From the Guardian. Frightening.


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Roots of the New Antisemitism

Holidaying just now, with little opportunity to comment on Britain’s crazy political situation currently, and in any case with nothing much to say that hasn’t been better said by others. But I thought I’d re-post this on the Labour ‘anti-semitism’ controversy, providing some very useful in-depth context for the whole monstrous fraud.


The next election – due soon, surely? – is going to be very difficult for Labour, with its erstwhile comrades the Jews – or some of them – joining the capitalists, nationalists, Trumpites, proto-Fascists and just plain stupid (as well as decent Conservatives) on the other side. I hope their obstruction doesn’t rebound too damagingly on the reputation of Britain’s Jewish community. Otherwise we might see a genuine left-wing anti-semitism arising, in place of this manufactured one.

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I’m beginning to warm to those Continental commentators – many of them here in Sweden – who believe that the UK, or at least the English part of it, has gone collectively mad. Electing Boris as our Prime Minister is one sure sign: except that he wasn’t of course ‘elected’ in any true sense of the word. The Monty Python-esque conduct of Jacob Rees-Mogg – ‘Member of Parliament for the Eighteenth Century’ – is another. There are rumours of Parliament’s being ‘prorogued’ in order to see a ‘No Deal’ Brexit through; followed by a General Election on the theme of ‘Parliament versus the People’. How much more ‘populist’ can you get? Dagens Nyheter recently published a piece by its (very good) London correspondent claiming that it might require the Queen to step in and stop all the nonsense: which sounds ridiculous, but is technically possible. Yesterday a Conservative MEP called for the Treason Act of 1372 to be extended to all those who profess loyalty to the European Union: https://www.businessinsider.com/conservative-mep-david-campbell-bannerman-british-people-eu-loyalty-tried-for-treason-brexit-2018-7?utm_medium=referral&utm_content=topbar&utm_term=desktop&referrer=facebook&fbclid=IwAR0XjPnAkghzwSimtYQeFcIfrPSLVVfdXT9Yqnp0hGZlIGyr8Ze18tpznFE&r=US&IR=T. ‘Patriots’, on the other hand, those who would no doubt avoid the new definition of treachery, are bad-mouthing immigrants in the streets. Then, on the edges of all this, there are the grotesque attacks on Corbyn from the Right-wing press and some in his own party – charges of spying for the Czechs and being an anti-semite, among others – which in cooler-headed times would never be credited by anyone. Where will it end? Many are now predicting a form of Fascism – a cuddly English sort – which is looking more and more likely as time goes by.

For my part, relatively secure as I am now with my new Swedish and consequently European citizenship, this seems all very sad, indeed tragic; a grotesque betrayal of the values of tolerance and compromise which used to cement my loyalty to my country of birth. I still believe that Corbyn’s way is the only one that could heal the present painful divisions in Britain: ‘Brino’, or Brexit in name only; out of the EU but still bound to it in every way possible short of formal membership, including remaining within the European common market and under the aegis of European law. That would be a generous compromise on my side. (Compromise because I’d prefer to stay in the EU.) Why won’t the Brexiteers meet us at that half-way point? Most of them will have voted in the 2016 Referendum for something close to this; having been repeatedly assured that their European trade would not be affected by Brexit. Scarcely any of them will have voted for the ‘clean break’ the present Brextremists are insisting on; an option that was never put to them. Nor, of course, did they vote for the shortages, the collapse of the pound, the flight of industry, their under-staffed hospitals and restrictions on travel that are already upon us; and the Götterdämmerung of ultimate Thatcherism that our neo-liberal leaders, and their American backers, are plotting as their next stage.

Back in Britain I can see myself being arrested under the 1372 Treason Act; or expelled from the Labour Party simply for demanding (in an earlier post: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/04/28/anti-semitism-and-labour/evidence of anti-semitism there, like Chris Williamson was. This is no time for rational debate. To call it ‘mad’ is of course an opt-out. There are reasons for all this. I think I can glimpse some of them, but I need to organise them properly. A crisis of late-stage capitalism must I think be the root cause. But I’ll come back to this.

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How Fascism Works

This – if you can get it up – is an excellent little lecture by a Yale philosopher about the origins of Fascism, given about a year ago as a warning to Americans, but updated here to include some Swedish examples; and clearly relevant in almost every detail to Boris’s Britain. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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A Special Relationship

In the early 1900s a number of British imperial zealots came to believe that the Empire could only survive in the future if it re-embraced the United States of America, and moved its capital to Washington. They were influenced by the mining capitalist Cecil Rhodes, whose will provided scholarships to Oxford University for British colonials, and also for Americans. (And, as it happened, for Germans: our ‘race cousins’.) The American and Commonwealth ones are still going. Past ‘Rhodes Scholars’ have included number of future American presidents, the most recent being Bill Clinton. The ‘Round Table’ group, as it was called, also formed a secret society to further their grand British-American imperial ends. An American historian called Carroll Quigley inferred from this that America’s foreign policy was unduly influenced on the side of Britain by this transatlantic conspiracy. That is nonsense, of course.

And yet…. Boris Johnson was born in New York, seems to have imperial sympathies, has a high regard for the current American president, and has made it pretty clear that he would favour a trade deal with the USA which most economists believe would make Britain dependent on America in a way she wasn’t while she was in the EU. Trump of course is doing all he can to tear Britain away from the EU.

One result of this could be to reduce the UK to the status of a de facto colony of America, which could be said in a way to realise the Rhodes conspirators’ vision, of an Anglo-American empire, a hundred years on. (Perhaps the US-born Boris could become its President? Apparently his ambition at an early age was to become ‘world-king’. That would really cement it.) Whether or not ‘conspiracy’ had anything at all to do with this – I very much doubt it – it seems an odd way for Britain to ‘take back control’.

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You Couldn’t Make It Up

How often over the past week have we heard or read these words, in connexion with Boris Johnson’s elevation to the leadership of the Conservative Party, and consequently of the nation; and his new Cabinet appointments? As if he wasn’t bad enough himself – a proven liar, lazy, egotistic, a philanderer, disloyal, an acknowledged disaster as Foreign Secretary, obviously poorly educated and even worse socialised (at Eton), with little going for him apart from his elderly admirers’ (his Tory Party voters’) willingness to overlook these flaws in the light of his cuddly upper-class image, his extreme Europhobia, his heady appeals to an outmoded version of British ‘pluck’ and optimism, and the chaotic political situation of the day – he has appointed the most Right-wing Cabinet since Lord Liverpool: a team of near-crooks and Brexit extremists. It includes a Home Secretary – Priti Patel – who is against LGTB equality and wants to bring back the death penalty, for pity’s sake; and the risibly eccentric Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is apparently issuing instructions to his staff never to use metric measurements, or certain words he dislikes – ‘equal’ is one – and to address all male Commoners as ‘Esq’. (Can this be true? Its source is his local North Somerset Conservative association. See https://metro.co.uk/2019/07/27/jacob-rees-mogg-bans-staff-using-word-equal-bizarre-new-rules-10470603/.)

The general consensus is that this can’t last. Johnson and his Government have Parliament to negotiate through first. Their majority there is tiny, depending on a small band of Protestant fundamentalists from Northern Ireland, whom May bribed onto her side a couple of years ago and may need to be offered more money to carry on with their support; and with many Conservative MPs wishing him no good. (I had an email yesterday from one of them whom I happen to know: ‘Boris is a horror and will always let you down’.) One assumes that a defeat of some kind – probably over a ‘No Deal’ Brexit – must be followed by a General Election which will turf him out. But there’s no guarantee of this. Tory malcontents might easily be dragooned into line by the fear of a Corbyn (‘communist, appeasing, terrorist-loving, anti-semitic’) government; or, alternatively, Labour’s electoral chances might be fatally undermined by its own divisions, fed on by clever lying propagandists from the Right. That’s how unpredictable the situation is.

So is the ‘will of the people’ just now. On Brexit it seems clear from opinion polls that a majority is against leaving with ‘No Deal’. The adverse ramifications of that are now obvious. Another thing that ought to be obvious to those who originally voted to leave as a more general protest against the upper-class ‘Establishment’, is how upper-class Establishment Boris’s new government itself is. Nigel Farage could perhaps market himself as a maverick – a champion of ‘ordinary people’ against the toffs, although looking into his background as a banker that never really rang true – but a government that includes Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Jacob William Rees-Mogg (it’s the hyphen that does it; ‘Rees’ and ‘Mogg’ would sound rather common on their own) is going to find it harder to maintain a plebeian image. Surely some Leave voters will come to realise how they’ve been conned? Which of course is one of the arguments for a ‘Second Referendum’ on Brexit.

Boris hasn’t outlined his government’s policies apart from Brexit in any great detail yet – he’s hardly had time to – but the signs are that he’s going to promise to roll back ‘austerity’. That suggests a possible new direction for an otherwise Right-wing, neo-liberal government, and a return to the approach of one of his more illustrious predecessors. No, not his favourite, Churchill, whom he’s clearly trying to ape, albeit superficially; but Benjamin Disraeli, whose slogan of ‘imperialism and social reform’ is supposed to have revived his Tory party after a period in the doldrums and won them the General Election of 1874. Among historians there are doubts about the sincerity of both these Disraelian policies – even his ‘imperialism’ didn’t amount to much. But isn’t that another thing that Boris shares with him? And also suggests a sharper but lower cunning than the shaggy old twit is currently credited with.

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Imperial Boris?

The Swedish media is full of Boris today. (I’m back there now.) Most of the reportage is pretty accurate, and less opinionated than ours.

Dagens Nyheter’s London correspondent claims that Johnson’s right-wing nationalism has less in common with Continental and American varieties, than with old-fashioned British liberal imperialism. That’s a theme I’ll be examining shortly; ultimately for the new concluding chapter of the sixth edition of my Lion’s Share, but I may share it here first.

A few weeks ago I wrote to the Head of History at Eton College, to find out what kind of British imperial history Boris could have been exposed to there. (If any. The public schools, as I understand it, have always been keener on the Greeks and Romans.) Was he – quite incidentally – recommended any of my books? They might have pricked a few illusions. I’m still waiting for an answer.

The irony of the situation for anyone with imperial ambitions, of course, is that Brexit is much more likely to reduce Britain to the status of a colony  herself; and a colony of a former colony – the USA – at that.

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Accident or Deep-Laid Plot?

It looked so unlikely to rational-minded commentators a few months ago as to make one wonder whether the entire historical process might, in fact, be governed by mere irrational chance. That, of course, would be anathema to most academic historians, who like to think that they can perceive order in events where ordinary folks can’t. Boris’s elevation to the position of ‘world king’ he has always aspired to – well, not quite ‘world’, yet, but there’s still time – suggests that anything can happen. A clown, a proven liar, a ‘nasty piece of work’ as one of his TV interviewers called him, lazy, instinctively racist, without any other real convictions, with only a brief disastrous ministerial record as Foreign Secretary, whose only political advantage seems to be that he can get the juices going in the knickers of his elderly Tory women constituents, should have had no chance at all of becoming the prime minister of any sensible country; but nonetheless rises to the frothy top of the Conservative party in 2019, and hence becomes – at 3 o’clock this afternoon – Leader of the nation. If we didn’t already have the similar example of Donald Trump in our minds – Trump himself describes Boris as ‘Britain’s Trump’ – it would have seemed impossible, even laughable. Even those old Tories must be pinching themselves to make sure it’s not just a wet dream.

The accidental factors contributing to this astonishing outcome are obvious. That it should have come down in the end to a vote among just 190,000 of the most reactionary people in Britain – the rump of the Conservative party – is the most egregious one. Countries with Presidential systems must be nonplussed. The UK’s answer is that he still has to be confirmed by MPs in Parliament and by the wider public in a General Election; but when that will come no-one can know, and in the meantime Boris is lord of all he surveys. Behind that is the utter chaos that has been caused by the dropping of Farage’s UKIP bomb both in the centre and at the edges of British politics, sending fragments of the two main English political parties – already grievously divided – flying everywhere. Theresa May’s incompetence and obstinacy, and Corbyn’s failure to mollify his critics (not all his fault) while at the same time terrifying the Tories into a hard shell of resistance, both played their part. Britain’s flawed electoral system didn’t help; as neither did the deep resentments among her people, mainly caused by ‘austerity’, which had caused the popular rising exemplified in the Brexit vote in the first place. Chaos can produce unanticipated results. Boris’s coronation is one.

In this sense there is no necessary alterity between what are often posed as opposite explanations of events: ‘conspiracy’ and ‘cock-up’. Conspiracies can be cocked up – indeed, very often are. (Look at most revolutions.) And cock-ups – or chance events, or accidents, or chaos – can be exploited by long-term conspirators in order to further their designs. In the present case the ‘conspirators’ are the neo-liberal zealots, with help from their neo-Con allies in the USA, who have for some time been plotting to unshackle capitalism from the restrictions placed on it by domestic welfareism and international agreements and alliances, of which the EU is essentially one, in order – they say, and maybe believe – to encourage freedom and growth. Because this is controversial, you won’t find it stated openly and obviously by Boris and his leading supporters; but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it underlies most of their attitudes and policies. Brexit and Boris are just the best tools currently to hand to achieve their pure capitalist utopia. Boris especially is perfect; for who could imagine that such a cuddly clown could be the vehicle for such a hard-nosed purpose? (But isn’t that how the upper classes have always survived in Britain: by adopting the personae of upper-class twits who couldn’t harm anyone?)

We’ll see how Bojo gets on. Every commentator is pointing out the difficulties of the task ahead of him. His only fuel seems to be a confected ‘optimism’. How far that will get him, in the face of the ridicule of most Britons and foreign leaders, and of the more widespread pessimism that would seem to be a more rational response to the present crisis of late capitalism, we’ll soon find out. We live in interesting, if unpredictable, times. (Remember the old Chinese curse…)

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Islam and Progress

Whether Islam has obstructed ‘modernity’ is a question worth asking, and not to be immediately condemned as ‘Islamophobic’, as Boris Johnson’s raising of it in an old book of his has been (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-islam-muslim-comments-democracy-tory-leadership-contest-a9006211.html). I’m pretty sure that Boris is an Islamophobe, but not on these grounds.

Religion of all kinds has long been recognised by scholars as an obstacle to the kind of rational thinking that is required for objective scientific enquiry, as well as to certain social and economic practices which lie behind the emergence and growth of capitalism, which Johnson seems in this instance to equate with ‘progress’. Exactly the same has been said of Catholic Christianity, from which – according to Weber and Tawney – only the Protestant form of that religion rescued it. The argument relates to dogmatic religion, not to Islam specifically; and should not be censored simply because it seems to demean Moslems. In the cases of both Islam and Catholicism it is possible to question certain details of it, with reference for example to the huge contributions made to scientific knowledge by early  Moslems and Christians, as well as by modern scholars with Moslem backgrounds (one – an emeritus Cambridge Professor of Engineering – is a particular friend of mine); and in any case the argument needs to be refined, and shorn of the Eurocentricism that clearly informs Johnson’s view of ‘modernity’, if we are to elicit from it any valuable truths. But merely mentioning the apparent difference in this regard between Islam and the ‘West’ should not be ruled off-limits because it might give rise to ‘hostility’ towards the former. That would rule out any kind of intellectual enquiry into what is, objectively, a valid and interesting hypothesis

The current hunt for Islamophobia seems to have taken on much of the character of the slightly longer pursuit of Antisemitism in the Labour Party, which in a similar way is using very peripheral ‘evidence’ to make its case. Both Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn are being lynched (metaphorically) on the basis of statements that might raise uncomfortable questions for the Jewish community, but which ought to be asked nonetheless; and cannot possibly regarded as ‘antisemitic’ in themselves. The elision between criticism of the government of Israel’s colonialism on the West Bank on the one side and Judenhetze on the other is the clearest example of this: disowned and condemned by many American, British and even Israeli Jews as well as by Gentiles. That’s because the anti-antisemites cannot produce any more direct and convincing evidence of an institutional racial antipathy towards Jews in the Labour Party; or none, at any rate, that they’re prepared to share with the rest of us. Which is what, incidentally, makes some people grasp at ‘conspiracy theories’ in order to explain this new phenomenon – it’s a Mossad or capitalist or Conservative or neo-Con plot to prevent a socialist and a critic of the state of Israel from getting into No. 10 – which the Jewish community really should be wary of provoking, in view of their past history. For what it’s worth, don’t believe it, as a deliberately organised plot, that is; but it would be the tragic depth of irony if the campaign against antisemitism itself gave rise to a new anti-semitism of this kind.

But it’s pointless saying this. Islamophobia and anti-semitism are used simply as weapons  in the current political debate in Britain. Very little thought is put into either of them. Cynical politicians know that mud sticks. Electors are not thinking people, more’s the pity. And thinking people are not taken much notice of.

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Naughty Berlioz Pic

From the Berlioz Museum in Cote Saint Andre.


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