Monday, 16 May 2022

Royal Mail Profits Surge But Offer A Pay Rise With More Strings Than An Orchestra

Royal Mail is expected to reveal record full-year profits of around £720million, up from £664million the previous year. Given Royal Mail's previous promise to shareholders to cut staff and escalate further attacks on postal workers, it is no surprise that it has offered a paltry pay rise of 2% with massive changes in working conditions.

Royal Mail wants compulsory Sunday working; an additional 1.5% pay rise will be directly linked to increased productivity. Royal Mail wants a reduction in sick pay, scrapping several allowances, later start times, annualised hours and significantly different pay for all new members, creating a two-tier workforce.

The only people surprised by Royal Mail's actions are the Communication Workers Union(CWU), who have bent over backwards to present the new Royal Mail management as a friend of postal workers and someone they can work with.

Over the last two years, the union has collaborated with Royal Mail in imposing draconian new changes in working conditions. When postal workers sought to oppose these attacks, the union called off a strike ballot and began phoney negotiations. These negotiations resulted in many dead and sick postal workers who were forced to work during a lethal pandemic, with the union calling postal workers the "fifth emergency service".

The new national agreement (Pathway to Change) agreed between Royal Mail and the CWU has led to a massive increase in productivity with huge amounts of packets delivered, which meant a massive increase in profits, and at the end of last year, £400 million was given to shareholders.

The CWU has reportedly overseen record-breaking revisions, leading to hours cut, longer walks, and utter chaos in numerous offices. According to one worker," Our office has just started its new duties after a revision where deliveries are too big, the way walks have been laid out is absurd, mail not being delivered for days and overall morale varying from discontent to hilarity at the fiasco developing. Customer service is non-existent, and turning this around seems impossible. Posties are so fed up that mail is taken for a ride and then returned to be rethrown off for the next day when the pantomime is repeated. Bigger walks, less time to do them, photographing packets daily van checks before you go out, HCTs that are not fit for purpose and a union that seems oblivious".[1] Several Royal Mail delivery offices took unofficial industrial action in opposition to the 'Pathway to Change' national agreement. One such strike at the Invergordon delivery office was taken to defend a temporary member whose contract was ended.

Amesbury and Frinton delivery offices took strike action over the massive increase in parcel delivery with cuts in staff leading to unrealistic delivery times. Workloads have now reached breaking point at a large number of offices. At Wakefield Delivery Office, West Yorkshire, the agreement rollout of a structural revision resulted in 94% of the workforce voting it down after producing unachievable workloads. Unofficial actions by postal workers have been left isolated by the CWU leadership. Regarding the current pay dispute, the union has, instead of calling an immediate strike ballot, will continue four-week negotiations behind the backs of postal workers.

As part of the CWU's supposed battle on pay, its London organisation has released a leaflet entitled  London Calling-Royal Mail's Pay Betrayal To The Workforce. The leaflet insults the intelligence of postal workers, as no postal worker believes Royal Mail has betrayed them. If anything, large sections of postal workers conclude that it is their union that has betrayed them and collaborates so much with Royal Mail that it is becoming difficult to tell them apart.

This treachery is not just confined to British unions. Trade unions all over the world are carrying out similar policies? Embracing labour-management collaboration and handing back to the employer's gains won by previous generations of the working class.

To defend their pay and conditions, Postal workers must break from the CWU and establish a network of rank-and-file committees.

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] https://www.royalmailchat.co.uk/community/viewtopic.php?f=69&t=104536&p=973472

Sunday, 15 May 2022

The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives by Adolph L. Reed Jr. (London, UK & Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2022)

"Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present."

Adolph L. Reed Jr

We must find the road to the most deprived, to the darkest strata of the proletariat, beginning with the Negro, whom capitalist society has converted into a pariah, and who must learn to see in us his revolutionary brothers. And this depends wholly upon our energy and devotion to the work.[1]

Leon Trotsky

"Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery, there would be no cotton. Without cotton, there would be no modern industry. It is slavery that has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies that have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Slavery is, therefore, an economic category of paramount importance."[2]

Karl Marx

 

One of the purposes of this excellent new book by Adolph L Reed is to preserve the voices of the last generation of Americans with a living memory of Jim Crow.[3] In the words of the English historian E. P Thompson, it attempts to rescue them from the "enormous condescension of posterity".

The South documents Reed's personal history almost in the manner of a memoir. However, unlike similar books, Reed presents a historical and class-based analysis of the racist Jim Crow laws.

As Barbara J Fields explains, it is important to understand the race from a historical perspective. She writes, "When virtually the whole of society, including supposedly thoughtful, educated, intelligent persons, commits itself to belief in propositions that collapse into absurdity upon the slightest examination, the reason is not hallucination or delusion or even simple hypocrisy; rather, it is ideology. And ideology is impossible for anyone to analyse rationally who remains trapped on its terrain. That is why race still proves so hard for historians to deal with historically, rather than in terms of metaphysics, religion, or socio- (that is, pseudo-) biology".

Nothing so well illustrates that impossibility as the conviction among otherwise sensible scholars that race "explains" historical phenomena; specifically, it explains why people of African descent have been set apart for treatment different from others. But race is just the name assigned to the phenomenon, which it no more explains than judicial review "explains" why the United States Supreme Court can declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, or than Civil War "explains" why Americans fought each other between 1861 and 1865".[4]

Reed's defence of a historical and class-based understanding of race has led him to be heavily criticised and ostracised. Reed has opposed what he calls "race reductionism,". In 1996, he famously described Barack Obama as a "smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics." [5].For Reed, class-based inequality is the historical constant, not race. Reed examines how the black middle class were treated differently than the black working class. He recounts how many black middle-class people could avoid some of the worst excesses of the murderess Jim Crow regime.

As Reed contends in his article Separate and Unequal, "Middle-class, "respectable" black people sought as much as possible to insulate themselves and their children from contact with those they considered to be class inferiors. An elaborate structure of social clubs—for example, the Links and the Girl Friends for women, the Boulé for men, Jack and Jill for children, and fraternity and sorority chapters for students and alumni—evolved to create and sustain homogeneous middle-class social networks locally and nationally. Segregation did have a levelling effect on race. Those with higher status were forced to share neighbourhoods, schools, churches, restaurants, and other public entertainments with those they would prefer not to associate with. From the system's beginnings, a complaint about the injustice of enforced segregation was that it did not account for class distinctions among black people".[6]

DSA

Reed has also criticised "critical race theory", saying, "It is another expression of reductionism. On the most pedestrian level, it is an observation that what you see is a function of where you stand. At that level, there is nothing in it that was not in Marx's early writings or Mannheim. But then you get an appropriation of the standpoint theory for identity that says, for example, all blacks think the same way. It is taxonomic, a reification. So the retort to that critique has been "intersectionality." Yes, there is a black perspective, but what you do is fragment it, so there are multiple black perspectives because each potential—or each sacralised—social position becomes discrete. That is what gives you intersectionality.[7]

Reed's political and class-based perspective has been too much for the Democratic Socialists of America(DSA), who had a speech of Reed's cancelled due to objections by the AFROSOCialist and Socialists of Color Caucus over his "reactionary and class reductionist form of politics".

1619 Project

His critique of the 1619 project has led to personal and political attacks. In a recent interview with Tom Mackaman- Reed states, "I did not know about the 1619 Project until it came out, and frankly when I learned about it, my reaction was a big sigh. But again, the relation to history has passed to the appropriation of the past in support of whatever kind of 'just-so' stories about the present is desired. This approach has taken root within the Academy. It is like all bets are off. Merlin Chowkwanyun and I did an article a few years ago in the Socialist Register that is a critique of disparitarianism in the social sciences, by which this or that disparity has replaced the study of inequality and its effects. As Walter Benn Michaels said, and as I have said time and time again if anti-disparitarianism is your ideology, then for you, a society qualifies as being just if 1 per cent of the population controls 90 per cent of the wealth, so long as that within that 1 per cent 12 per cent or so are black, etc., reflecting their share of the national population. This is the ideal of social justice for neoliberalism. There is no question of actual redistribution.[8]

Reed demolishes one of the myths of the 1619 project that enslaved people were introduced to America because of racism. Reed points out that the first slaves were brought over under the auspices of a wage labour system. He writes, " the 1619 Project assumes, in whatever way, that slavery was the natural condition of Africans. And that is where the Afro-pessimism types wind up sharing a cup of tea with James Henry Hammond."

As Niemuth points out in his defence of Reed, "The furious reaction within the DSA leadership to the invitation to Reed reveals how deeply the organisation is imbued with the reactionary and right-wing politics of racial division. The extreme hostility to any analysis based on the primacy of class expresses the interests of affluent sections of the petit bourgeoisie, who utilise racial and identity politics in the fight over positions of power and privilege within the apparatus of the state, the trade unions, academia and corporations".

Conclusion

This concise volume deserves to be read widely and hopefully put onto university reading lists. It is hoped a younger readership picks it up and learns about a class-based and historical perspective on racism than the racialist perspective touted by the 1619 project.

 

 

 

About the Author

Adolph Reed, Jr., is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books and articles dealing with race and class in American society and writes regularly for the New Republic.

 



Further Reading

1.   The cancellation of professor Adolph Reed, Jr.'s speech and the DSA's promotion of race politics-Niles Niemuth- 18 August 2020-wsws.org

2.   The New York Times' 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History: Essays and Interviews Paperback – 26 February 2021

3.   by David North, Thomas Mackaman

 

 

 



[1] On Black Nationalism-Documents on the Negro Struggle- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1940/negro1.htm

[2] 1846 in The Poverty of Philosophy,

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

[4] Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America-https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/5281-slavery-race-and-ideology-in-the-united-states-of-america

[5] https://www.politico.com/blogs/ben-smith/2010/03/obama-and-the-left-95-edition-026114

[6] https://harpers.org/archive/2022/02/separate-and-unequal-the-south-jim-crow-and-its-afterlives-adolph-reed-jr/

[7] "Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present"-An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. on the New York Times' 1619 Project-Tom Mackaman-20 December 2019-wsws.org

[8] "Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present"-An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. on the New York Times' 1619 Project-Tom Mackaman-20 December 2019-wsws.org

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

UK Post Office workers to stage national strike on May 3 against government pay restraint

(This article by Tony Robson first appeared on the website wsws.org)

Post Office workers are to take national strike action May 3, in opposition to pay restraint imposed in line with the public sector policy dictated by the Johnson government.

The one-day stoppage will close 114 Crown Post Offices (those run directly by the Post Office) around the country and there will be no cash deliveries or collections from 11,500 sub-post offices. The action involves over 1,000 workers including counter staff as well as clerical, administration and call centre workers.

Royal Mail van, outside the Axminster post office (Image Credit: Wikipedia/Felix O)

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted in March by a 97.3 percent majority for strike action in a ballot turnout of 70 percent. They have rejected a miserly 2.5 percent pay rise, offered as inflation climbs to a 30-year high of 6 percent CPI and 9 percent RPI.

The proposed two-year deal includes the pay freeze for last year and a lump sum of £250 in addition to the 2.5 percent from April this year.The determination of postal workers to fight back is in sharp contrast to the CWU. While the union is making token noises about the insulting pay offer, its efforts have been directed towards preventing a struggle from taking place.

Andy Furey, CWU Assistant General Secretary, told the Independent, “Despite this union’s best attempts to avoid strike action, the Post Office has displayed no interest whatsoever in meaningful negotiations.”

The union has confined itself to evasive references to a decent and fair agreement rather than specify a demand in line with inflation and which compensates for last year’s pay freeze.Now that a national strike is taking place the CWU is seeking to head off a confrontation with the government and drive a wedge between postal workers and millions of public sector workers suffering widespread austerity.

In a press release Furey states in reference to the Post Office, “They have told us that they’re freezing pay in keeping with official government and public-sector pay policy… But that’s an outrageous and dishonest excuse as the government’s austerity measures do not apply to the Post Office and it should be borne in mind that our members worked throughout the pandemic to provide essential services to the Great British public.”

He added that “the further irony here is that our members are always being told by senior management that they are a commercial operation and required to make a profit – yet the Post Office is a profitable concern – profits made by the hard work and dedication and skill of our members.”

Health workers, teachers, refuse workers and millions of other public sector workers have served on the frontline of the pandemic in which their safety was disregarded only to be rewarded with below inflation deals. The divisive approach of the CWU must be rejected in favour of a unified fightback.

Furey argues for accepting the entire framework of cost cutting and restructuring in the name of profitability on the false pretence that workers will get their “fair share” rather than suffer stepped-up exploitation.

The state-owned Post Office was separated off from Royal Mail when the latter was privatised back in 2012, splitting the cashier and retail operations from the letter and parcel delivery service. Since then, the number of Crown Post Offices has been reduced from 373 by more than two-thirds, to 114. Fully 99 percent of Post Offices are run by an independent postmaster, or what is described as a larger franchise partner, i.e., major retail chains.

The government subsidy has been reduced from £210 million in 2012-13 to £50 million annually, according to a Financial Times article last August, “in the drive to make the Post Office commercially viable.” Post Office CEO Nick Read explained that while the plan to remove all government subsidy, except for rural branches, by 2022 has been postponed, it was still intended to be achieved by 2025-6.

Read outlined plans to introduce self-service kiosks in 2,000 to 3,000 branches following the example of Post Canada. He admitted this would be at the expense of jobs. Read also referred to a move into the pick-up and drop-off market and for the Post Office to act as an outreach for banks that have deserted the high streets in favour of online services. The Post Office has entered into agreements with Amazon and DPD in relation to parcel deliveries, rather than their exclusive handling by Royal Mail.

The sole focus of the Post Office is to maximise profits as the government subsidy is stripped out. This can only further undermine the social obligations it is formally committed to in providing an accessible service to the elderly and most vulnerable, and will be done at the expense of workers’ jobs, pay and terms and conditions.

The Post Office has been at the centre of a massive frame-up of postal workers through the Horizon scandal. Hundreds of sub-postmasters and postmistresses were wrongfully convicted to cover up the defective Horizon IT auditing system designed and installed by Japanese company Fujitsu. This was introduced across the Post Office network in 1999 at the cost of £1 billion. The defects in the IT system showed false shortfalls in branch accounts and led to 736 unsafe convictions for offences ranging from false accounting, theft and fraud between 2000 and 2014, resulting in some prison sentences.

This was only brought to light due to the legal campaign by those wrongfully convicted and their supporters, spanning a 20-year period against bitter resistance from the Post Office. At the end of 2019 the Post Office finally agreed to pay damages to 555 claimants in civil cases. Last April the Court of Appeal quashed in a single ruling the convictions against 39 postmasters, part of a total of 72 such rulings to date, with many more expected to go to court. The bill of compensation for the victims of injustice meted out by the Post Office is estimated to be £1 billion.

One of the “Post Office 39” who had their convictions overturned is Seema Misra, a mother who was eight weeks pregnant with her second child when she was sentenced in 2010 for theft and false accounting, spending four months in prison, and ordered to pay £40,000 in compensation to the Post Office. Misra stated, “The Post Office was like a mafia. They have blood on their hands. We live in a developed country, how can we let these criminals roam around freely?”

There is widespread anger among postal workers over the fact that nobody in authority at the Post Office or Fujitsu has faced criminal prosecution for what has been described as the most “widespread miscarriage of justice” in recent UK history. Both parties have been shown to have withheld evidence regarding the faulty IT system. Paula Vennells, who oversaw the cover-up and persecution of sub-postmasters, is estimated to have raked in £5 million in pay and bonuses during her time as managing director and later chief executive of the Post Office before stepping down in 2019. 

Post Office workers should reject the CWU’s argument that their fight should be conducted separately from those in the public sector facing austerity. The claim that a pay rise can be achieved by accepting the pro-business framework for the Post Office of further restructuring to hike up profits is bogus.

We encourage Post Office workers to read the Socialist Equality Party statement, “The working class must mobilise to bring down the Johnson government.” This outlines a strategy to mobilise the working class independently of the Labour Party and trade unions, which act as accomplices of the government and the employers as they demand increased exploitation and social looting in the interests of the corporate and financial elite.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Letter to Janan Ganesh on "Elegant" Theories and the Ukraine Crisis

Dear Janan

Given that you are a journalist in Financial Times Global Affairs department, I was a little surprised that you could only find two previously discredited and bankrupt theoreticians, namely Francis Fukayama and Samuel Huntingdon, to prove your assertion that there is no "elegant" theory to explain the "Ukraine Crisis".Fukayama's "End of History" hardly prepared him for the Ukraine crisis, and his train wreck of an analysis of the End of the Soviet Union was almost as bad.

An elegant document released at the time by the World Socialist Website provided a superb and, I might add, elegant rebuttal to Fukayama stating "the dissolution of the USSR provoked within the bourgeoisie and its ideological apologists an eruption of euphoric triumphalism. The socialist nemesis had, for once and for all, been laid low! The bourgeois interpretation of the Soviet Union's demise found its essential expression in Francis Fukuyama's The End of History. Employing a potted version of Hegel's idealist phenomenology, Fukuyama proclaimed that the weary march of history had arrived at its final station—a US-style liberal bourgeois democracy based on the unfettered capitalist market. This was the summit of human civilisation! This theme was elaborated in countless variations by gullible and impressionistic petty-bourgeois academics, always anxious to be on what they take to be, at any given moment, the winning side of history".[1]  

As a journalist for the Financial Times, you will have access to every global media publication online and in paper form. So it is a little surprising that you ignore the one publication that would refute your premise. That publication is the World Socialist Website (wsws.org). I can only assume that you ignore this publication out of ideological consideration. It is clear from your previous writings that from an ideological standpoint, you are an anti-Marxist. If you were to suspend your ideological prejudice, you would find several articles on their website that would provide an elegant and correct perspective on the Ukraine war.

Please permit me to quote a rather elegant analysis. A letter was sent by WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North to a friend who requested his opinion on a recent online discussion held at a US college on the Russia-Ukraine war. David North makes the following point "Momentous events such as wars and revolutions invariably raise complex problems of causation. That is one of the reasons why the study of history is an indispensable foundation of serious political analysis. This general truth acquires exceptional importance in any discussion of Russia. This country was the site of arguably the most significant political event of the twentieth century, the 1917 October Revolution, whose historical, political and intellectual legacy still reverberates in our own time. The study of Soviet history remains critical to understanding the politics and problems of the contemporary world"[2].

Having read your columns on several occasions, I conclude that you have read very little about Russian history, particularly its revolution of 1917. Before writing such a provocative article, you should have brushed up on your history.

In doing so, maybe you would have suspended your anti-Marxism and not written a crass piece of journalism. Lastly, you write that "a strict realist wants you to believe that Putin would now be no trouble if only Nato had not moved east. Holding domestic values cheap, realism cannot explain why the sanctioning countries are almost all democracies. It cannot explain why Ukrainians want to face the west in the first place. When Putin himself cites culture and values, a realist must diagnose him with false consciousness and stress that what moves him is the dry calculation of the chessboard".[3]

I will call upon the elegant Mr North to refute your argument. North writes, "The examination of the aggressive foreign policy of the United States since the dissolution of the USSR is not only a matter of exposing American hypocrisy. How is it possible to understand Russian policies apart from analysing the global context within which they are formulated? Given that the United States has waged war relentlessly, is it irrational for Putin to view the expansion of NATO with alarm? He and other Russian policymakers are certainly aware of the enormous strategic interest of the United States in the Black Sea region, the Caspian region and, for that matter, the Eurasian landmass. It is not exactly a secret that the late Zbigniew Brzezinski and other leading US geostrategists have long insisted that US dominance of Eurasia—the so-called "World Island"—is a decisive strategic objective".

This is not to excuse Putin's actions. I condemn the war in Ukraine, but as the great Spinoza said once, " I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.[4]

 

Notes

janan.ganesh@ft.com

 

 



[1] The Struggle Against the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification-www.wsws.org/en/special/library/foundations-us/58.html

[2] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/03/19/cmmf-m19.html

[3] No grand theory can explain the Ukraine crisis- www.ft.com/content/881c14dd-08ce-4266-8127-24f3c398e8d3

[4] Baruch Spinoza 1632–77- Tractatus Politicus (1677) ch. 1, sect. 4 

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Regicide-The Trials of Henry Marten-John Worthen-Haus Publishing-30/08/2022-ISBN-13: 9781913368357

"If the world was emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John and John with Lilburne."

Henry Marten

"Let that ugly Rascall be gonne out of the Parke, that whore-master, or els I will not see the sport.[1]

Charles I

"And therefore, Sir, to give you your due and right, I must ingenuously a•… knowledge, that I have for a long time looked upon you, as one of the great p•…lars of the Liberties of the Commons of England, and your name amongst all ju•… and unbiassed men, hath been extraordinary famous this present Parliament, therefore, and for this, you suffered an expulsion of the House, and a reproachfull a•… unjust imprisonment in the Tower of London, by the guilded men of the time who (you then discovered) carried two faces under one hood; & many monet•… (if not some yeares) you continued an ejected person from your just place in th•… House"[2]

Rash oaths unwarrantable-John Lilburne

"He was a great lover of pretty girles, to whom he was so liberall that he spent the greatest part of his estate". He was a great and faithfull lover of his Countrey, and Never gott a farthing by Parliament. He was of an incomparable Witt for Repartes; not at all covetous; not at all Arrogant, as most of them were; a great cultor of Justice, and did always in the House take the part of the oppressed".

John Aubrey 

John Worthen's biography of Henry Worthen is both intriguing and illuminating. It is a sympathetic portrait of one of the leading figures of the English revolution. Marten was a republican way before it became fashionable, being the only convinced Republican in the Long Parliament at the outset of the civil war and was one of the few leaders of the English revolution to be intimately connected with the Leveller movement.

The book is deeply researched, drawing extensively on letters Marten wrote while awaiting trial. He was accused of organising the trial of Charles I and being one of the signatories of the King's death warrant. Amazingly, these letters remained intact since, during his captivity, his letters to his mistress Mary Ward were stolen and published in an attempt to destroy his reputation. However, their publication revealed a thoughtful, intelligent and tender man. Worthen's use of them is to be commended. They are an extraordinary source material.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Marten was at the fulcrum of the English bourgeois revolution. But history has not been kind to Henry Marten. Today, he is a neglected historical figure. If any person needed to be rescued from the condescension of history, it was Marten. It has not helped that several conservative and revisionist historians have heaped a pile of dead dogs on his historical reputation. Many have repeated old accusations that he was a womaniser and have tended to downplay his importance or close connection to the Leveller movement.

The unseriousness of these historians is perhaps encapsulated by the article in the august publication, The History of Parliament Blog, by Dr David Scott called Sex in the Long Parliament, in which he writes, "No sex survey of the Long Parliament, however brief, can omit its supposedly most libidinous member, the arch-republican MP for Berkshire, Henry Marten. Parliamentarians and royalists alike denounced him as a libertine and 'whoremaster’. Yet this moral outrage owed less to his womanising than to the shamelessness with which he abandoned his wife and lived openly with his mistress, to whom he seems to have remained faithful to the end of his life in 1680. The greatest sexual offence a Long Parliamentarian could commit was refusing to acknowledge it as an offence at all. If this were a defence of Marten's reputation, I would hate to see him attacking him.[3]

Worthen does not buy into Marten being a whore-master. Charles I's accusation, alongside many others, has been largely accepted down through the ages. A far more reasoned explanation can be found in Sarah Barber's article for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. She writes, "His reputation for whoring seems to have been generated by the flagrant way in which he breached conventional mores by openly living with a common-law wife, Mary Ward, whose brother, Job, was parliamentarian commander of the fort at Tilbury. There is evidence that they were a couple from as early as 1649 when they lavishly entertained visiting dignitaries and kept liveried servants together. They may well have been a couple from Marten's earliest time in London in 1640. If so, this was a relationship that remained constant for forty years. It was, however, adulterous, and Marten was quite open about it. Mary referred to herself and was referred to by others as Mary Marten. There were frequent plays on the word 'leveller' to argue that Marten's radical political stance was, in fact, a synonym for the seduction of women, and satires on Mary to imply his possession of a 'creature', in the same way, that his regiment and his political power were bought. The couple had three daughters: Peggy, Sarah, and Henrietta (Bacon-hog).[4]

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Worthen's book is his failure to pursue more in-depth research into Marten's close connection to the Leveller movement, particularly his association with its leader John Lilburne. Further research is needed also regarding Marten’s time in the New Model Army and to the extent of Leveller's ideas permeating the Army. Did Marten spread Leveller inspired ideas amongst his troops, and how did he come by the secret codes that the Levellers used to hide their correspondence?.

According to Sarah Barber, "Marten developed a close working relationship with the Leveller leaders during the late 1640s. He was closest to John Wildman, who was to marry Lucy Lovelace. Wildman was named with Marten in a cypher outlining sympathetic individuals and regiments, as well as identifying opponents, during the army agitation of summer 1647. Throughout their lives, Marten and Wildman retained their cypher letters as pen names. John Lilburne also trusted and respected Marten. The latter chaired the committee charged with examining Lilburne's imprisonment, a committee that was unable to secure Lilburne's release, and in Rash Oaths Unwarrantable. The Leveller published an invective against Marten. Marten was hurt by Lilburne's personal attack and drafted a reply, 'Rash censures uncharitable', but did not publish it. The two seem to have mended their relationship and developed mutual respect. Marten also knew several minor Leveller figures. He took part in negotiations to draw up an Agreement of the People and was praised by Lilburne as the only parliamentarian to actively do so in late 1648. Marten approved of the idea of a fundamental constitution and was later, with Edward Sexby, to assist the frondeurs in drawing up a similar agreement for the French rebels".[5]

Despite Worthen's reluctance to deeply pursue Marten's connection with the Levellers, this is a much-needed attempt to restore Marten's historical importance. Hopefully, this book gets a wide readership and opens up a debate about the much-maligned Marten.

 

Notes

S. Barber, A revolutionary rogue: Henry Marten and the English republic (2000)

Henry Marten and The Levellers at the National Portrait Gallery-john Rees- www.youtube.com 

 

 

About the Author

JOHN WORTHEN is a biographer and historian. Professor of D. H. Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham from 1994-2003, he is the author of critically-acclaimed biographies of D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot and Robert Schumann.



[1] Aubrey's Brief Lives-By John Aubrey

[2] Early English Books Online- https://proquest.libguides.com/eebopqp

[3] Sex in the Long Parliament- https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2019/08/22/sex-in-the-long-parliament/

[4] https://www-oxforddnb-com.

[5] https://www-oxforddnb-com 

Monday, 18 April 2022

Ford, Joseph. 2021. Writing the Black Decade: Conflict and Criticism in Francophone Algerian Literature. Lexington Books: New York and London. Kindle $ 45.00

In studying Francophone Algerian Literature of the 1990s, a period otherwise known as the Black Decade or la Décennie Noire, Ford finds out that the literary outputs reify it instead of clarifying the conflict.  Indeed, literary outputs published by celebrity figures both during the 1990s and after not only stay neutral before the ideological struggle between the secular-and-military status quo on the one hand and their Islamist contestants on the other but deem it their mission to testify for posterity. 

That war was tagged cultural and simplified to the point of pitting progressivists against depressives. Such a binary portrayal gained currency during the post-Cold War context, where ideas of the clash of civilizations became the Modus Operandi. Generations of Algerian authors, Ford specifies, have uncritically fallen to that categorization less because they were complicit with the state’s narrative but more due to channels of reception in France. Often, those channels recourse to timeless portrayals that reactivated the spectacle (never the essence) of Algeria’s war of independence: enlightened Algerian democrats as Les pieds noirs against bearded medievalists, reactivating FLN recidivists. Only from February 2019 onward, the literary scene starts to disentangle this framing, counting some writers who dare to explore the black decade with less bias and a satisfying complexity.     

In discussing Francophone Algerian literature, Ford follows a chronological approach. Chapter One studies testimonial novels by authors such as Rachid Mimouni. Written in realism, Mimouni’s novels, like Rachid Boujedra’s, have been behind instituting the binary and reductive approach. To their credit, Assia Djebar and Maïssa Bey practised restraint, specifying that they prefer not to subscribe to either representation or testimony.  

Chapter Two explores the writings of Salim Bachi as the latter recourses to myth, a promising mode of writing that breaks with Mimouni’s testimonial fiction. The mythical undertaking registers his embrace for historical readings of the Black Decade. But 9/11 sees him falling on the trope of the clash of civilizations.    

Chapter Three focuses on imaginative outputs by Habib Ayoub. Here grotesque renditions of leaders deconstruct the ways ordinary Algerians become complicit in orchestrating their own apolitical lives. Both leaders and the subaltern equally evoke the language of heroism besetting the war of independence.  

Chapter Four examines Kamel Daoud’s Meursault, contre-enquête and finds that contrary to the nuanced approach besetting the work, the framing of the work and its reception by heavy French media and the polemics marking Daoud’s journalistic writings have been behind a resurgence of the old binary lenses.   

Chapter Five reviews Mustapha Benfodil’s Archéologie du chaos (amoureux). Fords find this work a bold statement elucidating its author’s dissatisfaction with the testimonial mode and his radical disentangling from simplistic reading. Ford assumes that conceptual experimentations such as ‘wild readings’ or les lectures sauvages do reverse political power because complicity with the powers that be is thought to be rooted in mistaken readings.     

The transition of the Algerian novel that addresses the Black Decade from the realist to the mythical to the grotesque to quasi-historical to the modernist mode of expression illustrates promising progress. Undoing the complicity of oppositional discourses with the status quo can only be possible through undoing the binary matrix that has stigmatized both the practices of power and society throughout the Black Decade and since.

Ford seems to be in awe of Benfodil’s experimentations and is somehow satisfied with the overall evolution of Francophone Algerian authors’ perception of what took place during the 1990s. Perhaps, he should read these experimentations for what they are: mere lexical excitations. Benfodil’s spectacled readings cannot allow him to fundamentally grasp the Black Decade or even the hirak of February 2019 as a class struggle. Grappling with Daoud’s fiction and journalism remains a promising path for approximating that struggle irrespective of media framings.    




Fouad Mami

Professor of English

University Ahmed Draia—Adrar, Algeria. 

fouad.mami@univ-adrar.edu.dz 




Sneed, A. Roger. 2021. The Dreamer and the Dream: Afrofuturism and Black Religious Thought (New Suns: Race, Gender, and Sexuality). Ohio State University Press. $ 99.95

Is it possible to rework a religion in order to serve emancipatory ends? From the outset, the project seems not only futile but self-defeating. But less one precipitates, Sneed’s proposal does not apply makeup on some old synthesis. For Black religious thought has been classically a contradiction in movement: a white God can only service white supremacy, exacerbating African-Americans’ extended slavery and misery. With science fiction (novels and films) and experimental music, there emerge promising conceptions of God and religion that are subversive to white supremacy. Artistically, Sneed qualifies these conceptions as Afrofuturism. The book does not claim that blueprints are ready or that meaningful liberation is imminent. Rather, Sneed claims Afrofuturism “disrupts pervasive marking of race and destructive coding of Black bodies and existence as inferior” (p. xii). It is a field of reflection that promises to propagate toward a revolution. 

The book lies in eight chapters. Chapters one and two are an expansion of the introduction. Chapters three to six are the blood-pumping parts of the argument. Seven and eight are an extension of the conclusion and the postscript. The first chapter examines how mainstream science fiction has built quite a reputation for avoiding Blackness, a metastasis of slavery and colonialism, and how Afrofuturism struggles to redress that avoidance. Sneed observes that the science fiction genre remains condescending to Black authors and audiences. And this repurposing functions in ways that are more than just reversals of white supremacy.

The second chapter clarifies the understanding that Black religious thought and Black popular culture are not mutually exclusive or simply different endeavours. It is precisely through Black popular culture that one can understand the evolving practice of Black religious thought. Differently put, Afrofuturism helps set a progressive Black religious thought. Ideologies such as Black liberation or womanist theologies should be viewed as Afrofuturist endeavours seeking to negotiate an empowering Black religious thought. Afrofuturism cannot be dubbed as naively utopian.   

The third chapter finds Octavia Butler, an architect of intersectional Afrofuturism. With the dystopian moments that her Parable series accentuate, women characters, like Olmania, ensure historical continuity and exasperation with heterosexual norms. According to Sneed, Butler galvanizes Black people through Earthseed, a holistic religion that dares to revise sedimented conceptualizations of God. The trickster God proposes openings for integrating Afrofuturism into humanism.

Queerness in chapter four operates as salvation. Janelle Monáe’s select albums and androids critically target misogyny, homophobia, racism, white supremacy, and classicism. The pansexuality that defines her dramatis personae Cindi Mayweather is her signature for reinventing the world so that pathologies damaging Black experiences are reversed through Afrofuturistic imageries. The disturbing recollections that viewers experience in slave auctioning her androids as in: “Many Moons” underline the commodification of bodies; queer dance becomes her blueprint to bypass prevalent instantiations of slavery.

Chapter five specifies how Deep Space Nine (DS9) alters the trajectory set by the Star Trek franchise. With Captain Benjamin Sisko, the protagonist of DS9, Black life is no longer unidimensional. Through his “encounter with the Prophets (or wormhole aliens)” (p. 78), Benny Russel or Sisko offers a sustained critique of Black religious lives who trust in a God who is not outside space and time.

Chapter six interrogates possibilities of emancipation in Black Panther, a 2018 film, where Africa and Africans, through the imaginary republic of Wakanda, have experienced neither slavery nor colonialism. Here, too, men lie beyond salvation while women are saviours. Like her name suggests in Arabic, Nakia stands for pure plentitude. Featuring Afrofuturistic films, western monotheism and toxic masculinity are the invisible enemies.

As with every sedimented concept is contested, Sneed examines in chapter seven those creative attempts by Black liberationists to cancel time in order to undo Christian eschatology. He notes how linear temporality sets Blackness for defeat. In projecting the mythological content of Ancient Egypt into space, Afrofuturists can conceive of an eschatology that targets the destruction of white supremacy. Chronological time coerces African Americans to embrace false history as the authentic ones. 

Chapter eight teases out the possibility of pressing Black science fiction to yield an Afrofuturist identity and an Afrofuturist religious identity outside the church to expand Black emancipation. The chapter reconnects the dots: Afrofuturism and Black religious thought, focusing on the Afrofuturist doing the job of bridging the gap. The conclusion showcases brief excursions into current development and productions to outline future directions for Afrofuturistic religious thought.

In stressing intersectionality (the rejection of hierarchization of oppressions) as the way forward for Afrofuturism, I am afraid that Sneed has not well registered Toni Morrison’s warning that racism functions as a distraction for the work ahead. One cannot miss the postmodernist stance of rejecting causality in intersectionality. Since equal preoccupation with gender or race flattens serious engagement with the class. Besides, it is unclear how readers process Butler’s mythical creation of Earthseed as intersectional and not as foundational. It is one way of claiming that God “…does not need to break into history, as it does not exist outside of history.” (p. 52) and is completely different to say that God is the embodiment of change or a trickster and where adherents have to develop an adaptive belief system literally. The first claim is that Butler sees nothing new under the sun because the core principle that defines humans is timeless. In the second, there is no core principle to begin with. Likewise, deeming “Monáe’s resistance to male consumption [as] not simultaneously resistant to capitalist consumption” (p. 66) questions the relevance of intersectionality as a tenable approach for Afrofuturism.

I cannot agree more with Sneed’s distinction between the erotic and pornographic in Monáe’s Dirty Computer since “Cindi is less Frankenstein’s monster and more the incarnation of the divine in cybernetic form.” (p. 68). Here, radical love becomes accessible through radical alterity à la Hegelian Christ. But while queerness is surely subversive, it cannot be revolutionary. When reading that capitalism is not the enemy, and only white supremacy and heterosexism are, then wonders if Monáe has truly seized why the capitalistic mode of production values estrangement in and for itself. This mode of production cannot stand heterosexual norms because it is precisely in heterosexuality where a real potential for bypassing capitalism lies. Historical continuity dictates the historical necessity to undo the über oppression and class exploitation. That is why eschatological destination, as elaborated in chapter seven, remains nowhere as nearly helpful. Sun Ra’s film points toward the posthuman. But restarting life on another planet is exactly what white supremacists want Blackness to do. This explains why Afrofuturism should avoid apocalyptic preoccupations and the celebration of estrangement lest it engages in half a revolution.  


Fouad Mami

Université d’Adrar (Algeria)

ORCID iD https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1590-8524

fouad.mami@univ-adrar.edu.dz




 

A Critical Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. By: Beinin, Joel. Haddad, Bassam and Seikaly, Sherene. Eds. 2021. Stanford University Press. Stanford, California. 2021; pp. 344; Paperback: $28.00. ISBN-10: 1503614476; ISBN-13:‎ 978-1503614475

Joel Beini et al.’s volume is premised on the idea that ‘Rentier State Theory’ (RST) can no longer serve as an explanatory principle in analyzing state dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The editors presuppose that only a methodology rooted in critical political economy can explain the fortunes of MENA peoples in their respective polities. 

Class used to be swept under the carpet, but not anymore in this volume. A Critical Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa prides its credentials on reversing the trend put in place by RST. Given the neoliberal domineering order, marshaling the courage to discuss class is certainly an added value. Nevertheless, what is troublesome is the rejection of causality in this volume. The editors follow Louis Althusser’s structuralist approach where “…causes are simultaneous effects; all events are situated in a relational matrix; all social hierarchies are subject to contestations. (p. 1) The flattening of causes by equating them with effects and presupposing both as free-roaming enunciations explain the revival of classless for tracing classes’ role in deciding the destinies for emancipation and more towards stultifying the dynamics of social change.

The editors claim that developmentalism is a colonial and postcolonial paradigm par excellence. Developmentalism has been responsible for the reintegration of precapitalistic modes of production into global capitalism. The contributors show that indeed, postcolonial regimes share with their respective colonial antecedents more than the former are willing to admit. Applying units of measurements such as GPDs not only hides how measurements remain littered with ideological biases but that the sophistry of numbers can replace analysis. The oversight paves the way for what the editors seize as “the triumphalist account of the European Miracle” (p. 10) which is nothing but an ideological imposition of the imperial modes of production. Developmentalism sells the illusion that peoples of the MENA region may one day become the replica of Europe.

The book is divided into two uneven parts: Part I: “Categories of Analysis” has four chapters. Kristen Alff in Chapter One illustrates how diverse practices of land tenure under the Ottomans, and contrary to Orientalist allegations, have never been a hindrance to capital accumulation. Mercantile activities have been predominant in the region but the wide-ranging practices of Middle East elites have not been capitalistically-driven. The imperialists who came by the end of the nineteenth century and all through World War II coerced Egyptians and peoples of the Levant into capitalism (p. 26). But according to Alff, the imperialists simply pressed through various Oriental regimes such as the corvée system that was already there to enforce capitalism. The only violence that capitalism introduces in the Middle East, Alff finds, is the commodification of labor (p. 42).

Max Ajil, Bassam Haddad and Zeinab Abul-Magd in Chapter Two trace the fortunes of developmentalism in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. The 1967 defeat before Israel brought a coup de grace for Egypt and Syria’s developmental projects. But the coup de grace implies that subterranean forces, varying between class antagonism and cold war politics (stretching to the developmental policy of careless borrowings of Muhammad Ali’s successors, a century before) had been at work. Again, it is large-scale debts that were meant to fund development that decided the fate of Arab Socialism in Egypt and Syria. (p. 61) While Egypt succumbed immediately to the infitah policy, Syria resisted but not without a considerable cost to the material well-being of its population. Tunisia’s nationalist movement was only pitted against European settlers’ supremacy. The moment that supremacy was reversed, President Lahbib Bourguiba was happy with just replacing, not undoing, the colonial system (p. 51). The contributors explain the persistent infightings in Syria today on the ground that “…the war simply is too lucrative to dissolve.” (p. 67).

Chapter Three by Timothy Mitchell dispels roaming myths regarding the role of oil both in the MENA region and the world at large. Oil supply—readers find—is governed by conglomerates whose concern is not ensuring the supply of hydrocarbons but rather the control of production and circulation for the sake of cashing in monumental profits. Once ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron become the principal players in the market, their efforts are geared toward the orchestration of scarcity: maintaining the illusory combination of risk and rarity whereby “…earnings stretch far into the future” (p. 73). No less consequential is Mitchell’s observation that, unlike coal which helped to create mass democracies, oil accelerates regressions towards inegalitarian polities. Labor has not challenged oil conglomerates, only nation-states have. The unfortunate side of this equation is that these states become resistant to coups (p. 77). Perhaps it is better to underline how MENA states have become resistant to democratic change since by exempting populations from taxation, governments could elide the maxim of no taxation without representation. Again, RST is found to be reductive because states benefiting from oil revenues have integrated the newly generated wealth into other business ventures and created independent assets, spelling rapid growth.  

Shana Marshall in Chapter Four finds that the endurance of say, Egyptian, Syrian or Algerian militaries in power despite popular contestations can be explained through the latter’s congruent connections with the global military-industrial complex. Such regional militaries are not simple to state functionaries but form a powerful class whose interests explain the need for a powerful metropolitan class for growth through expanding arms sales. In recycling oil money in Western economies, the MENA militaries become indispensable, even, invincible for the world order as it is, making a radical change exceptionally challenging. Suffice it to know that “[m]ajor arms exporters and their host governments were often at the forefront of efforts to pressure the international financial institutions to rescind demands for sharp reductions in defense spending.” (p. 91)

Part II: Country/Regional Studies: comprises seven chapters of which I am zooming only on two as they best illustrate the editors’ stance vis-à-vis class. Adam Hanieh’s fifth chapter rejects Hossein Mahdavy’s RST whereby Gulf governments have been classically approached. Hanieh posits that state and class are phenomenologically interlinked. Therefore, reliance on oil may have initially served, even fueled, consumptive habits but in the long run, it has facilitated the diversification of Gulf economies, creating a wealth-generating class, not crooked elites. This position contradicts standard accounts of the Gulf. Meanwhile, Hanieh never undermines these economies’ heavy reliance on non-citizens as this labor regime can be fatal.

Chapter Eight by Muriam Haleh Davis follows Jacques Marseille’s presupposition that starting from 1930 onward France was overburdened by her colonies, and that the idea of metropolitan France enriching itself from the colonies is but a myth. Davis posits that no rupture exists when moving from colonial to postcolonial modes of production (p. 164). What can be considered as a rupture is between pre-colonial and colonial modes of production in which the appropriation of tribal lands not only explains the proletarianization of large sways of the Algerian population but the foundation of a system that systematically worked against the historical owners of the land.

Indeed, the importance of class is not news. Nevertheless, the book stays fixated on one class: a single-player; the one that is holding power at this point. Nowhere do readers see the strife that usually accompanies competing classes, a situation that leaves the same readers wondering if editors consider lesser classes unworthy of attention or whether attempts to alter the present configuration of classes in the region are simply naïve and wasteful. Such a stance explains a static account of class; an account divorced from regimes of land tenure, oil production and circulation, arms dealerships, state control, and the challenges facing labor. The integration of class in understanding the tapestry making the MENA political economy is not there yet. Various contributors, including the last one, zoom in on the role that the lesser classes or the subaltern may play in reshaping the political economy, but overall, the contributors treat the subaltern as an immobile category: only the imperialists, the capitalists are rendered as agents of history.   

Regarding the rising fortunes of capital in the Gulf, it remains a mystery how the emergence of the capitalistic class which the contributors claim to be independent of rent has neither flattened the state’s capacity for coercion nor forced it toward democratization. Such a state of affairs leaves interested audiences wondering how could such feudal monarchies maintain their grip on power if indeed there exists a solid capitalistic class, as Hanieh advances. Indeed, the crash of the real-estate sector in 2009 offers a reflective insight into how privately owned businesses could be after all a bubble as they cannot survive without state patronage because they are concentrated in non-productive sectors. The thesis of the state playing the role of “a midwife of capitalistic class formation …” (p.121) cannot stand up to scrutiny. Similarly, Chapter Eight makes it look that Algeria’s independence was a charity from the capitalists. This is no different from squeezing facts to meet a theory. All these untenable conclusions result from confusing causes with effects. 

While the book traces a progressivist line from Orientalism and modernization theories, the overall approach is non-emancipatory as it is geared toward justifying the triumphant status quo, the one that emerged after the 2011 popular uprisings. With this conservative outlook, it becomes unsurprising to find the three contributors of Chapter Two concluding that these uprisings subscribe to classical bourgeois revolutions (p. 66). They do, but only when flattening cause and effect, that is, when refusing to register that the uprisings initially started as incendiary but the revolutionary momentum was crushed in consequence of the counterrevolution coercive policies, the least of which has been physical violence. Thus, the book’s approach is geared towards confusing, not explaining what indeed took place. This underlines the extent to which a triumphant regime of political economy pretends to provide a critique by simply promoting capital’s counterrevolutionary moment.   

 

 

Fouad Mami

Université d’Adrar (Algeria)

ORCID iD https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1590-8524

fouad.mami@univ-adrar.edu.dz