Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Resistance’

TRUMBO: WITCH HUNT – the black days of McCarthyism in the USA

In John Wilmot, Reviews on January 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm
Review: Trumbo DVD

The reality of purges, witch hunts, or whatever else you wish to call them is always ugly.  Whether we’re talking about Stalin’s show trials in the USSR in the ‘thirties,  or the purge of all those hauled up before the so-called “Un-American Activities Committee” in the USA of the 1950s, such attempts to purify and cast out “undesirable” elements from any society are based on organised intolerance or bigotry, and lead only to suffering – or (in the case  of Stalin’s show trials) worse.

The film, “Dalton Trumbo” covers the Hollywood screenwriter’s attempts to fight back against the the so-called “UnAmerican Activities Committee”.  He won out in the end, but it almost cost him his family, and the lives of many of his friends. It was an ugly intolerant period for those who were caught up in it.

ATTACK ON HOLLYWOOD:

Although far too many ordinary folk suffered from the bleak attentions of the McCarthyite period, the film industry centred around Hollywood suffered particularly. Actors were blacklisted, as were directors and screen writers such as Trumbo. Only “good” Americans, such as Ronald Reagan or John Wayne were able to flourish, under the baleful patronage of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Trumbo found himself one of the blacklisted “Hollywood Ten” who attempted to fight back. They lost, and Trumbo found himself serving time in prison. On his release he found that he was now  unable to gain work – certainly under his own name. He was forced to take work writing scripts for cheap “B Movies” to scrape a living. His family  begins to fall apart, and he‘s shunned by those who he thought had once been his friends.

Despite all this he did succeed in winning an Oscar for his script of the film “Roman Holiday” – though he had to write it using a false name. But his big breakthrough was the film “Spartacus”. Not only was this released under his name but it also won an Oscar.  It was    to be the beginning of the end of the Hollywood blacklist.

Others were also to suffer of course, including such actors as Edward G. Robinson, and to a lesser extent, Humphrey Bogard, and his wife Lauren Bacall.  Others escaped the net by moving abroad – or leaving the industry altogether.

One example was Sam Wanamaker, who was to settle in  Britain. He went on to become responsible for the re-recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, whilst his daughter, Zoe became a prominent character actor in UK  film and television. Hollywood’s loss was to be our gain!

JOHN WILMOT

THE TRASHING OF YORKLEY COURT FARM

In A.Graham on May 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm

On March 10th bailiffs and security guards, acting on behalf of local developer, Brian Bennett stormed Yorkley Court Farm. They were there to stage a forcible eviction of the “eco-gardeners” who’d been in occupation of the site for some years.

This was the second attempt by Bennett to evict the occupants – and this time it was in earnest. Farm buildings were trashed, and the iconic tower that stood at the farm entrance was demolished.

Since Mr Bennett mounted his first attempt to take over the farm from the occupants the “eco-gardeners” have gained quite a lot of sympathy from those in the area – many of whom saw the re-vitalisation of the once derelict farm as both a credit to those who’d been working it and an asset to the wider community. Harassment by hired security guards hadn’t helped Mr Bennett’s cause.

SUPPORT:

Indeed, after the eviction was mounted a walk along a right-of-way through the farm’s fields was hastily organised in sympathy with the “eco-gardeners”. The right-of-way had long been used as a route for local folk to take a stroll or to exercise their dogs. But there’s been a number of complaints of threatening behaviour by security guards towards those engaged in such harmless pursuit.

This support was reflected in the columns of the local press. On the letters page of the Forester, for example, Coun. Andrew Gardner (Lydbrook and Ruardean) reminded readers that the occupants at Yorkley Court had been in residence for six years, “growing organic food and following an environmentally friendly lifestyle”.

yorkleyCourtHe reminded us that the previous owners of the farm had died intestate, but that “relatives gave permission for the community to reside in the grounds”. He went on to suggest that a public inquiry into the whole affair “must urgently be implemented”.

Another letter suggested that scenes surrounding the eviction would lead onlookers to think that it was Al-Qaeda in occupation of Yorkley Court.

Over 70 police officers were counted at one point, some in riot gear. A helicopter flew overhead for the best part of two days. A police presence may well have been justified (if only to keep an eye on Bennett’s security guards), but in this case it looked as though the numbers were there to intimidate.

Letters of support for the eco-warriors continued in the following week’s issue of the Forester – with an added news item pointing out that a footpath adjoining the farm had been closed without notice, “at the request of the police” – in order, it said, to help in the eviction of the occupants.

WHAT NEXT?

At the time of writing, the eco-gardeners have left Yorkley Court farm with the defiant message, “our homes are gone but our community will live on.” 16 arrests were made and the homes of the occupants were demolished.


WHO’S BRIAN BENNETT?

BRIAN BENNETT, the man behind the eviction of the occupants of Yorkley Court Farm, is a developer. His major achievement was the transformation of Vantage Point near Mitcheldean into a busy industrial park after the closure of the Xerox works on the site (Xerox, incidentally, once employed over a thousand at its works there. By the time it closed it was down to about 80).

BENNETT INTERESTS:

Over the years Mr Bennett has accrued a wide range of interests to add to Vantage Point. The number of companies he has registered are too numerous to mention here. Some indeed may at present be dormant. But they include the following:

  • Allaston Developments Ltd.
  • “Bee Green Energy Ltd., which was set up to develop wind farms.
  • Whitecroft Properties Ltd, registered in May 2003
  • And, last but by no means least, Yorkley Court Farm Ltd. which was registered on 27th April 2014.

Incidentally, it was on the 29th June 2014 (the same year) that bailiffs and security guards first entered Yorkley Court Farm to try to evict the occupants. On this occasion the confrontation ended in a stand-off, and the security guards were withdrawn. Mr. Bennett, it would seem, has collected a range of irons in his fire.

90 YEARS OF THE WOODCRAFT FOLK

In Guest Feature on December 22, 2015 at 4:33 pm

by SARAH RICHARDSON

This year, the Woodcraft Folk are celebrating their 90th anniversary. Woodcraft was set up in 1925 by a 19-year-old called Leslie Paul, with a handful of boys in South London. It was a breakaway group from Kibbo Kift – which in turn had broken away from the Scouts after the First World War. These early leaders wanted to grow a youth movement which was not militaristic or monarchist. It would be co-educational and promote peace. It would also be run in an open and democratic way.

From the early days, the Woodcraft Folk has had strong links with the Co-operative movement. As early as summer 1925 there is a letter in the Woodcraft archive showing the Woolwich Co-op giving a grant of £5 in order that the first group could buy a tent.

Camping and the outdoor life was and still is an important part of the Woodcraft Folk This part of their philosophy is borrowed from the writer and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton who was writing at the beginning of the 20th Century and set up a proto-scouting group in the USA called “Woodcraft Indians”. To show connection with the natural world, Woodcrafters then would have their own name and a “Folk” name. For example, the founder, Leslie Paul’s Folk name was “Little Otter”. From these humble beginnings, Woodcraft grew to a national organisation with links with similar Socialist and peace youth groups worldwide.

CELEBRATING NINETY YEARS:

There have been several strands going on this year to mark the 90th Anniversary. There has been a heritage officer appointed who is interviewing members of all ages to create an oral history of the organisation, together with the annual gathering in September at Wales by Scout Park in the Midlands where there were workshops and meetings.

In June this year, I enjoyed the London and South East Region pageant to mark the anniversary. There were several tents to mark the different decades that the Woodcraft Folk had grown through and crafts and activities in each of those tents. I was in the 1980s tent, and ran an activity with Richard, Shona and Rowan about Greenham Common. Families came and made peace symbols to tie to our fence as women had done at Greenham There were also co-operative games such as the “Tug of Peace” and a potato and spoon race to make it vegan friendly!

Jeremy Corbyn came to cut the anniversary cake with its Woodcraft symbol on. Jeremy told us that when his children were young they had been “Woodies” and it was good to remember that there were people in the world standing up for peace.

Woodcraft’s motto is “Span the world with friendship”, an aim which is as relevant today as it was following the Great War. Happy Woodcraft – and we look forward to celebrating the centenary!

PIECES: Education Matters & Campaigning Against Trident

In Guest Feature, R.Richardson on March 5, 2015 at 9:02 pm

2 PIECES (the first by Ruth Richardson, the second – with her first Clarion article – Rowan McKeever)

EDUCATION MATTERS

BALANCING THE BOOKS:

As we move into 2015, head teachers are worried about balancing their budgets. A dossier drawn up by schools in Wirral, Merseyside, indicates that 19 out of the district’s 22 secondary schools will be unable to balance budgets in 2016/17.  The problems stem partly from increases in national insurance and pension contributions.

DEMANDING A POUND OF FLESH?

Another significant expense in many cases is the repayment of deals done under PFI (Private Finance Initiatives) signed years ago. Schools, like hospitals, were regularly rebuilt or refurbished under such deals, often tying them into thirty years of repayments.

Frank Field, the MP for Birkenhead, declared that the impact of such PFI agreements was particularly alarming.  Schools were being ripped off through high-charging maintenance  agreements.

And Russell Hobby of the head teachers’ union, NAHT, said “we’re reaching the end of the line for efficiency savings…  the fact is we’re not reaching the end of the projected cuts. We face as many cuts in the future as we have in the past.”  Schools may have to cut staffing levels and raise class sizes. The curriculum may be reduced with fewer options offered.

PROTECTED??

A spokesman for the DfE responded  saying that budgets were protected and that local authorities received the same amount per pupil as in 2010. With rising costs this is obviously totally inadequate in 2015.

FREE SCHOOLS:

The Free School movement has been in the news again – and not in a good way. First, in December, Labour acquired information via a Freedom of Information request  that 80 per cent  of those opened in 2014 had failed to fill all their places. New Free Schools, of course, attract a huge government subsidy – meaning that there’s less money for local authority schools. In Brixton, £18 million  was spent on new premises for a Free School for 120 pupils – but only 17 enrolled!  It was calculated that the present government has spent £241 million on Free Schools in the past twelve months.

Meanwhile, Durham Free School, a secondary school, was ordered to close after a damning Ofsted report, after having been open only 16 months. A Christian school, it was condemned for poor standards, bullying and financial mismanagement, as well as religious bigotry.

THROUGH THE LOOPHOLE:

A loophole allows both Free Schools and Academies to ignore government nutritional standards for school dinners. The Local Government Association  has urged Ministers to to pass legislation to bring them into line.

NEW SPONSORSHIPS:

Meanwhile, our own local academies  have found new sponsors. The Dean Academy in Lydney will be sponsored by the Athelstan Trust. Readers may remember that in 2012, Whitecross School was transformed into the Dean Academy, having been acquired by the Prospects Academy Trust. However, Prospects was found to be providing inadequate support and services, and was required to shed six of its schools. Consequently the Dean Academy has been without a sponsor for ten months.  David Gaston, the head, sounded positive about the new arrangement which includes working closely with an academy in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

The Forest Academy in Cinderford (formerly Heywood School) also lost its sponsor, E-Act, last year. It will be taken on by South Gloucestershire and Stroud (SGS) College. In this instance the school will have a “brand new curriculum”, and the school will be re-launched in September 2015.

RUTH RICHARDSON

PROTESTING AGAINST TRIDENT:

by ROWAN McKEEVER

On Saturday 24th January, my Mum, Dad and I were among the thousands who protested in Westminster against the renewal of Trident. Trident is our nuclear weapons system which is made up of four submarines and kept on the River Clyde in Scotland.

WRAPPING UP TRIDENT:

As we came out of the station, we saw a crowd of people walking past, holding signs and banners in one hand and part of a seven mile pink knitted scarf in the other.  We were surprised that we had just got out of the station and we were already part of the protest..  We joined in, holding the scarf and chanting “Wrap up Trident! Ban the Bomb Now!”  After following the scarf around for a few minutes, we reached the Ministry of Defence, where we saw just how long the scarf really was, and how many people wanted to get rid of Trident.  Tourists on open-top buses were amazed, and took photos and videos of us. Others walking down the streets stopped and stared. It was a much bigger turn-out than anyone had expected.

MARCH – AND RALLY:

After a while we were told to move along, and CND workers rolled up the scarf again, ready to be cut up and sent out to homeless people as a kind gift. We turned out on to the main road, where half of it was closed and police were everywhere. We saw big TV cameras recording everything and journalists doing news reports. My Mum and I waved the banners we’d picked up earlier. Hers said “Jobs Not Trident” and mine said “Homes Not Trident”.  After marching past Downing Street (and booing) we reached Parliament Square where a rally took place and there were speakers from many places, including a woman who sang “Four Minutes to Midnight” which was a really moving song and made us think about how short four minutes really is. And that people would only have that much time to save themselves.   Then the Green Party’s deputy leader, Shahar Ali, filled us in on all the facts – such as, it has cost £3 billion just to review whether to renew Trident or not; and if the renewal did take place it would cost a horrifying £100 billion!

WASTING MONEY?

Personally, I just can’t understand why anyone would even consider that. There are homeless people who don’t even get enough food , people without jobs , schools having to expand to fit in all the children applying for them and people waiting over four hours to see a doctor in NHS hospitals. So why is £100 billion going to be wasted on nuclear weapons which won’t be used and are just for “safety”? It is completely absurd.

I am pleased I went on the protest, because it was an unusual way of getting the point across to the people of our country. Also, it was a kind gesture to give the pieces of the scarf to people without homes. Thirdly, and finally, it shows that the people of London are doing what the Government should be doing – helping the homeless instead of wasting money on nuclear weapons.

I hope the Government can now see that people in Britain are against the renewal of Trident. I will go on all protests possible to make sure the nuclear weapons are not renewed.

bomb_tree

REVIEW / SYNOPSIS: Hannah Arendt

In Guest Feature, Reviews on November 11, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Yasemin Sari offers a review of the film ‘Hannah Arendt’ (2012 – now available on DVD) and in doing so gives us an overview of Arendt’s most important work. Sourced & edited by C. Spiby, this article first appeared in Philosophy Now, issue 100 in a slightly different format. 

A man walks a dark road. And is kidnapped. That man is Adolf Eichmann, ex-SS officer, Nazi bureaucrat and one of the architects of the Holocaust. He is captured in Buenos Aires by Mossad agents. It is 1961.

A woman stares at the ceiling, smoking a cigarette. This is Hannah Arendt, thinking.

Margarethe von Trotta’s recent biopic Hannah Arendt hit the big screen on the 50th anniversary of Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Arendt first published it in The New Yorker as a series of articles following Eichmann’s trial at the District Court of Jerusalem in 1961. This work occupies a special place in Arendt’s corpus, as it appeared after her The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958), but before her masterful investigation into how we think, The Life of the Mind (published posthumously in 1978).

In the Origins, Arendt analyzes the circumstances which give rise of totalitarianism, while in The Human Condition, she posits the idea that political action is the freedom-manifesting self-disclosing action of the individual in concert with others, grounded in conditions of plurality and equality. Both of these works stand at the core of her political theory.

Her Eichmann book is a fact-based report that presents a reflective political judgment about a man and his deeds, while The Life of the Mind is the culmination of her thinking, where she presents the activities of the mind; that is, of thinking, willing, and judging. The chapter on judging was never completed but we get an insight into how she differentiates thinking and judging and the relationship between them that is significant for understanding Hannah Arendt the public thinker. And without any reservation, I can say that von Trotta’s film aims at capturing the relationship between thinking and judging for Hannah Arendt (played by Barbara Sukowa).

Arendt the Public Thinker

‘Where are we when we think?’ is one of the central questions Arendt poses in The Life of the Mind. Although this question focuses on an invisible activity, one of the central tenets of Arendt’s work on thought concerns spatiality and how this relates to the significance of appearance in human life. As she says:

“Mental activities are invisible themselves, and… become manifest only through speech. Just as appearing beings living in a world of appearances have an urge to show themselves, so thinking beings, which still belong to the world of appearances even after they have mentally withdrawn from it, have an urge to speak and thus to make manifest what otherwise would not be a part of the appearing world at all.” (The Life of the Mind, p.98)

For Arendt, thought is manifest in conversation. Conversation happens at two levels: one personal, and the other interpersonal. In thinking, we are in a dialogue with ourselves. Thoughtlessness, then, for Hannah Arendt, is the absence of inner dialogue. This thoughtlessness, in turn, leads to the absence of judgment, which is a ‘moral collapse’.

And Von Trotta does a brilliant job in depicting Arendt’s conversations. We see with almost every significant character in her life: Mary McCarthy (played by Janet McTeer), someone with whom she shares private thoughts; her husband Heinrich Bluecher (Axel Milberg), whose love and companionship is revealed not only by words but also by expressive gestures and kisses; and with her old friend Kurt Blumenfeld (Michael Degen), whom she listens to, laughs and argue with, and seeks to be heard by.

This movie is about a particular period in Arendt’s life, and its mastery is in showing us that where she stands cannot be understood without understanding where she has come from and what she has left behind.

The relationship between her present and past features in three flashback scenes where we see her conversing with her former teacher and lover Martin Heidegger (Klaus Pohl), who later joined the Nazis. In Heidegger’s office in Marburg, we see him tell the young student Arendt, that, “thinking is a lonely business.”

By contrast the film brings to life Arendt view that thought is meaningful only when it is heard in public.

The culmination of the quest for meaning comes when Arendt delivers a lecture. We hear her talk about the inability to think and its outcomes while at the same time showing her own courage to speak to the world:

“In refusing to be a person, Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think. And consequently, he was no longer capable of making moral judgments. This inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the likes of which one had never seen before. It is true, I have considered these questions in a philosophical way. The manifestation of the wind of thought is not knowledge, but the ability to tell right from wrong, beautiful from ugly. And I hope that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.”

Politics & Judgment

The only recorded appearance we have of Arendt is her famous television interview with Günter Gaus in 1964, in which she claims that she is not a philosopher. This statement has been interpreted in several ways. I contend that there is a simple way to understand it.

Firstly, Arendt meant she was a critic of traditional political philosophy. Her criticism lies in her questioning the ‘ideal’ elements found in certain political doctrines starting from Plato and culminating in Marx and Hegel. Unlike them, Arendt didn’t offer us a vision of a future state of human society stemming from some ideal-directed (‘teleological’) understanding of history or human behaviour.

Secondly, Arendt did not propose an ideal theory of politics because she didn’t believe that ‘politics’ or ‘the political’ even exists as an ideal, abstract entity. Instead, politics, or the political, exists only insofar as it exists between human beings (see Promise of Politics, p.95).

Arendt contends that ‘the political’ is not an inherent quality of any action or thing, she herself thinks politically insofar as she thinks with others or about the ‘in-between’ of our existence together. (This ‘in-between’ concerns the conditions of living together, which binds and separates us at the same time, yet where we are aware that we share the world with each other.) This ‘political’ thinking can only appear meaningfully in public, since it is thinking with others. Here one reflectively judges what is happening in the world around her. Such reflective judgment enables us to understand the world and what kind of world we want to be part of.

hannah-arendtSo plurality is a condition for thinking in this sense, and this thinking is a precondition for judging. Adolf Eichmann, however, did not think; hence, he did not judge. In turn, through his actions, he demonstrated what Arendt infamously labelled “the banality of evil.” Here she put forth neither a general rule nor a philosophical thesis concerning the nature of evil, but rather, an explanation of a particular phenomenon in order to show how this instance of evil was possible. Von Trotta forcefully presents Arendt’s judgment as she is conversing with her old Zionist friend Blumenfeld, and says: “Eichmann is no Mephistopheles.”

Eichmann’s evil consisted in its banality. It was not condemnable because of its demonic (non-human) qualities, for his evil was not demonic. It was, however, still un-human in the sense that in the absence of his thought this human being had no presence to himself. Arendt’s term ‘banality of evil’ in no way excuses Eichmann’s actions: they were evil, and they led to a vast genocide, and he was responsible for what he had done. He did not stand in indifference, nor did he resist. He acted, in Arendt’s words “without motives” – which points to the absence of an inner dialogue with himself. Von Trotta’s use of newly-found original footage from the trial emphasizes the particularity of Arendt’s judgment, and how she saw the man, whom she judged to be a ‘nobody’.

Judging Arendt

There is an argument throughout the film about what kind of a person Hannah Arendt was: how she lived, thought, wrote, spoke, and smoked.

She cherished her relationship with her loved ones, and found this to be at the root of her existence. We see the importance of this in a scene where her husband tries to leave the house without interrupting her while she’s writing. He says that philosophers should not be interrupted while they are thinking, and she replies, “But they cannot think without kisses.”

Arendt responded to the world around her in her quest for truth – not for eternal truth(s), but for the meaning found in one’s judgment of what appears to them. Many critics have taken issue with her shift from her analysis of the Nazi terror as ‘radical evil’ in The Origins of Totalitarianism to her later idea, the ‘banality of evil’, in Eichmann in Jerusalem. As we see in the film, this judgment on Eichmann was welcomed neither by Arendt’s close circle of friends, nor by the Jewish community, nor by The New Yorker readership at large. She was accused by Gershom Scholem of not loving the Jewish people (in the film these words are uttered by Kurt Blumenfeld, at what we understand to be his deathbed). To this Arendt replies, “I only love my friends. This is the only love I am capable of.”

As she makes clear in The Life of the Mind, thinking is a faculty of the mind, and the mind is different from the soul that moves us, as the seat of the passions. For Arendt, lack of human sentiment was not enough to explain evil. Our shared world can only be meaningful and good when we can be seen and heard by others. The principle of this involves not sentiment, but thought, whose reality can only tangibly appear in conversation, maintained only through our public use of reason. What Arendt does by way of Eichmann’s trial is to argue that evil lies not in the passions of a monster, but rather, in Eichmann’s inability to reason with and for himself.

This film urges us to think, to reason and it shows us that the stakes are high. One needs to have the courage to think, and to make one’s thoughts public. Von Trotta shows us that Arendt would have been unlikely to give up this courage. To Heinrich Bluecher’s question as to whether she would have written what she had written had she known the consequences, she replies, “Yes,” and so affirms her responsibility to the world.

© Yasemin Sari 2014

Yasemin Sari is working on Arendt for her PhD at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. Thanks to Yasemin and all at Philosophy Now for their permission in reprinting this article.

REVIEWS: ‘Writings Against the First World War’ & Harveys ‘lost’ novel

In A.Graham, John Wilmot, Reviews on November 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm

“Not Our War: Writings Against the First World War”, edited by AW Zurbrugg. Published by Merlin Press, 2014.
{review by John Wilmot}

The First World War was noted – certainly during that first year of conflict before war-weariness set in – for an upsurge of patriotic excitement and flag waving that, in same cases went beyond mere fervour, often approaching something akin to hysteria. How else could one explain the burning and looting of German shops and property when hostility commenced?

But there was an anti-war movement that stood firm and declared that it was “Not Our War”. This book consists of a range of anti-war writings and declarations. It’s only natural that the majority should come from the Socialist or Anarchist left, or the pacifist movement. Many take the form of lengthy manifestos, from the pens of such committed individuals as Lenin or Keir Hardie. Others though are brief calls from the heart.

The war, of course, split the Socialist movement. Many Labour leaders (no doubt after some soul searching) across Europe chose to support the war, weakening any chances of international solidarity.

But there were many, many, more across the theatre of conflict who maintained their anti-war stance – even in Germany. Eventually, as the carnage took its toll, the unrest in Russia led to the uprising that put Lenin and the Bolsheviks in power in 1917. And, of course, the Easter rising in Dublin in 1916 grew out of Ireland’s anti-war movement and the conditions created by the war. Meanwhile, there were strikes and mutinies across the board.

The quotes are divided into sections which are prefaced by commentaries to introduce each of them. These help to explain the context in which these defiant declarations by those opposing the madness of the conflict were being made. They are, in so many cases, cries of opposition to those who created and fuelled what was essentially an imperialist war.

John Wilmot.

WILL HARVEY’S LOST NOVEL

Forest of Dean poet, F.W. Harvey wrote only one novel, and that was never published in his lifetime.

But then the neglected manuscript came to light, and finally it’s appeared in print – under the title The Lost Novel of F.W. Harvey (published by The History Press, price £12.99).

In many ways it’s a strange novel. It’s semi-autobiographical, taking us through the hero’s childhood with his parents and brother Eric, on to the trenches of the First World War, serving in the Gloucestershire Regiment.

The harsh reality of the conflict has its effect on the young hero. But here the action becomes somewhat surreal. He meets up with a young gypsy girl who disguises herself as a fellow soldier. They are both captured – but after they escape from captivity in a German prison of war camp they head for the Dutch border and freedom, falling in love on the journey – until she leaves him to travel the roads alone again.

Altogether, it’s a bit of a curiosity. There are sections that are lucid and well written, but it becomes increasingly difficult to swallow. And though it does draw strongly on the writer’s own life, the chronology is distorted – and the gypsy lover is wholly fictional (one might almost suggest that she’s a myth).

Will Harvey was taken prisoner during the war – but he never escaped, engaging himself instead in helping to produce a PoW newspaper. Incidentally, the book has also been turned into a play, Will Harvey’s War, which was performed at the Everyman theatre, Cheltenham, at the beginning of August. It possibly came over better on the stage than it does as a book, despite the minimalist stage settings.

Incidentally, the book was turned down by a number of publishers before Harvey gave up on it and buried the manuscript in a desk draw. But it remains an interesting curiosity.

AG

RE-DRAWING THE MIDDLE EAST: And re-visiting the film “Lawrence of Arabia”

In John Wilmot on September 3, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Recently I’ve been re-watching the classic 1960s film, Lawrence of Arabia.

It was much acclaimed at the time, winning a clutch of awards. It was directed by David Lean but backed by American money through Sam Spiegel at Columbia studios – and the US influence does tend to show through.

Much of it follows the heroic (and sometimes manic) actions of T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) attempting to unite the Arab tribes against the Turks during the First World War. Thus much of the action takes place in the scorching heat of the desert as the various tribes quarrel, unite, and then go on to score stirring victories over a disintegrating Turkish army. They manage to gain control of  Damascus just ahead of the British forces led by General Allenby.

But here Lawrence’s dream of creating an independent Arab state falls apart, as the various tribes once again quarrel amongst themselves, divide the loot, and leave the city.

ARTIFICIAL BOUNDARIES:

And we become aware of a sub plot to all this action. The major players had no intention of allowing the emergence of an independent Arab nation. Instead they had plans to divide the Middle East amongst themselves.

France was to be given what became Syria (further subdivided into Syria and Lebanon), whilst Britain would take control of Iraq.  And so, as they say, it came to pass.

The Middle East and much of North Africa was to be carved up between the European nations. France had much of Morocco plus of course Algeria, and now added Syria to its portfolio. Italy had already seized control of Libya in 1912 and it was to be administered as an Italian colony until 1943.  Meanwhile, Britain added Iraq and what was then known as Transjordan to its “sphere of influence” – that already included Egypt.

“A HOME FOR THE JEWS”:

It was of course a case of the imperial powers sharing out the booty. And, to complicate matters even further, under the “Balfour declaration” we also promised a “home for the Jews” in “the land known as Palestine”.

The declaration was contained in a letter sent by James Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild in November 1917.

True, the declaration stipulated that respect should be paid to “the existing inhabitants” of Palestine. And, at the time, it was not intended that it should become effectively a Jewish state. But what the letter succeeded in doing was to spread both hope and mistrust amongst Arabs and Jews alike.

Meanwhile, Britain was given the mandate to govern Palestine by the League of Nations (fore-runner of the UN) which it fulfilled until the late 1940s.

The territory was handed back to the United Nations, which decided on partition as a solution to an increasingly intractable problem. The rest, as they say, is history.

A BITTER CONCLUSION:

The Arab nationalism that T.E. Lawrence had bought into so avidly endured until perhaps the 1950s. The notion that a better world, for all Arabs, could be built has now fragmented and sadly has been replaced by a divisive, sectarian, religious fervour that is tearing parts of the Middle East apart..  That sense of Arab identity still exists on paper in the form of the Arab League, but in recent conflicts it has proved to be powerless.

And maybe we can trace much of the conflict back to divisions created by the European powers at the end of the Firs World War. It’s said that we can learn from history (if we’re prepared to do so) – but sadly we can never wind back the clock.

by JOHN WILMOT

EDUCATION: OUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE

In S. Richardson on September 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Why teachers and their unions are so angry.

By SARAH RICHARDSON

There have been many changes in Education in recent months and teachers are angry!
 
The NUT has compiled a growing list of changes on which there’s been no consultation. These include:
 
  • Changed to teachers’ pensions
  • Unqualified teachers in charge of classes
  • Introduction of performance related pay
  • End of pay portability
  • Councils unable to build further schools
  • Introduction of Free Schools
  • Expansion of the academy programme
  • Excessive workload for teachers (60 hours a week for primary teachers).

NO NEGOTIATION:

The Government has refused to negotiate with teaching unions on the policies behind these changes and has only consulted with them (briefly) on how the changes are implemented.
 
The speed and long term impact of the changes is breath-taking. Agreements, some of which have been in place since my grandmother was a teacher in the 1920s, are being torn up.  This means that  teachers will not be on a national pay scale and individual schools  will set their own pay scales. Also, if pay is linked to performance, the altruistic reasons for teaching are eroded and “payment by results” replaces it.

MINIMUM TRAINING:

 
Many universities are closing down their graduate and post-graduate teacher training programmes as more young teachers are trained at the chalkface, in charge of a class with minimum training. Learning, supposedly, happens as they teach with days out of class on programmes such as “SchoolsDirect”. Local councils are no longer allowed by law to build or open new schools in areas of need. The only schools building programme at present is the Free School’s programme. These schools have taken a huge amount from the Education budget, and are able to open wherever they want to.

PROTEST:

 
To protest against these changes, teachers have been involved in different ways.  On 4th June, teachers lobbied 156 Members of Parliament at the House of Commons. Parents have got involved in petitioning and running street stalls with teachers. On 21st June, 50,000 people marched through central London, led by the NUT, on a “No to Austerity” demonstration led by the People’s Assembly. The closing rally was addressed by, amongst others, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT. I also heard the comedian, Russell Brand, speak movingly  about boyhood memories of his father being made redundant and how common this is again. He received a big cheer for putting on a Firefighters’ T-shirt!
 

STRIKE ACTION:

On 10th July, one million people in the public sector held a one-day strike. This was made up of members from the NUT, UNISON, Unite, GMB and the FBU. Members of all these unions have been offered a one per cent pay increase at a time when Members of Parliament have an 11 per cent pay increase and inflation is still high.

On 15th July I was delighted (as was every other teacher I came across!) When the Education Secretary Michael Gove lost his job in a Cabinet re-shuffle.  Although it is wrong to personalise these savage changes, Gove has been particularly disliked and distrusted as Education Secretary. It would be good if Labour came out with some strong messages on Education. So far, the Labour front bench has been very quiet about reversing the changes.

 
If you’re interested in keeping up to date with campaigning against the cuts in public services I would encourage you to look at the People’s Assembly website on www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk and join in!

THE MINERS’ STRIKE: thirty years on

In A.Graham on March 31, 2014 at 12:29 pm

The Miners’ Strike dragged on from March 1984 until March 1985.

Alistair Graham looks back.

During the bloody, dogged years of the miners’ strike I was living “up north”. At the time I was assistant secretary of the Halifax District Trades Council, and was closely involved in giving what support we could to the miners’ struggle.

During the bloody, dogged years of the miners’ strike, I was living “up north”. At the time I was assistant secretary of the Halifax Trades Council. And was closely involved in giving what support we could to the miners’ struggle.

We had “adopted” two local pits, Emley Moor, near Huddersfield, and Park Mill collieries. We collected food and money for those on strike and their families and did what we could to publicise the miners’ cause.

Others, too, were involved. Indeed, a network of support groups had sprung up to back the miners and provide what help we could. And through my membership of the ILP I also found myself involved in support for two pits in South Yorkshire, Hatfield and Armthorpe.

PROVOKING THE STRIKE:

There’s no doubt in my mind that the strike was provoked, and that the Thatcher Government was well prepared. It came to a head when Ian McGregor (head of the NCB) abruptly announced the closure of two pits (Polmaise in Scotland and Cortonwood in Yorkshire). McGregor then told the National Union of Miners that he was planning further closures, with the loss of at least 21,000 jobs.

The strike was on, and by the end of March, it was solid throughout Yorkshire, Scotland, the North East, South Wales and Kent. Only in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire did the bulk of miners choose to remain at work.

The Government, though, had planned ahead and was ready for the conflict. Stockpiles of coal had been built up. Haulage firms with “scab” crews were hired to transport the coal – and the police were brought in to face the picket lines at the pits.

POLITICISING THE POLICE:

The use of the police, however, went much further than merely keeping order at the picket line. They were deployed to blockade motorways, instigated “stop and search” tactics – far from the picket lines and away from TV cameras and news photographers. Indeed, an investigation in the Guardian (March 1985) concluded that “there has been a widespread abuse of the criminal law in relation to arrests, road blocks and bail. In general the law appears to have been used as a means of social control rather than for its intended purpose.”

You can say that again. Effectively the police had been politicised to serve a government whose leader described the miners as “the enemy within”. The violations of the law included imposing bail conditions that amounted to house arrest or exile for many miners.

And sometimes the police went further – such as the invasion of the pit village of Armthorpe in South Yorkshire in the summer of 1984, when they charged through the community in riot gear, smashing up the place. The incident was later re-created in the film “Billy Elliot”.

And, at Orgreave coking depot, near Sheffield, police on horseback wielding truncheons indiscriminately caused havoc as they mounted a charge through picket lines. And Arthur Scargill was arrested.

The Miners’ union funds were also under attack as they were sequestered by the law courts. But still the strike dragged on. But it was beginning to take its toll. By December, many miners, particularly those with wives and children found themselves facing a bleak Christmas. In many cases, debts were mounting and there seemed no end in sight.

It wasn’t surprising that the solid support for the strike amongst the miners began to haemorrhage. As March approached it was becoming obvious that the strike could no longer be sustained.

On March 5th 1985 the striking miners returned to work. Along with others from our Trades Council and other support groups from Huddersfield and the Colne Valley, I joined the procession as miners and their families marched back to Park Mill colliery. There was no brass band to lead us, but the banner was there at the head of the column.

Not long after that, Park Mill pit was closed. And over the next few years, the lights at the pitheads in coalfields all over the country went out.

Thatcher had won. But the human scars remained – and in many old mining communities they remain to this day.

A different view on World War I

In O. Adams on January 13, 2014 at 1:55 pm

by Owen Adams (un-edited edition)

ONE late night at the Angel pub in Coleford, I found myself chatting with a soldier based at Beachley about the war in Afghanistan. He agreed that there was no good reason for the British army to be there, but as to the idea of bringing the troops home, he said “if we give up now, the deaths of all those killed in action in Helmand, including my mates, will be in vain”. In other words, to retreat would be to dishonour the fallen, despite the lack of justification for the war in the first place.

The same kind of rationale seems to be the main theme every remembrance day. If you’re not wearing a red poppy, or arguing against wearing a poppy because it’s glorifying war, it’s considered a betrayal to the memory of the dead and injured. Many poppy-pushers don’t want to hear about the futility of war, or that arms traders use remembrance day functions as networking events… or that remembering the fallen isn’t enough, we need to strive for an end to all war.

A year before the centenary of the outbreak of “the war to end all wars” (which rather paved the way for more wars), the government has announced a £50 million fund to pay for commemorations. Every school will receive funding to visit French and Belgian battlefields. The PM said: “Let’s get out there and make this centenary a truly national moment in every community in our land… to ensure the sacrifice and service of 100 years ago is still remembered”. Communities secretary Eric Pickles added: “Remembering the huge losses of people and sacrifices made across the Commonwealth during the First World War is something that will unite the whole country next year… We have a duty to educate future generations about the First World War to ensure that the role our armed forces played, and continue to play, in defending our liberties we take for granted today are remembered.”

Never mind that even the best historians are unable to explain precisely why or how all the major world powers of 1914 mutually massacred more than 15 million of their young, that people’s liberties weren’t on the agenda (rather they were slaves ordered to murder), we are now obliged to remember the sacrifices people made for “their country”, in the stage-managed propaganda of the military-industrial complex.

The sacrifices people were forced to make – under pain of court-martial, imprisonment or firing squad, or at best accusations of cowardice – were in the name of capitalism and empire. Is it coincidence that war was declared at a time of immense social upheaval across Europe, when trade unions, labour movements, calls for universal suffrage and socialist causes were beginning to make headway and threatening to topple the establishment and capitalist fat cats? While we remember the war, will we also remember the widespread industrial unrest (including two police strikes), mutinies, peace truces, the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland and the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as the German Revolution of 1918, the anti-war sentiment of the shipyard workers of Red Clydeside and many socialists in Britain and elsewhere, plus the devastating 1918-19 influenza outbreak which killed far more people, already exhausted by years of unnecessary brutality?

Will we remember one of the enduring slogans of the war: “A worker at both ends of a bayonet”? Perhaps not even Labour Party historians would want to see the First World War as intrinsically a war to stem the tide of international socialism and a burgeoning working-class uprising – Robert Tressell’s The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists was published just a few months before war was declared?

Just two days before war was declared, Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson signed a manifesto at an anti-war rally at Trafalgar Square which stated: “Workers stand together for peace! Combine and conquer the militarist enemy and the self-seeking Imperialists today, once and for all… Down with class rule. Down with the rule of brute force. Down with the War. Up with the peaceful rule of the people.” Within several weeks, the British Socialist Party, the Labour Party and TUC swung firmly behind the war, leaving only the national council of the Independent Labour Party unstinting in its anti-war stance.

Bristol Radical History Group, which includes input from Forest of Dean historians such as Ian Wright, are researching and appealing for hidden and buried war-time history to be unearthed and collated as a counter to the government’s propaganda machine about 1914-18.

Among the revelations they are working on is that the so-called Christmas Day truce of 1914 involved hundreds of thousands of soldiers, in some places lasted for months rather than a day or two, and was repeated several times; that Churchill and other leaders hatched a plan to engage British and other troops – 500,000 of them – in nipping the Bolshevik revolution in the bud, but had underestimated the lack of enthusiasm for such a campaign; that soviets were declared not only in Russia, but even a soviet formed in Southampton; and that there was a roaring trade in VD  gononoccal pus, rubbed on the groin, as a way of getting out of the trenches, as well as soldiers shooting themselves in the foot.

The Gloucestershire poet FW Harvey, who lived in Yorkley from 1921 until his death in 1957, is remembered almost entirely as a “war poet”, mainly thanks to his poem Ducks, penned while a prisoner of war, but scarcely known for the peace meetings he organised at Devil’s Chapel after the Great War. While we have no proof either way, Harvey enthusiasts will typically dismiss any suggestion that he deliberately went over the top to hand himself over to the Germans in 1916 to escape the trenches for a prison, as so many others did. The stigma remains, promoted by warmongers, that someone trying to save their own life or sanity by leaving the battlefield is a coward.

The narrative Cameron and co will no doubt want us all to follow is that everyone in Britain was eager to play their part before and into the war, and it was only after soldiers experienced the horror of the trenches that they were moved to pen poignant poetry. The story is well known that those who didn’t volunteer before conscription was introduced in 1916 had white feathers thrust on them by “patriotic” women and elders.

However, research under way by Ian Wright suggests that in the Forest of Dean, at least, only a small number of miners were willing to leave the pits for the trenches. This was despite a recruiting office being set up directly outside the entrance of Norchard pit, near Lydney. But in January 1915, figures show only 600 out of 7,000 miners (out of a total Dean population of 15,000) had signed up to fight the Huns. Only about a quarter of the 800-strong Forest battalion of the Gloucesters regiment were recruited from the Dean – while the officers came from ruling-class families and mine owners. The battalion last 292 men, 38 from the Forest. And there was also opposition to conscription, as more than 200 Forest miners were to be dragged into the war by order of HM Government after 1916.

“In the summer of 1916 at the annual miners’ demonstration at Speech House the National President of the Miners Federation urged the miners across the country to stand together against their natural enemy, the coal owners,” writes Ian. “He emphasised the need for union solidarity with other industries, in particular the dockers and railway workers. These views were very popular and had the support of the Forest miners, where union membership was nearly 100 per cent.

“At a meeting in Drybrook in August 1917 syndicalist miners from south Wales met with the Forest men. They decided to oppose any further scheme and declared in favour of negotiation for an immediate and honourable peace with Germany.”

The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) syndicalist slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” seemed to apply at Norchard Colliery, where 6,000 Forest miners threatened an all-out strike in 1918 calling for the reinstatement of one sacked worker.

In Russia, the Tolstoyan Valentin Bulgakov’s first reaction to the outbreak of war was an appeal to “wake up, all people are brothers!… The common enemy of us all, no matter what nationality to which we belong – is the beast within us.” He was soon arrested. AE Ashworth’s The Sociology of Trench Warfare 1914-18 remains one of the best alternative narratives which reveals the humanitarian lengths ordinary soldiers in both trenches went to while their bosses, the generals and other commanders, weren’t looking. One British soldier remembered: “Hatred of the enemy, so strenuously fostered in training days, largely faded away in the line. We somehow realised that individually they were very like ourselves, just as fed-up and anxious to be done with it all.”

Ken Weller’s Don’t Be A Soldier! also offers valuable insights which depart from the establishment version of jingoism and sacrificial lambs. The title is taken from a leaflet produced by the North London Herald League in 1914, which stated: “A good solider is a blind, heartless machine. At the word of command he will put a bullet in the brain of the bravest and noblest man who has ever lived. He respects neither the grey hair of age nor the weakness of childhood. He is unmoved by prayers, by tears, or by argument. He is indifferent to human thought or feelings. Don’t be a soldier – be a man!”

Finally, the official account always tells us that the war ended with the armistice of November 11, 1918; the reality was demob didn’t get underway until the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919, and only after numerous mutinies, mass walkouts, an influenza epidemic and civil unrest in towns such as Luton, where rioting returning servicemen faced with unemployment smashed up the town hall and a grand banquet organised for the mayor. “For a while the power of the armed forces had slipped out of the control of the ruling classes,” Dave Lamb notes in his extensive study of mutinies from 1919-20, of which there were many – some leading to the setting up of soviets or workers’ councils.

We all know what happened after Versailles. The toxic brew of nationalism and fascism fermented across Europe over the next two decades, tolerated – and supported – by the British Establishment right up until 1939. Industrialists, capitalists, church and other forces of ruling-class authority were bolstered and workers repressed by fascism – only when their empire, land, resources and private interests were specifically threatened did the allies swing into action and push the cannon fodder into service again. Just like any war waged in the name of “our country”, past, present and future, it was good for business, good for averting crises in capitalism and continuing the great lie.

Find out more about Bristol Radical History Group’s alternative WW1 history project here: http://www.brh.org.uk/