commenter: One of the things that I have just come to realize is that the American right has been in the process of massively expanding the meaning of 'socialism' for some time.

I think most educated people know that strictly, socialism is the approach to resource allocation in which resources are allocated through central planning (rather than through price-based/market-based mechanisms). It also goes with collective/public ownership of productive resources.

On the original definition, having large social safety nets (welfare programmes) and progressive taxation does not imply socialism in any way shape or form. As long as production and prices are set by the actions of individual entrepreneurs and competitive forces and not by central planners, we have avoided the dreaded socialism. In general, in the classical and historically accurate view, tax policy and welfare policy are nothing to do with the basic choice about how resources are allocated.

What we're seeing now amongst the new American right is a broadening of the definition of 'socialism', such that

  1. Any policy that would increase the size of the public sector is socialism

  2. Any progressive form of taxation, or increase in the progressiveness of the taxation system (i.e. increasing the marginal rates of tax paid by the rich) is socialism

  3. Any increase in expenditures in social safety nets is socialism

  4. Any regulation of business is socialism

Of course one has to allow that words change meaning over time. But what is so clever about this from a political point of view is that this blurring of the meaning of 'socialism' allows the new American right to taint more moderate forms of capitalism (such as those found throughout Europe) with the failures of true socialism (i.e. the USSR, pre-reform China, North Korea, etc).

Another very cunning aspect of what the new American right is doing... If you put country models in a spectrum, with small safety nets, less progressive taxation and less regulation of business at one end (broadly the Atlantic version of capitalism) and more safety nets, more progressive taxation and more regulation at the other (the European version), then it is probably safe to say that the last ten years has suggested that the right point is more towards the European end than was previously thought. Yet by tarnishing that end with the 'socialism' brush, they are suggesting that we ought to move further in the direction of the Atlantic version – coming to exactly the opposite conclusion to that supported by the evidence.

Both sides of US politics are pretty slimy, but I do think that the right is much better at using labels and twisting definitions to score political points.

Second commenter (American): The wingnuts got excited when schools talked about the importance of teaching ‘socialization’ (getting along with other kids) in kindergarten. They were up in arms that the liberal leftwing was indoctrinating their kids with ‘socialism’, which they assumed meant ‘communism’.

Rather like that English town that stormed the house of a paediatrician because they thought that word meant 'paedophile'.

No nation has a monopoly on ignorant people all too ready to jump at an excuse to hate and fight someone they decided was a convenient scapegoat. The rest of us have to remember the rule of AA: you can't help someone who doesn't want help, but don't be an enabler out of sympathy for their plight.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


Style will out. Despite condition the 1964 Series 3 Lambretta LI150 'Slim' is an icon. It is a design that has never been bettered for its aesthetics, same as the Fender Stratocaster, the young woman's mohair suit in Prince-of-Wales check from 1969, the two-tone coffee-and-cream Chervrolet Bel Air from 1957, the samurai sword...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

‘The Blacked-up Men, with their strange agenda…’

It’s quite a while since I wrote about blackface, so let me sidle up to it in an oblique way. I came across this by chance on the web

               Lonely, unmarried, looking for love,
               Life was passing me by.
               So I sent off my photo, hobbies and age;
               Magazine marriage I'd try.
               They say for centuries lovely Japanese girls
               Have been trained in the art of pleasing men.
               Be lonely no more, open destiny's door.
               For one dollar they arrange a meeting.

Thus spake (sang) Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, way back in the swinging sixties, and we can see where he got it from. The song Look Out There’s A Monster Coming is satirical, surreal, and witty – as you would expect from a band containing Stanshall and Neil Innes, to name but two – but what are we to make of this video clip? It’s from the BBC children’s comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set and it shows the Bonzos in blackface, all except for Neil Innes who looks plainly disgruntled and embarrassed by the idea. The Bonzos are clearly hamming this up, and their use of blackface is deliberately intended to be absurdist rather than offensive, but this kind of absurdism would not be possible today; humour is killed by having to explain a premise. Don’t forget that blackface was still seen at that time on BBC TV in the slick work of the George Mitchell Minstrels, so the Bonzo's ridicule here would be apparent. Incidentally the first two faces you'll see in the clip are Terry Jones, who went on to be one of the Monty Python team, and David Jason, who became famous as Granville in Open All Hours and as the grumpy detective in Frost.

Speaking of the Minstrels, here’s another clip from the 1960s showing them at full throttle, and featuring their principle male voices Dai Francis, who had been blacking up to sing since the age of ten and who provides the Al Jolson sound-alike, John Boulter the mellifluous tenor, and Tony Mercer the bass.

Between 1996 and 2001 there was a BBC radio and television show entitled Goodness Gracious Me, featuring Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Syal, Nina Wadia in the radio version, joined by Dave Lamb and Fiona Allen in the TV version. Just quoting from their Wikipedia write up:

The title and theme tune are based on a hit comedy song of the same title sung by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren, in which they reprise their characters from the 1960 film The Millionairess in which Sellers played an Indian doctor and Loren his Italian patient. The show's signature tune is a bhangra arrangement of the song. The show's original working title was "Peter Sellers is Dead", but was changed because the cast generally liked Peter Sellers. (The character Sellers plays, although in itself a fairly crude and broad parody of an Indian man, is actually portrayed as an intelligent, diligent, professional person). Many of the sketches explored the conflict and integration between traditional Indian culture and modern British life. Some reversed the roles to view the British from an Indian perspective while others poked fun at Indian stereotypes.”

One of their TV sketches was a musical number They Were The Blacked-up Men, ostensibly a parody of Men in Black but used as a semi-serious vehicle to question the whole question of cross-heritage acting. I recall that there were images on the screen of Sir Laurence Olivier as Othello, and of Sir Alec Guinness as Professor Godbole in Passage to India. In my opinion the latter casting came about because David Lean was unable to make a film without Guinness in it and for no other reason. Notable exceptions from GGM’s gallery of blacked-up men, however, were Ben Kingsley as Gandhi and Christopher Lee as Jinnah. I often wondered what GGM's agenda was there.

Okay, back to folk dancing… haven’t been there for a while… here’s GGM’s own Punjabi superhero Bhangra Man battling the dastardly Morris Dancers.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

An aphorism

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a cricket bat, does not pick it up and mime electric guitar.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Of Anarchism, Lies, and Sports Bras.

On the lookout for something else entirely, I came across an interesting column in the Telegraph of Calcutta, India, dated 26th November 2006. The journalist is Amrit Roy. The column itself deals with several topics, but the first section is a glowing endorsement of a book by Lord Meghnad Desai, Professor Emeritus of the London School of Economics, now a member of the House of Lords where he sits on the Labour Party benches.

The book is Rethinking Islamism: the ideology of the new terror. I haven’t read it, but I’m prepared to bet it’s a fascinating read. I would like to quote. Amrit Roy is certainly a fan, if one is to believe this column. I would like to quote a passage that Roy quotes in the column:

“There is one distinguishing feature of the new wave of terrorism that has done more than anything else to muddy the debate about its nature. This is the religious rhetoric which has been at the heart of its propaganda. The new terrorism wears Islamic garments. Its perpetrators recite and quote the Holy Koran. Its young agents the suicide bombers, men in most instances, go to their deaths with the promise of a paradise with scores of virgins waiting for them. But my argument is that one needs above all to separate Islam as a religion in both theory and practice and Islamism as an ideology. It is the ideology which feeds terrorism. It puts on religious garb and takes shelter in quotations from the Koran. But the ideology is political, its aim being the winning of power over people. In this, Islamism is much like other ideologies: Communism, anarchism, nationalism.”

I would like to offer some comments on this. Firstly it seems to me to be entirely true that Islamism is a political ideology, and that its Muslim aspect, no matter how sincere the Islam of its adherents, is its clothing rather than its nature. However, what many people fail to realise (I will give Lord Desai the benefit of the doubt until I get the chance to read his book) is that no matter how detestable one may believe a particular group to be, they do not exist in a vacuum. They exist because they can persuade a constituency. I do not mean that word as in an electoral constituency, but in a broader sense. If there was not a constituency of people in Muslim countries and communities that felt itself powerless and disenfranchised by the powerful, capitalist West, then there would be nowhere from which to draw recruits. The same could be said of other fascistic movements – the Nazis in Germany, for example, whose rhetoric was populist and patriotic in a time of Germany’s humiliation and poverty. Even today’s British National Party recognizes the appeal of populism, coming out against the UK Government’s cuts, declaring itself against the threat to Civil Service jobs, and so on.

It is pointless confronting ideologies unless you are prepared to confront the conditions in which those ideologies exist. Even if the disenfranchisement I spoke of above were nothing but a perception, then that perception too should be confronted. This is something that politicians of the 'liberal democracies' consistently refuse to do or fail to do, this is something that is not in the interests of the rich and powerful to address because they actually need the weak, poor, and disenfranchised to stay in that state in order to be able to dominate and exploit them. Meanwhile they perpetuate the myth that their way of doing things is magnificent and laudable simply because things elsewhere can be seen to be worse - the old myth of democracy being "... the worst form of government except for all the others" (to which I add "... so far tried", which is far from saying it's perfect!). So my message to the likes of Lord Desai is this: confront the basic problems first, and do not neglect to ask yourself whether you are part of those problems!

My second comment is this – and it is one in which I take a stand against Lord Desai. I want to nail the lie that anarchism’s aim is “the winning of power over people”. Where is the evidence to substantiate that? Where is anything except evidence to the contrary? The rigorous rationality of anarchism is entirely open to view, it is sane and humane, it is the antithesis of the arcane secrecies of Capitalism, Statism, Bolshevism, and even of the superficial Democracy of Western bourgeois societies. With anarchism what you see is what you get. It is arguably the most open political ideology ever conceived. Here is an unattributed passage from An Anarchist FAQ at infoshop.org:

So, in a nutshell, Anarchists seek a society in which people interact in ways which enhance the liberty of all rather than crush the liberty (and so potential) of the many for the benefit of a few. Anarchists do not want to give others power over themselves, the power to tell them what to do under the threat of punishment if they do not obey. Perhaps non-anarchists, rather than be puzzled why anarchists are anarchists, would be better off asking what it says about themselves that they feel this attitude needs any sort of explanation.”

This is typical of all information given out by anarchists. So why the persistent lie? Well, perhaps because of the principle set out by Nazi propagandist Dr Joseph Goebbels, a principle which has been employed by all power structures, no matter how seemingly liberal:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

It is not for us to prove a negative; it is for the likes of Lord Desai to make their case. Where does he and his colleagues in ‘conventional’ politics make a case? Nowhere (apologies if he does so in his book, but as it would be off the central topic I would be surprised if he did). Where has conventional politics ever confronted our arguments, here and now in the 21st century? Nowhere.

Except perhaps by kettling.


Following on from that section of his column, Amrit Roy has a few frothy paragraphs about the endorsement by England cricketer (and a personal sporting heroine of mine) Isa Guha’s endorsement of the Uplifted Lingerie Company’s sports bras. An advertising blurb says:

“If you are about to start heading to the gym this bra is for you. Offering maximum support with a funky style, this can also be worn as a top.”

                                                                                      Laura Newton, Nicki Shaw, and Isa Guha

My straight friends are looking forward to the endorsement of sporting underwear by Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad. They have been waiting five years for this. Come on, lads!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

No Borders, No Bosses. Part 3.

... In this community economics would be decentralist and Henry-Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque co-operative. Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath, they had been made for man, not (as at present… ) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them. Religion would be the conscious and intelligent pursuit of man's Final End, the unitive knowledge of immanent Tao or Logos, the transcendent Godhead or Brahman. And the prevailing philosophy of life would be a kind of Higher Utilitarianism, in which the Greatest Happiness principle would be secondary to the Final End principle – the first question to be asked and answered in every contingency of life being: "How will this thought or action contribute to, or interfere with, the achievement, by me and the greatest possible number of other individuals, of man's Final End?"
Aldous Huxley in the foreword to the 1946 edition of Brave New World

No Bosses, temporal, spiritual, or financial.

At the end of my last blog on this subject I posed these rhetorical questions: “How might important aspects of infrastructure be handled? How would the railways run? How would the mail be delivered? How would hospitals function? How would justice be administered?

There’s an easy and ready-made answer, of course. “Let us take care of that for you – at a price, of course!” That’s the voice of market forces. It seems that there is always someone offering to do things for us. First we had the political class, and now we have Capitalism. Of course we could lapse into sloth and apathy and let them do just that, but don’t ever make the mistake that the offer comes from generosity. Any action, no matter how apparently altruistic, made by a political person or party has only one end – the getting or maintaining of power; any action, no matter how apparently altruistic, made by a business person or a corporation has only one end – profit. I’m sorry but that’s how it works.

We would find a way to run the railways, the mail, the hospitals, and the courts, because it would be necessary to find a way. Otherwise there would be chaos. Anarchists do not believe in chaos and do not believe in no structures – for too long we have let the Right get away with using the term ‘anarchy’ (which was once, certainly in Bakunin’s time, used where we now use ‘anarchism’) to equate to chaos and disorder; I dare say you could run to your Merriam-Webster, jab your finger at the page, and say, “But that’s what it says, right here!” There is usage, friend, and there is abusage! The running of essential services would be hard work, but it would get done. It would have to, and that’s that.

But hand it all to capitalism? Thomas Jefferson said of merchants: “Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.” Capitalism, no matter how it may drape itself in the flag is not the stuff of patriotism. If patriotism were to be replaced by a general dedication to the good of all, a willingness to work within and participate in a flatter, more local structure with a highly participatory democracy, and within a network of cooperating communities, then capitalism would find itself at cross-purposes still with the common good.

There has never been, since the absolute monarchies of the Middle Ages, an institution more autocratic, more unaccountable, more antithetical to true democracy, more selfish, than the Business Corporation. You may argue that it is accountable to its shareholders. It is its shareholders. They are the Caliph, and the CEO is their Grand Vizier. Something that is accountable only to itself can hardly be said to be accountable at all. You may argue that it is accountable to its customers, who can choose to buy or not to buy. To that last I say: “Where have you been for the last century – the Moon?”

In 1957 – that’s more than half a century ago – American journalist Vance Packard wrote a book which has relevance to this day. It was The Hidden Persuaders. The review published in The New Yorker at the time said of it: “A brisk, authoritative and frightening report on how manufacturers, fundraisers and politicians are attempting to turn the American mind into a kind of catatonic dough that will buy, give or vote at their command.” The thrust of the book was to expose the hidden world of ‘motivation research’, the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers. Packard analysed marketing and political campaigns and TV programmes of the 1950s, and uncovered and demonstrated how the manipulative concept of ‘creating a market’ came to dominate the twentieth century’s corporate-driven world. It changed the way that advertising was viewed, but its lessons have been forgotten by consumers. It may have frightened capitalism for a short time, but certainly since the emergence of Reaganomics, Thatcherism, and the new Right, capitalism has reemerged with renewed confidence to dictate to us what we want to buy. So much for it’s being accountable to us!

Incidentally Packard, who died in 1996, also wrote The Status Seekers (about American social stratification), The Waste Makers (about ‘planned yearly obsolescence’ – a trick to persuade us not to buy durable goods but slavishly to grab ‘this year’s model’), and The Naked Society (about the threats to privacy posed by new technologies). He’s sitting up in heaven now saying, “See! See! I told you so!” as our every keystroke on internet sites is recorded, the phones in our pockets fix our moves by GPS, and the CCTV cameras track our every step. We’re down here wondering why we didn’t listen to him sooner!

Back to corporations. They are the antithesis of democracy. They are strictly hierarchical, and no decisions are made with reference to either customers or workforce (and in workforce I include all who work there up to a relatively high level of management, as the latter are merely functionaries and not decision makers). They are secretive; whilst demanding that government is ‘open’ and reveals its workings, its in-house instructions for dealing with business, its every move, corporations reveal nothing to anyone. Everything is private, secret, more arcane than even the inner workings of the Vatican or the ancient court of Byzantium. It is easier to probe the workings of freemasonry than it is to discover what actually happens within the average corporation.

In case you hadn’t gathered by now – Capitalism is not your friend.

It cannot and will not survive in a society where democratic participation has increased to its optimum level. It will fight tooth-and-nail to ensure that democracy, cooperation, and accountability do not increase. It is inimical to democracy. It is the natural habitat and domain of The Boss.

A recent correspondent came across a comment I made a few years ago, to the effect that crime was merely the extension of business to its logical extreme. He countered that by saying that whereas business was symbiotic, crime was parasitic. I don’t buy that distinction. At the very least the edges are blurred. We have seen that where corporations are bound by the laws of a society they will push for those laws’ ‘liberalisation’; if they have the opportunity, they will often find a ‘work-round’, a way of avoiding or even evading a law, some going as far as to break it covertly. A corporation will move its operation elsewhere in the world, if it can find somewhere where workers can be employed for half a bowl of rice, or where it does not have to comply with safety regulations. There is no scuzzy dictatorship to which it will not buddy up if favourable conditions can be obtained. Just because a business was founded in, say, Britain or America, it is not to be supposed that it feels the least sympathy with the citizens of the country of its foundation. It’s only motive is to exploit. Some corporations become so powerful that they can dictate policy and law to the countries in which they squat. In times of difficulty when, according to the principles of competition by which capitalism is supposed to function, they ought to fail, they can wring their hands, cry crocodile tears, and demand huge pay-outs from the pockets of the citizens. “We are ‘too big to fail’!” they cry. Some symbiosis!

Capitalism is a religion. Certainly in America it seems to occupy a cult status alongside and equal to the flag and church-going. It is assumed to be somehow divinely-ordained and protected, as though “I got mine” were a passage from scripture. Inconvenient Biblical admonitions such as: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (KJV Luke 16:13), might as well not exist. In fact capitalism does not serve God; the existence or non-existence of God is an irrelevance to the world of markets and money, as the only supernatural entity upon which that world relies is the ‘Invisible Hand’ which rights the balance of an economy after difficulties. This ‘Hand’ defies rational analysis, as of course does any supernatural entity, but it is most devoutly believed in and worshipped!

The proper foundation of religion is in the experience of humankind – of an individual first and foremost, but also of a community of individuals gathered by a common inner experience – and the realisation that there is something in us all, but not necessarily of us all, that can raise us from the mud. I am aware that this is as intangible, as irrational if you will, as the ‘Great Hand’ of capitalism; but in its purest form it is a liberating force. Aldous Huxley, whom I quoted at the head of this entry, said of religion that it should be “… the conscious and intelligent pursuit of man's Final End, the unitive knowledge of immanent Tao or Logos, the transcendent Godhead or Brahman.” Where religion is free, where it is a response in faith, a holding of all things in common, a love of truth, a love of the truth that “will set you free” (KJV John 8:32), then it is liberty indeed, and lives in that liberty beside those who are free not to believe. Where religion is an institution, where it has bosses to lay down the law, where it does not allow the unmediated access of the individual and of the community of individuals to experience of the godhead, it is slavery. It is in its institutional form in which religion is closest to statism and capitalism, in which it is an unaccountable hierarchy in which the laity have little say and in which the professional clergy hold the whip. Indeed the institution of religion has often been used to bolster the state and/or big business – look at the Protestantism of the USA, the Orthodoxy of Tsarist Russia, the Shia Islam of the mullahs and ayatollahs of Iran (is there a more blasphemous title than 'ayatollah' - 'mirror of God'?), to name three salient examples. Even political philosophies can take on religious characteristics in the name of power – Naziism and the personality cult of Adolph Hitler, the cults of Stalin and of Mao are notable examples, but more subtle and insidious is the glorification of capitalism in the West.

Religion can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Not for nothing did Karl Marx say “Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes”, not for nothing did the likes of Mikhail Bakunin say that once a person had given his or her autonomy into the hands of a supernatural authority, then he or she had as good as given away intellectual, moral, and political autonomy also. But what are the ‘right’ hands? Religion (or rather faith, as Aldous Huxley understood it) must be communitarian – the early Christian Church was a network of independent congregations held together by a bond of understanding and experience, where its ministers were servants (diakonoi) rather than masters, and in that set-up we find much of the template for a new society free of political and commercial control, for a society of libertarian municipalism, of common ownership, and of participatory democracy. This is the antithesis of capitalism, the antithesis of statism, the antithesis of political oligarchy, the antithesis of party-control, the antithesis of the sham of bourgeois democracy of the political class, the antithesis of hierarchical and institutional religion, the antithesis of the covert and the secretive world.

Friends, capitalism is dead but won’t lie down. It struggles and struggles against its inevitable demise. It rages, it blusters. It cajoles, it sneers, it has its hirelings and stooges, it has its devout propagandists and apologists. It is a lame duck. The king has no clothes. Capitalism in the 21st century can’t create wealth, can only create debt. The supply of the things that capitalism needs to fuel it is not inexhaustible. It must end. It must end because we want it to. No one can liberate us, we have to liberate ourselves. We will need to stop being dazzled by the pretty things in the shops, stop being what Marx called ‘commodity fetishists’ (he had a good turn of phrase, I’ll give him that). We will have to stop being led by the nose to the polls every four or five years, and we will have to reconstruct democracy from the ground up.

I know, I know – the arguments I have used in these three blog posts has not exactly been rational. They don’t have to be, because this is a polemical argument, not a rational one. At the moment I feel more emotionally engaged with the feeling of an impending capitalist cataclysm than I do intellectually engaged with Realpolitik. To hell with Realpolitik. Let’s take the world by the scruff of its neck and Get Real!


A word or two on the demise of Osama bin Laden. I won't be mourning his passing any more than I would mourn the passing of any fascist. I do mourn the fact that he wasted his life in the pursuit of hatred, but I also note that just because we were the object of his hate is no reason to consider ourselves perfect.

Here's a quotation from Clarence Darrow (elsewhere wrongly ascribed to Mark Twain) which seems to be on many lips lately: "All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike someone they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituaries with satisfaction."


UK voters are at the polls today... something to do with a different way of selecting which members of the professional political class are going to 'represent' us. I won't be voting. It would stick in my throat.