Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A very British hit list

 by Daria Bedenko

The Black Book: The Britons on the Nazi Hitlist: Sybil Oldfield, 448 pp, Profile Books London 2020; Hardback £25 ; Paperback £9.99 Kindle £8.85

The Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, had a plan for the invasion of the United Kingdom in 1940.It was called Operation Sea Lion. But the Germans failed to achieve air and naval superiority over the English Channel and the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain
    Now new details of the failed plan have come to light. Author Sybil Oldfield, in a book titled The Black Book: The Britons on the Nazi List, looks at those who would be the first to go if Hitler had won. The Nazi ‘Black Book’ hit-list contains the names of over 3,000 prominent British subjects who would be rounded up by the Germans had they succeeded in occupying Britain.
    Those on this ‘Black Book’ list were to be placed under house arrest or thrown into “newly constructed camps”. Some could face an even worse fate.
    SS Colonel Franz Six, a professor tasked with leading the elimination of any opposition to the Nazis in Britain, was green-lighted to “set up Einsatzgruppen [paramilitary SS death squads]… as the situation dictates and the necessity arises”, Oldfield says.
    The Black Book was intended to serve as a handbook for troops occupying the UK while also containing names of people subject to arrest. Compiled under the oversight of SS Colonel Walter Schellenberg it claimed Jews in the media promoted “anti-German influence” and that “almost the whole of Britain was really controlled by very rich, assimilated British Jews”.
     “Once I so quickly discovered that these anti-fascist Britons … were marvellous human beings — brave, humane, intelligent — the more I wanted to learn more and then share it,” Oldfield told The Times of Israel.
    Among those included in the blacklist were Winston Churchill along with his cabinet; senior Labour politicians, trade unionists; well-known pre-war anti-fascists and many British Jews. They included the man who later became the first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann; Oscar Deutsch, the owner of the Odeon cinema chain; film producers Ivor Montagu and Isidore Ostrer; and Lords Melchett and Bearsted from the financial sphere.
    The list also included Albert Einstein as well as nuclear physicist Leo Szilard and Black singer Paul Robeson, although all three had already fled to the United States.
`    The round up didn’t only target people. Organisations were also going to be dealt with by the Nazis. These included Penguin Books and the Left Book Club, Freemasons and the Rotary club, the Transport and General Workers Union, as well as the YMCA, the Workers’ Educational Association and the Quakers.
    Oldfield said that the main goal of her book was to find out why the listed Britons were “suspected above all others of having the potential to obstruct the successful Nazification of Great Britain” along with making sure that what she believes is a “gap” in the historical record - the efforts of those resisting fascism before the war - is filled.
     “It’s rather disturbing that the Nazis, who seem to exercise a sort of taboo fascination in popular consciousness, a forbidden darkness, always somehow get the headlines,” she said.

Kill the Bill

The bourgeois media is having a field day over the riots in Bristol which erupted last weekend. Thousands of demonstrators peacefully rallied in central Bristol on Sunday to protest against the Tory government’s proposed new police powers bill. The street violence erupted during protests against proposed Tory legislation that would sanction up to 10 years in jail for damaging memorials and give the police new powers to curb or ban public protests in the future.
    The clashes were clearly triggered by heavy-handed police attempts to disperse the protesters on Sunday evening. But claims that “professional agitators” and “anarchist” gangs were leading the assaults on the police and the torching of police vans are taken as gospel by the mainstream media while reports of police violence are routinely ignored.
     Boris Johnson was quick to condemn the violence. “I think that all that kind of thing is unacceptable” he said. “And I think that people obviously have a right to protest in this country, but they should protest peacefully and legally”.
    This was echoed by Sir Keir Starmer, the new Labour leader who said that the violence was “inexcusable” and “completely unacceptable”. Another Labour man, Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, said “smashing buildings in our city centre, vandalising vehicles, attacking our police will do nothing to lessen the likelihood of the Bill going through. On the contrary, the lawlessness on show will be used as evidence and promote the need for the Bill”.
    Yes, no, maybe. Misgivings about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill goes far beyond the opposition parties in the House of Commons including waverers in the Tory ranks like former premier Theresa May. The Johnson team clearly hope that the unrest in Bristol will sway them back into toeing the Government line. On the other hand the riots that have been the focus of the mass media over the past few days have certainly alerted the public to the dangers posed by this reactionary bill.
    The arbitrary and discretionary powers that this bill provides gives even more cover for the paying off of old scores in the name of law and order while leaving the police even more open to political pressure.
    In 1973 building workers were jailed on trumped up “conspiracy” charges for taking part in an official union picket in Shrewsbury. They were victimised as a result of pressure from the Tory Heath government and the National Federation of Building Trades Employers.
    After nearly fifty years of hard campaigning the sentences were finally overturned this week.
    In 1975 six Irishmen were jailed for life for the Birmingham pub bombings. The “Birmingham 6” convictions were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal on 14th March 1991.
    More recently we’ve seen the police brutally disperse a women’s vigil for a murder victim in London and a health service protest organiser fined £10,000 in Manchester for breaching the coronavirus regulations.
     The police don’t need more discretionary and arbitrary powers. They’ve got enough under existing legislation – and we’ve seen how that’s been abused by the heavy-handed arm of the law during the lockdowns.

Claudia Jones: A life of struggle

by Ben Soton

 The Political Life and Times of Claudia Jones: David Horsley; CPB Books & Pamphlets; London 2020, £4.95.

This pamphlet is both an insight into the life of a remarkable woman and a history of the struggles of black people in the Caribbean, the USA, and Britain. It describes the life of Claudia Jones, famous for the establishment of the Notting Hill Carnival.
     Claudia was born in Trinidad in 1915 and as a child immigrated to the United States where she joined the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA). She was deported to Britain in 1955 where she became involved in progressive and anti-racist politics as a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
    The pamphlet discusses how the CPUSA tried to tackle racism within its membership as well as US society as a whole. It also covers the highly contentious issue of whether or not Black Americans in the Deep South constitute a separate nation, a view once upheld by the CPUSA which supported self-determination for the Black Belt in the 1932 election.
     The anti-fascist nature of World War II strengthened revisionism within the CPUSA under the leadership of Earl Browder. However, Browder, who attempted to liquidate the Communist Party, was removed from the leadership and replaced by William Z Foster.
    Browder’s class collaborationist position was further weakened with the Cold War and the emergence of the pro-fascist Joseph McCarthy and the growing influence of the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy, who defended Nazi war-criminals, led a wave of persecution against progressives and communists in particular.
    I have often asked why it is acceptable or even patriotic to fly the Confederate flag in some parts of the United States. Surely the Confederacy, a state based on slavery, was not only a thoroughly reactionary one but one based on a rebellion against the United States? Perhaps our comrades on the other side of the pond should call for the banning of the Confederate flag as well as statues of slave owners on the grounds of their ‘Un-American’ activity.
    The McCarthy era with its fascist persecution led to Claudia’s deportation to Britain in 1955. Whilst in this country she was able to travel to the Soviet Union; a country that had solved its own race relations problem in a matter of years. I am told that the United States is still working on theirs.
     Throughout her life Claudia suffered from the effects of childhood tuberculosis; a condition exacerbated by her time in prison during the McCarthy era. The effects of condition led to her untimely death in 1964.
    The recent upsurge in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has led to an interest in Black History. If the BLM is to take a class based, anti-imperialist direction, rather than a corporate logo used to promote the latest pair of trainers then it is important to promote the lives of people like Claudia Jones. I strongly suggest all comrades of all colours read this pamphlet that can be ordered online on the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) website.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Tories Ahead

 The Conservatives are seven points ahead of Labour in the opinion polls that also say that some 88 per cent of the public think that the Government has done a good job getting the public vaccinated as soon as possible.
    While Boris Johnson basks in the reflected glory of the NHS’s coronavirus vaccine roll-out the future looks bleak for Sir Keir Starmer and his diminishing band of supporters. The knives are already out amid speculation that Labour is going to get a hammering in the local and regional elections in two months’ time.
    `The Blairites backed Starmer to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn and drive the Corbynistas out of the party they tried to reform during Corbyn’s time at the top table. Now they’re having second thoughts.
    Some are openly saying that Starmer is a hopeless campaigner who is clearly unelectable. Others are staying their hand -- waiting to see what actually happens in the May polls before making any move to trigger another Labour leadership contest. But who’s going to lead them?
    Not the old has-beens on Labour’s back-benches who still think Labour’s fortunes can be restored by returning to the imaginary golden age of the Blair era. Nor the others who want to lure David Miliband back across the Atlantic to lead Labour when the time comes.
    They want Miliband. Whether he wants to give up his cushy number as head of the International Rescue Committee in New York in exchange is another matter. We’ll probably never know because there are plenty of other wannabe leaders in Labour’s ranks.
    Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has got his hands full campaigning for re-election in May. But Andy Burnham, the ambitious Mayor of Greater Manchester, has set his sights on the leadership. He said as much last month while denying planning a coup to oust Starmer. Though ultimately a careerist who loyally served the Blair and Brown administrations, Burnham can also count on the support of some of the big guns in the union movement.
    One of them is Len McCluskey. The leader of Unite, the biggest union in the country, told us in October that “Andy Burnham has been doing a fantastic job in speaking up for and defending the people he has been elected to serve. Unite members will be forever grateful to him for fighting the corner of the low-waged and those in insecure employment, the vulnerable and the young, all of whom are paying the heaviest price of this dreadful virus”.
     Grateful or not Labour’s rank-and-file are not consulted over Starmer while the Corbynistas are left fighting a losing battle against the bureaucracy’s suspensions and expulsions.
     Rebecca Long-Bailey, Starmer's closest rival in last year's leadership contest, has been sidelined. Momentum, with its claimed 40,000 plus membership, is a broken reed.
     Nevertheless the New Communist Party’s electoral policy is still to vote Labour. It’s not because we think a Labour government can solve the problems of working people. We know that isn’t possible in a bourgeois “democracy”. Our policy exists because it is based on the concrete conditions that exist in Britain today.
    In our view a Labour government with its continuing links with the trade unions and the co‑operative movement, offers the best option for the working class in the era of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.
    Our strategy is for working class unity and our campaigns are focused on defeating the right‑wing within the movement and strengthening the left and progressive forces within the Labour Party and the unions to create a truly democratic Labour Party that will carry out the demands of organised labour when in office.

The Red Button Year

by Ben Soton

Romance and Revolution: Red-Button Years, Volume 2: by Ken Fuller, 410pp, Independently published 2020 Paperback £12.99; 410pages, Kindle £5.99

The second volume of Ken Fuller’s trilogy continues the story of the London and Provincial Union of Licenced Vehicle Workers (LPU), also known as the ‘Red Button’ union. The story begins in 1917 where the effects of rationing start to take their toll, whilst growing industrial militancy and opposition to the war result in the draconian Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). Many working-class men, including transport workers, find themselves called up to fight in the imperialist war. Meanwhile, rays of hope appear across Europe with the Russian revolution which gave birth to the Soviet Union.
    Possibly the success of Fuller as an author is his ability to include just about the right amount of detail regarding the machinations of union politics; enough detail to inform but not enough to bore the reader. Meanwhile he is able to interweave key historical events into his story whilst spicing it up with romance.
    Fuller keeps the reader abreast of the historical reality by including imagined meetings between government officials while using interventions from Theodore Rothstein to outline events in Russia and Germany. Events covered in the novel include the 1918 London Women Transport Workers’ Strike, the Metropolitan Police strikes of 1918 and 1919, and the army mutinies of 1919.
    Mickey Rice, a rising star in the LPU, remains the central character. With the death of his girlfriend Dorothy Bridgeman in an air-raid at the end of the first novel, Mickey finds himself single again. He soon finds himself romantically entwined with his late girlfriend’s mother, Ines Bridgeman.
    Perhaps a touch of Mrs Robinson from The Graduate in reverse this relationship, which has little future, is an exploration of Edwardian morality. Dorothy’s parents had been in an essentially sexless marriage since the birth of their children; after her daughter’s death Ines finds sexual liberation with her dead daughter’s boyfriend.
    Meanwhile Mickey’s love life is further complicated when he becomes involved with Annette Fré, the daughter of a Belgian socialist living in exile. Surprisingly, Ms Fré is not at all happy with Mickey and Ines’ relationship. As the novel draws to a close there is talk about the establishment of the Communist Party of Great Britain; with this in mind we start to see more of a certain Harry Pollitt.
    The closing chapters of the book set the scene for the final novel in the trilogy. There is the prospect of amalgamation between the Red Button and more moderate Blue Button unions, although within two years the amalgamated unions would become part of the Transport & General Workers’ Union under the leadership of the notorious Ernest Bevin, who also appears in the novel.



Monday, March 15, 2021

Defending Imperialism

Sir Keir Starmer says “Labour’s foreign policy will always be rooted in our values”. He tells the Fabian Society’s New Year conference that “we’re proudly patriotic. And we’re proudly internationalist too. I believe that after a decade of global retreat Britain needs to be a far stronger and more confident voice on the international stage”. Brave words right out of the Blairite stable that includes the entire lexicon of imperialism’s “human rights” gang as well as the “ethical foreign policy” of former foreign minister, Robin Cook. But what does all this guff actually mean?
    Very little beyond following the twists and turns of the ruling circles in Britain and the United States that have launched a new “America’s Back” propaganda drive to justify a new NATO offensive to restore imperialist hegemony throughout the Third World.
    After the Second World War a much weakened Britain sheltered behind the American eagle in a “special relationship” that the ruling class believed would defend their global imperialist interests. At the same time they tried to play off a renascent Europe against the USA. This trans-Atlantic bridge between Franco-German and American imperialism was the basis of post-war British foreign policy until the Blair era.
    Now Starmer talks about Britain “once again being the bridge between the US and the rest of Europe”. But Tony Blair burnt that bridge when he broke with France and Germany to fully support the Americans in the first Gulf war.

Defending the NHS

The media frenzy around latest rift between the Queen and her wayward son, Prince Harry and the subsequent departure of Piers Morgan from his presenting role on ITV's popular Good Morning Britain show following controversial comments he made about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has conveniently enabled the bourgeois media to, once again, push the derisory NHS pay rise on to the back burner.
    Labour has, for sure, renewed its attack on the government’s one per cent pay offer, calling it “reprehensible” and claiming that a 2.1 per cent rise had previously been budgeted in the Government’s long term plan for the health service.
    Shadow Secretary of State, Lisa Nandy, rightly told the media:: "The government, to be clear, is not planning a pay rise ... that is a real-terms pay cut because it doesn’t keep up with inflation and for nurses to be offered a pay cut is just reprehensible in our view”.
    Labour constantly reminds us that the NHS was the jewel in the crown of the tranche of social-democratic reforms passed by the post-war Attlee government. But harping on about past glories is no substitute for serious campaigning. The Starmer leadership needs to do much more than this if it seriously hopes to regain the trust of millions of working-class voters that abandoned the Labour Party over Brexit at the last election.

1837: The Murder of Elijah Lovejoy

by Chris Mahin

His killing by racists shocked the conscience of America – and led to a nationwide outpouring of indignation, just as the murder of George Floyd did many years later. His murder constituted a brutal attack on freedom of the press – long before a president denounced “fake news” and cheered on physical assaults against journalists. This year, as the United States grapples with its long history of racial oppression and the ongoing efforts to muzzle the media, it’s important to honour the memory of 19th century anti-slavery journalist Elijah Lovejoy, killed 183 years ago.
    At about three o’clock in the morning on November 7th  1837, the steamboat Missouri Fulton unloaded a printing press it was delivering to the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois. The printing press was brought into a warehouse owned by a businessman sympathetic to the fight against slavery. That printing press was supposed to produce the Alton Observer, an anti-slavery newspaper edited by Elijah Lovejoy, a 34-year-old Presbyterian minister. Soon, a drunken mob of 200 people began throwing stones. When attempts were made to set the warehouse’s roof on fire, Lovejoy emerged from inside the building in an effort to stop the burning. Five shots rang out, killing him.
    The mob broke apart the printing press and threw the pieces into the Mississippi river. It was not the first time that one of Lovejoy’s presses had been destroyed. Lovejoy began his journalistic career in St Louis in the mid-1830s. There, his printing press had been demolished and his home burglarised because of his anti-slavery editorials. In May 1836, Lovejoy was forced to flee St Louis. He moved his family across the Mississippi river to the town of Alton in the free state of Illinois. There, he continued to editorialise against slavery. Pro-slavery mobs in Alton destroyed his presses several times. Each time, Lovejoy obtained a new printing press and continued to speak out against slavery.
    The death of Lovejoy set off a chain of events which transformed America. Public meetings of protest were held throughout the North and Midwest. Former President John Quincy Adams described Lovejoy as America’s first martyr to freedom of the press and the freedom of the slave. Abraham Lincoln denounced the killing. The great orator Wendell Phillips launched his life-long campaign against slavery and injustice with a heartfelt speech in Boston’s Faneuil Hall condemning Lovejoy’s murder. At a meeting in Ohio, John Brown stood up, raised his hand – as if swearing an oath – and pledged to dedicate the rest of his life to the fight against slavery.
    The horrific murder of Lovejoy helped people understand that slavery was wrong and that it not only destroyed the freedom of the enslaved, but also endangered the freedom of the people of the North and West as well.
     Like the young activists protesting in the streets today, the abolitionists of the 19th century felt an obligation to speak out against the most horrific wrongs of their generation. In Lovejoy’s time, the 10,000 families that controlled the largest Southern plantations (and owned most of the slaves in the United States) completely dominated the political life of the country. That handful of people, a tiny percentage of the 30 million human beings then residing in the United States, were prepared to do anything necessary to maintain their political control. (They certainly showed that by killing Lovejoy.) Today, one per cent of the population of the United States controls the vast majority of the wealth and dominates the political life of the country.
    Elijah Lovejoy was forced to flee the city of St Louis in May 1836. The Dred Scott case which ended with a vicious, racist US Supreme Court decision denying the humanity of African Americans was first filed in St Louis in April 1846. In November 2020, Cori Bush, an African American nurse active in the fight against police brutality, was elected to the US House of Representatives — representing St Louis. The spirit of Elijah Lovejoy and Dred Scott lives on in all those who continue the struggle for justice today and who persevere in the fight to end the domination of this country by the wealthy one per cent.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Bailing out the Bosses

The Budget took place on Wednesday, a most inconvenient time for the New Worker. However as the days are long gone when it was customary for Chancellors to resign if so much as a paragraph appeared in the newspapers beforehand, we have a good idea of what it contains without recourse to a crystal ball.
    Regardless of the details, it will safe to assert the Budget, despite the rhetoric, will be designed for the benefit of the capitalist class rather than the working class even if a few crumbs are allowed to fall from the rich man’s table, but these crumbs are solely for the purpose of keeping the working class from grumbling too much. The extension of the furlough scheme until September might be regarded as a good thing, but the fact that a Tory Chancellor thinks it will be needed is a sign that the economy will not be making the promised bounce back any time soon despite the Chancellor’s claims the economy will be back to normal by the middle of next year. The Trades Union Congress has demanded that it be continued until the end of the year.
    What is not said is often as significant as what is said. Workers in the NHS have had a real-time 19 per cent pay cut since the joyous days of the last Labour Government came to an end according to the public sector unions. While they got plenty of Thursday evening rounds of applause in the early days of the pandemic it proved impossible to exchange claps in shops. Unions wants a 15 per cent rise, but it that seems to have been ruled out. Campaigning group Disabled People Against Cuts have denounced the Treasury’s refusal to extend the modest temporary £20 Universal Credit increase which has been a lifeline for many.
    Obviously the Tories have more important priorities. One of their deserving causes is the Beerage. A £150 million fund is to be established to help community groups acquire their local pubs if the breweries want to off-load them if they are not profitable enough. No doubt such funding, of up to £250,000 matching funding will be carefully distributed in marginal constituencies.
    Another deserving cause is offering free “MBA style” management training for firms who are not terribly clever at doing their job.
    Bread and Circuses are to the fore in both a £300 million fund for sport and £400 million for the arts. He has promised £25 million of new funding to support grassroots football, which is claimed will build about 700 new pitches up and down the UK. That might go some way to reverse a decade of schools being forced sell their sports fields for housing, and perhaps to compensate for the closure or privatisation of council run sports facilities.
    To keep the luvvies happy £400 million is going to the arts which has been more or less entirely closed for a year. While we need not shed too may tears for the fat ladies and men of Covent Garden and Glynebourne many who work in the sector are freelancers who have fallen through the many cracks in the schemes set up for the self-employed.
    Other deserving causes include the shopocracy who are to get £5 billion for the benefit of some 700,000 shops, restaurants, hotels, hair salons, gyms and other businesses in England, struggling High Street shops and hospitality firms in England, with similar largesse for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
    To benefit the property market the Chancellor will bringing back 95 per cent mortgages which in future years will provide a boom for advisors in handling debt problems. Launching a council house building programme was unlikely to be on the pre-Budget discussions.

Ducking and diving in Vichy France

By Andy Brooks

Szkolnikoff: Hitler’s Jewish smuggler: by Pierre Abramovici, Pen & Sword Books. Barnsley 2016, 223 pp, illus, £19.99. ISBN 978-1-47386-186-2 (hardback)

The popular perception of France under the German occupation is moulded by war-time propaganda that has echoed down the decades in a seemingly endless stream of films and TV dramas that portray the Germans as Nazi thugs who take anything they fancy from a helpless French population while spivs, much like Private Walker in Dad’s Army, use the consequential shortages to exploit their own people on the street. But this is only part of the story.
     That indeed was the reality for some. But for others it was more complex. Thousands of French men and women collaborated with the Germans under the reactionary Petain regime that took over after the 1940 armistice which left northern France under continued German military occupation. Some were French fascists who believed in Hitler’s ideology of hate. Others simply thought that they were playing safe on the mistaken belief that Germany was going to win the war. On the way some made a bit of money out of the Germans. Others made immense fortunes
     In June 1945 the charred body of a man was found dumped in a field near Madrid. He was Mendel Szkolnikoff. Born in Russia in 1895 he was a Karaite, a member of a small breakaway Jewish sect that was exempt from the anti-semitic laws of the Czarist empire. This worked in his favour in the 1940s because the Nazis did not consider the Karaites to be Jews either.
    Szkolnikoff started life as a petty trader in Czarist Russia before fleeing the Soviet Union in the late 1920s to run a number of small businesses from modest apartments in western Europe.
     This all changed following the fall of France in 1940. Within weeks of the armistice Szkolnikoff becomes a major player in the textile industry as a middleman between French manufacturers to supply fabrics and clothing to the SS, the Luftwaffe and the German navy. Literally from rags to riches “Michel” Szkolnikoff, as he calls himself now, is buying chateaux in France, mansions in Monte Carlo and stashing millions away in bank accounts in Monaco, Spain and Switzerland.
     How he got there and why he came to a sticky end are questions that the author, Pierre Abramovici, tries to answer in this life of what, clearly, was an extraordinary man.
     Nazi Germany, still at war with Britain and soon to be embroiled in what proved to be a fatal confrontation with the Soviet Union, wanted everything France could produce to help their war effort. As Vichy France was technically now neutral under the terms of the 1940 armistice the Germans had to pay for their imports. But the harsh economic regime that they had imposed on France, which included a colossally overvalued 20 to one exchange rate between the Vichy franc and the Reichmark meant that the French state ultimately always ended up footing the bill.
    Though the Petain regime encouraged collaboration few French manufacturers wanted to directly deal with the Germans. And this is where Szkolnikoff made his mark. He knew the power of expensive gifts that only money can provide. With a well-connected German wife and an ever expanding range of contacts within the German hierarchy and the Vichy establishment “Michel” built up a spectacular black market empire as well as a personal fortune said to be worth £377 million in today's money.
     This is a specialist book that tells us more about the methods than the man. But by shining a light on the murky world of the war-time black market it will remain essential reading for all students of the German occupation of France in the Second World War.

A tale of the Troubles

by Ben Soton

Bloodlands, BBC TV mini-series 2021, Dir: Pete Travis; Starring: James Nesbitt, Charlene McKenna, Lorcan Cranitch, Peter Balance, Lisa Dwan

This BBC1 Sunday night drama is a reminder that Northern Ireland has seen over twenty years of relative peace since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The series is also a reminder of the fragility of this peace and will remain fragile as long as Ireland remains divided. Recently Britain’s departure from the European Union has shown the economic stupidity of partition. Although a united Ireland inside the EU might be something of a frying pan fire scenario this is something the Irish People need to decide themselves.
    A former IRA commander turned businessman goes missing; whilst a mass grave is uncovered on an island. Attention is drawn to a serial killer known as Goliath who in the days before the Good Friday Agreement carried out a killing spree with a view to scuppering the peace process. With the former IRA man’s death old tensions re-emerge; Sein Fein politicians demand action and street violence breaks out across the Six Counties.
    The job of catching the murderer goes to DCI Tom Brannick (played by James Nesbit) and his assistant DS Charlene McKenna played (by Niamh McGovern). This is the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI); an improvement on the highly sectarian Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). However, the tensions brought about by the murder are a test as to whether or not things in the north of Ireland really have changed enough.
     Brannick is a Protestant whilst an old rival and Catholic, Jackie Twomey, (played by Lorcan Cranitch) is brought in to lead the investigation; largely to appease the angry Republicans. Meanwhile there are questions being asked as to whether the RUC tried to cover up the original murders. Like all good dramas Bloodlands contains a number of sub-plots; whilst it contains enough tension to keep viewer in their seats. Nesbit, aged fifty-six, is still able to play the all-round hard man with a chip on his shoulder; whilst other characters seen to revolve around his.
     Bloodlands comes at a time when Northern Ireland’s position within the UK is being questioned with positive developments in the rest of Ireland. In the Republic the two main right-wing parties formed a grand-coalition to keep Sein Fein out of office amid calls on both sides of the border for a poll on Irish unity. Meanwhile Loyalist paramilitaries threaten customs officers for carrying out border checks on shipping from Britain. The relationship between Britain and Ireland has become like an abusive marriage, which is now reaching its tedious stage and I should point out that some divorced couples get on much better after ties have been severed.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The issue is policy!

SIR KEIR STARMER’S attempt to appeal to the supposed national sentiment of the working class by wrapping himself up with the Union Jack and talking nonsense about the “spirit of the Blitz” and a “new partnership” between Labour and businesses has clearly made little impact of the people he seeks to impress.
     After all we’ve been through under Johnson – his general incompetence and shameful handling of the COVID-19 crisis – the Tories are still a few points ahead of Labour in the opinion polls.
     The youth of today who chanted Corbyn’s name. The disillusioned workers in the northern ‘Red Belt’ who dumped Labour in favour of the Tories over Brexit. The Scots whose support Labour relied on for years. Few if any of them are likely to swayed by the “New Chapter for Britain” that Starmer unveiled in his address to the nation last week. What’s new in it you may well ask?
     The answer is, very little. Starmer conjures up the image of the post-war Attlee government that ushered in the Welfare State and built the public sector which, along with progressive taxation, helped to pay for it. But he doesn’t talk about the massive council house programme nor nationalisation of some key industries that Labour pioneered in the Attlee era. Instead, Sir Keir makes a call to arms around the 1940 Beveridge Report that laid the foundations for the ‘safety net’ reforms that underpinned state welfare and the health service during the time of the first post-war Labour government.
     But the Beveridge Report, named after the Liberal politician who drew it up at the request of Churchill’s war-time national government, was part of the bourgeois consensus which accepted that reforms would be needed to create social peace to prop up the capitalist system in preparation for the confrontation with the Soviet Union that they believed would inevitably follow the defeat of Nazi Germany.
     On the other hand, Starmer rarely, if ever, recalls the later Wilson and Callaghan governments that actually extended the public sector and the state welfare sector that the Attlee government had established.
     Although Starmer never talks about Tony Blair, whose lies over the Gulf Wars mean that he can barely show his face in public these days, his policies are essentially Blairite. Nothing for the unions, nothing for the unemployed and those on bread-line wages who queue at foodbanks, apart from the usual platitudes and clichés that right-wing social-democrats churn out in a mistaken belief that will win back the support Labour once had throughout the country. In fact, the only concrete pledges Starmer made were for start-up loans for 100,000 new businesses and a new “recovery bond” to encourage saving.
     Behind closed doors even some of the Blairites are saying that Starmer is “unelectable”. They say that Starmer lacks charisma and charm, and that he has little or no street campaigning skills. But the issue isn’t presentation – it’s policy.
     Labour is going nowhere unless it can present a clear alternative to the Tories to the electorate. The lifting of the shackles on the trade union movement and the restoration of free collective bargaining would be a start. The total restoration of the Welfare State and the public sector that helped pay for it are the minimum demands that Labour needs to make if it wants to win back the millions in the movement who once backed Labour. Putting socialism back on the working-class agenda is another matter – and that is something the communist movement must work for in the months to come.