Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Trotsky ‘massively regrets’ breaking pre-revolution pledge to give power to the proletariat

Following last week’s violent suppression of the Kronstadt Uprising, Leon Trotsky, Commissar for War in the government of Soviet Russia, has come under fire for abandoning his pre-revolution pledge that he would preside over the transfer of power to the proletariat. Opinion polls suggest that public approval in him and other former Mensheviks who joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 has fallen from 25% at the time of the October Revolution to just 9% today, and that Trotsky himself is the most loathed and distrusted Russian politician since Ivan the Terrible, possibly since the Mongol overlords of the Middle Ages. Half their former voters now say they will vote for the left Socialist Revolutionaries at elections for the next All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

‘I’ve been very clear that of course I regret – I massively regret – in politics, as in life, saying that you’re going to do something and then finding that you can’t, and I’ve sought to explain how that came about’, Mr Trotsky said in an interview with the Soviet Broadcasting Corporation today.

‘But Comrade Trotsky’, said the interviewer, ‘in 1917 you toured the factories and garrisons of Red Petrograd, and had yourself photographed carrying a placard saying “All power to the Soviets !” Yet since the revolution you have presided over the transformation of the soviets into passive and bureaucratised instruments of rule by the commissars, suppressed the factory committees in favour of one-man-management, concentrated all power in the hands of the Bolshevik party politburo and ordered the Red Army to slaughter the Kronstadt sailors – the vanguard of the proletariat – the most loyal sons of the revolution ! How can you square this with your pre-revolution claim that you would break with the practices of the old order and restore people’s faith in Russian politics ?’

Mr Trotsky tried to assure his audience that ‘the reason of course is very, very simple: we were really relying on the revolution spreading to the advanced capitalist West, and we didn’t appreciate the scale of the social and economic problems and the sheer extent of Russian backwardness left behind by the Provisional Government.’ Yet critics are suggesting that Mr Trotsky’s U-turn will further damage popular confidence in Russian politicians. They point out that he came to power promising ‘Peace, Bread, Land’, yet presided over the establishment of a dictatorship that sparked a civil war that killed millions, forcibly confiscated grain from starving peasants, reduced the Russian population to such levels of hunger that cannibalism became widespread, and persecuted and silenced the Bolsheviks’ political opponents through the use of the secret police.

Members of the Menshevik opposition argue that back in 1904, Mr Trotsky had made a trenchant critique of the authoritarian implications of the politics of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, but since entering into coalition with Mr Lenin, he had become pretty much indistinguishable from him politically. Yet Mr Trotsky has been at pains to stress what he calls the ‘progressive’ character of his plan for the militarisation of labour, claiming that ‘the poorest 25% of workers will actually be better off than under the previous system.’ In an effort to quell disillusionment among his supporters, Mr Trotsky has apparently obtained from his government partners a promise that the poorest 25% of workers would receive an extra bag of grain per week.

Greater Surbiton News Service

Tuesday, 14 December 2010 Posted by | Britain | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Student protester hit by policeman suffers brain damage – Daily Mail readers respond

The Daily Mail reports:

‘A student was rushed to hospital for emergency brain surgery after he was allegedly hit with a police truncheon during last night’s tuition fees protest.

Alfie Meadows, 20, developed bleeding on his brain when he was hit as he tried leave the ‘kettling’ area outside Westminster Abbey, his mother said.

The Middlesex University student fell unconscious on the way to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where he underwent a three-hour operation to save his life.

He was one of 44 people, including six police officers, treated in hospital after London’s most violent night of student rioting over fees.’

The following are a selection of its readers’ responses:

‘”Allegedly hit by a police truncheon”.

So, there’s no proof it was a police officer who hit him. It is just as likely it was one of his fellow thugs wielding a sign or piece of metal fencing who hit him.

Did he not see what had happened at the previous riots, sorry “protests” in London? Did he expect the police to just back off and let him and his fellow yobs take control of the streets?

Well done to the Met – you took a battering and responded with considerable restraint and professionalism. I strongly believe you will have the support of the vast majority of this country if you respond with vastly more force next time, and I sincerely hope you do.

– martin, Brighton, 11/12/2010 13:10’

‘If he hadn’t been there it would not have happened. And what was his mother doing at the protest? I thought this was a protest by students not students parents.

– John, Keighley,UK, 11/12/2010 13:06’

‘Hopefully this foolish waste of space child or his parents will have to foot the bill for the cost of treating him. As a tax payer, I begrudge paying towards the cost of treating idiots.

– Robbie G, Westminster, 11/12/2010 12:47’

‘And here lies the problem. Idealistic young pups who think they know it all. For the most part I blame thier parents and thier university, marxist lecturers for filing these kids heads with propaganda. These students need to look at the motives of those who are pushing thier buttons and controling thier minds.

– Max, London, 11/12/2010 12:28’

‘These protestors get exactly what they deserve and once again the police get all the blame.
The police should be allowed to use tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets against these so-called university hooligans. They shouldn’t get a penny towards their education from the tax-payer.

– Mags, Ipswich, England, 11/12/2010 11:33’

‘I do not care what happened to this student. The police should be using water-cannons & tear gas on these idiots as they’ve clearly been infiltrated by left-wing trouble makers & anarchist groups. As for the ones who insulted the dead by desecrating Churchills statue & the cenotaph, they should be shot on sight.

– Draco got it right., Ryde, IOW., 11/12/2010 10:52’

‘These students are a joke. When they don’t get their own way it’s the fault of the police, the govt…but not themselves! In WWi & WW2 young English men rallied to the call of the nation and many made the ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, this current ‘mob’ would only rally to the call of free beer and drugs, as for sacrifice they do not even know the meaning of the word. They are a disgrace and it is the students who should be cleaning up London, not the taxpayers…again. The money spent containing these protests, cleaning up after them, prosecuting the thugs, is all money that could have gone to lowering tuition fees – the irony is apparently lost on these dullards!

– Bob Dalton, Willington, England, 11/12/2010 10:41′

‘”Alfie’s mother, Susan Meadows, 55, an English literature lecturer”
“Alfie’s father, Matthew Meadows, 62, a writer and artist”
“Mr Meadows, who is studying philosophy”

This tells me everything I need to know.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for “Poor Alfie” – no any other paracites vandalising my country.

– George Brown, Romford, Essex, 11/12/2010 10:07’

‘would you please show myself and others the evidence that you have that he was struck by a police baton? until then it could have been an object thrown by the hooligan element that was there .

– john, dyfed, 11/12/2010 10:04’

And so on and so on.

But the winner is:

‘Wonder if those despicable and evil thugs would have attacked Police Officers, in such a disgusting way as they did to ours, in countries such as Iran and Saudia Arabia? NO, they know better than that. They would have had their hands chopped off, or treated in some other barbaric way. They were nothing but cowards to hide their faces, and I believe a majority of those were not even students – more like the illegal immigrants which Labour let slip away in this country!

– Therese, Cardiff, Wales, 11/12/2010 13:00’

Welcome to Britain.

Saturday, 11 December 2010 Posted by | Britain | , , , , , | 5 Comments

How London’s police helped to engineer a riot

Yesterday I attended the demonstration in London against the government’s plan to raise university tuition fees to £9,000 a year (a near trebling of the current figure), which took place outside parliament while the measure was being debated and voted on inside. It was a rude awakening for someone who had wrongly assumed that Britain was a country that respected freedom of assembly.

There were in fact two demonstrations; one organised by student activists that began at noon at Malet Street and marched to Parliament Square, and a ‘candlelit vigil’ organised by the National Union of Students and University College Union that began at 3pm nearby on Victoria Embankment, kept separate from the first march with the apparent intention of appearing respectable in the eyes of Daily Mail editorial writers. I was on the first demo, but assumed I’d be able to wander over to the second one at some point.

However, after the demonstration reached Parliament Square, the police blocked off all exits from the square, so people were not able to go in or out. The policemen were all helmeted and armoured, and it felt like the mostly peaceful demonstrators were a priori being treated as troublemakers and confronted. Those who arrived later were not allowed to join, and in practice, the demonstration was broken up into at least two groups. It was freezing cold, and people burned scrap wood and at least one park bench to keep warm. People stood like this for hours; there were no toilets and no possibility of going off to buy food or coffee. At one corner of the square opposite Westminster Abbey, mounted policemen were deployed and a confrontation broke out with some of the demonstrators; I couldn’t see who started it. A couple of people tried unsuccessfully to smash a reinforced window in one of the government buildings on the other side of the square. But the overwhelming majority of the people gathered were peaceful. They were mostly students, but some were actual schoolchildren.

At about 4pm, I thought I’d wander over to the NUS/UCU demo down the road, but this was impossible as the police were not allowing anyone to leave the square. A lot of people wanted to leave by then, and were getting very frustrated about being prevented, and a chant went up, ‘Let us leave !’, which the police ignored. At some time before 5pm, the crowd I was in facing the police at the exit onto Parliament Street became fed up, began to push, and succeeded in pushing its way through the police line. There were large trenches in the road where roadwork was being carried out, and as I was pushed along by the crowd, I briefly thought I might fall in; a policeman helped to pull me and the man in front of me safely past. However, the crowd had simply succeeded in breaking into another kettle, and there was still no possibility of leaving. I had wanted to stay until the parliamentary vote at 5.30pm, but others wanted to leave; a frightened looking girl who looked about eighteen asked me what was happeneing, and whether we would be allowed to leave, but I didn’t know.

I do not know why the police wanted to keep the two groups of demonstrators separate, or why they kept people kettled who wanted to go home, but the strategy seemed almost designed to make the demostrators angry and frustrated. Then, at a certain point, the police for some reason began lining up vans inside the kettle, and some demonstrators stood in front of the vans to prevent them from moving forward. A group of police in riot gear, with shields, confronted the demonstrators at the vans, and fighting broke out. Exactly what the police were trying to achieve by aggressively confronting bottled up demonstrators was completely unclear. Of course, there was a minority of troublemakers among the demonstrators who were out for a fight, but most of us were just trapped and confused about what was happening.

Demonstrators by the vans pelted the police with missiles, then began to hurl metal fences against the riot shields. The police then advanced against the demonstrators on both sides of the kettle, beating them with batons and crushing the crowd together. ‘Where are we supposed to go ?’, one girl shouted. Some of us clambered over the low wall separating the road and the pavement to escape the advancing police and the fighting. I then climbed onto a raised platform at the edge of the pavement, and watched the fighting. The police hit people with batons. Eventually, the fighting subsided and the police allowed people to leave.

At one level, I was grateful it was the UK rather than, say, Italy or Russia, as individual officers showed a lot of discipline and restraint; things would have been a lot worse if individual officers had lashed out indiscriminately on their own initiative, as police in such circumstances have been known to do. But that is a tribute to the ordinary policeman – not the strategy of the police command, which put its own officers in harm’s way.

The police strategy did not serve to protect people or property from violence; on the contrary. Although there was a minority among the demonstrators that was actively seeking violence, the police strategy of keeping people ketted for hours in the cold, and preventing them from going home, appeared guaranteed to ensure that a riot would take place, and that even some demonstrators who hadn’t been out for trouble would be drawn into it. The strategy of not only keeping people kettled, but then inserting a phalanx of armed police into the kettle was sheer lunacy – what did they think would happen ? The moderate, peaceful majority was lumped together with the minority and treated as dangerous deviants, instead of what they were – citizens exercising their democratic right to protest. Those of us who wanted to move to the second demonstration were prevented from doing so – a violation of the right of freedom of assembly.

I attended the great anti-poll-tax demonstration in March 1990 – rioting broke out there too, but on the march itself, the police treated the demonstrators a lot better. I have been on many demonstrations in London, but I’ve never seen anything like this: the police treating peaceful demonstrators as troublemakers, then pursuing a strategy guaranteed to ensure trouble would occur. And one couldn’t help but suspect that by making the experience of demonstrating as unpleasant as possible, the covert intention was to deter people from exercising their right to freedom of protest in the future.

Hat tip for the video: Oliver.

Friday, 10 December 2010 Posted by | Britain, London, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , | 4 Comments

Higher education in Britain must be defended from the barbarians

University tuition fees are set to rise to up to £9,000 in the UK, while government spending on higher education will be cut by 40%. This will leave the UK with one of the world’s most expensive systems of public education for the student. It represents an attack on education, civilisation and meritocracy in the name of barbarism and philistinism. While they’re at it, they may as well just tip the contents of the Bodleian and Cambridge University Libraries onto big bonfires, which could reduce heating bills, then bulldoze the buildings to make way for shopping malls. That would no doubt save some money, and reduce the burden for the Big-Brother-watching taxpayer.

As a child studying at Holland Park Comprehensive School in London in the 1980s, I naively believed that hard work and talent should be rewarded, and that a university education would be my reward for studying hard. I was one of those who actually worked at school and did my homework. And it wasn’t always easy, with classes constantly being disrupted by loudmouthed morons who despised education, viewed school as oppression and teachers as the enemy. They dossed around for five years and left school with minimal or no qualifications, after having made the learning experience as difficult as possible for the rest of us. So difficult was it to work in such an environment, that I found I could study more in one hour of poorly attended optional after-school maths class – where there was no noise and disruption – than in three hours of regular classes.

Welcome to England: the European nation that most despises schools, universities, teachers and students, and that most celebrates stupidity and vulgarity. As encapsulated in the moron’s refrain to the student  – ‘I’d rather have a degree from the university of life’. The subtext being that education corrupts and divorces students from the real world, and that there is a greater nobility in ignorance, prejudice and underachievement. The binge-drinking yobs and football hooligans are the ones with the real integrity, not the poncey students with their poncey books.

How, you may ask, did a nation that thinks like this produce some of the world’s greatest institutions of learning, including the world famous Cambridge and Oxford, but also excellent universities and colleges like Imperial College, York, the London School of Economics, Warwick and others ? In fact, it’s a question of two sides of the same coin. There was a traditional belief that university education should be the preserve of the privileged few, while the masses should have no access to it. Unjust as it was, this system did at least have the merit of producing treasures like Cambridge and Oxford. A more enlightened ruling class would have sought to preserve this treasure and maximise the chances of students from all social backgrounds of benefiting from it.

Instead, for the last twenty years or so, our politicians – both Labour and Conservative – seem to have been following an inverted form of Flaubert’s dictum, and to believe that the point of democracy is to lower the ruling class to the level of stupidity attained by the masses. So left-wingers despise good universities as ‘elitist’, and would like to drag down our good universities to the level of third-rate polytechnics. And right-wingers see the whole purpose of politics as reducing taxes for well-off people, so that all government money spent on anything – never mind something as pointless as education – is a waste. Far be it from such people to value education as an end in itself; at best, left-wingers view it as yet another front for their experiments at social engineering to benefit some variously defined ‘poor’, while right-wingers want it simply to churn out suitably-qualified drudges for the workforce.

Thinking of this kind led to the simultaneous expansion and dumbing down of higher education over the past two decades, and to the proliferation of Mickey Mouse courses and institutions, where third-rate students could take courses on East Enders Studies or Football Studies or whatever. Inevitably, this prioritising of quantity over quality has discredited higher education, and reinforced the popular stereotype of lazy students studying pointless courses, as immortalised by the Viz character Student Grant. That many students do conform to the stereotype does not mean that all of them do. Yet the trend on the part of governments has been to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Which brings me back to my own school experiences. Silly little nerdy me – I should have realised that it was we well-behaved, hard-working pupils who were the bad guys. Why should morons who have had the decency to treat their school years as one long holiday and orgy of teacher-harassment, truanting and smoking-outside-the-gate, have to contribute with their taxes to the university education of those who actually bothered to study ? What kind of message does that send out to our young people ?!

As one commenter put it: ‘In an ideal world all education would be free, but in a world of scrimp and pinch can you make families whose children will never graduate pay in taxes for the ones born to be life’s winners?’ This may sound like the argument of a Thatcherite ideologue, but was in fact made by Ms Progressive Politics herself, the Guardian‘s Polly Toynbee. It would not occur to her to ask why people without children should contribute in their taxes toward schools, or why people who are not disabled should contribute to the cost of disabled facilities, or why Islamic fundamentalists should contribute to the cost of fighting al-Qaeda terrorism; normally, one takes it as a given that you don’t just pay taxes for public services that you personally use, but are expected to contribute to the common pot for the general good. But for some reason, it is only where higher education is concerned that this disingenuous sophistry is employed. As if anyone seriously believes that higher education cuts are motivated by the desire to redistribute in favour of the poor, as opposed to reducing taxes for the rich. Come on, we’re not stupid.

The answer to Toynbee’s question is: yes, you bloody well can. Unless you really are content for the UK to become a nation of Sun-reading morons, you have to accept that we all benefit from a more educated society. We need people with degrees in science, maths and engineering; we also need people with liberal arts degrees. A degree in English Literature from Edinburgh University or in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford might or might not equip you ideally for the job market; but a society that has politicians, journalists and businessmen with such degrees is a more civilised society than one that has not. I would also challenge Toynbee’s complacent assumption that people from poorer backgrounds have no university ambitions, therefore no interest in paying taxes toward universities.

The government is attempting to construct a figleaf for this assault on students and universities with talk of some of the proceeds from increased tuition fees going to fund the education of students from poorer backgrounds, etc. Which rather disproves the other argument used to justify the assault: that graduates benefit from getting better-paid jobs. Of course, everyone knows that a bachelor’s degree is not exactly a ticket to untold wealth and unlimited employment opportunities, particularly in the current economic climate. But if it were true that even with high tuition fees a degree pays for itself, then why would students from poorer backgrounds need bursaries to pay these fees ?

In fact, these bursaries are simply a means by which families with children in higher education will have to contribute to the cost of other children in higher education, while rich families without such children get to enjoy a lighter tax burden. And they ignore the fact that students from better-off families whose parents refuse to help with their education are in practice just as poor as those from poorer backgrounds. But none of this window-dressing can obscure the fact that massively reducing state funding for higher education while massively raising tuition fees is in practice a redistribution of wealth at the expense of ordinary working-class and middle-class people who want to go to university and their families, in favour of rich people and corporations who will ultimately benefit from the tax cuts.

My solution to the funding crisis ? Cut expenditure on higher education if you have to; reduce the number of bad institutions and Mickey Mouse courses; reduce the number of places for mediocre students. But don’t penalise talent and achievement; don’t raise tuition fees for real students studying real courses at real universities.

I urge readers to demonstrate at Westminster against the assault on higher education on Wednesday, 10 November at 12 noon.

Monday, 8 November 2010 Posted by | Education, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments