Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A National Outrage

Some fairly long-winded thoughts on that whole Cecil Rhodes statue-removal thing, here:

First, a bit of context - and I apologise if this turns out to be insultingly simplistic, since I'm nothing if not insulting and simple.

Throughout history, tribes of people who got their shit together and could raise and support armies, would invade lands belonging to their neighbours, kill everyone who took up arms in defence against them, and then make off with everything valuable that could be strapped to the back of a cart.

And so it was, for thousands of years, and everyone understood the rules - the strong did what they could, and the weak suffered what they must.  This rocked if you were strong, and it sucked quite a bit if you were weak.

Anyway, let me cut this short.  Matters came to a head in two shattering World Wars in the twentieth century, the latter of which was such an epic, globe-spanning catastrophe - a megadeath slaughter filled with almost incomprehensible destruction and suffering, like Independence Day, but real - that it spoiled war and empire for almost everyone, forever.

World War II was pretty much our darkest moment as a species, the nadir of human stupidity and cruelty.  Still, one good thing came out of it - it tainted for all time the idea that invading other countries, taking over their governments and stealing all of the locals' stuff, was acceptable behaviour.    

Now, it's fair to say that the politicians and intellectuals who agreed upon this idea hadn't thought through the full implications of such a huge philosophical shift.  There were a few glorious postwar years where everyone agreed that Hitler and the Nazis could only have risen to power in the specific circumstances of 1930s Germany, what with the "natural obedience of the German people" and so on.  And then, the real trouble started.

The difficulty was that, the more closely that people looked at National Socialism, the more apparent it became that something akin to Nazism could've happened almost anywhere*, and that it shared so many characteristics with good old-fashioned imperialism, that it somehow began to retrospectively taint all the good old-fashioned imperialism too.

Suddenly, nations all over the world looked at their own ancestors and national heroes, and they started to pick up a whiff of jackboots and racial supremacy.

Which created a whole load of problems.  Nobody who looked at e.g. Rhodes exploiting fuck out of Africa and the Africans, or Churchill yammering on about gassing uncivilised tribes or whatever, wanted to think of these lovable old coots as Anglicised versions of certain nattily-uniformed German speakers.

Nonetheless, the problem remained - most of our great warriors' and politicians' behaviour now looked a tad questionable, in retrospect.  It might theoretically be possible to invade other countries, install colonial rulers and steal all your new subjects' shit over several decades, while operating a racially-based caste system, without also being a bit of a grasping, thieving, murderous, racial-supremacist bastard.  I can't think how, but it might be possible.

Still, this created a singular problem for most of the industrial nations on Earth.  If your most visible successes were built on murder, repression and theft, how are you supposed to retain that pompous air of self-righteous moral superiority that leaders all over the world so love to project?  And if your great heroes were mostly bastards and killers, how are you supposed to bask in their reflected greatness?

Well, the answer was this - you get incredibly butthurt about it all, and start accusing everyone who speaks negatively about your national icons of terrible personal failings.

And so it is that any public figure in pretty much any country who talks smack about the crimes of their ancestors can expect to be deluged in finger-waggy, tut-tutty bullshit, or much worse.  Historians in Ankara who try to speak forthrightly about Kemal Ataturk will be angrily shouted down.  Japanese and Russian scholars who focus too closely on their own forebears' war crimes can expect villification.  In Britain, you get sneery put-downs in the pages of the Telegraph and the Times and a lot of boo-hoo whingeing about political correctness.  

A lot of other countries are much like ours in this regard, and many are significantly worse.  Still, this is why the Argentinian President can issue lengthy diatribes about British colonialism, without too many of her countrymen guffawing and asking how come there are so many Spaniards knocking about the pampas, thousands of miles away from Spain.

Anyway, back to Rhodes.  A couple of things to note about this big Rhodes statue kerfuffle:

- Notice how most of the public figures making whiny statements about the Rhodes statue row keep saying that okay, maybe Rhodes was a racist, but everyone was a racist in those days, so it's no biggie.

Of the imperialists of yore, I'd say that being racist was one of their lesser offences.  I mean, say what you like about e.g. the Roman Empire or the Mongol Horde - they both displayed plenty of moral flaws, but I think that being a bit sniffy about the inferiority of foreigners was one of their less problematic behaviours.

When the entire row is repeatedly reduced to, like, some folk being a bit thin-skinned and unreasonable about so-called "racism", you should probably smell a rat.

It's also worth pointing out that saying "Everyone was racist, so who gives a shit" is probably fine if you're talking about a Conrad or a Twain, people who brought considerable joy to the world.  It's less appropriate for defending vast, aggressively expansionist empires and their individual plenipotentiaries.

- The Rhodes statue dislikers are also accused of "doing-down Britain", of focusing on the crimes of the Empire to the exclusion of the equal misdeeds of other great powers.  This point is every bit as valid as it is when it's deployed against Mexican historians who show an interest in where all the Aztecs went, rather than in the countless crimes and affronts perpetrated by the Gringos.  Israeli or Palestinian scholars who look too closely at their own histories can expect to be equally unpopular with students and politicians alike.

In addition, I'd note that for all the complaints about "doing-down Britain", popular history in the UK can be boiled down to 1) Us whipping Napoleon and 2) Us boxing Hitler's ears, and that the main UK history channels show little but World War II documentaries.

And as an aside - the only time that the average Briton is likely to encounter the Empire in popular entertainment is in a reshowing of Zulu - a cracking film, but one that portrays a plucky band of hopelessly outnumbered Brits fending off a massively superior force of Africans.  Which isn't exactly representative of the era, to say the least. 

---- 

But anyway, the great fear that incidents like the Rhodes statue one create is usually summarised thusly - if we're saying that Mr Rhodes was an appalling shit of a man, then what are we to say of Winston Churchill, or of Queen Victoria?  Are we to say that they too were appalling shits?

To which the logical answer is, well, yes.

You don't have to tear down their statues or rename the pub in Eastenders or anything, but that's the good thing about honesty - it may hurt some feelings but ultimately, it helps us to understand ourselves a little better, it prevents us from looking quite so much like raging hypocrites, and it costs us nothing.  Nothing tangible, at any rate.

All you have to do is be a bit more honest about your country's past.  You don't have to pay anyone a penny, and nobody goes to jail.

Really, the only expense involved is that you have to let go of some pleasing myths about your collective virtue, and you won't be able to get up on your high horse to bullshit people quite as readily.

And there, I think, we see why the Rhodes statue - a pretty small issue - is being treated like a national outrage, and why similar occurrences would be treated as such in half of the countries on Earth.


UpdateA reader points out that Churchill's infamous comment about using poisonous gas on angry natives was a reference to tear gas, in preference to the more murderous mustard variety, which is entirely fair enough.  Consider that comment retracted. 

*A caveat here - maybe not with the precise racial fixations and military paranoias and so on, which did owe a lot to the specific context, but definitely with the invading and the killing and the totalitarianism and so on.

33 comments:

septicisle said...

There's a really good leader in the Graun today that points out when Rhodes died they said, albeit in the language of the day, that Rhodes was a disgrace and history would judge him harshly. When the liberals of the time thought that of him, it surely isn't controversial to express the same sentiments now.

That said, my view is when something has been standing for say, 50+ years or more, be it building, statue, whatever, there needs to be a damn good reason to tear it down. I don't doubt that those behind the campaign have the best of intentions, but pulling down anything of historical significance seems to me to often to be about not wanting to deal with the past rather than, say addressing historical violence as one of those quoted in the Graun article today claims. On the contrary, it smacks of wanting to sanitise history, to deny that such things happened, even if ironically both sides want the exact opposite, something we are all too quick to do when current figures are judged to have failed or us or have dark pasts exposed. Leaving the statue up requires the university to address its past, whereas dumping it in a museum, as the Graun article suggests as an alternative, is exactly where it shouldn't go. Rightly I think we recoil at eastern Europeans campaigning for or smashing up statues of Lenin, regardless of how they see them as impositions, reminders of conquest. The same ought to be the case with Rhodes.

ejh said...

we recoil at eastern Europeans campaigning for or smashing up statues of Lenin

You sure about that?

Pesonally I didn't even know there was a statue of Rhodes at Oriel. Given that I effectively lived (as an undergraduate studying history) for three years within two hundred metres of its location, I'm not totally persuaded of its great historical significance.

There's quite a lot to be said on the various subjects raised in the posting above, and if and when a discussion proceeds I'd hope to chip in. (A good starting point, for me: the onus should be on people who want to retain a statue of a massive racist and imperialist to explain, politely, why.) But one way of looking at the Rhodes Affair is that it demosntrates how hard it is to have a good faith discussion about anything important, simply because of the tide of shite that overwhelms any such discussion before it gets started. So when we have it suggested that taking the statur down means trying to erase Rhodes or discussion of Rhodes from history, or taking it down is like ISIS at Palmyra or the Buddhas of Bamyran, you're just not within a thousand miles of being able to have that discussion. It's like McDonnell Is An Admirer Of Mao We Really Think That Honestly, or Why Don't Stop The War Demonstrate Against Putin, or Yes That Bloke Really Did Think ISIS Were Like The International Brigades or whatever the bullshit du jour is on any given jour. You can have the discussion offstage, as it were, but the onstage, public discussion is a fraud, and a particularly aggressive and unpleasant fraud at that.

One of the outcomes of my student career was that I was persuaded, by experience, that bad faith in political discussion was much more the rule than the exception, and I'd accept that this has warped my outlook to a fair degree. I didn't use to think that about historical discussion though. I probably wasn't paying enough attention.

Chardonnay Chap said...

Agree with an awful lot here. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is Auden:
History, being made
By the criminal in us,
Is nothing to vaunt of.

We've always known that our history is basically one bastard after another. I quite enjoy the irony of the Oliver Cromwell statue outside the House of Commons. (It could only be improved by the addition of the legend, "Right but repulsive.")
Also agree on the " not having thought this through "aspect. Couldn't one say Nike and Apple exploit workers in SE Asia? Are students going to give up laptops and trainers, or is this sort of sacrifice only for other people?

Chardonnay Chap said...

Agree with an awful lot here. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is Auden:
History, being made
By the criminal in us,
Is nothing to vaunt of.

We've always known that our history is basically one bastard after another. I quite enjoy the irony of the Oliver Cromwell statue outside the House of Commons. (It could only be improved by the addition of the legend, "Right but repulsive.")
Also agree on the " not having thought this through "aspect. Couldn't one say Nike and Apple exploit workers in SE Asia? Are students going to give up laptops and trainers, or is this sort of sacrifice only for other people?

ejh said...

Couldn't one say Nike and Apple exploit workers in SE Asia? Are students going to give up laptops and trainers, or is this sort of sacrifice only for other people?

What's the point being made here? On the one hand "giving up laptops and trainers" and on the other hand who giving up what?

flyingrodent said...

That said, my view is when something has been standing for say, 50+ years or more, be it building, statue, whatever, there needs to be a damn good reason to tear it down.

I 100% agree with this, not least because I live in Edinburgh - I doubt there's a city outside of London with more statues, buildings and street names of questionable moral provenance in the country.

So when we have it suggested that taking the statur down means trying to erase Rhodes or discussion of Rhodes from history, or taking it down is like ISIS at Palmyra or the Buddhas of Bamyran, you're just not within a thousand miles of being able to have that discussion.

I think this is one instance where an ISIS comparison brings so much discredit and mockery on its source that it can safely be ignored but sadly, you're not wrong about the general theme.

We've always known that our history is basically one bastard after another. I quite enjoy the irony of the Oliver Cromwell statue outside the House of Commons.

On a purely selfish note, I'm primarily pissed off at Cromwell for blowing up all of the castles in the Lothians, on the bizarrely petty reasoning that he fucked up all of our school outings - ruins and piles of stones, rather than dramatic fortresses.

It's an example of the weird ways that we (by which I mean "I") can be so self-absorbed. In all seriousness, I'm actually more annoyed about that relatively minor issue than I am about e.g. the blood-curdling conquest of Ireland.

But yeah, history really is one bastard after another, everywhere on Earth. Some are worse than others - much worse, in some cases - but bastardry has been depressingly universal.

flyingrodent said...

Couldn't one say Nike and Apple exploit workers in SE Asia? Are students going to give up laptops and trainers, or is this sort of sacrifice only for other people?

One could say that, but it's much like the "Oh they hate capitalism but drink Starbucks coffee" thing from about 2009.

There certainly are hypocrisies about freedom and exploitation in the modern era, but maybe a bit of focus is required. I thought that The Blogger Formerly Known As IOZ had a good point about people who have varying attitudes to law and human freedom here...

http://jacobbacharach.com/2015/03/30/religions-me-dom/

...And although it is quite a cheap gotcha, it does at least catch out somebody who's in a position to do something substantive about it, rather than a bunch of 19-year-olds, even if they're the Oxford type of 19-year-olds.

septicisle said...

"You sure about that?"

Well, I meant we as in not the people comparing Rhodes being taken down to the work of Isis, or those up in arms about Corbyn quoting Hoxha, but otherwise...

sloppy said...

I think it's interesting what you say in the opening salvo about the reaction post-WW 2 to the Nazi regime.

In more recent years, it seems to me that there's a kind of fear from politically correct type people that our (being western) societies may teeter into Nazism at any time. If you don't have the mainstream opinion on a certain subject - let's take immigration, for example. If you are against more immigration - not necessarily a 'racist' viewpoint to have - then ergo you are tantamount to being a Nazi.

Terms like 'grammar Nazi' have steeped into the lexicon, probably from the 'soup Nazi' Sienfield episode. That's a funny joke but now the word Nazi gets bandied about where it just doesn't belong. We have this perpetual fear of what we say and do, ergo we become a Nazi. As if the British public is stifling their right arms from hailing Hitler constantly, like Dr Strangelove or something. I find it insulting - and this will tap into a later part of what you said - but I find it insulting, mainly because the UK actually fought against the fascists, but also because the UK didn't only ever Do Bad Things and Is Just Bad, Period. I find that quite insulting, too. For sure, there are bad things the UK has done. But it's not everything. The quality of life for working/ordinary people in the UK in the age of Empire was mostly atricious anyway so the idea we somehow benefitted, as a whole society, from exploitation of other societies, is misleading.
Either way, with or without the Empire, and all that, would we have industrialized? Probably. Would we have progressed socially? Probably. To the same extent? Probably not. More so than the countries we exploited, or, hypothetically, didn't exploit? Probably more.
We have to ask at some point, why were and are uncivilised countries uncivilised and why are civilised countries civilised? Some people form a racist opinion based on this but you can hold this view and not be racist about it.

I think it is ridiculous. There couldn't be a society further from fascism than the UK, or the USA for that matter. Liberalism is deeply ingrained here.

For example I find V for Vendetta offensive - on a number of levels, but primarily its depiction of a fascist UK, which as I said before is highly unlikely would ever happen. Also in the comic and film the gay character - who is opressed - is seen with a Koran - also opressed - like Faber in Fahrenheit 451 with his hidden books, or something. It's weird because what the Koran has to say about homosexuals, I don't know offhand, but I'm willing to bet that it's probably "goest thou to them and killest them brutally" or along those lines. ISIS is a closer thing to the Norsefire in V for Vendetta and they're ... Muslims. Oh dear.


It's just a comic though.

Anyway that's just a thought that came into my head... good post Rodent. Enjoy it as always.

ejh said...

Liberalism is deeply ingrained here.

I'm not sure this view would survive an examination of the workings of the UK immigration system or public opinion regarding the people who encounter it.

Phil said...

I said on Twitter the other day that I'm strongly in sympathy with both the anti-Rhodes-statue and the anti-Lenin-statue movements, until the point when they actually take statues down - at which point (in both contexts) I worry about historical memory & the denial of history, as in septicisle's first comment above. In Ukraine at present there's a law banning Communist statuary - that certainly isn't anywhere I'd want to end up.

It depends what message we want to convey. If the point is that Britain used to an imperialist nation but isn't any longer, removing symbols of imperialism from public spaces - so that kids growing up (and new students arriving) don't see them and never even know they were there - would make perfect sense. If the point is that Britain is still scarred, weighed down, compromised (etc) by its imperialist past, having to walk past a bloody great statue of an imperialist would seem to make the point rather well. (Ukraine/Lenin, same same.) Maybe stick a plaque on it denouncing the crimes of Rhodes and those like him?

ejh said...

At this point it's useful to invoke the past and present experience of Spain, where for some years now there's been a slow and as yet far from complete process of changing street and school names, taking down statues and monuments and so on. I think the last actual statue of Franco went down some time ago, though there's still a fair few Calles and Plazas del Generalísimo - I had coffee in one in Carrión de los Condes last year or the year before. Only this month city hall in Madrid issued a list, presumably comprehensive, of fifty or so streets named after prominent Francoists, which it proposed to retitle. (I found myself discussing this on Twitter with Dan Hannan, who proceeded to demonstrate how little you need to know to gain a reputation as a prominent rightwing thinker.)

The big one in this respect is the Valley of the Fallen, a gigantic monument some miles northwest of Madrid built, in large part, with the forced labour of Republican prisoners, years after the overthrow of the Republic. What gets in the way of removing this obscenity is the Pact of Forgetting, the arrangement, enshrined in Spanish law but illegal under international law* by which atrocities by the Francoist régime were amnestied. (The 2011-15 Partido Popular government also withdrew funding for various activities like exhuming mass graves, of which there are many.)

Now you might think that this is very particular to Spain, and to a degree it may be. The particular nature of Spanish government and society today owes a lot to the particular way (la Transición) by which Spain progressed to democracy, especially the Pact, and other ways in which functionaries of the old régime were left alone. But in other ways it's pretty much the same argument - that you really shouldn't have monuments to murderers and torturers, that it's quite reasonable to ask why they are still there, and that the refusal to countenance their removal isn't made in order to preserve and protect history, it's there to refuse to look at it for what it really is.

Oh, and if it demonstrates nothing else, it proves that you can take down statues without doing the slightest harm to history or the present or indeed to anybody or anything. And nd that's so even though nobody is considering renaming the Calle de Cárdenal Torquemada in Valladolid.


[* I can't give you chapter and verse on this, but Baltasar Garzón could.]

flyingrodent said...

In more recent years, it seems to me that there's a kind of fear from politically correct type people that our (being western) societies may teeter into Nazism at any time.

Yes, there's a strain of thought in the UK that says, we're all credulous bigots, just begging to be brainwashed with Naziesque propaganda. It's basically fear of the mob and while I can see why the hacks get very alarmed about the type of outright hate that gets bandied about in the press, I don't much worry that we're all about to start goose-stepping like the Helghast.

It is, however, worth remembering that we already did go quite Nazi, right down to the natty uniforms, the racial supremacism and the firing squads. It's quite hard to maintain a massive global empire without also thinking that the people you're killing and conquering are a lesser sub-species of human, after all. It would be better for us to acknowledge this and then get on with it, than it is for us to keep pretending that it didn't happen, or that it was all actually quite nice, because our Empire was nicer than other countries' empires were or would have been.

You'll also notice that for the most part, all of this was imposed from above, rather than bubbling up from the populace, as the Guardian columnists fear.

If you don't have the mainstream opinion on a certain subject - let's take immigration, for example. If you are against more immigration - not necessarily a 'racist' viewpoint to have - then ergo you are tantamount to being a Nazi.

An important point, here. While it's certainly true that certain sections of the press will get all up in your grill if you have incorrect opinions on immigration, it's also true that there are fuckloads of outright racists in the UK, as there are everywhere else. I can tell you from personal experience that quite a few of these people - not millions perhaps, but a surprisingly large number - would cheerfully seig-heil a Home Counties fuhrer, because they're basically thick and horrible cunts.

Also note that you don't have to be racist to be an arsehole.

...also because the UK didn't only ever Do Bad Things and Is Just Bad, Period. I find that quite insulting, too. For sure, there are bad things the UK has done. But it's not everything.

Yes, this is true. As I say in the post, it's also true of e.g. Brazil and Japan and Venezuela. All these countries really did do terrible things, and pointing this out is not tantamount to declaring everyone who lives there are Nazi war criminals for all time.

Liberalism is deeply ingrained here.

Bavaria was pretty libertine at one time, but the residents were enthusiastic Nazis when the moment arrived. While I have few worries about the UK going Nazi now, it's worth remembering that the Germans and the Italians didn't see what was coming either.

Igor Belanov said...

@ ejh

I was surprised in Santander earlier this year to discover streets named after civil war Nationalist generals. I suppose this is one of the downsides in having a 'transition' out of dictatorship rather than a clear rupture.

They seem to have acted more sensibly in post-Wall Berlin, where streets named after Russian communists and ex-SED apparatchiks have been renamed, but Luxemburg, Liebknecht and other figures that can't reasonably be linked to the Stasi era still adorn street signs.

flyingrodent said...

I said on Twitter the other day that I'm strongly in sympathy with both the anti-Rhodes-statue and the anti-Lenin-statue movements, until the point when they actually take statues down - at which point (in both contexts) I worry about historical memory & the denial of history, as in septicisle's first comment above.

I'm in agreement with you here, but with some major caveats. The situation in Spain that Justin is talking about is plainly intolerable, in my opinion, as bad as wandering around e.g. Hanover and finding yourself on Horst Wessel Strasse, looking at a statue of Himmler. It's one of the few situations where I'd strongly advocate iconoclasm not merely as a sensible move, but pretty much as a duty.

I am far more in favour of us re-examining our past and being extremely judgemental about the architects of the age of empire, than I am about attempting to achieve the same result by hiding all the statues. I suspect that we won't get either, though.

flyingrodent said...

Further thoughts that occurred to me today, after watching how this row has played out:

It's important to note that despite what I'm saying here, this isn't a choice between "Being more honest about our past" and "hiding all the statues". The very nature of the debate shows that it's probably a choice between "Everyone agreeing that the Empire was a bit morally problematic but otherwise great" and "No really, the Empire was great".

Just look at how the broadsheets have responded. The Telegraph got Hannan in to compare the students to ISIS; the Times let Nigel Biggar announce that Rhodes couldn't have been a racist, because he believed that Africans could be trained to be civilised, and everywhere it's the 20-year-olds getting it in the neck, rather than the fusty old dudes who have huge, throbbing boners for Empire.

I think that people who, like me, are saying "Let's not hide the statues, let's have a big debate to convince people that the Empire was quite bad" are basically correct. In terms of the real-world effect that this will have though, I might as well be saying "Let's all turn into badgers and live in a hillside".

There's an infuriating streak in my own and others' position here, since the actual effect of people following my advice is that we'll all have a chat, and then absolutely nothing will change.

I think that the idea that we can fundamentally change our views and behaviours by hiding some statues is patently daft. It's not significantly dafter than the idea that we can change our views and behaviours by having a nice chat about it.

I'm reminded here of the arguments that Hitchens used to have with some of his wacky buddies, in which Hitchens poured scorn over the idea that Islam as a whole could be "reformed" to a state whereby some of its adherents would no longer be into terrorism. Hitchens used to openly mock e.g. Tariq Ramadan for pushing this idea and to be honest, I agree.

On the other hand, Ramadan's reformation idea is plainly no sillier than Hitchens' absolute certainty that terrorism could be eradicated by killing fuck out of thousands of Muslims with missiles.

ejh said...

I think that the idea that we can fundamentally change our views and behaviours by hiding some statues is patently daft

Is that really the argument though, or is it more than the point of having statues is to honour the people they depict and therefore one ought to consider whether the people thus depicted should always be thus honoured?

flyingrodent said...

That is the point that the students are making, and I think it's a pretty good one, but brevity is the soul of wit, innit.

Phil said...

The first time I went to Barcelona, the Avenida Diagonal was still labelled on maps with "formerly Avenida del Generalissimo Francisco Franco". I was very much of the opinion that the new (and former) name should be used invariably and exclusively, and reacted to the police officer who gave me directions to the Avenida del Generalissimo very much as you'd expect. (I.e. by saying nothing and keeping my face completely immobile. I was disgusted inside, though.)

In Spain, though, there had actually been a significant regime change; to expunge Franco, Primo de Rivera and the rest of them from the civic landscape says (and bulldozing the Valley of the Fallen, and funding the recovery of mass graves, would say) that Spain was that country and is no longer. I'm not sure we can say that about Britain and Rhodes. But the movement does put the need for a break with imperialism on the table - all the more effectively for presenting itself in intransigent and negative terms - and that's got to be a good thing.

There's an infuriating streak in my own and others' position here, since the actual effect of people following my advice is that we'll all have a chat, and then absolutely nothing will change.

Indeed - if you want a chat which will actually have some effect, you don't go in demanding a chat. It's a bit like the struggle I had some years ago, as a non-violent type, with some graffiti saying KILL FASCIST BASTARDS. Graffiti saying SEVERELY DEMORALISE FASCIST BASTARDS or MAKE FASCIST BASTARDS FEEL UNWELCOME would express my actual recommendations more precisely, but would lack impact.

sloppy said...

I remain unconvinced that fascism would take off here (or in the USA). The fascist countries as were in the 20th century, cf. Germany, Italy, Spain all have more Catholic backgrounds, less stable notions of themselves as nations as e.g. England ( / Scotland / Britain) does since they mostly only became nations much later. There's also a certian national paranoia, certainly in Italy at least, that doesn't really exist in England / UK. There's suspicion, corruption, on a scale that there isn't here. The fact these are landlocked countries could play into that paranoia, since the UK being an island has benefitted it in many ways with regards to , e.g. not being invaded (from 1400 - onwards). The Catholic/Protestant divide as well - I won't say too much about that but I will point out something Christopher Hitchens was right about - Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1934.... not for being an evil nutcase, but for.. marrying a Protestant.

At least they've got their priorities right, I guess...

There was also rampant anti-semitism (in Germany/Austria but all over Europe) for a long time before the Nazis tapped into it - Hitler as an unemployed down-and-out in Vienna in the 1900s would have been around others who reinforced anti-semitic ideas he probably already had, as Vienna in the 1900s was a virulent hotbed of anti-semitism. Particularly among the unemployed.

So there are cultural factors at play here too... I'm wary of basing too much on cultural factors lest I sound like Samuel Huntington, but in this case I think it's appropriate.

sloppy said...

I would also count the likes of Lithuania, Romania, Finland, etc. in this number since they were essentially all allies of the Nazis or had their own version.

ejh said...

The fact these are landlocked countries

Sorry?

anowhine said...

'The fact these are landlocked countries could play into that paranoia, since the UK being an island has benefitted it in many ways with regards to , e.g. not being invaded (from 1400 - onwards).' (sloppy)
You need to move the date to c. 1500, as the Wars of the Roses saw several invasions of England. There's a reason why you're GRRM's main source of inspiration for the Game of Thrones.
That still leaves 1688, but you can focus on the Revolution and not on the foreign invasion that made it possible.

ejh said...

Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1934

For what it's worth, I went to Amazon and performed a Look Inside search for both excommunicate and excommunicated in three biographies: Goebbels by Peter Longerich (Bodley Head, 2015), Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death (Macmillan, 2010) and Magda Goebbels by Anja Klabunde (Sphere, 2003). In each instance the search returned no results.

Phil said...

I'm still puzzling over Germany, Italy and Spain being landlocked.

sloppy said...

Well, not landlocked, but sharing land borders. This is also part of the reason why ISIS attacks are easier for them to take place in France and not the UK. Very difficult to smuggle guns into the UK. Apparently not that difficult to do it to France...
Anyway, have you never heard of the 'principle of charity' when reading an argument? ;)

As for the Goebbels thing, I saw Christopher Hitchens saying it once, I don't know how true it is.

Anonymous said...

Last 2 grafs of previous = triple-distilled satire. Well played, sir.

organic cheeseboard said...

This is off topic, but I'm surprised you've not posted more on yet another new 'small magazine' initiative by Alan NTM (whose job, lest we forget, is literally to provide propaganda for he state of Israel), this time coordinated with James ('Jamie' according to Facebook) Bloodworth and someone called Martyn Hudson, who is a signatory to this, er, open-armed and inclusive letter to 'the left and far left': http://www.wluml.org/media/we-are-being-slaughtered-your-secondary-enemy

Bloodworth's respone to someone calling him out on why he specifically included Hillary Benn's speech as one of his care documents, given that it was spoken in support of a govt plan which involves, er, partnering with Saudi Arabia and leaving Assad in power, is this:

The broader pinciples of the speech - that ISIS is a fascist movement which must be defeated by force - were correct. I wouldn't lump you in with the StWC on this, Pete - I have a lot of respect for you as a socialist - but I think Benn's position is streets ahead of where Corbyn/StWC stand on the issue of defeating ISIS, at least in its understanding of that basic point. That said, I don't agree with some of the detail either - the close alignment with Saudi Arabia, the bombing of ISIS while leaving Assad in place etc. But I do think there were principles espoused in the speech which are worth defending and which needed a hearing - principles which we hear very little of from the Corbyn left, I'm afraid.

So in other words, the government policy that Benn was speaking in favour of is totally wrongheaded and involves partnering with people who seem a lot like fascists, and all this in a speech whose main point is 'fascism is bad', but OMG Stop the War don't like bombing very much!

I'm not really sure that this is a strong place whence to launch a 'realignment of the left'. and if, again, one of your core documents is the pisspoor What's Left, whose main argument is that anyone who didn't support the Iraq war is a pro-fascist (lest we forget, James Bloodworth and Alan NTM both claim to have opposed the Iraq war), I don't think it's going to go well.

flyingrodent said...

I'm surprised you've not posted more on yet another new 'small magazine' initiative by Alan NTM... this time coordinated with James Bloodworth and someone called Martyn Hudson

That's a cracker of a quote there, especially from people who like to go on at length about "the politics of personal purity" and so on. Okay, our policy might be the opposite of what we claim that it is, but Jeremy Corbyn is horrible, so our policy is in fact fine! Let's hope that James publicises this stance a little more loudly in future.

The main thing that strikes me about this latest "realignment" effort is how thoroughly anachronistic it seems. There was a time and place for windy, self-promoting political magazines and pompous manifestoes, and that time and place was "ten years ago". They didn't even have much success with it then, and although they clearly now think that the time is right to lead an anti-leadership insurgency, I suspect that they'll wind up with the same result, or worse.

More broadly, if the Decent remnant have seriously chosen our insane, ridiculous foreign policy as the hill that they'd like to die upon, then I'm not inclined to interrupt them while they're making such a huge mistake. The most notable things about the Benn speech are that it coincided with a slump in Labour's poll figures, and that it involved all Benn's allies cheering along with the entire Tory Party, on the national news. If that's the public image that our Muscular Liberal pals want to put forward, then I'm quite happy for them to sell themselves in that way.

Another interesting development recently: in popular Decent rhetoric, boring things like jobs, houses and infrastructure have always taken a back seat to more important things, such as hurling bombs at foreigners on the off-chance that they might calm down.

Going by this new "Realignment" patter, in addition to things like Nick's grand left-resigning hissy-fit, it's pretty apparent that domestic policy matters are included only as an afterthought, as something that must be ticked off in pro-forma fashion.

Again, if James et al are adamant that chucking bombs at Syria is their top priority, then I'm pretty happy for them to continue in this vein. I can think of no method by which they could sideline themselves more effectively than by continuing to prioritise wars while the Tories rule the country.

organic cheeseboard said...

The standard Decent stance on all things in the world now is pretty much 'Anti-Corbyn Corbynistas for War, and War is Important' or some such isn't it?

I mean they're clearly in agreement with pretty much everything he and his team are proposing on the national level, since it's pretty straightforward contemporary left-wing thinking - to the extent that one of their economic gurus is, er, Piketty, who is on Corbyn's Economic Advisory Committee ffs; but they really fucking hate Corbyn and 'stop the war', seemingly because they really fucking love wars (there are other reasons of course), hence needing to produce a 'realignment' which involves endlessly fixating on something which the average voter doesn't care much about - and something which, when the average voter does care about it, finds them out of step with said voters too. I mean Hilary Benn literally tried, about a week after giving this supposedly amazing speech (which was of course not much good at all, but hey, Decents do love a bit of anti-Fascist waffle), to make the case again for the Iraq war being a great idea. These 'moderates' don't half know what the really burning issues for swing voters are, eh?

it involved all Benn's allies cheering along with the entire Tory Party, on the national news. If that's the public image that our Muscular Liberal pals want to put forward, then I'm quite happy for them to sell themselves in that way.

I'd imagine, too, that a fair few of those Tories who were cheering the speech, on the grounds that it undermined Corbyn, had also been forced into voting for a war they didn't personally support because their leader made them - unlike Corbyn.

Now it seems that there have been a total of fucking 11 bombings since the debate took place and we can see just how preposterous the entire thing was - did the French, who supposedly so desperately wanted our help, really think those 11 missiles* cost too much to send themselves? Would the public have really been so (for which read not very) supportive if this supposedly all-important and ultra-urgent shift in policy resulted in a bombing every, er, three days? Have 'the fascists' been defeated yet by our 'onslaught'? Or could we in fact have stuck to bombing Iraq, as requested by their Govt, which is pretty much what we've done anyway? Has it in fact not been made clear that, contrary to Benn's intentionally misleading speech, the Paris attacks would have gone ahead regardless of whether we'd been bombing Syria or not, and that other attacks, such as those planned in the UK, are not being coordinated out of there either?

*I appreciate the missions will have cost a bit more than this, and am underexaggerating for effect in case it wasn't clear.

ejh said...

Here's something that came up yesterday, in another place, that's of passing relevance to the topic.

Ever heard of Robert Nairac? I hadn't, until I happened to go (as per upthread) to Oxford University and attend the same college that Nairac had. I heard his name then, because every year the Nairac Cup was awarded for outstanding sporting achievement to whichever student seemed most deserving. We were aware that Nairac had been an undergraduate of the college and had later been killed while serving in Northern Ireland.

What we didn't know, because nobody ever said so, was that his activities in Northern Ireland had been sufficiently controversial that he was widely suspected of having helped arm and direct paramilitaries, up to and (according to some accounts) including the assassination of civilians.

I'd stress that Nairac's precise history remains extremely unclear and that he has his defenders as well as his critics (where neither of those terms really conveys the strength of feeling involved). However, and to continue in euphemistic style, I'm not at all confortable that we should have been making such an award in the name of somebody suspected of such serious crimes, and less comfortable still that these suspcions should have been glossed over, to the point of total silence.

As far as I am aware the award continues today.

flyingrodent said...

they're clearly in agreement with pretty much everything he and his team are proposing on the national level, since it's pretty straightforward contemporary left-wing thinking - to the extent that one of their economic gurus is, er, Piketty, who is on Corbyn's Economic Advisory Committee ffs; but they really fucking hate Corbyn and 'stop the war', seemingly because they really fucking love wars...

Yes, I think they can now drop whatever pretence they were maintaining about their much-vaunted principles, given that they clearly couldn't care less who their allies are, and whether the wars in question will even have any positive effects.

Have 'the fascists' been defeated yet by our 'onslaught'?

We're in the Libya-silence stage of things just now, where it's not clear what's going to happen. If we make clear gains against ISIS, that'll prove that more bombing was totally critical and also awesome and if we don't, it'll prove that we aren't bombing enough. So, same as usual.

Ever heard of Robert Nairac?

No, I hadn't. That's really, really dodgy stuff and also quite ironic, given the recent round of high-profile who-said-what-in-1983 gossip in the press.

Al Roth said...

He's a consistent one is James. So, shedding communist past=good, but shedding imperialist past=bad?

https://twitter.com/j_bloodworth/status/657460233456001025