Christopher Harvie (Verso 2010), ISBN-13: 978-1844674398, 224 pp., £8.99
Fiddled statistics on employment and public debt, catastrophic distance-learning projects, ditto for computerisation schemes, raids on pensions funds, selling off gold cheap, mud-wrestling with Tony Blair, yet bankrolling his delusions. Taxes that are baffling but real, tax credits that are baffling but illusory. Programmes cutting public sector jobs; programmes promising more public sector jobs. Transport, higher education, public culture: all kept anorexic. This is before we get to the motor itself, the property-and-retail – VAT fraud carousel which sucks in imports, piles up trade deficits, then attempts to correct these by ‘inward investment’, a euphemism for foreign takeovers, and less seductively, international hot money. Welcome to Broonland.
From these musings in the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog Chris Harvie has expanded Broonland from blog to book. It is more a sort of biography less the obsequious interviews of the official sort and the confectionary of quotes from the unofficial sort. Written before the great leader’s exit from Number 10 it almost charts Gordon Brown’s trajectory back to earth but I would defy any satirist to have the imagination to dream up the head in hands contrition over “that bigoted woman.” I have read two types of book from Chris Harvie, the heavy analytical academic and the humorous commentary; Broonland is at times an uneasy compromise between the two. But with his subject moving from a self-confident Calvinist and ambitious young politician to senior croupier at Blair’s Downing street casino and the lack of quotable and attributable comments on Brown the character has to be squeezed out of dry facts and statistics sometimes created by Gordon Brown and at other times created by the activities of his finally-to-be-worshiped free markets which eventually surrounded and ambushed him.
For those who may think that Harvie is being harsh on Brown; I came across a copy of his speech, typed in caps as is his wont, to the Scottish Labour Conference 12 March 1995 in Inverness. As the applause greeted him a banner was unfurled from the balcony calling for the retention of Clause 4 prompting Jack McConnell to creep up and down the aisles posing the question “Who did that?” to likely culprits. Meanwhile, Brown, oblivious to this diversion delivered this speech specially tailored for his Scottish audience;
”AND WHAT OF ANOTHER GREAT PUBLIC SERVICE AT RISK OF PRIVATISATION? WHEN THEY’RE PLANNING TO SELL OFF OUR STATIONS, OUR RAIL TRACK, OUR TRAINS, OUR BRIDGES, EVEN THE FORTH RAILWAY BRIDGE. WHEN 600 MILLION POUNDS HAS BEEN SPENT IN CITY FEES TO DONORS TO THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY. WITH JOHN MCGREGOR THE FORMER TRANSPORT MINISTER WHO PRIVATISED RAIL, NOW STANDING AS A DIRECTOR OF A COMPANY – ADVISING ON THE SELL OFF OF BRITISH RAIL.
LET US BE CLEAR ABOUT THE MOTIVATION OF ALL THOSE INVOLVED – IN THIS THE SECOND GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. THE ONLY NETWORK THEYRE INTERESTED IN PROTECTING IS IN THE OLD BOYS NETWORK. THE ONLY TRACK THEY WANT TO BE TRAVELLING ON IS THE INSIDE TRACK. THE ONLY CONNECTIONS THEY’RE INTERESTED IN MAKING ARE CITY CONNECTIONS. AND THE ONLY TRAIN THAT REALLY CONCERNS THEM IS …THE GRAVY TRAIN
NOT SERVICE THEY’RE INTERESTED IN…BUT SELF SERVICE. THAT’S THE TORY PARTY. NO LONGER A PARTY OF THE WHOLE NATION – NOW EXPOSED SIMPLY AS A RUN-DOWN BRANCH OF NETWORK SOUTH EAST.
LET US BE CLEAR. IT IS NOT OUR TRAINS THAT SHOULD BE DRIVEN OFF THE TRACKS – IT IS RAIL PRIVATISATION ITSELF AND WE’RE GONG TO KEEP THE RAILWAYS IN PUBLIC HANDS JUST AS WE STOPPED THE VAT RISE. IT’S TIME TO CALL A HALT TO THE PRIVATISATION HAND OUTS
IT’S TIME TO BLOW THE WHISTLE ON THE BOARDROOM EXCESSES OF THE GREAT AND THE GREEDY. IT’S TIME TO CALL AN END TO THE SHARE OPTION MILLIONS, THE INSIDER DEALERS, THE DUBIOUS TAX EXILES. THESE PEOPLE NEVER NEEDED TO WAIT FOR THE SATURDAY NATIONAL LOTTERY DRAW. EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK THEY’VE BEEN AWARDING THEMSELVES ALL THE BIGGEST PRIZES ON OFFER. IT’S NOT A NATIONAL LOTTERY.
IT’S A NATIONAL DISGRACE. AND WE’LL STOP IT.
BECAUSE IT IS WRONG THAT ONE HUNDRED AND TEN MILLION POUNDS OF PRIVATISATION SHARE OPTIONS ARE GIVEN TAX PRIVILEGE WHILE MIDDLE AND LOW INCOME FAMILIES ARE TAXED MORE TO RECEIVE LESS. WE WILL END THE TAX PRIVILEGE AND USE THE MONEY TO HELP THE MANY, NOT THE FEW. BECAUSE IT IS WRONG THAT TELEPHONE NUMBER SALARIES ARE PAID TO EXECUTIVES. WHEN BT ADDED ONES TO THEIR TELEPHONE NUMBERS THEY DIDN’T TELL US THEY’D ALSO ADDED NOUGHTS TO THEIR SALARIES.
WE WILL GIVE THE PRIVATISATION REGULATORS POWER TO CUT PRICES FOR MILLIONS OF CONSUMERS WHERE THERE IS ABUSE AND SO REDISTRIBUTE RESOURCES FROM THESE POWERFUL INTERESTS TO ORDINARY PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY. BECAUSE IT IS WRONG THAT UNBRIDLED SPECULATION IS THREATENING THE LIVELIHOODS OF THOUSANDS OF MEN AND WOMEN…
WRONG THAT A BANK CAN VIRTUALLY BECOME A BETTING SHOP. WRONG THAT SOME BANKERS ARE MORE OBSESSED ABOUT THEIR BONUSES THAN THE JOBS AND SAVINGS OF THOSE AFFECTED BY THEIR BANKRUPTCY
Chris Harvie’s Broonland relates the actual onward route march of Gordon Brown from Inverness, through the bonfire of the pledges in 1996 and his irresistible rise to the top of the Labour Party. A Labour Party which was reduced to fighting the recent election that lead to Brown’s dŽnouement with the old policy free slogan “If you vote SNP you’ll let the Tories in – Only Labour can beat the Tories!”
Chris Harvie will not miss the irony of the English voters sending him homewards to think again this time with further empirical evidence to ponder that if Scotland votes Labour to keep the Tories out and England votes Tory you get a Tory government. Will the old slogan work the next time and put the frighteners on the Scottish electorate as before or will the electorate just get fed up in that Labour just does not deliver. Adding to the electoral evidence on Labour’s inability to deliver is “Broonland” which lays bare the collapse of the faux ideology that the left can manage capitalism to produce fair outcomes. I’m afraid that vulgar wealth at one end of the axis and grinding poverty at the other is both the prerequisite of a capitalist society and the outcome of its theory being put into practise.Henry McCubbin
Alone in Berlin
Hans Fallada (Penguin Classics 2010), ISBN-13: 978- 0141189383, 608 pages, £9.99
German Literature is not well-known in Scotland, or anywhere in the English-speaking world, and it may seem strange that a novel first published in Berlin in 1946 should now appear in English and, even stranger, make record sales in both the US and Britain. Hans Fallada was the pen name of Rudolf Ditzen, son of a German High Court judge, who came from a privileged upper-middle class background. From an early age he was a rebel, a tearaway, and had literary aspirations. Unlike the giants of 20th-century literature Mann and Remarque, he thought that he could come to an agreement with the new forces that swept to power in Berlin in 1933. Mann, Remarque and most of the contemporary giants of German literature escaped into emigration in Switzerland or the USA. Fallada decided to stay and try to come to terms with those in power in Berlin. He continued to write in the period of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1945. Some of his work was published. He wrote one of his greatest novels “Wolf Amongst Wolves” in this period and that novel led to allegations of collaborating with the Ministry of Propaganda and the other literary and cultural bosses of the Reich. Dr Goebbels himself was an admirer of Fallada who judged his literary efforts with praise (“Schreiben kann der Kerl!” – The man can WRITE!)
During the hard days of World War and in the chaos after the establishment of the new Republic in 1918, Fallada added to his problems by beginning to use morphine. This had been widely used as a painkiller in the War and use spread amongst the civilian population after 1918. He listened to a friend who said that by using morphine (i.e. Heroin) he could learn to live without alcohol. In fact he developed a dual addiction which was to plague him for the rest of his life. Readers who wish to pursue this theme could look at his writings on being a drug addict in the Berlin of the 1920s. This is truly astonishing stuff that could describe the life of a heroin-user in more modern times.
In the novel “Alone in Berlin” we meet the characters who live in an apartment block in a working-class area of the “Reichshauptstadt” Berlin. The story describes all the families living in one entry in a street in Wedding, a working class district (‘close’ in Scots parlance), and focuses on a carpenter and his
wife. These are the Quangels, modelled on the real life couple whose story was documented in the police files handed over to Fallada in 1946 by a functionary in the KPD, Johannes R Becher. Angered by the loss of their only son on the Eastern front, the Quangels begin to write subversive cards, and drop them where people will find them. “HITLER YOU ARE A MURDERER AND WILL PAY FOR YOUR CRIMES” and similar highly subversive texts were penned on these little 3” by 4” cards. When Eisler, another carpenter, planted his bomb in the Burgerbraukeller or when the plotters of the 20 July attempted to blow up the Supreme Leader, there was at least at chance that they would achieve their aims – the physical elimination of Hitler. What did the Quangels hope to achieve? What was the point of writing their subversive cards and distributing them quietly and at night? In the novel, as in the real life story, most of the cards were immediately handed over to the authorities. The average German in 1942 knew what it would mean to be found in possession of anti-Nazi propaganda like this.
The attraction of Fallada as a writer is that he had that rare gift. He could actually have his fictional characters speak the way that real people speak. As with successful writers in any culture, he was an observer and a listener. He had been an enthusiastic drinker since adolescence and hung around in bars, cafes and other places where he could overhear what people had to say. Some of this is lost in the rather wooden translation of Michael Hoffman, but as far as I know this is the first published translation of the book into English.
After 1945 the English-speaking world did not want to hear about Germans or about Germany. It was bad enough that Fallada had lived and worked in the Reich during the Nazi period. He had also lived in the East, in what was soon to become the GDR. Many western commentators in Germany and in the US were hostile to Fallada and painted him as both an active collaborator with the Reich and later as a stooge of the ‘The Cultural League for the Democratic Renewal of Germany’ (i.e. the leadership of the Stalinist KPD under the ‘Albrecht Group’). His book in fact would not have been published a few years later in the GDR because it does not reflect the ‘organized struggle’ of the progressive forces against the fascist regime. Our heroes are not in the KPD, and work in isolation. Like that other small group the Baum-group, they are not hooked into the party network, following the instructions of the CP leadership from Moscow Centre.
Since the changes of 1989 and the takeover of the GDR, there has been an increased interest in Modern German History, and the Literature which reflects this period. Those with an interest could do worse than pick up a copy of Alone in Berlin and remember please, reflect on those real people on whom this novel is based. Elise and Otto Hampel paid the price for their ‘antifa’ activity. They were executed in Ploetzensee Prison by guillotine on 8 April 1943. For those interested in Fallada I recommend a visit to the house in Carwitz which is now a Museum and the focus for the Hans Fallada days every July. See www.fallada.de/ (In German).Hamish Kirk