Life In The Empire Part 4: Modern Vassal States

Reading Time: 6 minutesVassal states have no place in the 21st century world stage, argues George Collins

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A bed for a recovering alcoholic at the inpatient treatment center I work at is comprised of five layers: mattress pad; fitted sheet; flat sheet; blanket; bedspread. Not a single crease can remain on the bedspread once it’s been placed. Hospital corners must adorn the foot of the bed by lifting the mattress itself, gripping a portion of the overhanging sheets about a foot from the end of the bed and draping it onto the top, tucking the remaining material between the lifted portion and the lower edge flat under the mattress, and letting the mattress back down while allowing the raised portion to drift over the side to form the bed’s wings. I’m in the detox hallway preparing one such bed, as even the most far-gone alcoholic who won’t remember their stay here can still appreciate a soft landing pad during the hell of withdrawal, when Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network informs me that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to push back on the Trump Administration’s tariffs against Canada with retaliatory measures of their own. He ends his sentence by reminding the audience that Canadians “will not be pushed around”.

The good prime minister knows worlds more about running a country than I do, and his hospital corners are probably also superior to mine, but this was one of the most laughably empty threats I’ve ever heard in the geopolitical sphere.

The notion that Canada could inflict any meaningful damage to United States commercial interests without suffering massive losses in its own economy ignores a reality the Canadian left warned about decades ago: Canadian export markets depend on U.S. buyers on an overwhelming scale. Almost three-quarters of Canada’s total export markets cited the U.S. as their primary buyer in 2017, and all but three of the top twenty Canadian export industries ship the majority of their product down south. It’s Donald Trump’s sword against Trudeau’s dagger, and while my heart may be in Ottawa for that fight, my money’s staying in Washington D.C. The Canadian left always understood the liability this schematic could create if the U.S. ever chose to leverage this enormous imbalance over the Canadian economy. They called for Canadian industries to diversify their markets and disarm this ticking time bomb. Previous Canadian prime ministers did not heed the warning, and now Trudeau is stuck in the difficult position of lacking the leverage to push back on the coercive tariffs Trump decided to slap on when he cut himself shaving that morning.

History buffs may recognize this relationship. It echoes the vassal states of the bygone colonial era when colonies relied on their mother countries to build and maintain their fundamental economic infrastructure. For all practical purposes, Canada is a 21st century neo-vassal state of its titanic neighbor. It’s been an unspoken reality since the end of the Second World War. But Canada isn’t the only country waking up to this reality; the nations of Europe find themselves in similar identity crises following the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal) and the subsequent sanctions that threaten to close off U.S. markets to any international company that continues to do business in Iran.

The European Union runs a slight trade surplus with the U.S. which increases its potential leverage over that of Canada, but it now faces a crucial decision in its future global trade prospects: capitulate to an arbitrary decision made by the U.S. president, or risk losing access to vital U.S. markets. Similar objections rose across the E.U. when the U.S. Congress passed sanctions on Russia for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. E.U. members felt the sanctions would harm their capacities to engage in commerce with Russia, a core trading partner of several E.U. member nations.

The post-Second World War global economic structure has created a string of scenarios in which a single country’s decisions force its allies to comply or else risk potentially catastrophic economic blowback while the country making the decisions faces none of the consequences. German historian Philipp Ther documented the spread of U.S. economic dominance in Europe in his book Europe Since 1989: A History. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet economic models throughout eastern Europe, neoliberal economic philosophy seeped into the consciousness of the former communist states throughout the 1990s. Poland was the first to fall to such influence due to a hyper-inflated currency and obscene amounts of accumulated debt. The former Yugoslavia followed in short succession. The floodgates of free market fetishism burst open from there to infect not just the former communist states but also the welfare states of western Europe. Take a look at the meteoric rise of right-wing nationalism in the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Italy, and so many other nations and you will find yellow brick roads leading back to the twenty-year wreckage of neoliberal policies radiating into these countries from the cancer that is U.S. global economic dominance.

The fallout also spreads into relations between European states. Greece’s 2013 declaration of bankruptcy prompted a series of austerity measures that cut government programs and raided Greek citizens’ retirement funds. International media spun the crisis as a battle between Greece and the French-German coalition tasked with negotiating a settlement to reconstruct the Greek economy. However, as explained by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis in his book Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment, this was never an accurate depiction. The insistence on austerity measures came not from France or Germany, or even the European Central Bank, but from the mouth of the International Monetary Fund, an institution serving as a group of economic hitmen addicted to slaughtering whole economies. No country exerts more influence over IMF policy than the U.S., and ordinary Europeans act as lightning rods for the whimsical decisions made by American-backed fat cats in suits. Sure, let’s try austerity measures in Greece; see what happens. Not like our retirement pensions are the ones being gutted. And hey, they’ll just blame Germany and France when the deal goes south. The Greek financial crisis was never a matter of France and Germany versus Greece; it was always a product of international private interests serving U.S. goals while turning European nations against each other. A textbook process of privatizing the gains and socializing the losses.

Vassal status extends beyond the economic sphere into military alliances. Donald Trump’s criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sparked a bizarre infatuation with the conglomerate among the American left. My hot take: NATO is an outdated relic of U.S. imperialism that needs to be dismantled in the interests of maintaining peace across Europe. Confused? Bear with me.

Think about the official NATO military interventions, all of which occurred after the fall of the Warsaw Pact it was created to oppose. What European interests did the 21st century interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya serve? What country in the NATO alliance benefited from the waves of migrants fleeing the carnage in desperate efforts to reach havens in Europe? Tony Blair talked a big game about the importance of destroying the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and fractured the U.K.’s relationship with continental Europe in the process, all because then-president George W. Bush told him to. The U.S. couldn’t care less about this blowback; there’s a whole ocean to keep migrants and international tensions at bay. This is another central characteristic of vassal states: the use of military resources for the mother country’s interests regardless of the consequences for those on the frontier.

Like most 21st century mechanisms of colonialism, the vassal status of U.S. allies is not as explicit as the colonies of old. It’s also not as clear-cut as American installation of a series of dictators in the Philippines to crush the rising indigenous socialist movements there or the continued exploitation of Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam, and other islands as “protectorates” with limited sovereignty. The vassal status of U.S. allies in the Western world sounds outrageous, as how can countries on relatively equal standing be locked in such a dynamic? Answer that yourself by asking what realistic strategy Canada can implement to push back on the Trump administration’s tariffs, or why European governments cannot convince their largest private companies to continue operations in Iran in their efforts to salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal, or why a crash of the U.S. dollar set in motion by greedy halfwits that the U.S. government refuses to prosecute mangles the global economy in a way no other currency can dream about doing. While you’re at it, ask yourself what benefits any European nation reaped from any U.S.-led NATO intervention of the past twenty years, or how escalating tensions with Russia over yet unproven election interference increases safety for any E.U. citizen.

The picture that emerges isn’t a pretty one for any European sovereignty enthusiast; it’s painted with blood on a canvas of skin.

As the world barrels towards a new multi-polar horizon with the rise of emerging markets like China and the formation of Russia, China, and Iran as a new and albeit unstable Eastern Bloc, many in the Western world are also reevaluating their desires to stay hitched to a bloated abusive partner in the United States. The Canadian left’s warnings of the dangers of unilateral dependency on U.S. markets have finally reached a mainstream audience in Canadian politics. China’s explorations into alternatives to U.S. dollar dependency and announcements of possible investment into Iranian markets has encouraged E.U. member states such as Germany to consider shifting their own international commerce towards the new Eastern Bloc. Resistance to military budget expansion among NATO states and the bizarre addition of Colombia to the mix has created skepticism of the alliance’s relevance in a post-Cold War world. It’s high time Canada and the countries of Europe break from their status as neo-vassals serving the interests of the American Empire over their own.

Vassal states have no place in the 21st century world stage.

You can read part 1 of Life in the Empire here,  part 2 here, and part 3 here

By George Collins

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

Downfall Redux

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve always found hero worship odd. I’ve never had rock n roll/pop heroes, religious heroes or political heroes. 

 

Back in1979, friends of mine flocked to Knock, Dublin and other places to see John Paul 2. Although I was 13,and not from the community the Pope came to speak to, I saw a spotlight on our place, shone by the entourage of journalists and commentators he brought with him. As I write this, a smaller crowd are greeting the present Pope, who is busy apologising for child abuse meted out by his church, but not apologising for the incredible male-ness of his permanent entourage and decision makers. 

 

As heroes topple, most of them men, its the behaviour of those around them that fascinate me. 

 

Many friends of mine were absolute hero worshippers of Morrissey and the Smiths. As the working class pseud sang about the plight of the “his community,” and their culture in the eighties, millions dressed like him, had their hair cut like him and quoted his lyrics almost as I imagine fans of 18th and 19thcentury romantic poets did. He was of that lineage. 

 

Cut to the late nineties and two thousands, and Morrissey’s increasingly anglocentric, British nationalism and seemingly uninformed sexism was brushed aside almost as “mistakes, flaws,” by their still heroised bard. His more recent behaviour, praising alt-right tropes etc, hasn’t pushed his back catalogue to the back of the record collection, yet. The Smiths and early Morrissey are still untouchable in a way Gary Glitter’s back catalogue will never be. He still has a stage in front of thousands, no, millions of people to whom he can spout his message of “Viva Hate!” Unfair? I don’t think so. Like all monsters, the monster in Morrissey must be denounced. And someone with the huge power of a public voice should be humbled. The price if not, is that more politically vulnerable fans are not given clear messages of what is acceptable politics and unacceptable fascism. How the fans/ex fans react is hugely important. 

 

In the seventies and early eighties, Fascist imagery, lyrics and speeches from the stage were made unacceptable by the superb “Rock Against Racism.” Eric Clapton, has spent years apologising for his drunken racist outbursts, and many fans, radio DJ’s etc, to this day body swerve his music. If you find some of his outbursts on YouTube, fans can be heard booing him. Bowie and others from the avant garde school of pop/rock were forced to abandon fascist imagery and nowadays, no right wing music or bands get beyond backstreet pub gigs. 

 

The fans spoke. They condemned and they refused to buy tickets. Rock Against Racism changed the rock and pop industry every bit as much as Thatcher, Stock Aiken and Waterman, Island or Simon Cowell. An unhealthy and imbalanced relationship between ego-ist, and at best, niave pop stars and unacceptable symbols and politics of hate, was averted by major bands, fans and record labels signing up to Rock Against Racism principles. 

 

Back in early 2005, branches of the then thriving Scottish Socialist Party, of which I was a member, were called to extraordinary meetings in which we were told that our then heroised by many, “Convenor,” Tommy Sheridan, had badly erred. Tommy, at meetings some of us attended, apologised. In those days, Me Too, the movement of support for those who have been victims of abuse, did not exist. Powerful men were the norm. Heroes out to save us from the enemy. There were no subtleties in public discourse. To many of those in the SSP, Sheridan was a hero, and although he had more subtle options, he was going to “fight The News of the World,” which had published details of a visit to a swingers club in Manchester he, some friends and a reporter had made. Sheridan’s behaviour, and those who then sought to gain politically within the Socialist movement were crucial to what then happened in Scottish (and subsequently, UK wide) socialist politics. 

 

Sheridan pursued a tactic of outright denial-which on its own could well have seen this issue blow over. To add to the denial, Sheridan decided to sue the Murdoch empire. Most of the rest of the SSP disagreed with this tactic–to throw our at that time sizeable forces at this would ensure we were caught up in something for years that was far from why activists from across the left had come together, volunteering time, money and energy to the SSP. Activists would burn out totally, if the raison d’etre of the party became the sanctity of “The Great Hero Leader,” who, in fact, was a very naughty boy. But it was those who saw political capital for them and their small factions who turned a small body blow into the destruction of, until then, Europe’s most successful socialist alliance. I won’t go in to detail about what followed, Alan Mccombes book, Downfall does a pretty good job of telling what happened, as does this Thousand Flowers article.

The thing is, during all of this, naively, I thought politics could continue as normal. We could continue to fight the Blairist Government, and fight for amazing socialist reforms. I remember, clearly, going to a small SSP Regional Council meeting in The Piper Bar, in Glasgow City Centre. The main protagonists were there, including Sheridan, and his until this point in time, best friend Keith Baldassara. I was there to ask Sheridan our MSP, advice on a proposal our branch had discussed regarding education, but the entire meeting became an argument between Baldassara and Sheridan about Sheridan’s stance on suing the News of the World. After a long time of intractable argument, I asked could we turn to other business, to which Baldassara told me, “you don’t know what you are talking about here, Neil. This is more important.” And clearly it was, to them. To me, as someone who had joined the SSP in spite of not liking Sheridan’s insincere rhetorical style and obvious ego, the most important thing was politics, not the preservation of the great leader, from whatever side you took.

 

Subsequently, Sheridan pulled together groups of people whose egos he stroked and factions that hitherto had tried their best to take over control of the alliance. Such was sectarian socialist politics. And those groups and fans who felt Sheridan was a hero or a ticket, wrecked a movement. Sheridan dragged people through the courts, and using his influence in the press, dragged the reputations of women who had been comrades in arms, and innocent bystanders through the mud. Many of us built a group within the party to try to save it, and to support those comrades Sheridan had decided to try to destroy. It had limited success. After 2007, the SSP and the Scottish Socialist movement  went into a decline it still has difficulty pulling up from. And that tarnish went on to infect the Independence movement as Sheridan flapped about trying to find income streams and ego stroking crowds. 

 

I watch the current left heroes across the UK, two in particular, through the lense of  experience of the SSP and that of Rock Against Racism, and know that if the worst aspects and mistakes of what has become known as “Corbynism” are not called out and addressed, the Labour Party will flounder in its attempts to pull the party left yet again.  And here in Scotland as people line up in solidarity with an alleged abuser and victims in the SNP, I can only hope the lessons of the past become the voice of the majority.

 

One “hero” is not a movement. The refusal of men to admit their fallibilities will wreck all that is good about what has been built. Defending one man should not be our raison d’etre. Change should be. Let’s hope these current heroes and their fans understand that.

 

By Neil Scott

 

You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or hear a range of left views on our podcast




From Ovid to Dante and onwards…

Reading Time: 8 minutes

“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile”

Ariel Dorfman

This is a story told to me by a remarkable student. She attends my Philosophy classes and the classes I teach.

Gabriela Inostroza de Gatica is very Latin, the native blood of South America flows in her veins. She is passionate , intense, exceptionally kind and has a wicked sense of humour . She contributes so much to the classes and still laughs in the midst of a life full of losses and tragedies and yet, in Kahil Gibran’s words, she makes of her heart a chalice through which she feasts on the elixir of life.

Images used with kind permission

She has been twice a refugee, confronted several times fascism in all its totalitarian horror. Yet she understands how we effete left-wing progressives of Wales have never feared the knock on the door in the night, never really understood what it is to be watched, what it is to wait outside a prison for her loved ones. She mostly excuses those who claim that the solution to totalitarianism and fascism is to grant to the fascists the same rights we would give to the standard political parties of the west.

At those times in the class I think of the thoughts of Trotsky and his comments about a paving stone and a fascist. But I am the first person who would run a mile from a violent encounter and so I stay quiet.

This remarkable student is called Gabriela Gatica Leyton. I have known Gabriella and her husband Umberto for over 12 years now. Umberto has presence, he fills a room with both presence and gravitas.

Images used with kind permission

In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet imposed a military dictatorship in Chile. Gabriela was 23 and had only been married to Umberto for a few days when he was seized by government officials for “gathering in a public place” (more than three people together was seen as an act of treason).

Umberto was put in prison and tortured. Many of his fellow inmates just disappeared. Gabriella says;

“the prisoners were kept underground, in a cellar. Over 100 people crammed in a room only big enough for 10.”

When Umberto was released, he and Gabriela knew they had to get out. They left their families behind and were smuggled by plane into Argentina where they spent a year in a refugee camp.

It was freezing, and they weren’t allowed to work legally. They got black market jobs, mending door locks or working in bars – and they spent hours just sat in a backstreet bookshop trying to keep warm.

Then their luck changed dramatically – the couple were offered scholarships to study at Swansea University, under a scheme to help refugees from Chile in 1976 they moved to Swansea and they’re still there.

Gabriella told me a story about an experience she had recently. She was in Wales and a woman kept asking her where she was from. Gabriella told her that she was from Mount Pleasant in Swansea. The woman kept insisting and asking where she was from. In this intolerant society, this brexit-Ukip poisoned Wales and this Trump polluted world. Like myself Gabriela believes that those of us who live in Wales are Welsh.

“We could cook real food for ourselves. I even started physically shaking when I saw four different sorts of cheese in the supermarket. I always call Wales my adopted mum. My adopted mum brought me up, gave me opportunities and nurtured me. One day, my bones will be buried here,”

Remembers Gabriella.

Umberto and Gabriella fled Chile in the 1970s after Umberto was detained and tortured under General Pinochet brutal regime. They live in Wales. Umberto has just retired from 30 years in the department of Photography at Swansea Metropolitan University, and Gabriella from 25 years as a social worker. Both of their children work in the NHS.

It’s an incredibly difficult story to tell. Twice exiled. A story of fear, detention, of suspicion and of loss…Umberto continues:

We are Chilean, I am an artist. In the Chile of the early 1970s I worked in the Culture Section of a Community Development program, with rural communities making works of theatre, photography, journalism and film. This was a community who had never had the chance to see a film or play before – through artistic expression the doors for social development could be opened.


But the community never got to see their first film.
The military coup of the 11th of September 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet put Chile under brutal restrictions and terror.
So many strange things happened then. I’m still unsure what lead to my imprisonment, but I think I have some idea.


I had married my wife, Gabriella, in July 1973. We were young and had very little money, so after we married I rented a room while she lived with her mother. We had been married only six weeks when the military took power.


They enforced a curfew on Friday nights which stayed in place until the following Monday. Over the weekends, I stayed with my new wife at her mother’s home.


After three or four days I guess my neighbours began to notice I was ‘missing’. Someone reported my absence to the authorities. I suppose they thought I was a guerrilla member. Two days later I was detained, interrogated and tortured. No matter the extremes of my torture, I was unable to give the authorities the information they wanted. I wasn’t a member of any party. I did not know of the activities of the guerrilla fighters or where they kept the guns. I was an artist, a husband. I simply knew nothing. So the torture continued.


I was put on a chair, blind-folded so that I didn’t know where the next punch or kick would come from. In a way I was very lucky – I wasn’t shocked with electricity the way many others were. A common method was to tell me – “If you don’t know anything, I’m sure your wife does.” My young wife and her mother were frequently harassed by the authorities, their house turned upside down. But of course neither they, nor I, had any information to offer up.


Weeks after detention and interrogation I was moved to a sport centre, used as a detention camp. After a while I was moved to the city jail, to a political prisoners corridor.


Gabriella was totally lost, she went into autopilot. Everything you have, the ordinary things like a salary, a family, to speak, to laugh – were suddenly all gone. It was like an alternative reality. She couldn’t visit me and didn’t even know if I was alive or dead.


Once, after I was moved to the sports centre, she was allowed to send me some new clothes. She wrote me a letter on very thin rice paper which she pushed into a minute tube and sewed into the hem of a shirt. I don’t know how I knew it was there or managed to find it, but I did. She simply told me she was alive and thinking of me – she told me to keep faith. Maybe this is what kept me going.


I was kept in a centre with hundreds of other men. There was no space to sleep – we took it in shifts to lie down. It was as you see in American films – men in dark glasses guarded us with machine guns.


Within the group we were erratically and frequently called for interrogation. Many men from the group were taken and never returned. Many disappeared during the night.


In a climate of such fear and stress we eventually we took to holding lectures and classes among ourselves – something to provide focus, give structure and meaning back to our wasted days. The prison was full of political prisoners of all ages and backgrounds – university students and professors, journalists, chess masters, scientists, farmers – teaching and learning maths, music, reading and writing. I was in charge of the library and in turn studied creative writing, chess and guitar. There was a theatre group run by some of Chile’s most famous actors, who were detained alongside the others. Eventually, after 9 months of arbitrary imprisonment, the authorities realised they were wasting their time with me. I was released without charges.


The very next day my wife and I visited the Chilean Catholic Church, who created a body to help political prisoners and the relatives of the disappeared, taking their cases and offering legal aid. The lady lawyer in charge of our case advised us to leave the country, even though there was not a policy within the organization to persuade people to go into exile – we couldn’t be sure when we would be targeted again.


The very next day, when I went to collect our passports, I was taken in and questioned by the authorities.


“How could I possibly have done something in the last 24 hours, since my release?” I retorted. Thankfully, I was quickly let go. The next day, Gabriella and I fled to neighbouring Argentina to seek asylum. We fell in love with the country and with the people. Everywhere people helped us. There was a true sense of solidarity with Chilean refugees and we were welcomed like one of their own.


But it wouldn’t last.


One year later – in October 1975, a military coup saw the streets fill with soldiers and their fierce dogs. They were nasty. Foreigners were intimidated, detained and disappeared. We tried to be invisible. Suspicions rose. No one knew who could be an informer.
Eventually we were advised, once again, to leave the country. At the time, governments around the world offered their support to Chilean refugees – they knew our lives were seriously at risk if we remained in Argentina. We left Argentina with a grant from the World University Service for my wife, the help of the UN Refugee Agency and a visa extended by the British Consulate in Buenos Aires.


We arrived in Swansea, Wales and I started working in a Community Centre in Neath, running photography workshops for young, unemployed people. I went on to work in the department of Photography of Swansea Metropolitan University for 30 years.


After working hard to re qualify and earn a Masters, my wife continued her vocation as a social worker in Wales. She worked with schools cross the area with children at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse for 25 years.


When we first arrived in Wales we expected to only stay for a year or so until the situation in Chile improved. We didn’t even buy any furniture, but we kept active working, learning English and campaigning to raise funds and awareness of what was happening back home in Chile.
With the support of the churches, universities and unions in Wales, we organised huge fundraisers for political prisoners in Chile – the Welsh absolutely loved the Latin music – the salsa, rumba, cumbia – and loved the saucepans full of Gabriella’s rice, empanadas and my chilli con carne.
Gabriella will always remember the opportunities she has been offered in Wales and fondly remembers her gratitude after being offered her first job. She was always treated with respect and on merit – never treated differently for having an accent, or being a foreigner, being a refugee. Wales gave her a chance. And she gave so much back to the community.


This is our home now, this is our country. Both of my children work for the NHS. My son qualified as a Biomedical Scientist at Cardiff and now works as a biologist, testing organs before transplants take place. My daughter is a mental health nurse.


When I see people fleeing across the Mediterranean, my heart breaks. We spent just one year in a refugee camp, these people have spent so many. The support we were offered from the international community saved our lives. My wife, children and I are now a valuable part of our adopted community. I know, first hand, the danger of countries turning a blind eye to the kind of humanitarian crisis we are currently witnessing.”

My philosophy course is multi cultural and multi-ethnic we have Irish, Italian, Chilean individuals all of who are tolerant and full of laughter, yet all have a profound understanding of sadness and of the nature of the world.

Even Luciarno Luciano Welsh Balsamo, now approaching eighty, and after living here in Swansea for fifty years, has been told at times to go home. We live in a more brutal Wales now, a barrier in the collective mind has been breached and through that portal we have revealed a deep and dark racist id spilling its poisons on to those who are both refugee and those oppressed and exploited by the demons of the large corporations and the high priests of neoliberalism who separate us from one another and lay blame, causing us to project and displace our fears, our shame and envy upon one another. There is, of course, no reason for Gabriella and Umberto to have that told to them…they know that so well.

‘You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back – it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.”

Naomi Shihab Nye

By Martyn  Shrewsbury

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our Podcast

Brexit is Bedroom Tax on Steroids

Reading Time: 7 minutes“Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless”
Sam Hamad talks Brexit, Scottish Independence, the EU and ‘Norway style’ deals…

Reading Time: 7 minutes

There is absolutely no doubt that the UK’s relationship with the EU was overwhelmingly positive. If you were to add up all the areas where the EU influenced and determined UK policy, the result would be a very easy net gain for our societies in their totality.


But Scottish separatists ought to consider the bigger question of what Brexit means regarding the place of Scotland and Scots within the British Union. Even if the British government gets a ‘good deal’ or a ‘soft Brexit’, should we then celebrate the ‘soft’ disregarding of Scottish self-determination? Should we be thankful to the British government for ‘softly’ and ‘pragmatically’ discarding, as is the very nature of the political set up of the British Union, the self-determination of Scotland to remain in the UK?


It goes without saying that the British government striking a good deal that averts a hard Brexit or an IMF crash out would be better not just for the citizens, unwilling or not, of the UK, but for Europe in general and the whole world. However, even if Theresa May defied the racist will of her own party base and that of the wider Leave movement to end freedom of movement at all costs, allowing the UK to stay in the ESM and the Customs Union, all of this would have been done despite the will of the Scottish people.


To put it as starkly as possible: to Scots, Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless regarding happenings that have huge implications on the every day life of Scots. The home counties of England have more power over the life of Scots than Scots do. This is the reality of Brexit for Scots, regardless of its final form.


It’s part of the wider problem of the democratic deficit that exists within the British Union between British rule and Scottish self-determination. Though we take and make the best of what Britain gives us, Brexit simply is a particularly egregious example of the fact that we ultimately must take what we’re given and are expected to simply accept it.


Indeed, it’s of note that the one solid thing we know about the consequences of any Brexit deal on Scotland will be the rescinding of the powers that Scottish parliament are granted by the British state. They’re not really our powers at all. They don’t belong to us. They belong to a Prime Minister who has scant support in Scotland and a government comprised of one Scottish MP, while the legislative body that has ultimate domain over them is comprised by a huge majority English MPs.


Brexit is the Bedroom Tax on steroids. It’s the array of vicious welfare ‘reforms’ and fiscal austerity that the Tories, and the Tory-Liberal coalition before them, have forced upon the people of Scotland, ‘reforms’ that punish the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society despite the overwhelming majority of Scots opposing and voting against such ‘reforms’. Devolution, in this respect, doesn’t work. We don’t have the power in Holyrood to undo these devastating socioeconomic policies, so we must go further. We must have proper and unrestrained self-determination in Scotland.


If we had the self-determination that any nation deserves, we wouldn’t be living under the gathering storm clouds of Brexit – storm clouds that not only could lead to logistical nightmares in terms of the economic ramifications, but ones that are interwoven with the ideological bonanza of the far-right that Brexit represents. Or, alternatively, the ideological bonanza it represents for a Labour dominated by a racist, conspiracy theorist alt-left, who, more often than not, agree with hard Brexiteers – agree with the alt-right – over the bare bones of Brexit. Corbyn has done everything in his power to ensure that no singular progressive movement against Brexit can be formed in England.


This is the way Brexit should be utilised in any potential independence campaign: whether you’re a Scottish separatist who supports Remain or Leave, you can’t argue against the fact that Brexit validates the already obvious fact that Scottish self-determination is stunted within the British Union. If you’re a separatist who is ideologically committed to opposing the EU, you could say that if it wasn’t Brexit, it would be something else. It already has been so much else.


But this gets to another major point about the question of Scottish independence and Brexit. I understand people who actively love or support the EU only slightly more than I understand those who are pathologically opposed to it. Don’t misunderstand me, I voted Remain and would do so again without any hesitation, but I find the idea of being an active fan of the EU rather bewildering for any progressive.


On a personal level, I hold no more of a ‘European’ identity as I do a British one. I understand a European identity might mean something to people in England, as a cosmopolitan counter to the intrinsically racist British and English nationalism, but as a Scottish-Egyptian, the EU or ‘Europe’ as a geopolitical zone of power has no influence on my identity, political or otherwise.


Moreover, I’ve always considered the EU in its totality to be a cold, unaccountable hierarchical entity that is dominated by an assortment of toothless centrist and increasingly far-right-dominated governments. These can be uncomfortable arguments to make as a Remainer, given the dominance of the absurd British nationalist arguments about the ‘EUSSR’ eroding British sovereignty or the Lexit equivalent of the EU bosses club that curtails some vague idea of British ‘socialism’ (both of these absurd arguments from right and left meet each other in the middle and the end result is them both agreeing to support a Hard Brexit – Neil Findlay and Jacob Rees-Mogg are as one).


But the EU is far from a bastion of liberty and progress. Its own collective policy on immigration, asylum and refugees, referred to aptly as ‘Fortress Europe’, has been responsible for genocidal levels of death in the Mediterranean. The EU, ever more dominated by the right or centrists who embrace xenophobia in a foolish attempt to curtail the right, has overseen the deaths of tens of thousands of refugees, with their policies forcing them to take the perilous journeys across the sea. This is genocidal and the ongoing nature of the crime, while people seem to just accept it, makes it doubly monstrous. To rub salt in the wounds of this great injustice, the number of fatalities was further increased when the EU, with callous indifference, cut the number of rescue services available in the Med.
In addition to this, we’ve seen the EU allow the use of brutal tactics of rounding up, detaining and deterring refugees as they try to make it to safety. Refugees fleeing Assad’s genocide or ISIS’ horrors or the permanent war in Afghanistan, have mostly been met in Europe by governments that want to get them out of the continent as quickly as possible – the mostly Muslim refugees are considered a threat to the alleged Christian values and underpinnings of Europe. This is the ever more formal consensus of the EU.
The industrial deportation of refugees undertaken by Orban’s semi-fascist regime in Hungary has become normalised by the EU, while the concentration camp-esque ‘detention centres’ used by countries across Europe, particularly bad in the Balkans and Central Europe, are now being normalised and expanded as EU policy.


The use of these ‘detention camps’ might even extend to the fascist tyrannies in the Middle East and North Africa who police the walls of Fortress Europe. Think of Egypt’s Scorpius Prison with EU funding? That ought to be a good idea of what the EU’s agenda, ever more set by the far-right, will look like for refugees trying to reach Europe.

These same tyrannies that the EU outsource so much of their dirty work to, such as Sisi’s Egypt, which is one of the most brutal in the world, manages to get sweetheart deals with the EU that, though sold as ‘cracking down on human trafficking’, actually amount to imprisoning refugees, most of whom are Syrian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian, in Egypt, where they cannot work and are left vulnerable to everything from virtual slave labour and racist attacks to endemic sexual assault. For this, they receive lucrative economic deals with EU countries (including the sale of weapons, Germany and France’s finest, used against innocent Egyptians.


As an Egyptian, as a human being, it’s thus often extremely hard to listen to people talking about a progressive Europe, but in the UK they are usually doing so in the face of the British right and its absurd Euroscepticism. And this is a major point – all the above, all the negative things about Europe, are fully supported by the British government. When Merkel had a progressive turn and allowed an open-door safe-haven for Syrian refugees, the UK was grudgingly agreeing to let in a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees over the course of several years, compared to 700,000 in Germany.


The major caveat then is that Brexit, with its anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, Islamophobic core, represents no kind of progressive drift from Europe. The Brexiters want to extend their racist policy towards refugees and non-European migrants to the untermenschen of Eastern and Southern Europe – the ‘Romanians’ that Nigel Farage warned us all about.


Thus, the question of the EU when it comes to an independent Scotland is a simple one – a question that the huge majority, a growing majority if you take recent polls, agree on: Scotland ought to remain in the European single market and Customs Union. In the days of the Celtic Tiger, the Euro used to be the Scottish independence movement’s get out of jail free card, when it came to the currency question but this is no longer realistic.


In the post-financial crisis era, in the wake of witnessing the ruthless devastation of the EU’s punitive austerity on economically ‘weak’ countries such as Greece in the Eurozone, the idea of joining the Euro is a completely non-starter. To join the Euro would be to surrender the self-determination of Scots to Brussels. In fact, Scots need not join the EU at all. A Norway option, where we remain in the ESM and CU, accepting freedom of movement and all the associated rules, without being an EU member state, is an option that could easily be available. I would personally advocate a continuation of the status quo if possible, as it’s a huge net gain for Scotland and, contrary to the foolish line of Scottish Eurosceptics, it would allow us with full political and economic self-determination.


Outside of the British Union and inside the European Union, we could design our own welfare state, our own tax system and our economic policies and strategies – our own social programmes and projects, our own scientific research and arts and sports bodies, all with additional EU support.


We could design our own immigration, asylum and refugee system – neither ‘Fortress Europe’ or ‘Fortress Britain’.


Scottish independence is an act of creativity and vitality, while Brexit is an act of self-destruction. This dynamic ought to extrapolated – Britain is hellbent on moving inwards: cutting, dismantling and stripping, while Scotland has been for the past decade or so been moving in a direction of creating a more egalitarian society. Nothing, of course guarantees this, and there will be many complications and challenges, but Scottish independence gives us the tools to build society in whatever way we see fit.
The Eurosceptics talk about ‘Taking Back Control’, but they were already in control – Scots, on the other hand, have no control over our own futures while we remain in the British Union. Even the very process of legislating and sealing a independence referendum is in the hands of the British parliament and government.


Brexit simultaneously reminds us that England is not only moving in a newly destructive direction, while the old routine of Scottish self-determination being completely meaningless is getting worse and not better in the British Union.

By Sam Hamad

 

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

Breakdown or break free: the climate choice we face

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

It is August, which usually means a month of damp, cold driechness, just to welcome all the tourists to the Edinburgh Festivals.

Instead, we’ve seen record summer temperatures, and several weeks of not only high temperatures but also very little rain.

Northern Ireland saw its first hose pipe ban in 23 years imposed last month. Wildfires have been raging across several parts of the UK. The Met Office issued its first ever thunderstorm warning at the beginning of July.

Further afield, 100% of New South Wales is affected by drought. Fires are rampaging across California and Greece. And, back in Scotland, perhaps most (un)surprisingly of all, there have been train delays and cancellations because the tracks were ‘too hot’.

Many Greens, environmentalists, climate scientists and others have been talking about the increasing likelihood of such events for decades. Up until now, we have always been dismissed as scaremongers, conspiracy theorists, idiots, or worse.

Finally, though, it seems as though the mainstream media is taking the break down of our climate system seriously.

At last the BBC has published an article taking climate change seriously. That is, not couching it in terms of uncertainty and doubt, or extreme ideologies and marginal interest. Not only that, they didn’t try and temper it with ‘balance’ from climate change deniers.

It seems extraordinary that it has taken more than four decades of clear scientific consensus for the UK’s public broadcaster to take seriously the issue that is the game changer for our society. And even the Economist has led on climate change this week.

But talking about climate change as a real thing is not good enough. Not now. It is not about a changing climate. Likewise, it made no sense, during the Beast from the East, to be talking about global warming.

Thawing out (nevermind being warm!) seemed a distant dream as we were plunged into the frozen cold of ‘spring’ this year.

We must ask why it has taken so long for climate breakdown to be headline news. The mainstream media, and the neoliberal economy that it props up, has, for nearly 40 years, been used as an instrument of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Twenty years ago, we were told that China was the problem: what was the point in ‘the West’ doing anything about Climate Change when China was building a new coal power station every two minutes?

More recently, rather than causing more climate destroying emissions, China was blamed for being at the centre of a conspiracy: using climate change to destroy the American steel industry, or way of life, or whatever.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt have been the weapons of choice of the media-enabled neoliberal system that has controlled our lives since 1979. We can see this only too clearly if we look at the comprehensive failure of ‘the system’ to deal with rising inequality.

The contention that the market is the ideal mechanism for allocating resources has limited utility when the market allocates resources to destroying the planet on which we depend.

So, we need action. Urgent action. And urgent action not at an individual level, but action at state and supra-state levels.

We need to decarbonise our energy systems, not just our electricity supplies. We need radically different thinking to how our transport system works. We need to support our communities to be more resilient.

We need to wrest power from the corporations and elites that have benefitted from the market systems they have controlled and manipulated.

And that means changing the economy so that there is space for resilience: where there is social and collective control of and responsibility for the systems and processes that sustain us. We should be repurposing IT platforms (like Uber, airbnb, etc.) to provide social value rather than just making silicon valley millionaires even richer.

Imagine an effective lift sharing system in remote rural areas where public transport struggles to survive. We should be using the wealth created by our labour for the benefit of all. Imagine a society where caring and creating roles were valued over and above profit maximising for individuals.

We should be harnessing the immense compassion of our humanity to ensure a just future for people regardless of their background. Imagine a future where we trade in peace around the world, not in the weapons of war.

We need system change much more than behaviour change. Asking individuals to act against all the incentive structures of our society and economy has failed.

Where the corporate answer to the climate crisis is to increase ‘green consumption’ our answer must be to rebuild our society and our communities so that we can put humanity and the future of our world ahead of short term profit.

Only when we break free of the economic system of control, fear, uncertainty and doubt will we be able to rebuild our communities and our society for the future.

 

By Maggie Chapman

 

 You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or listen to a range of left views on our podcast

Being Wrong 2 – The Irrational in Politics… Who Makes the Tea?

Reading Time: 12 minutes

 

 


Things were so much more simple back when I wanted them to be. Solutions were easier. Socialism was the answer and what THAT was was plain to see – to me. Until I met the left organisations that call each other “comrade,” but hate each other’s guts. 

 

  • Sorry granddad, I should have listened to your story about your day of being a member of the post war Communist Party. How you treat your activists really does show the change you want to be in the world.

This piece will mention various wee groups (because they are wee – but some have inordinate power because of how they insert themselves in unions, campaigning and professional bodies). I apologise to you for that. If you want to continue reading this and don’t want to be confused by their names, think Monty Python. Think “SPLITTER!” And think “Enemy of the Party…” If you don’t know what they are, they will have a label for you. You are either a neo-lib, a Blairite, a Tory or a traitor or worse. Or a potential member with money and newspaper selling capacity. When you begin selling those newspapers, expect praise, and condemnation in equal measure. And whatever you do, don’t ever believe giving the papers away is a good way to get your message out. Taking that pound from that wee woman on her way to get her fivers worth of groceries is part of the bigger picture that will save that wee woman from the hell of not being able to afford Friday’s tea.
Politics at present are odd, and I’m not sure of where we go. Trump draining a swamp, to replace it with a huge hole filled with shit; Brexit; a Scottish government with no credible opposition, plus a UK party in power that is dead but floating like a sparkling turd in the mire and actual seig-heiling Nazis on our streets, smashing up bookshops AND with power…

Don’t read this for answers. It’s about questions. And if you are happy in your cadre, this isn’t for you either. To be honest, if you are happy with your corner in the current polity, stop here. And if David Icke, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon etc hold some truths for you, please go join one of the groups I mention below and have your head at least sorted to move to my level of cynicism. It took me 13 years in one. You never know, if you join, you might find some level of comfort. You might find answers in local campaignsg (as I did) and you might find a parent who will make the tea while you sell papers.

For years I wouldn’t join a political party (I dipped in to a couple and promptly got my coat). I never joined a left faction either. I joined the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 2002 because it seemed to be bringing factions and left individuals together. That was smashed of course, by the Sheridan show, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the “Bambury – ites” (those who worked with Chris Bambury within the Socialist Workers Party and then split from that party to form a small Scottish Trotskyist faction), 2005-07. I stayed with that party and probably should have left in 2011, but a combination of a great active local branch and the promise of the up coming independence referendum kept me there and by 2015, had me crushed between machinations of two groups of splinters from the oldMilitant Tendency and the SWP. I left, sanity almost intact. Almost.

  • After the war which he spent in a factory in Lisburn County Down, building amphibious aircraft wings and being radicalised, my granddad decided to join the Communist Party and help at the 1945 election. The party at that time had a decent membership of over 1000 people. He and his comrade were given the task of monitoring a polling station and were told by a party official, importantly for poor working class people, that they would be supplied with lunch.

Labour in Scotland and the dreadful way the UK Labour Party have dealt with the anti-semitism row has ensured I stay clear of that mire. And personality politics, and the meeting of right and left in one party has kept me away from SNP and Greens (though both have got a lot of positive things going for them, and Im sure given their current message/ makeup etc, I’ll vote for them at the next election).

The left as defined by the original SSP of the early 2000’s I joined no longer exists, and can’t exist under the conditions created by vociferous mini-groups on the left with inordinate power in the press and within movements (and fronts) here, and the strength of theSNP. It cant exist now as one of the original factions that shared power controls it completely. The passion of some individuals within it is there, still, but they are voices that whisper distrust even when they herald comradeship. And all of them either accept the current long term parentage, or are enthusiastic for it.
At present, I don’t feel the parameters of the existent, proactive left in the Scottish “Yes” movement work for me, or for that matter a positive vision of a better Scotland. I also feel the activities policed by a wider Yes movement dependant on money from rich SNP members, and organisations “ok’d” by the new unknown Central Committee (ie who decide who can officially take part in the nextindependence referendum), and a movement almost incapable of self criticism levelled at the pursuit of being better than what we are supposedly fighting against, ensure strife amongst those of us really not interested in replicating a Scottish version of late 20th century UK.
You may not be familiar with a lot of what I say regarding Yes, or left movements. Some of you will be. If you have any questions, ask them below. Or on twitter. Or Facebook. Dont expect definitive answers on everything. But I’ll definitely get back to you. Though I’m not your mum, dad, leader, or person with all the answers. Subjectivity is understood by the right wing. The left tries to erase it from all they do, so objectively, conditions are better or worse for all when measured using their particular metre sticks. My 30 cm ruler is mine, and has measured a lot of rooms of people sagely nodding that one faction or another’s meter stick is a metre and not just clever guesses at distance.

This whinge isn’t, of course, just about the left Yes movement. It is about much more. It is, I suppose about how people interact with each other. And how some seize narratives and sew truths that pull people down rabbit holes that are new or established. It’s about how “the bigger picture” becomes “means to an end,” and “casualties of war,” and “collateral damage.”

I think there are good people with good intentions across left groups in Scotland, and the UK, but I feel the present our “Yes” movement and the left in general, is going to be walled in by self-righteous, mostly well meaning, middle aged men. The butterflies have all been painted grey and pinned to a baize covered ply board. This also goes for the left in England, Wales and Ireland. Subtleties are lost. People are lost. People become collateral damage. Enemies of the party; their faces ground into the mud are a means to an end. An unavoidable stepping stone to a better Scotland and a better world.

I’ll still vote Yes in an independence referendum here, but I don’t know what that, as a progressive, means now. Yes, no more shitty Westminster Tories, but it can’t JUST mean what the Bambury – ites say in their columns in The National, The Herald, etc; it doesn’tJUST mean what the SNP say, Labour say, the SSP say, or the SWP, CWI or Solidarity/Sheridan/Hope Over Fear. And it doesn’t mean what my analysis is either.

  • My Grandfather voted Communist in 1945. I wonder how unusual that was for someone perceived to be of the Unionist community at the time? Was the Unionist community different in those days? He wanted a better world for his young wife and his two wee daughters. He wanted a world much better than the poverty and death of his father. Were the CPNI a unionist party, promoting the British Union as the way to socialism/communism? They obviously offered hope to workers like my Granddad. And I don’t doubt there were many who thought the same as him. It cant have been a bad organisation.And the “good” press the Red Army got when it entered Berlin MUST have had an effect on working people. He and his comrade sat and counted voters in and out of the polling station, their heads buzzing with the new society the Communists would bring. Modernity, and scientific production that meant no-one would go without. A management of the means of production by those concerned with meeting demand rather than creating it… Simple.

    A new Scotland and world is possible, but as others have been saying lately, reliving and repeating by rote, lessons learned from failures of the old left/national/other movements, and almost universal agreement on what we did right (when results of movements are, in reality, dependent on something more than binary results of activity) does not move us into our new world. We celebrate anniversaries. We celebrate glorious defeats. We stand in solidarity when there is injustice. We rail against dystopia.We don’t design utopia.And at present the left seem to be debating just how high the floodwall on this safe space for the middle classes should be. They are debating just how devoted some of those w”on our side” rally are. No one is really talking about raising all boats. No-one is really analysing if the alternative to perpetual Tories is the best alternative. 

    Listening to Labour, listening to the “Yes Scotland” left within and without the SNP, and seeing a hard left churn out the same things they have for decades and expecting different results, I am confused by what our demands are. I’m confused at what our movement is. I’m confused at what organisations that fear off message questions, the internetand leaked minutes can offer today’s world of multiple personalities, identities, and vast networks.

    I have little to say to those on the left who tacitly approve continuity Assadist fascism, or those who feel the Rothschilds /Zionists /Jews control the world/the Tories /New Labour. They aren’t on my side, nor the peoples, but for some reason have found themselves through odd deformed analysis, supporting antisemitism, racism, torture and police states. They believe that there are baddies whose analysis is death. They don’t see the grey – the inability to analyse the huge deluge of information an interlinked, fast moving and densely populated world brings. Syria and the subtleties of anti-Semitism are two examples in a world where some on the left are making odd alliances. A Tower built on analysis that cant possibly be wrong, can it? Yet all of these people want a better Scotland and a better world, don’t they? They seem to be preaching revolution for us, but not those trapped in Assad’s totalitarian state. 

    I have little to say to those waving Marx around like preachers did with filtered excerpts from the bible on street corners in Northern Ireland all through my life there, and selling their pamphlets and papers that reveal the opening of the seals. Nor do I have much to say, any longer, to those who urge people to sign petitions in order to get them to part with a few coins. 

    Standing on a cracked paving stone, shouting “LAVA!” at those walking, crawling, shovelling, bleeding by, really doesn’t cut it.

    In a political world contracting behind corporate leaders, walls, fractious self absorbed /self aggrandising left leaders etc, what unites us? Is it just what we are against? What is the progress we aim for that is new? What is this new world? The new world of 19th and 20th century philosophers or of left groups who are scared of discussion, argument and agreement outside their ossifying, smoke stained walls (via the Internet they say they distrust so much) ? Or does a world of self imposed, self condoning, filter bubble, echo chambered confirmation bias suit them?

    I read monthly, the new fronts created by those “with an analysis,” sagely repeating each others step by step breakdowns of what has happened that week, and how this signifies further proof that capitalism is dying (as it has for more years than anyone reading this can possibly remember). And I read “what the class can do,” and sigh. And I read, incredulously, the wobbling towers of analysis built on shaky foundations that support people shouting from on high.The organised left created confirmation bias well before Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica.

    I, like a huge amount of those on the left, will not be joining organisations as they exist at present. All left organisations at present replicate capitalist society anyway. “Be the [democratic] change you want to see in the world,” has totally passed them by. And listening to “analysis” from these people is like having your head drilled by politically correct, bible flapping street preachers. And none of them care much for the activists who can’t keep up with the super activists or “CC’s/ EC’s”, important meetings and large volumes of paper sales by comrade X who will within two years, fall from activity, broken, exhausted, jaded and damaged.

    Their filter bubble world, created before Eli Pariser wrote about Internet algorithms, is
    “A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn … (since there is) invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas.” Wobbling Towers. 

    So, beyond “smashing the state,” and various slogans, selling newspapers and grabbing pound coins as people sign petitions to no-one, what can we do? What is our vision? Where does this fit in to a virtually/e-connected, yet disparate, impoverished, walled off world?
  • The lunch never appeared. The new world of Uncle Joe’s Communism, in which everyone was looked after, crumbled in front of my Grandfather’s eyes that day. He and his friend left for home, disappointed and disillusioned. My grandfather told me, “I was a member of the Communist Party for one day. I thought, “if they cant even organise a lunch for us, how can they organise society?” He voted Labour, and what that became, for the rest of his life.And he was right. Sorry Granddad. I heard your story, but I was not listening at that time. I thought YOU didn’t understand. I was wrong. It was me who didn’t. I had found easy answers, and analysis that confirmed my bias. It had seemed so simple. Good people doing good things is all it took. But I had forgotten about the Irrational in politics. I forgot we are all looking for a parent. An authority. Someone who knows. And I had forgot that some will do anything to be thought of as that leader. That parent. And lies, mistruths and briberies are all part of the means to an end, which is usually the means to keep them in their position of parentage within a family group chosen by them. And I forgot that some, in order to be that parent on a pedestal, will never apologise and in fact, can never be wrong. The next analysis, built on the previous, will explain what some thought were errors. Or the previous analysis will disappear from the history. Nothing online mentions the communist party of Northern Ireland’s inability to get tea to their activists at polling stations in 1945. But it was something, a material thing, that was probably a factor in their immediate decline. How they treated people. How they preached bread for all, but couldn’t organise tea for the activists.

    What is this better Scotland/world that is possible if disagreement and “online” can’t be part of it (as proved in my walled world in Scotland by ssh! SSP 2007/ssh! Rise 2015/ssh! SWP 2005)? The SWP proclaimed twenty years ago, that the internet would destroy them. Why? Because information was easily found. Information was easily shared. So the comrades baptised by Thatcher advised / advise activists NOT to share information. Misplaced Managerialism at best. 

    Is a better Scotland/world just being anti-Tory? If so, isn’t that just self defeating and ensuring we give Tories time to rethink their next image and message of “making Britain Great again?” Is it just supporting Corbyn/ the SNP, the great parent? Is it being uncritical until “it” fails, unapologetically?

    If Labour win an election, and don’t make material, measurable, obvious change to lives, are we not just awaiting the next idealogical ultra capitalists to tear down more of the post war settlement and sell it off to the cartoon fat cats and imaginary, rabbit hole dwelling Anti-semetic cartoon bosses? 

    If we win the next Scottish independence referendum, and our lives stay the same, what have we won? The right to replace a flag? 

    And really, lefty Scotland, what is our vision for Scotland outside the UK? What is our vision for the EU? How do we practically get the tea on the table after next year? What is our vision for the world and our part in it? The lexit of the columnists has proven to be a sham that is further impoverishing communities they really have never lived in and the columnists and front leaders have never been elected. Or do we just sit and shout, “wrong!” ?I’m not berating anyone in particular in this piece. Its self flagellation, so sorry to the reader, if none of this is part of your world. Sorry, if you are satisfied with the current polity, or your particular part in that. You see, I want change. I wanted change from the moment I realised we are still living in feudalist societies, with Kings, racism, sexism and poverty. Its borne on disappointment and the realisation that people are still starving, people are still imposing their bigotries across the world and all we seem to do is change flags and parents.

    I no longer want declarations and seven points of agreement etc. I want to know how my children’s children will survive, thrive and live in peace and abundance in an eco system that supports them and in a fair, free world. I no longer want to “foother” at the legacy of pensioners, middle aged men’s and middle class columnists analysis of 1968, 9/11, Stop the War or Yes Scotland. I don’t want to flag wave or pat myself on the back for marching. I really don’t want to listen to ego’s making demands, or shouting into microphones, or telling me I could have sold more pamphlets. I want to work for something.

    If we’ve learned anything from the twentieth century it should be that utopia was lost when we set its parameters and fell for those who loved applause.And trying to reimpose those parameters, in a world where everyone has a high tech machine that punches holes in those parameters, really does not work. And creating imposed filter bubbles ossify and dessicate. And jumping from one surrogate parent and false prophet to another really doesn’t cut it.

    So how high is the sky we are trying to reach? Or are we merely pointing at a branch as the current shit swamp pulls us under?Or are we all going to be left sitting waiting until someone delivers tea they had no intention of delivering?

You can read the first “being wrong” from Neil here, or read his reasons for leaving the ssp here

By Neil Scott

 

Read more more Ungagged Writing here or listen to a range of left views on our podcast

The Battle of Hawthorn Town Hall

Reading Time: 12 minutes
        

Last night shortly after I started this the battery in my modem melted down. It just stopped working, and on inspection it felt as though the interior of the battery had turned to mush. So today I will be spending the day without internet access until I can collect a replacement, hopefully tomorrow. This is somewhat disappointing, as I had intended to publish this story today, as it is a significant anniversary. Twenty years ago, on the 19th of July 1998, an incident took place which has become quite famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, in Australian political history. Or possibly mythology.

 

Pauline Hanson, the neo-fascist Queensland politician, was prevented from addressing a public meeting in Melbourne at the old Hawthorn Town Hall by a counter demonstration and picket. Much has been said and much has been written about the events of that day, both at the time and in the years since, absolutely none of it accurate. Despite the fact that at least 2,000 people were there that day, with some estimates saying as many as 3,500, only around a hundred people, half of them demonstrators and half of them cops, know what really happened. I am one of them, and I think the time has come for the story to be told and the record corrected.

 

 

In researching this story I have read a number of accounts of the events of that Sunday afternoon, from both left and right, and of course numerous media reports at the time, none of them remotely reflecting the true story. Of course this is in part because many of those discussing it didn’t actually see it, and tend to have an axe to grind, the Hanson apologists wishing to portray it as left wing thuggery (poor, misunderstood little fascists), a dastardly plot by the ALP or the Greens or, even less plausibly Militant, who had a negligible presence in Australia at the time and the leaders of the organised left wishing to paint it as a great victory for their tactics and strategy. In fact it was neither. The first point I have to address is the violence that really did take place and the reason for it. As with the fact that Hanson was prevented from speaking, everyone has sought to impose their own interpretation of this violence. For the Hansonites it was an outrageous victimisation, for the left a heroic stand against oppression and for the police, well they painted themselves as the victims too. Again, they are all wrong, and the truth is far more mundane, and far less flattering to all concerned.

 

 

For those who remember the incident, have you ever wondered why, although there were a number of injuries that day, there were no arrests? There’s no great mystery about it in fact. The simple truth is no arrests were made because no offences were committed. Not by the demonstrators at any rate. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the police. The violence was on their part, and was entirely the responsibility of the sergeant in charge of the contingent of mounted police attending. Without orders, acting on his own initiative, he led his unit through the crowd in front of the town hall, riding down demonstrators and causing all of the injuries. The incident commander, who was inside the building at the time, was heard to be furious when he was informed of what had happened. He demanded they be called off, but this was not done for, again, one simple reason – the police comms failed.

 

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself, that was later. I haven’t arrived yet. The meeting was scheduled for 4pm, and I got there shortly before that in the company of two friends, a couple in fact, who were relatively inexperienced with demos and who were somewhat apprehensive given the trouble that had attended earlier One Nation events in Geelong and Dandenong. I was 33, and a veteran of numerous demos in Glasgow and London, so I’d sort of taken them under my wing. When we arrived most of the demonstrators were already there, the vast majority at the front of the town hall on Burwood Road. I suggested we take a walk around the whole block before joining them. This was basically a scouting mission to identify all the access points to the area, to work out where we could go if things turned ugly.

 

 

Now the geography of the place is key to this story, and building work means it no longer looks the way it did, so in the absence of an accurate diagram I’ll have to describe it as best I can. The town hall complex was on a corner. The cross street was Glenferrie Road. Part of the complex is, or at least was in 1998, the Hawthorn Police Station, which was around the corner and behind the town hall. Between them was an open quadrangle in use as a car park, with a larger car park taking up the diagonally opposite corner of the city block. There was access to the rear of the complex from that car park, across a wide area, and also by two narrow passages on either side of a smallerbuilding (not sure what that was, gone now) which occupied the actual corner, one along the side of the town hall and one along the side of the police station. At the rear of the hall there was a passageway along the back side of the building, about 12′ – 15′ wide, contained by a wall around 4′ to 5′ high, which allowed access to a side door. This wall had a gap of around 15′ – 20′ right at the back. To access the hall you would enter the passageway there, turn left and walk around the corner to the side door.

 

 

Much has been made of this layout by the Hansonites. According to this document, which appears to have been online since shortly after the day, the police were either weak or in league with the protestors, because it should have been easy for them to bring Hanson in by that side entrance. And it might have been, because I believe that had been their intention all along, if it hadn’t been for my scouting mission. Yes folks, confession time, I was the one who thwarted that plan. You see, when I saw that layout it was immediately clear to me what they intended to do. There were hardly any demonstrators at the rear of the town hall at this point. Adjacent to the gap in the wall someone had parked a Nissan Civilian, directly facing the wall. A Civilian is a small bus, bigger than a minibus, smaller than a city bus or a coach, holds about 30. It was dusty, white and unmarked. A bit like this:

 

 

 

It occurred to me that it would be the simplest thing in the world to bring up another similarly-sized vehicle to take the corresponding position on the other side of the gap, creating an easily defensible area into which they could bring her by car. Of course they didn’t want the demonstrators to realise what they intended to do, so they had left just one young cop to keep an eye on it. There were no demonstrators near it. When I figured out their plan, I went to the first stewards I could find and asked for a couple of dozen people to go and block the passageway. People who heard this started volunteering and soon we had what I estimated to be an adequate number, so I led them round there. As soon as we got there the single cop on lookout duty got on the radio, which was still working at that point, and cops started arriving from everywhere!

 

 

We were able to get roughly half way along the rear of the building before they mustered sufficient numbers to link arms and block our progress. Now I didn’t do a careful head count, but I’d estimate there were roughly 50 of us, and a similar number of police, some of whom arrived behind us so we were hemmed in. That was fine, because we had successfully blocked the passageway, and the police presence was effectively helping us to do that. Indeed at first they were pushing us in both directions at once. At that point I stuck my head up and loudly pointed out that this was what they were doing, and suggested they make their minds up. “Which way are you trying to push us?” They didn’t know. I’d rumbled their Plan A, and they clearly didn’t have a Plan B. But they stopped trying to push us from behind. Because of the wall there was nowhere for us to go anyway.

 

 

In this article, written by someone involved in the organisation of the demo, they claim that demonstrators linked hands all the way around the town hall, and bravely held out in the face of mounted police charges. The earlier document indicates that the Hansonites believed that too. Didn’t happen. In fact there were effectively two separate actions that day. The first, and the one that everyone saw, including the TV cameras, was at the front of the hall. Over 2,000 people participated there. The ill-disciplined action by the mounted police unit took place there, and those who faced that charge were indeed courageous. I want to be absolutely clear about that. I didn’t see it personally, but I know they stood their ground, and that deserves acknowledgement and credit. The decisive action however, the reason the police incident commander advised Hanson they could not guarantee her safety if she attempted to enter the hall, was carried out by me and my brave 50 out the back.

 

 

Once we and the 50 or so police who responded to us settled into our allotted roles that afternoon, we began to communicate. This is very important. If you ever find yourself on the front line of a demo, this is what you do. You keep up a dialogue. Now it fairly quickly became apparent to me who the natural leader amongst the police was. He was being extremely vocal, and was yelling, “Blood rule! Blood rule!” when I first noticed him. Remember, this was in the days when people were still fairly paranoid about blood, fully effective treatments for HIV/AIDS were not yet available, and all sports were rigidly enforcing blood rules whereby the slightest sight of blood would immediately see the player sent to the sidelines to be patched up. The pre-eminent sport in Victoria was of course Australian Rules Football (AFL), hereinafter referred to as ‘footy.’ So I looked where this guy was pointing.

 

 

He was right. There was a young guy on our side who was bleeding from a head wound. It wasn’t a particularly serious-looking one, and he almost certainly got it before he joined our number, but the blood was clearly visible. I worked my way through the crowd to reach him and told him to go and get medical attention. There was a first aid tent in fact, not more than about 50 yards from our position at the near corner of the larger car park. St. John’s I believe. He didn’t want to go, so I spoke to him in the voice I inherited from my father (the one that allows me to do gigs without a mic or busk in busy streets), making sure everyone on both sides heard me. I told him he was injured, that he’d done his bit, and that now he needed to go and get medical attention. I got the rest of my 50 behind me, and by moral suasion we prevailed on him to go. I took care to let him do so without losing face, and we even gave him a few cheers and a round of applause as he went. I then turned my attention to the vocal cop.

 

 

His name (and this alone shows that it was a more innocent time, the fact that many of the cops were still wearing their name badges, you don’t see that any more) was Constable N. Smith. I’ll explain the reason I remember that like it was yesterday in a minute. Now for my non-Australian audience, I should explain that police ranks in Australia are a little different to those you’d find in Scotland or the UK. Constables are obviously the same, but you also get Senior Constables. That’s sort of equivalent to a Sergeant. They wear two stripes. An actual Sergeant is equivalent to a UK Inspector, and a Senior Sergeant is equivalent to a Chief Inspector. The group who faced us were mixed, Constables and Senior Constables. So although Constable Smith was not the senior officer present, nobody seemed to be formally in charge, and he emerged as the natural leader. So once our wounded soldier had departed I got his attention.

 

 

I can’t remember my exact words, but basically I communicated to him, in far fewer words than I’m about to use, that our enforcing of the blood rule, at his request, was a good faith gesture, and proposed that we agree to broaden the understanding and adopt footy rules more generally. That meant a bit of push and shove, a bit of the old hip and shoulder, was fair game but there was to be no striking, no kicking, no tripping, no eye-gouging, no hair pulling, etc. Once that understanding had been reached, Constable Smith and myself kept up a continuous dialogue, with a bit of friendly banter, for the rest of the afternoon to ensure its enforcement on both sides. I soon nicknamed him ‘Norm’ because of the medal. The Norm Smith Medal is awarded to the player adjudged best on ground in every AFL Grand Final. It’s named for some legend of the game from way back. I want to say 1920s. That’s why I’ve never forgotten his name. Anyway, the dialogue worked and where we were there were no injuries and no arrests that day.

 

 

They did try to bring a couple of people through. One made it, albeit looking as though he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards (which he had really, a human hedge), the other didn’t. Nobody struck them, but we were completely hemmed in, forming a solid phalanx. There simply wasn’t room for anyone to move. Not that we were trying. Our intention was to put our bodies in the way and to block access. In this we succeeded, at least insofar as having seen the results of their attempts to bring people through our cordon, the commander recommended to Pauline Hanson not to try it, and told her, I would imagine, that he couldn’t make any promises once she was in the middle of the crowd. Due to the extremely restricted space there was no chance for either side to reinforce our numbers once the block was established. Would she have been unharmed if they had tried it? I don’t know. That was certainly my intention, but she does tend to attract a lot of hostility. I do know that in the case of those two of her supporters they tried to get through, they were not harmed, however we carried out our stated intention of doing our best to block their path.

 

 

So given all the above circumstances I am quite prepared to take responsibility for preventing her from addressing the meeting. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and I’ll tell you why. I do believe in freedom of speech, as a general principle, with one vital exception – no platform for fascism. No right can ever be absolute, not in the real world. The reason for this is that there are overlapping rights, some of them a priorirights. All such judgements are a balancing acts. So where does your right to freedom of speech end? That’s not a rhetorical question. It ends with hate speech, because that infringes on certain a priori rights of others. Even Americans, who have more legal protection for the absolute right to freedom of speech than pretty much anyone, ought to understand this. The first rights their fledgling nation ever asserted for its citizens were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In that order. And that is entirely right and proper, isn’t it. The most fundamental right of all must surely be the right not to be killed. Hate speech leads to killing, it’s as simple as that.

 

 

That is why in countries not quite so obsessed with free speech there are laws constraining what you can and cannot say. Incitement to racial hatred for instance has long been a criminal offence in the UK, and that is entirely appropriate too. The problem is, and this is certainly the case in Australia as well as the UK, that allowances do tend to be made for politicians that would perhaps not be made for the rest of us (think of Donald Trump – much of what he says would be illegal in the UK or Australia, some of it probably is even in America). Stephen Yaxley-Lennon* is, in my view, one such politician. He is in jail for contempt of court, for defying a judge, not for the disgusting things he says, although arguably he should be. Pauline Hanson, who as you may have heard has called for his release, is another. She is a racist, a proto-fascist, what she says (some of which she has got away with under parliamentary privilege) is hate speech, and although she is not physically attacking people herself, views like hers legitimise and enable such acts in the minds of others, of her followers. Once you set out down that road it’s only going to end one way – badly.

 

 

And it’s impossible to escape the reality that fascism is a problem for us, the working class left, to deal with. Nobody else will do it for one thing. Remember in the 1930s none of the Tories, apart from Churchill famously, wanted to oppose the Nazis. They wanted to reach an accommodation with them. In Spain only the International Brigades, working class, left wing volunteers, went to the defence of the Republic. It’s our clothes they’re trying to steal and our people they are trying to recruit for another thing. The reason these ideas are so insidiously seductive is because they marry some left wing-sounding economic populism, which they invariably fail to deliver on when given the opportunity by the way, with the deeply rooted human tendency to out group hostility, xenophobia and scapegoating. It’s the worst part of our nature, and we know where it can end up go in an era where technology has made us far more dangerous than we ever were in the days when being that way conferred, presumably, some sort of evolutionary advantage. The price of freedom, as they say, is eternal vigilance, and the only thing a tolerant society cannot tolerate is intolerance. For these reasons we must be eternally vigilant not to tolerate this poisonous ideology ever taking root or thriving again. It is not within the boundaries of legitimate political opinion. The ordinary protection of political speech does not apply to it. It understands only the language of force and as our grandparents knew, it must be opposed, unconditionally and at any cost. Never again!

 

*the fuckknuckle who goes by the alias of Tommy Robinson

By Derek Stewart Macpherson

 

You can read more Ungagged writing here, or listen to more left views from the collective on our podcast

Norsefire on the Horizon?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Norsefire on the Horizon?

We live in an age where senior SNP politicians are openly expressing worry about the rise of a far-right figure in England.  Alyn Smith, MEP, said that the situation in England is so precarious that one wrong move, so to speak, could lead to the emergence of the far-right.  Smyth cites Tommy Robinson, and the associated campaign to free him after he was rightfully locked up for contempt, while attempting to exploit trials involving child abuse to smear Muslims.  Smith’s conjuring of Robinson of course hints at the way all these causes of the right intersect with Brexit. Many people, mostly Labourites and Unionists, might make the charge that Smith’s comments are some attempt by the SNP to fearmonger, but those people don’t know Alyn Smith. He doesn’t do hyperbole. He can just sense the political mood, as many of us who have seen the grand catastrophe of Brexit can.  

I often cast my mind back to those early debates I had with some Lexiteers, including one with Corbyn’s now economic advisor.  While they said Brexit would pave the way for a veritable anti-neoliberal utopia of the left, one of our warnings was that Brexit would radicalise everything to the right. Well, we were 100% right.  

UKIP have always been a party of racists, including literal Neo-Nazis (the fact the disintegration of the BNP accompanied UKIP’s rise is no coincidence in terms of activists, members and electoral forces), but they always maintained a kind of right-wing Tory leadership. Norman Tebbit-like people who would maintain decorum while tolerating loathsome extremes in private.  The mask of plausibility in an age of multiculturalism and anti-racism (derided by the right under that vague spectrum of ‘political correctness’) – well, in today’s England, Brexit England, there’s no longer a need for the mask.

Now UKIP have a leader who is openly supporting the fascist, Islamophobic pogromist Tommy Robinson. Everything is being dragged rightwards in England, while the conditions of a ‘no deal’ Brexit might very well put all of us across these islands in uncharted political territory – I’m thinking of Weimar Germany in October 1929, when the Great Depression hit Europe like a tonne of bricks, and overnight revamped the at that point rapidly disintegrating NSDAP (the overall radical right, the Volkisch right, as they were called, were still alive and kicking in Germany, but the NSDAP were like a dying fish, following the Beer Hall putsch of November 1923 until the Great Depression).  Brexit could have similar consequences, especially the consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario, which would splinter the British economy and lead to a social and economic crisis on par with World War 2, with potential food shortages and the possibility of a return of rationing.  Progressive politics rarely ever do well out of crisis –societies facing crisis almost always turn inwards and towards the most bestial instincts of such societies. In England, we can now see the kind of beasts of the far-right who could potentially capitalise on a Brexit dystopia.  Such a dystopia would’ve been unthinkable even 5 years ago, but now government departments are planning for it.

I don’t foresee a fascist party emerging as a serious force in the UK any time soon. But if you look at the balance of political forces in England, it’s more bleak than I’ve ever see – more bleak than I could ever have imagined when I first became politically aware during the Major years, when we were told, so famously, by a certain Mr Blair, that things could only get better.  My own view on the ascendant alt-left, namely Corbyn’s Labour, is that it would be a huge catastrophe, given the relation of their kind of pro-Putin politics, dressed up in the phony languages and symbols of the ‘anti-war’ movement and superficial notions of ‘anti-imperialism’, to wider global happenings that have a direct effect, a boomerang effect, on domestic politics.

But the rise of the alt-right in a similar fashion would represent something altogether more immediately sinister.  It’s perfectly true that the only two political leaders to call for triggering Article 50 on the night of the Brexit victory were UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.  It’s also true that Corbyn espouses a ‘left-wing’ anti-immigration message regarding freedom of movement – he dresses up the old far-right slogan of ‘British jobs for British workers’ and the idea that immigrants drive down the wages of ‘indigenous’ workers in the language of immigrants being exploited by EU bosses.  No matter the spin of Corbyn’s supporters, it’s simply a form of racism associated with the conservative left that simultaneously reflects their conservative core, as well as acting as a device of populism, appealing to the reservoir of racism that lies behind our entire current predicament. However, to reiterate, the alt-left represent one kind of threat, the alt-right have these things at their political core and they represent the tip of an iceberg of concrete fascism.  

Thus far the alt-right have been confined to the fringes.  However, the Tommy Robinson affair, and UKIP’s embracing of it, as well as its connivance with fascist conspiracists like Paul Joseph Watson (the leader of the English wing of Alex Jones’ fascistic pro-Trump conspiracy media outlet ‘Infowars), are symptomatic of the radicalisation of the right.  In fully mainstream terms, we see the rise of old school League of Empire Loyalist type Tories like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has direct links with people like Steve Bannon and British fascists. Both of these elements of the spectrum of the emergent alt-right grimly demonstrate that there is the bones of a genuine threat from the right that could capitalise on their political ground zero, their political point d’honneur, Brexit.  

It’s not just an English phenomenon, or a peculiarity of British nationalism – these kind of politics, the politics of neo-fascism, are being revived across the world, with Europe sliding rightwards against the liberal democratic grain.  We’ve seen a host of European countries experience either the alt-right gaining political power, such as in Italy, Austria, Poland and, of course, Orban’s Hungary – minorities are increasingly unsafe, with Muslims and Roma most in jeopardy.  But the rightward slide of the UK also has a direct and astounding international component – If someone told me almost 10 years ago that the Islamophobic fascist football hooligan, Tommy Robinson, he who started the EDL, and who is an almost comical caricature of a typical English racist, would essentially have backing from people serving in the administration of the President of the United States, I’d have considered the person to be having some kind of nervous breakdown.

It’s not quite Darkness at Noon here yet , but I remember reading the astoundingly brave anti-Nazi writer Fritz Gerlich (murdered in Dachau, after being arrested during the Night of the Long Knives – all that remained of him was his broken glasses, callously sent to his grieving widow) writing about how Nazism had come upon Germany like ‘a smouldering fire that in the blink of an eye turned into a terrifying blaze’.

I can really understand it. I can now understand how quickly you find that ‘civilisation’ is like a thin layer of ice over a sea of barbarism. We can now see the cracks. I genuinely wonder not if but when it will fully shatter.

After the shock of the Leave victory in the Brexit vote, I used to joke that the next stop was ‘Norsefire’, referring to the fictitious fascist party that rules England in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.  It’s becoming less and less of a joke every day.  Do I see Norsefire on the horizon? No, but I see the kind of people who would make up Norsefire stepping out of the shadows.

 

by Sam Hamad

 

You can read more Ungagged writing here, or listen to more left views from the collective on our podcast

Being Wrong…

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Neil Scott

Being Wrong…

 

Admitting you were wrong is pretty difficult, especially when society is so judgemental and in turn individuals at a personal level feel judged by friends, family and peers. So, I’m going to write a wee series of blogs on “when I’ve been wrong.” Please, judge me all you like. I’m 52 and know I’ve made mistakes. Many. I’ve said shit things, thought shit things, done shit things and been an unbearable shit to some people. Not all the time, I don’t think, but I’m going to offer apologies to those I’ve hurt, or criticised when I have been wrong. I can’t ask for forgiveness, and I suppose, on one level, I don’t want it, because being wrong has helped me learn, because when people shout an alternative world view at you when you are shouting your view, it does sometimes register.

 

I perceive myself as politically left, and I think if anything, the political left should be about one thing- analysing society, and perhaps shifting their world view as well as others, in order to stop society sliding into a massive shit hole of creeping Conservative right wing inequalities. Challenging our own view should not be seen as confrontation, but should be welcomed. We should be open to it. The world can only get better if we keep an open mind to change both personally and societally.

Anyway, my first apology is not about politics, well, partly so, but only partly. Though that will come I’m sure. My first apology is about music, and at a guess as I write more of these, my apologies will be about other aspects and choices regarding music.

  • Paula, I wasn’t wrong about Joy Division, but perhaps neither were you.-

Teenage boys can be introspective en extremis. I was no different to many others, and as I discovered music, I thought, “I’d love to share this feeling, this deep, emotion, with other people,” so the stereo was cranked up in the bedroom and when I went to Paula’s house, I brought my Joy Division tapes with me. Unknown Pleasures on one side, with a few fillers like Japan’s “Night Porter, “ and then their other album, “Closer, “ on the other side with a few fillers like “Love will tear us apart,” “These Days,” and The Beatles “Let it Be,” sang by St Paul’s boys choir.

Cheery, and what every girlfriend would love.

Paula wrote all over the cassette, “boring! Snore..!” and other less than enthusiastic words. Although she was of course wrong, it made me think that perhaps my perspective on music might not be everyone’s. What touched me, didn’t always register with other people’s life experiences.

My music taste did develop, though Joy Division and New Order stayed with me. As I became more aware of what went on outside me, I began to love music that dealt with political themes. The Fun Boy Three, and “The More that I see,” about Northern Ireland, The Police “Invisible Sun,” about the same theme, and then stadium music that dealt with Steve Biko, Mandela, Martin Luther King, poverty, starvation etc became the big theme of the eighties and selfish, introspection was out. And I loved to find the roots of the music I loved, the influences etc, so I became a fan of New York punk, and in turn, the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Western US pre punk rock bands like The Doors. I loved the music that influenced my modern day heroes, Echo and the Bunnymen and other northern English bands; The Associates, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and other Scottish bands.

And here comes the main apology:

  • I wasn’t entirely right about The Cure, Sharon and Toby. I won’t apologise for not worshipping the ground Morrissey soiled, but I will apologise for not fully appreciating Smith’s introspection, musical talent and actually laying out his problems on vinyl.

Morrissey did write some scathing political songs in the eighties, but his own reordering of his thoughts have now set him firmly in the category Rock against Racism was set up to counter. I bought The Smiths first album, and although I did like some tracks on it, that was it. The Smiths to me, created some good songs, sometimes in spite of Morrissey’s whiney, “look at me, I’m so your new Dylan, Byron hero thing that the artistic press seek every ten years or so.” Some amazing, sparing singles. Johnny Marr and the others made The Smiths. Morrissey in my opinion, made them unfollowable.

Smith, at a glance, seemed the same. And for me, again, there were songs I liked. But my mistake was I mistook his introspection and shyness as a Byronic feyness ala Morrissey. I appreciate now, I was wrong.

My other gripe about Smith and his music persona, “The Cure,” was that he seemed to follow groups, and imitate them. I remember reading an interview with him in which he said his favourite track was Joy Division’s The Eternal. So, I started hearing The Eternal in everything he did, and his song The Walk, was quite obviously his take on New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Having said all of that, one of my favourite tapes I bought during the eighties was a “best of” The Cure’s early stuff. (I bought stuff on tape I thought was disposable – if I wanted a lasting copy, I bought vinyl and taped the vinyl). I wasn’t wrong in his listening to good stuff and using some of the same techniques, but I was wrong to make this something to diss what was amazing stuff, almost entirely created by Smith himself. Smith, I realise, was a magpie. While his peers applied modern musical instrumentation to what they learned from The Velvet Underground, Bowie, The, Doors, The MC5, unlike his peers, he also picked out what he liked about what his peers were inventing.

Listen to Disintegration and you’ll hear The Bunnymen, New Order, Bowie, the anthemic stadium sound of the time, and even classical influences. But what is clear is it is about Smith, his disintegration, his depression,, his realisation that the joyous, self conscious, certain world he inhabited in his teens and twenties were coming to an end. Friendships and the need to be in a gang, were less certain, but love and commitment and respect were. His emotions, unlike so much that was “indie”at the time, are laid out on this amazing construction.

And mental health, addiction and depression created a joyous, anthemic, beautiful piece of work I had dismissed as a copy.

Toby says this is late night listening. Perhaps. But the current heatwave, the claustrophobia of the heat and slowing down of life, makes this apt, appropriate.

Unlike those who found it at the time, it will remind me of the incredible weather of summer 2018. My memories of 1989 are of The Doors, Australian rock and crashing my dad’s car driving to meet Sharon, one of The Cure’s greatest fans.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this piece you can read more from Neil on his writing page, or listen to his contributions to our Podcast