North America has a Hindu nationalist problem, and scholars are on the frontlines of these right-wing attacks

October 28th, 2021


Though you aren’t likely to read about it on the front page of the New York Times or spot it in trending topics on Twitter, for over two decades now North America has had a Hindu Nationalism problem. Scholars in the US and Canada working in the areas of Hinduism, Indian politics, and South Asian history have been targeted in campaigns of harassment and intimidation by right-wing Hindu nationalists. And despite the fact that such attacks have escalated significantly in 2021 in both frequency and scale, most Americans remain unaware of this growing threat to academic freedom and know little about its anti-intellectual instigators. We, as members of the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective, seek to change that by publishing a timeline that tracks the harassment of South Asian academics in North America as part of a larger project we call the Hindutva Harassment Field Manual.

The assaults on academic freedom that we document are orchestrated by far right groups and individuals who promote the political ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. Structurally, Hindutva is similar to other exclusionary ideologies, such as white Christian nationalism and Islamism. In India, proponents of Hindutva seek to transform the constitutionally secular republic into an ethnonationalist Hindu state that would privilege Hindus above other groups (especially Muslims and Christians, the two largest religious minority communities in India).

In North America, Hindutva advocates claim the exclusive right to speak for all Indians about South Asian history, Hinduism, and the rights of Indian religious minorities. Crucially, they also seek to control what should and should not be taught in North American schools, colleges, and universities about these topics as well as who should teach them. Hindu nationalists attempt to silence those they deem to imperil their majoritarian political and cultural ambitions. In recent years, North American scholars have been primary targets of US-based Hindu Right groups with calls to cancel classes, conferences, books, and teaching contracts.

Academics who research South Asia may seem like an unlikely target for political opposition. We’re a significant minority within the United States academy, which is dominated by the study of Western traditions and world areas. Many of us spend our days reading languages considered obscure by most Americans (like Persian, Sanskrit, and Urdu), and our battles in the academy usually focus on the urgent need to integrate the study of non-Western cultures, religions, and societies much more significantly into North American education. Yet, even as we attempt to broaden curriculums, we face increasing adversity as the Hindu Right seeks to undermine scholarly expertise in approaching Indian pasts. 

The political ideology of Hindu nationalism is only about 100 years old, being originally inspired by fascist movements in early 20th-century Europe. Hindu nationalists, led by the paramilitary political association, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (of which the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a member), imagine the Indian past as an era of Hindu glory that was destroyed by despotic Muslim conquerors. This vision trades in crude tropes and demonizes Muslims, who have participated in Indian cultures for well over 1,000 years and are subjected to increasing Hindutva violence in the 21st century. The Hindutva revisionist historical project seeks to rebrand Indian society as Hindu alone, akin to Christian nationalist ambitions in the United States.

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Special sdition: 9/11 and 20 years of imperialist violence

October 28th, 2021


For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Left Voice present a series of articles from a revolutionary Marxist perspective on the most burning questions that the imperialist defeat has raised for debate.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the brutal attacks on the World Trade Center. This anniversary is marked, however, by the current climate of defeat for the world’s dominant imperialist power. After 20 years of occupation by the United States and NATO, Afghanistan is once again ruled by the Taliban — who took control of the country in a matter of days. The humiliating image of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan will stay with President Joe Biden for the rest of his presidency. 

The coming period will reveal how deep the consequences of this catastrophic withdrawal go, both domestically and geopolitically. What is the strategic significance of the defeat of the United States in the “war on terror”? How will this affect the increasing confrontation between the United States and other powers, such as China? The course of the crisis is framed by the process of historical decline of U.S. hegemony that has been developing slowly but steadily since the Vietnam War and has been exacerbated by the crisis of neoliberalism and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Meanwhile, the Afghan masses — who have borne the yoke of imperialist occupation for decades — now face the return of the Taliban to power and the competing interests of regional powers. This leaves great uncertainty as to the future course of the struggle not only of women but all the oppressed and exploited in Afghanistan. With this Left Voice special for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we present a series of articles from a revolutionary Marxist perspective on the most burning questions that the imperialist defeat has raised for debate.

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A ghazal and its parts (I)

October 28th, 2021


Talat Mehmood singing Mirza Ghalib ghazal VIDEO/Youtube

Ghazals are poems made up of two-line verses (bayt). Broadly speaking, they are poems about love — physical or divine, literal or metaphoric. The topic of love is transcendental, with infinite possibilities; it is both broad and deep. Ghazals have a structural unity imposed by metre that is enhanced by the rhyming word and refrain (radeef and qaafiya). A ghazal’s structure is often enclosed within an opening and closing verse (matla and maqta). Modern/ contemporary ghazals have widened the scope of traditional themes by adding twists and creating new meanings of wasl and firaq [union and separation], the archetypical relationship between lover-beloved, which forms the backbone of the ghazal.

New subjects have been absorbed into the ghazal’s ambit — the travails of climate change; feelings of loss, helplessness and isolation in the pandemic; perils of urbanisation, and so on. Poets have always had the liberty to write a musalsal [continuous] ghazal and/or include a qita (verse-set) within the ghazal itself. But is the ghazal a (whole) poem qua poem? In other words, does it have a unity of specificity as implied by theme, images or allusions?

Let us first try to come up with a working definition of unity, or the presence of unity, or even the concept of what poetic unity means in poems. T.S. Eliot called it “inner unity” — a combination or ordering of parts in a literary or artistic production such as to constitute a whole or promote an individual effect. I find it to be a principle in the ordering of verses in a ghazal, an integration of its parts.

According to Orientalist Alessandro Bausani, each verse in the classical ghazal forms a closed unit, only slightly interconnected with others; we are in the presence of a bunch of motifs only lightly tied together. Eminent scholars of the classical ghazal in Persian and Urdu have described it as a filigree work, full of finely wrought details with no strictly logical sequence of verses.

Michael Hillman’s Unity in the Ghazals of Hafez is a good place to approach the question of unity in ghazals as a genre. I am grateful to friends, particularly Max Bruce, for energising discussion on the subject, and to Aleem Zubair for pointing to a 1973 speech-essay by Faiz Ahmad Faiz in his book Mataa-i-Lauh-o-Qalam [Wealth of Pen and Tablet].

I am raking up an age-old discussion here, but only to go forward with new perspectives on the ordering of bayts in the ghazal. While working on the progression of ghazals in Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s divans, I was struck by the changes in the ordering of verses. This happened when new verses were added or verses were deleted. I was also fascinated by Ghalib’s editing process, how he cherry-picked verses from ghazals in the same metre and rhyme and made a new ghazal.

I compared the old ghazals with the newly minted one. What was going on in Ghalib’s mind as he moved verses around? Is the order of bayts crucial to the singleness of effect that is predicated of the unified object? Does the deletion of one or two bayts necessarily and significantly affect the ghazal’s unity? Is a line a constituent element of the poem, or only a metrical unit? Or did Ghalib’s concern in ordering his bayts have something to do with creating an effect that can be called an assemblage of parts within a whole? This attention to detail is evident in Ghalib’s divans. My purpose here is to show how seemingly disparate themes are connected through a skilful, deliberate process of arrangement of bayts.

Faiz draws attention to relationship between metre and mood (kaifiyat), music and theme, and melody, rhyme and refrain in a ghazal. A ghazal with a sad mood cannot be sung or recited in a bubbly tune. Certain metres are suited for specific moods. There is no doubt that ghazals constitute and evoke mood. Can this packaging of theme and sub-themes, altogether be seen as an individual effect? If so, can this individual effect be a unity?

All of us who read Ghalib know that his Divan begins with “naqsh faryadi hai kis ki shokhi-i-tahreer ka” [the portrait is a plaintiff about whose mischievousness of writing?]. It is an unorthodox hamd [poem in praise of God], comprising five verses in the Divan-i-Ghalib. This ghazal has seven verses in the 1816 and 1821 divans. Two more were added in the 1826 divan, making nine altogether. Throughout these years, Ghalib tweaked the verses and moved around a few. The most significant change was to the second verse; it was modified to become the closing verse:

Atashin paa hun gudaaz-i-vahshat-i-zindan na pooch
Mu-i-atash didah hai halqah meri zanjeer ka (verse 2)

[My imprisoned feet are aflame from the heat of restlessness,
Every link in my chain is frizzled as fire-singed hair]

Bas keh hun Ghalib asiri men bhi atash zeri-i-paa
Mu-i-atash didah hai halqah meri zanjeer ka (closing verse)

[Ghalib, even in bondage I am so aflame with restlessness;
Every link in my chain is like fire-singed hair]

Earlier, the closing verse was:

Vahshat-i-khwaab-i-adam shor-i-tamaasha hai Asad
Juz mazah jauhar nahin aainah-i-taabeer ka

[The disquiet from dreaming of death lies in the tumult of watching
The eye that doesn’t have the essence [of perception] cannot claim to offer an interpretation]

Moving and altering verse two to the end brings a proper closure, a completeness to the hamd that wasn’t happening quite as effectively earlier. Naqsh faryaadi is a protest/prayer; it concludes with an image of the captive lover whose restless feet melt chains.

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‘It could feed the world’: Amaranth, a health trend 8,000 years old that survived colonization

October 27th, 2021


An elderly woman cuts an amaranth crop, in Uttarakhand, India. The plant is indigenous to North and Central America but also grown in China, India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean. PHOTO/Hitendra Sinkar/Alamy Stock Photo

Indigenous women in North and Central America are coming together to share ancestral knowledge of amaranth, a plant booming in popularity as a health food.

Just over 10 years ago, a small group of Indigenous Guatemalan farmers visited Beata Tsosie-Peña’s stucco home in northern New Mexico. In the arid heat, the visitors, mostly Maya Achì women from the forested Guatemalan town of Rabinal, showed Tsosie-Peña how to plant the offering they had brought with them: amaranth seeds.

Back then, Tsosie-Peña had just recently come interested in environmental justice amid frustration at the ecological challenges facing her native Santa Clara Pueblo – an Indigenous North American community just outside the New Mexico town of Española, which is downwind from the nuclear facilities that built the atomic bomb. Tsosie-Peña had begun studying permaculture and other Indigenous agricultural techniques. Today, she coordinates the environmental health and justice program at Tewa Women United, where she maintains a hillside public garden that’s home to the descendants of those first amaranth seeds she was given more than a decade ago.

Maria Aurelia Xitumu of the Qachuu Aloom community

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China’s winter warriors rout US Marines, UK’s MI6

October 27th, 2021


Trailer image for ‘The Battle at Lake Changjin.’ PHOTO/YouTube

Beijing’s macho nationalism bears fruit as epic Korean War movie sets course to be top global film of 2021

Chinese President Xi Jinping, besieged by crises from China Evergrande to power outages, may take some comfort in recent news: A human wave of enthusiastic citizens is storming his nation’s cinemas.

The historical blockbuster Chinese are watching in record numbers is state-funded Korean War epic Battle at Lake Changjin. Its popularity suggests that Beijing’s drive to inculcate patriotism and machismo is bearing fruit.

Making the story even sweeter for Beijing mandarins, it is based on the true story of a torrid Chinese victory over America’s premier troops.

The December 1950 struggle around the high-altitude Lake Changjin – known in the West as Chosin Reservoir – was fought in one of the harshest battlescapes imaginable. Amid rugged mountain terrain, in sub-zero temperatures, an under-equipped Chinese Army Group forced a division of top-tier US Marines to retreat from North Korea.

And it is not just the US Marine Corps that has fallen to the film’s sword. It has also taken out Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6. Box office receipts for Battle at Lake Changjin outdid those for the massively anticipated but long-delayed new 007 film, No Time to Die.

In a sign of the surging size and importance of the Chinese cinemascape, the film is overrunning every film Hollywood can throw in its path. Trade publication Hollywood Reporter writes that it looks set to become the world’s top grossing film of 2021.

“Battle at Lake Changjin, whose box office is expected to be the largest in Chinese film history, has pushed the patriotic sentiment of people across the country to a peak amid the tense China-US competition,” state-run media Global Times wrote approvingly, noting that the film has so far smashed 14 domestic box office records.

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Eyes are always on you

October 27th, 2021


A bus passes by a poster of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency. PHOTO/Reuters/IBT

Life in the Post-9/11 Military

I know what it means to be watched all too carefully, a phenomenon that’s only grown worse in the war-on-terror years. I’m a strange combination, I suspect, being both a military spouse and an anti-war-on-terror activist. As I’ve discovered, the two sit uncomfortably in what still passes for one life. In this country in these years, having eyes on you has, sadly enough, become a common and widespread phenomenon. When it’s the government doing it, it’s called “surveillance.” When it’s your peers or those above you in the world of the military spouse, there’s no word for it at all.

Now, be patient with me while I start my little exploration of such an American state at the most personal level before moving on to the way in which we now live in ever more of a — yes — surveillance state.

A Navy Wife’s Perspective on Military Life, Post-9/11

“The military sounds like the mafia. Your husband’s rank determines how powerful you are.” That was a good friend’s response, a decade or so ago, when a more experienced Navy wife shamed me for revealing via text message that my husband’s nuclear submarine would soon return to port. Her spouse had been assigned to the same boat for a year longer than mine and she headed up the associated Family Readiness Group, or FRG.

Such FRGs, led by officers’ wives, are all-volunteer outfits that are supposed to support the families of the troops assigned to any boat. In a moment of thoughtless excitement, I had indeed texted another spouse, offering a hand in celebrating our husbands’ imminent return, the sort of party that, as the same woman had told me, “All wives help with to thank our guys for what they do for us. It’s key to command morale.”

She had described the signs other wives had been making under the direction of both the captain’s wife’s and hers, as well as the phone chain they had set up to let us know the moment the boat would arrive so that we could rush to the base to greet it. In response to my message, she’d replied in visibly angry form (that is, in all capital letters), “NEVER, EVER INDICATE IN ANY WAY OVER TEXT THAT THE BOAT WILL BE RETURNING SOON. YOU ARE ENDANGERING THEIR LIVES.” She added that I would be excluded from all boat activities if I ever again so much as hinted that such a return was imminent.

Alone in my apartment in a sparsely populated town near the local military base, my heart raced with the threat of further isolation. What would happen because of what I’d done?

And yes, I’d blundered, but not, as became apparent to me, in any way that truly mattered or actually endangered anything or anyone at all — nothing, in other words, that couldn’t have been dealt with in a kinder, less Orwellian fashion, given that this was a supposedly volunteer group.

It was my first little introduction to being watched and the pressure that goes with such surveillance in the world of the military spouse. Years later, when my husband was assigned to another submarine, an officer’s wife at the same naval base had burst into tears telling me about the surprise visit she’d just been paid by three women married to officers of higher rank on other boats stationed at that base.

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Who benefits more from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: China or Pakistan?

October 26th, 2021


For many years, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was critical of CPEC project launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping. PHOTO/Thomas Peter/Pool/AFP

When it comes to debts, Islamabad should consider that Beijing may be a less sympathetic creditor than the West.

Since being officially launched by Chinese President Xi in April 2015, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has attracted some $25 billion investment into Pakistan’s roads, ports, power plants and fibre optic cables. Given the power imbalance between China and Pakistan and also Beijing’s reputation for an unswerving focus on its own national interests, it has been widely assumed that China was always going to secure the most benefits.

In some respects, it has. The terms of specific deals have been so beneficial to China that Pakistan will face a major challenge repaying the debts it is amassing. Not only that, in some cases China has apparently even brought in its own prisoners as a workforce rather than providing Pakistanis with much-needed jobs.

Internal politics

But a major new study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has suggested that Pakistan has also enjoyed some success in securing its objectives in relation to CPEC. Perhaps it should not be such a surprise. After all, for many decades Pakistan has outmanoeuvred successive United States administrations, securing huge quantities of aid whilst not changing its national security policies of building a nuclear bomb and supporting pro-state violent jihadists. The Carnegie report suggests that China too has discovered that when you deal with Pakistan, it is not all one-way traffic.

When CPEC first got underway, Nawaz Sharif wanted China to focus on the energy projects that had been a key feature of his 2013 election manifesto. To some extent, this suited Beijing too. After all, if it was to relocate factories to Pakistan, it would need the energy to supply them.

But Carnegie found that the minutes of the Joint Cooperation Committee which oversaw CPEC clearly indicated that the early focus on energy projects was initiated by the Sharif government. In part, because it wanted to secure political support for the whole initiative, China agreed to these priorities and many of the early CPEC investments went to energy projects, most notably coal power plants.

The Pakistani government also exerted influence over decisions about which locations would benefit from Chinese investment. Whilst Nawaz Sharif was in power, many major projects were steered towards his political heartland of Punjab province, Pakistan. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa meanwhile missed out. This to some extent suited the Chinese who saw great development potential in Punjab province, in part because it was cheaper to work in a province with a road network of sorts already in place.

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Tom Friedman’s tribal tantrum

October 26th, 2021


Thomas Friedman has been a New York Times columnist for 26 years PHOTO/ Reuters/Mandel Ngan

Worried about the ‘tribalisation’ of the US? An NYT columnist has a solution for it – a military one.

Oftentimes, Thomas Friedman articles are like the aftermath of car accidents: You know it is going to be bad, but you just cannot look away.

In one such recent dispatch – the journalistic equivalent, perhaps, of a head-on collision between two trailer trucks laden with combustible materials – the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist and bestselling author surmises:

“One day, 1,000 years from now, when they dig up this era, archaeologists will surely ask how was it that a great power called America set out to make the Middle East more like itself – embracing pluralism and the rule of law – and ended up instead becoming more like the Middle East – mimicking its worst tribal mores and introducing a whole new level of lawlessness into its national politics?”

While they are at it, archaeologists may also ask how it was that a man who argued that McDonald’s was the key to world peace and that the Beijing Olympics fuelled the Arab Spring ended up institutionalised at the US newspaper of record, where he was heavily remunerated for self-contradictory and cringe-inducing babble.

According to Friedman, Democrats and Republicans have been increasingly consumed by tribalism and an “us-versus-them mindset” – with the Donald Trump faction of the latter party “embracing the core philosophy that dominates tribal politics in Afghanistan and the Arab world: The ‘other’ is the enemy, not a fellow citizen, and the only two choices are ‘rule or die’”.

Speaking of “others”, this is the same Friedman who has spent the duration of his columnist career cheerleading for brutal and devastating war against an array of foreign enemies.

Sounds rather, um, tribal.

As for Friedman’s relentless insistence on the backwardness of the Afghan-Arab “core philosophy”, it is worth recalling that regional “tribal” divisions have been encouraged by many an imperial and colonial force – not to mention New York Times columnists who have opined that the United States “should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind”.

Halfway into Friedman’s handwringing over the creeping tribalisation of the US, we learn that – what do you know? – the US military might just be the solution.

“Ironically”, Friedman preaches, “there is no institution in American life that has worked harder to inoculate America from this virus of tribalism, while enriching and exemplifying an ethic of pluralism, than the military – the very people who were most intimately exposed to the Middle East variant for over 20 years”.

Ironic, indeed, that an institution that specialises in pulverising countries and people should be celebrated as a symbol of curative coexistence – just as it was ironic when Friedman diagnosed the US military as the vanguard of the green revolution despite the Pentagon’s established position as the top polluter on the planet.

Archaeologists of the next millennium will surely have some additional questions about all of that.

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What is neoliberalism? Definition and examples

October 26th, 2021


Scale with wealth and cash money on a plate and people world, environment on the other, balancing business profits. PHOTO/Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images

Neoliberalism is a political and economic policy model that emphasizes the value of free market capitalism while seeking to transfer control of economic factors from the government to the private sector. Also incorporating the policies of privatization, deregulation, globalization, and free trade, it is commonly—though perhaps incorrectly—associated with laissez-faire or “hands-off” economics. Neoliberalism is considered a 180-degree reversal of the Keynesian phase of capitalism prevalent from 1945 to 1980.

Key Takeaways: Neoliberalism

  • Neoliberalism is a model of free market capitalism that favors greatly reduced government spending, deregulation, globalization, free trade, and privatization.
  • Since the 1980s, neoliberalism has been associated with the “trickle-down” economic policies of President Ronald Reagan in the United States and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom.
  • Neoliberalism has been criticized for limiting social services, overly empowering corporations, and exacerbating economic inequality. 

Origins of Neoliberalism

The term neoliberalism was first coined in 1938 at a conference of noted economists in Paris. The group, which included Walter Lippmann, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises, defined neoliberalism as an emphasis on “the priority of the price mechanism, free enterprise, the system of competition, and a strong and impartial state.”

Having both been exiled from Nazi-controlled Austria, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek viewed social democracy, as exemplified by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s heavily government-regulated New Deal programs and the rise of Great Britain’s post World War II welfare state, as manifestations of collective ownership of production and wealth occupying the same socioeconomic spectrum as Nazism and communism.

The Mont Pelerin Society

Largely forgotten during World War II, neoliberalism enjoyed renewed support in 1947 with the founding of the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS). Made up of noted classical and neo liberal economists, philosophers, and historians including Friedrich Hayek Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman, the MPS dedicated itself to advancing the ideals of free markets, individual rights, and open society.

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Britain’s class war on children

October 25th, 2021


A British family from the film Smashing Kids, 1975 PHOTO/John Garrett

When I first reported on child poverty in Britain, I was struck by the faces of children I spoke to, especially the eyes. They were different: watchful, fearful.

In Hackney, in 1975, I filmed Irene Brunsden’s family. Irene told me she gave her two-year-old a plate of cornflakes. “She doesn’t tell me she’s hungry, she just moans. When she moans, I know something is wrong.”

“How much money do you have in the house? I asked.

“Five pence,” she replied.

Irene said she might have to take up prostitution, “for the baby’s sake”. Her husband Jim, a truck driver who was unable to work because of illness, was next to her. It was as if they shared a private grief.

This is what poverty does. In my experience, its damage is like the damage of war; it can last a lifetime, spread to loved ones and contaminate the next generation. It stunts children, brings on a host of diseases and, as unemployed Harry Hopwood in Liverpool told me, “it’s like being in prison”.

This prison has invisible walls. When I asked Harry’s young daughter if she ever thought that one day she would live a life like better-off children, she said unhesitatingly: “No”.

What has changed 45 years later? At least one member of an impoverished family is likely to have a job – a job that denies them a living wage. Incredibly, although poverty is more disguised, countless British children still go to bed hungry and are ruthlessly denied opportunities.

What has not changed is that poverty is the result of a disease that is still virulent yet rarely spoken about – class.

Study after study shows that the people who suffer and die early from the diseases of poverty brought on by a poor diet, sub-standard housing and the priorities of the political elite and its hostile “welfare” officials – are working people. In 2020, one in three preschool British children suffers like this.

In making my recent film, ‘The Dirty War on the NHS’, it was clear to me that the savage cutbacks to the NHS and its privatisation by the Blair, Cameron, May and Johnson governments had devastated the vulnerable, including many NHS workers and their families. I interviewed one low-paid NHS worker who could not afford her rent and was forced, to sleep in churches or on the streets.

At a food bank in central London, I watched young mothers looking nervously around as they hurried away with old Tesco bags of food and washing powder and tampons they could no longer afford, their young children holding on to them. It is no exaggeration that at times I felt I was walking in the footprints of Dickens.

Boris Johnson has claimed that 400,000 fewer children are living in poverty since 2010 when the Conservatives came to power. This is a lie, as the Children’s Commissioner has confirmed. In fact, more than 600,000 children have fallen into poverty since 2012; the total is expected to exceed 5 million. This, few dare say, is a class war on children.

John Pilger for more