Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 4

If you’re still unconvinced of Boris Johnson’s gradual Nazification of Britain then this final part of the film provides evidence not only of the parallels with Hitler but the way that the Johnson government continues to attack our rights and freedoms. Johnson is a dictator in the making and the nature of that dictatorship is far from benign.

But there is hope. Watch to the end to hear what we can do to change this terrifying trajectory. The Tory party knows nothing of loyalty to leaders once they are seen by the public for what they really are. We can use the Tory party’s own inherent callousness to overthrow this regime before it’s too late.

The government that follows will still be tory but at least it won’t be Nazi. That might not be a perfect solution but it beats what the current government has in store for us.

Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 3 of 4

Now all of these rights are at risk – which of them do you want to lose? Which do you want other people to lose?

Would you like suspected foreign criminals to be deported without conviction in court?

Would you like to go to prison for crimes you were merely suspected of without being found guilty?

If your answers to those questions are different you’re falling for the propaganda.

Home secretary Priti Patel even stands by a system of immigration that would have excluded her own parents who were kicked out of Uganda during Idi Amin’s purges and fled here for their own safety.

She’s also presiding over the mass deportation of EU and other immigrants, many of whom have lived their entire lives, or close to their entire lives here in the UK.

Those granted leave to remain will be forced to do so under new regulations effectively making them second class citizens in the land they have always called home. Swap the word Jew for Muslim and it’s a move that could have been taken straight from Adolf Hitler’s 25 point plan.

Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 2 of 4

I’ve just made a pretty big claim, some might say an extraordinary claim and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Just what makes me imagine that this society, this land of my birth is becoming the very thing we opposed not only in wartime but on British streets as well?

This is the land of Cable Street, of Brick Lane where thousands of anti-fasciststook to the streets to oppose Mosley’s Blackshirts and Griffin’s National Front.

It’s the land of the Levellers, the Chartists, of Magna Carta and the Battle of Peterloo where working class artesans gathered peacefully to hear speeches against an oppressive British government and were massacred, by order of that government and the king, at swordpoint by local yeomanry and cavalry soldiers.

So, before we get too smug about our anti-fascist national credentials we should also bear in mind that in each of those other famous conflicts the police, the establishment and the government sided with the fash.

The people in power followed the money, as they often do.

And in recent years that money has been in the hands of far right donors, think tanks and agitators from Breitbart to Cambridge Analytica, from Eugenicist Dominic Cummings to disaster capitalists like Arron Banks and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 1 of 4

How did Adolf Hitler and his small band of National Socialists manage to take a sophisticated, developed and educated nation and turn it into a fascist state ready to march roughshod over the rights, the lives and even the existence of others?

This short film aims to answer that question, not only from a historical perspective but from a current affairs point of view too.

For over a decade now I’ve been speaking to anyone who’s prepared to listen about the path we’re on in modern UK – and not just here – across the developed world.

This isn’t about Godwin’s law, the internet trope that claims every disagreement ends with the loser accusing everyone else of Nazism. There are Nazis in UK but they’re pretty few and far between.

This is about the way that ordinary people, people who are far from Nazi are being duped by cynical provocateurs, rabble rousers and even politicians into accepting Nazi principles without even realising it.

It’s an expose – not an accusation. It’s a heartfelt plea to the millions of decent people in my beloved United Kingdom to stop for a moment, to take stock and to see where we’re headed.

We must not lose our way

I’m pretty active on Twitter. Just check out @stuartsorensen and if you’re a fellow Tweeter do, please follow and say hello.

There’s a very strong and growing socialist presence on the platform,  not least because of the weekly #SocialistSunday hashtag which has been instrumental in helping us to find and support each other during these dark days of neoliberalism and far-right division. Check it out – it’s a great resource.

But every silver lining has a cloud and this one is no exception. I noticed a popular tweet today. A tweet with lots of reach across the platform, all the more impressively so because the author is a relative newcomer with very few followers.

The tweet calls for solidarity and mutual assistance between socialists. Nothing wrong with that, you might say except that it risks falling into a subtle trap that can only further divide working people along increasingly entrenched lines of right and left. Let me illustrate my point with an anecdote.

A few years ago I was working as a community psychiatric nurse in South Yorkshire. One of my community patients was a young man with extreme far right, Islamophobic and racist views (and a history of very significant violence to boot). Trust me, you really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of this bloke.

As it happened this young man had multiple social and psychiatric problems and was experiencing some considerable difficulties in accessing the community services he needed.  Consequently I invested an awful lot of time, doggedly liaising with other professionals and talking through his mental health difficulties with him to try and get him some sort of a route back into a fulfilling way of life again.

One day I visited him at home to learn that he’d googled my name and found my blog. It happens sometimes. What he found there appalled him. I’m a lefty, after all. I’m what he thought of as ‘the enemy’. He’d had no idea about my politics. In fact, I’d been so non-committal on the subject that he’d actually assumed I agreed with him. Even rabid lefties like me understand the need to leave our politics at the door where work is concerned.

This young man had one, simple question…

Why?

He’d made no secret of his politics. He even had mail order toilet roll with verses from the Qu’Ran printed on every sheet and some very obvious pamphlets lying around at home.

Why had I worked so hard to help him – a neoNazi and unapologetic racist? He’d never have lifted a finger to help me if the shoe was on the other foot.

I resisted the temptation to reply that his small-mindedness was one reason why the shoe wasn’t actually on the other foot in the first place. Instead, in addition to discussing my professional duty of care, I briefly outlined the difference between the left wing working class and the right wing working class…

The left wing works for the benefit of all who need it.

The right wing works only for the benefit of those with whom they agree.

To my surprise he acknowledged that this was correct, without protestation or denial. He freely admitted that the left was far more inclusive and compassionate than the right and that this easily explained the difference in our attitudes. Below is a clip from a documentary about the 1936 Battle of Cable Street which illustrates this point far more effectively than I just did.

So far as the left is concerned the needs of the whole community matter. At least – so far as the left wing that I’ve always believed in is concerned. I’m a socialist precisely because I think the whole community is important. Even those very few people I’ve ‘disowned’ have been rejected only because they sought to ostracise others due to colour, nationality or religion. That seems to me to be a form of natural justice from which they just might learn something important.

So whilst I applaud the idea of developing a means to help those in need I worry that by limiting it to a form of socialist ‘mutual aid’ we may be starting down a route that ends with us losing one of the most important aspects of what it means to be a socialist. I put this article out here not to criticise or in any way to attempt to undermine the efforts of my fellow lefty. I think the intention is brilliant and I’ll certainly be participating in what aid I can give but I’d like to ask that, whilst we can and should make it clear that it’s a socialist initiative we really oughtn’t to limit our assistance only to those with whom we agree…

That’s what they do on the dark side.

Lincoln YMCA: A validating environment

This weekend I went to Lincoln, a city I first visited during my homeless days back in the 1980s. It gave me a chance to meet some old friends and make a video combining my two main passions… Left wing politics and social/mental health care. What’s not to like?

A little history: Alfred the Great (849 – 899)

220px-Statue_d'Alfred_le_Grand_à_WinchesterIn 872, when Alfred was only 23 he succeeded his brother, Aethelred as King of Wessex. Shortly after this he embarked upon his famous retreat into the Marshes, complete with implausible stories about burnt cakes. The war with Guthrum’s invading Vikings was brutal and bloody but eventually, a combination of Saxon courage and Alfred’s strategy won the day.

It’s no exaggeration to report that Alfred’s victory really did change the course of history, not just for Wessex and the Saxons but for the whole of Europe and ultimately the world. Without Alfred we’d have lost more than we can count, so great was his influence that it stretches right up into the modern era and will continue to do so far into the future.

Following the defeat of Guthrum, Alfred consolidated and even expanded his Kingdom, establishing around 33 fortified Hide defences, each one within a days’ march of its neighbour and each one capable of accommodating and protecting the local community from future attack. These defences, known collectively as the Burghal Hidage, also served as bases for military strikes against any future invading armies. The fortifications contained permanent garrisons which complemented the equally permanent standing army ‘in the field’. This was a military infrastructure that was both entrenched and responsive!

Alfred even established the first proper Navy (no – it wasn’t Henry VIII – Alfred did it first) to combat Viking marauders who threatened the coastline. But that’s not why Alfred was ‘the Great’. It was his intellectual, legal and administrative influence that earned him his place of honour in word history.

Like Charlemagne before him, Alfred was keen for his people, all of his people, to be educated. There’s an astonishing circularity of influence throughout Medieval Christendom that begins with Gregory the Great and ends with Alfred. The cycle moves from Gregory the Great and Isidore of Seville to Bede of Jarrow, to Alcuin of York, to Charlemagne, to Alfred the Great and then back to Gregory with Alfred’s Anglo- Saxon translation of the famous Pope’s ‘The Pastoral Care’ some 400 years after it was first written down in the original Latin.

Alfred also personally translated Boethius’ ‘Consolations of philosophy’ and was clear that the many Anglo-Saxon translations he created or procured were to be widely taught among the Anglo-Saxon youth. Alfred was the first English authority to understand the value of educating not just the nobility, but everyone. He was the original British champion of what we now call ‘universal education’, a theme of modern socialism which sees education as the most effective and long-lasting means of improving the general standard of living for working people.

Following Boethius’ model of the hierarchy of topics such as the trivium and quadrivium, Alfred intended for Anglo- Saxon literacy to be widespread, for the translated core texts to be widely studied and only then for Latin works to be the focus of further study. He saw literacy as vital to the life of an effective state and language as the glue that would hold the developing nation together.

Just as Charlemagne had focussed on Latin translation of important texts to ensure their wide distribution, Alfred reversed the trend for the exact same reason. Charlemagne had been so successful in creating Latin versions of key texts that few were available in any other languages. That may not have been a problem for the head of the Carolingian empire but for Alfred, the King of a relatively minor region in the South of England it was a very big problem indeed. Almost none of his subjects were able to read Latin and this meant that many of the greatest minds were quite literally closed books so far as England was concerned.

So – in his late thirties Alfred organised and even participated in the translation of key texts into Anglo Saxon. He had these books distributed throughout his kingdom. Like Charlemagne before him, Alfred instigated a public education programme, a system which in turn facilitated his new administrative system. It’s no exaggeration to say that the idea of modern England was born with Alfred who not only expanded his realm but also educated and cared for those within it.

Alfred organised and in part authored the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a history of his realm written down for posterity and, perhaps most importantly of all – he produced a written record of codified laws. It was this collection of record-keeping, education, jurisprudence and the creation of national identity that transformed Wessex (and ultimately England). Alfred’s dominion went from a rough collection of allied principalities to a unified state with the foundations that eventually built a nation, an empire, a legal system and even a parliamentary system of government.

Without Alfred it is arguable that the knowledge that facilitated the beginnings of the English state would never have been made available to the masses. It was Alfred’s work that kept the torch of non-clerical education alight throughout the centuries to come when the medieval church tried their best to keep knowledge and literacy to themselves. His translations of foundational texts effectively broke the religious monopoly by enabling and encouraging successive English generations to champion the vernacular and keep secular education alive. Without Alfred’s work there would have been little for them to study anyway. We will meet some of the heroes of this intellectual tradition as the series progresses.

Alfred’s influence stretches far beyond the ninth century world he inhabited. Without Alfred we would live in a very different (I suspect a much poorer), religiously dominated society indeed. He was one of our nation’s most benevolent leaders and he genuinely seems to have understood the value of opportunity for every man (women’s rights still weren’t a thing in Alfred’s day, I’m afraid) to be educated to the limit of his ability and for all to have an opportunity to learn and develop intellectually. That’s one of the many reasons why Alfred is still recognised as ‘The Great’.

images

Compare that to the words of conservative cabinet minister, Michael Gove who, in 2003 whilst he was secretary of state for education, told The Times

“Some people will, apparently, be put off applying to our elite institutions by the prospect of taking on a debt of this size. Which as far as I’m concerned is all to the good.”

Mr. Gove, who can say these things whilst simultaneously opposing private schools went on to trivialise the debt burden by comparing it to favourable earnings post-graduation but the underlying divisiveness came across loud and clear. He may just as well have said…

Those people too poor to throw £20 odd grand around without having to think seriously about it first are probably too stupid to be in further education in the first place!

A little history: The battle of Cable Street

The East End of London has long been a melting pot. My own experience of working within several East London boroughs has been both fascinating and positive. The chance to meet, work with, talk to and train colleagues from so many different cultural, religious, national and racial backgrounds has been a boon and an education. I’ve met and learned from so many people whose experiences and approach to life has only ever enhanced my own.

Just as it is today, the East End was home to a diverse, multicultural community and then. Just as now, outsiders with a political axe to grind saw the area as a target to stir up trouble.

On Sunday October 4th 1936 the British Union of Fascists, a group of Nazi sympathisers led by Oswald Moseley planned a march into the East End in opposition to the area’s Jewish residents. The BUF drew its members from all over the UK, expecting to overwhelm the locals with their numbers. Moseley had pulled out all the stops to get up to 5,000 fascists to descend upon London on that fateful afternoon. You can watch a newsreel from the day here.

Then, as now the locals were having none of it. Fascists, racists and religious hate-mongers have never been welcome in Britain and no matter how hard they try they never manage to outnumber the opposition when they descend upon a town, city or Borough.

The Battle of Cable Street was a major turning point in the fortunes of the paramilitarised, uniformed British Union of Fascists. This was the day that ordinary British people showed them exactly what they thought of racism, Nazism and Fascism and it wasn’t pretty.

Today’s uniformed (and uninformed) fascists might do well to take notice.

The impact that Cable Street had on the British Anti-Fascist movement is perhaps best illustrated in this song ‘The ghosts of Cable Street’, written by ‘The men they couldn’t hang’ in 1986 to celebrate the battle’s 50th anniversary. Like Cable Street’s legacy itself, the song has stood the test of time. Click here to play the video.

 

A little history: What’s a ‘lefty loser’?

I recently commented on a West Cumbrian internet site about my local MP. The site’s anonymous administrators responded to my factual points predictably enough with superficial memes, insults and attempts to discredit me with ad-hominem attacks rather than putting forward any reasonable points of their own. One of their taunts involved the term ‘Lefty loser’ which betrayed a lot about their very limited understanding of the working-class struggle for rights and equal consideration.

Voting counts

The genius behind the keyboard clearly thinks that the Left lost because of the 2019 General election result. They think the struggle lasts for the duration of a general election campaign and now it’s over. Such a superficial understanding of politics isn’t all that uncommon but it’s far from accurate.

ChartistsIn truth, as this series hopes to demonstrate, the fight has been going on for centuries. It was raging long before any of us were born and will presumably continue long after we’re dead. All any of us can do is join the fray in our own time – we won’t see defeat or victory – only periods of setback and progress.

The current government has an overall majority. That means they can do a great deal of damage to ordinary working people and our rights but they haven’t won. In fact, as history shows, despite the episodic highs and lows of our movement, working people have been gaining ground fairly consistently for generations and that overall trend will continue. We’ve lost a bit of ground right now but we’ll get it all back and more. So don’t despair – the task continues, the struggle continues and our work is the same as it ever was – to keep on advocating for justice and human rights, to keep on arguing against conservative greed and the racist and religious bigotry that so often accompanies it. The task for now is to do all we can to limit the damage that Boris and his mates will inflict by watching our neighbours’ backs, by making sure nobody goes hungry or destitute because of sanctions or cruel decisions from the DWP and by educating those around us about the real reason for their declining standards of living.

The dark side of the Industrial Revolution: child labourWe need to take the long view. We need to be resilient and not despair. We must never give up the fight but press on, just as our ancestors did whose tireless struggle won for us the NHS and the Welfare state, decent housing and the right to be involved in our own government at every level from casting a vote to participation in cabinet and the Lords.
Pages from the first leaflet introducing NHS to British Public in 1948.It was the brave activists of previous centuries that won for us employment rights, universal healthcare and an end to life-blighting childhood injuries from long hours in England’s ‘dark, Satanic mills’ and crippling stresses on developing bones in the mines to small boys suffocating to death in the blackness of chimneys. It was socialist reformers who fought for universal education and the right to more than a single day off a month. It was socialist activists who won for us access to the legal system and equality under the law. Their road to victory wasn’t easy and neither is ours but each generation of socialists makes its own progress overall. The current setback won’t change that so long as we come together, stick together and refuse to give up the fight.List of peterloo dead

There are no ‘lefty losers’ – only activists, campaigners and educators who continue the fight, hour after hour, day after day, year after year until each little battle is won and the cause moves that bit closer to a genuine, meaningful overall victory.

Like the Levellers, the Chartists, the Suffragettes and even the massacred victims of Peterloo our struggle continues. They didn’t lose and neither will we. There is no such thing as a ‘lefty loser’, only lefties who are in it for the long haul. We are resilient, we are strong, we are part of a centuries old tradition and we will prevail!

A little history: Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus crucifiedThe Nazarene (0-33) seems to have been an extreme lefty by today’s measures. He preached against greed (many of his followers conveniently ignore that bit) and recommended compassion instead. He even got a bit ‘fighty’ with the capitalist pigs in the Temple grounds.

Like other socialists, he was especially unhappy with the usurers (like modern day bankers) whom he described as ‘thieves’. These were the money changers, the guys who took normal money in exchange for unsullied ‘Temple coin’ that could be used to purchase sacrificial lambs at Passover. The money-changers charged exorbitant rates – a bit like Wonga (which is linked to the Tory party, by the way) and so profited from the obligatory observance of the faithful. Jesus seems to have had a point there.

Jesus apparently hated inequality. He was the guy who said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He lived among the poor, helped the sick and the disabled and eschewed the tables of the wealthy whose oppressive ways simply maintained the suffering of their fellows.

Like many others before and since from Confucius, the Buddha and Lao Tzu to a host of Gurus and philosophers he recommended living by the Golden rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That’s why he fed those who were hungry and advocated help for the sick and those without shelter, the direct opposite of this present government’s actions. The tories have spent the last 10 years increasing homelessness, forcing people to use foodbanks to survive and denying sick and disabled people the resources they need. They’re even starving the NHS of funding in preparation for selling it off to private enterprise as a way of increasing personal profit through the suffering of others.

It’s amazing how many Tories profess to be Christians and yet ignore almost everything their Messiah said.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once remarked…

“I am confused as to which Bible people are reading when they suggest that religion and politics don’t mix!”

To those non-religious Tories and others and others who either support oppressive Tory ideology or stand idly by and look the other way, the good Archbishop had this to say…

“When the Elephant stands on the mouse’s tail, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”

A little history: Marcus Aurelius

It may seem surprising to include  a long-dead Roman emperor in a history of democratic socialism but read on – all will become  clear.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was born on April 17th 121 and died on March 17th 180 aged 59 (almost). He was known as ‘The philosopher king’ both during and after his lifetime. He also has the honour of being hailed as the last of Rome’s ‘good’ emperors. Ever the diplomat he co-ruled the empire with Lucius Verus until Lucius’ died in 169. Marcus didn’t appoint a successor to Lucius and ruled alone for the last decade or so of his life.

Marcus Aurelius meditationsIt was during these latter years that he wrote his famous ‘Meditations’ – a collection of stoic principles originally intended for his own use but published after his death, much to the delight of later Stoics such as myself. Marcus contribution to Stoicism cannot be over-estimated. He shows us a marked contrast between the very highest and lowest ranks of society and yet the same problems (and solutions) remain.

Even as a child Marcus was attracted to philosophy. His mother even had to persuade him to sleep in his bed. The young Marcus had taken to sleeping on the floor after the manner of the Athenian Cynics such as Diogenes.  Marcus’ studies in Cynicism and Stoicism presumably helped him to cope with the grief he must have felt at the loss first of his father and then his mother early in his adolescence.

Marcus succeeded the emperor Antoninus Pius in 161 AD having been chosen by his adoptive father Hadrian (the previous emperor) in 138. The intervening years had been spent actively working in Roman politics and in studying Stoicism – an early fascination that he never tired of. It was presumably his Stoic devotion to duty and to the common good that led him to insist that he share the office of Emperor with Lucius, his adopted brother. That wasn’t the original plan and a lesser man may well have chosen to rule alone but Marcus was never one to let his ego get in the way of what he believed to be right. He considered Lucius essential to effective rule and stuck to his guns until the senate eventually agreed to his power-sharing plan.

Although significant in his day I don’t propose to say much about Marcus’ activities as emperor. That’s not what interests me here. Rather it’s his philosophy and writings that have earned him a place in this series. Written during the last few years of his life, whilst on military campaign in Germania, Marcus’ Meditations is one of the most accessible and useful introductions to Stoicism I’ve ever come across. It’s a book of its time, complete with all the references to Gods and the fates that we might expect from an ancient Pagan but that doesn’t detract from its simple brilliance.

Marcus Aurelius bust in the darkIt is Marcus’ insistence that all men are equal that earns him his place in this little history. He was quite simply the single most powerful man in his universe. He literally had the power of life and death in his hand, emperor of almost the entire known world with the opportunity to be a dictator and the disposition of an egalitarian. It may be only a short step too far to call him one of Europe’s earliest socialists, a man who thought little of rank and status when compared to the worth and dignity of all people, a ruler who despised injustice and who devoted his life as emperor to leaving the Empire a fairer and more just place than when he found it.

It is one of history’s greatest tragedies that Marcus’ successor, Commodus cared little for his predecessor’s high ideals and soon allowed most of Marcus’ achievements to crumble away. If only Commodus had continued in Marcus’ footsteps the world today might well have been a very different, fairer place.

If I remember rightly, Meditations was one of the first Stoic books I ever read – and I thank the long dead emperor for it from the bottom of my heart. Marcus Aurelius, the last ‘good emperor’ of Rome was instrumental in setting me on a path that has benefited me greatly in both emotional and intellectual terms. I cannot recommend his little book enough. You can download it for free here. Go on – it just might change your life!

A little history: Anthony Wedgewood Benn

It was March 14th 2014. My morning began much like any other. The sun rose, the alarm clock chimed its morning message and slowly I opened my eyes to greet the world.

Like so many others in today’s world I use my smartphone in lieu of an alarm clock and so my first task (after silencing the electronically generated morning cacophany) is to use it to check the morning news online. It wasn’t the best start to the day. Within minutes of opening my eyes I heard the awful news….

Tony Benn was dead. This world would be a poorer place without the wisdom and eloquence of this fine old man of the left. Tony Benn wasn’t just a politician, he was a gentleman. And he is missed.

He was eloquent and insightful with an almost uncanny ability to boil down apparently complex concepts into the simple fundamentals that grunts like me can understand. Consider for example his five questions for those in authority.

Tony Benn 5 questions

I wonder how the current Tory government would respond to these questions. After all if it wasn’t for Boris’ repeated lying, misinformation and restriction of pertinent information, there would be no current Tory government to represent the interests of the wealthy at all.

Tony Benn wasn’t just wise – he was compassionate too. Tony Benn wasn’t just a campaigner – he was a guru of the left. Tony Benn wasn’t just a politician – he was one of my heroes. And he will be missed.

 

Even well into old age he continued to campaign. I first heard him speak at a CND rally in the early 1980s. He was captivating. More recently he could be found demonstrating against the rise of fascism in UK and neoNazi groups such as the BNP and the EDL.

Tony Benn Unite against fascism

Tony Benn didn’t just believe in equality and human rights – he dedicated his long life to their attainment. And he will be missed.

Tony Benn was happy to rock the boat when morality demanded it.

Tony Benn rock the boat

And he respected those others who did the same.

Emily Wilding Davison
And he will be missed.