Monday, 29 June 2009

Faith, Socialism and the Left

One thing I notice whilst trawling through the blogs of what I generally term as the 'left' is the high incidence of disdain that a number have for faith. This disdain ranges from a 'bah, humbug' attitude to a more confrontational approach, even through to what I see as an aggressive, almost childish attitude.

So why is this? What causes people to take this attitude?

Actually, I've just asked a question that has as many answers as there are people!

So perhaps a detour is in order, one which has a quick shufty at the history of the radical left of faith and how their faith exhibits itself in action and in the wider labour movement. Being English I'll (mainly) limit it to the radical English Christian tradition. And seeing as this is a blog post and not a small book we'll just run over some of the key characters and organisations, their footprint and influence. I'm also not an encyclopaedia or an expert in history, so a lot of what I have posted is only my knowledge and experience. Mind you, this could end up as rambling rubbish!

Going back a few centuries we come across John Ball, having something of a part to play in the Peasant's Revolt. Excommunicated by the church and finally executed when the establishment extracted revenge upon those involved. Famous for his sermon to the revolters at Blackheath, the famous section was

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the Gentleman?" From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

Rolling forward a few years to the time of the English Civil War we have the emergence of a plethora of radical traditions and maybe the first mass movement of people out from he control of the established church. We can label these under the title of 'English Dissenters'.

Perhaps the most famous figure in this era is Gerrard Winstanley. Winstanley argued that all land belonged to the community rather than to separate individuals. In January, 1649, he published the The New Law of Righteousness. In the pamphlet he wrote:

"In the beginning of time God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another."

Compare that with what John Ball had written and you see the continuation of a tradition formed from a radical understanding of scripture. Winstanley also established a group called the Diggers. In April 1649 Winstanley, William Everard, a former soldier in the New Model Army and about thirty followers took over some common land on St George's Hill in Surrey and "sowed the ground with parsnips, carrots and beans."

Winstanley was looking for a redistribution of land from those who had to those who had none. In 1652 he published the Law of Freedom. In this he expounded a view that officals should be in office for no more than a year and also for a society without money or wage,

"The earth is to be planted and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go into the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money."

A good review is here. Two books I can recommend reading which cover this period are The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution by Christopher Hill and The Law of Freedom' and Other Writings by Gerrard Winstanley, compiled by Christopher Hill.

Moving on a bit we come to the 19th Century and some people of faith who had a great deal of input into fledgeling labour movements.

Keir Hardie, evangelist, trade union leader, first secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, member of the Independent Labour Party, member of the Labour Representation Committee and ultimately the leader of the Labour Party.

Tom Mann, socialist, communist, trade unionist, founder of the Eight Hour League and Anglican. His writings regarding the church and social justice at the Marxist Internet Archive are worth a look. If anyone has any more information on Mann's Anglicanism throughout his life I'd be very interested!

Slightly off track to the USA with The Reverend Friar Thomas J. Hagerty, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Suspended by his Archbishop because of his agitation in encouraging strike action, he never let that get in the way of his consideration of himself as a priest. Famous words:

"The Ballot Box is simply a capitalist concession. Dropping pieces of paper into a hole in a box never did achieve emancipation of the working class, and in my opinion it never will."

Hewlett Johnson. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read about the activities of Hewlett Johnson. Radical but of limited effect, but interesting nonetheless. He is also known by the title of the 'Red Dean of Canterbury'. Best known for his unwavering support of the Russian Revolution and of the resultant Soviet Union itself. More info at the Marxist Internet Archive.

I think that'll do for now but the question still remains. Given the outworkings of radical faith in socialism and communism in centuries past, given the commitment of recent christians to furthering the lot of the working man, given the workings of the church through concepts such as liberation theology, why do many on the left have such issues with faith? Or is it that so many of faith have issues with the left? Or perhaps the answer is found in the works of Marx and Engels?
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Tuesday, 23 June 2009

'Flipper' Bercow

So we have a new Speaker in the House of not-so Commons.

Tis John 'Flipper' Bercow.

What needs to be said has been said here.

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Anglo rejects Xstrata merger move

Seems that mining giant Anglo-American has rejected an approach from Swiss-based rival Xstrata about a possible merger as "totally unacceptable". BBC News.

I wouldn't normally give a monkeys about all this financial shenanigans except that I heard this on the radio the other day, LBC it was, and the financial commentator was saying he'd like to see it go through. Fair enough. Until he said that there would be about 19,000 jobs lost and that he thought it would be worth it as it would represent an excellent opportunity.

If I was the presenter I would have smacked him in the mouth. I was one of those who once paid what Lamont said was "price that is well worth paying".
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Monday, 22 June 2009

RBS boss set for £9.6m pay deal

The Royal Bank of Scotland Group Public Limite...Image via Wikipedia

Oink Oink!

What will it take for the government and the financial industry to start acting with common sense and decency? We now have another snout deep in the trough courtesy of the tax payer and with the connivance of the government.

In 2008 the Royal Bank of Scotland made a loss of £24.1bn - the largest loss in UK corporate history. You and I, the taxpayers of this country then coughed up 20 billion quid to save the bank.

In gratitude the board then paid off Fred Goodwin with a massive pension, the likes of which a working man or woman in this land will never, ever see, a payoff for failure which sums up the corrupt, amoral and sleazy financial world.

The icing on the cake is the realisation that the new masters at RBS will be making 9000 of their staff redundant and obviously holding down wages. I spent 3 years unemployed in the 80s and I really don't know how someone can condemn loyal workers and their families to that and still have the neck to pick up a huge pay packet. Vermin, that's the politest word I can come up with, vermin, the fucking lot of them.

And the glittering decoration to the layer cake is the news that Simon Hester is to be paid a package worth up to 9.6 million quid to run the show.

Dear God, I truly believe the only hope for this forsaken country is all out revolution and a change of system. The political masters and financial string pullers are incapable of changing. They truly believe that they are so important and so far up their own arses that they really do justify the obscene salaries.

Until they can be made to share the pain, one way or the other then nothing will change.


BBC News

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George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob of The Respect Party

It's always good when political parties set out their stall and the message from MP George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob is especially welcome at this time. A good text and very little I could disagree with and something I could give whole-hearted support to.

I liked it so much I've reposted it in full from the Respect website.

Westminster in crisis - it's time for change
George Galloway MP and Salma Yaqoob

Monday 22nd June 2009

Many who once voted Labour in the hope of a fairer society now feel betrayed. The European elections saw Labour's vote collapse to just 15%. And there was a shocking breakthrough made by the BNP in the North of England.

Labour is to blame for its own crisis. And it has to take a large share of the responsibility for creating the conditions in which the far right is growing.

Labour loosened the rules that gave licence to greedy bankers to gamble away our jobs and homes.

* Labour failed to protect our public services from wasteful and costly privatisation.
* Labour has overseen growing inequality and a chronic shortage of affordable housing.
* And Labour failed to tackle the scandal of MP's expenses.

Labour's failure has helped the BNP win votes in deprived white working class communities. Labour's determination not to be outflanked by the Tories on questions of race and immigration has created fertile ground for racist arguments to win support.

When mainstream parties treat asylum seekers and immigrants as a criminal threat, it gives credibility to BNP arguments.

When national newspapers treat Muslims as the 'enemy within', the BNP feeds off this to spread hatred and division.

There is an alternative that is both practical and popular:

* The state must intervene in the economy to save and create jobs in the same way it saved the banks;
* Investment must be piled into a massive programme of house building;
* Corporate tax loopholes must be closed and the richest 1% taxed more to support the majority of the population through this recession.

Also, we need:

* Sustainability and human need, not greed at the heart of economic policy to tackle climate change;
* A genuinely ethical foreign policy;
* Protection of civil liberties;
* A clean-up of Westminster and Proportional Representation introduced.

There is a common agenda for progressive change in tune with the views of millions of people. Individually we are weak, but united we are strong.

We have strong RESPECT candidates ready for the General Election battle. But where there good Labour MPs who deserve our support we will back them. And where there are good Green Party challengers we will work with them - as we did in the European elections in the North-West and West Midlands. More people need to come forward to ensure there is a real alternative at the ballot box in many more areas.

As we approach the next General Election, all of us who support the values of peace, civil liberties and social justice must work together to deliver the strongest possible message of hope and change.

Link to the post here.

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My Inspiration #3 John Ball

John Ball (priest)Image via Wikipedia

There's something peculiar to the evolution of socialist thought and practice in England that separates it from the continental version, and that is the influence of faith. Concepts of socialism, communalism and communism have all been touched upon in the emergence and history of the radical in English thought and politics.

John Ball was a man of faith, a priest who had some pretty radical ideas about faith and community in the 14th century, which led to him being excommunicated, imprisoned and finally executed for his support of the Peasant's Revolt.

Little is known about his early life but he was known to have fame as a 'hedge priest', a priest without a parish and not linked to any priestly order. Froissart referred to him as 'the mad priest of Kent'. He was likely to have been influenced by the teachings of John Wycliffe and would have been seen to hold Lollard views. His sermon at Blackheath to the insurgents of the Peasants' Revolt show his understanding of social equality, a radical concept at the time.

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

For his part in the Peasants' Revolt he was hung, drawn and quartered in the presence of Richard II on July 15, 1381, his head subsequently stuck on a pike on London Bridge.

Were it that more like John Ball would stand in the church!
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Friday, 19 June 2009

Peru, Land and Indigenous Peoples

The Upper Amazon, PerĂºImage by Stefe via Flickr

There have been stories in the media regarding the protests by indigenous Peruvians in the north of Peru. The protests have been against the decision of the government to open up lands to drill for oil and gas, lands which the indigenous claim are tribal and ancestral to them, coupled with their belief that such exploration mark the end of what quality of life they have in the area. The protests seem to have become exceptionally violent with the deaths of dozens of protesters and police this last month.

In 2007 and in 2008 the Peruvian government passed decrees allowing these regions to be opened up to oil, mining and mineral exploration by the multinational companies. This was done in support of a free trade agreement with the US.

So once again we have seen a government riding roughshod over the wishes of the people in it's obedience to market forces, regardless of the social, economic and environmental aspects. This evidences the outworkings of capitalism and it's effect on the poor. Capitalism needs fresh markets and access to resources in order to survive. Why the pillaging of land and people in this manner needs to be a cornerstone of a so-called 'free-trade agreement' underlines the lack of soul and humanity in capitalisma nd those who practice it.

However, the good news is that the protests, both by the indigenous inhabitants, national and international groups and also protests by Peru's neighbours like Bolivia have led the Peruvian Congress to overturn these two laws. It's just a shame that so many have had to die over this.

So lessons to be learned:

  • challenge the phrase 'it's just the way it has to be'
  • protest works
  • seek support locally, nationally and internationally
While we're at it it's maybe time that corporations should be liable for the social and environmental issues they create in their race to grab profits.

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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Expenses for all MPs published

House of Commons from the TerraceImage by ruspace via Flickr

The House of Commons have finally published all the expenses and additional costs alowance for all MPs going back to 2004 as requested under the Freedom od Information Act.

And all I can say is thank God for the matey who flogged the leaked list to the press.

As expected the official list has been heavily redacted and poses more questions than it answers. All of the gasps of amazement that have been raised by the leaked list are stifled on the official list. The biggest redaction is the address of the first and second homes. So we wouldn't have been able to work out who's been flipping their houses. Quite why we shouldn't know where elected MPs live I don't know. I thought it would have been a major aspect of a free and open democracy?

Will have to have a nose round and see if the references to moats have been redacted. As it is it seems to be another way of separating a political class from the rest of us.

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Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Iraq War Enquiry

BlairiteImage via Wikipedia

So Gordon Brown has decided to launch an enquiry into the circumstances of the Iraq invasion. All well and good and not before time but a quick look at the remit and I'm left asking the question, why bother?

Let's look over it:

  • held in secret
  • no legal powers to demand documents or any other written records
  • no legal powers to compel anyone to attend
  • no requirement for evidence to be submitted under oath
  • 'not set out to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability'
  • headed by Sir John Chilcot
  • won't report for at least a year
So the public, who have supplied the soldiers whose lives have been lost in Blair's middle eastern jaunt won't get the answers they deserve, there's no guarantee of truthfulness or openness, it's headed by someone who has already exonerated the government over the issues of 'weapons of mass destruction', and the politicos are hoping they'll be long gone even if evidence of wrongdoing manages to sneak out under the radar.

Basically the establishment will decide what questions are to be asked and what answers are to be given. Which means that the end result has already been decided. So why not publish the result now and save a few bob? Because they hope that they'll be able to pull the wool over everyone's eyes and it means that the legal profession will be eligible to pick up a few million for their efforts.

I personally am convinced that the reason for the Iraq war was to keep the oil routes open and controlled by the western powers, specifically the USA.

I look forward to the day when we can ship some suspects off to the International Criminal Court.
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Monday, 15 June 2009

Pre-Pay Meters

It seems that radical and revolutionary organisation The National Housing Federation has exposed a scam of the highest order by the energy companies - high tariffs on the pre-pay meters, as the BBC reports:

Customers who use pre-payment meters have overpaid the energy companies nearly half a billion pounds over the last three years, it is being claimed.

The National Housing Federation (NHF) made the calculation using figures from Ofgem, the energy regulator.

It says higher charges paid by metered customers are in breach of EU rules and suggests clients may be entitled to claim the money back.


Now I have a number of friends and relatives who for one reason or another have ended up on the pre-pay, usually through poverty, divorce or bereavement. And without exception the money they use to fill the meter has gone, shall we say, like water.

Smart Electricity MeterImage by freefotouk via Flickr

I've always had an awareness that the rates were set higher than those for people willing or able to pay by the usual means but have never seen a way of doing anything about it. Hopefully this could be the beginning to getting recompense for those who've been screwed over by the utility companies.

Not forgetting of course that this is a first class reason for bringing the utility companies back into public ownership. Private companies serving the public in these quasi-monopolistic industries will always put the shareholder and execs salary package before the customer.
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Sunday, 14 June 2009

Al Jazeera English - Focus - Why America is a bank-owned state

Al JazeeraImage via Wikipedia

A good review of the economic crisis. Views we don't see too often in the West. I think we should as we seem to be told that there is only one way out of this predicament - for the taxpayer to bankroll the banks and their execs which got us into this mess in the first place.

I look forward to the day when we can pull down this capitalist edifice and replace it with something that contains humanity at its core.

Al Jazeera English - Focus - Why America is a bank-owned state

Shared via AddThis

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Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Campaign For Public Ownership blog has a post on the payment for work not done issue within the NHS where the request for services is farmed out to private health companies.

PRIVATE health companies have milked the NHS for £1billion for operations and treatments that were never carried out..........
Good to know my tax is going to a good cause. Well worth a read.

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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Minimum Wage Under Attack Again

A graph of the UK's National Minimum Wage over...Image via Wikipedia

Can't say I have much good to say about the Labour Party but the introduction of the minimum wage is certainly to be applauded, even if it is way too low. But true to form the Tories are seeking to smash it under the guise of helping people to get employed with the introduction of the Employment Opportunities bill. This wonderful bill wants to provide employers with the ability to duck out of the minimum wage if the prospective employee agrees. Perhaps a more apt title would be the Employer Opportunity To Pay Crap Wages. Surprised there's not a clause in there making forelock tugging before the master compulsory.

The Employment Opportunities Bill was pulled at the last minute in May but has been rescheduled for a reading at the House of Commons on June 12th. The upstanding members below are the guilty group sponsoring the bill.

Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
Peter Bone (Wellingborough, Northants)
Philip Davies (Shipley, West Yorkshire)
Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Wales)
Greg Knight (Yorkshire East)
Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Lincolnshire)
Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater, Somerset)
Brian Binley (Northampton South, Northants)
William Cash (Stone, Staffs)
Robert Syms (Poole, Dorset)
David Wilshire (Spelthorne, Surrey)

How they can sleep at night I really don't know. Let's hope this bill gets shown the door by whatever integrity may remain in Parliament. And the shower above.

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Saturday, 6 June 2009

James Purnell

Obviously it would be wrong to say that the current political unrest in the Labour Party is a cruel ploy to allow the expenses scandals to slip under the radar. Now what was it about James Purnell's expenses?

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Friday, 5 June 2009

Kinnock in the Cabinet

Former emblem of the British Labour Party, 190...Image via Wikipedia

I see in the media the flood of Blairites and careerists throwing themselves themselves out of what seems to be a Cabinet with the stability of a shopping trolley and my heart is somewhat warmed. I suppose I must be clinging to hope that this exodus gives the Labour Party a chance to pull itself back from the jaws of death, to give one herculean effort at getting the heart moving again. You see, once the mutineers cast themselves adrift Cap'n Gordo has the opportunity to bring aboard a new crew. A crew that know what makes Labour work, that are in touch with the workers with whom they reside.

But no. He's too far gone with the terminal plague that goes by the name of nulabouritis. It seems that it deprives a sufferer of reaching out to the panacea that can cure them. In fact it's worse, they appear to lose all sense of clarity and thinking. He's now gone and replaced Caroline Flint with Glenys Kinnock.

Yes, that right, Glenys Kinnock. Glenys Kinnock of the Kinnock clan of trough snufflers and party wreckers. Those who had a Damascene conversion to Thatcherism and free market economics once they realised they weren't actually up to the task of supporting the working men and women suffering whilst trying to retain the coal industry against a butcher with hands blooded red.

When I joined the Labour Party I got a little yellow folded card. On the front was the Red Flag. Inside was part of Clause IV. By the time Kinnock was through the card was worthless. What brought me to the Labour Party had been ditched like a soiled handkerchief. They were what drove me from the Labour Party, never to return.

I suppose that I have always remained eternally optimistic that the Labour Party could recover and one day reclaim it's place at the head of the working class movement.

How deluded I was.

Kinnock my arse.
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County Council Election Results 2009

A disappointing set of results in my county election, Farnborough North in the Hampshire constituency.

First off there was the reduction in turnout for the voters. Likely all of this is due to the snout in the trough attitude of our current and previous Parliament. In 2005 there were 6680 votes cast. This year there were 4217, a drop of 36%.

Then we had the actual vote. Seat retained by the Tories. A drop in votes for the Tories and Lib Dems but an absolutely disastrous vote for the Labour Party. Not so much the fact they came last but the collapse of their vote, down 15 percentage points. Shocking.

What we also see is the maintaining of the Independent vote, although unless something very special happens this is likely to remain at the same level until hell freezes over and beyond.

And to top it all, the BNP who didn't stand in 2005 have had a strong showing. Expected given the more time they've spent standing in the local elections and seeing their vote growing over time.

A wake up call if ever there was one.

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Thursday, 4 June 2009

David Rovics - We Are Everywhere

very now and then you 'discover' an artist or some across a gem of a song, and you think how come you've never heard of them before.

One such is David Rovics. I'm truly stunned into silence by his lyrics and delivery and his work and subject matter is so moving.

As a taster here's one of my favourite tracks of Davids - We Are Everywhere.

And here's the lyrics:

When I say the hungry should have food
I speak for many
When I say no one should have seven homes
While some don't have any
Though I may find myself stranded in some strange place
With naught but a vapid stare
I remember the world and I know
We are everywhere

When I say the time for the rich, it will come
Let me count the ways
Victories or hints of the future
Havana, Caracas, Chiapas, Buenos Aires
How many people are wanting and waiting
And fighting for their share
They hide in their ivory towers
But we are everywhere

Religions and prisons and races
Borders and nations
FBI agents and congressmen
And corporate radio stations
They try to keep us apart, but we find each other
And the rulers are always aware
That they're a tiny minority
And we are everywhere

With every bomb that they drop, every home they destroy
Every land they invade
Comes a new generation from under the rubble
Saying "we are not afraid"
They will pretend we are few
But with each child that a billion mothers bear
Comes the next demonstration
That we are everywhere.

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