London’s Grenfell Tower fire, Ben Okri poem

This video says about itself:

26 June 2017

‘Grenfell Tower, June, 2017’ is a poem written by Nigerian writer Ben Okri. To raise funds for relatives of victims of the Grenfel Tower fire, and for survivors.

By Paul Bond in Britain:

Poet Ben Okri on London’s Grenfell Tower fire: “It has revealed the undercurrents of our age

11 September 2017

The fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14 that killed at least 80 people has had an immediate impact on political life in Britain. It has had an impact on artistic expression too. There have been fundraising concerts, of course, but direct creative responses are also appearing.

Within days of the conflagration, the Financial Times commissioned a poem on the tragedy from the Booker-Prize-winning Nigerian author Ben Okri. The newspaper published Grenfell Tower, June 2017 on June 23 and Okri subsequently filmed it for Channel 4 News.

The poem encapsulates well the position now confronted by artists. Okri’s performance is dignified and moving, pointing to the work’s stronger aspects. As poetry, however, it is not so uniformly convincing.

Okri reveals a deep empathy for the victims and a disbelieving horror at the criminal administrative decisions that led to the tragedy. He recognises that this is not an individual failure. Okri’s declaration “It has revealed the undercurrents of our age” is absolutely on point.

Within certain limits, the poem points to the gulf between rich and poor and how each is treated. As Okri puts it in the poem, “If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.” Grenfell has forced home the realisation that class remains the fundamental division in society. In Okri’s words, “Poverty is its own/Colour, its own race … They were young/And old and beautiful and middle aged.”

This recognition of the importance of class brings with it a requirement to see what lies behind such a division of society. Okri recognises the capitalist profit motive in the decisions that led to Grenfell: “It happened in the profit margins. It happened/in the laws. They died because money could be saved and made.”

With this in mind, the poem summarises the spending decisions made around Grenfell, from the deadly cladding intended to prettify the tower for its rich neighbours to the skimping on safety measures. “But in twenty four storeys, not a single sprinkler./In twenty four storeys, not a single alarm that worked./In twenty four storeys not a single fire escape/ … That’s the story of our times,” Okri writes.

In the poem’s final passage, Okri points more broadly to the way social and cultural provisions are being axed—“Nurseries and libraries fade from the land”—and concludes “In this age of austerity/the poor die for others’ prosperity.” He also recognises the gulf that has developed in political representation, although he seems to blame the working class for this with his comment about “The poor who thought voting for the rich would save them.”

None of this is quite so pointed as it appears. The empathy of the poem is Okri’s solution as well as response. He is clearly sincere in his feeling for the victims, but he is addressing himself here above all to those in power with an appeal to pay closer attention to the effects of their actions (“…if you can pull/Yourselves from your tennis games and your perfect dinners”).

“A sword of fate hangs over the deafness of power,” he writes, clumsily, suggesting that they just need to listen better in order to avoid a ferocious reaction. If only they would go and see the horror of Grenfell and witness the way the local community has rallied round, he seems to be saying, their humanity could be revived—“See the tower, and let a new world-changing thought flower”—and politics overcome: “The heart reveals itself beyond political skills.”

It is noteworthy that the “See the tower …” line is part of a repeated chorus that punctuates the poem, and what will flower is, in sequence, a “dream,” a “deed” and finally this “thought.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, with its determination to “teach … injured countrymen how to resist” (as Mary Shelley described it), Okri’s poem is not.

There has been a noticeable tendency lately for poems on social themes to be primarily performance pieces, often written by poets who emerged from the rap scene (poet and spoken-word artist Kate Tempest springs to mind). What makes a good performance poem, given the flexibilities of the medium, does not always look so convincing on the page, particularly with directly documentary political pieces like this by Okri.

Okri is perhaps best known as a novelist. His novelistic style relies much more on what he has called a “dream logic” than his more directly political poetry. This poem works much better heard aloud than read, allowing some of the clumsier and more trite imagery and lines to become more obvious. The poem is largely free verse, and its occasional rhymes are not always beneficial, as in the particularly awkward concluding passage already quoted:

“Nurseries and libraries fade from the land.
A strange time is shaping on the strand.
A sword of fate hangs over the deafness of power.
See the tower, and let a new world-changing thought flower.”

I have already commented on “the deafness of power,” but the previous line reads as if written mainly to fill the couplet.

The poem’s chorus, each line of which is also used as a refrain to close a stanza, is also rhymed and awkwardly scanned:

“Those who were [are] living are now dead
Those who were breathing are from the living earth fled.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
See the tower, and let a world-changing dream [deed/thought] flower.”

Not all of the poetic imagery is unsuccessful, by any means, and some of the political points are well served by the imagery, as in his description of “ … Political cladding,/Economic cladding, intellectual cladding—things that look good/But have no centre, have no heart, only moral padding.”

Grenfell has thrown a spotlight on how artists will respond to changing times and conditions. The sincerity of Okri’s feeling for the victims is not and should not be in question, as is clear from his reaction to graffiti artist Ben Eine’s use of his poem in an east London mural: “Anything that can draw attention to that outrage to humanity, anything that can commemorate the dead and help the survivors has my support,” he told the Evening Standard.

Eine’s Shoreditch mural was the first contribution to a social justice art project, Paint the Change, founded by filmmaker Maziar Bahari as a way of discussing social issues through the arts.

The question of artistic and social interaction has come up even more sharply in the area around Grenfell Tower. Nearby, Opera Holland Park (OHP), whose front-of-house worker Deborah Lamprell died in the fire, staged a benefit performance of Verdi’s Requiem a month ago, raising £40,000 [US$53,000] for survivors.

OHP became an independent charitable organisation two years ago, when the last of its local council funding was cut. At the time there was criticism that the company was given a final £5 million grant from council reserves to enable it to continue its accessibility and outreach schemes at the same time as local services were under threat. As one protester said, “It’s high time [the council] stopped spending money on art frippery and concentrated on providing vital services.”

Michael Volpe, OHP’s general director, outlined the conundrum to the Guardian: “If we were asked the question: ‘Should money be spent on opera or social housing?,’ you’d only get one answer. But we don’t believe it should be a choice” [emphasis added].

He is right. The crisis that Grenfell has laid bare touches on every aspect of social and cultural life. Artistic responses are a significant part of the necessary addressing of this crisis. They have the ability to influence the thinking and feeling of masses of human beings. But for this to happen the artist must know something important about the world, society and history and to show life and reality as they are and not retreat into self-absorption and social indifference.

Grenfell is a sign that we have entered a new stage of development. The economic and social crisis, along with relentless wars and militarist violence, are fueling popular discontent and have created the conditions for an immense movement to the left that will lead inevitably to revolutionary struggles.

It is giving artists the opportunity to understand and reveal the truth about the complex, often confusing and intense experiences that millions of people are passing through.


Jewish British poet Michael Rosen’s memoirs

This video from Britain says about itself:

Compilation from – A Great Big Cuddle – Kids’ Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen

8 September 2017

Here is a compilation video of me performing poems from my book, ‘A Great Big Cuddle – Poems For The Very Young’, with pictures by Chris Riddell, published by Walker Books.

Michael Rosen

Video directed by Joe Rosen. Go behind the scenes and see how it was made: here.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Memoirs of a ‘nothing’ who became a much-loved figure

Monday 11th September 2011

So They Call you Pisher!

by Michael Rosen

(Verso, £16.99)

MICHAEL ROSEN is known to numberless children as a marvellously entertaining performer of his own poetry, to grown-ups as a regular broadcaster on BBC language programmes and to Guardian readers as the regular writer of Letter from a Curious Parent, which reveals the crass and destructive policies that the government imposes on the education system.

This hugely engaging memoir excavates the theatre of the mind and memory both as a search for identity and a way of expressing his deeply affectionate but ambiguous feelings for his own father who, unlike his mum, he calls Harold throughout.

Michael’s parents, Harold and Connie Rosen — both prominent educationists — came from a working-class, secular Jewish background.

They were committed socialists and, during most of Rosen’s early life, members of the Communist Party.

The final chapter of the book details Rosen’s extensive efforts to trace all the uncles, aunts and their children who were among the great “disappeared” in nazi Europe, people that Harold had been strangely reluctant to show or communicate interest in.

Rosen tells his father posthumously that he is using the education his aspiring parents had worked so determinedly to give him because “I didn’t want the nazis to be successful in disappearing” his unknown family and his and Harold’s human heritage.

The Yiddish term pisher, Rosen tells us, means “a pissy little person, a nothing” and he emerges from this feast of detailed memories from childhood and through schools and university as a person always ready to defy the arrogance, pomposity and smug self-confidence of authority.

He marries an insatiable curiosity with a writing style which distances his present self from his memories — “being in the moment and outside it” — making them all the more vivid. His anarchic humour, which is the hallmark of his children’s poetry, threads throughout.

In his Oxford final English literature examination he painted on the back of the obligatory academic gown “Hell’s Angels. Jeff Chaucer.”

There is a wealth of historical observation in Rosen’s childhood and adolescent memories — summer camp in East Germany, the 1968 student turmoil, CND demos — and the man who grows through these formative times emerges as a benevolent and warm-hearted human being.

His father would be proud of him.

British poetry against nuclear weapons

This video from Britain is about Antony Owen reading his poetry.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

21st Century Poetry with Andy Croft

Wednesday 6th September 2017

Peace activist sheds light on ‘the ink of human darkness’

AFTER the election of Donald Trump earlier this year, the hands of the Doomsday Clock — calculated by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — were reset at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

This is the clock’s second-closest approach to midnight since its introduction in 1947.

Yet, 72 years after the US dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 200,000 men, women and children, only 122 countries could be found to endorse the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

These, of course, do not include any of the nuclear powers. Russia and the US are currently modernising their strategic nuclear forces, North Korea claims that its nuclear missiles are now capable of attacking the US “any place, any time” and Trump threatens North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

These kind of foolish boasts are what Antony Owen calls the “speeches of men playing Gods,” written in “the ink of human darkness.”

Owen is a CND Peace Foundation patron who teaches peace education in Britain’s schools. The Nagasaki Elder (V Press, £9.99) is his fifth collection of poems and his best yet.

He started writing the book after a visit to Japan to hear the testimonies of the hibakusha (“explosion-affected people”) who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Hiroshima Day last month, Owen read from the book at Coventry Cathedral, accompanied by a violinist from Coventry’s twin city Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).

His book has the inspired ferocity and prophetic fury of those British poets like Edith Sitwell, Randall Swingler, EP Thompson, James Kirkup and Adrian Mitchell who have protested so eloquently against nuclear weapons.

Owen describes a hellish world of “unforgettable fire,” “black rain” and the “ruined corn.”

Here is a shadow “that once cast a boy,” there is a playground where “children vanished into black magic,” human remains are like “Pompeii ornaments,” the world’s empires are “realms of pot-bellied maggots.”

There are some fine individual poems, notably How to Survive a Nuclear Winter, To Feed a Nagasaki Starling and The Stars That Wandered Hiroshima. One of the most memorable is The Art of War:

“The old Hiroshima trees in autumn scratch the ill wind till it bleeds in time for spring when the dead each blow a petal and their fragrant inferno engulfs a man coughing blossoms of blood from weak boughs of bone… when spring leaves Hiroshima, all that remains of trees are fingers of the dead, holding birds that swept across sky like ashes, throwing their urn of shrieks to a scarlet sun… Every year the cherry blossoms get redder and a zephyr sighs as they fall…”

In the second half of the book, Owen writes about Basra, the bombing of Dresden, the Coventry Blitz and British tabloid hostility to refugees: “Those who fight refugees from coming into the country forget that not so long ago… we were called evacuees; it means the same thing”

And he reminds us that: “The new talk was exodus,/children sent from Coventry,/clasping umbilical gas masks tighter than their mothers… there is no love rationed when a child is cleaved from their kin.”

The book ends with two pages filled with lines of black dots, each representing one of the 2,058 nuclear tests conducted since 1945.

Owen points out that it would need another seven pages of black dots to represent the number of nuclear weapons in the world today.

Antony Owen is launching The Nagasaki Elder at the Inspire Cafe Bar in Coventry on Thursday September 7, details:

Jewish Soviet author Ilya Ehrenburg

This video is called Ilya Ehrenburg reading Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem “You Walk, Resembling Me” 1913.

By John Ellison in Britain:

A poet for all seasons

Thursday 31st August 2017

JOHN ELLISON remembers the trying times and extraordinary life of the Soviet-Jewish author Ilya Ehrenburg who died 50 years ago today

ILYA EHRENBURG — Russian poet, novelist, war correspondent, peace campaigner, autobiographer and spokesperson for humanity — was born in January 1891 and died on August 31 1967, 50 years ago today.

On hearing of his passing, his friend the painter Pablo Picasso cut telephone communication with the world, while this paper’s obituary quoted Ehrenburg’s words at the World Peace Congress in 1950: “War is not the midwife of history, it is an abortionist of the flower of humanity.”

His life demonstrated his love for humankind and its creativity in art, poetry and fiction, his love for the country of his birth, for the France which became his second home and for the Jewish people of whom he was one.

A first-hand witness of many of the world’s events and its violence for half a century, he survived many dangerous moments including some in his homeland where he picked, during the Stalin period, a lucky ticket in the bloody lottery.

Beginning with People and Life — six widely translated volumes of his memoirs — published in the 1960s, he delivered an enlightening, vivid and heartfelt account of his experiences and of the people he knew. Yet more can be learnt from Tangled Loyalties, a sympathetic and deeply researched biography by Joshua Rubenstein.

Ehrenburg was born into a middle-class Moscow-based Jewish family that had nothing exceptional about it apart from the person he was to become.

He was to recall helping to build barricades in Moscow’s streets in the closing stages of the abortive 1905 revolution and seeing blood on the snow from shot revolutionaries.

A childhood friend of Nikolai Bukharin, he was arrested for Bolshevik activity early in 1908 and after release from prison five months later was pursued again by police before escaping Russia to take up abode in Paris.

There he met Lenin, wrote poetry and before long visited Vienna where he stayed with Trotsky, whose “dogmatic pronouncements on the utilitarian essence of art” did not impress him.

Increasingly Ehrenburg put literature before politics. In Paris he made friends with Picasso, Modigliani and other artists.

Ehrenburg’s war correspondent career began quietly in late 1915, when his reports of the world war began to appear in Russian newspapers. He visited the Western front often.

In July 1917 the revolution in Russia took him home. At this point he was anti-Bolshevik, preferring Kerensky to Lenin and witnessing much hatred and violence, he felt despair. But poets Vladimir Mayakovsky and Osip Mandelstam became friends. In Kiev he survived the city’s occupation by anti-Bolshevik forces and their anti-Jewish pogroms.

After a period in the south, he was interrogated in a Moscow prison by the Cheka (the Emergency Committee) for four days as a suspected counter-revolutionary. His release was secured with the help of Bukharin, now editor of Pravda. He left Russia for Europe in 1921, settling for a while in Berlin.

He wrote 19 novels, beginning with Julio Jurenito, over the next decade, satirising greed and hypocrisy in the world around him and moving ever closer to “non-party member” support for a communist future.

In Rome in June 1924, appalled by the murder by Mussolini’s fascists of socialist deputy Matteotti, he became fearful for what lay ahead for Italy.

In 1931, visits to Berlin told him that fascism was on the offensive, that its opponents were disunited and that the crisis was growing. The following year he became Paris correspondent of the Soviet newspaper Izvestia (News).

Early in 1934 he sent dispatches about the fascist attempt to reach the French parliament building and then, from Vienna, about the violent suppression of left forces there.

Ehrenburg’s first Spanish civil war dispatch was from Barcelona in September 1936. He sent around 50 by the year’s end and many more during 1937. He admired and made friends with the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

Meeting writer Ernest Hemingway — a Spanish language misunderstanding caused Hemingway to attempt to hit Ehrenburg with a whisky bottle, but friendship followed.

Back in the Soviet Union before 1938 began, he was confronted with the menacing atmosphere generated by the arrests of many acquaintances. He accepted advice to be silent. In March 1938 his childhood friend Bukharin was, among a group of others, infamously tried, condemned and shot. Ehrenburg could not eat for several days and refused to write about the trial — he had come close to being a defendant.

As long as the Soviet Union remained a bulwark against fascism, Ehrenburg was ready to tolerate much. He wrote: “No matter what happened, however agonising the doubts … one had to be silent, one had to struggle, one had to win.” One of his poems opens with the line: “Let me not think too much, cut short that voice, I pray.”

In June 1938 he was back in Spain, writing many more articles filled with poignant detail and reflecting his expectation that the Spanish war would be followed [by] another, bigger and more terrible [war].

As the European situation deteriorated, he reported more from Paris.

For Ehrenburg the non-aggression pact (between the Soviet Union and nazi Germany) of August 1939 was inevitable but tragic.

A patriot for both the Soviet Union and for France, he felt a traitor to the latter and became ill for eight months, recovering only after the nazis invaded.

Repatriated to Russia — after an arrest by the French authorities — publication of his articles, which had stopped abruptly in April 1939, was resumed. His anti-fascist novel The Fall of Paris was awarded the State Stalin Prize — and was published in English in 1942.

Days after the nazi invasion of his homeland on June 22 1941 Ehrenburg was signed up to write for the Red Star, the Soviet Army’s newspaper. Before the war’s end he wrote almost 450 pieces for the paper and more than another 1,500 for other papers. Many anthologies of his articles were published.

Reuters correspondent Alexander Werth said that every Red Army soldier was pulled together by Ehrenburg’s articles. When Kiev fell, he wrote, in the style that made him famous: “We will liberate Kiev. The enemy’s blood will wash the enemy’s footprints. Like the ancient Phoenix, Kiev will rise from the ashes, young and beautiful. Sorrow feeds hatred. Hatred strengthens hope.”

Ehrenburg also became a prominent member of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in which, under his direction, a team of writers worked on The Black Book — a meticulous record of the nazi murder of Soviet Jews.

In Red Star in November 1942 he wrote: “Hitler wanted to turn the Jews into a target. The Jews of Russia showed him that a target shoots.”

He met many Jewish partisans and in 1944 wrote the first poem about the massacre of Jews at Babii Yar. In it he said: “As if from every pit, I hear you calling me.”

In December 1944 he wrote in Pravda of the destruction of six million Jews: “All this began with stupid jokes, with the shouts of street kids, with signposts, and it led to Majdanek, Babii Yar, Treblinka, to ditches filled with children’s corpses.”

After arrest-risking lectures in Moscow when he expressed concerns about the behaviour of Soviet troops in Germany, Ehrenburg’s articles were refused on the eve of victory until after Germany’s surrender.

A passing attendance at the Nuremberg war crimes trials produced Ehrenburg’s comment that Goering and others were “petty criminals who have committed gigantic crimes.”

He travelled widely post-war, a cultural ambassador for the Soviet Union and simultaneously a passionate peace campaigner under the shadow of the atom bomb and the cold war.

But the publication of The Black Book was refused in 1947 and — after Stalin ordered in late 1948, the arrests of many Yiddish writers — Ehrenburg was again close to being arrested himself.

One year after Stalin’s death, in 1954, Ehrenburg’s optimistic novel The Thaw attracted condemnation from much of the Soviet literary establishment — its insightful real life criticisms of how things were under Stalin were deemed “anti-Soviet.”

In his last years came the astonishingly illuminating memoirs, volume by volume, albeit with censor-directed deletions.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he argued against the ideologically narrow basis of Soviet literature published and the criminalisation of dissident writers.

His socialism was unqualified. An extraordinary life.

London Grenfell disaster, poetry, survivors meet

This video says about itself:

26 June 2017

‘Grenfell Tower, June, 2017’ is a poem written by Nigerian writer Ben Okri. To raise funds for relatives of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, and for survivors.

Ben Okri and Deborah Levy are organising a writers’ event in London.

From the World Socialist Web Site in England:

Socialist Equality Party holds public meeting on Grenfell fire in London

By our reporter

21 August 2017

The Socialist Equality Party held a public meeting Saturday on the June 14 Grenfell Tower fire, titled, “Social Murder: A crime against the working class.”

Around 100 people attended at the Harrow Club, off Bramley Road, located in the shadow of the burnt-out tower, including a number of survivors, local residents and workers and youth from other parts of the capital and elsewhere.

Chairing the meeting, WSWS writer Robert Stevens explained that the SEP was “very aware that we are dealing with very emotional and sensitive issues today. People here and many others have lost loved ones and even saw them perish in a terrible fire.

“But it is our duty to discuss these questions—not in the manner of the cheap sensationalism of much of the media. We want to present the case for the prosecution of all those responsible for this appalling crime.”

SEP meeting on Grenfell Tower

To ensure that all felt free to speak, the SEP had denied a request from Sky News to film proceedings and told police officers who inquired that they were not welcome.

An attentive audience heard two reports.

The first, given by International Youth and Students for Social Equality member Thomas Scripps, was on the events leading up to and surrounding the tragedy.

The second, given by National Secretary Chris Marsden, was on the political implications of the fire and the perspective advanced by the Socialist Equality Party.

Scripps said, “The Grenfell Tower fire has impacted on every aspect of British life. So much so that it is possible to say that politics in this country can be divided into before and after Grenfell.”

It was the product of decisions taken “which all those involved knew were potentially life threatening, but which were carried out anyway because there was money to be made.”

Scripps demonstrated how the fire started in a floor flat before escalating out of control due to the entire tower being encased in flammable cladding, showing a widely viewed World Socialist Web Site video.

Grenfell Tower became a death trap as the result of the social cleansing policies imposed by Conservative-run Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council and its arms-length company that managed the block—the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

Scripps noted that “Kensington and Chelsea Council was so keen to destroy social housing and to give Grenfell a cosmetic facelift because it stands to make millions by doing so.

“It is Britain’s richest borough, with the highest house prices in London—an average of £1.37 million last year—and is the site of the most expensive street in the country, Victoria Road, average house price £8 million.”

“Grenfell has taken on the dimensions of a national disaster,” he explained, with hundreds of council-run tower blocks “similarly clad, including the Chalcots Estate in Swiss Cottage.”

“In addition, there are reports of fires involving cladding in the Middle East, Australia and elsewhere—pointing to the international dimensions of Grenfell. Indeed Grenfell was anticipated by blazes involving cladding in at least 20 major high rises all over the world.”

Expanding on this theme, Marsden said that Grenfell, “points to a common experience of the working class all over the world. In country after country, the super-rich get ever richer, while working people suffer an ever-steeper decline in their living conditions.”

He noted that just in the last few months the drive by the capitalist class for increased profits had led to tragedies that have taken the lives of hundreds of people in countries including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and Sierra Leone and described these terrible events.

Marsden continued, “Finally, in the richest country in the world, our American comrades have campaigned for years to expose how in Flint, Michigan, Rick Snyder, a multimillionaire Republican governor, and his Democratic state treasurer, Andy Dillon, switched the city’s water supply to untreated water from the polluted Flint River,” with devastating consequences.

Marsden played a World Socialist Web Site video on Flint which has been viewed nearly a million times on Facebook.

The term social murder, Marsden explained, was first coined by the co-founder of scientific socialism, Frederick Engels, in his book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, as long ago as 1845—at the very beginnings of industrial capitalism: “Yet no one today could describe Grenfell in better terms.”

Marsden declared, “The SEP urges all survivors, local-residents and workers everywhere to place no confidence in May’s rotten whitewash of an inquiry … . They must rely on themselves alone, on their social power.

“Workers must demand that all those guilty of social murder at Grenfell in both political and business circles are arrested, charged and put on trial.”

But for this to happen means building the SEP as the political leadership necessary to make it happen.

Following the reports there was a lively discussion period lasting around two hours. The meeting heard moving contributions from survivors of the fire, including Nick Burton, who managed to escape with his wife from the 19th floor, at 3:40 a.m.—thanks to the heroic action of firefighters. Sid-Ali Atmani, who managed to escape from the 15th floor, also spoke on his traumatic experience and his efforts to expose the official whitewash inquiry into the fire. Ali relayed the ongoing contempt with which survivors are being treated by the council and the powers-that-be.

The audience responded during and at the end of contributions with warm applause.

Jerry White, a leading member of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States, spoke during the discussion. What happened at Grenfell was a “crime” in which “lives were sacrificed due to financial and political decisions that benefited a tiny minority at the top.”

White explained how in Flint, thousands of working class residents of the US industrial Midwest city had their water supply poisoned. As with Grenfell, this was due to political and commercial decisions made—in the US by Republican and Democratic Party politicians in alliance with big business—motivated by the drive to cut costs and increase profit. This has already resulted in the deaths of at least 12 people.

Marsden explained in his summation that the government, local council and Metropolitan Police were involved in a “massive cover-up” over Grenfell. He said, “Grenfell has shown one thing and that is the enormous ingenuity, dedication and seriousness of the working class.” To applause he said, “This was a crisis in which people were failed by the official system and everything that happened here happened because of the actions of local residents.”

Marsden explained that the SEP will be holding a regular forum in the area at which residents can come together and discuss a way forward. The SEP would work to expose the government’s fraudulent inquiry into Grenfell: “We will counter their propaganda with the truth.”

… Over the next days, the WSWS will publish coverage of the meeting including interviews with those in attendance.

Passchendaele, World War I bloodbath of poets and other soldiers

Australian stretcher bearers trapped in mud, Battle of Ypres, 1917. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Passchendaele: ‘I could taste their blood in the air’

Tuesday 1st August 2017

BRITISH soldiers killed at Passchendaele were remembered yesterday on the centenary of the start of the WWI battle in Belgium.

More than half a million men from both sides were killed or injured in more than 100 days of fighting in the rain-sodden summer and autumn of 1917.

The Tyne Cot cemetery near the Belgian village is the largest Commonwealth burial ground in the world, with 11,971 servicemen buried and remembered there, 8,373 of whom are unidentified.

An account by Private Bert Ferns of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who fought in the battle, was read out by Fusilier Shaun Mclorie.

He said: “I staggered up the hill and then dropped over the slope into a sort of gully. It was here that I froze and became very frightened because a big shell had just burst and blown a group of lads to bits; there were bits of men all over the place, a terrible sight, men just blown to nothing.

“I just stood there. It was still and misty, and I could taste their blood in the air.”

This is a music video of a song from the British musical Oh! what a lovely war. About World War I. The lyrics are:

Forward Joe Soap‘s Army

Forward Joe Soap’s army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.
He boasts and skites from morn till night,
And thinks he’s very brave,
But the men who really did the job are dead and in their grave.
Forward Joe Soap’s army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.

From the World Socialist Web Site, 31 July 2017:

At 3:50 on the morning of July 31, 1917, the allied troops of Great Britain and France begin the so-called Third Great Flanders Offensive, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. …

It becomes a grueling battle of attrition and a terrible slaughter that continues through November. For months, the ruins of a single location are fought over. For the first time, aerial battles take place involving more than 100 fighter planes. Only with difficulty does the German military command manage to replace the divisions which are quickly disabled.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the Germans overcome their disadvantage by using mustard gas for the first time, the barbaric chemical agent that burns the airways and skin within seconds. Professor Adolf Julius Meyer, the creator of mustard gas, later boasts: “The effect of mustard gas in the Flanders battle of 1917 grew more and more and it was often the case that the enemy was happy if he was able to keep a quarter of his men unharmed.”

The fighting lasts through mid-November. The military objectives of the offensive are not achieved. The only result—a relocation of the front line by 8 kilometers—is paid for on the British side with approximately 50,000 killed; 38,000 missing in action; and 236,000 wounded. On the German side, approximately 46,000 are killed and missing while 281,000 are wounded and seriously ill.

The grave of Hedd Wyn at Artillery Wood Cemetery in Belgium

Also from the World Socialist Web Site, 31 July 2017:

Western Front, July 31: Two poets, Hedd Wyn and Francis Ledwidge, killed in action

Irish poet Francis Ledwidge and Welsh poet Hedd Wyn are both killed during the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres.

Ledwidge, born in 1887, was associated with the Gaelic revival movement prior to the war, and he was also active in trade union circles. He tried and failed to establish a local club of the Gaelic League, a literary and cultural organization that promoted the use of the Irish language and was associated with the development of nationalism at the beginning of the 20th century. He was more successful in creating a local branch of the Irish Volunteers in Slane, the organization formed in response to the creation of the Ulster Volunteers to ensure the implementation of home rule for Ireland. Though Ledwidge initially sided with the minority of the Irish Volunteers, which, on the outbreak of war, opposed participation in the British army, he soon shifted his position and joined the military in October 1914.

Ledwidge’s poetry was influenced by rural life. He also responded to the radicalism of the 1916 Easter Rising, writing in “O’Connell Street”:

“A Noble failure is not vain
But hath a victory of its own
A bright delectance from the slain
Is down the generations thrown.”

Wyn, born Ellis Humphry Evans in 1887, is also killed near Ypres. He adopted the name Hedd Wyn, meaning blessed peace in Welsh, in 1910. His poetry drew heavily on the influences of the Romantic era, including themes of nature and spirituality, although he has also written several war poems since the conflict broke out. Wyn initially opposed the war on Christian pacifist grounds. He was conscripted in 1916 and then arrested by the military police in early 1917 after overstaying a period of leave at home. Wyn posthumously won an award at the National Eisteddfod, a festival of poetry and music, for his poem Yr Arwr.

Some of Wyn’s works have been translated, including the poem Rhyfel (War), which begins,

“Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God
Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,
Now wields the sceptre and the rod?”

Death and injuries at the battle of Passchendaele

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Passchendaele: They lied then, they lie now

Tuesday 1st August 2017

ONE hundred years ago today, Daily Chronicle war correspondent Philip Gibbs recorded events on the first day of the third battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele.

An Irish soldier had gone over the top to attack the German lines in atrocious weather, glad to escape the “awful noise” of the field guns on the British side. He and his comrades had crossed blasted ground, where “trenches had disappeared, concrete emplacements had been overturned, breastworks had been flung like straws to the wind.”

Many of the so-called enemy had been buried alive along with their machine guns, trench mortars and bomb stores.

As Gibbs noted: “But there were other dead not touched by shell-fire, nor by any bullet. They had been killed by our gas attack which had gone before the battle. Rows of them lay clasping their gas-masks, and had not been quick enough before the vapour of death reached them.”

Over the following four months, half a million men and boys were killed or wounded in a series of brutal battles for five miles of Belgian mud.

In December 1917, Prime Minister David Lloyd George attended a private banquet where Gibbs recounted his experiences at the front in graphic, gory detail. The next day, Lloyd George confided to Guardian editor CP Scott the impact that this account would have on the home front: “If people really knew, the war would end tomorrow. But of course, they don’t know and can’t know.”

The press barons and state censors ensured that most civilians never did read the truth about the Great War between the ruling classes of the British, French, Russian and Italian empires on the one side and those of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire on the other.

As Lloyd George had gone on to say: “The correspondents don’t write and the censorship wouldn’t pass the truth. What they do send is not the war, but just a pretty picture of the war with everybody doing gallant deeds.

“The thing is horrible and beyond human nature to bear and I feel I can’t go on with this bloody business.”

But he and his successors did go on with this “bloody business,” not only in Europe but in Iraq, India, Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Aden, Cyprus, the Falklands and Afghanistan.

And still we are not told the truth. At yesterday’s commemorations, a procession of military figures, princes, politicians and priests concealed the real causes and motives of the 1914-18 slaughter in a cloud of guff.

They yapped about freedom, duty, courage, service and sacrifice — but uttered not a word about the war criminals who incited, organised and applauded one of the biggest and most pointless mass slaughters in history.

Fittingly, this was on the same day that the High Court threw out an attempt to hold Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith to account for waging the murderous war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.

Meanwhile in Ypres, ever ready to let slip the dogs of war, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon linked Passchendaele and the first world war to Britain’s present-day military commitments and alliances.

They are indeed connected, although not, as Fallon would have it, in some common, timeless struggle for freedom and democracy.

Rather, Britain’s foreign and military policy remains to make the world safe for big business profits, bringing troublesome peoples and governments to heel while monopoly capitalism exploits their human and natural resources.

We would best honour the victims of Passchendaele by redoubling our efforts to challenge British imperialism, its bloody interventions, its nuclear weapons of mass extermination and its servile Nato alliance with US imperialism.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Passchendaele – where imperialism murdered hundreds of thousands of British & German workers

THE BATTLE of Passchendaele saw 275,000 British soldiers, workers in uniform, killed or wounded alongside 220,000 German workers in uniform.

This was a great imperialist slaughter directed by Anglo-French and German imperialism to re-divide the world between themselves. The general staffs and the governments involved fought resolutely and determinedly down to the last worker in uniform in the struggle in which shell-shocked workers were executed for desertion or cowardice.

It was … the ruling classes of the planet determined to safeguard and expand their empires no matter how many workers’ lives this cost. The Second ‘socialist’ International collapsed at the start of the war and supported their own governments, displaying ultra-patriotism and an extreme willingness to sacrifice workers lives for the benefit of their particular empire.

There were exceptions however. In Britain, John Maclean, James Maxton and the Clydeside Workers Committee opposed the war. James Connolly did the same in Ireland. In Germany, the anti-imperialist war struggle was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxenburg, with Liebknecht voting against war credits in the German parliament on December 2nd 1914.

He told the parliament: ‘I am voting against the War Credits Bill today for the following reasons. None of the peoples involved in this war wanted it, and it did not break out to promote their welfare – not in Germany or anywhere else. It is an imperialist war, a war to dominate the capitalist world market and secure for industrial and financial capital the possession of important territories for settlement.’

In the Russian socialist movement … Lenin saw the Great War as the prelude to the socialist revolution of the working class. He would not support the war of the Czarist autocracy and saw the war as a great opportunity for overthrowing Czarism, breaking up the Czarist Russian empire which he termed ‘the prison house of the nations’. …

In November 1918, the mutiny of the German navy at Kiel saw the red flag raised over the fleet and in fact ended the First World War. On November 3rd, the sailors in Kiel, joined by workers from the nearby city, detained their officers and took control of their ships. They also formed Elective Councils, their own ‘workers soviets’ that drafted the Kiel Mutineers list of demands, the first six points being;

1. The release of all inmates and political prisoners.
2. Complete freedom of speech and the press.
3. The abolition of mail censorship.
4. Appropriate treatment of crews by superiors.
5. No punishment for comrades returning to ships and barracks.
6. No launching of the fleet under any circumstances.

This is a music video of a song from the British musical Oh! what a lovely war. About World War I. It is a parody of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

World War I in Britain, January 1918: here.

World War I propaganda in video games: here.