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Issue #1484      8 December 2010

Culture & Life

Of dynamite and royalty

This is the last Culture And Life for the year, so I will catch up on a few things that I have omitted to comment on recently.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist with an interest in explosives. He was the first to use nitro-glycerine as an explosive agent, incorporating it into his invention, dynamite, which he developed in the 1860s.

Although intended for use in mining, the military potential of his invention was recognised immediately and he became very rich, as capitalist powers of Europe and the USA waged wars with each other and with colonial countries.

When Nobel died in 1896, he provided in his will for five prizes to be awarded annually for the most outstanding work in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace – this last presumably included to ease his conscience.

Nobel wrote in his will that the Peace Prize should be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

The Nobel Peace Prize for this year was awarded in October to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese “dissident” who wants to replace socialism in China with capitalism and bourgeois democracy.

Not surprisingly, ruling class spokespersons in Washington and London welcomed the award, but there was a wave of criticism from around the world saying the award to Liu was a crude attempt to politicise the Nobel Peace Prize.

US intelligence agencies in particular have long recognised the propaganda value of the Literature Prize, and have worked hard to subvert it for their own Cold War purposes (as when it was awarded to that stodgy piece of anti-Sovietism Dr Zhivago, for example).

Unlike the other awards, whose recipients are selected by Swedish learned committees, the Peace Prize is decided by the Norwegian parliament. Professor Arnulf Kolstad of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology labels the award to Liu “a big mistake”.

He notes that “Liu Xiaobo has, as far as I know, never contributed in any conflict-reducing activity or taken part in peace-related activities.” He explicitly rejects the argument of the Norwegian Parliament that Liu’s struggle for “human rights”, especially freedom of speech and a Western-style parliament in China, is a “prerequisite” for world peace.

Tell that to the inhabitants of all the countries around the world that have suffered aggression just in the last half-century from “parliamentary democracies”!

Taking a swipe at the Anglo-US model, Professor Kolstad reminds us that “the parliamentary system with more parties is not the only way to give people influence on political decisions and the future of their country. … I do not know if it is more democratic to have a system where presidential candidates have to be extremely rich to run for President.”

Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Frederik Willem de Klerk for their work in the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

I see that the boss of London’s Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Stephenson has called for the British government to make it harder for people to sue the police over wrongful arrest or police brutality, actions which he labels “wasteful speculative claims”.

Sir Paul’s reactionary attitude has no doubt been emboldened by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition government in Britain, the so-called “Con-Dem” government, which is looking for ways to cut public services by at least 25 percent.

But London’s top cop doesn’t stop there. He wants the government to load higher costs on police and civilian staff seeking redress at employment tribunals and he also wants to charge a fee for freedom of information requests, which runs directly counter to the concept behind Britain’s Freedom of Information Act.

With the Con-Dem government pursuing an aggressively anti-union policy, Sir Paul’s police – as well as the other police forces in Britain – will no doubt be deployed as they were under Margaret Thatcher, to assault strikers and crush any manifestations of dissent.

Sir Paul will obviously be OK with that.

Here’s some twisted ruling class logic for you. The Queen has decided to cancel the biennial staff Christmas party this year because of the “difficult financial circumstances” facing the country.

It seems that, under normal conditions, the Queen hosts a Christmas party for her 600 household staff (600!) every two years. Why only every two years? I don’t know. Perhaps she can’t stand being convivial with so many commoners more often. Or perhaps she fears they might get ideas “above their station”.

Most puzzling however is how denying the staff of Buck House a Christmas party will help the nation’s finances. Doesn’t Liz pay for the party herself? She’s certainly got more than enough in the bank to do it.

Or has she been asked not to throw even a modestly lavish bash when the new Con-Dem government is slashing social services in all directions and condemning a lot of British people to a very lean Christmas with the prospect of worse to come?

Yeah, that’s what I think too.

The aristocrats of Russia used to lord it over the common people too. But they maintained their position with repression, and eventually the people rose up and took their privileges away from them.

The British ruling class has been at it longer than most and certainly with more finesse. But like the US ruling class, the capitalists of Britain and their aristocratic allies keep the anger of the masses in check through a masterful use of the mass media (which they control, of course).

The recent orchestrated hysteria over a “royal engagement” showed how successful they have been. The sleeping arrangements of titled parasites is much more worthy in the eyes of capitalism than any serious consideration of the war in Afghanistan.

The engagement was skilfully used to distract people from thinking about war and poverty, about unemployment and cuts to health care, and all those other things that have come with the Con-Dem government. It succeeded, but only temporarily: those social ills remain and as they make themselves increasingly felt, the British working class will have to face the question of just how much longer they will put up with being bossed around by this small clique of the rich and titled.

That will be an interesting time.  

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