Visions and Nightmares: The Visionaries by Wolfram Eilenberger

Reviewed by Jon Elsby

The Visionaries bears the subtitle “Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, Weil and the Salvation of Philosophy”, which suggests a possible kinship with other recent publications – for example, Metaphysical Animals by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman, Benjamin Lipscomb’s The Women Are Up To Something, and Nikhil Krishnan’s A Terribly Serious Adventure. But immediately we note that the first two of these concerned a quartet of formidable female moral philosophers who were friends and contemporaries at Oxford c. 1937–42 (Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch), while the third concerns Oxford philosophy between 1900 and 1960 – a period when linguistic philosophy of various kinds dominated the Oxford scene. In other words the subjects of these books had enough in common to lend a certain coherence and integrity to a project such as telling the story of modern philosophy through biographies of the principal actors.

At first sight, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Ayn Rand, and Simone Weil seem to have little or nothing in common except their sex and the accident of contemporaneity. But, as Eilenberger skilfully interweaves their stories, we begin to understand what they shared and why he chose precisely these thinkers as the subjects for his book. In the first place, all four were much occupied with questions of personal identity: Who am I? What am I? What does it mean to be a Jew, or a woman, or a worker, or an embodied human being? What is consciousness? How should I live? How should I relate to others? Is my identity socially constructed or a datum (i.e. a “given”) of nature? Secondly, they were forced to consider these existential questions against a backdrop of political turmoil, violence, persecution, war, and death. Thirdly, they were all outsiders in more than one respect – as women philosophers, at a time when philosophy was an almost exclusively male preserve; as Jews in the cases of Arendt and Weil; as a radical feminist in rebellion against her “bourgeois”, Catholic background and upbringing in the case of Beauvoir; and as a Russian émigrée and self-styled apostle of Friedrich Nietzsche in the case of Rand. Fourthly, all these thinkers, although somewhat influential within the humanities and/or the social sciences, have been largely – and, Eilenberger argues, unjustly – ignored by the mainstream philosophy departments in colleges and universities.

For all these women, precisely because of the time in which they lived, Nietzsche was a key figure, whose bold philosophical challenge – his announcement of “the death of God” – had to be met and reckoned with. As Eilenberger writes—

As with millions of other young people who found their way into philosophy through the champion of the Übermensch, not to mention Nietzsche’s rebellious content and stylistic brilliance, the psychological element had been crucial for Rand. Nietzsche’s writings give young people who are intellectually alert but largely isolated in that critical phase of their development an existential justification for being social outsiders: a kind of matrix of understanding for their own difference, which also has the seductive effect of allowing them to see their experience of exclusion as making them part of an actual elite.

The impulse has its dangers, because it also has a narcissistic after-taste. Even twenty-nine-year-old Ayn, as her philosophical journal proves, was aware of that apparent tendency toward elitism—

“Some day I’ll find out whether I’m an unusual specimen of humanity in that my instincts and reason are so inseparably one, with the reason ruling the instincts. Am I unusual or merely normal and healthy? Am I trying to impose my own peculiarities as a philosophical system? Am I unusually intelligent or merely unusually honest? I think this last. Unless – honesty is also a form of superior intelligence.”

Words of astonished self-interrogation, which could fundamentally also have come from the pens of Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, or Simone de Beauvoir. All of them were tormented from an early age by the same questions: What could it be that makes me so different? What is it that I clearly can’t understand and experience like all the others? Am I really driving down the freeway of life in the wrong direction – or is it not perhaps the mass of wildly honking people coming toward me flashing their lights? A doubt underlying every life lived philosophically. […]

The philosophizing person seems to be essentially a pariah of deviant insights, the prophet of a life lived rightly, whose traces can be found and deciphered even in the deepest falsity. At least this is one way to understand the role that Ayn Rand as well as her contemporaries Weil, Arendt, and Beauvoir assumed with ever greater confidence. Not that they had expressly made a choice. They simply experienced themselves as having been placed fundamentally differently in the world from how other people had been. And deep inside they remained certain of who or what the problem needing treatment was: not themselves, but the Others. Possibly, in fact – all the Others.

If one were to pursue that view, the actual impulse of astonishment at the beginning of all philosophizing is not the surprise that there is “something and not nothing,” but rather, honest bafflement that other people live as they do. In other words, the decoupling of philosophical thought from its original impulse is not ontological or epistemological, but social. It affects not the relationship of the self with the mute world, but the self with speaking Others.

That is certainly one way to understand the origins of philosophical inquiry. But it can hardly escape the reader’s notice that it is a very egocentric, solipsistic, and rather self-congratulatory way. Another way – less introspective, less self-centred, more objective, and more humble – might be to feel, and perhaps even to cultivate, a Chestertonian sense of childlike wonder that anything exists, and a sense of profound gratitude for the gift of being. When reading the brief extract quoted above from Rand’s philosophical journal, we note that, in the questions she poses to herself, the only alternatives she allows are those that admit of only flattering responses. “Am I unusual (i.e. special) or merely normal and healthy?” What about “normal but unhealthy (perhaps neurotic or narcissistic)”? “Am I unusually intelligent or merely unusually honest?” What if the answer is “neither”? Self-absorption easily leads to the conclusion that one is, in some way, special – not one of the herd: a misunderstood genius, an isolated exception to the norms that apply to other, “ordinary” people; and that one’s singularity is a mark of distinction: a cause for self-esteem and contempt for a world that obstinately refuses to take one at one’s own (high) valuation. Eilenberger is surely right to warn of the danger of narcissism in such an approach to philosophy. It is an approach best suited to the chronically immature: that is, to adolescents, and others who vainly and ignorantly suppose that the world revolves – or, at any rate, ought to revolve – around themselves.

An example of the moral quagmire that a self-centred, narcissistic philosophy can lead to, is furnished on page 196 et seq (the subject is Simone de Beauvoir)—

“All that year,” Simone de Beauvoir recalled, “I had gone on trying to live exclusively in the present, to grasp each flying minute.”1 But with the spring of 1939, this attitude had reached its limit. Particularly since Sartre’s and Beauvoir’s emotional life was at this point assuming a form that rivalled the geopolitical situation in complexity. After three shared years in Paris, the triangular arrangement of Sartre-Beauvoir-Olga had turned into a series of overlapping polygons. According to her delicately balanced timetables, Beauvoir was cultivating, alongside her relationship with Sartre, liaisons with Olga (who was, at this time, engaged to “Little Bost”), Little Bost (although Olga was under no circumstances to know about that), and a pupil from her previous year’s baccalauréat class, eighteen-year-old Bianca Bienenfeld (with whom Sartre had also been in a relationship since early 1939). Sartre was also in a serious relationship with Olga’s younger sister Wanda (which Sartre consistently denied in the face of all the other relationships). Beauvoir (and Sartre) were also beginning another relationship with a former pupil named Natalie Sorokin. And those were only their serious liaisons.

Entirely in line with the pact they had made ten years before, in their letters Beauvoir and Sartre spared each other no details, however humiliating, about their love affairs. Beauvoir’s life-defining urge “to enjoy every moment” in the face of a gloomy future, without ever putting herself at risk in any true sense as a human being, had in other words produced an everyday network of asymmetrical relationships and dependencies that eluded any kind of benevolent description.

Perhaps this situation contains what elevates truly literary people above the great mass of scribblers: the will, purged of all ethical dimensions, to place all experiences, all relationships, all adventures at the service of a possible fictionalization. To instrumentalize them into pure devices for one’s actual purpose in life.

This is the great temptation and besetting sin of the artist and intellectual: to see himself (or herself), not as “gifted” (which would imply a giver to whom one owed gratitude) but as privileged, or superior to others, and therefore exempt from, and unconstrained by, the ethical rules, the standards, and the network of reciprocal obligations and mutual acknowledgements which apply to lesser beings, binding “ordinary” people together into communities, and making possible a shared moral life. Those who see themselves as “exceptional” feel at liberty to transgress what they contumeliously call “bourgeois morality” and to invent their own rules and codes, or even to dispense with morality altogether, as they think fit. In keeping with this limitless conception of freedom – an autonomy that recognizes no bounds or external constraints – Sartre and Beauvoir were among the French left-wing intellectuals who signed a January 1977 petition to the French parliament calling for the decriminalization of all “consensual” sexual relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France).

To some extent, this self-centredness is understandable (although by no means excusable). When the world seems to be engulfed in a suicidal maelstrom, reflective people, always inclined to introversion, naturally turn inwards, both to find a refuge from the madness of events, and to read the signs of the times. Even in Catholic circles, philosophies like existentialism and personalism, which put the acting personthe human subject – at the front and centre of philosophical inquiry, were much in vogue. Philosophically, the temper of the times was individualistic, subjectivist, and personalistic. In part, this was a legacy of the Romantic Age, with its exaltation of the lonely, Byronic hero and its disdain for the mass of humankind; in part, it was a response to a series of seemingly apocalyptic and uncontrollable world events: revolution in Russia, European wars, the rise of fascism and communism, the Holocaust, and the unanticipated and irreversible decline of the great European powers (including Great Britain), whose empires were crumbling, leaving a vacuum where such world powers had formerly held sway. (The rise of the USA to superpower status, although it had already occurred, had not yet been made manifest; nor had the full extent of the political and economic decline of the European powers.)

Our four philosophers tried, each in her own way, to find a path through this chaos, turbulence, and uncertainty, but their solutions were strikingly different from each other. Arendt achieved cult status as a moral and political philosopher and a secular commentator on Jewish affairs. Beauvoir achieved prominence as an atheist, feminist, and existentialist, and, together with her life-partner, Jean-Paul Sartre, was active in left-wing politics. Rand, though her literary and intellectual reputation stands far below that of Arendt, Beauvoir, and Weil,2 is well regarded and enduringly influential in conservative libertarian circles, especially in the USA. Weil is widely considered to be one of the greatest Christian mystics, writers, and philosophers of the twentieth century, and is still read and studied, by Catholics especially.

The polarities between these four thinkers can be most clearly seen in the cases of Rand and Weil. Here, first, is Rand. She was working on her novel The Fountainhead (1943) when she went to hear the English Marxist intellectual, Harold Laski, speak. He proved to be the ideal model for the anti-hero in her novel3 – the counterbalance to her Nietzschean hero, Howard Roark. Eilenberg takes up the story—

Rand could hardly grasp her luck. There he was – the anti-Roark par excellence! In return for their applause, the rhetorically skilful Laski, with the obvious arrogance of his performance always slightly muted by a hint of irony, and using all the right words and all the right theories, gave an enthusiastic New York cultural set exactly what they had decided they thought was correct, as the result of long years of quiet subversive propaganda. All she had to do was observe him, listen to what he said, and write it down.

A suitable name for Laski was also quickly found. As always in Rand’s novelistic universe, it was a suggestive one: Ellsworth M. Toohey. A great and diabolically devious adversary of Roark’s, Toohey was the subject of the whole of the second of four parts of the novel. In spring 1940, Rand definitively captured him as a fictional character. As the most influential art critic of the most influential newspaper in the country, Toohey would pursue his levelling mischief from New York—

“Toohey’s [purpose is] to ruin the strong, the single, the original, the healthy, the joyous – with the weapon of ‘other people,’ of humanitarianism.

“Toohey has risen to a position of great power in society. He is the undeclared dictator of the intellectual and cultural life of the country. He has ‘collectivized’ all the arts with his various ‘organizations,’ and he allows no prominence to anyone save to mediocrities of his choice, such as Keating, Lois Cook, and others of the same quality.

“Toohey destroys all independence in people and all great achievement … To discredit great achievement, he sets up standards which are easy for the phonies.”

As far as Rand understood, the actual cultural precondition for the totalitarian advance lay in the complete and deliberate fogging by the media of the judgment of each individual. And this was nowhere more apparent than in the sphere of aesthetic judgment: in the judgment of works of art.

In his role as master of the levelling process, the art critic Toohey, for Rand, embodies a banality of the supposedly “good” (as the “humanitarian,” the “social” …). In fact, however, this is directed at the very ability that marks an individual as an individual and enables the individual to act as such – a sense of what is truly beautiful, and of how human existence should and could actually be. In Rand’s vision, the hero Roark pursues consistently and with an almost superhuman refusal to compromise that “sense of life.” The target of Toohey’s journalism in the novel is the courage embodied by Roark as well as the ability to make independent judgments and create new things. Or in other words: to think, invent, and act without relying on the support of others.

In the summer of 1940, in a new outline of the novel, Rand developed the social and political aspects of the “Toohey Principle” in a narrower sense, and aligned them with the threatening global triumph of European totalitarianism—

“[Toohey] is basically sterile; he has no great passion for anything and no great interest in anything save other men. Thus he decides not to attempt to seek superiority, but to do better: to destroy its very conception. He cannot rise. He can pull others down. He cannot reach the heights. He can raze them. Equality becomes his greatest passion.

“He understands fully the basic antithesis, the two principles fighting within human consciousness – the individual and the collective, the one and the many the ‘I’ and the ‘They.’ … He knows that the source of all evil and all sorrow, of all frustration and all lies is the collective sense, the intrusion of others into the basic motives of a man. And since he is dedicated to the destruction of greatness, he becomes the enemy of the individual and the great champion of collectivism.

“His life program is simple: to destroy men by tying them to one another; to preach self-sacrifice, self-denial, self-abasement; to preach the spiritual slavery of each man to all other men; to fight the great creator and liberator – Man’s Ego. Toohey is famous as ‘The Humanitarian’. … Universal – without even the dignity of a master. Slavery to slavery. A great circle and an utter equality. Such is Ellsworth M. Toohey.”

Thus Rand, like Nietzsche, sees herself as the foe, not only of socialism and egalitarianism, but also of Christianity. The superman has no need of, or use for, pity, sympathy, altruism, love of neighbour, or any other civilizing qualities which might mitigate his narcissism, his egoistical obsession with his own greatness. The contrast with Simone Weil, a Jewish convert from secularism to Catholic Christianity, could hardly be greater, as Eilenberger makes clear when he writes of Weil that—

Just as a clear vision of the suffering of others does not require norms or even ethical imperatives, it does not need or tolerate explicit encouragement or requirements. The tendency toward the active acceptance of the Other as a suffering being may be different in individual cases, but, in a state of what Weil called “superior indifference,” those individual differences are clearly to be taken as given just as much as the reality of suffering itself—

“We must not augment the inclination to relieve distress – it matters little whether it be strong or weak, for it is natural, and is neither good nor bad – but do away with what prevents it from being exercised.”

As regards the existence of Simone Weil, this inclination was clearly quite extreme, indeed almost pathological in the eyes of her fellows. Her ego was weakened and thus made porous to the suffering of others to an unheard-of degree. The supreme good for her would have been to be allowed to pass through the last door with the greatest possible attention and immersion – the ego weakened to an extreme degree – and abolish the boundary between her own being and that of others. It would be the highest good. It would mean becoming very light. It would mean becoming absolutely free at last, even if there was no choice—

“Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Another form of freedom than that of choice is bound up with it, which is on the level of the will – namely, grace. We should pay attention to the point where we no longer have a choice. We then know our dharma.

“The real aim is not see God in all things; it is that God through us should see the things that we see.

“I have got to withdraw in order that he may be able to see it.

“To love all facts means nothing but to read God in them.”

Weil’s ethic, based on a “superior indifference” and purged of any purpose, approaches positions represented in the Western context by Baruch Spinoza or, in Simone Weil’s lifetime, by Ludwig Wittgenstein. But in the Eastern cultural sphere, this also appears in Buddhism and Hinduism – correspondences to which Weil makes explicit reference and explores in her Notebooks. What particularly reduces and impedes the inclination among people to act in the right way is, she argues, the insistence on the “I,” or indeed on the “We,” as the supposed source of all aims and values.

Existentialist commitment is an arrogant crime against the goodness of being – that was Simone Weil’s ruthlessly consistent verdict in the winter of 1941–42. The alternative that she suggested was an ascetic path of salvation free of any form of earthly will. “Certainly, that is not for everyone,” Weil stated laconically in her Notebooks, “but, then, neither is loving God for everyone.” Yet like everything in this world that has weight and value – the beautiful, the good, the just – the origin of his love also lies in another world—

“Supernatural love alone creates reality. In this way we become co-creators. We participate in the creation of the world by decreating ourselves.”

Obviously, both Rand and Weil were temperamentally inclined to extremism. But, equally obviously, Rand’s Nietzscheanism, her uncritical admiration for the Übermensch (superman) and her boundless contempt for those whom Nietzsche called “the bungled and botched,” issue in a form of extremism which, if it were adopted as the basis for a party political programme, would do great harm, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Weil’s Christian extremism is altogether saner and healthier. It is precisely the same extremism that we encounter in the words and acts of Jesus Christ reported in the Gospels, in the epistles of the New Testament, and in the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. It is an authentically Christian radicalism.

Rand’s philosophy is the apotheosis of egoism; Weil’s is its negation. They are polar opposites. Arendt and Beauvoir would have found Rand’s politics hard to stomach but, morally and philosophically, they are closer to Rand than to Weil. Neither would have practised or advocated the negation of the ego. Neither would have acknowledged an objective moral law, uncreated by man, to which all men are answerable. Both would have repudiated Weil’s Christian mysticism without really understanding it. In order to grasp Weil’s thought, it helps to have some acquaintance with the mystical tradition, both in Christianity and in the Eastern religions. Readers of the Bhagavad Gita, the Sufi mystics of Islam, or the Christian mystics of Spain, Germany, and England – Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Walter Hilton, and Dame Julian of Norwich,4 – will be better able to comprehend the totality of Weil’s thought than those who are unacquainted with the literature of mysticism.

It is certainly true that the four women who are the subjects of Eilenberger’s book were remarkable original thinkers, fully equal to any of their male contemporaries. It is not clear, however, why they should be credited with having effected “the salvation of philosophy”. Salvation from what, exactly? Irrelevance? Meaninglessness? Sterility? Male dominance? Extinction at the hands of one or other of the totalitarian ideologies (fascism, Nazism, or communism) that were then re-drawing the map of Europe and re-shaping European culture? Disappearance from the cultural horizon? None of these seems at all likely. Many other philosophers, including some women, were active in the period when Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, and Weil were writing, and some of them arguably made more significant contributions to philosophy than they did. Husserl’s student, Edith Stein (now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – 1891–1942), is an example. Various schools of analytical philosophy (such as linguistic analysis, logical positivism, and analytical Thomism) were then being practised in the Anglosphere, and movements such as phenomenology, neo-Thomism, and, as mentioned before, personalism and existentialism were flourishing in Continental Europe. In the USA, the pragmatism of William James, John Dewey, and C. S. Peirce was still influential. Globally, the state of philosophy was (or, at any rate, seemed to be) healthy enough – or so one would have thought. Certainly, it did not appear to require anything so radical and dramatic as “salvation”.

That said, Eilenberger’s narrative explains how four highly intelligent women navigated a way through the intellectual cross-currents of an exceptionally challenging period. It notes their commonalities and their differences. They started from very different places, and their paths, though they intersected at certain points, eventually diverged. The fact that they are still read, and their ideas remain relevant in the modern era, with its own, peculiarly distinctive properties and problems, shows that, whether one agrees with any of them or not, they do have to be taken seriously. In bringing them to our notice in a new way by juxtaposing their stories in this very readable, absorbing, and often illuminating narrative, Eilenberger has rendered a valuable service.


1 Why would anyone try to live exclusively in the present? Did Beauvoir think that the human faculties of memory of the past and anticipation of the future, had neither use nor purpose?

2 Rand called her philosophy “Objectivism” and claimed that its central tenet was that all knowledge is based on sense perception, the validity of which she considered axiomatic, and reason, which she defined as “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses”. Epistemologically, this is very simplistic, denying, as it does, any valid role for personal testimony as a source and guarantee of knowledge. Yet, much of what we ordinarily – and rightly – claim to know (e.g. what our friends did on their holidays, or that Mozart was born in 1756) is based upon such testimony. And there are many other sources of knowledge: for example, memory, sympathy, induction, a priori intuition, divine revelation, and conscience. And, as the Calvinist philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, has said, “There is also the whole process of theory building, which may or may not be reducible to the previous abilities.”

3 However, Laski was an economist and political theorist, whereas Rand’s anti-hero, Ellsworth M. Toohey, is an art critic.

4 Readers of Thomas Merton may also find Weil easier to grasp than those with no previous knowledge of mysticism.

Jon Elsby’s spiritual and intellectual journey has been from Protestantism to atheism, and finally to Catholicism, an evolution he has traced in his memoir Wrestling With the Angel: A Convert’s Tale, published in paperback by CentreHouse Press. His most recent book, also published by CentreHouse Press, is Seeing is Believing, which develops themes touched on in his memoir, but with greater focus on the relations between faith and culture, an issue addressed by several American apologists, though very few on the UK side of the Atlantic have taken it up. Seeing is Believing is available on Amazon Kindle.

The Visionaries: Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, Weil and the Salvation of Philosophy, by Wolfram Eilenberger, is published by Allen Lane, 2023, hbk, 400 pp, ISBN ‎ 978-0241537374.

Stabbing the Oligarchy in the Back

The Black Hundreds march in Odessa in 1905

Without socialist reform, every capitalist country is primed for civil war – including Russia

by Phil Hall

Russians are good chess players, but life is not a game of chess. It is far more complicated. Putin and his confreres correctly identify the real challenge they face – and that faces all the representatives of criminal capitalist oligarchies around the world. Vladimir Putin’s real enemy, and the enemy of the class he represents, are his own people. Any socialist worth their salt understands this. The spectre of class warfare is ever-present in every capitalist society: in the USA, China, the UK, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil – in every capitalist country in the world.

In his speech, given during Wagner PMC’s attempted mutiny, the Bonapartist Russian president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, compared the attempted insurrection to the Bolshevik Revolution which caused the capitulation of the Russian regime to Germany in 1917. His speech was hardly an endorsement of egalitarian, internationalist, communist and socialist ideals.

Every capitalist country in the world is faced with intense internal contradictions arising out of increasingly accentuated class conflict, with greater and greater wealth accumulating in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Unless wealthy elites and corporations reform and sustain enlightened social democracies in every capitalist country, civil wars are primed and ready to be unleashed. We saw evidence of this in France over the pension reforms and now there is rioting over the brutal behaviour of the police -mainly towards migrants. The riots have now spread to more than one European country.

To understand the limitations in the analysis of Russian strategists and game players, one must understand the following: Russia has always been relatively insular. It is hard to govern as a whole because of its great size. Despite all the many achievements of Russia’s literature, art, science and technology, the majority of the country is rural and socially and culturally backward.

For example, Russia, in the time of the USSR, did not undergo the same cultural transformation in the 1960s that much of the rest of the developed world underwent. The increased tolerance, equality and individual liberty promulgated by young people in the 1960s was regarded as bourgeois decadence by the government of the USSR.

The USSR was not an advanced communist society, although it possessed some aspects of an advanced socialist society. On the whole, the communism of the USSR was a distortion and a sham. The USSR inspired the Orwellian idea. The dictatorship of Stalin installed a vacuous and frozen ideology into the Soviet educational system. It crammed this ideology into the heads of every school child. Any questioning of this ideology resulted in being blacklisted and marginalised. The government by the Soviet communist party was pharaonic, pyramidal and tolerated no opposition. After an initial period of hope, the USSR ended up being the exact opposite of the original ideal; that of a country governed by people’s Soviets. The people did not govern in the USSR.

Unscrupulous real-politick kept the nomenklatura in power. But when the moment came to transition to capitalism, the ‘communist’ nomenklatura was ready. It had absolutely no compunction or hesitation in seizing state assets. Yes, these were the personable ‘тунеядство’ that the African, Asian and Latin American socialists hob-knobbed with uncritically; grateful for the intelligence received, for Soviet jeeps, Kalashnikovs and SAMs. When it came to a critical evaluation of Soviet society, they looked away.

Since 1990, Great Russian chauvinism has raised its troll-like head. These can sometimes be very unpleasant people. Many of us had the experience of being cornered in a bar at an airport or in a hotel by some hard-drinking Russian in the 1970s or 1980s in the USSR. He (because it was always he) would then tell us how much he hated black people and Soviet Jews and how much he liked Apartheid South Africa and, oddly, Israel.

I lived and worked in the USSR. First in 1984 and then between 1990 and 1991. The slugs of the nomenklatura, who paid lip service to socialist ideals, then morphed into monster slugs in the 1990s. After 1991, the Black Hundreds were back on the march in the Russia. They became an acceptable part of the political mix.

Ukraine has the Banderites, but Russia has the new Black Hundreds. Pamyat are reactionary, monarchist ultra-nationalists. The current ruling elite rejects any of the progressive elements it may have inherited from the time of the USSR and, instead, takes care to reaffirm the older traditions of Russian autocracy, obeisance and pre-revolutionary religious bigotry. All the Russian empire’s greatest authors lamented Russia’s extreme backwardness during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and if people like Chekhov and Tolstoy and Goncharov were alive now, they would still be lamenting it.

Barge Haulers on the Volga (1870-73)

Turning to those who shout and tout uncritically for Russia, we see people among them who say they are socialists. These so-called socialists are the same people who punch down at immigrants and transgender people, and at the usual targets of the national socialists of the 30s, including homosexuals. They are demagogues with no respect for democracy who quickly turn into reactionary nationalists and supporters of Russian and Chinese nationalism. The loud-mouthed, demagogic narcissist George Galloway is a good example of one of these anti-democratic faux socialists. He plays to the ultra-right crowd.

Chavez, Lopez Obrador, Morales, Bolsonaro, Trump and Duterte. These are all populists who either bypass democratic institutions or traduce democracy when they achieve power. Demagogues pop up in lieu of anything better. They are political opportunists; flotsam and jetsam. They conveniently forget what Russia actually is and who controls it. They ignore the fact that the Russian people might actually hate their own oligarchy. These Europeans and Americans side with the Russian oligarchy and have the cheek to call the Russians who oppose their oligarchs ‘traitors’.

Falling for the old trick; the SUN newspaper on sinking the Belgrano

Whipping up nationalism is a useful tool to manipulate the masses of people. Nationalism binds societies together into a bundle perforce, into a fasci. The war on Russia for its resources by NATO, and the great Russian nationalism of the Putin government that opposes it (acquiring its neighbour’s territory in the process) binds Russian society together in its support of a Bonapartist-like leader. If some of the humblest Brits hanker for the glory days of empire and look admiringly at the pink on the old the maps, then so do some of the humblest Russians.

Nationalism is a temporary unifier. We have seen this trick before so many times, now. We should be wise to it. How does it go? Forget inequality. Forget exploitation. Forget injustice. Rally round. Rally round the billionaires: billionaire Putin, billionaire Sunak, multi-millionnaire Ramaphosa, multi-millionnaire Biden.

It is an unfortunate truth that wars and economic crises precipitate social chaos. But they also catalyse social change and revolution. Or, as Putin explained it, ‘stabs in the back’. Putin equated the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 to a stab in the back. Putin and his oligarchy would deserve it! Just as Sunak would and so would Biden. Socialists, what may be coming, what may be precipitating out is not a world war, but a world revolution of sorts – and a chance to eliminate an especially vampiric form of corporate capitalism.

A footnote: Despite all appearances, don’t count European social democracy out of a multipolar world. With our immigration policies, with the egalitarian education of our young, with Europe’s embrace of human rights, with its regret for past colonialism and nationalism, with its partial avoidance of fratricidal wars, European society has become advanced and comparatively tolerant. Tolerance and multiculturalism are precisely the values that recidivist nations like Russia reject. If any society is prepared for a multipolar world, then it is European society, not BRICS.

Editorial: what is humane socialism?

By Phil Hall and the contributors of Ars Notoria

I dreamed of a world where people got together into families and then organised into neighbourhoods. From there they organised into districts, then towns and regions and larger regions. I dreamed that everything that was political and economic and social and artistic, and environmental and recreative was pushed down, and decided on at the lowest possible level. Then I woke up and told my father about my dream. He was going through a difficult patch at the time, so when I told him he said, roughly:

That’s been thought of before.

I knew that it had been thought of before, but that was not the point. The point was that my unconscious had offered it up to me as a solution in a dream. My unconscious was troubled and wanted to help me sort out the problems that my conscious mind was working on. I was reading so much about revolutionary change and different types of socialism. The inhumanity of some forms of socialism puzzled me. Aren’t socialists good people?

the inhumanity of some forms of socialism puzzled me

What is the obvious puzzle that all humane supporters of communism are faced with? The problem of authoritarian socialism. It claims to eliminate all forms of exploitation, while, at the same time, clamping down on all dissent, murdering opponents, violating habeas corpus, removing people’s creativity, restricting freedom of expression and free will, abolishing the possibility of multiple parties, taking away all the independence of the judiciary and taking over all the media. And those are only some of the visible problems.

I am not at all interested in the arguments for a so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, are you? Doesn’t it sound repulsive? That is the period in which all class distinctions are removed and people are re-educated into a sharing and into a collective frame of mind. We have seen the perverse results of these ‘proletarian dictatorships’ in China and the former Soviet Union.

The dead giveaway for an authoritarian socialist is that they despise democracy and political representation.

The dead giveaway for an authoritarian socialist is that they despise democracy and political representation. They believe in elites and vanguards and people being told what to do and think. When you think of communism, don’t find excuses for its failures. Look at it in the face.

Look at the man standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen square. Go and talk to Jewish people, and to other people of different ethnicities, about the prejudice they experienced in the former USSR. Talk to the survivors of the Cultural Revolution. Talk to the survivors of the terror.

And even in the best of cases, in Cuba, while they have many benefits, there is no political freedom, no democracy, no freedom of expression and no freedom of belief. There is a deep residual homophobia and the toxic vestiges of all the fossilised values of the 1950s that remained when the Fidel and his band took power.

In contrast, we see what a sham socialism is in western Europe

But this is an old debate. In contrast, we see what a sham socialism is in western Europe. There is no need to go too deeply into it here. So-called socialist parties like Labour were intensely comfortable with people being stinking rich. They made war on Iraq in the hope of lapping up the scraps of looted oil wealth fallen from the table of the USA. People nominally calling themselves socialists in Britain proudly claimed the inheritance of Thatcherism: privatisation and low taxation. One rule for the rich, another for the ordinary citizens.

As soon as politicians of any type are elected, they are targeted and corrupted – often well before they are elected. To be a successful politician, you need support from business and the billionaire owned media; you need money and publicity.

Afterwards, if you behave like a good little boy or girl, you will be offered speaking engagements, a job with a corporation, a foundation might be set up in your name. You might even get a directorship or two on one of the boards of the companies you benefitted.

And that’s the problem. The problem is that, inevitably, if you have an uncontrolled capitalist system, certain people are more effective, for good or bad reasons, and they gather more profit – they steal more of the value of other people’s surplus labour. Real economic power produces real political power.

You may vote socialist until the cows come home in Britain, but any socialist government will be a pushover for the people with real power in our country, and a pushover for the global corporations. That is, unless we act in concert to support socialism. Jeremy Corbyn was a missed opportunity.

You can’t face down or threaten, or disembowel the companies that pollute and exploit and pay low wages and encourage war, and who profit from illness, without a fight.

Do you think voting makes a difference to a huge mining corporation, a vast bank or an armaments company? These are people who make money from the misery and exploitation of millions. These are people who produce weapons that kill and maim thousands. Do you think they are afraid of you? No. But they are afraid of us as a collective. They fear it when a socialist government has the full support of the people.

I have met Labour MPs in the pay of companies, who have gone on business tours of Saudi Arabia. What were they selling to the Saudis? And that’s just the Saudis. Let’s stop there before we spiral into despair.

The corporate wizards behind the curtain

Someone once said to me, a teacher called Paul, that all the answers to life are in the film The Wizard of Oz.

There is actually some very important wisdom along the yellow brick road that I can find. The corporations, with all their money and power, are like the wizards behind the curtain speaking in big booming voices using megaphones impressing us with tricks and wizardry into subservience, resignation and the worship of billionaires. These wizards are not that impressive as human beings. Look at them closely! Look at Bezos and Musk and Zuckerberg.

Yes, it is true that the power of the corporations is real. Yes, it is true that the armies they might use to repress us use real bullets. They may even have cameras everywhere and be watching you on the Internet. They may have killer robots and drones. One day They may have DNA coded weapons – one day.

But where the inequality and exploitation and powerlessness is really perpetuated is in our heads. We have to agree to everything. We have to agree that things should be the way they are; that it is right that they are the way they are.

where the inequality and exploitation and powerlessness is really perpetuated is in our heads

In response to the seemingly immoveable power and reality of the status quo, Angela Davis quoted her mother. Angela Davis, growing up in Birmingham Alabama, cried when she was told that she could not use the local library because she was black. But her mother took her aside and said something to her that stayed with her all her life. She said:

Just because things are this way doesn’t mean that they should be this way. And it doesn’t mean they will always be this way.

For me, the lessons of Karl Marx and all socialists boil down to one very simple fact that isn’t a scientific or difficult at all. We can all understand it. There is no need to read anything to understand this fact, not even Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. It is not a mystery. That’s it!

So long as you have unfairness, prejudice and injustice anywhere, people will fight to stop it because they don’t like it. Because they are human. Humanism is at the heart of a fair and just, a kind and a free society.

How do we deal with the wizards behind the curtain, with their armed guards and their megaphones, their mass media, and all the paraphernalia in place that tries to guarantee that the relations to production are reproduced in a way that benefits them almost exclusively?

So long as you have unfairness, prejudice and injustice anywhere, people will fight to stop it because they don’t like it.

After the army, the Navy, the Air Force, the police and the prisons, the Internet is the most powerful weapon our masters control. They may monitor what people are thinking and target them.

But they can only obfuscate, confuse, misinform and persuade. They cannot stop people from thinking and sharing ideas. The weapon that we think is there to monitor and control us – the Internet – is a double-edged sword. It serves the purposes of socialists too.

Before we act, we must understand. Ignore those people who say that activists on the Internet are armchair activists. On the contrary. Thinking and politicisation is the first step before you join a trade union, before you join a social movement, before you act you think and understand.

There is an alternative (TIAA)

When the USSR fell, the ultra-right neoliberal ideologues in the pay of the corporations in the USA, the current centre of global capitalism, were pleased. They claimed that it was the end of history and that there were no alternatives to capitalism any more and that capitalism could easily be reformed into something better and kinder. Do you see that kinder capitalism in operation around you now?

Ignore those people who say that activists on the Internet are armchair activists

I know this is a childish reference, but it is a reference from my childhood. We were told that there was no alternative to capitalism. Margaret Thatcher was the witch who tried to hypnotise us in the UK into thinking this. There was even an acronym for it: There Is No Alternative (TINA).

And that makes me think of the witch in the Silver Chair, a book written by C. S. Lewis. The witch has tied prince Rilian to a chair and has thrown narcotic herbs onto the fire and she is saying.

“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?” they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is. Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

For years, with all the power of modern corporate capitalism behind it, after the fall of the USSR, socialists were told there was no sun. They were told that people were not good, that they were evil. That sharing and kindness were just a disguise for self-interest. That the only reality was the reality of looking out for yourself. That collective action was evil because it automatically denied the rights of the individual.

This story, with so much money and power behind it, was disrupted by children. Stories about the impossibility of change are always disrupted by the young. The young people of the world are connected up now. They can see the wizards poking their heads through the curtains, those that do, and they don’t think that much of them.

They think there is the possibility of a better society and they really want it because they can’t get good, well-paid jobs easily, and because they see the dangers of automation, and because their health service is in the process of being defunded and outsourced and because property speculation has meant they have to live in tiny nooks and crannies give all their money away to landlords, and because they see the corporations externalising their costs madly and bringing us to the brink of environmental collapse. They know there must be a sun. There has to be a sun called socialism.

Stories about the impossibility of change are always disrupted by the young.

The contradictions of capitalism mean the people at the sharp end of exploitation and marginalisation, when they understand what’s happening and why and to the benefit of whom, will act collectively against weird cabals of clever and cold-hearted little wizards.  

Three painful jokes about capitalism 

There were three jokes that did the rounds. Each one illustrates a different aspect of awakening. There is the cartoon in the New Yorker where the chairman of the board stands in front of the other members of the board and says:

“While the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.”

Then there is the joke where a multimillionaire confronts a young person in the street and stares at them and says:

I am a multimillionaire.

And the young person responds:

Oh dear!

And then the man standing in front of the young person says:

And I want you to like me!

And the young person looks even more worried and says:

Oh dear!

The third wasn’t really a joke. I am sure you remember it. It was a question:

What would think if one member of the family hoarded all the family wealth and food in his room so that there was nothing left for anyone else, and refused to share it with the rest of his family and threatened them when they came near the stuff?

You would probably call the police, or the hospital. You would think they had gone mad.

Modern capitalism is like smoking. We all know it’s bad for us.

Modern Capitalism is like smoking or cars designed without any safety features. We know that smoking and poor safety features on cars have killed and maimed many millions, many innocents.

The companies that made a profit from cigarettes and unsafe cars knew that the world knew. They knew that scientists had exposed them as pushers and killers and that ordinary people also knew. Cigarette manufacturers were just playing for time.

Modern capitalism is playing for time, too. It is the cause of poverty and climate change and of nearly all the evils faced by people on this planet.

It’s very simple. This is what you get if you run a society based on greed and exploitation.

But capitalism’s number is up. The problem of climate change alone is enough to kill it. So many of us see the creeps behind the curtain for what they are. They are not gods or wizards, they are usually just incredibly rich, selfish, ruthless dodgy old white men.

Noam Chomsky, bless him, answered the question perfectly. When he was challenged with TINA, and someone said that socialism had failed and that it has no alternative to capitalism, he said that of course there was an alternative.

It was to not exploit, to not pollute, to not declare war, to not divide and rule, to not do all the things that are done to ensure the wealthy stay wealthy and get wealthier. And to do the things that socialists, and perhaps even communists, have always wanted. And what are they? Well what is humane socialism? Humane socialism, my friends, is the socialism we want it to be.

I asked my fellow socialists on Ars Notoria what they wanted humane socialism to be and this is what they said:

One said: quote Thomas Hardy’s poem:

A Plaint to Man

When you slowly emerged from the den of Time,
And gained percipience as you grew,
And fleshed you fair out of shapeless slime,
Wherefore, O Man, did there come to you
The unhappy need of creating me –
A form like your own for praying to?

My virtue, power, utility,
Within my maker must all abide,
Since none in myself can ever be,
One thin as a phasm on a lantern-slide
Shown forth in the dark upon some dim sheet,
And by none but its showman vivified.

“Such a forced device,” you may say, “is meet
For easing a loaded heart at whiles:
Man needs to conceive of a mercy-seat
Somewhere above the gloomy aisles
Of this wailful world, or he could not bear
The irk no local hope beguiles.”

But since I was framed in your first despair
The doing without me has had no play
In the minds of men when shadows scare;
And now that I dwindle day by day
Beneath the deicide eyes of seers
In a light that will not let me stay,

And to-morrow the whole of me disappears,
The truth should be told, and the fact be faced
That had best been faced in earlier years:
The fact of life with dependence placed
On the human heart’s resource alone,
In brotherhood bonded close and graced

With loving-kindness fully blown,
And visioned help unsought, unknown.

Another said: Quote Keir Hardie’s Bradford speech:

I shall not weary you by repeating the tale of how public opinion has changed during those twenty-one years. But, as an example, I may recall the fact that in those days, and for many years thereafter, it was tenaciously upheld by the public authorities, here and elsewhere, that it was an offence against laws of nature and ruinous to the State for public authorities to provide food for starving children, or independent aid for the aged poor. Even safety regulations in mines and factories were taboo. They interfered with the ‘freedom of the individual’. As for such proposals as an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, the right to work, and municipal houses, any serious mention of such classed a man as a fool.

These cruel, heartless dogmas, backed up by quotations from Jeremy Bentham, Malthus, and Herbert Spencer, and by a bogus interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, were accepted as part of the unalterable laws of nature, sacred and inviolable, and were maintained by statesmen, town councillors, ministers of the Gospel, and, strangest of all, by the bulk of Trade Union leaders. That was the political, social and religious element in which our Party saw the light. There was much bitter fighting in those days. Even municipal contests evoked the wildest passions.And if today there is a kindlier social atmosphere it is mainly because of twenty-one years’ work of the ILP.

Scientists are constantly revealing the hidden powers of nature. By the aid of the X-rays we can now see through rocks and stones; the discovery of radium has revealed a great force which is already healing disease and will one day drive machinery; Marconi, with his wireless system of telegraphy and now of telephony, enables us to speak and send messages for thousands of miles through space.

Another discoverer, through means of the same invisible medium, can blow up ships, arsenals, and forts at a distance of eight miles.

But though these powers and forces are only now being revealed, they have existed since before the foundation of the world. The scientists, by sympathetic study and laborious toil, have brought them within our ken. And so, in like manner, our Socialist propaganda is revealing hidden and hitherto undreamed of powers and forces in human nature.

Think of the thousands of men and women who, during the past twenty-one years, have toiled unceasingly for the good of the race. The results are already being seen on every hand, alike in legislation and administration. And who shall estimate or put a limit to the forces and powers which yet lie concealed in human nature?

Frozen and hemmed in by a cold, callous greed, the warming influence of Socialism is beginning to liberate them. We see it in the growing altruism of Trade Unionism. We see it, perhaps, most of all in the awakening of women. Who that has ever known woman as mother or wife has not felt the dormant powers which, under the emotions of life, or at the stern call of duty are even now momentarily revealed? And who is there who can even dimly forecast the powers that lie latent in the patient drudging woman, which a freer life would bring forth? Woman, even more than the working class, is the great unknown quantity of the race.

Already we see how their emergence into politics is affecting the prospects of men. Their agitation has produced a state of affairs in which even Radicals are afraid to give more votes to men, since they cannot do so without also enfranchising women. Henceforward we must march forward as comrades in the great struggle for human freedom.

The Independent Labour Party has pioneered progress in this country, is breaking down sex barriers and class barriers, is giving a lead to the great women’s movement as well as to the great working-class movement. We are here beginning the twenty-second year of our existence. The past twenty-one years have been years of continuous progress, but we are only at the beginning. The emancipation of the worker has still to be achieved and just as the ILP in the past has given a good, straight lead, so shall the ILP in the future, through good report and through ill, pursue the even tenor of its way, until the sunshine of Socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land.

Other recommendations were quite conservative:

Medical care for everyone, a good educational system, gender equality, reducing the gap between social classes, freedom of movement for individuals, a solid constitution to safeguard the people from dictatorship and corruption, freedom of speech and respecting human rights

Some people were clear about how they saw a future socialist society:

A humane, democratic and socialist society is one that is organised according to kindness, compassion and love. Its values and goals are that of unity, peace, equality and tolerance. These ideals are achieved by people living together as one community, abandoning our selfish, greedy and territorial ways, instead living for one’s neighbours and community, not oneself. A manifesto provides practical ways of how we can achieve this ideal. The overall aims of this manifesto is to fight injustice, poverty, climate change, war and capitalism, as these are the obstacles in the way of the world, we want to build.

Responsible and Sensible Leadership/Greater accountability of power

1. Pooling of sovereignty of all nations, so to prevent the outbreak of wars, international tensions and concerns for international security. It also ensures accountability of world governments, protecting democracy, human rights and civil liberties, as well as ensuring that governments commit to solving climate change, tackling poverty and dispensing social justice. Inspiration is derived from the European Union (EU), which has been credited for maintaining peace and protecting human rights for over sixty years.

2. Parliaments and governments to be elected by proportional voting. A “Swiss style” of government – a country led by a presidential council with equal representation of both men and women, rather than a single individual as head of state. Direct democracy, including more referendums.

Caring for our planet

3. Ban the use of fossil fuels and non-recyclable products and packaging. Invest in renewable energy, homes, products and transport. Use recyclable and reusable material in products and packaging. Improve and invest more into public transport. Plant more trees and create more green spaces in urban areas. Protect green belts, natural habitats, forests and fields. Stricter penalties for littering and causing pollution. Penalties to businesses and organisations that fail to cut carbon emissions. Sanction countries that fail to reduce carbon footprint.

4. Our planet is not only for humans, we also share it with animals and we should care more for them. Animal rights to have greater recognition and be taken more seriously. Reduce consumption of meat and move towards a more plant-based society. Stricter penalties for abuse of animals. Introduce more ethical farming.

No one is left behind

5. Nationalisation of all public services, making them accessible for all who need them. Improve these public services as well.

6. All citizens to be entitled to universal basic income and access to safe and clean accommodation, so that no one has to go without and have access to their basic needs.

7. Free healthcare, education and social services for all

A spiritually and emotionally healthy world

8. You work to live, not live to work. Workers rights to be protected. Four day working week to be introduced. More bank holidays to be introduced. Increase minimum wage. All employers must provide support for employees. Employees to be regularly motivated in their roles, by being made to feel appreciated and valued.

9. Make showing compassion and kindness to others, a social norm. Educate children and young people and encourage adults. An Inclusive World

10. Promoting diversity and ending discrimination. There is no place in society for discrimination and cannot be tolerated. Human rights are to be protected. Encourage society to be multicultural and accepting of difference. Introduce stricter penalties for discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexuality, disability and nationality.

Another person was heartfelt:

Compassion. Compassion even for those who may only be the figments of our deranged imaginations. Compassion even for those we will never meet, but whom we can imagine being. Compassion even for those who will never help us, and never even know of us. Compassion even for the lowliest ant, or fly. And gratitude for what we have.

Another said:

Justice for Palestine and for all oppressed people in the world, that the yoke of oppression be lifted.

Yet another person was a practical visionary:

  • There should be a commitment to a fair and open markets, recognising the dynamic, innovative role free enterprise can play.
  • Free expression through varied and free – but not corporate-dominated – mainstream media, including public media; controls on advertising
  • Commitment to strong government and public oversight, mediation and controls, to curb a free economy from becoming a casino economy.
  • Keep/restore the commanding heights of the economy including infrastructure and essential services, to the public sector, for example and specifically compensating private companies on the basis of value after tax, and reduction of total compensation by the amount of extra profit made.
  • Government and Unions each to make up 35 percent of Boards, 30 percent to be private sector owned.
  • Directors’ income in all forms to be strictly limited. This formula and these proportions to be followed in all case.
  • Renationalise BP, and reduce prices for petrol and diesel, compensating by value after tax, and reduced by amount of overpricing for the past five years.
  • Transform the economy into a CO2 zero emissions economy by 2030.
  • In stages, reduce investment in air transport dirty sea transport. Invest in expanding rail networks in the UK and in better transport links with Europe.
  • Prevent foreign investors from owning British properties and speculating with them or using them as a way to store wealth abroad. Investigate all the people who buy up property in Europe thoroughly.
  • Directors and executive incomes/expenses in all public sector or parastatal institutions to be capped.
  • All foreign investment to be for a minimum of three years, only half original investment to be returned if withdrawn before that.
  • Allow free movement of all non-resident EU citizens in the UK, with residence or new EU citizens subject to two-year renewable work permits until qualifying after ten years for permanent residence permits and/or dual citizenship.
  • Reciprocal arrangements to be negotiated with and between all EU countries and the UK.
  • All public works and parastatal/public sector institutions at national and local levels to increase job recruitment, and to reduce and strictly control tendering, consultant employment, outsourcing and sub-contracting
  • A Basic Income Grant (BIG) be provided to all adult UK citizens.
  • Affordable housing made available from through a massive building programme and through appropriating houses and flats left empty for speculative purposes.
  • Rents strictly controlled and  housing laws reformed to make Rackmanism a criminal offense
  • All student fees abolished and means tested grants made available to all students as they were with previous generations. All student debt to be cancelled.
  • All homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, racist, and anti-religious attacks to be punished by hard sentencing.
  • Internet companies like Google and Facebook to be replaced, banned or strictly regulated, and companies like Uber and Amazon to be fully unionised by law and to pay decent wages and
  • Freedom of speech laws on for the Internet to be worked out and published and implemented. Policing and surveillance and data collection to be limited to criminal activity and organisations.
  • Free light and water be provided for all legally recognised high density/low income housing.
  • Small businesses to be provided with a grace period for taxation of two years and to pay much less tax proportionately than the large corporations that currently avoid paying tax.
  • All British tax havens to be closed down.
  • Playgrounds and municipal buildings restored to their rightful owners and the local councils and boroughs to be well funded.
  • Taxation from the wealthy and corporations to be increased to a maximum rate of 90% for the richest corporations and most well off.
  • NHS to be given massively increased funding from increased taxation of the wealthy.
  • Free fast Internet to be provided to everyone in the UK.  
  • All housing estates be provided, pro rata, with a park, a civic/community centre, sports fields, a library and a small shopping centre; these all to be built as public works schemes, employing small building teams under strict public works supervision; tenders, where necessary, be administered under strict central government supervision.
  • Technical/vocational and IT training institutes be increased and facilities and staff upgraded throughout the country, being given high status in education.
  • Film, theatre, art and culture production to receive full subsidies.
  • The history and origins of traditional practices in all UK communities be researched and libraries and museums established, including museums on slavery and colonialism, with collections and displays of literature, films, photographs, dances, art, crafts and artefacts.
  • All accused of violent crime to the level of grievous bodily harm and more to be tried within three months, to be given no bail and if convicted, to receive mandatory long sentences.
  • Cannabis to be legalised in the UK, while strong action taken against people who trade in more dangerous drugs are redoubled.
  • The police service to be overhauled to reduce the amount of racism and prejudice and the mental health services to be properly funded so that the police don’t have to deal with so many people with mental health problems.
  • All forms of gender and sex discrimination are outlawed, and full human rights protected, and legal aid to be provided free to everyone to pursue any discrimination case.
  • Solitary confinement of prisoners to be banned.
  • Convicted prisoners to work 40 hours weeks at jobs useful to the economy and society, with an element of training for rehabilitation. The prison service to be taken back into public control.
  • Sign up again to the EU social charter and coordinate economic policies more closely with the EU, and allow free movement of people and trade within all member states again.
  • Government endorses an economic and social programme of overseas aid that is not only tied to British strategic commercial interests.
  • Government maintains strong diplomatic and trade relations with the European Union, particularly with its original core members and with the Scandinavian countries, and strengthens relations with Russia.
  • In the Middle East, suspend diplomatic and trade ties with Israel unless:
  • Israel guarantees as a preliminary step to return to its 1967 borders, return East Jerusalem to Palestine, and agrees to the right of return for Palestinians.
  • An unless Israel guarantees to remove all racist laws and religious discrimination – or returns to its 1948 UN-recognised borders, and if it continues as a racist state, is subjected to total sanctions and isolation as were Rhodesia and white South Africa.

Humane socialism will be what we want it to be. Dare to dream. Prepare to act!

The virtues of good, enlightened, accountable elitism

Toxic, global, corporate capitalism must be called to heel.

By Phil Hall

My father, Tony Hall, a globe trotting journalist and editor of international news magazines, a socialist and political activist, believed in the virtues of elitism. He believed in rule by enlightened elites. But don’t we all? Of course he said this sotto vocce. There were elements of Leninism in my father’s elitism and, perhaps, an over-romantic vision of the role of peasants’ and workers’ Soviets. Don’t forget, this Platonic, Soviet vision of an enlightened and just society electrified the entire world in the first quarter of the 20th Century.

Tony Hall in Ethiopia in 1973. He alerted the world to the famine taking place there

For Tony hall, enlightened elite meant ‘Goodness’. It meant a democratic socialist elite operating in a socialism where capitalism had been dethroned, though not necessarily completely rooted out. At heart, Dad believed in a society where decisions about the public good were taken by good people working in government, people who did not not cow-tow to the machines of corporate profit-making.

Are we really lions lead by donkeys?

Some of the people I know and associate with are lions. Generally speaking, they are intelligent, educated, moral and competent. They are good. If you are reading this, you might be one of them. The concept of an enlightened elite is a broad one. There is plenty of room for many tens of thousands of people to participate as a member of a well-intentioned, governing elite.

Farmers’ protests in India, photo by Randeep Maddoke

No one wants to be lead by donkeys, or dangerous buffoons like Boris Johnson. But who imagines that the Naxalites (or the Sikh farmers) can govern in India? Who thinks the Zapatistas should rule in Chiapas, or Sendero Luminoso in Peru? Who agrees that certain key Brexit voting communities in the north should be the ones to decide the future of the UK.

… this Platonic, Soviet vision of an enlightened and just society electrified the entire world in the first quarter of the 20th Century

In academia, we are asked to judge Plato’s government of philosophers as a terrible thing. It is not. In part, the criticism of this idea is because of a growing misanthropy and distrust, and lack of faith in humanity. Faith in humanity has been eroded by memories of historical atrocities and injustices, memories that remain fresh. It has also been eroded by new atrocities and injustices that continually remind us of how far we have to go.

Also, Plato’s idea that philosophers should govern is opposed because it goes against the prevailing ideology. Rational philosophers in government would not leave so much of their decision making to the so-called ‘wisdom of markets’. They would oppose the selfish intentions of the reigning global, capitalist olygarchy.

But, at root, most of us, I think, do believe Plato is right; all of us perhaps except for a few immature, embittered, despairing, half-baked intellectuals who arguing for chaos; for childish versions of anarchism, or dog-eat-dog right wing libertarianism.

No one is saying we need Blairite technocrats again, flunkeys at the service of the rich, but we should argue strongly for a competent, educated, experienced, elite; one that properly represents the interests of the entire society, an elite that represents that society in a global community that has shared problems and aspirations. Let’s not pretend that the least educated, most victimised people know better. Remember, ‘the people’ voted Brexit.

The existential threats that face humanity – many of which have been exactingly defined by Nick Bostrom – are enough to defeat any argument for a more ‘natural’ arrangements of governance.

Long live the courage, work and intellect of the Soviet people. 1962

What was communism good for?

Communism is good at winning world wars. It is good at undertaking ,and completing, big projects like the building of great dams, or sending humans into space. It works where a concerted effort has to be made. Communism, of the sort we have experienced, is a system which can build pipelines in record time. It provides people with a fair degree of equality, with free health care, social protection, jobs, a vast quantity of shitty social housing and plenty of rubber stamped low and high culture.

Communism, in places like the former USSR and Cuba, freed people from an all-consuming addiction to products; that horrible fetishism. In so doing, it allowed people to assign their own value to things.

Communism removed some of the alienation people in capitalist societies still feel when almost every aspect of human existence has been commodified, every emotion employed to manipulate and meaning reduced to status. State socialism brought us closer to our fellow humans and to nature in a community of equals. You need to have experienced communism properly to understand that last statement in your gut. Disregard the miasma that surrounds communism’s memory, study it, study its history and understand it for what it actually was.

The tourists who used to visit communist countries – even when they were not socialists themselves – would feel that something was qualitatively different about that society; they would feel that there was something new, fascinating and wonderful about Cuba, for example, but they didn’t fully understand what it was that they were sensing.

The existential threats that face humanity … are enough to defeat any argument for any more ‘natural’ arrangements of governance.

Despite its advantages, clearly this form of  communism was moribund. It was destined to die because decision making almost always flowed downstream and never upstream. Few people had agency within communist societies apart from the leadership of the party. Individualism was discouraged, or even severely punished. There was little or no accountability for the ecological messes bureaucrats caused, or for the failures in supply, or for the small and the vast abuses of power, or for the stultifying boredom of it all. Perhaps the worst feature of that bureaucratic society was that it was a perfect place for corruption and decadence to flourish.

… in 1991 the shit hit the fan for the former USSR.

Top-down communism ran out of steam. All the life has drained out of it. If you had opened the gates in the USSR most of the talented people would have run away. Fortress communism is not a viable economic and social system for human beings because such a system, to be successful, needs an enormous amount of civic participation, democracy and free and critical thought. There was little of that in the old USSR.

Within fortress communism, it is true that people were provided for, but they only had freedom where there were gaps in control. The USSR gradually became a zombie society. No moral, intelligent human being can argue the case for such a society convincingly.

Phil and Tere in Kiev in 1991

In this respect, my father and I parted company. While he was merely a fellow traveller, I actually travelled. I did a degree in Russian and studied and then worked in the former Soviet Union. ‘OK‘, I can hear some of you comment, ‘Perhaps your class allegiance is suspect. How typically middle class you are!‘ Certainly, I am no expert. But in 1991 it didn’t matter anyway, because the shit hit the fan for the former USSR.

Individual agency is a virtue of capitalism

Capitalism has the great virtue in a social democracy of giving the gift of agency to almost anyone who lives its centres. By centres I mean places in Europe, Japan, Korea, the USA and Canada and Australia and New Zealand. This gift of agency also holds for many developing, capitalist countries, too on the periphery.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and then Keir Starmer ignores this capitalist, entrepreneurial dimension of the former working class.

You cannot deny that people want to have control over their own lives and they want to be free to express themselves and to be creative. Capitalism is much better at this than socialism. Remember, many of the so-called working-class in the north of England don’t want to work in mines or factories any more. Instead, they aspire to being their own bosses and starting their own micro or small business. Yes, they were a part of the working class, but they don’t want to be any more and they won’t vote Labour. For many of them it is not really because they feel Labour has failed them, rather they now have the instincts of the petite bourgeoisie on the make. They have different aspirations to the working class – paying taxes is a bind. There are far more real working-class people – as defined in terms of relations to production – in the immigrant communities.

Going to Work (1943), commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and then Keir Starmer ignores this capitalist, entrepreneurial dimension of the former working class. They see Northerners and ‘the poor’ as all being petitioners to the state with their begging bowls stretched out.

In the past, before the war, the UK had a vast servant class, but no one wants to be a servant any more unless they have to be to survive, just as few people want to work in factories and mines now.

… before the war, the UK had a vast servant class, but no one wants to be a servant any more unless they have to be to survive, just as few people want to work in factories and mines now.

Capitalism, especially in its more enlightened centres, allows for a degree of individualism. There is always a wonderful shamanic element to the person who has a great idea for a new product, or a service. These are artists, of a sort.

Then there are the welcome opportunists: the Indian shopkeeper who opened on Sundays in a small town in the 1970s, whose child is now a doctor working for the NHS. There is the woman who sells cold drinks on a hot day, or hot drinks on a cold day. There is the person who does your nails so well, or your hair. There are the less beloved, the plumbers, carpenters and electricians. The owner of an enormous road haul truck. The traveller who discovers the delights of Pitaya fruit, stealing it away to his own country, calling it by another name: ‘Dragon Fruit’. There is the Bengali restaurant in Brick Lane. Even the Stone cold profiteers have a part to play, they are the ones who bring Coca Cola to some wooden duka in the driest refugee camp in Somalia. Bless ’em.

The first Costa Coffee shop in Vauxhall, now owned by Coca Cola

Are Nando’s and Costa Coffee really evil?

What should be the limits to growth of an enterprise that puts so much effort into trying to divine the needs and wants of other people, and into supplying them.

There were articles in The Guardian years ago by people who wrote about the evils of Nandos and Costas. This may confuse you. Why are Nando’s and Costas evil? They are chains, you see. They clone the high streets, you see. But who has the right to put limits on that success? Who decides when Nando’s and Costas stop being wonderful little shops and start becoming part of threatening corporate empires?

We can agree that Starbucks is not the best of companies, Unilever and Proctor and Gamble are worse. We get murkier and murkier. Think of the Kochs, Nestle, Goldman Sachs, Exxon-Mobile and BAE Systems; all of whom seem to have very little to recommend them.

… corporations can kill, maim or harm millions in their search for profit.

Ruthlessness in the search for profit affects everyone badly. There are cigarette manufacturers who kill, armaments manufacturers who kill, car manufacturers who kill, chemical companies that produce opioids, oil companies that alter the climate, tech companies that produce mass surveillance software. Corporations kill, maim, or harm millions in their search for profit, their purpose is not just to sell spicy chicken and strong coffee to passers-by.

In the darkest part of the corporate webs are the pirates and economic rapists, the evil shape shifters: Blackwater, Rentokil and Rio-Tinto Zinc. What do they call themselves these days? Then there is organised crime. Organised crime which launders its money through all of these legitimate networks.

When it comes to meteorites, global warming, pandemics and the negative consequences of global corporate capitalism, we need powerful, enlightened, democratically accountable elites to take control and make rational decisions and carry out actions that are in the interests of society.

Phil Hall is a college lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.

Liberalism and Worker Ownership, not Das Kommunism.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, 1844, founders of the cooperative movement

By Neil Newman

One of the most striking facets of the secular religion Marxism is the almost complete lack of a model for the post-revolutionary society. What are the economic relations of that society? How does that society continue on from there? Towards what is it supposed to evolve? Marx had few answers to these questions and wrote down even fewer.

There are reasons for this. Marx knew that other political philosophies had answered those questions amply. To find these answers we first have to examine some definitions of common political words. Firstly, we enter the political definitions of Liberal Theory.

Liberal Theory holds that strong cultures/communities are composed of strong individuals.

Liberal Theory holds that strong cultures/communities are composed of strong individuals. To develop strong and confident individuals certain freedoms are required, both for the individual and for the society around them that helps shape them. Some freedoms are well known. All of these freedoms require rules to define and defend them. The Bill of Rights in the US is one such document, as is the European Convention of Human Rights. This must be understood. All liberal freedoms require rules to maintain them, not platitudes.

There are a few main Liberal Theory Freedoms

Freedom of Speech: The freedom to think and speak otherwise than the powerful would like you to
Freedom of Conscience/Religion: The freedom to be a part of a religious/moral community the powerful might not want you to be a part of
Freedom of Individual Wealth: The use of money in some form that the individual can save or spend as they wish, for their own improvement or betterment, without needing the agreement of the community or powerful
Freedom of Association: The freedom to join and form political parties, unions, from which collective power comes
Democracy: Also commonly associated with liberalism, democracy being the natural end result of a community of empowered individuals.

There is however a liberal freedom that is commonly misunderstood, not least by its loudest champions.

Freedom of Markets.

Now, a moment’s reflection on the preceding freedoms reveals that they all require rules – in fact, they are rules. Without rules, freedom of speech does not exist. Those with the loudest voices (or biggest fists) can prevent the quietest (or weakest) from speaking. Without freedom of conscience, the largest religion can enforce compliance to its own norms.

The liberal Philosopher Adam Smith laid out several rules for Free Markets – such as: ease of access, full and free information on goods, honesty in description, and equitable taxation. These are rules, not a free-for-all where only the powerful will win.

Marxism and its lack of vision.

Smith also laid out, precisely, that the most ‘perfect’ free market was an infinite number of producers and an infinite number of consumers. In other words, a monopoly is the opposite to a free market, but an economy of multiple small producers gets closer to the free market ideal.. It is important to say that this is theoretical.

When Karl Marx cropped up, the ruling wisdom of the Internationales was worker-ownership. SocialDemocrat, or Anarchist visions. These were based upon the Liberal Theory premises. Essentially, by making every worker a capitalist, who can withdraw their capital and start a competing firm, the requirements for Smith’s free markets are best fulfilled.

an economy of multiple small producers gets closer to a better model for society

Marxist Communists however divided into two camps. On one side, were those who decried it as petite bourgeois. On the other, those who saw it as a common-sense path to full communism. (If you want to get somewhere, start walking towards it).

Marx earlier however, had realised that he needed to be different to the social democrats and the anarchists. And so 300 years of careful preparation were thrown out of the window in exchange for the excitement of revolution. And we are all very much poorer for it.

The capitalism of worker ownership

Capitalism is once again part of Liberal Theory. It holds that everyone owns their own capital. This is both financial capital, and every other type of capital too: labour capital, land capital, intellectual capital, and so on. In the time before capitalism, individuals themselves could be owned – they did not own their own capital. In capitalism there is actually no requirement that one must sell their labour for wages – this happens, sadly, only because of the pre-existing conditions of social haves and have nots.

An economy run on entirely worker co-ownership is possibly the purest form of Capitalism possible.

An economy run on entirely worker co-ownership is possibly the purest form of capitalism possible. If Marx had admitted that, would Marxism have ever happened? He of course knew about Worker-ownership, and even the early Soviets were based upon that model.

Instead, Marx chose to redefine capitalism as be something entirely different – the very pattern of exploitation that capitalism should replace. How the meaning of capitalism transformed so radically is a mystery that, sadly only political necromancers can answer now. But Marx knew.

And that can be why there is this gaping hole in Marxist Theory – what is to come afterwards? For what comes afterwards is the pathway laid down by the Social Democrats and Anarchists to get to that desirable future in the first place.

Hopefully, after 120 years of misdirection, humanity can once again find its feet upon the proper path towards the freedoms described by liberal theorists and worker ownership, if the climate destruction leaves enough time.

Featured picture from the Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) society

Letters from Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones

Selected by Dominic Tweedie from:

Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews, 1918-1974

Paul Robeson was a superstar in the USA in the 1930’s and 40’s despite the fact that he was African American. In 1915 he was twice an All American football star and while playing for the NFL got his law degree summa cum laude. Robeson was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance putting on songs and shows. In his career he recorded almost 300 songs.

We fight in many ways. From my experience, I think it’s got to be a militant fight. One has to square off with the enemy once in a while.

Paul Robeson

He went to the UK in 1922 and built up his reputation there performing in Showboat and other productions. He played Othello in three Royal Shakespeare Company productions. Robeson also played Toussaint Louverture in a play by C. L. R. James. Toussaint Louverture defeated the armies of Napoleon, Nelson in winning freedom for the slaves of Haiti. Robeson’s version of Othello ran for 295 performances. He started acting in films and became a famous movie star in the 30’s.

In the UK he became aware of the suffering of people in the British colonies, of the injustices of the Spanish Civil War and of the difficult situation of the British working class and all this made him draw closer to socialism and communism.

Paul Robeson had been outstanding in almost every single way a human can be outstanding

Robeson returned to the USA in 1939 and immediately got involved in the Civil Rights movement and he also got involved with socialist and communist causes including solidarity with the USSR in the face of the Nazi invasion.

At the end of the war the FBI put Robeson on its list of subversives and Senator McCarthy accused him of socialist and communist sympathies. He refused to deny his principles and as a result his passport was taken from him and a concerted campaign began to reduce him to obscurity.

Imagine all sections of our people in the United States, their organizational and programmatic differences set aside, joining together in a great and compelling action…

Paul Robeson

It succeeded. Despite the fact that Paul Robeson had been outstanding in almost every single way a human can be outstanding: he was a sports star, an academic star, a superstar singer, a film-star, a Shakespearean actor and he was a representative of the Council on African Affairs. Paul Robeson, according to his wife and children and his friends, was a mensch. Who in recent history can compare with Paul Robeson?

Paul Robeson as Othello, Getty images

Paul Robeson’s name was erased from US culture memory as if he had committed a terrible crime. In fact, the candle of his memory was only conserved by socialists all over the world. In the 1970’s or 80’s or 90’s, you could ask an educated progressive citizen of the USA who Paul Robeson was and they had no idea. Now, with the new ‘Woke’ generations of Bernie supporters and Black Lives Matter the situation is slowly changing. More and more people are remembering who Paul Robeson was. As they should. Of course the liberals try to extract the sting from figures like Mandela and Paul Robeson. They reinvent them as harmless idealists, but both Mandela and Robeson were angry revolutionaries.

Paul Robeson deserves to be remembered and his words deserve to live on in memory without being layered over and re-contextualised by reactionary liberal hogwash.

Phil Hall


An Open Letter to Jackie Robinson*
By Philip S. Foner, Quartet Books, 1978 Pages 342-347

Paul Robeson, “Here’s My Story,” Freedom, April 1953

I notice in a recent issue of “Our World” magazine that some folks think you’re too outspoken. Certainly not many of our folks share that view. They think like you that the Yankees, making many a “buck” off Harlem, might have had a few of our ball players just like Brooklyn. In fact I know you’ve seen where a couple of real brave fellows, the Turgerson brothers, think it’s about time we continued our breaking in to the Southern leagues – Arkansas and Mississippi included.

I am happy, Jackie, to have been in the fight for real democracy in sport years ago. I was proud to stand with Judge Landis in 1946 and, at his invitation, address the major league owners, demanding that the bars against Negroes in baseball be dropped. I know from my experience as a pro football player that the fans would not only take us – but like us. That’s now been proven many times over.

Maybe these protests around you, Jackie, explain a lot of things about people trying to shut up those of us who speak out in many other fields.

You read in the paper every day about “doings” in Africa. These things are very important to us. A free Africa – a continent of 200 millions of folks like us and related to us – can do a lot to change things here.

In South Africa black folks are challenging Malan, a kind of super Ku Kluxer. These Africans are refusing to obey Jim Crow laws. They want some freedom like we do, and they’re willing to suffer and sacrifice for it. Malan and a lot of powerful American investors would like to shut them up and lock them up.

Well, I’m very proud that these African brothers and sisters of ours play my records as they march in their parades. A good part of my time is spent in the work of the Council on African Affairs, supervised by Dr. Alphaeus Hunton, and expert on Africa and son of the great YMCA leader, the late William Hunton. Co-chairman of the Council is Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. We raise funds for Africans and bring information to Americans about the conditions in Africa – conditions to be compared with, but worse than, those in Mississippi and Alabama.

We bring the truth about Kenya, for example – about a man like Kenyatta, leader of the Kikuyu, a proud African people of centuries of culture. He’s a highly educated man, with many more degrees than we have, Jackie. He’s getting seven years in jail because he wants his people to be free. And there are Americans of African descent who are today on trial, fugitives, or dead (!) because they fought in their own way for their people to be free. Kenyatta’s sentence calls to mind Ben Davis, Henry Winston, James Jackson, Claudia Jones, Pettis Perry and yes, Harry Moore.

And it seems and still seems unthinkable to me that colored or working folks anywhere would continue to rush to die for those who own most of stocks and bonds, under the guise of false patriotism.

Paul Robeson

What goes here, Jackie? Well, I’ll tell you. The same kind of people who don’t want you to point up injustices to your folks, the same people who think you ought to stay in your “place,” the same people who want to shut you up – want to shut up any one of us who speaks out for our full equality, for all of our rights.

That’s the heart of what I said in Paris in 1949, for example. As a matter of fact he night before I got to Paris 2,000 representatives of colored colonial peoples from all over the world (most of them students in English universities) asked me and Dr. Dadoo, leader of the Indian population in South Africa, to greet the Congress of Peace in Paris in their name.

These future leaders of their countries were from Nigeria, Gold Coast, South Africa, Kenya, Java, Indonesia, India, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, the Philippines, Japan, Burma, and other lands. They were shapers of the future in the Eastern and colonial world and they asked us to say to this Congress representing about 800 million of the world’s 2,000 million that they and their countries wanted peace, no war with anybody. They said they certainly did not want war with the Soviet Union and China because these countries had come out of conditions similar to their own. But the Soviet Union and China were now free of the so-called “free western” imperialist powers. They were countries which had proved that colonial countries could get free, that colored peoples were as good as any other.

All these students made it clear that they felt that the nations who wanted war wanted it in order to head off struggles of colonial peoples, as in Indo-China, Malaya, Africa and Korea, for freedom. For example, if you could stat a war in Africa the authorities could clamp down completely with war measures. (It’s bad enough now!)

The students felt that peace was absolutely needed in order for their peoples to progress. And certainly, they said they saw no need to die for foreign firms which had come in and taken their land, rubber, cocoa, gold, diamonds, copper and other riches.
And I had to agree that it seemed to me that the same held good in these United States. There was and is no need to talk of war against any nation. We Afro-Americans need peace to continue the struggle for our full rights. And there is no need for any of our American youth to be used as cannon and bomb fodder anywhere in the world.

So I was and am for an immediate cease fire in Korea and for peace. And it seems and still seems unthinkable to me that colored or working folks anywhere would continue to rush to die for those who own most of stocks and bonds, under the guise of false patriotism.

I was born and raised in America, Jackie – on the East Coast as you were on the West. I’m a product of American institutions, as you. My father was a slave and my folks worked cotton and tobacco, and still do in Eastern North Carolina. I’ll always have the right to speak out, yes, shout at the top of my voice for full freedom for my people here, in the West Indies, in Africa – and for our real allies, actual and potential, millions of poor white workers who will never be free until we are free.

And, Jackie, the success of a few of us is no final answer. It helps, but this alone can’t free all of us. Your child, my grandchildren, won’t be free until our millions, especially in the South, have full opportunity and full human dignity. We fight in many ways. From my experience, I think it’s got to be a militant fight. One has to square off with the enemy once in a while.

Thanks for the recognition that I am a great ex-athlete. In the recent record books the All-American team of 1918 and the nationally-picked team of 1917 have only ten players – my name is omitted. And also thanks for the expression of your opinion that I’m certainly a great singer and actor. A lot of people in the world think so and would like to hear me. But I can’t get a passport. And here in my own America millions would like to hear me. But I can’t get auditoriums to sing or act in. And I’m sometimes picketed by the American Legion and other Jim Crow outfits. I have some records in the market but have difficulty getting shops to take them.

People who “beef” at those of us who speak out, Jackie, are afraid of us. Well, let them be afraid. I’m continuing to speak out, and I hope you will, too. And our folks and many others like them all over the world will make it – and soon!
Believe me, Jackie.

Jackie Robinson was the “first black Major League Baseball (MLB) player of the modern era”. Like Paul Robeson in American football, and Jesse Owens in athletics, Robinson broke through the colour bar to become a top athlete in his discipline, baseball.

Paul Robeson Urges Support for Jailed Leaders and Freedom Struggles in Kenya and South Africa

Statement issued by Paul Robeson, Chairman of the Council on African Affairs, New York, April 13, 1953 – Paul Robeson Archives, German Democratic Republic.
We Americans of African descent are fighting for our full rights as citizens, and must keep fighting until we achieve these rights. In this fight it will be well to remember that as American citizens we have interests and responsibilities abroad, as well as at home.
Our Government is very interested and active, and very busy, in Europe, Asia and Africa. We as black and brown people are especially interested in what our Government is doing in Asia and Africa, because Asians and Africans are Colored People like ourselves. In Africa our Government is actually supporting and doing business with the white colonialists, not the African people. It is suppoting Malan in South Africa and the British in Kenya and Rhodesia.

We Colored Americans will especially want to support our African brothers and sisters in South Africa who are now being jailed by the Malan Government for peacefully resisting segregation and discrimination. We will especially want to support our African Brothers and sisters in Kenya who are being tried and imprisoned for insisting upon the return of their land.

We know that sending leaders to prison who fight for our just demands does not in any way solve our problem, but rather increases our resentment, thereby aggravating the problem. We know that trying to send to prison respected and responsible leaders like Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois and William Patterson; sending men and women like Benjamin Davis, Claudia Jones, and Jomo Kenyatta to prison; and murdering men like Harry T. Moore, will only serve to unite Americans of African descent and the African people.
Imagine all sections of our people in the United States, their organizational and programmatic differences set aside, joining together in a great and compelling action to put a STOP to Jim Crowism in all its forms everywhere in this land, and to further the struggle for land reform in the deep South. Think how such an action would stir the whole of America and the whole world. Think what support we would receive from the colored peoples and advanced white peoples of the world, – literally hundreds of millions, – strengthening in untold measure the struggle for freedom and peace.
Let us protest the jailing of the black leaders in Kenya. Let us call upon our Government this week to stop helping the Ku Kluxer Malan and help the South African people who are marching irresistibly toward freedom. Let our voices be heard in thousands of telegrams and letters to the President in Washington and to Ralphe Bunche at the United Nations in New York City.

Paul Robeson defends the Council on African Affairs

The Real Issue in the Case of the Council on African Affairs
Statement issued April 24, 1953, by Paul Robeson, Chairman, on behalf of the Council on African Affairs, concerning the Justice Department’s order for that organization to register under the McCarran Act – Paul Robeson Archives, Berlin, German Democratic Republic

The consistent job of the Council on African Affairs through the years since its establishment in 1937 has been to provide accurate information on the conditions and struggles of the peoples of Africa and to support their efforts towards total liberation. In recent months the Council has endeavoured to rally American assistance for the desperate fight of black and brown South Africans against Malan’s fascist oppression, and for the Africans of Kenya whose struggle for land and survival the British seek to crush with the most ruthless and inhuman punitive measures.

For such work as this the Council, I am proud to say, has received many expressions of gratitude and appreciation from African leaders. It would appear, therefore, that in branding the Councils as “subversive” and ordering it to register under the notorious McCarran Act, U.S. authorities are at the same time branding as “subversive” all the millions of Africans who are today determined to be free of the stigma of colonialism and white supremacy domination.

This attack upon the Council represents an attempt to frighten and silence all those Americans, particularly the Negro people, who are in any way critical of U.S. policies in Africa.

Those policies are directed towards establishment of military bases in Africa without consultation with or the consent of the people in the so-called strategic areas. They aim at the extraction of the maximum quantities of uranium, manganese, copper, bauxite and scores of other African raw materials for U.S. war stock-piles and industry. They entail U.S. financial and diplomatic support for the Malan regime and for the European bosses of Africa in order to maintain the white supremacy 

status quo (as in our own Dixiecrat South) and “security” for the expanding American investments in Africa.

All this may be found explicitly or implicitly stated in numerous statements of administration leaders and in such documents as “The Overseas Territories in the Mutual Security Program” issued last year by the Mutual Security Administration. These policies and practices are a matter of official U.S. record, and not simply “Communist propaganda,” as is alleged.

The Council on African Affairs opposes these policies because they are detrimental to the interests of both Africans and Americans. The Government in its charge against the Council dodges the real issue of the right of American citizens to criticize the policies of the state and poses instead a wholly false issue. Is it “subversive” not to approve of our Government’s action of condoning and abetting the oppression of our brothers and sisters in Africa and other lands?

It is a matter of shame that at the recent meeting of the U.N. General Assembly it was our own country, the United States, which voted with the European colonial powers against resolutions in the interest of the people of Africa, – resolutions which were supported by the majority of the U.N., including India and the other Asian-Middle Eastern-African member states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.
The real issue in our case is the right of advocacy and support for the freedom of Africa’s enslaved millions, – including the descendants of Africa who have yet to achieve their full liberty and rights here in the United States.

The Council on African Affairs will continue to carry forward its work and will fight all efforts to restrict its usefulness to the cause of African freedom by means of the unconstitutional and un-American McCarran Act. 

Ideas about Cuba and Che

Che appeals to revolutionary fantasists who like the poetry of violence.

By Phil Hall

When we watched a film about the Mexican revolution starring Pedro Infante in 1997 my wife explained a little about what was going on.

‘Unfortunately, during the Mexican revolution, our family was on the wrong side. They had land and haciendas and property and the poor people, especially the peasants, were terribly exploited. The poor decided to fight for their rights to the land and to a decent life.

‘The revolutionaries were not saints; they were rough and ready, uncultured people. They regarded refinement and books as the mark of the bourgeoisie. My great grandfather was a headmaster, but lived on the hacienda my great-grandmother inherited. When the revolutionaries came they didn’t kill him. They left him weeping, surrounded by his burned books.

‘Of course our family were Mexicans, like everyone else, but they thought they were apart – that they were special. They should have identified with the majority, but didn’t.’

In Mexico I was the side-kick to the vice-rector of a new university which had been set up in one of the roughest parts of Guadalajara. At that time the road the ‘pesero’ travelled on wasn’t even tarred.

The vice-rector went to Cuba and when she came back she was full of praise for Cuban postgraduate education:

‘In Cuba, she said, you can’t do a PhD in any old subject that interests you. There aren’t enough resources for that sort of indulgence. What they do is match a problem to a student. This extreme pragmatism, forced on them by necessity, is partly why their health system has progressed so much.

‘Take agriculture, for example,’ said Sagrario: ‘Let’s say there is a beetle causing damage to the sugar cane crop. The postgraduate student will be told. This is the subject of your doctorate. Tell us how we need to deal with this beetle. That’s what we should do in Mexico.’

Eve and Tony, feeling great affection for Cuba and its revolution, were finally coming to see it’s fruits.

A month or two later, in December 1997, my wife and I visited Cuba with Tony and Eve Hall, my parents. This was on the eve of the first visit of the Pope to Cuba since the revolution:

‘He’s [Fidel] a well brought up Catholic boy. Now that he’s getting old he’s a little worried about the fate of his soul. What’s he going to say to the Pope?’ said Teresa, laughing.

Of course the struggle for democracy in Poland was manipulated. But it was against a regime that had been imposed on the Poles. There were parallels with Mexico; perhaps even with Cuba.

Naturally, Mom and Dad had very little time for Karol Woytila, because Woytila berated the Nicaraguan liberation theologians, singling out Father Ernesto Cardenal. Woytila was the patron saint of anti-communism and Reagan and Thatcher’s darling. Later on, however, he mellowed. He became a critic of laissez fair capitalism.

Tony Hall, Dad, during our visit to Cuba

Eve and Tony, feeling great affection for Cuba and its revolution, were finally coming to see it’s fruits.

There was the connection with Africa. Dad had sent a reporter to interview Che at the Nation. Che Guevara had tried to ‘export revolution’ to Africa in the 60s.

On the one hand, I would be keeping Mom and Dad company, and sharing in their abiding respect for Cuban development achieved in the teeth of imperialism. On the other hand, I would be going with a progressive Catholic Latin American, with her deep conviction that the democratic process was sacrosanct. Tere much better understood the culture, texture, psychology and reality of Fidel.

It was a holiday and not a fact-finding trip. The conclusions we drew were reached in museums, from behind Daiquiris in tourist bars, while walking along the streets, and in hotel dining rooms.

Tere much better understood the culture, texture, psychology and reality of Fidel.

In the museum of the city there was a large and impressive display of furniture and other household objects: broad plates made from Mexican silver, chandeliers, chairs and tables made from mesquite wood and cedar, red and green fluted wine glasses, cutlery, salvers and goblets from the 15th century and household items from the 19th century:

Mom and Dad were underwhelmed. Yes, these were beautiful and interesting objects, perhaps, but they had not come to Cuba to admire its Spanish colonial heritage, or make connections with the background story of the newly formed Mexican family of their son and his wife.

‘These are the sort of things my family probably used in the times of the Virreinato.’ Teresa said. ‘They are familiar. In Mexico the presidents and functionaries of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional treated these objects as their own property. They stole what they wanted, but here they have managed to preserve them from the looters in public museums.’ She seemed envious.

At the entrance to the Museum there was a seminarian who chatted about the forthcoming visit of the Pope and the difficult situation for Catholics on the island. It was improving, but that there was still low level of constant persecution. As he was talking I wondered what his views were on the persecution of homosexuals by the Cuban state. He was probably quite OK with that. Dad and Mom were polite, but dismissive.

When we went to the museum of the Cuban revolution, the situation was reversed. Teresa was interested, but sceptical. My parents were completely absorbed. Here was the evidence for a successful revolution. The museum, carefully curated, brought it all to life: the terrible conditions the Cuban people had lived in; the long years of organised resistance to oppression; the intelligent and brave actions of the revolutionaries; the response of the Batista regime and their imperialist backers and, finally, the victory of the Cuban revolution.

There were displays of peasants’ clothing, agricultural instruments, old bolt action Mausers, uniforms and the iconic caps and badges of the revolutionary brigades. You could read the diaries of revolutionaries, and the smell of martyrdom was penetrating.

Mom and Dad were entranced and now it was Tere’s turn to be dismissive. ‘Yes, but look at the situation now.’ She commented to me indignantly in an undertone. ‘Look at the conditions people live in. Look at how run down everything is. They don’t have democracy and freedom, do they?’

Being in the middle was like seeing things in Cuba in different dimensions. I saw things from everyone’s point of view. I had my own point of view.

Marcelino dos Santos on Che Guevara

Marcelino dos Santos with Eve Hall in Matumi, Mpumalanga

I saw a copy of Che’s African diaries about 12 years ago and was asked to translate them, but the offer quickly faded away. I still have them in the original Spanish and intend to read them through in their unedited form.

At the time I said I would be honoured to translate the diaries. I am not so sure now. Che’s language was dense; circular and confusing in its references, alluding to conversations and events that he didn’t specify fully or detail. If Che was writing for posterity, there was absolutely no sign of it in the diaries; it was stodge.

And then, at my mother’s funeral, I was talking to one of the former senior leaders of the African revolutionary and anti-colonial movements, Marcelino dos Santos. How the subject arose, I don’t know. I think he felt he could speak freely to me because I was an outsider. He was clever enough to see my cold, observant eye.

Marcelino said that he had respected Che’s ideas to some extent, but didn’t like Che as a person.

According to him, Che had been a latecomer to the Cuban revolution, and without much of a background in Cuban politics. His view was that Che, an Argentinian trained as a doctor, just got onto the boat with Fidel in order to help swell the numbers.

After the success of the Cuban revolution Che, according to Marcelino, was under the impression that all you had to do to start a revolution anywhere in the world was to jump off a boat and start shooting. Everyone would rally to your standard. This was the philosophy that would lead to Che’s death in Bolivia on October 9th, 1967.

Marcelino explained, when the Granma arrived on the coast of Cuba in July, Cubans rallied to the revolutionary cause and what Che did not understand is that this was the result of 30 years of political agitation and preparation by the trade unions and the opposition. Che was under the false impression that the people supported Fidel because they had been swept away by the romance of bullets and uniforms and that, on seeing brave revolutionaries, their indignation at the injustices they faced would suddenly find a true revolutionary outlet.

‘Che drew the wrong conclusions.’ said Marcelino.

Marcelino told me that Che, and Che’s group in Africa, were arrogant and dismissive about the tactics used by the African freedom fighters. Once, after the African revolutionaries announced that a Portuguese plane had been shot down, the Cubans refused to believe them. They refused to believe the Africans were capable of such military feats: “Impossible” they said. Marcelino was quoting.

Che and his grouping ordered African revolutionary leaders to go and lead revolutions and anti-colonial struggles in countries that were not their own. They were politely ignored. Che appeals to revolutionary fantasists who like the poetry of violent revolution.

On the other hand, according to Dominic Tweedie, the Cuban intervention in Angola was partly inspired by Che’s romantic internationalism* and so there was a silver lining to his dark romance of bullets turning into flowers. The Cubans played a crucial part in rolling the South Africans out of Angola and Namibia and, finally, in helping to tumble the regime out of power in South Africa.

State Funeral of Marcelino dos Santos

*Dominic asked me to translate Jorge Risquet’s account of the Cuban fighters in Africa, and I started it, to my shame I didn’t finish it. I turned it over to Dominic’s son James, who speaks good Spanish and is married to a Guatemalan doctor, Renata. Perhaps James has translated Risquet for Dominic.

Phil Hall is a college lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.

Road of Dreams

Socialism? What are we talking about?

By Dominic Tweedie

The communists mean to show the way – as a vanguard – through revolution, to a classless, stateless condition called communism. The agent of revolution is not a communist party. Since the 1840s, communists have said that the principal agent of revolution against the present dictatorship of the bourgeois, capitalist ruling class is the working class; and the working class will have allies.

To perform its historic task of revolution, the working class will have to move beyond passive existence and become a conscious, intentional “class for itself”. The communists play the necessary educative role in this movement.

It is time to take a critical look at the communist parties, starting with their habitual advocacy of “socialism” and their embrace of “democrat centralism”, and the consequently very low rate of success of these communist parties, all over the world.

What is socialism? Unlike the term “communism”, which is easy to define, socialism has no generally accepted definition. But somehow, the term “socialism” is widely used in a way that implies a universally accepted meaning. This deception, and self-deception, initiates a quest that can never be fulfilled.

It is time to take a critical look at the communist parties, starting with their habitual advocacy of “socialism” and their embrace of “democrat centralism”, and the consequently very low rate of success of these communist parties, all over the world.

“Socialists,” and most, if not all communist parties, profess “socialism” as an immediate goal. The imaginary socialism, like a pictured Christmas tree, is hung about and surrounded with gifts and treasures. Socialism is supposed to be a place where dreams come true.

Marx and Engels considered the definition of socialism in the third part of the 1848 Communist Manifesto. It describes Feudal Socialism, Petty? Bourgeois Socialism, German or “True” Socialism, Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism, and Critical?Utopian Socialism.

This part of the Manifesto shows that the public intellectuals of Marx’s time were not very different from those of today. Then as now, “socialism” could be all kinds of things to all kinds of people.

The former Conservative Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, indicated socialism’s more precise meaning when she said “There is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families.” Now, Thatcher’s successor Boris Johnson, in the middle of the COVID-19 panic, now says that “there obviously is such a thing as society”.

Of course there is. The only plain meaning of “socialism” is that the nation-state is a society, or to use another word: a polity. Libertarians and anarchists do not like this, but they are a tiny minority. All others accept, contra Thatcher, that in each nation-state there is a society. In the simple and true sense of the word, this makes them all socialists. As Marx and Engels understood, socialism only means that the inhabitants of a give territory recognise each other as members of one and the same society.

The precise term for revolutionaries to use is not “socialism”, but “communism”. Communism is their goal: Communism is the classless society.

It follows that none of us needs a “road to socialism”, because we are already there. The precise term for revolutionaries to use is not “socialism”, but “communism”. Communism is their goal: Communism is the classless society.

How are we going to get there? The working class has to overthrow the bourgeois-capitalist class and rule over that other class, as a dictator.

This has to be explained by the communists, to the proletariat, with the utmost clarity. Our goal is not another brand of “socialism”. We communists have no investment in the status quo. We communists must not even be invested in the dictatorship of the proletariat, necessary though it may be. We must not, as communists, seek government posts. Not now, and not then. We are outside. We are commissars, commissioned for rank, but not for power.

The communist party as an executive body is gone. It has not worked, except in such a way as to liquidate itself. The communists need no hierarchy. They must learn how to operate without hierarchy.

The communist party as an executive body is gone. It has not worked, except in such a way as to liquidate itself. The communists need no hierarchy. They must learn how to operate without hierarchy. Among the communists, there must be no “state”, just to the same extent that in language there is no “state”. In human production there is no a priori state. The communists must not carry that virus called “state”.

Structure does exist, and will continue to exist, in the mass-democratic organisations: trade unions, the liberation movement, the necessary women’s organisation, and allied formations. These structures can be called “democratic centralist”, because within them power rotates between periphery and centre. The state that the proletariat will construct will also be like that. For the proletariat it will be a necessity, but it will not be a virtue. When it has served its purpose, the proletarian state will have to go.

There is no reason why one communist should ever wait upon another. The communists must henceforth stand up and behave in practice like real communists. Not later, but now.

The communists, among themselves, have no more need of a hierarchy than the classless society, communism, has need of one. There is no reason why one communist should be placed below another. There is no reason why one communist should ever wait upon another. The communists must henceforth stand up and behave in practice like real communists. Not later, but now.

All of their potential must be released and never again held back by a sterilising game of preferment. One communist is not better than another one. The communists do not form a church. In material reality there is no such hierarchy. There is no flesh on its bones, and most of the bones it once may have had, have crumbled away.

Attempting to rebuild the broken hierarchy of communist parties would be folly. Instead, these hierarchies must be replaced with distributed networks. We, the communists, must learn to work without a state, just as much as we advocate for everybody else to live in a stateless society.

No hierarchy!

Organise the nations to take the empire!


Dominic Tweedie was born in Devon, England in July, 1945, in between the testing and the first use of the atomic bomb, son of a Royal Navy officer; grew up in Kenya, East Africa, during the Emergency and for Uhuru in December 1963; in London in 1967 (Grosvenor Square) and in 1968; in the CPGB and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1970s; in the construction of the ANC’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania; in the London Committee of the A-AM in the 1980s; in South Africa to vote in the 1994 election, and since then as an ANC and SACP member, sometime COSATU and SADTU officer, now retired; the “VC” of the virtual Communist University since 2003, and editor of the Telegram channel “CU Iskra”.

Down with Lockdown!

What do you do when the cure does you more harm than the disease? You stop taking it.

Controversially, James Tweedie puts forward an argument for lock-down to be lifted.

Will lock-down lead to deaths ?Photo by Anna Shvets on

By James Tweedie, Plymouth, England, Friday May 15 th 2020

The prescribed treatment for the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease without a cure or vaccine, has been the lockdown, a government-enforced shutdown of economic and social life. It has become a sacred cow for opposition parties, academics, the media and some (but not all) trade unions. Anyone who speaks against it is denounced as an apologist for mass murder.
But with the UK and other countries past the peak of infections and deaths, the ill effects of the lockdown are becoming more serious than the virus itself.
The most common justification for these extraordinary emergency measures in the West is to ‘flatten the curve’ of the infection rate to make sure hospitals are not overwhelmed and patients left to die at home.
In most countries this has been achieved. Despite dire predictions by opposition leaders, ex-civil servants, academics and journalists, the British NHS never ran out of intensive care beds or ventilators, and now we’re way past the peak.
True, some countries have so far managed to contain the virus and keep the number of deaths very low. But most of these nations – China, Vietnam, Singapore, North Korea, Cuba – have very different socio-political systems. They are equipped for this in ways the Western liberal democracies are not.

Cuba and the DPRK are isolated from the rest of the world by Western sanctions. New Zealand, often praised in the UK media, is 2,000 miles from the nearest land and has a population of less than 5 million.

The New Crisis

The start of the lockdown saw the NHS switch to crisis mode. Hospitals cleared the decks, discharging as many patients as possible and cancelling all ‘non-urgent’ procedures – everything but emergency life-saving surgery and treatment.
But this is in danger of creating a worse health crisis than the pandemic. Family doctors have stopped seeing patients unless they were literally dying, for fear of catching the virus themselves. Accident and emergency admissions have fallen by more than half as patients are afraid to go to hospital.
Last weekend British Medical Association Chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned the NHS would have a waiting list of 7.2 million cases by the autumn as a result of the lockdown. In April Cancer Research UK said referrals to consultants were down by 75 per cent, meaning 2,700 new cancer cases were going undiagnosed every week. Specialist Professor Karol Sikora said that could mean 50,000 extra deaths.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has already recorded over 50,000 more deaths this year than the same period in 2019, but as of May 14 only 33,614 have been ‘linked’ to coronavirus. In many of those cases the virus was not the sole or even the primary cause of death.

On Wednesday the British Medical Journal reported that of 30,000 deaths in care homes, the new hot-spots of infection, only 10,000 were identified with the virus – and that the rest may be down to the policy of discharging elderly patients from hospital to community care to make way for a wave of COVID-19 admissions that never came.

Suffer the Little Children

The latest cause for middle-class hysteria in the UK has been the government’s announcement that some children will go back to school at the start of June, and that it wants all schoolkids to have at least one month of classes before the summer holidays. It’s kind of amusing to see so many of those who advocate free and compulsory state education now vowing to keep their kids at home when their schools reopen – with some teachers encouraging them. The social-democrats have transformed into libertarians and anarchists. Only 12 per cent of deaths from the virus so far have been among people under the age of 65. Five per cent
were in their fifties, one per cent in their 40s, while the under-40s accounted for less than one per cent of deaths. An overwhelming 95 per cent of fatalities have underlying health conditions – co-morbidities – like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. If you’re under 50 and healthy, your chances of dying of COVID-19 are almost nil. In fact the harm of keeping children off school for months outweighs any risks of them returning.
UNICEF warned on Tuesday that the lockdown could kill 1.2 million children worldwide in the next six months due to reductions in routine medical visits and the poverty and malnutrition caused by the economic freeze.

The Bottom Line

The brutal truth is that if people don’t go back to work soon, they won’t have jobs to go back to. Government-guaranteed loans are still just liabilities on employers’ balance sheets and aren’t going to bring back lost custom. The numbers of insolvencies and redundancies are soaring and the middle of the year the UK will officially be in a recession.
An ONS survey of businesses found that three-fifths of those still trading had suffered a loss in revenue, with a quarter saying they had lost half or more of their income. Three-fifths of exporters said overseas orders were down.
Businesspeople aren’t the only ones voicing concern. This week the airline pilots’ union BALPA attacked the government’s plan for two weeks’ quarantine for those arriving in the UK, saying it was an effective ban on tourism that would kill their industry. The National Union of Journalists pointed out that advertising revenue in the business had fallen by 80 per cent since the start of the lockdown, with thousands of workers already laid off. Two-thirds of freelancers told the union they’d lost income.
When side-effects of the cure are worse than the disease, you have to stop taking it. It’s time for the young and healthy to go back to work, school and university and get Britain and the world back on its feet.Down with Lockdown!

What do you do when the cure does you more harm than the disease? You stop taking it.

James Tweedie

James Tweedie was born in Hammersmith, West London, in 1975. He grew up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud in the time of colonial liberation, being taken to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament  and Anti-Apartheid Movement events by his mother and father respectfully.

James has lived and worked in South Africa and Spain. He has worked as a reporter and the international editor of the Morning Star newspaper, a foreign reporter for the Mail Online, an online journalist for He has appeared as a commentator on BBC Radio 4, RT’s Crosstalk, Turkey’s TRT World and Iran’s Press TV. He currently works for Sputnik.

James maintains an occasional blog (, describing himself as “one of the most deplorable purveyors of fake news about populist strongmen (and women) around the post-truth world.”

Don’t Tear Up your Labour Membership Card


By Phil Hall

The British Disease is passive aggression. It is class hatred not class warfare. Class warfare is healthy, it leads to revolution and change. Class hatred, on the other hand, results in ordinary people giving Boris Johnson a large majority because they have decided they don’t like middle class do-gooders like Jeremy Corbyn. These people prefer the devils they know, the Tory bully boys, and for the moment they outnumber us.

In the 60s and 70s passive class hatred meant that trade unions and employers in the private and public sectors constantly locked horns. But until 1945 the British working class never really challenged the ruling class for power, after all, the ruling class had thrown them a few scraps from the table of empire. If the German people were culpable for supporting Hitler in the full knowledge of what that meant, the British people participated in colonial conquests and were culpable of supporting empire.

In the 1970s there was no empire. This disease, this chronic condition, the pathological mutual antagonism between workers and employers, lowered the quality of many British products and services. It lowered the productivity of British companies and harmed the whole economy and country. Neither workers nor employers were going to cooperate so there had to be a winner to remove the logjam.

the British working class never really challenged the ruling class for power, after all, in the past it threw them a few scraps from the table of empire.  

The idea touted by monetarist ideologues took hold; natural former state run monopolies when privatised, would run more efficiently and be more effective.  

Just as long suffering, though asinine, Russian voters chose Yeltsin’s 100 days to a capitalist paradise in 1991, in 1979 British voters believed the Saatchi and Saatchi (he of the sliced up cows and unmade beds, his hands aound Nigella Lawson’s neck) when he put up posters that said:  ‘Labour isn’t working.’ Within two years unemployment had doubled under the Tories to three million.

The masochistic British electorate voted Tory for 18 years before it tried Labour. The blue Labour government of Tony Blair that dashed so many hopes lasted for 12 years and then the British electorate voted Tory again. We have had a Tory government of the worst sort for 10 years now, and in their latest incarnation the Conservatives are at their most repulsive, shifty, cynical and cruel.

The proto fascists of the USA have Donald Trump and the proto-fascists of the UK have Boris Johnson. Both of them won by appealing to the worst instincts of voters.

In an echo of 1930s European fascists, to large crowds Trump shouted:   

Make America great again.

And Boris repeated:

Get Brexit done. Which British people know is code for:

‘Britain for the British.’

These were cheap, ultra-nationalist slogans, but they resonated with enough people to help defeat a resurgent left.

and in their latest incarnation the Conservatives are at their most repulsive, shifty, cynical and cruel.

The consequences of leaving the EU are on the plate of the Conservatives. They have to eat the ugly monster sitting on the white dish staring at them with the bulging eyes and gaping mouth of Farage – the Tories must eat this stinking toad they adopted as their own.

‘Get Brexit done.’ Ribbet!

So, now as a result of the electoral choice to vote Conservative there will be fewer well-funded hospitals and fewer schools for the many, but there will be more diamond encrusted watches, designer suits, electric luxury vehicles and country pads for the few.

And who are the foot-soldiers of Labour that the majority chose to ignore and deride? They are, in the main, people with a social conscience: typically, university students, lawyers, doctors, community case workers, social workers, teachers, public sector workers, activists inside unions: worthy people, pillars of the community who keep it going and sustain it and who understand the harm that deregulated capitalism has caused the citizens of the UK.

In the UK now, there are many millions of British people who clearly understand that the purpose of privatising companies was never to make the trains run on time, but to extract as much wealth from British pockets as possible. Privatisation is there to milk money out of ordinary people.

we won the culture wars. It was the left that helped make Britain into a multicultural, tolerant, more feminist, less homophobic society

There is a whole world of people who understand in the marrow of their bones that the Tories do not work in their interests, but but in the interests of the wealthy. Many people now understand that the Labour left are on the side of ordinary people.

We didn’t lose everything, we won the culture wars. It was the left that helped make Britain into a multicultural tolerant, more feminist, less homophobic society in the teeth of Thatcherism. It was the left that made fascism unpopular. It was our music that argued for brotherly love. Those were our artists and film-makers who showed how unfair society was and how it needed to change. We won the cultural battles against Tory money. The Tories see most artists, comedians and creatives as their natural enemy.

The younger generation, naturally, are more comfortable living in a multicultural society. It is the majority of the older generation, still uncomfortable with multiculturalism, that is trying desperately to turn back the clock. The younger generation’s prospects have narrowed because of Tory policies, especially Tory housing policy. It is they who flock to Labour in order to try to create a better society for themselves. The old look backwards, while the young look forwards.

We have four more years to reformulate our party into one coherent organisation; we have four years to remake the Labour Party into more unified, more representative, more powerful social democratic whole. We have four years to add good alternative media counterweights like Ars Notoria to the propaganda of billionaire media moguls and right wing centrists in the BBC and Guardian who have swallowed the neo-liberal Kool-Aid.

The worst thing you could ever do, and the biggest betrayal would be to leave the Labour party now in a childish fit. Let’s hold the red lines. We want nationalization. We want a green revolution. We want more worker representation on company boards. We want more cooperatives.

The old look backwards, while the young look forwards.

In truth what we want is a fairer capitalism that works, with a strong interventionist state and a thriving green economy. We want a better social democracy than Sweden or Germany. We want a health care system as good as Cuba’s.

There are a few other things Labour needs to take on board as well. Labour has been lukewarm about the creative power of micro, small and medium businesses. It needs to get enthusiastic about them. In addition to reigning in the big corporations, we need a contrasting strategy strategy designed to energise and support micro, small and medium businesses.

Keeping in mind the oncoming effect of AI on employment, we need to adopt the proposals of Andrew Yang in the US and provide everyone with a basic standard living income. We need a much stronger technology strategy.

And if Britain is going to put strong controls on its armaments industry then the state must spend on repurposing it towards starting a British space industry. It has to be done or we will continue with the existing model.

Migration has also been a tool of business to break unions and lower wages. It has expanded the black economy. Outsourcing, low wages and mass migration, especially from Eastern Europe, are all linked. Labour needs a progressive migration policy that accepts asylum seekers and a modicum of new immigrants, but in a more sustainable way.

Labour needs to be more convincing when it comes to the right to privacy. It was New Labour that built on Thatcher’s surveillance state. Shouldn’t we, as a party that believes in freedoms and human rights, role back state surveillance? Has a single person from Labour said they would protect the right to privacy or reduce the number of CCTV cameras or the amount of Internet surveillance?

Antisemitism and Islamophobia are linked because of the conflict in Israel Palestine, the conflicts play out in European countries too. This is why anti-Semitism has become an important issue again after the terrible experiences of the last war.  The fact that many people on the left feel solidarity with the Palestinian people, as they should, has given right wing Zionists the excuse to say that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism.

While anti-Semitism exists and is alive and well in Europe, mainly Eastern Europe, it is not a burning issue in the UK, but a manufactured one. The purpose of this manufactured scandal has been to put criticism of Israel beyond the pale. It isn’t and any worthwhile Labour politician, including a top human rights lawyer like Starmer, should be decent and honourable enough not to allow themselves to be pushed into this heffalump trap.  

Starmer is not the problem; Starmer is positioning himself and his shadow cabinet according to the different forces arrayed in the Labour party. If the membership make a stand again he will have to move our way. And he will. We need to force re-selection of sitting MPs. Party democracy is all we need to shift the fulcrum to the left and keep it there.

Tear up your card now and all you become is just one more resentful, helpless, passive aggressive observer. Stay in the Labour Party. Stand up for the principles of socialism and social democracy. Keep fighting for progressive policies and a humane society.

Phil Hall is a college lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.

Why Did the Working Class Vote Tory?

Photo by ELEVATE on

by James Tweedie, Plymouth, May 6th 2020

The one-word answer is: “Brexit.”

The Labour Party backed the losing side in the 2016 UK referendum on leaving the EU, despite then-leader Jeremy Corbyn’s 40 years of opposition to British membership of the trade bloc-turned superstate.

Labour came within a hair’s breadth of winning the snap general election in 2017, when it campaigned on a promise to respect the will of the people on Brexit.

But at its 2018 and 2019 conferences, branch and trade union delegates voted explicitly to disrespect the result by forcing the people to vote again – and presumably over and over until they ‘got it right’. There is no greater sin in party politics than being at odds with the majority.

Corbyn cited party democracy and unity as his reasons for going along with this betrayal of the very people Labour was founded to represent, the working class. But those excuses rang hollow.  Labour MPs, including the party leader, are not bound by conference resolutions. ‘Unity’ with those, such as shadow Brexit secretary (and now leader) Sir Keir Starmer, who’d stabbed him in the back over and over was a joke.

There is no greater sin in party politics than being at odds with the majority.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Conservative Party dumped Remainer PM Theresa May as soon as they saw the newly-formed Brexit Party was going to win the EU Parliament elections last spring. There was never any doubt that Brexiteer Boris Johnson would succeed May as Tory leader.

Labour immediately switched tactics from demanding an election once a week to colluding with the other opposition parties, Tory Europhile rebels, partisan Parliamentary speaker John Bercow and the megalomaniac law lords of the abomination of a supreme court in an attempt to create political anarchy and engineer a return to the disastrous National Government of 1931.

But Johnson outmaneuvered them all, first peeling off Labour MPs in Leave-voting seats to support his Brexit deal with Brussels, thus forcing the Scottish Nationalists and Liberal Democrats to vote for another snap election in a last-ditch bid to stay in the EU.

Johnson’s election strategy was to turn every speech and journalist’s question back to Brexit. It worked. On election night last December 12th, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, an ultra-leftist who’d also sold out his Euro-sceptic principals when leadership beckoned, admitted to the BBC that maybe the electorate wanted to ‘get Brexit done’ after all.

Class Betrayal

If Labour’s stance on EU membership was its only problem, it would have a fighting chance of winning the first post-Brexit election.  But the rot runs much deeper than that. Quite simply, the Labour Party is no longer a party of labour. Even under Jeremy Corbyn, the great white hope of the Left, it drifted further away from its core constituency.

Labour has a long history of abject class betrayal. The party was founded in 1906, and eight years later supported the bloodbath of the First World War, sending the flower of Britain’s working class to be killed and maimed in the trenches to defend the spoils of colonialism.

What did Labour’s election manifesto last year offer the workers? After losing their jobs in a environmentalist fire-sale…

Ramsay McDonald made his bed with the Tories and Liberals in his National Government. Clement Attlee’s 1945 government turned its back on our wartime ally the Soviet Union to join NATO and send troops to fight in the Korean War, when such things still mattered to a more class-conscious electorate. Neil Kinnock betrayed the striking miners in 1984, while Tony Blair realigned Labour with ‘Middle England’ and the City of London.

Labour’s membership has become overwhelmingly metropolitan, university-educated, middle-class, ‘woke’, Guardian-reading liberals. Most leaders of the Labour-affiliated trade unions are the same, and have never had a job outside the labour movement or been on the front line of a strike.

What did Labour’s election manifesto last year offer the workers? After losing their jobs in a environmentalist fire-sale, they’d get a bit more in benefit payments, paid for out of the remaining workers’ taxes. Oh, and free home internet in ten years’ time.

As someone who was excited by Corbyn winning the leadership in 2015, four years on I was disgusted to see him become another soft-left Judas goat like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. I’d rather have an honest enemy than a false friend.

The same Labour members who elected Corbyn as leader twice have now chosen his nemesis Starmer, a knight of the realm and the arch-Remainiac, as his replacement. It’s like they want to stay in opposition forever.

Identity Crisis

Labour long ago abandoned class politics for identity politics, taking the workers’ support for granted while they focus on winning the female, black and LGBT vote. And it’s the self-styled ‘socialists’ and ‘Marxists’ on the Left of the party are most guilty of this.

This has become a feedback loop: the more Labour’s northern and Scottish heartlands slip through its fingers, the more the party falls back on the inner-city seats where its most reliable voters are Afro-Caribbeans and poor Asians.

This explains the rage provoked among Labour MPs when Johnson named the most racially-diverse cabinet Britain has ever had. Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis told fellow Afro-Caribbean and Tory party chairman James Cleverly that ‘black members of the cabinet had to sell your souls & self-respect to get there’.

It’s worth noting that three of the top government jobs are held by MPs of African-Indian descent – Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney-General Suella Braverman. Whether or not you like their politics, they are members of a diaspora of a diaspora, which was central to the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, who were oppressed under colonialism then too often despised for their supposed ‘privileges’ by some misguided African nationalists since independence.

After accusing every black Tory of being an Uncle Tom, Lewis abandoned all sense of irony by calling Johnson, a foreign-born citizen with Turkish and Russian Jewish ancestors, ‘racist’.

Working-class white Tory voters and the ‘Blue Labour’ faction trying to win them back are derided as right-wing, racist or even closet fascists by this politically-correct clique, echoing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election-losing ‘basket of deplorables’ speech. Labour MPs and councillors helped the police cover up Asian paedophile grooming gangs, and called the whistle-blowers racist too.

The danger of populists is not that they might be demagogues, but funnily enough that they’re popular with the masses.

In the end though, ‘intersectional’ ID politics devours itself. In Birmingham, Muslim parents were told their children had to learn about same-sex relationships in reception year to stop them growing up to be religious extremists. Every woman running for Labour leader or deputy leader this year signed a pledge to expel thousands of feminists and gay rights campaigners from the party for being ‘transphobic’.

Those leaders who used to be called ‘dictators’ and ‘autocrats’ are nowadays dubbed ‘populists’ instead, a subtle but ultimately meaningless change of language. The danger of populists is not that they might be demagogues, but funnily enough that they’re popular with the masses.

Johnson  is neither blind nor stupid. After snaffling Labour’s lunch and smashing its ‘red wall’, he acknowledged that the workers had ‘lent him their votes’ and promised to do right by them. If the Tories can do social democracy better than Labour – like paying everyone’s wages during the lockdown – and speak the language of the people better to boot, they could stay in government for decades to come.


James Tweedie

James Tweedie was born in Hammersmith, West London, in 1975. He grew up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud in the time of colonial liberation, being taken to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament  and Anti-Apartheid Movement events by his mother and father respectfully.

James has lived and worked in South Africa and Spain. He has worked as a reporter and the international editor of the Morning Star newspaper, a foreign reporter for the Mail Online, an online journalist for He has appeared as a commentator on BBC Radio 4, RT’s Crosstalk, Turkey’s TRT World and Iran’s Press TV. He currently works for Sputnik.

James maintains an occasional blog (, describing himself as “one of the most deplorable purveyors of fake news about populist strongmen (and women) around the post-truth world.”

Mon Oncle

German soldiers in Paris during the war

By Paul Halas

On my very infrequent visits to Paris, passing Drancy Station on the RER suburban line between Orly Airport and Paris is always a poignant experience. My Uncle Ladis – Ladislaw – spent some time there during World War Two.
In 1966, as a seventeen year old, I had a heavy crush on a girl at my boarding school. It was not to be. Her family, part of a rich Persian dynasty, took a dim view of her consorting with anyone from the wrong milieu – especially someone with my family background. She was promptly whisked away to Paris to continue her studies. Naturally I wanted to follow.
This was the deal: pass my French O’ Level re-take and I’d be allowed to spend the summer holidays with my relatives in Paris – which is how I came to enjoy the hospitality of Uncle Ladis and Aunt Henriette.
The romance? No sooner had I set foot in Paris than my paramour was bundled onwards to New York, where she eventually married a banker. I stayed for another seven weeks, and my broken heart was quickly filed away under life’s rich pageant.
My father’s family was Hungarian. There were seven Halasz brothers. My father was the youngest and Ladis the oldest of the clutch – the only two to emigrate. Four of them survived WW2, but not without some astonishing survival stories, as I was to learn.

Ladis had three things going against him during WW2. He was Jewish, he belonged to the Communist Resistance, and he was captured.

When I stayed with Ladis and Henriette they lived in a small flat in the working class district of Goncourt, a melting pot of Jews, North Africans and native Parisians. Henriette made the couple a meagre living by assembling plastic flowers, whereas Ladis did little more than run errands for l’Humanite, the Communist newspaper.
During my stay Ladis took me all around Paris, to various museums, to the Humanite offices, to the Fete de l’Humanite, a great celebration of the Left, famed for its mergeuz sausages, and to various sites where the French Resistance had been active during the war. Ladis had three things going against him during WW2. He was Jewish, he belonged to the Communist Resistance, and he was captured.
Drancy achieved notoriety as a transit camp for Jews, before they were taken onwards to the extermination camps. But before that it was a detention camp, a repository for undesirables of all
descriptions. For a while Ladis survived there by trading cigarettes for the almost non-existant food rations. At length, however, it was his turn to be interrogated by the Gestapo. He was left for dead, with smashed-up hands and feet, and a badly broken jaw. The details of how he got out of there are sketchy, but Henriette corroborated that the Resistance managed to spring him, and she was one of their helpers.
The couple were successfully hidden until Liberation. Ladis was never the same afterwards. He’d suffered brain damage, he was clumsy, his walk was a hobble, and his crooked jaw made understanding him difficult, especially for a seventeen year old who’d just passed his O Level. His main, and frequently only topic of conversation, was the Communist Party. But he was well liked by all, and very affectionately indulged by all his comrades at l’Humanite.

My weeks chez les Halasz in Paris laid the foundations for my lifelong affection for Paris and for France – warts and all. And during the war the Halaszes experienced both the very worst and the very best of humanity.
As a footnote, a couple of years after my stay Ladis was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his efforts and tribulations during the war. He point blank refused to shake DeGaulle by the hand, but was more than happy to accept the very generous pension that came with it. Henriette never had to put together another plastic flower.


Paul Halas’s escape from 1970s hippidom was the discovery that he could invent stories. He spent forty years contributing to various Disney magazines and books, as well as a variety of non-Disney comics, books and animated films. His retirement from commercial writing coincided with Jeremy Corbyn becoming the Labour Party leader, which led to five years’ political activism. He left the party two years ago with a heavy heart.

How to defeat Covid-19

By Phil Hall

In China the barefoot doctors believed in prevention rather than cure. So how can we make societies like ours more resilient to pandemic infections like Covid-19?

Well, we could advocate for a more humane society. That would make us much more resilient. We could guarantee a fully functioning, well-funded health service free of charge for everyone. To fund this better health service we could increase income tax. How about going back to the 60’s and having a generous tax rate of up to 90% on the highest of high earners? Generous to ordinary people, I mean.

Covid-19 attacks the unhealthy, the impoverished; improve nutrition and make people healthier that way. Ban low quality processed foods from sale. Make sure that only cruelty free animals and animal products are sold: meat, eggs milk and so on. Set higher standards for food production and sale.

How about going back to the 60’s and having a generous tax rate of up to 90% on the highest of high earners? Generous to ordinary people, I mean.

How about exercise to go with it? Encourage people to garden in the cities. Give everyone a country plot of land where they can grow an orchard or vegetables. They used to do this in the Soviet Union. Many people had dachas, little plots of land outside town. In the UK we could increase the supply of allotments.

How about investing heavily in universities and encouraging them to find scientific solutions to diseases. We could focus investment on the most advanced areas of medical research. Make medicine more affordable. Control the big pharmaceutical companies and force them to hand over the recipes for useful drugs over shorter time periods. Give the NHS access cheaper generic drugs.

Why not provide quality, free health education on all aspects of human health and health protection and the prevention of diseases? Why not provide sports facilities for everyone of every age to help them improve their overall health; from bowling greens to football grounds. Give the playgrounds stolen from schools back to the children.

Covid -19 loves crowded spaces. Make public transport spacious, frequent, clean and affordable.

Make us more healthy and disease resistant by encouraging more people to cycle. Build proper, isolated cycle lanes in every British city. Be like Amsterdam. Provide free bicycles for public use. Make the very centres of all cities and towns car free.

Covid -19 loves crowded spaces. Make public transport spacious, frequent, clean and affordable. Encourage trust in politics by ensuring a rigorous democratic selection process before every election so that MPs and local council officials are kept honest and answerable. Make it very difficult for people to have full professional careers as politicians. Increase citizen participation in all political processes.

Bring in the four day week. That would reduce people’s stress and reduce crowding on public transport and in offices and schools. You know it makes sense.

Pensioners are the victims of Covid-19. Provide pensioners and affordable housing. Give pensioners good money so that they can afford to live healthily. Reward all carers generously, especially family members. Ensure a living wage and good working conditions for all employees in the public and private sectors so that people have the leisure time and money they need to eat healthily and exercise. Encourage worker participation on company boards.

Make contingency plans for epidemics and learn from the lessons of previous epidemics in order to mitigate the problems. Buy in sufficient equipment to handles such a crisis and make preparations through the WHO to combat pandemics in a coordinated and effective way in future.

Prevention really is better than cure.


Phil Hall

Phil Hall is a university lecturer working in the Middle East. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain and Mexico. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine.

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