Tag Archives: Erich Fromm

all work and no play

The following article is Chapter Six of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year (and beyond). Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

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BOSWELL, “But, sir, the mind must be employed, and we grow weary when idle.”
JOHNSON, “That is, sir, because others being busy, we want company; but if we were all idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all entertain one another… But no man loves labour for itself.”
1

*

Leaving aside the various species of bats and whales, very nearly all mammals are land-dwelling creatures. In fact, nearly all animals – meaning quadrupeds – spend their lives earthbound. For millennia humans too occupied the same earthbound sphere alongside fellow ground-dwelling organisms. So consider then the following: at this precise moment upwards of six thousand scheduled airliners are aloft in our skies, and at peak times as many as ten thousand are flying high above the clouds. Each of these airborne vessels is packed with many hundred perfectly ordinary human beings sat in rows, hurtling above our heads at altitudes exceeding thirty thousand feet and speeds above 500 miles per hour. This sum equates to literally millions of people airborne at each and every moment of each and every day – a significant proportion of the entire human population!

Now consider this: prior to December 17th 1903, only a handful of our species had ever lifted off the surface of the planet by any means at all and not a single human being had ever experienced powered flight. But then, on that fateful day, Orville and Wilbur Wright made three successful flights between them. On his first take-off, Orville covered 120 feet, remaining airborne for just 12 seconds. On the final flight, he valiantly managed 200 feet, all at an altitude of only ten feet. A century on, we have Airbus – take note the humdrum name of the company! – and the launch of its A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, which accommodates between 525 and 850 individuals, and is capable of flying approximately 10,000 miles nonstop. Thus, thanks to technology we have grown wings and been transformed into a semi-airborne species; entirely forgetting to be astonished by this remarkable fact is perhaps the final measure of our magnificent achievement.

*

“The world is undergoing immense changes. Never before have the conditions of life changed so swiftly and enormously as they have changed for mankind in the last fifty years. We have been carried along – with no means of measuring the increasing swiftness in the succession of events. We are only now beginning to realize the force and strength of the storm of change that has come upon us.

These changes have not come upon our world from without. No meteorite from outer space has struck our planet; there have been no overwhelming outbreaks of volcanic violence or strange epidemic diseases; the sun has not flared up to excessive heat or suddenly shrunken to plunge us into Arctic winter. The changes have come through men themselves. Quite a small number of people, heedless of the ultimate consequence of what they did, one man here and a group there, have made discoveries and produced and adopted inventions that have changed all the condition, of social life.”

These are the opening paragraphs from a lesser-known work by H.G. Wells. The Open Conspiracy, an extended essay written in 1928, was the first of Wells’ most earnest attempts to set the world to rights. Stumbling across it one day, it struck me that this voice from ninety years ago still chimes. I couldn’t help wondering indeed if we aren’t still in the midst of those same “immense changes”, being swept along by an, as yet, undiminished “storm of change”.

Wells, who uses the word ‘change’, in various formulations, no less than seven times (in a mere eight sentences), goes on to compare our modern wonders to the seven wonders of the ancient world, intending to emphasise their novel potency:

“Few realized how much more they were than any “Wonders.” The “Seven Wonders of the World” left men free to go on living, toiling, marrying, and dying as they had been accustomed to for immemorial ages. If the “Seven Wonders” had vanished or been multiplied three score it would not have changed the lives of any large proportion of human beings. But these new powers and substances were modifying and transforming – unobtrusively, surely, and relentlessly – very particular of the normal life of mankind.”

Wells had been trained as a scientist, and more than this, a scientist at a time when science was reaching its apogee. At the Royal College of Science2, he had studied biology under the tutelage of T. H. Huxley, the man who most publicly defended Darwin’s theory. In the debates against the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, it was Huxley who challenged and defeated the permitted orthodoxy of divine creation by showing how Science makes a better account of our origins than religious authority; so in an important sense, Huxley must be seen as one of the pioneers of this scientific revolution. With religion rather abruptly and rudely dismissed, it was open to the scientists and technologists to lead us all to salvation.

Wells was keen to get involved, if only as one of science and technology’s most passionate and outspoken advocates.  Growing up in late Victorian Britain, he was well acquainted with how systems of mass production had mostly superseded manual methods to become the predominant form of industrial process. Likewise, he had witnessed the spread of agricultural machines for planting seeds and harvesting crops, and of automotive machines transporting loads and providing ever more reliable and comfortable means for human transit. These innovations had led to a dramatic increase both in production and, more importantly, in productivity, and machine processes were set to become ever more versatile and reliable.

Wells was amongst the first to seriously consider how these new modes of manufacture with their greater efficiencies and capacities for heavier constructions, not to mention for longer range transportation and communication, would bring rapid and sweeping changes to ordinary life. Most importantly, he understood that since technology potentially allowed the generation of almost limitless power, its rise would unstoppably alter human affairs forever, and by extension, impact upon the natural world too.

Quite correctly, Wells went on to forecast an age to come (our age), in which ordinary lives are transformed to an extent so far beyond the technological transformations of past ages that life is unutterably and irreversibly altered. Yet the widespread access to these “wonders”, as he insistently calls them, causes us to regard them as so ordinary that we seldom, if ever, stop to wonder about them.

For machines are nowadays embedded quite literally everywhere – one is in fact translating the movement of my fingertips into printed words, whilst another happens to be reproducing the soulful precision of Alfred Brendel’s rendition of one of Franz Schubert’s late sonatas on a machine of still older conception (the piano) via yet another machine that preserves sound in the form of electrical impulses. Thanks to machines of these kinds, not only the sheet-music – those handwritten frequency-time graphs so painstakingly drafted, perhaps by candlelight, and very certainly using only a feather quill and inkpot – but thousands upon thousands of musical (and other) performances can be conjured up with literally “a click”. The snapping fingers of an emperor could never have summoned such variety. But then the internet is a wonder far exceeding even H.G. Wells’ far-seeing imagination.

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More than a century ago, the poet, satirist and social commentator Oscar Wilde was another who looked forward to a time of such “wonders”. For Wilde, as for Wells, they presented reasons to be cheerful:

“All unintelligent labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals in dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious and distressing… There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery; and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure – which, and not labour, is the aim of man – or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is that civilization needs slaves… [But] Human slavery is wrong, insecure and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.”3

Wilde and Wells were optimists, but cautious ones, and each foretold new dangers that potentially lay in wait for us. Wells wrote:

“They [the new “wonders”] increased the amount of production and the methods of production. They made possible “Big-Business,” to drive the small producer and the small distributor out of the market. They swept away factories and evoked new ones. They changed the face of the fields. They brought into the normal life, thing by thing and day by day, electric light and heating, bright cities at night, better aeration, new types of clothing, a fresh cleanliness. They changed a world where there had never been enough into a world of potential plenty, into a world of excessive plenty.”4

Wells believed that the very successes which brought about large-scale manufacturing and distribution, as well as commensurate developments in fields such as agriculture, sanitation and medicine, ones that were already extending the average life-expectancy, might still feasibly bring heavier burdens to bear on the planet. Left unchecked, he argued, our species would finish using up everything, whilst, exponentially crowding ourselves out of existence. So these new “wonders” were a double-edged sword. And then what of “excessive plenty” – of too much of a good thing – how do we avoid replacing one set of miseries with another? Such were Wells’ concerns, but then Wells owed a great deal to the eternal pessimist Thomas Malthus.

By contrast, at the dusk of the Victorian era, Wilde is not much bothered as Wells is, by the prospect of society overrun by a burgeoning and profligate mass of humanity, but by how we can ensure the new prosperity, so long awaited and desperately overdue, could be fairly distributed. After all, progress had until then been primarily technological in form and not social, and it appeared to Wilde that the costs of industrialisation were still hugely outweighing its benefits.

The centuries of Industrial Revolution had claimed so many victims. Not only those trapped inside the mills and the mines, the wage-slaves working all the hours God sends for subsistence pay, but those still more benighted souls incarcerated in the workhouses, alongside their malnourished children, who from ages six upwards might be forced underground to sweat in the mines or else to clamber about in the more choking darkness of chimneystacks.5 Industrial development meant that for the majority of adults and children (boys and girls) life was sunk into a routine of unremitting hardship and ceaseless backbreaking labour, as the poor were ruthlessly sacrificed to profit their masters – one big difference today, of course, is that our own sweatshops are more distant.

To abolish this class-ridden barbarism, Wilde therefore proposed an unapologetically radical solution:

“Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine to do his work he began to starve. This, however, is, of course, the result of our property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, everyone would benefit by it.”6

*

In case Wilde’s enthusiasm for collective ownership encourages you think it, then please be assured that he was not exactly a Leninist (as you will see), nor, in any traditional sense, was he a fully-fledged Marxist. In fact, if anything Wilde was an anarchist, heaping special praise on Peter Kropotkin, whom he once described as: “a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia.”7

Now it is interesting and worthwhile, I think, to compare Wilde’s views, writing just a few decades earlier, with those of H.G. Wells, for both held notionally left-leaning sympathies and both were broadly hopeful; each underscoring the special importance of science and technology when it came to achieving such desirable goals as ending poverty and rebuilding a fairer society. For in some regards, Wilde’s perspective is orthogonally different to Wells – and it is Wells who made the better communist (though he remained deeply antagonistic towards Marx for other reasons).

For Wells was an unflinching collectivist, and thus forever seeking solutions in terms of strict autocratic control. For instance, in one of the concluding chapters of The Open Conspiracy, Wells outlines “seven broad principles” that will ensure human progress of which the sixth reads as follows:

“The supreme duty of subordinating the personal career to the creation of a world directorate capable of these tasks [ones that will ensure the betterment of mankind] and to the general advancement of human knowledge, capacity, and power”8.

Wilde, on the contrary, unswervingly insisted that above all else the sovereign rights of the individual must be protected. That personal freedom must never be horse-traded, since “the true personality of man”, as he puts it, is infinitely more precious than any amount of prospective gains in comfort and security. This is precisely where Wilde is at his most prescient, foreseeing the dangers of socialist authoritarianism a full two decades before the Russian revolution, and instinctively advising a simple cure:

“What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first.”9

So compare Wilde’s earlier views to those of Wells fifty years on, by which time the Soviet model was up and running, and yet he is still advocating the need for a more widespread and overarching central authority: ultimately, a world government to coerce and co-ordinate the masses into the new age of socialism; even to the point of eradicating misfits for the sake of the greater good.

For Wells, every answer for resolving humanity’s problems involved the implementation of top-down governance, with the patterns of individual behaviour controlled by means of an applied political force-field, whereas Wilde was equally insistent that individuals are not uniformly alike like atoms, and must be permitted, so far as is humanly possible, to organise ourselves. It is a fundamental difference in outlook that is reflected in their attitudes towards work.

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The inherent value of work is rarely questioned by Wells. In his earlier fictional work A Utopian World he answers his own inquiry “will a Utopian be free to be idle?” as follows:

“Work has to be done, every day humanity is sustained by its collective effort, and without a constant recurrence of effort in the single man as in the race as a whole, there is neither health nor happiness. The permanent idleness of a human being is not only burthensome to the world, but his own secure misery.”10

Wells is expressing a concern that once the labouring masses are relieved of their back-breaking obligation to work, they may “develop a recalcitrance where once there was little but fatalistic acquiescence”:

“It is just because labour is becoming more intelligent, responsible, and individually efficient that it is becoming more audible and impatient in social affairs. It is just because it is no longer mere gang labour, and is becoming more and more intelligent co-operation in detail, that it now resents being treated as a serf, housed like a serf, fed like a serf, and herded like a serf, and its pride and thoughts and feelings disregarded. Labour is in revolt because as a matter of fact it is, in the ancient and exact sense of the word, ceasing to be labour at all.”11

For these reasons, Wells senses trouble ahead, whereas for Wilde, these same changes in modes of employment serve as further reasons to be cheerful:

“[And] as I have mentioned the word labour, I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by machine.”12

In his essay, Wilde, unlike Wells, is unabashed in confessing to his own Utopianism, writing:

“Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.”13

But then, both Wilde and Wells were dreaming up Utopias during an age when dreaming about Utopia remained a permissible intellectual pursuit. So it is just that Wilde’s dream is so much grander than any visions of Wells. Wells was certainly an astute forecaster and could see with exceptional acuity what immediately awaited humanity around the next few corners, but Wilde, on the other hand, sought to navigate across a wider ocean. He did not wish to be constrained by the tedious encumbrances of his own time, and regarded the complete abolition of hard labour as an absolutely essential component of a better future. Even then, he was far from alone.

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Writing in the thirties, Bertrand Russell was another outspoken advocate of cultured laziness. Russell, who is now venerated by some almost as a secular saint was nothing of the sort. Many of his views on politics and society were highly disagreeable and he was arguably one of the dreariest philosophers ever published, but this aside he was a supreme mathematician. It is noteworthy therefore that in order to support his own expressed desire for reducing the average workload, he did a few very simple sums. These led him to what he regarded as the most important, yet completely overlooked, lesson to be learned from the Great War.

At a time when the majority of the able-bodied population were busily fighting or else engaged in other means of facilitating the destructive apparatus of war, new modes of production had maintained sufficiency, and yet, as Russell pointed out, the true significance of this outstanding triumph of the new technologies was altogether masked by the vagaries of economics. He writes:

“Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed.”

And so to the sums – easy stuff for a man who had previously tried to fathom a complete axiomatic system for all mathematics:

“This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?”

His conclusion is that everyone could and would work a lot less hours, if only the system permitted us to:

“If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment – assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure.”14

It was still only 1932 remember – technology’s “wonders” have moved on a lot since Russell’s day…

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Apis mellifera, the honey-bearing bee, is the paragon of industriousness. It’s a pleasure just to watch them humming their way from flower to flower. Working all the hours the apian god sends, without a care in the world. We ascribe tremendous social virtue to our arthropodous familiars, the busy, busy bees. However, if we are to judge bees fairly then we ought properly to consider more critically what it is that our conscientious little friends actually get up to day in, day out…

For though we say that the bees are “at work” – the infertile females who carry out the majority of tasks technically denominated as “workers” – their most celebrated activity, the foraging for nectar from flowers, can hardly be considered a “real job” at all. Unless by “real job” we allow that gorging oneself on the sweetest food available automatically qualifies as work. For, after supping up an abdomenful of nectar (I exaggerate a little for effect), these “workers” then return home to empty the contents of their bellies, as any professional drinker might. Back at the hive, their sister bees also collaborate in the transformation of the incoming nectar, collectively “manufacturing” honey by means of repeated consumption, partial digestion and regurgitation – and apologies to anyone who has suddenly lost their appetite for honey, but bear in mind that milk and eggs are no less strange when you stop to think about them.

By chance, it happens that humans (and other creatures) are partial to the sticky end product of a bee’s binge drinking session. I personally love it. And so we steal away their almost intoxicating amber syrup and attach an attractive price tag to it. The bees receive compensation in the form of sugar, and being apparently unaware of our cheap deception, are extolled as paragons of virtue.

In fact, whenever we take to judging or appraising human conduct of any kind, there is a stubborn tendency to take direction either from Religion, or, if Religion is dismissed, to look for comparisons from Nature. If doing something “isn’t natural”, a lazy kind of reasoning goes, then evidently – evidentially, in fact – there must be something wrong with it. For it cannot be right and proper to sin against Religion or to transgress against Nature. Thus, behaviour that is unorthodox and deviant in relationship to a received normal is denounced, in accordance with strict definition indeed, as perversion.

This fallacious “appeal to nature” argument also operates in reverse: that whenever a particular behaviour is thought virtuous or worthwhile, then – and generally without the slightest recourse to further identifiable evidence – ipso facto, it becomes “natural”. Although of the tremendous variety of human activities, work seems outstanding in this regard. For throughout historic times, societies have consistently upheld that work is self-evidently “natural”; the Protestant “work ethic” is perhaps the most familiar and unmistakeably religious variant of a broader sanctification of labour. Although it is surely worth noting that God’s punishment for Adam’s original sin was that he should be expelled from Paradise “to till the ground from whence he was taken.”15 (Most probably booming “the world doesn’t owe you a living, my son!” before slamming the gates to paradise shut.) Protestant mill-owners, of course, found it convenient to overlook how hard labour was God’s original punishment.

But then, atheistic societies have been inclined to extol work more highly still, and not simply because it is “natural” (the commonest surrogate for Religion), but because atheism is inherently materialist, and since materials depend upon production, productivity is likewise deemed more virtuous and worthwhile. Thus, under systems both Capitalist and Communist, work reigns supreme.

Stalin awarded medals to his miners and his manufacturers – and why not? Medals for production make more sense than medals for destruction. Yet this adoration of work involves a doublethink, with Stalin, for example, on the one hand glorifying the hard labour of labour heroes like, most famously, Alexey Stakhanov, and meanwhile dispatching his worst enemies to the punishment of hard labour in distant work camps, as did Mao and as did Hitler. “Arbeit macht frei” is an horrific lie, yet in some important sense the Nazi leaders evidently believed their own lie, for aside from war and genocide, the Nazi ideology once again extolled work above all else. In the case of Communism, the exaltation of the means of production was to serve the collective ends; in Fascism, itself the twisted apotheosis of Nature, work being natural ensures it is inherently a still greater good.

Yet oddly, whenever you stop to think about it, very little modern humans do is remotely natural, whether or not it is decent, proper and righteous. Cooking food isn’t natural. Eating our meals out of crockery by means of metal cutlery isn’t remotely natural either. Sleeping in a bed isn’t natural. Wearing socks, or hats, or anything else for that matter, isn’t natural… just ask the naturists! And structuring our lives so that our activities coincide with a predetermined time schedule isn’t the least bit natural. Alarm clocks aren’t natural folks! Wake up!

But work is indeed widely regarded as an especially (one might say uniquely) exemplary activity, as well as a wholesomely natural one. Consider the bees, the ants, or whatever other creature fits the bill, and see how tremendously and ungrudgingly productive they all are. See how marvellously proactive and business-like – such marvellous efficiency and purpose! In reality, however, the bees, ants and all the other creatures are never working at all – not even “the workers”. Not in any meaningful sense that corresponds to our narrow concept of “working”. The bees, the ants and the rest of the critters are all simply being… being bees, being ants. Being and “playing”, if you prefer: “playing” certainly no less valid as a description than “working”, and arguably closer to reality once understood from any bee or ant’s perspective (presuming they have one).

No species besides our own (an especially odd species) willingly engages in drudgery and toil; the rest altogether more straightforwardly simply eat, sleep, hunt, drink, breathe, run, swim and fly. The birds don’t do it! The bees don’t do it either! (Let’s leave the educated fleas!) Nature natures and this is all. It is we who anthropomorphise such natural activities and by attaching inappropriate labels transform ordinary pleasures into such burdensome pursuits that they sap nature of vitality. So when Samuel Johnson says, “No man loves labour for itself!” he is actually reminding us all of our true nature.

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Whether or not we welcome it, “manpower” (humanpower that is), like horsepower before, is soon to be superseded by machine-power. Indeed, a big reason this profound change hasn’t made a greater impact already is that manpower (thanks to contemporary forms of wage slavery and the more distant indentured servitude of sweatshop labour) has remained comparatively cheap. For now the human worker is also more subtle and adaptable than any automated alternative. All of this, however, is about to be challenged, and the changeover will come with unfaltering haste.

To a considerable extent our switch to automation has already happened. On the domestic front, the transfer of labour is rather obvious, with the steady introduction and accumulation of so many labour-saving devices. For instance, the introduction of electric washing machines, which eliminate the need to use a washboard, to hand rinse or squeeze clothes through a mangle, spares us a full day of labour per week. When these became automatic washer dryers, the only required task was to load and unload the machine. In my own lifetime the spread of these, at first, luxury appliances, is now complete throughout the Western world. Meantime, the rise and rise of factory food and clothing production means ready meals and socks are so inexpensive that fewer of us actually bother to cook and scarcely anyone younger than me even remembers what darning is. The bored housewife was very much a late twentieth century affliction – freed from cooking and cleaning there was suddenly ample time for stuffing mushrooms.

Outside our homes, however, the rise of the machine has had a more equivocal impact. Indeed, it has been counterproductive in many ways, with new technologies sometimes adding to the workload instead of subtracting from it. The rise of information technologies is an illustrative example: the fax machine, emails, the internet and even mobile phones have enabled businesses to extend working hours beyond our traditional and regular shifts, and in other ways, work has been multiplied as the same technologies unnecessarily interfere to the detriment of real productive capacity.

Today’s worker is faced with more assessments to complete, more paperwork (albeit usually of a digital form), more evaluation, and an ever-expanding stack of office emails to handle – enough demands for swift replies to circulars and a multitude of other paper-chasing obligations that we spend half our days stuck in front of a monitor or bent over the office photocopier. Every member of “the team” now recruited to this singular task of administrative procedures.

But these mountains of paper (and/or terabytes of zeroes and ones) needing to be reprocessed into different forms of paper and/or digital records are only rising in response to the rise of the office. In fact, it is this increase in bureaucracy which provides the significant make-weight to mask the more general underlying decline in gainful (meaning productive) employment. Yet still, this growth in administration is a growth that only carries us so far, and a growth that can and ultimately will be eliminated, if not for perfectly sound reasons of practicability, then by automation. Ultimately, office workers are no more immune to this process of technological redundancy than the rest of us.

First broadcast by Channel 4 in 1993, the final episode of Tim Hunkin’s wonderful “Secret Life of the Office” served up a humorous take on the social engineering that led to the Twentieth Century’s rise of the office:

*

That the robots are coming is no longer science fiction, any more than the killer robots circling high over Pakistan and Yemen armed with their terrifyingly accurate automated AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, are science fiction. In fact, all our future wars will be fought by means of killer robots, and, unless such super-weapons are banned outright or, at the very least, controlled by international treaties, subsequent generations of these ‘drones’ will become increasingly autonomous – the already stated objective is to produce fully autonomous drones; an horrific prospect. It is also a prospect that perhaps most graphically illustrates how sophisticated today’s robotic systems have become, even if, as with all cutting-edge technology, the military enjoys the most advanced systems. In short, the grim robots fleets are with us, and set to become swarms unless nations act to outlaw their deployment, whereas more beneficial robotic descendants still wait more placidly in the wings. The arrival of both fleets heralds a new age – one for the better and one decidedly for the worse.

Of course, the forthcoming workforce of robots might also be for the worse. Yet the choice is ultimately ours, even if we cannot hold off that choice indefinitely, or even for very much longer. For all our robotic rivals (once perfected) hold so many advantages over a human workforce. Never grumbling or complaining, never demanding a pay rise or a holiday, and, in contrast to human drones, never needing any sleep at all, let alone scheming against their bosses or dreaming up ways to escape.

And the new robots will not stick to manufacturing, or cleaning, or farming the land, or moving goods around in auto-piloted trucks (just as they already fly planes), but soon, by means of the internet, they will be supplying a host of entirely door-to-door services – indeed, a shift in modes of distribution is already beginning to happen. In the slightly longer term, robots will be able to provide all life’s rudimentary essentials – the bare necessities, as the song goes. Quietly, efficiently and ungrudgingly constructing and servicing the essential infrastructure of a fully functioning civilisation. Then, in the slightly longer term, robots will be able to take care of the design, installation and upgrading of everything, including their own replacement robots. In no time, our drudgery (as well as the mundane jobs performed by those trapped inside those Third World sweatshops) will have been completely superseded.

This however leads us to a serious snag and a grave danger. For under present conditions, widespread automation ensures mass redundancy and long-term ruin for nearly everyone. And though there are few historical precedents, surely we can read between the historical lines, to see how societies, yielding to the dictates of their ruling elites (in our times, the bureaucrats and technocrats working at the behest of unseen plutocrats), will likely deal with those superfluous populations. It is unwise to expect much leniency, especially in view of the current dismantlement of existing social safety nets and welfare systems. The real clampdown on the “useless eaters” is only just beginning.

It is advisable, therefore, to approach this arising situation with eyes wide open, recognising such inexorable labour-saving developments for what they are: not merely a looming threat but potentially, at least, an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity. However, this demands a fresh ethos: one that truly values all human life for its own sake and not merely for its productive capacity. More specifically, it requires a steady shift towards reduced working hours and greatly extended holidays: a sharing out of the ever-diminishing workload and a redistribution of resources (our true wealth), which will of course remain ample in any case (the robots will make sure of that).

This introduction of a new social paradigm is now of paramount concern, because if we hesitate too long in making our transition to a low work economy, then hard-line social and political changes will instead be imposed from above. Moves to counter what will be perceived as a crisis of under-employment will mean the implementation of social change but only to benefit the ruling establishment, who for abundantly obvious reasons will welcome the rise in wealth and income disparity along with the further subjugation of the lower classes – the middle class very much included.

As physicist Stephen Hawking said in response to the question “[D]o you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated?” and “Do you think people will always either find work or manufacture more work to be done?”

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”16

It is an answer that closely echoes Wilde’s foresight of more than a century ago; the difference being one of placing stress. Hawking emphasises the threat of what he calls the “second option”, whereas Wilde encourages us to press ahead in order to realise Hawking’s “a life of luxurious leisure” for everyone.

Of course, there will always be a little useful work that needs doing. Robots will ultimately be able perform all menial, most manual and the vast majority of mental tasks far more efficiently than a human brain and hand, but there will still be the need and the place for the human touch. In education, in medicine and nursing, care for the elderly and sick, and a host of other, sometimes mundane tasks and chores: emotionally intricate, kindly and compassionate roles that are indispensible to keeping all our lives ticking pleasantly along. The big question for our times, however, is really this: given the cheapness and abundance of modern labour-saving equipment, how is it that, even in the western world, instead of contracting, working hours are continuing to rise? The question for tomorrow – one that the first question contains and conceals – is this: given complete freedom and unrestricted choice, what would we actually prefer to be doing in our daily lives? As Bertrand Russell wrote:

“The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists…”

“Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.”17

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I was about twelve when I took my first flight. It was onboard a Douglas DC9 and I was travelling to Vienna on an exchange trip. I was so excited and not afraid at all – or at least not afraid of the flight. Indeed, I recall how this was the main question older relatives kept asking and I found their obsession puzzling more than anything. But as I have grown older I have sadly developed a fear of flying. This is annoying in the extreme. Why now… when I’m middle-aged and have so much less to lose? But fear is only seldom a purely rational impulse.

Not that it is half so irrational as we are told to have a severe anxiety about being catapulted inside a thin metal capsule six miles up and at close to the speed of sound. Statistics are one thing but being in the presence of sheer physical danger is another. That said, fear of flying is surely as much about loss of control as anything. For why else did my own fear of flying worsen as I got older? Children are more accustomed than adults to feeling powerless, and so better able to relish the excitement of situations totally outside of their control.

Whole societies – or at least majority sections of societies – also suffer with phobias. Like our private fears, these collective fears held by social groups are frequently rooted in some sense of an impending loss of control. Fear of foreigners, fear of financial collapse, and fear of “terror”. But seldom considered is another societal phobia: our collective ‘fear of flying’. Flying in the poetic sense, that is: of fully letting go of the mundane. Instead, it seems our common longing is to be grounded: an understandable desire.

Why else, scarcely a century since the Wright Brothers’ miraculous first flights, do today’s air passengers find flying (that ancient dream) so tiresome that our commercial airlines serve up non-stop distractions to divert attention away from the direct experience? Indeed, listening to those familiar onboard announcements bidding us a pleasant flight, we are inclined (and very likely reclined) to hear the incidental underlying message: “we are sorry to put you through the dreary inconvenience of this journey”.

We fly and yet we don’t fly – or not as those who first dreamt of flight imagined. Flight has instead been transformed from visionary accomplishment into a nuisance and taken entirely for granted by the clock watchers impatiently kicking our heels beneath the slow-turning departure boards.

And just why are today’s airports such sterile and soul-destroying anti-human spaces? Presumably because this is again what modern humans have come to expect! The same can be said for so many facets of modern live. If we can transform the miracle of flight into a chore, then it follows that we can turn just about any activity into one.

Next chapter…

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In 1958 Mike Wallace interviewed psychoanalyst and social critic, Erich Fromm. What Fromm says about society, materialism, relationships, religion, and happiness is remarkably prescient, as is his analysis of a growing alienation as we become diminished to the role of products in an age of consumerism:

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Addendum: the future of work and Universal Basic Income

Due to its historical roots in workers’ movements18, the political left has tended to hold a somewhat inimical position when it comes to appraising the value of work. The understandable and perfectly legitimate elevation of the worker has had a countervailing effect in terms of accentuating the virtuousness of work per se, thereby adding to the weight of received wisdom that to endure toil and hardship is somehow intrinsically valuable. This is why the left has fallen into the habit of making a virtue out of the central object of the oppression it faces.

So what is the goal of the political left (of socialism, if you prefer)? What is its aim, if not, so far as it is possible, to fully emancipate the individual? For whatever dignifies and ennobles labour, and however understandable it may be as a strategy, to celebrate work for its own sake, disguises the base truth that only seldom is it edifying, and more often just a millstone, frequently a terrible one, which, if we are ever to become truly “free at last”, ought to be joyfully laid aside.

In 2013 Anthropologist David Graeber, professor of anthropology at LSE, wrote an excoriating essay on modern work for Strike! magazine. “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” was read over a million times and the essay translated in seventeen different languages within weeks. Embedded below is a lecture Graeber gave to the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to expand on this phenomenon, and explore how the proliferation of meaningless jobs – more associated with the 20th-century Soviet Union than latter-day capitalism – has impacted modern society:

Since writing most of the above chapter the Zeitgeist has shifted remarkably. Suddenly technological unemployment is treated as a serious prospect and debated as a part of a wider political discourse on future trends. Introduced into this new debate, especially on the left, is the proposal for a ‘universal basic income’ i.e., money provided to everyone by the state to cover basic living expenses. Importantly this payment would be provided irrespective of how many hours a person works and has no other (discernable) strings attached.

UBI is certainly a very bold initiative as well as a plausible solution to the diminishing need for human workers in the coming hi-tech era. Unsurprisingly, I very much welcome it, at least in principle, but wish also to offer a small note of caution. Before large numbers of us are to able to live solely by means of a state provided UBI it will be essential to adjust societal norms relating to work. There can be no stigma in idleness. For if UBI is seen as merely a state handout and its recipients as welfare dependents, then we put them all into severe danger.

After all, work historically equates to status and money and until this ingrained relationship is eroded away, anyone subsisting on UBI alone would rather quickly sink to the level of a second-class citizen. Which is why I propose the better approach to UBI must aim to advance by taking baby steps: reducing days and hours, increasing holidays, lowering pensionable age, as well as expanding education – we must in fact think of eventually offering the luxury of lifelong education for all. Given where we start from today, to attempt to leap to it with one giant stride is surely too much of a risk. If UBI is truly our goal then we might reach it best by trimming work back until it barely exists at all.

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Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

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1 Quotes taken from The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D by James Boswell (1791). In the original version, the section substituted by ellipsis reads as follows: “There is, indeed, this in trade:– it gives men an opportunity of improving their situation. If there were no trade, many who are poor would always remain poor.”

2 Now part of Imperial College (my own alma mater).

3 Extract taken from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

4 The Open Conspiracy was published in 1928, subtitled “Blue Prints for a World Revolution”. These extracts are taken from Chapter 1 entitled “The present crisis in human affairs”. Interestingly, in a letter to Wells, albeit a begging letter, Bertrand Russell said of the work: “… I do not know of anything with which I agree more entirely”. The Open Conspiracy was later revised and republished as “What Are We to Do with Our Lives?” in 1931. http://www.voltairenet.org/IMG/pdf/Wells_The_Open_Conspiracy.pdf

5 Many boys and girls suffocated and others fell to their deaths. This was not helped by the practice of master sweeps to light a fire beneath them in order to force them to climb faster.

6 Quote taken from The Open Conspiracy.

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“Two of the most perfect lives I have come across in my own experience are the lives of [the French Symbolist poet, Paul] Verlaine and of Prince Kropotkin: both of them men who have passed years in prison: the first, the one Christian poet since Dante; the other, a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia.”

Taken from “De Profundis”, meaning literally “from the depths”; Wilde’s celebrated cri de coeur was intended, in part at least, as an extended letter and impassioned rebuke to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. It was written during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol between January and March 1897, and has since been publicly released in various expurgated versions, the first of which was published in 1905. A complete version was finally released in 1962.

8

From The Open Conspiracy by H.G. Wells. The full set of seven “broad principles” reads as follows:

(1) The complete assertion, practical as well as theoretical, of the provisional nature of existing governments and of our acquiescence in them;

(2) The resolve to minimize by all available means the conflicts of these governments, their militant use of individuals and property, and their interferences with the establishment of a world economic system;

(3) The determination to replace private, local or national ownership of at least credit, transport, and staple production by a responsible world directorate serving the common ends of the race;

(4) The practical recognition of the necessity for world biological controls, for example, of population and disease;

(5) The support of a minimum standard of individual freedom and welfare in the world; and

(6) The supreme duty of subordinating the personal career to the creation of a world directorate capable of these tasks and to the general advancement of human knowledge, capacity, and power;

(7) The admission therewith that our immortality is conditional and lies in the race and not in our individual selves.

In light of what was about to come, this last item of the seven is perhaps the most perturbing. Wells introduces it as follows:

“And it is possible even of these, one, the seventh, may be, if not too restrictive, at least unnecessary. To the writer it seems unavoidable because it is so intimately associated with that continual dying out of tradition upon which our hopes for an unencumbered and expanding human future rest.”

9 Extract from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

10 From A Modern Utopia by H. G. Wells (published 1905). The same passage continues:

“But unprofitable occupation is also intended by idleness, and it may be considered whether that freedom also will be open to the Utopian. Conceivably it will, like privacy, locomotion, and almost all the freedoms of life, and on the same terms – if he possess the money to pay for it.”

11 Extract from The Open Conspiracy by H.G. Wells (first published 1928).

12 Extract from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

13 Ibid.

14 Extract taken from In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (1932). Note that Russell’s reference to pin manufacture is a deliberate allusion to Adam Smith’s famous hypothetical pin factory in which he illustrated the benefits of ‘division of labour’ in The Wealth of Nations.

15 From Genesis 3:23 (KJV)

16 In answer to a question posed during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on October 8, 2015. https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/3nyn5i/science_ama_series_stephen_hawking_ama_answers/cvsdmkv

17 Extract taken from In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (1932).

18 Without an upwelling of righteous indignation amongst the oppressed rank and file of working people, no leftist movement would ever have arisen and gained traction. Yet, the political left also owes its origins to the early co-operative movements, a spontaneous awakening of enlightenment humanists, to the Romantics, and most importantly, to fringe religious groups. Tony Benn famously said that the formation of the Labour Party in Britain owed “more to Methodism than Marx”.

In 1832 six agricultural labourers formed a friendly society to protest against their meagre wages. George Loveless, a Methodist local preacher, was the leader of this small union – the other members included his brother James (also a Methodist preacher), James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield (Methodist and co-founder of the union) and Thomas’s son John. These men were subsequently arrested, convicted and sentenced to transportation. Three years later, and following a huge public outcry which involved a march on London and petitions to parliament, they were issued pardons and allowed to return to England as heroes. This small band of men is now collectively remembered as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

But the origins of socialism in Britain can be really traced as far back as the English Civil War and indeed earlier again to Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, when the workers of the Middle Ages, inspired by the teachings of the radical priest John Ball, took their demands directly to the King Richard II who reneged on his concessions and had them hunted down.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, « finishing the rat race », financial derivatives, neo-liberalism

the rise of the far-right – nothing new under a black sun

A friend recently sent me a link to the latest episode of the BBC news programme “Our World” in which correspondent Katya Adler examines the rise of far-right extremism in Germany. Adler reports on the public outrage after it came to light that a group of three neo-Nazis had been able, in spite of being well-known to the authorities, to go on a ten-year killing spree of racially-motivated murders.

The programme is available here.

Watching it has caused me to reflect again on that biggest of all historical questions, which is how so many Western democracies — including Germany of course — surrendered to the spell of Fascism during the middle part of the Twentieth Century. My own modest attempt to address this enormous issue had been intended to form the basis for one chapter of a book – a book that I’ve been trying to complete for many years. The chapter, provisionally titled “Into The Abyss”, was to have been one part of a larger section that I have since decided to abandon. Looking through the drafts again, I came to the conclusion that much that I’d already written about was perhaps more pertinent than ever. Having updated and edited those thoughts one last time, I have therefore decided to present them in the form of the following extended post.

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1. Not all Fascists look alike

Nazism, some claim (and I have encountered this claim on a number of different occasions), should not to be properly regarded as Fascism at all, but was precisely what it claimed to be, National Socialism. A casual inspection indeed gives credence to this contention.

Aside from the superficial facts that the Nazi flag was of a vibrant red, a colour it evidently shares with the flags of both Communism and Socialism; and that the Nazi Party (known in German as NSDAP) was, albeit prior to Hitler’s takeover, the German Workers Party (DAP); there is also, and more surprisingly perhaps, support for the argument on the basis of Hitler’s original manifesto, which is well-peppered with traditional leftist rhetoric1.

Actions, however, speak much louder than words, and Hitler and the Nazi Party did not wait around too long before revealing their true intent. So rather than pursuing policies that might have brought about a fairer redistribution of wealth, as any Socialist government is supposed to, the Nazis immediately set about protecting a select group of private corporate interests against the interests of the majority, and rather than promoting the rights of workers, they instead made fervent attacks against the trade union movement.

Apart then, from the flags and banners of fake solidarity, Nazism paid absolutely no heed whatsoever to the ideologies of Socialism, but was fixated instead with a much more ancient system of politics – a fixation that it shares with all Fascist ideologies – the belief that aristocracy in the literal sense of “rule by the best”2 is the only legitimate form of government. The trick with the Nazis having been one of camouflage, of using what might nowadays be described as ‘left cover’. A ploy that is necessary whenever any self-select elitist clique wants to ingratiate itself with the plebs it secretly wishes to oppress.

So it comes as little surprise to discover that today’s more openly neo-Fascist groups are also employing the same old strategy of over-stressing their tremendous concern for the plight of the common man. I have even heard reliable accounts of how our own Fascists, the British National Party (BNP), have sometimes tried to drum up electoral support in key constituencies by lending a hand, mowing the lawn or fetching the shopping. Al Capone made comparable efforts to increase his own popularity within the Italian community of Chicago by providing soup kitchens, Christmas meals and so forth. The parallel is hardly accidental.

Orwell, who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, was also quite aware of how the Fascism of Germany had ridden piggy-back on the youthful Socialist movement. He had named the central party in his book Ingsoc and this gesture was obviously intended to provoke a reaction from both left and right alike. To clarify his own position, however, he later sent two press releases to counter claims from American reviewers (especially those working for Time-Life Corporation journals) – as well as objections from certain Communists – that Nineteen Eighty-Four was intended as an explicit attack on Socialism. The warning he delivers in the second of these statements (quoted below without abridgement) I think is clear enough — and especially so in the second paragraph:

“George Orwell assumes that if such societies as he describes in Nineteen Eighty-Four come into being there will be several super-states. This is fully dealt with in the relevant chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is also discussed from a different angle by James Burnham in The Management Revolution. These super states will naturally be in opposition to each other or (a novel point) will pretend to be much more in opposition than in fact they are. Two of the principal super states will obviously be the Anglo-American world and Eurasia. If these two great blocs line up as mortal enemies it is obvious that the Anglo-Americans will not take the name of their opponents and will not dramatise themselves on the scene of history as Communists. Thus they will have to find a new name for themselves. The name suggested in Nineteen Eighty-Four is of course Ingsoc, but in practice a wide range of choices is open. In the USA the phrase “Americanism” or “hundred percent Americanism” is suitable and the qualifying adjective is as totalitarian as anyone could wish.

“If there is a failure of nerve and the Labour Party breaks down in its attempt to deal with the hard problems with which it will be faced, tougher types than the present Labour leaders will inevitably take over, drawn probably from the ranks of the Left, but not sharing the liberal aspirations of those now in power. Members of the present British government, from Mr Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps down to Aneurin Bevin, will never willingly sell the pass to the enemy, and in general the older men, nurtured in a liberal education, are safe, but the younger generation is suspect and the seeds of totalitarian thought are probably widespread among them.”3

2. You don’t have to be mad to be a Nazi but it helps

The Nazis promoted all the usual extreme right-wing dogma about nationalist supremacy, militarism, and the Triumph of the Will (‘will’ in this context meaning only ‘the Will to Power’), with these hardline ideals then baked (or perhaps that should be ‘half-baked’) together with much odder and more exotic ingredients, such as the pseudo-scientific claptrap about a pure Germanic ancestory descended from the Aryan “master race”; archeological evidence supposedly washing up from the entirely mythological land of Thule. Thule being a sort of chilly Atlantis of the Arctic.

Justifications for the Nazis obsession with racial purity were also greatly assisted by dedicated (although now very obviously) quack scientists who went around measuring and cataloguing human skulls amongst other things; going to enormous efforts in order to sort out the “great races” from the “untermensch”. With hindsight, it’s all-too easy to see how the red of Nazism never symbolised the life-blood of the ordinary people, but had actually always represented blut of altogether more Aryan hue.

At this point it is important to realise how Nazism, like all other forms of Fascism, owes a very great legacy to the wrong-headed but persistent pseudo-Darwinian belief which chews up “survival of the fittest” and spews it back as “the fittest ought to survive”. Might becomes right, more or less by Fascist definition. Advocates of this view had found convenient support in the works of ‘Social Darwinists’ like Herbert Spencer, who viewed society as a larger kind of organism with its own parallel course of evolution. Society, the Social Darwinists argued, must be run on the basis of the natural order of the world itself: thus encouraging and not ameliorating the constant battle for survival, the Hobbesian “war of all against all”, because it is this perpetual striving that ensures strength both within species and, purportedly by extension, within races and societies.

With this in mind we can see that all of the preposterous racist pseudo-science was an attempt to prove solidly what was already so abundantly apparent (at least to the Nazis): that the master race was destined to rule the world. But did the Nazi elite actually believe any of this self-glorifying codswallop? Well, it seems very certain that many did, along with other beliefs that are far stranger again.

For instance, there was a secret order known as the Thule Society (an organisation that had adopted the swastika as its own signifier long before Hitler rose to power), and which had ties to Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophists. The Thule Society included some of the highest ranking Nazis, Rudolf Hess being one such, and behind the scenes many of the Nazi in-crowd were also drawn to the mysterious black light of the esoteric. Nor is it a mere Hollywood fantasy that the Nazis were on a quest to secure the Holy Grail, since, and as bizarre as it may sound, there seems little reason to doubt that one member of Heinrich Himmler’s elite SS, a man called Otto Wilhelm Rahn, was recruited with precisely that objective in mind4.

Inside Himmler’s SS headquarters Castle Wewelsburg, Hitler’s second-in-command and the other SS commanders, also played out their other fantasies, very earnestly believing they were the new Knights of the Round Table. It remains unclear as to whether or not the Fuhrer himself regarded such arcane escapades with any degree of seriousness, but that occult and ritualistic Nazi goings-on took place is beyond all reasonable doubt. It has even been reported that Churchill, learning of this Nazi foible for dabbling in the supernatural, planned to send false astrological reports in one of the more surreal attempts to trap his enemy. One report allegedly translated as follows:

“Mars is in the ascendant, so now is an auspicious time for meglomaniacal Taurians to press full-steam ahead with their schemes for absolute dominion. The world will soon be your oyster, and there could hardly be a better time to mount an invasion of Russia…”

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Embedded below is the excellent German documentary “Schwarze Sonne” (Black Sun) written and directed by Rüdiger Sünner (released 1998) in which he explores the importance of esotericism and occultism in Nazi ideology, ceremony and ritual:

The video above was taken down so here’s a different upload:

3. Not all Fascists goose step

Needless to say I was taught nothing of this at school. Perhaps none of it was considered relevant for some reason. What they taught me instead was that the rise of Nazism was due in a great respect to the severe reparations inflicted on the German people after their defeat in the First World War: a form of extortion that had left the hungry and huddled masses desperate for a quick fix to make their country strong again. It’s a version of history that holds more than a grain of truth.

Times were unimaginably tough during the depression years of the 1920s and 1930s, and especially so for a German people, held to ransom by the victors of the Great War and suffering from economic meltdown caused by unprecedented hyper-inflation. At the height of this crisis, prices were doubling every two days, and so, in less than two years, the Mark had been devalued by a staggering trillion to one. More than enough to bring any people to their knees.

Yet the question hangs: why the special appeal of Nazism? Why too, the steady growth of other Fascist movements all across the Western world? The simultaneous rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy, of General Franco in Spain, of the largely forgotten dictator António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, and also, we should never forget, of Oswald Moseley back home in Blighty, and the simultaneous reawakening of white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan in America. The German depression had surely opened the wound upon which Nazism could gorge itself, but it must have attracted a whole variety of competitors, Communism being an obvious rival, alongside other more benign forms of Socialism, similar in kind to Roosevelt’s New Deal in America. So why the appeal of Fascism? The history I was taught in school failed even to speculate on any alternatives.

No less importantly, my high-school history lessons failed to inform us about how Nazism had appealed to so many from the ranks of the British ruling classes. We learnt about appeasement, which was an altogether more cross-party affair, but no special emphasis was ever given to the Cliveden Set, led by Lord and Lady Astor, with Lord Brand and Lord Halifax amongst the disreputable others, guiding the hand of Nevelle Chamberland as he signed that infamous piece of paper. Nor was there any mention of the more secret and scandalous affection of Edward and Mrs Simpson, and their romancing of the Third Reich.

Moreover, the history lessons had failed even to distinguish the ill-advised pacifistic motives of many who wished only to avoid more war (which is naive but understandable given such recent shadows cast by “the war to end all wars”), from the active support of Hitler by the so-called British Fascisti and the British Union of Fascists. There was no mention of either of these organisations or of their close ties to the British Conservative Party, which was, and of course remains, very much the political arm of the ruling classes. We also learned nothing of the Anglo-German Fellowship founded in 1935 by English merchant banker Ernest Tennant, with a membership that included the Governor of the Bank of England, Norman Montague alongside Hitler’s finance minister, Hjalmar Schacht.

Indeed, lessons in history stopped well short of pointing accusing fingers anywhere toward the leading industrialists and businessmen in Britain and America. Failing to record mention that companies like Standard Oil, Du Ponts, and IBM all made enormous profits from collaborating with the Nazi regime, whilst perhaps the greatest American industrialist of all, Henry Ford, had even been awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, a medal given to foreigners sympathetic to Nazism.

Nor was any part of our syllabus devoted to Prescott Bush and the helpful part he played in Hitler’s rise to power. Prescott was the father to George Bush snr, who during the time I was learning the history of WWII had himself risen to become Ronald Reagan’s Vice President. However, and almost exactly a half-century earlier, his dad, then a managing partner of ‘the world’s largest investment bank’ Brown Brothers Harriman, was providing the American financial base that supported German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen. For his part, Thyssen was one of Hitler’s main financial backers; very probably his most important.

You can read more about how the Bush family became so fabulously wealthy in an article entitled “How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power” published by the Guardian in 2004.5

Back in school we were not even taught about how the British and American news media (with a special mention here to the Daily Mail) had consistently praised Hitler in glowing terms throughout the pre-war period. The clamour for Fascism being apparently just something like a noxious gas that had bubbled up unexpectedly from the depths – this was at least the impression I’d been given. But then perhaps the bigger truth is always a little too complicated for the classroom. After all, we were also taught that the First World War was the result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajavo. Comedian Rob Newman dismissed that particular theory with his own blunt and wholly rhetorical question: “I mean, just how popular can a guy be?”6

4. Fascism is more than just a swearword

By the early decades of the twentieth century, the Fascists had spread their obscene ideology across much of the industrialised world. But what precisely is Fascism? Is it even a useful term? It may come as a surprise to discover that Orwell, who was of course staunchly anti-Fascist, considered the term itself to be unhelpful, writing in 1944 (so just a few years after fighting against Franco) that:

“The word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else… almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.”7

This is widely quoted – and as a matter of fact I’ve lifted the above quotation deliberately unaltered from the pages of wikipedia.8 My purpose here being to illustrate how Orwell’s intended meaning is often significantly altered by abridgement. The complete passage revealing that Orwell is not in actual fact saying the word ‘Fascism’ has no meaning whatsoever, but only that different opponents of Fascism confuse the same term in different ways. Allow me then to reveal what was left clipped out by way of the ellipsis:

“…Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the régimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.”

Just as importantly, Orwell’s remarks are taken entirely out of context. For he is not advocating that we abandon the label of ‘Fascism’, but merely offering his account of why its nail is so hard to hit. Though it is only in his conclusions, laid out in the subsequent paragraph, where this finally becomes apparent:

“[But] Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.”

5. Being Fascist means never having to think for yourself again

Whereas there are no doubt a few corners of academia in which the debate continues regarding whether or not Hitler and the Nazis were Fascist in any strict sense, there can be no argument at all when it comes to Mussolini. The blackness of Mussolini’s shirt is never seriously questioned. It was Mussolini, after all, with help from his propagandist Giovanni Gentile, who had together outlined the first formulation of the political doctrine of Fascism. It was Mussolini indeed, who coined the term ‘Fascism’, drawing it from the Latin word ‘fasces’, a symbol taken from the Roman Empire which employed a bundle of sticks tied around an axe to signify “strength in unity.” So what then, did Il Duce have to say for his bastard child?

To begin with, in his “Doctrine of Fascism”, Mussolini states that Fascism is fundamentally anti-individualistic, going on to explain that:

“The Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity.”9

In other words the Fascism he describes directly contends with, and flatly contradicts the Enlightenment vision of man, to the fundamental extent that it denies the individual even the basic right to be the self-possessing justification of their own existence. The state is everything, Mussolini is saying, and you are nothing unless it decrees otherwise, and he backs all this up saying later:

“The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.”

Adding a little later again that:

“Fascism, in short, is not only a law-giver and a founder of institutions, but an educator and a promoter of spiritual life. It aims at refashioning not only the forms of life but their content – man, his character, and his faith. To achieve this purpose it enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway. Therefore it has chosen as its emblem the Lictor’s rods, the symbol of unity, strength, and justice.”

In other words then, Fascism, at least according to Mussolini’s formula, is totalitarian to the extent that it imposes a collective weltanshauung – one all-embracing philosophy for all – a worldview that claims to guarantee absolute escape from the burden of individual freedom, with all the worry and responsibility that being free entails. But the price is high, of course, at least for those of us in the common herd, for what Fascism ultimately demands is nothing less than our souls:

“The Fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Those who perceive nothing beyond opportunistic considerations in the religious policy of the Fascist regime fail to realize that Fascism is not only a system of government but also and above all a system of thought.”

Above all a system of thought… Yeah, yeah!

6. Fascists hate liberals, lefties, do-gooders, peacemakers and women (obviously)

“State ownership! It leads only to absurd and monstrous conclusions; state ownership means state monopoly, concentrated in the hands of one party and its adherents, and that state brings only ruin and bankruptcy to all.”

These are the words of Mussolini too. Old Mussolini, the bringer of Fascism, and not of course, Mussolini the young Communist. By this point Mussolini despised all things socialistic. He despised leftist ideologies just as whole-hearted as he despised liberalism and democracy, and he was unabashed in saying so:

“After socialism, Fascism trains its guns on the whole block of democratic ideologies, and rejects both their premises and their practical applications and implements. Fascism denies that numbers, as such, can be the determining factor in human society; it denies the right of numbers to govern by means of periodical consultations; it asserts the irremediable and fertile and beneficent inequality of men who cannot be levelled by any such mechanical and extrinsic device as universal suffrage.”10

And yet for many trapped within the lower social echelons, Fascism promises glory in the grandest terms. Why? Because firstly it says you can forget about your own sad and pathetic lives, which will in any case amount to nothing. For so long as you remain as individuals, acting in desperate isolation, you are nothing, and just as helpless as children. Not that you are about to be given much choice in any case, because the other promise of Fascism is that any who imagine otherwise and attempt to stand in the way of progress, will, of necessity and for the greater cause, be crushed like insects. There is no choice and yet Fascism demands that you choose: to sacrifice your nothingness to the greater triumph of the nation – although, I say ‘nation’ simply because historically Fascism has always wrapped itself in national colours, but actually flags of any kind might equally serve the same ends.

The impulse here, as Mussolini rightly claims, is a religious one. Religious because it offers meaning in exchange for sacrifice. A twisted religious meaning, certainly, in which the teachings of Christ are totally up-ended, so that the weak are condemned and Caesar anointed. And whilst Mussolini wishes merely to eradicate the meek and the feeble, he prefers to cast all the peacemakers straight to hell:

“Fascism does not, generally speaking, believe in the possibility or utility of perpetual peace. It therefore discards pacifism as a cloak for cowardly supine renunciation in contradistinction to self-sacrifice. War alone keys up all human energies to their maximum tension and sets the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it. All other tests are substitutes which never place a man face to face with himself before the alternative of life or death. Therefore all doctrines which postulate peace at all costs are incompatible with Fascism.”11

Mussolini said that he owed much to William James, and in particular James’s famous essay “The Moral Equivalent to War”. Yet he must have read it badly. Perhaps the title of his own copy had been mistranslated to read: “morality is equivalent to war”. But then war is always a splendid diversion for tyrants, whilst also a clearing of the way for the proper redistribution of wealth in the Fascist sense: from the poor to the rich obviously.

7. Fascists see Fascism as natural

“The maxim that society exists only for the well-being and freedom of the individuals composing it does not seem to be in conformity with nature’s plans, which care only for the species and seem ready to sacrifice the individual. It is much to be feared that the last word of democracy thus understood (and let me hasten to add that it is susceptible of a different interpretation) would be a form of society in which a degenerate mass would have no thought beyond that of enjoying the ignoble pleasures of the vulgar.”12

You have no doubt already guessed that these are also the charmless words of Benito Mussolini. Laying down a challenge to what he regards as the innate decadence of liberal democracy, leading to “a degenerate mass [that] would have no thought beyond that of enjoying the ignoble pleasures of the vulgar”. Had Mussolini only had the opportunity to watch “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent”, he would no doubt have cited both as exemplary footnotes.

In the same paragraph, Mussolini is also claiming support for his ideology on the basis of Science, or more specifically what was then the comparatively new theory of Darwinian evolution. What he says is nonetheless scientific gobbledegook, although sadly it is gobbledegook that a great many will still inevitably mistake for truth. So to redress the matter succinctly, nature does not have any plans: that’s what Darwin actually said, and what modern biologists still believe. Whether the scientists are right or wrong is beside the point, the point being only that Mussolini and the other Fascists can derive no validation or justification from Science whatsoever.

I have also selected this passage because it shows Mussolini as ‘the improver’, and it is very likely the case that Mussolini, and Hitler, and Franco, and the rest of the wrecking crews regarded themselves as true social improvers 13. This should probably be our gravest concern about Fascism: that its main advocates are also ardent believers. They have come to love the smell of their own farts so much that they genuinely mistake them for perfume.

8. Fascism offers a diseased form of escapism

“If we want to fight Fascism we must understand it. Wishful thinking will not help. And reciting optimistic formulae will prove to be as inadequate and useless as the ritual of an Indian rain dance. In addition to the problem of the social and economic conditions which have given rise to Fascism, there is a human problem which needs to be understood.”14

These are the words of the great social psychologist and humanist, Erich Fromm, writing in 1941. The problem, Fromm argues, has to do with our need for belonging. A basic human need, that if unsatisfied, bursts out as an unassailable urge to sacrifice all else in order to secure it:

“The kind of relatedness to the world may be noble or trivial, but even being related to the basest kind of pattern is immensely preferable to being alone. Religion and Nationalism, as well as any custom or belief however absurd or degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.”15

Fascism actually has two faces, which is one of the reasons Orwell and others have found it such a brute to nail down. On the one hand, it is simply a highly effective way for the ruling class to maximise their control over the lower orders – Fascism being an extreme form of oligarchy, and one in which the oligarchs frequently prance around truly believing they are the new gods. Meanwhile, the ordinary Joe Fascist is given to understand that their own subservience makes them greater in a different way. In this it taps deep into unconscious desires, offering a quick fix to plug up a sometimes festering ‘God-shaped hole’:

“Brotherhood implies a common father. Therefore it is often argued that men can never develop the sense of a community unless they believe in God. The answer is that in a half-conscious way most of them have developed it already. Man is not an individual, he is only a cell in an everlasting body, and he is dimly aware of it. There is no other way of explaining why it is that men will die in battle. It is nonsense to say that they do it only because they are driven. If whole armies had to be coerced, no war could ever be fought. Men die in battle — not gladly, of course, but at any rate voluntarily — because of abstractions called ‘honour’, ‘duty’, ‘patriotism’ and so forth.

“All that this really means is that they are aware of some organism greater than themselves, stretching into the future and the past, within which they feel themselves to be immortal. ‘Who dies if England live?’ sounds like a piece of bombast, but if you alter ‘England’ to whatever you prefer, you can see that it expresses one of the main motives of human conduct. People sacrifice themselves for the sake of fragmentary communities — nation, race, creed, class — and only become aware that they are not individuals in the very moment when they are facing bullets. A very slight increase of consciousness and their sense of loyalty could be transferred to humanity itself, which is not an abstraction.”16

These are the words of Orwell again, a man who knew perfectly well what it feels like to be facing bullets. He also understood more clearly than most political thinkers, how virtues such as loyalty and courage can be coerced and corrupted to the detriment of all. So he writes in a review of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”:

[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flag and loyalty-parades…. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.17

9. Fascism never went away

All of which finally brings me to an article I found on the Channel 4 website entitled “What is fuelling the rise of the far right?”18 Here is a pertinent extract:

While the far right movement means different things in [different] countries, these groups share a nationalistic cultural identity. However, perhaps surprisingly, it is also characterised by traditionally left-leaning economic policy.

The Demos study found that respondents were anti-establishment, anti-capitalism and supportive of the welfare state – but only for the country’s citizens.

Dr Erik Jones, Director of the Bologna Institute for Policy Research and Professor of European Studies at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS Bologna Centre agreed.

“All of these groups have another thing in common – they are anti-traditional elites,” he told Channel 4 News.

But the main point being missed here, as in most, if not all, of the mainstream analysis, is that in Europe, America and much of the rest of the Western world, the political system has already been captured by a version of the extreme right. Not the old-style right of Hitler or Mussolini, which was built upon the foundations of bombastic nationalism, but a new brand of increasingly far-right extremism that cleverly disguises itself as non-ideological, tolerant and even moderate – I heard political commentator Tariq Ali recently refer to it as “the extreme centre”.

This new extremism chooses new methods to promote and protect its crony insiders. It says sorry but you really have no choice, these other chaps are simply too big to fail, adding, almost as an aside, that democracy wasn’t working in any case. And it finds new justifications for engaging in aggressive foreign wars that we are told have absolutely nothing to do with conquest and exploitation. War being nothing more than a matter of preemption, or if that fails to impress the populous, of humanitarianism. However, the new extremism finds old and very well-tested excuses when it comes to clampdowns on our individual freedoms, with the main one being, ironically enough, to protect us from ‘extremists’. The other, to protect us from ourselves, what else!

Bush and the rest of the neo-cons appeared to many (myself included) as a gang of Fascists, whereas Obama was supposed to bring ‘hope and change’. The sad truth is, however, that under Obama there has been an almost uninterrupted continuity of agenda.

It was Obama, not Bush, who recently passed into law the right to indefinitely detain without charge, and granted tacit but executive permission for security agencies or the military to torture and assassinate American citizens. It was Obama who expanded the wars into Pakistan, Yemen and Africa by increasing the use of mercenaries and drone strikes. Meanwhile, and as the US policy of ‘extraordinary rendition’ continues unabated, Guantanamo not only remains open, but is about to be upgraded.

The British government, which is soon to flood the streets of our Capital with military personnel all in the name of security, is also getting ready to grant legal permission for warrantless surveillance and secret trials. As the clampdown accelerates, Western governments far and wide are also selling off their national assets and much else besides: the prisons, police forces and even the military. All these are being corporatised. They are being made ready for a fuller merger of corporation and State, almost exactly as Mussolini had conceived in his own Fascist system.

At the same time, our governments which, wretched as they are are, nevertheless form some kind of insulating democratic buffer from pure totalitarian rule, are deliberately surrendering their own independence, and with it, our national sovereignty. A clique of unelected, and thus untouchable, ‘technocrats’ steadily taking over the reins to better serve the special interests of that small, offshore globalist elite they actually represent. So the truth is that our creeping case of Fascism (since this is the only valid description – totalitarian is too polite) did not arise from the kinds of fringe movements identified and surveyed by the trendy lefties at Demos, but is being rammed down our throats by the powers above.

Back down at street level, the new attraction of the far-right should come as no surprise to anyone at all. When times get tough, Fascism of all kinds has an unerring habit of rearing its filthy head and trying to look respectable. And it will automatically seem like an appealing final solution for some stuck at the bottom of the current social scrapheap, whilst appealing as strongly to many in ‘the squeezed middle’ who are suddenly feeling as abandoned as those they had previously despised for being beneath them. Free to throw-off any last pretenses of liberalism, they can relish the licence granted to fully unleash their always latent bigotry.

To those who sympathise, the allure of Fascism will always appear like a new kind of freedom, although it ought to go without saying that the low-ranking Fascist cheerleaders are greatly deceived. Any appearance of new freedom being a complete illusion, and if licence is ever fully granted to release the full furies of outright Fascism, they are almost as likely to become fresh victims as the staunchest of anti-Fascists.

Fascism only actually serves the special interests of the dominant and already established minority. It elevates the rule of the old aristocracies, the mega-wealthy and the super-connected, alongside the most powerful financial and business leaders of the major corporations. Such an absolute consolidation of political power in the hands of the few depends upon the thorough trampling down of the overwhelming majority, and this is really the essence of Fascism. Traditionally, as well as economically, Fascism also relies on the maintaining of a ceaseless and expansionist war.

Obviously Fascism tries to look radical and new, and in this reincarnation the more sophisticated front has audaciously stolen the gown of multiculturalism. Even elements of street-level Fascism now pretend to be all-inclusive; the outstanding example being the English Defence League, which has stepped forward to replace worn-out whites-only clubs of the old National Front and the BNP. Fascism has gone postmodern, so beware… beneath the thinnest of disguises nothing has really altered. Fascism, whether at street level or within the highest echelons of our societies, is always the oldest and most reactionary game in town.

1 The party program of the NSDAP as proclaimed on 24th February 1920 by Adolf Hitler at the first significant party gathering was subsequently summarised as 25 points. Point 13 states that: “We demand the nationalization of all associated industries (trusts). Point 14 states that: “We demand profit-sharing in all large industries. Point 15 states that “We demand an improvement in old age welfare. Point 20 states that: “We demand the education at the expense of the State of outstanding gifted children of poor parents without consideration of station or occupation.” Point 21 states that: “The State is to care for the elevating of national health by protecting the mother and child, by prohibiting child-labour…” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Socialist_Program#German_Party_program

2 Aristocracy deriving from the Greek aristokratia with aristo- meaning ‘best’.

3 The first press release read as follows:

“It has been suggested by some of the reviewers of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR that it is the author’s view that this, or something like this, is what will happen inside the next forty years in the Western World. This is not correct. I think that, allowing for the book being after all a parody, something like Nineteen Eighty-Four could happen. This is the direction in which the world is going at the present time, and the trend lies deep in the political, social and economic foundations of the contemporary world situation.

Specifically the danger lies in the structure imposed on Socialism and on Liberal capitalist communities by the necessity to prepare for total war with the USSR and the new weapons, of which of course the atomic bomb is the most powerful and most publicised. But danger lies also in the acceptance of a totalitarian outlook by individuals of all colours.

The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.”

Both press releases are recorded in Bernard Crick’s essay “Nineteen Eighty-Four: Context and Controversy” published in “The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell”, edited by John Rodden, p.154.

4 Rahn wrote two books: Kreuzzug gegen den Gral (Crusade Against the Grail) in 1933 and Luzifers Hofgesind (Lucifer’s Court) in 1937. Following publication of the first of these, Rahn’s work came to the attention of Hitler’s second-in-command and Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Rahn was invited to join up as a junior non-commissioned officer and then became a full member of the SS in 1936.

5 “How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power” written by Ben Aris and Duncan Campbell, published by the Guardian on September 25, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/25/usa.secondworldwar

Although not attributed, the original research can actually be traced back to Webster G. Tarpley’s “George Bush: The Unauthorised Biography” which was published more than a dacade earlier in 1992 and that is available for free online at http://tarpley.net/online-books/george-bush-the-unauthorized-biography/

6 Here is a report taken from the Guardian newspaper (29th June 1914):

“The Austrian royal house has had enough tragedies in its history, and facts might well have spared it another. It was not to be. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Francis Joseph and heir to the throne, has been most cruelly murdered at Sarajevo, and his wife, Duchess Hohenberg, has shared his fate. Two attempts were made on their lives in the course of the day, a fact that would seem to point to conspiracy. What its motives may have been we do not know, nor do they greatly matter. Had the archduke been a cruel tyrant, and had the records of Austrian rule in Bosnia been as bad as they have in fact been good, the murder would still have been an abominable crime. It is a difficult and at present an ungracious task to speculate on what influence the crime may have on Austrian politics.”

This is the original version as republished a few years ago. For some reason it has since been slightly altered but a version can now be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/1914/jun/29/fromthearchive

I find the report interesting for two main reasons. Firstly, it highlights the likelihood of some kind of conspiracy – and clearly journalists of the day were unafraid of using the c-word. Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, there seems to have been little concern about the wider repercussions outside of Austria.

7 “What is Fascism?” essay by George Orwell, first published in Tribune. — GB, London. — 1944. http://orwell.ru/library/articles/As_I_Please/english/efasc

8 I can no longer find any entry on wikipedia that precisely matches the quote with ellipsis as stated although I can find other truncated versions in a number of wikipedia articles in which Orwell’s full statement has been abridged to produce the same effect.

9 A translation of the Benito Mussolini “Doctrines” section of the “Fascism” entry in the 1932 edition of the Enciclopedia Italiana. From the publication “Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions”, by Benito Mussolini, 1935, ‘Ardita’ Publishers, Rome. All quotes have been taken from the only complete official translation I can find on the web. http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm

10 ibid.

11 ibid.

12 ibid.

13 “The Fascist negation of socialism, democracy, liberalism, should not, however, be interpreted as implying a desire to drive the world backwards to positions occupied prior to 1789, a year commonly referred to as that which opened the demo-liberal century. History does not travel backwards. The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet.” Also taken from Benito Mussolini “Doctrines” section of the “Fascism” entry in the 1932 edition of the Enciclopedia Italiana.

14 “The Fear of Freedom” by Erich Fromm, published by Routledge, 1960. Extract taken from Chapter 1, “Freedom – a psychological problem?”, p3.

15 ibid, p15.

16 From “Notes on the way” by George Orwell, first published in Time and Tide. London, 1940. http://orwell.ru/library/articles/notes/english/e_notew

17 From a review of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, written by George Orwell, published in New English Weekly, March 21st, 1940.

18 From an article entitled “What is fuelling the rise of the far right?” published November 14, 2011. http://www.channel4.com/news/has-the-euro-crisis-fuelled-a-rise-of-the-far-right

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