On the 18th October 2003 I attended a CND conference held at the White Rock Theatre in Hastings. Two of the speakers in the morning were doctors, one of them an Iraqi from Basra, Saleh Ibrahim (Voices in the Wilderness), who fluently described the history of conflict that Iraq has suffered with the West from more than a century ago. I was already aware of much of it, including the controversy of the annexation of Kuwait. The whole story is a damning indictment of the West: its insatiable greed and the atrocities committed in pursuit of power and wealth - and the acquisition of oil. The conference was preceded the evening before by a showing (at the Electric Palace fringe cinema in the Old Town) of Oliver Stone's 'Salvador' (1989), a dramatic portrayal of the 1981 civil war in El Salvador. The film depicted precisely the kind of activity the US has been involved in across many parts of world since the end of WW2. The conflict was the same as always: the struggle between the oppressed (peasants, workers, the dispossessed) and the oppressors (ruling class, oligarchs, the super-rich). This is going on now in Bolivia, and to an extent in Colombia. Venezuela is also vulnerable, amongst many other places including African countries. Almost all of these concern oil and the conflict between who might profit from it. In the US and UK and much of the West, the ruling class have had things sewn-up for a long time. It's all so tidy they don't need to worry. They tell us we have a democracy and then by threats or coercion force those we elect (who they select to stand anyway) to vote on issues as their whip instructs. This is hardly more democratic than was Saddam Hussein's Iraq. If we refuse to be blinded by propaganda or to be held to an upbringing that impels conformity, then we might have scope to exercise democracy. This, like has happened to the Labour Party, would doubtless be seized by the rulers (who lurk in Washington as much as in the country estates of rural England).

But any sign that a country is likely to move towards some kind of socialism - in which the vast mass of ordinary working people might take control from the oligarchs and put an end to the perpetual rip-off exploitation of the poor by the rich - is immediately seen by the US as a call to send in the cavalry: the B52s solid with bombs, helicopters bristling with missiles… and let the slaughter commence. It makes no difference whether the oligarchs are overthrown by a coup or by an election.


Picasso's 14m-long 'Guernica' 1937 - his reaction to the Nazi's bombing of Guernica

Iraq was the most technologically advanced country in the middle east so far as public services is concerned - and considerably more advanced than some long Westernised countries. As well as building palaces with the oil money Saddam Hussein built infrastructure: superbly equipped hospitals, water treatment works etc. A political tyrant who murdered anyone who threatened his power - especially when assisted by the West - however bad he and his henchmen were, he did NOT pose a threat. Leaked 1995 CIA documents that were placed on the net proved that Iraq has been benign since then. Also, agents of the West had full rein in Iraq to go where they liked, examine and dismantle anything, to virtually do as they pleased - until they were recalled a few days before the first of over a thousand sorties of B52s which left from Gloucestershire.

On OUR behalf - on MY behalf - the UK government (I don't say 'Blair' because no individual PM could act against the wishes of his close colleagues and cabinet, or his party), the UK government endorsed an unprovoked invasion on another nation - demolishing the infrastructure and killing 10,000 civilians. These were people like us, ordinary friendly decent people getting on with their lives. It is arguable whether the US would have gone ahead without UK support; most commentators believe they would not - in which case the UK could be seen to be entirely responsible for what has transpired from that calamitous, scarcely to say iniquitous, decision to invade Iraq - leading to untold mutilation and slaughter as symbolised in Dali's masterpiece 'War':

daliTo invade another country like this without provocation, and massacre thousands of people there, is probably the worst thing a government can do - worse even than massacring its own people. Irrespective of what other policies a government has, an administration which commits such crimes should surely be removed at the first opportunity. According to a recent ICM poll, all three parties in the UK each have 31% support. Which means that 62% of the population either think that invading Iraq and killing thousands of people is less important than some other issue, or else they support it. This suggests to me that 62% of people are either mostly completely oblivious and unfeeling (or astonishingly ignorant) or like their leaders are basically thugs. Never mind any oil shortage the West might otherwise envisage, these sorts of actions cannot be justified.

Before he spoke at the conference I asked Bruce Kent whether, after a lifetime spent advocating peace, he wasn't discouraged by the appalling implications of the brazenly declared American intention to control the world. He referred me to what happened to the Roman Empire, then went on to say that he was in fact much encouraged by the colossal wave of people who are now aware and are rising up against such horrors. When I mentioned that the huge turn-out for the Feb 15th protests - not just in London but throughout the world - had not the slightest impact on the UK or US governments, he said that the protests heralded a huge opposition that would not go away but would build to make such brutality unrepeatable.

Well, if only - I thought. Reading those polls suggests that his optimism, at least in the short term, is misplaced. I believe that the policies of our three main political parties are a secondary matter after their likelihood of committing atrocities like genocide in my name. If we had proportional representation then I'd probably vote for the Green Party. As it is, if I do bother to vote, I have no choice but to vote Liberal because they are the only significant party to wholly oppose the government's military action in Iraq - and because of their guarantee to introduce PR. The Labour Party have never really been 'left-wing', not even under Attlee, but in most respects they are entirely alien now to my way of thinking. The ruling class establishment and their version of capitalism (squeeze what you can out of the weak and gentle, and keep them in their underdog status) have reigned supreme since time immemorial. Surely it's about time something was done about it. Part of their method to maintain the status quo is to destroy the continual wealth created in their sweatshops. The cold war and it's hugely expensive nuclear defence systems took care of surplus wealth for half a century. Recently - as also in the past half century, but now with increased zest - they are using it to invade and massacre. Ordinary people in Iraq - and elsewhere - are our friends. It is the elite who are the obstacle - both in Iraq and here in the UK and elsewhere throughout the world, but especially in the US. The Iraqi doctor from Basra who I met two weeks ago gave me details of a website saying it was the site of a religious academic and contained the history of middle east conflict. I told him I was an atheist, and he replied that he was also. This is probably irrelevant, but I could for a moment share his despair at what the West had done and was doing now more than ever to his country. His family for all he knew were dead, he couldn't say. I would like to have kept in touch with him.

Our government has/is engaged in state terror compared with which the Sept 11th attacks and the Bali bombing are insignificant sideshows. Think about it. What have we done? What are we doing to even consider re-electing this or an equally repellent government?

Here's part of one of several letters I sent to David Triesman, who has just handed in his notice as general secretary to the Labour Party:

The Labour Party
16 Old Queen St
London SW1H 9HP
7th July 2003

Dear Mr Triesman,

Thank you for your letter of 26 June 2003. I can't imagine that such propaganda would wash with anyone who knew a little of the history. However, why not look at it this way:

Assuming that the two most powerful Arab countries blockaded our import/export system,
and that our PM was a tyrant who, with Arab assistance, remained in power and occasionally committed atrocities against non-conformist groups, would we welcome an Arab invasion? Would we want them taking over our country? Would we EVER acquiesce to their control (or the control of some corrupt Englishman who was stupid enough to risk acting their stooge)?

Of course not. We would never give in to such blatant aggression, would we? We'd snipe, bomb and refuse to give up. We'd sabotage our own natural resources to keep them from the enemy.

And if you were an Iraqi now wouldn't you be doing the same? Does that make sense to you, or Mr Blair - the most incompetent, dishonest PM in my lifetime? Virtually everyone who doesn't know for certain that Blair is a liar and a fraud (and a staunch Tory), perceives it. The BBC cannot attack his integrity because he has none - nor do any of the people close to him.

I'm not trying to insult you or anyone. There'd be no point. But this is how everyone I know - even Tories - see Blair and his government these days…

yours sincerely...


When I was 28 my sister gave me a book that launched me into reading politics. It was Robert Tressell's 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' (1910). The author's real name was Bob Noonan, a former newspaper reporter, then painter and decorator for Adams and Jarrett (still trading in Hastings in 2003 as a retailer of domestic appliances). Noonan's book, the only one he wrote, was based on what actually took place. The politician, Tony Benn, was so impressed with it that he has given many copies away and often carried one or two with him for that purpose.

When I first saw this 600-page tome my immediate reaction was 'No way!' - even a science-fiction novel that size would have challenged my enthusiasm. 'Just read the first page.' my sister said. Reluctantly, I began - and for the next couple of weeks I was glued to it; I took it with me everywhere so as not to miss an opportunity to read a few more pages.

In my first job (as a trainee electrician) after leaving school in 1964, I encountered precisely the 'workshop' atmosphere that begins to emerge on the first page. Everything: the subdued workmen and their mocking remarks, the crude gestures, the dusty makeshift conditions, the loud self-important foreman, the imperious boss who creeps silently from nowhere just when you're taking a breather… the whole sordid scene, just as I remembered, were there on those pages. Even the kindly - and secretly intellectual - workman (represented in the book by Noonan himself as Bob Owen who is something of an artist) who befriends the 'new lad' (me), endeavouring to make his life a little easier by requesting his assistance on special artistic 'jobs' that only Owen has the skill to do, resembled my own experience as workshop dogsbody. This equivalent of Owen's gave me reason for hope in a working life which otherwise seemed dull and laborious.

Fifteen years later I wandered along to the TUC library in Central London to view the original hand-written manuscript in a glass case. This document may not be the ideal vehicle these days for promoting the cause of social justice for all, or for inaugurating social change in favour of the poor - who, as the table below illustrates, are precisely those, paradoxically, doing most of the real and useful work in society - but it is a compelling and authentic historical account.

The table (from page 272), demonstrates in a nutshell the message of the book. As with A.S. Neill's work, what seems obvious to me is apparently obscure to most people - or vice versa. During WW2 abridged editions were circulated among the soldiers whose time was often spent bored and waiting for action; and it has been suggested that this was instrumental in Attlee's 1945 landslide.


The table summarises the catalogue of injustices that lie at the heart of capitalism. It shows that the status quo of Noonan's time remains almost as solid a hundred years later, despite Attlee, Benn and others; once again, our resistance to change is indomitable.

"Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of reasons will somehow work for the benefit of all."

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

But change is inevitable; nothing lasts indefinitely. Capitalism will eventually perish; in its defence, one might argue that it creates an easily sustainable social stability, a simple distribution of labour and wealth, and a social hierarchy that is at least tolerated. It puts the individual first and the community last. But it is also a divisive, primitive system that favours the sly, the dominant, the indolent, the self-serving and the brutal. Unfortunately, so-called 'communism' presents no better options: despite a much fairer distribution of labour and wealth, it stifles motivation, represses enterprise, diligence and invention; it favours a cold-blooded totalitarianism that claims to serve everyone yet ends-up serving no-one. It puts the State first and the individual last. Something quite different to both these severely flawed regimes will no doubt evolve. Distribution of work and wealth, social hierarchy, etc, will probably quite soon become irrelevant as the world shrinks and technology thrusts a new global political reality into our path. Another quote by Keynes from a compelling little book 'The Money Game' by George Goodman writing under the pseudonym Adam Smith:

"In this millennium, wealth will no longer be of social import, morals will change, and we shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value:

The love of money as a possession - as distinguishable from love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life - will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands
over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.
…"Beware!" Keynes added, "The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is
not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight."

Our current manufacturing and service industries, and multinationals etc, most of which wantonly exploit natural resources from oil and gas to forests and atmosphere, comprise  a whole range of activities that provide what we supposedly 'need' to conduct our work, leisure and everyday living. These industries, for the most part, pay their employees as little as possible and their shareholders as much as possible. This encourages investment and growth. It is not cynical to say that all industries exist for the sole purpose of making money. If they did not, then shareholders would withdraw their investments and ventures would fold. Except in an initial flurry of naïve enthusiasm, virtually no-one any longer makes 'baubles' because they like making 'baubles'; not these days in the hard-headed world of commerce that has evolved. The experience of the Texas oil bonanza of the 1910s that gripped the world like a virus, seemed to cast a chilling new light on a system that's now been in place for the best part of two-hundred years. While Einstein was creating radiant new ideas in physics, J Paul Getty carved hideous new paths in capitalism.

Put simply, capitalism is a system that promises (like a lottery) the opportunity of great wealth for a very few, any of whom could be you; yet its unspoken but obvious function is to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich (predominately those in control): ie, a transfer from the worker to the investor.

To observe the situation objectively one could imagine an alien view of the world. 'Why,' the alien might ask, 'are these people starving while these others are overburdened with food?' And: 'Why do these few people, who do nothing, live in opulence - while these multitudes slave for most of their lives yet live in hovels?' etc…

Appalled by what he saw on his visit to London in 1902, Jack London wrote 'People of the Abyss' (1903) in which he describes starving shoeless children picking scraps of 'food' from rubbish bins and street gutters while adulating the passing regalia of King George VII in his coronation procession. Like dogs, these beggars accepted their wretchedness without question - as, clearly, did the King accept his wealth - which ultimately depended upon those who spent their lives slaving in sweatshops, etc.

Then, in 1907, Jack London published 'The Iron Heel' - a fiction predicting a social revolution several hundred years in the future. In it he depicts the ruthless capitalist ethic, how they infiltrate, subvert and overrule. It is a chilling and unforgettable tale of informed judgment and prophecy, foreseeing, for instance, the emergence (and eventual downfall) of the huge multinationals that exist today yet in his time were completely unheard of.

But how can this powerful opposition to change ever be overcome? Because social trends build organically and often swamp attempts to control, we probably have little choice but to await natural social evolution.

Which brings me to the fascinating work of American sociologist Philip Slater, famous for his excellent study of American culture 'The Pursuit of Loneliness' (1976), but whose 'A Dream Deferred' (1991) is one of the most optimistic non-fiction books I've read:

Every day we hear news and commentary suggesting that the world around us is deteriorating. Nuclear destruction, ecological disaster, economic collapse, moral decay - we have a whole menu of depressing scenarios to choose from.

But what is coming to an end is not a world but only an era: the era of authoritarianism. It is an era that has lasted for over five-thousand years - virtually all of recorded history - and still dominates our ideas and customs… Yet a new megaculture is being born as fast as the old one dies. Our present sufferings are birth pangs - part of the agony attendant on all transitions.

This new megaculture is democracy… a vast social movement embracing every aspect of human existence. The democratic forms we are familiar with are merely the first harbingers of this megaculture which will eventually permeate every aspect of human thought and behaviour, just as authoritarian ideas do today. All our assumptions, habits, and preoccupations will be transformed by it…

The democratic megaculture is a newborn infant. We are living on the threshold of the most radical transformation of human organisation in recorded
history. The struggle between the emerging megaculture of democracy and the dying megaculture of authoritarianism is taking place within every society in the world today, whether capitalist or communist, socialist or fascist, democratic or plutocratic. And it has only begun.

Slater goes on to back his conclusion with evidence from a range of sources. One is inclined to scepticism in the face of such 'good news'; and perhaps a competent opponent could present an equally convincing picture of the opposite view. But we are all familiar enough with those two indisputable certainties: death and change.

Below is a section of a 1950 interview with Blaise Cendrars who was a close friend of Henry Miller:

INTERVIEWER: All writers complain of the constraint under which they work and of the difficulty of writing.

CENDRARS: To make themselves sound interesting, and they exaggerate. They should talk a little more about their privileges and how lucky they are to be able to earn some return from the practice of their art, a practice I personally detest, it's true, but which is all the same a noble privilege compared with the lot of most people, who live like parts of a machine, who live only to keep the gears of society pointlessly turning. I pity them with all my heart. Since my return to Paris I have been saddened as never before by the anonymous crowd I see from my windows engulfing itself in the Metro or pouring out of the Metro at fixed
hours. Truly, that isn't a life. It isn't human. It must come to a stop. It's slavery… not only for the humble and poor, but the absurdity of life in general.

When a simple character like myself, who has faith in modern life, who admires all these pretty factories, all these ingenious machines, stops to think about where it's all leading, he can't help but condemn it because,
really, it's not exactly encouraging.

INTERVIEWER: And your work habits? You've said somewhere that you get up at dawn and work for several hours.

CENDRARS: I never forget that work is a curse - which is
why I've never made it a habit. Certainly, to be like everyone else, lately I've wanted to work regularly from a given hour to a given hour; I'm over fifty-five and I wanted to produce four books in a row. That finished, I had enough on my back. I have no method of work. I've tried one, it worked, but that's no reason to fix on it for the rest of my life. One has other things to do in life aside from writing books.

A writer should never install himself before a panorama, however grandiose it may be. Like Saint Jerome, a writer should work in his cell. Turn the back. Writing is a view of the spirit. "The world is my
representation." Humanity lives in its fiction. This is why a conqueror always wants to transform the face of the world into his image. Today, I even veil the mirrors.


Lowry's 'The Canal Bridge' 1949

What Cendrars doesn't mention in the scene he creates here and which is precisely the message contained in Lowry's picture, is that those factories (together with the factories we call 'orchards' and 'wheatfields' etc) are the sole source of wealth - and therefore power - that allows a few hard-headed individuals to 'own' and control the rest of us. And here is where Steinbeck's observations become relevant:


Shortly after reading Tressell's epic I was presented with Steinbeck's 'The Wayward Bus' by a friend of my sister. It wasn't long before I discovered that other tremendous (political) epic 'The Grapes of Wrath' the first chapters of which still reverberate in my memory for their sheer poetic brilliance if not their political insight and unsurpassable skill in articulation.

Because of 'In Dubious Battle', until he wrote 'The Grapes of Wrath' Steinbeck was not considered to be overtly politically left. Yet this masterpiece, which eventually earned him the Nobel prize, is one of the most profoundly political-left books of the 20th Century, indeed of all time. The chapters alternate between descriptive narrative and the story of the farmers and land workers fleeing the dust bowls of Oklahoma for the promise of work in California's fertile garden valley. An account in the October 2003 'New Internationalist' magazine brought this timeless novel vividly to mind: the plight of most quasi-legal immigrant workers in the UK, mainly Iraqis and Afghans, is identical to that of the 1930s migrants depicted in Steinbeck's great novel. Contemporary rural England is a hothouse of exploitation in precisely the same way as California in the 1930s. And who can blame these victims of displacement who have fled from Western invasions and massacres in their own countries?

A few years after reading that novel, I learned from a Steinbeck biography, how his first attempt to describe the plight of these migrant workers in 1939 had ended in a dirge that had so appalled his wife, Carol (who was equally concerned for the workers' sad conditions), that in disgust she had thrown the manuscript onto a garden bonfire while Steinbeck looked on in shame. And then, using his technique for 'Of Mice and Men' as a model, he began this magnificent work that earned him immediate international renown - and, perhaps most gratifyingly at the time, government recognition: Eleanor Roosevelt gave a copy to her USA President husband who secured the intended reprieve for the workers Steinbeck had sought to help.

Such outcomes usually belong in fairy-tales, and I can think of no other single piece of literature that has led to repercussions of that kind - though I suspect there are some.

Because of the success of 'The Grapes of Wrath' and Steinbeck's subsequent connections with the White House and the 'society people' associated with it, the pseudo-intellectuals of the 'right' were in a position to influence him. Regardless of what the President thought, he was, after all, a huge thorn in their side. He was also a rough-hewn country 'boy' who quite naturally at first eschewed these upper-class manipulators. Their efforts to charm him, however, were not in vain - what further damage might he otherwise do to their (capitalist) cause? So eventually he succumbed and even, paradoxically, went on to support the dreadful fight against communism and the war in Vietnam. Despite this transgression, he never seemed to quite resolve the mystery of whether the system he described so lucidly in chapter 5 of his novel was an inevitable natural development or a deliberate conspiracy.

The essence of what he described was this: The tenant farmers of Oklahoma were unable to pay rent for the land because a drought which lasted several years destroyed all their attempts to grow crops. So the lawyers for the banks who owned the land came and told them to leave - leave their homes they had built-up over the years, their whole way of life, everything. They were now trespassing and had to go. The more gentle lawyers apologised for what they had been sent to do - which was more than the bulldozer drivers did who came and mowed down their homes in order to drive them out. When, after the huge struggle of exodus and the travails of moving so agonisingly slowly to California, the 'garden state' that promised so much, they arrived only to be herded by the rich Californian farmers and their henchmen into squalid 'camps'. Now they were exploited to the maximum…

But the question remains: What was the primary responsibility of the banks who turfed them out? The bank's function is to make money - not to subsidise people. In fact the chief purpose of all enterprise, whether factories, money lenders, whatever, is to make money. If they don't they fail. So what choice did the banks have?

It is the same now. All industry exists for is to make money - otherwise it would cease. Only public services and nationalised operations, can function without profit. If this is so then, like all other businesses, the oil and arms industry have a mandate to pursue whatever action is necessary to maximise profit. So long as it is legal - and frequently it is not, even though those who own industry make most of the laws - then profit must always be the key aim.

The logical consequences of this are frightening. G.W.Bush is an oil man - that is, an investor in the oil industry. His close associates are also investors, mainly in the oil and arms industries, but also in other industries such as those that would stand to profit massively from reconstruction projects. At the same time, many of these high-flying political entrepreneurs are, as ever, Jews. They would like to do the bidding of their 'leaders' in Israel where they've been annually pouring billions of dollars since the 1960s - much of which has been in the form of arms with which to crush and drive out their Arab neighbours.

Given their mandate, it was inevitable that, if they could find a way, these oil/arms people had no choice but to take control of the most powerful country in the world - the USA. With G.W. Bush as their symbolic head, this is what they have done - never mind disenfranchised voters, hanging chads etc. Their kind are spread everywhere in the higher echelons including the Supreme Court. So no problem.

Once they had control, to plunder oil rich nations - as they've been doing for decades anyway - was the next step, but now the biggest. Iraq has an estimated $2 trillion worth of oil. To sink, say, $200 billion into its acquisition - especially when this 'investment' can be taken from the poor in an unfair tax system (and by cutting social budgets) - would be a bargain. Recently, $87.5b of additional funds have been made available. This money, stolen chiefly from the US poor, will go mostly to investors in the arms industry. A lot will go to investors in reconstruction. None will be returned to those from whom it was extorted. And subsequently, the oil revenues will pour in and the oil investors will have their bonanza. On top of all this Israel will extend itself to dominate the whole region, while Iraq - whose whole infrastructure and service industries will be owned by Israelis or their friends - will be its slave. At least, that's the plan as logic suggests.

It's certainly true that the West needs all this oil. And they don't have any scruples about how they get it. They could have got it peacefully through fair negotiation. But other factors, mentioned above, make that option unpalatable.

The greatest concern in all this, I think, is that at present the world burns 80+ million barrels of oil a day. What will the atmosphere be like when Iraq's 70 billion barrels are burned, and the same for the Caspian sea, Saudi Arabia, South America… and on and on…?