Monday, 8 April 2013

Dead at Last

The news has just been announced that former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died. For many, this is a cause for celebration, not mourning. Bourgeois reactionaries, liberal hypocrits and conservative throwbacks of all stripes will hover like vultures around these festivities in order to moralise about the 'dignity of death', lack of 'respect' for a 'Great Leader', etc., etc.

Here, then, is a reproduction of William Morris's obituary of the German Emperor, Frederick III, who died in March 1888. Morris's article is entitled, bluntly, 'Dead at Last' (reproduced from the Morris internet archive):

The flood of cant and servility which has been poured out by the bourgeois press during the last few days, because the long-expected death of [Frederick III Emperor of Germany] a tyrant of the old type embedded in a modern type of tyranny, has at last happened, disgusts one so much that at first one is tempted to keep silence in mere contempt for such degraded nonsense. Court mourning is always a preposterous spectacle, but here is a case where it is more preposterous than usual. Conventional universal grief, when scarcely any one is grieved at the event, no one whose interests do not suffer by it, most people are profoundly indifferent, and a great many cannot help being glad, although the death of this man may make no immediate difference in the condition of the people who suffered from his life — what can one say of this?

Yet though silence may be best in the abstract, it may be misunderstood at a time when even democratic papers, which are busy advocating federalism, profess to share more or less in the sham sentiment of the day which weeps strange tears indeed over the death-bed of this tough specimen of the ancient absolutist lined by the modern centralizer. As a Socialist print, the Commonweal is an outlaw from the press, and its poverty and desolate freedom compels it to speech, though but of a few words.

For what the death of this sham mediaeval tyrant calls our attention to is a weighty and serious matter enough in spite of the nothingness of the man himself. The ancient and obviously irrational absolutism is gone from Europe except for the tottering throne of the Czar of the Russias; but the house of Hohenzollern has gathered to itself whatever of dangerous and practical in absolutism still exists, and has built up of it a fortress of the new bureaucratic absolutism as a last refuge to the capitalistic civilization of our day, arid has put a face of rationality and business capacity on it, so that the scarcely less grievous tyranny of constitutional bureaucracy under which we suffer might reach out a hand to it unashamed; and so helpful have our masters felt this fortress to be to the system which enables them to rob the people at home, that even the elevation by its builders of the Germans into a holy race of military and commercial conquerors which may one day swallow them up also, has not scared them from accepting their friendship.

Abundance of patience, energy, skill, almost genius, have been expended in this attack on the progress of humanity, but not only these qualities were needed, and the most has been made of persons who could serve as instruments towards it, although they had no qualities but the blindness and dogged hardness inbred by their position. Of these instruments the person just dead was as fit for his post as might be, just as Bismark and Moltke have been fit for theirs; though the German centralizing absolutism is modern, a monarch or figure-head of the modern type would not have suited it as well as what was ready to its hand for the purpose, a mere stupidly implacable soldier without any capacity for doubt or remorse. The man who began his career of ‘glory’ by the slaughter of citizens in the streets of Berlin in ‘48, was a proper tool for the statesmen who saw the necessity of the system, which had bred them, of ‘educating’ Germany by constant wars of ambition, and was not likely to shrink from the last success of a hideous race war, which will when all is said, lead to events that these pests of humanity were far from foreseeing.

Plainly then, the somewhat timid whitewashing by the Radical press of this figure-head of the most dangerous form of absolutism is a sorry business, and I must say sincerely that the German people are not likely to thank our press for it. Even the Daily News is compelled to allude to the Berlin massacres, though it speaks of them as an event to be lightly passed over, a venial offence, to be expected (as indeed it was) of a person in the position of its hero. But are the people of Berlin forgetting it? Are they really worshipping the memory of the pious hero of Sedan? If this is true of even a part of the population, it can only be said that it shows into what depths of degradation the vice of patriotism can lead people — of patriotism, that is, the cultivation of national rancour founded on the national development of selfish greed which is the basis of civilized society.

One thing, at least, we should not forget, and that is the protest of the German Socialists in the teeth of all the jingoism newly stirred up by the danger and excitement of the occasion, against the race-war which Bismark and his willing puppets were leading Germany into in the interests of law and order, to whom the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, is a light matter, so only that the people may be kept down ....

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Five Reasons to Protest against Marine Le Pen

1.The Front National (FN) is a modern fascist party. It was formed in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was backed by wartime fascists, including ex- SS officers and supporters of the pro-Nazi Vichy government, and a new generation of fascists, or self-styled ‘revolutionary nationalists.’ Their strategy w as to seek respectability to win wider support and then transform these supporters ‘in our image.’

2.The FN is deeply racist. It has tried to use its electoral success and media profile to bring anti-semitism and Holocaust revisionism into the mainstream, and to make racism respectable. In 1987 Le Pen described the gas chambers as a ‘point of detail’ of the Second World War. In 1996 he argued that racial inequality was a fact. In 2010 his daughter, Marine Le Pen, compared Muslims praying in the street to the wartime occupation of France. She wants the wearing of the hijab (and the kippa) banned in public. Following a series of murders by Mohamed Merah in southern France last year, she argued that all North African immigrants were potential killers: ‘How many Mohamed Merahs in the boats and planes that arrive full of immigrants every day in France? How many Mohamed Merahs among the children of these non-assimilated immigrants?’
3.The FN is not more moderate under Marine Le Pen.  ‘I passed her the baton,’ said Jean-Marie Le Pen after she took over from him in 2011. ‘If she runs faster than me, then so much the better.’ He remains the party’s honorary president and made a speech to members last year in which he quoted the anti-semitic writer Robert Brasillach, executed for collaboration with the Nazis. The FN continues to cultivate links with fascist groups and parties. Although older generations of Nazi collaborators are dying out, many FN leaders and election candidates are veterans of ‘revolutionary nationalist’ groups and retain links to white supremacist and organisations promoting Holocaust denial. In 2012, on Holocaust Memorial Day, Marine Le Pen was a guest of the Austrian Freedom Party at a ball in Vienna organized by the neo-Nazi Olympia society. Olympia bans Jews or women from its membership, once proposed that the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded to Nazi Rudolf Hess, and organizes celebrations of Holocaust denial featuring prominent revisionists like David Irving.
4.The FN is a threat to democracy. FN-run towns have been characterized by authoritarianism and intolerance, banning halal meat in school canteens, censoring library provision and clamping down on the ‘promotion of homosexuality’. Like her father, Marine Le Pen seeks to organize a capacity for extra-parliamentary activity through rallies, street demonstrations and links to openly ‘revolutionary nationalist’ groups. The FN has a track record of violence against its opponents.
5.Legitimising the FN breeds racist discrimination. Acceptance of the FN as a legitimate party has helped make racism respectable in France. The hijab is banned in schools. The wearing of the niqab and the burka is banned in public. One survey identified a 33.6% rise in racist acts towards Muslims in 2011 compared to the previous year. More French Muslims claim to have had negative encounters due to their religious or ethnic background (37%) than those in Britain (28%) or Germany (19%).

Thursday, 10 January 2013

‘On the Term of Exile’ by Bertolt Brecht

No need to drive a nail into the wall
To hang your hat on;
When you come in, just drop it on the chair
No guest has sat on.

Don’t worry about watering the flowers—
In fact, don’t plant them.
You will have gone back home before they bloom,
And who will want them?

If mastering the language is too hard,
Only be patient;
The telegram imploring your return
Won’t need translation.

Remember, when the ceiling sheds itself
In flakes of plaster,
The wall that keeps you out is crumbling too,
As fast or faster.

Translated from the German by Adam Kirsch