I grew up on a council estate and I remember the people who live on them with great fondness. I didn’t really know I was working class as I hadn’t becI grew up on a council estate and I remember the people who live on them with great fondness. I didn’t really know I was working class as I hadn’t become aware of the rigid structure of our society but working class I was then and remain now. That same fondness was once felt across the board, maybe not in full but the majority of people knew that those who lived on council estates were the “salt of the earth”, “the wheels of the economy” or simply that they “loved their mum and would do owt for you”. Those days and those feelings are gone and they are not gone because the people on estates have suddenly changed.
What has changed is the representation of a whole class, a majority indeed of people across the entire medium of communication. There has been a concerted effort on the part of politicians and media institutions to label the entire working class as cheaters, swindlers, oafs, alcoholic, racist, violent thugs who are a burden on our economy and our public services. This didn’t happen overnight, it is a steady drip, drip of misinformation and accusation that has gathered pace over the years. It started with Margaret Thatcher and her “liberalisation” agenda. The privatisation of public services coupled with the decimation of manufacturing created a cocktail of terror in the heartlands of northern England particularly and the rest of the country generally. In coal mining towns, all there was, was the coal mine. To de-industrialise alone without giving thought to re-energising those areas was positively criminal and has resulted in huge swathes of people who have been lost to our modern, allegedly burgeoning society. That is just one way the Tories, and Labour after them ruined the lives of countless ordinary people.
The trick however wasn’t to attack the working class employment alone, it was to turn the rest of society against them. Once these people couldn’t get work, it was their own fault we are told, and the tabloids jump on any “benefit cheat” story they can lay their hands on to which the end point is always, “they’re all like this”. Since then we have let government get away with this “you’re poor and it’s your fault” attitude. The fact that over half of all politicians in the House of Commons went to public (private, in reality) schools should give some idea of why this has come about, they are also paid a minimum of £68,000 per annum putting them in the top 9% of workers in the country. Ever since the poor acquired the vote the ruling class has been terrified of the power of democracy, so what do they do? Instead of governing in the interests of the majority they take away their options. Is it any wonder that the bottom decile of the population have the fewest people who go and vote? There is no one who represents their views and when that happens the far right will be the first shoulder to cry on as it fills a vacuum in its own cowardly way.
The media, also highly public school oriented, is equally culpable. When was the last time you saw a working class person on TV, a real one? That means not some sick Little Britain sketch that pokes fun at socially retarded single mothers, or the caricatures we see on the Jeremy Kyle show (other exploitative chat shows are available). It’s almost impossible to find any non-derogatory representation for the majority of society on our main medium of communication. When the BBC had its white-working-class season they had programmes made by and for the chattering classes as though working men and women were there to be poked with sticks and observed like some new species discovered in the jungles of Borneo. We have an elite media, reporting on an elite governing class who in turn carry out policies for elite corporate employers which are reported back to the general population by those same elite media operatives, where do working people get a look in?
Owen Jones book gets to the very heart of this subject with his passionate prose and elucidates the argument much better than I can. He crystallises the debate well through interviews with people on all sides of the class spectrum while proving his overriding point that the criticism levelled at the working class for the past 30 years has been false, misguided and unfair. He calls for a new politics of understanding and fairness, a change to the rigidity of society that only occasionally lets a poor person in to it to spice up the gene pool.
The best trick of all was getting the working class to fight among themselves for the scraps that fall from the top table to the floor, and getting the middle classes to think that it’s the ones at the bottom that is ripping them off. Benefit fraud comes to virtually nothing when compared with tax evasion and avoidance by the rich, but when was the last time Philip Green, The Barclay Brothers, Lord Rothemere and their ilk were on the cover of tabloids for the amount they rip us all off? They never are because we have the powerful people in power and other powerful people checking up on powerful people and it’s in all their interests to change nothing. In the working class they found their perfect scapegoat to keep their sordid little racket going, and everyone fell for it. ...more
I found this book informative and frustrating in equal measure. The frustration was on no part the fault of the author, but of the people within the bI found this book informative and frustrating in equal measure. The frustration was on no part the fault of the author, but of the people within the book whose involvement in the build up to war make you want to scream, and it’s not necessarily the people you might expect. There were so many chances to turn things around, to halt the progress to war which we are told these days, was inexorable, to conciliate, to compromise, to intervene, to act decisively. None of these opportunities were taken by the capricious Germans, the aloof French, the selfish Russians, the craven British, the unhelpful Americans, the pathetic Italians and the arrogant Poles. The hypothesis here is not one of overall blame for Hitler.
One can say whatever one likes about his final solution with regard to the Jews but as regards war, he did not start it. Or in any event, he did not start it alone, and the bogeyman attachment we have to him in relation to World War II does not fit until the war began. His demands for Anchluss, Sudetenland and Danzig were all demands that the Western Powers were sympathetic towards. They were not unreasonable. The Treaty of Versailles gave much justified cause for German anger and pushed them towards allowing a dictatorship of the proletariat through a standardised process of induced nihilism.
The group that comes off the worst by far in the whole build up is the Polish who stifle debate and refuse conference at every turn possible. Until the very morning of the attack on Warsaw the Poles refused to consider any relinquishment of Danzig, or even meet to discuss it with the Germans.
Hitler had a major policy of letting events happen, and gambling upon them. At the bookies his tactics would see him lose all his money. In the world of diplomacy he won time and again which only increased his natural egotistical and megalomaniacal bent.
The book is written with a deft hand and looks at facts as opposed to being revisionist as critics have claimed. Taylor uses almost entirely official documents as sources and interprets them as best anyone can without the help of a crystal ball. A superb book which is controversial but ultimately fair handed....more
I re-read The Shock Doctrine over the past week. I wanted to see how the shock hypothesis corresponded with current events regarding the global financI re-read The Shock Doctrine over the past week. I wanted to see how the shock hypothesis corresponded with current events regarding the global financial collapse. In truth it corresponds greatly. The same groups and individuals are arguing that the only answer to the current crisis is neo-liberal privatised economies, despite the fact that it is exactly that type of governance that caused the mess in the first place. While people are “shocked” the market forces are determined to push through the shrinking of public sectors everywhere for the benefit of a handful of companies and their shareholders.
Some other interesting things came out of re-reading the book. The fact that Israel gained a state security system at the expense of destitute Palestinians and now hawk this out to the rest of the world as a global security service. It reframed its economy to put counterterrorism at the heart of policy at the same time that it stopped paying even lip service to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. It is now requires war to keep its economic growth the right side of positive. Similarly, economic growth in rich countries has become so dependent on the growth of large companies, many of them security or weapons related, whose profits only grow in times of conflict, it is now in a rich states best interests to be at war! National growth is now inextricably linked to permanent conflict.
I have consistently linked Israeli actions towards Palestine with Apartheid South Africa and its treatment of black citizens. Naomi Klein points out an important distinction. The South African Bantustans were essentially labour camps, while refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank have appropriated the opposite system. They have kept work from the workers and created a holding network for millions of people now deemed surplus to humanity.
Lastly a major sticking point is that major corporations have excluded the poor to the stage where those people, proud people now aim their anger at the convenient other, the immigrant or the refugee and other vulnerable people such as benefit claimants. The exclusion of so many people in developed countries has created situations remarkably similar to those of Weimar Germany that precipitated the rise of Hitler and Nazism. ...more
Robert Fisk has been a reported from the Middle East for several decades now, first with the Times and then the Independent once Rupert Murdoch had shRobert Fisk has been a reported from the Middle East for several decades now, first with the Times and then the Independent once Rupert Murdoch had shown too much interest in editing his pieces for the former newspaper. The majority of the writing in this collection of his articles for the Independent come from the Iraq invasion onwards to the book’s publication in 2010. Because Fisk has been a correspondent in the Arab world for so long there is a weariness in some of the reports, you get the sense that the author just wants to grab the leaders of America, the UK, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria etc etc and bang their heads together and tell them to stop bombing, killing, maiming, invading, occupying and destroying.
Robert Fisk is a go-to man for facts on the Middle East, not only his own time but the history of the area from cultural influences through the Crusades and early modern history up to the 20th Century and the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people, still unacknowledged by Turkey’s political elite. His knowledge of Arab involvement in the World Wars is comprehensive and is a renowned authority on the years following the creation of the Israeli state and the Palestinian Nakba. He writes pointedly, almost brusquely at times with his dispatches containing the horrific details of the aftermath of attacks, usually by western or western backed powers. We hear of the duplicity of the leaders of the free world, the complicity of leaders of the Arab world and the truculence of Israel’s politicians in the face of huge levels of human suffering. It is written with an even hand, and no one gets off lightly. As with all collections of journalism some of the dispatches have a dated feel and should be read in the context of the events they describe. Many of the articles have a solid prescience to them that can only come from the author’s knowledge that “we’ve been here before, and history repeats itself” as Israel tragically proves on a regular basis. This is a useful book for anyone wishing to recall the mendacity with which we were taken to war, the results of that invasion and its impact on the surrounding countries in the area and anyone who wants to know more about the historical precedents that lead our politicians to believe they have a right to interfere in other nations present and future as well as their torn pasts.
Robert Fisk is a hero of journalism and free speech, his masterwork is The Great war for Civilisation and this volume is a decent companion for that exalted tome. ...more
There are books that come along every so often that trap you in their beauty. The style of prose washes through you and infects something beneath theThere are books that come along every so often that trap you in their beauty. The style of prose washes through you and infects something beneath the service within you and it leaves you scarred. When you finish said work you feel somehow bereft that the characters, the places and the language have died, or at very least said “see you later” and hidden beneath their silken canvas for the foreseeable future. Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus is one such book. The style here is the descriptive equivalent of calligraphy, beautiful, rounded curves of plot and sensual sweeps of story come together in some unforeseen way to create a magisterial thing of beauty. The Night Circus puts in to the story of two young people who are bound together by their conjuring guardians in a competition of vague rules and outcomes. The setting for the challenge will be the Night Circus, a mystical place of energy and magic the presence of cannot be predicted but whose fame travels widely. The circus is a construction, the essence of which lies in its burning white flame centre and a number of the people who create it. It grows but gets no bigger and seems to breathe itself through the people of it and its admirers. Marco and Celia, the aforementioned young pair, each play a central role to the survival of the circus, Celia as performer and Marco as some kind of ethereal administrator. As the story unfolds between the twin emotions of love and pain a host of characters are gifted to us amid the throng and each is delicately woven into the tale and each has a unique elemental significance. This book really is a gem of a story and showcases a marvellous talent in this growing genre of historic mystical-fiction, I cannot recommend it highly enough and if it doesn’t enchant you from the very start then perhaps one Friedrich Thiessen could redesign your clockwork for you. ...more
My review of this may go off on a tangent at some stage given the important issues this book raises. Firstly it is a very well researched work detailiMy review of this may go off on a tangent at some stage given the important issues this book raises. Firstly it is a very well researched work detailing historic British abuses of power in the foreign policy arena to further our national interests abroad. Much of the information here is derived from official declassified papers and so cannot be termed as biased or misreported.
It was a timely book when it was released in 2004 at the height of popular opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Though the first two chapters concern Iraq and the illegal invasion thereof, this book sets out to prove that, far from being a single aberration, the dark manoeuvrings that culminated in the 2003 invasion of a sovereign nation is in fact the continuation of an age old, very British style of foreign policy; that of military intervention and destabilisation of other states to further the economic and geopolitical goals of the UK Government.
What stands out for me in all of this is the hypocrisy of some of the “anti-Iraq war” commentators, whose sense of that injustice is all too noticeable when analysed alongside their supportive intransigence on other, and in many cases worse atrocities committed in their names as citizens of this country. The list of interventions is seemingly endless, and these are only the ones we know about. Since 1945 our government is responsible, or in some way culpable for around 10,000,000 civilian deaths according to the research in this book. Clearly this is a “ball park” figure and the real number could be slightly lower or much, much higher. My money would be on an overall increase in that estimate when the amount of countries is taken in to account, whose regimes we supported generally didn’t make too good a job of keeping accurate data on civilian casualties; Malaya, Kenya, Iran, British Guiana, Oman, Indonesia twice, Vietnam, Yemen, Iraq numerous times, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Columbia, Chagos Islands, Nigeria, Biafra, Uganda, Chile, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and Palestine. I may have missed some there but it’s already an extensive list.
How can we go on thinking that we are one of the “good guys” of global politics when our history shows us to be anything but. And how can we continue to support our political parties, all of whom have blood on their hands, innocent blood. Every single one of the wars we have engaged in, or regimes we have propped up has been to aid the progression of British business, whether they were mining corporations, oil firms or an intervention to secure a generally ideological sheen that enabled the “free” market to reign in the third world.
There are no selfless invasions or plainly humanitarian military actions, if there were we would long ago have invaded China, Israel, Russia, India and the United States, all of whom are past masters at oppression and human rights abuses. Many of the problems we face now in the middle east are as a result of our armies propping up the regimes of militant Islamist governments when Communism was the larger bogeyman on the horizon. For anyone who was against the war in Iraq, well done. Give yourself a little pat on the back and then open your eyes and look at British influence on the wider world. Everywhere you look, you will see chaos, death and destruction and all of it was carried out with your tacit support either overtly or because of your (and my) laziness in observing what the hell our Government does in the big bad world. We’re not the good guys I’m afraid. ...more
It is almost impossible to review a book with such an unrivalled scope as this. Chris Harman present a history of the world, a social history documentIt is almost impossible to review a book with such an unrivalled scope as this. Chris Harman present a history of the world, a social history documenting the struggles of people the world over from 3000BC right through to the new millennium. It is a beautiful and admirable volume, packed with interesting facts about the inherent fairness of humanity and our desire to work together to create a better society. It is genuinely a world history too, rather than focusing narrowly on Europe or our western philosophies and developments we are given ample insight in to the Chinese empires and African pre-Christian societies. In our present western and so called developed nations we have come to accept selfishness and greed as the norm, this has only been the case for around 2% of our time on Earth. Prior to this, hunter-gatherer societies worked in an egalitarian manner to succeed. Indeed, were they to have followed the example of modernity humans would probably have been wiped out before we were even the minimal blot on history that we now are. Once our societies started to develop a constant theme emerges that of the battle between the rich and the poor that is still being waged today, and it is a theme that has a monotonous, hollow ring to it. People rise up to claim what is rightfully theirs, have a minor success and then the ruling class uses all manner of tools at its disposal to put people right back where they belong; under the boot of elite hegemony. As the book approaches the industrial revolution, more time and space is devoted to the spread of capitalism and the changes this brought about for peasants and working people across the globe. It is in these chapters that Harman is most at home discussing the economical impact of the new financial structures put in place by the East India Company and their ilk on societies. This is no simple broadside against capitalism though, Communism, or Joseph Stalin’s version of it gets even harsher treatment along with his satraps across Europe who could have stopped fascism in the form of the Nazi’s in its infancy, but chose not to because of the craven misgivings of old uncle Joe. There is plenty here to prove why Marx is still an absolute essential for anyone wanting to understand the world, and Marx as prophet for the world today. The world wars get extensive coverage as you would expect we well as the French and American revolutions. The chapter on the French revolution in particular does a good job of separating myth from reality and rescuing certain people from their own present day parodies. Slavery is always there hovering in the background across the centuries, rearing its ugly head time and again in different societies from the Greeks to the Americans. There is a wonderful further reading chapter at the end which provides access to a thorough range of extensive materials on the periods most written about. All in all this is a treasure trove of a book, worthy of anyone’s reference shelf and would be a superb introduction to global history in a single volume. ...more