On Patriarchy
On the question of gender it is difficult to be neutral, but not impossible, I hope to be reasonably objective. I am male, so therefore someone is going to say, “a man would say that”, but I hope not.
My concern in this article is to rehabilitate the term “patriarchy” so that it can return to serving an actual historical function. It has, in my view, a very distinctive meaning and by using it in the way that is currently used, it blurs the understanding of the present and makes understanding history particularly difficult.
Patriarchy, as it is understood today is little more than a synonym for “male domination”. It is always used in context as a contrast to its opposite, “feminism”. It this respect it used by feminists, probably to mean a more traditional and old fashioned prejudice against women in favour of the “superiority” of men. Except in extreme instances, it rarely used in connection with the term “matriarchy” – another important historical term.
It is a descriptive term in the sense, that it generally does not describe a system of social organisation, unless, one is seeing it from a more “radical” feminist standpoint so as to argue that society has been unchanging for thousands of years and is, always has been patriarchal. There some who would subscribe to this I am sure. However, I do not want in this article, to open a debate of that kind, not yet anyway.
The best way to illustrate my standpoint is through a specific historical example. A few years ago I read an article in published by the Women’s Press (Arlen House), called “Women in Irish Society (the Historical Dimension)” by Doncha O’Corrain and edited by Margaret MacCurtain.
Using the evidence of changes in law and custom around marriage, property and children, the author traces the evolution of the position of women in Irish society from the 7th to the 12th century.
Briefly her thesis is that women in 7th century Ireland were oppressed by a “patriarchy” but between then and 12th century they rose to achieve and “honoured” position in Irish society by 12th century. This was all lost again in the 12th century by the Norman invasion and the imposition of English laws and customs on Ireland.
However, apart from explaining the changes in the marriage customs, she does not really explain how or why these changes took place, or how they fitted into changes in the economic or social structure of Irish society.
The author describes early 7th century society as “patriarchal” in that women were dominated by the father or husband, but there is no mention of how property was held or whether there was any class structure in Irish society in which we could understand how women’s position was structured in Irish society. She says early on p1
“Early Irish society was patriarchal: the legal and political life was run by men.”
Such a definition of patriarchal may suit some, but to me it merely confuses. A patriarchal society is not simply a society where women are “governed” by men. A patriarchal society is one where the instruments of production, upon which the whole economic and social structure of society is built is owned by families. In the feudal system, which she alludes to indirectly as the “English customs and laws”, the instrument of production is the land itself.
The families who own these instruments of production are all governed, male and female alike by one “father” or one man – the patriarch. Patriarchy has two forms historically, the first is the “familia” of the slave economy, typical of ancient Rome and Greece etc. and feudalism and its kindred forms.
Patriarchy does not describe the tribal “clanna” of early Ireland, which might have been male dominated but not patriarchal. The simple understanding enables us to see therefore how is it that women became “liberated” in medieval Ireland and became subjugated again.
The author says later,
“in the course of time, the position of a woman was made equal to a man in many respects and this change took place fairly rapidly. It is not at all easy to explain.”
If we were not get waylaid by the notion of patriarchy it there should be an explanation for this.
Early Irish society was still mainly based on tribes. The actual structure of the clanna and the “sept” are not crucial except that the tribes in territorial terms were not settled in any way, territories were still ill defined. This means that Irish society was still in a transition stage of emerging from a nomadic, and therefore pastoral past, into a more settled agricultural society. Its recent nomadic, hunting/gathering or pastoral structure would have tended to make it a male dominant society, certainly, but not a patriarchal one.
Male domination in hunting or pastoral societies stems from the division of labour where men control primary production, that is to say they do the hunting. Hunters have to become warriors because of competition from other tribes. The tools of production for hunters are also the weapons of war. Women are involved exclusively in these society in the processing side of the tribe’s productivity, the turning of the hunted animals into food, clothing etc. In these societies there is no class structure as such, property cannot really exist except that which is tribally owned. There may be a pecking order, in a warrior society there will be, but that is not the same as a property owning ruling class.
Territorial competition either between the tribes themselves or from invaders like the Vikings never disappeared so therefore, the warrior caste could not either.
Despite the fact that Irish society was developing into an agricultural society, with the corresponding changes in the division of labour, therefore the rising role of women, territorial competition prevented it from evolving into an actual matriarchal structure, of the kind that existed in Catal Huyuk in Anatolia in 7th century BC or in pre Hellenic Greece. The evidence of the marriage customs shows that it was on the way towards matriarchy in many respects – at least up to the Norman invasion. The legend of Queen Maeve of Connacht seems to lend itself to this interpretation.
The development of the “Lanamnas comthincuir” appears to indicate as the author says, “marriage in which both parties jointly contribute to the marriage goods” Given that the old primary/secondary division of labour was eroding, this arrangement would make sound economic sense. The later type of custom “lanamnas fir bantinchur”, where the woman made the major contribution, and therefore appears to be in a primary role in the division of labour indicates an evolution towards a matriarchal structure brought about by a non class based agricultural society. I would hazard a guess to say that that various forms of marriage existed at the same time as the evolution in different areas would not be the same. Different economic situations would prevail where tribes on poorer agricultural land would seek to compete with better endowed neighbours, this giving rise to conflict and throwing the emphasis back onto a retention of a warrior caste.
Given a clan structure now based on agriculture, given the equality of labour in such a society and the need to have more children to engage them in production, it is hardly surprising that divorce became a simple matter for either party. If the clan maintained the land as whole community, individual partnerships were less crucial economically. Therefore it would become an economic necessity for a woman to divorce an impotent man, or a man who was cruel to her. Such a man may well have been expelled from the house. It was also important that moveable instruments such livestock; sheep, cattle etc. should not leave the clan. The man’s grounds for divorce equally point to the still pervading existence of outside completion, for instance the betrayal of a man to another clan.
This not to say than within the clan there was some form of hierarchy, some partnerships may have deemed as more important than others. The continued existence in some tribes of polygamous marriages still points to the fact that the redevelopment of matriarchy in its ancient form was still a long way off. This probably explains virtual nil effect Christianity had on marriage customs. In the end it was not the imposition of English law that brought the Catholic ideology into marriage, but the development, through the Norman invasion of the feudal economic and class structure. The new feudal landholders progressively undermined tribal structures.
Today’s society is not feudal, it capitalist, it governed by those who own capital, through which the capitalist owns all the means of production. It is true that the majority of capital is owned by men, but the majority of men are not capitalists. If it comes about that an equal amount of capital or even the majority of capital is owned by women, then little would change for the ordinary worker. The pursuit of profit, the growth of profit, is the rule of the capitalist system, it is a competitive system that gives rise to war and poverty. The gender of those being driven by these rules isn’t relevant to the running of the system, exploitation would be no different if all the capitalists were women. Capitalism does not actually need male domination to work, it is there because it’s antecedent was the feudal system. However, the aspirations inherent in feminism are completely encompassed by socialism, true liberation for women, in my view, lies down the same route as liberation for all from the oppression of capitalism.

27 January 2014

The Myth of Jesus Christ

The Myth of Jesus Christ

Further Considerations on the Origins of Christianity

I am writing this just after Christmas, an annual celebration that grips the western world (counting Russia), together with its offshoots in Australia, Zealand and other places descended from European colonialism. Although the celebrations are 90% secular. The origins of this secular celebration are very recent – the invention of Santa Claus by American retail enterprise in the 19th Century whose fake myth (fake because no one even pretends to believe it) has spread all over the world to artificially stimulate demand. I do not to wish to dwell on this aspect – it’s the material of a different kind of discussion. I also enjoy the pretence by some that we are all unconsciously harking back to pagan times and are worshipping the Winter Solstice.

Liberal Atheism

In compiling the paper I used as one secondary source, a work of JM Robertson entitled “A Short History of Christianity” called “short” because it consists only of one volume, although a fairly hefty one. This was written in Great Britain 1903 by a Liberal Member of Parliament. I mention this because Robertson represents a strand of liberal atheist politics that does not seem to exist today.

Brought up a Christian, he was converted to atheism by Charles Bradlaugh, the Liberal MP who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown on taking his parliamentary seat. Bradlaugh was expelled from Parliament and was promptly returned in the following bye-election. This was repeated two further times. On the last occasion he was able to take his seat by taking the oath after stating he did not believe a word of it since he was not a Christian, but an atheist. He was later arrested in the House of Commons for making a false oath, imprisoned under Big Ben and later fined for voting in Parliament under false pretences. The affair culminated in a change in the law that enabled MPs and witnesses in court to make an affirmation instead of swearing an oath.

Robertson also represented a strand of Liberalism that has long disappeared, as a strong supporter of the rights of trade unions and Home Rule for Ireland. The problem with him is that he is a militant anti Christian and as with all historians, the nearer to the present day his subject matter is, the less objective he becomes. So all the wars, oppression and violence from the seventeenth century onwards are laid at the door of the Christian Church. So in the end his book becomes a denunciation of Christianity. However, in terms of the origins of Christianity, particularly the breakaway Jewish sect that constituted the first Christian movement, while not relying him completely, a lot of the points I make are from his book. He was not a Marxist, so his interpretations of events are quite different to mine.

The Roman Empire and Palestine – The origin of the Jesus myth

As much as we try, it is difficult to view the world from the point of view of the people who lived at the time. I find it interesting for instance, to notice the difference between period dramas you see quite often on the TV and in films nowadays between those “set” in the 19th century for instance and those originally written at the time. Even the latter are often “interpreted” so that the morality, which usually what they are about, equates to the present day view of then, rather than their own attitudes at the time.

However, most people believe that even if Jesus wasn’t God, the story itself must have underlying truth to it. Islam also supports this point, Jesus did exist, that point is clear in the Quran, he is a prophet of God; the error of Christianity lies in belief that he was God incarnated. However, while not conceding that Jesus (or the apostles) of the Bible actually existed, the story does not emerge out of nothing, it is not entirely made up out of someone’s head.

By 120 AD or thereabouts Palestine, had been for nearly 200 years had been an turbulent area, conquered and fought over by rising and falling empires. Before the Romans, the land had been conquered by Alexander the Great and was fought over by his successor of Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid Greeks had ruled afterwards. Under King Antiochus Epiphanes, the Maccebean revolt had produced a violent civil war, nominally against Greek rule but in reality a conflict between those Hellenised Jews supported by the Sadducees. This was followed by a period of independence for Judaea under the Hasmonean dynasty, a Greek-Judaic dynasty who ruled from 110 BC to 7 BC. In the reign of King Alexander Janneus (Jonathan) there was a fierce civil war during which several hundred Pharisees were crucified. After the death of this King, his wife, Salome became ruling Queen of Judea, and under her the Pharisees were rehabilitated and through the council of the Sanhedrin, they became to ruling group in both Judea and Samaria (Israel). Judean independence was ended by Octavius (later Augustus) and Mark Antony. The Roman Senate later appointed Herod as client king. The Pharisees not only collaborated but supported Roman rule over Judea, Samaria and Syria.

The whole point of this is that this discontent and war of independence against the now new rulers and their agents, the Pharisees, was bubbling all the through the period that Jesus Christ is supposed to have lived. Yet no mention is made in the gospels, which after all were written in the earliest drafts no earlier than 120 AD a long time after the struggle was over. However, the resentment and hatred of the Pharisees is clearly there in Mark and Matthew –still collaborating closely with the Romans who were now ruling Palestine directly from Caesarea.

Conflict flared up briefly in 39 under Caligula, and into all out war from 66 to 70 AD with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans and the destruction of the second Temple. The final defeat in 70 was total and it is out of this defeat the Christian movement was born, as a breakaway Jewish group, abhorring and rejecting the role played the Pharisaic Jewish leaders.

Paul, a renegade Pharisee himself, as I have said, provides the earliest writings of the New Testament. In the “Roots of Christianity” I make the point that although Paul is trying to generalise the Christian movement – probably, initially, forming groups from Jewish exiles, he not alone.

However, an important point has to be made, the mythical originator, Jesus Christ, in his time has no biography of any kind. There is no indication from Paul this first Christian writer of when Christ is supposed to have lived, where he came from, where he taught and how he came to be crucified. Nor is there any mention of any of 12 apostles apart from those post gospel disciples contemporaneous with him (e.g. Barnabas). As far as we know Paul could have been mythologising Jesus Ben Pandira, A rebel against Alexander Janneus who was stoned and then hanged for sorcery and rebellion in 104 BC.

So where did the story come from?

Early Christianity was an amalgam of various Jewish sects, they all acknowledged the mythical founder, most like derived from the story of Jesus Ben Pandira, who presumably as a “sorcerer” was supposed to have worked miracles. But there are different strands that come together.

  • Although Jesus Pandira was stoned and hanged for rebellion, Alexander Janneus was ruthless in his attempted suppression of the Pharisees and used crucifixion as his punishment for them. Crucifixion under the Romans was reserved for rebel slaves, so it is unlikely that thieves and other criminals would have been punished in this way under Roman rule, hanging was the usual punishment. However, by having Christ crucified fitted in better with the Palestinian common knowledge of what happened to rebels. Crucifixions followed the rising in 70, and the mass crucifixions that followed the final suppression of the Spartacist rebellion it were probably common knowledge. Moreover, Paul, being a Pharisee himself would have known that before they were rehabilitated by Salome, this is what they had suffered. It was logical to assume therefore that his founder suffered the same fate.
  • Throughout Palestine, Syria and Egypt matriarchal religion based around the queen of Heaven, Ishtar, Astarte, Miriam, Aphrodite, Cybele, Isis, (just some of her names) was still the main religion. Even Muslim conquerors later on noted that the women were wailing at the temple wall for the death of Tammuz, Ishtar’s consort who died and was resurrected every year by his queen. Tammuz is Adonis, and the other aspect of Christ. The Gnostic Christians opted for a more equal relationship by making Christ “the Incorruptible Light of the Right Hand” and Sophia the “The Incorruptible Light of the Left Hand”. Together they form the snake that enlightens Eve, who in turn enlightens Adam.

These two aspects, combined formed the essence of the new Christian religion, the teaching of Christ, was largely derived from the Jewish sect of Ebionites, active around the beginning of the common age, 1 BC.

Dialectics of Spin Bowling or Cricket in the Soviet Union

An old comrade recently inquired if I had managed to finish this treatise. In fact, it is under way but needs more research. A deterministic approach is required to understand the dialectic working, spin imparted causes a ball to swerve in the contrary direction, we call this in cricket “The Thesis”. On pitching it turns in the direction of spin, this is the. “ antithesis”. It then strikes the pad – the umpire raises a finger – the synthesis.

However a truly dialectical requires an understanding of how spin bowling relates to society. Engels made some progress in the “ The Conditions of English Wickets”. But really we had to wait for Lenin’s “ sticky wickets – what is to be done?”

In my treatise I make central the issue of the Test Match that took place in Russia in the 1920’s between the Right Centrist Bloc XI vs The Joint Opposition XI. This took place in 1926 -7. On paper, the JO certainly had the stronger side, Trotsky the skipper, Zinoviev & Kamenev, recently played for the RC, Rakovsky behind the stumps, Preoboensky, Radek, Rykov, Lunacharsky. The RC skippered by Stalin, had no big names apart from the volatile Bukharin, previously the subject of Lenin’s withering “Left arm spin – an infantile disorder”. Bukharin was hoping to rely on his nepmen to get the runs.

In the build up to the match the RC Bloc got up to no good. The Centrists had the groundsman replaced by one of Stalin’s friends, the stewards prevented the JO supporters getting into the ground at all, while packing the stands with their own supporters – most of whom had never even been to a cricket match before – let alone have slightest understanding of the game.

The Joint Opposition bowled first. Trotsky himself opened. Stalin’s boys had no answer to his searing leg breaks and googlies. Every ball brought a question they had no answer to. Wickets fell while the Right Centrist Bloc struggled to lay bat on ball. They had some relief at the other end. Zinoviev’s slow donkey drops were half hearted to say the least and Kamenev’s little better.

Stalin could see he was going to lose and Bukharin was panicking. However, sad to say, overnight after the first day, all of the Joint Opposition’s kit was stolen- including their bats, the umpires were nobbled by fear and intimidation and the pitch ploughed. Stalin claimed victory.

Stalin himself was no spin bowler, despite his 1928 claims of bowling massive leg breaks turning from right to left. His own style was wooden to say the least. The most he ever managed himself was in 1912, under Lenin’s close coaching he managed to bowl a few slow turning off breaks. He was adept, however, with scorebook. If any of his bowlers got a few wickets, he would rub their names out, often the bowler himself got rubbed out too, and insert his own name. Thus he acquired a reputation for artful spin that some benighted folk still believe in today. I can say with absolute certainty that Stalin never bowled a single leg break in his life.

Was the Roman Empire stagnant technologically after the crisis of the third century?

The economic system of the Roman Empire was slavery. The means of production were people owned as property. Compared to the Feudal system that followed and later the capitalist system, this system is extremely inefficient, riven with contradictory forces and not amenable to innovation.

In all class based systems, including our own, there is a tendency for the ruling class to develop into a parasitic class, living on the wealth of others, but delegating the management of the whole process to to someone else.

Slavery, both modern and ancient is particularly prone to this tendency. Look at the numbers of slave owning families in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. They owned slaves and plantations in the Caribbean without the slightest notion of how they were run. They just lived on the wealth. They therefore had not slightest interest in innovation and increasing production and the overseers, bailiffs and managers appointed to run the plantations and manage the slaves had not either.

The slaves in the Roman latifundia who exploited places like Sicily, Egypt and Anatolia to produce the food for most of Italy and Rome and Constantinople used basic methods, with basic traditional tools. Given a certain number of slaves there is a limit on their productivity. The Roman ruling class was particularly parasitic, paying no attention or interest to the managing the system they benefitted from. The Empire had to use vast amounts of its surplus wealth to maintaining a very large standing army, road building for the army and for trade and the wealth of the cities.

The only way to increase production was to expand the empire, more land more slaves. The trouble was more land, needed more armies to protect it.

By 3rd century, the Empire had reached its limit and began to stagnate. Add to that, increasing pressure from migrating peoples of the east and bouts of plague epidemics that reduced the work force. Stagnation set in. Diocletian passed an edict making all trades hereditary, from cobblers to blacksmiths. This was sign of deep stagnation in society. Soldiers became part time, farming small holdings at the same, this of course made them less well trained, less committed and certainly reluctant to travel very far.

The stagnation was particularly pronounced in the west, so that fell in 457. The east of empire was always far more developed, all the major cities and centres of production as well as trade managed not only to carry on but to to thrive until Islamic expansion put it under pressure. The Empire, quite falsely labelled Byzantine (it was the Roman Empire) by western historians in 19th century, survived until 1204, and had a shadowy existence until 1453.

Feudalism being a class system based on landholding was still subject to the tendency of ruling class parasitism, but left slight more room for innovation. The system allowed peasants or serfs to work on their own land (usually communally) 3 days a week and to work for nothing on the lord’s demesne 3 days a week. The peasantry embraced ways of increasing their land’s production. For this reason, the horse harness, a key invention, which enabled a horse to pull a heavy plough instead of the light oxen hauled scratch plough of Roman times. This increased production so much that it is estimated that that the population of Europe doubled between the 11th and 13th centuries. More land came into production as new villages were created. However, increased production meant increased surplus, this meant more trade, more industry and the slow creation of a capitalist class (and a working class), for whom innovation was inherent. This class would eventually overthrow feudalism. The Black Death reduced the labour force so drastically that lords had to start paying labourers wages to work the land, this was the the death warrant for the lord/serf relationship.

The Racist Horror the Blairites are unleashing

Every racist in the country must be rejoicing at the horror John Mann and his Blairite and Tory allies are unleashing, not only on the Labour Party but on society.

This unprincipled crew and their allies know they have lost the political argument about what the Labour Party should stand for, so have decided on the lowest form of skullduggery possible, to accuse a man who has been a leading and committed campaigner against racism of being the very thing he abhors, to be a closet racist himself.

“Leon Trotsky was a Nazi, and I know it for a fact “. This is what Stalinists said of Trotsky in the 30’s. Unable to politically answer the Left Opposition, Stalinists just hit on the idea of accusing them of being in league with their political opposites. Dirt sticks, the trouble is those who use filth to attack their opponents stink of it themselves.

This is the tactic being used by these cynics now. But they are unleashing a monster.

“Race” in objective terms does not exist. There is only one race on earth, that is “Homo sapiens sapiens” the human race. So a racist – like the Nazis, falsely apply a hereditary and biological characteristic to a a group of human beings in order to use these supposed characteristics for their own political ends. By calling anti Israel or Zionist political positions ” antisemitism ” John Mann is confirming in the minds of racists that Jewishness is indeed a racial entity, that there is such a thing a racial Semite. Therefore to attack Israel, not just a Jewish state, but the Jewish State is by definition antisemitism ie racism.

Semitic is a historical term – it refers actually to group of languages spoken by people, the first ones being the Akkadians, who migrated into the Middle East including Palestine around 2500 BC. Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages and have a common ancestor.

However these opponents of the Labour Party leadership know this, they also know their allegations are false. John Mann knows that Corbyn is not a racist, he knows that Livingstone is not a racist but knows that an accusation of ” antisemitism ” will cause havoc.

But there are people out there, in the Tory Party, UKIP, the EDL, the BNP and so on who will be very happy to have it confirmed by members of an anti racist party that being Jewish, is after all to be a member of a biologically defined “race”, different to ” English” and so on.

This crowd in deciding to use the abhorrent filth of racism to attack the party that has left them behind must beware of the law of unintended consequences.

Did the ancient Greeks actually liked it under Roman rule because they carried the name (Eastern Roman Empire) even if it’s their own empire?

This was a Quora question. I like this question – one of my pet moans about 19th century historians. When Gibbon described the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire in the 18th century he meant the Empire until it’s final fall in 1453.

One big problem in interpreting history is that it is always approached from the from the standpoint and using the values of the historian’s own day and society. Often these values are ones that the people only perceive to be of their own day. So people look at the brutality of the Spanish Inquisition who tortured and burnt, Jews, Muslims and heretics, or the brutality of medieval and Tudor times and believe we are “ civilised” now. Yet the 20th century encompassed more brutality and human slaughter than at any time in human history. Apart from two world wars, to be Jewish in Germany was a death sentence. To be an actual Marxist in Stalin’s Russia was a death sentence. To be South Vietmese peasant was as likely as not be a death sentence and of course many more. Today to be Muslim in Burma ? To be Muslim in Serbia, to be Muslim in Israel? To be a Christian in Syria?

Anyway back to the Roman Empire. To the average person the Roman Empire fell in 5th century and was followed by the “ dark ages”.

This was the western centric view. The Empire that carried on in the east was redesignated by 19 th century historians as the “ Byzantine” Empire – something very foreign and rather exotic. They were not proper Romans because they spoke Greek. Western rulers were very keen to emulate what they thought the ancient Greeks and Romans to be. The American constitution includes a Senate, an upper house of wisdom, Capitol Hill itself is a tribute to the Romans. Napoleon saw himself as the Caesar of a new Roman Empire. The British thought that Parliament was like classical Athens, the Spartans – a more successful state in many ways – were crude by comparison. Palmerston’s marathon speech to the House of Commons summed it up with the subject of “Pax Britannica”. Britannia herself, symbolises Britain is depicted as a Roman goddess. While western society loved the ancient Greeks, as the foundation of modern culture – actual Greeks, the ones were regarded as Eastern, untrustworthy and lacking culture not even to be trusted with ancient monuments – Elgin clearly regarded Britain as in the inheritor of Graeco Roman culture – not the modern Greeks, so long under Turkish rule.. This is why Roman Empire was Latin and not Greek. The “real” Roman Empire was Latin and ended in 427, the rest became Byzantium, a Medieval Greek Empire.

But the actual history is different. When you look at a map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent it’s eady to see that the major cities, the main ports are in the east, Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, Nicaea, Byblos, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Alexandria among the main ones. All through the Middle Ages the mightiest City of all, with a population at its height in the 8th & 10th centuries exceed 1,000,000 was Constantinople . Excepting towns in Provence, towns in West were trifling. Throughout the history of the Empire the balance of trade and production was in the east. Anatolia and Egypt were the bread baskets of the Empire. Everywhere in the east Greek was spoken as the lingua franca. Rome itself became too remote, too peripheral. The decision by Constantine I to move Rome to the small Greek village of Byzantium. So the new Capital was called New Rome, after his death, it was designated “ The New Rome that is called Constantinople”. After Justinian, who had built the wondrous Hagia Sophia, Latin ceased to be language of government. From that time onwards the government language was Greek. But they were Romans, for them Roman meant civilisation, it meant the known world. The last Emperor Constantine XI who died defending the city on the walls of Constantinople in 1453 was designated “ Roman Emperor “.

However, looking from a people’s point of view, the Roman Empire was fundamentally a slave economy – the foundation of which was the high productivity ( relatively) in the Eastern half. While trade – as far as China and Sri Lanka flourished, this enabled cities like Constantinople, Antioch, Adrianople etc to become very large. As it shrank because of growth of Islamic states on the one hand and Western Europe’s ( particularly Italy) slow emergence from feudalism, together with the continued movement of peoples fro east to west, it became more petrified into feudal like structure.

Thatcher’s Legacy

Thatcher’s baleful legacy lives with us today. Brexit is the result of her turning the Tory Party into representatives of finance capital and thus regarding it as unnecessary to invest in industries. This government deliberately provoked the notion that the UK was being swindled and bamboozled by the bureaucracy of the EU while her own class was swindling the people. Selling off national assets like telecommunications, electricity, gas and water has produced profiteering at our expense. Selling off Council houses, deregulating rents has caused massive house price inflation and the crisis we have now. I never saw a beggar on the streets of London until Thatcher, now there are thousands. In 1979 Thatcher came into power on the slogan “ Labour isn’t Working” because unemployment had topped a million for the first time since the war. By the time she left office it was 3 million, probably a lot more since the Tories kept changing the method of counting unemployment. She was fundamentally undemocratic, when Labour won the elections for the Greater London Council her answer was to abolish it and sell County Hall to privateers. However, while being ostensibly pro European she began the Euro scepticism in the Tory Party that led to Cameron’s referendum designed solely to resolve problems in the Tory party. Thus we are now on a suicidal trajectory that ultimately we can thank Thatcher for.


Where was Byzantium?

We have to try and place ourselves in the shoes of a Roman inhabitant. The concept of the Empire was not the same as ours. To us an empire is a central power governing and controlling colonies and countries that have been conquered – like the British Empire. The Empire to the Roman was not a number of countries ruled by Rome, but the civilised (after 325, Christian) world. Rome was the sentimental capital, but they had no trouble in moving the capital to New Rome ( Constantinople).

So to be a Roman was to be a citizen of the civilised world. Sometimes there were two emperors ruling side by side, that was not regarded as divisive – a good example was Romanus I and Constantine VII who governed successfully together and were not related. Also when the Empire was divided East and West, it was not regarded as two empires, but a purely administrative division of the whole Empire. This is illustrated by time when after the overthrow of the last western Emperor Romulus Augustus, Theodoric the Ostrogoth, who made himself King of Italy sent the Imperial regalia back to Emperor Zeno in Constantinople as an acknowledgement that he was simply ruling Italy in the name of the Emperor.

All through the history of the Empire, the balance of power and trade was biased towards the East, the major production was there, trade and so on. The lingua franca of the Eastern half was predominantly Greek. From southern Italy eastwards, Greek was the the major language. So Greeks from Greece itself saw themselves as Greek speaking Romans, as the people of Anatolia, Alexandria etc saw themselves. Emperor Justinian, in the sixth century was the last Latin speaking Emperor, but Latin had always been the minority language in Constantinople. “Byzantium “ was the name of the small town upon which Constantinople was built. Nineteenth century British historians liked to see the Roman Empire as an early version of the British Empire – to them it was Latin, the Greek speaking Empire in the East after the fall of the West, was foreign, exotic, Eastern, almost Russian. So they coined the term “Byzantine” and imposed it on our concepts. To The Greeks, in Anatolia and Greece itself, Roman meant Christianity and civilisation.

After the fall of Constantinople, Despot of Morea ( Greece) regarded himself as the Roman Emperor in Mistras ( very well worth a visit). Even under Turkish rule Greeks regarded themselves as Roman, so when the Greek kingdom was set up in 1834, the rulers numbered themselves after the last emperor. The last king of Greece was Constantine XIII, numbered after Constantine XI the last Emperor in 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. This was the driving force behind the Greek attempt to take Constantinople in 1920. I’m told that some Greeks still refer to themselves as ” Romans” even today.


Capitalism and Marx

The key thing for me is how Marx applied his philosophy derived from Hegel. As he said, philosophers understand the world – the key thing is to change it. In other words to apply your philosophy to your empirical observation to find a programme for change. In terms of observation Engels contributed a massive amount. His book “ the condition of the English working class” is an in depth observation of the abject squalor that existed in Manchester while surrounded by booming wealth of the capitalist class.

To start with dialectical materialism gives you an understanding that everything is part of a system, a system is part of another system as so on. A system is formed of opposing forces, in contradiction to each other but in equilibrium. However all equilibriums are unstable, so disturbances cause changes until a new equilibrium is established.

When people work they always produce a surplus over their individual needs. If they didn’t do this human society couldn’t exist. If every individual spent every waking hour producing only enough to keep themselves alive then society couldn’t exist. Humans therefore have to organise themselves into some kind of system to distribute this “ social “ surplus. A primitive hunting gathering society may only have enough surplus to maintain the young, but perhaps not enough for the old. But who decides this? Collectively, by evolution of rules, rituals and religion or other ways ?

As society evolved through various systems, class rule developed. This occurs when on group organises society and controls the distribution of the social surplus by taking control of the means by which that society produces everything they need. In a slave society, people are owned by a ruling class, in feudal society the land on which society produces is owned by a class of lords. In capitalism, capital, ie the means to erect factories etc is owned.

Capitalism is massively more productive than any previous system and therefore produces an enormous social surplus. The decisions on how to distribute this lies with the ruling class. How much of this surplus is used on social things and not profit depends on the equilibrium between the classes at a particular time and the needs of the capitalist state.

The class system is a system so it does comprise of forces opposing each other. The working class was the creation of capitalism – its means to produce and make profits. In creating this, they created a force capable of overthrowing and establishing a new equilibrium. In order to prevent this, a great part of the surplus is devoted to a massive state structure. Police, military courts etc also ideology aimed at convincing workers that the capitalist order is not only good but a law of nature. Also another contradiction- capitalism is complex, so it needs an education system for producers to work. That very same education system will also make people aware that they are being exploited.

Also the producing class will always oppose and try and defend against their rulers by one means or another. Sometimes slaves rise up. Sometimes feudal peasants rise up. Workers form unions, opposed and suppressed initially by the ruling class, but now adjusted to and incorporated into the system.

Capitalism is only the latest form of evolution of human society and just as capitalism overthrew feudalism – often violently eg the English Civil War, the French Revolution, it will succumb to its own contradictions be overthrown. Society will then organise itself differently and find a new system to distribute the social surplus – hopefully to benefit everyone and not have the majority of it creamed off into private hands.

Capitalism is different to others in that the system works by constantly revolutionising methods of production in order to defeat their own capitalist competitors. So capitalists have a joint interest in maintaining themselves against workers while at the same time destroying fellow capitalists. When this growth ceases because the world is saturated with capitalism it begins to eat itself. Social surpluses spent on public social products like health, education, prisons, military, utilities etc are taken over by themselves in a frantic attempt to keep up profits. Privatisation of health might produce profits in the short term but does not add to the social surplus. Thus capitalism is already in decline because in western countries it has already started to consume itself.