Sunday 26 January 2014

Eugen Fischer and Genocide in South West Africa

This piece was originally designed to be included in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) but was excluded for reasons of space.

Eugen Fischer
On returning home in the early 1850s after visiting South West Africa, Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, reported that he had seen “enough of savage races to give [him] material to think about all the rest of [his] life.” His conviction that the use of selective breeding to improve the human gene pool, combined with the belief by European powers in Social Darwinism, was taken to the extreme outer reach by the Germans when they laid claim to this area in 1884. Their initial goal was to appropriate the native Herero and Nama peoples and settle their land with German settlers. The degrading treatment visited on blacks in Jim Crow America was replicated by the Germans from saluting whites to a stark double standard in the justice system. Africans were deemed "baboons" and were treated like animals. 

The indigenous peoples did not meekly submit to their fate; they rose up in rebellion and killed more than a hundred settlers. In response, the Germans waged all-out war and massacred the Herero with their Maxim guns. The motto of the “Cleansing Patrols” was to “clean out, hang up, shoot down till they are all gone” (Cited in Niall Ferguson, Civilization: The West and the Rest Penguin Books, 2012). Those not killed were put in concentration camps that were more like death camps. By 1904 the German colonial administration waged a war of annihilation against the Herero people. They also established a precursor of the Nuremberg laws by banning marriages between German settlers and African women and depriving males born of these unions of all rights and privileges accorded German citizens. They also subjected them to forced labour, and in an eerie connection with Nazi Germany the name of the first imperial commissioner was one Dr. Heinrich Göring, the father of Hermann who controlled the largest police force after 1933. It was in one of the African camps that the first medical experiments were conducted.
The Germans slaughter the native peoples

Monday 20 January 2014

Ellice Hopkins and Josephine Butler: Two Victorian Reformers

I originally conceived of comparing Ellice Hopkins and Josephine Butler in That Line of Darkness: The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War (Encompass Editions, 2012) but decided instead to focus exclusively on Butler.  In some of the material on Hopkins in the following piece, I have borrowed from the text.

Ellice Hopkins
Although Ellice Hopkins and Josephine Butler have often been perceived as polar opposites, the former serving as a foil for the latter, they did have similar if not identical aims, even if their philosophy and methodology differed. Hopkins believed that the struggle against the Contagious Diseases (C.D.) laws were secondary to promoting social purity; she was less interested in connecting prostitution to other political and economic disabilities experienced by women. Her interests were primarily pragmatic and moral.

 Hopkins established homes for young women to prevent them from falling into a life of dissipation and lecturing women on how to avoid incest and immortality in overcrowded homes. Motivated by her fury against “male devourers” and “unnatural parents” who encouraged their daughters to enter brothels, she established of over two hundred rescue homes. In the interests of protecting the young from sexual abuse, Hopkins was particularly effective in sponsoring a law that would deprive a mother of custody of her child under sixteen if she were living in a brothel. The campaign against the double standard and sexual exploitation had shifted the focus for the purity reformers into a struggle against any kind of alleged deviant behavior (sexuality not connected with motherhood and monogamy). Their goal of the establishment of a more rigid standard of public demeanour and decorum became a thinly veiled attack upon working class culture. Although Hopkins warned her purity colleagues to avoid a “self-righteous interfering spirit,” the class tensions and the atmosphere of protective surveillance aroused the scorn of prostitutes who resented the efforts of reformers to re-socialize them. True, purity groups were reluctant to acknowledge the sexual precocity of working class girls and instead sought to inculcate the need for sexual restraint
Contrary to men like Herbert Spencer who regarded sex as evidence of a lower form of evolutionary existence and women who equated sperm with a virus, Hopkins, a celibate single woman, believed that sex in matrimonial union as “humanity’s highest approximation of its divine potential as co-creators of life.” At a more practical level, Hopkins urged that mothers take responsibility to impart sexual knowledge to their daughters. Resisting a male ideal of the sexually anaesthetised angel, she advocated “robust virtue, not helpless innocence.” Her efforts received gratitude from some working-class women who, as she wrote about her lecture tours, were interested in shaking her hand.  Education and autonomy were essential components in the purity campaign, but they were not sufficient to address the social ills arising from sexual abuse.

Saturday 18 January 2014

The Gothic Demonization of Jews during the Dreyfus Affair

The following piece was originally part of a much longer chapter in That Line of Darkness: The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War (Encompass Editions, 2012) in which I had intended to compare the anti-Semitism of the Dreyfus Affair with the homophobia surrounding the Wilde trials in England but for reasons of the space the material on Dreyfus had to eliminated.

Eduard Drumont
The virulent anti-Semitic newspapers, popular novels and a motley assortment of visual representations, which included mass produced lithographic posters, did everything possible to demonize Dreyfus and his supporters. The motifs of the betrayal, elitism, grotesque physiognomy, and sexual perversion were showcased to vilify the Dreyfusards. “Without Drumont and La Libre Parole,” concluded one contemporary “without the excesses of the press, there would have been no Dreyfus Affair.” Before Drumont seized hold of it, anti-Semitism had played a minor role in Dreyfus’s original trial; his being disliked had more to do with his unlikable, aloof personality than his ethnicity. But when powerful voices questioned the verdict and the injustice suffered by the former French captain, the press created, maintained and energized the Affair. Consider that Drumont portrayed Jews as foreigners, and worse, people without a country that betray their adopted country at every opportunity. Because Jews were not French, they were automatically traitors and spies. The French lost the war with Prussia in 1870 because of a grand Jewish betrayal. Drumont received support from the Vatican who endorsed the view that Dreyfus was a traitor simply because he was a Jew. In one cogent sentence, its major newspaper, L’Osservatore romano, combined medieval anti-Judaism with modern anti-Semitism by demonizing Jews as “the deicide people [who wander] throughout the world, [bringing] with it the ‘pestiferous breath of treason.'” The reality that Dreyfus the man was a patriotic French citizen, who grieved when the Germans in 1870 acquired his homeland, Alsace, as a result of their victory, was deemed irrelevant and unworthy of mention. By capitalizing upon the fear that Jews would drive Frenchmen out of their homes and sleep in their beds, Drumont’s demagogic sleight of hand conjured up for the gullible the persuasive illusion that French Jews constituted a powerful military force. 

This fostering of paranoia was designed to convey the impression that France remained under foreign occupation and the traitor Dreyfus bore some of that responsibility. One vicious newspaper poster published in 1899 exhibited a hook-nosed Dreyfus stealthily leaving his Rennes prison cell carrying a valise baring travel stickers from Devils Island and Berlin, the latter to imply that Dreyfus had a furtive connection with an enemy government. Another lithograph published in Drumont’s newspaper in 1894 played upon an old stereotype by illustrating two Jews with grotesque Semitic features, hooked noses and big ears about to wash themselves in money; the caption warns that only a bloodbath would expiate them of their sins. The more rabid press harboured exterminatory fantasies in the demand that Jews be burned to death and that their skin be used to bind books. The stridently fanatical anti-Semitic press set the tone for the vilification of the Jews, but the same themes saturated other vehicles of popular culture.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

The Myth of Pavlik Morozov: Stalinist boy hero

The following selection was deleted from That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) for reasons of space. I am indebted to the monograph Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of Stalin's Boy Hero by Catriona Kelly (Granta Books, 2005).

In a climate in which everyone was a potential saboteur or spy, the individual who remained vigilant and exposed enemies, was acclaimed as a hero or heroine of the motherland. A vivid demonstration of the germinating Stalinist psyche (even without the endorsement of Stalin) is illustrated by the myths that were created around a 1932 murder of a thirteen-year old Pavel Morozov. After purportedly denouncing his father to the secret police (in another version his teacher) for hoarding grain and not giving it up to the collective, he was subsequently dispatched, along with his younger brother, by angry relatives. The police and prosecutors scripted the murders as a kulak conspiracy by individuals bent on resisting collectivization. Despite beatings from the secret police to coerce them to confess their participation in this conspiracy, the defendants kept changing their story in the local show trial. Predictably, four of them were shot. Another narrative, reminiscent of the Beiliss case that had transpired under Tsar Nicholas, circulated in local press reports hinting of a ritual murder, exaggerating its “blood thirsty” and “cannibalistic” elements because of the blood from multiple stab wounds and the way the boys’ bodies were spattered with cranberry juice from a fruit-picking expedition in the forest. With the regime ideologically acknowledging the importance of respecting non-Russian nationalities during the early 1930s, any attempt to raise atavistic fears from an anti-Semitic fantasy was quickly aborted and not given national recognition.
Relatives who were tried and executed
Had it not been for the efforts of the novelist Maxim Gorky, a local mundane affair probably would have disappeared into the mists of history. As the prime mover in the construction of a cult that fashioned a boy into a Soviet hero who had been killed by enemies of the people when he put his country before his family, Gorky turned a myth into a national cause célèbre. By freeing himself from the darkness of his family’s life, Gorky believed that Pavlik had developed a political consciousness in the family of the Pioneers that enabled him to march with the Party and the Soviet people into the “light and radiant future.” Although he was probably illiterate, he was transformed into an outstanding student who helps other children with their work, an uplifting example of selfless dedication to the state. Because of Gorky’s efforts, Pavlik (as he was now known) was immortalized in illustrated biographies, marble, Socialist Realist paintings, songs and an Eisenstein film as an exemplary civic hero for exposing the evil-doings of kulaks in his village. In the film, the black-haired Pavlik morphs into a blue-eyed blond, ostensibly to make him more classically Russian but his physical appearance suggests an Aryan look, and the plot of the film uncannily resembles a popular Third Reich film, Hitler Youth Quex, which was based not on real events but on a novel. In the German film, a teenage boy is committed to joining the Hitler Youth Movement despite opposition from his brutal Communist father. Soon he unmasks a planned Communist attack on the Hitler Youth, but the Communists exact revenge by murdering the saintly boy who dies still managing to sing a Nazi marching song. It is certainly possible that Soviet propagandists were aware of the plot of Quex and used it to transform a story about an informer that carried ambivalence, if not revulsion for the Soviet authorities, into a martyr for the Communist cause.