Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, December 30, 2005

'I am Craig Murray!'

Last month I posted a short piece about some possible political consequences of the rise of blogging, and over the last couple of days we have had a quite remarkable example of what power this modern communications media has. This is what all the fuss is about, as reported by the Times Online:

'Craig Murray, Britain's former ambassador to Uzbekistan whose controversial memoirs have been blocked by the Foreign Office, today side-stepped the ban by releasing the most controversial documents in full on the internet.

The first contains the text of several outspoken letters that Mr Murray sent back to London between 2002 and 2004, warning that information being passed on by the Uzbek security services had been obtained through torture.

The second allegedly contains the legal opinion from Sir Michael Wood, a legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who argues that the use of information extracted through torture does not violate the UN Convention Against Torture.

Although much of the material has been published by human rights organisations and elsewhere, Mr Murray's web-based publication has placed the names, dates and times of discussions into the public domain.'

As the courageous, strong and indefatigable former British Ambassador himself noted, 'in March 2003 I was summoned back to London from Tashkent specifically for a meeting at which I was told to stop protesting. I was told specifically that it was perfectly legal for us to obtain and to use intelligence from the Uzbek torture chambers.

After this meeting Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's legal adviser, wrote to confirm this position. This minute from Michael Wood is perhaps the most important document that has become public about extraordinary rendition. It is irrefutable evidence of the government's use of torture material, and that I was attempting to stop it. It is no wonder that the government is trying to suppress this.'

This is the second document, the summary of legal opinion from Michael Wood arguing that it is legal to use information extracted under torture:

'From: Michael Wood, Legal Advisor

Date: 13 March 2003

CC: PS/PUS; Matthew Kidd, WLD

Linda Duffield


1. Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.

2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing is article 15 which provides:

"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.


M C Wood
Legal Adviser'

In short, the British Government's friends in power in Uzbekistan are torturing bastards, but because they are our torturing bastards and the information they find out through torture is potentially useful in the West's 'war on terror', any evidence proving they are torturing bastards has to be covered up. What is it to be covered up with? Well, blind nationalism normally does the trick. We can imagine Tony Blair and Jack Straw imploring us to just close our eyes to this stuff, lie back and think of England. Using evidence gained through torture - would we ever condone that stuff? It is 'not cricket' is it, and would we, with our tradition of 'fair play', ever stand for that? Of course not - we represent 'Civilisation' against the 'barbaric' Other! Please do not forget this - I know it is hard sometimes to spot the difference what with Abu Graib, Guantanomo Bay, and now this little memo - but do try to make the effort. Remember - careless talk costs lives, or, as they say in Uzbekistan, careless talk will cost you your life...

Anyway, when Craig Murray published this information on his blog it got picked up by other bloggers who published the memos and letters, which helped ensure that it got out there and is now slowly being picked up in the mainstream press. Blogging seems to have left the Blair regime unable to stop censoring a key thorn in its side - as a British blogger I thought this deserved noting on my blog and as a socialist I was feeling a little guilty at my remaining silent while fists were flying into the air in solidarity with Craig 'Spartacus' Murray. For more background, see here and here.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dead Queen Watch: Mary II

Mary II died on 29 December 1694, which makes this the 311th anniversary of her death. Wikipedia claims she died on the 28 December, but according to Brewer's The Death of Kings, on that day, after a week in bed with smallpox, 'she seemed to be very much better...indeed, the doctors began to think that she had perhaps had an attack of the measles'. However it is true that that night she fell very ill with an acute attack of smallpox and died about 1 o'clock in the morning of the 29th December. Brewer points out that her death was widely mourned as she was only 32 at the time, as 'she had been a somewhat simple person who had no enemies and was universally loved and respected.' It is worth looking at her life briefly to see why things were actually a little more complicated than that.

Mary was born in 1662 in London at St James's Palace, the daughter of future King James II, then Duke of York. Her uncle was therefore King Charles II and mother was James's first wife, the Lady Anne Hyde. She and her sister were therefore brought up strict Protestants - but in 1668 or 1669 her father converted to Roman Catholicism and her mother died soon after. What was to become of Princess Mary?

Aged just 15, she had a marriage arranged for her - to the Dutch Prince of Orange, William III, also a Protestant - and as it happened, her first cousin. Pressured by Parliament, her Catholic father agreed to the marriage, falsely assuming that it would improve his popularity amongst Protestants. The first cousins Mary and William married in London on 4 November 1677, and then Mary went to the Netherlands to live.

I don't know if anyone else watched any of the spate of recent TV documentaries about troublesome Royal relationships (Wallis and Edward - about Nazi King Edward VIII who had to abdicate in 1936 - and Whatever Love Means - about Charles and Camilla), but it seems that the marriage between William and Mary was hardly destined to be a happy one. Brewer notes that 'she was 15 years old, no less than a 5 feet inches tall, handsome, well dressed and with a beautiful complexion. William was 37, 4 inches shorter than her, pale and ill-dressed, usually in black; he spoke English with difficulty and had constant trouble from his asthma. It is no surprise to learn that Mary was in tears on the day of her wedding.' However, she did grow to love the Dutch people and countryside and even to some extent William himself. William however preferred the company of younger male cousins of his and long maintained an affair with Elizabeth Villiers, one of Mary's ladies-in-waiting, with whom he became quite infatuated.

In 1688, her father James became King of England. However, his Catholicism made him very unpopular and within a year he was ousted in a 'Glorious Revolution' by the Whig bourgeosie who organised the succession to pass peacefully to William and Mary as Joint Sovereigns. Here is Karl Marx on the 'Glorious Revolution':

'The "Glorious Revolution" brought into power, along with William of Orange, the landlord and capitalist appropriators of surplus value. They inaugurated the new era by practising on a colossal scale thefts of State lands, thefts that had hitherto been managed more modestly. These estates were given away, sold at a ridiculous figure or even annexed to private estates by direct seizure. All this happened without the slightest observation of legal etiquette. The Crown Lands thus fraudulently appropriated, together with the Church estates, so far as these had not been lost again during the republican revolution, form the basis of the today princely domains of the English oligarchy. The bourgeois capitalists favoured the operation with the view, among others, to promoting free trade in land, to extending the domain of modern agriculture on the large farm system, and to increasing their supply of agricultural proletarians ready to hand. Besides, the new landed aristocracy was the natural ally of the new bankocracy, of the new-hatched haute finance and of the large manufacturer, then depending on protective duties'.

As AL Morton notes, 'the "Revolution" of 1688, placed in the hands of the Whigs for the next century, apart from short intervals, the control of the central State apparatus' - though the Tory squirearchy maintained control of local government creating a situation of 'dual power' throughout the eighteenth-century. William agreed to this hand over of power (enshrined in the Bill of Rights) as he wanted wealth and manpower for war against France. For that, he needed to bring Ireland and Scotland under tighter control - and so he launched new wars here first. As Morton notes, William ensured that Ireland was 'ruled more brutally and openly than ever before as a colony which existed for the exclusive benefit of the English bourgeoisie'. 'By 1692 William's sovereignty was undisputed throughout the British Isles' and he now turned his attention to the French under Louis XIV. Wikipedia notes that 'when her husband was away, Mary acted in her own name but on his advice; whilst he was in England, Mary completely refrained from interfering in political matters'. It is perhaps this somewhat detached position from power that explains her apparent popularity at the end of her life.


Bob Geldof and Making Tory Anarchism History

His love in with Blair apparently over, Bob Geldof, 'on the rebound' as it were, has now got into bed with Blair's enemy David Cameron. Cameron is said to be 'thrilled'. Apparently, Geldof thinks his beautiful new relationship with this rich Old Etonian former stockbroker will help 'Make Poverty History'.

At first sight, it is difficult to see what they might have in common. In October, after the massive Make Poverty History protests in July, Cameron attacked what he called 'Britain’s cultural hostility to capitalism'.

'Speaking at an event organized by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Mr Cameron said: "For too many people, profit and free trade are dirty words...We need to campaign for capitalism, to promote profit, to fight for free trade, to remind, indeed educate, our citizens about the facts of economic life."'

One citizen that Cameron might have had in mind at the time as someone who needed 'educating about the facts of economic life' was, er, Bob Geldof. After all, Geldof wanted fair trade - not free trade - to help producers in the developing world stop getting screwed as much by multinational capital. Moreover, in June, Geldof had furiously attacked Ebay, the biggest online auction company in the world, for 'capitalising on the misery of the poor' and acting as 'an electronic pimp' after it allowed auctions of tickets to the Live 8 concert. Geldof argued that 'selling Live 8 tickets which are free is sick' and the sellers were 'despicable'. Eventually the company backed down - but Tories at the time were furious with Geldof for challenging the logic of the market. As one ranted, Geldof 'was like Moses coming down from the mountain and denouncing those who had started worshipping 'graven images'...He calls the sales "profiteering" as if making a profit were, in itself, an evil thing.'

However, Geldof's occasional attempts to act like a modern day Christ figure aside, I actually think that we should not be too surprised at his new political partnership with Cameron. Geldof, after all, is a classic 'Tory anarchist', and possibly last great example (in Britain at least).

I think this description is the most apt for describing Geldof's politics. He embodies all the egotism, anti-authoritarianism and individualism of anarchist Max Stirner coupled with traditional random Tory prejudices - for example against women (see his support for Fathers for Justice) and against democratic radical mass movements (condemning anticapitalist protesters who were involved in battles with police at Gleneagles as "a bunch of losers"). He did, at times, brilliantly and passionately attack the obscenity of world poverty - yet his solution for tackling it was not to help build a global movement from below against the rich and powerful and their institutions like the G8 and WTO - but to build up hopes that the likes of Bush and Blair really do also care and are somehow 'on our side' in the war against want. Yet when those hopes were dashed at the G8 summit, Geldof had no solutions to take the Make Poverty History campaign forward.

Geldof was always in the pull of far more powerful forces than himself - but his individualism and egotism blinded him as to who was really pulling the strings and he kept on telling himself that he really did have influence and really was making a difference. Where this ends up is now clear for all to see - you end up helping a political party that historically has based itself on the principle of maintaining the power of the rich in society - and who oversaw a tripling of the level of child poverty in the UK when it was last in power - try to rebrand itself as a 'modern, compassionate' force in society.

At some University freshers fairs in the UK this year, 'Conservative Future' - formerly the Young Conservatives - changed the 'Make Poverty History' slogan to that of 'Make Socialism History' to try and recruit students. It is not clear whether the Tory anarchist Geldof completely agrees that the idea of socialism, of a society where human need comes before profit, is apparently fit only for history books. What is clear is that Geldof does not now offer anything to those who want to make poverty history, still less to those of us who also want to make capitalism history. It has been said before, but we need to Make Geldof History.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Reasons to be cheerful

1. 'America's worst nightmare', Evo Morales from the Movement Towards Socialism won the Presidential election in Bolivia - Paddington is no doubt writing a report from whereever he is now in Latin America for this blog about this step forward for the Left.

2. As noted earlier on this blog, John Prescott seems to have finally made his move against Blair, meaning that Blair is truly at the end of his reign - it seems inevitable he will go after Labour get hammered in May's local council elections, if not sooner.

3. I noticed from Dave Renton's site that the International Institute of Social History has produced nifty little 'e-cards' to send to people - but I can't really be bothered to go to that trouble - so this is just to wish readers of Histomat a happy new year for 2006.

Edited to add this: Vote for the top political moment of 2005 in the UK here...


Saturday, December 17, 2005

And now for something completely different...

Occasionally, I worry that some people find their way to this site looking for seriously good Marxist writing about historical philosophy, and so perhaps leave rather quickly, feeling that my blog has definitely broken some sort of trades descriptions act in its title. Yet just because (so far) this blog has not got lots of detailed discussions of the mode of production, the forces and relations of production, base and superstructure, Kautsky and Plekhanov, etc etc. shouldn't make it completely useless. What I propose to do is when I find some hard Marxist theoretical stuff online, to let you know about it with a quick link. So here is James Holstun, author of the excellent Ehud's Dagger; Class Struggle and the English Revolution, defending Marxism in a reply to some Early Modern historians in Early Modern Culture. The rest of the time I will continue to carry on serving up random posts about random things. Just be thankful I have not decided to inflict my vulgar Marxist political analysis of Coldplay on you ('the flaccid liberalism of Coldplay') - as the song I have had of theirs in my head for the last couple of days seems to have finally gone - which is an enormous relief I can tell you.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Forget King Kong - look at Hong Kong!

The anti-World Trade Organisation protests in Hong Kong have been bloody marvellous. There is good background and coverage on the Globalise Resistance website. Some protesters are now even going on hunger-strike. This from one Hong Kong group of protesters' blog, set up to provide daily analysis of the protests:

'Some of us, after staying with our fisherman and farmer friends for days, decided to start this hunger strike today. This action is not only our advocation to our friends from all over the world, but also our statement to the WTO MC6. This is our declaration for the strike:

Declaration of Hunger Strike
Small Farmers Struggling for Their Last Stance
Hong Kong People Standing Together in Hunger Strike

Over the last few days, we, a group of Hong Kong people, believe that many locals have been inspired and touched by people coming here from around the world to challenge the WTO. We have been deeply moved by them, too. Traveling from afar, friends from Korea have brought us beautiful rhythms, songs, and stories of their struggle and suffering.The Korean farmers and workers have expressed great kindness in the face of their demonization by the media and government.

The sincerity embodied in yesterday's march -- whereupon they performed a full-body bow every three steps, bowing the distance from Victoria Park to outside the Convention Centre -- clearly moved the people of Hong Kong, bringing some onlookers to tears. In their steps and bows, we can see strength in humility, the true power of a people. After their pilgrimmage, the Korean farmers and workers treated us to their dinner of Korean rice at the protest area. After benefiting from their generosity, we thought of the rows upon rows of police barricades and the overwhelming power of the establishment that they face just to get their voices heard.

We are a small group of Hong Kong people. What can we do to support the Korean farmers? After serious discussion, we decided that the only way to support them is to go on hunger strike. We resort to hunger striking because we face an extremely violent power. We have no choice but to use our own bodies as weapons. Hunger striking is a most peaceful yet powerful form of protest.

The restricted zone outside the Convention Centre used to be a public place, belonging to the people. Now, the government has surrounded the restricted zone with fences and police barricades. The restricted zone is unjust because it only serves to protect the world's most powerful governments and capitalists, allowing them to meet in safety and secrecy. They meet inside closed doors, without having to listen to or consider the real voices and stories of the people whose very lives their policies affect. As hunger strikers, we have chanted and marched and written about these issues, but the police lines blockading the Convention Centre from the people outside are rigid and unmoving. Corporate power does not respond to people's suffering and demands. We have no choice but to hunger strike.

The WTO's Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) not only harms the Korean farmers who are now at the front lines, but countless others around the world trying to maintain their livelihoods, such as fisherfolk, peasants, and other groups. These traditional ways of life are oppressed by capitalism and free trade, and are in danger of disappearing. Compared to these serious threats, our suffering, as Hong Kong people, is miniscule. Our actions are small. However, besides hunger striking, we have no other way to express our respect towards these peoples and concern for their suffering. We also have no other way to express our anger and resistance towards the WTO and the Hong Kong government, which is equally complicit in crimes against humanity.

Our bodies are our only weapons. We demand:

That the restricted zone be opened and the police barricades removed;
That the WTO opens its doors to the people outside the Convention Centre, and acts on their concerns;
That the WTO delegates remove the items of agriculture and fishery off the agenda. They need to take the needs of the poor seriously,since food is a basic right.
At the same time, we sincerely hope that Hong Kong people can join us and support us. We hope that Hong Kong people will contribute to the life and dignity of our friends from overseas.'


Back to Year Zero

Greg Neale, BBC Newsnight's 'resident historian', has a piece in this week's New Statesman on just how little sense of the past there is among today's political class.

'Over the past couple of years, I have spoken to politicians from all the major parties who worry that British politics and public life have lost a sense of serious historical awareness, with implications for policy-making and national perspectives. "It's noticeable how little historical perspective and sweep many MPs now have, particularly when discussing something big such as Iraq," Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader, said when BBC History Magazine canvassed opinion at Westminster. "A little knowledge about Britain's presence in Iraq in the 1920s might have brought some understanding of the complexities of being an occupying power." Shortly before his death a year ago, the Liberal Democrat peer and historian Conrad Russell noted "an impatience with history" at Westminster...Among Labour MPs, there was qualified agreement. Speaking before this year's general election, Tony Banks suggested that "the Labour movement is less aware of its roots and traditions and history than it has been. Some might say that in the past it spent too much time in the past and now it's not spending enough."'

In part, this is the inevitable consequence of the three main parties moving closer and closer together around a neo-liberal economic consensus (witness David Cameron's appeal for Lib Dems to join the new 'liberal' Conservative party). Calls for 'modernisation' become new ruling political philosophy. The major shift right here of course has been in the Labour Party. As Neale notes, for the architects of New Labour, 'distancing the Blair project from "old" Labour seemed to them to require a "year zero" in which the party's past was forgotten.' Those who controlled the present were now to be in control of the past. Just as George Bush heard voices from God Himself ordering him to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq, Tony Blair was fortunate that 'the Angel of History' (to use Walter Benjamin's metaphor) was at his exclusive beck and call. Very quickly after Year Zero, Blair noted after the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland that while 'this is not a day for soundbites', 'I feel the hand of history on our shoulders'. This year, Year Eight of the Blair Revolution, Blair made a speech at the US Congress in which he declared that 'History will forgive' the attack on Iraq.

Neale however suggests that Blair's tight control of past, present and future is slipping. As he puts it, 'there are faint signs of change. At Westminster, party history groups - Liberal Democrat and, recently, Labour - have launched lecture programmes. The Labour MP and former history journalist Gordon Marsden is leading a drive to strengthen history teaching in schools and colleges. Gordon Brown, who studied economic history at university, has aired his ideas on British historical identity in a film for Newsnight. And intriguingly, before the election the Conservatives suggested raising the age to which history remains compulsory in schools to 16. Could history be a vote-winner? Well, last autumn a Tory education spokesman called for better history teaching as a basis for a broader education. That spokesman was David Cameron, and it will be interesting to see how he develops the theme now he is leader of his party.'

All this might well challenge Blair's grip - but simply having MPs take 'lectures' on Lib Dem history or general calls for 'more history teaching' (when they comes from the likes of Gordon Brown or David Cameron), are not going to help people understand the real role of Britain in the world. I have read Gordon Brown's 'ideas on British historical identity' and it is simply Margeret Thatcher's notion of '1000 years of British democracy' warmed up. There is almost nothing progressive or forward looking about it - still less any sense of trying to come to terms with Britain's - (and it is Britain's - not just England's) bloody colonial past. It is not too difficult to see why this past has to be 'sanitised' where it is not 'erased' completely - people will make too many connections with the bloody neo-colonialism on display in present Iraq and elsewhere. When will Winston Churchill finally be debunked once and for all? After all in 1920 he was in favour of using poison gas against 'turbulent tribes' of Kurds and Iraqis (as well as against other peoples in the Empire): 'I do not understand this sqeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.' As a result, gas was used against occupied Iraqis then by the British 'with excellent moral effect'. Cameron and Brown cannot risk British school children learning about this 'British history' - with its echoes in the US use of white phosphorus in Fallujah last November - the dangers are too great for not just them but the whole political class they stand at the head of.

Yet without such a reckoning, the 'angel of History' is doomed to remain where Benjamin left him: 'His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.'

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A poem for Geoff Hoon

Parents when a child is born
Wish it to be intelligent.
I through intelligence
Having ruined my whole life
Wish the boy to be both ignorant and stupid.
Then he can crown a tranquil existence
By becoming a Cabinet Minister.

(Ancient Chinese poem)

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Dispatches from Latin America #3: Paraguay

Paddington's Latin American adventure continues. After losing his wallet and losing in love on a visit to Argentina, you'd think he'd send us some good news - but instead he decides to mention Ipswich Town FC in his latest post - the recent performances of which are hardly likely to bring any 'Christmas cheer' to anyone except Norwich fans (who are now above us in the Championship). However, there is some good news - he has finally made to to Paraguay, and so I'll let him describe that country in all its beauty to you:

'On Saturday, I left the comparative security of
Argentina behind to take an 18 hour bus journey to
Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. The Lonely Planet
reckons that in Paraguay travellers are less common
than jaguars. P.J. O'Rourke said that "Paraguay is
nowhere and is famous for nothing." After Bolivia, it
is South America's poorest country, and is certainly
the least visited by gringos. So, to try and explain
why this might be, and why Paraguay is considered by
the rest of the world to be so obscure and
unappealing, here is another of Paddington's
under-researched history lessons.


In my first post about Argentina, I outlined a rough
template into which the histories of most Latin
American countries seem to fit. It went roughly like

- Indigenous tribes cultivate the land, creating
small-scale agricultural and fishing communities, or
otherwise were nomadic hunter-gatherers.
- During the 16th century, the continent is invaded by
- During the 19th century, republican movements spring
up across the continent and independent states are
- During the late 20th century, partly induced by the
fear of Castro´s Cuban Revolution spreading
southwards, much of the continent comes under the rule
of right-wing repressive military dictatorships.
- These have now all but disappeared, but the
governments of the continent are under great pressure
from the US to sign up to radical free-market policies
- policies which have thus far been strongly resisted
by the continent´s people.

Conveniently (though not for Paraguayans), Paraguay
follows this template fairly closely. Paraguay
achieved independence five years before Argentina in
1811, and was governed by Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de
Francia (or El Supremo, as he was known in porn
films) until 1840. Francia was a child of the French
Revolution, studied Rousseau, and was determined that
his republic should be ruled with an iron rod. He was
universally accepted as being honest, personally
disciplined, and dedicated to developing his country -
in other words, the total opposite of today´s career
politicians, who are intent only on lining their own
pockets and those of their chums in the
multinationals. Francia even returned his unspent
salary to the Treasury´s coffers - can you imagine any
of the current UK Cabinet doing that? I think not.

In building up the power of the State, Francia seized
land from landowners and expropriated property from
the Church. But wait a second - before I make Francia
out to be some sort of redistributive left-wing saint,
let´s have a wee look at his political methods. His
policy of shutting Paraguay´s borders was borne more
out of xenophobic prejudice than promoting Paraguayan
autonomy. He was by nature a suspicious character:
suspicious of foreigners and suspicious of his own
people. After an assassination attempt in 1820, he
forbade his subjects from standing less than six paces
away from him. Anyone caught looking at his Palace in
Asuncion was shot on sight (I took a photo of it
yesterday and felt quite the rebel), and at the end of
his reign he ordered that all dogs in Paraguay should
be shot. Some must have escaped Francia´s doggie
death-squads, for Asuncion is now generously populated
with stray mongrels.

Francia died in 1840 and his body was fed to caimen in
the Rio Paraguay. During his reign he had
simultaneously terrorised, tortured and killed his own
people, and turned his country from an undeveloped
infant state into one with highly successful
nationalised internal industries.

In 1865, Francisco Solano Lopez, whose father had
opened Paraguay´s borders, decided he would go one
further and invade Paraguay´s neighbours. All of
them. At the same time. Because Paraguay´s internal
growth required trade with the outside world, and
because Paraguay was landlocked, Lopez decided that
Paraguay needed to capture land with a seaport
attached to it. Meanwhile, Brazil and Uruguay had
been wrangling over disputed lands, so Lopez offered
himself up as a honest broker between the two states.
This plan went badly wrong and on 18 March 1865,
Paraguay declared war on Brazil and Argentina; Uruguay
aligned itself with its two neighbours. By the end of
the five-year conflict, up to 300,000 Paraguayans were
killed - or up to 90% of the male population. In
1870, less than 10% of Paraguay´s population were men.
For more information on the War of the Triple
Alliance, Wikipedia has a decent page

In the 1930s, Paraguay was once more at war, this time
with another neighbour, Bolivia, over the border lands
of the Chaco. Chaco became an area of dispute because
of its suspected oil reserves (plus ça change). Rival
oil companies sided with each of the two countries:
Standard Oil with Bolivia, Shell with Paraguay. In
1938, after 38,000 lives had been lost on both sides,
Paraguay was granted 225,000 square kilometres of the
Chaco land. To this day, oil has never been found

After a brief civil war during the 1940s and a coup in
1954, General Alfred Stroessner came to power.
Francia-style terror-politics resumed for another 35
years, supported by the US who found favour in
Stroessner´s rampant anti-Communism. Up to 3000
people were tortured, "disappeared" or were killed
during his reign, and Paraguay became something of a
haven for ex-Nazis.


Although Stroessner was deposed by a coup in 1989, his
Colorado Party have maintained power ever since.
There have been elections on a fairly regular basis
during the 90s and 00s, but they seem to be fairly
meaningless - the government always wins, as the
expression goes, and besides there have been
widespread allegations of fraud and other dodgy
goings-on (assassinations of a vice-president and a
president's daughter, attempted coups etc). On
several occasions since the turn of the century,
peasants and workers have taken to the streets
demanding that the government stops its free-market
policies and pursues a policy of land redistribution.

Actually, the government has recently been involved in
land redistribution, selling off a forest which was
home to the Ayoreo Indian tribe. It is not the first
time that an indigenous group has been forcibly
removed from its home, giving rise to an increase of
home-grown refugees. Unfortunately, Paraguay's
peasants and indigenous groups do not seem to have the
leadership of next-door Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Oh, and Paraguay - unlike most of the Southern Cone of
South America - is still best buds with that nice
Señor Bush. In July 2005, US special forces began
military operations in Paraguay, though both
Washington and the US Ambassador in Asuncion deny that
there are plans to set up a permanent base in the
Chaco region. In exchange for letting 400 US Marines
stay in the area for 18 months, Paraguay receive
$585,000 in "aid" (actually, only 2 of the 13 military
exercises planned are humanitarian). Some
commentators believe that the US are there partly to
counter FARC 'terrorists' from Columbia, but most
reckon the main reason for their presence is to deal
with neighbouring Bolivia if Evo Morales wins the
upcoming election.

As I say, the reason I have come to Paraguay is that
nobody else does. Every other country in Latin
America has its fans, but Paraguay sits there, hemmed
in by its more popular neighbours, semi-tropical,
loved by nobody. I scoured the Lonely Planet and the
Internet for things to do in Asuncion before I came
here, and found very little. I have now scoured
Asuncion personally, and think that LP and the web are
probably right. There really is nothing to do here.
I have never been to a capital city that behaves less
like a capital city. I have seen the Palacio de
Gobierno, the Camara de Diputados and the Museo del
Barro, and I have a cheap porn flick pencilled in for
this afternoon (v popular in downtown Asuncion cinemas

And yet I will be as sorry to leave this place
tomorrow as I was to leave Buenos Aires last weekend.
There is something highly seductive about Asuncion´s
laziness. Nobody rushes anywhere, a few people walk
from one block to another, and most people sit in the
local plaza or on their doorsteps or on street
corners, sipping their iced maté and chilling out.
Since my favourite cities in South America have been
the ones where it is easiest to spend quality time
doing nothing, I can see why Asuncion has found a fan
in this gringo. The negligible pace must be something
to do with heat - it is approaching 40ºC here and
humid as hell, making it physically impossible to do
anything particularly energetic. But let´s not
over-romanticise: Paraguay is seriously poor, and
there are simply not the opportunities for its 5.5
million people to do much to improve their lot. The
people here have been as fabulous as the guidebooks
promised: warm, funny, inquisitive (the question of
why the hell I would want to visit Paraguay has come
up over and over) and incredibly helpful. They are
also rightly proud of their country, and especially of
their football (and incidentally, South Americans are
SERIOUSLY knowledgable about football - several
Argentinians and one Paraguayan knew more about
Ipswich Town than I do, and I was born there!) - but
nonetheless, the country is poor and is getting
poorer. Although they are less vociferous in their
protests than the Argentinians, the graffiti on
Asuncion´s walls gives a strong hint of what
Paraguayans think is at the heart of their sinking

¡Suerte! y hasta Brasil,


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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Turning rebellion into money?

Historical Materialism.com confuses me anyway...


Blair's heartwarming Christmas message

In an astonishing piece, apparently leaked to today's Observer, notorious war criminal Tony Blair appears to make an amazing U-turn with respect to policy. From now on, as he puts it, 'the basic liberties of the law-abiding citizen should come first' - something that should perhaps give some hope this Christmas to the law-abiding British citizens currently illegally detained in Camp Xray at Guantanomo Bay, and at Belmarsh prison.

Clearly thinking of the families of those who had been arrested and then imprisoned with out trial in Blair's quasi police state, he makes the incredible further statement that 'citizens should not live in fear'. Moreover, with respect to his disasterous policy in Iraq, which has left tens of thousands of innocent people dead, Blair admits that 'the most fundamental liberty of all' is 'freedom from harm by others'.

Perhaps more staggeringly, Blair praises Christian socialist RH Tawney, who once said that 'a large measure of equality, so far from being inimical to liberty, is essential to it' - in what is perhaps a signal to those thinking of leaving the Labour Party in protest at the fact that social inequality in Britain today is worse than it was under Thatcher.

In what can be interpreted as a clear attack on the power of the new corporate rich, Blair notes that in Britain 'at the start of the 20th century, communities shared a strong moral code. By the end of the century this was no longer as true.' Yet 'social democratic thought was always the application of morality to political philosophy...People must live together and one of the basic tasks of government is to facilitate this living together, to ensure that the many can live without fear of the few.'

With 'making poverty history' a clear goal of Blair's, he even takes time to praise his political opponents in the Respect coalition - noting that 'the 'Respect' action plan which will be published in January will set out in more detail the new suite of powers and policies to go further and faster to tackle the problems.'


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Respect to John Lennon

Counterpunch have put online a transcript of 'The Lost John Lennon Interview' from 1971, where Lennon was interviewed by Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn. As the editors of Counterpunch note:

'It was twenty-five years ago today that John Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota building on Central Park West in New York City. We doubt many CounterPunchers have read the following 1971 interview with Lennon done by CounterPunchers Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn. It's a lot more interesting that the interminable Q and A with Lennon done by Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner. Tariq and Robin allowed Lennon to talk and spurred him on when he showed signs of flagging. Lennon recounts about how he and George Harrison bucked their handlers and went on record against the Vietnam War, discusses class politics in an engaging manner, defends country and western music and the blues, suggests Dylan's best songs stem from revolutionary Irish and Scottish ballads and dissects his three versions of "Revolution". The interview ran in The Red Mole, a Trotskyist sheet put out by the British arm of the Fourth International. As you'll see, those were different days. The interview is included in Tariq Ali's Streetfighting Years, recently published by Verso.'

Edited to add a short article from Socialist Review on Lennon's politics here

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Pinter smashes the mirror

'When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.'

From Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech, 'Art, truth and politics', here.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Modern, compassionate conservatism?

So David Cameron, champion of 'modern, compassionate conservatism' won. Jolly good show.

'The plummy-voiced son of an Oxfordshire stockbroker is the great-great-great-great-great grandson of King William IV and thus a distant relative of the Queen...'

Who says we no longer have a ruling class?

Apparently 'William IV was the last British monarch to appoint a prime minister against the will of Parliament.' Nice.

The Prime Minister William IV appointed in 1834 was none other than Sir Robert Peel -founder of the Met police. Peel drew up the Tamworth Manifesto which came to be the foundation of modern conservatism - 'Peel's basic message...was that the Conservatives "would reform to survive"'.

Brilliant. So David Cameron's insistence that the Conservative Party must reform itself to survive is not particularly modern, but in fact was first thought of in 1834 - about 170 years ago. Given Cameron got the 'compassionate conservatism' slogan from George W. Bush of all people in the US, what is left? One begins to get a sense of the stunning originality and creative genius driving Cameron's politics.

Still, thank goodness Tony Blair could never be associated with boosting police power, conservative politics and getting ideas from George Bush...


Monday, December 05, 2005

Dead King Watch Index

'For a socialist the question of the monarchy is not decided by today’s book-keeping, especially when the books are cooked. It is a matter of the complete overturn of society and of purging it of all elements of oppression. Such a task, both politically and psychologically, excludes any conciliation with the monarchy.'
Leon Trotsky

'Whether I have too little sense to see, or too much to be impressed upon; whether I have to much or too little pride, or of anything else, I leave out of the question; but certain it is, that is called monarchy, always appears to me a silly, contemptible thing. I compare it to something kept behind curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss, and a wonderful air of seeming solemnity; but when, by any accident, the curtain happens to be open, and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter. We must shut our eyes against reason, we must basely degrade our understanding, not to see the folly of what is called monarchy. Nature is orderly in all her works; but this is a mode of government that counteracts nature. It turns the progress of the human faculties up side down. It's subjects age to be governed by children, and wisdom by folly.'
Thomas Paine

When I initially started the 'Dead King Watch' (DKW) feature on Histomat I argued that 'what this new feature will try to do is to simply record the dates that Kings of England died, on the anniversary of the date that they died, so people can have the opportunity to comment on what they thought about this or that dead ruler of England. I apologise for the Anglo-centric bias in advance.' The anniversaries of the deaths of monarchs of England have not all yet been covered by this blog, by a long way, but I thought it would be worthwhile to compile the ones I have done so far. I also decided to include Queens of England as well - so really perhaps this feature should have been called 'Dead Monarch Watch' with hindsight. I have concentrated so far only on monarchs who reigned after the Saxon Restoration, but in future I will try to also include where possible also the Danish and Saxon Kings as well. This Index will get updated on a regular basis.

Alfred the Great
Edward the Elder (899-924)
Ethelweard (uncrowned) (924)1
Edmund I
Edwy the Fair (955-959)
Edgar the Peaceable (959-975)
Edward the Martyr
Ethelred the Unready
Edmund Ironside
Sweyn I
Harold I
Edward the Confessor
Harold II
Edgar the Atheling
William I
William II, Rufus (1087-1100)
Henry I
Henry II (1154-1189)
Richard I
Henry III
Edward I (1272-1307)
Edward II (1307-1327) (deposed, died 1327)
Edward III
Richard II
Henry IV
Henry V
Henry VI
Edward IV
Edward V
Richard III
Henry VII
Henry VIII
Edward VI
Lady Jane Grey
Mary I
Elizabeth I
James I
Charles I
Charles II
James II
Mary II
William III
George I
George II
George III
George IV
William IV
Edward VII
George V
Edward VIII
George VI

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

December 1975: The 'unobtrusive' murder of East Timor

'It is in Britain's interests that Indonesia absorbs the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible, and that if it should come to the crunch and there is a row in the United Nations, we should keep our heads down and avoid taking sides against against the Indonesian Government.' So argued the British ambassador to Indonesia, Sir John Archibald Ford, in a secret cable to the Foreign Office thirty years ago having been tipped off about plans to invade neighbouring East Timor. In December 1975, one thousand Indonesian paratroopers landed in the East Timorese capital of Dili.

East Timor at the time was a Portugese colony, of about half a million people, many of whom demanded independence. The East Timorese independence movement was however seen as a threat by the neighbouring Indonesian dictatorial regime of Suharto, which had been helped into power a decade earlier with help from the West. Now the West gave what John Pilger describes as its 'silent blessing' to a full-scale Indonesian invasion of East Timor, designed to smother the birth of this new nation. Pilger has described this bloody development:

'On December 7, 1975, a lone radio voice rose and fell in the static: "The soldiers are killing indiscriminately. Women and children are being shot in the streets. This is an appeal for international help. This is an SOS - please help us."

No help came, because the western democracies were secret partners in a crime as great and enduring as any this century; proportionally, not even Pol Pot matched Suharto's spree. Air Force One, carrying President Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger, climbed out of Indonesian airspace the day the bloodbath began. "They came and gave Suharto the green light," Philip Liechty, the CIA desk officer in Jakarta at the time, told me. "The invasion was delayed two days so they could get the hell out. We were ordered to give the Indonesian military everything they wanted. I saw all the hard intelligence; the place was a free-fire zone. Women and children were herded into school buildings that were set alight...we didn't want some little country being neutral or leftist at the United Nations." And all because western capital regarded Indonesia as a "prize".'

Mark Curtis in his book Web of Deceit notes that 'Britain, along with the US, also helped prevent UN action against Indonesia consistent with the view outlined in the secret cable above. London abstained on the first UN resolution condemning the invasion, supported two others (though these were widely acknowledged to be weakly worded and watered down) and abstained on all subsequent ones.' Britain, it should be remembered, was under a Labour Government at the time.

After the invasion, 'the US dramatically increased arms supplies to Jakarta following the invasion, providing counter-insurgency and transport aircraft as well as an array of rifles, mortars, machine guns and communications equipment...Britain later followed suit.' James Callaghan had now replaced Harold Wilson as Prime Minister, and in 1978, at the height of the genocide now unfolding, Labour's Foreign Secretary, David Owen, licensed the sale of the first British Aerospace Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia in 1978. Owen dismissed reports of the East Timorese death toll, then well over 60,000 or 10% of the population, as 'exaggerated'. Indeed, 'we believe that such fighting as still continues is on a very small scale.'

In fact, the death toll under Indonesia's occupation of East Timor was to rise to 200,000 people, or 30% of the population in total. Konis Santana, leader of East Timor's resistance army experienced the bombing raids of the Hawk jets at the time and has stated that 'the war in East Timor would have taken another course if the Indonesians had not recieved military support from abroad, including the Hawks that Great Britain offered during the crucial period after the invasion'. Western complicity in the genocidal terror was a constant.

Throughout, Pilger notes that 'the British establishment played court to President Suharto by selling him more Hawks, missiles, helicopters, frigates, armoured vehicles, military communications and a fully equiped institution of technology for the Indonesian army.' New Labour continued this tradition of 'playing court to President Suharto', as Robin Cook following in the footsteps of David Owen, authorised the selling of Hawk jets to Indonesia. In a 1997 interview, Santana noted the continuities. The 'Hawks killed so many people in bombing attacks in 1978 and 1979 that today, whenever people hear the noise of the Hawks flying, they are scared and the authorities know they will not dare leave their homes'. In 1999, after a revolution had removed the Wester backed dictator Suharto from power, the new President Habibie announced that a referendum on independence would take place in East Timor. However, in the run up to it, a few more thousand people were killed by Indonesian militias in an attempt to terrorise the population into voting against independence. The Blair Government, according to Curtis, 'did little to stop the violence and de facto aided it'.

While Saddam Hussein and Milosovic are paraded in court for their crimes against humanity, there is no such support from the Blair Government for a similar investigation of Indonesian dictator Suharto. Nor does the British Government support the call made by East Timoresian NGOs for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity after the bloody 1975 invasion thirty years ago. It should not be too hard to see why.

For more on East Timor see here.

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Dispatches from Latin America #2

The latest missive from 'Paddington', a friend of mine currently in Argentina:

'Every Friday back in the UK, I and a friend (who is
presumably only slightly less bored of his job than I
am) email each other a series of questions which
attempt to sum up the previous seven days. I thought
I´d try and sum up my first three weeks in South
America in this way, as otherwise my interminable
descriptions of Argentina will bore you rigid.

Just to give you a bit of background, I arrived in
Buenos Aires on 13 November, spent almost two weeks
there, and then took a 25-hour bus trip to Bariloche,
a hiker´s mecca set in the Andes. I was in Bariloche
for two days, then in San Martin de los Andes tomorrow
for a day before ending up in Mendoza, where I am now.

On the whole, rather disappointingly. One meal in
BsAs was especially awful - hilariously bad in fact.
It featured a turd of overcooked rump steak, fries
which looked like they had been microwaved then
dressed liberally with lukewarm vegetable oil, a
side-salad consisiting of a teaspoon of grated carrot
- and all topped off with ice-cold red wine. In
Bariloche, however, I ate the best piece of steak I
have ever tasted - thick, the rare side of medium,
juicy, succulent, and washed down with good local wine
at its optimum temperature. And so cheap!

That people are at their best, and certainly their
most open, when travelling. From talking to people
who are on the move, you´d think they were all a bunch
of f**k ups, because everybody appears to be running
away from a trauma back at home. Whether it´s
people´s families, broken relationships,
disillusionment at work, everyone has a story to tell,
and usually a fairly bleak one. But I think this is
because we are all f**k ups, and we only open up fully
when in the company of strangers in a strange land.

Although I do not plan to go there (too frickin´cold),
I have also learned the following facts about
- Antartica is technically a desert, since it has 50mm
less rain per year than the Sahara.
- No human being had set eyes on Antartica until 1820.
- Its largest land animal is belgica antartica, a
midge measuring just 13mm across.

Vladimir Nabokov, "Bend Sinister" - where "Lolita" is
ingenious, I found "Bend Sinister" merely precocious.
In "Lolita" he can get away with being a smartarse
because he´s writing as Humbert Humbert, whose morals
and tastes are questionable; in "Bend Sinister,"
whether he is writing as a narrator or as Krug, he
just sounds like the equivalent of one of those women
who carve incredibly ornate scultures from carrots and
radishes: very pretty, very clever, but not at all
I have also read Mark Twain´s "Pudd´nhead Wilson," an
excellent and ambiguous tale of slavery in Virginia in
the 18th century, and am currently reading Jaroslav
Hasek´s "The Good Soldier Svejk," from which I quote
the following:

"For people who did not want to go to the front the
last refuge was the garrison gaol. I once knew a
probationary teacher who was a mathematician and did
not want to serve in the artillery and shoot people.
So he stole a lieutenant´s watch to get himself into
the garrison gaol. He did this deliberately. War
neither impressed nor enchanted him. Shooting at the
enemy and killing with shrapnel and shells equally
unhappy probationary teachers of mathematics serving
on the other side seemed to him sheer idiocy."

Creedence Clearwater Revival, especially "Fortunate
Son," a song written 35 years ago about American rich
kids getting richer, and as such could have been
written yesterday. But, overwhelmingly, "Aerial" by
Kate Bush. The second CD, which is a kind of concept
album about painting and parenthood, is gorgeous -
probably the best music she´s ever made.

Cafes dobles, Quilmes (the main Argentinian lager),
Malbec from Mendoza, caiparinhas, margueritas, and a
couple of gins and tonics which I regret to say
Argentinians can´t make for shit (the French, in my
experience, are the kings of G´n´T pouring).

How long have you got? Argentinian women are
gorgeous, and everybody - male and female -
shamelessly flirts with each other as they go about
their daily business.

But the real answer to this question is Abby, a girl
from Washington State. We fell for each other almost
instantly and spent loads of time together in Buenos
Aires. We also had a perfect day in Uruguay before I
left for Bariloche. The plan was to return to Buenos
Aires to be with her next week, but I received an
email from her yesterday to say she couldn´t handle
seeing me again and then having to go our separate
ways (sorry, is this getting a bit Oprah?). So what
could have been an incredible relationship is not
meant to be. C´est la vie.

(An American guy in my hostel jockishly said that
American girls were like that, the insinuation being
that they are slutty and like to lead guys on. I came
as close to punching his lights out as a person can
without actually following it through).

Heroes plural in this instance: the people of
Argentina. The reputation they have is of being
arrogant, surly, rude, Anglophobic and faintly
ridiculous - particularly porteños (natives of BsAs).
In my experience, this could not be more wrong. They
are friendly, helpful, chatty, engaging, patient when
listening to my feeble attempts to speak their
language - and only taxi driver I have encountered
said he would happily kill all English people.
Actually, my parents as well, who have furnished me
with money - I lost my wallet on the second night
after I arrived, and thus have no access to money. It
is like being a smoker who is carrying a packet of
cigarettes but has no matches with which to light them
- i.e. frustrating as hell.

The variety of landscapes I have seen in Argentina.
The hiking areas around the Lake District are how I
imagine the Alps to be. In Bariloche we took a short
hike up to a vantage point over Lago Nahuel Huapi (in
which a Nessy-type monster apparently resides) - the
view was staggering. I will try and send some photos,
but they don´t do it justice. Every colour - whether
the white of snow on the higher mountains, the blue of
the sky, the deeper blue of the lake, the green of the
trees - was iridescent.

And yet, the scenery between San Martin de los Andes
and Neuquen is just the opposte - barren, stark, all
greys and browns. In its own way, it was just an
impressive, and close to how I imagine Patagonia to

I think the most breathtaking scenery could be yet to
come: Foz de Iguazu are the somethingest waterfalls in
the world (can´t remember if it´s highest, widest,
most water etc), and they will form the start of a
tour I will make up to Rio over the course of 10 days.

My truly pathetic attempts to learn the tango -
certainly the most emasculating experience of 2005.

The cricket reports I have been reading on the BBC
website - where are Ramprakash, Hick and Crawley when
you need them?

And one of the most noticeable things about Argentina
is that, despite an air of general affluence, there is
a hell of a lot of poverty. Whereas American and
European cities generally do a very good job of hiding
their poverty, shunting poor people into slums on the
outskirts of town and ensuring they do not blight the
areas which attract tourists, poverty seems to be much
more open in Argentina, and BsAs in particular. I
haven´t quite grasped the attitudes of the middle
classes towards the poor - I think it is a mixture of
sympathy and patronisation. It is common to see kids
on the subway attempting to sell things for a couple
of pesos. They are not treated with the contempt that
they might be in London, but nobody ever buys
anything. It is as if the poor are filling a role -
as long as it is they who are poor and not the middle
classes, they are tolerated.

I have also noticed that people of European descent
and indigenous people do not socialise, unless on a
employer / skivvy basis.

And of course, I have been pretty depressed by the
thought that two people who are head over heels about
each other can´t be together, but that´s a story for a
different blog.

The next time I write, I will probably be in either
Paraguay or Brazil, which - please contain your
excitement - will mean another history lesson.

Until then, it´s ciao for now.


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Friday, December 02, 2005

Police crush march in Zimbabwe


From ISO Zimbabwe:

In an act of outrageous barbarism the Zimbabwe Republic Police descended on today¹s World Aids Day march and ordered the marchers to disperse. As we go to press five of the organizers of today¹s protests are still in police custody since midday. These are Munyaradzi Gwisai of ISO, Mao Nyikadzino (NCA), Sostain Moyo (Zimbabwe Activists Against Aids ), and Anna and Gladys from the Women Aids Support Network (WASN)

The sad Irony of the matter is that the police had given clearance for the World Aids Day march and the gathering in the Africa Unity Square only to turn around and say the proceedings can not go ahead and worse still arrest people. This is clearly a matter of setting up a trap and waylaying people on the way.

The success of today¹s action is very inspiring. Hundreds of us marched on the streets of Harare singing and raising our banners for over 30 minutes. People carried banners demanding access to ARVs and demands from the Action Against Poverty. These included living wage for workers, fuel, affordable sanitary pads and baby milk and reduction of taxation. People were also calling for transparency on the AIDS levy to which workers painfully contribute but some heartless regime bureaucrats are looting. There was also significant presence of NCA activists calling for a new people driven constitution.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dead King Watch: Henry I and his affairs of state

The 870th anniversary of the death of Henry I (1100-1135) takes place today. He was known as Henry 'Beauclerc', not because he was a 'good clerk' but simply because he could read and write - which was indeed remarkable for a King at that time. One looks at say, Prince Harry today, 900 odd years on, and one is amazed at how far the Royal Family have come.

I don't know if people saw a report recently which suggested that creativity is linked to an active sex life. Apparently, 'a new study by psychologists at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and the Open University in Britain found that professional artists and poets have about twice as many partners as other people.' Well, Henry I's 'creativity' (well, he could read and write - which must have made him a little bit more interesting than most at the time) certainly seems to have born some sort of fruit. His offspring included:

1.Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester.
2.Maud FitzRoy
3.Constance FitzRoy.
4.Mabel FitzRoy
5.Aline FitzRoy.
6.Matilda FitzRoy
7.William de Tracy
8.Gilbert FitzRoy
10. Eustacie.
11.Matilda du Perche
13.Juliane de Fontevrault
14Fulk FitzRoy
15.Richard of Lincoln
16.Sybilla of England
17William Constable
18. Gundred of England
19. Rohese of England
20. Robert FitzEdith,
21. Adeliza FitzEdith.
22.Henry FitzRoy,
23.Isabel Hedwig.

These were with six different women and only includes the ones we know about. And this list is before we get onto the kids he had legitimately. You can draw their own conclusions about this - was he a sex god or just a sex maniac who happened to be a powerful King? Who knows? And to be brutally frank, who really cares?

Oddly enough, Wikipedia notes that Henry's other nickname was not 'old dirty bastard' but in fact "Lion of Justice", due to the refinements which he brought about in the rudimentary administrative and legislative machinery of the time. In fact, this 'justice' consisted simply of taking the legal process out of the hands of rich private individuals and made it solely the affair of the State (run by, er, rich private individuals). A crime was no longer a wrong against the victim or his family, to be settled by a suitable payment - but now also an offence against the 'King's peace' for which it was the right and duty of the State to exact punishment. However this development had one distinct advantage for the King. As AL Morton notes 'the State's interest in administering justice was mainly financial: "There's big money in justice" would be a rough translation of a legal maxim current at the time.'

His death came when he ate some dodgy eel-like fish against the advice of his doctors. As Matthew Paris reported, 'He ate voraciously of a lamprey, which he was accustomed to delight in more than anything else and paid no attention to his physicians when they forbade it to him. But when his weakness had overcome his natural strength King Henry yielded to fate.'