Perspectives on Eichmann: Explaining Perpetrator Behaviour, by Andrew Elsby

Review by Arjay Frank

Otto Adolf Eichmann (1906–62) has been the subject of a surprising number of studies, given that he was merely a middle-ranking officer in the Schutzstaffel (SS) – a lieutenant-colonel, in fact – and, as such, was responsible for carrying out the orders of others, and would have played no part whatever in the formulation of Nazi Party, or even SS, policy. His notoriety owes as much to the publication of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) and to the highly dramatic circumstances surrounding his capture in Argentina by Israeli agents, his subsequent trial in Jerusalem on fifteen criminal charges, his conviction on all charges, and his execution by hanging in 1962, as it does to his actual involvement in the Holocaust.

Arendt’s influential book, in which she coined the phrase “the banality of evil”, was granted instant classic status, which has, to some extent, shielded her views from reasonable criticism or challenge. She attributed Eichmann’s actions in the Holocaust, especially his arranging for the transportation of Jews to the east despite knowing that what awaited them was extermination, to an alleged incapacity for moral reasoning, theorizing that Eichmann was, in all other respects, entirely normal. Arendt was primarily a political philosopher, and she explained Eichmann’s actions and personality in terms which would naturally have occurred to her, as a practitioner of philosophy. It is worth adding that, as a Holocaust survivor [1] herself, she has been virtually canonized by the liberal Western intelligentsia, and that, too, has helped to insulate her views against robust critical interrogation.

Arendt’s view is a theory, but it does not appear to be based on evidence. The German philosopher, Bettina Stangneth, and the British historian, David Cesarani, put forward a different explanation of Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour – namely, that he was an eliminationist antisemite, whose actions were driven by a fanatical hatred of Jews. This theory at least posits a motive for Eichmann’s actions, which Arendt’s does not.

Dr Elsby argues against these explanations and further argues that Eichmann was entirely normal, not in the cognitive sense of having limited moral awareness and failing to appreciate the consequences of his actions, but in the sense that he was motivated chiefly – in fact, almost exclusively – by a desire to optimize his own outcomes in material, social, and psychological terms, regardless of the cost to others to whom he was indifferent. This new argument is supported by reference to

(1) the social psychological experiments of Stanley Milgram on obedience to immoral authority and Philip Zimbardo on the influence of role on behaviour;

(2) Christopher Browning’s research on the perpetrator behaviour of a German police reserve battalion in Poland; and

(3) research on Einsatzgruppen commanders.

Eichmann’s background was solidly middle-class (his father was a bookkeeper), but he seems to have been a poor student, both at school and at the vocational college he subsequently attended but left without attaining a degree. His academic performance suggests that he would be considered, by most middle-class families, an underachiever: a person of mediocre intelligence and accomplishments. His early employment history – he worked in a variety of clerical and sales jobs – confirms the evidence of his academic record. There seems to have been nothing in any way remarkable about Eichmann.

At some point in the late 1920s, Eichmann started to read Nazi newspapers and to be influenced by the views published in them. In April 1932, acting on the advice of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a family friend (and later Eichmann’s boss in the SS), he joined, first, the Nazi Party, and then, a few months later, the SS. Quite fortuitously, Eichmann found himself in an environment in which a person such as himself – someone, hitherto viewed as a nonentity, who was eager, malleable, prone to hero worship, obedient to orders, and averse from responsibility – could flourish and obtain coveted rewards in the form of promotions, status, power, a sense of identity and self-worth, relative wealth, peer recognition, and the approval of his superiors.

Dr Elsby presents a compelling argument for his thesis and for his rejection of the views of Arendt, Stangneth, and Cesarani. His conclusion, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety, is as follows—

“Arendt seems not to have understood that most people do not conceive of issues in a reflective way to assess the moral choices inherent in them because there is no incentive for them to do so. Nor does she seem to have any appreciation of the decisive role of motivation and of pursuit of personal interest at the expense of others in normal human behaviour, of the fact that pursuit of personal interest is often unreflective, of the reality that perception is itself a motivated activity and that people do not attend to what they do not want to experience, and that following changes to behaviour to optimise outcomes attitudes may change to remain consonant with new behaviour if there is dissonance, that is, to optimise psychological outcomes. In such a context of research on human motivation evidence of eliminationist antisemitism in Eichmann’s utterances and actions after a certain date seems to reflect his having assimilated the SS vocabulary of genocide to maintain the good regard of his peers and bosses in the SS and to retain his elite SS identity and rank as well as involvement in the major task assigned to the senior echelons of the SS, not least as before it became the elimination of the Jews Eichmann had pursued Jewish emigration with similar fervour. Arendt’s intellectual conceit did in fact extend beyond Eichmann to disparagement and dismissal of psychiatry and psychology as means of understanding human behaviour, an extraordinary arrogance that resulted in her lack of appreciation of the primary role of human motivation in human attitudes, cognition and behaviour, including Eichmann’s. For Eichmann had a capacity for consideration of matters that concerned his own welfare, as in his presentation of self before different audiences, which indicates concern for consequences for himself. Eichmann participated in the Holocaust because involvement optimised material, social and psychological outcomes for him, not because he could not reason through the consequences.

“Eichmann’s banality was then one not of lack of moral reasoning or understanding of the consequences of his actions but of pursuit of personal interest regardless of cost to other people. It was not the case that had Eichmann engaged in moral reasoning or had greater understanding of the consequences of his actions he would not have done what he did as part of the process of extermination of the Jews of Europe, for his own psychological, social and material interests would have remained the decisive influence on his behaviour. Eichmann’s lack of moral reasoning did in fact reflect his optimisation of outcomes and indifference to the adverse consequences for others, and, as has been seen, Eichmann was aware of the consequences for the Jews of his arranging for them to be transported to what he knew were extermination centres. And, given the primacy of self-interest as a motive in human behaviour, had Arendt been in Eichmann’s position she could have done just what he did, despite the moral reasoning from which she judges Eichmann.

“Cesarani’s assessment of Eichmann seems more compelling, in that he acknowledges the lack of evidence of anything more than cultural antisemitism in Eichmann’s background and the evidence of pursuit of personal interest and careerism in Eichmann in a meticulous consideration of Eichmann’s background and career as an SS officer, though he does not seem to conclude that it was just such optimisation of outcomes that explains Eichmann’s having assimilated an eliminationist antisemitism rhetoric when extermination of the Jews of the occupied territories became Nazi policy and an SS objective. For Eichmann never had an ideological conviction that the Jews should be exterminated but rather an identity as an SS officer of some seniority of rank that he identified with and sought to retain by his perpetrator behaviour, an instrumental orientation to his role as an SS officer for the privileges and status it conferred upon him.

“Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour is then not explained by reference to a lack of capacity for moral reasoning (Arendt’s explanation), by obedience to orders despite moral anguish and out of powerlessness (Eichmann’s explanation in his memoir and the nature of the defence at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem) or by eliminationist antisemitism (Stangneth’s and Cesarani’s attribution). On the contrary, Eichmann transported Jews to extermination centres to optimise his material, social and psychological outcomes regardless of the cost to the Jews he transported, to whom he seems to have been entirely indifferent.

“Eichmann does seem to have been normal in terms of motivation, for most people pursue personal optimisation of outcome at the expense of others, and many are opportunists like Eichmann. What was different in the Eichmann case was context and outcome, not process and motive. It is possible that Eichmann had a greater desire than most people for belonging, elite identity, approval, involvement and power, though many maximisers have similar drives.”

To this I would add only that Arendt seems not have noticed that, although few people possess what she, as a trained philosopher, would have recognized as a capacity for moral reasoning, most of them manage to lead normal – that is, not morally reprehensible – lives. Not only is there no incentive for people to assess moral choices rationally: it is also the case that most people are not equipped, either by nature or by education, to engage in such complex and sophisticated thinking. Furthermore, most of the time, there is no need for anyone to do so. The majority of people act, quite unreflectively, in accordance with the prevailing standards of the family, group, or society to which they belong and with which they identify. In ordinary circumstances, that is enough to maintain a certain level, if not of goodness, at least of conduct that is not heinous or obviously culpable. [2]

Stangneth and Cesarani come closer to the truth, but their attribution of Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour to eliminationist antisemitism does not explain why Eichmann had pursued the earlier SS policy of Jewish emigration with exactly the same zeal that he later brought to the altered SS policy of extermination of the Jews from occupied Europe. And Eichmann’s own explanation for his conduct – that he followed orders as a matter of conventional military discipline despite personally experiencing “moral anguish” – is so obviously self-serving that, in the absence of any independent corroboration, it cannot be considered credible.

Eichmann’s mediocrity prior to his SS career, and the fact that he must have disappointed his father’s hopes and expectations, make it more likely that he would have been susceptible to the advantages offered to him by the SS: opportunities to gain rank, status, the approval of leaders (or father figures), and an elite identity; to wear an impressive uniform indicative of an elite status; to exercise power and control over others; to inspire fear and elicit prompt obedience in subordinates; to give orders; to terrorize Jews (and, presumably, other victims of the SS) – and all this without having to accept any responsibility, and while being able to claim that he had always acted in conformity to a recognized military code and under the orders of his superiors. For a man like Adolf Eichmann – ein Mann ohne Eigenschaften [3] (a “man without qualities”) and a moral vacuum into which almost anything might have been poured – the SS role was perfect. It fulfilled all his desires and ambitions at once. As Dr Elsby points out, in other circumstances, Eichmann might have attained a middle-ranking, managerial post in the civil service or a corporate body, and retired on a modest but sufficient pension after a moderately successful and, on the whole, blameless career.

Unlike Arendt, Stangneth, and Cesarani, Dr Elsby argues not that Eichmann was normal except for an incapacity for moral reasoning, or that he was normal except for a fanatical hatred of Jews, but that he was normal in all respects. It is a chilling conclusion, but his argument is cogently made, and well supported by scientific evidence. His essay stands as a notable and original addition to the literature on Eichmann, the Holocaust, and the social sciences, particularly psychology.


Some people will recoil in instinctive revulsion from the view that “most people pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others”. In fact, however, there are at least two reasons why that conclusion should not seem especially startling, namely—

(1) The whole capitalist economic system of production and exchange is predicated on the highly questionable, but seldom seriously questioned, assumption that competition, which by definition requires people to “pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others”, is fundamentally beneficial and conduces to the common good.

(2) That “most people pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others” is as good a definition as any of Original Sin: the sin of preferring one’s own will to the will of God. In less theological language, this is known as selfishness. This is an orthodox Christian doctrine, taught by the Church from the time of the apostles.

Dr Elsby set out to write an essay that would bring the insights of modern psychology to the study of perpetrator behaviour as exemplified by Eichmann and his role in the Holocaust. In doing so, he has raised broader questions for ethicists, moral philosophers, and theologians. To date, the question of human motivation – the reasons why we do what we do, which are often not the same as the reasons we give in public, or even the reasons we admit in private – has been insufficiently considered outside the social sciences. It is time that the insights offered by psychology and other social sciences were properly integrated into philosophical anthropology, if only to prevent philosophers from continuing to embarrass themselves by inadvertently exposing their ignorance of the currently available scientific knowledge.


[1] Strictly speaking, it would be more accurate to say that Arendt escaped the Holocaust than that she survived it. Though twice detained and once briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo, she eventually made her way to the USA in 1941. While she undoubtedly endured frightening and extremely unpleasant experiences, she was never incarcerated in any of the concentration camps or extermination centres for which the Nazis were notorious.

[2] And, of course, a small minority of people rise far above the normal level and can only be considered saints. It is worth noting that many canonized saints were not intellectuals and possessed moral knowledge rather than Arendt’s vaunted “capacity for moral reasoning”.

[3] Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities) is the title of a 1930 novel by the Austrian novelist, Robert Musil. Though it comprises three volumes and runs to approximately 1,700 pages, it was never completed, and most of the published editions incorporate at least some of Musil’s rough notes and preparatory sketches for the final chapters of his work. It is often considered to be a modern classic.

Arjay Frank is a London opera-goer with specialist interests in modern history and nineteenth- and twentieth-century orchestral and operatic music. Perspectives on Eichmann is available across most ebook platforms.

Personal Tragedies in Rodrigo Hasbún’s Los afectos

by Kathryn A. Kopple

In 2015, the Bolivian writer Rodrigo Hasbún published Los afectos (Affections), a slim volume loosely based on the Ertl family, a clan foisted on the reader with precious little introduction. “The day papa returned from Nanga Parbat (with some heart-rending images, of a beauty that wasn’t human), he told us while we ate dinner that mountain climbing had become too technical and what mattered was being lost, that he wouldn’t climb anymore.” His wife and daughters take in their papa’s words, careful not to interrupt, as he sermonizes about communing with nature. These speeches – the reader learns – go on uninterrupted for lengthy periods and, finally, culminate in a bruised vision of the world that, in a fine turn of phrase, can only be healed by seeking out those places “where God is untroubled by our ingratitude and sordidness”. A lofty sentiment and one that is in lockstep with the character’s historical counterpart: the Nazi cinematographer and alpinist Hans Ertl – the same man who, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, fully earned his reputation as Hitler’s photographer. Hasbún, however, is not deeply invested in this aspect of Ertl’s story; he is drawn to the private life of the family man. Untethered by all but the most tenuous historical references, Ertl and every character in the book become protagonists in a private tragedy.

Throughout this tragedy, the intimacy of perspectives creates the feel of memoir, albeit one that is subject to fragmentation. Although Hasbún is best known as an acclaimed author, his scholarly work focuses on the interconnectedness between diary, biography and literature. He takes issue with the idea that diaries must be read as at face value, as testimonials, when their very existence opposes worldly interests and demands. The diarist writes for a reader of one, presumably herself without, as Hasbún contends, “deference to the literary institution or publishing world”. Diaries may enter the public domain but their purpose is other. They are reclusive, hermetic. It is as if there is no activity more solitary – or personal – than that of the diarist. Nor is it coincidental that Los afectos is a book imbued with solitude. Hans Ertl’s treks up mountains and through Amazon forest are journeys into the heart of solitude. He is the man who “leaves”. His wife, Aurelia, languishes in the imposed solitude caused by her husband’s absence. Each of his three daughters is a solitary creature unable to sustain familial ties and relationships. Solitude of this sort is profoundly Heideggerian, that is, inescapable.

In fact, the entire novel reads like a Heideggerian fable. The characters are cast into a strange, new world to live out their finitude with precious few inner resources. Severed from their German homeland because of Hans’s Nazi past, their identities are stripped away; they must begin from scratch in Bolivia. In the high-altitude, low-oxygen city of La Paz, time is as precious as air. Hans wastes no time between expeditions. He returns from filming in Nanga Parbat already determined to set off again in search of Paititi, the lost Inca city of gold. His two eldest daughters, Monika and Heidi, are intensely aware that the clock is ticking and they are growing older by the second. The youngest daughter, Trixi, spends a melancholy Christmas alone with her mother, Aurelia, who tells the nearly thirteen-year-old that life is longer than people imagine, and that at times it feels “interminable”. Trixi sees her mother as terribly lonely. She fails to understand how she has too much time on her hands. In her abject pronouncements, Aurelia echoes Heidegger’s assertion that it is through boredom our awareness of time is heightened. Boredom leads to gloominess but forces us to reflect upon the groundlessness of our existence. Aurelia smokes, drinks, and reminisces but, most importantly, she philosophizes. Sadly, it’s all downhill for her from there.

In contrast with Aurelia’s lassitude, the eldest daughter, Monika, suffers fits of anxiety. Heidi, who fears and resents her sister, describes these episodes as grotesque. “It was ugly to see her writhing about, I won’t deny it. It was shocking, horrible even, to the point that, the last time, we had to tie her up.” The episode passes and Heidi suspects that Monika’s outbursts serve an ulterior purpose: they are a means of holding her distracted parents’ attention. Her resentment of her sister intensifies when she learns that their father is taking Monika with him on his next expedition. Heidi demands to go. Her father agrees in a way that unnerves the girl. “As if he had predicted all of it, including the questions I was asking, a strange smile appeared on his face. My chest froze and I looked at my sister and she at me and at that moment neither of us knew what to say.” A limit has been reached. Words fail. There is no turning back for Heidi. Now, like her father, she is the one who leaves. She also falls in love with Rudi, one of Hans’s assistants. Most significantly, she becomes lost, psychically speaking, unable to remember the day or the reason for the journey. This stripping away of perspective, time, and purpose brings her closer to what Heidegger calls authenticity.

Authenticity, for Heidegger, refuses imitation, it can’t be contained in archetypes. Rather, it prefigures socialization as an ideal mode of being. Hans may be the paterfamilias of the Ertl clan but he is, above all things, a man who is true to himself. He becomes disillusioned with mountaineering because alpinists have become mere technicians. Averageness disgusts him. In contrast, he aspires to all things sublime. The rain forest is no less sublime than the glacier. Sublimity involves terror. It is awe-inspiring. Add to that a mythical Inca city of gold – buried in all that forest – and the quest promises certain glory. At one point, he heaps praise on Hiram Bingham, the man credited with discovering Machu Picchu, thus inserting himself in the tradition of great explorers. But then he has already proven his worth by filming the 1936 Olympics and being at Rommel’s side during the war. Hans also possesses a certain erotic magnetism. When Trixi asks her mother if she fell in love with him at first sight, she replies, “The second I saw him…. But I wasn’t the only one. I think everyone on the committee was a little in love with him.” And then, not least, his eye never fails him. Whatever he films turns to magic. Authenticity – the discovery of the ideal self – goes hand in hand with exceptionalism.

For Hans’s daughters, living with such a man is overwhelming. Their feelings for him cause rifts and divisions – an utter lack of peace reigns over the family. It’s apparent that Hans loves Monika the most, ostensibly because she tests him. Of all the ironies to be found in the novel, the fact that Monika will go on to become a left-wing revolutionary is the most poetic. (But then, Heidegger too was a revolutionary. He found academic philosophy guilty of all manner of sins, not the least of them complacency. There is an air of nihilistic joy that runs throughout his writing, a sense that once the old norms have been destroyed, philosophy will arise like a phoenix from the ashes. And no doubt, Heidegger thought of himself as that phoenix. It’s also true that he was a committed Nazi and antisemite.) In Los afectos, it is Monika who forces the issue of Hans’s Nazism. She accuses him of being a “lackey of the powerful, a disgusting fascist”. Her words open a great wound in him. After her assassination by the Bolivian military, the elderly Hans has a grave dug for her, literally forcing him once and for all to stare into the abyss.

When Los afectos first came out, it was marketed as a historical novel. From the disclaimer on the first page of the book to his assertions in numerous interviews, Hasbún is adamant that the book is historical only in the broadest sense of the term: as story. The story involves multiple points of view, lack of chronological cohesion, and a directness of expression that breaks down aesthetic distance. Instead of history, we are presented with instances that turn inward, personal, and reflective. Out of this assemblage of disparate voices, the question that arises is why history at all? Especially since Hasbún claims to use as little biographical detail as possible. The author seems to be pulled in by the unwritten aspects of the story – in what the historical record either suppressed or omitted. Nazism recedes into the background, almost imperceptible, as if opening a window to let in some fresh air.

In the essay “Fascinating Fascism”, Susan Sontag remarks that it may “seem ungrateful or rancorous to refuse to cut loose” the work of Nazi propagandists from their past. She takes issue with the rehabilitation of Leni Riefenstahl despite the cinematographer’s ongoing commitment to fascism. The same could be said of Hans Ertl. He never became disillusioned with Nazi Germany: it was post-war, democratic Germany that failed him. Moreover, during his self-imposed exile in Bolivia, he sought out the friendship of the notorious Klaus Barbie. Barbie is thought to have been involved in Monika’s assassination by Bolivian security forces in 1973. Given his friendship with Barbie – and, as mentioned in the novel, Ertl’s relationships with high-ranking members of the Bolivia military – he may have had more to do with his daughter’s death than the novel suggests. Whatever role he played (active or passive), Ertl never repudiated Nazism or his fascist associations. He would go on to write two memoirs, both of which are imbued with sentimental accounts of mountaineering and exploration. Both memoirs pay homage to the Germany of his youth.

However Hasbún adjusts the lens – the ever-shifting angles – it’s scarcely possible to insulate Los afectos – or any work of art – from its source material. The connection between old-world fascism and new-world exile is not severed but revised. Nazism may find itself reduced to mere figments, but even these have the power to mesmerize. The Argentine writer Manuel Puig, in his masterpiece El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman), explores the Nazi aesthetic, and how it catches us in a web of repulsion and attraction. The goddesses of Nazi cinema are no less beautiful because they are instruments of a brutal regime. They fascinate regardless. They provide an ideal of physical beauty and an antidote to the ugliness of existence. Fascism is predicated on a host of aesthetic values, among them the dictum that, without beauty, life is simply not worth living. Los afectos offers us a taste of such a life in the Ertl family saga. They are doomed and therefore beautiful. To paraphrase Heidegger, beauty is only as true as it is tragic.


All translations from the novel are mine unless otherwise cited. Regarding Hasbún’s critical investigations, please see Enea Zaramella, “Interview with Rodrigo Hasbún” in The White Review,, accessed 22 August 2021. A thorough discussion of the fascist aesthetic of Hans Ertl’s memoirs can be found in Caroline Schaumann’s “Memories of Cold in the Heat of the Tropics: Hans Ertl’s ‘Meine Wilden Dreißiger Jahre’” in Colloquia Germanica, vol. 43, no. 1/2, 2010, pp. 97–112, JSTOR,, accessed 22 August 2021. Susan Sontag’s essay “Fascinating Fascism” may be found at UC Santa Barbara, , accessed 22 August 2021. Los afectos has been translated into English under the title Affections by Sophie Hughes.

Kathryn A. Kopple holds a doctorate in Latin American literature (NYU). Her focus is the surrealist poetry of the Rio de la Plata. She has also published original poetry and prose in multiple venues, including The Threepenny Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms. She has published two novels – Little Velásquez and The Leaving Year – set in Spain. Kathryn also hosts the literary blog The Leaving Year.

Extracts from Alexandria Adieu

Published in London by Gilgamesh Books in Autumn 2021

In his powerfully evocative new book, Alexandria Adieu, the veteran Fleet Street foreign correspondent, historian and author, Adel Darwish, has written the memoir of his birthplace: Alexandria.

Alexandria is not simply an Arabic, or a Greek city, an Egyptian city, it is much more. Alexandria is a hauntingly beautiful, complex and cosmopolitan Mediterranean city. In the 455 pages of this magnum opus, Darwish explores the complex facets of Alexandria’s character. In Alexandria Adieu, Darwish shares his eyewitness account of life in Alexandria between the Second World War and 1960. During this time, Darwish witnessed the exodus of 100,000 Alexandrians and the sad demise of many of the city’s great institutions and traditions. Ars Notoria is privileged to be able to offer you an extract, a preview of Alexandria Adieu.

By Adel Darwish 

The drive from Burg el-Arab, where I landed at night, to the civilised Royal Alexandria took an hour and a half rather than the ten minutes or so from Nuzha Airport, where I had arrived on a previous visit a decade earlier. The journey took me through what more closely resembled Afghan villages than the Alexandria I knew. Perhaps it was symbolic of how quickly Alexandria was moving further from herself. Nuzha, which had served the city for over seven decades during her cosmopolitan epoch, was shut for renovation in 2011, when the military who were in charge of the country set the election rules and criteria that empowered the Islamists, enabling them to easily take over. Burg el-Arab, originally an RAF airbase where Churchill had lunch with its commanders before the Battle of Alamein in 1942, is far away from the city, both geographically and culturally. The airport’s name was alien, associated with Bedouin culture rather than Alexandria’s European ethos. Nuzha–European in design, layout and service–did for twentieth-century Alexandria what Muhammad Ali’s harbour expansion had done for the nineteenth-century city, strengthening her links with Europe and underpinning modernity. The conceptual contrast between the two airports symbolised the regression of Alexandria. Alexandria, which had held out to the last breath before falling into the hands of strangers who never understood her culture, deceived me on my long interval visits into believing that my Hellenistic city would, by some miracle, survive the ugliness crusade of the barbarians who might have been on Cavafy’s mind when he asked, ‘Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion? Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,…?” when the city was ‘waiting for the barbarians’.[1]

‘Alexandria is slipping through our fingers’, my father repeatedly warned when noticing the city’s post-war decay, from broken chandeliers in building hallways to the ugliness creeping into fashion, manners and architecture – and then the accelerated demographic bleeding out, when Alexandria was shedding her children in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.

Apart from the central part where mostly Italian architects rebuilt modern Alexandria, 200 years ago, nothing remained today which resembles the great city I left behind in the 1960. The cosmopolitan Alexandria of the belle époque that was immortalised by the quills of a trio of men of letters. Alexandria’s poet Constantine Peter Cavafy (1863–1933) who was the soul of the city, the English historian, essayist and novelist Edward Morgan Forster (1879–1970), the curator of Alexandria in Alexandria: A history and A Guide, and Lawrence Durrell (1912–1990), her soloist storyteller in The Alexandria Quartet. They introduced the modern reincarnated de facto city-state to the twentieth century-world’s readers: Alexandria, the magical; romantic; exotic; hedonistic; and, as many lately like to claim, mythical cosmopolis.  

Alexander the Great, who founded Alexandria

Few, if any, metropolises can claim a status of cosmopolis like Alexandria can. She experienced two golden ages, making her one of history’s wonders. Her first golden age – following her laying out in 332 BC by Alexander the Great’s architect, Dinocrates – was as the intellectual capital of the Classical ancient world and the seat of culture, medicine, philosophy and science under the Ptolemies (323–30 BC) – ruling over Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan all around the Mediterranean from geographical Palestine to the Adriatic coast, and Libya to the west – followed by the Roman period (30 BC–619 AD).

The second golden age, that of royal Alexandria, was as the largest port in the eastern Mediterranean in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, under Muhammad Ali’s dynasty (1805–1953).

Only if you had grown up in the reincarnated Alexandria (1810–1970) and knew her sites, ancient and modern, could you understand her multiple cultures. If you had roamed her Dinocratian streets and moved inside her circles, dived within her layers and vaulted her fences – which were not physical barriers but cultural, intellectual, ethnic and philological boundaries – you would have discovered that you, like me and like Alexandria herself, were a hybrid and a mongrel of numerous cultural and ethnic genes. Alexandrians might belong to one ethnic group or another; in reality, they were like the city herself in the mindset of daily life and trade. Like Durrell’s character Justine, Alexandrians were neither entirely European nor fully Levantine – nor Egyptian nor African nor like any other assemblage or single, racially hegemonic Mediterranean group. Each one of us was, in a way, an individual mini-biological clone of the city, a minuscule model of Alexandria – and we Alexandrians collectively, in our similarities and diversities, were also a group-Alexandria: a ‘we-Alexandria’.

we Alexandrians collectively, in our similarities and diversities, were also a group-Alexandria: a ‘we-Alexandria’.

In a geographical, ethnographical, historical and cultural sense, Alexandria was an island, surrounded by water except for a tiny narrow link to Africa’s land mass, and with an invisible (cultural) umbilical cord connecting her to Europe. Her bubbling inner soul always wanted her to break away and drift with the Mediterranean currents, gliding to where she had been conceived by Greek gods and philosophers, to finally snuggle into Europa’s bosom.

Alexandria was founded in the fourth century BC by Macedonians, not by Egyptians or their Persian rulers (the Thirty-first Dynasty). She flourished into the capital of the Hellenic world and its seat of learning for 1,000 years until the Arab invasion. The seventh-century turmoil sent her into another millennium of decline and hibernation; the colonial Arab rulers neglected Alexandria, letting the Canopic branch of the Nile west of the city silt up and dry. In her ‘second coming’, in the nineteenth century, Alexandria’s population grew from just under 5,000 in 1798  to 800,000  during the Second World War, of whom over 500,000 were non-Nilotic migrants.

The modern city-state of Alexandria was not built by the Arabs, the Mamluks, the Ottomans or Egypt’s British ‘protectors’ (1914–22), but by the Alexandrians themselves in all their racial multiplicity and religious diversity.

Bacus tram, El-Ramleh-1918, from a postcard

Tramway el-Ramleh: a Ride into History

Running from Victoria Terminus east to Gare de Ramleh, the iconic tram was a living organ in Alexandria’s body. The Ramleh tram was an institution, a ride into the history of Alexandria, her growth and development over 150 years – not only in the spheres of culture, arts, engineering, architecture and archaeology but also in commerce, business and military affairs.

The original tram arrêts names marked chapters of Alexandria’s 3,000-year history. Soter was named after Ptolemy I, who oversaw Alexander’s dream of building the great city and started on the lighthouse and the magnificent Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Appropriately, Soter was the stop for both the Greek Community Club and University College of Arts and Classics. Known as the ‘stilettos-campus’ because its female students, who competed in fashion and in showing leg, outnumbered male students by three to one, it also had one of the university’s best-known cafeterias. The indoor buffet, with its three-sided ceiling-high glass windows, had a well-stocked bar serving varieties of wines, spirits, cocktails and the famous Alex ice-cold Stella. Soter was also the arrêt for one of the city’s true icons: Casino de Chatby, a 1920s end-of-pier restaurant and café by day and entertainment restaurant at night. French musicians and singers like Louis Charles Augustin Trenet (1913–2001) and Maurice Chevalier (1888–1972) performed there.

West of Soter was Lazarietta (originally Lazaretto, meaning ‘isolation from contagious infection’), where the first health quarantine was built by Muhammad Ali. Arrivals to Alexandria were to quarantine before travelling inward. Some 400 metres east of Soter lay Arrêt Dinocrates, named after the architect whose 332 BC plan for Alexandria became a blueprint for modern town planning. Without chalk, he improvised the use of barley grain to mark roads and the angles of crossroads, competing all the while with seagulls swooping down to eat them. At the time, some said it was a bad omen; others said, a sign from the gods that the great city would nourish and sustain the whole planet. Three kilometres east, the tram travels 300 years ‘forward’ into Bain Cleopatre although in reality she never bathed there. In all, two tram stops, a plage, an urban quarter and several Alexandrian landmarks are named after history’s most glamorous queen, whose mind exceeded her beauty, charm and (alleged) seductiveness. Cleopatra, the wise and much-loved ruler who introduced festivals, parades, leisure and enriched knowledge.

Only in cosmopolitan, kaleidoscopic Alexandria could you have a tramline with stops carrying such historical, geographical and economic names

Between Bain Cleopatre and Dinocrates stops, the tram passes Chatby, named after a Muslim saint from Andalucía and the location of three landmarks. At the University Littorie Campus on Rue Plato, the other best-known university cafeteria stood by the Art Deco swimming pool. Named after its founder, the modernist Regie Scuole Littorie the project was entirely funded by the Mussolini government. It was opened in 1933 by King Victor Emmanuel III and turned into a military hospital for the allies during The War, but seven years later was bought by Alexandria University. Chatby is also the arrêt for Al-Ittihad, the Alexandria United sports club (established 1914). The AUFC has become inseparable from the twentieth-century Alexandrian identity since Alexandrians hold AUFC in their hearts like Liverpudlians cherish Liverpool FC.

Opposite the club on Rue Plato’s western side, there is a large plot extending south to Rue Abukeir and west to Arrêt Soter. It was home to several connected cemeteries with tombstones of different ethnicities telling the story of Alexandria: a Greek Orthodox cemetery and museum, Armenian Orthodox graves, Greek Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Eastern Orthodox graves around the Coptic church of Mar Gerges (Saint George) and a military war memorial near the Anglican cemetery. Latin Catholics, Syriac Catholics and Jews all lay in a harmony and peace that didn’t always exist during their lives.

On the northern side of the tram tracks, opposite the cemeteries, stands Collège Saint-Marc, one of Alexandria’s top elitist boys’ schools. It was established in 1928 by the sixteenth-century Catholic order, the De La Salle Brothers, and among the school’s graduates are some internationally recognised names: Dodi al-Fayed (1955–1997), the late Princess Diana’s death-partner; and former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general Dr Esmat Abd-el-Meguid (1923–2013). The next stop, Arrêt Camp de Cesar, served the university stadium and college of civil engineering on the highest hill before approaching Old Alexandria, where Octavian pitched his camp in the summer of 30 BC after defeating Mark Antony and the Egyptian fleet a year earlier at the Battle of Actium (2 September, 31 BC). This is also an arrêt for the iconic Lycée Français d’Alexandrie school for girls, established in 1909 by the Mission laïque française.

‘the barracks searchlights crisscrossed the city’s skies along with others from five hills around Alexandria, searching for Luftwaffe bombers’

A kilometre northeast of Bain Cleopatre, the tram screeches its way back into the twentieth century. The track arches, hugging the coast as it passes the tram-maintenance works before stopping at Mustaf Pasha Army Barracks. This military installation was founded in the mid-nineteenth century by one of Muhammad Ali’s officers who went to America to serve there and later returned. During the Second World War, the barracks searchlights crisscrossed the city’s skies along with others from five hills around Alexandria, searching for Luftwaffe bombers.

The Ramleh tram tracks continue for another nine kilometres eastwards, running between 500 and 70 metres back from the coastline – the widest gap at the east end of the barracks and the start of a fashionable quarter full of large villas, including the British ambassador’s summer residence. Arrêt Rushdy Pasha is named after Hessein Rushdy[*] (1863–1928), Egypt’s eleventh prime minister (1914–19) and the location of his massive summer house. Rushdy’s French-born wife, Eugenie le Burn-Rushdy, was one of the pioneering Egyptian feminists, joining Egyptian women like Huda Shaarawi (1879–1947), the daughter of a speaker of parliament. The movement’s early impact was mostly intellectual.

The tracks reach their closest point to the Mediterranean at Arrêt Laurent. Édouard Laurent was a nineteenth-century industrialist and philanthropist who built a school, local housing and a mosque, and donated to local public services. Rue Laurent led to Plage Laurent, marking the start of the famous golden sandy plages of Sidi-Bishr, where Cleopatra’s bath really was located – four kilometres northeast of Arrêt Sidi-Bishr in a sand-rock island. The last queen of Egypt used to bathe in a small lake inside the rocks of an island 650 metres off plage Miami’s sands.

Other tram stops were named after people who contributed to Alexandria’s history, wealth and built realm. Zizinia was named after the dynastic founder, Count Stephen Zizinia (1794–1868). Zizinia epitomised the complex and nebulous identity of cosmopolitan Alexandrians. He was born in Chois, arrived as a slave from Greece with Ibrahim Pasha after the 1822 Massacre of Chios. Ibrahim promoted Tsisinia (Zizinia); he later acquired French citizenship while conducting business in Marseilles.[2] He became Belgian consul but was also elected president of the Greek community in Alexandria, and invested in and contributed to Alexandria as an Egyptian national building his city. Comte Menandre de Zizinia (1832–1907) constructed the Ramleh district bearing his name, building a theatre in 1862–63. Teatro Zizinia on Rue Rosette (later Rue Fuad) was designed by Italian architect Pietro Avoscani (1816–1891), who emigrated to Alexandria in 1837. Only in Alexandria could a slave become army officer, a consul general (later ambassador) and a minister.

Zizinia Senior also erected a church in 1863 dedicated to St Stephen, giving its name to the famous iconic Hotel San Stephano, which in turn gave its name in turn to another tram stop.

The stop before San Stephano, Arrêt Mazloum Pasha, was named after Ahmed Mazloum (1878–1928), who was chief justice of les tribunaux mixtes and twice speaker of the Egyptian parliament, a minister of justice (1893–4) and finance minister (1894–1908). His large residence, built in 1898 by Lasciac, opposite the tram stop, was donated by his to house the Alexandria College of Fine Arts. Proceeding southwest on another branch of the tramway el-Ramleh an arrêt carries the name of Nestor Gianaclis. He was the founder of a cigarette factory for exports, with a world trademark. Gianaclis, who came to Alexandria in 1864, revived the almost dying viticulture that had started in 3000 BC, expanded vine growing after spending 18 years searching for the perfect soil.[3] He started new vineyards in 1882 using ancient Egyptian vines, and founded modern wine distilleries using thousand-year-old recipes.

The tram terminates at Victoria, where Victoria College is located. Named after the famous British queen in 1900, it became known as the ‘Eton of the Mediterranean’. Many celebrated names were to be found among Victoria graduates: King Hussein of Jordan (1935–1999); Omar Sharif (1932–2015); Youssef Chahine (1926–2008); Tsar Simone-II (Simone Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) of Bulgaria (b.1937); the Palestinian- American scholar Edward Said (1935–2003); British mathematician Michael Atiyah (1929–2019); and the Egyptian-Israeli-Swiss inventor of the open-architecture model, Gilbert de Botton (1935–2000).

The southern branch the tram-track went through open areas  of sand dunes, palm trees and bulrushes on the edge of swamps around the newish quarters dominate the landscape near Victoria. To the west – towards central Alexandria, where the tram-track branches at Sporting’s – you are in early twentieth-century Europe. Arrêt Sporting’s services both the plage and a residential area to the north and, to the south, the racecourse and sports club (founded 1890) including tennis, squash and cricket facilities.

A kilometre south is Arrêt Ibrahimiyah, named after Muhammad Ali’s great-grandson, Ibrahim Rifaat Pasha (1855–1932(, who developed the area, drained its marshes, and modernised the quarter, which was established by Greek migrants in the 1820s.

Ibrahim Rifaat was a traveller, and his book Mira’at el-Harmaine (The Holy Shrines’ Mirror) was the earliest detailed geographical description of Arabia, its western coast, the Nagd mound, Mecca and medina, as well as customs and the culture of the people there. He also added detailed maps and photographs in later editions.[4]

Other tram stops’ names – like Bacos (Bacchus), the Roman god where Colonel Gamal Abd-el Nasser was born in 1918 ; or Sidi-Gaber, referring to a saint’s shrine – were associated with folkloric myth without much historical evidence. Glymenopoulo stop was named after the wealthy Greek-Alexandrian family who built a hospital and founded charities, and was also associated with an iconic plage. Carlton, Fleming, Buckley, Saba Pasha and Schultz were named after engineers who constructed the tram network or contributed to the areas carrying their names, and most were committee members of the late nineteenth-century semi-independent elected  belediye, the richest  municipality in the region.

Only in cosmopolitan, kaleidoscopic Alexandria could you have a tramline with stops carrying such historical, geographical and economic names: a Roman Caesar, the ancient world’s top architect, a Ptolemaic king, the last Egyptian queen, a British queen, warriors and travellers of different races and faiths, Egyptian pashas and prime ministers, English gentlemen, a Belgian consul, Muslim and Catholic saints of both Egyptian and European background, and a Roman god of wine. ••

[*] In some reference books it is written Hussien, and/or Roshdy. 

[1] From Cavafy’s 1898 poem ‘Waiting for the barbarians’, C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (Translated by Keeley, Edmund and Sherrard, Philip), Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1975.

[2] Reid, Donald Malcolm, Whose Pharaohs?: Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I, California University Press, reprint, Los Angeles, 2003, pp. 150–1.

[3] ‘The History and Heritage of Gianaclis Wines in Egypt’, Cairo 365, 11 November 2010 edition.

[4] Rifaat, Ibrahim, General, Mira’at el-Haramine, Travels in Higaz (Arabic), Amiri Publishing and Printing, Cairo, 1925.

Adel Darwish

Adel Darwish has been a distinguished figure at the press gallery at the House of Commons through some of the most tumultuous political upheavals of the modern age. His reporting an analysis have informed literally millions, both across the Middle East region and internationally, and he is a regular feature across news channels the world over. Adel Darwish is the political editor of World Media, Middle East News and The Middle East Maggazine

Alexandria Adieu is available for preorder from Gilgamesh Publishers

Wellington’s Clubland

Soft words over cigars and port

By Stephen Hoare

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of WellingtonKGGCBGCHPCFRS, ‘the Iron Duke’, is well known as the military man who defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815 and as the man who ended the Napoleonic Wars – with a little Prussian help. He was also the Tory prime minister from 1828 to 1830. Wellington was a master of the exercise of military and political power. But there is another side to Wellington: he was also a master of soft power. Stephen Hoare discusses this side of the Duke .

On 18 November 1852 over one million people lined the streets of London to pay their final respects to a man described by Queen Victoria as “the greatest Englishman”. The Duke of Wellington, the victor of Waterloo and an Irish peer had earned his place in the national pantheon of heroes and a full state funeral.

Before dawn broke, Horseguards in Whitehall was a hive of activity as troopers of the Household Cavalry groomed their mounts and made last-minute adjustments to gleaming ceremonial helms and cuirasses. At nearby Wellington Barracks, entire brigades were turned out and drilled under the keen eye of colour sergeants, regimental sergeant majors and officers on horseback. 

In a few short hours, the entire effective strength of the British army would be marching to honour Wellington and the victory of Waterloo. From the red-coated Coldstream and Grenadier Guards to the regiments of the line, riflemen in green shakoes, and the flamboyantly uniformed cavalry troops – hussars, dragoons, lancers, the royal house artillery and the light brigade which was to feature famously in the Crimean war. All would escort the Duke’s funeral car to its final destination, St Paul’s Cathedral.

The three-mile long funeral procession headed by Prince Albert on horseback would leave Horseguards at 9.00 am and travel at a slow march accompanied by regimental bands up Constitution Hill, along Piccadilly, into St James’s Street then along Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, the Strand, and Fleet Street before finally arriving at the Cathedral.  The crowned heads of Europe travelled in carriages near the head of the cortege, where Wellington’s groom led his riderless horse with the general’s boots reversed in the stirrups.

The focal point of the procession was the funeral car, a four tonne juggernaut, constructed in bronze melted down from cannons captured at Waterloo which carried the Duke’s coffin, so heavy that it needed six dray horses to pull it.    

The choice of route was highly symbolic. Instead of taking the shortest route to St Paul’s Cathedral the cortege would pass Wellington’s London home, Apsley House on Hyde Park Corner before travelling through the heart of London’s clubland.

Antonio Canova‘s Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, 1806, statue in Apsley House

In St James’s Street, White’s, Brooks’s, and Boodles, could trace their origins from the chocolate houses and gambling clubs of the late seventeenth century. They would later become exclusive members’ only clubs for the aristocracy and the beau monde. Wellington was a lifelong member of White’s.   

The clubs that lined Pall Mall had erected temporary grandstands decked with flags and patriotic banners from which members and their guests could view the procession. The Oxford and Cambridge, the United Universities Club, the Carlton Club, the Reform, the Travellers, the Athenaeum and the United Services Club all paid homage to Wellington as the procession passed slowly along the ceremonial route.

Wellington’s links to the revival of London’s clubland cannot be over-stated.

Palatial clubhouses were constructed on the site of the Prince Regent’s palace, Carlton House which had been demolished in 1824 creating a blank canvas that would see this area transformed into a new elevated clubland centred on Waterloo Place, Cockspur Street and Pall Mall.  


The Reform Club Lobby, Photo Alexander Williams

Wellington’s links to the revival of London’s clubland cannot be over-stated. With the obvious exception of the Reform Club, the Duke of Wellington was involved with every single one of the Pall Mall clubs, either as a founder member or as a guiding light. For Wellington the soldier statesman, clubs represented a modern ideal. He saw them as cementing a new Pax Britannica– a form of cultural imperialism designed to show Britain at its best. Throughout his career, Wellington was an active member of no less than eight clubs including White’s and Crockford’s.

But beyond global power politics, Wellington had a more pressing reason to value members’ clubs as an institution. They were a form of soft power. On leaving the army and entering the political arena as a Tory, Wellington needed to network and build his power base. Clubs were private spaces where influence could be brought to bear over a glass of port and a cigar.  

He saw [clubs] as cementing a new Pax Britannica – a form of cultural imperialism designed to show Britain at its best.

The Duke was a founder member of the Union Club for Irish peers. Having served as a general in the East India Company’s army, he was closely associated with setting up the Oriental Club for former army officers, colonial administrators and merchants.

The Athenaeum, William Radclyffe (1783–1855) 

In 1816 Wellington lent his support to the United Service Club whose aim was to provide a congenial home from home for officers of the rank of major and above who had fought at Waterloo. Wellington’s advice was in defiance of prime minister Lord Liverpool’s fear was that such a club might encourage the army to form a military junto that might one day overthrow an elected government. Wellington’s opinion carried the day.

Clubs were private spaces where influence could be brought to bear over a glass of port and a cigar.

The Athenaeum was founded in 1824 by John Wilson Croker a lawyer, Irish MP and a long-term associate of Wellington’s. With Sir Humphrey Davy, John Faraday, assorted bishops, leading artists and writers among the founder members, the Athenaeum set out to champion Britain’s achievements in the arts and sciences. Investing in building a world class library and art collection, the club stood in marked contrast to the aristocratic St James’s gambling and drinking dens.      

The ‘Iron Duke’ in 1850

Most of all Wellington is associated with the Carlton Club which he helped establish in 1832. Here he would build the network that finally led to his election to Parliament and his short career as Tory prime minister from 1828-1830 and briefly in 1834. Alas, the club and Parliamentary democracy failed to live up to the Duke’s desire to pull strings and peddle influence. Unable to fully comprehend democracy, Wellington became disillusioned with politics. “Damme sir, I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them!” Wellington is said to have exclaimed after his cabinet colleagues rejected his command-and-control leadership. 

the Athenaeum set out to champion Britain’s achievements in the arts and sciences.

His disillusion was complete when in 1834 Sir Robert Peel led a clique that dislodged him from Downing Street, using the Carlton Club to hold secret meetings of co-conspirators.

“Never write a letter to your mistress and never join the Carlton Club,” was Wellington’s considered verdict. 

The Carlton Club, photo by Debonairchap

In later life reconciled to the political wilderness, Wellington was appointed Chancellor of Kings College London, a post that enabled him to claim membership of the United Universities Club. Here he would often retire to enjoy a quiet hour of relaxation.

There is a lovely story that members of the Guards’ Club in nearby St James’s Street, were given reciprocal dining rights at the United Universities Club while their own building was being refurbished. One boisterous young officer on spying an elderly gentleman sitting quietly in front of a blazing fire reading the Times remarked to his fellows:

“I say, these old University types really know how to treat themselves!”

The paper was lowered gradually to reveal the scowling countenance of no less a person than the Duke of Wellington!

Stephen Hoare, Author of Places of Power: The Birth and Evolution of London’s Clubland

Stephen Hoare is the author of Palaces of Power: The Birth and Evolution of London’s Clubland published by The History Press 2019. ISBN 978-0-7509-9076-9 price £25

For the past twenty years, Stephen Hoare has been a freelance writer and journalist, writing about higher education, business schools and the public sector for The Guardian. He is a regular contributor to the Times’ special reports and author of many non-fiction titles including The Assassination of John F Kennedy and Hiroshima for Batsford’s ‘A Day That Made History’ series

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.

So, you say that Darwin’s scientific ideas have nothing to do with social values?

Victorians and Edwardians did terrible, cruel things in the name of Malthus and Darwin.

by Philip Hall

The cast system is inhuman. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) seems impossibly cruel. Look at the Taliban: Malala got a bullet in the head just for going to school. Look at forced marriage, at child marriage. How can that be tolerated?

These are the persistent systemic failures of whole cultures and systems of values. When religion is patriarchal and prejudiced it cannot claim to be universal. Societies and cultures are conveniently blind to their own failings, so that the caste system is reinforced. The mother, eager to be respectable in a traditional society, forces her child to be circumcised.

But Europe is blind to its systemic moral failings, too. It was Kenneth Clark who said that the Victorians and Edwardians did the terrible, cruel things they did around the world in the name of Malthus and Darwin. These were things that they would never have contemplated doing if they had allowed themselves to be fully guided by their Christian morals.

The idea of western racial and cultural superiority was reinforced by the ideologues of empire who used a bastardised form of Darwinism to license colonialism; European people, society and culture were ‘superior’, you understand, and by colonising the British were really just bringing superior civilisation to places that needed it. Kipling called it ‘the white man’s burden’.

Malthus argued that populations grew geometrically. He claimed that the Earth could not sustain such a large population. Many Europeans think that Malthus’s ideas are still valid. They don’t question them – just as a billion Indians still accept the caste system.

Malthus has taught us misanthropy.

Malthus has taught us misanthropy. I do not exaggerate. There are moral, seemingly decent, environmentally aware liberals who you know, who actually think it would be better for the world if Ebola wiped out hundreds of millions of poor people in Africa. For some sick people, COVID is Darwinism in action. They celebrate it.

The evil of this immoral western philosophy is compounded. Its proponents believe in the death of the maladapted poor, in the destruction of ‘failed’ states. They believe that when poor people die this is a demonstration of the mechanisms of adaptive evolution.

The ideas of Darwinism were easily bowdlerised. They gave rise to theories of scientific racism and eugenics. Darwinism has combined syncretically with a crass strand of heroic capitalism to generate the philosophy that suggests that if you are rich and successful, you have greater value as a human.

This is the philosophy of the advocates of euthanasia, of genetic manipulation and the philosophy of the measurers of human intelligence. In fact, modern social Darwinists like Peter Singer reflect the views of 1930s eugenicists on disability. The eugenicists believed that severely disabled children should be ‘put out of their misery’ like sick animals.

You could say Peter Singer’s arguments are more nuanced than those of 1930s eugenicism, but ask disabled people how they feel about the proposal to screen foetuses with disabilities. Ask them how they feel about Singer’s recommendations that severely disabled children be euthanised.

The Nazis were extreme social Darwinists of the worst sort. In fact, Darwin himself was something of a social Darwinist. There is clear evidence of this, despite the desperate attempts of Darwin’s defenders to re-contextualise his words and say that they were taken out of context. Darwin’s ideas lend themselves to a winner takes all mentality.

Darwin wrote that it was inevitable that the ‘inferior’ or ‘primitive’ non-white races would be driven to extinction by the superior civilised European people. He said that. There is no escaping it.

Darwin wrote that it was inevitable that the ‘inferior’ or ‘primitive’ non-white races would be driven to extinction by the superior civilised European people.

Any attempt to critique social Darwinism and Malthusianism by pointing accusing fingers at Darwin and Malthus themselves is immediately deflected by unconvincing disavowals.

You hear things like this. Darwin was just ‘a man of his time’ and he was ‘humane’ and ‘kind’. He was against slavery. His scientific ideas have nothing to do with social values. Bullshit!

The vile culture of inequality that justifies cruelty and inequality in modern western societies, and in particular in the USA, derives from the influence of Malthusianism and Darwinism. They are the blind spot.

Social Darwinism and Malthusianism are the log in our eye. We look critically at the values of other cultures, and rightly so, but many of us just cannot see the poisonous ideas that nestle at the root of the systemic moral failure of European society. Social Darwinism and Malthusianism have generated philosophies more dangerous than the Aztec idea that the if the sun rises it is only because we spilled human blood to help it do so.

Just as many people who live in the caste system accept it as normal, we accept Malthusianism and Darwinism as normal. The clothes the ideas take partially disguise them. Call it radical conservatism, call it deep ecology, call it scientific rationalism. Call it what you will, it’s old wine in new bottles.

For the modern social Darwinists and Malthusians, it is a sad day when infant mortality falls. And the people with these ideas are not rare, they do not hide. Inquire a little and you’ll find they are all around you. ‘What a shame there are so many people on the Earth.’ someone sighs.

In Wendy Northcott’s world, the deaths of ‘stupid’ people are celebrated as ‘evolution in action’.

The social Darwinists even concentrate their unquestioned truths into a joke. It’s called The Darwin Awards. There used to be a snuff channel set up by Wendy Northcott. Northcott’s ‘jokes’ about stupid people dying are now regularly published by Penguin in a series of books. Where’s the moral outrage? There is none because Northcott’s ideas are common currency.

Wendy Northcott is a shapeshifter. Interestingly, from people who die doing ‘stupid things’ she has changed the emphasis to people who stupidly harm the environment. Social Darwinism hides its hatred of the poor and vulnerable behind a so-called Deep Ecology. In Wendy Northcott’s world, the deaths of ‘stupid’ people are celebrated as ‘evolution in action’. Her high concept line.

Her snuff videos have now been blocked. But at the time one video showed a young man, paralysed, from the waist down, committing suicide.

The young man smashes his wheelchair into an elevator lift in anger, over and over again, until the door opens and he falls down the shaft. If someone who was depressed or mentally challenged were to take pills or touch a live wire and died, presumably Wendy Northcott sees that, too, as ‘evolution in action’. Northcott can’t have her cake and eat it.

No Muslim, Hindu or Christian would ever laugh at that, or celebrate suicide. To do so needs the heart of a fascist. And there are plenty of hard-bitten misanthropists around, who found that channel pretty funny – it had many subscribers who laughed as the young man killed himself: Someone I know. Someone you know. The quintessence of moral failure.

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.

We Were Caught in the Neo-liberal Trap

But now we have another pivotal moment.

Photo by ardeshir etemad on

By Bryan Greetham

Before the Second World War a German chemist was working to discover what we would call today an antibiotic. Each evening he would leave out Petri dishes with bacteria in them so they could grow during the night for him to work on the next day. But everyday he found them dead covered in mould spores, which he assumed came from the spores in the corners of the laboratory. Consequently, he had everything thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated.

Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in his search for an antibiotic. Yet, if he had only reversed his intuitive assumptions and seen the spores as a solution, rather than a problem, he might have realised that they were the very thing he was looking for. Eventually the Nobel Prize for the discovery of penicillin went to Sir Alexander Fleming after he discovered it in similar mould that had destroyed his own cultures of bacteria.

We are now caught in the same cognitive trap: our expectations are so constrained within the confines of the ruling ideas that we fall victim to unforeseen, deeply destructive events, which, with the benefit of hindsight, were obvious. This is what Nasim Taleb describes as a ‘black swan’: an ‘unknown unknown’.

We reassure ourselves that despite their destructiveness and transformative impact on our lives, they only come rarely. But now we are in the midst of our second in barely twelve years. On the eve of the financial crash of 2007/8 political leaders had no idea what was about to come. Gordon Brown declared that, as a result of the ingenuity and creativity of bankers, ‘A new world order has been created.’ He announced, reassuringly, that we have the privilege of living in ‘an era that history will record as the beginning of a new Golden Age’.

Equally confident, even when there were clear signs that the banking system was in trouble, David Cameron confidently declared that, largely as a result of the bankers’ efforts, a new world economy had been created. The Left’s misguided belief in regulation had been thoroughly discredited, he claimed, ‘Liberalism’ had prevailed and the world economy was now more stable than for a generation. And, as if to underline just how much leaders failed to understand, recently the Bank of England released the minutes of its meetings before the crash, which reveal that they had no idea what was about to happen.

Now we have another black swan. With the signs of the pandemic beginning to appear, in mid January 2020 the World Economic Forum that organises the Davos meetings of the global business elite released its annual global risks report. This is the collective wisdom of hundreds of experts about possible threats. The possibility of a global pandemic did not register, even though by late January cases of Covid 19 had already been reported in Europe.

To divert attention from the failings of his own administration, Donald Trump said that the coronavirus ‘came out of nowhere’, it ‘blindsided the world’, despite the predictions of those not caught in the same cognitive trap. After the Ebola outbreak in 2014 Bill Gates warned that it was now time to prepare for a new pandemic with scenario planning, vaccine research and health worker training. Instead, the Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council directorate at the White House charged with preparing for another pandemic.

But black swans are also pivotal moments, opportunities to address the urgent need for social and political change. Few would have thought such fundamental change was possible a year, even six months, ago. But now governments that pride themselves on their libertarian principles are curtailing freedoms in ways more typical of wartime. There are conservative governments that have for the last ten years been ruthlessly pursuing policies of austerity now sanctioning the spending of unprecedented billions on healthcare and emergency measures, the very services most affected by their austerity.

Like the German chemist, in 2007/8 we had a choice: we could either continue with our conventional beliefs and bail out the wealthy bankers with taxpayers’ money and then recoup it from taxpayers’ pockets with lower real wages and reduced services, or we could change our assumptions and create a more equitable and efficient system. Now we have another pivotal moment. In just about all countries the focus has shifted from individual consumption to collective wellbeing. We have the opportunity to end unlimited resource consumption and design a new economic system that addresses the levels of inequality not seen since the nineteenth century.

Bryan Greetham was born in Faversham, Kent, in England. He was educated at the University of Kent, where he gained a BA Hons in History, and at the University of Sussex, where he completed his MA in Intellectual History. He was awarded his PhD at the University of Newcastle in Australia for his work in moral thinking.

Bryan is the author of How to Write Better Essays, How to Write your Undergraduate Dissertation, both on writing and thinking skills, Philosophy, an introduction to philosophy for undergraduates, Thinking Skills for Professionals and his latest book, Smart Thinking, all published by Palgrave, Macmillan.

Currently Bryan is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Durham. Much of his work has been in moral thinking, applied and professional ethics and in complex adaptive systems. His current research involves what we can learn about moral thinking from the perpetrators, victims, rescuers and bystanders during the Holocaust.

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.


The demoralisation of grassroots Labour.

Stroud Labour canvassers November’19

By Paul Halas

The Stroud Labour CLP meeting to nominate its preferred leadership candidate back in January was packed, yet the atmosphere was sober and subdued. Members were permitted a two minute slot to talk up their choices, with the majority speaking for Starmer, citing his electability, his dependability, the fact that he was a safe pair of hands. Strong and stable, was the message. He proved to be the CLP’s outright choice, gaining twice as many votes as Rebecca Long Bailey, his nearest challenger. What had happened? Many of the people speaking up for Starmer I knew as Corbyn supporters; together we had spent the past five years passionately extolling the gospel of Corbynism – we believed a fairer, more equitable society was a real possibility.

Stroud is an atypical constituency. Stroud itself is smallish Cotswold market town with an industrial heritage more in keeping with a northern mill town than its more genteel, green-wellied neighbours. It has strong “alternative” credentials, being the cradle of Extinction Rebellion and home to many green socialists and socialist Greens. There are a couple of smaller towns, with similar characteristics, within the constituency borders, but the rest of it is true blue rural. Over the years it has ping-ponged between Labour and the Conservatives, and at the last election Labour was defending a majority of under a thousand.

During the weeks leading up to the general election Labour ruled the streets. We had the numbers; there were hundreds of us. We had stalls, we had teams of canvassers roaming the towns and many of the villagers. Being a marginal, help poured in from all over. Momentum was magnificent, doing what it does best: getting droves of activists out. We knew the Greens were a threat and they fought a dirty campaign, but we outnumbered them and carried the narrative. As for the Tories, their candidate and a few councillors were seen seen in Stroud High Street for a couple of hours every weekend, but largely they kept to the smaller villages and estates where their support was the strongest. They had the money but we had the people. Surely we’d done enough to hang onto the seat; as for the country as a whole, we tried not to think too hard about that.

During the weeks leading up to the general election Labour ruled the streets. We had the numbers; there were hundreds of us.

We lost. We lost the nation and we lost Stroud. Some of us blamed the Greens, but no matter: we were saddled with a vanilla Tory MP who didn’t appear to know which county she had been parachuted into. As a hyperventilating commentator babbled after Norway beat England in a World Cup qualifier many years ago, “…Winston Churchill, Maggie Thatcher, your boys took one hell of a beating!” We’d been licked. Like countless thousands of us up and down the country, we’d taken a hell of a beating. Again. Party members were demoralised and fed up with it. Fed up with losing.

At our CLP meeting we chose Keir Starmer. Good friends of mine said give the man a chance. He’ll appeal to a wider demographic, he’ll bring the party together, he’ll heal the wounds. With his fine legal mind he’ll take Boris to the cleaners. The argument that as a member of the Trilateral Commission he’s embedded in the Establishment cut no ice. Nor that he was part of the failed “Chicken Coup”, nor that he’d so far refused to disclose the backers of his leadership campaign, nor that his insistence on a Remain stance had been an electoral millstone. Trust him, we were urged. His policies were mostly leftist, and even if it meant the dilution of some of our cherished ideas, surely that was a price worth paying to get back into power?

Since that time, Starmer’s credibility has suffered blow after blow. Not only has he agreed to the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ unconstitutional “Ten Commandments”, he has also okayed Labour staff training on anti-Semitism by Jewish Labour Movement members. Neither organisation represents or has the legitimate authority to speak for all UK Jews.

The biggest issue, however, the motherlode of dismay on the political left, is the internal report on anti-Semitism

Nearly all Corbynistas have been sacked from the shadow cabinet; the front bench has been steered sharply to the right. Starmer has been quick to distance himself from the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, giving rise to the fear that economically his instinct will be to follow Milliband’s “austerity lite” policies, rather than the large scale investment advocated in Corbyn and McDonnell’s Green New Deal. Those expecting a large scale return to public ownership will probably see those plans watered down over time. And now that the full official list of Starmer’s backers has been belatedly revealed – oh my! With friends like those…

The biggest issue, however, the motherlode of dismay on the political left, is the internal report on anti-Semitism intended for submission to the EHRC… which was leaked when it became plain that Starmer was going to ignore it. Is there any need to go into the nitty-gritty of it? It is seismic, the biggest scandal to hit British politics in decades. The UK’s own Watergate. And Starmer’s every instinct is to cover it up: the make up of the panel investigating its contents and release gives ample evidence of that. And while a great number of instances of malefaction will no doubt be revealed, many wider implications, such as the consequential electoral fallout, and all the connections between the rogue staff and the lobbyists, politicians and backers they were in league with, is tellingly not part of the commission’s brief. If members are not outraged some vital part of their DNA is missing. Hundreds of thousands of activists were betrayed – not to mention our country’s political process and electorate.

If members are not outraged some vital part of their DNA is missing.

Trust in Starmer, many colleagues insisted. As far as I am concerned any trust that existed between Keir Starmer and the Labour membership has been broken. He never gave any clue as to what sort of vision he had and now we know he has none – bar gaining power, without losing the support of the highly suspect figures who are backing him. I consider that he has made a Faustian pact. And part of that arrangement is to ditch the left.

Left wing members are leaving the party in droves. At local level control freakery and the centrists are in the ascendancy once more. And if the activists, the ground troops who flock out at election time, are culled, the party will be in a position to emulate the Tories and use copious amounts of wealthy donors’ money to fight the next election.

Some of those who backed Starmer back in January are having second thoughts, though many still cling to the hope he’ll come good. I suspect that as his leadership progresses that optimism will erode further, but for the time being it will make little difference. Like it or not, barring cataclysms Starmer will be Labour leader for the next few years. There are no simply no viable alternatives at present, although the signs are positive regarding possible young leaders from the left in the future. Presented with the dilemma of whether to stay in the party or quit, I’m staying while Labour still has a left wing to fight for. Whether that remains in my hands or not is another matter.

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.

Humanity’s Rosy Fingered Dawn: 2020

By Phil Hall

Covid-19 arrives, We sit at home for a long while. The cities empty, the air clears and bird song seems louder. Translucent jellyfish float up the canal and goats clop through a Welsh hill town. We all see these things presented artistically on slim screens. We, the whole world. There is a big intake of breath and all human beings are asked to think about what kind of future they want for life on Earth, especially those human beings with power and influence. This is a lull before the next phase of human civilisation begins. May it be an improvement on the last. The scientists, doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners, farmers, shopkeepers and delivery workers are our heroes now, not the soldiers, not the vultures.

In the past every single crisis has been nothing more than a call to arms for humanity. Civilisation built on slavery and regimentation gave us protection, education, entertainment, a shared belief system and surplus time to create art and study the sciences – to enhance civilisation. Civilisation is a virtuous circle that overcomes obstacles not through the dreams of a prophet like Daniel, but through the recorded and archived memory of the seasons, of the past flood cycles of the Nile. A Roman villa in Pompei was to die for! Even the wealthiest alive today envy the prosperous Romans.

Colonialism, which oppressed whole nations for years and entrenched racialist belief systems of superiority and entitlement, homogenised the world. The colonialists took the cultivars of the Americas, the products of millennia of selection and cultivation, released them and spread them round the globe. Colonialism turned the Apache, the Mexica and the Inca into Europeans. Colonialism created great spheres of mutual understanding and awareness and strange pairings; so that now Holland really is twinned with Indonesia, so that Morocco has two European brothers called Spain and France, so that a little archipelago to the north of Europe is India’s jewel in the crown. I am talking about identities and shared spaces. How awfully eclectic they are as the result of colonialism.

Colonialism created great spheres of mutual understanding and awareness and strange pairings;

But how shocking to think that just as it was for feudalism, slavery was at the bedrock of capitalism. The foundation stones of modernity are the blood, sweat and tears of men, women and children transplanted to the Caribbean and the southern United States. Under that stratum, even worse, is the genocide of the Caribs and native Americans. Slavery was overthrown, but not before the work of transplanted African people in the Caribbean had provided enough wealth to kick start the industrial revolution and money to build a fair number of the grand country houses of England.

Capitalism is the organised extraction and exploitation of other people’s creativity and labour with the help of the state. After extremely painful beginnings, capitalism, built up through the well-chronicled suffering of the European and US working classes, took off, revolutionising every aspect of our lives. It turned us into wage earners. The capitalist class collects our labour surplus assiduously to the last drop. Capitalism does amazing things with our surplus labour, it builds nuclear submarines and battleships, skyscrapers, rockets, malls and TV stations. The list of what the few do with the labour surplus of the many dumbfounds.

The capitalist class collects our labour surplus assiduously to the last drop.

And now, the system which revolutionised production processes has brought us to such a point in history where technology really has become magic; we have virtual reality, 3D printing, robot combine harvesters, solar power stations and our spacecraft have explored the solar system. Think of the cornucopia of services, experiences and products on offer to almost anyone paid a living wage in modern capitalist society.

Despite the hegemony of this system and the fact that it thrives on a certain level of chaos and misery which is tolerable to the few and intolerable to the many, with every catastrophe humanity, collectively rises to the challenge and overcomes it.

To the disgust of the misanthropes, antibiotics prevents the death of hundreds of millions and nitrate fertiliser easily allows the planet to sustain over 7 billion people – or it would if the food were distributed better. The vast majority of those who live now have better lives than the ordinary people of previous centuries.

Call the New Age humane socialism, if you like.

The instincts of lower order capitalists are deeply piratical, unlike those (ehem) of the more mature billionaire, visionaries and philanthropists – sweethearts like Rockefeller and Gates. There is of course an even darker side of capitalism that thrives on war: the armaments companies, the oil giants, the great spiders who would have you squashed like a bug as soon as look at you.

But now, with the help of Covid-19, we move into the beginnings of a new age. Either it will be yet another phase of capitalism, or it will be the start of a bloodless transformation into something else. Call the New Age humane socialism, if you like.

I am happy to know that I live at the onset of this mythical New Age. Just as people in the present sometimes long to walk in the past, to see Babylon, Rome or London in their full glory, well, in the future they will long to have experienced our very own rosy-fingered, lock-down dawn. They will long to have witnessed what is happening right now, the full awakening of humanity, as we begin to understand we need to work as a planet to meet the challenges that face us, global challenges like Covid-10.

Here are some of those challenges. I have listed them for you, but you are welcome to add to them:

  • The challenge of insufficient intellectual capacity
  • The challenge of a possible catastrophic asteroid or comet strike
  • The challenge of travelling in space long distances
  • The challenge of dealing equably with other species on Earth
  • The challenge of sharing out resources fairly
  • The challenge of engineering evolution
  • The challenge of protecting the vulnerable
  • The challenge of incorporating capitalism into socialist democracy
  • The challenge of reforming toxic recidivist states
  • The challenge of ensuring gender equality
  • The challenge of coexistence, generating mutual respect and solidarity
  • The challenge of life extension
  • The challenge of climate change and global warming
  • The challenge of communication with extraterrestrial species
  • The challenge of dealing with volcanic and seismic activity
  • The challenge of defeating ablism
  • The challenge of taking control away of body image from the fashion industry and commerce
  • The challenge of sharing prosperity and development
  • The challenge of providing ongoing educational opportunities for everyone
  • The challenge of looking after everyone’s health
  • The challenge of providing people with plenty of leisure
  • The challenge of stopping discrimination of all kinds
  • The challenge of ensuring freedom of expression and creativity
  • The challenge of freeing the Earth from pollution of the air, water and earth
  • The challenge of recognising the sentience of species like dolphins, elephants and Bonobos.
  • The challenge of stopping over-fishing of the seas
  • The challenge of ensuring justice for everyone
  • The challenge of creating high quality bionics
  • The challenge of unemployment and underemployment
  • The challenge of discovering as yet unknown dangers and challenges
  • The challenge of providing psychological support
  • The challenge of the husbanding existing raw materials
  • The challenge of the discovery of new sources of raw materials
  • The challenge of development of alternative energies
  • The challenge of dealing with the darkness in human nature


These are a few of the challenges that we will face in this new millennia and, when we do face them we will overcome them. The Earth and our solar system will be a garden. The Earth will be full of conservation parks, it will be full of an impossible beauty.

We are the ones living at this hinge moment, though ultimately it is our children who will have to rise to the challenges ahead; not with the physics of megadeath and aggression, but with their creativity and talent, with passion and self control, with clear thinking.


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.


By Paul Halas

Our television has led a charmed life in recent weeks. Every time a Conservative minister appears behind a lectern emblazoned with “Protect the NHS” it’s a miracle the set isn’t smashed by a flying vase.

Abraham Lincoln somehow failed to mention that you can fool most of the people most of the time, but looking at the Tories’ popularity ratings that appears to be the case. Keir Starmer’s less than scintillating opposition could be a factor, but how on earth has a party that has systematically run the NHS into the ground, ignored the 2016 Cygnus Report that warned of our acute unreadiness for a respiratory virus pandemic, and followed such a flawed strategy that we now have the largest number of Covid deaths in Europe, managed to hoodwink so many? The media – with a few noble exceptions – has acted as an uncritical government mouthpiece, repeating misinformation and failing to challenge ministers for a string of failures. We truly deserve better, and regarding the NHS the government really should be held to account.

… [the government] hasn’t just taken a leaf out of Tony Blair’s book in finding a good time to bury bad news, it’s nicked the entire book.

Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of the government’s hypocrisy over “protect the NHS” is the fact that it’s still running it down while the country is in lockdown. In fact it hasn’t just taken a leaf out of Tony Blair’s book in finding a good time to bury bad news, it’s nicked the entire book. In recent weeks ministers have been using special powers to bypass normal tendering and award new contracts to private companies without competition. The Tories’ own rules are being broken!

A string of corporations, many with ties to Tory figures, are getting new business regardless of their suitability or expertise. These include Deloite, Mitie, Boots, Sodexo and Serco, and Covid data processing is now in the hands of an American organisation. All, let’s not forget, at taxpayer’s expense. Dismantling and privatisation continues unabated.

Margaret Thatcher, Nicholas Ridley, Theresa May, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Nick Hancock, Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove, to name but a few, have all at various times stated their ideological disapproval of a state welfare system and preference for an insurance-funded private health service instead. A few thousand extra deaths aren’t going to throw that off course.Protect the NHS? They’re having a laugh. Our TV remains in a high risk category.


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.

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