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Losing steady ground

Christopher Draper, Llandudno

What a contrast! Just when I’d resolved to write and congratulate PN for publishing Daniel Hunter’s excellent ‘Finding Steady Ground’, I came across Pascal Ansell’s review of William Pelz’s book, A People’s History of Modern Europe in the same issue (April/May 2017). While the former was bursting with original, reflective insights, the latter just echoed Pelz’s political prejudices.

Over a century ago, the German anarchist Gustav Landauer realised that ‘the personal is political’ and wrote: ‘The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship, between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently’. Yet Pascal takes at face value, and repeats, Pelz’s characterisation of anarchism as violent.

Ansell rightly reminds us that: ‘Possessing a grip on history allows us to better determine our own future’, but draws a curiously racist conclusion; ‘For as Peltz notes: “If the average European worker or farmer lives a significantly better life than others around the planet, it is in large measure because they have fought”’!
This implies that the non-European poor are impoverished because they haven’t fought exploitation like we have!

In truth, poor Europeans are wealthier than the poor elsewhere because European workers share in the spoils of ongoing colonial exploitation.

Rather than explore the subtle and myriad skeins of class collaboration that bind European workers to an exploitative economic system (shopping at Primark, Pound Shops, etc) both reviewer and reviewed fall back on the familiar formulaic analysis: ‘None of the advantages that so many enjoy today were gifts from an enlightened ruling class. Every reform, every concession by those with wealth and power came as a result of the self-activity of average Europeans.’

Instead of expanding on the ideas of ‘the personal is political’, we are offered a simplistic Manichean model of Good versus Evil.

Surely our ‘grip on history’ reminds us that when the ‘Good’ Russian workers did overthrow the ‘Bad’ Czarist regime it didn’t take long for new patterns of power and exploitation to emerge and new tyrants to arise.

PN is not Socialist Worker and one of the strengths of our peace movement is recognising that relationships are never one-dimensional. As we struggle ‘to create the germ of a new society within the shell of the old’, we need more imaginative articles like ‘Finding Steady Ground’ and less resort to political orthodoxy.

Peace & love,

Topics: History

I spy

Martin Gilbert, Ulverston

It was a useful idea to have a reunion of those who occupied the Greek embassy in 1967 (letters, PN 2604–2605). Greece had been taken over by a military junta. Some were arrested and others acted as supporters of that nonviolent event.

Useful, because lessons can be found when young or new activists listen to such gatherings of old comrades. Hopefully, there will be a report of that planned get-together.

Another possible re-union could be those who actively supported the Spies for Peace. It would be a reminder how the State’s obsession with surveillance mainly serves its own interests. Also, such a gathering would help our discussions about resistance to such intrusion into our lives.

The Spies for Peace document was distributed on the 1963 CND Easter march from Aldermaston to London. It detailed locations of ‘Regional Seats of Goverment’ (RSGs) throughout Britain. RSGs were planned to govern in the event of a nuclear war.

The Spies for Peace document also exposed two lies: one that in such an event law and order could be kept; another exposed ‘deterrence’ as a sham. The government’s message was ‘the Bomb keeps us safe’. But those fall-out shelters were there for when their ‘deterrent’ failed to deter.

Establishment fury followed, threatening prosecution to the Spies and those who reproduced and circulated their report. But there were too many of us to be punished because of the speed with which things happened. Copies of the offending document spread all over Britain within days of that march. We were too quick and careful to be caught.

In subsequent days, the basics of the report went international, broadcast on Radio Moscow. The Soviet Union’s lies of ‘deterrence’ were equally exposed to their people.

Shown to them was the false claim that nukes were needed ‘to defend socialism’. If their leaders had such weapons, they also must have had bolt-holes for when the deterrent failed to deter. In turn, this drew fury from European Communist parties, against the Spies and their supporters.

Although some of those shelters have been updated, the deception of nuclear deterrence is still powerful. Governments have become increasingly paranoid, their technologies to spy on us ever more sophisticated. All in the name of ‘national security’. but we have the power to resist these threats to civil liberties.
We can take lessons from the Spies for Peace.