Saturday, February 27, 2016

Britain, stuck in the Hotel California forever

I fear that Peter Hitchens is probably right - The EU is our own Hotel California: We can check out, but we'll never leave - and that no matter how the referendum turns out Britain will not be permitted to leave the EU.

Quite apart from the determination of Britain's elites to prevent any attempt to leave there is also the problem that the US does not want Britain to exit the EU. And I can't see any British political leader having the courage to defy Washington. The British bulldog is now a well-trained lapdog.

Personally I'd like to see Britain leave NATO as well as the EU. The end of the Cold War meant the end of NATO's usefulness. NATO is now a danger to the peace and security of Europe rather than a protection. It is useful only to those who want a new Cold War.

Norway prepares for Sweden's collapse

The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has warned that Norway will abandon the Geneva Convention and close its border if Sweden collapses. She obviously feels that the collapse of Sweden is a very real possibility.

It may seem harsh but I can't help feeling that the Swedes have chosen national suicide and that it might be a very good thing if the country implodes. It might serve as a warning to other countries to avoid the follies that have brought Sweden to the brink of disaster. It's possible that nothing short of a catastrophic meltdown in one country will get the message across.

The most important thing is to remember that immigration is not the cause of Sweden's problems. It is merely a symptom. Once you embrace the agenda of social justice, and even more fatally the agenda of feminism, then the collapse of your society is inevitable. It is only a matter of time. Once a country becomes as feminised as Sweden it cannot survive in the long term. You cannot base policies on moral posturing and arrogant self-righteousness. You cannot base policies on emotion. Yet this is precisely what Sweden has been doing.

This is exactly what the West as a whole has been doing.

As it happens Norway has its own problems, since "regular street battles could soon be a reality" there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Chief Culprit - Stalin, Hitler and World War 2

Viktor Suvorov’s The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (published by the Naval Institute Press in 2008) is a fascinating work of revisionist history and an exhilarating exercise in myth-busting. Having been a Soviet intelligence analyst prior to his defection to the West in 1978 gives Suvorov the ability to examine the ins and outs of Soviet policy from the points of view of both an insider and an outsider. 

Suvorov approaches his subject from the point of view of an intelligence officer rather than a professional historian. He believes that that is the only way to approach the subject. While historians have to view their source materials with a certain degree of healthy scepticism Soviet history is a special case. This was a regime based from the outset on lies and deception to such an extent that even the most sceptical historian might be led astray. Intelligence analysts are trained to assume that nothing is what it seems to be. A military exercise might be simply a military exercise, or it might be a preparation for an invasion. A diplomatic initiative apparently aimed at peace might in fact be intended to bring about war. Suvorov believes that this training is essential in order to penetrate the web of lies that was Stalin’s foreign policy. He may well be right.

Suvorov’s starting point is the mystery of the events of June 1941. In the opening weeks of the German invasion the Red Army suffered disasters on a scale that beggar the imagination. This is common knowledge. There were however a number of things that puzzled Suvorov. The accepted version of events, accepted not just in the Soviet Union but also in the West, was (and is) that these disasters occurred as a result of two major factors. The first was monumental incompetence by the Soviet political and military leadership. The second factor was that the Red Army, although enormous and possessing incredibly quantities of military hardware, was mostly equipped with obsolete and second-rate tanks and aircraft that were no match for the superbly equipped Germans. Suvorov came to have serious doubts on both scores. 

One thing he discovered that puzzled him a good deal was that the supposedly incompetent Soviet generals who were responsible for the deployment of the Red Army in June 1941 were not shot by Stalin as the result of the catastrophes that overwhelmed the army. They were not sent to the GULAGs. They were not even demoted. They were in fact promoted and most ended their careers as Marshals of the Soviet Union. How could this be? Stalin was not noted for being forgiving of failure. 

Suvorov’s conclusion is that these men were not punished for their failures because they did not actually fail. Their deployments were militarily sound. The problem was that the Red Army was not deployed to defend the Soviet Union, with most of its strength held back from the frontiers in deep defensive formations and with airfields well back from the borders where they were safe from being overrun by an invading army. The bulk of the Red Army was right on the frontiers and the airfields were within a few kilometres of the border. The Red Army’s deployment was not a defensive one - it was deployed to launch an invasion. An army deployed in such a manner is incredibly vulnerable if the enemy does not wait to be attacked but strikes the first blow. Which is exactly what Hitler did. The Soviet generals were not incompetents - they were simply beaten to the punch.

But how did all this come about? Suvorov’s thesis is that the Soviet leadership never abandoned, even for a moment, their intention to spread their revolution throughout Europe and then throughout the world. The doctrine of Socialism in One Country was a short-term tactic, not a long-term strategy. Stalin intended to achieve world revolution. More importantly, he intended to achieve it through war. The Russian Revolution had taught the Bolsheviks one very important lesson - revolutions are almost impossible to achieve except in the chaos created by defeat in war. Every attempt to foment revolution in other European countries failed. Communism would have to be imposed on Europe by war. Stalin needed a general European war, and he set out to start one.

The main obstacle was Germany. Another vital lesson the Russian communists had absorbed was that Germany was militarily formidable but Germany could not win a war on two fronts. A war on two fronts meant certain defeat for Germany. A German defeat was the only way to impose communism on Germany. If Germany fell to the communists the conquest of the rest of western Europe would be child’s play. Therefore Germany had to be manoeuvred into fighting a war on two fronts. The trick was to persuade the Germans to become involved in a war in the west, which meant a war with Britain and France. Once Germany was committed to such a war, and once both sides had exhausted themselves, the Soviet Union would invade Germany from the east.

All of this proved to be surprisingly easy to do. Germany’s ambitions in Poland provided the opportunity. Hitler could not risk an invasion of Poland without an insurance policy. Stalin provide the insurance policy in the form of the Nazi-Soviet pact of August 1939. The alliance with the Soviet Union persuaded Hitler that the risks were now acceptable, and he struck. In fact he had fallen into a brilliant trap prepared for him by Stalin. Stalin was confident that, contrary to Hitler’s expectations, Britain and France would go to war over Poland. This was exactly what Stalin wanted. Once Britain and France declared war Hitler was doomed. All Stalin had to do was await his chance to deliver the stab in the back.

Hitler fervently hoped to avoid war with Britain and France. Stalin wanted to ensure that such a war would take place. Without the Nazi-Soviet pact there would have been no war. It was (if we accept Suvorov’s argument) Stalin’s war far more than it was Hitler’s war. 

There was one minor problem with Stalin’s otherwise brilliant plan. By June 1940 Hitler had realised that he had fallen into a trap. He had realised Stalin was going to attack Germany. Hitler intended to get in the first blow. And he did. Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union was an insane gamble but it was Hitler’s only option. Operation Barbarossa was a preemptive strike. Despite spectacular initial successes it failed, but had he not struck first Stalin would have done so and Hitler would have lost anyway. As it turned out Stalin lost as well. He won the war but her only got half of Europe as a result. Had he been able to attack first he would have taken the whole of Europe.

It’s a fascinating thesis and Suvorov’s arguments are persuasive. They certainly make sense of things that otherwise make no sense at all.

The book also explodes a great many myths in relation to the Second World War but that might be a matter for a future post.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

living memory and mere history

Something I was unaware of when I was younger but have become very aware of recently is the process by which historical events cease to be part of the living memory of a society and become mere book history.

The most significant example is the Second World War. Even though the war ended before they were born for Baby Boomers and Generation X the Second World War was still very much part of living memory. Every member of those generations had parents or grandparents who lived through the war and would have communicated to their offspring vivid first-hand memories of the war years. Most members of those generations had a parent or grandparent who fought in the war. This gave those generations a certain personal connection to the war. It gave those events a certain concrete quality and certain emotional resonance.

This is not the case for the Millennials. Most have never had any actual relationship with a family member who personally experienced the war. To Millennials the Second World War is just history, as remote and as abstract as the Boer War or the Spanish-American War would have been to a Baby Boomer or the First World War to a Gen X-er.

This is important because the Second World War was an ideological war. As the war recedes into distant abstract history so too do the ideological conflicts that fueled it. Since 1945 words like fascist, Nazi and Stalinist have had an immensely powerful emotional resonance. Now they are becoming mere words. If you’re on the left a fascist is someone who disagrees with you. If you’re on the right a Stalinist is someone who disagrees with you. The words can still be used as insults, or as attempts to shut down a debate, or as a way of disqualifying someone’s opinion, but they no longer pack the emotional punch that they packed even twenty years ago. They are words used by people who could not explain to you what a fascist or a Stalinist was. As time goes by they will lose whatever power they still possess. Even comparing someone to Hitler, which used to be a surefire way to discredit someone, is going to become less and less effective. Hitler will be like Ghenghis Khan, or Napoleon, or Attila the Hun - a symbol of evil perhaps but not one that has any real emotional content.

There was a time when you could discredit an English politician by accusing him of Jacobite sympathies. That had little effect after the end of the eighteenth century. There was a time when you could draw blood by accusing a French politician of Bonapartist tendencies. There was a time when English nannies could frighten children into eating their broccoli by threatening them that Bony would get them if they were bad. Eventually a time comes when a terrifying monster, like the Corsican Ogre, becomes merely an interesting historical figure.

The Cold War also is receding into the mists of history. No Millennial has any appreciation of what living through the Cold War was like. They have vaguely heard of the Cold War but many probably have little idea what was at stake. In fact I suspect that many Millennials have so little historical perspective that they probably couldn’t tell you when the Second World War happened, or when the Cold War started.

Of course if you have sufficiently thorough political indoctrination you can to some extent keep ancient fears alive, witness the recent hysteria over the Confederate flag. But even the most rigorous indoctrination cannot compensate for the gradual fading of the emotional resonances of historical evens that are still part of living memory. In the case of the Confederate flag the hysteria was mostly confined to the media, to a handful of “activists” on college campuses and a few opportunistic politicians. I suspect that most Americans were bemused by the whole thing.

This fading of living memory into history can have momentous consequences. When history becomes abstract the suffering associated with historical events becomes abstract as well. After more than two hundred years the Terror that followed the French Revolution no longer has the power to make us feel the horror, outrage, revulsion and visceral fear that it provoked in those for whom this was an event within the living memory of society. What happens when our response to the sufferings inflicted by totalitarianism in the 20th century becomes purely abstract?

And it’s worth bearing in mind (although it’s a profoundly depressing thought) that the Post-Millennial generation will be starting to reach adulthood in a decade or so. To that generation the horrors of 20th century totalitarianism will be very abstract indeed. This may not be a good thing, to say the least.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stephen Fry falls victim to Twitter Two Minute Hate

I can’t help being vastly amused that the latest victim of a Twitter Two Minute Hate is - Stephen Fry!

Here we have a man who makes his living entirely on his reputation as a wit. Unfortunately he didn’t get the memo that wit is no longer permitted.

You know things are getting bad when even someone like Stephen Fry thinks Twitter is “frothy with scum” and has “started to smell. Really quite bad.”

I've never had much time for Stephen Fry but I must admit to feeling a grudging respect for him now. At least he doesn't seem to have issued the usual groveling apology. In fact he's come out fighting with a stinging attack on the Twitterati on his website.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Emmanuel Goldstein lives!

All totalitarian regimes need enemies. More importantly, they need both external and internal enemies. They cannot survive without them. That was one of George Orwell’s many crucially important insights in 1984. It’s been true of every totalitarian regime and it’s true of our present-day soft totalitarianism in the West.

I’ll speak about external enemies in another post. For the moment I’ll concentrate on the question of internal enemies.

Internal enemies are just as important. In 1984 the internal enemy is embodied in one chief villain, the dastardly Emmanuel Goldstein. This was useful for artistic reasons in a novel but in practice the internal enemies in a totalitarian state are more amorphous and more mysterious. For the Soviet communists in the Stalinist era the enemies were revisionists and (especially) Trotskyists. For the Chinese communists the enemies were capitalist roaders. For those who rule us today the enemies are racists, sexists and homophobes. Trotskyists were useful because anybody could turn out to be a Trotskyist. Just as anyone could turn out to be a capitalist roader. You might be a Trotskyist and not even know it! Just as today you might be a racist or a sexist and not know it until suddenly you find yourself the victim of a Two Minute Hate.

The vital thing for the rulers of a totalitarian state is that these enemies should continue to exist. In fact the few remaining dissenters today could easily be silenced completely. They could be suddenly vanished as effectively as the victims of Stalin’s Purges. They would not need to be liquidated - it would be more than sufficient simply to destroy their livelihoods and deny them any means of expressing their dissent, and this could be achieved very easily. But it won’t happen. They will be harassed mercilessly but not destroyed. Emmanuel Goldsteins are much too useful to totalitarians.

At the moment the chief Emmanuel Goldstein is Donald Trump. Trump has been a godsend to our rulers. He has virtually zero chance of gaining the Republican nomination. He presents zero threat to the establishment. But he is so incredibly useful as a focus for hysteria. The kind of hysteria that will justify further repression - more hate speech laws, more restrictions on freedom of speech, more control of the internet. The fact that Trump is a liberal and strongly pro-immigration doesn’t matter. It makes no difference what Emmanuel Goldstein or Donald Trump actually stands for. What matters is what the public can be told that he stands for.

In 1984 the government doesn’t much care what the proles believe. What matters is maintaining discipline in the Party. The Inner Party can be controlled fairly easily, but a small clique is not enough to run a country. Fairly large numbers of bureaucrats, technicians and other functionaries are needed - these make up the Outer Party. People like poor Winston Smith. These are the people who need to be watched. The situation today is similar. Our rulers don’t care too much what the poor think, or what the remnants of working class think. They do care very much what the equivalent of the Outer Party thinks. The equivalent of the Outer Party being journalists, academics, teachers, bureaucrats. These people today can be relied on to a fairly large degree to hold the correct views, but they can’t be trusted completely. Discipline has to be exercised regularly and strictly. Any of these people who display any deviation from the ruling ideology must be brought into line. Show trials (these days usually conducted via Twitter) and purges are necessary. Our form of totalitarianism has now advanced to the point where the main targets of the SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) are other SJWs who are insufficiently zealous or display any sign of independent thought.

This is where a regular supply of Emmanuel Goldsteins is so useful. As long as there exists a handful of evil villainous cishet racist sexist homophobes it is easy to justify ongoing draconian measures of repression and it is easy to maintain iron discipline over the Outer Party members. A small amount of genuine dissent is needed in order to make the threat plausible enough to justify the repression. This genuine dissent is in reality no threat at all - it can be crushed if it ever starts to become dangerous. It’s effectively controlled opposition.

That’s why we still have more than one political party. There’s no real difference between the mainstream political parties in western countries today. One-party rule would scarcely make any difference but a one-party state is obviously totalitarian, so the illusion of multi-party systems must be maintained. That’s controlled opposition. Totalitarianism has become more subtle than it was in Orwell’s day. It is much more effectively cloaked in the outward trappings of democracy. In our society Emmanuel Goldstein would be permitted to run for the highest office in the land. His defeat would be an absolutely certainty but the illusion of freedom and democracy is maintained. 

Our leaders have not only absorbed Orwell’s lessons - they have made improvements to the blueprint laid out in 1984. Isn’t progress wonderful?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

the decline and fall of working class pride

One of the most damaging things that has happened to our society over the past century is the decay of the working class. More importantly, the decay of working class pride has been catastrophic.

It’s popular to date the decline of western civilisation to the 1960s (and it’s fashionable in some conservative circles to blame it all on the Baby Boomers). In fact, like so many of the disasters that have afflicted us, this one started in the early 1950s.

The collapse of manufacturing industry has of course made a huge contribution to the destruction of the working class. The destruction of working class pride however has other roots. The first contributing cause was the obsession with higher education that started after the Second World War. By the late 1950s the absurd idea was already taking root that everybody should have a university education. This is of course arrant nonsense. Universities are useful for people who want to be doctors or engineers or physicists. Most degrees outside these areas are essentially hobby degrees, with no usefulness in the real world. For most people university is a waste of time and money and simply gives people ridiculously unrealistic expectations. What proportion of the population actually needs a university degree? My guess would be around five percent.

The explosion in the number of university students that began in the 50s and really took off in the 60s contributed to the idea that the only jobs that deserved respect were jobs that required a university degree.

Coupled with the higher education boom (and both feeding it and feeding off it) was an increasing disdain for blue-collar jobs. Eventually even blue-collar workers came to share this disdain and came to see themselves as being inferior to white-collar workers, despite the fact that a very large number of blue-collar jobs are both more socially useful and require more skill than most white-collar jobs.

When you add the slow but steady decline of manufacturing industry to the mix you get a gradual but inexorable erosion in working class confidence and pride. 

The situation was however even worse than this. From the 1960s the Old Left, which used to care about working class communities and working class families, began its own decline. The Old Left was sometimes misguided and sometimes unrealistic in its assumptions and was even at times short-sighted and bloody-minded but there was some genuine concern for ordinary working-class people. 

The New Left was to be very different. The New Left was middle-class and intellectual. They despised the working class. The New Left steadily lost interest in economic justice. Now it was “social justice” that mattered. Identity politics took over from class politics. Middle-class people, especially wealthy university-educated elite middle-class people (the ones who dominated the New Left), aren’t very interested in economic justice or class politics. They’re doing fine and they don’t care what happens to any lower down the social scale. Not only are they uninterested in confronting economic issues - they want to avoid such issues at all costs. 

Identity politics on the other is the kind of thing that appeals to them. It’s mostly about advancing the interests of other wealthy university-educated elite middle-class people. Even black identity politics tends to fit this mould. It’s noteworthy that so much of the Black Live Matter activism is not happening in poor black neighbourhoods. It’s happening on college campuses, among wealthy university-educated elite middle-class black kids. 

Of course enthusiasm for open borders has immense appeal to the New Left - it means lower wages for working-class people, it means cheaper servants and nice upscale ethnic restaurants. The downside to mass immigration does not affect middle-class people at all.

Identity politics is the betrayal of everything the Left used to stand for.

And of course as the Left has abandoned the working class, working class pride has fallen still further. The destruction of the family has naturally made a bad situation much worse. Middle-class people might be able to believe that family is optional. For working-class people it’s an absolute essential.

The working class has slowly been transformed into the underclass, which simply leads middle-class elites to despise such people even more. And so the circle becomes ever more vicious. In the US the working class is literally dying - death rates for poor white males are increasing, a shameful thing indeed for a First World country.

I’m working class myself and I can still remember when that was something to be proud of. Those days seem a long time ago now.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime

Richard Pipes’ Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime is the follow-up to his The Russian Revolution 1899-1919 and brings the story up to the death of Lenin in 1924. These two books provide an immensely detailed but thoroughly readable and fascinating history of one of the great cataclysms of history.

In an earlier post I talked about Niall Ferguson’s ideas on the contingency of history. Ferguson has no patience with the idea that historical events happened because they were inevitable. There are times when a single bad decision, a single piece of luck or the peculiarities of a single personality can change the course of history. Pipes also has no truck with deterministic theories of history. The Bolshevik Revolution was far from inevitable. In fact the odds were stacked against it. No-one but a tiny clique of intellectuals wanted it and without Lenin it would never have occurred.

That’s not to say that the Tsarist regime would have survived, at least in the autocratic form that it had taken for centuries. The revolution in February 1917 was a real revolution. Some change was highly likely but the end result could quite easily have been a constitutional monarchy and perhaps even a liberal democratic regime. The October 1917 revolution was a coup d'├ętat by the tiny and very unpopular Bolshevik party that was unlikely to succeed. That it did succeed was due to monumental bungling and cowardice on the part of the Kerensky government, exquisite timing, superb and inspired leadership by Lenin and quite a bit of luck.

The way the October Revolution came about had a good deal of influence on the subsequent history of the Soviet regime. Lenin was a superb revolutionary leader. He was focused to the point of obsessiveness, possessed sublime self-confidence, was utterly ruthless and had no moral scruples whatsoever. He tried to apply to the task of government the same approach he had employed as a revolutionary, with catastrophic consequences. As a leader of a government he was inflexible, brutal and colossally inept. Lenin had never allowed reality to get in the way of theory. If facts did not conform to his theories he ignored the facts. As a revolutionary leader he could get away with that. As a national leader it led to one disaster after another. Lenin had zero understanding of economics and zero understanding of human psychology. He considered organised terror to be the answer to every problem.

Within just a few years Lenin turned the world’s fifth largest economy into a shambles. Industrial production came almost to a standstill. Agricultural production plummeted. In the early 1920s millions died of starvation. The famine was not deliberately engineered; it was the result of incompetence, inflexibility and policies so wrong-headed that they almost defy belief. The famine may not have been deliberately engineered but Lenin took no steps to alleviate the suffering and in fact welcomed the deaths of millions of peasants since the peasants hated the Bolsheviks (with very good cause). Without American aid efforts (organised by Herbert Hoover) millions more would have starved.

Pipes makes it very clear that the beliefs held by so many western intellectuals that the brutality of the Soviet regime was solely the work of Stalin are entirely false. It was Lenin who created the apparatus of state terror. It was Lenin who presided over the creation of the network of concentration camps (the Gulags) that would eventually claim millions of victims. It was Lenin who created Soviet totalitarianism. It was Lenin who created a state that suppressed freedom of speech to an absolute degree. It was Lenin who created the one-party state. It was Lenin who allowed mass starvation to be used as a political weapon. Stalin refined these evils and expanded their scale but the evil started with Lenin.

Another notable point made in the book is that during the 20s the Bolsheviks were able to survive in power to a large extent due to the support of western liberals, some of them motivated by starry-eyed idealism, some by extraordinary gullibility and some by cash payments from Moscow. The short-sightedness and stupidity of European governments (and even more especially the US Government) also helped a good deal, as did the greed and cynicism of big business in interests. It’s another reminder that big business will cheerfully the most extreme evil if there’s a profit to be made.

Both The Russian Revolution 1899-1919 and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime are essential reading, not just for an understanding of events in Russia itself but for its insights into the extraordinarily foolish and cynical conduct of the liberal democracies and their utter failure to comprehend the danger that the Bolsheviks represented. Highly recommended.