Tuesday, September 29, 2020

War Cry!


by Bill Topaz  

 War Cry: Milton Smalling; First Class Publications London 2011; 128 pp. ISBN 978-0-9508636-3-4.

On the back of this book the author’s brief autobiography describes him as being born in Stepney, Jamaica which he left in 1965 to join his mother in Battersea the working class area of London which is the home of the New Worker and a well established black community.
    War Cry is the fifth book to be published by Milton Smalling since his first book of verse hit the streets in 1982; three of these are slim volumes of poetry, the other a play, all of which are unknown to this reviewer. The advert accompanying the review copy states that the poems “draws upon his experience, and he documents the things that he sees around him”. The poems are undated, but that entitled “The Greedy Bankers” suggests at least some have been written recently. No clues are given as to the precise occasion which inspired the poem. The poem “African Americans Cuddle or Struggle” contains the line “This is a wonderful day for African Americans” may or may not be a reference to Obama’s 2008 Presidential election victory. It would be useful to know one way or the other.
    Titles such as “The Mass Murder of Enslaved Black Africans”, “The Working Class Under Pressure” and “Divided Britain” tell us that the author is coming from a progressive direction. Here are a few examples of his work: From: “Living in Cardboard Boxes in London” The poor lives in the shadow of the rich. A stone’s throw from the seat of parliament, people are sleeping in cardboard boxes. They are drinking themselves to sleep, because life is cheap. From: “Since the Day We Were Born” Since the day we born people have been in conflict, With other people somewhere in the world. Some people have never known a week or a month of peace Maybe when it all ends someone will tell them.
    The literary critic Philip Hobsbaum, making a passing reference to Smalling’s 1980s poems in his 1996 book Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form notes that his published writings are similar to the score for a performance where the meaning is much more evident when performed on stage than in a private reading.
     Curiously all the poems are in Standard English with not a trace of Jamaican patios or the “Sarf London” dialect which one might expect from a poet concerned with Black and local issues. The forename of the author and the name of the publisher might give rise to unduly heightened expectations, but the reader approaching this book with an open mind will find it a remarkable example of modern self published poetry. It will be of considerable interest to devoted connoisseurs of that genre.

 Available for £12.99 from First Class Publications, PO Box 1799, London W9 2BZ.

Starmer’s virtual reality

Labour Party conferences can be boring even in the best of times. But we’re in the coronavirus era so a virtual conference is, perhaps, the best we could have hoped for.
Labour Conference has never been the sovereign body of the Party, and its decisions were regularly ignored or side-lined by Labour Governments and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). But it does give a voice to the activists and the rank-and-file in the constituencies, and it provides a forum for the unions to make their demands on what was originally intended to be the political wing of the trade union movement.
    The dead hand of right-wing bureaucracy during the Blair era ended the open debate and factional back-stabbing that were the highlights for the delegates at a week at the seaside in a normal year. There was a bit of a comeback under Corbyn. But Corbyn’s gone and these are decidedly not normal times.
    Sir Keir Starmer’s followers like to compare him to Labour winners of the past such as Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. But they, for good or bad, were skilled orators who had plenty to say. Starmer is neither.
    Talking to his ‘virtual’ audience this week, Starmer said it was time for members to be “brutally honest” about the changes required for a Labour victory. “Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security, with your job, with your community and with your money.”
    But the issue is not why Labour lost the last election but how it’s going to win the next. Some on the left are still stuck on the blame game over the last election because they refuse to accept the reality that is was Labour’s U-turn on Brexit that cost them swathes of seats in the north. Starmer, to his credit, realises this. The man who was once the front-runner for the Europhiles in the Labour Party has a new mantra now. “The debate between Leave and Remain is over. We’re not going to be a party that keeps banging on about Europe,” he says. But he’ll need more than that to win back traditional supporters who went over to the Tories at the last election over Brexit.
    Labour needs to have clear policies to mobilise millions of workers around their platform. We need to campaign to end austerity and defend the health service and public education. We must support industrial development to create new jobs to end the unemployment and destitution that has blighted the lives of so many working-class families in recent years. We must ensure that current demands for the renationalisation of the railways and the utilities are just the first step in restoring the entire public sector that existed in this country until 1979. Above all, we must fight for peace, the scrapping of Trident and the withdrawal of all British troops abroad, including those in the occupied north of Ireland.
    Droning on in front of a camera to tell us he’s not Jeremy Corbyn may have been music to the ears of the aging Blairites who have embraced Starmer as their new Messiah. But it’s not going to mobilise the millions of workers and students that rallied to Labour’s banner when Corbyn was at the helm.

The Soviet sacrifice remembered in Durham

By New Worker correspondent

Students studying Russian held a literary and musical evening dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Second World War at Durham University last weekend. The students gave reports on key events of the war, read poems and sang songs about important battles and victory.
    Olga Zabotkina, who proposed the memorial evening, told the students about the members of her family who fought in the Great Patriotic War and the sacrifices made by the Soviet Union in the struggle against the Nazi invaders.
    An important part of the evening was the performance of works of art and music about the War. For the convenience of the audience, during the performance of songs, words were dubbed in Latin letters and video materials were shown with translation into English.
    The participants of the evening received St George ribbons and letters of thanks from the General Convent of Russia in Edinburgh. They plan to continue their work and hold a concert in honour of the Year of Memory and Glory in Russia.



A not so gripping tale

by Ben Soton

 Singapore Grip Six-part ITV series based on the novel by JG Farrell. Stars: David Morrissey, Colm Meaney, Luke Treadaway, Elizabeth Tan and others. On ITV from Sunday 13th September at 9pm, also available on the ITV Hub.

As every TV reviewer now tells us, the ‘Singapore grip’ is a slang term used to describe the sexual act in which a man remains stationary during intercourse whilst a woman clenches her vaginal muscles to pleasure the penis. In all likelihood the man would be of wealthy European decent whilst the woman would be a native of East-Asian origin.
    The Singapore Grip is also ITV1’s latest Sunday Night drama, which takes us back to 1942, just before the Japanese invasion of Singapore, based on the 1978 Booker Prize-winning satirical novel by J G Farrell. The drama centres on the colonial elite who controlled Singapore’s rubber industry.
    In episode one Mr Webb (played by Charles Dance), a somewhat liberal rubber plantation owner, dies. His fortune goes to his son Matthew (played by Luke Treadaway), whom some suspect may be to the left of his father. The plantation manager, Walter Blackett (played by David Morrissey), has ambitions of his own when he encourages his daughter to marry Matthew.
    This, along with the impending Japanese invasion and Mathew taking an interest in the conditions of native workers, sets the scene for the series.
    The idea behind satire is that it makes fun of the truth and the drama does so in ridiculing the last days of the formal British empire in the far east.
    The British authorities in Singapore certainly had their priorities right. At a time when Britain was allied to the Soviet Union and the Japanese Empire was poised to march through Malaya, they were still trying to deport communists back to Japanese-controlled China.
    The suspected communist is Vera Chiang (played by Elizabeth Tan), who is saved from deportation by Mr Webb. Interestingly, the colonial official who wants Ms Chiang deported believes that she is more likely to have communist sympathies because she has a high level of education. This is not to say that communists are more intelligent than reactionaries but it also exposes the fear-based mind-set of late colonial officialdom.
    We also see army officers unable to make decisions, which is seen as an important quality in wartime. Meanwhile an Air vice-marshal believes that Japanese militarism can be explained by that country’s high consumption of fish.
    The series uses panoramic camera angles, or more than likely CGI, to show the daily bustle of the city state. This includes British soldiers patrolling Singapore’s poorer areas and shots of the island’s wildlife.
    With a second lockdown increasingly likely, television studios will inevitably close. My advice is to enjoy as much television drama whilst you can.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Striking the middle road

by Ben Soton

Strike: Lethal White by J K Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith). Adapted for TV by Tom Edge. Director: Susan Tully. Stars: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Natasha O’Keeffe and others. Recently shown on BBC1 and still available on BBC iPlayer.

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, recently stated the bleeding obvious, namely that there is a link between biological sex and gender. A number of Trans-activists blew their gaskets over this issue, accusing her of being the devil incarnate. Rowling, who is often wrong on key issues such as the European Union (EU), is also the author of the Cormorant Strike novels, writing under the name of Robert Galbraith. Lethal White, the recent BBC Sunday night drama, features Tom Burke as the Private Detective Cormoran Strike and Holly Grainger as his assistant Robin Ellacott.
    For the last few series, they have kept viewers wondering if romance is on the cards. Meantime, Strike has had numerous partners and Ellacott has married. At the end of the third episode however, Ellacott left her adulterous and boring husband whilst Strike was dumped by his girlfriend.
    The story has two distinct themes: corruption in high places and law breaking in low places. Ellacott, who with a slight northern accent comes from a neither particularly high nor low background, is able to infiltrate both places. In one episode with a new hairdo she passed as an intern for a Government Minister whilst faking a posh accent. In another episode and a change of clothes she posed as a teenage political activist whilst exaggerating her own Yorkshire accent. It is probably true that those in the middle are best apt at impersonating those at the bottom as well as those lower down the social scale.
    The narrative that Rowling is promoting forms the basis of a myth; namely that decent people in the middle are the victims of both a corrupt elite and social scum at the bottom. The drama actually gives an example of well-heeled types cavorting with petty criminals because they have access to class A drugs.
    Depending on where the middle actually begins and ends, this argument can appear convincing. Working people have little time for drug dealers and petty criminals; during the last election whilst campaigning for the Labour Party I was inundated with complaints of drug dealing around council estates on top of Labour’s failure to honour the Brexit Referendum. Although convincing, the argument is still flawed.
    Ultimately, who really holds state power in the country? Which group owns the greater proportion of the nation, or for that matter the world’s wealth? Who is responsible for numerous world wars, the slave trade and imperialism?
    Most petty criminals earn less than the minimum wage and live chaotic lives, few drive BMWs. Obviously under socialism these people would be subject to re-education and if this did not work, they would face the full force of the law.
    The notion of decent people in the middle being equally oppressed by those above them has been used by centre-right politicians for years and a narrative promoted by the likes of Tony Blair. Ultimately it lets the real enemy off the hook; although unlike others scapegoated these people are not totally faultless.

A united front over coronavirus

Labour and the unions formed a united front this week to call for an extension of the coronavirus furlough scheme beyond its cut-off date at the end of October. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady is urging the Government to act to prevent “a tsunami of job losses” that will follow while the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer calls for “urgent talks” with Boris Johnson to set up “new targeted support” when the job-retention scheme ends.
     But while there’s no doubt that the Prime Minister can be swayed by mass pressure – as his past U-turns on many key issues have shown – the response of the Johnson team on this issue has not gone beyond the usual platitudes regularly used by the ruling class to fob off plebeian demands.
    Chancellor Rishi Sunak says he will be “creative” in helping people find work. He says it’s his “top priority” but “indefinitely keeping people out of work is not the answer” while Employment Minister Mims Davies hedged his bets by suggesting that there could be a more targeted approach when the Chancellor unveils his budget later in the year.
     The Labour leader told the “virtual” TUC Congress that “a better approach is possible” which in Starmerspeak means when Labour is next back in office. Under our ludicrous fixed-term parliament rules that possibility, barring a dramatic split in the Tory party, will not arise until after the May 2024 general election. That leaves the ball in the unions’ court.
     While the RMT is calling for a fight against austerity in the transport sector the senior officers of Unite and Unison, the giant unions that dominate the TUC, talk about “new deals” and no return to the “pre-pandemic normal”. But all we’ve seen at the moment is the support of some of the smaller unions for the People Before Profit campaign – which is calling for an “emergency programme for jobs, services and safety”
     Words must be turned into action to stop another round of austerity to make the workers’ pay for the coronavirus crisis. The unions have a central role in mobilising the workers to demand state intervention to restore the economy and stave off mass unemployment .
    Meanwhile Johnson’s plan to revise promises made to Brussels last year that would jeopardise Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit status has sparked off another Remainer revolt amongst the Tories in parliament. The Eurocrats say it may scupper any hope of a favourable UK post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union while Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington says there is “absolutely no chance” of a US-UK trade deal passing through Congress if the Good Friday Agreement is undermined.
    Starmer has wisely decided to keep a low profile during the current row within the Tory ranks over Brexit. The man who was seen as the Labour Remainers’ front-runner seems to have had a Pauline conversion, “I accept that the Leave-Remain divide is over,” he said in last week’s Sunday Telegraph. The country needs — and wants — to move on . . . from this torturous debate”.
    Starmer clearly has his eye on next year’s Scottish, regional and local elections which will the first test of his leadership since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn earlier in the year. Whether he has genuinely seen the light or is merely seeking to win back the swathe of Labour voters who swung to the Tories in the northern “red wall” over Brexit at the last election remains is clearly debatable.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Hobson’s choice

 We’re now into the campaign season of US politics and as the spin from both wings of the American ruling class drifts over the Atlantic the pundits of our venal media try to make sense out of the lies and smears coming from the Republican and Democrat camps.
    Last weekend the Trump administration’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, claimed that the drop in the unemployment rate to 8.4 per cent in August and the addition of 1.4 million jobs was evidence that the American economy is recovering from the worst of the turmoil inflicted by the coronavirus plague.
    “The American economy is rebounding,” Mnuchin said, adding that Donald Trump “is going to get it back. The economy is continuing to recover, and we won’t quit until everyone is back to work”.
    But this was ridiculed by Senator Kamala Harris, the running mate of Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, last weekend. She described Trump as “an abject failure and incompetent” in handling the economy during the pandemic and said Trump only gauges how well the economy is doing “on how well rich people are doing”.
    While that’s undoubtedly true much the same could be said about the Democrats. The Biden camp have made no substantial promises to American workers in this election. Biden talks about tackling the coronavirus pandemic which The Donald has done little or nothing to halt. But he’s got no plan to end the health care crisis. Biden has even said that as president he would veto a Medicare for All bill, should one reach his desk. His campaign is essentially simply a call to get rid of Donald Trump.
    Trump, of course, is a deeply divisive figure who has enraged millions of American workers by his support for racist cops following the upsurge on the street after the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in May. Nor is he a man of peace.
    Trump’s track record may not be as bad as Obama’s or that of the Bush clan. Trump did break the deadlock with Democratic Korea with face-to-face talks with Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But what little he promised he failed to deliver.
    Trump supports Zionist Israel, and its oppression of the Palestinian Arabs, to the hilt. He’s stepped up the blockades against Venezuela and Iran and launched a trade war against People’s China. US troops are still in Afghanistan, Iraq and northern Syria. American dollars have financed the reactionary cliques that have come to power in parts of Latin America in recent years while US ‘military advisers’ prop up feudal Arab tyrants and Ukrainian reactionaries.
    Joe Biden’s no better. Biden criticises Trump for being soft on China and Democratic Korea. He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the attempts to overthrow the Venezuelan government and, like Trump, he’s a staunch supporter of Israel.
    America’s communists are divided. The Communist Party USA and the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation are supporting Biden to get Trump out while others, like Workers World, believe that the only campaign that really matters is on the street.
    Trump and Biden are neck and neck in the opinion polls. No one can safely predict the outcome of the November poll. What is certain is that neither candidate poses any threat to the interests of America’s ruling circles. Whether the massive wave of unrest that is sweeping America at the moment can provide the basis for a militant, working-class resistance to the capitalist class in the United States remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The worst of the worst

This week that worthy tome, the Washington Post, concluded that Mike Pompeo, the USA’s foreign minister, was “the worst secretary of state in history”, in an article that claimed Pompeo had defied legal mandates from Congress, ordered staffers to carry out errands for himself and his family, and fired the State Department's inspector general who was investigating Pompeo's violations.
    In an opinion piece published on Monday, Jackson Diehl said Pompeo “has failed to fill dozens of senior positions at the State Department, and hundreds of career diplomats have left or been driven out in political purges”.
    Diehl wrote that the State Department's morale is at an historic all-time low, citing surveys which showed that people who think senior leaders of the State Department “did not maintain high levels of honesty and integrity” grew by 34 per cent between 2016 and 2019.
    Pompeo didn’t have to fall far to fall foul of the bogus moral high-ground of the Washington Post, the American daily owned by the Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, who is said to be the richest man in the world. Nor was the Post the first to condemn Trump’s top diplomat. A senior American journalist, Thomas L Friedman, said as much in the New York Times in May.
    “I don’t know much about Pompeo’s time as head of the CIA, except that he was notorious for spending long hours at the White House sucking up to Trump. But I do know he has been the worst secretary of state in American history, without a single diplomatic achievement,” Friedman said. “I know you thought that Rex Tillerson had retired that title. Tillerson was ineffective, but Tillerson had integrity and ethics. Pompeo has none. American taxpayers deserve a refund from him for his education at West Point.”
    Smears and innuendos are par for the course during US presidential campaigns, and the Democrats are naturally out to get Trump and all who serve him. But the attacks on Pompeo, who apparently once harboured ambitions of his own for the Oval Office, reflect a much deeper malaise with America’s ruling circles.
    There was a bourgeois consensus around US imperialism’s renewed bid for world domination that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Republicans called it the “new world order” whilst the Democrats’ preferred term was “globalisation”. The break-up of the USSR and the restoration of capitalism in the former people’s democracies in Eastern Europe was soon followed by “regime change” wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya, to sweep away any government that stood in the way of imperialist plunder.
    But when there’s oppression, resistance soon follows. American dreams of colonising Iraq were shattered by the partisans in the streets of Baghdad. The NATO drive to overthrow the popular front government in Syria has been beaten back, and the resistance in Ukraine has kept the fascists out of Crimea and the Donbas. In Hong Kong, the people have overcome imperialist attempts to overthrow the legitimate autonomous government. Trump’s Middle East “deal of the century” got no Arab takers apart from the Zionists who drew it up in the first place and the feudal Arab Emirati princes who rely on American guns to prop up their thrones. Meanwhile, the masses are closing ranks around the Lukashenko government in Belarus to stave off a Ukraine-style NATO coup.
    Although Mike Pompeo has become a scapegoat for the total failure of US foreign policy he is, after all, only following in the footsteps of his predecessors, which include Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and the greatest American Machiavelli of them all, Dr Henry Kissinger.

Monday, September 07, 2020

I’m all right Jack…?

by Ray Jones

“Individualism is the product of private ownership…” *

 Whilst a degree of co-operation and collectivism is essential for humans to survive and to produce what they need in the way of food and shelter etc, the rise of capitalism produced an emphasis on the individual not seen before in the name of increased profits.
    In the early days the theory and practice were severe, capitalists must be allowed the freedom to exploit their workers to the limit, free of any legal or moral restriction, whilst workers must be free to move about and sell their labour power to any employer that needs it.
    Workers must not join together to demand better pay, they should stand alone and beg from the boss – one person (very poor) against one person (very rich), that’s fair isn’t it?
    The family was pressured to conform to a pattern of one man, one woman and their children, the so-called nuclear family. This was considered the optimal unit for economic efficiency and labour flexibility.
    The patriarchal nature of society was continued by making the male the head of the household with an assumption that he will be the main bread winner, whilst if she works outside the home the woman will still look after the children and do most of the domestic work.
    This pattern did not in fact suit many workers. Many people needed more co-operative forms to cope with their problems under capitalism, such as extended families with the elderly at home to help with child-care and the chores, and adult kids who still need a home. And of course gays, lesbians and transsexuals were not taken into account, except to illegalise them and drive them underground.
    Since then, Capitalism has of course given ground and many things have changed over the years due to its internal problems, the resistance of the workers and, it must be said, its successes. But it’s worth remembering that there are neo-liberals who still aimed for these conditions.
    The capitalist state has not been able to just sit back and let individuals get on with it. The individualist philosophy of laissez-faire has not worked, and they have been forced to intervene to defend the system and to try to keep it flowing smoothly. The amount it intervenes is an ongoing debate within the ruling class that often get heated and divides them into parties. Different bourgeois economists produce different theories as to how much state intervention is desirable, and the capitalists veer from one to the other.

“…society, based on private ownership, inevitably splits into hostile classes, produces class antagonism and social inequality, and is accompanied by the exploitation and oppression of the popular masses by a small ruling class.”*

The USA is often considered the most individualist of modern capitalist societies and this is re-enforced by the mythology of the Wild West – the hard-working man (with or without his hard-working woman) scraping a living against the elements, the Indians (Native Americans) and often what there was of the state on the frontier. This picture of course ignores much of reality, as the settlers included many who immediately formed small towns to provide the necessities and small luxuries of life. These small towns then sometimes grew quite rapidly into cities, with all the complexities that entails.
    Ironically the iconic figure of the Wild West, the lawman/gun-for-hire (often the same person played both roles – sometimes at the same time!) needs the setting of the town for his existence; he needs a community to employ him or that he can terrorise.
    Understandably, individualism is strongest in the areas of the USA that remain wildernesses or semi-wildernesses. Here, often long distances from major cities, people are forced to be as self-reliant as possible and have often chosen this way of life. They feel alienated from the local state authorities and even more so from the federal government and resent any intervention by them as attacks on their freedom.
    But the antagonistic attitude of individualism is not confined to individuals, it pervades the whole of society where each community is at odds with the others. It’s possible to see these off-grid semi-hermits as the bottom rung of a ladder of antagonism in the USA. Above them are the small towns that they try to avoid as much as possible and which in turn distrust the large cities, which in their turn look down on the small towns whilst objecting to any actions of the federal government that might infringe their rights. Of course, needs operate to keep the whole together and in ‘good times’ they rub along, but in problem periods and in crisis relationships can get very strained indeed.
    The racist murder by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis displayed an example of the conflicts. Following the murder, President Donald Trump sent federal officers into the city (not to help arrest the culprits but to put down the protesters against the crime!). Such was the feeling against what was seen as federal interference virtually the whole city, Democrat and Republican, turned against him and demanded their withdrawal.
    In contrast, socialism is built on the need of working people for co-operation and collectivism. A workers’ state that is built by and for the workers cannot be in constant conflict with them, and any conflicts that arise must be dealt with and not allowed to become severe.
    With socialism, individuals are encouraged to find real freedom and real independence within their collectives – in their unions, residents associations, councils etc – which now have real powers. Instead of being isolated individuals whose influence is minimal, they can express their feelings and ideas there and have them considered and possibly adopted by their comrades.

“History shows that independence for the masses cannot be realised by a society based on individualism…a society based on individualism must be replaced by a society based on collectivism, by socialism and communism.” *

* quotes from Kim Jong Il, leader of the DPR Korea, Socialism is a Science. Pyongyang 1994.