The Plot Against America, TV series reviewed


This 138 February 2020 video from the USA is called The Plot Against America (2020): Official Trailer | HBO.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America on HBO: If the US had gone fascist

25 March 2020

Two episodes of The Plot Against America, a television miniseries based on the 2004 novel of the same title by Philip Roth, have now aired on HBO. These initial hour-long installments reveal that the series, which raises a host of historical issues, is serious and valuable. Those who have access are encouraged to make the effort to watch it.

This version of Roth’s novel has been created and written by David Simon and Ed Burns. Simon is a well-known journalist, producer and writer, responsible for The Wire (2002-08), Generation Kill (2008), Treme (2010-13) and Deuce (2017-19), among other efforts. Burns has been Simon’s writing partner on a number of projects.

Roth, one of the leading novelists in the US in the postwar period, who died in May 2018, is listed as a co-executive producer of The Plot Against America. He met with Simon in October 2017 and discussed the proposed miniseries.

The novel and its television adaptation imagine an alternate history in which aviation hero and Hitler admirer Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-74) becomes the Republican Party’s candidate for president in 1940 and, running on an anti-war platform and on the basis of his personal popularity, wins the general election against incumbent Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The book’s narrator is a character named Philip Roth, who, like the novelist, was 7 in 1940 and lived in the predominantly Jewish Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey with his father, Herman, an insurance agent, and his mother, Bess.

Roth, being Roth, does not devote all his attention to world and national politics. The novel is also about growing up in a complex and traumatic era. The author peoples his book with a host of remarkable, colorful figures. His observations about men and women strike home with great regularity and often (even at times of extreme stress) very amusingly.

Speaking of his early friend Earl Axman, for example, the narrator explains, “And whenever we’d finished up in his kitchen with our stamps and he was momentarily done with his domineering, he’d giggle and say, Now let’s do something awful,’ which was how I got to see his mother’s underwear.”

Of his brother Sandy’s finer qualities, Philip observes that they “served only to magnify my awe of an older brother who everyone agreed was intended for great things, while most boys his age didn’t look as though they were intended even to eat at a table with another human being.”

In the HBO series, through the eyes and experiences of the Levins (at Roth’s request, the family name has been changed from the original), we witness the process of America “going fascist” under a Lindbergh administration, with increasing persecution of the Jewish population in particular. The Plot Against America belongs to a tradition in American literature that portrays and warns against domestic dictatorship and mass repression, a tradition that prominently includes Jack London’s The Iron Heel (1908) and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935).

In the first episode, we meet Philip Levin (Azhy Robertson), an intense, earnest young boy, his brother Sandy (Caleb Malis), his mother Bess (Zoe Kazan), father Herman (Morgan Spector), orphaned cousin Alvin (Anthony Boyle), who lives with the family, and his single aunt Evelyn (Winona Ryder).

As the series opens, the most immediate drama facing the Levins is whether Herman should accept a promotion offered by his insurance company and move the family to Union, New Jersey, where they would be able to own a larger home with a proper backyard. His wife is concerned, based on her early life, that their boys would be more isolated and vulnerable in a community with a much smaller or almost non-existent Jewish population.

In a drive through Union, the Levins come upon a beer garden patronized by a crowd of people who seem to be associated with the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi outfit. Herman expresses contempt for the “fascist bastards”, but he still stubbornly wants the house promised by the American dream. In the end, however, Bess holds sway and her husband declines the new post.

The family and Herman in particular follow world developments—including, above all, the state of the world war that broke out in September 1939—through radio broadcasts at home and newsreels at a local movie theater. Herman reacts with outrage to a speech given by Charles Lindbergh in Des Moines, Iowa (the address was actually delivered in September 1941) in which the flyer alleges that the “three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.”

Lindbergh goes on to say it is not difficult “to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.” He adds, however, that “no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. … A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.”

Sandy, a budding artist, seems oddly taken with Lindbergh, as part of an almost inevitable adolescent rebellion against his strong-willed and opinionated father. Sandy refuses to tear up and, in fact, conceals sketches he has made of the aviator and carries on a mostly subterranean campaign in Lindbergh’s defense.

Alvin Levin is presented as a combative young man with a significant chip on his shoulder. The first episode concludes after he and a pal, in retaliation for a Jewish friend’s having taken a beating from anti-Semites, set on a couple of the Bundists.

In the second episode of The Plot Against America, a rabbi from Newark, Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), a haughty, pompous man, who has already showed an inclination to support Lindbergh, helps the Republican candidate by appearing at the party’s national convention and lending his “America First” program legitimacy (“koshering” him for “the Christians”, in Alvin’s bitter phrase). Aunt Evelyn and Bengelsdorf become an item, much to the dismay of the other adult Levins.

Lindbergh obtains the Republican nomination in Roth’s counter-factual (Wendell Wilkie was the actual, losing Republican candidate) and begins touring the country with a simple message: the choice is not between Lindbergh and Roosevelt, he asserts, but “between Lindbergh and war.”

Alvin, meanwhile, has become a driver and errand boy for Abe Steinheim, the owner of a multimillion-dollar construction company. In the novel, around this time, Alvin and Herman would “converse heatedly about politics, about capitalism particularly, a system that, ever since my father had gotten him to take an interest in reading the paper and talking about the news, Alvin deplored but that my father defended … He’d warn Alvin, ‘You don’t have to tell Mr. Steinheim about Karl Marx. Because the man won’t hesitate—you’ll be out on your keister.”

Alvin cannot bear Steinheim and denounces him (again, in the book) in no uncertain terms—“he’s a fake, he’s a bully, he’s a cheapskate, he’s a screamer, he’s a shouter, he’s a swindler, he’s a man without a friend in the world, people cannot stand to be anywhere near him.” He sums up his view of Steinheim: “The man to me is one thing only—a walking advertisement for the overthrow of capitalism.”

(Roth has a lovely line later on in the novel, when he describes two categories of “strong men”, one includes people like Abe Steinheim, “remorseless about their making money, and those like my father, ruthlessly obedient to their idea of fair play.”)

Election night 1940 produces a stunning result, a Lindbergh victory over Roosevelt. Herman and the rest of the Levins are horrified. Alvin quits his job with a flourish and catches a train to Montreal, where he plans to enlist in the Canadian armed forces, already at war with Germany.

The Plot Against America on HBO is well done, intelligently done. Although they rearrange events and add details of their own, Simon and Burns are clearly committed to faithfully presenting the thrust of Roth’s cautionary tale. That an insidious version of initially smiling and “friendly” fascism, which wraps itself in homilies and “Americanism”, can and will arise, given the right circumstances, is a truth, and a reality, that millions need to understand.

Roth wrote the book in the early 2000s. He apparently denied it was meant as an allegorical commentary on the Bush-Cheney administration and its “war on terror”, but, assuming he was telling the truth about his conscious intentions, the novel is clearly marked by definite social processes and events, including the general, global emergence of neo-fascist trends and movements.

In developing an adaptation of Roth’s book in the present day, Simon makes no bones about the fact that he has Donald Trump and his administration in mind when dramatizing the dangers of authoritarianism and xenophobia.

Simon told an interviewer from Collider that the “verdict is in on Lindbergh” and that there was no point in “re-arguing that.” The reason to do the book, the writer-creator went on, “is that we’re in the same moment now, but the vulnerable cohorts are people of black and brown skin and Muslims. They are being used as the feared other to drive a nationalism and a latent racism and anti-Semitism. In our current moment, Jewish Americans are not the most vulnerable cohort, although anti-Semitism is on the rise because it always is when intolerance has its day. That train is never late. But the people who are genuinely vulnerable to human rights abuses are people who are black and brown and Muslim. You’re seeing it from the Southern border and you saw it in the airports, immediately after the inauguration, you see it in the demonization of this current culture of immigration. … So, what you’re seeing is the same thing that Roth depicted, brought forward. Once you read the book, a mini-series seems inevitable.”

These concerns are entirely legitimate and they provide the series its considerable dramatic impetus and intellectual strength.

There are also ways in which the book and the series are much weaker. We plan to write more about those issues when the series is completed, but a few points can be made here.

Roth was very strong on family and personal dynamics, in all their potential dysfunction and madness; no American novelist of his generation was stronger. And, what’s more, he had an intuitive antipathy for fakery and hypocrisy in public life. No one who reads it is likely to forget his scathing reference, in one of his fictions, to the appearance of “Doctor [Henry] Kissinger” at Richard Nixon’s funeral: “high-minded, profound, speaking in his most puffed-up unegoistical mode—and with all the cold authority of that voice dipped in sludge.”

However, although one of the angriest and most perceptive writers of his day, Roth, a product of the postwar, Cold War period, remained, in his general social conceptions, within the framework of angry, perceptive liberalism. His presentation of Alvin’s views indicate that, again intuitively, he knew there was something beyond that, that there was much to despise in the existing system and that fervent opposition could be fully justified. Roth’s description of individual socialists and communists can be quite sympathetic, but when he turns to his overall picture, he is always drawn back toward fairly conventional tributes to hard work, practicality, family, American democracy and so on. The era and its problems, including the state religion of anti-communism, took their toll.

Simon, who describes himself as a “social democrat,” apparently holds many of the same general views.

These ideas color The Plot Against America and its attitude toward Roosevelt, the Democratic Party, the American working class and the political character of the era in question. To a certain extent, the novel has the character of a nightmare, from which the reader abruptly and somewhat inexplicably wakes up. Roth doesn’t pretend to resolve all the political issues he brings to our attention. We are left hanging, more than we should be, on a number of different scores.

The novelist never addresses certain questions that were incumbent on him to tackle in some manner: under what social, economic and political conditions does fascism arise as a serious and threatening force? Is it “merely” a matter of latent anti-Semitism (or racism), always present in the population, being brought to the surface? How was it possible for Lindbergh to appear (and disappear) so rapidly, as though from and back into the clouds? What was the general mood of the American population in 1940? What is it today? Was “white racism” responsible for the victory of Trump?

In regard to these matters of social dynamics, the book and series falter.

In any event, when The Plot Against America, which we highly recommend our readers to view, finishes in a month’s time, we will return to this discussion. Readers are encouraged to weigh in.

African American author James Baldwin, new biography


James Baldwin, flanked by actors Charlton Heston (left) and Marlon Brando at the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963. Photo US Information Agency, Press and Publications Service

By Tom King:

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Seeker of justice in the here and now

TOM KING recommends a new biography of the great black writer and political activist James Baldwin

Living in Fire
by Bill V Mullen
(Pluto Press, £20)

IN TRENTON, New Jersey, in 1942 the 18-year-old James Baldwin walked into a diner and ordered a hamburger and a cup of coffee. “We don’t serve Negroes here”, the waitress replied.

He left, calmly and without a fight, heading straight to an “enormous, glittering and fashionable restaurant” where he “knew not even the intercession of the Virgin” would get him what he asked for.

He went inside, repeated his order, received an identical reply and, lifting a mug full of water from the nearest table, threw it at the waitress. She ducked and it smashed against the mirror behind the bar.

“I could not get over two facts, both equally difficult for the imagination to grasp,” Baldwin would later say of that day. “One was that I could have been murdered. But the other was that I had been ready to commit murder.

“I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart.”

Living in Fire, Bill Mullen’s biography of Baldwin — the first in over 10 years — gives a context to understanding the activist and writer against the upheavals of the last decade, as well as his often overlooked radical political commitments.

Baldwin was an angry young man, with much to be angry about. Born in Harlem on August 2, 1924, to Emma Burdis Jones and a father he would never know, he grew up in Depression-era New York in the neighbourhood where unemployment in the 1930s reached 50 per cent.

His mother later married David Baldwin, a factory worker and son of slaves, and they proceeded to have eight more children together. Baldwin, with both parents out working, often looked after them “with one hand and held a book with the other.”

His stepfather left New Orleans in 1919 “to save his life”, Baldwin recalls. “They were hanging niggers from trees… and my father left the South therefore.” It was the “Red Summer” of 1919, when African-Americans in cities such as East St Louis and Chicago were brutally beaten, even killed, by soldiers returning from the first world war, whose jobs they had filled in their absence.

Baldwin Snr was a fundamentalist Pentecostal preacher and, from the age of 14 to 17, Baldwin himself was a young minister and spoke from the pulpit regularly. It was formative in two critical ways, by inspiring a love for the language and poetry of the King James Bible and honing his oratorical skills.

The ubiquity of Harlem’s churches also led Baldwin to sympathise with Marx’s famous observation that religion was “the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.”

This dovetailed perfectly with Baldwin’s experiences of racial oppression: “Religion operates here as complete and exquisite fantasy revenge: white people own the earth and commit all manner of abomination and injustice on it; the bad will be punished and the good rewarded, for God is not sleeping, the judgement is not far off.”

But for Baldwin, this wasn’t good enough. He wanted justice in the here and now.

It was around this time that he came into contact with young teacher Orilla Miller, who recognised Baldwin’s talents immediately. Miller, a member of the US Communist Party, moved to Harlem to work for the Federal Theater Project and she took Baldwin to see his first play, Orson Wells’s production of Macbeth. Set in Haiti with an all-black cast, it’s considered a landmark of anti-racist US theatre.

This, along with the literature he was introduced to by Miller, including Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, lit Baldwin’s imagination and he began to write.

Baldwin’s sexual awakening soon followed his political one, with the loss of his faith and the realisation he was gay precipitating increasing tension with his father. At the age of 17 he moved to Greenwich Village, the New York bohemian quarter famous for its gay bars, including the Stonewall Inn.

There, Baldwin entered what he called “the most exploratory and economically tenuous period” of his life. He worked in precarious jobs such as meatpacking or waitering while working on his semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It On the Mountain.

He became more politically engaged, joining the Young People’s Socialist League around the time of the Harlem riots in 1943, when a white policeman shot a black soldier in the back, igniting a furious response from a community either living in dire poverty at home or dying in huge numbers fighting a war half-way across the globe.

Baldwin persevered as a writer and activist over the next few years. But he was poor, black, gay and left-wing. Apart from his gender, it’s difficult to imagine a less advantageous position in the US at the dawn of the cold war, when it wasn’t just communism that McCarthy sought to eradicate from US life.

He left the US at the age of 24 and would never properly return. He went to Paris where, energised by the culture and radicalism of the Left Bank, he thrived. He wrote Giovanni’s Room, perhaps his most famous novel, as well as the essay collection Notes of a Native Son.

He became more successful throughout the 1960s and engaged in the political struggles of that tumultuous decade. These were anchored for him around the civil rights movement, which he saw as allowing him to both identify with, and properly understand, international suffering.

“No black man in chains in his own country, and watching the many deaths occurring around him every day, believes for a moment that America cares anything at all about the freedom of Asia… every bombed village is my hometown,” he said of the Vietnam war.

And though he hoped the creation of Israel as a home for the dispossessed would prove a model for African-American emancipation, the colonial realities of that endeavour clearly angered him greatly: “The creation of the State of Israel was one of the most cynical achievements — really murderous, merciless, ugliest and cynical on the part of the Western nations,” he declared in 1970.

Though he found a strong political voice in Black Power, Baldwin’s sexuality caused tension within the emerging movement. He was referred to as Martin Luther Queen and Eldridge Cleaver, leader of the Black Panther Party, accused Baldwin “in his real life and fiction of giving himself up to political sodomy from the white man.” …

The Black Panther Party expelled Cleaver, who turned to the right, joining the Moonie cult, the [historically racist] Mormons and the Republican party.

Living at this intersection between masculinity, sexuality and race, Mullin claims, drove Baldwin to a new awareness of women’s oppression. He corresponded with many feminist writers and became great friends with the scholar and poet Nikki Giovanni, with whom he discussed and argued about the gender dynamics of Black Power.

The twin oppressions of racism and homophobia clearly vexed Baldwin greatly. He recalled that he made David, the gay protagonist of Giovanni’s Room, white rather than black because he “could not handle both propositions in the same book.”

But he was unequivocal about what he considered the greater burden: “A black gay person who is a sexual conundrum to society is already, long before the question of sexuality comes into it, menaced and marked because he’s black or she’s black.

“The sexual question comes after the question of color.”

Baldwin, it seems, considered the gay-rights movement a middle-class phenomenon, devoid of the radical commitments that would effect lasting change. As Mullin points out, this is curious, considering the role that queer and trans people of colour, such as Sylvia Rivera and Martha P Johnson, played in the Stonewall riots, which Baldwin never wrote about.

And though the Aids crisis would compel Baldwin as a public figure to speak out against the Reagan administration’s apathy, as well as nursing a partner who would die from it, the epidemic would barely feature in his writing at all.

Towards the end of his life, Baldwin described himself, sadly, as an “ageing, lonely, sexually dubious, politically outrageous, unspeakably erratic freak.”

But he still seemed to enjoy visitors, jokes, laughter and discussion at his home in the south of France. “People invent categories in order to feel safe. White people invented black people to give white people identity,” Baldwin told Giovanni one day. “Straight cats invented faggots so they can sleep with them without becoming faggots themselves.”

Giovanni responds that love is a “tremendous responsibility”, to which Baldwin simply replies: “It’s the only one to take, there isn’t any other.”

Pass Over, play on racism in the USA


This June 2018 video from New York City in the USA says about itself:

Antoinette Nwandu, Namir Smallwood & Danya Taymor Discuss Their Play, “Pass Over”

In “Pass Over”, Moses and Kitch stand around on the corner – talking smack, passing the time and hoping that today a miracle will come. A provocative mashup of “Waiting for Godot” and the Exodus saga, the play exposes the unquestionable human spirit of young black men who dream about a promised land they’ve yet to find. Join playwright Antoinette Nwandu, actor Namir Smallwood and director Danya Taymor as they discuss the premiere of their Lincoln Center performance.

By Mayer Wakefield in England:

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Theatre Review: Black lives matterUS police’s Facebook spying on Black Lives Matter little

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from Antoinette Nwandu’s blistering assault on US racism, says MAYER WAKEFIELD

Pass Over
Kiln Theatre, London

“IT COULD be worse. We could be dead.”

There is little to cling onto in the world that Moses and Kitch, the central characters in Antoinette Nwandu’s startling diatribe, reside.

Whether the street corner they inhabit is in Chicago, Atlanta or possibly Ferguson, Missouri, is not exactly clear. But Pass Over’s almighty message most definitely is.

Nwandu’s text is a riff on Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in which the two poor and isolated young black men trade barbs and share dreams of getting “off the block”.

Where Moses (Paapa Essiedu) has plans, Kitch (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) follows. But, with no means to fulfil those dreams, they have little more to do than perform overly elaborate handshake routines and reel off their “promised land top tens” – fantasy lists of consumer products.

Yet every moment of childish playfulness has the looming, omnipresent threat of police brutality hanging over it. Just the night before, Dread Ed “got smoked by the po-po.”

So when Mister (Alexander Eliot) arrives “all turned around” with an all-American picnic hamper and highfalutin “golly gee” expressions they are not sure how to respond to him. Is he a cop or a Mormon?

The exchange that follows is a microcosm for the long history of injustice suffered by black Americans, including a compelling discussion on the use of the n-word, which must be uttered over 200 times during the evening.

When Eliot returns as Ossifer, a cop very much in the mould of those who murdered Michael Brown, Tamir Rice or countless other black men, the logical conclusion seems all too predictable. Luckily, the heavens intervene. But not for eternity.

There is something slightly prosaic about the heavy symbolism – apple pie, guns and WWE wrestling – and biblical references, not least in the heavily referenced title, but Indhu Rubasingham’s production nevertheless packs a brutal punch.

The Kiln’s artistic director gives just the right amount of space to every individual moment, allowing the three performers to flourish without drifting into cliche. Eustache Jnr delivers a particularly astounding performance as Kitch, managing to seamlessly flip between wistful and impulsive.

With distant echoes of Marita Bonner and Gil Scott-Heron sounding through Nwandu’s poetic prose, Pass Over is a righteous cry of anger against the age-old tradition of state-sanctioned violence against black Americans.

Runs until March 21, box office: kilntheatre.com/

Trump’s border wall and Wisława Szymborska poem


This 25 August 2019 video says about itself:

Kashmir border fence, forest fires endanger wildlife

It is not just humans who are suffering in the fight over Kashmir territory.

Kashmir’s dense forests are home to many species of wild cats, bears, deer, goats, monkeys and birds.

But border fencing and forest fires caused by shelling are putting the wildlife in the Himalayan region at risk.

Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid reports from the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

This is a 1976 poem by Wisława Szymborska from Poland, called Psalm.

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers
or alights on the roadblock at the border?
A humble robin – still, its tail resides abroad
while its beak stays home. If that weren’t enough, it won’t stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I’ll single out only the ant
between the border guard’s left and right boots
blithely ignoring the questions “Where from?” and “Where to?”

Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos
prevailing on every continent!
Isn’t that a privet on the far bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?

And how can we talk of order overall?
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?

Not to speak of the fog’s reprehensible drifting!
And dust blowing all over the steppes
as if they hadn’t been partitioned!
And the voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

Only what is human can truly be foreign.
The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.

Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

The poem expresses correctly that non-human animals, plants, rocks etc. do not care about human-made borders. Nevertheless, these borders, both in Donald Trump’s USA and in the European Union, often affect wildlife negatively.

HG Wells, Attenborough, Martians and Tasmanian genocide


BRITISH MADE GENOCIDE: The last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right

This photo shows the last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, December 6, 2019

Alien invasions and meetings with Stalin

The BBC TV adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds has finished. PETER FROST reminds us what a great socialist the author was

LAST SUNDAY saw the screening of the third and final episode of the BBC’s magnificent, if controversial, adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.

Wells’s classic tale of Martians invading Earth has long been a favourite of mine. It is a beautifully ironic analogy of British imperialism’s invasions of foreign lands. Gun in one hand, a bible in the other the British invaded so many places in order to colour the globe pink.

Soldiers and missionaries carried a whole arsenal of fatal secret weapons. Viruses and bacteria of diseases like influenza and even the common cold. These were endemic back home but unknown and deadly among folk who had never built up immunities to them.

By coincidence before I watched the first episode of War of the Worlds I watched David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet documentary on the animals of Australia.

Attenborough focussed on two Tasmanian species. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial. Once widespread, today it is fighting hard in just a few Tasmanian locations to avoid total extinction.

He also showed amazing black and white footage of the very last Tasmanian tiger, or Tasmanian wolf. The Thylacine, (Thylacinus cynocephalus), was a marsupial wolf and the largest carnivorous marsupial of recent times. That film showed the very last survivor in a private Hobart zoo before the species became totally extinct in 1936.

The documentary however didn’t mention another Tasmanian species that was wiped out by the arrival of the white man. They were the indigenous people of the island — the Tasmanians — a population of Aboriginal people known as the Palawa.

It was the tragic fate of the Palawa that inspired HG Wells to write War of the Worlds. Wells told his brother Frank about the catastrophic effect of the British invasion on indigenous Tasmanians. What would happen, he wondered, if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians?

So what of the BBC adaptation? I’ll leave most of that to TV reviewers more erudite than me. One widespread complaint was that the BBC adapters had added — horror of horrors — a woman hero.

The series opened with a hero, a journalist called George having left his wife, his cousin, to live with a woman called Amy in a small cottage called Lyndon near Woking, Surrey. Not one fact of the above can be found anywhere in the original book.

However H George Wells, a journalist, did marry his cousin and left her to live with a woman called Amy in a cottage called Lynton in Woking, Surrey.

It was at Lynton that Wells wrote the book and set the start of the Martian invasion in the countryside around the cottage.

What I want to do here is to remind readers what an incredible man HG Wells was. He always described himself as a committed socialist and wrote a wide variety of political writings — pamphlets, political books, newspaper and magazine articles — as well as novels and stories.

He was never afraid to use his novels and stories to advance his political opinions. Wells saw that socialism would abolish class barriers and foster equality of opportunity. Other writers such as Virginia Woolf berated him for using the novel as a vehicle for delivering his political ideas.

His novels took up diverse individual political issues. For instance The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) examined the fierce debates over vivisection. Ann Veronica (1909) deals with the struggle of the suffragettes for the vote for women.

In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), he explained his political thinking was motivated by an awareness of the “incompatibility of the great world order foreshadowed by scientific and industrial progress with the existing political and social structures.”

For him the question was: how could politics and society catch up with the advances of science and technology? How could social and political institutions become more scientific, more efficient, more ordered?

As early as 1905 he described his ideal socialist society in his book A Modern Utopia. In it he paints a picture of a highly regulated world state where all property is state-owned, and where sexes are equal.

The Fabian Society were keen to have Wells on board. Despite some earlier differences with George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb he accepted an invitation to join the Fabians in 1903.

It would not be a happy time for the Fabians. They quickly realised that Wells could be a loose cannon. Openly criticising the Fabians from the beginning, in 1906 he shocked them with a paper called, unambiguously, The Faults of the Fabian.

In the paper Wells called the Fabian Society a talking shop for middle-class socialists, which lacked the appetite for real change. He argued Fabians should aim for mass membership and more radical reforms.

Wells’s love life and his reputed advocacy of free love didn’t go down well either. When In 1908 he advocated a wage for all mothers and the Fabians refused to adopt this as a policy, he left.

What Wells wanted was a single, socialist world state, a great world order, and it was no doubt to study this kind of development that he visited and championed the young Soviet Union repeatedly.

Wells visited Russia in 1914, 1920 and 1934. During his second visit his old friend and fellow writer Maxim Gorky arranged for him to meet and talk with Vladimir Lenin.

In July 1934, on his third visit to what had become the Soviet Union, he interviewed Joseph Stalin for the New Statesman. The interview lasted three hours.

He told Stalin how he had seen “the happy faces of healthy people” in contrast with his previous visit to Moscow in 1920 but he also raised some serious criticisms. Stalin, we are told, enjoyed the conversation.

During the second world war, Wells drafted a Universal Rights of Man that was published in the Times. This document and the advocacy he did around it led to the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times but never won.

He suffered for much of his life from diabetes and in 1934 co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association known today as Diabetes UK.

Winston Churchill was an avid reader of his books, and after they first met in 1902 they kept in touch until Wells died in 1946. Prime minister Churchill famously described the rise of Nazi Germany as “the gathering storm”. He actually took the phrase from War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds has never been out of print since its original publication in 1897. Films, radio dramas, comic-books, video games, and many television series have been based on it.

The most famous, or infamous, adaptation is the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles. Presented as a live, realistic set of news bulletins interrupting normal programming, supposedly terrified listeners had heart attacks and even committed suicide, though recent scholarship has suggested this is an urban myth.

Perhaps the greatest and most surprising tribute to the author and the book is that of Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry. Goddard says his interest in rockets and space travel was first inspired by reading War of the Worlds aged sixteen.

Goddard would invent both liquid fuelled and multi-stage rockets that put men on the Moon and sent robotic probes to Mars — HG Wells would have wanted no finer tribute.

New novel about fascist dictator Mussolini


This video shows Italian fascist dictator Mussolini, speaking in German in the Berlin Olympic stadium, at the invitation of his ally Adolf Hitler.

Translated from Belgian weekly Humo, 2 December 2019:

Benito Mussolini, godfather of modern populists:

Sigh … When will journalists stop abusing the word ‘populist’ for neo-fascists?

“Adolf Hitler adored him”

“M.” is a three-part novel about the life and works of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The first part, about how fascism came into existence exactly one hundred years ago and took barely five years to gain power, has just been released in Dutch. The 850 pages read like a machine gun and are just as burningly topical as an asylum seekers’ center that is on fire. “We have to compare right-wing populism today with fascism, because there are important similarities“, says author Antonio Scurati (50). Fortunately, there are also differences.

Antonio Scurati’s book is called “M. – The son of the century“. He has won the Premio Strega, Italy’s most prestigious literature prize, and more than one hundred thousand copies have since been sold. That’s a lot, because Italians prefer to watch “Gomorra” or “Il commissario Montalbano” than to read the books on which those TV series are based. The translation rights of “M.” have already been sold to forty countries. According to the author, there is only one possible explanation for this: “Because Mussolini is the archetype, the original with which almost every right-wing populist leader today can be compared.”

United States Americans will also be able to get to know his epic version of Il Duce. Scurati, besides being a writer also a professor at the IULM University in Milan, laughs sourly: “My book will only appear after the 2020 presidential election, because publisher HarperCollins wants to prevent parallels from being drawn between Mussolini and Trump during the election campaign.”

Translated from Dutch weekly De Groene:

And, really happened: on May 4, [Italian far-right politician] Salvini stood on the balcony of the town of Forlì, constructed by Mussolini, to face a small crowd in the pouring rain. In Piazza Saffi, a paragon of fascist architecture, where four resistance fighters, including a girl [Iris Versari], were hung on August 18, 1944 to show the crowd what happened to resistance fighters. Salvini looked out at the memorial plaque.

Salvini under fire for address from notorious balcony used by Mussolini to watch executions: here.

Ukrainian nazi vandalism against Jewish author’s statue


A monument to Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem is seen vandalized with swastikas in Kiev, Ukraine

From CNN in the USA, 25 November 2019:

Ukrainian police are investigating a case of anti-Semitic vandalism after a monument to a prominent Jewish writer was vandalized with swastikas. …

Images on Ukrainian social media showed the monument, located across from the Brodsky Synagogue in central Kiev …

Ukraine has a large and thriving Jewish community, but community activists also report frequent cases of anti-Semitic vandalism. …

Born in 1859 in Russia, Sholem Aleichem was a Yiddish author and playwright known in the United States as the “Yiddish Mark Twain“, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Americans would know his writing best from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. His works were adapted into the script surrounding the musical numbers.

Several of his other works were adapted and instrumental in the founding of the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York City.

Before his death in 1916, Aleichem published more than 40 novels, stories, and plays in Yiddish.

Last November, a man caused a commotion in a Baltimore theater last week by yelling “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!” during a “Fiddler on the Roof” performance.

UKRAINIAN courts were today condemned for upholding a ban on the only newspaper opposing the country’s “oligarch-nazi regime.” Founded in 1897, Rabochaya Gazeta was banned earlier this year under Ukraine’s reactionary anti-communist laws after it published articles quoting Karl Marx: here.