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Archive for the month “March, 2014”

“The Rosicrucians were everywhere, aided by the fact that they didn’t exist.”


Like a dog returning to its own vomit, I can’t keep myself away from conspiracist thinking.

A short while after EuroMaidan and the fleeing of the Ukrainian President, a recording surfaced allegedly of Baroness Ashton of the EU and Urmas Paet, the Estonian Foreign Minister. In it, Paet outlined a theory – that he said had been voiced to him by a doctor named “Olga” (presumably Dr Olga Bogomolets, the leader of the doctors who tended the protestors) – that both government soldiers and protestors had been shot by the same people, and that those same people were hired by the leaders of the Ukrainian opposition. This conversation was taken, on the talk boards of Comment is Free (and has recently surfaced again, leading to several long and wearying arguments), to imply or suggest some sort of complicity of the EU in the deaths.

Now, looking at the above, it isn’t particularly hard to unpick this one, but let’s do it anyway. Shooting fish in a barrel is one of my favourite occupations.

Person A reports an alleged opinion of Person B (Person B, by the way, has denied she ever stated this opinion as she had, at that point, not examined the bodies of soldiers and, furthermore, didn’t believe the protestors to be behind both sets of deaths) to Person C.

We’ve already got one hole in the argument – the hearsay nature of the evidence (which is denied by Person B). Person A’s interpretation of Person B’s opinion is as fallible as anyone else’s. This is an alleged opinion, presented via Chinese whispers.

The second hole in it is the idea that even should Person A be truthfully/accurately reporting Person B’s opinion (We don’t know whether he is), Person B’s opinion is as fallible as anyone else’s.

Hole three – even should that opinion on “they were all killed by the same forces” hold true, there’s no evidence presented here at all that “the same forces” = “The Euromaidan protestors” – they could just as easily have been forces of the previous Ukrainian regime. Or, indeed, Russian Special Forces. CIA. The Rosicrucians. Lizards. Fat Larry’s Band, who had a major hit in the 70s with “Zoom”. Take your pick.

The big whopping hole number 4 in the theory is the “complicity” hole. Why, precisely, does someone advancing a theory to you make you…responsible for the thing in the first place? How precisely does this lead to suggestions of Person C being “complicit” again?

It doesn’t, of course, is the answer. The only thing that actually gives this any legs as a conspiracy theory is that is allegedly a conversation (Baroness Ashton has declined to comment on it) between two high-powered (well, one high-powered and the Estonian Foreign Minister) diplomatic types. Baroness Ashton, a supremely tedious failed politician, is somehow transformed into Jason Bourne’s boss because she listened to the unverified and unverifiable opinions of – let’s not beat around the bush – a minor European minister.

That, of course, doesn’t matter in the conspiracy theory view of how the world works. Because people are talking about something, they must be involved in it. Because people have some element of power, of connection, they must be plugged in. Everything is connected. It must be.

The cock-up theory of history holds something different, which is “Bloke thinks he hears some juicy rumour (but is probably wrong), phones somebody to tell her about it. She’s baffled. The end”.

I dunno, I’m veering towards the latter, aren’t you?

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Memory, Sorrow..


Between the years of 1917 and 1954, there were many awful places to be alive in the world. It’s pretty certain most of us wouldn’t have coped with being a victim of the Bengal famine of the 40s, or been happy being placed in the middle of the Rape of Nanking. Perhaps the most awful place to have been alive, consistently, for that entire period though, would be Ukraine.

Between 1914 and 1917, 4 million Ukrainians fought on either side of the Great War. Tsarist “Russian” casualties of the war were enormous. And for the civilians, tens of thousands were murdered, imprisoned. Between 1917 and 1921, it was the cockpit of the civil war – hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions dead in the countryside. Purges. Pogroms. There followed a famine in which 1.5 million died. For 10 years following, it languished under Leninism, which slowly turned to Stalinism, and after that, we have Holodomor, where between 3 and 10 million people died, 80% of them Ukrainian, we have purges, we have mass ethnic cleansing. And then the Germans come. And the Ukrainian nationalists sided with the Germans and helped them with their crimes, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews, while millions more – Ukrainian peasants, soldiers, died again. Then 10 years of guerilla warfare against the Soviet state, all the while Stalin sending political prisoners east, purging the Tartars from Crimea (Which – with the exception of a brief period of 33 years until 54 – had always been part of the same administrative unit as Southern Ukraine).

My last post was on the subject of my own memories. I’ve come to the conclusion of late that we forget the impact of memory on the world, and we are ignoring it at our peril. In the UK, at present, we are limbering up for the anniversary of the commencement of World War I. By the official figures, just short of a million people from the UK died in the war. A horror that we today think unimaginable. Now think of the losses of Ukraine. Every ethnic group there suffered. Jews. Ethnic Germans. Ukrainians. Russians. Millions upon millions. And the major proportion of this, at the hands of their neighbours to the East. Dwarfing by far our deaths in World War 1 and World War 2 combined.

And this, really, in living memory. Less than a lifetime ago this stopped. And all the while it carried on, a forced “Russification”, Russian language and culture made de rigeur, in an attempt – not in the slightest unique to Ukraine – to destroy national identity. This was still happening when my parents were children. You think how we’ve been told stories by our parents and grandparents about the First World War, the Second World War…

Think what the tales of Ukraine must sound like. It must be like having an entire nation built on the site of the Somme.

And you come along with your talk of “natural spheres of influence”, and “Russia’s strategic interests”, and your footling concerns about o’erweening EU power when people who have this forty year period of horror in their cultural memory bank are looking next door to see an overmighty neighbour gearing up for war, using bellicose nationalist language, using quite obvious blood and soil rhetoric, passing laws that make the regaining of “lost” territory “legal”. The question is not “how can we judge the Russians, with the blood on our hands, with the mistakes and the lies of Western power?”. The question is “how does it feel to be Ukrainian this morning? How scared are you?”

Cleavage


I cried the night Thatcher was elected for the first time.

Just typing those words now summons up a strange feeling, I wouldn’t quite say a Proustian rush, but most definitely a sense of a time and a place that doesn’t really exist anymore. Childhood is at best of times a weird thing to revisit mentally – shit, some of us never leave – but that world of the late 70s and early 80s seems infinitely brighter in my memory than what followed.

I was forced today, by a Seamus Milne article in the Guardian which linked Bob Crow to 1984, to revisit what had come before. I guess all who could call themselves “veterans” of the strike have those moments. Last year, when Margaret finally went to her Non-conformist reward, I wrote a blog post about the strike, but I suppose something was lacking from it, because I find myself, again, probing the wound, like a tooth that has lost its filling, dipping your tongue in to feel the nerve, still sensitive…no longer red raw and bleeding, but still tender.

What bothered me most about the Milne article was something intangible at first. The more I thought of it, the more I realised how slightly dishonest he was being, how partial, and on some levels, the narrative of “communities forced to defend their way of life, led by a prescient general slandered by the press” bugged me.

So,anyway, I cried the night she was elected. Childhood had been, up to that point, if not idyllic – there were boys bigger than me, there were fights and there was bullying, there were intimations of mortality and there was growing awareness of the unfairness of the world – in many senses a sunlit uplands. We all have that nostalgia, I guess, but I’ve always been one for living in the now, or thinking of something to come. I’m not a dweller on the past. So I’ve not quite got the hang of it like a lot of people. But yes, I remember summer holidays in a caravan in the Gower Peninsula, I remember my urchin-like street gang – “The Bomber Jackets”, you’ll never guess why we had that name. I remember evenings sat in the front room of the family home, working my way through my father’s scratched 45s, “After the Goldrush” by Prelude, “Black Night” by Deep Purple (on purple vinyl, pop-pickers), “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks, something by the Sex Pistols, something by Fox, eclectic in his tastes, was my dad.

Then life turns darker. That bullying feels much more vicious. The sun of the late 70s melts into a monochrome early 80s. Light felt like it was being leached out of the world. We had an enemy.

She backed down from us in 81, but we knew the conflict was coming. Thinking on it, she hung over those years. An ever present. When 83 came, I think this was around the time we got a dog and cat. The dog was named Mick, in honour of Mick McGahey, the old communist deputy leader of the miners. The cat was called Mog, initially in a mocking reference to Thatcher, Moggie Thatcher. Later, my sister, whose cat it was, would claim it was named after the Mogwai from Gremlins, but I really think that’s retrospective shading. My mother – I believe – named them both thus in the hope that Mick (she was a dog person, my mother, still is) would scare the shit out of Mog. The opposite was closer to the truth. Mick, the runt of the litter, lived in fear of the vicious bugger.

Foreshadowing, that.

So 82 and 83 came along, and the Falklands War broke out , and we, like Seamus, like Arthur, like good lefties across the land, on some level hoped for the victory of a Fascist dictatorship over the forces of a democracy defending its citizens. Of course we did. The whole enterprise, viewed through the lens of a working class childhood, seemed impossibly Ruritanian. Preposterous, pompous, who wanted these god-forsaken lumps of rock? Penguins and sheep, that’s all the place was good for. But, of course, she saw off the enemy without.

And then comes the defining moment of the creation of my worldview. Us against the state.

I said in my former post, and Milne makes the point in his article, that it was about workers defending their livelihood. And it was, of course. But also, and what Milne doesn’t face up to, but I think we should – I think we should fucking own, thank you very much, let alone face up to – is the fact, which is indisputable:

We were trying to overthrow the elected government of the UK.

We were. Oh, come on, let us not hide behind things now. Let’s be honest now. Yes, it was about defending livelihoods, communities, all that jazz. Granted. But we wanted her gone. We wanted her toast. We wanted her history, baby. We were going to bring her down.

I’m not saying that, by the way, with any sense of shame. I look back at my attitude towards the Falklands War and I do, now, think how wrong I was. How the sense of being – already, the sense of being – harried by the state, in their crosshairs, a target, had permeated our thinking so much that we didn’t grasp, there, what was right and what was wrong. Seamus, by the way, still hasn’t grasped this. Only last year, he condemned the referendum held in the Falklands and dismissed the inhabitants as living in a Rhodesia of the South Atlantic (Seriously? How does that compute? Do you get the penguins to do all your work and call you Bwana? Is that what happens?). This’ll be the Seamus who will – I predict – urge us to accept the results of the Crimean referendum carried out under armed guard with only the option to say “yes” to Russia, by the way. Uh huh. And I feel that my attitude was stupid and naive and ignoring greater evils abroad – the poor bloody Mothers of the Disappeared – because of the evil we were fighting at home.

But with 1984-85, I don’t feel that shame. We tried to bring her down. That, to us, was as much of a goal as protecting our communities. In fact, the two bled into each other. To protect our communities, she had to be brought down. That’s how we saw it then, and, to be perfectly frank with you guys and gals, we’ve not really been proved wrong, have we?

If you believe democracy is only the act of putting a cross on a piece of paper every five years, then you’ll probably be shocked by that. Or find it offensive. Whatever. But it isn’t, is it? Democracy is government by the demos, the people. If enough of the people can show that they don’t like what’s going down, if they can – essentially – make themselves ungovernable, then governments should fall, and be replaced. Pace Ukraine, pace possibly Maduro in Venezuela.

But in saying that, I have to come to another conclusion. Which flies in the face of my attitude to Thatcher then, and now. Government has a right to defend itself against insurrection. There, I’ve said it. We were insurrectionaries, and they had the right to defend the status quo against us.

Now, I’m not arguing in the slightest that Thatcher’s actions were defensible. This was a grubby war. I’m sure – quite sure – you can find examples of grubby behaviour on our side. More so, I would contend, on the side of the government, and they are, really, meant to be cleaner…Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion and all that. But they did have the right to try and stop us. By fair means. But – of course – they did use both fair means and foul. And that is where my bitterness comes from, that, and – more pertinently – the fact we lost, and we’ve had to live in the landscape of that loss ever since.

And that, really, is at the heart of what offends me about the Milne piece (well, that and his whitewashing of Arthur’s incompetence – Prescient about what was coming, he may have been, a tactical genius, he was not. In the demonology in my head, he sits on a second rung, just below Thatcher, McGregor, the bastard Kinnock Labour Party and the ruthlessly self-interested Eric Hammond of the Electricians Union, who, like Bob Crow, “fought for his members interests” – think of that when you next praise a leader with those weasel words, by the way. Think how easily that can be turned into meaning something not quite as laudable as what Crow achieved for his members) – what offends me is we were actors, attempting overthrow, and he’s painting us as victims, poor mouthing us as just good, honest, deferential types who only wanted to keep our communities. Fuck no, we were in a death bout, and we knew it. We wanted to bring it down.

Things got colder after the strike. Greyer still, in my memory. We were carrying our bitterness with us, and we weren’t going to let it go (and we had the right not to) – I remember, one demo, they all blended into one in my memory, (and it’s possible I wasn’t even at this one, it’s possible I didn’t attend many and I’ve eaten up these stories from my father and mother and woven them into a shining tapestry of truthiness), but for some reason my memory melds together two stories, one of the miners walking past some private school – my memory wants to assign Eton, but what would we have been doing marching through there? – and the schoolboys waving five pound notes at us from the upper windows. In my mind,  this is conflated with my mother and I (or possibly even just my mother) sitting on a park bench, taking a breather, when a white haired, sweet looking old lady comes and sits and joins us. We get to talking and she says to my mother:

“You know what, love. This bitch is going to outlive me. But when she dies, I want you to go piss on her grave for me”

Asking my mother – my delicate, beautiful, caring mother – to piss on the grave of our elected Prime Minister.

My mother said yes, instantly.

A hundred incidents like that, big and small, humiliations and taunting, solidarity and support from the strangest places.

But it got greyer after the strike. It’s only now, thinking back, that I realise that my parents must have been struggling financially in the aftermath. By the time it was over, I was just glad to get out of the ritual humiliation of the free school meal queue, and I was probably more concerned with hair sprouting in unusual places and Michelle Waters not fancying me. I didn’t twig how much of a struggle the aftermath must have been for them.

Years later, I was in the SWP. I was in the SWP far too late to have anything but shame about it. There’s an old saying, “Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.”, which Georges Clemenceau came out with and while I – red at 42 – don’t share that thought, I must admit, I am ashamed that I wasn’t a member of the SWP in my salad years. I was on to steak, red meat, at the very least.

One memory sticks in my brain. I attended one of the Marxism conferences, god knows which, my brain says late 90s, my hope is earlier. The opening night ended with a rally addressed by the ageing guru of the party, Tony Cliff, and as he came on stage, the entire audience chanted, for five full minutes, the phrase “the workers, united, will never be defeated”. Deafening, this phrase echoed around the auditorium, as all the sons and daughters of the upper middle class, the social workers and academics in their corduroy, lay claim to their cause being well, the unstoppable march of history.

The late 90s. Dear god. Tony Blair, the grinning jackanapes, was most definitely ensconced in Number 10.  The state was retreating as an economic actor, and had been for near 20 years, and the workers?

The workers had been broken. Their shock troops had been sent into battle in 1984, and had lost.

But we fought, dear god Seamus, we fought, and I’m not going to have you portray us as victims, thank you very much. We are veterans. Grant us at least that dignity, because we’ve fuck all else left from those days.

The Crow Road


There’s probably not a lot that can be said that hasn’t already been said on the subject of Bob Crow. That he (despite the caricatures) seemed a personable chap liked by his members and those who knew him (and given, on the night he was first elected, he turned down a TV appearance to go celebrate with his members down the pub, he passes muster in that regard in my eyes). That 52 is no age to die. That he fought, tooth and nail, for the members of his union. That he was a good general, a proper street-fighting union leader who knew when to pick a fight and wield a cudgel for the cause. That he was  an articulate working class voice in an era when one of those getting on the airwaves becomes more and more distant.

I may have disagreed (sometimes violently) with some of his politics – particularly in the international side, where he seemed to be an examplar of the tradition firmly stuck in the Cuba Solidarity Campaign era – but I would have welcomed the chance to joust with him over it.

All the above stated, and a hearty, respectful RIP given to a fallen warrior of the cause, as an activist, Steward, H&S representative and active union member for pretty much all my working life, it is more than slightly disheartening to me that the most successful union leader of my era was, basically, a man who excelled in fighting a grinding rear-guard action against what would – in time – have been his union’s inevitable decline and defeat. There is no disrepect to him meant when I say that if the Trades Union movement in this country is to have any future over the next century or so, we’ll need more people who push things forward, and less Bob Crows manfully attempting to hold back the tide.

Looking around today’s landscape, which seems riven by job insecurity, and inhabited entirely by leaders who alternate their time between toothless bellicosity and acting as shills for the Labour Party, I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic in that regard. Which is a pity. I’m sure Bob would have vastly preferred to be part of a movement at its zenith, rather than one at its nadir.

War starts at midnight


One of the problems with being a soi-distant semi-detached Labour supporter – one of those people who want them to win, but merely because you feel them by far the least, worst option – is the moments they do something so monumentally crass that you die a little inside.

From yesterday’s Sun:-

ABUSIVE insults aimed at our war heroes will be a crime if Labour wins power, Ed Miliband vowed yesterday.

He made the pledge to our troops on a flying visit to Afghanistan — saying he would change the law within a year if he became PM.

Now this proposal has been knocking around a few years, and every time I hear it surface, I think of the episode of The Thick of It, where they make up policy on the spot, or Alan Partridge desperately coming up with more and more ludicrous tv show ideas to pitch to his ex-boss. But no, no, no. Labour keep coming back to this policy, like a dog returning to its own vomit. They really, genuinely, mean to make this law.

I suppose my objections to the policy break down into three areas. Firstly, it is spectacularly illiberal. I’ve little or no time for right wingers who bang on about Labour’s authoritarian soul and then vote Tory, who have their own problems with authoritarianism. It seems most supporters of either of the two parties that actually still matter anymore (We aren’t going to bother surveying Liberal Democrat attitudes because, well, life’s too short, and they’ll probably announce they are for the law but against the troops or something similarly vapid) really have a problem with soft authoritarianism when it comes from the other side but are completely happy with it when it comes from their own. But even so. Even with that caveat. Doesn’t it smack more than a tad of the totalitarian to you? Granted, I’m not actually arguing that we’ll be North Korea overnight or anything out of proportion, but “jailed for disrespecting the armed forces of our glorious nation” does have a DPRK ring to it, doesn’t it?

The second is, I wonder how it will work?

Am I free to insult a soldier as long as I don’t call him Tommy, or Squaddie, or Sarge? Can I call him a wanker, but not a hired killer? (I don’t actually have that attitude towards soldiers, just to make it clear, I just see them as ordinary human beings who do an often dangerous and challenging job. That’s it. Not saint. Not sinner. Just, you know. Soldier).

At what point do you decide that my abuse breaks the law and is worthy of sending me to court for? How the hell do you define it? And, y’see, normally, coupled with my first point, I’d normally see this as a good thing…if I didn’t have more than a sneaking suspicion that “how you define it” will, inevitably, be “as broadly as possible”. We’ve been here before. This never leads anywhere good.

And then, bringing up the rear, there’s the political consideration. And my political brain says that this – just like immigration – is a battlefield that Labour will never win on. The more attention they give to it, the more they clothe themselves in the uniform, the more the Tories will push it, go further militaristic, further patriotic.

I sense this because it seems to me that the Tories are more comfortable with the armed forces – I don’t know why; perhaps it’s a quirk of history; the way they have managed to rebrand a National Government featuring Deputy PM Atlee as “Churchill and others”; perhaps there’s a cultural thing going on – your average Labour leader more likely to be the boy who’s parents bought him a sponsorship to teach an African child for his birthday than one who bought him an Airfix model and a complete set of Battle comics.

Whatever the reason behind it, it remains a perception. Even a draft-dodger like Thatcher (low blow, apologies) seemed more comfortable with the Armed forces than Callaghan, who served in the Royal Navy.

And Ed Miliband is most definitely no salty sea-dog. In his hands, it comes over to me like the swotty kid at school, sidling up next to the class hard-case, laughing at his jokes in all the wrong places, jarring, awkward.

On top of all this, I do wonder whether it is actually something servicemen and women give a shit about?

So here’s an idea for a replacement policy, Ed, no charge.

How about, making sure they have the right equipment?

That when they go to war you try and ensure the odds are in their favour and that none of them die needlessly?

That if they get injured, they get treatment and support?

That if they die, their families get adequately looked after?

I’m pretty sure that would be enough. Leave the posturing, the empty gestures that lead to bad laws, and stick to the basics.

Now do excuse me. War starts at midnight.

Image

We know that conflict will always perish, in the brotherhood of flags


From the Guardian:-

The deputy prime minister said his enthusiastic support for the EU, which helps to guarantee millions of jobs, is explained by his love of Britain. Clegg, whose mother is Dutch, illustrated his love for Britain by reeling off a list of quirks including the way in which people nowhere near the sea listen to the shipping forecast and that people wear flip flops even when it is cold.

He said: “I love Britain. I love it for all its contradictions. I love that we are as modest as we are proud.

“I love that a country capable of extraordinary pomp and ceremony can still retain a spiky irreverence towards its establishment. A country where we line the streets waving our Union Jacks wildly to welcome the arrival of Prince George, and the next moment we’re chuckling at Private Eye’s front page: ‘Woman Has Baby’.”

I’ll put my position forward here, before I start. I’m broadly pro-Eu. I recognise that there are arguments against, rational and thinking arguments, based around issues like national sovereignty or what influence we have, what shape we want Europe to be and whether it will – basically – listen to us. Those arguments I don’t mind. I disagree with them, but they come from a place of thought, and I respect that. If we get around to a referendum, I’ll vote to stay in, because on a completely bloodless and technocratic level, I think it’s better to stay in. No more, no less. If I thought it was worse to stay in, I’d vote against. My main objection to anti-Europe debate is not that there aren’t rational arguments, but that so much of what is presented is lies, appeals to emotion, chest-beating, or camouflage for other things. Step forward UKIP.

That said, I don’t love Britain. There’s many reasons why I don’t love Britain, foremost amongst them being, I feel no real need to share in a patriotic wallow. I want the best for my countrymen, I want the best for the world, I want the best for my class, I want the best for my family and friends and loved ones. I don’t feel the need to wrap myself in the flag to do so.

Another of the reasons I don’t “love” Britain is that we have developed in this country a political culture that means that no politician leading a major political party can stand up and discuss the benefits or costs of remaining part of an economic and political union with our continental partners without also indulging in the most nauseating showboating. Seriously, Nicholas. Stop now. You know what I thought of when I read your speech?.

How it remains a very small step from that, to this:-

People who like this sort of thing will like this sort of thing


There’s an article in today’s Observer about the London Review of Books with the headline “is this the best magazine in the world?”.

It’s a reasonable enough piece, which asks some searching questions of the editor, but throughout the piece, the subtext reads “Well, but of course it is”.

I had a subscription for a year, given to me as a birthday present. Coming to it expecting an elongated version of the best parts of the Guardian Review on a Saturday (the books, maybe the odd essay, the odd profile), I instead encountered (with the odd exceptional difference, usually by John Lanchester, Hilary Mantel or James Meek, or last month’s piece on Assange, 26,000 words of pure, illuminative joy) a rather tedious magazine, mixing boring reviews and long form articles, replete with near constant attacks on the big bad US or UK or Israel.

All of these are, of course, worthy subjects for attack, but when there is one an issue to the exclusion of all else, and “context” is always offered for other nation’s actions but never for that of your own, you begin to suspect that a kind of inverse narcissism is at work – from God being an Englishman, we are now in the state of the Devil being of that parish.

Which wouldn’t be an issue, as such. Magazines are free to print what they like, and, indeed, a perspective that says the west is the devil is as much up for debate and interesting to read as any other (although, as said, it got a bit wearying after a while, and the other articles weren’t really worth the price of admission, especially when the long form jewels tended to be available online). I’ve shared that perspective often, and am hardly turning into a neo-con convinced of the righteousness of all things Western civilisation.

But that’s the problem I have, right there. The Guardian (which shares this general tone) is identifying it as the best magazine in the world. And – aside from the provincialism of the case (after all, there are some far superior magazines across the Atlantic) – the worrying thing is, they’ve got a point when it comes to the UK.

It’s a depressing thought. A smallish North London liberal left magazine that writes, pretty much exclusively, to and for the smallish North London liberal left, telling them what they want to hear (I never read an article in there that changed my mind, just to say, I only ever read articles in there that affirmed – or can we say “echoed” – my beliefs) is probably the best magazine in the UK. Stop, and think what that means for the paucity of debate in this country.

In the late 80s and early 90s, when I was an omniverous reader of periodicals, I used to read and admire The Spectator. Its politics then and now remain diametrically opposed to mine, but I can’t be alone in thinking how sad it is that it’s slowly turning into a version of Breitbart with the patina of age. I want intellectual arguments from the right. I get – mainly – flash-cards saying “low taxes = good”, “immigration = bad”. From the left, pretty much the same – the occasional gem in the Statesman and LRB aside – everything operates on the assumption of a shared consensus of ideas.

This shared consensus, whether the consensus is of the right or the left, is founded on an inchoate, often atavistic, melange of ideas, sometimes jarringly incompatible – the little Englander “no big state” thought process rubs alongside a social authoritarianism which should really not be in the same sphere; feminism fights a battle against the “anti-racist” multi-cult posturings of the left; both left and right strike anti-authoritarian poses when it suits them, against whatever they feel is an impingement or an over-reach, and then both go squealing to Big Daddy State or make appeals to authority on other subjects.

The lack of big ideas and debate is baffling, if you indulge in that process beloved of the LRB, and examine the context.

We’ve just come through what is, essentially, the longest crisis of Capitalism since the 1930s. The international system almost crashed. The state popped in and propped it up (some would say foolishly, others would say it caused it), to the expense of the state. Our welfare and benefits system is changing to pay for it. The international order of the past 20 years, the uni-polar world of US dominance, is melting before our eyes and a new, unpleasant order is being born; its passage eased into the world by bucket-loads of filthy oil lucre splashed around by robber baron oligarchs and allowing us to hold our nose and avoid the stink of much unpleasantness. This dirty money sloshing around the system is having a toxic effect on so many things, from housing in central London to Premiership football. Meanwhile, much of the informed public is retreating into paranoia regarding government to an unprecedented degree, and government, pace NSA, is often offering justification for that feeling with its actions, whereas the majority of the public are too disengaged to care.

One doesn’t have to advocate smashing the system and raising the black flag of anarchy, or indulging in Brandesque flights of nihilistic fancy, to see that here, now, is where we should be having actual debate. Here, now, is where we should be defining who and what we are, what we see the state for, what we see rights as, what we see liberty as. Where are we, and what kind of future world do we want. All these questions are there, ready to be asked. And yet what publications are asking them? All of them offer at best a stance, a pose, an imitation of thought.

It is, I would say, a deep and lasting irony that  an age where we are (both potentially and actually) more informed as humans than ever before, an information age, is not offering us these intellectual battles.

Conversations with leftists about the Ukraine


“We shouldn’t be lecturing Putin about the Ukraine!”

“Why?”

“Well, Iraq?”

“Yes, ok, Iraq, was Iraq wrong?”

“Yes!”

“Why?”

“They invaded a sovereign nation!”

“Ok, fair viewpoint. It’s disputable, and arguments can be formulated against that view, but sure, I grant, fair viewpoint. So, operating on the assumption that we agree there, invading a sovereign nation, bad. Now, Putin and the Ukraine?”

“Yes?”

“Isn’t he invading a sovereign nation?”

“But that’s different!”

“Why?”

“Russia has national interests in the Ukraine!”

“Such as?”

“Well, the warm water ports in Crimea!”

“Right, ok. So, the US invading Panama in 1989 then, you supported that?”

“Eh?”

“Well, the US had national interests in Panama in 1989. The canal. I suppose you supported that?”

“NO!”

“What about Suez, do you think the British were right to invade Egypt during the Suez crisis?”

“NO!”

“But the British had national interests in the Suez canal? It’s not right to invade for national interests then?”

“errrrrrr”

“So, what else?”

“The Ukrainian revolutionaries are fascists!”

“Ah, ok. I think that’s probably an exaggeration, but I’ll grant there are some very worrying elements amongst them. What was the Iraqi government, do you think? Do you think the oppression, the anti-semitism, the dictatorship, do you think that counted as fascism?”

“Ummmmm. I guess”

“But, it was wrong to invade there, right, because it was a sov…”

“AH! But, the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO! Encircling Russia!”

“Ok. So, if the representatives of a nation choose freely to join supra-national organisations, then the neighbours are justified in invading?”

“Ummmmm”

“You haven’t really thought this through, have you?”

“We have enough problems at home!”

“Yes, we do. Well noticed. I agree. Do you think ignoring imperialism abroad makes those problems less?”

“Well….”

“And aren’t we meant to be, y’know, a teensy bit internationalist?”

“Well…”

“You seem to be very internationalist when it comes to Venezuela, or Cuba, or Palestine. Why aren’t you internationalist here?”

“I’m scared of what will happen”

“So am I. Join the fucking club”

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